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Chapter two: The Boarders Of Ashei
My anger had taken a shift to rock-solid determination. Hate was among the rest of my renewed livelihood. I would not be a slave to the Scientists again. I was grateful for the release Mia had given me. After I did something with her, I would go back and set the facility on fire. I would not let anyone escape. This was payback time.
On a deeper, almost non-discernible level, I actually wanted to preserve her life. I felt that I owed her as much, for she had given me mine.
About a mile from the facility, I landed the quevi board and buried my rucksack of TTU supplies. It was expendable to me, and probably traceable. Without wasting another second, I got back on the board and flew away.
The only thing stopping the force of gravity from pulling us down the two-hundred-something feet to our death was twelve pounds of zero gravity technology. The cool-ish desert wind felt almost good on my face. Only one of our moons, Zaam, graced the sky that night, and once I would have thought her light to be quite feeble. But compared to the new moon in the human world, it could almost be day. My vision was perfect, the colours were simply muted. Apparently, Sime was too ashamed to show her face. I don’t blame her. That night was different from all others, for me. It was the night I started my life as a fugitive. I was officially a homeless man.
The thought of being a fugitive was ironic enough to almost make me smile, but being homeless caused a problem. Where would we get food? Water? I glanced around the barren desert. Nothing lived here. Something caught my eye, directly to the right of me, to the east. Trees. the Hashin forest, the most abundant forest in this world. An idea began to form in my head.
I knew that it was only a matter of time before they found us. But with a little luck and the grace of God, I thought we might just make it. Or I would die trying. Maybe.
It was not too late to turn around. I could have gone back then and been forgiven. But when dawn broke it would be too late; if I should ever have seen one of them again it would be to relinquish the only thing I have to live for.
The truth of what I was doing was starting to catch up to me. I turned over all the information I had attained, trying to determine what it was about her that made me feel…this way. I was still slightly piqued, especially when turned up blank. The situation went above and beyond rhyme or reason; I had been trained to figure things out methodically, using facts and hypotheses. I hadn’t any facts and the only hypothesis I could come up with was that it had something to do with opposites attracting, and the absurd feeling of déja vu. But that didn’t seem to be it, not quite…but whatever it was, I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth (as the humans would say). I filed the troublesome problem away for further assessment.
The now-over-flowing empty space in my heart didn’t feel strange to me anymore. It was like it had been meant to be filled more so than emptied, as I once had thought. I searched it, now, looking for one space. One little pore. I couldn’t find a one. I smiled to myself. I was healed.
The sun was just thinking about greeting us the next morning when I landed again.
I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to keep going forever, because the further away I could get her from them, the better. But I had to stop. She was waking up.
At first I was shocked when I heard her breathing speed up, and her heart rate become more pronounced. I had been banking on her being unconscious for days yet; I hoped to reach the shelter of the Hashin forest when she woke up. I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. I guess she just didn’t do death very well. Figures.
Almost reluctantly, I descended. Flying was a second nature to me. But, strapped in my kicktank, I did not want Mia to wake in a coffin.
I unclasped the latch on the tank, unsnapped the straps from around her body, and gently pulled her out, stretching her on the black sand. For a moment, nothing happened, and I began to wonder if I had been mistaken after all. But then the sun came out.
It didn’t come out, really. It merely peeked over the top of the distant Hashin forest, but still, it was enough to revive the sleeping girl. It was like watching someone set fire to a slowly burning candle. As the sunlight washed over her face, her eyelids twitched slightly, and then flew open with the elegance of a blossoming flower. Looking dazed, she sat up slowly and squinted almost angrily at the sun. I caught my breath. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
She was a petite girl, no more than five feet tall, and very slender with gentle curves. Her waist was so tiny that the smallest kinder-child would find his arms overlapped had they hugged her. Her hair was a very fair shade of rich brown that could never be mistaken for blond, with strangely natural red highlights in it. It curled in delicate ringlets down her back. It looked so fine and silky that I doubted it could be knotted. The sun caressed each strand and turned them to white gold. She had a pearly round face that was the exact colour of cream with a hint of strawberries. She wore a becoming pink tank top with the words Language is an Art scrawled across the front, and purple shorts, cropped halfway up her thigh. The skin on her arms and legs was also pale and creamy, but with a dusting of gold. I wanted to touch her, to see if her skin was really as silky as it looked. She smelled exquisite, a scent that was entirely her own. I breathed it in, filing it away in my vast memory.
I had never seen a human as beautiful as she was. There was something slightly unnerving about her, but I didn’t know what. Despite her beauty and stature, I could tell that she was anything but delicate. She emitted raw strength. A warrior princess. I found myself wondering if she could beat even me in combat by sheer force of will.
And of course, there was the pendant at her neck.
Now I could see that it was about the size of a cherry. It was cube shaped, with soft edges. It was the strangest shade of iridescent green, but I could see that it was un-faceted. It looked like it was made of grent, but that was not possible. How had she gotten hold of grent in D1?
But that wasn’t what caused me to stare, not really. It was the fact that she was more than just her perfect features. She had an inner beauty that leached out of her in waves, making her body glow with radiance. It was tangible. I didn’t only want to touch her skin; I wanted to see if some of her radiance might cling to me, if only for a second. It didn’t make any sense.
She yawned, distracting me, and glanced about, taking in her surroundings. Her gaze locked on me, crouched beside her, the long hem of my cloak pooling around me. Her full, strawberry lips formed a little O of surprise, and then horror, and then a grim line of anger. The first two expressions did not surprise me; I had to have been something to behold, with the hood on my cloak pulled up to cover my face from the sun, but why was she angry?
She sprang to her feet in one fluid movement, and took a step back.
“Where am I?” she asked in a clear, silky voice. Her mesmerizing blue eyes flashed dangerously, like a cornered predator’s.
The question triggered my impulse to answer questions truthfully. It was annoying.
“In the country of Ged, north west of the city of Ashei, in the East Maragadian desert.” I recited dully. I winced at how expressionless my voice sounded. I would have to work on that.
She blanched at my words. “Have I been kidnapped?” she asked, confusion and fury colouring her tone.
“Yes,” I said. “You have.”
She squinted at me. “Do I know you?”
“Maybe,” I said mildly. But on the inside, I was curious. Did she feel it too?
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded, hands on her slender hips.
“You might know me, you might not,” I clarified, slowly enunciating my words.
She stared at me for a second. “Let me see your face,” she said, taking a step toward me and reaching for my hood.
“No!” I exclaimed, straightening out of my crouch and ducking away from her. In the time it took her to blink, I was standing four feet away.
To my surprise, she didn’t look startled at my spontaneous retreat. There were a million questions in her eyes when she looked at me again, but she stubbornly stuck to the subject at hand. “Why?”
“The sun will burn my skin,” I told her, cringing at how brittle it made me sound.
Again, she stared at me, but she moved on.
“Who are you?” her eyes were sparking. Her anger astonished me slightly. I wondered idly if she was emotionally unstable, or perhaps suffering from MPD. Her anger was not endearing, as it might have been for any other person her size. She reminded me of the ferocious fire-breathing dwarf dragon of Tecovedan legend. I took an unconscious step back before answering her question.
Who was I? I didn’t know, as I hadn’t from the very first day. It was a question I tried not to think about. “I don’t know. But they call me Xaran,” I added, hoping to dispel my former statement.
It didn’t work. Though she tried to hide it, her expression softened as sporadically as her temper had flared. I was surprised. I had expected scorn. “You don’t know,” she stated quietly. Her blue eyes burned with something I could not quite decipher. “Okay, then. What are you?” she lamented, her voice as gruff as silk can be. Undoubtedly she was remembering how quickly I had moved away from her. But how could I explain that?
“Xaran. A kidnapper,” I said instead, with as much sentiment as I could manage. Hopefully she could understand that, at least.
She snorted delicately. “Here’s just in from Captain Obvious. And here I thought you were human,” she said sarcastically. I cringed. Temper, temper. “Okay, Einstein, what I meant is, what are you? A terrorist? A rapist? A Nazi?” her voice shook. She folded her arms and glared at me. She hadn’t even mentioned the real question at hand. I stared back, though she couldn’t see my eyes. I was getting bored with the display, but something she had said had caught my sharp attention.
“Human! You think I am human? How? Did you not see how fast I moved?” I hadn’t meant to bring attention to the fact. I moved on, quickly. “I am a monster, Mia Avory. Not a Nazi, whatever that is, or a rapist or whatever. I hurt people. People like you. So don’t make me mad. And do not call me human. I just may keel over in hysterics, and that wouldn’t sit well with the current situation.” I wanted to make sure she understood that. I didn’t feel very good about threatening her, but as delicately unbreakable as she was, I doubted she would be scarred by my words.
The strange thing was that I didn’t feel like a monster. The only reason I could say what I said was because deep down, I was a monster.
Her little head tilted to the side, scrutinizing me. I couldn’t imagine what she could be seeing that made her stare at me so intently. Unless men in menacing black robes fascinated her.
A little crinkle appeared in the corners of each of her eyes. Then her chin jutted forward. She didn’t even come up to my shoulder, but somehow she looked very tall all of a sudden. “You wouldn’t hurt me,” she said.
There was nothing I could say to that. I would never hurt her. But that wasn’t the point. She didn’t understand. I felt a little surge of hope that maybe she wouldn’t be frightened away after all, but I shoved it down violently. “I am not human,” I said again.
Her eyes sparked again. She folded her arms. “Why did you bring me here?” she asked.
Abruptly, the events of the previous night came rushing back to me in a wave. The Scientists. They would probably be on our trail by now. I didn’t know where we were going, but we had to get away from them. The minutes I had spent talking to Mia would cost us. They would definitely figure that something was up by then. We had to go now.
“I couldn’t let them get you,” I said, stooping to dig a hole for the kicktank. The reduced weight would help us to travel faster. I was pleased.
I cared not about the amount of sense these words made to the girl. I brushed the bottom edge of my cloak over the mound to smooth it out. “We have to go. They’re following us.” I said hastily. I strode to the quevi-board. Without a moment’s hesitation, she walked over to me. Her gait was smooth and disturbingly graceful, but not surprising considering how beautifully disturbing everything else about her was. I expected her to step on behind me, but she didn’t.
“You see? You did it for me. You are human. In the ways that matter.” She looked a little green at the cliché, but nevertheless, she took the last step between us and placed her little hand on my chest. “In here.” She finished. Then a look of pure astonishment crossed her face. “You’ve a heartbeat!” she exclaimed in a voice she thought was too low for me to hear.
This just in from Captain Obvious, I mocked her bitterly.
“Of course I do,” I said in a dry voice. “I am human, am I not?”
She smiled brilliantly and stepped onto the quevi-board, wrapping her arms around my waist. “So you are,” she said, almost to herself. “So you are.
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