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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Friday, June 25, 2004 00:59 EDT



George Bernard Shaw city, HAR Institute of Technology, in the skeletal remains of the great slowship that brought humans to Harmony and Reason.

    There was a realistic possibility that if someone stood behind this human, to provide the extra pair of hands, and it had slightly longer fur, and dyed it blue, that it could pass for a giant Jampad. Darleth found that faintly reassuring.

    Or, perhaps not. She'd been away from the People too long, when one these aliens started looking comforting! She knew that by the standards of his people, she was already insane. That was all right. Madness helped her cope with the aching pain of losing her clan-sibs. Jampad were not solitary creatures and kin-bonds were life-bonds. By her talk to the Korozhet-speaking aliens, it was not so with the little sharpnosed ones, or to a great degree with the ones like this two-legged tailless hairy one. The little fliers seemed to have some measure of it.

    But they were all alien... and she was alone on an alien world, twenty-eight light years from home, with the only interstellar FTL craft here belonging to the murderers of her kin.

    She had been a captive, live-food-to-be for the Magh' young. She'd been given a weapon by the alien enemies of the Korozhet, and had helped the small party gain its freedom by killing one of her clan-sibs' murderers. She was at least not live food any more, but she was still unsure as to what her status actually was. None of the species that called itself, if she had the pronunciation right, "Human," spoke any Korozhet. They certainly didn't speak Jampad!

    The room she'd been taken to was palatial, compared to the bare Magh' adobe feeding cell she'd been rescued from. It had running water. Their faucet concept, though rather different from Jampad systems, was ingenious. There was a soft covering on the floor. There were soft things which she assumed were for night nests... standing on the floor! It was, of course, too warm, but the furry alien had taken a long look at her and had adjusted a device on the wall that sent a delicious stream of cold air spilling into the room.

    But the entry portal was undoubtedly sealed. She was still a prisoner. A prisoner on a world where her people's most deadly foe roamed free, believed to be allies.

    True, it was a feeble prison for an arboreal species. The skylight was only fifteen feet up. Hardly a hop.


    The hairy one and several assistants were plainly trying to establish her diet and initiate communication. And if she got out, she had nowhere to go. The purpose of the Jampad expedition had been to alert this species to the danger of the species that farmed the Magh'. She might as well try to do that.

    Besides, she had not eaten for nearly two weeks. She was going to have to try alien food or die, soon. None of it smelled quite right, though.



    "The protein analysis we've done from tissue off the wound covering suggests it has a very similar biochemistry to mammals. But it won't eat what we are certain are safe compounds like glucose. We're offering it exotic things now, to see if it'll give us some behavioral cue as to diet. If we can't feed it, it'll die."

    Dr. Liepsich shook his head at Mary-Lou Evans. "I do love your habit of stating the obvious, Mary-Lou. So Shakespearian." He drank more of his ubiquitous coffee. Liepsich's one human frailty was his addiction to caffeine.

    Mary-Lou didn't rise to the bait. If you worked with Len Liepsich, you had to get used to ignoring the physicist's gratuitous insults. That was just the way he was. He preferred it, of course, if you fought back, like Sanjay did. But that wasn't her nature.

    She also knew that he'd not slept for the last two days. It showed in his overbright eyes and even-more-abrasive-than-usual manner. "I'm worried, Len."

    "That is fairly obvious. So am I, but for an entirely different reason. I've had more alien technology to examine in the last two days than I have got my greasy little paws on in the last two years. It's giving me enough headaches, without worrying whether a potentially inimical alien eats din-dins."

    She knew him well enough to know that he certainly didn't mind having several tons of alien technology to examine. "So what is wrong with it?"

    "You're too clever for a biologist," he muttered. "It's wrong. It's... it's not alien enough. Same booby-traps. Same metallurgical analyses."

    "It was looted from a captured Magh' scorpiary."

    "You know, you have a real gift for stating the obvious," he said, with a feigned look of amazement. "And that means it shouldn't be what it is. I wish I could talk to this alien, or examine some of its technology as well, to get a handle on all of this."

    "Well, according to this report—I must say this Van Klomp is very efficient for a soldier—the alien speaks Korozhet. We could ask them to translate. Or at least what it eats."

    "That's precisely what I don't want to do. Not in light of the technology of all this equipment that Van Klomp has sent us. I'm stashing a lot of bits where the prickles and the army won't find it, hopefully."

    It was fairly plain that he wasn't planning to explain why.

In the bowels of the Korozhet ship, in the slave quarters.

    Yetteth huddled on the metal rack that was his assigned sleeping nest in the slave quarters. It was at least high up, even if it had none of the other features that made a good nest. Right now he hugged himself in a vain quest for comfort. If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine himself in the tall-tree swamps of the Norheth clans. But there was no escaping from the smells.

    To a lifeform with as keen a sense of smell as the Jampad had, this was close to hell. He could close his nose but not cover the scent tendrils. And right now he needed to imagine the tall-tree swamps and their green-blue water. The Overphyle had confirmed that another Jampad was out there, on this, their latest farm. He had overheard them planning to kill it.

    The Overphyle liked having one of the Jampad as a slave, feeding them, cleaning their fecal pools. It ministered to their vanity. That was one of the reasons they'd not mindscrubbed him before the implant. The Overphyle felt that it asserted their dominance over the one species that had successfully resisted. Mind you, not all the slaves were mindscrubbed before being implanted. It was a good way of questioning them. And once they were implanted, the information could not be withheld.

    The siren clanged. Food ration. A slave was always hungry, and he dared not miss the revolting block of decaying slush that they gave him. He was weak enough as it was. And he would need every last bit of strength he could muster if he was to find any way to escape, although the thing they had put in his head said that that was impossible and wrong. But he couldn't stand by when the Overphyle were planning to murder one of the People.

    He climbed down the bunk stack. On the bottom tier a human female moaned weakly.

    "What is wrong?" he asked, in the language of the masters.

    The other woman, who sat stroking the moaning one's head, answered. "She was given the nerve-lash for making errors in the production line. She was going to spawn, and now the offspring is dead. It is poisoning her."

    Yetteth knew that "spawn" was the wrong word. The humans were live-bearers, as the people were. But Overphyle had no words for the biology of lesser creatures. And slaves were forbidden to speak other languages. "Is there anything I can do?"

    The human female who had been moaning began tossing about frantically, her alien eyes wide, seeing nothing, totally unaware of the other human's efforts to calm her. Her helper shook her head, a gesture that Yetteth had learned—oddly enough—that this species used to indicate the negative.

    Yetteth left. The door to the narrow chamber had opened and the meal-slot would disgorge his food soon. If he didn't collect it, it would be trodden underfoot by others fetching theirs. There seemed to be nothing else he could do for the woman, anyway. She was dying, if he was any judge of alien physiology. The Overphyle did not medicate or assist sick slaves. They either lived or died. If the disease appeared infectious, they just killed and burned the slave, and dumped the ash.

    It was the only way out of this huge metal prison, with the bars they had put into the prisoner's minds. You couldn't even think... easily, how much you hated them. Creatures of a low-order intelligence before they were implanted didn't appear to be able to think around it at all. The Nerba, for example, fawned on the Overphyle.

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