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Penance

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“Let’s go.”

The Peacekeeper stood in the doorway, his tone cool and impatient.

She scrutinized him. The woman called Rhoma kept her back to the wall where she sat in her dark concrete cell.

“Best start moving honey. If the ship leaves without you well…”

He paused and Rhoma could spot the hint of a sleazy smile behind his cold impassive visor.

“...We’d take good care of you.”

He slapped his nightstick against a thick leather glove to emphasize his words. The rubber made a sickening squeezing sound.

Rhoma’s lip twitched. She stood and followed him out.

She was pushed onto the ramp of the airship, the same sleazy Peacekeeper escorted her. He kept a firm, painful grip on her upper arm, completely indifferent to her grunts of protest as he manhandled her. It was obvious he was making no attempt to be gentle, but Rhoma was convinced he was intentionally being rough.

He was lucky that visor covered his face. She remembered faces.

Her hands were bound tightly and the whirr of the lock beam reverberated on her wrists in a way that made her teeth grind. Escape was out of the question. There was a guard perched at every corner of that loading bay. Blinding spotlights and cannons trained on her. Ready to strike her down without hesitation.

The facility where she was being held was nestled within a sheer mountain side, with nothing below or around them for miles accept for angry jagged rocks waiting for someone stupid enough to jump to escape. Even if she managed to slip past them, out of her shackles, and off the loading dock, she had nowhere to go. All she could do was face forward and walk.

As they ascended the ramp of the ship, the unmistakable stench of bodies packed in tight quarters hit her. Not a pleasant smell, but it sparked old memories of early mornings at the military base.

Stuffy, hot air that clung to Rhoma’s skin in little beads of sweat. Bodies shuffling close, shoulder to shoulder as they tried their best to fight for space in the holding bay of the ship. Rhoma remembered briefly the buzz of excitement she had felt when she began that journey. Full of hope that she would excel, be given high honors and praise, make friends, maybe even find a place to call home.

But that’s not how life worked. At least, not for people like her.

As soon as she stepped to the mouth of the ship, Rhoma looked over the passengers and her stomach sank. 20 other prisoners on that ship and every single one of them alien. All of them scattered throughout the interior of the holding bay. All of them criminals in the eyes of the Ministry. Filthy and undesirable.

They all stopped what they were doing to stare and analyze her. She was a human being sent to an alien prison facility. Her appearance was “odd” to them, she supposed. Even though Rhoma was fit with toned muscle and her deep beige skin was peppered with all manner of scars from combat.

Any other place, she would have been feared, maybe even admired. But, Rhoma was no threat here. They all knew it.

The guard behind her bade her to move with a quick jab, swiftly ending her train of thought. The menagerie of aliens moved out of their way, flashing huge teeth as their strange eyes followed her. Rhoma did her best to keep her gaze low to avoid direct eye contact. She knew not to provoke any of them, lest she offend one and they descend upon her and tear her weak flesh to ribbons.

Her only peace of mind was that their movement was restricted, just as hers was. Stirpped of all their belongings and given nothing but sterile gray jumpsuits with their numbers printed on their arms. Some even sporting muzzles, which did little to hide the menacing gleam of teeth as she passed them.

This place felt like a zoo, a pack of wild dogs corralled into a cage and put on leashes. Wolf packs assigned the roles and enforced them with strict aggression. Rhoma recognized the unspoken role she’d been assigned. These aliens had natural abilities that made them stronger, smarter, and more equipped to the dangers that lay ahead.

She was just human. Which meant she was at the bottom.

The guard offered little comfort as he shoved her harshly into the wall of the ship. She let out a grunt and spun around to glare at him with daggers in her eyes. Any protest she had died on her lips as she was only greeted by her own furious reflection in his visor. She looked miserable and tired. It infuriated her as she saw the corners of that smile appear once more, amused at her defeat and submissiveness.

He waited for her shackle to connect then turned heal without a word and left the ship to continue his duties. Probably off to harass more prisoners with threats of violence disguised as discipline.

So there she stood. Left to the mercy of her fellow prisoners.

She pressed her back to the wall and kept her gaze low. A feeble attempt to satisfy some primal urge to protect herself from ambush. Really, she hoped the wall might swallow her up. She didn’t understand why they wouldn’t put them all in individual cages when they traveled. Fights were sure to break out. It was probably more affordable to let prisoners kill each other instead.

“Fucking cheap pricks.” Rhoma cussed under her breath.

A smaller alien with a green tint to its scales scurried closer to Rhoma. She repressed a flinch as it leaned forward to attempt a look at her face.

“Human? Human? How come? How come?”

It’s voice came out fast and high pitched, through needle-like teeth. The sound made her own teeth hurt.

“Human...”

An enormous grey alien threatened her from across the ship. Its voice slightly broken as if it struggled with english words.

Rhoma feigned ignorance, acting as if she never heard it speak. To put it simply, this thing was the biggest fucker on the ship. At a glance, it was vaguely humanoid. It had oily, hairless, hippo like skin. Its eyes were like huge black billiard balls resting in it’s skull. Its wide mouth held yellow jagged tusks that fit neatly together.

The other aliens gave it a wide berth. Surely not only for their own safety but because of its pungent odor. She could smell it all the way from where she was. A nasty invasive smell, like body odor and sour milk all mixed together. The image of it moving around the ship and all the other creatures running away comically to avoid the smell popped into her mind. Although still dangerous, the idea made it less threatening. The thought made the edges of her mouth twitch with a smile.

An action she immediately regret, as her response only seemed to anger it. It gave guttural growl and she felt the whole ship vibrate as it lumbered over towards her. It took the aliens next to it with it as it moved, helpless to stop it as their connected chain pulled them forward like dogs. The little green alien scrambled away, smart enough to know not to get in it’s way.

It slammed her against the wall with ease before she could even avoid the attack, pinning her there with its elbow. She hit the wall with a heavy thud and the back of her skull sang with pain.

“Human pretty gooood. Eata many in my time….”

The sour odor blew over Rhoma’s face and into her nose as it spoke. Her eyes stung. She could feel the bile in her throat.

She turned her head away sharply. Forced to hold her breath to keep the vomit at bay. It didn’t help that the brute was pressing his weight down on her chest, leaving her unable to take in a full breath.

“...been so loooong…..” It let the words slither out. The stench from it’s mouth clung to the air around her face like some horrible suffocating gas.

Rhoma choked and rasped. Feeling her eyes bulge in her head and her throat burn. She thought for sure the smell alone would knock her out, if not the lack of oxygen.

The Peacekeepers were nowhere to be found. Even as the other prisoners became riled and excited at the prospect of blood. Even the aliens connected to the gray beast chittered and bounced in anticipation. A chorus of growling, chattering, and hissing began to swell and intensify. Everyone erupted in chaos, jostled and on edge, like animals starved for meat.

The gray beast stuck out its long flat tongue, taunting inches away from her skin. All the sounds blurred together into a cacophonous roar in her ears.

Rhoma wasn’t sure if this is how she expected to die. Suffocated by a nasty hippo alien in a ship with a bunch of other aliens excited to watch her bleed.

But then, she never saw herself growing old, surrounded by loved ones or some postcard bullshit like that. So she supposed it didn’t matter much how she died. Death was her business after all. Why should it frighten her?

Just as the darkness began to creep around the corners of her vision, everything stopped.

No growls, no chatter. Just a few heavy footsteps ascending the ramp.

Suddenly everyone’s attention shifted to the mouth of the ship. The creature finally took its grotesque face away from hers, dropping her unceremoniously. Rhoma crumbled to the floor in a violent fit of coughing, her lungs burned. Nervous sweat dripped down her neck and spittle dribbled down the corners of her mouth. She cussed under her raspy breath. She must have looked absolutely pathetic. Her muscles tensed with rage and she wanted to scream at the frustration of it all.

The lack of freedom, the taunts, and the fact she might very well die here were all realities she could bare with for the most part. But the humiliation, the complete and utter removal of whatever dignity she clung to…it was too much.

The hate bubbled up in her making her cheeks burn. She wished, which she was not oft to do, that her gaze alone would melt the beast into a pile of ash as gray and disgusting as its skin.

Somehow, through her rage, she caught a flash of red that popped against the dark metal of the ship interior. It brought her out of her blind fury and she lifted her head to try and get a better look. Straining to see what everyone else was gawking at.

When she did see it she felt her muscles tense. Her eyes went wide and she forgot completely about the danger the gray alien posed. Now fully focused on the danger making its way through the ship.

A Yautja.

Yautja were hunters and were widely regarded as savage evil beings without empathy or mercy. Largely due to the fact that they made a cute little habit of hunting other intelligent beings for sport and conquest.

The amount of huntings dwindled as humans conquered the mysteries of space. It became difficult for Yautja to hunt without notice. They quickly became nothing more than stories and myths on earth. Monsters to scare children at bedtime. Cryptids that stupid teenages went looking for after dark.

But the creature Rhoma saw was very real.

It was a hellish red color and huge. Its body bulged with well toned, lethal muscle. The color of its hide stood out so intensely against the grays and browns of the rest of the prisoners. Apparently they hadn’t tried to force it into the required clothing like the rest of them. The face was covered by an onyx mask framed by long dark, dreads adorned with metal cuffs. It was a terrifying visage of death, impassive and bleak.

Two peacekeepers escorted it. Though it looked less like an escort and more like the two of them were moving a sensitive nuclear bomb. They moved behind it, their cattle prods-like weapons pointed at it with tense focus and ready to fire at the slightest sign of hostility.

Even constrained in thick metal shackles this thing oozed power. Every inch thick with hostility. A trained and well bred murderer.

Every creature on the ship gave it a wise respectful distance as it strode past them. They all knew humans were weak. But they also knew that Yautja were not.

As the trio moved, Rhoma realized that they were going to put the fucking thing next to her. It was the only space left. She would have laughed at the irony. The weakest creature there, shackled to the deadliest. But the intense sensation of foreboding kept her from the humor of it all.

The gray alien still stood near her. Staring down the red Yautja like a new challenger had approached him, its chainmates obviously wanting no part of of this. She had no idea what possessed it to do this. Perhaps it thought because of its slight size advantage, it could stand up to the Yautja. Perhaps it was worried about its position as biggest fucking cock shit.

Rhoma did not want to be caught in the middle of some alien dick measuring contest. But unable to move away, the full form of the Yautja came into view, and she found herself gazing up at the creature.

It was much more terrifying up close. The texture of its skin was spiked and pebbly like a crocodiles and sharp white bone stuck out from it’s elbows. The angry red skin blended into a lighter gradient towards its pectorals and abdominals. Rhoma was curious about that coloring. She only ever knew Yautja to be a mix of browns and greens. She’d never seen anything like it.

She wasn’t given more time to analyze. The gray alien began to grunt low and rhythmic. It had blocked the path of the Yautja, face to face and defiant.

“Step aside.” One of the guards spoke up, trying to sound authoritative, while his focus was still primarily on the Yautja.

The gray alien paid him no mind as it blew that rancid breath into the emotionless mask of the Yautja, exposing those giant tusk-like teeth. The Yautja just stood, back straight and unphased by the gray alien’s threatening demeanor.

“He said move back you Koei shit! You deaf?! Don’t make us ask you again.” The other Peacekeeper barked.

The Koei, as they had called the gray alien, began to speak in that nasty gargled voice, in a language Rhoma couldn’t begin to understand. Then it seemed to chuckle. The laughter reverberated off the walls of the ship, a few other aliens joined in weakly. The sound was mocking and deliberate.

But the Yautja just stood there, silent as death and unmoved. The Koei sneered and spat, then lumbered back to his place in the line up, tugging his unwilling followers along.

Once the Koei had let them be, the Peacekeepers jabbed at the Yautjas back, a silent stern order to move next to Rhoma. Without so much as a grunt, it stepped up to the wall to her left and faced the guards. Rhoma’s chain locked with his, in a blue neon light.

The guards chucked to themselves as they left them, impressed with themselves, though it sounded more like nervous relief.

She was surprised to see it act so cooperative to the authority of humans. It must have been just as humiliating for him as it was for her, if not worse.

It wasn’t interested in her it seemed, but its whole aura felt like white hot menace. Its body even gave off waves of heat like the old gas cars Rhoma used to see when she was young.

She was wary of every single movement, worried even the slightest touch could set it off. She almost wished for the Koei again. But, at least this guy didn’t smell.

Not long after, the sound of shouting and affirmatives rang through the ship. They were preparing for take off. The ship shook to life as the engines started, drowning out any and all sound other than the harsh explosion of the jets. The ramp began to raise and the light from the outside folded away leaving the ship dark, save for the dim red lights cast over their bodies.

The ship lurched and everyone lurched with it. The Yautja stood firm in its spot and Rhoma was forced to try and keep her body from bumping into it as they began take off.

Their journey had begun.