Kara gasped in relief. The now familiar wrenching agony and blackness had ended. She had passed through the portal once more. For a few seconds she was disoriented. She was not standing in the grasslands as she had expected. Instead she was perched dangerously close to the edge of a sheer drop. A few feet away Dodson lay on the ground moaning. He apparently had not endured the pain as well as she.
She was naked as she expected, but so was Dodson. The thug sat up, holding his head and staring about him in bewilderment. “What the hell? Where’s my clothes? Where’s my gun?” Then he caught sight of Kara and his expression changed, regarding her in lascivious satisfaction. “Well, things aren’t all bad, I guess.” He got slowly to his feet.
His expression changed again. “You knew this was going to happen didn’t you? That’s why you wouldn’t tell Larson anything.” He stepped toward her menacingly. “I ought to beat the shit out of you, but maybe I’ll just have a little fun with you instead.”
That was as far as he got. Kara stepped forward and with three well-aimed blows knocked the thug to the ground in a semiconscious heap. “Yes, I knew this would happen. And you are through violating helpless women. I may not have my superpowers, but I’m more than a match for scum like you.”
She stepped back and surveyed her surroundings. The best thing was probably to get away from Dodson. He was completely untrustworthy and would probably try to attack her as soon as she was not on her guard. The problem was where should she go? The place where the portal had opened this time was completely unlike the grassy plain where she had expected to be dropped.
She was standing on the edge of a deep canyon in a region that was clearly desert. All around her was broken rock and scrub vegetation and a blazing sun beat down on her. But it was the same sun that she knew from before and she was quite sure that when night fell she would see Zhim’s double moons. She regretted that none of the equipment had made it through the portal. It would have been nice to at least have had enough clothing to provide some protection against the sun. Also she suspected that since she appeared to be in a region of relatively high elevation it might cool down quite a bit at night. Well, she didn’t have much choice. The first thing she needed to do was find out a bit more about where she was. In the opposite direction from the rim of the canyon was a steep slope. Perhaps if she climbed it she would be able to get her bearings. She started up the slope, wondering at the same time what happened to the items that seemed to simply disappear when Larson created the portal. She shook her head. There was no point worrying about it, and at least the tracking collar that Larson had forced her to wear was also gone.
Sven Larson, studied his instruments. Perfect, the tracking collar was emitting a steady signal. When he had given Supergirl and Dodson enough time it would be easy for him to bring them back. This time his studies would obtain the expected results.
On a planet so far away that no human mind can comprehend the distance, Glohp studied the strange heap of objects that had suddenly appeared in front of her. She had never seen anything like them, and therefore, they were to be treated with the utmost suspicion. As a result she simply studied them for a few hours until she was quite sure that they were not harmful. Then delicately she probed them with her tentacles.
At first she was disappointed. None of the objects appeared to be food or at least not food that she could eat. Most of the items were so foreign that they were beyond her comprehension. She had certainly not come across anything like them before. One by one she picked up each of the objects and studied it intently and one by one she put each one back where she had found it. All except one. This one intrigued her. It was a gleaming circlet composed of some strange shiny substance. If nothing else it was rather pretty. Sliding it over one of her tentacles she found that it just fit. She would keep it for the time being. She could always put it back later if she got tired of it. Now, however, she was hungry. She headed off into the swamp, her dozen or so eyes searching for prey, with the exception of one that was fixed admiringly on the glittering circlet about her tentacle.
Kara panted as she clambered to the top of the ridge. Several hundred feet behind her Dodson shouted for her to wait. She wanted nothing more to do with the cowardly thug, but apparently he was terrified of being left alone in this strange new world.
The climb had been a bit tougher than she had expected. Again her lack of shoes was an important factor in her progress. Her feet were already bruised from clambering over the stony ground. Now, however, she had a better view of her surroundings. Behind her was the long slope back to the edge of the canyon. It stretched east and west as far as she could see. There seemed little point in following it for any distance. In front of her was a wide expanse of desert. Directly ahead there appeared to be sand dunes and beyond them a range of mountains. There was some hope there. The mountains were snowcapped, and where there was snow there was probably running water. The problem was the mountains were probably at least fifty miles away and to trek that far across the desert without water seemed not only foolish, but hopeless.
“This isn’t good,” she muttered. “I’m in the middle of a waterless wasteland, totally nude and without any food or water.” How as she going to get out of this one? Had she survived so much just to die a horrible death in the middle of some unknown desert? She almost wished that she still wore the collar. At least Larson would be able to bring her back to Earth.
Shading her eyes she scanned the horizon. Far away she saw a small flash as if sunlight had reflected off metal. The focused on it and saw it again. There was something there. But what? She didn’t have a lot of choices. Without waiting for Dodson she headed toward where she had seen the flash. An hour later she wasn’t sure she had made an intelligent decision.
There were about thirty riders, mounted on large ungainly creatures that seemed more suited to water than land. They looked somewhat like hippos with the necks and heads of giraffes and they seemed a strange animal to travel the desert, considering that they must have used a lot of water. Even more bizarre was the fact that they seemed to have large fish-like gills running he lengths of their long necks. They lumbered toward her at a steady pace and it was obvious that she had been seen by the fact that the caravan had swerved toward her.
Riding on the backs of the beasts were heavily robed men. At least she thought they were men. They were so completely swathed in dark cloth that they could have been either sex. In any case, they had seen her and were headed precisely in her direction. As they neared, the several riders detached themselves from the column of animals and maneuvering their ponderous animals with seeming ease, formed a semicircle about her.
Kara stood still, suspecting that she was being evaluated, but feeling extremely vulnerable in her unclothed condition. She noted that they all held weapons, but considering that had also been the custom in the other region of Zhim she had visited, it was not particularly alarming. No doubt the desert could be as dangerous as the Attalan empire had been. It did serve, however, to remind her that she was almost defenceless.
The animals loomed over, her each one the size of an elephant, the strange gill-like apertures in their necks working like bellows. This close Kara could hear the air as it was sucked into the openings and the animal smell of the huge beasts assailed her nostrils.
It was the riders, however, that were the most important. If they decided she was an enemy she doubted that she could survive an attack from so many. Their faces, however were shielded from her eyes by the heavy dark robes that each wore, allowing her to see only their dark eyes. She was able to determine only that the riders were much shorter than the Attalans.
Dersha stared at the incredible women who had materialized out of the desert. He had never seen anything like her. Where she had come from or what she was doing in the middle of a trackless waste he had no idea. But he was taking no chances. It was possible that she might be a demon and demons were dangerous beyond imagination.
The problem was he had never seen a demon before, although of course he had heard a great deal about them. But this strange woman might certainly be a demon. For one thing she was completely naked in an environment calculated to blister unprotected skin in a very short time. For another, she was beautiful beyond anything he had ever imagined. He had never seen a woman with breasts so high and proud or a face and figure so exquisite. And finally her skin and hair were of a colour he had never seen before. In the desert sun, her shoulder-length hair shimmered like gold and her white skin was almost dazzling.
It was for these reasons that he studied her so carefully, his eyes traveling up and down her body, noting the sinuous curves and smooth musculature that seemed to denote great strength. If the woman was not a demon what an addition to the harem of the Shukla she would make. His eyes finally came to rest on the silken triangle at the apex of her smoothly rounded thighs. Surely a creature that seemed so inviting could not be a demon. But still he hesitated, until with some surprise, he realized that there was a second naked figure.
This one was male and seemed quite disoriented, stumbling and crying out as its feet stepped over sharp stones. Whatever it was, it seemed too pathetic to be a demon and since it seemed to know the gorgeous creature in front of him that absolved her as well.
“She is a woman,” he cried. “We will take her to Trakhan. She is certain to be a valuable prize.”
Kara realized that she had passed whatever test it was the riders were concerned about when several of them dismounted and approached her. And she was not altogether surprised about what they did next.
She sighed as a leather collar was strapped about her neck. A short chain was attached to it and the other end was fastened to a heavy ring set into the saddle on one of the huge beasts. It was the very least that she had expected. Interestingly, they made no effort to bind her hands and actually assisted her as she was boosted into the saddle of one of the great beasts. It was actually more than a saddle, consisting of a leather platform large enough for two or three people and sheltered by an awning that rose on wooden poles, forming an effective barrier against the rays of the sun. Kara settled into it in welcome relief. Dodson was not so lucky.
The thug was similarly tethered, but he was not allowed to ride. Instead he was towed along behind the animal that Kara and her guard rode. He was provided with a loose fitting black garment as protection against the sun’s rays, but that was all. Whimpering in pain and cursing in protest he was forced to follow as quickly as he could or else risk being dragged along the rough ground.
“Serves him right,” thought Kara. Still the sound of the man’s cries of pain as his feet were further bruised became quite distressing. Kara did not like to hear the sound of any creature in pain, not even a brutal thug like Dodson. Apparently her captors got tired of it too because after awhile they stopped and hauled him into the saddle of another beast.
The journey across the desert took another five days. In that time Kara learned quite a bit about the people who had rescued (captured?) her. They called themselves the Twarg, and as Kara had already determined, were people of the desert. The huge beasts they rode were called kaperts and were truly remarkable animals, suited to a desert environment beyond anything Kara could have imagined.
The kaperts never drank. They didn’t need to. Instead they extracted water from the air by means of the incredibly efficient structures in their necks that Kara had mistaken for gills. These organs were so effective that they actually produced more water than the creatures could use, thus providing water for their riders. The first time Kara had witnessed this, however, she had been more than a little shocked. After all, she had never seen anyone drink from a bucket of what she supposed was urine. However, after seeing the Twarg drink it, and having no other way to quench her thirst, she gave in and was surprised to find that although warm, the fluid she was offered was pure water.
Dodson was harder to please. He was experiencing severe culture shock as well as suffering physically from the heat and trials of the desert journey. Not surprisingly, he exhibited very little adaptability. “I’m not drinking monster piss,” he exclaimed when first offered the beverage. The Twarg offering him the water shrugged and drank it himself. A few hours later, at the next rest stop, a badly dehydrated Dodson was considerably less fussy, almost spilling the precious fluid as he drank it.
Other than the collar and chain, little effort was made to make sure that neither she nor Dodson escaped. At night, when huge tents were erected she and Dodson were actually allowed to wander the camp without escort. It was a bit confusing for Kara. Had she been rescued or was she a prisoner? The collar and chain certainly indicated the former, but the almost complete lack of security indicated the latter. However, it wasn’t hard to figure out that the Twarg realized that even if she or Dodson did try to leave the encampment, there wasn’t anyplace for them to go. Neither would survive long in the trackless desert. They had little choice but to remain with the people who had found them.
Five days after encountering the Twarg the desert changed. They were close to the mountains and suddenly small flowering shrubs and grasses appeared. The vegetation thickened as the moved closer and then suddenly, rising from the base of the nearest mountain was a walled city. In spite of its desert location, the city was impressive, its walls and towers stretching for more than a mile and then climbing the mountainside behind it. The Twarg whose beast she rode pointed and said, “Trakhan.” Kara knew the word. It was the great desert trading centre at the heart of the Twarg empire.
Kara stared in amazement at the magnificent vista. It was like something out of the Arabian Nights with dozens of towers, domes, and minarets rising one upon the other up the mountain slope. A well traveled road crowded with hundreds of peoples and animals swung down from the mountains and looped around to the massive front gate. Kara’s caravan crossed the intervening miles and joined the flow.
Kara wondered what to do. On all sides of her were hundreds of people and numerous strange animals. If she was ever going to make a break for it now was the time. However, despite the collar and chain she did not feel like a prisoner. She had not been treated harshly, far from it, the Twarg acted toward her like she was some sort of royalty. While she hesitated the chance passed, provided there had ever been a real chance. Even if she had tried to escape what would have been the likelihood that she could have succeeded? She was surrounded by strange people in a strange land and with her colouring and physical size what chance did she have of successfully getting away. If she had wanted to escape she should have attempted it long before the Twarg reached the exotic city. Now it was much too late, she would just have to see where the Twarg were taking her.
She settled into the saddle and tried to be optimistic. She remembered how she had been welcomed by the Attalans when they had rescued her from the Bermaghi. Perhaps the same thing would happen here. Not really having much choice she could only hope for the best.
The swaying caravan of kaperts entered the gate and wound through the streets of the city. In spite of the crowded streets the huge animals had little difficulty in making their way as anyone in their path quickly moved aside. In this way they moved through the streets until they reached an open square. It was here that the Twarg halted their huge beasts and began to unload the cargo each one carried.
Kara too was unloaded, one of the Twarg escorting her to a small building at the side of the square. It was only as she entered the building that she realized it was a jail. Too late she turned as the door was closed and bolted behind her. Outside she heard a low laugh and then a voice. “Well, are you happy now you stupid bitch? You’re going to get your sweet ass fucked again.”
It was Dodson, his foul mouth as usual spouting filth. During the five day trek across the desert she had made a point of avoiding him whenever the Twarg stopped for the night. Since he was always chained away from her that had not been difficult. But now for some reason the Twarg had placed her in a tiny cell and chained Dodson right outside the barred window. Ignoring his foul language Kara spoke. “What do you mean? What is this place?”
“This is the slave market, bitch. Didn’t you learn any of the language of these people or did you not bother to ask where we were being taken?”
Kara had learned quite a bit of the language, but she had not pressed any of the Twarg for details of where they were going. When she had asked they had only told her that they were on the way to a trading centre and that by sheer good fortune she had stumbled across them. If she had not she would probably have died in the desert.
“How do you know this?” she asked.
“The black hoods told me all about where we were going,” said Dodson referring to the Twarg. “This is the capital city of the dude that rules this area and this is the slave market. You thought the Twarg were rescuing you, but they were just transporting another valuable piece of merchandise to market. Pretty soon you’ll be up on the auction block being offered to the highest bidder.”
“What about you?” Kara asked.
“Oh, me too, of course. But at least I’m not going to be sold into sexual slavery.” He chuckled and then went silent.
Kara did not ask any more questions. Instead she sat on a small bench inside the cell and waited. Outside she could hear people and animals moving and talking. Finally she peered through the small bared window. She could just see part of the square and it was now crowded with people. She sat back down again. There was no point in becoming too anxious about the situation. Perhaps Dodson had been lying, but if he hadn’t there was still nothing she could do about it.
She sat there for another hour waiting and wondering. All the while the square outside continued to fill with people. Finally the door opened. Two of the Twarg were there. Stepping into the cell they attached two chains to the collar she still wore. Something about their actions and their eyes told her all she needed to know. Dodson had not been lying. With a feeling of resignation she allowed the two men to tow her out of the cell and into the waiting crowd.