The Courier
Chapter 2

By Wolfy
Original-1 Jul. 27, 1999
Revision-2 Apr. 26, 2000
Revision-3 May. 23, 2004

* * * * *

Nicia quietly sat observing Grey. He sat there, his head resting in his hands, quietly contemplating a way out of the chamber that would give them enough time to collect Nicia's belongings and leave before the guard or guards at the other end of the camera could get to the room.

Grey got up and walked over to thermostat on the wall. He slid the temperature control as low as it would go. The air conditioning kicked in immediately. Then walked back over and sat down.

"Think of something?" Nicia asked, her ears turning to focus on him.

"I have a few thoughts. Just need to get out of sight of that camera for a few minutes to perform the great escape." Grey replied as he looked deeply into her eyes and smiled. Her eyes were very expressive. Grey knew she trusted him to an extent. It made him feel bad that he wasn't totally honest with her. He couldn't be, not now, maybe later, thought he hoped that she wouldn't take it too badly. He stretched out on the bed and rolled over with his back towards her. "Wake me when everyone leaves for the day."

Grey had a fitful sleep. He awoke to a gentle shaking of his arm. When he opened his eyes, Nicia was standing over him.

"You were not sleeping well. You were mumbling in your sleep. What were you dreaming about?" Nicia asked.

"What did I say?" Grey asked while sitting up in bed.

Nicia began to speak but hesitated. Her eyes narrowed, and she growled something in her own tongue.

"What?" Grey managed to ask before her blow sent him rolling off the foot of the bed onto the floor.

"You tricked me. You lied. I didn't speak in my sleep. I should have realized that by your reaction when I told you my name that you hadn't heard me speak your language before." She growled.

Grey had to keep himself from laughing too hard. "I'm sorry Nicia. I did trick you. I had to do something to start a dialogue between us. If I had just asked you your name, would you have told me?"

She thought a moment before answering. "No. I suppose not."

"That's what I figured." Grey said, becoming more serious. "As for lying to you. I have not lied to you nor will I. I never said you spoke English in your sleep. You were saying something but in your own language."

Nicia's anger subsided. "But what if someone else found out?"

"Well, the intercom is destroyed. I doubt anyone would be able to read your lips and I've been keeping my back to the window whenever I talk to you to avoid the camera or anyone else watching too closely"

"I'm sorry for hitting you again." Nicia said.

Grey smiled. "It's okay. If you don't mind my asking, have you been here to Earth before?" Grey asked, wanting to change the subject.

She thought for a moment. "Do you mean me personally, or others of my kind?"

"You." He replied while sitting down beside her.

"No." Nicia cocked her head sideways and down. "Never before. But, I have studied as much information as our people have about your planet. I practiced your language and tried to learn your customs."

"Why did you come here?" Grey asked.

Nicia anxiously looked into Grey's eyes, not sure what to tell him.

Grey noticed her worried look. "It's okay, you don't have to tell me." He reached out and patted her hand reassuringly. He then stood up and silently started to walk away, around a cabinet out of her sight. Grey took off his jacket and laid it on the counter. Next he took off his holster and extra magazines and laid them on top of his jacket. Then he began taking off his boots and socks.

"It's not that I don't want to tell you, I just don't think I should right now. Please don't take that the wrong way. I do trust you." Nicia called out while leaning sideways to try to see whether he was upset.

Nicia stared in disbelief. She couldn't believe that he was getting undressed. Though, she had never seen a human without clothing before, curiosity had the better of her. She watched him with his back toward her as he took off his duty shirt and trousers. She noted the similarities and differences between the males of her race. She wondered what it would be like to not have fur. It was unique to be able to see muscles moving together. She observed patterns across his back and thighs. She gasped when she realized that the lines were actually scars from old wounds. Her heart sank when she thought about the pain he must have endured to get them.

Grey turned at the sound and caught her watching around the corner. "Hey, a little privacy!" Blushing, he quickly grabbed a towel off the counter and wrapped it around his waist. "Just stay there and no more peeking!" He then went over behind the frosted glass of the shower stall.

She was amused by his embarrassment, especially since she had been naked the entire time they were here. She didn't enjoy it, but she wasn't embarrassed about her lack of clothing as the way Grey seemed to be by his. She wondered how bathing would help them escape.

Grey tilted the shower head up and turned on the water. He hunched down to avoid the water hitting on him as he turned on the hot water valve as far as he could. The water began burning his feet. He dropped his towel into a pile and stood on it to keep the water from scalding his feet. The stall quickly became like a sauna. The humidity made it hard for him to breathe. Twenty minutes went by before he heard Nicia call to him.

"Grey, are you okay?" Nicia yelled towards the stall.

He noted the concern in her voice. "I'm fine." He said, looking out into the room.

"It's getting steamy in here. The humidity is terrible." Nicia called.

Grey bolted out of the stall towards the counter. His wet feet slipping on the smooth floor, causing him to skid almost into Nicia.

"Ready to go?" He smiled with a hint of embarrassment.

"You're hardly wet. What were you doing all that time?" She asked while Grey was already hurriedly getting dressed. Then it dawned on her what he had done. She noticed that window was covered in condensation. She doubted that the security camera would be able to see what was happening through the water droplets that formed on the window and the mist that filled the room. "I'm impressed. Very clever. But, how do we get out?"

Grey could make out Nicia smiling at him through the mist. "With this." He said pulling his pistol out of its holster. He quickly dropped the magazine out and cleared the round in the breech. He thumbed the cartridge back into the magazine and shoved it into his pocket. Reaching into a concealed pocket in his jacket, he pulled out another magazine and rammed it home. He racked the slide and took aim through the mist at the silhouette of the security camera on the other site of the window.

"You couldn't shoot your way through last time, what makes you think you can now?" Nicia asked.

Grey looked at her briefly and winked. He refocused his aim and pulled the trigger. The loud report made Nicia flatten her ears back. The five inches of impact proof glass didn't stop the round nor did the security camera, a desk or the first six inches of the concrete wall at the back of the room.

* * * * *

In the security office the guard on duty noticed the camera go dead. He instructed one of the patrolling guards to check it out.

* * * * *

Nicia blinked and looked at the window. It was covered completely with thousands of tiny cracks originating from the bullet hole like a giant spider web.

Grey kicked at the hole, and the window crumbled away. He quickly holstered his pistol and jumped down into the room. He ran over to where Nicia's clothing and equipment lay. He gathered her clothing and tossed it to her after she entered the room through the shattered window. While she was dressing, Grey began to gather the rest of her equipment.

Nicia put on her suit and boots. It was similar to a pilot's flight suit, though the top half was sleeveless like a tank top. Her boots almost came up to her knees. She put on a leather looking jacket next.

Grey noticed colored piping along the shoulders of her jacket and thought to himself, "Must be one important Trephyn with those marks." He also noticed that she looked completely different now that she was clothed. Her clothing flattened out the bulk of her fur and presented a very human shaped figure. It was strange seeing someone so alien with a figure that most human women would be envious of. A click at the door brought his mind back from wandering.

Nicia froze when she heard the lock on the door click open. She looked over at Grey. He had her weapon and was training it on the guard coming through the door.

Time seemed to slow. "Grey, no!" She yelled.

The guard, startled by the shout, looked at the alien creature lunging toward the man on the other side of the room. The guard noticed a man pointing a rather large pistol at him just before his vision filled with a bright blue flash and then blackness.

It was instinct. Grey had the alien weapon in his hand when the door opened. He automatically aimed and fired at the threat. It was a response to danger he expected of himself. After all, it served to keep him alive. What he didn't expect, was over a hundred pounds of wolfish alien slamming into him.

"Are you all right?" Nicia asked.

"Why did you tackle me like that?" Grey demanded.

Nicia was confused. She grabbed her weapon from him and looked it over, checking and clearing the mechanisms. "You shouldn't have been able to fire my weapon. In stead of stunning the guard, it should have stunned you for attempting to use it. I was trying to prevent that."

"Worry about it later. Right now we have to get going." Grey said, handing the rest of her gear to her. "Damn." Grey thought to himself, "I will have a lot of explaining to do to her later."

* * * * *

Grey peered down the hallway. It was clear to Grey and Nicia they would certainly be picked up by security as soon as they leave the lab. It was just past two in the morning, so there should be few people working aside from security.

"Okay, lets go." He said while pulling Nicia into the hall behind him.

They ran down the hallway to the first intersection of corridors. Still clear. They turned and headed down the hallway to the stairwell. As soon as they got to the door the alarms went off.

Grey tried the door. "Damn! It's locked."

Nicia pulled a small credit card shaped device out of her pocket and slipped it in the crack between the door and frame just above the lock. She slid the device down and the door popped open. A piece of the locking bolt fell to the ground, cut so smoothly that it appeared to have been polished.

"Which way do we go?" Nicia asked.

Grey remembered the steps it took for him to get down to the lab. "Up two floors."

They took off up the stairs. Nicia cut the next lock and they entered the ground level. They were running down the hallway when two guards appeared and started bringing their weapons to bear on them.

Nicia already had her pistol in hand and fired at one of the guards. The guard convulsed and collapsed when the energy pulse hit him.

Grey was too close to try to draw his pistol. He also didn't want to kill anyone if possible. He kept running toward the remaining guard. The guard's pistol was coming up level. Grey dropped to the floor, sliding into the guards legs and knocking them out from under him. The guard fell hard, face first, to the ground. Grey delivered a final blow to the back of the head knocking the guard unconscious.

Grey was already back on his feet when Nicia caught up with him. They headed out the front of the building. Three Hummers with security markings were parked up on the curb. Two were empty, and the other had a driver. Grey drew his pistol and ordered the guard to get out. The guard quickly complied.

Grey turned to Nicia, "Stun him."

Nicia pointed her pistol at the guard and fired.

Grey watched the guard go down and turned his attention to the two other Hummers. He fired a single shot into the engine block of each vehicle. His special ammo went clean through the engine of each, rendering them inoperable.

They both got into the remaining vehicle and started off down the road toward the gate.

Grey noticed the thick, stainless steel columns rising from the road surface on each side of the gate house. A roadblock. Grey paused for a second then floored the accelerator, heading straight for the gate house.

The gate guard fired two shots at the vehicle bearing down on him, then dove out of the way. The hummer crashed through the small gate house sending glass and aluminum flying in all directions. The guard fired two more parting shots at the vehicle speeding away down the road.

They had done it. They made it out without a scratch or hurting anyone too much in the process.

Nicia reached across the console between them and placed her hand on Grey's shoulder. "Thank you." She said, adding emphasis to her words by giving his shoulder a squeeze.

Grey looked over to Nicia, who for the first time since they had been together seemed to have a spark of hope in her eyes. "Save the thanks for when I get you to your ride home." Grey said and smiled while reaching up to give her a pat on the hand.

* * * * *

Silent in their thoughts, they drove for over a half hour before Grey began to speak.

"I'm curious, how did you appear human before?" He asked.

"Oh, with this." She said while opening her jacket to reveal the mesh lining that he had seen earlier in the lab. "It generates a reactive holographic field around my upper body, while synchronizing the image with any movements I make, including speech."

"Wow. That is the ultimate in camouflage. Could you use it to blend into stationary objects?" Grey responded, impressed by her description.

Nicia noticed his enthusiasm. "What I have now, no. This one only can cover my chest, arms and head. A full body web would be able to create a total illusion, though the web can only contain enough info for one hologram. There is also a limit on how long the web can function before running out of power." She proudly explained.

"Interesting. What about physical differences?" He asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, your face, for example." he stated.

"And just what is wrong with my face?" She asked, feigning insult.

"Not a thing." Grey replied while smiling at her jocularity. "But, if someone touched your face, wouldn't they feel your actual furry self? Not to mention a little extra in the nose department?"

Nicia's ears flicked in amusement. "Have you ever been burned? Have you ever touched something so cold it burned? The feeling or sense of pain is the same between hot and cold. Most of the sense of touch operates the same way. The web also projects a field which stimulates the nerves creating an illusion of a solid form."

"Can you use it now?" Grey asked as he turned off the road into a closed gas station.

"No, power is gone and the accident seems to have damaged the webbing anyway. Why are we stopping here?" Nicia asked.

"I need to call in a favor from someone." Grey replied while exiting the vehicle. "Keep down till I get back."

* * * * *

Grey walked over to a pay phone. He dialed and waited, letting the phone ring until there was an answer.

"Hello? This better be good." A groggy voice answered.

"John, it's Grey. I need your help."

"Grey!" John Drake sat up in bed. He had been friends with Grey Sanborne for years. They had served together in the Navy. Then Sanborne left for SEAL school while Drake decided to go into the Secret Service. Occasionally they did some work together on the side for Drake's security consultant firm. Since the time they met, Drake had never known Grey to ask for help direct as that. "Where are you? What happened to you at the President's speech?"

"Too much to go into right now. I'm about a half hour from your place, once I ditch the vehicle I'm in."

"Okay, I'll be ready for you. What else do you need." Drake asked.

"John, I can't directly have you involved. Just put the keys to your Jeep where I can find them. Leave your place now, find some excuse to put in some extra hours at work and keep an open ear to the official lines for me. You can come back late tomorrow evening. I'll leave a note saying that I borrowed your Jeep, just in case someone gets too nosy. You can show that to them, but you'll know nothing more than that."

"Damn, you did step in something nasty didn't you? Okay, I'll be out of here in fifteen minutes," Drake said.

"Oh, also, see what you can dig up on an Alec Marx. We were on the Columbia mission together. I want to know who he is and anything else available about him."

"Got it. Whatever it is you're doing, good luck Grey."

"Thanks John." Grey replied then hung up the phone and got back in the Hummer.

"Is everything all right?" Nicia asked.

"Yes, we now have a place we can spend the day, then head off to your rendezvous." Grey replied.

* * * * *

Within a half hour later, they arrived at Drake's house. Drake had left one of the garage doors open for them. Grey pulled into the garage, next to the Drake's Jeep in the other half. Grey turned the engine off and got out. He went over to the door leading into the house and entered the code to disarm the alarm.

Nicia got out of the vehicle and followed Grey into the house.

"You'll be safe here until I get back. I'm going to hide the Hummer somewhere. I'll probably be gone for a little while. Keep the shades down and don't answer the door." Grey cautioned her. "Other then that, make yourself at home. John usually keeps a well-filled kitchen. If you're hungry, you should be able to find something to your liking."

"Okay." She agreed, listening to him with worried eyes.

Grey noticed her worried look and gave her a reassuring smile. "Relax. You're safe for now."

"I'm all right." She smiled, "I'm just worried about making the rendezvous."

Grey wasn't sure if he believed her. She had lightened up during the ride to Drake's. Once he had mentioned her rendezvous, she became distant, almost as if she were afraid to go. He wondered why she had come to Earth.

Grey locked the door behind him and got back in the Hummer. He closed the garage door after backing out then took off down the road.

Once Grey left, Nicia looked around the house. She thought it was large for one person. She looked around the first floor, looking at photographs hung on the wall. Some she recognized with Grey, though he appeared younger.

In one photo Grey and another human posed on top of the cockpit of a military aircraft. She recognized the other human as the other one who chased after her with Grey; the one she had kicked just before the accident.

She walked upstairs where she found two bedrooms and a large bathroom. One of the bedrooms had Grey's scent throughout, though it was weak from age. It made her feel lonely.

Her stomach growled, and she realized she was hungry. She went downstairs and found the kitchen. She wasn't about to try cooking anything, but she didn't want anything raw.

She began opening cabinets the had a scent of food emanating from them. She found mostly dry and canned foods. She went over and opened the refrigerator, where she found several square paper cartons half filled with various grains, vegetables and meats that appeared to have been already cooked. They smelled good, so she decided on them. She found some utensils in the sink. She cleaned them and sat down to her meal.

After her meal she decided to clean herself in the large bath she found upstairs. She could still feel spots where the blood was caked around the fur close to her skin. She was surprised at what a good job Grey had done at cleaning the blood from her fur. It must have taken him over an hour to get her that clean. She wondered why he did such a tender thing for her, considering he didn't even know who or what she was. His actions were still a mystery to her.

She undressed while the bath was filling. The warm water felt good as it soaked through her fur. She was excited to be so close to going home. Yet, she had failed her mission, her first mission on Earth. She worried what kind of reception she would receive back home. Everything would have been fine had she not ran when Sanborne approached her. She wondered what she had done to attract his attention. In addition, she had questions she wanted to ask Grey, but was afraid. From what she was taught, humans seemed to be devious, bending situations to fit their own needs. Granted, she did learn of some individuals, even some groups of humans that did not fit into that stereotype. She needed to know what Sanborne's motivation was to help her.

Nicia closed her eyes and forced herself to relax. The warmth of the bath seeped into her muscles as her mind started to drift to more pleasant thoughts. She dreamed she was home.

* * * * *

Grey hid the Hummer ten miles down the road near some railroad tracks. He hoped that anyone finding the Hummer would think they were following the tracks or hopped a train.

It took him almost an hour of jogging and hitching a few rides to get back to Drake's home. When he got in, he found Nicia asleep in the bath. He went into the guest room he used when visiting and found the keys to the Jeep weighing down a note on top of a pack.

The note read, "Grey, here's some things I thought you might need. John."

Grey opened the bag. He went through the contents of the bag. He found extra magazines for his pistol, a set of maps for the surrounding states, a GPS compass, first aid kit, two liter-bottles of water and some high calorie bars. Grey knew he could count on Drake to give him more than he asked of him.

Grey took the pack downstairs and out into the garage. He tossed the pack into the back of the Jeep then went back into the kitchen. He noticed the empty Chinese food cartons on the table and chuckled to himself. "At least she has good taste." He thought. He went through the refrigerator and found some leftover pasta, which he heated in the microwave. While he was cleaning up after eating, he noticed Nicia standing at the doorway into the kitchen.

She wore only a terrycloth robe to try to pull the remaining dampness from her fur.

"You look better." Grey stated while wondering if she knew how alluring she was standing there.

"Thank you. I feel much better, too." Nicia replied.

Grey noticed that she seemed to avoid making eye contact with him.

"Grey, I need to know something." She said, walking over to the table and sitting down, "Why are you helping me? Why do you risk your life, your position with your government, for me?"

Grey thought for a moment before answering.

"Nicia, even though you haven't told me why you came to Earth, I believe your visit was meant to be peaceful. There would be no benefit to anyone if you came to harm. If I had thought otherwise, you and I wouldn't be here right now." Grey said.

Nicia caught the hidden meaning in his last sentence. She wondered what he would do if he thought her to be a threat. "So, you are helping me because you feel it will benefit you?" She said in contempt.

"No. I'm helping you because I know it is the right thing to do." Grey snapped back.

Nicia was caught off guard. She had no way to respond to that answer. Her eyes began to tear as she sat, silently looking down into her lap.

Grey kneeled beside her and tilted her muzzle up so he could look into her eyes. "Nicia, I have never lied to you. I admit, there are some reasons I am helping you, that I have not explained. Those reasons are nothing that would harm you, but I am unsure of what your reaction might be. I swear, on my honor and my family's honor, that I will never lie to you or do anything to harm you."

She could see in his eyes that her mistrust had hurt him.

"I can understand your fears. I would like to tell you everything, but I don't think we have enough time for that. For years my job has been keeping secrets. On top of that, I'm naturally a secretive person, so it's hard for me to be open." Grey smiled weakly.

Grey got up and went out to the garage, and returned with the folded maps.

"Okay. Now where will your rendezvous be tomorrow?" Grey asked in a businesslike tone while spreading out the maps on the table. "Show me on these."

Nicia carefully looked over the maps. "Here," she said, pointing to a spot on the map along the Appalachian mountain range, "We have to be there by one o'clock tomorrow morning."

Grey noted the coordinates and entered them into a waypoint on the compass. He looked over the map noting the roads he could use. They would have to go off-road and make use of a fire break, but then they would be on foot for the remaining mile. "Okay, we're set. We can leave tonight just after dark and we should make it there in time. For now, I'm going to clean up and get some rest."

Grey went upstairs and showered. He went into the guest room. Luckily he visited Drake frequently and always kept a change of clothes there. He dressed and lay down. He quickly dozed off.

* * * * *

Nicia sat in the kitchen alone with her thoughts. She remembered how Grey swore on his and his family's honor. It was the same way she had been taught to make a promise on her honor. To her people, someone who made a promise that way would never break it, or risk loss of all status and recognition. She wondered if he could have meant it in the same way.

She quietly walked upstairs and went into the bathroom. She dressed slowly in the mirror as she thought of Grey. She took a small towel and cleaned the few dirty patches from each article of clothing as she put it on. When she was finished, her uniform was spotless. She gathered the longer mane of hair on her head, pulled it back and tied it into a ponytail with a piece of elastic she found in a drawer. She finished up by taking her weapon from where it lay on the counter and slipping it into the holster on her right thigh.

She exited the bathroom and stood in the doorway to Sanborne's room, silently watching him.

Grey heard her walk out of the bathroom and stop by his door. He rolled onto his side facing the door and looked her over from bottom to top. Everything on her was clean and neat. He hadn't noticed the length of her hair before. It looked good back like that. "Damn, she looks exquisite standing there. Very attractive." He thought to himself. "Attractive? Did I think that? God, I'm going nuts." His eyes met with Nicia's.

Nicia stood there with a certain look of sadness about her. Grey could tell something was wrong when she looked down and away from him.

"Nicia, what's wrong?" Grey asked.

"I need to apologize. I know I hurt you with what I said earlier. I'm sorry." She said weakly. Had he been her own kind, she would have accepted him at his word. He had done nothing so serious that should have made her mistrust him. She had let her judgment be swayed by the reports of information gathered about humans. She felt ashamed for the way that she had acted.

"I know. I'm sure the last few days have been emotionally hard on you. I offered you my friendship back in the lab; you still have it. I wouldn't withdraw it for a slight misunderstanding." He offered with a smile.

Nicia spirit seemed to lift at his words. "Would you mind if I stayed in here with you? I don't want to be alone right now." She asked shyly.

"If it will make you feel better, of course." Grey replied, noting she appeared relieved.

"Thanks." She said as she moved from the doorway to a small couch inside the room.

Grey watched her as she tried to get comfortable on the couch. He rolled over on his side with his back towards her. He thought about how tough Nicia could be, remembering her holding her own against the lab technicians. She was very intelligent, but she was also inexperienced, which left her a certain vulnerability. He listened to her sigh while adjusting her position on the couch.

Nicia let out a soft sigh as she adjusted her position again. Her spirit sank as she watched as Grey shift on the bed with his back toward her, taking position on the edge that put the most distance between them. She felt as though her presence were undesired. She got up from the couch and was about to leave the room.

"Nicia." He called, while sliding further towards the edge of the bed. "Share?" He asked while reaching behind him to pat the bed.

Nicia's spirit soared at that moment. Her lips pulled back into a wide grin and her bright green eyes beamed happiness. She lay down on her side of the bed, resting on her back. She remembered part of an oath she had taken when she entered the training pack back home. "Honor, loyalty and compassion." An instructor once explained, "A Trephyn without honor will never receive the loyalty of his comrades, nor will any accept his loyalty as true. Without compassion to those in need, you will never achieve honor necessary to maintain loyalty to you."

She thought about how Grey had displayed all three qualities and wondered if she had met up with one of the more honorable humans on the planet.

* * * * *

Grey woke to the sensation of soft fur against his cheek. Nicia rested close by his side with her head on his shoulder. At some point while sleeping, he must have rolled onto his back allowing Nicia to cuddle up to him.

"How long have I slept?" He wondered to himself.

He stretched his neck around to look at the clock beside the bed. "Damn, eleven hours," he thought to himself. It was the early evening. They had another hour before it would be dark enough so that they could leave for the rendezvous. When he looked back to Nicia, he bumped noses with her as she turned her head to look up at him.

"Hi," she said drowsily with a slight grin and half opened eyes.

"Uh, hi," he replied as his cheeks reddened for a moment. "Comfy?" he asked, noticing her breath carried a hint of the Chinese leftovers she had earlier.

"You were warm," she replied, breaking into a full smile revealing her white teeth.

Nicia noticed that Grey was starting to look uncomfortable with their sudden closeness and returned to her original position with her head on his shoulder. "You seemed pretty comfortable yourself," she said teasingly.

Grey took the bait and asked. "What do you mean?"

"You had your arm over me most of the time we slept."

"Oh, sorry. I'm not used to having to share a bed." Grey said, embarrassed.

"It was nice. I had a good rest." She said, looking back up towards him. "It looks like we both did." She added with another toothy smile.

Grey couldn't help smile at her light mood. "You're right. I can't remember the last time I slept more than six hours." He said.

"I could go for a few more hours like that." She teased while rolling off his shoulder and into a stretch.

"You seem different from earlier. Why the good mood?" Grey asked as he watched her kneel and arch her back slowly and gracefully to work the sleep from her muscles.

"It's kind of hard to explain." She began cheerfully. "Last night, before coming up to apologize, I did some thinking about the time we have spent together and the way I had been acting. I didn't want you to think I was ungrateful for your help. After I apologized, although you said that I could stay, when you turned away from me, I thought you were still resentful of the way I had acted. I thought I had ruined my chance at the friendship you had offered me. I was about to leave when you offered me a place by your side."

"Well, that couch isn't very comfortable. Besides, you sounded as if you needed the company." Grey stated while rolling on his side to face her easier.

"It wasn't and I did." She smiled. "When you offered me that spot near you, I realized that you cared for my feelings and were not angry. I knew then I could trust you."

"I wish you could have figured that out before you punched me in the throat the other day." He laughed with a wide smile.

"I'm sorry." She smiled back at him. "I saw that you were armed and panicked." She finished her stretch and rolled back on her side, facing him with her head propped up by her hand. "Why did you approach me through the crowd?" She asked.

"The way you were acting. You seemed nervous. I was about to call in other agents to detain you when I noticed the emblem embossed into the sleeve." He explained.

"This?" She asked while pointing to a smaller copy of the emblem on the front of her jacket just above her left breast. Within the circular emblem, towards the top, was a finely detailed image of a wolfish face that quickly began to fade just below the eyes into the background. Towards the bottom was an image of a spiral galaxy. The combined emblem looked as if the wolfish eyes were watching over the galaxy.

Grey nodded. "Yes. I had seen something similar once and was about to ask where you got it."

She smiled and began to explain. "I am a member of a defense force that operates under a collective alliance of planets, similar to your own United Nations. We help to keep the peace throughout the galaxy while watching over underdeveloped worlds until they are capable of venturing out on their own. This is the symbol we use to identify ourselves." She said, pointing again to the emblem.

Grey noted the pride with which she spoke and smiled at her.

With her finger she traced the colored piping that ran along her shoulder and down the left seam of the jacked front, stopping just below the emblem. "These stripes are what you would consider my rank, but they also indicate social status. They follow the most distinguishable colors in the visible spectrum. The lowest being red and working up through orange, yellow, green, blue, to the highest of violet. The first represents the level of training I had received in my training pack. The second is based on my own achievements. The third indicates my family's status."

Grey noted her colors of blue, yellow and violet. "Well then, I'm glad I helped you. You must be very important having those colors."

"I've worked hard to earn my status. I don't like to think of it so much as importance as it is a symbol of my achievements." She stated proudly while sitting up.

"Why don't we continue this downstairs while I make us something to eat?" He asked. "I'll bet you haven't had a traditional Earth breakfast before. Usually eaten in the morning, but since we have a long night ahead, it should keep you going. Besides, it's the one thing I can actually cook." Grey added with a smile.

"All right." She said with a smile as she cocked her head to the side.

As Nicia passed by the photos hanging on the wall, she paused to look at them again. "Is this your friend, the same one who was with you when you chased me?"

"Yes, that's John. Though he wasn't with me when I was trying to catch up to you."

"He followed you, and chased me down after I stunned you. It was right after I fought with him that I was captured. You are a good friend to him; I could tell by his concern for you." Nicia told him.

Grey nodded. "We've known each other for a while. We met in Naval Aviators school and teamed up."

"So you were a pilot in your military. Were you good?" She asked, pointing to the photo of him and Drake posed on their fighter's fuselage.

"Yes, I was a pilot. I've always loved flying. I suppose I was good enough, I'm here today."

She hummed a reply and continued looking at the photos. She focused on a more recent looking photo in which Drake was sitting with his arm around a human female next to him while Grey with his arm around a red haired female stood behind them.

"Is this your mate? What's her name?" Nicia asked. "She is probably worried about you by now." She added, turning to face Grey. When she saw the look on his face, she knew she had made a mistake.

"Her name was Susan Romanova." He began in a somber tone. "We weren't married. But we were involved." He started to walk into the kitchen.

"What happened?" She asked with concern and hurried to follow him into the kitchen.

"She was assigned to my team after I switched into special operations. She was a good soldier and friend. Our friendship grew, but I was an officer, and she wasn't, so we had to keep our relationship private. Anyway, we were on a mission together about four years ago. Something went wrong, my entire team was killed, including Susan."

Nicia could hear the pain in his voice. She had lost her mother on a mission to Earth a little over a year ago and knew what it was like to lose someone close in a senseless manner. She reached out to place a hand on his shoulder.

"I used to blame myself, until a few good friends helped me get past her death. There was never a sense of closure though. I never knew what went wrong." His voice took on an angry tone. "But now, thanks to meeting you, I've finally found out what happened. Marx. He was responsible for the murder of my team."

"He was the one back at the lab. The one you tried to kill." She said in surprise as the details came together.

He turned to face her. "That was just years of frustration being vented. I haven't even begun to plan his fate yet, but he will definitely experience all the pain he has caused me, my friends and their families." He said with a certain malevolent look in his eyes.

"Grey," she began, placing her hand to his cheek to make him look at her, "I know how you feel. My mother was killed by humans a year ago." She said as her eyes began to tear. "At that time, if it were up to me, I would have killed any human I could find."

Grey's eyes softened as she looked into his while speaking.

"I'm not saying that I wouldn't kill the ones responsible for her death. I would if I found them. But don't allow revenge to become your purpose for existing. Don't let your hatred blind you to what is good in your life. It isn't good for the soul."

Grey closed his eyes fighting back the urge to cry out. He knew she was right.

"My father helped me to see that. It is part of the reason I'm here. He wanted me to try to see some of the goodness in humans. I didn't think it would be possible, but I've found that goodness in you."

Grey let out a short combined laugh and sob.

"You are an honorable human with a compassionate heart." She said softly as she leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek.

Grey opened his eyes as Nicia was pulling back from him. Her action surprised him, but somehow, on some level, he felt better.

She smiled warmly at him, her hand remaining on his shoulder. "You offered me your friendship. I hope you'll accept mine."

He stood there a moment, gazing into her eyes. He could see the sincere concern she had for him. He smiled back at her as he cocked his head sideways, imitating her body language that indicated yes.

Nicia's ears came forward, and her smile brightened as she stepped towards Grey and embraced him.

"How on Earth could I ever refuse your friendship." He whispered softly into her ear as he put his arms around her.

Nicia hugged him tighter after he spoke before letting go. "Now, what was it you said earlier about food?" She said with a coy grin.

* * * * *

Grey stood at the stove preparing breakfast for Nicia and himself. Nicia watched in fascination as he flipped a pancake high into the air and caught it back in the pan.

"Your president's speech." Nicia said as he flipped another pancake into the air.

"What?" Grey asked, turning his head to look at her as the pancake fell past the pan onto the stove burner.

Nicia gave a short laugh as Grey missed the pan. "That's why I came here. I was supposed to deliver a message to your leaders."

Grey smiled at her laugh. and flipped a pancake at her. Nicia sat back to avoid it as it landed squarely on a plate in front of her.

"What kind of message?" He asked while scraping the burning pancake off the burner.

"Well that would depend on her speech." She said as she sniffed at the plate in front of her. "I already mentioned that we watch over younger worlds. When they begin to explore outside their own solar system, we usually make contact with them. If your president had endorsed your deep space exploration program, my mission would be to seek an audience with her to offer greetings from our alliance as well as warnings of what awaits in space. If she had not, I simply return home." She added, before taking a bite out of the pancake.

Grey watched her eat as he brought over a small plate of sausages and the rest of a stack of pancakes.

"These are good. I like the fruit in them." She said smiling up at him.

"Blueberry." He grinned back.

"We have a food similar to these on my planet." She said after taking a bite out of a sausage.

"Can you tell me about something your planet?" Grey asked while filling his plate.

"As you call yourself human, I am Trephyn, or Trephi if you referring to us as a whole. Our home world is called Synac. It's very similar to Earth, though slightly smaller. We have seasons similar to your world. Because of an elliptical orbit, we have a winter that lasts a third of our year and a summer that lasts a tenth. The rest of the year the temperature remains fairly constant, though cooler than the average temperature here." She explained between bites of her meal.

"Sounds nice. I don't like hot weather. I have a home in an undeveloped area up in the mountains north of here. The seasons are similar, a long winter and short summer. I hope to retire up there soon."

"Much of our world appears undeveloped, though it isn't. Most of our structures are built underground now or are built to blend naturally into the terrain. We have spent many years unpolluting our world and returning it to a more natural state. Species from other worlds in the alliance enjoy visiting out planet for recreation or help with their own ecological endeavors." Nicia added with a great deal of pride.

"How did you decide to become..." Grey paused while searching for the right words.

"An Emissary?" Nicia offered with a smile.

Grey returned a smile. "Yes. I suppose that fits well. How did you decide to become an emissary for your alliance?"

"You could call it a family tradition, though it was not required that I become one. My father is an emissary, as was my mother. They had met in their training pack together and after a courtship, they became lifemates. Shortly after that, I was born. My father continued his emissarial work while my mother took care of me until I could go off to school. After I left, she became a high rank pack instructor. About a month before I was to return from my training and enter her pack, she asked for a mission to Earth."

Grey could see Nicia spirit begin to drop as she continued to tell him about her mother.

"So you could have been anything you wanted but instead you picked a job that would take you to places where you get stuck with people like myself." Grey quipped.

"Yeah, the company sucks," Nicia said in a mock human accent, "but at least the food is good." She added with a smile as she quickly snatched the last sausage off the plate between them.

Grey feigned insult as they sat smiling at each other for a moment. He couldn't help break out into laughter at the wolfish alien with such a human personality.

Nicia followed with her own laughter at her human companion. She knew he was attempting to cheer her up, the thought that he cared enough to do that made her feel better than the joke itself.

Grey knew his instinct to help Nicia was correct. "I suppose I can tell you the main reason I am helping you." Grey said between breaths as their laughter started to fade.

What remained of their laughter came to an abrupt halt as the phone rang once then stopped. There was a pause before another single ring. On the third separate ring Grey picked up the phone and listened.

"Grey, it's John. Feds are on the way. Get out of there. Now!"

* * * * *

"We have to go!" Grey said as he hung up the phone.

Nicia sensed the urgency in his voice and stood up as she gathered her things followed him into the garage.

"Get in the back and stay out of sight as best you can." He said as he opened the Jeep's door and held the seat forward for her.

Nicia crouched down as best she could as she arranged the pack of supplies and a blanket to decrease her visibility.

Grey opened the garage and drove out and down the street. They didn't get very far before they came to a State Police roadblock.

"Play along." He said to Nicia as she tried to make herself even less visible in the back seat.

Grey brought the vehicle to a stop along the side of a patrol car as an officer approached the driver's side.

"What's the problem officer?" Grey asked in a calm, friendly voice.

"License and registration please." The officer asked plainly from routine.

Grey produced the vehicle registration and a driver's license with his photo above the name John Drake and handed it to the officer. The officer handed the license to his partner in the patrol car who began ran a check on the vehicle and its driver.

"Where are you heading Mr. Drake?" The officer asked as he looked over the driver's and passenger's sides of the Jeep for anything suspicious.

"I've got an emergency here. I've got to get my dog to the animal hospital." He said as the officer lifted his flashlight to the window. "I wouldn't get too close. She's a wolf hybrid and not feeling well." Grey cautioned.

The plastic of the windows was fogged from age and wear, offering very poor visibility into the dark interior. The officer leaned in close as he put his flashlight against the plastic.

Nicia's pupils contracted as the light shone directly on her face. She flattened her ears as her lips pulled back into a snarl, revealing her sharp canine teeth. A deep, threatening growl projected from the back of the Jeep.

Although he knew it was for show, the deep bass of her growl sent a chill down Grey's spine. It seemed to have the same effect on the officer since he jumped back several feet.

What few details the officer could make out through the foggy plastic windows of the Jeep, combined with the growl, left no doubt in his mind that he didn't want to poke his head inside that vehicle. He looked back to his partner, holding out Grey's identification with a bored, nothing-of-interest-here look.

"Get that animal out of here." The officer demanded as he took the identification from his partner and handed it back to Grey while remaining as far from the car as possible.

"Yes, sir. Thank you." Grey responded as he put the car into gear and drove off.

* * * * *

Nicia sat up in the back. Grey could see her grinning at him in the rearview mirror.

"You are amazing. I don't know how you do it. That man just now and earlier back in the lab." She said.

"What do you mean?" Grey asked.

"There had to be more security at that lab we escaped from, yet we only had to get past five guards and two locked doors. That seemed easier than it should have been. Then just now, convincing that officer you were someone else and I was some kind of vicious dog. It's as if you can walk in and out of trouble without a scratch."

"Oh, you were most helpful with the dog bit." He teased. "Besides, I've had my share of scratches." Grey said, turning briefly to flash her a grin.

After he said that, Nicia remembered back at the lab when she saw his scars. He did indeed have his share of scratches in life.

"I've always been good at making the best of bad situations. Though I think I operate from a balanced system of luck."

"I don't understand what you mean." She said as her ears flicked in different directions.

"It's nothing quantifiable, just a theory I have of how I can sometimes pull off those amazing feats of good luck. The answer: the good is balanced by events of very bad luck. With the major bad luck events that I've had in the past few years, I'm overdue for a run of good luck. I suppose you could say I cashed in on some that good luck in order to get out of the lab and that roadblock back there."

"Interesting theory." Nicia said as she thought about her own unfortunate events. "I hope I am due some good fortune myself."

"Hey, you met me, didn't you?" Grey grinned at her in the rearview mirror.

Nicia's only reply was a smirk and a playful swat to the back of his head.

After a few minutes they were away from the city and on a divided highway heading toward the mountains.

"I think you can come up front now. There shouldn't be much traffic heading this direction and it's dark enough that no one should notice."

"Great." Nicia said as she climbed into the front. "It is a bit cramped back there."

"So what were you saying earlier about telling me the main reason you were helping me?" She said after settling down in the front seat.

"Oh yes. I forgot. I was going to tell you.."

Grey was interrupted as Drake's car phone began to ring in the same pattern as back in the house. He waited until the pattern repeated for the third time and hit the hands-free button.

"Damn, Grey, you really got yourself involved in something big. I've tried to dig up as much info as I could, but all files on you have been classified at the top NSA and DOD levels." Drake sounded exasperated over his lack of info to pass on to his friend.

"Okay, tell me what you have." Grey said as he prepared himself mentally for whatever Drake was about to say.

"First, you are now wanted for divulging national secrets, theft of government property, theft of classified materials and a variety of lesser charges from assault and destruction of property. In short, you're wanted for treason, to be stopped by any amount of force."

Nicia listened to their conversation. She didn't understand everything that Drake was telling Grey, but by the sound of Drake's voice, Grey was in serious trouble.

"Great. Just great." Grey said thoughtfully.

"Ask him about the President's speech." Nicia said aloud, immediately realizing after she had spoken that Drake could hear her.

"Grey, who's with you?" Drake asked.

"John, meet Nicia." Grey said as he smiled at his alien friend.

"Hello." Drake and Nicia said simultaneously.

"Was she the one you were chasing at the speech?" Drake asked.

"Yes." Nicia said. "Sorry about kicking you. I was in a bit of a panic at the time."

"You've got quite a kick, but don't worry about it. What was it you wanted to know?" Drake asked.

"I was just curious about the President's position on space exploration." Nicia said enthusiastically.

"That's an odd thing to be worried about right now, but if you really need to know, she was all for it. There were several projects she granted full government funding. She even quoted a bit from Kennedy and promised we would be having missions to other stars within the next decade. "

"Thank you." She replied, the realization that she had failed her mission leaving her disheartened.

"Grey, I need to talk to you privately for a minute."

Grey reached down and picked up the cell phone. "Okay, shoot."

"What color is your parachute?" Drake asked an old cryptic message shared between them.

"Who needs a parachute with me at the controls?" Grey answered with a laugh. "Thanks for caring."

"Okay, I just wanted to make sure you were doing this under your own free will."

"I'm fine. Just see what favors you can call in to help me out of this mess. Once I get Nicia to where she needs to be, I'll be coming in within a few hours." Grey said.

"Okay, I'll see what I can do. Oh, by the way, for the brief look I got at her, and hearing her just now, Nicia sounds like a fox. Bring her along to the office party next week. You'll need a date." Drake kidded Grey.

Grey looked over at Nicia. "More a wolf than a fox." Grey said with a chuckle. "Unfortunately, as much as I would like to that won't be possible." He added less cheerfully.

"Sorry to hear that. I'll get to work on getting you some support. You do know that you will have some explaining to do?"

"Yeah, it's going to be interesting. Thanks John. I'll call when I'm heading in." Grey finished his conversation and returned the phone to its base.

Nicia didn't intend to eavesdrop, but she couldn't help that her hearing picked up what Drake was saying privately to Grey. She didn't get the parachute joke, obviously something between them. She gave Grey a wry look when he said she was more a wolf than a fox. She also picked up on Grey's sadness about her leaving, which in turn caused her think about her own feelings. She realized she would miss him too.

They both sat quietly after the call ended, each lost in their own thoughts.

* * * * *

Marx sat calmly at his desk preparing a report on Xenobiological Threats. He had enough proof to show to the defense committee: documented video, satellite photographs, test results of various artifacts, and best of all, physical proof. He was certain he would be put in charge of the entire program.

"Damn it!" He shouted into the air.

He stared at the computer screen and read what he had written.

"I shot the first one last year." He said to himself as he looked through photos of the first landing site he visited.

His gaze shifted to photos he had taken from video stills at the lab the day before. He stared intently at a photo of the quarantine chamber which showed Sanborne cleaning the wounds on the alien.

"And because of you, I lost the other. I should have made sure you were dead in Columbia. I'll make sure this time. You can't hide forever, traitor." Marx spoke to the photo.

An Air Force lieutenant burst through the doors into his office.

"Sir. We have visual confirmation of another sighting." He stated as he came to attention.

"There goes my second chance. How long was it down?" Marx asked despondently.

"Sir. This one is different, it did not follow the usual touch-and-go landings. This one is still down. Here are coordinates and current satellite photos." He said as he handed Marx the packet of papers.

Marx pulled out the photos and looked at an aerial view of the site taken minutes before. He studied a dark silhouette in a clearing. There was no visible detail other than the object was nearly triangular shape and approximately one hundred meters in length and fifty meters at its widest. It looked as if the shape had been unexposed on the film. Even the infrared photographs were similar. It showed a total lack of heat, showing up below the ambient temperature of the surrounding area.

"Has there been any other activity at the site?" Marx asked zealously.

"IR apparently picked up a figure surveying the site. It exited the vehicle and walked the perimeter of the clearing before returning to the craft."

Thoughts swam through Marx's head. Perhaps it's occupants were spying on us. Maybe it is damaged, and they are performing repairs. "No." he stated aloud as he stood behind his desk.

"Sir?"

"They're waiting! They're here to extract their comrade." He slammed his fist on the desk. "Ready my helicopter and have a team stand by at these coordinates near the base of the mountain." He ordered as he indicated a spot on the map.

"Yes Sir." The officer said as he snapped a salute to Marx and proceeded to leave the room.

Marx looked again to the photos of Sanborne and the alien.

"You might be more useful than expected. Now I have the opportunity to capture several of these threats to humanity, their ship and dispose of you simultaneously."

* * * * *

They had just made it halfway up the fire road when their Jeep became stuck. As they tried to free the vehicle, they noticed the lights coming toward them up the mountain.

"Company." Grey said as he pointed towards the bottom of the fire road. "We need to block the road. Does your weapon have enough power to take down some trees so they fall across the break?"

"I think so." Nicia said as she drew her weapon.

She turned a segment of the barrel and then another before pointing the weapon towards a large tree. A pencil-thin beam sliced neatly through the trunk at an angle causing the tree to break free from the stump and fall across the road.

"Excellent." Grey stated as he pulled his pistol out and kneeled behind the fallen tree.

He took aim at one of the vehicles as he steadied himself against the trunk. The gun fired with the same report as the ammunition he used to escape from the lab. The special alloy bullet traveled the two hundred yards easily before striking in front of the vehicle. He adjusted his aim and took another shot.

Grey noticed steam start to pour from under the hood of the vehicle. "Direct hit!" He stated proudly as he aimed at another vehicle and fired.

Nicia continued dropping trees across the road while Grey tried to disable as many pursuing vehicles as possible.

Soon, seven vehicles had been disabled. He had one shots of his special ammunition remaining. Since there were several vehicles remaining, he figured it would be wise to save the ammunition until it was needed. He smiled briefly as he envisioned cutting Marx's laughter short the next time he is behind bulletproof glass.

"That should hold them back for a bit." Grey said as he tugged at Nicia's arm.

They continued up the slope, reaching the top just as the remaining vehicles made it to their roadblock of fallen trees.

Finally Grey turned to Nicia. "You go on, I'll stay here and delay them a bit longer."

She stopped and looked back at Grey. "Will you be okay?" She asked, her face showing deep concern for her friend.

"I'll be fine." He said with a smile. "Don't worry."

Nicia looked at him, "I wish I had more time to get to know you. Thank you, for everything. There's no way I could ever repay you."

"Actually, there is." Grey said, taking out the GPS compass. He quickly added a second set of coordinates, then handed it to her. "Keep this. If you ever come back to earth. You can find me there," he said, showing her how to bring up the waypoint coordinates. "You'll always be welcome."

Nicia took the compass from him and tightly embraced him.

Grey returned the hug. He could feel a dampness on his neck where Nicia had buried her face.

She whispered into his ear, "I'll hold you to that," then took off into the woods. When she was out of Grey's sight, she wiped the tears from her eyes. She hoped she would be able to meet him again.

"I hope so." He said to himself as he watched her disappear into the tree line. Grey felt satisfied that he had done the right thing, but now he had to get himself out of the trouble he had caused himself. He figured it would take them another ten minutes to reach his position. That should be more than enough time for Nicia to make it out. He headed down the mountain to meet the oncoming vehicles. He thought at the least that it would delay them a few additional minutes to secure him as a prisoner.

* * * * *

Nicia ran through the woods following the compass. She stopped when she came to a clearing. She looked at the black silhouette before her.

The ship's hull seemed to absorb light, there were no reflections. A crack of light appeared where the hatch opened. The engines began to hum and vibrate while vortices of dirt and leaves began to swirl under the ship. A figure appeared in the hatch and signaled Nicia to hurry aboard.

She recognized her friend, Vulmeran, hurrying her on. Nicia ran over and jumped through the hatch. The ship lifted off in haste, even before the hatch finished closing.

"We thought we were going to have to leave without you." Vulmeran said to her, "There are several human vehicles coming up the mountain as well as several aircraft."

It took Nicia a minute to translate Vulmeran's words to her own language after becoming accustomed to speaking in English. She followed him up to the cockpit where the pilot was heading them away from the approaching humans.

"Take us out where we can see the humans' vehicles." Nicia ordered.

"We have instructions to get you home with as little intervention as possible," the pilot said. "There is no reason..."

Nicia cut the pilot off, "You do not need to know my reasons! As ranking officer on this ship I'm making that an order."

The pilot growled something under his breath as he brought the ship around.

Nicia could see where the fire road cut through the mountainside. "Hold position." She ordered as they reached the top of the road. She looked for Grey where she left him. Not seeing him, she looked down towards the vehicles. She saw Grey standing with his hands raised, as soldiers began to surrounded him.

* * * * *

Marx opened the door to the hummer and stood from within the vehicle, out the opening. He glared at Sanborne, "Where is the creature? Did you think you could get away with this?"

Grey heard a humming from behind. He turned to see the black form hovering up the slope. He gave a little wave to the ship and turned back to Marx.

"It looks as though I already have." Grey smiled.

"You might have prevented me from obtaining another specimen, but I will succeed one day."

Grey froze. "Another?"

"Yes. I shot another last year before it could make it to its ship." Marx gloated.

Grey thought about what Nicia had said about her mother getting killed on Earth a year ago. He wondered if he could pull his handgun before they could gun him down. "You fucking lunatic. Are you trying to start a war?"

Marx ignored Grey's insult and shifted into a pleasant tone. "Well, you saved this one, but now there's no one to save you."

Marx turned to the closest soldier and took his weapon. He casually leveled it at Sanborne. "Under Article five thirty-seven of the National Secrets Order of 2011, I am authorized to apprehended you with deadly force."

Sanborne's world flashed white. He didn't hear the shots. He felt weak and dropped to his knees, tasting blood in his mouth. "Funny" he thought, "It didn't hurt as much last time." His vision and mind blurred as he fell backwards into darkness.

* * * * *

Nicia saw Grey turn and look up the mountain to where they were hovering. She smiled when she saw him wave and figured he was "using his luck" again to talk his way out of trouble.

Vulmeran and the pilot looked at her curiously.

"No!" She suddenly cried out.

Both the pilot and Vulmeran jumped at her outburst and turned their attention back to the view screen to see what caused it.

Nicia and the two Trephi saw Marx open fire on Grey. Time seemed to slow for Nicia as the bullets tore through his body. Her heart sank as she watched him drop to his knees where he seemed to stay for a moment before falling back against the mountainside.

* * * * *

Continued in chapter 3

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