Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 28



“Null field engaged. All vulnerable areas of the ship have been sealed off. We’re going to start hunting on the level Kohen is on, as well as his quarters, and the level the other rescues are sequestered. I’ve sent three teams, but with the null field, he’ll be aware of that we’ve discovered his presence on board.” Deke’s methodical report reassured me, but I couldn’t relax.

Not until they had him. It. They had no real gender characteristics when they were in their true forms but the bodies it had been using to follow me had been male, so it was probably male. Then again, the crew was mostly made of males, so it made more sense to have that form to avoid standing out. So it could be female.

And none of that mattered at all. It was just a distraction so I wouldn’t have to think about that thing coming near me, and my growing fear this was just an elaborate trap. Could they have created an entire ship, a planet? Fooled me that well?

How could I know different?

“Kohen, you need to breathe.” Lakshou’s quiet voice startled me.

I gasped, and my chest hurt. I let the screen fall to my lap.

“That’s it. Keep breathing.”

“What’s going on? Kohen?” Captain’s voice came from the screen, and Lakshou picked it up.

“He needs a moment, Captain.”

“Did something happen? Deke, send someone to guard Lakshou’s quarters.”

“Not as far as I can tell.” Lakshou watched me, his horns glowing, but nothing could ease the doubts that swarmed and overwhelmed me, just like those flame wasps had covered Holldu’s body in stinging welts, leaving behind a poison that killed him.

“Deke—”

“I already sent someone, Captain, but they’re trying to be subtle. Relax, no one is knocking down the door to hurt your boy.”

Their voices faded out, and I just let go. Since I’d let Captain take me out of that tiny cell, a lot had changed. No more suit. I now knew that I was different, and why, if not exactly how I was different or what I was capable of. The things I thought were tests were memories, which I sort of thought I’d always known but couldn’t handle. I had a job, friends, and I’d touched and hugged a man—who’d hugged me back—just because I wanted to.

But all I thought I knew balanced on a single thing… could I trust my own mind to know what was true? Was this a fantasy? A nightmare?

I’d been afraid that I’d hurt someone, that the scientists and people would use me against the ship’s crew. Then we learned that there were people on the ship working with the same people who tortured and abused other races for power.

How could I help find out who was behind all that, if I couldn’t even trust that the walls around me and the people I saw were real or not?

I curled on my side, hugging my knees to my chest. A light covering fell over me, but I didn’t move. Sleep would have been a blessing, but the vise around my chest only grew tighter. It was hard to breathe, so I had to focus on each breathe, pulling one in and pushing the next out.

A whole shift could’ve passed for all I knew. Lakshou kept the screen on, the vid link active between him and Captain and Deke. The reports meant next to nothing until I caught a note of triumph.

“Got him!” Captain said. “He was trying to hide, but a crew member sniffed him out thanks to Kohen’s description of his scent. Thank you, Kohen.”

Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t talk. I could barely breathe. Lakshou had been giving me space, but he brought the screen over so Captain could tell me thank you, since he thought I hadn’t heard him. I had, I just… I couldn’t….

“Kohen? Kohen!” Lakhou’s voice rose, and he shook my shoulder. It only made it harder to focus on the in and out. I was getting tired; maybe I’d just stop. Just for a little while. “Captain, he’s barely breathing.”

“Overriding remaining lockdown protocols. I’m sending Aparoe and a medical team now.” Captain’s voice shook. Was he having trouble breathing too? Maybe it was something to do with the air.

Surely they’d think of that, if we were being attacked again.  Lakshou stayed by my side until the door to his meditation quarters slid open. He started to protest, but stopped and sank to his knees when Aparoe came inside. Almost immediately after, Captain entered.

He was breathing in great gasps, and I grew worried. As worried as I could be, as tired as I was in that moment, I couldn’t say or do anything to show it. But they needed to check Captain out, then run a diagnostic on the ship, not bother with me.

Something must have been done to the environmental controls. I’d just been in the system, so I knew it hadn’t been properly maintained before this flight. Aparoe began running tests, just like they always did. I’d grown used to them, enough not to flinch away.

Nothing Aparoe did gave any answers. The screen waved over my body remained stubbornly silent. I couldn’t tell Aparoe what was wrong, not matter how carefully I was cajoled. My lungs stayed tight, my chest screamed, and the room grew darker.

And darker.

And then a warm hand touched his shoulder, and peace and ease radiated from that gentle touch. I gasped in a loud breath, air scraping by my strangled throat.

Lakshou’s gasp drowned out even that harsh sound. “By all that’s holy, you’ve bonded!” 

TBC
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 27




“So you’ll tell Captain?” I took a deep breath and blew it away, trying to stay calm so Lakshou wouldn’t sense my emotions. I’d open that box I’d used before, the one that helped me survive my years in my cell, and stuffed all the things I couldn’t afford to think about inside it.

Including how much I wanted to talk to Captain myself.

But it was best that I didn’t. We hadn’t spent much time together before, so even though we lived just down the corridor from each other, it would seem odd if we spent a lot of time around each other. And we didn’t want anyone paying more attention to me than they already were, apparently.

“About what? Ss’merit asking about you?” Lakshou bent one leg and extended the other, and I tried to mimic him. “I can, but that’s not odd in and of itself. He’s a counselor for those we rescue. It’s very unusual for someone to be so segregated from the other survivors, but that station lab was different from the others we’ve raided. What they did to you was extreme, and you wouldn’t do well in a communal setting. Captain recognized that immediately, beyond your extensive medical needs at the time.”

I tilted my head. “Different? Like how?”

“We’ve never rescued so many people at once. And there were far more records than we normally find. Actual copies of surgical reports, test results, and then of course, there was you. The Brox Consortium rarely deals with humans. They are too well connected politically.”

“Well I certainly wasn’t.” I’d grown up with next to nothing on a poor planet chosen for colonization when it never should’ve been. The summers were so dry the land cracked into giant flat pancakes that were barely scrapable, and the acidic winter rains burned all but the hardiest of plants. My parents could barely feed us on subsistence rations and getting rid of me had to be a relief for them.

I couldn’t forgive them. Starving in that wasteland would’ve been better than what I went through.

“Hey, hey… Kohen? What is it?” Lakshou’s horns were glowing. The pounding of my heart and the bitter churning in my stomach slowly eased.

“Nothing. Just a memory.” They’d gotten stronger. I’d looked up a lot on the vid since I’d been freed. The planet I’d been born on, other species of aliens in the sector and surrounding sectors, the ones around the central planets where Captain said we were going. That reminded me.

“I’m being tracked by a Trepharo,” I said. “Does Captain have one following me?” If he was, it needed to stop.

“How could you possibly know that?” Lakshou straightened and focused all of his intense attention on me. “We don’t have a Trepharo as part of the crew, and we didn’t rescue one.”

“Yes, you do. They can mimic any form, but I know their scent. I’ve smelled it before.” It was a test, a particularly disturbing one. Trepharos had a specialty: virtual reality. I’d used the vid to search for species I’d come in contact with that I could remember, and this was one of the first I’d looked up because the memory was unusually vivid.

Nothing like seeing your insides on your outsides and feeling them plucked away one by one to stick with you in your nightmares, all while surrounded by that smell.

It was one of the reasons I was unsure if what I remembered was real or not. Trepharo technology was capable of fooling any race’s senses into believing what they saw, heard, even touched, was real. They hadn’t quite figured out how to handle scent though.

And I’d recognize that bitter spice they exuded anywhere. It was something from inside them, like part of their digestive system. Every time they breathed or opened their mouths, no matter what their form, that smell came out.

“If Captain doesn’t have one from the crew tracking me in different forms, and you don’t know of any that was rescued from the station… then there’s a stowaway on board, and it’s following me.”

And how could I trust anything? “Does this ship have a null field?”

“I-I don’t know. We’d have to ask.”

I jumped to my feet. “We need to ask. Now.” I half expected Lakshou to ask me why or to put me off, but he simply rose and grabbed his vid.

He sent a coded message to Captain. By the time he messaged back, I was about to jump out of my skin. I winced… bad imagery. I couldn’t go there again. It was a good thing I’d barely had any lunch because my stomach was churning.

Lakshou passed the screen over to me.

“What is it, Kohen?” Captain’s eyes drilled into me.

My mouth watered, and I swallowed convulsively as I explained about the Trepharo. “If you have a null field, you need to engage it to ensure they’re neutralized and lose their camouflage.”

“Camouflage?”

“It had two forms today; I thought you had it following me.”

Captain blinked. “I wouldn’t do that except keep you safe. And I’d tell you first, Kohen, I hope you know that.”

I couldn’t say yes but didn’t want to tell him no either. “Please say the ship has a null field.”

“I’ve already engaged it. I also patched Deke in. He’s readying security teams to find the Trepharo as we speak.”

My knees sagged, and I sank down on a cushion. “Thank you,” I said, closing my eyes. I’d killed the Trepharo who’d tortured me, just like I’d been ordered to, but it had taken days to break free of the virtual reality prison it had locked me in.

I’d felt something was off since I first became aware of the horrid being, and I was glad I’d followed through on asking about it. Who knew what crew member it had been impersonating? I gasped. “What if he’s the one? Working with the Brox Consortium?”

TBC
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 26



Sardella cocked her head sideways. “Ahh. You are part of this crew?”

I dithered, not quite sure how to answer that. Captain kept saying I was part of the group of rescues, but I was working on the ship, unlike the rest of them. “Sort of.” She didn’t move and kept staring at me, so I kept talking. “I was on the station where the crew found everyone. But I can be helpful to the crew, so Captain lets me help out.”

“You were there?” Her voice dropped even deeper on the last word, and her hands fluttered along her sides which curved outward from her armpits down to her hips—or where her hips would be if she were human. I couldn’t quite tell, since she was wearing a swath of cloth that was wrapped around her body under her armpits and then tied around her neck.

“For years.”

“Oh.” She blinked slowly. “I was not there long. But….”

“Any time was too long,” I finished for her.

“Yes.”

The glow in her eyes intensified. “You are well, after being in their hands?”

Saying yes would be a life. Nodding would be a silent life. I shrugged. “As well as I can be. I talk to Lakshou. He helps me meditate and focus on the good. I can’t forget what I went through, but I can learn to deal with it, he says.” Here was an in for me to talk to her about that guy who came to my door once.

“There was a crew member who wanted to help introduce me to everyone right after we were freed, but I wasn’t ready. I think he does stuff with you all. Ss’m… something. Do you know him?”

“Ss’merit. Yes, he has been assisting the group with acclimating to the ship.”

“I didn’t see him down on the surface.”

“No. I believe he stayed on the ship with those of us who could not go down to the surface.”

Not everyone went down to the planet? That was news to me. I thought everyone had gone down. I had the feeling that Captain and the rest thought they had all gone down on the shuttles as well. “Oh. The planet was beautiful, but those things that attacked that being who died were scary.”

“As I couldn’t risk exposing my get to anything, I did not visit the planet, so I did not see it.” Sardella blinked, throwing sudden shadows in the corner of the room where we were talking when her eyes were shuttered by her thick lids. She licked her thin lips with a speckled tongue as she rubbed her hands along her sides.

Her get?

“You know, your name feels familiar. I think Ss’merit was asking about you. He was concerned that you were being kept away from the rest of us.”

A chill swept over me. He’d been talking about me? Did he know… things? Like about what the Brox doctors had done to me and put in my brain? How I was different? The tests? The missions? Did he tell the others?

“What did he say?” I asked in a rush.

Sardella opened her eyes, looking into mine. “He asked if any of us remembered you from before. If we had seen you on the station when we were all being held captive or since then on this ship.”

I swallowed hard. “And?”

“Well, I had not. And I did not hear anyone else speak of you.”

“Do you guys talk together a lot? Like… about the stuff that happened to you?”

“If we wish. We have times set aside to meet here to speak to others. Ss’merit says it is best to speak with those who have gone through what you have been through because only they have true empathy and understanding.”

It seemed strange. The doctors had always treated me as if I wasn’t a being at all, just a thing for them to poke, prod, test, and torment for their results. Reliving it, processing the emotions I’d felt then and still continued to feel when the dreams and flashbacks hit me, was intense. I couldn’t imagine sharing it with a large group of people, all their eyes on me, staring and judging and then maybe even talking about what I’d said later. I shuddered.

“You are suffering from the temperature in here?” she asked.

“What? No.” But I was there to fix it. “But I should probably change the sensor so that no one else is. It was nice to finally speak with you.”

She inclined her head again. “And with you.” She turned and gliding away. I expected that large head to overbalance her or make her wobbly, but she moved smoothly and gracefully through the sparse crowd of beings.

Would she go tell Ss’merit that she’d talked to me? What about the others I’d exchanged casual comments with? Were they reporting to him like I was reporting to Captain? More stress added on to what I was already feeling. I’d worried about what to say but it was even worse thinking that others were watching me that closely.

My skin crawled, and I shuddered again. I activated the lifts attached to the work foot coverings and shot toward the ceiling. Changing the sensor didn’t take me very long. I told Priella I needed to take the rest of the shift off, and she patted my arm and let me go.

If another crew member tried that, she’d demand to know and make them work if they didn’t have a good excuse, but she still treated me gently. I was grateful in that moment as I escaped into the silence of my small quarters.

I could relax there with no one watching me or trying to overhear my conversations. Even though I’d looked straight at Sardella during our conversation, I’d seen that Trepharo linger nearby. And I’d seen him before. 
TBC
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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 25




“You should know that you can’t secure any door against the captain of a ship.”

I jolted awake, but I didn’t move. I’d become a master of that in my cell, observing without showing any signs that I knew someone else was there. Those few times the aliens had come to my cell had been a nearly overwhelming relief—that I wasn’t alone in that sea of white. That there was something beyond those four walls, beyond the silence in my own mind that often consumed me.

But right now I could use some of that silence. The sound of Captain’s voice hurt, as the words I’d overheard him say echoed in my mind once again. I curled into a tighter ball.

“Kohen….” Captain sighed. He must have come inside because the door swooshed shut behind him. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I cringed. My voice was raw and rough, not at all the dispassionate dismissal I’d been trying for.

“You needed something, and I’m honored that you came to me. But I rescued you. I’m the captain of this ship. There’s a lot happening right now in your life.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Kohen, it just wouldn’t be right to take advantage of your youth, your inexperience, and your need. I’m the first human you touched voluntarily in years. I took you out of that hell. I don’t want you to be grateful like that.”

“Like what?” I pushed off the covers and sat up. “Like you gave me a life back? Because you did. I know you put your people first, and that you’re the captain, but you just—” I bit off what I was going to say, the ache in my chest growing deeper, because Captain’s eyes were shuttered, turned away from me. His body language said calm, decided, his hands loose at his sides. How could I tell him the only place I felt safe was in his arms?

He already thought I was too young. Too stupid, or inexperienced—if he only knew. I shut off the flow of memories before they could overwhelm me, but not before I resolved to do what I’d do so many times during the tests.

I’d seduce him. Captain wanted me, or he wouldn’t have so many excuses why he couldn’t touch me, couldn’t hold me.

But first I had to make him see that I wasn’t some young kid who couldn’t handle himself. I’d accept what he said, until I could prove him wrong. He might think I’m a youth, and my body might be young, but my mind and soul had aged lifetimes. I had a goal, and I’d see it met.

“I’m sorry,” I said. I looked down, to hide the determination in my eyes. He was smart; he’d see it. “I understand. I know what my past is like.”

“It’s not like that,” Captain insisted. He moved up to the edge of the bed. “Whatever you did before wasn’t you. None of that matters in this.” He waved a hand between us. “Understand?”

I nodded.   

“Are you going to be all right?”

I nodded again. I didn’t want to say what I was really thinking. “Fine. I just want to get back to work.”

Captain started to ease toward the door. “Tomorrow is soon enough for that. Why don’t you go see Lakshou?”

Oh good, I was already being shunted back to the guy who could affect my mood with his abilities. Still, Lakshou made a great sounding board. Maybe I could trust him with my plan.



Maybe not. Before I even said anything, Lakshou launched into a whole meditation routine and how it would help me. He used words like fixation, infatuation, and all the while he was staring at me with that calm expression.

I beat down on the anger, frustration, and need and focused on my breathing. In one way, it did help. I was calmer, more focused, able to think beyond my need to be held in Captain’s arms when I practically vibrated from the stress of doing what they’d asked me to do.

Priella led the way in my new duties. Luca did more work in the internal areas of the ship and in the holds with the shuttles, but she did more work around the crew areas where I needed to go. I shut myself off and just existed during those shifts. I smiled at people, chatted, made eye contact and engaged with everyone we worked around.

After a few shifts, it grew easier. I was faking it, but it was not as hard to force. I even forgot that I was listening and watching everyone when I talked to a few of the other victims who’d been rescued from the same lab I’d been at.

There was one who caught my eye. She wasn’t human, so I wasn’t quite sure what species she was. Bipedal, with spindly little arms and small face crowned with some kind of elaborate crest that circled her head in inky black spikes. Her skin was a bright vermillion and her eyes shone with white light. At first, I thought she was blind, but she always seemed to track my movements and watch me as I watched her.

But I wasn’t afraid of her.

I almost laughed when I finally got the nerve to speak to her. “Hi.” I expected a thin, high voice to match her tiny body, but what came out resonated through those spikes in her head, giving her a loud, deep resonating tone.

“Greetings.”

“My name’s Kohen.”

“The others call me Sardella Kime.” She bobbed her head. Was that a bow? I nodded back to be polite. “What do you do here?” she asked.

I hefted the bag of tools in my hand. “Working on the environmentals. Someone said it was too hot, but the system is reading that it’s too cool. Priella thinks there’s a short in the sensor up there.” I gestured toward the ceiling.
TBC

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 24



“I knew I was asking too much of you. If you’re scared, Kohen, you don’t have to help us. I know asking you to spend time with the other people we rescued and more of the crew was asking a lot. You’ve been in isolation for years. I am so sorry.”

“What?” I lifted my face from the perfect spot against his neck, shaking my head. “I don’t want to spend time with them, but I’m not scared. Not of that.”

“Then what’s wrong?” Captain’s hands stilled, but he kept them on my back. “You’re shaking.”

Heat flushed my face. Was I doing it wrong? “I need you,” I said. It was like my whole body had been coated in ice, and I hadn’t even realized it until the warmth of him touched my skin. Worse than hunger, or thirst, or any need for comfort I’d had before. I swallowed down my embarrassment and fear. “I need you to touch me.”

His eyes widened comically, and Captain’s body went stiff again. “Touch you?” he repeated carefully.

“Like you did before.” When Captain had held me close. It had hurt, but it’d been worth it. I’d had dreams about how it would feel now that I didn’t wear the suit. At first, I’d tried to resist the dreams, not think about them. I still worried a little that my need was part of the way the aliens would test me, by making me feel and act a certain way, even if I didn’t really want to.

But I did want to touch him. And, more than anything, I wanted him to touch me. “Move your hands up and down, please.”

Captain made a strangled noise. “Kohen….”

I could see the spot on his neck, where the blood was closest, jumping frantically. An impulse hit me, and I didn’t even think before I followed through. I leaned down and put my lips against it, to feel the way his heart was beating, to find out if it was as fast as mine.

It was.

Visions flashed through my mind of what I’d done before, how I’d mouth that spot, licking it and then sucking up a hard mark… I didn’t dare do more than briefly touch my lips to that soft, sensitive skin. I wrapped my arms around his neck and sighed.

One of Captain’s hands went slowly up my back, hesitating once or twice. He began to make slow circles between my shoulder blades. It felt more than amazing; it was perfect. I closed my eyes and soaked it all in.



I must have dozed off because when I opened my eyes I wasn’t in Captain’s lap anymore. His scent still surrounded me, but I was on the couch on my side, one of the pillows from his bed under my head and a blanket tucked around my shoulders. His scent cocooned me, and I would’ve closed my eyes and gone back to sleep, but I could hear him talking, even if I couldn’t see him.

He must have been in his room, but the door wasn’t shut.

“What am I supposed to do, Deke?” Captain said. “I feel bad enough. I wanted to kick my own ass.”

“He’s eighteen.”

“Barely, and that doesn’t make him an adult, it just makes me not criminally culpable in the eyes of the galactic.” Captain’s voice was a sharp hiss. “But it would be morally wrong. He’s been a captive, a victim, for years. He’s reaching out to me because I was the one who saved him, not because he’s truly attracted to me. I don’t want that. He doesn’t know what he really wants because he’s never had the chance to find out. He’s too young; he’s practically a child. Not to mention, as a rescued survivor on my ship, I have a duty to protect him.”

“Do you really think that living in that cell means he’s less mature? He was isolated, not sheltered. And from what the files said, it’s not like he’s some untouched virgin. Don’t—”

I couldn’t listen beyond that. Captain didn’t want me. I’d made him feel bad. My heart broke inside my chest, but I couldn’t stay in there and know that the way I needed him was so wrong in his eyes. Touching me made him feel bad.

My stomach churned, and I sat up on the couch, my shoulders hunched. I clutched the blanket close, then stood, creeping to the door. I had to get out of there.

The door whooshed open when I approached, and I scurried down the hall to my room. The door seemed to take forever to open as I waited for the scanner to accept my print. I glanced over my shoulder twice to make sure he didn’t follow me, if he even heard me leave. His voice had gotten louder as he talked to Deke and grew more agitated.

I set the privacy mode on my door to not alert me if someone tried to request entry, and then I hurried to my bed. Over the last few weeks, it had become a place of solace. Soft mattress, warm blankets, and no worries that anyone was going to come take it away from me if I began to enjoy it.

Still wrapped in Captain’s blanket, I slid under my heavy blanket of covers. I wiped the tears away from my cheeks with one silky corner, my breath coming out in a silent shudder.

When would I learn that I wasn’t like other people?

I didn’t deserve comfort. Not after all I’d become, all I’d done, for them. I was probably just as bad as they were.
Crying wouldn’t ease this pain, just like it had never helped me before. But I couldn’t stop the slow seeping of tears down my cheeks. I tucked my face into the blanket and let go, wishing everything would just stop. 

TBC

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