The luminous blue sky above her was beautiful. For a few minutes she was distracted by pressure on her back and bottom from the grassy meadow in which she lay. But then that faded away and she was able to spend all her attention on idly spying out the few miniscule wisps of clouds.
Another distraction got her attention. It sounded like… No, it WAS…the sounds of horses’ hooves slowly coming closer.
She raised her head. That wasn’t enough to see over the deep green grass of the meadow, so she got her elbows underneath her and sat up.
Ha! There they were! Four small horses with mottled white and brown markings, a brown one laden with animal carcasses. Atop the calico horses sat Indians, the American kind. They wore skimpy leather clothing and carried spears. Each spear had a thong near its head which sported a feather.
The men pulled their horses to a stop when her head appeared in the grass. She peered at them, decades of experience cataloguing all details of the four, especially their weapons and physical capability. They peered back.
Wondering what they saw she glanced down at herself. As she had suspected she was naked. But she also saw that her body was covered all over by short fine red-blond fur. All except her face and the insides of her hands.
One Indian, then the remaining, touched heels to their horses’ barrels. The party paced toward her. In response she slowly stood, arms and hands hanging relaxed at her sides.
They stopped a few feet away, looked at her more closely.
The apparent leader idly poked his spear at her.
Training begun when she was a small child whipped one hand around the haft just behind the spear blade, latched onto it, twisted violently, and jerked it out of his hand. She followed up with a step back as she twirled the spear one- and then two-handed, the ends invisible from the speed of the spinning.
She ended the motion with the length close to her body, two hands on it ready to stab or slash with it. She slid one foot back to present a narrower target. Calmly she waited for their response.
The warrior who’d lost his spear clenched his jaws and put one hand on the butt of the long knife on his belt. She tilted her head slightly and raised an eyebrow.
The oldest of the four laughed and sent his horse slightly ahead of the younger man. He gestured for her to give the man back his spear and offered his own to her in exchange, butt-first.
She scrutinized him and then his companions carefully for several long moments, then took the butt offered her far up enough on it to take it from the man. Then she stuck the stolen spear head first in the grass, backed up a couple of steps, and repeated the twirling display with the new spear to end in a ready pose.
The man who’d lost his spear retrieved it. The older man turned his horse away from the visitor and began to travel in the path which this sideshow had interrupted. The younger man gave the woman a hard look and followed. So did his two companions, one of whom was grinning widely.
She hesitated, then began trotting in their wake.
An hour passed, then another. Their easy pace never slowed but it never increased either. Nor did hers. Jogging did not tire her out, the whippy grass did not score her lightly furred legs, nor did stray stones bother her tough-skinned feet.
She had plenty of leisure to observe the land. It was green, slightly rolling, had occasional patches of low forest. Some of these were more extensive, shadowing narrow streams sometimes so rimmed with low bushes that they were invisible.
Stray memories came and went as the land flowed past.
Her name was Nancy….
She had been a school teacher….
She had been born Russian….
She knew dozens of ways to kill people….
She’d had a friend who was very good with bows and arrows….
He’d been married and had children….
She’d been so happy when she learned that. Both’d had done horrible things which remained with them as nightmares….
At that her mind shied away from memories and she was grateful for the distraction when a village showed up on the horizon.
As they came closer she could see that the village was near a substantial stream of water. The village spread out along the stream and into the shelter of a forest of low trees with dark green leaves. There were perhaps two hundred tents of leather or cloth stretched over frameworks. It gave the impression that the whole could be disassembled, taken elsewhere, and set up elsewhere.
The party splashed through the stream a hundred yards downstream of the nearest tent, then turned to follow the stream into the village. Villagers came out to greet the men and eye their strange companion.
The inhabitants were about evenly spread between old, middle, and young, female and male. All wore skimpy leather or cloth attire. Both sexes mingled freely. None were hostile, several were curious, but everyone, children included, clustered around the carcass-bearing horse and relieved it of its burdens.
Shortly one of the women, perhaps the oldest, came up to Nancy and urged her to come with her, using a language Nancy had never heard though she was fluent in over a dozen, could get along in twice that, and was familiar with even more. She had been trained to go into any country in the world and–
Her mind balked at following that train of thought.
In one of the larger tents the woman rummaged in a (portable?) closet and brought out clothing similar to her own. This was a leather bra, a skirt over tight pants, and moccasins. Apparently she was to go without panties. The pants were soft, however, and comfortable.
Nancy donned the clothes. As she settled comfortably into them suddenly her short fur melted into normal nearly invisible body hair.
The woman, noticing this, made some mild comment. She seemed only curious, no more. Nancy wondered if such here-then-gone behavior was known to the woman.
When Nancy sought to take up the spear leaning just inside the door the woman shook her head and said something. She led Nancy to another cabinet. Inside it were numerous knives of several lengths. The woman gestured for Nancy to choose one.
She sorted through them. They revealed that she was not in an exclusively primitive society. Each was light, obviously machine made, and well-designed. There were sheathes for each.
Jane chose two, one long, the other short, and settled them onto a belt. She also took up a case holding six throwing knives, each very light but with a weighted point, and secured it to her belt.
At that the woman said something which sounded like a question.
Nancy responded by extracting three of the throwing knives and send them spinning in a simple cascade up and down before her.
The woman made an appreciative comment at the juggling and turned to lead her out of the tent, allowing Nancy to take up the spear.
Outside the woman continued to lead Nancy various places. One was what apparently would be her tent, a small one set up for a single occupant. Another was a porta-potty of advanced manufacture which had only a faintly floral smell rather than an organic one.
Lastly her hostess led her to various groups of people and introduced her, ignoring her guest’s lack of understanding. Nancy memorized a few of the names. Or perhaps titles. She had a good and trained memory.
Lastly there was a feast. Groups of people sat around several campfires, lit apparently by some mechanical fire lighter, yet another indication that somewhere there was an industrial complex.
Sometime during these events Nancy crossed paths with the man who’d loaned her his spear. Nancy proffered it and thanked the man. He took it with a smile and some comment then went on his way.
The day waned from sunset into twilight. And Jane saw something which revealed to her that she was not on some remote part of Earth.
In the east, already risen but only now visible with the dying of the day, was a ringed super-planet like Saturn, its rings tilted to point up and down.
It was going to take her much longer than she’d earlier thought to return home.
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