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“Its called grool.” Niao shoveled a mouthful with a utensil that looked like a spork.
Shanti poked at the dish. There were some leafy greens that looked like a cross between broccollini and kale, only it was a bright shade of orange. And then there was a brown gob of mush. As she poked at it she noticed the texture was firm.
“Is this some sort of space animal?” she asked.
Niao’s face scrunched in horror. “We do not eat animals.”
“Good,” Shanti consoled him. “I’m a vegetarian.”
Niao frowned at the word, but went back to shoveling the grool into his mouth. Shanti tried a bit of the brown mush. It was surprisingly good. It tasted like curry. Her stomach grumbled and, before she knew it, the entire plate was empty.
Niao smiled at her cleaned plate.
“So we just get one meal a day on this ship?”
“Not so often.” Niao collected her empty plate and spork.
“Are they trying to starve us?”
Niao frowned and cocked his head to the side. “Oh, I keep forgetting that you are human. You take the energy from liquids and other life forms to sustain you.”
“Well, yeah,” said Shanti. “What do Eloheem eat? Air pie and wind pudding?”
Niao laughed at this, the childish sound rang in her ears. Shanti almost caught herself smiling at his glee. It had been so long since she’d heard a sound of pure joy.
“Eloheem eat only for enjoyment and fellowship. We take our sustenance directly from the ship.”
“Do you mean the energy mines?”
Niao nodded. “The Mothership takes energy directly from the elements in the Heavens. She processes them and feeds them to any beings on the ship in a form that their cells can ingest. Any waste product, she takes back unto herself.”
“Soon, you will acclimate and your human body will become more proficient at collecting energy from the source instead of taking it from other living things.”
The words should have stung, but Niao said it with a smile and not a trace of animosity.
There was a knock at the door.
Niao frowned. “Its Chen-Na. But why would he knock? Doors do not lock.” Niao went to the door and opened it.
Chen stood on the other side of the door. Just the sight of him caused Shanti’s heart to kick up a pace. His eyes immediately found hers, as though he’d seen her through the door and had been staring at her for some time. Shanti felt instantly heated.
“Is the ship too damaged as not to let you in Chen-Na?”
“No.” Chen’s eyes never left Shanti as he addressed Niao. “I wanted to be invited in.”
Shanti ducked her head. “Aren’t I your captive?”
“No, my only. It is you who has captivated me.”
Niao ducked out of the door with a wave and the dishes.
“May I come inside with you, Shanti?”
Shanti hesitated. Her body craved Chen’s. It was on more than a sexual level. Even though she’d spent the night, or what she assumed was night time, with Hsing and her waking time with Niao, Shanti still felt a deep sense of loneliness ever since Chen left her in the bed that first night. Before he’d left, Shanti had been ready to commit an eternity to this man just after holding his hand. Her eyes traveled down to his hands now. They were clasped in front of him. Shanti did the same with her hands.
“I want everything between us to be clear from now on,” Chen said. “I will not cross this threshold without your permission. I was hoping to spend some time with you. To show you around.”
“I’ve been around the ship.”
Chen nodded. “But you haven’t found what you’re looking for.”
Shanti’s fingers clenched in her palms. She thought she’d hid her search for an escape well.
“No, my only,” Chen shook his head in confirmation of her suspicion. “That was the other reason I wanted to come to you. To show you how to block your thoughts. So that you may have some mental privacy as well as physical privacy when you so desire it.”
Shanti regarded Chen. It was the same open, somber face that she’d first glanced up into when she thought she was dead. He still regarded her with the same wonder. But she detected…was that shame at the edge of his large eyes?
Shanti made a motion with her hand. It was unnecessary. He would know that she was allowing him inside. But -she looked over her shoulder at him with narrow eyes- just inside of her room. Not inside anywhere else. Chen bowed his head in understanding of her silent edict. Before he ducked his head, she caught the crinkle of disappointment in his large eyes.
Shanti put her shoulders back. There was a part of her that wanted Chen to embrace her because she was scared of…all of this. Everything was new and scary and Shanti was used to having all of the information in order to proceed. Having knowledge and experience had made her confident in her dealings in her work and in her life. Which was funny, because when she thought she was dead, she hadn’t been afraid. She’d felt unafraid when she made the decision to place her hand in Chen’s. Once her hand was in his every worry and fear of her life had slipped away.
Hsing had made her forget her worries and fears the other night as he brought her to climax after climax. But now that she was self-possessed once more, standing on her feet instead of laying on her back beneath Hsing, holding her own hand instead of Chen’s, Shanti felt the worry and fear creeping up her back. All the uncertainty of her future, the worries of her past, the indecision of the moment crowded into her mind.
Shanti tripped as she turned to face Chen, her fingers trembled in her palm. She almost wished Chen would take her hands, crush her into him, place her beneath him on the bed. When he’d held her in the light as they ascended to the ship, Shanti had never felt more safe or secure in her entire life. She missed that feeling.
She looked up to see Chen starring at her. His lips parted, his eyes yearned. He’d heard her every desire.
Shanti crossed her arms over her chest and tilted up her chin. “So, this blocking thing…?”
Chen’s eyes dropped. He motioned her towards one of the cushions on the floor. Once she sat down, he settled himself in front of her, folding himself into a graceful lotus position that reminded her of Wizdom back at the ashram.
Shanti grudgingly reached for her right foot to fold herself into a pretzel. Reaching for her left foot, she wobbled a bit before settling. When she glanced up at Chen he had a humorous tilt to his lips. Shanti rolled her eyes at him, but it was without any sting. When she was looking away from him, she fought and failed to keep a grin from her face.
“Do not dwell in the past,” Chen said when he sobered. “Do not dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Chen’s voice was light, the heaviness of guilt gone. Shanti was flooded with the same warmth she’d felt the first time she saw him, the same rightness.
Chen said nothing aloud or in her head as these thoughts floated through her mind. He simply regarded her, his face serene. Only his pupils moved. They roved over her face as though committing each and every detail to memory. For the briefest of seconds Shanti panicked, wondering if he was trying to remember her because they were about to be separated.
But wasn’t that what she wanted? To be separated from him? To go back to her life where she was an independent woman who made her own choices without having to consult anyone or ask for permission?
Shanti sighed as she reached for the quietness of meditation. It came surprisingly quick. Her sit bones ground into the floor, her shoulders lightened, her mind cleared. Shanti opened her eyes to see a small, prideful smile on Chen’s lips.
Chen held up his hand in a fist. “Humbleness, clarity, forgiveness, and love.” Chen ticked each word off on his fingers until only his thumb rested against his palm. “These are the foundation of freedom. Freedom is the key to the power within you.”
“So if I’m humble, forgiving, clear and give love, I’ll be able to perform martial arts and read minds?”
“Yes. Its simply a matter of changing your mind.”
Shanti didn’t expect that answer. She sat up straighter and listened closely to the lesson.
“Your current state of mind operates under false beliefs. We need to show it a new way, rewire I think would be the correct vernacular.”
“All right then, I’m pretty humble -most of the time.”
Chen shook his head. “Humbleness is knowing your place. A woman’s place is different than a male’s.”
Shanti’s hackles reared.
Chen held out his hands in a placating fashion, a new smile on his face. “Women can be both strong leaders and subservient helpers. Eloh brothers can not shift their status. And I assume human males are similar. They are either leaders or followers. Yang tend to serve as helpers while Yin tend to lead. Females are capable of both, able to cross the bridge to either side of their nature. You must master when to switch between the two.”
Shanti’s shoulders relaxed once more. She liked this definition, this division of the sexes.
“Clarity is something you struggle with,” Chen continued. “You must learn your own mind and speak and act in accordance.”
Shanti knew he was talking about her encounter with Hsing.
“And now onto forgiveness-“
“Are you going to tell me that if I forgive you, I’ll have power?”
“Yes, my only. Holding on to the past only weighs you down. If you can’t forgive my actions of the past, then practice compassion. Try to understand my position.”
Shanti sighed. Part of her felt she did understand Chen’s position. She’d been with him the moment they clasped hands, the first kiss they shared, when he entered her body for the first time. She’d felt everything he did. But Chen had had more information than she did. That knowledge gap was hard for Shanti to cross. He’d known where he was taking her and why. She hadn’t understood fully.
“Wait, you said four things. What about love?”
Chen smiled. “That, my only, you have in abundance.”
Their eyes locked. Shanti tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. Chen watched the movement, hunger clear in his eyes.
“So can I block you from my thoughts now?”
Chen shook his head. “We are one. We can never block each other, not entirely.”
“Why can’t I hear your thoughts?”
Chen smiled. “You know exactly what I think and feel, my only.”
It was as though a windstorm kicked up in the room. A flood of emotion hit Shanti in her head and her heart. Shanti swallowed against the tidal wave of love and devotion Chen sent her way.
“This lesson was for you to guard against others,” Chen said. “I can see your mental walls strengthening already. The more you practice clarity and forgiveness the stronger you will become.”
His hand began to rise towards her, but then it stopped and rejoined his other hand at his waist. Chen clasped the two appendages together with a small, inaudible sigh. “Will you come with me, Shanti?”
He was giving her a choice, so unlike his brother. Shanti remembered that back on Earth, Chen had given her a choice whether to come with him or not. She’d just misunderstood their destination.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked.
“To join the others.”
“In a room full of grown, sex-starved males who have no problem with kidnapping women?”
Chen’s face frowned deeply. “No soul on this ship would ever hurt you, my only. Every one of my brethren would lay down their life to protect yours.”
Shanti took a few steps to the door. Chen preceded her, opening the door.
They were quiet as they walked down the stark white hallways, side by side.
“Where did my meal come from?” asked Shanti. “I didn’t see any plants or animals anywhere, and I’ve been all over the ship.” Shanti shut her mouth. She hadn’t meant to say the last bit about her search for escape. But then she realized, Chen knew of all her movements. Probably even the movements she’d made with his brother. Shanti looked away.
“The ship provides all of our needs. As grown Eloheem we do not require food to sustain ourselves. We can siphon energy directly from the ship. Or when we’re off ship, from natural sources, a star’s rays, or even certain chemicals. But we do enjoy the taste and texture of certain food sources. My mother enjoyed the taste of blueberries and I developed a liking for them as a child.”
“Blueberries? Is that a fruit throughout the universe?”
“No,” Chen turned to her. “My mother was human.”
“Your father kidnapped her?”
“She came willingly.”
“Where is she now?”
The sadness clouded Chen’s eyes. “My parents have passed on to the next life.”
“I’m sorry. My parents passed away to.” And then, “Chen?”
“Yes, my only?”
“Is there really a next life? Will I see my parents again?”
“What lies beyond this life is another plane of existence. We cannot access it in our current state of awareness.”
“Is that place Nirvana.”
“No. Nirvana isn’t a place. It is only a state of awakening. When I touched it while I was inside of you, it was the second most perfect moment of my life.” Chen’s eyes darkened as he looked down at her. “The first moment was when you took my hand to come with me.”
Chen walked beside her, giving her her space. For a moment, Shanti wished he would eliminate the space. Her eyes connected with his. She knew he saw her desires clearly, but he didn’t make a move. In fact he stopped walking all together. Shanti stopped as well, facing him. Chen’s eyes patiently searched hers, waiting. His breaths steady, his hands still clasped before him.
Suddenly Shanti understood what he was doing. He was waiting for her to make a move. He said he wouldn’t touch her without her permission. She saw that in this moment, she was the leader with all the power and he was waiting to serve her. She recognized that there was a warm spark in her heart, a spark that began the first moment she laid eyes on him, and grew brighter every moment she saw him after. He’d told her to practice forgiveness, more specifically compassion; to try and understand his position. She didn’t fully understand his position, but she knew without a doubt that Chen never meant her any harm; that her happiness had always been at the forefront of his mind. That was clear to her. What wasn’t clear was what she wanted to do about it.
What had Hsing said to her? Her thoughts and her body language were in opposition. Before he took her lips and then her body, Hsing had said Shanti didn’t say what she meant. Hsing had taken all options from her and bent her body to his will. And Shanti hadn’t protested.
Shanti stood before Chen now offering her a choice. Her body was hot and her head was fuzzy.
“Come, my only. Meet my brethren.”
Chen proceeded her into a doorway. The way was familiar. It was the same room she’d been in earlier, the room with the golden mist that Chen had been Tai-Chiing.
Gathered in a circle with all their heads bowed were four other Eloheem. Shanti immediately recognized the light brown head of Niao. He grinned when he saw her.
Like dominos the other three heads raised.
“Niao, you know. This is Yehfe,” Chen pointed to a light purple male. Shanti had met his counterpart on arrival.
She held out her hand. Yehfe stared at it in confusion. Shanti took her hand back and waved. “Hi,” she said.
Niao giggled. “It is impolite for a grown Eloh to touch another’s mate, Shanti.” The little boy’s lips didn’t move. He’d communicated with her telepathically.
How was she to know that? Chen hadn’t prepared her. She thought he’d prepared her with the blocking technique, but that hadn’t worked either.
“Its working,” Niao said in her mind. “I see that you are stronger. But the young have more agile minds. I can still hear some of your thoughts. I’ll help you. Yehfe will bow his torso. A female only bows her head.”
Yehfe bowed his torso to her. Shanti did as Niao instructed her. When she glanced at Chen, she caught him giving the young boy a nod of gratitude.
Next to Yehfe stood a light green male and the light red male she’d seen earlier. “These are Lung and Shiung.”
The two males bowed at the torso and Shanti bowed her head to each in turn.
“We are honored by your presence,” said the light purple Yehfe.
The door opened and Yehfe’s counterpart entered. He bowed his torso to Shanti, and then he turned and addressed the other males. “What is the status of the energy mine?”
“It looks as though the contaminate is spreading faster through the energy mines,” answered Yehfe.
“Using chi to remove it isn’t eradicating the toxin. She’s having trouble healing.”
“The substance is a pathogen,” said Chen. “Much like the chemicals ammonia and phosphorous which are poisonous to us. Its spreading through the energy mines.”
Ammonia and phosphorous? Those were the same pollutants Shanti had been trying to combat in the Chesapeake Bay. She looked down at the pool of yellow mist. “Is this stuff like a pool of water?”
All males turned to Shanti.
“Yes, my only. The energy mine is the heart of the ship. Its both our fuel and food source, as well as the ship’s lifeblood. It was infected when we were blasted earlier.”
“And you say there’s a pathogen growing in it.”
“Yes,” nodded YehFe. “We are removing it with our chi, but it still spreads.”
“And you said the toxins were ammonia and phosphorous? We have similar pollutions in our waters on Earth.”
“I’m sure its nothing like what you have on Earth-“
Chen cut the dark purple Pakua off. “How do your people handle such a disturbance?” Chen asked.
“A lot of people ignore the problem and the flora and fauna die.”
The males hung their heads. Pakua sneered as though her words had been a waste of his attention.
Shanti hesitated to tell them more. She’d been run out of her town in Maryland for her idea of preservation. The people hadn’t wanted to try her way of solving the problem. It would cost them too much time and money to shift their way of thinking. But Shanti’s eyes connected with Chen’s. He looked at her with such trust and belief that words began spilling from her mouth.
“I worked in one polluted waterway, trying to save it. I had this idea…”
Chen nodded, urging her to continue.
“Well, others wanted to simply scoop the pathogens out, or treat it with chemicals. But those ideas would cause more destruction. My idea was to use algae.”
“Its a symbiotic organism. It eats the pathogen. Metabolizes it actually and then produces more energy, which sounds like it would be great for you and how you all…consume. And it reproduces itself, so its a never ending solution.”
The males all looked around at each other. The darker Yin with doubt, the lighter Yangs’ considering her words. Chen’s face was bright as he looked down at her. Bright with something that resembled pride.
“Chen-Na you can’t be considering this,” said Pakua.
Chen’s eyes never left Shanti’s. “I believe it just might work. I’ll speak with Hsing.”
Stay tuned next week for another installment!