Spiritum – Chapter Twenty-eight

28.

She’d lain there for hours: tired, bored, aching, and stinking. There’d been no more visitors, no more psychotic aliens wanting to murder her because she didn’t believe the same bullshit they bought into. She was left to lie in silence and darkness with nothing better to do than contemplate the fate awaiting her and the rest of the crew. By that point, Llannaeia didn’t even care what was in store for them; anything to relieve the boredom.

 I will get what I want from you, and then you will be punished for your blasphemy. 

Llannaeia had no idea how the Aq Quhn Ran Asten punished blasphemy but it probably wasn’t good. She’d imagined every method of torture and execution she could, wondering which would befall her. It was hard to imagine anything being worse than how she felt right now. Her arms and legs were completely numb, to the point she could barely feel them, her stomach ached and grumbled every few seconds, her head pounded, and her mouth was as dry as old bone. She was so tired she couldn’t keep her eyes open for more than a second. Her eyelids felt like they had ton weights attached. She’d tried to sleep but her discomfort made it impossible, a vicious circle that became all the more maddening by the moment. The need to scream swelled but Llannaeia was silent. She fought the urge with all the strength she had left. She wouldn’t scream, not then and not ever. Never again. 

When she wasn’t imagining what fate awaited her, Llannaeia was wondering about her little sister: what she was doing, what she was thinking, how she was feeling. Whatever the answer, it was probably a million times better than anything in her life right now. She was probably learning some new magic trick, or lying in a warm bed and reading about famous arcanists. That’s all she ever did on Valarayan. Iona and her books; Llannaeia always thought they were stupid, and her stupid for spending so much time with them. Now she would give anything to step through her door to see her curled up in bed with her holo-pad. Back home, she spent every second wishing she could be anywhere else. If only she knew some of the places her bitterness would take her.

As she closed her eyes in another vain attempt to get some sleep, Llannaeia heard the disgusting sound that signalled the opening of the door. She parted her eyelids just wide enough to see the pair of huge feet approach. The creature stood over her but Llannaeia lacked the strength to turn her head. She could only stare at its feet, feeling its eyes burrowing into her from above.

“Are you gonna kill me yet, or what”? Even talking was almost impossible.

She received no answer. The pressure around her arms and legs then vanished. Llannaeia remained on her side, lacking the energy to move a muscle. The tingling that ensued as the feeling returned to her limbs left her with no choice but to cry out. She’d felt pins and needles before but never like this. It felt like the cells themselves were on fire.

“Stand human”. Llannaeia didn’t want to but she thought it best not to disobey. She tried pulling herself to her feet, only to slump back onto her side.

The voice repeated itself. “I can’t”. She couldn’t believe how pathetic she sounded.

Llannaeia heard what sounded like an impatient growl, then felt a big hand wrap around her upper arm before being hauled into the air like a soft toy and dropped onto her feet. She immediately collapsed to her hands and knees, drawing another sigh from her visitor. It reached for her again but, this time, she found the strength to wave it away. She wouldn’t appear weak in front of this thing one second longer.

Llannaeia forced herself to her feet, one foot at a time. First the left, then a rest, and then the right. It took a few moments to find her balance. Her legs wobbled and the floor beckoned. She was about to ask what was happening when her hands were yanked behind her back, drawing a pained yelp. The pressure returned as the gravity binders were re-engaged and her wrists were forced together.

The creature stepped behind her. “Walk”.

“Where are we going”? She was answered with a shove that almost sent her back to the floor. Llannaeia guessed she wouldn’t get any answers and gave up on the questions.

Another of the creatures was waiting in the corridor. “Follow”, the voice said though Llannaeia wasn’t sure to which it belonged. The one in front walked away, and she received a push in the same direction from the one behind.

Llannaeia heard nothing more from the voice and, no matter how far they went, she saw nothing different. Every corridor was the same as the last, the same walls, floors, and doors, all made from the same flesh-like material. There were no windows or portholes to provide a glimpse of what might lay outside, nothing to say if they were even in space anymore. She never saw another member of the crew, neither hers nor theirs. It was like a dark, never-ending labyrinth, almost like another universe entirely. Something about this wasn’t right. This couldn’t be it; there had to be more. Llannaeia wondered if her perceptions were being altered, preventing her from seeing her surroundings for what they truly were. It would certainly be possible given what she’d seen and experienced so far.

Their journey ended at another door that opened with the sound that never failed to go right through Llannaeia. It made her think of flesh being peeling off of bones. On the other side was what appeared to be the bridge though that was only a guess. If it was the bridge, it was like none she’d even been on. There were no windows or portholes, or anything else for that matter: no instruments, displays or screens, no pilots sat at controls or navigators presiding over holo-displays, and no maps or nav-points. There didn’t even appear to be any controls, at least none she could discern. One difference was the pink and purple light emanating from what looked like glowing wires running through the walls and ceiling, likely carrying power throughout the ship. They, too, looked strangely organic, like the veins and arteries carrying lifeblood through her body. They were carrying the lifeblood of the ship, whatever that may have been. The only furniture was the row of clear containers. They looked like containment pods, the kind they put people in to protect them from the outside elements. Llannaeia peered through the lids as she was led by. Each contained a member of the alien crew. They lay there motionless with a tangle of wires embedded in the tops of their heads. Their faces weren’t covered, but they didn’t seem aware of her presence. They didn’t even seem conscious, unblinking as they stared at the ceiling.

Llannaeia was marched to the end where another member of the crew waited. She guessed this was the captain. It was dressed like the others, no marks or symbols, and face hidden. She was stopped just short of where it stood and forced to her knees. It looked down at her. Llannaeia could feel its eyes, like it was studying her. It then turned its attention to the others, speaking with the same clicks, chits, and grunts she’d heard earlier.

Llannaeia listened. Just because she couldn’t understand didn’t mean there was no information to be gleaned from their dialogue. The discussion seemed heated. The captain was displeased with his subordinates who spoke just as aggressively. They were discussing what was to be done with her, every once in a while glancing in her direction. They were incapable of speaking the way humans and the other confederate species did. That’s why they used the voice in her head. Llannaeia had no idea how that worked though the thought was no less disturbing. If they could speak inside her mind, could they read it also? She didn’t like the idea of that at all.

The Captain returned to Llannaeia and its helmet melted away. It looked exactly the same as the others: bumpy skin, orange eyes, sharp teeth, and an almost child-like innocence in its gaze. “Why are you here”?

“I told your friend. We’re here to talk to your leader”.

It growled. “I am the commander of this vessel and its crew. This ship does not go anywhere unless I command it”.

“Good to know”.

“Tell me why you wish to speak to the Emperor”. Llananeia didn’t answer this time. They’d done little to convince her to put her trust in them. Why should she tell them anything? It wasn’t her place to divulge the details of the mission. That was up to the Chancellor. It was strange that they were putting so much time into questioning her instead of focusing on the most important person aboard the Rimor. She wondered if they even realized that they had the Chancellor of the Human Sovereignty on board. The Captain sighed, frustrated by her defiance. “You will tell us why you are here, whether you want to or not”.

Llannaeia sneered. They could do whatever they wanted. They were wasting their time.

With a twitch of the captain’s head, Llannaeia felt the hand on her shoulder again, pressing down harder and holding her still. Another hand appeared close to her face. It curled into a fist, clenching as if trying to squeeze every last drop of juice from a fruit before opening. Llannaeia’s eyes widened for a split-second before being forced to squint by the glow at the creature’s palm. It was burning now, green energy spewing from beneath the skin with a radiance like nothing she’d seen before. Despite the brightness, Llannaeia couldn’t look away, transfixed and terrified. It was like staring at the surface of a green sun, the rippling heat distorting the air and almost scorching her face.

The Captain gave a click and a grunt and the hand started moving closer, the warmth at Llannaeia’s cheek quickly becoming too much to bear. She tried to pull away but the brute’s strength kept her pinned. All she could do was grit her teeth and brace herself for the pain. The heat and glare forced her to snap her eyes shut, tears forming as she fought the urge to scream. She promised herself she wouldn’t die screaming but now she was finding it hard to keep that promise. Her skin felt like it was starting to burn. She might scream, but she wouldn’t give them what they wanted. She wouldn’t stoop to that level.

It was inches away. Llannaeia was on the verge of giving in. But then she felt the heat vanish, followed by the hand at her shoulder. Llannaeia collapsed onto her side, drained but relieved. She hadn’t screamed and she still had her face, for now. There was a commotion nearby, the air filled with more inhuman chatter she couldn’t understand.

“No”! a familiar voice shouted. “Stop this! I demand it”! Llannaeia heard footsteps approaching. She opened her eyes to find the Chancellor kneelingt over her. “I won’t allow my people to be treated like this”, she snapped, eyes fixed on the menacing creatures surrounding them. Llannaeia was impressed by her resolve. Truly, she was the most formidable woman she’d ever met, unafraid to stand up to anyone, even the Aq Quhn Ran Asten.

The Chancellor looked down and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Are you alright”? Llannaeia managed a nod. She looked like she’d seen better days herself.

“What’s going on”? Llannaeia didn’t get an answer, the Chancellor’s attention drawn by the Captain looming over them like a lion over a mouse. He was silent though, from the way she was staring at him, it seemed the Chancellor too was hearing a voice inside her head.

“I am. We mean your species no harm. I only wish to speak with your leader, nothing more”.

The Captain made a noise that sounded like a laugh. “Don’t tell them anymore”, Llannaeia moaned.

The Chancellor looked back to her. “They’re going to kill us if we don’t”.

“We don’t know anything about these things. We don’t even know if they’re military. They could be pirates or slavers for all we know”. A Confederate naval ship and crew was a valuable prize for any species, never mind the Chancellor of the Human Sovereignty.

Llannaeia stared up at the Chancellor, watching the cogs turn. It was certainly a difficult situation they’d found themselves in. She didn’t blame her for not knowing what to do. She was used to dealing with politicians, not hardened pirates or fanatical soldiers. Llannaeia could only pray she’d make the right call.

The Chancellor stood up. “I am Chancellor Marsa Calsen”. Llannaeia looked to the floor. That wasn’t the call she would have made. She closed her eyes, certain the Chancellor had just doomed them all. “I am the leader of the Human Sovereignty of the United Galactic Confederacy. I have come to seek an audience with your leader, to ask for support from your species. The Confederacy is close to war with the Imperium. Alone, we have no hope of survival. We need your species’ help to beat them”.

The bridge erupted with laughter from the Captain and its crew. That wasn’t a good sign. “What’s he saying”? Llannaeia asked. The Chancellor didn’t answer, to busy listening to the voice.

“You may not care about my kind, but you must care about your own. The Imperium seeks to dominate everything, not just this galaxy but the universe. Once they have conquered the Confederacy, they will come here and take everything from you”. The last part drew even more laughter. This wasn’t going well. The Chancellor was starting to sound desperate. “The Imperium is powerful and tenacious. Even with all your power and technology, war between you and them would be disastrous for all involved. Even if you win, you will lose a lot. Billions of your people will die. Hundreds, maybe’s even thousands of your worlds will be destroyed. But if we combine our forces now, we can defeat them before they come here, before they invade our homes and slaughter our people”. The laughter ceased. For the first time, the aliens appeared to be listening. “The victorious fighter never underestimates his foes… for if he does, then he has already lost”. Llannaeia recognized the quote. Hassaro Serta: one of the most famed generals of the Insurrectionist War. She was impressed the Chancellor was able to quote him. “If you underestimate the Imperium, they will take everything you have. Maybes not today or tomorrow, but someday”.

The Captain turned to his crew, speaking in their language. Llannaeia looked to the Chancellor. “How did you get them to let you go”?

She knelt beside her. “I told them who I was and that I wanted to speak to the Captain. That’s all it took. What is it they say? Honesty is the best policy”? The Chancellor took Llannaeia in her arms and helped her to her knees. “No offence, but you look a little worse for wear”.

“None taken. You look like shit yourself”.

The Chancellor smiled. “You smell”. Llannaeia couldn’t help but smile back. It pleased her to see the Chancellor had a sense of humour, even in such dire circumstances.

The Captain returned to them and the Chancellor stood up, listening. Llannaeia was surprised to see her smile. “Thank you. Could you please release my friend here”?

The Captain nodded and the pressure at Llannaeia’s wrists disappeared. The pins and needles returned though nowhere near as bad as before. He then sauntered away and the Chancellor looked down. She offered Llannaeia her hand.

“You’re stronger than you look”.

“I work out”, The Chancellor replied like it should be obvious.

“So what’s happening now”?

“They’re taking us to their homeworld”. Llannaeia almost didn’t believe it.

“Just like that”?

The Chancellor nodded.

“And you trust them”?

“They’ve no reason to lie. If they weren’t going to help us they could just kill us now or throw us back in our cells”. She had a point though Llannaeia wasn’t convinced. It seemed too good to be true. The Chancellor took her by the shoulder. “The Captain has given me his word. He promises to get us safely to our destination. Right now, that’s the best we can hope for”. That didn’t do much to allay Llannaeia’s concerns. So many others had given their word in the past and then gone back on it.

“What do you we do now”?

“You will return to your cells”, the voice said. They turned to find one of the crew approaching. The Chancellor seemed to hear it as well. “You will remain there until we arrive”.

The Chancellor nodded. “Very well, but I have some requests first. I want all of our people released from their restraints. They will remain in their cells for the remainder of the journey but I ask that they be allowed to do so in comfort. Also, we have been aboard for quite some time. Our people will be hungry and thirsty. I don’t expect your kind has food or drink suitable for us, but our ship has ample supplies. I ask that it finds its way to our people to further ensure their comfort”.

“As you wish. But first you will return to your cells”.

They did as they were told, which led to another journey through another seemingly endless series of identical corridors. Llannaeia was just grateful to have an escort, certain she’d never find her own way back to her cell. They were soon separated, the Chancellor and her escort disappearing along one corridor while Llannaeia continued along another. Despite their captors’ “promise” to get them safely to their destination, she still felt like her senses were being dulled. It seemed the distrust was mutual.

They arrived back at her cell, or that’s what the escort claimed. It could have been a maintenance bay for all she knew. Llannaeia shuddered when the door flaps made their sickening sound. It seemed to be her cell. It looked like it at least. The door closed behind her and she was left in silence again. She couldn’t complain, just happy not to be held in those restraints any longer. All she had to do was pace and sit and pace some more. The more laps she completed, the more Llannaeia came to trust the Chancellor’s judgement. She was a very intelligent woman, and the Aq Quhn Ran Asten did have no reason to lie about helping them. With the knowledge that they weren’t planning to kill or torture or experiment on them, Llannaeia felt a little better about being aboard the strange ship though she was more than certain that they’d overcome only the first of many obstacles in the long and difficult journey ahead.

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