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Aberrant: 200X - Fierce Creatures, Hidden Talons


Tomas Saint-Etienne

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Central Park Zoo Tropical Rainforest Zone - March 12, 2009

"...and the Golden Poison-Dart tree frog, in the wild, produces enough toxin to kill ten full grown adult male human beings, despite being only just over two inches long!" The guide told the visitors with a wide smile as the crowd clustered closer to the edge of the platform to get a closer look at the tiny colorful creatures. "You needn't worry here, though. The toxin is dependant on their diet in their native habitat: needless to say we don't feed them that way here!" Some nervous laughter at that. "So lets move on to the next platform, where you can say hello to Matilda, our two-toed sloth..." The small party of vistors moved off along the walkway as, all unnoticed, one of their number stayed behind.

Tomas leaned against the railing of the platform and relaxed, studying the tiny, deadly creature as it clambered across a broad leaf, searching for food. He paid the fading voice of the guide little mind: it wasn't as if anyone noticed him join the tour, and they wouldn't notice his absence either. As the humans disappeared around the bend in the trail, the young Terat relaxed and let the mask of blandness fall from him. Dark green eyes became vivid, shimmering gateways to emerald fantasy, dull black hair became fuller and finer, taking on the sheen of a starlit raven's wing. Ordinary skin became moonlight pale, and the face of an unremarkable average teenage boy became ethereally beautiful, combining the best aspects of male and female features. The fae princeling watched the Golden Lion Tamarins foraging for a short while, then moved over to the bench on the far side of the platform and reclined, laying back on the seat and listening the the noises of this man-made bit of rainforest. It was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of life in Manhattan, and Tomas wondered what the real rainforest would be like. Would it be as peaceful as this slice of paradise, or would it be just another jungle with trees instead of skyscrapers?

Perhaps both, he decided as a dreamy half-smile curved his lips, his eyes fixed on the swaying leaves overhead, his senses stretching to cover the area around him idly as one might trail their hand in the water when laying beside a pool.

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As the beautiful young nova lounged on the bench, Nature's orchestra surrounded and enveloped him. So varied were the players and instruments, the first subtle changes in the tone of the song blended almost perfectly with the rest. And yet...

The chatter of the lemurs suddenly sounded sharper, more alert. The cry of the weaver bird became a piercing trill, and the flutter of wings formed a strangely percussive rhythm as the collective attention of all the birds and beasts in the area became focused on the sound of approaching footsteps springing lightly along the walk.

"C'mon, then, let's see you!" a cheerful voice called out, as a red-haired woman clad in the standard khaki uniform of the zoo staff strode past. She didn't seem to notice Tomas, intent as she was on the small family of tamarins in the canopy. Bracing one hand on the platform railing, she casually vaulted over to their habitat. "All of you, now... There we are..." she murmured, the smile audible in her voice. "Anything new to report, mm?"

The tiny primates clustered around her, perching in the branches and chattering softly in excitement as she stroked one under the chin.

"You're in rare form today, aren't you?" she laughed as the cheeky little thing scampered up her sleeve and tugged insistently on one of her braids. Its fellows quickly followed suit, scrambling all over her and investigating her hat, her pockets, her collar, and even her ears. "All right, all right! Here, take it!" Reaching into her breast pocket, she retrieved a small banana, which she broke into several pieces before distributing it among the furry bandits. "Rogues and scoundrels, the lot of you," she giggled, shooing them back into the trees.

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At first he was irritated at the disturbance of footsteps disturbing his peace. Someone coming meant someone who might bother him, or stare for a long time before rushing off and whispering that a nova was in the garden. Then, as she strode into view, Tomas's irritation slipped away to be replaced by intrigue and a pleasurable frisson of fear.

The woman who hates me, here? He pondered 'fading' again, disappearing from casual view. There was no-one else around... she could quite possibly kill him in an instant and with none the wiser. No sooner had the thought occured than he berated himself: he was not going to run or hide. A Terat, especially a Marvel did not shrink from a challenge, or cower in a cave like some ignorant baseline primate. He had not sought her out, nor she him, but here they were. And I am not without my means of defense.

So he watched her as she vaulted with such easy grace over the railing, appreciating how deadly that grace could be in the same way he appreciated the brilliant colors of the tree frogs. The tamarins clustered around her without any fear, and a small smile graced his lips as he heard how easily, how naturally she seemed to speak to them. Her laughter was no less surprising, and he wondered how she looked when she laughed, whether she would laugh as his blood dripped from her claws. She seemed much more at ease here than on the boat or at the party before that. She was a creature in her element.

So it was when Caitlin turned to leave the enclosure she saw the figure that featured in her red-tinged daydreams lounging on the bench, his head tilted to one side and a genuine, if only slight smile on his beautiful face. He was clad this time in black slacks and a dark green shirt, open at the collar, under a black jacket. He was elegant, breathtaking, and she felt her claws start to itch as he gazed at her calmly.

"I am sorry, Caitlin. I did not realise you worked here." His voice was polite. "I come here sometimes, to the zoo. I find it relaxing." He tilted his head a little more and smiled as he regarded her. "So, it appears, do you."

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Not so much now, she thought darkly, but forced herself to smile anyway as she brushed bits of sticky fruit from her hands. She was on the clock, after all, and Tomas was currently a guest of the zoo.

"Usually," was her cautious reply. She hadn't expected to see him again. Ever. Well, that'd been her hope, anyway. Finding him casually reclining on a bench in her territory was unsettling to say the least. "I don't think I've ever seen you here, before," she added as she took a step toward the edge of the man-made rainforest and leaped back across the gap.

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"Actually I come to the zoo fairly often." Tomas smiled, a hint of boyish mischief transforming the unreal loveliness of his features. "But usually I prefer to remain unnoticed as I wander around. I thought I would be alone here, so relaxed a little. Let my hair down, you might say. This spot has been a favorite of mine for the last couple of visits." He glanced up at the rainforest canopy, a distant look in his eye.

"I like it here. I am by nature a creature who needs the human herds to move amongst, but that doesn't mean I like that concrete jungle out there with all it's crawling, buzzing, greedy hypocrites." He gestured offhandedly, a languid motion that indicated the city beyond the Zoo. He smiled at Caitlin, a curiously good-humored expression. "Forgive my vitriol. When one can read emotions and thoughts like words on a page, keeping illusions about human-kind is hard. Animal minds are refreshingly simple and uncomplicated after some of that sewage."

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"If you want simplicity, you should try plants," she responded dryly, and more readily than she would have liked. The restless energy she felt was only fueled by the heightened sense of everything in his presence, and the avid attention of their avian and mammalian audience. A quick jog was out of the question, unfortunately, so she did the next best thing... more or less.

Pacing slowly along the boundary of the platform, Caitlin sighed and gave voice to her thoughts.

"So this is... awkward."

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"Agreed." Tomas was regarding her curiously, still reclining on the bench. "I am sitting not too far from a woman who, by her own admission, hates me. And, seeing as your eruption allowed you to fend off a tiger; indeed, injuring it in the process, I have no doubt that you could probably do far worse to me." His lips curved in a smile that was just between the two of them, a wry humorous acknowledgement of absurdity. "And yet here we sit, having had..." he ostentatiously checked his non-existent watch "...two minutes or so of civil conversation without either of us threatening the other with our various abilities or walking away." He smiled at her again.

"So yes, awkward. But an exciting sort of awkward: the sense that the scales are in perfect balance and no-one knows where the next grain of sand or" and he smiled faintly "piece of straw will fall. I know you feel that as well. You want to know why you hate me so much. Or if you do know, you seek to understand. I confess I am curious too, especially since I did not plan on talking to you again after our encounter on the boat, and yet..." He gestured towards her, then towards himself in a motion that included them both in that same sensual grace that underlaid all his movements. "Here you are, and here I am."

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Caitlin sighed, casting a surreptitious glance at the adjoining platforms to check for stragglers or new tours moving through.

"All right. This is the part where we talk and try to sort out our differences, then, I'm guessing? Theoretically, without either of us trying to kill the other."

She seemed to consider this for a few moments, drumming her fingertips (sans claws, surprisingly) against her thighs. It didn't take her long to come to a decision, however, and then she was in motion again.

"Walk with me, then," she said, tilting her head in the direction of the main pathway. "I still have rounds to finish, and we can do this as we go."

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He uncoiled from where he was sitting with no expression of surprise or caution, a faint smile and a nod of the handsome head his only response to the invitation as he fell in alongside her. They were a curious pair as they moved along the pathways together.

Caitlin possessed the vibrant grace of a predatory cat, alert and practically humming with energy as she strode lithely through the Tropical Zone. She was a study in warm natural colours: red hair, the light tan of her skin, the khaki and dark green of her zoo worker's uniform. Even her eyes were warm, bringing to mind the first green of sunlit Spring leaves on the trees. Hers was the beauty of the natural order, of living, growing things and the dance of predator and prey.

Tomas, by contrast, was shades of night and winter. The young Terat's hair was the black of spaces between the stars, his skin was spun moonlight, warmed only faintly by the slight pink of his lips. His physical grace was of a different sort: a contained, quiet fluidity of motion that matched his composed demeanour. The green of his eyes as he glanced at his surroundings was the iridiscent shimmer of some faerie emerald, the facets of which caught the light within its embrace and drew the very souls from those that coveted its beauty.

They each felt that difference, that fundamental core of otherness that seemed only highlighted by their proximity. There was some recognition there as might be found between two vastly different predators that nevertheless unconsciously recognised some common purpose.

"So you speak to plants as well?" Tomas looked at Caitlin inquisitively, a faint smile curving those far-too-inviting lips. "I understand the concept in the abstract: after all, they are living organisms and for our kind anything is possible. But do they truly have a consciousness?"

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