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Barbarian's Prize

By:Ruby Dixon



Chapter One





TIFFANY



It’s cramped and dark. Arms and legs are piled onto me and there’s an overwhelming stink of unwashed flesh in my nose. Sleep’s hard to get, but I try, because sleep’s the only escape I have.

Not today, though. A light shines on the cage and goes right to my eyes. I instinctively whimper at the flash of pain that shoots through my head.

One of the orange aliens with the rough skin points at me. He says something in his garbled language and I hear Kira suck in a breath. Oh no.

Not me. It was just a whimper. A small sound of distress. Nothing more.

Bodies peel back from me as the guard enters the cage. He grabs a handful of my hair – wild and sticking out in every direction since I haven’t brushed it in over a week – and hauls me forward. Pain shoots through my head and even though I want to be silent, a small cry breaks from my lips.

“Don’t scream,” someone whispers.

It’s too late for warnings, though. They’re just looking for someone to pick on, and they picked me. The guards haul me forward and out of the storage bay where the captives are kept. I’m dragged down a hallway and then shoved through a door. I land on my hands and knees and when I look up, there’s another guard standing there. He smiles and shows needle-sharp teeth. His smile chills me, and when he grabs a handful of my hair and yanks me to my feet, I go.

Not me. Not me. Not me. The litany repeats in my mind as he, touches his collar to loosen his clothing.

“Tiffany,” he says, and points at the nearby cot, indicating I should lie down.

Not me. Not me. Please, not me.

“Hey, Tiffany?”

Josie’s voice jerks me from my sleep. I sit up, my heart pounding. There’s a cold sweat on my skin and my hair is sticking to my face. I push it back and try to act normal. “Mm?”

“You were having a nightmare,” she says softly. “Didn’t sound like a good one.”

Just a dream. I’m no longer on the alien ship. I’m safe here on the ice planet. There’s a cave full of big warriors who won’t let anyone grab me and haul me down a hallway to rape me. They’d die before they let anyone try it. The little green men and their bodyguards are dead. I’m safe.

But…I don’t feel safe. Haven’t felt safe since the night I woke up and found out I was abducted by aliens.

I rub my eyes and lie back in my furs. “Thanks, Jo.”

“Sure.” She yawns loudly and I hear her roll over.

I stare up at the ceiling of my cave and the nubs of stalactites that decorate it. I can’t sleep now. If I do, the aliens will be back in my dreams. I need to think about something else for a while. Maybe tanning. Or my plants. Work’s good. Work keeps me too tired most nights to dream, so I throw myself into whatever task I’m working on 150 percent. I’ve been growing a row of the not-potatoes and they seem to be doing okay. I want to try and grow some hraku, too, but I need the seeds and everyone eats those as fast as the plant is harvested. Maybe I can hide some.

“Tiff?”

Josie’s not asleep. This must mean it’s time to talk. Normally I barely tolerate Josie’s late night musings, but tonight I welcome them. It means I don’t have to be alone with my own head anymore. “What’s up?”

“You think we’re ever going to resonate?” Her voice is small.

It’s a question Josie’s asked before, and I’m not surprised. As the last two human women to not resonate to a barbarian, we feel a little left out of things. Or at least, Josie does. Me, I’m glad. I don’t want to resonate. Resonance means babies and a mate. I don’t mind the babies, but the thought of a mate utterly terrifies me.

“What do you think?” I ask her, pitching my voice low. Sound carries in the caves and I don’t want anyone hearing our words.

“I think it can happen.” Her voice is soft and sweet. She sighs and then I see her turn over in the darkness, putting her hand to her face and cupping it as she looks over at me. “Claire didn’t resonate to Ereven until the holiday. And it took Megan a while to resonate to Cashol, remember? Not everyone resonates right away, so I think there’s a chance for us.”

And that’s the difference between Josie and I. Josie’s motivated by hope. She hopes someone’s going to light up her khui one day and then she’ll have a happy ever after. Me, I’m motivated by fear. I live in terror that it’s going to happen to me and I’ll be dragged to someone’s bed once again, kicking and screaming.

Resonance is my biggest fear.

It’s the way the sa-khui barbarians have children. Everyone on the planet has a khui – the symbiont that rewrites our systems to ensure we can survive on the harsh planet surface. I’ve noticed a few changes in my body – I’m stronger and less tired, the weather doesn’t affect me as much, and I can’t smell a lot of things anymore. My eyes glow blue like Josie’s do, a sign that the khui is healthy inside.

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