Using Fejo: Chapter 15

Vanessa stashed the device containing all the credits Alice and Luka had given her in her pocket while Fejo was in the bathroom. She’d woken up alone in the bed that morning and had laid there feeling lower than low. She understood why Fejo was angry with her, but it changed nothing. If he wouldn’t help her, she’d find another way.

The port they’d stopped at was called the Innaka Port. Apparently, it was one of the few in which they didn’t need to wear bioshifting suits.

He’d returned to the room with breakfast and told her to get ready to leave. Vanessa was so relieved that he was going to take her along, but she was also a ball of nerves. Why was he taking her? Didn’t he realize she’d try something? Or was he just that confident that he could keep an eye on her?

Though she wanted to ask more questions, she’d decided not to press her luck. He’d resolved to let her come, and she wasn’t about to say the wrong thing and make him change his mind.

Vanessa watched him trail around the room, gathering fancy clothes and jewelry. With a tightness around his eyes and mouth, he slid thick, sparkling rings onto his long fingers. For about a year in seventh grade, she’d attended an all-girls school and had been forced to wear a drab uniform every day. A white button-down and navy skirt. Pants hadn’t been allowed. Fejo looked about as happy dressing as she’d been putting on that uniform every morning. Her heart pinched.

She’d been looking for the right moment to talk to him again as they both got ready in silence, but he’d barely even made eye contact with her. She wanted to try to reason with him one last time before attempting to go off on her own. Attempting to survive on an intergalactic spaceport without knowing anything about anything was stupid. Really stupid. She knew it was stupid and she’d be more likely to die than get to Earth, but Fejo had unequivocally told her no.

What was she supposed to do? Spend three months on his ship spooning and being relentlessly aroused before being popped right back on Clecania? She couldn’t have that.

In any case, she might not end up seeing an opportunity for escape today, but if she did, she’d be prepared. Using a torn piece of fabric, she’d wrapped the letters she’d gathered against her torso.

Fejo emerged from the bathroom, his hair styled into a perfect rumpled mess, and she decided now was as good a time as any. “You didn’t let me explain yesterday. About my sister.”

He glanced up at her while straightening his bright green shirt. He lifted a heavy brow, jaw set and gaze unwavering. Every part of him was in place. Put together, yet somehow still relaxed and sexy in an effortless sort of way. His long-sleeved shirt clung to his biceps and was cut low, exposing his chest. He laid his coat over the chair. It was a black one today with silver metalwork curling down the sleeves. As he straightened his sleeves, feet planted apart in a defiant stance, he waited for her to continue.

Vanessa swallowed. “My sister…she’s dying. I need to get back to her. I’m sorry about misleading you, but…I need to get back to her.” She thought she saw a glimmer of sympathy light his expression, but then it hardened again and became inscrutable.

“You stay near me while we’re at the port,” he said calmly, then walked over to the wall and placed his hand on a smooth portion. A drawer popped open, and he began removing knives, tucking them into matching green straps of fabric over the shirt.

He’d ignored her, and a familiar spike of embarrassment transformed to anger in her stomach. He hadn’t even acknowledged what she’d said.

 Vanessa had known enough disappointment in her life. After moving from foster home to foster home, she’d learned never to rely on anyone. People only disappointed you. Fejo was turning out to be no exception. “You mean like a good wife?” she snapped, helplessness and anger turning her words icy.

He stilled, staring at her again. “No, like a good little human who’s never been on an intergalactic port and who will probably get herself into trouble if she doesn’t stay close.”

The cutting remark was made worse by how true it was.

Fejo took in her crossed arms and the defiant set of her jaw. He stopped straightening his clothes and leaned toward her, gaze hard. “Don’t even think about trying anything either. The only reason I’m not locking you in this room again is because I don’t want you tearing it apart. But believe me, if you don’t behave, there are many other rooms with less-valuable things that I could keep you in next time.”

He slid on his coat and walked to the door. She followed, shoulders back and chin held high. She was about to walk through the opening when he grabbed her bicep and held her back. She glared at his hand, then at him.

With a smirk, he lifted the necklace he’d given her off her head and placed it back in the room. “It’s very valuable,” he said, holding her gaze. “I wouldn’t want it to get stolen.”

Vanessa bit the inside of her cheek and walked out the door. She’d been cautiously hoping she might be able to pawn it as a last resort if needed.

Fejo lead the way through the eerily empty ship until they arrived at the ramp they’d used when they’d boarded on Clecania. Two other men stood waiting for them at the exit. Uja and another guy, short and red-skinned with beautiful green eyes. Vanessa took a deep breath. The sudden realization that she was about to see a brand-new alien port skittered through her.

She caught Uja studying her with an odd detached expression, as though inspecting an insect under glass. His silver gaze was penetrating.

The shorter man spoke to Fejo as they approached. “Battino is waiting in the Midnight Buvwa Tavern.”

Fejo looked at Uja but nodded back toward her, then walked ahead, speaking with the short man. Uja turned to her, and she realized Fejo must’ve nonverbally assigned her a guard. Fuck.

They began to move and Vanessa followed, Uja at her side. She tried to listen and take in as much as possible while also preparing herself for whatever this new port had to offer. It was completely possible something too alien for her human brain to handle would scare her into inaction and she’d end up right back on Fejo’s ship.

They stepped through the door, and she had to pause. Fejo had told her this port was more open, but this was ridiculous. The ceiling was so clear it was almost invisible. Space, dark and foreboding, spread out above her. She took in a deep breath and forced herself to study the ground of the port instead.

Thousands of people of all different species milled about between tall green wooden buildings crammed into long hallways. The area they were currently in looked like a landing bay. Several ships were squeezed together, loading and unloading goods.

Her nose scrunched as the scent of the hot air hit her. It smelled faintly of sulfur mixed with sweet spices.

“You’ll get used to the smell,” Uja said.

Vanessa jumped, not realizing he’d stayed so close. She peered ahead and saw Fejo glancing at her from over his shoulder. When she caught his eye, he turned away and continued talking to the short man.

She nodded at Uja. “What are we picking up here?”

They stepped off the ramp leading to the port floor, and Uja’s wings flared a little. She flinched again. Everything that had happened the past two days had set her nerves on a razor’s edge.

“Sorry,” Uja said. “My wings get twitchy after a while. I haven’t been able to fly for weeks now. We’re picking up Martria crystal today. We use it in the manufacture of many electronics on Clecania. It’s highly magnetic, so it works especially well in our cruisers.”

Vanessa nodded. “So, all legal, then?” she asked, curious for an answer but not really expecting one.

Uja shrugged and kept gawking at her. She bristled under the scrutiny and had to stop herself from snapping at him. “The crystal itself isn’t illegal, but it’s usually obtained through the proper channels. The male we’re meeting doesn’t use those channels.”

Vanessa peered up at him with raised brows, surprised he’d answered her. Fejo had been pretty honest with her about the illegal parts of his job, though he hadn’t given any specifics, but she’d just figured he’d been trying to get into her pants. Uja didn’t have any reason to reveal information to her, though. Especially information about illegal things she could potentially use against the whole crew.

“Is there a lot of illegal activity that goes on here…on this port?” she asked, testing her luck.

“Do you mean are there a lot of illegal trading ships that might be willing to take you to Earth?” Uja asked, expression as solid as stone.

Her palms grew hot and she almost tripped, not able to take her eyes off Uja. She glanced up toward Fejo, who was walking a few feet ahead and paying no attention to her. “Did he tell you that?”

“He did. He was quite upset about it.”

Vanessa frowned at the ground and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, like I said to him, it was for a good reason.”

She watched a large group of purple people—seemingly made of jelly—inch by like gargantuan slugs, then remembered what Fejo had told her about staring and quickly looked away.

Her group took the right alleyway. It was densely lined with rickety green wooden buildings and smelled more strongly of sulfur. There were grates on the ground every few feet, and the smell wafted up from them as they passed.

“I’m sure it was,” Uja agreed easily. “Do you know who Fejo works for?” he asked after another moment of silence.

She glanced up at him. “I assumed he worked for himself.”

“No.” Uja shook his head thoughtfully. “Since he was a young boy, he’s been working for a family from his home city. At first, he worked for a male named Dawten. Then, after that male died, Fejo worked for his daughter, Klinara.”

“So?” she asked, not seeing the point. She spotted two women nearby, and part of their conversation floated toward her. One was talking about the price for refueling her ship. The woman was tall and covered in a bioshifting suit. Her limbs seemed to float through the air while she gestured as if she were moving through water. She spoke to another woman, short with deep black skin and flashing silver freckles.

“I first met Fejo there. I worked for Dawten too. I was there when he found Fejo as a boy.”

Vanessa’s attention was drawn back. “Found? I thought Fejo grew up with a bunch of scientists.”

Uja’s right wing extended and curled around her right shoulder, urging her closer to him and away from another large purple slug person. “He was raised by them for a while, but eventually he escaped and was found by Dawten. I don’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing, though.”

Vanessa gazed at Uja, riveted. Escaped? Fejo had mentioned being lonely as a child, but what had happened that he’d needed to escape? And why did this Dawten somehow seem worse?

“You see, Dawten saw Fejo’s potential. He saw a boy desperate for acceptance. He took advantage of that. Then his daughter, Klinara, saw a young man mooning over her and took advantage of him as well. He’s still under her control. Miserable, despite how he may appear. Yet only a couple of days ago, I saw him happy.”

Vanessa’s insides coiled, guilt wriggling like a worm in her belly.

Uja stared at her, letting his unspoken implication sink in.

“I didn’t have a choice. My sister’s dying, and she doesn’t have much time left. I can’t just leave her. If there were any other way, I would’ve done it.”

“I don’t disagree with you,” Uja said, facing forward again. “But you were taken from Earth months ago and you were kept in stasis for who knows how long. Your sister may already be dead. You risk his life and all our lives by trying to go back to Earth, not to mention the other damage you’re causing.”

Anger burned her guilt away. There was more to it than that. She had to go back whether Julie was dead or not, but she wasn’t about to continue to try to explain herself to this asshole.

She stopped in place and turned to him, hands on her hips, straightening to her full height. Just tall enough to be level with his chest. “So, is that it? Accept my sister is dead and play good wifey to him because he had a hard childhood? I had a hard childhood too, and the only person who was there for me was my sister. I get that you’re trying to protect him, but I have to look out for my family too.”

“Actually, I was thinking it would be best if you left. There’s a female two streets over who I know will travel to Class Four planets for the right price. She operates out of a bakery with a yellow door. Her name is Sulo.”

Vanessa gaped at him. Should she have been insulted that he wanted her gone so badly he’d betray Fejo? Probably. “Why…why are you telling me this? I thought you and Fejo were friends?”

Uja straightened as though he’d been slapped. “We are friends. That’s why I want you gone. You’ve been nothing but trouble, and I can see you won’t be letting this go soon. Better you disappear and save everyone the headache.”

Vanessa’s heart pounded. “I have a ride. I just need to figure out how to call my friends on Clecania. They’ll organize it all, and I’ll just wait here until he comes to pick me up.”

Uja curled his lip at her, displaying a sharp fang. His brows scrunched as if she’d said something stupid. “What do you think Fejo will do once he knows you’re gone? Do you really think he’ll just go back to the ship and leave without you? He’ll tear this place apart and drag you back if you’re within sniffing distance. You don’t have time to wait for your other ride to get here. Take my advice or don’t, but don’t be stupid about it. Don’t hurt him more by attempting to run away and failing.”

Though the delivery had sucked, Uja was right. She couldn’t hide from Fejo here. “But how am I going to get away? I don’t even know if I have enough money for Sulo.”

Uja opened his mouth to speak, but Fejo appeared in front of them. “Everything alright here?” he asked, staring between them. Vanessa nodded stiffly.

He studied her for a moment longer. “Good—we’re here.” He motioned toward a squat red door that was arched at the top. The building itself looked like nothing special. Just cracked green wood and a dirty window with curtains blocking the view inside.

Uja gave her one more glance that held an unspoken plea, then crouched, wings folded like an accordion, to fit through the door. The red crewman followed.

Fejo stayed behind, stepping in front of her and blocking the entrance.

He slipped a hand around her back and pulled her in close. “What were you talking about?” he asked, a crease appearing on his brow.

Vanessa shrugged out of his hold. “Nothing.”

She tried to push down her emotions and harden her heart, but it wasn’t working. Normally she could trick herself into being as cold on the inside as she pretended to be on the outside, but the image of Fejo tearing apart the port looking for her after she left had her softening and aching for him. She couldn’t seem to meet his unwavering gaze.

This wasn’t personal. Uja had given her a way out. All she had to do was forget everything he’d told her about Fejo and turn off her emotions, and she’d be able to leave this all behind.

She pushed her way inside the tavern and coughed at the overwhelming smell of cinnamon. She couldn’t decide if the slight smell of sulfur outside was worse or better than this heavy, heavy scent. She felt Fejo’s body heat envelop her from behind and wasn’t surprised when he used his hand on her lower back to guide her forward.

The other men were already up ahead, greeting a very rotund, pale yellow alien with four eyes and a set of wriggling antennae. Fejo tugged her down into a seat next to him and swished his hand in a gesture of greeting that the slick-skinned man mirrored. Vanessa did it too, trying to be polite, but the new yellow alien only blinked at her before returning his attention to Fejo.

Her mouth turned down, and she pursed her lips. Just because this guy refused to say hi to her the same way he had to Fejo and the other men didn’t mean he had something against women. But it still sure as fuck felt that way. She glanced around the room to distract herself, since it was clear no one here wanted to talk to her anyway.

With large tankards on the tables and dark wood covering every inch of the floor, walls, and ceiling, it looked like a bar from the Middle Ages. Or it would have, if not for the herds of insects scrambling all over. Some of the shiny green-shelled bugs scurried in groups, carrying drinks and depositing them on tables for patrons. Others ran over the counters, leaving behind a gleaming clean finish. Vanessa shuddered. A restaurant run by bugs. What the fuck?

“This is my wife, Vanessa.” Fejo introduced her with less fanfare than normal, and she withered a little.

Battino, the man with the antennae, gargled something at her she couldn’t understand. All eyes remained on her as though expecting her to answer.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” she said.

Fejo tipped his head. “Ah, she must not have your language uploaded, Battino. I’m sorry about that.” He faced her again. “He asked whether you were pregnant.”

Vanessa flinched and raised a brow toward Battino. “No. Are you?” she asked defensively.

Fejo slid his hand to her knee and squeezed in warning. He spoke to Battino. “No. She says she’s not pregnant.”

The insect man garbled something else. Fejo grinned and thanked him.

Vanessa let out a shriek when suddenly hundreds of large green insects crawled up the odd sloped sides of their round table and deposited drinks in front of each of them. She couldn’t hold back her grimace, and Battino, with his twitching antennae and narrowed eyes, looked offended.

“Sorry. Can I go to the bathroom?” she asked, catching her breath. She didn’t mean to offend anyone, but Jesus. Bugs crawling all around was something she didn’t expect many humans could squash a reaction to. It was really Fejo’s fault for not warning her. It wasn’t like this was normal on Clecania either.

“Uja, show her where it is,” Fejo shot to the winged man.

Uja nodded and rose from his seat. She followed him around the back corner of the room, where three doors stood. One door had a picture of an outrageously bulbous ant. The next had something that looked like a snake with four legs. And the third, a flying insect with six wings.

She eyed the pictures. “Am I supposed to fit with one of these?”

Uja didn’t answer her. Instead, he scanned the hallway they were standing in and stepped to the side, revealing a door at the end of the building. “If you’re going, go now.”

She backed up a step and bit her nails. A small part of her revolted unexpectedly. She quelled the urge to walk away and sit down by Fejo. But Uja’s words rang in her mind. They were true.

She knew she’d been in stasis for about three months. If Julie was still alive, she didn’t have long. The doctor had told her six months, max. Regret tightened her chest. She didn’t have a choice. Their last argument started up in her mind, and she shut it down. She couldn’t deal with that right now. She couldn’t remember how selfish and cruel she’d been. She just had to pull it together and get back to her.

Uja stared down the hallway. “You don’t have long,” he warned.

“Won’t he know you let me go?” she asked, stalling.

“Probably.”

Hardening her heart, she bit her lip. “Okay, tell me exactly where to go. I don’t want to walk into any place I can’t breathe.”

Uja rattled off a few directions and described some symbols she should watch out for. “Talk to no one. Keep your eyes down. Don’t smile. When you get to the bakery, ask for Sulo.”

Vanessa echoed the directions in her head and, without a backward glance, walked down the hall and push open the door.

***

Fejo couldn’t keep his gaze from drifting to the corner Vanessa had disappeared around. Battino was talking to him, trying to negotiate a higher price. Normally Fejo would get a thrill from talking the male down, but at the moment, he could barely keep his mind focused. She hadn’t come back yet. It shouldn’t take this long to go to the bathroom.

He’d brought her down to the port knowing full well she might try to escape. But he needed to see if she’d actually do it. Part of him didn’t believe she would. It was too dangerous, and there were too many unknowns. Vanessa wasn’t stupid. Even if what she’d said about her sister was true, she couldn’t possibly think she’d be able to make it back on her own. Could she really be that desperate? And if she was, would that make him feel better or worse about her actions?

Still, his skin itched from sitting and having her out of his sight.

Finally, when he could no longer identify her wonderful scent, he grinned at Battino. “You’re lucky I’m in a good mood today. Three thousand grunes and you have a deal.”

The male blinked his four eyes, then practically vibrated with happiness. “I’ll have the crystal brought to your ship at once,” he said, holding out an arm, waiting for payment.

Fejo scanned his credits holder over the male’s and input the proper payment, then waved his hand in the traditional farewell.

“Ashop,” he addressed his crewman, who looked at up at him. “Would you mind directing Battino to our ship? I have something to take care of.”

Ashop nodded and rose, quickly shielding his surprise. Normally, Fejo liked to oversee all the deliveries himself.

“Can’t keep away from her, huh?” Battino chuckled in a wheeze while following Ashop and giving Fejo a knowing grin.

Fejo returned the grin. “I’m exhausted,” he breathed out an exaggerated exhale. Battino chuckled again, and Fejo left. Keeping his pace casual and unhurried, he made his way to the back.

When he arrived, he saw Uja leaning against the wall, his wings spread along the bare wood. Relief overcame him for a moment until Uja caught his eye. His muscles grew rigid.

When Uja remained silent, Fejo balled his fists. “Where is she?”

“It’s better if you let her go,” Uja argued, crossing his arms in front of him.

“Of all the people…I thought I could trust you.” Fejo seethed. “Where did you send her?”

“This is better for you both. She wants to go home. She’d never have changed her mind. You don’t need to be pining away. Miserable because yet another person is treating you as if you’re disposable.”

“Vanessa is not Klinara. She’s not doing this for fun or for power,” Fejo barked. He pushed past Uja, done trying to talk to his would-be friend, and removed his communicator from his pocket. A blue dot lit up three streets over.

Fejo grimaced. He knew exactly where Uja had sent her.

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