“You’ll be okay,” I said to myself, grimacing at the razor-like welts carved into my flesh.
Every drop of water had to be rationed, so dirt accumulated, coating me in inky blotches.
I liked to think I was tough. A survivor.
Someone who was going to do good, make a difference, right the wrongs of this messed up universe.
But apparently all it took to crack me was to keep me away from people, make me powerless.
“Something will happen,” I whispered. “I’ll find a way out. Everything will be alright.”
But the longer I stared at my bleak cell and enveloping darkness, the more disillusioned I became.
Bruises caked my skin from my most recent escape attempt. Not the first time I’d pushed their limits. The Nazoks had responded with strikes and insults, dragging me back by my hair, tearing out patches of my blonde hair.
It was hard to make a plan when I’d been unconscious when brought here, so the only way I had to get information was to keep sneaking out, trying to build a mental map of this place.
After my failed escape with Amy, I’d almost given up, guilt and worry crashing in on me, crushing my chest until it was hard to breath.
What had happened to my friend?
Where had they taken her?
It had been my fault that she was captured in the first place, all those months ago.
I’d been so focused on following the rumors of a slaving ring that I’d let my guard down, getting captured myself.
And unforgivably, my friend had been taken as well.
I thought we’d had a good plan. Sneak to the lab, send a message to my best friend Tessi, tell her where we were being kept.
I knew Tessi inside and out. She might be just another human stuck here on Thodos III, but once she made up her mind, she would stop at nothing to reach her goal.
That dogged determination had gotten her in trouble more than once, but right now I was counting on it. If she needed them, she’d force the Uune themselves to get involved.
But we’d been caught before I could get a message out.
And then Amy and I had been separated, and I’d been moved to a different facility, and kept in this windowless cage.
The guards only came by to deliver tasteless protein bars and bottles of tepid water. With no light, no sounds, no pattern to mark my days, I could only guess at the times between their visits by the gnawing hunger in my belly.
I gently tapped my head against the wall, ignoring the scratching. My arms ached from bruises and cuts.
The only time I was let out of the cell was for his visits.
I shuddered, shoving the memory of clammy hands on my arms away.
Right here, right now.
There was enough to worry about without living through that in my mind.
There were four options left.
The guards would finally beat me to death.
They’d send me out on the next shipment of females.
They’d finally give me to him to keep.
Or somehow I’d find a way out of this hell.
That slim hope was the only thing that kept me from trying to end this myself.
One more week.
I’d give myself one more week, and then… maybe it was time to give up.
Suddenly, harsh shouts and the sound of shackles interrupted the downward spiral of my thoughts and I pressed myself into the wall, hoping that it made me smaller and less visible.
But the screams got louder.
It didn’t have anything to do with me.
Yet, footsteps approached my cell, and their voices got louder with each passing second.
I swallowed hard, completely unprepared for what was going to happen if they opened my cell. Were they going to drag me out and throw someone else in? Had the time come to meet my end?
Instinctively, my stomach clenched as the cell door opened with a clamor. The Nazoks wasted no time in dragging their victim into the cell, tossing him inside with a force that made me flinch, his horns crashing to the ground.
A Vinduthi. Huge, but badly wounded. There was a cut that sliced down the side of his face, oozing blood onto the floor. Smaller cuts and bruises littered his body. Every part of him, from what I saw, had some sort of injury.
“Ever hear the talk about these assholes?”
The second one laughed, its black eyes narrowed. “Too many of them. But hit them with enough firepower, and they break, just like anyone else.”
He kicked my new roommate. “Think it’s true? That they need fresh blood to survive?”
My stomach clenched. The Vinduthi were the center of a swirl of dark rumors. Strong and fast. Heartless.
“I’ll bet you twenty credits he dies before he can drain her.”
Nearly deafened by my heartbeat I forced myself not to react.
“No way. He’ll smell her, eat her all up before he can stop himself,” the first one sneered. “You’re on. Twenty credits she’ll be nothing but his dinner.”
A malicious glint reflected off his eyes. I averted my gaze, hoping that they would just go away and leave me alone.
Well, I wasn’t able to say that I was alone anymore. Not with the Vinduthi they plopped into my cell like a sack of flesh that didn’t matter.
“Come on,” one of them said. I didn’t catch which one. “I’m ready for my own meal. We’ll see tomorrow who’s buying the drinks. A pity the boss wants to keep him around for leverage. Would have been easier to just finish him off now.”
They slammed the cell door as loudly as they opened it, arguing about how they would run the world if they were in charge.
I stared at my new cellmate, who groaned softly and moved his head slightly. Those were signs of life, at least.
They weren’t too promising, but they were something.
Gradually, I crawled my way over to his body to get a better look at his injuries. I hissed in a breath, horrified by what I was seeing the longer I focused.
“I’m not sure if you could make it, even with my blood,” I whispered. My eyes filled with indignant tears. “But let’s see if we can avoid that.”
A deep cut across his temple worried me the most, the blood almost obscuring the red sigils that traced down the side of his cheek and neck. Heart sinking, I tore a strip of fabric from my skirt. It was dirty, but it would stop the bleeding.
As I worked on getting the fabric over his cut, I saw his chest rise and fall in shallow intervals.
“He’s not going to die. I won’t let him,” I reassured myself quietly, working diligently to make sure the fabric was tight around his head, trying to avoid the base of his horns.
With a small bit of hope, I decided to try speaking with him. If we were friends, if he knew I was trying to help him, he wouldn’t take my blood, right?
“Do you have a name?”
Every so often, he made a small noise that confirmed that he was still alive, albeit barely. That made me feel a little better but also intensified my sympathy for the Vinduthi.
They’d always strutted down the middle of the station, aloof and remote, not a bad match for the elegant vampires of Terran legend.
I’d never imagined one could be so injured. What had it taken to do this?
“Well, I hope you don’t die,” I said, reaching towards the water ration that I’d been saving, tucked away in the corner of the cell. I unscrewed the cap. “Because I’m using up some of my resources on you. So I’d appreciate it if you pulled through without deciding to drink my blood.”
No response, but it felt nice to be talking to someone, instead of just myself. Resting his head on my lap, I guided the water to his lips and eased it into his slightly open mouth. Then, I massaged his throat to help it go down. As I watched the skin of his neck bob, I smiled slightly.
“It’s going to be interesting when you wake up and start telling me your story. I can already tell,” I remarked, gently lowering his head down to the ground and leaving him be.
My eyes scanned his body, searching for any more glaring wounds that needed quick tending. A few small bleeding cuts near his feet caught my attention, so I did the same thing as before.
After I was done helping him to the best of my abilities, I slid my back down the wall and returned to the spot where I sat before he was dropped into the cell. Reaching for my water, I sipped a few droplets and relished in the cool liquid coursing down my throat.
It was difficult not to pay attention to the newcomer, despite my attempts to keep to myself. I couldn’t help it. Something about the Vinduthi was captivating.
“I’m going to get us out of here,” I whispered, bringing my face closer to his to make sure no one overheard. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it just yet. I’m still working out the details, but when I do, I’m taking you with me.”
For some reason, my hand trembled as I raised it to touch his face.
“I’m getting the both of us out of here alive.” I nodded firmly, not caring that he wasn’t able to see me. “Trust me.”