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Kal laid in a metal prison cell gasping for air, the sound of her people dying and the village burning still fresh in her mind. Her eyelids were heavy and her body felt like it was buried in sand. The first thing she could remember upon awakening was a human male with gold and silver teeth, and black rot infesting his mouth. He wore a white coat and had a bright instrument that blinded her. Unlike Sarge, his hair was grey and creased like the wrinkles that came with age. But unlike her people, this man had spots. Only later would she learn that humans developed a condition called “liver spots.”
The man in the coat turned and said something to a Teristaque waiting in the background. Her memory was incomplete, like the patchwork of one of her mother’s quilts. Every moment was a snapshot. She was being dragged through a hallway by two Teristaques. Her possessions were locked in a box. Her body was stripped. She was sprayed with a burning liquid. More dragging. Another exam from the human with the rotting gold and silver teeth. Finally, she woke up in a prison cell.
While Kal’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, she heard a low grunt from the corner of the room. The grunt sounded like a krikshek beast back home. They were a fierce beast with a dire disposition and two large horns that could impale a villager. Kal attempted to scramble to her feet, but her muscles felt like she was trying to move through a thick goo, and she fell back down.
A creature slid from the shadows. It had a large bug-like body and three spiny appendages. It dragged the lower part of its body on the ground. There were stubs where other limbs should have been. The eyes were hideous, large, and clouded grey. The bug was a shade of brown. It sent shivers down Kal’s spine. She scrambled backward, but was unable to get very far and hit her head on a metal cot. The bang would have hurt if systems weren’t suppressed.
“Don’t be afraid,” the bug said in a deep voice. “You are recovering from sedation.”
“You speak Village Tongue!” Kal said looking for the “universal translator” on what she thought would be a wrist.
“There is a translation field covering the prison,” The bug said.
“What do you mean I was under sedation?” Kal said. She still wasn’t sure about this creature.
“They sedate all criminals during interstellar travel.”
“I am not a criminal!”
The bug laughed. Unlike Sarge, the bug had a slow wheezing laugh. Kal still didn’t quite know what to make of laughter. She had no room for it. The nightmares of her village were too fresh in her mind.
The bug must have sensed that its laughter made her uncomfortable, and stopped. It reached out an appendage to comfort her. “Do not fret my dear. Everyone here believes they are not criminals, and you’ll find that some do belong here even if you do not.”
Kal pushed the thing’s arm away, “I do not need your sympathy.”
She turned to inspect her cell, finding two metal cots. One small cot for her and a large one for her buggy cellmate. The walls were smooth and metal, with bars on the opening. There were two toilet facilities, one for a humanoid of her size and another for something larger. The toilets were located in two coves on the back of the cell for at least a little privacy from her cellmate, though a guard standing on the other side of the bars had a full view of either cove.
“I don’t offer you sympathy my dear, only advice. You will find friends hard to come by in this place.”
“I don’t want your advice either,” Kal snapped.
“As you wish. You could have had worse roommates, you know. Grannork’s cell also had room for one more.”
“Oh yeah? At least Grannork doesn’t talk as much as you.”
“Grannork is Orcandu from the Tristar cluster.”
Sarge had told Kal about the Orcandus. They were brutes, and one of the few species that the Teristaques feared. They were massive creatures of pure muscle with a jagged horn on the center of their forehead and fierce, razor sharp teeth. Rumors spread that Orcandus had mis-wired brains and experienced pain as if it were pleasure. Almost every ritual in their culture was meant to induce pain. Kal shuddered to think about what it might be like to share a cell with one. At least an old-disabled bug could be managed.
The bug finally gave up and dragged itself back to its side of the room. Kal traced the cold metal wall with her fingers. She thought about the village that she practically rejected, even though it had embraced her, despite her differences. Now, she wanted nothing more than to be a part of it again. She thought about the warmth of her bed and the wood grain of the ceiling. She used to see faces in the wood grain and would make up stories about them. Now the ceiling was a smooth metal surface with no defining features. She could almost hear the humming of her mother from the kitchen as she drifted into sleep.
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