White walls, white ceilings, and white doors. This and the persistent mumbling of other patients was what made up Zoe’s day. If she hadn’t already been crazy, her surroundings alone would have driven her to the edge of insanity.
Still, something was comforting about being at the San Rosa Home for the Mentally Insane. Maybe it was because she had been there for five long years. Zoe knew most all of the staff like the back of her hands and some of the patients could even be considered her friends when they weren’t having psychotic breaks from reality.
Or maybe it was because she could talk to Zuever whenever she wanted and no one looked at her like she was crazy. It was simply expected and treated like it was the most natural thing in the world. Sometimes the nurses would even ask about the voice inside her head and how he was doing. It made Zoe’s heart happy.
Whatever it was that made the place feel like home, Zoe figured it didn’t matter. She was content, if not happy, and that was all she could ask for.
“You are locked up in a place your people keep those sick in the head and yet your tolerance to such conditions humbles me, ne’la.”
Zoe smiled at the first brush of contact with Zuever. His touch always made her feel ready to face the day. She had many psychologists ask her what it felt like to talk to Zuever, and she could never really find the words to make anyone understand. It was as if there was a limb connecting their minds. It was mentally tangible. She could reach out with her thoughts and stroke the limb, that bond if she wanted to do so. Through it, she could talk with him mentally, feel his emotions when he let her, see what he was seeing and more. The list of telepathic abilities she shared with him was unknown to even her, but she cherished every one of them.
"Zuever,” Zoe sighed, feeling like a silly schoolgirl. “I missed you.”
Zoe felt him reach out, skimming through some of her memories from yesterday. Suddenly activities flowed through her mind like water. Zoe getting up and being escorted outside her padded cell to eat and ‘socialize’ and then right back into the cell. It was the same as every other day. After Zuever finished looking, he loosened his grip on her and she felt him slip away.
Right on cue, she heard the familiar squeak of her door. She turned on her mat and sat up, casting a sleepy smile towards her favorite nurse, Mrs. Rhonda. Mrs. Rhonda had been there almost as long as Zoe. If she had been given another nurse at any point in her stay there, she couldn’t remember it. The medicine the doctors liked to keep her high on tended to make her memories fuzzy. She could remember important things in her life, but the little things tended to slip through the cracks.
“Good morning, Zoe. Here’s breakfast,” the nurse said a bit dejected. Zoe frowned, knowing something was wrong with her. Usually, the woman with the heavy southern accent came busting in the room singing about good mornings and Texas. She was too quiet.
Zoe pushed the covers off of herself and accepted the tray of food.
“Is everything okay Mrs. Rhonda?” Zoe asked, frowning.
“It will be. My oldest just left for college. It has me feeling a bit old and not wanted is all. I’ve got what they call empty nest syndrome,” the nurse sighed.
“I’m sorry! I wish I could say something to make it better. I’m sure she will be visiting a lot, even if it is just to do laundry and eat. I know a friend from outside did that before I was placed in here. Her mom was sobbing when she left for college but begging her to stop coming to the house five days a week.” Zoe explained. A needle-like sensation pierced her brain and Zoe winced. Remembering hurt too much.
“My girl went out of state. She won’t be visiting until the holidays. Anyways, don’t concern yourself with it. You just worry about getting yourself out of this padded cell. Dr. Montgomery has had you in here for a week now for pulling that stunt of yours. I hope that ten minutes of fresh air up on the roof was worth it. Enjoy your breakfast. I’ll be back with your medicine in fifteen.”
Zoe smiled and nodded her head as Mrs. Rhonda left. Of course, it was worth it. She had climbed to the roof one night to sit and gaze at the stars. Of course, some had thought she had climbed up to jump and that’s why she was currently in a padded cell.
She looked down at her tray of food and sighed. A banana, some starchy pancakes, and a dried cereal bar sat there. A breakfast for champions, she joked to herself.
"I’m sorry, Zoe. It won’t be much longer and I will get you everything that you desire for first meal.” Zuever told her.
“I don’t need much Zuever. It will just be nice to be out of this facility." Zoe told him.
She heard him growl a bit and couldn’t help but smile. There was nothing anyone could do about the situation at the moment and, it sucked, but Zoe knew that Zuever was going through strenuous labor every single day since he had been captured years ago. He hid that part of his life from her but when you were as connected as they were, you couldn’t hide anything for long. Not the back-breaking work, the punishments, nor the deaths of his people. Zoe had suffered right along with him just as he had suffered right along with her.
“Zoe, I know I didn’t say anything before, but I had to make sure we would be successful in our endeavors,” she felt him smile as joyous thoughts raced through his mind.
She felt a bit one-sided sometimes as he read her thoughts so easily and she only got impressions of his. It made times like this completely unfair for her but she knew it was because his race of people was more strongly versed in telepathy than hers.
"What are you trying to say Zuever?” She asked him as she picked up her cereal bar. If she didn’t eat, the medicine would make her ill. It had plenty of times before and she didn’t feel like getting a migraine. Not today when she was already going to have to put up with Dr. Montgomery. She shuddered in revulsion.
"We’ve escaped ne’la.” Zuever said as he allowed her to see through his eyes. Her vision went dark as a picture of space flew past her. She gasped as she looked out the window of whatever spaceship he was on. Brilliant white-hot stars blared past her as planets flew closer and closer. The sight stunned her as she blinked and came back to herself.
Her mind froze in thought. Her eyes watered at the prospect of getting to see Zuever. She would get to touch him with her fingers and know that he was real. Not that she doubted it. Not even for a moment! She wouldn’t even lie to the psychiatrists about him being fake so she could become a free woman, even when Zuever had begged her too. On some level, she was afraid that if she lied about him that he truly would disappear and she wasn’t willing to risk it.
“Oh, Zuever,” she murmured slowly out loud. “Are you okay? Did you or any of your clanmates suffer when escaping?”
“No ne’la. Our people suffered no casualties or major injuries while escaping. We led our captors to believe that we were not as smart as we were which made escaping much easier.”
Zoe smiled brightly up in the air towards the camera. She would be out of here before she knew it and with Zuever!
"How long do you think? I need to say goodbye to everyone!” Zoe thought quickly.
“Be cautious with how you word your goodbyes. I do not want anyone to believe that you are attempting to take your life again. We should be there by your Earth night, less than twelve of your hours. It won’t be long, ne’la.” He told her before leaving Zoe to her thoughts.
Zoe’s heartbeat against her chest and her face turned a blushing red at the thought of actually being with Zuever. Soon, she would be able to touch him, hug him, do... other things with him. Being connected with him for so long, she hadn’t gotten to date, not that she wanted too. Still, she knew he was experienced in things of that nature. She was a child when she had been locked up and, though she had been forced to grow up faster than many girls, she was still innocent in many ways.
Before anything else could be thought on the subject, the door opened again. Mrs. Rhonda walked through looking a bit flustered and in a hurry.
“I’m sorry to cut your breakfast short, but we are a bit short-staffed,” Mrs. Rhonda explained. Zoe nodded in understanding as she quickly finished her banana and cereal bar. She accepted the medicine Mrs. Rhonda gave her and hesitated.
“Come on now, Zoe. Please don’t fight with me this morning,” Zoe looked at Mrs. Rhonda and gave her a quick nod before downing the medicine in the cup. Mrs. Rhonda patted Zoe’s hand as she took the empty cup. Zoe stood up waited for the nurse to finish filling out something on the clipboard she had brought in.
“Let’s go out now. Dr. Montgomery has allowed you two extra hours in the activity room since you have behaved so well. After that, your therapy session with him will take place and then you can eat lunch before we place you back in solitary confinement,” the nurse explained to her as she stuck the clipboard back in its slot on the wall outside her room.
Zoe followed Mrs. Rhonda outside of her room and down the hallway. She waved at some of the nurses at the nurse station and they waved back in greeting. Eventually, Mrs. Rhonda opened up a door and she was led inside of the social room.
Out of all of the rooms in the hospital, this was her favorite. Windows lined the outside wall giving a lovely view of the garden. Different tables littered the main floor and couches and chairs sat along the walls. There were even some televisions and radios sat up in the room, though the nurses and doctors picked out what was played. The smell of hospital food, excretions, and bleach made her nose turn up but she knew from experience that she would get used to the smell after a couple of minutes.
Zoe looked around and didn’t see any people had been let into the room yet, but Zoe knew that it was early.
“Damn it!” a screechy voice shot out. Zoe pivoted around and recognized someone she knew.
Rose Dameron was an older lady who had just celebrated her 74th birthday. The woman was a diagnosed schizophrenic and had been at the hospital longer than Zoe. As far as she knew, no one had come to visit her even though she talked about her grandchildren quiet admittedly. Then again, she told Zoe that her grandchildren were all faeries.
“What’s wrong, Rose?” Zoe murmured as she walked closer towards the older lady. Rose looked up at Zoe with withered and irritated eyes.
Curly grey hair framed a wrinkled face. Bright green eyes looked up at Zoe as if she was asking, the dumbest question she had ever heard. Thin lips twisted up in a smile and Zoe smiled right back. Although it was clear that Rose had plenty of experience with life and the curveballs it could throw, the old woman was stunning. Zoe hoped she looked as good as Rose did when she got to that age.
“I can’t seem to get this to go into the right hole. I don’t see why they put out puzzles if the pieces just aren’t going to fit together,” the older woman explained. Zoe pulled out a chair and sat down across from the woman.
“Do you mind if I take a look at it?” she asked.
“I don’t see what kind of luck you are going to have if I couldn’t figure it out. All of these wrinkles add up to years and years of wisdom, ya know?”
Zoe took the puzzle and swiveled it around. It appeared to be a wooden block with a picture of a farm printed on it. Different animals were missing and it appeared that Rose had already stuck a few in their appropriate slots. She picked up the piece that Rose struggled with and acted as if she was having a hard time finding where the piece fit. Eventually, she slid it into the right place.
“That was tough! No wonder you were having a hard time with it,” Zoe said as she turned the puzzle back around to face the older woman.
“Yes, well, look at all of the pieces that I made fit! I bet I can finish the rest,” The older woman said. Zoe nodded in agreement as she looked out of the window. It looked as if some of the flowers were coming into bloom. She watched as doctors and nurses walked different patients around outside. Zoe was currently banned from any outside time and would be for quite a while, but hopefully, that wouldn’t matter after tonight.
“Let me the fuck go, asshole!”
Zoe looked up towards the entrance doors, not as startled as she probably should have been.
“One more outburst like that and its solitary confinement for a week,” a nurse told the young girl who had spat the nasty words.
Zoe looked on, partly in amusement. The girl yanked her arm away from the male nurse and walked towards Rose and herself. It was just like Lucy to throw a fit, especially being up this early. Zoe knew she hated mornings with a passion. In the six months that Lucy had been at the hospital, the girl had fought against everything that the doctors around them stood for. It didn’t matter how nice anyone was, the girl seemed to hate any kind of authority.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Zoe greeted. The young girl rolled her eyes as she pulled a chair up to the table.
“Yeah, yeah,” the young girl muttered. Zoe smiled at her spunk. The girl’s hair was growing longer every day. When she had first arrived, it had been cut like that of a pixie. That was a good word for the girl. She was small, almost as small as Zoe. Her features were sharp, eyes always calculating as if she was trying to figure out the ulterior motive of everyone she came into contact with.
Zoe had been afraid of Lucy at first. The girl had been sent to San Rosa for murder and although the teenager played the part well, as they grew closer it had become very apparent that Lucy’s bark was worse than her bite. Underneath her exterior, the girl had a heart of gold. You just had to look very, very, very hard. Zoe knew within a week that Lucy hadn’t killed anyone and as Lucy grew closer to Zoe, she had admitted it. Lucy being there was the product of a dirty cop with no morals. Just thinking about it made her blood boil.
“So, I have news!” Zoe said excitedly!
“Oh God, please don’t tell me its about your dream man running a muck in your head.” Lucy groaned. Zoe cringed a bit before looking at the younger girl. It was obvious to her that Lucy didn’t believe anything that she said but she tried not to let it get to her.
“It is actually! He’s coming to get me. Tonight!” she told the girl and the older woman quietly. The older woman smiled at Zoe and patted her hand as she continued with her puzzle. Lucy just raised an eyebrow.
“I thought you said he was locked away or captured or something,” Lucy groaned.
“I thought so too, but he escaped,” Zoe told her. Lucy sighed and looked at Zoe as if she had grown two heads.
“Okay, I’ll bite. If he does come to get you and take you into space like some kind of romantic space prince, I want in,” Lucy told her. Zoe looked shocked for a moment. Lucy had never even entertained the idea that Zoe had been telling the truth and now she wanted ‘in’?
“I can ask, Lucy, but this is a one-way trip. I’m pretty sure that we won’t be coming back to Earth any time soon. From what I understand we are thousands of light-years away from any of the Federation outposts. Even if you wanted to come back, it would take a few weeks of travel,” Zoe explained.
“Let’s just entertain the idea for a moment that you aren’t completely delusional, because you are, but let’s just say you aren’t, and there is some kind of alien freak coming after you to take you away forever to live happily ever after. There is nothing left for me on Earth. My mother won’t even look me in the eyes and I will be locked up for the rest of my life. I don’t have the chance to live out any kind of future here,” Lucy whispered.
“Look, I did it!” Rose shouted, startling the girls. The old woman held up the wooden board and before Zoe could say anything, all of the pieces fell back out. “Damn it to hell! You would think that they would make these puzzles better,” the woman shouted before going to work again on the puzzle.
“Give me one second and I will ask,” Zoe told the Lucy.
Zoe closed her eyes and concentrated on Zuever and the bond they shared.
“Zuever?” she thought. Suddenly, the familiar feeling of him invading her head ensued and she was able to open her eyes and stop concentrating quite as hard.
“Is everything okay Ne’la?” He asked.
“Everything is fine. Rose and Lucy are with me," she told him.
"Zuever, Lucy wanted to know if maybe she could accompany us when we leave,” she asked, her nerves making her stomach clench tight.
"Calm, Zoe. I would be honored if Lucy accompanied us on the journey back to Tamber. From what you have told me of your friend, she seems to be a commendable female with strengths that would make me proud to have her in my household until she is of age to take a mate. As you know, Tamber doesn’t have nearly as many females as is necessary to continue our race. This is something to be celebrated and I am honored that she would make such a request," Zuever told Zoe. She smiled and he stroked the bond between them, leaving a warm fuzzy feeling that instantly soothed all of the worries she had.
“Thank you, Zuever.”
“Your gratitude is unnecessary. I would do anything for your happiness. I will see you soon Ne’la,” Zuever said softly before leaving her.
She looked up at Lucy who seemed to be helping Rose put her puzzle back together.
“Zuever says not only can you come with us, but that you’re welcomed with open arms to be a part of his household until you find a mate of your own,” Zoe told her. Lucy looked surprised for a moment.
“That’s nice of him to offer, but I’m sure I can find work and housing on my own. Well, eventually, once I learn the language and culture,” Lucy told Zoe uncertainly.
“Women don’t work in Zuever’s culture and you can’t exactly be on your own. Males protect women on Tamber. There aren’t exactly enough females to go around on his planet and if you aren’t claimed as a part of Zuever’s household, then it’s only a matter of time before someone else claims you for theirs,” Zoe explained.
Lucy just looked at her for a moment before huffing in annoyance.
“Well, if you aren’t completely insane and all of what just said is true, then that’s fine. I’ll figure it out,” Lucy grumbled.
Zoe smiled in agreement and began to help Lucy and Rose with the puzzle. She could tell the younger girl didn’t believe anything that was coming out of her mouth, but Zoe was excited to have a friend come with her. At least she wouldn’t be the only human on Tamber.
The three sat there for another hour, putting together different puzzles and playing different board games as the room filled with different patients. Eventually, Zoe noticed Mrs. Rhonda at the nurse’s station and she knew it was about time for her therapy session. She twisted her sweaty hands underneath the table, a sick feeling making her feel like she was going to lose the little bit of breakfast she had eaten not too long ago.
“Hey, you okay?” Lucy asked as she put her hand on top of Zoe’s. The younger girl followed Zoe’s eyes and the realization made her pause for a moment.
“So today is your day with Dr. Can’t Seem To Keep His Hands to Himself?” Lucy asked, her face tight and uncomfortable like she didn’t know what to say or do. Not there was anything she could say or do.
Zoe nodded. Ever since Zoe could remember, Dr. Montgomery had always been a bit...weird. He would say things that made Zoe uncomfortable during therapy sessions but he had always done that. Lately, it had gotten a lot worse. He would even touch her sometimes. Sure, it had started innocent enough. A touch on her hand or arm, which she always moved away from. The last therapy session that she attended he touched her thigh and hadn’t let her go until she asked him too. He had this look in his eyes when he fixed his gaze on Zoe that made her feel vulnerable and weak. She hated being around the man.
“If I never saw that man again in my life it would still be too much,” she told Lucy. She watched as Mrs. Rhonda made her way towards her and she sighed, standing.
“Maybe I’ll see you for lunch. If not, I will see you tonight,” she told Lucy as she hugged Rose goodbye.
“Are you ready, sweetheart?” Mrs. Rhonda asked. Zoe nodded her head as she followed the woman out of the busy room and away from her friends.
She couldn’t shake the feeling of despair settling in her body. Fear made her stomach clench with anxiety as she told herself that everything was going to be okay.
Why did she feel like she was lying to herself?