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Freed by the Alien Bounty Hunter: Chapter Four

Miranda

I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare. Dressed in a skimpy bikini-thing that resembled Princess Leia when she was a prisoner of Jabba the Hutt, I was forced on stage to the jeers and cheers of a dozen disgusting species of aliens. It was a little like one of those never-ending dreams where you are in front of a crowd without your pants on.

Only this was no nightmare. This was all too real.

I felt tears well up in my eyes as the bidding started. It fractured the scene around me into a million points of light.

To my surprise, a golden glow caught my attention. I blinked some of my tears back, to see Tiyisi sitting at a table speaking intensely with another tree man.

That one looked nothing like Ilai. He was visibly younger, and more handsome, his hair was red and gold like autumn, his bark like skin, less rough than Ilai’s, but the rich deep brown of fertile soil. His eyes were some of the most striking I had ever seen, a deep yet vibrant green.

And there was something… glowing under his shirt? It washed his face in light, and for some reason, just seeing it calmed me.

I stared across the room at him. Help me, I pleaded with my eyes, and with my entire being.

I did not know why, but I knew deep down in my heart that this man, out of all of the others in the room, was good.

But the man looked away.

He and Tiyisi exchanged a few more words, then Tiyisi stood up and strode to the stage.

I had the half-wild thought that maybe she’d help me too. I knew she worked for Ilai, but she’d been kind to me when no one else had.

Instead, she took the weird stick the current auctioneer used as a microphone and brought it to her own mouth. “Gentlemen… As you can see, this slave has been rated as Gold tier.”

My heart sank as cheers, boos, and hisses echoed up from the audience.

Tiyisi smiled without warmth at the men. “Bidding will resume at a new minimum…” Then she rattled off a number that meant nothing to me, other than it was substantially higher than the bids I had half paid attention to.

She was really auctioning me off. And from the sound of it, whoever “won” me, would be expecting to get his money’s worth.

Help me… Somebody help me…

Suddenly, there was movement from within the audience.

The handsome tree man had stood up and rushed the stage, to the outraged cries of others in the audience. Someone tried to grab him and he shoved them aside with such strength that he sent the other man flying.

My heart lifted. Against all odds, someone else saw that this was wrong. I would not be sold at all. I would be saved.

The man reached the stage… And grabbed Tiyisi.

“No!” he yelled with enough force to make me want to flinch from the anger.

Not that I was afraid of him. But I hated seeing him in anguish.

His word was not directed at me, but at Tiyisi who he tried to… drag off the stage? “Enough of this, Tiyisi! You’re coming with me!”

“It’s a raid!” someone from the audience yelled. He sounded outright panicked.

The word spread like wildfire, everyone jumped up, trying to make a run for the exits. Some pulled out what looked to be laser blasters from their pockets. Meanwhile, my so-called savior tried to drag Tiyisi away, and Tiyisi resisted. They bickered back and forth.

I started to edge off the stage. No one paid any attention to me. Would it be possible to slip into the crowd and escape?

For one of the few times in my life, I found myself paralyzed by indecision.

It didn’t matter anyway, because someone new abruptly roared in outrage. His voice was loud enough to even drown out the rapidly panicking crowd.

“Lock the building down! Now!”

All the lights in the auction house came on, while middle doors slammed down into place over the existing exits. One lobster-like man was unfortunate enough to get pinched between the crowd and the door. I’m pretty sure he lost one of his claws.

“Holy crap,” I muttered, stepping back to the shadows of the stage. There wasn’t anywhere else for me to go.

Once the doors were shut and sealed, the local guards sprang into action.

Most of them were tree people, too. All male, and all larger than Tiyisi’s would-be rescuer.

They swarmed him and dragged him, shouting and resisting, away from Tiyisi.

Once he was subdued, a few turned my way. I backed up until my back hit the wall. “I didn’t do anything wrong!” I squeaked.

It was no use, they grabbed me anyway.

 ***

Still in my itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny golden bikini, I was marched down a side hallway that led from the back of the stage. My only consolation was that the tree person who had started the fracas was marched along with me.

I found myself glancing up at his face without quite knowing why. Really, he should mean nothing to me. All he had done was stop the auction, which would probably be restarted once everyone calmed down.

Still, I found my eyes flicking again and again to his face.

“What’s your name?” I whispered.

He looked at me, his expression set in a grim line. Tiyisi was nowhere to be found. Was she his wife… or girlfriend?

For some reason, I didn’t think so. Something about the way they were arguing sounded… Familiar, like people who had known each other their entire lives.

“I’m Miranda,” I said when he didn’t answer me.

He glanced at me again, then away.

“Nice to meet you, too,” I muttered, taking the hint to shut up.

Soon, I found myself standing once again in front of Ilai’s office. The guards who’d escorted us backed away a little to hold a private conversation among themselves. They were a little too far away down the hall for me to hear, but I got the impression they were trying to figure out what to do with us while they waited for Ilai to arrive.

Well, the longer it took, the better for me. I didn’t look forward to being under that creep’s gaze.

“Tadraa.”

I glanced up at my fellow captive. “Pardon me?”

He scowled at the door. “My name is Tadraa.”

“Hello.” I blinked. “Well, I would say it was nice to meet you, but considering the circumstances…”

“I feel I must apologize to you.”

I blinked at him again. “Come again?”

If anything, his scowl only deepened. “You must understand, I’ve been on a personal mission for some years now. Saving Tiyisi was within my grasp, and I couldn’t let anything else distract me from my goal.” He glanced at me. “Even you.”

“Even me?” I repeated, hoping that would clarify something. It didn’t. I still had no idea what Tadraa was talking about.

Tadraa didn’t seem to be in the mood to explain, falling once again into sullen silence.

“Okay…” I muttered, turning around to see what the situation was with the guards. There were still twice as many of them as there were us, blocking the only way out of there.

“You know, if you’re really sorry, you could bulrush those guys and give me a chance of escape,” I said, though I wasn’t serious. “Where am I, anyway? Do you know?”

“Omicron,” he said solemnly.

“And Omicron is… What?”

He looked at me like I had a screw loose.

“I’m sorry,” I said sarcastically. “This is my first alien kidnapping. I don’t know the ins and outs yet.”

“Omicron is a space station,” he said, pausing. “A space station is a large stationary construct in —”

“I know what a space station is! I’ve seen Star Trek!”

Now it was his turn to blink at me.

I scowled at him, and for some reason that made the corner of his lip twitch up, until he remembered he was supposed to be brooding again. Then he looked away.

 I rolled my eyes. “I guess that means I can’t get out of here without hopping aboard a spaceship, right?”

“That is correct.”

“Outstanding,” I muttered. But, since we were on a roll, I decided to ask a few more questions of my new friend. “So, what was that between you and Tiyisi, anyway?”

He jerked in surprise and opened his mouth.

And at that moment, the double doors to the office opened and Ilai stepped out.

“Come,” Ilai said. “Right now, you two are my guests, and I know exactly how to treat my guests.”

Tadraa and I exchanged a look, but the guards moved forward, and we had no choice but to walk into the next room.

To my surprise, Ilai had changed the furniture in his office. Or, at least, he had rearranged things. His desk had been cleared of all paperwork and computer systems, and instead, platters of food set there, as well as tall, fluted glasses I assumed were alien cups.

The food was set up buffet style with different platters of single objects — none of which I could recognize, but some visibly appeared to be meat, and some were visibly veggies.

“Come, come, sit, eat,” Ilai said.

Well, when in Rome… My only solace was that Tadraa looked as obviously confused as I was. We both sat, choosing seats right next to one another. Right now, he was my ally.

“Where’s my sister?” Tadraa asked.

Ilai tsked under his breath. “Food first, business second.”

Tadraa growled, grabbed one of the plates and, using something that looked like a ladle, spooned some green glop on. He then took one bite and said, “Where is my sister?”

I, meanwhile, had snuck some of the leaf-like things. It tasted like mint except sweeter, and it was more filling. Putting that aside, I decided to nibble off a piece of what looked like bread, except it was green.

I just wondered if I had eaten some alien dessert. It wasn’t half bad.

Instead of answering Tadraa, Ilai sat at the other end of the desk and beamed at the two of us. This whole thing was playing out like a twisted family meal.

“Tell me, Tadraa, do you want to know how I got this scar on my face?” He pointed to a long indent that went from his forehead, skipped over his right eye, and down his cheek.

“Do you want to know how I got my scars?” I muttered to myself.

Both alien men stopped and stared at me.

“Yes, that is exactly what I said,” Ilai said. “Is your universal translator not working?”

I shook my head minutely. I wasn’t about to explain pop-culture to a couple of aliens. “It’s fine. How did you… um, get your scars?”

It took every ounce of self-control I had not to smile as I said the words. It wasn’t a situation for smiling.

“I am glad you asked. It seems that some people have manners around here.” Ilai threw a very direct gaze at Tadraa, who visibly bristled.

Seriously? It was obvious that Ilai had tried to get a rise out of him, and Tadraa let him. Under the table, I touched Tadraa’s wrist. He flinched and looked down at me.

I rolled my eyes at him.

Just play Ilai’s stupid little game, I tried to tell him with my gaze alone. Let him have his fun, and hopefully he will lower his guard or something, then you can get me the hell off of this space station.

I don’t know how much of that came through, or if any did at all, but Tadraa visibly relaxed.

“It was a card game,” Ilai said, either ignoring or choosing to ignore mine and Tadraa’s reactions to one another. “On this very station.” He waved his hands grandly. “Before I became the master of Omicron, it was nothing but a gambling hall.”

“You won the game but still got the scar?” I seriously didn’t care one way or another, but Ilai did, and as long as he talked, I ate. I took another bite of bread.

“I did.” He grinned at me, and his teeth were stained green. Gross. “My opponent refused to pay, so naturally, I challenged him to a fistfight as payment.”

“Is there a point to this?” Tadraa asked.

Apparently, he wasn’t impressed with Ilai’s attempt at villain monologuing.

“There is, and I believe you will like it,” Ilai said with another green-tinged grin at Tadraa. “I killed the cheapskate with my bare hands, and I took his slave, Tiyisi, as my own.”

At that, Tadraa went stick straight. So tense, he was nearly vibrating in his seat.

He didn’t have much of a poker face. I hoped that he wasn’t a card player himself.

“In fact,” Ilai continued, clearly enjoying the emotional turmoil that he was putting Tadraa through. “Tiyisi is the only slave I have found both useful and interesting enough to keep. Most of them, I either sell or throw out the nearest airlock.” He made a show of examining his own fingernails. “Good help is so hard to find.”

I took another piece of bread and resisted the urge to point out that maybe Ilai would find better help if he actually paid his employees.

Ilai’s gaze swept to me. “I am hoping to find the same usefulness in you. You have the same spark as Tiyisi, the same… unquenchable desire to fight. I expect interesting times ahead of us, my dear.”

I grinned back at the man who would be my master, making sure to show teeth. “Well, I had been top of my class in college.”

Ilai threw back his head and laughed and, as he did, I grabbed a two-pronged utensil that looked like a fork. I didn’t have sleeves, but Tadraa did.

I passed it under the table to him. He took it, neither looking down or indicating that we were doing anything at all.

 “I’ll ask again,” Tadraa said, low. “What is the point of this charade?”

“The point, my fellow Mtoain, is that whatever you have planned for either one of my slaves, Tiyisi or Miranda, it’s too bad. You’re leaving this space station empty-handed.”

“You expect me to believe that you are going to let me leave alive?”

“Well,” Ilai said. “It would’ve been foolish of me to kill one of Landri’s disciples, wouldn’t it?”

Again, Tadraa stiffened. “You seem to know a lot about somebody you just met.”

“Oh, believe me, I pay for all sorts of juicy information. Your little quest to find Tiyisi is well known within this sector.” Ilai made a tsking sound under his breath as if he were disappointed in the younger man. “You are not nearly as sly as you think that you are.”

Tadraa said nothing. I looked back and forth between them. I had no idea who Landri was, but if I had to guess, he was somebody that Ilai didn’t want to fall on the bad side of — maybe the reason why he had kept Tadraa alive instead of having his men shoot him earlier.

“Why are you here?” Ilai asked Tadraa.

“I thought you knew that.”

“I want to hear from your own lips,” Ilai said.

Tadraa paused and his eyes flickered to mine. I don’t think I was seeing things. There was definitely an apology in his gaze. “I am just here for my sister, and I’ll leave when I have her.”

Oh.

The contents of my stomach seemed to curdle within me and drop down to my shoes. I don’t know why I’d thought — I’d assumed — that this guy would do the right thing and help me escape the space station. I wanted my fork back.

“Only your sister. Is that all?” Ilai asked. “Well, I believe that the polite thing to do would be to ask her.”

With that, Ilai pressed a button on his desk. There was a faint buzzing sound and a side door opened.

Tiyisi stepped out. She was calm and put together, but there was slight puffiness underneath her eyes. If she were human, I would have thought that she had been crying earlier.

Tadraa half rose as if to greet her, but Ilai gave him a hard look, and Tadraa reluctantly sat again.

Then Ilai turned to Tiyisi. “Tiyisi, my dear, do you want to leave my employment?”

“No,” Tiyisi said.

And that was that.

I couldn’t take it anymore. “Well, I do!” I snapped. “I don’t know what kind of weird family feud you guys have going on here, but I want no part of it!” I turned to Tadraa. “Wherever you’re going, take me with you. I can work, I can —”

I may just as well not have spoken at all.

“What do you think about that, Tadraa?” Ilai asked, voice dripping with mockery. “Is that a fair trade?”

In answer, Tadraa lunged across the table.

It happened so fast, I barely had time to react. One second, the two tree men were playing some weird game of one upmanship. The next, food was upended everywhere and Tadraa went for Ilai’s throat.

But if I was taken by surprise, Ilai certainly wasn’t. He swung one fist around and clocked Tadraa in midair, sending the younger, slightly smaller tree man flying to the side.

Tadraa hit hard, but quickly rolled as Ilai crashed down in the space where he had just been. Still on his back, Tadraa managed to punch him once, his other hand holding the fork I had given him, aiming for Ilai’s throat.

But Ilai grabbed his wrist in some kind of crazy Kung Fu move and twisted.

Tadraa growled, but his hand released the fork. Ilai punched him hard again and again in the face. I felt the force of the blows through my chest.

In the next second, the door to the office flew open and guards swarmed in. The two aliens wrestled around on the floor, food scattering everywhere. Somehow during the fracas, I’d gotten up and pressed myself against the far wall to get out of the way. Weirdly enough, Tiyisi had not moved an inch.

I stepped to the open door, hoping to make my escape, but one of the guards grabbed me, yanking my hand up and behind my back.

“Ow!” I yelled. “Ow, dammit, I didn’t do anything…”

“Quiet, you,” he growled in the most clichéd way possible. But he was a lot stronger than I was. I couldn’t resist at all as I was forcibly taken out of the office – and my dreams of being rescued once again went up in smoke.

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