Charoo proved an awful place, cool, green and brown with a pale blue sky. She missed the reds and blues, Arcadia’s lovely turquoise sky. Eni adjusted the scarf over the lower half of her face. She’d done it first to mask the odd smells that greeted her when she left the ship. When she’d entered the spaceport she’d started to remove it when someone touched her on the arm.
“I wouldn’t do that,” the voice said.
Eni turned to see a small, but drop-dead gorgeous man. He seemed familiar, an Arcadian, though she didn’t know him. Perhaps she’d seen him in Root City. She thought she wouldn’t mind the chance to get to know him better. She winced inwardly at this disloyalty to Stavo, but lately she’d found it difficult to keep herself hopeful. She had no plan of abandoning her search, but it drained her, left her feeling lonely. Still, one glance and the man removed his hand.
“Sorry for the touch, sister, but they are very backward here. If you removed your scarf in a public place, they’d put you in jail for a year.”
“But I’ve only just arrived. How would I be supposed to know?”
“That’s not their problem, they feel,” he said and smiled. “That’s why I’m here to let you know.”
She raised an eyebrow in question, and he bowed, a simple tilting of his head. “Stak Tory at your service. And, I’m not the only one,” he said.
“Enile Gnave, late of Hopkins Port and only just disembarked from the Shortest Mile. Though I’m sure your story is much the same.”
“I’m sure it is,” he said. “Let’s get you through Customs. We can talk once we’re inside my house.” Eni started to protest, but Tori simply steered her to the back of a line.
He guided her through the rigors of Customs, her alien clearance and temporary visa. The locals were shaped like humans, yet that was all she could really tell. They were covered, including the men, except for their startling purple eyes. Their eyes that gave the impression of looking inside her. Perhaps they did. Eni thought she felt a tickle in her mind. It had been gone as quickly as it had come, and she didn’t feel sure that it had been there. She walked the crowded walkways with her guide, never touching others. No one did. It took a knack and more than once he saved her from blundering into a stranger. It was well they didn’t have far to go. Eni could barely breathe when he indicated they’d reached his vehicle. He graciously held the door for her, got in beside her and pointed a gun at her side. He stared at her with a look she supposed was meant to be charming, but didn’t say anything. The car started of its own accorded. He had a driver or the car had been preprogrammed, which said much about Stak Tory if he had access to either.
Eni knew her training would allow her to disarm Tory, but she made no move that might alarm him. She wanted to know more. Had this been his scheme, his idea, or did he work for someone else? If he worked for someone else, what did they have in store for innocent refugees who happened to land here? Or, had she been sold out by her former crew? She’d formed a bond with each of them, other than the Fairy, though she’d found her pleasant enough. What did she really know about them? Certainly not enough to worry about exploring it at the moment.
“Where are you taking me?” she finally asked.
Tory smiled. “I knew if I waited that you come around. My task is simply to bring you. You’ll be safe as long as you don’t open your mouth.”
That answered her first question. His task said that he worked for someone else, and, at a pretty low level. Her continued silenced seemed to unlock her captor’s voice. He talked; it would be her job to glean anything meaningful. She intended to walk away from this free. How free is that, her shattered heart asked, but she ruthlessly ignored it. That pain would have to wait until this ended.
“This is the most Earth-like planet they’ve ever found. The parallels abound,” Tory said. “Unfortunately, it already had its own advanced civilization. I wish my sister and I had never found it.” He paused as if waiting for something. He continued, describing the planet in great detail, but Eni had stopped listening to his words. She concentrated on his voice, his ears and irises. She didn’t know if he’d given her his real name, but she could describe him in exacting detail. She’d recognize him, even if he didn’t look the same.
Foolishly, Eni now knew, she’d been lulled by his help, his open generosity. She knew they rode in a dark, boxy, road-limited vehicle, but she remembered no distinguishing features. She didn’t even know what kind of wheels, or wheel it had. A Dyson Multiturn wheel might not have been obvious, but she should have been paying attention. They’d been climbing steadily for a while. She was ready to make her move, but knew this might be the wrong place, certainly not the best place. The windows had blacked out shortly after they had left the area of the space port. The sound had been damped as well. She felt as if they were on some narrow mountain road, but it could have easily been a wide highway. She reached out and fingered the window control. Nothing happened, but that didn’t surprise her.
“The windows and the doors won’t open without my command,” Tory said.
“I’m feeling faint,” she replied, dangling the bait. He only shrugged.
“The price is too high to tempt me,” he said. “We’re almost there. Once we arrive, you’ll have plenty of fresh air.”
As if in answer to his words, the sound beneath the car changed as it swung to the right. Whatever they had turned onto was long and straight. Eni thought she might have heard the clang of a gate, but they never stopped until they reached what must be their goal. Tory produced a black cloth from his pocket, which turned out to be a hood he snugged over her head. She started to struggle then, sure that she would suffocate.
“I truly am sorry for this,” he said, as the door opened.
She swung her legs toward the blast of frigid air the open door had let in. He pushed from the car. She staggered, but managed to keep her feet. The intense cold shocked her, made her almost glad she had the hood. Someone took her roughly by the arm and hauled her forward as the car door slammed. She was pushed into a building and never heard Tory drive away.