Post 31: “Shut up, fat man!”

“WHAT is the problem?”

Cael swallowed and glanced at the Moungren he was tangled up with.

“Just a misunderstanding.”  He pushed the man back to the opposite seat, away from him and Ilya.

“That tells me nothing, zhwach.  I expect a complete answer when I have to ask a question.  What.  Is.  The problem.”

Ilya gasped into the breather, pressed hard to her face, remembering the warning of Dr. Vitor-Bieito.  She still couldn’t understand what anyone was saying, but Alberich’s look of contempt for Cael was hard to miss, and then there was the way looked through her altogether.  It made her feel like she were nothing, invisible, an ugly scrap of padding on the seat; and she couldn’t decide if that was better or worse than the contempt.

Cael was careful to continue in commons.  “The gentleman had mistaken Ilya for a prostitute.”

Alberich sighed and rolled his eyes, “Of course he did.  Just tell him you both belong to me.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You belong to me and he is not to assault my property.  He should at least understand that.”

“Oy!  Fat man!  Let da girl decide for herself.”

He ignored the Moungren man and continued to talk to Cael.

“Do as I say.”

“He… heard you.”

“I’m certain he heard me.  However, I doubt he has the capacity to comprehend.   Any reasoning beyond his immediate, base needs are irrelevant to his kind.  I think you are more equipped to speak to that.”

“What did you say ‘bout me?”

“You see?  First it was sex, now it is ego.”

The Moungren man stood up, grabbing the bars stretched along the ceiling for balance.

“Oy!  You talkin ‘bout me?  You tink you’re better dan me?”

Alberich cocked his head and took a breath to answer when Cael dove at him, blocking his mouth with both hands.

“Shut up!” He hissed.  The large man grunted in protest as Cael pressed his face in close.  “Are you trying to get us killed?  We’re out numbered here.”

Alberich pushed him back toward Ilya, knocking over the bike in the process.  The few men beyond were still watching the scene intently.

“Nonsense, he craves hierarchy like any mongrel.  You just have to remind him of his place.”

There was a definite reaction on the train to the word ‘mongrel.’

“What da kak?”

“Did he just say dat?”

The other men were now pulling themselves to their feet.

Ilya felt panic rising in her throat as she watched Cael flail around trying to placate the angry men staggering toward them in the erratic lurches of train.

“Don’t listen to him.  He’s an idiot!  It was a joke!  He didn’t mean it!  He doesn’t know what he’s saying!”

Alberich continued to lounge across his seats, unfazed.

“You all feel so empowered by your little revolution.  You think you’re free but you’re just slaves to a new master.”

“Shut up, fat man!”

“Still scurrying in the dark like roaches; still… clinging to the surface of this godforsaken moon.  Still working to death, I’m sure, risking your life to mine the nearby asteroids.  And for what?  Or more accurately, for whom?”

“We work for all of us, kak!”

“You tryin’ to bad talk Edgard Dessal?”

The men had made their way in front of the overturned bike, and were now looming over the relaxed Alberich.

Ilya whispered into Cael’s ear.  “Cael what’s going on?  Do something!”

“Nope, he’s on his own.  Move.”

“What?”

Cael pushed her back until they slid off the seat.

“Cael?”

“Shh….”

They quietly backed toward the sliding access door to the next car.  Cael felt behind him for the latch as the men focused on the Alberich.

“Simply answer me this,” the large man continued, “how the rebellion improved your lives?”

The door’s gears squealed as it finally slid open, but no took notice.  Cael shoved Ilya backward through the doorway and closed it without waiting for the answer.

Cael turned to face their new car to see a few more Moungren men looking up at them curiously.  More accurately, they were looking at Ilya, who was panting heavily into the shell of her breather.  He took her by the shoulders and gently guided her to a set of seats along the wall closest to them.  They sat down with a hard thud as the train rocked its way around another bend.  A muffled howl just could be heard over the rumbling of the train, and they both sat stiffly pretending not to hear it.

Either the other men didn’t hear or didn’t care, and soon went back to their own magazines or devices.

A gust of air rushed in as the doors slid open again to allow the hulking shape of Alberich through, followed awkwardly by Ilya’s poor bike.  The racket brought new interest that again quickly faded once he sat across from them.

“So,” Cael began in commons, “what was their answer?”

“Hmm?”  Alberich was positioning the bike before him so the seat could be his pillow again.

Cael leaned in.  “You had asked how their lives had improved.”

“Ahh….” The large man yawned.  “To put it politely, they exclaimed that they didn’t have to answer to likes of me anymore.”

“And then what?”

He hunched over, resting his head on his hands.  “I reminded them that I was not some dull-witted Novafolk.”

“Cael?”  Ilya tugged at his arm.

He glanced down the car again.  “Ilya, come sit on the other side of me.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t think we want to know.  Don’t make eye contact with anyone, pretend to sleep… and be ready to run as soon as this train stops.”

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Post 30: “Ho! Well, not shy about it, is he. Just… don’t look at him.”

Ilya clung to Cael’s arm as the train rattled and lurched its way down the line, the harsh neon lights flickering with particularly hard bumps.  Their car was dirty and worn with decades of miners’ boots and bodies loading in and out, the doorframe polished and smudged with their hands, even the seat cushions had been flattened where not torn away altogether.  A few men were riding back with them from the port, their morning shift over.  It was technically still the middle of the day, but the eclipsing shadow of the planet Cinaed made Ilya feel as if they were lost in that negative space of the predawn hour, too late to still be up and too early to be waking.  It only deepened her exhaustion.

Every once in a while the train’s lights would catch the landscape as they rushed up against arc of a crater.  The speed was dizzying, and made her heart race every time she .  It so much faster than anything Ilya had ridden back home.  Her eyes darted to her abused bike, leaning against Alberich as he used it as a head rest to nap.

Cael’s eyes were also closed, but he wasn’t resting.  There was too much tension in the clench of his jaw, the furrow of his brow, his posture.  She pushed the breather against her face and tried to snuggle against his shoulder but only found minimal comfort in it.  All those weeks she spent trapped alone,

Across from them sat one of the miners, his long black, padded coat hung loose off of his shoulders, reminding her of the first time she saw Mari.  It seemed as if only Ilya felt the chill of this place.  He wasn’t nearly as large as their own giant, but he was surely taller than Cael, and his limbs were long and strong.  His skin was dark, but it didn’t have the richness of her own, probably from living so long in this darkness.  Ilya thought it made him seem sickly.  The man grinned at her and winked.

Startled, she looked away.  The man cooed at her, gripped Cael’s arm tighter.  Movement in the corner of her eye drew her back to see the man rubbing his legs, his eyes still locked on her.  She glared at him from behind the plastic shell of the breather but it only seemed to encourage him; his hands travelling to his groin and chest.

He hissed and cooed a new and she pulled up the collar of her fuzzy, green coat to block her face.  She watched him lean forward and reach across to her.

“Cael.  Cael!”

Cael’s eyes opened as the man’s fingers tugged at the fringe of her sleeve.

“Ho!  Stop!  What are you doing?”  He had spoken in commons automatically.

The man sat back, still grinning.

“Oh, I meant no harm.  I was only asking her name.”

Cael sighed.  “She doesn’t speak Moungries.”

“Nor commons, no?”

Cael shook his head.

“Tell her she is very pretty.”

Cael looked to the angry woman clinging to him.

“Ah, he says to tell you that he thinks you are very pretty.”

“I don’t care!  Cael!  Make him go away!”  She whispered harshly.

“I don’t think he means any harm.”

“He was… rubbing… himself!”

“He what?”

“Don’t make me repeat it!  That man is disgusting!  Make him go away!”

“Ilya, I can’t just… where am I supposed to make him go?”

“What?  I don’t know!  Another car!  You can’t just let him do that!”

“But he didn’t really… do anything.”

“Are you kidding me?  He Bhaga, he’s doing it again.”

“Ho!  Well, not shy about it, is he.  Just… don’t look at him.”

Ilya scoffed incredulously.

The man nodded at Ilya, but spoke to Cael in commons.

“So, how much?”

“Pardon?”

“How much for da girl?  The Moun nan Rebellion is still honoring Manana credits.”

“Ah, well….”

“I can pay for an hour, maybe two?”

“I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“Cael, what is he saying?”

“You see, she’s ah, not… working.”

Cael?

“Double the pay, den?  Only a ‘alf hour, and I’ll be done before we reach da station.”

“And that’s… very generous of you, I’m sure, but she is not… here… for service.”

“Oh… dat’s not very nice.  Why you bring her here and not share?”

Cael glanced down the car and saw that they had the full attention of the few other men sitting down the way.  He turned to Ilya.

“Perhaps we should move to another car.”

“What?  We didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Ilya, I don’t think-“

“Why won’t you stand up for me?

“Hey, dousdou,” the man was reaching over again.

Ilya squeaked through her breather and tried to compress herself away from him against the back of the seat.  Cael threw a protective arm in front of her.

“Ho! Stop, what are you doing?”

“She don’t seem to like your answer.  Let me talk to her, private.  I know she can’ talk but we come to an understanding.”  He winked at Ilya again.

“Cael, what’s he saying?!  What’s he saying, Cael?!”

A guttural howl erupted from Alberich as he lifted his head from the seat of the battered bike.

“What is all this NOISE?  I’M TRYING TO TAKE A NAP!”

Cael, Ilya and the man all froze in place, watching the rotund giant sit up to his full height.  He groggily looked around the train car in disgust.  Alberich’s eyes landed on Cael and there was a note of recognition.  This was not their sulking goliath.