While Ellie sat and thought until her brain went numb, trying to figure out what information Kai could have possibly given her inside or outside of the books that added up to them getting off the planet and saving their race, Kort had reported to his brother to give him an update.
“I’m telling you, Ronin, she knows nothing. Our brother didn’t even trust her enough to give her information, or at least not the information you’re looking for! Book after book on plants, and romance novels, and none of it is going to be of any use to help you or save us.”
Ronin angrily yanked a hand through his hair and brooded, his nearly black eyes darting around the room and finally settling on Kort.
“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong. If the little whore doesn’t have the intel I want, she’s definitely of use to save our collective asses, just by being herself. Not to mention that she knows plants inside and out, so when we leave this planet, and you can bet brother I WILL be leaving this rock, she’s going with us so she can tell us which foods to eat and which ones not to. Which will be good for helping to sustain life, and which can be used as weapons. We’ll even take a few expendables with us to assure that she’s not tricking us, or at least me with the wrong kind of plant. Kind of the way kings used peasants to be poison testers for them, to make sure someone wasn’t trying to assassinate them. But you, oh, she thinks you’re her precious Kai. She’d never make a move to hurt you.” Ronin’s words were filled with venom and disdain.
Kort wasn’t an intelligent man; at least not overly so and he wasn’t normally observant, but knowledge flickered in his eyes. He had connected some dots that he didn’t even know were there.
“You don’t hate her. You’re angry with her, brother. What did she do, turn you down? Choose Kai over you too?”
Ronin scoffed “You don’t know what you’re talking about, shut your mouth.” But it lacked the normal anger, it held the edge of something else; a kind of surprise that Kort had been so astute.
“That’s it, isn’t it, Ronin? She could turn me down, even though I’m identical in looks to Kai, at least he had skills and brains, but to turn you down for someone like Kai when you held the looks in the family with your height and broad shoulders. Tall, dark and handsome is never to be turned down, huh brother? Nobody else had ever turned you down, but she had. That’s why you don’t mind when she gets hurt, hell that’s why you want her to hurt – that and you want to hurt Kai double. Hurt him because he’s our parents’ favorite and because Ellie favors him too.”
Ronin’s surprise at Kort’s comprehension had finally faded, and his ever popular and well-known anger had returned. “I said SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!”
Kort didn’t shut up though, he felt more clear-headed than he had in his life, and he wanted to finish saying what he had to say.
“What happened, Ronin? How bad was the embarrassment?”
Ronin was trembling and pacing, but his eyes grew distant and though his anger had not left him, he felt the need to unburden himself. Why not do it to someone who wouldn’t dare to betray him for Kort knew what he was capable of better than most.
“It was when she was fifteen, I was eighteen. I saw the way she lit up around those stupid books she was always poring over when we’d walk by the mess hall, and heard her laugh at something no doubt stupid, that Kai had said. The way he protected her, and treated her like some fragile doll, always keeping his distance, all the while loving her. Oh, I knew he loved her romantically before either of them did. It didn’t matter, I coveted her, I wanted her, and I always get what I want. This time was to be no different.”
Kort remained silent, listening to his brother and watching him pace.
“So, I took her a gold bracelet of mother’s, one I knew she wouldn’t miss. It was too gaudy for her, a charm bracelet I think dad called it. Anyway, I kept it on me and I waited for the opportunity to find her alone, without our darling brother. Do you have any idea how hard that shit was?”
He wasn’t waiting for an answer, it was rhetorical.
“I got my chance one night while Kai was Topside. I spotted her in the mess hall and waited for her to leave, to go back to her room after dinner, and I stopped her in the corridor. I made small talk with her, she was so polite and of course, back then she only peripherally knew who I was. She was still young and naïve and trusting. Wanting to surround herself with people after growing up in that undoubtedly dreadful orphanage. I told her I could take her away from that, to give her a life that she could never have dreamed possible. That I would bring her with me to quadrant 1, where I’d shower her with gifts, such as that bracelet. And I pulled it out of my pocket.”
Ronin had stopped pacing and was staring a hole through Kort, but not seeing him; his eyes out of focus.
“The wonderment in her eyes, it was like nothing I’d ever beheld. I don’t think she’d ever seen gold, let alone jewelry that beautiful, regardless of what mother thought of it. I just knew I’d closed the deal, that she was mine. I went to fasten it on her wrist and suddenly she jerked away from me and spouted something about having to go. To leave. I grabbed her arm and pulled her roughly to me and dragged her down the hall and into an empty room, kicking the door closed behind us, and I had my way with her. She was a fighter.”
A dark smile tinged his lips and he continued on still, unaware that Kort was sick and fuming.
“She fought with everything she had but it wasn’t enough. I had her in a way Kai never will. I took her first time, and when I emptied into her I prayed with all my might that I’d knocked her up. It’s sick and twisted, but oh it’s true. I watched month after month but no belly, nothing. She’s barren, no doubt. She’s spoiled goods, ruin. She’s not pure, she’s barren and she’s a peasant. If either of you want her you can have her, I happily give you my sloppy seconds.”
Kort had the urge to punch Ronin in the mouth, but he refrained. He’d never been the fighter and Ronin was ruthless. He’d come after him and see him dead if he laid a finger on him.
“You’d better make sure you’ve killed Kai.”
“Oh, if he isn’t dead, he will be brother, that I can promise you.”
“I mean it, Ronin, if you don’t kill him, you are dead for so many reasons, but if he ever finds this out he will stretch it out, he’ll make you suffer until you beg for death to come.”
With that, Kort left the room to go back to Ellie, a knot in his stomach the size of a softball.