Thursday, July 31, 2014

February 26, part 3

Thank heavens Oses’ startled state lasted only a couple of seconds.  Glidas hadn’t even finished her shocked scream when the Nobek launched himself at the Tragooms.

He was smart enough to go for a knife one of our enemies wore on a bandoleer strapped across its thick chest.  In an instant blood was spraying, Tragooms were shrieking, and Glidas was yelling the command to set off the collars. 

All three combatants hit the floor, howling in misery.  I regained my own presence of mind and shouted, “Oses’ collar, off!”

An instant later, Oses was back on his feet, snarling.  He went for the still writhing Tragooms once again as Glidas stared at me in disbelief.  She turned to run.

I don’t know where the strength came from, but I heaved Finiuld from off my shoulders and hurled him at Glidas.  I ran after her without waiting for the bodies to collide.  If she got to the collar controls and turned mine back on, we were well and truly fucked.

I’d hoped Finiuld’s body would hit her about mid-back, but that little bitch was so close to the ground that my aim was understandably off.  His limp arms still managed to clip the top of her head as he sailed over her, and she stumbled.  I caught her easily.

Amped up with adrenaline and fear of being re-captured, I grabbed hold of Glidas and smashed her face-first against the floor.  At some point I registered I was repeatedly bashing her head against the ground.  I don’t know how long I’d been at it, but my arms were beginning to complain from aching fatigue.

Oses’ voice dragged me from my desperate terror.  “Stop, Shalia.  Stop.  It’s over.  Stop.”

My mind returned from whatever distant place it had gone, taking up residence once more within my skull.  I became aware of Oses’ hands on my shoulders.  I looked down at the Ofetuchan, whose head I clutched between my hands.  When I saw what I’d done, I puked.  To judge from the flesh, bone, and greenish-red fluids on the floor, I’d done considerable damage, possibly erasing Glidas’ face. 

Once my stomach was back under control, I filed away the horror of the bodies lying in the corridor and the fact that one of them was dead because of my violence.  I had to push all that aside for the moment or my sanity would have left again.  It might not have come back had I not made myself blind and dumb to what I’d done.

I let Oses help me to my feet.  He used his skirt to gently wipe off the gore on my hands and arms.  “Are you all right?” he asked.

I looked into his face.  He had flecks of blood dotting his cheeks.  Carnage, carnage, everywhere.  I was so tired of blood and guts.

I had this funny feeling in my head of distance, sort of like the disconnect I’d experienced when I’d allowed Oses to torture the Earther man Finiuld had captured.  I was still in danger of taking a major mental vacation.  I had to get out of the corridor, where the Tragooms stank of blood and shit and a recently living being’s brains were splattered on the floor beneath me. 

“Let’s get to Finiuld’s quarters,” I said.  “I need to keep moving.”

Oses nodded.  He didn’t say anything, probably because he knew there was nothing he could say that would make things right in my head.

Of course, going to the Little Creep’s room meant carting that body around on my shoulders again.  At least he wasn’t leaking anywhere.  I made that count for something as I hefted the unwelcome weight once more.  For some reason, Oses took Glidas’ phase control off her body and kept that.  I didn’t know why since it would be useless to him, but I didn’t question him about it either.  It was too much effort.

I managed to get us to our destination without any problem, probably because I was concentrating so hard on my task.  Minutiae at that point was my saving grace.  It kept me from thinking of the things I’d seen and done.  Placing one foot in front of the other, searching for that particular portrait in the corridor, and deciding exactly at what point we should pass through the wall were wonderful distractions from the horror of what had gone before.  With Oses’ hand on the small of my back, we stepped into Finiuld’s quarters.

I thought I should have felt pride in us making it.  At the very least, I should have been cheering in celebration.  All I felt was tired, however.  Tired and used up.

I let go of Finiuld’s body and let it drop to the floor.  The softness of that surface emitted only a soft thud when he hit.  I swear, I could still feel his weight on me though.  I even checked to make sure I’d really unloaded him.  He stared up at me, his head facing the wrong damned way, like some grotesque broken doll.  I thought I would puke again, but I was too exhausted for even that.

“Where is the control panel, Shalia?” Oses gently prodded me.  “Show me so we can turn the collars off.”

His voice was like a beacon through the fog that kept encroaching on my mind.  I pointed at the silvery desk-looking thing.  “There.  Access control panel.”

Once again, the lights, levers, and buttons appeared on the surface of the computer.  Oses’ eyes widened in appreciation.

“You just tell it what you want and it obeys?” he asked. “I’m surprised there aren’t better safeguards than that.”

I shrugged.  I was in no shape to think long and hard about how Ofetuchans’ minds worked.  “Finiuld probably thought it was perfectly safe in his private room.  I guess he was sure I hadn’t figured it out since he never switched my collar back on.”

“What of the female?” Oses wondered out loud.  He didn’t seem to be questioning me.  “She said this was her ship.  Why didn’t she have the controls in her quarters?  Was Finiuld in charge of them on her behalf?”

Even though the Nobek only seemed to be musing out loud, I had an answer for him.  “If these are only for the collars, I doubt she needed controls.  It seemed we belonged more to Finiuld than her.  Except for those Tragooms she had guarding her, Glidas had nothing to do with the collection to my knowledge.”

“It’s a mystery,” Oses murmured.  “But one that can be solved later.  How did you turn off your collar?”

“Turn off the collar of Kalquorian Nobek Oses,” I said.  “There.  That should do it.”

“It didn’t do anything,” Oses said, glaring at the computer as if it was his most hated enemy.  “No acknowledgement.  No change in these lights.”

“I know.  But you can touch Finiuld now and it won’t hurt you.  Nor will my command, since he gave me that ability to control you.  Collar, punish Oses.”

Though I’d uttered the command that should have sent my Nobek friend into shrieking agony, he remained standing there, unaffected.  A grin slowly spread across his face. 

“Wonderful,” he breathed.  Just to be sure, Oses went to Finiuld’s crumpled form and poked at it.  He remained pain-free.  His sigh of relief filled the room.

“Should we turn off all the rest?” I asked.  “Except the Tragooms, of course.”

Oses took Finiuld’s phase controller off his belt and came back to stand before the controls.  “De-activate all collar controls except those of the Tragooms,” he ordered.  “Place all control over Tragooms’ collars with Kalquorian Nobek Oses and Earther Shalia Monroe.”

As usual, the system didn’t do anything that we could see that confirmed Oses’ dictates had been received.

“And now for this,” Oses said, holding up the phase gizmo he’d gotten off Finiuld.  “Transfer control of Ofetuchan Finiuld’s phase converter to Kalquorian Nobek Oses.”

I blinked.  That would be damned handy if it worked, though I’d already decided Oses would be lugging the Little Creep around from now on.

Oses suddenly disappeared.  I jumped about a mile in sudden panic before I recovered myself.  “It worked!  I can’t see you anymore.”

Oses re-appeared.  “Excellent.  Let’s see if the other one will do the same.  Transfer control of Ofetuchan Glidas’ phase converter to Earther Shalia Monroe.”

He handed me the gadget he’d taken off the woman.  I thought at it to make me phase.

“Are you trying to phase?” Oses asked.

“Yeah.  Apparently it’s not working.”  I scowled at the gizmo and then tossed it to Oses. 

He tried his luck but it wouldn't work for him either. He put it in his belt.

Oses said, “She must have had her own control panel in her quarters.  That’s fine; we’ll make do with the one until we locate the controls for hers.”

The little shock I’d gotten when Oses phased had chased away most of the detached feeling in my head.  It lurked at the edges, promising to sweep in if I experienced too many more shocks, but I was starting to feel like myself once more.

“What’s next?” I asked Oses.

“Now we take control over this ship.  We need to find its bridge or command center.”

“I wonder how many Tragoom guards we’ll run across?” I worried.

Oses showed me the knives he’d taken from the two he’d already taken care of.  “Don’t worry.  If for some reason their collars don’t respond to our orders, I will handle it.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

February 26, part 2

I sat on top of the Ofetuchan’s body, my fingers still clenched around his throat.  The wildly drumming pulse I’d felt beneath my palms had disappeared.  If his head twisted about 180 degrees hadn’t been enough to convince me, that would have.

Oses’ hands curled around my wrists and he tugged.  “Let him go, Shalia.  It’s over.”

My suddenly numb fingers lost all tension, and my grip slipped away.  We’d killed Finiuld.  Well, technically it had been Oses who finished the deed, but I’d been ready to murder.

At that moment, I didn’t feel much of anything except relief.  It was over.  Finiuld was dead.  He couldn’t hurt my child.  We’d done it.

Except we hadn’t quite taken care of everything.  We were still stuck in our containment cell without a clue as to how the phase controller worked.  A sense of horror stole over me.  We were a long way from out of our predicament.

“Now what?” I asked Oses.

“Good, you’re still sane,” he said, relief obvious on his expression.  “Take the phase control off him and hand it to me.”

I did so.  As Oses turned the device over and over in his hands, I stood and stepped away from the body of our tormentor.  I didn’t want to touch him anymore.

The Dantovonian Lurb buzzed urgently at us.  I thought he was probably begging to be set free too, which made perfect sense to me.  All the other prisoners were at the containment fields of their cages, watching us with wide and hopeful eyes.  Even the Plasian had stopped crying at long last.

I raised an eyebrow at the glowering Tragoom.  I was pretty sure Oses wouldn’t go out of his way to free that big nightmare.  My thought was for us to dump him and all the rest of his kind left on the ship on the nearest moon or planet.  They didn’t deserve to be prisoners, but I sure as hell didn’t want them running around loose either.

Oses spoke to the Dantovonian and the timbre of his voice let me know they weren’t exchanging cookie recipes.  Something was up, and it wasn’t necessarily good.

I looked at the Nobek, and his forehead was creased.  The frown on his face made him look nearly as savage as when he’d snapped Finiuld’s neck.  Still, there was more an air of disgust than outright despair coming from Oses. 

“What’s the latest headline?” I asked as soon as his conversation with Lurb ended.

Oses looked at me and drew a deep breath.  “There is good news, and there is bad news.  The good news is that Lurb knows how the phase device operates.  He assures me that we can use this device to get ourselves and all the rest out.”

I was delighted to hear that but stayed cautious.  “So what’s the bad news?”

“The only way it works is if it is on Finiuld’s body.  It’s configured to his biology alone.  It will respond to your wishes to phase, but only if he’s wearing it and you’re holding onto him.”

I gaped at Oses.  “Me?  Why me?”

The Nobek tapped a finger against his collar.  “Because until we get this thing turned off, I can’t touch him without triggering the torture command.  That remains in effect.”

I looked down at the still body at our feet.  Sure, I could lug around the Little Creep so that we could move about the ship, but he was dead.  Toting around a corpse like some macabre purse was the last damned thing I wanted to do.

“Son of a bitch,” I swore.  “Lurb, you don’t know of any other way to make that damned thing work?”

Lurb didn’t speak English, but I suppose he could pretty well guess what I’d asked.  He shook his segmented head at me.  That was that.

“All right,” Oses said.  “The easiest way for you to carry Finiuld is across the back of your shoulders.”

“We call it a fireman’s carry,” I supplied.  I wasn’t happy about the situation, but I knew whining about it wasn’t going to get us out of there.    

“We’ll go to Finiuld’s quarters and shut off the collars, except for those belonging to the Tragooms.  In fact, you’ll give the command that will torment them if they touch us, the same as it worked for Finiuld.”

“Good idea,” I said, eyeing the Tragoom in our merry little group.  He shuffled impatiently in his habitat, probably knowing full well Oses wasn’t about to let him loose.

“Then we’ll find the ship’s controls and see where the hell we are.  If we can head back to the space station or make contact with a Kalquorian ship, we’ll do so.  Once we’ve got that underway, we’ll get everyone out of their containments.”

“Except the Tragooms.”

“Except the Tragooms.  Let me tell Lurb and he can pass along the information to those whose languages he speaks.”

I liked Oses’ plan.  It was easy, the best kind.  It seemed to me that our biggest worry was getting to the collar command controls without running into Finiuld’s Tragoom guards.  That and having to carry the Little Creep’s carcass all over the place. 

I guess I’d temporarily forgotten that successful easy plans and Shalia are seldom in the same vicinity.  Sometimes I think I’m cursed.

It was up to me to pick up Finiuld’s body and sling it over my shoulders.  Oses couldn’t help except to tell me how to execute a proper lift that wouldn’t throw out my back.

Finiuld only stood up to my mid-thigh, but that little bugger was heavier than he looked.  I was huffing and puffing and sweating by the time I had him lying across the back of my neck and my shoulders.

Then there was the gross factor.  The Little Creep was limp and lifeless.  His belly was against the nape of my neck, and his arms and legs draped down my chest and ribcage.  It didn’t help my state of mind that the occasional shift put my boob in his palm.  Plus there was the matter of his wrong-facing head pointing up.  My skin crawled to have his glassy eyes pointed in my direction.  His tongue hung out of his open mouth too.  It gave me a nasty case of the heeby-jeebies.

“All right?” Oses asked me when I had Finiuld arranged like a grotesque stole.

“Let’s get this the fuck over with,” I snarled.  I couldn’t get our escape accomplished fast enough.

I stepped up to the containment wall with Oses right behind me.  He put his hand on my back, avoiding contact with Finiuld.  I took a deep breath and stepped forward.  Oses and I passed through the barrier with no problem.

Our fellow prisoners erupted in cheers, with the exception of the Tragoom.  I guess he wasn’t so happy seeing as how he wouldn’t be sharing in our ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card.  Fuck him.  I grinned up at Oses and he grinned back.

“We’ll be back for you once we have control over the ship,” Oses promised our fellow inmates.  That got another cheer.  The Isetacian swung from his vines with such abandon that I thought perhaps he’d break his neck before we returned.

We left the place of our imprisonment, heading down the route I’d memorized that led to Finiuld’s bedroom.  Walking at Oses’ side, his hand on my back, I finally felt my spirits lift.  Our escape was assured.  It didn’t matter that I carried a dead body.  It didn’t matter that Finiuld’s head bounced in freakish ways as I moved.  It didn’t matter that my neck and shoulders were beginning to ache from the weight on them.  We were free.  We were going to make it.

We stepped through a wall, entering a room where trays moved down assembly-line belts.  Machines with spouts poured the meals we and our fellow prisoners were served onto the trays.  Seeing this room had given me a sense of relief.  We were on the right track.  My biggest fear right now was that I wouldn’t be able to find Finiuld’s quarters.  So far, so good.

Walking through the next wall would take us into a long corridor that would lead to where we wanted to go.  I told Oses this as we approached it.

“There’s a picture of a really old and ugly Ofetuchan to the left of the spot that will take us into Finiuld’s room,” I chattered.  “And before you say anything, I realize all these little bastards are ugly.  The man in the portrait is just more so than the others I’ve seen.”

Oses laughed and we passed through the wall.  The corridor was right there, just as I’d remembered.  So were two collared Tragooms and the female Ofetuchan who’d hated me in the Arena.  The green-haired one Finiuld called Glidas.

We all froze.  After a moment of shock, Glidas shrilled, “What are you doing loose on my ship?”

I didn’t have time to contemplate that she had called the vessel hers.  The next second she noticed what I wore on my shoulders.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

February 26, part 1

I woke with Oses wrapped around me.  If there was a favorite time of day since our captivity began, this was it.  Warm and sheltered in the Nobek’s arms, I was still sufficiently sleepy-brained to revel in the sensation.  The hell of our situation wasn’t quite yet fully present.  I could pretend for a few precious moments that I was safe and secure.

I was basking in this half-awake state of near-contentment when it happened.  I felt what seemed to be someone lightly thumping low inside my abdomen.  It happened twice.

I puzzled over this for a second when it hit me:  the baby had moved.  It moved and I felt it.

I sat up in our little cave with a gasp.  Oses also sat up, his look quizzical.

“The baby kicked.  I swear, I felt the baby,” I said excitedly.

Oses’ brows drew together in concern, and the euphoria of the moment passed for me too.  My child was growing, and in a few weeks, I would be showing.  Damn it, we had to escape.

I pushed past Oses to get out of the cave.  Unable to stay still, I paced back and forth.  My child was running out of time before Finiuld discovered its existence.  We had to get out of here!

“It has to be soon,” I said as I passed Oses, who stood quietly, watching me fret.  “And if we fail to get out, you’ll have to – you’ll have to—”

I broke off and stared up at him.  I swallowed hard, unable to voice what had to be done if we couldn’t get off Finiuld’s ship.

He nodded.  No words were needed to finish my sentence.  Instead he pulled me close and hugged me hard to his body.

“If it comes to that, it will be quick and painless,” he whispered into my hair.  “I promise you will have nothing to fear, and I will follow you soon after.  We will meet the ancestors together.”

“Thank you,” I said, tears springing into my eyes.

My weeping was, shockingly enough, out of relief.  Now that I had felt the first stirrings of my child’s life, one would think contemplating death would be more frightening for it.  Not so.  For the first time in weeks, I had something to look forward to:  not being afraid anymore.

For the first time ever, I understood why some people opted out when things grew beyond endurance.  It was freeing to know that this could be over soon.  It was as if a great weight had lifted from me.  Whether our escape attempt from Finiuld succeeded or failed, I would not have to wake up and go to sleep terrified of the future anymore. 

I was leaving one way or the other, and my child would not suffer.

I smiled my first real smile since I was taken prisoner.  I gave that smile to Oses.  “Thank you from both of us,” I told him.  “From me and the baby.”

“You’re pregnant?”

Finiuld’s voice, shrill with delight, came from behind me.

As if caught by the monster in a nightmare, I slowly turned around.  The nasty little bastard, wearing neon pink from his cap to his boots, was right there inside the containment.  Apparently he’d snuck in to hear our quiet conversation.  He fairly danced with glee.

“You’re pregnant?  Is it this man’s?  Will it be a boy or a girl?  Oh Shalia, I so hope you’re having a daughter!  Two lovely female Earthers in my collection!  Everyone will be insane with jealousy!”

That was all Oses needed to hear.  The moment the Ofetuchan stopped talking and Oses emerged a second later from the hypnotic weave of his voice, the Nobek launched himself at Finiuld.  The next second Finiuld spoke the command, and the Nobek was writhing on the floor, screaming with pain.

Despite the agony, Oses managed to inch across the ground towards Finiuld, murder in his purple eyes.  He battled the hell of his collar to get at our captor.

For his part, Finiuld’s good humor only seemed to heighten at the Nobek’s valiant attempt to get at him.  “You’d better tell him to calm down before that collar drives him insane, Shalia.”

He was so busy being amused at Oses that he didn’t see me coming at him until I was right there.  A moment later, my fingers wrapped around his throat.

“Oses’ collar off!” I screamed, praying that Finiuld had given me command over the Nobek as he’d promised. Oses’ shrieks ceased, but I didn’t look. I was too busy killing the Little Creep.

Finiuld’s black eyes bulged out at me.  My lunge had knocked him on his back.  His eyes bulged mostly because I was choking the life out of him, but there was also an expression of disbelief.  He had never clued in to the fact that I had switched my collar off.  Sometimes I do get lucky.

I wanted Finiuld dead.  Let there be no doubt on that account.  I have never wanted anyone six feet under more than him.  I throttled him, squeezing his throat as hard as I possibly could, sitting my weight on him to keep him down.  I wanted to kill him so bad I couldn’t feel his four fists battering me as he fought to get me off him.  A bloodthirsty beast inside me thrilled in cold delight as Finiuld’s struggles grew weaker.

I have seen that face in my nightmares since then.  I’ve watched the light fading in Finiuld’s eyes over and over.  I’ve seen the tears rolling from their corners.  I’ve seen his mouth gaping wide as he fought desperately for breath.  I’ve watched that ruddy face purple, then hedge into blue.  I wake screaming from it.  I have no idea how much worse the dreams would be if I had actually killed the Little Creep.

However, Oses would not leave that awful necessity to me.  As I attempted murder, Oses committed it by grabbing hold of Finiuld’s head and yanking it around backwards.

There was an unimportant cracking sound, like someone popping their knuckles.  Then Finiuld went limp and Oses jerked away with a last agonized yell.  I was left staring at the back of the Little Creep’s head with its wild orange spikes.

Finiuld was dead.