Reeearh is teaching the puppy how to hunt.

It’s night-time. The fake sunlight is unchanged, but Stephen and Night Wave are asleep, and the puppy has sneaked out to see Reeearh.

On Reeearh’s world, the night is the time of rest, when the relentless drive of the day’s hunting is relieved; it is a time of relaxation and quiet; of secrets and privacy and lies. During the night they can pretend, in the dark where nobody can see them, that they are civilised.

At night, when most larger predators are asleep, Reeearh’s people’s young venture out to hunt down insects and small animals. Sometimes they will meet an adult. During the day, they are just another kind of tiny prey animal, beneath notice—mostly. But during the night they are taught.

Tonight’s lesson is about the pounce: once the prey has been identified and hunted down, it must be taken down as quickly and as cleanly as possible. It’s not necessary to kill the prey outright at this stage, but the prey must be sufficiently disabled that it cannot escape. A good pounce makes the difference between success or failure.

The puppy is trying to kill Reeearh’s tail. They initially started out using one of the spherical machine-like zombies as a target. Reeearh’s reasoning was that they are tough enough that the puppy would be unable to hurt one. Not that it cares. Reeearh’s empathy is strictly pragmatic at the best of times, and it barely considers the zombies to be alive anyway; but if they damaged one they’d have to waste time finding another.

Unfortunately the zombies make for very unsatisfying prey, neither running away or fighting back. The spherical machines would just fall to the ground and lie there.

So now Reeearh runs down one of the streets, waving its tail back and forth, while the puppy chases behind, trying to grab it.

She’s a quick learner. She’s already shown herself to be fast and dextrous, and good at planning on the spur of the moment. Reeearh hasn’t met sealin before but in many ways they are definitely kindred spirits.

Reeearh swerves sideways, trying to dodge out of her path, but she pounces, biting Reeearh up near the base of its tail. Reeearh tucks its forelegs in and rolls sideways, tumbling in an attempt to throw her off. She just bites harder and clings on. She even manages to stay on when Reeearh bucks and somersaults forward, despite a nasty bang against the ground, and eventually Reeearh gives up and lies flat, declaring its tail to be dead. The puppy dances jubilantly overhead and rubs herself against Reeearh’s muzzle as it picks itself up off the ground. There’s a trickle of black, oily blood staining Reeearh’s fur, but the puppy’s teeth are so small compared to Reeearh’s hide that the wound is negligable.

A tiny portion of Reeearh’s mind, carefully partitioned off and ignored, warns against treating the puppy as if she were a child for too long. Reeearh’s species is well aware that other species do not share their hard-wired focus on hunting and killing; their entire civilisation, such as it is, is based around displacing that drive. They have tried various techniques for dealing with aliens in a non-lethal manner. One approach that was initially promising was to pretend that it was always night-time, and that all aliens were children. This worked for a time, but the stresses were too great and when the illusion was inevitably finally broken, the resulting eruptions of killing were usually unhelpful.

Reeearh doesn’t think about any of this. It’s an exceptionally civilised member of its species, which means that it’s well practiced in not thinking about things.

Reeearh stretches, and swats the puppy away from its face, claws sheathed; she goes tumbling, barking at him in mock outrage. She’s doing well. It’s a pity there’s so little real prey here to hunt; games are no substitute for the real thing. Reeearh permits itself to think back to its own childhood, long ago (but without letting itself realise how long), and its first daytime kill: a warm-blooded creature like a very hairy rabbit, it was. It fought hard and left Reeearh bruised and torn, but its blood was sweet in Reeearh’s mouth, and that night its mentor was very pleased.

Soon it will be back home, Reeearh lets itself believe. It decides that it will find one of those creatures, and kill it, for remembrance’s sake. It looks forward to it.

The night is young. Time for another lesson; it knows just the place. Reeearh begins to make its way silently and imperceptibly through the undercity, moving from shadow to shadow. Behind it, the puppy seems to have vanished, although it knows she is following. Reeearh approves.

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