Seven: Counseled

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The cold of the ship is almost unbearable after the moist heat of the holding bay. The ice blue lights seem to suck all the emotion from my body, freezing them to the walls, painting them in streaks between the silver support beams. Zyn's arms around me seem to be the only source of warmth in the halls. Even my bio-suit, stuck to my skin like syrup, seems to be a layer of slush.

My eyes are filled with tears, emotions I cannot let loose. Miraculously, my feet keep walking, keep following wherever Zyn leads me. We stop at the top of the stairs and I look down the hallway like it's a carnivorous maw, waiting to swallow me whole. "Azra," Zyn's voice breaks through the glass of my thoughts, shattering them into a million pieces. "I will help you with the counsel. If you just do what I say..."

I'm nodding before he's finished. He stops me, turns my face to meet his. This time, when I look at him, I do not pick apart the things that separate us, the things that say he is not like me, that he is not human. I stare at the faint line of stubble that decorates his chin. Hair, dark, unshaven, so like the beard that coated my father's chin during the winter months that I just want to touch it, stroke it, make sure it's not painted on like Zyngar's.

My fingers are doing it before I've fully realized the thought. They brush against the light prickles, marvelling in the feel of them. "Azra," his voice is a breath, a whisper I want to preserve beneath my chilled skin. I lean in closer to him, not realizing it was possible until our bodies are pressed together, his hips crushing into my waist.

I lean forward, my toes extending, knowing that the instant our lips touch I'll shatter. I'll break into a million melting pieces, and I'll no longer have the ability to care. "You came."

The hard, gravelly vibrations of Zyngar's voice rips into the moment, slicing it like a knife through warm butter. I jerk away from Zyn and nearly topple. His arms clamp down on both sides of my waist, holding me steady. Zyngar is standing on the stairway above us, taking every inch of us in with his eyes, those bright gleaming eyes that are like burning coal dust.

I want to run and hide while simultaneously wanting to cling to Zyn until the moment has disappeared, vanished beyond the haze of memory. But Zyn doesn't move. His arms have become vices around me, the muscles tightening until I don't think I could break them apart. "The counsel has just started to disband, I could collect them if you like."

Realization hits me hard and clear, splitting my world in two. "You came. The counsel." The moment everyone has mentioned, warned me about, has come. I push, with two hands, against Zyn's chest, trying to burn away the icy brick that has lodged into my chest. "Zyn," my voice is too low, too quiet to be heard over the roaring in my ears.

"Be strong, Azra." Zyn is whispering in my ear and it's too soon, too soon for me to be doing this. Flashes burst across my eyes like stars falling from the sky, too quick to catch, too bright to ignore. Ackon standing in a pool of blood, a girl in a torn dress pressing against a dirty wall of glass, eyes staring, starving for my soul. I bite back a scream as my feet hit the first stair.

"Zyn," my voice is shaky with fear, fear that I'll be sold, that I'll be shipped away, away from Zyn, away from Kairim, away from the tiny, frail hope that I'll one day be returned to my home planet. My fingers claw at his arms, not realizing I'm only succeeding in pulling away slimy sections of his bio-suit.

"Calm her!" Zyngar's yell echoes down the hall, pulling at a piece of me, a piece that is standing, watching my reaction, shocked. A second set of arms wrap around my body, seizing me about the throat, cutting off my air supply. These arms are not gentle, are not Zyn's. I freeze, my body immobilizing instantly. "This is what she's like? What you've made her into? What have you been doing in that room of yours, Grzyndigaldrx? She is a monster. I doubt the counsel could even find a market for such a creature!" His words do not match his tone. He sounds almost gleeful as he says it, as if he would love purchasing "such a creature". I force myself to breathe through my nose, calming my screaming innards.

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