Redbeard stood at the edge of the bar with his drink, idly glancing around the two-level room. In the gloom, a dozen or more races were represented, most non-humanoid. In this section of the galaxy, aliens were in the majority, and the Humans had to either adapt or live around them. Aliens never bothered him, but it took a hell of a good memory to keep straight all their customs and taboos. What was normal behavior on one wor1d could get a man's head sliced off on another. He rubbed a sore muscle at the back of his neck, and decided it was safe to take the dark dye out of his hair and beard. Even if he was recognized here, it wouldn't matter; the Balrade system had no extradition and only a token law force. He chuckled wryly--where else could the Freefall sit unmolested in orbit? He must get himself a crew soon and set a course for a shipping lane; he was getting bored.
Jack's idle glance passed over a table, then stopped and blinked in surprise. The girl didn't belong here ... and yet she fit in so well no one paid attention to her. She was seated with a dark insectoid, which probably towered over eight feet if it stood up. He couldn't tell if it was with her or not; they ignored each other. The girl's face was Oriental, young, the curled hair a black shadow in the corner. Curious . He looked around the bar.
Not one of the Human males in here made a move toward her table. With a face like that? Why? He studied the big ant-like alien closer, without recognizing the species. As if she felt his stare, the girl's eyes met his for a brief second, then moved on, without interest.
One of the centipede-like Tehetra took that moment to scuttle across the floor, and Jack moved his foot back fast. Their first three cilia were sharp as knives, and the creatures saw only in infrared. He wasn't taking any chances they might not detect him in time. A group of four in the corner were agitated as the fifth arrived, sounding like a nest of snakes, in hissing, incomprehensible language.
'What's their problem?" He jerked a finger in their direction and the bar owner glanced over his shoulder.
"Ag, that. Somebody stole one their eggs tonight. They've been waiting for the law to come in to get it back."
Jack's fingers twitched at the thought of cops. "City Patrol?"
"Those fools?" he spat. "They'd run the other direction from this thief."
"But you said--"
"Got other ways." He pointed with a glass, and Jack turned. His eyes widened in surprise as he saw the Tehetra grouped around the table of the girl and the insectoid, their cilia rippling animatedly.
In a few minutes, she rose, leaving the insectoid, and went out with the Tehetra. Intrigued, Jack put down his drink and followed.
The speed of the multipedes kept the girl moving at a low run. He moved after them, stopping to watch, fascinated, as one of the aliens rose up like a snake in striking position, to speak to her. And, by Lir, it was talking to her! He didn't know anyone could understand the original language of the Tehetra. They usually carried clumsy translation devices strapped to their fifth pair of cilia. These had none.
The girl turned and left, and the Tehetra came scuttling back toward him. He flattened himself in a doorway and let them pass. Then he turned his head, and smiling slowly in bafflement, followed the woman.
Ahead, in the alley, he heard noises--his psi trigger alarm went off. Born with that inner danger sense, it had served him well in years of pirating. Something deadly waited in the alley--but so did the girl. Or was she herself the danger? Cautiously, he slid forward, to see who she was arguing loudly with.
Jal'risha. At first sight, his mouth dropped open, and he went white. Twelve feet of whip-arm mass, the touch of which could wither Human skin. She was in front of it in a belligerent stance, one finger almost poking the poisoned skin. It hissed, its arms waving angrily. She was mad!
"Get away from it, girl! It'll kill--"
An eight-foot long whip arm hissed down and barely missed him as he dove back and rolled, with a cry.
She turned around and the expression on her face flabbergasted him--annoyance. "Keep out of this." She swung around on the jal'risha and then ducked as an arm went over her head. "I don't give a damn what you think. You can buy it like everybody else." Another arm went down, and she moved her foot back.
It wasn't deliberately trying. Open-mouthed, Jack let that thought send his brain spinning. The thing could have killed her in a second with one of those swings and didn't.
Finally, it handed over a bluish globe to her, which Jack saw only then had been held in the lower tentacles.
She turned, without looking back at it, and strode away with the ball.
He was still shaken, amazed and half-angry, when she went past him. "How in hell did you do that?" He caught up with his long stride.
"You a cop?"
"Then shove it up your engine tubes. And if you are a cop, do it anyway." She went on, without a glance at him.
He was miffed, but curiosity won out, as he kept pace with her. "The egg--how did you know the jal'risha had it?"
"They eat radioactive matter, and nothing else but a Tehetra can touch one of these things."
"But you--" He looked down and cried out. She carried a baby Tehetra, which was wrapped around the globe.
Her reason for walking so fast had nothing to do with him; the sharp cilia gripping her arm were cutting into it.
Near the same bar, she handed over the egg to a hissing group of Tehetra, and Jack couldn't for the life of him tell if they were the same ones as before. They rolled over the egg as if the scent of it drove them crazy. The girl walked away from the writhing mass and returned to the bar.
When Jack came in, he saw the ant-like alien chittering over the wound she was trying to bind up one-handed, its antenna questing rapidly over her arm, but making no attempt to aid her. She had trouble pushing it out of her way. Jack fared better, with the strength enhancers implanted in both arms.
"Here." He moved her hands from the makeshift bandage and redid it. Too many races came into the place to have a medikit for each one on hand, so places usually carried none. The strip would have to do until she got to a med-unit. "And tell your friend to stop tickling me." The insectoid's antenna were travelling over his face and shoulders, and he was uneasy at the serviceable-looking mandibles so close to his ears.
"It's no friend of mine." Nonetheless, at her annoyed wave, it pulled back, clicking, and seated itself in a chair opposite them. "Thank you," she said and tested his bandaging, and he had a sudden certainty that the clothes and speech were wrong; she was not a product of a bar district. She glanced up, and in that one scanning look, he had the unnerving feeling that she came to the same conclusions about him. "What's your angle?" She lifted the bandaged arm as a question.
"Curiosity," he answered truthfully.
"What's your name?"
"Jack." She waited for more, and he smiled slightly. "Just Jack."
Her eyes, which were incongruously clear grey in and Oriental face, fixed him steadily. "Why are you still here?"
"You fascinate me."
"Damn it, I mean that! You talked to those aliens, understood them without a translator. What are you doing buried in a dung-heap like this, when a talent like yours would buy you a First Contact star? Or even an ambassadorship?"
"So what are you doing in this dung-heap?"
He shut his mouth.
"Exactly." She smiled slightly, though no humor was in it. On that she stood up.
"Wait. Look--what were you drinking before?"
"Let me buy you one." When he saw her tense, he lifted both hands. "No strings." To his surprise she sat down again; he didn't expect her to believe him. "What name do you go by?" He lifted his hand and yelled to the barman. In more respectable places, customers inserted credit cards into the table units to order, but here a card could be four hands removed from its legitimate owner.
If her voice had more inflection, it would be a nice voice , Jack thought. She didn't look like any of the races which practiced that kind of control, and only one other reason could have put that cold wariness into her eyes and drained them of feeling: at some time she had been scorched. There weren't outward signs of mind-wiping but those didn't always show or could be repaired, if that was the right reason for this. Rehab Centers were fastidious about such things. "Listen, you don't have to explain at all, but my curiosity is killing me. How can you communicate with those aliens?"
"I'm a lingual empath."
His brows puckered. "A what?"
"An empath can feel and take on another's pain. I do it with language."
At his indrawn breath and inadvertent tensing to run, she smiled at last, though it went swiftly. "No. I can't read your mind, but if you spoke to me in Gorn or Kedish, I could understand you--and you would understand me, no matter what you were."
"That's why the jal'risha didn't kill--Lir take us." The possibilities were mind-boggling. "Why hasn't every scout from here to Antares scorched a track in your direction?"
Her face clouded instantly and he knew he made another mistake. He shook his head. "All right. On this planet a secret is nobody's business. Here." He handed Kamai her brandy. Sudden plans whirled in his head. A speech empath--by Lir, if she could... He grabbed her hand. "Look, I--"
The forgotten insectoid suddenly hissed loudly, its mandibles gaping wide. Jack jerked back as it snapped at him and yelled, "What in hell's the matter with him?"
Her eyes rested on the alien without expression, and Jack couldn't tell if she hated his presence or didn't care at all. "It attached itself to me because it likes the way I smell." At Jack's gape, she went on, "I'm its surrogate Queen, therefore any man who touches me other than to give aid, it considers 'male' rather than drone. Males are usually killed."
"Ugh." He got all the ramifications of that--and the reason why no one bothered her here. He should have left her then, but he didn't, making himself testy hunting a reason why. "You put up with that?"
"I prefer it. I don't like to be around Humans anymore"
He kept his chair carefully away from her, glaring at the ant alien. "So you run interference between aliens? You get paid for all this problem solving?"
Her lips twitched. "I might have known a Rim Runner would get around to money."
"Rim Runner? I--" Then he frowned, not bothering to deny it. "How do you know?"
She glance up. "Your hair's not the right color. It 'reads' wrong to me."
He shook his head, amused. "Other people dye their hair."
"But they use genetically-altering chemicals; yours is only surface color. A disguise rather than cosmetic."
"You could be dangerous in a place like this, little lady."
She shook her head. "I don't bother that much with Humans." She stood up. "I thank you for the brandy. I have to go and pick up my payment."
Jack stood up. "May I come along?"
"For your cut?"
Ah, what ever made her so bitter? "I want to watch." Once again, she believed him when he would have expected her not to. Could a speech empath te!l a lie from the truth? Walking beside her, through the port's back streets, Jack frowned. She had shown no curiosity about him, which even here was almost unnatural. He stood back and watched while the exchange was made, the Tehetra dropping Spican flame gems into a pile on the ground in front of her. The pile was impressive, but she collected them together the same way she accepted his presence, without interest.
As soon as the Tehetra quivered away, Jack went to where she was bent over the gems and lifted her face with his hand, intent on making her see reason. "Kamai, you can't--"
He barely moved fast enough to avoid the slashing mandibles of the alien. He hadn't even see him come.
"Damn that thing!" he raged, when she stopped its attack. "No wonder you're still a zombie! That thing prevents any Human from getting near you."
"I don't want anyone near me."
"So you can get angry. I wondered if they lobotomized all your emotions." He was as mad as she was.
"My emotions are fine." She tumed sharply and walked away from him, followed by the insectoid, which kept tuming a triangular head back to him, mandibles open in threat.
"No, they're not!" He went after her. "They've been truncated, cauterized, and short-circuited!"
"Leave me alone, Jack."
He stopped, cursing silently. If she wanted to be alone, then let her. But still he scowled. It wasn't right; the Rehab Centers should have made certain she was equipped to face Humans again. Blinking in sudden surprise, he found himself following her, without consciously being aware of it. She piqued his curiosity, and he sighed, knowing someday that bump of curiosity would be the death of him. He wondered what insane official ordered her mind tampered with, risking that skill. A speech-empath--the girl was worth more than a Preserver artifact.
He followed and rounded a corner just as his inner alarm triggered. Jack darted to the other side of the alley, gun out, searching for what set it off. He saw Kamai and her inhuman guard at the same time he heard a transporter's hum. But he was not the target--with an astonished cry, Kamai began to vanish.
Without thinking, he gave a yell and flung himself into her. She was already caught full in the beam, and he hung on to her and to wherever she was being beamed to.
They staggered on the transport pad, and Jack swung up his gun in a lightning movement, hindered by her body. With a stifled exclamation, he moved the gun down, holding his fire. The men in the transporter room wore Starfleet uniforms! "I suggest you lower your weapon, sir." To his open-mouthed astonishment, the speaker was a Vulcan in science officer's blue, seemingly oblivious to the weapon both in Jack's hand and now in two security guards'.
Seeing no alternative at the moment, he did so. Kamai only then seemed to realized he was there, her shock at their present location was greater than his. He felt her fingers move from where they unconsciously gripped his jacket. "Easy, m'love," he said low and gave her an impertinent grin. "I came to protect your interests. Highranking kidnappers you have." The last he said loud enough to carry to the waiting group.
For the first time she turned fully toward them, standing free of Jack. "Hello, Spock," she said evenly.
The Vulcan gave a brief incline of his head. "Kamai."
"Is this the woman?" the frowning man beside the other asked.
The man in the yellow shirt came forward. "You are aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise , and I am Captain James T. Kirk.Who is this?" He glanced suspiciously at Jack, and behind the bland smile, Jack was thinking fast.
Kamai spoke in answer. "A fried of mine. You have no authortty here, and this is a kidnapping."
"The need was pressing. We did not know if you'd come willingly."
"No, I wouldn't. And I'll raise a stink from here to the admiralty if you don't put us back."
"Kamai, the captain is correct. The need is pressing," Spock put in. "Already we are out of the Belrade system and on a course to where a lingual empath is urgently needed. Between here and there, we must convince you of the necessity of such a precipitous means of enlisting your aid. I assure you, you will both be returned to Belrade afterward."
Kamai's face took on a absence of expression that sent a chill through Jack. The voice, when she spoke, was hollow, even though tight, underlying rage was in it."I see. Once again, you go your own way roughshod over any objections I may have. You can fry in hell before I would help any of you."
"Gentlemen, if you would show Miss Kamai to her cabin," the captain said gently. "A doctor will look at your arm. This man--"
"He stays with me," she surprised Jack by saying.
"Very well." He wasn't pleased, but at the moment he had little choice. Jack didn't know what was going on, but the Feds were by the short hairs. Out here, even they could get away with kidnapping, but once inside Federation territory, it was another story entirely. If they didn't convince Kamai to agree to what they wanted, she could take a lot of stripes off a lot of arms. Until that time, the game was hers.
Behind the Vulcan, the mustached man in the red shirt, who had been rapidly punching buttons at an information computer, gave a sharp exclamation, swiftly muffled. But it raised one brow on the Vulcan, though he didn't tum around.
Bowing mockingly to the two men with guns as they took his and searched him. Jack followed Kamai out of the room. He didn't betray a twitch when the red-shirted man behind the console urgently asked, "Captain, do ye know who that is with her?"
Ah well, you're in the fat now, Jack m'boy, he smiled grimly. Ride it out and see what happens.
They put them in a double cabin, and Jack grinned at her after her arm was fixed, motioning her to silence and pointedly indicating his ear. For a few seconds, he prowled until he located the listening device in the wall. He banged on the bulkhead with his fist and yelled, "Hey, you on the other end. We could use a couple of brandies." He then extracted a tiny device from his clothes, licked the back of it, and stuck it over the place where the snoop was imbedded. He walked back to her, chuckling. Whoever was on the other end must be running for cover from the screech transmitted by the instrument.
"They searched you," she said, bewildered.
"Little lady. I could be stripped naked and scraped raw, and still have things to outsmart them."
"'Why did you come? It could have been a one-way trip to a penal colony for you."
He frowned mutinously. "I don't have to account for my actions."
Her face changed and her eyes went bleak. "No. I'm sorry"
"Hey. All right, I followed you because my bloody danger sense worked on you." She looked blank. "I can tell where danger to me is and avoid it. Made me one of the best Runners in the business. But that worked only for me. I felt that sense hit me, and it was you they were after. That never happened before. I had to know why."
She was disconcerted. "I'm sorry, Jack. Your curiosity may be your undoing."
He grinned sheepishly. "Well, yes. A ship full of Feds isn't my idea of a worry-free vacation. But I've gotten out of tighter spots."
The door opened, and a security guard came in, weapon out. He gave a courtesy nod to her. "Miss Kamai, the captain would like to talk to you. He also sent other clothing, if you'd like to change."
A second guard brought them, and her face congealed at the sight of the uniforms. "I'd rather go naked."
"Please, Miss, if you'll come with me?"
She made a sharp tum on her heel and, without a word, went through the open door behind him into the corridor. When Jack started to follow, both guards' guns went up. "Not you, Mister Jack Redbeard. You're headed for the brig. Now you stand there and strip, Mister. I want to know how that little device of yours got past the searchers before."
Jack raised his hands and submitted to another search, down to the skin this time.
This was not at all as Kirk expected, and he was worried, watching the empath and man go out with the security officers. He turned with distracted impatience as Scotty grasped his arm.
"Captain, do ye know who that is with her? Thought anybody on that world would be a criminal, so I ran through computer records, and dark hair or not that's Redbeard, the cutthroat pirate! He's wanted on half these outer worlds for anythin' from open piracy to murder. Any woman with the likes of that... Can you even trust her, sir?"
"Her word is good, Mister Scott," Spock said, hands behind his back.
"Yes, but she hasn't given us that, has she?" Kirk said. He bent over and swiftly alerted Security. "How the devil did she get mixed up with pirates? And how are we ever going to get her cooperation?"
"It will be difficult, perhaps impossible. The truth of what she was falsely sent to mind alteration for is now quite apparent."
"Damnably so. The brass wouldn't take even your word for it then."
"The concept was difficult for a non-telepathic mind to grasp, that and the fact that murder had been committed by her."
"Yes." He ran a hand over the back of his neck. "Even though the admiralty authorized a kidnapping if necessary, it's going to be our necks on the chopping block if we can't talk her into this. It appears the mind altering did nothing more than make her hate the ones who did it. I want you to talk to her, Spock, convince her."
"That may be extremely difficult."
"Try. We've got to stop a war that Starfleet inadvertently started."
The prisoner was pacing the maximum security cell when Kirk went to stand in front of the brig. His appearance had changed. Where the dark hair and beard had been was now hair of deep mahogany red. He had depilated the beard and only a mahogany mustache remained. Alert, intelligent grey eyes turned in his direction as he came aware of his presence. "Well, well, well--the captain himself. I'd offer you a seat, but furniture here seems more limited than in the guest room."
Kirk was a good judge of men, and in this one he recognized a penetrating keenness, an almost animal-like litheness in the body. He would not have liked to be opposite him over a game board or a gun. "I wonder if even this cell is enough to hold you, Redbeard."
The man rubbed the side of his nose. "Well now, a lot of that is highly exaggerated."
"That you personally are responsible for half the piracies in this sector? That you escaped--twice--from penal colonies that were two miles underground and supposedly impenetrable?" His voice lowered in anger. "That you murdered every person on four passenger liners when their captains failed to yield to your demands?"
The red-haired man laughed. "My dear Captain Kirk, do you think even your bumbling Starfleet would let me run around if I had killed all those people? You heard it from someone, who heard it from someone else. Go back far enough, and you'll find the one who started those rumors: me."
White teeth showed in a young, handsome face. "Wouldn't you give in to a murderous, cutthroat pirate rather than have your ship blown out from under you?"
"Of course. Works rather well in fact."
"What if we scotched those rumors?"
"Who'd believe you? Redbeard has a wider reputation than you could ever hurt. There would always be somebody else who'd swear Redbeard cut their mother's throat when she wouldn't hand over the family jewels." Again the alert, amused look. "You here just to talk shop, Captain?"
"No." He answered, resenting having to deal with a pirate like this. "Kamai has learned you've been put in the brig and refuses to even talk to us unless you're released."
"You've got a dilemma, Captain."
"Maybe. I can play games too, Redbeard. I'm going to have guards on you all the time. One wrong twitch, and they'll stun you. That clear?"
"Indubitably. One small demand though, Captain."
"Demand?" His voice went dangerously hard.
Redbear lifted both hands in a placating gesture. "Request, then. I want to talk with Kamai alone for a few minutes, before you get at her."
"So you can persuade her not to help us? You know how close you are right now from a penal colony and mind wiping that you can't escape from?"
"She doesn't need any persuasion from me; she already hates your guts." He shrugged. "You can even listen.All I want is a few of my own questions answered."
Kirk scowled blackly, then agreed.
When Jack went into the room, he waited until the guard went outside, then grinned at her. "Thanks for getting me out."
Her expression was unreadable. She sat at a small table and looked up at him. "Jack Redbeard?"
He bowed. "Just Jack, remember? And now little lady, I think it's time to tell me what in hell's going on. Oh no, you don't." He came and gently but firmly brought her face around as she turned it away from him."Whatever you're running from's caught up with you, and since I'm in the same trap, you owe me an explanation. Since the Feds are involved, it's big, and since one of them knew you, you're big, too. Or were." He looked into her eyes. "You were a First Contact agent, weren't you?" She said nothing, but pain and anger crossed her face. "What happened?" he asked quietly.
She looked up and saw the expression in his eyes. "The fools, the utter imbeciles--!" He sat and put out a hand, but didn't touch her, only letting her know it was there.
"They were a race with no equivalent in moral structure to anything we know. Their communication method was to take a chemical taste of a hand. If it was an enemy, they sometimes bit it off. I was prepared for that; I knew what it was doing when it clamped down on my arm. But Starfleet refused to believe that, that I acted in compliance with their culture, not fear and pain, when I killed it. "
"You killed the thing," he exploded.
"Of course. Greeting between unknowns is always hostile in their race. By killing their arbitrator, I was instantly raised in their eyes to full nestmaster. But no, all the Starfleet assholes saw was an unprovoked murder. I was seized and carried out of there, kicking, and drugged all the way back. They never understood or believed the explanation. That I knew what I was doing, and it was necessary. They thought the killing was what started the war with the Human colonies that erupted. But Starfleet started it by taking me, the accepted nestmaster equal, away from the negotiations. It was viewed as an attack on their own nests."
She laughed harshly. "That fact more than paid me back for the psyche center and rehab world. They started a three planet war, and didn't know it until they pleaded to talk, and the broodmasters told they had taken away the only Human they would listen to. God damn, I hope that made them writhe in bed at night."
His eyes were narrowed, feeling her pain and now knowing the cause of it. He had been in one of those psyche centers and escaped with devices that even their scanners couldn't find. But she didn't have them.
"Those bastards want you to act out a truce now?"
The stiff smile was back. "They destroyed my credibility with the H'thol'isch by taking me away. I'll probably be killed on sight."
"They're grasping at straws, or they wouldn't have tried this. It's your game entirely, love." He thought for a few minutes. "lf it did work... Maybe your stopping their war would be the biggest kick in the teeth you could give them."
She met his eyes, startled.
Then he bent and brushed a light kiss across her mouth. "Since they're undoubtedly watching us again, restrain yourself from attacking me passionately in my sleep, will ya darlin'?" He went into the next room and stretched out comfortably on one of the couches, with a relaxed sigh.
For a few seconds, a surprised smile was visible on Kamai's abnormally unrevealing face.
He saw that through slitted eyes, and opened his own enough to wink at her. "You've got 'em by the short hairs, love. Remember that."
"He's a pirate, Spock," Kirk argued.
"Without question. A Rim Runner of rather lurid repute. But he is also seemingly the only person Kamai had been able to relate to since mind conditioning. I do not believe she is responding to the face alone, an emotional reaction I have noticed in the female security guards. She is a unique empath, one which can immediately assimilate and transform words and cultural background into understandable language. To do this, it must be necessary for her to telepathically scan a being, similar to a sensor scan of physical characteristics.She is responding to the essential Jack Redbeard in her actions"
Kirk was frowning. "But you said she was no telepath."
"No. Not in the sense of receiving thought as they are being thought. The actual concept is almost impossible to fit into words. As I stated before, the woman is unique."
"Woman? That's not much more than a girl, Spock. To have her forced to go through mind conditioning without reason--"
"It must have been extremely traumatic. That is why we must tread carefully where he is concerned. And in an oblique sense, be grateful for the presence of this pirate."
"He's not the sort of fool to put his neck into a noose for a pretty face. Then what's he reacting to?"
"Perhaps to the essential KamaL You saw what little information we could gather on her activities in the Balrade Port. She has acted as intermediary between races inimicable to Humans. Yet not once has any of them offered her harm, or failed to comply with her wishes."
Kirk pulled at his lower lip in speculation. "You think he might be helping her because he can't help but do so?"
"It's a possibility. We know nothing about the person known as Redbeard, not even his real name or birth world.He may have an alien background or even be partially telepathic himself. Such success as a pirate seems to overrule mere chance alone as cause. I should like very much to talk with both of them."
Spock had his chance later to speak with the pirate, Redbeard. He pressed his fingertips together and regarded the man across the table. "I assume you are responsible for Kamai's agreement to be liaison a second time?"
Jack answered frankly. "It seemed like our only chance to get out of here, Vulcan. I don't particularly like cooperating with Feds. But you put her into that zombie condition, through narrow-minded cultural blindness.Maybe you people ought to make it mandatory for your High Mucks to survive a year out here in the Free Ports. They'd learn fast about dealing with aliens that are just that: alien . If she stops your war now, that'll be the biggest laugh on the Feds she could ever give."
"Revenge? You think completing this will remove the mental block she has erected from bitterness? At the moment, she is maintaining a fragile grip on rationality. That hold, unfortunately, seems to rest in your hands right now. Be certain you use that power wisely."
Jack stood up. "That mind is a lot stronger that you think, Vulcan--a lot stronger than any of you think." He stalked out, so abruptly, the security guards had to move fast to keep up with him.
Kirk balked at her bizarre demands.
She did not retreat. "You pushed me into this, and I'll do it only if you do exactly as I say! Your war has gone on this long; it can go on until you find me a person I specify and get him here."
With prosthetic medicine and cell regrowth, it was an almost impossible task, but Starfleet located a victim of a mining accident and got to him before the refrttings could be made. Kamai inspected the one-legged man, leaning heavily on a crutch, his right forearm missing up to the elbow. "He's perfect."
Kirk glanced, baffled, at Spock's impassive face. The necessity of the crippled Dulac escaped him, and Kamai gave no reason. For a moment, he didn't know if she was testing their full trust this time by this inexplicable chase or not. "Spock, you and a full security team will take the shuttle down. Only Kamai and Dulac will show themselves unless absolutely necessary. You stay right here, Mister," he ordered sharply, as Redbeard moved toward the shuttle bay.
"l'm not letting her out of my sight, Captain"
"Kamai? It's your decision."
She looked at him. "Let him come. But you must not interfere with the meeting"
Spock took the computer seat and laid in the coordinates. The shuttle pilot took them down through the planet's atmosphere to a bare clearing the midst of a red-brown mass of hostile aliens.
In the next compartment, Jack finished fastening a transmitting device on Kamai. She tentatively touched his hair.
"Your hands are shaking," she remarked.
"I caught a glimpse of those things outside," he answered, swearing as he fumbled the catch again. "Damn it, you didn't tell me they weighed three tons apiece! For Lir's sake, be careful."
She went to the outer door, where Dulac and Spock awaited her. The one-legged man hobbled down behind her, toward the H'thol'isch milling around the shuttle.
Jack swore again, watching anxiously out of the shuttle door. "They look like Excalbians that were hit with a photon torpedo. What happened to the other liaisons that were unacceptable to them?"
"Most could be hastily removed from the planet," Spock said. "Each one that survived, unfortunately, suffered their arms being bitten off in the greeting ritual."
"They what?" He was out of his crouch and moving toward the door. "You let her--?"
Spock put a swift hand to his neck. "See to him," he told one of the security men.
If Kamai feared such a reaction, it was not visible in her approach, and Spock silently approved. Through the transmitter, he heard what happened outside, though he could only understand Kamai's side of it.
The massive aliens towered over her and one already had her right arm in its communication/chemical tasting 'mouth'.
"You even think of biting that off, and I'll ram your cilia out your breathing tubes."
Spock raise both brows. Such an incredible method of greeting.
"I remember you too," she went on.
A low, grinding rumble came over the transmitter, and even without intelligible words, it sounded threatening.It must have clamped harder on her arm, for the woman gave a sharp intake of breath."So I lost face by being captured by an enemy nest. But behold, I return intact, having killed their egg layers and making slaves of the defeated. The enemy nestling behind me bears the marks of my kill." The H'thol'isch saw the one-armed man, taken in the greeting/challenge, his leg sheared off in the nest battle--and they were impressed.
By the time Redbeard recovered from the neck pinch with blood in his eyes, Kamai had forced an agreement from the broodmasters. Since her nest war earned her greater kudos than theirs, she could let them deal with an intermediary rather than herself. The liaison agents could take over now.
Jack stood on the ramp, red hair whipping in the dry wind, as Kamai walked to the ship with an ambassador's erectness. Dulac had already hobbled inside. He instinctively shielded her back as they went in, but the H'thol'isch did not attack.
Once inside, the door closed and lifting off, Jack grabbed her shoulders and shook. "Damn you, you bloody fool, to take a chance like that!" He pushed her into the next compartment and began to treat the heavily abraded arm.
Spock was behind him. "Faultless logic," he stated. "The use of the one-legged man was necessary for success. I am certain Starfleet will--"
"Shove it, Vulcan," Jack snarled. "She's done her risks for you. Now get out of here."
Spock raised a brow at such an unnecessary display of emotion and left.
Redbeard glared at her. "Of all the stupid, dangerous--!" He cut off short, because Kamai was smiling, not the brief flicker of before, but fully smiling. Then she touched his face with both hands and laughed outright. Jack kicked the door shut.
They were seated in the observation deck, Jack's arm over her shoulders. He didn't move as Spock and his captain came over to them.
Kirk smiled widely. "Kamai, I've been authorized by the admiralty to offer a First Contact position again, fully reinstated."
Her face lit up and Jack felt a twinge of disillusionment. Then with the same broad smile, she said, "No."
They were taken aback. Jack gave a startled guffaw and then laughed till he cried.
"No," she said again. "Do you think I would ever let them do that to me again? Until more alien races join the Federation, and force Humans to see their culture through their alien eyes, the problem remains. They do not even understand Vulcans, the alien race working closest with them, do they, Mister Spock?"
"A rare few," he admitted.
She nodded. "Out here it's different. I want to stay here."
Kirk frowned, not at her refusal--aftergoing through a mind conditioning without reason, that he understood.He was worried about her position now. "What will you do?" He glanced at the amused Jack. "A pirate ship?"he asked in outrage at the waste.
"No. I'll get along. Jack, let's go now."
He stood, before they got the idea of keeping them there. "Right, love." They went out together, toward the transporter room, followed by the inevitable guards.
Kirk would have liked to put Redbeard away for good, but the Federation had no jurisdiction in this sector at all. Nor did he think Kamai would ever cooperate with them again, if they took Jack away from her, and they might need her. He gave a noise of amusement, wondering if the pirate got more than he bargained for there.
She might be an inhibiting factor in future endeavors.
Chuckling, he reached for the weapon he carried as long as the pirate was aboard to return it to the armory, and his face suddenly went blank. "Damn it, Spock," he bellowed. "He stole my phaser!" He raced over to a wall com. "Transporter room. Don't beam them down."
"Too late, sir," Lieutenant Kyle reported, agitated. "Sir, the man left a phaser on the transporter platform. He said to tell you, 'Sorry, force of habit'."
Kirk alternated between outrage and laughter, and snorted, mixing both.
Jack and Kamai beamed down into a protected section of the Port and after giving a check for hostiles, he put his arms around her waist. "What are you going to do?"
"Continue being a liaison between aliens here for awhile, then later, we'll see." She linked her hands behind his neck.
"We'll have to hunt up those gems that belong to you and got left behind when the Feds grabbed us." He grinned and bent his head to kiss her, when his eye caught a motion, and he jerked up. A large insectoid stood briefly in the street light. "Oh, hell!'" he thundered.
For the first time, Kamai laughed, fully rich and choked with amusement. He swore for several minutes, nonstop, before she could break in and tell him it wasn't the same one.
Free counters provided by Vendio.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
2266-2270 The First Mission
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website