Captured Chapter 1: Version 2
My first life ended the day my father came to our door. His arrival shattered my comfortable life with adoptive parents who loved me. It revealed a truth that I would have rather never known: I was a monster.
When the door-chime sounded, I’d been in the kitchen reviewing my Ruslo lesson with my co-mother, Terra. Even for a Human, my pronunciation of the interplanetary language was pathetic despite seven years of patient tutoring by my co-parents. Terra corrected my misuse of one of my vocabulary words, but I wasn’t paying attention. My mind was filled with thoughts of watching the latest Ambassador Melore holo-film with my friends later that afternoon.
I twisted in my chair to look over at Terra, as she bustled about prepping my dinner. She was a beautiful Flagoan, with sparkling saucer sized hazel eyes. Though she was nearly a hundred years old, her smooth, tan bark had not completely lost the green hue of youth. Spring green leaves flowed elegantly from her scalp and down her back.
Guilt stopped me from trying to nag my way out of today’s lesson. As Flagoans, she and my co-father didn’t eat what Humans consider food. As flora based life-forms, they derived their nutrition from sunlight and a few minerals which they absorbed through their root-like feet. Yet she always took the time to make me a freshly cooked dinner. She could have let me eat pre-prepped food or even resorted to insta-meal packets now and then, but she never did. Every week, she took time out from her busy schedule to go shopping at the poly-racial market. She splurged on fresh produce and always had some new recipe she wanted try out on me and my friends.
A stranger’s voice came from the common-room and Terra froze.
She and her husband, Bunk Splendor, had taken me in when I was found abandoned at the docks where he worked. Or at least that’s the story they told me. I’d been seven standard years old, but had no memory of my previous life. I knew my co-parents were hiding some painful truth from me, but figured they’d tell me when I was old enough.
I also knew they were planning a surprise party for me. Tomorrow would be the eighth anniversary of my adoption and I wondered if our visitor had something to do with the Commemoration Ceremony. However, judging from Terra’s darkened expression whoever our visitor was, she wasn’t happy about him being here.
Her leaves bristled. She glanced nervously at the door that led to the common-room. Normally she would have hurried out, eager to greet company. But after hearing his voice again she hesitated, unsure what to do. “Twilight, please go wait in your room.”
Now I knew something was seriously wrong. I’d never heard her voice quake so. And she was speaking in Standard even though we were supposed to only speak Ruslo until my proficiency exam next week.
As with most Flagoans, she usually carried herself with a calm dignity that only comes from decades of experience. And besides this life, Terra had the experience of her two previous incarnations to draw upon. Unlike any of the other races, Flagoans sprout new incarnation of themselves when they die of natural causes. Since Terra retained nearly all of the memories of her past lives, not much upset her. But when the stranger’s voice announced, “I’ve come for my daughter,” she dropped the salad bowl and rushed out the door.
She called back over her shoulder. “I need you to go to your room and wait for...” The door closed behind her before she finished.
Bunk’s voice sounded unusually harsh as he replied to the man. “Who are you? What are you talking about?” I’d never heard him so angry, not even when he’d caught me sneaking out to go to a song-house with my friends. More than that though, somehow I could tell he knew exactly who this guy was.
The stranger’s voice was hauntingly familiar to me. Like a song I couldn’t quite remember or forget, it pulled me toward it. I entered the common-room. A Human male stood dwarfed within the doorframe that was designed for Flagoans. He stopped mid-word and went rigid, staring at me.
Revulsion swelled inside of me, though I didn’t know why. For a middle-aged Human male he wasn’t bad looking. The streaks of grey in his black hair and the sharpness of his steel blue eyes gave him an authoritative air. In fact, he might have been quite handsome if not for the dark bags under his eyes and horrified expression. Then I realized that the feelings of revulsion weren’t mine; they were directed at me. I was picking up his emotions. I was an empath. I was one of those monsters nightmares were made of.
Memories of my life before coming to the Splendors flooded my mind. Suddenly, I knew this man was my father, Colonel Ebony Milett. He’d come to claim his daughter but was now repulsed at the sight of me. I don’t know which hurt more: knowing that being an empath meant I belonged to an illegal, genetically engineered race, or feeling my own father’s hatred for me. I’d grown up to look just like my mother, the woman who had destroyed him. It wasn’t just a matter of having the same auburn hair and green eyes. I was the very holo-image of her as a young woman.
Bunk stepped back to allow the man to step inside so the front door could close. The playfulness that usually permeated everything my co-father said was gone. “Terra, take her to her room. I’ll talk to our guest.”
“I’m Colonel Ebony Milett and that’s my daughter,” the man stammered, and though he wasn’t currently wearing a uniform his posture and bearing was clearly military.
His voice hit me like crashing waves, knocking me from the present. My vision whitened out. I nearly collapsing under the weight of all the memories. Then the realization struck. Not only was my own mother a Kobbi, she was mind raping Dashia. And she had killed my brother. “NO!!!!!” I screamed snapping back to the present.
Terra gathered me in all four of her arms. I felt her trying to control the panic within her. Her emotions had a different flavor than those of my father. Perhaps it was because she was Flagoan. Or perhaps it was because she loved me, while my father now hated me.
“What’s happening?” I managed to choke out between dry heaves. “I feel...everything. Oh Makers, make it stop.”
“It will be okay, Twilight,” she said so unconvincingly that I didn’t need my empathic abilities to know she didn’t believe it. “Bunk and I will explain everything--"
“But I already know everything!” I screamed grabbing my head and rocking back and forth. “Oh Holy Makers, No! I can’t be a mutelouge!”
Bunk and Terra stiffened at the profane term for mix-breeds. Thank the Makers that the doors and windows were closed. Otherwise, I would have just announced to the neighbors that I belonged to an illegal, hybrid race. A strangled cry escaped from Terra and she held me closer. “It will be okay. I know this is really scary for you, but we knew this would eventually happen.” She looked at my real father and snapped, accusingly, “We just didn’t think it would be this soon. Or happen this abruptly.”
Colonel Milett’s expression morphed from disgust to confusion. “What the hell?” he stammered. “She doesn’t know what she is?”
As Terra lifted me up and started carrying me away, I heard Bunk’s soft, rich voice explain, “No. She had no idea. Her memories and powers were blocked when she came to us. Seeing you somehow released them.”
“Shit. No. You mean she could have been normal?” I heard Colonel Milett’s anguished moan before Terra closed the door.
She sat me on the edge of my bed and knelt in front of me. She was saying something, but I was lost in the whirlwind of emotions emanating from her. I tried to block it, but it was inside of me and I didn’t know how to get it out. I knew that such contact was wrong. The memory of my mother empathically abusing me made that clear. My memories also included the torture she’d inflicted upon my father.
Once again a mental tornado carried me into the past. My father, Ebony Milett, a brave and decorated officer in the Zartous Military completely crumbled under Cassie’s empathic onslaught. At seven, my mental shields weren’t developed enough to block the stabbing penetration of my mother empathically raping my father. I felt every thrust as she tore through his mind one layer at a time. She was convinced he was trying to hide something from her, which was ridiculous. She’d destroyed his ability to resist her when she’d bonded him years ago. He simply couldn’t keep anything from her.
Once she was finished with him, I uncurled myself from the corner of my room and went to his to try to comfort him as I sometimes did. He sat slumped over the keyboard of his computer. His eyes were broken floodgates. Despite all the hell she’d put him through, I’d never seen him cry before. I started to back away, sure it wasn’t proper for a daughter to see her father this way.
He jerked his head up and focused his blue-grey eyes on me. He gestured for me to come to him. A vague shadow of his former self began to take form. “Do you know why I named you Twilight?”
When he got no answer, he rushed on, “You’re my last chance to bring something good into this blixed up star cluster. I’ve known for a long time that your mother would leave me. After all, I am only a Human. Dashias need another Kobbi to feed--” He stopped when he noticed that I’d started crying. He worked on catching his sobbing breath for a minute then said, “With your sister following after your mother, you’re all I’ve got...” He couldn’t continue and finally gave up. He pulled me into a hug. I felt his tears soaking my hair.
“Daddy, let’s just go away. Please, just me and you.” It seemed so simple. I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t left her a couple of years ago when she’d let Terrel die. Back then, I couldn’t fathom the personality fractures that being bonded by a Dashia caused or how dependent the victim became. All I knew was his shame. When Cassie called for me, he cringed, shaking his head futilely. She was going to take me with her to train me as a Dashia. The abuse I’d face without my father there to defend me terrified me. I hoped against reason that he wouldn’t let her take me.
But when she came in and wrenched me from his arms, he did nothing. He slumped over his desk unable to say anything or even watch as she pulled me out of the room kicking and screaming. “Daddy. Daddy, please! Don’t let her take me.”
# # #
“Twilight, you can control it. You just have to learn how.” Terra’s tone was more pleading than instructional. I followed it like a lifeline out of the past and back to reality. She saw she had my attention and gave me a nod. “Good. I want you to take a minute and feel where your mind and emotions end and where the empathic energy of other people begins.”
I didn’t understand, but I tried to separate what was me from what was her. Her love mixed with fear threatened to overpower me, engulf me, drown me. She tried to tell me how to withdraw into my own mind and close it off, but I couldn’t stop the waves washing over me.
Finally I couldn’t take the constant bombardment of emotions-- mine, hers, Bunk’s, my father’s. “Just go away. Please. I need to be alone.”
We went back and forth a few times, with me wanting to be alone and her wanting to stay and comfort me. She kept trying to tell me it was going to be all right. Shouts from the common-room ended the debate. Terra ordered me to stay in my room and left.
The voices were muffled and I couldn’t make out what was being said. But concentrating on them made the intensity of the mental contact fade. It wasn’t completely gone, but it did fade to just a subtle awareness.
My pet larket, Chow-a-Chan, unwound itself from the tree branch outside my window where it had been sunning itself. It clicked its front two, stubby branches together in a questioning pattern. I automatically snapped my fingers in response. Chow-a-Chan wasted no time scurrying through the window. It crossed the floor, climbed up my leg and draped its viney little body across my shoulders. As usual, it rubbed one of its soft leaves against my cheek in greeting.
The comm-line chimed at my terminal. I had no intention of answering, but the display showed it was Vance. If there was anyone I might have been able to talk to about all this, it would have been him. But I just stared at the monitor trying to figure out what I would say and worrying that my empathic powers would go all berserk again. The signal ended and for a moment I regretted not answering it. Then it chimed again. Vance was nothing if not persistent.
I buried my face in my pillow and smothered the sobs that tried to force their way out. I’d never cried much for a Human girl. Now that I remembered how I’d been punished whenever I’d cried before coming to the Splendors I knew why. My mother had sent out a mental slap of annoyance whenever it did, and my father forced me to stand at attention until I stopped.
The door opened. I heard my co-parents enter but didn’t look up. Maybe if I didn’t look at them, the empathic connection wouldn’t be reestablished. No such luck. I felt their fear of losing me and desperate, parental need to protect me. I also felt their desire to undue the damage that had been done.
Terra tried again, “Twilight. It is going to be okay.”
“Stop saying that!” I shouted, “It’s never going to be okay!”
“It’s just going to take time--"
“Time!” I shrieked. “Time isn’t going to change the fact that I’m a vreking mutelouge.”
“Twilight,” Bunk said in the firm parental tone he reserved for when I really got out of line. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to use such language, but he wasn’t sure how to react under the circumstances. “We understand you’re upset. You have every right to be. We probably should have told you sooner. But that’s no reason to yell at your mother, who loves you very much, or to use such profane language.” I felt him calculating the best way to cut through my hysteria. He continued with what I realized was a speech he’d prepared for the day I found out the truth. “You are a Crean-Kobbi, a race that proudly served this star cluster for centuries. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud of.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Everyone knew how the Kobbi had nearly ruined the Paraxous Cluster. They were a genetic experiment gone wrong. Both the Crean-Kobbi and their predecessor the Drey-Kobbi had been banned because of their dangerous empathic abilities.
“You want me to be proud of being a monster?”
In unison my co-parents answered, “You are not a monster.”
“That’s exactly what I am!” I started knocking knick-knacks off the bedside stand. Chow-a-Chan gave a scolding chatter, unwrapped itself from around my forearm and skittered back out the window and into the tree.
“Twilight, stop! You need to calm down and listen to us,” Bunk commanded.
I had always responded instantly to orders almost like a conditioned response. No, not almost; I realized it was a result of my mother’s abuse and my father’s military style discipline. Now Bunk’s attempt to control me made me mad. I zeroed in on his darkest fear and struck. “I should just go with my real father. That way you don’t have to worry--”
Terra’s cry stopped me. Or maybe it was an awareness of the pain I’d just inflicted. My anger fled and despair set in. “I’m sorry. I guess I can’t understand why you’d knowingly keep a mutelouge around.”
Bunks leaves bristled but his tone was more exasperated than angry. “Twilight, please stop using that term. The Kobbi were hybrids designed to bring peace to our war torn star cluster. They were hero’s...Guardians, leaders, who bridged the gap between the races. It was and still is the Dashia who abused their power.”
“My mother’s a vreking Dashia,” I shot back. My brother had told me so before he’d died. The memories of all the time she’d invaded my mind in order to punish me slammed me in the gut. I threw up without warning. Bunk grabbed a trash can and shoved it in front of me to catch most of it. He lifted me with two of his arms, held the bin with one and combed my hair back with the twig like fingers of this fourth hand. He carried me to my bathroom and gently set me down beside the toilet. He tried to talk me down, but I was reliving the horror of realizing my own mother was evil.
Terra jabbed a hypo into my arm. I almost struck her out of shear reflex before she explained hastily. “It’s to help you recover from the trauma.”
After a couple minutes, I stopped throwing up. All that was left were dry heaves. I glanced at Terra between the heaves wanting her to continue. She finally did. “When you came to us, the Dashia Hunter told us that the block might not be permanent. He said the shock of your memories returning and your empathic powers manifesting all at once might be too much.”
I sat back on my heels feeling a bit more normal again. “Will it stop my empathic powers?”
“No. The medicine slows their return and disassociates your memories from the pain.”
I felt so much better I begged, “Can you just keep giving it to me?”
Terra glanced at Bunk who eventually answered, “For a while; long enough to give your mind and body a chance to adjust.” He saw that I was about to argue and extended all four arms with his palms up in a gesture of peace. “We can talk about it later. Right now, I need to know what to tell--” he considered what to say but apparently couldn’t bring himself to call him my father, “...Colonel Milett.”
Anger exploded inside of me. “He’s still here!” I got up and started for the door ready to tell Colonel Milett what I thought of him. Terra and Bunk held me back. “You can tell him that I hate him and I never want to see him again!” I yelled loud enough to make sure the man who’d deserted me to the mercies of a Dashia could hear.
“No! Twilight. Stop.” My co-father, who had never uttered a word without due consideration cried out, “That man had his mind wiped so Cassiopeia DeConnett wouldn’t know what he’d done. He knew a Dashia Hunter was after your mother. He convinced the Hunter to rescue you instead of going after her.”
Terra continued the story. “He was fully aware she’d know he was hiding something, but if the memory itself was gone, she wouldn’t be able to find out what he’d done no matter how deep she dug. He was in a mental reconstruction center when the Dashia Hunter brought you to us. He wasn’t expected to recover.”
The weight of my previous anger came crashing back on me. My shoulders sagged with defeat. I made my way to the common-room to try to apologize. I wasn’t sure exactly what to say. It didn’t matter. He was gone. I ran to the front door, opened it and looked both ways down the hall. I was about to call out for him, but Bunk put a hand over my mouth and yanked me back inside.
“Twilight, we can’t draw any attention to ourselves.” He closed the door. “I know how to contact him. So if you wish to reconcile with your father, we can arrange it.”
My earlier words about Ebony Milett being my real father bit at my conscience, but there was no bitterness in Bunk’s voice. There was a universe of fear in his next statement. “The question is: how did he find us? And since he was able to do it, how long before Madam Cassiopeia DeConnett does?”
Even while reeling at the idea, I noticed that he had used her formal name. He didn’t refer to her as my mother, and I was grateful.
My co-mother voiced the question I hadn’t had time to think of yet. “What do we do now, Bunk?” She entwined her delicate sprig-like fingers with his thicker, knobbier branch-like ones. He gazed down into her eyes and smiled a peaceful smile. “We go ahead just as we’d planned for when this day came.”
Terra blanched for a second and I felt a wave of grief for the life we’d have to leave behind. Her expression and emotions then became almost as serene and determined as Bunk’s.
I asked, “Do you think we should cancel tomorrow?”
They both winced and looked at me. They had no idea that I’d already figured out about the Commemoration party tomorrow. Bunk took a moment to think things through. “No. Even if Madam DeConnett happened to be on the nearest planet in the Cluster, that’s still a three day flight. And she’s much more likely to be on one of the central worlds. So even if word got to her right away that Ebony had found us, we should have plenty of time to make our escape. Besides, canceling a Commemoration Ceremony last minute is bound to generate speculation. We don’t want to force her into action.”
He turned to me and saw that the reality of the situation was beginning to set in. He knelt to be eye-to-eye with me. He collected a deep breath and his hue temporarily flushed green between his dark brown bark. “We knew the DeConnetts might find us someday or that someone might discover you were a Crean-Kobbi Human. Obviously, your co-mother and I have a lot to do. Please, try to rest for a while. We’ll be in later to talk.”