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Freed by the Alien Bounty Hunter: Chapter Two

Miranda

I woke up feeling like I was suffering the worst hangover ever.

If only it were tequila and not whatever crap the aliens had darted into me the previous evening. At least, I assumed my last dose had been last night. The sun did not rise and set on an alien spaceship.

Because this was my life now. Or really, this had been my life for the last month or so — give or take a week.

I don’t exactly know what happened. One day I was your typical law student, working a back bar to pay a portion of my living expenses while the student loans piled up. A typical university sob story.

I was just walking “home” to the van where I lived. Dorms were for chumps, and apartments in San Francisco were for rich people. I lived the van life, which meant I didn’t have to pay sky high rent, and I could make some extra YouTube scratch on the side with video blogging.

Anyway, I was headed home from the bar after last call. It was two-thirty, maybe three in the morning. Thankfully, my first college class the next day didn’t start until after twelve. I had planned on getting some quality sleep in.

I was just to the parking lot where my van was parked when a bright searchlight beamed down on me from the sky. I looked up, thinking it was a police helicopter and they were searching out somebody shady.

Just me, Miranda, poor college student.

Only, there were no helicopter or drone sounds. Just an odd high-pitched hum, like an electric transformer about to blow. And the aircraft overhead had too many lights on it. Either that, or it was really big — too big to be a normal helicopter.

“What the —”

I don’t know what happened next, though I suspect from later encounters, I was stunned.

The next thing I knew, I woke up in an actual cage. There was this… thing, kind of like a yellow cross between a lobster and a man, complete with head antenna, one giant claw and one humanoid hand with too many fingers.

It screamed at me, I screamed at it. It threw something that was supposed to be food in my cage. I threw it back. I was stunned again… and that set the tone for the rest of my trip.

I didn’t see that particular alien again — after I figured out that it was indeed an alien and I had been abducted like something straight out of a sci-fi novel. But I had seen others. Their attitudes ranged from downright shitty and hostile, to completely uncaring when they remembered to feed me.

It was hard to keep track of what was going on, considering I didn’t understand any of the language, and I kept getting darted or stunned if I threw any attitude — which was often.

But I was certain I was being transferred from ship to ship. Sometimes, I would see other captives — none of them human, and most of them female-looking.

So, as I said, this was my life now. And I had just woken up in yet a new cage.

However, this one was larger than most. I had even been given a bed. Well, more like a slab of metal welded to the wall. But it was marginally better than the bare floor.

Another big difference was that an alien woman stood outside my cage, instead of in a cage of her own.

She… kind of looked like a tree?

She was pretty, with pale bark like skin. Her hair was done up in a no-nonsense ponytail, and yet the tail cascaded down her shoulders like leaves. Her nose was thin, and rather pointy, her chin squarish. She stared at me as if she had been waiting for me to wake up.

Groggily, I pulled myself into an upright sitting position. My stomach rumbled, and I wondered how long it had been since my last meal. This woman wasn’t carrying a tray of food, but she definitely had something in her hand.

“What do you want?” I asked, warily.

The woman said something in a mishmash of sounds and syllables — none of it meant a damn thing. Each new species of alien seemed to have their own tongue, and I hadn’t ever been around one for long enough to pick up a simple phrase.

I looked at her. A month ago, I would’ve been terrified. Today, I was exasperated, and my hunger put me in a bad mood. “I don’t speak gobbly-goop.”

She held up one slim but strong-looking hand. Huh. Four fingers and one thumb, kind of like a human. Maybe we were space cousins.

Between her forefinger and thumb, she held up a small tictac shaped electronic thing.

Then she tossed it through the bars at me.

I caught it by instinct and frowned, looking down at the thing. It was a tiny little electronic device, though what it was meant to do, I didn’t know. Maybe this was the alien equivalent of a cell phone?

My current captor spoke again. When I looked up at her, she mimed poking her own ear. Again, her outer ear was more human-like than usual, though distinctly pointed.

I frowned, and she did it again. Then she pointed to me.

Oh. She wanted me to put this in my ear.

I considered not doing it. A couple of my previous captors had tried to get me to mop the floor like I was their personal maid. Instead, I threw the mop equivalent to the side and spit on the floor. Those displays had earned me a quick sedation, and when I woke up, I was on somebody else’s ship.

Today, I was hungry, and tired… More tired than the sedatives swimming around in my bloodstream would account for. No, I was tired and my soul ached. I wanted to go home. But even more than that, I wanted out of his damn cage.

“Well, I guess I’m going to have to trust that this won’t explode my brain or something.”

With that, I stuck the stupid thing in my ear canal.

I did not expect it to slip down there, as if it had a mind of its own.

I yelped and clawed at my ear, but the electronic tictac thing only slipped down deeper down my ear canal. I swear, I could almost taste it on the back of my tongue.

Thank goodness it did not hurt.

“Wow! What the hell, man?”

“I am not male.”

I stopped and whirled around to the tree lady. She watched me with amusement, one hand cocked on her hip. She had spoken the unintelligible language — I heard it, but at the same time, I also heard and understood the meaning in English, overlaid above the gibberish.

“Did you just… speak English?” I asked hesitantly.

The alien lady opened up her mouth, and although she spoke… whatever she spoke, I understood the words in English.

“No, I am speaking the native tongue of my planet, Mtoain. You have been given a universal translator — and it seems to be working. Very good. There was some concern that with a species as rare as your own, your language wouldn’t be inputted into the system.”

Oh my God. Finally, after a month-long nightmare, there was somebody I could actually talk to!

I rushed to the bars and gripped them. “Let me out of here!”

“I’m afraid I cannot do that. You are the property of Ilai and are currently up for sale.”

I had half-figured it was something like this, but hearing it aloud was still horrific. “But… But you can’t! You’re going to sell me as some kind of slave?”

“Yes,” she said flatly.

“But… But that’s wrong. I’m not somebody’s property! I’m my own person!”

The woman barely batted an eye. She continued her lecture as if she had said it a hundred times before. “There are various kinds of slaves you can become. Domestic, entertainment, administrative… and pleasure.”

No need to outline what the last one was. “Isn’t there a “none of the above” option?”

“No.”

I shook the bars. There was no give to them at all. “You can’t do this!” I raged, fruitlessly. Because it was pretty obvious from the cages and my treatment thus far that, yes, they could.

“This is illegal on my planet. How dare you just take me from my home and sell me like I’m a piece of property! It’s… it’s so screwed up!” I yelled. Somehow my brilliant reasoning did not sway her.

“Right now, you are angry,” she continued in that flat, detached tone of voice. “But once you calm down, you will start to think and plan ahead. You will decide to play along, just so you have enough freedom to plan your escape.”

I reeled back, because an escape plan had already started churning in the back of my mind. “Shit,” I said. “Are you… some kind of telepath?” I clarified because I wasn’t sure if that word would go through the universal translator or not. “Somebody who can read minds?”

She smiled. “No. Just somebody who has been in your exact position.”

I gave her a blank look, not sure if she was lying or not.

She continued. “And because I have been in your position, I know that you must be starving. First though, your new owner, and my master, Ilai.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to take all of this. She was by far the nicest one of my captors, but that didn’t make her a good person, or someone that I should trust.

I decided to put some of my mandatory psychology classes to good use and try to establish a human connection. Or… whatever. “My name is Miranda,” I said. “What’s yours?”

She hesitated for a moment as if surprised, and then shrugged and said, “Tiyisi.”

“You’re saying that you’re going to take me to meet… your boss?”

“My owner,” she said with a sigh.

I nodded to myself. It would be the first time that I was allowed out of one of the cages while awake. I had no illusions that I could escape whatever facility this was — was I on a spaceship? — But gathering intelligence would be key to my future survival.

“Do you have any… hints on what I should say to this Ilai guy? Because I can’t tell you how much I don’t want to be a pleasure slave.”

A flash of what I swore could be read as amusement crossed Tiyisi’s face. She was definitely more humanlike than most. Other aliens’ faces were about as easy to read as your typical praying mantis. Then, that look of amusement was replaced by one of sorrow. “I’m afraid your fate is out of your hands. You will do whatever your new master requires.”

And with that cheery advice, she stepped forward and pressed some kind of code into a holographic keypad by the cage door.

The bars unlocked, sliding open.

For a moment, I considered bull-rushing her. I had played powder puff football in junior high. But that had been as the quarterback, and I was twelve. Plus, this lady was like seven foot tall. I didn’t think I would get too far by trying to tackle her.

She eyed me. “I would suggest you don’t resist… For your own good.”

“You are a telepath,” I grumbled, but stepped out.

“No, I’m not. You are just particularly easy to read.”

She led me through a narrow hallway. There were no windows or viewports to the outside. It was a shame because if I was really, truly in space right now, I would’ve loved to have seen the stars. Or maybe another planet.

These thoughts helped keep my building anxiety under control. If I concentrated on the wonders of space, I would not have to think too hard about what might happen to me out here… A defenseless woman among aliens who were all larger, stronger, and much more knowledgeable about the universe…

Stop it, Miranda. Think about the stars. Embrace serenity, and do not panic.

It helped a little.

I was out there all alone, and I did not even bring my towel.

“What are you smiling about?” Tiyisi demanded.

“Nothing.”

She gave me the tree person equivalent of the fisheye, and then suddenly stepped ahead of me to punch in a code in front of a large double door at the end of the hallway.

She turned briefly, and the look she sent was definitely some kind of warning. Then the doors whooshed open to show… an office?

Another tree person like Tiyisi waited in the office. He sat behind an honest to God desk made of wood (hopefully, considering these were tree people, it wasn’t the equivalent of a human sitting behind a big desk of bones). There was even what looked like a very large filing cabinet off to the side, and to chairs in front.

Unlike Tiyisi, something in the man’s demeanor was vaguely threatening and cunning. Like walking up to a manager at a car dealership. You didn’t know exactly how you were about to be screwed, but some way or another, you’d walk away with less money than you came in with.

“Tiyisi, excellent. Thank you for being so prompt,” the man said.

His words were right, but the tone was wrong. There was a hint of sarcasm to every word, and Tiyisi flinched as if struck.

The man looked me up and down, slow and deliberate. I huffed and put one hand on my waist, cocking my hip in irritation.

I guess body language must be universal because he chortled in laughter. “I assume that the universal translator is working for your species?”

“If what you’re asking is if I can understand you… then yes,” I replied

“Excellent. Your species are exceedingly rare among the galaxy, so there was some uncertainty.”

Again, his creepy gaze swept me up and down, making me feel like I was some sort of prize horse he had just acquired.

I let some of my frustration out. “Maybe that’s because we aren’t a spacefaring species yet. Aren’t there laws protecting those kinds of civilizations?”

He smiled at that. “Who would ever enforce them?”

Great. Space was like that, then. No overseeing judicial system. Then again, as a law student, I was well aware of how hard it could be sometimes to enforce laws in a well-organized country, much less the vast space of… space.

Suddenly, I felt very small and the universe seemed very, very large.

“Please,” he said, gesturing to a chair that had no back. “Have a seat.”

I did, but Tiyisi stood, standing in loose parade rest. Was she here to block my way in case I tried to make an escape? Or was she here for moral support? And why was I so trusting of her? For all I knew, she was one of my captors.

I decided to ignore Tiyisi and focus on the tree man in front of me. “My name is Miranda Hale. Who are you?”

“I am the one who is asking the questions here,” he said calmly. “But as it happens, I suspect we will be spending… a lot of time together.” He smiled a smile that was utterly creepy. “My name is Ilai, and I am the one who will determine your future.”

“I don’t suppose one of those options is sending me back home?”

He laughed, bright and sharp. Then, to my surprise, he took out a device that looked a little bit like an iPad and started writing alien symbols all over it. “So, you have a sense of humor. That is good. Let us get started with the additional testing.”

What followed was like the weirdest, creepiest job interview ever.

First, he had me solve some basic logic problems using what I swore were probably children’s toys. The type where one shape fits into another one. Then he asked some basics in my job history.

I played it up a little, giving myself the credentials of a full lawyer instead of a law student. It wasn’t like he was going to check my references.

Then he turned the iPad thing over to me and had me do a series of simple logic tests on it.

Each symbol was given a value represented by a number of lines. I was supposed to put them in order from lowest to largest. It was a little like organizing a spreadsheet.

It was followed by a few more tests, all of them easy to the point of being childish.

When I handed back the pad, Ilai hummed at the result.

“I assume that your people have a reading and writing system?” he asked.

“I did tell you I was a lawyer.” He looked blank and I sighed. “Yes, I read and write quite well, thank you.”

This earned me a long look. “Smart and beautiful,” he murmured. “Shame about the attitude, but that can be fixed.”

It felt like bugs were crawling over my skin, and I had to resist the urge to look away from his penetrating gaze.

“Let me be up front with you, Miranda.” My name rolled off his tongue with all of the wrong inflections. It was weird. For a few minutes there, I had forgotten that he was, in truth, speaking an alien language. The universal translator in my ear had worked more or less flawlessly. “I have not earned my reputation by holding back my best merchandise, but I admit that a part of me hopes you do not sell.”

“Sell?” I squeaked.

“Yes, because I want to spend as much time with you as possible.”

His hand reached as if to grip my own, and I yanked it away.

He smiled at me, all oily, and then for the first time since the testing started, looked up at Tiyisi. “Make a note on her file. She will be starting at the highest bidding —”

“Bidding?” I repeated, dully. I should not have been surprised, considering everything that had not been said so far, and yet, somehow, I was.

Ilai ignored me as if I had not spoken. “Set her at the Gold tier. Intelligence, beauty and…” He paused, sweeping over me again. “You are not one of those short-lived species, are you? The ones that grow up and die within a decade?”

I felt like telling him yes, if it would take attention off of me and disappoint him… But at the same time, if I was going to be sold like a piece of meat, I didn’t want to be a cheap piece of meat. “A human’s average lifespan is usually within seventy to eighty years,” I muttered.

“Decent, but not extraordinary. All well. You can expect how many more years?”

I swallowed against the impulse to tell him that it was rude to ask a lady’s age. He was going to sell me on an auction block, so we were far beyond that. “Fifty, give or take.”

Two thirds of my life as some kind of slave… if I was lucky.

“Excellent.” He clapped his bark-like hands together. “Make the note, Tiyisi, and return Miranda here to the holding pen.”

“You can’t even give me a room?” I demanded.

Tiyisi’s strong fingers clasped over my arm, giving me a gentle tug to stand, reminding me of my place. “Come along,” she said softly. Whatever light had been in her eyes before seemed to have dimmed. “I will get you prepared for the auction.”

I felt like crying, but I kept my head up high as I strode out of the slaver’s office.

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