His eyes were ghost white, with slit pupils, face smooth and hairless. A large tattoo on his neck spread up onto his cheek, and resembled claw marks. His eyes appeared much too big for his face; the brow pronounced, jaw thin, cheekbones sharp.
Those eyes rooted me; their milky color caused a distant memory to tug at my mind, and then fade away. They could have been fake lenses, but his slit pupils contracted as he focused on me,
and a sinister smile wreathed his face.
Nope, those puppies were real and his expression was not reassuring. His eyes glistened with what looked like glee. I watched those eyes track up and down my body. His nostrils flared and he
stalked in my direction, his movements slow and deliberate, but a little disjointed given the length of his limbs. He reminded me of a predator that had sighted its prey. I froze, his eyes mesmerizing me
for a second before looking away.
Then it dawned on me. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. I should’ve realized it sooner. I kind of did realize it sooner. The suns, the rocks, the grass, the everything. This was not Earth. This guy was not human, the posture, the movement, the eyes. He was definitely
The fear I suppressed earlier rushed through me. My hands shook and my heart raced. I stumbled backward and turned to run, barreling smack dab into the tree. Graceful-R-Us.
The tall guy reached me as I staggered back and he blocked my escape. The other men twisted to stare then glanced at each other. Nobody looked happy to see me. The ones hunched near the press appeared frightened, their eyes wide.
“Who are you? How did you get here? Are there others?” The tall guy’s voice was strange, echoey. With a sick start, I realized he wasn’t speaking English, but I could still understand him. His
voice was deep and rich, like aged whiskey, the echo the same. The effect was odd, a bit off-putting, and not even a little attractive.
The tall guy pressed close, just short of touching me, his slit eyes alert and a snarl pulling at his lips. He had his hand on his knife but was not brandishing it. Santa slid to my right, flanking me. The other two men remained crouched by the apparatus.
I backed up and held out my hands. My ass smacked the tree behind me. A chill raced through me. I stared at him until his questions registered.
The breath I’d been holding rushed out. “My name is Elizabeth, err, Beta. I’m—.”
“What are you doing here?” he interrupted.
“I’m not sure. I woke up out there-”I pointed around me, then pointed to my head. “I was hurt, I think, I don’t know. Where am I?”
Running my hands through my hair, I probed the back of my neck. Nada. My head didn’t hurt. Huh. Hadn’t there been a cut?
The tall guy laughed, “You did not wake up out there. You had to have traveled here. This is nowhere. Tell me the truth.”
The last was a shout. The more he talked, the more agitated he became. He almost stuttered his words. Or maybe that was just me? How could I understand him? His right hand clenched and
unclenched around the hilt of his knife. He edged even closer, pushing me farther back against the tree.
Compared to me, he was huge, at least six feet tall. There was no trace of fat on him. His muscles rippled as he leaned in and placed his face next to mine. I remained still, trying not to piss him off. Tears threatened, but I blinked them away. Damn allergies. His eyes ignited at my silence.
“How did you get out here?” he gritted out between compressed lips.
“I told you the truth. I don’t know how I got here. I woke up
out there. I heard something thumping and moved toward it.” I gestured, looking at him and the others who surrounded us.
“Are there more of you?” he pushed. I recalled the laughter, the crash, and the cold from earlier, but…didn’t mention it. I hadn’t seen anything.
“Are there more of you?” he growled.
“No, when I woke up, no one else was there.”
“That is not an answer.”
“Yes, it is,” I retorted. It really was an answer.
“No, it is not,” he snarled at me. His hand gripped his knife harder, knuckles whitening. He took the blade out of its sheath and flipped it backward. His nose grazed mine and heat spread in its
wake. My heart skipped a beat. I stared straight ahead.
Minty breath wafted across my face and his teeth were not bad, a bit pointy, but otherwise normal. At least he brushed, or I hoped he did because he was at kissing distance. The rest of the men remained motionless. Barbarian Santa’s gaze darted between the tall
guy and me. I was splayed against the bark like road kill.
“Tell me!” he shouted.
And with that I was done. All the tension, all the fear, all the questions rolling through my mind and this guy was yelling at me. Screw him. Plus there was something about him I liked but didn’t, all
at the same time. It was confusing. My stomach churned. I didn’t need this. None of this was my fault.
“What do you want from me?” I screamed back. “I said I was alone.”
He reared back a bit, startled by my answering shout and glare, which he couldn’t miss, since he was still right there in my face.
“I do not believe you. You are an E’mani.” The tall guy spit the name out as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. Who the hell were the E’mani? A vague silhouette formed in my mind, then faded away. Something else I didn’t know; great. I added it to the list.
“You wear E’mani clothes. You are an E’mani spy!” His words were triumphant as he pressed his knife against my throat. When I swallowed, I felt the prick of the blade and a trickle of blood dripped down my neck. My head swam and my bladder loosened a bit but I refused to give him the satisfaction.
His eyes flickered, confused, as the moment stretched on.
We maintained our desperate eye contact.
I panted and the longer this went on, the more my muscles lightened until my fingers went numb. I tasted violence on the wind. Neither of us moved. Ten seconds. Twenty. He blinked first
and let his dagger drop with a growl and spat next to me on the grown. “E’mani treza.”
I didn’t know what he just called me but it was too much. I was done. I snapped and started shoving him across the field. “I’m not E’mani. I don’t even know who or what that is. You asshole. I’m
from Earth. I don’t know where I am, I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know anything! I need help and you aren’t helping me. Please, help me.”
At this last, my voice cracked, and I fell to my knees,
The tall guy seemed so stunned by my response, he’d let me push him back to the mine. He stared at me for a long second. One. Two. He brought his blade up again. It pressed into my neck forcing my head back. Then with nary a word, he dropped his arm.
My throat burned.
Huh. Everything started to fade and the world turned black.