Authors: Melanie Thompson
Desperate, she ran back into the deep woods, still heading away from the yipping trackers. She found a massive tree and started climbing. Her people often lived in arboreal homes. Tree climbing was learned by the Zinti at an early age. She used her long toes and fingers to grip the rough bark and went straight up without the aid of branches. The trunk of a conti tree was straight until the top where the leafy crown spread a welcoming net. She clambered all the way to the top where she hoped the Enders would not find her.
When Renate got back to her bunk and discovered Tamara gone, she made a terrible mistake. She cried out. One of her neighbors, a Zanusian woman name P'ani, with broad shoulders and long crimson hair, shouted for the guards to come. Everyone knew P'ani desired one of the Ender males, a youth named Gideon. He sometimes snuck into the slave cabin and they bundled under the sheets. Now, she set up a warning howl calling the guard into the cabin. Tamara's absence was immediately reported and Renate hauled out to face accusations by P'ani that she had aided Tamara and then covered up her escape by remaining silent.
A huge hairy Ender grabbed Renate's arm and dragged her into the center of the compound. Elder Jonas stood tall and sneering as she was forced to her knees. “Tear the harlot's clothing away. She shall be whipped. Twenty lashes for this woman who would betray her saviors.”
Shaking with terror, Renate bowed her head as rough hands tore away her clothing. She fell when they pushed her toward the whipping post and rolled onto her back. Her legs fell open and her yonis became visible. Sharply drawn breaths told her it had been seen.
“She is not a woman,” one of the Ender females gasped. “Look ye, she has man parts.”
Elder Jonas pushed her legs open and bent down to stare. His eyes narrowed as he backed away. “Indeed, this person is an abomination. She seems to be a woman, but inside her womanly parts hides the organ of a man. She must be banished before we become tarnished by her sin. Send her into the woods and set the wolves to track the escaped woman. We need her. We are now one short for the Choosing. Without ten, there can be no Choosing until we can find a suitable woman to fill the numbers.”
He pointed a long, thick finger at Renate who knelt on the bare ground desperately trying to cover herself with her hands. “You are an abomination in my sight. A succubus, a tempter of men to delight in your perverted charms. God will punish you for trying to pass yourself off as a woman.”
Two Enders picked her up under her arms and dragged her to the gate. They threw her into the woods where she lay in a stupor of shock while the wolves ran by, noses to the ground as they searched for Tamara's scent. When they picked it up, they began howling and raced off into the woods followed by three male Enders carrying blasters. They ignored her as though she were invisible. When they were gone, she slowly rose and began making a wobbly progress into the forest.
* * * *
Tamara sat in the tree and watched the gate of the compound. Surely, they would never expect her to double back and hide so close to the place she'd escaped from. The sound of the wolves was far away. Maybe they'd lost her scent when she ran through the creek. Or maybe they were just following her erratic progress through the thick forest. It was so easy to get turned around.
While she huddled there, she examined the compound now lit by two moons. It was almost like the sun had risen except everything was lit in bright blue. She wondered where Renate was and hoped her friend was safe in her bunk. She saw the whipping post in the center of the open space between the buildings. She spotted the kennels where the wolves were kept and shuddered. A small pile of clothing lay next to the whipping post. That seemed strange. She closed her eyes and dozed as she listened for the wolves. They'd fallen silent. Maybe they'd lost her scent and she was safe.
Rustling far below her perch in the tree top caught her attention. Whimpering, almost too low to hear rose from a nearby clump of bushes. As she examined it, the branches began waving wildly and Renate stumbled into the small clearing at the base of her tree. She was sobbing and whimpering and completely naked.
Tamara stood up and scanned what she could see. The wolves were silent. Maybe they were too far away for her to hear. Her heart pounded wildly. She had to rescue Renate. It was a huge risk, climbing out of her tree, but she knew in her heart that Renate was out here naked because of her. She could not abandon her friend.
Climbing down was just as difficult as climbing up. She carefully descended and slipped into thick brush. Following Renate's alluring scent, she pushed through the foliage. Renate had fallen to the forest floor in a small clearing. Her golden skin was scratched and bleeding the peculiar brownish blood of her race. “Renate,” Tamara hissed.
Renate jumped. “Tamara, is that really you?”
Tamara ran to her and helped her to her feet. They hugged briefly and Tamara pushed her away. “Why are you here?”
Renate sobbed. “They called me an abomination because I have a yonis. They think it's a man part.”
Tamara grabbed her hand. “There is no time for crying. We must run or the wolves will catch us and tear us apart.”
Renate's sobs grew even louder and Tamara slapped her cheek. “Stop it or you'll fall into hysterics. We have each other. You're not alone. I will protect you.”
“I hate the woods.”
Tamara hushed her. “It's all we have.” She grabbed her friend's hand and took off into the thick bushes. “We must find the stream. It's our only hope.”
They ran as fast as the underbrush would allow, racing through clearings and pushing through the scrubby undergrowth. When they found the stream, the wolves began yipping and howling again, this time very close.
“They're right on our heels.” Renate panted, out of breath, her sides heaving. With tiny nipples, her small breasts contracted into the flat muscles of her chest. She rested her hands on her knees, bent over, working hard to breath.
“I know this,” Tamara snapped. “Come on.”
She towed Renate into the center of the stream. The water was icy and Renate complained. “It's too cold.”
“It's our only hope of escape. The water will help wash away our scent. The wolves are great trackers. Water is the only thing we can use to throw them off.”
They plowed downstream, being careful never to touch dry land or put even one foot on the bank. Tamara was shivering and Renate was barely able to put one foot in front of the other when the sound of the tracking animals died away.
Tamara dragged Renate another kilometer. The stream had widened into a small river. She pulled Renate into the swiftly flowing stream and dragged her for another kilometer before she relented and allowed her to climb out of the water. “I know you're cold and exhausted,” she said. “But we have to continue.”
Renate's beautiful pale green eyes were dull. Her long brown hair wet and matted with sticks and leaves and dirt. But she nodded. “You're right,” she whispered as she shuddered and shook. “Must get away.”
They trudged until the first glow of Planet 4328's dwarf sun peaked between the tall tree trunks. They had entered a section of the forest the Ender's saws had never touched. There was little undergrowth, the crowns of the trees so thick they blocked all sunlight. When Renate stumbled and fell to her knees, Tamara relented. “Let's climb one of these trees and sleep in the top.”
Renate gasped. “I couldn't. I don't know how.”
Tamara groaned. Where could they hope to find a safe resting place in all this open space?
Renate pointed. “There's a small hole in that tree. Maybe we could sleep inside it.”
Tamara saw the hole and ran to the tree, the circumference of which had to be thirty feet. There was a small opening at the base. She stuck her head inside. If she hadn't known there were no inhabitants on this planet, she would have sworn the chamber inside the tree had been lived in. Renate pushed by her into the interior of the tree. “This looks like it's been used before.”
“I agree” Tamara crawled into the center of the hollow tree. Two piles of soft, dead leaves lay neatly against the outer wall. There was a log rolled into the middle and what appeared to be a fire pit. “Maybe there are other escapees or runaways like us and they stayed here,” she said to Renate.
Her friend was already lying on one of the leaf beds. “Don't care,” she mumbled. “So tired.”
After sleeping for several hours, Tamara woke Renate and made her get up. “I can't,” the golden woman complained. “I'm too sore and tired.”
“We're still too close to the Ender's compound. We have to leave.”
She took Renate's hand and dragged her to the river bank. They quickly washed their faces and Tamara shucked her baggy pants. “Here, put these on. The tunic is long enough to cover most of me. You can pull these up over your breasts.”
“Thank you so much.” Renate pulled the loose pants high and tied the drawstring. With each wearing half of one set of clothes, they waded back into the river and headed further downstream.
* * * *
Two days later, Renate balked. “I can't go on anymore,” she said. “We have to find food. I'm weak from hunger.”
Tamara didn't know what to say. She was hungry, too, and there was nothing to eat anywhere. They had no way to catch the aquatic creatures they could see flitting through the sunlight or light a fire to cook one if they did manage to catch it. Neither of them knew what plants were edible. There was only the poison fruit.
One of the trees of poisonous fruit hung over the river dangling tempting red fruit close enough to touch. The trees grew everywhere. A heavily-laden branch was so close to Renate, all she had to do was reach up to pick one. “I don't care if this kills me,” she said plucking a juicy red fruit. “I'm eating it.”
Horrified, Tamara tried to stop her. It was too late. Renate had already sunk her small, white teeth into the succulent fruit. Juice squirted out and ran down her chin. “Mmmmm, this tastes so wonderful.” She picked another and ate that one. Each ripe fruit had a ball of strange seeds in the center. Renate ate one and nodded. “Even the seeds are good. They taste like nuts.”
The smell of the fruit was so enticing, Tamara relented. “If you're going to die, then I'm dying with you,” she said as she plucked a particularly large bright red globe. “At least we will die on a full stomach.” When she bit into it, throwing caution to the wind, the sticky juice ran down her chin and dripped onto the tops of her breasts. “This tastes too good to be poisonous. The Enders just wanted to keep them for themselves. It's like a klarberry or a Cardarian peach.”
“No,” Renate said her voice muffled by another large mouthful. “It's like a Zinti yopa fruit, only better. The Enders always kept everything good for themselves. All the slaves get to eat is slop.”
They ate the red fruit until they were stuffed and could eat no more. “I think we are far enough away from the Enders' compound to feel safe,” Tamara said. She burped and grinned. “Let's find somewhere close to the stream to sleep tonight. Somewhere close to the fruit trees.”
They searched the banks and found another one of the tree houses. This was the third one they'd found. This one contained shelves with small bowls and cups. One of the bowls contained a pile of the seeds of the red fruit. They were dried and roasted. “Look, Renate, there has to be more of us out here. And see, they eat the fruit as well. It can't be poisonous.”
Renate sat on a chair made from a section of log. “I feel fine. Wouldn't we be sick by now?”
“I think you're right, Renate. The fruit was being hoarded by the Enders. It's so like them to keep something this yummy and delicious all to themselves.”
Renate yawned. “I'm so sleepy. I can barely keep my eyes open.” She crawled to a leaf bed against the trunk of the tree and lay down. Tamara yawned. Her eyes felt like weights were hanging on her lids. She lay down next to Renate, pulled the golden woman into her embrace and fell asleep.
Strange dreams rolled across Tamara's unconscious mind as she slept. In the dreams, Planet 4328 was populated. Short people with enormous pointed ears, green skin and large hairy feet lived in cities built right into the tops of the trees. They had bright yellow eyes, laughed a lot and made love in the leaf bowers of their homes.
When she woke up, the inside of the tree they occupied had changed drastically. Her vision seemed a little out of focus at first, but when she squinted, she saw she and Renate were not alone. Two of the people from her dreams sat on a log watching them. She leaped to her feet and backed against the wall. Fear seemed like the natural emotion. She should be terrified, but the small people only smiled at her and offered her a sparkling green necklace. They chattered at her in musical tones that sounded like the wind through tree tops or water running over rocks. She took the piece of jewelry with a trembling hand. The shining emerald-like gems glowed with inner fire. Hands still shaking, she put it around her neck.
“Tall one, can you now hear us and understand our speech?”
Tamara nodded. “Who are you?”
“We are Gelfs. This is our planet. Your people have come here and cut down the towers, the forest giants we worship and need to sustain our lives. This is against our laws. Your people are unable to view our cities or our persons unless you eat of the Kum Kum tree. It is the only thing that saves us from them. All of these people must be punished. They are evil and worship an angry god not of our world.”
Tamara poked Renate with one toe. Her friend woke up, screamed when she saw the two Gelfs and flung herself into Tamara's arms. “What are they?”
Tamara ignored her and spoke to the Gelfs. “I am only a slave of the Enders. Renate as well. They brought us here to work for them and to breed children from our bodies. We ran away.”