Sam’s eyes snapped open as the dog’s barking echoed throughout the corridor. With a grunt of effort, he pushed himself from the metal floor. His time in the cell had taught him that the barking meant something was about to happen. So far, the previous ‘somethings’ had sucked, but he was determined that this time would be different.
They’d come for him three times during his imprisonment. He wasn’t sure how long he was out each time, but he knew that they’d changed him.
“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology,” he muttered to himself.
Sam had been in decent shape for a man in his early forties, but no one escaped the ravages of age. Except now, the familiar ache in his lower back was gone. Just like the stiffness in his shoulder from a ski accident years earlier. He’d cautiously tested his renewed body. Jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups; anything he could do in the confines of the tiny cell. He had the strength and vitality of a man in his twenties.
The changes weren’t just physical. He squinted at the symbols printed on the wall across from his cell.
“Holding Corridor,” he read aloud.
The jumble of shapes shouldn’t make sense, but the alien’s last visit had gifted him with the ability to read their language.
Sam absent-mindedly scratched at the reflective metal strip running the length of his inner forearm. He’d awoken with it after the second visit. He’d tried everything to remove it, but it was grafted to the surrounding skin. He prodded it and frowned at the numbness surrounding the metal. Whatever they were doing to him, it wasn’t good.
He’d only caught glimpses of the alien that performed the procedures. It would come to the edge of his room and activate something on the panel. There would be a flash of yellow light and he’d wake up later lying on the floor of this cell.
The thing must have evolved from some kind of bird. It was tall and slender. In place of feathers, brightly colored scales covered its body in elaborate patterns. Delicate talons extended out of the sleeves of the red, floor-length coat it wore. The creature carried no visible weapons but had a curved beak, nearly two feet long with serrated edges. He’d seen parrots crack nutshells and had no illusions about how much damage the alien could do with it.
Then there were the other ones, the workers. They looked like someone had stacked a half dozen octopi and topped the whole wiggly mess with four eyestalks and a narrow slit of a mouth. They stood about knee high with constantly waving tentacles that splayed out in all directions. He’d seen dozens of them scooting through the hallway on their thicker, bottom set of limbs carrying equipment or performing menial tasks. These aliens came in a variety of colors, but everyone he’d seen had a thin metal strip embedded in its skin that matched his own. He’d tried several times to talk with one, but they’d only lower their eyestalks and scootch quickly out of view.
Another bout of barking brought him back to his current situation. If the alien was coming for him again then this might be his last chance. He didn’t bother looking around the cell. It was completely barren, not even a cot or toilet. Just bare metal walls, floor, and a ceiling. There wasn’t a single item that could be used as a weapon. They’d even stripped him of his clothes, leaving him bare-ass naked in the small room.
He walked to the cell’s opening. No visible barrier held him in, but he’d learned the hard way that crossing the threshold would result in a painful shock. He stood within inches of the invisible barrier, straining to see down the corridor. The Great Dane in the cell across the hall whined.
“Don’t worry buddy, I’m gonna get us out of here,” Sam said.
The dog’s tail thumped excitedly against the floor, the loud rhythmic beat echoing in the hallway. He wasn’t sure how many days or even weeks he’d been a prisoner, but the dog had been his only comfort. Night after night it happily sat, head tilted to the side listening to his stories of home and plans for escape.
Sam heard the quiet footsteps of an approaching figure. He clenched his fists and took several deep breaths in anticipation. He bent into a crouch, ready to throw himself at the opening. It was gonna hurt, but it was his only option.
Someone stepped into view and stared curiously into the cell. Sam slowly stood, gawking at the man. In the last week he’d been kidnapped, stripped, imprisoned, and experimented on. During it all, this was the first time he seriously doubted his sanity. Standing in front of the cell was Colonel freaking Force. Hero, space commander, and defeater of alien invaders.
Only a few weeks ago he’d taken his nephew to see the latest Forced Justice movie. He even had the Colonel Force Battle Station action set wrapped in the bottom of his closet for the kid’s upcoming birthday. He was trapped on an alien ship and about to be rescued by a sci-fi action movie hero. Yeah, he’d slipped off the rails.
“Hey, do you know how to get off this set?” Force asked, his eyes suddenly turning upward. “Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?”
Expecting something more dramatic, Sam stumbled out, “Uh no, I mean, I don’t know. I’ve been stuck in this cell. Can you get me out?”
Force’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What? There isn’t a door. You just need to walk ou—“.
He made the mistake of trying to wave his arm through the invisible barrier. There was a flash of light and the sharp smell of ozone. Force was thrown from his feet and, unfortunately into the opening of the dog’s cell across the hall. Another bright flash and he rebounded with a crash into the wall next to Sam’s cell. Sam watched in disbelief as the opening shimmered and then faded.
Sam cautiously stuck his head through. The panel next to the opening was caved in. Colored lights flashed, and sparks spit out of the damaged unit. He looked across the hall at the dog who’d scrambled back and watched warily from the corner of its cell.
“Not exactly how I’d planned it,” he said.
Sam looked anxiously down each end of the corridor to see if the noise had been noticed. All seemed quiet. Sam grabbed Force’s legs and pulled him into the cell. He bent down and placed his ear against the man’s chest. Force was unconscious but breathing. He had a rapidly swelling knot on this forehead and would wake with one hell of a headache. Sam noted the blue patch stuck to the man’s temple but decided he had bigger fish to fry.
“I don’t know how you got here, but we may only have one shot at escape. I need to figure out what’s going on and then I’ll come back for you,” Sam said apologetically. “At least you have a weapon.”
He bent over the unconscious man and pulled the pistol from the holster on his belt.
“A toy,” he muttered.
He tossed the gun into the corner of the cell and dug through his pockets looking for anything useful. Finding a wallet, he pulled out the driver’s license.
“Jace Armstrong of San Diego California, you don’t have a single useful item on you. Still, you got me out of the cell so there’s that.”
He tossed the wallet next to the pistol. Sam stood for a moment staring down at the man sprawled on the floor. He pulled off Force’s boots and pants. The boots were too big, but he was able to make the trousers work. At least he wouldn’t be running around the ship naked.
“Sorry, I feel like a real dick about this.”
He stepped out of the cell, leaving the man lying on the floor in his boxers. With the pants legs rolled up and the belt cinched tight he examined the panel on the dog’s cell. The dog barked happily but didn’t approach the cell entrance. He’d obviously learned to avoid the opening. The dog sat watching intently as Sam experimented with different combinations of buttons in an unsuccessful attempt to deactivate the energy barrier.
“What?” he said to the dog. “I’d like to see you do better.”
With a grunt of frustration, Sam walked back into his cell and recovered the pistol. It was a fake, but it had a nice heft and a metal grip. Holding the pistol by the barrel he repeatedly hammered the butt against the panel until it smashed open. The entrance to the dog’s cell shimmered and dissolved. Sam dropped the pistol and walked into the cell.
“Come on, it’s alright. I shut it down.”
The dog cautiously inched up to Sam who crouched down to pet him.
“That’s a good boy,” he said. He turned the dog’s collar to read the metal tag.
“Fergus. That’s a good name for big guy like you,” Sam said. “Now, let’s get the hell out of here.”
Sam crept to the end of the corridor with Fergus padding along happily at his side. He peered around the corner.
“The coast is clear, but someone is going to notice that we’ve flown the coop soon enough,” Sam said. Fergus wagged his tail in agreement.
They turned down the next corridor. Instead of cells, this one was lined with doorways. Finding this promising, Sam stepped up to the nearest one. There was no visible handle or panel. He pushed on the door to no effect. He jumped up and down waving his arms. Nothing. He glared at the door in frustration.
Suddenly it slid to the side revealing a startled looking alien. He’d gotten used to their bird-like appearance during his captivity but was surprised that it held a pink stuffed dragon in its claws. The alien froze at the sight of the pair on the other side of the door. It dropped the toy and backpedaled into the room, frantically jabbing at an instrument panel embedded in its forearm.
“Crap, crap, crap!” Sam exclaimed, lunging after it. This was not the careful and quiet surveillance he’d hoped for. However, in his experience, when things go to shit the best move was to act quickly. The alien let out a high-pitched screech and ran behind a series of long metal tables covered in mounds of junk. The dog, excited by this new game gave a loud bark and bolted past Sam in pursuit.
“No, stop...bad dog!” Sam shouted.
Despite the chastisement, the dog joyfully chased the screaming alien in laps around the tables. The alien scrambled onto one, scattering carefully labeled items onto the floor.
“Have mercy, Bad Dog,” it screeched. “I’m just a lowly junior crewmember.”
The dog threw its front legs onto the table causing the alien to bolt away toward the door. Unfortunately for it, Sam stood blocking the exit. The alien grabbed the first thing he could find from the adjoining table and threw it at the dog. Fergus barked excitedly and leaped up plucking the tennis ball out of the air with his teeth.
The alien gave out a sob and frantically tapped on the instrument panel on his arm.
The alien dropped to the ground with a thud. Sam stared down at its body then at the aluminum baseball bat he gripped tightly. The creatures head had a deep indentation where Sam had clubbed it. Fergus walked over and nosed alien’s arm. He looked up at Sam and whined.
“Yeah, it’s not going to be playing anymore games,” he said.
A sudden clattering caught his attention. Sam spun to see one of the worker aliens trying to slowly squeeze itself behind a cabinet.
Sensing that it’d been spotted, it froze.