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Planet of the Rovers

by Scott Oliverson

CHAPTER IX

     There were times Colleen had to admit, when she doubted her
resolve. It wasn't easy being one of the few Rovers in the entire city
who believed in human rights. She was constantly teased and taunted by
friends. And even her family felt awkward around her. They didn't know
how to act naturally, always afraid she was going to scold them for
mistreating the colonists. But she could not help it, she admitted as
she walked home that night. Something in her wouldn't let her believe
that humans were mere animals. She believed it right down to the core
of her doghood. And as dangerous as that stranger was, he had proved it
by the way he looked at her. A part of Colleen was angry that he had
threatened her, but the stronger self knew that he had been scared and
desperate.

     It was by thinking of that desperate stranger that she managed
to maintain her composure while her mother ranted and raved at her that
evening.

               LASSIE
You did what?! <She had heard the bad news>

     She was one of the most important canosapiens in the entire
community. Her beautiful face and body were marked by distinguished
silver-gray streaks. She had been a member of the council for decades,
and every Rover who knew her was proud to call her a friend. She had a
reputation for diplomacy, always finding common ground when politics
became too hostile. (In reality Lassie is the famous collie TV star of
the 50s & 60s) But all that had been thrown out the window or down the
drain so to speak. She was just an angry mother who'd heard that her
daughter had been in danger.

               LASSIE
I forbid, I absolutely forbid you to carry on this nonsense if you
insist on putting your life in jeopardy! <She slaps the kitchen table>

     Instinctively, another Rover in the room took a step forward.
This was Thunderbolt, a german shepherd and former movie star plus a
brave & strong K9 police dog. Past his prime but still strong. He had
been in Lassie's service for years, and now he watched over Colleen.
When they argued this way, as they did so often of late, T-Bolt felt his
loyalty pulled in two directions.

               COLLEEN
Mother, I promise. I could not hold myself back when I saw how those
poor colonists were being abused. But I know it was dangerous, I won't
do it again.

     Lassie opened her mouth to snap back. He flexed her jaw for a
moment, revealing her teeth, then her lips zipped shut.

               LASSIE
Very well my dear, you are forgiven. Thank you...but there is still the
matter of these humans.

     She waved her paw-hand at 4 people kneeling on the kitchen
floor. Two of them were her own house servants, Percival McLeach a
former poacher (From Disney's The Rescuers Down Under) and now butler
and Cruella De'Vile (From Disney's 101 Dalmatians The Series) and now
maid. They were well groomed and well trained, as much a part of her
estate as her horse and carriage. But beside them knelt 2 strangers -
barely clothed and dirty.

               COLLEEN
Mother, <Pleads> Please. Don't make me throw them away, I'll pay for
them with my own money, I swear.
               LASSIE <Groans>
Your money child is going to make a pauper out of me. What are we going
to do with them?

     She strode over to the humans, careful not to get too near.
McLeach and Cruella climbed to their feet.

               THUNDERBOLT <Growls>
Rise when your mistress addresses you slaves!

     Robyn scowled at the german shepherd. T-Bolt clutched at her
hand and pulled her to her feet with no effort. Ace gulped and rose
slowly, facing the collie who gave him a mean look.

               LASSIE
Pyro help me. Wild people in my house.
               COLLEEN
But this one is different mother, he's not one of us. <Points to Ace>
               LASSIE <Scoffs>
How different can they be? You can't tell one from the other.

     The sound of a bell trilled down the corridor...

               LASSIE
Ahh, my guests have arrived. <Cast a warning glance at her daughter>
Colleen, I want you to behave yourself tonight. Keep those savages out
of their sight...especially General Hunter.
               COLLEEN
Mother! <Begins to protest>

     But Lassie cut her off with a stern look and she shut up.

               LASSIE
And you'd better be nice to him. Don't forget he's still your boyfriend
and maybe one day he will ask your hand in marriage. I would not be
pleased if you refused him, turned him down.
               COLLEEN
What?! <Shocked> But Hunter's never nice to me, he hardly asks me out on
dates. I doubt he would ask me to marry him which I don't know if he
will or not.
               LASSIE
Maybe he will, and maybe he won't. But be nice to him even if he asks
you out or not.
               COLLEEN
Grrrrrrrmph, <Growls to herself, turns away>

     Later that night Colleen sat at the table with her friend
Huntress as her mother greeted the guests. She welcomed each one as
though he or she were the reason for the dinner party. Colleen disliked
almost everyone who walked through the door, and she would have a hard
time hiding it. There was Senator Balto, a half wolf-half husky
crossbreed and beside him was his wife Jenna a lady husky.

               LASSIE
Good evening, Senator Balto. And my dear Jenna, you look lovely
tonight.
               JENNA <Strokes her face>
I'm having a bad hair day.
               BALTO <Rolls his eyes>
Yet she spends a fortune grooming herself.
               JENNA
And I'm worth every penny.

     They seated themselves at the dinner table. Huntress leaned
close to Colleen and said.

               HUNTRESS
The general, my brother will be here soon. He's powerful and
aggressive. What else could you want in a male?
               COLLEEN
Someone I can respect...and who respects me.
               HUNTRESS
Don't play so hard to get. Say yes to him, and you'll be invited to
every party in RoverCity.
               COLLEEN
Oh please, Huntress, how many silly parties can you go to?
               HUNTRESS
How many are there?

     Colleen would have responded, but her mother had gathered up her
guests and was guiding them to the table, and it was time for proper
greetings. She took a deep breath. In the kitchen, the sound of a
ringing bell signaled that the guests had been seated. McLeach and
Cruella, the butler & maid leaped to their feet. They grabbed wooden
trays of food and drink from the counter and hurried to the stairs that
led to the dining hall. As soon as they were gone, Ace too jumped to
his feet and headed for the kitchen window. It was covered by wooden
shutters. When he tried to move them, they would not budge.

     He turned and looked at Robyn. Now that they were alone, the
question that had been welling up inside finally came out.

               SPACE ACE
How did these dogs get this way?!
               ROBYN
What other way would they be?
               SPACE ACE
They would be begging me for a treat.

     Robyn eyed him carefully. She had never met a human like him
before. He reminded her more of a canosapien proud, impatient, sure of
himself.

               ROBYN
What tribe are you from?
               SPACE ACE
It's called the United Nations-NATO forces. And I'm going back to it.

     Suddenly, the german shepherd Thunderbolt appeared. Ace had the
sense that T-Bolt was sharp despite his silence and hulking presence.
He had the eyes of a drill sergant at Boot Camp.

               THUNDERBOLT
No talk, finish your work! <Lifts another plate of food and walks off>

     Ace looked around for another avenue of escape and saw a
doorway, but it was locked. With nothing else to do, he picked up a
tray and tiptoed to the top of the stairs. He listened to the
conversation taking place.

               BALTO
You know, we just returned from a trip to our country house in the
rainforest.
               LASSIE
And how was it?
               JENNA
Boring.

     Balto leaned back in his chair...

               BALTO
I find it relaxing...being away from the pace of the city.

     Jenna put on a face that seemed burdened with too many cares.

               JENNA
I wanted to go out. But there was no place to go...nothing but trees
and rocks. All you did was sleep. <Slaps her husband lightly>
               BALTO <Nods>
Exactly. A bit of time away from politics is what is needed for a weary
soul like me.

     Colleen leaned over to Huntress and whispered something out of
earshot of her guests, but within Ace's hearing.

               COLLEEN
Look at the old wolf. He left his wife and children for her, a
beautiful husky half his age.
               HUNTRESS
But he's worth a fortune.
               BALTO
We used to lose ourselves for days in the forest when we were young,
didn't we, Lassie? Now I can hardly climb.
               LASSIE <Nods>
It's trite but true. Youth is wasted on the young. Now that I have so
much to do. I find myself exhausted. Still, some nights I dream of
flying through the branches. How did I get so old so fast?
               HUNTER
Living with your daughter would age any dog quickly.

     It was the second time that voice had announced the entrance of
the most powerful canosapien in the city. No one rose, but everyone
seemed to snap to attention as General Hunter strode in, an impressive
figure whose presence barely seemed to fit inside the dining room.
Behind him Sergant Exile stood in attendance.

               COLLEEN
Quick, change seats with me. <Whispers>
               HUNTRESS
He's here to see you.

     Hunter strode forward toward the empty chair next to Colleen and
waited for T-Bolt to pull it out. Ace was shocked to see that
Thunderbolt, who had been so attentive before, now stood stock-still.
After an awkward moment, Exile jumped forward, pulled the chair out, and
then slid it back in as Hunter sat down. Hunter locked eyes with T-Bolt
and Ace thought he could have drawn a line of fire between them.

               LASSIE
General, <Raises a glass> you are too long a stranger in our house.

     Hunter bowed his head in acknowledgement of the toast.

               HUNTER
My apologies, senator madame. I stopped in to see my father.
               LASSIE
How is my brother doing?
               HUNTER <Sighs>
I'm afraid he's dying. I wish I could spend more time with him...but
these are troubled times. Humans infest the provinces.
               COLLEEN
Because our cities encroach on their habitat.

     Hunter kept his eyes on Lassie, refusing to look at Colleen.

               HUNTER
They breed quickly while we grow soft with our affluence. Even now they
outnumber us 10-1.
               JENNA
Why can't the government simply sterilize them all?
               BALTO
The cost would be prohibitive...although our scientists do tell me the
colonists carry terrible diseases.
               COLLEEN <Objects>
How would we know? The New World Order burns the bodies before they can
be examined. <Turns to Lassie> Mother?
               LASSIE <Uncomfortable>
Well, at times, perhaps the council has felt that the nWo has been a
tad...extreme.
               HUNTER
Extremism in the defense of Rovers is no vice.

     McLeach and Cruella entered with the main course and hurriedly
set dishes down in front of each canosapien at the table. Balto reached
for a piece of fruit and was about to bite into it when Exile uttered a
low, growl. The wolf rolled his eyes, but all the others seemed willing
to go along with Exile, so he dropped the fruit and bowed his head.

               EXILE
We give thanks to you Pyro, for the fruit of the land. Bless us, Holy
Father, who created all Rovers in his image. Hasten the day of
Judgement Day when you will return...and bring peace to your children,
amen.

     At the top of the stairs, Ace shook his head. He had a moment
to reflect - rare since he crashlanded on this alien planet and been
enslaved like a hostage. This world was like a parallel universe, like
a more primitave Earth, but where canosapiens were the dominant species
and people were animals, living in the wild. The Rovers had their own
cities, and they had religion of some kind. What had happened to him
inside that storm? He heard some Rovers come through the locked door.

               SPACE ACE
Oops, better look busy and they'll not harm me.

     He hefted his tray and started out into the dining room,
pretending to serve but hoping to catch more information. As he
approached, Hunter sniffed, wrinkling his nose in disgust. He turned to
face Ace for a moment and then looked at Lassie.

               HUNTER
What on earth is this beast doing in your house?

     Lassie looked directly at her daughter, demanding that she take
responsibility for this. Colleen hesitated, then stated.

               COLLEEN
He will be trained as a domestic, he is my servant.
               HUNTER
Really? Your ideas threaten our prosperity. The human problem will not
be solved by throwing money at it. The government tried once, and all
we got was a welfare state that bankrupted us.
               EXILE
Nyeh, and changed the face of the city.
               HUNTRESS <Agrees>
I think the city has about as much diversity as it can handle.

     Colleen spared a cold, unfriendly glance toward her friend.
Then, carefully she withdrew a small embroided scarf from her gown. It
was simple, but carefully sewn.

               COLLEEN
This, was made by one of my servants. Can you deny its skill? Isn't it
so obvious that they are capable of real culture?
               HUNTER <Snorts>
Humph, everything in people culture takes place below the waist.

     The others laughed at this off-color joke.

               BALTO
Really, my dear, next you'll be telling me that these people have souls.
               COLLEEN <Snaps back>
Of course they do!

     Across the table, Exile stiffened. His religious sensibilities
had been offended.

               EXILE
The senator's child, <Warns> flirts with blasphemy.

     While all this had gone on, Ace had been standing still trying
to make himself invisible as possible. His only goal now was to keep
quiet and to make as little trouble as possible so that they would leave
him alone until he could escape. And if that meant suffering under
Hunter's comments, he'd force himself to do it.

               SPACE ACE <To himself>
Don't do anything stupid idiot unless you want to insult them or make
them angry enough to hurt you or worse. Play along, do as they say and
you will not be harmed.

     Even as he thought that, Hunter grabbed him by the arm and
pulled Ace's face within inches of his own. As Ace's tray went flying,
Hunter pried open Ace's mouth and peered down his throat.

               HUNTER
Is there a soul in you? <Scoffs> No, didn't think so.

     He threw him roughly to the floor and the other Rovers joined in
the laughter. Ace felt anger boil up in him ready to explode like an
erupting volcano.

               SPACE ACE
I dare you to try that again stupid mutt. <Under his breath> So I can
knock you on your a**!

     But he ignored them and started picking up the scraps of food
that fell from his tray. Then a small smile crossed his face. As he
picked up the contents of his tray, he found a small, sharp implement,
like a fork, that the Rovers used for eating. He slipped it into the
sleeve of his jacket.

               SPACE ACE
Aha, now I have a weapon at my disposal. Two can play this game. <Grins
evilly to himself>

               END OF PART IX

               Proceed to Chapter 10