Tia watched the Hirogen male steadily approach their position, his steps slow but unfaltering. A voice at her ear broke her focus on the advancing figure.
“Crewman Jenkins is our fastest runner. Most likely to make it back to the Tesla on his own.” As she heard John voice this information in a low undertone, Tia appreciated his foresight. If they were to fall under attack from this approaching force, this may be their only opportunity to get someone out to warn the crew back at the Tesla.
“Crewman Jenkins,” Tia made a quick decision and softly hailed the soldier over the comms. “Covertly make your way back to the Tesla and provide Captain Ryder with an update. Time is of the essence.” She saw the crew member discretely begin to slide back down the rocky hillside towards the valley below. Then Tia turned back to face their new threat. “You got me covered?” she placed the question to Richardson although she already knew the answer.
“Always,” he assured her.
Tia swallowed hard as she rose to her feet, revealing her position to the Hirogen. The Hirogen halted in its advance, and she raised her hand to display her phaser before shoving it deep into the holster on her thigh. As she stepped forward, the Hirogen followed suit and they both made their way through the field of large boulders. The Hirogen began to draw near and Tia raised her left hand as her right dangled close to the ever-ready sidearm.
“That’s close enough,” she warned him.
The Hirogen lifted both hands and nodded slowly in compliance. “We mean you no harm.”
Tia could not be sure, but she thought it sounded as though the Hirogen was attempting to make his voice sound gentle, though any delicate undertones were lost in the harsh gravelly voice.
“Forgive me for being skeptical, but goodwill is hardly common for your kind,” the XO spoke forcefully, hoping to give the appearance of a much stronger front than her tiny force could realistically muster.
The Hirogen bowed his head in what looked like a gesture of shame, but Tia knew better than to believe every indication of such a ferocious species. “I am Sovto,” the male placed a hand on his chest as he introduced himself. “I and the fellow members of my group only wish to help. We are not like others of our species. There are few of us who do not hold to the old homicidal ways but have accepted that many other species are far too developed to be merely hunted as prey. We have seen that other races can provide insight into useful advances in civilization, and wish to establish relations with any who would be able to accept such an advancement of peace from our kind. As a gesture of goodwill, we extend to you whatever shelter and aid our village can provide,” the Hirogen who called himself Sovto finished this eloquent speech with another deep nod. Ass
“Thanks for the offer, but I think we’ll be fine on our own,” Tia rejected the proffered assistance from the Hirogen leader.
Sovto sighed deeply but opened his mouth to speak again. “Your choice is your own, and if you so desire we will leave you without further interference.”
Tia waited for the other shoe to drop, certain that it would not go quite this easily in negotiations with a Hirogen.
“However,” Sovto continued, “I must warn you that my group is not the only one of our species on this planet, and there are several bands of hunters who traverse these areas often and set many traps like the one your group stumbled upon. If you wish to make your way on your own, I will make no further attempt to asway you from your intentions, but I feel compelled to warn you that you stand little chance of survival if you are to rebuff this extension of a helping hand.”
Tia’s fingernails dug into her palm. She could not discern if these silky words were a genuine offer of abetment or simply a veiled threat, but she knew she needed to choose her next words carefully. She sucked in a deep breath before she spoke.
A wide smile broke across the rough features of their new associate as she conceded.
“If you are willing to house our wounded till they can be safely moved, then we will accept your hospitality.”
“We gladly welcome you to whatever humble aid we can offer.” The Hirogen was beaming, yet Tia held her reservations.
“Master Chief Richardson!” she called for John to approach.
The crewman warily made his way towards them, refusing to remove his finger from its place at the trigger of his rifle.
“Order the medic to prepare the wounded for transport. We are taking them to the village,” Tia instructed.
“We brought stretchers and bandages with us,” Sovto eagerly spoke.
“We’re going with them?” the question was forced from between tight lips as Richardson refused to let up on the fierce gaze of distrust he had directed towards the scaled creature.
Tia opened her mouth to enforce her orders but it was the Hirogen who spoke first.
“I realize the widely known butchery and carnage of my kind is a difficult stigma to overcome, but if you can find it in your heart to give us a chance, we would like to show you that not all Hirogen are the same.”
The Master Chief only responded to this eloquent plea with a guttural grunt before turning away to head towards the outcropping of rocks where the doctor and wounded crewmen were holed up. Tia moved to follow him. Sovto motioned for his group to approach and hung back as he waited for them.
“A Hirogen pacifist? I’m not buying it.” John placed the question to Tia under his breath once they were out of earshot of the Hirogen.
“Not a bit,” Tia responded in agreement. “But a firefight here with that large of a group will only result in the death of us all. Even if they do mean to betray us, we stand a better chance of some of us making it out alive if we play along for the moment.”
“Understood,” John growled, glancing back over his shoulder to keep an eye on the Hirogen group.
The doctor took the news without verbal comment, but her eyes spoke volumes as she eyed their would-be benefactors.
“I need to finish up a few more tourniquets before they’re ready to move,” was all the medic said.
“Come on, Doc. Fast would be better than slow.” John snapped his fingers, clearly on edge due to the strain of their situation.
“I’m getting it,” the little doctor shot back in annoyance.
In a short amount of time, the medical professional had finished preparing the wounded crewmembers for transport, and with the assistance of the Hirogen, they had been loaded onto the waiting stretchers.
“Lead the way,” Tia invited Sovto to direct them towards his village.
Hours later they broke through the thick underbrush to look down a rocky hillside upon a sprawling village consisting of houses and shops and surrounded by bountiful farmland. Tia took a moment to study the layout of the town from their vantage point atop a hill to the east of the bustling village. She noted John’s scanning eyes doing the same as he carefully made his way down the hillside with a stretcher in tow.
John helped carry his wounded friend into the temporary clinic that had been provided by the sympathetic villagers. Akeno released a grunt as he was laid on the wooden table, but the clench of his jaw as he focused his gaze on the roughhewn rafters of the primitive saloon warned John not to comment on the groan of pain.
John gave a quick snap of his fingers without looking and turned his gaze just in time to see the blonde doctor with dreadlocks throw him a glance of annoyance. He returned the glare with a sneer of equal irritation and the doctor spoke after giving John’s patient a quick glance.
“He requires far less attention than some of the patients here. He can wait a minute.”
Richardson, being unused to such off-hand treatment, tensed up and moved to confront the busy little medical professional, but Akeno stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“She’s not wrong,” the wounded friend noted with a glance around the room at the numerous other unfortunate convalescents. John ground his teeth together for a moment, but when his eyes met those of his longtime friend, he relented with a quick nod.
Approaching the preoccupied doctor he asked her, “Anything I can help with?”
“You can hold him still while I remove this shrapnel,” she responded without pause.
Without hesitation, the master chief reached out to pin the writhing patient to the bed as the skilled doctor proceeded to remove the shards of metal from the ribs of the pained individual. John assisted the doctor with several patients before she finally turned her attention to Lieutenant Chung who waited patiently on the table.
“So what got you into medicine, Doc?” Akeno could normally have cared less about the history of a doctor as they operated on him, but he wanted something to keep his mind from the prodding forceps.
“I figured I should know how to fix something if I’m going to break it.” Jovi pushed a blond dread back from her face as she leaned in to locate a piece of shrapnel amongst the torn flesh.
“That’s why you became a medic? So you could fix things that you break, meaning human beings?” Savik’s brows rose at this unorthodox reasoning.
“Yea, that’s pretty much why I studied medicine in the first place.” Jovi gave a slight shrug of her shoulder as she latched onto a particularly large piece of shrapnel and jerked it from Akeno’s leg. Akeno gave a grunt but otherwise betrayed no indication of the pain. Jovi continued to talk as the busy forceps resumed their task. “I figured I owed it to people, if I was going to break them, I should know how to fix them. I don’t think you should inflict damage unless you fully understand the extent of the damage you are inflicting and the repercussions to the person you’re inflicting the harm on. So I studied medicine so I would understand exactly the extent of the damage I was doing. Just a moral thing I guess. Didn’t feel right to hurt someone without knowing how to heal them.”
Savik allowed this new knowledge to sink in as her opinion of the young doctor shifted somewhat. This girl was not a bleeding heart as Savik would have labeled their Chief Medical Officer Al-Assad, but she seemed to be more of a wild card whose conscience had kept her from becoming someone potentially far more dangerous.
John didn’t consider Jovi’s philosophy quite so deeply. “I just point a gun at people and it goes boom.”
“Yes.” Jovi threw the Master Chief a brief smirk. “I’m sure you do.”
The doctor produced a chem-wrap from her bag and pulling off the transparent adhesive she began to carefully apply the bandaging treatment to Akeno’s leg. A wounded crewman began to regain consciousness and started to cry out in pain from a few beds over.
“Is there anything you can give them to keep them quiet?” Tia asked, concerned about the roving party of hunters the village leader had warned them about. Where unfriendly Hirogen to happen close to the town, they would likely overhear such a noise due to their advanced level of hearing.
“It’s not like I brought an endless supply of morphine with me,” Jovi responded.
“I can put them to sleep,” John offered.
“Thanks, but nah,” Jovi quickly shot that idea down, rising from her knees to gather up trash and stuff it into her bag. “I don’t really need either of your help so if you’d like to go play lookout somewhere that isn’t here, that would be great.”
“I’m good here,” John stated with a shrug.
Jovi’s gaze rose to glare directly at Tia and John. “Well I’m not good with you here, so go be somewhere else.”
John gave a short chuckle and turned to Akeno. “You good?” he asked, looking down at his injured partner.
“Yea, I’ll make it.” Akeno pushed himself to his elbows with a suppressed groan, reaching for his gun belt which hung off the back of a chair to his side. “Get outa here and see what kind of mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.”
John nodded and looked towards Tia. The XO and Master Chief shared a knowing glance before they moved to depart, both of them sharing the same thought. They needed to question their savior further to determine a strategy moving forward.
It was late into the night when Tia rose to her feet to wave her arms about, trying to keep the chill in the air at bay. Sovto had failed to answer her and John’s questions to their satisfaction, instead insisting that they needed rest and pushing further conversation till the next day. So Tia now stood watch outside the darkened tavern, watching for any sign of betrayal on the part of their Hirogen hosts. However, the only sounds that broke the still silence of the night were the occasional groans of the wounded men inside the tavern. Tia sighed as she took a seat on a bench outside the establishment, glancing up to check on John’s position on a rooftop across the street. A short wave of his hand let her know that he was still alert and keeping an eye on her through his scope. She was thankful for his experienced backup on this mission which had turned into so much more than they had expected. She sighed and allowed her head to lean back against the mud wall of the building behind her and her mind wandered to the fate of the crewman they had sent out to warn the crew of the Tesla. She only hoped Jenkins had been able to make it through, and that the Tesla was already bustling with activity as Captain Ryder prepared a group for dispatch.
Tia and John got no rest that night, and as daybreak broke over the sleeping village, Tia was thankful that the night had proven uneventful. The XO was dragging as she notified the doctor she would be going out to speak with Sovto and then crossed the street to meet John who was making his way down from his overhead perch. The Master Chief came bounding down the stairs to meet her with his rifle strap slung over a burly shoulder. With a short nod and wide grin as greeting, the strapping figure lifted his arms wide and leaned back till a resounding crack was heard from his back.
“Aaaaahhhhh!” he expelled a loud sigh as he relaxed from his stretch. “I’m giving this hotel a one-star rating,” he groaned. “Their beds are terrible.”
Tia rolled her eyes and jerked her head in a motion for him to follow her. He fell in step next to her as she started down the road in search of the village leader. “You seem perky.” Although annoyed by his seemingly boundless energy, she found his unrelenting canty attitude to be contagious.
“I’ve certainly had better sleepless nights when watching a woman’s back,” he stated with a devilish grin accompanied by a twinkle in his eye. “But we’re still alive so I can’t complain.”
Tia was glad to see Sovto approaching them from across the village square. It seemed a good sign that the Hirogen leader would seek them out rather than make them search for him.
“Good morning,” Sovto greeted them with a low bow as he drew near.
“Good morning to you also.” Tia returned the bow politely, but John simply chose to hook his thumbs into his belt as he eyed the Hirogen with a narrow gaze. Tia opened her mouth to speak further but Sovto had turned away from them before she could speak, inviting them to follow him with a wave of his hand.
“I would be honored to take you on a tour of the village.” His excitement shone through his polite and reserved tone.
Tia bit her tongue but fell into step beside him, noting the beaming smile on the face of their host. It was a strange expression to see on the rough features of a Hirogen, and she determined to simply spend some time in observation as she attempted to discern the character of the town leader.
Sovto kept the conversation light as he introduced them to the layout of the valley hamlet, leading them through the village square to display their numerous shops with diverse wares and detailing the foundation of commerce in the village. Tia noted that he asked them no questions regarding the size of their force or the location of the Tesla, and as the conversation progressed, she began to wonder if perhaps they had achieved what no one would have previously thought possible. Perhaps they had stumbled upon a group of pacifist Hirogen who would help to establish a revolutionary peace with a race that had solely been seen as a scourge upon the civilized galaxy.
But Tia’s hopes were short-lived as their tour of the charming town was cut short by a figure racing down the street towards the small group. John’s hand quickly moved to his gun as the Hirogen raced towards them, and Sovto quickly stepped forward to meet the approaching figure.
“What is wrong?” the village leader pressed the messenger.
The breathless Hirogen struggled to catch his breath “A hunting party is approaching. It’s Tidac’s men.”