Authors: Melanie Thompson
He smiled. “Not all Enders obey the precepts set by the Elders. The fruit enticed me, and I gave in to temptation. My sin led me here.”
Tamara could have screamed. “What about the other Ender across the table? Has he been here long?”
Joshua's smile seemed as vacuous as Renate's. “No, sister, he is new as well. We have both decided this must be heaven. I have been in the pleasure nests two or three times daily since arriving and I can vouch this to be a wonderful place to spend my life. No hard work. No slaving from sun up to sun down to cut down the trees and clear land. No plowing soil, pulling up scrub growth or digging up stumps all day long. No eating the meager rations given to us by the Elders. I would never go back.”
“So there are no outworlders that have been here longer than you?” There had to be at least one.
Joshua looked around at the assembled and pointed at an outworld woman with green skin. The woman was older, tall and regal. “I believe she's been here the longest.”
G'pearl insinuated herself between Joshua and Tamara. “It is now time to go to your assigned dwellings to sleep.”
To Tamara, this seemed ominous. As though G'pearl did not want her talking to anyone. The outworlders rose and drifted in different directions. Renate rejoined Tamara and they went to their small hut high in the tree top. Renate fell onto her bed. “I am exhausted.” Her shift rode up and Tamara was shocked to see Renate's yonis had grown even larger.
“Did you pleasure with a male or females in the nests?” She asked.
“Both,” Renate said sleepily. “The feeling of being penetrated by the Gelf forked organ while myself penetrating a female is beyond description. I was transported so many times, I am weak.”
Tamara pressed the issue most dominant in her mind. “Renate, there is something coming up called the Offering. We must escape before that happens. None of the outworlders have been here very long. I just can't believe no other outworlders have found them. We can't be the only ones.”
Renate let a long breath out and rolled onto her side facing away from Tamara. “You worry excessively. Go to sleep. I know I am.”
Tamara groaned. She couldn't leave Renate here. They'd been through so much together. She lay back on her leafy bower and closed her eyes. Tomorrow, she would try to speak to the older outworld woman. Until then, she would cease worrying about this until it came to pass, but she would remain vigilant. If the Offering was something dangerous to their livesâand she felt sure it wasâshe would deal with it then. Until that time, she would prepare. She would find a weapon, talk to other outworlders and try to convince them they were in danger.
The next morning, Tamara woke with a feeling of dread lodged in her chest. Had she been lost in a nightmare? She rose and left the hut, leaving Renate snoring softly in her bower. Determined to find the older outworld woman and question her, she followed the stairs around the tree trunk until she reached the gathering place. G'pearl was already there with a host of Gelfs. They were all dressed in red flowers with gold aprons made by weaving the pollen-covered stamens of huge flowers into fabric. G'pearl saw her and gestured for her to join them.
“The day of the Offering has come. When all of our numbers have arrived, we leave.”
Horror filled Tamara's breast. It was almost as though they'd sensed her fear and curiosity and outflanked her. Renate drifted down the stairs and stood beside her. “What's happening?”
“The Offering I was telling you about, it's today.”
Renate yawned. “Did you discover what it is?”
“No, there wasn't time. I think they jumped the day of the Offering to now because they knew I was suspicious.”
Renate laughed. “Now you're being paranoid. I'm sure it's just more pleasuring while they give gifts to their gods.”
The Gelfs hurried the outworlders before them down the side of the tree and into the woods. “They told me Ost is not a god but a real creature who descended from the sky.”
Renate's eyes flew open. “An alien being?”
Tamara nodded as the Gelfs hustled them down well-worn paths that wound through deep woods. “If it's true, it could be anything.”
Renate shuddered. “I hope you are wrong.”
Tamara remained vigilant throughout the entire walk. Every time they turned a corner or crossed a stream, she looked for an opportunity to escape. For the first time, the Gelfs carried weapons; long spears and short knives studded with the green gems. Four had surrounded her and Renate. They were making sure she didn't escape. Her fears grew as they descended into a swampy area. She whispered into Renate's ear. “They're guarding us closely. I've never seen them carry weapons.”
Renate nodded. “All of the outworlders are so guarded. I'm afraid, Tamara.”
Tamara refrained from reminding her she'd tried to warn her. “As am I. Look, the tall female outworlder is also closely guarded. I wonder where she came from.”
“I heard she came off a ship. She's a spacer. She looks as terrified as we do.”
“Yes,” Tamara whispered. “But she looks prepared. The Enders look like they haven't a care in the world and the other ex-slaves like us look just as carefree.”
As they trotted further into the swamp, Tamara inched her way closer to the tall female. Twice she got poked with a spear as one of the Gelfs tried to keep her in line. Eventually, she reached the side of the spacer female and lightly touched her hand. “Are you as afraid as I?” She spoke while staring straight ahead in an effort to keep the Gelf guards unaware.
“I think we're gonna be sacrificed,” the tall woman said. “I got a bad feeling about this.”
“How did they capture you?”
The woman smiled down at her. “I got drunk, ate some of their damn fruit and woke up naked.” She stared at the terrain in front of us. “I'm first mate on the starship Windsong. Or I was. My name is Rook.”
“I'm Tamara,” she whispered.
They exited the swamp and began crossing ground that was hard and glassy. Rook glanced down at Tamara. “This looks like it was rocks melted by extremely high heat.”
Terror had Tamara by the throat. She could barely reply. “Space ship?”
“We need to run. The Gelfs are small. Maybe we can lose them.”
G'pearl prodded her with the tip of the spear. “Stop speaking to the outworld female, Tamara.”
The Gelfs hustled the female spacer to the front of the line away from Tamara as they trudged over more slagged rock, up a short rise where they stopped. It was the edge of a crater. Inside the crater a huge spaceship lay on its side in the center of a lake. Ost must be an alien. The ship was a big tube as long as or longer than a one-hundred-story building and as tall as a fifty-story building. And that's what was visible above ground. A significant part of it was buried in mud and earth thrown up when it crashed. There were no windows. Massive pipes and strange devices decorated the visible parts. At one end, three huge engine exhaust tubes opened up. Black stains on these exhaust ports were evidence of intense heat from acceleration. A ramp led out of the ship close to its slightly pointed nose.
A platform sat in the middle of the lake with a walkway leading from the crashed space ship out to it. What looked like an altar sat in the middle of the platform stained an ominous shade of rusty red.
Tamara wanted to speak to Rook so badly, she risked pushing her way to the front of the group to stand beside her. Luckily, the Gelfs had all bowed and fallen to the ground humming a weird song. Their song grew in volume until it made Tamara's ears hurt and her skin crawl. She touched Rook's hand. “What kind of alien would fly around in a ship that big?”
Rook shook her head. “None I know of. It has to be some old race or one from the very outer rim of explored space.”
“Can you estimate the size of this alien by looking at the ship?”
“Not really. I mean it could be a colonizing ship filled with lots of gear and people. Or, it could hold one huge motherfucker.”
Tamara examined what she could see of the ship. There was a visible exit. The port was open and it looked big enough for a smaller space ship to fit through. “Check out the size of the door.”
“I see it. It might be for loading and unloading an aircraft for use planetside. Or, it might be a cargo loading port.”
Suddenly, all the Gelfs rose from their kneeling positions and began urging the outworld prisoners down a narrow path winding along the inside of the crater. It led to the crater floor and an open space beside the crashed ship. Tamara knelt down and pretended to fumble with her foot as though her sandal had broken. She just knew, once they were at the bottom of that crater, they were doomed.
A Gelf she didn't recognize poked her with a spear. Tamara looked up and smiled. “Broke my sandal strap.”
“Move along or I will stick you.”
Tamara stood up. She towered over the Gelf and he was alone. Rook looked back at her and she made a choice. Gritting her teeth, she grabbed the spear from the Gelf and knocked him onto his back with one powerful kick. “I'm not going down there,” she snarled.
Rook, seeing her rebellion, shoved two Gelfs over the edge of the steep path. They tumbled down the steep side of the crater, rolling and sliding as they fell toward the lake below. Rook took off running back the way she'd come.
“Renate!” Tamara screamed.
Her friend looked up. She shoved the Gelf pointing a spear at her over the crater edge and raced back up the path. One other outworld slave took the opportunity offered and followed. Rook and Renate cleared the top of the crater and ran toward her. The last outworlder, one of the Ender males, was suddenly grabbed by an impossibly long tentacle that shot out of the lake.
Renate screamed, but kept running toward Tamara. When Rook reached her, she grabbed her hand. “Let's get out of here.”
Renate, Rook and Tamara took off across the slick section of blackened rock. A horrible keening noise rose behind them. “Don't look back,” Tamara shouted.
Of course, Renate didn't listen to her. Her screaming was filled with the terror of the insane. Tamara glanced behind and moaned. “Oh shit.”
An enormous creature with ten long tentacles for arms, each one with a hand at the end containing many finely articulated fingers, had crested the edge of the crater. It was the color of blood, had eight eyes rotating on long stalks and was almost as tall as one of the giant trees. In one of its tentacles, it held a weapon of some kind with a huge opening pointed straight at them.
“Run faster,” Rook yelled. “I don't think it can leave the water for long.”
Tamara was already winded, but months of working for the Enders, had her strong. Renate faltered. “I can't go on,” she gasped.
Tamara grabbed one of her hands and Rook the other. “You have to,” Tamara snarled. “Now run.”
A strange burping sound erupted from the crater behind them. They were almost to the forest. Heat scorched Tamara's hair but she kept running. Rook was already at the edge of the thick woods. She screamed for them to hurry. Renate stumbled and fell. Tamara pulled her by one arm. She got Renate on her feet and dragged her into the safety of the woods.
Rook pulled Tamara close and pushed her head into the dirt. “Your hair's on fire.”
The dirt extinguished the flames and Tamara rolled onto her back. Renate's clothes were gone, incinerated, but her skin was unmarked and her hair unburnt. “This must be the end of the weapon's range,” Rook said. “We thought the melted rock was from a ship's exhaust. We were wrong. That weapon did it.”
Tamara pulled herself slowly to her feet. “Why didn't you burn up?” She asked Renate.
“My race has heat resistant skin. Our planet is very warm. Our sun is a gas giant. We can withstand fire for a long time.”
“Well my race doesn't,” Tamara groaned. “Look, I'm bald.”
Rook grabbed her hand. “We need to go. I doubt if that ugly son of a bitch can follow us, but the Gelfs can and they will.”
They ran through the woods as fast as it was possible, picking their way along trails made by small ruminants Tamara had never seen before. The grazing animals looked up when they ran by, squealed and galloped into the bushes. Soon they were under tall trees and the going became easier. Rook stopped for a breather and the three of them stood in the gloomy dark under the fragrant trees.
“We can't just keep running like this. We have to make a plan.”
Tamara had her hands on her knees bent over taking deep breaths. “You have an idea?”
Renate was crying. “I can't believe they were really going to feed us to that, that hideous creature. Maybe you're wrong. Maybe they were just going to pay homage or something.” She gazed longingly back the way they'd come.
Tamara shook her head. “Do you really wish to return and take your chances with it?”
Renate shook her head. “No, I guess it was wishful thinking. I loved the Gelfs. They were so cute and, I mean, the lovemaking. I shall remember it until I die.”
Rook nodded. “It had all of us mesmerized. Pleasure like that is a drug. I'm going to scale one of these big bastards and see if I can make out any landmarks.”
Rook scampered up the bole of the tree like a native. She used her toes and fingers like climbing tools. After only a small amount of time she returned to them, a smile on her face. “You'll never believe this, the spaceport is only a few klicks away.” She pointed. “If we hike in that direction for possibly a little more than an horan of time, we should reach it.”
“Baal-Hazor?” Tamara asked as she followed Rook.
“No, this is a secret spaceport set up by pirates. Did I forget to tell you I wasn't really on a legitimate Federation spaceship?” Her grin was jaunty. “There's always pirate bases. Every world has them.”