Sunlight glared on the silver surface of the lake, blinding me where I crouched away from everyone. The guard currently assigned to me stood at my back, making my skin crawl. I shivered, even though it was hot enough that I was sweating. I never knew when one of them might try to touch me.
The water was cool against my fingers when I dipped them in, making small swirling circles. The guard laughed at something and I startled. A few drops splashed over my wrist when my hand jerked. I glared at him from the corner of my eye but my guard was talking to Fieo and not paying that much attention to me. Nicklaus was sitting in the shade of the weird brown trees by the water. He was busy talking to Ryker, the other human experiment who'd set us free.
Over the last few days things had settled down. Those council guys were no longer trying to force us into matches with their own people. Ryker’s guy had really told them off, calling it the rape it would have been. The other guys might want one of these pale aliens touching them, but I didn’t. I wasn’t sure what would happen to us on their planet, but I didn’t need anyone pawing at me. I’d known I would need more information, so I pumped the only person I could. Ryker had spent a few afternoons telling us everything he'd learned living on Caeorleia, which was the name of their planet.
I'd tried to absorb everything, treating it like a debriefing. The rest of the time I stayed in my room, avoiding the guards. Especially the one always hovering over Nicklaus. It creeped me out to see the way he watched him, so possessive. Fieo never touched Nicklaus but he watched him with a single-minded intensity. The thought of being the focus on someone like that would have driven me insane.
I sighed, dipping my other arm in the water up to my wrist. It was really too hot out in the sun but the shade of those weird sampanga trees was filled with naked aliens. And as tempting as the water was, I didn't want to go swimming. That would involve taking off my robe.
I was not comfortable with that, even if it seemed like almost everyone on this planet shunned clothing. I'd never seen so many cocks and balls and I'd been in military school and then actually joined the Space Forces as a teenager. I couldn't believe the Caeorleian's blasé attitude toward nudity. Ryker had told us about the confusion when he'd first shown up over the different concept of clothing. Ryker ran around in a pair of shorts and had given Nicklaus a few pairs. I was too big for his shorts so I had to wear the alien's version of a skirt and robe.
It was awkward. I'd tried to wear my pants from the ship, but it was too hot. I was not going to go naked though, not like these aliens.
A shadow fell over me. I dipped my shoulder and spun around as I surged to my feet. The guard who had come up behind me seemed startled and looked at me uncertainly as I glared at him
"Don't touch me!" I snapped. My hands clenched into fists and I barely resisted the urge to show him my fangs. "What do you want?"
He held up his hands and took a step back. "Sorry. Everyone is going inside; it's too hot out here. Seral has invited you to eat with him and the mid-day meal will be served soon."
I grimaced. Being stuck in a crowd of people around a table was the last place I wanted to be but I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. I waited for the guard to move when he gestured at the path. The guard took another few steps back but he didn't start walking toward the building until I walked past him. Then he followed me. I ground my teeth together, my shoulders hunching up.
I could have been safe in a hovel back on my home planet, working in a factory as a drone assembler or something. At this point, I wasn’t even sure if that wouldn’t have been better.
Damn scientists. My commanders had set me loose after my condition was revealed and civilian life had been brutal. I'd been stupid enough to volunteer for the doctor's experiments again. My files were supposed to have been locked after I was discharged but somehow they'd gotten access to them. I thought it was just a social experiment and I was along to keep the peace between the others.
I hadn’t taken any time to consider why they wanted me, once I’d been branded a failure and kicked out of the military, but I should have. I’d been as much of a victim as the others those sadistic fucks had tormented, I just didn't have any marks on my body like Nicklaus and Ryker did.
The guards and doctors hadn't had to beat me to hurt me, though.
Lunch was loud. Seral, the big alien guy that saved us along with Ryker, was at the end of the table. Ryker sat next to him. I sat next to my guard and across from the table from a big guy and a woman. I kept my eyes on my plate, or focused on the wall behind her, because she was topless.
The last thing I needed was the man at her side pissed at me because he thought I was interested.
"Dade? Nicklaus? I'd like you guys to meet my sister, Witani."
I raised an eyebrow. Witani? That was the name that the asshole on their council said when he talked about the head guy's heir. I'd wondered when we'd meet him. Apparently he was a she. Huh.
I gave her a guarded smile and nodded. Nicklaus had lost a lot of his shyness and wasn’t quite so reserved in his greeting.
"Hi!" Nicklaus said. He was sitting down the table next to Fieo. "It's nice to meet you. Fieo said you'd been hurt. Are you okay now?"
I hid my surprise. She didn’t appear to have an injuries, or scars that I could see, but that would explain the guy's hovering.
Her voice was soft and lyrical when she spoke just loud enough to hear over the conversation at the other end of the table. "Yes, I'm fine. Our doctors fixed me right up."
I ground my teeth at the mention of doctors. I pushed my plate away from me and snarled. "I'm done."
A different guard trailed me back to my room. I narrowed my eyes at him when I slapped my hand on the door lock. "I am going to take a nap. I don't need you to follow me in."
The guard that had followed me back to the suite Nicklaus and I had been assigned didn’t seem surprised by my anger. He didn’t snarl or snap at me but I was pretty sure he’d guarded me before. The new ones always seemed shocked at my hostility but the others were used to it already.
I'll be right out here if you need anything." He leaned against the wall by the door, his body relaxed, but his eyes were alert as he looked up and down the hall.
My hands clenched into fists.
I was shaking as the door slid shut behind me. I slumped against the wall. The constant vigilance was wearing on me, along with the heat. Being in the cold cells on the ship for years hadn’t prepared me for the climate here. I'd been stationed on desert planets, three of them actually, but I always hated the jungle planets the most. Heat was one thing, moist heat was another.
Alone, I slipped the robe off. I kept the wrap on. I had to admit the silky fabric was comfortable, even if it wasn't a style I was comfortable with.
There wasn't a lock on my door, though I wished there was. It opened when I neared it. I put my robe on a hook and then collapsed on my bed. It was softer than anything I'd ever slept on.
I sighed and relaxed, throwing my arm over my eyes. Sleep beckoned.
"You'll be fine. You'll be alert the whole time." I eyed the doctor as he adjusted the patches on my head. "It shouldn't hurt."
He patted my shoulder. "You'll be fine Sergeant." He left the room, shutting the door behind him. I glared at the slab of glass set in one white wall.
If that was true, why had I been strapped down? They said it was for my safety but sweat broke out on my forehead as I pulled on the bonds holding me down.
"I ... I'm not so sure about this.” I twisted my arms in the straps and tugged.
A tinny voice came over the speakers in the room. "Stay calm, Sergeant Pareano. You signed the paperwork for the program. Just settle down."
I opened my mouth to speak but it was too late. A sharp jolt spiked through my temples from the electrodes. My mouth slammed shut, my teeth sinking into my tongue, and every muscle in my body went rigid. It felt like hours before the pain shut off.
"Fuck!" I groaned.
The taste of blood filled my mouth from the bite on my tongue. I didn’t want them to do that again. "Stop!" I shouted at the doctors that had to be watching from behind the glass. "That did hurt."
"Oh buck up, Sergeant. You are a military man. I'm sure you've endured far worse than a little electricity."
I'd spent weeks being tortured by enemy forces once, but even a nerve tingler didn't hurt as much as what I'd just gone through.
"I changed my mind. I un-volunteer. Let me go."
The door opened and the doctor came back in the room. I shifted in the chair.
"I'm sorry but your agreement cannot be rescinded, Sergeant. Your initial results are the best we have ever seen. With you, we could have our first success." He tapped on the machines behind me, then stopped beside me and pushed up my sleeve. I watched as he uncapped a needle he pulled out from the pocket of his white coat. A yellow fluid filled the syringe.
"Hey, hey, what's that?" I yanked on the bands, straining away from him as hard as I could. The muscles in my arms bulged.
"A little cocktail I came up with." He pushed the needle into my arm. I winced at the pain as the cold fluid was forced into my veins.
"Shit, that fucking burns." I rocked in the chair, trying to get out of the straps.
"You cannot get out of the chair. You can't turn back now. Just try to relax. The more you fight, the worse it will be." The doctor put the needle into a red container, then left the room, ignoring my shouts.
My head began to throb with every beat of my heart. Sounds faded away as the booming overwhelmed me. The lines on the white walls began to curve and slide. My struggles became weaker as whatever the doctor had injected into my arm spread through my body.
The jolt before was nothing compared to what came next. I screamed myself hoarse as white hot lightning fried every cell in my brain. I could feel every connection firing at once as every synapse and cell lit up. Waves of agony filled me and my entire body went rigid for what felt like an eternity. I couldn't even beg them to stop.
The darkness was a blessing when it finally took me, but even that respite didn’t last long. When I woke up my whole body hurt and it felt like I was trying to lift thousands of pounds resting on my eyelids. I finally got them open, blinking at the bright lights.
I was still strapped into my chair but this time a man was in a chair a few feet from me. His eyes were huge and he trembled. I noticed his arms were behind him and his ankles were cuffed to the chair just above the wheels.
The doctor startled me when he spoke beside me. "Finally, he’s awake. Okay, Sergeant. Let's see how effective our procedure has been. Look into Mr. Lewnster's eyes. What do you hear?"
I shook my head. "No." My voice was a croak.
A shock jolted me and I screamed again. My throat burned.
"You do not make the decisions here. You will do it or you will face the consequences of my displeasure." His fingers on my chin turned my face toward him. "Do you understand?"
Pleasure swept through me and centered in my groin as the doctor's fingers dug into my chin. I gagged at the sensation.
"I asked you a question, I expect you to answer."
"I ... I understand. Please, no more." I hated that I was begging, but I couldn't take any more pain. "I'll do it."
The man was crying, his eyes wide as he stared at me. He was gagged but he shook his head frantically.
"Hold him still," the doctor ordered. Another man in scrubs grabbed the guy by the hair and held his head still. Tears rolled down his face as he cried out through the gag. He clenched his eyes shut.
The doctor huffed. “Open your eyes or they will be opened for you. You know you will not like that.”
I could almost feel the other man’s terror as he opened his eyes.
"Do it,” the doctor ordered me.
I stared into those glistening brown eyes, so wide, so afraid. I tried so hard but nothing happened.
My eyes narrowed. I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing. I imagined that I was looking behind the man's eyes, that I could see inside him.
A slap from the doctor's hand rocked my head to the side. Frustrated anger filled my thoughts. "You were supposed to be a success. You fit all the parameters perfectly. How could you fail? How!"
The speaker crackled to life. "Sir? I think you need to see this." The doctor strode from the room, cursing. "Take them back to their rooms," he ordered as he left.
I was in pain, my head swimming and my eyes burned. My tongue felt twice its normal size and my wrists and ankles burned where I'd fought the rough restraints holding me down. There was no way I'd be able to escape but two guards in white uniforms still grabbed me as soon as my hands were freed.
Guilt. Pleasure. Nausea. Satisfaction. The urge to do violence, a sick anticipation, and a grim sense of futility filled me. It was all too much as the emotions poured in and took over.
I screamed over and over, writhing on the oddly soft floor where they’d dropped me.
My body arched and twisted in a bid to get away from the sensations forced on me. The intense feelings had faded to one of concern. I jerked away violently, ripping the hand off my shoulder as I rolled and came up in a fighting stance on the other side of the bed.
The knife I'd pilfered days before was in my hand. My chest heaved as I tried to separate reality from the vivid nightmare of a memory I'd been locked in.
Nicklaus stared at me with wide eyes. He was holding his arm, the one he'd broken was still weak even after they’d fixed it. Fieo rushed into the room, a pistol drawn.
"What in the hell is going on in here?"
I straightened the second Fieo came in, palming the knife and sliding it into the waistband of my wrap toward my back. A slight sting told me the edge was still razor sharp.
"I heard screaming." He looked back at Nicklaus. "Are you hurt?"
"Twisted my wrist a little." Nicklaus stared at me. "My fault though. Dade was having a nightmare. I tried to wake him up."
Fieo snarled. "He hurt you." His fangs were showing when he glared at me.
Nicklaus shook his head, reaching out toward Fieo with his good arm before pulling back. "No, I'm fine. Besides, he didn't do it on purpose. He was asleep."
Fieo turned and stared at me. "Is that true?"
I was trying to hide the way my teeth wanted to chatter. I was cold but sweat was sliding down my spine. I nodded instead of speaking.
Fieo put his gun into the harness around his waist just under the top edge of his wrap. He gave me a hard look, a violent promise in his eyes. I knew what he’d do to me if I actually hurt Nicklaus. I didn’t cower, returning his glare instead.
He sneered at me, and then turned to Nicklaus. "Let's go get you a painkiller for that arm."
Nicklaus knew about my knife but he didn't say anything as Fieo herded him out the door without touching him. As soon as the door shut I slid it from my wrap and put it back under the pillow. I twisted around, but the cut on my side was minor, more of a scratch than anything.
I went into the bathroom I shared with Nicklaus, sliding the lock on his door to make sure no one could come in from that side. A glance in the mirror showed my eyes were a solid black and the isitziu that curled over my cheeks were pale blue. I dropped my wrap on the floor. My whole body trembled as I sank down on the floor of the shower. The water turned on and I let it flow over me, washing away the sweat and hiding the tears I couldn't stop.
I huddled there, my arms wrapped around my knees, and rocked until the water ran cold.