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Leigh Kimmel is a writer and artist whose work has appeared in Plot and Fortress. This story originally appeared in the 1996 anthology New Frontiers.

Chris Carr is a Canadian-born artist and graduate of Columbus College of Art and Design. His freelance illustration and Web design can be seen at Clarity Design.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@indiana.edu.

All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

Sulishros and Kojadi by Leigh Kimmel

     When the earthquake struck, Sulishros was flying back to his master's villa. The first faint rumblings at the edge of his Slisthirri hearing sent prickles of fear through him. He struggled to gain altitude with no good thermals to help him against the more powerful gravity of this world of his bondage.
     The rumblings became a roar. The ground beneath him quivered, then convulsed like a woman in labor. Before his eyes the city dissolved. Buildings vanished into clouds of dust. Towers toppled like felled trees.
     Numb with horror, Sulishros kept flying, trying to avoid the sandblows that shot into the air and added to the choking dust. The muscles from his keelbone to his wings ached from the effort, but he didn't dare try to put down. He didn't know how long the quake continued. When the shaking finally ceased, dust hung in the air, obscuring his vision.
     Kojadi's down there! The thought gripped his guts with sickening intensity. Unbidden, his mind summoned up images of the plump human lying crushed inthe rubble of the collapsed kitchen. Gedhe had sent Kojadi there aspunishment for following when Sulishros got the call to report to the old Chief Slave. I've got to help him!
     Sulishros found only rubble where Master Makreigh's villa had stood. From below came the faint cries of trapped slaves. Sulishrosturned his ears one way and the other, trying to separate Kojadi's voice from those of the other terrified slaves.
     Even as he did Sulishros wondered if it was right to leave the others trapped while he rescued Kojadi. What if they died when he could have saved them?
     Saved for what? another part of his mind asked. To continue their existence as slaves when the Masters restore order?
     Perhaps it would be better to just lie down and die, let them all die and be free. This time no one would stop him.
     He recalled how Kojadi had nursed him out of his catatonia when the slavers took him. Kojadi had just survived being castrated by a sadistic pirate, but he found the courage to comfort a crippled draconid who had given up hope.
     I can't let him die! Tail lashing with agitation, Sulishros scrambled over the debris. "Kojadi! Where are you?" He pushed his voice, designed to hiss rather than bellow.
     A few tail-lengths away came the faint answer. "Suli?"
     Only Kojadi had ever bothered to ask him his name. Everybody else used the name Master Makreigh gave him. Even Kojadi dared use it only in secret after Gedhe beat him for using it.
     "Kojadi! Are you hurt?"
     Kojadi's voice croaked, worn out shouting for help. "No. Just trapped in here."
     Sulishros looked at the heap of rubble. How could he hope to move it, since he had no arms?
     But he had to. Spreading his wings to help him balance on one foot, he picked up a chunk of broken tile with the toes of his other. Once he had to use his wing-claws to pull a fallen roof-timber out of the way. By the time he finished, he'd scraped his legs and wings raw. Yellow Slisthirri blood seeped from a dozen lacerations. A claw on his right foot hung broken and torn back to its root. Sulishros felt no pain, mind occupied with getting Kojadi out of that deathtrap.
     Pale skin flashed through the hole. For a moment Sulishros wondered if he'd hurt the human. Kojadi raised his head and Sulishros realized that his friend had curled up to protect his face from debris.
     "I knew you wouldn't leave me here, Suli." Grinning, Kojadi flung his arms around Sulishros' neck. "What happened? Why didn't you get hurt?"
     "Gedhe sent me with a message to some other master. I was in the air when the quake hit."
     Kojadi's eyes wandered to the mountains on the western horizon. "You could've flown for the mountains."
     "I couldn't leave you here." Sulishros ran the prong of his tongue over Kojadi's cheek in a Slisthirri kiss. "But we can still get out of town if we start now."

     The trip proved harder than Sulishros and Kojadi had expected. They soon lost track of the times rubble blocked the way. Sulishros felt guilty about flying over the piles while Kojadi had to scramble up and down, but he knew that he couldn't use his wings as arms to climb.
     The whole time they expected someone to demand an accounting of themselves, or to draft their help with rescue efforts. But everyone was too busy to take note of two youths making their way through the ruins, even if one of them was of a species alien to this world.
     Three days after the quake, Sulishros and Kojadi stumbled into a tent city at the outer perimeter of the ruins. Alarmed, Sulishros wrapped his wings around Kojadi and started to pull him back.
     "We've got to get out of here before someone sees us."
     Kojadi shook his head. "No, Suli. Look at their equipment and uniforms. These are offworlders. If we can talk to them, they'll get us off the planet."
     Sulishros stared at the people walking back and forth, at the plastic semi-armor and the strange devices in their belts. Memories returned to the ill-fated trip and the things that he had seen before his capture.
     One nagging thought came to his mind. "But how do we know that they won't just hand us back as soon as they find out?"
     "Well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to at least look around. They're so busy they probably won't even notice us. And if it looks like they'd actually be friendly, we can approach someone."
     Although dubious, Sulishros agreed. They had gone a little way when they heard a familiar voice. Both of them froze with fear.
     "Gedhe." Sulishros whispered the name, tail twitching at remembered violation.
     "Let's see what he's up to. If we're careful he'll never notice."
     Sulishros decided it was worth a chance. Slowly they crept in the direction of the voices, staying behind something so they could duck for cover.
     They found Gedhe in the middle of a small square, talking to two men in uniform. One, a portly redhead in starched white cotton, sat in a curule chair, his massive legs spread wide and his back ramrod straight. The second stood behind him and to the right, leaning one shoulder against a lamppost. His uniform resembled the other's in cut, but was made of creamy leather and included a cape extending to the backs of his knees. The oddest thing about him was his skin -- iridescent green like some kind of salamander and contrasting with his cobalt-blue hair. His ears were membranes stretched on movable spines.
     Gedhe continued talking. "Admiral, I trust that you will not believe whatever lies these apprentices may tell you."
     The green-skin gave a derisive laugh, lowering his bushy eyebrows. "Apprentices? Yeah, right."
     The redhead jerked around to glare at him. "Gamélean, I would appreciate your refraining from making those kinds of remarks."
     The green-skin thrust out his lantern jaw. "Lumin, don't you know this guy is giving you a load of shit? Apprentices, my ass." He jabbed a thumb toward his buttocks. "He's just giving you that line because he knows perfectly well where Spacefleet stands on slavery."
     "Gamélean, this is neither the time nor the place for your attitude. Now either hold your peace until this man is finished or find yourself some other way to occupy yourself."
     Gamélean shrugged as the redhead turned backto Gedhe. "Please excuse the interruption. Vice-admiral Gamélean has some strong political opinions that are irrelevant to our present discussion. As you were saying ...."
     Gedhe nodded. "Apologies accepted, Admiral. These apprentices are both notorious liars who will tell you the wildest of stories to gull you into believing that they have been horribly abused, when my Lord Makreigh has actually been quite generous with them."
     Gamélean gave a choked cough and spat a huge booger straight at Gedhe's feet. Gedhe eyed it and opened his mouth, but Lumin waved him to silence and turned to face his subordinate.
     "Gamélean, will you butt out?!"
     "OK, Lume, if you want to listen to him give you his sharkshit spiel, go ahead. If I were in charge I'd kick his ass good and tell him to get it out of here before I pump it full of venom."
     "Well, you're not in charge. Now get out of here until you're ready to take a better attitude."
     Gamélean rolled his eyes and made his way across the court toward some of the tents.
     Sulishros poked Kojadi with a wing claw. "He's on our side. Let's try to talk with him."
     Together they trailed the tall greenskin as he stalked back to his tent, ears laid hard against his head. When he ducked into one of the tents, Sulishros and Kojadi paused, unsure if they wanted to confront him right away. When he didn't return, they decided they'd better go ahead.
     Sulishros poked his head through the tent flap and found himself in a world he'd only glimpsed a few times. Electronic equipment sat all around the camp bed, including an electric guitar on a stand.
     Gamélean jerked his head around to face Sulishros."What brings you here?"
     Sulishros considered the best way to explain. "We saw you listening to Gedhe and we thought maybe you'd be on our side if you heard what he'd done to us."
     Gamélean nodded. "So you must be the 'apprentices' he was telling us about." He twisted "apprentices" with a mixture of scorn and irony."Come on in and have a seat." He wagged a thumb at the other end of the camp bed.
     Sulishros and Kojadi walked in, but when it came time to sit down the lessons that had been impressed upon their flesh with the rod took over. Both of them knelt on the floor at the foot of the bed.
     Gamélean rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. "Azacic! Are all azacastakteraptuc alike?"
     Sulishros and Kojadi stared in incomprehension at this torrent of foreign words. After a moment Gamélean smiled, his broad slash of a mouth curving upward and his eyes shining with genuine warmth.
     "Forgot you kids wouldn't understand Nixic. I grew up on a planet where we were always fighting a nation of slavers who made their slaves kneel like that. It's a long story. You two came here to tell me something important, so let's get that taken care of now."
     Sulishros recounted how he and Kojadi had been enslaved and mistreated, and how Gledhe was their overseer. Gamélean nodded the whole time.
     "I thought he was full of sharkshit when he was giving that big line about you two being runaway apprentices. The biggest problem is going to be getting Lumin to believe your story when he's already bought into that creep's line." Gamélean sighed and rolled his eyes. "Lumin always believes the people on top unless their victims can come up with really good proof. And if he orders me to turn you back over to that creep I'll have to obey."
     Moments later the redhead looked in. "Gamélean, I want to talk to you." Then he noticed Sulishros and Kojadi. "So there you are."
     Gedhe came in after them. "Aha! Trying to hide, are you?" He turned back to Lumin. "I trust you will turn my runaway apprentices over to me."
     Gamélean stood up. "Runaway apprentices, nothing. These two are slaves. They've been telling me how you've been abusing them and all the other slaves your master put under you."
     "Gamélean!" Lumin raised his voice. "I've heard quite enough out of you."
     Unable to bear the thought of being dragged back and forced to help rebuild the place of their bondage, Sulishros jumped to hisfeet. "No! He's the liar." He jabbed a wing-claw at Gedhe. "If we're just apprentices, why would it be necessary to do this?" With his other wing he jerked up the hem of Kojadi's tunic, revealing his mutilation.
     Shocked and ashamed, Kojadi jerked his tunic back down, but the sight was proof enough for Lumin. "I see I was wrong here." He whistled for his guards. "Put this man under arrest."
     Two black-clad troopers marched in and clapped the Chief Slave into handcuffs. Sulishros watched with satisfaction as they hauled Gedheaway, protesting his innocence to all and sundry.
     Sulishros wrapped his wings around Kojadi. "We're free now."