Sivon stood examining the spot in the trees. It was all covered over, now, with fresh growth, though that portion of the ground seemed out of place. Different, somehow. Alien. She smirked.
Turning, she scanned the field leading to the farmhouse, her smile gone as she considered what she was charged to do. There had to be another way. Maybe she could reason with him.
She started up the incline toward the house, the tightening in her gut intensifying as she neared the structure. She distracted herself with more idle thoughts. Concentrated on her steps, and the feel of the earth beneath her feet. Sivon had chosen to walk, even though she could have ridden over on one of the Morgans. She liked the view of Mount Sopris rising from the valley into the beautiful Colorado sky, and she enjoyed the sensation of walking. It was exercise, and she felt she needed more of that. She wasn’t chopping wood or having acrobatic sex, after all. She enjoyed the cool temperatures here, too, possibly because her people came from warmer climes. Not that she’d ever been there. But her mother used to tell her stories of home. She thought of her mother’s sparkling black eyes and laughing face. She missed her. Sivon had not chosen this place, nor had her mother, but it was where chance and circumstance took them.
Her gut clenched again as she mounted the steps to the weathered porch of the Crow household. She raised her fist and rapped on the peeling paint of the door. A faded green and white paint curl fluttered to the planks. It took him a moment to yank the creaking door open. “Yes?” he asked her, frowning at her curiously.
“May I come in and talk to you?”
“Who are you?” he asked, scanning the area again.
She wondered if he was looking for a vehicle. Didn’t anyone walk around here? “I wanted to talk to you about the crash.”
His eyebrows moved higher on his forehead. “You that reporter?”
“No, but that’s what I wanted to speak to you about. May I come in?”
Hesitantly, he opened the door wide and stepped back so Sivon could pass. He pointed to the kitchen table, where she took a seat. “Can I offer you some coffee?”
“Yes. That would be nice, thank you.”
As he poured a fresh cup and refilled his own, she glanced around at the humble abode. He lived a simple life. Technology was lacking here; an old television sat on a homemade wood table, but otherwise, there was no sign of smart phones, laptops or even a microwave oven. Everywhere, the sign of age. Things worn faded and smooth from many years of use. There were books, though. Lots of them. Lining every available surface. And she noticed quite of few of them were about health and wellness and disease.
He set the cup down in front of her, pointing at the bowls on the table. ”Help yourself to the cream and sugar. I gave up long ago on doctoring a lady’s coffee.” He smiled, the wrinkles around his eyes growing deeper for a moment. “What did you say your name is?”
“Sivon.” She dipped some from both bowls into her cup and stirred, searching for the right thing to say.
“Never heard that name before. Pretty.” He rolled up one fallen sleeve of his blue flannel shirt.
“So,” he began, taking a sip of black coffee. “How do you know about the crash?” He lowered his voice. “I haven’t told anyone but that reporter.”
“Yes I know…Mr. Crow…I hope to convince you not to say anything more to the reporter.”
He squinted at her, one meaty, calloused hand around the old stone coffee cup. “What’s your interest in it?”
As Sivon took a quiet breath, her eyes darting about, he noticed the things that set her apart. It had been there in his mind, but he had put it aside, focused on her unexpected arrival at his door. Her dark-chocolate-colored hair. Her slightly longer fingers. Full eyelashes that seemed false, but weren’t. The smooth, completely unblemished perfection of the skin he could see at her neck. Understanding melted across his features. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?”
She met his eyes with a start, then sighed her acquiescence. “Yes, Mr. Crow. I am.”
He moved back into his chair almost imperceptibly. Then his eyes traveled over her, studying her, seeking information, perhaps wondering why she wasn’t green or gray, and didn’t have an overly large head, huge almond-shaped eyes, spindly arms…
She met his eyes. “It is.”
“You were…were you in the crash?” he asked carefully.
“No. My mother was. I was born afterward.” She didn’t elaborate on just how she came to be born.
“So you must be around twenty-five years old now…”
“Twenty-six.” She wondered if he was doing the math on that one. Wondered if he was thinking about who her father was. He probably assumed it was one of the crew members from the original exploration party.
His hands reached for the pack of cigarettes on the table. He lit one, inhaling deeply. He was still eyeing her nervously, perhaps expecting something to shoot out of her mouth and strangle him. Earth people were strongly influenced by movies and books.
“You know, I’m not one of those people who will do anything to make a buck…it’s just been hard, and that money would really help out a lot.”
She tilted her head at him. “You need the money?”
“Not me. My daughter.” He lifted his chin toward the bedroom door.
Sivon’s eyes went to the door and back to him. “Your daughter?”
He tapped the growing ash of his Marlboro red into the plastic ashtray. “She’s sick. Medical bills. Medicines.”
This was even worse. There was no way Sivon could ever coerce this man when he was only trying to help his sick little girl. But if she didn’t do what she came to do, her tribe would do it anyway. And probably not in a peaceful way. She met his eyes, saw determination mixed with fear. “Mr. Crow…we seem to be at an impasse. I mean you no harm, but I can’t say the same for my people.”
He squinted at the bedroom door. “I need that money, Miss Sivon.” His trembling hands lifted the cigarette again for another pull.
She thought a moment. “What if I could get my people to give you money in exchange for your silence?”
“It seems sensible. You need money and we need your silence.”
He drained his coffee cup in one gulp. “I don’t care where the money comes from. I just have to help my daughter.”
There was little else to say. Sivon thanked him for the coffee, excused herself and made her way across the field again to the other farmhouse her tribe had procured many years ago.
When she stepped inside the house, closing the door, and turning, Mozzik and his minions were all there. Waiting for her.
Toko was gnawing on a roasted chicken leg, Brix, enjoying one of those skinny brown cigars, and Mozzik, as usual, seated between Luna and Sona, groping them without shame.
“Is it done?” Mozzik asked in their native language, the name of which was unpronounceable in English, as it sounded like the plucking of large rubber bands. So they had renamed their planet Bando, and dubbed their language, Bandonese. Perhaps as a show of solidarity, she answered in their language as well. “I have an alternative.”
“Alternative to what?” Mozzik lifted an eyebrow, less from interest, and more as a warning. Mozzik was the understood leader of their tribe, the position his by virtue of his age. He was the oldest, if only by a few months.
“The only reason Mr. Crow was going to sell the story is that he has a sick little girl, and he needs the money to care for her.”
“Unfortunate,” Mozzik said, pushing off the sofa and retrieving his sage tea. As he sipped the pungent brew, a long finger brushed chocolate locks away from his forehead. “But his battles are not our battles. We must protect ourselves.”
“We can protect ourselves. We will just give him the money he needs, and he will not speak of us to anyone.”
“You know this because he told you so?” His tone was derisive.
“I believe him. He is a good man.”
Luna shook her head, dark brown tresses caressing her perfect shoulders. “It’s foolish,” she said.
“Very foolish,” Sona parroted.
Luna and Sona, the only twins in the group, seemed patently incapable of having a coherent conversation. Sivon suspected their genetics had been negatively affected by the source of their paternity. Perhaps an uneducated ranch-hand. They were always together, even when they were sharing intimacies. Intimacies which belonged exclusively to Mozzik.
Sivon sighed. “We are not a warring people. We are explorers. Seekers of truth. It does not serve us to change our ways now. We give him the money and the problem is solved.”
Brix, the youngest, and least predictable of them, drew on the thin cigar, and huffed his disdain through blue smoke. “What if the problem isn’t solved? What if he takes our money and also the money of the reporter?”
Sivon met his eyes pointedly. “He understands what that will mean. He knows you will come for him.”
Mozzik reseated himself between the twins. “Brix is right. We can’t trust him to do what he agrees to do. We all have learned that in our short time here.” His hands trailed down the thighs of Luna and Sona on either side of him. “It’s unfortunate, but he will have to be eliminated.”
A shrill ululation erupted from Sivon’s throat. A native cry of anger and indignation. “No! We will not become killers!”
“A bit late for that…” Brix muttered, his lip curling up in malevolent satisfaction.
Sivon stared at him. “What do you mean, Brix?”
He drew on the cigar and shrugged, glancing at Mozzik.
Sivon turned her attention to the leader. “Mozzik. What is he talking about? Have you hurt someone before?”
Mozzik sighed laboriously. “Sivon, you are an innocent. You have no way of knowing the burdens of leadership. Some things are unpleasant but necessary to our survival. It’s my responsibility to see that we are safe. It’s that simple.” He gave the twins’ legs a squeeze and stood up, the women flanking him obediently. “You have some thinking to do. Perhaps it’s time for you to evolve a bit more.”
“Evolve? Into what? Monsters?”
He turned back to her. “You are not calling me a monster, are you, Sivon?”
She was breathing hard, her eyes scanning the tribe members present. “Where are the others?”
“In the greenhouse.” Mozzik said. “Maybe that’s where you need to be as well. Upper management doesn’t seem to suit you after all.”
Brix chuckled, still puffing his cigar.
Mozzik turned and motioned the twins ahead of him. They were on their way to the bed for more debauchery. He never seemed to tire of it. Nor did the twins. Mozzik paused and turned back to her, as if offering her his mercy. “I’ll give you until tomorrow night. If you haven’t handled it, then I will release you from that duty.” His hands went to twin ass-cheeks, and they giggled, trotting in front of him toward his room.
She knew what that meant. She would be released from that duty, but he would not. She looked at Brix. Apparently, Brix was the hit man. How had she remained unaware of these things? She cast Brix an expression of disgust and went to her room.
Sivon sat down on her bed and stared out the window at the rolling meadow beyond. It seemed that they had all forgotten she had saved them only a week ago. Their lives were always more important than everyone else’s. True, they were a different species, as was she. But they were half-human, as well. It had to count. Other people—humans—had to matter. She would have to decide what to do. Mozzik had given her until the following night. The sun was already setting on this day.