Story no 46. I spent two months (May and June) working on a farm, which included three charming and very goatish goats. They found all the holes in the fences and made some new ones, all in pursuit of snacks.
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(You’ve got them all figured out, then,) Khazar said. (Every woman and child has been tagged to a homestead.)
Kazed considered, and Khazar watched a cascade of thoughts flicker across the top of his mind. Clearly not all the displaced had been assigned to new accommodations.
(There’s a problem,) Kazed finally allowed.
Khazar bared his teeth, and Kazed’s already-thin mind voice faltered.
(What sort of problem would that be?)
(There’s a woman—with—)
By accident or providence, a heart-stuttering scream rent the air at that moment.
Both Khazar and Kazed dropped to all fours and dashed toward the noise.
They had hardly passed through two sections of the displacement camp before the emotions accompanying that scream became palpable across the nerves and the nose. Curiously, the primary feeling was one of tremendous rage. Even more oddly, the underlay was a distinct tang of amusement. The combination cut through the the low, constant buzz of fear in the camp like the smell of coffee through a perfumery.
The scream rang out again. Khazar slowed and glanced at Kazed. The sound didn’t sound particularly human.
They rounded the corner of a tent, and a spectacular panoply unfolded itself before them. On one side of the square structure, a tall woman with broad shoulders, a shaved head, and an apologetic expression stood, her shoulders hunched to make herself smaller.
“Sorry,” she kept saying. “Sorry, yeah, she will do that. Oh yeah, sorry.”
Her words were slightly undermined by the glimmer of malicious glee in her eyes.
Across from her, in front of a tent whose corner pole had been knocked down and which was now listing threateningly to one side, an enormous nanny goat stood on her hind legs, darting her head about like a snake, sometimes twisting so far backwards that she seemed like she would topple over. She let out another piercing scream, and Kazed put his ears back against his head.
Two Ora had their claws dug into the woven collar circling the goat’s neck. Despite the difference in size and armament of the parties concerned—both of the Ora had bayonetted rifles strapped to their backs, and the larger one had a rocket launcher as well—they were having considerable difficulty moving the animal. Her front hooves darted out, scoring hits on faces and shoulders, and her horns barely missed eyes and teeth and throats.
The woman dodged in to help every few minutes—or rather, to strategically put herself in the way just as one of the Ora got a proper grip on the goat.
“Oop—sorry, sir—oh, sorry—didn’t mean to—oh, sorry—”
(Why doesn’t one of you get her out of the way?) Khazar demanded, forcing both of the Ora to come to attention with a neural screech. They shot him wary looks. (You idiots—!)
He shoved forward impatiently, seizing the woman around the arm and dragging her away.
Almost immediately the cloud of rage hanging over the tents fuzzed, dissipated slightly, and re-congealed, this time as a red-hot bolt aimed at Khazar. The goat leaped at him, catching one of the Ora holding her across the cheek with her horn and yanking her collar free from their claws.
Khazar, who had operated several displacement camps and who also knew that goats have no upper teeth, remained unmoved. “This is unacceptable,” he said out loud to the woman. “You cannot have a wild animal in the camp. You are endangering everyone here.” Then, coldly, “Take this thing away and shoot it.”
The woman had the reaction he expected – the amusement coloring the air around her boiled off immediately, as though it had never been there, and a pulse of fear crept up her body. She lurched forward, grabbing one of the nanny’s horns with her free hand and preventing her from making an all-out assault on Khazar.
The goat did not have the reaction he expected.
Khazar jerked in spite of himself and dropped the woman’s arm. She immediately took the chance to back away from him, pressing the goat toward the listing tent. If Kazed hadn’t started shaking his head furiously, he would have thought he imagined those alien, ricocheting signals.
[[HOW DARE. STUPID]]
(Are you calling me stupid?) he asked, before he could stop himself.
(Is that the goat?) the Ora with the rocket launcher asked. (Goats can’t talk!)
[[THAT ONE ALSO STUPID]]
“You can’t expect an animal that’s been frightened and forced into a strange environment to behave herself perfectly,” the woman said, holding her hands up in a placating gesture.
The goat twined her neck around her owner’s leg and leveled a malevolent, slotted eye on Khazar.
[[REMEMBER YOU NEXT DAY]]
(I eat things like you,) he informed it, packaging the words with several images of slaughtered sheep and deer carcasses. (Behave yourself.)
[[SO CAN I]]
The jangling words arrived with several disjointed images, delineated by mouth-feel rather than reflected light. After tracing his tongue around his teeth for a moment, Khazar realized the goat was showing him chewed field mice and juvenile squirrels she’d plucked out of the grass.
“Can goats eat meat?” the Ora without the rocket launcher asked the woman.
“They’re not supposed to,” she said, shoving the nanny’s nose behind her.
“Goats definitely don’t eat meat,” the woman said, this time more loudly.
“You are wasting my time,” Khazar said. Kazed and the two other Ora saw what was in his head and backed hastily into the lane that separated this row of tents from the next.
Khazar stepped forward, grabbing one of the goat’s horns and hauling her in front of the woman. In the same motion, he pulled the shortgun from his belt. Generally the Ora didn’t carry them, but they had their uses in the displacement camps.
Later he remembered aiming and pulling the trigger as soon as he had a clear shot, when it was sure that a bullet would go through the goat’s skull and into the ground. There hadn’t even been a fraction of a second for his action to be anticipated or things to go wrong. Ora had far faster reflexes than humans or goats; this was known—
It was known, and the woman was still in front of the goat when the bullet left the barrel. Humans did not move that quickly, and yet there she was, knocking the mouth of the gun to one side.
She gasped. It was a very small sound, made audible by the fact that all the sounds from the tents around them had gone perfectly still. The bullet, Khazar observed, had entered her chest at goat head-height, angling downward and to the side before it buried itself in the dirt. As he noticed this, the goat screamed.
The woman pressed her hand to the entry wound. “We’ll—we’ll just be going now,” she said to no one in particular. She sounded like she might vomit.
Khazar did not remember exactly what happened then.
When he woke, it was on the ground outside the camp, in a tangled pile of his own limbs. His nostrils flared, the scents emanating upward from his body and on the wind bringing him alarming new information, as his muscles twitched and started telling his brain which of his bones were broken. He sent out an inquisitive neural signal and found his first unfortunate impression confirmed: losing a fight with a goat was apparently enough to demote him from Camp Coordinator to Soldier-at-Work, pending minor squabbles to establish his exact status.
He dragged himself back to his former work station two days later, when the pieces of his pelvis had more or less knitted themselves together.
Kazed was there, sorting supply orders into envelopes. He was not so deferential now.
(You dumped me outside the camp!) Khazar snarled.
(Goats don’t count!) Khazar said, though obviously they did.
(The Commander would have smeared you under a wagon anyway for firing a gun in such close quarters,) Kazed said frostily.
(I assume you had to bring in the Commander to kill that thing,) Khazar returned sarcastically.
Kazed snorted but didn’t answer. There was a weird emotion floating around him, a sort of horror-humor-shock-embarrassment that Khazar couldn’t place.
He followed his former orderly to the center of the camp, where the infirmary tent was set up. Khazar smelled the air, decided that what he was smelling was impossible, and followed Kazed into the infirmary.
All nine of the goats inside swiveled their heads to look at him. The nanny goat, who had been busily chewing the sheets covering the woman he’d accidentally shot, let the fabric drop from her mouth. She paced slowly to the front of the bed, pawing at the temporary flooring with one hoof. The other goats hurried to form a cluster behind her, bleating and rattling their horns together. The woman lifted her head slightly, peering groggily over the headboard. When she saw Khazar her mouth formed a silent curse.
(This is ridiculous!) Khazar snapped. (Where’s the new Camp Coordinator? Why hasn’t he gotten this thing out of here? And where did the rest of them come from?)
An Ora appeared from behind a stack of medical supply boxes to gingerly sniff at the woman’s bandages. The nanny goat whipped her head around to watch him with suspicious eyes.
(Well,) Kazed said.
(Well,) the medical orderly said.
(Technically,) Kazed went on, (the goat is the Camp Coordinator now.)
(That’s not possible.)
[[POSSIBLE]] blared through his mind. [[BIGGEST GOAT. OLDEST GOAT. BEST HORNS. NO HORNS ON STUPID NOT-GOAT]]
(She did beat you in a fair fight. And no one else wanted to challenge her after that.)
(What are you going to do when the Commander returns?) Khazar demanded.
(Negotiate, presumably,) Kazed said grimly.
The nanny goat sent several piquant images of shattered bones toward Khazar, then returned to chewing her owner’s sheets.