When I finally came to, I found my head resting on the water pouch that was still half full.
What happened again? I jolted up, not remembering where I was or what had happened. Then I noticed my hands were free and that I was in a cave, a different one now. That's right… that girl must've knocked me out. I rubbed the back of my head where I was struck. It hurt like a bruise but I sensed something else was different… it felt like something was squirming around in my ear. I slowly lifted my hand to touch it.
"I wouldn't do that."
The sound of her voice startled me and I quickly turned my head to see the same girl who abducted me, leaning against the rock wall and staring outside the cave. I wasn't sure if I was more surprised about her appearing out of nowhere, or the fact that I could understand her clearly now.
"What happened? What did you do to me?"
The movement of my head felt weird. The girl walked over to me as I tried to stand up but I was so dizzy that I almost fell over, she caught me just in time.
"I think I'm gonna be sick." I mumbled as I wobbled back and forth like a drunken old man. My ears started ringing out of nowhere, getting louder each second.
The girl was trying to say something to me. I heard, "Look…me…" as she propped me up to stand up straight. My head rolled around my neck like it couldn't support it but I managed to make eye contact with her and as soon as I did she quickly jabbed me in the forehead with the palm of her hand. It was kind of like a slap in the face but right after she hit me everything was set straight again. I was no longer dizzy and my ears stopped ringing. I readjusted myself and she let go of my arm. I was able to balance on my own again.
"Sorry about that," she said making sure I wasn't going to topple over again. "I wasn't able to properly set your ear-trans."
"My what?" I asked.
"Ear translators, they let you understand me if you haven't noticed already. I installed them in your ears while you were unconscious but I wasn't able to set them in properly because we had to keep moving." She explained this as she walked back to the entrance of the cave.
"You put something in my ears that lets me understand you?"
I understood what she said but I didn't' understand why she was saying it.
"Why?" I asked. "What do you want from me?"
She looked at me with her light gray eyes.
"I'm going to capture Vaughan," she said, "and you're going to help me."
"Vaughan?" I said in disbelief. "The Vaughan? The Vaughan that runs the underground slave trade?"
"Yep, that's the one."
From her tone I don't think she understood the gravity of what she wanted to do, and I was supposed to help her? Me? Of all people, what could I possibly do?
I said the most rational thing from what I heard of this conversation, "You're crazy."
She was still looking around outside but I saw a smile creep on her face after my comment to her. I paused for a moment before asking, "What do people call you?"
She just stood there as if debating whether or not to tell me, or maybe she was making up a name instead.
Then answered softly, "Akiko".
"Akiko…" I whispered to myself.
I didn't care if she made up the name, she captivated me once again and I found myself staring at her in wonder of who she really was.
"What about you?" she asked. "What do I call you?"
"Uhh…" I was caught off guard, plus I didn't want to tell her so I contemplated on giving her a fake name, but if she ever found out she probably wouldn't trust me anymore and it looked like she would knife me if she found out I lied. "…It's Trash."
She stifled a laugh. "Sorry, where I'm from that means the same thing as garbage or waste."
I looked down to the ground and rubbed the back of my head. "Yeah, translates to the same word."
She was about to say something but I guess someone was calling her because she suddenly pressed her hand to her ear and responded. This time I could understand her.
"Yeah I'm at the checkpoint… tell her she better not move from that spot… yeah they worked just fine… a kid off the last batch of incoming slaves… I'll wait for your signal." She removed her hand from her ear.
"I guess it's time I explain what's going on." She said to me as she sat down inside the cave.
I sat down as well, "I'd like that."
She wasted no time getting straight to the point, "My crew and I are intergalactic bounty hunters; our current target is Vaughan of Sola. The mission so far is running smoothly, tricky part is, we don't speak or understand your language, but that's where you come in. Our technician was able to scrounge up the material needed to create a device that allows its user to understand different languages, hence the ear-trans. However, even though we are now able to understand each other with the ear-trans, anyone who doesn't have one won't be able to understand us."
There was a pause as she waited for me to process this.
It was a very compact explanation but I understood it so far. "So what do you need me for?"
"We know that Vaughan is currently hiding underground, and in order to bring him up to the surface we need you to go back as a slave and challenge the Quwallie."
"Challenge the Quwallie! Are you insane? Do you even know what that is? It's the title of Vaughan's right-hand man and personal protector. He'll rip me to shreds; I don't stand a chance with him even if I had a weapon, even if I had a weapon I knew how to use!"
I stood up suddenly, ready to bolt out of there. It was crazy, insane, and suicidal! The girl must have read my mind because she got up just as fast and blocked my only way out.
"All we need you to do is to make the challenge so that Vaughan comes up from underground. I would do it myself but they wouldn't understand me."
I scoffed, "Yeah right you would do it yourself."
She glared back at me after that remark. This girl was something else, for some reason I knew she would challenge the Quwallie if she could, but would she win?
She crossed her arms. "You can either do it, or I can make you do it… it's your choice."
I thought for a moment. Heck what did I have to lose? I was ready to die just a few hours ago, now I can die with a purpose. It might be more of a foolish, bloodier death but it will have meaning if she succeeds. If the slave trade collapsed, people can live safer lives and not have to fear about being abducted at any time.
I must wear my expression on my face because she said, "You're not going die." There she goes reading my mind again. She spoke in a softer but serious tone, "I'll look out for you, so you don't have to worry."
I didn't know what she could possibly do, but it made me feel more at ease.
Her expression changed, "Oh, here you can wear these! I got these off some thug on our last excursion." She pulled out four, thin, circled wires from one of her pouches. "Here put them on!" she said as she handed them to me.
"What are they?" I asked, examining them.
She took out four more from a different pouch. "They're sync rings." She replied as she put one of the circle wires around her wrist. They immediately coiled tightly around her skin and then vanished from sight.
"Wait, aren't these illegal?! Throughout the entire galaxy?!"
She finished putting the last one around her ankle.
"Yeah pretty much." She looked over at me and saw them still sitting in my hand. "Well put them on already!"
I raised an eyebrow but eventually put one of the rings around my wrist and it tightened with a sharp pinch. I put the rest on and winced slightly each time they pinched me. After a moment they disappeared. Somehow I knew I was going to regret ever putting them on.
"How do they-" I tried asking but when I looked over at her she already had her hand up to her ear.
"I got it… we're leaving right now." Suddenly she was a whole different, serious bounty hunter. She got up to grab the pouch of water and pulled the hood over her head on the dirty sun-cloak that was also lying on the ground, and then said, "Let's go".
I followed her outside the cave and to my surprise we were just outside the city. How did we get this close to the city? She must have carried me the rest of the way when I was knocked out. I frowned at the thought of her knocking me out but got over it quickly when I realized that she also saved my life.
She stopped behind a dirt-baked wall before entering the city and handed me the water pouch and a tiny silver device.
"It's an earpiece. Lick it and stick it in your ear. I already adjusted it so that I can always hear you."
"Umm… alright?" I took the small device between my dirty fingers, pressed it on my tongue and stuck it in my right ear. Right away the device seemed to come alive and snuggled itself deeper in my ear. Strangely enough it tickled a lot.
A light breeze whisked our sun-cloaks, picking up clouds of sand and dust as we stood at the entrance of the city. It was a large city, the largest on the planet and made almost entirely out of a sun-baked sand-clay that was molded into a multitude of low buildings.
In the middle of the city was a giant arena which hosted the… entertainment here. It was strange that fights to the death were allowed but not the selling of slaves, so Vaughan's main base was hidden deep underground. Almost everyone knew about it but if you ever said anything you'd suddenly find yourself fighting for your life for the entertainment of others.
I'm guessing this is where she was headed. I'd been to cities before but none were as big as this one. According to a sign on the wall of the entranceway, this city was the capital of Sola, and therefore has the same name. It's the only place on the planet that allows intergalactic travel, which is why Vaughan's base happens to be underneath it.
Akiko knew exactly where she was going, like she had been through here many times before. I had a feeling even if I tried to run she would find me with no problem at all. She was striding along quickly, with purpose, and I had to struggle to keep up with her or I'd be lost for sure.
The streets were packed with vendors selling strange items from different planets and people browsing or just passing by. I sort of stuck out in the crowd; everyone was wearing much nicer, clean clothing that signified their status in the city. I guess the people who eyed me figured I was Akiko's slave or prisoner because she was wearing a Vaughan Guard sun-cloak.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour of walking, Akiko stopped a block away from the large carved rock that made up the walls of the fighting arena. She took off the sun-cloak and told me to drink the rest of the water. I had been wanting to so I did without hesitation.
"Say prisoner" she had her hand up to her ear so I thought she was talking to someone else but she motioned for me to say it.
"Prisoner" I answered quizzically.
She broke down the word, "Pri-son-er… prison-er… prisoner".
"Yeah…" I was totally confused.
She grabbed the empty water pouch from my hand and looked at me one last time before leaving. "Run when I give the signal" was the last thing she said.
Run? I thought. Run to where and why? I only stood there less than a minute when my questions were answered.
Akiko's voice rang from an unknown direction yelling, "PRISONER! PRISONER! PRISONER!"
Apparently she was pointing as well because suddenly everyone's eyes were on me.