Star Trek The Next Generation #60: Tooth and Claw [NOOK Book]

Overview


Ntignano was a populated world with a perfect sun -- until the right technology fell into the wrong hands. Now the sun is failing quickly, and the Starship Enterprise™ has just one chance to evacuate the Þeeing refugees. Captain Jean-Luc Picard must succeed in delicate negotiations with the only people who can help them: a prickly neighboring species known as the Tsorans.

To assist in that effort, Commander Will Riker was assigned a very different diplomatic task. As a polite ...

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Star Trek The Next Generation #60: Tooth and Claw

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Overview


Ntignano was a populated world with a perfect sun -- until the right technology fell into the wrong hands. Now the sun is failing quickly, and the Starship Enterprise™ has just one chance to evacuate the Þeeing refugees. Captain Jean-Luc Picard must succeed in delicate negotiations with the only people who can help them: a prickly neighboring species known as the Tsorans.

To assist in that effort, Commander Will Riker was assigned a very different diplomatic task. As a polite formality and show of good faith, he accompanied a young Tsoran prince to an exclusive hunting preserve. There, technology-damping Þelds and some of the galaxy's deadliest predators were supposed to test the untried noble's ability in the kaphoora -- the hunt. But the shuttlecraft didn't land on Fandre; it crashed.

Now, cut off from Tsora and the Enterprise, the survivors of the disaster face the ultimate struggle for survival. Without the aid of tricorders or phasers, Riker, his royal charge, and their would-be rescuers must Þght for their lives with the only weapons they can muster -- spears and bat'leth, tooth and claw.

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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
In this exciting adventure, Commander Riker must fight his way out of a wildlife preserve full of carnivores with only a Klingon bat'leth. Riker finds himself in this dangerous position when the shuttle he is driving crashes while carrying an arrogant young Tsoran prince to a trophy hunt. As they fight their way out of the preserve, Riker learns to respect Tsoran customs and teaches the youthful Tsoran a great deal about getting along with others and the value of teamwork. (Star Trek: The Next Generation, #60) KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Pocket Books, 246p, 18cm, $6.99. Ages 13 to adult. Reviewer: Hugh M. Flick, Jr.; Silliman College, Yale Univ., New Haven, CT, May 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 3)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743419499
  • Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek
  • Publication date: 7/11/2001
  • Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation Series , #60
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 759,305
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Doranna Durgin writes eclectically and across genres, with an award-winning international backlist in fantasy, media tie-in, anthologies, mystery, thriller romance, and paranormal romance; she also runs Blue Hound Visions, her web design business, and is on staff at Helix SF, an online quarterly. In her spare time she trains her dogs for agility, rally, and obedience trials, or heads for the high desert backyard barn where the Lipizzan lives.  (Website: Doranna.net)
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

Deep in the tangle of night-blacked foliage, slick fur slid between thickly leafed branches, making no more than a whisper of sound beneath the clamor of myriad insects crying out for the company of their own kind.

A shriek ripped through the chorus, startling it to silence.

Bones crunched.

Night in the Fandrean jungle.

"Lions and tigers and bears," said Geordi La Forge, more or less under his breath.

Entirely without inflection and without missing a beat, Lieutenant Commander Data said, "Oh, my."

Silence fell over the conference room. Geordi, who had not intended that his comment garner quite so much attention, winced.

Data faced that attention without any apparent concern. "The Wizard of Oz, MGM 1939. I believe Geordi was making an analogy between the imagined threat of the beasts in the movie, and the very real beasts on the planet..." And finally he trailed off, taking in Captain Picard's thinly veiled impatience, Deanna Troi's quiet amusement, the spark of humor in Will Riker's eye. "But you knew that," he concluded.

"They knew that," Geordi confirmed. The movie was, after all, still popular enough to list in the holodeck programs.

"We did," Troi confirmed, as solemnly as possible.

"Ah," Data said. "My apologies for the unnecessary digression." But he hesitated, as though he might say something else. In the end he decided against it, but Geordi knew that expression. Data's insatiable curiosity -- about something -- had been triggered.

Worf stared intently at the creature on the view-screen -- an indistinct image, captured from beneath the creature as it swooped from one tree to another in the dense growth of the Fandrean jungle. Even blurred, the two barbed and prehensile tails were evident, along with the teeth gleaming in that long-snouted face, and the impression of size and strength. An arborata. Typical Fandrean jungle fare, according to the notations, right along with half a dozen other oversize flesh-eaters. "What does this have to do with the Ntignano evacuation?" he asked, with much interest.

"The Tsorans control this part of space," Troi said, "and we want to talk to them about the evacuation. They want to go hunting. Attending to their wants in this matter may well grease the wheels when it comes to our wants."

"Grease the wheels," Data repeated, as if he'd made some discovery.

Geordi glanced at him and decided now was not the time. He returned his attention to his padd, which held the details of the Ntignano evacuation -- not that he didn't know them by heart. One prematurely doomed star system -- thanks to a doomsday cult with inappropriate out-system technology on its hands -- and not quite enough time to evacuate the moderately populated planet within it. He'd known that the Federation had an ambassador on Tsora, trying to obtain the charts for the hard-to-navigate area -- but why the Enterprise had ended up here, he had yet to figure out. "We've got to concentrate on getting those people out of there, Captain, not on hunting with the Tsorans. And that means getting -- or making -- maps of that graviton-free corridor they've surveyed. It'll cut evacuation time in half."

"Some of the more sensitive Ntignano people are already showing signs of damage from exposure to the star's fluctuations." Beverly Crusher, her long-fingered hands loosely entwined and resting neatly on the table, reflected none of the challenge in her eyes as she looked directly at Picard. That do something about it challenge she always seemed to have the leeway to make.

This time, Picard just gave her a short shake of his head, nothing more. He paced to the end of the conference table and rested a hand on his empty seat. Not a good sign, Geordi decided. He'd be sitting if he were pleased with the course of things. "Counselor, perhaps you can summarize the situation for us."

"Ambassador Nadann Jesson has done an impressive job with the Tsorans," Troi said. "Theirs is a society based on physical prowess...survival of the fittest, one might say. They are not impressed with the Ntignano plight, and the Federation has little influence on them as nonmembers. Ambassador Jesson has been on the planet for a month now, learning their ways and trying to introduce these negotiations; she's done well to have held their attention for this long. When they learned that the Federation flagship was in the area...Well. They are a people who are impressed with titles. They have not been willing to discuss seriously the use of the graviton-free corridor with Nadann, but they've indicated an interest in a dialogue with the flagship's captain."

"They are," Picard said, tugging absently at his uniform jacket, "significantly invested in matters of prestige. They have a term for it -- daleura. And, as you would expect from a society that places so much pride on their hunting and achievements of aggression, they are also a bit prickly."

Worf shifted in his chair. After his alert stillness, the movement might as well have been a shout. Picard took quick note. "No offense meant, Mr. Worf."

"None taken. Unless the captain implies that Klingons are merely...prickly."

"In point of fact, I find most Klingons to be downright contentious."

"Thank you." Worf settled into satisfied silence.

"That explains why we changed course," Geordi said. They'd been headed for doomed Ntignano until only the previous watch; now they orbited Tsora, a planet with sporadic forestation showing like green jewels against the brown continents, surrounded by a system full of invisible graviton eddies that kept a pattern all their own. "But not -- "

"The hunting," Riker said. He'd been the one to present the information on Fandre's main preserve, the one who seemed to know the details.

"The hunting," Geordi agreed, hiding his impatience -- and more concerned with recent reports that the results of the probe-induced singularity at the core of the Ntignano sun were far less predictable than expected.

Fandre and its preserve seemed more than irrelevant.

He'd rather be introducing his plan to use a probe-web to make their own charts. Such webs were complex and needed constant monitoring and adjustment, but with a dozen probes relaying high-speed data to the coordinating probe, a preliminary star chart could be available in a fraction of the time required for standard charting procedures. True, the most complex probe-web used successfully to date employed only eight probes, but Geordi felt he'd solved the logistics issues involved in adding another tier. All he needed was a chance to try.

None of which Picard was aware of, nor likely to become aware of just yet, since he now looked at the image of the arborata and said, "Fill us in, Number One."

Riker leaned back in his chair, swiveling it slightly. "Fandre is a big-game hunter's delight, with several species of massive carnivores, all cohabiting a relatively small and tightly managed preserve called the Legacy. Since the Tsorans reestablished diplomatic and trade relations with Fandre fifty years ago, they've been traveling to the preserve for their ceremonial rite of passage, in which the participant tranquilizes his prey and harvests a token from it. The prime kaphoora, they call it."

"No doubt a ceremony of much...prestige," Worf said.

"Exactly," Riker said. "And when they heard we were in the area, they decided that the ReynTa -- what we might call a prince -- would benefit from a Federation escort to his kaphoora. Everything else aside, we're certainly faster, even in these rough waters."

"His name is ReynTa Akarr," Troi said. "But here's the crucial part -- while he's hunting, his father, the ReynKa Atann, will discuss terms on delivery of the corridor map, and permission to use the corridor itself."

So that was it. "What if they don't have any intention of coming to terms?" Geordi frowned. "It sounds to

me like they're using us, Captain. The prince -- the ReynTa -- might come back from his kaphoora and that'll be the end of it. They'll have their prestige and we -- and the Ntignanos -- will have nothing."

"There is that possibility," Picard agreed. He glanced at Troi. "The counselor and I will do our best to see that it doesn't happen. And meanwhile, Commander Riker will pilot ReynTa Akarr to Fandre, along with an escort of senior security personnel and -- "

Ensign Gage burst into the room, her expression warring between annoyance and chagrin. "Captain, I'm sorry, I -- " Alarm won; she threw herself to one side of the door, clear of the impending and intractable presence of --

"ReynTa Akarr," Picard said, unruffled. "We weren't expecting you just yet."

The ReynTa barreled through the door and drew himself up to examine them all critically, with no pretense of doing anything else. Though he was short, his stout and muscular nature left no doubt about his strength, and his bearing reflected a confidence in that strength. He's only a kid, Geordi reminded himself, feeling himself bristle under the scrutiny of the Tsoran. Then he took a look at the Tsoran's hands, where four fingers and two opposable thumbs came equipped with thick, clawlike nails. Yeah, a kid who could rip my face off, VISOR and all...

He suddenly had no envy for Commander Riker, who would be stuck in a shuttlecraft with the ReynTa all the way across the graviton-eddy-sprinkled system to Fandre. A look at the commander revealed that, aside from one distinctly raised eyebrow, Riker wore his poker face.

"I chose not to wait," the ReynTa said, his translated words partially lost in the throaty under-purr that accompanied them. With his severe overbite and a diminutive chin covered by a pouch of flesh, he probably couldn't articulate English if he tried. His lower lip looked flexible enough to cover his overbite, but at the moment he displayed his wickedly sharp incisors in all their glory. "I chose to see that arrangements have been made to my satisfaction."

Geordi exchanged a quick glance with Data -- it wasn't easy for other people to tell when Geordi glanced at them through the VISOR but Data could do it -- and he noted Data's keen interest in the nuances of the personal exchanges taking place. Earlier in his career on the Enterprise, Data would have interrupted to query the participants on the fine points, but he'd learned better.

Geordi hoped.

Riker stood, a respectful gesture, and nodded at ReynTa Akarr. "We were just finalizing those arrangements," he said. "If you'd like to wait outside, we'll be ready to discuss them with you momentar -- "

"I spoke to Captain Picard," Akarr said, making no attempt to soften the interruption. "I wait for his words."

In the utter silence of response, Riker drew himself up -- lifting his shoulder, adding the tilt of his head that sent wise ensigns scurrying for cover. Trouble brewing.

"Commander Riker's words are to be considered as my words," Captain Picard said, staring directly at Akarr, his gaze implacable and unrelenting -- but his austere and astonishingly hairless features without aggression. Not that he had the means by which to back it up. Too lean to carry Tsoran strength, no claws, no fangs, only one thumb...

Akarr considered the rest of the humans. They, unlike him, had no decency of fur to cover their naked skin; they might as well be the youngest younglings. At least they all wore clothing over their arms, unlike the Federation ambassador Nadann Jesson, who often went about with her arms bared as if she were the coarsest flesh peddler -- oblivious of the way Akarr's honored mother, ReynSa Tehra, averted her eyes. As if any Tsoran would avert her eyes for less!

Otherwise, the humans were not remarkable. He'd never get used to their faces, and the short distance between their eyes and mouth. Or the way their jaws met neatly instead of allowing their upper teeth to thrust forward for proper food handling -- and fighting, if it came to that, although in modern Tsoran society, it seldom did.

Soft. It described Ambassador Jesson, and it described all the rest of them, too. Even now, they just sat around the table, looking to their captain for guidance. Except for Commander Riker -- an imposing human, Akarr would give him that, and with eyes of startling, unnatural blue -- who maintained a subtly different posture than the rest of them, but not one that meant anything to Akarr.

All that mattered to Akarr was taking proper advantage of this opportunity he'd been given -- to build more prestige with his prime kaphoora than any ReynTa before him...than his brother Takarr, after him. He smoothed the fur on his arms -- an absent, anxiety-betraying gesture that his father Atann would have corrected, had he seen it -- and said, "But it is you, Captain, that I will be dealing with on the kaphoora. I see no reason to involve these others."

"These others are valued members of my crew." Picard stood by the flat, amazingly detailed wall image of the arborata, and spoke with quiet assurance, unmoved and unaffected by Akarr's formal dominance posture. His father would be pleased; this human would be worth dealing with.

"Commander," said the big one, the near-human with the interesting face and the low, growly voice not so unlike a Tsoran male's, "permission to -- "

"That won't be necessary," Commander Riker said, calm despite his interruption.

"Very well," the big one said, but he gave Akarr a meaningful look. Akarr blinked without thinking about it, a subtle offer of subservience. No matter. The big one would not know; none of them would know.

Akarr advanced to the table, disdaining their chairs. "The ReynKa has advised you of our requirements. I only wish to confirm them."

"On this ship," Captain Picard said, "we follow certain procedures. In this case, we are discussing your requirements among the officers who will be most affected by them. You're welcome to stay while we complete our discussion, at which time we'd be grateful for your comments."

The golden-skinned being gestured at an empty chair and said, "Would you like to be seated?"

Akarr hesitated. He wasn't sure how these humans would view a choice to sit, especially not since the captain and his favored officer were both standing. As if reading his mind, Picard sat, crossing his legs in a move that Akarr could not hope to duplicate, but which looked casual enough. Riker, after a brief hesitation, also sat. Akarr discreetly rearranged his stiff formal vest and followed suit, displeased to discover that his feet barely touched the floor.

"Since the ReynTa is here, we'll forgo discussion about the Ntignano situation and concentrate on the kaphoora arrangements," Picard said. "ReynKa Atann has requested that we transport the ReynTa and his private security to the planet Fandre, along with an accompanying honor guard from the Enterprise. Mr. Worf, that will include you and six of your most appropriate personnel. The ReynKa has also requested that we provide assistance in solving a problem with the Fandrean forcefield that encloses the preserve, and which keeps the civilian population safe." He glanced at Akarr. "We, of course, are glad to do so. Mr. La Forge, acquaint yourself with the forcefield specifications and prepare to join the away team."

The smaller, darker human with the strange facial assembly stiffened -- in chagrined surprise, Akarr would have said, had he known the species better.

"I was thinking I'd deal with graviton mapping issues," the human said. Mr. La Forge. "Barclay's got a good feel for field diagnostics -- "

"You think this is not worth your time?" Akarr said, staring hard at La Forge despite the disconcerting realization that he couldn't tell when he was looking the human in the eye.

"No, that's not what I meant at all," La Forge said, somewhat hastily, and looked to Picard.

Pathetic.

Picard gave a simple shake of his head. "Ambassador Jesson, who has made the arrangements and forwarded the forcefield details, informs me that the fields, while in some ways technologically more basic than our own, are formed from complex interlocking frequencies; they're also combined with a technology damper of some sort. With the safety of the Fandreans at stake, I think it's best that you handle this situation."

"Yes, sir," La Forge said, and Akarr had to give him that much; he was as obedient as his lower rank dictated he should be. He liked Picard's confidence in the man, as well.

If the forcefield on Fandre failed, the beasts -- freed from their huge preserve -- would have the chance to kill only an insignificant number of Fandreans before they were slain. But without the forcefield, without the preserve, the Tsorans would lose the opportunity to experience kaphoora under such challenging conditions --

conditions that Tsora itself could no longer replicate. The older, more established civilization of the two, with untold generations of kaphoora and daleura-building behind them, the Tsorans had managed to eradicate the dangerous species on their own planet. Until they'd developed renewed trade relations with Fandre and agreed to Fandrean restrictions regarding the hunt -- that the animals were not to be killed, that the Tsorans could gather only a token trophy of hair or claw and spine tip, that they could use none of their technological hunting tools to do so -- the Tsorans had faced a rising daleura-based dueling rate despite strictures against the same.

On Fandre, behind those technology-damping fields, the daleura waited for Tsora's bravest. And now Akarr, alone of all on Tsora, had acquired as escort and pilot the captain of the Enterprise, flagship of the Federation.

Not that the Fandreans truly understood. But that was irrelevant.

In fact, it was hard for Akarr to believe that their two species were related, despite the obvious similarities in appearance. The soft Fandreans had initially created the forcefield and the carefully balanced ecological environment within simply so the beasts that called Fandre home would have a place to live, and so that the Fandreans would not be forced to eliminate them to insure their own survival. Absurd. Only the Tsorans saw the true worth of the place. The challenge of tooth and claw.

"Due to the number of people involved -- the ReynTa's own Tsoran escort, and our security personnel, along with Mr. La Forge -- we'll be using two modified cargo shuttles. Geordi, will you see to it that both are specially appointed for this purpose?"

"Consider it done," La Forge said, with no hesitation that Akarr could see, and even a certain amount of cheerful willingness. Interesting. He would have to take careful note of this human. How, while clearly remaining under the command of the ship's captain, did he maintain that air of independence? A useful tool to cultivate...at least, until Akarr was assured of his appointment as ReynKa, and no longer bowed to anyone. This trip would help insure that the ReynKa did not adopt the obscure decision to pass his reign on to his second-born.

The engineer, however, did not appear to be finished. "Captain," he said, "given what I'm hearing about the forcefields and tech dampers, I have to express some concern about shuttle integrity. Do we even know if our shuttles will function in that environment?"

"Starfleet has worked with the Tsorans and Fandreans to be sure that they will, and Admiral Gromek has forwarded the details regarding shuttle operating parameters while under the forcefields."

"I don't suppose we can delay long enough for me to examine these calculations myself?" La Forge asked.

Akarr didn't give Picard a chance to respond. "Absolutely not," he said. "There can be no delay." Not with the kaphoora fete behind him. Any delay at this point would look like hesitation on Akarr's part, and would forever cast doubt on his prime kaphoora.

Picard did not acknowledge Akarr's statement. "I'm afraid not, Geordi. Nadann Jesson suggested that the kaphoora might come into play some weeks ago, before we knew the Enterprise would be involved; there's been time to check it out. I'm sure Admiral Gromek had her best people investigate the matter."

"I'm sure she did," La Forge said, sounding unconvinced. "I just think it's wise -- "

"And I do not disagree. But we don't have the luxury of following through. We'll use the figures that the Tsorans have provided."

La Forge gave a short nod and leaned back in his seat -- almost a defiant slouch, Akarr would have said, except that the human was too relaxed. Still disagreeing, perhaps, but accepting.

As long as he did as was required, Akarr didn't care how much he disagreed.

"Geordi will pilot one of the shuttles," Commander Riker said, speaking up after enough personal silence that Akarr had assumed he wouldn't. "I'll take the other. With Fandre in its oppositional orbit and the system's graviton eddies to avoid, we can expect a trip of seven to twelve hours -- "

"You are in error," Akarr said, trying to hide his sudden panic as he realized just what Riker had said. "My pilot will be Captain Picard. It is arranged."

Riker glanced at the captain, but it didn't seem to be in supplication, or to garner permission for any words or behavior. "There must be a misunderstanding," he said. "I'll have the honor of piloting your shuttle. The captain has obligations to the ReynKa and the Federation."

Speechless, Akarr looked at Picard, his fur ruffling up and his nostrils flaring in distress he knew these humans -- hoped these humans -- would not recognize. The flagship captain, not his pilot? Unacceptable! But...

should he negotiate, play their game until he could gain enough sense of the human daleura to turn it to his advantage? Or startle them with a full daleura display here and now, demanding that which had been promised him?

But Riker watched him with wise eyes -- blue human eyes -- and no alarm. As though he knew the decision that Akarr weighed, and had no concern about dealing with it either way. And...very few Tsorans ever fully recovered from a failed preemptive daleura display.

So even though there were no other Tsorans in the room -- his escort waited outside the conference-room door, blocking, as he'd been given to understand, the bridge privacy facilities -- Akarr chose the safer way.

No matter. He'd make up for it on Fandre.

Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Deep in the tangle of night-blacked foliage, slick fur slid between thickly leafed branches, making no more than a whisper of sound beneath the clamor of myriad insects crying out for the company of their own kind.

A shriek ripped through the chorus, startling it to silence.

Bones crunched.

Night in the Fandrean jungle.

"Lions and tigers and bears," said Geordi La Forge, more or less under his breath.

Entirely without inflection and without missing a beat, Lieutenant Commander Data said, "Oh, my."

Silence fell over the conference room. Geordi, who had not intended that his comment garner quite so much attention, winced.

Data faced that attention without any apparent concern. "The Wizard of Oz, MGM 1939. I believe Geordi was making an analogy between the imagined threat of the beasts in the movie, and the very real beasts on the planet..." And finally he trailed off, taking in Captain Picard's thinly veiled impatience, Deanna Troi's quiet amusement, the spark of humor in Will Riker's eye. "But you knew that," he concluded.

"They knew that," Geordi confirmed. The movie was, after all, still popular enough to list in the holodeck programs.

"We did," Troi confirmed, as solemnly as possible.

"Ah," Data said. "My apologies for the unnecessary digression." But he hesitated, as though he might say something else. In the end he decided against it, but Geordi knew that expression. Data's insatiable curiosity — about something — had been triggered.

Worf stared intently at the creature on the view-screen — an indistinct image, captured from beneath the creature as it swooped from one tree to another in the dense growth of the Fandrean jungle. Even blurred, the two barbed and prehensile tails were evident, along with the teeth gleaming in that long-snouted face, and the impression of size and strength. An arborata. Typical Fandrean jungle fare, according to the notations, right along with half a dozen other oversize flesh-eaters. "What does this have to do with the Ntignano evacuation?" he asked, with much interest.

"The Tsorans control this part of space," Troi said, "and we want to talk to them about the evacuation. They want to go hunting. Attending to their wants in this matter may well grease the wheels when it comes to our wants."

"Grease the wheels," Data repeated, as if he'd made some discovery.

Geordi glanced at him and decided now was not the time. He returned his attention to his padd, which held the details of the Ntignano evacuation — not that he didn't know them by heart. One prematurely doomed star system — thanks to a doomsday cult with inappropriate out-system technology on its hands — and not quite enough time to evacuate the moderately populated planet within it. He'd known that the Federation had an ambassador on Tsora, trying to obtain the charts for the hard-to-navigate area — but why the Enterprise had ended up here, he had yet to figure out. "We've got to concentrate on getting those people out of there, Captain, not on hunting with the Tsorans. And that means getting — or making — maps of that graviton-free corridor they've surveyed. It'll cut evacuation time in half."

"Some of the more sensitive Ntignano people are already showing signs of damage from exposure to the star's fluctuations." Beverly Crusher, her long-fingered hands loosely entwined and resting neatly on the table, reflected none of the challenge in her eyes as she looked directly at Picard. That do something about it challenge she always seemed to have the leeway to make.

This time, Picard just gave her a short shake of his head, nothing more. He paced to the end of the conference table and rested a hand on his empty seat. Not a good sign, Geordi decided. He'd be sitting if he were pleased with the course of things. "Counselor, perhaps you can summarize the situation for us."

"Ambassador Nadann Jesson has done an impressive job with the Tsorans," Troi said. "Theirs is a society based on physical prowess...survival of the fittest, one might say. They are not impressed with the Ntignano plight, and the Federation has little influence on them as nonmembers. Ambassador Jesson has been on the planet for a month now, learning their ways and trying to introduce these negotiations; she's done well to have held their attention for this long. When they learned that the Federation flagship was in the area...Well. They are a people who are impressed with titles. They have not been willing to discuss seriously the use of the graviton-free corridor with Nadann, but they've indicated an interest in a dialogue with the flagship's captain."

"They are," Picard said, tugging absently at his uniform jacket, "significantly invested in matters of prestige. They have a term for it — daleura. And, as you would expect from a society that places so much pride on their hunting and achievements of aggression, they are also a bit prickly."

Worf shifted in his chair. After his alert stillness, the movement might as well have been a shout. Picard took quick note. "No offense meant, Mr. Worf."

"None taken. Unless the captain implies that Klingons are merely...prickly."

"In point of fact, I find most Klingons to be downright contentious."

"Thank you." Worf settled into satisfied silence.

"That explains why we changed course," Geordi said. They'd been headed for doomed Ntignano until only the previous watch; now they orbited Tsora, a planet with sporadic forestation showing like green jewels against the brown continents, surrounded by a system full of invisible graviton eddies that kept a pattern all their own. "But not — "

"The hunting," Riker said. He'd been the one to present the information on Fandre's main preserve, the one who seemed to know the details.

"The hunting," Geordi agreed, hiding his impatience — and more concerned with recent reports that the results of the probe-induced singularity at the core of the Ntignano sun were far less predictable than expected.

Fandre and its preserve seemed more than irrelevant.

He'd rather be introducing his plan to use a probe-web to make their own charts. Such webs were complex and needed constant monitoring and adjustment, but with a dozen probes relaying high-speed data to the coordinating probe, a preliminary star chart could be available in a fraction of the time required for standard charting procedures. True, the most complex probe-web used successfully to date employed only eight probes, but Geordi felt he'd solved the logistics issues involved in adding another tier. All he needed was a chance to try.

None of which Picard was aware of, nor likely to become aware of just yet, since he now looked at the image of the arborata and said, "Fill us in, Number One."

Riker leaned back in his chair, swiveling it slightly. "Fandre is a big-game hunter's delight, with several species of massive carnivores, all cohabiting a relatively small and tightly managed preserve called the Legacy. Since the Tsorans reestablished diplomatic and trade relations with Fandre fifty years ago, they've been traveling to the preserve for their ceremonial rite of passage, in which the participant tranquilizes his prey and harvests a token from it. The prime kaphoora, they call it."

"No doubt a ceremony of much...prestige," Worf said.

"Exactly," Riker said. "And when they heard we were in the area, they decided that the ReynTa — what we might call a prince — would benefit from a Federation escort to his kaphoora. Everything else aside, we're certainly faster, even in these rough waters."

"His name is ReynTa Akarr," Troi said. "But here's the crucial part — while he's hunting, his father, the ReynKa Atann, will discuss terms on delivery of the corridor map, and permission to use the corridor itself."

So that was it. "What if they don't have any intention of coming to terms?" Geordi frowned. "It sounds to

me like they're using us, Captain. The prince — the ReynTa — might come back from his kaphoora and that'll be the end of it. They'll have their prestige and we — and the Ntignanos — will have nothing."

"There is that possibility," Picard agreed. He glanced at Troi. "The counselor and I will do our best to see that it doesn't happen. And meanwhile, Commander Riker will pilot ReynTa Akarr to Fandre, along with an escort of senior security personnel and — "

Ensign Gage burst into the room, her expression warring between annoyance and chagrin. "Captain, I'm sorry, I — " Alarm won; she threw herself to one side of the door, clear of the impending and intractable presence of —

"ReynTa Akarr," Picard said, unruffled. "We weren't expecting you just yet."

The ReynTa barreled through the door and drew himself up to examine them all critically, with no pretense of doing anything else. Though he was short, his stout and muscular nature left no doubt about his strength, and his bearing reflected a confidence in that strength. He's only a kid, Geordi reminded himself, feeling himself bristle under the scrutiny of the Tsoran. Then he took a look at the Tsoran's hands, where four fingers and two opposable thumbs came equipped with thick, clawlike nails. Yeah, a kid who could rip my face off, VISOR and all...

He suddenly had no envy for Commander Riker, who would be stuck in a shuttlecraft with the ReynTa all the way across the graviton-eddy-sprinkled system to Fandre. A look at the commander revealed that, aside from one distinctly raised eyebrow, Riker wore his poker face.

"I chose not to wait," the ReynTa said, his translated words partially lost in the throaty under-purr that accompanied them. With his severe overbite and a diminutive chin covered by a pouch of flesh, he probably couldn't articulate English if he tried. His lower lip looked flexible enough to cover his overbite, but at the moment he displayed his wickedly sharp incisors in all their glory. "I chose to see that arrangements have been made to my satisfaction."

Geordi exchanged a quick glance with Data — it wasn't easy for other people to tell when Geordi glanced at them through the VISOR but Data could do it — and he noted Data's keen interest in the nuances of the personal exchanges taking place. Earlier in his career on the Enterprise, Data would have interrupted to query the participants on the fine points, but he'd learned better.

Geordi hoped.

Riker stood, a respectful gesture, and nodded at ReynTa Akarr. "We were just finalizing those arrangements," he said. "If you'd like to wait outside, we'll be ready to discuss them with you momentar — "

"I spoke to Captain Picard," Akarr said, making no attempt to soften the interruption. "I wait for his words."

In the utter silence of response, Riker drew himself up — lifting his shoulder, adding the tilt of his head that sent wise ensigns scurrying for cover. Trouble brewing.

"Commander Riker's words are to be considered as my words," Captain Picard said, staring directly at Akarr, his gaze implacable and unrelenting — but his austere and astonishingly hairless features without aggression. Not that he had the means by which to back it up. Too lean to carry Tsoran strength, no claws, no fangs, only one thumb...

Akarr considered the rest of the humans. They, unlike him, had no decency of fur to cover their naked skin; they might as well be the youngest younglings. At least they all wore clothing over their arms, unlike the Federation ambassador Nadann Jesson, who often went about with her arms bared as if she were the coarsest flesh peddler — oblivious of the way Akarr's honored mother, ReynSa Tehra, averted her eyes. As if any Tsoran would avert her eyes for less!

Otherwise, the humans were not remarkable. He'd never get used to their faces, and the short distance between their eyes and mouth. Or the way their jaws met neatly instead of allowing their upper teeth to thrust forward for proper food handling — and fighting, if it came to that, although in modern Tsoran society, it seldom did.

Soft. It described Ambassador Jesson, and it described all the rest of them, too. Even now, they just sat around the table, looking to their captain for guidance. Except for Commander Riker — an imposing human, Akarr would give him that, and with eyes of startling, unnatural blue — who maintained a subtly different posture than the rest of them, but not one that meant anything to Akarr.

All that mattered to Akarr was taking proper advantage of this opportunity he'd been given — to build more prestige with his prime kaphoora than any ReynTa before him...than his brother Takarr, after him. He smoothed the fur on his arms — an absent, anxiety-betraying gesture that his father Atann would have corrected, had he seen it — and said, "But it is you, Captain, that I will be dealing with on the kaphoora. I see no reason to involve these others."

"These others are valued members of my crew." Picard stood by the flat, amazingly detailed wall image of the arborata, and spoke with quiet assurance, unmoved and unaffected by Akarr's formal dominance posture. His father would be pleased; this human would be worth dealing with.

"Commander," said the big one, the near-human with the interesting face and the low, growly voice not so unlike a Tsoran male's, "permission to — "

"That won't be necessary," Commander Riker said, calm despite his interruption.

"Very well," the big one said, but he gave Akarr a meaningful look. Akarr blinked without thinking about it, a subtle offer of subservience. No matter. The big one would not know; none of them would know.

Akarr advanced to the table, disdaining their chairs. "The ReynKa has advised you of our requirements. I only wish to confirm them."

"On this ship," Captain Picard said, "we follow certain procedures. In this case, we are discussing your requirements among the officers who will be most affected by them. You're welcome to stay while we complete our discussion, at which time we'd be grateful for your comments."

The golden-skinned being gestured at an empty chair and said, "Would you like to be seated?"

Akarr hesitated. He wasn't sure how these humans would view a choice to sit, especially not since the captain and his favored officer were both standing. As if reading his mind, Picard sat, crossing his legs in a move that Akarr could not hope to duplicate, but which looked casual enough. Riker, after a brief hesitation, also sat. Akarr discreetly rearranged his stiff formal vest and followed suit, displeased to discover that his feet barely touched the floor.

"Since the ReynTa is here, we'll forgo discussion about the Ntignano situation and concentrate on the kaphoora arrangements," Picard said. "ReynKa Atann has requested that we transport the ReynTa and his private security to the planet Fandre, along with an accompanying honor guard from the Enterprise. Mr. Worf, that will include you and six of your most appropriate personnel. The ReynKa has also requested that we provide assistance in solving a problem with the Fandrean forcefield that encloses the preserve, and which keeps the civilian population safe." He glanced at Akarr. "We, of course, are glad to do so. Mr. La Forge, acquaint yourself with the forcefield specifications and prepare to join the away team."

The smaller, darker human with the strange facial assembly stiffened — in chagrined surprise, Akarr would have said, had he known the species better.

"I was thinking I'd deal with graviton mapping issues," the human said. Mr. La Forge. "Barclay's got a good feel for field diagnostics — "

"You think this is not worth your time?" Akarr said, staring hard at La Forge despite the disconcerting realization that he couldn't tell when he was looking the human in the eye.

"No, that's not what I meant at all," La Forge said, somewhat hastily, and looked to Picard.

Pathetic.

Picard gave a simple shake of his head. "Ambassador Jesson, who has made the arrangements and forwarded the forcefield details, informs me that the fields, while in some ways technologically more basic than our own, are formed from complex interlocking frequencies; they're also combined with a technology damper of some sort. With the safety of the Fandreans at stake, I think it's best that you handle this situation."

"Yes, sir," La Forge said, and Akarr had to give him that much; he was as obedient as his lower rank dictated he should be. He liked Picard's confidence in the man, as well.

If the forcefield on Fandre failed, the beasts — freed from their huge preserve — would have the chance to kill only an insignificant number of Fandreans before they were slain. But without the forcefield, without the preserve, the Tsorans would lose the opportunity to experience kaphoora under such challenging conditions —

conditions that Tsora itself could no longer replicate. The older, more established civilization of the two, with untold generations of kaphoora and daleura-building behind them, the Tsorans had managed to eradicate the dangerous species on their own planet. Until they'd developed renewed trade relations with Fandre and agreed to Fandrean restrictions regarding the hunt — that the animals were not to be killed, that the Tsorans could gather only a token trophy of hair or claw and spine tip, that they could use none of their technological hunting tools to do so — the Tsorans had faced a rising daleura-based dueling rate despite strictures against the same.

On Fandre, behind those technology-damping fields, the daleura waited for Tsora's bravest. And now Akarr, alone of all on Tsora, had acquired as escort and pilot the captain of the Enterprise, flagship of the Federation.

Not that the Fandreans truly understood. But that was irrelevant.

In fact, it was hard for Akarr to believe that their two species were related, despite the obvious similarities in appearance. The soft Fandreans had initially created the forcefield and the carefully balanced ecological environment within simply so the beasts that called Fandre home would have a place to live, and so that the Fandreans would not be forced to eliminate them to insure their own survival. Absurd. Only the Tsorans saw the true worth of the place. The challenge of tooth and claw.

"Due to the number of people involved — the ReynTa's own Tsoran escort, and our security personnel, along with Mr. La Forge — we'll be using two modified cargo shuttles. Geordi, will you see to it that both are specially appointed for this purpose?"

"Consider it done," La Forge said, with no hesitation that Akarr could see, and even a certain amount of cheerful willingness. Interesting. He would have to take careful note of this human. How, while clearly remaining under the command of the ship's captain, did he maintain that air of independence? A useful tool to cultivate...at least, until Akarr was assured of his appointment as ReynKa, and no longer bowed to anyone. This trip would help insure that the ReynKa did not adopt the obscure decision to pass his reign on to his second-born.

The engineer, however, did not appear to be finished. "Captain," he said, "given what I'm hearing about the forcefields and tech dampers, I have to express some concern about shuttle integrity. Do we even know if our shuttles will function in that environment?"

"Starfleet has worked with the Tsorans and Fandreans to be sure that they will, and Admiral Gromek has forwarded the details regarding shuttle operating parameters while under the forcefields."

"I don't suppose we can delay long enough for me to examine these calculations myself?" La Forge asked.

Akarr didn't give Picard a chance to respond. "Absolutely not," he said. "There can be no delay." Not with the kaphoora fete behind him. Any delay at this point would look like hesitation on Akarr's part, and would forever cast doubt on his prime kaphoora.

Picard did not acknowledge Akarr's statement. "I'm afraid not, Geordi. Nadann Jesson suggested that the kaphoora might come into play some weeks ago, before we knew the Enterprise would be involved; there's been time to check it out. I'm sure Admiral Gromek had her best people investigate the matter."

"I'm sure she did," La Forge said, sounding unconvinced. "I just think it's wise — "

"And I do not disagree. But we don't have the luxury of following through. We'll use the figures that the Tsorans have provided."

La Forge gave a short nod and leaned back in his seat — almost a defiant slouch, Akarr would have said, except that the human was too relaxed. Still disagreeing, perhaps, but accepting.

As long as he did as was required, Akarr didn't care how much he disagreed.

"Geordi will pilot one of the shuttles," Commander Riker said, speaking up after enough personal silence that Akarr had assumed he wouldn't. "I'll take the other. With Fandre in its oppositional orbit and the system's graviton eddies to avoid, we can expect a trip of seven to twelve hours — "

"You are in error," Akarr said, trying to hide his sudden panic as he realized just what Riker had said. "My pilot will be Captain Picard. It is arranged."

Riker glanced at the captain, but it didn't seem to be in supplication, or to garner permission for any words or behavior. "There must be a misunderstanding," he said. "I'll have the honor of piloting your shuttle. The captain has obligations to the ReynKa and the Federation."

Speechless, Akarr looked at Picard, his fur ruffling up and his nostrils flaring in distress he knew these humans — hoped these humans — would not recognize. The flagship captain, not his pilot? Unacceptable! But...

should he negotiate, play their game until he could gain enough sense of the human daleura to turn it to his advantage? Or startle them with a full daleura display here and now, demanding that which had been promised him?

But Riker watched him with wise eyes — blue human eyes — and no alarm. As though he knew the decision that Akarr weighed, and had no concern about dealing with it either way. And...very few Tsorans ever fully recovered from a failed preemptive daleura display.

So even though there were no other Tsorans in the room — his escort waited outside the conference-room door, blocking, as he'd been given to understand, the bridge privacy facilities — Akarr chose the safer way.

No matter. He'd make up for it on Fandre.

Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures

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