When I woke, all was silent, except for the distant unearthly yowling of some alien.
Most of the lights were off except for one or two that flickered nervously and occasionally went out all together as if scared by a sudden noise or movement. The shadows in the corners of my cell curled and twisted in inky tendrils like tentacles, and I was suddenly reminded of the stories of Vashta Nerada I used to hear when I was a child, and the nightmares of black shadows and grinning skeletons I'd had afterwards.
I climbed off the bad and limped over to the mesh of my door to get closer to the light. Soft beams washed over my face, and the insides of my eyelids glowed white as I shut my eyes and forced out the sight of the cells and metal. My limbs ached with injuries from the crash and my arms were incredibly sore. My wrists were chafed and swollen with the handcuffs. The side of my face was stiff with dried blood and the red weal on my jaw throbbed uncomfortably along with my heart.
The corridor was highlighted in an uncertain pale light, leaving the cells sunken in shadows even darker than when I'd first arrived. A few faces were pressed up against the bars outlined in the faint light; sad faces full of sadness and a dragging despair that tugged at my gut to do something, anything. Hollow eyes stared out blankly, one or two resting on me before aimlessly wandering elsewhere. No one spoke, and the place seemed eerily silent. Quite a few of the inmates would be asleep, but the ones who were gripped with insomnia simply sat and stared, huddled in their own thoughts. It occurred to me that nighttime would be the only time they'd have to themselves without being taunted and maimed within their prisons.
My forehead was against the mesh and bars that kept me prisoner, and the cool press of metal sharpened my senses somewhat, dulled the throb of my cheek and the headache that was fast approaching. I grinned half-heartedly. What a mess I was. Cuts, bruises, swollen wrists, and now a migraine. Surely I couldn't be of any use.
In a sudden fit of rage, I threw myself at the bars, again and again, kicking the mesh and bashing the wall with my shoulders. My cage suddenly seemed small, too small, and so small I couldn't breath. The door held, and I sank back down to the floor breathing hard. I knew it was stupid, but it helped to vent some of my anger and I felt considerably better after.
I don't know how long I sat there for, but the next think I knew, lights flashed on in the hall. The sudden brightness momentarily blinded me, and I hissed in pain. Squinting, I soon adjusted, and saw that the whole walkway was drenched in light. Four or five guards were patrolling up and down, several reaching out with their weaponry to rattle the bars of cages, grinning cruelly at the reactions they provoked.
One came to my bars, tapping a rhythm on the bars and scraping across the mesh with his knuckles. The sound grated across my eardrums, but I forced myself to stay with it and not fall back into pure anger. I crouched in the dull shadows. The tapping got louder and louder - the guard clearly wanted me to perform - but when nothing happened he stopped and took a step forwards, brow wrinkling as he tried to distinguish between alien and shadow. A smarter man might've used a torch, but I had an inkling that he wasn't exactly brainy.
I made my move.
"Roar!" I leapt out of the shadows, teeth bared and eyes narrowed in the most fearsome mask I could manage, screaming the single word like it could bring down an entire army. He fell back with a yell of terror, even though a cage of mesh and concrete held me back, and the fright in his eyes made me involuntarily smirk with satisfaction. I'd probably pay for it later, but it had so been worth it.
A snort from another cell caught my attention. A figure stood slouched against their cage door, tall and slim with a relaxed grace that wouldn't have looked out of place in a cat. A pair of reproachful brown eyes blazed out of a beautiful green face encrusted in glowing green scales, only broken by a vivid red scar that wormed its way across its cheek to above its eye.
I sniffed deeply, curious as to the identity of this sudden ally. A dusty, reptilian smell met my nose. The smell of snakes.
"Silurian?" I queried.
She nodded, clearly impressed.
"Shut up! No talking between prisoners is permitted." The guard barked instructions, clearly annoyed with my stunt and happy to resume his position of authority.
The figure rolled her eyes, mouthed a word that looked like it could mean something fantastically rude, before calmly slinking into the back of her cell to lie on her bed, eyes shut in meditation. A tiny smile curled the edges of my mouth; it was the first smile in several days that hadn't been sarcastic or predatory.
The nearest door slid open on a hidden mechanism, and a familiar man marched through.
His eyes fell on me standing sedately, watching my surroundings with the beginnings of a smile, which quickly vanished as soon as he approached cautiously. Evidently he remembered my performance from yesterday.
"Hello Clafnax. Sleep well?" he said evenly, almost as if he were genuinely interested in me.
I decided to play it annoyingly cool and calm. I wouldn't let him get to me this time and give him an excuse to treat me like a wild animal. "Very well thanks," I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. "Although I would've been more comfortable without the handcuffs."
"Well that's a pity," he said shortly, looking flummoxed at my decision to be (or at least pretend to be) obedient. "We've decided to speak now, have we?"
His patronizing words stung like lemon juice in a wound, but I sucked in a shaky breath. "Maybe, maybe," I said knowingly.
It was his turn to look pained. I was talking, like he wanted, and yet I still clung onto freedom by my teeth, and I wasn't about to let go.
"Are you going to tell me your name?"
His face hardened. "Why not?"
I hesitated before throwing caution to the wind and going for the full under-the-skin jibe. "Why should I? Anyway you'd never use it. You'd just continue to reference to me as 'The Clafnax'. Which I find incredibly insulting by the way." I sniffed as if upset, before sitting to lean against the wall whilst sighing in mock comfort. I stared at him, but this time my eyes were hard and cold, a challenging glare. "Are we done?"
He glared at me before abruptly moving on to some other life form he could mock without being answered back.
Before I had any time to savour my victory, the door slid open again, and a huddle of people swarmed through. I stood, intrigued by the new humans. They smelt of power and wealth, and their clothes spoke of it as well. They strolled down the corridor, breaking off in smaller groups to gawk through the bars, and chatter excitedly to the guards. I saw money changing hands quickly. Bets perhaps?
I had somehow got myself a couple, a young blonde woman with frankly enormous boobs and a dress that didn't do a very good job of keeping them hidden, and a man, I presumed her husband, who as a lot older and looked rather military in posture. The woman pointed to me, oblivious to the fact that I was right there and could see and hear her perfectly well.
"What is it George?" she whispered, her huge blue eyes steadily getting wider and wider.
"I don't know dear," he replied. He frowned at me. "Hello. Can you understand me?" he said slowly, enunciating every word as if talking to a young child.
I rolled my eyes. "Yes. I. Can," I said equally slowly. He flushed, backing up quickly.
"It can talk!" the woman gasped.
"Evidently I can speak," I snapped, annoyed by their stupidity. "Now let me get a couple of things clear here. One, I'm not an 'it'. Use your eyes: I'm female. Two, I don't appreciate being talked to like an imbecile since I am three times more intelligent than the both of you put together. And three: please don't goggle at me as if I'm some zoo animal. I may be an alien, but it still doesn't give you the rights to lock me away, tie me up, and watch me for your own amusement!"
I spoke low and fast with a barely disguised menace, and to my relief the couple hurried away, leaving me blissfully alone. None of the guards, or Boss, had heard my outburst, but they would eventually find out somehow, and then I would be done for.
I shrugged. Ah well. It had been worth it.
Across the aisle, an elderly gentleman was eyeing the Silurian appraisingly. She met my gaze for a second before turning back to watching the man with barely disguised disgust. I saw her mouth moving silently, but I was unable to hear the words over the noise made by the visitors and the captives. Either way, the gentleman walked away, and she was left alone.
She smiled in amusement before speaking, voice raised to be heard over the haze of background din. "You're new aren't you?"
The amusement was replaced with a look of pity. "You're only young…" she said softly.
"Why, what's going on?"
She changed the subject nimbly, as easily as changing direction. "What's your name?"
"Miran. What's yours?"
"Kora," she said proudly.
My attention was suddenly grabbed by the sound of a cell door swinging open. The creak set my every nerve on edge; my eyes were fixed on the sight of that door opening slowly to free is occupant. Why was it getting free, why were the rest of us still locked up? What was going on?
The alien was pulled forwards roughly, and I suddenly recognised it as the Constella Nightmare. Its fur gleamed gold and russet, and it yowled nervously, revealing curved fangs made of diamonds. Its nine tails twitched uneasily, several breaking into a hopeful wag.
The couple that'd been looking at me were examining the creature, reaching out apprehensively to run their fingers over its claws and through its thick lustrous fur. The Constella Nightmare gave a purr of pleasure.
I watched with my heart in my throat. I didn't know what was going on here, but my gut told me that it was anything but good.
The couple exchanged words, the woman's face lit up with greed, before the man called to Boss. They exchanged words, before the man handed Boss a bundle of notes. The creature was bundled back into its cage, but a sign was hung from the bars. In bold letters, it read:
So that was what was going on.
This was a black market for aliens.
Kora was watching me sadly, her seemingly chirpy nature swallowed by despair.
"We're for sale," I whispered.
"I hoped you wouldn't have to find out until later," she confessed. "They look for aliens, like us, perhaps who have crash landed. They'll then strip the ship of any technology or equipment that could be considered as valuable, and then bring back the survivors to be sold for millions of pounds. Of course, the craft is then destroyed so that no one finds out."
"But why? I mean, where do we go? Who buys us?"
"People with lots of money and nothing to spend it on. And as for where we go, we could go anywhere. Some are used as slaves to create new technology. Some are dissected and experimented on in the name of science. Some are kept as exotic pets. And some of us are rare delicacies."
I paced my cell, my situation dawning on me. I was never going to escape. Sure I might escape this cell, but there would be others. And there would be no guarantee that I'd actually stay alive. At this point, I was close to hysteria. And I didn't care a jot.
"I can't stay here. None of us can stay here." Every word oozed with panic.
Kora's face solidified into a clay mask. "There's no way out. I tried, and this is what I got for it." She pointed to her scar. "They nearly killed me!"
"Well I'd rather be dead than in this hellhole anyway!" I threw myself at the wire, ignoring the pain blossoming in my shoulder, determined that I was going to get out or die trying. It wouldn't give, instead tearing viciously into my shirt, several loose sharp ends spitefully sinking into my skin. When I pulled back, I was bleeding.
I sank to the floor, and the whole weight of it all crashed down on me like a huge wave, dragging me down, forcing me under. I'd suppressed tears until now, and one rolled down my cheek, then another, and another until I was silently sobbing. My stomach convulsed as I choked on my own tears. Everything hurt; I'd managed to ignore it until now. I felt everything, the wounds from the crash, the handcuffs digging jagged teeth into my swollen wrists, the countless bruises and cuts, and the constant ache in my head that my life had been smashed into tiny pieces of what it had once been, and that I was never going to piece it back together.
Eventually the tears stopped, and I drew a ragged breath. Several passers by were staring at me, and I half-heartedly growled at them, sending them scuttling away like frightened chickens.
Kora was watching me cautiously. "Are you alright?"
"What do you think?" I flared. She looked hurt. "Sorry," I muttered. I wasn't sure that I was, but she seemed to accept the somewhat terse apology.
"I get it," she said. I believed her. I had no idea how long she'd been here, but the scar etched into her face told me that she'd been here a long time and had yet still managed to cling to whatever dignity she could.
A clatter of footsteps broke through my thoughts, and I looked up only to see a figure blocking my view of the corridor. I was caught in a second's hesitation; should I snarl fiercely and scare him off, or just glare at him coldly and really freak him out?
The answer was neither of the above. I ended up watching him with a wary curiosity.
For starters he looked like none of the other people here. In fact, he looked like no one I'd ever seen before, human or otherwise. My first impression was that of a scientist; I could see glittering intelligence in his dark eyes, and his tweed jacket and cockily angled bow tie could've belonged to a science teacher. But then there was the unruly shock of brown hair, the ever fiddling hands and the trailing laces of his boots, which made his seem younger, and more like a schoolboy.
Another thing was that instead of the greedy excitement with which everyone else watched me, his eyes were full of a weary sadness, like he'd seen this sort of thing before. His gaze reached out to me, and I was tempted to return it. But he was human, and the one thing I'd learned over the past few days was that humans were not to be trusted.
I turned my gaze down to stare resolutely at the floor, like I hadn't noticed him.
"Hello." He whispered the single word, eyes darting from side to side as if he didn't want to be overheard.
I started in surprise. Why would he want to say hello to me? He certainly had my attention now. A ghost of a smile flickered across his face as I reluctantly turned my eyes his way.
"What are you doing here?"
Second surprise. Surely he'd know otherwise he wouldn't be here. I tried to swallow my confusion, but I couldn't keep it down, and it must have shown on my face, as the stranger took a step closer.
I snarled automatically, a thin worn out sound that grated against my dry throat, but my teeth still gave a clear warning. Keep back.
He backed off, raising a hand either in a feeble attempt at reassurance. "It's okay, I understand that you're scared. But I'm going to help you."
I found my voice at last. "Who are you?" I spat. Every word leaked suspicion. "Why should I believe you? You're just like the rest of them."
"No. I'm really not. I promise I will get you out of here, and all the others." His tone was urgent and his eyes begged me to believe him. "But I need you to trust me."
My own glare was sceptical. I wasn't easily persuaded, and I didn't believe for a single second that he wanted to help me. He was human, and that was the end of it.
"Hey! Who the hell are you?" A guard raced over, grabbing the arm of my visitor. "You're not on the list!"