The woman and the Gorn came out of the hills from the direction of the sun, and stealthily moved down, under cover of the rocks, toward the half-buried entrance of the alien complex. They moved downand the lone Klingon who trailed them moved like a shadow.
The hand which held his disruptor hesitated, and then Kalrin reclipped it to his belt as he crouched against the rock. Human and Gornhe would not have believed such a teaming possible. The Gorn wore only a knife at its belt, almost a short sword; the woman appeared weaponless. Yet Kalrin stayed back, eyes narrowed into the heat haze.
The presence of the Human woman made him wary, for his landing party had been attacked by Terrans as they tried to locate this power generating station. None of the attackers had survived, and only he of the Klingons remained. He had back-trailed those who made the assault and crossed the path of these two, also following the Terrans tracks. Perhaps all their ships hung in orbit like his own, trapped by the field around this planet.
The H'lar T'kers' engineers had used almost all the ship's power to disrupt a brief opening in that shield to beam down a war party to try and destroy whatever generated that alien power. Now he was trapped on this planet until and unless he could accomplish that.
The woman was adept at concealment. Even Kalrin's war-trained eyes did not see her pass from shadow to shadow toward the opening. The wary approach meant they were seeking the same end. For now, he would follow to see if they could find the complex's nerve center.
The woman stretched out flat overtop the complex entrance, searching inside. In the next second she dove in. Or something did...
Kalrin jerked up with a stifled oath. For an instant, through the dizzying haze, he thought her outline shimmered into something dark and lowand totally inhuman. Sweat must have blurred his vision, for when she reappeared to motion to the Gorn, she was Human.
Frowning, Kalrin followed the others carefully. When he reached the edge of the hole, he made certain his shadow did not cast inside. He slid into the opening, back against the wall, but heard nothing. The other two had disappeared into the tunnel. He moved deeper into the building, his eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness.
The interior of the complex circled and curved in an architectural style totally alien to him. A corridor would open into vast, dimly-lit machinery-filled halls, then narrow into a constricting wormhole without reason. Sidepaths suddenly plunged hundreds of feet or rose beyond his range of vision. The Humans who had attacked his war party were obviously not its builders, for he found ladders welded to the edges of those shafts.
He finally detected the hum of machinery. Disruptor out, Kalrin moved more swiftly into one of the vast chambers. Human voices were audible then, the woman's and another's, raised in angry argument. Kalrin crouched by a machine, eyes searching the shadows, for the Gom was nowhere in sight.
The newcomer held a gun on the woman, who faced him with a slight smile on her lips. Neither wore a recognizable uniform, though the man had the glint of an unreadable insignia on his collar. He was almost Klingondark, of indeterminable race and world, but the weapon he carried had a handgrip and altered muzzle, a kind favored by raiders for its sighting ability and power. Whatever he was, he looked upon the woman as a prisoner, not an ally. "Move," the Terran ordered, motioning with the weapon.
"Yeah?" She leaned idly against a machine. "How you gonna manage to make me?"
The hissing behind him made the Terran whirl, and the womans feet snaked out in a blurring motion. Both her heels struck full into his gun arm. Kalrin heard bone snap before the man screamed. She flipped over and down in a boneless twist as the Gorn lifted the man in one vast hand.
"Now, me boyo," she said. "Where's your control center?" At his gasping silence, she made a sound of annoyance. "Keep that up and you might get us angry, and if you anger us," she jerked a thumb, "tall, green, and scaly here will pop off yer head like a champagne cork. Well?"
The Gorn flexed his arms like tree trunks and rasped harshly, "Perhaps a ssmall ssqueeze, to make the blood flow to itss sspeach centerss...?"
Kalrin decided to intervene then. He stepped out, his disruptor leveled at the three of them. "Do not move."
The woman didn't turn her head. "Butt out, Klingon." Searing fire just missed the side of her cheek. "On the other hand, we don't object to a little extra help in this."
"Face me with your hands clear of any weapon," he snapped.
"Never carry one." She turned, arms out to the side. They assessed each other fully for the first time. Her skin was a deep mahogany brown, her hair black and in tight waves over her head. But the eyes watching him shrewdly were the amber, slanted eyes of an animal, startling against that darkness.
"You knew it was a Klingon behind you how?"
"Knew you were back there for days," she answered blandly, and his head gave a jerk of surprise. "Wondered when you were going to show yourself."
"I am here now, and I will have answers."
At that moment, the captive's hand darted to his belt. The Gorn snatched its own hand back with a hiss as the man's body flared with light then vanished.
"What in blazes?!" the woman yelled. When she crouched and put out a hand to touch the floor where he had been, she jerked her palm back as if the floor were hot.
"Get up," the Klingon ordered sharply.
She turned her head to him and the yellow eyes were slitted half-moons. "If I do, it'll be to take that popgun away from ye." When Kalrin's fingers tightened in unbelieving surprise at that audacity, she said, "Damn it, Klingon, neither of us is responsible for the workings of this place. We're stuck on this blasted rock ball, same as you. Me and Hul here were attacked by a raiding party, too; in fact that's where and how we formed an alliance, beating them off. They don't want visitors, and I want to know what they're doing here, because I'm willing to bet that it isn't gonna be good for anybody. Put away the gun, me boyo, and we'll talk."
"I do not parlay with Terrans," he said stiffly.
She shrugged and stood up. "All right, keep it if it makes ye happy. But it won't make a bit of difference. We have to put this place out of action before they find out what happened to their patrols. And I'm not a Terran."
Kalrin frowned for she spoke the Terran's language. This Human woman acted like none he had ever met. "What world are you from?"
A small smile lifted her lips. "I don't have to say a thing, double-brows."
"You will if you value your life, Human."
"Well now, I don't think you have the right naming there, and until you do, that gun isn't worth a handful of sand. Who are you, Klingon?"
He scowled. "Kalrin, Armsmaster of the H'lar T'kel, flagship of the Klingon Empire." His eyes looked at her in question and demand.
"Name's Samakai." She jerked a thumb. "The green one's Hulrchshuh. He's a pilot for a Gorn ship caught in orbit. How about us knocking out that tractor field before a few more ships get stuck here, too?"
"I do not need you."
"How do you know? Think about it; Hul here's got more strength than ten of you, and I've got a few talents of my own." She grinned.
For a moment he thought in tight-lipped silence. An alliance with a Human was beyond beliefand with a Gorn! Yet she was right: in this alien place, one man might not be enough. "I want your knife, lizard," he demanded.
"It'd weigh you down, Klingon," Samakai said as she began to walk away with the beast, oblivious to him. Enraged, Kalrin fired, and scored the floor next to her foot. She did not react, except to turn her head in irritation. "You want to make enough noise to bring everybody down on our ears?"
In wordless outrage, he stood for a few seconds longer, then followed them, his weapon still out. In a few minutes, he learned why their presence had not been noticed; the hum of machinery vibrated the ground.
The Gom stopped at the edge of a platform, its massive head turning to examine the space below, its eye jewels flickering in the light. Beneath their feet, the platform itself vibrated with the invisible machinery's rumble.
"Thiss iss a cargo place," the Gom said, the sound of its words like steam escaping. "Ssee, there are cratess to fill."
"With what?" Samakai crouched at the edge, and Kalrin saw in surprise that her brown feet were bare. "Maybe that light strip is a track of some sort."
Kalrin was more interested in what powered that strip. "We will follow this."
"That way." Hul lifted an arm as Kalrin was deciding which direction to take.
"How do you know which way to go?" he demanded.
"I am a pilot. The liness of greatesst energy lie in that direction."
Fifteen minutes later, Kalrin saw the folly of believing such a beast. The track ended at a blank wall with another platform at right angles to it, three feet above Kalrin's head. The woman crouched down and examined the wall curiously, rapping a knuckle against the surface. "You got a tricorder, Klingon?"
He pulled out the small model from the survival kit at his belt and then frowned at the readings. "Impossible. The track goes into the wall, yet does not emerge on the other side. A tremendous energy reading from the wall itself." His sensor began to whine, rising in pitch. He barely heard the woman cry in warning before he acted, throwing the tricorder high onto the platform.
The explosion which followed hurled them backwardsand directly through the wall, which opened like air behind them...
Kalrin rolled, even in a dazed state grabbing after his fallen weapon knocked from his hand by the blast. With a swiftness unexpected in its massive bulk, the Gorn bent and retrieved the gun as Kalrin lunged forward. The Klingon crouched, his knife out, wary of the towering beast.
"Hey, you two, Iook where we are. Or aren't."
Kalrin turned to see her still flat on her stomach, staring out over a platform identical to the one on the other side of the wall to an outside world lit by a different sun. Impossible! Teleportation this far? Instantly?
The woman rose and stared out at the rail track strip, which disappeared on the horizon of a world lit by a red sun. A harsh breeze lifted her hair. Then she turned to see the Gorn. "Hul, give it back to him. He may need it."
Amused, the Gorn held out the disruptor with two massive fingers. Enraged, Kalrin snatched it from him, and whirled on the woman.
"You trusst too eassily, Pakari," the Gorn observed.
Pakari? Kalrin's eyes flashed to the lizard as the truth slammed into him. Pakari? The dark, low shape he had seen darting into the opening... His gun came around.
An open-jawed wolf hurled forward and thudded into him. They went over backwards, the disruptor flying from his grip. He kept her fangs from his throat only by using all of his strength. Powerful jaws closed over his forearm and tore his uniform, but did not pierce skin. He realized all at once that she was not trying to kill him. He went limp, the wolf lying on top of him, and she stopped fighting. Then Kalrin began to laugh. Wolfish brows puckered in astonishment, and the jaws freed him.
The next second, Samakai layover him, spitting out pieces of shirt, still puzzled. "You nuts?"
"By the Lords of Kh'eloz--" Still on his back, he looked up at her, incredulous. A shape-changer! A Pakari Warrior! "Why didn't you kill me?"
"Didn't intend to. I only jumped ye because I thought you were about to let fly with that disruptor. We're not loved by everybody, y'know." Her hands crossed and rested on his chest, like a dog's, even though she was now in humanoid form.
"I am convinced. A Pakari Warrior never fails to kill if death is the intention. Nor betrays an alliance. Are you going to let me up?"
"Why?" She grinned. "This is the softest spot I've been on in six nights. Blast it, whose show is this anyway, and what happened?" She stood up, with the animal-like bonelessness he had seen before, and now knew to be inherent in that Other Self.
Klingon legend spoke of their race, but no one had ever seen a Pakari in the flesh. Neither their bones nor their outer shape were rigid, as were those of other lifeforms. They were rumored used as silent assassins/spies in the distant reaches of the galaxy. Her animal form was virtually unstoppable; had she meant to kill him, she would only have had to snap shut her jaws. In her, he had an incredible weapon with which to destroy this place.
He came to his feet slowly, wary because he did not know her intentions. "Why do I live?"
"We might need you as you might need us. Any idea where we are, Hul?"
"No." The eye-jewels glanced skyward. "Perhapss when the starss appear." It placed a great, clawed hand on the wall behind them. "Transsport of matter thiss far iss not known..."
"Kalrin's tricorder triggered it somehow. I hope we can get it to work in reverse without it, or we're stuck here."
"It had better," Kalrin said grimly, retrieving his disruptor. "Aliens built this complex, and the Terran raiders have taken it over for purposes of their own."
"And what are they?" She walked over to one of the crates, also stacked here on this side of the transporter beam, and looked for a way to open it. When the top came free, she looked in. "Well, well..."
Kalrin made a decision then. He could not cover both of them with his weapon, if it was even effective against a Pakari. He reclipped it, allying himself with them. "What is in it?"
"The loveliest little explosive devices you've ever seen." As she spoke, she drew one out and rested it on the palm of her hand. "Isn't that interesting now?"
A low rumble from the reptile. "Whom do they plan to attack?"
Samakai rubbed her nose. "That's the question, m'friend."
Kalrin came over to her and examined the device. As Armsmaster, he recognized the thing as a destructive unit, yet frowned at the sight of so many. "I have never seen these manufactured in such quantities. If those crates we saw before were full of them--"
"They could control a star system. We have enough of these to destroy that complexif we can get back."
That proved impossible. The tricorder which had opened it before lay on the other side of the teleport barrier.
"Ssince we cannot go that way, perhapss to ssee where thesse trackss go?"
Samakai turned at the Gorn's suggestion. "Not a bad idea at that. Might even be transport at the other end. They have to have a way of distributing these little gems. Coming, Klingon, or you waiting here?"
Kalrin gave another glance to the sealed gateway, then turned away. Before they left, he gathered as many explosive devices as he could pack into his survival pouch.
They walked in silence until the gate vanished in the distance behind them. Then Kalrin turned to the alien woman as realization hit him. "Your clothesthey vanish when you alter, but are there when you are Human again."
"Good for m'modesty, they are." She grinned at him. "Have to be organic-made, otherwise they split and fall off. I alter my own skin and hair cells--a few more layers are no problem. Just makes thicker fur. Can't wear metal either; doesn't alter."
"And so the legend that the Pakari is driven off by metal--" He smiled briefly and touched a fingertip to her neck as they walked. "A necklace would strangle you, yes?" He glanced at her feet.
"Hate shoes," she said with force.
He tried to remember the other, vague stories connected with her race. They allied where they chose, and were worth a thousand troops in a ground-based battle. It was rumored that the Romulans used them. But no one had ever learned of their home world, if they indeed had one. "The world we came from had no moon. Then you do not need one to alter shape? A rumor I have heard says that you can transform only in the presence of a moon!"
She chuckled. "Like the rumor about metal, it's a useful fallacy. The presence of a moon helps in the cellular changing, but it's not necessary."
Night fell within a few hours, and they halted to set up camp. Kalrin erected the portable fire unit from his survival pouch. A fire lit within it was shielded from aerial view, and if placed strategically, from the sides as well. Kalrin watched the Pakari scout about through the mist of his exhaled breath. He frowned, uneasy at her association with the Gorn, a species now openly allied with the Federation. The beast trusted her senses to warn them of impending danger, as if by long-standing habit. When she returned and raised no alarm, the Gorn settled among the rocks and fell into a semi-hibernation at once, oblivious to the cold.
"I smell water, lots of it, not far away, in the direction the track strip is heading. Might be a station there. Ach, m'feet are frozen." Samakai sat down, rubbing circulation back into them, then altered shape in a blurring movement, her fur an armor against the cold. Sniffing, she settled down to sleep, then opened her eyes again as Kalrin rolled over.
"No sense wasting that warmth, Pakari." He curled against her back, the warm wolf fur musky. She swung back her head and snapped out, not intending to hit him. He chuckled, relaxed. "Yes, I would rather have the woman warm me, but this is better for now." He fell asleep with one hand buried deep in the neck fur.
Some time during the night, he felt her struggling violently upward, then felt nothing more.
He woke sluggishly, the first time he had ever not come instantly awake. Dimly, he realized that his arms were no longer around wolf, but woman...and realized sharply she was unconscious.
He sat up with an oath, swaying, and grasped her face. "Samakai." The only response was a low groan. He glanced round and cursed vehemently, coming to his feet in a lurch. The Gorn lay a short distance away, its muscles lax, breathing in short hisses. Apparently they had been hit with a phaser beam.
Kalrin went down on his knees and struck the Pakari's face with the back of his hand. She winced and stirred, but did not waken. They had been hit hard. The Gorn must have received the main strike, its bulk partially shielding the others. As the Pakari had shielded him...
Ignoring the Gorn, he renewed his efforts with the woman. On the third slap, a lightning shift flashed over her, and angry wolf jaws struck out at his hand. His other hand gripped her furred throat. "We've been attacked, Samakai.
Human teeth left his hand, but the wolf ones had drawn blood. As she held her head in pain, he pulled out his disruptor, glancing around quickly.
"Nobody around now," she said. "Heard 'em in the night, in a flier, and got hit before I could wake ye."
"Why did they not kill us?" he asked, furious.
"Maybe they though they had. That hard a stun on m'wolf form would've killed Humans. I'd like to sink my teeth into those bastards. Hul?" She staggered up and went over to the Gorn, while Kalrin glared after her. He would kill those Humans for this!
The great reptile stirred at her kick, but that was all. Kalrin fumed at the delay. He did not care if the Gorn came with them or not. He glanced angrily around, realized the dawn light was not the same color as before. This planet had two suns; its night was short. Then the attack might not have been so long ago; the trail would be fresh. "Leave the beast," he ordered angrily.
"Not on your Hfe. C'mon, Hul, wake up." When a forceful kick failed to rouse it, she suddenly changed to wolf and sank her teeth into the Gorn's tail. It kicked back hard in reflex, bellowing, and she was hurtled thirty feet away into the sand. A stunned woman sat up as the awakened Gorn rumbled to its feet. "Remind me not to do that again..."
The beast did not retaliate for the affront, and that fact roused Kalrin's anger and suspicion further. They had not accidentally come together on this world. "Why are you here, with this?"
The animal eyes regarded him through lazy, amber slits. "The reason doesn't concern you, Klingon. Shall we go?"
He went, cursing silently, knowing there was no way he could force information from a Pakari.
They lay flat on the edge of a cliff, looking down on a small base at the edge of a river. The water widened here where the side hills were low, into an almost lake-like stillness. But lower down, the cliffs arched up and the river narrowed out of sight into a twisting gorge. They could see the beginnings of white water from here.
Berthed near the beach area were a half dozen watercraft, and Kalrin's eyes gleamed at the sight of them. They were the type that could alter instantly to air use, their looked-for transport. As if reading his thoughts, one of the craft came in low over the base, and landed in a spray of sand. Two men leaped form it and ran toward the building where three more emerged and began hurriedly loading small packets into a low-sided vehicle.
"Processed fish," Samakai said beside him, sniffing heavily.
Kalrin did not know if the Pakari could really smell that far or not. "Were they the ones who fired on us?"
"No. The engine sound's different. What are they ?" She stopped short and rose to her elbows, suddenly alert. "Something big coming."
He gripped a hand to her shoulder and used it to lever himself up to see over the Gom. Then he heard the sound himself, a roar like an avalanche, in the distance, coming closer.
The track which swept past the base flashed blue-white. The five men below barely had time to leap aboard the small car before it rocketed out on a side track to meet the on-coming machine.
"It's a train..." Samakai said in awe.
A train three miles long blurred toward them at a speed no humanoid driver could withstand. It slowed, enough for its lines to become visible. Alien, almost organic looking, it hissed into the arc of track near the base and stopped, its sides opening to disgorge cars like the one the men were in. These slid onto a secondary track, and were pulled automatically into the building. The single waiting car from that building was swept into the train, and the men leaped out, carrying small bundles. The reason for their haste in loading was evidentas soon as the small car made its automatic dump into the train's hold, the cargo doors started to close. One man was not fast enough to evade the slamming door, and it clipped his leg as he fell out. Two of them managed to leap onto the returning car as it took off for the building, but the other three were stranded some distance from the building.
Kalrin watched as the two left the car as it halted, and climbed into the aircraft they had arrived in earlier. They went back to pick up the injured man and those left behind.
"They do not control thiss," the bass voice of the Gorn rumbled near Kalrin.
Of course. The reason they saw only one man in the complex, only five here. The reason they were not pursued, even after they went through the transport beam. "The entire thing is automatic. The attack on us before must have been only a routine sweeping of the track area."
"An alien manufacturing center," Samakai mused. "They apparently can't stop it all, only alter its programming."
Her eyes fastened on the station below, into which the men had disappeared. "This must be a way station they're using for food processing."
"The air/water craft seem to operate freely."
"Mmmm. Let's get one of those little beauties and scuttle the rest. The one that attacked us was armed. I can smell only five men down there, and one of them is injured."
"We do not know if the building has its own defenses. We will wait until dark to try for a ship."
He had made the wrong choice. As soon as dusk descended, the building's automatic systems activated, lighting the station and track area as bright as day. He cursed; now they would have to wait until dawn. They went down the cliffs to set up camp, far enough away form the track area to be free of the automatic sweeps.
The woman disappeared into the night to see if there was anything on this world to hunt.
Kalrin used that time to check around the cliffs, to learn if the base area possessed intruder alarms and defensive screens. Without the tricorder, he could not search completely, but nothing hindered his passage, even when he carefully worked his way to within a stone's throw of the building itself. Whoever built this ancient food-producing complex must not have feared invaders. The ships, however, were too much in the open.
When he returned, the Pakari was back, holding several ground-squirrel-like rodents by their plumed tails. "Only large life from here. Edible?" As Kalrin ran the small test probe from his survival pack over the beasts, she said, "Hul's calculated where we are." The position was almost halfway across the galaxy from their starting point.
"Know of any star system takeovers here?"
"No. Which means we may have a chance to stop them now." He had to somehow get back to destroy the field-generating machines on that other world, to free his ship. Yet he needed a way to do so that would not damage the ones which produced the explosives. Perhaps the alien machine's programming could be altered to manufacture any weapon in such quantities. "I think we can safely eat these," he said of the rodents. "I do not know about the Gorn."
"He eats anything." She tossed Hul two. The Gorn only removed the tails.
Kalrin and Samakai preferred not to eat theirs raw. As they waited for them to cook in the fire unit, the Pakari sat staring into the fire, her eyes shining amber, as an animal's when light strikes its corneas in the darkness.
"I wonder who built this double complex and what it was intended to produce?"
Kalrin looked at her. "It does not matter. I am more interested in the transport device with the power to send us here."
She chuckled, dimly seen in the darkness. "Thus speaks a Klingon. There are too many of these old, powerful machines scattered across the galaxy."
He had not known that. Cursing silently, he realized the danger if the Federation learned the secrets of them. "Perhaps the Slavers built them," he said shortly, reaching for the now-roasted meat.
"Slaversss were slaverss," the Gorn rumbled from its comfortable position.
Again Samakai chuckled. "Hul's right. They were only occupied with war." She licked her fingers after finishing the rodent and then lay back, making rustling noises prior to settling to sleep.
Kalrin came over to her, then stopped with a cut-off sound as he could make out the dim outline of wolf instead of woman. White teeth became visible as she lifted her head, as if the wolf jaws had opened in amusement.
For a second, he almost stalked back to the other side of the fire, then remembered the bitter cold of the last night. Swallowing pride and annoyance, he went down to curl for a second night against the wolf's back.
When dawn came, the three of them were at the base of the cliffs ready to make a move. "The aircraft they abandoned earlier--" Kalrin said.
They darted across the beach, intent on the craft now resting in the sand. Perhaps one of the men looked out of the window at the wrong time. At any rate, a shout went up and Kalrin fired his disruptor into the archway. Both Gorn and Pakari retreated toward the craft in the water while he covered their backs, the Terrans returning his fire.
He backed rapidly for the protection of the end ship and heard a splash behind him as the Gorn plunged into the water.
The woman clambered over and into the ship in a grey blur, almost over his head. "Keep 'em off for a few more minutes, Klingon!"
The Terran raiders were trying to reach their own craft by the building, and his one disruptor could not keep four pinned down. One of the boats down the line lurched and reeled over, sinkingthe Gorn's work. A streak of sand erupted into glass near Kalrin's feet as the phaser found his range. He laid down a covering fire and leaped for the deck of the craft as the woman yelled, "C'mon!" The engines thundered under them as she backed the machine into the river in a spray of water, then swung it around, seeking to extend the wings and take off.
Fire from the other ship prevented that. The Terrans were already airborne, launching fire at the craft below.
Samakai swung the vessel rapidly, twisting violently across the river to avoid the lethal beams. If they could not launch themselves skyward, they would be sitting ducks. Still firing, the enemy drove them into the gorge, then suddenly arched up vertically and broke off, spinning round to aim their beams near the rapidly sinking ships at their base, seeking the submerged Gorn.
"They don't have to kill us--Iook!"
Kalrin tumedand cried out in unashamed terror. Before them roared a foaming, hurtling broil of rock and water. The boat hit the rapids in a crashing wall of spray. "I cannot swim!" he shouted above the thundering.
"Wont matter at all!" she yelled back. "Close the dome!"
He fought his way over to that control, and fell sliding across the deck as the water slammed over the bow.
Then they plunged downward, and he grabbed onto the engine casing as the careening craft tried to throw him out. His foot kicked at the dome control. The shield went over them completely and was opaqued the next second by a wave that shattered into them like a fist.
Unable to regain his feet, he crawled and slid forward to where the Pakari hung onto the bucking wheel. She fought the current, trying to steer them away from the rocks, past which they hurtled at terrifying speed. He did not try to take the wheel from her for the Pakari's strength was greater than his own, and she needed it all to fight against the wheel. Crouched on the floor, he braced his feet against the forward console.
They plummeted downriver in a roller coaster ride with death at the end of it. Samakai could not take off as long as they wove and plunged past the rocks, and soon the gorge narrowed so that the extension of the wings was impossible.
He heard that even above the deafening crash of water and saw her face go white. In an instant, he clawed his way upward to see the world cut off ahead of him. Waterfall. The thunder of it drowned out even the rapids' roar.
"Brace!" He saw her hand go for the wing extension button. Just before they went over, they would have a chance. He flung himself back and hung on.
At the brink, she fired the engines, and they shot out over the fall like a meteor, and turned sideways. The wings snapped out vertically, and the engines roared. They thundered out of the gorge into the sky, and she straightened them out. Once free of the cliffs, Samakai slumped exhausted over the wheel. Both of them were sweat-covered and battered.
Kalrin pushed her out of the chair. "I would trust you with anything on land or water, but the air is mine. I want my hands on those Humans!"
Samakai's hand closed over his shoulder. "I want my teeth in them, too."
They shrieked back toward the base and circled it. The other boats were now visible only as a nose or wing sticking from the water; the Gorn had finished the job. If it had not been killed, it would be following the escaped craft. Kalrin made another pass with the sensors before believing that the Humans had fled this base.
At last Kalrin took the craft down, over Samakai's protests, and landed in the water, for the rocks had torn through their landing braces. "We cannot follow now." He gripped her wrist when she tried to alter her form, his face haggard. We need rest and food. Do you think we could fight an army now?"
For a second, the Pakari's teeth showed in warning anger, then she saw reason. As he released her, he felt pain in his hand and noticed for the first time, in surprise, that both his hands were burned. It happened when he held on to the engine casing earlier.
"You need medical treatment," she said flatly.
He frowned blackly. Now that he had noticed them, his hands stung abominably. But when she moved toward the building, he gave a warning motion. There was no one else here or she would have scented them, but the base itself could be a danger. We do not know if the base has inner defenses."
"We'll find out. But I think Hul did a job on those."
At the doorway, he saw what she meant. The metal door hung inward, a dent in its middle as if a meteor had hit it. Kalrin passed that, incredulous.
The building itself was a maze of rooms with the same architectural detail as the complex on the other world.
The Klingon followed the woman as she sought out the Terrans' personal quarters. There they located medical stores.
Samakai held his thick and calloused fingers in one hand and sprayed a thin film over the burned areas. It would form a protective layer until his own skin healed. Kalrin flexed his hands experimentally.
"Much." He did not care if he let his exhausted weariness show before this woman, for she had fought with him.
"I have endured Human medicines; I suppose I must put up with Human food also."
"It'll keep you alive." She smiled.
Neither wasted any more time than it took to find food and eat. The Kalrin dropped face down onto one of the Humans' couches. Both Klingon and Pakari slept like the dead, too tired to even wonder about their Gorn comrade.
Much later, Kalrin woke and rolled over and up, wincing. He was stiff and sore in every muscle. The other couch was empty, but he trusted the woman would not be far away. He began to methodically search the Humans' belongings.
He did not believe what he found and stood in astonished anger. They were nothing but Terran raiders of the kind that preyed on transports and remote colony outposts. Small-time raiders, who had stumbled upon a weapon that could conquer a system. The irony of that enraged him. The Empire should have possessed this, not some...
Motion outside the window brought him swiftly over to it, and then he relaxed, seeing the woman in the lake close by, washing. From her movements, he knew she was as sore as he was.
Kalrin went out, unbelieving. How could anyone want to get back into that water again, even to be clean? A pile of clothes on the shore stopped him short. A Klingon uniform. "Where did you get this?" he demanded harshly.
Samakai turned to him. "I reprogrammed a machine in the second building. It's not perfect, but a darn sight better than the one you've got on."
His own was torn beyond use and stained with sweat. Fingering the material, he found differences, and frowned at the unrecognizable cloth. Yet she was right. He began to strip off what was left of his own, when a bundle of soapplant landed at his feet. He looked up, scowling. "What is that for?"
She made a face. "Klingons are more barbaric than I thought. It's to wash with."
"I know that," he said belligerently. "But I do not intend to use it."
"Well, I don't intend traveling in a closed plane with somebody who smells like a wet kangaroo."
"I am not returning to that water, beast woman!"
"Takes the soreness out." She turned over on her back and paddled away from shore, keeping in the shadow of the overturned boats, in case the Terrans returned. "Besides, how am I supposed to warn us of danger if the only thing I can smell is you?"
Cursing both her and the repellent water, Kalrin threw the new uniform close to the lake edge, and laid his disruptor beside it, where he could reach it instantly. Then he waded in and began to scrub himself. Later, when he had had enough, she came swimming back. They had nothing to dry themselves with, but the hot sun would do that in a short time.
Samakai came to kneel by her own pile of clothes, and frowned as she fingered the material. "They aren't organic. They might hinder me if I have to change shape fast."
Kalrin glanced up, and smiled as he paused to eye her wiry, naked body. "I prefer the woman form, Pakari."
"Hey," she began as he reached for her. "You'll tear open that new skin covering."
"You have doctored them too well." He laughed as he pulled her down onto the sand. Her skin was gritty with sand and still damp. She chuckled and their meeting ignited a fire, a culmination of the emotional tensions built up to the breaking point in the mad race down the river. A Human woman normally hadn't the strength of a Klingon one, but this Pakari was as tough as leather, and their lovemaking was eminently satisfying to them both.
The sound of a body rising from the lake...
"Damn-na-tion!" Samakai started to alter to wolf, then stopped, as a glistening Gorn stood on the bank.
Kalrin's disruptor was in his hand in the blink of an eye. However, though he could not tell one Gorn from another, the woman's retention of Human form identified this one. "How did you escape?" he demanded, angry, pulling on his clothes.
"We are amphibiouss--I sstayed below ssurface. I have been harasssing the enemy with their own explosivess until they fled."
"Why didn't you follow them?" Samakai asked as she dressed.
"I did, to ssee which way they went. Then I returned for you, but you were sswimming, sso I went fisshing." It wiggled a clawed hand.
"Returned for us?" Kalrin faced the Gorn, enraged. "We went down that death river; we should have been drowned on it. You came back for ghosts and let them escape."
"Ghostss? Ah, no. I knew you were alive yet." The uncomprehending stares made it rumble and the membranes at the sides of its mouth slid back in amusement. "I am a pilot. Thiss meanss I can lock onto ssomething and am aware of it alwayss. I locked onto you and ssensed you moving. Ass long as you moved you lived, yess?
"Ssensed you returned to thiss area and sstopped. Ssleeping, yess? I indulged alsso. If not moving here meant you were both killed by raiderss insstead, my coming would accomplish nothing. Sso I waited. When the ssun rose, I came back carefully."
"I will be damned..."
"Why did you not show yourself before this?" Kalrin demanded.
"I undersstand your speciess preferss itss matingss in private."
This time Samakai showed her teeth in an animal growl. "Sometimes you try my patience too far, Hulrchshuh!"
Kalrin grasped her arm hard, tired of this. "How do you know this lizard so well, woman? Without lies. You did not simply meet on that other world."
She turned to him. "You deserve truth, but you won't like it at all, Klingon. I was the commander of an assault force; Hul was the only other survivor. We were sent to attack that force shield and destroy it."
"Sent?" A team...and Gorn allied with...the Federation," Kalrin sputtered. When she did not deny that, he felt betrayed, fouled and betrayed, and he shook with it. "Starfleet dog! You are my enemy!"
Samakai shook her head. "Not enemy. I am Pakari. No government owns me." She looked at him, her dark face fiercely proud. "But where we give our word, it is not broken. We intend to destroy that train and complex. You can come as an ally or not; it makes no difference."
"You betrayed me!"
"How? I allied with you, Klingon, and we defend our allies to the death."
"Dogs are loyal beasts," Kalrin sneered.
The amber eyes flickered with amusement. "But wolves obey laws of their own. Like Klingons, eh?"
He gripped her arm, struggling with inborn suspicion, breathing harshly. "If not Federation, then what? Mercenary?"
"Are you thinking of hiring one?" She grinned suddenly.
"We disspose of thiss basse?" the Gorn put in pointedly.
"We do," she answered, then lifted a brow at Kalrin.
Kalrin released her, decades of Klingon/Human history of war and hatred battling with his own judgment of this woman. 'What if," he said slowly, "a Klingon were to hire you to finish this? What then?"
"Then you've got us both." She gave the Gorn a slap to move it in the direction of the ship, and looked back over her shoulder, grinning. "Don't forget our expenses..."
"Wait." In his anger, he had forgotten, and cursed himself for a fool. "The raiders' shipwhere did it go?"
The Gorn snorted. "Into the river. They could not fire ship'ss weaponss closse to the track. And had the sshield dome up to fire hand weaponss. Unfortunately, a rock found itss way into their pilot."
"Rock?" Kalrin was dumbfounded.
Hul picked up a loose stone and hurled it. It missiled into a boulder and shattered like powder. The Gorn's mouth membranes went back in reptilian laughter. "Rock."
Samakai exploded in laughter at Kalrin's expression.
They flew back to the transport point and acquired a crate of the explosive devices for themselves. As they lifted off, a second airship appeared over the horizon, moving toward the gateway.
"Keep on a straight course and constant speed," Kalrin ordered the Gorn. It may take us for part of the automatic machinery."
"Scan going over us."
At her warning, Kalrin leaned over Hul. "Remain on course, but be ready to turn and fire on my signal." A light blinked rapidly on the console for a few minutes, then stopped.
"Perhapss..." Shadows flickered across the Gorn's head as it turned. "They are not certain of uss. You deceive them, Klingon?"
"They scanned aliens aboard this ship, but they may not know we have control of it. The ship which swept the tracks before was automatic."
The raider's ship veered to intercept them. Kalrin waited until they were in firing range and then signaled Hul, who abruptly dropped the ship straight down. It then sent the craft into a spin and flip, which almost scraped the ground, and brought it upward, firing. The raiders' fire swept over them, missing, may feel soapy when touchedfrom that unexpected, more-than-Human maneuver. Hul's beam struck the other craft directly on the underside, and it exploded over them. Their own ship shuddered, but the Gorn held it under control and set it rocketing away from the debris.
Kalrin released the back of the Gorn's chair, shaken, as Hul brought them down in a narrow valley, hidden from pursuit. By the Lords of Kh'eloz, if the Empire had pilots like that--! "Find out if the sensors show any other craft in this area."
The Gorn's mouth membranes slid back in amusement. "Yess."
Kalrin turned, to find Samakai sprawled among loose objects, one hand gripping a seat base. "Are you hurt?"
"No. I'm waiting for the floor to stop going in circles."
"Commanderss?" They both turned their heads to the Gorn. "I have disscovered how to produce a sschematic of the track."
They came over to him. Each section of the schematic lit up as the train sped over it, the tracks encircling the planet. The Gorn played with the buttons until it retraced that route to the far end. In the flat, circular area patterned by the computer schematics, the configuration of six building-sized objects was familiar.
"Ships!" Kalrin exulted. "The makers of this complex would not need ships, but our enemy would, to transport the manufactured devices to their target destinations. Our way off this planet, Pakari, if we cannot get back through the gate. But later. For now, we have another duty. We must make haste; the hunt will be out for us when that ship does not return. It should not take even a quarter of a crate to completely eliminate the food complex and the track area this side of the gate."
"Hasste iss needed for other reasonss." The massive head of the Gorn turned from the screen and the jeweled eyes tilted in his direction. "The train comess."
Samakai cursed as she saw what the schematic indicated. At the speed it travelled, it would be at the gateway within a half hour. "If the gate opens ahead of it, we might be able to get through..."
The Gorn hissed like a steam engine in denial. "Not in front of the train. Even you cannot move that fasst."
"Nor behind it either, I think," Kalrin stated reluctantly. "When we saw this train before, all its actions were computer-swift. The gate likely closes instantly behind it."
"Then the train itself is our only way of destroying that field-generating complex and freeing our ships."
Kalrin looked at the Pakari. She was right, unfortunately. He would have no way then of sparing the weapons-making machinery. Very well then. They had enough explosives. "We will put these on the roof near the end of the train," Kalrin said swiftly. "I will have to devise a method of propelling them onto its surface."
She held out her hand for the device. "Me."
"You! You would risk--"
"Said I'd finish it, didn't I? We don't have time to put something else together."
He was about to argue the possibility of her success, then remembered the strength that had held the wheel down the rapids. "I will link the explosives in series. It will be easier for you to fasten them a dozen at a time."
The train rapidly approached as the Gorn arched them down over the tracks before it. The track lit up blue and the gateway suddenly became insubstantial, energy rippling over its surface. The train itself was slowing for the transporting.
Samakai motioned downward, and Hul lowered the ship to a few feet above the moving surface. Kalrin grasped her shoulder before she dropped. "Do not get killed," he ordered sharply.
She grinned at him.
He watched as she dropped onto the roof and hung on, Pakari strength keeping a handhold on the rushing train. Swiftly, she fastened on the explosive devices.
The front of the train had already vanished into the gate. The aircraft hovered over Samakai, as she went to her knees, still holding on to the car. Kalrin braced himself in the open door, the forepart of his body reaching down. She grabbed hold of his arm and hung on. "You better have one hell of a grip, Klingon. Her body swung out as the Gorn piloted their craft away at an angle.
The unexpected shock wave from the explosion made the aircraft veer over drunkenly and hurled Samakai in on top of the Klingon. "It's too soon!"
"A miscalculation." Kalrin peered out. "Take us down," he ordered the Gorn.
The rear of the train still remained on the near side of the gate, the last car scattered in wreckage, the rest in a crater of slag. Although no radiation showed on the sensors, they could not approach closely because of the heat. The explosion had gone off inside the energy gate, and the force had ripped across the machinery like an atomic fire, obliterating it.
"Well, there goes our easy ticket home." Samakai kicked at a piece of metal which had been flung as far as where their ship now rested. "At least we're back where we started. Wonder if any of our explosives got through?"
"Almost all, I would say." Kalrin stood by the aircraft and surveyed the damage to the train. "Only one or two would be necessary for a crater this size."
He paused, thoughtfully. "lf the explosives did not blow the facility apart entirely, it would have at least knocked out the power for the planet shield, and my ship would not stand by idly once that was gone."
She glanced sharply at him. "They'd hit it with planet strafers? Even knowing you were down there?"
"They could not know I would be alive. The landing party is dead--they would have no answer to their hailing call. I do not think they would make a sensor scan to try and locate us. Failing that call, my captain's rage at being held helpless for so long would erupt in destructive action." He stood up. "Even if I were there, it would not matter. No life is greater than the aims of the Empire."
"I don't agree with that at all."
He turned to her, impatient. "Expedience demands--"
"Would you rather be dead?" she asked bluntly.
He looked at her, then finally shrugged. "No. I live, and it is unquestionably good to be alive. Let us leave here swiftly before we are found. We will use this ship to attack the starbase on the other side of this world, and take one of their starships to return home. If they have sent these devices elsewhere, we shall trace them."
"You envisioning no problem with that plan, Klingon?" Samakai grinned.
"With an assault force such as this?" His hand indicated the three of them. Then he reached out to grasp her wrist. "Come. The Gorn can pilot for us off this planet." Kalrin's teeth showed white and his eyes danced as he saw she grasped all the ramifications of that. Then his arm went around her waist, drawing her with him, and they walked back to the waiting aircraft.
"Hey, Kalrin, how many moons does this planet of yours have?"
She chuckled, as her arm slid around his broad back. "Always good to have a spare."
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