I come to some indeterminate time later. Thanks to my training, I don’t jerk upright or let out any visible sign that I’m conscious. I stay on my back, eyes closed, breath even, and I assess the situation.
The last thing I remember is the look of regret on Anna’s face before I went under. She must have drugged me. Serves me right for trusting a traitor to her own species. If I ever see her again, I’m going to punch her in the kidney hard enough that she pisses blood for a week.
I take a deep breath and push my annoyance aside, knowing it won’t help me right now. The air is cool on my arms, so I’m still not wearing my suit top, but at least I have my shirt on. Along my legs, I feel the familiar weight of my armor. I wiggle my toes, noting the constriction of socks and boots. Okay, so I haven’t been stripped. That’s good. But there’s something on my wrists that wasn’t there before. Something cool and lightweight. Lighter than human manacles. I want to open my eyes and look at them, but I stay where I am and strain my ears.
I don’t hear much, just the distant hum of a large engine, so I suck in a deep breath and shift a little, as if trying to get comfortable in my sleep. I listen for any sort of echo to tell me what kind of room I might be in. From the reverb, this is a small, enclosed space. The walls can’t be more than a few feet away from me on all sides. I don’t hear another heartbeat or smell anything but myself, the lingering scent of those lion aliens, and what might be metal? Plastic? I’m not sure what it is, but it’s manmade. Or maybe alien-made?
Deciding I’ve learned as much as I’m going to, I crack my eyes open. The room is about ten by ten by ten, enough space to stand or lie down in, but not much else. The walls, ceiling, and floor are a deep gray color and look similar to matte plastic. Soft light filters down from the seams in the ceiling, offering just enough illumination to see my surroundings. Someone must have moved me to the alien ship while I was unconscious; there aren’t any rooms like this on the Kennedy.
An image of those big lion aliens manhandling me passes through my head. The thought of being totally helpless is as alien to me as this room is, and I really, really don’t like it. I need to find the captain and force him to abort this goddamn mission.
I turn my head and give the room a closer look. The walls are smooth, but darker lines run through them. Futuristic is the only word I can think of to describe the design. There isn’t any furniture, no shelves or cabinets, nothing but four smooth walls and whatever it is I’m lying on. I don’t see anything that might resemble a camera in here either, but I have to assume I’m being monitored somehow. They must know I’m awake. Either because my eyes are open or my vitals have spiked.
I push to sitting but pause before trying to stand. My head is spinning. Must be a side effect of the sedative or whatever the hell it was that Anna injected me with.
I put my head in my hands, fighting back a wave of nausea, and glance down. I’m sitting on a thick mat of some sort. It’s as gray as the rest of the room and doesn’t look like it should be as comfortable as it is. Once the worst of the dizziness passes, I lift my wrists and inspect the strange weight on them. It looks like I’m wearing a pair of plastic zip ties – if zip ties were the exact same shade as my skin and continuously stayed cool to the touch. Great. This must be some other wacky alien tech. I’m not looking forward to finding out what they do. Probably shock me if I misbehave or reinject me with drugs.
I give the one on my right wrist a cursory tug. It flexes, so I pull harder. Then harder. I stop short of pulling so hard that it breaks my skin. They’re strong enough that I’ll need to cut them off or risk seriously hurting myself. Good to know.
I rub my sore wrist and glance back to the walls. I don’t see any obvious sign of a door, but there must be one. Either that or I got teleported in here. I freeze at the thought of that. It would make this room less like a cell and more like a coffin. If ever there was a time to turn claustrophobic, this would be it.
Before I can wind myself up any more, I push to standing and shuffle three steps to the closest wall, head still woozy as my body burns through the remnants of the drugs. I tap my knuckles against the weird plastic-but-not-quite-plastic-looking material, hoping to determine how thick it is. A soft, low thud reverberates through the room. Shit, this is pretty thick stuff. Thick enough that it might be soundproof, which would explain why I can’t hear anything besides the engine coming from outside it.
I move a few feet to my left and knock again, hearing the same sound. Then I complete a slow circuit of the room. There’s a spot dead center in the wall across from my pallet that sounds different than everywhere else. I knock all along it until I find the edges of the difference. It’s the only spot like it in the whole room, so I assume it must be the door.
I’m not in a coffin after all. Thank fuck for small miracles.
I let out a heavy breath filled with relief and return to my pallet. My head is still a little fuzzy, and I’ll be safer sitting down until it’s clear. I park my ass on the mat, brace my back against the wall, and stare straight at the door while I think. One phrase echoes through my mind: do not resist. I plan to find the captain, but I have no idea how big this ship is, where he’s being kept on it, or if I’ll even get the chance to see him again. So I start to look for loopholes in the order. Do not resist… what? Capture? Enemy fire? Some strange alien’s sexual advances?
I shudder at that last thought and move past it. Thankfully the captain gave me a clause: I can defend myself against serious harm. Being sexually assaulted by something with tentacles would definitely cause me lasting mental harm, so at least I’ll be able to fight back against that sort of attack or order. But what else can I push back against?
I think of the little lizard that led me through the Kennedy and then Anna in the medbay. I took every offer of direction from them as orders, my body sitting or standing or turning right before my brain even processed the requests. I’ll have to train myself out of that. My mission of do not resist is vague enough that I think this is my first loophole. Gestures are not orders. Suggestions are not orders.
I tell myself this over and over again as I sit and stare at the door, hoping it will sink in. Hoping that the only reason my body instantly complied with Anna and the alien is because the order from the captain was still so fresh and I was still so rattled from having my last mission aborted that I acted on autopilot.
Next time someone gestures at me to sit down or stand or do something equally benign, I need to pause, take a breath, and remember that I don’t have to. And if I’m successful at resisting non-verbal cues, hopefully I can resist verbal ones, and then I’ll be able to find still more loopholes. After all, won’t helplessly watching bad things happen to my fellow humans cause me serious mental harm?
I’m still processing the implications of that question when out of nowhere, my wrists are yanked down to the floor, jerking my torso forward so fast that my spine creaks. Ow, fuck. I try to pull my wrists back up, but it’s like they’ve been nailed to the ground. Goddamn it, the alien zip ties are some sort of magnetic handcuffs.
I strain a little harder and feel a slight give, like I’m pulling my arms out of the world’s thickest quicksand. Immediately, I stop fighting. I’m pretty sure that if I pull hard and fast enough, I can break free, but I don’t need the aliens knowing that yet. No point in giving myself away now.
I stop fighting and lift my head back to the door, realizing what I just did. I resisted. My hands were trapped, and I tried to free myself. Instinctually. Does that mean my instincts can override my mission? Or was I able to fight the restraints because there wasn’t an alien or human around giving me any sort of order? No way to find out now, but the thought is promising.
Instead of moving up or down to open, like the doors on the Kennedy do, the fucking thing dissolves into thin air. One second I’m staring at what might be any other piece of the wall, and the next, it disappears right in front of my eyes. I want to blame the drugs and assume I hallucinated it dissolving, but my head finally feels clear enough that I can’t. How much more advanced than us are these aliens? What other weird shit am I going to have to come to terms with?
On the other side of the door, a small lizard alien stands with two of the freaky-looking predatory warriors at its back. I lift my gaze from the gecko and eye them. Beady red eyes stare at me, unblinking. Their wings take up so much space that I can’t see the corridor beyond them. What the hell is this about? Why are they here? I don’t like this.
I shift as much as I can with my hands glued to the floor, remaining hunched over as I get my feet beneath me. I might be a bioengineered badass, but I know when I’m outmatched. One of those warriors I might be able to take, but two? I’m not sure.
The lizard alien shuffles in, and I realize he’s holding a tray. He sets it down a few feet away from me and smiles. There’s a bowl on it, steam rising from the gelatinous gray goo inside. Does he expect me to eat that shit? The lizard lifts the bowl and mines tilting it back, answering my silent question. I’ve been holding my breath to keep from gagging on the putrescent scent of the warriors, but I risk a slight sniff through my nose. There, beneath their reek and the weird pot-dirt stink of the lizard, there’s something else, something that might be the gray goo. It doesn’t smell like any sort of recognizable food, but I have to assume it’s safe enough to eat. I look damn-near helpless to these aliens right now. If they wanted me dead, one of the warthog-bats could just shoot me, or they could have done me in when I was unconscious.
The lizard sets the bowl down, smiles, and steps backward out of my cell. I watch with laser focus as the door reappears. The sight is even freakier the second time around. A heartbeat later, my cuffs disengage, and my wrists are freed. I get up and get my food. My ability to fight back might be highly questionable, but if I’m going to have any chance of ever doing that, I need to be strong, and starving myself just because this food looks like a cucumber shat it out would be counterintuitive.
Copyright © 2021 by Navessa Allen
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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.