New Account Registration re-enabled - apparently the extension we use for ReCaptcha service had a configuration change and to utilize the more secure form it needed different parameters. We did not notice this when it occurred. Sorry folks!
|Colonies story universe|
|Works by Jetfire on Shifti|
|This story contains adult content.|
Author's note This story contains adult encounters and descriptions more graphic than my usual fare.
The first day was nuts. It's a wonder we didn't go crazy right away, but in hindsight, it's obvious the Watchers had anticipated that. If it didn't happen; if it didn't STILL keep happening, I wouldn't believe it myself. I'd think it was just a bad hallucination from some horsenip or something.
Anyways, the first day was nuts. We all had the same memory; going to bed the night before, and waking up here, on the shore of the river with the sun rising, butt naked save for the Collars. Waking up naked among fifty strangers is not something you want to do often.
The first few minutes were chaotic. We were trying to figure out what was going on, where we were, and most importantly, was there anyone we knew. It was quickly obvious that no one knew anyone.
After a few minutes other things began to emerge; and I don't just mean morning wood. We could all understand each other. We weren't talking English or Chinese or whatever, though at the time we thought we were. Somehow we all knew this common language, Standard, and no other. Even writing was different, but we could all read.
The age thing was the next thing we realized. It seems obvious now, but we had more things on our mind. Myself, I was in my forties when I went to bed that night before. Now, I, and everyone else, seemed to be in our mid twenties, and in the best health of our lives. Scars, implants, even missing limbs, were all washed away by whatever brought us here and rejuvenated us.
Another thing that was less obviously washed away with the scars and languages, was a lot of cultural stuff. We knew the cities we were from, and the general areas they were in; but addresses were loss, even building descriptions were lost. We were pretty sure we came from after the turn of the century, after 2000, but exact dates were elusive. Also elusive were the pure cultural things; songs, books, stories, tv shows, movies, paintings, statues and so forth. They weren't completely gone, but they might as well have been. Remembering a tune but not the words, or remembering a TV show about a guy and a gal that did something, were frustrating as hell when you dwelled on them.
The next few hours was just getting sorted out, and figuring out who was who. No one knew anyone else, and there didn't seem to be any pattern to where we were from. There were city folk, country folk, military and civilian folk from America, Europe, China, India, Africa, Brazil and more. One common element we discovered was that we all knew a bit about living in the wild. Everyone regularly camped away from civilization and most of us camped with minimum supplies, though this situation was more minimal than anyone had done before.
Introductions were made and remade constantly as people got to know the others. There was a lot of "Hey You! The Red head!" going on that first day. Some folk, myself included, were more than a little bashful about the nudity, but out of necessity and the lack of coverage, not even any broad leaves, we got over it quickly. Still, some of those rejuvenated bodies were hot.
By late morning, we were able to focus on where we were. The sun was climbing in the sky, as was the heat. A quick thinking person realized the risk, and got the fairer folk muddied up with river mud before they burned up. The rest of us, tried to figure out where we were.
The river, at that point, wasn't salty, so we figured we were a fair distance inland, where ever we were. It was way to wide at that point to consider trying to cross, so we ignored its opposite shore. Our side had a gravel shoreline that climbed up a little bit to a grassy plain that stretched for klicks all around. Downriver and upriver looked equally the same, with the hint of something on the horizon in each direction. Going inland, away from the river, we could see snowy peaks of mountains a long ways away. The land was as flat as the prairies otherwise. Assuming we were on Earth, how naive that assumption seems now, a few folk guessed we were in the mid latitudes, possibly in Asia somewhere.
By lunch time, we were milling about without a purpose. Some Thing had obviously brought us here and done stuff to us, but for what purpose was unknown. We weren't immediately hungry, and the river seemed clean enough to drink, so we were at a loss for what to do. I think most of us hoped we would just go back to sleep and wake up back in our beds or something.
That's when Ricardo stepped up. He had a good head on his shoulders, and was good at figuring out what had to be done, and looking for the skills to do it. I think he was Spanish or Argentinian military or something. Unlike most of us, he wasn't assuming we would wake up home the next morning, so he got our tails in gear.
I admit it, waking up among all those beautiful young women caused a reaction in me. Hell, it caused that reaction in most of the guys. Some of them flaunted it; most of us had the decency to try and hide it, or otherwise chill it off. Thankfully no one tried to use it; I think we were all too shocked to think that way. Of course, if we knew what was going to happen, some of us might have been a bit more eager back then; but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The collars were strange back then and still a mystery now. They looked like brass rings no thicker than a finger, but they had some flex to them. Not enough to stretch over your head, but enough that you forgot you had one on your neck. No amount of tugging or bending would cause it to wear, and no one could get them off. A long time later we tried melting and burning, to no avail; the things didn't warm up nor cool off no matter what we did. They're clearly something the Watchers are using to track those they put on the world, but beyond that, their purposes are unknown.
Ricardo probably saved us all back then. He recognized right off the bat that we needed to plan for the long term. We'd already wasted half the day by that point, and he knew we needed knowledge, food and other supplies.
He divided us into four groups; three groups of five and the remaining thirty-some people. Each of the five groups was going to head towards the only things we could see; downriver towards what we thought was a forest, upriver towards another potential forest, and inland towards the mountains. The rest were going to fan out and examine the grasslands, so the five-groups could push on to their destinations faster. No one was to go alone, everyone was to be careful, and everyone was to look for signs of anything. We still thought we were on Earth, so it seemed inconceivable to find a place without garbage of some sort. And everyone was to be back by nightfall, no matter what.
I was in the downriver group; me, Hei-Wu, Albert, Michael and Julie were the official group, and five others were going along to explore the river and grasses in the direction we were going. I think Hei-wu was just glad to get away; she was going nuts looking up every time someone shouted "Hey! You!".
We set off at noon, half of us caked in river mud to shield us from the sun. We quickly learned to keep to the river bank as much as we could, staying at the transition where the gravel and mud dried out enough to walk on, but the grasses hadn't managed to grab hold. Walking barefoot and bare assed in the grasses isn't something you want to do as a human, even if they were useful for other things. As we went Hei-Wu started grabbing grasses and tried weaving them together. We realized the usefulness of what she was doing and tried our hands at it, but none of us were particularly good at it, not even her. We also looked for walking sticks or other useful things, but those were lacking as well; not even driftwood along the river.
We did find some berry bushes loaded with blackberries and raspberries and stuff. We should have been more cautious, but we all ate them right off the bush and thankfully suffered no ill effects.
After a couple of hours walking, we figured we were about ten klicks from our starting point, give or take a few river bends. In the distance, there was obviously a forest of some sort, with tall straight trees Hei-Wu thought looked like bamboo.
Around that time we found an old streambed. The water had dried up long ago, but the route was still clear, and the flint and slate it left behind were a godsend to us. They hurt like hell to walk over, but the rocks themselves would be useful. We spent more time than we should, picking among the rocks, looking for sharp ones we hoped we could use to cut the grass and other things. Even though our weaving projects were already falling apart, they proved useful for carrying some sharp stones as we continued on.
An hour later we realized how badly we had overestimated the capabilities of our younger bodies. It's one thing to go hiking in a good set of boots, proper clothes and equipment. It's another thing entirely to go barefoot, with just a few sticks and reeds you could find, and whatever rocks were at hand. The bamboo forest was obvious to all of us now, but still many kilometres away. At our pace, we knew we wouldn't make it there before nightfall, let alone make it there and back. Somewhat reluctantly (we wanted to see something other than water and grass by then) we turned back. Assuming we could get an early start the next day, we knew we could make it there easily, unless someone had found something else.
The lack of anything was a bit of a downer as we turned back. There was no garbage, no flotsam or any other signs of humanity we could find. We didn't even see any contrails in the sky. We did see the tracks of lots of critters, large and small, and the river seemed well populated with fish, so we were fairly confident we wouldn't starve. The main concern was trying to figure out where the hell we were so we could get rescued and hopefully find some solution to our fuzzy minds. With the sun setting on the other side of the river, we turned back and headed back to where we woke up.
It turned out, we were the last team to return. The hills team were exhausted, having had to trudge through the thick grass all the way. They were scratched up and one of them had a twisted ankle from stepping in a mole hole. They'd turned back when they realized the mountains weren't getting any closer. Like us, they had tried their hand at grass weaving as they went. Unlike us, they'd also brought back samples of every type of vegetation they could find. Someone recognized flax among the samples they found, which that person said could be useful in the long term.
The upstream team had done better. Like us, they had followed the river and about ten klicks in that direction, they had found a tributary. It was swift flowing, but only a few hundred metres across, with decent crossing points further upstream. When they had crossed the tributary, they found themselves on a bit of a bluff with bushes and a few saplings. Further along the main river, a forest started, too far for them to reach that day, but close enough to the bluff to be useful. They claimed it would be a good campsite if we wanted it.
The stay backs had tried weaving the reeds and grasses into mats of various sizes and varying degrees of success. Piles of berries were held in some of the more successful containers, and the rest would be used for sleeping mats. Somehow they had even managed to catch a fish, a bright rainbow trout that was easily cut up with the rocks we brought back. Some of us wanted to try and make a fire to cook the fish over, but Ricardo nixed that plan. Given how hard it would be to make a fire, and without a good wood supply, it just wasn't worth the effort to start and keep one going. It meant that we all had a bit of sashimi for dinner that night, which no one complained about.
All in all, for a first day that started as crazy as it did, it was surprisingly productive. We didn't get everything done we wanted to do, but we did accomplish a lot for a random fifty people thrown together into the wilderness. The most noticeable thing we didn't find, was signs of man. No garbage washed on the shore, nothing going across the sky, nothing at all.
The sky darkened, and we settled down for the night. With no fire, we had no light nor other reason to stay up later, and we were all exhausted. A few people paired up and disappeared into the grasses for some private time, but mainly we just huddled together for warmth, waiting for the stars to come out. We figured between all of our experiences, the stars could tell us where we were.
The stars came out. Oh boy did they ever come out. Clusters and streams of stars of all colours, even a nebula big enough to see with the naked eye... and none of them in a pattern anyone recognized. Where ever we were, we were not on Earth.
Even then, some of us held out hope, tracing out patterns that almost matched the constellations on Earth, even if they were going the wrong direction. The moon killed that last hope dead. It rose over the mountains inland, a glowing blue and green sphere that looked like another Earth. It still seemed the same size, but that was the only resemblance to the gray sphere we remembered. We could see storm systems moving across its face, blowing over oceans ice caps and strangely shaped continents. From where we sat, naked on a different world, it looked just like the pictures the astronauts would send back. That humbled all of us.
Ricardo had planned to set watches, but that plan fell to the wayside. We just huddled under the light of that strange moon, and grabbed what sleep we could.
No I wasn't one of the ones that snuck away for some fun in the grass. Most of us just didn't have the energy for that sort of encounter, but everyone knew a few people did. Once we realized we weren't on Earth, a lot of our energy faded. It was a long night of awkward sleep that left us very lethargic the next morning.
Sunrise did lighten the mood a little since light is always a boost even if it couldn't quite help us get over the downer of knowing rescue wasn't just over the horizon. On the other hand, with the sun up we could look at everything again and confirm that everything looked like it was Earth. The grasses, the berries, the fish, they were all recognizable as Earth things. Or the Watchers behind the Collars had messed up our minds to recognize alien vegetation and critters as Earth ones. We didn't dwell on that thought. Still, we knew then that we weren't on Earth. This place wasn't home, so our future plans had to be reevaluated.
For one thing, we knew we probably wouldn't find any garbage. There was a chance we might still find signs of civilization somewhere, but it wasn't necessarily going to be human civilization. So whatever we made, we would have to make from scratch.
For another thing, it was starting to sink in that we weren't going home. Whatever brought us here, whatever did this to us, probably brought us here for some inconceivable reason. And they likely weren't going to just send us home. It was a humbling thought that crossed most of our minds as we watched the Earth-like moon set in the early light of dawn.
We mostly demolished the berries gathered the day before, and washed up in the river. Thankfully the night stayed warm and the river wasn't too cold. Once done, we looked to Ricardo for leadership again; no one had any problem with him deciding what to do next, though he seemed less than eager to be the decision maker.
This time, he decided on two groups. Most of us were going to head towards the campsite that one of the teams had found upriver. But the hint of bamboo and the knowledge of flint was too important; both could be useful going forward so he wanted to know more about what was down river. He picked ten of us, including the entire downriver team but not me, to head back downriver to see what they could find. On the first day, I had stayed behind. Today I would see a little more of the new world, at least up to our new camp.
We didn't have much to pack; Hell we'd only been there a day and we were only moving a few klicks up river. That didn't make leaving any easier. It felt like we were accepting what had happened to us, as crazy as that thought was. So we ended up gathering those sharp stones, fish bones and reed mats slower than we had to, and thus we were still all together when the first Sign happened.
One effect of the nudity was that it is almost impossible to hide anything. Especially something as obvious as the first sign. It was Jessie, from the inland team that showed first. The skin on his arm started turning greens. Emerald green, Dark green, and other greens, spreading slowly but steadily over his hands and up his arms in a strange camouflage pattern. He and I had been rinsing off in the river when it started, talking about what we had seen. At first I thought he had found some goo or something in the water, but it was obvious it was his skin.
We backed away from him at once of course. We figured it was an infection or something. With that sort of impetus, it didn't take long for people to separate into groups based on who travelled with who. Jessie got a large quarantine space around him, and they tended to keep away from me. Not that it did any good.
Mary showed signs next. She was in the stay back group, and hadn't been anywhere near Jessie. She started changing colour none the less. Fiery red at her feet, spreading steadily upwards. Neither said it hurt, just that it itched a little. For the second time in as many days, we were thrown into chaos.
Within an hour, a dozen of us had started changing colours. The colours spanned the entire spectrum, from purple to red, pastels to neons. A few were solids but most had patterns of some sort, occasionally clashing colours. It started on each hand for me. Pastel pink nails on one hand, pastel blue nails on the other. The skin went the opposite colour and began to spread up. taking on a stripey-whirly pattern. It didn't hurt, it didn't feel any different, it was just a strange colouring on my skin.
By then it was obvious there was no hiding from it. Anyone could get this strange colour change, and it spread quickly once it started. Two hours in, and half of us showed signs. Jessie finished by then, having some strange camo colouration now in all sorts of greens all over his body. His body hair was unchanged, but every last bit of skin was a shade of green.
Ricardo decided there was nothing we could do about it. He was already showing signs himself, orange and purple tiger striping, and it seemed clear that we all would be painted eventually. So he got us going again before we lost another day, same plan as before. We bade farewell to the bamboo team and set off upriver.
It took a few hours for us to reach the tributary. By then, we all showed signs of new colours. I'd finished by then, a strange psychedelic pastel pink and blue set of swirls over my body. The swirls seemed to know certain areas; my nipples were the opposite colours, one pink on a blue breast the other blue on a pink breast. Even my eyes seemed to have been changed, something that happened to some of the others. None of the changes hurt; they didn't even itch after starting. It was strange to notice a strange colour and realize it was your own hand, or your foot. We all kept getting distracted by ourselves.
The site was on the other side of the tributary. Where the rivers joined was too turbulent to cross, but going up the second river we quickly found the spot we could wade/swim across. The campsite itself was on a slight bluff, no more than a few metres high overlooking the water and flat all around. The true forest was still a few klicks beyond, but the chosen spot was pretty decent enough, considering there weren't any caves around for shelter.
In that respect we knew it wasn't the best of locations; the first big storm would be a pain in the ass, but until we knew more of where we were and what was happening to us, it would have to do. With the forest somewhat close at hand, and knowing we were on our own, it made sense to try and make fire. With nothing but what we could scrounge up, it wasn't an easy task, but we were driven to succeed and eventually we managed to figure it out. It was a success we needed, our first step back from the wilds and towards civilization again.
The colours made no sense. How did they work? Why were we getting them? It was obvious there was something controlling what was happening to us, but why would they do this to us in the first place?
Some of it was practical; Jessie's camouflage look might work in the jungle, but it was less useful out here. But most wasn't. Mark got a similar camouflage look, but his colours were reds and pinks of all things.
With five more people, we quickly retraced our steps downstream towards the bamboo forest and restarted our explorations. It seemed a bit superfluous given the main group would have a proper forest to draw on closer at hand, but bamboo would be useful, if we could figure out what to do with it. Plus, we had to keep discovering what we could of the region, despite what happened to us, and this area was as good a place to explore as any.
We reached the grove by late afternoon. I'd never been in one before, so it was a strange experience. All the tall, branchless plants reaching high up into the sky with a crown of leaves high above us. They seemed unassailable, especially with just the slightly sharp rocks we had gathered. At least the ground was a bit clearer, so we were able to walk among the plants relatively easily.
Hei-Wu, now a deep purple with green hands and feet and other highlights, showed her experience again. She pointed out the various uses of the tall plants, once we had a way to harvest them. The rocks would work, we just needed more experience in making them into suitable tools. The main annoyance was that we were downstream; if we were upstream of the new camp, it would be trivial to float it down once we could hack it down. Instead, every plan had to be tempered with the reminders that we had no way to cut it down, and no easy way to get it back to the new camp.
We managed to hack down a few smaller, narrower shoots and sharpen them into rough spears, then returned to the river to make our camp for the night. We had no fire, but we were able to spear a couple of fish from the river, so we had food.
As night fell, we moved into the forest. It didn't block the sky much, but it was more comforting than the strange sky we were under now, and especially the strange Earth-moon.
Day three, those poor, poor guys. I shouldn't laugh, but looking back now, it was hilarious. Imagine that, going through all the aches and awkwardness of puberty all in a few hours. But I'm getting ahead.
Waking up, the previous days were starting to take their toll. Most of us had aching feet, scratches and more. No rashes and no other ill effects from our diet at least, but we were slow to wake up.
Strangely, we weren't thinking much of home. It was probably due to the Watchers, the guys who put us into this situation. (We assumed they were Watching. Why do this to us and not bother watching to see what was happening? Giving the sky the middle fingers became one of our pastimes on breaks between more important stuff). But yeah, we weren't dwelling much on home. We knew of it, and we did lament not having the tools, but we weren't missing it. Even families seemed strangely distant; I knew I had two kids and a new grandchild, but it didn't seem important on this strange world. Instead, a lot of our idle chatter drifted on to what we would do. Not what we would do that day, but how we would build buildings, power plants, and so forth. Considering we literally only had rocks and grass and some fish bones to work with, building a modern society seemed a bit ambitious.
Ricardo got us back on track quickly, dividing us into groups with goals. Most of us were on food duty, berries and fish. A half dozen people were to get to the forest, gather wood to keep the fire going and to look for stuff that might be useful. A few more were to go up the tributary and try to find clay. We were all ordered to keep an eye out for small game, or any animals at all. Fur, bones and red meat would be useful, if we could catch anything at all.
I ended up on the clay group going up the tributary. Me, another couple ladies and a couple guys got to walk up the river bank to see what we could see. For the first few klicks, there wasn't much to see. Some bushes and a lot of grasses, and a gravel riverbed. We stayed on one side, intending to return by the opposite before it got too late.
One of the guys, I can't remember who was first, or even who was with us, showed a sign first, rubbing at his chest as we walked. When asked, he complained about aches, itching, tingling. That seemed to start the other guy rubbing too, but we couldn't tell anything different, so we pushed on.
An hour or so later, all of our chests were itchy. Us girls not so much, but something was happening. We stopped at a clump of blueberries, just coming into ripeness, and ate our fill. That's when the guys really noticed the changes. They were growing breasts. Their nipples and areolae were larger, like a girl's, and they were beginning to hang like a girl's. I still remember my own puberty and how it was when my girls came in. They were getting the aches and hormone swings I'd gone through compressed into hours. They nearly lost it completely when they started leaking milk, but we managed to keep the guys calm through it. In the end, we were all pretty buxom in the breast department, male and female alike. What it meant we had no idea, but there was nothing to be done about it.
Seeing no point in stopping, we pushed on and tried not to laugh too much at the men dealing with their new additions. Admittedly, we women weren't used to our new largess either, but we weren't going to say that.
A few more klicks up the side river, we hit pay dirt, literally. An oxbow lake with lots of sticky clay. It was a bit far from where the camp was set up, but it was the right side of the river, and relatively close to the forest for a wood supply. We were almost giddy at the thought of having mugs and urns and plates and bricks now. Amazing how the little things can make you happy at that point.
There wasn't much we could do at that point, but that didn't stop us from trying. One of the guys used the clay to make a cup around his new breast. He called it the first champagne glass of the new world, though it slumped back to flatness as soon as he pulled it off.
It was then we began to notice the next phase of changes. We'd been feeling itchy for awhile now, especially on our legs. We ignored it, passing it off as grime from walking. What we wouldn't have given for a good pair of boots and pants by then! Or any pair of either for that matter.
We were in the river, washing off some of the mud and clay when we realized something was different. Rubbing our legs, we noticed they were a lot hairier than they had been before. With no razor blades, some stubble was expected, but this was a lot more than a few days growth. We gathered on shore and realized we were getting hairier all over our lower halves. From our waist down, it was coming in fast and thick. It matched our skin pattern as far as we could tell. It stopped along the line of where our belly buttons had been, a disappearance we hadn't realized until that point.
For me, I had further changes that someone pointed out to me. My hair was falling out and in its place, I was growing a blue and pink mohawk. It started at the top of my head and grew down to the middle of my shoulder blades, My wrists also itched from the long hair growing from there, something the others weren't showing. In the days and years to come, that feathering would be annoying, hence why I try to keep it cut back. Imagine having a headful of hair dropping over your hands every time you reach for something. It's a rare trait, and I curse whichever watcher decided it was a good idea to experiment with.
Even though it was early, we decided it was time to go back. Between discovering a useful clay source and all the changes, we declared the expedition a success. In order to at least cover new ground, we waded across the river and started going back. We discovered the thick pelt on our lower halves held water and weighed you down. Thankfully, some brisk rubbing got enough out that you didn't feel like you were wearing water filled galoshes with every step.
The breasts are damn annoying. I've adjusted to them now, and they seem trivial compared to everything else, but on that day especially, they were a pain in the ass. So sensitive, swollen, and leaking. A guy shouldn't leak like that, and the damn things kept swinging as we explored. We'd moved deeper into the bamboo forest before the first changes were noticed. With those changes, we decided it was time to backtrack.
By the time we got back on the river bank, the hair started growing out. We got hairy from the belly down, except for Michael. While his old hair fell out, it regrew all over his body, from the top of his head down to his lower legs and wrists. Just his nose, lips, inner ears, nipples, hands and feet stayed bare. It matched his skin colour, and wasn't that thick in some places, but he had full coverage otherwise.
We got to the new campsite by mid afternoon. Along the way, we met others, out gathering or fishing, and they all were in a similar situation as we were. One gal, she had red skin, devil red skin; but her hair, it grew out pitch black. Just on her legs and scalp, but man, that was quite the effect to see. At the camp itself, we found another combination we didn't expect. Where Michael got full coverage, another of the ladies got no coverage. Well, other than at her groin, wrists, ankles and the mane she grew. The rest of her body was hairless. Not just cleanshaven, it was smooth as a pearl.
The camp itself was a welcoming sight to see. A couple carefully tended fires, with gathered wood to help keep it alive. Fish and a couple rabbits were roasting over a spit; the smell of cooking meat was unbelievable to us after two days of berries and sashimi. The rabbits were small, but Ricardo made sure everyone had a bite at least, if they wanted to. Even more strangely, the rabbits were actually rabbits. We weren't on Earth, but everything we saw was recognizably from it. Another mystery we didn't have time to dwell on.
We were actually beginning to get some tools too finally. Very makeshift tools, but between torn down branches from the forest, and rocks from along the river, we had some very rough knives and axes. The woven plates and baskets were actually holding together, but were still very rough. All in all, we were taking the first steps, but with the changes happening to us, we didn't know what we were stepping towards yet. We were just glad the nights were warm, and it hadn't rained yet.
Hei-Wu, the rest of the bamboo team and I got a day of rest on day four. Well, we still had to do stuff, but we basically got to sit on our asses in camp and tend the fire, and try our hand at reed and grass weaving while everyone else wandered out to gather supplies. Fifty mouths is a lot of mouths to feed hunter gatherer style.
A lot of people lost hair when our new hair grew in. Many had collected it before it could blow away, and we were the lucky saps who got to try and make thread and lines out of it. We didn't have more than a few metres worth in the end, but it was more than we had before. We just didn't know what to do with it at first. In the end, most of it was used to build snares.
To be honest, that day was pretty boring and we felt a little guilty. We needed the rest; we'd walked our feet raw over the days before. The thing was, everyone else was doing a lot of walking too, over rougher terrain even, so what made us special? Ricardo decided we all would need a working rest day eventually, and declared we would be the first group to get one. In hindsight, whether Ricardo realized it or not, it was a good idea. Everyone else had spent time together, save the five of us who had gone downstream. By staying at the camp, we got to socialize with people wandering in and out, helping bring us together. Ricardo was probably the best thing that could have happened to a group of naked technocoloured breasted people.
Like the days before, the changes started around noon. We half expected them at that point, though we had no idea what was coming. This time, it started as an itch on our bellies, at the skin-fur line for those of us who had such a distinction. Soon after the itch, we'd feel muscle twitches and spasms. Nothing incapacitating, just annoying until we saw what was happening. The muscles were twitching on a patch of skin across our bellies, opening and closing a pocket that was growing. It was only a hand or so deep when it was done, fleshy inside, and naturally closed; you had to think to relax the muscles that closed it. The muscles kept them tight enough that they would stay dry even when swimming.
No one could figure out what they were for at that time. They were somewhat sensitive, nice to stroke and touch, but still fairly tough; we could keep our flint knives and other things in them and not feel uncomfortable. Some people suggested they might be used for reproduction, like marsupials, but no one wanted to dwell on that thought. It would imply we were becoming something other than human. Considering everything else that was happening to us, we clearly weren't human any more, but we were in denial.
Of course, carrying rocks in the pouches did cause some problems later. The flesh inside was somewhat sensitive and the dust would eventually be an irritant. To rinse them out you had to get underwater and relax it enough to open, then let the water rush in and out. A strange feeling, especially with the water already bouncing these damn breasts all over the place. A few clay gatherers tried to bring some wet clay back in their pouches, but after finding out how hard it was to get properly clean after, they only did that once.
Yes, I was one of the clay gatherers who tried to carry clay in their pouch. Took me forever to wash all the mud and goop out afterward. I wonder if that's why Miguel turned out how he did, but I suspect it was just cosmic irony.
Clay was too important a resource to pass up. Ricardo picked fifteen of us to go out there and set up a temporary secondary camp of sorts. We took a few torches that we would use to try and bake some simple objects. We weren't sure how we would do that exactly, so we were in mad scientist mode, experimenting to see what worked. The clay deposit was close enough to the woods that firewood wouldn't be much of an issue, if we managed it properly.
It took a few hours to reach the deposit, considering we had to stop and nurse the flames back to life multiple times. Some joke that it was our first Olympic Torch run. Once there, we picked out some spots for our first pottery barn.
Growing the pouches passed mostly unnoticed. I think we were changed-fatigued by then, but the usefulness of the pouches were quickly found. Most of us were sent out to gather firewood and rocks for the fire pit. Our pottery expert was Padma, who claimed she used to make her own projects back on Earth. Her claims were truthful, though her first few attempts were less than successful.
By mid afternoon, most of us were taking lessons on shaping clay from Padma. The hair on my wrists was getting annoying, because it was just long enough to get caught in what I was working with. I finally got someone to use one of our flint knives to trim it shorter. Thankfully, it didn't grow back as quickly as it grew out in the first place.
Of course, that was probably because our bodies were busy growing something else that we didn't notice at first. At first, we were squirming in the mud and clay, sitting becoming increasingly uncomfortable. The fact that our hairy legs were getting caked with dirt and mud was our main frustration, until someone rubbed their rump and bumped into something.
We all looked to him, then started checking our own butts. We were all growing fleshy appendages, matching the patterns of our skins. Some were longer than others, but most reached past our rumps. We could feel the bones in them, not to mention our hands touching them. They twitched and began to lift and move, somewhat under our control for basic movements.
When the hair started growing, they were recognizable as horse tails. Some grew long hair starting from the base of the tail and reaching their knees. Me, I just grew shorter hair more concentrated at the tip. A couple others had zebra tails like mine, but most got the full horse tail lengths.
The tails discovery slowed us down more than the pouches did. We were constantly sitting down on them, or catching the hair under ourselves, tugging them free suddenly. Even when we didn't sit on them, there were more than a few stepped on tail instances. We just weren't used to needing that space behind us.
Eventually, we started having some successes. The kiln, if you could call it that, didn't work well, but it did start baking the clay. After the day's work, and the tail-interruption, we had a dozen platters and a few things that sort've looked like bowls and even an urn that could hold about a litre of water. We declared the expedition a success and settled down for the evening.
Somehow we managed to sleep through the night without too many incidents. With everything we've been doing, we were too exhausted to do much but fall into a deep sleep. In the morning, we cleaned up and prepared to break camp and to carry back our successes.
Of course, the rain storm that hit at dawn played a factor in our decision as well. It was nearly impossible to keep the fires going in the downpour, so returning to the rest of the group to share in the misery was the best option. As I mentioned earlier, that was when I and a couple of others decided to load up our pouches with as much clay as we could; we figured we could use it for a few more plates or platters later on.
Clay proved to be heavier than I expected. It stretched at the pouch and kept pulling me forward, but having decided on that stupid action, I pushed onwards. We walked through the drizzle and got back around noon.
Once we were back, the camp was going full out. The main priority was to keep the fires going, not an easy task in a downpour. We were burning through our wood reserves rapidly keeping them stoked higher to beat the rainfall.
Of course, I couldn't help out right away. The clay reminded me of when I was pregnant, though I couldn't remember what happened to those children. It was a depressing thought that I chased away; we had more important things to focus on. I dumped the clay out as soon as I could, and made a beeline for the water for a long soak and awkward scrub. The rivers were running faster, and muddier with the rain runoff, but we got most of the clay out eventually.
Headaches heralded the changes for the day, and frankly by that point we were tired of the changes; most of us just wanted them over with. Still, once the first aches started, we started watching.
The ears were the first indicator, growing pointier and larger in general. Muscles strengthened to make them more mobile. Then our jaws ached and began to stretch out, complete with toothaches from new teeth growing out. Our noses merged with our upper lips, giving us a muzzle look. Even our chests expanded larger, making us seem a bit less buxom, but having its own set of troubles.
All in all, combined with the rain, which to our new ears sounded even louder, it was a miserable day. And it wasn't helped by a developing ache in the small of my back. I checked with others, but they weren't having similar aches, so I wrote it off as the week catching up to me. We were doing a lot of bending over and carrying, especially after the clay I hauled back effectively in my belly.
The rain cleared out late in the afternoon, and we were able to rest a little. Despite being exhausted and having new faces, Ricardo sent people out to restock and to check the snares. Due to the backaches I was developing, I got put on fire duty, something I was thankful for.
Horse heads. We now had the faces of horses, more or less. Not as big a muzzle, and our teeth were still mostly unchanged; we just had more of them. The bigger chests helped make the breasts a bit more manageable, but that was a minor improvement in my opinion.
We were put on firewood duty once the rain stopped. We followed the main river upstream, watching the water carefully. We snagged more than a few big branches floating in the swift current. We left them high up on the bank to grab on the way back.
This forest was a mix of hard and softwoods, young and old growth. The mixture didn't seem right, some of them didn't seem to even match the climate zone we were in, but they would be useful once we could start cutting it down. Cutting it down with metal axes and saws, since flint axes we had so far would shatter on most of it.
The rest of the day was pretty basic. We fanned out among the trees, looking for fallen branches or low hanging branches that were thin enough to pull down. That's when we started noticing just how much we had changed.
Hearing was the first thing I really noticed. Ears twitched and turned without conscious thought, helping me figure out where the sound was coming from. Vision was also different, slightly spread out more and less straight ahead. It wasn't a big difference, but the extra peripheral vision did come in handy.
And then there was the smells. Bigger chests and bigger noses let us pull more air in at once. The rain had washed most of the smells out at first, but in the afternoon sun, the drying forest smelled rich and confusing at first. Still, I found I could recognize who was close by smell as much as by sight.
We gathered wood and a few nuts and fruit that we found that seemed ripe. Knowing we had fire opened up the range of what we could handle. Some of us thought since we looked at horses we should try the grass and leaves; but they were wrong. Or at least what they sampled didn't agree with them. On the other hand, the clover in some of the clearings did smell and taste good when we found it.
Well aware of what Nicole and the other clay folk had found, we carefully loaded up our pouches with foodstuff that wouldn't stick, and loaded our arms with wood and started ferrying it back to the group. What we wouldn't have given to have a few ropes back then; awkward piles of branches are not easy to carry. Between interlacing branches and making use of vines we found, we managed to tie them together. Sadly, the forest we were in didn't have many long vines, and the few long ones we could find were often too weak to work for much, but we made do with what we could.
If we didn't think there was something controlling all this, today showed it. Today's changes were the most extreme, but they were also spread out. Not everyone changed at once, which given what happened was probably for the best. Those that were changing, like lucky me, were basically out for the entire day. We could probably have survived a day of doing nothing, but it would have been a major setback.
Ten of us were laid low with back aches basically. We weren't completely immobile, but staying still was better than moving. There was no pattern to those picked, other than that there were five men and five women. The rest of the camp continued doing their chores, but everyone kept a wary eye on us, knowing that if the patterns held, they would eventually be next. Some were already saying they were feeling back pains.
As for me, it was a confusing day. The first things that started was the expanding spines, mainly at the lower back. We were growing taller, when we could walk, but we were unsteady on our feet. Eventually the ten of us had to lay on the ground, growing a few decimetres every hour or so. The length was all in the lower spine, pulling and expanding our bellies, but leaving the pouch and upper bodies mostly unchanged.
Mahindar was a doctor before, or at least he was pretty sure he was one before. We got used to his hands on us, especially on the new belly stretch. What he found was less than useful; he could feel bones and muscles growing, and furry skin stretching and nothing else. It didn't make much sense at that point.
With the sun overhead, the changes changed themselves. We stopped getting longer and the changes started focusing below our pouch line. Muscles began to twitch, making us squirm on the ground, but there was nothing anyone could do but keep us mostly in place. Mahinder said he could feel something growing at that spot, a bony mass roughly where our hips used to be before getting booted a metre downstream.
The muscle twitching and bony mass seemed to form a new set of hips. Our backs arched and bent backwards until we were at ninety degrees to our new parts. It was strange laying on the ground like that, looking down feeling hips, but no legs down there, and furthermore having so much junk in the trunk behind me. Mahindar didn't have enough hands for all the feeling and rubbing he was doing, trying to figure out what was going on. Obviously, we weren't standing up anytime soon.
Despite being bent in two, it wasn't particularly uncomfortable like that. We could bend further back or forward if we wanted to, but relaxed, the ninety degree position seemed to be comfortable. Hunger didn't seem to be an issue either; all the mass we were gaining, and not a bite going in. Just another strange aspect of the world we woke up in.
Muscle cramps started as the next phase; phantom leg feelings where none existed yet. New limbs started growing from the new hips, furry limbs, coloured like the rest of my skin and fur. That's when people started talking about centaurs, and things made a bit of sense. Or as much sense as the week had been making so far. The new legs had a horse look to them, bending where the forelegs would normally bend. At the end of the legs, the hooves formed, surprising us. They were cloven hooves instead of the regular horse hoof I remembered in classic centaur looks. My strange colour pattern kept in play, one set of hooves in pink, the other in blue. I moved them slowly, bending them curiously, reaching down to touch them, not believing they were part of me. Mahindar's hands helped further confirm it.
We hoped that this phase of changes was done; by then we were done with all of this. It's obvious in hindsight, but by then the ten of us just wanted it to stop. Our lower chests began to ache with each breath. I could see it on the others and feel it on myself as the lower chests barrelled out, taking on a more horse-like look. At the same time, our hips - our rear hips that is - were painlessly twisting, bringing our legs forward so they were in line with our forelegs. All told that took us into dusk. Some of us tried to stand up, but our rear feet were still human and not long enough and we ended up falling on our asses.
The changes weren't stopping at least. Our barrelling chests reached our rumps and started working on our legs and feet. They all tingled and seemed to shrink and stretch at once, keeping us firmly on the ground. Watching myself change was too unnerving and gave me an achy neck, so I watched someone else. Their feet grew longer, but rounder while their thighs seemed to disappear against their sides, all in all looking more equine. The middle toes stretched out while the rest shrank away, toe nails growing out into the cloven hooves similar to our forelegs.
By the time the sun set, we seemed to be done. The tingling was done, and the aches were fading. The rest of the camp gave us a hand, helping haul us up on our hooves for the first time. It was a strange feeling, like we were standing on tip toes, but unable to get our heels to the ground. We were taller than everyone in the camp, big enough to ride though we weren't ready to allow that; we were barely standing just with our own weight. Our bodies were surprisingly well balanced, considering how much weight was over our front legs. We discovered we could easily lean forward to put our heads on the ground without our rear legs lifting. We could also lean back easily enough to rest our heads on our rump, a surprisingly comfortable position.
The ten of us moved around enough to get used to walking on four legs. The trick we found was to not think about it; when we tried to think of how we walked, we'd mix up our leg order and stumble. Running, or galloping or whatever was too risky to try in the dark, but at least we could move around.
Centaurs. That's what the Watchers were doing to us. Turning us into centaurs. Seeing it happen, it still seemed unbelievable. And the idea that we all would be going through that was chilling.
Still, we had to go on. Wood and food had to be gathered, fish caught, snares checked and so forth. Since the first ten's teeth weren't changing further, we assumed we would keep our omnivorous diet, but we wouldn't know for certain until they felt in the mood to eat.
As the Earth-moon rose, we settled in for our sleep. It was waning now, and showing signs it had a similar period as the old moon did. Of course that assumed everything was Earthlike. We felt rested after our sleeps and the day lengths felt right, but for all we knew, the day was twenty hours long. Or Thirty hours, or any time in between.
Sleep proved interesting for the new centaurs, and they put on quite the show for the rest of us. Lying on their sides proved uncomfortable, and some pointed out that was a dangerous position for horses anyways. Eventually they crouched down on their bellies, hooves... hooves of all things! ... folded under them, and they leaned back, using their own bottoms as beds. If that was our future, the bed industry was dead before we could restart it.
The waiting is the hardest part, especially when you are in the last ten. Forty of us have changed, and now I'm one of the last on two feet. My back is aching, so my time is coming. Tomorrow, whether I want it or not, I'll be on hooves like the rest of us.
The past few days have been interesting. The first ten learned to walk and built up their strength. They discovered they could stomach some of the grasses if needed, but still preferred everything we were eating before.
They were stronger, and faster than us, not to mention bigger. The grasses that we could barely see over, barely brushed the sides of their lower halves. Trips to the forest that took most of the day could be done in almost no time at a swift jog, or gallop or canter or whatever they did. The lack of ropes was becoming our main limitation. The centaurs could carry more than most of us, but they were limited to what they could hold in their arms or tie to themselves if they could find a strong enough vine.
It was possible to ride them. Nicole and some of the others let us climb onto their horse-backs. Officially it was to test how much they could carry (three human adults worth at least it would seem), but really it was just a chance to get a few horse rides in before we changed.
Ricardo grew his new legs on the third day. Given the strength and mobility disparity between the humans and centaurs, he decided to let the remaining humans slack off if we wanted to on the last day before we changed. The new centaurs could do more than we could, especially considering the aching backs that preceded the change. Since the first ten showed no further signs of changes, we figured everything was done, so once we were all four legged, we could start making proper plans.
Knowing what was coming, I was able to work through the back ache. It wasn't debilitating, just a stiff muscle that made itself known when you tried to bend and twist. After watching thirty people change, I wasn't ready to watch thirty one through forty. I headed downstream and found a quiet nook in the river where I whiled away the day, half heartedly trying to spear fish.
Four legs good, two legs bad. I don't know where the idea came from, but running through the grass lands, it certainly seemed true. Wind through my hair and tail, legs pounding the ground. On our larger frames the breasts didn't even bounce too much.
We were doing minimal work until the changes were done, so a few of us decided to just run and see where we could reach. The grasses that seemed so impenetrable when we first got there brushed my belly and sides, no longer a hindrance. Even better, the ground that had torn at our feet so much on the first days, was harmless under our hooves. The only risk was the occasional rodent hole or other hidden tripping hazards we weren't considering. Frankly, it's a wonder we didn't break a leg in those first days.
Three of us set off towards the inland mountains to see what we could find. We blew past the distance the first group had covered and reached the edge of the prairie surprisingly fast. There we discovered foothills slowly climbing up to snow covered mountains, still a long ways away. Climbing the early hills and mounts wasn't difficult at first; it was easy to find paths and our hooves seemed pretty sure footed. We didn't go as far as we wanted to, but we did grab many rock samples before heading back. The samples would be good for finding out what was available, even if actually smelting metal was still a long ways away.
The run back was just as fun as the run out.
We should have realized it. The changes weren't finished after putting us on four legs. Once it started, it was obvious that we needed more cooking. After four days of no changes to myself, I was willing to say we were done.
I didn't do anything myself over those change-free (for me!) days, but some in the group were more willing to experiment than others, especially after their legs grew in. There wasn't much privacy to be had, so we turned a social blind eye on the activities for the most part. After all we all would be trying it eventually. Word spread quickly; of new erogenous zones and fun positions, but also how difficult it was to just do the basic Tab-A into Slot-B maneuver. Our equipment was still human scale, and dwarfed by our new bodies.
On day eleven, when we expected everything to be done, the Watchers kicked off the final change. It started simple enough, and visually obviously. The men started getting the hardest hardons they could ever remember. Between their rear legs, they grew hard and just kept growing, their girths and lengths increasing steadily. The member itself's prepuce began to join along their bellies becoming a sheath, while the member itself hung low, taking on the look and shape of an equine member. Most of the guys were rubbing their breasts by that point.
Us girls, we were beginning to feel it by then as well. Whether it was the changes, or the stallion scents, we were getting wet whether we liked it or not. I couldn't see myself, but checking on some of the others, we could see it under our tails; the holes reshaping to match our proportions and rear biology. I'd never paid attention to a mare before, but others confirmed it looked right; Tab A to Slot B wouldn't be difficult to do now.
Of course, it would be too easy if it stopped there. Once again, it was the men that seemed to notice it first. They were wiggling, still hard, but their tails were lifting high, twitching in the air, their rear legs spread a bit. We could see their scrotums growing larger, but more interesting was the moistness that started just below their asses. The wetness pulled in and began to twitch, forming a mare sex similar to our own.
It was puberty all over again; well not the aching breasts part I'd had a few days earlier, but the puberty I remembered from my own youth. In this case it was the raging hardon that just wouldn't stop. The overall feelings were different, it felt close to the belly down there, but the sensations were familiar, until a new zone bloomed under the tail.
It was a strange feeling, an arousal different from anything I'd felt before. It spread deep into me, further than I thought possible. Muscles I never knew before spasmed and twitched as they grew in. I was one of many who bent over backwards to feel, finding our asses, and the new wet opening that was growing in place. Suddenly all of us having breasts made sense.
Most of us realized what was going on soon after that and looked to the women. Some had already spread their forelegs and bent over to look.It started with a furry sack (well furry save for the bare skinned one; even after her legs grew in, she remained mostly furless). It dropped between their legs, filling in quickly with their growing balls. A furry sheath grew along their belly, filling in quickly with an equine member of their own. The flat broad member dropped quickly from each woman, looking just like the one below my own belly, other than the colouring. The members seemed to be mostly matching a colour on the person's body.
Things got messy from there, self inflicted messiness, but messy nonetheless.
I didn't mean to do it. I just touched it and it went off! Then again, it was a problem a lot of us had, male and female alike. I was lucky, I'd bent to the side before touching, so it mostly missed me. Others had bent forward between their forelegs, and gotten a surprising face full. The male experience was different from what I expected, especially the way it left my legs jittery.
It was probably the flush of new hormones and new organs, but all of us went over the edge in quick succession, even the men. Their expressions and the way they shook revealed it all.
The minutes that followed were some of the most awkward minutes we'd had since we woke up naked on the river bank. We stayed silent for the most part, figuring it was finally over and just trying to let the moment pass. The messier folk went to the water to rinse off, or to use the water to try and cool off the arousal. Two sexes at once, that was just too strange to contemplate, but the evidence was part of us.
We stayed quiet while we cleaned up, tossing grass or mud or ashes on embarrassing wet spots on the ground. My new penis relaxed somehow and pulled back into its sheath, and the lifted tails started dropping. Had we not been so busy ignoring everyone, we'd probably have realized everything wasn't done.
The rubbing was obvious afterwords. I was doing it like everyone else, rubbing between my forelegs. Without the distractions of things to do, we were in our own heads, and our heads were saying rubbing there just felt so good. So good I didn't feel the swelling until one of the guys gasped. Every eye went to him, to see him lifting his hands away in shock. Between his forelegs was what looked like a vulva. The lips were moist with arousal, though he wasn't touching any more.
Looking down myself, I saw a blue shaft hanging between my legs. It was more human sized, but still equine shaped. As I looked, it twitched almost like it had a mind of its own. I had to touch it, and prayed it wouldn't go off. Moving it carefully, I felt a bit of an urge to twitch, but it didn't release. Below it, I could see the pink sheath and balls just between my forelegs.
The rest of the day was shot as far as work went. We kept the fires going, but didn't do any foraging or anything else. After so many false alarms, we weren't sure if we were 'done cooking' yet, as one person put it, so we didn't want to start something only to be interrupted by the next shock. We all agreed that the fact that the men all had two vaginas now and the women had two penises couldn't be a coincidence; the Watchers who were doing this to us had some strange sense of humour.
Two weeks. Two weeks since we woke up on the river. And three days since the last of the changes happened. It feels like we're done now, even though we're still a bit jumpy, expecting anything else to happen. Life went on, even if we didn't know how our bodies worked. Three sets of genitals, and other body parts, it just didn't make sense.
Still, we had to survive somehow. Ricardo rolled with the changes and her new body and got us refocused on survival. By common consensus, we ended up switching gender pronouns, even if we keep mixing them up and names sounded weird.
Groups went out with tasks to do and things to look for. The new forms did help a lot, expanding our range and our hauling capabilities, especially since the ropes we were weaving were getting strong enough we could tie things to our lower backs.
The idea that we aren't going home is starting to sink in. This empty world is our home now, whether we want it to be or not. With that in mind, a camp wide meeting was called for that night. Normally there was always a few people out in the field, but Ricardo made sure everyone knew to be in. It was time we stopped looking just at the now, and started looking to tomorrow. We needed to start thinking of how to make metal, how to tan skins into leather, make proper ropes and baskets and pottery. And we need to start thinking of planting actual crops and looking for live stock. While we hadn't seen any threatening animals yet, some of us had seen the tracks of things as we roamed out further. We suspected there might be wolves out there, along with deer, goats and sheep and possibly even oxen of some sort.
So Ricardo wanted us all together so we could start planning. To identify who was good at what, and what priorities we needed to work on. Our knowledge base did make it awkward; while we all had survival skills, most of them started with the foundation of a civilization. It was a wonder we'd made it that far unharmed. And now, we needed to use what skills we did have, to figure out how to build a world for the future.
It was one of the first turning points of our small communities, when we stopped thinking we were 'camping out' and when we were starting to think of it as a possible home. Someone even proposed naming the camp Centaurville. Most of us thought it was a stupid name, but it stuck.
One month. On the one hand, it was hard to believe a month had gone by already. Then again, when your survival depended on what you can make and gather each day, the days tended to blur together. There were no nine to five cubicle jobs here.
The moon was full again, just like our first night here, giving it a similar period to Luna back home. A 28 month naturally followed. How many months in a year remained to be seen. We did notice the days getting shorter, so we knew we were dipping towards winter. How harsh that winter would remain to be seen. We did carefully track the major stars we could see each night, to try and use them to figure out how long the year might be.
For the most part, we were still exploring and learning what was where. A lot of our focus was on the opposite side of the big river. There, we found a field mixed with cotton and flax, useful for future weaving eventually. There was also a herd of sheep that were surprisingly fearless. They weren't as fuzzy as the ones we remembered which made them less useful. Still we tried to keep an eye on their movements, hoping we could start taming them eventually. Of course the first thing we'd have to do would be to figure out how to corral them for good. We simply didn't have the manpower (horsepower? centaur power?) or the equipment yet to build a fence that could hold them. It was one of the hundreds of things we knew we had to do eventually.
On Day 29, I was in the bamboo forest with Maurice and Suresh. We'd been exploring another tributary river on the other side of that forest, collecting rocks that looked like they may have usable metals. We'd tried 'panning' for gold using some broad leaves from nearby trees, but it didn't seem to work.
On our way back, we could tell something was bothering Maurice. She kept rubbing her belly below her pouch and complained about cramps. She figured she'd eaten something that was disagreeing with her. I suspected differently; as the only one of us who had grown up as a woman I had suspicions, but the newness of our bodies made me doubt myself. I lead us to a quiet spot on the river bank, in the shade of the bamboo, and checked Maurice closer, becoming her gynecologist. Suresh watched with equal parts fascination, disgust and embarrassment; a lot of the new girls were still getting used to what their new equipment entailed.
Maurice said she was still virginal, completely virginal at that; other than her change day exploration and basic cleanliness matters, she'd stayed 'hands off' with all of her equipment, a rarity amongst us. The changes had ramped up all of our libidos and most of us had done a lot of experimenting by hand and with various willing friends by that point. That she had gone untouched in the mixing bowl of the camp was surprising, but irrelevant in the end.
I knelt in the gravel in front of her and started my makeshift inspection. Maurice's skin had become a pretty pastel green, with royal purple highlights. When her hair and fur grew in, the colours had inverted, giving her a great look in my personal opinion; especially compared to the riot of colours and patterns most of us got. Being that close to her caused stirrings I still wasn't comfortable with, so I tried not to think that way and focused on Maurice herself.
Her foresex was moist and twitching, like she was aroused. I ignored it and focused on her belly area, where she was holding. Pressing carefully, I could feel something firm and round, but I was at a loss for what it was. Every few seconds, she would gasp and I could feel her muscles clench around it, moving it lower until I lost it in the muscle and bone of her forehips. With her reluctant permission, I spread her foresex open and felt inside, surprised at how dilated she was. She was contracting fairly regularly by that point, and I could see a brown sphere pressing at her cervix, nearly pushing through. Whether due to my touch or just because it was time, she had a couple more cramps in quick succession, and the sphere was pushed out into my hands.
It was a solid sphere about the size of a baseball, brown with no notable markings on it and wet from its passage out of Maurice. With it out, she recovered quickly, but wanting nothing to do with the sphere. I rinsed it off in the river and stuck it in my pouch to take back to camp, before checking on Suresh.
Suresh didn't show any signs of cramping like Maurice did, and she wasn't aroused, at least not at first. I felt her belly below her pouch and thought I felt something, but I wasn't certain. We paused there for a bite to eat and pushed on back to the main camp.
Maurice's condition turned out to not be unique. Five others had pushed out the spheres, and Mahindar was busy checking the rest of the women. I took out Maurice's sphere, discovering my pouch was a bit damp, assumably from swimming. I passed the sphere to Mahindar and took another quick dip to chill off my sudden hardons.
After inspecting all the women (and a few of the men), Mahindar guessed another five had the hard spheres in them. Of the fourteen remaining women, she guessed most of them had something in their bellies; something softer than the orbs dropped so far. We theorized it had to have something to do with reproduction, but how all the pieces fit together was unknown.
Two months. The strange moon is full again, and we were slowly beginning to make a more permanent home here. It was just some lean-tos, built on some saplings and small trees chipped down from the forest and hauled back to the camp. The roof of leaves and branches was so low you had to back in, sit and push yourself further to be fully covered. It covered four of us, six if we snuggled close, and it mostly kept the rain off you. For better or for worse, it was a home for us; a roof over head between us and the strange night sky.
The strange moon was as big a mystery as ever. Every night it was up, many of us watched it carefully for signs of anyone else. As far as we can tell, it was as deserted as our new planet. We could see storms, volcanoes, oceans, continents, ice caps and more. But we never saw anything that might be man-made. No contrails, no lights, no large constructs. We could tell it was spinning, having a day as long as ours, and we mapped out the major landmasses. It was sad, we knew more about that world we couldn't reach than the one we were on. If there was anyone on that world, they were likely in a similar situation as us. It made us wonder what former humans might be lurking on it.
Weather wise, it was getting cooler. Not enough to be uncomfortable; our bodies seemed more than capable of handling the chill, even the parts without fur. Lack of information was still our biggest problem. We didn't know if we were in August and about to fall into winter, or if we were in December or January and about to start climbing into a heatwave of summer. Our time sense wasn't good enough to tell for certain if the shortest day had happened yet or not. In the end, we just didn't have enough to make our preparations any different. We just gathered supplies and built equipment, hoping that we wouldn't wake one day to a blizzard.
The second monthiversary found me on mining detail. Ten of us were out in the foothills looking for ore. We'd already found a rich coal seam and were chipping the black rock out of it for as much as we could, piling it up on the shore to raft down the Clay River to Centaurville. While half the group worked the seam, I was scavenging for ore rock. We'd already found some rocks with copper ore in the area, and we hoped that with it and the coal, we might finally start adding metal and possibly even glass to our available materials.
Health-wise, I felt great. Great for a buxom tri-sexed techno-coloured centaur trapped on a primitive world. The outdoor life was treating us fine, even if we wished to be back into insulated houses with electric lights. Food was plentiful enough, if you were willing to work for it, and sleeping on the grass wasn't too bad. And I'll admit it, the sex options were great too. We had no clue what we needed to do to actually start procreating, or if it was even possible; but the way we kept experimenting, we were bound to find the right combination eventually.
The eggs that some of us had the previous month were obviously a hint of what might be needed. After the eleven had their spheres, we'd cracked a few open. There was a tough shell, like an egg, and a sticky goo that dried quickly, but no sign of a yolk. The rest of us were anxious the days that followed, but none of us had those hard eggs. Instead, it was obvious we had something else in our bellies, growing bigger every day. I tried not to think about it much, but I could feel it bouncing a little with each step.
Before we left for the hills, Maurice had her second hard egg. That close to the full moon, it seemed obvious that those were our equivalent to periods, at least for the foresex; the rear sex hadn't done anything. Four others had signs of the hard eggs, but the other six now had the softer versions the rest of us had. When we softones would 'pop' was the talk of the campfires, along with speculation on what would need to be done next. No one seriously thought reproduction would just be from the front; it made all the rear equipment superfluous after all.
I was climbing in the scree at the base of a small cliff past the coal seam, when I had my first cramp. It made me trip and stumble forward. Feeling my forelegs were suddenly wet, I had time to realize I was leaking a clear fluid from my vagina before the next spasm hit me. Hei-Wu caught up to me quickly and lead me to a nearby stream between spasms. I could feel something moving in me, sliding lower with each one. Hei-Wu washed up as fast as she could, while I endured the next contractions. When she could check on my vagina, she found a whitish orb already crowning. After more pushing and more stretching than I thought was possible, Hei-Wu was holding a softball sized sphere, with an opalescent sheen to it.
She studied it while I recovered. It was unremarkable, save for being different from the smaller darker spheres the others had made. Hei-Wu made me wait at least half an hour in case there was more, but after washing off I felt better save for some deep muscle aches. I emptied and cleaned out my pouch and put the sphere in there to take back to Centaurville.
That's how I ended up discovering the second stage of our reproductive cycle. We'd gotten so used to putting small things into the pouches, that it was just second nature at that point. We didn't expect anything different to happen with this egg than anything else. By the time we'd run back to Centaurville though, I could tell something was different.
For one thing, I felt heavier in the belly area, and my pouch was bulging a little. It wasn't much but it was noticeable, especially to me. And more explicitly, it wouldn't open up. Try as I might, I couldn't make the muscles relax enough to open it; it was one of the strangest feelings I'd had since changing. If someone else really forced it, they could open the pouch a little, but damn did it hurt. Mahindar did it to me once, and that was my limit. From that very brief inspection, she was able to tell that the pouch was filling with a thick gel she suspected was amniotic. The egg itself was in there, unchanged as far as we could tell from feeling the outside. In any case, like it or not, I was now stuck with it in my pouch.
The monthiversary fell on my day of rest. Which meant that instead of chopping wood, digging up rocks or chasing sheep, I only had to go fishing. I could also have helped make bricks, or weave baskets or similar low strength tasks around Centaurville, but fishing let me do one thing the others wouldn't. It would let me go out alone.
I had a favorite spot where the trout seemed to gather at night. It was at a bend of the river close to where we'd woken up the first time. In the dawn light, I was belly deep in the chilly water, spear in hand, eyes searching for the glitter of fish scales. Fishing poles and lines were still a dream in those early months; what few ropes and strings we had were needed for other things.
I'd just locked my eyes on a big rainbow trout, when there was a ruckus on the shore. Someone had slipped on the gravel and kicked some into the water, scaring the fish away. I twisted around, ready to unleash the wrath of Nicole on the clumsy oaf, only to be struck speechless. On the beach were a man and a woman, a human man and woman, naked save for the rings around their necks, identical to the ones around our own.
As far as first encounters go, it was a minor disaster. I was frozen in the water, not believing my eyes. They were so tiny compared to me, and so bland looking; pale skin, brown and blond hair. Compared to the chaos of colourings I was used to now, the humans were all but unrecognizable.
Understandably, they were similarly shocked. Looking at me through their eyes, I was a monster. A cotton candy centaur primitive with a fishing spear and other simple tools. I suspect fear helped them recover faster than I did. They scrambled back up the bank and into the grasses before I could take a step. I waded out of the water and took off after them. They were on two legs and new to the land, whereas I was bigger, on four legs and I knew the territory. That gave me confidence that I could catch up to them easily. A confidence that proved to be my downfall.
I galloped into the clearing we'd woken up in months ago, to see four semi-shocked humans. I'd barely skid to a stop before I saw movement to my side. My world exploded and went dark.
I woke up crosseyed with a throbbing headache and something poking at my pouch. When my eyes finally focused, I saw a big man standing over me, poking me with my own fishing spear. I was laying on my side, blood sticky on the side of my face. Five humans surrounded me, the other four holding rocks threateningly.
Luckily, we all spoke the same language, and I don't mean the language of violence. The first thing the spear guy wanted was whatever was in my pouch. I had a couple of apples and a flint knife in there, things they had felt while I was unconscious. Since pouches stay tight unless we relax them, they couldn't get in. I emptied myself out, babbling all the time, trying to reassure them that I really was like them. I had no idea what another group of humans was doing there, nor what would happen to them. Chances were good they would change too, the trick was keeping them calm until someone else showed up or they started changing themselves. Telling my story of what happened to us, as unbelievable as it was, seemed the best route to buy that time.
They didn't believe it of course. Humans turning into us, that was impossible. But they did come to see me as less of a threat. In reality, I knew I could easily have grabbed the spear and ran. There was no way they could catch up to me before I reached Centaurville, and even the rock thrower probably wouldn't get as good a shot a second time now that I knew what he could do. Instead, I sat in the middle, and talked. I told them what might happen to them in time, and confirmed there was no way home.
Gradually they began to talk too. There were three men and two women in this new group. I decided to keep ambiguous about their probable futures in that respect; by the end of the week our herd would likely have three new females and two new males. Like the rest of us, their memories were a bit hazy. They remembered who they were, where they were from, along with their science, math and survival skills. But cultural information was hazy; languages were lost, books and songs and TV shows reduced to titles with vaguely remembered themes. It was disconcerting to realize that, especially when you had nothing else to do but dwell on it. We'd been so focused on survival ever since we arrived and changed that no one had really thought about what that meant.
I tried to convince them to go to Centaurville willingly, to no avail. Until they knew more about what was going on, they were staying put, and keeping me with them. I hoped that someone else would come, but most of us were working in the hills, digging for ore and coal. I did manage to get them to follow me to the river, where I was able to wash off the blood. Sean, the spear-man, even showed he had fishing skills, snagging a few trout for us to eat. They let me use my gear to start up a fire to cook over, and we settled in for the long night.
The sky and the strange moon fascinated them. Like us, the fact that we were on a new world didn't really sink in until they saw the blue and green sphere rising in the sky. A lot of their spirit faded at that point. I could probably have convinced them to head to the village at that point, but I decided we could wait until morning.
I slept late that morning; which meant the sun was just above the horizon when I woke up. Daylight normally was too important to waste sleeping, but my head still throbbed in pain so the extra rest was worth it. The human group were just beginning to stir themselves. Looking them over, I could see the first signs of the changes; skin tones were beginning to shift and swirl, showing their future colouration. Sean was going a deep navy blue from what I could tell, with an emerald green marbling that look really nice on him.
My stomach was rumbling with hunger. Two fish and a couple of apples split six ways doesn't go far, especially when one of the ways was as big as me. I wanted to tell them to get over it and to follow me to the village, but I had enough tact to keep that thought to myself. It took until they'd all changed colours before they reluctantly let me convince them to move on to the village.
And then we were fifty four. Just before the third month, there was an accident. Olivia was climbing high in the closer mountains, and hit a loose patch. He lost his balance and fell off the cliff. The ore crews found his body and buried it, before letting the camp know what happened.
We mourned for a few days and continued on. It did leave the village in a morbid mood that most of us preferred to avoid. Hei-Wu and I crossed the Big River with our spears, intending to see what we could find for hunting. Even though the river was cold, the hunting was better on the far side, and Hei-Wu and I just wanted some time alone.
The egg had been doing whatever it was doing in my pouch for a month. I still couldn't open it up, and it seemed to be filled fuller with something thick I could feel when I squeezed carefully. It visibly bulged my belly, and the bellies of a dozen others of us in camp now; some women and some men. We'd discovered that any pouch would react to the egg we laid, which made for some interesting pairings. At least it wasn't too heavy.
Our hunt went well; filled with a lot of running and spear throwing to take down a wild deer. We dressed the carcass and ate well before setting up camp for the night. The successful kill had helped clear out the mood from the accident.
Hei-Wu and I were cuddling next to the fire, watching the sun set. As we often did on these duo hunts, our hands started roaming. Pouches are just one of our erogenous zones, so often couples dip into them while playing. While he was rubbing the edge of my pouch, I felt myself relax suddenly, for the first time in a month. His hand slipped into the gel inside, and before he could react the smell hit us. The smell is hard to describe until experienced, but it hits the base parts of your mind. Suddenly, our pulses quickened and we were both wetter and harder than we'd ever been since we changed. Hei-Wu rubbed some of the gel under each of our noses and the effects intensified. We were standing up and rubbing sides like rutting deer.
Lost in arousal, he dipped both hands into my pouch and pulled out the egg. It was bigger now, with a rubbery translucent shell and sparkling insides. What we did after felt natural, though neither of us realized what we were doing. Hei-Wu held the orb in his arms and moved behind me. My rear mare lips were winking eagerly and wet with arousal. When he rubbed the gel from my pouch over and into them, my body lit up more than I thought possible. Since his rear was to me, I used my gel to share the experience, rubbing it over his rear member. The reaction was immediate.
I felt a pressure at my rump, something pushing into my mare lips, and then just as suddenly felt Hei-Wu's weight on my rear back. He wiggled forward, his maleness slipping in and pushing the orb in deeper. At the small of our backs is another erogenous zone, where the foresex would rub against when we're mounted. Hei-wu reached around and rubbed more of the gel over that spot and his swollen foresex, and other sensitive spots on both of our bodies. He finished with our lips, all the time rocking in me.. How he held back that long, I'll never know. At the last moment, I twisted around and hugged him, kissing him firmly on the lips and our world exploded.
We woke up with the sun in our faces, still in eachother's arms, Hei-Wu on my back, though no longer in me. The gel had dried out to a sticky mess, along with its aphrodisiac effects. We pulled apart slowly, a little embarrassed, but mostly happy. My lower belly felt warm, tingling with the new life that was surely growing now.
Spring is arriving. Winter wasn't too bad, even with a rare snow day. The white stuff never came down enough to stick around. The rivers didn't freeze but it got damn cold to swim across. We were looking forward to the summer sun warming the water up.
Spring's arrival brought showers. Most of us had a vague memory about April showers and May flowers as we endured the constant drizzle. We had just enough lean-tos in Centaurville for everyone to get some time to dry off, as long as everyone didn't try to go in at once.
Most of us were in various stages of pregnancy now, though no one had dropped a foal yet. Samuel and the other early ones were getting large in their lower halves. Pregnancies were more or less evenly split between the guys and gals. The aphrodisiac gel effect was somewhat controllable when forewarned, enough to get the ripe egg to someone who wanted it. The smell of it alone was often enough to disrupt the camp for a bit while we handled its secondary effects. I hadn't experienced it directly myself yet, the smell was enough for me most of the time. If I heard someone thought they were about to open, I usually did my best to be elsewhere.
We got another dozen humans to join our band, each set changing to be like us after a week. A few humans arrived every month or two, on the full moon. We started setting up watches to greet them as soon as possible and to try to figure out how they arrived. The meet and greet worked fine for the newbies; the attempts to see how they arrived worked less well. No matter how many of us were watching, when someone arrived, they literally showed up in the blink of an eye.
The newbies themselves were a godsend in any case. Even if they took a couple of weeks to get adjusted to their new bodies and the situation, we needed every pair of hands and set of hooves we could get. To match the growth plans being worked out, we needed coal and ores mined, plants harvested and thrashed, animals hunted and corralled, logs chopped down, clay shaped and fired, baskets woven and so forth, usually all at once. In other words we had more than enough work for ten times of us, and skilled manpower was our biggest limitation.
The village was beginning to take on a more permanent look. Most of the shelters were little more than lean-tos, but we were getting better at making things in general, especially now that we had a little bit of metal. The first few logs of an actual log cabin have been put on a rock foundation and most of us are eager to see its walls go up, often putting extra shifts on chopping down trees and helping haul them to Centaurville.
Ricardo wants everyone to at least have a copper or bronze knife by the first anniversary, though with the somewhat regular arrival of new herd mates and the baby boom that's about to hit, that would be a hard promise to keep.
We don't have a currency yet; resources are too sparse to waste as money. But a bartering system was beginning to form, especially as we sorted out who was good at what and who liked doing what. A dozen had more or less set up a permanent camp near the coal mines, nicknaming it Pittsburg.
For the most part we'd moved on from Earth. We still remembered what we had there, especially with the reminders from the new arrivals. That helped guide us on our current projects, where we were building the tools and setting up the foundation so our descendents would be able to have what we lost. The cultural loss gets us the most. Occasionally we found ourselves humming a tune that was hauntingly familiar, or talking about remembering a show about a guy and a gal that did stuff. We turned some of them into our own versions to tell over the campfires at night.
All in all, things were looking good.
Camp rest sucked. Three of us rear-pregnated more or less on the same day, so Mahindar figured we would be the first ones to drop. She was pissed she missed the first pouch opening, so she was making damn sure she wouldn't miss the first actual birth. Had she had her way, all three of us would have been on camp duty from the moment we came back with empty pouches. Thankfully, Ricardo nixed that idea quickly, at least for the first few months.
The last month or two, I might as well have been on camp rest. I felt as wide as a truck and twice as heavy. I tried to do my usual chores, but the bun in the oven threw me off my game more than I expected, especially when he was in a kicking mood.
A couple of days before the monthiversary, my damn breasts started acting up. I'd gotten used to them since they grew in, but now they were going off again. Nipples ached, feeling heavier, as if I wasn't feeling heavy enough as it was, and leakage, oh god the leakage. There were times I felt like I was a lactose waterfall. The moment Mahindar noticed that, she put all three of us on camp duty. While I wasn't climbing mountains or swimming rivers much before that, being told I couldn't even go down to my favorite fishing spots, or go help forage in the fields was a bit of a blow, especially with how achy I was feeling.
Thankfully, it was only a day.
It was a rainy day when it happened. I was trying to weave some baskets with equally pregnant Joanne in the shelter of a lean-to. Between the horrible weather, my aching nipples and what I thought was Junior kicking up a storm in my belly, I was in an irritable mood. When I felt the warm liquid run down my rear legs, I just figured the lean-to had sprung a leak.
Joanne smelled the change first and checked on himself and then on me. Thus he was the first to notice my water had broken. The way my body kept leaking, it's a wonder I wasn't dehydrated. He threw our weaving away and raised the alarm, pulling me out of the lean-to.
Mahindar galloped out of the log cabin as if she was waiting for the cue and practically carried me into it. The cabin was completed by then, and was serving as our hospital, among other purposes. It could seat a dozen of us fairly comfortably on the dirt and hay floor. For me, she just had me walk around as much as I could while she prepared her tools.
Hot water was prepared, and bronze knives and spoons were sterilized; I hoped I wouldn't need the latter. Our cloth making was woefully inadequate at that point, so leathers were put on standby in case we needed them. Basically anything that might remotely be useful was brought at hand and sterilized if it could be. We had no idea what I was about to push out, nor how easy or hard it would be to go, so we tried to be ready for anything.
Between contractions, I got a runner to go looking for Hei-Wu. He was working in the fields, and as anxious to find what was going to happen with our child as I was. By then, I knew it wasn't Junior's kicking that I was feeling. My entire body tensed with each wave of contractions, and I could feel Junior's weight shifting, being squeezed back. Joanne walked with me under Mahindar's encouragement, letting me squeeze his hands tight with each contraction. It felt similar to how the egg had come out the first time, but stronger. Mahindar checked on me after every few contractions, and declared it wasn't quite time yet.
Hei-Wu stormed in about an hour after my water broke. He was soaked and his belly and legs were caked with mud from galloping back to town. Mahindar complained about how dirty he was making their hospital, but neither of us cared. I hugged him, and damn near broke his back when a contraction hit, the strongest one yet. It nearly knocked my legs out from under me. Mahindar checked on me again with her damn spoons and ordered me down on my side; apparently I was dilated enough and she could see something coming.
From there, things went fast. Laying on my side, I found pushing was a little easier, especially with Mahindar's nurses helping as best they could. I felt something begin to push out, and didn't think it was so bad, until an irresistible force met my tiny opening. Joanne said something about seeing legs, but I was lost in a sea of pain and contractions. I vaguely felt Mahindar's hands reaching in, tugging and pushing at something deep in my rear hips, trying to help but not knowing what needed to be done either.
Finally, something got wiggled into the right place and the next contraction managed to push the mass forward, spreading me wide. Momentum was on my side from there and it slid through with a couple of more strong contractions. I felt the rear legs slip out and was finally able to relax a little. I let go of Hei-Wu's hands and saw him wince and wiggle his fingers. He smiled at me and we turned to look.
The foal was a black mass in a glistening translucent sack that Mahindar was already beginning to remove. An umbilical cord ran from my own rear vagina to his rear vagina, still flush with blood. His torso was bent over backwards, like we tended to bend when we were sleeping. He was all legs and arms from what I could tell, and still limp and unresponsive. Once the sack was cleared from his head (and it was clearly a male, he had a penis between his forelegs), Mahindar rinsed off the head and cleared the nose and mouth. The foal coughed a bit and began to move.
We left the umbilical cord intact. Thankfully it was long enough I could move around to have him beside me. He managed to lift his upper torso quickly and look around with bright eyes. I expected to hear him cry, and was surprised he stayed silent, his eyes looking around, not quite focusing on anything. He was deep black all over with silvery spots like stars. He had skin up top and a thin layer of fur down below. The human part looked like it was a few years old already, but his actions were more like a newborn. With Hei-Wu's and Mahindar's help, I got him to my breast where he eagerly started suckling. Soon after that started, our bodies twitched in unison, and we both expelled the afterbirths from our vaginas, the umbilical cord falling away with them.
Midnight, my new son, started tentatively standing and walking by nightfall, his muscle tone and coordination improving seemingly by the second. He didn't seem to know what to do with his arms, so they tended to just hang while he suckled. When he wasn't draining from the twin banks of mom, he stuck by my side like glue. The only sound he made was when Mahindar tried to pull him away for a checkup.
As for me, I was exhausted; my whole body aching pleasantly. Mahinder deemed I was fine, and prescribed me a good meal, lots of fluids and lots of rest. I managed to stumble up onto my hooves and move to a fresh bed of straw in another area of the lodge. Midnight protested me moving and interrupting his meal, but settled down again once I was kneeling again.
Ricardo was the first into the hall once Mahindar announced the all clear. She came bearing gifts, a pair of bowls of venison stew still steaming from the pot. She was only in the first few months of her own pregnancy, since giving her first egg to her partner. Smelling the stew, I wanted to wolf both down at once. Somehow I managed to restrain myself to the one bowl and just listened to her congratulations. Midnight finished his own meal and contented himself to resting against my side, his furry back leaning against my own. His eyes were surprisingly alert for a newborn, tracking Ricard's movements curiously and warily. He seemed to have no problem with Hei-Wu or myself touching him, but everyone else, he tended to shy away from.
More people from the camp cycled through the hall to offer their congratulations. The entire camp wanted to see Midnight, but Mahindar and Ricardo managed to keep the visitations limited. I was thankful for it; after a few more bowls of stew, I was ready to just fall asleep.
While technically we weren't injured (and thus had no reason to stay in the lodge-hospital), Mahindar insisted the three of us stayed the night for bonding purposes and privacy. Personally, I think she just wanted as many chances to examine Midnight as she could get.
Of course, a full night sleep after everything I'd gone through would have been too easy. Joanne was rushed in in the middle of the night surrounded by his partner and Mahindar and her nurses. By dawn, the camp had its first two natural born citizens. Neither of them had the Watcher necklaces.
One year. One year since we woke up on this world, and were changed into these strange centaurs. Of course we don't feel strange any more. If it weren't for the somewhat steady stream of newbies every month, we'd probably figure our human memories were bad dreams.
There were over a hundred of us by then, including a dozen or so foals. We were still not quite sure what to call the babies, but given their appearances and how fast they recovered after birth, foals seemed more appropriate. Some didn't like it since they claimed it's an animal name. Others countered it's now our name. I just stayed out of the arguments.
With that many people, fractures and strains were starting to show themselves. We were actually getting to the point that we didn't have to be working during every second of sunlight each day. Physics and Chemistry and Biology were forcing us to have some downtime whether we wanted it or not. No matter how hard we tried to force it, some things just needed time to cure, to seep, to boil, to smelt and so forth. In that down time, people started talking, wondering if the direction Ricardo was leading us was right or not, and if others might be better now. That was another argument I tried to avoid.
For me, I preferred to stay out of the drama. I liked fishing and hunting, especially going out alone when I could. My hauls were more than enough to cover my duty to the settlement. At one year in, I was one of the best hunters, trappers, and fishers in the camp. I wasn't pregnant, unlike almost everyone else it seemed, but I wasn't celibate either. I was pretty sure I was the forefather to at least one or two of the children born or about to be born.
On the actual anniversary day (or as close as we could guess. It was the thirteenth full moon and the season felt like when we'd first arrived), Ricardo declared a full day of rest for everyone all at once. Some chores and projects had to be tended to regardless, but if it could be skipped for a day, it was to be. The Watchers gifted us with ten newbies that day, the biggest bunch since our original arrival. They got briefed on their futures, and were left shell shocked while we celebrated the anniversary.
We feasted, danced, sang and whistled. The foals got underhoof, those that weren't still glued to their mother or father's side. At noon, Wing presented Ricardo with a ceremonial bronze knife. Wing was in charge of Pittsburg and the mining and smithing operations going on out there. He'd already fulfilled Ricardo's promise of a blade for every adult (other than the ten newbies that just arrived) and this was the 'final' one for the leader. Ricardo accepted the blade solemnly, and surprised us all by announcing she was going to try and step down as leader in a few months. After a year of bringing us from literally nothing to the community that was beginning to thrive, she wanted a break and a chance to focus on her foals, both the one she fathered and the one she was mothering. It gave us a lot to talk about for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Later on, after the meal was devoured, someone brought out another surprise; skins that someone had crudely marked XXX. Someone had been making ciders and wines on the side without anyone knowing it, or at least a sort've facsimile of them. The actual liquid, even after watering down, only bore a passing resemblance to what they were named after. None of us cared; it was the first buzz we had since we arrived, and we were going to enjoy it, even if it might blind us. (It didn't, but the hangovers the next day practically did; we vastly overestimated how strong that rotgut was and the carrying capacities of our new bodies).
Still, looking around the camp the next morning; I felt something I hadn't really felt in a long time. There were three log houses now, with more than enough room for everyone to shelter in if they wanted to. Dozens of lean-tos still dotted the field, and the foundation was marked out for a smithy and a pottery barn. Compared to the concrete jungle I still remembered as my home before, it was a primitive barely disorganized mess that barely qualified as a village. In light of the year we'd spent, and despite at my solitary preferences, I had to admit it was something the concrete jungle wasn't.
It was home.
I admit the idea of these centaurs was blatantly swiped from the Titanides from John Varley's Gaea Trilogy. I've always been fascinated by those tri-sexed taurs since I first read them, so this was a way to get that love out a bit. [[Category:Centaur]