Chapter Eight

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“So? How’s she, then?” Chess’s round face shone on the holoscreen hovering over Martin’s coffee table, his smile beaming as he eagerly waited for a response. Martin was planted on his couch, his back sunken into the cus...

“So? How’s she, then?” Chess’s round face shone on the holoscreen hovering over Martin’s coffee table, his smile beaming as he eagerly waited for a response.

Martin was planted on his couch, his back sunken into the cushioning. His giant bare feet were crossed at the ankles, perched on top of his wooden coffee table. His laptop sat on his lap as he focused on the screen. “She’s sleeping right now,” he replied.

“Still? How long has it been?”

“About twenty-one hours, give or take,” Martin shrugged, not shifting his attention away from his device. “Believe me, it’s no different from her giving me the cold shoulder.”

“Well, can you blame her? You shut her in a drawer.”

“She attacked me,” Martin countered, nodding his head towards the holoscreen, “so it was justifiable.”

“Right,” Chess chuckled. “What’re you looking at, by the way?”

“F.I.T.E.’s website.” Martin finally tore his attention away from the computer and looked at his friend. “Chess, these shops are everywhere—and I mean everywhere. There’s some in Asia, the U.K., the States and onward. And every one is on a master list the group created—the name of the shop, its location, the owners. Many of them have their information crossed out.”

Chess’s grin faded as he considered Martin’s words. “They were shut down, maybe?”

“Possibly. And speaking of owners, Stewart’s Exotic Pets is definitely on the list. And get this: they have tons of information on Stewart himself—a year’s worth, in fact. Blog articles, videos, Vid Reviews. They even claim that he’s connected to the black market somehow.”

“Shit…You think it’s all true then?”

“It’d explain why he was so dodgy the other day. Why F.I.T.E.’s protesting him.” Martin sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“So what? We get a hold of F.I.T.E.?”

Martin dropped his hand from his nose and shrugged resignedly. “We’ll have to. I mean, we’re out of our element here so maybe they could provide some answers.”

“When you set something up, I’ll come with.

“That was the plan anyway.”

“I figured. I’m just as deep in it as you are, you know. Say, I’m sure Naomi’ll know something.”

“Naomi…” Martin nodded at the mention of Chess’s half-sister. “Oh! Right. I forgot she works with them. What does she do again?”

“She’s their private investigator. Knows a shit ton ‘bout the Red District an’ helped shut down a lot of the black market operations.”

“Yes. We’ll definitely seek her out. Meanwhile, I hoped you web blocked your information.”

“I still think that makes us a tad bit suspect, Marty. Not to mention paranoid.”

“I’d rather be safe than sorry, Chess. We don’t know who we’re dealing with, so I’d rather take as many precautions as I possibly can. Or at least buy us some time…I hope.”

“You sure about that?”

“As sure as I can be at this point—“

Martin stopped speaking when the sense of being under surveillance suddenly crept onto him. He then turned his head to the right and his eyes fell onto the tiny woman who was once sleeping in a shoebox. She stood next to his recliner, her stance defiant and assured as her teal eyes locked onto him.

Martin shifted his gaze to Chess. “Looks like I have a visitor,” he informed. “I’ll call you back.”

“Right right. Keep me posted, alright?”

“Of course.” When the holoscreen disappeared, he looked at the woman once again. “So you finally rejoin the land of the living,” Martin greeted as a faint half smile traced his lips.

The woman’s brows furrowed, her stare cold and unyielding.

“You were out for a day and a half,” Martin pointed out, lifting the laptop off his lap and placing it on the table. He then lifted his feet and planted them on the floor before moving towards the edge of the couch. “I take it you slept well…that’s my hope anyway.”

The woman replied with a confused yet stern look, as if attempting to translate the words coming out of his mouth.

Martin cleared his throat awkwardly. “Alright then,” he said. “Look, I’m not trying to harm you. In fact, I’m just as confused as you are, so I only want to get to the bottom of all of this.” Without further hesitation, Martin lowered his forearm, placing it centimetres away from the woman. “But you have to promise not to take off or tickle me with another pen.”

The little woman looked his arm up and down before she approached the side of the table hesitantly. She then put her arms around Martin’s forearm, locking her fingers together to secure a firm grip. She held on effortlessly as he carefully lifted her up and moved her over the surface of the table. She peered downward hurriedly before she released him and dropped onto the surface, the soles of her boots clapping against the hard wood.

“Martin Keating,” he introduced, pointing to himself.

“Maaa-tin Keeeat…ing.”

“Yes. That’s it,” he said chuckling. “Or close to it anyway.

“Lianna,” she began, indicating herself, her entire being brimming with confidence and unadulterated pride, “Ch’ah o te Pri Hg Ku ain Prie Hg Yay-na, Counsi o te pepli Shulu.”

Martin nodded at the gibberish she spoke. So far he caught her name and something about a Shulu, which was a start. But he needed more if he wanted to know how she got here in the first place. “Hold on.” Martin reached over to the table and grabbed his tablet. He skimmed through the apps decorating the screen until he found the one called Doodle Bug. He then placed the device back onto the table in front of the woman, who stared at it with confusion.

“Draw your home,” Martin instructed while gliding the tip of his fingers across the touch screen, creating thin black lines. He watched as Lianna followed his digit with her eyes before placing her hand up, making him stop.

The tiny woman looked up at Martin then shifted her eyes towards the screen, her gaze focused on the lines Martin drew.

“Right,” Martin said as he pressed his finger on the screen. “But I want to show you something first.” When the menu appeared, he chose the “Save” option.

“This,” he explained while he pointed to the option, “will keep your drawings forever. It says ‘Save’.”

“Save.”

“Yes.” He then pointed to the “Next Page” option. “And this says ‘Next Page,’which will give you a new page. See?” Martin soon chose the option, making the lines vanished and leaving behind a blank page.

Lianna nodded and kneeled down in front of the tablet, her eyes sweeping across the page as if trying to figure out the best starting point. Then she suddenly slid the palm of her dark green hand over the top of the screen, darkening the top of the page. At first, her movements were unhurried, delicate almost as she familiarized herself with the machine. When she was done, she then pressed the tip of her green fingers onto the darkened area, moving with her hands to keep her balance.

Martin watched as Lianna moved to the other side of the tablet and proceeded to draw what looked like a tree, both a circle and a figure holding an arrow on either side of it, and figures sitting in front of something that looked like a camp fire. When she was finished, she would save the drawing and move on, completely focused on the tablet.

Martin pursed his dry lips, his heart growing heavy with sympathy when the screen depicted humans hovering over her people, their cages opened and filled with those who were captured.

“Hooniis,” Lianna finally said, pointing to the three masked figures on the screen and began drawing again, her movements rapid as if her hands were working to keep up with her thoughts.

Not once did she stop to rest, Martin noticed, his own attention fixed on the screen while she continued to sketch her story.

He felt the heat rise to his face when she finally reached the part when she was in Wayland’s shop. In the sketch, she was stabbing him in the hand with what looked like a sword—probably when he was attempted to…undress her…

By the time Lianna was finished, Martin had already formed his theory on how she wound up on Earth: The ‘Hooniis’ were actually intergalactic breeders who kidnapped her people and others to either sell them through the black market or to humans who want pets. Either way, that was why she was at Stewart’s shop and why his attitude towards him at the shop was so sketchy. Fucking bastard, he thought.

Martin sighed wearily. He was way out of his element on this one, so it’d be smart to reach out to F.I.T.E. Both the pamphlet and the website provided contact information, so he’d just email their headquarters to schedule an appointment to talk to a member sometime this week.

Meanwhile, he’d have to make accommodations for his new guest. He could start by getting her a bed, a home for someone her height, clothes and anything else she needed. Granted, it would take some research on his end but it was better than having her sleep in a shoe box.

In other words, welcome to London, Martin thought, wondering if Lianna read his mind when she regarded him with a distrusting stare.

 

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