Faintly, I heard a building collapsing over the deafening whooshing of the wind. A cry barely registered. “Char!” Something flashed and grabbed at me, but the grip failed. The swirling and whirling and whooshing took over every sense.
Suddenly I was dropped. Just like that. I hit rock, stomach-first, and rolled a few times before someone grabbed my collar and threw me up against something hard. I slid down until my butt hit the rock again. “Sit up,” a voice growled.
I blinked the last of the darkness out of my vision and looked up. A stranger with pale skin and jet-black hair stood over me, glowering. “Y-y-you’re Zack’s brother,” I stammered, trying to get ahold of myself.
He smirked and bowed mockingly. “At your service, madam.”
I tried to back away from him, but I couldn’t go any further than I was already. “What do you want?”
“Bait. You’ll do fine.” He knelt and pulled some rope out from behind a nearby rock. “Hands.” I blinked at him, so he grabbed both my hands and began wrapping some of the rope around my wrists. As soon as he finished, he tied the long remainder around a rock that was just out of reach. He then began tying my ankles together. “Can’t have you getting away; you’re the reason my brothers are still here.”
“Me? I thought they were staying here as long as they could to hide from you,” I said.
He laughed. “Right, because they’d stay on a planet where anything that’s even remotely abnormal is dissected.”
My cheeks burned. “You got all that from your telepathic link?”
I shrugged. “Since you seem to know all about me already, how about telling me exactly who you are.”
“You already guessed it; I’m Zack’s brother.”
I nodded. “I feel a little better knowing your name, even though Zack’s told me a lot about you.”
Grayson leaned a little closer to me, his coincidentally gray eyes meeting my own. “And what did he tell you?”
“That you arranged for the genocide of your people’s masters.”
He snorted. “What’s so bad about that? I ended thousands of generations of slavery!”
“You killed so many living, breathing beings!”
“Breathing?” He looked confused for a moment, then understanding passed across his face, like I’d seen happen with Zack so many times. He laughed. “Breathing! We don’t breathe.”
It was my turn to be confused. “How do you get air in and out, then?”
“We don’t, I suppose. Zack didn’t tell you that?”
“It didn’t come up in conversation.”
“You should ask more questions, then.” He smirked again. “Anything else he told you?”
“You told your people that the new invaders would take them back to their home, not enslave them again, but that’s not true.”
“How would Zack know? He didn’t stick around long enough to find out the truth!”
“He said the new aliens kidnapped your parents.”
“They didn’t. Our parents are alive and well; I just spoke to them yesterday, in fact.”
“Were they happy?”
Something flickered on Grayson’s face. “Of course they were; they’re on their way home with the rest of our people! They’re no longer slaves! Why wouldn’t they be happy?”
“Maybe because they are actually slaves again?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” he snarled, standing up. “Neither does Zack!”
“Shut up!” He stormed off.
I sank back against the hard structure behind me. Glancing up, I saw that I was sitting against a white lighthouse. I looked back down and over to the rock I was tied to. If I can just untie that rope, I can get free. Or attempt, anyway. I rolled to the side a little, putting my hands and knees under me. OK, now, crawl! I did. Or tried to, anyway. You can’t crawl with your ankles and wrists tied together; those are your main ways of moving in a crawl! I landed flat on my face, smacking my nose on the hard rocks, not even moving the one I was anchored to.
Someone grabbed my collar once more and yanked me into a sitting position. I looked up into the stormy face of Grayson. “If you attempt to free yourself again,” he began in a dangerously quiet voice, “I’ll find your nana and get her, too. She’ll be tied up, just like you are. Would you like that?”
My eyes had widened as soon as he mentioned Nana. “Don’t you touch her!” I snapped, glaring at him.
“Cooperate, and I won’t!” He smirked, which must have been his go-to expression. “Just sit tight until Zack gets here. Then we’ll talk about your freedom.” He turned and started to walk away.
“Look who’s the slave master now,” I shot at his back.
Grayson stopped. “What did you say?” He spun around to face me.
I swallowed. “Look who’s the slave master now.”
He had me by my throat in an instant, my feet dangling. I choked and sputtered, trying to pull his hand away. “You little-!”
One second I was being choked, the next I was dropped onto the rocks. I coughed and tried to take deep breaths at the same time. “Look who showed up finally,” Grayson sneered. I looked up to see Zack approaching, his hands in the air.
Zack looked past his older brother to me. “Are you all right, Char? Did he hurt you?”
I shook my head. “Not really.”
He looked directly at Grayson. “You do not lay a hand on her, you understand?”
Grayson stepped closer to him. “Do what I want, and she’ll be released.”
“Release her anyway. Her nana is worried sick about her!”
The elder brother laughed. “That’s not how this works, Zack. You and our brothers will come back home with me, and Charlotte-” him saying my full name was like chalk screeching on a chalkboard – “and her beloved nana will be free to go. If you refuse, well, things might get a little messy.”
Zack clenched his fists. “We won’t go back to slavery, Grayson!”
The wind picked up, swirling our hair around and stirring up sand that was left by waves that had splashed up onto the rocks. “We won’t be slaves!” Grayson roared. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Then why did I heard one of the invaders call it such?” the younger brother demanded, not seeming to mind the wind. “Our parents were taken right in front of us, but we were lucky enough to escape.”
“Lucky!” Grayson snarled. “Lucky! If you had stuck around, you would have figured out that we are being taken back to our home planet! Back to where our ancestors are from! We could build a whole new life there, but you don’t care, do you? None of you do!”
“Accept this as our choice, then. We’re choosing to roam the stars rather than go to a home we don’t know. This is our path, and it is our choice, not yours. If you force people to do it, then they’ll try to rebel against you. Can’t you understand that?”
The elder brother’s fists clenched. “Why wouldn’t you want to go home?”
“To a home we’ve never known? To leave everything unknown? At least here, we know something of the planet. We know nothing of what our home is like.”
Grayson moved back toward me again. “You will come back with me, Zack! You and the rest of our brothers! We will join our parents on the Yven ship and we will go home!”
Zack held up his hands. “Don’t hurt her. Please. She’s human and has nothing to do with our quarrel.”
He smirked. “That’s what you think.”
I shrank back against the lighthouse. Zack took a step closer; Grayson took a step back. “Give me time to talk this over with our brothers. Just a little time, all right?”
The elder thought this over. “All right. Fine. You can have time.”
“Do not hurt Char while I’m gone. Otherwise, I will not hold back when I return.”
Grayson nodded. “Deal.” With a flash, Zack was gone. He turned to me and glowered. “Now do you understand why you’re here?”