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