The Death of the Trade: Part II

By Montana Wildhack

A continuation of the space-age sex-slave story that began in Issue 10.

Dressed and packed, I drop my belongings with a station porter, who will have them stowed on my ship, then head down to the dining area for a bite to eat. With a long, trying day ahead of me and the strange night I had, I know I ought to eat a solid breakfast, but something in me just wants off this station now. I grab a few meal replacement bars instead; they’ll tide me over until I hit hyperspace, and I’ve got enough prepackaged transit food on board to last Jzaria and me through a trip twice as long as the one we’ll have to make back to Rizenom I.

Striding out of the room, I almost bump into the buyer I chatted with the previous evening before the auction. “Headed out so early?” she asks.

“Yeah, thought I’d beat the rush.”

“You might already be too late for that. I just walked past the holding areas and auctioneer offices, and it’s a madhouse down there. There’s some kind of dispute going on with one of the scouts, and there’s a line out the door.”

“Shit, what next?” I say, throwing up my hands. I’m trying not to let it show, but this news has started an irrational knot of anxiety blooming in my belly. I want out of here now.

I make my way down to the holding area, where I’ll finish up the paperwork on Jzaria and finalize the sale. I can hear the commotion as soon as the hatch door opens; someone is yelling much more loudly than is considered polite in the cramped rooms of a space station. I pass the small, locked quarters used to house the slaves. As I round the corner into the auctioneer area, I run into a press of people crowded around the office of the handler I’m headed to see, a veteran dealer by the name of Pandergin. I can’t see who’s doing the yelling, but I can hear every word.

“Listen you crook, I am not accepting damaged merchandise. I don’t care about the contracts! Every imperial law prohibits trafficking in diseased slaves.”

The second voice, which I recognize as Pandergin’s because of his thick outer-rim accent, is conciliatory, but also stubborn. “Sir, I tell you truly, this merchandise not damaged. Always there are slave rumors, and always they are nothing. Lies told by merchandise—this does not void a sale! The girl is tested, she is clean, certified, and I have your signed contract. Is already finalized in the eyes of the empire. To void it now means paperwork, so much paperwork, you don’t—” The first speaker breaks in again with a long volley of foul language, peppered with suggestions about just where the auctioneer can put his imperial paperwork.

I don’t have time for this; that irrational knot of fear is rising up into my throat with alarming speed, and I want nothing more than to get on my ship and get the hell out of here.

Station security arrives in a rush of broad shoulders, blue uniforms, and blank stares. I manage to pull aside one of the muscle heads and flash him my credentials. Working for the empire does have its perks: as the other officers begin to usher the curious mob away from the doorway, I’m escorted through the crowd and into the auctioneer’s office. I notice the irate buyer being forcefully led away just as the door closes behind me.

I sit down, and the auctioneer offers me a drink. I accept, take a long swallow, and feel myself relax a bit. “Shit, Pandergin, what was that all about?”

“Some fool who doesn’t know his asshole from a hole in the ground,” he replies. “Is nothing, nothing, just a fool making noise. He cannot void the contract; the girl is clean. What kind of buyer believes a slave rumor? I spit on his mother—pah! I wish all of my clientele could be people like you, people who know the trade.”

This is business as usual. Sellers always try to butter up scouts before a sale. That’s because slave prices are always negotiated; what’s more, it’s an accepted axiom among the sellers that, since scouts don’t pay with their own money, they’re more willing to come down on the price than someone feeling the pinch in his own wallet. I don’t think it’s true, but I also don’t mind the free drinks and flattery it ensures me every time I complete a sale.

Slightly more relaxed now that I’m back in familiar territory, I decide to indulge my curiosity. “A slave rumor?” I ask. “Do tell—what’s the latest word from the holding areas?”

“Oh, you know, the same old crazy shit. Is always the same. Always they are looking for something to save them, even after the chip is put in—am I right? Of course right. This time it’s some disease, a virus they say. I can’t even remember the name; it makes you go crazy or something, I don’t know. Who listens to such foolishness? Besides, the girl is tested, she is clean.”

“My new acquisition mentioned something like that last night,” I say, trying to sound more casual than I feel.

“With you, Zap, I am surprised she does any talking at all, if you know what I mean,” says Pandergin with a leer. We’re back to the flattery. With that nervous feeling welling up in my stomach again, I decide to follow his lead and finish the transaction. We negotiate for about 15 minutes before coming to an agreement satisfactory to both of us. Then we shake hands and sign the papers, and I head out to the station’s docking office to get clearance for departure while Pandergin leaves to prepare Jzaria. The two of them will meet me at the boarding area, then all I’ll have to do is implant Jzaria’s chip and we’ll be ready to begin our trip.

The docking office procedures are surprisingly easy for once. Perhaps the wheels have been greased for me; no one here would want me to report this morning’s incident to my superiors at the imperial harems. True or not, rumors about diseased merchandise won’t help anybody’s business.

Pandergin, one of his handlers, and Jzaria are waiting for me when I reach the boarding area. Seeing my familiar ship, the Siam, big enough to carry me and up to five slaves in style and comfort, seems to relax me somewhat. I am a valued and respected scout for the imperial trade and soon I’ll be onboard my ship and ready to wipe the dust of this shithole from my shoes.

I try to gauge Jzaria’s mood; she seems calm enough, but the handler has a pretty good grip on her upper arm. “Everything ready here?” I ask briskly as I stride toward them.

“Yes, my friend, no problems,” replies Pandergin. “The girl, she is a little nervous; but if she gives you any trouble, you put her in stasis, eh?” I try to catch the girl’s reaction to this, but her face is turned away from me.

“Very well then,” I reply, handing him the imperial bank access document issued to me for this trip; the chip embedded in it will register the transaction with the empire’s accountants and make sure the amount is authorized, and Pandergin’s business will be credited in a matter of hours. He hands it back, and the deal is done. Jzaria is now the property of one of the royal lordlings; after this trip, she’ll probably never see anything but the gardens of Rizenom I for the rest of her life.

Usually I would implant a new slave’s chip right here in the boarding area, but today I just want to get her onboard and get the hell out of here. I can implant her while we maneuver our way out of the station’s vast docking facilities—this takes some time because ship departures are automated by the station to make sure our procedures meet their protocols. (Did I mention it is a bureaucratic nightmare?) I take her arm and walk toward the ship. She follows without a struggle, eyes on the ground.

After accessing the boarding area’s command panel and inputting the brief series of commands that syncs the ship’s departure sequence with the station’s traffic control center, I lead Jzaria to the small room that will be her quarters while we’re in transit. I take my implanting device and chip stocks out of their carrying case and cut the plastic seal around one of the fingernail-sized chips. I then load it into the machine and begin to code it with Jzaria’s information from the paperwork Pandergin gave me.

“Sleep well last night?” Jzaria’s quiet voice jars me out of my thoughts; her eyes meet mine with no hesitation. That strange feeling of dread, which dissipated when I boarded my familiar ship, returns with renewed vigor when I hear her words. Remembering my dream, I feel myself blushing slightly, and look back down at the device in my hand. I try to control my voice when I reply, not lifting my eyes to hers.

“Fine, thank you. You?”

“Oh, my dreams were nothing like yours. Infecting you was a very important task; since I succeeded, I’ve been accepted into the circle of the initiated. I don’t dream anymore; now I share in the ecstasies.”

I can’t help but look up when I say, “I’m asking you one last time to stop talking like a nutcase. I thought I made myself perfectly clear that I don’t want to hear another word on that subject. Do you know what coming out of stasis can be like after a long space flight? Some people vomit for three days. Is that any way to greet your new master?”

She pales when I mention her owner, but continues on: “You can’t threaten me, Zap. That’s nothing compared to what’s coming to you and your kind. I’m not afraid of you.”

“You ought to be!” I say, grabbing her forearm and jerking her up against me. My control is gone; I just want to get her chip in and get her in the stasis chamber so I can have a drink, code the ship for the route to our first return port, and get a little sleep. “Your chip is ready,” I growl. “Are we going to do this the easy way, or do I have to hold you down?”

She surprises me by bending forward slightly; exposing the delicate nape of her neck, right where her chip will go in. “By all means, Zap. I won’t try to stop you. After all, you’re just doing what you have to do. You don’t have any choice, right?”

Her voice holds no bitterness, but her words mirror the angry thoughts in my own head, and a flash of guilt surges through me. I push it down, but let go of her arm. There are angry red marks where my fingers were.

“That will leave a bruise,” she says. “One more thing for my new master to be angry about.”

Trying to regain my control, I carefully press the implantation device’s nozzle against her neck. “This will sting a little,” I say. She doesn’t reply.

My finger begins to pull the device’s trigger when suddenly a wave of nausea and pain rushes through my body. All the unease and fear from earlier in the day has been amplified into pain and terror so intense and debilitating that I drop the device and double over, clutching my stomach. My ears are ringing; a trickle of blood oozes out of my nose. I look up at Jzaria; just as I feel the vomit rising in my throat, her face becomes deathly pale and the fiery bird from my dream appears in her eyes, staring out at me.

“Hand me…the…device,” I manage to spit out.

“I can’t, Zap. It’s broken.” I look at the floor and see that she is right. Pieces of the machine are scattered about the room; the damage is beyond what I can repair. Panic rising within me, I remember that my backup is in for repairs. I could have performed the procedure before we boarded; now I won’t be able to implant Jzaria’s chip until we reach the next way station on our route. I will be punished for this; it is against regulations.

Rising, I take Jzaria by the arm and drag her out of the room toward the stasis chambers, stopping to vomit several times along the way. Although she can easily fight back or break free of my grasp, she does nothing, following me passively. We reach the stasis area; as I shut her into one of the chambers, the nausea and pain begin to leave me, and I am able to straighten up enough to look her in the eyes.

“Zap,” she says, “try to not be afraid. Don’t fight it. When it gets too bad, you can wake me up. I can help you. I’m the only one who can help you now.”

“Shut the hell up, you filthy whore. You aren’t going to wake up until we get to the end of this godforsaken trip; if it was up to me, you’d never wake up at all! I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I know it isn’t any fairy tale virus or vengeance from the gods. You think any gods exist in a world like this? No, Jzaria: I’m going to be just fine, and you’re going back to Rizenom I to be a sex slave until you’re used up and dried out and…and…” I fight back tears, trying to catch my breath. I haven’t been this angry since I realized my parents were going to sell me to the empire.

“Humankind has forgotten the gods, Zap, but the gods have not forgotten us. Just remember what I said. I can help you.” I slam the door shut while the words are still coming out of her mouth, then punch in the stasis code sequence and activate the unit. A blue mist fills the pod and Jzaria’s face disappears from view. I fall to the floor, panting, crying, vomit still clinging to my face, trying desperately to think of some excuse to give my superiors. I will not escape punishment. How could I let this happen? It’s…madness.

The word lingers in my brain before I haul myself to my feet and head off to the cockpit, stopping briefly in the bathroom of my quarters to clean up. The departure sequence is almost over; very soon we will begin our journey, hurtling through the stars to meet Jzaria’s destiny, and my own.

*     *     *

Back in my cabin, I take a long, hot shower and try not to think. The entry into hyperspace went smoothly, but the exhilaration it usually gives me was not there. Normally there is a momentary, elusive feeling of freedom as the light begins to bend around me and the ship slides into incomprehensibly rapid motion that, technology permitting, my body never even feels. But now I feel chained, like the slave that I truly am, and for the first time in many years I mourn my lost freedom. No matter how fast I go, no matter how far I travel, my body, my very self, are not my own.

Shaking off these thoughts, I convince myself that a stiff drink and some sleep are all I need to set things right. I add a sleeping pill to the mix just to be safe and drift off, hoping I will not dream.

I awake peacefully after almost 18 hours of well-deserved rest. I feel as if a mist has been cleared from my mind; the despair and fear of the day before have disappeared. My paranoid, incoherent thoughts before I put Jzaria in stasis seem ridiculous to me now. I obviously had some flash virus; they’re common at space stations, where so many people gather from all over the galaxy, bringing their illnesses with them. It’s happened before—I don’t know why it sent me into such a panic this time. Maybe I should request a little R&R when I get back to Rizenom I—I’m no good to the empire like this.

Everything seems better to me now that I’ve had some sleep. I even know how I’ll escape punishment for failing to implant the chip. I witnessed more than a few code violations while on the station, minor things like handlers “exaggerating” a slave’s prior training or failing to mention that a slave’s desirable physical characteristic—say, a tail, unusual skin coloring, or even (though it’s somewhat passé) large breasts—was “enhanced” surgically. These violations are ubiquitous, and normally I would never report them, but this time they are going to buy my way out of a sticky situation. I’ll report them to my supervisors, they’ll get bonuses and commendations for “weeding out corruption” in the empire’s precious trade, and I’ll be off the hook. I’ll just have to hope no one back at the station connects them to me.

I feel quite silly now for letting my feelings get out of hand with the new slave girl yesterday. I’m glad no one else will ever know about the incident; it was almost as bad as that scene Pandergin’s client made back at the station. I can’t believe I let an ignorant slave rumor get to me.

I enjoy a leisurely shower and breakfast before heading up to the ship’s command center to perform a system check. I would, of course, be automatically notified if anything went wrong, but it’s a good policy (as well as the empire’s standard operating procedure) to do a complete systems check three times a “day” (defined, of course, by imperial policy as to be equal in length to one Rizenomian day, or about 28 1/2 hours). These checks take about an “hour” (again, defined by the Rizenomian standard), but the rest of the time during transit is mine to spend as I please.

I rev up my status consoles and begin the long sequence of tests and checks that assure me that no part of the ship will fail and I won’t be sucked out into the vacuum of space screaming like a little girl. Internal communications: fine. External communications (meaning my constant contact with the empire): fine. Telemetry: fine. Propulsion: fine. Occupied stasis systems: fine. Jzaria is tucked away safely in her pod; the trip will just be one long nap for her.

Internal atmospheric systems: fine… but I have an odd reading in a rarely used storage area near the left hull. All that’s in there at the moment are some emergency supplies. It’s probably nothing; it could even just be some particulate matter, like dust in the air, fouling up the sensory inputs. But I have to go check it out; otherwise, the computers will just keep reminding me about it every five minutes. In fact, I’m a little surprised that I haven’t already received a message about it; once I’ve taken a look at this, I should probably run a diagnostic check on the automatic warning com-links as well.

I finish my other checks before making my way out to the storage room; this is no emergency, so I take my time. The room’s hatch sticks a bit while sliding open, and I have to force it the last half foot or so, although it closes normally behind me. Entering the room, I realize that the motion detector lights aren’t powering up. That’s odd, because I never got a warning that they needed service—and I’ve programmed that as standard operating procedure just so I won’t run into situations like this. Something is seriously on the fritz in here. I decide to fetch a flashlight and my basic toolkit and see if I can’t repair whatever the problem is myself; that’ll be easier than making an unscheduled stop for maintenance on such a minor issue.

I return with the flashlight and tools only to find that the hatch is now seriously jammed. It’s only about an inch open, and I can’t force it to move at all, in either direction. I open up the outside control panel, which also seems to be jammed—I have to use a screwdriver to pop the latch. Once I do get it open, it spits sparks at me! This shit is nuts.

Eventually I give up and fetch a crowbar to pry the door open; it’ll be somewhat expensive to fix, but there’s obviously some problem in there that needs to be addressed immediately. I’ll have to have my automatic warning system overhauled as well, since all of these problems should have been brought to my attention by the ship much earlier.

I finally get the hatch open and step gingerly into the storage room. My nose is assaulted by a rank smell, and I hear a strange, slight scratching noise. It’s a little unnerving as I train my flashlight about the floor and see nothing. But I feel a sense of relief, because I think I already know what the problem is: rats.

Yes, even way out in the vast reaches of space, vermin still find ways to plague mankind. Although it isn’t usually a problem in a station as highly rated as the one I’ve just left, rats, mice, and cockroaches are quite common throughout the empire, and can cause a great deal of damage aboard any ship. It’s unusual that they’d infest a ship so quickly—I was only on the station for three days—but having once worked in a kitchen, I know that one should never underestimate these kinds of pests and their ability to make a mess.

Taking a closer look around, I see more evidence of the furry little bastards: droppings on the floor, holes gnawed in the supply crates, and empty food containers in a few places. There is also a strange-looking stain running down the wall; tracing it up to the ceiling, I find a busted air vent, which is probably how they’re moving about the ship. A quick sniff tells me the stain is probably rat urine—just fabulous. Like it or not, I’m going to have to go into that air vent and see how extensive the damage is.

First I go back down to the cockpit to shut down the malfunction warning system in the storage room (so it won’t kindly inform me of the problems every five minutes until I’m mad as a hatter). Then I initiate a ship-wide vermin eradication protocol—luckily, although the pests of the dark ages are still with us, it’s much easier to get rid of them nowadays. With practically every part of the ship linked up to some kind of watchdog system, it’s easy to target and eliminate the nasty little beasts with a contained burst of nerve gas that dissipates harmlessly within a few minutes. Of course, I’ve still got to collect the bodies myself. But at least by the time I get up to the ventilation system access port, they’ll no longer be any issue beyond cleanup.

I download the ventilation grid map onto a handheld interface, then head to the gear room for some coveralls; there’s no way I’m going into a tiny dark tube full of dead rats without something between my skin and the outside world. Finally I make my way up to the ventilation system access and climb in.

Following my map, I make my way toward the space above the infested storage room. Strangely, I don’t come upon any rats along the way. Lovely—I’ll have to check the extermination system’s records to get the rats’ locales and come back for another round of crawling through a dusty air vent to retrieve their little corpses.

As I get closer to the problem area, I hear a faint, distinct tapping sound. I mentally cross my fingers­—I know all the rats are supposed to be dead, but everything’s been going wrong on this trip and I do not particularly want to run into one of the little fuckers in this cramped space. Up ahead I can see the broken vent; as I crawl forward, my hand brushes against something wet, soft, and slimy, and I recoil in disgust. Have I just touched a dead, poisoned rat? Could this entire scouting trip possibly get any worse?

Training my flashlight down at my hand, I find myself relieved, but then puzzled. What I’m touching is not a dead rat; it’s a beautiful, elaborate, bright orange fungus growing on the bottom of the air tube. Thin filaments, now mostly crushed under my hand, rise up delicately from the main mass; they seem to be slowly moving in the shaft’s slight air current. Taking a quick look around, I see that there are a few more of these ahead of me, and a great cluster of them growing near the broken air vent.

I’m still relieved that what I touched wasn’t a dead rat, but I’m getting more confused by the minute. The air in space-traveling vehicles, especially those with hyperspace capabilities, is notoriously dry; in fact, one of the ship’s most expensive and difficult to maintain systems is the atmospheric controls, mainly because they have to work so hard to keep the air humid enough for humanoid comfort. How could these things possibly be growing here without any moisture?

Reaching the broken air vent, I find the answer to one question, and open up many more. I discover that the tapping I heard earlier wasn’t actually tapping, but dripping. Above me there’s a miniscule crack in the ceiling of the tube, and what I hope is just water is dripping steadily out of it, plunking into the tube and then, obviously, running down the wall below—explaining the stain on the wall.

Now I know I’m out of my depth. This tube is the last accessible place on the ship before you hit the various layers of the hull. Beyond this are only the slim, airtight spaces filled with the kind of heavy-duty insulation a space vehicle requires, and beyond that the hull tectonics and infrastructure. Those can only be accessed when the ship’s in for service, and even then, it’s a big job; they’re sealed so securely that not even microscopic particles should be able to move from them into the occupied areas of the ship. And yet here there’s not only a breach in the seal, but water! Water, where it’s impossible for water to be.

I have never even heard of anything like this; this is way beyond anything I can fix. I decide I’d better leave it alone and land at the next approved way station for repairs. I’ll have to notify my superiors and get approval to dock ahead of schedule.

The air shaft is so narrow that I don’t think I’ll be able to turn around and go back the way I came. I consult my handheld interface to locate the nearest exit ahead of me and try to crawl toward it as fast as I can—I’ve still got plenty of other work to do, and I don’t particularly enjoy hanging out in this fungus-filled tube. But when I reach the spot where the exit should be, there’s no hatch there. I must have misread the map. I try to check it again, but now the damn thing is on the fritz—all I’m getting is garbled data and meaningless text, and its making noises like a cat in a blender. Shit! I crawl onward a little bit, and breathe a sigh of relief when I see the faint light of an exit a long way down the tube.

Then my flashlight dies. I’m crawling on my hands and knees through a pitch-black tunnel that may or may not contain dead rats and is also sporting some seriously weird fungal growth. All right, stay calm; just keep crawling toward the light. Finally I’m out, and just in the knick of time, too, as I was quickly getting spooked by the situation.

Returning to the cockpit, I have the computer reroute the ventilation system, then erect a force field around the problem room and the air shaft itself. Whatever the cause of this is, it shouldn’t be difficult to contain it in that isolated area until I can get it looked at.

Next I initiate a search for the dead rats—that stain might not have been rat piss, but the droppings on the floor certainly were real. Accessing the eradication protocol, I type in the command to locate the corpses. Nothing. No results. The computer claims that there are no dead rats in the ventilation system, that it hasn’t even run the eradication sequence since my arrival at the station.

Fuck! I don’t know what the hell is wrong with my computers, but I’ve been running around here for hours trying to fix things without accomplishing a goddamn thing. I need a drink.

I head back to my quarters and the well-stocked supply of liquor I keep there. Whatever crazy thing is wrong with these machines can wait. I open the hatch, but my room light doesn’t come on. Frustration boiling over, I smash a fist into the wall console; the lights flash on, and then I see them: the rats.

The rats are all over my bed, their dead bodies piled in heaps so high I can’t even see the sheets underneath. Their mouths are open, some of them with foam still dripping slowly off their tongues. Their eyes are open too, staring, staring at me. A few are still twitching erratically. There is a smell of smoke, and of filth, in the room. I suppress an urge to vomit.

Suddenly a warning light and alarm begin to go off. I’ve got no time to process the situation here; the computer’s telling me that the problem in the storage room has reached emergency proportions. What in hell is going on here? I’ve never heard of so many malfunctions happening all at once. I turn and leave the room; alarm warnings are sounding endlessly as I board the lift, and red lights are flashing, flashing, making me dizzy. I want to close my eyes. I want to lie down. I want to get off this ship, even if it means dying in the void of space. I want to die if I can’t escape these lights and alarms and the rats, fuck! My thoughts have gone wild; I try to stay calm as I make my way back toward the storage room, try not to think of what I’ve just seen in my bedroom, of what in hell it could possible mean. But the feel of vomit rising in my throat stays with me.

The lift stops but the door only opens about a foot. I cut my hands pushing it back enough to squeeze through. As I walk down the hallway, I wipe my palms against my pants, leaving slick blood stains.

When I see what has happened in the storage area, it’s all I can do to keep myself from falling to the floor and weeping. Inside the force field I have erected, the room and the hallways nearby have been flooded with nearly five feet of water. Where can it be coming from? How is it possible? There isn’t this much water stored anywhere in the whole fucking ship! Anchored on several of the walls are nightmarish, three-foot-high versions of the fungi I found in the air shaft. I can see now that they are moving on their own, occasionally grabbing one of the dead rats that are floating on the water’s surface and putting them into a dark hole that I can only assume is some sort of mouth. I sink to my knees and retch dryly, my forehead pressed against the force field. A stiff, bloated rat gradually sinks to the floor in front of my face, belly up. This isn’t happening.

Suddenly there is a terrifying rush of sound and air around me. As I rise unsteadily to my feet, I watch in horror as something tears through the ship’s hull into the storage room. A vast breach opens up, and the water and other horrors floating there are sucked out into space. The force field holds momentarily, but then shorts out with a buzz as the air around me is sucked violently outward. I cling desperately to a railing, but I know I won’t be able to hold on for long.

Now I can see what has destroyed my ship. The bird, the great, fiery bird from my dream, is hovering outside the hull breach, the lift clutched in her great talon like a crushed can. She is screaming, the sound still clear above the rushing air around me. She speaks. “Do you see now, Zap? Do you see? Let go.”

She looks into my eyes. I can’t bear it. I turn away, I let go, I feel my fingers slip. I am gone.

*     *     *

I come to, lying on the floor in the command center. There is no blood on my pants. There are no cuts on my palms. A quick scan of the instruments shows that nothing, not a single fucking connection on the ship, has any problems whatsoever. No rats anywhere, either. All clear, it tells me. All systems normal. My god, was it all a dream? But I still have bile in my throat.

Unsteadily, I rise to my feet. My knees are shaking and I’m not certain I can walk the short distance to the stasis room. But I will make it—I’ll make it even if I have to crawl there on my belly.

Clutching at the walls for support, I reach Jzaria’s unit. Once there, I initiate the sequence that will bring her back to consciousness. Then I sink to my knees, spent, empty, hopeless.

When her pod opens, Jzaria steps out, then falls to the floor beside me, retching and gasping for breath. When she can finally look up, our eyes meet.

“What have you done to me?”

Jzaria sits up and pulls my head into her lap, gently stroking my hair. “Shh, Zap, don’t be afraid. I’ll help you if you’ll let me. You’re halfway there. Now you can follow me. Now you are one of us. The time is here…” Her voice drifts off into a toneless, nonsense croon; I don’t know which one of us is farther away from sanity. I rest my head on her lap and weep.


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Copyright© 2003 by Montana Wildhack.

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