"Got everything on the checklist, Commander? The Enterprise vwon't be back here for a month."
Uhura laughed. "That's the third time you've asked that, Pavel. Don't tell me you'll miss me?"
"You have to admit that is an unexciting bunch to be stranded vwith." He jerked his thumb at the communications personnel carrying off the equipment as it was beamed down.
"We're not supposed to have an exciting time. We're supposed to be setting up and trying out this communications link."
"But a month..."
"Can't be helped. Since the Orions have been seen in this sector, the Enterprise needs to continue its patrol; we need this sensor station, and I need to get back to my work." She pointedly handed him the final checklist.
"A third officer's vwork is never done." He sighed. "Vwhat are you going to do vwith all the time after the link's set up?"
"The link will take a long time to check out. You're a hedonist, Pavel. I plan to go rock climbing and explore this little world as much as possible."
"Ugh, rock climbing and hiking." Chekov feigned a shudder. "I'll take a bar on-planet any day."
"I know you would. It's a good thing you won't be here then. Captain!"
Captain Kirk walked toward them. "I only beamed down for a few minutes to see if you have everything before the ship leaves."
Uhura chuckled. "Yes, sir. Commander Chekov has seen to that."
Kirk glanced at the huge power cone, the only part of the link already in position. "I don't like leaving you here, even with the security force and orbital patrol ship. You'll have to maintain radio silence."
"If we were attacked, sir, we can go into the shuttles, and run power from the cone to strengthen their shields."
Kirk's shoulders relaxed, and he smiled. "I know. But I still don't like it. Get that link into place, Commander. I'll rest a lot easier knowing we have a sensor station here, so we don't have to spread our ships so thin." He grasped her hands. "Be careful. Good luck, and we'll be here in a month to pick you up.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"And don't step on any rocks," Chekov put in.
Uhura saw Kirk's face flicker for a moment, remembering a time when he'd lost a crewman to an explosive rock, on Vaal's world. Rocks with similar properties had been discovered here, in buff-colored seams among the more common red strata of the planet. One of the first things they'd done was to remove any loose rocks from the station area. Fortunately, they weren't that common.
Chekov waved, shook his head one last time at her, then beamed up with the captain.
Uhura went over to supervise the unloading.
Six days later, the first level of the comm link tested perfectly. Uhura nodded her approval, and said, "Let's start getting the sensor link into place before connecting the long-range communications."
"You expect trouble, Commander?" Saal asked. Of all the Vulcans there, he seemed to have the most finesse in dealing with Humans, perhaps because he was half the age of the others.
"I don't expect it, Mister Saal, but I'd rather be prepared for it. Once we have the sensors in place, we can work on the second phase of the communications set-up without being surprised by any Orions. After all, this is supposed to be a warning station ultimately. It might as well warn us."
She had one of the best technical crews in Starfleet on the job, but the station set-up was still a long, tedious process. No wonder they gave me mostly Vulcans, she thought ruefully.
A few days after the second stage was installed, Uhura completed her duty shift and started back to the living huts. The huts were set well away from the power cone; its humming kept the Humans awake at night.
Reluctant to go inside yet, she stood looking out over the rocky desert. It was still light enough to see any explosive rocks in her path. She walked toward the nearby ridge. This world had no dangerous lifeforms, in fact, few lifeforms at all. Where the slanted red rocks didn't cover the surface, the sand drifted into piles. A few scrubby bushes grew on the hillsides, thorny and uninviting. A nice place to visit, but...
She should be starting back before it got much darker. Sighing, she turned, and saw them, under a bush--tracks.
For a second, she stared down at them blankly. The survey had shown no animals larger than guinea pigs.
But these--! She crouched down and spread her hand in one and failed to cover it completely. They were huge! She glanced uneasily at the direction they took--toward the camp. Normally, an animal avoided noise and movement of people; this one seemed to be attracted. Curiosity?
Her fingers traced the outline of a print that was sunk into the hard-packed sand to an impressive depth. Whatever it was, the thing was heavy and big. She lifted her wrist com to report this to the camp, when a thought struck her. Once more she spread her hand over the print. Five toes. All life forms on this planet had evolved with three. Freak of nature? Her unease increased. The pads and claws on the print showed separate and distinct; each toe had a bone within it. Five-- like a Human hand.
She stood and flipped open her communicator. "Saal?"
"I'm beyond the ridge behind the camp. I've found paw prints here bigger than my hand. and they head off in the direction of the camp. The wind must have obliterated the rest of them, but by sheer luck, these few are where the wind can't get at them. The creature must have been well hidden when the surveys were taken."
"While I find it difficult to believe a creature that large could escape detection. We will be on our guard in case it should prove hostile. You may be in danger alone in those rocks. With your permission, I will send a security man out to meet you."
"Very well. Uhura out." She grimaced. There went all her future walks.
She heard the high humming noise and froze. Her communicator lit as she opened it to call the base.
"Orion ship," Saal reported calmly. "Coming in from behind the planet. Unknown sound is assumed to be a weapon."
"Into the cone shield at once. I'm on my way."
"Already ordered and in progress."
Uhura ran. With a tap into the power cone, the base would have as much shielding as a starship. They would be safe while the orbiting patrol ship intercepted the Orion vessel.
"Commander!" The man standing on a distant rock, waving, was the security man Saal had dispatched. They both had to get back to the base fast.
The next instant, a stab of light lanced down from nowhere, and the world exploded. Uhura was flung back, blinded by the blast a kilometer away. As she lost consciousness, she barely felt the rocks that cascaded down on her body.
Much later, Uhura groaned, trying to sit up, and the small rocks and sand fell from her body. What hap--?
For a horrifying moment, she thought she was blind. Then she saw dimly, through watering eyes, which gradually cleared. What happened? Shaking, she made it to her knees, swaying. The Orions had tried some kind of new weapon on them. She staggered to her feet. What of the others? She couldn't risk a call in case the Orions picked up her signal. Staggering, she made her way in the direction of the camp.
She found the security man's phaser, crushed, but no trace of him, though she dug through tumbled rocks, searching. If that weapon, fired from orbit, could make a shock wave out this far... As fast as she was able, she stumbled toward the camp.
Or where it had been.
Unbelieving, Uhura stared down at the shallow crater and burned ground. Nothing was left of the station--nothing. But they had had the shield!
Uhura sank to the ground, shaking. A ship in orbit did this, with a weapon fired through the entire atmospheric depth and then through a shield almost as strong as a starship's. What did they have?
She forced herself to move again, to the other side of the ridge, where the living huts had been.
They were still standing.
The alien shuttle concealed under an outcrop made her look again. No, those were not the same huts. They were--must be--Orion copies, not for close inspection, but good enough to fool a ship scanning the area. They must have duplicated standard Federation mobile quarters and had them ready to beam down immediately.
But then, she didn't know how long she had been unconscious.
As she watched, Orions came out of the huts and began taking equipment around the end of the ridge, toward the slagged station site. She followed them, moving along the ridge. Machines moved toward the crater and began filling it in. If they'd made a dummy camp, there were likely making a dummy sensor station and power cone, after they removed all traces of their weapon's effects.
The Enterprise was long out of range, but if they had a comm device down there... The shuttle--also an escape. Little chance now, perhaps it would be better tonight. That gave her an uneasy marking of the time she'd lost--it was afternoon now, and she had gone for her walk near sunset.
She watched the Orions as they worked--they were building a false station. Their copy would fool a ship long enough for them to fire that weapon upward. It was there, at the far edge of the camp, power feeding into it from an attached unit. The thing could be nothing else; it was the only anomaly in the recreation of the station, its arrowhead-like end pointing skyward. And it could go right through a ship's shield. Sensor units, situated a distance away from the weapon, were also aimed skyward. Scanning for the return of the Enterprise?
When the shadows lengthened to cover the hut-side of the ridge, Uhura worked her way slowly down that side, looking for a chance to reach the shuttle.
Uhura moved--and kept on moving, faster than intended, as hands seized her and wrenched her upward. She hadn't heard them coming!
They whirled her around and back against a rock. Orions. Their enraged green faces, with their animal-like eyes, were close to her own. The first seemed bent on killing her, but the other stopped him. This one stared at her, considering and then spoke rapidly in Orion. He reached out and grasped her face, rubbing his thumb hard across her cheek.
Seeing if her color rubbed off? Stunned, Uhura wondered if these aliens had ever seen a black Human before.
A hand clamped on her wrist and wrenched her forward, dragging her toward the huts. Her elbow in his stomach caught him by surprise, probably because Orions had a contemptuous disregard for all females, their own being treated like little more than animals. She didn't pull her blow, and his head rocked back and snapped as the heel of her palm came up under his chin.
The second alien hit her on the back of the head with his weapon. She fell to her knees, stunned, then was dragged forward again.
Presently they reached the hut area. Dimly, she was aware that several others had come over and were speaking rapidly in their own tongue. Too bad my Orioni's never been very good, she thought, still groggy. Another Orion also rubbed his thumb across her skin, and this time she knew it was the color that baffled them. This one spoke briefly to yet another.
"You, what?" the latter harshly demanded. He was apparently a low caste Orion, set to question her so that his superior need not speak to her at all. "Human?"
"Of course I'm Human!" she snapped.
"Odd. Klingons pay well for odd things."
"Good you lived. They pay us much more now, for two."
"Two? What?" She had no time to discover what he meant by that, as the Orion dragged her to a makeshift prison. He shoved her into a corner of the hut as several of the others crowded in behind him.
She had a flashing glimpse of another prisoner, a stranger, lying bound on the floor.
Then the captive lunged for the nearest Orion, snarling wildly. He didn't get far --the stasis bonds which immobilized his wrists and ankles also held him tethered to the wall. Howling like an animal, he writhed, trying to wrench himself free.
Uhura pulled back into the corner, stunned. The man acted like a rabid beast!
The Orions laughed, taunting him, out of range. The man went hysterical trying to reach them. One of them played with a food dish, tapping it with his foot, pushing it out of reach.
The man twisted in an impossible motion and sank his teeth into his tormentor's leg. The Orion screamed, and Uhura thought, incredulously, that she heard bone snap. He went down, writhing, kicking at the bound man's face.
The other Orions lunged in, and a double-handed blow from rifle butt freed the leg. A second blow to the captive's head followed.
"NO!" Uhura hurled herself onto the Orion's arm, only to be thrown back into the wall. His weapon swung swiftly in her direction, and she froze.
"You defend this thing!" He kicked the food dish and scattered its content almost to Uhura's feet. "This thing is animal."
"What did you do to him?"
"Nothing. Animal. Animal attacked, and we shot it. Yet the animal lives." He ignored the moans of the Orion on the floor behind him. " A man-beast will amuse the Klingons. They enjoy odd things. It the only reason we keep it--and you--alive." He turned and eyed the fallen Orion in anger. "Seven this animal has killed. Now this one cannot work. The Klingons will pay much for it," he vowed grimly. He gathered his comrades and left, two of them dragged the wounded man out, not looking back.
Uhura went instantly to see how badly beaten the man was. He lay panting, eyes glazed, a trickle of blood in the corner of his mouth.
She wondered if it were his own or the Orion's. As soon as she moved, he snapped up his head and snarled. She stopped. "I'm a prisoner, too. If that's an act you're putting on for the Orions, please stop. Maybe together we can get of here. Who are you? How did you get here?"
The man's growling never stopped. When she tried to ease closer, his lips peeled back in a savage snarl, to reveal incisors that were little longer than Human teeth, and looked needle sharp. That caught her up short. She moved back, watching him warily. He kept his eyes on her, growling sharply, sniffing.
What is he? For a moment, she wondered if he really were an animal. He wore clothes, but the Orions could have put them on him as a joke because he was so Human-looking. Yet, in the same moment, she dismissed that. They wouldn't have been able to touch him; he'd tried to tear them apart a few minutes ago. Even if they'd dressed him while he was unconscious, surely an animal would have tried to rip off those clothes. But who was he, and where did he come from on this planet?
He looked like a Human in his early twenties, his skin dusky, his brilliant yellow eyes set at a slant. Except for the fact that his black hair was wavy, he could have posed as a model for an Egyptian tomb painting. Nothing in the clothes revealed his origins either; he wore only a loose shirt, beltless trousers, and low boots. Those last convinced her he was no animal. She couldn't see a beast letting its feet stay covered. The Orions had lied; they must have experimented on him with a drug or Klingon mind-sifter. But why was he here in the first place?
His head was down again, panting. He should have been in obvious pain from the rifle blows, but showed no sign of it. He kept his eyes open to slits, watching her intently.
She moved, searching the strength of her prison, and her foot kicked a strip of meat from the food dish. She picked up the strip and put it back in the bowl, along with the rest of his scattered food. Warily, she came toward him, lay the dish on the floor, and slid it over to him.
She flung herself back with a scream as he lunged for her, pain lancing across her arm. The man fought wildly to free himself, to pursue.
Shaking, she sat up. The sleeve on her forearm was almost torn off, gashes from his teeth scoring bleeding lines down her arm. He only scraped across it. If he had gotten a hold... She swallowed, wrapped the torn sleeve around the wound with shaking fingers. They'd locked her in with a madman!
No one came to see why she had screamed. When the lower caste Orion later came to grudgingly give her food and water, he smiled at the makeshift bandage on her arm. He ignored the hysterical contortions of the man who was trying to break the stasis bonds to get at his throat.
The Orion set the bowls inside the door, his weapon covering them both. "You try to get out, we set him loose in here." Both the idea and her reaction brought a gleam of amusement to his eyes. "Animal is worth more to Klingons than night-skin woman. We may set him loose; we like blood sports. You--" He turned to the still-twisting man. "You have tasted Orion blood today. Why waste more food?" He walked out, resealing the door.
Uhura sat with her back against the wall, unable to eat, though she drank heavily. As long as the unknown man was tied, she was safe.
What sleep she got that night was in ragged patches; the beast-man tried to break free all night, though whether to reach her or the Orions she was unsure.
The next day followed the same pattern. The Orions gave them food and water once, and ignored them otherwise. When they came in, they taunted the man, but stayed well out of his reach. From the blazing hate in those yellow eyes as he tried to reach them, Uhura wouldn't take any bets on the Orions' chances if he ever managed to break free.
Her own survival, if that ever happened, also seemed unlikely. She decided that she must try to communicate with the man. She talked to him as if he could understand her, trying to get him used to her presence. Strangely, it didn't take long, even though he had the wariness of a wild animal. Though he still growled, if she approached too closely, he seemed to sense, after the first day, that she was not one of his tormentors. Gradually, he calmed. By the third day, he no longer lifted his head to follow her every movement.
Uhura wished the hut had windows. Not knowing when the Klingons would come was a torture in itself. She stood, leaning her head against the wall. The Orions had fused shut the emergency exit, to make a perfect prison. These were survival buildings, the bottom edge and floor sinking into and chemically becoming a part of the ground. She could not dig out without a phaser.
Novelties, to amuse the Klingons. She gave a short, soundless laugh, and turned her head to the man. He was asleep, one foot twitching. I wonder what you're dreaming about, my friend, she thought bitterly. Certainly not the prospect of being sold to the Klingons. She turned back. The ones who died with the station were lucky.
The Orions were likely setting this up as a demonstration of their weapon to the Klingons. Then they'd sell that, too. Once the Klingons got their hands on that power... She hit the wall with a palm, in frustration.
She turned to see the man awake. "I didn't mean to take you out of your dreams, my friend."
Amber eyes watched her steadily.
"You don't say much, do you?" Aside from the snarls and small noises, he was strangely silent.
She went into the barely civilized sanitary facility, thankful it was there at least. When she came out, she stopped short, realizing that, immobilized, he couldn't do the same. Yet he had eaten and drunk, but never once eliminated. An animal mind should have no willful control of that. She frowned. If his body was using every bit of food intake, he could be an alien, not a Human made mindless at all.
She went and knelt near him, out of tether range. He showed his teeth, but that was all. "What are you, I wonder?" she asked softly. His head cocked, listening. "Poor thing, whatever you are, to be tied so..."
Her hand went out, cautiously, and he snapped at it and drew back his head, growling low. But he had made no attempt to actually bite her.
"Ssshhh. I won't hurt you. You should know that by now. I'm a prisoner the same as you are. Come on," she coaxed softly. What she was attempting was very, very dangerous; he could break her as easily as he had the Orion--but she had to win his confidence. If the Orions ever carried out their threat to release him; and he didn't attack her, they might have a slim chance of escaping. Perhaps their only chance.
"Come on. Don't be afraid of me." Warily, she extended her had again and briefly touched his knee, then pulled back at once. He made a noise, but she continued to talk quietly. She touched him again, this time breathlessly holding her fingers there, then slowly withdrawing. When she saw him realize that she didn't touch him to hurt, he stopped growling, though he still held himself stiffly, eyes flickering. She moved her hand up to his side, excited at this success, then hesitated. Swallowing, she held out a cold hand for him to sniff her fingers. Very, very carefully, she touched his face. He let her brush his hair gingerly for a few seconds then jerked his head back. She smiled nonetheless. It was a start.
Not daring to push him too far, she drew back and sat near him. She continued to talk and sing quietly. He blinked slowly at her, eyes heavy, then lay down on the floor, to fall asleep. She stared at him, amused. This is the first time I've ever been glad a man with me fell asleep.
Days followed, and Uhura had nothing to do by try to forge a bond with her companion. Incredibly, once she broke the barrier of contact, like a flood gate suddenly released, the man was almost pathetically eager to be touched. That astonished her; she would have expected him to avoid much contact. But he enjoyed her fingers stroking his black head, and sat with his eyes half closed, in amber slits.
"You're easily pleased, aren't you? I wonder what kind of culture you come from that takes such delight in touch. You must be a very loving race. Or are you only willing to be touched now because you have a beast's mind?"
She started to draw back her hand, but he suddenly reached round to seize it with his mouth, the teeth not sinking through her skin. She froze, then put her other hand on his head, where he wanted it. His mouth released her.
"Well," she said shakily. "At least you didn't bite like the last time, or snap my bones the way you did the Orion's."
His head came up, the eyes briefly savage.
"Yes, you know that word don't you? And you hate it. If only we could get out of here..."
He glanced to her, then to the door. He'd understood that!
"Out?" she repeated.
A puzzled look came into his eyes, fleetingly, as if her were trying to remember through some fog. Then it was gone. He kicked his feet, trying to stretch in his cramped position. Making a low noise in the back of his throat, he tilted his head to fit into her hand, to be petted.
Uhura started to cry. He was so totally animal-like. How could anyone do this to a man?
He whined uneasily, sensing her distress, then licked her hand.
"You poor man." Her hands framed his face, looking into the blank eyes. "Damn, you poor man!"
He rubbed his head against her, whining at her pain.
"I'm sorry. How strange my feelings are hurting you. What were you before they destroyed your mind--an empath? No, I don't think that's it. But you have some kind of extra senses; I don't think I could have gotten this close to you unless you knew I wouldn't hurt you. You're not Human, I'm certain of that." She brushed her fingers lightly over his mouth. He nibbled briefly and harmlessly on them, with his front teeth, but the action exposed the edges of those needle-sharp incisors. "Not with those teeth and reflective eyes." The first sight of those eyes, shining eerily in the light of the opened door, had been unnerving.
She sighed and stood up. "I might as well go sit in the corner. The Orions should be coming with food." She grimaced. "Though that's hardly the word for it."
The man's sudden snarl warned her. She went swiftly to the other side of the room, to keep the Orions from learning of her attempt to make friends with the man. She braced herself for his daily fight to reach an Orion throat.
But when the guard brought in the food, the man lay still, not snarling at all. Uhura glanced sharply at him, astonished. It was the first time he hadn't gone crazy in their presence.
The Orion was also mystified at the lack of aggression. Warily, he approached, but the man simply lay limp, uninterested. Uhura stared as he actually coughed weakly. He couldn't possibly be sick that fast. A moment ago--
But when the Orion prodded him warily with his rifle, the man stayed like a boneless rag. The Orion pushed more roughly. The man moved a little, whimpering. A wide grin split the Orion's face. "Sick." Bold, now that the man showed no sign of fighting back, he kicked the prisoner, then swung the rifle round to her fast, as Uhura jerked forward in rage. "Stay there or I shoot you. Klingons will not care if you are damaged." He turned back to the still weakly coughing man. "But a sick animal is worth nothing." He kicked him again, hard.
This time the man came up in a blur, both his bent knees hitting the Orion's legs. The Orion went over sideways, the rifle firing,and landed on the beast-man. For a second time, the man twisted round in a motion that looked as if he had no bones, and went for the other's throat. The Orion's howl cut off as savage teeth tore into and crushed his neck.
The man shrugged his body, and the corpse rolled off him. He spat out the Orion blood, as if it were vile, wiping his mouth thoroughly on the dead guard's trousers. The he struggled to sit up, licking his shoulder where the rifle fire had burned across it, unconcerned.
He tricked him! Uhura's mouth was open, incredulous. He deliberately tricked him into getting close enough to kill!
That was all he had wanted. Once the Orion was dead, he made no further moves. Uhura's eyes went at once to the phaser rifle. She slid quickly across the floor, reaching for the weapon. The man lifted his head to look at her, then ignored her, and went back to licking his burn. Uhura scrabbled at the Orion's belt for his knife, then stopped, coming away with a tiny stasis cube in her hand. The key to the animal-man's bonds.
There was no way at all she could be sure that he would not attack her if he was free, even now. He watched her intently, unmoving. Yet, he had kicked the Orion --that wasn't the motion of an animal.
In the end, she knew she had no choice. She couldn't leave him a helpless prisoner. It she did it quickly, perhaps he wouldn't be aware that the stasis was off, until she was out of the door and clear. She pressed the pronged cube swiftly into its corresponding depression on the wall, and went quickly to the door, watching him.
Never run from a dog ....
Even with her Starfleet-trained reactions, she was too slow for the blur of motion that lunged upward. The man caught her and slammed her into the wall, holding her there. The rifle fell.
She still had the knife; he seemed not to recognize it. He wasn't growling or continuing his attack, simply holding her in a grip she couldn't break, a Human grip. He was wasting time, perhaps the only chance either of them would get. "Please! We have to get out of here. Do you understand that at all? Out!"
He frowned, straining visibly to remember. Pained eyes went to the door, then back to her.
"Yes! Out! We have to get out." She pulled. His hands tightened, then no longer fought her pull. She bent to retrieve the rifle, then went to the door and was out as fast as she saw it was clear. "Come on."
The instant they were free, the man vanished, abandoning her. So much for gratitude. Uhura hunched behind crates. The shuttle wasn't here! Either they had left, or were using it to haul material at the other site. Uhura wondered how slim their chances were of reaching it before an alarm went up for them. Not many Orions were in sight; they must still be working feverishly to get the power cone site looking authentic. But there were guards around the weapon.
One of them suddenly raised his gun, too late, as the prisoner suddenly appeared and hurled in full fury at him.
No! Uhura saw the Orion go down and the man dodge and roll from a rifle beam, then lunge up for a second man. He was attacking his tormentors in rage, possibly dooming them both. Uhura ran toward the melee, firing the captured rifle at an Orion. The beast-man was beyond caring. Before Uhura reached him, he had downed a third. Reinforcements were coming, phaser fire erupting around their feet. There were only a few Orions here, but when they called the rest...
She yelled, waving at him, and his blazing eyes came round to her. She yelled the one word she thought he understood, "Out!" Then she ran for the rocks.
For a moment, she thought he wasn't going to follow, caught up in a blood fury. Then he ran after her, trying go to down on all fours. His clumsy sprawl saved his head as a phaser beam went over it. Then he was up again, running awkwardly erect.
She knew exactly where she was heading--toward a seam of buff colored rock.
Her only worry was that the man, following behind her, would blunder onto it also. He was at her side faster than a Human could run and she grabbed his arm, risking his teeth. She pulled him around the edge of the seam and then swerved back. The Orions ran directly over it.
The man gave a whine and whirled sharply at the explosions, then he ran on, following her.
She ran until her sides hurt, then trotted until the pain passed, and ran again, covering ground. The man ran beside her in a tireless lope.
Eventually, she couldn't go any further. She slid down into a hollow in the rocks to rest, gasping hard. The explosive rock might have put their pursuers off, but not for long. The ever-present wind would hide their tracks, but not from a sensor scan. She closed her eyes and tried to regain her breath.
When she opened them again, she saw the man was still with her.
He put his hands on a rock and stretched upward, sniffing heavily. Then he bounded down again and made a dive at her trouser leg. The action was so unexpected, she arched back. But he only feinted at her boot with a hand, darted back, rolled over, laughing silently. Then he leaped in again and grabbed a pant leg in his teeth, shaking it wildly, growling.
For a second she sat, blank. Then a reaction from fear set in. She exploded in outraged anger. "Damn you! I don't want to play!"
He backed off at the sharpness of her voice, puzzled, whining softly.
Uhura ran a hand across her eyes and leaned her head on her updrawn knees. Sensing no danger from the Orions, his beast mind had switched onto another track, dismissing them entirely. "We're momentarily safe and now you want to play. I don't believe you!" She laughed, shakenly.
He heard her talk, and, after a few moments of wariness, came over to her, walking erect part way, then down on all fours at her feet.
She put a hand to his head. "You almost remember how to act like a man, and then go back to being a dog. What did they use on you, a mind-sifter? You've got a little revenge on them, but that puts us into a worse mess. But you don't realize that, do you?"
He leaned against her, head in her lap, idly chewing on her hand. Teeth that snapped through Orion bone didn't even break the surface of her skin. She stroked his hair with the other hand. "What am I going to do with you?" She checked the burn on his shoulder, and found it almost closed over. "You heal incredibly fast. What are you?" She discovered that the tear in his shirt was also slowly closing! "No wonder your clothes have fared better than mine," she said, ruefully. "Ouch. That one was too rough. I'll take my hand back now." She removed it from his vicinity, and immediately his mouth seized on a fold of her trouser leg and started chewing on that.
"Will you stop that chewing?" She pushed his head away and was accused by hurt eyes. "What uniform I have left, I need. Honestly, you're like a puppy with a shoe." She stroked behind his ear. "We have to get moving again."
But he didn't want to be stroked. His head twisted round and his teeth grabbed her hand again. Rolling over onto his back, he held her arm with both hands, so he could chew.
For a second, it seemed as if he did. He stiffened, froze. Then he released her, and was up in a blur, his shoulders hunched and head low. She did not need his warning snarl to know he caught Orion scent.
A flying platform appeared in the distance, with at least four Orions riding on it.
He twisted round, cat-like, with bared teeth, surprised at the sharp tone. She didn't know if he understood or not, but she repeated it, with a gesture, and crouched low behind the rock. Then she grasped his trouser leg and tugged. At once, he got the idea, and crouched on all fours by her, growling low. She put a hand on his shoulder and he silenced instantly. Underneath her hand, she felt the muscles of his back bunch and coil like a panther getting ready to spring.
A shot shattered the rock over her head and peppered them with stinging pieces. Uhura brought up the stolen rifle and fired. Her second careful shot tore through the propulsion mechanism and brought the craft down in a crash. The Orions leaped over the side just before it hit the ground. A blur of motion beside her...
"No!" She made a futile grab for the man's legs as he hurtled over the rocks after them. Then she had no time to worry about him, for the Orions were already up and firing. She returned their fire, trying to keep them packed together as her one chance. This rocky rise gave a strategic advantage in that they had to come up to her, but she couldn't cover a full circle. Out of the corner of her eye, she suddenly saw the man sliding recklessly down the slope. Yet none of the Orion beams could hit him; he dove and twisted like an untouchable shadow, using every rock for cover. For an astonishing minute, Uhura believed he was actually going to make it to the enemy.
Then they fired at the rock near him and he was caught in the backlash as it exploded outward. She heard a high whine of pain, and he went down, rolling over limply.
Damn them! Uhura aimed her shots as they had done, bringing down rocks on them.
The beast-man lurched upward onto his hands.
For a second, Uhura was stunned. How could--? What kind of a body did he have? She gave him instant covering fire, before they saw him. He made it to one knee, the other leg outthrust, trying to stagger upright. Then he gave a howl so strange that Uhura froze.
His outline suddenly shimmered and blurred. He seemed to expand, then shrink then...reform.
A gigantic black wolf rose where the man had been an instant before, opened its mouth to bare formidable fangs, and hurled itself forward. One paw struck a great splash in the hand-wide stream at the bottom of the rocks as the black blur threw itself across the space between itself and the Orions. If they had had trouble hitting the man, the wolf was an impossible target.
Her fire picked off the one Orion who made it free of the wolf. In a few minutes, it was over.
Over? She stood up, wetting her lips, searching the rocks below. A shape-changer... He really was an animal. Maybe a Vendorian? The last pain from the glancing blow of the rocks must have finally overloaded his body circuits and let him transform fully. But now that he had...
The black wolf appeared and trotted away from his enemies, to make his way up to the small stream, tail held high, like a dog utterly pleased with itself. Then it turned to look up at Uhura.
She braced. It left the water and bounced up the rocks, padded slowly over to the base of her rock, and looked up at her.
The gigantic black wolf shimmered...
...and reformed. No trace of animal remained in his stance or gesture. The man regarded Uhura with eyes no longer mindless, their yellow depths dark and alive and intelligent. For a long moment he stood, then he held up both hands.
She hesitated, then, risking much on those eyes, Uhura dropped down into the proffered arms. For a second, she felt the inhuman strength of him as he swung her onto her feet.
"I remember," he said.
She burst into joyous laughter, grasping his arms impulsively. "Your mind's back!"
He watched her with strange intentness, and she drew back her hands, realizing he was alien. "I meant no offense by touching you," she explained softly. "That was a Human gesture of joy at seeing you whole again."
But his stillness was not for that reason. "Even knowing now what I am?"
"No being should have his mind stripped from him!" she said hotly, in remembered outrage. "Of course I'm overjoyed you're yourself again. Different lifeforms don't repel me. A shape-changer is unusual, but I've seen several species. Can you alter your shape into anything?"
"No," he said slowly, "only the wolf."
She couldn't hold back a sound of laughter. "A werewolf? Like the Lyndraxians? But how did the Orions capture you, and what did they--?"
"Werewolf?" he said flatly. "No, not a werewolf. Not a Lyndraxian. I am a Pakari Warrior."
My God, she thought wildly. What is he doing here? Pakari came from beyond Romulan space. The Romulans themselves were supposed to use the efficient killing talents of the Pakari for their own purposes. Deadly, dangerous--and little else known about them beyond those two words. They had encountered one before on the Enterprise as part of a Romulan delegation. The experimental station, she thought, grimly. He was here as a spy for the Romulans and fell into the same trap I did. He has no purpose now, she thought bitterly. The station no longer exists. Agent for the enemy or not, he still did not deserve to have his mind stripped away like that. "I'm still glad you've regained your mind."
Apparently she had reacted well. He smiled briefly and bowed, which astonished her. "I owe you a debt, and we have long memories."
"I don't understand how, if rumors are true, anyone could put you into that condition. What did they use on you?"
"I was carelessly in the way of their weapon."
For a second, she didn't take it in, then, "You what? You mean you were hit with--?"
"No, no. But close enough to stun even my body. I was frozen halfway, neither man nor wolf. Recovery from the shock was not easy. I do not remember much of what passed while I was locked in that room. Except you. I remember you." When his fingers touched her face, she almost flinched, but didn't. Her ancestors were warriors too. "You are afraid of me."
She had very good reason to be. Then she realized the only way he could have been hit with the concussion of that weapon blast. The tracks--the prints that shouldn't have been there... wolf tracks. "You were here before the Orions," she said quietly, her face cold. "Now what? You wait for the others who follow you?"
"There are no others."
"They sent one man?"
"They sent a Pakari. A Romulan found on this side of the Neutral Zone would be considered an act of war."
She snorted derisively. "Surgically altered Romulans come into the Federation."
"Yes." She blinked at his candidness. "But, as you said, they are surgically altered. This takes much time. The Orions' move meant things had to go swiftly."
The Orions' move?" Realization hit. "But then your original purpose had nothing to do with the station at all?"
"No. Things are close to breaking within the Romulan/Klingon alliance. You are Federation. You must know this.
"With the Orions so interested in setting up a meeting with the Klingons here, perhaps it was better the Romulans find out why, yes? So I followed and scouted here ahead of them. Your station was a surprise. For a little while, I think this is what they want, then I decide no. Why take the risk? There are many sensor stations along the border. There was no reason for Klingons as well as Orions to come this close. They could use mechanical spies to inspect this unusual power cone of yours, before it functioned."
Uhura started. Federation security would be interested to know that.
"But you are only a test target. But I do not understand the reason for the rebuilding."
Bait. The Enterprise was coming back. If that weapon could sear through the cone's shields, it could easily go through a starship's.
The Pakari looked at her strangely. Could he actually sense her sudden fear? "You asked me what I do now. That is up to you. I do not know what kind of world you come from, if you would be easy prey in the desert alone, or not. But I am aware of things far enough away to warn of danger." He paused.
"Are you--proposing I go with you? You're an agent for the Romulans!"
"And as such, I must destroy this danger to them."
She drew in a quick breath, and he was instantly aware of that.
"You wonder if you are a danger? You cannot hide much from a Pakari's senses. Your Federation is merely an adversary to the Romulans--there is a great difference. That weapon--" He waved a hand in the direction of the Orion camp. "I do not like that."
She gave a short, astonished laugh at his understatement.
"It is permitted to know your name?"
"Uhura. Penda Uhura"
"You are the only one left alive?"
"Yes." The word was short and full of pain.
"I see. Do your people know of that weapon?"
"No! I've got to warn--" That was a mistake!
"Who? The ship which returns for you?" He smiled thinly. "So, that small ship in orbit, now likely destroyed, is not the one which brought you? If the Orions also expect your ship's return--and their preparations are too elaborate otherwise--I see... The Klingons are to have a great show of this new Orion weapon. When they can destroy starships so easily, old alliances may give way to the one who holds such power. Neither of us want that weapon to exist. I have never made a pact with a Human before, Uhura-mir, but I am willing to now."
"The two of us, to stop that weapon?"
"The two of us are here--free, so they are not infallible."
"They would be on their guard now."
He shifted his gaze, considering. "They expect you to try for their communications devices, to warn your ship."
"You think so?" She frowned. "The Orions are aliens; we don't really know too much about how they think. I'm a woman and they have extremely low opinions of females. They would probably believe I'd run as far as possible."
"So? Then we do that?"
"There is no way I'm going to run without trying to--" she began angrily.
He held up both hands. "We do what they expect, then return and do the unexpected." His eyes narrowed to yellow slits. "A Pakari does not run."
If he was telling the truth--if she had the skills and power of a Pakari Warrior with her, she might have a remote chance of reaching the Orion comm. "Can I even trust you, Pakari? Your race is virtually unknown to the Federation."
"All Pakari are stubborn individualists," he said, almost huffily. " We ally where we choose." The edges of his teeth showed briefly. "I find this--situation--unusual also. Can I trust you, Uhura-mir?"
"A suffix of respect. You are a warrior."
"Do you have one? A name?"
"I do not think you could pronounce my real one."
"Romulans have to call you something," she snapped.
"Then Gen it is." She checked the charge on her rifle. "Let's get away from this area. They'll miss these men soon."
She looked up as he chuckled once, a surprising sound. "Phah. I can smell them miles away. Why are you so determined to make me Romulan?" Nonetheless, he began walking rapidly away from there.
Surprisingly, he had made no move to take one of the Orion weapons. She stopped long enough to pick up one with a fuller charge than her own. No, likely he had no need of any conventional weapons, what with that formidable wolf body. Following, Uhura frowned, remembering a word he used. Miles? The English the Pakari spoke was archaic. He also positioned his words strangely. The Romulans had learned English as military information; likely he learned it from them. If only she knew more about the alien! What little the Federation did know wasn't comforting. Ironically, he had been less of a danger to her a little while ago, with his animal mind, than he was now. That made her compare him with what he had been before. She watched him walk, surreptitiously, out of the corner of her eye; none of the animal gestures were there now.
Amber eyes slid in her direction, and he smiled slightly at her discomfort at being discovered watching him.
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to stare."
He stopped and turned fully. "Ah, but you did mean to stare. I assure you I will not become a mindless beast again. Or is it the Pakari which bothers you?"
"No. It was...the contrast from before. I was only watching you walk."
The smile slowly spread. "Indeed?" One raised eyebrow and a blandly amused look reminded her of Spock.
Her jaw tightened. "I don't see anything amusing in this. You weren't the one locked up with a savage animal. The contrast is ... difficult to get used to."
"That is not what I find so amusing Uhura-mir. I am a Pakari. I am not used to anyone being so comfortable or relaxed around me that she is only concerned with how I walk." His shoulders shook with laughter.
She withdrew slightly, realizing again what he was.
To her astonishment, his hand grasped her wrist. "But you are not relaxed, are you? I do not have to feel your heartbeat like this to know your fear. I can smell it easily."
"Should you expect otherwise?" She was acutely aware of that grip on her wrist. "Your race is synonymous with savage killing. And you expect me to simply trust you?"
"I kill only when necessary. I will not harm you. I would not be free but for you, and I said we have long memories and fierce loyalties. Our enemies are the Orions, Human, not each other." He dropped her wrist. "Those Orions on the platform were hunting visually, with only hand sensors. We must find a place to conceal ourselves and provide food and water for the moment, while we plan."
"Why didn't they have long-range tricorders? That was stupid, when they were hunting--"
"Us? A woman and an animal? Tsk. As you said, we are prey which is beneath them. That rigid pride is to our advantage. The long range sensors will be at their camp, for incoming ships. So, we hide for now. That rise over there."
"There's nothing there but rock."
"To conceal you for a short time. As a wolf, I can hunt for a safe place faster. When I find such a place, I will return for you." He walked away without another word, before she could angrily protest.
How can I trust you will return, she thought to his back, wondering if it would be safer if he didn't come back?
His last words implied he expected her to be perfectly content to wait for him. Either a touch of chauvinism or racial arrogance, neither of which she was going to tolerate. She glared after him as he slid down the hill.
Then she saw the rock color directly in form of him. "Gen! Stop!"
A Human might have turned to ask why he was to stop, and in doing so, stepped on the deadly rock. The Pakari froze in mid-step, waiting for the reason.
"That light-colored rock explodes when weight's put on it." She slid down to him.
"1 see." He eased his foot back and then crouched carefully by the rock. "Is it possible to pick them up?"
"Yes. Carefully. Any sharp contact sets them off."
"Sets them off?" He picked up a tiny piece, turned in a blurring, fluid motion, and threw it at a distant rock. When it hit, the two rocks exploded into dust and fragments. Gen did not move closer to see the results, remaining half-kneeling on the ground. "I am further in your debt," he said quietly, not looking at her. "For saving me and for showing me a weapon." His fingers touched the surface of the rock, and Uhura tensed, but their contact was feather-light. "Do the Orions know of these?"
"I--don't know. Not unless they explored the hills. We removed all we found around the station area. They ran onto some of them when they were chasing us, but the others might have though they were killed by the phaser rifle, or a Federation booby-trap."
"With enough of these... An interesting speculation, yes? To wonder what they would do, packed into the nose of that weapon?"
She gave a short laugh. "Not much, I would imagine."
"Yes, yes, it would do nothing there, for the weapon is far greater." He stood. "Ha. But I do not think the Orions and their clever imitation buildings would fare the same. A good thought." He reached out abruptly and took her hand strangely, spread flat across his palms. "I was here less than a day before the Orions came. Is there anything else I must know of this world?"
"Is this a Pakari lie detector?" she asked of the hand position, puzzled.
It took him a second or so to grasp the meaning of that phrase. Then, "Ah, no. You are Human. I forget you do not know of us. This--" He spread the fingers of his hands under hers. "Your hand is over mine. I give you bond and loyalty, until we are free of this planet."
She stood, stunned. When she made a startled pull of her hand, Gen caught it and held it in the same position.
"I am Pakari. I choose."
"You mean, whether I want you or not?" she asked, shaken.
"Of course. It is a great honor, to be chosen by one of us, in war bond."
"I--You have an incredible lack of modesty, Pakari."
"Oh, yes, very much so." His eyes gleamed with unexpected laughter. She had a sudden feeling he was exposing a side of Pakari nature that few people ever saw. Why?
"This--is difficult for me," she began.
"You're an enemy agent. Why would you allow me to try to reach my ship? If the Federation discovered you here, you could be taken prisoner."
He squinted at her. "I have trouble with verb tenses. All that was future, yes?"
"Then I don't worry about it now. I know only what happened past and present. You freed both of us from the Orion camp, even though you knew nothing of me. This is nice. But afterward--you knew I was enemy. You still did not let me step on that rock. This is not simply nice. This goes beyond the freeing of an animal. Do you see? Where our loyalties are given, they are not easily taken away. I will now fight your war and defend you to the death."
She was staggered. 'Would this...war bond take precedence over your Romulan loyalties?"
For a long space he did not answer. "It could. Do not force me to choose."
"I see." My God, they might really have a chance! "Then I am very honored by your choice. The only other potentially dangerous thing here is those leaves." She indicated the nearby bushes. "Poisonous if eaten."
"Pooh. I care nothing for leaves, only explosions." He dropped her hand. "Now I must go. Consider how we could safely carry those rocks until I return."
"No." She stopped him with a hand. "If we're together in this, we stay together. It is not my nature to sit and wait for someone else to find shelter for me."
Instead of becoming angry, as she would have expected, he accepted at once. Part of a Pakari's success must lie in an infinite flexibility. "That is the most likely direction for water, in those distant crags and canyons." He pointed. "One of us will find it. I will scout ahead of and around you. You will have the rifle if the Orions try again to find us. I doubt that much; they will be too busy. But I can hear the rifle fire and come. When the sun nears setting, conceal yourself. I will find you." He snorted. "A Pakari's nose is better than any Orion sensor. This is agreeable?"
Again the quicksilver laughter went across his eyes. "Oh, yes. I have chosen well." This time, he wound his way carefully over the rocks. In a few moments, a dark shape bounded in the direction of the canyons and disappeared.
She went off at an angle to his direction, watching the sky for Orion flying platforms. Simple hand sensors hadn't the range and sophistication of tricorders. She and the Pakari could hide among the boulders of those canyons, at least in daylight. At night, though, their heat readings would no longer be confused with hot rocks or bushes. But she, like Gen, doubted the Orions would launch a concentrated effort to search for them, not until after that meeting with the Klingons. Somehow, they had to reach those communication units.
"They!" She shook her head, with a short laugh, feeling dazed. My God, I'm allied with a Romulan agent! Yet that swearing of fealty to her had the ring of importance.
Uhura found a small trickle of water several hours later, deep within the twisting gorges of red rock. She followed it to where it deepened, then cupped her hand and drank deep, her mouth dry and cracked, hoping her broad spectrum antibiotic shots were still active. Then she glanced up at the low sun. Another few hours and it would be setting, bringing on the cold desert night. Selecting a position near a crack between the rocks so she could see anything approaching, she settled her head back for a needed rest.
A scratching sound on the ledge above her head... She whirled, the Orion weapon up, and froze. He must have deliberately made a noise to announce his presence.
Gen was on the rock above her, but not the man. The gigantic black wolf paused for a moment, staring down, and Uhura felt a swift, atavistic fear of the animal above her. He turned and scrabbled down the rocks, and came slowly to her, his yellow eyes alien. She stood her ground, though her tongue wet suddenly dry lips.
The wolf sat down abruptly, and extended a paw, his jaws open in canine grin.
Her first reaction was a raging wave of anger. She bent and grasped its ruff with both hands. "Don't you ever do that to me again!"
He blinked and whined. Then he licked her nose in contrition.
She went to her knees, still holding his fur. "You are going to take a lot of getting used to." Now curious, she looked over the Pakari's other form more closely. He was almost completely wolf-like, though his feet were larger in proportion than a wolf's. His eyes were not canine at all, long and slanted upward, in alienness. She ruffled his ears with both hands.
A ripple passed underneath her fingers. The next moment, those hands held a very Human male head, his amused, amber eyes inches from her own.
Startled, she drew back, but his hands shot to her waist, holding her immobilized. He sat on the ground, smiling in great amusement. "I've never had anyone ruffle my ears before."
"I'm sorry." He was holding her lazily, but she was acutely aware that the inhumanly strong hands on her waist were capable of breaking her in two. "I shouldn't have done that. You're not a dog. I'm sorry."
The Pakari laughed. "But I enjoyed it! A lovely lady scratching one's ears is a delightful sensation." He was instantly sober at her changed expression. "I have offended?"
"No, it's--" She looked away. "That's what I did when you were mindless, to try to win your trust. So you wouldn't attack me, if you got free."
He was silent for a long time, his hands still on her waist. Then, "I understand. You had great courage, to touch. I could have torn you to pieces."
"I knew that earlier," she said wryly, unconsciously touching the healing gashes on her arm.
He took hold of her arm, pushing aside the torn sleeve, before she could stop him. "I did this?" His fingers feathered over the marks. He looked up at her, eyes pained. "I do not remember doing this."
"It--You were only an animal then, one that had been treated brutally by the Orions. It was no wonder you struck out at anything that came close."
He straightened slowly, eyes intent. "I would know if you lied. You do not. You genuinely feel no hate for the pain I caused. You are not at all like the descriptions of Humans I have heard."
"You're not...quite what I pictured, either."
"How did you learn English?"
He only smiled.
On impulse, she tried Swahili.
"Ai! Ai!" He let go of her. "I have enough problems to speak one Human tongue! Do not confuse me with more."
He stood, in that fluid, boneless motion. "I like this spot you found, Uhura-mir. Many life forms come to water, to drink." The Pakari stared at her musing. "Can your body change food that does not quite 'fit' into something you can use?" He moved a hand, frustrated. "I do not know the words."
"Protein compatibility? That's something I'd rather not think about. It's extremely unlikely. These life forms have an evolutionary history totally alien to mine." At the moment, though, that was one of the least of her worries.
He said nothing further, but he frowned. He kicked off his boots, walked to the edge of the sand bar, and waded into the pool. Uhura watched him cup water in both hands and drink. What slipped through his fingers glittered orange in the light the setting sun. Then he gave a startled noise and peered down into the water around his legs. "Ha!We have food." He waved his hand in a sinuous motion, imitating. "Those swimming things, what is th--"
"Fish," she supplied the word he sought.
He went off in pursuit, disappearing around the rocks.
Uhura turned her head, but the cliffs hid even the horizon in the direction of the Orion camp. She made a disgusted noise. The Orions were catalysts. They sold weapons and then stepped back and let others do the fighting, while they profited. She heard splashes from beyond the rocks, and an angry exclamation. Apparently, fishing was harder than he thought.
Uhura eyed the water in front of her. Why not? Gen was out of sight, and she moved further upstream, behind rocks. If she went in as he had done, though, she'd have problems. Her torn uniform would probably not stay together waterlogged. She took it off, waded carefully in, cautious of the uneven footing, then thankfully washed. When she finally turned back, floating, she was startled to see the Pakari kneeling on the bank, using the Orion's knife on several fish. Very quietly, she drifted over and reached out for her clothes on the rock. Even so faint a sound as cloth sliding over rock alerted him. The Pakari whirled, a feral flash in his eyes. Uhura froze.
Then Gen's muscles relaxed. "Floating is not fair," he snorted. "Come. I have caught and cleaned some fish. Fish-fish," he repeated, in a boyish delight at remembering the word.
His back was turned, and she dressed quickly, then came to where he had her share spread out on a rock.
Her lips twitched. She wondered where he picked up his odd assortment of phrases. "Not fair" indeed! It astonished her how disarming this alien could be, and that thought reluctantly warned her to caution. She looked down at the raw fish and grimaced. His 'cleaning' meant scaling only. She took the knife and filleted hers. Just pretend it's sushi, she thought, forcing it down. She didn't watch Gen eat his whole, but heard him enthusiastically crunching bones. She also made no comment when the discarded portions of her own fish vanished.
The Pakari crouched by her, relaxed after eating, though she was certain his senses never relaxed. No one would be able to surprise them. His presence, for all the violence inherent in him, was strangely reassuring.
He turned his head to sniff the air. "It will be dark by the time we reach the place we stay tonight."
She cleaned off her fingers with wet sand, shivering at the growing cold now that the sun was going down.
"Then let's go. The footing on these rocks is bad enough in the daylight. At least the explosive rocks show lighter than the rest at night."
By the time they reached the Pakari's chosen place, the cold was penetrating. She sat hunched, wrapping her arms close, to hold in what little heat there was. A fire was out of the question.
Gen looked at her and gave a querying noise.
"I'm freezing. The environmental control on my suit was broken in the rockfall when the Orion weapon hit. What's left of this uniform isn't too warm"
"Take this." He removed his shirt, now dry.
"Phah. My world is far colder than this, and I have fur, if needed."
She put it on gratefully, still warm from his body. "Thank you. It--um--won't turn to wolf fur on me, will it?"
He chuckled and bent down to pluck the place where the Orion's rifle had earlier burned a hole across the shoulder. No hole was visible now. "Because of this? When I alter, so do my clothes, if they are organic-made. I heal, they heal. No, no--clothes 'repair,' do they not?"
"Yes. Your command of English is extensive for somebody who has nothing to do with Humans."
His head was turned, sniffing the air. The Pakari pointedly ignored any question he didn't want to answer. Then he turned back, sitting down beside her. We are safe for now. We can sleep." Before she realized his intention, he reached out and pulled her down with him.
"Wait a minute!"
"Eh? This will be warmer. I have obligations to you. There is a phrase, I think, a Human one ... man's best friend."
"The phrase. Man's best friend."
She shook with helpless laughter. "I'm a woman, and you're no dog."
"It was good you were a woman," he said. "I don't think a male Human could ever have gained my trust in that mindless state. Freed, I would likely have killed him."
Uhura shifted uneasily. There definitely was a violent, wild streak in the Pakari race--likely the reason the Romulans used them. "I see. How is it you can work so well with the Romulans then?"
To he surprise, he threw back his head and laughed. "We like the way they smell."
"You're joking, right?"
The amber eyes glittered. "A quirk of nature, yes? We find the Romulan scent irresistible. An extraordinary development in species from worlds so far apart."
"My God. What about--Vulcans?"
"I've never met a Vulcan. Eh? Why does all this make you so relieved?"
"How--? Will you stop doing that?" She sat up, irritated. "It's like you're reading my mind! No wonder everyone is nervous around Pakari."
"Difficult to keep secrets from one, yes?" He slipped momentarily back into that oddly positioned speech. "Why relief?"
"That you ally with the Romulans for reasons other than the same philosophy."
Wrong," he said quietly. "Do not ever make that mistake. A Pakari is a warrior. Always. Ah, now you tense again." He sat up, close, but did not touch her. "I am man and wolf. Both can kill very, very easily. Or choose not to. You understand?"
"Yes," she said, after a space.
"You do not have to sleep with a knife in your hand."
"No." She touched him, so he would feel the truth of that. "I know that..."
He lay back down. "Then will you sleep?"
She lay down again, her hand spread on his chest. "It must be disconcerting to the Romulans, that you look exactly like a Human."
She felt the amusement rumble through him. "No Romulan could ever mistake us for Human. They like how we smell, too."
When Uhura woke, Gen, apparently sound asleep, still held her. By now, she knew better than to judge by appearances. But she didn't move, not knowing what his first reactions would be if he was really asleep.
He lifted his head, sleepy-eyed. The sound he mad could have been a groan or a growl.
Uhura chuckled. "I expected you to wake up instantly alert."
"Not when my senses tell me we are safe." As if to emphasize his opinion, he shut his eyes, burrowing against her again.
Uhura moved away in exasperation, then stood up. "I'm not lying here while the Orions are planning to use that weapon on the Enterprise--" The name slipped out.
His eyes snapped open, and he gave her a look that revealed he knew exactly what that name meant in Romulan terms. Then he snorted and sat up. "How do you propose we prevent it?"
"The Orions have weapons."
"The weapons also have Orions. Perhaps Klingons also, by now. For, unless they were very occupied with more important matters, I do not think they would have let us run free another day,"
"But they think we're insignificant--only a woman and a madman."
"Yes, but we have killed many of them. They will not let us die easily. The Klingons will have sensors to detect us, unless the Orions shame them into hunting us otherwise."
"I thought yesterday you were willing to take the risk. Or does knowing what ship I'm from change things for you?"
"No. I see now why the Orions go to so much effort for this weapon show. What better way to impress than to strike down this much-known ship? Yesterday I was angry and careless; today I am cautious, and plan." He stood up and stretched, revealing that his deceptively lean body was heavily muscled. "We must make certain the Klingons are here before we even think of attacking."
"What?" Ah. Yes. Even if they somehow managed to destroy the weapon or reach the shuttle, the Klingons could find them when they came.
"Do you know where the Orions would keep stores of extra weapons?"
"Bah. I do not intend to kill them one by one, or search blindly for their spares. We will have to find a way to use those rocks effectively. Would they have a ship up there, you think?" He jabbed a finger skyward, and circled it.
"One in orbit? No. An Orion ship couldn't risk being seen within lightyears of here, any more than a Klingon one could. They dropped these off and left, the same thing the Klingons will do." Uhura paused for thought, then continued, "The Orions copied the plan of our huts and station, so I know where all the buildings are."
Gen's eyes gleamed. "Show me." He gave a short laugh as Uhura knelt down to draw a map in the sand. "Romulans lie who say Humans lack courage!"
They circled warily back toward the station. They could not risk coming near in broad daylight, so they holed up in a cluster of rocks. Gen fell asleep, curled in the shade. She wondered if his warning senses still operated.
The instant she changed position, one amber eye opened. Reassured by that awareness, she closed her eyes and fell asleep in the warmth. She woke up again when a weight dropped against her leg. The Pakari was asleep once more, with his head on her lap.
At sunset, Gen rose silently and flowed into a wolf. Slowly, they worked their way as close as possible to the station. Again Uhura felt a link with her distant ancestors, hunting in the dark with the black beast, a deeper blot of darkness, padding silently beside her.
They lay flat at the top of a rise. The station was lit, as it should be, but with more than usual activity. Uhura's breathing quickened when she saw the gleam of metal on a squared-off object that could only be the Orions' shuttle, now on the station side of the ridge.
Abruptly, a man was lying beside her. He put an arm over her and pressed close, to whisper in her ear, "Klingons."
"I smell them."
His breath was warm against her ear as he chuckled. "Yes, from here. The scent is on the wind. Shall I nose more closely?"
She didn't like to risk his discovery by the Orions, but his wolf form could spy without rousing suspicion. "Yes."
He left her so abruptly and silently that he seemed to vanish. With what limited visibility she had, Uhura scanned the ground between her and the distant buildings, and saw no sign of motion anywhere. She was impressed by his skill--the Romulans had a worthy ally there.
She slid away from the overlook and carefully worked her way back onto the ridge. Without the Pakari's night sight, she had to move slowly, but she knew the outlying station area from long walks taken before the attack.
When she came close to the seam she stopped, not wanting to step on any explosive rocks flung out when the Orions had triggered them before. She crouched and tried to see the light-colored rock. The previous explosion had taken out a good deal of the outlying seam. Hopefully, the Orions hadn't bothered to investigate closely.
A motion next to her--
She turned sharply, and a hand clamped over her mouth.
"Please, no screaming," Gen whispered. "I have sensitive ears, remember?" he said, free of the wolf. In a few minutes, it was over.
But he was back too soon! She took his hand away. "Couldn't you get near?"
He held out his other hand. Even in the dark, she caught the glint off a weapon barrel. "But how--?"
He gave a click of the tongue, as if berating her for doubting his abilities. As Gen sat down in the sand, she saw the weapon he put in front of him was not a phaser rifle, but a portable photon launcher!
"How on Earth did you get that!"
"On Earth?" He was puzzled for a few seconds. "They are so busy with their toy, they pay no attention to things under their noses." He also had an empty bag with a shoulder strap. "They did not even turn on their force screen until after I left." He snorted in derision. "Only a Pakari can be that self-confident and be that certain. They had not even posted sentries! The comm building, however, is guarded with sensor traps."
"But they do have an outside force screen working?" She swore silently.
"A fence designed to keep out nocturnal predators. They do not know I am the only predator on this planet. No great problems."
"No. We will attack in daylight."
"Are you crazy?"
He grinned. "No, no. The screen will go off soon after dawn, you see. I will be right at the fence with this," he lifted the bag, "around my neck, filled with exploding rocks." He patted the photon launcher. "This is yours. Between us, we should create havoc."
"Creating havoc isn't the point. If the long-range comm is inaccessible, then the shuttle is our objective. Without backup ships in orbit, they won't be able to pursue us. That weapon will be useless against a low-flying vehicle among these rocks and ridges. We also have to put the long-range communicator out of commission so they can't have a ship intercept us." Uhura picked up the launcher, testing its balance, and checking its charge capacity. She knew how they were fired only in theory. "Will you take the beam rifle?"
He looked sheepish. "I have terrible aim."
"It is my instinct to change shape, you see, not to use weapons."
"Hmmm. Then we'll alter that plan a little. I have a better idea for those rocks."
He chuckled approval after she outlined a plan. "Very good. Then I will take the rifle to destroy the force screen control so they can't put it on again."
It took them an hour to carefully pack the rocks. They had to make certain they were packed tight enough not to move, yet not so tightly that the pressure set them off. Piles of leaves from the thorn bushes kept them apart.
Uhura didn't like it at all that Gen intended carrying them around his neck. "If you bump into something--"
"I intend not bumping. I could carry the bag more safely in my mouth, but what would I do with the rifle? Two trips is dangerous."
She thought. "Turn into your wolf."
Puzzled, he did so. She carefully began to unfasten the shoulder strap from the carry bag. Then she had a sudden thought. "Do you possess your full mind in that form?"
The wolf pulled her arm reassuringly. She lifted the beam rifle and laid it across his level back, pulling his tail down. "Could you carry it this way, if I strapped it around you?" The wolf nose nudged her to try it, and he trotted around with it afterward, in experimental leaps. Then he came back and tugged on the strap, indicating he wanted it higher. "That better? Can you get out of it when you have to?"
The wolf rolled over onto his side, his teeth flipping open the strap. Then he lay with his paws dangling in the air, waiting for her approval.
She ruffled the thick fur on his chest. "Good."
This time when she felt the strange ripple under her hand, she was prepared for his sudden shape-shift. He rolled off the rifle and wrapped the strap around it. "So. We are as ready as we can be, Uhura-mir. The Romulans have a saying, 'Fate travels as it must.'"
"The Romulans are fatalists. Are you?"
"I know what I am; I know what I can do." He shrugged. "I must take events as they unfold. We have a while until dawn. We must rest." He began to dig up the already wind-piled sand and mound it higher against a rock.
Satisfied, he settled down onto it, his back cushioned.
She sat down beside him, feeling the gritty sand on her skin. "The wind has picked up. It's getting colder than it was last night."
The Pakari moved away from her, and shifted. Then he settled his fur-warm body against hers, and closed his eyes, falling asleep almost instantly. She'd learned that talent too in Starfleet--sleep when you can. She curled up against his side and slept.
Once again, they were as close to the station as safely possible. "How many people outside the building now?"
A wolf paw patted her arm five times.
"When I hit the comm building with this, you'll have to stop the guards before they can turn that screen on again. If you stay close to the shuttle, you'll also be out of my line of fire." She grasped his ruff, to hold him back. "Please--be careful."
Gen turned his head and gave her a look, jaws open, that, in spite of his wolf muzzle, was still a laugh. He pushed his head past her hand, to lick her jaw. Then he picked up the bag in his mouth and was gone.
The station looked almost exactly like theirs. The weapon was next to the false power cone, hiding its energy feeds. The Enterprise sensors would detect no relays operational from a distance, and come in to find out what was wrong. She knew Kirk's instincts would make him wary of that silence; he would have the shields raised while they scanned the surface. But the Orion weapon could go right through starship-strength shields from an orbital distance.
Gen had had enough time to get into position. She slowly worked her way down the rise. Everything depended on the Orions shaming the Klingons into not putting sensors out planet-ward. Judging by what she knew of Klingons, she thought they would react the same way as Orions--with utter contempt for a Terran woman.
Besides, the eventual hunt for them would be much more interesting if their whereabouts were unknown beforehand. She readied the launcher, then looked down at it blankly. Gen had given it to her... For an instant, she shook. He had the rifle she knew worked, and the exploding rocks. She had no way of knowing if this launcher worked. He had gotten it so easily.
Then she fitted it into position. The only way of testing Gen's alliance was to use the launcher, and it could only be fired when it was needed. She waited for the first explosion, for the answer, either way.
She had instructed Gen to scatter the buff rocks in front of the hut doors. They would be unnoticed until the first person ran out of the building when Gen blasted the screen controls and sensors. She heard a shout from below and the first rocks went off on the hut-side of the ridge. Then a number in succession--Gen must have laid them down in a scatter pattern. Uhura aimed for the building furthest from the shuttle and fired.
The building and ground erupted with a satisfying force. The Orion weapon was dangerously near the shuttle. If she and Gen made it into the air, she could fire down upon it. If they couldn't reach the shuttle... She gritted her teeth--the weapon was more important than their escape.
She kept moving so they couldn't get a fix on her position, and was gratified to hear beams hit the rocks where she had been. She twisted the controls for more distance, and fired in the direction of the fake power cone. Let them think there were two points of assault.
Then she saw figures crumpled on the ground near the shuttle. Gen's work. But where was he now? She saw confused shapes running in the half-light and smoke, then saw a Klingon making a dead run for the weapon. She swung the launcher in that direction and fired, heedless of danger to the shuttle.
At the same time as she fired, Gen saw the enemy, too, and launched himself after the Klingon, forgetting her instruction. No! The blast hurled sand and rock skyward, and she couldn't see anything through the smoke. If he remembered in time to stay back--
"Gen!" she screamed, then ran toward the place he had been.
A Klingon thrust a rifle between her feet, and she went down. He kicked the launcher from her grip in fury, then yanked her up by the arm. "How many of you are there?" he demanded. "How many?" The Klingon jerked her, and her head fell up and back.
She saw a wolf on the roof, behind his head... Her eyes widened in shock which the Klingon took for fear of him. He laughed, low in his throat. Whatever he said was lost as Uhura saw the Pakari crouch low and gather its muscles to spring.
Uhura crumpled away from her captor, crying out in pretense. The black wolf hurled down and smacked into the Klingon with bone-snapping force. Uhura rolled for the fallen launcher and brought it up, aiming for the power feed on the Orion weapon. It was very near; they would all probably die in the explosion, but it must be destroyed. The backlash bowled her over. She hit the sand and slid, stunned. As her head cleared, she was astonished to still be alive. This close, the photon launcher should have leveled the spot.
She staggered up to her hands and then cried out. The entire base of the weapon was pulsating with light. Instead of exploding it, the photon shot had been sucked into it and had started an instability.
The Pakari lifted her bodily from the ground, and swept her into the nearby shuttle, as the Orions ran toward them. "You know how to operate an Orion ship?" she asked, as she managed to close the outer door.
"No. Do you?" At her negative response, he said, "Then I suggest we learn fast." His quick fingers searched across the board. They went up a few feet, canted at an angle. Uhura found what had to be a stabilizer, and, after a few tries, righted them. Then Gen pushed the throttle forward, and they broke through the smoke and beam fire at full speed. He swiftly located the directional controls, turned them only enough to rise over the highest ridges, and then burned fuel.
They dangerously imperiled their flight by trying wrong controls, until they found the shields which sprang up around the shuttle.
"No more time. We will know soon if this is far enough away." Gen aimed the craft down into a hollow and landed in a bone-jarring thud.
At the first flash of light, the Pakari swept her down on the floor between the seats and held her there, as gale force winds roared outward from the explosion and rocked them in spite of their protection.
Afterward, Gen lifted his head, shaking it. She knew that a being with his sensitive hearing would have felt pain at that volume of sound.
"Are you all right?"
"Other than loud ringing in my ears, yes." He looked down at her. "You, Uhura-mir?"
"Yes." She laughed, grasping his face in both hands. "I thought I'd killed you."
"I heard the launcher fire, and remembered your warning. Please do not shoot at me again."
"A definite promise. We should move out of this area. That thing may release radiation the shuttle's shields can't handle."
He agreed. "No. I do not think they expected such an accident. They would not have installed special shielding. So," he got up and slid into the pilot's chair, "where do you wish to go--assuming we can do anything complicated with this ship?"
Where? It didn't matter any more.
He glanced at her, then ran his fingers over the board. They lifted, with difficulty. "If you help me puzzle these controls, we could go to my ship. It lies somewhere on the other side of this land mass."
"Do you mean you had a ship all along, with weapons, that we could have--"
"It is not armed." The amber eyes glinted at her. "An open act of war, yes? But what need have I of weapons? My ship is very, very fast. It is enough."
"I have to stay near here. When the Enterprise finds the base destroyed, they'll search--"
She had the distinct impression, from the set of his shoulders, that that thought didn't please him at all. No, of course, it wouldn't. A Pakari here...
He grunted agreement, without turning.
"On some planets, you'd be hanged for a witch for that mind-reading act."
He slanted an amused look at her.
"Perhaps you'd better let me out somewhere near here. The area around the crater is the first place they would investigate. I can be more easily found."
"By others also." His eyes were sober now. "Your people may not be the first to come. To leave you here alone, no. I have a debt to pay."
"To me? You paid that twenty times over. Neither the Orions or Klingons will risk coming here now. If only you--"
He smiled thinly as she stopped. "Ah, yes, if only. But I live where I live. I cannot change the politics of empires."
"I would think a Pakari is the only being powerful enough who could."
"I will leave you here, then, if that is what you wish," he answered, totally avoiding the other statement. "But you take the shuttle. It will offer you shelter and some protection--likely it carries weaponry. I will make my way back to my ship by foot--two or four."
"It would make more sense to go to your ship first, and I could bring this shuttle back."
"Yes, if we had not sent off a signal flare that will have your ship here at warp speed." He waved a hand behind them. "I do not want to be with you when that happens. I can pass for Human only briefly, visually." His hands worked the controls to land the shuttle. He shut them down and opened the door, turning as she put her hand around his forearm.
"Gen..." What could she say? Then from his expression, she realized his senses already knew everything she wanted to say. "Go in safety, Gen-mir." In the end, she only reached up to kiss his mouth. "Thank you." Then she wondered, since he was an alien, if he understood what that gesture meant.
Gen smiled slowly, his eyes crinkling. Obviously he did. When he stepped out onto the sand, she followed him to the front of the shuttle.
The next second, the Pakari hurled her to the ground, as the transporter beams hit near them. How had he sensed--? She heard him snarl, for the bushes were no protection.
On first sight of the invaders, with raised phasers, Uhura grabbed his wrist, preventing him from altering form to attack. She shouted and the men lowered they weapons at sight of her. "Captain!"
Gen reluctantly stood, having been seen.
Uhura almost laughed at Kirk's expression. She supposed they were an astonishing sight: she with a shredded uniform covered by a man's shirt, her companion without his, both sand-covered and battered.
"Uhura!" Kirk ran forward, and tightly grasped her shoulders. "Thank God someone survived that! Any... more..." His eyes went to her silent companion.
"No. No one else is alive."
Pain crossed his face. "We found the crater. What the devil happened here? Are you all right? Who is this?" He stared narrowly at the man behind her.
"Gen, a fellow prisoner. The Orions destroyed our camp with a new weapon that tore right through our shields."
Kirk's jaw muscles clenched as he saw the ramifications of that. "They were going to pass us to the Klingons, along with the weapon."
"Klingons?" Kirk swung his gaze to Gen. "And just who and what are you, mister, that the Klingons would be interested in you?" he asked sharply.
"Later, Jim." McCoy came, with his medical tricorder aimed at Uhura. "They both look like they've been through hell and back." He watched his readings. "Vitamin deficiencies, exposure, nothing too serious, thank God. You're--" He frowned suddenly as he turned the instrument to Gen. "Not Human."
"No. Turn that off. You would not know what my normal readings are anyway. Turn it off."
McCoy, however, was a doctor, and persisted. Gen's hand came swiftly out and covered the tricorder, his fingers tight. The casing gave an audible crack.
Kirk's phaser was out in a second. "What kind of readings did you get off him?"
The Pakari didn't move, his hand still on the tricorder.
Uhura stiffened angrily. "Captain--"
McCoy was staring at the ruins of his instrument. "Well, before Superman here decided to cut off my investigation, I was getting some kind of strange dual readings, as if his shape wasn't fixed."
"Oh?" Kirk eyed Gen. "A fellow prisoner, eh? You care to say where you're from?"
"No. The less you know of my race and planet, the less likely you are to have data useful for a Federation takeover."
"Takeover? The Federation does not use conquest as a means to an end!"
"No? We are unduly wary, perhaps. In any case, the name of my planet would be meaningless. You do not know it."
"I see." Kirk's eyes weighed him very carefully. "We found a hidden ship of unknown origin in that direction. Yours?"
"Your unexplained presence near a Federation security installation could be reason enough for me to take you prisoner as a hostile alien."
At that, Gen slowly released the damaged tricorder and stood fully, turning to face Kirk, yellow eyes lazy. "You could try, Captain." He smiled softly. "You could try."
Uhura stepped between them, not knowing whether she was shielding the Pakari from the phaser, or the Humans from the Pakari. "I'll vouch for him completely, Captain. His presence here had nothing to do with the station. He was after the Orions. Without him, we could never have destroyed the pulse weapon."
"Jim, whatever political complications you have can wait. I want to get Uhura to Sickbay and hot food into both of them."
"No," Gen said. "I do not want to go on a Federation ship." For a long moment, his eyes and Kirk's clashed.
"Afraid we'll keep you?"
"I have been a prisoner once. I will not be one again."
"Commander Uhura vouches for you. I have never doubted her word. You wouldn't be a prisoner, but a guest."
The Pakari looked pointedly at the phaser. Kirk hesitated slightly, then put it away, hands down. "A guest."
"It must still be no. You would ask questions I cannot answer." He bowed to Uhura. "Uhura is safe with her kind now. That is all I require, that and the destruction of the Orion weapon."
She put out a hand to grasp his arm, but he did not respond to her pull. "Please! You won't be harmed."
"Ah, you ask too much of me, my lady'" His eyes were pained. "I cannot go with you."
"Will somebody please solve something?" McCoy exploded. "I want this woman in Sickbay!"
"In a few minutes, Bones. I need some answers first. Go back to the ship, and get your biobed ready. That's an order," he said, when the doctor looked mutinous. Kirk turned, and deliberately focused his full attention on the shuttle.
McCoy muttered something rude, then signaled for beam-up.
Without shifting his gaze, Kirk said, "That's an Orion shuttle?"
"Yes. We escaped in it."
"I see." Kirk nodded. "Commander Chekov, check out and secure that vehicle."
Uhura saw no purpose whatever in this. "Captain," she began, "we were just--" when Chekov interrupted.
"Sir! The alien--he's gone!"
"Yes. I noticed that fact. No pursuit."
"No pursuit, Mister Chekov."
The chief security officer was no more puzzled that Uhura. "You're--letting him go?"
"He seems to have gone on his own. You did vouch for him. But, by God, I'd like to know how you tamed a Pakari Warrior."
"You--" Uhura reacted in shock. "You knew?"
"You just confirmed it," Kirk said softly.
She stood still. "Sir... " She faltered.
"An alien, from outside the Federation, who doesn't want to risk being taken by a Federation ship? One with shifting form and the strength to crack a tricorder's casing?"
"But that could have been one of dozens... "
"One of his forms is Human, which narrows it down. And one who doesn't want the Orions to sell the Klingons a new weapon, who expressly comes here with the purpose of stopping them, indicates a race very wary of the Klingons. If he was working to help the Federation, he wouldn't be that afraid of a Federation ship. That leaves us with Federation enemies. And who is allied with a race that looks Human and can change shape into something else? Romulans. They have contacts with the Vendorians. But those yellow eyes made him a Pakari." Kirk continued blandly. "And your duty, Commander, was to help me restrain this enemy alien for questioning and medical examination."
"Starfleet would have wanted you to imprison him; you know that, sir." she said, almost defiantly. "I've seen what a Pakari can do, Captain; a great many people would have died trying to take him captive--or he would have been killed. I couldn't allow either to happen. He did destroy that weapon."
"Yes. And I'd very much like to know how the two of you managed that incredible feat." He looked at the horizon, still smoking. "You will have to report on this."
"I know that, sir."
He shifted, turning his head to grin crookedly at her. "You wouldn't be in any more trouble for hiding the origins of a Pakari than I would be for letting one escape. Perhaps we should prudently omit his race in the report. After all, he didn't admit it just now, did he?"
'Fix' a report. "Sir? Why?"
"Uhura, Starfleet regulations and I have been at loggerheads my entire career. Most of the time they're right. But sometimes a captain has to chuck them all out the window and go on instinct instead. The Klingon/Romulan Alliance is ready to come apart at the seams. All it needs is one little push, like this Orion deal, to cut it completely. But the Romulans, even with proof, would never believe us."
"They'd believe a Pakari. He might be the one factor that could overload the balance and swing it in our direction."
"But even if they split the alliance, we can't know that the Romulans would turn to the Federation."
"No. It's only a chance. They'll hear two things from your Pakari friend, Uhura: the fact of the Orion weapons deal, and the fact that we let him go."
"A political gambit." She hugged Gen's shirt to her in inner cold. She didn't like the thought that Gen was to be a pawn in a political maneuver.
"It does let him go free," Kirk said, seeing her expression.
The idea still wasn't easy when it involved...friends.
"Enterprise, two to beam up," Kirk ordered.
He's free, Uhura thought, straightening, then smiled. In the brief seconds before beaming, Uhura realized she might have spoken the truth after all. A Pakari would be the one who could change the politics of empires.
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"Nature of the Beast," copyright 1990, by Poison Pen Press. Originally published in MASIFORM D #17. Reprinted with permission of the author and publisher in The Worlds of Bonnie Reitz, copyright 1992, by Orion Press.
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