Copyright 1997 G. Dallman
November 4, 1997 Version 1.2
Revision Date: 04/30/98
Note: This is the first part of a two part story.
If you like this let me know. Even if you don't, I'd like to here from you!

A New Life

In the Beginning

Being in the commercial aircraft business, I get a first-hand view of the world that many people never see, the Cabbages and Kings sort of thing. As a supervisor on the shop floor at Vector Aviation, I have a front-row seat for almost all of it that passes through the hundred meter wide doors of our company.

Yesterday, my boss distributed a memo from our Public Relations office detailing, in a vague sort of way, plans for the visit of the leader of an important African country. This isn't an unusual thing. National Leaders and Captains of Industry come here often, either to see what they've bought or to be convinced to buy. This was the former. This customer runs (or possibly owns) the country that produces 93% of the world's iridium and almost all of its osmium. We're talking Big Bucks! Both are important industrial metals so rare and expensive they make gold seem cheap.

At 0900 sharp, the black limousine, accompanied by an equally black van carrying a security detail, pulled into the shop area. With military precision, the uniformed driver got out and stiffly marched around to the opposite side of the car. As he opened the rear passenger door, he almost vibrated to attention, while holding it open with a white-gloved left hand.

Seconds later, his Most Eminent, Salephe Kelunda, Defender of the Faithful and Hereditary President of the tiny African country of At'Tem-Hanaq, emerged from the darkened interior of the limo. Almost instantly, three hangers-on emerged from the limo's other doors, two lawyer types a hatchet-faced woman with a steno pad. If the other two had official functions, it wasn't all that obvious, as they huddled a considerable distance from their Boss.

Dressed in an immaculately tailored blue, Italian pin-stripe suit, the tall, ebony-black man stood to survey the shop area through seemingly opaque purple-dark glasses. As he emerged, a smattering of polite applause, and less seemly whistles, emanated from the workers who waited behind a security barricade. The President's security man had been explicit; the common workers were to be kept at least 30 meters away.

While the President regarded his surroundings with a self-important smile and an indolent wave, the side door of the black security van slid open and the most extraordinary creature I'd ever seen stepped out, bending deeply at the waist to clear the door. At about seven feet tall, he had the maned head of a lion and a tawny-furred, well muscled body that was at once humanoid and feline; the two so superlatively melded that words fail to describe the perfection of his form. As he took his first steps away from the van, the tufted tip of his tail drew tight 'S' curves in the air behind him. All the while, topaz eyes, devoid of discernible emotion, scanned his surroundings, taking in the alienness of the factory. He seemed far from home.

As the Leonid emerged, the voice of the crowd suddenly hushed to a quiet, awed murmur, which the President clearly resented. Erasing the briefest scowl from his face with practiced ease, His Most Eminent Majesty turned to address the waiting workers.

"Dear people, I… have come today to Vector Aviation to see this most marvelous conveyance which you are building for… me."

Kelunda's voice was deep, with a rich, uniquely African accent that many actors, and probably most politicians, would kill for. One had to try hard to detect the disingenuous edge to his cultured articulation. Despite his practiced smile, President Kelunda was clearly miffed that his body guard's emergence had subtracted from his due portion of the spectacle generated by his grand arrival. Gesturing with a bejeweled hand to the airplane behind him, Kelunda continued his speech.

"With the fabulous and singular wealth of my beloved country, I… have purchased ten of these wonderful machines."

Once again the crowd applauded. Kelunda smiled again, in a way that seemed to indicate that his magnanimousness was a minor thing.

As the President addressed the workers, a second Leonid form emerged from the van, this one several inches taller that the first, his muzzle tinged with the slightest hint of gray. Like his fellow anthromorph, he was dressed in a pleated, white, Egyptian-style kilt that extended to his knees. Each carried a nasty looking Heckler and Koch G11 Combat rifle, cradled in the crook of his left arm. The black, ultra-modern weapons seemed somehow out of place when seen in the context of the creatures carrying them. The overall effect was as though these marvelous creatures had magically stepped out of an Egyptian tomb painting. These beings were the product of the fabled Moreau Institute, in Uganda. Silently, the two Leonid warriors moved to take up positions behind the President. Once again the communal attention of the audience was deflected from the posturing potentate, onto the two feline bodyguards.

Frowning slightly, the President interrupted his speech. "Oh my! I see you are fascinated by my servants," temporized Kelunda, as he forced a smile and a chuckle, while trying once again to reclaim center stage. "They, like our bountiful iridium, are a product of my small country." This was a lie, as he'd purchased them from an agent in Uganda.

A moment later, the existence of the fickle crowd seemingly forgotten, Kelunda turned to exchange banal pleasantries with Edward Conroy, CEO of Vector Aviation, who stood stone-faced at his side.

"It would please me to see my airplane now."

"Yes, Sir. If you would please come this way Your Most Emanant," gushed Mr. Conroy, indicating that the President should follow him to a metal stairway leading up to the forward passenger door of the airplane. As the small party approached the stairs, the larger of the two Leonid guards surged ahead, gracefully bounding up the steps three at a time, his assault rifle held, like a spear, over his tawny-maned head. At the top of the stairs he stopped, legs spread, facing the airplane, as though guarding his Principal from any lurking threat from within the vehicle. The second anthromorph followed close behind the President and assumed a similar position at the bottom of the stairs, facing the crowd, weapon cradled in the crook of his furred arm.

The instant Kelunda reached the top of the stairs, the second creature too bounded up the stairs, intending to assume a new position at its summit. As the Leonid cleared the top step, the fur of his left arm brushed, ever-so-lightly, against the fabric of the President's right sleeve.

"How DARE you!" shouted the autocrat, his placid face instantly transformed into a twisted mask of unreasoning rage. With agility surprising in a man his size, Kelunda pivoted about and struck the offending creature full in the face with the heel of his hand, causing the anthromorph to topple backward down the stairs with a repeating metallic clash.

Like my fellow employees, I was stunned by this behavior, but recovered quickly, rushing to the fallen creature, who was laying with his head on the bottom stair and his body sprawled on the concrete floor. Behind me I could hear the angry shouts of my coworkers, expressing their anger through speculations concerning the President's possible canine parentage. I could see blood seeping from a long gash down the Leonid's right side where his weapon had raked his ribs as he tumbled backward.

As I approached the supine creature, Kelunda looked directly at me and shouted, "You sir! Do not touch it!"

Too late, my momentum carried me forward, so that a second later I found myself kneeling beside the seemingly unconscious form. Without thinking, I placed my left hand on the creatures shoulder, feeling hard muscles under surpassingly soft fur. Instantly, his eyes sprang open and he sat up, roaring in an frighteningly lion-like manner. I froze with instinctive fear, the creature's hot breath and wet fangs were inches from my face! I could smell his scent, like wet iron.

I was paralyzed, like a deer in a spotlight, as golden, feline eyes bore into mine. The Leonid growled menacingly, deep in his throat. I tried to remove my hand from his shoulder, but it was as though it was glued in place. My fear-frozen muscles refused to obey! Slowly, the maned visage turned from my face to look down to where my trembling hand rested on his shoulder. I could feel the sinews tense beneath his tawny hide. After a few seconds, his growling stilled but he continued to stare into my eyes, as though looking deep into my soul. That feeling, added to the primal fear of being ripped to shreds, was extremely unsettling.

"Why do you touch me? You were ordered not to." The voice was so deep I could feel it resonate in my chest as he spoke.

"You're…injured," was all I could say. I hadn't expected him to speak.

The creature took no notice of his injuries. "My master commanded that you not touch me. Why do you disobey?" he persisted.

I couldn't think of an answer. "He shouldn't have done this to you."

"He is my master. He may do with me as he pleases." The voice was tired, resigned to the reality of his existence. "Why does this concern you? I should kill you for disobeying him."

As the Leonid spoke, one huge, clawed hand reached up to grasp the front of my shirt, creating small ripping sounds as his sharp claws penetrated and tore the material!

"I only meant to help!" I squeaked, my voice rising with the onset of panic.

Just then, a familiar voice cut through my rising tide of fear. "I see you are still alive, idiot. Perhaps if you move away from it, now, it won't kill you. The Goleem can be quite temperamental at times, you know."

I looked up to see Kelunda leaning over the railing of the aerostand, staring down at me.

"Golem, do not harm that man, as foolish as he may be!" commanded the President. His eyes and the inflection of his voice seemed to take pleasure from my terror.

The creature eased his grip on the front of my shirt but did not release me. "Why did you disobey to help me?" rumbled the Leonid, his head tilted questioningly to one side.

It took me a moment to regain my composure enough to answer, "I couldn't just let you fall down the stairs and lay here injured!"

As I spoke, the Leonid lightly touched his free hand to his wounded side, growling again, low in his throat. Blood was starting to seep from his fur into the white cloth of his kilt, staining a semi-circular area bright red.

"I told you to leave it alone, insubordinate wretch!" shouted Kelunda, still leaning over the railing.

"He's injured, Sir," I shouted back, ignoring the fact that I couldn't escape if I'd tried.

"He is also a clumsy, useless idiot, like yourself!" angrily shouted the President. "Perhaps you deserve each other. Yes! Since you care so much for its worthless hide, I give him to you," laughed the President mirthlessly. "Now get it and yourself out of my sight!"

I looked up at Mr. Conroy, who was staring, stone-faced, down at me. He nodded slightly, indicating I was free to go.

I started to get to my feet, but the Leonid still had a firm grip on my shirt and pulled me back to a squatting position. I looked down at the creature just as he tilted his head to look up at me. Despite his unhuman eyes, the look in them was obvious: Utter devastation.

"My master no longer wants me. I am yours now." His voice sounded so tired. Tired of pain. Tired of life.

In a matter of seconds, with a few words, a sentient being had changed hands, like an old pickup truck in a card game! It was at that instant that the enormity of my situation descended on me like proverbial falling bricks. I now OWNED the being in front of me. The very thought nauseated me. Deep inside, I hated Kelunda for the fact that he had the arrogance to presume to own another person, body and soul. He had used the pronoun 'it', and called it a 'golem', an automaton, as though he were unwilling to give the Leonine the benefit of personhood.

Now it was I who was given unwanted possession of that same being. Oh, how I hated him for doing this to us!

Standing, I took hold of the arm that still grasped my shirt and pulled, the Leonid offered no resistance as he came to his feet, passively allowing himself to be led away. As we walked away, I heard the metallic clatter of his weapon falling to the concrete floor, unneeded and irrelevant. With a pang of guilt, I wondered how often he'd been led like this in the past? As we walked toward my office cubicle, he turned his head to look back at his former master, who stood on the aerostand glaring at us through dark glasses.

When we got to my office, I pushed the Leonid into my chair and rummaged through the bottom drawer of my desk, searching for my small first-aid kit.

Just to fill the agonizing silence, I asked him, "what's your name?"

"I am a slave. I have no name," he answered in a flat, empty voice.

"All right then, what do your friends call you?" I started pulling pads of gauze and adhesive tape from the kit.

"Slaves do not have friends." His pronunciation of the last word dripped with acid sarcasm.

"Ok then," I persisted, "what did your mother call you?" For an awful moment, I was afraid he was going to say he didn't have a mother.

After a few seconds of thought he came to a decision. "She called me Rrell. Yes," he answered with increasing certainty. "My name is Rrell."

"So you do have a name," I said, pressing a gauze compress to his side, eliciting a sharp intake of breath. "And don't give me any of that 'slave' shit. You're in the United States now."

"But Master gave me to you. You own me. Do you not want me either?" His voice took on an air of desperation.

"It's not a matter of me not wanting you. I can't own you. I'm giving you, to YOU. You must be your own person. I will be your friend if it pleases you, but I cannot be your master. Not only would that be illegal, it's also terribly immoral. You must be your own master now. I'll help you."

Rrell looked at me as though I'd told him to turn himself inside-out. "I know nothing of morality. Where shall I go? What shall I do?"

"For now, I suggest that you come home with me," I said, naively ignoring the Byzantine complications this would generate.

Immediately, he perked up. "Yes, I will go to your home and be your servant. I have watched the servants in Master's palace. They are Human and own themselves. I can do this."

I didn't quite know how to tell him that wasn't what I had in mind, but it was a start.

* * * *

Understandably, I took the next few days off from work as I tried to make sense of this new complication that had been thrust into my life. My first Idea was to call the INS and inquire about a visa of some sort for Rrell. The harried-sounding woman I talked to said they didn't issue visas to non-humans. Perhaps, she said, what I wanted was a pet license. After she finished laughing, she said to call the Customs Bureau.

The Customs officer demanded to know where I'd gotten a license to bring a lion into the country. It took almost half an hour to convince him that I wasn't the one who brought Rrell into this country, and besides he wasn't a lion. It wasn't until the Customs officer called the At'Tem-Hanaq Embassy and found out the His Most Eminent has indeed rid himself of an inept servant that he relented.

A few seconds later, I found that I was part of a three-way conference call with another officer who wanted to know how I had obtained an import waver to bring interdicted technology into the country. It was a Class III Felony, he pompously informed me, to import gene-engineered humanoids. Once again, I repeated the litany of how I was given Rrell. I was told they would get back with me.

My next call was to the Justice Department, Civil Rights Division. The person I talked to was sincerely interested in my problem, but said there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution granting civil rights to non-humans. He was sorry, but there was nothing he could do.

The next day, the Customs Bureau called back. The agent wanted to know how much I paid for Rrell. I told him I hadn't paid anything. He said he found that hard to believe as the At'Tem-Hanaq Embassy reluctantly told him that the President had traded seven hundred and thirty kilograms of iridium for Rrell three years earlier, and at the current price of iridium on the open market that came to $13,817,857.14! It seems there was a considerable import duty involved.

If it hadn't been so pathetic, it would be funny!

Days later, worn down by the constant barrage of bureaucratic incredulity and intimidation, I sank to depths of degradation I'd sworn I would never go. I won't go into detail concerning the horrific scene at the Humane Society when the wide-eyed clerk asked if Rrell had been neutered! The guy doesn't know how close he came to having to sing in a different part of the choir himself!

In the end, Rrell was deliriously happy as I placed the largest leather collar I could find, replete with its absurd little metal tag, around his neck. What for me represented the near-ultimate in shame and humiliation, was for him a token of belonging, a reestablishment of his place in the world. Like it or not, until the laws change, sentient or not, he now legally belonged to me.

Later that day I received a registered letter from the Customs Bureau stating that the government of At'Tem-Hanaq had paid all duties and penalties due for Rrell's importation and that I would be granted an import license (with great reluctance I'm sure).

So began a new life, for both of us.

* * * *

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