Zalu hands me a bowl of what looks like different fruits, and I stare down at the bright mixture curiously.
"You brought up that Earth has starving people...Do other planets in the universe not have starving people? I mean, do you not have money or any type of economy," I ask as I pick up a squishy green piece of food.
"We have something similar to your exchange policy, but unlike Earth, basic necessities are never something you have to pay for. Water and food are not owned. Food grows everywhere. We pick it, and if we want meat, we hunt. Our stores contain products, not needs," Zalu explains as she takes a seat in front of me.
"Are you not afraid of over hunting," I ask as I bite into the piece of food.
The green plant explodes with juice, and a tangy flavor fills my mouth. I hum as I chew. Whatever it is, it is way better than hospital food.
"What do you mean," Zalu asks, and a few more people walk into the communal cafeteria Zalu brought me to.
"Well, I mean, on Earth, we have rules about how many animals a person can shoot. It's to make sure we aren't bringing down the population so much," I explain, and she grins a little.
"We do not use weapons when hunting. We only use weapons against beings of equal intelligence, but even the war is fought at mostly hand-to-hand combat level. The animals have just as much a chance of killing us as we do them," Zalu says, and my jaw drops open.
"So you go out into the forest with your hands and teeth? That's it," I ask, and Zalu nods as she eats an orange grape.
"That's how it is all over the Galaxy. The humans aren't one with their planet. You believe yourselves to be above your wildlife. We hunt and are hunted. I rarely go out to hunt for meat, but my mate provides plenty of meat. The different planets have different terrains, but many follow similar customs to ours. We have blended so much that the Galaxy is becoming almost whole. Coks world is mostly sand they have few forests. It is always hot, but there are massive underground bodies of water that keep the animals thriving. The Coks' bodies are colored to match their planet. They have long fingers and arms for reaching into sand burrows. But their bodies are packed with muscle so they can fight against the top predator on their planet, the grotesque Mangog. They are reddish-brown and massive. They have horns and big fangs. Let's see...The Peulo people come from a planet of mostly water. Their skin ranges in the blue-green scope of color. They eat mostly aquatic life and are amazing swimmers. They are lean and tall. Large hands and big feet. But like the Keas, none of their warriors made it this Harvest," Zalu explains nonchalantly as she eats her food.
I watch her face curiously, and she smiles when she sees my expression.
"What," she asks, and I shake my head.
"Is that why you have pointy teeth," I ask, and she nods.
"Most females have smaller fangs than males, but pointy teeth are common. We need them for hunting," she says, and I look down at my food.
I grab a slice of something purple and smell it. It has a sweet scent that tickles my nose, so I pop it into my mouth. A taste similar to mango fills my mouth, and I grab another slice.
"So, where are the other human girls," I ask while chewing slowly.
"It takes the agency that handles the harvest a while to gather the girls. Earth chose the US to handle gathering the women, but an individual from the US must travel the whole world. It takes time. But the Earth begins sending women two weeks ahead of the tournament. The other planets teleport their harvested women the day the tournament begins," Zalu replies, and I look up at her.
"How long is the tournament," I ask, and she smiles.
"One week. Day one is for celebration. The candidates dine and dance together. You meet with your potential mates, and they meet you. Day two is presenting. Audiences from all the other planets come, and the fights are planned. Day three, the battle between only the fighters begins. It lasts until the end of day four. On day five, the winners from days three and four draw numbers. They then fight beasts from all over the Galaxy. Beasts like the Mangog. It is rare for champions to lose in these fights, but it happens. If they lose, they go to the bottom of the pile for choosing a mate. Finally, after the last beast is dead, the champions issue challenges. It normally becomes a massive brawl, and the last male standing chooses his mate first. If a female does not want the champion who chooses her, she must speak up when the offer is made for her hand. You must then announce who you would like as a mate. Your choice of male then decides if he wants you. If he does, then he and the male that wants you battle. So the females do get some say," Zalu says, and I swallow my last piece of food.
"And if the male I don't want wins," I ask, and Zalu shrugs.
"Then the male who wanted you, to begin with, is the better provider, and the male you wanted doesn't really want you. Because if he wanted you, he wouldn't stop fighting until he was dead. Mates are precious. Once you bond, there is no breaking the bond. A male who doesn't fight to his last breath isn't someone I would bond myself to," Zalu says, and again, my mouth falls open.
"Bond? What do you mean," I ask, and Zalu gets a misty look in her eyes.
"On each planet, they do it differently, but the process is very similar everywhere. Basically, your systems are linked together. When your heart beats, their heart beats, it's magical," Zalu says, and I stand up.
I place my hands on the table and lean towards the tall purple being.
"So if my mate dies, I die? Suddenly without warning," I ask in utter terror.
Zalu shakes her head sadly as she collects our bowls and stands up too.
"No, but it is painful. Many widowed mates live very short lives after their loved one dies," Zalu says, and I watch as she walks towards what looks like a garbage shoot on the wall.
She opens it and slides our bowls in before heading back in my direction.
"Come. I will show you to your room. This building is where all the harvested women stay. It is beautiful and very luxurious. When we get to your room, you need to shower and slip into some real clothes," Zalu says, and I glance down at the hospital gown I forgot I was wearing.
As I do, dark brown hair falls forward, and I grab it. I run my fingers through the thick locks that remind me of my mother, and I smile. I forgot I had hair again. I was so mesmerized by my surroundings I completely forgot about my appearance. I must have an excited expression on my face because Zalu laughs.
"Come on. I cannot wait for you to see yourself," she says, and I follow instantly.
She leads me down a maroon hallway silently, and I play with my shoulder length hair. I can't believe I didn't feel this weight before. My hair is heavy and thick. I should have noticed it right away.
"This is it," Zalu says, and I look up at a yellow door with a black one on it.
"I get room one," I ask, and she nods while turning the knob.
"You were the first to arrive," Zalu says, and the door swings open.
She leads me into a room fit for a grand hotel, and my eyes widen as I look around. Unlike the other rooms we have been in, this one is white with splashes of grey. No bright colors clashing with one another in sight. Just white and grey walls with lavish furniture just begging to be laid on.
"This room is decorated to reflect a high-end human home. The other four rooms in this hall are decorated similarly. When I first saw these rooms, I was shocked, but they have grown on me. They seem calming. What do you think," Zalu asks, and I open my arms wide before spinning around?
I laugh loudly as I behave like a princess, and Zalu joins me.
"See...humans are appreciative. I enjoy it," she says after a moment, and I stop spinning.
"Where's the bathroom, " I ask, and she points to the second door on the right.
I run towards the door and throw it open. The bathroom is gorgeous, but my focus isn't on the high-end sinks or massive soaker tub. No, my eyes are locked on a girl I never thought I would see again. I walk closer to the mirror before pressing my hands to my now full cheeks. My blue-green eyes fill with tears, and I smile at myself before they begin to fall.
"Hello," I whisper to myself.
"These clothes are fancy," I say to Zalu as we walk towards the cafeteria for breakfast. Last night in my room was magical but also a little scary. After Zalu left to go home to her mate, I decided to head to bed. The plush covers and fluffy pillows were calling my name. But when I turned out the lights and silence fell, I was able to hear the roars and calls from the animals outside. It was intimidating, to say the least. "All Harvested women are dressed in the finest outfits that represent their planet. These clothes are nothing compared to the dresses you will be wearing during the tournament," Zalu replies, and I look at her in surprise before glancing down at the beautiful blouse and straight-leg slacks I put on. "How do you know so much about Earth and what we like," I ask as I try to picture extravagant gowns. "Just because humans don't know about us doesn't mean we are ignorant to you," Zalu says as she points toward a table. I follow the line of her finger an
I grin as Jia gulps down another fizzy drink we got with our room service. When I asked Zalu about the drink, she had smiled and waved good night instead of answering me. So we have been learning what it is on our own. The purple liquid seems to make you feel drunk, but it doesn't make you wobbly or incoherent in any way. It is basically a grape soda that gives you the giggles. "So, what's your story," Jia asks me after I finish describing my first day here, and I giggle as she flops down on the couch beside me. "My story? You came to my room to learn my story," I ask, and Jia smiles. "Pretty much. You seemed nice at breakfast and the most approachable. So spill," Jia replies, and I nod while placing my empty plate down. "Okay, well, I'm from Ohio. My family consisted of my mom and me... And I have been sick off and on the majority of my life," I explain, and Jia looks down at the piece of fruit she is playing with in her fingers. "Single mom, huh," she mumbles,
I can't help but tear up as I stare at my reflection in the full-length mirror. Zalu is an absolute artist.My makeup is light but flawless. The mixture of brown and pale green eyeshadow applied to my eyelids makes my blue-green eyes pop. The pale pink lipstick Zalu brushed my lips with gave them a plump, kissable look. My hair has been swept up into an elegant bun, and the dress...The light green lace ball gown I am wearing is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I truly feel like a princess."Are you happy," Zalu whispers from behind me, and I spin around.I wrap my arms around her waist, and she giggles before returning my hug."I am honored," she says quietly, and I release her before stepping back."I have never felt like this before. I feel breathtaking," I admit, and she nods while her cat-ish eyes grin at me happily."I am happy I could help. Are you ready," Zalu asks lightly, and my butterflies return.She watches my expression closely, and I nervously lick my lips befo
"Attention, after meeting with your next group, you may retire for thirty minutes. For the last switch, please listen up," the male Kea says, and the female from Hassin, who I was speaking to, stops laughing. I turn my attention to him almost eagerly. Ever since the uncomfortable first round with the Froles, things have run smoothly. The Keas and Hassins being my favorites to talk with, closely followed by the Shikazs and the Peulos. We haven't had any more uncomfortable moments, and I have even made a couple of new friends. The male Kea lists the names and colors quickly as I look around the room with a easy-going grin, but when my eyes land on Zalu, my happy feeling dims a bit. She looks anxious as she stares at the announcer, and the realization hits me slowly as to why. The last group...the ones we haven't met yet. "Makskin, Earth, blue," he says, and a chill runs over my skin. The fact that Zalu is this worried about us talking with Zor is intimidating. It mak
"How did it go with Zor," Zalu asks as she sprays my face with what is apparently flawless foundation in a can.I grin as the memory of Xiu's words run through my head. She was so kickass!"It went well. Xiu handled the conversation, so it remained respectful but dramatic. Zor made some rude remarks, and Xiu returned the favor while not going over the line. It was beautiful," I explain while looking up at Zalu's nervous face.She grins and sets the spray can down before picking up the brush to apply more lip product."Good. I was worried you would let Zor get under your skin. She can be hard to get along with," Zalu says, and I nod slightly since I am trying to keep my lips still.Zalu finishes my makeup touch-ups quickly, and we hurry back to the hall. Just like before, Zalu presses the button to open the door, but the room's new layout makes me pause for a few seconds before I proceed into the room.The colored tables are nowhere in sight, and fancy lights are now hanging from the c
The females begin to take their seats, and I watch the line to ensure I grab the right chair. The last thing I need to do is get into a skirmish with a Makskin over seats. As soon as the smaller Makskin sits down, I follow. Jia sits down beside me, and I focus my attention on the male Kea watching all of us with an excited smile. He looks as if he can't wait to bring in the champions competing for our hands, and that eases my mind a bit. Kea people are sweet individuals. If he is happy to introduce us, the men must not be too bad. "Now then, let us begin. It is my greatest honor to present this Harvest's Champions. We begin with the Commanders—Commander Garlof, age 27, from the planet Cok. Defeated and conquered a Rusckods base with only seven soldiers. Commander Fornis, age 26, from the planet Cok as well. He led a covert mission into Muysocks controlled space. Not only was the mission a success, but he also didn't lose a single soul in the mission. Commander Burk, age 27, fr
"I was just surprised. I figured that would be something Fiadh would do," Jia whispers as we watch the twirling bodies move around the room. I shrug and rub my forearms to hide my embarrassment. "The thought of someone mistreating one of you just brought up a lot of emotion. I didn't mean to cry. I know that made me look weak...I just. My mom was all I had before I came here, and now the four of you are all I have. My bravado and hate towards the stuck-ups just kind of evaporated when I started questioning our safety," I explain, and Jia wraps her arms around me tightly. I manage to wrap my arms around her lower back, and she pats my back. "I wasn't trying to make you feel bad. I appreciated you standing up and showing some vulnerability. We needed to be reassured," Jia says, and I nod as she releases me. I give her a small smile, and we return our focus to the dance floor. Xiu, Zuri, and Fiadh have been asked to dance twice, while Jia and I have been asked once. O
BURK POV The feminine voices buzz all around me as I try to pinpoint individual conversations. I don't want a mate focused on my gold status now that we have received it. She will spend our lives flaunting our wealth instead of building our family. "Any luck," Modok grumbles lowly, and my eyes snap open to glare at him? Even his low tone hurt my sensitive ears, and he knows how much I hate when I get interrupted. "No. But how could I if you keep butting in," I growl, and Modok shrugs. He moves closer to my side as his reptilian eyes sweep the room. Between his eyes and my ears, very little gets past us. But there have been times. "Just ask them to dance. I'm going to focus on the Keas and the Earthlings. They should be the least likely to base a good pairing on gold. Nole has already reported back on the Shikazs and the Peulos. It's pointless to approach their groups again," Modok says, and I glance at him. "They call themselves humans. Use their terminology. That group