"Oh, no, I assure you the enclosure is a perfectly comfortable size." Head Zookeeper Sevenone smiled smoothly, reassuring the Konpijin magnate. "There are several square klicks of ground, and I've gone to great length to recreate their usual environment; I even added a swamp. Of course there's not much to do about the lack of sufficient gravity, but the offspring doesn't seem to be suffering from it."
The Konpijin bleeped; the screen over his chest loaded several lines of text.
"No, sadly they're not all pureblood; I wasn't able to acquire a male for our prize queen. But you might know that her species have a highly peculiar DNA that enables them to reproduce with any similar enough -- ah, of course, my apologies. No, sadly the hybrids don't seem to be fertile."
The hovercar circled a high pile of rocks by a pond; Sevenone pointed out the narrow opening at the base with his outer limb.
"They usually nest there, when it rains or when they -- there! That's the eldest daughter. You will notice that her mane is purple. This is a trait passed down from her sire; her mother has pitch-black fur, as is standard for the species. The second litter have dark blue manes and their skin is more golden than tan, but as was shown in several old holovids, that is apparently an acceptable variation in the standard."
The purple-maned female watched them warily from the edge of the pond, and then jumped in, wading to the reeds and disappearing in the bushes. Sevenone and his guest followed her progress on the infrared screen until she crawled under the roots of a tree and curled up, hiding. Sevenone pointed out to his guest several other beeps on the radar; the pair of identical twins was moving in parallel lines through the grass in the clearing.
"And here are the young males. They seem to be hunting -- yes, I regularly provide them with live prey."
As if to demonstrate, a heavy furry thing shot out of the grass. Two seconds later it was bowled over by an overenthusiastic predator, who slapped it toward his identical-looking littermate. The two males spent a good ten minutes playing with their prey before it was too shredded to keep twitching, and then started to fight over who got to devour the carcass.
There was a short, peremptory blip from his guest.
"I assure you, we are perfectly aware of this regretful waste. We do not undervalue the life of that therrel. But therrels are many, and these are only a handful. When we do not procure them live prey, they tend to ... hunt each other." They hunted each other regardless; but the violence of their fights did tend to grow when they had nothing else to bleed, and the dampening collars didn't seem to change that.
Silence, then another bleep.
"... Yes, indeed, they were quite a bloodthirsty species, but it is their nature, we can't really condemn them for that. I've been trying to wean them off it, but it doesn't seem to be working very well."
The cursor blinked, unmoving, for a few seconds, and then a couple of lines of text trailed along the Konpijin's screen. Sevenone nodded in agreement, relieved, and started pointing out behaviors of interest as the hovercar circled over the beasts.
"... Ah, I doubt we'll see her. She's rather... shy, let's say, and rarely comes out of hiding when there are hovercars around. Maybe a remnant from her capture... That pile of rocks? No, they actually built that themselves. Ingenious, aren't they? It's a bit, oh, haphazard, and not all that waterproof, but somewhat charming, wouldn't you say?"
A few blips, a chuckle, the curl of limbs into a polite-discourse triple loop.
"They're good mimics, yes, though left to their own devices they are rarely what we would call ingenious. They're on the low side of sentience; barely what we would call primitive, much less civilized, and--"
A feral scream tore the air, so harsh it crossed the thick protective panels of the hovercar as if they didn't exist. Sevenone's grip on the controls faltered for a second.
"Ah -- ahh, my apologies, I didn't expect..."
The Konpijin gave a couple of low, alarmed whistles as the hovercar swung.
"I didn't expect them to -- zoom, where is the zoom -- oh, thank you."
Silence, as the hovercar circled, as the camera zoomed.
"... I didn't... expect them to... kill each other..."
Sevenone stared at the mess underneath in total shock. One of the blue-maned males was dragging himself through the tall grass, spitting and snarling weakly as the other one circled, flicking his tail in wide, deliberate arcs. There was blood -- red, shockingly so -- all over the place.
"Oh my. Oh my. I can't believe -- my prized--"
A peremptory beep; Sevenone barely managed to take his eyes off the scene for the half-second needed to read the screen. There were no letters to be seen, merely crude schematics.
"You -- but I've never, the hovercar might not --"
Another roar; more pain than rage this time. Bones snapped under a heavy blow; the injured one lashed out wildly and more blood splashed the grass. Sevenone swooped the hovercar down, and hoped that the noise and sudden movement would scare the predator away from his prey before he reached the security distance. The weaker male was trailing wet, fleshy ropes on the ground.
The rush of the hovercar startled the assailant; but he only whirled around and flattened himself defensively against the floor. He didn't run away from his littermate-turned-prey. Sevenone circled, lifted the hovercar again and then swooped down as far as the computer would let him.
There was a sudden clank and the vehicle buckled, before starting to list to the side dangerously.
A trap. One of the females was clinging to the underside of the vehicle. He briefly tried to gain some altitude -- pure reflex -- but if she killed herself falling, he would be ruined...
Another shape flew at him, all bared fangs and feral eyes and wild, bristly mane, and he could only think, 'oh, there is the mother'.
The last thing he saw was the sudden bloom of a white spider-web across the windshield.
Kress shook herself out and pulled her limbs free from the wreckage. The twisted metal and glass left behind bloody furrows; she barely spared them a glance, it wasn't like her scars could look any worse. A dozen feet away, her eldest climbed back on her feet and grinned viciously.
"Nice leap," Kress commented, and backhanded the younger female aside when the brat started to dig through the debris for the enemy. "Go wash Korn's innards and shove them back in. He better be healed before we need to move."
Alfa growled in frustration, a hand tugging at her ki-dampening collar. Fern shook his fists at the older female as he stomped forward. "Mother, they've taunted us for so long!"
Kress stood in front of the hovercar and bared her teeth in a silent sneer, staring down the impertinent whelps until they stopped in their tracks and looked away.
"And if we use this one as bait, we might yet get a chance at more than petty revenge. We might get a chance at a vehicle that can fly." She speared them with a harsh glare, tail whipping behind her once before it curled tightly around her waist. "Now go fix your brother before I fix you."
Warrior Second-Class Kress, daughter of Letus by Tuver, of Vegetasei, watched her bastard offspring crawl off to execute her orders; when she was sure that they were obeying her, she turned back to the wreckage and started peeling off the twisted metal, careful not to crush the cabin more than the survivor could stand.
Escape came first. She had been patient for twenty years. She could be patient a little while longer. There would be all the time in the world for revenge afterwards.