Monday, May 26, 2014
February 11, part 1
I have no idea how long I was unconscious. I gather it was hours but I could be wrong. I guess it doesn’t really matter.
I woke to the smell of new-cut grass. It was such a distinctive scent that for an instant I thought I was back on Earth. Then I noticed the silvery ceiling over my head that emitted a dull gray light. Where the hell was I?
I sat up, finding myself stiff and uncomfortable. I guess sleeping on the hard ground will do that to you. My jaw dropped open to see that despite the ceiling overhead and three beige walls around me, I was on a grassy stretch of turf. There was a small tree, kind of like a birch, and a plot of red flowers that glittered in the light. There were a couple of large stones and a pond, too.
Beyond the encircling walls was another room, one kind of like my sitting room on the transport, but I paid little attention to it at that moment. I’d spotted Oses sprawled near the rocks, his bare feet dipping into the pond. He was still unconscious.
I sprang up ... well, maybe ‘sprang’ is too graceful a motion to describe what I did. It was more like I lumbered to my feet, my body stiff and my balance questionable. I lost no time in staggering over to the Nobek.
I noted some strange shit as I approached my unconscious companion. For one thing, Oses was no longer in his uniform. He wore what looked like animal hide pieces, a vest and a skirt ... or maybe it should be called a kilt. Anyway, the vest was open with no closures, leaving his carved and scarred torso bare in front. The kilt thingy was tied low on his hips and went almost to the tops of his knees.
There was also a thick white strap around his throat. Little squares of metallic netting studded the strap, and I saw no closure on the thing. At least it didn’t appear to be choking him.
My mind was more focused on waking Oses up rather than his new fashions. I knelt at his side, grabbed his shoulders, and shook.
“Oses, wake up. Oses, can you hear me?”
The Nobek’s eyes fluttered a little. Then they opened all at once and he sat up. His face twisted into a bestial snarl, showing his fangs. He grabbed me around the throat. I froze.
Not even half a second later, Oses recovered himself. The animal fury in his expression turned to horror. He let go of my neck and yanked me close to his body. “Shalia! I am so sorry, pet. I didn’t know who was touching me at first.”
My heart eased down on its wild gallop. “It’s okay. I’m glad you’re all right and ready to kick ass.”
Oses pushed me back and looked me over. It was only then that I realized I was wearing something new too. New and really weird.
I had on a sheath dress made up of some animal’s fur. I looked like a cave woman. My feet were bare and I could tell I had no underwear on. Yeah, in the middle of all the confusion, I noticed I wasn’t wearing underwear. I’m weird like that.
Suspicious, I touched my throat where Oses had been ready to choke the life out of me seconds before. I felt a thick strap studded with metal beneath my fingertips. Okay, so I was wearing some type of collar too.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked.
Oses rocked himself up to a crouch and looked over our surroundings. His nostrils flared wide as he sniffed the cut-grass air.
I looked too, finally paying attention to the room beyond the little grassy habitat. I gasped at what I saw.
The room itself wasn’t remarkable. It looked much like my sitting room, as I said before, except it was larger. There was a kind of raised flat surface that was upholstered in shiny orange fabric. I thought it must be a type of sofa. The flooring looked like thick white fur. If I stepped on it, I thought I might sink calf-deep into it. What looked like plain trays floated in various places in the room. One held a decanter of black liquid and some clear glasses. Another had a heap of what appeared to be red poker chips. Still another had a vase with a single yellow flower.
It was what surrounded the room that had my attention. There were other habitat-like rooms we could see into, ones with alien environments I recognized from vids. I saw a room dotted with trees with a thick carpet of gold leaves on the floor. A Plasian woman sat naked in the middle of that area, looking incredibly sad. She sat very still and stared down at the ground, tears dripping from her eyes. She made no sound. She wore a collar too.
Another room had a muddy floor with many boulders. One of the boulders moved and turned a tusked face towards us. I stiffened to see the Tragoom peer at us through tiny eyes. Instead of attacking, it turned away once more.
There was a Dantovonian in what looked like a jungle setting. An Isetacian clung to a webbing of long vines in a dripping environment. A Yeknap peeked out of a hill of sand. An emerald-furred Joshadan lay in a tiny cave. They all had collars. No one said anything. The faces that held expressions I could identify looked incredibly sad.
“What the fuck?” Oses whispered to me. “The openings to these rooms must be covered by containment fields.”
I had an ugly feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Are we in some kind of a zoo?” I asked.
Oses got to his feet. He didn’t answer me. “Stay here. I’m going to see what kind of field holds us in here. I don’t want you hurt.”
I grabbed his hand. “I don’t want you hurt either. Don’t fuck with stuff, okay?”
He gave me a patient look. “I have to find out what’s going on, don’t I?”
“So ask the other inmates.” I nodded to the other creatures. “I need you, Oses. If you get yourself killed, what the hell is going to happen to me?”
The Nobek stared at me for a couple of beats. He slowly nodded.
“You’re right.” Then he leaned close to me so that his lips touched my ear. “Shalia, until we know what our best course of action is, do not mention the baby. Do not speak of it out loud.”
My heart froze. I hadn’t even considered my little hitchhiker. Holy shit, things were worse than I anticipated.
Oses barked something in Kalquorian. The only person who answered him was the Dantovonian.
His ... or her ... face was one of the ones I couldn’t read an expression on. Segmented in a hard exoskeleton, the Dantovonian’s face looks kind of like a frog and a praying mantis got together and had a kid which they immediately encased in a brownish armor. No, it’s uglier than that. What the hell, it’s the closest I can come to describing one of their kind.
With the segments of its face softly grinding together, the Dantovonian buzzed back at Oses. My Kalquorian friend’s expression turned hard as he listened. When the critter stopped talking, Oses turned to me with a furious expression.
“You were right about the zoo. We’ve been captured by the Ofetuchan and placed in his exhibit aboard his ship. He collects other sentients as trophies and shows them off to his friends. Lurb – that’s the Dantovonian’s name – says he thinks there are more exhibits elsewhere on board.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” I asked.
“If your Little Creep is caught in Galactic Council member planets’ space, yes. The trouble is, this ship is as well-cloaked as he manages to be. Or rather, phased.”
Oses considered, his eyes taking in the situation all the while. I think he was trying to figure a way out of our predicament. “Phasing can make people invisible to others. It’s almost like existing on a parallel plane, except the person who is phased can see us while we can’t see, hear, or smell them. They can even pass through solid objects in that state.”
I thought of how I’d collided with others on the space station during my struggle with the Little Creep and how they’d not seemed to notice. Had I actually passed through their bodies?
“How does a person phase?” I asked.
“The Ofetuchan has a device he keeps on his belt. Lurb says it’s small and gold, kind of a tapered tube.”
“What did Lurb say about the containment field?” I asked.
Oses scowled. “If we touch it, it will trigger pain conductors in these collars. If we stay in contact with the field for too long, it could kill us.”
“Indeed it could, Kalquorian. It’s a good thing you asked before attempting to charge through.”
For a moment, that sweet bell-like voice brought joy to my heart. Then I realized who it belonged to, and the spell broke. I jerked and jumped back a little to see Little Creep outside our habitat.