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Under The Gun


Rodford Edmiston

      Lisa stormed angrily towards the camera. More specifically, to the man in the Director's chair beside the camera.

      "Mr. Cantera!" cried Lisa, waving a sheaf of bound pages towards the man's back.

      "Cut! Cut!" the Director yelled, standing quickly. He whirled on Lisa. "What's the matter with you? Can't you see that we're..."

      "Shut up," snapped Lisa. Cantera did so, more out of astonishment than obedience. "I just learned that the film you are making is not the one I approved. I got suspicious when I heard some of the crew talking about people and events I'd never heard of. So I got a copy of the script."

      "You're not supposed to have that!" said Cantera, making a futile grab for the pages.

      "I can see why!" yelled Lisa, easily keeping the script out of his reach. "You've changed the name of the story, the names of several of the characters, the plot, and have arranged to make Julius Harver look like a complete idiot! You had a good script, one very close to the book; why did you ruin it like this?"

      "Look that's none of your business."

      "It's my story !" shouted Lisa. "Your studio signed a contract with me based on a specific treatment. Then you snuck in all these ruinous changes. Why?"

      "Well, the producer felt that it needed some spicing up," said the Director, defensively.

      "'Spicing up'?" said Lisa, outraged. "A book several reviewers said was one of the most tense and suspenseful they'd ever read? And you call making a character famed for his competence into an inept clown 'spicing up'?"

      "Look, Miss Dawnwind, I'm the Director. I get a script, I shoot it. Which I can't do with you here interrupting things. If you have a beef go take it up with the producer. He's in the administration trailer."

      Cantera turned back towards his folding chair. Lisa stared at him for a moment, then spun around and marched off.

      Going from the hot New Mexico sun into the dark, overly air-conditioned office trailer was a physical shock, but Lisa didn't even reduce speed. She marched straight to the receptionist.

      "I'd like to see Mr. Thompson."

      "Yes, ma'am," the receptionist calmly replied. "And who should I say is calling?"

      "Lisa Dawnwind."

      "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you aren't on the list."

      "I'm the author of the story you people are shooting here. Tell him that unless he wants to be sued for breach of contract he will see me now ."

      "Yes, ma'am," the receptionist said, appearing undisturbed but obviously realizing Lisa meant business. She spoke quietly on the phone for a few moments, deliberately turning away so that Lisa could not hear her. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but Mr. Thompson says that you are not either of the scriptwriters we hired. He also says that you aren't supposed to be here, and that if you don't leave immediately he will have security escort you out."

      "I was invited here!" said Lisa, outraged. "And a good thing, too. I'm not the script writer, I'm the author of the book your script is based on. Or was based on. Some delusional drug addict has taken a perfectly good story and changed it into unmitigated garbage."

      The receptionist didn't reply. Lisa frowned, started to say something, then turned as she heard the door open behind her. Two men in security uniforms entered, glaring sternly at Lisa. The receptionist nodded at Lisa, and the men advanced.

      "Sorry, ma'am, but you'll have to leave," said one of the men.

      Cold anger flooded Lisa, and for a moment - just a moment - she verged on tearing everyone in the office to shreds. Then her control returned. She refused to yield to the rage inside her, but that meant quietly acquiescing. If she made a protest and either of these men became belligerent, her control would shatter. Instead, she nodded to the men, and stepped over to them. Wordlessly, they escorted her out of the trailer and into a security car.

      "Where are you parked?" one of the men asked.

      Lisa pointed, glad she hadn't accepted the offer to be driven here in a studio limo. She needed a car for other tasks, and she was reluctant to accept a ride out to a location where she would need someone to give her another ride to get back to town. Now it seemed that yielding to her strong independent streak had paid off. Current circumstances made it unlikely she would be offered the courtesy limo for returning to her hotel and she didn't like busses.

      The security men drove her to the Camaro she had rented, then made sure she got in and drove off the site. Lisa turned left on the highway, heading back to town.

      Lisa had asked for a Corvette, but the rental agency didn't have any. However, they did have one of the performance Camaros with the detuned Corvette engine. Lisa wound the car out, topping 150. There was a reason beyond anger for her speed. Once she got back to her hotel room she was going to make some calls.

                                    *                              *                              *

      The next time Lisa went to see Bruce Thompson he definitely knew who she was, and he most certainly saw her. Cal Cantera was with him, as well as a brace of lawyers. Lisa was alone, and rather confident that she had them out-numbered.

      "Now, then, Miss Dawnwind," said Thompson. "As I understand the situation, you claim that you are the true author of Under the Gun and that we have no right to film it."

      "Oh, you have a right to film it," said Lisa. "However, what you are filming isn't Under the Gun."

      Thompson frowned at this. One of the lawyers leaned over and whispered to him. The frown vanished and Thompson nodded.

      "So if you have no claim to the story we are making, why did you file an injunction, stopping our work?"

      "Because you agreed to film a specific treatment of my story and you aren't."

      Again the frown, and again a whispered explanation by the lawyer.

      "So you are claiming that Leslie Markhov was not authorized to sell us the rights to Under the Gun."

      "I am Leslie Markhov," snapped Lisa, exasperated.

      Another frown, more whispering.

      "Hmmph," said Thompson. "You writers are as bad as actors. Why can't you just use your real names? Well, that's neither here nor there. How much do you want?"

      "I've already agreed to a price, and been paid. I just want you to keep your end of the bargain."

      "Look, young lady, I'm a busy man, and your little stunt has put us behind schedule. I don't like yielding to extortion, but my lawyers tell me it will be cheaper to settle out of court than to fight this. So, how much do you want?"

      Lisa had to make several additional attempts before the man understood that she didn't want more money, but only to see her story filmed the way she had agreed to.

      "I'm afraid that's out of the question," he harrumphed. "We have already begun shooting the current script. It is too late for re-writes. Besides, we have a contract with the script writers to honor."

      "You have a contract with me which predates theirs," said Lisa.

      This time there was a full-blown conference, both lawyers and Cantera huddling with the producer.

      "Look, if you don't want more money, why all this fuss?" said Thompson, finally. "I mean, it's just a story..."

      "If it is 'just' a story why did you pay me so much for it?" asked Lisa. "And why aren't you using what you paid for? Don't you want to get your money's worth?"

      "Be reasonable," said Thompson. "A re-write will take days, cost us..."

      "You already have a good script. The one I approved. Use it."

      "But that script was found to be inadequate!"

      "By whom?" snapped Lisa. "You? It was good enough for your studio's chief executive to personally okay."

      Thompson looked shocked. There was more consultation.

      "You leave me no choice, then," said the producer, obviously angry. "We will return to the old script. But I want you to know that you will never work in Hollywood again!"

      "I've never worked in Hollywood at all," said Lisa, calmly. "After this experience I doubt I will ever want to. Good day."

      The producer stared after her with complete incomprehension in his eyes as Lisa rose and left.

                                    *                              *                              *

      Lisa was in an expansive mood as she drove back to town. She had obviously failed to make Thompson understand that the story was more important to her than the money, but she could hardly care less what some fat old leach thought. The important thing was to see her work - in a way, her child - reach the screen in a form reasonably close to what she had put in her book. She was in such a good mood, in fact, that she didn't realize there was anything wrong with passing a state trooper as a speed of just over one hundred ten miles per hour.

      Well, she did signal...

      Back at the hotel, Lisa first called the State Attorney General's office. She told the aid whom she had spoken with before that the producer had agreed to her terms and that the injunction could be lifted. Then she showered, changed and called an expensive local restaurant - a place named Bullwark's - to make reservations. Clad in a clinging black dress, Lisa drove - carefully, legally - to the restaurant. She thought the maitre d' was looking at her strangely as she walked up, but ignored his expression as she gave her name.

      "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I don't have a reservation for you," he said, icily.

      "You didn't even look at your list," Lisa calmly replied.

      "I know what is on the list."

      "Well, just to be sure, would you please look again?"

      "No, ma'am," was his firm reply. "Now, you will please leave immediately, or I will have you arrested for loitering."

      Lisa stared at him, aghast. Then she noticed that hers was the darkest skin in the restaurant. Many years had passed since the last time she had been openly discriminated against because of her race. And here she was, back in her home state, not all that far from her home town, being turned away.

      "A prophet is not without honor," she muttered, remembering a Biblical quote from her days in Catholic school.

      Lisa turned and sauntered out, as casual and unconcerned as a cat denied a treat.

      Supper was carryout, bought from a fast food drive-through. Also bought at a drive-through - though another one - were several bottles of whiskey. The day had been a hard one, but while she had lost a few skirmishes Lisa felt she had won the biggest and most important battle.

      Supper over, Lisa settled down with the bottle she had opened for her meal. She drained it, then opened another. This was very unusual behavior for Lisa; she rarely drank to get drunk. For one thing, she rarely had either the reason or the desire to. For another, alcohol had little effect on her and that soon faded. Still, she wanted to put the trials of the day out of her mind, and there was little else to do here. She could write a bit on her laptop, but wasn't really in the mood. She didn't know anyone in town, and the distance was too far and the hour too late to travel north to visit her relatives. Finally, if her true mission to New Mexico were successful she would have to avoid alcohol for the next few months. So she drank until she felt sleepy, attended to the usual hygiene needs, peeled out of her fancy, expensive dress and dropped onto the bed.

                                    *                              *                              *

      Lisa snapped awake and jerked her head around to look at the door. She'd heard, in her sleep, someone approach, and stop. She paused, tensed like a living spring. There was a knock. Lisa relaxed. Anyone intending foul play was unlikely to be so polite. A glance at the clock showed that she had slept nearly nine hours, unusually long for her. Of course, the previous day had been unusually trying...

      She rose and padded to the door, looking through the peephole. On the other side stood a pair of local police officers. Lisa sighed and opened the door.

      "Yes?" she asked, raising a eyebrow.

      The officers stared in astonishment. Lisa realized that she was wearing only a pair of panties. She made a production of glancing down, then laughed and looked back up at the men.

      "Sorry. I was drunk when I went to bed and forgot I wasn't wearing much. What's the problem?"

      "Uh, perhaps you would like to get dressed," one of the men said, his face flushed, staring very deliberately at Lisa's face.

      She shrugged, then stepped back, holding the door open.

      "Come on in. We can talk while I dress."

      "No, ma'am. We'll wait out here."

      Lisa shrugged again, and let the door close.

      She thought hard and quickly about what had brought the officers here. It wasn't likely to be for the speeding ticket. So, something had happened either at the movie location or the restaurant, and they thought she was involved. Which meant she was wanted for questioning, and might even be arrested as soon as she re-opened the door. For now, Lisa decided to go along peacefully, to listen and learn what was going on. She also decided to take a few moments to get ready for what might be a long period of interrogation. She went to the bathroom first, then picked out some clothes. She dressed quickly, in jeans and t-shirt, not bothering with a bra, and gave her long hair a few strokes with the brush. She opened the door again.

      "Now will you come in?"

      "Ah, no, ma'am," the officer replied. "We have orders to bring you down to the station. Could you please get your ID?"

      "Am I under arrest?"

      "No, ma'am. But we do need to talk to you."

      "For what?"

      "Someone blew up the film company's office last night," said the second officer, who until now had been quiet.


                                    *                              *                              *

      "So you got drunk and went to bed," said Lieutenant Simmons.

      He was a large, sweaty white man, very businesslike but not overly formal. The third person in the room was an Indian, another plainclothes officer. Detective Tim Blake was young and handsome, and Lisa found herself liking him without any reason beyond his appearance and general manner. She deliberately pushed her shoulders back, enjoying the fact that Blake kept staring at her chest through the thin fabric of her shirt. With a start Lisa realized the pressure on her nipples felt very good, and that she was quite aroused. She shook her head and leaned forward, focusing on the question.

      "More like got drunk and passed out," said Lisa, with a rueful laugh. "Do you know what it's like to wake up hung over with two police officers pounding on your door?"

      Which was a major prevarication. Except for a full bladder and a severe case of dry mouth, Lisa had felt no after-effects from the nearly gallon and a half of hard liquor she had consumed the previous evening.

      "So you deny having any knowledge of the sabotage."

      "Why would I do anything to them when they had already agreed to do what I wanted?"

      The two men glanced at each other.

      "That's not what we heard," said Blake. "Mr. Thompson told us that you were determined to stop the movie and would do anything to do so."

      Lisa said a few words in Navajo. Blake stared in astonishment for a moment, then burst out laughing.

      "What?" demanded Simmons.

      "Uh, she said that Thompson was a fat vulture who smelled like he ate armadillo droppings," said Blake. "Only she wasn't that polite."

      That brought a gruff chuckle from Simmons. With the mood a bit lighter now, Lisa related the events of the previous day, including Thompson's agreement to film the original script.

      "So I was celebrating," Lisa finished. "After the restaurant 'lost' my reservation, I bought some food and some whiskey and went straight back to my room."

      "Yeah, that place is notorious for that sort of thing," said Simmons. "Unfortunately, they're smart enough to never be blatant enough that we can do anything about it."

      "So they'll just keep on, until someone with enough money and determination sues them for discrimination," said Blake, looking Lisa in the eye. "Say, someone who has enough clout to get the State Attorney General to place an injunction in less than four hours."

      Lisa laughed at that, then shook her head again.

      "I called my mother, she spoke to the mayor of Acoma, and he called the Attorney General. I'm a native daughter, I'm a minority and my books have brought some favorable attention to New Mexico. Since the studio has managed to piss off a number of people both in and out of the government, the AG was actually eager to do something to get back at them."

      "I thought movie production crews were welcome just about anywhere they went," said Blake.

      "Most of them are," agreed Lisa. "Most of them don't have Bruce Thompson running them."

      "I've never spoken to the man, but from what the Chief and his receptionist have said he must be a prize asshole," muttered Simmons.

      "I'd like to see what happened to that trailer," said Lisa. "Was it really blown up or did a freak windstorm just blow it over?"

      "Sorry," said Simmons. "The company spokesman made it clear that you were not to be allowed on the site. In fact, when they filed the charges they insisted that you not be allowed out of the city, or even out of your hotel room without police escort. All that was after our Chief refused to arrest you."

      "Well, that was nice of him," said Lisa.

      "Not really. He knows there's not enough evidence to hold you." Simmons grinned. "I think he also didn't want someone mad at him who had influence with the State Attorney General."

      "The state police are handling the investigation of what happened to the trailer," Blake added. "From what I heard, though, the thing was literally smashed to pieces, but with no signs of fire. Like it had burst like a balloon."

      "So am I free to go?" asked Lisa.

      "No, sorry," said Simmons. "Like I said, we agreed to keep an eye on you. So we'll have an officer escort you anywhere you want to go in town, and have a man stationed outside your hotel door when you are there."

      "Anywhere in town," said Lisa, slowly. "Not outside."

      "That's right. Sorry."

      "Well, you better hope this is straightened out soon. I promised my mother I'd spend some time with her and my other relatives, and if I can't you'll have to deal with her."

      "That... sounds like it would be very unpleasant," said Simmons, slowly. "From what you've said, she must be a very formidable woman."

      "So, we might as well get started," sighed Lisa. "Who's going to be my keeper?"

      "We'll assign officers in shifts, rotating every four hours," said Simmons. "I have a list, here, and will introduce them to you, so you won't be dealing with strangers. Do you want them plainclothes?"

      "No, in uniform," said Lisa. "That way there won't be any doubt if Thompson accuses the department of not keeping me on a short leash."

      Simmons nodded. He pulled a list out of a manila folder and studied it for a moment.

      "Let's see... Bester isn't back yet, Hoppes doesn't come on duty until four... I'm afraid that most of these officers are male; we don't have many female officers."

      "That's not a problem," said Lisa, finding her attention drawn to Blake.

      "Damn. We got through this quicker than I thought. None of the uniforms I have on the list are available until one."

      "Well, if Miss Dawnwind doesn't mind, I'll fill in until then," said Blake, rising. "I'll take her back to her room, then to lunch, then here, so her uniformed escort can take over."

      "That's fine," said Lisa, practically purring.

      As Blake walked her out to his car, Lisa had to stop herself from rubbing against him. She knew exactly what the problem was, and found it embarrassing. She was in season. Which was the real reason she had come to New Mexico at this time.

      For many years Lisa had thought herself infertile... which was a tragedy. Both her parents had wanted a large family, and were disappointed when Lisa grew up to be an only child. In recent years Lisa had done some research and figured out that she - and her mother before her - were only fertile for a few days two or three times a year.

      Normally Lisa enjoyed sex in about the same way as she did any other sensual activity. She had noticed that there were times when she not only enjoyed sex more, but craved it. Not until she actively began studying ways to try and conceive - which included investigating the reproduction of both her ancestral lines - did she make the connection.

      There was more than timing involved. From personal experience, tests and research, Lisa knew that to ovulate she required a great deal of physical stimulation. Which meant repeated, vigorous copulation, off and on for several hours - or even days. Not an unpleasant prospect, by any means, but Lisa knew that few human males could provide such a performance. Then there was that promise to her mother...

      Lisa was here because her mother had lined up a mate. Convinced that the old blood had grown thin in the line, she had arranged for Lisa to meet with a distant cousin, someone with excellent blood lines. A cousin who just happened to be something other than a human. Though Lisa and her mother had been born human in appearance, they were not, strictly speaking, Homo sapiens sapiens . Lisa's Father was, though even he most likely had some of the old blood, somewhere, or he and Wind-At-Dawn would never have been able to have any children. The problem was that too many of Lisa's ancestors had been too human, and the other side needed strengthening. At least, that was what her mother believed. And for all that Lisa knew she was right.

      The thought of mating with an animal - even one that, like Lisa, was part something else - was repugnant to her. Lisa looked at Blake, feeling a strong attraction. He certainly seemed like he came from good stock. The Navajo had prohibitions against dealing with shapeshifters, but even they sometimes carried the blood. Lisa's father was proof of that. As the two of them settled into Blake's unmarked car Lisa began leaning over towards the officer. Then, with a mental jerk, she stopped herself, and sat back up, fixing her gaze straight ahead as she fastened her seat belt.

      "Are you all right?" Blake asked, looking both confused and concerned.

      "Sometimes my impulsive side and my rational side have disagreements," sighed Lisa.

      "I thought that you..."

      "I want to," she said, giving him a wistful glance. "I have... obligations, things I can't explain. Maybe some other time, but not now."

      Blake still looked confused, but apparently decided to accept this.

      "So, you're an Acoma," he said after a few moments of uncomfortable silence.

      "Half Acoma," said Lisa. She laughed. "The other half is Navajo, which you should have guessed, since only someone who starts learning that language in the cradle can speak it properly."

      "I had wondered about that," Blake admitted, smiling.

      Lisa saw no need to stop back at her room, but Blake insisted, saying he wanted to take her to a real restaurant and that she needed to change. Once inside she realized he was verifying her story of being drunk. He tried to be casual about doing so, but once he saw the size and number of bottles in the trash can lost all pretense.

      "Jesus!" he exclaimed, lifting a bottle of Johnny Walker. "You emptied these last night? All of them?"

      Lisa nodded, suddenly embarrassed.

      "But... that's enough to kill a man! Two men!"

      "I learned to drink in the Army," said Lisa, lamely.

      Blake gave her a long, evaluating look. Lisa recalled her thoughts from earlier, about how he might have shifter blood. And wondered if she had just given away a secret.

      Blake's attitude cooled noticeably after the visit to Lisa's hotel room. During the drive to the restaurant he was quiet, speaking only when Lisa asked him a direct question. The place he chose was smaller and more modest than Bullwark's, but also much more friendly. One of the few comments he volunteered while there was that the restaurant was family-owned. Lisa assumed from his choice and manner that he knew the family.

      The menu was heavy with beef dishes, and Blake ordered a steak. Lisa, though, after seeing the huge, well-stocked salad bar, decided to eat vegetarian. She wasn't sure what she was trying to prove, except maybe that she wasn't a carnivore. Each time she went back to refill her plate she could feel Blake's eyes on her, and she was sure he wasn't just watching her shapely rump moving under her dress.

      Lisa found her meal delicious and afterwards was full without eating anything closer to meat than the soybean fake bacon bits. Blake seemed unimpressed, if he even noticed. Lisa sighed in resignation. The meal passed mostly in silence.

      After they finished Blake took Lisa to the police station, where he handed her off to Jerry Bester. Then Lisa and Officer Bester went back to the hotel, with little conversation. It seemed he had taken his cue on how to handle this duty from Blake. Bester declined an invitation to stay in the room, instead borrowing a chair so he could sit in the hallway outside Lisa's door.

      "If you need to go anywhere just ask," he told her.

      "I'm afraid it's going to be pretty boring duty for you and the others," said Lisa, apologetically. "I'm not much for sight-seeing, and I only go shopping when I need something. I'll probably spend most of my time catching up on my writing."

          *                   *                  *

      For the next two days that was pretty much the situation. Lisa did go out to eat at least once a day, as well as using the hotel's gym and pool for a couple of hours each. Aside from that, she used her laptop to write, do research and communicate by e-mail. She did take a minor pleasure in her watchers' reactions to the length and intensity of her workouts, but besides that and the goal of staying in shape she was also bored. She was getting a bit antsy by the end of the second day, and the exercise only helped for a while. Not only was cabin fever a factor, but she was approaching the end of her fertile period. If she didn't get out to her mother soon, she would have to wait several months before trying again. Still, she didn't see any choice but to go along. She could easily escape, but that would make her a fugitive. Even if she were cleared of the attack on the production crew, she would be a wanted woman, and might face jail time. So, for now, her best course of action was to quietly put up with this house arrest.

      Then, that night, something happened which changed Lisa's plans.

      Lisa was walking along a street - an alley, really - keeping to the shadows to avoid the hot sun. The air was still and quiet, filled with odors of hot dust and distant cookfires. The place was familiar; she had never lived there, but she knew both the village and the individual houses. She came to a certain doorway and entered her mother's childhood home. Though not in a hurry, she did not wait for her eyes to adjust; she knew where everything was. Lisa went to a pallet and sat. As the dazzle left her eyes she saw across from her a figure, male, in traditional Acoma Pueblo garb. Young Oak, Lisa's great-great-Grandfather, watched her silently for several long moments.

      "You must learn from the spirits," he said, finally. "Go to the place you found as a child."

      Lisa awoke with a gasp, sitting bolt upright in the cool darkness of the hotel room. Except for the beating of her heart, her ragged breathing and the soft sighing of the air-conditioning all was quiet. Physically, that is. Mentally, Lisa was in turmoil.

      As a child Lisa had two imaginary playmates. When she told her parents about them, her descriptions caused startled reactions. One "playmate" was identified as her Father's Father, dead for only a few years. Since Lisa had known him while he was alive and seen photos of him later, she could simply have been using an image she knew to create a fictional wise man. The other, however, had been dead long before Lisa was born, and there were neither photos nor drawings of him. It was due partially to the reaction of her Navajo relatives to these descriptions that Lisa stopped associating with her spiritual advisors, eventually forgetting that they had actually been real. Until that night in 'Nam...

      Lisa shook her head, pushing memories away. The old man had visited Lisa in a dream the night before her first change, back in 'Nam, but the few times since then she had only seen him when she was awake, and deliberately calling him to her. For him to interrupt her sleep like this meant that something important was about to happen. Or maybe was already happening.

      She threw the covers back and flowed out of bed, pacing in the darkness. Lisa had no doubt about where he meant for her to go. The question was how to get there. Though no time limit had been placed, she had an impression of muted urgency. Which meant that she didn't have to go right now but heading out early tomorrow was probably a good idea.

      Lisa thought quickly, and soon had a plan. It didn't particularly satisfy her, but had the benefit of being likely to work. Her course of action decided, she set her alarm and climbed back into bed. She was soon soundly asleep.

      The alarm was slapped off after maybe half a second of cheerful music. Lisa rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Minutes later, fully awake and completely dressed, she picked up the phone and dialed the Albuquerque police station.

      "Hello. This is Lisa Dawnwind. I'd like to speak with Officer Tim Blake..."

          *                   *                  *

      "I'm glad you are willing to help me, but this seems like a major change in attitude," said Lisa, as the two of them crossed the hotel parking lot to reach Blake's Blazer. "What made you decide to do this?"

      "I've been asking people about you," said Blake, a bit tersely. "People I trust. They say you're all right."

      Lisa felt a flash of irritation over being evaluated by these anonymous "people" but let it pass. What mattered was that she would be able to do what she felt she must.

      "What did you tell your Captain about this?" Lisa asked. "I mean, you couldn't tell him much, because I didn't tell you much."

      "Well, you told me it involved a trip to the mountains to seek out spirits," said Blake. "I don't like the idea - I'm not even sure I believe in spirits - but I've seen enough and heard enough about you to know that you wouldn't want to go unless you thought it was important. So I told the Captain that you needed to commune with the spirits."

      He looked over at her and gave a slight smile, the first Lisa had seen since three days before.

      "I told him it was an Indian thing."

      Lisa snorted.

      "So when all else fails, tell the truth, huh?" She laughed. "Well, it worked."

      "Where, exactly, are we going?" Blake asked, as they got in the Blazer.

      "A spot west of and just below Oscura Peak, almost due east of the Trinity site," Lisa explained. "You have any idea how to get there? I haven't been in that area for nearly forty years."

      "There's a map in the glove box," Blake said, as he gave her an odd look.

      Lisa sighed as she realized her true age had just sunk in with him. It was normal for her kind to resist the attacks of time, so much so that she often forgot that others would find a contradiction between how old she looked and how old she actually was. She hoped this wouldn't make him reject her; he looked so handsome, and smelled soooo good.. . Lisa nearly snarled out loud as she fought her mating instincts. Blake, fortunately, didn't seem to notice her internal struggle, being busy unlocking the passenger side door.

       I'm going to be in close proximity with him for several hours, and I *do* *not* need this distraction! Lisa thought. She determined to focus on their mission.

      As things turned out, that was necessary for more than her peace of mind. The trip was long and difficult, in large part because the old access road Lisa remembered had been washed out at one point and they had to find a crossing. Finally, though, they were parked beside a weathered concrete pad. Before they stepped out of the truck Lisa took off her sandals. Now she was wearing only a loose jumpsuit, which experience had taught her wouldn't bind if she shifted to midform. What Blake thought of her running around on rocks barefoot he didn't say.

      "There was a monitoring station here, for the Trinity test. My Dad tore it down, years later," Lisa explained, as they looked around. "He had just started a construction company, in the early Fifties. The government wasn't going to do any more tests here, and decided to remove the shed. The equipment in it was long gone, of course, but the site was still considered a secure area, and my dad still had his clearance from when he was a radio man in the Army. So he got the job."

      Lisa turned and looked west, out over the desert. She couldn't recall from when she had been here as a little girl whether the Trinity site had been distinguishable then, but at least today there was nothing definite. A faint circle in about the right location might have been a slightly different color, but that might have also been her imagination.

      "My Dad brought me up here sometimes during that Summer, while he and his men worked," she continued. "School was out and I was bored. Up here I could get off by myself, explore."

      "Your father let you run loose up here ?!" said Blake, looking aghast. "The slopes here are loose rock, with sudden drops just around the corner..."

      "Oh, I wasn't in any danger. Even then I was a great climber. My mother used to say that I was more goat than human. And look disappointed. I didn't understand until later..."

      Lisa stopped abruptly. Blake wasn't supposed to know why her mother had been disappointed, or wrong for being so.

      "Anyway, I used my memories of this area when I wrote Under the Gun. The climax happens with the main character being pinned down on the slope by gunfire from spies who are trying to get to the instrument shed, so they can get data on the imminent Trinity test. They're above him, under cover, almost to the plateau. He's trying to figure out how to get to them, when there's this sudden, brilliant light... from behind him. The spies are blinded long enough for him to reach them and disarm them."

      "You're stalling."

      "Yeah," sighed Lisa. "Enough of the Navajo teachings against dealing with spirits rubbed off on me that I'm pretty leery about this."

      "But you are going to do it anyway."

      "I have to," said Lisa. She looked at him for a moment. "I don't know how long this will take."

      Without another word she walked away from the small level area and started down the steep, rocky slope.

      The clearing had been there before construction, but was much enlarged by the men who installed the monitoring station. The debris had simply been shoved off the edge of the mountain. The intervening decades of weather had consolidated this material, so it was actually much more stable than when Lisa had played here as a child. Still, this was not a place for a maladroit. Even Lisa had to move more slowly than usual.

      The cave was just where she had found it as a child. It was pretty much as she remembered it; a place where weak rock had washed out from under a slab of more durable stuff. Only as she approached she saw tracks in the dry dirt at the entrance. Wolf tracks.

      Knowing she was out of sight of the plateau - and sure that Blake hadn't followed her - Lisa had no reservations about changing. She shifted to her midform. Her muzzle pushed out, her ears cupping and moving up somewhat on her head. Lisa reached back to let her tail out through the slit in the rear of her jumpsuit, then sighed and stretched. Her legs were somewhat longer now, and much different in shape, as she stood digitigrade, on the balls of her elongated feet. The desert wind blowing up the face of the ridge felt good in her fur and her whiskers. Though not quite as agile as the full cougar and lacking the sharpest edges of that form's senses, this was the best for fighting. For no normal animal would den in a place so strong with spirits. Even from here Lisa could feel an eerie tingling. This was what had attracted her to the place when she was a child... and prevented her from actually entering.

      She moved closer, on all fours, both due to the terrain and so she could scent the ground. The tracks were definitely werewolf; many were from feet in midform, and there were even a couple of human shoe tracks. However, the most recent were several days old. Lisa relaxed a bit. She wondered if Blake - whom she suspected of having some shifter blood - already knew about this place. He didn't seem to, but even if he didn't he might still have told someone about the trip Lisa proposed...

      No, she was being paranoid. He hadn't known their specific destination until they were on the way, and hadn't used the radio or a cell phone. Unless he was now...

      Lisa shook her head and snarled. She was stalling again. With a surge of determination she moved the rest of the way to the entrance, stopping where she had as a child. Her hackles were up, the sensation was that strong. The energy of this place! Taking a deep breath, she entered.

      The cave had a low ceiling; Lisa stayed on all fours, and almost went to the full cougar. After a few meters it widened and the floor dropped a bit. It ended in a rounded chamber with smooth rock walls and a compacted dirt floor. Against the wall on the left was a shape in the darkness. Lisa waited for her eyes to adjust... but the figure didn't give her that long.

      "Welcome," said a deep, male voice, one Lisa had never heard before but which she instinctively found both familiar and reassuring. "Please, come in. Have some food with me."

      Lisa knew better than to refuse, or even to hesitate. She moved to the figure and sat across from it. Surprisingly, it seemed to be a man. That is, he looked like a man. His scent was a mixture of human and bear. As Lisa watched, his form shifted into something that was half man, and half bear. Unlike the case with most shifters, the change was not mass-conservative; after the change he must have massed 200 kilos at least.

      "You have been long in coming to your heritage," said the stranger, as he brought out a bundle wrapped in brown paper.

      Lisa smelled fresh - and still warm - nut bread, and then honey. She shivered. Her great-great-Grandfather had spoken of meeting with a bear spirit once while on a vision quest. That... individual had provided the same meal. She realized something else, something that would not have occurred to her had she not experienced it before.

      "You speak a tongue I don't know, yet I understand you," Lisa said quietly, as she accepted the honey-covered bread.

      "I speak the language of the spirits, which you were born with an understanding of," the bear-man replied affably. He handed Lisa a mug of water, cold and fresh from a mountain stream. "This is one of the things you must learn to use while you are here, but the least important. Though it is necessary for you to learn to speak this tongue as well as you hear it so that you may learn the other things you need to learn."

      "Why do I need to learn these things?" Lisa asked.

      The bear-man took a bite of his bread and chewed thoughtfully for a long moment.

      "An old and unpleasant spirit has been wakened. It has already made its displeasure known, in an incident for which you have been blamed."

      "The office trailer!" said Lisa, remembering the description of the damage.

      "It is important that this spirit be put back to sleep. It is also important that its existence not be revealed to the world at large."

      "I have to do it," said Lisa with sudden resignation.

      "Others have been told of this trouble. Whether they help is their decision."

      "The wolves," said Lisa.

      The bear-man nodded. Then he frowned.

      "You must eat," he chided. "You will need your strength for what comes next."

      Obediently Lisa took a bite. Her mouth filled with the warm taste and aroma, the mixture of rich nutbread and sweet honey. But there was more to the experience than that, and Lisa suddenly realized that whatever physical substance it had, it was also spirit bread. She felt filled with a strange vitality, and her mind opened. There was an odd doubling of all her senses, as if everything around her existed both here and... somewhere else.

      "You have glimpsed this before," said the bear-man, "though never so clearly, so distinctly. This is the spirit world. In most ways it is identical to the physical world. Or perhaps the physical world is patterned after it. Some things are different between the realms. Often things - and people - reveal their true nature in their spirit seeming."

      Lisa turned her gaze deliberately on her host, and saw... a bear man. He smiled.

      "Some things are either exactly what they seem to be, or perhaps can hide their true nature. This is a tool, not a miracle."

      Lisa nodded.

      "You accept this well."

      "If you mean my task, I was taught to do my duty from the cradle," said Lisa. "If you mean this extra view of everything, well, I have seen glimpses before, as you said."

      She laughed.

      "Also, while it is a bit overwhelming, it is also fascinating."

      "Spoken like a true cat," said the bear-man, smiling. "Now, finish your bread. We have much to do."

      "One thing, first," said Lisa. She took a deep breath, and plunged ahead. "If I had entered this cave the first time I was here, would I have come into my heritage when my mother thought I should have? Would I have had my first change sooner?"

      "You changed when it was time for you to change," said the bear-man, calmly. "Now, it is time for you to learn."

                                    *                              *                              *

      Lisa crawled tiredly out of the cave, stood and stretched. She was startled to see that the sun had barely moved. Her instruction had seemed to take days. The bear-man had taught her some things himself, and for others had summoned specific spirits. Most of those were animal spirits, and looked very much like what they represented. A few had been chimeras, or simple, shifting shapes with no clear analogs. Two had been so alien that Lisa had actually become nauseated trying to twist her mind around their appearance.

      She took a couple of deep breaths, glad to be out in the open again, and started climbing. She was so tired that she was in sight of the edge of the level area where she had left Tim when she suddenly realized that she was still in her midform. She shifted back and continued, not quite as quickly or smoothly but still with a casual grace that would have shamed most rock climbers.

      When she reached the edge she froze, and wished she had stayed in midform. Because there were half a dozen werewolves there, two of them holding a frightened Blake, others starting towards the trail Lisa now realized went to the cave by an easier but longer route than the one she had taken.

       I wish I had noticed that before, Lisa thought, glancing at the trail. I would have known then that there were werewolves in the area, and...

      And what? Left? Out of the question. Gone ahead but told Blake to leave? He wouldn't have, even if Lisa had told him why. Even if he had believed her.

      "Hello," said Lisa, calmly, as the werewolves noticed her. "I'm Lisa Dawnwind. I suppose you're wondering what I'm doing here."

      The werewolves jerked around to stare at Lisa, and there was a moment of stunned silence. Then one of them charged at her, snarling. Another called for the first to stop, but was ignored. About six meters from Lisa the attacker launched himself in an impressive leap. Seeing that he was committed, Lisa stepped aside to let him fly past her.

      Rash he might have been, but stupid he was not. As he passed Lisa the werewolf slashed out with his left hand, raking her shoulder. Of course, that meant he was less prepared for impact. From the sound of his landing he must have slid at least a hundred meters down the steep, rocky slope. Lisa spared him no sympathy.

      Lisa reflexively shifted to her less fragile midform, angry at having been struck. She was also mad at herself for having been so smugly assured she could dodge the attack that she hadn't moved far enough. Ears back, she snarled at the other werewolves on the plateau, some of whom were starting towards her.

      "Stop!" cried the werewolf who had tried to stay the first attacker. The others obeyed, though some grumbled. Meanwhile, the speaker hadn't taken his eyes off Lisa. "Did you say your name was Dawnwind?"

      "That's right," said Lisa, warily keeping an eye on those in front of her, and an ear on the werewolf scrambling up the slope behind her.

      To Lisa's surprise, the speaker gave a rueful laugh and shook his head. He relaxed visibly, and took a couple of steps forwards, raising his hands in a peaceful gesture.

      "You spoke in English; it took me a moment to translate," he told Lisa. She noted he was also speaking English. "I received a message to come here immediately and wait for the dawn wind. There are times I really hate coyote spirits."

      Given Lisa's own experiences with coyote spirits, that attitude sounded quite reasonable to her.

      "I, too, was told to come here by a spirit," said Lisa. "I received instruction from several other spirits in the cave."

      "That's our cave!" snapped a female werewolf, stepping beside the first speaker. Whereas he had a Pueblo accent, she spoke like a White. "We have been using it for over twenty-five years!"

      "That's nice," said Lisa, noting a subtle shift in manner by some of the more native-looking werewolves, as they took on expressions of resentment when the female made this claim. Given that, and her youth, it seemed that she was a newcomer to this pack. "I was first here nearly forty years ago."

      There was a stir at that, but Lisa was distracted by the sound of her attacker approaching the top of the slope. She stepped aside, moving to her right and turning a bit to the left. This put a good distance between her and both the rash werewolf and the others, and allowed her to watch all of them.

      Sure enough, the impetuous attacker clawed his way - panting and fuming - up to the rim just a few seconds later. He saw Lisa, and heaved himself over the rim and to his feet, advancing on the werecougar with an ominous growl.

      "That is enough," said the first speaker, in Navajo, holding up a hand.

      To Lisa's surprise, the attacker stopped immediately and without question or protest. He nodded his head in acknowledgment and moved to join the others, who had formed an arc around Lisa. The first speaker moved carefully forward, hands again held up. As he got closer Lisa's impression that he was older than the rest was confirmed. His coat showed strands of silver, rare in werewolves. Their lives were so violent that few lived past thirty. Given that, it was no surprise that his coat also showed many scars.

      "I am Digs-In-Drifts. I was told to come here with as many of the pack as I could gather." Again speaking in English, he smiled in a friendly manner, crouching down to sit on the ground and gesturing an invitation for Lisa to join him. "I was also told to listen to what the dawn wind had to say. Until you arrived, we thought this meant Detective Blake, and he didn't feel much like talking."

      Lisa made a quick evaluation of her situation. By sitting where he indicated she would be out of reach of any immediate attack by claw or fang, and none of them seemed to be armed with distance weapons. She was confident that if any of the werewolves became hostile she could be over the rim and down the slope before they got close enough to harm her. Wolves were coursing hunters, able to execute a long chase over most terrain, while cougars were faster in the dash with less endurance, but Lisa was certain she could get far enough away before tiring to lose them. She also had a new trick, taught to her by a shaask, or roadrunner, spirit, which might come handy.

      If it came to a fight, Lisa had no doubt she could take any two of them; the problem being that she was more likely to be swarmed by at least half the pack. Still, they had to catch her first. So, by sitting, she would put herself at a slight disadvantage tactically, while indicating a willingness to talk peacefully. That was acceptable to Lisa. She almost always preferred talking to fighting. However, there was another matter to consider, one which made her hesitate.

      "Tim didn't know what I was, and only vaguely what I wanted to do here," said Lisa. "Let him go, and I'll sit and talk."

      Digs-In-Drifts looked back at the others.

      "Well, Sandstorm? He's your cousin."

      A sandy-coated werewolf - the one who held Tim's right arm - looked down at the police officer, frowning.

      "Well, we've never gotten along, but he's honorable," muttered Sandstorm. "He follows the old ways enough that if he promises not to talk I know he won't."

      "If he knows what's good for him," muttered the female who had spoken before.

      "That is enough, Claws-Like-Razors," said the leader, a trace of iron in his voice. "Sandstorm was a valued and trusted member of this pack long before you arrived. If he says his cousin will keep quiet, I trust his judgement. Threatening someone who doesn't need to be threatened is one of the best ways of turning him against you."

      Digs-In-Drifts turned his gaze to Tim.

      "Do you promise to leave here and say nothing of this to any humans?"

      "I won't talk," said Tim, an understandable tremor in his voice, "but I'm not gonna leave her here. I'm responsible for her."

      There was a stir among the pack at this, with many favorably impressed by both his bravery and his sense of duty. Unfortunately, a few looked quite irritated... and that was dangerous in a werewolf.

      "How about if he waits for me at the bottom of the access road?" asked Lisa, quickly. "His boss does expect him to bring me back. If I don't return with him, he'll get in trouble."

      "More than he is now?" snickered the werewolf holding Tim's left arm.

      "You haven't met his boss, have you?" asked Lisa, looking at the new speaker as she raised a furry eyebrow.

      That elicited a snort of laughter from the werewolf she was speaking too, and a smile from Digs-In-Drifts.

      "All right," muttered Tim. "I'll wait where the access road meets the paved highway."

      "That is acceptable," said the leader, nodding. "This shouldn't take long."

      The werewolves holding Tim released him and he quickly got into his truck and drove off.

      "Licks Salt, follow and make sure he is not hindered," the leader ordered. "Keep out of sight. Watch for anyone else who might come this way."

      The werewolf who had attacked Lisa nodded and set off, without so much as a backwards glance. The leader turned again to Lisa, and repeated the gesture for her to sit, a bit more insistently this time. Lisa stifled a flash of irritation at being ordered around and sat.

      "We have spirits set to ward this place against strangers," he explained, making small talk while she got settled. "They first divert intruders away from this area through various deceptions, then attack if that fails. You were lucky to get here without being molested."

      "Well, I was invited," said Lisa, with a slight smile.

      "For what purpose?"

      "There's a movie company filming on location over near Chupadera Mesa," Lisa explained. "They've stirred something up. Something that needs to be put back to sleep or destroyed."

      "I heard about the attacks on the movie crew," mused Digs-In-Drifts.

      "'Attacks'?" said Lisa, pricking her ears up at the plural.

      "Yes. First that trailer, then the next night some prop structures. Then, this morning, during filming, a freak windstorm knocked over several pieces of equipment, a couple of trailers and a bus. Many people were injured."

      "Damn!" hissed Lisa. "That's what I get for not listening to the news!"

      "Don't feel too bad," said Digs-In-Drifts with a rueful smile. "We knew about these events but didn't associate them with anything supernatural.

      "I believe we know the spirit of which you speak," he continued, becoming more serious. "It is an ancient thing, old and tired, which wishes only to sleep. It was last wakened many years ago, by the energies unleashed in the test made just west of here."

      "Oh, no," said Lisa, groaning in almost physical pain. "The movie script calls for a huge special effect explosion, to simulate the Trinity blast."

      "Do you know when?" asked Digs-In-Drifts, suddenly anxious.

      "No. I just know that it is planned as the climax of the movie."

      "Then we must find out," said Digs-In-Drifts, rubbing his furry chin in an almost human gesture of hard thinking. "Unless you have some other urgent information for us I think we need to set about finding when this stunt will be. For all we know, it could be early tomorrow morning."

      "Don't count on that," said Lisa, bitterly. "Those in charge of this movie have shown a propensity for ignoring history, and could schedule the blast for during the day."

      "Then we have all the more reason for hurrying."

      The two of them made arrangement to meet - elsewhere - that evening and stood. The werewolf held out his hand. Lisa hesitated, then shook it.

      "Until tonight," he told her.

      Lisa nodded, and set off down the access road, shifting to human as she went. Once she was out of sight - and presumably out of earshot - a member of the pack looked at Digs-In-Drifts, who nodded. The werewolf shifted to wolf form and loped off silently after her.

      The leader motioned for those remaining to gather around him. Before he could say anything, Claw-Like-Razors spoke.

      "Why did you let that cat go?!" she demanded. "Why did you even bother to listen to her? At the very least we should have sent her running for her life!"

      There was a rumble of agreement from some of the others.

      "In the first place, I received a message from Coyote itself to do so," said Digs-In-Drifts, firmly. "In the second place, those of us who know and respect the old ways know and respect her kind. They are healers, of both the people and the land, trusted by the Creator to carry out tasks that even our kind are not."

      There was more grumbling - though of lesser volume - at that. Digs-In-Drifts noted that some were instead looking abashed, and a couple even embarrassed. He was silent for a moment, gazing at each in turn. Then he nodded.

      "Of course, just because we were told to listen to her doesn't mean we should blindly trust her or let her lead us," he continued. "We will watch and see what she does. I doubt we will be able to do so without her noticing, but she will most likely expect us to keep an eye on her. Just be discrete."

                                    *                              *                              *

      "So, Sandstorm is your cousin," said Lisa, trying to make conversation during the long drive back.

      "Second cousin, twice removed," said Tim. He glanced briefly at her and gave a slight smile. "Once forcibly."

      Lisa chuckled a bit more than the weak joke required. Tim was actually a bit less distant since finding out what she was, perhaps because now he did know, or perhaps because she had made a point of protecting him. Most likely a bit of both.

      "Do you know any of the others?"

      Tim shook his head.

      "Oh, I've heard about a couple. Digs-In-Drifts is a name I've heard before, as being some sort of leader. I was surprised that some of them seemed to be White."

      "A lot of werewolves of European descent have been trying to become members of Native packs," said Lisa. "Most of them have lost much of their own heritage, due to long persecution and emigration. Even though they form packs among themselves, and have their own traditions and rituals, they feel that there is a lot missing."

      Lisa sighed and shook her head.

      "Unfortunately, some of these people are the werewolf equivalent of New Agers. They want to get all touchy-feely and commune with nature. Then they join one of these packs and find out just how rigid the social structure is and even that they may be required to actually kill something in a hunt. Others try to behave the way they see werewolves in movies behaving."

      "Oh, boy..." said Tim, paling.

      "Yes, from what the werewolves I know back home have told me, there have been some colossal failures of multiculturalism," Lisa continued, with a rueful laugh. "Fortunately, most of the native packs that will accept a European are generally open-minded enough to let them go rather than force them to be something they aren't, or kill them."

      "So, what do we do next?"

      "What do you mean "we," paleface?" snorted Lisa. Her joke fell flat, and she sighed. "Tim, you are going to forget any of this ever happened."

      "My father was a shaman," said Tim, defensively.

      "Were you trained? I thought not. I doubt you even have the talent. It's rare, even in people who have shaman ancestry. No, Tim, I know you want to help, and I thank you, but this is something you are going to have to let go."

      "All right," he replied, reluctantly. "Just remember, my offer stands."

      Lisa gave him a long, evaluating look.

      "Okay, I can understand why you were leery of me before, when you suspected I was a shapeshifter, probably a werewolf," she said, finally, "but why is it that now you know what I am, you almost seem comfortable?

      "I thought at first it was just because the secret was out," she continued when he didn't answer right away. "I'm starting to suspect that there's more to it."

      "Yeah, but not a lot," Tim replied with a shrug. "Y'see, in my limited experience there's nothing that's much worse than a werewolf. They're short-tempered, insular, territorial. All my life I've heard bad things about them... and good things about - oh, say - cougar spirits. So when I saw you turn into this big cat, and then firmly but calmly insist on me being safe before you would do what they wanted..."

      He gave her an appreciative glance.

      "Hey, you were part of my team," said Lisa. "I learned in the Army - and even before that, from both sides of my family - that you stick with your partners, protect them, look after their interests."

      "It also didn't hurt that I'd just seen you make a fool of a werewolf," Tim added, with a short laugh.

      "Well, I wouldn't go that far," muttered Lisa, unconsciously rubbing her injured shoulder. "He did get me, at least a bit."

      "How is your shoulder?"

      "It should be fine by morning," she replied. "He just scratched me, actually. But it's still galling."

      There was no conversation for a long while after that, just the whine of the road. Then Lisa suddenly sat upright, making Tim start.

      "Ah, damn! It's already past the hour, and I forgot to listen to the news!"

      She snapped the radio on, pushing the button for a station Tim recommended.

      As Lisa quickly learned, Tim's reason for her selecting that station was that it had a long segment of local news after the network news was over. Mention was made of the troubles at the movie location, but fortunately no new disasters had occurred since the windstorm the day before.

      "Take me back to the police station," said Lisa, after hearing that. "I'll tell your Captain Whitherspoon that we heard about the additional incidents on the news while coming back, and ask to have my escort removed."

      This is what she did and, to her surprise, the Captain agreed without reservation, no questions asked.

      "Actually, I was about to, anyway," he told Lisa. "I was surprised you hadn't asked after the fake bomb tower was knocked over."

      Lisa explained that she rarely watched TV or listened to the radio. She also noted what the damaged prop was, something not revealed in the news. If that had to be replaced before the simulated nuclear explosion, there would be more time to deal with the ancient spirit.

      "I'm surprised that you're bucking Thompson this way," Lisa said. "He has a lot of influence, and even more money."

      "With all that's going on, you are pretty much forgotten in the mass of other suspects. Thompson's practically hysterical right now, demanding that the State Police arrest anyone in the area who has ever said anything against the movie or him, personally." The Captain sighed and ran his hand through his thinning hair. "Unfortunately, given his personality that's about a third of the local population. Plus some outsiders. Can you believe he's got protesters there from three states? Most of them are college kids and people in the twenties, from California. They're protesting that the movie portrays Native Americans and Jews in a bad light."

      "I bet I know why, too," snapped Lisa. "In the book I had Jewish scientists helping design the bomb and Indians digging uranium and helping build the facilities. Since those are evil activities I'm persecuting these poor, oppressed minorities to even suggest they'd help with them. Doesn't matter that that's all history !"

      "If you say so," said Whitherspoon, a bit taken aback by Lisa's rant.

      "I'm sorry," she sighed, smoothing her own hair in unconscious imitation of the Captain's earlier gesture. "It's just that I've had so many sympathetic people come up to me and say what a shame it is that Native Americans have had other people deciding their destiny for so long, then tell me what I should do about it..."

      "I understand," said Captain Whitherspoon. "Believe me, I do. I've heard similar sentiments from some of my Indian friends. And I have to say that there have been times I was glad some tourist didn't know I was one-quarter Apache!"

      They both laughed at that.

      "So, am I free to go?"

      "Yes. Though I've had a request from the State Highway Patrol to warn you about speeding."

      "Ouch," sighed Lisa.

                                    *                              *                              *

      The cool night air felt good after all the time she had spent sleeping in hotel rooms lately. Hotels had many scents, but they were all of a domesticated variety. Some of them were strong, but few of them had any depth or much personality. Out here, under the desert stars, the air had character . Lisa was parked on a side road, not far from US 380, beside a road sign where Digs-In-Drifts had told her to wait for the werewolves. Lisa was, indeed, waiting, and patiently, but that patience came only with difficulty. She was looking forward to trying out what she had learned earlier that day, especially Following the White Road, the trick of moving fast. She had been tempted to use it to come here, but since she didn't know how well it would work had instead driven her rental Camaro. Even staying within five miles per hour of the posted speed limits, she arrived early. Now, waiting here with nothing to do, the temptation to experiment - to play with her new toys - was strong. There was a spike of rock, sticking out of the ground, just under three hundred meters away, which would make a great target...

      Lisa was in human form, since this was a public road and even this late at night the occasional vehicle passed by. She was, however, alert, and for her that meant being more aware of her surroundings than almost any human could be. As she gazed at the rock something else caught her attention. It wasn't sight nor sound nor scent which raised her hackles, but some other, nameless sense, something wakened months earlier by her encounters with the Master of Cuts, and strengthened by the lessons in the cave. Lisa stiffened, and slowly scanned her surroundings. By all normal measures she was alone, but she knew she wasn't . The source of the disturbance was there , at that small hump of sun-baked earth.

      She didn't look directly at the minor feature, but instead turned, and began walking back and forth, pacing beside her car. Only she wasn't doing this from impatience. The wind was fitful, but coming mostly from the East; as she stepped past the front of the car she was able to catch a whiff of breeze coming directly over the hummock. Lisa gave a small, tight smile, turned and walked back to the Camaro, and leaned against the passenger side door, looking directly at the source of the scent.

      "I realize you're early, Licks Salt, but there's no reason for you to crouch out there until eleven. You might as well come over here and be comfortable."

      There was a moment of silence. Then the big werewolf stood and walked towards the car.

      "Should have expected a cat to worry about comfort," he rumbled, speaking for the first time in Lisa's presence.

      He sat on the shoulder of the road, leaning back against the rear bumper. He was in his midform, but Lisa decided not to recommend that he change. He presumably knew this area better than her, and therefore knew better what form was appropriate. Even if he didn't, it would be bad manners - and not particularly safe - to imply he didn't.

      Lisa looked around, wondering if there were others out there in the desert. She kept a mask of casualness over her face as she did this; there was no reason to let anyone know she couldn't detect them if they actually were there. She didn't have that "spooky" feeling, now, but that could just be due to range. If there were hidden werewolves out among the rocks and scrub, they were far enough away that she couldn't feel them.

      Apparently there weren't; a few minutes later a battered farm truck with a number of unfamiliar humans aboard drove up the road and stopped behind Lisa's car. About a dozen people jumped or climbed off the back, shifting to midform as they did so. There were several whom Lisa recognized from earlier, plus some who were new to her. The driver was Sandstorm, and the man riding shotgun was Digs-In-Drifts.

      "Good evening," said Lisa, smiling calmly at the group as a whole and nodding to Digs-In-Drifts.

      While that worthy approached Lisa, a large female walked quickly around the Camaro until she confronted Licks Salt, who jumped to his feet. The female then proceeded to address him rather severely in the werewolf tongue, while Licks Salt dropped his head and assumed a submissive posture. Lisa knew a bit of the language from her limited previous association with werewolves, but this female was using words which were nearly all unfamiliar. Still, it was obvious he was being chastised quite severely. While Lisa was trying to figure out what was going on between those two, Digs-In-Drifts greeted her.

      "Good evening," he said to Lisa, smiling as he returned her greeting. "I see you found Licks Salt. Which means I win a little bet I made."

      "He was doing something similar to something I have encountered before," said Lisa, covering her distraction with blandness. She tried to listen to the conversation behind her, but by the time she finished talking it was over. The female, Licks Salt trailing behind her, came towards Lisa. Lisa realized that Digs-In-Drifts had deliberately kept her from hearing the exchange.

      "We go soon," the female said gruffly. "We go straight to place. No side trails. In and out quick. You keep up, or don't go."

      Having said her piece, she stepped past Lisa and went to the werewolves milling around beside the truck. Licks Salt followed obediently along.

      "She's a rarity," said Digs-In-Drifts quietly. "Born a wolf, she doesn't really have the social skills for human-style small talk."

      "She's your leader," mused Lisa. She turned to look at Digs-In-Drifts, her steady gaze asking a question without a need for words.

      "I'm the pack's spiritual advisor," he replied, modestly.

      "Shaman," said Lisa.

      "Not... as a shaman or medicine man in a human tribe would be," he countered.

      Lisa shrugged, feigning indifference. Inside, though, she felt the thrill of discovery. The werewolves she knew from back east were mostly European, and organized more like a club or secret society. She had heard that the werewolves in the west were more like wolf packs, and now that was confirmed. At least, it was for this pack.

      After a few growled commands from the leader the werewolves all changed to wolf form and began running north. Lisa hastily shifted to cougar and followed, glad one of the things she had learned that morning was the trick of hiding her clothes. She quickly and easily caught up with the wolves.

        Wolves are much better at the long chase than cougars, and werewolves better at quickly crossing long distances than were-cougars. Fortunately, the pack moved at an easy lope. They were covering ground far faster than wolves could, but not so fast that Lisa had trouble staying with them. Still, when they stopped at the outskirts of the movie crew's parking lot Lisa was panting hard, while most of the werewolves seemed only slightly winded.

      They were near the trailers. Lisa could scent guard dogs, but wasn't too worried about them. The animals would not willingly approach even one shapechanger, much less fifteen of them. Of course, their reaction would probably mystify the human handlers, but that was unlikely to cause any problems for Lisa and the werewolves.

      Still in wolf form, the leader silently pointed her nose at Licks Salt and two others. Those chosen crept smoothly forward, blending with the ground and vanishing from sight. Lisa felt a bit envious. She might be able to sense them, but that wasn't the same thing as being able to do the trick herself. On the other hand, as a cougar her natural coloration blended in well with the muted earth tones of the area.

      The scouts weren't just finding a human-free path to their goal. They were locating all humans and guard dogs in the area and judging their paths, to avoid the group being surprised while carrying out their mission. That much Lisa guessed from previous experience and research into infiltration tactics for her books. Just what the werewolf leader planned to do once they were at the tower was still a mystery.

      Moments later a silhouette of a werewolf in midform appeared to the right of the trailers and waved them forward. Following the scout, the others skirted the cluster of trailers and sheds, heading down the makeshift road towards the fake Trinity tower. Lisa felt an eerie sense of deja vu as she approached the structure, which the film crew had already restored. She had never been to Trinity, but had seen many pictures and heard her father and others talk about the site. Now she was seeing something which looked exactly like the old photos and drawings. Her fur bristled a bit... and she became angry. By the time the reached the tower - over two kilometers from the trailers - she was furious.

      "What is wrong?" whispered Digs-In-Drifts, having scented her rage and shifted to midform so he could talk.

      Lisa took a moment to calm herself, then also shifted to midform.

      "They went to the trouble of producing an exact duplicate of the tower and the equipment around and on it," Lisa hissed, tail lashing, "for a movie that makes a hash of both history and my book!"

      " Your book?!" said Digs-In-Drifts, startled.

      "No talk!" said the leader in a restrained snarl. "We work now!"

      Lisa stood back, waiting to see just what the werewolves would do. Her curiosity turned into dumfounded amazement as they proceeded to tear into the tower, toppling it in seconds. As the dust settled and the echoes of the crash bounded back from the surrounding mountains the wolves turned and ran back out the way they came. Lisa watched for a moment, too stunned to react. Then she went cougar and chased after them. Soon they were safely hidden among the rocks. Lisa went to her midform and approached the leader and Digs-In-Drifts, who were talking together, also in midform.

      "That's all you're going to do?!" Lisa demanded, her tone causing the leader to raise a lip and growl.

      "No, of course not," said Digs-In-Drifts placatingly. "Each time they rebuild that tower, we will come back and destroy it again. Eventually they will stop."

      "And each time they rebuild it they will increase security!" snapped Lisa. "You are risking Exposure!"

      There was rumbling from the werewolves around them at this, though some of it seemed reluctant. Many of them obviously believed as Lisa did, though they would not challenge the course of action their leader had chosen.

      "You have better idea?" snarled the leader.

      "Deal with the spirit," said Lisa, earnestly. "Talk to it, sing it back to sleep, convince it to move, whatever it takes to solve the problem."

      She turned angrily on Digs-In-Drifts.

      "Hell, you're the shaman! You know better than I what to do with a restless spirit!"

      "We... considered that course," Digs-In-Drifts admitted, with an uneasy glance at the leader. "That also risks Exposure. There's no way of telling how long it would take to contact the spirit, even assuming we could. And if we do contact it, it is likely to be hostile. We know it doesn't like to be disturbed. And the activity involved in just calling to it, getting its attention, would likely also get the attention of the security guards."

      "But this is absurd! You can't expect..."

      Abruptly the female werewolf leader grabbed Lisa and slammed her back against a boulder.

      "You shut up! Spirits say to bring you here, but not say you leave! You be quiet or you not leave!"

      Lisa was trembling with fury, but held herself in check. She had no doubt she could beat this bitch, but a dozen other werewolves were gathered around them. There was some obvious dissent in the ranks, but Lisa knew that enough of them would come to the female's defense to overpower the werecougar. Despite knowing this, it took an effort of will for Lisa to lower her gaze, in conscious imitation of lupine behavior. After a moment of tension, the female werewolf nodded.

      "We go," snarled the leader.

      "For now," agreed Lisa. But she said it quietly.     

                                    *                              *                              *

      Lisa packed with carefully controlled movements, very deliberately and with great economy of effort. She was still steamed over the night before, and was focusing on her task to avoid thinking about those events and the situation they led to. So intent on her activity was she that when someone knocked on her door she jumped and gave a little gasp of surprise.

      With a snarl of irritation, Lisa pounced on the door and yanked it open.

      "'Mornin', ma'am," said the young Native American man standing there, looking a bit startled. He gave a weak grin. "Guess you don't recognize me with my clothes on."

      Lisa froze for a moment; then something about his posture and his scent clicked, and she groaned.

      "Sandstorm," she sighed. She stood back, holding the door open. "Well, I guess you better come in."

      He entered, Lisa closing the door once he was clear. There was an uncomfortable silence. The young man stood there, looking out of place in his rough clothes, while Lisa glared at him. Finally she decided that even though he had come to her, it was up to her to start the conversation.

      "Look, I need to be somewhere soon, so why don't you just spit it out?" said Lisa, not caring that she was being rude.

      "I don't blame you for bein' upset, what with the way Blood Fang treated you last night," the man said, shifting uneasily. "Fact is, a lot of us are pretty upset with her. Problem is, none of us want to do anything about it. And none of us want her job bad enough to take it, even if she weren't there."

      "Not even you?" asked Lisa.

      "No, ma'am. I'm pretty good at managing things - seein' that everyone gets where they're supposed to be and makin' sure that what needs to get done gets done. But I'm not a leader, and don't want to be. Hell, I'm only 16. Maybe in a few years..."

      Lisa stared at the Beta, something which obviously made him uneasy, even though she didn't mean for it to. She was thinking, remembering. In 'Nam she had met a number of junior officers like him. They were very good at managing a squad or a platoon, but didn't want to be the commanding officer. The tragedy was that most of them were good warriors, and most of them made good leaders once they were forced into the role. Some of them didn't want the responsibility, some just didn't like to make the sort of decisions leaders must make. Many of them had also - as Licks Salt was doing - gone over the head of a bad commander, trying to deal with the situation without confrontation. In most cases, that hadn't worked. Lisa sighed, and shook her head.

      "I'm sorry. I know what you're going through, but there's nothing I can do to help." She moved over to the bed and shoved a few things into her large bag. She stopped, sighed again, and turned back to her visitor. "Even if I killed her, who would be your leader? You just said there's no-one to take her place. I certainly don't want it, even if - by some miracle - your pack would accept me."

      Sandstorm paled.

      "We don't want her dead," he said quickly. "There's some folks over in Laguna Reservation what would like to be in our pack, but won't, because they know they'd have to fight with Blood Fang. A couple of them would even want to be leader, if it weren't for her. Now, if someone were to take her down a notch, kinda encourage those folks by lettin' them know it could be done..."

      "No!" snapped Lisa, making him jump. She shook her head vigorously. "No! I'm not going to get entangled in your politics. I've got problems of my own, and little time to work on them.

      "I'm not going to be your patsy," Lisa continued, poking the young man in the chest with a finger. "You can challenge her yourself, or you can persuade one of those werewolves from Laguna to challenger her, or you can enter her in therapy and get a professional psychiatrist to teach her to be a more caring person, but I'm not having anything to do with it!"

      With a start, Lisa noticed she had backed Sandstorm against the wall, and that he was not only looking submissive but downright terrified. And small wonder; in her anger Lisa had gone most of the way to her midform. Realizing she was bolstering his belief that she could handle Blood Fang, Lisa muttered an oath, and stalked back to her packing, shifting to human as she went.

      Sandstorm waited in silence, frozen against the wall, for several long moments. When it became obvious that Lisa was ignoring him, he quietly left.

                                    *                              *                              *

      The nearest place to park was a sort of hollow in the side of the mountain. The place was large enough for perhaps four family-sized cars. Lisa pulled the Camaro in beside the two vehicles currently there and got out. One of the other vehicles was a utility truck with US Forestry Service markings while the second was Lisa's familiar old Ford Bronco. She had left the heavily-modified truck here when she moved to Kentucky. Now it was shared by her relatives in the area. The other vehicle was used by the teams of researchers who occupied Lisa's former home on the ridge above as a base to study the flora, fauna and geology of the area.

      Lisa started up the trail to the ridge-top cabin, but just out of site of it turned left, onto a much fainter, narrower path. This one skirted around the cliff, rising steeply, a sharp drop to one side, the other hard against sheer rock. Lisa never considered that she was doing anything unusual; even her non-shape-changing relatives would take such a route with little more caution than used for walking across clear, level ground. She had heard - second-hand, so she wasn't sure if someone was just exaggerating - that many of the researchers using her cabin hadn't even realized there was another branch to the trail until they saw one of Lisa's relatives using it.

      At the end of the smaller path the cliff wall moved dramatically away, and the land opened into an elevated valley. A small but constant stream ran through the center of this natural greenhouse, the water falling over the edge at the lower end and usually evaporating before reaching the road below. This was a beautiful and private creation, which only a privileged few ever saw. It was the sort of place where one would not be too surprised to find a mystical creature choosing to live. Lisa's mother had moved here nearly thirty years before, and used her natural and supernatural abilities to coax an already healthy environment into becoming a miniature paradise. As Lisa rounded that final turn she saw her mother, waiting for her, knowing she was coming. Very little happened here that Wind-At-Dawn did not know about. There was a tie between her and this land that went beyond the physical or even the metaphorical. She stood now beside the stream, as patient and unyielding as the rocks themselves.

      "You move slowly, Daughter," said Wind-At-Dawn, in the Acoma dialect of the Pueblo tongue. "Surely you have more quickness than that."

      "I think you know why I do not hurry, Mother," Lisa replied formally, in the same language.

      Wind-At-Dawn was a bit past eighty, yet her hair had only a few strands of grey. Her bearing, her demeanor, were certainly not those of an old woman. She stood straight, but with an odd litheness to her frame. She stood solidly while also giving the impression of being able to instantly move quickly and gracefully in any direction. Lisa's mother had experienced her first change at a much younger age than Lisa and had always been as much cougar as human, and she seemed to have become even more cat-like in the three years since her daughter's last visit.

      Wind-At-Dawn moved smoothly to Lisa, and clasped the younger woman's shoulder in a surprisingly firm grip.

      "Daughter, I do know why you are reluctant to come here," the older woman said, her voice carrying both sympathy and reassurance. "I know that I ask much of you, and that you are rightly hesitant to do what I ask. Yet you are here. You are a good daughter."

      Which was about the highest praise Lisa had ever received from her mother, and something the younger woman found profoundly touching. She stepped forward and hugged her mother, for a moment allowing the affection she felt to show through the armor of indifference and irritation she had built over the past years. Wind-At-Dawn hugged her back without reservation. For a moment they were simply mother and daughter, sharing their love for each other.

      All too soon, though, that was over. Wind-At-Dawn broke the embrace, her face once more a neutral mask. Wordlessly, she led her daughter to her small, sparsely-furnished hut. Inside they sat and - still without speaking - shared food and water. Once the small meal was under way Wind-At-Dawn finally spoke again.

      "This means much to me, Daughter. And to our entire line. Of my generation and yours and the one after yours none others have experienced the Becoming. Of the current generation I have hopes for two of your cousins. Both bear the mark of the beast, Amanda more strongly even than either you or I. However, we both know that is no sure sign."

      "I also know that some who do not have the mark may Become," said Lisa.

      "True," Wind-At-Dawn acknowledged, nodding. "That is why I watch all of our blood."

      There was a brief, very uncomfortable silence. Finally, Lisa shifted nervously, then cleared her throat before speaking.

      "How... do we do this?" she asked, almost timidly.

      "Not we, Daughter," said Wind-At-Dawn firmly. "This is a private thing. Your cousin is currently hunting in a valley not far from here. I have spoken to him, persuaded him to stay in this area until you arrive. He is impatient, in the way of cats who want something they cannot have immediately. I suggest you go today, in fact now."


      "No, Daughter. I know it seems harsh to insist on this. You may even feel me cruel, cutting short our reunion, but it will be kinder in the long run if you go and do this thing now . What you are about to do is a ritual which will strengthen our family's ties with the wild, something which our traditions say has not been performed in many generations. It is something deeply spiritual, something primal. The less you think about it, the better. Listen to your heart and your spirit, and all will be well."

      Lisa sighed and nodded. Her mother leaned forward, again squeezing her shoulder.

      "Go, Daughter. And may all our gods and spirits and ancestors watch over you."

                                    *                              *                              *

      Lisa walked tiredly into the hut. Her mother was sitting in exactly the same position as when Lisa had left two days previously. She might not have moved. Lisa realized that her mother may in fact have been holding vigil for her daughter, fasting and praying. Lisa sat in the place she had occupied before. Wind-At-Dawn looked expectantly at her daughter but said nothing. Lisa sighed and nodded.

      "It is done," she said, quietly.

      Her mother nodded, a smile spreading slowly across her leathery face. Again, she surprised Lisa, by suddenly leaning forward and hugging her, and surprising her even more by sobbing into her shoulder.

      "Mother?" asked Lisa, concerned.

      Lisa gently pushed her mother back a bit, and saw tears streaming down the deeply-tanned face of the older woman. Yet she was smiling.

      "Oh, Daughter," said Wind-At-Dawn, "what you have done for me... I curse myself for all the times I said or even thought that you were selfish and unwilling to embrace your heritage. What you have done will be sung by our family for generations."

      "I'd rather no-one but us knew about it, actually," muttered Lisa wryly.

      To Lisa's surprise her mother laughed.

      "No, Daughter, though I understand your wanting to keep this private, it must be told. Be assured, though, that only those who will appreciate what you have done will know about it.

      "And now, please feed this old cat's curiosity," Wind-At-Dawn continued, resuming her seat. "Was it really so terrible?"

      "Actually, no," said Lisa, frowning. "Like you wrote me earlier, being of our blood he was more intelligent and aware than a normal cougar would have been. He was actually gentle and considerate, at least at times. The act itself wasn't... unpleasant. Also, his stamina was very impressive."

      "There is no need to tell me all the details," said Wind-At-Dawn.

      "Actually, I think I will feel better if I do talk about it," said Lisa.

      For long hours the women spoke, Lisa doing most of the talking. She was sometimes surprised at her mother's almost clinical detachment, as well as at her prurient interest. Finally, as darkness fell, the two women ate, Lisa being surprised by a sudden, ravenous hunger. Then they fell asleep in each other's arms.

                                    *                              *                              *

      There was something wrong. Not a danger, but something out of place. Lisa stirred sleepily, aware that her mother was gone from the sleeping pallet. She rose and stepped naked outside. Her mother, also naked, in her midform, was down at the end of the valley, standing at the steep drop. She seemed to be talking to someone. Lisa moved quickly to her mother, an increasing awareness of something strange going on raising her hackles... literally, as she started to shift by reflex.

      "Ah, Daughter," said Wind-At-Dawn, looking around at Lisa's approach. "I was just about to call you. There is a messenger here who will only give his message to you. Worse, he is not one of Gomaiowish's."

      Lisa looked, and saw nothing. Then she realized there was a raven perched on the edge of the drop. Then, with a start and a shiver, she realized that it was a spirit raven. The unearthly creature regarded Lisa with a coolly evaluating gaze for a moment, then spoke.

      "Your help is needed. Go to the kin of ours whom you defended. Thus speaks Digs-In-Drifts."

      The raven spirit turned, spread its wings and flew away.

      "Damn..." hissed Lisa, a surge of irritation and anger carrying her even further into her midform. "I knew it. They botched something, and now want me to pull their fat out of the fire."

      "Daughter, what is this trouble?" asked Wind-At-Dawn. "I sensed a strange spirit trying to enter my land without permission, and came to investigate. I was quite surprised to find that my spirit-shy daughter had a message waiting for her, brought by a spirit not of the kind our people use. What business brings this about?"

      Lisa sighed, and explained her recent experiences with the cave and the werewolves. Wind-At-Dawn gazed at her thoughtfully for a while.

      "Remember, Daughter, you risk more than just your life, now," said the older woman, finally. "Perhaps I should go..."

      "No, Mother," said Lisa, firmly. "I was asked to tend to this situation by the spirits and I agreed to do so. Because I agreed they taught me things I might need to know to deal with the problem. I suspected I'd have to do this myself all along. Besides my obligation, I just don't think there's anyone else available who can handle this."

      Lisa turned and looked to the south, as if she could see the problem site from here. Was it her imagination, or did she actually see something - a sort of vague, malevolent glow - in the distance?

      "I just hope they haven't messed things up too much."

      "Don't underestimate the wolves," said Wind-At-Dawn. "Though their ways are less subtle than ours they can still be quite effective. And they, too, are kin to us, physically and spiritually, and deserve our respect."

      "Though I doubt they'd admit to such a close kinship," muttered Lisa. "And most of them are certainly slow to return such respect."

      She gave her mother a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek, then hurried back to the hut to dress.

                                    *                              *                              *

      The Camaro lived up to its promise. The little town of Cuba flashed by only minutes after Lisa left her mother. The car rocketed down State Route 44, headlights off. The half moon, still nearly straight overhead, gave more than enough light for someone with eyes like a cat. Then Lisa hit I 25 and really started to roll. Top speed on level straight-aways turned out to be 163, and on one long downhill run she actually came close to 170. This early in the morning even the Interstate had little traffic, and most of that was also people in a hurry to cover distance. Long-haul truckers and travelling salesmen doing better than eighty stared in disbelief as the Navy-blue Camaro flashed by at twice their speed.

      Lisa reached Albuquerque less than an hour after starting the engine. The eastern horizon was still dark. She stopped at a 24-hour convenience store to fill the gas tank and check a phone book. With Tim's address and a city map in hand, Lisa reached his apartment building just as the early traffic was starting. Tim's Blazer was in the parking lot of the small apartment building, confirming that she was in the right place, and that he was still here. Lisa parked beside it and hurried inside, hoping he was awake. She couldn't explain why, but she had a feeling there was little time. Finding the right door, she rang the bell.

      She heard someone approach, and a moment later Tim opened the door. Beyond him she saw Sandstorm, in his human form. He looked like he'd been in a barroom brawl. His face was battered and bruised, and he was favoring his left arm. Both men looked more than a bit surprised to see Lisa.

      "Well, come in," said Tim, standing aside to make room. With Lisa inside he quickly closed the door. "We were just talking about you. Jimmy wanted to know if I knew how to reach you."

      "I got Digs-In-Drifts' message," Lisa told Sandstorm.

      "Oh," said the werewolf, looking startled. "We didn't know he'd sent one. He's been unconscious since last night. Licks Salt is dead. So's Blood Fang and several others. Some of the rest are pretty badly hurt."

      "What happened?"

      Sandstorm looked over at Tim, who rolled his eyes and sighed.

      "I'll go warm up the Blazer."

      "You can stay if you want," said Lisa, mildly, staring Sandstorm in the eye. "It's your home, after all."

      The werewolf started to protest, but something in Lisa's manner made him reconsider. Tim hesitated, glanced carefully at each of his guests, then pulled a chair out from the kitchen table, reversed it, and sat, draping his arms over the back.

      "We went to tear the tower down again tonight," said Sandstorm. "Only, as we started, the wind picked up. Digs-In-Drifts tried to warn us, but before we could understand what he meant the wind was tearing at us. We could hear something howling... not like a wolf, either, but like something... well, I don't know. And then we could see it, towering over us, tearing pieces of the tower off and throwing them at us.

      "The thing was like a living wind. Digs-In-Drifts started chanting and dancing, trying to put the spirit back to sleep. He got too close. I guess he had to, to work his magic. The spirit slapped him away like I'd swat a rat. Then things got really confused. Blood Fang pulled some of us back, and told us to get the rest out while she distracted the spirit. Before we could ask what she meant, she charged in and started slashing. Licks Salt went with her, though we could tell she didn't want him to."

      Sandstorm paused, obviously distressed. Lisa let him recover for a moment, then gently urged him on. Sandstorm couldn't give many details, but he knew that the sacrifice of the Alpha of the pack and one of its fiercest warriors had worked. Those able to move had rescued those who could not, greatly cutting their losses. The bodies of Blood Fang and Licks Salt had been found nearly a kilometer away.

      "Where are the survivors?" Lisa asked.

      Sandstorm hesitated, then sighed.

      "Where we first met you."

      "Let's go," said Lisa, nodding to both men.

      " Him , too?" Sandstorm protested.

      "I'm going to show you something that other werewolves I know have taught me," said Lisa, already heading for the door. "That just because they can't change into something which can take out a main battle tank in thirty-eight seconds flat doesn't mean your human cousins can't be useful. Sometimes very useful.

      "Which means you will have to call in and tell your boss you won't be at work today," Lisa continued, stopping at the door and turning to Tim as something occurred to her. "That is, if your offer to help still stands."

      "Oh, I want to help," said Tim, grinning. "But I don't have to call in. I have Saturdays off."

      "It's Saturday," said Lisa, numbly. "Damn. I lost track of time again. And now I'm gonna miss my favorite cartoons."    

                                    *                              *                              *

      They arrived at the turnoff not long after, thanks to judicious use of the police lights in Tim's truck. Sandstorm made them stop there.

      "They're expecting me, and maybe Lisa, but not Tim," he explained. Sandstorm grinned. "I'll run ahead, tell them you're coming, then run back here before they can object."

      He hopped out of the Blazer, shifted to wolf and took off.

      "Well, that's one way of avoiding wasting time dealing with objections," said Lisa dryly.

      True to his word, Sandstorm was back in less than five minutes. He wasn't grinning. Apparently, seeing his injured packmates again had sobered him.

      "Go on," he told them, jumping back in the truck. "They're in no shape to protest."

      That was obvious, as soon as they reached the plateau. Werewolves were sitting and lying everywhere, in various forms. Most of those who were moving around were simply less injured. All of those who were unhurt were strangers to Lisa, probably brought in from other packs.

      "Who here is a healer?" Lisa asked loudly, as she followed Sandstorm out of the Blazer.

      A young Indian woman Lisa hadn't seen before raised her hand.

      "I'm Tina, also Pads Softly," she said.

      She looked tired. They all looked tired. Lisa, Tim and Sandstorm were quite fresh in comparison, and none of them had had much sleep or rest the past few hours.

      "Digs-In-Drifts is also a healer," said Sandstorm. "That's how he got his name. He works as a rescuer at a ski resort. But he's..."

      Sandstorm pointed under a tree, to something that looked more like roadkill than a werewolf. Lisa felt her stomach churn, but she kept her professional face on.

      "Tim, you said you had medical training."

      "Yeah, I even took a Paramedic course," he elaborated. "Didn't do too well, though."

      "Can you stitch?"

      "Yeah. In fact, that was one of my better subjects."

      Lisa was, first and foremost, a healer. Thirty years after leaving the Army her nursing certification was still current, and wherever she went she carried an elaborate medical kit, packed in her huge, custom-made shoulder bag. She moved to a bare spot and took a towel out of her bag. On this she began laying out bandages, medicines and equipment.

      "All right, Tim," she said, "you start cleaning wounds and stitching. Even a werewolf heals faster and better with the right treatment. Use gut, not nylon. Anyone else here have medical training?"

      Two hands went up, one of them Tina's.

      "That's the problem with changing folk," sighed Lisa. "They heal so well most of the time they don't learn what to do for when they don't."

      Lisa took a quick inventory of their skills and assigned them appropriate tasks. Both obeyed without question. It occurred to her that they probably took her - and Tim, too - for a werewolf. Well, there'd be time for introductions later. Meanwhile, Lisa had work of her own to do.

      She moved to Digs-In-Drifts. Fighting down the horror she felt at his terrible injuries, she evaluated them, touching him as little as she could and still do a proper job. She quickly came to the conclusion that even for a werewolf he should be dead. Carefully - very carefully - she straightened the mangled limbs and tipped his head back to ease his breathing. Then she settled herself, and concentrated, drawing on the strength inside her, the thing that made her what she was. Being a healer, the first ability - what her kind called tricks - she had learned was healing. That had been a few months ago, on her trip back to 'Nam to bury a friend. She was very good at it. She just didn't know if she was good enough to help in this case. Still, Digs-In-Drifts must be strong, himself, or he wouldn't have lasted this long.

      Lisa did her trick, working it extra hard to make it a good one. She felt the energy build, then flow out of her in a surge, through her hands and into her patient. Digs-In-Drifts gasped, and made a little moan. He looked... better. Not healed - far from it - but like something that could actually be alive. Lisa smiled a bit, and worked her trick again. This time it felt like it succeeded even better. Digs-In-Drifts moaned loudly... and opened his eyes.

      "Welcome back," said Lisa, softly. She examined him, noting that his injuries were still quite serious. She had never needed to do her trick three times on the same patient before. Well, not in one session. She placed her hands on his arm again.

      "I'm... strong enough to heal... myself, now," panted Digs-In-Drifts.

      "There are others here who need your help," said Lisa. "I'm going to make sure you're able to help them to the best of your ability."

      He stopped protesting, and Lisa did her trick again. Third time was the charm; Digs-In-Drifts was fully healed. He gave Lisa a quick and surprisingly emotional hug, then quickly set to work on those who still needed care.

      With three healers working the worst injuries were soon treated. Many were still hurting, but would soon recover on their own, especially with absorbable stitches holding the wounds closed and splints keeping breaks straight. Lisa felt drained. She could see that Digs-In-Drifts was also tired, and poor Tina was exhausted.

      "I think we three deserve a break," said Digs-In-Drifts, clapping the two female healers on the shoulders. "Let's go down to the cave. A half-hour there and we will be fully charged."

      "It is a place of great power," Lisa acknowledged.

      She half expected some of the werewolves to protest her being allowed back in the cave, but though there were a few who appeared unhappy at the idea none spoke out. The three healers took the trail, even Lisa glad for a relatively easy path. Once at the entrance the werewolves shifted to wolf form, and Lisa to cougar.

      Pads Softly gave a yelp and jumped around to stare at Lisa. Digs-In-Drifts made reassuring noises and prodded the younger werewolf toward the entrance with his nose. Once in the chamber, Tina went to her midform.

      "Who are you?" she gasped, staring at Lisa, who went to the half-cougar.

      "Lisa Dawnwind."

      "She is a friend and an ally," said Digs-In-Drifts. "She actually found this cave years before any of our pack did, and the spirits here accept her."

      Indeed, Lisa felt a comforting warmth that was something beyond the physical. Her fatigue was slowly melting away. She sat fluidly on the floor, her back against the wall, and let the spirits tend her.

                                    *                              *                              *

      For a while they simply rested, basking in the healing energies of the cave. Once the sharpest edge of their fatigue had been blunted, however, Lisa began thinking. And what she thought led to her speaking.

      "You need to call in all the allies you can," she stated.

      The break in silence was startling, even to Lisa. Tina/Pads Softly actually jumped and gave a little squeak.

      "This is what I advised Blood Fang," said Digs-In-Drifts. "She ignored my advice, and I didn't press the issue. I should have."

      "Do you want me to..." began Pads Softly.

      "No; I'll do it," said Digs-In-Drifts.

      "Send a spirit to fetch them?" asked Lisa, grinning. "Like you did me?"

      Pads Softly looked startled, then gave Digs-In-Drifts an accusing glare.

      "If I hadn't I'd be dead by now," he replied, shrugging. "So might a lot of others."

      "And, of course, you're going to let her watch," said Pads Softly.

      "If it's any consolation I dislike dealing with spirits," said Lisa. More quietly, almost to herself, she added, "Though I seem to be doing a lot of that, lately."

      "There is no harm in showing her how it is done," said Digs-In-Drifts. He turned to Lisa. "Though I do warn you that this is not something to do casually. Here, in this sacred and protected place, it is both easy and safe. Elsewhere it might be neither."

      "Understood," said Lisa, nodding. "But I do have a question. How did you send that raven spirit to me if you were unconscious?

      "I didn't," the werewolf replied, grinning. "I summoned it before we left last night. I gave it my message, and told it to deliver that if I did not stop it from doing so by Midnight."

      "Very smart," said Lisa, impressed.

                                    *                              *                              *

      When Lisa topped the slope she saw a much-changed scene. All the formerly injured werewolves were now fully recovered, due to a combination of magical healing and their own recuperative abilities. There was much activity, much of it centered around five additional newcomers. Werewolf packs do not normally allow outsiders on their land, and here were 11 werewolves who were not pack members. Of course, this was on top of the human relative of a member, and even a shapechanger who was not of their kind!

      Lisa had observed Digs-In-Drifts instruct the spirits he sent out with the requests for help. From what she had gathered, two of the newcomers were members of a neighboring pack with which this one was on good terms. The other three, however, were lone wolves. Two sometimes associated with local packs but weren't members; the third - a huge Native American man - was apparently a stranger to most of those here.

      "My friends, I am glad to see you well," said Digs-In-Drifts, greeting each pack member with a hug or firm grasp of the shoulder. He then moved to the non-pack member werewolves. "I thank you for coming to our aid."

      Lisa and Tim he also hugged. Since Digs-In-Drifts was in his midform the human police officer looked rather intimidated by this procedure.

      "And to you two - especially Miss Dawnwind - we owe a great debt."

      That brought a stir among the werewolves, especially the non-pack members. However, Digs-In-Drifts gave them no time to protest, and instead moved to the pair of newcomers from the nearby pack. He introduced them briefly, since they were obviously known to the rest of the pack. Two of the lone wolves were given slightly more lengthy introductions. They were old for werewolves, perhaps even Lisa's age, though that judgement was more from the way the held themselves than from appearance. They might simply have been mature in spirit.

      The largest newcomer got special treatment. Digs-In-Drifts surprised everyone by giving him a firm, brotherly hug, which the big man returned with obvious affection. Lisa noted that while most of the others here were in their midforms, this man stayed human. She wondered if this was to avoid intimidating the others with his size, since werewolves generally saw intimidation - even unintentional - as a challenge.

      "This is Words-Of-Wisdom, an old friend and teacher of mine," said Digs-In-Drifts, once he and the other broke their embrace. He turned back to the big man. "I am very pleased you answered my call."

      As Digs-In-Drifts ushered everyone - including Lisa and Tim - into a circle, Lisa couldn't help noticing something familiar about Words-Of-Wisdom. His name was new to her, but greatly impressed her. Werewolves tended to have names that bragged of prowess at fighting or hunting. Even Pads Softly had a name that spoke of a skill at stalking. Yet some of the greatest fighters among the Werewolves - at least, those Lisa knew - had mild, even gentle names. One that Lisa knew personally - and one of the few Changers she had ever met who violated the law of mass conservation - was named Bent-Tail, because he simply didn't need to brag. So Words-Of-Wisdom might be a great warrior, or - as his name suggested - a renowned wise man. Or even both.

      There was something odd about his scent, though. Most shifters carried some of their animal scent in human form. That was part of what made ordinary animals leery of them. But while Words-of-Wisdom had a very warm human scent and carried some rubbed-off werewolf scent, he had no animal scent of his own. Almost as if he were hiding his true nature...

      Lisa started, as she made a sudden connection. She glanced at the big man out of the corner of her eyes, noting his appearance as they moved into the shade. She wasn't sure, but Lisa had a sudden conviction that Worlds-Of-Wisdom was still a man because he couldn't become a wolf. That he could only become a bear. The thought was a crazy one, but enough crazy stuff had been happening lately that Lisa didn't dismiss it.

      Tim made a point of sitting to Lisa's right, and Sandstorm made a point of sitting to Tim's right. Lisa wasn't sure whether this was to protect his cousin from the werewolves, to show the werewolves that he was making sure his cousin didn't cause trouble, or both. On Lisa's left was Pads Softly, who after her initial shock at learning what Lisa was seemed to have become fascinated by the werecougar. All those seated beyond Pads Softly were outsiders, until the circle reached Words-Of-Wisdom. To the big man's left was Digs-In-Drifts, and to his left another senior member of the local pack.

      Though every other changer was in midform, Words-Of-Wisdom still stayed human. Lisa tried watching the big man as Digs-In-Drifts formally opened the gathering, but found her attention diverted. She had been privileged to witness a handful of such meetings before, but this one was different, and not only because the situation was so serious. The previous ceremonies she had witnessed were all held by European werewolves. This one was much less wordy and more direct, but no less formal for that. Digs-In-Drifts appealed to the spirits for their blessing, and from the odd prickling sensation Lisa felt during his speech she was certain he had it. Then he explained the situation, mincing no words when describing the previous night's battle. This caused some rumbling and a number of shamed looks among the local pack members.

      "Now, there is something that must be settled first, before we begin planning our actions," said Digs-In-Drifts, looking very serious. "We are about to go into battle, and by our rules a leader may not be challenged during such a time. Therefore, if any of you feels better able to lead the Pack of Mushroom Ridge than I, speak now or remain silent until we win... or lose."

      Lisa started, and didn't know whether to laugh or groan, as she heard the pack's name for the first time. Sure, the name was quite appropriate... but so corny. The indecision may have helped her avoid making any overt reaction, which was a good thing. As it was, no-one seemed to notice her slight stiffening.

      The werewolves looked around at each other, but there was no challenge. Satisfied, Digs-In-Drifts nodded. He actually looked disappointed. Lisa realized that he did not want this duty, but felt bound to take it.

      "Does anyone have any opening suggestions or comments?" asked Digs-In-Drifts.

      "If I may...?" rumbled Words-Of-Wisdom. At a nod from Digs-In-Drifts he rose. "Since the cause of the trouble is a spirit, and since experience has shown that physical attacks have little or no effect, I suggest we forego the physical and concentrate on the spiritual."

      "Which is what Digs-In-Drifts said two days ago," muttered Sandstorm. The werewolf to his right shushed him.

      "We have at least three shaman here," said Digs-In-Drifts, nodding. "As well, one of our guests - Lisa Dawnwind - has shown a talent for dealing with spirits."

      "I beg your pardon?" said Lisa, startled.

      "You have the ability to see and speak to spirits," said Digs-In-Drifts. "Also, you are respectful when dealing with them, but not cowed."

      "Do we really need her here?" snapped Claws-Like-Razors. "It's her fault all this is happening! They're filming her book!"

      Lisa ignored her, not even glancing in her direction. There was some support for Claws-Like-Razors, but most of the werewolves in the assembly were obviously also ignoring her.

      "She is not responsible for the movie company picking a location with a spirit buried under it," said Digs-In-Drifts, firmly, as he stared straight at the young female. For a moment Claws-Like-Razors seemed about to argue, but she clamped her muzzle shut and sat back. Digs-In-Drifts looked at Lisa as he continued. "Actually, besides her talent with spirits, Lisa is also a military veteran and a war hero. Even here, tales of her valor and fighting ability have been heard. We could probably use her advice in planning our campaign."

      "Actually," said Lisa slowly, as something occurred to her, "I think you might find my primary ability of more use. You see, I'm a healer. From what you say, this spirit reacts violently to any disturbance. Someone even said that it is like an old wolf with a bad tooth. In my experience, something which acts like this usually has a reason, and that reason may be due to an injury, physical or mental. I don't know what sort of injury a spirit might sustain, but shouldn't we at least try and find out if what we need to do is heal this spirit, instead of destroying or containing it?"

      There was a stunned pause. Then Words-Of-Wisdom smacked himself in the side of the head and laughed out loud. Lisa thought this sounded like a distant thunderstorm had just heard a good joke.

      "I should have thought if that myself! Of course, even if this is not the case - some spirits are notoriously hostile without any such reason - it is still a good idea to find out as much about this entity as we can. So, who's up for a scouting mission?"

      "I will lead," said Digs-In-Drifts. "Lisa goes. And Sandstorm. That should be enough. Too many, and we increase the risk of rousing the spirit."

      "I want to go," said Pads Softly, her voice barely audible.

      "No. We are already risking two healers and one of our best warriors."

      Pads Softly sighed and nodded her acquiescence.

      "May I make a suggestion?" Lisa asked respectfully. At a nod from Digs-In-Drifts she continued. "Include Tim. He's a police officer. He has a vehicle with lights and siren, if we need to go somewhere fast on public roads, or distract attention. He can deal with security guards or any other humans we might encounter, keep them away from where we are working."

      "A good idea," said Digs-In-Drifts, looking at both Tim and Sandstorm. "If he agrees."

      Tim nodded vigorously, though he looked rather awed by the prospect of going on a mission with two werewolves and a were-cougar. Sandstorm seemed grudgingly accepting of the idea.

      There was a bit more discussion, mainly planning what the others would do while the scouting team was gone... and what to do if they didn't come back. Then Digs-In-Drifts collected the team members. They headed for Tim's truck, the shifters changing to human form. As the others went ahead, Tim held back and moved close to Lisa.

      "Thank you for including me," he said, quietly.

      "Save your thanks for later," she muttered. "After you see what we're up against, you might want to reconsider giving it."

                                    *                              *                              *

      They came in a back way, through the desert. Night had fallen not long before, less a matter of clever timing than an inevitable result of events. The sky was clear overhead, the waxing Moon providing more than enough light for even Tim to see the way clearly. A full kilometer from the fake bomb tower Digs-In-Drifts told the police officer to stop.

      "Leave the truck here. It's not likely to be noticed in this low spot. That bit of ground over there is the highest in the area. You can keep watch from there. Your job is to deter, delay or distract anyone who might interfere."

      "Just what is it you're going to do?" asked Tim, looking very uneasy.

      "Reconnoiter in force," said Lisa. "Find out what's there and what we can do about it."

      "Hopefully that means singing a restless spirit back to sleep," said Digs-In-Drifts.

      The werewolves and werecougar shifted to their fearsome midforms. Tim shied back in spite of himself; but then noticed something that overrode this understandable reaction.

      "Hey!" he exclaimed, staring at Lisa, who - except for her fur - was naked. "What happened to your clothes?"

      "One of the things I learned in that cave," said Lisa, grinning as she unwrapped the bundle she had brought. "A packrat spirit showed me how to hide things."

      She pulled out a Y-shaped leather harness, with a baker's dozen of glistening spikes tucked into loops. That went on over her head, draped over both shoulders and tugged securely down across her left hip. Lisa checked the fit, and nodded. She looked like she was ready for just about anything.

      "Hopefully, we'll be back before dawn," said Lisa. "Don't be a hero. We don't plan to."

      With that, the three shapeshifters loped off into the desert night.

                                    *                              *                              *

      They ran in silence for a while, until Digs-In-Drifts motioned for them to stop.

      "Can you feel it?"

      Actually she couldn't, and said so. Sandstorm couldn't, either.

      "Ah. Perhaps it is something only shaman can sense. At least from this far away."

      "I thought you said you weren't a shaman," said Lisa, grinning slightly.

      He ignored her, instead looking ahead, a bit to the right of the tower. He was the image of concentration, with his ears forward and his nostrils flared. Even his ruff was up slightly.

      "There is definitely something there," he announced. "I can't tell any more from here. I suggest we wait a few minutes, then move forward slowly. Give it a chance to get used to us."

      "Suits me," muttered Lisa, feeling quite uncomfortable over the notion of dealing with a powerful and irritable spirit.

      "Sandstorm, I want you to go ahead, to the left," said Digs-In-Drifts. "The main road is over there and if someone gets past Tim you come and warn us. If we get into trouble, you come and help us."

      The younger werewolf nodded, and started off.

      "I thought he'd never leave," muttered Lisa.

      "You realize, then, that we are going to deal with this tonight, ourselves."

      "Oh, yes," said Lisa. "I just hope Tim is far enough away if things go wrong."

      Digs-In-Drifts looked over at Lisa, as if evaluating her.

      "You like him, don't you?" he said unexpectedly.

      "What's not to like?" countered Lisa, startled into being direct. "He's handsome, brave, comes from a very good line..."

      She sensed more than saw her partner's grin and felt embarrassed.

      "Maybe that's just the hormones talking," she sighed.

      "I thought so," said Digs-In-Drifts, nodding. "Oh, don't look so surprised. Some of our kind also come into season, instead of being fertile continuously. And your scent is typical of a receptive female."

      He stood and began moving forward. Lisa sighed and followed.

                                    *                              *                              *

      Slowly they approached the center of the spirit's physical domain, a few hundred meters northwest of the fake bomb tower. The wind began to pick up. Digs-In-Drifts stopped, and the air calmed. He nodded to himself, and began singing, softly, under his breath. There didn't seem to be any words, at least none that Lisa recognized. This time, when he moved forward there was no reaction. Lisa hesitated, then followed at a distance.

      Now even she could feel the presence of something unseen. Something old, and powerful... and in great pain.

      "Its hurting," she whispered.

      Digs-In-Drifts nodded.

      "I will sing it out, make it manifest," he told her, quietly. "You get ready to heal it."

      "I... don't know if that will work on a spirit," said Lisa, growing more uncertain with each passing moment.

      "Of course it will," said Digs-In-Drifts reassuringly. "It is spirit magic, after all."

      He resumed singing, and this time his song had a different tone, both louder and more encouraging. "Come out and join us," it seemed to say, though there were still no discernible words. Slowly, something stirred. It rose around them, not from under the ground but within it. The wind began whirling around them, lifting grit and sand, but not in an attack. This seemed part of whatever it was they were dealing with. Finally it seemed all there, though even then there was no actual, physical presence beyond the wind and what it carried. Lisa took a deep breath, and prepared her healing.

      Suddenly the winds changed, again becoming agitated. After a moment of anxiously wondering why, Lisa heard the roar of approaching trucks. She looked in the direction of the sound and saw Sandstorm running towards them.

      "There's a whole shitload of trucks and men coming!" he yelled. "They just blew right past Tim! Almost ran him down!"

      The winds gathered, then whirled off in the direction of the noise before any of them could react. As it left Digs-In-Drifts tried singing the spirit back, even running in front of the advancing storm and slowing, trying to calm it. Sandstorm actually threw himself into the spirit's path. For his trouble he was swept aside, tossed out of sight. Digs-In-Drifts was treated less roughly, but still was sent tumbling.

      " Damn !" hissed Lisa. She knew that this time, once the spirit became violent it would continue its rampage until completely spent. She could feel that in its manner. She had to stop it, not so much for the sake of those fools approaching, but for all the other lives in danger. She had no choice. To heal she had to touch, and trying to touch it now was an invitation to attack.

      Lisa threw wide her arms and cried out in Navajo, calling to Thunderbird for aid, using one of the tricks she had learned in the cave. The heavens replied; a fat, blinding bolt of lightning striking down into the heart of the wind. If her healing was a spirit-born thing capable of helping spirits as well as physical creatures, then her spirit-born lightning should be capable of harming a spirit. It did; the spirit howled in fear and pain, and paused. For a moment Lisa thought she might have literally shocked the rage out of it. She started forward, still hoping that she could help the spirit.

      Then the trucks arrived, sliding to a stop, men jumping out, some with dogs. Lisa heard Bruce Thompson shouting unintelligibly. His words, his actions and those of his men, stirred the winds into rage again, and the miniature sandstorm hurled towards them. Lisa's heart sank, and she did what she had to.

      Lisa again called upon Thunderbird, and again was answered. This time the storm didn't stop; though hurt, it could not tell from where the pain came, so it continued on towards the nearest source of annoyance. Lisa called the lightning again, and again, and again. Finally, with a shrill cry like some dying animal, the winds quieted. The spirit motivating them was gone, destroyed by the lightning. Lisa sagged.

      There was a long silence. Then the stunned men began stirring. And Thompson began shrilly yelling at them, issuing panicked orders, bullying the men into action. Lisa felt her gorge rise... and her anger. All the emotional turmoil of the past week came to a sudden, rolling boil, and she started forward, murder in her eyes.

      The men saw something approaching, but not clearly. Still, what they could make out - on top of the mysterious sand storm and lightning - was enough to spook them, cause them to gather around the trucks. Thompson, oblivious to the death that was coming for him, screamed, calling them cowards. Lisa continued towards him, now almost to the area covered by the trucks' headlights. Trained guard dogs howled in fear, some breaking free and running away. Lisa ignored everything but Thompson. She was going to stop that annoying sound.

      Something moved into her path: Tim. Lisa snarled in irritation and stepped around him. He jumped back in front of her. Lisa raised her hand to knock him aside... and he cringed. Lisa's rage vanished. They stood there for a long moment, Lisa staring at his terror-filled face. Neither of them moved. Neither of them dared move. Then Lisa turned and ran into the darkness.

                                    *                              *                              *

      Lisa retrieved her credit card from the clerk at the car rental counter, and turned to get her carry-on bags. She froze as she saw Digs-In-Drifts standing there, looking incongruously like a normal human.

      "You're leaving without saying goodbye?" he asked, with a gentle, chiding tone. "Even if you feel you have nothing to say to the rest of us, Tim wants to see you."

      "No, he doesn't," said Lisa, firmly, as she gathered her bags and started off. Seeing that Dig-In-Drifts was coming with her, she sighed and continued. "He saw me enraged, dangerous, frightening. My kind are less likely to give in to the beast side than yours, but it still happens. After learning that, he doesn't want to see me."

      "I think you underestimate him," said Digs-In-Drifts softly.

      Lisa stopped, very deliberately put her bags down, and turned to look at him.

      "Last night I lost a patient," she told him, quietly but intensely. "Hell, I killed a patient. I almost lost a friend, and nearly murdered another. Maybe, in a year or two, I'll feel able to look Tim in the eye. Not now."

      They both stood there for a moment, an uncomfortable island of stillness in the middle of the bustling airport. Finally, Lisa relented.

      "Tell him that I will think of him often, with affection," she said. "And that I wish things had turned out different."

      "I think you should have the courage to tell him that to his face," said Digs-In-Drifts. "He's standing over there."

      Lisa spun around; sure enough, Tim was watching from just down the concourse. She sighed and went to him.

      Digs-In-Drifts watched as they stood awkwardly for a long moment. Then Tim took her hands in his. He spoke to her and she replied. They conversed quietly for several moments. Then they hugged. And Tim turned and walked away, while Lisa came back to Digs-In-Drifts.

      "What will you do now?" the werewolf asked, as Lisa picked up her bags.

      "Go home. Get ready for the baby. Make propitiations to Bast."

      "Bast ?!"

      Lisa nodded, smiling a bit.

      "I... met her, a couple of years ago. A mutual friend introduced us." Her smile broadened, and she placed a hand across her stomach. "Did you know that in addition to being the Mother of Cats, she's also the protector of expectant women?"

      Digs-In-Drifts nodded silently, not to claim he knew this but to acknowledge the appropriateness of Lisa's intentions. He watched Lisa walk away, feeling a bit sad that she was leaving alone. But then, cougars are the loneliest of cats.

      Copyright 2010 Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be contacted at stickmaker@usa.net. Copies may be made and kept for private use only. Anyone wishing to post this story to a Web page or include it in a publication must request permission from the author.