“That’s a good girl,” he praised. “One breath at a time.” He kissed my cheek again and then my forehead, continuing to stroke my sweaty hair. “You are going to be just fine.”
Would I be? How could I be just fine ever again?
“I hate it,” I cried. “Why is he so cruel? Why do you allow him to be so cruel to another human being? I may be a slave, but I am still a woman.”
He nodded. “I know.”
“So why do you allow it?”
“I warned you.”
“Do I deserve to be treated like an animal?” I asked. It appeared that my words did make a difference, but I also got the sense that there was no use trying to convince Cross to go against his brother.
Cross placed both palms on each side of my face and forced me to stare directly into his eyes. “You need to behave. This trip is long. I have seen what Pike does to slaves who disobey, and I promise you that this collar will be minor in comparison. Behave. Do you understand me? You have nothing to prove. You will lose.”
“I have already lost,” I pointed out. “I lost the battle, I have lost my planet to the Drenken, I have lost my sister forever, and I have lost my freedom. There is nothing more for me to lose.”
“But there is. My brother has a way of making his slaves lose so much more. Don’t push him. Just don’t.”
“Why will you allow it?”
“It’s who my brother is. You can’t change Pike.” He leaned in and kissed me gently on the forehead one last time before standing up. “And this is who I am.” He extended his hand to assist me up now that I was breathing normally again.
Standing, I took a moment to allow the slight dizziness to dissipate. Cross placed his arm around my body to hold me steady while the room swirled around me. It hadn’t taken long to feel back to my old self.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. “I can unlock the chain so you can follow me into the galley, but I won’t remove the collar. It would only upset Pike.”
There was no use arguing with Cross any further. It was so odd. He clearly didn’t like the fact that I was collared, and yet he wasn’t going to do a thing about it. They were twins. Why was one brother in more of the authoritative position than the other? That certainly was not the way with my sister and me. We were equals.
Cross unlocked the chain, and the removal of the weight helped ease the pressure on the collar a little. He then grabbed my arm and led me out of the room. Entering the galley, I saw Pike sitting at the table. The galley was dimly lit, so the red light emitting from Pike’s figure was all the more pronounced. When he looked up, he scowled seeing me walking beside Cross.
“What is she doing out of her room?” he asked.
“She’s hungry,” Cross replied as he pulled out a chair and softly forced me to sit down across from Pike.
“Feed her and then send her back to her room,” Pike commanded as he stood to leave the room. It was as if the sight of me made the man sick. How was that so? I had done nothing—well unless you counted pissing in front of him—to warrant such hatred.
Cross quickly did as he instructed and made me up a meal of dried meat and vegetables. Dried vegetables! I hadn’t had a real vegetable in years. My mouth watered as he put the tin plate in front of me.
“When the food makes contact with your saliva, it will expand in your mouth. So it doesn’t look like much, but it will fill you up nice and good.”
The fact that he felt he had to justify or explain a meal that by far was the best spread I had seen in a long time, made me smile. “Thank you very much. I haven’t had a real vegetable in quite sometime.”
He nodded and returned my smile. “They aren’t as scarce on every planet as they are on Unin.”
I dug in, placed a dehydrated green root into my mouth, and giggled when it grew twice its size the minute it hit my tongue. Cross’s smile grew wider but he didn’t say anything as he just sat down and watched me eat. It seemed to give him pleasure.
At that moment, as I ate bite after bite of pure joy, I temporarily forgot that I was nothing but a Pallid Slave collared and captured. For now, I ate.
Finding a way to lay on my bed comfortably with the collar still so tight against my flesh wasn’t easy, but I knew I had to learn how to accept it, or risk having continual panic attacks which couldn’t be an option any longer. I needed to be strong. I had to find strength to survive. I had to. Finding my own internal peace would be the only thing to get me through this ordeal.