To Howard and Lani, the fire seemed to spell disappointment. Kretz puzzled over that, especially the young female’s reaction. Then it came to him. She was looking for a mating territory!

            He decided that Miran were much more sensitive to behavioral cues than humans. He'd noticed the way she was looking at Howard, even if Howard hadn't. Her posture changed subtly when she addressed him, and, if Kretz was any judge, her tone. The food Amber had made for him—a little odd to think of eating a cell culture of himself—was plainly helping his own metabolism. He was thinking about sex again. That was more like a normal Miranese male. Females only thought about it—and nothing else—when they were in heat. Popular belief held that that was how they managed to get work done… Unlike most males, who had half their brain otherwise occupied all the time. The other popular theory was that they'd gotten it out of their systems by the time they changed.

            Kretz found himself now thinking about sex with aliens, even though the fire ash spelled danger to him. To Miran a relationship with another male was perfectly normal. One way or the other, it was an exploration of a possible future, and recreational too. Kretz wondered how the little male would feel if he told him he looked appealing? Judging by Howard, male humans did not make these approaches. It was all very confusing and frustrating. He must ask Howard what the polite way to seduce a human was.

            That distracted him from studying the undergrowth.

            And that would possibly have saved Howard from a little arrow in his shoulder.

            Lani shot in the direction of the trees. Maybe she'd seen something. She was rewarded by a scream. She didn't follow it up, as Kretz and then Amber did. The young female caught the swaying Howard and did her best to stop him falling. As a result the two crashed down together into a patch of creepers.


            Amber had never fired a weapon before, and nothing had prepared her for the reality of it. Her shots were not of much use, unless you counted blowing the top off a tree. Kretz might have been more accurate, but she didn't wait to see. Lani was yelling for help. Howard lay log-like. Lani held a little arrow in her hand.

            "It barely cut him! He can't be dead."

            If he wasn't already, he was going to be pretty soon, if Amber was any judge. She opened the pack he'd fashioned from her spacebag, spread out the medical kit, and gave the anti-shock-cortico-steroid injection with shaking hands. Then she put the little med-diagnostics unit onto his arm. It was useful for viruses and bacteria, running blood analysis. She didn't know if it would be in the least useful for this kind of injury.

            "It must be poisoned. Just keep away from it," she said, pointing to the arrow.

            "I'll kill the son-of-a-bitch. I hit him." Lani turned and stood up in one fluid movement, and ran into the brush. She emerged moments later, dragging a bleeding man. She hauled him up to Howard, grabbed the arrow and held to his face. "I need an antidote, asshole, or I'll shove this down your throat."

            The plainly terrified man said something incomprehensible. Lani slapped him. "Speak English, you son-of-a-bitch."

            "It's possible that he can't," said Amber, staring at the small readout screen on the med-diagnostics unit. "Induces paralysis of heart muscle, and stops nerve function. Heart massage time, Lani. The med-diagnostics is administering counter-treatment. It says standby for CPR now. His heart hasn't stopped yet."

            "Kretz," snapped Lani, taking up position. "Shoot this bastard if he tries to run."

            For the next ten minutes they worked on Howard. Amber watched the med-diagnostic anxiously.

            It bleeped suddenly.

            "Dear Holy Susan," said Amber. "Stop, Lani."

            "He's not dead! I won't let him die!" said Lani desperately. "We go on, damn you!"

            Amber patted her shoulder. "He's breathing and his heart is beating on its own, Lani."

            Amber almost needed the service of the little med-diagnostics unit herself. The hug nearly cracked her ribs. Tears were streaming down the young woman's face. "He's too big and dumb to die," she said gruffly.

            "Yep. The heartbeat's strengthening slowly. But I don't know what other damage may have been done, Lani. Fortunately—by what the diagnostic unit is saying—the poison must be something like what is used for surgical operations. Med-diagnostics thinks we must have botched the dose! It's giving us a stern warning!" The laughter was like heady wine.

            "I suppose I'd better deal with the new perp," said Lani. "I'd rather sit here and watch Howard, but he might try something with you."

            Amber was intensely grateful not to have to deal with the man. "Just be careful, Lani."

            "Trust me. He's not getting any of that muck into me. I'm just not sure whether I should shoot him or patch him up and keep him as a hostage too. But this one does not come with us to the next place!"

            Amber was in no mood to be merciful either. "See how badly hurt he is."


            From the moment he'd seen the strangers in their strange clothes, Dandanidi-ti-dala-po-rado had known that his life, having been complicated, had got worse beyond his most lurid imaginings. He was a good hunter. By uThani standards, too good. Too good to be unmarried anyway. It was fun being chased by several women, but sometimes the consequences of letting more than one catch you….

            Caught up with you. Especially if your name meant hunter-whose-balls-are-bigger-than-his-brains. So he'd gone off on a hunting trip, a long hunting trip. The longer the better, right now.

            And instead of getting him out of trouble, it had brought him this.

            He'd known what his duty was the moment he'd seen the strangers.

            Kill them.

            So he'd put an arrow in the back of the scary looking one. He did not miss. Not at this sort of range. Not a target in those bright colors.

            The target had winced slightly, and kept right on walking. So Dandani put another arrow in him.

            He still kept on walking.

            Dandani was really, really scared now. One of those arrows had enough vine-poison on to drop a jaguar. He lost his head and shot the big man in front.

            He'd fallen, all right.

            And somehow that woman had shot him. The stories told about those weapons. “Guns,” they were called. What they never told you was just how painful it was and how much of shock it gave you. Or how loud and sudden it was.

            He knew that now. And how stupid a hunter could be to choose a hide too thick to run from. He had chosen it with care. The carpincho were very spooky these days. There were too few of them to shoot easily any more.

            Dandani was used to women wanting to hit him. He just wasn't used to one that could do it with such ease. If this was what the women were like, what would the man who could take two doses of poison and still walk do to you?

            She spoke one of tongues of the enemies-of-the-people. He wasn't supposed to know any, but with Nama-ti-spaniti-goro-y-timi as his hunting companion and childhood friend, he'd learned a few words. Enough to know that he was very close to death, even if her tone of voice hadn't told him that.