Excerpt: A Matter of Choice

The guard liked running his nails over the metal bars, making them squeal under his claw tipped fingers. It drove us humans mad, but he smiled while he made that awful sound. Today was no different. He was massive at nearly eight feet tall and four feet across, with ruddy skin and a thin film of hair covering his body. Whatever kind of alien he was, I was glad I’d only ever met one of them in my lifetime.

He stopped in front of my cell, which wasn’t unusual. He read my file, which was also pretty typical. He seemed like he was curious about us. What wasn’t a normal occurrence was the sight of the two new people beside him. There was an older man, as well as a younger one who chose to stay mostly behind him and peek at me from around the man’s shoulder.

Both of them wore long blue robes that mostly hid their bodies, but I made out that these two aliens were both smaller than me, probably close to five and a half feet at most, and they were thin. They had large brown eyes and skin that was more pink than gray, but the tint was still clearly there. They looked frail, with their long, thin hands and craning necks. They also had no hair and small ears. I’d never seen anyone like them before.

The older one touched the guard’s arm and made some high pitched clicking noises. The younger one was still watching me. I got off my bunk to be able to see them better.

“Leon,” the guard addressed me, his voice heavily accented and nearly guttural. “Still know how to fix a ship?”

I shrugged. “Most engines are pretty self-explanatory. There are only so many ways to keep a ship in the sky. Why?”

The aliens made some more of those clicking sounds to each other, then they turned their attention back to me. I wished I knew what they were saying, but it was the first time I’d ever seen aliens like these two.

The smaller of them moved forward and I noticed that his right arm was in a sling. He didn’t look like it bothered him as he approached me. He added some whistles into the clicking noises he was making. It reminded me of dolphins talking to each other.

Before he could get too close to me, the other one pulled him back. He still looked at me curiously though, like he was as unfamiliar with me as I was with them.

“Here he is,” the guard said to them, barely even looking at me now as he paid attention to the other two aliens. “He was a mechanic before he failed to register his ship in a timely fashion and then refused to pay the fines. His sentence is two more years. He can finish that time off with you for only a thousand credits.”

I couldn’t believe I was going for so cheap. I’d been there for a few years already, and I wasn’t surprised by much anymore. Maybe this was their way of opening up my cell to someone more deserving of life spent here. My sentence wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if I hadn’t run. Or if I hadn’t shot at the patrol ships trying to disable me so that I couldn’t get away again.

The other one nodded and he took out a device. There were a few beeps, then he showed the guard something. The guard must have been paid because he looked happy about whatever he saw on the screen.

He opened the door to my cell and I came forward. It was good to be walking out of there, but I would have preferred to actually be free, instead of sold to two aliens who didn’t even seem to speak English. I thought everyone in the universe spoke English by now. We’d made contact with the last of the known alien species almost fifty years before. That should have been plenty of time for them to learn our language. It had been the standard on Earth for centuries.

The older one held out his hand to me. I took it, expecting a hand shake but not the coldness of the alien’s hand, or the sudden pressure against my temple that made me cringe and pull away from him. He just took my wrist this time instead.

I am Vhrain. This is Deavor. We are from Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. This is how we will speak to you since you are not capable of understanding our language. Our ship needs help, and we do not know what is going on with it. It has been through many fixes, but we cannot keep running back to a colonized planet whenever it starts acting up. You will keep us flying for the next two years and then you will be free to go. Do you agree?

I’d thought the deal had already been made for my work, but here Vhrain was, giving me the choice. I nodded. Even if they were horrible alien monsters who ate cats or something crazy like that, this offer would definitely beat spending another night in the Colorado cell I’d been in for the past five years.

“Sure. Two years with you sounds fine.” And then I’d be a free man.

Daevor smiled, then hid behind Vhrain again. I guessed Vhrain was probably his father or an older brother. Daevor couldn’t have been more than twenty. I pegged Vhrain at somewhere closer to forty.

Good. We will collect your things and then we will be off. You have made a good choice, Leon. Vhrain dropped my wrist. The pressure against my temple went away almost instantly.

I was very much relieved.

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