Chapter Five – Prisoners of a Rebellion in the Name of Freedom
Out in the bright lights of the hallway, Citlally felt her weakness growing. Her head rolled limply from side to side as another pair of men approached her. She could barely see what was happening in front of her, but from what she could tell, there was a line of female aliens being escorted along the hall. When they came to a certain point, black-uniformed men – well, she assumed that they were men based solely on their strength – grabbed the female’s arms, and the one who had been clutching her unhooked his arms, pulled hers behind her back, and locked a pair of handcuffs around her wrists. For some species, it took a special pair of handcuffs to secure her, but all of them were cuffed nonetheless.
Citlally let out a soft moan when they twisted he arms back, rough as these aliens were, but she did not have the strength to resist them. She could hear them talking, but could hardly understand what they were saying; was her translator malfunctioning, too? They cuffed her ankles as well, and the short length of chain between them left her hardly able to walk. They laughed at the way she shuffled and stumbled, the fluid she’d been injected with leaving her too groggy to get used to the chains, and pushed her down the hall.
Further along, she began to hear a whooshing sound. There was a terrible ruckus, and she found herself thinking that it was impossible for a space station to be windy. Men rushed down the line with bulky masks, placing one on each of the women and re-directing the line down another hall. Citlally turned to watch as a pair of wide-paneled doors closed off the old hallway and the whooshing sound stopped. The man trying to place a mask over her face was admonishing her for turning away from him.
“If you want to be able to breathe,” his voice came broken with static and hissing, and she was not entirely sure that she heard him correctly, “you will wear this.”
She looked up at him, her teary-eyed face reflected in the black of his helmet. Another soldier saw the way she was trembling, and walked up to them.
“They don’t care if you suffocate out here,” he said as he pulled off his helmet and looked into her eyes.
He did not look reptilian, not at all like the blue-uniformed alien who had been leading them, and she imagined that he might even be half human. He was mammalian at least, with a sturdy body and broad chest. He had shaggy brown hair and pale eyes that reminded her of hazelnuts, and there was something different about him, something very much unlike the rest of the black-uniformed aliens. Besides that, she actually understood him without the translator.
“If you have any hope of surviving this ordeal and getting back home,” he added in a hushed tone, leaning in a little closer, “you will do what they say.”
He took the mask from the alien and placed it over Citlally’s nose and mouth while she stood there in a daze, then told the alien, “She will not give you any more trouble, sir. The k’zshyrk she received is starting to take full effect.”
The helmeted soldier grumbled something and pushed her onward. The shaggy-haired soldier grabbed her arm and guided her along, speaking to her in a low voice. He spoke sharply, pretending to be giving her orders and warnings.
“This is going to be a terrible trial,” he told her. “You couldn’t have been any more unlucky than this.”
Citlally whimpered as they turned a corner, following the line as it moved along. She wanted to cry again, but she felt empty, like she had no tears left to shed.
“The K’zzyrch of Vaharrish have been tying to break free of the Dark Apostates for as long as I can remember,” the man whispered to her. “Those reptilian life-forms will do anything for their freedom, even if it means taking away yours. All you can do now is try to survive.”
Too weak to ask where they were going, Citlally kept trudging along. When they came to the end of the hall, she found that they were headed to one of the transport connection hubs. Shuttles and small ships had linked with the station, and the women were being sorted onto various transports. A soldier in dark green, taller and bulkier than many of the others, was pointing out where the black-uniformed men were to take the females. When the shaggy-haired man looked up at the soldier in green, he saluted him, Citlally still in his grip.
“Sir! I suggest that this one be taken to the Sardonian home-world. Look at how long her hair is!” He turned her body around for the other soldier to see. “She would be very valuable there.”
The green soldier said nothing, but grunted and pointed towards one of the doorways. The shaggy-haired soldier acknowledged him and led Citlally over to that shuttle. They stepped aboard and he led her to an empty seat, where she sank down as though ready to pass out. With the speed of a man who’d done so hundreds of times before, he unlocked the cuffs behind her back, pulled her arms forward, and locked them back up. Then he pulled the security bar down to lock her into place and let out a sigh as he watched the way she sat there limply, catatonic and silent.
“It looks like I’ll have to take this shuttle, too,” he grumbled. “Well, it’s almost full; we should be leaving soon.”
With that, he stood up straight, put his helmet on, and began to pace the aisles as though on patrol. That part of the shuttle was full of rows of seats, as though it had been designed for transporting lots of people. They were all female, Citlally noticed, and they hardly said a word to one another. Every single one of them had long hair, but she couldn’t understand why that would have been so significant. Instead of thinking about it, she laid her head back.
With her head tilted to the right, she was about to close her eyes and give in to the need for sleep when she noticed who was next to her. The woman had red hair, long and straight. She also had long ears.
“You’re here too…” Citlally breathed, her words coming out slurred.
The elvan woman looked over at her, and then her expression melted into one of sympathy. “Oh no…” She looked around, making sure the soldiers weren’t looking her way. “They separated you two. I’m so sorry, human. I had no idea that the K’zzyrch were ready to do something like this.”
Citlally’s mind was too awash with dizziness for her to reply.
“You were injected with k’zshyrk, weren’t you?” the elf asked, her voice full of pity. “Just go to sleep, and know that whatever you dream about isn’t real, that it has absolutely no meaning. When you wake up, you will feel better.”
Citlally nodded, and the nodding soon lulled her into closing her eyes. The hatch leading to the station closed, and the shuttle began rumbling. Its rockets burst into full strength, and they shot off across the darkness of the endless æther. There were no windows in the shuttle; even if she’d been awake, there was no way for he to see the explosions that cracked the third ring of Space Station Regulus II in half, letting the sections and debris float away in all directions.
* ** *** ** *
In her dream, Citlally wore a long dress of purple silk that accentuated her tall, lean form, curves and all. Her hair was twice as long and flowed out around her like the tributaries of so many rivers. She felt taller, too. She could feel something twisting and turning in her belly, and when her dream self looked down, she saw that it was round and full. Something deep inside of her told her that she was carrying a dragon in her belly, that its still-developing body was linked to hers in the same way that a human baby was linked to its mother.
She wanted to feel horrified, but her dream self sat there proudly, in a vast and wide room not unlike the throne room of a distant medieval world. Except that this one was darker, the columns reaching up into heights too shadowy to see the limits of. She sat on a stone throne that had been positioned on the middle of a raised dais, which itself sat in the middle of the vast room.
The only decoration was a long carpet of deep violet that started at the foot of her throne and reached all the way to the one door leading into the room. She knew that she was queen by the weight of the crown on her head; a crown built from a circle of dragons’ claws set in some kind of metal that she could not identify.
She was not as alone as she’d first thought she was. The floor around her was covered by dozens of small dragons, the biggest one no larger than a wolf. All of them were curled up and asleep. In the next moment, she saw someone walking up to her, dressed in a uniform of solid white. He knelt before her and pull off his helmet, revealing a lizard-like face just like the one in the blue uniform… though it was not the same man.
“My queen,” he was all that he said.
Her dream self rose from the throne and stepped slowly down the steps to him. As she passed by, she laid a hand on his head, and her subconscious recoiled at the notion that the dream version had meant it to be a gesture of affection.
In another scene, which came to her after a flash of white light, she was on a bed, her belly roiling and tightening. She could feel the dragon’s tail squirming inside of her, her body opening up as the white-dressed reptile stood over her, watching. The dragon squirmed of out her, slipping out from between her legs of its own accord and crawling up her dress, never minding how it smeared blood as it went, and began to suckle on her breast. Though the real Citlally would have screamed in horror, in her dream she was smiling.
The worst part came after another flash of light. The reptilian alien was in the bed with her, the both of them naked, the rest of the room empty, the only light coming from two candles, one on each of the night stands that stood on either side of the bed. He had white scales, just like his uniform, and ridges down his back just like the dragons of old mythology. As he moved to kneel over her, his clawed hands caressing the rich brown skin of her Aztec body, she could see a tail trailing off behind him. How had his uniform hidden such a tail?
She was trying to see whether he had wings, whether he really was some alien version of a dragon, but her dream self was too busy moaning in pleasure at the feel of his claws. In disgust, she watched her dream self give in to him, let him slide into her, merge with her. The real Citlally never would have let an alien do that to her, let him ride her body so deeply, so thoroughly – not while she was so in love with Endan.
As she fought back against the dream, she could feel his pleasure growing, his movements becoming more urgent. The girl in her dream was enjoying every second of it, begging for more. Even while the real Citlally was screaming inside, she knew that he was injecting her with his seed, filling her belly with the beginnings of millions more dragons. A new quickening stirred within her as a one of them found her egg, and she realized that all of those dragons surrounding her and her throne were also her children.
* ** *** ** *
When Citlally opened her eyes again, the shuttle was dim, and they were moving at what felt like a steady pace. Her mind seemed so much clearer, freed from the gauzy veils that had been brought on by the awful injection she’d been given earlier. How much earlier that was, she had no idea. She felt as though she’d rested for days, although the sadness in her heart limited just how energetic she was able to feel. She glanced to her right and found the red-haired elf still sitting beside her.
“Hello,” she whispered, having no idea what else she ought to say.
The elf looked at her suddenly, as though surprised to hear her voice. “Good morning,” she whispered back. “’Tis good to have you back with us. Jalingan was worried that you were going to be lost to us.”
The woman shook her head. “Before I say anything else, let me say this: be careful what you say here. Your words can get you killed as much as they can save your life. When he brought you on board, I assumed you knew who he was.”
“Who?” Citlally asked again.
The woman shook her head. “You’re better off ignorant. Forget I said anything. How about telling me your name?”
“Uh…” she sighed, blinking. “I am Citlally… Citlally Winterhawk.”
“That is a lovely name,” the elf replied. “I am Allanah Spyrytte IV.”
“So you have a lineage?” Citlally asked, trying to sound impressed, even if it was just to take her mind off what was going on.
Allanah shrugged. “Why speak of it when it would never be honored out here? My part of the bloodline left royal life for technology over a century ago.”
Allanah seemed bemused by her wide-eyed expression. “The history is long and complicated. Just let it go. Right now, you and I are in the same situation as the rest of the women here.”
Citlally looked around, and remembered that all of them had long hair, that the shaggy-haired soldier had assessed her for it as well. “So this shuttle is headed for Sardonia? Why is long hair so important there?”
The blue-haired woman across from them scoffed. “Haven’t you heard the tales of the long-haired virgins of Sardonia?”
Blinking, Citlally nodded slowly. “Are you saying that those stories are true?”
“Very true,” she replied. Citlally could see that the rest of her was also some shade of blue or another; her eyes were icy, her skin cerulean, her lips as cobalt as her hair. What little clothing she wore was like the ocean as it appeared on posters of Hawai’i back on Earth. “There are women who cut their hair when they hear that a Sardonian ship is coming, just so that they do not get taken for virgins and forced to serve their carnal needs.”
“S- Sardonia?!” a voice on the other side of the shuttle cried. “No! No, I cannot let them use my body for their –”
One of the soldiers in black stomped over to her, pressed the button over her head to release the bars that held her in place, and shook his head. “Shut up!” he ordered her. “If you panic now, and you start to spread hysteria around this shuttle, the pilots will kill you in order to silence you!”
The woman trembled as she looked up at him. “Please… please! I am a virgin!” Do not let them do those things to me!”
“Shut up!” he ordered again then leaned down low to her. “You had better hope they didn’t hear you. Now, come with me if you value your life.”
The woman swallowed hard and nodded. She let him lift her out of her seat, her arms still cuffed in front of her. He led her trembling body down the aisle to a door that opened at his presence, then disappeared with her behind it. A light on a panel beside the door turned red, and for a while it was very quiet.
“What just happened?” Citlally asked, mouth agape as she turned to Allanah.
The elf shook her head. “Nothing,” she said in a tone of finality.
“Hold your tongue unless you want them both dead,” the blue woman warned her.
For a while nobody said anything. But Citlally could not stand the tension of the silence, and asked a different sort of question. “What do the Sardonians do to virgins that is so bad?”
“What else does a man do to a virgin?” the blue woman asked, as though it should have been obvious. “He either sells her or –”
“Enough,” Allanah told her. “She was probably the only virgin on this shuttle, so we’re not going to have to worry about it.”
“Are you sure?” the blue alien asked. “I thought I saw a priestess being escorted on board.”
“She will have to deal with her plight in her own way… Though if she is too far from home, her gods might not –” Allanah stopped herself, realizing that she would only spread panic if she said it outright.
Instead, she looked at Citlally and told her, “What’s more important is, whatever dream you had while you were asleep, you must not utter a word about it.”
“My…” she whispered. “That dream.”
“We’re going to land soon. When we do, they will take aside everyone who was injected with k’zshyrk and ask them about their dreams. Not matter what they say to trying to convince you to say anything, you must not tell them about your dream.”
“Do I tell them that I dreamt nothing?”
“Then you would lose a bargaining chip,” the blue woman replied. “’Nothing’ has meaning in and of itself. Tell them you don’t remember your dream. Later on, if it works to your advantage, you can tell them that you have finally remembered.”
“But you must never let them think that you have lied,” Allanah warned her. “They will lie to you without the slightest remorse, but if you lie to them…” She shook her head mournfully and said nothing else.
“But… what do the dreams mean?” Citlally wanted to know.
“How can we explain the meaning of something that you don’t remember?” Allanah asked, giving her a stern look. “The Sardonians will tell you all sorts of things about the k’zshyrk dreams… I doubt that any of them are true.”
Citlally nodded and decided not argue the matter any further. There was only one other thing that she wanted to know. “How do you know all of this? Have you been Sardonia before?”
The blue-skinned woman laughed at her ignorance. Allanah, on the other hand, gave her an actual answer. “Nobody who has been to Sardonia and escaped would ever put themselves in a situation where they might be taken again.” She shook her head and went on to say, “No, I have never been there, but I’ve been exploring the æther for much longer than you seem to have.”
With a sigh, Citlally looked downwards. “With everything that’s happened, I’m starting to wonder whether I should have learned more before setting out on this journey.”
Allanah shrugged. “Look who is sitting right next to you, girl. I have been doing this for years, and I was captured. Those reptiles are more powerful than most of the races out here. The only ones they don’t bother are either bigger or nastier than them, if you can believe that there is such a thing.”
The blue woman grumbled something under her breath, and Allanah eyed her in irritation. “Say what you want, but we’re all here together, and it no longer matters what experience we had. It was pure misfortune that we were on Space Station Regulus II when the K’zzyrch attacked it.”
Before Citlally could reply, the red light on the door panel across the way turned green, and the door opened. There stood the young lady from before, and the soldier dressed in black. He had removed his helmet, and she realized that it was the shaggy-haired half-human who’d escorted her onto the shuttle.
“Do we have an understanding?” he asked the young woman in a stern voice.
She nodded and pursed her lips for a moment before saying, “Yes, sir. Um…. thank you.”
“Don’t thank me,” he admonished her, grabbing her by the arm and leading her back to her seat. “Do not ever thank me.”
She swallowed hard as he pushed her down, too taken aback to say anything to him. He lowered the bars back over her, and turned around without the slightest bit of further interest in her. He paced the aisles, inspecting every single woman as though it were his job to ensure that each of them was secured and quiet.
“That is Jalingan,” Allanah whispered as softly as he could, leaning over towards Citlally as much as the bars would allow.
“Silence!” he shouted, nearly screaming at them. He stormed over to them, and leaned down over the red-haired elf, a dark scowl on his face. “What do you think gives you the right to speak? Are you some sort of princess?!”
Allanah stared up at him, her face devoid of all expression.
“You have nothing to say now, do you? Have you decided that you rather like living, after all?” When she still said nothing, he laid his hands on the bars and leaned in close to her. Citlally was the only other person who could hear what he whispered to her. “Do not ever use that name, elf. If they knew what I was doing…”
“You act for your own selfish purposes,” Allanah told him, as though reciting something she’d heard before, “for whatever profit you can garner from those you serve.”
“That’s right,” he hissed before standing up straight. He turned to Citlally and frowned. “We will be landing on Sardonia soon. Your best hope of getting through this ordeal alive is to do as you’re told. Submit to the inspection and answer all of their questions. Do not expect any sort of ‘rights’ out here, and ask for nothing. The consequences on Sardonia are severe.”
He stormed off, grumbling the whole time, and went back into the room where he’d been just a few minutes ago. When he came back, he had his helmet on, and he marched through the room towards the front of the shuttle. A door opened onto a narrow hallway, which closed again before Citlally could get a good look at what laid beyond.