Gentle Chains (The Eleyi Saga Book 1) (5 page)

 
 
 

Chapter
8

 

Juhan’tr

 
 

“YOU CAN SLEEP HERE.” Sadi gestures at a tiny, narrow bunk. It rests
atop three thin drawers and I wonder, inanely, what I should put there. The
room we stand in is small, but clean and private. And starkly empty.

“Just make yourself comfortable. We’ll be at Ariede soon.”

She smiles, the first expression I’ve seen on her smooth face since we
boarded. A ripple in her emotions startles me—a shaky blend of excitement,
apprehension, and fear—she’s nervous and it intrigues me. So does the taste of
interest and surprise I can feel on her psyche. Then she shivers, and her
emotions are gone.

I stare after the small human as she hurries away from me, past the tiny
galley, back to the cockpit and Tin. He isn’t as blank—his emotions are a
furious blend of anger and worry, but he doesn’t say anything as Sadi takes her
seat.

What does this girl want? She’s hiding something, nervous about telling
me.

There will be time for that later. I tune them out as I turn back to the
bed. My wings twitch a bit as I stare at the narrow ledge, a subconscious
claustrophobic reaction.

I force my wings closed, and settle on my stomach. I pillow my head on
my folded arms, and close my eyes. A few breaths calm my heartbeat, and I slip
into a deep trance almost effortlessly.

It’s dangerous to push this much psychically, but I’m stronger than most
Eleyi.

Eleyi shine like tiny stars in this place in my mind—scattered and
clustered, all alike and different and so very beautiful. My people, their
presence throbbing like so many heartbeats. I brush over them, and feel the
sometimes startled response of Eleyi who have been slaves for longer than I
have been alive. How many of them know this technique? How many are strong
enough to use it?

I push the thought away before it can shake my trance and search. It
feels strange, looking for the soul that has always been wrapped around me, so
tight I sometimes wondered where she stopped and I began. Without her at my
side, I feel like I have lost a limb, lost my wings.

I am broken, bleeding.

I skim outward, brushing over the unfamiliar minds until I find one that
shimmers and calls to me like a heartbeat echoing my own.

She’s surrounded by Eleyi, a fierce light that outshines those around
her. I brush her thoughts, and I feel her startle, feel her anger and frustration.
Feel the hope that flares in her as I feather through her subconscious.

But that is all—emotions so faint I can barely feel them. No words, no
promises or false assurances. Already, we are too far apart for anything but
the faintest connection.

I have to make this count.

Taking a deep breath, I gather all the hope I have and focus it, coiling
it in a tight ball. Then I send it across the void of stars, trusting the
strength of our bond to hold as I send it to her.

I feel it hit her, feel the shock of her absorbing something so bright
that it outshines her fear and shock and pain. Feel the hope I’ve offered up
fold into her like it is her own. I feel her burst of emotion, a flare across
space, before she fades into nothing but another star.

 

I’m freezing when I come out of my trance. There is a thermal blanket at
the base of the bed, and I jerk it up, covering my wings and curling on my
side.

I blink, sleepily, and listen to the conversation coming from the
cockpit.

“You’re playing with fire.”

“Would you quit worrying, Tin?” She says, her voice sharp and tired, and
I wonder how long they’ve been arguing.

“That’s my job, Sadi. And it’s damn hard to do my job when you won’t
play by the rules.”

“It wasn’t my idea in the first place,” she snaps, her voice dangerous.
“Daddy forced you on me, and if you think I’m going to change just because he
did, you’re an idiot.”

Hurt flares across his mind and then, stiffly, “I apologize, lady. I
thought we were friends. I presume too much.”

She makes a noise of protest, but Tin ignores it, rising and stalking
out of the cockpit, past my tiny room.

“Hell,” she mutters. “Leen, monitor Tinex for body stress.”

“Not viable order,” the computer answered calmly.

“Fuck your viable orders,” she snaps, and then, before the computer can
respond, “Inform me of sustained elevated heart-rate or blood pressure.”

“Monitoring Tinex’s body system.”

What does she want? What kind of life is waiting for me, now? And how
can I get to Chosi when we are destined for opposite corners of the galaxy? I
hug my blanket closer, my eyes closing sleepily—in the silence, I finally pass
out.

 

 
I dream of home. Of the warm
breeze stirring waxy leaves, the constant hum of wings and emotions. The taste
of flower-scented rain, and my sister’s laughter as Mother cooks and shoos us
from her kitchen.

I almost think it’s real—that the slavers and the branding, the auction
houses, all of it—have been a horrible dream. For a heartbeat, as the nutty
smell of lemils in lynn oil fills my nose, I do.

And then I open my eyes, and the dreams vanish. The synth pillow is
scratchy beneath my cheek, the sterile smell of the ship overrides the smell of
cooking. My nose wrinkles.
Bad
cooking,
at that. I sit up on the bunk, and flex my wings with a slight rustle as I
yawn. The cockpit is quiet, the spaceship gliding effortlessly through space. I
can hear a rhythmic thudding from somewhere, and detect the burnt smell of
frying lemils. Despite the foul odor—how, I wonder, do you screw up
lemils
—my
mouth waters, and I realize how hungry I am.

I ignore Tin—from the emotion radiating from the back of the ship, he is
still angry and I don’t want to intrude. Instead, I go into my small bathroom
and after washing my face in the tiny sink, I wander toward the smell of
cooking.

Sadi stands in the kitchen, arms akimbo, glaring at the pan of lemils
currently burning on the hotsurface. Literally.

With a muttered curse, I leap past her and jerk the flaming pan from the
hotsurface and dump it into a nearby sink. The mess sizzles and hisses, and I
stare forlornly at it.

“First time trying to make lemils?” I ask, turning on the water for good
measure.

She laughs, a surprisingly light noise that makes me twist to look at
her. “What gave it away? I mean, aside from the flames and shit.”

I swallow, watching her from the corner of my eye as she digs out a mesh
bag full of fresh green lemils and hands them to me. “Wanna teach me?” she
asks, and I blink. Her tone—

“Ill-advised,” the computer chirps and I flinch as she growls a curse.

“Shut up, Leen,” she orders.

I stare at her and she sighs, her psyche filled with disappointment.
“Fine. You cook. Tin would be pissed if I burnt the ship down in deep space.”

“I thought Tin was already pissed,” I say, surprising myself. Sadi
shrugs, and I glance at her as I reach for her knife. If she’s nervous about a
slave with a weapon, she doesn’t show it. Not that I would use it as a weapon.
Maybe that’s why she doesn’t seem to care.

“He’s worried,” she says, quietly. “And he has never been good at
channeling emotion—he usually just gets mad and hits things. It makes for a
wonderful bodyguard, but not for a very easy person to work with.”

I slice the lemils methodically, processing her words. “He’s your
bodyguard?”

“Daddy’s idea, not mine. I think he draws more attention than he deters,
but Daddy is paranoid.”

“The Queen knew who you were,” I point out.

She is so quiet I eventually look at her. She’s staring at me, her
expression pensive, but I can’t feel her emotions. Where did she learn to lock
them away so completely? And what kind of life would call for it?

I pause in the middle of slicing and she pulls herself onto the counter
and swings her legs. “You aren’t what I was expecting,” she says.

I
could say the same,
I think, testing the hotsurface. The lynn oil,
a sweet byproduct of the bitter lynn fruit, pops, and I hiss as it singes my
arm. Turning the heat down a little, I toss the lemils and onions into the pan
and rummage above the stove for spices.

“What did you expect?” I ask, curiously.

She laughs, her cheeks flushing suddenly. “I’m not sure. You would think
I’d know more about you—about the Eleyi. But everything is book knowledge, ya
know? That’s why I did all this.”

She looks at me, hopeful, and I frown.
Did what?

“If you are not a slave owner, why did the queen know you?” I ask
abruptly, stirring the food.

She is quiet, her mind so still I glance at her, nervous.

“I’m Sadiene Renult,” she says at last.

I blink, and a tiny smile turns her lips.

“The only daughter of Danick Renult-Harvine.”

The name tickles my memory. I frown at the lemils, thinking, and Sadi
heaves a sigh. “Senator Harvine of New Earth?”

The title clicks and I drop the fork into the lemils, turning to stare
at the girl who owns me. She smiles smugly. I wonder if she always gets this
reaction.

“Your
father
is the Senator?”

She nods. “That’s how the queen—how most of the slavers—know me. When
I’m not at school, I’m usually with Daddy.”

“I don’t understand,” I say, stupidly. “Why would the Senator’s daughter
own a slave?”

She must sense something in my voice—her back is stiff when she says,
“This isn’t Daddy’s idea. You can’t blame him.”

I turn to stare at her. “You, the underage daughter of a prominent
politician, decided that buying an Eleyi slave would be a brilliant idea.
Despite the fact that your father has built his political career on Eleyi
rights and abolishing the slave trade. Is that what you’re telling me?” I
demand, a strange anger filling me.

She looks distressed and then pleased, before she shrugs. “That’s about
right.”

“Why?” I whisper, and she tenses.

Behind her Tin approaches, large and silent. But I know she is aware of
him, in the slight curve of her shoulders as he stops a few steps away, the
flash of relief in her emotions before it’s gone, locked behind her mental
walls.

“Because, Eleyi, the lovely lady has a plan,” Tin answers for her,
pausing for a split second before he allows a miniscule smile to tilt his lips.
“And if you help, she might just pull it off.”

 

Sadi and Tin sit across from me, empty plates discarded on the table. I
feel nauseated, and push my untouched lemils away, reaching instead for the
bottle of Tryen Curso. My hand trembles a little as I pour the brilliant blue
liquor and swallow it.

Fire ignites in my throat and I wheeze. I’ve never enjoyed drinking—not
as much as Chosi, and certainly nothing as strong as Curso.

“You want me to pose as your consort,” I repeat, staring at her, trying
to think past my confusion and the growing anger. “And...what? What the hell do
you think that will do?”

Oh. I glance down at the empty glass in my hand and push it away.
Apparently, the rumors that it quickly enhances emotion are spot-on.

“I think,” she says tartly, “that no one in the Interplanetary Senate
gives a damn about the Eleyi. They know your people are peaceful but there is
nothing about Eleyiar that makes it valuable. The IPS has no reason to protect
you and the public. They
hear
about slavery, about how it is awful and
how Eleyi deserve rights—but you have no face. You need to make them
care
about a person, rather than the race. You are too isolated on-planet and too
damn stubborn to leave it.”

Her words fan my anger, and I sit back to give her a cool stare. “And
being your consort will change that?”

“It could.” Her voice is steely but I can taste the edge of emotion
under it—hurt. She didn’t think I would refuse this.

Without thinking, I blurt out bitterly, “I
can’t
refuse this. I’m
a slave.”

She flinches as if I have struck her and Tinex tenses as I look away,
guilty. I wasn’t trying to hurt her. Sadi’s eyes meet mine, and I feel her just
outside my mental walls, a probing but unobtrusive presence. When I acknowledge
her, she says, -
I won’t force you to do this. You were paid for because I
couldn’t get close to an Eleyi any other way. But I will send you home, if that
is your wish.-

I can feel the truth behind her words. And for a heartbeat, the
temptation of my world, orange-tinted waters, leafy trees,
home,
is thick and tears blur my vision. Then guilt, so hot and
fierce I can’t breathe, slams into me. How can I even consider it, with Chosi
enslaved?

“I can’t go home,” I say quietly. “My sister is somewhere in this
universe, a slave to that Pente, and I will find her. I swore it.”

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