Her head pounded, her feet hurt, and her tea tasted funny. All she wanted to do was crawl into her warm bed and sleep until she was ready to get up, but she was too wound up from her day to sleep just yet. She thought that a steamy, hot bubble bath would make her feel better, so she went into the bathroom to fill up the tub. She pressed the control panel to run the water, but nothing happened.
"Damn!" she shrieked, pounding her hand on the white porcelain of the bath.
Again, she pressed the buttons controlling the water, but only a few drops sputtered out.
"What the hell is wrong with this thing?"
She finally gave up and went back into the living room where she collapsed on the couch in frustration. All she wanted was a bath. Was that too much to ask? Apparently so.
The doorbell rang, and Vida rolled off the sofa and onto her weary feet with a moan of displeasure. She wasn't in the mood for company.
Without saying a word, Tristan took her by the waist when she opened the door, and danced with her, ending with an extravagant dip and a kiss.
"Wow," she exclaimed, "What was that for?"
"You looked like you needed cheering up."
Vida chortled dryly. "You're right, I do."
"Come on, it can't be that bad. I had a bad day, too, and I'm still in a good mood. What's your excuse?"
"I don't need an excuse," she retorted, slumping down on the couch. "But what I do need is a bath. Too bad I don't have any water."
"Yeah, I know. The station hasn't had water all day. I had to use the water in your kettle just to brush my teeth."
Vida looked down at her teacup with disgust. "Please tell me you spit in the sink and not in the kettle."
"You have a sink?"
Vida glared angrily at him.
"I'm kidding, Vida."
She relaxed a little. "I knew that."
"Anyway, that was just the beginning of my bad luck," he continued. "After you left for work, Seth and I had a discussion. Well, actually, it was more like a fight."
"Oh, no," she grumbled, rolling her eyes. "What did he say to you?"
"Only that he thinks I'm not good enough for you and that I should leave you alone."
"I'm sorry, Tristan, Seth had no right to do that."
"Don't worry about it, he was only trying to help. He's very protective of you."
She sighed, "Seth and I will have to have a little discussion of our own and get this straightened out. Anyway, besides that, how was your day?"
"It pretty much kept getting worse from there. Let's see. I went for a workout at the gym and dropped a weight on my toe; I spilled ketchup on my shirt when I was eating a hamburger; oh, and then, of course, before all that, you broke my nose."
She laughed and threw a pillow at him. "It was an accident, okay?"
He took the pillow and threw it back at her, whacking her hard in the face.
"Ow!" she whailed, "that hurt!"
She pushed him off the couch, almost knocking down the coffee table. She pounced on him like a playful kitten and muffled his laughter with the pillow.
"See?" he said, after he struggle to get the pillow out of his face, "I knew I could cheer you up."
Pinning him to the ground, she kissed him soundly.
"Thank you," she said, looking at him with her smoldering eyes. "I needed that."
"Me too," he said. "Look, I hope you don't mind me coming here. I can go if you want to be alone."
"No, stay. In fact, stay here as long as you want. I know how hard it is to find living quarters, especially without any money."
"Thanks," he said, turning slightly red at the mention of money. "I'll pay you as much as I can for rent."
"Tristan, don't even think about that," she told him. "You don't have to worry about paying me. Having you here with me is enough."
He found it uneasy to know that she was so rich. She could never truly understand what he went through to stay alive, all the begging and stealing he had done just to make ends meet. Even though were both hybrids, they came from very different worlds.
"If you say so. I think I'm getting the better deal, though."
"Maybe so," she said, helping him off the floor, "but I'm happy to help you out. I love you, you know. I'm not going to let you live in destitution when I have more money than I know what to do with."
"This is just the sort of thing that makes Seth so suspicious of me. I just want you to know that you don't have to do this."
"You don't have to worry about Seth. He gets that way sometimes. Now, will you just accept that you're staying here?"
He gave her a grateful hug. "Thanks, Vida. I couldn't turn you down if I tried."
"That's right, you couldn't. I wouldn't let you."
Vida was lying on her back, her wide eyes staring at the ceiling, and her mind reeling with thoughts. Tristan slept silently beside her, except for brief moments when a nightmare wracked him. When this happened, she wanted so badly to comfort him and quiet his whimpers, but she knew that it wouldn't help. It was better for the dream to run its course than to wake him only to have the dream resume once he fell asleep again.
She looked over at him, hardly believing that this man was in her bed. It seemed so odd, but at the same time, it was completely natural to her. Her life was as she'd always thought it should be. Still, she couldn't be content. She kept thinking, "now what?" If all was as it should be, then what was she to do with the rest of her life? She realized that at heart, she would always be a wanderer. In order to be happy, she needed change. Change was all she knew, and she had learned to thrive on it. Maybe settling down wasn't the right thing to do. Suddenly, she was frightened of the stability that she had created. This wasn't what she wanted the rest of her life to be like. It was too predictable and routine. She thought of her daily schedule: first, there was breakfast, then boxing, then work, then lunch, then more work, then dinner, work again, and finally sleep. Was that going to be the pattern of her life from now on? No, she couldn't do it. Frustration overwhelmed her, and so did the urge to escape. But she couldn't leave the people who depended on her, the people who cared so much about her.
She wondered what Tristan thought about this life. After all, he would have to change his wandering lifestyle if he wanted to stay with her. He couldn't possibly be comfortable with such a huge adjustment. The methodicalness of spaceport life wasn't anywhere near as exciting or dangerous as the life of a wanderer. Then there was also his habit of stealing to worry about. He could get himself into trouble with the strict security of Borderport. No matter how much she cared for him, she couldn't trust him to resist doing something foolish.
Why must she worry so incessantly? It would get her nowhere. She desperately needed to sleep and forget about trying to change things that were unchangeable. Anyway, she would be able to think clearer in the daytime. Her perspective of things seemed so different in the day. Night intensified her worries and fears, leaving no room for optimistic thinking. So she closed her eyes at last, and let sleep find her.
Morning came all to soon, and it was as if Vida had only shut her eyes a moment ago. She rolled over to find that Tristan had gone. This didn't bother her, in fact, she liked the fact that he gave her space and didn't smother her. She refused to let herself become dependant on him, or him on her, no matter how much love binded them. This way, when they were together, it was all the more wonderful and unexpected.
She got dressed and went to meet Jade for breakfast. She was waiting at their usual table. She greeted her and sat down, preparing to talk to her about Tristan, but Jade had other things to talk about.
"This time, the Andromedans have gone too far," she steamed.
Vida gave her a puzzled look. "What have they done now?"
"What? You haven't heard? Vida, it's all over the station, how could you not know. They've cut off our food and water."
"Oh no," she muttered, placing a hand over her shocked mouth. "Why would they do something like this?"
Jade smirked at her naivety. "Because they hate us, and they want us to suffer. We're easier to control if we're starving."
"So we have no food at all?"
"Well, we still have some food supplies, but after that runs out, there's nothing more. All of the incoming deliveries have been intercepted by the Andromedans. It looks like it's going to be dehydrated rations from now on."
"I don't believe this! Somebody's got to do something."
"And risk getting killed?"
"It's better than starving to death here."
Just then, the French
man who owned the bakery came over to the table.
"Allo, Mademoiselles, I am sorry I do not have much
to offer you today."
"No, no, I have no more. The Andromedans came last night and took it all," he said calmly, but there was anger in his flushed face. "Again, I am sorry, but there's nothing I can do."
"Don't worry about it, Pierre," Vida said, "I wasn't that hungry anyway."
"Great," Jade said sarcastically after Pierre had gone, "As if stopping the food from coming here wasn't bad enough. Now they've stolen our supplies, too."
Vida got up from the table and grabbed her bag.
"Where are you going?"
"There's no use sitting around here. I'm going to find Tristan."
"What?" she called out. "What about me? I don't want to just sit here either."
"Come with me, then."
When they got the Vida's apartment, Tristan was nowhere in sight. Vida began to worry.
"Where is he? I haven't seen him at all today."
"He didn't stay with you last night?" Jade asked.
"Well, he did, but he was gone when I got up."
The sound of the door sliding openmade them turn their heads. It was Tristan.
"There you are," Vida said, trying to calm her voice, "come in. I've been looking for you."
"Yeah, well, I had some...things to do."
Vida didn't want to know where he had been. She didn't want Seth to be right about him. "Have you heard about what the Andromedans have done?" she asked him.
"Yeah, I heard."
"We've got to so something. We can't keep letting them treat us like their pets; it's not right."
"And what do you suggest we do? Come on, Vida," Jade said, "be realistic. What's the use of trying to beat them when they've already won? We surrendered eighteen years ago, and no one's willing to go to war again. Don't go trying to be a hero and getting yourself killed."
"Listen to yourself," she replied with a growing audacity, "what happened the the Jade who would give anything for a chance to get back at the Andromedans? What happened to all of your passion?"
"You're the one who told me to let go of my anger, and now you're telling me that I should get revenge. What do you want from me?"
"I don't want revenge, I just want to get back what's rightfully ours. Will you help me or not?"
Jade sighed and thought for a moment. She glared at Tristan, wondering what he had to say about all this.
He noticed her cold stare, and piped up, "I don't know about Jade, but you can count me in."
"I knew you wouldn't pass up an opportunity like this," she cried, giving him a hug. "Now, what about you, Jade?
She was tempted to argue some more with Vida, but decided against it. It would get her nowhere; Vida was as stubborn as she was. "Fine," she said, throwing her hands up in the air in defeat, "I'll help. But this is only because you two don't know what the hell you're doing. I, on the other hand, have a plan."
Vida smiled, her eyes brimming with deep enthusiasm as Jade laid out her scheme.
A few hours later, Vida stepped out of her bathroom, clad in her little black dress with chiffon flowing about her neck. They had dyed her hair jet-black, and powdered her face until it was a ghostly white. She wore high-heal black sandals with leather straps that curled all the way up her shapely calves. She had been transformed into a perfectly seductive Andromedan woman. The image in the full-length mirror was so impressive that she even fooled herself.
"Wow," Tristan muttered with surprise, "you look--you look so...different. I have to admit, I had my doubts about this plan, but after looking at you, I think it might actually work."
"There's no denying your Andromedan blood," Jade confirmed. "I can't even tell that there's Human in you."
"Hopefully the Andromedans won't be able to tell either," Vida said, straightening her dress. "Well, I think I'm ready. Should I go?"
"Wait," Tristan stopped her. "Be careful, okay? I don't want anything to happen to you." He ran his fingers through her black hair lovingly.
"I'll be fine. Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Just go get Seth and head down to the cargo bay. I'll take care of the Andromedans."
He kissed her gently on the forehead and she left, trying to hide her nervousness. As she walked down the corridor, she tried to take deep breaths do calm herself, but her heart would not slow. The tiny space of the shuttle-lift seemed to grow smaller with each passing floor until Vida could bearly stand it. When the door slid open, she bolted out and nervously walked towards the main cargo bay where the Andromedans were waiting for clearance. She found them sitting around a large box, playing a game of clundad, the equivalent to Human poker. She breathed deeply and closed her eyes. All she had to do was distract them long enough for Tristan and the others to unload the food from their ship. Seth had arranged for no ships to be granted clearance until they were done. She would have to make this game last as long as possible.
They were all laughing loudly at a joke and did not see her right away when she walked in. One of the soldiers stopped laughing long enough to see the tall, beautiful Andromedan female standing at the doorway. The others turned to see what he was gawking at, and they too, became mesmerised.
One of them spoke. "Well, what do we have here? Come," he commanded her, "let me have a look at you."
By now, all the men had gathered around to see her. She pretended not to be affected by their interest. "You can see me fine from here," she spoke up boldly in perfect Andromedan language. She knew Andromedans liked to play hard-to-get.
The others laughed at her refusal. Her audacity sparked interest in him, and he became even more determined. "Please, I only want to be closer to such beauty. Sit with me for a game of Clundad. I have a feeling you will bring me luck."
She walked towards him, swiveling her hips and smiling invitingly. He motioned for her to sit on his lap. She obeyed him and put her arms around him, even when every fibre of her being wanted to writhe in disgust and run away. She had to be strong and endure these wretched creatures for as long as possible. They all had their golden eyes on her and they were bearly paying attention to the game, let alone their ship full of supplies. Vida had them just where she wanted them. She only hoped that Seth had been able to round up enough people to pull this thing off before she lost the attention of the Andromedans.
Suddenly, she was being moved to the lap of another soldier. The previous one had lost and she had been the stake. She hated how they treated their women like property. Their technology may have been advanced, but their society was still primeval. The soldier began to fondle her breasts and kiss her neck in attempts to make the other soldiers jealous. It was working. The stakes went higher and higher as they all tried to win her. She noticed how incredibly large this game had become; there were now double the amount of Andromedans than there had been when she first arrived. The game went on for a good hour and Vida was passed around and handled like a piece of flesh. One of the soldiers brought a keg of Andromedan liquor and poured drinks for everyone.
"Take some," he offered her, "you will like it."
She took the glass from him and chugged it down to impress him. The soldiers all cheered and laughed, urging her to drink another. One more couldn't hurt, she thought as she gulped another one back. She had forgotten how strong Andromedan booze were. Soon, she was too drunk to care how they touched her body and kissed her. The room spun around her and the muddled voices of soldiers filled her head. She didn't even notice when the commander entered the room in a furious state. He captured the solders' attention by shooting his weapon at the ceiling, causing it to crumble like dry bread crumbs. Vida was startled by the blast and pulled herself together long enough to see the gaping hole above her and the stern look in the commander's eyes.
"Listen to me," he addressed the soldiers. "We are expected on the home world tomorrow, so we must leave now. Unfortunately, our supplies have been stolen. You imbeciles pay more attention to this woman than you do to the mission! You will all be dealt with back on the home world, but for now, I want all of you on the ship and ready for take off in ten minutes. Now go!"
The soldiers fled promptly, leaving Vida trying to hobble away without being noticed.
"Stop right there," the commander said to her. Vida stopped and grabbed onto a cargo bin to keep herself from falling. She heard his footsteps growing louder as he approached her. She turned to look at him with the bravest stare she could muster. He returned her stare with double the intensity. "I do not know who you are, but you have cost me and my crew a great deal, and for that, you must pay."
He signaled to a guard who was standing at the door. "Take her to the ship's holding cell," he ordered him in a cold, calm voice.
"No! Let go of me!" she shrieked as the guard dragged her away. She swatted at him and kicked him all the way to the ship, but her struggles did her no good. She was too drunk to put up much of a fight. The commander followed them to the cell, and pulled out a small kit from a shelf behind him. The guard held her steady as the commander took a needle from the kit and filled it with a strange liquid. The room was spinning, she could hardly see. He took hold of Vida's harm, and before she could jerk it away, she felt a sharp prick. She saw the commander's blurred face smirking at her, and then it slowly disintegrated into a dark oblivion.
End of Chapter 12. Go to Chapter 13.