Ah Dom sat hunched under the tree. It was dead; he felt as if he were dead, as well. It was cold and night fall was upon him. He had no clothes – nothing to warm him. His head had been shaved and he could feel the markings that had been branded into his flesh. They were feathered slashes that began at the top of his head and ran all the way down his right arm. He couldn’t understand why they would brand him this way and shave off his lengths of jet black hair. His hair had been a symbol of his status in the empire. He felt he was going to be sick. He heard a howling in the distance. He didn’t recognize the long, low lament. It was new to him.
The blue tick coon dog pulled taunt on his chain as he sniffed the air. He wailed loudly, over and over, until his master emerged from the small cabin.
“What’s wrong, Cassidy?” The young man looked off into the direction the dog was straining towards. “You smell a coon, boy? You want to hunt?” Bow in hand, he released his dog and followed as the animal howled through the woods.
Ah Dom heard the wailing sounds coming closer. He tried to conceal himself in some underbrush near the dead tree. He wanted to move further into the forest and out of this clearing he was in, but the howling was too close. Soon, the blue tick hound came crashing through the woods into the clearing. Without hesitation Cassidy leapt into the underbrush where Ah Dom crouched.
Cassidy nuzzled Ah Dom as if he understood the young man’s misery. Ah Dom sighed in relief, as he hugged the dog for warmth. Then, the man came, seeking his dog. “Cassidy,” he called. Where are you boy?” Ah Dom sank back into the brush in hope of not being seen, but the dog barked, and his master came to see what had been trapped.
“What is it boy?” The man peered into the underbrush. His eyes met Ah Dom’s. He stared in awe of the stranger. Ah Dom’s aquamarine eyes were unlike any the young man had ever seen; they were so large and searching. The markings that covered Ah Dom’s head and limbs reminded him of the tats of some gang members he had known in prison; but, Ah Dom didn’t look like he belonged to any gang. He was small, not much more than a boy and his skin was so pale; almost albino. He heard sirens and realized that on the road circling his mountain, police were hunting for someone; maybe this someone. He removed his field jacket and helped Ah Dom up, placing the jacket around him.
Matt Brady noisily searched his cabin for his younger brother’s clothes. Jim had been slender, like the stranger; maybe a little larger, but these clothes would do for now. He had packed Jim’s clothes in a box and placed it in the closet after he got out of prison. He remembered how Jim had been so happy when Matt agreed to move to their granddad’s mountain after he came home from Iraq. Then, like an idiot, Matt got into trouble and ended up in prison. Jim had been left there in the cabin alone. Matt never knew what exactly happened, but his little brother was dead and he hadn’t been there to do anything to stop it.
He could hear a police car getting closer to his cabin. He hoped that they wouldn’t question the other young man’s appearance. Maybe the clothes would hide his looks enough to keep from drawing attention. He worried about the tats and the pale skin. He had tats and hoped they would think that this stranger simply had tats like his. Maybe they weren’t even looking for any one with tats. Still, he had more to worry about than just the tats. He had Ah Dom sit at the table, in the shadows, where he would be out of direct view of the door.
A car pulled up outside. Matt removed his outer shirt, so that his tats would show around his wife beater under shirt. Maybe, he thought, if the cops were distracted by his appearance, they wouldn’t even notice his visitor.
There came a knock at the door and Matt opened it. It was just one cop. He was a sloppy fat goober that Matt had seen in town before. This guy had some kind of power fantasy and was always trying to flaunt his authority.
“Hey there, Officer Downs; what can I do for you today?” Matt said leaning against the door frame, hoping to block the view to the interior of the cabin.
“Did you hear a crash earlier?”
“I heard something, but my dog was making so damn much noise I couldn’t much tell what it was.”
“Did you see anything?”
“Sir, have you seen anything out of the ordinary tonight?”
“Naw, just a fat cop on my land.”
Officer Downs appeared either angry or exasperated as he walked back to his car with Matt looking on. “Look,” he said turning back to Matt. “If you see or hear anything strange, call the local dispatcher. Is that okay? Will you do that?”
“Oh, sure; you bet.” Matt watched as the cop car pulled away. He turned back and looked at Ah Dom. “Yep, I’ll call them all right. I’ll just stick my head out this door and yell. Not my fault if they don’t hear me. Got no phones up here.”
Matt sat down at the table, opposite Ah Dom. “You are one strange looking son-of-a-bitch. Where did you come from?”
Ah Dom sat silently; glad to be in the warmth of the cabin. Matt stood and went to the fireplace where a pot hung over the logs. He took a bowl and spooned some hot chili into it. Returning to the table he placed the bowl in front of Ah Dom, and stretched his muscular arm out to snatch a loaf of bread off a nearby counter.
“You may as well get some food in you. I bet you’re hungry.”
Ah Dom gratefully took bread and began dipping it into the hot mixture. He was ravenous. He wasn’t sure when he had last eaten. He remembered the cruiser; and then; nothing. He wasn’t even sure where he was. This humanoid helping him looked strange. His hair was long, not as long as Ah Dom’s had been before he was marooned on this planet, only about shoulder length; and this one’s hair was thick and wooly, like the Crevats on Hadat. Like the Crevats, his face was wooly as well, but rather than a wooly body, this man was branded all over like the slaves of Tanof. He wondered what sort of man this was.
“So, my friend what do I call you? I’m Matt. This here is my coon dog, Cassidy. You can call him Butch if you like.” Matt laughed at his own joke, expecting Ah Dom to get it. Ah Dom remained silent.
Ah Dom wondered what language it was this creature spoke. He thought that he was familiar with the languages of all the slave planets in the galaxy. But this was new. Perhaps this wasn’t a slave planet at all. The other who had come earlier had no slave markings. He could be one of the masters. Ah Dom was confused. He had dedicated his life to bringing freedom to all slaves, of all planets, but this one was new to him. He had no idea what planet he had been stranded on. Was he even still in the Kadar galaxy?
“Are you going to tell me your name? Or do I have to name you?”
Ah Dom looked at Matt with puzzlement.
“Okay then. I’m Matt. You got it? Matt.”
“Good. And this is Cassidy.” The big dog laid his head on Ah Dom’s lap. “Cassidy,” Matt repeated.
“Cassidy.” Ah Dom scratched Cassidy’s large head and tested his ability to communicate with this noble animal. You and your master can help me, if you will.
Cassidy perked his head up and whimpered. We’ll help you.
Matt, didn’t recognize the exchange that took place between the two. He was just glad to see the stranger making an attempt to communicate.
“Cassidy,” Ah Dom repeated.
“Oh, you’re good. So -- now what about you?” Matt pointed at Ah Dam.
“Ah Dom,” he said, pointing to himself.
“Well okay then, Adam. Good to meet you.” Matt held his hand out.
Ah Dom, now Adam, looked strangely at Matt’s hand. He wondered what Matt was handing him, but he saw nothing. Cassidy whimpered again and Adam understood. This was a form of greeting. He took Matt’s hand in friendship.
Adam had made strange new friends, on a strange new planet, and he had been given a new name. Matt provided Adam with a place to lie down for the night. He called it a bunk. It mattered not to Adam. It was warm and comfortable.
He didn’t know, or understand, why he had been removed from the cruiser bound for Kazar. He knew he had made enemies. There were many who wanted him dead because of his politics. Slavery was a very profitable business in the Kazarian Empire, but if Adam had his way, and he would upon the inauguration, it would be abolished throughout the Kadar galaxy. He knew that stranding him on some distant planet would be one way of silencing him, but he swore it wouldn’t work. He didn’t know, however, why he had been marked as a slave or why his long, jet black hair, the symbol of his Kazarian royalty, had been shaved.
As he lay down his head, he vowed to search out those who had stranded him and renew his rightful place in the empire. He was certain that his brother, Cy Dom, would be searching for him. After all, he was to be crowned as emperor soon. His brother wouldn’t allow the empire to be left without its emperor. But, for now ... he must rest. He pondered these things as sleep over took him, in the home of his new friends, Matt and Cassidy.
Adam awoke to a mixture of aromas. His stomach rumbled entreating him to search for the source of the savory essence. He rose from his bed, looking across the one room cabin. Cassidy sat expectantly awaiting breakfast. He whimpered at Adam. Matt stood by a fire, filling plates with food that promised to satisfy the palate.
“Mornin’ Adam,” Matt said. “Come on and sit down. I’m a pretty good cook, if I do say so myself.”
Cassidy whimpered again and Adam laughed.
“What?” Matt was confused. “Oh well, come on and sit down.”
Adam wasn’t certain what Matt had said, but he understood when Cassidy told him he was being invited to eat. He went to the table to enjoy the meal Matt had prepared.
“I got to go to town today,” Matt said. “I guess you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, though. I think you’ll be okay here with Cassidy. You two seem to have something going that I’m not being let in on anyway.”
Adam was enjoying the food that Matt had given him. He had eaten foods similar to this on his home world of Kazar. Some of the more primitive villages served animal flesh. He didn’t remember it tasting quite this good though. Even so, the meal made him think of home. It seemed like it had been forever since he had seen home. Now he wasn’t certain if he would ever see it again.
Matt had finished his meal and grabbed the keys to his truck. “Look,” he said, “if you get hungry while I’m gone, there’s food here in the fridge.” He opened the refrigerator to show Adam the food. “Now, you stay here with Cassidy. I’ll be back soon. Okay?”
Adam stared strangely at Matt. Cassidy looked at him and whimpered and Adam appeared more relaxed. Matt looked at the two and shook his head.
“Just say okay,” Matt coaxed. “Okay, come on, okay.”
Cassidy whimpered again.
Adam smiled and said, “Okay.”
“You’re learning,” Matt said. “I’m not sure who’s teaching you, but you’re learning. Oh well, I’ll be back soon.”
He went out to the old ’65 Ford Ranger that sat in front of the cabin. This had been his granddad’s truck. Matt remembered when he and Jim were boys, coming up to the cabin to spend summers with Granddad. They had a lot of fun in that old truck. The black paint was so faded now that it looked as though it had none and before Granddad died, he had knocked quite a few dents into the old truck. Matt spent lots of time working on it to keep it running, but sometimes parts would be hard to find and he would have to rely on a little ingenuity and bailing wire.
Adam could hear the truck for several minutes after it disappeared down the heavily wooded drive. He closed the door and went back to his bunk where he lay down to sleep some more with Cassidy curled up beside him. The fresh mountain scents of pine and recent rain made sleeping a pleasure.
Junction was just a little town that never really grew out of the 50’s. A lot of the old shops on Main Street were closed and had been for years. When Matt arrived in town he noticed that there was much more activity than normal. Unlike most days, the streets seemed full. People were milling about, gathering in groups to talk and reading together from the local paper, a four page weekly that never seemed to have much to say. Military vehicles were parked up and down the street. State police were gathered at the local P.D. It was not a site he often saw in this sleepy little town.
Few people paid any attention to the rattling of the old truck as Matt pulled into an empty parking space in front of the store. A soldier was walking by as Matt got out of the truck. “Say there, can you tell me what’s going on?” Matt asked.
“Where you been? The solider said. “It’s all over the news. Grab a paper.” And he walked on.
Grabbing a paper wasn’t so easy. Normally he wouldn’t bother with this little rag, but now he checked all the boxes in hopes of learning a little about what was going on and maybe who Adam was. The boxes were sold out, so he went into the store to get his supplies. “You got any papers?” he asked when he went up to pay.
“Sorry,” the clerk said. “I don’t think you can get one anywhere. I never saw our paper sell out before and you should see how thick it is. I think it’s about twelve pages. It’s just freaky.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s pretty weird, huh. Well, can you at least tell me what’s going on around here?”
“You’re kidding, you haven’t heard?”
“I live up on the mountain. No phones, no TV, not even a radio.”
“What about in that beat up old truck you drove in to town?” the clerk asked.
“Yeah, it’s got a radio,” Matt said. “Don’t work, but it’s got one.”
“Oh man,” the clerk said with a laugh, “you’re in a world of hurt.” Matt laughed with him and the clerk went on to give him the news. “Well, we had a space ship crash right up there on the mountain. You from up near the east ridge?”
“Yep; I own the whole mountain.”
“Well, you had to have heard something then,” the clerk said.
“There was all kinds of stuff going on up there last night. Officer Downs came up to my cabin and asked if I’d seen anything out of the ordinary. He never said that any space ship crashed though.”
“Sounds like Downs,” the clerk said. “He doesn’t seem to think anyone needs to know anything. Look, I got my copy of the paper under the counter. Here, you take it. I read it already.”
“Thanks,” Matt said as he gathered his supplies and he headed back to the truck.
With his supplies in the bed of the truck, Matt sat for a few minutes to look at the paper before heading home. There were photos of a gleaming silver space ship, marked with a strange dragon-like creature across the hull. The story talked about the crash and two reptilian aliens that were found, dead, beside the ship. According to the article the ship and the aliens had been taken to the local Air Force base to be studied. It said that a resident near the crash site reported seeing someone, who appeared human, stumbling away from the wreckage.
The two dead aliens were officially reported to have been killed by a fairly large caliber hunting rifle. The eye witness stated that he has shot them because they were chasing the person he saw fleeing the ship. The reptilian bodies of the aliens had been found next to the ship, which showed no damage that they could tell, but they couldn’t get inside. The ship was one solid mass of metal with no apparent openings for doors or windows. There was no word about the human that was seen stumbling away. They hadn’t given up the search, but weren’t certain that there had been anyone. The local resident who said he saw someone had been drinking so he wasn’t considered a reliable source.
Matt walked in the cabin with the supplies he bought in town. Adam and Cassidy had gotten up when they heard the rattling and clanking of truck. Adam sat at the table and Matt laid the paper in front of him. He studied the photos of the ship and of the two aliens. Even though the aliens were not human, it didn’t seem to surprise Adam.
Matt was sitting in a chair near the fire when Adam got up and walked over to him. Adam reached out to touch Matt’s head. “Whoa there,” Matt said. “What do you think you’re doing?” Adam reached for Matt again and placed his hands on either side of Matt’s head. He held tightly and closed his eyes. “What is this; some kind of Vulcan mind meld, or something?” Matt’s dark brown eyes grew large as he waited to see why Adam was doing this.
Soon Adam let go and opened his eyes. “Vulcan mind meld?” Adam said. “No, my friend. I just needed to learn your language. I’m sorry you feel I have brought trouble to you.”
“Hey, I never said that,” Matt said.
Adam pulled a chair over and sat down near Matt. “No,” he said, “but you were thinking it. Your newspaper says that they believe I am dangerous. Do you believe that?”
“You just sucked my brains and you don’t know what I believe?”
Adam smiled. “Sucked your brains? You certainly have a way with words. I tried not to invade your thoughts too much. I only needed to communicate with you; to learn your language. Do you know where the Air Force base is that they took the ship to?”
“I know where the base is, but it’s a big place. I got no way of knowing where that ship is.”
“If you can just take me there and leave me,” Adam said, “I can find the ship.”
“How will you find it?” Matt was skeptical.
“I have my ways.”
“Okay, so when you find it what will you do?”
“What are you, a moron or something?”
“Moron? Not even close, my friend.”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t decided if I’m your friend, but if I am, I’m sure not going to let you go to that base and get yourself killed, or dissected – no, they’d kill you AND dissect you.”
“You people are barbaric, aren’t you?”
“Yep,” Matt said, grinning. “Now, what’s the plan?”
“The plan is to go to the Air Force base, find the ship, and leave.”
“Not much of a plan.”