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, and I laugh a little. 

"She wasn't one of those stereotypical young mothers who can't stay out of the bar or always needs a boyfriend to feel whole. She was my best friend. She treated me like fine china before she even knew I was sick. She always put me first. My mom is awesome. I miss her," I explain as my voice slowly fades. 

Jia looks at me, and I see the flicker of pain in her dark eyes. 

  "What about you," I ask, and Jia stands back up. 

   She walks a few feet away, and I watch her curiously. I don't know anything about the other women from Earth except that they were sick or dying. Maybe my fellow Harvestees came from rough backgrounds. Fiadh didn't like me asking about her sickness, and Xiu seemed uninterested in speaking to any of us. Zuri had been pleasant but also withdrawn. 

  "I'm the third kid out of four. My parents are divorced but civil with each other. Before I got sick, we split our time between my parent's houses evenly. One week at mom's, one at dad's. You know, the usual divorced family setup," Jia says after a few seconds before turning back towards me. 

  All the happy feelings I was feeling from the fizzy drink immediately evaporate as I see the tears on Jia's face. I stand up quickly, and Jia sobs while shaking her head. 

  "After a few years, mom stopped visiting. My siblings stopped coming too. Only my dad made weekly visits. I asked him why she wasn't coming to see me anymore, and he said she finds it hard seeing me like this...HARD FOR HER? SHE WASNT THE ONE DYING," Jia shouts as I pull her in for a hug. 

  She sobs against my shoulder, and my heart breaks for the girl in my arms. I don't understand her pain regarding her mother, but I know what it feels like to be left for dead. All my high school friends eventually forgot about me. They stopped visiting, and that hurt. I can't imagine my mom halting her visits. That would have killed me. 

  She cries for a few minutes in my arms as I rub her back slowly. Different speeches run through my head, and I lick my lips as I settle on one. 

  "I know we just met, but since we don't have anyone here, I can be your family. It could be just us, or we can bond with the other girls too. I don't care. I just know I miss my mom, and it sounds like you have some pain lingering from your family, too...We need each other," I offer, and Jia chuckles as she draws back a little. 

  "Zuri and Fiadh maybe, but Xiu would never. I tried speaking with her at lunch. She asked me if I was speaking Chinese or English. When I said English, she rolled her eyes and ignored me for the rest of the meal. She is old-school Chinese..probably from a wealthy family. I'm a third-generation Chinese American. She won't ever see me as a friend, more like a disobedient dog who disrespects the heritage, which is stupid. We should all be six feet under by now," Jia says while making a face, and I laugh. 

  I release Jia completely, and she wipes her face off with her hands while awkwardly avoiding eye contact.  

  "Fiadh didn't seem too friendly either. She was real skittish when I asked what she was sick with," I say as I think about the secretive Irish girl. 

  I back away from Jia to give her some space, and she sniffles a little. 

  "Sounds like it will just be us unless Zuri is open to forming some kind of friendship sisterhood," Jia says, and I laugh a little. 

  "Hopefully, she will...Hey, I am sorry about your mom. I can't relate, but I think it was super brave of you to open up like that. I'm here if you ever need to vent. Hopefully, our future mate or spouse, whatever, lets us keep in touch. I really would like to build a close friendship. We are just little humans in a big new galaxy," I say playfully, and Jia laughs before walking back over to the couch. 

  We sit down and pick up our drinks. 

  "To new friendships," Jia toasts, and I tap my cup to hers. 

  "To friendships," I mimic, and we both smile before drinking. 


  "I will be doing your hair and makeup. Another Kea will be dressing you. Are there any questions," Zalu asks as she places some boxes of supplies on the counter? 

   "Why can't I do it," I ask, glancing from my excited friend to the scary boxes. 

  "Because I am trained to make you look like a princess. Remember, impression is everything. You will be representing your planet in front of fifty of the galaxy's most beautiful females," Zalu says, and my anxiety shots up a few more notches. 

  "Can Jia and me get ready together at least? I need a distraction," I plead, and Zalu laughs while rolling her eyes at me. 

  "You can see her as soon as we are done. I am happy you have formed such a strong friendship with one of the other women. It is very nice to see," Zalu says as she begins to spray my face with something. 

   I close my eyes and wrinkle my nose, which makes Zalu laugh. 

  "Oh, stop it. You know you are excited to look like a princess," Zalu says, and I smile despite myself. 

"Yes, but I am still terrified of meeting the other women and the hulks competing," I reply as I peek from under one eye. 

Zalu scrunches her eyebrows and stops moving for a moment. 

  "Hulks," she asks, and I laugh. 

  "Big muscular men," I explain, and she nods before returning to work on my face. 

  "You will be pleased, Krystal. The males chosen are all honorable. They will treat you respectfully," Zalu says, and I once again run through their descriptions in my head. 

  My mind still hasn't been able to picture all the people Jali described on my second day here, but I hope they are more attractive than I am making them appear in my head. 

"I don't worry about that part. I'm worried about being intimate with someone I'm not attracted to," I admit, and Zalu again stops working. 

  I open both my eyes to find her staring at me in a perplexed sort of way. 

  "I mean, they judge us by appearance," I say as I start to become uncomfortable under her scrutiny. 

  She tilts her head and nods as if contemplating my words. 

  "Males judge by appearance, but females should judge by strength. I have explained this. That's how we work. Males provide food and safety. Women provide beauty, love, and offspring. We balance one another," Zalu explains, and I sigh. 

  "Earth isn't like that. We don't hunt like the animals do. Both genders work. It gets out of balance sometimes, but we are equal," I say, and Zalu smiles. 

  "Your mate will never view you as anything but his equal. Just because he has certain tasks and you have others does not make you less than him. I am aware of Earth's history and the mistreatment of females. Your people behave like the enemies we fight. Our enemies believe they are superior due to their size. People from Earth have based superiority on gender and skin color. It's barbaric and something that is not tolerated by the ten other planets that participate in the harvest. Earth is a part of the treaty, but we do take issue with many of your customs," Zalu replies, and I bite the inside of my cheek for a second. 

  "So you are saying humans have labeled one set of tasks as less than another set of tasks so we could look down at others," I ask after a moment, and she nods while looking like a proud mother. 

  "Exactly. Men from the planets competing would never see you as something they own. They would never look down on you, as you like to say. They do see themselves as your protector and provider, but that is to demonstrate their dedication to you," Zalu says and brushes something onto my lips. 

  "What if I don't like any of them? What if I don't feel a connection? I mean, I am grateful to be alive, and I will uphold my side of the contract...But I would like to love someone," I whisper, and Zalu places her hand on my shoulder. 

  "Many females feel like this before the Harvest...But I have never seen a human unhappy with her mate. A few snobby females from other planets have been upset about not getting the top winners, but as I stated before...The human females are always grateful," Zalu says softly, and I smile at the memory of when I first met Zalu. 

  "Well...I will hope for the best then. Make me a princess, Zalu," I reply, and she smiles. 

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