Onboard the Vitari vessel, green glow strips lit the rubbery walls with a half-light that glinted off the polished eyes of its crew. The sibilant hisses of their language made it sound like a ship of snakes except that they were all too human-looking, save for the tougher, amphibian-smooth skin, as if flesh had been replaced by a thin wet-suit.
"How isss the human?" The Prime's words entered the Regen Bay a full second before the rest of her tall form. At 209 cycles, she was the youngest Vitaran to be made leader of a Far Traveler vessel. A skin-tight, emerald green uniform stretched across the corded muscles of her body and a rank band reflected gold from her upper right arm.
Scientist Peleste straightened, his long, thin fingers still pressing the field that surrounded the prisoner, sending feeler strands that buried into its flesh. "He's in cold stasssis and the device in his head has been nulled."
"The timing was closer than you anticipated."
The scientist fluttered his fingers. "It was timing enough. He sustained no permanent damage, just momentary dissstress."
The human lay on a grid-table with a precise network of energy lines dividing the surface. His flimsy clothing had been removed and his skin was almost translucent in the pale green light. A faintly orange stasis barrier kept him immobilized.
Towering over the table, her shadow slashing his body in half, the Prime's double lids blinked as she studied the creature. "They're as primitive close up as their ssships are flimsy."
"Their strength isn't in their musculature, good Prime, or we would have defeated them long ago."
"Ssso you repeatedly claim."
The skin over Peleste's shoulders rippled in a Vitaran version of a shrug. "I know it's not a popular opinion."
She sucked inwards, her tongue clicking her amusement. "That's why I like about you, Peleste, you're not afraid to hold your own counsel, but it doesssn't get you very far in the advancement rankings."
"I can't help what I know."
"Keep it to yourssself more often and you might retire with more of a pension." Looking down at the human, her nose slits thinned in distaste. The creature had a distinctly musky odor typical of his species, unlike the clean, salty spray of the ocean breezes that her race always carried with them. "What about this?"
"Military command wantsss his information extracted and then he'll be sent for recycling."
Her thin tongue darted out to taste his air. "Human meat. Gah. Not my favorite."
Her double lids blinked at him. "What plans do you have for this human?"
"I'd like to keep it for awhile before he'sss processed. I mean, after Military gets what they want from him, of course."
"Lab animal or pet?"
Rippling his shoulders in a shrug, he said, "A little of each. There's sssomething different about this human. The genetic readings are unusual and Bela could use some company."
"A hobby then, and a pet. The Administration might authorize it if you find useful information about the humansss. How is your daughter?"
"She's still dissstraught over the loss of her tagit. Silly, I know. It was only a pet, but she had him since she was old enough to leave the hatchery."
"Children can get attached to the most insignificant of things, but are you sure thisss human will serve that role? They're not domesticated. Some of them are quite dangerous."
"Don't worry, he'll be trained and he will have a house collar. Hisss memory will be wiped, of course. He won't fight if he doesn't remember that there is something to fight for."
"Good. Wouldn't want a primitive running loose. Who knowsss what they could get up to with those opposable thumbs. Such an unfortunate advancement for a species that wasn't ready for it."
"Yesss." Peleste nodded. "Quite regrettable." He couldn’t wait to go home and leave this unpleasant task behind.