“In three days, I am to lead several ships to a different star system, where I have been ordered to set up a new base.”
Zori narrowed her eyes at him. “A new base? On a new world?”
“Does that world… Is it inhabited?”
“So you’re going to take more prisoners. Slaves, like me.”
“It is necessary.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“I anticipate the initial establishment to last several months. If all goes as planned, it could extend for longer.”
“Longer?” she repeated.
“It depends on how well I do my job.”
“So? I’m waiting for the punchline.”
“Punchline?” He blinked, his milky blue eyes widening slightly. “I do not intent to hit you, Zori.”
Despite the unintended humor due to his misunderstanding, that little bit also gave her a tiny bit of hope. Regardless, she figured she might be able to press the issue. “What I meant is, why are you telling me all this?” And then it dawned on her like the sun emerging from behind dark clouds. She felt the blood drain from her face as she gasped. “No. You’re taking me with you. Is that it? Is that why I’m here? You’re taking me with you?”
He walked over to another one of the tufted stools and sat, facing her. “If this mission is as successful as expected, I plan to remain there for several years. During that time, I will be under a lot of stress.” He leaned forward slightly. “I have been honored to be allowed to take a companion with me during that time to help me cope with the pressure, and to keep me mentally and physically capable of performing my duties.” He paused to await her reaction.
She took a shaky breath as she pointed to herself. “And I suppose I’m to be that companion?”
“Are you asking me? Or telling me?”
He jerked back, and the doodles on his face quivered. She’d seen such signs before on the Jekmeer. He was pissed, or agitated, or upset. Maybe all three.
“What kind of cruel and heartless species are you?” she demanded, no longer caring, no longer fearful. “First you abduct me from my home world, away from my family and friends, and people I can relate to. And now that I’ve managed to make a few friends again, and bring some sort of normalcy back into my life, you’re taking me away again? But this time alone? With no one of my own kind to talk to?”
“Either way, you have no choice,” he almost snapped at her. “I could keep you here until we leave, but I am not without compassion. Tonight I will allow you to return to your friends and fellow Terrans so you can say your goodbyes. Tomorrow, instead of reporting to the fields, you will be brought back up here where we will go through the binding ceremony.”
“The binding ceremony? What’s a binding ceremony?”
Getting abruptly to his feet, he strode over to the doorway, which opened automatically. The Jekmeeran who’d brought her here was waiting on the other side. He seemed stunned to find her being dismissed so soon.
“Return her to her quarters. She is not to be touched. My command is solid,” Ond tightly informed the man.
The alien made a motion with his hand, which she assumed was their way of saluting, and looked at her. “Come with me.” Again, she saw the quivering of face doodles, but this time she almost laughed. Her guide had intended on forcing himself on her once she left Ond’s quarters, but now his hands were tied.
The door closed behind her, and the smile on her face instantly disappeared as she followed her escort back to the lift. Tonight, she would see her friends for the last time. Then tomorrow… The implication of what her life would be like for the next several years…
As the full weight of what was about to happen to her came crashing down, it was all she could do to hold it together until she reached the lower bunkroom.