“Do you think you are ready?”
My stomach grumbled. “If nothing else, I have to eat.”
Lakshou smiled. “A very apt observation. And your energy is much calmer now. Just remember, no one in the crew wishes to hurt you. You are safe now, and no one will do anything to you without your permission.”
“I’ll try.” I took a breath and blew away the tension starting to build inside me. My shoulders dropped; I hadn’t even realized I’d started to curl in on myself again. “Okay. Ready.”
The door whooshed open, and I hesitated before following Lakshou out. The tiny temple proved to be a sanctuary I couldn’t ever remember having before. The air was cooler outside in the corridor. I pulled my hands inside the sleeves of the silky robe Lakshou had given me.
He stopped and glanced over his shoulder. “At your pace, little one. No one is going to hurt you.”
“Okay.” I stepped out. The door slid shut nearly on my heels, and I jumped forward.
Lakshou led the way, explaining the ship layout as we moved. “Essentially, the ship is a long narrow capsule with short branches to each side. This is a mid-sized cruiser.”
For someone who’d been trapped in a single, tiny cell for years, it felt huge. There were places the corridor turned and I couldn’t see beyond the wall. Doors, some open and some shut. And people. There were many more around than I’d seen earlier before I ran into Lakshou.
“It is shift change and close to a meal time. There will be people around, but not too many since this early many people choose to eat something in their quarters. If you need to leave at any time, please don’t hesitate to let me know.”
“Won’t you be able to tell?”
He hesitated. “Well. My abilities don’t always work that way in a crowd. I can sense the overall mood in a room, but it’s harder to be sure of individual emotions. That is one of the reasons I usually work one on one with supplicants.” Lakshou ducked his head as they entered the galley, his horns barely clearing the smaller doorway.
What he considered not too many people was still overwhelming for me. I struggled to stay calm because it felt like everyone was watching us—me—as we walked into the room. I took a step sideways, hiding behind Lakshou’s bulk as he led the way to a dispenser on the wall. The room was filled with a feast of food scents, and my stomach snarled in hunger.
There were a lot of humans but there were also aliens mixed in here and there, all eating different things. It didn’t seem like there was any separation between them, except one big alien who was nearly colorless eating something bright red that was… wiggling. I even saw several aliens I’d never heard of. I could only hope they would all be as friendly and helpful as Lakshou.
“Would you like me to pick something for you to eat?”
Watching the scrolling choices on the dispenser screen, I nodded. There were too many choices; I wouldn’t even know where to start. “Thank you,” I whispered.
“Think nothing of it. Hmm. Something simple, I think. A soup?”
I wrinkled my nose at the thought of food in soft or liquid form. “Something crispy?”
“We can do that.” Lakshou scrolled the menu down and then pressed a selection. “Toasted bread. And the cooked animal protein that gets crispy.”
The urge to snatch the food that appeared below the dispenser was hard to resist, but I’d learned to control my physical actions over the years, if not my emotional reactions. I curled my fingers around the tray and waited for Lakshou to get his food. His plate had an electric blue cube that jiggled as we walked to a nearby table.
When we sat, Lakshou folded up his legs up and leaned back in the chair, lifting his face and closing his eyes. I watched him, unsure of what he was doing, and even more surprised when a blue light flashed around him but I didn’t feel anything. After a minute, he opened his eyes. “Oh. You didn’t have to wait for me. I was just taking a self-communion moment.”
“Okay.” I picked up the meat, something I hadn’t had in years, even before leaving Earth. The salty, smoky cube was crisp as I bit it in half, then dissolved into salty shreds on my tongue. I moaned, and grabbed another one, greedily shoving it in before I finished swallowing the first.
“Easy, easy. You can always have more later.”
The bread was coated with a sweet substance on one side, and I liked the dry crunch. I reveled in the taste and texture. There was a cup beside my plate. I sniffed it; it smelled like the one I’d had in medical. I looked up at Lakshou.
“I was given some instructions by the staff. Just a nutritionally-balanced mix designed to give your body what it needs.”
“And you’d know just what that is, wouldn’t you?” Some man stopped beside our table. He leaned in, getting closer than I wanted him to. “Who do you have here? A new disciple for your cozy little temple? I see he’s wearing one of your easy access robes.”
Lakshou’s horns began to glow, and I eyed him warily. The other human was acting aggressive, but I didn’t understand why.
“Kemit. You have been warned about your attitude toward my counseling before, especially in front of supplicants. How you wish to express your personal beliefs is your business, but you are not allowed to badger others about theirs. There is nothing wrong with my counseling others, and your hidebound, colonial sensibilities are the problem here. Don’t make me go to the captain again.”
“You don’t need to.”
Captain’s voice from behind me made me jump, and I spun in my chair.
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