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The Strangers You Meet

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18th Xi 1168

Rum.

“No!” the little Zalian boy screamed, trying to force his wrist out of the grip of the big, scary man that was dragging him down the dirty streets of a planet that was alien to the boy – everything was grey, wet and scary. It was late, and out of the foggy, rainy darkness came blurry lights signifying where the shops and markets were. The Zalian boy fought harder, trying to escape towards those lights but he was only small, not even ten yet, and the big man was...well, big. Big and terrifying.

He knew he shouldn’t have run away from the ship that was taking him to the ‘sanctuary,’ but Kaio Muji hadn’t seen another option. He came from Fealo, a huge war torn planet from the Eon Galaxy that for several years now has been bitterly fighting multiple planets from the Cairn Galaxy. Cairn had always seemed so far away to Kaio, a different world with different planets that had hard to pronounce names. The Zalian’s had started the war, when they had come down on Arossa to attempt to usurp King Rian, but they couldn’t seem to end it. And now Kaio was here, in the Cairn Galaxy itself, where he was hated. His parents had been killed months ago in one of the many violent explosions that littered his neighbourhood, and people had come and loaded him on a ship full of trembling orphans and took him away and...

And he had ran. The moment that ship touched down on this planet to replenish fuel, Kaio had slipped away into the rain. He didn’t want to go to a home with those children...though now he would give anything to be back with them. A sob built up in Kai’s throat, “Please,” he croaked in his language, “I-I’m sorry, I-I’ll be g-good just l-let me go...”

But the man either didn’t understand him or didn’t hear him as he continued to pull Kai along as if he were a rag doll. The boy helplessly struggled in his grip and tried to shape-shift into someone else, someone big and strong, but he wasn’t very good at it yet and all he could do was continuously change his hair colour as he panicked. He was so terrified. Zalians were good Shapeshifters, but Kai was too little, he didn’t know all the rules, nobody had taught him. He saw dangerous faces peeking at him from the shadows, but nobody moved to help him. He was on some hellish planet, full of smoke and darkness, with grey buildings rising up around him and dozens of bizarre markets strewn around despite the rain. Spaceships cut through the night sky.

A building emerged from the darkness, its outline visible in the night with its windows glowing golden like the eyes of a monster. It had four stories and appeared to be made of wood and metal and everything in between, thrown together haphazardly to make an ugly structure. Above the door a neon sign proclaimed ‘THE THIRTEEN FRAGMENTS’ and flashed in multiple languages, though none of them were Zalian so Kaio didn’t know what the establishment was called even as the man who had taken him headed right for it. Dread settled in the boy’s stomach as he returned to his normal appearance – pale skin, bright blue eyes red from crying, flushed cheeks, aquamarine hair plastered to his wet face. The rain beat down on him and the boy cried as his kidnapper pulled him over the threshold of the building.

Inside it was chaos. The dark, smoky interior stank of bitterness and drugs as creatures sat hunched in circular booths. Loud music blared from everywhere, making the floor tremble. Kaio’s eyes opened wide in awe as multi-coloured lights flashed through the darkness. He was thoroughly overwhelmed and allowed his kidnapper to pull him through, finally giving up the fight. He felt eyes looking greedily at him from the shadows of the booths and it made him shudder. He had never seen so many different creatures in one place before – some were big and grey and terrifying, others lithe and floating above their seats.

Suddenly his kidnapper pulled him aside and they slipped between two booths. The next thing Kaio knew was that they were hurrying down a cold, metal corridor, the walls trembling from the loudness of the club music.

“Where are we going?” he asked his kidnapper helplessly, but got no reply. His head spun, he was exhausted and scared – he just wanted to fall asleep and pretend this whole thing was a dream. The kidnapper stopped him from doing so as he veered off to the left and knocked on a steel door. A gruff voice replied from the other side and Kaio’s kidnapper pushed the door open before shoving Kaio inside.

The moment the kidnapper closed the door behind them the loud sound of the nightclub shut off. It was as if the world ceased to exist. Kaio trembled and curled in on himself, intimidated. He was standing in what appeared to be an office with holograms of paperwork and auctions filling the walls – numbers and letters the boy couldn’t understand. The only furniture in the room was a smooth desk and a big chair in which sat...a small man. Kaio blinked. ‘Man’ probably wasn’t the word for this creature; he couldn’t have been taller than three feet with deep red skin rigged like the back of a dragon. On his head he wore a green scarf that was almost as big as him, and his eyes were hidden behind huge, tinted glasses.

“Well, well, well,” the man surprised Kaio by speaking in perfect Zalian, “What have we here?”

The child cowered away and his kidnapper said something grumpily to the man. In response the man sighed and swiped his hand, and on the wall the screens shifted and a green light appeared – payment for Kaio. The kidnapper nodded and turned away and Kai had the urge to grab him and stay close to him; he didn’t want to be alone in this peculiar place and the kidnapper was the only thing relatively familiar. But alas the kidnapper slipped out of the room, the door closing behind him. Kai swallowed and anxiously turned to the red-skinned man.

“Don’t be afraid,” the man said, baring his sharp teeth at Kaio in a smile that made his skin crawl, “My name is Tuvian, but you may call me Mr T.”

“W-What is this place?” Kai asked, lower lip trembling, “I want to go home.”

“But you are home,” Mr T spread his arms in a falsely welcoming gesture, “This is the Thirteen Fragments, a nightclub as you can tell, the best one on Neon Street...maybe even in all of Rum.”

“I don’t want to be here,” Kai whimpered and backed up against the door. Mr T didn’t seem to care that the boy was scared.

“Listen, little boy,” he said, “You belong to me now; I bought you. See, this nightclub will soon become more – I want this to be a dancing club. You understand?”

Kaio didn’t understand, “D-Dancing?”

“Yes.”

“But there’s no dancers...,” Kaio whispered.

Mr T smiled, “Not yet, but you are perfect. Zalian, isn’t it? You can shapeshift.”

“I’m not very good at it,” Kai mumbled. Mr T seemed unbothered.

“We’ll train you, don’t worry boy. What is your name?”

“K-Kaio.”

“Kaio,” Mr T’s smile widened, “You’re going to dance for me, alright? And then you’re going to let people fuck you.”

Kai’s eyes widened and his face blanched, “W-What?”

“I’ll pay you, of course,” Mr T said casually, “So that one day you can buy yourself out of here, get a nice house or a nice ship...but until then, well...”

Kai’s eyes filled with tears as terror gripped him, “I-I don’t w-w-wanna...”

Mr T’s voice was calm and raspy, “I don’t care what you want. Feel free to run, out there on the streets of Rum you won’t last alone for long. Someone will pick you up and fuck you in an alley and slit your throat, maybe fuck your corpse after too...,” Kai wanted to be sick, “But here; I’m offering a roof over your head, food, money, all for the small price of dancing and fucking. Everybody does it, Kaio, sooner or later – dance and fuck, it’s easy.”

Kai swallowed. He didn’t know much about sex but Mr T made it sound easy, and crude. The boy just stood there, dripping water all over the carpet. Mr T sighed, disappointed by his lack of enthusiasm and turned to another door behind his desk.

“Come on in, children!” he called.

The door opened and out came...well, children. Kai tried to back up more but there was nowhere left for him to go so he watched as ten kids came and stood in a neat line in front of the desk. The oldest ones looked about fourteen, two boys – one looked sleepy and reminded Kai of a lion while the other one towered over the rest. Kai found his paper-white skin and pointed ears peculiar. There was a younger boy with yellow skin and writhing tentacles instead of legs. Kai stared at the boy glared at him.

“What the hell are you looking at?” he demanded and Kai quickly looked away. The other kids were all species Kai didn’t know – one girl had red skin and was tiny, another was floating in the air while another boy was more fish than anything else. They scared Kai.

“These are my dancers, Kaio,” Mr T said in Zalian, “they have been here for some years and I am still training them. I want one of each species if I can and a Zalian...you are a rarity. You could change into anybody a client wanted. You would make me so much money.”

Kaio started crying violently, fear washing over him. He just wanted his mother.

The tall boy with the pointed ears came out of the line and knelt in front of Kai. His eyes were hazel and soft, a gentle, kind smile on his face.

“Hello,” he said in Faso. Kai swallowed and tried to understand what the boy was saying – thankfully he made it pretty clear as he put a hand to his own chest and slowly said, “Sahachi.”

Kaio looked at him, “Sahachi,” he mumbled, the word awkward and heavily accented. Sahachi laughed good-heartedly, which made Kai crack a smile. His presence was calming.

“Chi,” Sahachi said, pointing at himself again. Kaio nodded.

“Chi,” he liked that better. He wiped his wet cheeks on his sleeve and pointed to himself, “Kaio.”

“Kaio,” Chi smiled.

“Kai,” Kaio grinned. Chi nodded.

“Kai.”

2nd Duagharrd 1178 (10 years later)

Fayaxiamen.

Tallin had never run so fast in his life; his legs ached and his lungs burned but whenever he stopped one of the four adults would grab his hand and urge him along. This is ridiculous, the almost-seventeen year old Prince thought as he sprinted through the palace gardens in the darkness of the night, We are the royal family, we should stand our ground.

“Tallin!” his mother rounded back and grabbed his hand, her red hair glimmering in the moonlight, “Come on, we must hurry!”

From the palace at their backs came wild shouts and screams as the coup grew in power.

“Vallea!” Tallin’s father looked over his shoulder, “Come! Run!”

Tallin allowed his mother to drag him with her. Normally she was relaxed and composed but now her beautiful face was twisted in fear. She reached her hand out to Zea, her lover, and grasped her silver fingers as they ran.

Earlier that night, Princess Rozene Moringathu, the youngest of the Moringathu siblings, had started a coup. Backed by hundreds of soldiers and citizens who agreed with her extremist political stance to completely destroy Fealo the woman had stormed the castle and announced herself as the new Queen while King Thrisan was forced to flee with his family. They were being pursued; Tallin had barely made it out of his room as Wyliam, his father’s ‘husband,’ had barged in and feverishly got him somewhat dressed before pulling him out into the corridor. Rozene’s soldiers had already been partially up the stairs but Tallin and Wyl managed to get to the King, Queen and Zea. Now they were all running with soldiers somewhere in the distance, in the darkness behind them, chasing after them, hunting them. If they got them, they’d kill them, Tallin knew that, but he was furious that they were being run out of their own home, he wanted to stand and fight.

A ship emerged from the clouds overhead suddenly, swooping down. It was a small, old, battered thing and it landed clumsily between the trees – Tallin barely made out the name on its side; Sycamora. The five stopped running, gasping for air.

“We won’t all fit in that!” Tallin shouted, outraged. His father grabbed his shoulders and looked him in the eye, dark and angry.

“You’re going alone.”

“What?” Tallin was confused; only an hour ago he had been in his warm bed and now..., “Going where? What’s going on?”

“We called for our friends, the moment we knew Rozene was planning to overthrow me. They will take you to Golbahar-“

“Golbahar?!” Tallin’s eyes widened, “But father, that’s in a different galaxy-“

The shouts of the soldiers got louder. Thrisan squeezed his sons narrow shoulders, “Be brave. We need to keep you safe from Rozene – she’s insane, and you’re the heir to the throne-“

“Dad-“

“Shhh,” Vallea gathered Tal in her arms and squeezed him, “It’s only temporary.”

“What about you?” Tallin asked helplessly. Zea, Wyliam, Thris and Val exchanged worried, sad looks.

“We’ll be fine,” it was Zea who forced a smile, “We’ll split up, make it harder for them to find us. But you have to go – now.”

Tallin felt like he was in a bad, bad nightmare. Zea kissed his forehead, Wyliam squeezed him fiercely. His parents told him things he couldn’t hear. His family was getting ripped away from him so violently and suddenly and Tal didn’t know how to comprehend that. The door to the old ship opened and before he knew it he was being shoved forward.

“Mom-,” he turned, panicking, but hands grabbed him.

“Come on!” a man with red hair shouted, pushing him in, “We have to go!”

An explosion sounded nearby, so intense it rocked the ship. The shouting grew louder – they were coming.

“Shit,” the redheaded man swore and ran for the controls. Tallin’s head spun, the ship’s door closed with a hiss, blocking his view of his family, his home. Everything was happening so fast. Tallin’s breathing grew more intense, he felt like there was no air in his lungs. He tried to speak but the only thing that came out of his mouth was gasps. He swayed on his feet, and then he lost consciousness.

3rd Duagharrd 1178 (1 day later)

Fayaxiamen .

Newly crowned Queen Rozene paced up and down the throne room as the voices in her head hissed a dozen things at her; kill your brother...no, Tallin is the threat...throw a banquet...murder everyone...

“Shhhh,” Rozene whispered, rubbing her temples and cooing as if speaking to a child, “Shush, not now...”

She paced and paced and finally the herald walked into the room, back straight, eyes dark, “Your majesty,” he bowed and the voices quietened, eager to hear what the herald had to say, “The assassins are here.”

“Send them in,” Rozene’s voice boomed across the room. The herald bowed, so low his nose almost touched the floor. Pathetic...before Rozene’s voices could tell her to murder him in some brutal way, the double doors leading to the throne room opened and two men entered.

One was a Shif, tall and broad with golden hair that fell to his chin and angry light green eyes. Dressed in armour he looked like he could’ve been a knight from a fairytale, not a hired killer. Next to him skipped the complete opposite of him; graceful and lithe the Charasean was grinning as he approached Rozene, looking relaxed and unbothered though his almond-shaped black eyes gleamed behind his messy black hair that swooped over his white forehead and around his pointed ears. The two assassins kept a distance of disgust and hate between each other, and refused to look one another in the eye.

“Queen,” the blond bowed down low and his rival did the same, but in a much more playful way. Rozene’s mouth twitched into a smile.

“So you are the best assassins in all of Cairn, I hear,” she said.

“I am Reid, Queen Rozene,” the blond said, voice deep and booming. Mhmmm, I like that one...no, the other one could be more fun...

“Just Reid?” Rozene asked, brow raised. In her crimson dress and golden crown she looked like a true queen, the one she deserved to be from the start. Her eyes slid to the Charasean, “And so you must be just Hamelin.”

The man’s eyes sparkled, “Naturally.”

“My Queen,” Reid stepped forward, earning himself a sly glance from Hamelin, “I am the best assassin in all three galaxies and I will bring you whoever’s head you want-“

“Oh please,” Hamelin snorted, amused, “you couldn’t bring back a dead rat-“

“Shut your mouth!” Reid glared at him. Rozene’s eyes narrowed; she didn’t like that the men weren’t paying attention to her. Kill them...no, kill Thrisan first...we need them...

“Gentlemen,” Rozene said, voice icy, “I entrust this assassination to both of you, and whomever brings Tallin Moringathu’s, my nephew’s, head will be paid enough to live like a Lord for the rest of their life.” She saw the men’s eyes narrow as they glanced at each other, “I will give you both equipment you need, ships if you so desire, time in bottles, anything you require to complete your mission.” She turned to the side door by her throne, “Felion!” she roared and the door opened, revealing a meek Shif boy. He was dressed in rags, his wrists chained, head hung low. He was so pale and thin that he looked dead already.

The Assassins didn’t flinch. Rozene smiled and turned to her slave, “Now Felion, would you be so kind as to make these two lovely men some time? We can bottle it up and they can be on their way.”

***

Earth 6.2, we are interrupting the audition with this emergency broadcast. A dangerous criminal by the name of Rohan Alif has escaped custody and is on the run on our planet. He was last seen in Aeli wearing all black, and has a distinctive scar on his left leg – his crime is illegal cloning. We are also looking for the clone he created – the man he was cloned from was named Tarlo Egyavik and his remains were found in his house in Aeli earlier this month, Alif has escaped custody however the clone was never found and could be dangerous. He is five-foot-eight with light blond hair, grey eyes and pale skin. He is a Shif. He is also a clone, and therefore must be destroyed. If anybody has any information please contact the Aeli police department at...