Opening his good eye was difficult as the blood caked on his face seemed to have almost fused it shut. But hearing a language he had never heard before caught his attention. And hearing it in a female voice, which he hadn't heard in many years, pushed his curiosity beyond his exhaustion. Xan was finally able to open his eye and looked up at her with hesitancy and awe. She was beautiful. The most beautiful thing he had seen in his many months of captivity. The days, weeks and months were running together in a mass of pain, blood, and exhaustion. The vision stood over him with her radiant mass of unwieldy curls pulled up on top of her head with one curl that escaped, brushing his face as she bent over to inspect his cuffs.
While he would have usually taken advantage of being this close to someone to use them as an escape, possibly a hostage for leverage, but the thought of marring her beautiful bronzed skin froze him solid. That and the fact that he was so weak that sitting up would have been a challenge at this point.
She spoke a language he did not understand; his universal translator never having been exposed to this tongue. As she continued to speak, her words faded in and out as the translator worked to piece together the words, grammar, and syntax.
“damaged”: “incompetent”: “price”
He couldn’t follow where the conversation was going. But his vision’s deep brown eyes seemed livid. She was gesturing aggressively toward one of his captors as she knelt closer to him. He hoped her tongue lashing wouldn’t end up costing him once she left, but smelling her warm citrus smell would keep him going for weeks until his body and spirit finally gave out. She reminded him of the flowers that bloomed on citrus trees on his home planet. Since he would never see them again, he was grateful for the memory of them through her.
He would never hold his family in his arms again. He had long forgotten much about his life before the dark. The beatings and deprivation did not lend themselves to reminiscing about the past. Trying to stay alive in the present was always the most important. At least he would have this memory of the beautiful creature to help him be at peace as he neared his end.
He braced for the worst as she moved out of the doorway to the cell and a guard rushed in. His body was rigid in anticipation for the blows to come, but they never did. Instead, the guard roughly grabbed his cuffs, jammed the key in and unlocked them. Looking at his wrists below the cuffs was enough to turn his stomach. At least there wasn’t anything in it to come up. His female visitor looked at them with a similar look of horror and revulsion. Xan attempted to hide them beneath his tattered coverings.
The guard stepped away, and she stepped closer with her hands out in a placating manner, as you would as you approached a wounded animal. In a way, he was sure that was how he looked. She reached under his head and helped lift him into a sitting position. Xan couldn't take his eyes off her as she slipped her arm under his arm and wrapped it around his back. All the while, she was speaking to him in a gentle, reassuring tone. The words were filtering in even more.
“All right”: “slowly”: “be careful.”
She supported his weight as he attempted to stand. It was more difficult than it had once been. Generally, his captors dragged Xan from his cell, so it was no surprise that his legs weren’t in working order.
She motioned to someone outside the cell and growled something to the large man that had accompanied her to the cell. His broad frame filled the cell doorway as he made his way toward the pair. He grunted as he bent to pick up Xan’s damaged frame. The female and her companion supported Xan as he exited the cell and they made their way through the corridors leading to the docking bay.
Xan refused to believe that he was truly free. His hopes of freedom had gotten the better of him before, and he would not allow that glimmer of hope to shine through. As the trio approached the visitor's shuttle, the sound of racing footsteps came from behind them.
The Colossus turned to the female and finally uttered his first words since arriving. "Sounds like trouble."
Sloan turned her head at the approach of Ganthar’s minions sprinting toward them. Heart pounding Sloan knew that this could all go sideways in a second if she didn’t play her cards right.
“Fuck! Get him on the shuttle. Get on the comm to the ship and tell them to get ready for an FTL jump as soon as we are docked.” She held her hands raised at her sides and turned to face the incoming threat.
“Boys, boys, what is the problem?” The guards slid to a halt with their hands on their blasters. The leader of the reptilian brood stepped forward.
“Commander Ganthar has decided that the terms of your agreement are no longer satisfactory,” he said.
“That’s too bad, we made a deal. We even shook hands on it, against my better judgement. Since we shook on it and exchanged credits I think that we will be departing now.” Sloan turned to go back to her shuttle, but prepared for the worst. As she spun to leave the leader placed his hand on her shoulder. She grabbed her blade and blaster and spun back so quickly she caught him unawares, his nose touching her blade.
“I would refrain from touching me without my permission,” she said, growling as her muscles tightened
She had the blaster trained on the rest of his comrades. "I'm going to enter my shuttle and leave peacefully. Ganthar and I have a deal. I would hate for your pretty face to come to some harm by allowing him to renege on a sealed deal." Sloan backed away slowly toward her shuttle, keeping the blaster trained on the group. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied one of them splitting off from the group to try to cut her off. Sliding her hand slowly up her back she unsnapped the cover from her concealed mini-blaster, whipping it out as she spun around to make a break for the ship. Shooting off a blast of five shots in rapid succession taking out the guard who had separated from the crowd, along with two others that had advanced to her position.
Sprinting as fast as her legs would take her, Sloan ran up the ramp that led to the small interior and slammed her hand down on the outer seal control. She ran past their newly acquired visitor and raced to strap in as Dev had already initialized for a hasty departure.
"What are you waiting for? Punch it before they start shooting!" Sloan pulled up the rear cameras and saw the group on their comms probably speaking to Ganthar. They needed to move. The leader of the group closed his comms and immediately called out to the others ordering them to fire on the shuttle.
They were hovering in the cargo bay of the ship but started toward the airlock to escape before their security protocol was rescinded. Sloan saw the guards signaling to the control room to cut them off. The shuttle yawed and pitched in the tight bay as they rocketed toward the shuttle bay exit.
Dev burst through the airlock in the shuttle bay as it started to close behind them. Sloan was sweating from the close call. This trip hadn't gone to plan at all. Picking up a severely injured prisoner wasn't on the original agenda, but on the way through the holding area, she'd seen him and couldn't help the urge to rip Ganthar to shreds. She had kept her cool, as she had approached his cell
"What do you have here? I didn’t take you for a flesh collector, Ganthar."
"I'm not usually, but this one has been particularly interesting to practice on. He has turned out to be a lot less valuable than I was led to believe."
Sloan suppressed a shudder as she thought of what practice might entail. The initial deal was going to be for a trade for a client, but after seeing this wounded man, she couldn’t help but add him to the deal.
"My client would like to purchase the fuel rods, but they would also like a new servant. But this one probably wouldn't make it through an FTL jump. Shame, we could have done the delivery at the same time for a good price," Sloan said, hoping she was keeping her disgust and eagerness to collect the prisoner out of her voice. Ganthar huffed, snorting through his lizard-like snout.
"He would definitely make it through an FTL jump. You should have seen him when we first got him: well built. It took some time to break him down. He's still strong, though. My guards have been working him over for a while, but he is still able to put up a fight. How much would you be willing to part with for him?"
“I couldn’t say. He looks…mangy and damaged.” Sloan wanted to spit at Ganthar. She knew that as a vile piece of space crap, he would attempt to screw her over and get the highest price possible for this poor man. She needed to play it cool.
“As I said, he is strong and would make a great servant. I would only charge you a thousand credits.”
“A thousand? Are you serious?! I would have made an offer of five, six hundred maximum. Cleaning, decontaminating, and nourishing him will severely eat into any of our profit.”
“Fine, seven then. You can have him for seven hundred.”
Sloan pretended to think it over. She would have been willing to pay thousands of credits to free this man. Sloan too had known the sting of a flesh dealers whip and the brutality of captivity. Any chance to release someone was one that she jumped at, which had gotten her into a few tight spots over the years, but she never wavered.
“That will be a difficult sell, but with a 5% discount on the fuel cells you have a deal.”
Ganthar extended his scaly, clawed hand in her direction to shake on the deal as he held out his touchpad. "Deal." He held out his rough, slightly slimy hand, looking down to his claws then up to Sloan. She grasped his hand and scanned her touchpad on his.
Ganthar turned to one of his guards and told him to open the cell.
“I should mention that he’s slightly … feral.” Ganthar cackled his amusement on getting one over on Sloan.
Great! Sloan thought as she walked into the cell. This man had been through the wringer. His coverings were bloody and tattered. He lay on the floor and seemed unable to even move. Sloan turned to Ganthar, “Look at how damaged he is. You’ve allowed your incompetent guards to do this? You lucked out on this deal, you wouldn’t have gotten two hundred for him on the open market. Let alone this price.”
"I know." Ganthar laughed as he walked away and left Sloan there with Dev, the guard, and their newest soon-to-be passenger, if they made it out of there. She crouched down and gazed into his striking green eyes. "It's going to be all right. I'm going to help you slowly get up. Be careful because I'm sure you're feeling weak. As she reached down to pick him up, he was still like a sack of potatoes. "Dev get over here!"
As their shuttle docked with the Trinity, Sloan called for the med bay to come and get their new visitor. She opened a comm to the bridge. “I don’t know why we aren’t moving, but you had better tell me we aren’t out of fuel.”
"No, Captain! Just wanted to make sure you’re safely on board.”
"Well I am, so let's move it," Sloan said, barking out impatiently into her comm. "All we need is Ganthar powering up and trying to screw us over in this deal. He always tries to renege and get the money and goods back in a deal. That’s probably why we were the only ones that would take this contract," she said, mainly to herself, but also to Dev. He'd been with her for a while now but hadn't dealt with Ganthar before.
Jan's voice came over the all ship call, "Prepare for the jump." Vibrations from the ship powering up for FTL jump reverberated through Sloan’s body. The countdown for the jump blasted out from the speakers and everyone held onto the safety rails all around the ship. The slight drop of the stomach and lurch rocked everyone as they jumped.
The med team showed up with a grav stretcher as Dev helped unfold the visitor from the shuttle.
"Run a full diagnostic, be sure to check for parasites, put him in the med pod and get him any nourish-packs he needs. Give me an update as soon as you can."
Sloan looked down over her new crew member as he stared up at her with a look she that she knew all too well. His eyes filled with tears, and she couldn't handle being able to see so clearly into someone else's soul as she could with him. She ducked her head down to his and whispered into his ear, "You're free now. We will get you back on your feet, don't worry." She stood and stared at the med team, "What are you waiting for, get him well!"
The med team departed quickly leaving Sloan and Dev in the shuttle bay.
“New crew member, huh?”
“Did you want me to leave him there?”
"It's another mouth to feed, and you paid way over market for him.” The corners of Dev’s mouth raised slightly, looking like a full out grin to Sloan.
"Gah, you're such an asshole sometimes. Would you prefer if I had left you in the cell I found you in? I had to drive the price down, or none of us were getting out of there."
“Maybe I don’t like the idea of your newest fixer-upper replacing me,” he said, still smiling.
“Don’t worry Dev, you’ll always have a special place in my heart and in my wallet for how much it freaking cost me to get you out of there. Don’t think I’ve forgotten how much longer I had to wait on those reactor repairs because of the way you looked up at me with those sad violet eyes." Sloan threw her arm around his shoulders, standing on her tiptoes to give him a pat.
“You'll soon get over not being my latest crew acquisition. I'm sure." Sloan dropped her arm from around Dev's shoulders and gave him a playful shove. “Let’s get to the bridge before we end up having to unload the rest of our cargo.”
Xan stared up at the ceiling of the med bay while the excruciating pain that was his previous existence was finally ebbing away after the doctor had administered medication. They had put him into a decontamination chamber; at least they had given him the pain meds before placing him there. It was a rapid decontamination, but it still took time. He drifted in and out of consciousness.
His muscles relaxed and jaw unclenched as the reality and safety of his situation settled over him. Even if he wasn’t one hundred percent sure it was real, Xan was going to take this time free of pain to regain his strength.
Was this all just a hallucination?
Had he died?
It was hard to tell what was an illusion and what was real at this point. One particularly horrible incident where his cell door was left open in Ganthar’s hellhole, ended in unimaginable agony. It had been during his early days there. Xan made a break for it, trying to find his way to the shuttle bay, hoping for a route to escape.
His hands were bound, and he'd been deprived of sunlight for weeks at that point, so Xan felt like his legs were made of lead as he dragged himself through his corridor. Turning the corner to the shuttle bay, a flare of hope shot through his heart as the door opened and that was when he was confronted with several of Ganthar's men. It had been a trap.
They beat him to the point of unconsciousness, but not before Xan managed to incapacitate five of them. But it was simply not a fair fight, and he'd lost badly. They repaired him just enough to keep him alive, but gave him nothing to relieve his pain.
"We thought you could have perhaps been of some use to us given who you are, but it turns out there is no one who wants you," Ganthar said, forked tongue flicking, as Xan was dragged back to his cell. He couldn't understand what he meant. Xan knew his family was dead, of course, no one would pay his ransom, but he wondered why Ganthar would have thought that in the first place.
Now sitting in this decon unit, Xan felt like his life had again changed in a few moments. He hoped that this time it would be a change for the good, unlike the worst he’d ever experienced. Imagining his life before: a life of privilege, luxury, and safety, he hadn't realized how quickly it all could be taken from him.
The Bija excursion with his little brother, Ragon, was intended to be a time for them to bond and spend time together. His mother had been against it, especially without imperial guards, but he had reassured her that the guards would be monitoring the space around the small moon to ensure that there were no issues. They had their emergency beacons in case they ran into any trouble. The plant and wildlife were non-threatening; it would be a chance for them to become closer.
Xan’s younger brother had always been jealous, but Xan knew that he would need his brother’s support in the years leading up to his coronation. Needing someone he could trust implicitly, Xan sought to show Ragon how things could be if they worked together. They hunted small game and cooked it over an open fire. They even slept under the stars. Ragon had grumbled about it the whole time, he’d always preferred to live in the lap of luxury, but Xan thought that being away from all the distractions of imperial life and the palace could help bring them together.
Xan knew that their mother favored him. He looked like his father, whom his mother loved with all her heart. Once their father died, she showered, even more, attention on Xan. He knew that that extra attention added to the fact that Ragon was second in line often bothered his little brother. Xan wanted him to know that even though he wouldn't be king, it didn't mean Ragon wasn't significant to how their sector was run.
"Brother, why do you enjoy playing hunter-gatherer out here in this place? We could have headed to the nearest space station and had a great time with some amenable women."
“One of these days your thirst for debauchery will come back to bite you. There are certain things that I can’t do and can’t be seen doing. You know that.”
“Oh yes, I know. Must preserve the imperial image at all costs.” Ragon kicked a nearby rock and glanced off into the distance. “Since I’m invisible it seems that it’s much easier for me to get away with having some fun.”
“You’re not invisible. You’re my brother. Ensure that mother doesn’t find out about your indiscretions or she’ll have your hide.” Xan grabbed the spit and turned the game that was roasting over the fire.
“Do you ever wonder what it would be like had I been born first?” Ragon stared into the fire, grabbing a stick off the ground. Xan’s head snapped up at the question.
“Where did that come from?” Xan thought about it for a moment. “I guess I’ve never thought about it before. Perhaps I would be the one running through the pleasure houses on every space station in the quadrant instead of you.” Xan gave Ragon a playful shoulder bump.
“Perhaps …” Ragon poked at the fire with the stick knocking some of the embers out of the fire where they fizzled on the ground. “We’re still climbing tomorrow, aren’t we?” He looked to Xan as he was pulling the game off the giant skewers for them to eat.
“Yes, of course.”
“I’ve never known you to be so excited about climbing.” Xan chuckled and bit into his grilled game.
“Aren’t you always saying I need to be more adventurous when it comes to physical things like this.” Ragon challenged.
“I am. I certainly am. I’m glad to see you’re finally coming around brother.”
One minute, they were scaling the cliffs of Bija with the orange and green stone biting into their hands, then Xan’s line broke and as he fell the last thing he heard was his brother screaming out for him. When he woke, he was confronted with the bloodied clothing his brother had been wearing, without his weapons and a large group of Kirill who quickly took him hostage. They cut off his imperial brand, and he was placed in chains.
Xan jolted awake, he must have passed out during the decon.
"Calm down, it's ok." The doctor and nurse attempted to calm Xan. Looking down at himself, he saw that they had him cleaned up. The pair were inspecting his extensive injuries and working to repair some of the damage. It seemed that when they'd worked on one of his more extensive abdominal injuries, it was enough to bring him out of his sleep of exhaustion. They didn't have a med pod, so more basic handheld devices were in use. Xan didn't mind, at this point, he would have been satisfied with a warm bowl of soup and a rest after what he’d endured.
He still couldn’t believe he was free. The tears that refused to stop streaming out of his eyes, no matter how much it shamed his warrior’s heart, were collecting in his ears. His face heated at the thought of anyone seeing him so vulnerable, especially in front of Sloan, his woman. That's how he thought of her at that moment. She had orchestrated his release and fought for him, he owed her a debt of life that he could never repay, but he would spend his entire life trying.
He had scarcely believed it when she’d handed him over to the colossus that he thought was named Dev and told him she would handle Ganthar’s men. Xan wished he had possessed the strength to protect her. He would have gladly died for her as she attempted to give him the gift of freedom. It would have been an honorable death.
But Xan had barely been able to hold up his head. He watched her from the shuttle cargo bay as he was strapped into his seat. She was fierce and brave. Sloan reminded him of his sister, and at that thought a pang of sadness hit him, reminding him of the family he’d lost. He’d been shown proof of their deaths and knew that had they survived they would have stopped at nothing to recover him.
Xan’s mind returned to the present and his dramatically changing circumstances. Once the medics worked on him, providing him with the solar energy that he required to restore his health. The slightest bit of strength was returning as he flexed the muscles in his hands and arms. The solar scales that ran the length of his spine were infused with an energy he hadn't felt in cycles. His eyes were heavy as the surge of energy that shot through him during their rush to freedom finally ebbed away. The last thought he had before closing his eyes was Sloan's face smiling down over his own.
She was his rescuer. She was his liberator. She was his.
Sloan sat staring at the navigation screen, unable to fully focus on the task at hand. Her crew of thirty was counting on her to complete their next drop off, secure the next job, and get them safely back home. The run in with Ganthar was unexpected, but she knew that none of them would question her choices about the jobs they took. At least a few of her crew had been freed on one of her runs.
Most that she could free chose to go back to their homes or settle on a colony, outpost, or another planet. But others didn't have anywhere to go or wanted to serve on her ship. The pickings weren't always great, and she had to make sure that she kept everyone fed. She was the captain after all. She was also the person that had saved some of them from similar circumstances in which they'd found their newest crew member. This was probably why they were always looking for new jobs. So many credits spent negotiating for extra "cargo," sometimes Sloan wondered if being more heartless would have made the last nineteen years easier on her.
At least she thought it had been nineteen years. It’s hard to keep track of time when Earth’s sun is no longer winding your clock. Although she had only been eight when her world was destroyed, it was strange to recall a time before she knew of the existence of other species, planets, and inhabited solar systems.
Breakfast at the table every morning with her parents had been the highlight of every day, not at that exact moment, but now, when she thought back to it as an adult. She was old enough to get dressed by herself and meet her parents downstairs before school.
"Sloan, hurry up, or you won't have time for breakfast," said her mom, calling up to her as she was walking down the stairs.
“Coming mom,” she said at the top of her voice while bounding down. Sloan had her backpack on, filled with everything she needed for her class presentation. She slid into her seat at the kitchen table and dug into her pancakes.
"Be sure to chew your food honey, or you're going to choke." Her dad chuckled. Sloan smiled up at him.
“What do you want for your birthday, honey?” Her mom sat at the table reaching for a muffin.
“Can I go to the movies with my friends?”
“Sure, you don’t want a party, sweetie?” her dad said, ruffling her hair and placing a glass of orange juice in front of her.
“No, Dad. I want go to the movies and hang out with my friends.”
“Look at our baby. Growing up so fast.” Sloan’s mom took hold of her dad’s hand while she cooed.
Her birthday had been great. They went to a movie, and her mom and dad even took them out to dinner after. Mom and Dad sat at a table next to theirs and let them feel like they were real grown-ups. Thinking back to how fast she'd had to grow up after what happened next, Sloan wished she had had another carefree party with lots of friends, silly party games, and a big cake. That was her last birthday on Earth.
It was three weeks after her tenth birthday that the ships had arrived. Everyone was freaking out about their arrival, but Sloan had been happy to have a new trapper keeper to take to school and show to all her friends. It took a while for it to set in that things had changed in a way she couldn’t even comprehend. Things were mainly normal for a while. It was like being on school break. Sloan was excited to get back to school and hang out with her friends.
That was when her parents said that she would no longer be going to school. Worried about seeing her friends Sloan tried to convince her parents to at least let her walk to their houses, but it had been no use. They spent all their time in front of the TV. Sloan’s parents tried to shield her from anything scary on the news, but there were still a few things that stuck out. She saw buildings on fire, people running from something and general chaos.
The power went out after only a few days, and it never came back on. Things felt different when that happened. Her parents tried to make it fun. They attempted to keep Sloan and themselves calm. Their days were filled with playing hide and seek, board games, card games, sleeping in sleeping bags in the living room, sitting around the radio listening to newscasts. She got to eat all the chips, cookies, and other junk food she could get her hands on. Her dad and mom rotated and came home day after day with armloads of food, no trips to the grocery store anymore.
It wasn’t until the day her family woke to their door being smashed in that Sloan realized that things would never be the same. When the giant creature with a cream-colored hide filled the doorway of her house, it was a signal for the end of her childhood and time on Earth. Its eyes were red, and the claws on its hands could shred metal. Sloan's father attempted to put up a fight. He had a gun that Sloan had never seen before, stowed under the couch. Her father pulled it out and shot twice at the massive beast. The bullets seemed to glance off its hardened hide and enrage it further.
Sloan's mom pushed Sloan down the hallway and told her to hide in her closet. Sloan was frozen in fear as the watched the creature approach her father and grab him by the neck. Her mother took off running and slammed into the creature, making it stumble. As the creature swung around and flung her mother into the wall, Sloan remembered screaming for it to stop. Her mom, screamed at her to run. But she couldn't. She was stuck to the floor as if her feet had been nailed down.
She couldn't move and didn't move until another creature entered the room and grabbed her mother from the floor taking her out the door along with her father. Her mother pleaded with her to run, but the shock of the situation kept her rooted in place. It wasn't until the creature returned to the room for her that her fight or flight instincts returned and she took off to run toward her room. The creature easily closed the distance between them. It picked her up off her feet and slung her over its shoulder as she struggled, kicked, and screamed. Her hands were bruised and cut from trying to punch and hit the hide of that creature and tears streamed down her face as she was placed in the back of some kind of transport.
The last vision she had of her mom was of her screaming out and reaching for her as she was being shoved into the back of a separate transport. They both struggled, screaming for each other until one of the giant beasts whacked her mom on the side of the face and she crumpled to the ground. Her mom's lifeless eyes stared back at Sloan from where she lay, her eye's meeting Sloan's as her hand reached out to her. It was that memory that often woke Sloan from a deep sleep, panting, sweating with tears running down her face. She hated those dreams, it was much better to forget than to remember the past. Thinking of the past only led to heartache.
Sloan shut down, going partially catatonic. She was pushed toward the transports. One side of the road was lined with transports for women, and the other side was lined with ones for men. The children were relegated to a single smaller transport that hovered in the center of the road. The helpless feeling settled onto her that she could have done more. Why hadn't she moved when her mother had told her to? Why had she stood there and allowed herself to be taken? The crying and screaming from the children in the transport enraged her as it reminded her of her own inability and weakness to react and help her parents.
She was angry with her parents. Why hadn’t they run? Why hadn’t they found some place for them all to hide and get away from the invaders? These were the thoughts that ran through Sloan’s mind for a long time after she was taken. She vacillated between deep despair and unfathomable rage at what was happening to her. Perhaps it was the anger that kept her going for so much of the time. Better than the fear.
She’d wiped the tears from her eyes in the back of that transport and the plans for how she would escape formed in her head. Sloan was going to save her parents, hoping beyond hope she was wrong, that her mother wasn’t dead. They were fanciful thoughts from the mind of a child. Sloan realized it even at that moment, but it kept her going through the next ten years of hell.
“We’ve got enough fuel rods to get us to Halkon Station and for trading, if you wanted to stop.” Eaon interrupted her thoughts, bringing Sloan back from her memories of the past. He put down the updated inventory list after the items had been added from the haul from the shuttle. “Do you want me to set a course or are we heading straight to Seru Prime?” Eaon asked, turning his chair to Sloan.
Sloan looked over his shoulder at the course he plotted, taking in his slightly feathered appearance. His blue feathered hair was something she had gotten used to, but sometimes Sloan thought of the pictures she drew as a child. Using her imagination to draw a human with feather hair would have been something she would have done in her childhood.
Eaon had been a crew member for over two years now. He'd been an invaluable addition and one whose judgment she always trusted when it came to navigation. The only people she trusted more were Dev and Neven, but he'd left the Arrow years ago. It still hurt her heart when she thought of the day he'd left what she thought of as their ship. Another person in her life that left her behind.
There had been a small set of individuals that Sloan had let into her heart over the years as friends and family in the years since she'd been taken from Earth. And none that she'd let in when it came to love, it was hard to let yourself be vulnerable when the scars and damage of years of captivity crisscrossed your body. Thinking of that little girl she’d been who was happy to spend time with her parents after her birthday, Sloan wished she could go back to her and tell her that she would survive everything that was to come.