by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt
The cheers from the multitude increased, a surf of adulation breaking on the columns of the Grand Hall. The setting sun shafted through the windows in the dome, playing over the crowd, splashing across the throne dais.
RONZ, RONZ, RONZ.
The chant echoed through the vastness of the hall. The object of their homage sat a dreaming god on his throne, chin resting on palm, oblivious to all, the picture of royal boredom. To be offered homage was his birthright, just as it had been for his father, the old emperor, now leaking putrefying liquids within his tomb overlooking the capitol.
RONZ, RONZ, RONZ.
Ronz pondered the captives kneeling in their chains before the throne. The conquered king and his family, proud yet fearful, expecting the worst. Ronz lifted a hand and the chant died, leaving whispering echoes to chase themselves among the colonnades. He gathered his cloak around him and descended the steps.
"You sure were a dumb ass to piss me off, Requor," said Ronz, toying with his scepter. "Now your planet and everything from your palace to the horse shit in your stables belongs to me. To the victor belongs the goodies, as the old saying goes."
"It was my duty to my people to rebel against your oppressions," Requor glared, defiant. "What are your plans for my family, or should I say, your whim?"
"My whim?" Ronz smiled benignly. His gazed rested on the girl. "So who's the wedge with the nice ass?"
"This is my daughter, the Princess Heda of the royal house of Dargularr, Keeper of the Sacred Hearth --"
"Slaves got no pedigree, Requor. On your pins, sugarbowls!"
Her chains made a musical clinking rising to face him. Her eyes were dark crystal, made luminous by fear. The white silk of the dress snugged the curves of her body, cut low around her breasts.
Ronz nodded his approval. "My whim tonight, Requor, is that my suite in the citadel has a new chambermaid. The royal john needs a pretty good scrubbing and the bedroom tile is a mess. That for starters, anyway."
Crushing her body to him Ronz tasted the soft warmth of her lips which suddenly became the rough bark of a spinetree, his hands clutching at leaves and dry twigs. He rolled over onto his back to a sky framed by waving tree branches and a grinning face somehow familiar.
"Harpsangel time is over, man! This is the best gross we've cooked up yet!" The smiler dragged him to a sitting position, propping him against the spinetree. "You know, you had three phaseouts into the fantasy dimension. No prodding, spacer. Faded out on me three times to a blur!"
Ronz blinked owlishly at a fragment of white silk in his hand. It shimmered briefly, disappeared.
"Secondary visual phantasm," Ronz muttered. He stared at Miles in dawning recognition then they shared the same grin. "You're right, Miles. This is the best gross we've cooked up."
"Yeah. I'm gonna up the asking price by ten creds per gram." Miles pulled the inhaler from Ronz' nose and shook out the fragments of broken crystal. He lifted a pouch and patted it affectionately. "Matter of fact, I got just enough time to get today's shipment off to Tanover. The Bagmans gonna score on this load."
Ronz came unsteadily to his feet. Part of him was still on the throne dais in the Grand Hall and he felt a momentary surge in his loins remembering the girl in the white dress.
"Damn, that was one fast downtrip," he breathed.
"Exactly what our customers are gonna say, partner." Miles began shutting down the still, draping it with netting and scattered tree boughs.
Ronz shook the image from his mind and looked down the hill to the valley stretching out to kilometers of thorny conifers broken only by an occasional spire of lichened basalt. In the distance was the spiderlike silhouette of the jumpship standing guard over the settlement.
"Zerid, I sure could use some female companionship," he said, half to himself, remembering the fantasy girl.
Miles slapped the dust from hands and smirked. "Hoo man, know just what you mean. It's been so long since I had a bodypress on the orbit station I've even caught myself eyeballing a couple of the younger Eu females lately."
Despite all he could do to will it away the image of Trine Ahn swam before Ronz. As she always was, lurking just below his consciousness, fructifier of secret dreams, guilt and desire.
For Trine Ahn was a Eu, the lowly first race of Sheridan's Planet. They were considered humanoid, with huge feline eyes set in expressionless faces and had lived out an idyllic primitive existence since the dawn of their kind. They were so peaceful and stoic it almost seemed they had been bred by a benevolent nature to be servants for the Homeworld colonists. They were not beasts of the field but almost so, and treated no better or worse than the domestic animals brought from the mother planet in the jumpships.
"But then again I'd rather spend twenty cycles on the penal asteroid for druglegging this hyperdrug than lose my balls to the Cohab Edict." Miles gripped his crotch in mock terror.
Ronz forced a laugh. "Time to scoot our rumps back to the settlement. "All the equipment out of sight?"
"Good and hid. You gonna collect wild folsox for the still while I'm on that stupid geo survey the next two days?"
"Yeah, I'll be here with the gear."
"Well, just keep your eyes out for Driech."
Icewater ran down Ronz' spine. "Yeah, watch out for Driech."
The jetwing hangar was a silent cavern where long rows of parked craft stretched out like coffins in the dimness, the air heavy with dust and turbine grease. Two shadows hovered by the hangar doors.
"Someone in the settlement has a still going, processing wild folsox berries into hyperdrug, probably somewhere in the forest." said the informer in a strained whisper. "Rumor has it that two drugleggers are putting out the crystals, smuggling it to a contact man in Settlement III who gets it off the planet to the druglords on Gamma Lupus."
"You're telling me things I already know." A stray beam of daylight from a hole in the dome played on Driech, lean as a dagger in his black uniform and polished boots. The silver crests on his collar glinted like the smile he always wore, a smile as empty of warmth as the polar icecaps and somehow accusing. His eyes, surgically altered for night vision, examined the informer with their green-pupiled scrutiny. "I know hyperdrug is being smuggled out by persons unknown. These persons have names and with names come faces." Like all of Driech's remarks the statement held a vague suspicious question.
"There's a name whispered among the work sheds of the Eu and back alleys behind the mine processors. A certain contact man in a certain settlement."
"And the names of the drugleggers and the secret still?"
"That's all I have for now. Maybe later I can find-"
"So I see." Dreich hooked a thumb into the belt supporting his weapons, a modified snub pistol and an evil-looking assault knife. "What is the name of the contact and which settlement?"
"When I find the names you want and the location of the still will I get the reward you promised me?" asked the informer in a voice tight with fear.
In the gloom Driech's eyes held a green fire. He smiled and the temperature of the hanger seemed to drop.
"You have my word, don't you? The word of a Peaceman, might I point out," said Driech softly. "Perhaps you'd like something in Writing? Hmm?"
The informer sucked in a lungful of air and inched back from that smile. "The contact man is 'Bagman' Tanover, Settlement XII."
"And the rest?"
"I'll find out. As soon as I know I'll contact you."
"Of course you will."
Ronz peered through a screen of bushes at the settlement, watching the streets for a familiar face. Satisfied, ducked down an alley to emerge from a courtyard and saunter in the direction of the jumpship.
"You don't have many options left, Ronz. The next step if you wash out as a geology cadet is being drafted into the Colonial Reserve. You won't like supervising mining automatons on some airless planetoid, let me tell you. Keep it in mind."
Ronz propped an elbow on a compbank and nodded genially. "Don't worry, Dad. You can count on me, I'm motivated now."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
A sideport glided open and Ozgode, Dr. Holden's Eu lab assistant lumbered in carrying a case of supplies. He dropped it by the service bin and picking up a broom began sweeping with the placid indifference of his kind.
Watching him work, Ronz was struck by the contrast between male and female Eu. Ozgode was typical of the former. Almost seven feet tall and muscled like a bodybuilder's wet dream. Yet the females were barely five, reed slender, delicately formed.
"Trine Ahn, are you planning on cleaning the computer viewscreens sometime this decade?" Dr. Holden demanded testily.
Ronz turned to see Trine Ahn standing behind him, her hands on a cart loaded with brushes and bottles.
"Yes, Holden-lord. Scheduled today for cleaning they were," she replied.
"And the floor looks like the bottom of a mineshaft. Look at this dust!"
"Perhaps I should get Zilinsky in here to give you a taste of his electrolash. Would you like that?"
"Then you best pick up the pace before I do."
"Yes, Holden-lord." She pushed the cart down the isle of databanks and pulled out a spray bottle and a handful of cloths.
Ronz caught a faint scent of pinespar blossom as she passed, watching the sway of her hips under the thin fabric of her housemaid's tunic.
"I wouldn't be caught looking at a female Eu like that, sonny."
"You know exactly what I mean. Planning on adding something else to your less than sterling reputation in the settlement?"
Ronz felt his face redden. He managed a nonchalant shrug.
"Dad, I've been thinking."
"Good habit, son. Now that you've started don't let me stop you."
Ronz ignored the jibe and sat down on the edge of the desk. "What's the main difference between humans and the Eu? I mean, is it mental or physical?"
Dr. Holden peered up at him over a datasheet. "Don"t tell me you've decided to drop geosurvey as a career and switch to biology? What's the sudden interest?"
"Just curious. Miles was telling me awhile back that when the first settlement was set up on this planet it was okay for homeworlders to shack up with the native girls. Yet fifteen or so years later the Central Committee passed the Cohab Edict and any spacer who sneaks a bodypress with a Eu gets his brood stones whacked off and a one-way ticket to the soprano boys choir at the polar ice caps."
Holden's features hardened. "Ronz, your business is geology, nothing else. The Cohab Edict was passed by people a lot wiser than you'll ever be."
"Come on, Dad, I'm going to be a scientist like you. Aren't we supposed to show professional curiosity? Besides, I want to know why they passed the Edict? I mean, humping a wedge isn't like colonial rebellion or something."
Dr. Holden lugged out an ancient pipe, slowly filled and lighted it. He stared morosely at his son. "You asked me if the difference between us and the Eu is mental or physical. I'll have you know it's neither. Except for minor anatomical points they're essentially humanoid and their intelligence is almost on a level with ours."
"Then why the big confront?" Ronz demanded. "It's almost like the Central Committee is afraid of them. What's to be afraid of in a bunch of miners and servants?"
"Before they bounced your young posterior from the Academy did they teach you any history about ancient Earth during the discovery and colonization of the American West?"
"A few items. Why?"
"Because these colonists had to fight for every kilometer of ground from what were mere stone-age barbarians who scalped and burned and killed to protect their ancestral lands. I'll have you know that the Apaches of the Southwest were among the last to be subdued, and probably the most fierce."
Ronz sighed with exasperation. "But there's never been a report of a Eu intentionally harming a human, Dad. What makes everybody so damned afraid-"
"It's not what's there that makes everybody afraid. It's what isn't there."
"Now that makes a lot of sense, Dad."
"You want to be a scientist and you can't even guess?" Smoke curled from his pipe like a baleful genie. "What the Eu lack is an aggressive instinct, a will to dominate, a taint of savagery that puts us humans on top of the evolutionary pile. Don't you think the Central Committee hasn't had to get their hands dirty on Sheridan's Planet? If it wasn't for the fact that Corporate Law is in effect out here Homeworld would have stepped in long ago and put a stop to Eu slavery and assorted other nasties we justify in pursuit of the almighty cred."
Ronz absently scratched his chin and studied his father. "Then the offspring of these early fun and games between the Eu and humans had this, uh... aggressive instinct?"
"They certainly did. As councilman I once had access to the secret report. At age fourteen all twenty known hybrids had unusually high intellects and were jabbering away about casting off the chains of slavery and plotting revolution like a score of little Karl Marxes. And they were destroyed just in time." Holden waved at his Eu assistant down the lab. "Ozgode, come here!"
Ozgode obediently put down his broom and lumbered over, towering above the two humans. "Something for me to do you have, Holden-lord?" he inquired politely.
From what Ronz could read in his violet eyes and expressionless face he had the respectful and diffident attitude one expected of a Eu.
"Yes. Pick up that databank and carry it to the far end of the lab." Dr. Holden ordered. "Then return to your duties."
"Yes, Holden-lord." Ozgode stooped and wrapped his arms about the cabinet. The muscles beneath his sleeveless servant's tunic bunched and swelled as he hoisted it to a shoulder and sauntered down the aisle.
"That databank weighs nearly four hundred pounds." Holden tapped the ash from his pipe and squinted soberly into the bowl. "You're a smart boy. Tell me how comfortable you would feel if Ozgode had the aggressiveness and drive of a human?"
Three rows down Trine Ahn paused with her dustwand and watched Ozgode retrieve his broom. Her gaze turned to Ronz for a long moment,then to Dr. Holden before she returned to her work.
Night fog swirled in from the forest, flowing down settlement streets, muffling the watchlights with pearly opalescence. Ronz loitered in the shadows of a silent warehouse, packing his dhungpipe for a last hit before heading to his room in the bachelor's quarters. He shielded the electroflash with cupped hands and drew deeply. A rush of euphoria washed over him and in an otherworld detachment watched the fog rolling past.
"So the old man is paranoid about Eu, huh?" he muttered sardonically. "Me, I'm the same way about poverty." He patted the thick wad of interbank creds which had found its way into his pocket from the sale of the last shipment he and Miles had sent out. Soon he would have enough to climb aboard a starfreighter and show this planet his stern for good. That thought and the dhungweed warmed him, standing alone in the night. Corroded hinges complained from the direction of the records building opposite the warehouse. A figure in white climbed up a vent cover and disappeared inside.
Ronz shook the narcotic fog from his eyes. Something definitely funny was going on. He walked to the vent and pulling himself onto the edge, slid downwards.
A circle of light brightened a corner of the tape library where a figure bent over a databank, scanning the viewscreen in solitary communion. Ronz edged along a wall, feeling for the light sensor.
The overhead lights flickered on, flooding the room. A Eu girl sat at the databank, frozen in the act of inserting a disc.
"Trine Ahn!" Ronz's eyes widened. "What in hell are you doing here?"
The girl sat as if crafted in stone, her eyes fear-bright.
Ronz stared at her with a bemused smile. "You can't possible know how to use all this stuff, can you?"
"My duty it was last season to clean this place," Trine Ahn relied in her celeste voice. "After I was alone to use I learned this thing, Ronz-lord. It teaches and stories tell."
"Yeah, I hear it does." He thumbed through the stack of discs before the screen. "Causes and Impacts of the Andrex Rebellion, Zant's Short History of the Conquest of the Tismoid Sector. Pretty heavy reading for a Eu, wouldn't you say?"
Trine Ahn paled, searching his face with her sapphire eyes. "Forbidden it is for a Eu to learn human devices," she whispered. "If it is known destroyed I will be."
"Here's a real goody. The Apaches of Southwest Arizona." He dropped the tapes and looked down at her. "You really are the little schoolgirl, aren't you?" He was suddenly aware of her closeness, the softness of her skin, the way her breasts filled out the front of her maid's tunic.
"That I have been here will you tell?"
The scent of the wild pinespar she wore enveloped his senses like a drug. He pulled her to her feet and taking her into his arms, kissed her.
Trine Ahn stiffened, pulled back from his embrace. "This thing you would do, Ronz-lord. It is forbidden."
"Uh huh. So is breaking into the tape library in the middle of the night for some forbidden peeking," Ronz grinned. "Everything has its price. Get my drift, Trine Ahn?"
She gazed up at him with eyes of dark crystal, whatever feelings behind them masked by an expressionless calm. Abruptly she wrapped her arms about his neck and returned the kiss.
"Everything has its price, Ronz-lord."
Morning came to the forests of Settlement III, sending a breeze through groves of thorny conifers, driving the fog from the streets and buildings. Morning also brought harsh voices and crackle of the electrolash into the sleeping sheds of the Eu. Uncomplaining they ate their breakfast gruel and shuffled to the fields and mines for another day of toil. They went without complaint because they knew of no other life, or if knowing, none knew how to grasp it. To obey was habit and tardiness earned a cuff, a taste of the lash or at worst, a chaining to the punishment obelisk. So they hefted their tools onto wide shoulders and walked out into the sunlight of another day.
To the West the fog was suddenly gorged with an orange malevolence and the settlement shook as the supply freighter lifted off and banking high overhead, grumbled unseen into the distance.
The red liquid seeped from its womb of exotic chemicals, passed through the bowels of the accumulator and was excreted from the evaporation tube to form a glistening drop. The drop hardened in contact with the air, forming a gas-filled crystal which fell like a jewel into the catch tray.
"Miles, you're gonna love this batch. Class one gross." Ronz eyed the growing pile with paternal fondness. "Keep on coming to Daddy, sweetheart." He shut down the still and began gathering up the pile of crystals, filling a small pouch.
A breeze rustled the overhead branches and suddenly he was not alone. He spun about, tripped over the still's protective camouflage netting and sprawled onto the ground.
A figure in white stood at the edge of the clearing, watching.
"Zog's ass, Trine Ahn! Anybody ever teach you to knock?" Ronz got to his feet and wincingly jerked a treebarb from his elbow. "How in hell did you find me here?"
Trine Ahn walked over and put down the basket she was carrying. "I...I was gathering herbs for Endorf-mistress when through the trees I saw you." Her eyes tallied the hyperdrug still and the pouch of scattered crystals. "Rumor in the settlement there is a secret still hyperdrug to make. That Driech-lord seeks."
"Well now." Ronz shrugged resignedly. "Looks to me this is as far as our friendship goes, sugarbuns."
"Understand I do not."
"In other words were even for last night. I keep your little secret and you keep mine. Is it a deal?"
Trine Ahn watched him in silence. Slowly she slid the ornament from her hair and shook it free, a waterfall of silver falling to her waist.
"Last night you said everything has its price has, Ronz-lord," she said. "In a measure of time there is a thing for which we Eu have no price. In this measure of time I have chosen you, Ronz-lord." She pulled loose her tunic and stepping from her sandals stood naked before him.
Then she was in his arms and through his uniform Ronz could feel the heat of her loins as she molded herself to him, falling together to the grass.
"We're not far from the trailhead leading to the settlement." Ronz peered down the fork in the path streaked by late afternoon sun. "Might be a real good idea to split up now." He took Trine Ahn in his arms for a final kiss. "Just tell old lady Endorf you wandered into a thicket and got lost. You'll get off okay."
She returned the kiss and gazed at him with what might have been wistful sadness in a human. "Destroy the hyperdrugs and still I wish, Ronz-lord, and leave the settlement. Someday caught you will be. Someday there will be Driech-lord."
Ronz snorted thinly. "Everybody's afraid of that little shit, like he's some kind of superman. Always at the right place at the wrong time so you can't even scratch your ass without him looking over your shoulder with those neon peepers." He patted the pouch at his belt, his mind savoring the future, a life of creative debauchery and the parties on Syberite. Far away from Sheridan's Planet and their tiresome rules and regulations and even more tiresome inhabitants. Except Trine Ahn, of course. He chuckled to himself. Damn, she had been good.
"Lemme tell you," he smirked, "It's all a question of luck and I've found out in this life you make your own." On impulse
He slid off his cadet ring and gave it to her. "Hang onto this, Trine Ahn. For luck."
Ronz eased the magnetic foot of the worklight onto the side of the ore cart, narrowing the beam to a pale circle over the hidden compartment. He glanced around at the silent warehouse to the settlement lights beyond the dusty windows.
"Wish I knew what happened to the Bagman." Miles laid out a toolbag near the wheel. "Real funny how that spacer from Gamma Lupus says he's no longer on the deal and they're gonna get somebody new next shipment. Maybe we should take a shuttle over to Settlement XII --"
"Hey, they sent us full payment for the last drop, didn't they? Maybe he just failed his last employee evaluation." Ronz slid the pouch of hyperdrug crystals from his pocket and hefted it nervously. This was the part he hated. Everything else could be explained away- the still in the forest, chemicals stolen from the lab, gossip from other cadets, but this... to be caught red-handed with mitts full of hyperdrug. He suddenly needed a hit of dhungweed badly and longed for the stash in his quarters.
"Well, whatever happened to his ass," Miles grumbled, "Let's make this the last drop in an ore cart until we --"
There was a creak of leather in the musty silence of the warehouse. The air around them was suddenly cold, heavy with some unseen menace. Two green coals floated from the darkness.
"This is certainly a commendable sight, two young cadets offering their free time to service ore carts. But I believe we have a large staff of mechanics with a bit more expertise, don't you think?" Driech's black uniform moved into the light, his snub pistol out.
Ronz and Miles stood petrified, a frozen tableau of guilt.
"Let me see, Cadet Renolds and Holden." Driech's grin was as sharp as his assault knife. "How disaffecting to find members of the settlement's upper crust stooping to make a few grubby creds as drugrunners." He gestured toward the warehouse door with his pistol. "This way, please, and no heroics. We don't want the next shift of Eu miners having to scrape you off the walls."
"Not quite so fast, Driech." Conscious of his heart hammering away inside his chest Ronz lifted the pouch of hyperdrug and dangled it between thumb and forefinger. "Got any good ideas what would happen if I dropped this? Want to send half the settlement into the fantasy dimension? What about it, Shorty...ready to battle mist pirates on Swampworld or rape Syberite slave girls with the whole Committee cheering you on?"
Driech's eyes flickered to the suspended pouch. He nodded, pursing his lips. "I think what is needed here is a touch of diplomacy," he suggested. "Of course, you can just stand there until your fingers cramp and drop the crystals. And you'll still get vaporized before it hits the floor. On the other hand, if you're willing to be reasonable..."
"What do you mean by reasonable?" Miles demanded.
"There's a jetwing parked by hanger three. If you have a thousand creds I might be persuaded to let you both seek new horizons outside the settlement."
Ronz and Miles exchanged glances. Silently they collected the amount between them and handed to the Peaceman. Driech's smile deepened, tucking the bills into his tunic as he holstered his weapon.
"You may leave, gentlemen,"
"No pursuit, Driech?" Ronz lowered the pouch to the floor, alert for treachery.
"You have my word, no pursuit. Now or ever."
"Let's go, Ronz!" The two cadets dashed from the warehouse
Into the first glow of morning, down empty streets toward the hangars. They found the promised jetwing and scrambled aboard, firing the engines.
"I can't believe it, spacer!" Miles pounded Ronz on the back, exulting. "You actually pulled a fast one on Driech. You out-foxed a Peaceman!"
The sun tipped the mountains when the jetwing lifted from the pad, sunlight glinted from its rotors as passed over the settlement, picking up altitude. It had just leveled out to the South when it exploded, scattering shrapnel and burning debris. All that remained was a shroud of oily black smoke drifting down to the street where a figure in black stood watching. And smiling.
"You told me he wouldn't be harmed. I wouldn't have been your informer if I knew he was to be killed."
"Actually, I did him a favor. Do you know what the punishment cells are like on the Agoyn Penal Asteroid where they throw convicted drugleggers?"
Driech's office was in the cellar of the armory buried beneath a landing strut of the dropship. He could have chosen a suite high above but the atmosphere here appealed to him; the darkness, dusty crates of weapons, the interrogation chair.
"Why did you kill him?" Trine Ahn stood very straight, her hands clasped before her.
"For the good of the settlement. And for discipline. I think it'll be a long time before one of our wet-kneed young cadets steps out of line again." Driech leaned back in his chair and propped his boots up on the desk. "I find your doglike affection for the late cadet Holden very touching but not too practical.
What did he do- promise you a handful of neckbeads to keep your mouth shut?"
"Will you keep your promise to me in return for the drugleggers?"
"Ah yes, your freedom." Driech pondered her with a rueful smile. "I trained you to be my eyes and ears in the settlement and now I suspect those eyes and ears have become a little too sharp for the good of us both." He sighed and shuffled through the pages of a ledger, tapping a pen on the front of his teeth.
'Let me see. Trine Ahn, workslave ident number 6005F, age sixteen seasons, assigned to kitchen chief Breda Endorff and so on." His pen scratched along the page. "I'll put you down as having a fatal accident while cleaning the cylinder of a clothes dryer. Seems you were inside mopping when someone hit the spindry cycle. Who says Peacemen have no sense of humor?" He dropped the pen and nodded toward the door. "There's a village of wild Eu about twenty kilos North of here. Time you were on your way."
Trine Ahn stared at the Peaceman for a long moment from expressionless eyes.
"Well, I'm waiting."
"Thank you, Driech-lord," she replied.
She turned and climbed the cellar steps to the street above, walking past warehouses and factories to the edge of the forest. She paused and contemplated the fields and gangs of farm Eu tending crops, lines of Eu miners dragging ore carts along the road from the mine. The crack of an electrolash sounded in the distance and she was gone.
Seventeen seasons passed in slow progress for the settlement. A wide strip mine had gorged itself on a ridge where at one time drugleggers had a secret hyperdrug still. A starfreighter arrived each month to inhale the loads of ore. Crops were planted, harvested and the forest pushed back to make room for more fields.
Through the seasons the Eu worked. They came from the breeding farm and went into the fields and mines, toiling during the steady rise and fall of the sun until the day they died. For them there was no measure of time and the seasons were like the passing of wind in the crags.
During the nights of two seasons a strange Eu came from the forest and crossing the fields entered the deserted streets. Hidden by fog and darkness he was a darting shadow among the buildings, moving down the empty hallways of the labs, eavesdropping outside doorways, always watching and listening. And learning. As dawn crept into the sky sucking the fog back into the forest he was gone.
One day twenty Eu were sent to weed a cornfield outside the settlement. When they returned that evening the work boss with the jailer's mentality of watching for someone missing failed to notice he had twenty-one.
Pwebb squatted on his pallet and picked his teeth with a straw, half-listening to the drone of voices about him, eyeing the stranger across the isle of the sleeping shed. The object of his interest was a youth, muscular and light-skinned, even for a Eu, standing with folded arms and looking about him as if studying every detail of the shed and its contents. Pwebb chewed the straw thoughtfully. There was something about the youth that made him uneasy, something in the level stare which put him totally out of place in the herd of shuffling Eu. On a sudden impulse Pwebb tossed away his straw and warily approached.
"May the night bring you peace, offered Pwebb politely. "I have seen you not in the shed before. Some other shed in the settlement from where you sent?"
The stranger considered him quietly. "I'm not from the settlement. I'm from a Eu village in the Northern valley."
The hum of voices abruptly faded as attention centered on the newcomer. All had heard the rumors, filtering down from kitchen maid to storekeeper to farm worker. Whispers of human mining teams and surveyors vanishing in the area of this village the past season, leaving no trace.
Pwebb wished himself back on his straw pallet but his curiosity was stronger. "From the village?" he ventured. "Captured and brought here you were?"
"Not exactly. You could say I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop by."
"Drop by?" Pwebb found himself choosing his words carefully and with deference as if talking to a human and this increased his puzzlement. "The village in the Northern valley... the settlement life there is different?"
"You could say life is a lot different there. For starters, we call no human lord and the crops we raise are for ourselves. And any human we find wandering near our village gets his head torn from his body."
There was an utter silence in the shed. Pwebb flinched and glanced about him nervously. "Killed the humans cannot be. It is not done," he protested, shaken. "Ever killed a human no Eu has!"
The stranger took in the crowd with an unflattering glance. "Sure they can be killed. If you got a cycle I'll step outside, grab one and show you how it's done."
"You know, you settlement Eu amaze me. In my village each male has his own woman. I don't see any of yours. Don't tell me the humans had your nuts cut off?"
A sullen grumbling welled about them. That question scraped bare a raw nerve. Then too, the voice of the stranger electrified them, brought strange doubts and questions to their minds for the first time. They crowded nearer, their feline eyes shining.
"Kept in the breeding farm the women are until some of us are chosen the supply of workers to increase," Pwebb explained. "Wiser than us the humans are. Things of metal run over the earth and fly above the forest they make. Feed us and give shelter they do. The plan for all life they make and we obey."
"Let me get this straight. Because they are wiser and can knock together a lot of toys you let them cut down your forests, sweat you in the fields all day long and stash away your women?" The stranger's voice was a lash. "This may come as a shock to you jolly bunch of sheep but you happen to outnumber the humans on this planet by three to one."
The muttering in the crowd spread to a debate as the Eu argued with each other, shouting questions, jostling to come closer.
"Come to the settlement why have you?" demanded a burly miner.
"I thought you might have figured it out by now," was the reply. "I've come to teach you all how to use your balls."
Outside the medicenter a man walked into the circle of a streetglobe, a specter in a black uniform and polished boots. He looked up at the jumpship looming above him, a colossus of light and metal streaming rain. He drew in a long breath of night air and smiled. For the realm of night and fog was his, this walker in darkness and seeker of heretics.
"Commcenter to Peaceman. Come in, please," hissed a tiny voice from nowhere. The man under the streetglobe touched a disc on his belt.
"This is Driech. What seems to be the problem?"
"Ah, the Eu in shed nine are a little noisy tonight."
"What do you mean by noisy?"
"I dunno... sounds like their having some kind of party."
"I'll check it out."
The door to the sleeping shed groaned open. The noisy crowd of Eu instantly quieted as attention swept to the intruder.
Driech ran a smiling gaze over them, noting the guilty shuffling, the eyes that dodged his, sliding away to the floor.
"What's going on here tonight?" he asked in a soft voice which carried to every corner. "Why aren't you all asleep? Zygode? Trell?" A silence seemed to choke on the smell of dust and above it was the fear sweat from Eu bodies.
"Something's going on here tonight, isn't there?" he chided them genially. "Perhaps I should call in Zilinski and have him tuck you all to bed with his electro-. " Then he saw the strange youth standing by the roof support. Leisurely he walked up, the Eu parting before him.
"What do we have here?" Driech mused. "I know all the Eu in the settlement but I don't recognize you. Isn't that odd?"
"I've a very common face, that's all," the youth answered offhandedly, but he was measuring the Peaceman with a strange, devouring intensity.
"Is that a fact now? And what might you say if I took exception to that remark and the tone of voice it was delivered?"
"Hmmm. I suppose I'd offer you a tear-filled groveling apology but I think I'm fresh out."
"Well, well, well." Driech's eyes locked onto the youth's, all the feral instincts programmed into his mind from a hundred scan sessions keening danger, his superbly conditioned body alert, feeding on the first jets of adrenalin. "You know, I can't recall when I've heard a Eu use sarcasm before. Very novel, although I'm not sure you'll find it a useful trait at the punishment obelisk. And... I've never seen a male Eu wear jewelry, either." Driech lifted a shiny object from the youth's collar and scrutinized it. When he spoke his voice was a blade being dragged over a hone. "A cadet ring hanging about your neck on a grass thong. I know you have an excellent reason for coming by it, I'm sure."
"Now that you've brought that up, it belonged to my father. You might have heard of him... his name was Ronz Holden."
Driech's features turned to stone. The Eu was looking down at him and there was a smile on his face as wide and malignant as any he himself had worn. The snub pistol snapped from Driech's leg the instant a sinewy hand closed over his face. Muscles flexed along the youth's arm and blood and brains spurted from his closed fist.
Pwebb crept forward and touched the body darkening the straw floor. He sniffed the blood on his fingers. "No more is Driech-lord," he whispered. A sigh moved like a wave through the shed.
"My name is Apache and that's the messy way to kill humans," announced the youth. He held up the snub pistol. "Here's a neater way. When we take over the settlement tonight we'll find a lot more in a cellar I know of. We'll kill all the humans except the white-coats, the scientists. Those we'll keep so they can teach us how to use these weapons and things of metal that run over the ground and fly over the forest."
The Eu began to drop on their knees in a gesture of submission. In the gloom sapphire eyes glittered.
Pwebb gripped the hilt of Dreich's assault knife. "into the Night lead us, Apache-lord," he declared. "Drive the humans back into the stars and take back our world let us!"
Outside in the darkness fog drifted its slow way past the settlement, around the landing struts of the jumpship, dancing in sensual coils under the streetglobes before flowing out into the forest and secret places of the night.
© 2010 Kurt Heinrich Hyatt
Bio: Kurt Heinrich Hyatt resides in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. His science fiction stories have appeared in Orion's Child, Residential Aliens, Allegory Magazine, and Aphelion (The Tin City Good Deal, April, 2010).
E-mail: Kurt Heinrich Hyatt
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