DF’s words still stung, but then again, if he looked at the situation objectively, that’s probably the first impression anyone who saw him now might have. And DF hadn’t said those words to insult him. It was just an obvious observation and explanation for why he had a show time and DF didn’t. He could understand that DF was jealous. To be so completely without any control over his own life and destiny must be wearing him down. That’s probably why he looked so much older than his age.
Garran was only just learning to understand what it was like to not be in control. He had always been in control. It had been drilled into him from a very young age. During the trial he had stayed in control by not breaking down, not giving in to their taunts, not showing that he cared that they had amputated his leg, but mentally preparing himself for his own death. He had been at peace with it—until he had woken up earlier to find he was neither dead nor any longer in control of his legs or his life. But somehow it still felt unreal, like this was just some horrible dream and he would wake up any minute now and everything would be back to normal.
Garran shook his head. This was the new normal. At least for the time being. Until he could figure out a way to get back to Horlus III for proper medical treatment. His situation might be inconvenient, aggravating even, but it was hardly permanent. So what was the point of feeling sorry for himself?
His spirit buoyed by his own silent pep-talk, Garran actually felt sorry for DF when, an hour later, he alone was escorted from their room for his first show time. As it turned out, however, he wasn’t the only one to go and meet with Aurora MacCowan. A second, very effeminate man shared the ride to what turned out to be the main Horlus I freight terminal. The entire way the guy wouldn’t shut up. At least he didn’t expect conversation. Garran was pretty certain the other man hadn’t even realized that Garran hadn’t said a single word the entire time. They were shown into what looked like a large business lounge, but nobody was in attendance. It was a pleasant room with tastefully arranged seating groups and decorative art pieces all over the place. Garran positioned his wheelchair towards the middle of the room and waited in silence, while the other guy, Toby or Tony or whatever his name was, stalked around, critiquing every single piece on display in his irritating monologue. The two handlers accompanying them rolled their eyes and took up rear guard position by the door they had come through.
Ten minutes later a door on the far side of the room opened and a woman dressed in black fatigues, a skin-tight black shirt with long sleeves, a high collared, black leather waistcoat and black leather lace-up boots stepped inside and stopped just inside the door. She was fairly tall. Garran guessed she was about 5’8 or so and maybe pushing 30. She was thin, too thin to be pretty and her eyes seemed too large for her face, the effect amplified by the black eye makeup she wore. Her head was shaved but showed about a week’s worth growth of black hair. She reminded him of the manga comics he used to read as a kid.
Her eyes narrowed as she regarded him silently. Then Toby or Tony ruined it by mumbling something about how black wasn’t her color. She turned around to face him, looked at him for a tense moment then turned away again and spoke to the handlers. “This one,” she gestured at Garran, “yes—that one,” a toss of her head into Toby or Tony’s direction, “no.” Then she turned around and pulled open the door she had come from. Garran sat like nailed to the spot. Whatever he had thought show time might be like, this had taken him completely by surprise. He had expected questions regarding his skills, his disability, anything, but not this. She held the open door for a moment, turned, looked back at him. “Coming?” Then she stepped through, letting the door close slowly behind her.
Garran gathered his wits that seemed to have temporarily deserted him. He didn’t think anybody had ever thrown him so off balance as this woman just had. He turned a questioning look at the handlers who nodded back at him and he finally made his way to the door that was busy closing behind Aurora MacCowan.
She walked down the long corridor away from the door and after a moment she heard him follow her.
She didn’t slow down and she didn’t look back. The wheels of his chair made a strange noise on the rough floor and she pictured him for a moment in her mind, his arms pumping the wheels, the empty pant leg flapping, catching up with her. A small smile stole across her stern face, but she reined it in as quickly as it had appeared. Did he realize how much he disconcerted her? She had been rooted to the spot as soon as she had laid eyes on him. Tingles of desire had shot through her core, instantly awakening her dormant libido. He looked so masculine in that sleek, low-rider wheelchair, and the tantalizingly empty leg of the drawstring pants he wore, hiding the part of the leg that remained, but drawing attention to the part that was missing. He was so handsome and so … virile; all her teenage fantasies come to life. And the look he had given her back in there. Pure male challenge to see him as anything less than the warrior he was. She shivered involuntarily as she saw him draw parallel with her out of the corner of her eye. Still she didn’t look at him directly. She couldn’t or she would blush like a silly school girl. Please forgive me, Bryn, she said under her breath.
“Why did you take me and not him?” He blurted.
She answered, her voice cool, well as cool as she could make it, addressing the corridor in front of her. “Apart from the fact that he was an insolent asshole? I need a cook, not the tooth fairy.”
“You want me to cook?”
“Not you, the other guy.”
“I know a cook. Well, an aspiring cook, but he’s had some training. And he’s a really good guy and not an insolent …” He cut himself off. She heard him take a deep breath and then drop behind her again.
Aurra stopped, turned and looked at him so suddenly that he nearly ran into her. She saw the expression of surprise followed by pain as the rims of his wheels bit into the palms of his hands as the brought his wheelchair to a stop an inch before her shins. It took all of her considerable self-control to stop herself from reaching out and touching him to make sure that he wasn’t a figment of her imagination.
“Okay. I’ll give your friend the aspiring cook a chance. Do you know his inventory number?” She pulled a phone out of a pocket, gripping it hard to hide how much her hands were shaking.
Garran backed up a bit then rattled off DF’s number.
Aurra turned around and walked on. “Hey Doc, the second guy was a bust, but find this one—C-1012009—and have them bring him over asap.”
Will do. C-1012009. Everything okay? Doc had obviously picked up the slight tremor in her voice.
“Yes.” She wouldn’t, couldn’t ever reveal how frazzled she was. “Everything else prepped?”
All done. He probably needs a few changes of clothes and stuff. Why don’t you take him shopping before you bring him back here?
“No. What we have will do. Anything else can wait.” She wasn’t keen on the thought of letting him wear Bryn’s clothes though they would surely fit him. But she had a weird unsettled feeling, so she sure as hell wasn’t going to parade him around a trading post now. No—best to get him out of sight as quickly as possible.
Doc seemed to have caught on. He always had that uncanny sixth sense. I’ll ask them to bring the other one right to our docking bay and bring his belongings along, too. Since you got a reference. He chuckled.
“Yes. Very good. That way we can maintain our schedule. See you in two.” She disconnected the call and put the phone away. She could feel Garran’s eyes practically drilling holes into the back of her head. Still she refrained from engaging him. The walls here had ears and eyes. She didn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression. You didn’t treat slaves with respect and kindness. She also didn’t want to let on that she had an idea about his true identity. So she remained outwardly haughty and aloof. Plus it helped her to somewhat distance herself emotionally from this man who had so effortlessly gotten under her skin. But her vows to Bryn were sacred to her. She wasn’t ready to open herself up to getting close to another person again. Oh man, she was really getting ahead of herself. This man was not for her. He would probably leave as soon as they arrived back on Horlus III anyway. All he would do for her was to give a face to the fantasies she might indulge in—if absolutely necessary. That’s what she had done before she had met Bryn. She had stayed firmly in the closet for nearly thirty years and that’s where she would stay. The fantasies where one thing, but what if she took it too far and tasting the real thing spoiled her for ‘normal’ men? Then where would she be? Guilt hit her like a wrecking ball. I’m so sorry Bryn!
For the rest of the way Garran maintained a reasonable distance to the woman walking ahead of him. Just in case she pulled to another one of those zero-warning stops. But nothing else was said and she didn’t seem to pay him any attention at all until they arrived at another door. When she opened it and held it for him he realized that it led to a boarding ramp.
Curious—she was using the facilities corridors instead of the public walkways, but from his perspective—definitely a good thing. Maybe his luck would hold and they actually were about to board a ship that would take him away from this awful planet. Then, once he had scoped out the crew and determined how safe it was to reveal his identity, he would figure out what to do next. He still wondered what kind of service she expected from him. If not cooking then what? Maybe serving food and clearing the dishes afterward? She would most likely consider him capable of that and as long as the ship had elevators between decks and not stairs, getting around in his wheelchair shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Of course he’d much rather walk, but he didn’t hold out much hope that they had any medical facilities to speak of. So treating and reversing his paralysis would have to wait until he was back on Horlus III.
Another thought came to him as he slowly rolled down the steep boarding ramp. It even brought a grim smile to his face. He still wouldn’t need a prosthetic leg. Why have a leg if he couldn’t walk in the first place?
They entered into an airlock, Aurora still paid him no mind; instead she stood close to the door that would admit them into the ship, looking inward. A compact sort of freighter by what he could tell. They obviously maintained a segregated atmosphere inside the ship which spoke of a level of professionalism that surprised him. Most freighter captains didn’t hold much with procedure.
The internal airlock opened with a light hissing sound and admitted them into the ship that was, though obviously dated, immaculately maintained. No missing or skew panels, no exposed wiring like he had seen in so many other ships of this kind. His respect for the captain grew by the minute. They would surely get along well.
Aurora turned down a corridor, still without addressing him. No ‘welcome on board, this is your new home’—nothing. Garran shrugged to himself and followed along. She certainly was a strange character. He wondered what role she held on board. Maybe the first officer? To his surprise she took him straight to the cockpit where she stepped off to the side so that the way and view of the front of the cockpit was clear. Nobody else was present, and Garran could see that the ship’s computer was busy with the pre-takeoff system checks.
She finally looked at him while simultaneously pointing at the co-pilot chair. “Please, Commander, familiarize yourself with the controls. We’ll take off as soon as your friend has arrived and loading is complete.” Then she turned on her heals and left, leaving him alone in the cockpit and for the second time in the fifteen minutes he had known Aurora MacCowan she left him speechless.
Aurora - Part 6
Aurora - Part 6