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Planet of the Rovers

by Scott Oliverson

CHAPTER XIX

     A mile or two away from the river, the mountains gave way to
more open plains. The fugitives found a knoll where their campfire
would be hidden from anyone on the flat land, and stopped to rest. The
others settled around the fire and warmed themselves. McLeach and Robyn
sat together, Zak and Richard slept. Thunderbolt, however, moved off
into the shadows, his eyes scanning the terrain they already crossed.
Colleen sat next to Ace, who watched T-Bolt's backside.

               COLLEEN
He'll stand like that all night.
               SPACE ACE
No question, <Nods> he's army. I know the type.

     Colleen picked at bits of food. She offered some to Ace and put
a few pieces into her mouth.

               COLLEEN
You know...maybe we are more alike than you think. <Looks up at the
stars> I would like to see your world.
               SPACE ACE <Shakes head>
No, you wouldn't. My people would treat you like an alien invader from
another planet, prod-poke you and throw you into a cage.
               COLLEEN
But you would protect me, you gave your word of honor. <Touches his arm>

     Ace felt her hand on his, human and totally inhuman at the same
time. Part of him recoiled at the intimacy in that contact, but another
part appreciated her concern. Whatever else she was, Colleen was a
thinking being, and she had developed an affection for him. And maybe
he had developed the same for her. But then again he told himself
perhaps it wouldn't hurt to invite her to come home with him to meet his
parents and family members. If he ever got home that is...maybe it
would be fun for Colleen to go to Hill Valley with him.

               SPACE ACE
You'd never be able to go home again.
               COLLEEN
I have no home to go to now.
               SPACE ACE
In that case, <Smiles> I give you permission to come back with me to my
homeworld of Hill Valley 2015. Perhaps my father Doc Brown will take
you in as a new member of my family, get to meet my mother, uncle, aunt,
little brother, the B9 Robot and Annabelle.
               COLLEEN
Really? <Looks excited> You mean that. I can go back with you?
               SPACE ACE
Yes, together we will live happily ever after in the future. Who knows,
maybe get married and have kids.
               COLLEEN
Wow! I can't believe this is happening to me, blimey! <Face lights up
with joy> Married? You, me? <Points to him and herself> Gosh, I dunno.
               SPACE ACE
You're right. We are alike, you and I. It's just as dangerous for you
on my world as it is for me here. But I will promise to take care of
you and make sure no harm comes to you.
               COLLEEN
In that case, I accept your offer. <Holds out hand> Shake?
               SPACE ACE
Shake. <They shook hands, grinning at each other>

     Then her voice trembled as she got to the heart of the matter
that filled her with sadness.

               COLLEEN
I fear after tomorrow, when you find your crew...I'll never see you
again.
               SPACE ACE
Who said anything about me not seeing you again? I never promised
anything like that.

     Colleen glanced over at Richard and Zak, lying asleep around the
fire.

               COLLEEN
That's not what they think. They think you are going to save them.

     McLeach and Robyn sat far enough away that they could not hear
what the canosapien and human were saying, but they could see how close
Colleen had sat next to Ace. Robyn watched the delicate way the collie
picked at her food. She took a hunk of dried meat and began to strip it
gingerly. McLeach, who as a former poacher and now butler had survived
by reading people's moods, said.

               PERCIVAL MCLEACH
It's not the way she eats, it's the way she thinks that pleases him.

     Robyn dropped her food and walked off in annoyance. She didn't
want McLeach to see how jealous she was. She certainly didn't want
Colleen to see how jealous she was. Her life had not been easy, but it
had been simple. STAY ALIVE! But now there was this stranger from the
stars, suggesting that humans could be more than the early native
american indians of his world crawling across the face of the Earth.
His voice and face were the keys that unlocked a hidden part of herself
- desires for real freedom and love. She hated the fact that he had
more in common with that female canosapien that he did with her. So
what if she had grown up in a real society? So what if she had learned
manners? She wasn't human...but she was.

     Robyn heard a trickle of water running and walked toward it
instinctively until she came to a small spring winding its way down from
the hills. She reached down to scoop a drink and, in the moonlight,
caught sight of her own arm. It was streaked with mud and dirt. She
knew if there were enough light, she would have seen her face reflected
in the water, and it would have been just as dirty.

               ROBYN <To herself>
I guess I must look a bad sight to the CHOSEN ONE. Nuts!

     No matter how much her colony resented Rovers and their
civilization, the Rovers, at least, were clean. She wondered what it
would be like to truly scrub a lifetime of dirt from her body. She
stepped into the cold water and promised that a new girl would emerge.

               ROBYN
I better make a new example of myself to impress Lieutenant Ace. He
probably does not like seeing dirty teenagers.

     The next morning, Ace woke with a start, nearly forgetting where
he was. The night before he and Colleen secretly made love with each
other safely out of sight of the sleeping Richard, Zak, McLeach &
Blitz...They had played, explored each other's bodies with their hands,
running up and down their skin & fur, kissing & necking, moaning with
pleasure and fun, writhing-twisting-rolling like snakes entwined, and so
forth until they both collapsed from the exhaustion of the sensation and
fell into deep slumber with Colleen lying against his body, head resting
on his chest, his one arm across her. Now he sat up, blinking in the
sunlight, rubbing sleep from his eyes. The sky above him was wide and
blue, and before him streched a plain of short grass reaching out to the
horizon. The others were slowly rising, too. Only Thunderbolt seemed
to be fully awake, and Ace knew the old warrior had not slept at all.
As he rose, he caught sight of Robyn rising, too. She streched,
reaching for the sky above. For the first time, he noticed how lovely
she was. She smiled at him, and was amazed to see how clear & bright
her skin looked under her clothes. Then Colleen appeared at his side.

               COLLEEN
We should go, your friends are waiting for you.
               SPACE ACE
Then let's be off, we must not keep them waiting.

     They mounted the remaining horses, riding double, and trotted
for another mile before Ace pulled out the Messanger and opened it up.
To his delight, the signal was stronger than ever.

               THUNDERBOLT
Calima is not far. Just over that rise.

     Ace galloped up to a small mound before them. Beyond it, the
plain streched flatter than ever, most of it hidden by a thin haze. He
could just make out ruins rising lonely and desolate up from the ground.

               THUNDERBOLT
Calima. <Repeated the words>

     Ace activated the Messanger again, and this time the signal
blared eagerly. His heart jumped. His rescue team was close! Excited
now, he kicked his horse into a gallop and thundered towards the ruins.
 Quickly, a set of jagged towers rose up before him, set at an odd angle
against a hill. At the base of the ruins, Ace dismounted and popped the
Messanger open again. The signal had reached its strongest pitch. Ace
looked around, half expecting to see a pod or landing craft, or crew
members walking around a corner. But there was nothing to see.

               SPACE ACE
What the h***? Wait a second, what's going on here. <Can't believe his
eyes> Where's my crew? They should be here looking for me.

     The others rode up to Ace, who sat staring at the Messanger in
disbelief. What had gone wrong? Could it be malfunctioning? Could the
location be wrong? It was Zak who voiced the thought that smashed
against the inside of Ace's skull.

               ZAK
They aren't here, <Paused, realization gathering into frustration> They
were never here!

     Ace said nothing, just stared open mouth-eyes wide. Robyn
looked at him, doubt creeping into her voice.

               ROBYN
But...you said they would rescue you.

     Ace stood up, recoiling from the Messanger. He had clung to
that signal like a lifeline. The moment he'd heard it, his world had
returned to normal. The message it carried had been a thread spinning
backward into the warp and weave of his normal life and suddenly it had
been cut!

               SPACE ACE
No, oh god no. This can't be...it cannot be true!

     The panic that gripped him in his first hours on this planet
returned, and he felt a need to run. Not knowing what else to do, he
bolted into the ruins and ran down the mouth of a long, dark cave. As
he ran, he called out the names of his crew members whom he knew would
not hear him.

               SPACE ACE
Commander Lightyear? Jessie, James? Kimmy, RoboCop? <No answer> Hello,
where are you? <Still no reply>

     The sound of his own breathing echoed off the walls of the cave.
 He kicked something and fell sprawling onto his knees.

               SPACE ACE
Whoooooooah! <Hits ground> Oooooffmmph! Great Scott, what was that?

     Looking down he saw something round and white sticking up from
the floor of the tunnel. Curious, he scraped away the dirt and found
himself looking down at a human skull half-buried in the dirt. He
looked around and realized that the tunnel was littered with human
remains. Humans had been here. But this was supposed to be the
birthplace of the canines. Wasn't it?

               SPACE ACE
Something's funny around here. I don't like this.

     He snatched up a human bone and walked over to one of the walls.
 He used the bone to scrape away the dirt wall. The soil crumbled away
easily, on on his next scrape the bone tool scratched something
metallic. Ace tore away more dirt with his hands. As the dirt fell
away, Ace found himself staring at a metal wall. On that wall was the
icon of the starship STAR COMMAND.

               SPACE ACE
Oh no, no...no...no. <Whispers in horror>

     He held up the brand that the canosapiens burned into him. The
brand was a replica of STAR COMMAND's insignia, only clipped and
stylized. The significance shook Ace to the core. He dropped to his
knees, overcome by vertigo. The tunnels, the walls, they were all
familiar for a reason...THIS WAS THE STAR COMMAND! Then he screamed, a
long agonizing wailing howl of rage & grief that echoed throughout the
chambers of the dead space station.

               SPACE ACE <Screams>
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

     Outside the others froze in terror when the screams came out the
entrance to the ruins.

               BLITZ
Gah! What was that?
               PERCIVAL MCLEACH
Sounded like a scream or cry of rage.
               ZAK
It came from inside the ruins! <Points into the tunnel's mouth>
               THUNDERBOLT
Perhaps Ace has been attacked by the ghosts of Calima.
               COLLEEN
NO! <Fear on her face> Not my friend, not Ace!
               ROBYN
Good grief, <She too panics> I hope he's not harmed in there.

               END OF PART XIX
              Proceed to Chapter 20