Home > Meeting Them

Meeting Them
Author: Rebecca Royce

CHAPTER ONE

 


A Lot of: I’m Sorry for One Lousy Screw

 

 

If I could go back to my seventeenth birthday and speak to myself, I would tell my younger self not to take Rocky Douglass up on his offer to show me the joys of sex. Today, on my twenty-second birthday, as I desperately tried to become one with the universe and feel it moving, I wished I had known how horribly disappointing Rocky would be in bed. Our liaison was totally not worth the endless punishment I’d earned. I would warn my rebellious teen self that my father would come through the door in a rage.

He would holler things to me I’d never unhear—slut, tramp, disappointment, embarrassment—and he would send me across the known galaxy to spend the next five years with the Sisters of the Universe mostly in silence, trying to get the said universe, and my father, to forgive me.

So far neither has happened.

The wood floor cut into my knees, making them bleed. If I ever got away, I’d never spend a day kneeling anywhere. I wasn’t sorry I’d taken Rocky to my bed. I never would be. But I wouldn’t do it over, just the same. I’d said a lot of sorry for such a lousy screw.

One more year, then I’d be allowed to tell the Sisters I was never taking vows. My father could pay them all the money he possessed; they wouldn’t keep me here against my will. No amount of political pressure could make me take vows I didn’t feel. I didn’t want a life of meditation and good works. I’d be happy to help anyone anytime if I could. On my terms. Not to benefit the Sisterhood’s agenda. No longer would they force me to work for their causes.

I’d talk all I wanted. Eat what I wanted. Sleep until I felt like getting up. If I could figure out where to go, since my family had made it clear I’d never be welcome back with them. And Diana, my one true friend, had stopped answering my letters…

“You see, Sister Sovereign,” the man behind the curtain addressed their leader. He didn’t know the entirety of the Sisterhood—initiates, sisters, and those being encouraged to take their vows like me—kneeled on the floor behind a curtain listening to the exchange. “You’re at risk here. I’ve come to offer my services in making your campus safe from risk.”

The red curtain kept me from seeing the man on the other side. His voice was low, pleasant, and polite. It had a gruff sound to it. He sounded young, but the timbre of speech meant nothing. He could be as old as time. Whatever. He was the first male voice I’d heard in over a year. Men didn’t come to the Sisters and speak. The staff who cared for the grounds in the few ways the Sisters and their captives—or as they preferred to call it: Initiates—couldn’t, knew better than to speak. They did their jobs and left without speaking a word.

I had never known how much I craved conversation until it had been taken away from me.

“Mr. McQueen, it is very nice of you to come by. Your generous donation certainly helped feed the homeless earlier this year. I appreciate your concern. But our grounds have stood where they are, safely, for two hundred years since we were founded here. They will continue to be a spiritual sanctuary for any who seek us for hundreds more. We do not require any kind of military protection. We never have. We never will.”

“Sister, you misunderstand me. I am talking about giving you, free of charge, a system capable of targeting and eliminating any ships or missiles attacking you. There would be no military presence here. Just a robot scanning your skies.”

She sighed loudly. I knew the sound; I’d heard it very often myself over the years. Usually directed at me. Sister was done with the conversation. “Thank you for your time. We are not interested.”

The man let out a loud, huffing sound before he spoke. “Well, you have my contact information. If you change your mind, and I hope you do, I’ll be happy to install a system for you.”

“Thank you. One of my Initiates will see you out.”

It took me a second to realize she meant me. I’d only recently gained privileges allowing me to be in public. Most of the girls I started with had gotten public sighting rights at eighteen. Of course, none of them had been in as much trouble as I’d been. With only a year left til I was allowed my freedom, they had to let me out at some point. Today was the day, it was my turn, and I was going to walk Mr. McQueen, silently, to the front gate.

The act made today the best day of my whole life.

I rushed forward, head down, then stopped abruptly to wait. I’d gotten a quick sight of him, which was easier said than done with my gaze kept low to the ground. The three-second glance told me he was tall and had brown hair with blond tips. He had an oval face, thick eyebrows, and a strong nose. He frowned, and I wondered if he ever smiled.

Just the basics. Look any longer and the official sisters—some of whom had been angry captives like me when they’d first arrived—would scold or maybe beat me.

One more year. I wouldn’t make any more mistakes, and then I could be on my way.

“Follow Initiate Devereaux. She’ll take you where you need to leave us. May the Universe move for you, always.”

I walked with my head down toward the front of the campus with Mr. McQueen following close behind me. Pretty soon, he caught up and kept pace next to me instead of behind me. I’d not had a man so close to me in five years. My heart raced. I couldn’t screw up. I wouldn’t make a mistake. Every minute of every day was a test. I would fake it until I could get out. Then I’d find a way to put this whole nightmare behind me.

“Is there anything I can do to make her change her mind? It’s very important she let me install the system.”

I didn’t answer him. This was a test. They’d somehow told him to talk to me to see if I would falter. I would not.

“Can’t we talk quietly? I mean, I know we’re not supposed to talk. But I really think you would benefit by the system. Does she have something she likes? Chocolate? Booze? Help me out, please.”

I could have laughed. Sister Sovereign’s idea of a good time was cotton underwear. I knew that for a fact since it was my job to wash them. I didn’t answer. I couldn’t very well tell him even if I could talk. Girls had to keep some secrets, even when they hated each other.

A noise caught my attention. On the roof, the old men who had worked for the Sisterhood for forever were hammering into the rock roof. I’d never seen anything like the way someone had constructed this campus, and I suspected I never would again since it was completely asinine. Who put boulders on the roof?

The one they were manipulating started to slide. I saw what was going to happen when no one else did. “Move,” I shouted, pushing Mr. McQueen out of the way when I did. We both fell out of the way, the boulder scraping the back of my leg when it hit before rolling away. I screamed out in pain. I was hurt, but I would live. If it had hit the man desperate to install security, it would have killed him.

I lay on top of him, my hood down on my initiate uniform. We could see each other clearly even as I cried in pain.

“Oh, hell.” McQueen grabbed my shoulders. “Are you okay? You just saved my life. Oh no, it hit you.”

“I …” I don’t know what I would have said. I was hauled off the man by two of the sisters. I couldn’t put weight on my foot, but it didn’t stop them from bringing out the stick and caning my back while I tried to balance on the one I could still use.

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