Jennifer Holland was floating through a soft warm darkness. It was a pleasant place, quiet, no one shouting orders, no one telling her where to go and when to be there. Mick would like this place. She'd have to tell him about it. It was perfect...except for that one noise. She tried not to hear it but the insistent sound seemed to demand her attention. As though it had some meaning she should understand.
"Lieutenant. Lieutenant, wake up. Lieutenant, please. You need to wake up."
"Do you think she's okay?"
Now there were two sounds...tugging at her, pulling her out of the comfortable darkness.
"I don't know. It looked like they were handling her pretty careful when they brought her in. I don't think they would have hurt her."
"Unless she was already hurt."
Was someone hurt? Was it her? As subtly as possible, Jennifer tried out her various moving parts to make sure everything was in working order. The only problem seemed to be a rather fierce headache, which was made worse by that annoying sound.
"Lieutenant? Can you hear me?"
"Yes, I can hear you," she answered without opening her eyes. "And I wish to hell you'd shut up a minute."
There was a long silence and with a sigh, Holland opened her eyes slowly, squinting against the light. She was lying on a hard platform, more table height than bed. A lightweight sheet was draped over her body but, as she began to move, Jennifer became aware that she wore nothing underneath. Turning her head, she spied a figure wrapped in a similar cloth, sitting on a similar platform, but separated from her by some sort of clear panel. "Corporal Dray?"
The figure jumped down and tried to assume a military posture. "Yes sir."
Jennifer shifted to a sitting position, wincing against the renewed throbbing in her head. "Oh hell, Dray, don't try to salute or you'll lose your 'uniform'. As you were." Beyond Dray and a second clear panel sat a third figure, similarly attired. "And you would be Gregore."
Maral Gregore did not stand but nodded. "Yes sir. Maral Gregore, Med Tech 2nd Class."
"I'm Lieutenant Holland."
"Yes sir," Dray answered. "I recognized you when they brought you in."
The Lieutenant chuckled. "Yeah, I should have guessed that." They sure hadn't picked up her rank off this outfit. Jenniferl let her eyes travel slowly around the brightly lit room. The soft gray-green color of the walls did nothing to cut the glare of the overhead lights. She and the others were in separate cubicles which ran the length of one wall. Dray and Gregore were to her right, two additional cubes-unoccupied-were on her left. In the center of the room was another table-like platform, similar to the ones in the cubes but flanked by some sort of equipment module. On the far wall and the shorter one to the left were what looked like several computer screens and workstations. Although none of the equipment was familiar, Jennifer guessed they were in some sort of laboratory, or perhaps a sick bay.
"Are you two okay?" she asked the others.
"Well, not injured, sir." Karin Dray answered. "But I've got to admit I'm awfully glad to see you. This whole thing has been pretty unnerving."
Holland nodded, smothering a grin. A good Marine never admitted to being scared. "Unnerved" was okay. But never scared. "I'll bet," she replied. "How about you, Gregore?"
"I'm okay, sir," the Med Tech managed with only a slight tremor in her voice.
Jennifer eyed the front of her cell. There was no panel there but she thought she saw a faint distortion, a shimmer in the air. "Can we leave these cubes?"
"No sir. Some sort of energy field. Gives you a hell of a jolt if you touch it."
"I'll take your word for it." There was a lot more she needed to know before trying to escape. "So, run it down for me. Corporal, you disappeared first..."
"Yes sir. I was on standard parameter patrol with Zack…Pvt. Yhore. It was just before dawn but still pretty dark. We were walking side by side, about six meters apart when all of a sudden I couldn't go forward. I mean, I could move my arms and legs and everything but it was like trying to walk into a strong wind, only it was coming from behind me, pulling me back. I'd tried to yell…you know, to warn Za…Pvt. Yhore, but no sound came out. Then everything went black and I woke up in here."
Dray paused and Holland looked past her to Maral Gregore.
"Pretty much the same for me, sir." Gregore relayed the details of her capture. "But just before everything went black, I thought I saw Lieutenant Rees go down."
Jennifer nodded. "He took a direct hit. I heard it looked like a laser rifle. He's still hanging on...but it doesn't look good."
"Was Zack..." Dray started to ask.
"Private Yhore wasn't touched. And you two are the only ones they've grabbed," Jennifer said with a wry smile, "until me. Okay, so you both woke up here. Then what?"
"Well, we've compared notes," Dray picked up their report, "and it looks like they've put both of us through pretty much the same drill. Woke up stripped. Then they..."
Dray's words ended as a soft hissing announced the opening of a previously invisible door in the wall to their right. The three wore long hooded robes of the same soft gray-green as the walls. They appeared to be Taynarad life forms, one head, one torso, two arms, two legs, all in the usual locations and proportions. Holland instinctively tightened her hold on the sheet as they stopped in front of her cube. They were tall and seemed thin from what she could tell, but not alarmingly so. One of them lifted a hand to push back the concealing hood. Well, here was one item that wasn't Taynarad. The hand had five digits all right, but instead of one opposable thumb, this hand had two, one on each side, with the three "fingers" in the middle. And…was it a trick of light or was it... Oh, Jesus! Even their skin was a soft grayish green.
The hood was pushed back and Jennifer lifted her eyes to its face.