As I slowly start to wake up the first thing I notice is the curious bite of cold in the air present in the small bedroom of my apartment. Did my heater break? Wait.. isn’t it June?
My hands feel like they weigh a hundred pounds each as I fumble to reach down to pull my covers up around me. My seeking fingers find nothing but my bare skin, a hard floor underneath me where my bed should be. Not only that but my whole body is stiff and sore, the movements of my muscles slow and stilted, and I can’t seem to force my eyes to open.
A dull ache throbs in my head and there’s a bitter medicinal taste on my tongue. I start to panic, but my body is sluggish to respond, shifting just slightly on the hard surface I’m laying on as the fear runs rampant through my mind.
Since I can’t move well I focus on what I can feel.
The floor is slick and cold. Concrete most likely. I’m naked except for a pair of small shorts. I can feel the skin on my back prickling with goosebumps where it presses against the floor and my loose hair tickles my breasts where it drapes over my shoulders.
What the fuck?
I struggle to replay what I remember from last night, but my thoughts are foggy. I was on my way home from work, walking back to my apartment.
Did I make it home? I don’t think I did. I can’t recall things clearly.
Come on Ava, what’s the last thing you remember? I had taken the short cut through the alley behind the Italian restaurant like always. That’s only a few blocks from home, so I was almost there.
What happened in the alley? I focus hard, running through the walk home over and over again in my mind until I finally remember there being a sudden bright light, and raising my hand to shield my eyes from the harshness of it. Then nothing.
Suddenly whatever is preventing my full consciousness and hindering my movement seems to wear off all at once and my eyes snap open.
Lying on my back I see bars above me, the light in the room dim. I let out a small shriek of dismay, realizing I’m in a cage.
“Shhh!” A voice beside me whispers into my ear. “They want us quiet at night.”
Oh god, was I trafficked by the cartel? Am I in a warehouse in a foreign country?
I roll over onto my side, clutching one arm against my bare chest, intending to ask whoever gave me the warning where we are, but find myself biting back another shriek instead, muffling it behind my free hand quickly.
In a cage inches to my right crouches another woman, but not a human one.
She’s a fucking cat.
Decidedly feminine, but covered from head to toe in a layer of very light gray fur. She watches me carefully, almost protectively, her tail swishing in the background.
I stare at her for what feels like an eternity, one hand pressed firmly over my mouth, the other hiding my naked chest, with my eyes wide and unblinking. I wonder if I’m dreaming. Maybe this is just a very elaborate nightmare.
She places one finger over her lips, sharp teeth barely peeking through her darker gray lips as she gives me another soft “Shhh.You will stay quiet, yes?” She drops her finger and asks me in a whisper.
I nod frantically, dropping my hands. Fuck showing my tits, there are clearly far more pressing issues at hand.
“What. The. Fuck?!?” I breathe to her, my voice barely audible to my own ears.
She motions me closer, her yellow eyes darting around the room as I roll towards her from where I lay in the center of the small cage and mimic her crouching position. Our cages are so close that sitting like this our faces are less than a foot apart. I notice she is much smaller than me, likely only reaching chest high on my five foot seven frame, though it’s hard to tell huddled in cages as we are.
“You are in the flesh market of Taquork,” she tells me bluntly, her strange eyes meeting mine with a flash of sympathy. “You slept for a long time, we were all worried.”
I look around the room frantically, my mind reeling at seeing nothing but cages. A sleeping body is huddled in each, and there are so many cages they fade into the darkness of the room.
The few bodies I can see look like animals in the darkness. I see additional tails like my neighbor, and even some fins, and I start to hyperventilate.
“Easy, just breathe,” the cat girl tells me, drawing my attention back to her. She keeps her voice so quiet I have to strain to hear her. “Do you remember what happened to you?”
I shake my head quickly, focusing on breathing in and out.
“You were stolen from your planet and brought to the market to be sold. You and four other humans arrived two days ago.”
“I’m not on earth anymore? You aren’t human?” I whisper-ask her stupidly. She has a swishing tail Ava, and is covered in fur. Of course she isn’t human you idiot.
My obviously not-human cage neighbor just gives me a wide and slightly amused smile, which only emphasizes her sharp fangs. “No, I am not. I’m Plurian. My name is Kiri.”
“But how do you speak English?” I blurt out, my voice raising slightly in my confusion and panic.
A harsh shhh sounds out from across the room and I clasp my hands back over my mouth.
Kiri raises a slightly clawed finger and taps lightly behind one of her furry ears. I copy her motion, running my fingers gently over my skin, until I find a slightly tender spot right at the hairline.
“Translator chip,” she explains. “Standard issue for all slaves. They installed it as soon as they woke you from the hibernation tank.”
“Slaves? I’m a slave? In space?” More stupid questions Ava, I chide myself.
The neon flashing clues such as market and stolen and to be sold were decidedly late to register in my frantic mind, but now they slam into me all at once. I plop backwards onto my butt, crossing my legs and folding my torso over my knees, my hands buried into my hair. “Oh god this is so much worse than I thought.”
“Do not worry,” Kiri assures me softly. “Humans are hard to come by and very prized. You will not be destined to serve in a pleasure house like most here. You will be purchased by someone of high standing.”
I manage a strangled sound to acknowledge her words, but my mind still hasn’t moved past the initial shock of “about to be sold in an alien slave market.”
“It will be morning soon,” Kiri whispers, “I will take you to meet the other humans then. Just stay calm.” She starts to turn away but stops herself, peering through the bars at me with her yellow and shining eyes. “What is your name?” she asks me.
I sit up and meet her kind gaze, my eyes wet with tears.
“It’s Ava,” I reply. “Ava Matthews.”
“You will survive this, Ava Matthews,” Kiri tells me fervently, before turning away and curling up in the middle of her cage. I stare at her furry back, trying to process her words, and watch her tail wrap around her legs she has tucked up against her.
The movement is so reminiscent of a mother-effing house cat that I fight back an inappropriate giggle. I press the palm of my hand firmly against my lips as the giggle suddenly threatens to change into a sob.
I manage to sniff back my tears and roll over, hugging my knees to my chest. I close my eyes and will my aching body to relax, hoping against hope that this could still be just a bad dream and I’ll wake up safe in my bed.