Freedom

Dawn Cunningham

 

 

 

Disclaimers:

 

Most of the characters mentioned in the story don't belong to me. I'm

just borrowing them and not getting paid for it. A couple belong to me,

but I don't want them anymore.

 

Do not post or publish this story anywhere else, without my express

permission. Feel free to share it with others as long as the disclaimers

remain intact.

 

Acknowledgments:

 

Once again, a very special thanks to Melanie Riley. She deserves a medal

for her constant support (and nagging). Her comments always make my

stories better. Sandra McDonald also aided in beta reading this story.

 

And of course, thanks go to those readers who took the time to send me

feedback on my other stories. Without them, I probably would never have

continued to write.

 

This story was originally published in Of Dreams and Schemes #17. This

is the original version. Minor editing changes were made when it was

published. I hope to be able to post the edited version in the near

future.

 

Comments are always welcome at Dawn341 at live.com

 

*************************

 

Colonel Alan Virdon sighed as he carefully examined Galen's ankle. While

he was no expert on ape physiology, he didn't think it was broken. He

stood up and held out his hand to the chimpanzee. "Can you put any

weight on it?"

 

Galen struggled to his feet, just barely managing with Alan's help. He

tried to take a step forward, but collapsed in pain again. "I'm sorry."

 

"It was an accident, Galen. There's nothing to be sorry about." Alan

quickly turned when he heard someone approaching them. He didn't relax

until he spotted Major Pete Burke coming down the hill.

 

"I found a cave that we can use," he said. "It's not too far away."

 

"I can go on," Galen protested. "If you make me a crutch, we can keep

moving."

 

"No, we could all use the rest," Alan overruled him. "And this should be

a good place to do it. There's plenty of fruit, and that small pond

isn't that far back, so we can have fresh water. Plus, we're a long way

from Central City, and hopefully, Urko."

 

Somehow, the leadership role always seemed to fall on Alan's shoulders.

Maybe it was because he'd been a colonel in the air force, whereas Pete

had only been a major. He was used to being in charge. He'd also been

the one in charge of their ill-fated space flight that had somehow

propelled them a thousand years into the future - into a time period

where apes were in control, and humans were often treated little better

than animals.

 

"Yeah, especially Urko," Pete agreed. "You'd think he'd get tired of

chasing us around the countryside. I sure know I'm tired of it."

 

Alan had to agree with that sentiment. Urko was the head gorilla

soldier, and determined to kill any human or ape who knew the truth -

that at one point, humans had been in control instead of apes. He had

the full backing of the ape council, headed by Dr. Zaius, who considered

astronauts a plague to be destroyed.

 

Galen had made the mistake of finding out the truth, and now the

chimpanzee was as much a fugitive as Alan and Pete were. In the process,

he'd saved the astronauts' lives. Ever since then, they'd been on the

run together, and had become the best of friends. Now they were

searching for some way to return to their own time.

 

Galen shook his head. "He'll never quit until we are all dead."

 

"Well, I hope he never has to quit then!" Pete replied with a smile.

"C'mon, twinkle-toes, let's get you up to that cave."

 

"My toes don't twinkle!" Galen protested. "What are you talking about?"

 

Alan laughed. The chimp often had trouble understanding things that Pete

said. Sometimes, he thought the other astronaut did it on purpose to see

if he could confound Galen. "Don't worry about it, Galen. It's just an

old earth nickname for someone who's light on their feet."

 

"But I'm not light." Galen gave them a puzzled look. "I think I am

heavier than either one of you."

 

"You're telling me!" Pete groaned out as he and Alan made a chair out of

their arms to lift Galen.

 

*****

 

Pete woke early the next morning. His two friends were still sleeping,

and he carefully maneuvered around them, and left the cave. He took a

deep breath, stretching his arms high over his head as he glanced

around. The sun was just starting to come up, and morning dew covered

the grass and tree leaves.

 

It seemed odd to be by himself. Living as they did, privacy was a rare

thing. Pete thought of the pond they'd passed the day before. It was fed

by a small waterfall, and had been tempting even then. Now it seemed to

call his name. He could go there, enjoy an early morning swim and be

back before Alan and Galen woke.

 

He went back into the cave and fetched the canteens. If Alan or Galen

did wake before he returned, they would easily figure out where he'd

gone. Then he headed off to the pond at a quick trot. He'd gotten used

to traveling at this pace. When you had to rely on your own feet to get

somewhere, you had to move faster than a walk.

 

Soon, he had reached his destination. The sparkling, clear water seemed

even more inviting than before. He filled the canteens, then stripped

off his clothes so he could rinse them. Soap was also a luxury that

they'd learned to live without. While Galen had shown them roots that

produced a lather, they saved that for cleaning themselves.

 

He carefully spread his wet clothes out on a nearby bush, then waded

into the pond. Finding the water deep enough to swim, he wasted no time

in plunging in, and headed for the waterfall. Once there, he climbed up

the rocks until he found a ledge that he could stand on, while still

being in the direct path of the waterfall.

 

Pete raised his face up to the cascading water, letting it wash over his

head and down his body. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt

this good - felt this sense of freedom. It was like being in his own

little world where there were no gorillas trying to kill him. He could

almost imagine that he was in his apartment, standing in the shower,

trying to wake up enough before he had to head to work at NASA.

 

Finally, he sighed and moved away from the waterfall. He climbed back

down to the water and started swimming again. He did a quick twenty laps

of the pond at a fast crawl before turning over on his back, floating

lazily. He knew he should head back to the cave before he was missed,

but he didn't want to leave this idyllic spot.

 

Only the sight of a berry-laden bush made him climb out of the water. He

ate until his hunger had been appeased, then tried to figure out how he

could take some of the berries back to his friends. While he could use

his shirt, he didn't like the idea of wearing a berry-stained garment.

He settled on some large plant fronds, using several of them as a make-

shift bag. Once he'd harvested enough berries, he carried them over to

his clothes. He set the feast down, then reached for his pants.

 

They were still damp, but that was another thing he'd gotten used to.

They didn't want to cart around extra clothes, and they could seldom

take the time to wait until they had fully dried before moving on. With

a grimace, he pulled his pants on, then his shirt.

 

Pete had no excuse for what happened next, but he'd let the peaceful

setting override his normal caution. Otherwise, he would have heard the

apes approaching. Instead, as he left the glen, he found himself facing

two armed gorillas who already had their guns pointing at him.

 

Still, he knew he could outrun any ape if they weren't on horseback. He

dropped the berries, then dashed into the thick vegetation. He didn't

get far before he literally ran into three more gorillas. They quickly

grabbed him, holding his arms tightly until the others joined them.

 

Pete knew he was in big trouble. Maybe he could handle a couple of

Urko's soldiers, but there was no way he could do anything with five

surrounding him.

 

"Where is your owner?" one of the gorillas asked, sticking his face

close to Pete's. The white V on his tunic indicated he was in charge of

this group.

 

Pete knew that most gorillas thought that all humans were stupid, and he

decided to act like he was. "Uh... he sent me to get berries and water.

If I am not back soon, he will beat me for being late."

 

"Where are your papers?"

 

That confused Pete. He'd never heard of humans needing papers, but he

didn't want to let on that he had no idea what they were talking about.

"I forgot them." He hoped that would be an acceptable answer.

 

"Isn't that just like a human?" another gorilla asked. That elicited

laughs from several of the watching gorillas. "They aren't smart enough

to remember the laws. It doesn't matter how often you tell them that

they can't leave their property without papers, they continue to do it."

 

The head gorilla ignored his companions, and continued to stare at Pete.

It was unnerving.

 

"Check his brand," he barked out. "Whoever owns him will have to pay a

fine. Maybe that will convince him to train his humans better."

 

Pete felt a hairy hand clutch at the back of his shirt, and struggled to

free himself, to no avail. His shirt was pulled down, then released as

the ape almost yelled, "He has no brand!"

 

The head gorilla almost looked pleased. "Then he belongs to us. We'll

take him to Kempur, sell him, and split the profits."

 

Pete didn't like that idea at all. "But I belong to someone already. He

will be mad if I don't return with his berries."

 

"That's the law. If he doesn't place his mark on you, or give you

papers, then you belong to the first ape that captures you. Tie him."

 

Pete's hands were wrenched behind his back, and he felt leather straps

being wrapped around them. Even worse was the wide piece of leather that

was placed around his neck. There was something so humiliating about

being forced to wear a collar, and it got even worse when a leash was

attached to the front of it so he could be hauled along. It made him

feel like an animal.

 

The gorillas pulled him along until they reached their horses. They

climbed into their saddles, making sure that Pete's leash was never

dropped. Then they urged their mounts into a trot, forcing the astronaut

to trot along behind them. He had no doubt that if he tripped or fell,

he would just be dragged along.

 

To make matters worse, they were headed away from the cave. Alan and

Galen would have no idea that he'd been captured. Even when they finally

realized he was missing, they wouldn't have any idea where he'd been

taken.

 

*****

 

Alan stood at the entrance to the cave, and scanned the surrounding area

again. He hadn't been too worried when he woke up and found Pete

missing. Since the canteens were gone, as well, he knew his friend had

probably gone to fetch water. But as time progressed, he couldn't stop

his growing anxiety. He tried to keep busy making a crutch for Galen,

but it wasn't enough to keep his mind off his other friend.

 

He didn't want to leave Galen alone, but Alan couldn't see any other

alternative. He had to find out what had happened to Pete. He went back

into the cave, and squatted down by the chimp.

 

"I'm going to go back to the pond, and see if I can find Pete," he

explained. "I won't be gone for too long."

 

Galen nodded. "Be careful, Alan. There may be some of Urko's soldiers

around."

 

"I will." Alan placed one hand on the chimp's shoulder and squeezed

lightly. "Stay off your foot while I'm gone." He quickly stood back up,

and headed out.

 

Alan took great care as he made his way to the pond. He stopped often to

listen before he proceeded further. As far as he could tell, he was all

alone, with only birds sharing this territory. When he reached the pond,

he felt his stomach plummet when he spotted the canteens on the ground.

There was no sign of Pete at all. For a brief moment he wondered if his

friend might have drowned, but the water was so clear that he would have

seen the body if it had been there.

 

He went back to the canteens and picked them up. Only then did he spot

the berries, some totally crushed, scattered across the ground. He

looked around more carefully, and spotted some nearby bushes that had

broken branches hanging down. They were still green, so it must have

happened recently.

 

Alan slowly pushed his way through the bushes, not wanting to run into

any unfriendly apes. He hadn't gone far when he came to a small

clearing. There were definite signs that horses had been here - no one

could have missed the fresh manure. Horses meant apes - humans weren't

allowed to ride horses. Now, he had no doubts that Pete had been

captured. He could be on his way back to Central City.

 

That left him in a quandary. He didn't want to leave Galen behind, but

the chimp could barely walk. Even without that handicap, they would

still not be able to catch up to the gorillas because of the horses.

They would easily get to Central City days before Alan and Galen could.

And a lot could happen in that time period.

 

The last time this had happened, Pete had been tortured in an attempt to

brainwash him into telling Urko the names of humans who had helped them.

They had just barely managed to rescue him from the hospital where the

doctors had planned on performing brain surgery on him. There was no way

that Alan would let any of those things happen again if he could

possibly help it. Hopefully, Galen would understand why he had to stay

behind. Once he was well enough, he could head back to Central City on

his own, and they could arrange a meeting place. He'd probably have

better luck on his own, since the gorillas were looking for two humans

and a chimp, not a chimp on his own.

 

Later, Alan couldn't recall what made him decide to look around some

more. What he found surprised him. The horses didn't appear to be headed

in the direction of Central City. If anything, they were going in the

wrong direction. He followed the slight trail, not sure if he was

reading the traces correctly. It wasn't until he reached a stretch of

open ground that he got his confirmation.

 

Here it was easy to read the direction the horses were traveling. The

imprint of their shoes made that quite obvious. There were also tracks

of moccasins - which usually meant a human. Most gorillas wore boots.

 

There was a very good chance that Pete wasn't headed for Central City,

and that called for a new plan. Alan headed back to the cave.

 

******

 

Pete had never been so glad to see the signs of a village. He could

barely keep up the pace that the gorillas had forced him to maintain.

His lungs burned, and sweat poured down his body. He felt like he'd just

run a marathon, and knew that the moment they stopped, his legs would

give out. He only hoped they would hold out until they did stop.

 

His prayers were answered as the gorillas rode their horses into the

center of the village and reined them to a stop. Pete sank to his knees,

struggling to bring enough air into his lungs to ease the pounding of

his heart. He wanted to wipe the sweat from his forehead so it wouldn't

keep running into his eyes, but with his hands bound behind him, he

couldn't do anything.

 

He wasn't given long to rest. The head gorilla yanked on the leash

connected to his collar, trying to force Pete to his feet. The astronaut

decided he'd had enough, and refused to rise. Or maybe it just seemed

better to consider it defiance instead of fear that he couldn't stand.

 

The gorilla raised his hand, obviously intending to hit Pete, and he

tried to keep from flinching. At the last moment the ape must have

changed his mind because he ended up pointing to two of his squad.

 

"You two, bring him."

 

The designated apes grabbed Pete's arms, and pulled him up. They didn't

bother trying to get him to walk, they just dragged him along. About

five minutes later, they stopped, and dropped him in front of some

cages. There was a human inside one of them, but it was the chimpanzee

that came out of the nearby house that drew his attention.

 

"Hebron, I see you've found yourself another human."

 

The head gorilla nodded. "Yes, and he has no brand. When is your next

auction?"

 

"You just missed one - it will be at least a few weeks before the next

one. I can take care of this human until then if you'd like, but there

will be a fee." The chimp moved over to Pete, and grabbed hold of his

hair to lift his head up. "Hmmm... How far did you run him?"

 

"A good half-day's ride. He held up well. He should fetch a top price."

 

"Right now, I wouldn't agree with you. In this kind of condition, you

wouldn't get a very good price for him at all." The chimp shrugged as he

released Pete. "If you leave him with me, I might be able to get him

into top condition. If not, well, good luck selling him."

 

"I guess I don't have much choice. Very well, Jako, see what you can do

with him. I'll ask around to see if anyone is looking for a new human.

Maybe I can sell him privately before the auction."

 

"Either way, I'll get my fee."

 

The apes shook hands, then the gorillas left. Pete would have tried to

escape, but he knew he wouldn't get far - especially not with his hands

still tied behind his back. Maybe if he seemed cooperative, then he'd

get a better chance later.

 

"What's your name, human?"

 

Pete looked up at the chimp. "Pete." He knew some humans had last names,

but the majority of them went only by one name. Besides, Urko knew them

better by their last names. There was no sense in possibly drawing that

gorilla's attention.

 

"Very well, Pete. Just do as your told, and I won't have to punish you."

The chimp looked over his shoulder, and yelled, "William, Jase, come

here."

 

A few moments later, two humans came running around the house. The ape

pointed at Pete. "Get him cleaned up, then put him in the cage." He

started to turn away, then appeared to change his mind. "William, fetch

me a set of ankle chains. I don't want to risk losing this one." The ape

greedily rubbed his hands together. "He should fetch quite a nice profit

for me."

 

The taller of the two humans went into the house, then returned holding

a set of manacles. The ape wasted no time fastening them around Pete's

ankles, and locking them with a key that he pulled from one of his

pockets. "On your feet," he ordered.

 

Pete struggled to stand, wishing he could have used his hands. His

breathing had settled down to normal, but his legs were still shaky. He

might have made it if it hadn't been for the manacles. Instead, he ended

up sprawled, face down, on the dirt. The laughter of the ape and the

humans added to his humiliation.

 

Suddenly, Pete felt his arms grabbed, and he was pulled to his feet.

Since the chimp was still in front of him, he knew it had to be the

humans who held him. He spared a quick glance at each man. William was

taller than he was, and well-muscled. The other man, Jase, was slightly

shorter than Pete, but still had an impressive physique. Somehow, he

knew that he would never be able to convince these humans to help him.

 

"Come," William ordered, giving a tug on Pete's arm.

 

Carefully, he shuffled along with his captors, not wanting to fall down

again. They walked around to the back of the house, and over to a well.

Jase let go of his arm, and proceeded to draw water from the well, while

William untied Pete's hands.

 

"Take off your shirt," William ordered.

 

Pete complied, knowing there was little he could do at this point.

 

"Put your hands on top of your head, and keep them there."

 

Once again, he followed instructions, and suddenly, he was drenched in

cold water as Jase emptied the bucket over his head. They repeated the

procedure several times, before Jase set the bucket down, and picked up

a stiff brush and a bar of soap. Quickly, he scoured Pete's upper torso,

making sure that no area was missed.

 

The astronaut gritted his teeth, trying not to make any noise while it

felt like his skin was being sanded off. Once again, buckets of water

were poured over him to rinse him off. William retied Pete's hands

behind his back, then suddenly yanked Pete's trousers down to his

ankles. The scouring process was repeated on his lower half, while Pete

could only stand there helplessly. A strong hand grabbed the back of his

neck, and he was forced to bend over with his face practically on the

ground so they could scrub his backside. He knew they were doing it just

to humiliate him - and maybe to see if he would fight back. He wouldn't

give them the pleasure of seeing how much that demeaning stance upset

him.

 

Pete was finally allowed to stand up, and was once again drenched with

buckets of cold water. Finally his hands were untied, and he was allowed

to pull his trousers back up. They were sopping wet, but he didn't care

at this point. He reached for his shirt, but it was grabbed away.

 

"You won't need this," William said. "If someone comes to buy you, they

will want to see what they are getting. Now, back to the cages."

 

They escorted Pete back to the front of the house, and the waiting

cages. He was put in an empty one, and the door was quickly locked. He

waited until the men had disappeared from view before examining his

prison, looking for weak spots, but there were none. With a sigh, he

sank down on the dirt floor, his back to the bars.

 

*****

 

"Alan, no!"

 

It was the firmest tone Alan had ever heard Galen use. It made it quite

clear that he'd better listen to the chimpanzee.

 

"Galen, we don't have any choice. You can't walk, and someone has to

find Pete. That leaves me."

 

"But it may not be safe for you, either. For all we know, the fact that

Pete was alone may have been what got him into trouble. I warned you

about this when we came this direction. In some districts, humans cannot

leave their owner's land unless they have an ape escort."

 

"And if they do? Then what?"

 

"It depends on the prefect and the laws that they put in place - I've

heard that some would kill a human for such an offense. Or he might be

sentenced to hard labor. There are many different places that are always

looking for humans slaves."

 

"Like that fishing village?" Alan asked, remembering his and Pete's

close call. They'd almost been banded for life, doomed to spend their

lives catching fish for fertilizer.

 

"Yes, or mines, or farms. There are many apes that feel that physical

labor is beneath them. They prefer to use humans to do the work."

 

"All the more reason for me to find Pete as soon as possible."

 

"For *us* to find Pete. I may not be able to walk fast, but with the

crutch you made me I *can* walk. We'll have a better chance if we stick

together."

 

Alan really didn't want to leave Galen behind. It was bad enough that

they had no idea where Pete was, but if something should happen to him,

Galen would be on his own. There was also the chance that Alan could be

captured as well, and he doubted the chimpanzee would be able to rescue

both of them.

 

"All right, Galen. We'll go together." Alan went over and helped Galen

to his feet.

 

Together, they left the cave, and Alan led the way back to the tracks

he'd found. Their progress was painstakingly slow. Galen winced at each

step, but kept doggedly on. There was nothing Alan could do to help him

short of stopping and waiting for the chimp's ankle to heal.

 

Due to their slow pace, they didn't get far in their quest. When the sun

started setting, Alan knew he couldn't risk losing the trail. They would

have to wait until morning to resume. He quickly set up camp, starting a

fire to keep them warm during the night.

 

He could only hope that Pete had something to keep him warm during the

night as well.

 

*****

 

Sometimes it felt like he'd spent all his life in cages since they

crashed in this time period. Pete knew it wasn't true, but it still felt

like it. Every time they turned around, he and Alan were being put in a

cage. It never led to anything good. And for some reason it always

seemed like he got the worst end of the deal. He'd been the one who had

to fight Tolar to the death. He'd been the one who'd been tortured by

Wanda, the mad chimp scientist. And now this - whatever this was.

 

Losing his freedom wasn't even the worst part about being in a cage. It

was the boredom that came along with it that made the time drag. So far,

the only break had been when they'd brought food the night before.

They'd also brought him a blanket, but he'd lost that to the occupant in

the next cage because he'd been too busy eating and hadn't been paying

attention. The man had only laughed when Pete had demanded it back. Then

he'd curled up with his two blankets on the far side of his cage.

 

It had been a long night. Pete hadn't even had the benefit of his shirt

since they'd never given it back to him. He was still chilled, and his

upper torso was covered with goosebumps. He rubbed his arms briskly as

he studied the area outside of his cage. Right now the cage was in the

shadows of the rising sun, but soon the bright rays should come directly

into his cage. Then maybe he could get warm.

 

The morning was filled with overwhelming boredom. Other than breakfast

being served, the captives had been left alone. Pete had tried to start

up a conversation with the man who'd stolen his blanket, but the other

captive wouldn't cooperate, keeping his distance on the far side of his

cage.

 

Pete guessed that is was close to noon when a cart carrying a female

chimp pulled up in front of Jako's home. The female went inside, but it

wasn't long before she, Jako and his two servants came out and walked

over to the cages. The humans opened the cage next to Pete's and brought

out the man inside.

 

"Here's a strong one," Jako pointed out. "You can get plenty of work out

of him."

 

"Yes, he does look strong." Her strident voice reminded Pete of Wanda,

the chimp doctor who had tortured him, and he shuddered as he recalled

that incident.

 

To take his mind off of it, Pete studied the other captive. He did look

strong - he was all muscle as well as very tall. He'd hate to have to go

up against him in a fight.

 

"Hmmmm..." The female chimp walked around the man. "It looks like he's

had a lot of owners. What's wrong with him?"

 

For the first time, Pete got a glimpse of the other captive's back. It

was covered with a variety of brands running down the left side of his

back. None of them were larger than two inches. He realized that each

one must represent a different owner, and that if he was sold, he would

be branded as well.  

 

"Nothing, nothing," Jako insisted. "His previous owners just didn't know

how to handle him properly. I'm sure you won't have the same problems

with him, Mistress Lorra. I've heard that you have the best talent for

keeping your slaves in line."

 

The female chimp almost preened at the praise. "Yes, once they learn

their place, they seldom give me trouble. But I'm not sure about this

one. Hebron mentioned that he brought in a new one - what about him?"

 

With a wave of his hand, Jako pointed to Pete's cage. His slaves put the

other captive back into his cage, then came over to open Pete's. The

astronaut tried to figure out what would most likely keep him from being

sold. Should he act stupid? Or should he act like a troublemaker?

 

When William signaled for Pete to come out of the cage, he just stared

back at the man. The two servants exchanged glances, then climbed into

the cage. Each of them grabbed one of Pete's arms and pulled him to his

feet. Then they dragged him from the cage and placed him in front of

Jako and Lorra. They released his arms and backed off several steps, but

it was quite clear that they would be ready to step back in if it became

necessary to control Pete.

 

The female's eyes roamed up and down Pete's body. Finally, she reached

out and squeezed his arm. "He's kind of puny, isn't he?"

 

"Nonsense!" Jako exclaimed. "He's just wiry - he's got plenty of muscle

and stamina. Why Hebron said he ran him for half a day without any

problem. He'll make a good worker for you."

 

"Hmmmmm." Lorra slowly walked around Pete, studying him carefully. "He

has no brands - who owned him before?"

 

"To be honest, I don't know. He was found wandering around by himself,

and you know the laws. Hebron found him, so he now belongs to him."

 

She peered closely into Pete's face. It took everything within him to

keep from flinching away. "Is he intelligent? His eyes seem too close

together."

 

"Why don't you ask me instead of him," Pete chipped in, deciding he was

tired of being talked about as if he weren't even there.

 

"Quiet, human!" Lorra snapped out. She turned back to Jako. "Hasn't he

had even the most basic of training? Or is he a rebel?"

 

Jako shrugged. "You know some apes - they're just too liberal with their

slaves. I'm sure it won't take much to train him. After all, look at him

- does he look like a troublemaker? Other thhan the manacles, he isn't

restrained, and he hasn't tried to get away. He understands the futility

of trying anything."

 

Lorra stared at Pete again. "You could be right. Very well, pull your

pants down, human," she ordered.

 

Pete couldn't believe what he'd just heard. There was no way he was

going to strip in front of these apes. "No," he said defiantly.

 

"What?" Lorra almost screeched. "How dare you refuse a direct order!

Pull your pants down, now!"

 

"Forget it."

 

With a signal from Jako, his two servants rushed in and grabbed Pete's

arms. The astronaut struggled to free himself, but it was impossible.

 

"Let me go!" Pete demanded. "I'm not going to strip for any ape!"

 

"Tie and gag him!" Jako ordered.

 

Pete's arms were wrenched around behind his back by William, and Jase

quickly bound his hands together. Then he left, returning a moment later

with a large strip of leather that he placed over Pete's mouth, tying it

securely behind his head.

 

The astronaut continued to struggle in William's grip, but there was

little he could do to keep Jase from pulling down his pants. His muffled

protests were totally ignored by the chimps.

 

Once again, Lorra's eyes examined him. "Hmmmmm... He's not very big

there either."

 

"Just remember, size isn't everything," Jako pointed out. "I'm sure he

can keep the females happy."

 

Pete would have pointed out that he'd never had any complaints, but the

gag prevented him from speaking.

 

"I don't care if my females are happy," Lorra snapped. "Just as long as

they breed. It takes so long to grow replacements, and the children are

useless for years! Of course, I assume that you can't prove he's good

breeding stock?"

 

"No, Mistress Lorra. Since we don't know his history, I can't provide

that information."

 

"Very well, I'll give you half of what you're asking. He's in obvious

need of training, he's not as strong as I would like, and I'm taking a

risk that he can breed."

 

Jako and Lorra settled down into a bargaining session, leaving Pete

standing there, bound, gagged and his pants down around his ankles. To

add to his humiliation, several other apes wandered over and started

examining him as well.

 

Finally, Jako and Lorra came to an agreement, and money changed hands.

"Put him in my cart," she ordered William. "And be grateful I don't make

you run behind it all the way to my home," she added to Pete. "I'll soon

rid you of that rebellious streak!"

 

William and Jase dragged Pete over to the cart, then lifted him over the

back of it, dropping him into the straw lining the cart bed. Pete landed

with a painful thud, his head thumping up against the side of the cart.

For a moment he saw stars, then his vision cleared. He struggled to a

sitting position, feeling the straw scratch and poke him in places that

no man would want straw. He wanted to pull up his pants, but with his

hands bound, that was impossible.

 

Pete tried to scrape the gag off against the side of the cart, hoping to

be able to convince William or Jase to help him, but it had been tied

too tightly. His shirt was tossed in beside him, little use to him at

this point. It was Lorra who added the final touch, bringing a rope that

she tied around Pete's neck, then fastened to a bolt on the cart.

 

The rope wasn't tight enough to choke him, but Pete knew that if he

tried to throw himself from the cart, it would either break his neck, or

he would choke as he was dragged along behind.

 

Escape wouldn't be possible.

 

And the chances of Alan or Galen ever finding him were growing slimmer

and slimmer.

 

*****

 

Pete's humiliation continued for several more hours. Lorra seemed

determined to stop and talk to everyone she saw, and show off her new

slave. He could do nothing except glare at the apes that peered over the

cart walls and stared at him. Several even went so far as to poke and

prod at him, as if testing his strength.

 

To add to his misery, at one stop, Lorra threw an old blanket over him.

The stench from it almost made Pete gag, and it was too heavy and warm

in the blazing sun. However, he knew the alternative was a bad sunburn,

so he didn't shrug it off.

 

Eventually, they arrived at what had to be Lorra's home. Once the rope

had been untied from the cart, he was dragged to his feet by a gorilla,

then pulled out of the cart and dropped onto the ground. Without rising,

Pete looked around. A large house stood several yards away. Smaller ones

were set back further. In the other direction were larger buildings.

Beside them were corrals with several horses grazing inside them.

 

"His name is Pete," Lorra said to the gorilla. "You know what to do."

 

Pete didn't like the sound of that. Hairy hands grabbed at his arms and

he was dragged toward another building near the corrals. Just inside the

door, a fire was burning next to an anvil. A small boy worked a set of

bellows, sending oxygen into the fire to make it burn hotter. Instead of

going inside, he was pulled over to a large wooden pole. His hands were

untied, then quickly pulled up and tied to the ring embedded near the

top of the pole.

 

His feet were still flat on the ground, but he could feel the tautness

of his muscles as the ropes were pulled tightly. He was left alone for a

while, but he couldn't see what was going on behind him. He struggled to

look over his shoulder, then wished he hadn't. One of the gorillas was

approaching him holding what had to be a branding iron.

 

Pete turned his face back around so he was staring straight ahead. As he

listened to the ape approach, he took a deep breath, and tensed up.

Without warning, searing pain surged through him as the brand was

applied to his left shoulder.

 

Despite his best intentions, he screamed behind his gag at the

overwhelming pain. Nothing could have prepared him for that or the

stench of burning flesh. It seemed to last an eternity, before he

finally passed out.

 

*****

 

It took almost half the day before Alan and Galen saw any signs of

civilization. After some discussion, they decided to approach the small

house that they'd found, hoping they could get information on where Pete

had been taken. Also, Alan hoped to find some kind of transportation.

Galen's ankle seemed to be getting worse with each step.

 

As they neared the house, a male chimpanzee came outside. When he saw

Galen limping, he hurried to his side. Soon, Galen was inside the house

stretched out on a bed while the man's wife placed cold cloths on his

ankle.

 

"My name is Brago, and this is my wife, Jilla," the owner of the house

said.

 

"And I am Zuma," Galen said, using one of the fake names he'd used

before. "I was traveling with my two servants when I fell and hurt my

ankle. Unfortunately, when I sent one of my servants back for water, he

never returned. I believe he was captured by someone - though I can't

imagine why. He was a gentle human who always followed orders."

 

Alan had to hide a grin at that description. It didn't fit Pete at all.

He kept his mouth shut, knowing already that anything he said would not

be listened to.

 

"Was he branded?" Brago asked. "If so, then he'll be held by the prefect

at Kempur until you claim him. Humans aren't allowed to roam around on

their own around here. Of course, you'll probably have to pay a fine."

 

"Branded?" Galen looked shocked at the idea. "You still *brand* your

humans? How barbaric!"

 

"That's the law. It also makes it clear who a human belongs to. If your

human wasn't branded, then who ever found him could claim him. Depending

on who it was, they might keep the human for themselves, or they could

sell him at the auction held in Kempur."

 

Galen struggled to sit up. "Oh, I have to stop that from happening. They

can't sell Pete - he belongs to me."

 

Jilla placed her hands on the chimp's shoulders and pushed him back

down. "If you keep trying to walk on that ankle, it will never heal

properly. No human is worth that."

 

"Yes, you must rest here. If he is put up for sale, there won't be

another auction for at least a week. If he isn't, then you'll have to

find his new owner, and that can wait a few days as well. As long as

your human is obedient, he won't be hurt. There aren't any apes around

here that abuse humans - although they would punish one if they're given

good cause. It *is* important to keep them in line."

 

Alan and Galen exchanged looks. Finally, the astronaut nodded slightly.

The chimp couldn't go much further on his ankle, and it sounded like

Pete wasn't in any danger. Hopefully, they could get this cleared up

before the next auction.

 

"Very well, we'll stay for a few days," Galen agreed reluctantly. "Do

you have someplace for my servant to sleep? He can help out with your

chores in exchange."

 

Alan almost rolled his eyes. Once again, he was stuck doing all the

manual work while Galen rested.

 

"He can stay in the barn," Brago said. "It will be nice to have some

help - I haven't been able to afford a slave yet."

 

"I think you will be amazed at what Alan can do," Galen said with a

smile. "He's quite useful."

 

*****

 

When Pete regained consciousness, he found himself lying face down on a

small cot. A woman was lightly spreading some kind of salve on his

shoulder. Despite her care, it was still extremely painful, but the

salve seemed to help remove some of the burning sensation.

 

He'd been branded. Like an animal. The mark would never go away. If he

ever returned to his own time, he'd have to explain it to any woman he

wanted to get intimate with. How would they react to knowing he'd been a

slave? That he'd been treated like an animal? Somehow that mark on his

back made him feel less than human.

 

To get his mind off that thought, he took a quick survey of his current

condition. His hands were untied, but a brief movement of his feet made

it quite clear that his ankles were still manacled. The gag had also

been removed, and his pants were now back up where they belonged. "Can I

have some water?" he asked, his mouth so dry he found it hard to talk.

 

She went over to a bucket near the door of the building and brought back

a gourd filled with water. Pete tried to lever himself up to drink, but

the movement of his muscles sent a fresh wave of pain through his

shoulder, and he collapsed back down onto the cot.

 

"Don't try to move," the woman said as she knelt down by his side. She

helped him lift his head, holding the gourd so he could drink from it.

 

Pete drank deeply, welcoming the cool moisture in his mouth and down his

throat. When he was done, he sank back onto the cot with a sigh. "Thank

you," he said. "What's your name?"

 

"I am Myka. One of my duties is to take care of the humans who are sick

or injured."

 

Pete looked around the large room. It was filled with cots, but his was

the only one that was occupied. "You don't look too busy," he pointed

out. "I guess that's a good thing." Maybe he'd landed in a fairly good

place after all. If the humans were treated well, they probably never

tried to get away. That would make it easier for him to do just that.

 

He knew the best chance of getting back together with Alan and Galen was

for him to escape on his own. Then he could try to find them. Hopefully,

they would stay close to the cave, or at least keep checking back there.

 

A gorilla appeared in the doorway of the building, carrying a mug.

"Myka, give him this," he ordered.

 

The woman quickly hurried over and took the mug, bringing it back to

Pete.

 

"What is it?" he asked as she helped lift his head.

 

"It will make you feel better." She raised the mug to his lips. "Drink

it all."

 

Pete cautiously tried a sip, and when he realized it was some kind of

fruit juice, he drained the mug.

 

"Just relax," she said in a soothing tone. She lightly brushed his hair

back off his forehead.

 

Pete was feeling better than relaxed. Whatever had been in that juice

must have been pretty powerful. Right now he felt like he could stand up

to another of Wanda's torture sessions without even blinking an eye. For

the first time he noticed just how green Myka's eyes were. He could

drown in those eyes.

 

He giggled - giving only a momentary thought as to how unusual that was

- then he giggled again as he watched the duust motes floating through

the air. They seemed to form and reform patterns, mesmerizing him, and

it was the last thing he remembered.

 

*****

 

Pete woke with a start, his head pounding like he had a bad hangover.

The room seemed to be full of men, most of them were eating something

while others were getting dressed. It was dark outside, but he had the

feeling that it was morning and not night. He just couldn't believe he'd

slept through the noise that all these men returning to their cots must

have caused.

 

As he became more alert, he realized there were only eight men, and

three boys in the room. Their ages ranged from around six to around

fifty. Pete carefully tried to sit up, afraid to waken the pain in his

shoulder. It still hurt, but it wasn't the searing pain from the day

before.

 

Seeing that he was awake, the oldest of the men brought a bowl over to

Pete. "I am John, and I'm in charge of this building. If you need

anything or have a problem you should tell me. If you cause any

problems, I will not hesitate to report you to Sarno, the gorilla in

charge of the humans. Do you understand?"

 

Pete nodded, then introduced himself. "I don't plan on causing any

problems," he added.

 

"Good. There are only a few rules. You do anything a gorilla orders -

without question. You will be assigned work duties, and are expected to

do your share. Failure to do so will lead to punishment. So will

stealing or leaving Mistress Lorra's property without permission. And

trust me, the punishment will be severe. Do you understand?"

 

"Yes. As I said before, I don't want to cause any problems." He just

wanted his freedom again.

 

Once Pete had finished eating, John showed him around the property. With

every step the astronaut took, the clanking of the manacles reminded him

of what he'd become. The fact that none of the other men had been

wearing them gave him hope that they'd soon be removed.

 

Fortunately, their first stop was the outhouse. It wasn't anything more

than a hole in the ground with walls around it, but at least it provided

some privacy. Pete wasted no time relieving himself, then returned to

John's side. The tour continued, with John pointing out the women's

house which was out of bounds for all men, Sarno's house, the houses for

the other gorilla guards, the smithy, the barn, the house garden where

the fruits and vegetables used to feed all the inhabitants of the farm

were grown, and the storage sheds.

 

"We grow a variety of food that is sold," John explained. He mentioned

several fruits that Pete had never heard of. That was nothing unusual.

Most of the foods that he'd known in his own time had mutated into

something else. "The other thing we do is to make clay bricks that are

used in building houses. You'll be given light duties for the first few

days. Today you can work in the smithy. The harnesses need to be cleaned

and oiled."

 

Pete was left with the man in charge of the smithy. Other than

introducing himself as Trask, he didn't say much the rest of the day. He

showed Pete what to do, then left him to get on with the job while he

worked on shoeing several of the horses.

 

His work wasn't difficult, but it was extremely boring. While it kept

him out of the sun so he didn't need to wear a shirt, the smithy grew

warmer and warmer as the day wore on. Myka showed up early in the

morning and put more salve on his brand. Another woman brought them

lunch. He finally finished his tasks in the early afternoon. Next he was

assigned to haul water from the well to the house garden. It didn't take

him long before he started envisioning an irrigation system that would

make this task easier. He just wasn't sure anyone would listen to his

ideas.

 

As the sun started to set, the rest of the men returned to the house. A

short time later, dinner was brought to them by several of the women.

Pete couldn't help but notice that most of the men appeared to be

distracted and very nervous. Several of the older men had sweat on their

face, but he didn't think it was that warm.

 

When two gorillas appeared carrying trays filled with mugs, the men

practically ran each other over to get in line. When Pete didn't move,

John called to him to join the rest of them. He wasn't quite sure what

was going on, but decided to not risk being punished.

 

Each of the men were given a mug, which they quickly emptied and placed

back on the tray. Pete took his in turn. It smelled very similar to what

he'd been given the day before, but he drank it anyway. Even the young

boys were given small portions of the drink.

 

Almost immediately, the rest of the men started to visibly relax. Pete

found it hard to concentrate himself, and he finally realized that he'd

been drugged again. What made no sense was that the rest of the men had

been drugged as well. Why would they do that?

 

One of the other men started to giggle, and Pete found himself laughing

along with him for no reason whatsoever.

 

The next thing he knew, it was morning again. And he felt like he had a

hangover.

 

Pete was assigned a more strenuous duty this time. He, along with three

other men, were taken to the nearby river. There he was given the task

of mixing straw in with the mud the other men were digging up from the

bank. When the mixture was the right consistency, they used molds to

form bricks that were left in the sun to dry.

 

While he didn't get quite as dirty as the men hauling up the mud, it was

still filthy work. At the end of the day, they all splashed into the

river to rinse themselves and their clothes.

 

The same thing happened after dinner again. The men were nervous and

agitated until the gorillas appeared with their drinks. Pete wasn't

going to drink any tonight, but apparently refusal wasn't an option. One

of the gorillas grabbed him and tilted his head back. The other pinched

his nostrils until he had to open his mouth to breathe. Then they poured

the drink down his throat.

 

Given a choice between swallowing or suffocating, Pete swallowed the

drink. He thought he knew what was going on - with the men drugged at

night, there was little chance of any escape. He was also afraid that

whatever they had been given was addictive. If it was, and he escaped,

he might have to go through withdrawal. It wasn't a pleasant thought.

 

*****

 

Alan tried to rein in his frustration. They'd already been at Brago's

place for three days. Galen's ankle wasn't healing very fast, and it was

keeping them from finding out more information about Pete. When Brago

announced he had to go to Kempur the next morning, he almost cheered.

Since the chimp was planning on taking his cart, they could ride along

with him.

 

He couldn't stop worrying about Pete. Hopefully, all he'd had to endure

was being locked up in a cage. But his mind kept coming up with all

kinds of scenarios and tortures that his friend might be undergoing.

 

He wanted to be doing something, but the laws of the district prevented

him from going off on his own. Getting locked up wouldn't help Pete in

any way.

 

*****

 

Once again, Pete was assigned to making clay bricks. Just before noon,

Sarno rode up to the work area. He watched them for several minutes

which was nothing unusual. Then he called the astronaut's name. Sudden

nervousness filled Pete, but he couldn't think of anything he'd done

wrong.

 

"Rinse yourself off, then come with me," Sarno ordered.

 

Pete quickly complied. A part of him hoped that Galen and Alan had

somehow managed to find him, but he knew there was little chance of

that. He walked along behind Sarno's horse, back to the main buildings.

The manacles prevented him from going any faster, but at least he no

longer tripped over them. He was led to a small building halfway between

the men's and women's houses. He had no idea what its purpose was - John

had never told him.

 

Sarno accompanied him inside, where a young woman was waiting. She was

blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and totally naked. Pete felt his body

instantly respond. It had been so long since he'd been with a woman that

he wasn't surprised. He almost missed the fact that Lorra was also in

the room. She was sitting on the only chair in the room.

 

Sarno moved over to stand beside Lorra. "Go ahead," he ordered, waving

his hand toward the woman.

 

"Go ahead and what?" Pete asked.

 

Sarno rolled his eyes. "Mate. You've been picked to breed with Bridy."

 

Pete stared at the gorilla. "Here? In front of you? I don't think so."

 

"You will do it or be punished!" Sarno growled.

 

Lorra held up her hand. "Is she not pleasing to you?" she asked. "There

are several other females you could breed with. Since you are new, I'm

willing to allow you a little... choice."

 

"That has nothing to do it. Where I come from, 'breeding' is done in

private between two people who love each other. Not in front of an

audience with a total stranger."

 

"Well, that's not how it's done here. Sarno, tie him down."

 

Pete was no match for the gorilla. If his ankles hadn't been manacled,

and the room hadn't been so small, he might have been able to do

something, but he was afraid that he would injure the girl by accident.

He was thrown down on the cot, and Sarno kept his weight on Pete's chest

while his hands were tied to the top of the cot. Then his feet were

separated as far as they could be with the manacles on and tied to the

bottom. His pants were roughly pulled down, then his shirt was yanked up

over his head.

 

"Bridy, you know what to do." Lorra said as Sarno moved to stand behind

her.

 

Pete had no intention of cooperating, but his body had a different plan.

When Bridy started stroking him with her hands, he struggled to keep

from responding. Then she put her mouth to work, and it was a lost

cause. His treacherous body refused to listen to his mind.

 

They weren't satisfied with Bridy using him just once. Only after she

had used his body for a second time did they let her leave. Lorra came

over and stared down at Pete.

 

"Next time, I suggest you do as you're told. Since you are still new

here, I won't have you punished this time. You won't be so lucky the

next time."

 

Pete turned his head away from her, unable to look at the witnesses to

this ultimate humiliation.

 

"Are you enjoying my elixir?" Lorra asked. "I heard that you had to be

forced to drink it last night. You *will* stop these rebellious acts,

Pete. In just a few days, you will understand your place here - I

promise you that."

 

Pete almost shivered at her words. He knew he wouldn't like whatever was

coming.

 

"Leave him tied here until dinner," Lorra ordered. "And if refuses to

drink the elixir again tonight, give him ten lashes to remind him of his

place."

 

"Yes, mistress." Sarno sounded like he was already looking forward to

it, and Pete decided he wouldn't give the gorilla the opportunity. He'd

drink their elixir - which was a totally inappropriate name for it -

without protest tonight.  Some battles couldn't be won by outright

rebellion.

 

She and Sarno left Pete alone. Tied down, there was little he could do

in the intervening hours, but replay the events in his mind, and wallow

in the shame and disgust he felt.

 

*****

 

"This is robbery!" Galen protested, waving his crutch at Prefect

Cronius. "There I was, injured and in pain. I sent my servant to fetch

water and he was *stolen*! Now you tell me he's been sold! What kind of

outdated laws do you have around here? This would never happen in

Central City. Why, when I get back there, you can be assured that I will

make a full report to the council."

 

The prefect waved his hands in entreaty. "That won't be necessary. I'm

sure we can come to an... amicable solution to this mess. Ah, Hebron,

there you are. Come in. Come in."

 

The gorilla soldier entered the room, glaring at Alan who was standing

behind Galen's chair. "You wanted to see me, Prefect?" His tone was less

than polite.

 

"Yes, the human you brought in a few day's ago... umm... Pate?" He

looked over at Galen.

 

"Pete."

 

"Yes, of course, Pete. What did the human tell you when you found him?"

 

"What every human says - that they were sent on some errand for their

owner. I didn't pay any attention. He wasn't branded so I brought him

here and sold him."

 

"Unfortunately, Zuma," the prefect pointed to Galen, "owns the human.

He's from Central City and they have different laws there. I'm afraid

you will have to give back the money you made on the human."

 

"Why? I followed the rules!"

 

"You should have investigated further. Zuma was injured and could have

used your help, but you were too interested in making money."

 

Alan had been watching the discussion, but now leaned over and whispered

in Galen's ear.

 

"Yes, yes," the chimp said. "You are quite right. Hebron, it's obvious

that you are a credit to your squad. It's not often that you see a

gorilla with such integrity in following the rules. I must mention your

name to Urko the next time I see him."

 

"You know Urko?" Hebron's eyes almost bulged out.

 

"Oh yes. We've had many discussions. I'll be sure to mention you and

your generosity in this matter once I get back to Central City. I'm sure

you can expect a promotion soon after."

 

Hebron's head bobbed up and down in his eagerness. "Of course. Of

course. If I had known the human wasn't lying, I would have come to your

aid immediately."

 

"I'm sure you would have. And of course you were right in doubting a

human's word. There was no way you could have known he was telling the

truth for a change. They just can't be trusted."

 

"Yes, I've always said that," Hebron said as he passed over a small

pouch. "Here is what Jako paid me, but Mistress Lorra paid more than

that. Jako had to get paid as well."

 

"I've already convinced Jako to part with his fee," the prefect said.

"Now we just need to convince Mistress Lorra to sell the human back to

Zuma."

 

"Oh, I hope so," Galen said. "I've spent so much time training Pete. I'd

hate to have to start all over."

 

"I understand," the prefect said, nodding his head in agreement. "Thank

you, Hebron. That will be all."

 

The gorilla nodded his head, then left the room.

 

The prefect stood up and walked over to the window. "It will be dark

before we can get to Mistress Lorra's farm. Maybe we should go in the

morning."

 

"Oh, I'd like to go right now," Galen insisted. "I just want to see that

my servant is in good health as soon as possible."

 

"Very well, I will have two horses brought around - you can ride, can't

you?" he asked Galen as he paused at the door.

 

"Of course."

 

Alan almost sighed. It looked like he was going to have to trot along

behind the horses, again. But it was worth it if they could get to Pete

tonight.

 

A short time later, they headed out of the village. It took several

hours before they pulled up in front of a set of pillars. In the

distance Alan could see a house.

 

"That is Mistress Lorra's house," Cornius said. "Are you sure you don't

want me to introduce you?"

 

As they had rode along, Galen had managed to convince the prefect that

he shouldn't get involved. "No, we can manage just fine from here." The

chimp got off his horse and handed the reins back to Cornius. "Thank you

for the loan of a horse, and for your help in this... untidy mess."

 

"It was a pleasure to meet someone from Central City. We seldom get such

cultured visitors out here." With a final wave, Cornius headed back to

the village.

 

"So, what do we do now?" Galen asked. "Should we try to buy Pete back?

Or are we going to try breaking him out?"

 

Alan looked around. He couldn't see much in the dark, but the place

looked very large. He wouldn't have a clue as to where to start looking.

"Let's start with the direct approach first. If this Lorra is willing to

sell Pete it would be much better. We can always go for the breakout if

that doesn't work. In fact, you may even be able to charm her out of

Pete without losing the money either."

 

Galen preened. "That is a possibility," he announced seriously.

 

Alan rolled his eyes. "Let's go."

 

They walked up to what had to be the main house. Galen signaled for Alan

to stay back as he knocked on the door. A female human opened the door,

and the chimp asked to see Mistress Lorra. She waved Galen inside, then

shut the door, leaving Alan outside to wait. It wasn't the best

solution, but he didn't have much choice.

 

Galen was shown into a room where a female chimp was sitting at a table,

eating dinner.

 

"You *cannot* be Mistress Lorra," Galen insisted. "You are too beautiful

to be so smart!"

 

A coy look crossed Lorra's face. "Yes, I am Lorra, and you are?"

 

"Allow me to introduce myself," Galen said with a bow. "I am Zuma, from

Central City. I have been travelling for a long time, but I come to you

with a sad tale."

 

"Please, sit down. May I offer you some dinner? Then you can tell me

your story."

 

"That would be wonderful. My servant is waiting outside, would you have

something he could have - an apple, maybe some bread. He doesn't need

anything fancy."

 

"Of course." Lorra waved over the young woman and gave her some low-

voiced orders. Galen took the seat across the table, and a few minutes

later the woman was back with a bowl of vegetable soup, and some more

warm bread. The chimp took a sip of the soup, then sighed.

 

"This is wonderful. I had given up the hope of finding a well-cooked

meal this far from Central City. And to have such beautiful company is a

bonus that I would never have dreamed of."

 

"You said you had a sad tale to tell me."

 

"Yes, a few days ago, I fell and hurt my ankle very badly. I sent one of

my servants back for some water, and some gorilla of low intellect

decided to grab him. Instead of coming back and assisting me, he took my

servant and sold him. It's taken me this long to recover and track down

what happened to him. I believe that you have bought my servant, and I'd

like to buy him back."

 

"Ah... you must be talking about Pete. Yes, I bought him a few days ago.

I felt he would be a good worker."

 

"Yes, he would be - and I knew you must be intelligent to pick that up

about him. But I've spent so much time training him that I would hate to

start over again. I'm sure you can understand."

 

"Of course, but you must understand that it isn't often that I can get

such a deal on a human like Pete. I doubt I could find another of his

quality for the same price. But enough business talk, tell me about

Central City and your life there." She gave him another coy smile.

 

Galen dug out memories of Central City and set out to entertain Lorra.

As they chatted and enjoyed their meal, he tried to figure out which

method to use to convince her to sell Pete. If he tried to portray him

as a wonderful servant, she might be tempted to keep him. But if he made

Pete out as a problem, she would probably wonder why he wanted him back.

 

Either way, he had a feeling that she wouldn't let Pete go easily. And

he didn't have any other money to offer her a profit. They might have to

come up with a plan to break Pete out instead.

 

"Let's take a walk in the garden," Lorra suggested, rising to her feet.

She picked up her wine goblet, and led the way over to a set of open

doors. Outside, Galen found himself in a beautiful garden, lush and

heavily scented with flowers. It reminded him of his mother's garden.

 

"This is beautiful," he admitted, "but it's nothing compared to your

beauty."

 

Lorra giggled. "You *are* a smooth-talker. I could easily lose my head

over you." She took a few steps forward, then turned to face Galen.

"There is another option to our deadlock over the human. We could

become.... partners."

 

"Dear lady, I would love nothing better." Galen knew he had to think

quickly. He didn't want to turn her down flat, but he just couldn't

bring himself to give her false hopes. "But I'll be honest - I'm not

ready to settle down yet. I want to travel, to see things. Maybe on my

way back..."

 

"Such a shame. I think we could have accomplished great things

together." Lorra sighed.

 

"If I must lose you, at least give me the small consolation of having my

servant with me."

 

"Well, there's a slight problem."

 

"Has he been injured?" Galen asked quickly, sudden worry for his friend

washing through him.

 

"No, but I keep my humans in line by using a special drink - my elixir -

which is made up of special herbs and plants. The recipe for it has been

passed down in our families for generations. Once humans have started

drinking it, it makes them quite happy with their life here. However, if

they should miss their nightly dose... well, it can lead to extreme

pain, and even death. I'm afraid that Pete can never leave here."

 

Galen could only stare at Lorra, unable to think of anything to say. How

could she dare to this to one of his friends! "Are you sure?" Maybe Pete

was different - he came from a different time, after all.

 

"Well, there is only one hope. Normally, I would wait at least a week

before letting them feel the pain involved with missing the drink, and

Pete hasn't had that much yet. Maybe he could recover, but I wouldn't

count on it."

 

"Can I see him? I'd like to let him make the decision."

 

"You'd let a *human* make that kind of decision?"

 

"It affects his life, he should have some say in it."

 

"You are a very unusual ape, Zuma. Very well. I will take you to him."

 

"I'd like my other servant to come with me, too. He can take care of

Pete if necessary."

 

"Of course." Lorra led the way around to the front of the house. Galen

signaled to Alan, then they followed her over to one of the large

buildings. He wished he had time to tell Alan about what he'd learned,

but he couldn't do it in front of Lorra.

 

Alan spotted Pete first in the large room. He hurried over to the cot

where he was sitting, studying his hands.

 

"Pete?" Alan said, unable to believe Pete hadn't noticed them arriving.

 

His friend looked up, then smiled. "Hey, Alan. 'Bout time." Pete

giggled. "Time. That's funny." He started to laugh, collapsing back onto

the cot.

 

"What's wrong with him?" Alan asked, looking over his shoulder at the

two chimps.

 

"He'll be fine in the morning," Lorra said, looking affronted at having

a human ask her a question.

 

"He's obviously in no shape to understand what could happen," Galen

said. "Is there someplace we can stay until the morning?"

 

"One of my guards will be gone for a few days. You can use his house.

Your other servant can stay here. There is an empty cot he can use."

 

"I'd prefer to have both of them with me, if you don't mind."

 

Lorra shrugged. "The house isn't very big, but if you want to share it

with humans, that's your choice. I'll send one of the guards down to

show you the way, and help move Pete."

 

Galen had a feeling that he'd gone down a notch in Lorra's eyes by

insisting that Alan and Pete be able to share the house with him, but he

didn't care.

 

A short time later a gorilla showed up. He unlocked the manacles around

Pete's ankles, then picked up the human, tossing him over his shoulder.

The astronaut just giggled as he hung upside down. Then the gorilla took

them to a small house.

 

There was only one bed, and once the gorilla was gone, Alan helped Pete

over to it. The astronaut was still giggling, but he stretched out on

the bed at Alan's urging. "What's going on, Galen?" he demanded. "What

have they done to Pete?"

 

Galen quickly explained. "Lorra said if Pete didn't keep getting this

elixir of hers, that he would die! What are we going to do?"

 

"I don't know. It sounds like some kind of addictive drug, and he's

certainly acting like he's been drugged right now. We'll have to wait

until it wears off. That probably won't be till morning." Alan tried to

pace around the room, but there wasn't much room. The bed, a small table

and two chairs took up the majority of the floor space. "We'd better

keep an eye on him tonight. I don't want him to wander off in this

condition. Why don't you get some sleep first, Galen? I'll wake you up

later to take your turn."

 

"All right, Alan." The chimp took another look at Pete, before going

over and stretching out in front of the fireplace.

 

*****

 

Pete gave a slight moan as he moved his head around. As usual, he had a

pounding headache. He kept his eyes closed, hoping it would subside

before he had to get up. He wished he could go back to sleep. He'd had a

dream last night that Alan and Galen had found him. It would be nice to

dream about that some more. But any moment now, John would be shaking

his shoulder, ordering him to get up.

 

Yes, there was the hand, now. But it wasn't shaking him - it was just

resting on his shoulder like they were old friends.

 

"Pete, are you all right?"

 

Funny, John's voice sounded a lot like Galen. Pete didn't want to open

his eyes - if he did, the dream would go away.

 

"What's going on, Galen?"

 

Okay, he was definitely still dreaming. There was no way Alan could be

here.

 

"Pete moaned, and I thought he was waking up. I guess I was wrong. I'm

sorry I woke you."

 

"That's all right, Galen."

 

Pete didn't want to hope, but he had to know. Slowly, he opened his

eyes, expecting to see the other slaves getting ready to start work.

Instead, he saw his two friends. "Alan? Galen? Is this real, or am I

still dreaming?" He tried to sit up, then collapsed back with a moan as

his headache flared up.

 

A warm hand rested on his shoulder. "What's wrong, Pete?"

 

"Just a headache - like a bad hangover." He managed to open his eyes

again, and stared up into the concerned faces of his friends. "This

isn't a dream, right?"

 

"Now, I thought you only dreamed about beautiful women," Alan teased

him. "I guess I was wrong."

 

"That's right. There's no way I'd ever dream up the two of you," Pete

shot back. For the first time, he realized that he couldn't feel the

manacles around his ankles any more. His friends had been busy. He

reached up and grasped Alan's hand where it still rested on his

shoulder. "I'm glad you found me."

 

"So are we, but we're not out of this yet."

 

"Why? Are you prisoners too?" Pete bolted upright. "We've got to get

away from here!"

 

"Take it easy, Pete. We're not prisoners, and Lorra is willing to sell

you back to us, but there's a small problem. I don't know whether you

realize it or not, but she's been drugging you."

 

"I know. She drugs all of her slaves, and refusal is not an option. That

way she knows that no one will try to escape."

 

"It's worse than that. It's addictive, and going without the drug may

kill you."

 

Pete stared at his friends, not wanting to believe what he was hearing.

"So, my only two choices are to keep taking this drug for the rest of my

life or dying?"

 

"We don't know for sure whether you would die," Alan pointed out. "You

haven't been taking the drug for that long - it might not be that bad.

Either way, it's your choice, and we'll back you up whichever way you

want to go."

 

"I'd never be able to leave here. Even if she told us what she was using

to drug me, there'd be no guarantee that we'd be able to find or make it

once we left here. And if I got captured by Urko or his soldiers again,

I doubt they'd let me take my nightly dose."

 

"Then we'll stay here with you."

 

That simple statement from Alan, accompanied by Galen's nodding head,

almost brought tears to Pete's eyes. What had he ever done to deserve

such friends?

 

"I need some time to think about this," he said, rising to his feet. He

moved away from his friends, going over to the fireplace to stir up the

coals into a new blaze.

 

"Just remember you're not alone in this," Alan pointed out. He turned to

the chimp. "Galen, maybe you could go charm some food out of your new

friend. Breakfast would be nice."

 

"All right. I'll see what I can do." Galen left on his quest, leaving

the two astronauts alone.

 

Alan studied Pete's back. "Do you want to talk about it?" he finally

asked.

 

"Nothing to talk about. I just need to figure out what to do."

 

"Maybe talking through your options will help make the decision easier."

 

Pete jumped to his feet. "Fine," he yelled. "Here are my options. One -

I could die. Two - I have to spend the rest of my life here knowing that

each night I'll be drugged out of my mind. And if I'm *really* selfish,

I can make you and Galen stay here with me - make you give up your dream

of getting back home again. Are you satisfied?" Breathing hard, he

stared at his friend, then almost ran out of the house.

 

Once outside, Pete looked around frantically. Ashamed of his outburst,

he just wanted to find someplace where he could be alone for a while. He

scrambled down the hill behind the house, heading for the river. No one

else should be there at this time of the day. Finding a good spot, he

settled in to watch and listen to the river, and to think.

 

*****

 

Galen returned to the house, his arms laden with food, only to find Alan

there alone. "Where is Pete?"

 

"He needs some time alone. He's got a hard decision to make."

 

"I paid Lorra the money. No matter what, she doesn't own Pete any more. 

She said we could stay for as long as we like - although you and Pete

would be expected to do your share of work. And she'll continue to

provide her concoction to Pete if that is what he decides to do. She's

not willing to share how she makes it though. I think she's afraid that

we might use that information to steal her slaves."

 

"Even if I knew what was in it, I doubt I could come up with an

antidote. Unfortunately, only Pete can make this decision. And I'm

afraid he's too busy thinking about how it will affect us to think of

himself."

 

"Then maybe you should go talk to him."

 

"Not yet. I'll give him a little more time alone, then I'll take him

something to eat." Alan looked around the room. "Maybe I'll go talk to

Lorra's slaves instead."

 

*****

 

Pete didn't have to turn around when he heard someone approaching. He

just knew it would be Alan.

 

"I brought you some breakfast," Alan said, sitting down next to Pete and

handing over a hunk of bread and cheese.

 

"Thanks." Pete slowly started to eat. "Sorry about yelling at you."

 

"That's all right. You had good reason." Alan took a deep breath then

said, "I talked to a guy named John - asked him about this elixir they

take and what happens when they don't get it. Some people do die, but

they are usually the older ones. My guess would be that their heart

fails due to the stress. Normally, I wouldn't think that going through

withdrawal would kill someone."

 

"So, there's a good chance that I'll survive this?"

 

Alan sighed again. "I wish I could give you a guarantee on that. With

all the strange mutations that have happened to plants, it's hard to

say. And they usually only let the person suffer for a few hours before

they give him the drink again - just long enough for it to be a

punishment. No one has ever tried to stop taking the drug permanently.

To make it even worse, the humans have a shorter life span - probably

caused by taking the elixir."

 

Pete stared out into the distance, unwilling to look at his friend. "So,

what am I looking at?"

 

"It varies - let's just say it's going to hurt."

 

Pete thought about pushing Alan for more information, but did he really

want to know? He already knew it would be bad, otherwise they wouldn't

use it as a punishment. Would knowing what would happen make it easier

or harder?

 

"Maybe if we just reduce the amount of juice you have each night,

instead of going cold turkey would work better," Alan suggested.

 

"Or maybe it will just keep me addicted."

 

"Maybe." Alan fidgeted slightly. "Did they treat you all right?" he

finally blurted out.

 

Pete reviewed all the humiliations he'd been made to suffer during the

last few days. Did he want Alan to know about that? "Just the usual," he

announced. "They knocked me around some, but that's about it."

 

"That's good... I was worried..."

 

Pete just nodded. He would have worried if he'd been in Alan's place,

too.

 

"By the way, you're a free man again. We bought you back from Lorra.

Even if we stay, you won't belong to her."

 

Pete sighed. "How did you manage that? Last I heard, we didn't have any

money."

 

Alan leaned back and recounted Galen's encounter with the prefect and

Hebron. "He's turned into quite a con man. Must be your influence."

 

Pete laughed at that. "I wish I could have seen that."

 

"He's going by the name Zuma - be sure you don't use his real name when

someone else can hear you."

 

Pete stared at his friend. "You do remember the last time he called

himself Zuma, don't you? We almost got eaten by a shark!"

 

"I don't see any sharks in that river, so I think we're safe." He

reached over and slapped Pete's shoulder lightly.

 

Pete tried to hide the sudden burst of pain. Alan had managed to hit him

right over the brand. He knew he was unsuccessful when his friend jumped

to his feet.

 

"What's wrong, Pete?" Alan asked, worry evident in his tone. "They did

hurt you, didn't they? What aren't you telling me? Did they beat you?"

 

Pete knew he wouldn't be able to hide it forever. He stripped off his

shirt and showed his back to Alan. "They branded me," he said bitterly.

"Like I was an animal."

 

Alan lightly touched the mark. "It's not too big. I'm sure plastic

surgery would take care of it once we get home."

 

Pete had to admit he hadn't thought of that option. Maybe he wouldn't

have to live with a brand for the rest of his life after all - assuming

he had a life to live. He sighed.

 

He knew he didn't want to remain here for the rest of his life - even if

he was no longer owned by Lorra. He wanted his freedom back. Freedom to

come and go as he pleased. Freedom to choose who he made love to.

Freedom from drug addiction. Freedom to grow old.

 

Besides, he couldn't ask Alan to give up his dream of returning to his

family.

 

"I have to try, Alan."

 

His friend understood immediately. He sat down and put his arm around

Pete's shoulders. "I had a feeling you would. No matter what, I'll be

there with you."

 

"You ever been through this?"

 

"No."

 

"It could get bad."

 

"It doesn't matter. I won't leave you alone."

 

It was a comforting thought. Pete knew he was probably in for a rough

time, but knowing that his friend would be with him made it seem less

frightening.

 

Silence reigned again. It was Alan who broke it again. "How about we go

earn our keep? It will keep our mind off of tonight."

 

Pete stood up. "You're right. Maybe we could set up an irrigation system

for their home garden. It would sure be easier than lugging water pails

back and forth."

 

They walked back to the main area, discussing options. It was good to

spend the day building something to make lives easier - ape or human -

but Pete couldn't shake the feeling of pending doom.

 

*****

 

Lorra came to the house after dinner, carrying a mug in her hand. "I

brought Pete his elixir," she said.

 

"We won't need it," Galen replied, holding up his hands in refusal.

"Pete is going to quit... uh... cold chicken."

 

"That's cold turkey," Alan pointed out.

 

Lorra shook her head. "I don't understand..." She held out the mug

again. "You might change your mind later. Humans are weak creatures.

Pete will probably be begging for this in a few hours."

 

"You'd better take it," Pete said. "Just in case..."

 

Galen finally took the mug from Lorra's hand.

 

"You'll need these too." Lorra put a hand into her pocket and pulled out

some leather strips. "You should tie the human down to prevent him from

hurting himself or you. And I'll expect you to fix any damage the human

does. Sometimes they can get quite violent." She looked over at the two

humans. "If you'd prefer, you could spend the evening with me. Let your

humans take care of themselves."

 

"Thank you for the offer, but I can't. I care about these humans, and I

want to be here to help them through this."

 

Lorra shook her head again. "You are a strange ape, Zuma. If you change

your mind, you know where to find me." With those words, she left the

house.

 

Pete sighed and walked over to the bed. "Let's get this over with," he

said as he stretched out, face up.

 

"We're not going to tie you down, Pete," Alan stated emphatically.

"Unless it's absolutely necessary."

 

Pete sat back up, but didn't look at his friends. "Just don't let me

hurt anyone. Okay?" He took a deep breath. "So what's first on the

symptom list?"

 

"I'll let you tell us," Alan said. "Try relaxing, Pete. It's going to be

a long night."

 

Several hours later, Alan watched as his friend paced around the room.

They'd all given up on any pretense of it being a normal evening. There

was only so much firewood to be brought in, and Galen had refilled the

water pail at least three times.

 

For a while they'd managed to keep their minds off the upcoming ordeal

by reviewing the rough map they were following. But that had quickly

lost Pete's attention. Alan had tried to get his friend interested in a

game of checkers. Not that long ago he'd drawn out the pattern of a

checkerboard on a piece of leather. Both he and Pete had whittled out

checkers, but tonight Pete didn't have the patience to sit still long

enough to play a game.

 

"So, how long does it take for the symptoms to start?" Pete asked as he

glanced over at the mug of elixir sitting on the fireplace mantle. He

licked his lips lightly as if he could almost taste the drink.

 

Alan knew the symptoms had already started, but he wasn't about to point

that out. Pete could barely sit still - which wasn't all that unusual,

but this was well beyond normal for him. He was also sweating more than

usual although the room wasn't all that warm.

 

Suddenly, Pete turned to confront Galen who was eating some sunflower

seeds. They were one of his favorite treats. "Will you stop that! It's

driving me crazy!"

 

Galen looked over at Alan who shook his head. He knew irritability was

yet another symptom of withdrawal. He'd have to talk to the chimp later

and explain that anything Pete said or did would have to be overlooked.

 

"Galen... I'm sorry," Pete apologized almost immediately. "I didn't mean

to yell..." He looked around frantically. "I've got to get some air!"

 

Alan followed his friend outside. It had cooled off considerably since

dinner, but it was still comfortable. The stars twinkled overhead, but

the moon was just a bare sliver in the sky, providing little light.

 

"I'm a big boy," Pete snapped. "I don't need a babysitter."

 

"Yes, you do. Remember - you asked us to make sure that you didn't hurt

anyone. If that means following you everywhere, and making you angry, so

be it."

 

Pete took a deep shuddering breath. "It's started - hasn't it?"

 

"Yes - irritability, nervousness, sweating - they're all symptoms of

withdrawal."

 

"How about a stomach that feels all knotted up and a headache?"

 

"Yes." Sometimes the simplest answers said it all.

 

Maybe it was the darkness that surrounded them, or maybe Pete was just

plain afraid that caused him to open up.

 

"I don't want to die," he said in a quavering tone.

 

Alan wrapped his arms around his friend in the same way he would have

done to his son. "You *aren't* going to die!" he stated emphatically. "I

won't let you! Do you hear me?"

 

Pete gave a small chuckle. "Yes, sir!" He probably would have saluted if

his arms had been free.

 

"Besides, who's going to tease Galen with twentieth century idioms if

you aren't around?"

 

"That's true. Someone's got to see to his education."

 

"That's right. I'm definitely not up to that challenge, so you'd better

hang around."

 

Since Pete didn't try to move away, Alan kept his arms tightly around

his friend, hoping it was providing some kind of comfort. Suddenly, Pete

jerked away, and clutched at his stomach with a moan. Alan knew they

were about to go into the next phase of withdrawal, and this wouldn't be

as easy as the first phase.

 

"Oh, boy, that hurt," Pete said as he finally managed to straighten up.

A few seconds later, he doubled over again, then fell to his knees and

started vomiting.

 

There was little Alan could do, but lightly rub Pete's back as spasm

after spasm wracked his friend's body. Several times, he'd thought it

was over, then it would start again. Eventually, Pete collapsed to the

ground, obviously too weak to support himself.

 

"Is he all right?"

 

Alan looked up, realizing that Galen must have come outside without him

realizing it.

 

"Just exhausted. Could you bring some water out?"

 

The chimp hurried back into the house, and brought back the water bucket

and a cloth. Alan dipped the cloth in the water, then lightly washed

Pete's face, then his hands and arms.

 

"Do you think you can stand?" Alan asked when he'd completed his task.

 

"Give me a few more minutes," Pete said.

 

"All right. Just let me know when you think you're ready."

 

Another ten minutes passed before Pete struggled to sit up. He sat there

for a few minutes more, then said, "Okay. Let's do it."

 

Alan helped Pete to his feet, and kept one arm around his waist while he

brought Pete's arm around his shoulders. Galen quickly took the other

side and they half-carried him back inside and to the bed. They helped

him sit down on the edge, then Alan removed Pete's shirt.

 

Pete didn't protest as Alan pushed him back on the bed, then lifted his

friend's feet from the floor and placed them on the bed. Alan rinsed his

cloth out in the water, and bathed Pete's face again. Another rinsing,

then he wiped down his friend's chest and arms.

 

"Feels good," Pete murmured.

 

"Try to get some sleep while you can," Alan suggested. He doubted it

would last long, but maybe it would help.

 

Pete's eyes slowly drifted shut, and he didn't move when Galen brought

over a blanket and carefully covered him up.

 

The respite didn't last long. Pete woke up with a low moan, and clutched

at his stomach, trying to curl up in a ball. Alan was at his side almost

immediately.

 

"Take it easy, Pete. Try breathing deeply. Maybe it will help."

 

His friend tried to follow instructions, but moaned again. Sweat broke

out on his face, and Galen gently wiped it away with a cloth. There was

little they could do as Pete's pain escalated. They could only watch as

he writhed in agony.

 

Pete tried to stay silent, clenching his teeth against the rising pain.

It felt like he'd swallowed ground glass, and it was churning around in

his stomach. His head felt like it had ballooned up to twice its size

and was ready to explode. Vaguely he was aware of Galen wiping the sweat

from his face, and Alan holding his hand, but the pain just seemed to

consume him, driving everything else into the background.

 

At some point, they must have shifted around. The next time Pete

surfaced, he found Alan's arms wrapped tightly around him, and he was

leaning back against his friend's chest. For a brief moment he felt

safe, then the pain was back.

 

Pete had no idea how long he'd been wracked by pain, but it seemed like

an eternity. "Alan, I can't take it anymore," he forced out. "I've got

to have the elixir."

 

Alan's arms tightened around him. "No, Pete, you're doing fine."

 

He shook his head. "Please! Just a little bit! I need it."

 

"No, you don't. You'll only have to go through this again."

 

Pete struggled against the arms holding him. Another wave of pain shot

through his body, and he cried out in agony. "Please!" he moaned again.

He couldn't believe his friends were making him suffer when the solution

was so close.

 

Once the pain had abated slightly, Pete struggled harder. If Alan and

Galen wouldn't get the drink for him, he'd get it himself. With strength

born of desperation, he fought the hands that kept him from his

salvation. Dimly, he heard voices calling his name, but he ignored them.

 

Finally, he gained his feet, and heading for the beckoning mug. Before

he got there, two heavy weights crashed into him, sending him tumbling

to the floor. Still he kept on, dragging the weights along with him.

 

He was almost there, but he couldn't stand up. He couldn't breathe.

Something was wrapped around his throat, and he struggled against it.

Slowly, the room faded away.

 

Alan cautiously released his hold around Pete's neck as he felt his

friend relax. When the other man made no move, he checked to make sure

Pete was still breathing, giving a huge sigh of relief when he felt the

movement of his friend's chest. He'd had to choke Pete until he passed

out, and for a moment he'd been afraid that maybe he'd gone too far.

 

"Help me get him back to bed while he's still unconscious," he said,

rising to his feet. He rubbed his ribcage where one of Pete's elbows had

smashed into it.

 

Galen rose from his place as well. He'd been holding down Pete's legs in

their desperate bid to keep Pete from the elixir. Together, they picked

up the astronaut and carried him back to the bed.

 

"We're going to have to tie him down," Alan said. He hated to do it, but

they couldn't risk another outburst from Pete. It had taken both of them

to stop him this time. He glanced over at the chimp just in time to see

him rub one of his arms with a grimace. "Did he hurt you?"

 

"I will be all right," Galen said. "Maybe we should give him the elixir

if that's what he wants."

 

Alan finished securing Pete's wrists and feet to the bed. "He doesn't

know what he's doing," he explained. "If we let him drink that stuff,

we'll be doing this again tomorrow night. And he'll beg for the drink

again. And we'll do it all over again the night after that. The only

other option is for Pete to remain here forever."

 

"I just didn't like seeing him beg like that."

 

"Neither did I." It had made Alan feel like a monster even while he knew

he was doing the best thing for Pete. "You don't have to stay if you

don't want to." With Pete restrained, there wasn't any reason for both

of them to be put through this.

 

"Of course I'll stay. He's my friend, too."

 

Alan sighed, and scrubbed at his face. "I know that, Galen. I wasn't

trying to say that you weren't. I just thought that there was no reason

for both of us to go through this."

 

"And there's no reason for only one of us to go through this," Galen

stated in a firm tone. "We need to help each other."

 

"All right." Alan smiled tiredly at the chimp. It had been a long night,

and there were still several hours before dawn. How much longer would

this go on?

 

A sudden commotion from the bed drew their attention back to Pete.

 

"Let me go, you bastards!" he yelled, fighting against his bindings. "I

thought you were my friends!"

 

Alan sat down on the edge of the bed. "We *are* your friends - that's

why we had to tie you down."

 

Pete snarled as he struggled even more. "Let me go!"

 

Galen reached out to wipe Pete's face with a cloth. Without warning, the

astronaut's eyes grew wider, and fear filled them. He shrunk back as

much as he could from the chimp's touch.

 

"No! Don't touch me! I won't tell you who helped us!"

 

Galen looked over at Alan in confusion.

 

"I don't know, Galen," he said, totally confused as well. It almost

sounded like Pete was having a flashback to his time with Wanda. He

turned back to Pete, and forced his friend to look at him. "It's only

Galen. He's not going to hurt you."

 

Pete's eyes shifted back to the chimp, then he seemed to relax. "Galen?"

he asked in a weak tone.

 

"Yes, Pete." The chimp reached out again, and this time Pete didn't pull

away. He sighed, and closed his eyes as the cool cloth drifted across

his face.

 

Finally, he opened them back up and looked at Alan. He tugged at his

wrist restraints lightly, then asked, "Do I want to know what's been

happening?"

 

Alan smiled, glad that sanity seemed to have returned to his friend.

"Not really. How are you feeling?"

 

"Like I've been put through a wringer. Want to untie me?"

 

Alan almost did, then decided against it. "Let's give it a little more

time. Why don't you try to get some sleep?"

 

Pete nodded, and closed his eyes.

 

"We'd better try to get some sleep, too, Galen. I don't know how long

this will last."

 

"You mean it isn't over?" Galen looked disappointed.

 

"I hope so, but I don't know."

 

They took turns visiting the outhouse before settling down on the floor,

curled up in blankets. Unfortunately, they didn't get much rest before a

scream from the bed brought them both upright.

 

"Get them off of me! Get them off of me!" Pete screamed, sounding almost

hysterical, tugging at the restraints so hard that they began to cut

into his skin.

 

"Calm down, Pete," Alan said, holding down his friend's shoulders in an

attempt to keep him from hurting himself. "There's nothing on you."

 

"I can feel them crawling all over me!" Pete screamed. "Get them off of

me!"

 

Galen's hands brushed lightly over Pete's arms and chest, then he said,

"I've gotten them all off, Pete. They're all gone."

 

Slowly, Pete started to relax. "They're gone?"

 

"Yes, they're all gone."

 

With a moan, Pete tried to curl up again. "It hurts, Alan. Make it

stop."

 

"It will be over soon." Alan could only hope that was the truth. With

Pete tied down, he couldn't even hold his friend. He felt totally

helpless.

 

This bout didn't last as long as the first one, and it didn't seem to be

as severe. Alan hoped they were through the worst of it, but he knew it

could just be that as Pete grew weaker, he couldn't struggle against the

pain as much.

 

When his friend finally fell back into an uneasy sleep, Alan stood up

and stretched. He opened the door and looked outside. The sun was just

starting to come up, and the morning temperature was still chilly. He

went back to the water pail and splashed some water on his face.

 

Galen had already curled back up in his blankets, but Alan couldn't see

the sense in that. The brief rest he'd managed between spells had only

made him feel more tired. He didn't think he'd manage to get enough

sleep this time either.

 

A movement outside the door caught his eye, and he went outside to see

what it was. He saw Lorra walking over from the main house carrying a

basket. She handed it to him as soon as she got close enough.

 

"I've brought you some breakfast," she said. "How is Pete?"

 

"He's still alive - as if you care." Alan knew he was risking punishment

by talking to an ape that way, but he no longer cared after the night

they'd been through.

 

"Of course I care about my humans! Why, I seldom have them whipped, they

have a roof over their heads, and plenty of food to eat."

 

"Pete's not *your* human anymore. As for the rest of them, you just keep

them drugged and dependent on you. And when they don't behave, you take

that drug away and put them through a nightmare of pain."

 

"It keeps them in line, but I don't have to explain myself to a

*human*." With that, she turned and walked off in a huff.

 

Alan shook his head, then went back inside with the basket. He set it

down on the table, but didn't look to see what she'd brought. He wasn't

hungry yet, and Galen was sleeping.

 

He sank down on one of the chairs by the table, resting his head in his

hands. Another moan from the bed had him up and moving across the room

again. This time, Pete didn't seem to wake up. He moved his head around

slightly, then was quiet again.

 

It gave Alan hope. He sat down on the floor with his back against the

bed. He'd just close his eyes for a few minutes...

 

*****

 

"Alan! Hey, Alan, wake up!"

 

With a struggle, Alan pulled himself out of a deep sleep. He looked

around with some confusion. Galen was still sleeping over by the fire,

and there was no one else in the room. Who had called his name?

 

"Alan, will you wake up!"

 

Suddenly, he realized that it was Pete who was calling his name. He

looked over his shoulder at the bed. Sure enough, his friend's eyes were

wide open. He stood up. "What's wrong, Pete?"

 

"I have to go to the bathroom!" Pete said, tugging at the restraints.

 

Alan almost smiled, but managed to keep it hidden somehow. That simple

request almost made the night seem like it had never happened. He

quickly untied Pete, grateful that his friend seemed like himself again.

 

He reached out a hand and helped Pete to his feet. Only quick action on

Alan's part kept his friend from crashing to the floor.

 

"Whoa... Something's wrong with the old legs," Pete said as he clutched

Alan's shoulders to keep upright.

 

"Maybe you should wait for a while," Alan suggested.

 

"Uh... I don't think so," Pete insisted. He finally managed to stand on

his own. "Just help me to the nearest bush. I think I'll have to skip

the outhouse this morning."

 

Alan placed one arm around Pete's waist and helped him outside. Once he

was certain his friend was propped against a tree, he turned away to

give him some privacy. When he was done, Alan helped him back inside and

over to the bed.

 

"So, how are you feeling?" Alan asked as Pete sat down.

 

"Not too great. My head feels like it's going to explode, and my stomach

doesn't want to stay put either." Pete looked down at the restraints on

the bed. "Uh... did I miss something?"

 

"How much of last night do you remember?" Maybe Pete would be lucky

enough to not remember any of it - especially the part where his friend

had to choke him until he was unconscious. The memory of that still made

Alan cringe.

 

Pete thought about it for a moment. "I can remember throwing up... and

lots of pain..." He shuddered at the memory. "And... uh... fighting with

you and Galen? I think?"

 

Alan nodded. "You were desperate to get to the elixir. We just barely

managed to stop you, and after that I thought you would be safer tied

down. I'm sorry, Pete."

 

"Nothing for you to be sorry about. I'm the one who should be sorry. I

know it couldn't have been any easier for you." Pete glanced over at the

mug, still sitting on the mantle. "What's even worse, I can almost taste

the elixir. I still want it, even knowing what it will do to me."

 

"It's probably more psychological than physical need. I'll throw it out

now - I don't think we're going to need it."

 

"No! I want to do it myself," Pete insisted. "I *need* to do it myself.

Just not quite yet."

 

"Okay. It'll wait. Do you feel like eating something?"

 

Pete shook his head, rubbing at his stomach. "I don't think I'd be able

to keep anything down right now." He took a deep breath and pulled his

knees up to his chest. "Oh great, here we go again," he moaned. "Maybe

you should tie me back up."

 

Alan was reluctant, but Galen had managed to keep sleeping through their

talk and he didn't want to disturb his slumber. However, he wouldn't be

able to handle Pete by himself should he freak out again. And the

thought of having to choke Pete into submission again made his own

stomach churn. Still, he couldn't bring himself to do it.

 

"Let's see how bad it gets first," he suggested. He sat down on the bed

next to Pete, and lightly rubbed his back.

 

It only took a half hour before Pete relaxed. "It's better now," he

said, stretching out his legs in front of him.

 

Alan gave a sigh of relief. "I think you're on the road to recovery. Why

don't you try to get some sleep?"

 

"Not tired." Pete glanced over at Galen who was still sound asleep. "Did

you get much sleep last night?"

 

"No, but I'm doing all right." There was no way that he was going to be

able to sleep without knowing that someone was keeping an eye on Pete.

While it appeared that he was getting better, Alan wasn't certain that

his friend wouldn't freak out again. He'd wait until Galen was awake

before he'd try to get some sleep.

 

"Why don't we go outside?" Alan suggested. "Leave Galen to sleep in

peace."

 

Pete slowly rose to his feet. Alan stood by just in case he needed a

hand, but his friend managed on his own. He grabbed the basket that

Lorra had brought earlier, then led Pete outside. He found them a sunny

spot and sat down, wasting no time in opening the basket. Hopefully, he

could get his friend to eat something.

 

Alan bit into an apple, holding out another to Pete who only shook his

head. He finally accepted a muffin and slowly nibbled on it. It was a

start. After finishing off the apple, Alan ate one of the muffins, too.

 

After eating his muffin, Pete stretched out, closing his eyes as he

soaked in the sun. Afraid to follow his example in case he fell asleep,

Alan searched around the area, looking for small pieces of wood that he

could use. After gathering several suitable pieces, he pulled out his

knife and started to whittle. He wasn't sure if his skill was up to the

task, but he was going to try to make a chess set.

 

Alan thought Pete had fallen asleep, but he'd been wrong. His friend

rolled over on his side and propped his head up with one hand.

 

"If I survived without the elixir, could the rest of the humans here do

the same thing?"

 

"I don't know, Pete. You'd only had the drink for a few days, they've

been drinking it all their lives. I suppose it's possible."

 

"We *have* to do something to help them. We can't just leave them like

this."

 

Alan turned to face his friend. "I know how you feel, but we can't help

every human on this planet, Pete. It just isn't possible."

 

Pete rolled back over onto his back. "What if we just stop Lorra from

drugging the children? Eventually, no one would be drugged that way."

 

"If she's drugging the females as well, the babies are probably already

addicted when they're born. They'd be getting some of the drug through

their mother's breast milk. I don't know if an infant could survive

withdrawal. As for the older children, what parent would stand by and

let their child go through withdrawal without giving in - especially if

they don't understand what it means?"

 

Pete sighed. "I just want to help them."

 

"We both do, but in this case, doing nothing may be the best thing for

them." Alan thought about it for a while. "Maybe we could have Galen

talk to Lorra - have her start reducing the amount of the elixir that

they get. Maybe they could slowly withdraw from the drug. It might take

months, but it would be worth a shot - assuming that Lorra is even

willing to try."

 

"I can't see her doing it, but I guess it's worth a shot."

 

*****

 

Pete looked around the small house, making sure they hadn't missed

anything. It had been three days since he'd gone through withdrawal, and

he finally felt capable of moving on. He still struggled with bouts of

nausea and headaches, and he would wake up in the middle of the night in

a cold sweat. But these events were lessening each day.

 

On the mantle, the mug of elixir still sat. He knew what he had to do.

Walking over, he picked it up, looking down into the mixture. Galen had

talked to Lorra, but she had refused to help her slaves escape their

addiction. Even pointing out that the humans might live longer hadn't

been enough to sway her.

 

He knew there wasn't anything he could do to help these people, but it

didn't stop him from wanting to do something. With a sigh, he carried

the mug outside to his waiting friends. While they watched, he emptied

the mug onto the ground. It was quickly soaked up, leaving only a damp

stain to mark its passing. With an angry oath, he threw the mug as far

as he could.

 

He felt better after doing it. Maybe it symbolized his release from the

addictive drug. "Let's go," he said, picking up his backpack.

 

As they headed for the road, Pete caught a glimpse of one of the women.

Suddenly, he realized it was Bridy, and he stopped in his tracks. He

still hadn't told Alan or Galen about that afternoon in the breeding

hut. He could be walking away from his own child - assuming that one

afternoon with her had been fruitful. If he left now, he'd never know

for sure. And could he leave his child to grow up here, knowing that

child would be a drug addict from the moment it was born?

 

But what could he do? Even if she did deliver his child into this world,

then what? Bridy couldn't leave here. Could he take his child away from

his or her mother? Would the baby survive the drug withdrawal? Could he

stand by and watch an innocent child suffer like he had? Besides, how

would he take care of an infant? How would he feed it? Haul a cow around

with them? And what of Urko and his soldiers? It was bad enough being

hunted now - what would it be like if they had a crying infant with

them? The reasons piled up, one on top of the other - logical, sensible.

 

"Is something wrong?" Alan asked, placing one hand on Pete's shoulder.

 

"No." Pete started walking away. Each step carried him a little further

away from his child. He told himself it was the best thing for both of

them.

 

He had his freedom, but his child would never know what that was like.

Would the child even know what he or she was missing?

 

He felt like he was abandoning his child.

 

He could only hope that someday he would be able to forgive himself.

 

The end.