by Jon C. Crusoe
Someone had filched an eye from the human head mounted over the bar. Bertram
Foss sighed as he dragged over a stepladder to replace the missing orb. He only
had one more human eye in the storeroom. The eyes in the ursoid head were the
ones that were usually stolen as souvenirs and he had plenty of those.
He climbed the ladder and rummaged in his pocket for the round piece of glass.
I'd better order some more tomorrow, he thought as he slipped the orb into the
"Hail, O mighty, but bald, hunter," rumbled a voice from the door.
Bertram didn't need to turn to know who it was. "Hail back at you, you walking
rug," he replied.
He climbed down and limped across the room to touch his hand to the paw of what
appeared to be a larger than normal Kodiak bear. "How's it going, Berak?"
"The shoulder still bothers me. I see that you're still limping."
Bertram flexed his leg and winced. "The docs say that it's permanent from the
way you clawed the muscles up. I guess we've both got something to remember
our last hunt by."
The human filled a bucket-sized mug from the elevated beer tap and used both
hands to push it across to the bear. He filled a glass for himself and raised it as he
said, "Here's to another season."
Berak raised his mug and answered, "To helping evolution along." He pointed up
at the heads over the bar and asked, "Lose another eye?"
"From the human head this time. Must have been one of your early arrivals."
The bear nodded. "There are a few of them that I'm a little worried about, but I'll
fill them in on proper behavior tomorrow."
Bertram filled his glass again and pointed at Berak's mug. The other shook his
head, so Bertram took a sip and said, "I have a couple of newbies too. I'll get them
straightened out before I let them into the field."
"Good enough," answered Berak as he headed for the door. "Thanks for the beer,
and I'll see you in the morning."
The day's transports began arriving early the next morning. Hunters filed out,
carrying their equipment as they talked and joked with each other. Most of them
had been at the lodge before, but as always, there were a few new faces in the
opening day crowd.
One hunter stood out from the rest of the humans. Geraldine Murphy had been on
Eden before. She stood at the top of the transporter ramp and looked over the
lodge like a queen surveying her domain.
Bertram smiled at the thought. The comparison wasn't far wrong. Miss Murphy,
as she insisted everyone call her, insisted on strict formality at the lodge, even with
close friends. Since she had started coming, she had never failed to take home a
She strode down the ramp, her maid hurrying to keep up, and made her way to the
registration table. Bertram had a sheet of paper and a key card waiting.
"Miss Murphy, it's good to have you back on Eden."
The lady nodded regally and said, "I don't have to ask if everything is ready with
you running things, Warden Foss."
Bertram handed the paper and the card to the maid. "Right you are, Miss Murphy.
You have your usual suite, and everything is set up according to your
Miss Murphy turned to the maid. "Make sure that the luggage is taken to the room,
Darcy. I will be in the main building having a drink."
The maid hurried away and Bertram asked, "New girl?"
"Indeed. Belinda took sick just before I was scheduled to leave. I had to hire a
temporary maid." Miss Murphy looked after Darcy and said, "And although she
has never been a lady's maid before, Miss Roberts seems to be working out
Bertram went back to work and spent the rest of the morning checking the
identities of the arrivals and directing them to their quarters. Then he had them all
gather in the lodge's bar for their orientation just after lunch.
"Okay, I'll make this as quick as possible," he started. He could see a few of the
repeat hunters grinning because he always began his lecture the same way.
"All of you know the history of our arrangement with the bears, but I'm required to
repeat it for you in case some of you were asleep in school."
He jerked a thumb behind him to point at a framed map of the planet. "This is
Eden. The bears have a different name for it, but it translates out pretty much the
"Our survey ship landed here at almost the same time as the one that the bears had
sent out. No one knows who was on the ground first, so neither race has an
exclusive claim. This, I think, is good."
One of the first timers raised a hand. "Why is that?" he asked.
"Because we're two predator species. You're all hunters that have come to hunt
the most dangerous game we know, an intelligent creature of massive size and
natural weapons. The bears are here for the same reason. The only difference is
that you will be allowed to carry certain weapons to make up for our species' lack
of natural armament."
The warden paused and took a sip of water. "Just remember that while you're out
there hunting a bear, they'll be out there hunting you."
He smiled grimly and added, "Many, myself included, feel that the hunts are the
only reason that our two cultures haven't gone to war. We manage to burn off our
"Now part of maintaining the peace is how we deal with kills." The warden held
up a sheet of paper. "You all signed a copy of this, and I hope you read it. This is
the agreement on how any bodies will be handled."
There was a sudden scrabbling by the new hunters as they looked for their copies
of the agreement. The older hunters just looked bored.
Bertram gave the new people a moment to find their papers and then continued.
"If you make a kill, you are entitled to take one and only one of the bear's claws as
your trophy. You will then activate the homing beacon that he will be carrying.
This will let us send a transport out to bring the body back here to be returned to
his family. You are required to wait with the body and then return on the transport
to register your kill."
Bertram's voice became stern. "Don't screw up on this. Leave a body out there, or
take more than a claw, and the bear's clan is likely to call for the Ma'ak Koberk or
Clan Right on you." He looked around at suddenly worried faces. "And what that
means is that by treaty, any member of their clan gets to hunt you down anywhere,
up to and including Earth."
The warden smiled again. "Now I get to tell you what happens if a bear kills you.
He'll take one of your little fingers as his trophy. Then he'll activate your beacon
to have you picked up and returned home. Fair, isn't it?"
"Now as to sections closed to hunting." Bertram pointed to another map. "This is
the lodge area. As you can see, the lodge is divided into three parts: The human
side, the bears' side, and the common areas. Stay out of the bears' side of the
boundary. They'll stay out of ours.
There is no hunting allowed anywhere within the lodge's perimeter, and it's well
marked. So if anyone does shoot a bear inside the grounds, the court is not going
to believe that he didn't know he was in the safety zone."
Another new one raised a hand. "What's the penalty for shooting a bear inside the
Bertram grinned. "The offender is dropped in the middle of the hunting area buck
naked, shaved bald, and every bear on the planet hunts him down." He thought a
moment and then commented, "It's pretty much the same if a bear kills a human
out of bounds. The only difference is that all of you get to carry your weapons."
Bertram looked over the crowd and smiled coldly. "You ought to know that of the
four humans and two bears accused of violating the no-hunting area, only two
weren't convicted and hunted down. They killed each other, you see. And we all
agreed that there wasn't any point in trying two corpses."
Bertram finished up his lecture by opening two cabinets standing next to each
other. Inside the first, a stuffed and mounted ursoid stood clad in a fluorescent
yellow coverall. The second held a human in a coverall that was a subdued purple.
"Okay," said Bertram. "You're going to see bears wearing this yellow uniform
tomorrow. They're game wardens. You're also going to see humans, including
me, in the purple outfit. The bears see this color the same way as you do the
yellow, and it's worn for the same reason."
Bertram looked grim as he stated loudly, "The penalty for killing a game warden is
possibly even worse than killing inside the lodge area." He paused to look the
hunters over. "The wardens are the judges, juries, and sometimes the executioners
in these cases. We have a fragile peace with the bears. We will have a full
partnership with them someday. We will not have that ruined because someone
saw an easy kill."
Then he closed the cabinets and smiled. "See you all in the bar before supper.
First drink is on the house."
There were other wardens mingling with the crowd in the bar that evening. Unlike
Bertram and Berak, they were unknown to the hunters. The wardens used their
anonymity to listen to the conversations around them, trying to identify possible
Bertram manned the bar, drawing beers and mixing drinks. Berak played waiter
for the bears, carrying a table-sized platter full of the handled buckets of beer. All
was going well until an argument broke out at one table.
"Why should they be allowed weapons?" A young bear pounded the table to
emphasize his point. "If they hunted as we do, we'd wipe them out like the vermin
His friends tried to get him to lower his voice as Berak approached, but the warden
came straight to their table. He looked the loud bear over and then said to the other
three, "You'd best rein your friend in. If he keeps drinking, I won't certify him as
fit for the hunt tomorrow."
The bear under discussion lurched to his feet and stood there swaying as he sneered
at Berak. "Big bad warden. Big bad crippled warden. You really think you can
stop me from going out tomorrow?"
Several other ursoid wardens slipped closer as Berak pushed the unsteady drunk
back into his chair. The big warden held him there with one large paw and snarled
as he raised the other with claws extended.
"That's my crippled arm holding you down, cub. I can take out your throat with
my good side before you can even move. You still want to try me?"
The bear sat there shaking his head. Berak snarled again and stepped back. He
scanned the gathered crowd and said, "There are two reasons that wardens are
chosen from hunters who have been injured here. First, we're a walking example
of what can happen to you outside the safety zone. Second, by meeting with
hunters of the opposite race and managing to walk -- or crawl -- away, we've
learned to respect each other and can work together. Learn from us, or learn outthere."
Bertram stood behind the bar nodding. There was always one who was trouble.
Another warden gave him a signal while coming up to the bar for a refill.
"That table over there," the other muttered in a low voice. "The one in the corner.
From the way those two are talking, I think they're Earth First fanatics."
Bertram looked the pair over and asked, "What makes you think so?"
"Not much. Except they keep talking about how the animals should have been
wiped out when we first met them."
Bertram waved his relief in to take over the bar. "That's enough for me to run a
secondary check on them before they get out into the field."
He was back a half hour later. "Good call, Phil," he told the other warden. "Their
records didn't check out, so I tossed their belongings and found their real
"Both of them. Known and on record as real problems. Want to help me put them
Phil drained his beer and said, "Since I'm done drinking for the night, and seeing
how Earth First members are banned from Eden, why not?"
A quick wave brought two other wardens over to join them. As soon as they were
filled in on the situation, they finished their drinks and all four approached the two
men sitting in the corner.
Bertram looked down at the defiant pair and said, "All right, you two. Whatever
you have planned for tomorrow is off. You're both in custody now and will be
held until the first transport arrives tomorrow. Then your sorry asses are going to
be put on board and shipped off planet."
One of the men started to reach under his jacket, but stopped as Phil produced a
heavy caliber pistol. Bertram reached into the man's coat and pulled out a small
"No good for bears, stupid. This would only make them mad."
"It's good for race traitors," the man muttered as the wardens searched him and his
A few other wardens had wandered over to see what was going on, and cheerfully
decided to help escort the prisoners out. Bertram took the three pistols and two
knives that the men had carried and locked them up behind the bar.
"Strip them down and put them in red coveralls before you put them in their cells,"
he ordered Phil and the other wardens. Then he turned to the prisoners.
"In case you don't know, the bears see the color red the same way we do. If you're
seen outside your cells, any warden or hunter has the right to shoot you down or rip
you up on the spot. We've never had one of your ilk escape custody and live."
The men slumped in defeat and were led away by the grinning wardens. Berak
joined Bertram at the bar.
"Okay, hairless ape. What kind of problem did you have?"
"Earth Firsters that Phil spotted. They'll be in red in a few minutes. You want to
let your people know?"
The bear grinned, showing five centimeter fangs. "Consider it done. Hunters
"Sure. I plan to inform my hunters." A sudden thought hit the human warden and
he asked, "You don't suppose that young hotshot that you dealt with could be Den
of the Claw, do you?"
"Sacred Caves, I hope not. That would be all we need to have both the Firsters and
the Den here at the same time." Berak looked over at the young bear and said
thoughtfully, "I think I'll do a little checking on him."
The ursoid ambled off and Bertram went back to polishing the bar and thinking.
The Den of the Claw was the bear equivalent of Earth First. Both groups believed
that their own race should be the dominant one, and both were willing to use any
means, including starting a war, to ensure that dominance. If members of the
groups met face to face at the lodge, Eden could quickly become hell.
He left the bar and went to Berak's lieutenant. "Ferl, could you let Berak know
that I'm running secondary backgrounds on the other new humans. He might want
to do the same for your people."
Ferl growled assent and went looking for his chief. Bertram went back to the bar
and rang the bell hanging there. "Last call for drinks," he called. "The season
starts at sunup."
Security didn't have anything negative on the other humans, but Bertram still felt
uneasy. The survival instincts that had served him so well as a hunter kept telling
him that there was more trouble coming. So he called Berak a little later.
"What's the word, rug?"
"Nothing," his counterpart replied. "Even that young idiot has no known
connection with the Den. That doesn't mean that he, or someone else with him,
Bertram sighed, "It's the same on my end. Maybe I'm just getting old and
Berak's booming laugh came back. "It's because we both are a little paranoid that
we have managed to grow old. Let us remain so, and we may prevent any
From your mouth to God's ears, thought Bertram, as he cut the connection.
The sound of a shot woke Bertram before dawn. He found himself in a crouch
beside his bed and holding the pistol he kept under his pillow. His console was
screaming an alert and he staggered over to hit the accept button.
Phil's voice came over the speaker. "The shot came from the bears' side and I
can't raise Ferl on the radio."
"Stay at the boundary," Bertram ordered. "I'll contact Berak and be there in a
The chief wardens reached the low yellow and purple striped barrier at the same
time. Other wardens came pounding up behind them in the dark. Lights were
going on in the hunters' quarters, so Bertram and Berak each sent a team to keep
the visitors inside.
"Any idea where Ferl would be?" Bertram asked Phil.
"We were doing a perimeter sweep and were supposed to meet here when we were
done." The younger warden pointed and said, "He should have been coming from
Bertram turned to Berak. "Permission to enter your area?" he asked.
"Granted. For you and the others as long as necessary," Berak grunted. "I have a
bad feeling in my gut about this."
Bertram shared the feeling when the combined group of wardens found Ferl. The
bear's yellow uniform was stained with blood from the fist-sized hole in his back.
Phil was kneeling beside the body and looking at the wound. He pulled a caliper
out and held it against the hole.
".90 caliber with an hyper expanding round," he decided and then sighed. "It's a
human weapon, boss."
Bertram nodded in agreement. There was no way that he would attempt to second
guess his assistant. Before being injured on a hunt and becoming a warden, Phil
had been one of the top forensic investigators on Earth.
His opinion created more problems. A .90 caliber rifle and hyper expansion
rounds were not approved equipment for Eden. Any hunter caught with them
would face expulsion and fines at the very least. Using them on Ferl made the
situation premeditated murder. And since the murder was done by a human, the
whole mess was now Bertram's to deal with.
Bertram turned to the human wardens and said, "Check everyone's equipment.
And don't just look for a ninety. Inspect each rifle to see if it's been fired." He
pointed at two men. "Harry, you and Tom start checking outside the safe zone
with sniffers. Whoever did this might have the rifle and the ammo stashed in the
woods. Yesterday, people!"
Bertram caught Phil's arm. "Hang on. I want you with me when I check out those
Earth First maniacs' gear." He looked over at Berak. "Want to come along?"
The bear assigned two of his team to remove Ferl's body and then fell in behind
the humans. "This could be very bad, my friends," he rumbled. "To have a
warden murdered is bad enough, but Ferl has family with very powerful
"How powerful would those connections be?" was Bertram's question.
Berak looked at the sky in the direction of his home world. Then shook himself
and answered, "Ferl's uncle sits on the council. He is also known for having
leanings toward the Den of the Claw's beliefs."
"Wonderful. Then we'd better find the killer in record time."
Hunting roars from the bears' area, followed by a very human scream, turned the
three wardens around. They reached the edge of the woods to find two bears
standing over the remains of a pair of humans in red coveralls.
One of the bodies had his hand on a rifle. A spare magazine for the rifle was
sticking out of the coverall's pocket. Phil knelt down to get a closer look.
".90 caliber Renquist Expando brand," he said. "Any bets that the magazine in the
rifle isn't loaded with them too?"
One of the two bears was the young hunter that Berak had confronted only a few
hours before. The warden loomed over the smaller bear and said, "Explain."
The other bristled, but kept his voice respectful. "We saw these humans running
through the woods. And since they are marked as criminals, we hunted them
within the law."
"And how did you two get out of your quarters?" Bertram interrupted.
The bear looked at the human warden and turned his back, ignoring the question.
Berak grabbed the smaller bear and spun him around. "Answer his question," he
"We were already outside when the shot was fired. We saw there was trouble and
thought we shouldn't be seen. We were waiting for the wardens at the doors to
leave so that we could get back inside." The bear paused for breath and then
continued. "We were standing in the trees when the two humans came past us.
We saw they had a weapon, so we jumped on them from behind."
Neither warden was satisfied with the explanation. It seemed too easy. But since
the pair might well be telling the truth, Berak sent them back to their quarters and
assigned a warden to make sure that they stayed there.
In the meantime, Bertram had Phil begin an examination of the bodies. "Make
sure that they are those two Firsters. Berak and I will be at the cell, trying to figure
out how they escaped."
There were no signs of a forced exit, or any forced entry at the cells. Bertram
shook his head.
"We know that they were locked in here. They couldn't have escaped on their
"So they had an accomplice," rumbled Berak.
"Right. Let's see what the counter shows." Bertram opened a concealed panel on
the other side of the room. "I reset the counters yesterday before the transports
started coming in. The cell door should have only been opened twice; once when
the Firsters were put in, and again right now."
He stepped aside so that Berak could see. The counter showed the door as having
been opened three times, all from outside the cell, and all with the proper passcode.
"So one of my men let them out," Bertram grated.
Berak was peering at the touchpad by the cell door. "Not necessarily. Look here."
There were marks on the touchpad that hadn't been there the night before. Berak
pointed with a claw and said, "It looks like someone used a code cracker to fool the
lock into thinking it had received the correct code."
"Which, while it relieves my mind about my wardens, puts us right back where we
"Then I hate to tell you that there's more," said Phil as he walked in at the end of
the conversation. "Neither one of those Earth Firsters, and it was them by the way,
had fired any kind of a weapon. I tested for propellant residue on what was left of
their skins and couldn't find any."
"So who did the shooting," Bertram wondered aloud.
Dawn finally came, and with it the return of the two wardens that had been sent out
to sweep the area looking for the rifle. Bertram apologized for having forgotten to
recall them when the rifle was found. The two men just grinned and Harry said,
"Don't be too sorry, boss. We didn't find a rifle, but we did find this."
This was a large clamp with a pivoting lever that looked like an oversized trigger,
and a finger-sized protrusion coming off the side of the lever. Bertram turned the
device over and over in his hands trying to make sense of it.
Berak peered over his shoulder. "I think I know what it may be," said the bear.
"Where is the rifle?"
Phil said, "Here it is." He handed the covered weapon to Berak. "If you need to
take it out of the plastic, go ahead. I've gotten all I can out of it."
Berak tore the wrapping off and looked closely at the rifle. He pointed at marks
pressed into the stock and said, "These appear to match the clamp, do they not?"
The others nodded and Berak held up the rifle and tried to fit one of his massive
fingers into the trigger guard. When he failed, he took the clamp and fit it on the
weapon, slipping the protrusion inside the guard.
He looked at the others with satisfaction and stated, "Now one of my people can
fire this rifle."
"Wonderful," said Bertram. He took the rifle and checked to make sure it was
unloaded before he wrapped his hand around the lever and dry fired the weapon.
"So now we're not looking only at the human hunters, but at the bears as well."
Berak nodded and said, "Stalk softly though. None of my people could have
entered the cells on your side of the lodge. Who then released the prisoners?"
Phil spoke up from where he was leaning against the door frame. "Something else,
boss. No bear could have brought a rifle to Eden. Someone would have noticed."
Bertram agreed and said, "We'll just have to wait until the others finish searching
the hunters' equipment and report back."
They didn't have to wait long. The wardens came straggling in, each with nothing
concrete to report. Bertram looked over their lists and felt everything slipping
away. He couldn't find anything suspicious either. Suddenly he began flipping
through the lists again. "Who checked Miss Murphy's equipment?"
All the wardens looked embarrassed. "Well," said one. "She kind of scares us."
"You guys have faced bears and you're frightened of a middle-aged woman?"
Bertram sighed and said, "Okay, I'll handle it."
He was knocking on Miss Murphy's door five minutes later. Her maid opened the
door and after checking with Miss Murphy, let him inside.
"What seems to be the problem, Warden Foss?" asked Miss Murphy.
"There's been a murder. One of the wardens was killed a few hours ago. We're
checking everyone's equipment as part of the investigation."
Miss Murphy was silent for a moment and then asked, "Which warden was it?"
"Ferl Harra. I don't know if you had met him, but . . ."
Miss Murphy looked angry. "I had him in my sights once. He was the only bear
that I ever shot at and only wounded. If someone killed Ferl, it was an ambush and
not a hunt. He was a sportsman."
She pointed at the two rifles racked by the door. "Help yourself, Warden. And
when you find the killer, I want to know."
Bertram looked over the rifles as a matter of form. His real concern was the other
pieces of equipment that Miss Murphy had brought.
One caught his eye and he called, "Miss Murphy, where is your third rifle?"
She came hurrying over. "Third rifle? I only brought my main rifle and a spare in
case of problems."
Bertram pointed at the hard rifle cases stacked by the wall. "Three cases, but only
two rifles. I need to know what happened to the third one."
Miss Murphy was stunned. "But that's not one of mine. My rifles and cases all
come from Richardson's on Earth. That's an off-the-shelf case." She turned and
called, "Darcy! Now where did that girl go?"
There was no sign of the maid, and the door was standing open. Bertram pulled
the radio from his belt and said into it, "This is Foss. Find and detain Miss
Murphy's maid, Darcy Roberts, on suspicion of murder."
The words were barely out of his mouth when Phil and Harry escorted Darcy back
into the room. Each had hold of one of her arms as she struggled against returning.
"Thought you might need some backup, boss," said Phil.
Harry grinned and added, "Caught her at the fire stairs door."
Bertram keyed his radio again. "All wardens. Cancel last transmission. Suspect is
in custody." He thought a moment and sent, "Bertram to Berak. Suggest you take
those two bears that killed the Earth Firsters into custody."
Berak's reply crackled from the speaker, "Already done. We'll meet you in my
As Phil and Harry took Darcy out, Bertram held up a hand to stop Miss Murphy
from following. "Sorry, Miss Murphy, but this is official business."
She looked icily at him. "That woman used me to smuggle in a weapon. She
helped kill a bear that I respected. I will be there when you question her."
"Ah, damn it, Gerri. Don't do this to me."
"Bert, we go back a long way. When Mary was alive, she was my closest friend.
You're the one that taught me to shoot. You know me, Bert. Now do you think
you're going to win this argument?"
Bertram bowed to the inevitable. "Okay, come on. But be quiet in there." He
grinned. "If that's possible for you."
Miss Murphy smiled and lightly hit him on the arm as she walked past him. He
followed her down the hall, shaking his head.
Berak had his two suspects waiting in his office with two of his wardens watching
each of them. Even though the room was four times the size of Bertram's, it was
crowded with the three suspects, the wardens, and Miss Murphy.
Bertram took Phil's spot and directed him to test Darcy for residue. The ex-investigator took a kit out of his pocket and opened it to reveal several vials and
He opened up a vial, soaked a swab in it, and then began dabbing the solution over
Darcy's hands. After about thirty seconds, he grunted, "She's clean."
Berak called him over to the two bears. "If you would be so good as to repeat the
test on these two."
The bears started struggling, but were held tight by the wardens. Phil pulled out
two different vials and opened them. Then he clipped off hairs from each bear's
paws with a small pair of scissors and dropped the hairs into separate vials.
A few seconds passed and then the liquid in each vial started turning green. One
was distinctly lighter than the other and Phil nodded over his work.
"That one." He pointed at the young bear that had made trouble the evening before.
"That one is the actual shooter. The other didn't fire the weapon, but he was there
and picked up some of the residue on his hair."
Phil took up his place at Darcy's side and Bertram stood facing the maid. "Want to
tell us about it?"
The mild, self-effacing maid's face suddenly turned flushed and angry as she
hissed, "You're going to slaughter me anyway, so it doesn't matter." She drew
herself up proudly. "You are all hunters, killers. We knew that if a human killed
the nephew of one of the bears' council members, we could shut down this
organized murder of intelligent beings."
Bertram looked over at Berak. "We were so busy worrying about Earth First and
the Den of the Claw that we forgot about the People for Extra-Terrestrial Accord."
Berak growled at Darcy and asked, "If you believe us to be sentient, why did you
assist in Ferl Harra's murder?"
"It wasn't murder," she snapped. "It was justice. It was the execution of someone
who willingly participated in the murders of dozens of his own kind."
"I notice that you don't seem too concerned about the deaths of the humans killed
here," Bertram commented.
"That's different. They're human." The girl's anger gave way to a pleading look.
"Look, don't you understand? Humans are the real problem. If humans weren't
around, the bears could live in peace."
"You're human," Bertram reminded her gently.
"And I wish I wasn't," she said, her anger returning.
"Were the two Earth Firsters killed before or after Berak?"
"Before," said Darcy and smiled. "They thought that I was a Firster as well.
Imagine their surprise when they reached the trees where my comrades were
waiting." She actually chuckled as she said, "I even recorded one's scream so we
could play it later when we wanted you to find them."
Bertram stared at the girl who could be so concerned about non-humans, but could
gleefully aid in killing two of her own race.
The two chief wardens turned away from Darcy to speak privately. Miss Murphy's
voice brought their attention back to the girl.
"One question that the wardens failed to ask, and that is of importance to me, is
what happened to Belinda?"
Darcy sneered. "She served a killer. That made her a killer. She's already paid
for her crimes."
Miss Murphy's backhand across the girl's face made the wardens wince. It was
delivered with every ounce of strength the older woman had and they could hear
facial bones crunch from the impact.
Darcy started sobbing as she fell back against Phil and Harry. Miss Murphy
looked down at her hand and said, "Pity, I've bruised a knuckle."
Bertram swore under his breath and said, "Miss Murphy! Strike the prisoner again
and I'll have to bring you up on charges."
"It might be worth it, Warden, but I'll behave."
Berak confronted the two bears. "Den of the Claw." It wasn't a question.
"Yes," the one who had done the shooting. "My name is Karn Lerri, and I am
proud of what I have done in the name of our people."
"You're proud of shooting one of our people in the back and trying to blame it on
the humans?" Berak shook his massive head. "I cannot understand your thinking
anymore than I can the human female's."
Karn looked at Berak in disgust. "I wouldn't expect a traitor to understand. This
death could have brought an end to the dishonorable treaty forced on our people
and allowed us to exterminate the humans."
"And who gave you the right to speak for our race? I didn't. The council didn't.
As far as I know, no one has given you the right to speak for the race."
Berak turned away suddenly. "Enough of this. I call for a full trial before the
The trial was held in the bar, it being the only room large enough to hold all the
wardens at once. Humans and bears mingled freely, not caring that their neighbors
were of a different race.
The verdict was a foregone conclusion, but the punishment took an unusual turn.
When Bertram and Berak announced how the three would be hunted down in the
preserve, Darcy started laughing.
"No bear will hunt me," she said. "I'm female and I won't be carrying a weapon.
So they can't hunt me according to their own laws."
Berak looked upset, but had to agree. No male bear could hunt an unarmed female
of child-bearing age without breaking both law and tradition.
Miss Murphy spoke up from where she was sitting in a corner. "I invoke Ma'ak
There was a murmur of surprise that Bertram waved to silence. Berak crossed the
room to loom over Miss Murphy.
"How is it that you call Clan Right on this female?"
She reached into her blouse and pulled a medallion out. "When I wounded Ferl, I
didn't kill him. He made it back to the lodge and survived. He told me that no
other human had come that close to him and that I must be a bear at heart. His clan
agreed and I was formally adopted."
Berak studied the medallion. "It is Clan Harra's seal," he announced to the room.
"I say that Ma'ak Koberk is hers to claim. Do any object?"
None of the bears objected, and Berak bowed to Miss Murphy and said, "If Clan
Harra confirms your status, I will gladly certify you as her executioner."
Miss Murphy looked at the trembling Darcy and sweetly said, "There's a place
reserved for you in Hell, dear."
Hunting was suspended two days later for the executions. None of the hunters
objected. They all gathered outside the lodge at the landing pad where the
transports waited to take the killers into the preserve.
The bears were led out first. Following the law, both had been completely
depilated so that they would no longer have the natural protection of their pelts.
Their claws and teeth had been dulled, leaving them almost defenseless.
Male members of Ferl's clan lined the walkway to the transport. Once the pair was
led through the gauntlet of glaring eyes and bared fangs, they were met at the
transport's ramp by Berak and two other bears,
Berak faced the prisoners and said, "Karn Lerri and Perr Lerri. Here stand your
executioners." He waved one of the two forward. "This is Garl Harra, father of
Ferl." The other bear stepped forward and Berak continued, "This is Karr Harra,
Member of the Council and uncle of Ferl."
The pair stepped back and Berak announced, "You will be taken into the preserve
and released. Your executioners will begin the hunt twenty minutes after that."
The warden's voice grew harsh as he made the formal declaration. "You have
killed as animals, without honor. Now you will be killed as animals, knowing that
no animal comes to the Sacred Caves."
He turned to the wardens escorting the prisoners and said, "Get them out of here."
Bertram and Phil stood to the side. Phil leaned over and whispered, "That's Ferl's
uncle that they expected to come out in favor of the Den?"
Bertram nodded. "And now he's taken a stand against them and everything they
preach. I think Ferl would be pleased about that."
The transport lifted off and returned less than an hour later. Berak was surprised to
see Ferl's father and uncle carry the body of one of the condemned bears down the
"Which one?" Berak asked.
"Perr Lerri. He did not run," explained Ferl's father. "He chose to stand and face
us. He died fighting as one of the people and not as an animal. We choose to
return his body that it be sent to his clan with honor."
The bears' chief warden nodded his agreement. He directed two of his wardens to
take the body away and then stepped away to rejoin the other bears.
Bertram sighed and walked over to stand by the transport. He wasn't looking
forward to the next few minutes, but the time had come for Darcy to be brought out
and it was his job to announce the sentence.
She was half-dragged, half-carried between the two rows of bears. She was nude
and because the law made no distinction between humans and bears, had also been
Another group might have been whistling or making obscene comments as she was
led along, but there was none of that from the human hunters watching. Bertram
suspected that their angry silence was far worse for Darcy than any catcalls would
have been. At least then she would have had their affirmation of her as a woman
and could have taken that with her. The silence stretched on instead, broken only
by her terrified whimpers as she approached the transport.
Bertram told Darcy the same thing that Berak had told the bears and then called
Miss Murphy forward. Darcy completely collapsed when the woman faced her
across the ramp. Instead of her usual rifle, the huntress carried a quiver with
several throwing spears and wore a heavy knife on her belt.
As the condemned woman entered the transport, Bertram heard Miss Murphy say,
"Belinda was my friend as well as my maid. Ferl Harra was my friend too. I
intend to do right by them, my dear."
The transport lifted, leaving Bertram and Berak to watch it vanish over the
preserve. "Kipling was right," observed the human, half to himself.
"Kipling?" asked Berak.
Bertram looked at his friend and said, "A great poet on Earth. One of his most
famous poems says that the female of any species is more deadly than her male
"A wise man. I think I would like to read some of this Kipling's work."
It was two months later that the season ended. Hunters had come to kill or be
killed. Of the survivors, some had left maimed and some had left whole. Trophies
had been taken by both races and the rest of the bodies returned to families on
Earth or Karfern, the bears' home world. And somehow the wardens had made it
through the weeks since Ferl's death.
The transports had finally gone, and Bertram and Berak were the last two people at
the lodge. They were sharing a drink when Berak looked up at the four heads
hanging over the bar and said, "The eyes are gone again from one of your object
lessons. Both of them this time."
Bertram looked up and nodded. "I'm thinking about moving the heads over to the
balcony so I don't have to keep dragging the ladder across the room."
"You had best lay in a good supply of replacements for next season. It seems they
are popular keepsakes."
"For both bears and humans," agreed Bertram, as he looked up at the eyeless head
of Darcy Roberts, hanging next to that of Karn Lerri and the two others who had
killed wardens in the past.