Did they have to tranquilize me again?
I sway where I stand in the hall, proud that I was able to form such a rational thought. The drugs are making it hard to concentrate. At least they didn’t knock me out this time – silver lining and all. But damn, I don’t feel good. Actually, no, I feel really good. And that’s the problem. I’m cocooned in a false sense of security. I’m warm and happy and everything is wonderful, which, rationally, I know is bullshit. Everything is far from wonderful. Then another wave of drug-induced bliss rolls over me, and I forget that I shouldn’t like this, that I shouldn’t smother the small, nagging voice in the back of my head and just enjoy my high while it lasts.
A flash of red catches my gaze, and I turn to my right. Holy crap, it’s Cora! She’s walking up the hall of her own volition, and behind her are two of our small lizard captors. No guards trail her, like the three looming behind me, and her hands are free, not grav cuffed together like mine. She looks as pissy as ever, though.
I smile. “Hi, Cora!”
She frowns when she reaches me, eyes narrowed as she looks me over. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
I lift my cuffed hands and boop her on the nose, ignoring the way the guards crowd in close like they think I’m about to rip her face off. “You’re such a ray of sunshine.”
She slaps my hand away. “You’re high, aren’t you?” She turns her glare on the hulking warriors behind me, but beneath her anger, I can smell her fear. “What the fuck did you do to her?”
“Gave me the good stuff,” I answer for them.
Her anger turns to worry as she brings her gaze back to mine. “Why are you handcuffed?”
I open my mouth to answer her but pause. Why am I handcuffed? It’s getting hard to think again. Oh, right. I lean in close and give Cora a serious look. “I’m very big and dangerous.”
She rolls her eyes. “What did you do, attack someone?”
“S’cuse me? I have been the perfect captive.” I try to gesture at the guards but forget my hands are clasped together and almost hit myself in the face. “Ask anyone.”
She grabs my wrists and tugs them back down before I hurt myself. “Okay, then why are you wearing these?” She shakes my cuffs for emphasis.
I give her my haughtiest look and repeat, “Very big. Very dangerous.”
“Oh my god, as if you aren’t bad enough sober.” She tugs my cuffs to get me moving. “Come on. We’re supposed to be leaving the ship.” As we walk, she shoots a glance behind us. “Why was she just standing here?”
“Smelled you and stopped walking,” a deep voice tolls out. The creepy guards have creepy voices like creepy gargoyles come to life. It sounds like their vocal cords are made of boulders, and it hurts my ears when they speak.
Wait, what did Cora just say? We’re leaving? Goodie! I get to get out of this claustrophobic hellhole!
I ignore the presence of the guards and focus on her. “Where are we going?” I feel like I should know the answer to this question, but it slides away from me when I try to reach for it.
She tugs my wrists again to make me pick up the pace. I could easily resist – she’s so much weaker than I am – but I decide to let her lead me. “We’re going to be sold to our new masters.”
That stops me dead in my tracks, and my cuffs yank free from her hand. “No, thank you.” I turn and smile at the guards, showing them how polite I can be, how there’s no need for them to follow me so closely. Wait, why are they pointing their guns at me? I’m being good! Today is so confusing.
“Walk, or we make you walk,” the biggest guard rumbles.
It takes a step forward, and I sneeze straight into its chest. Ew, they smell so bad. I don’t want to walk, but for some reason, I turn around and start forward, and that confuses me even more.
Do not resist, ghosts through my mind.
I don’t like those words or that order, so I shove it aside and focus on nicer things. This hallway sure is big. So much bigger than my cell. And brighter. I sway to the right and look up at the ceiling. “Pretty lights.”
“Well, you’re going to be no fucking help to anyone like this,” Cora says.
That comment sobers me some. “I can’t help anyone but myself, remember?”
She goes back to frowning. “Why, though? Can’t you just tell the captain to go fuck himself?”
I shake my head and stumble a little. The motion made me dizzy. “Nope. I think I have a computer chip in my head.”
Cora snorts. “That explains the robotic behavior.”
I surprise a laugh out of her with my retort, and I feel proud of myself. When was the last time I made someone laugh? Hell, when was the last time I spoke to another person? My memory is slippery right now, the days and days of confinement blurring together in a way that makes me want to think of other things.
Cora makes a small sound of contemplation, and I glance down at her. She’s maybe five and a half feet, much shorter than me, and seems to be comprised mostly of red hair and freckles. And attitude. Those angry eyes of hers are a striking shade of green, and beneath them, an arrow straight nose points down to a full, expressive mouth.
“You’re pretty,” I say, blurting it out as the realization hits me.
She jerks her gaze back toward the guards. “Would you mind keeping that information to yourself?” she says, voice low and hissing. “We’re about to be sold, remember? I don’t want to end up as some alien fuck-toy.”
My vision gets a little hazy, a red sheen creeping in around the edges. No. She will not become that. She is mine to guard, and I won’t let some stupid order keep me from defending her. There’s nothing that says I can’t both comply with the captain’s order and protect her at the same time.
“Do me a favor?” I ask her, anger burning away some of my high.
The look she gives me tells me she’d love to do me a favor if that favor is punching me in the ribs. “What?”
“Say Mission Abort.”
I brace myself, but nothing happens. Figures.
She frowns. “Mind telling me what the hell that was about?”
I shake my head. “I wanted to see if just anyone can override the captain’s order.”
“Let me guess,” she says, looking up at me. “You need to see them as a superior?”
I nod. “Apparently.”
She leans in, a line appearing between her brows. Gone is her bluster. She looks concerned. For me? “I’m not sure if you know, but your lieutenant can’t…I mean…the rest of your unit…”
Hurt lances through my chest. “I know.”
I think I’m burning through the drugs. My thoughts have stopped scattering around difficult things, and I feel like it’s easier to keep the thread of this conversation going now.
Conscious of the guards, I lift my hands and boop Cora on the nose again. I giggle for good measure when she reels back, shocked by my feigned lack of grief. The aliens clearly didn’t know the correct dose of tranquilizers to give me. Now that my memories aren’t so squirrely, I can recall the past few hours: being darted in my cell room, feeling stoned, being led into this hall, sobering up faster than they anticipated, then drugged again. This dose feels more potent than the first, and I think it’s lasted longer. The aliens might just buy it if I act like I’m still loopy for a while.
Something occurs to me then. It’s just Cora and me down here on the prison level. I haven’t seen or even smelled another human yet. What the hell did she do to end up down here? She’s an untrained pipsqueak. I frown. Okay, so she’s untrained when it comes to combat. Really, I know nothing else about the woman. Maybe she’s some first-rate programmer and figured out how to hack into the ship. Or perhaps her fiery personality is more rousing than I realized, and she inspired the other captives into rebellion.
I sneak a sideways glance at her, my curiosity piqued. There are dark circles beneath her eyes, and she looks paler than when I last saw her. She also looks thinner, like she hasn’t been eating. I want to ask her why she’s here so bad, but I can’t risk seeming like I’m sobering up, so I clench my jaw shut in frustration and keep walking, making sure to drift a little like the drugs are screwing with my sense of balance.
“I like this hallway,” I announce. “Much nicer than my cell.”
“Mmhmm,” Cora mutters, her gaze roving around us, assessing.
I hope she’s not trying to plan some valiant escape right now; this isn’t the time or the place for it. I can’t be sure, but it feels like we’re in the bowels of the ship. Logically, it makes sense that you would house your prisoners in a central, secure location, far away from airlocks or escape pods. But something else, something my subconscious has detected that I can’t quite put my finger on, senses we have a long way to go before we reach the main levels. It’s like some part of my bioengineering can detect the density of walls and buildings surrounding me. I’ve always been able to do this. One time, during a training exercise, my entire unit was knocked unconscious and dumped deep in an abandoned mine. None of us had trouble finding our way up and out. We were nine at the time.
I poke Cora in the shoulder, hard enough to shove her sideways.
She whips her head toward me, just like I hoped. “Ow, what the fuck?”
“Do you have a cell?”
She rubs her arm and bites out, “Yes.”
“What’s it like?”
Her face is a picture of frustration, and her answer is just as curt as her, “Yes.” I keep peppering her with inane questions and mindless chatter as we walk. I need to keep her distracted. If she does something stupid, I won’t be able to help her. Not with this bullshit order controlling me. So I act like an obnoxiously high person. I stop to point things out. I piss off the guards to keep them focused on me. And all the while, I chronicle every turn we take, every ramp we climb. A map is forming in my mind. It might not be of any use – I have no idea if we’re coming back to the ship after the auction or if we’ll be handed straight over to our new masters – but there’s no harm in having it just in case.
It’s not until we reach what feels like the upper levels that I catch the scent of other humans and those lion-like aliens. I never saw the lions during my captivity, only the lizards and the bat-warhogs. I wonder why that is for all of half a second before I’m distracted by something else. What. The fuck. Is that smell? Oh, Jesus, it’s awful. Like someone set a compost pile on fire. And then crapped on it.
One of our guards makes a low noise in its chest cavity. From the way they’ve sniffed at me in the past, I’m guessing their sense of smell is pretty strong. Another guard echoes the noise and then says something in a low, rumbly language that might be their native tongue. The further we walk, the worse the smell gets, and soon my eyes are watering.
Act like a high person, I remind myself.
I stop walking.
Cora stops too. “What are you doing?”
A guard prods at my back with its gun.
I try to cross my arms over my chest – not an easy feat with my wrists shackled, and I hope I look as ridiculous as I feel – and ignore them both. “Nope. Smells bad.”
“It’s this shithole planet,” is the thunderous response.
I turn and focus on our guards. Their facial expressions are hard to read, what with the fact that they’re totally inhuman, but they look like they might be as grossed out by the stench as I am. Funny, since they smell just as bad. Behind them are four lizards. Two have been with me all along; the other two joined us when Cora did. They’re wearing some sort of little breathing apparatus shoved into their nostrils. No doubt to block the stench.
“I don’t like it,” I tell them. “Can I have one of those nose plugger uppers?”
The largest guard turns to look at the lizards. The little guys shake their heads, and the guard looks back at me, its chest cavity expanding in what might be a sigh. “No one fucking likes it, and no, you can’t have one. Now keep moving.” For emphasis, it primes its plasma gun, and the whine of a ready weapon fills my ears.
I turn and keep moving. I’m aiming for annoying, not suicidal.
The next level up, we see other humans. Not many. I count ten in the hall. They’re being led in a big group by a pair of lizards and just a single guard. I scan their faces, looking for my scientists or the other survivors of our SIP room, but I don’t recognize anyone. Then I feel a familiar pinch on the back of my arm. I crane my head around and see a small metallic barb sticking out of it. Behind us, one of the lizards lowers the dart gun it holds.
My head gets real loopy for a while after that, and Cora ends up leading me around by my wrists, cursing up a storm the whole time. I want to tell her to stop mouthing off to our captors before they hurt her, but then I realize it’s me she’s swearing at, and I giggle over that for a while. Gone are all thoughts of map-making and surveying my surroundings or looking for my brainiacs. Now it’s all I can do just to place one foot in front of the other.
I’m so stoned I almost miss my first glimpse of an alien world as we’re led off the ship. We pass through a narrow walkway that leads down to the ground. It’s lined with windows.
“Ooh, pretty,” I say, glancing out of them. We seem to be up high, on some sort of plateau. Below us, a jungle spreads out, rolling away until it bleeds into what looks like a swamp. Out here, it smells atrocious. The stench of rot and methane are thick enough that I can taste them. I keep spitting to try and get it out of my mouth, and Cora starts to look as disgusted as she is annoyed.
I glance back as we exit the walkway and see the ship we just came off of. Holy fuck, the thing is huge, as black as deep space and the size of a New York City block, skyscrapers included. Beyond it, the lavender sky looms above us, feeling lower, for some reason, than it does on earth. But then maybe that has something to do with the way the rain clouds, tinted green, float through it, almost close enough to touch.
I lift my hands and try to grab one, and Cora makes a frustrated sound. “Maybe lower the dose next time? She’s no use to anyone like this.”
I hear a lizard respond in its rasping language, then a guard translates. “To quote you humans, better safe than sorry.”
Cora jerks on my arm. “Come on.”
The next little while is a blur. I’m not sure if it’s ten minutes or an hour. All I know is that by the time I start to sober up again, I’m alone in another cell. This one has three walls that look like concrete and one made of thick glass. It stares out onto a narrow hallway. Across from me, Cora paces in her own tiny cell.
I straighten from where I’m slumped in the corner, and Cora stops to look at me. She says something, but even with my enhanced hearing, it’s muffled. I shake my head to tell her I can’t hear her, then lift a finger so she’ll give me a minute to get my shit together. My head hurts, and my mouth is dry. When was the last time I had something to drink? To eat? It takes a lot of energy to burn off all the drugs they’ve pumped into me today, and if I don’t get some food soon, the hunger pangs will start up.
My memories are foggy, and I don’t like it. How did I get here? I vaguely remember leaving the ship. Afterward, we walked through what might have been a market or a small village filled with creatures out of a sci-fi writer’s wet dream. I have an image of an amphitheater-style building in my mind, like a roman colosseum. Is that where we’re being held?
I press my nose to the glass and glance up and down the hallway, trying to gauge our surroundings. I can’t see much, just a hundred feet or so in either direction, but it’s enough to realize that I’m surrounded by other cells. Most of them hold captives from the Kennedy, but whatever is being housed to the left of Cora is more inhuman than any alien I’ve seen so far. It’s some sort of diaphanous blob, a pale, milky white, with tentacles coming out of it in every direction. Cora would probably puke if she knew that most of those tentacles are caressing the wall that separates them, as if it can sense her there and is trying to find some way to reach her.
I tear my eyes from it and turn my focus back on my shipmate. “Are you okay?” I ask her, enunciating my words so she can read my lips, pointing when I say you.
She nods. “You?”
I nod back.
“Sober?” she mouths.
I lift my hand and tilt it back and forth in a so-so motion. She nods again, telling me she understands. That’s about as much communication as we can manage. If she were a fellow shock troop, I’d be able to sign to her, but she’s not. I want to know where we are. What’s happening. The likelihood that she even knows the answers to those questions is low. Our captors aren’t what I would call a chatty bunch, and if Cora did something to land her on the prison block with me, they probably trust her less than their other captives.
I close my eyes so I’m not tempted to stare at that blob-thing again and let my other senses fade away as I drag in a couple of deep breaths. Damn it, nothing. This cell must be sealed like my one back on board the ship was. The air smells slightly recycled and stale, but at least it’s better than outside. I hope to God we’re going back to the ship after this. I’m wearing the surprisingly sturdy clothes the aliens have been giving me. No bra or underwear, unfortunately, and the sandals strapped to my feet are so flimsy that I doubt they’ll hold up if I have to run or fight in them, but the biggest drawback right now is the fact that I don’t have my meds on me. I was darted and cuffed inside my cell, and by the time I was led out of it, I was so stoned that I didn’t think to grab them.
Copyright © 2021 by Navessa Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.