Pain. A dull, all encompassing pain was the first sensation she felt as she came out of her drug-induced slumber. Her eye lids barely opened a crack before slamming shut again with the exertion. She tried to shout, but all that came from her mouth was a tired, shrivelled whimper. Her head throbbed; her wrists and ankles burned from the friction of the rough cords that bound them; her stomach was twisting in pain and threatened to release its contents. She held back the growing lump in her throat, knowing that if she vomited, she would surely choke and die. She was lying on her back with a gag over her mouth. Choking was a horrible, yet veritable possibility.
Tristan came to mind. She wondered what he was doing at this moment. He must have realized what had happened by now. She had no clue how much time had passed since she had been taken from the port, but it felt like years. It couldn't be too much longer before he saved her. You fool, she thought to herself, he's not coming. No one is. Tears flooded her eyes at the thought. He couldn't save her, and she knew it. She was being taken back to the Andromedan home world to be lost like a raindrop in an ocean of slaves. But wait. She wouldn't be a slave; they thought she was Andromedan, did they not? But if that was true, then why was she being treated like a human? Perhaps it was because they didn't know who she was, or maybe it was fine to treat women this way on their world. Whatever their reasons, she knew that there was little chance of them setting her free.
She struggled to move her head to one side, and looked through the laser-beamed bars to see what was beyond them. She saw movement out of the corner of her eye. Or was it only her imagination? The line between reality and illusion had worn thin in her mind. Then the movement came again, and this time she was sure of it. She tried to speak, forgetting that the gag was hindering her ability to utter syllables. All that came out was an insistant whimper.
The shifting blob neared the beams, and gradually, it took shape. The first thing she saw was incredibly yellow eyes staring not with malice, but with almost an air of curiosity and even concern.
She whimpered again, pleading with him.
"Shhh..." he hushed her, then whispering, "be quiet, will you? Someone might hear you."
That was what she was hoping for, at least for him to hear her. She couldn't stand to be trapped here alone, unable to speak.
He looked around to make sure that no one was watching, then he typed in a security code on the control panel to release the lasers, and stepped in.
Vida shrinked away as he came near her, recalling her mother's experience with dread.
"I will not hurt you," he said softly. He saw that she was trying to rid herself of the gag in her mouth, and began to undo it, then stopped and said, "I can only take this off if you promise not to scream or speak too loudly. I cannot risk being caught."
It seemed to her that he was already risking a lot in just being with her, but she was greatful to him. The gag was finally off, and she attempted to thank him, but the words stuck in her parched throat.
"I could not bear to see you locked up here," he explained, "you did nothing wrong; we were at fault."
She was strangely comforted by his caring words, even though she knew that she had brought this upon herself. She had distracted them purposely from their duties, and for that, she felt amazingly guilty. But they were the ones who stole the supplies, she reminded herself, she was only helping to get back what was rightfully hers.
"No," she said hoarsely, "no one is to blame. You should not feel that you owe me anything."
"Perhaps not, but it does not prevent me from feeling so," he said so earnestly and with so much feeling that Vida was convinced he could not be an Andromedan.
"Forgive me, but, I don't understand," she said. "Why are you acting like this?"
The Andromedan looked at her strangely. "Like what?"
"You're so..." she started, but didn't know how to put it. "You are not what I expected."
"And what did you expect?" he challenged her.
"To be honest, I expected that thing coming out of the shadows to be a blood-thirsty Andromedan ready to kill me or worse," she explained, "but instead, it was you. Having an Andromedan apologize to me is not something I have happen to me every day."
He laughed and silent, whispering laugh so not to be heard. "Is that what you think we are all like? You have been with the slave-race too long."
Vida had a moment to ponder his words before he said, "I must go now. I do not want to be seen here."
"Wait," she whispered to him. "Tell me what they mean to do with me."
The Andromedan bowed his head, afraid to tell her the truth.
"Tell me," she urged, "I need to know. I will start screaming if you do not tell me."
His golden eyes met hers and he took a deep breath. "It is our admiral's birthday tomorrow. The food that we took from your base was to be a gift for him, for his birthday feast."
Vida looked puzzled. "What does that have to do with me?"
"You are his new gift."
With those words, he left swiftly and quietly, leaving Vida stunned and frightened in her cold cellroom.
Vida opened her eyes a few hours later, not even realizing that she had fallen asleep. The Andromedan's words were still echoing through her mind. A gift. She was a gift. She was a substitute for his food! How could this happen to her? She was being handled like some object to be given away. So this is how Andromedan's treated their women. It was pathetic. It frightened her that her humanity was being taken from her; she would be an Andromedan woman on this world, or at least treated as such. It was very possible that she would never see her human friends again, or any humans for that matter, except the slaves that had lost their spirits long ago.
And what was that Andromedan thinking? Coming to her cell and talking to her as if he was sorry. Why was he playing with her emotions so? She had actually believed in his sincerity for a moment, but he couldn't really have been so sympathetic, not an Andromedan. Perhaps they had sent him to seek information from her. He hadn't learned much, though. No, that couldn't have been it. He was not pushing her for answers at all. Although, maybe he was only trying to gain her trust first. She would have to watch out for him, and trust no one.
Footsteps echoed in the distance, and she knew they were not from the timid Andromedan who had visited her. Each step shouted its confidence and superiority. She took deep breaths and waited as the steps grew louder and more overbearing. Then they stopped. She looked up to see a dark figure towering over her. It was the commander. There was something in his hand, and Vida strained to see what it was.
"Who have you been talking to, my dear?" he asked with condescension. Vida wondered how he knew she had been talking to anyone, when he answered her, almost reading her mind, "your gag. It is on the floor and not on your mouth where it should be."
She said nothing.
"Well, no matter. It will not change anything. We are approaching the base now, and I want you to be quiet."
She saw that the object in his hand was a needle. "I will be quiet, I promise!" she begged, and as she did so, she felt a great shame, for she knew that she was lowering herself out of selfish fear.
"I cannot take the risk," he said as he jabbed the needle into her arm.
She realized that this was not the same drug that he had given her before. She was still awake, but she felt her body slipping out of her control. Her head felt like a balloon, ready to float off her shoulders and into the air.
"Now get up," he ordered her, so she did, and to her surprise, she was free of the bondages that had held her down. She didn't even remember him taking them off.
They walked down a long, dark corridor, his arm securely around her waste to keep her from falling. She was finding it harder to put one foot in front of the other, a simple gesture that she had always taken for granted. Somehow, they made it outside of the ship and into the docking bay. The commander passed her to two soldiers who immediately supported her and took her down another series of hallways.
She blanked out for a few moments, and when she came to, she was in a room with several human women, obviously servants. They laid her down on a bed and began undressing her. Then, they dragged her into a bathroom where a steaming bubble bath was waiting. Hands were all over her: washing her hair, scrubbing her body and her face, even messaging her sore muscles. Once she was out of the bath and dried off, they draped her in white, sheer fabric. They adorned her in Andromedan crystals and fine rubies while others intricately braided her hair. Makeup was applied to her face to make it look almost as pale as her dress, and deep shadow was put around her golden eyes. She felt dead.
When the commander came in to see her, the servants were painting her fingernails and toenails blood-red. He looked pleased as he stared at her breasts through the transparent cloth.
"This is much better than any feast," he said, laughing. "You will make him very happy, I am sure."
She was still too drugged to be angered; she just sat there, letting him look at her body, not caring anymore.
"The party is in two hours," he addressed the servants, "I trust you will have her ready by then."
The women simply bowed their heads, and continued their work. Vida looked at them in pity. The commander came closer to her and bent down on his knees to look into her eyes.
"Welcome back to the home world, darling," he said and kissed her firmly, forcing his tongue into her mouth. She wanted to writhe in loathing, but she couldn't make her body move.
"See you at the party," he said as he left.
Hundreds of Andromedans were gathered in a large ballroom, conversing and drinking while the slaves served them with trays of hors d'oeuvres and kept their glasses full. Vida had not yet entered the room, but stood at the door with her numerous chambermaids at her side. She was feeling a little steadier than she had earlier, but the remnants of the drug was still coursing through her veins. At any rate, she couldn't run away now, not with hundreds of eyes on her.
She peered through the endless sea of people, and saw one Andromedan in the center of it all. He was in his early forties, with well-defined cheek bones and large eyes--yellow, of course. His black hair was cut quite short, which made his eyes all the more prevalent. She noticed that there were two women at his side. One had chin-length hair and a chubby face; she looked down at all of the feet instead of at the faces around her. The other was much taller and slimmer, with her long hair pulled up in a tight bun. Her eyes were small but intense, and her lips were painted bright red, contrasting her white skin and setting off her gliding, red satin dress. She looked away from the people she was talking with and looked dead at Vida, who quickly turned the other way, but the woman's baneful glance was burned in her mind.
The music stopped abruptly and everyone in the room stood silent. The commander addressed the crowd.
"First of all, I want to thank you all for coming here tonight despite the sudden change in plans," he started off. Vida decided that he must have been talking about the cancelled feast. "But this is still a very special event and i know that we will all enjoy ourselves. admiral, it has been my priviledge to have served you and to continue to serve you for hopefully many years to come, and I am honoured to be here today to celebrate your birthday," he paused to give everyone a chance to praise him with applause. "Now, without any further ado, I would like to present you with a gift."
People murmured to each other excitedly as he signalled to two soldiers who grabbed Vida by the arms and escorted her inside the ballroom. The crowd split in two and formed a pathway in front of her. She walked down it, with a soldier on each side of her. The Admiral stood at the end of the path with no particular expression on his face. Vida's face, too, was blank and numb to the whole experience. Yellow eyes were all around her, all looking at her exposed body, but the only eyes she saw were the ones of the woman in the satin dress staring with growing hostility and jealousy. When she reached the Admiral, he smiled shallowly and took her hand. The music started again, and he began to dance with her as all the eyes watched them carefully. As they danced, he noticed a tear in her eye, and wiped it away with his thumb.
"Finish the dance and then I will get you out of here," he whispered to her.
She smiled a sad smile and continued the dance until the song was over. The next song started and everyone began to dance, giving Vida and the admiral a chance to leave unnoticed.
He took her hand and they ran down the hallway to a pair of large doors at the very end. He threw them open and took her inside an expansive room with a high ceiling that was hand-carved and rimmed with gold. The room was full of antique furniture, including a kingly bed draped in a velvet canopy. The Admiral pulled out two wine glasses from the bar and filled them with champaigne, which surprised Vida as a very Human drink to have. In fact, the whole room was somewhat influenced by Human tastes.
"Do you like this room?" he asked when he noticed her glancing around. "I am a fan of antiques, especially Human ones. I acquired most of what you see here during the invasion," he stopped, seeing the aversion in her expression. "What is it?"
"None of this is yours," she berated, "it belongs to the Humans."
He simply laughed at her. "Not anymore," he said, passing her a glass.
"I do not want any."
"Very well," he said calmly and put the glass down. "Sit down, at least, you are making me nervous."
She took a seat in one of the antiquated chairs. It was hard and uncomfortable. She shifted around restlessly, trying to vainly cover herself up with the airy fabric of her dress. The Admiral got up and reached for a night-gown from his closet. He wrapped it around her shivering body.
"Is that better?"
"Yes, thank you," she said rather uncertainly.
"You do get chilly easily for an Andromedan. We keep it warm enough in here for the slaves to live."
"I am not cold. I do not enjoy of this choice of clothing."
He laughed. "Well, it is traditional for a marriage, I am sorry if you do not approve."
Vida tried to hide her shock. She had no idea that that had been a wedding ceremony. There were no vows! She had so much to learn about Andromedans.
"You do not want to be here, I understand that, but you will learn to love me eventually," he said, stroking her cheek.
Vida moved away in repulsion. "I doubt that somehow." There was a silence, but Vida rushed to fill it. "Will they not wonder where we are?"
"No, they will only think we have gone to consummate the marriage."
She stiffened in fear. "So what are you waiting for?"
"Let us talk first," he said, reaching for her hands.
She pulled them away. "I have nothing to say to you."
"You are in no position to make that choice," he said with a sharper tone. "I am being extremely lenient with you, the least you could do is talk to me."
"What do you want to know?"
"I want to know about you. You intrigue me," he said, putting his hand on his chin pensively. "You look like one of us, yet you obviously know nothing of our culture. You speak our language, yet your accent and your manner are, well, Human. The Commander informed me that they found you on a Human spaceport. So what I would like to know is why a beautiful and intellegent Andromedan woman such as yourself would be living with a wretched, primitive slave race."
"You would not understand," she patronized him. "You do not know a thing about my life."
"That is why I want to speak with you. I want to know about your life."
"Why do you find it such a big mystery that I like living with Humans. They are a formidable species, with a thousand times more virtue than you'll ever have."
He laughed at this. "What makes you say that?"
"They would never enslave another kind and destroy their home. They would never kill millions of beings and steal their resources. Only someone as cruel as your kind would do that."
"You do not know Humans very well, then," he exclaimed with amusement. "The only reason they have not taken over the whole universe is because their technology limits them. Trust me, we have done everyone a favour by controlling them."
"That is a lie!" she cried. "You do not know them!"
"I know them better than you. Tell me, do you know anything of their history?"
"You destroyed most of their records, and it is not something that they talk about. I don't see what this has to do with anything."
"Have you not ever wondered why they never talk about their history?"
"Because it is too painful to remember everything you took from them," she contended. "I do not blame them for not discussing it."
"You are wrong, my dear. They do not talk about it because they are ashamed of what they have done."
"Nothing they did in the past could be as bad as what you are doing to them."
"What they did," he explained, "is even worse. They enslaved their own kind, and stripped them of their culture. They consumed most of the resources on their planet long before we came along, and drove thousands of species to extinction in their selfishness. They were constantly at war with each other, killing and torturing one another. Do not tell me that they are innocent and we are corrupt when you know nothing of either of us."
Vida sat in shameful silence, not knowing what to say to defend herself and humanity. She was completely overwhelmed by what he had told her.
"No," she said at last, "no, it is not true. It cannot be. They are not all like that, I know them."
"That may be true. It is also true of our species. You may think that we are all bad, but we are not all the evil monsters that you make us out to be."
She was beginning to realize this, as painful as it was to do. She didn't want to believe that Humans could be so cruel, but perhaps they were not as different from Andromedans as they would like to think. She had always believed that the two species were more alike than Humans thought, but only now did she comprehend the full meaning of it all.
"You know, I would like to tell you something else about Humans that even many Andromedans do not know about," he said, handing her the glass of wine, which she took this time and swallowed it in one swift gulp. He stared at her for a moment, then continued, "as you may know, we are an ancient race. We have lived since the Human's planet was still in its early stages. We were once very much like the Humans, and we had a thirst for the unknown. We built space shuttles and sattelites and soon we learned how to break the speed of light. We were able to travel out of our galaxy to other galaxies. It was then that we found a small planet that we decided to use as a penal institution. The convicts were left on the planet to fend for themselves. Many died, but there were a few that survived and were able to adapt. Soon, it was thought by many that using the planet for such purposes was wrong and all contact with the planet was ceased." He paused to take a sip of wine. "It is quite possible that the planet we colinized is Earth."
"Lies!" she screamed. "It is all lies! Why are you telling me this nonsense? Just to spite me because I am so ignorant? True, I do not know much about the Humans' past, but this? How can you expect me to believe this?"
"I do not expect you to believe anything," he calmly responded to her outburst. "It makes no difference to me whether you believe what I am saying or not. I only wanted to tell you something that might interest you, that is all."
"Well, it doesn't interest me."
"Then let us think of something that does," he urged. "I want to know more about you. Please, allow me that."
She remained stubbornly silent.
He grabbed her by the wrist and forced his gaze on her. "I am losing my patience quickly. Would you rather we consummate the marriage?"
She shook her head and as she did so, he noticed something shimmering about her neck. He looked down an saw a familiar stone changing colours before his very eyes.
"Where did you get this stone?"
She was amused by his sudden curiosity. "Why? Do you like it?"
"Just tell me where you got it."
She watched the perplexity in his expression grow, knowing that she controlled the moment for once. "My mother gave it to me," she said at last.
This made him even more confused.
"What is it? Why are you so interested in my jewellery?"
"I once saw a stone like it, and I thought for a moment that is was the same one, but it could not be."
"Why is that?"
"It was a long time ago, it does not matter now," he said, trying to push away her questions.
"I thought you said you wanted to talk," she said with fortitude. "Now tell me where you saw a stone like this one."
He sighed, not wanting to go back to that time of his life, but he had to give her an answer. "I saw a woman with a stone like that once, but it could not have been your mother."
"I would not be so sure about that," she said shrewdly. "Who was this woman?"
"She was a slave at a base where I was assigned when I was a young soldier."
Vida gulped down the lump that was rising in her throat. "That was my mother," she croaked, watching his face become even paler than usual. Another thought came to her, a disturbing thought. "How could you have seen this stone? She wore it in a pouch around her neck; it was covered up."
"You do not want to know. Please, leave it be," he begged, almost in tears.
"I cannot do that, I have to know."
"You are eighteen, are you not?"
"Yes," she said, "how did you know that?"
He buried his head in his hands. Vida thought she heard him weeping, but she couldn't be sure. "Forgive me," he muttered, "please forgive me, I was so young, it was a lifetime ago. I never meant to hurt her."
Vida was wordless. She could only watch this reputable man crumble up into a sobbing child, his eyes bleeding crimson tears. She wanted to hate this man for what he had done to her mother those eighteen years ago, but she couldn't do it. All she felt was pity for him. She place her hand on his shuddering shoulder and looked down on him.
"It is not from me you should be asking forgiveness ."
"Tell me where she is and I will go to her."
Vida stared at him, realizing that he knew nothing of her mother's death. He thought she had escaped safely. In his mind, she was living happily on a spaceport, surrounded by her human friends and had raised a beautiful child who just happened to be Andromedan. She was in her thirties and still lovely, the pain of her rape faded into a dull ache that only appeared now and then when she looked in the eyes of her daughter. The thought of her mother being alive made her soul burn with a yearning for the infinite possibilities of happiness that never came to be.
"You cannot," she said, trying to keep her voice from wavering. "She died giving birth to me."
"I am sorry to hear that. Even if I could talk to her, I do not deserve her forgiveness," he said, seeking to compose himself. "And you do not deserve any of this." He took her hand in his own. "My daughter," he whispered in amazement, "you might be my daughter."
"Possibly," she uttered, her jumbled emotions almost overpowering her. Should she be happy to be reunited with the father she never knew? Or maybe she should be angry that this man had done such a disservice to her mother and caused the turmoil that battered her mind. Of course, if it wasn't for him, she would probably not have existed, so perhaps she should be grateful. There were so many feelings, but none of them seemed right.
"I cannot keep you here, though I wish you would stay. There is so much I want to know about you, about your life. Poor girl...you have lived as a human all of your life. You can still live here, on the home world, you know. You do not have to go back to that wretched spaceport. I can give you everything you will ever need."
"No," she shook her head, "I cannot stay here. I have a life at that spaceport. I have friends, a job, a love. You may think that Humans are inferior, but they are all I have ever known. They took me in when you would have enslaved me or killed me. Can you blame me for wanting to stay with them?"
"No, I blame you for nothing. You are free to go, but know that you are welcome here anytime."
"Now, we must get you out of here safely," he said, moving swiftly around the room, gathering supplies from around the room. He went through his walk-in closet and found a fur coat, a sweater, and a warm pair of pants that he handed to her, saying, "put these on, you will need them."
"How are you going to get me out?" she asked him, slipping on the over-sized pants and wrapping the fur coat securely around her body.
He picked up a small remote and when he pressed it, the bookcase shifted away from the wall. "There are a series of passageways through here that run through this entire compound and will lead you to the outside if you know where to go."
"I take it you know the way."
"I have the blueprints right here," he said, removing a section of false books from the movable bookcase. He took the blueprints out of the false books and sat down at his desk to mark the way to the outside. When he was done, he handed it to her. "Just follow the directions I have written and it will lead you to the planet's surface."
"I warn you, it will become quite cold as you approach the outside. You might find it uncomfortable, seeing as you are part Human. I hope those clothes will be enough. I will pack you extra clothing in case you need it. You will also need this," he said, reaching for the fruit basket on his coffee table. He dumped its contents into a bag and then went to the closet where he threw in a further supply garments as well. He found a couple bottles in the cupboard which he filled up with water and added to her rations. Then, he gave her the bag and said to her, "you must go now."
"What will you tell everyone?"
"Do not worry about that. Whatever I say, they will not question it."
They both stood, clumsily fidgeting in the silence. Vida was the first one to move as she turned away from him and walked toward the gaping void in the otherwise regular wall. Just as she crossed the threshold of the pathway, she turned around to look at him one last time.
"Good bye," she told him.
He smiled at her. "Vida," he said, "I want you to know that I am not proud of what I did, but it heals me to know that something good came of it. You are truly something to be proud of. Promise me that you will never regret being born. I know that your mother does not regret it, wherever she is."
"I promise," she said, blowing him a kiss that come from the deepest crevasse of her heart. Then she began her journey into the darkness of the pathway.
End of Chapter 13. Go to Chapter 14.