The man who had rescued them smiled, and came forward with his hand outstretched. The smile was warm and made Mark feel relaxed.
“I am Swar,” the man said “I know you have been through an ordeal and I am sorry that I have to disturb you right now. I would not have done it if it is not important. Please, be seated. I know you are having lots of questions and I shall try to answer them all, but first I must know something.” he paused. “Who is your leader? How many of you are there? And what is your destination?”
“I’m their leader,” Mark replied, “and we’ve about two hundred people up there in our ship.”
“And your destination?” Swar’s voice was calm, and his expression benign.
“We’ve none,” Mark said. It hurt to say it. How foolish it was of them to think they could escape just be leaving! “Our planet was on the verge of annihilation and we… we tried to escape.”
It sounded laughably pathetic, even to his own ears. Leaving a planet on the verge of destruction with no specific destination in mind, How idiotic was that?
“We… we were hoping you’d let us settle here…”
Please say yes!
“Our provisions have almost run out. We wouldn’t survive for long if we’re to leave.”
What was there to be achieved by not being honest?
Swar bowed his head. “I see.”
Mark wished he could see the other man’s face. Perhaps that would give him a clue to what he was thinking.
Ron cleared his throat.
“Look here,” he said. “We’re very grateful to you for saving our lives. But first we want to know a little bit more about this place, if you don’t mind, and about you too”
Ron was much braver than him. Mark knew he should have asked all that.
“Who are you?” Ron was continuing. “Are you human? What is that creature that attacked us? And-”
Swar held up a hand and got up. “I understand your reservations,” he said. “Just be patient for a while. We shall answer all your questions. I need to leave now. Sorry, but it is important. Rowen will take care of you.”
Mark was also on his feet, “But-”
“In view of what you told me,” Swar said, “it becomes extremely urgent that I go immediately.”
He vanished, and Mark felt his heart stop. How could he vanish? They were all on their feet, looking around, astonishment on their faces. Rowen alone remained seated, looking at them with an expression of mild curiosity.
“Wh-where did he go?” Ron asked.
“He has to take care of some things,” Rowen replied. “Your presence here has complicated things.”
“I don’t understand any of this,” Sam said.
Rowen rose too. “I will try to answer your questions as best as I can, but first you must have food. You must be hungry.”
Mark realised he was quite hungry. When was the last time he had eaten? The provisions they had brought were being rationed strictly. Besides, it was more aimed at nutrition than at assuaging hunger.
“We are,” Andrea said, “but-”
“Afterwards,” Rowen’ s voice held a tone of finality. Mark bristled at it, but reminded himself that they were guests here. Their fate was literally in the hands of these men. He couldn’t afford to antagonise them. It was evident they were used to getting their own way. He tried not to think of how that would impact them, if they were allowed to stay. It wasn’t as if they had a choice, anyway. Dying out in space was not an option.
He fell into step beside Rowen as they made their way to another room. The dining table was made of wood and so were the chairs around it. The food on the table was the kind Mark had only seen in books. For one, it was real food, not the bars and pills they were used to. Mark didn’t even know the names of all the dishes. He recognised bread, and touched it in wonder only to draw his hand back immediately.
“It is hot!” he said, surprised.
“Is that bad?” Rowen asked, looking slightly anxious.
Mark shook his head, a bit overwhelmed. How could he tell his stranger that he had no idea what bread was supposed to be? Was it supposed to be hot? And what were all these other dishes? The aroma was mouth watering, but he hesitated. What was he supposed to eat first? Would his body even be able to digest all this after a lifetime of nutrition pills and bars?
Jake ladled some liquid on to a bowl and cut a bit of bread, that he dunked into it and ate. Mark followed suit and so did the others. It was delicious, and Mark felt all his fears ease. How did Jake know how to do it? It occurred to him that he knew so little of the people with him. It was only as he started eating that Mark realised how hungry he had been. His friends seemed to have been ravenous too, They finished off everything on the table.
“You didn’t have anything,” Mark said to Rowen, feeling vaguely guilty for not having noticed before.
“I am not hungry,” Rowen smiled. “And it looked like you were.”
“I’ve never had food like that in my life!” Sam said. “Feels like pinching myself.”
Rowen looked confused, but Mark could understand Sam’s feelings. If not for the memory of the creature that had attacked them and had killed Dr. Harvey, he would have thought this was some dream brought on by their impending death.
“Now, I shall try and answer your questions,” Rowen said. “Shall we go back to the other room?”
Mark nodded, “Of course.”
He hoped they would finally get some answers. It seemed as if the longer they stayed here, the more questions they had. Mark was sure of only one thing by now. Rowen and Swar were certainly not human. There was no way they could be. No human explorers could have made it this far before the last fifty years. And Swar was almost as old as that. Besides, there was the way he had vanished. It was possible that he had used some form of advanced teleportation, but Mark doubted that. He had heard of magic, though on earth it was referred to sleight of hand tricks. There was no such thing as real magic. But he could not find any other explanation. He wasn’t sure what frightened him more. The thought that their rescuers could be other than human or the thought that they could use magic. It was in a cautious mood that he followed Rowen back to the other room.