There is a dull ache penetrating my skull. I reach to rub my temples with...a gloved hand?
I groan at the sight: shiny black with a blue band. Space navy.
I never should have gone to Venatani, home of the workless and misfits. Exactly the targets of Entorian Space Navy. They send a few of their men out, prowling the streets and pubs for any of the unruly types. The ones that nobody will miss. They've done it before during previous wars, dropping the practice during peace times only to pick it back up at the next sign of conflict.
One minute you’re drinking yourself into a stupor and the next…
I turn over in the dimly lit chamber, grasping for the release. With a click, the panel opens, pressure rolling off of me. The barracks is full of other chambers each surely holding an unfortunate fool who had yet to realize their dilemma.
If the ship hasn’t yet left port I might still have a chance at escape.
I shimmy down the latter best as I can, my head now throbbing and limbs protesting my every movement.
I’ll have to find a change of clothes, but first priority is getting off this ship. If it departed with me on it there’s no telling when another opportunity will arise.
I weave through rows of stacked chambers, searching for an exit. There. At the far corner is a door left unsealed. A panel blinks beside it but I don’t stop to investigate it. I don’t have time, every second counts.
I just reach the frame when a searing energy tears through me ravaging every cell in my body.
I don’t remember waking up, just that when a trickle of consciousness pervaded my mind, I found myself mewling on the floor with several men surrounding me. Their voices blurred together in an unintelligible mass, not a single syllable clear to my ears. I tried to pull myself up off the ground, to not be seen as weak, but my limbs gave way beneath me. A cry escapes my lips as I tumble back to the floor.
A force grabs me, one of the men? They halt my fall, instead easing me gently back to the floor. A sound greets me, becoming more distinct as the others die out. It takes a few minutes for my ears to adjust and another for my eyes to focus.
The one who spoke was a young man, human in nature with ear-length black-brown hair curling around his ears, olive skin, and pale gray eyes riddled with an unusual composition of compassion and concern.
“Hey, hey, are you alright?” Another man snorts.
“Of course he ain’t.” This man is taller with broader shoulders and a vicious sneer plastered on his face.
“The twit ran full force into the field. What? His shriek not wake you up? How bout the bawling?”
I squint at him, blurriness creeping back into my vision.
“Shut it, Vinzy,” a third man says. I turn my head, barely making out the yellow scales. “Like you wouldn’t have done the same.”
“To hell I would have! You’d have to have a fried brain to do somethin that stupid and he,” the broad man, Vinzy, points a hooked thumb at me. “Certainly has one now if he didn’t before.”
“He probably panicked and didn’t see it,” the lamellan counters. “Besides, he’s surely learned not to do that again,” the scaled man says, turning to face me. “That is one of the qualities I admire most about you homo sapiens. Your ability to learn and adapt in response to hardships in your environments. It’s intriguing, really.”
“Look. Lyro. Vinzy. He clearly needs more rest,” the gray-eyed man says. “Arguing isn’t helping. I think we could find his chamber or-”
“Leave him,” Vinzy interjects. “It will serve as a message to any other idiots who think they can plow through a field without consequence.”
“Don’t really me.”
“He can really you all he wants.”
“Over that idiot.”
“You're the idiot.”
It was barely a wheeze, but it was enough. They all turned to look at me, where I lie withered on the floor. I push myself up into a sitting position.
“Has it…left port…yet?”
The silence that follows my question is broken by a burst of laughter.
“You idiot,” Vinzy manages. “They’ve kept all the chambers locked ever since the incident on Florence.” He keeps laughing. “You almost had me impressed, speaking after only three hours, but then you go spewing that stupidity.”
“Florence?” I ask, a pit forming in my stomach.
“Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me that you wouldn’t know, blondie. Some recruits made an escape their ship was docked on Florence.”
“What…what happened to them?”
“Eh, most were caught almost immediately. Some lasted a few weeks. They never did find the leader though. I’d love ta meet the guy. I’d probably slap him upside the head though. Ever since that little break they’d lock the recruits in their chambers whenever they’d dock for supplies. You have no idea how much of a pain that is.”
I try to clear my head, a fog wrapping around it.
“And the ones who were caught?”
“Who knows. I wouldn’t be that surprised if they were sent to the mines. No point troubling yourself with it, blondie.”
Silence hangs heavy in the air, pressure seeming to build, squeezing me, with every passing second.
“I have a name,” I mumble, a temporary reprieve from the silence.
“And what would that name be?”
“Vinzy, let him talk,” the younger man says.
“I-my name is Syntin,” I say repositioning myself to take the extended hand.
“I’m Kyvo,” He says shaking my hand in a firm yet tentative grip. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, although different circumstance might have been better.” He smiles at me, a kind gesture, even if of little comfort.
“It’s…nice to meet you too, Kyvo.” I look between him and the other two. Vinzy might be the type you’d find on Venatani, but not Kyvo. Too soft. Sill hopeful. And the way they stand, shoulders relaxed and faces lacking then tension commonly carried in the presence of strangers. They’re too familiar.
“Uh, how…how long have you known each other.”
“Vinzy and Lyro? Ah right, Vinzy’s the big guy who thought you fried-”
“I kind of did.”
“And Lyro is the lamellan. I have been working with Vinzy since I was twelve. We picked up Lyro on a…job.”
“So, they captured you all together. I thought they targeted loners.”
“Well, yeah, but there are some exceptions. I didn’t think they went after Andelynians either, but clearly they don’t care what planet you’re from so long as you can fight.”
Andelyn. They're taking people from Andelyn! They’re supposed to be immune. There was a treaty and everything. They're supposed to be able to flash their IDs and be free.
“It’s fine,” he says brushing a strand of hair from his face. “Can I ask where you are from?”
I stare at my black-booted feet, then his, trailing up the black and blue uniform until I meet his eyes. His face morphs becoming older and sterner, eyes burning with hatred and disgust. It morphs again, and again in rapid succession. Images of others in the same garb, watching, breaking, and leveling their…
“Are you Entorian, Syntin?” Lyro asks.
“What, uh, not exactly.” I shake my head, attempting to free myself from haunting thoughts. “I…I don’t want to talk about it.”
“So you ask but don’t tell.”
“Vinzy, he doesn’t have to tell. We each have our own circumstances.”
“Well, he’s definitely homo sapien. He’s too aware to be from one of the more backwater planets, but he’s not sporting any sort of visible enhancement and was unable to identify a field block…”
“Now you are being insensitive. He will tell us when he is ready to tell us.”
“And what makes you so certain he’ll ever tell us.”
They bicker back and forth not noticing the approaching footsteps. The invisible field sparks then dissipates. A man flanked by two soldiers steps through. A crowd of recruits gathers round, appearing from behind the numerous chambers. They must have woken while I was out.
The man glares at them, cold blue eyes scanning over their faces. He stops at me. For a moment unbridled fear sweeps over me, panic gripping my chest.
His eyes bore into me, peeling back skin and flesh, staring directly into my soul. For several seconds the room holds its breath, stillness prevailing, before a horrid grin splits his face.
“It appears that one of our new friends did us the favor of testing our security measures. Tell me young man, did you find them efficient?”
His eyes exude malice, lighting up with a malevolent joy as he watches me squirm.
He turns to face the gathered men.
“You are all privileged,” he says. “Given the opportunity to serve your empire.” Feet shuffle but none are dumb enough to-
“I don't want to fight.”
The people around him flee like fish from talons.
“Oh, no, why is that?”
“I didn’t get a choi-”
“I mean, really. You're given the opportunity for greatness and honor yet you would toss aside such a gift? That is so hurtful, disrespectful too, daresay I treasonous? Latassa, take him to isolation,” he snaps.
One of the soldiers steps forward, narrowed eyes lingering on me before turning to the outspoken man. He objects, stepping backwards as she approaches him.
“No. No. No. I have the right to speak. I have the right not to fight. I’m not going with-”
A fist to the jaw cuts him off. He crumples at the kick to the knees, as she pins his his arms behind his back.
She releases him, but his arms are still held in place.
“Walk.” His eyes widen with fear. He starts to splutter, but thinks better of it, nodding urgently as he pulls himself to his feet. They vanish down the corridor beyond the door.
The man, commander Krin finished his speech without further interruption. The room is dead when he leaves. Many stand in place, still shocked at the day’s revelations.
“Is he dead?” a particularly pale man asks from off to the side.
“We're all dead,” another man shouts. “They're going to send us to battle and were all going to die.”
“That’s if they don’t kill us themselves,” a six armed man retorts.
I groan, feeling the urge to rub my temples as the room fills with shouting and panicked voices, ever increasing in volume.
“Hey, you still good?” Kyvo asks, looking a bit pale himself.
“I wouldn’t call being trapped on an Entorian Space Navy ship good on any day.”
“He was referring to your physical condition, young homo sapien,” Lyro says, flicking his tail. He pries his eyes away from the door, examining me briefly, then settles his slit-like pupils on Kyvo. “He’s fine, although the pain is likely to persist over the next few days.”
“Well you can get used to it. There’s no way off this ship.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“There’s been escapes before.”
“Few end well. They always end up captured not ta mention even getting to that step requires knowledge of the layout. You a ship engineer. Gonna save us?” Vinzy snorts.
“Vinzy.” The voice comes from a green man, tendrils of vine like appendages cut short on his head.
“Don’t give the sapling any stupid ideas. Every time someone tries, restrictions increase. And some,” He says eyeing me over. “Are idiotic enough to try.”
“I didn’t say I would try.”
“Shut it, blonde. Orren, scram.”
“Scram? You worthless brute,” Orren spits, tendrils extending to their full length, a mere few inches from his scalp. “You have no right to disrespect me, suldar.”
Vinzy luges, tackling the man to the ground. He throws several punches, Kyvo hesitating to intervene.
Orrin manages to remove a glove, narrow vines shooting out from his sleeve, nearly hoisting Vinzy off the ground before he looses his balance. Vinzy grabs the vines, slamming the green man into a nearby chamber.
I take my cue to leave, darting between rows of chambers and away from the fight and its growing crowd. I take a hard left, nearly blacking out from the sudden shift. I stumble over my own feet.
I lay with my stomach pressed against the cold metal floor. The world spins around me, stubbornly refusing to focus. Winded, I inhale, attempting to ease the burning in my lungs. I make to bring myself onto all fours.
The breath is knocked out of me. Collapsed on the floor I flail unable to suck in a breath, as any oxygen remaining is squeezed from my lungs. My limbs slow, energy depleted. A haze consumes my mind. My eyelids are unbearably heavy, sleep calling from just around the corner.
Just a few minutes. It will just be a few minutes.
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Have always LUV'd Sci-Fi! Latest adventure in the Luger/Pyke saga... https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/rnqtsk/