Garran, lying flat on his back with his head propped against a pillow, regarded the crown of Aurra’s head. She was lying on her side, her head on his chest, drawing swirling lines and lazy circles on his stomach. He felt calm—as calm as he hadn’t felt since before Doc’s devastating announcement. If it wasn’t for Aurra still lying here next to him, Garran would have thought the last hour had been a figment of his imagination. An impossible dream, like walking again, but this woman with her audacious behavior had erased some of his doubts, restored some of his self-confidence. Not that he was back to being his old self—far from it, but she had put a stop to his three day pity party. At least he was able to deal with the here and now. And the here and now was okay, not good, but okay. In the here and now missing and paralyzed legs didn’t matter, what they had just shared did. But he didn’t want to think ahead about what it could mean for the future neither. Stay in the here and now. Stay safe.
He moved his hand up from her back to the nape of her neck and felt the velvety softness of her short black hair. “Have you always had short hair?” He murmured.
Aurra turned her head to look at him and simultaneously shifted her hand up to his chest and circled his nipple instead. “No. I used to wear it long, like you. When Doc first told me of you, he showed me a picture of you with long hair. Why did you cut it?”
“I didn’t. It was the first thing they cut off after I was captured. Even before they took me into surgery and cut off my leg.”
Aurra shook her head almost imperceptibly “Why?”
“Why did they cut off my hair or why did they cut off my leg?” He watched as a slight redness crept over Aurra’s cheeks. He smiled. How endearing that she could still feel embarrassed, even after her aggressive sexual overture. “I guess they did both as a sign of disrespect and to show me that they were in control and I was at their mercy.”
Aurra’s eyes grew wide and her eyebrows crept up her forehead during his explanation. “They just amputated your leg for nothing?”
“Well, my ankle was bust, but the treatment didn’t have to be quite so drastic. Obviously it made it far less likely that I would attempt an escape.”
Aurra sat up and the sheet dropped to her waist, giving Garran another view of her firm, round, little breasts. He had never been overly excited by large breasts and in comparison he preferred Aurra’s to those artificially enhanced ones of many of his previous sexual encounters. Everything about Aurra was authentic he realized. She had no need for games and pretense. His gaze dropped down to her hands. Fascinated as he had been with her breasts he had missed that she had pulled the sheet away from his left leg and placed his stump in her lap. He flinched, wishing he could pull his leg away and hide it, but he couldn’t, so he flippantly said: “It’s not pretty.”
“It’s not ugly.” She admonished his attempt at self-effacement and sent him one of those heart-stopping smiles. “Really, it doesn’t bother me.” She smoothed her hands over it then lifted it almost reverently to her lips and placed a kiss on the rounded end. She lowered it gently back down to the bed and pulled the sheet over his leg before stretching out next to him again. “I don’t ever want you to feel like you need to hide your legs from me; either one of them.”
All Garran could do was nod. He couldn’t bring a sound across his lips; his throat had gone completely dry. He sat up and reached for the wheelchair. Aurra looked up at him questioningly. “Stay.” He croaked, “I need the bathroom.”
He transferred across and escaped into the bathroom. Closing the door quietly behind him he rolled to the sink and placed his hands on the edge and his forehead on top. If Aurra could accept his shortcomings why couldn’t he? He didn’t really have a life to return to anyway, why should it matter if he never had his leg replaced and never walked again? Could he stay here in this little safe haven, on this ship, with Aurra and Doc and the rest of the crew and be happy? Could he be happy without the anticipation and then the adrenaline rush of the next mission? Could he be happy despite the wheelchair? Could he be happy with Aurra? Could he be happy without her?
The question caught him by surprise. He had already acknowledged that Aurra intrigued him; that he wanted to be friends with her—well; they had already advanced to the friends with benefits stage—but he felt confused and intimidated by the unfamiliar surge of emotion at the thought of not having Aurra in is life. Were his feelings for her deepening? Was he ready for more or was she just the silver lining at the horizon of an otherwise hopeless situation?
He pushed himself up and filled a water bottle with water from the tap. He swallowed a few mouthfuls and feeling better, but not necessarily any wiser, he made his way back into the cabin where he found Aurra soundly asleep.
He grabbed his clothes and returned to the bathroom where he dressed as quietly as possible. When Aurra was still asleep when he emerged some time later, he left her to rest and left his cabin for the cockpit for the first time since his last unpleasant visit to the medical bay. Aurra deserved her sleep and he had job to do which he had neglected long enough already.
Kiss me! Soul pondered the meaning of Vali’s words. He had spent the last few hours since his trip to the steam room in the common room that all the men—the slaves, he reminded himself—working for Flavia shared. Rag and Baldr had reappeared and had stayed close by, but didn’t seem to pay him any particular mind. They sat together with two other men to whom Soul hadn’t been introduced, yet. The four were sitting around a 3D display table, on the surface of which some sort of ball game—a variant of football as far as Soul could tell—was playing out. The sound was projected at the seats around the table so Soul couldn’t hear any of the reporting, but he could hear Rag’s mumbled words as he provided additional live commentary to his blind companion. Another slave named Heimdall whose acquaintance Soul had made the previous day in the gym was reading and occasionally glancing in his direction, but in fact no one seemed to pay Soul any particular attention. That suited him just fine while he observed the movements of everyone from below lowered eyelids.
Fenrir entered the room and Soul’s heart rate sped up in anxious anticipation of a summons to the next fight. But it didn’t come. Instead, as Fenrir’s gaze swept the room, his eyes held Soul's for a moment and then he nodded his head once in apparent acknowledgment of his opponent’s presence and dominance. Soul released a breath he hadn’t quite realized he’d been holding. Surprised at the gesture being made without any display of aggression or I’ll-get-back-at-you-attitude, he nodded back. Then driven by some impish impulse Soul lifted his stump towards his forehead and tipped his head slightly to the right until his head and the end of the stump touched together in a mock salute. A semblance of a grin relaxed Fenrir’s features momentarily before he turned and left.
From his vantage point on one of the deep, plush, circular recliners that molded itself around his body, Soul watched him disappear into the gym. If he hadn’t missed anyone, that brought the number of people in the gym to four.
Before returning to his bedroom, Soul had passed through all the rooms that made up the gym and spa area, seemingly exploring the still unfamiliar places at his leisure. In truth he had been scouting out the layout, the cameras, the people and what they were doing. He had watched Vali for a moment, slicing through the pool with languid strokes.
If anyone was following his movements through the hidden cameras, then the fact that he had explored every room, every nook and cranny, gave him the appropriate excuse to open the door to the utility closet by the gym door. He had taken note of the access panel Vali had mentioned. He would need a tool to open it and it looked like the blades he had spirited out of the dungeon might just be right for the job.
Soul had gotten dressed in the most loose-fitting clothes he had been provided with and had even put on the silk gown again. He wanted to give the impression of being sore and exhausted, so he had made a point of moving a bit more slowly and stiffly than really necessary. Before he had settled into the lounger that gave him the best vantage point of all the comings and goings he had even gone and collected a cryo-pack and a few loose scatter cushions and had propped up his stump. And—he conceded with a sigh as he settled himself deeper into the comfortable leather—though it didn’t feel quite as good as the massage that Vali had given him earlier, it did feel better this way.
Flavia’s flair for dramatic settings was clearly evident in the room. Stone cladding, dragons and other fantastic animals carved from the same roughly textured stone interspersed with wood paneling and windows much higher than wide topped by pointed arches. The ceiling was one big electronic display providing the optical illusion that the room was at least twice its physical height and that one was actually inside a roofless ruin, which currently gave way to a sunlit sky, traversed by an occasional cloud. The furniture matched the décor. It was all heavy, carved wood, thick, but soft leather and applications of forged iron bands and nails.
Vali had been conspicuously absent ever since their encounter in the morning. For all Soul knew he was still in the gym area. He wasn’t quite sure if this was a good or bad sign. All the while he had been waiting and observing, Soul had been busy crafting the message in his head which he would send out if all went according to plan. Since he had no way of knowing where exactly the ship he presumed Garran to be on was located or what kind of vessel it was, he would have to use a common frequency and hope for the best that Garran got the message. Even though he would program the message to repeat broadcast in regular intervals it would surely only be a matter of time before it was discovered and taken off the air. If he was lucky, no one would connect him to the message, but he doubted that he would get more than one chance.
He decided to disguise it as an emergency call—which ironically it was. By chance he had figured out his location: Fano Tower. Rag had told him earlier that he could go up to the roof to tan in the buff and that since he was in the highest building on the planet he needn’t be worried about onlookers. That had been a vital piece of information that would hopefully bring the cavalry right to his door. If Garran had been gone for a week it would be at least that long until he could expect anything to happen. Until then staying alive had to be his number one priority.
Another two men Soul hadn’t met before appeared in the lounge. They walked arm in arm and Soul noticed that none of the others seemed to mind their obvious amorous behavior. Soul watched them as they stopped at the game table and chatted with Baldr. Well, one was talking while the other was standing behind him, caressing him and placing playful kisses on the speaker’s neck and shoulders. Since they were facing away from him Soul couldn’t see the speaker’s lips and only caught fragments of the conversation, but it seemed they were inviting Baldr to a threesome. The two lovers left in the direction of the bedrooms and Baldr got up and followed soon after. Based on what he had just witnessed Soul assumed that kissing Vali wouldn’t raise anyone’s eyebrows.
Soul got up and went to the bar to get something to drink. He picked up a cooler and turned to return to his seat when Vali sauntered into the room. Soul acknowledged him by raising the bottle and Vali’s eyes lit up. A grin spread across his features and he closed the distance on Soul.
Soul put the bottle down and leaned back against the bar counter, beckoning Vali closer. Just the thought of what he was about to do stirred his manhood to life. Before embarrassment got the upper hand, Soul consoled himself with the fact that it added realism to the situation. When the taller man stood in front of him, Soul reached for the back of Vali’s head and pulled him in for a scorching kiss. Vali’s arms came around him and pulled Soul into his equally aroused body. Relief flooded through Soul while at the same time Vali’s tongue pushed a microchip into Soul’s mouth. After another moment Vali broke the kiss and his lips nuzzled Soul’s earlobe. “Powerfail in five. Get into position before main power returns.” Then he pushed back and said normally: “I have to go and run an errand for Flavia, but I’ll be back in half an hour. Come find me in my room.”
Soul nodded and watched Vali’s retreating form. With the chip under his tongue he picked up the cooler again and downed its contents, willing his heartbeat to come back under control. He headed for one of the toilets to be inconspicuously closer to the gym and waited for his opportunity to slip into the utility closet unnoticed. He wondered how Vali had engineered a power failure and what exactly would be switched off. Buildings like this had back up power and many devices had their own battery back-up, but maybe it would just take up everyone’s attention enough to give him the window of opportunity he needed.
Following his intuition, Soul left the toilet and walked slowly into the gym. He had just passed through the gym doors, feeling at least one set of eyes on his back—Heimdall he mused—when the lights flickered and then went out. Soul dove to his right and just closed the utility closet door behind him when the lights came back. He rested his back against the door and listened for any footsteps approaching outside. None came. Maybe the few seconds of darkness had deceived Heimdall into thinking that Soul had carried on straight into the gym.
Soul momentarily considered obstructing the door from the inside, but if someone came looking for him he would be trapped in here regardless. He moved over to the panel and drew a knife from the sheath strapped to his lower leg. He slid it into the gap and popped it loose. As he had expected the cover was held on by a number of magnets. He pushed and held against it with his stump until he could slip his fingers into the gap and lower it noiselessly to the floor.
With relief he saw a standard computing console apparently monitoring and controlling the gym’s environment settings. While he inserted the chip Vali had given him into the chip reader and waited for the console window to open, he noted the settings for the weights floor and spa, pool and steam room: temperatures, humidity, ambiance settings and such; gathering as much information as possible to be put to use later on. Finally the console window opened. Vali had made good on his word. He really hoped the other man had not put himself into any immediate danger, but then he pushed the thought away. No time to worry about this now.
Soul navigated his way to a program that would give him access to a satellite’s emergency channel. Scheduled broadcast listings scrolled down the screen. Soul picked an empty position and keyed in his cryptic message. Of all the times he had already cursed his lack of a right hand, this moment was the most infuriating, yet. He bit back the curse and concentrated, typing left-handedly as fast as he could. Finally the text was complete. He set the broadcast parameters to repeat five times an hour, hoping to attract Garran’s attention, but not those who would take his message offline again. He waited until the message had broadcast for the first time, retrieved the microchip but hid it inside the panel, replaced the cover and returned to the door. He listened for a while and when he couldn’t hear anything he opened the door a fraction. He could just see Heimdall once more engrossed in his reading.
About to take a chance and sneak out, Soul caught another lucky break. Someone spoke to Heimdall who looked up and put away his reader. Then he got up and disappeared from sight. Soul slipped through the door into the gym proper. Time to go for the swim Vali had recommended.
Aurora - Part 22
Aurora - Part 22