After the pterodactyl appearance there is a long silence. Para and Clan are again walking immediately behind the leading Mistoosha. Behind Lance is the subtle clip clop, clip clop, clip clop of the horses, and the slight rattle and hum of the carriage. Lance still had no idea what was inside, or who was inside, that carriage.
The boy is awake, now breathing easy. He sits silently alongside the equally silent driver.
Ahead he can see the tower more clearly, and then the trail turns to the left, and after a few paces only the peak can be seen. The rest of the view is blocked by trees and a long, shady object in the distance.
The air is cool, yet the sun that peers through a few openings in the bowing Sassafrass trees feels good upon his face. In the beam of sun he can see dust particles that he inhales, and he wonders how this will affect the boy. The smooth macadam surface below is now nothing more than sand, although it is not brown like Michigan sand, nor white like Florida sand, but black.
Lance looks back at the boy, "Are you okay," he says. The boy does not respond. Yet he does take a deep, easy breath, and by this Lance receives his answer.
Is the dust on Sassa the same as on earth? Are there dust mites in it? Para, come back here. Come back here so I can ask you some more questions. I have so many questions. I don't want my head to burst. What is the tower ahead? Is this where the gifts will be provided
The silence incurred no answers. The men in front of him, nor the men behind him, nor the Alton boy, gave
answers. And he was sure it was an Alton boy. He was an Alton boy because allergies only develop in civilized worlds. Allergies are are the consequence of modern living, or so he read. Men do not develop allergies who live amid the earth, amid the animals, amid the dust. Immune systems of civilized men have no natural enemies, so they create their own. That is why the cat caused the boy's reaction.
"Men" was an awkward word that rolled around in Lance's mind these days. Surely the Sassa considered themselves men, although the term in Lance's mind was "alien." Yet to the Sassa Lance was an alien, yet they preferred to refer to him as "the subject."
There was a long silence for all but the animals in the woods. Lance hears footsteps on the leaves to his right. The animals are unique here as compared with earth. Surely it was exciting to see a deer in Scottville, and it was even more exciting to see a critter here on Alton. And what Lance saw standing amid the trees was a deer. It is a white tailed deer.
First the horses, then the cat, now a deer. How many other earth animals are here? What have these aliens not taken from earth? He stares long and hard at the animal. He cannot help but to smile. He stares at it until the animal is out of sight.
The path under his feet, the sandy path, is wide enough now so that three horse and buggies can ride side by side. The towers can no longer be seen. What can be seen is a large wall. Mistoosha walked past the slaves and Lance and approached the rear of the carriage. Clan followed close behind. Now the two are not seen for several minutes.
Clan reappears carrying withe cloth. Mistoosha walks back to the front of the caravan, his toga now adorned with small gold buttons, and he wore a gold necklace with a pennant. There was a symbol on the pennant of a skull and cross bone, and Lance wonders what it represents.
On his head is a woolen hat that was rougher in design compared to the cap-like hat's of the Sassa Guard. On his feet were moccasins, which were not unlike those the aliens wore, nor unlike the American Indians wore on earth.
Suddenly the path closes, turns once again, and the trees thin. The sun shines through, a gift that is appreciated greatly by the human who wonders his fate. He can see some large structures ahead and some random billows of white smoke that aims in random directions into the sunny, windy sky. What has blocked his view of the tower, he realizes as he closes in, by a large yellow stone wall.
The blazing sun shines off what looks to him to be golden steeples on towers in the distance, barely visible over a huge gate. Mistoosha orders his men to dismount from the carriage and disconnect the chains from the animals. The carriage is set on a cement slab. Clan and Zinka lead the animals across the bridge as to not scare the Sassoonians. Lance knows very little about them, but he does know that they are very gruff, rapacious people, so much so that even Mistoosha fears them.
Zinka leads the boy ahead of me, and so obviously the slave, or the gift, or whatever you want to call Lance, has to trail behind.
"Okay, it's time guys." Para and Clan rush at Lance, who ducks in surprise. His head is covered with the cloth Para carried, and he feels an arm wrap around his waste. Although the arm is smaller than the width of his waste, so the hand pressed against the small of his back. "Don't worry." Para whispers.
"Easier said than done," Lance says. "You try not to..."
Para smacks Lance's back, and Lance takes the hint. He looks up and is surprised to see Mistoosha, Zinga, Clan and Titan looking at him. Para sticks his up to lance's chest, and looks up, and whispers, "Do not let them know you can see. It is a gift from Mistoosha. He must really like you to do this. It is a special cloth from Alton."
"Thanks!" Lance says, loud enough for Mistoosha to hear, although Mistoosha does not acknowledge.
"I came here often when I was a free man," whispers Para. "I wanted to write an accurate history of them. In return, I was hoping they would take knowledge I had to offer about the Altonians. Yet King Plinoo had no use for such bargains, he ultimately decided to take me for a slave. He sold me to Mistoosha.
"So, you're saying..."
"Shhh! Do not speak," said Para, leading Lance onward. "Just take slow, normal steps. Please do not fall. Please do not cough or sneeze. Please do as you're told." He paused a moment, before saying, "It is always a gamble to approach Plinoo."
Lance can see eight large, stone arches extend from inside the river and tower high. Ropes splay between the arches make for a magnanimous artifact. On the sides of the road is a stone wall the height of about three Altonians.
Para says, "So, you can see, getting a view of Sassoon without actually being inside the border is nearly impossible. One cannot go into the water, as it is full of Gatorfalls, which are creatures similar to yet way larger than Aligators on earth. One cannot walk through the woods without risk of creatures. One cannot go in the open without fear of Pterodactyls."
The stone wall curves out as the path widens, and leads the travelers to the bridge. At the base stand three armed Sassonian soldiers. They likewise wear black dark wool tunics, indicating they too are slaves. "They carry Splissopoons, which are basically large laser guns with very accurate and deadly aims," Para whispers. "I know this by my experience on the slave market. The guards are shorter than the Altonians, although they are quite deadly. If you don't have good communicating skills, or something useful to offer, you are killed. So Mistoosha must have faith he has a good product to trade for his entry. He must also have settled all his affairs back home in case he never comes back. And, chances are, he never will."
The massive golden gate expands in the middle of the bridge. As the travelers approach, Mistoosha continues to lead the way, Clan and Zinka leading the horses closely behind, with Para and Lance trailing several paces behind. While the others stand back, Mistoosha walks up to the guards, and bows. This is what he believes is the appropriate introduction. He crisscrosses his arms across his stomach, and says, "I am Mistoosha, and these are my men. I have a human slave to offer. I bring you wisdom so you can conquer them. In exchange, I want to learn your history."
"Human slaves are strong, and offer wisdom," Para whispers so his words are barely heard.
Lance breaths a sigh of relief as the gate starts to open. The soldiers move to the side, and Mistoosha can see that a series of pulleys are attached to oxen, who are working hard to pull the gate up. As he is motioned forward, he can see building upon building lining the path. Some are two stories, some are way taller. Some are only one story, and each of these have potted plants in boxes under their windows. "These one story buildings are homes where the women live. The larger buildings are shops where products are made, or as we would call them, large industrial factories. You can see the smoke billowing from many of them, polluting the air."
The smell is strong, almost like a mixture of sulfa and wood fires. He also observed smoke billowing from chimneys in many of the homes Para pointed out, and he figured these were from cooking fires. A horse and buggy whipped past, bringing up a billow of dust. Titan sneezes, and goes into a coughing fit. "This is not the place for a sneezing attack. What can we do to help the boy."
"Place a cloth over his face," Lance whispers.
Para rushes forward, and, without stopping, lifts the boy's toga so that it covers his mouth and nose. The boy sneezes twice. Moments later Para was once again guiding Lance, who realized he was walking blindfolded forward without his guide. "I hope no one noticed you were gone," Lance said.
"You likewise observed my blunder," says Para.
"You are a foolish sage," Lance says, and laughs silently.
Para laughs too, and also silently. Then he stops as fast as he starts, and then giggles again, as though it were a reflex giggle. "Maybe some day we can enjoy a laugh together. For now we have to pretend that we find no humor in life."
"It would be so nice if what you say were so," Lance says. "I mean about the laughing."
"Yes. Now we best be quiet, as we are being watched.
Lance looked around and saw that there were more and more people approaching the sides of the narrow streets to get a glance at the human, or so Lance figures that's what they were doing. Word must get out quick when strangers are in town, or at least when slaves were in town, or at least when a human was in town.
In the distance, to the right or left, as far as his eyes could see, so long as no forest of trees were blocking the view, were houses stacked side by side. "These are made of mud-brick, and each is surrounded, as you can see, by a mud-brick fence so that there is a small courtyard for every homeowner. In the courtyard is a fire pit, a larger fireplace, and tables. There are no chairs. This was where the women spent their days, cooking and taking care of the equipment the men needed to fight their battles, or perform their work in the shops. At night the men slept in beds in the small houses, and the women returned to their homes. Children lived in special schools until they were 18, and they were run very strictly (you can get a small taste of this by clicking here).
Finally they are at a place on the road where neat looking square buildings, all made of a yellow rock. "These," Para said, are the shops, and above them are apartments where the shopkeepers live, or where their guests stay. These apartments were also reserved for official visitors, and this is where Mistoosha figures he and his men will be housed. I wish I could say the same for you."
At that Lance gulped.
Finally the travelers are far enough along the path that they can see what they came to see: the temples, museum, library, and the castle that housed the King and Queen of Sassa. "The castle stands high up on a hill so that it's more magnificent than even the temples to the Sassa gods. It is and coliseum, and the museum, and library, and other amazing and interesting structures."
Occasionally Para points to what he's referring to, although such gesticulations are fewer and fewer as they get closer and closer to the castle. They are now walking up a slight incline. Lance sees that soon the path gets steep and turns in either direction. That awaits about a 100 feet ahead.
Para continues: "To approach the Acropolis, which is what such beautiful structures on such hills are called, one has to dismount animals and approach on foot. It is also advised that only one person at a time approach. When more than one person approaches, this is seen as intimidating and arrogant. One man, or one alien, or one visitor, is seen as humbling and giving of himself fully to the King and Queen. It also makes it easier for the pat down. If you have any weapons on you, even a pencil, you are beaten by hand until you
are dropped to the ground, and then you are thrown into the prison that is on the other side of the castle, and on Sunday you'll be thrown into the Lions Den of the colosseum in front of over 30,000 spectators, and the Queen and all their followers. If you are lucky, if Mistoosha is lucky, the King will be there with the queen to send out weapons for you to try to defend yourself, but he only make sparing appearances when he thinks you have something that may benefit him. And you do."
Those last words seem echo in the hot, dusty sunshine. The crowd thickens, and the caravan comes to a sudden halt. Lance can no longer see Mistoosha, and only the heads of the horses. The eyes are overwhelming, almost mezmirizing, as they appear to be focused on the hooded creature -- Lance.
The kind arm is no longer wrapped around his back, and he looks around. "Para! Para!" There is no response from Para. And even if there were, he wouldn't have heard it through the alien chants of "Alien! Alien! Alien! Alien!"
Something seems to pinch his butt, and he tries to get his hands back there to swat it away, but he cannot reach his own butt through the aliens hovering over him. Suddenly Lance feels his feet give way, and he's guided to the ground by the hands of impoverished Sassa. Over his face he now sees many large eyes peering down at him. He closes his eyes, and there is no more.