CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE KOPHET-KUR
Perhaps a dozen of the creatures were arrayed around the base of the tree as Nate looked for the owner of the dream-voice. He was struck by their resemblance to large, extremely ugly dogs. They lounged around casually; some sitting on their haunches, others sprawled on the ground, their tongues lolling out as their sides bounced rapidly with their panting. A couple of them even threw their legs up and bent to groom themselves with long pink tongues. But as Nate watched, they scrambled to their feet and an air of excitement swept the pack. Nate strained to see what was stirring them up so.
A massive, sway-backed creature was making his way amongst them. Nate couldn’t help but notice that this particular creature seemed much older than those around him. His face was even more grotesquely wrinkled, and the bags beneath his eyes drooped low, exposing large red crescents under each. The muzzle area, ebony black in the rest of the tribe, was liberally sprinkled with bright gray and white whiskers, as was the sparse hair sprouting in patches from his scaly skin.
Each of the pack members, in turn, trotted up to him and simpered alongside, cowering and whining. The creature seemed oblivious to these acts of homage. His attention was focused on Nate as he approached the tree.
In spite of the creature’s age, Nate was forced to admire the regal bearing with which he carried himself. The others he had seen, snarled and pranced around frothing like lunatics — this one seemed to project patience and a cool, calculated intelligence that was nonetheless laced with a dark malice. Hatred burned from the core of his eyes, and an evil seething haughtiness that made Nate realize that he had more to fear from this one than all the others combined.
As it approached the tree, the ancient one’s path was inadvertently blocked by one of the creatures. He had been so involved with grooming himself that he apparently hadn’t noticed the other’s approach. The gray one stopped a foot or two shy of the poor fool and stood waiting, never taking his eyes from Nate. Without warning three of the big fellow’s lackeys pounced upon the unsuspecting beast and ripped at it mercilessly with their horrid fangs.
Nate had never seen such abject brutality. It was chilling to see these beasts roaring and screaming viciously as the victim tried to defend himself against their savage attacks. The here-to-fore quiet clearing erupted in a violent explosion of movement and sound. Splashes of blood and patches of hair joined pieces of skin and tissue flying through the air and staining the ground around them. Their sharp claws tore open the earth and tossed up great clots of soil and grass.
Two of the attackers challenged the offender face to face while a third circled around to flank attack at its rear. While he was busy warding off the snapping teeth of the two in front, he was unable to avoid the assault from behind. Soon he was born to the ground by the third which clung to his back, locking its jaws on the nape of his neck and clawing savagely with his hind legs.
The other two were on him, swarming like a pride of lions at a kill. The fight was over in seconds. There was no chance of running away in defeat, the creature could only lie motionless, meekly surrendering and offering no resistance as they punished him cruelly and left him bleeding in a heap. As the big gray stood serenely taking this all in, the vanquished crawled painfully over to him and licked his muzzle before dragging himself out of the way.
After the bizarre ritual was completed, the big one crossed over to the base of the tree. Now directly below Nate’s perch, he rested on his haunches and peered up at him, cocking his head in a quizzical sort of way.
“Come down.” He commanded — the voice was straight from Nate’s nightmare. “Come down, Nate Malone. We want to be done with this.”
Nate was thunderstruck. This… thing was speaking to him. Or was it? He couldn’t be sure — his head felt strangely light, his thoughts fuzzy, as though his brain had suddenly turned to cotton. He focused his eyes on the creature’s yellow-fanged mouth.
“Say that again?” he asked aloud.
A sly, sinister chuckle slithered its way through his mind, like dry leaves blowing across a grave.
“I said, come DOWN!”
Nate grasped the branch on both sides of himself and prepared to leap to a clear patch of ground. Why was I in this damn tree in the first place? After all, I am not a bird? I belong on the ground with… with…
At the last second, he stopped himself, scrambling back against the trunk in a panic. Below him, a barely audible sigh of disappointment could be heard from the pack of brutes. Again that snide, humorless laugh echoed in his head, leaving muddy footprints across his thoughts.
“That was close, wasn’t it Nate? This shouldn’t take long after all.” The creature was definitely speaking to him, but…
“Your mouth doesn’t move,” Nate said in a daze. “You’re talking to me, I swear I can hear it but –”
The voice interrupted in a mocking tone. “But my mouth doesn’t move. That’s right! Oh, if you only knew how stupid you look saying that!”
Nate FELT stupid. In fact, he had never been so moronically ignorant in his entire life. Blood rushed into his cheeks as he blushed over his utter stupidity. How could he possibly have said such an asinine thing?
The beast studied him for a moment longer and then, with the tone one reserves for the slowest of learners, he said, “Telepathy. Surely you’ve at least HEARD of it. Do you even partially understand the concept? I… CAN… SPEAK… DIRECTLY… TO… YOUR… MIND… WITHOUT… MOVING… MY… LIPS… OR… MAKING… A… SOUND… Get it?”
Nate’s lower lip trembled with humiliation and fear. “Are you some kind of… of devil?” He asked quietly.
This time the laughter literally roared through his mind. Staring at the creature’s mouth, he detected a trace of a grin tugging at its corners, but it quickly faded and a hard cold light appeared within the beast’s eyes.
When he spoke again, the voice was formal and defiant. “We are the Kophet-kur! A race as old and powerful as your own and, as you have abundantly proven, just as mortal. We have lived alongside you for lo these many ages and we will be long after your cursed kind has been wiped from the face of the earth.” This last remark brought a chorus of grunts and excited snarls from the creatures around him.
He continued, reciting his litany like a politician stumping for office. The beast was no longer talking to him, but to the group of followers gathered round about the tree. “Many eons have passed since the seed of the sky were born, and WE have not bastardized ourselves like the tiny humans. WE have kept ourselves pure, waiting for the return, when we will shine! And no mere human will stop us. Oh, it is true that for now, we hide, but someday soon, we will return to the greatness our Fathers promised. On that day, all other seed will become MEAT! That is the promise of Chirkah! THAT is the destiny of the Kophet–kur!”
Without the beast’s telepathic powers totally concentrated on him, Nate regained more of his old self — more in control. He would be more careful in the future not to let himself be mesmerized by this creature, whatever it was.
“I hate to interrupt when you’re on a roll,” he taunted, “But could you explain what all that means to me? Why that’s important? Remember, I’m kinda slow.”
After a pause, in which the creature glared at him fiercely for his interruption and then seemed to relax somewhat, containing its rage with difficulty, it continued on in a more conversational tone. “Certainly. Ask any question, I will be glad to oblige with an answer. Since you obviously won’t be leaving here alive, I feel free to withhold nothing you might wish to know.” The voice was filled with a terrible coldness that threatened to leave Nate shivering.
“All right.” Nate leaned forward. “To begin with, what the hell are you… things? And where did you come from?”
The creature’s voice took on that air of “patient suffering while dealing with a lower intelligence” again. “As I stated before, we are the Kophet-kur. I am the leader, the one you might call the ‘alpha male’. I am called Chirkah. We live here in the forest and in your fields. Mostly we hunt deer and other animals, but occasionally, as you have seen, our lust for the hunt becomes such that we cannot resist the sweetest meat of all.” Nate noticed a bit of drool forming on the creature’s lips.
“You sicken me.” he challenged it, only slightly aware of the temptation to fall into the odd, archaic speech patterns of his tormentor.
“Now, now! Is that any way to talk to your cousin? We are closer than you think, my dear friend. And you are not so far removed from cannibalism yourself.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You ask where we come from, the Kophet-kur. I will tell you, but you may find it hard to believe. Eons ago the world was filled with many species, but this was before the Kophet-kur and before humans… and before others, too.
“Away up in the skies… far off in the blackness that lies like an eternal night away beyond the moon, there lived a race of beings such as you or I have never seen.” His voice had become dream-like, and a certain reverence set in.
“These beings were vastly intelligent. Their intellect, in fact, knew no bounds — it was far beyond anything you could ever begin to comprehend. They were superb. Their civilization and the wonders they could perform far outstripped the puny technological advances you humans have achieved. For in addition to technology, they also possessed wisdom, the one thing your race is most noticeably lacking. Not only did The Fathers, which is the only name we know them by, control their world, they also cherished, and lovingly nurtured it.”
His voice grew harsh with scorn.
“You stupid humans take and take and take from our world, stripping away the land and the forests. You defile the water and the air without a single consideration as to what damage will be done to the hunting grounds of the animals that share this planet with you. The vast herds which flourished before you came to be, you wiped out in the space of a single day. The mighty forests, home to countless myriads of creatures, you devastated and trampled to the ground. You have RAPED and SODOMIZED our land till there is nothing left to be proud of, nothing to be inspired by.” He leveled Nate with a fiery glare, dripping with contempt. “For this we HATE you.”
Nate shifted uncomfortably beneath his condemning gaze. After what seemed minutes, Chirkah took a breath and continued his narrative.
“The Fathers, in light of their triumphs, soon began looking to spread themselves to other worlds, illuminating the darkness wherever they might find it. To that end, they built enormous ships that could carry them swiftly about the skies, and return them safely to their own world. Eventually, their quest for other worlds to conquer brought them here, where they found a world of vast beauty and unbelievable wealth. They resolved to have it and to build a utopia that would outshine even their own golden planet.”
“But when they attempted to colonize this lovely new world, they were saddened to discover it held an atmosphere that was poisonous to their kind. Alas, they could never set foot upon it. Determined, however, to have this jewel of their own, they hit upon a plan of extended colonization. Perhaps they could never live here — but their children would. Through a means we do not yet understand, they began taking species from the earth to inseminate. These creatures were brought, in pairs to the ship, to determine their mating procedures. Then our Fathers simply substituted their own seed, creating every conceivable variety of hybrid. Their hope was that one of these species would flourish, carrying enough of their genetic material to assume a similar form to theirs. Someday then, after this species had established itself, they would return to further increase their genetic strain, thereby breeding themselves into compatibility with the hostile environment.”
Nate was, of course, skeptical but, as Chirkah spoke, he found himself remembering Sunday-school stories of Noah and his ark. “In pairs, they were brought unto the ark… and a new world was born unto the earth.” A cold, hollow feeling was growing in the pit of his stomach.
“Most of the experiments failed miserably, as was to be expected,” Chirkah’s harsh voice was saying. “But some were resounding successes. The large mammals were, of a certainty closer to the fathers in intelligence, and as you might think, it was among these that the greatest achievements were made. Today few of these hybrid lines exist. Some were lost to natural extinction, others were obliterated by the most widely flourishing of these experiments, the hybrid created from the seeding of the great apes — man.
“However, an equally intelligent, if not so prosperous race of creatures was the result of the Father’s combining with wolves. The Kophet-kur which means in our tongue, Children of the Sky, received the telepathic abilities and intelligence of The Fathers, but we were cheated of the one thing that might have assured our dominance of this world. We lacked opposable thumbs.
“Without the dexterity required, we couldn’t build things the way you humans have. We were unable to harness the power of nature or build tools and machines and vast cities, crowding out the wild places. Thus we have been forced to hide in our caves, scavenging off the land left over after you humans, in your blind ignorance have trampled over it. We have been relegated to the wild, forgotten places of the world, living on the edge of human society — hiding in your shadow.”
Chirkah took a shuddering breath and shifted positions. His black tongue dangled from his mouth as he yawned broadly. Nate noticed that many of his fellow creatures were dozing peacefully in the warm afternoon sun.
“There are others that remain, but mankind has driven them to the remotest of places where they dwell, as secretive and unobtrusive as the Kophet-kur. Trust me when I tell you that there are things hiding deep within your forests, oceans, and lakes that you would rather not know about.”
Nate finally interrupted. “Do you feel better? You had a lot to get off your chest there. However, I’m curious. If your race is so goddammed intelligent, why haven’t any of these other beasts spoken to me? So far, all they’ve tried to do is rip me to shreds. Why not establish some lines of communication here?”
“Although we all possess the gift of telepathy, there are those, such as myself who are more proficient in its use than others, just as there are those of your kind who are more adept in the use of language. But this is not the reason for our silence up to this point. The Kophet-kur are a very secretive species. We find this necessary to ensure our survival in a world dominated by your kind. The original humans were very much aware of our presence. You will find references to our kind in the folklore of many primitive species, including the ones you refer to as ‘Indians’. Long ago, we watched your kind systematically obliterate this group of humans, and it was then we decided to withdraw even deeper into hiding. For we realized that, if you could bring this kind of mass destruction upon those of your own kind, there could be no room on this planet for the two of us. The ‘Indians’ were willing to share the forests and live peacefully alongside the Kophet-kur. We shared a mutual respect and a working understanding of each other’s ways.
But with them went the knowledge of our existence, and any attempts to co-exist with humans. We have worked very hard over the years to remain an enigma. Our most sacred of laws concern the preservation of our status as unknown entities in your world. To break the code of silence and communicate with a human being is strictly forbidden except under the most extreme of circumstances. A hunter is allowed to partake of human game only when he is certain that doing so will not endanger our continued seclusion.
When my son, Dzhankah, confronted you, he knew he was breaking our most holy of ordinances. He also knew he could not let you escape, bringing others of your kind to rain death and destruction down upon our heads. He acted bravely, if somewhat fool-heartedly, and as a result, he is dead.”
“For THAT, you will pay the ultimate price. But there will be time for that later. The reason I have broken our silence is that I wished to converse with one who has managed to cut down so many of our brothers. But now I see that you have used up all your weapons. We have pulled the teeth of the serpent, and we have him up a tree, both literally and figuratively, do we not?” He sounded very pleased with himself.
Nate ignored his jibes. “I don’t believe you could hide out all these years without being discovered.”
“How do the deer hide from the hunter? Humans are not that difficult to fool, you know. Nor are you very observant. A human, in the wild, can practically trip over a fawn, camouflaged by its dappled coat, hiding in plain sight amidst a patch of sunlight. When was the last time you saw a fox, Nate Malone?”
Nate reflected. “I guess I can’t recall ever seeing one in the wild.”
“And would you be surprised to learn there are dozens of them living and breeding in the immediate vicinity? Besides, when humans see a fox it runs. But when a human sees one of us… THEY run. Or they at least try.” Chirkah paused to let this sink in.
“These creatures I speak of are just dumb animals, barely possessing the intelligence needed to procure food, secure housing and pro-create. The Kophet-kur, on the other hand, command an intelligence SUPERIOR to your own. Do you really think it would be that difficult to conceal ourselves from you? Our telepathic abilities allow us to sense whenever a human is near, and take evasive action. We cannot read your minds, as we do each others’, to do so requires advanced telepathic powers in both parties; and, while humans do possess small vestiges of this ability, it is poorly developed. You experience ‘deja-vu’ and ‘extra sensory perception’ and so forth. Humans have no idea of the vast power that could be theirs, if only they knew how to harness it.”
“So you’re telling me that, overall these centuries, I am the only man who has ever seen you?” Nate shook his head skeptically.
Chirkah snorted with disdain. “Of course not! MANY have seen, few have lived to tell… and none have been believed. Do not deceive yourself, Nate Malone, your fate is sealed as is that of your woman.”
Nate’s heart leaped into his throat. He jumped to his feet on the branch, nearly toppling from his perch in the process. A couple of the beasts looked up and one actually rose to all-fours.
“Zelda!” he gasped. “You know where Zelda is? She’s alive?” Nate had just about abandoned all hope of this possibility.
Chirkah stretched languidly and sprawled out in the tall grass, his right paw crossed casually over his left. For the first time since engaging in this conversation, his gaze left Nate and wandered off into the distance. “Certainly. We don’t often KILL women. Although you’re lucky to have killed Pulkah.” With a nod, he indicated the corpse lying at the base of the tree. The ax still jutted from its skull, and it swarmed with large, iridescent green flies. “He would most definitely have taken out the death of his mate, Dirdrah on your woman.”
Nate began to tremble. Anxiously, he shifted back and forth on the branch, wanting very much to take some kind of action, but uncertain just what he could do. He looked somewhat like a child, straining to control his bladder while he waited for the bell to signal recess.
Chirkah looked back up at him. “Don’t carry on so, Nate. There’s really nothing you can do to help her. Her fate is as sealed as your own. You really should learn to accept things over which you have no control.”
“What have you done with her, you son-of-a-BITCH?” Nate screamed.
“I myself have done nothing with her. But she is being kept for a purpose. You see, we, meaning the Kophet-kur, learned very well from The Fathers. Their techniques of conquering through breeding programs seemed to make sense.
“Therefore, long ago we launched a campaign to gain the technology that keeps you humans in control of this planet. Obviously, we could not develop it ourselves and were we to gain knowledge of its intricacies, we would not be able to avail ourselves of it due to our lack of manual dexterity, as I pointed out earlier. So, our only chance lies in espionage – spies, if you will. We needed someone sympathetic to our cause to steal your secrets and put them to work for us. This symbiotic relationship could only be achieved by a cross-pollenization of our two species. This hybrid would be a go-between — able to travel freely in your society, and gather the information we need, then bringing that information back to us and physically helping us implement it within our own society. Clever, don’t you think?”
Nate shook his head slowly. “I don’t understand…”
Wry amusement edged Chirkah’s voice as it echoed deep within Nate’s mind. He sounded like a teenager divulging the facts of life to a younger brother.
“You ARE thick! Don’t you see what I’m telling you? Your woman is being held as breeding stock. She will be saved for my seed.” That menacing, icy laughter roared and filled his mind once again.