The wall burst open. I trembled, retreating to my corner.
I huddled into a ball. Men! Where did they come from? Earth was so far away.
“We found another, Zeke.” One crouched down, creeping closer. Another man came in, and I cringed. They were too close. “What’s his file say?”
The new one looked at the square device my captors always carried. “Deprivation for sexual reprogramming.”
“Sadistic bastards. How long?”
“Seven years, Captain.” The men both cursed and stared. I wanted them to stop looking at me like that. “He’s barely eighteen. He was just a kid—still is.”
“You speak? Can you understand me?” The one called Captain was so close I could smell him. Spicy, with a whiff of the first scent other than mine I could remember smelling in a long time. I think that’s why I woke up screaming. It’d been so long. The aliens had no scent, and they never came into my room.
“I won’t hurt you. Understand?”
I shook my head, sure the green ones were testing me again.
“Sure you do. We’ll get you out of here.” Captain reached out slowly.
“No,” I whimpered. I’d never be free, could never be among humans again. They’d told me, over and over. Even if I wanted to—
“Just grab him,” Zeke said.
“After what they’ve done? No. He has to decide, if he has any chance of recovery.”
Zeke frowned, taking another step down the corridor. “Don’t got all day, Captain. Reinforcements are coming.”
“Keep looking. I’ll stay here.” Alone now, Captain smiled at me, his blue eyes holding a warmth I’d nearly forgotten.
I gasped. The years, and the punishments, had turned most of my memory into a haze, but I remembered smiles. And hugs—before they gave me away. Before I’d been turned into an experiment.
“You’re safe.” Captain’s hand ghosted above my arm, so close. So warm. I gasped. The never-ending need, forced down so deep, overflowed. Unable to stop myself, I launched forward, huddling into Captain’s gentle arms.
I shivered, my heart racing. “Out. Please.” If this was another test, I’d already failed. And I would never be able to walk out of my cell on my own, but maybe, if he took me, I could do it. For just a little while before the aliens stuffed me back in and punished me for this luxury of touch.
Captain’s clothes were smooth, his hands warm. The warmth exacerbated the itching and pain from my suit, but I didn’t care. I tucked my face against him, the only area not covered by the infernal garment the aliens had stuffed me into back on the fateful day.
He stood, and Captain grunted. “You’re tall, but you don’t weigh a thing.” His voice was rich with… something. Just hearing Standard was foreign, but I couldn’t tell anything from his voice, other than it was different from when he’d first talked to me. Had I done something wrong?
Of course I had. I’d touched him. I started to squirm, to get down, to dart back into my cell, but he tightened his arms around me. “Stop!”
I froze, shuddering as the thousand pinpricks sent a wave of pain through my body, especially where his arms were banded across my back and under my legs.
“That’s better. I don’t want to drop you.” Captain was walking away down a featureless corridor, doors like the one to my cell passing at regular intervals. They were open. “Just be patient until we get to my ship and medical can take a look at you.”
In moments, we’d left the corridor and the space opened up. It was bigger than anything I could remember being in before, and that scared me. My stomach roiled, and I fought down the urge to vomit. I whimpered, low, broken.
“Shh, it’s okay. Almost there.”
Captain didn’t hesitate, walking right toward an opening… into nothing? I shrieked when the darkness closed over us, the material under my grasping hands hardening as I fought. I hated the darkness, long periods of no light, nothing but the sound of my own breathing. Why was he doing this to me? Was this my punishment?
“Hey. Hey! Stop.”
I fell and hit the ground, hard, crying out again. I huddled there, unable to even see my hand. My breath sped up, faster and faster. I groped at the floor, looking for the wall, a corner, somewhere I could huddle safely.
“Hey.” A light, a beacon practically painful in its intensity compared to the dark, appeared. Captain’s face was in it. “I’m right here. It’s just a transporter capsule. We’ll be on my ship in a moment.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. Captain sighed. “Just stay still.” He crouched next to me and then did something. Warmth suffused my body, and then the darkness was gone. The white walls were gone.
The room was brightly colored, full of objects I thought I remembered. A bed. A chair. Captain stopped touching me, but he waved his hand toward what I hoped was a bed. “I want you to lie down there. Do you need help?”
I crouched, creeping along the floor with its soft coverings. “No.” I crawled onto the bed.
Captain did something, and a tone echoed through the room a minute later. He walked over to one wall, and a door slid open. Another human stood there.
“I’m flooded with patients you’ve released that need medical care. Why did you call me down here?”
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. I have another one for you. I thought it best not to take him to medical, after where he’s been for the last seven years.”
The other human’s mouth fell open. “Seven… years?”
Captain nodded, his mouth white. I didn’t like the way his face scrunched up or the way the other one stared at me. I buried my face against the bed.