CHAPTER 1 -- THE RELUCTANT TRAVELER
“Is something wrong, Don? You seem a bit out of…”
“Please Saba, I know that you may never...”
“What are you… Don I… “
“…Had to be… I know of no other…”
“I love you, Gentry. I’m so- …”
“Don’t be afraid. You’re- …”
“Get aw- …”
“Wait… going to be… a shi-…”
“Get away fro-…”
A combination of grogginess and nausea nearly took her breath as she was startled out of her slumber. She was lying on the floor between what looked like two crates from what she could make out. She thought there was a third one near her feet, but the nausea was coming in waves and she couldn’t keep her eyes open long enough to be certain. Her last attempt at opening them produced light with no assurance that it wasn’t a trick of her own mind. She felt the stiffness of her joints, so she knew she had been in her current position for an extended length of time.
After a few more moments of trying to get her bearings, she stilled. While she didn’t recall how she physically got there, she grimly recalled what had most likely led to it. Pure fury crept out of the recesses of her soul and blossomed full throttle into her mind to compel her eyes to stay open. She wasn’t tied up, which she felt was a good thing. But she had no clue where she was or how long she had been there. She continued to fight the nausea as she shifted her body to see if she could check behind her. She noticed the ceiling, which looked peculiar. It was illuminated, but not very bright and it reminded her of lights on a dimmer switch. She didn’t see the source of it but figured it was further down than her eye could go in her current position. The walls seemed metallic somehow, like the dull shimmer of a submarine hull. As her eyes continued to take in the room, with the look of the walls and the additional crates spotted, she wondered if he had put her on some boat. There was a chair near what looked to be the beginnings of a doorway, but her sight was cutoff by a fourth crate, so she couldn’t quite make it out. She remained there for a few more moments practicing the techniques Fox had taught her to focus her mind.
With a deep breath, she carefully tried to sit up while she checked to see if anyone was in the room with her. She thought about Fox in that moment and wished that he was there to help her now. She had the grace to smile slightly as she thought of what his reaction would be when she got to tell him what Don had done to her. IF she ever got to tell him. Considering that Don, the person she had known for nearly twenty years, had just drugged her and taken her who knows where, she really wasn’t certain if she would ever see Fox again. She knew Don had been acting strange lately, but nothing about his behavior signaled any type of immediate or pending danger for her. He seemed agitated at work, so she figured it was just some water cooler drama and didn’t ask since he didn’t seem inclined to talk about it. But being there in the situation she was now in had her rethinking every conversation she had with him over the last couple of weeks.
She wondered how long he had been planning whatever the hell it was that he just did to her. Then she recalled that his wife, Ellen, had started acting strange too. The shift in Ellen’s behavior was very subtle, but she didn’t miss it. In fact, ever since she witnessed her mother’s first overdose at seven years of age, Saba watched people and picked up their habits and moods with the precision of a scout immersed in wartime reconnaissance. She thought about her feelings for Don and the depth of his betrayal took on a horrific place in the pit of her stomach. She’d never told him, and never would, that she had begun to develop feelings for him that were beyond his role as friend and mentor. Although the feelings for him felt incomplete in some undefinable way, when she finally acknowledged her emotions towards him, she decided to pull back. He was a married man and nearly 20 years her senior. But she somehow felt drawn to him. Now she wondered if he had been manipulating her the entire time that they had known each other.
She was finally able to sit up safely after peaking around the crate several times to ensure she was alone. She fought down the wave of nausea that hit as she tried to get on her feet. Once halfway up, she latched on to the crate in front of her as if her life depended on it. When she came to the realization that her life really could depend on it, it compelled her to move forward to stand fully upright. Sweat began to form above her brow and she fought down another wave of nausea and closed her eyes momentarily to adjust.
When she opened them again, she was taken aback at what she saw. The doorway that she thought she had spotted was confirmed, but just past the doorway was another wall. It resembled a small alcove and there was some type of shimmering picture on the wall there. What she thought were crates now appeared to be odd boxes with some type of raised embossing all over it. She looked down and really perused the crate that she clutched moments earlier. It resembled wood, but from what she could see and feel, it wasn’t wood at all. She wasn’t sure what she was looking at, and with over twenty years of engineering experience, that was saying something. She gazed up again and couldn’t determine the source of the light that illuminated the room. The floor seemed to be made from the same material as the walls, but the alternating metal pieces were not a form of riveting, like she initially thought. She ran her hand over the surface of the crate, completely fascinated as there appeared to be warmth where her hand touched. As much as she wanted to continue to explore the box in front of her, she knew she had to get out of there fast before Don, or anyone else, came for her.
When she took a step, another wave of nausea hit, and she willed it down. She had to figure out where she was and why this happened, not that the why of it mattered much at this point. And to get Don. She was determined to get back to him solely to rip his throat out for his betrayal. Once out of the room, she was certain that she could quickly figure out if she was on a boat as she thought or in some building. The problem with her impending escape was that she could not locate an actual door. Saba could literally see no way out of the room, which made her wonder how she got in the room in the first place. Her eyes started scanning the floor and the ceiling to see if there was something she missed. When she didn’t find any type of variation on either, she figured that the door could be hidden behind the crates, or squares… or whatever they were. That posed an even bigger problem since the one closest to her didn’t budge. If the others were equally heavy and/or unmovable, she may be stuck for the time being.
She made her way over to the alcove to take a closer look. Saba thought on it further and felt that the door had to be there since she didn’t locate one anywhere else that she could see. And it would be impossible for the door to be behind the boxes since someone or something would have needed to stack them there, which would have barricaded them in the room. That was unlikely since she was relatively certain she was alone in the room, or at least she hoped so. When the alcove was immediately in front of her, she took in the shimmering wall painting directly ahead. There was a raised panel coming from the wall, underneath the painting, and a swirl of iridescent rocks lining the left and right sides of the alcove itself. It appeared to become illuminated when she stepped in front of it and it was unlike anything she had ever seen. Saba wondered again why she could not locate a door and began to back away from the alcove. Her heart began to race as an inexplicable fear began to well within her at the danger that she was most obviously in. And fear of something else… something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
As she looked around, it began to feel like the walls were starting to close in on her. She began trying with everything in her not to let her emotions overtake her logic. If she was going to stay alive, she knew she had to keep her wits about her and not succumb to the fear gripping her at all levels. How could you do this me, Don? And where the fuck am I? She thought to herself as she continued to look around. She couldn’t seem to contain the mixture of rage, terror, and angst vibrating through her gut. She knew she had to calm down, but she –
“You have no time for fear, Tegran.”
Saba turned and screamed at a blood curdling pitch when she heard a voice that she knew wasn’t hers. She looked around the room frantically trying to find a weapon of any type to defend herself and her eyes landed on the chair. But her choice of weapon was short lived as when she tried to pick up the chair, it too did not budge. Pondering the alcove again, she stepped to it then tried to pry one of the larger rocks from the wall.
“So… It may not mean much, at the moment, but I can assure you that path is not needed.”
Saba jumped as the woman spoke again, doubling her efforts to pry one of the rocks from the wall while also trying to glance behind her so she could gauge the woman’s position. When she didn’t see anyone, it caught her off guard to the point that she stopped moving. Her eyes focused in on the room with the cold calculation of an assassin while she tried to find what she obviously missed. She couldn’t figure out where the voice had come from. She saw no speakers that she could readily identify, so she began inspecting the walls and boxes for places that could hide one.
“They said you were a quick study, but I have to admit that I didn’t completely believe them considering my contact with your kind in what you call the past.”
Your kind… Saba had periodically experienced those types of comments since she was a child and it turned on her ‘kill switch’ as her facial expression went blank. She was not going to become the captive plaything of an oppressor, or anyone else. She would fight to the death.
“Hmm… I did not mean any type of offense, young Tegran. But from what I’ve observed, I do understand why you landed on that interpretation. And I do apologize, for it was truly not what was meant. Then again, the actual meaning would probably be considered equally terrible by some.”
Saba’s expression didn’t change as she took in the words of her unseen captor. The voice felt as if it was all around her. She couldn’t pinpoint a location, so she was almost certain it was coming from some type of surround system in the room. Her eyes continued to scan the area as a calm engulfed her. Saba promised herself that when she located that woman, she would tear her to shreds. Her face took on a serenely innocent glow as she shielded her rage. She wasn’t going to give the woman the satisfaction of seeing her anger. As she gazed ahead, she thought there was slight movement, so she focused in on the spot even further to be certain. What Saba saw next nearly made her heart stop. Out of nearly nothing, a woman appeared before her slowly as if she were fading into existence from parts unknown. When she appeared to be solid, she stepped forward and gazed at Saba full on.
The woman’s height was taller than Saba’s 5’7” frame and the woman was very thin; almost too thin. Her hair matched Saba’s midnight black hue and the woman’s eyes were a deep brown. But her eyes were also… off. Saba couldn’t explain why, but she felt that the woman’s eyes were larger and rounder than what they should be. Unnaturally larger and rounder. The warning bells began to go off in earnest in Saba’s head as she subtly shifted her stance and readied herself for a fight. The unspoken fear began to creep back in as well. She needed to know exactly where she was as soon as possible. Her gut was telling her that her predicament was far more terrifying than anything she could have possibly imagined. And what in the hell was a “Teh-grin”? Saba pondered to herself, not sure if she should even believe what she had just witnessed.
The woman looked at Saba in the brutally straightforward manner. Hmm… the first response was fear, but not of me. Interesting…, the woman thought as she gazed directly at Saba and watched as the emotions played across her energy. She almost smiled when Saba’s face went as blank as ether to hide her distress. She was quite intrigued when she found her in the outer guard of the core instead of where she was expecting to find her when asked to intercede. She could have seen it straightway if she had simply felt for Saba’s energy, but she seldom engaged her abilities in that manner. Staying in the outer guard would not do at all, so the woman moved Saba to a storage area, which was far closer to where they needed to go.
“I know that you’re afraid, Sabrina. There are very few beings that I’ve encountered that I couldn’t discern, so no need for the attempts to mask your feelings.”
Now that gave Saba pause. She shifted her weight back to equal footing from the striking stance she was in a few moments prior. Saba’s gaze on the woman was as intense as fire as she tried to understand the meaning behind what the woman said to her. That unknown fear she kept getting glimpses of rushed forward, with no small amount of spite.
“Who are you and what am I doing here? Are you working with Don? How exactly do you know my name? Did he – “
“Well, I must say that I’m a bit surprised. Your kind usually swing first and ask questions later, as it were.”
“If that’s the method you prefer, I can do that too.” Saba replied with deadly intent.
The woman smiled, and it made the breath catch in Saba’s throat. There was something about the action that seemed as unnatural as her eyes.
“No need. Besides… I was asked to get you there in one piece. Which would be a bit hard to do between your screams and an unnecessary fight. Why don’t –”
The woman stopped mid-sentence while her eyes gazed off as if she were looking at something near some unspoken horizon. When her eyes shifted back to Saba quickly, they held none of the humor displayed moments ago.
“We’ve run out of time for talking, Tegran. Considering what you’ve just been through, I know this would be what you Tegrans call a… tall order, as it were, but I’m going to need you to trust me if you want to get off of this ship alive.”
“So, I AM on a boat!” Saba thought to herself with momentary pride that she was able to correctly guess the source of her current prison. There was a part of her that was very relieved to hear it although it did nothing but make an escape much harder.
The woman’s eyes widened slightly as she gazed at Saba, then narrowed accordingly.
“I would clarify further, but what is the fun in that? Also, considering that you were moments away from attacking me, I’ll not spoil the surprise.”
“If you help me get out of here, I’ll tell the police you had nothing to do with any of this. I have money as well.”
The woman stared at her hard.
“Sabrina, neither – “
“How do you know my name?”
“As I was saying,” the woman spat with no small irritation, “neither enticement you offered will do anything for your current situation. Nor will it do anything for you once off of this ship, regardless of the means in which you exit the ship.”
Before Saba could answer her, or even digest was she was just told, the woman breezed past her and made her way to the alcove. Once there, the rocks illuminated the area again and the woman raised her hand slightly above the panel. The moment she did, the short wall to the right of her opened to what appeared to be a hallway.
The woman turned slightly as she began to walk through the opening. “Quickly, Tegran. We have little time,” the woman stated in a high whisper. Saba wasn’t entirely certain what the woman pushed to open the door. Knowing she may not be able to repeat it, Saba decided to follow her since it was apparently the only way out of the room. She decided to stage her attack in an open area where she could run.
When they made it into the hallway, Saba noticed the walls were of the same material as the room and there were also raised panels every so often with the same embossing as the boxes. But when her eyes went to the floor, she nearly stumbled. It was not like the floor in the room and it seemed to be completely transparent as if they were walking on nothing at all. It reminded her of something from a movie. The fear that she thought she was getting under control began creeping up again as she wondered what type of boat had an invisible interior floor. Or whether she was on a boat at all. And if not a boat…
“Surprise, surprise, Tegran. Now don’t lag behind this time and stay with me or you’ll have much bigger problems than the floor.”
“How did you - … Who are you?”
“We don’t have the time to do this right now. Come with me or take your chances here. Your choice.”
The woman stopped, then turned to peer at Saba with a gaze that could stop lava. It was almost fierce enough to make Saba take a step back. Almost. If Saba knew the woman well, she would have seen the almost imperceptible flicker of respect that passed the woman’s eyes as Saba met her stare.
“Your mettle will take you far, young Tegran. Tempered with wisdom, it will take you far indeed.” The woman said without blinking.
They held their stare for a moment more. Saba now had to place her escape, and possibly her life, in the care of a stranger. A stranger who obviously knew her way around the boat… or whatever they were on. And who could very well be an accomplice of Don. She then looked behind her at the path they had taken. She no longer saw the doorway they went through, just the walls and ‘magic’ floor. She wondered again at Don’s actions, not believing she was there and having a conversation about her fate. That morning, she was chatting it up with a co-worker who asked if she had weekend plans. How the hell did this happen to me? Taking a deep breath, Saba turned to the woman again, then took one step forward towards her.
“I think it may be in my best interest to take my chances with you, but I don’t like it. And if you give me any reason at all, you’ll find out exactly how little I like it.”
“You’ll never be required to actually like the choices presented to you, Tegran. The only thing your kind is required to do at this time is choose. If you remember that, you’ll be just fine. Well, if you choose wisely, that is. Now, are WE leaving or am I leaving? Your captors are uncomfortably close right now.”
Saba tapped down her anger at the obvious snark in the woman’s tone. She also noticed the reference to ‘your captors’ and wondered again at who or what the woman was and why she was there, for that matter.
“Yes, we’re leaving, and I could do without the sarcasm under the circumstances. I – “
“At the moment, you really don’t have the time to hear the why of anything.”
“How did you – “
“Not now.” The woman looked past her with a quick flick of her eyes. “Times up, Tegran.”
Something in the woman’s abnormally large eyes made Saba turn to peer over her shoulder in the same direction as the woman’s gaze. She saw two men quickly running down the long hall towards them and they didn’t look friendly at all. As she turned to run, she didn’t see any type of way out of the hall they were in.
“Stop right there!” one of the men said as he picked up speed. Then he tapped his ear and barked, “I need an intercept. Unknown asset spotted in the rear quarter section six.”
Saba’s knees nearly buckled. Unknown asset? She wondered for nearly the hundredth time, where exactly Don took her. But she quickly recognized that she had no time to ponder why or the motivations behind it. She turned and began to run, having no idea where to go. As Saba ran, she realized that the woman was no longer beside her. She turned around again to see if the men gained any ground and to spot where the woman went. The men were closing on her and the woman was nowhere to be found. She decided to keep running if for no other reason than to not find out her role as an unknown asset. The path appeared to curve further down the hallway, and she made it there quickly. As the hallway rounded, she spotted what appeared to be some type of doorway and promptly ran through it once it was upon her.
She stopped suddenly, looking around the room as the wall shut behind her, and silently prayed she wouldn’t be found. The room was very similar to the room that she had awakened in. But there were furnishings instead of boxes. At least they appeared to be furnishings. The chairs and table seemed to be molded to the floor and in the same material as the boxes. The ceiling was illuminated in the room as well, but with no discernable light source. There was something about it that gave her a heightened sense of alarm. Recalling the men chasing her, she turned around abruptly to find a similar alcove as the one she encountered in the first room. She just got herself in another room with no easy way out of it. Fear gripped her in the pit of her stomach.
“Don’t get too comfortable.”
Saba whirled around and stared into the eyes of the same woman she encountered moments ago. Then she turned quickly back to the alcove, then back to the woman as horror began to invade her features.
“Where did you go? How did you – “
“The important thing here is that you made it to safety. Albeit, temporary safety, but a measure of safety nonetheless.”
“Are you working for him? If this some form of torture to wear me down?”
The woman stared at her intently.
“Is this a simulation? You trying to gauge how I would react?”
The woman’s expression was unreadable and completely blank. Saba’s eyes took on a dangerous glint, her fury rising to such combustible levels that her fear regarding her current location was completely forgotten. Her stomach roiled as the last waves of nausea subsided. In its place was a calmness that would have done Fox proud. Sabrina was angry now. Murderously angry.
“Are you going to attack me now, young Tegran? Demand that I answer your questions? You know, in what you would call a past life, I was a soldier of sorts. My interrogators at the end of that life never got me to talk, even as I took my final breath. But that is a perspective for another time.”
Saba just stared at the woman, completely nonplussed at her reply.
“You’re not here for the reason you think you are here. And your… colleague… isn’t guilty of what you seem to think he is guilty of in this situation. You’re not on a boat, you’re on a ship. In this instance, the two are very different things.”
As Saba continued to stare, the fear that she had with her since waking, started to return in a dull shimmer with her anger still prominent in her mind. She wrapped her arms around herself in a protective gesture, oblivious to the action but needing an anchor as the words and truth spoken by the woman began to creep into her bones like the coldest winter night.
“Where am I?” Saba asked with a calm resolve born through trauma.
“You’re very far away from and quite close to… home, Sabrina. My words may sound contradictory in meaning right now, but you’ll perceive the deeper truth of what I say in time.”
“Where am I?” Saba asked again, expressionless and without inflection.
Saba was done with shadowed responses and her wheels were turning as she felt that she needed to keep the woman talking to see if she could find out anything about Don’s next move. It was her only lifeline, but there was something hanging at the edge of her subconscious, just out of reach. The last conversation she had with Don. She was drinking the tea he had fixed them both, then everything began to get hazy. But he said that he loved me. His words and actions didn’t align on any level. As she stared at the woman dead on, she silently wondered what she was missing in this situation. And what the woman standing in front of her had to do with it. She cringed as the woman smiled again.
“I am Ko’Ta’Re. And you are in a room that will be occupied shortly. To answer your most pressing questions, the Tegran you call Don did in fact chemically alter your mental state and placed you on this vessel. It wasn’t for a nefarious purpose, and I was not directly involved with those events. However, I was asked to ensure that the right individual located you before the ship reached its destination. Where your path evolves from that point is entirely up to you as my work here is done.”
Saba blinked in confusion. Co-tah-ray? What kind of name is that?
“How did you know my name? How are you able to just pop-up? What – “
“Place your focus on your immediate situation. Think on the trivialities another time.”
“Those trivialities ARE my immediate situation. If – “
“And you already know part of the answers to the questions you posed. You’re just not inclined to readily believe them.” Ko’Ta’Re replied in a matter-of-fact manner.
Saba continued to stare at the woman and hugged herself tighter.
“If you had nothing to do with it, how is it that you know what I’m talking about?”
“You may very well know the answer to that too.”
Ko’Ta’Re continued to meet Saba’s gaze without blinking. She didn’t want to drop this much information on the Tegran’s head like a blunt object, but there was no way around it based on what she gleaned of the immediate future.
Saba wanted to crawl into a ball and close herself off. She couldn’t deny the truth of what Ko’Ta’Re stated even if she wanted to. No ship had floors like the one she ran on, nor do they have lit rooms with no discernible light source. And she wasn’t even certain that she was speaking with a woman. Saba steeled herself, determination replacing her anger for the time being.
“Where. Am. I.” Saba asked once more, keeping her mask in place.
“You’re aboard the Geminah. As to your physical location as you would perceive it, you’re approximately five of your Tegran minutes from a planet called Entriss, in what we call the Dureli Star System.”
Saba felt her breath catch in her throat. A denial bubbled up and was quickly squelched as she watched Ko’Ta’Re with a level of bleak resolve that she didn’t even realize she possessed. The calm that overtook her was what anyone would classify as odd considering what she was just told. But there was no time for fear. Her mind was moving too quickly to think about the enormity of her situation.
“Asset. The man called me an unknown asset. You buy and sell assets.”
Ko’Ta’Re grimaced slightly as Saba connected the dots.
“Yes, Sabrina. This journey was used to buy … assets.”
“But that wasn’t the Tegran’s purpose for putting you on this ship. It was his way of keeping you safe in the only way he knew how to accomplish the task.”
“Selling me into slavery was the only way to KEEP… ME… SAFE?” Saba’s question ended on a shout, not even considering the possibility that she could potentially be overheard. Her mind was too caught up on the woman in front of her. She couldn’t even comprehend how Ko’Ta’Re could equate the two.
“I never said he sold you. You did.”
Saba’s eyes narrowed as she took in that reply. Her eyes gazed around the room again, taking in the molded furniture, the dull sheen of the walls and ceiling, and what could pass as a drinking cup on the table beside a rectangular box that stood out for some strange reason. It was a quick glance around by any stretch of the imagination. But there really isn’t much that Saba would miss, even by the standards of a quick glance.
Ko’Ta’Re watched her closely with a guarded expression. She knew Saba accepted the truth of what she said on a deeper level, but her mind was actively fighting it. She couldn’t fault the Tegran for the fight since it went against what they know and accepted in their societies. But those same societies are another triviality right now. Presently, she knew Saba needed to think if she was going to survive. And allowing her to believe that the male Tegran sold her, when that was not what had occurred, would serve no purpose but to keep her grounded in revenge and anger. Both emotions would be a very easy way to wind up being manipulated, dead, or both in that order. As dawning awareness crossed Saba’s features, Ko’Ta’Re smiled inwardly. You’re definitely his chi’ta.
“Why would he drug me to protect me? And who are you exactly? Yes, you told me your name, but that really tells me nothing under the circumstances.”
“I am what I told you I was and nothing more or less.”
“Our time grows short here.”
“Considering my situation, I do believe I’ve earned a better response. Especially considering that you just implied that I needed to be found by someone before I left the ship.”
“Well done, Tegran. Yes, the request was to clear the path to those who would move you to your new life. How those future events occur is not up to me.
“You’re not human.”
Ko’Ta’Re eyed Saba curiously, then smiled again.
“And I’m not what you were expecting a… non-human to look like, I take it?”
Ko’Ta’Re gave Saba a fierce glare, showing her respect for the young Tegran who decided to put her nearly overwhelming fear aside to gain answers. She found herself looking forward to seeing Saba again.
“We will cross paths again one day, Tegran. And when that day comes, I’ll answer all of your questions.”
“What the hell is that – “
Before Saba could fully state her reply to that cryptic statement, the alcove opened and there was a gasp from the being that walked through it. Saba spun around at the noise and stared at the man who entered. He wasn’t one of the men that had chased her down the hallway. But that somehow didn’t provide her any level of comfort.