Sam struggled against the cold-steel restraints that kept his hands behind his back.
“Let me go! As your captain I demand to be released!”
Lieutenant Jones led the security team, prisoner in tow, hallway by hallway. Sam had been stripped of his clothes; as soon as they had confirmed he bore an implant, he was left in the nude, forced to walk down the halls with his flower (and all else) exposed. It probably should have felt more humiliating, but his mind was still struggling to comprehend what had happened, so the uptake on his precarious presentation had been blunted. He had half a mind to ask where he was being taken, but he knew by the familiar halls that they were passing where he was going: the brig.
“Nice try, impostor. Unfortunately for you, impersonating a high ranking officer of the Terran Resistance Forces is a crime of the highest offense,” Lt. Jones replied lazily.
Sam tried growling, but the new timbre in his voice refused to cooperate. The Lieutenant turned on his heels and brought his baton down on the captain. A sharp crack against Sam's ribs caused him to let out a pained choke. Without anything to blunt the swing, he doubled over to the ground with a breathless gasp, falling to his knees and causing the whole entourage to pause.
Lt. Jones continued speaking as though nothing had happened. “You’re a secret agent of the Affini… and clearly you’ve done something to the captain, something to cause his disappearance. So we’re going to have a little chat about this, you and I, as soon as we’ve confirmed his whereabouts.”
“Lieutenant Jones, please. Listen to me,” Sam pleaded, trying to hold his back high; he tried desperately to masculinize his voice, but he knew that no matter what he tried it simply wasn't recognizable at this point.
“You’ve served by my side for years now. We made the decision to leave the Accord together, when those bastards surrendered. I know you! I know all of you; we’ve sacrificed so much! How can you just-”
Sam was silenced with a slap across the face, stinging his cheeks and bruising his upper lip. He tasted copper as blood dripped from his nose. When he recovered, he caught Jones’ cold facade glaring down upon him.
Sam let out a weak whimper.
The brig was frigid, with only a few barred windows circulating air through the otherwise closed room. At some point they had thrown in a gray jumpsuit for Sam to wear, but the warmth that it provided dissipated so quickly that he could feel himself shivering softly in it. Plus, they had cut a hole in the center of the jumpsuit so his implant would be freely visible to any guard who passed by. It certainly didn’t help that he could tell the jumpsuit was made for a woman’s form. It gently followed the curves that had begun to develop across his body, making it extremely difficult to hide the physical changes. He had initially hoped that, in his weakened state, the crimson flower would eventually start to wilt, but it stood out just fine in the sparse cell, making even a silver lining impossible.
The first thing he had noticed when he had been imprisoned was the number of people; a dozen or so jailed in the same cell with him. All of them bore some colorful implant across their chests as well. He racked his brain to come up with their identities, and came to the conclusion that he actually didn’t recognize most of them. He gathered they likely were custodial workers or technicians of low rank, and felt some shame at not being able to recall their names. It would be a priority for him to familiarize himself with the whole crew if he ever had a chance to perform his duties as captain again.
The second thing that he noticed were some of the peculiar... differences in the other prisoners. One of them, back facing him, was wagging a canine tail sticking out from a hole in the seat of their jumpsuit. Another had a fringed rainbow hairstyle that certainly hadn’t been approved for military crewmen, and a third technician seemed to check her ear every five seconds, as though it were some kind of novel addition to her body.
So I’m not the only one with weird things happening to me. Good. I’m not going crazy.
A soft voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Hey… I don’t know if I’ve seen you around before…”
Sam turned around to face the person addressing him. He faintly recognized their profile as Engineer Conners, the one identified by Lt. Jones at helm only hours before.
“Conners…!” Sam let out an exhale. “It’s nice to see someone that I recognize. There’s been a terrible mistake.”
“Hey, hey.” Engineer Conners offered a smile. “It’s going to be alright, ma’am.”
Sam was baffled by the calm manner by which Conners spoke, so much so that he hardly noticed how Conners had gendered him. How could they say something like that?
“What… What do you mean?” Sam stammered. “I… just a few moments ago I was the captain of this ship! I was trying to plan a next course of action and get this damn implant out of my chest and now I’m stuck here. I’m trapped.”
As he spoke his thoughts aloud it finally dawned on him.
“Oh, stars, I’m trapped. Not where I’m supposed to be. The affini… we’re all d-doomed. Please, somebody… s-somebody… h-help… h-help me…”
Tears began leaking from his eyes. He began to choke, seizing coughs that were making the world start to close in – he backed himself into a corner of the cell, sliding down the wall until he was crouching, sitting. He was losing it, he was completely falling apart at the seams. No one would even recognize him, no one had any reason to listen-
He felt a hand take his, a kind gesture that he hadn’t experienced in possibly weeks.
“Shh shh shh. Hey… hey, just calm down, alright?” Conners, kneeling beside him, flashed a look of empathetic concern. “I’m with you. I’m with you. Just breathe with me, okay?”
Sam let out a gasp. In seconds their hand was an anchor to reality. His sensitive body hadn't felt softness like that in so long… within moments, clarity began to return, and Sam relented a little to the comfort. He shook, tears falling against his jumpsuit. He squeezed Conners’ hand with his own. The engineer was firm in a way that was comfortable… safe. It didn’t take long before his heart rate slowed, and even the implant in his chest had begun exuding a sweetness that made it really easy for him to sink into tranquility.
Sam felt panic rise up, only to become quelled, pushed aside. "W-wait… what… w-what's happening…"
"Shh…" Conners gave a warm smile. "The implant is just helping you relax. It follows your intentions and needs."
"I… c-can't... relax…" Sam struggled to say. "I need… to get this flower out of me…"
Sam’s willpower faded, until every muscle in his body finally relaxed altogether. It was an unnatural feeling; as ship captain, his posture had always been rigid, a sign of his dedication. This time, it had loosened remarkably, and he felt himself slumping in a very comfortable, if disorderly way.
Despite his physical symptoms having been suppressed, Sam’s mind still raced.
"I… I was… no… am the captain… I can't just let Jones d-do this…" he murmured, eyes half glazed, still trying to fight.
Conners flashed a concerned glance. "Pardon me for saying this, but are you actually the Captain? You look nothing like him at all."
"What… do you know…." Sam retorted, voice filled with torpor. "You… maybe you’re an Affini spy… p-put this thing in my chest…"
The engineer shook their head. "If that's what people are saying about me they've got their heads up their asses. The Affini scout ship we engaged hit us with something, right?… We thought we dodged it, but clearly it’s causing problems ship-wide. The fact there’s so many of us here is proof enough."
Sam attempted and failed to tense his brow muscles; he hadn’t worked his way through the bureaucratic Accord, and later, the tumultuous flurry of resistance and rebel groups that followed without being able to read a room. However, he couldn’t detect any amount of deceit from the engineer, and without any credible evidence to back his accusation, he conceded.
“The beam… the b-beam… I wish I knew how it worked…” he murmured.
Taking a breath, Engineer Conners looked away. “I have some ideas, but you’re probably not going to like them…”
“Any information… is good information…” Sam grunted out.
Conners stood up from kneeling, releasing hold of Sam’s hand. The captain felt a tinge of regret and longing to have his hand held again, but managed to keep himself from acting on it.
The engineer, oblivious, began pacing the cell as they spoke. “I’ve been talking with the other prisoners, and they’re beginning to notice small changes in their bodies. Thao’s got a tail growing in, and Lonnie’s earlobe fully regenerated…”
The thickness present in Sam’s head began to slowly release, and he flexed his fingers to test them. He managed to twist his lips into a bit of a frown as Conners continued. Clearly other people were dealing with physical shifts just like him, which helped him feel just a little less frustrated. The changes Conners continued to list ranged from (what he considered) mundane shifts in hair color to things much more extreme, like the jagged teeth that “Mickey” began sporting. However, it seemed like all the other transformees had clearly enjoyed, embraced the minor modifications made to their bodies. Sam’s transformation, on the other hand, clearly was something he hadn’t consented to or wanted… right?
“...and Prakash says his tinnitus went away. I suppose-” Conners suddenly cut themselves off. “Wait a second… if you really are who you say you are…”
Sam saw the numbers calculating in the engineer’s head, and he grimaced. His cheeks flushed a little; he already was humiliated about the state of his physical form, so having somebody figure out what was happening to him was even worse.
“Captain. Your changes have progressed even further than everyone else's…” Conners spoke almost in awe. “That’s… that’s incredible…”
A look of astonishment crossed Sam’s face, but he tried shaking it off. Was Conners… complimenting him? Why were they treating like he was…? His face began to redden. He didn’t want to think about it, and tried his best to make that clear.
“I need it to stop,” replied Sam. The hazy feeling had by now dissipated, allowing him to lift himself back onto his feet.
Conners cocked their head. “But… excuse me for saying sir… or ma’am, if you prefer-”
“I do not prefer,” Sam growled. A ball of anger was starting to grow in his chest.
“-but you look good! You look really good. Based on the rest of us in the brig, these changes don’t happen like this unless you really –”
Something in him exploded.
“I’m not a girl! Okay?”
Sam’s words were a little louder than he had intended; he almost frightened himself with the intensity by which he said them. Engineer Conners looked hurt for some reason, and Sam frowned, trying to walk back his shrill exclamation.
“Look. I’m… I’m not supposed to be a woman. I wasn’t born one, so why would this stupid fucking implant get that wrong? Maybe it’s reading some other person’s brain waves and making decisions based on that.”
“All that matters,” he continued, “is that every minute that I spend locked up in here is another minute where the Affini could triangulate our position, and then we’re going to be compromised. As leader of this ship I cannot afford to let that happen to the hope of the resistance.”
The engineer let out a disappointed sigh. “Well… You’re definitely the captain alright. Rebel to the end, huh?”
Sam turned back to face Conners, a look of disbelief crossing his face.
“Are you saying that you’re giving up, Conners? You’re just voluntarily going to become some… some kind of pet??”
“Captain, with all due respect,” Conners said flatly, “your best and brightest Lieutenant has locked several loyal crewmen in here, yourself included, and just wrested control of the ship. How do you still believe in this wash of a cause?”
They turned away from him, clearly upset now. “When the weird alien flowers growing out of people’s chests are treating people with more kindness than anything the resistance has given us in years… maybe we’ve been fighting for nothing this whole time.”
Sam knew he had crossed a line, and he scrambled to come up with some retort, or apology… instead, a jumbled mess of words spewed out of his mouth.
“...you… you know what? I .. I don’t need you t-to understand… give up if you want! I’m sorry for trying to do the right thing in all of this!”
Finding words useless, Sam let out a frustrated grunt, and began to walk away, away from the warmth that was Engineer Conners. It felt to him an aggravating expenditure of will from his dwindling reserves to walk away from the first proper conversation partner he’d had in days…but it was the right thing to do… right?
I can’t… I can’t just talk to the traitor. I have standards. I have… I have something to fight for.
He picked a corner of the cell, away from the rest of the crew, and planted his butt as far away as he could. Casting his gaze out a barred window, he slumped into crossed arms and stewed with his emotions.
The rest of them have already given up. I get why they would… but I can’t do that. Too much is riding on me.
He began to feel a tiredness overtake him, and leaned his head against the walls. Tearing up and crying again had really exhausted what energy remained in him. The situation was developing too rapidly for him to account for any of this… a nap really would be the best use of his time anyway.
Before long, he let himself drift into a restless sleep.
In dreams, Sam shook his head.
No… I’m not a girl… never was one… never wanted to be one… stop changing me…
Daffodila, once again, occupied his entire field of view. Despite his grievances, he was almost happy to see her. After all, it seemed like more and more she could have the answers to questions he had…
…She looked… crestfallen… or, disappointed? Certainly not engaging with him, her attention appeared to be placed elsewhere.
[Dear, oh dear. Seems like the rebels really are as feral as the reports said they were. How petulant of them. Not to worry, pet. It’ll all be fixed very soon.]
Sam felt relief shiver through his body at first. Fixed. Soon. Something positive could happen soon, right?
It took him a few moments to actually parse Daffodila’s words.
“What do you mean, ‘fixed’? What’s going on…?” he asked, concerned.
[This experiment is concluded. All ships, move on my mark. Double check boarding procedures; make sure to inspect their craft’s layout. Prioritize the bridge and engine room first.]
Daffodila finally turned to face him.
[Please remain calm, little one. We are on our way to retrieve you and your ship. You have done an excellent job. I will see you soon.]
Sam put two and two together.
Sam struggled against the inky blackness of his unconscious. He needed to warn everyone.
He needed to warn everyone now.
“No… no! No!-”
Sam awoke with a start, face soaked in sweat. “The affini are coming! They’re coming for us!”
He glanced around wildly. Some of the other prisoners had begun to stir, or look his way. Engineer Conners got up from their rest.
“Captain? What do you mean?” they asked drowsily.
Sam shook. “In… in my dreams… they were talking to me. They said they were coming. They’re going to enslave us all!”
A mix of different emotions went through Conners’ face. “You… you can talk to them?”
“It’s complicated… they said they grew something in my brain so they could send messages… I don’t know!” Sam’s voice frayed at the edges. He didn’t care. This was urgent.
A gruff voice reverberated through the brig windows. “Can someone get that noisy bitch to stop?”
Someone from outside rattled the bars of the window with a baton.
“Security, please,” Sam pleaded, turning his attention to the outside. Although he couldn't see them, he surmised by shuffling and various activation sounds that at most two guards were playing some holo-card game together on their digital slates. He had half a mind to admonish them for their incompetence, but relented.
“You have to believe me! You have to tell Jones to prepare the ship for a jump! We’re wasting time!”
The gruff voice responded. “Hey, lady impostor. If you don’t shut your fuckin’ mouth, we’ll come in there and break every fuckin’ bone in your body. Izzat what you want? Huh?”
Sam felt a hand grasp his shoulder. He turned. Conners was holding a finger up to their lip, signaling absolute silence.
Keep taunting him. Their eyes said, as they pressed themselves against the wall of the brig. We have your back.
Sam’s eyes widened.
“Um…” he concentrated, trying to think of something to say in his new voice. “How about this? You come in here and try it, asshole! Maybe it’ll get you off if you’re so into beating up defenseless women!”
He regretted having to leverage his rapidly feminizing body in this way, but his efforts paid off.
“Oh, that’s it!”
The door to the brig clicked, then swung open.
“Hey… Jones said we can’t just go in. What if they’re dangerous?”
“As if a scrawny plantfucker has anything on us… she's mine. You hold the rest.”
Two jack booted men in ballistic armor stepped through the brig door, brandishing their weapons. Sam froze. He hadn’t thought about what came next, just to get the door open. Now there were two goon-sized obstacles in the way. The first man wasted no time in approaching, leaving the other one behind. He rolled his shoulders back with a crack, forcing Sam to back himself into a corner. He racked his brain to recall his CQC training from the Accord, but just managed to hold his arms between himself and the man.
He's a bigger combatant… use your weight against him…
"Big talk coming from a little girl. Maybe I'll beat a confession outta ya, and Jones'll have me promoted."
A scream erupted from behind. The guard turned, and Sam took his chance. He sprung forward, grabbing the guard in an elbow lock, then used his body weight to throw the both of them to the ground.
Hitting the freezing floor of the brig almost caused Sam to release his grip on the guard's neck, but he held firm, and tightened his biceps. The guard kicked wildly, used a gloved hand to claw at Sam's arm, leaving scratches in his soft skin. The captain felt his strength waning. He didn't know how much he had left…
A strange scent entered the air. Drowsiness almost overtook Sam, but he held on. The kicks from the guard, on the other hand, began to weaken until they became mere twitches. In only a few moments, Sam felt the guard's head roll back as he gave up entirely, and the guard's unconscious body pinned him to the ground.
"Don't worry, captain. We got you."
Several arms reached out to pull the guard off of Sam, and he took a deep breath as the weight was relieved from his chest.
Engineer Conners stood over him, hand outstretched, other prisoners standing by. Sam hesitated, then accepted the help, and was lifted onto his feet. Conners took the liberty to dust Sam's jumpsuit off a little.
Sam, a little disturbed at how light he felt in Conners' arms, grumbled a bit of appreciation. "Thanks for the assist, Conners."
"Call me Quentin," the engineer replied, perhaps a little smugly. Sam noticed that Quentin's chest implant had extended itself outwards a little, almost looking more nozzle-like than the other implants.
Sam numbly pointed. Quentin nodded. "Yeah… don't know exactly how I did that… we'll have to ask the Affini for answers once they board, I guess."
Sam, ignoring the implications of this for now, glanced around the brig. On the other side of the room, the second guard lay, stripped of his weapon and armor, a few prisoners standing watch over him. One – Mickey, perhaps – bared her razor teeth, hovering inches over the guard's neck.
"What should we do now?" Conners asked.
Klaxons began to sear across the lower decks of the C.N.S. Oklahoma. Sam's heart sank. He could recognize that code anyday. Just as his dream had predicted… they were being boarded.
Captain Samuel Dirkost straightened his back, cracked his knuckles, and made eye contact with the other prisoners.
"We get our answers."