The softness underneath my body, the smooth fabric against my face, the scent permeating the air… it was too much and yet not enough. I took small, quick breaths and gripped the edge of the pillow. It smelled like him, like Captain. Not even the pain of touching these things could take away the wonder of them.
“What is he wearing?”
I peeked out of the corner of my eye, not wanting to face them head on.
“Not sure,” Captain said. “I didn’t feel any seams.”
“Certainly fits tight enough. I won’t have to do much of an exam to ensure he’s not injured.”
Captain’s cheeks turned red, and he cleared his throat. “I’ll leave you to it.” He turned and walked away, but the other one stayed. Man… woman… I couldn’t tell. I wasn’t stupid; the aliens had educated me, and I remembered what humans were, but there was an unknown quality to this one. Their hair was level with their pointed chin, narrow shoulders and hips, soft in a way but not rounded. Their eyes were sharp as they studied me though.
I wanted that to stop.
A second later, I wanted the person to go back to where they were.
“No,” I said. I squirmed away from the edge of the bed.
“It’s just to check you don’t need any medical care, so I need you to take off that garment” They spread their hands out to the sides. “My name is Aparoe. I won’t harm you.”
I shook my head. “It stays on.” It had never been off. My torment, a constant punishment if I sought comfort. Even the touch of my own skin on the outside triggered it. Sometimes my need overwhelmed my resistance to touch, like when Captain appeared.
Everywhere he’d touched me burned like fire now. It might go away in a little while or last for what felt like forever. I never knew. But I was out of my cell, at least for now, and that was worth it.
Aparoe cocked their head. “You don’t want to take it off?”
“Can’t.” I shook my head again, watching Aparoe closely for signs they were moving.
“Hmm.” They pulled out some device, and I recoiled, falling off the other side of the bed. The blanket came with me, and tangled around my legs. I flailed, trying to get it off. Aparoe was hovering over me before I could free myself. I yelped.
“Please stay calm. Maybe you should slow down a little. I won’t touch you. I’d like to scan this… thing you’re wearing.”
I couldn’t get free, and if they came closer, I’d endure the punishment for their touch. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I froze, watching their every move. Waiting for the betrayal.
My family had given me away.
Aliens had tested and punished me.
The universe was a vast array of planets and peoples who didn’t care what happened to me, or any other person turned into property. To be harvested or purchased for the worth we could provide and then tossed aside.
Like how Captain had just left me here.
Resentment washed over me, and I glared at Aparoe for a second before they inched closer and I tried to melt into the floor. But that had never worked for me in the past.
“Oh stars and moons,” they said breathily. “That thing is grafted onto your nerves. It’s doing something, stimulating them. What is it doing? What do you feel?”
“Itching.” Confusion marred Aparoe’s face.
Their mouth dropped open and their eyes widened. “Pain?”
I nodded. “Always.”
“To punish me. To keep me from touching. From being touched.” Not that there had been anyone in my cell to touch me. But they’d sometimes sent in machines that did things, made me see things, and then the needles would become spikes that pierced my brain like giant shards of ice, freezing me in eons of agony….
“We’ll get it off you.” Aparoe touched my arm, and I yanked it back. They looked down at the machine and their eyes widened. “Your arm.”
It was on fire. I held it to my side to avoid making it worse. The impulse to cradle it close was there, but I’d learned to suppress it a long time ago.
“Your arm. Your back. Under your legs. Anywhere you’ve been touched.” Their color was pasty-white, nearly as pale as me. They scooted back, farther away from me, and I slowly moved too, untangling my legs from the cover that had slipped off the bed on top of me. “How are we going to get it off you?”
I inched back, looking over my shoulder. There was a corner, one I could sit in and brace my body without actually touching myself, just like the corner in my cell. There was even some sort of table there that would protect my head. The room hadn’t felt big at first, but as my pain and panic grew, I found myself wishing for my cell again.
This was too different. My heart raced, and I couldn’t slow down my breathing. I risked my own body heat triggering the suit if I leaned too hard against the wall, but I couldn’t move. This all had to stop.
“Hey, hey, calm down. Take a deep breath.” Aparoe held up a hand and patted the air in front of me. “It’s going to be fine.”
I shook my head, my shoulders curved and my stomach caving in with each gasp. Nothing was fine. This had to be a test. One of those things they’d put in my head to make me lower my guard. Make me break the rules. I’d already done that, so the punishment had to be coming soon.
I’d never left my cell, not since they locked me up. It was going to be bad. So bad.
Darkness swirled around me, and I lost control, slumping sideways against the wall.