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By S.L. Koss
Page 2 of 11

Blake decided to try to get through to the strange child again. "My name is Blake, and I . . " He stopped abruptly as he felt a sudden pressure in his mind. The boy froze, watching something avidly. He walked towards the line of trees and turned abruptly, speaking to them again earnestly and urgently. "Stand still, don't move at all and don't speak, he'll take offence and anything that offends him, he shoots and I've never seen him miss. He cannot be intimated, he cannot be reasoned with." He turned warningly to Cally. "If you even think about reading him, he'll know and believe me, he'd rather fall on his own knife than be read by a woman. I'll handle him, he's on my lands and has no rightful jurisdiction here, but if he feels threatened even by your thoughts, he will kill you."

Avon and Vila looked at one another doubtfully as they joined Blake and Cally, they all watched the surrounding brush suspiciously, unsure of the intentions, or in fact the sanity of the youth. Blake tried again. "Wait, I . . ."

Pulling his weapon from his shoulder once more and loading it impressively, he looked at each of them in turn, pausing longer on Avon. Avon could almost sense the urgency the boy seemed to feel.

"Everyone just stay here and be quiet, he can hear you already, you know. I'm serious, I know what I'm doing."

The boy walked boldly toward the line of trees as the others watched him uncertainly. Five horses with rather stern looking Felinian riders emerged from the line of trees. One rider detached himself from the others and headed straight for the boy who stood belligerently, weapon leveled unwaveringly. "That's far enough, Giareth, unless you want me to put down your filly"

The rider stopped where he was and dismounted. From what they could see at a distance of perhaps a hundred yards, he stood nearly as tall as his mount. He was dressed similar to the four behind him in a tight-fitting and economical black jumpsuit. The same knifes were strapped to either arm and he carried a slightly larger crossbow. A scarlet cloak draped from his shoulders nearly to the ground, lined in fur. His hair was light and fell in whips to his shoulders. Fierce golden eyes watched the group critically beneath eyebrows that arched upward to follow the angle of his ears. His features were thin and severe and his bearing aggressive. Fear flowed from him in waves that Blake's group could feel distinctly. "I might have known the cause of this, would be a half-breed bastard. You have a fatal tendency to be where you should not, boy. These may very well be your hunting grounds, but I have authority whenever it comes to aliens on my planet." He turned to those behind him who had pulled up as well, watching uncertainly. "Commander Tarsia, set a perimeter and see no one crosses it." The indicated officer nodded, placing his palm to his forehead and extending it toward his leader, an apparent salute. The four others spread out in a semi-circle, watching Blake and his companions critically, each with an energy rifle of some sort pointed at them.

The Star Commander held his ground defiantly as his officers spread out around him, he addressed the boy arrogantly once more, respectful but not at all intimated by the boy's unwavering stance. "You could not possibly have thought I would ignore this, half-breed." He growled loudly, golden eyes daring the child to move. "Do you know who these people are? They attract Federation pursuit ships behind them like a magnet. I cannot have them in my systems. Your mother tried to convince the Counsel that you were gifted by an usually sharp albeit alien intelligence, I begin to question that and find myself less than impressed with your antics. The energy field you built around your property was clever, but I have managed to extend the ion barriers beyond them despite the interference. I must also assume you were seen in the defense complex opening the hole in my defense screens so that they could land a shuttle and take off without challenge. Unfortunately, without communications, they are stranded here."

Blake looked wordlessly at Avon, an ion barrier or shielding would explain why they could not reach the Liberator, the question was, how long would Jenna wait without communication with them?

"Admit it boy, you lost this one. Now let me take them without a fight, the Federation will even pay me for them, alive or dead. I can see to it you and your mother are not punished and I see no reason to waste ammunition on them, don't give me a fight and I will leave your mother out of this."

The boy growled in response, not wavering in his stance. Avon did not like the way the conversation was turning. He looked across the field to gauge the distance before reaching for his gun, it was the last thing he remembered. Pain shot through every fiber of him and he had no time to consider what happened before blackness overtook him and the edges of his consciousness heard a scream.

"NO!" The boy screamed, folding to a crouch and taking aim. The Star Commander paused only briefly to reload his crossbow before getting on his horse once more and turning his attention to the officer who rode toward him.

"Commander." Tarsia said urgently, snatching out of the air the bolt the child had fired and referring to a small screen he held. "The fringe outposts have spotted pursuit ships entering the third quadrant."

"I must leave, half-breed. I will return, make sure they are gone when I do." The Star Commander said as he rode off into the forest once more.

"Avon? Blake! He's been shot!" Cally caught Avon under the shoulder as he slumped unceremoniously to the ground.

Blake tried vainly to raise Liberator, staring blankly at the shaft of the arrow he had pulled from Avon's chest. The shaft was an angry red, but there was no tip on it. The boy snatched it from his hand in disgust. "You do not pull on it! Lucky the shaft broke. Lay him down and get pressure to the wound, he does need to lose any more blood."

Blake turned to the boy frantically. "We have to get him up to our ship! I don't even know your name, can you get us somewhere were we can get a signal out?"

"I don't have a name, but you can call me Kai. By the time you get him clear of the barrier, your ship won't make a difference. It'll be all right, my mother is a doctor, she is coming." He looked off toward the cliffs in the distance. He reached out to take Avon's hand, checking the wrist for pulse. His mind reached gingerly, dodging just barely the pain that reached for him. *Breathe, you must breathe. I know it hurts, but you must.*

Avon took a shallow and ragged breath, writhing as coughing overtook him and with it pain. He struggled to open his eyes, finding the boy's locked on his. He tried to move, bringing on more coughing and more pain. His vision was blurry and unreliable he realized, but he thought there was a woman kneeling over him, alien, but somehow not. She had a medical kit with her and looked at the assembled group with dismay. Flame-red hair was blown from her face by the slight wind crossing the field. She took the arrow shaft from Blake and examined it critically.

Looking critically at Avon, she knelt beside him, reading the results on the scanner. She reached out gingerly to check the pulse in his neck. "It's all right, you've been shot. My name is Alarayna, I'm a doctor. Just try to relax."

Pushing past an about to be ill looking Vila, Blake introduced the group and put his hand out amicably. She looked at him hard for a moment, disdaining his hand. "You've obviously never encountered my kind before." She said somewhat gently while looking sternly at Kai. "Physical contact allows mind contact and I really don't want to know what you're thinking if you don't mind, human thoughts while not unintelligible are extremely confusing to my kind. I assure you I don't want to read you any more than you want me reading you." Blake quickly withdrew his hand and the others, if not physically, then mentally took a step back.

"Can you help him?" Blake asked anxiously.

"I trained as a medic on Auron, let me know what I can do." Cally added.

Alarayna sat back, trying to block out the excess of emotions around her. She turned to Cally first, then to Blake. "Keep pressure on the wound. For now, there is little I can do for him here. My dwelling is not far, I have a fully equipped surgical suite. That arrow has to come out and soon, he is bleeding internally, the sooner I get it under control the better. Kai, go home and fetch the stretcher and get the synthesizers working on at least three pints of AB negative." She watched as the boy scampered off obediently and turned to Avon once more as he groaned in pain and grabbed for her hand as the effort to draw a breath took a toll.

*I can't breathe!* His thoughts screamed at her insistently, bearing with them an incredible amount of pain. She put his hand down gently and reached for her equipment, taking out an injector. As she was not sure he could receive thought, she spoke quietly, trying to keep her own emotions at bay. "You need to take it easy and try not to move, the arrow can shift position. Right now, you're bleeding into your lung and it's likely to collapse. Take shallow breaths only. I'm going to give you something for pain, that should help."

"No morphine." Avon managed to gasp out, pushing away the angry thoughts that arose.

"Allergic or resistant?" She asked, pausing to take out another vial of medication.

"Resistant." He whispered.

She shook her head, wondering what she was getting into, morphine resistance was rare indeed and unfortunately, few drugs could take it's place as effectively. "You need to realize the medication I will have to give in place of Morphine is much stronger and as such more addictive, you will need to be on a tapering dose over the next few weeks to avoid withdrawal." Avon's ragged breathing became easier as she injected the medication, he eyes less wild. Kai had arrived with an anti-grav stretcher and placed it next to Avon while he activated the various monitoring systems it carried.

Together, Blake and Vila lifted Avon to the stretcher which hovered inches off the ground. Blake did not know what to make of this woman or her abilities, but at this point they really did not have a choice, they could not contact the Liberator and if there were some sort of ionic field in operation, it was unlikely he would unless they could find a spot it did not cover. The woman seemed genuinely concerned and competent, perhaps this was one of the Felinian woman trained in the Federation. She sensed his thought and sent to him. *I used to have a piece of jewelry of some sort which was supposed to signify my status as a physician, but it was gold and I sold it.* Asking Cally to monitor the vital sign indicators for change, she took Avon's hand once more, shuddering slightly at the remaining discomfort. She looked at him earnestly. "You are going to be all right. Just try to stay calm. When I have access to the proper equipment, I can make a fuller evaluation and I will tell you everything I am to do before I do anything, okay? I really am good at what I do, though I haven't practiced on an Alpha in years."

"How can you tell he's an Alpha?" Vila asked indignantly. "They don't really have different blood than the rest of us do they?"

Alarayna smiled patiently. "They only like to think so." She said. "They do get certain vaccinations that the rest of the population do not, however, he's without doubt been through a Federation training facility."

"Sure, they don't care if the rest of Delta's die of some raging fever." Vila complained insistently.

"It would seem that way, but they do have clearance to certain areas and certain contaminants that the other grades do not. It makes a certain perverse logic to the Federation not to spend credits on those who keep their society running." She shrugged, guiding the stretcher upwards to a position which enable one person to guide either end and started off toward the area of cliffs. She turned to the boy once more. "Kai get back home and make sure the sterile field generators are up, it should take 20 minutes to complete the field, have my instruments ready and raise the suite oxygenation 20% over normal. You can explain all this to me later."

He looked at her uncertainly for a moment. He reached out toward Avon, his mother snatched his hand back, growling. "I can help." He insisted. "He hears me, I know he does. I can at least redirect the pain. You need to bring his blood pressure down to decrease the amount of bleeding, I can do that." He reached his hand out again.

"NO, Kai." His mother insisted firmly taking his hand again authoritatively. "You can best help by setting things up for me, I can deal with the rest. Even if he can hear you, that doesn't mean anything, only that you can send, even the Auron can do that. Humans do not like at all the touch of another's mind on theirs, they have no possible defense, believe me, now get home!" Reluctantly, Kai scampered off, making sure his mother knew how he felt about it.

Alarayna turned to Blake apologetically. "I'm afraid manners don't mean much to him. We are alone out here most of the time and my people believe it is a waste to speak useless words." She started off, gathering up her instruments and checking the readout on the stretcher to make sure it was working correctly.

"You'll excuse me for asking, but why do you live so far from the other communities? Our scans would suggest that most of the population live in the cities."

"They do. I was trained in the Federation, but I came home seeking protection when I found out what price they had laid on my education. The Felinian Counsel would offer me nothing and refused to accept my son. As long as I am without a mate, I have no recourse. I am to become the possession of the Star Commander, were I to allow him to become my mate now, the first thing he would have to do is murder my son. He agreed to wait until the boy reaches maturity as long as we stay out of his way, he allows us to live in a natural cave formation that was previously modified for habitation, we live out here away from the others but comfortable enough. They are satisfied if I stay out of their notice and keep to myself. We are generally quite alone out here, I'm surprised a patrol came out this far."

"It is far?" Blake asked, uncomfortable and wondering what or who awaited them. "You were trained in the Federation then. And the boy's father, is he there? I assume he's human."

"Yes he is, though I did not think it would be that obvious. Dark hair and eyes are simply not in the genetic patterns of my people, perhaps if it were not for that, he would be more accepted, but it makes little difference. His father is dead." She was disconcerted to find herself staring into Avon's dark eyes. It made her uncomfortable for reasons she could not define. It further discomforted her when he sent to her quite clearly. *You expect me to give you my trust, doctor?*

She answered somewhat angrily, surprised at her own response. *I expect nothing from you. Your companions are concerned for you, but I do not really believe you would trust them to dig about in your chest for that arrowhead. Put simply, if I were to leave you here, you would either bleed to death, or drown in your own blood in less than an hour. Perhaps trust is not such an impossible thing for you to give under the circumstances.*

Avon continued to hold her gaze determinedly. *You are quite young to be a doctor, are you not?*

*Perhaps by your standards, but I started in the advanced course at the Federation medical training facility when I was nine. I had my first degree three years later. Kai was born nearly a year later and I had returned home, or tried to. Among my people, I assure you, I am completely matured. I am not a child. I am a woman and if I had stayed here, I would likely have several children by now.*

*I shall take your word for it, doctor.*

Alarayna squeezed Avon's hand reassuringly, putting her mind quite purposefully and with more difficulty than she expected onto the work she had ahead of her. They had only to walk only a hundred feet perhaps through the cleared brush that hugged the cliff face before they found themselves at the base of the cliffs, rising sharply and smoothly over them perhaps another two hundred feet. Alarayna disappeared through an opening in the rock and the others followed her down a broad passage into and open area. The crew blinked in disbelief as they entered a medical suite that would rival Liberator's. Kai looked up from a bank of humming equipment where he was making several adjustments. Alarayna had them place the stretcher on a well-lit table at the center of the room while she linked the portable systems into the main systems. She turned to Kai who was helping her. She took his hand gently, to find it shaking.

"Kai, take them into the common room and make sure they are comfortable. Secure the outer doors and see if you can find a place where they can communicate to their ship." She pushed him gently but firmly toward a door at the far end of the room. Blake and Vila followed uncertainly, grateful they would not have to watch at least. Cally lingered for a moment, watching the other's leave. She took Avon's hand, watching his face intently. He had been drifting in and out of consciousness and she waited while his breathing evened out somewhat and his eyes became more clear.

"Avon, you know Blake won't leave without you, you'll be all right." She said to him earnestly.

"Oh no, he would not want to lose another of his crew." Avon answered bitterly, without conviction or certainly taking comfort from Cally's attempt.

"I need as few people in here as possible, Cally. I really don't need help and the fewer people, the sooner the sterile field will complete itself. You can monitor everything from the next room if you'd like, Kai will show you how. He'll find a way to that ship of yours too, I'm sure. There is little that goes on around here that he does not know about. I know he's small, but he knows what he is doing. He put all this together with salvaged parts, the ion field is always bringing ships down. The Star Commander lets him scrounge whatever he wants from the wrecks and he's quite good at putting things together." There was an unabashed hint of pride in her voice as she spoke of her son.

As Cally turned to leave, he asked curiously. "Just how old is he?"

"He's four, nearly five. You must realize, though. Our children are born with all the knowledge of both parents. That is why we mature so quickly, knowledge is there, it's only a matter of developing the dexterity to accompany it and, I'm afraid the wisdom which is what Kai lacks. He is capable of astounding things, but he is not always aware of the consequences of his actions or able to see how they will impact the future, he will learn only with time."

Cally gave Avon's hand a final squeeze, knowing it did more for her than for Avon. She looked at the equipment in the room with a new respect and as she exited, the door slid closed behind her with a gentle thud.

Avon watched distantly as the young doctor adjusted settings and ran scans, reviewing them thoughtfully as she waited for the sterile field to reach its maximum capacity. She had bound her long curly hair neatly in a knot behind her head. She watched his face carefully, noting his interest in her every move. She adjusted the various lines and monitoring equipment around him diligently while she watched the sterile field build and waiting for the drop in blood pressure that would mean the anesthetic was working properly. His eyes were heavy, she could tell, but he would not close them. She took his hand again, feeling and enormous and unexpected amount of undefined distress. "You need not fight the medications, it will do you no good. Is there something specific bothering you?"

Avon's voice was tired and barely above a whisper as he answered her, looking perceptively at the scans arrayed on the monitors around him. "Cally was right, he won't leave me here, no matter what." Though the medications were doing their job adequately, he hovered just at the edge of panic, though reason told him there was nothing he could do.

"Is that a problem?"

"I can't move my legs." He did not need to explain, the edge of terror in his voice was palpable to her. Though she knew little about him, certainly ongoing disability did not fit his lifestyle. She smiled gently, looking at the scans, particularly of the spine. "It is most probably the swelling and inflammation surrounding the cord, it's cutting off blood supply to the nerves, that is all. Once I relieve the pressure, you should be able to move normally. I would not do any running for a few weeks, but you should be fine."

"And if it is more than that?" He persisted.

She understood entirely the bend of his question and sighed deeply. Though she did not believe in euthanasia, her job was to save his life and not put at greater risk. Such a disability would effectively end the life of the man before her. "In the event I cannot return you to your former functioning level, you shall not wake."

"Thank you." Avon relaxed appreciably, giving way slowly to the medication's effects. That part of his mind that was still capable of logical thought remembered a scrap of something he had read in the records and also something she had said to Blake.

"Can you tell me something?" He asked. She watched as the sterile field came to full, she put his hand down as he asked softly. "What was the price the Federation put on your education?"

She smiled almost wistfully, noting the indicators read everything was ready. "My son's life."


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