At least I was told I could take my journal with me during the course of my punishment. I’ll be honest, I was afraid that I was going to have it scoured and searched, but, I was wrong, and I was glad I was wrong, or else I’d have nothing to do around here.
Anyway, I didn’t exactly get to grab my personal items until it was decided what my punishment was going to be for fighting with Redding and after I said my goodbyes to the rest of my squad, Vasquez in particular. I knew she was going to miss me. I was going to miss her. We’ve known each other a long time, and this’ll be the first time we’re going to be separated. Aside from basic when they separated the men from the women. Well, most of the time; we always found ways to sneak out and spend time with each other. More often than not, we just found a quiet, secluded place to sit and cuddle. Her company kept me going, and I valued every precious second with her.
Once we arrived at Earth, I found out what my punishment was going to be. Our android, Bishop, serves as the Sulaco’s caretaker and oversees the day-to-day operations of the automated systems both when the ship is docked and when we’re on missions, even when we, and by ‘we’ I mean the human personnel, are in hypersleep. This has been standard practice since the Walter model of androids came out in the late 2090s. Anyway, Bishop was talking with someone on the communication screen when we got up to the bridge to take our stations to dock at Crandall Station, one of the USCM’s orbital fleet shipyards. Once the ship was docked, Bishop announced to Apone that I was being sent to Gateway Station to serve as a test subject for an experimental tracking device being developed by a Weyland-Yutani scientist for use on human prisoners. I didn’t know what to say to that.
“Take care of yourself, Drake,” Corporal Hicks said as the civilian shuttle that was taking me to Gateway landed on the platform. “We’ll miss you.”
“I don’t know if that’s sarcastic or not,” I muttered as the pilot opened the hatch and I climbed in.
“Trust me. It’s not. You’re a good soldier, and we probably won’t function the same way without you.” He offered me a grin as the hatch closed behind me.
Even though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I muttered to myself, “Thanks for trying to make me feel better, but it isn’t working.”
Bishop, who had been directed to escort me, looked over. “Give him credit where it’s due; at least the people you work with care about you and value your contributions.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll give him that.” I stood up, glancing at the cuffs. “I really hope I don’t have to be in these for three fucking weeks.”
“That’s not up to you, unfortunately.”
The shuttle trip took about fifteen minutes. Crandall Station isn’t as large as Barreto Station, the space station that serves as Marine Corps headquarters, but as one of the largest military shipyards, it’s typically kept close to Gateway to provide protection if Earth ever gets attacked. When the shuttle landed in the hangar, Bishop and I disembarked into a vast, white hangar full of other shuttle-sized craft and moving equipment. Robotic voices from PA systems echoed across the hangar, and humans and androids alike walked about, doing their usual business without so much as a glance at us. We hadn’t gotten halfway across the hangar when we were approached by a man wearing a heavy, khaki trenchcoat and a tilted cap. There was no denying he had some form of albinism, as his face was almost as white as the walls around us, and his eyes, which glanced around the room attentively, were a pale ruby color.
“Private Drake,” the man said. “A pleasure to meet you. My name is Doctor Rykell Delhoun. You’ll be under my care for the next three weeks.” He glanced at Bishop. “I’ll take him from here.”
“Yes, sir.” Bishop gave me one last glance, saying, “See you in three weeks, Drake,” before turning and heading back to the shuttle.
Delhoun was weirdly quiet as we headed down the maze of hallways, and didn’t seem too interested in making conversation, up until we reached his lab.
“Don’t touch anything,” he said, gently taking my arm and pushing me into the large room.
Well, this was definitely interesting. There were open cages and animals-alien animals-all over the place. The room was alive with the shrieks and chatters of various species, some of whom were climbing all over massive plants inside giant enclosures.
Delhoun looked up at something, and a very familiar creature dropped down next to him.
“Hey, we saw these on LV-400,” I said.
The creature was probably the only animal there wearing clothes. It had on the same black coat, boots, and gloves I saw on the creatures on LV-400, but without the creepy gas mask. Her nose was small and pointed, and constantly twitched. She was covered in short brown fur, with a white streak on her forehead. Her ears, which were set high on her head, were white as well, and closely resembled a mouse’s. Her eyes were a dark blue color, and her tail was long, thing, and covered in light brown fur.
“I figured you did,” Delhoun said. “Annexers are fairly common there, though they’re not native. First sentient, sapient species I had the chance to study.”
“Oh, that’s the name I gave them, because they ‘annex’ you into their lives.” He looked at the one on his shoulder. “Don’t you, Winnie?”
I snorted. “You named yours Winnie. Mine’s named Little Shit.”
“Ah. Yes, their behavior can be seen as very irritating, to some. They love interacting with people. Seems to be a staple part of their culture, which, unfortunately, could leave them vulnerable to exploitation. They’re not weak, though. Not by a long shot.” Delhoun walked further into his lab. “Come along, Drake. Have a seat.” He gestured to a chair next to his desk.
As soon as I sat down, Winnie jumped onto the desk, craning her neck to sniff me. She recoiled at first, and then moved closer.
“What? You smell Little Shit on me, don’t you?” I said.
“She probably does,” Delhoun replied as he sat at his desk. He opened a wide drawer, pulling out an open, large metal ring. He rolled his chair in front of me. “Lean your head forward.” Slowly, Delhoun put the ring around my neck, adjusting and pushing it until it was snug. As soon as he let go, a tiny red light came on, and then I felt a prick in my neck. Delhoun grinned a little as a massive file composed of all my information and vital signs appeared on a monitor.
“What is this?” I asked.
“This is a prototype security collar. I developed it for use in animals, and the military approached me about modifying it for human prisoners. It’s much more effective than an ankle tracker, and deters any attempts to escape because it’s set to lock for the duration of your sentence, and if you do try to escape, it automatically delivers a disabling electric shock if you get a certain distance from the control unit or if you attempt to tamper with or remove it. And if you do somehow manage to escape even then, it holds a powerful GPS module that can be picked up even if you’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“How far is ‘too far’?”
“In this case, I’ve set it so that you can move freely around most of the research facility. You won’t be allowed to go in most of the labs, but at least you can walk the halls.”
I sighed. “Why couldn’t I just have gotten solitary confinement in a Marine Corps brig for a few days? I don’t want to wear a tracking collar.”
“It’s a bit too late for that. Can’t remove it unless I override the locking mechanism, or until the time’s up.”
Great. My punishment was going to be spending three weeks in this guy’s zoo.
Compared to Little Shit and his tribe, Winnie was incredibly civilized. She rode around on Delhoun’s shoulders with her tail loosely wrapped around his neck, almost like an animal, but she also seemed to be helping him with his work. I was a little surprised at her level of understanding of English; Delhoun would instruct her to get something very specific, and she’d go get it without any error or misunderstanding. She was almost as helpful as a human assistant who could understand English but not speak it.
She was different to the tribal Annexers in that she let me near her and didn’t try to scratch or bite if I so much as reached my hand down to touch her head. It was obvious she was bonded to Delhoun, so that left me curious as to why I was different. Was it because she had been in a less primitive environment for a long time? Or did it have something to do with that foul-smelling substance the Annexer shaman put on me?
In the morning, I awoke to feel something nosing around my blankets, and found Winnie cautiously examining me. I tried not to make any sudden movements, feeling her paws on my lower back, and hearing her sniffing. She crawled over me, studying everything. It was so hard not to move, but I didn’t want her attacking me if I startled her. Then she started cooing, and feeling my chest. I had no idea what that meant, so I still didn’t move.
This went on for about ten minutes. I was uncomfortable, and I wished Delhoun would wonder where his pet was and come in to pull her off me. Finally, I heard Delhoun calling, “Winnie! Where’d you run off to?”
Using me as a launchpad, Winnie bolted into the hallway, chirping.
“What were you doing in Drake’s room?” Delhoun peered into my room. “Drake? Are you up?”
I sat up. “Yeah, I’m up.”
“How was your first night here?”
“Uncomfortable. The collar hurts and your little friend was climbing all over me.”
“Really? What was she doing?”
“She was sniffing me, rooting around my blankets, and feeling my chest like it was the most interesting thing in the world. I was afraid to move because she might attack me.”
“I don’t think she would’ve attacked you if you moved. She was probably trying to see if she liked Little Shit’s scent or not.”
“Yeah, well, I think she likes it. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they started humping each other like rabbits if they met.”
“That depends,” Delhoun muttered. “Annexers have their own courting rituals and marriage ceremonies.” He smiled at Winnie. “I’d love to stick around and chat, Drake, but I’ve got work to do. Breakfast is in my quarters.”
I still felt like one of Delhoun’s exotic pets as I walked across the hall to his quarters wearing that stupid collar, but it was pretty generous of him to let me eat in his private quarters. Even better was the fact that he didn’t have crappy rations, and he didn’t tell me what I could and couldn’t eat. I enjoyed myself, to be honest, because Delhoun had a nice selection of breakfast food that I hadn’t had in what felt like years.
As I helped myself to a bowl of cold fruit, I heard squeaky chattering coming from the doorway, and turned to see Winnie.
“Do you need something?” I asked.
Winnie tilted her head, her ears flattening a little. The expression on her face didn’t change.
I really couldn’t understand her fascination with me. Part of me didn’t care, but I’ve never had anyone in my life become so interested in me. Even Vasquez doesn’t act like this around me. There’s nothing about me that anyone could be so enthralled with.
Most of the day was spent sleeping. Naturally sleeping. No hypersleep. I slept long into the afternoon, and wondered if this was really a punishment. I mean, yeah, I wasn’t fighting with my unit, but I also wasn’t locked up or chained.
Then again, there’s that stupid tracking collar. Having your location monitored at every moment isn’t fun.
I had closed my door to make sure Winnie didn’t get in. I could hear her chirping and cooing outside, but I really didn’t care, as long as she wasn’t rooting around my blankets. The next time I woke up was around 1700 hours, and heard Delhoun saying, “Come on out here, Drake!” in his cheery voice.
Sighing, I left the room, wearing nothing but my pants and boots. Delhoun was gesturing for me to follow him into his quarters, with Winnie perched on the table. He sat down, and uncovered fresh hot food already laid out on the table. “Help yourself, Drake. I can only hope the richness doesn’t upset the balance of your gastrointestinal tract after a long while of bland rations.”
“I think I’ll be fine, thank you.”
There was silence for the next several minutes or so. My curiosity over Winnie’s behavior won out, and I looked Delhoun in the eye. “Can I ask you some… Annexer questions?”
“Yes, absolutely,” Delhoun replied. “Anything you want to know. Ask away.”
“Have you ever observed a ritual involving a stinking, kinda-yellowish substance being rubbed on someone’s face and chest?”
“As a matter of fact, I have. It was actually performed on me five years ago, by the tribe Winnie is originally from.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a pheromone. Though it smells horrendous in its raw form, it’s interpreted as comforting and reassuring to an Annexer. It comes from a gland-” Delhoun gestured to Winnie, who held up her arms, “-under their arms.”
I grimaced. “So how do they get it?”
“Taking samples of blood, filtering it, and leaving the pheromone to thicken overnight. How this ritual came about, I don’t know, but they only perform it on those they trust. It’s almost like they’re making you an honorary member of their species.”
I pointed at Winnie. “That definitely explains why she’s infatuated with me.”
Delhoun nodded. “The tribe on LV-400 trusted you. A lot. I don’t have many records of this happening. So far, I’ve only come across three, plus myself. Now you.”
“Great. I’m an honorary Annexer. That makes me feel better.”
Delhoun raised an eyebrow at my sarcasm. “Well, it… it’s not something someone experiences every day-”
“I know, but someone with my history isn’t going to find this very exciting.”