9.10

Jerret woke up to Jessie’s father returning with breakfast. He regarded the plate the man slid into his cell. It smelled even better than dinner had. The man sat down against the wall opposite him and started eating. Jerret followed suit finally and they ate in silence.

“Jessie asked about the howling last night. I told her I’d look into it.”

Jerret looked up from licking his empty plate and stared at him pointedly.

“Yeah, we don’t have wolves on this planet, what wildlife we have on the estate is managed by a wildlife expert we hired. Or was up until last year. I think he quit and Sarah’s been muddling along with that. Anyways howling is a bit unusual. Are you done?” Sam gestured at his plate.

Jerret nudged the plate out with his paw and paced around the cell.

“If you change back you can have seconds.”

Jerret growled at him briefly.

“The alternative is sitting in that cage and listening to me talk for days on end.”

Jerret sat down and glared at him.

“Seriously? I don’t know what to talk about now.” Sam stared up at the ceiling, “How about your favorite topic.” The man met his glare again, “We’ll talk about you today. Or I will at least.”

Jerret started pacing again. The cell didn’t allow him much room to move.

“So you’re an unregistered shifter, scars suggest you were in the fights. We’ve been over that. You seem to have all your teeth and no missing parts so you were either good or got out early.”

Jerret sat down, facing the wall. He didn’t like this conversation but the only way to end it would be giving in.

“You have a first name, but since you didn’t mention a last name you were probably born in the fights. Did you pick it, or was it given to you?” The man waited for a response.

Jerret shut his eyes, cursing his inability to read like this. Any distraction would be welcome at this point.

“Well I guess that’s not important. More important would be how you got out.” Sam scratched at his chin, “You strike me as too much of a survivor to have attempted to escape on your own. It’s risky at best and there isn’t a good system to help escapees even once they hit society. You’d have to be in a lot worse shape to have been retired… so someone probably bought you for something other than the fights and either released you or you slipped away when they dropped their guard.”

Jerret tried pacing again but it wasn’t helping the growing uneasy feeling.

“Is that why you dislike me so much?” Sam’s question made him open his eyes again. Jerret studied him cautiously. He hadn’t expected this at all. “Do I remind you of some misguided benefactor you left behind? It’s the most common story I hear from shifters we try to help. A lot of them refuse our help for that reason. Don’t want to be beholden even if I swear up and down they won’t owe anything.”

Jerret started pacing again for lack of a response.

“I-”

“Sam we need you inside.” The voice of the woman he’d seen the previous day sounded over the intercom and the man sighed, struggling to his feet. He rubbed his legs, wincing.

“I’ll be back.” He left and Jerret relaxed a little finally.

Jerret waited a few minutes to make sure he was gone then shifted back, dressing himself quickly. He sat down in the far corner with his book and tried to focus. He managed to get through half a sentence before shutting it again. He raised his hand to throw it but stopped himself and set it down gently on the floor. The past was roaring in his mind and he couldn’t quiet his thoughts even a little.

He howled. It was loud and echoed and his mind fell silent. He needed to leave this place and get away from that man’s endless prodding. Jerret shut his eyes and waited for him to return.

***

Sam didn’t know what to make of Jerret’s sudden change. He’d expected at least another day of badgering but he returned from helping Elizabeth only to find the man dressed and waiting.

“Does this mean you’re cooperating?”

Jerret glowered at him.

“Are you just messing with me now? Is that what’s happening?” Sam frowned as Jerret picked up his book again and opened it, “At least say something.”

Jerret shut the book again, “I want to go back.”

“Go back where? To the planet you were on?” Sam didn’t like that the man wasn’t looking at him.

“If I do ‘cooperate’ you’ll take me back there.” Jerret fiddled with the cover a little, refusing to make eye contact.

“Sure, once I know what I need to we can drop you off wherever.”

“Cross me and I’ll make you stop me.”

Sam wasn’t entirely sure what that threat meant, but he nodded and opened the cell, “Do you want to come inside now?”

“You have a lot of sisters you said?”

“Yes, but I’ll take you straight to the hospitality wing so they won’t be around. Sarah is the only one who goes in there regularly and she knows not to bother you. Of course you’ll be expected to join us for dinner at some point but that can wait till you’ve acclimated.” Sam shut his mouth as Jerret simply stared at him blankly. He cleared his throat finally and gestured out, “We’ll give you a couple days before you have to socialize. I’ll probably bother you but that’ll be it.”

Jerret stood up and walked past him without a word, carrying the book.

“Right.” Sam exhaled and hurried to lead the way again.

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