When Dr. Jonathan Gediman finally returned to 18X-2987's isolation cell, he was out of breath. He had been having horrible visions through half the night that his callous boss, Dr. Mason Wren, had decided to enter the subject's cell as Gediman himself had yesterday.
In his first encounter with her, Gediman had found the alien hybrid easily spooked, wild, and ultimately a very sensitive creature. He had managed to earn its trust after hours of sitting with it, as it recovered from the shock he'd had to apply twice to avoid being maimed by her.
She had attacked, likely out of fear, and responded with such terror to the shock collar that he almost regretted using it at all.
Gediman valued his own hide, and didn't want to see it punctured.
In his nightmares, however, Mason Wren terrorized his nervous creature, applying the shock collar over and over as she writhed on the floor in tears. He had sprung out of bed early in order to get to her first, hoping that nothing had happened over the night shift.
First, however, he had to get every hair slicked perfectly back into a neat ponytail, and clasp it firmly in place with a metal clamp. He was nothing if not fastidious about his appearance-- even if it risked his ward's exposure to his brutish boss. This was one of many things Gediman knew he ought to feel guilty about, but didn't.
Thankfully, when he arrived at the observation lab directly outside of the subject's cell, and worriedly glanced into the monitors, he found her unharmed and alone. She was staring toward the door with unsettling confidence. Her sharp black eyes were focused intently, as if willing the steel to give way, and the very tip of her spiked tail twitched impatiently back and forth.
He smiled. She missed him.
As he rested his hands on his knees, waiting for his breath to catch up with him, Dr. Carlyn Williamson walked into the lab.
“Gediman!” she started, mildly surprised, “You're here early. Worried about our little princess in there?”
He wanted to ask what she meant, but found he could only pant and tip his head, asking the question with his eyes. He was too old to be running around like this.
Carlyn gave a laugh at her out-of-shape colleague, and answered “Well, she isn't the queen we'd all hoped to create. You've seen the scans, she probably won't be productive at all. Still, we tried, so I like to think of her as our princess.”
He liked the thought of her as a princess. Yet, he knew that was not to be her fate, and it never was.
Originally, the military wanted her as a broodmare, using her to breed or surrogate as many aliens as possible. That fell through, however, when she emerged from the development tubes without a fully functional reproductive system. Now, she would likely be trained for combat purposes, or disposed of. Perhaps experimented on, to see what medical advances could come from her hybrid immune system.
He had been fine with that, up until yesterday. Carlyn might be the only one of his colleagues to understand. She, like Gediman, was a scientist through and through, willing to set aside traditional “ethics” in the name of progress. If the suffering of one lab rat will save the lives of a thousand human beings, then so be it. Yet, the two of them, more than any of the other members of Auriga's science team, felt a profound empathy for their subjects, and often commiserated when progress called for something particularly gruesome to be done.
This time, his emotions were clouding his judgment more than they ever had. After his bonding session with the creature the other day;--“socialization,” he had antiseptically called it-- after feeling the warmth of her body pressed against his, seeing the way she longed for human interaction, how she came to trust him-- he could no longer stomach the thought of anything hurting her.
Carlyn would understand, he thought. If he could get her on his side. They may only have a short time to socialize his creature before the United Systems Military took her away. If she could be taught to speak, to act human, the others might see her as human. She might stand some chance.
Who knows what those rough soldier types might do to her? She was partially alien, true, but her face and torso were that of an adult human woman. And, while her internal reproductive organs were not fully formed... He blushed a deep red unfitting a detached physician.
If she was voiceless, she would be defenseless. Carlyn was a linguistic expert-- if she could teach 18X-2987 English, then... well, he thought darkly, it likely wouldn't make much difference anyway. That was how it was out here, beyond the reaches of controlled space. But he could try.
When he had finally cleared the security locks, and the door hissed open, 18X-2987 nearly knocked him flat with the enthusiasm of a puppy that had been waiting for its master. Her sharp tail wagged dangerously back and forth as she buried her head in the folds of his white lab coat, making soft squealing noises. He cringed as her clawed fingers dug into his sleeves too tightly, as if she thought he might vanish if she let go.
“It's alright. I came back.” he purred, patting her on the head. It was... endearing. He had never had anyone react to him with so much undisguised adoration. It was only because she was starving for attention, he knew, but he was almost just as starved.
Forgetting himself, he wrapped his arms around her, pressing her to him. She responded by making satisfied throaty noises and nuzzling into his neck. His face flushed hot under the onslaught of her affection-- a flush that only grew hotter as he felt her warm tongue testing the skin of his neck. She's just exploring, he told himself, she knows nothing of human taboos, and she's merely using every available sense.
With a lurch, he realized he couldn't so easily brush off the feelings she was stirring in him. It was not a mere paternal concern for her well-being that he felt. Her constant need for closeness, her bold touches, made with no sense of indecency, startled and thrilled him at the same time. How could any man react to a fiery young creature writhing about him, tasting his skin, worshiping his body like a holy idol? How could he convince himself that the brushing of her soft breasts against him was as innocent a thing as it seemed to her? Her soft, naked flesh pressed temptingly against him now, as she began exploring him yet again, tugging his clothes, playing with the hair he had so recently straightened away.
Perhaps she should be given clothes, he thought, gritting his teeth. None of the scientists had ever thought to do so. Why would they? To the others, she wasn't human. She was a lab animal.
She was somewhat animalistic, it's true, and child-like in her behavior... yet her body was that of a grown woman. The deep intelligence he saw behind her dark eyes only confirmed the brain scans he had taken during her development. She was not at all sub-human. If anything she was a little more.
Now she was awakening desires in him... ones that made him no better than the hypothetical soldiers whose abuses he sought to protect her from.
He reminded himself that she couldn't help that her genetically engineered body would mature so quickly, or into so pleasing a form. She would have no ideas about sexuality. He chastely reprimanded himself for even thinking such predatory thoughts. Still, her immodest touches were arousing parts of him not so easily contained by thoughts alone. He had to get out of here, somehow.
“So...” he began. She stared at his mouth attentively, tipping her head as he continued, “You remember me from yesterday. That's good. That's excellent. Now...” he disentangled himself from her, “I think it's time you met some of the rest of the team.”
She frowned, and tipped her head to the other side. She had no idea what he was saying, of course; though her brow was knit in concentration, as if she knew there was some distressing meaning behind his words that she was trying to puzzle out.
He pressed his lips together in a half-smile, took her clawed hand in his, and took a few steps back to the door. 18X-2987 jerked to a stop and stared incredulously.
“I'm going to bring you out with me. Do you think you're ready for that? It's just Dr. Williamson out there. She's nice, I promise.” he raised his eyebrows at her, then slowly entered his security data, and let the door slide open.
His creature crouched in a small, defensive stance. He would have thought she would be eager to explore other areas of the ship, having been confined to that one room so long, but she stood at the open doorway as if it were a coiled snake.
He stepped through the door first, confidently, and turned to show her he was okay. “See?” he encouraged, “It's alright. Come on.” He held a hand out to her. He could see the panic in her eyes-- desperate to rejoin him, but terrified of the unknown beyond her little observation room. Perhaps it's too soon, he thought. Its too much for her in this state. Just then, she rushed through the doorway like you might rip off a painful bandage, and reclaimed his hand with her trembling one. She gave a pitiful squeak as she clung to him, panting hard, as if she'd just sprinted down the ship's corridors too.
Then came the flood. As she looked about the little lab outside her observation cell, every smell of human musk, of rubber and steel hit her like a tidal wave. She twitched, squeezing his hand until it hurt. Every sudden beep of every computer spooked her. Her eyes darted wildly about the room, and she sank further and further down toward the floor.
Carlyn appeared beside them. She bent down, and murmured in a motherly tone, “Oh you poor thing--”
That was the breaking point. The frightened creature shot away from his side, wailing, desperate for something to hide under. With a crash and pop of electricity, her thrashing tail knocked out a computer screen, sending glass shards tinkling over the floor. She flew away from the ruined computer with a panicked leap, slipped, and skidded across the hard floor, slamming into every chair and delicate machine around the lab in a frantic attempt to regain footing.
The shock collar control was in his pocket; the thought of using it before she broke everything flashed in in mind.
“Enough!” he shouted, anger fraying the edges of his voice. He stomped over to the panicking creature that had just demolished his lab, and likely set his work back by several days. She froze, and then backed under the nearest table. “Oh no, you get out from there.” he hissed.
She didn't listen, of course, so he got down on his hands and knees to drag her out. She met his eyes with a pitiful, desperate whimper.
Sigh. He couldn't stay mad at her.
He took her arm, and gently tugged the quivering mess out and to her feet. “Now.” he said firmly, “We're going to say hello to Dr. Williamson, and we're not going to freak, OK?”
She cast a guilty, sideways glance to him, whimpered softly, then looked down. He walked her up to Carlyn, who gave her best, slightly frazzled, smile. “Hello, princess.” she said sweetly, and offered a hand.
18X-2987 pouted, snubbed the hand, and tried to hide behind Gediman. It was a start.
Slowly, she adjusted to her new surroundings. Gediman showed her monitors, buttons-- everything in the lab he pointed out and tried to name for her. She listened, and observed, but stubbornly refused to go near Dr. Williamson. Gediman wondered why. Carlyn was roughly the same age as him. They wore the same lab coat. She even had similar dark-with-grey-streaks hair.
“Carlyn...” he began, hesitating, “Would you... mind taking her for a while?”
She gave a high, sharp laugh-- which spooked 18X-2987, causing her to laugh again, more softly. Gediman didn't return the laugh. He shifted, frowning, as if bearing a heavy weight. “You're serious?”
“She needs to be socialized, Carlyn. I know, it's moving fast, but... It's better if we get her used to people. Once I'm gone, she'll probably take to you right away. I only met her 12 hours ago myself, and...” he gestured down his torso, which was covered in clinging alien hybrid.
Gediman explained to her his hopes and plans for saving their “princess” from horror with no escape. How language could provide her some defense, even make them consider her for purposes besides combat. Carlyn took even less convincing than he expected. In fact, she admitted, she already had prepared a full curriculum.
And so, Dr. Williamson set up her training room, complete with virtual training modules, and old fashioned flash cards.
18X-2987 didn't take well to being left. When she figured out Dr. Gediman's intention to leave her alone with a new tutor, he had to pry her off of him. She whined shrilly, and tried to follow him from the room. He took a stern tone, sat her down on a chair, and commanded, “Sit.”
She shot him the most wrathful look he had ever seen. Her black eyes narrowed sulkily, like a child being denied dessert. “Ssssss it.” she hissed, her mouth tasting the word, sounding it out, while keeping her eyes locked on to his. He brightened, heart swelling in pride to hear her first word-- though spoken in defiant anger. “Yes! Exactly! Good girl!” he beamed, finding himself back at her side. He caressed her face with pride, and she nuzzled into his hand, soft flesh warm against his skin. This brought a flush back to his face, which immediately snapped him out of it. He pulled back, “Good job.” he said stiffly. “Now. You stay here and show me what you learned when I get back.” He retreated from the room, leaving his pouting alien girl behind.
A few hours later, after trying to get some work done, worrying, and gluing himself in front of video monitors for the rest of the subject's training session, it was finally time to gather her up again.
When the door hissed open, a fidgety and annoyed looking 18X-2897 looked hopefully toward the door.
“Papa!” she cried out, springing to his side.
“What's this? Something you taught her?” Gediman asked, uneasily, as the creature nuzzled herself into him.
“I taught her about families, today.” Carlyn said, impressed, “I never taught her to call you that. Though it does fit. She's clever.”
Of course she thinks of me as a father, he thought. I am the closest thing she's got to one. I helped create her. He frowned uncomfortably. This just twisted the knife. If he had felt wrong for contemplating her breasts earlier, he felt like an absolute pervert now.
He'd always had... unusual tastes. But, being seen as a father crushed any hope of-- well-- not that he had had any hopes. Yet it still felt like the world was crashing down around him.
Even now, she looked up at him with those big, black eyes and pouting lips. Then she cried, “Papa-- we go. Want go! Bad place, bad lady. Go home.” She tugged his sleeve pleadingly. Her sweet, petulant attempts at speech flooded his chest with warmth. He shook off any conflicted feelings he had, and smiled, placing a fatherly hand on her shoulder. “Alright, we're going, it's ok.” he told her, gently. Then, glancing back at a perfectly good mother-figure, “Why didn't she take to you like this?”
Carlyn chuckled lightly. “Seems she's like a baby bird. Imprinted on the first face she saw. Sorry, looks like you're going to be stuck with her.”
He smiled at that, a bit proudly. As if having a monopoly on her affection was any kind of burden. At least I have you all to myself, he thought, and glanced down at his beautiful charge.
“I raised two girls, myself,” Carlyn continued, “That was hard enough, and they weren't bloodthirsty aliens. Good luck, Gediman.” she grinned.
He had never had children, or a family of his own. He had never even considered it. He was married to his work, and never wanted the complications that came with love. His attachment to 18X-2987, therefore, was something he had no idea how to deal with. It was disturbing, yet attractive. Paternal, and yet more than that. These feelings blossomed up like a seed that had laid dormant in the desert, waiting only for a little rain. He had no idea what that they might grow into.