7.0

The rain started before anyone had decided on an action. Jessie had still not returned and the dark clouds rumbled. Mark had retreated back inside but Yik remained outside with the vagrant who had introduced himself as Jerret.

“You do not know where the child could be?” Yik asked, getting closer to the ship. It offered no shelter but there was an ambient warmth around the open doorway at least.

“She didn’t say and I lost sight of her once she got into the trees. I’d have to get out into the woods to find a scent too, she’s been all over this clearing.”

“Scent?”

Jerret looked away silently. Thunder cracked nearby by and the rain fell harder and heavier. “I have to go look for her. It’s too dangerous.” He stood up and started towards the woods.

“Hold up, I’ll come with you.” Mark called, exiting the ship again. He had a flashlight with him and the gun was conspicuously absent.

Yik could see Jerret’s expression sour for a moment and then he started for the woods again. “Just keep up and don’t get lost.” With that he took off his shirt, shifted into a large grey wolf and shook off the rest of his clothes, loping away. Mark hesitated for a moment, startled, then jogged as fast as he could through the muddy clearing to catch up. Yik waited until they were out of sight then picked up the discarded clothing. He folded it neatly and set it just inside the doorway, sitting down to wait.

***

Jerret slowed down and sniffed at the air a little once they were in the woods. The officer caught up, and followed behind as they circled the clearing, shining the flashlight out into the woods to search. He caught a faint scent of Jessie from the side of the clearing to the right of the ship and followed it a little bit before losing it further in the woods. The light was shining unhelpfully high but Jerret couldn’t talk in this shape so he circled around until he found the scent again and carried on again. The rain was making everything fade quickly, even under the shelter of trees. He lost the scent again at the edge of a lake and could see tiny footprints in the mud. They were partially dried though, and he walked part of the distance around the lake before assuring himself she wasn’t there. The officer shined his flashlight around the shore and stood on the old footprints.

“Jessie!” He called out finally, but they sound didn’t carry far in the rain. Jerret sat down to think for a moment. He hadn’t known where Jessie disappeared to during the day, but she came back with the fish and the potato things. The fish was probably from this lake, judging by the churned up mud along the shore. He dug around at the local plant life but couldn’t be sure if any were the plant. The officer was still scanning around the trees fruitlessly. Jerret let out a sharp bark  to get his attention and tried to motion with his head back towards the ship. “What?” The man seemed to utterly miss his meaning and he sighed inwardly.

If he could get them back to the ship, he could show the man the plants and they could figure out where those came from. It was the only idea he could think of with no trail to follow. He debated shifting back to explain but the imminent nudity would be distracting and he hadn’t eaten enough to support that and a trip back. He gestured again with his head and when the man didn’t move he shook his head and started back. The officer followed him, still sweep his light around and called out a couple more times before they reached the clearing again.

Yik was sitting patiently in the doorway and stood up as they approached, “You did not find her?”

“We found tracks by a lake but not her. He wanted to come back for some reason.” The officer gestured to Jerret, who growled a little and climbed up into the ship. It seemed a lot harder on four legs and he nearly slipped for a moment. Inside, he managed to open the fridge with his head and pulled out one of the cooked plants, carrying it to the doorway. Neither approached to take it so he dropped it on the floor. “A potato? Do you want us to try and lure her back with food or something?”

Jerret shook his head and picked up the plant again. He hopped down to the ground rather than risk slipping and dug a hole, dropping it in. He sniffed around the spot and then dug it up again, trying to get the idea of find across to them. They stared at him blankly and Jerret sat down in the mud and let out a short howl of frustration. He would have to shift back and he wouldn’t have the energy to help search, but the others clearly couldn’t understand what he wanted. Fortunately his clothes were in the doorway so he could at least change and get dressed quickly. He climbed up into the ship, slipping and catching his chin on the door frame before he made it inside. He dragged his clothes into Calvin’s room and shifted back, sitting down to get dressed. His head was swimming as he stood up again but he made it back to the doorway. The others were looking around the clearing with the flashlight.

“I don’t know where the kid got off to when she wandered off but she brought back a fish and those plants. The fish is probably from the lake so maybe she’s wherever the plants are. I’m going to pass out now because you’re too fucking stupid to figure out what I did without me wasting all my energy so if Calvin is harmed when I wake up you’d better have run far away or I’ll rip your god’s-damned throats out.” If he’d had the energy to think he might have said that more diplomatically but as it was he barely managed to hobble his way back to Calvin’s bed and collapse into it.

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