Preview #2: Parallax Chapter 15

Pratt did a quick assessment of the alien while his inner monkey debated between a fight or flight instinct. Thin, bipedal, dressed head to toe in a form-fitting material that hid its features, yet allowed for robe-like sleeves for its two arms and integrated gloves for the five-fingered hands protruding just beyond the cuffs.
“Welcome, Mr. Pratt, we knew you would come to us eventually.” The alien’s vaguely musical voice triggered an immediate recollection in Pratt’s mind of Gorashto. It waved a gray index finger in a gesture that reminded him of a scolding. It turned and regarded Koren with a silent air of disdain. “You are of no value to us, Subspecies.”
Pratt recognized the species at once. “When I get free from this thing, Signiferian.” Pratt said, struggling against the shackles. “I’ll finish what I started on your colony ship.” Colony Ship? He thought. How the Hell did I know that? “By the way, leave my friend alone.”
“Empathy for an enemy.” The alien observed. “I must take a sample for study.” It reached into a seam of its clothing to remove a small thimble shaped object that it attached to its middle finger. Once the thimble was in place, its tip extended to form a long needle that became so thin that it was practically invisible. After immobilizing Pratt’s head, it gently opened his right eye and inserted the needle.
Pratt bit his tongue as the pain seared through his head and down his body. The physical pain was nothing compared to the humiliation of being violated to the point of screaming without the slightest chance of defending himself. The parts of him that could move strained against the assault, yearning to lash out, but instead merely tensed defiantly. Seconds crept by until the needle was removed and his head allowed to loll down onto his chest, his screams fading to a pain filled whimper.
The Signiferian squeezed out a clear liquid into a small vial and held it up to the light dot.”Excellent, Thank you.” After placing a square bandage over his eye, it turned to leave.
“Wait.” Pratt called out. “At least tell me your name.”
The Signiferian stopped. “You wish to know my name? For what purpose?”
“I want to know who I’ll spend the rest of my life chasing down.”
“I am known as Onus Kortal.” Kortal said. “And I doubt that you will survive our inquiries long enough to be much of a threat. Treasure the time you have left.” Kortal turned and disappeared through the doorway, leaving the room dark once again.
“Jack?”
“I’ll make it.” Pratt replied, pulling himself together. His head felt too heavy to lift, so he said what he could while his chin scraped his upper chest. “I can’t see out of my right eye, but I don’t need two to put my hands around that creature’s neck and squeeze the life out of it.” He felt an itch in his right eye socket and longed to give it a scratch. “They want what’s in my genetic code and will do anything to get it. Though I doubt that the starmap I carry around is worth it. They should already have that information in their databases. There must be something more.”
“I concur, Jack.” Koren said. “While the alien was here, I tried to get its scent to familiarize myself with its species. Alas, I could not, but I also discovered something else. I cannot scent you as well.”
“Some kind of sensor deprivation chamber?”
“No, I suspect that everything we are currently experiencing is a virtual construct. An artificial reality designed to keep us pacified and isolated from our captor’s plans.”
“That spike in the eye sure felt real enough.” Pratt’s pain was fading, but not enough to divert him from obsessing over it. His arms and legs were still pinned firmly in place by the restraints. He slowly lifted his head from his chest. “What about you?”
“I suspect that I am being held in a separate location that is networked so that we can appear to interact with each other.” Chair legs scraped the floor. “We must find a way to regroup and investigate.”
“Easier said than done.” Pratt said. “They’re keeping me because I have something inside me that they want. They’re keeping you because you have the status to dissuade prying eyes until it’s too late.”
“And once they achieve their foothold in our Space, they will be in a position to expand outward beyond the nebula and across the galaxy.” Koren stated. “However, something is holding them back. There is a piece of the puzzle that we have not uncovered yet.”
Pratt tested the strength of his shackles. “If I continue to play by their rules, I’ll never get either of us out of this mess. I have to use other means.”
“I’m open to suggestions.”
“This is obviously a very sophisticated system intended to draw on our inner fears and manifest them according to some Signiferian algorithm. I have this thing about being imprisoned.”
“And all Locknar have an instinctive aversion to darkness.” Koren stated. “It is not something that we like to generally discuss.”
Pratt stirred. “That sounds like biology talking. Darkness falls, ambient heat dissipates, and a cold blooded physiology starts to slow down, making it easier for attack by predators.” He stopped. “Anyway, we need to find a way to use their system against them.”
“We need to alter our perceptions of the environment.” Koren said. “Though that level of mental control may be beyond our capabilities.”
“Speak for yourself.” Pratt replied. “I have no intention of staying here in this virtual world while they do God only knows with our bodies. How do we begin?”
Koren laughed, and then fell silent. It was then that Pratt realized that he was alone, in the dark, and in desperate need of a plan.

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