Nick awoke with a start in an unfamiliar place. The dimly lit square room was small and plated entirely in a kind of sterile white tile; the only door he could see was an airlock some ten feet in front of him. Already upright, he tried to take a step only to notice his arms and legs were asleep. Craning his neck, he saw that they were restrained by metal chains. Snapping awake with a surge of adrenaline, his mind suddenly came to terms with the fact he wasn’t in his bed back home. He strained against his restraints, but the cold shackles seemingly permitted no movement. Something, realizing he had awoken, turned the lights on. Nick’s thoughts of escape were put on hold when not a minute later he heard the airlock open with a pneumatic hiss.
If any part of him was still doubting, it was gone now. The two alien creatures walking through the door confirmed his fear - he’d been abducted by aliens. The first through the door looked like a burly enforcer. A four-armed beast of a creature, with dark hair all over, it wore sporadic plate armor over what Nick assumed was his soft spots, and carried a menacing-looking rifle. The next alien was much smaller, also furry with a rabbit-like body plan, with long ears, stubby arms, and big feet. The smaller one was carrying some sharp surgical-looking implements on a tray. He railed further against his chains in a panic, but that only served to open a cut on his wrist which began to dribble down slowly. The smaller alien said something to the enforcer, who grunted a response and walked up to Nick, who was still struggling. The enforcer gave him a swift blow to the head and sent him off into the mists of sleep.
He awoke to an immense feeling of nausea and pain in his abdomen. He was lying down now, atop what felt like a plastic table. Forcing himself to sit with a groan of pain, he looked around to see he was in a new place. Through the room’s dim lighting he could see only the cot he was on and a bucket in the corner - the bare minimum for a prison cell. Looking down to the floor, he also noticed a metal tray with a bowl of water and a single loaf of greenish-brown bread on it. So it was a prison. Now sitting, Nick noticed how hungry he was. He tried to stand, but his body protested and he crumpled to the ground after a single step. Still determined, he crawled to his food and forced himself to eat in spite of his agony. It was only after he finished his meal that he thought to check his condition. Looking down at himself, he realized he wasn’t in his pajamas anymore. Rather, he was dressed in a silk-feeling white gown. He had a tag on his ankle, which he ripped off with some effort; he couldn’t read any of the symbols on it, so he discarded it in favor of inspecting himself.
Nick wasn’t happy to see his chest was lacerated all over, or at least that’s what it looked like. He had close to a dozen small scratch marks on his skin that caused it to puff up painfully. From the way they throbbed, he suspected those scratches went far deeper than they looked, probably because of whatever alien tech they used to operate on him. “Hostile, then.”, he thought to himself. Seeing no alternatives, he began to think of an escape plan, although he didn’t get far. He took a breath and noticed the faint smell of strawberries in the air; he immediately felt woozy. A vent had near the cot opened up and had begun spewing some sort of vapor from it. He didn’t have time to assemble another thought before he was put to sleep.
This time, he woke up in the middle of an operation. The searing pain of his skin having been torn open was the first thing he noticed. He was laying down again and that squat alien from before was leaning over his open chest cavity. The alien took a scalpel with a blue-green edge to Nick’s innards, and began cutting at something. Nick screamed. The Alien screamed. Some others out of Nick’s vision barked out some orders, and he smelled strawberries as he drifted off into nothingness once again.
He awoke back in the same cot. Groaning with new pain, he sat up and rubbed his eyes. Still disoriented, he half walked, half crawled over to where his meal was and drank most of the ice-cold water from the bowl. Still sleepy, he splashed the rest of it onto his face. Now markedly more awake than before, he tried to remember how long he had been there. While he didn’t have an idea of how many days it had been, he did know how many operations he’d gone through. Each time he woke up, he felt a new pain, and scratched a new mark onto a growing tally on the underside of his cot. He ran his fingers over it, trying to form a count through the mental haze of the sleeping gas as it wore off. “That makes thirty...” he muttered to himself as he scratched a new mark into the plastic. “Woo...” he said in mock celebration.
This time around, though, he didn’t even get the luxury of food or drink before the strawberries came. Making a show of panicking, he collapsed and went limp despite his body’s painful protests. He didn’t know why, but he’d slowly built up a tolerance to the sleeping gas. It had taken titanic effort to not scream or even squirm when he woke up during surgery, but his suffering would be worth it if he could become immune without his captors knowing. By his count, he could last for twelve seconds against it. This time he couldn’t suppress a smile as he counted several seconds past twelve before he drifted off to sleep.
Nick didn’t wake up for the next surgery. All he remembered was counting to eighteen before waking up again in his cot. Concerned, he checked himself for scars and injuries. Not feeling any new pains or seeing new marks on his chest, it took him a while to realize what the problem was. It was his vision, or at least the lack of it. To his eyes, the world was fuzzy, almost like it had a filter of television static over it. Immediately nauseous, he heaved, but his stomach was empty. Closing his eyes, he tried to sleep voluntarily for the first time since he was abducted. Unfortunately, whatever was going on in his head had other plans. He felt the world violently lurch under him several times, which he would have thought was real if not for the fact that he was still on the cot.
It felt like several hours passed before anything got better. As time passed, though, his world stabilized and his eyesight cleared. He spent what felt like an eternity lying in a pool of his own sweat - he noticed at some point he had moved to the ground. His head hurt, which he supposed was from whatever fall got him there, so he moved his hand to feel his injured head. What he felt was... smooth. He began to panic. A small patch of his hair just above his left ear was missing. It was about the size of a quarter, and in that space on his skull he could feel a metallic surface with small studs reminiscent of a computer data port.
He took a shaky, panicked breath.
Then he took another.
He could still survive. He just had to figure out what was going on. He quickly stood up, easily shrugging off the surgical pain he had grown used to by now. It was then that he noticed something in the corner of his eye. When he focused on it, a holographic panel appeared in front of him! Startled, he dove backwards onto the cot, but the panel seemed to follow him. Nick put two and two together. They had implanted him with something, and he now had a computer in his brain. He briefly considered this could lead to mind control before he noticed another staggering fact. The alien lettering on the panel was being replaced by English! Now thoroughly flabbergasted, all he could do was read the prompt:
NFT Implant v2.1. Modules Loaded: None. Focus “Start” to begin tutorial.
Nick smiled. He could use this, he just knew it. Focusing on the button labeled “Start”, he began experimenting with the implant.
To his surprise, the strawberry scent didn’t come for several more hours. In that time, he’d learned two important functions of his implant. The first was a read-out of ambient and personal conditions; he found he could summon all kinds of information from his bodily health all the way to the gas composition of the air around him. Second, and maybe more importantly, he learned that the implant could be used to open doors. Even though he only learned this from discovering he couldn’t open his cell door with it, he still considered it a victory. Still experimenting, he realized he’d been smelling strawberries for several moments already. Cursing his absentmindedness, he performed his usual charade and collapsed suddenly upon the floor. This time, however, things were different.
The strawberry scent dissipated before he was fully put to sleep. Feeling only mildly sedated, Nick kept his eyes shut. He heard his cell door open and heavy footsteps strolled towards him until they reached his limp body. A large furry paw gripped him by the arms and lifted him onto a cold metal surface, which he discerned to be a cart of some sort as he heard the squeal of metal casters being pushed. Through his shut eyes he saw the dim light of his cell give way to much brighter lighting. He risked opening one of his eyes a crack, and had to suppress a gasp. From his vantage point haphazardly lying atop the gurney, he was able to see a window. Beyond it, though... beyond the glass he saw countless stars. “Space... I’m on a space-ship!” he thought to himself. Even after all he’d gone through, he still felt giddy at the prospect. In spite of his curiosity, he quickly shut his eye, unwilling to get caught over any new developments. He had to bide his time and pick the right moment to fight back.
He risked another peek once he felt the trolley stop. It looked like he was in the back of an elevator with two aliens. One of them he recognized as the enforcer from before, who he supposed was in charge of pushing his cart. The other was a squat little sloth-like biped who was pushing his own cart. Nick was about to shut his eye again when his implant activated. It showed small popups which highlighted the xenos, showing their names and species. He didn’t know how to interpret the text in those fields, though, and he was about to disregard it before something caught his eye. The highlighting also seemed to apply to some objects, and some of the stuff on the other alien’s cart showed their own panels. He winced when he saw a syringe labeled as a sedative, and a blue-green tipped knife apparently called an infra-scalpel. Next to the infra-scalpel, he saw what looked to be a small computer chip. His implant called it an NFT module, and he focused on that pop-up for more information.
Prisoner Module said the first line.
Enables NFTs equipped with security modules to remotely pacify any users with this module loaded. Also reports location and statistics to security and medical personnel.
Nick’s heart began to race, pure adrenaline driving away any remaining traces of his sedation. What if he was going to be implanted with that? He’d be under his captors’ control, and he might never get another chance to escape. He couldn’t let that happen. Making a snap judgment, he made his move.
He slowly stood into a crouching position on the trolley, thankful that the rattling of the elevator’s movement masked any sounds he was making. He focused on the enforcer’s hip, where it kept its rifle. Standard Issue Xiel-Class Plasma Rifle, read his implant. The enforcer was keeping one of its four arms on the holster, so Nick didn’t think he could pickpocket it. “Fine.” he thought. If he couldn’t steal it, he’d take it by force. Disregarding any pretenses of stealth, he reached to the adjacent cart and grabbed the infra-scalpel. Then, he yelled. Both xenos turned around, surprised at the sudden sound, and Nick took the opportunity to stab the enforcer in one of its many eyes. Its hands now flailing to defend itself, Nick dove for the gun, pulling it off the xeno’s waist with some effort. He landed hard, but he’d already learned how to shrug off pain. He scrambled with the gun in hand to the far corner of the elevator, which was only a couple of feet from his captors.
Aiming quickly he pulled the trigger, but nothing fired. “It has a safety!” he thought, struggling through all the panic. His implant wasn’t helping - he tried to examine the gun closer with it only to be met with denial. Desperate, he flipped a small switch near the trigger. In response, a battery fell out of the rifle. Cursing, Nick turned his attention back to his captors. The enforcer was still trying to get the infra-scalpel out of his face, but the sloth-like alien was approaching him with the sedative syringe in its claws. Spurred on by adrenaline and fear, Nick leapt from his crouching position across the elevator at the sloth, swinging the rifle wildly. It only took two hits - one quick swing to knock the syringe out of its claws, and a second colossal smash to make a sizable dent in the xeno’s head.
Realizing it was in danger, the enforcer stopped struggling with its eye and quickly swung its head around to find Nick. Seeing the sloth incapacitated, the enforcer began swinging its four fists at him. Having beaten the sloth a mere moment before, Nick didn’t see the incoming flurry of blows fast enough to get out of the way. Quickly raising his arms to block as best he could, he heard the telltale snap of his left arm breaking. The pain was nothing to him because of all the adrenaline at the moment though, so he dove to the side, taking some hits to the ribs in order to reach the battery that was previously discarded. Both his hands full, he scrambled over the two carts pressed against the back wall of the elevator. Placing himself against the wall he used his legs to push hard on the carts, sending them flying at the enforcer in order to buy him precious moments to figure out the rifle.
He put in the battery with little issue, but the problem of the safety remained. Frantically, he began flipping every single switch and dial he could think of as the enforcer tossed aside the carts and ran towards him. At that moment, Nick finally found a pin that caused the gun to whine and its muzzle to glow. Without thinking he squeezed his eyes shut and pulled the trigger. The next instant he could smell burning flesh. He opened his eyes to find the enforcer was missing a large amount of its neck. It let out a pained wheeze, and collapsed onto the floor.
Nick took a deep breath.
He didn’t have time to take another, though. In that moment, the elevator doors opened, and he saw a group of three xenos on the platform beyond the door staring at the carnage. Unwilling to face capture again, he aimed the rifle at them, and they screamed and scattered. Nick wrested the infra-scalpel from the head of what used to be the enforcer with his broken arm before bolting out of the elevator, taking note of his surroundings as he ran. His muscles ached and his lungs burned, but he wasn’t going to stop until he was caught or dead. Sprinting down the hall, he frantically swung his head back and forth looking for some way to hide. His attention lapsed, and he failed to notice anything in front of him until he barreled directly into a frog-like alien pushing a cleaning cart. Nick’s broken arm made contact first, and he drew a sharp breath as a web of pain shot through him. The alien didn’t waste any time running away, though, leaving Nick tumbled on the floor for a few seconds.
Scrambling to his feet, he raised his head and felt his heart drop. A group of four xenos were approaching, and although they were of varied species they were all equipped the same as the enforcer he just took out. The one in the front of the group also carried a large riot shield - in addition to the metal slab covering the individual carrying it, the shield also projected a translucent red barrier around it to cover its allies. Whirling around on the spot, Nick was about to run the other direction when his implant highlighted the door the frog-like custodian had just exited, and thus left open. Aft Maintenance Tunnels, 8F, read the implant. Acting more on instinct than logic, he turned and ran through the door.
Sterile white hallways and soft white lighting gave way to cold steel and the webbed illumination provided by caged lamps in the maintenance tunnels. The smooth steel walls were punctuated occasionally by tanks of water or fuel, which Nick occasionally had to dodge around as he ran. He heard the shouting behind him grow louder, and he almost turned around before a streak of red light raced past him just barely to his left. Then he felt a sting in his right calf, and smelled more burnt flesh.
Cursing his luck but thanking the adrenaline numbing his senses, he half ran and half limped around a corner to see a long section of hallway with no ceiling. It looked like the panels that used to be above had been unbolted and moved to the floor for maintenance, since Nick could see many loose cables and exposed pipes above. He heard his pursuers’ shouting getting louder, and he made another snap judgment. With great effort, he heaved himself onto a water tank and peered over the wall. A vast network of pipes and wires webbed across the crawlspace in the ceiling, but it looked traversable enough. He threw the rifle and scalpel over the wall, unable to do much but hope he could find them later. Then, he reached upwards with his good arm to grab a pipe and pull himself into the narrow space. Using his implant to identify which pipes were safe to grab and which ones were hot or corrosive, he was able to drag himself over the wall and onto a large pipe, and not a moment too soon. Just as he got his injured leg out of sight, he heard heavy footfalls run past him. Heart pounding, he didn’t dare even breathe until he could hear the sound growing faint in the distance. With the adrenaline running out and his pain mounting, he collected the gun and scalpel from the nook they had fallen into, and crawled as deep as he could into the labyrinthine network of pipes until he couldn’t move another inch. With every one of muscles sore, and his arm and calf sending shots of pain through his body with every movement, Nick let the cold embrace of a dreamless sleep overtake him.