Vision in Silver Page 27

Yes, there had been danger, threats, even attacks in the Lakeside Courtyard during the past few months, but there had also been a new kind of fun. Meg Corbyn, Human Liaison and squeaky toy, provided a different kind of interaction with humans. And her presence changed how some other humans approached the Others.

During the day, the Addirondak pack had hunted and played as they usually did. But after dark, after they sang to the world, the Wolves had asked about the Courtyard, about things they’d heard but didn’t quite believe. Sure, the Intuits who lived in the human settlements tucked in the Addirondaks traded fairly with the Others. But none of those humans played with the Wolves. This Meg really played with him?

So at night he told them stories about Meg’s first encounter with him after he’d been assigned to guard the office; about how she had coaxed Sam, Simon Wolfgard’s nephew, out of a cage and how well the pup was doing now; about Skippy, the juvenile Wolf they had sent to Lakeside, catching a mouse and chasing Meg; about how she had met the leader of the Sanguinati—and had befriended Winter and the Elementals’ ponies.

He told them about her sweet blood and the cuts she’d made in her own skin to see the warnings that had saved the ponies . . . and Sam. He told them about cookies that were being made now especially for Wolves. Well, for other terra indigene too, but mostly for the Wolves.

He’d learned more about humans in the past few months than he’d learned in all the time he’d trained to work in a Courtyard and cope with the close proximity of so many humans. He spent as much time in Wolf form as in human form. He ran and played and hunted in the Courtyard just like he could in the wild country. But then he could shift to watch a movie or read a book . . . or play an active, physical game better suited to the human form.

When the pack leaders asked him to talk to Simon about allowing a few Wolves to visit Lakeside to learn these extra human things, Nathan worried that he might have told a few stories too many. But Simon had talked about closing the stores to most humans so that terra indigene could learn about different kinds of stores and merchandise, and safely interact with humans who could be trusted.

Another reason he was heading home earlier than expected.

He had tried to call Simon, and then Blair, yesterday to tell them he was returning, but all the phone lines were busy, busy, busy. This morning he’d fielded so many last-minute requests from the pack that he’d barely gotten to the station in time to show his travel pass and receive a free ticket before the train pulled out. Now he realized no one yet knew he needed a ride home when the train reached the Lakeside station.

He’d call Blair when the train made its next stop. There were a lot of miles between the Addirondak Mountains and a city on the shores of Lake Etu.

After the conductor came through and checked his ticket, Nathan opened his book, a thriller by a human author. He’d read it when it came out a couple of years ago, but most of the Addirondak Wolves found it difficult to visit the human settlements and go into stores to purchase things, so he’d traded the two new books he’d brought with him for this one to read on the way home—and made a mental note to ask Meg’s human pack for ideas about how the terra indigene could get more stories.

He didn’t know how much time had passed when a human male walked by his seat. Nathan raised his head and bared his teeth.

Intruder!

No, he thought, fighting for control. Not an intruder, as such. It was the pungent scent of the man’s cologne that had triggered Nathan’s response to a strange male trying to mark territory where he didn’t belong. But the man might not have been trying to claim anything. The man could have come from the dining car and needed to pass through this car to return to his seat.

The terra indigene didn’t like the smells humans used to disguise their own scent, but for the first time, Nathan wondered if males drenching themselves in a nose-pricking smell was equivalent to Wolves rolling on a dead fish to leave behind a stronger scent marker.

Now that he thought about it, that particular scent had been in the car when he sat down. It had been diluted by the fresh air that entered with the people going in and out, but it had been there.

Troubled by that but not sure why, Nathan took stock of his surroundings. Except for the stinky man, no other humans had entered this car since it left the Addirondak station.

Why was that wrong?

He looked down at the book but moved his head enough to study the passenger on the other side of the aisle.

Girl. Young enough that he would still consider her a puppy. Skin the color of milk chocolate. Big dark eyes. Braided black hair that was tied just under her ears and stuck out like two finger-long tails.

She was cheek to jaw with a fuzzy brown bear, and both of them were looking in his direction.

Why did humans give their offspring fake versions of predators that would happily eat those offspring?

Those two faces side by side did look cute, though.

Then he noticed the small dark hands clamped around the bear’s hips, and those thin fingers squeezing and squeezing. He looked away because that was just creepy.

He caught the pungent cologne scent as the same human male entered the car again, walked through, then out the other door. But this time, Nathan caught something new in the scent that made him watch the human until the man left the car.

Then he gave the girl a quick look and realized what was wrong.

Humans and Wolves had one thing in common: they didn’t leave their young alone for long. So where were the adults who should be around the girl? She’d been alone when he’d taken his seat. Had the adults gotten off the train and left her behind? There were stories about lost children. Wolves didn’t like those stories. Maybe the girl should have gotten off at the Addirondak station?

He looked at the two strips of heavy white paper tucked above the seats. LAK on both, meaning there was someone else sitting with the girl who was also going to Lakeside. The conductor had tucked the same kind of strip above his seat after checking his ticket.

Okay, she hadn’t missed her stop, which brought him back to the question of the adult. If the person left the girl alone in order to use the toilet, how long did it take to pee or poop? Or, on the other end, even if the adult was buying food and there was a line in the dining car, the other human should have returned by now.

The door at the far end opened, and the same man entered the car for the third time. As soon as the man passed the seats containing human passengers, his eyes focused on the girl in the same way Wolves would focus on an unprotected calf when they were hunting.

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