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When the door to her office opened, its hinges creaking slightly, Janette turned from the window to see Tanis, and another man she didn’t recognize, walk purposefully into the room. The man appeared to be in his early thirties with dark brown hair that contrasted rather strikingly with his steel gray eyes. She decided that he looked rather handsome. A thin smile stretched across her face as she started back to her desk.
“I take it you’re the one who was responsible for the team that investigated the explosion?” she asked.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he answered, returning her smile, “I’m Cam Shepard.”
Janette took the proffered hand and shook it warmly.
“I wish we could have met under better circumstances, Mr. Shepard, but thank you for coming nevertheless,” she said.
“It’s no problem, Ma’am.”
“Then, if you would be so kind as to take a seat, we can get started with your report,” she said.
Nodding his head in agreement, Cam sat down in one of the chairs in front of her desk, then politely waited for her sit down in her chair before proceeding.
“First Councilor Pelletier,” Cam began, “when my team arrived at the site of the explosion, we found the remains of a downed T’kri shuttle. This was determined by the recovery of what I can describe only as a black-box from the charred remains of the craft.”
“How do you know it was a black-box? It could just as easily have been another component of the ship itself, such as a device meant to regulate the air circulation within the craft,” Janette interrupted.
“No, ma’am,” Cam said, shaking his head. “It definitely was the ship’s black-box. For one thing, this item was located near the cockpit, in a very hard to reach area. It was heavily shielded and was the least damaged object we found. Shielding of that type—on human vessels at least—would indicate some sort of recording device, like a black-box.”
“Very well, please continue,” Janette said, accepting his reasoning with a nod of her head.
“My team meticulously went through the wreckage to look for survivors, on the off chance that there might have been humans on board that could be saved. Considering how extensive the damage was, I knew that finding anyone alive inside would have been extremely unlikely, but I still had be certain.”
“Of course,” Janette said.
“We didn’t find any survivors, but we did end up discovering skeletal remains in the passenger compartment. There was something odd about them, however.”
“Odd?” Janette asked, her curiosity peaked. “In what way?”
“Well, you might think me crazy, but the skull almost looked as though it belonged to one of the forest cats.”
“A forest cat?” Janette echoed, gasping in shock.
“Yes. I know it’s impossible, but that’s what it looked like. Of course it could just have been that the heat was so great that somehow the skull became deformed. I highly doubt it, though. Bone simply doesn’t react to heat like that. Mostly it just disintegrates.”
Janette leaned forward in her chair. “Mr. Shepard, earlier today, roughly an hour after the explosion, several of our citizens witnessed two large forest cats leave the forest and run directly into Clearhaven. They went straight for a house where a man lived alone with his four-year-old son. When they came out, both of them were running on just two legs, like a human.”
“What?!” an incredulous Cam exclaimed loudly.
“Until now, I didn’t give those reports much thought. But now, after hearing your report, I’m beginning wonder if we should seriously consider the possibility that there’s another alien species here on Alessi.”
“Another alien species...” Cam echoed, his voice trailing off as he struggled to absorb this new information.
“If this is indeed another alien race,” Janette continued, “it would explain a whole lot of things that have been happening these last few days. If you recall, about a month ago, sometime at night, there was a large explosion up in the hills near Hillsforde. At the same time there was a dramatic increase of activity around the T’kri base, and squads of T’kri soldiers going from home to home in search of something. In fact, those searches were still continuing, right up until the sudden, unexplained T’kri withdrawal from our towns. And now, just a few weeks later, a ship explodes just outside the forest near Clearhaven—the same one you were sent to investigate—and inside the wreckage there’s a skeleton of an unknown species inside. I’d say it’s a safe bet that we’re dealing with another alien race. And things are beginning to make more sense to me.”
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. I don’t follow you,” Cam said.
“Think about it, Mr. Shepard,” Janette said. “Imagine you’re an alien race looking to colonize a new world. You come across this world and decide to investigate. But then you get shot down by the T’kri. You, and the rest of your crew, who have somehow survived, manage to capture a T’kri vessel in an attempt to escape, only to be shot down once again by the T’kri.”
“That sounds plausible, ma’am,” Cam said, absently scratching the back of his head.
“It’s the only theory that fits the evidence we have. The only question I have now is, are these aliens potential allies?” Janette asked.
“I think it’s worth finding out,” Cam said.
“Is it? Suppose these new aliens are the ones the T’kri have been at war with? Suppose they’re even more ruthless than the T’kri. We’d end up swapping one occupying force for another.”
“I guess I can see your point,” Cam said reluctantly. “There’s something else that happened while we were investigating the explosion that you should know about,” he continued.
“And what’s that?” Janette said, prompting him to go on.
“Well, we managed to gather up the skeleton, but before we could take it to Doc O’Riley, to see if he could tell us anything about them, Captain Harris and his rebels showed up.”
“Oh, great!” Janette exclaimed, sighing loudly.
“Don’t worry,” Cam said, with the faintest hint of a smile. “We managed to leave with the remains, even though the Captain was definitely not too keen on letting us have them. It was only due to an approaching T’kri shuttle that he let us go.”
“How interesting. Before you came here, Captain Harris actually paid me a little visit. He certainly never mentioned anything to me about any remains on the shuttle. In fact, he wasn’t forthcoming with any information at all, and was more interested in learning what I knew. It was a very unproductive meeting, to say the least.”
“Ma’am,” Tanis interjected. “I’ve told you this before, and I know you’ve always dismissed it, but I seriously recommend you consider that our Captain Harris is planning a coup of some sort to replace you.”
“I’ve never dismissed it, Tanis. I just wanted to give our rebel leader the chance to prove you wrong. He hasn’t done that, I’m afraid. Instead, he’s done just the opposite.”
“If there’s anything I and my team can do, you only have but to ask, First Councilor,” Cam said, standing up.
“Thank you Mr. Shepard. I might have to take you up on that offer. An armed rebellion against the colony itself isn’t something that I’m prepared to let happen. I just hope it doesn’t come to that,” Janette said.
“Corporal Davis, what’s the hold up?” Captain Harris demanded, walking up along side the Corporal who looked to be intently scanning the surrounding bush.
“I think they’re onto us,” Corporal Davis replied quietly.
“How can you tell?”
“Because there’s no more noise.”
“And that means...” Captain Harris said impatiently.
“That they’ve gone stealthy to attempt to throw us off their trail.”
“Can you still track them?”
“Yes, but it will be slow going. We’ll need to be careful in case they’ve set up some kind of ambush,” the Corporal replied.
“They don’t have time for an ambush, Corporal. They’ve got a young child with them, who they kidnapped after murdering the boy’s father. God only knows what they intend to do with the child,” Captain Harris explained. He knew it was full of crock, but if it got the Corporal to refocus his efforts on finding them, then so be it.
“Follow me, sir, and try to move quietly,” Corporal Davis finally said, as he began to move forward again.
So close now, Jev. Soon I’ll have you, and I’ll make you lead me to your brother, and justice will be served. There is no room in this colony for traitors, Captain Harris thought to himself. The sneer on his face was the only indication of the vengeful thoughts now coursing through his brain.
“They’re getting awfully close, Kiyel,” Jev whispered from his perched position in the tree, its heavy foliage providing them with the perfect cover from the approaching rebels.
“We just need to let them get a little closer...” Kiyel said, his voice trailing off as he gauged the rebels’ movements through the forest.
“I hope I have the energy for this,” Jev commented quietly.
Kiyel looked over at him, and smiled. “You do,” he assured him. “I used to play this trick on some of the younger students at school back home. It’s no more difficult than breathing.”
“Sounds a lot like throwing a rock from where you’re at in order to misdirect the person tracking you,” Sam mumbled from beside Jev.
“The principle’s the same,” Kiyel said with a shrug of his shoulders, “but instead of using a rock, we’ll be creating false images and sounds in our followers’ minds. Then when it’s safe, we’ll quickly make our way back towards the caves,” Kiyel explained.
“This should be fun to watch,” Sam said.
“Quiet now, here they come,” Kiyel said in a whispered voice, his ears and head swiveled round toward the approaching rebels.
’I’m ready,’ Jev sent as he gripped Jordan more tightly against his chest.
Soon the rebels came into view, cautiously making their way towards them, and although their passage through the forest was quiet by human standards, it was easily heard by the the sensitive ears of the Caitarans. As soon as the rebels were only a few short yards away from them, Jev and Kiyel quickly sent their combined thoughts out to them, touching each of the rebels’ minds.
Jev almost laughed out loud as he realized just how right Kiyel was, that tricking the rebels would be a relatively effortless task. He watched with amusement as the one who was leading them suddenly stopped in his tracks and signaled to rest to do the same. Soon they shouted out in alarm as Kiyel began projecting into their minds the images of several squads of T’Kri soldiers suddenly advancing on their position, blasters in hand and firing at them indiscriminately.
Almost as one, the rebels began returning the T’Kri’s fire. Their Captain began barking orders in an desperate effort to get them to form ranks, but it was for naught, as even more T’Kri soldiers quickly began to appear, filing out of shuttles that had landed in the nearby clearing. Upon seeing this new wave of T’Kri solders, the rebels scattered. There was no longer any semblance of order in the ranks, as every rebel, overwhelmed by the appearance of so many T’Kri, fled into the forest and ran for their lives. Before long, not a single rebel remained and the forest was quiet once again.
Only when Kiyel was no longer able to sense the rebels nearby did he allow himself to relax, sighing heavily as he leaned back against the trunk of the tree, utterly exhausted. The effort had cost him more of his energy than he thought it would, a fact which he could only attribute to his lack of sleep and proper food, not to mention all that had been required of both him and Jev these past few days. Jev, on the other hand, showed no signs of being exhausted.
“Oh my God, did you see them run?” Jev asked gleefully.
“I did, indeed, lad,” a completely bewildered Sam answered, almost in a whisper.
Despite his weariness, Kiyel couldn’t help but smile at Jev’s excitement. “That should give us enough time to get to the cave with Jordan,” he said.
Jev, feeling Kiyel’s exhaustion, turned to him. “Are you alright, Kiyel?” he asked, his excitement quickly giving way to concern for his Enassi.
“I’ll be fine,” Kiyel assured him with a tired smile. “We’ve really been doing too much lately. I’m afraid we won’t be much use to the others if we keep going like this.”
“We’re almost to the caves, now, though, so we should be able to get some rest once we’re there. Knowing Tiela, she’ll make sure of it,” Jev said.
“Of that I have no doubt,” Kiyel said.
“So what now?” Sam asked.
“Now we get down from this tree and hurry to the caves, before the rebels realize they’ve been tricked and try to pick up our trail again,” Kiyel said.
“I’ll go first,” Sam offered.
With Jev and Kiyel watching, he carefully climbed down from the tree, until he was once again on the ground.
“You go next, Jev,” Kiyel told him. “Do you want me to take Jordan?”
Suddenly realizing that, even unconscious, Jordan had a death grip on his fur, Jev smiled and shook his head. “I don’t think this little guy wants to let go,” he said, then looked back up at Kiyel. “I should be able to manage okay though.”
“I’ll follow right after you, just in case,” Kiyel said with a nod of his head.
Holding onto Jordan tightly against his chest, Jev began the slow climb down from the tree. Although he only had the use of one arm, he found the descent relatively easy, jumping the last couple feet to the ground. It was then that he finally began feel how tired he was, the adrenaline that had been coursing through his system wearing off, and he stumbled slightly. Sam, who had been watching him closely, was there, and caught Jev before he could fall.
“I’m okay, Doc. Thanks,” Jev said, indicating to Sam that he could let him go once he steadied himself, which Sam did, though with some reluctance.
Kiyel leaped to the ground and rushed over to Jev’s side.
“Guess I’m more tired than I thought,” Jev said, his ears flicking with embarrassment as he looked up at him.
“Will you be able to make it?” Kiyel asked, his tail flicking with concern.
Jev nodded his head and smiled at him reassuringly.
“Then let’s get going before the rebels realize they’ve been tricked and come back,” Sam said urgently.
After checking to make sure he had Aiden firmly secured in his arms, Jev indicated that he was ready and together they then slipped quietly into the brush.
It was mid-afternoon by the time they reached the path that would lead them to the caves, and both Jev and Kiyel were utterly exhausted. Jev had almost lost his footing twice, and Sam began to worry that the two of them would end up collapsing from exhaustion before they could reach their destination.
Fortunately though, Jev’s and Kiyel’s strength held out until they were within sight of the mouth of the cave. But that was as far as the two of them could go. Sam watched helplessly as as they both suddenly began to collapse against a large rock, Aiden still held tightly in Jev’s arms.
“Oh that’s just great!” Sam muttered to himself.
Kneeling next to them, he quickly discovered that they were both only semi-conscious, and in no condition to travel any further. A sudden gust of wind drew his attention away from the pair, and he looked up into the sky where he saw the sky beginning to grow dark as storm clouds began to roll in. This is not good, he worriedly thought to himself
All of a sudden he sensed that he was no longer alone, and he stood up to see two large Caitarans, who had somehow managed to sneak up on him without making a sound, approach and carefully lift Jev and Kiyel up into their arms. Sam could only look in astonishment as Jev, Aiden and Kiyel were then carried into the caves, leaving him standing where he was, and in complete shock.
“I presume you’re a friend of Jev’s and Kiyel’s,” a deep voice suddenly said from behind him, speaking in a heavily accented English.
The suddenness of the unfamiliar voice startled Sam, and he spun around to find himself staring up at the imposing figure of an obviously older Caitaran male, and he backed away slightly. “Um, sorry, what?” Sam stammered.
“Since you’ve arrived with Jev and Kiyel, I presume that you’re a friend of theirs,” the Caitaran repeated.
“Uh, yeah, sorry. My name’s Sam O’Riley,” Sam said.
“Jev has told us of you,” the Caitaran said, his ears flicking in recognition. “Please, come inside, there’s a storm approaching and we don’t want to be caught out in it,” the Caitaran said.
“No, you’re right,” Sam agreed. “I’m sorry, but, who are you?”
“My name is Kel, commanding officer of the Caitaran scout ship Lekur,” the Caitaran said, before turning and starting towards the cave, obviously expecting Sam to follow.
Once inside, Sam saw Jev and Kiyel lying down and being made comfortable near a fire in the center of what was the largest cave he had ever seen. Aiden, he could see, was still wrapped up in his blankets, but was now lying next to Jev, who was closest to the fire.
“Captain, that child needs medical attention right away,” Sam told Kel.
“Tiela!” Kel called out, getting the attention of the smaller, white and grey-furred Caitaran who had just thrown a blanket over Kiyel.
“I’m told the child is in immediate need of medical attention,” Kel told her.
“Right away, Captain,” she acknowledged, and quickly, but carefully, scooped up Aiden in her arms.
Kel then turned to Sam. “Go tell Tiela what’s needed for the child. We’ll watch over Jev and Kiyel.”
“Right,” Sam said, and he hurried over to Tiela who had already carried Aiden to a large flat rock in the corner of the cave.
Noticing Sam hurrying towards her, she looked up at him. “I’m Tiela,” she said, as she began removing the blanket from Aiden after gently laying him down on the rock.
“You’re the medic Kiyel told me about?” Sam asked her.
“Wow, I’m famous,” she said sarcastically, but then offered him a friendly smile. “I’m the chief medical officer of the Lekur, yes,” she told him, pointedly informing him of her proper position.
“Gotcha,” Sam said, accepting the rebuke. “I’m Sam O’Riley. I used to be Jev’s physician before he became... well, changed.”
“You’re a doctor?”
“Yes,” Sam told her.
“Can you tell me what’s wrong with the child?”
“His name is Aiden. He’s four years of age. When Jev and Kiyel brought him to me, he was in severe shock due to significant blood loss, from a wound inside his rectum, the result of his being sexually assaulted by his father.”
“What?!” Tiela exclaimed loudly, her enraged voice echoing throughout the cave. “I hope the father has been attended to,” she practically spat out. Her ears were laid flat against her skull and her tail was flicking jerkily, showing her deep distress.
“Yes. From what I’ve been told, Kiyel took care of him personally.”
“Good,” Tiela said, and she tried to force herself to calm down.
“I repaired the damage as best I could, considering the equipment I had to work with. Kiyel mentioned you have technology and medicines that can do more for this little one,” Sam said.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Tiela said.
Sam watched as she reached for what he assumed to be a scanner of sorts and began to examine Aiden’s little body. From where he stood, he could see the image of Aiden’s anatomy displayed on the scanner’s screen. The more he looked at it, though, the more he felt as though he was going to be sick to his stomach. No matter how much damage to the human body he’d seen, it still affected him greatly when he saw that it was a child who was injured. And for one so young to have to go through what this little one did, it was almost too much for him to bare.
“You managed to suture most of the damaged area,” Tiela finally announced, turning off the device. “However, there’s still a sizable tear in his lower colon.”
“Damn!” Sam cursed.
“Considering the level of technology you had available to you, it’s a wonder you were able to repair as much as you did,” Tiela told him in an effort to calm him, somewhat, though she herself was on the verge of tears, as well.
“Is there anything you can do?” Sam asked.
Tiela nodded her head.”The scans I took of Jev before he changed revealed that human physiology is similar to our own, so the drugs I have won’t harm him. I’ll have to monitor the dosage, however, since this child is much younger than Jev. As for the damaged section of his colon, I’ll have to dissolve the sutures you used, then I’ll use this tool here to encourage the body to heal the wound more quickly than it normally would,” she said, holding up another device.
“What should I do?” Sam asked.
“For now, just wait. I’ll need your input with regard to normal body functions of a child of his age, and how we can expect him to react.”
“I can do that,” Sam said, glad that there was at least something he could do to help.
“This may take some time,” she warned him, to which he nodded his head in understanding.
Sam watched every move she made. He could tell when the sutures were dissolved, as she said she’d do, as Aiden’s breathing began to become more labored, and his skin was already beginning to turn pale. He was just about to warn her, but stopped when she began to use that second device over top of the affected area. Her face was as intense as he’d seen any physician during an operation. There was no mistaking her desire to do all she could to help Aiden. He could even see her fear of doing something to make things even worse. Eventually, he could see that Aiden’s breathing returned to normal, and his skin began to return to it’s normal pink tone.
Tiela moved the device away from Aiden’s abdomen, and moved it over to where the wounds on his wrists were. Before his very eyes, Sam watched as the deep bruising began to diminish, and finally fade away as though the child had never been injured. She repeated the process by his ankles, which were just as swollen and inflamed as his wrists had been. They too began to heal before his eyes.
“I wish you were here a long time ago, when this invasion started,” Sam said, in obvious awe.
“I’m sure you’ve seen your share of misery and death,” Tiela said in a compassionate tone.
“More than I care to, ever again,” Sam said, with a shake of his head.
“The child will recover. The re-generator was able to close the wounds, but they’re not completely healed. It’ll still take several days for them to heal completely, unless I can get him aboard our ship sooner.
“I thought your ship crashed,” Sam asked, confused.
“I’m speaking of the Cetani, which is the ship from which our scout ship was launched,” Tiela explained.
“Ah, okay. A mother ship in other words,” Sam said.
“Yes, I guess you could call it that,” Tiela said with a bemused grin.
“So what about Aiden? Just how much healing does he need to do before he’s one hundred percent?”
“Not all that much, actually. It’s more that his body needs to reinforce the tissues around the wounds. His wrists and ankles are completely healed. There was just too much damage for the re-generator to heal his internal wounds completely. But it’s enough that the bleeding has stopped, and when it heals, it’ll be as though he had never been injured down there.”
“What about the stretched tissue around the sphincter?” Sam asked.
“That too will return to normal.”
“And the infection?”
“I can give him a broad spectrum of antibiotics, but I don’t know how much to administer on a child of his age.”
“You said our physiology is practically identical?” Sam asked.
“Then why don’t we start with what would be appropriate for a child of his age, size and weight if he was Caitaran,” Sam suggested.
“I’ll administer a slightly lower dosage, considering our species has more muscle mass than yours. If he doesn’t react badly to say half the dosage, I’ll consider increasing it gradually,” Tiela said, after considering everything she had learned of the child’s physiology.
“Sounds like a plan to me, Doc,” Sam said.
“How do the two of you feel?” Kel asked as he approached Jev and Kiyel, who were sitting up next to the fire, still wrapped in the blankets Tiela had given them. In his hands, he carried two hot, steaming, mugs of Kiarri, which he offered to them both.
“Exhausted,” Jev answered wearily, his words slightly slurred. He gratefully accepted the mug Kel held out to him and took a tentative sip, sighing appreciatively as he felt the warming effects of Kiarri spread throughout his body.
Kiyel simply nodded his head as he, too, accepted the mug from Kel.
“I asked Taaj to prepare you both something to eat,” Kel told them. “It should help you regain some of your strength.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Kiyel said.
“While he’s doing that, I’d like to know what happened to cause the both of you to rush off like you did.”
Jev took a long sip from his Kiarri before answering. “The reason is over there, Captain,” he said, pointing to where Sam and Tiela were hovering over Aiden, who lay on the blanketed rock that served as Tiela’s exam table.
“The child?” Kel asked.
“The child is a sensitive, Captain,” Kiyel told him, “but his talent is wild. Jev and I had to leave you and the others because we both received a very powerful psychic scream from someone in great pain.”
“That scream, sir, came from Aiden,” Jev finished.
“You said the child’s talent is wild. Does he present a danger?” Kel asked Kiyel, his ears flicking with concern.
“I don’t believe so, sir,” Kiyel said, and shook his head. “Aiden’s talent is wild because it was awakened prematurely, the result of him suffering a great trauma. Jev and I should be able to control his talent, for now, so it doesn’t affect anyone else, but he’ll need proper training to learn to control it himself.”
“What was the cause of his trauma?”
“It was his father,” Jev said, his ears flattening against his skull in distress, recalling the events in Clearhaven. “He was being raped by his father.”
“He was what?!” Kel yelled, tail lashing from side to side, his ears so flat against his skull they were almost impossible to see. “Where is he?” he demanded, his words taut with anger and spoken through tightly clenched teeth.
“Dead,” Kiyel answered.
“I took care of it,” Kiyel said succinctly, averting his gaze.
Recognizing Kiyel’s unwillingness to discuss the child’s father’s death further, Kel grudgingly allowed the matter drop. His tail, however, continued to flick behind him, showing his displeasure.
“Do you know how Aiden is doing, Captain?” Jev asked, quickly changing the subject.
“Tiela assures me that he’s doing fine,” Kel said, moderating his tone, “thanks in part, she says, to your physician’s valuable knowledge of human physiology.”
“See, I told you the two of them together could do it,” Kiyel said, and he pulled Jev into a comforting embrace.
“Yeah,” Jev said with a relieved smile on his face, and he allowed himself to relax in Kiyel’s arms.