“You should know that you can’t secure any door against the captain of a ship.”
I jolted awake, but I didn’t move. I’d become a master of that in my cell, observing without showing any signs that I knew someone else was there. Those few times the aliens had come to my cell had been a nearly overwhelming relief—that I wasn’t alone in that sea of white. That there was something beyond those four walls, beyond the silence in my own mind that often consumed me.
But right now I could use some of that silence. The sound of Captain’s voice hurt, as the words I’d overheard him say echoed in my mind once again. I curled into a tighter ball.
“Kohen….” Captain sighed. He must have come inside because the door swooshed shut behind him. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” I cringed. My voice was raw and rough, not at all the dispassionate dismissal I’d been trying for.
“You needed something, and I’m honored that you came to me. But I rescued you. I’m the captain of this ship. There’s a lot happening right now in your life.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Kohen, it just wouldn’t be right to take advantage of your youth, your inexperience, and your need. I’m the first human you touched voluntarily in years. I took you out of that hell. I don’t want you to be grateful like that.”
“Like what?” I pushed off the covers and sat up. “Like you gave me a life back? Because you did. I know you put your people first, and that you’re the captain, but you just—” I bit off what I was going to say, the ache in my chest growing deeper, because Captain’s eyes were shuttered, turned away from me. His body language said calm, decided, his hands loose at his sides. How could I tell him the only place I felt safe was in his arms?
He already thought I was too young. Too stupid, or inexperienced—if he only knew. I shut off the flow of memories before they could overwhelm me, but not before I resolved to do what I’d do so many times during the tests.
I’d seduce him. Captain wanted me, or he wouldn’t have so many excuses why he couldn’t touch me, couldn’t hold me.
But first I had to make him see that I wasn’t some young kid who couldn’t handle himself. I’d accept what he said, until I could prove him wrong. He might think I’m a youth, and my body might be young, but my mind and soul had aged lifetimes. I had a goal, and I’d see it met.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I looked down, to hide the determination in my eyes. He was smart; he’d see it. “I understand. I know what my past is like.”
“It’s not like that,” Captain insisted. He moved up to the edge of the bed. “Whatever you did before wasn’t you. None of that matters in this.” He waved a hand between us. “Understand?”
“Are you going to be all right?”
I nodded again. I didn’t want to say what I was really thinking. “Fine. I just want to get back to work.”
Captain started to ease toward the door. “Tomorrow is soon enough for that. Why don’t you go see Lakshou?”
Oh good, I was already being shunted back to the guy who could affect my mood with his abilities. Still, Lakshou made a great sounding board. Maybe I could trust him with my plan.
Maybe not. Before I even said anything, Lakshou launched into a whole meditation routine and how it would help me. He used words like fixation, infatuation, and all the while he was staring at me with that calm expression.
I beat down on the anger, frustration, and need and focused on my breathing. In one way, it did help. I was calmer, more focused, able to think beyond my need to be held in Captain’s arms when I practically vibrated from the stress of doing what they’d asked me to do.
Priella led the way in my new duties. Luca did more work in the internal areas of the ship and in the holds with the shuttles, but she did more work around the crew areas where I needed to go. I shut myself off and just existed during those shifts. I smiled at people, chatted, made eye contact and engaged with everyone we worked around.
After a few shifts, it grew easier. I was faking it, but it was not as hard to force. I even forgot that I was listening and watching everyone when I talked to a few of the other victims who’d been rescued from the same lab I’d been at.
There was one who caught my eye. She wasn’t human, so I wasn’t quite sure what species she was. Bipedal, with spindly little arms and small face crowned with some kind of elaborate crest that circled her head in inky black spikes. Her skin was a bright vermillion and her eyes shone with white light. At first, I thought she was blind, but she always seemed to track my movements and watch me as I watched her.
But I wasn’t afraid of her.
I almost laughed when I finally got the nerve to speak to her. “Hi.” I expected a thin, high voice to match her tiny body, but what came out resonated through those spikes in her head, giving her a loud, deep resonating tone.
“My name’s Kohen.”
“The others call me Sardella Kime.” She bobbed her head. Was that a bow? I nodded back to be polite. “What do you do here?” she asked.
I hefted the bag of tools in my hand. “Working on the environmentals. Someone said it was too hot, but the system is reading that it’s too cool. Priella thinks there’s a short in the sensor up there.” I gestured toward the ceiling.TBC
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