“There is a very old saying in human culture,” Lakshou said. “One step forward and two steps back.”
Aparoe tilted their head. “I haven’t heard that one.” They finished pulling out the supplements from their bag and putting the vials of powder on the small table in my quarters. “It is apt, though. Mentally and physically.”
I’d been avoiding leaving my room for more than my shifts, and nothing tasted right. It was all too sweet, too spicy, too… textured. I scurried away from people. Priella had gone back to more of her old self, not too chatty, so that was okay. Work was a sanctuary because her and Luca seemed to understand my need to quiet and found me out of the way projects and places to keep me busy. Everyone in the department smiled and went out of their way to make me feel welcome.
But I couldn’t help but wonder if they should. Doubts still bugged me, and even Lakshou’s meditation couldn’t banish my worries.
“Use the supplements,” Aparoe ordered me. They raised one thin eyebrow. “Or I’ll have to take you in to medical to do a more complete work up. I’d rather avoid that.”
“All right.” I wrapped my arms around my knees and scooted up closer to the head of the bed. They’d ambushed me on my rest day, early enough I wasn’t even up for the day.
Aparoe had already done a quick scan, so they left. Lakshou smacked his hands down on the bottom of the bed. “All right, up. There’s something you’re going to want to see.”
“We’re stopping at an uninhabited resource planet in this sector. The captain approved all the species we rescued having some time off the ship if they can handle the atmosphere. I’m going along in case anyone needs help acclimating to outside, so you won’t be alone.”
“Outside?” My heart started to pound, and my mouth was dry. I swallowed repeatedly. I desperately wanted to go, but it had been so long since I was outside of the sterile environment of space. Could I step outside the ship and onto solid earth again?
“You were held for a very long time. It’s okay to be scared.” Lakshou stood at the end of the bed, waiting patiently. “You don’t have to get off the shuttle if it’s too much for you, but even some time in a natural atmosphere would be good for you.”
I hesitated. “What’s it like?”
“Warm, humid. Lots of water, lots of raw nature. As a waypoint in the travel lanes, it’s protected from any race wanting to colonize or terraform it. We’ll exchange our fluid reservoirs and replace our stores. The planet’s vegetation is mineral-rich. It’s perfect for the raw building blocks the dispensers need. There are very few predators on the planet, and most of the wildlife are large and slow-moving, no threat to us or the shuttles.”
“How long will we be there.”
“Half a shift, maybe. Captain Querry never likes to stay long when we’ve been on a rescue mission. He takes his duty seriously.”
I could tell that about Captain. Who he was—the leader of the ship—was who he was at his core. It was the focus of his being. I’d trusted him almost from the first second he came into my cell. He had a firm strength but he didn’t scare me. His touch was too gentle for that. I fought down a blush, trying not to remember the dreams I’d had about him.
Touch was something I’d pushed away for so long, but there were things I remembered from my youth—pleasures found in silence and secret at night in my narrow pallet—that were coming back to me. The slide of my clothing could awaken the member between my legs.
It embarrassed me. I hadn’t gotten up the courage to do anything about it, the conditioning too strong to break. In my dreams though….
“If you want to come, you need to get dressed. Wear the uniform you have on the ship. You will need the grip shoes with the firm bottom to protect your feet, not the soft soles.”
Lakshou left so I could get ready after I agreed to meet him in the shuttle bay. Everyone was so busy with the landing that there was no one to escort me. Apparently they weren’t worried about that. The entire ship would enter atmosphere, but the shuttles would travel away from the ship to gather more elusive materials. My steps were muffled in the corridor, but louder than I was used to, so I slowed down so I wasn’t making so much noise.
“If you can’t do it….”
“I never said that.” The hissed reply was vicious, angry, desperate even.
“Two can keep a secret if one of them’s dead. Just remember that, if you get the urge to speak out of turn.”
I stiffened. That didn’t sound good. Whoever was fighting was between me and the shuttle bay. I couldn’t go back. I chewed on my lip, then took a few hard steps.
Someone walked away quickly, their footsteps rumbling like a run. I turned the corner, looking straight ahead.
I jumped, like I hadn’t noticed the man standing against the wall and nodded.
It was the human, the one who’d been so nasty to Lakshou that first day while we ate. He opened his mouth, but I looked away and kept walking. Maybe he’d think I was ignoring him. Or just rude. I wish I could have seen who he was talking to though. It sounded like something bad.