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Rocky Mountain Shy

Aeryn Alexander



Phlox wandered through an alpine wood on earth. It was both dark and chilly as the wind whistled like a distant flute through the trees. He looked up and beamed at the twinkling stars that he could see through the branches. It was a clear and beautiful night. His feet made soft crunching sounds as he continued walking, looking to his left and right as he moved like some great cat through the trees. He took a deep breath, smelling only the scent of the pines around him and the coolness of the night air. He smiled again, though he felt a twinge of concern or perhaps disappointment. He had hoped to detect the soft scent of a campfire's smoke, but it eluded him.
"I believe I have lost my way." Phlox sighed aloud to himself almost cheerily as he drew his jacket closer around himself against the not entirely unpleasant chill. "I should find shelter of some kind. It will be much colder before morning comes." he thought silently.
He glided quietly and serenely through the woods for sometime, peering into the darkness with his strange Denobulan eyes. Nothing seemed familiar to him. He could not guess whether he was walking toward the campsite where his colleagues were no doubt waiting for him or if he was walking away from it and into the depths of the vast forest. A faraway howl caused him to halt in his tracks, a look of mixed excitement, keen interest, and mild concern flashed in his eyes. Was it perhaps the animal his fellow campers had called a timber wolf? He continued walking, turning his path slightly away from the distant sound without realizing it.
He journeyed for several hours without finding any sign of the camping area or of anything that could be considered shelter. The coolness of the night had ceased to be at all pleasant. He was shivering slightly as he stood upon a bare hill top, scanning the wooded countryside around him. Suddenly he smiled. A dim light glimmered among the trees in the valley below. It did not look like the red glow of a campfire.
"A cabin in the woods?" he mused, striding down the hill toward the faint luminescence with renewed vigor and purposeful steps.
Phlox pondered how he would introduce himself to the inhabitants of the cabin when he reached the primitive dwelling place. It was a log cabin, apparently made from the trunks of trees indigenous to those woods or a very good imitation thereof. He had only recently learned from his colleagues that humans sometimes wished to escape their urban and suburban dwelling places for woodland homes, beach houses, or small farms in the country. If a person or group of people were seeking such isolation, would they welcome an unexpected guest, much less an alien one? Many humans, in so far as Phlox knew, had only seen pictures or news footage of aliens and had not met an extraterrestrial.
He approached the wooden doorway of the cabin and stared at it blankly for a moment. What was that old earth custom? He smiled, raised his hand, and slapped the door a few times with the palm of his hand. He could hear someone stirring inside in the dwelling. He stepped back a few paces and waited.
The door creaked as it opened inward, revealing the silhouette of a tall and sturdy human male, whose face Phlox could not see because of the brightness behind him. He had walked long in nearly complete darkness and the light of a single lamp was nearly blinding.
"Hello," began Phlox pleasantly, "I am a part of a medical exchange program, and I seem to have become separated from my colleagues. We were camping, you see, and I went to look at the trees and foliage for a bit and I am now quite lost."
The man reached for a panel next to the door and the area in front of the cabin was suddenly flooded with bright light from a flood light that hung next to the doorway. Phlox turned his head and shielded his eyes against the brilliance, which momentarily dazzled him.

Dr. Phlox sat up in bed with a jolt and looked around. He was in his quarters aboard the Enterprise. He had been dreaming again, but it was as vivid as any memory. He was in a wilderness area in Colorado and on a camping trip with his medical colleagues on earth again. It had been so alarmingly real to him, even after more than a year had passed since his experience.
"Lost in the woods at night." he mumbled quietly. His heart was pounding so loudly and quickly that he knew sleep would not return easily. He started to leave the bed, but glancing at the clock, he saw that it was just a few minutes after midnight. He smoothed the rumpled bed sheets and reclined, muttering, "I really should sleep." before closing his eyes. The last few days had been somewhat taxing and even a Denobulan sometimes needed a little rest, especially with hibernation season fast approaching.
The ship's chief medical officer lay there with his eyes closed for sometime before sleep returned to him, but it did return.

The brilliance, or rather its blinding effect, faded swiftly and Phlox returned to his gaze to the figure of a human male standing in the doorway of the cabin. He tried to manage a disarming, friendly smile.
"I am lost, and it is very cold. Can you help me?" he asked again, his voice revealing his nervousness.
"Just what are you?" asked the man in tones that held more apprehension, not to mention hostility, than his own.
"I am a visitor to your world. I am here with a medical exchange program. I have identification papers." he explained carefully, reaching into his jacket pocket for the documents.
The man immediately grabbed an old-fashioned looking farming implement, an item once called either a spade or a shovel, that was propped by the door.
Holding it in a menacing fashion, he said to Phlox, "Stop! What do you think you're doing?"
Phlox paused with one hand in his pocket and said, "I have papers, documents proving who I am and what I am doing here."
The man raised the shovel above his head and warned him, "Don't you move!" The Denobulan stood stalk still and continued to smile, though he was beginning to feel anxious and a bit alarmed. "Are you armed? Are there others like you out here?" he asked, glancing nervously toward the trees and at the hand Phlox had in his jacket.
"No, I am unarmed. I have no weapons. I am alone. My colleagues, humans one and all, are somewhere out there, but I have misplaced them." said Phlox with a barely perceptible nod toward the forest eaves behind him.
"How do I know you aren't some alien invader? How do I know you aren't lying?" asked the man, adjusting his grip on the shovel.
"If you will just let me remove my papers from my jacket pocket, I am sure I can provide you with some assurance that I am only a doctor who has found himself separated from his colleagues on a camping trip." said Phlox, slowly trying to remove his hand and his identification papers from his pocket.
The gesture was misinterpreted as an attempt to draw a weapon. The man swung the shovel with some force, striking the Denobulan squarely on the left side of his face. He looked stunned for a moment before his knees buckled and he fell to the ground with a quiet thud. The last sound he heard was that of the farming implement being stuck into the ground.

Dr. Phlox awoke with a soft gasp and immediately felt his left cheek and temple. The pain had been brief but intense, and more like a sensation than the memory of one, how ever lasting and unforgettable that memory might be. He rubbed his face for a moment, taking deep breaths as he did so. Then he checked the time. The clock had yet to strike one in morning. He had the urge to look in a mirror, to see if any signs could be seen, but he knew the idea was ludicrous. It had been more than a year, and it seemed, during the waking hours, even longer ago than that.
"Sleep, or else you wont be fit for duty tomorrow." he told himself quietly, drawing the covers closer and turning upon his side.
He closed his eyes and took measured breaths, willing himself not to dream. But dreams are not things to be controlled by the waking mind, not even for Denobulans.

Something warm was running down the left side of his face. He was sitting upright in a chair. It was hard and made a wooden, creaking sound as he shifted his weight. He could not seem to open his eyes for a moment. His head began to throb as he finally managed to lift his right eyelid. The left would not respond. He started to lift his hand to touch his face to find out what was the matter, but he could not do so.
"Am I paralyzed?" he wondered, but then he flexed his fingers and felt relieved as they moved. "No," he replied, "I am restrained." He wrists had been bound behind him through the intricate slats of the ladder back chair. The cords were tight and very coarse.
His vision was blurry as he lifted his head to take stock of his surroundings. The room was shadowy, illuminated only by a small lamp on a desk and a computer terminal, where a man sat looking back and forth between a handful of official looking documents and the screen of the terminal. In the farthest corner of the room he was dimly aware of the shape of a bed and a closed door.
For a moment Phlox had not known his location, why he should be restrained in such an uncomfortable fashion, nor what it was that ran down his face. Then he glanced downward and glimpsed a faint splattering of blood upon his trousers and remembered.
He raised his head and looked at the man at the terminal again with some confusion and asked, "You hit me with a farming implement?"
The man started at the sound of the Denobulan's voice and the accusatory tone therein. Then he laid the papers aside and turned to face Phlox. He had a low-grade, almost antique laser pistol in his lap. He grasped the weapon nervously in one hand as he came to his feet.
"Don't try anything." the man warned him.
"I wont, let me assure you."
"I am trying to verify that the papers you were carrying are legitimate, but my link with Federation public databases is very slow. And I don't know who to contact. You wouldn't mind providing that information, would you?" he asked Phlox in unfriendly and suspicious tones.
"Perhaps you could try contacting the Vulcan consulate in San Francisco. I should be listed among the participants in their Interspecies Medical Exchange."
"But you aren't a Vulcan. You don't have pointed ears." he said, narrowing his eyes.
"No, I am certainly not a Vulcan. I am a Denobulan with a splitting headache and blood on my clothes, who also happens to be a participant in a program sponsored by the Vulcans."
The man lowered the laser slightly and said, "I will try to contact the consulate then."
"Any chance that you would untie me in the mean time? I will not try anything."
"Some people I know aren't bothered by aliens. They think you are like us, like humans. They trust in the good intentions of the Vulcans and other aliens. I don't think that's necessarily wise."
"I have heard from my colleagues that some humans espouse such beliefs, but I never thought I would meet one. You are just as alien to me as I am to you and far more alien than any human I have met during my stay on your planet."
The man began to answer him, but the computer terminal behind him made a sudden bleeping sound and he said nothing as he returned his attention to it. Even as he read what had appeared on the screen, he continued to point the laser toward Phlox. He shook his head and glanced at the identification papers before typing something into the terminal using a small keypad.
"All inquiries to the Vulcans, through their consulate or by other means, must be approved before any data will be released." he said over his shoulder.
"Protocol."
"That may be true, but it certainly doesn't help in situations like this."
"I doubt there has ever been such a thing."
"I'll concede to that."
"You could just let me go, either now or in the morning." Phlox knew it was a gamble when he made the statement. He was not entirely sure he could walk away from the cabin without assistance.
"If I could just be certain that you are who and what you and these papers claim, I would do that."
"What would it take?"
"To convince me?"
"Yes."
"If you could get a human to vouch for you, I would be satisfied."
"Every human that I know is outside around a campfire in the woods. I have said that before."
"That is awfully convenient, or inconvenient, if it's true." The man paused, sighed, and set his laser pistol on the desk. "What would you do in my situation?" he asked Phlox.
"I would not have hit me with a farming implement for one thing."
"It was a shovel."
"Pardon me, with a shovel then."
"I don't get a lot of visitors out here. You ... frightened ... me."
"It was not my intention."
"You still haven't answered my question."
"Let me see." Phlox took a deep breath and winced against the pain. "I am an isolationist cabin-dweller. A strange alien wanders up to my door in the middle of the night. What do I do? I hit him with a shovel. My personal experience in the matter is a bit murky after that. What is to become of this possibly dangerous alien after I have tied him up? Hmmm. That is a puzzler. Find out who he belongs to? Where he belongs? Have you called the San Diego Zoo?"
"Do you know anyone there?" asked the man with some bizarre and muted humor. Phlox stared at him blankly. "I am sorry. I would rather that none of this had happened, even if are a dangerous alien." he added.
"On that we have consensus."
"But other than the shovel, you would do what I am doing?"
"Yes, but with more curiosity and less mistrust. Humans are not an overly suspicious race, and you have profited from this general characteristic. You could learn a lot from your fellow humans."
"But it is naive to think that every alien we may meet wills us good."
"And what is it to think that they mean you harm?"
The man sighed and rubbed his face with both hands, and said simply, "I never thought I would need to answer these questions in practice."
"Does anyone?"
"I wouldn't know." he said with a short laugh. He looked at the door that led outside. "Will your friends be looking for you?" he asked.
"If I may speculate, I would say that they are looking for me now, but who knows where? They could be miles from here. They could be anywhere."
The man shook his head and said, "More and more, I find myself believing you. But I am still going to try to contact someone at the consulate."
"Good luck."

Dr. Phlox awoke without a gasp or a jolt this time. He rubbed his hands and the side of his face. It was not many minutes after two o'clock, but during any other time of the year, he would have left his bed and gone to spend quality time with his little friends in sickbay. And he would have done it gladly. The unfortunate biological drive for long periods of sleep that would culminate soon in six days of hibernation prevented him from abandoning his bed.
"If only pleasant memories could be dreamt of so vividly." he muttered, rolling over and retreating back into the world of dreams.

Something cold, moist, and surprisingly soft was being touched to his face where it hurt the most. He groaned in response and the sensation ceased. The disorientation was brief as he opened his right eye. He could not call the scene of the cabins interior familiar, but he knew where he was. The man was sitting down in his chair by the terminal again as Phlox lifted his head. He had a damp cloth in one hand, but the other rested near the laser pistol on the desk.
"You passed out, I think."
"Yes." agreed Phlox. "Is it morning yet?" he asked.
"It depends on what you would call morning."
"Is it light outside?"
"No, not quite, but I would still call it morning. On an ordinary day I would be transporting saplings toward the northern part of the forest."
"Saplings?"
"Small trees. There was some illegal logging done a few miles away about a century ago, possibly longer. I am trying to repair the lingering damage by replanting areas that still show the scars."
"Commendable."
"That's why I have a shovel. I like to do things the old-fashioned way, I suppose."
"Ah." said Phlox, raising one eyebrow.
"There is still no word from the consulate, or anyone else." he said, changing the subject.
"And you have not changed your mind?"
"I just cant let you go."
"You wouldn't consider untying me perhaps? I promise you that I will not even try to leave this chair."
The man laid the damp cloth aside and cracked his knuckles, seeming to mull over the question.
"I will consider it."
"Thank you."
The computer terminal flashed behind the man and he turned as it bleeped loudly. After a few moments of reading, he gave a short, bitter laugh.
"It took them three hours just to give me the name of the person who handles inquiries into official Vulcan affairs. Unbelievable." he said aloud as he typed something into the keypad.
"Protocol." Phlox told him for the second time.
"I don't want to keep you tied up for another three hours while they review my inquiry, but would you really be content sitting there in that chair?"
"I give you my word that I will not try to get up or to leave here until you are willing to let me go."
"Okay." said the man, taking a deep breath and leaving his seat at the desk.
The fear was almost tangible to Phlox as the man moved across the room with slow, reluctant steps. Phlox remained perfectly still as he reached down and began untying the thin cords that had been wrapped around his wrists. The man let the restraints fall to the floor before cautiously backing away from Phlox, never taking his eyes off him as he did so. When the man was a safe distance away, Phlox rubbed both of his wrists and looked at the faint discoloration the ropes had caused.
"Even though you have risked releasing my bonds, you are still afraid, are you not?" Phlox questioned.
"Yes, I suppose I am."
"Don't be."
The man smiled and glanced toward a protein resequencer that was set into the walls of the cabin and asked, "Do you want anything to eat?"
"No, but thank you. I don't think I could keep anything down at the moment."
"You don't eat our food?"
"I am rather fond of the human food I have tried, but I am a bit nauseated." said Phlox, gesturing to his head.
"Sorry." was the quiet reply.
The man returned his attention to the computer terminal. The laser pistol remained at his elbow, near at hand, but he did not seem to be as suspicious or as jumpy as before. Phlox wondered what it was exactly that had changed his mind. Perhaps during their lengthy conversations, the sense of a shared universal humanity had grown. Perhaps the similarities between them loomed larger than the differences.
"Mere speculation." Phlox thought to himself, gingerly touching the left side of his face.
A sudden knock on the cabin door caused both occupants therein to startle and turned towards the entrance. The man slowly rose from his chair, walked to the door, and opened it.
"Hello," Phlox heard a familiar voice outside say, "I was camping with some friends of mine in the woods last night and lost one of our companions. He is a heavy-set fellow with blue eyes and cranial ridges here and here. He answers to the name of Phlox. Have you seen him?"
Phlox smiled as he heard his colleague, Dr. Jeremy Lucas, give that description of him. The man turned and looked over his shoulder at Phlox as though measuring him against the way he was described.
"Yes, I have, in fact." he answered the inquiry, sounding much relieved, though more than a little chagrined. "Hess inside." the man added, opening the door and gesturing for Dr. Lucas to enter.
Dr. Lucas was alone when he strode into the cabin. The camping party had undoubtedly fanned out to look for their missing comrade. He looked puzzled and a bit bewildered as he strode toward Phlox, who managed a heart felt smile, despite the pain it caused him to do so.
"You are looking well this morning, Dr. Lucas." he said.
Actually, that was not so. His colleague looked as though he had gone without sleep the previous night, which he had, and his shoulders were slumping a bit under the heavy backpack that he was carrying.
"Phlox, I cant say the same for you. What happened?" asked Dr. Lucas.
He stepped closer and gestured that he wished to examine Phlox's injured face. Phlox nodded his consent.
After a long moment of thought he told Dr. Lucas, "I hit my head on a rock." Looking over Jeremy's shoulder at his erstwhile captor, he smiled as he saw relief and gratefulness flood his features.
"It must have been some rock." said Dr. Lucas, frowning as he glimpsed the pile of thin cords on the floor. He cupped Phlox's chin in one hand and asked, "Does your neck hurt?"
"No, doctor, but I would be surprised if I did not have a concussion."
"Can you open your left eye?"
"No, but I think it is just swollen shut, nothing to worry about."
"I told the others that I would call a transport pod from the forestry service station if I found you." he said, momentarily satisfied at least. Dr. Lucas removed his pack and fished out a communications device.
"You will get better reception out of doors." Phlox told him.
"Of course." he agreed.
The man half closed the door after Dr. Lucas had walked outside. He shook his head as he looked at Phlox.
"I was wrong." he said.
"Eventually everyone is wrong about something. I am sorry that for you, it had to be something like this. But maybe it will teach you to trust others more, alien or human or yourself."
"You aren't angry?"
"I am not pleased, but, no, I am not angry."
"Thank you for not saying anything to your friend."
"What would that have taught you? That aliens are vindictive. I want you to learn all that this experience has to offer, otherwise my headache will have been in vain." Phlox chuckled and added, "I am free to go now, right?"
"Of course."
"Maybe we will meet again." said Phlox, giving him a polite nod as he slowly left his chair.
"I hope so."

Dr. Phlox opened his eyes and found himself in the waking world again, abroad the Enterprise and lying in his own bunk. It was half past four in the morning, and though he did not feel well rested, Phlox decided that he had had enough of sleep and dreaming for one night. Looking in the mirror, he admired the reconstruction of the left side of his face. Dr. Lucas had assisted in the surgery himself, and it looked good, practically perfect. He smiled and prepared to face the day.

He was picking at his breakfast, hardy human fare such as he enjoyed from time to time, when quiet footsteps approached his table.
"May I join you, doctor?" asked a feminine voice. He glanced up to see Ensign Cutler standing in front of him with a tray.
"Of course." he said, gesturing to the empty chair. It was early, and the mess hall was empty except for the two of them.
"Thank you." she said, taking a seat.
Dr. Phlox almost absently turned his attention back to his plate. For a moment the young ensign thought she was having a meal with Malcolm Reed. Then he looked up from his plate again and smiled.
"I am not being very good company this morning, am I?"
"Penny for your thoughts, doctor."
He took a deep breath as he drank in the almost jovial concern in her soft voice and dark eyes.
"Have I ever told you about a cabin in the woods of Colorado?"