Terrilian #1: - The Warrior Within

Chapter One

The infernal banging had no trouble breaking through my sleep. I wrapped the pillow around my head and that drowned out most of it, but as soon as I drifted off to sleep again my grip loosened, and the pillow was pushed aside by the din.

"Fatherless son of a female trajg!" I snarled in Baldochi, struggling out of the covers and to my feet. I didn't know what time it was, but as far as I'm concerned, a racket like that is a challenge day or night. I made it out of my bedroom and down the ramp to the first floor, then headed for the front door.

I caught a glimpse of myself as I passed the hall mirror, and would have turned back if I hadn't been in such a foul humor. My hair, unfashionably long and unfashionably dark brown, was hanging every which way, including over my eyes. My yellow sleep suit was brief enough to earn me a citation from any peaceman alive, and I wasn't even wearing any makeup. All in all a pretty outrageous sight, but I didn't give a damn. I'd needed the sleep I'd lost, and somebody was going to pay for it.

I was out into the sunshine before I realized it was there, and I had to squeeze my eyes nearly shut to keep from being blinded. The banging started again from my left, and I knew I'd been right. Sandy Kemper was at it again, but this time he wasn't going to get away with it. Tinkering belongs in the privacy of your workshop, not in the public nervous system.

With my eyes opened to mere slits, I stalked through the bright, windless sunshine across the grass to the verge of Sandy's landing circle. Sandy was there, in a dark green one-piece, leaning into the guts of his deep blue quadriwagon, and the banging was coming from the inside of the access breach. I was vaguely aware of someone or something stretched out under a nearby tree, but I paid no attention. Sandy was my target, and a very tempting target he made.

I stopped about a foot away from him, dutifully restraining myself as I called out his name, but the noise he was making drowned me out. I shrugged a little with what I knew was an evil grin, stepped a bit closer, then booted him in the behind with my bare right foot.

The banging stopped with a muffled, "Hey!" then there was a hollow-sounding clank, followed by Sandy twisting himself out of the quadriwagon. He straightened up with one hand on his head and a pained expression on his face, but be went wide-eyed at the sight of me.

"Terry," he said weakly and for some reason nervously. "What are you doing here?"

"I heard your summons so I came right over," I answered, folding my arms. "Or maybe I was mistaken and it was supposed to be a mating call. I've never heard the mating call of a quadriwagon."

"It won't envelop," he explained apologetically, gesturing vaguely toward the 'wagon. "What good is a quadriwagon that won't envelop?"

"What good indeed," I agreed pleasantly. "All you can do with it then is take ground trips. Long, distant ground trips. Why the hell don't you try it!"

He flinched a little at my almost-shrill roar, then pushed his palms placatingly at me. "Now, Terry, no need to lose your temper. I had no idea you were home yet, or I would have - "

"Well, now you know!" I snapped. "It isn't bad enough that I had to spend four months straightening out that mess in Dremmler's sector, just to get back in time for the Nervous Nellies' Annual Hysterics and Fit-Throwing Convention. Oh, no! After fourteen solid hours of diplomatically assuring every neurotic xenophobe on the planet that we are not in imminent danger of being invaded by the nearest alien barbarian horde, I really needed your symphonic rendition of 'When Worlds Collide'! Sandy, you may be a colleague of sorts, but so help me if I hear even one more tinkle out of you, I'll call the peacemen and activate an action against you for fire, flood, pestilence and rape! Do you read me?"

"Loud and clear," he groaned, covering his eyes with one hand. "Very, very loud and perfectly clear."

"You'd better," I told him flatly. "Your XD5 rating will be as worthless as that quadriwagon if I press charges. Just remember that"

I gave his tall, thin form a last glare, turned to go back to my house, and promptly bounced off a brick wall instead. I "oofed" and went down, my hair obligingly covering my entire face.

"Terry, are you all right?" Sandy asked anxiously as I pawed the hair out of my eyes. He reached down fast to help me to my feet, but I ignored his outstretched hands in favor of the brick wall I'd collided with.

The man who stood there looked ten feet tall from where I sat in the grass. He also seemed about six feet wide, and every inch of his deeply tanned body was hard-muscled and trim. He had brilliant, light blue eyes, a mane of thick, light blond hair, and a grin pasted on his broad, rugged face. He stood easily relaxed with his brawny arms folded across his enormous chest, and all he wore was a pair of brief, dark gray swim trunks. I frowned as I looked at him, seeing something very out-of-place about him, there in the suburbs of Tallion City. For some reason, he did not belong.

"Here, let me help you up," Sandy fidgeted next to me, but I'd already decided to try out a theory that had just occurred to me. I raised my knees a little and leaned on them with my forearms, then smiled sweetly at Sandy.

"I think I'll add assault to that list of charges," I told him, and watched his face go pasty yellow. "Who's your co-assailant?"

"Terry, please be reasonable," Sandy begged, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. "This is just a friend of mine from Ashton who's visiting me for a week or two. You don't really want to make trouble for him, do you?"

"Why not?" I asked mildly. "What's his name?"

"It's - ah - Fred, Fred O'Herlihy," Sandy stuttered. "Fred O'Herlihy from Overton."

"I thought he was from Ashton," I commented, staring at a Sandy who looked like he was about to faint.

"That's right, that's right, Ashton. He moved from Overton to Ashton."

"Or vice versa," I said disgustedly and got to my feet unaided. "Sandy, who do you think you're kidding? That story wouldn't have got past a retarded seven-year-old, let alone a Prime XenoMediator. Come on, now, give. Who is he and what's he doing here?"

"I can't tell you," Sandy said in agony, just about wringing his hands. "Terry, please. Just go back to your house and forget all about this. You have my word that I won't make another sound."

"I'll bet you won't," I drawled, staring at "Fred O'Herlihy." Good old Fred still looked ten feet tall, but his grin had widened. "Sandy, I have a hunch that Murdock McKenzie has another lark going. How's my hunch quotient?"

"As high as ever," Sandy acknowledged miserably, his shoulders sagging. "I'm sorry, Terry, but I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to come into my house. Murdock will want to know about this."

"Not as much as Jack will want to." I grinned. "I can't wait to see the fur flying between those two again. This time Murdock will lose his ears. Let's see whose call gets through first."

I started back toward my house again, gleefully eager to pass on the word, and half heard Sandy say something like, "Tammad!" It meant absolutely nothing to me, so I ignored it, but three steps later I got a very strong hint about what it might mean. A giant hand covered half my upper arm, and I was pulled definitely and firmly to a halt.

"Let go of my arm, Fred," I said in exasperation to the still grinning giant. "I have a top priority call waiting to be made, and you're wasting my time."

"Terry, you must understand," Sandy said pitiably as he came up. "Murdock is depending on me and I can't let him down. You can call Jack after Murdock speaks to him, but you can't call Jack first."

"Oh, can't I?" I asked, tapping a bare foot in the grass. "In case you didn't know, Sandy, harboring an unregistered alien is against the law on this planet. For a member of the XenoDiplomacy Bureau to do it, on orders, yet! is even worse, but the real kicker is the nature of the alien in question. I dare you to deny that whatever planet he comes from, he's of the warrior-equivalent caste. Go ahead, deny it."

Sandy's long jaw dropped, and the look in his eyes was almost wild. "How can you possibly know all these things?" he demanded in near hysteria. "I can almost believe some of the rumors that are whispered about Prime XenoMediators. Terry, are you a telepath, too?"

"Don't be ridiculous" I snorted. "It isn't telepathy when you use your eyes and head. Sandy, you're already in over your ears. Do yourself a favor and tell him to let me go."

"I can't," he agonized. "I must call Murdock. Tammad, bring her along to the house, please."

Sandy hurried on ahead, and his pal Tammad followed leisurely after him. Since I was still firmly attached to the giant's hand, I ended up going in that direction, too. The lawn stretched out quiet and green from house to house as far as I could see, but there wasn't a single person in view on it anywhere. That lack made me decide on a course of action I normally would never even have considered.

"Peacemen!" I shouted at the Neighborhood in general, trying to be loud enough to be heard. "Somebody call a - mmf!"

My yell cut off when the giant's hand slid firmly across my mouth and stayed there. I struggled against him, trying to pull his hand away with both of mine, but it was a waste of time. I'm slightly above average in height, but my head didn't even reach his chin. With his right hand over my mouth, he reached his left arm around my waist and lifted me off the ground, then continued on toward Sandy's house.

The trip ended in Sandy's inner study. The room was as flat and unimaginative as Sandy himself, done in various shades of brown and tan. It had a long, wide couch of dark brown leather against the back wall, four lighter brown leather chairs scattered here and there across the tan carpeting, a very neat and totally outdated light brown rembowood desk and chair on the wall to the left of the door, and matching floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on the wall to the right of the door. Brown and tan woodland scenes set in limited frame movement squares hung on the walls above the couch and desk, but none of that was of any help to me.

I'd been beating my heels against Tammad's right leg, hoping to make him shift his grip and thereby give me a chance to break loose, but I'd had no luck. Tammad ignored the kicks as if they were happening to somebody else, carried me down the hall and into the study, finally dumping me on the room's wide couch. I landed on my hands and knees on the soft leather pillows, and took a minute to flex my jaw before sitting straight. Tammad was in an easy crouch not three feet away from me, his arms resting on his broad thighs, the same idiotic grin on his face.

"The next time you try that you'll lose a finger," I snarled, pushing my hair back out of my eyes. "And what the hell are you staring at?"

"You," he answered in a deep, strong voice that matched the rest of him. "The thought has come that should you brush your hair, you would not be unattractive."

"You can't afford to talk," I countered, pulling my hand away from my hair. "Your hair looks like it was hacked off with a knife. And unless I'm mistaken, that's a nice, thick Rimilian accent you've got there. What are you doing so far from home?"

"Green eyes," he mused, ignoring my question as he looked me over in a way I'd never experienced before. "Such eyes are highly prized on my world. Most have eyes like mine, blue as the skies when no storms blow, but some very few have eyes green as the seas. I am pleased to see a woman with green eyes."

That insolent grin was getting me angrier and angrier, and his attitude wasn't doing much to help matters, so I decided to see how easily he might be reached.

"L'lenda banarad," I told him distinctly and watched as his blue eyes hardened with anger, then immediately changed back with his laughter.

"You place me well." He grinned in amusement. "I am indeed l'lendaa, warrior. But it is not wise to order a warrior not to overstep himself unless you carry sword in hand. I do not believe you could easily lift a sword."

"I'm stronger than I look," I said, eyeing the still open door. The inner study didn't have a window to its name, but it did have that nice, open door. "Now why, I wonder, would Murdock McKenzie be hiding a Rimilian barbarian here?" I mused, shifting slightly to get my legs out from under me. "Because he plans on doing something with you? But why, then, doesn't he do it? Possibly because the time isn't right. Does he have to wait for something? Do you know what Murdock is waiting for, l'lenda? Or is he just using you, as a poor, helpless pawn? Poor barbarian, being used by others."

"No man uses me!" the barbarian growled, rising again to his full height. He was angry, and that's what I'd been trying for. I quickly flipped a couch pillow at his face and dived for the doorway, but as fast as I'd moved, he moved even faster. His hand went up, knocking the pillow aside, and he caught me with his other arm before I'd taken two full steps. He casually tossed me back onto the couch, then stood studying me.

"Neither am I to be used by a woman," he told me, and then the grin was back stronger than ever. "Now do I see why the Sandy Kemper regarded your presence as he did. He is not man enough to hold you in place."

"And you are?" I asked, my hands curled into fists as I fought to keep my temper. I had to get out of there!

"I am what I am," he answered, still amused. "Deeds may speak where words stand mute."

"That has all the earmarks of an ancient adage," I said in disgust, putting my arm up on the back of the couch. "How long are you going to keep me here?"

"Only until the Sandy Kemper has spoken with the Murdock McKenzie." He grinned, folding his arms as he looked me over in that exasperating way again. "The Sandy Kemper has then given you leave to go. I will not be pleased to see you go."

"You won't be pleased to see me come back, either!" I snapped. "When my boss hears about this, he'll have all of you locked up for kidnapping! I can't wait to see the peacemen take you away in force binders!"

"Perhaps such will occur," he agreed with a sober nod. "I, too, am a man of peace. Should your men of peace be greater warriors than I, then I will surely be taken."

I tucked my legs under me and turned away from him, determined not to waste my breath any further. Peripherally, I saw him fold into that easy crouch again, showing all the patience of a big cat on the hunt.

About fifteen minutes later, Sandy appeared in the doorway. He was still drawn and nervous looking, and he glanced uneasily at Tammad, then turned worried eyes to me.

"Terry, I'm afraid I have bad news," he apologized hurriedly. "Murdock asks that you stay here until he arrives to settle the matter. Unfortunately, he'll be tied up for some time yet, but will come as soon as possible. I'm sure that if you'll just be patient - "

"About thirty years, I'd say, Sandy," I interrupted thoughtfully. "That's how long you can expect to be in compulsive rehabilitation for kidnapping a PXM. What would you like me to bring you on the days they allow you to be free of pain?"

Sandy swallowed hard and began trembling slightly, but he was made of sterner stuff than I'd thought. "I'm sorry, Terry, I truly am," he said miserably. "I should stay, but I must have that 'wagon repaired. I can have it done and be back before Murdock arrives if I go right now. Since I won't be here, I give you into Tammad's care. He'll see to your needs."

He closed the door fast, to keep from hearing the next thing I had to say, I suppose, but I wasn't saying anything. I stared at the door with my mouth and eyes wide open, then moved my head a little to look at Tammad. The barbarian warrior was laughing softly and slowly rising up out of the crouch.

"What you're thinking isn't true!" I said quickly, feeling my heart starting to pound. "He didn't give me to you because he can't. I'm not his to give."

"You know our language and our customs," he observed, coming toward me. "Also you must know that a host does not give what belongs to another. Do you belong to another?"

"Women on this world are free to belong to themselves," I said desperately, trying to edge away from him. "You can't just-"

"Generous indeed is the host of my journey." He grinned, grabbing my ankle to pull me back. "No man of my world would be foolish enough to give a woman with green eyes as housegift. I shall have to gift him well in return."

His hand left my ankle as he lay down on the couch next to me and pulled me to him. I was close enough to see the tanned skin beneath the thick blond hair on his chest, close enough to smell the strange, musky odor of him. His hands were warm against my suddenly clammy skin, and I didn't want to believe that this was really happening.

"Tammad, you must believe me," I yelled, struggling against those impossible arms. "I don't belong to Sandy Kemper!"

"That is quite true." He nodded, slowly moving his hands over me. "You now belong to me. Remove these coverings."

I swallowed hard looking at him, but swallowing didn't alter the situation. He was exploring me with his hands as he pressed me up against the couch back, but my sleep suit, brief as it was, was interfering. Now he wanted it off and had said so.

"I don't belong to you, either," I announced as firmly as I could. "And my clothes will stay on."

He smiled slightly and pulled twice, and my halter and mini bottom were gone so fast that the discs barely had time to release. I grabbed at the suit, trying to get it back, but he just tossed it to the floor behind him and went on with his exploration.

I'd be lying if I said I felt nothing from his touch, but I was much too nervous to really enjoy it. I was hardly inexperienced where men were concerned, but he was so damned big! And I didn't have any choice, either. When I continued to struggle against his efforts, he pinned my wrists with one giant paw, then ignored me.

When it was all over, I lay curled up on the couch, trying not to groan. I'd been right in worrying about his size, and he was in no danger of being described as a "gentle lover." I was sore all over, from his fingers and teeth as much as anything else, and I felt totally spent. The barbarian had left the couch when he was through with me, and his sense of satisfaction was almost tangible.

"You struggle well," he grinned from the center of the room as he put his swim trunks back on. "It was long since I last had the use of a woman. I shall use you often."

"Over my dead body," I got out, not trying to be funny. If he ever touched me again, it would probably kill me.

"You seem disturbed," he mused, studying me with a curious expression. "Was the struggle not enjoyable to you as well?"

Talk about your barefaced gall! "How the hell could it be?" I snarled in outrage. "Do you think I enjoy being raped?"

"But you were not virgin," he protested mildly, as if that were the only excuse he could accept as reasonable. "Is it not a woman's purpose to be used by men?"

Talking to a barbarian like him was absolutely impossible and a total waste of time, but getting mad was even more useless. He was much too ignorant to understand even basic explanations, but I felt a need to say something.

"Some women have other purposes," I told him, forcing myself to sit up in spite of the aches. "I am a Prime XenoMediator, the very best of the best. I was trained for years to function at the highest levels, not to be used beneath a hulking barbarian. Do you mind if I get my clothes back now?"

"Your coverings must be replaced," he answered, watching me retrieve my sleep suit. "The others may arrive soon, and it is not fitting to show a man that which cannot be his. I shall not be so foolish as to gift you to another."

I resisted the urge to close my eyes in frustration as I climbed into my things. "You'd better get it through your head that I don't belong to you," I said after resetting the discs of my sleep suit. "Murdock will have enough to answer for without adding slavery to the list."

"Murdock usually has all the answers he needs," a voice rasped from the suddenly open door. I turned my head to see Murdock himself standing there, with Sandy hovering nervously behind him. Murdock got his twisted body moving again, dragged himself over to a chair and sat, leaning heavily on his cane.

"This time you're going to be a few short," I snapped, not waiting until he had himself settled. "Harboring a dangerous alien, kidnap, assault - Oh, Jack will just love this!"

"Alas, my dear Terrilian, Jackson Randall did not love it," Murdock commented, moving his eyes to me. "He'll be joining us shortly, so you will see for yourself. Just now I'm more concerned with the vexations you've caused me. When are you ever going to learn to mind your own infernal business?"

"As a PXM it is my business," I countered, putting my fists on my hips. "Do you think I'm aching to mediate a riot between all of Central and its own XenoDiplomacy Bureau? Considering the XD personnel involved, I'd find impartiality rather hard to come by."

"I've often wondered about your impartiality," he came back dryly, leaning slowly back in the chair. "Nevertheless, this is a Diplomacy matter, and has nothing to do with Mediation. How in the name of problematical inquiry did you stumble on it to begin with?"

"With Sandy involved, it wasn't very difficult," I answered, glancing at my lovable neighbor where he perched nervously on the edge of the rembowood desk. "Only he would leave an illegal alien lying about while he was hand-destroying his quadriwagon and then tell me his name was Fred O'Herlihy."

Murdock glanced sadly at a totally defeated Sandy, then shook his head. "Sandros, Sandros, I despair of you," he sighed. "How are you to make your way in the world of diplomacy when even the most childishly simple dissembling is beyond you? You and I will have to talk."

Sandy just nodded miserably, so I took the opportunity to ask, "What specific event are you waiting for, Murdock? Why can't you complete your plans with your little friend now? And how long a wait are you going to be forced to endure?"

Murdock's expression went totally blank, and I had to admire his ability in spite of his poisonous personality. His narrow, sunken face gave no information whatsoever, and his faded grey eyes were as innocent as his unaccented grey hair.

"You seem to have picked up rather more than Sandros believed, Terrilian," he murmured, his attention squarely on me again. "Have you been plying Tammad with your all too obvious attributes? I warn you now that that is not the safest of endeavors."

"How sweet of you to warn me, Murdock," I answered with barely a quiver. "In turn let me inform you that active hostility does little to protect, either. When the hell are you going to learn how to teach your people about extra-planetary customs?"

The sharpness in my tone reached him immediately. "Why?" he asked. "What happened?"

"Sandy, happened!" I snapped, running a hand through the tangle of my hair. "He very kindly gave me as a housegift to his guest - who didn't hesitate to make use of the gift."

"What's a housegift?" Sandy asked faintly, his face paling again as he stood straight from the desk. "How could I have - "

"Sandros," Murdock interrupted quietly. "A housegift on Rimilia is a gift given by a host to his guest, thanking him for the honor of his presence. It can be an article of clothing, of furniture, a decoration - or a woman. In any event, the gift, once given, is the property of the guest. Correct, Tammad?"

"Completely correct," Tammad answered, almost smugly. He was standing at ease with his arms folded, and he grinned at me. "I thank my host for the gift of a green-eyed woman. I shall gift him well in return."

"But - but I knew nothing about this!" Sandy stuttered, staring at Tammad in horror. "All those sheets of information… I barely had time to skim them. With the alien here, and my 'wagon needing fixing… " He trailed off on his own, stared at me guiltily, then turned abruptly and left the room.

Murdock watched him go, then tactfully cleared his throat. "Choosing Sandros was obviously a mistake, Terrilian. You have his apologies."

"Fat lot of good they'll do me now," I snorted, pleased that Murdock seemed to be uncomfortable. It was a reaction I hadn't expected, and it might turn out to be useful. "Why all the secrecy, Murdock? I'd like the answer to that, at least."

"And so would I," said a voice I knew very well. I turned my head and saw Jack standing in the doorway, leaning casually against the door jamb. The sight of his six-foot-two, dark haired good looks let me know immediately that I was no longer alone.

"I believe the Bureaus Chairman had a word with you, Jackson," Murdock said smoothly, the discomfort suddenly and completely gone. "What did he have to say?"

"You know very well what he said," Jack returned angrily, coming away from the door. "He told me that this was your show, and Mediation was requested to cooperate with you. Cooperate, hell! Take orders, he meant!"

"I'm pleased to see that you understand the true situation." Murdock smiled with barely veiled spitefulness. "Your Bureau is indeed subject to my orders, and I believe I've just solved my largest problem. If you will make yourselves comfortable, I'll tell you a story."

"I'll listen to it from right here," Jack said from the middle of the room. "Possibly I'll soon have something to speak to the Bureaus Chairman about, myself."

"As you wish," Murdock conceded, then waited until I'd stretched out on the couch again. There was no telling how long it would take, and my lack of sleep had long since caught up with me. Not to mention other things.

"On a certain day, beneath a certain sun," Murdock began, as if he were telling a story to children, "it was discovered that a once unimportant planet was no longer unimportant. The people of the planet, backward, primitive people, had no awareness of this importance, but those about them had no doubts. The planet was rich in not one, but many of the ores that are sought by the peoples of the Centran Amalgamation. They had furs and silks lovely enough to adorn the highest of the high. They had herbs that, once properly processed, could cure the ills of untold numbers of people. All these things they had, but there was yet a greater importance.

"The planet lies, in its starry setting, in a most unique position. The stars and clusters of the Amalgamation are almost all the same travel time away from it. No being would find it necessary to travel twice the time of another to attend a conference there. It owed allegiance to none of the members of the Amalgamation, as its volume of space had been claimed by none. It was a neutral meeting place without equal."

Jack was still standing in the middle of the floor, his arms crossed in annoyance, resentment strong in his expression. He hadn't even glanced at Tammad, who was again folded into his easy cat-crouch.

"The leaders of the Centran Amalgamation," Murdock continued, his eyes imperturbable, "wanted very much to build a complex on this unique planet that would house representatives of all of its members, but, to their dismay, found that they could not. The people of the planet allowed but a single embassy, and that only because they desired certain off-planet articles of manufacture. They refused to join the Amalgamation, and they refused to allow mining, exporting, or building.

"Military advisers to these leaders suggested that the barbarians' wishes be ignored, that the complex be built anyway, and troops be used to protect it. Political advisers agreed that the barbarians should be ignored, but suggested that the complex be built in some inaccessible spot that would keep them away without the need for troops. These two factions argued bitterly until diplomacy advisers informed them that neither suggestion could be followed.

"The men of diplomacy pointed out to the leaders that Amalgamation Covenants prohibited the use of planetary territory without the explicit consent of the planet's leaders. Although this supposedly applied only to member planets of the Amalgamation, it would not be wise to ignore it. A large number of the member planets were of such a turn of mind that they would wonder if the Covenants would some day be ignored if their planet was discovered to hold a unique prize. Forceful acquisition of a site for the complex could well result in a dissolution of the Amalgamation.

"The Central leaders were at a loss. What, then, could they do to acquire their complex? They finally decided to send certain of the men of diplomacy to make their way among the barbarians, to see if they could find a ray of hope. The chosen men went forth as directed, and found more than they had expected to: not all of the barbarians were opposed to Amalgamation membership. A large number of them were for it, but the leaders of the majority were opposed, so the rest followed.

"The men of diplomacy looked about themselves, and discovered a leader who desired for his people all that a profitable trade membership could provide for them. He was, however, a minority leader, and could not persuade the other leaders to agree with him. The leader spoke with the men of diplomacy, and asked if they could provide skilled assistance for the Great Meeting that took place yearly. The leader was a man of deeds, not words, but only words could be used at the Great Meeting. His followers were not many enough to force agreement from the rest.

"The men of diplomacy agreed to aid the leader, and secretly brought him back with them to Central. It was thought best that no one know of his mission, so no one was informed of his presence. When the proper moment comes, he will be returned to his people so that he may lead his people on to their fullest destiny."

Murdock's voice had almost put me to sleep where I lay on the soft leather couch, but a dreamy understanding had somehow reached me. He hadn't told his story like a child's fairy tale just to be irritating. He'd told it that way so that Tammad would understand everything he said. If Murdock had used Bureau jargon, which he would normally have done with Jack and me, Tammad would have been left miles behind.

"Is that all of it?" Jack asked Murdock from where he still stood, his belligerence still obvious. "You're harboring an unregistered alien for the sake of the entire Amalgamation? Nothing more important than that?"

"Spare me, Jackson." Murdock grimaced, shifting slightly in the chair. "Sarcasm suits you not at all. Our efforts are indeed on behalf of the Amalgamation, whether you choose to believe it or not. Tammad needs someone to read his opponents for him, to dig out their weaknesses and insecurities, to develop telling counterstrokes to their arguments and to find a point of compromise which they will accept. I've been searching my entire Bureau, but haven't found anyone suitable for the position - until now."

"So the masquerade will soon be over," Jack said with a slow nod. "I assume you want our word that we won't mention what's been happening. I'm willing to agree - for certain considerations."

"Always the negotiator," Murdock snorted, looking at Jack with contempt. "It's a pity you haven't the intelligence to understand that you have nothing to negotiate with. You'll keep silent on the matter because you are ordered to do so, and you will cooperate with the needs of my Bureau."

"What needs?" Jack choked out, white-faced with fury at Murdock's words. "What could our miserable, insignificant Bureau give you that you could possibly have a use for?"

"That, too, should be obvious," Murdock said, his tone going flat. "I told you the sort of person Tammad needs. Don't you think the description fits a XenoMediator?"

A light of understanding filled Jack's eyes, and the fury evaporated as a grim pleasure replaced it.

"Possibly," Jack agreed without letting the pleasure show in his voice. "It's a shame all of my Mediators are already committed elsewhere. Too bad, Murdock, but we carry heavy schedules."

"I'm sure the disappointment is shattering for you," Murdock returned, the dryness in his voice more pronounced than usual. "However, you do have one Mediator available, and I am requesting a priority assignment. The Bureaus Chairman will join me in my request, as this matter is serious enough to merit the attention of a Prime."

Murdock was looking at me possessively, so I stretched and gave him a lazy laugh. "It really is a shame, Murdock, but I'm not available either. I'm on a class one vacation leave, and can't be reassigned unless I allow it. I don't allow it."

"She earned the class one during her last assignment," Jack put in, looking at me fondly. "The Bureaus Chairman himself insisted that she have it, so don't expect any support from him. As I said, Murdock - a shame."

"I agree," Murdock said with a wintry smile. "But not for the same reasons. Terrilian will be taking the assignment in spite of any views the Bureaus Chairman has to the contrary. Rathmore will insist."

Jack looked startled, and I wasn't feeling sleepy any longer. Rathmore Hellman was the supreme leader of Central in everything but name. His political power was such that no one dared oppose him on governmental matters of any sort. Murdock had the most powerful ally he could wish for. Jack ran his hand through his hair and avoided my eyes, and that annoyed me.

"Will Rathmore publicly rescind my class one?" I demanded of Murdock as I sat up on the couch. "If he does, he'll have to admit complicity in this thing. If he doesn't, I still refuse to allow it."

"My dear Terrilian," Murdock chuckled, some slight humor creasing his narrow face. "You bolster my faith in my judgment. You realize immediately that Rathmore's support is unnecessary to you as a Prime, so you feel free to oppose him. You have no unskilled career position that may be taken from you, as it may be taken from others, so you consider yourself safe." His eyes flicked to an expressionless Jack, then returned to me. "However, you, too, are vulnerable to persuasion."

"In what way?" I asked. "Primes are too hard to come by for Rathmore to be foolish enough to fire me. He'll still use my skill no matter how annoyed he gets at me."

"Assuming you are available, yes." Murdock nodded. "In that you are quite correct. But should you no longer be available, Rathmore will not mourn your loss."

"And how am I to be made unavailable?" I asked in amusement. "Rathmore detests waste, and will never stand for my being put out of the way in any manner."

"There is one way in which it may be accomplished," Murdock answered comfortably. "Rathmore is more than anxious to establish relations with Rimilia. A small gesture would be completely supported by him."

"What sort of gesture?" I asked with suspicion. It seemed to me that Murdock looked much too comfortable.

Murdock smiled slightly and turned his attention to Tammad. "You've been given a lovely housegift, my friend. Is it your intention to take your gift home with you?"

"Of course." Tammad grinned. "A man would be foolish indeed were he to leave behind him so lovely a gift. And one so little used."

They both turned to look at me, and I began feeling pale. "Don't be ridiculous!" I said shakily to Murdock. "All I have to do is refuse to go with him. The port authorities would never allow him to - "

"Which port authorities?" Murdock interrupted, his voice soft. "He wasn't seen when he arrived, and he won't be seen when he leaves. If there are two of you not to be seen, it won't be immeasurably more difficult."

"But you can't do that!" I protested, staring at a grinning Tammad. "Murdock, that's slavery!"

"Not at all," Murdock corrected, his face completely sober now. "It is merely political expedience. The altar of expedience has seen many such sacrifices in its time. Have you anything else to say?"

I looked down at the floor, unwilling to admit he had me in a trap. The thought crossed my mind that I could pretend to agree and then go to the peacemen as soon as I was released, but it was only wishful thinking. If I deliberately brought the matter to light, Rathmore would wait until the furor died down, then would personally see to my delivery to Rimilia. Rathmore had more patience than most, but he never forgot a disservice, and repaid it in the exact measure of his own disaccommodation.

I glanced over at Jack, but he still stood stonily silent. His entire career had been threatened, and I knew he'd never jeopardize his career just to help me. His career meant everything to him, much more than a Prime he had occasionally slept with.

Murdock sat quietly in his chair, his eyes fixed on my face. He was waiting patiently for an answer because he knew what that answer had to be.

"And how do I get back here once it's all over?" I asked with barely suppressed fury. "That - that friend of yours will still have me!"

Murdock took my question for the acknowledgment of defeat that it was, and turned back to Tammad.

"Tammad, I'm sure you realize that Terrilian is the one I mean to send to your aid," he said in that uncomplicated but not condescending manner he seemed to prefer when speaking to the barbarian. "She is most skilled in her profession, and cannot be bettered even though she is a woman. Are you willing to accept her help, listen to her suggestions, give her the knowledge that will enable her to assist you to victory?"

Tammad rose to his feet and grinned slightly at Murdock. "I have known for some moments that that was the thought of the Murdock McKenzie," he answered. "I have myself seen something of the ability of this woman, and am not reluctant to accept her aid. When the deed is done, she will be returned to your embassy on Rimilia. For this you have my word."

"Does that satisfy you?" Murdock asked, twisting around to look at me. "You ought to know that the word of a Rimilian is not easily given."

"I do know it," I answered, and stood up from the couch. "I suppose it will have to do. Right now I'm going home and to bed."

I started across the room, but Murdock wasn't through with me. "One other thing," he called, and I stopped near Jack to look back at him. "It will be some days yet before your transportation to Rimilia will be available. As you so kindly pointed out, Sandros is not the one to be host to Tammad. He will stay with you until departure time."

"Haven't you done enough to her?" Jack demanded from next to me as I simply stared at Murdock. "Asking her to house that barbarian is unreasonable. If he can't stay with Sandy, take him home yourself."

"Considering that I live at State House, that would be most unwieldy," Murdock answered pleasantly. "Tammad will stay with Terrilian."

Jack frowned at that, then turned to me. "Terry, don't let this bother you yet," he said with some small part of his old confidence. "I still have a few contacts, and I'll see what I can do." Then he lifted his right hand and put it around the back of my neck. "Meanwhile, how about taking in a real with me tonight? You've been gone a long time and I missed you."

I opened my mouth to answer him, but didn't get the chance. Tammad was suddenly there behind me, his left hand gripping Jack's right wrist and lifting it from my neck.

"It is not fitting for a man to touch unbidden the belongings of another," he told Jack evenly in that deep voice of his. "I will now have your apology."

"Belongings?" Jack echoed in confusion while trying to get his wrist loose. "What belongings? What are you talking about?"

"I do not belong to you," I hissed at the great hulking beast, but he paid no attention to me.

"The green-eyed woman was my housegift," he explained in the mildest of tones, watching as Jack struggled uselessly against his grip. "She will belong to me until her mission is done and she is returned to your embassy. I will have your apology for touching that which belongs to me."

Jack stared at him in disbelief, his face pale, beads of sweat on his forehead. He also had to look up, which couldn't have been a very familiar experience for him. Finally, his eyes dropped and he cleared his throat.

"I apologize," he muttered tonelessly. "I didn't know."

Tammad immediately released his wrist, and I looked at Jackson Randall with disgust. "You make me sick!" I snapped, but he just turned away, rubbing at his now free wrist. I moved past him without another word, went through the doorway to Sandy's central hall, flung the front door open, then headed home.

What was left of the beautiful day didn't reach me at all, and I was almost to my own front door when I realized that Tammad was right behind me. I could feel my lips draw into a thin, hard line, but I controlled my temper and simply ignored him. I swung through the door without caring who it hit on the way back, and went directly up the ramp to my bedroom and on through to my bathroom, slamming that door closed behind me. When the lock was firmly in place, I dialed a nice, hot bath, then got out a towel and a clean sleep suit.

The bath began relaxing me as soon as I was in it. I leaned back on the tub's headrest and closed my eyes, letting my hair be gently washed and dried. I'd looked at myself before getting in the tub, and the bruises weren't as bad as I'd thought they'd be but they were still there.

Among all the men I knew, there had never been one like the barbarian. So self assured, so easygoing, so confident. As if everything within his reach could be his if he decided to take it. And he'd decided to take me!

I had to force myself to relax again, force myself to open my clenched fists. I was helpless to do anything about it, helpless to avoid it. I'd thought that Jackson Randall might have been able to stand up to him, but Jack had been as useless as Sandy had been damaging. How could a man stand to be shamed like that? I'd always thought that it was part of a man to defend his pride as well as his life, but one look from Tammad and Jack had folded like a quadriwagon partition. I wondered if the action would haunt him, or if he would put it out of his mind as if it had never happened. I splashed some water over my shoulders and thought about it for a minute, then decided that it would be both.

And Murdock McKenzie! The man was a fiend of the nether regions, just as I'd always known. He'd trapped me into doing what those of his own Bureau weren't able to do, and he didn't care what I had to go through as long as the job was done. He didn't care that that barbarian would hold me down and use me until he was satisfied, bruise me with fingers of steel, bite me like the animal he was. If Murdock McKenzie could experience that, just once, then I would be satisfied.

I promised myself the pleasure of revenge on Murdock McKenzie, and that helped to slow my breathing a little. I was still too upset to really relax as I should have, so I thumbed the switch that transparented the wall in front of me, and looked out at a darkening sky. The pink and purple streaks of the sky told me that it would soon be night, soon be time for people to go to their variously earned rest. I watched the trees wave gently against the pink and purple, remembering that I was still at least one night's rest short. The warmth of the bath water reached through to my muscles; the peace of the sky reached through to my mind; I lost myself in thoughts of elsewhere.

I jerked awake and just caught myself from sliding under the water. I climbed wearily from the tub, feeling the inner strands of my once dry hair clinging to the wetness of my back, then toweled myself off well enough to be able to put on the sleep suit. Body lotions and powders would have to wait for my next bath. I plodded past the view of an all dark sky, fumbled through the door into my bedroom, found my bed with half shut eyes, then slid beneath inviting covers. My eyes closed the rest of the way, but I was already asleep.