Chapter 9:- The Natives
“I told you it was broken.” Zora stumbled beside her.
“It is not.” Murray leaned into her until she regained her balance.
“Does this look friendly to you?” Zora gestured with her bound hands.
“I assure you the unit is quite functional,” Rook said. He walked on the other side of Murray, his thick wrists loosely wound with leather cords. “We can’t be certain they qualify as hostile.”
“Well, what would you call a forced march at spear point?” Zora planted her feet and glared in an arc at the oiled muscles surrounding them. “Hey,” she shouted. “I’m tired here.”
“Zora,” Murray growled.
The natives ignored her protest. They marched along, a solid bronzed wall in all directions, the glint of spear points flashing as they moved.
“Perhaps we’re suffering from a language barrier,” Rook offered.
“You think they might be unregistered with our translators?”
“It’s possible. A few cultures still exist that haven’t been properly catalogued.”
“Hang on, Zora.” Murray tried to focus on her footing and still turn enough to see Rook. “Are you saying that they might be a lost race?”
“Not likely,” Rook shrugged. “I’m only suggesting an explanation for our communication difficulties.”
“You two suck,” Zora said. “You know that, right?” She spun around and craned to see over the guards behind them.
“Why are you walking backwards?” Murray asked. “Zora, you’re going to fall flat on your face.”
“Do you think she’s following us?”
“Who?” Murray frowned as her sister stumbled and lurched into her side again. “Zora will you turn around, the grass is too lumpy…”
“I believe the creature is bringing up the rear,” Rook said.
Zora spun back to forward again. “Can you see her?”
“The slug? Oh my god, Zora.”
“I can’t see her,” Rook continued. “But the natives are nervous.”
“Why didn’t your mollusk do her little fire trick back there?” Murray asked. “It just sat there munching away while they tied us up.”
“It might only attack when threatened,” Rook suggested.
“Crantok wasn’t threatening Neela,” Zora said. “He attacked me.”
“So if it’s so protective of you,” Murray snapped. “Why are we still here?”
“I don’t believe we’re under any direct threat,” Rook said.
Murray stared at him. She forgot her feet, and tripped over an uprising of grass. She fell forward, but stopped suddenly in mid-air. One of Rook’s arms caught her at the waist, and she folded over it, hanging upside down. The tattered remains of a leather thong dangled from his wrist.
“Oops,” she said.
“Hey,” Zora whispered from somewhere above Murray’s kicking feet. “They speak Gal-fed.”
Rook righted her and set her gently back on her feet. The natives pressed into a tight circle around them with their weapons pointing in.
“Right,” Rook said. He held out his arms, wrist together, and waited.
One of their captors detached himself from the group and approached the android. He moved sideways, each step ready to bolt back to the herd should Rook move too suddenly. When he was within reach, he flung another thong over the metal wrists and tried to tie a knot with one eye still fixed on Rook.
“Why bother?” Zora said. “He snapped that thing like it was paper.”
“I believe it will help our case,” Rook said. His voice sent the native into a trembling fit that only complicated his task. “If we cooperate.”
“I think you could take them,” Zora said. When the native cast her a furtive glance, she growled at him.
“I agree that their weapons would do little to damage this body,” Rook continued, his words soft and level. “But either of you might be damaged in the ensuing struggle.”
“Right,” Zora said. “Good thinking.”
“Excuse me,” Murray said. “Can you tell us why we’ve been…oh!”
The bronzed body turned from Rook and, emboldened now that the android’s arms were at least symbolically restrained, stepped in front of her. Broad shoulders and a chiseled chest filled her view. She looked up at a square jaw and a set of piercing blue eyes.
“You may sit,” the man said in pristine Gal-fed. “We’re stopping.”
He immediately turned and headed back to his fellows. His narrow loincloth flapped as he walked. Next to Murray, Zora let out a low whistle.
“Zora, please.” Murray said. She sank into the grass, folding her knees and praying that her balance could keep her upright without the aid of her hands.
“Like you weren’t looking.” Zora crossed her ankles and sat gracefully beside her.
“Looking at what?” Rook asked.
“Nothing,” Murray said. “Rook, if they speak Gal-fed, why aren’t they in the system?”
“I know,” Zora said.
“Not now, Zora.”
“What was Doctor Murray looking at?” Rook asked.
“Listen,” Murray growled. “We need to sort this out.”
“Mur, I know.”
“Fine. Okay, I looked.” Murray said. “You caught me, I checked out the hot native. Are you happy now?”
“No.” Rook said.
“That’s nice, Mur,” Zora said. “But I meant I know why your little scanner thingy didn’t tell you about the natives.”
“Oh you do?” Murray’s face heated. “Why don’t you enlighten us then, if you’re so clever?”
“They’re not natives.” Zora nodded toward the closest cluster of half-naked men. “They’re clones.”
“Come on, Zora, they’re…”
“They look exactly alike.”
“A lot of indigenous peoples have very narrow gene pools.”
“Yeah? Do they wear hyper-suede loin cloths?” Zora asked.
“What?” Murray couldn’t help glancing at the nearest loin cloth.
“And do they keep their nails perfectly manicured? Do they have hair that looks like it was done at Farah’s Frond and Feather?”
“What are you implying?” Rook asked.
“That your natives are better coiffed than I am.” She tossed her long swag of hair for effect. “And that’s saying a lot.”
“They do look…well-groomed,” Murray said.
“Nice, Mur. They look like they spend some time in the gym too…or at the steroid counter. I know what natives look like, they’re short and scrawny and have little pot bellies.”
“Not all natives look like that, Zora.”
“All the ones in Galactic Geographic do.”
“Since when do you read Galactic Geographic.”
“I used to steal yours to see the naked people.”
Murray stared at her sister. She blinked twice, but Zora didn’t go away. Her leg muscles had shifted from complaining to twitching, and she knew she’d eventually have to admit that Zora was probably right about the clone thing. She was starting to really hate this planet.
“I disagree,” Rook said.
“You don’t think they’re clones?” Murray said. Maybe there was hope for her pride, at least.
“They’re clones,” he said. “I analyzed their features extensively while you two bickered, but I find no evidence indicating they would be considered attractive.”
Murray gave up. She dropped her head into her hands and refused to look at either of them. Unfortunately she could still hear them.
“What?” Rook asked.
“Don’t worry, Stud. You’re prettier than they are.”
She groaned. “Go away.”
“Uh, Mur, I think you’re gonna want to see this.”
She knew better than to look, but some sadistic reflex made her do it. She lifted her head and came face to points with the business end of a twin-tipped spear. The native, make that “clone” on the other end of the weapon, nodded to her and bobbed the spear up and down.
“You will restrain the creature,” he ordered.
In the distance, Murray heard raised voices. She sat back and pointed with both wrists directly at Zora.
“Talk to my sister,” she said. “It belongs to her.”
The spear swiveled in Zora’s direction.
“You will restrain…”
“No,” Zora said.
Murray ground her teeth together. She could see Zora’s face, and she knew that look.
“Hey!” Murray jumped in. “I’ll tell you what, we’ll consider restraining it for you, if…”
“Shut up, Mur.”
“You just tell us how we’re supposed to go about doing that?”
She finished, and the man looked back and forth between Zora and her until she thought his neck would give out. He took a step away from them, started to say something, and then shut his mouth again.
“I think you broke him,” Zora whispered. The native looked back at her.
“The slug is yours?” he asked.
“And you’re not carrying a sonic emitter?”
As Murray watched, the man’s entire posture shifted. He slouched. He rolled his eyes in a terribly modern way and gave Zora a look that Murray would have loved to master. He put one hand up, palm facing them, and reached the other into the back of his loincloth.
“Whoa.” Zora said.
The hand reappeared with a slim metal rectangle in its grip.
“I do not want to know where you were keeping that.”
“Shut up, Zora.” Murray watched wide-eyed as the clone-native-turned-techno magician flipped open the phone and pressed an activation control.
“Hey, this is Bob,” he said. “Yeah, I know. Listen, we’re gonna need a sonic emitter up here, stat.”