Vy had tried to whisper, and gotten punished for it.
She wanted to get off this hellish ride, but two Torth guarded the exit in the railing. More Torth stood at the corners. Their gleaming white bodysuits seemed to lend them superhuman strength. Vy had tried to bolt over the railing, to get back to her foster brother, but one of the Torth had wrestled her with contemptuous ease. Her arm was already forming nasty bruises under her shirt.
Cherise seemed content to wait for whatever might happen next. Delia slumped in a posture of utter resignation. Neither of them seemed interested in escape, and Vy could not understand that.
Vy saw his calculating gaze. He had not attempted to wrestle a Torth—yet—but he might actually have a chance of winning. Even with his wrists shackled together, his inexplicable size might be a match for their unnatural strength.
And he was searching for escape routes.
Vy saw him look over the heads of alien pedestrians, and consider doorways and alleys. His problem was that he was too big to go unnoticed. Hiding would be a problem for him. But maybe he was searching for a place to stow his mother?
Ariock felt her gaze. He glanced at her, and Vy nodded, showing that she agreed with his apparent intentions. Ariock looked relieved to be understood. He slid a meaningful gaze of concern towards his mother, hinting that she needed protection. Vy nodded in agreement, and indicated Cherise, showing her own concern.
A lot of Vy’s tension and fear evaporated. She felt safer with the certainty that Ariock shared her goals. Judging by the way he sized up potential hiding places and threats, he was unlikely to do anything fatally stupid.
Their hovering platform entered a crowded forum, with a shabby grandeur that evoked Grand Central Station in New York City. Massive chandeliers dripped with diamonds. Blue vines decorated sandstone walls, divided by fiber-optic flora. Forlorn aliens sat or slept on the floor, like homeless vagabonds in filthy rags.
Here they slowed.
Vy did not like the look of the thorny monsters that approached. The beasts rivaled Ariock for height, but they must weigh a ton, built like rhinoceroses. Overlapping plates made them appear to be armored, although they were actually nude, with rough, pebbly skin in garish hues of copper, bronze, or fiery red.
The monsters assessed Ariock with beady red eyes. Vy had no doubt that they could crush her and simultaneously tear her to shreds with their serrated spikes.
A telepath kicked Ariock with her boot. It seemed a way to get his attention, because she pointed to the opening in the railing. The Torth clearly wanted Ariock to go meet the beasts.
Vy didn’t want to be stranded alone in a world full of hostile aliens. If they got split up? They might never find each other again, in this metropolis.
Ariock was looking at her, and at his mother, as if seeking confirmation. Vy thought of what he had said in the spaceship cage. “Loneliness is worse than death.”
She shook her head.
Ariock gripped the railing with his shackled hands and dared to speak. “We stay together.”
His deep voice carried throughout the vast forum, as obvious as thunder, as implacable as a boulder. Strolling Torth stopped in mid-stride. Aliens glanced around, and stared at Ariock. A few of them bumped into each other.
There was punishment.
Ariock clenched his jaw and breathed like a steam engine, clearly determined to outlast it. Vy was impressed. These Torth were used to bullying enfeebled aliens and disabled children, but how often did they face someone as strong as Ariock? He might be able to overcome any punishment they threw at him.
Delia screamed in pain.
Ariock immediately stepped off the platform, obedient. The weight differential made the platform float up a few inches. He watched his mother with concern, and then relieved gratitude, as she covered her face with her hands and whimpered. The pain seizure had apparently ceased.
Vy glared at the Torth. Manipulative bastards.
But there was no way to gauge their reactions, or lack thereof. The ones in bodysuits had no pupils, no gazes.
A cage-like platform pulled up near theirs. This one looked grim, all black steel, its edges sharp with serrated blades.
Thorny monsters loped towards Ariock on their immense knuckles, like armored gorillas. The upright ones carried chains that looked heavy enough to imprison a mammoth. There was a glint of sapience in their beady eyes.
Vy had a bad feeling.
“No!” Delia shouted. “Don’t take him!”
She might as well shout defiance at a storm. Her cry ended in a squeak of pain, and she doubled over, clutching her head.
Ariock lunged back towards his suffering mother.
Or he tried to.
A huge chain whipped around his upper arm. Then another. He jerked hard enough to tug a monster off balance. Ariock seized the railing and weighed it down hard enough to hit the glossy floor, gouging crystal.
The monsters closed in.
One tried to loop a chain around Ariock’s chest. Ariock ducked and twisted. Instead of trying to run away, he seized the mammoth chain and yanked it downward. He grabbed one of the monster’s huge spikes at the same time, and shoved upwards.
The spike snapped.
The monster bellowed in pain. Blood oozed out of the wound, blackish crimson.
Ariock held the broken spike like it was some kind of a monster-killing spear. He adjusted his stance, looking ready to stab any monster that came close.
One of the Torth snapped a command in an alien tongue. Vy couldn’t guess what it meant, but it sounded harsh.
The monsters edged around Ariock, as wary as gladiators forced into an arena with a rabid lion. Their beady red eyes sized him up. Some of them looked afraid.
But clearly, they had no choice but to obey their Torth masters.
They held the chains taut and ready. Several monsters tackled Ariock, roaring bravely as Ariock tried to stab them or shove them off.
But the outcome was inevitable. They outnumbered Ariock. Each monster outweighed him. Their skin was roughened, as tough as armor. Their joints were weaponized, fringed by thorns. Overall, the monsters looked built for battle.
Ariock looked human.
He was formidable, but he lacked the toughness of military training or gangland brutality. His inexperience with violence was plain. Within seconds, the gang of monsters had overpowered him, wrapped him in chains, and shoved him inside the cage.
They secured Ariock’s chains so that he hung there, hardly able to move. One of them seized the broken spike out of Ariock’s grasp. Then they slammed the cage door closed.
The monsters exhibited no triumph. They only looked relieved, glad to be done with an unpleasant task.
Vy lost her anger towards the brutes. From their point of view, Ariock must look like a hulking telepath. No wonder they were afraid to hurt him. As far as they were concerned, the Torth had commanded them to imprison another Torth. They had no reason to feel sympathy or kindness towards someone who looked like Ariock.
Or like Vy.
The monsters backed away and scattered. Some of them took up stations in the room, crouching like immense guards.
Ariock hung his head. He looked as resigned as his mother.
Worse. He looked like he thought he deserved to be caged.
The Torth prodded Vy to exit the hovering platform, along with Cherise and Delia, but she hardly noticed. One of the true monsters—a Torth—climbed in front of the cage, onto a control platform. Soon the cage was on the move.
Ariock was gone, driven away through a crowd of staring aliens.