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Encounter In A Muldharen Cave

Muldhar

Federation Directorate territory

May, 2550

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Jack Hendridge was stranded. His shuttle had crashed in dense fog on the planet Muldhar. His communications worked but no-one from his ship, the Determined, a military exploration vessel run by the Federation Directorate, could safely come get him until the fog lifted.

His front shuttlecraft window was broken in the crash. It was cold, rainy, and he needed to find shelter immediately.

He'd been injured in the crash, sustaining cuts above his right eye and left cheekbone, various other cuts and bruises including bruised legs, and a possible broken wrist.

He knew there were caves nearby based on an old map of the area so, after collecting some rations as well as his first aid kit, map, flashlight, communicator and phaser, he set out for the nearest cave to seek shelter.

About 1/4 mile from his crash site Jack found a large cave in what looked to have at one time been a village. He saw no signs of life there, though.

He drew his phaser and set it for stun, went into the cave about 50 feet, and sat down to call the Determined to let them know where he was. He thought he heard the crackling of a fire, so he walked deeper into the cave to investigate.

Eventually he thought he saw the shadow of a person. He'd had a long day and attributed seeing a possible shadow to being tired. After a few minutes, though, he thought he saw the shadow again.

“Is anyone there?” he called out in Terran, his native language and the most used language in the 26th century.

“I'm not going to hurt you. My shuttle crashed in the fog about 1/4 mile from here, breaking the window. I'm also injured.

”I've got cuts and bruises and a possible broken wrist as well. It's probably broken because it hurts like the dickens!

“I heard your fire crackling abit ago. Is it alright if I share it with you so I can stay warm until the Determined sends a rescue team down for me when the fog lifts?”

After a couple minutes Jack called out again, “Hello? Hello?”

He thought he heard frightened breathing. “I promise I won't hurt you.”, he said.

He found the fire he'd thought he'd heard crackling, and sat down by it to warm himself.

“Your fire sure feels nice and warm! Care to join me? There's no sense in me being warm and you being cold mere feet from me, simply because you're afraid of me.”

After another couple minutes he said,

“Thanks for letting me share your fire. This is the warmest I've been in hours!

”So...what's your name?

”I'm Jack Hendridge. I'm from the planet Orrion Delta 2. I'm stationed on the Determined, a starship owned by Earth's Federation Directorate.

“I've got delicious rations I can heat up for us here to eat if you're hungry. Do you like beef stew or would you prefer potato cheese soup? I've got both.”, he said.

He heard a faint, frightened voice behind him to his right ask,

“Human, how do I know you will not kill me like your kind has killed all the others in my village?”

“Well normally I'd joke and say we've just got to trust each other, but I don't think that answer would be appropriate right now.

”As far as you trusting me, well...let's just say that, like most of my race, I'm not one to kill just anyone.”, he said.

"Humans have terrorized my people for centuries. Why should I trust you?“, the voice replied.

”Well for one thing, I've offered to share a meal with you. Humans don't do that if they're planning to kill that person. So would you like beef stew or potato cheese soup?“, he asked.

Jack heard movement from where the voice was coming from, very quietly getting closer to him.

”Look, I've had a really crappy day! I wouldn't mind some company. Come have dinner with me.“, he said.

He saw fingers slowly touch a wall of the cave to his right and, in the glow of the fire, saw a small, petite shadow.

Finally a figure slowly came around the corner and sat a few feet from him. The figure wore a long brown hooded cloak and, from what Jack could tell, slipper-like shoes made out of some type of animal skin. He couldn't tell what this person looked like, or how old they were.

”Hello. Nice to meet you. I'm Jack.", he said as he reached out his hand to shake this person's hand. Very slowly, a small delicate hand reached out from under a cloak sleeve, trembling.

Jack took the hand and gave it a firm yet gentle handshake. He then took a quick glance at the hand. It had diamond-shaped markings along the outside, all the way to the tip of the person's smallest finger.

“What's your name?”, he asked.

“I am called Bituin.”, the person, who sounded female, replied.

“That's a beautiful name. What does it mean?”, Jack asked.

“It means 'stars' in your language.", the person said.

”Well, Bituin, thank you for joining me for dinner. Would you prefer beef stew or potato cheese soup?“, he asked.

”I do not know what those are, human.", Bituin said.

“No problem. I'm going to guess you're the beef stew type. Here you go.”, he said, putting a bowl of stew in front of her with a spoon.

He put a spoonful of the soup in his mouth and said, “Mmm...almost as good as my mom makes! How's your stew?”

Bituin hadn't tasted the stew yet, but ate a spoonful at that moment. “It is good, human."

Jack smiled.

”Glad you like it! So Bituin, what race are you? Judging by what you said earlier, I get the impression you're not Muldharen, especially since Muldharens don't live in caves.“, he said.

”I am Tahgan. I am the last Tahgan left now. Humans annihilated us four weeks ago. I have no use for humans, and have no trust or respect for them.“, Bituin said.

”Yet here you are sharing a meal with a human, a human who invited you to share that meal with him. A human who not only offered, but even served, you some of his own food.“, Jack replied.

She finished her meal in silence.

”Would you like some more, Bituin? I've got plenty.“, he asked. She held her bowl out with one trembling hand.

”Yes...please.“, she said. He refilled her bowl and handed it back to her. ”Thank you, human.“

”Jack. My name is Jack, Bituin. You may call me Jack.“, he replied.

Bituin was silent again as she ate her stew.

”I have iced tea if you'd like some as well.“, Jack said.

”What is that?“, she asked.

”It's tea that's cold instead of hot. It's delicious.“ He set a cup of tea on the ground next to her. She picked it up and drank the whole cup.

”It is good.“, she said, then ate 2 more bowls of stew and drank another cup of iced tea.

”When was the last time you ate, Bituin?“, Jack asked.

”I do not remember.“, she replied.

A woman's voice came over his communicator, startling Bituin and causing her to jump.

”Jack, come in. This is Kat. Are you alright?“

Jack replied, ”Yeah Kat, I'm fine. Just having dinner with Bituin here. How are you doing?“

”I'm doing well. Who's Bituin?“, she asked.

”She's an alien woman I met in the cave here. She likes beef stew and the iced tea Coop's wife made. I've no idea what she looks like, but she seems nice.“

”There's a bad storm coming in down there by you. Are you safe for the night where you are, or should we come rescue you?“, Kat asked.

”How's the fog situation? We're pretty far back in the cave, so I can't tell.“, Jack asked.

”I'm not sure, but the storm looks to be pretty bad.“, Kat said.

”I think we're safe enough here for the night.“, he replied.

”How's the wrist?“, she asked.

”It's painful. It's definitely been better. I'll manage. I don't want to risk anyone's lives by having them fly in a storm to rescue us.“, he replied.

”Alright Jack. If the pain gets much worse, you get back to me, and I'll have a med evac shuttle there within minutes.“, she said.

”Ok Kat. Sounds good. Hey have someone keep an eye on the area here in case we get some unwanted visitors. Bituin said humans destroyed her village four weeks ago.

“She's the only survivor and is quite dehydrated, malnourished, and possibly injured. I gave her four packets of beef stew and some iced tea, but I think at the very least she'll need an intravenous line with fluids.“, he replied.

”We'll definitely be on the lookout. Find out if she's injured. We'll take care of any injuries she has as well. Unless anything changes with your wrist, her condition or the weather, I'll see you in the morning, Jack.“

”Sounds like a plan, Kat!“ he said, then, after turning the communicator off, said,

”They'll be here in the morning unless the weather's too dangerous to rescue us.

“They'll take care of my injuries and any you have as well, Bituin.“

He stretched out his legs. He was sore from the crash.

”I do not need rescuing, human.“, she said.

”I beg to differ, Bituin. You're all by yourself. What happens if the ones who destroyed your village come back? Can you protect yourself?“, Jack asked.

”If they come back, then I die. I am resigned to that.“, Bituin replied.

”Well that's not a good enough answer for me, Bituin. I've no intention of leaving you here to die. You know, I don't even know if you're injured from the attack.“, Jack said.

”I am fine, human. I do not wish to be touched, nor my injuries treated, by humans.“

”So you ARE injured. What are your injuries? How badly are you hurt?“, he asked.

”I am fine, human. I do not wish to be touched, nor my injuries treated, by humans.“

”Yet earlier you shook my hand. My friends aren't going to hurt you, nor are they going to kill you. I promise you that. I'll be right there by your side. You can trust them, just like you trusted me enough to join me for dinner.“, Jack replied.

She sat back and leaned against the cave wall, silent.

”You know, Bituin, I don't even know what you look like. Why don't you at least let me see your face, so I can see whom I've been talking to and dining with?“, Jack asked.

After a few minutes of silence, one hand slowly came up and, even slower yet, pulled the cloak hood away from her face, revealing the face of a young woman who was possibly in her late teens or early 20's.

Bituin had ridges on her nose from the bridge most of the way down that looked as if she'd been cut, yet they lay flat against her nose. She also had diamond-shaped markings, 3 rows across, framing her face that went down her neck and, he presumed, down the outside of her arms all the way to the tip of the outside of her smallest finger.

He caught a glimpse of her left leg and noticed it had the same diamond-shaped markings on the outside of it as well, and assumed the outside of her right leg had the same markings. She had deep brown eyes and dark brown hair.

On her right ear she wore an ear cuff with a chain that was connected to a dangling gold earring, the back of which had been pushed through her right ear lobe the way human women pierced their ears. Her left ear had no cuff or earring.

”Well hello there, Bituin! My my...You certainly are beautiful!“, Jack said.

”Hello.“, she replied, blushing.

”So tell me, how old are you? I'm 30. Were you married? Did you have children?

“I've never been married, although I came close once. No kids, but lots of nieces and nephews.“, Jack said.

After abit Bituin replied, ”I am 20. My husband and children are all dead. They died 4 weeks ago when our village was attacked.“

”I'm sorry to hear that. How old was your husband? How old were your children?“, he asked.

Tears ran down her face as she thought about her husband and children.

”We were the same age. Our children were 4 and 2 1/2.“

”I'm sorry for your loss, Bituin. Really I am.“, he replied.

Looking at him, she wiped her tears. ”Thank you, human.“, she said.

Jack gave Bituin a few minutes to compose herself.

”What happened to the bodies of your family and friends?“, he asked.

”I dragged them all to one place and cremated them.“, she said.

”I know it's no comfort now but, if my friends and I had been here, I guarantee you we'd have fought to protect all of you, even though it would have meant fighting against other humans.

“If we'd been there shortly afterwards, we'd have done what we could to save those who were mortally wounded, and would've helped you bury or cremate your dead.“, he replied.

After a few minutes of silence, she said, ”Thank you.“

Eventually they heard the storm move in. ”Sounds bad out there.“ he said.

”Yes.“, she replied.

”How badly were you injured? What were your injuries?“, Jack asked.

”Stab wounds on my arm, below my shoulder and my leg, bruises, injured ankle and knee. I sewed up what I could.“, Bituin replied.

”Are you able to walk with your ankle and knee injuries?“, Jack asked.

”I manage.“, she replied.

”Bituin, if you'll agree to it, I'd like to have our med techs check you out when they get here. They'll make sure everything's healing properly, and that no infection has set in. I'll be right by your side. Will you agree to that, please?“

She sat for a few minutes in silence, deep in thought, obviously tortured by the thought of humans helping her and having to touch her in order to do so.

She knew she needed help, though. The stew had been the first meal she'd had in several days, almost 2 weeks in fact.

Bituin didn't want to trust humans to help her, thinking it a betrayal of her family and friends...her people.

”Our people.“, she thought. ”I'M our 'people' now. Humans slaughtered us 4 weeks ago, and now this human wants to help me! He wants me to let other humans touch me and help me! NO! NO!

“Yet, this human is different. He shared a meal with me, shared his own food with me, even offered me condolences on the loss of Punata and our children! He showed concern about my injuries.

”He told that woman to let him know if those horrible monsters came back to hurt me! I do not understand this human!

“Yet, if I am to survive and be able to walk to hunt food for myself, I have no choice but to trust him and those humans he wants to help me. I have no choice."

She turned to him and said, “Alright, human. I will agree to it.”

Jack smiled, greatly relieved.

“Great! Thank you, Bituin!”, he said.

A few minutes later she asked him, “Human, who is that woman to you? Is she the one you almost married?”

He could see she was trying to make conversation, the first time she'd initiated a conversation all evening.

“No, Kat and I are just really good friends. We've known each other for years. We're both on the ”away team“. She outranks me, but we're equals on the team.”, he said.

“She is not your woman, then?”, she asked.

“No. Just a very dear friend.”, he said.

When they were done eating, Jack wiped out their bowls and spoons, got his first aid kit out, and went over to sit in front of her.

He reached out to check her wound by her right front clavicle she'd stitched up weeks before. She jumped, trying to get away.

“No, stay away, human!”, she begged, but he held her hand and said,

“Bituin, please...let me help you.” She breathed heavily, nearly panting in fear.

After examining it he said,

“It doesn't seem infected. There are no redness or signs of infection. I'm just going to put this bandage with medication on it to make sure it stays that way.”

After putting the small bandage on, he looked at her arm. She'd done a good job stitching it up. It was looking abit red, puffy and felt warm to the touch, so he put another medicated bandage on it.

Next he checked her leg. The wound on her thigh was showing signs of becoming infected, so he put a medicated bandage on that wound as well.

He then checked her knee. Bituin grimaced and moaned. It didn't feel broken or torn, but it was definitely swollen and injured.

After her knee, he checked her ankle. She screamed in agony, tears pouring from her eyes and down her face. Jack had an elastic bandage in his kit and wrapped her ankle in it.

“I'm sorry I hurt you, Bituin. I didn't mean to do that.”

After she'd finally caught her breath and regained her composure, she said,

“It is alright. I should not have shown weakness like that, especially in front of a human.”

“Bituin, you didn't show weakness at all. This bandage will give you some support for it. Your ankle definitely feels broken.”

Bituin nervously replied,

“You have been cut, human. I can help you if you would like me to. You have tended to my injuries and shared your meal with me. It is the least I can do.”

“Thanks. I'll get the bandages cut the right size.”, Jack said.

Once he'd cut them, Bituin sat cross-legged and he sat closer to her. She bandaged the cut above his right eye.

As Bituin moved closer to him to bandage the cut on his left cheekbone, her lips accidentally brushed his.

When she'd bandaged the cut, Jack took her chin in his hand and gave her a soft, tender kiss which Bituin quite surprisingly reciprocated. She then checked his wrist.

He grimaced as she gently touched it. He told her there was another bandage in his first aid kit like the one he'd put on her ankle, and asked her to wrap it around his wrist.

Once she'd done that, she asked if he wanted any more of the tea he'd shared with her. He said yes and she poured him a cup.

“Thanks, Bituin. Make sure you pour yourself some tea as well. You're still quite severely dehydrated.”, Jack said, smiling.

Both were getting tired so, after he put some more firewood on the fire, Jack suggested they both lay down on their left sides since their right sides were injured.

He then told her they should ”spoon“, explaining to her what he meant, so that they'd both get the warmth from the fire, and he could protect her if anyone came in the cave before Kat and her team arrived in the morning.

She wasn't sure about all of that, but she was tired, had a full stomach for the first time in almost 2 weeks, and just wanted the pain in her arm, leg and ankle to go away.

He pulled her cloak over them both, making sure Bituin was closer to the warmth than he was. Jack was glad she'd eaten as much as she had as she was obviously hungry, malnourished, dehydrated and seriously injured.


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