“Once we are assigned jobs, we keep those jobs for our lifetimes,” Azdrei’in answered Artemis’s question. “It’s why we’re marked… The mark shows the permanence of our roles.” Sweeping his braided hair over one shoulder, he revealed the tattoo on his neck that designated him as a warrior. Even if he appealed to the Om’phids for a career change, it wouldn’t get him anywhere. Their society was far too strictly structured. He’d been chosen to be a fighter and hunter for his people, and that was what he would do until death or old age claimed him. It was the way things were, and none of the Lunvalgans questioned it. At least, they never questioned it out loud because those who did often disappeared shortly after.
It was something of a mystery among his people, and yet it was hardly a mystery at all. The Eilix ruled with a heavy hand, and anyone who questioned their authority was punished for it. Even if he wanted to do more than one job, he had to keep the wish to himself or risk becoming one of those who vanished either for good or for a while before they returned fully loyal to their leaders again. Neither option sounded appealing to him, so he followed his orders and accepted the reality that he’d been assigned the role of warrior in spite of his aptitude for learning rapidly.
When Artemis told him that she didn’t want to eat the ‘meat sludge’ that his people consumed for their meals, he laughed amusedly. “No one does. I don’t know if you can even digest it anyway. The formula was created for my species, which is why I told you to bring your own food from your planet.” He didn’t want to go back to eating the substitute either, now that he’d had his first taste of blood and flesh. The food on the mothership had always been bland, but he suspected it would be especially so compared to the rich flavors he’d experienced on the Earth. He was grateful that Artemis had considered him when she’d packed for their short trip into orbit. At least for a few days, he could keep eating the meat she’d brought from her home.
Artemis’s explanation about dressing up made him wonder who she was trying to impress. If she did it to attract the opposite sex, then it was only logical that she wanted male attention, wasn’t it? The thought stirred mixed emotions inside of him. On one hand, he wanted to believe that she’d prettied herself up because of him. It was a pathetically hopeful fantasy, and it was one that he knew probably wasn’t the case. He didn’t know how humans courted each other, but he didn’t think she’d been trying to get that kind of attention from him so far. He doubted she was trying to now either. On the other hand, though, the idea that she was just looking to attract any of the other male Lunvalgans on the ship fanned an unexpected jealous streak inside of him. If anyone was going to have her, he wanted to be the one she chose.
His pale eyes tracked the way she ran her hands over her own waist and then lifted the bottom of her skirt to show her calf. Humans weren’t the only race that appreciated curves on their females. Whether she meant to or not, her short demonstration of why she had dressed up made it harder for him to remind himself that she wasn’t a Lunvalgan, and he forced himself to look away when the other warrior showed up to retrieve them.
Getting up from his bed, he walked with Artemis to the door, keeping close to her since his presence seemed to ease some of her resurging fear. “You’re foreign to us. He doesn’t know what to think of you,” he told her while they made their way down the corridor. “He can’t hurt you though. Touching the gun is an act that he’s using to try to deter you from acting violently. Don’t worry about him.”
“You really are fluent in its language,” the other warrior said suddenly, glancing at Azdrei’in bemusedly over his shoulder. “How did you learn it so quickly?”
“She has a device with quite a bit of valuable information stored within it,” Azdrei’in answered. “I studied everything I could find in the database to communicate with her.”
“I see,” the other warrior mused, his eyes drifting from his comrade’s face down to his chest. A knowing smile crossed his lips, and he fell back a little to walk by Azdrei’in’s side. “Bloodstains? Have you been hunting?”
“Perhaps,” Azdrei’in grinned back at him and then chuckled when the other male gave him a friendly shove with one arm. Those who became warriors were often rowdier than the other Lunvalgans on the ship, but he enjoyed the antics.
“Do not just stop there,” the bigger warrior groused good-naturedly. “What was it like? Is the prey on this new planet good to eat?”
“I have only sampled a small portion, but so far, the prey has not disappointed,” Azdrei’in obliged him.
For the rest of the short walk, he described in better detail what it was like to hunt on Earth, telling the other male about the different kinds of animals, how it was trickier to stalk prey because nothing else on the planet seemed to be bioluminescent, and what it felt like to dine on something that wasn’t “meat sludge,” as Artemis had so aptly put it, that had been made in a lab.
Eventually, they passed through another doorway and arrived in the wing of the ship that had been designated for the Lunvalgan physicians and medical scientists. Their warrior escort moved to stand off to the side, leaning back against a white wall to passively keep watch. Azdrei’in stood beside Artemis, and a group of three Om’phaers looked up from the work they had been doing to study the human with interest. Scientifically minded, there was less hostility in their eyes—although they were still slightly cautious—and more fascination with the being among them who looked shockingly like one of their own people.
One of the physicians approached: a tall, lithe female dressed in white. Her long hair was twisted into a floral bun on the right side of her head, and her face was slender without a crest that denoted her gender. Azdrei’in nodded a greeting to her and then turned to Artemis as she spoke her name and then asked him to translate a message for her. He relayed it as precisely as he could, glad that he’d focused on medical terminology when he’d studied her language again last night.
The female Lunvalgan seemed intrigued, especially when Artemis went on to show her the information about humans and their fertility on her device. “This is remarkable,” she said with interest, taking the tablet from the Earthling to look through the pictures and videos herself. Even from a glance, she could see that there were a surprising number of similarities between their two species, and the discovery warranted immediate investigation. Artificial fertilization was something they had begun experimenting with, but had yet to see any success. Perhaps there was something to be learned from the creatures they had nearly eradicated. Looking over the human, she declared, “I would like to take some samples straightaway. Blood, saliva, tissue… You, come. Bring her this way.”
With a gesture to Azdrei’in, she strode over to the exam table near the back of the room and drew a curtain around it for privacy. On the table, she placed a folded gown. “Tell her to put this on, so I am able to conduct a thorough exam.”
He repeated the instructions in English to Artemis. “I’ll stay if you want me to,” he added. “I assume she means a physical exam though, so if you’d rather have your privacy, I will step out.”