Lani didn't explain to Amber that chances were that it wouldn't matter how badly hurt he was. She needed something to hit back at after her fright. And if the new perp moved a muscle wrong it was going to be him that got whacked.

            Her first act was to rip the wicker arrow-quiver off his shoulders. "I'll have that." He was a stocky man, brown-faced and brown-skinned, smaller than Howard—almost anyone was, of course. But slightly bigger than she was. Still, it was fair to say that right now he looked frightened out of his wits, and in shock too.

            His wound wasn't going to kill him… unfortunately. He'd stopped the bleeding with the cloak he had knotted around his neck. She pulled it aside roughly. He'd been lucky. Another few inches left and her instinctive shot would have taken this perp out of this world and into the next without messing around with airlocks.

            She went back to the first-aid kit, and hauled out some antiseptic and local anesthetic. Then, by training rather than any sense of kindness, slapped it on the wound before putting a piece of gauze and a dressing over it.

            He winced as she tightened the bandage. "Stop that. You nearly killed him," she gestured at Howard. "You're just lucky I didn't kill you. And that's 'yet'. If he dies, you are dead meat."

            He answered her with some gabble. All that was recognizable was the hand-gesture. Throwing out your hands is pretty universal.

            Howard groaned. It was a very quiet sound, but audible nevertheless. That seemed to frighten the man even more. He gabbled again.

            "Shut up," said Lani, and handcuffed him. "Sit down."

            He looked blank. She pointed at the ground, and he hastily lay down. Well, that was probably even better. "You," she said to the little runaway male, "go and collect the rest of his kit. He dropped a basket and a sort of big knife up there. Kretz, will you keep watching him?"

            She ran back to Howard. His eyes were open. Well, that was a start. His lips moved faintly. She knelt and listened. He was trying to say something… She hugged him fiercely. "At least you can't push me away right now, you big lunk. You're going to be all right. I promise."

            His lips moved very slightly. He was trying to smile. Would the poison wear off or had it damaged his nerves forever? If jungle boy talked anything but jungle-gabble, she'd have an answer out of him. But by the looks of it, he thought Howard ought to be dead.

            Amber got up and smiled at her. "His heart beat is reasonably strong, and he's breathing. Now that that's over, can I go and be sick?"

            "You were just wonderful." Lani felt the tears prick in her eyes. "I'd have lost him without you. I'm sorry I moaned about the weight of that stuff. And I'm sorry that I was catty… Jealous, I guess."

            "Honey. I don't do men. I thought you knew that. Everyone else in Diana seems to."

            Lani blushed fiercely. "Uh. I suppose I was the one who didn't." She was a little uncomfortable. Gay-bashing was… sort of Force standard. Someone who was a fake man was really a weak sister… She tried hard to remember if she'd made any comments.

            "So now can I go and be sick?" asked Amber, with a slightly impish smile.

            "Hell, no, you can pick up your shotgun and go and see what happened to that little runaway male. You're too tough to be sick," said Lani with a return smile, stroking the big hand she was holding. "The perp had a basket. Maybe it has coffee in it. I'd kill for coffee—anyone but this idiot, that is."

            "I'd kill for a cream donut,said Amber wistfully. "Simply to replace the extra calories I've sweated off in this place, not just because I'm hopelessly addicted to them. Ah. Here he comes."

            "Taking his own sweet time as per usual," scowled Lani. "Let's see what's in the basket, perp."

            "My name's Bhangella," he said, smiling his best smile. "John."

            He still made her flesh crawl. She grabbed the basket. It had a variety of plant-fruits in it, none of which she recognized, three dead chickens and some mysterious smelly dry stuff. A little bow and a piece of dry punk, several lengths of line, some with bone hooks on the end. All in all, what someone who was out hunting and gathering might have with them. "The knife. Where is it?" she said flatly.

            Sullenly, he dug it out of the back of his tutu top. It must have barely fitted. "I'm the only one who hasn't got a weapon."

            "Good. Let's keep it that way."

            "But there are dangerous things here," he said, not parting with it.

            "You included," she said, snatching it out of his hand.

            "You don't trust me."


            "I didn't do anything to you," he protested.

            "You were going to. And that's enough for me. You don't have to stay here. You can walk off on your own right now. I won't miss you." That, she thought to herself, was very true.

            He shut up and went and sat down in the shade. Lani went back to the other prisoner. He'd gotten over some of his shock and was now just looking sullen and angry. How the hell could she communicate with him? As far as he knew they were going to kill him or enslave him, whereas, if Howard was going to be all right, she'd just as soon kick his butt, hard, smash his arrows and send him about his business. But she really didn't need him calling all his friends and having all of them shoot at them. Maybe Howard had been right. If they'd stuck with the space suits…

            She had to tell the suspicious-faced prisoner, somehow, that they were just passing through and meant him no harm. She started by giving him the basket. He blinked uncomprehendingly at it. She had to press it into his hand. He gabbled at her again. And held it out to her. Pointed with his eyes at the cuffs.

            She shook her head. Pointed at Howard.

            He shrugged. Put the basket down. Held out his hands, palms up. And then indicated with a finger drawn across the throat. Eyes closed.

            She shook her head, and as if to confirm what she was saying Howard groaned again, softly. He stood up and walked toward Howard, plainly incredulous. She stood ready to kill him if he made one false move. He bent over Howard and listened. Slowly, carefully, he took Howard's wrist. Shook his head as felt the pulse. And smiled tentatively at her. Gabble gabble.

            Now it was Lani's turn to throw up her hands in a lack of understanding.

            So he mimed. Lani could follow that. But how in the hell could they carry Howard? She was the strongest of them, and there was no way that she could manage more than a few yards. Howard was just too big.

            He did some more miming. Cutting something? He pointed at some saplings, and she had it. A stretcher. On sudden impulse she handed him his overgrown cheese-cutter and pointed at the saplings. After two ineffectual strokes she came over to him and, scowling, unlocked the cuffs. She stepped back, and stood watching him, one hand on the pistol-butt. She saw that Kretz had taken a flanking position too, and had the automatic shotgun at the ready. But all the new Perp did was to cut two thick saplings, and trim them into poles. He put the overgrown knife down and untied the cloak from around his neck, and started tying the corners to the pole. She came to join him, tying opposite corners.

            He slowly picked up the knife again when they'd done. Reversed his grip on it, taking it by the blade, and offered it back to her.

            Lani narrowed her eyes. Thought hard. Took it, reversed it, and handed it back to him.

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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