It took a week of painful treatment before Tadik could stand again. Feeling weak and dizzy, he persevered with the gentle exercises Inmahn and his team allowed him to work on. He'd always taken care of his body, to please his dad. You didn't do high-risk sports without keeping super-fit. But his lungs kept him from doing too much; just a few minutes every hour before his lungs protested and he started coughing and wheezing. His new skin was too tight to let him bend too much either. Twice he had torn patches of it and the medics had forced him back to bed while they healed. But his mind was made up about one thing. He was going back to the brig where he belonged. He wasn't going to be called a whore by anyone, least of all his own species. He may be young but he had his pride.
Three times, D'vork had come to Medical, begging to be allowed in to speak to him. Three times, Tadik had refused to see him, and didn't even bother to tell him why. He didn't want the captain rampaging through the ship looking for the four men responsible for the upset. They had brought the truth home to him, all be it in a violent way. He had to stop it now, and this was the only way.
The following morning wearing the usual orange jumpsuit, but with dressings protecting the worst of his injuries from the material, Tadik shuffled into the brig and presented himself to Guard Captain A'bant. The captain wondered where to put him, but Tadik was adamant. He was going into the main pen.
"But they'll slaughter you!"
"No they won't. They have nothing against me now. I'm not afraid of them any more. And if the Captain comes looking for me, I don't want to see him, and I don't want any preferential treatment."Once in the main pen, his words were proven correct, much to A'bant's amazement. Quite the opposite to what he thought would happen, the prisoners gathered round the boy and, after being warned not to touch him, they helped him sit down in a corner and brought him water from their supply, and the lightest of the blankets to put round him. When they asked about their cases and he told them there was no more news, they left him alone to rest.
Two days later, A'bant stood his ground as D'vork paced his tiny office. "Sorry, Captain; rules are rules. A prisoner has the right to deny a visitor an audience, no matter what the urgency is. It's in the manual, which your own father distributed to all ships of the line. If the boy doesn't want to see you, there's nothing I can do about it."
"You mean you WON'T do anything."D'vork turned to glare at him. "I'll have your job for insubordination."
"And I'll have this conversation reported to your superior commander, sir. I'm not the one wanting to break the rules."
D'vork grabbed him and dragged him out of the office and along to the main pen where he rammed A'bant, face-forward, against the bars. "Hear me, all of you; come closer."He waited till most of the prisoners had come to the bars. He noticed Tadik's four attackers skulking at the back of the crowd, looking somewhat bruised about the face. "I'll ask you some simple questions; on Earth what would you do if someone called your girlfriend, or wife, or partner, a slut?"
"We'd tear the bastard to pieces,"was the collective reply, some in more unsavoury terms.
"Well, someone called my companion a slut. But now I'm telling you, I would never take a whore to my bed."D'vork hoped his voice was loud enough to reach the blanket wrapped figure he could just see in a distant corner. "The companion I chose is an honourable young man, whom I am most pleased to have as a friend and lover, and whom I hope one day to have as my consort. Some of you might not yet understand the reasons why we have consorts, so I will tell you once again how we do things on Gpuchk. For every female on my home planet, there are fifty males. Each female is highly regarded, and treated with dignity and respect. Her mate is chosen by her parents, after diligent attention to courtship; and it is a great honour for a male to be chosen. To a lesser degree, our consorts are chosen in the same way and we mate with them for life. What you call Homosexuality is the norm on Gpuchk; it has to be or there would be global distress of the most severe kind.
"Everything is done with complete consent; there is no rape, and there is no child abuse; there are plenty of willing companions to prevent that. Neither is there any homophobic activity."He fixed his eyes on the guilty four as he continued. "Among you are the four men responsible for the attempted murder of the one I love, who now suffers the life threatening effects of being tossed into the exhaust tower; four against one, giving the victim no chance to defend himself is itself a most cowardly act. Many of you have learned that Tadik Versont is your friend, and is helping you regain your freedom; but not Tadik's four attackers. I am ashamed to say they were once members of my crew. When we reach Gpuchk, they will be tried for attempted murder; meanwhile they will remain here in your tender care. Just remember, there are other ways to punish beside rape or violence."He raised an eyebrow to convey his real meaning.
"What about our visit to those Quastie blokes?"Someone called out.
D'vork looked towards the speaker. "You humans have a saying, do you not; an eye for an eye? You wanted sexual release but picked on someone who could not defend himself. I gave that release to you in the form of punishment. You do something wrong, you get paid in kind. How do you think we eliminated rape and child abuse on our planet? Think about it, gentlemen."
He stepped back and signaled for A'bant to unlock the gate. Once it swung open, he stepped into the pen; confident no one would attack him or try to escape. The prisoners drew back and made room for him to walk towards Tadik. He gave the four white faced men a knowing sneer as he passed them, and wondered what condition, mentally, they would be in when they reached Gpuchk. The invasion of their memories had been fast and painful, but the men had recovered within ten minutes. A long journey isolated by the other prisoners and subjected to other subtle penalties, such as the loss of blankets or clean clothes, would have a lot longer affect on their minds. They backed away from him, and he nodded. "Think yourselves lucky I haven't had you thrown down the exhaust tower to give you taste of your own medicine. I doubt you would like being eaten alive while watching your flesh rotting off you."
Reaching Tadik, D'vork knelt down in front of him, and waited for the boy to acknowledge him. Tadik raised his head to look at him, and reached out a bandaged hand to touch his face. "Tadik, I would be honoured if you would come with me, and be my companion. It is time for you to be presented to my wife and parents as my future consort. Will you come?"
"Not in person, but we are approaching the Uranus satellite where we have a link with Gpuchk."D'vork smiled at the thought of seeing his wife's face once more if only on screen. "I have sent a message to her and she wants to talk to you. Will you come?"
Tadik nodded, and a murmur of relief rippled through the prisoners who had been waiting in breathless silence. D'vork sighed with relief. "I won't touch you, much as I'd like to. Just keep your hand on my face, okay?"Activating his teleporter, he transported them straight to Medical, leaving a stunned group of prisoners staring at the empty corner.
"Where the Hell did they go?"someone asked. A'bant turned away with a smile. Humans had a lot to learn about modern technology. But had he stayed, A'bant would have found that humans learned very quickly, once they had the right pointers. The prisoners turned their attention to the four hapless crewmen. Tadik had commandeered a heating unit and had A'bant install it in one corner of the pen, where the prisoners usually gathered with the blankets and sleeping pads Tadik had also procured for them, each taking their turn to sit near the blast of warm air. The four crewmen soon found themselves divested of their blankets and pads, and their efforts to get to the heater met with hostile resistance. When food was brought to the pen, nothing was served to them. When they complained, one of the prisoners smiled and said. "Sorry, boys, you're not destined to spend the next few years in the mines, digging out crystals to provide fuel for ships like this. What do you need food for? We'll leave you some scraps, just to keep you alive."And that was all they got. Some of the prisoners joked about the days of Henry VIII when the dogs were thrown the bones and scraps and would fight over them. They thought it quite amusing to see the crewmen acting like the dogs of old.
D'vork sat by Tadik's bed, gazing at the sleeping boy. Inmahn had given him a thorough check up then ordered him to sleep before he allowed D'vork to take him back to his quarters; but much as he loved to watch him sleep, D'vork could hardly wait for him to open his beautiful eyes and smile up at him. He wanted to tell the boy how much he loved him, and the longing was like a physical pain round his heart. He had taken time off from bridge to be with Tadik, and he had been sitting here for several hours; waiting and worrying. And it took another two hours of restless patience before he saw Tadik's face pull into a frown. D'vork leaned over him to place a gentle kiss on his forehead. "Hello, sleepy head. Are you hungry?"
"No, just starving,"came the mumbled reply. Then Tadik opened his eyes and smiled up at D'vork. "That must be a good sign."
"Indeed it is."
"Well let's get to it."Tadik tried to sit up but couldn't. He fell back with a sigh. Why do I feel so weak"
"It's the poisons you've absorbed; it attacks the muscles. You overdid yourself when you walked down to the brig."
"Well, how long will I be like this?"
"Until we get to Quastor and beg an antidote from their medical experts. I know we're more advanced than you humans in medicine but our Quastorian neighbours are even more advanced than us. Meanwhile, D'vork reached for a covered glass, containing a purple sludge, on the cabinet by the bed, "Inmahn has made this potion for you to drink twice a day, beginning now."
"Tadik eyed it with suspicion. "What is it?"
"Inmahn calls it his "special"pick-me-up, whatever that means to humans. Try it."Tadik pulled his head back away from the glass. "Oh, come, where is your sense of adventure? It smells nice, anyway."
Tadik put his nose close to the glass and sniffed, and looked up in surprise. "Cinnamon, mmm! I like apple and cinnamon. Okay, I'll try it, but if it tastes awful, you're in the firing line. Not able to use his hands, the boy needed a little help, and D'vork held the glass to his lips. Tadik took a sip and his eyes opened wide. "It is! It's apple and Cinnamon, and something else."He took a mouthful and licked his lips. D'vork didn't bother telling him, Inmahn had researched Tadik's preferences and had laced the fowl tasting sludge with a heavy amount of crushed apples and the Gpuchkian equivalent of the spice grown in the nursery labs deep in the bowels of the ship. Soon, the glass stood empty on the cabinet. "Nice!"
"Hello, Tadik. I am pleased to meet you at last."
After eating a light but delicious lunch, Tadik lay on D'vork's couch, supported by lots of soft cushions, and covered with the luxurious white fur cloak D'vork had presented to him as a gift. He looked up at the hologram of Gpuchkian lady whose fur lay like an extra cloak round her shoulders, dark and lustrous over her cloak of red and gold; and his mouth dropped open. He had seen the difference between the ship's crew members, from those with obvious bear-like snouts, their rough faces and lots of fur on their arms and legs, to those who looked humanoid. He had expected to see someone with a snout but this lady was beautiful; everything in proportion, from a pretty little snout to her large expressive eyes. Sitting next to him, D'vork, in his best ceremonial uniform of black and gold, nudged him. Tadik blushed and said, "Hello, Ma'am. I'm pleased to meet you too."
"Oh, aren't we formal today?"The lady Pree'am'D laughed, her face splitting into a smile. "Why don't you call me Pree?"
Tadik blushed and wondered if the holograph of him would show his red cheeks. "Thank you, M....Pree. I think you're very beautiful. Thank you for talking with me."
Pree laughed again and addressed D'vork with a mock frown. "Husband, didn't you warn your young friend we don't stand on formality among family? So, this is the young man you have told me so much about in your communications. Very nice, too, husband, will you leave us for a few minutes, please? There are things only Tadik and I should talk about; you know the routine."
D'vork rose to his feet and bowed to the hologram. Seeing the look of apprehension on Tadik's face, he kissed Tadik on the forehead. "It's all right, Tadik. It is normal for the prospective companion to be interviewed privately by the wife. I'm sure you will find these next few moments to be pleasant ones."
Once D'vork had returned to his running of the bridge, Pree sat down on a sparkle covered stool and folded her hands in her lap. "Tell me first, Tadik, how are you feeling now?"
"Tired and sore."he replied. "Inmahn wanted me to stay in medical and said he can't do anything more for me. The poisons have gone too deep."
"Ah, yes. Inmahn tells me your illness is in recession. But that will change when you reach Quastor. D'vork's father has already let their doctors know of the problem; they will have the antidote ready for you when you arrive. What will help is for you not to do anything strenuous and follow the diet Inmahn gives you. You may find some of our Gpuchkian food a little strange, but if you persevere, your condition won't get any worse. Now, in regard to you wishing to become my husband's companion….."
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]