She wasn’t sure if she would be able to spot the animal from such a great distance. The mountains seemed too far away, the valley too deep. The air felt crisp, but there was a notable haze to it, and the most likely reason was a fire somewhere up the canyon. No signs of human activity from where she was standing, but that wouldn’t be the case if she took out the big glasses.
“Bloody fog” was all she said into the morning air.
She looked down into the abyss below her vantage point and pulled out the glasses. They were the best she could afford back in the days when she was learning about this breed, and she was thinking to herself how glad she was that she spent the extra money. Her view through the lenses was clear and sharp, with no aberrations to distort her finding that last cat.
Finding the cats wasn’t something that most people would even think possible once they learn the limitations distance and nature place on the finder. A large cat is still only a small speck of disguised colour in a sea of trees and scrub. The only way to spot their well hidden forms is to look for their movement, that cat movement spoken of so often. Smooth, fluid motion is easy to see, we are bred for it, and Rose was no slouch. She picked up the talent in a hurry when they were training her, and before too long she was teaching the other students tricks that the instructor remembered learning only after many years in the field.
“I seeee you … ” see whispered quietly to herself in a sing song sort of way.
There was no sign of the cat, but it was a mantra she found herself muttering every time she went out to find another rogue animal.
Her head turned slowly along the axis of the horizon, scanning the rim of the valley across from her. She understood that these cats are also hunting, and they too like to have a good vantage point to find their prey. She was humming her totem and staring intently through the lenses when the radio interrupted her.
“Base 1 to field 4, come in”
“Field 4, on the north rim with no activity to report. Over”
“Yeah Rose, could you keep an eye out for Clair while you are out there today? She hasn’t reported back in four hours and she isn’t responding to radio calls.”
Rose got a chill hearing that. These cats were capable of a lot, including taking down a recovery officer. Because of that they were issued weapons, high powered sidearms with large capacity clips, but a gun only helped if it was out and ready when you were attacked. That was something a cat like this one would rarely give you the chance to do.
“Base, do you have any idea of last known location? I haven’t seen anything at all for the entire morning, so I might as well shift locations if you think it will help.”
“I called because she was last heard from approaching the south rim, and I knew you were aiming to recon that location today.”
Rose decided that things would probably be alright at that point because the south rim was a treacherous spot, and it’s an easy spot to lose gear in. Gear like a radio.
“I’ll keep my eye out for her. If she made it to the rim she’ll be easy to spot and I’ll get a message to her with my mirror. Field 4 out”.
“Thanks Rose. Base 1 out.”
She put her radio back onto it’s shoulder clip and pulled her glasses back to her from the rock she’d left them sitting on. The south rim was mostly rocky ledge with a bit of tall grass growing over and around the precipice. Claire would be working her way along the rock if she had made it that far, probably even watching Rose through her own glasses. She began the job of scanning the cliff edge, looking for movement from the cat, and movement from Clair.
The sun was cooling off a bit, and after six hours of searching Rose was convinced that both Clair and the cat had moved on. She was searching the cliff in segments, framing a spot in her field of view and then analysing it intently for a few minutes to make sure nothing was hidden in the plant life.
The rock she was sitting on was cold but comfortable, and Rose had no idea six hours had already passed. It was the sun and the cold that made her aware that she would need to start thinking about getting back to base soon. A walk in the dark wasn’t very appealing when the reason you are outside in the first place was to find a potentially dangerous animal.
“If you’re out there Clair I hope you are heading back. Markus is going to kill you for not returning to base when you lost contact.” she muttered to herself for no real reason. She was finding it hard to shake the chill the initial call from base gave her, now that she was thinking about Clair’s welfare again.
Starting the hike back she paused, “… one last look …”
The ridge was becoming darker by the minute, and the details that her binoculars were able to distinguish were less and less trustworthy. The dusky blur that made searching a challenge was just starting to take hold, and with the terrain of these hills it would be dark in only another thirty minutes.
Rose could see in the distance a flashing blue light. Once every half second for the briefest of moments a bright blue spark was illuminating her field of view, and it was only because of the falling light that she could see it at all. It was Clair’s radio, obviously lost and sitting just outside of a larger copse of tall grasses. Rose tried to get a range on it from the computer in her glasses, but the number was swinging wildly between 500 and 2000 meters. She unclipped her radio and keyed the mic.
“Field 4 to Base 1.”
“Base one, go ahead Rose.”
“Base, I think I have identified Clair’s radio in the distance. I can see the page light blinking. I assume you’ve tried paging her with no response?”
“We did Rose, but obviously nothing yet. Can you get to the radio’s position?”
“Negative base, and my rangefinder is having a hard time locking in with the low light. I’ll use GPS and heading data to give you something to triangulate before I come in.”
“Perfect. Any sign of Clair?”
“Sorry base, but I am at least a kilometer away across the valley. I can only see the light because the blue stands out so much.”
“OK. Give me a reading right now and another about 200 meters further up the rim. That should give me enough to get a location on the radio. Badger and Frank are back, so I’ll send them to meet you so you don’t have to walk back alone. Keep your eyes open for Clair, we are starting to get worried here. Viking was a smart cat …”
Rose keyed her mic again to interrupt. She wasn’t interested in contemplating the worst when it looked like this was simply a matter of a faulty radio clip. She dictated her GPS and heading information and signed off. The trek was going to make her late, and she was resigned to having to walk back in the dark. The radio back in it’s clip, she started the hike. The rim was rocky here and the going would be slow. This would be twenty minutes at least.
The GPS said she’d gone just over 200 meters, so this had better be good enough Rose thought. She called in her location data and stood quietly waiting for her two partners to arrive. Unexpectedly her radio hissed to life.
“Rose. I can see you.”
It was Viking. His voice was almost impossible to make out, but she recognized him from their time training together in Vernon. She quickly raised her glasses and looked for the radio’s blue light. She had just taken a heading from it, but she could see that it was gone. Viking had Clair’s radio.
“You killed my mate.”
His mouth was filled with blood and hate when he spoke, and he sounded like he was crushing the words out of gravel. He was speaking of a cat named Pasha who he had met two years ago. She had gone rogue with him and she had been captured and killed just days after the two had left the city.
Rose knew not to respond, but her fear was making it hard to think. She knew she was safe, Viking would never come after her now that they had such good location data, but Rose knew that Clair was in great danger, and she was truly afraid for her for the first time.
“Do not come looking for me. I have Clair’s sidearm and armor. I detected your scent on Clair. How human of you. Now we are even.”
That was it. Rose knew that instead of Clair’s radio they were going to find whatever was left of Clair after Viking ate his fill.
She sat down hard on the dry grass and cried.