Ichigo took a deep breath of cool, refreshing air and smiled.
"Glad to finally get here, eh?" One of his fellow xenobiologists, a friendly man named Renji, said as he clapped him on the back. Ichigo winced a little at the power behind that gesture and returned it with a punch on the shoulder, which made the other man laugh. They'd gone to school together and were very good friends.
"Damn right I am. That ship smelled like ass." He said, making Renji laugh. "I've waited for this for so long." He said as he gazed up into the sky. The sun was shining, although it was hard to see behind a thick layer of fog.
He was on planet A347, also known as Typhoon. It was named that for the tremendous and tremendously violent storms that regularly ripped through the world, devastating the equatorial region. The first expedition had thought they could ride out those storms with modern technology. So far, no bodies had been collected.
So instead of following their grisly example, the new team had set up in the more temperate latitudes. This particular spot reminded Ichigo of a savannah, full of rolling grasslands and groves of scrubby trees, reaching for the sun. The grasses around him were unfamiliar, of course. But one of their specialists would be examining them soon.
Ichigo had specialized in xenosociology, or the study of intelligent, non-human life forms. It was unlikely he'd be using that speciality, but it was policy to always include a xenosociologist on a mission to a completely unsurveyed planet. And he had two subspecialties, xenoarchaeology – not useful unless they found sentients – and general xenobiology with an emphasis on fauna. The last would probably be what he would end up using, unless he got very lucky and they found intelligent life.
That was his holy grail, his great hope for the mission. To find intelligent life. To date humanity had only encountered three other intelligent species, and they were all at a pre-industrial level. It seemed that steelmaking was a large barrier. That didn't surprise Ichigo in the least. He was also a student of human history, and there was a good case that steel had been invented exactly once, in China. It had spread over the globe from there. So clearly, it was a hard mental leap to make.
Ichigo knew that at the very best, he would find a Stone Age culture here. From orbit, there were no signs at all of intelligent life. No encampments, no small villages, nothing. On two of the planets with intelligent life, they'd detected small villages from orbit. The one where they'd missed it had been a Stone Age culture where the aliens lived in small, family groups. Ichigo was hoping against hope that he might find something like that here.
"Oh Ichigo! Renji!" Ichigo smiled and turned to see the leader of the expedition, Urahara Kisuke, waving a fan at him. He'd only seen the man's pictures until now. He and a small scouting group had gone ahead to establish the base of operations. "Please come, we're having a quick meeting!"
"Yes sir!" He called back, quickly hurrying over, Renji following close behind. Soon they were in a tent, along with a small crowd of people. Ichigo recognized the other xenobiologists, but none of the other specialities, oddly enough.
"I've called you here because there was a message to me with your ship, a rather urgent communication from one of our sponsers." Urahara said cheerfully and Ichigo blinked. There were several sponsers of the mission, starting with the planetary government of Hallelujah and ending with several corporations that had already purchased mineral rights on spec. "Some of the samples we've sent back are already causing a huge stir on the gem market. Here is one." He held up a blue gem. It reminded Ichigo of a moonstone, perfectly smooth and slightly opaque. But it was also something like an opal, with flashing green hidden in its depths. "Pass it around, please, and sniff it." Sniff? Ichigo waited patiently until he got the gem. He rolled it in his hand, surprised at the texture. It felt almost gummy, although it was definitely hard. Lifting it to his nose he sniffed and his eyes widened. It smelled like…
"Sex." He muttered and then blushed darkly as the people around him laughed. But the scent of the gem was both musky and compelling and made him immediately think of sex.
"Indeed! What you smell is a rather potent natural musk." Urahara said as Ichigo passed the stone along. "It's a mild aphrodisiac and stimulant, and completely natural. You can see why those stones are quite popular." He said and several people nodded. "They activate more strongly with body heat, as well. So a pendant of it, worn between the breasts as a young woman works up a sweat dancing…" He leered playfully and everyone laughed this time. "Although we call it a stone, it's definitely an animal product, which is why I called you here. We need to try to locate whatever creature generates these and see if they can be domesticated."
"Yes sir." Everyone murmured. Then Urahara gave them all the information he had on the stones, which wasn't much. They were commonly found in streams, but could also be found scattered in completely random locations. They came in all different colors but so far the most colors found in one spot had been four. The least they had found had been two. Ichigo got to see some of the other colors and he hesitantly touched a large, lovely white teardrop. It was truly unusual, sparkling with gold. The musk it emitted was stronger, probably because of the larger size.
"I wonder if they could be some kind of scent marking?" Renji mused, picking up a red stone that glittered with black. "They're gorgeous. I wonder if we could keep a few for ourselves?"
"Probably a few, as gifts for friends and family. I wouldn't go trying to sell them though." Ichigo warned him. The sponsers of missions like this were willing to overlook a few souvenirs, but not outright pilfering. Renji nodded.
"Of course. Well, we better get to work." He set down the stone and Ichigo nodded. They quickly left the tent to begin their duties.
They would be on this planet a long, long time.
Grimmjow twitched his tail as he watched the stranger walking through his territory.
The stranger was wary, eyes constantly moving over the surroundings. Grimmjow approved of that. His territory was not really too dangerous aside from, well, him, but that was how you survived in this world. The unwary died, usually sooner rather than later.
The wariness combined with his presence confused the blue one, though. His scent markers were all over his territory. So were the mating marks he shared with Shiro, the white one who shared his den. They had been mated for some time, although Shiro had frankly owned that he was barren. That might have bothered Grimmjow, but he was likely barren as well. So they found companionship together, not caring if there would never be any cubs to continue for them.
Shiro was off stalking the far end of his territory. Despite being mated, they commonly hunted alone during the spring and summer. Prey was abundant then and separate hunts seemed to bring in more. In autumn and winter they teamed together to bring down larger, more dangerous prey. It was high summer at the moment so Grimmjow was left to deal with this intruder alone. He licked his lips, trying to scent the other on the breeze.
A whiff finally came to him and his ears went back on his head as he lifted his lips away from white teeth in a silent snarl. The scent was wrong. Not bad, just… off. It was like nothing he'd ever smelled before and he didn't like it. Grimmjow began stalking the stranger, slipping very carefully through the long grass as the stranger kept going deeper and deeper into his territory.
As he stalked, he examined his prey carefully. He quickly gave him the nickname Orange. His people always inclined towards brilliant colors, when they weren't using their greatest ability… natural camouflage. Right now, Grimmjow's hair and body were a tan with wavering black lines, perfectly adapted to blend into the grass. But the hunting mindset activated it, so Grimmjow couldn't tell if Orange lacked the ability or if he simply wasn't hunting.
Then Grimmjow detected something interesting. There was a small raptor hidden in the brush, waiting for Orange to pass so it could make its move. Raptors could be dangerous to one of his kind if they were foolish and unwary, so it was no surprise that it would try for Orange. He settled back on his heels to watch and see what would happen. If Orange died, then he was unfit to live.
But something unexpected happened as the raptor attacked. Orange turned and in a smooth move, drew a strange item from his belt. The raptor's leap forward was stopped cold as a neat hole was punched in its chest. Grimmjow gaped in shock and awe as the body flopped to the ground, instantly dead.
Grimmjow stared covetously as the man put away the object. A weapon. Like the obsidian spears and arrows he and Shiro used in the winter, it could kill from a distance. Such a thing could make the different between life and death, when they were getting old and feeble with no loyal cubs to bring them a kill or two. And what about Orange? What if there were more of his kind? Grimmjow stalked the stranger more intently, trying to get as close as he could. He would have to do this perfectly or he would never get another chance.
His act of thievery went off wonderfully. He slashed through the tall grass, taking Orange completely by surprise. Sharp claws sliced through leather and tore the weapon away. Grimmjow howled his triumph before he bounced away, squatting on his haunches and examining his prize. It had a hole on one end and what was clearly a spot it was meant to be gripped. Then the blue one looked up as Orange shouted something. The sounds were nonsense, although he could have mimicked them if he wished. But from his body language, Orange was very unhappy. A wicked grin split Grimmjow's face and he flirted his tail at the stranger, leaving a scent marking on the ground before dashing away. Orange tried to follow but he couldn't hope to keep up and Grimmjow laughed to himself.
He couldn't wait to show Shiro his prize.
"Don't, you'll hurt yourself!" Ichigo said, panicked, as the strange creature examined his gun. "Give it back!" He couldn't start his career on Typhoon by killing a sentient, he just couldn't. And this alien had to be sentient. It was clearly trying to figure out the gun.
He didn't have much time to think about it, though. A long blue tail – hadn't it been tan a moment ago? – lifted into the air and waved playfully. The alien gave him what looked for all the world like a shit eating grin before taking off running. Ichigo tried to follow, but it was hopeless. The thing had put the gun in his mouth and was running on all fours, at a pace he couldn't hope to match. Finally coming to a stop, Ichigo watched him go, breathing hard and severely annoyed.
"Shit." He ran a hand over his face. This was not going to look good in his report to Urahara. And now he would have to stop the rest of his survey. Without a gun to protect him he was horribly vulnerable. Heading back the way he'd came, his foot suddenly stuck on something and Ichigo blinked, glancing down.
It was a blue stone. Or rather, blue gel that was just beginning to solidify. Ichigo's breath caught in his throat as he remembered the alien's appearance. His tail and hair had been blue, after he'd gotten the gun. He hadn't had long to examine it, but he thought that gorgeous long hair had been the exact same shade as the gel.
"Oh… wow." If he was right and the alien was the source of the blue stones, then Urahara would easily forgive him the loss of the gun. Ichigo knelt down and began taking samples of the gel.
He couldn't wait to show this to Urahara.
"Whatcha got there?" Shiro's lilting tones reached Grimmjow, who looked up with a grin. He was sitting on a large, flat rock outside their den, examining the little weapon he'd stolen from Orange.
He had been very, very careful with it. It had taken a while but he'd figured how to hold it and how to trigger it. The little thing fit neatly in his hand and he almost purred at the thought of the lethality he had just gained.
"A weapon. I stole it from a stranger." He told his mate, who lifted ghostly white brows, confused. "I call him Orange. He smells like something that doesn't belong. Not bad, just foreign. He wears strange coverings… " Grimmjow did his best to describe Orange to Shiro, who listened dubiously. "He killed a raptor with this, just punched a hole in it! So I stole it." He let the pleasure in his theft enter his tone. Alas, Shiro did not feel the same way.
"Ya idiot! Ya coulda been killed. What were ya thinkin'?" Shiro demanded, hitting him on the shoulder. Grimmjow winced in pain. Shiro could hit very, very hard when he chose to. "I don' wanna be alone again!" His voice caught on the end and Grimmjow grimaced.
Shiro was… strange. His eyes were black and gold, like nothing the blue one had ever seen before. And his skin was too hot. One touch of that burning skin indicated that he was sterile, and the other's scent markings also advertised it. Their people lived in very small groups, with only mates and close relatives. No one would mate to Shiro so he'd been driven away from every other group he tried to reach out to. The white man had been near mad with loneliness when he'd finally found his blue mate. Unfortunately, that could make him very overprotective.
"I'm thinking of the future, you damned food." Grimmjow growled. While he might understand the reasons for the protectiveness, he wasn't about to tolerate it. "When we're both old and having trouble hunting in the winter, this little thing could keep us alive." His hands caressed the weapon. "And what about Orange? What if he's not alone, and his sort try something funny? We don't know if they're like us, or the raptors, or the Paganta." Those were the great, hooved creatures that crossed the savannah. They travelled in large groups. "This could keep us safe."
"Or they might seek us out t' get it back!" Shiro retorted, then sighed and suddenly relaxed, sitting down beside Grimmjow. "What's done is done. Show me how this thing works." He demanded and Grimmjow grinned before aiming the thing at a nearby rock. His aim was true and the rock shattered into a thousand pieces. "Ooooh. Let me try!"
"No. We don't know how many arrows this thing has in its quiver." Grimmjow said, pulling the weapon away as Shiro reached for it. His white mate pouted but Grimmjow stayed firm. "We can't use it up."
"Oh, alright." Shiro said gracelessly. "Put that thing away. I wanta mate ya." Grimmjow grinned as he carefully set down the weapon in a corner of the den.
"Who said you're going to mate me?" He said, flirting his tail teasingly. "Maybe I want to mate you." Because of the way they were, that was possible to do and very pleasant. But Shiro's eyes flashed and he pounced on his blue lover, biting the bend of his neck and making him groan.
"Don' want it like that t'night. Wanta mate you." His voice was a dark growl and Grimmjow put up only a token resistance before submitting. He did care deeply for his mate.
If Shiro wanted to feel his insides, that was fine by him.
Ichigo watched as Urahara looked at the few images he'd captured of the strange creature.
There had been a camera in his clothing, constantly recording whatever he was looking at. So there were a few good images of the being as he examined the pistol. And Ichigo had the leisure now to examine the alien more fully.
It was very interesting. Long, silky blue hair, well groomed yet rough looking fell behind him in a wave. The face caught by the camera was amazingly human like, angular and handsome, with bright blue eyes that seemed full of curiosity. There were green markings beside his eyes, leading to strangely catlike ears. The alien's body was a golden tan, but shaded to black on his animal like feet and nearly human hands. He was wearing absolutely nothing and Ichigo swallowed as he saw the alien appeared to be male. It was hard to say for certain, of course, but that looked like a penis. Then Urahara flipped to the next clear picture, where the creature looked at him with blue eyes and gave him that grin. The eyes seemed full of mischief and everything about his body language said the alien knew he'd gotten the best of the human he was facing.
"We have no conclusive proof here that we're dealing with a sentient." Urahara said firmly and Ichigo's jaw dropped a little. No proof?
"He stole my gun and was trying to figure out how to use it." Ichigo said sharply and Urahara sighed. "Sir?" He said stiffly as the man gave him an understanding smile.
"Ichigo, monkeys will steal things all the time. And while they are fairly high on the intelligence scale, we do not consider them sentient." His tone was regretful and Ichigo felt his jaw tighten. "There's no sign of tools or clothing, both of which are signs of true sentience."
"…Maybe he just likes being nude." Ichigo muttered and Urahara's smile widened a bit.
"That is true. However, more likely he's simply a very clever animal." The man said and tapped his fan against the table for a moment. Then he brightened. "We should trap one and examine it. We could learn a great deal from that."
"Trap a possible sentient?" Ichigo asked, appalled. He'd never heard of that being done before. But Urahara paused, frowning at him.
"Ichigo, I know you're a young xenosociologist." He said gently and Ichigo frowned, wondering what he was getting at. "Everyone wants to find a sentient species. But you can't let that blind you into thinking that everything clever is also sentient. We have nothing yet, no indications of language, clothing or tools. Perhaps I'm wrong and we'll find something. But until we do, they are intelligent animals, no more. So yes, we will trap one."
"…Yes sir." Ichigo mumbled. The idea still bothered him, but he could tell his superior's mind was made up.
There was nothing more he could do.
Shiro reached down, scratching under the piece of leather he wore around his privates.
His mate preferred to go completely unclothed in the summer, only putting on some furs and buckskin in the winter, when the cold rains came and made the land a wet, miserable place. But Shiro came from a different family with different traditions. He habitually wore a bit of concealing leather, laced up roughly on the sides.
In general, he took better care of his appearance than Grimmjow. His hair was tied back into a ponytail, and he had fashioned several bracelets of bone and wood, which jangled as he walked. When he hunted in earnest he just pushed them further up his arm, silencing them easily. He also wore a necklace with a single flint arrowhead strung on it. It was a souvenir, taken from a wound that could have ended his life. An injury that had brought him to Grimmjow in the first place.
Shaking aside thoughts of the past, Shiro sniffed the air and licked his lips. He smelled a kill nearby, and it was reasonably fresh. He was more than willing to scavenge something, although he wouldn't bring a stripped carcass back for Grimmjow. There likely wouldn't be enough meat to bother.
He wasn't correct about that. To his surprise, the carcass was a raptor. Shiro paused, examining the creature. Its scaly skin was a rippling pattern, almost as good for camouflage as Shiro's hierro. This one looked to have been in good condition when it died. What had killed it?
Shiro hesitated a long moment, eyes darting around warily. Sometimes predators would use a fresh kill to lure in scavengers and get two for the price of one. But the only predator he could think of strong enough to use a raptor that way was a tikishu, and he hadn't seen one of those since he was a child. They belonged in the rainforests, far to the south.
"Maybe it was old?" Shiro mumbled to himself. His great aunt had never mated, remaining with his family. She'd died at quite an old age of no obvious cause. "Hn." Shrugging to himself, he slid through the grass until he reached the dead body. Resting a hand on the creature's haunch, he was about to bite in when the sight of a hole in its chest arrested him. He hadn't been able to see it before, the angle had been wrong, but now he could.
"Shit!" Shiro snarled before leaping away. Or rather, trying to. Bars of some strange material suddenly unfolded from the ground, caging him in. He struggled against them, trying with all his might to escape, but could not. They were too strong. His wail of distress rose loud and clear as strangers began to appear. How had they concealed their smell from him? Shiro didn't know, but he hoped Grimmjow was close enough to hear his call.
If not, he was doomed.
Ichigo grimaced as he watched the terrified creature inside the cage trying futiley to escape. It was making loud, oddly lilting sounds. Despite the lyrical tone, they adequately expressed its fear.
Ichigo was absolutely convinced they were dealing with sentients, but absolutely no one agreed with him. He knew why now, though. Apparently it was a very common thing for a young xenosociologist to see sentience everywhere. Ichigo hated it but not even Renji backed him up. He would have to find some real proof before anyone would listen to him.
"Oh dear, it might hurt itself. Soifon, you have the sedative?" Urahara asked and the leader of their security detachment, a captain in the military, nodded sharply.
"Yes, I do." She didn't bother with any honorifics with Urahara, since he habitually omitted her rank. The scientist didn't the least bit care, just waving his fan with a smile.
"Excellent! I think we should – " That was as far as he got before there was a flash of blue. Ichigo flinched as it landed on the top of the cage and roared. The sound was so loud it was almost physically painful and Ichigo could see what the alien was holding.
"He's got a gun!" He shouted as the alien pointed the weapon at a stunned Urahara. Soifon grabbed Kisuke with a speed Ichigo could only envy, yanking him back as everyone scattered, seeking cover in the grass.
"But it's only an animal…" He protested as Soifon carefully peeked out of the grass. Ichigo knelt beside them and winced as he heard the snap of a gun going off. But there was no scream of pain, so hopefully the alien had missed whatever he was aiming at.
"He's holding the gun correctly." Soifon said in a tight, controlled voice as she pulled out her radio. Ichigo ignored her as she began rattling off orders. He couldn't understand the military slang, anyway. Instead he watched as the blue alien reached his empty hand through the bars below him, even as he held the gun steady on his enemies. The white alien within leaped up, trying to touch his hand.
"He wants his friend." He said. "Soifon, is there any way to deactivate the cage remotely?" Soifon shook her head as Urahara frowned. "…I'll go out there and deactivate it." It would be dangerous, but he had to do it. If this standoff continued the alien was going to be shot.
"No, you can't!" Kisuke tried to grab his arm but Ichigo avoided him before he stepped out of the grass. The gun in the alien's hand immediately snapped onto him but he held up his hands, meeting blue eyes calmly. There was a very tense moment before he took a slow step forward. The alien tensed but didn't react otherwise, and Ichigo took another step.
It was nerve wracking, but he walked up to the cage and knelt, looking for the deactivation switch. He found it and hit the button. There was a yelp from above as the cage unfolded and the blue alien had to leap away. The white one immediately bolted, his hair flying behind him like a stream of silk. They both vanished into the grass just as the sound of several gunshots rang out. Ichigo's eyes went wide as he looked behind him, trying to locate the shooter. Soifon's voice rose angrily as Ichigo bit his lip.
He could only hope the aliens had gotten safely away.