Was I angry at Pirraghiz? You bet I was. In fact, "angry" wasn't a strong enough word; I was seething with rage. My nursemaid and pal was one of the torturers who had cut up the helpless bodies of my living, screaming friends. The first thing I thought of doing was to find the nearest rock and pound her head bloody with it.
I didn't exactly do that. I did pick up a rock, but I didn't attack Pirraghiz with it. I threw it as hard as I could at the nearest tree, and then I stalked away, leaving her gazing unhappily at my back.
I didn't look back. I kept right on walking, right out of the compound along one of the ancient trails that wound through the woods. It had rained during the night, and the footing was still a little slippery. I suspected Pirraghiz was trailing after me, but I didn't turn around. I didn't want to talk to one of the creatures who had carved up my friends-and me!-bit by bit, while they were wide-awake and screaming, just to see what made them tick. As you might do with an unfamiliar machine, and with no more regard for the machine's feelings. What I had gone through with the Christmas trees' helmet didn't compare to their ordeal. It didn't bear thinking about.
So I did my best not to think about it. It didn't matter. What mattered was getting out of there, and there was only one way to do that. The transit machine was obviously still working-the Horch machines had used it to make me. My job was to get back to it, and away.
But I couldn't do it without help. And the only help around was the person who was silently following along the trail, no more than eight or ten meters behind.
So I turned around and beckoned to Pirraghiz. "I'm sorry," I told her as she approached. "I overreacted. It was a shock to me, that's all. I understand that you couldn't help yourself."
She looked at me warily. "Do you understand, Dannerman?" she asked.
I patted her great upper arm. "I do, Pirraghiz. You had a control implanted in your brain, and you had to do whatever the Beloved Leaders wanted."
"Yes, but do you understand? Do you know what it is like to be owned?"
There was an expression on Pirraghiz's face that I had never seen there before; I couldn't tell whether it was sorrow or implacable anger. "Well-maybe not, exactly."
"But you should know, Dannerman," she told me sternly. "What happened to us may happen to your own people, in exactly the same way. We were not always slaves of the Beloved Leaders. We had our own lives, on our own planet-that was many eights of eights of generations ago, and we have only stories to remind us of what it was like. But it was a good life-I think-and then the Beloved Leaders came, and they saw a use for us. We were a clever people. We still are."
She paused to give me a challenging look. I said, "Of course you are. I know that."
"But do you also know what it is like to be clever, and to be owned? Under the Beloved Leaders we could do almost nothing they did not order us to do. Most of the time we could not even speak to each other, only when we were very young, or when we were permitted to breed."
That surprised me. "Breed? I didn't know-"
"No, Dannerman, you didn't know. I did once bear a litter of three after I was bred to the male, Perjowlsti, but I was allowed to keep them with me only until they were half grown. Then I watched while another Doc implanted them with controllers.
They were very young and frightened. I had to lie to them. I said it would do them no harm. No harm! Do you hear me, Dannerman? I told them it would do them no harm! And I do not know what became of them. Since the Horch came I have not seen them, or Perjowlsti. Perhaps they were killed in the fighting."
She turned away from me and was silent for a moment. I thought she might be weeping, if Docs ever wept. I reached up and touched her shoulder. I hadn't forgotten about the vivisection, but I couldn't help feeling compassion. I said, "I'm sorry, Pirraghiz."
She said, "Yes," her voice muffled. When she turned around, the great cow eyes were dry, and her expression was less angry. "I too am sorry," she said, "for what will happen to your own species."
I straightened up. "My own species?"
She nodded with the great head, her hat flopping ludicrously. "You will serve them too, if they wish it."
Something was tasting very bad in the back of my throat. I did my best to repress it. "What would they want us for?"
"I do not know, Dannerman, but-" She thought for a moment, then sighed. "Have you ever seen the warriors of the Others?"
I remembered a half-dissolved corpse of a Bashful I'd seen in our escape. "No. Yes. I mean, I've seen a dead body, but-Wait a minute! Are you trying to tell me they'd make Bashfuls out of us?
"I do not know what a 'Bashful' is"-I had used the English word-"but to use you to fight their battles for them when there is occasion for fighting, yes. I think so. It is known that your species is good at wars and violence. Was that not the reason for your own work before you were captured?"
I was aghast. "No! We won't let that happen! If we're going to fight, we'll fight them!"
"Of course you will, Dannerman," she agreed somberly. "As I suppose we did, all those years ago. Even now, sometimes- you see, the control channels are very effective, but they are not perfect. If one of us finds himself surrounded by a kind of wall of metal mesh-I do not know the name for it-"
I guessed, "A Faraday cage?"
She shrugged. "Perhaps. In such a situation the controls are weakened. Then we have enough volition, sometimes, to try to fight back. But we do not succeed. As soon as that happens the others of our own kind who still belong to the Beloved Leaders come at once, and recapture us. Or kill us. They have no choice, just as I had none when the Beloved Leaders caused me to cut the flesh of your conspecifics."
She gazed down at me searchingly. "It is not only persons of your own species that have been vivisected in that way by us. You are only the most recent. The same has been done to members of every captive species-the Wet Ones, the Shelled Persons, the Tree-Livers, even the captive Horch. Even to my own people. And in every case-" She broke off, looking at me in a different way. "What is it, Dannerman?"
She had puzzled me. "What do you mean, 'captive Horch'?"
She looked at me with surprise. "But I thought you knew. What did you think Djabeertapritch was?"
I blinked at her. "A Horch, of course."
She sounded impatient. "Certainly he is a Horch, but until the other Horch captured this base, he was a prisoner, too. He and all his nest, Dannerman. Look, you can almost see the farms they cultivated, just past these trees. They were kept here since their ancestors were captured, long ago, for study and, yes, to be experimented on, just as your people were."
That was unexpected news. I had thought of the Horch simply as Horch. They were conquerors. I
had not imagined that Beert himself had once been a conquered.
I stared through the tangled vegetation toward where Pirraghiz had said Beert's people still lived. I couldn't see anything that looked like farms, but I knew what I had to do. I had to try my best to avert that horrible prospect of a subjugated Earth, and the place to do it was not here.
I turned to Pirraghiz. "You said Beert's village was out there?"
"The nest of the formerly captive Horch is, yes."
"All right. I'm as well as I need to be, and I want to see Beert. I'm going there now."
She did not seem surprised, only thoughtful. "I do not know if he will be at the nest. He may have called from the base."
"I'll wait for him."
"You do not know the way, Dannerman. You have never been there."
"I'll find it."
"It is a long walk. I am not sure you are yet strong enough for that-"
I didn't let her finish. "That's my problem," I said, but she finished anyway.
"-so I will carry you there myself." And she did. Hoisted me up into the crook of one of her great arms, and trotted away.