Deep in a wooded icy forest, harsh sunlight chased away the night's darkness, and revealed a usual sight. In a small clearing now filled with morning sunlight, a group of Siberian huskies marched uniformly through the forest. Worry and exhaustion shown in all of their faces as they pressed on. Leading the group was light gray female husky with thoughtful brown eyes, and a ragged blue collar (not to mention being the only one who wore a collar) named Auto. Behind her was another female husky named Crystal who sported a pure white pelt and clear, intelligent blue eyes. Further down the line was Seth a dark gray and extremely scruffy looking husky, followed by Tiger a grayish brownish husky/malamute mix, and Tonto a brown husky with a silly, seemingly incoherent demeanor.
"Auto! I think we should stop and take a break!" Cried Crystal.
Panting, Auto looked over her shoulder and into her friend's eyes. "But are you sure it's safe to stay here? We should find food and shelter at the very least..."
"I agree with Crystal, catching food will be impossible if we're all too exhausted to do so." Seth said stepping forward.
"Does everyone agree?" Auto inquired.
The large group of huskies all nodded in affirmation.
"Yes, let's give our paws a pause!" Tiger cracked.
With sighs of relief all of the huskies sat down taking the load off of their exhausted feet. Some chatted among themselves, others curled up for naps, while the rest buddied up into pairs. Seth and Crystal talked quietly among themselves, enjoying each otherís company, something that was well known among the group. Auto, an opportunist when it came to sleep decided not to miss out on a morning snooze. Tiger wanted to say something to the collared dog, but figured it would be best to the sleeping leader lie. Swishing his tail he looked among the group until he spotted Tonto.
Tonto was presently bushing twigs and leafs out of his goatee, but stopped to acknowledge Tiger.
"Long time no see Tiger."
"What do you mean? I just saw you a little while ago!"
"Heh, heh. I know, just wanted to say something to get the conversation rolling. Actually I wanted to talk to Auto, but she's taking her power nap..."
"She really enjoys those, sometimes I swear she was part feline!" Tiger cracked. "But seriously, do you ever think we'll see home again, Tonto?"
"I don't know... But Auto seems to handle the situation very well..."
"Yes, she has had a lot of responsibility thrown on her back. I think she's doing nothing less than admirable job!"
"Heh. They make this survival thing seem way too hard. I bet we'll all be fine, and we'll probably be saved in no time!" Tonto exclaimed.
Meanwhile Auto slept alone in a dreamless state, something was nagging her, attempting to pull her into the back into the affairs of real life... Away from her pleasant dreamless void... nagging and tugging, tugging and nagging. Away, away...
"Auto! Auto! Get up you lazy bum! Up with it! Get off your tail, you know you want to!" Seth said gently shaking the husky.
Shrugging Crystal stepped forward and buried her fangs into Auto's tail. Suddenly the brown eyes popped open and Auto reared up on her back legs dancing from side to side.
"Oooowwwww!!!!!" She cried, "Why did you do that?!?! It hurts like hell!!!"
"It was time for you to get up... heh." Crystal said with a snicker.
"Aye, you sleep so soundly you could make the dead seem lively." Seth chuckled.
"Oy, my poor tail..."
"Seriously speaking Auto, it's time to eat."
"Eat? We don't have any food..."
"While you where sleeping for the past few hours, Seth, a few of the others and myself decided to go hunting. We managed to catch a few snow hares, just enough for everyone." The white husky said with a grin.
"Sounds good..." Auto murmured, pushing down the feelings of worthlessness that manifested themselves deep within her gut.
During the meal an interesting conversation arose between the leaders of the group.
"I think it would be a good idea if we continue to search for our original destination, the town that we were heading to before the accident." Auto said pointing in the direction in they where originally headed.
"No Auto, I think you're wrong. Who would recognize us without a musher? I say we should live alone out here in our pack like our relatives, the wolves." Crystal said her blue eyes catching the collared husky's brown ones.
Crystal's stare was making Auto extremely nervous, but she would not be un-nerved by the younger dog, and hid her feelings. "You're kidding right? We can't possibly live like wolves, because we are not wolves." stopping, the ambitious husky took a softer tone of voice. "We don't belong here, and it doesn't feel safe..."
"I think the humans have made you soft. You dare doubt our abilities? We can live fine without them! Unlike YOU, I took the time to sniff around, and this is indeed a wolf territory." The white husky said growling at Auto.
Auto felt a challenge coming, but it wasn't within her to back down from something she felt so strongly in. "So what if they do? That does not mean the wolves will welcome us so openly! Logically speaking if this is their territory then we'd better keep moving."
Seth shook his head and stepped in between the spirited two huskies. "Stop it! That's enough! The last thing we need is the two of you fighting! We're in this together and we should all work together!"
Auto's eyes darkened and she took a threatening step towards Seth and Crystal, but found herself once again un-nerved. Not by the icy stare, but by the unspoken bond that the two dogs shared... Disgusted by not winning the argument, the light gray husky turned away not wanting another confrontation. She bit her tongue forcing back the words that threatened to spill out of her muzzle.
Suddenly, Tiger made his way to the center of the huskies and tried to ease the unspoken tensions between them. "It's been a long day, and we're all at our wit's end... Turning in for the night would be a good idea, and we could all vote on the issue tomorrow."
With an air of agreement, everyone in the pack turned in for the night. For the most part they all slept together for warmth, some closer than others. Except for Auto who, by choice slept outside of the ring. Sniffing, she found that she could not sleep, due to all of the thoughts racing through her head. Getting up quietly, she walked off alone into the forest deep in thought. She was so deep in though that she didn't even notice Tiger, until she walked right into him.
"Oomph! Who's there?" He cried. Glancing down he noticed Auto. "Oh it's just you. I'm sorry I didn't see you. Are you hurt?"
Jarred from her thoughts she looked into the concerned face of her friend. "Oh no, it's nothing..."
"Are you sure, because don't look too well..." Tiger replied taking a step forward.
"Well, you see... There's..." Auto struggled for words, but decided against it, knowing that she would never be truly understood. "It's nothing really. Don't stress yourself out worrying about it." She said giving the husky/malamute mix a toothy grin.
Deep down inside Tiger could sense the husky was hiding something, but figured it would be best not to push her. "Well if you say so." He chuckled. "Auto, I-" He stopped mid sentence when he noticed the female stiffen, and lower her head slightly. "Auto? What is it?"
"There's something, or someone out there..." She said growling. Suddenly her light gray fur stood up on end. "I think it's a human, and another dog..."
"What's wrong with that? Maybe they can help us. Don't jump to conclusions."
"I think we should spy on them... I can't tell if they're friendly or not, but I know I have a bad feeling, deep in my gut."
Quietly, the two dogs crept along staying concealed within the tree line. Finally they caught sight of a man with a shotgun, and a large hunting hound by his side. Together they crept closer, trying to keep upwind away from the powerful nose of the hound. Finally, they were just close enough to hear to the man talking to his dog, yet far enough away to escape the hound's senses.
"Well old friend, are you ready to collect your bounty?" the hunter asked, stroking his gun.
The dog just simply wagged its tail.
"Good, because I'll need you at full strength for this task. Somewhere in these woods are a pack of tame dogs. A few days ago, the truck that was carrying them got into some kind of accident. All that's known is that the man driving the truck died, but the huskies lived, because all of their cages are open, and they are nowhere to be found. Those dogs are worth a lot of money, and I can sell them to the highest bidder. Now my friend, enough with the chit chat, and lets go find those dogs, I think they're close by..."
Tiger heard Auto gently emit a small growl, and knew if he didn't stop his friend she'd attack the hunter. Pouncing on her, he managed to push her down with his great weight, and she struggled hard against his mass.
"Let me go!" she hissed.
Tiger responded carefully by cupping a paw around her muzzle, avoiding the snapping jaws. He lowered his head, and his silver eyes meet her angry brown eyes. "Be quiet, that man has a shotgun, there's nothing we can do except to warn the others..." He whispered. "Can you honestly take on his hound, and face off against his shotgun at the same time?"
Auto's heart felt sure that her conviction was enough to overcome any hunter and his gun, but her logical mind told her that Tiger was right. And she relaxed in his grip. Smiling, Tiger reassured Auto by laying his head on hers. "It'll be alright, I know everything will work out for the best." he whispered.
"It's just that-" Auto's words were cut off when the sound of fighting erupted. Something was engaging the hunter and his hound! Snorting, she wiggled free of Tiger's relaxed gripped and peered through the brushes. Engaging the hunters were... Wolves!
Three of them to be exact, all of them were very skilled fighters, and they all gave the hunters trouble. The human went to fire his shotgun at the wolves, but one grabbed the weapon and flung it out of the hunter's grasp. Both the human and the hound managed to free themselves from the wolves, and took off at high speed. The human recovered his gun, but did not try to use it again on the wolves. As the two figures retreated the hound called back to them.
"Filthy beasts! We shall not forget this, well be back with more hunters, and more guns!"
"Wow..." Tiger muttered, and turned around to see Auto's reaction only to find her speeding back to camp. Sighing, he took off after the husky.
"Everyone get up! We have to get out of here!" Auto yelled darting to and fro. "Grave danger! We're in grave danger!!!"
Knowing something was wrong the dogs all sluggishly got to their feet.
Crystal and Seth both held down the panicked husky, and tried to make sense of her words.
"What's this about? What are you so afraid of???" Seth asked in a concerned tone.
Before Auto could reply, the pack of huskies found themselves surrounded by wolves. One of the wolves stepped forward, and spoke gently to the dogs.
"Greetings. We have been watching you since you entered our forest." The wolf paused for effect and cast a side-glance at Auto. "She is right, you are in grave danger. Right now a hunter who hunts for sport and profit is on his way into town to gather re-enforcements. He wishes to capture all of you and sell you to the highest buyer."
A round gasps filled the air, as the dogs shook their heads with disbelief. Stepping forward, Auto placed herself between the wolves and the huskies.
"So what do you suggest we do about it?" She said training her eyes on the wolf. Boldly the wolf stepped into the ring of dogs, and took up Auto's challenge.
"We are a very small clan of wolves, and a new liter of cubs won't be born in time to raise our numbers, but if you huskies join our group, then we'll have enough resources to survive. We will offer you protection from the hunters, and in turn you will provide our clan with the numbers it needs to survive."
"That sounds like a good idea, we'd be honored to join your clan-" Crystal said stepping forward, only to be cut off by Auto.
"Excuse me Sir, but my friends and I need a moment to talk this over." She huffed, staring daggers at Crystal.
"I understand, we'll be back in the morning. Please let us know of your decision by then." With a curt bow, the wolf and his pack mates took their leave.
"Auto, what are you doing??? If we join the wolves then we needn't worry about this hunter." Crystal snared.
"I think you're wrong, dead wrong! Staying here with the pack will lead to our deaths! If the hunter returns with hounds and guns, the wolves will be powerless to stop them! The best thing we can do is move on!" Auto replied baring her fangs.
"No we're staying! Why should you have any power over us!"
"In case you haven't noticed I was elected to lead! It's my duty to make decisions on your behalf! I'm doing what I feel is best!"
"Exactly! You feel what you are doing is best! Auto you're so arrogant, you didn't even think about how the rest of the pack might have felt!"
"I think the damn same thing could be said about you! NOW Who's being arrogant?! You are as much at fault as I am!"
Seth tried to protest once more by placing himself between the two enraged females, but Auto wouldn't have it. "I won't let you shield her from the truth! From my truth!" She screamed ramming the husky away.
"Auto, you're going to pay for that!!!" Crystal snarled charging the light gray husky.
"So be it. I'm right and you're wrong, and you have no place challenging my authority!" Auto breathed coldly, taking up the charge.
The two huskies ceased to hurl insults at one another, and let their actions do the talking. Viciously they snarled, clawed and bit at one another. Crystal, trying to get an upper hand, lunged for Auto's jugular but the thick leather collar took the blow instead. With a spiteful grin, Auto turned around and sunk her fangs, all the way to the gums, into the white husky's shoulder. Howling in pain, Crystal slashed the collared husky's face repeatedly until the grip on her shoulder was finally released. Seething mad, Auto charged again and slashed Crystal's face without mercy, with a final swat she downed the husky, and went in for the final blow. Just before her jaws could reach the other dog's neck, another force grabbed her from behind and tossed her to the side. Glancing over Auto could make out that Seth had joined the fight, and would not let her hurt Crystal. Before Auto could get up again, the larger male rammed his head into her ribs, sending her reeling, breathless. Before Seth could strike again, Auto managed to get a grip on his neck, but was attacked from behind. Crystal had gotten into the fray again! Jumping on the light gray husky's back the white husky raked her claws down the length of her spine, inflicting great agony upon the victim. Shaking the white dog off, Auto turned around only to be greeted by Seth's claws, with a great swat he caught her across the eye. The blow was sudden and unexpected, and Auto's foundation was shaken to the core. With a wrenching cough the enraged dog fell to the ground in great pain. A film of red covered her eye, and much to her distress, Crystal continued to rake her claws across her body. This continued for a while until Seth finally pulled the white dog away.
During the fight all of the dogs had gotten into a circle formation, some cheered Crystal on, a few had cheered for Auto, while the rest stood quietly shocked. Regretful for not helping either side out, Tiger padded carefully over to Auto's body, unsure whether or not she lived. At an attempt to calm Crystal down Seth took her to the side, and began to nurse her wounds. Tiger bent down to examine the downed husky, when she suddenly jumped to her feet without warning. Seth stiffened, and bared his fangs, but the husky wasn't foolish enough to take them on again.
Filled with anger, the husky ran off blindly, enlightened by the harsh truth that no one would bother to stop her. She streaked through the night like a comet, and small branches slapped at her face. Darting through a bush she collided with the same hunter and his dog from earlier. Their presence only increasing her problems. The hunter stared at disbelief at the husky, but decided that she would not be allowed to live, to warn her pack mates.
"Get her!" He yelled.
Feeling an unspoken obligation to his master the dog attacked without hesitation. Pity, she's sort of cute... The hound thought to himself.
Filled with anger from the previous fight, the husky showed the hound no mercy. She tackled him, and they rolled over in the snow. The hound was taken back by her viciousness; normally huskies were timid creatures, especially females... The hunter raised his gun and carefully took aim, trying to get a clean shot at the husky without shooting his hound. Finally finding one, he squeezed the trigger, but before he could fire another husky attacked him from behind, no it was a husky/malamute mix. Tiger had come to Auto's rescue!
Grappling with the dog, the hunter involuntary pulled the trigger all the way back, and blast came so close to Auto and the hound that they ceased to fight. Finally the hunter shoved Tiger away and raised his gun to fire at the dog. Knowing that her friend was in death's way, she pushed Tiger out of the way, just as the human fired his shotgun. Auto wasn't fast enough to avoid the blast, but had moved far enough out of the way to protect her body. With a sickening red explosion, her right paw came off at the joint, making a mess out of her foreleg. Cringing she let out a cry that filled the night air.
The hunter and the hound resumed their attack on Auto, but Tiger would not stand for it. Ramming the human, he buried his fangs into the man's neck, and ripped his throat out. Shocked the hound tried to back away, knowing that Tiger was filled with rage, at the treatment of his friend. Tiger was normally peaceful, but this time he did not stop until he had killed the hound as well.
Fearfully he crept back to Auto, and found her on her side, gasping for air. Overwhelmed with sadness, he lay by her side, and wept. He prayed that she would some how survive, but deep inside, he knew there was nothing he could do for her. At the sound of an approaching car, he leapt to his feet and placed himself between Auto and the noise.
"Don't." Auto whispered weakly.
"No, I have to protect you! You saved my life." He replied earnestly. "I won't let the hunters take you."
"You have to warn the others. Do it for the good of everyone else. I'm bleeding to death, and I won't last much longer, so it doesn't matter what they do to me..."
"But Auto! I can't leave you! You're our leader."
"You MUST! Now go, I won't hear another word of it! The others will find a new leader, forget about me." She groaned.
"Auto... I'll never forget you." Tiger whispered, before running off, leaving the light gray husky to her fate.
One year passed, and the wolf pack celebrated another year of survival. Although he hadn't seen Auto since he'd left her that fateful night, Tiger couldn't help but wonder if she was alive, or did she die full of hate that night.
Tens of miles away, in a congested city, Tiger was ironically in another dogís thoughts...
"Auto! You can go outside now." Said a young man in his twenties, as he held open the door for his dog. Auto Limped tiredly on her three legs out the door. Finding a cozy patch of grass, she flopped down, to reflect upon the major changes in her life.
She remembered her fight with Crystal, being attacked by the hunter afterwards, and then saved by Tiger, only to have her foot ultimately blown off. She was sure she would die, so she demanded that Tiger go back to the group of huskies. Lying on her side she blamed Crystal for the whole thing. If only that damned novice had listened to her in the first place! However fate had other plans. Just as she had given up all hope, a car pulled up. She was certain that it was another hunter, but she had assumed wrong. A young Forest Ranger had come to investigate the noises, and found Auto. He rushed her to the nearest vet, where she'd undergone intensive surgery. No one was sure she'd live but somehow Auto managed to pull through. But her days as a sled dog were over. She could no longer run with only three feet. And who wants a dog with only three working legs? Yet fate surprised her again, when the same Ranger had decided to adopt her as a pet of his own. She had keep the name Auto thanks to her collar, and lived with him for the past year in his small city house. As time passed she blamed herself for being such a horrible leader, and felt that her accquired crippled condition was a just punishment.
She often spent days without eating, blaming herself, until one day it finally dawned on her that it wasn't entirely her fault. Sure she could have dealt with the situation in a more sensible manner, but in the end it was a difference of opinion. They often say opposites attract, but if that was true, then does it mean that similarities repel? The answer lie in gray area, it wasn't clear-cut. She and Crystal had a lot in common, including a stubborn attitude. It was their unwillingness to find a better solution that resulted in the strange turn of events. Auto couldn't help but feel she still got the short end of the stick, while everyone else lived on Cloud Nine. But short sticks weren't so bad. She no longer had to worry about leading others; her job now was to be a companion and guardian to her human. She would never make the same mistake with him, that she made with her pack mates. The stump that used to be her right paw was a constant reminder of that.
She often wondered if her pack mates were happy and if any of them remembered her. Auto smiled grimly as she gazed upon the twilight stars taking their place in the night sky. Even in the darkness she found a small glimmers of hope.
Back to the Lab!