Ranalee VI (Long Version) Written by Christopher Dunn (email@example.com) BANG--CRUNCH--OOF!.... then silence, as the freighter's drop ship touched down at the small automated spaceport. That meant that the planet's spaceship traffic was so light that there was no need for anyone to be there to run it. The one landing pad was remote controlled. Heck, there wasn't even a bar. "All off," the captain announced, "It's been a pleasure," he smirked, "have fun." He punched an order into the auto-loader to service the ship - goods were swapped from the ship's hold with cargo from the automated storage shed. Within 20 minutes it was all over and the drop ship climbed back up to the main freighter in orbit. Well, there I was, Ranalee VI, a type M-S4 world. That's Earth type - settlement world grade 4. (The lowest.) I was standing in the middle of the spaceport plain, really nothing more than a clearing cut away in the forest, for most of Ranalee's land surface is forest or grassland almost identical to those that used to be found on Earth a long time ago. Now a settlement world is one of those places that most people looking for a little new space to live on jump at the chance to go to, unless, of course, it's a grade 4. See, most planets inhabited by Human or Human derivative types tend to get mighty overcrowded at some point or another; seems to be one of those things used to define "Human" now days. At any rate, when a type M settlement world turns up, be it one of the higher grades, there is always something for the big galactic corporations with their settlers to exploit; some fantastic new mineral ore, or an as yet unexplained power source, or any number of things in demand by the growing spacefaring community. However, on a grade 4 world, there is nothing of any major quantity to exploit, so the big corporations that finance the large settlements on the other worlds leave grade 4's alone. That's why there are only a few small private settlements here on Ranalee VI. Of these, there are 2 groups here, an Earth Human population, and an Earth Roan population. I cinched up my backpack and took off down a dirt road to the west. The small planet data map I had ordered from Central Planet Registration showed this should be the way I want to go. I had come across a description of Ranalee VI in an article in the Galactic Press Paper in one of my previous ports of call. The article was entitled "The 10 most least visited class M planets in the known galaxy". Well, I have a weird sense of humor about things like that, and having nothing better to do, set out to visit all 10. This is not so frivolous and a waste of ones life as it might sound, as, I actually do some things at times to make a profit from my travels. I photograph things (My biggy was that supernova that was on the cover of "SpaceLIFE" a few years back. I was the only soul within 80 light-years of that one!) and I free-lance report for the IGN (InterGalaticNews) when I come across something interesting out in the boonies. I am also not above doing odd jobs for the local people. When you have travelled as much as I have, you pick up a lot of useful knowledge. I do earn a modest living from it, and is something I am proud of. I earn my own way where ever I go. The west road led to a small stream and ran along it into a deeper woods. The planet data map lead me to believe this should be the way to the Roan colony. It was to be only a day and a half walk at my fair pace I estimated, on this non-mechanized world. Why, would you ask, would someone build a spaceport so far away when you had to walk to it? Well, the Human settlement was shown as being much closer to the north, but the Roan population could walk to the spaceport faster even though they were farther away. For you see, Roans are half Human, half equine. What in old earth lingo would be called a "Centaur". Back in the days of the run-amok gene splicers and recombinant genetic scientists, all kinds of weird combinations of organisms were whipped up. Science was trying to improve Humanity overnight. Naturally, most ended in failure; too many variables to overcome. Science simply could not do overnight what it had taken nature hundreds of thousands of centuries to do. After all the furor over the new gene technology had died down (and a few linchings), the scientists started working together and not in a race with each other to produce something viable. The first breakthrough out of this new spirit of cooperation was the Human water breathers. Oh, Gill people had been worked on before, but it takes a lot more than just gills to allow you to exist under water, many other things needed to be adjusted too. But Humans, being one of the most adaptable races yet to be found in the galaxy, succeeded in spinning off a viable sub-race. Gill people are a big hit on the "all water" worlds. With that under their belts, the scientists looked for ways to improve the strength and stamina of Humans. Well for what ever reason, the operation finally centered around upping the mass of the Human by combining the upper Human torso with that of the body of a horse. Don't ask me why, but it is said the leading scientists were all romantics. That old Human adaptability and perseverance came through again, and another viable sub-race was spun off, the Roan it was called. Roans are strong and long lived and are well suited for long space trips and colonization on most worlds. And my first look at a Roan settlement in 16 years was just a days walk away. I guess, as I walked, I was thinking of myself as a romantic too, for I had always admired the Roan form as one of the few things earth science had been good for. All be it, at the time of the initial race modifying there was a great deal of protest (largely by fundamentalist groups), and a great deal of pure screwups that did not make the programs look very good; but it did finally turn out right though. The Gill race and the Roans have integrated quite nicely with original Humans; so have, for that matter, many of the extraterrestrials we have run across in space exploration. I decided to take a break and sat down on a fallen log to catch my breath. I had been walking for 4 hours I realized after looking at my Zap-watch. (A wrist watch with a small built in laser.) My only weapon, besides my knife; hardly even a weapon, though it could cut steel. I try not to go places where weapons are needed, but one can never be too careful I had learned. I munched on a Hi-Cal biscuit, got a drink from the stream and prepared to truck on. I figured I had another 2 hours of light left after checking the planet guide. As I moved along the path through the woods, I was thinking to myself that I had figured on inquiring of the planet's population as to their feelings about their small world, maybe to get a story or interesting photo to free-lance to the papers, but as I thought on it longer, it really didn't seem so important to do so. There I was, in a pastoral setting, just feeling good. It was beginning to get dark now; Ranalee VI had a 25.3 Earth Standard Hour day, so I figured I had walked long enough and it was about time to set up camp for the night. I had hoped to come across some locals on the road, but it had been totally devoid of traffic. I walked on a little more till I came to a widening in the path. A small clearing off to the right looked like a good place to pitch camp; so I unslung my backpack, and in no time at all had myself set up just right. When you have done this as many times as I have, it becomes routine. I had just come back with a pot of water from the stream and was about to start a fire to boil it, when I heard something that sounded like low voices coming my way from a small path that lead into my clearing from the north. Seems like I was going to meet some locals after all. I would invite them to stop for a bite. But no one emerged from the woods, so I decided to venture up the little path to see what's what. It was becoming quit dark now in the woods, but a few hundred feet up the path was another small clearing, and standing to one side, facing away from me, was a Roan. My first impression was, "Wow, they are bigger than I remember," for I had last seen a Roan some 7 years back onboard a scout ship I was on. This one reminded me of a draft horse type, and female - she had long dark flowing hair tumbling down her back from her head, joining with the mane coming up her back. But there was something else, she seemed to be wearing what appeared to be a coat of fine ring mail armor. It covered her whole torso, equine back and flanks, even her legs. The other thing I should have noticed at the time, but didn't, was the sword scabbard strapped across her shoulders. I proceeded to step into the clearing, and as I had done countless times before, began to introduce myself. "Hello, I am a traveler..." I began. At this the Roan wheeled around and stared at me. I quickly thought to myself that I hoped I had not startled her; and that she was nice looking from the back, but even more so from the front. However, I never had time to carry the thoughts any further as suddenly all the lights went out..... When the lights finally came back on again, they did so with a vengeance. It was no longer dusk, but bright sun was coming through a window. Window? I gave a stiff moan as I slowly reached up and felt the huge welt on the back of my head where I had been walloped. "Jeez - I'm not on this planet a day and I get creamed. What's this galaxy coming to?" I murmured. Still lying on my back, I tried to get my aching head to function a bit more so I could at least determine my situation. I was no longer in the woods to be sure. It seemed I had been moved inside a structure of some sort, perhaps a storehouse, for there were goods and supplies stacked up around me. I heard a rustling behind my head, and I tried to raise myself up on my elbows to see what was behind me; but suddenly all I saw was is a shiny sharp pointed object pushed in front of my face. "Do not bring your death upon yourself so quickly by doing anything foolish," spoke a heavy male voice. Like any good person who had a splitting headache, and who could hardly move anyway, I did my best to lie still. "Oh, ease up on him Clixon. With the clubbing you gave him last night, it's a wonder he isn't dead now," was interjected by a female voice. "I should have killed him last night and have been done with it," Clixon shot back. "You know that is for the council to decide!" "You keep out of this Zafra. You were always too sweet on these Humans; and I am tired of the council's inaction. These 2 leggers have been threatening us for too long, it's time we fought back and teach them to think twice about taking our family and friends for their slave labor mines." What had I walked into? The planet guide had said nothing about slave labor here. "Clixon, you know I feel as strongly about that as you do, but our swords and armor are poor weapons against their stun guns." Stun guns? But those are illegal on a M-S4 world. "Go outside and cool off brother, I will watch him." I heard a disgusted sigh, then the sword was withdrawn from my face. "I'm going to see that this one pays for all the suffering his people have caused us," Clixon spat out, then a door slammed and he was gone. "I don't suppose I could sit up and turn around?" I ventured after a moment. "If you like," came a rather harsh reply, "but move slowly." "I assure you I can do nothing but." I pulled myself to a sitting position and inched around. There standing in front of me was the Roan I had seen the night before. She was impressive, as I recalled I had begun to think the night before my Big Bang. (Ow! My head really must hurt making a space pun like that.) What really impressed me even more at that moment was the long sword she held cradled in her arms. "If that's on account of me," I said, and gestured slowly towards the weapon, "it really is not necessary. Zafra, is it? I am just a harmless traveler." Unimpressed, she just stood there looking at me. So I just sat there looking back - what choice did I have. She stood about 7 feet tall in the front, definitely her equine body that of the old earth draft horse type, for it was thick boned and very well muscled; all of it sculpted from a glossy black. Her hooves, a good 8 or 9 inches across, covered by the thick black hair hanging from her fetlocks, supported powerful looking legs. A beautiful long jet black tail, making an occasional swish, fell from her rear. But for all that, her Human half was even more well formed. A muscular torso, to be sure, but still 100% feminine. It was in contrast to her black equine body, as it was light in color. Her arms seemed right at home holding the large sword. She was wearing a halter top (what else?) over her wide chest, and her breasts, well, lets just say no one can fill out a halter top like a Roan can. She had enough there for 2 Human woman. Now her face had me puzzled, as it was one continuous scowl. I could tell the eyes were a deep green and wide, with a strong nose in between. The mouth, without the frown, would be very lovely I surmised. All in all, if she would only smile, she would be quite stunning. She just stood there, watching me. It occurred to me to try to find out exactly what my situation was; so in my most polite voice I said: "Hello, I don't suppose it would be too rude of me to inquire what is going on around here?" She just frowned deeper at me and the swishing of her tail quickened. "It's not every day that I land on a planet and get beaten over the head by the first person I see." At this I believed I detected a brief look of confusion on her face. "Quiet," she ordered, "no speaking unless you are asked." She backed up a few feet, seemingly thinking about something. After a moment: "You had better prepare for the council questioning, and resign yourself that, after all your people have done to us these past few months, that your fate is not good." It seemed I had landed myself in the middle of some sort of conflict between the Roan and, I assume, the other local Humans. "Really," I started, " I have no idea what's going on here. I am a visitor to this planet, I only arrived yesterday." "What kind of a fool do you think I am? There have been no passenger ships landing here for at least 8 months. You and your people are all liars. " "But I was not lying, really, I came in on the freight ship yesterday. I have no people here." I guess I had said something she didn't like, for she bolted forward to where I sat, sword pointed at my chest. "No people! "she screamed,"with what you two leggers are doing to us, you have the nerve to try to save your own skin by disowning your own....." She let out a disgusted sigh. I thought I had had it, but she just stood there scowling, with the sword point all to close for comfort. I squeaked, "Let us both step back a little (please!) and allow me to rephrase my statement, I don't think we should make any hasty decisions here." "All I need to know is that you are part of the group that has been taking us away as slave workers for months. If it wasn't for your illegal stunners, we would have stopped you long ago." Things became a whole lot clearer now. It was a bad conflict between Roan and Human, and I have been mistaken for the enemy. Well, when you mark the enemy by its having two legs, I guess it was a case of guilt by general description. "I don't suppose it would make any difference if I could prove what I say; that I really did just arrive on this planet; that I really don't know a thing about this slave business; that I really am not a threat to you. You can trust me." She looked at me for a few seconds, then pulled the blade back an inch or two, a softer look came into her eyes. "Oh, for the time when we lived in peace and cooperation. Things were alright then, and we trusted and helped each other; but your Human greed changed all that, making us slaves to toil for you," and she sighed." If only things could be brought back to the way they were before all this business; if only we could trust you. But now...." she broke off. Coming back to here and now, she looked down the sword towards me, and said in a cold voice:" What kind of proof could you offer that would not be all lies; you would say anything to save your own skin. The Council will never believe one of you ever again." "Well," I started, after a moment, "let me see if I can convince you I tell the truth. For the moment it seems I have nothing better else to do," and I gave her my best grin. "Go ahead, if you think you must," she said, and stepped back, cradling the sword in her arms again. "Ok, as I have said before, I only arrived here yesterday on the freighter. If you look in my backpack," I gestured to where I saw it in a pile on the floor across the room from me, "you will find my ticket. That should prove I came in yesterday." She gave me a hard look, as if in "Don't move." and then went over and picked up my pack; after fishing around in it for a few seconds, she dumped the whole thing out on the floor. She scattered the contents about with her forehoof and finally uncovered and picked up the ticket. After studying it for a second, she said: "This proves nothing, there is no local date on it; and even if you did come in as you claim, you are probably working for the two leggers anyway," and threw the ticket to the floor. Well, that struck out. I forgot that the ticket was coded in galaxial time; you needed a fair sized computer to convert that to a local planetary system time. And as for her second point, in her present state of mind, it was going to be hard for me to convince her she wasn't right. "Not convincing eh?" I said. "Look, you have implied that you have had to dodge stun guns. I don't have a stunner, never touch the things; don't care for weapons much at all. You did not find one on me, or in my pack. If I was in with the others, would I not have a stunner?" A thin little argument, I know, but I had no idea if all the enemy carried stunners or not; but as it was, the Roan stood thinking about it for a minute before she replied. "It's true you all carry stunners, but you could have lost yours back in the woods, so in itself, it proves nothing." I was quick running out of ideas, but finally said: "Listen, if I was your enemy; and I was out to capture you to put you into slavery; and I knew that you knew that; and that without a stunner, or reinforcements, or whatever; that you would have no problem at all in stomping me into the ground; would I have walked up to you in the open, as I did last night, and attempt to introduce myself by saying `Hello`?" At that her eyebrows knotted as she thought about it. "That would either prove what you say to be true; or that you were crazy; for you are quite right, we could have trampled you into the ground, I had to stop Clixon from doing just that. However, I am not as hot headed as he, so we brought you back alive." "I thank you for that," I interjected. "Still, it did surprize me when you did approach unarmed; but it could have been some kind of trick," and she shuffled her hooves around a bit. "You seem to be in earnest, and I could almost wish to believe, but it is hard to trust one as you after all that has happened and is happening. We hear that soon our settlement itself will be attacked." I was fresh out of ideas now; I just shrugged and gave a plaintive look. This was going to be tough. Zafra moved back to where the contents of my back pack were scattered and continued to sift through them, occasionally picking up an object to study it closer. I was about to ask her to tell me more about the conflict here when she suddenly exclaimed "Well I'll be muled!" and bent down to pick something up. "This yours?" she inquired. She held my old worn battered copy of 'The HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy'. "Sure it's mine, a great piece of science fiction that. Read it so many times I have it memorized. Why?" "I have read this too, many years ago before coming to Ranalee VI," she chuckled out loud, "It proves to me that you are definitely not from around here. You are right, it is a good book. If it's one thing I know, is that the two leggers around here would never be reading a book like this. They always tended to be so grim, scraping out what little ore they could find, they would never have even considered reading a book like this. The clincher is, no one at the two legger colony even had a book, they all use holo-tapes. Anybody who reads stuff like this can't be all bad," and she grinned at me. She took a few steps closer, "I guess that we have been beaten on for so long by the two leg_ ah _ er _ Humans, I mean, no offence.... that we got into the habit of looking on all Humans as our enemy." What did you know, looks might I might be saved by a Science Fiction fan I thought to myself, but said: "A natural mistake, when one stumbles into the middle of a conflict." Now she looked straight at me with a little frown, "Exactly why are you here anyway? You still might have been called in by the miners." "Nothing like that I assure you. As I have said all along, I am a traveler, I just stopped here on, well, simply call it a whim. It's what I do, space bum that I am." After a seconds pause, I added: "I free-lance for the IGN sometimes, I'm not above doing manual labor, I can do most odd jobs; but mostly I travel _ That's it, just travel." "Well, I'm sorry you picked this particular time to visit, for as you have found out, things aren't going all to well here right now." "I was about to ask you about that. What exactly is going on?" But before she could answer, a large male centaur came through the door, "Zafra, the council wants to see the prisoner now!" and turning to me, brandishing his sword, added, "You get up and don't even consider an escape. I can cut you down in a second." This was my first look at Clixon. He was also of the same draft horse mold as Zafra, but even larger. His equine body was brown with a few light spots across his rump, and white socks on both rear legs. His Human features were strong, and his dark brown hair was held back from his face by a sweat band around his head. "Clixon," Zafra interjected,"stop it. I don't believe he is our enemy. I think he has just stumbled into our conflict by accident. Not all Humans are part of the group enslaving us." Clixon stared at Zafra for a few seconds in bewilderment, then shot back, "You fool sister, you could always be taken in by a story. Come on let's go, the council is waiting." "You will have to forgive my brother," Zafra said as I got up and was led to the door. "We are all very upset by what has been happening, and as I have said before, he is a hot head." Zafra walked besides me as I was led outside; here she put her hand out and stopped me for a moment. "In our haste, we have not even learned your name...." I turned to her and with a flourish, made a deep bow, "Johnathan Farquor at your service milady." - Clixon let out an impatient noise - "But I am better known simply as 'Jon'" "Well Jon, I am Zafra d'Oric," and made a small bow back. "And I, Clixon d'Oric, say get moving....." I now got my first look at the Roan settlement as I was led through the street. I guess there were about 35 buildings or so; a curious mix of prefab "shipped in" construction and wooden structures. Well, not really so curious, for the prefab stuff is used to establish a base until buildings of local material can be set up. I appeared to be walking down the main road towards a central square that had the largest of the prefab structures off it to one side. All the buildings were one story high, (Roan dislike stairs) and most appeared to be living quarters. I could see a group of Roan standing outside the entrance to the large building, there were about twelve of them. At last we stopped in the square, and Clixon thrust me forward while the others gathered around. "This is the 2 legger I caught on patrol last night. The fool tried to ambush us," he said in his best show-offiest voice. Both Zafra and I lifted an eyebrow at this. A large powerful Roan took a step towards me, obviously trying to size me up. Presently he addressed Clixon: "How many others were with him? These Humans always ambush in packs." "We saw no others leader; though, after taking this one, we did not wait around to find out how many more there were." "Did you take his stunner?" At this point Zafra cut in: "Leader, I believe we have made an error, this Human had no stunner, and did not try to ambush us, although at the time I also thought that that was his intention. He did startle us, but I believe it is because he does not know the situation here. He only arrived on Ranalee yesterday on the cargo ship." At this a murmur went around the ring and there were a few surprized looks. "Don't listen to her," Clixon shot back, "she has always had a soft spot for..." "Enough!" the Leader called, cutting Clixon off, "There will be no bickering here. I will hear this Human for myself" He fixed a strong gaze on me, "Human, this has been a peaceful settlement for a long time; we have always worked together and cooperated to ensure the survival of ourselves and our neighbors. Now, not content with the ore you could dig for yourselves, you set about enslaving us. Your greed has caused this trouble. You have betrayed our friendship and enslave us with illegal weapons. Zafra says you are not of the Human colony here, but even if true, how do we know you have not come here to join them? What is your business here?" It took some few minuets while I carefully explained myself to the leader and council, but it's hard to convince someone that your reason for being there was no good reason at all. This really sounded lame under the present circumstances. I was met with a lot of hard looks around the council ring. There was a brief pause while the leader conferred with the council members; all the time Clixon stood with his sword at my back. At last the leader spoke: "It has been decided to hold the Human prisoner until such time as his story might be verified; but till then, he might prove to be a valuable hostage." Turning directly to me, he added: "We will not mistreat you, but you must resign yourself to the fact that we will kill you if we have to. Do not give us any trouble or try to escape." I could see this was going to be a swell time on Ranalee VI. At this point, the leader appeared to be about to add something when a young Roan came galloping up in full sweat. "Leader! Leader! The 2 leggers are coming! At least 40 of them with stunners, coming through the woods by the north road. They did not see me, but they are only a few minutes away." The Leader now shouted to the gathering crowd, "This is it then, they come for all of us at last. We may not be able to hold back the onslaught of their stunners, but we will make them pay with at least some of their lives. Everyone wear their chain mail, poor defence I know, but we may get a chance to do some close up fighting." "Battle positions!" he called, then turning to Zafra: "You take the prisoner back to the storage building and guard him. He may be useful if we need to bargain with the 2 leggers." There were Roan running all over the place preparing to defend themselves and their settlement; they all donned the ring mail I had described earlier, and most had swords. Some carried long bows and arrows, though, technically on a M-S4 world, all distance weapons are outlawed by galactic treaty; but bows and arrows are such a low-tech item that they are usually overlooked. Now if this planet had not been so far out, or was more important to the powers that be, a detachment of galactic police would have shown up and arrested the Humans with the stunners and thrown them in the hooscow; but as it was, you could never find a cop when you needed one. Zafra was not happy taking me back to the storage building. "I should be out there helping to defend my friends," she shot out, "but no one defies the leader's orders without good cause." Back in the building, I sat down on a box and watched Zafra shift nervously back and forth looking out a crack in the door. "You know, swords and arrows are not going to stop stunners," I ventured at last. Zafra turned, "Well, we are going to try none the less. Should I get close enough to those 2 leggers, I'll give them something to think about before I die." "But I thought they wanted salves, not to kill you." "You miss my point, I would take my own life before allowing myself to become a slave of a 2 legger." "A noble idea, I'm sure, but not very practical. What we need is some help here." "If you really want to help, then help me with my chain mail," which she produced from a pack hanging on the wall. "It's little defence against the stunners, but it's tradition, and it makes us look all the more impressive in battle. I helped her slip the fine ring mail coat over her equine back and flanks, then clasped it across her chest and shoulders, then around each leg. It did make quite a transformation in her appearance, this warrior and horse all in one. Then it was that the first sounds of battle reached us; a few shouts at first, then the crackling sound of a stunner. The swishing of Zafra's tail increased sharply and she shifted from hind hoof to hind hoof as she watched out the crack in the door. I stood next to her also trying to see down the street. "They must have just come out of the trees on the far side of the main storage building," she began. "Look - there is Clixon cutting across the street between those two buildings." I did see a lot of activity at the far end of the street, and it became all too clear that it was the Roan falling back. The crackling sound of the stunners was getting louder now, and I recognized the sound as coming from the cheap projected electron type. Basically they operated by electrocuting the target with a beam of electrons, knocking it senseless. It was a crude weapon at best, but easily made and smuggled by most illegal gun runners. I could see Roan falling back en masse down the main street now; a large band of Humans ducking in and out along the buildings behind them. Now and then a Roan would be caught by a stunner and drop to the ground convulsing. It was not a pretty sight. "If we only had some defence against the stunners, we could get close enough to use our weapons....." Zafra's eyes glowed cold and hard, and her sword vibrated in her hand, the point making a blurred trace in the air. Just at that moment a group of Roan lead by the Leader made a charged from a building to the left of the advancing Humans, but the Humans were too numerous by now for the small attack to do any good. I saw the Leader crumple as I heard the stunners' crackle, then the rest of his little band followed with the metallic crash of their ring mail as they hit the ground. Something began to surface in the back of my mind. Ring mail... ground.... But I could not put my finger on it just yet. "You are on your own Human, I will go fight now," Zafra said as she began to push open the door..... "WAIT!" I screamed, and Zafra pulled up short. "Quick," I yelled at her, "let me see a hoof!" Zafra just stared at me a second with a confused look. "Your hoof," I repeated, "I might have the answer for a defence against the stunners!" Zafra lifted her right forehoof and was about to say something, but I cut her off, "Great!" I exclaimed. I had seen what I had hoped to find, Zafra was shod. I had not really taken notice if the Roan here wore shoes or not. Now we had no time to loose, "I need wire! Like the kind your mail is made from. Quick, quick." "It's in the metalwrights shop, two buildings over; but how is that to help?" "I'll explain later, the battle is too near," for the cries and crackles were quite loud now."Trust me...... MOVE!" and we both shot out the door. Luckily, the shop was out of the line of sight of the onslaught. There was no one there, but I found what I needed on the shelves; a roll of the wire used to make the mail rings and a wire cutter. Zafra was looking franticly out the shop window, "Hurry will you, they need me; everyone is falling." "Hold still," I yelled, for Zafra was - to pardon the pun - 'champing at the bit.' "Here... Lift this hoof..." I had cut pieces of wire from the roll and was twisting one end through her ring mail where it came down her leg. I then slipped the other end of the wire through a small notch I made under the metal shoe on the hoof and twisted it back over the shoe. I did this for each leg. "Now," I said, "go out there, plant all four hooves on the ground, and give them hell!" Zafra only shook her head, "I don't know what kind of protection you think you have given me - I can't see little pieces of wire helping - but I can wait no longer!" and with that she bolted out the door in a full gallop. All I could do was stand there and watch and pray my idea worked. The Humans had full run of the main street now, an occasional arrow flying at them from some hidden source, but most of the Roan defenders now lay stunned in the street. A few Roan, Clixon among them, I could see behind a building on the right, grouping for what I guess would be one final charge. I turned my eyes on Zafra now, who was charging down the street towards the Humans. She stopped a short 20 feet from them, fire in her eyes, tail flying, and prepared to make her stand. Clixon saw her now standing there, and I heard him yell: "No, Zafra, get out of there!" But it was too late. Two Humans in the front of the mob pointed their stunners at Zafra and I heard the sickening crackle.... Then nothing _ a compleat and total silence....... For Zafra still stood there, sword outstretched, glaring at the Humans. They fired again, and still she stood. Finally, a full half dozen Humans fired with their stunners on her. Zafra's only response was to start walking slowly forward, sword pointed at the heart of the closest Human. I saw a wicked grin on her face as she turned her head to shout back to Clixon: "Get to the metalwrights shop. Jon will help you!" and she said my name with not some little satisfaction in her voice. Clixon looked at the others and then they all dashed to where I was waiting, cutting more lengths of wire. Meanwhile, the Human advance had stopped - confronted with a very mad Roan, with a very sharp sword, upon which their weapons were suddenly useless, the Humans were totally caught off guard. Presently, Clixon and the others began to join Zafra after my small modification was made. Now a broad line of 8 Roan stood across the street blocking the 40 some odd Human mob gathering behind their leaders. In the next second, the whole front row of Humans opened fire, making an earsplitting noise from their stunners..... .....But the Roan still stood. Then Zafra, Clixon, and the rest, charged......... .... And that was that - the bewildered Humans scattered. The unlucky ones in the front were cut down quickly, others were wounded or knocked unconscious with the flat of the Roan's blades. It was not a nice thing to watch, but it was all over in a short time for most of the remaining Humans had fled back into the forest, the rest captured and put in the storage shed where I had been not too long ago. Clixon and the others set about reviving the stunned Roan, starting with their fallen leader; but presently Zafra was by my side. "I don't know how your trick protected us, but we are indebted to you. You have given us back our freedom, and now we can set about rescuing the rest of our people from the slave mines." And she added, with a happy lilt in her voice, "Thank you." And, quite unexpectedly, bent down and kissed me. I must have blushed, for Zafra let out a small giggle. "Ah, well.... you are quite welcome," I finally stammered. "As to the trick with the wire, after you have been around as much as I have, you pick up quite a bit of unrelated information. When I heard the sound of the stun guns, I recognized it as a device to electrocute at a distance. Your ring mail gave me the clue to your defence, it covers most of your body and is metallic. Now metal conducts electricity; the trick was how to shunt the electrical charge of the stunners away from your body. That's why I needed to look at your hooves, in the hope that you did wear metal shoes. All I did was to connect your ring mail to your metal shoes with the wire." I pointed out the wire running down her legs as I continued: "Your shoes are isolated from the rest of your body due to the structure of your hoof, and of course, are pressed firmly into the ground because of your mass. When the stunner's electrical beam was fired on you, it was harmlessly drained off to the ground by the ring mail connected via the wire to the metal shoes _ simple electrical short circuit." Zafra leaned over and kissed me again, (I think she just wanted to see me blush) "I am not much on electricity, I admit, but it sounds like something I should like to know more about. However, now I must help and see to the ordering of things until all are recovered," and she trotted away with a grin and a flick of her tail. Well, that took a few hours, but soon the effects of the stunners had worn off and a meeting was called back at the main building. Zafra told the assembled crowd the story of my idea, and Clixon filled in the details of the rout of the Humans. At last the leader spoke directly to me," We are truly ashamed for having made you prisoner, and are very sorry for any trouble we have put you through. You helped us, even when you had every reason not to. How can we set the record straight? There must be something with which we can reward you." "My dear sir," I started, "I was only too glad to help. The mistakes you made were quite understandable under the circumstances; and as to my reward, I have already been paid, I have been kissed by the beautiful Zafra, that is all the reward I need." Now it was Zafra's turn to turn a beet red, and everyone broke into horse laughter. (Owe... there goes my head again.) "Now that that is settled," called the leader, "we must make immediate plans to rescue our friends from the mines. It will not be easy, for the 2 leggers now know that their stunners will no longer work. We will reconvene here shortly to plan our rescue." With that, the meeting broke up, except the leader turned to me: "What will you do now here on Ranalee VI? This area will not be safe until the conflict is over." "Oh, I can take care of myself," I exclaimed, "I would not mind helping you. I have no truck at all with slavers, and they should get what they deserve." The leader smiled, "Well, if you are going to stay, we should at least provide you with some protection; a body guard perhaps....." He looked about to where Zafra had been loitering at the far end of the square. "Zafra! Come here please." Zafra came galloping up... "You seem to have taken quite an interest in this fellow here...." "Me?" she said, surprized. "... Yes, you." he shot back with a twinkle in his eye, "I am placing his personal safety in your care. If anything happens to him while he is our guest, you will have to answer to me!" "Oh, yes Leader, I'll take very good care of him." she said, trying not to grin. With that the leader turned and walked away, giving a quick swish of his tail in an effort to conceal his own chuckling. "Well, " I said, grinning to Zafra, "I don't suppose you have any food around here. I never did get any supper last night you know!" ------------------------- Zafra had just gone outside. She was off to the community larder in search of some food for us. We were both famished after the day's activities. I was rereading the planet data guide, thinking to myself whether the next time I got near a sub-space radio transceiver, I should bother to ring up planet registration to tell them their guide for Ranalee VI needed updating. The printout for Ranalee VI was small as planet guides went. A class M-S4 World, 25.3 ES (Earth Standard) hour day; 1 main land mass, mostly forest and grasslands; too far out on the edge of the galaxy to be fully surveyed, no commercially exploitable substances found in quantity. Five private settlements - 2 Earth Human, 2 Earth Roan, 1 Human/Roan. A one pad automated space port. Settlers involved in subsistence agriculture and small mining operations. It went on to say the planet had been discovered and surveyed 53 ES years ago and settlements established 42 ES years ago. Then came the numerical mumbo-jumbo about the planet's location in the Ranalee star system, the system's location in the galaxy (which was fairly far out as things go) and other fun stuff that only super computers needed to know. The planet was classified "Low Tech". (Not because the settlers did not understand or use some modern technology, but because low tech items were easier to maintain and repair with locally found materials.) At the bottom was the legal double talk of the planet charter that boiled down to this: Since type M-S4 worlds are basically primitive by modern technological standpoints, and were for the most part unexploitable, that they should remain as little disturbed as possible. To this end, there were restrictions on what you could bring to an S4 world. One of the major restrictions was on "Distance weapons", that meant arms of any kind that could wound or kill at a distance. Theory was to help keep the peace on these worlds; not stop fighting, you could always pick on someone with a knife or sword, but that someone could pick right back at you. Trouble was, without planet wide law enforcement, it was only theory. The theory had failed some months before, when a group of Human miners had smuggled in a batch of stun guns. Not content with their own small operation, they used the stunners to capture and make slave workers out of a nearby colony of Roan. This Roan settlement was primarily an agricultural one, producing food for themselves and a few delicacies that got shipped off planet now and then. The Human colony in question mined small amounts of vilex ore, just enough to support their small settlement. This lead to the present difficulties. Not happy with their own abilities, they enslaved the Roan to do their digging for them. With their stunners, they had ambushed Roan in the fields. The Roan could only fight back with what weapons they had (swords mostly) or could make (bows and arrows). Zafra came trotting back in with a sack of grain, some fruit, and a bottle of a local fermented beverage. We were in her living quarters; a single story, 1 large room building in the Roan settlement. The front door which opened into the living-sleeping area where there were large bolsters and pillows scattered on the floor. A counter/cabinet arrangement cut across the back of this area and provided the kitchen-utility space to the rear. A back door exited to the sanitary station outside. She would normally have been sharing this room with another Roan female named Margolin, but she had been taken as slave two months before. This was a sore point with Zafra, for she and Margolin were dearest friends. Zafra put the items down on the counter. "I will have something whipped up for you in a bit here. I have been told I am not too bad of a cook." She stared rummaging under the counter for some pots and bowls. "I need a somewhat higher bulk grain intake than you do, but my fruit and grain compote has always served up well for Human and Roan alike. Here, try this..." and she passed me a cup of the drink, which, after an initial hit, went down quite nicely, "...I will make sure we are not hungry for tomorrow's operations." We had driven off the two legger attack on the settlement only that morning, when my modification to the Roan's ring mail armor had rendered their stunners ineffective. It was planned to march on the mining colony to rescue the slaves early the next day. I volunteered to go along as perhaps I could help out again. There was some more clanking of pots and pans as Zafra dug into the back of the counter. "I know I have a small bowl around here somewhere, the ones we use would be way too large for you." She peered around from the side of the counter and smiled. "You know we eat a fair amount more than Humans do," and she batted her eyelashes. "Got to keep ones body strong." Then she patted herself on the rump and giggled. She dug out the small bowl and filled it. I thanked her as she handed it to me and we made ourselves comfortable on the large bolsters in the front room. The compote was indeed very tasty and I helped it down with another glass of the beverage. When we both had finished, I helped Zafra clean up the kitchen. It was evening now, and we each took one more glass of beverage and made ourselves comfortable again back in the front room. We began to talk, first about how tomorrow might go, and she filled me in on some points I did not know about the Human settlement. Zafra said she would be happy to let me ride her there, as there was no way I could keep up on foot. After a while she began asking about me - about the places I have been (many) and things I have done (a lot) - so I told her a bit about myself. She was also very interested in the way I had modified the Roan ring mail armor; the way I attached ground wires to it, so the charge of the Human's stun guns would be harmlessly drained away. She really seemed to be interested in electricity, so we talked about that for a while. She said she was sorry she never had any real training in the subject beyond what she got as a child in science classes at school. She also had access to the settlement's learning center, but never really read up on it. I know a fair amount about many things, as I live by my wits, and it helps to be knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects. Later in the evening, we got around to talking about her. "Let's see," she started, "I came to Ranalee VI with my older brother Clixon about 6 years ago. We came from Druiden III. Clixon and I were part of a large family, and we were not too well off financially. When we heard of a group forming to go to a new settlement offworld, Clixon and I decided to scrape together what credits we could to try to go. I guess it was our young adventuresome spirit. Well, the planet government helped out, and we got places on the ship. We were given instruction in farming and other related skills and plopped down here. This settlement had been established about 10 years earlier, and was looking for new members. There were about 30 of us in the new group, and it was at that time I met Margolin. We became friends and we usually room together." A sad look came into her eyes. "I hope she is alright, no telling what could have happened to her. She is my best friend." Her expression now changed to a deep cold stare. "We will rescue her, and all our friends, tomorrow." The drink had made me sleepy, and my small yawn broke the tension on Zafra's face and she smiled. "It is getting late," she said. "We should get some sleep I guess." "Yup," I added. "It will be a big day tomorrow for sure. Let me go get my backpack. Where would be a good place to pitch my tent?" "Tent? Jon, what do you want to sleep outside for? It gets chilly out there at night. Don't be silly, you will sleep here. There is more than enough room for you on the pads," as she pointed to all the bolsters and pillows lining the room. "Margolin's spot is vacant, and I like to have extra sleeping pads around anyway." "Your sure you don't mind me staying?" I questioned. "Not if you don't mind waking up smelling like Roan," she laughed. "Fair enough!" I laughed back. Zafra got out some blankets and offered me one. It was huge for me of course, but that was OK. A thought hit me: There was no private place to undress. As I had never stayed in a Roan household before, I was not sure how to proceed. The look of consternation on my face caused Zafra to inquire if there was something wrong. "Well, you don't mind if I took my shirt and pants off here do you?" I ventured. "Why? Do you usually sleep with them on?" "No, just in my underwear," I said sheepishly. "Then take them off, we're not prudish around here if that's what your thinking. And I assume you won't mind if I take this off," - she removed her halter top. "I don't sleep with it on you know, it's more for comfort and decoration; and we don't have much call for underwear around here." She grinned. Trying as hard as I could to keep my eyes in my head, I choked out "Noooo, I don't mind." I had always admired the Roan form, and Zafra had one hell of a form to admire! Zafra giggled when she noticed I was blushing, and I thought I heard her snort "Men!" to herself. She playfully threw another blanket at me. "Here; if you need to keep warm," and grinned again. As I settled down on a pad in one corner, she turned out the lights and settled down across the room; kneeling down on all fours, and leaning against a big pillow propped against the wall and pulling a blanket around her. "Good night," she said. "Good Sleep." "Good night," I answered, wondering how much sleep I was going to get at all..... The next morning we woke early, and had some fruit for breakfast. Then we assembled in the square in front of the main settlement building where the Leader was giving last minute instructions. I helped to get Zafra and the others into their ring mail armor and made sure the ground wires were secure to each of their hooves. Of the 60 or so Roan left now in the settlement, 43 would go. The others being children too young, and some teenagers left to take care of them. The two leggers taken captive from their abortive raid yesterday were gagged and tied to the backs of some of the Roan. Others would bring food and supplies, for no one quite knew just how long things would take once we got to the Human settlement. At last all was ready, and after a brief inspection by the Leader, he called for us to move out. Zafra helped me up on her back, and I held on tight around her upper waist as she broke into a fast trot. We maintained that pace for a while and the group ate up the ground quickly. Then as the Leader noted we were entering the region of the mining settlement, we moved down into a walk. Zafra and I, and some near by Roan exchanged comments as we went. They were glad to finally be actively doing something about the problem, and thanked me for my help again. I was talking to Clixon, along side of us, when the Leader called a halt. Clixon stood some 4 inches taller than Zafra, his Human torso tanned almost to the color of his dark brown equine half. His massive hooves shifting restlessly, making large indentations in the ground. The word came that we were very close to the two legger colony now. It was time for a flanking party to work its way around through the woods. Fifteen Roan lined up and set out to the left through the forest to come in from the North if needed. We started along the path again, but after proceeding a short distance we heard a loud explosion off in the woods to our left. Everyone froze. From where the flanking group had gone into the woods behind us we now saw them retreating back onto the path. They dashed up to meet us again and related that the forward scout of the band had stumbled on a trip wire that caused an explosion and toppled a tree towards them. They dodged the tree with only a few minor cuts, but then found the whole area to be covered with trip wires attached to mining explosives, so they turned back. With this report, the Leader spat out "The dirty cowardly foul two leggers, to be setting booby traps...." and went livid. "We must proceed more slowly, and watch our steps," he said at last. "The two leggers know we are here by the sound of the explosion, but we cannot turn back. We must try to put a stop to this once and for all!" I got down from Zafra and ran up. "Let me go in front. I have the advantage of being somewhat lower to the ground, and might spot the trip wires more easily." The Leader nodded, but added, "Be extremely careful, those mining charges are dangerous things." Zafra had come up besides me and she also added "Jon, please be careful". We proceeded another 100 yards when I found a trip wire across the trail. The trees were thick on either side of the path here, and we dared not venture around lest we come on a booby trap in the woods again. The explosive was set in such a way as to topple the tree it was mounted to; not kill outright, but to injure the passerby. "Damn, those bastards are clever," I said to the Leader as he came up and we inspected the device. "I believe a key is needed disable the charge once it is primed," he said, "and we are without one." I looked at the small package mounted to the base of the tree more closely. "Then perhaps we can disable the trigger. I think a pull on the wire trips it, so cutting the wire and loosening the tension should make it safe for us to pass by." The wire itself was thin, almost invisible, and seemed to be steel . "This will not be easy to cut without some amount of disturbance," said the Leader. I ran the problem around in my head for a moment, then I asked everyone to back up on the trail out of range of the explosive. I talked to the Leader and assembled group, and showed them the Zap- watch strapped to my wrist. "This should cut the wire with no disturbance at all. It has a built in laser. A range of only 30 feet, and not overly powerful, but enough to cut the wire." They knew what lasers were, but most had never seen one up close. It was not one of the common things one found on S4 worlds. Zafra seemed quite interested in the device and I showed it to her more closely. Then I prayed that my hunch was right, and the explosive would not go off when the wire was loosened. I took aim across the two little guides on the watch face, for the beam itself would be ultraviolet and invisible, and tripped the laser, sweeping it across the wire. It neatly parted in two and slacked to the ground. A look of relief crossed my face. A murmur went thought the group, and the Leader called for an advance up the trail. "That is a handy item there," Zafra said. "Indeed it is at times," I returned. "I just hope we don't need to use it any more; it only holds enough electrical charge for about 5 shots," and I showed her how to display the charge indicator as we walked on. "It will recharge itself slowly from these built in solar cells," as I pointed to the little black squares around the face, "or can be recharged directly from a source of electricity applied to the case. The sun will have to do here, we don't have another source of electricity with us." I got so wrapped up in showing off the Zap-watch that I almost stumbled over the next trip wire. This one I also had to cut. Progress was slow as we came on more trip wires on the path. Some we could get around through the woods, but others we could not, so I had to cut them. "Well, this is quite a welcome they have set up for us," I said to Zafra, as I cut another wire. "I hope there are no more, for the laser is now completely drained." As it was, there was one more, but fortunately, we were able to skirt around it. The path now widened out into a clearing on a small rise, overlooking a slope and a shallow pit. We stopped just inside the tree line, for we saw to our dismay a large band of Humans ringing the pit, armed with stunners; and in the pit, all of the missing Roan. "Welcome to our settlement," came a rough voice shouted across the pit. It came from a man standing by a small building some 150 feet from the depression. "Come on out and meet your friends, no one here will harm you. Come on out." The Leader turned to me and told me that the man was called Berok, the leader of the mining settlement. Berok shouted again, "Come Leader, I know you are there. We have things to discuss; you will be shown every courtesy." At this the Leader stepped out, "There is nothing to discuss Berok. You know why we are here. This slavery will stop!" At this Berok laughed, "But why? Why won't you help us? You are all good strong workers, do more damn digging in a day than 3 of us put together! Why should we stop?" "We have a number of your people here," the Leader shouted back "We will release them only after you have released all our people." Berok laughed even harder. "No, I think you will release them now, and then you will all come out and one by one go into the pit with your friends." "And how do you plan to make us do that?" inquired the Leader. "Your stunners no longer work on us." "Yes, a good trick that," Berok said gruffly, "but they need not work on you, they still work on your friends here." And with that he gave a signal to one of his men. That man fired his stunner and one of the Roan in the pit crumpled to the ground. At this our group could hardly contain its anger. Ten Roan charged up almost past the Leader, but he called "Hold!" and the charge stopped. Zafra and I continued to watch from behind a clump of trees. I could tell Zafra had almost charged herself. Berok yelled over again, "It's a good thing you stopped them Leader, for all you would have gotten for your troubles would have been the bodies of your dead. You see your friends down there are shackled, they can not move very fast; and the men around the pit are really superfluous. See this cable here," and he pointed to a yellow wire running from the building down to a box in the pit. "It is a detonator cable, and there is enough explosive in that box to kill everyone in that pit a few times over. One false move by any of you and your friends are all horse meat!" Well, all the color went out of the Leader's face, and a few gRoans went up around our group. Even Zafra's ever swishing long black tail had come to a stop. This was most unexpected, a Mexican standoff; any move made could kill those we came to rescue. After a few moments Berok called again, "Don't even think of doing anything stupid. Just come along peacefully. You can start by releasing my men, and just to help you make up your minds a little faster, we will stun one of the group in the pit every three minutes until you all come out." At this the Leader called for everyone to return back behind the trees. I tried thinking out loud... "If only there was a way to disable the explosive, or rush the guards and get the Roan out of the pit before it goes...." my voice trailed off. It was hopeless. Zafra just kept looking out towards the pit. Meanwhile the Leader was conferring with others from his council. Berok called again, "Come come, you don't want to see anymore of your people hurt!" But he gave another signal and a second Roan in the pit was stunned. "You barbarian!" the Leader shouted at the top of his lungs. There were calls for an all out rush, in the hope to get most of the captives out before the explosive could be detonated. The Leader cut that idea down, there was no way the hobbled Roan could be moved fast enough. The discussion continued, but Zafra turned to me and asked me if she could see my Zap-watch. I looked at her for a moment, and was about to ask why, but the insistent look on her face made me just loosen the band and hand it to her. "It's completely discharged you know...." I turned my attention back to Berok who was shouting again, "Time is running out, why do you prolong this? I have won, there is nothing you can do." He was about to give the signal to his men again when Zafra bolted into the clearing before anyone knew what was going on... She shouted "I give up, don't hurt anyone else," and threw down her sword. I could not have been more stunned if I had been hit with a stunners' blast. What was going on? The Leader looked on with a confused expression, and I just looked out from behind my tree at a total loss. Clixon shut his eyes, head down. Was this the way it was to be then? All of us giving in. But I could not believe this. This just did not seem like Zafra at all. Was she up to something? But what? Berok chortled. "Well well, at least one of you have some sense. Down into the pit with the others young lady, and don't try anything or you all will suffer." Zafra walked down the slope to the pit, her head down, her tail drooped. She was greeted by some in the pit, but I don't think she returned it. At last the Leader called out, "Some may give in to you, but I will not. We here will not let ourselves be enslaved by the likes of you!" "A poor decision," Berok called back. "Let's see how long you can stand by and watch your people suffer." He signaled one of his men again, and the man raised his stunner towards another Roan in the pit, but just as he fired Zafra yelled "NO!" and dashed between the guard and his victim. She took the full stunner blast but it was ineffective due to the grounded armor. Berok laughed loudly, "A valiant effort my dear, but of absolutely no use." He signalled to a guard on the other side of the pit and he stunned a Roan on the far side from Zafra. "You see it is of no use to defy me," he called out half to Zafra, half to the Leader. "Even the trick that protects you from the stunners will avail you not as long as I control the explosive. You might as well all give up now, I grow bored with this." I turned my attention to Zafra, thinking it curious that she should first give up, then try to shield someone from the stunner's blast. Was that her plan, to act as a shield? But she could not shield them all. I watched her milling about dejectedly, then I noticed something that startled me: The ground wires for her ring mail - they were missing! Each leg was supposed to have a wire running from the corner of the mail down to the shoe on the hoof to ground it. That was how the stunner's charge was drained away. But the wires were gone! As Zafra turned, I could not see any wires on her legs. How had she taken the stunners blast and not been knocked senseless? I looked at Zafra's face then a glint of light caught my eye from her arm. She was wearing my Zap-watch, and... there was the wire running down from the mail sleeve to the watch! My mouth dropped open.... holy cow.... she had drained off the stunner's charge into the watch... She had charged the laser!!! In a moment I saw her plan, she had moved slowly to near where the detonator cable ran down the slope to the explosives. I saw a tiny puff of smoke sweep across the ground by the cable. Damn, she had missed. She had never used the laser before. I ran over to the where the Leader was talking to the others. "Leader, get everyone ready to charge, you will be able to rescue the captives soon, or I'm a Denibian Slime Devil!" There was a small uproar, but I shushed them all and returned my gaze to Zafra. Berok was really becoming mean now, and called, "I will not wait much longer, you either all come out now, or I will stop playing games and really hurt someone!" Just as he finished, I saw a puff of smoke and watched the detonator cable part cleanly in two. I let out a whoop! and yelled at the Leader, "Zafra has disabled the explosive!" The Leader looked at me like I was mad. "Zafra just cut through the detonator cable with my laser, it can't go off now!" There was a half second of silence as this information settled in, then there was a loud cry from the Roan, and they all charged out of the woods..... Berok's mouth fell open. "I warned you, you fools," and dashed into the building. "I'll kill you all!" he shouted out the door, and he must have pressed a button, for at the same time all the guards around the pit ducked for cover. I can only assume Berok's mouth hung open even more when the explosive did not go off. Most of the guards tossed away their stunners and gave up without a fight. A few of the dumb ones tried their luck at hand to hand combat. It was all over in about 15 minutes. No bookie in the galaxy would take a bet on a Roan fighting hand to hand with a Human. Sucker bet, it was called. The shackles were removed from the Roan captives and the former guards were rounded up and moved to the pit where the Roan once stood. A party of Roan surrounded the building with Berok in it, but no more was seen or heard from him. The Leader entered after calling to him many times, but exited again with a grim look on his face. All he would say was that apparently Berok must have vowed not to be taken alive... The Leader would attend to the rest of the two leggers in due course, but his people came first. He made an inspection of the freed Roan. I was standing next to Zafra, praising her for her cleverness in charging the laser and disabling the bomb when she blurted out: "In all the excitement, I have almost forgotten about Margolin. I don't see her here, I can't have missed her." It was at this moment that the Leader walked up with Clixon behind. " I heard you mention Margolin, I know she was a close friend of yours..." Zafra and I could tell from the look on his face something was wrong. "Where is she? Is she hurt?" Zafra's expression went frantic. The Leader looked down, "You must know there is no easy way for you to hear this....she died in a mining accident 3 weeks ago. I am truly sorry." Zafra just stood there. "No," she said. "No no noooo," her voice breaking. Clixon walked up and held her gently. "I'm so sorry Zaf.. but it's true. The others have related she was caught in a cave in. When they got to her it was too late." Zafra turned away with a look as if she had been mortally wounded herself. She began to walk off slowly, aimlessly. "It is a great loss to us all," Clixon said turning to me, "but it will be a long time, if ever before she gets over this," and he ran off after her. I kinda just stood there I guess. Death was never easy to take, and the death of a friend even harder. I figured it was better to leave her to Clixon just now. I saw Zafra at times as I helped in the clean up operation. She would just be standing by herself, Clixon not to far off. The expression on her face was a lifeless one, and her tail hung limp at her rear. Things were now well enough along that the Leader and council members could turn their attention to the Humans. All the rest of the people from the mining settlement were brought out, the women and children, as all had to be present at what was about to happen. The Roan formed a ring about the 100 or so Humans and the Leader called out to them: "Berok has taken his own life, and as such, you must choose a new leader to speak for you now." There was some turmoil in the crowd, but presently a man advanced towards the Leader. "You know me, I am Reffen Duncilla," he said. "I will speak for this settlement. I know we have done your people a great wrong. Some of us never agreed with Berok's actions, but were out voted and powerless to stop him and those with him." "Even as that may be," spoke the Leader, "the wrong has been done. In addition, we have now found your food stores and supplies to be dangerously low for the upcoming winter. It is clear that you intended to take all our settlement's stores after you had over run us. Now you are left with almost nothing!" Reffen looked around at the assembled population of the settlement, "Have mercy on us; on our women and children at least." "We have already decided that Reffen. For we are not barbarians as some of you have proved to be. But by the planet's charter, for the crime that has been committed, your government is dissolved and your settlement forfeit to the people you have wronged." "It is so," said Reffen, "though I again ask for leniency, for not all here are guilty. We await your judgement." "You will help us to catch up on the lost time from our fields, and perhaps then there will be enough food to share with you. But there will also be punishment for those who directly helped Berok; your behavior from now on will determine what that punishment will be. You can all see what suffering your actions have brought to us. You have lost men, and we have lost one of our own. There will be no more of this!" Reffen looked back at the faces of the his people, and then replied, "It will be as you say.....Leader." The Leader now ordered the men who had set the explosive traps in the woods to go and remove them. A group of Roan went with to keep an eye on them. As the day progressed, various things that needed to be done were taken care of. All the stunners were dumped in the pit, along with some mining explosives still found in the settlement. All the explosives returned from the woods were also placed down in the pit. They were going to be used to destroy the stunners. Most of the Roan were busy in one way or another, and I wound up trying to help cook some food for them, for it was getting close to supper time. It was then that Zafra came slowly up behind me. "I'm sorry I have not been very good company of late," she said quietly. "I just needed some time by myself. I really miss Margolin; she was like a sister to me you know." I could see a few drops of tears form in the corner of her eyes. I gave her a gentle hug, and she held me for a moment. "You will feel better in time," I finally said, trying to put on a cheerful expression... She gave me a faint smile back, wiping away the tears, and nodding slowly. "Here, you can help me with this cooking, it will help to take your mind off things if you keep busy!" Zafra looked down at the concoction I had been stirring in the pot. "What do you call that?!?" She exclaimed. "Fruit and grain compote... No?" "No!" she said, putting on a mock look of revulsion. "That looks terrible. Here, get out of the way and I'll see if I can fix it. Men! Ug!" and she gave me a gentle shove. I think she would be alright.... We had all eaten and seen to the well being of everyone and began to prepare to return to the Roan settlement. The last few people returned from the woods with the rest of the explosives and they were carefully placed in the pit. A new detonator was rigged and everyone moved back a good distance as all that explosive was going to make one heck of a big bang. The Leader had the detonator control and called me over to him. "Here; you deserve to put and end to the stunners, as without your help, we could not have prevailed." I took the control and called "Clear!" and pressed the button. There was a huge explosion and a cloud of dust, dirt, and rocks was thrown hundreds of feet in the air. A loud cry went up from the assembled Roan, as this was seen as a fitting climax to the hostilities. When the air had settled, a few of us went to look down in the pit. A deep crater had been blown into the bottom of it, with debris lining the sides of the pit. Not a single whole stunner or piece of explosive was found. I shook the Leader's hand, "Well that should be that. I hope you can all get back to a normal routine now." "I do too," he said as we walked back towards the rest of the crowd. A few last minute things were taken care of. A number of Roan would stay to supervise the Humans until transportation for them to the Roan fields could be arranged. We were about 2 hours from dark. Zafra still had bouts of depression, but I helped to talk her out of them and got her to smile now and then. She said she would be willing to carry me on the way back. I was standing nearby the Leader, who was conferring again with his council, when Clixon, who had been over by the pit came up. "Excuse me Leader, there is a yellowish substance oozing into the bottom of the blast hole," he said. "It seems to be filling it up." "Dirty water?" inquired the Leader. "No sir. It's bright yellow." 'Bright yellow' and 'oozing' ran through the back of my mind.... "We will go take a look," the Leader said. "I'll come too," I quickly added as he and some of the council started to walk towards the pit area. When we got to the pit, the crater in the bottom was indeed slowly filling with a yellow goo. We walked down the slope until we stood by the rim. "I have never seen that before," said Clixon. "Nor have I," added the Leader. The others there also proved to be mystified as to the nature of the substance. Clixon bent down and studied the material a bit. It seemed to be welling up from the bottom of the crater that we had blasted in the earth. It had no smell we could make out, and kind of looked like a thick bright yellow soup. Now Clixon moved forward to poke at the surface of the substance his right fore hoof. The liquid dripped from his metal shoe as he held it up. "Beats me if I know what it is," he said as he began to turn back towards us. However, as he put his weight on his right hoof, it slipped out from under him and he stumbled. He caught himself with his left fore leg, but found he could not get his right leg to hold firm on the ground. The hoof just kept slipping every time he put it down. "I thought I knew what it was, and now I am sure," I spoke out. "Clixon, you will have to wash every last drop of that stuff off you hoof, or you will never get it to stop slipping." I then broke in to a half hysterical laughing fit. The Leader and the others, and poor Clixon, looked on like I was going nuts. For lack of a better term, I was. The Leader finally said, "Well, what is it? What is going on? It's not all that funny." I could hardly get it out, I was laughing so hard I was crying. "No
.. No... it's not that funny at all. But unless I miss my guess, this planet has just gone from an S4 rating to E1." "E1?" the Leader said in surprize. "That's the highest exploitable grade there is!" His eyebrows must have gone up a good two inches. Zafra came over to see what was going on. "I heard you laughing all the way back to the trees. What's up?" I calmed down and just began shaking my head back and forth. "You all would not likely know what that stuff is, and I really should be ashamed for laughing the way I did, but after all that has happened, this is the crowning touch!" "What is it?!" everyone shouted in unison. "It only happens to be one of the most important substances in the known universe, and one of the rarest. It's Lubraderium. The raw substance used to make Lubridex; the only known material slippery enough to lubricate the bearings on the Zoff/Hissflower Star Drive. That yellow goo down in that pit is used in every faster than light ship built today!" I walked over to Clixon and inspected the rag he had been using to wipe off his hoof and shoe. "Yup, that is Lubraderium. The original planet surveyors must have wanted to get home quick when they looked this place over and done a slip-shod job." "You said it would effect the planet rating," the Leader inquired. "Is it really worth that much?" I looked at the pit, still filling slowly with the yellow goo. "Leader, the last time I heard about the price of Lubraderium... well, I think there is enough in that hole to BUY this entire planet!" About a month later a passing long range shuttle put in at Ranalee VI and word got out on the sub-space of the find. Within 2 weeks half a dozen corporate reps were on the planet bargaining for the mineral rights with the Roan. The Roan were the legal owners of the land the Lubraderium was found on, for when the Human's settlement was forfeit, as required by the planet's charter for the major crime committed, it became Roan property. I was asked by the Leader to assist in the negotiations, since I was a tad more informed on such things. There were still food crops to take care of in the field, wether the Roan were going to be filthy rich or no, so I helped out here and there. The Humans from the settlement came and worked hard to cultivate the crops, and the food was freely shared with them. I had been staying with Zafra, and we talked a great deal. She still hurt over the loss of Margolin, but was recovering with time. She carried me out on some long walks around the land when she had no work to do, and we just enjoyed each others company. Another week passed, and a bargain was struck with the Trans- Universe-Amalgamated-Interplanet-Acme Corporation for the rights to the Lubraderium. The leaders of the three other small Ranalee settlements were consulted and a major part of the contract was that most of the planet would be left untouched and unpolluted. The Roan also made provisions for the Humans of the mining settlement to share in the wealth, for wealth it was indeed. I found that the price for the funny yellow goo had doubled since I last heard about it! Some of the miners kicked themselves, for there was all this wealth sitting a few miles away from their mine, and they had never known about it. Of course, that was one of the reasons it was so rare. Lubraderium occurred in very narrow pockets, and only on maybe 1 planet out of 50,000 explored. Without major geological studies, it is easily overlooked. Things were now well in hand at the Roan settlement. The occasional off world carpet bagger would show up, having heard about the wealth, but was quickly escorted back off planet by the new detachment of Galactic police. They showed up not long after the Central Galactic Government found out about the newly influential population of Roan. I free-lanced the story of what had happened on Ranalee VI to the InterGalacticNews and donated most of the credits I got for it to a space wide fund for the Natural Preservation of Planets in remembrance of Margolin. Zafra and I were alone in her living quarters when I told her about it, and she came over and gave me the biggest hug I have ever had, and wept. I just held on to her. After a while she dried her tears and thanked me for my kindness. Later that evening I began to fidget, for I had something else to tell her. We were finishing some more of her fruit and grain compote when she said: "You're leaving Ranalee soon, aren't you." I nearly choked. I looked over to her: "It shows huh? Yes Zafra. I only stopped by this planet on my way to who knows where.... I can't help it, I just have to keep bumming on. Seeing new places, doing new things. If I stay one place too long, I get restless. I have passage on one of the corporate ships leaving in the morning. I hope you understand." She gave me a faint smile. "I do, but I will miss you. You have helped me through a very trying time. It will be hard to loose your friendship." "I will miss you too...." was all I could get out. I went over to where she sat and we embraced for a long time. We fell asleep in each others arms." When I awoke the next morning Zafra was not there. I looked all over the settlement for her, but no one had seen her or Clixon since daybreak. I found the Leader outside the main settlement building, and he had thought he had seen them go off down the path to the space port. "Perhaps she wanted to say good-bye there," he added. I gave a forlorn look, and asked if he could provide a Roan to take me to the space port, for my ship would be leaving in a while. "I will be most honored to take you there myself," he exclaimed. I thanked him and we walked over to Zafra's quarters to retrieve my backpack and belongings. The time it took getting to the space port riding - was much shorter than the time it took me walking from it; those few months earlier when I had first been put down on this planet. We approached the space port. Already 2 more pads were being constructed to handle the ship traffic that was to come. On the old pad was the ship I had passage on. I dismounted and began to take my leave of the Leader. He gave me a small gift to remember the settlement by, a small figurine of a Roan female. I thanked him, but was also looking around in the hope Zafra was there. When the final boarding call came for my ship, I asked the Leader to give my love to Zafra. "I guess she could not bring herself to see you off," he said. "Well, good luck where ever you fare, and thanks again for all your help." I walked up the ramp into the ship, feeling quite lousy with myself, when a familiar voice rang out: "Well it's about time you got on board! You almost missed the ship." - It was Zafra. "What are you doing in here?" I said, with what must have been a very surprized look on my face, for she laughed out: "That's a fine thing to say to someone who is going with you." "You are what?????" "Going with you silly. It's all been arranged. Clixon and the Leader have both agreed with me. I need some time away from here. Bad memories need time to heal you know." Darndestall if she did not have the biggest smile on her face. All I could get out was "Wha?..... Huh?..... Err...." Then I guess I broke into a damndestall big smile myself. I turned and looked out the airlock door as the ramp began to retract, and there was the Leader and Clixon waving good-bye. I had been set up! The airlock door was shut, there was no getting her off now, and I really did not want her to leave anyway, and she knew it. She strapped herself down on a large pad, the Roan's equivalent of a crash chair. I had a crash chair next to her. As the motors were started and the ship began to lift off, she leaned over and kissed me. Then she broke out giggling. "What's so darn funny?" I asked. "You are blushing again," she laughed. I guess I was at that.