Grain of Sense
By: Sharon Emily
Anna Mary Hall
The fire roared higher as Kang placed another log on it. Rad stretched his feet out to the warmth. "I'm glad I finally accepted your invitation to visit Shabas, Kang. That was a fine hunt, and your cook has an expert hand with fresh game."
"Fame does have its rewards - as well as its disadvantages," Kang remarked dryly as he resumed his seat.
Rad's eyes met his briefly. He had been thinking of the duels Kang had been forced to fight during the past three years. Each successful exercise of diplomacy had drawn a storm of criticism, and often a challenge.
"It's not that bad," Kang said, having correctly read Rad's expression. "Only two of the duels have gone to the death, and I haven't been hurt since Kahfar cut me."
"Yes, Mara has told me of the hours you spend in practice. Is the work worth the price you pay?"
Kang balanced them briefly. The trouble with the Roma over that mineral-rich asteroid made seven disputes he had arbitrated, and five times he'd been successful. Four duels, two deaths on his mind during long nights, and a growing acceptance - especially from the High Command. They had begun to consider having him handle any problem dealing with relations outside the Empire. "Yes, more than worth it."
The talk turned briefly to the morning's hunt, then they fell into a companionable silence broken only by the cackle of the fire. Well fed and pleasantly tired from the exercise, Rad dozed.
Kang leaned back in his seat, resting his head against the curved back, relaxing in the warmth of the flames. His arms were folded across his chest, but his fingers were not clenched in the tension that was so often a part of him now. How pleasant to enjoy the company of friends...relaxing in tired repletion after the hunt.... He should do this more often....
Within moments, he was drifting in a limbo between sleep and waking.
//Kang.// A female voice, barely within the range of audibility, was calling his name. He ignored it, drifting ever-closer to actual slumber.
//Kang! How long will, you shut me out?// the voice said again sorrowfully.
Suddenly, Kang realized he wasn't hearing the voice with his ears but with his mind. His eyes snapped open and he sat upright.
//Lorna?// His lips shaped his thought silently. Automatically using the control Afhal had taught him, he reinforced certain mental barriers, shielding all knowledge of the Superiors and his involvement with them.
//At last! Kang, may we 'talk'?//
Kang frowned, calculating exactly how long he'd kept her blocked from his mind - ever since his first conference with Gekelok - and he experienced a pang of regret. This was no way to treat a valued friend!
//Aye, ka itazi tarndaro, it has been much too long,// he acknowledged. //You are well?//
//Yes. I needn't ask if you are well - we've heard reports of your work. The news of your solution of the Romulan affair just arrived, as a matter of fact. It's such a brilliant piece of work...I wanted to, tell you how proud I am!//
//Good news travels as swiftly as bad,// he replied, wondering if those reports had also mentioned the duels he'd been forced into. The thought awakened a vision of the latest duel - and he didn't even try to stifle his pang of sorrow. Lorna would understand.
She received a flash of his pain, and did understand. He was Klingon - such was their way. She knew that he had no other choice and accepted it. //All is well with your family?// she inquired politely. //Your son?//
//Kiloran grows satisfactorily. The time approaches when he will begin his training - only six more of our months will he remain with us.//
//I've seen pictures of your son - he's a handsome lad,// she responded. //If Kiloran...!// There was a pause, and Kang could almost follow her thoughts. //'Kiloran'?// came her mental whisper.
He affirmed her unspoken question.
//I am honored,// she replied. //Have you other children now?//
//Not yet - there is time,// he replied, but thought of the daughter he and Mara had lost. That led him to thoughts of the daughter that Sarek and Lorna had lost.
Lorna sensed this second pang of sorrow and frowned in turn. Best keep this communication casual after so long a silence - there would be other opportunities to exchange sorrows and cares.
//True,// she agreed. //Convey my regards to your wife. Also, please tell Mara that she and I have something in common.// Now, she allowed him to feel her joy. //Two years ago, I gave my husband a son and a daughter....//
Kang grinned, relieved that the conversation had taken this turn, and made all the proper responses of congratulations.
The communication progressed rapidly. Kang told Lorna what he could of his experiences as the first and only Klingon diplomat, glossing over the unpleasant events, stressing the advances.
Lorna, in turn, told him all the gossip - McCoy's lady...Scotty's son....Kirk's sojourn on Vulcan that had healed the remaining scars left by the Mind-Sifter...the quiet joy of working at Sarek's side.
//Someday, I should like to set foot on Vulcan,// he observed. //What you have shown me arouses my interest. Your world seems much like one we have recently opened for colonization.//
//I wish you could be here now!// Lorna enthused. //Our harvests have been exceptionally bountiful this year. Why, if the yield from our land is any indication, there's enough grain to feed all Vulcan and several other worlds for years to come! It's literally pouring out of our granaries. We'll be swimming in grain if we don't find some way to take care of it!//
Accustomed to worlds that barely met the needs of each population, Kang couldn't sympathize with Vulcan's problems, and said so.
//Illustrating another of the differences between us, but what does it matter? Can you tell me what you are going to be doing next?//
//All is quiet, now...we plan to go into deep space on routine patrol.//
A few more minutes of trivial exchange and their communication ended - with his promise that there would be no more long silences on his part.
Mara smiled when she entered the room a few minutes later. Her two favorite men certainly looked comfortable. It was a shame to wake Kang, but this message would change their plans for a rest, and he would have to issue the orders.
He was smiling slightly, and she wondered briefly what dream brought him relief from the tension that was always present when they were on Shabas. Regretfully she laid her cool hand on his forehead and stroked it gently. He woke easily, smiling up at her, then captured her hand and touched it with his lips.
"Why did you awaken me, K'soth?" he asked softly.
"A message just came from the High Command." She watched the tension flow back into his face as she continued: "This problem is a little different. Sholar's crops have failed for the second year in succession. They have no reserves."
A picture of a dry world with three small seas floated into Kang's mind, but he could connect no other data with the name. He rose from the chair and headed for the office. "I need more information."
"It's waiting on the computer screen," Mara said. "I didn't know anything about the planet either."
There will be no alternate food sources on the planet, Kang thought, or they would never have called for help. What can be done for them depends on, their location.
Sholar was alone, well within the Empire, but far from any settled planet. The four nearest planets with populations were already struggling to feed their people, barely making it from one harvest to the next.
"Salren has an over-supply of quaifers," he mentioned.
"Too far," Mara informed him after computing distance. "They'd spoil before they reached Sholar."
Kang stopped fighting the wild idea that had been growing while he studied the charts. "I know one planet that has a surplus of food. How far is it from Sholar to Vulcan?" he asked calmly.
"You wouldn't dare..." Mara's voice trailed off as she looked at Kang. She knew that mischievous gleam in his eyes...!
"I haven't done anything just for fun since I took this cihan job," he said. "Find the information."
Lokarne Karnath turned from his instruments. "Five minutes from the Border, sir."
Kang raised an eyebrow. "So?"
"Starfleet has not replied to our request for permission to enter Federation Space."
Kang grinned. "I see none of their ships about. Do you plan to stop and wait for one to appear?"
An answering grin slipped across Karnath's face. He hadn't seen Kang in this mood for years. "It would be a great waste of time. Let's tiptoe across and see how far we get."
Mara winced. They were acting like overgrown children on their first hunting trip. She turned to her instrument before her smile appeared. I wonder how far we will get? she thought.
The Klothar flashed across the imaginary line without slowing. Crewmen attended more alertly to their instruments and weapons, but a duplicate of Kang's grin could be seen on many faces. Pulling the Lion's tail - with a legitimate excuse to give when caught...!
"I'm picking up something on the scanners, sir," the helmsman reported.
Commodore Wesley turned as the Science Officer dove for his station. "What is it?"
"Klingon battlecruiser," Stiles said laconically.
"We're being hailed," the communications officer announced simultaneously. "Yellow Alert," Wesley said thoughtfully. "Let's talk to them, Ensign."
A stern Klingon visage appeared on the screen and slowly assumed a puzzled expression. "Surely I rate more than a Yellow Alert, Commodore?" he said, and smiled pleasantly.
Wesley suppressed all his normal reactions to Klingons and asked peacefully: "Do you?"
So! Not all Federate Captains are as grim as Kirk! Kang laughed to himself. Aloud, he said: "Not this time, Commodore." Briskly: "I am Kang."
"Ambassador Kang," Wesley acknowledged, ignoring the reaction of his crew. "And, why are you invading Federation space?"
"The Klothar is on a mission of mercy," Kang said innocently. "We are rushing to Vulcan to obtain grain to feed a starving planet."
"Like Hell you are," Stiles muttered.
Wesley signaled the communications officer to break contact. "It does seem unlikely, Mister Stiles, but many Klingon planets flirt with famine. We'll talk until we're certain of the truth. Reestablish communications, Ensign."
"Commodore, you are delaying me. People starve while we talk."
"Possibly, but more will starve - if we are forced to destroy your ship because you wouldn't stop to talk." Deliberately making certain Kang could hear: "Go to Red Alert."
"Slow to Warp One," Kang ordered. "Commodore," he said, completely serious. "My Emperor has requested permission for my passage to Vulcan."
"Sure he has!" Stiles said loudly. "Commodore, he's up to something."
"Be still, Mister!" Wesley ordered, his attention never wavering from Kang. "Where is your famine?"
"Possible," confirmed the Lexington's Science Officer. "It's a marginal planet."
"Why didn't you wait at the Border until confirmation ar-...?"
"Sholar didn't ask for help until their food was almost gone." Kang turned to Mara. "Science Officer!"
Mara stepped over beside him. "They will run out of supplies tomorrow," she said.
Wesley searched their faces for deceit. I might not trust them with my life, he thought, but, in this situation.... "You may proceed on course for Vulcan, Ambassador Kang. Hold your speed to Warp Six." He waited for his crew to return to silence, then continued: "The Lexington will follow you."
"With all weapons ready," Kang suggested, the smile back on his face. Wesley nodded.
"Message coming in from Starfleet Command, sir," the communications officer said. "All ships' alert."
"Put it on audio, Ensign Won."
Won's hands flitted rapidly over the panel, starting the tape without breaking contact with the Klothar. The tape became audible after the routing orders: "...the Klingon ship Klothar is hereby granted passage to Vulcan. It will be...." Won silenced the tape at Wesley's signal, listening to the rest of it through the earpiece to be certain it contained no vital information.
"You may pass, Kang," Wesley said. "I wish you success." He signaled for the channel to be closed.
Kang sat watching the Lexington fall behind. Another true leader, he thought. Perhaps it is fortunate I have never met this one in battle. Aloud, he said: "Karnath, you have command. I must prepare myself."
Mara looked up from her station as Kang left the Bridge, knowing he'd be contacting Lorna in just a few minutes. Finally, she would have a chance to meet the woman who had taught Kang so much about Peace and compassion.
The door of Kang's quarters had barely shut behind him, but his mind had already started to reach for Vulcan: //Lorna! We've crossed the Border! We have clear passage! Where must I send a message to the proper official to inform him of this fact?//
Lorna relayed the information then: //How far inside the Border were you when you received confirmation?// came her gentle rebuke.
//Oh, about a thousand meters short of the Lexington's position,// he replied casually. //But, I saved an hour.//
//Humm, I think Sarek should drop a hint that our Border patrols need to be tightened.//
//I think his message will follow Commodore Wesley's.//
Lorna chuckled mentally. //Have you determined your time of arrival?// She translated his figures into Vulcan terms. //Good! Then you will be here in time to have dinner with us!//
Kang agreed to keep her invitation in mind then grinned. He would not tell her about the gift they were bringing. Actually, it had been Mara's idea to bring Lorna a prime example of Klincuival artwork, but he had chosen the crystal globe holding a bouquet of Phimal - a brilliant scarlet flower of the South Polar Forest - and Grat - a white-to-yellow hued flower from the same area - in its depths. He grinned again, visualizing Lorna's surprise and delight when she saw the delicate piece of handicraft....
Sarek and Lorna stood at the far end of the room, watching the approaching delegation of Vulcan traders and officials, escorted by Sarek's Chief Aide.
"Peace and long life, Ambassador...Lady Lorna," intoned Sartonn.
"Live long and prosper," Sarek responded. He indicated the discussion table, and they chose seats.
"This delegation, led by Samur, Leader of the Farming Coalition, has come seeking advice regarding a proposal they have received," Sartonn extended the tape he'd been holding, "sent by a Klingon named Kang."
"Ambassador Kang?" Sarek inquired.
Sartonn nodded, his face carefully concealing his secret conviction that there could be no such thing as a diplomatic Klingon - no matter what Sarek and Lorna told him.
"I believe you have dealt with this Kang?" commented the youthful-looking Samur. "That is why we requested that you be called from your harvest to counsel us."
"Most logical," Sarek's gaze moved to Lorna - he would watch her reactions during this discussion about her friend.
"This Kang tells of a drought on Sholar and asks to obtain grain," Samur continued.
"A reasonable request."
"Why does the Klingon Empire seek to open trade with us?" Samur insisted. They have never done so before."
Sarek suppressed a desire to sigh. He occasionally forgot that not all Vulcans were accustomed to dealing with foreigners, and were all too likely to half-believe the stories of their lack of logical thought. "If they need grain, and we have it to trade, what could be more reasonable?"
"How does this Kang know of our abundance of grain?" insisted Samur. "No word of it has yet been sent to off-world trade exchanges. Do the Klingons have spies among us?"
Sarek looked straight into Lorna's eyes, with a slight suggestion of a smile answering hers. "No, it was not a spy," he said quietly. "Information travels by various hidden paths - not all of them used by enemies." His tone did not invite debate. "Have you concrete problems?"
"Yes. Kang's message states that they will take the grain now aid pay later," Samur paused, "but we have no trade agreements established with the Klingon Empire."
"So you have already stated," Sarek reminded him. "You still have not explained your problem."
"Can we trust his word that we will be paid if we allow him to take the grain first?"
"Upon what do you base this opinion?" demanded Samur.
"The Empire has honored every treaty he has signed."
"But do you trust him?" insisted Samur.
"He will be a guest in my home," Sarek responded.
Eyebrows rose as the officials and traders nodded, allowing this proof to ease their worst doubts.
"If you have no further questions," Sarek extended his hand to Lorna as he rose, "we bid you farewell."
They had taken only two steps toward the door when the intercom sounded.
"Yes?" Sartonn demanded.
Inform Samur that the Klothar has assumed standard orbit. Ambassador Kang requests coordinates to beam down and begin negotiations.
"The Klothar!" exclaimed Samur. "But that is a Klingon battlecruiser!"
By now, Sarek was totally disenchanted with this overly officious individual, and he gratified Lorna by allowing it to show slightly.
"Yes," he said quietly, pressing his hands together at chest level and turning to face Samur. "Ambassador Kang believes in coming prepared for all contingencies."
With that, he and Lorna swept out, and only Sarek heard her laughter.
They changed from their formal garments and reached their flier in a manner of minutes. Sarek held out one hand to assist Lorna up the shallow step, then he checked the controls - all was normal. He flipped the switch, received confirmation of their flight path out of the city, and lifted off the pad.
"We will save more time if I take this path," he indicated the glowing screen.
"Yes, but what about that storm we skirted on the way in?" Lorna asked. "It will be in our path if we follow that route. The winds must have terrific force by now."
"True, but the greatest force lies at an angle 43 degrees west of this path," Sarek informed her.
A companionable silence settled over the compartment; Lorna sat admiring the scenery and her husband's competence as he guided the flier over the city. Soon they were gliding over the desert - brown, sere, and barren to those from off-world; filled with a beauty all its own for those who were trained to look for it.
"Sarek, I...?" Lorna had turned to call her husband's attention to a peculiar formation that they hadn't been close enough to see on any of their other trips in. "What's wrong?"
"I do not know...the steering seems sluggish. It must be the effect of the wind." Sarek reached up to snap on an auxiliary control. "Yes...it is better now.... You wish to ask something?"
"I wanted to show you something, but it doesn't matter now." Lorna turned and looked out of the window again. Now, they were in the very heart of the desert - miles from any sign of habitation. She shuddered, thinking of the peril that raged only a few degrees from them, thankful that she was safe from its ravages.
A murky haze loomed before them, and Sarek frowned. "The wind velocity has increased within the past four point two minutes," he commented as he consulted the screen. "We will be flying into the storm more deeply than I had calculated."
"Perhaps we should turn back?" Lorna suggested.
"Too late," Sarek replied as a savage gust of wind hit the small craft broadside, causing it to shudder beneath them. "The wind has crossed behind us; it will be as easy to go forward."
He tightened his grip on the control, his gaze traveling rapidly from the various dials to the viewport before him and back to the panel again.
"Hold on, Lorna!" he shouted above the noise as winds, traveling from two directions at once, struck the ship. His hands were moving competently, holding the craft steady. The nose of the flier dipped then snapped up. Sarek pulled back sharply on the control to gain altitude, leaning back to apply more force. The seat support broke, throwing him backwards. His head struck the floor sharply, then he lay motionless.
Lorna lunged for the controls, but the very planet seemed to come up and splatter across the unbreakable viewport....
She opened her eyes. Except for an aching head, she felt no pain. Pushing herself away from the panel, she looked around, half-dazed. "Sarek?"
He lay behind her chair, now face down. She struggled free and knelt beside him. His shoulders were rising and falling evenly. She laid her head against his back and heard his heart beating steadily. Slightly reassured, she turned to the panel. It was completely without power - dead. No radio.
She pushed her seat forward against the panel and reached to open the door, but sudden gust shook the craft. Her desert training told her she wouldn't make two steps in this storm.
Hysterical laughter rose in her throat. She could call halfway across the galaxy for help, but couldn't reach the Vulcans in this planet. Still dazed, she tried to calm herself.
"If ever I needed a knight in shining armor...!" she muttered sarcastically, then she paused, wondering why her subconscious had supplied that particular image. Suddenly, she could see the knight's face: "Kang! Of course! He's close enough to help us!"
She laid one hand on Sarek's back to reassure herself that he still lived, then she lifted her free hand to her head and began to call....
Kang looked around the table. Now that everyone's credentials had been established, perhaps they could get some real work done. His gaze settled upon Samur, and he frowned. Too bad this is their spokesman, he thought. I'd sooner deal with a Sime-Devil!
The Slime-Devil inclined his head. "What is your proposal, Ambassador?"
Kang rose, gaining time to control his disgust at having to repeat himself.
"My Science Officer can discuss the exact amount of grain we need - later. For now, we must have at least one ship loaded and on its way without delay. Could it be loaded while we are discussing terms?"
"A loaded ship is already in orbit - it could be diverted," Samur replied, for - though he still was wary of the Klingon - Kang's obvious concern had convinced him of the reality of this mission. "If your Science Officer will accompany Sartonn to the Communications Center, he can give the necessary orders."
Ah, an efficient Slime-Devil! Kang rejoiced. "Agreed," he smiled. "I see that Vulcan efficiency has not been exaggerated."
Sartonn indicated that Mara should go first, and they left.
Kang quelled a frivolous thought: Was he being polite - or protecting his back? - and resumed negotiations - for it was always best to attack while the enemy's guard was down. He opened his mouth to speak, then swayed as howling, sand-filled winds whirled around him, and Sarek's motionless body lay beneath his hand. He snapped to attention, and met the looks of polite concern from the delegation.
"Where are Ambassador Sarek and the Lady Lorna?" he asked harshly.
Samur raised his eyebrows and briefly juggled times and speeds in his mind. "They are halfway across the desert...."
"No! They've crashed!" Kang interrupted as he backed away from the table. "And Sarek is injured! They need help - now!"
"Upon what facts do you base this statement?" Samur demanded, his hand resting on the button that would summon more guards, studying the Klingon intently as Kang paused several steps from the guards standing at the outdoor exit.
Kang recognized the movement of Samur's arm for what it was. It will take too long to convince them! he thought, casting a swift glance over his shoulder to judge the distance to the outdoor exit, which he had noted earlier. It led to the landing pads, and he was confident he could handle a Vulcan air car.
"I'll go get them!" he shouted, skillfully incapacitating the startled Vulcan guards and was gone before the Vulcans assembled about the table could move to stop him.
They moved quickly to the door, wondering how far Kang would go to lend credence to his preposterous claim.
An air car wobbled off its pad as they stepped out, and they could all see the Klingon in its single seat.
"Summon reinforcements," Samur instructed the still-dazed guards calmly. "I will follow him and see that he comes to no harm." He moved to the closest air car, gratified that his misgivings about illogical off-worlders had been confirmed. "I shall activate the location signal so you can follow me."
The Vulcan craft lurched across the field then glided smoothly upwards as Kang mastered its controls. It banked slightly and sped in a straight line into the desert.
A wall of whirling sand loomed before Kang in a matter of moments, and he paled as he realized the broken ship lay within the storm. Can this ship withstand the wind and sand if theirs didn't? he asked himself within one part of his mind, even as he answered Lorna's mental call.
//Yes,// came her immediate reply. //They are constructed to withstand worse. Our craft was defective.//
The first gust of wind slapped the ship off course. "Why am I doing this?" Kang muttered to himself as he fought the ship. "I don't know this planet or this equipment...I could get myself killed!"
The ship continued to drift - and he made no attempt to correct it, planning to ride the currents to the edge of the storm.
//Sarek should be stirring by now - but he isn't.... Hurry.// Lorna's thought arrived with the full force of her fear behind it.
Sarek's life meant nothing to Kang, but he realized that Lorna was utterly certain he would come. Such complete trust was so rarely earned that he couldn't betray it. He wrenched the nose of the ship back into the storm, fighting the wind with the same joy he had felt while crossing the Border - ignoring the consequences.
The screen glowed with the outlines of the wrecked ship. He moved downwind, banked, and glided back to drop into the lee of the larger ship. The sand whirled between the two ships, lacking the killing force of the direct stream. Arm over his face, Kang plunged across the gap, and through the door that Lorna opened for him.
Ignoring the motionless Vulcan, he reached out to touch the purple swelling on Lorna's temple. "A near miss," he observed clinically.
She flinched back. "That hurt. Never mind me...Sarek is the one who needs help!"
Kang knelt down and studied the silent form. Best not move him, he thought and looked up at Lorna, who had resumed her seat to get out of his way. "My knowledge of injuries is no greater than yours," he said as the drone of ships became audible over the storm. "Fortunately, I have brought more help...."
After a night of most respectful confinement, Kang was forced to spend a sizeable portion of the next day making and receiving polite apologies - already smoothed by Lorna's careful explanations.
At least, the trading went well because the Klingon Empire's 'poor farm lands' contain minerals that the Vulcans want! He congratulated himself as he adjusted his belt and glanced into the mirror. The tailor had done a good job of fitting this dress uniform, but he preferred his battle garb.
Turning, he surveyed the room Sarek and Lorna had provided, still surprised that it looked so much like his home. Brief glances had showed him that the rest of the house was the same - he and Mara would be more comfortable here than he'd anticipated. Thanks to the unexpected speed of completing the trade, they had until sundown the next day to explore....
"Ready?" Mara tucked her hand into the curve of his arm. "I'm hungry." Without speaking, he led her to the door and down the stairs.
Lorna was waiting at the bottom, holding aside the curtains in the doorway of the formal dining area. She looked up at them, welcome and admiration visible in her eyes, but said nothing - merely indicated the waiting table.
Kang cast a speculative glance at her unmarred forehead as he passed, making a mental note to make further inquiries regarding Vulcan medical techniques.
Sarek was standing at the head of the small table, arranged so four people could eat without feeling crowded or lost.
The meal was eaten in restful silence, then Sarek rose and turned toward the Green Room.
Lorna turned to Mara. "It's twilight, and our gardens are at their best now, Mara. I will be glad to show them to you, but first, I should change into a more practical garment."
"I, too, have other garments more suitable," Mara agreed.
They left the room together. Sarek almost smiled as they ascended the stairs, aware that Lorna was giving him time to get to know Kang better - away from the restraint and formality of any treaty discussions. He continued into the Green Room and indicated the comfortable seat near the artificial fire.
For the next half-hour, he and Kang reviewed the day's events. A wry comment on the Klingon's part revealed their common opinion of Samur, and their conversation became more relaxed. Sarek began to understand why it had not been so difficult for Lorna to trust this traditional enemy.
"Kang!" Mara exclaimed when she and Lorna came into the room. "You must see their gardens! They have specimens from dozens of worlds...even some of our food plants!"
Kang rose and turned. "This I would like to see."
"Our rarest plants are kept on the roof," Sarek suggested to Mara. "May I show them to you while Lorna shows Kang our gardens?"
Sarek and Mara went up the stairs. As they passed Kiloran's room, Mara checked to see if her child was sleeping well in the unfamiliar bed. When she returned, Afal padded noiselessly at her side and accompanied them.
As they moved from specimen to specimen, Mara's intelligent, searching questions pleased Sarek. They had much in common.
When they reached the balcony, the sight of the hills rising beyond the gardens caused Mara to feel a pang of homesickness. "This reminds me of Skikof," she said. "The hills rise behind Rad's house the same way."
She stiffened as she glanced down. Kang and Lorna were walking arm-in-arm.
A soft growl rumbled in Afhal's throat. //You don't need to cut her throat, Mara. They are friends!// was the message she sent.
The sun had barely risen when Kiloran woke up. He didn't remember the room, but Afhal was beside the bed. All was well.
He listened to the silence for a moment, then crawled out and examined the room. Nothing interesting met his eyes, and he glanced at the open door. No one had said, "Stay!"
He walked along the quiet hall, glancing into each room. Afhal joined him, and his hand fell naturally into place on her collar. She steered him unobtrusively past the breakables and edged him through a door into a sunny room with two small beds in it.
He glanced hopefully at the occupant of the first bed - sound asleep. Maybe a slight shake would...? Afhal's soft hiss arrested his hand.
She moved to the second bed and stood looking at him expectantly. What had she found? He went over to see.
"Afhal," he whispered. "That's nothing but a baby girl! Why do you want me to see her?"
Afhal purred contentedly.
He glanced again at the baby then spied the toys arranged neatly on shelves and went to investigate. Lorna found him quietly building a fort with the construction blocks.
Breakfast over, Sarek excused himself to take care of some urgent messages. Lorna was introducing Kiloran to the twins' teacher. He would remain with them while the adults toured the area.
Kang, Mara and the riar were sitting before the artificial fire in the Green Room - Afhal between to establish the mental rapport they'd developed to safely discuss matters concerning the Superiors.
//What think you?// Kang asked Afhal. //Would Sarek and Lorna's skills be of value to your people?//
//I have no objections to your approaching them,// she replied. //But be cautious.//
Sarek set the air car down at the edge of the field. "This is a late crop - ready for harvest in two weeks. Would you care to examine it?"
Kang guessed that this was the same kind of grain that was on its way to Sholar. Without answering, he stepped out and walked along a row. Sarek fell into step in the adjoining row.
Mara chose to explore a convenient outcropping of rock at the edge of the field, and Lorna stayed with her.
The proposal Kang had tried unsuccessfully to present all day murmured in the back of his mind. They would be going back to the Klothar after returning to the house - if he didn't speak now, he might have no other opportunity.
He looked back to confirm that Mara was keeping Lorna far enough away that she couldn't hear anything.
"I have a proposal to make," he stated as he confronted Sarek across the plants. "But, what I tell you must not be repeated - whatever your decision. It would mean my life - and the lives of my family."
Sarek regarded him calmly. "Agreed."
"What did Lorna tell you of Gary Seven?" Kang demanded.
"The individual who helped you both while you were stranded on Old Earth? She told me that he was a Terran raised and trained by advanced beings - who sent him back to Earth to help solve their most serious problems."
Bluntly: "I work for those advanced beings, too."
Up went the eyebrow. "Indeed?"
"The skills you and Lorna possess would be of use to them. Would you consider joining us?"
Kang looked away to give Sarek time to consider, and marshaled his fact and figures, ready to answer any questions. Finally, he looked up and started to speak, then blinked. Sarek was smiling!
"Your offer comes too late," Sarek said gently. "I joined the Superiors years ago, following my first off-world mission."
Kang glanced warily at Lorna. Her too?
"No," Sarek responded, reading Kang's expression. "I have never revealed this work to her - but perhaps now is the time to do so. Klingons, a Vulcan, and a human working for the Superiors could supply valuable insight and information."
He touched Kang's arm.
"Come. Let us both present this proposal to Lorna."
Issue Number Three: December 1976
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