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A Word of Caution

Welcome to the realm of the Unseelie Court. Feel free to wander and browse, but know that the content you will find here is not for the faint of heart. The visions portrayed are often darkly erotic, even disturbing, and should be traversed only by those with the appropriate character and mental age.

You have been warned.


Freedom for Tara

Chapter 4 – Soapbox

I spent what seemed to me to be the better part of a day, alone in my quarters, and most of that time just rocking back and forth trying not to think about Esh or Mingis. I slept some, awoke, slept some more, and generally kept to myself until Zeb finally knocked on the wall near the entrance to my room.

“Are you okay, Tara?” Said the normally perky girl in a sad tone.

I wasn’t at all sure I was, but I tried to put on a smile. “Sure. Come in Zeb.”

The other pushed through my curtain and stared about the room, her eyes slightly wide. I remembered that Sue had occupied the room before, and that the pair had been close.

“I wanted to make sure you had something to eat. I would have brought you a plate, but Benie says you have to consume your own food and not ours.”

“She’s right. Your food could be poisonous to me,” I replied. The girl took a seat at the small table-like extension that protruded from the wall.

“Esh is gone. Huru said a few words for her before she was shrouded and placed into the recycler.”

I nodded, and noticed that the Fretah was crying. I thought at first that someone had sprayed water on her face around her brows, but when I saw more and more of the moisture build and run down her cheeks I understood that her tear ducts must be located differently than a Terran human’s. Probably somewhere above her eyes. I reached over and placed my hand on her arm, stroking her in comfort. Suddenly, she burst into deep sobs and fell to the bed where I was seated, her arms flung around my neck as her whole body heaved in sadness.

Stunned, and not completely sure what the proper response should be, I patted her back and made little shushing sounds.

“It’s okay Zeb. I’m here. Right now we’re safe. It’s okay…”

The girl continued to cry for perhaps another two or three minutes, then slowed and stopped. Finally, she looked up and met my eyes, her nose sniffling.

“Sorry, to wet on you,” she said and in a brief moment of panic I thought that perhaps she had meant something other than her tears.

“Not at all,” I responded with a smile. “I’m all cried out already, or I probably would have joined you.”

“It’s always hard when we lose someone. To lose three…” I saw her brows glistening again.

“Hey, stop that,” I said, holding her chin. “You’ll get me started again, and I don’t want to cry anymore. I’m done crying. In fact, I’m done sitting here on my ass and doing nothing. Hell if I’m just going to lay around waiting for my own turn.” I indicated that I wanted to stand and the girl let me up. “I need a few more details about those portals and the Var-Lish. Who should I talk to, Zeb? Benie?”

The Fretah actually looked frightened.

“What are you going to do?” She asked.

I looked down at the girl. Her large wet eyes made me think of Bambi.

“Hell if I know,” I answered truthfully. “But inaction is no longer an option. It could have been me down on Bellarus instead of Helen if not for a semi-random choice by an enemy that I know next to nothing about. So I’m going to fix that. I need to know as much as possible about the Var-Lish, their customs, their structure, weaknesses, anything and everything. There’s a way out of here, and I’m going to find it. I’ve been told that humans are cunning… well let’s find out.”

Zeb took me straight to Benie, which, in hindsight was probably a gut reaction from fear rather than her simply tattling on me. The older Fretah was none too keen on my proposed course of action.

“You can not endanger the lives of all those here simply because you can’t see the futility in trying to escape!” Her voice was harsh and to my surprise, angry. “If the Var-Lish feel that you have become a threat, they need only open our chamber to the vacuum of space in order to solve the problem. They care nothing about our lives, we are WORTHLESS to them!”

“No, you’re wrong,” I replied, standing my ground. “We do have value, small as it may be. You said it yourself, if they kill off too many of us, then they have to take the time to abduct new participants. These games mean something to them, even if just for entertainment. They have gone to great lengths to prepare this facility, and sample our foods, cater to our basic needs… They ARE getting something out of this arrangement. And more so, they’ve been doing it for decades!”

“How do you…”

“The replicator. My meal choices are all from at least a full generation ago. Face it, Benie, these games are no passing fad for the Var-Lish. Maybe it is futile, but no one here is even willing to try!”

“You don’t have the right to risk all our lives…”

“YOU’RE ALREADY DEAD!” I screamed, my hands balled into fists at my side. “You all died the moment you gave up!” Others had gathered around so I took advantage of the situation and addressed the crowd. “You’re all just waiting around for your turn. Sure, you might survive a match or two. You might extend your life by a few weeks, maybe even a month or more. But eventually, inevitably, you’ll face something you can’t run around, or you’ll make a simple mistake, then it’s OVER, and you won’t have done ANYTHING to even try to fight back! The cycle will go on and on forever!”

The group was silent. Even Benie had nothing to say. I waited, hoping that I hadn’t just alienated myself or violated some serious galactic etiquette law when I saw that everyone in front of me was slowly stepping back. I frowned and was about to give up and go back to my room in a fit of rage when I noticed that the crowd wasn’t looking at me, but at something just behind me. As if some sixth sense was kicking in, the hair on the back of my neck suddenly stood on end. Sighing, I turned around, resigned to face whatever it was that was at my back, and found my nose only inches from a tightly wrapped pair of tits. I slowly let my head tilt back and stared up into the eyes of our lone Kzin cellmate, Crish.

Understand, I stood just shy of six feet, barefoot and smiling. At that moment I felt like a little girl next to the huge, cat-like female and my mouth fell open. I was terrified. I also knew that running away wasn’t going to do any good. If the furry humanoid could carry her well muscled bulk without making a single sound, it was almost a certainty that she could take me down without the slightest effort.

I closed my mouth and held the other’s gaze. I was certainly no expert on alien facial expressions, but Crish didn’t appear hostile or angry, in fact, she looked a little concerned. When she spoke, her voice was deep and heavy, as though she might shift into a low growl at any moment.

“You would fight them,” she asked. “You would fight the Var-Lish?”

I took a moment before answering.

“If I have to,” I replied, my voice cracking slightly. I stood a little taller. “I’d rather not, but if that’s my only choice, then yes, I would, with my bare hands if necessary.”

She squinted down at me. “You do not strike me as that brave.”

“I’m not,” I admitted. “But I refuse to give up and let them decide my fate.”

The Kzin took a long, four second breath and then expelled it gently. I felt the warm air from her nostrils on my face like a summer breeze. “Perhaps. If you can prove this to me, I will fight by your side, Terran.” With that, the other nodded and then turned away, leaving me slightly stunned. A few moments later, Benie was standing next to me, staring after the large woman.

“I’ve never heard more than a few terse words from that one,” she said. “I was beginning to think that she might not understand Galactic.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the Kzin, thinking that I wished I too had a tail.

“You just weren’t saying anything that she wanted to hear.”

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“You… you’re right,” she said at last in a saddened tone. “We have given up. We just don’t know how to fight, Tara.”

“And I do? Benie believe me when I tell you I fully understand the futility in going against the Var-Lish. I’ve got no deathwish. I realize that escape seems hopeless, but sometimes ‘freedom’ is a state of mind.”

“I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying we should all turn inward and lose our conscious self?”

I was a little taken aback. “You can do that?”

“All Fretah can,” she replied with a shrug of her shoulders. “Though we don’t always have the ability to come back. It is a dangerous escape of last resort. Most of us would rather perish before being trapped within our subconscious minds, though. It is something that our race does only in the face of certain mortal pain. But it is for that reason that we do not fear death. At least not the death we can see coming.”

“I suppose it would be nice to know you always had an out if things got truly ugly.” We walked toward the common area. “Benie, I need to know about the Var-Lish. I need to understand what I’m up against. Crish is big, and brave, and no doubt a fantastic warrior, but you won’t win against a superior enemy by brute force.”

The Fretah woman looked at me in surprise. “You sound as though this kind of thing is nothing new to you.”

I snorted. “Well, my pop was in a war, and my brother too. I guess I sort of picked up the lingo by osmosis. To tell you the truth, I don’t think a whole lot of what they went through is going to help me here. The situation is just too different.”

“I just hope you know what you are doing, for the sake of all of us here.” Benie swept the compound with her open hand.

“Yeah, me too,” I replied and placed my own hand on the replicator panel. I seriously needed some onion rings.

Two hours and about 6000 calories later, I knew a lot more about the Var-Lish, and I was scared shitless. Benie, Zeb, and a host of others started filling me in on our captors, each contributing another small piece of the puzzle, which painted them uglier and nastier with each new voice.

Why is it that humans and bugs always seem to be at war with each other? Even in science fiction, all our scariest enemies always have long spindly legs and exoskeletons. The Var-Lish were a combination of all the worst horror and sci-fi movies, combined with an intelligence that well exceeded that of your average human, er… Terran. There’s a good reason they had conquered almost every other race in known space. In fact, the only reason they hadn’t wiped out the humanoid races was that they simply didn’t need to. They had more than enough planets to colonize should their population warrant it. And luckily for us, their populations were far more restricted and controlled. Given the chance, humans would spread through the galaxy like a virus, replicating geometrically. Left unchecked, we would literally fuck and reproduce until we overwhelmed the resources of a thousand worlds, but not so the Var-Lish. They had mastered the art of colonization a million years before man was making the first rudimentary tools.

They knew how to restrict their populations to suit an environment and its resources, and as such, their planets were always rich and fertile. In fact, it was that very fertility that drew the first humanoid races into conflict with the bug-like species. That and a complete inability to share communication, it was no wonder we arrogant humans thought that the Var-Lish were hardly more than large pests. At least until we got a gander at their technology. But by then it was too late. We had crossed the line. We had become a threat. We had become an enemy.

When it was apparent that the humanoid races were seriously outclassed, they, er, we, suddenly turned to diplomacy. But diplomacy only works if you can have some kind of meaningful discussion. The Var-Lish system of language has always been completely beyond our comprehension. We knew they used at least three different forms of sensory data – sound, scent, and a form of telepathy, but even if we were able to decode the specifics of each, their methods of thinking as a hive mind were just too different from our own individualism to make sense. Very few concepts are truly universal, and war was about the only one that we managed to get across, and then only by trying stupidly to attack them preemptively. The results were predictable. They crushed us.

But they hadn’t gotten to be the head of the class by being stupid. For them, there simply wasn’t any point to a long-term conflict. They eradicated the pesky water-bags from their planets and went about their lives, mostly ignoring us where we weren’t in their way. But if humanoids are anything, it’s paranoid. We, being the class idiots, didn’t need a reason to fire on their vessels beyond the fact that we considered them ugly and terrifying. And every time we did, they turned us into so many bits and pieces of random space debris. Oh, we had our victories, if you could call them that, but how do you “win” against a race that considers its entire population as a single entity? We were really more of an irritant than a real threat to them when viewed on the scale to which they existed. Kill a few million of them on one world and they hardly notice anymore than we might notice the loss of a few million skin cells. Bothersome to be sure, but hardly something to get really worked up about.

Finally, about the time Terrans were seeing the advantages of fire, our humanoid cousins in the grand Galactic Consortium had finally figured out that they were going to have better luck if they simply stayed out of the way of the mighty overlords of space. They extended and amplified the methods for peaceful coexistence that had kept the various humanoid factions from ripping each other apart to the Var-Lish, and to a limited extent, it worked. The insectoid race expanded at a glacial pace, and their worlds were placed on extreme “off-limits” status. Technically, we were still at war, but it’s hard to call it that when one side is basically running for their lives from the other, who isn’t even capable of understanding that you want to surrender.

All of which didn’t help ME in the slightest. To them, we were the bugs… A curiosity who’s value could be summed up entirely in its ability to entertain. For some unfathomable reason, the Var-Lish got a kick out of watching us while we were fucked by every varied horror in the galaxy. I wasn’t sure I entirely bought Benie’s explanation that it was sexual dominance, but it certainly made sense. From what she and others had explained to me, the class differences that we had discovered within their society seemed to be based on nothing more than how well they asserted themselves sexually. There were slight variations in physical structure, but nothing that would explain why one Var-Lish was a low-level drone, and another in charge of an entire planet. I suppose it’s the same for humans, but the difference between an auto mechanic and the mayor usually isn’t who they fuck… or maybe it is. Just not so publicly.

Day and night in our prison was a useless concept. People slept when they felt tired. I curled into my quarters for a nap, but must have settled into deep REM almost immediately because a whole different group was up when I awoke. Stretching, I made my way into the kitchen and the replicator to create a meal with a cup of coffee, which I emptied and filled with plain water that was available from a tap-like protuberance. I shivered in disgust as I dumped the greasy cheeseburger into the recycler, and decided to take a more thorough look through the menu choices for something I felt I could stomach. I placed my hand to the display and began shifting through my options, when my eye caught on an oddity. I had missed it before simply because it was so innocuous.

Every image that passed before me looked like it was from a slightly rushed photo-shoot by the diner in order to make a new menu. I say rushed because although the images were generally appealing, they didn’t have that fine level of perfection that marketing would have demanded. Things were slightly out of place or lopsided. The condensation droplets on the side of a glass of soda weren’t pronounced enough, or the table on which the plate of food sat was smudged and stained. The pictures, I realized, were taken as though someone were literally making each dish, simply to catalog them, and setting them wherever there was space – which was almost certainly what had actually happened.

But what I had passed right over before were items that my brain ignored because they just seemed like the kinds of things you might see in a menu. There as a folded newspaper in one, and a few images later, an old-style order book and a pencil. I wondered if the Var-Lish had just sampled the food, or everything in the image…

With a flash of light, I opened the door to the replicator and extracted my meal choice… and the pad and number 2 pencil. A deep grin stretched across my face. Our captors weren’t so omnipotent after all, and had just revealed their first major mistake. Giddy, I began searching through the menu database, paying a lot more attention to what was in each of the pictures. Ten minutes later, I’m sure that anyone watching me in the kitchen probably thought I had seriously lost it. I had plates of food stacked up all around me on the counters, and another special pile of my new found treasures.

It’s amazing how even the most insignificant things take on value when you have nothing to begin with. As my piles grew, I decided to make use of my pad and pencil and started a special list for later reference.

-Reading glasses -Catsup! -Paperclips -Straws -Sugar dispenser -78 cents in coins -Plastic comb
There were also a few items that were a little more esoteric in nature, such as a Yankees baseball cap, a Postcard from Pensacola Florida, and a man’s watch (still ticking). Putting down quantities of each item was a little pointless since I could technically produce as many as I wanted. The coins were all dated 1948 or earlier, so I knew my selections were at least that old. What I could do with my extra’s didn’t matter. It was the fact that our captors weren’t so advanced that they could foresee all the possible uses for a sugar dispenser that made me smile. I put the baseball cap on my head (backwards) and was just starting to clean up when the portal alarm sounded.

The last time this occurred, I remembered the sudden increase in background noise as everyone suddenly started talking, cursing or even crying, but not this time, at least not at first. Something was different. It was too soon.

I found Benie giving terse instructions to Nusho and tried to corner her.

“I thought you said it would be three days,” I said a little bitterly, and instantly regretted it.

“The space between the games varies, the average time being three galactic days,” she answered me, also a little sharply. “This was unexpected, and… somewhat unusual. Though it has been 2.3 days since the last match.” There was a familiar deep boom, and the neon portal reappeared in the central courtyard.

“Does this have anything to do with me?”

“Why would…”

She was interrupted by the second alarm as those who were chosen for this match were revealed by blue circles. I heard Benie’s breath catch and thought for a moment that she had been chosen. But she was staring at the ground in front of me…

“Oh shit,” I muttered letting my head drop. A bright blue circle was holographically painted in the floor around my feet, with a slightly darker arc slowly ticking away the three minutes I had to pass through into the main portal without suffering a “penalty.”

“I’m so sorry, Tara…” exclaimed Benie, as though I had just been handed a death sentence. Of course, it just might be unless I managed to make it back through the return portal. I took a deep breath and tried not to think about how really scared I was.

“Don’t be sorry. This was inevitable… But that doesn’t mean I have to take it sitting down.”

“I’m not sure I… hey, where are you going?”

I had turned around and was headed back to the kitchen, and after examining my collection of special items, I finally snagged a handful of straws off the table.

“Tara, you need to go through the portal!”

“Relax, I’ll go through in time, but as long as it’s here, I might as well learn something if I can.” She followed me as I returned to the central courtyard and stopped right before the large arch. There, I closely examined both the glowing line, as well as the non-surface of the portal itself. The mist flowed down over the virtual doorway, completely obscuring anything beyond, so without touching it, I took a breath and blew. I didn’t see it at first, but if I kept a fairly strong breeze on, I could keep the mist clear enough to see through to a slightly hazy surface, like looking through a tub of water, or through a mirage in a hot desert. Beyond that, I could just make out a strange, forest-like environment.


I knew that others had gathered around the portal, and a quick glance told me that Tre’nae, the Makali and Gerisha, the Fretah I had met earlier were my match-mates. I checked my count-down clock and saw that I had less than a minute and a half to step through.

“What is she doing?!” I heard Tre’nae ask. “Why doesn’t she go through!?”

“I need to know the rules,” I responded without looking. At the same time, I took one of the straws I had picked up and carefully pushed it forward toward the surface of the portal. Suddenly, there was a slight tug, and I had to let go or risk my fingers touching. The pull started soft, but grew in strength.

“Let me pass,” said Gerisha, a little frantic.

I stepped back, and met her eyes for just a moment as she walked through the mist and was gone. Tre’nae followed only a moment later.

“Tara you must go through,” pleaded Benie when I didn’t budge.

I handed her the remaining straws. “Hold on to these until I get back, okay?”

She made the tiniest of nods. I gave her a half smile and then, with a single step, I strode through the surface of the portal.