The day started out like most others, wet, slimy, and covered with alligators. Or at least that's how it usually started out for Denver. Denver was a twenty year old hunk, with wavy brown hair, good skin, and brilliant blue eyes. He had night duty for the traveling circus Friendship. He would stay awake from zero hundred to six, watching the animal pens and making sure no one sneaked off with the circus's rare off world animals.

So, being as how he slept till about noon, he would awaken to find the world hot, muggy, gray and wet. The kind of weather Florida alligators thrived in. Being parked next to the edge of the swamp did not lessen the alligator threat either. They commonly went for a stroll through the tents in such weather.

Denver hopped out of bed with more energy than he felt and began dressing. He glanced at his digital watch after putting it on. Time; thirteen fifty-four. Date; June thirteenth, two thousand one hundred five. Double thirteen. Denver had a queer and excited feeling in his chest. Today was a good day. Today he would break free.

Denver slipped on a falconer's glove and gave a whistle. Into the tent he resided in, flew a beautiful bird of prey. Though humans had not gone any further than Jupiter in their space exploration, an international alien council had determined that Earth would be open to trade. When the first of the ships landed one of the instant hits among humans was the keeping of off world creatures as pets. Denver's bird of prey came all the way from a grey planet (with a gross sounding name he couldn't pronounce without laughing) located in the left nostril of the Horse Head Nebula and was called an E'rith. Standing at a height of fifteen inches the bird had silvery feathers with a shock of bright green under its wings. This green was also on the creature's beak and claws. It thrived in the rainy Florida weather as its home planet was equally rainy and hot. The E'rith could fly both day and night, but preferred dusk and dawn to do its hunting. Being roused at noon was something it did not care for since it usually slept at this time, but would do anyway since Denver had raised it from an egg and the bonds between bird and man were close.

Denver exited his tent with the bird, rubbing it affectionately on the chest. "Today m'lady can you sense the change in the air? Go and fly, then rest. We will move soon, though the circus does not move till Wednesday." He murmured softly to the bird. The E'rith gave a piercing cry in reply and flew off, as though in understanding of his words.

Hours later Denver was standing in the tent of Dominus, the circus master. The heavy set man was red in the face and yelling because one of the circus tigers had died in the night and its cage companion refused to behave according to Dominus's standards. Denver couldn't quite see why the fat man was yelling at him. It wasn't his fault that the tiger had been fed spoiled meat, or the fact that it had continually been fed that spoiled meat for two weeks prior to the beast's death. He only watched the creatures in the dark of night when they were all sleeping. Deep sleep and dead looked very much alike from a distance.

". . . And further more, you are to touch all the animals from this time forward to make sure they are alive!" Bellowed Dominus.

Denver started at this decree. It was unreasonable of the fat man to make him do that.. "Sir, with all due respect, touching most of those creatures late at night could be a disaster. Morning would find me with no hands left to touch them with. A sleeping creature is not one to be messed with."

Dominus slapped him hard across the cheek. "Remember your place boy. I am Master over you, or have you forgotten?" He sneered, yanking on the iron collar around Denver's neck. The United States had become an annex of Africa after the fourth great war. With Africa came a more tribal way of life and slavery being allowed. It wasn't Denver's fault he was a slave. He had been born into it. So he submitted to Dominus and nodded his head in consent of the rule he would never get a chance to follow.

After being kicked unceremoniously out of the Master's tent, Denver went to help Hilda with the afternoon and evening chores. Hilda was also a slave, who had in her possession two short haired dogs. The white female was Violet, and the brown male was Wood. Both dogs stayed around the general area of Hilda, if not always at her side.

At eighteen thirty, Denver found himself very alone with Hilda, a rare thing in such a crowded circus as Friendship was. He told her of his plan to which she was aghast at. "You can't run away!" She exclaimed. "You have the collar on. These collars are Impervio make. They don't come off and they don't have seams. Unless your head is small enough to slip it off of, which judging how tightly yours fits to your neck, it doesn't come off! You're a slave; I'm a slave. Accept this and live. To run away means they can track you with the collar, bring you back and punish you. You'll be branded as a runaway."

With a grin Denver opened the collar. It twisted at several hidden pivot points and he threw it to the ground. "I can get yours off too. Will you run with me? Bring your dogs if you will, I'm bringing m'lady E'rith with me. We're running to the swamp, never to be heard of again. Please, come."

"I'm some kind of stupid, I really am." She said softly, tilting her head so he could get a look at her collar. He twisted it with deft finders and dropped her collar to the wet ground. Laughing with unbelief, she rubbed her neck and hugged Denver. Hilda then called her dogs to her side. Violet and Wood both bound up, covered in mud from their own romp in the swamp. Hilda smeared the mud more evenly over Violet's white coat. She was no fool. Who else for miles owned a white dog?

Separately the left the traveling circus Friendship for the surrounding swamp. Hilda and her mud coated dogs, and Denver with his E'rith riding on his glove. Neither wore their restrictive collars. They both knew that if someone knew they were runaways who slipped the unslippable collars they would probably be shot on sight.

But taking that risk they ran . . . and it was not till two days later and ill of temper that Dominus realized his loss.