|This story is Copyright by David Ihnen. Please do not distribute without permission.|
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The long-legged anthro coyote peered through the scrub bushes. The short desert tan fur ruffled in the breeze, large ears swiveled forward. His gender became evident as his lanky body rose from all fours. He had come to see the giant roaring bird that landed on the lake bed. He was instead entranced by a strange unfamiliar song. Dropping back to all fours, he forgot to keep under cover as he advanced, ears focused on the song. He perked in surprise as he realized the sound came not from a throat, but from a box sitting on table under a scrub tree.
"Hola." came a song in only one voice.
He spun and crouched on ready, fingers spread and claws shown, teeth barred defensively. A strange being was standing some yards away, reared to its full height, its forepaws by its side. It moved slowly, knelt to the canine's height, and placed its forepaws on the ground. Its chest was strangely flat and wide, he looked awkward positioned this way.
The coyote relaxed a bit, dropping to sit too. He sung greetings politely. The stranger's eyes widened, it bared its teeth and the canine tensed, but the mouth closed again. The stranger paused and repeated what he sang before.
The coyote cocked his head a bit, then sung greetings again. The alien repeated with only the fundamental upper path. Its voice was coarse and primitive, but he it was obvious in purpose.
"oh-la." he repeated the stranger's song.
The alien lifted a paw to point at its chest.
"Pedro." it said, then pointed at the coyote briefly, inoffensively.
The coyote awkwardly made the same signal, ears flicking to indicate self and sung, "Terrleen" with upper trill on the r and lower quaver on the ee.
Pedro's high bare forehead wrinkled, but after a moment came out with a gross approximation. "Terleen".
Terleen sang, "fehdro."
The Songs of the Coytern was a best seller hit on the galactic music charts. The planet would never be the same again. Tribal cultures have never handled first contact well. It wasn't long until human interests had 'legally negotiated' mining rights. The inability of the coytern to organize against the space farer's was their downfall. Shadily contracted coytern were exploited ruthlessly, making deep inroads on the live singer market.
The Diva took a deep drag off her cigarette, perched elegantly at the worn bar. A worn bar in a worn casino in a worn corner of a worn Nevada city. She was the Diva. She had been at the top of the charts in her day. Singing to packed stadiums. Now reduced to this. Day after day, singing to apathetic crowds. She pressed and worked her whole live, and now she had only this. The world had no taste, wouldn't see her talent any more. She ground her teeth thinking of it.
She raised the freshly refilled glass to her lips. It did not conceal the sneer that twisted her lip. One of those coyterns was being escorted across the lounge. It wore a robe with the hood dropped, all fuzzy ears and shiny eyes. They had no taste. She had seen them, parading around in the nude like a two bit whore. And they called that performing just because they had a voice. Her voice was light years beyond theirs. Her eyes narrowed as it was led into the back.
The stool next to her creaked as the club owner wedged his girth between it and the bar. He didn't speak at first.
She took her time, carefully placing a narrow cigarette into the long holder and letting the barman light it. Savoring the draw, she slowly turned to look at him. She spoke in a husky smoker's voice. "You know they come here to see me. Not some howling dog. Not some fuzz-face mutt."
The man winced and grimaced, watching his hands grip the rail. He finally spoke. "I've let you stay here too long." he said. His hand swept, indicating her. "You were something back in the day, honey. You know I love you, but your voice has suffered."
She snarled, knowing what was coming, the rage building in her. "I'm last year's name."
He winced again, his eyes wouldn't meet her. He swallowed and tried to meet her eyes. "Last decade even. The coytern..."
"Don't get me started!" she interrupted, spittle flying from her mouth. "they're dogs! Animals! No more! They have no taste, they have no fashion, no intelligence! A parrot, caterwauling on the stage!" She drained the rest of her drink and slammed it down. An ice cube spilled onto the bar.
"You're done." the owner stated, finally levelly meeting her glare. "Get out of my bar."
She sneered, taking up her handbag and doing her best strut out the door. Last decade, indeed. They had no taste. She had no use for this. She would call her agent.
Her voice was a harsh whisper. She leaned over the desk towards the doctor, glaring daggers, fingernails digging into the wood. "What did you say?"
"Your throat is a wreck." He sighed, pushing his glasses back and rubbing his eyes. "I told you the chances were slim. We tried, four surgeries under the latest computer guidance. It didn't work. There is too much damage, scarring. We don't know what it was."
"I'll quit" she hissed.
"Its too late." he looked past her. The diploma in neurophysical programming was looking awfully thin. "Nothing short of a full donor template will ever bring your voice back. Even then. It simply won't be your voice." He shrugged helplessly.
Her eyes narrowed as she sat back, considering. "I see." came her whisper.
The long legged canid leaned up against the invisible fence, stretching his paws high, his five digits splayed across the surface. It felt fuzzy, and a bit warm. But it kept him in. A desert rodent scurried a few yards away and he twitched convulsively, rising up almost his entire height as he tried to leap after the prey. He turned with a snort and dropped to all fours, running. His paws pounded the ground, thumbs tucked close. There was no discomfort against the rough, hot rock of his native desert. He raised his muzzle, and sang. He poured out his anger and entrapment, breathless in his run. His voice was dual toned, one smooth, high, the other deep and powerful.
The sound echoed off the massive structure a hundred yards outside the wall. Riveted and grey, it sat where it was placed many moons before. Before the wall was there. Terleen said it sucked at the earth beneath. He only knew it spewed foul smelling fire at the top. It had been an object of much interest before they were imprisoned.
The ground was worn in a trail along the fence line. He remembered the dream once again. Over it. Sailing high over the invisible fence. Gaining his freedom. If he could just run fast enough, jump high enough! His powerful muscles rippled beneath his short summer coat as he drove up a rise, veering to mount a large rock. His powerful muscles bunched and released. He sailed high. The air rushed around his folded ears. The path slid beneath - he was over! An unseen force flung him back. He tumbled twice in the air, barely having time to vocalize a yelp before he slammed into the rock headfirst. Bright red blood splattered. His muscular body twitched once, and was still.
The pack stood in the moonlight. Their voices twined in a dirge for their brother. Terleen led. The youthful leanness was gone in the strength of adulthood. His low voice sung a respectful drone. The high sung a complicated tune composed to the life of the fallen. He sung of his vigor, of his love of freedom.
A brilliant light illuminated the corpse. They stopped, teeth barred at the interruption, snarling towards the craft that hovered overhead. Terleen stepped over the corpse protectively. He snarled into the dazzling glare. An unseen force wrapped around His chest and lifted him into the air. For a moment he was flailing his paws in the air. There was a rush of wind he was gone. Almost immediately, flames shot from the corpse. It was immolated in seconds, leaving nothing but ashes upon the smoking, glowing rocks. The light vanished leaving afterimages in the vision of the scattered and confused pack.
The coytern watched his captor with wide eyes. The visitor of his youth had told him of woman, but he never imagined they were so ugly. Her exposed, smooth skin was hideous, not having the decent covering of Pedro's beard. She smelled nasty, of burned things and urine.
He was trapped in a plastic cage, too small to turn around in much less stand in much less stand up. His thumbs and fingers gripped the bars of the cage, but he could not break it. The scent of his missing pack mates on the blanket laying across the floor was no comfort. Pedro was much more polite.
"Ne llano Terleen, nejor cantante aqui. Que wah a hacer con ni, nujer?" he asked in his best human, his voice both low and high, both silky and powerful, like two talking in precise unison. He had learned the song of these types from Pedro. The woman glanced up from her preparations by an angled metallic table.
"Thats so pretty. Its almost like you're talking!" She spoke. Her voice was a husky croak. He did not know her song. It made his ears shiver to hear, but he repeated it to try and learn.
"Thats so frettee. Its alnost like yewrr tawlking." he sang.
She looked at him sharply, recognition in her eyes. Then she dismissed it. "Like a Parrot." she muttered
He recognized her dismissal, anger surged in him. "I am the singer of the rockhill. Release me from this cage!" he almost shouted in his own language, trilling command, the sound filling and echoing around the room. She didn't do more than glance at the noise before resuming her work. She was doing something to a panel that glowed, patterns changing beneath her hands.
The cage door released. He leapt, but the unseen force once again snatched him around the chest. He was helplessly lifted and pressed against the table, more of the force splaying his arms and legs painfully. She walked around the table, strapping him down until he could not move. He could little than flex against the restraints. It hurt.
He moaned a couple phrases of pain with his low voice, combining with helpless in his high voice, expressing the situation he was in.
She paused to listen until he stopped. "Magnificent!" she croaked. She struck a few keys on the control board.
"Voice interface ready." a deep song with a metallic tang filled the room, "Operation command level". The coytern's ears flickered, trying to source the sound.
She climbed into a coffin like device, but kept up her awful croaking. She seemed to be arguing with voice from everywhere that sang in its simple, monotone voice. He tried singing some of the song, but he was distracted by being so tightly tied down. It wasn't only hard to breath, it was hard to pronounce some of the sound shapes.
"Per Federation code 35 section 7 part b; ...species considered sentient... ethics regulations ...sentient life forms database. Violation of ethics...result in forfeiture...Confirm life destructive pattern acquisition?"
Terleen was beginning to think that he might get his right hand free when the ceiling split apart. A large machine folded down on an articulated arm, hovering over the coytern. Lights hurt his eyes. A clamping arm closed around his skull. The metal fingers dug hard into his flesh. The coytern yelped in pain. Panic and adrenaline surged. He jerked against the restraints. He screamed a dual tone howl of terror. The machine obscured him as it moved close. The powerful, desert calloused paws were still visible. The muscles of the calf corded. The toes flexed. The restraints creaked against the convulsions of his panicked strength. The screaming cut off with a gurgle. The furred feet spasmed one last time, and lay still. Servos whined and fans hummed. A trickle of bright red blood stained the tan fur of one paw.
The diva twitched as a voice spoke.
"Program complete. Elapsed time fourteen days, six hours."
She sat up with a lurch, nausea surging. There was a rank smell. It was putrid. The stench of rotting flesh driven deep into her skull. A nail of pain and nausea. She rubbed her temples, then her eyes. She felt woozy from the long surgery, and the smell wasn't helping. As she climbed out of the med bay, she slipped. She landed with a splat, limbs splayed. She looked up to see the rotting corpse of the coytern, gore pouring in a slow-moving river off the end of the angled table. And covering the floor where she lay. She lay in it.
Her stomach heaved. She puked, forcing the bile from her empty stomach. She heaved again at the smell of the vomit mingling with the gore. The smells were so intense, spiking into her brain!
"Aw shi..." she started to say. it came out in two tones!
Her body trembled from adrenaline. She staggered to the washroom, her face sliding into view on the mirror. Her high smooth forehead was still there, her emerald green eyes. A wrinkled, fleshy muzzle thrust forward. She gasped, hand touching it. It was part of her. Some of the words she did had disregarded from the computer rushed back. "Oral and nasal cavity reconstruction" Her dual-toned scream would have been beautiful to hear.
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