Dawn ran. Heart pounding, breath heaving with every step.
Yelped, as an energy blast seared past her, hitting a tree. Glanced over her shoulder, trying to regain her footing.
"This is illegal, you know!" she shouted back. "Earth's a class five planet! You can't—!"
The next energy blast just barely missed singeing her ear.
Dawn dodged out of the way, hurtling through the trees, the two aliens not far behind her. Could hear the click hum of their tracker systems, picking her up perfectly.
Nowhere she could hide.
Not even Earth.
Dawn heard the distinct sounds of energy weapons powering up, again, and threw herself across the ground, just in time to avoid being hit by a barrage of firepower. She rolled out of the way, across the dense foliage beneath her.
To her left, the sudden sound of a series of bullet-firing guns, all going off at once with a resounding crack!
Dawn turned, as did the aliens.
But for the aliens, too late.
"And again!" shouted the man in military uniform, as a second tier of men stepped forwards, leveling their muskets and firing at the aliens.
The aliens, caught off guard, collapsed to the ground. Dead.
Only just muttering a warning to their commander about the weaponry on this world, as they died.
Dawn breathed, heavily. Looking between the fallen aliens, and the men who'd just saved her life. Okay. So this was Earth, and these guys were wearing blue uniforms with gold buttons, stripes along the sleeves, and carrying muskets. Which meant… the year was…
Sometime… in the past… ish?
(Maybe Buffy had been right about not skipping History class when she'd been in High School. By rule of thumb, if there wasn't an HBO mini-series made about it, Dawn had no idea about history.)
"Never seen the likes of them before," said the man who seemed to be in charge, stepping forward to examine the alien bodies. He then turned to Dawn. "You all right, Ma'am?"
Dawn couldn't speak, for a few minutes.
"This war's no place for civilians and sight-seers," said the man. His eyes grew sad. "Trust me." Gestured at one of his men. "Private Mitchell, get this young lady somewhere safe."
"Yes, Colonel, sir!" said Private Mitchell, swinging his musket across his back and helping Dawn up.
"And the rest!" shouted the Colonel, gesturing at them. "Advance!"
Dawn accompanied Private Mitchell back through the trees, to the camp where he and the others had gotten set up. Looking at all the technology, trying to piece together clues about when they could be… and totally failing.
"Okay, stupid question," said Dawn. "But… where are we, and what year is it?"
Private Mitchell looked at her like she was nuts. "Year?"
Dawn gave a sheepish grin. "Bang on the head. Total amnesia moment."
"Missouri," said Private Mitchell. "1861."
Which meant nothing to her.
"Yeah, of course," said Dawn. "And the president is…?"
"Abraham Lincoln," said Private Mitchell. "No matter what the rebels claim."
Dawn froze. As she suddenly placed all the technology and uniforms and armies she was seeing. Finally worked out what was going on. And where they'd wound up.
"Oh, my God," breathed Dawn. "Then this war is…"
"The War of the Rebellion," agreed Private Mitchell.
"…the Civil War," said Dawn. She stared off into the distance. "And Seo's run right into the middle of it."
Seo tried to lose herself in the crowds of people inside the town.
Those alien tracker systems wouldn't work on her, of course. After all, Seo didn't show up on machines. But the aliens had a keen sense of smell, and Seo was hoping the dense crowd around her would confuse that.
So she'd stolen some clothes, tried to blend in as much as she could, and then had crept off to wherever the crowd was thickest.
Which was in a public square. A man's voice ringing out, across the crowd.
"Hearing five… do I hear six? Six, thank you, Ma'am! Six dollars, do I hear six twenty five?"
Her hearts stopping dead in her chest.
Looking up on the stage, and recognizing… the auction… the way the two men and the woman behind them were chained… the way they were being poked and prodded and examined like animals…
A slave auction.
Seo charged forwards, pushing past the crowd, and jumped onto the stage.
"Stop!" she shouted. "You're making a terrible mistake!" She pointed at the three people chained up behind her. "These aren't slaves! They're human beings — like you!"
The crowd began to shout at her, and the well-dressed man at the front gestured at the local security, the burly men standing a short ways away and advancing on Seo.
"Can't you hear me?" Seo insisted. "These are people! Not Ood or Cherfilis or anything like that. Human beings, no different from the rest of you lot. You can't…!"
One of the security guards tried to gently maneuver her out of the way, but Seo squirmed around so she was at just the right angle to elbow him in the stomach. Kicked back the other one, advancing towards her from the front, and dove out of the way of the third, aiming her sonic lock-pick at the chains securing the prisoners together, and grabbing them by the hands.
"Stop her!" shouted the man.
The security regained their footing, clambering back to their feet and grabbing up muskets, shouting as they pursued the others. Seo adjusted her sonic, so it gave out an ear-shattering whine, causing the pursuing men to double over.
Then yanked her new friends down an alley and out of the way.
The crack of gunfire erupting behind them.
"Oh, Lor!" breathed the woman with Seo. "Oh, Lor!"
"Just run, Mary!" said the older man. "Run!"
And so they ran.
The auctioneer stood up, his eyes narrow, his face filled with rage. Good stock, and he'd lost it. His clients would have his head for this.
Turned to the slave patrollers. "Get the dogs," he growled. Pointing at the disappearing group. "I want them back!"
The slave patrollers raced off to do as they were told.
The auctioneer turned back to the sheriff. "And I want that abolitionist hanged!" he said. "Lady or no!" He rolled up his cuffs. "Ain't never lost stock in my life, and I ain't gonna start now."
Seo buzzed at the door to one of the houses nearby with her lockpick. Yanked the door open, ushered them all inside.
"What's that?" said the older man. "Penny whistle?"
"Ain't never heard no penny whistle sound like that," the young man replied, as they all scrambled into the building. He met Seo's eyes with his. "Never heard of no penny whistle could open locks, neither."
Seo gave a sideways grin, as she tucked it away, then began to barricade the doors. "Sonic lockpick," she said. "I'm still working on making the full screwdriver." She paused. "I never got your name."
"Joshua," said the young man. He gestured at the other two. "That there's Solomon 'n Mary."
Seo smiled at the other two — married couple, looked like — as she finished up the barricade.
"What is goin' on in…?" came a woman's voice, as a young Caucasian lady, elegantly dressed, emerged into view. Stopped, the moment she saw the crowd by her front door. "Oh."
Seo held out her hand. "We're not going to hurt you," she said. Stepped forwards. "I'm sorry, it's just…"
The woman pushed past Seo and the three slaves. Looking out the window. "Fightin' broken out already?" she asked. "I reckoned it'd only be a matter of time." She turned back to Seo. Shutting the drapes. "Felicity Tailor," she introduced. "And don't worry. You can stay here. Yanks don't give back slaves, you know. Keep 'em as contraband."
Only just realizing… that this woman thought these people belonged to Seo.
"They're not mine. And… and… they're not slaves!" Seo insisted. Bunched her hands into fists, frustrated. "How many times do I have to say this? These are human beings! Natural born people, no different from you!"
Felicity blinked. Confused. "They… ain't yours?"
"They're my friends," Seo insisted. "I rescued them off a podium, because some thick-headed ape decided they were bits of property instead of living, breathing people."
Felicity's eyes narrowed. She raced to the door, jerking the items away from it, shouting as loud as she could, "Runaway slaves! In here!"
"No!" shouted Seo, reaching out to grab her back. "Wait! Don't—!"
But she was too late.
As Felicity threw open the door, and came face-to-face with the tall purple-skinned humanoid, its three arms positioned around a lethal-looking gun, its head lopsided, the left half looking almost melted around the cybernetic scanning implant.
Felicity stumbled back. Terrified.
Mary clutched at Solomon's arm, her whole body trembling as she saw the monster emerge. "Solomon!" she squeaked.
"The humans will hand over the fugitive slave!" the alien demanded. Charging up its gun. "Or face incineration."
"The… the… the slaves are in here!" said Felicity. She grabbed up Joshua by the arm, and threw him forwards. "Take 'em."
The alien ignored her. "Harboring a fugitive slave is punishable by death," it said. "You will hand her over, or we will take her by force."
"You can't," said Seo, grabbing up Joshua, and yanking him away from the alien. "This is a class five planet. You've got no jurisdiction."
The alien seemed amused. Then pointed his gun straight at Felicity, and pressed the trigger.
"Don't!" Seo shouted.
But too late.
As the blast of the energy beam struck Felicity, and she screamed, before vanishing in a whiff of vapor.
"That was illegal!" Seo screamed. "You had no right to—"
The alien responded by turning the gun on Mary and Solomon, who both raised up their hands, terrified.
"The reward for the return of fugitive slaves," the alien hissed, "is ten percent of their total value."
Ah. That explained a lot.
"You're never going to give up, are you?" Seo breathed.
"The humans will surrender the fugitive," the alien commanded the humans in the room, "or face annihilation."
"Face this!" shouted Joshua, grabbing up a small stone bust from beside him and pelting it at the monster's non-cybernetic eye.
The alien screamed, gun spinning around to aim at Joshua.
But he and Seo had already turned and fled.
The other two following. The sharp acrid scent of the energy beam sweeping through the air, as walls and fixtures disappeared, around them. The four panting as they ran from the house, out into the open countryside behind it.
"Cover!" shouted Solomon, leading them all to a patch of woodland, and just barely managing to avoid the next shot from the alien's gun.
"Monster it was," Mary whispered, glancing over her shoulder. "Oh, Lor, Solomon! Paddy rollers are usin' monsters, now. Usin' monsters to track us down!"
"We're alive," Solomon reassured her. "Remember that."
Joshua shook his head, as they crouched in a hiding spot. "Nah," he said. "Them monsters ain't after us." He looked at Seo, pointedly. A glimmer of cleverness in his eyes. "Was they?"
Seo looked down at the ground, bit her lip.