The prison
Vladimir Hernández and José Miguel Sánchez (Yoss)
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)

        Mental mists dissipating...
        And a dull pain replacing it.
        The ringing of a thousand tiny hammers on the anvil of her forehead.
        Mouth pasty, her slack limbs in excruciating pain.
        The woman began to move herself, though still only semiconscious. She was lying face down, and she wiggled forward, clumsily, about a half meter -- she was lying on a well-polished surface, there was no detail, it was like a dream -- before planting her hands, raising the top part of her torso and shaking her head as if to return entirely to herself. Her very short, honey colored hair barely moved during this energetic exertion.
        Pain, more pain.
        Good afternoon, pain.
        Pain is the messenger of life.
        She sat, massaging her forehead, stunned, relieved to find no injury.
        Who am I?
        The autoscan’s answer, opening up from her memory implant through a hazy wall of confusion, came in simple characters of retinal impression:
        Silvia García. Astronaut second class, serial number 113-A-2-ATL. Assigned to the preliminary exploratory mission for the Promise system.
        First the general images, then the details of what followed injected themselves into her mind; a systematic haze of electric impulses which returned her memory like a high-speed symbolic report.
        A routine system, stellar class G, a couple of gas giants and a planetary belt. She had approached the smaller of the giant planets with her personal ship -- temporarily christened P-2 -- to take advantage of the slingshot effect of its tremendous mass and to launch a robot probe toward one of the asteroids, which seemed from the spectrograph to be fairly rich in tungsten, with a minimum expense of fuel... the tiny robotic probe had just communicated that its course was correct and she had retransmitted the data to the mother ship, the Atlantus...she had already accelerated into her return trip when the ion impulse unit “sneezed” twice and then died...
        How stupid. She should never have swung that close to a gas giant with a ship of the Mantis class; very maneuverable, but its motors were never designed for gravitational overload. The directives spelled that out quite clearly. But, to be honest, no veteran of the Atlantus had ever obeyed all the directives faithfully.
        She trembled at the memory; a swirl of events following.
        The acceleration, insufficient to return to the Atlantus, but more than sufficient to pull her Mantis out of its synchronous orbit with P-2...and then, the gravitational tug.. the hysterical cries from the crew of the ultraline, her companions from the Atlantus desperately signaling to her the impossibility of any rescue vehicle being able to reach her in time to save her...
        She found herself once more falling toward the unusually large gravitational well, imminent death, the overload heat absorber heating up... the tremendous gravity of P-2 growing ever larger, squashing her hands into the controls of the instrument panel... growing, growing... the difficulty in breathing growing by the second... as if inertia were an infinitely heavy monster, with thousands of claws, and it was placing one more on her shoulders every second... her eyes clouding up in red and black... the useless attempt to reactivate the dead ion impulser... falling through the terribly dense layers of clouds, the beauty, both terrifying and lethal, and down... down... down?
        She hugged herself, suddenly feeling icy, as if a ferocious cold was growing in her bones.
        Inside a gas giant?
        Impossible... the high pressures, the gravity, the hellish temperature. She should have been boiled, squashed, dissolved a thousand times over. She ought to be dead.
        Silvia remained motionless, gasping for a couple of seconds. Until she was able to convince herself that she was really alive and -- aside from the pounding in her temples which was subsiding -- apparently unharmed.
        Or maybe something had gone wrong...
        Or had gone well enough, which was occasionally even worse. Alive and well, yes. But how, where and above all, why?
        Calm down. Analyze the situation. Point by point and without losing your cool.
        She leaped to her feet in a single bound, almost as if pushed by a spring, and she studied the place where she had awoken.
        Visibility reached only a few dozen meters in all directions. Beyond, a few bluish hazes that impeded her vision. Walls of fog? Holograms? Or maybe it was simply water vapor dissolved in... air?
        It had to be, because she could breathe... she breathed deeply. If there were some dangerous gas that might harm her lungs, it was completely odorless. The only smells that reached her pituitary were the corporal emissions of her own body, which was... naked?
        Almost instinctively she half shrunk into herself, covering her lower torso and breasts with her hands, as though to protect herself from the unexpected blowing of icy wind. A second later she smiled and, abandoning her ridiculous posture, she stood up straight. Her nudity was as absurd as the situation, but it was only that, nudity. It meant nothing for an astronaut, obliged to share a certain level of intimacy in the close quarters of the interstellar ships.
        In reality, she was not cold, and the wind was not blowing. It was only that, after so many months of using her spacesuit almost as a second skin, she suddenly felt completely unprotected.
        Someone had removed her spacesuit and all the other accessories which she wore underneath when she was in her Mantis and, by some means that she did not yet understand, had saved her from certain death to bring her to this strange site.
        Okay, it could have been worse. At least she was alive.
        She took a few tentative steps on the polished material of the floor. Smooth but not slippery. Seamless. It did not appear to be metallic but plastic or some sort of ceramic. Neither hot nor cold, just like the air; that is, between about 93 to 97 Fahrenheit. It was almost certain that her mysterious benefactor had prudently chosen to place her in thermal conditions not much different from her proper body temperature.
        She felt more at ease.
        Someone who had not only saved her but who was concerned with her wellbeing, could not have bad intentions for her.
        Of course, for all the talk in Terran circles by so many paranoid crazies constantly warning about the possible aggressive races which human exploration would encounter and the danger they would pose for our species, the first contact could not have been more pacific. A splendid encounter of intellects.
        And chance had placed her in the role of ambassador for her race. She nervously cleared her throat and spoke, trying to seem solemn and sure of herself:
        “Hello, I am Silvia García. I belong to the human species. Whoever you may be, I am grateful for your rescuing me. Now please show yourself, so that we may get to know each other.”
        And she anxiously awaited a reply.
        For several moments, nothing happened. But the sound began just as she began to repeat her request.
        It was both a noise and a vibration. A squeal of frequencies beyond human hearing, which traveled from one side of her to the other and made her tremble, until she felt like her very spinal fluid was twisting and turning, attempting to flow out of its bony container.
        Unable to contain herself, she screamed from the pain and surprise.
        But that was just the beginning.
        Unexpectedly her body, without any order at all from her brain, tensed up under an external influence. She tried to fight the horror of this surprise invasion, but its power easily overpowered the control system of her implants and gripped her tightly. She fought against the terror with all her might.
        It is trying to communicate with me, she thought, and this idea inspired her to resist this neural assault on her body. But it was by no means anything agreeable, and the sensation did not improve when her legs, with the clumsiness of a child learning to walk, carried her along through some imprecise and rigid steps. Then her motion became more smooth and natural but always without any intervention of her own will.
        It learns quickly, she thought. That’s a good thing, because this sensation of helplessness, of not being the master of one’s own body, is... torture. But I must cooperate...
        The movements of her body became more secure and rapid. Exact steps, decidedly dancerlike turns, crouching down, raising her arms and then somersaults forwards and backwards, dangerous jumps with an energy and precision that Silvia could never have achieved in even her best moments.
        And suddenly the movements converted into a fast and shuddering choreography, following the rhythm of some exotic music which Silvia of course could not hear.
        It was the dance of a master and at the same time an acrobat fixated on anatomy, who had decided to explore the limits of the possibilities of the human body. One leg raised in front of Silvia until her knee touched her shoulder, then the other bent backwards and raised until the ball of her foot touched her head. She jumped in the air, her legs spreading by more than 180 degrees, then twisted on the ground as if her spine were an archer’s bow. She bent at the waist as if she were being folded, shrunken into the tightest tangle of limbs pressed tightly together. Immediately, her arms rose like plants seeking the sky, joined her back, her vertebral column shaken by peristaltic waves like those of an impossible worm.
        A hundred years of violent ballet seemed to pass; a warm sweat poured continuously through her bronzed skin. She ached completely. Her untrained joints creaked, tortured by the mysterious manipulator, her untrained muscles shook from exhaustion. She knew that, if at this moment her savior (executioner?) were to stop pulling the invisible strings he was using to force her to move to his whims, she would collapse from pure exhaustion.
        This has gone too far. This was going to kill me. She should tell him to stop.
        But this was not an option which came with her enigmatic state of resurrection: her vocal cords and her lips, like the rest of her body, no longer belonged to her. As much as she tried, she could still not force her complaint out of her throat. Tears of powerlessness and pain escaped, her only consolation, and ran down her cheeks, tracing burning, salty trails.
        A rather painful form of communication.
        And finally, as suddenly as it had begun, the exhausting dance ended. And as soon as it finished, Silvia spilled full length onto the floor.
        She felt completely exhausted. She could not even access her physiological assistance implants. The alien contact seemed to have short-circuited this interface to take complete control over her. She had to concentrate all of her efforts just to breathe. But, why didn’t it enter her mind directly? Why did it insist on manifesting itself through her body? Perhaps it was an incorporal extradimensional being, for whom her mind would definitely be outside its range. Theorists had spoken of hypothetical species who had transcended our own reality to evolve into more complex planes of existence. She did not believe that she could accomplish anything further as an ambassador for the human race before a Transcendental Species. The energetic rhythm of her “contact” had only brought her to collapse.
        With such exhaustion she could not think clearly. She needed to rest a little, nothing more. Just settle on the ground, abandoned, simply settle in and relax, relax...
        She did not wake on her own, but from the pleasant tickling that began to run through all her skin.
        Even amidst the fog of her dream, she smiled and thought, wow, a change of tactic; it’s still in corporal contact but now it is pleasant and smooth. I guess we are making progress...
        She felt as if every centimeter of her skin, every nerve ending, was being gently stimulated. Lying face up, she concentrated in the delicious sensation, and a sweetness and growing abandon was relaxing her even more.
        Startled, she noticed a strong sexual desire invading her, and her naked nipples responded, erect as never before. From the corner of her eye, lowering her gaze, she noticed her sensitive aureoles redden by the second. From her sex, suddenly moist and desirous, escaped a wetness that moistened her thighs. Vagina and anus began to contract smoothly and insistently, without any self-control. It was pleasant... and terrifying at the same time.
        And now what? Is pleasure a primordial language of this being? She took the time to ask herself before an orgasm, a torrent of erogenous fire, lit her from inside, doubling her over in a spasm of pleasure, which seemed to last almost an entire minute.
        Still panting and almost as exhausted as before going to sleep, she stood up trembling. At least she could still do that by herself, although her muscles still ached, stiffened by the earlier dance.
        Her head was spinning.
        My God! She had never experienced such a pure lust and pleasure. It was a pheromonal language directed right towards her pleasure centers. Perhaps they might come to understand each other, after all. It was playing with her once more.
        The second climax came quickly and was like lava pouring out of her clitoris, overflowing into her insides. Abrasive and explosive. This unstoppable alien violation-invasion making its way like a gravitational tsunami. Silvia fell to her knees, caressing her breasts with an uncontrollable delight which, however, seemed incapable of providing more pleasure than she already felt.
        A small pool of vaginal fluid shone on the floor, under her crotch... and now she tensed up again, involuntarily.
        More? It is going to kill me! As she felt the now familiar sweetness inundate her once more, her hands flew to bury themselves in her pubic shrubbery, in a vain attempt to abort the dizzying climax which was emerging once more; to protect herself from that delicious and terrible eruption of pleasure which shook her relentlessly.
        And it was a waterfall of absolute ecstasy and pain, a neurochemical overdose in rapid succession, like explosive bursts crashing relentlessly into the sensory universe of the astronaut. Her trembling knees refused to support her any longer, and she fell. However, her convulsing body still fought to elevate her, seeking that entity which was trying to drown her in pleasure.
        Stop... for pity’s sake... I can’t take any more...
        But there was no pity.
        The return of the interminable pleasure-pain, enslaving all of her nerve cells; expanding her ecstasy, holding back collapse. Her lips bleeding from her biting them and her sex so swollen that the torrent of secretions which filled her expanded vagina barely dripped onto the floor against which she rubbed her belly and thighs.
        And suddenly it all stopped, just as it had begun; with a feeling of tingling in all her skin, which itself also began to fade away.
        Completely exhausted and with a pain in her breasts and her insides which compounded the pain of her sore muscles, Silvia tried to sit up three times, without success. Puffing, she was suddenly aware of a brutal hunger, primitive and insistent, which filled her to the brim. She knew from experience that the body only acted this way once it entered into the full process of autophagia, when the catabolic wasting became extreme and the metabolism urgently needed to replenish its resources.
        With infinite effort, she raised her sight, seeking any food which the invisible host might have placed at her disposal. She expected the food as a minimal retribution for the physiological wear and tear she had been subjected to during the “contact”. But there was nothing. Only the polished floor and the bluish haze.
        Crying from frustration and powerlessness, Silvia drowned in a famished sleep.
        An imprecise period passed -- like always, too short -- and Silvia again saw herself forced to parrot the movements which the other being imagined for her, the docile doll of an alien and incomprehensible mind.
        As she went through this involuntary dance, crying and gasping, her view clouding up with each turn, Silvia became conscious of the fever which was consuming her, of bones poking out of her cheeks and ribs: they seemed to threaten to break her skin. The “contact” was destroying her irredeemably.
        For the first time she felt that, more than fear, more than terror, an absolute certainty was making its way through her mind, transmitting a complete peace:
        I am going to die...
        “Ulhkkk, I am worried. Skloak is spending too much time with his new plaything. He hardly pays attention to any other thing. I don’t think it was a good idea of Kohbe to bring him that pet... we thought that it would help him with his mental control, but it disgusts me to see him torture the poor little animal constantly, without giving it a rest.”
        “Yes? Well, don’t worry, Ankjahl: this stage won’t last too long. And all the little ones are the same with their first pet. They think it is just another mechanical device, they forget to give it food and then they cry when it dies. The same thing happened to my Groonke... then he wouldn’t stop pestering us to buy him another one, and then he finally lost all interest...”
        “Oh? But I had never seen one of these....”
        “Well, Mr. Explorer Kohbe says that they are swarming through all of space, that they are spreading out, because until now they had never been seen so far from their nest-planet. They must be some sort of parasite. One of these days we will have to take measures against them, before they turn into a real infestation. But meanwhile, they do serve to entertain the little ones...”
        “Yes, Ankjhal, everything in this Universe serves some purpose... look how your Skloak enjoys his plaything, Look...”
        “Yes... Isn’t it precious? Look...”
        And both cut short their animated chat to watch, with expressions of rapt joy, as the little one played.
        Although, strictly speaking, “chat”, “watch”, “expressions”, “little” and “played” would not be the most accurate words; except in a metaphorical sense.
        Because the alien species to which these three beings belonged, instead of using words or any other sort of sounds to communicate used an extremely complex series of pheromones which formed a curious olfactory language.
        Because, living as they did in a world whose surface never experienced visible light, they had no eyes, let alone faces or expressions.
        Because Skloak, although having reached barely half the size of Ankjhal and Ulhkkk, already measured 50 meters of armored decapod flesh.
        Because, above all, if anyone were to ask the tiny being which twisted under the mental control of Skloak, within the capsule that he held inside his tweezers, she probably would have called it anything other than a game.
        If, of course, she still had the energy to say it...
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