I have mixed feelings about the big alien that shows up at my house a short time later. I sit on the porch of my home, hugging my knees. My eyes are still watering and my ears ringing, but at least the air is fresh out here. I watch as the air-sled pulls up to my property and Custodian i’Yani emerges. He's got a pissy look on his face that absolutely doesn't surprise me, given how we bickered the last time he was out here.
But he's loud and he speaks clearly, so that's why I asked for him.
He swaggers up to my porch and glares down at me. His uniform fits him perfectly, outlining broad shoulders and a trim waist, along with an angrily flicking tail. As aliens go, I don't think he's one of the handsomer ones. His brow is heavy and his nose has been broken more than once, but he usually pairs that with a charming smile that wins over everyone in Port.
Well, he's not wearing a charming smile right now. He plants one of his heavy boots next to my legs and glances over at my still-smoking barn, then down at me. He taps a finger on his face. "Got a little something on your cheek."
I swipe at my face and see that it's soot. I wipe it on my clothes and glance back up at him again, so I don't miss anything he says. "Before you go blaming me, I'm not sure what happened. The equipment malfunctioned and that's what caused the fire."
"Malfunctioned, huh?" His tone says he clearly doesn't buy it. But he heads towards the barn, and if he says something else, I miss it. Coughing, I stay on the porch. It's a bad idea for me to follow him in anyhow. Even if he shouted something at me, I might not hear it, and it's not safe for me to go back until I'm sure the fire is completely out and the barn is still stable enough to use. And this is just the icing on top of a bad day's cake, so I bury my face in my arms and wish—again—that I was back on Earth. I've been on this planet for a month now, and assured that I'm finally safe, but so far, all I see are new obstacles that I have to face.
At least when I was in a sea of human slaves, I could blend in. I could ask others for assistance or for someone to repeat what was said. I could pretend to be stupid and coast by on my looks and no one had to know I was hard of hearing. I've become adept at hiding it, and the three years I spent on Homeworld as a slave, no one guessed a thing. I lived with the other slaves in a huge manor house run by a lord who liked to be waited on by nubile young women and didn't require much else.
But out here on this farm planet, I'm expected to be self-sufficient. I'm expected to pick up the ball and run with it…but I don't know the rules of the game and I can't ask. I don't trust anyone that claims they don't have an ulterior motive. That they're doing this to “help” people. How do I know they won't harvest my crops and just keep all the money? How do I know this mesakkah lord won't show up tomorrow and decide he's selling all the humans to a buddy of his? I don't, so I keep my guard up and I trust no one.
And I'm so, so tired.
There's an angry tap on my shoulder that jerks me awake. "Are you listening to me?" Custodian i'Yani practically snarls at me. "I've been calling your name!"
I rub my face and look up at him, feigning stupidity. "I was asleep."
His lip curls like I've just said the dumbest thing ever, and he shakes his head down at me. "Follow me. I need to show you something."
The flick of his hand indicating I should follow him fills in the gaps of his speech. I get up, wary, and follow him across the small plot of land to the now-smoking barn across from the house. I cringe inwardly at the smell of smoke. I’d gone into the barn to turn on the cloning machine, popped in the tube, and then went to the far end of the barn to prep some stalls. When I’d turned around, one side of the barn was on fire. I could have died, and I chew on a fingernail anxiously as he heads into the barn and stops directly in front of the big machine again. His back is to me, and he gestures at it with a clearly exasperated motion, saying something.