Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 19


Who to tell about the conversation I overheard troubled me. What were they talking about? I really had no idea. Nothing specific had been said. I wanted to tell Captain, but we were leaving and he was busy. The only time I ever saw him was when he came to me and the occasional passing in the corridor when we were both near our quarters.
I didn’t even know where he was at when he was captaining the ship.
Maybe Lakshou would know. Or I could use the vid to message him. That was a good idea. I stopped and looked around. There was an open door to some sort of a storage area not far from the hold. There wasn’t much room in there, but I just wanted a quiet place to record my message to Captain.
The handheld device I’d tucked in the pocket of my pants worked just fine to set up a vid recording. I relayed what exactly I heard, glad I could remember it word for word. I racked my brain, but I wasn’t able to remember the human’s name, though. Captain probably knew it anyway, or he could ask Lakshou.
A rumble sent a vibration through the metal floor of the ship, and I gasped. Time to go. I tucked my vid back into my pocket and rushed to the hold. Red lights were flashing, and there were only a few beings moving around.
Lakshou stood in the hatch of one shuttle about halfway down the row of tethered vehicles. “Kohen, hurry up!” As soon as I passed him, a crew member closed the hatch. “Take a seat there.” He pointed to an empty spot at the end of one row with another seat beside it. It helped that he took the seat next to a wiry alien in a pale suit that covered most of its dark skin.
The lack of windows on the shuttle meant riding blind onto the planet Lakshou had mentioned. I wished we could see it; it had been so long since I’d been on some form of earth. Would I be able to handle it? An entire sky overhead was really different from cells, ships, and space stations.
We landed with a soft thump, the shuttle’s landing pads extending and locking into place with a quiet whirr I could hear through the hull. “Stay in your seat for a moment,” Lakshou said when I put my hand on my restraints. “The crew needs to run a few scans before they allow us off.”
“Okay.”
Just then the hatch unsealed, and the first unfiltered air I could remember smelling moved through the shuttle. A breeze caressed the skin of my cheek in a motion completely unfamiliar. Air was cycled through the vents in space-going vessels, but it wasn’t the same.
And the smell.
Green things. Heat. Salt. A bitter, unfamiliar tang as well as a sweet hint of something flowery twined together. I closed my eyes and breathed deep, my hands clenched together. I was practically vibrating in my seat when Lakshou finally tapped me on the thigh.
“We can go out, but before you leave the shuttle, make sure you apply the protectant. You’ll need it since your skin has adapted to being in space away from UV rays. There are also some insects on this planet that find humans a tasty snack, and you definitely don’t want them to try and get their dinner out of you. It’ll keep them away.”
There was a crew member handing out cloths by the hatch. “What do I do with this?” I asked.
“Just wipe it across any exposed skin.”
“That’s it?”
Lakshou nodded. “That’s it.”
“You don’t need one?” I started with my face, and then got my ears and the back of my neck. My hands were last. The cloth disintegrated as I rub it through my fingers.
“Nope. I’m not on the menu, and my skin is mostly covered. Plus I get planetside quite often.” Lakshou turned. “Watch your step, the ground is very soft.”
He wasn’t joking. My feet sank in a few inches. I squinted. There was a body of water just beyond the second shuttle beside ours. The sun was bouncing off it like a mirror. There was so much all around us, the sight, the sounds, the smells. My breath came faster. “Is the ground… moving?”
“Yes, to get away from the shuttle. The vegetation is sensitive.”
“And we harvest it?” I was appalled.
“Not sentient. Sensitive.”
“Oh.” This was amazing. I took a few steps on my tiptoes, not sure if it was okay to actually to move around on the ground, no matter what Lakshou said. If it moved away, it must be because it hurt.
“Over here.” Lakshou was standing on bare ground, and I sighed in relief when I joined him.
“Should we be helping?”
“You’re doing enough work just acclimating to being outside. The crew has done this before.” Lakshou smiled at me. “Feel the sun on your skin, soak in the fresh air. You’re doing great.”
A high-pitched hum filled the air, swelling and then fading. “What’s that?”
Lakshou frowned. “Not sure. It doesn’t sound too close. If it’s something to worry about, the crew will let us know. How about a quick meditation?” He bent over and removed the coverings on his feet. “Join me.”
“You want me to stick my bare feet on the ground?” I wrinkled up my nose.
“It’ll be good for you. Commune with nature.” Lakshou simply stared at me, waiting.
Sighing, I did what he asked. He knew best, right? “Communing with nature, got it.”
We stood there breathing in concert. I focused on my other senses by closing my eyes. The hum that had faded swelled again, even louder this time.


TBC
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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 18

This week's update is inspired by the prompt: Two can keep a secret if one of them's dead. 



“There is a very old saying in human culture,” Lakshou said. “One step forward and two steps back.”

Aparoe tilted their head. “I haven’t heard that one.” They finished pulling out the supplements from their bag and putting the vials of powder on the small table in my quarters. “It is apt, though. Mentally and physically.”

I’d been avoiding leaving my room for more than my shifts, and nothing tasted right. It was all too sweet, too spicy, too… textured. I scurried away from people. Priella had gone back to more of her old self, not too chatty, so that was okay. Work was a sanctuary because her and Luca seemed to understand my need to quiet and found me out of the way projects and places to keep me busy. Everyone in the department smiled and went out of their way to make me feel welcome.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if they should. Doubts still bugged me, and even Lakshou’s meditation couldn’t banish my worries.

“Use the supplements,” Aparoe ordered me. They raised one thin eyebrow. “Or I’ll have to take you in to medical to do a more complete work up. I’d rather avoid that.”

“All right.” I wrapped my arms around my knees and scooted up closer to the head of the bed. They’d ambushed me on my rest day, early enough I wasn’t even up for the day.

Aparoe had already done a quick scan, so they left. Lakshou smacked his hands down on the bottom of the bed. “All right, up. There’s something you’re going to want to see.”

“What?”

“We’re stopping at an uninhabited resource planet in this sector. The captain approved all the species we rescued having some time off the ship if they can handle the atmosphere. I’m going along in case anyone needs help acclimating to outside, so you won’t be alone.”

“Outside?” My heart started to pound, and my mouth was dry. I swallowed repeatedly. I desperately wanted to go, but it had been so long since I was outside of the sterile environment of space. Could I step outside the ship and onto solid earth again?

“You were held for a very long time. It’s okay to be scared.” Lakshou stood at the end of the bed, waiting patiently. “You don’t have to get off the shuttle if it’s too much for you, but even some time in a natural atmosphere would be good for you.”

I hesitated. “What’s it like?”  

“The planet?”

I nodded.

“Warm, humid. Lots of water, lots of raw nature. As a waypoint in the travel lanes, it’s protected from any race wanting to colonize or terraform it. We’ll exchange our fluid reservoirs and replace our stores. The planet’s vegetation is mineral-rich. It’s perfect for the raw building blocks the dispensers need. There are very few predators on the planet, and most of the wildlife are large and slow-moving, no threat to us or the shuttles.”

“How long will we be there.”

“Half a shift, maybe. Captain Querry never likes to stay long when we’ve been on a rescue mission. He takes his duty seriously.”

I could tell that about Captain. Who he was—the leader of the ship—was who he was at his core. It was the focus of his being. I’d trusted him almost from the first second he came into my cell. He had a firm strength but he didn’t scare me. His touch was too gentle for that. I fought down a blush, trying not to remember the dreams I’d had about him.

Touch was something I’d pushed away for so long, but there were things I remembered from my youth—pleasures found in silence and secret at night in my narrow pallet—that were coming back to me. The slide of my clothing could awaken the member between my legs.

It embarrassed me. I hadn’t gotten up the courage to do anything about it, the conditioning too strong to break. In my dreams though….

“If you want to come, you need to get dressed. Wear the uniform you have on the ship. You will need the grip shoes with the firm bottom to protect your feet, not the soft soles.”

“I’ll come.”



Lakshou left so I could get ready after I agreed to meet him in the shuttle bay. Everyone was so busy with the landing that there was no one to escort me. Apparently they weren’t worried about that.  The entire ship would enter atmosphere, but the shuttles would travel away from the ship to gather more elusive materials. My steps were muffled in the corridor, but louder than I was used to, so I slowed down so I wasn’t making so much noise.

“If you can’t do it….”

“I never said that.” The hissed reply was vicious, angry, desperate even.

“Two can keep a secret if one of them’s dead. Just remember that, if you get the urge to speak out of turn.”

I stiffened. That didn’t sound good. Whoever was fighting was between me and the shuttle bay. I couldn’t go back. I chewed on my lip, then took a few hard steps.

Someone walked away quickly, their footsteps rumbling like a run. I turned the corner, looking straight ahead.

“Greetings.”

I jumped, like I hadn’t noticed the man standing against the wall and nodded.

It was the human, the one who’d been so nasty to Lakshou that first day while we ate. He opened his mouth, but I looked away and kept walking. Maybe he’d think I was ignoring him. Or just rude. I wish I could have seen who he was talking to though. It sounded like something bad. 

TBC
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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 17




I was wrong about the paperwork. And meetings. And frowns from both Aparoe and Captain for doing something so dangerous. “What if you couldn’t stop it?” Captain asked. We were sitting in his new office, a tiny room near the control center of the ship.

I shrugged. “I did. It didn’t fall or anything; it was still hovering. I just had to slow it down so it would stop moving.”

“An entire shuttle. By yourself. With just your hands.” He was angry, I could tell. “What part of that was taking it easy?”

“I didn’t want it to hurt Luca.” He’d been nice to me. Introduced me to the wonder of working with my hands. I loved it in a way I hadn’t thought I would. I’d thought it would just be about helping out in some way, but I loved figuring out problems and how to fix them. I’d stopped the shuttle, but I’d also sort of crumpled the expensive ship’s exoskeleton in the process.

Which meant we had more work to do. “Can I go?”

“No, not today. Aparoe said you had some mild muscle strain in your shoulders and back. You need to rest.” Captain stood up. “Come on. I’ll escort you back to your quarters.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but he raised an eyebrow and waited. I slowly closed my mouth and then stood. We didn’t talk as we headed toward the lift, and the whoosh as it slid down toward the officer quarter’s level was loud. I crossed my arms over my chest, tucking my hands under them. I hated feeling like I’d disappointed Captain, but what was I supposed to do.

When we stopped at my door, I put my palm on the scanner to unlock the door. I went to go inside, but Captain put one hand on my shoulder and stopped me.

“Officially, I do want to offer my thanks for the way you protected one of my crew. It’s been noted and will be recognized when we return to our base station.”

My mouth dropped open. “Officially?” Then what was all that in his office when he was so upset with what I did. “But I damaged the shuttle.”

“And saved lives at great risk to your own.” Captain’s lips pursed. “Just try not to get into a position where you have to do that again.”

“O-okay.” I didn’t understand, at all. And I was tired after the way my day had gotten longer and longer after the incident. “Thank you.” It didn’t sound quite like a question, but it wasn’t far off. I didn’t know what to say.

“Rest tonight. You can take tomorrow off if you need to as well.”

I shook my head. “I’ll be fine.”

“Wait until tomorrow. Rest well,” Captain said formally. He turned and marched away, his back rigid and his long legs eating up the corridor until he turned the corner and was gone.

Most. Confusing. Day. Ever.



The next day wasn’t much better. I went to breakfast with Priella. She was pretty happy with me. I hadn’t realized that she and Luca were a pair, but she was offering to get me extra food and couldn’t stop beaming at me. It was such a turnaround from her previous attitude, which was a little standoffish, that I almost preferred that she hadn’t changed.

Not to mention everyone else we saw who stopped to stare at me. People literally stopped right in the middle of the corridors. It was awkward. Why were they so surprised? All I did was stop a shuttle from moving. They rescued victims from the Brox people; that was a much bigger deal. They stopped torture.

I just stopped a minor splat from happening.

As my shift went on, more and more people came up to me to say something about what I’d done. I almost regretted it. By the time we were halfway through the shift—where I was allowed to do nothing more than hand over parts and tools again—I was at my limit. I went from talking to no one for years to talking to what felt like hundreds.

Maybe it was just a few dozen, but that was more than enough.

“I’m going back to my quarters,” I told Luca. I had my hands tucked into my sleeves to hide their shaking.

“All right. Tomorrow is our usual rest day, so we don’t have a shift.”

Good. I could hide out all day in my room. “Okay.” My escort was a quiet alien who towered over me but walked so quietly that I couldn’t even hear her following me. It was humorous, in an awkward way, when she had to bend over to stand in the lift. I couldn’t stop my smile.

She left me with a complicated gesture and bow. Her face was just below my chest level when she stopped, and that was when I noticed she had no mouth that I could see. No wonder why she hadn’t asked me any questions.

My sonic shower was as unsatisfying as ever, but the warm cokala was perfect. I sat back on the bed with my drink and cued up the vid I’d started watching the day before.

Lakshou had recommended them. They were boring, he said, but a good way to learn about the species that made up the universe. I’d maybe watched a hundred of the docu entries, and I’d seen things I never imagined.

Talking plants. Alien planets powered by goo that hardened into crystal shards of immeasurable power. Beings that could morph their bodies into any shape, depending on their need—the vid of one thinning out their body to paper-thin thickness and floating away across a large body of water was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.
I’d had dreams of flying, not in a shuttle or a ship, but just my body shooting through the air. It was the most freedom I could imagine having. 

TBC

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 16


This week's chapter is inspired by the prompt: "What time is it?" A big thank you goes to everyone following this story (and my other Briefers flashes) still, btw! It keeps me writing, even when I'm in a horrible slump like I have been for so long. 


“Are you sure, Cohen?” Captain stood in the corridor outside my door. I was dressed in a pair of loose pants and a short-sleeve shirt. The air outside my room was colder, so I shivered again.

“Yes.” Okay, so maybe part of the shivers were from what I was about to do. I reached for the jacket that I’d been given that would identify me as part of the maintenance crew. I could put my strength to use.

“You’ve met with Luca and Priella. You’ll be on their crew. I’ve been assured they’re both great teachers.”

I nodded. My heart was pounding, and my chest was tight. But I could do this. I needed to. It was two people; I’d met them in a session with Lakshou. They were both past rescues, which should have made me uneasy since I was so unsure if I was still a weapon, but with my permission Lakshou had explained about the ports and implants and the changes to my brain. Neither of them had anything like that, and they didn’t look down on me with pity but they still understood.

I didn’t feel like I had to protect myself from them or protect them from me. They knew what I was afraid of, and they said they would have no problems disabling me if necessary since they both carried weapons and I’d be unarmed. Again, that should have made me nervous, but I was more reassured than anything else.

“What time is it?”

“Priella will be here soon to get you for just a half-shift rotation. You’re still recovering,” Captain said.

“Aparoe already told me to take it easy.” I tucked my hands in the pockets of the coat. “Thank you for letting me do this,” I said softly.

“We’re here to help you, Cohen. I don’t want you cooped up all the time, and if you feel like working, that’s okay. You don’t have to stay on the maintenance crew. You can explore the different jobs on the ship as we travel. Maybe by the time we reach a habitable port, you’ll have an idea of what you’re good at.”

Besides killing? I kept that one to myself. The idea of being physical with anyone, for any reason, was still an intense craving as well as a power aversion. I wanted to touch and be touched so badly, but I was more afraid of what might happen so I tamped down on the need. Aparoe still came by every day and scanned me, and I noticed they touched me in some small way each time. They kept it brief and light, but it helped.

Being near Captain didn’t help. I still remembered the intense warmth of his body the first time I dared allowed myself to touch him, the feel of his muscles bunching as he carried me out of my cell, and the scent of him that had surrounded me taking away the sterile torture of my existence.

But I wouldn’t let myself hurt him. I curled my hands into fists, still hidden inside my pockets.

“Hi, Cohen!” Priella strode down the corridor. She was a tall human, with a wide face and prominent cheekbones with sharply carved features. Her open smile faded as she stiffened and saluted Captain as soon as she noticed him beside me. “Sir!”

“At ease.”

Priella’s hand dropped to her side, but her body was still tense. Why? I looked at Captain, but he was still relaxed beside me. His uniform jacket was open at the neck, the high buttons on the collar opened. “I’m going now,” I said slowly. I didn’t really get the complicated leave takings the people did, when it would seem fairly obvious I was leaving since I was walking away, but I tried to fit in so I gave the Captain time to object before I walked away from him.

Priella swung around and walked beside me, close but without touching. She glanced over her shoulder a few times. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to the captain,” she said. “He’s tall.”

He was taller than most of the humans I’d seen on the ship, but many aliens were taller. “His quarters are just down the hall from mine. His office was turned into a room for me,” I offered stiltingly.

“Wow, so you see him a lot?”

What was a lot? I shrugged. And was it some sort of big deal? Would it upset someone that I got to see Captain a lot? Or if he was ignoring someone else to be around me?

“Okay, okay. No pumping you for information about officer’s row until we’ve had you working with us longer. Are you ready to work?”

I nodded. I kept my mouth shut about having to take it easy. I didn’t want to come across as lazy or a complainer. We got down to the maintenance bay and got to work. At first, I was just handing them tools, but eventually, over the course of that shift and the next, they started to explain what they were doing to the shuttles that were stored on the ship.

We were standing at the rear of one of the atmo shuttles when someone ran a anti-gravity bin into the shuttle. It was currently hovering, the clamps off, because one of the stabilizers was missing. Luca was standing beside me, and the shuttle was just inches away when I stepped in front of him and grabbed it.

I grunted and pushed, straining my arms as I locked my stomach and leg muscles and braced. No one wanted to write a report on a broken piece of equipment crushing a crew member. I wouldn’t have to do it—Priella and Luca were co-leaders, but I’d have to write up my own report to add to theirs. It would be a lot less stressful just to stop the shuttle.

So I did.
TBC

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter Fifteen


I surreptitiously glanced at the people with Ss’merit. They were all aliens, not a human among them. I didn’t recognize all of them, but there were a few species I knew. Were they like me? I saw ports on one short alien with no hair, just a rigid crest running from his forehead and down his spine.
They were.
I was so fixated on the ports that I didn’t hear what Lakshou and Ss’merit were saying until Ss’merit abruptly turned and led the others off. I took a quick breath in and let it out slowly.
“Who was that?”
“Ss’merit.” Lakshou shifted in his seat. “He is the passenger facilitator aboard. He escorts guests usually, but he’s also in charge of the rescues we bring on board.”
“Why haven’t I met him before?”
“A sub-faction of his species are among the inner circles of the Brox Consortium. Not everyone trusts them because of that. Ss’merit is defensive, which I can feel, but I don’t know if it’s because he’s trying to hide things or if he’s just trying to overcome the perception the Ss’eenui are all willing to harm other species to gain power.” Lakshou shook his head. “He usually avoids me.”
“He looked creepy,” I admitted.
“Yeah. That doesn’t help their cause much either. Some species just don’t get along with them, humans included. But the captain doesn’t always get a choice in his crew.” Lakshou’s ears flicked sideways, and then he clapped his hands together once, as if to close that discussion. “Okay, what would you like? We still have some time before your order is ready.”
The rest of our trip went smoothly, and I was back in my room before I realized how tense I was. I wasn’t sure what I’d expected to happen, but I was glad to be alone. I took a sonic shower and then put on some of my new clothes, relishing the softness and warmth. We’d eaten, and I wasn’t thirsty, so I curled up in the bed and turned on the vid to catch up on more that I’d missed over the years.

Time had always gone in fits and spurts. Sometimes it felt like the same day went on endlessly and other times the days blurred together so seamlessly it felt like they were speeding by before I even realized it. Aparoe and Lakshou visited, and I made short trips outside of my room, but without answers about the mess in my head, I was scared of befriending more of the crew, even if they encouraged me to.
It’s hard to get to know someone when you’re afraid you’ll have sex with them and then slit their throat, or air chamber, or speech sac. There were several kinds of aliens I’d seen before and knew, but more I didn’t. When I surreptitiously studied them I would later wonder if I was looking because I was curious or if I was searching for ways to use them the way I’d been trained.
Breathing exercises and meditation with Lakshou helped, but I kept feeling this sense of impending doom.
It made me happy Captain had been keeping his distance, though I saw him occasionally in the hall considering his doors were just a short distance down the call from mine.
I was waiting for Lakshou, since Aparoe had already been by to run some tests and check my health, making their noncommittal noises. I’d already figured out they were coordinating their visits.
The door chimed, and I slowly walked over to it. “Oh.” Instead of Lakshou, Ss’merit was standing outside my door. “Hello.”
He dipped his head once, his single eye unblinking as he stared up at me. “Hello. My name is Ss’merit. I wanted to speak with you in regards to your adjustment to your new life.”
The alien was shorter than me, which I hadn’t realized before because I’d been sitting. He was very… intense though. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“There is much to learn that I can help you with,” he insisted. “We can speak inside your room, or go elsewhere.” He glanced up and down the hall. “Your choice.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “I’m already talking to Lakshou, and Captain has assured me I’m safe here. I have no intentions to leave this ship anytime soon.” I barely resisted touching the ports on my head. I wouldn’t be safe to be around anyone.
“My interests are solely for your well-being.” Ss’merit didn’t move, and I didn’t either. I was reluctant to let him into my space, and I wasn’t going to go anywhere with him either.
“Easy for you to say. I’m being taken care of by a medic and counselor. I am fine, thank you.” I tried to end the conversation politely.
“Don’t you want to speak with your fellow survivors?”
I hesitated. He had me there. Especially the one with the ports like mine. “No.” I shook my head. “I don’t want to think about that hell or talk about it either. It’s time to move on.” I put my hand on the door sensor. “I don’t need your help.”
The door slid shut on his objections and his oddly intense stare. I wrapped my arms around my chest and moved over to the table. I curled into the chair and studied the flat surface, rubbing my finger along the smooth surface just to feel it. I had no idea what I was going to do for my future, regardless of what I told Ss’merit.
Maybe it was time to find the Captain and ask what I could be use with my limited skill set. There had to be something I could do that would be helpful. 

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