“As instructed, I have combed the recesses of it's psyche, and there is nothing noteworthy.”
“Then it is useless to us. Send it to the arena.” The hooded figure turned to leave.
“As you command.” The druid bowed low and moved towards the body strapped to the raised table, motioning a sentry to come forward.
“Hold it in place. Kill it if it shows resistance.” The druid pressed a few buttons on the nearby control panel, and the limp body fell forwards into the arms of the sentry.
“Take Prisoner 117-9875 to Commander Sendak's ship for transport.” The sentry dragged the body out of the room. Grey eyes flickered open partially, seeing a purple world before them, before closing once more.
Shiro groaned as he stirred. It felt like a compactor was pressing down over his body and he didn't want to move. His eyes slowly blinked open, a purple hue surrounding him.
“Shiro! You awake?” Shiro rolled over. In the corner of the room sat Matt.
“Matt? What? W-Where are we?”
“You don't remember? We're on an alien ship. We're prisoners.” Matt pulled his knees closer to his chest and looked at the floor.
“I haven't seen dad yet either. What do you think they're doing to him? Do you think he's...”
“I don't know...but we're alive and everything feels fine. I don't think they're going to kill us.”
“Yet.” Matt pushed himself deeper into the corner and hid his face. Shiro sighed. He was right. Pulling himself up slowly, he groaned, grabbing the side of the slab he was on to steady himself.
“If they wanted to kill us, we'd be dead by now. Do you remember what they did to you?”
“Not really. Just being strapped onto something and a prick. I woke up in here, where you're sat.” Matt looked up, scratching at his neck. “You?”
“I...felt like I was falling at one point and green light. Everything hurts though. My muscles ache.” Shiro carefully massaged his thighs, letting out a soft hiss as he rubbed a little too hard.
A strange click, then whirring, and another click broke the silence. Both occupants quickly turned their attention to the door. A blinding purple light shone inwards, and they tried to shield their eyes from the harsh light. Heavy clanking became louder, and the sound of something being dragged in made Shiro curious, and he tried to squint through the light. Two figures; likely a sentry and another body. He tried to get up, but he hissed in agony at the pain in his thighs. As quick as they had entered the room, they were gone. The door swishing shut and clicking.
“D-Dad? Dad!” Matt scrambled to Sam's side, grabbing his limp body in his arms and cradling him to his chest. He brushed some damp strands of hair off his forehead, before laying him down gently and checking for a pulse.
“He's alive, Shiro! Dad's alive. He's fine...” Matt grasped Sam's hand, and started to gently rock backwards and forwards repeating 'he's fine' over and over, tears rolling down his cheeks. Shiro smiled weakly; he was relieved they were all back together, but for how long, he didn't know. He'd been trying to remember the 'training' they'd had on Earth, and it didn't feel that it would help in the slightest.
The three humans were dragged half-asleep from their cell and forced to walk at gunpoint through the corridors by the sentries. It had felt like days since Sam had been brought to them, and about as long since they'd eaten or drank anything. Matt was feeling the effects of dehydration the most, and could barely walk in a straight line. He kept slumping against the wall. Shiro wasn't fairing much better himself. The muscle pain was only getting worse since he had no medication, and with each step it felt like someone was punching his kidneys. They finally made it to a large hangar. In there stood more sentries and two aliens in front of a craft; black and purple in design.
“You're late.” One of the aliens turned, his skin indigo and small black horns running down his head. Shiro cocked his head to the side, stopping so he could process what was in front of him. He felt something press into his back, before stumbling forward. He wasn't sure how he could understand what the alien had said, but with his pounding headache he didn't want to think too much.
“The druids have decided Prisoner 117-9874 be taken to one of the research camps, and Prisoner's 117-9875 and 9876 are for the arena.” The one with horns didn't look at them, and Matt stumbled towards Sam, trying to lean against him for support but losing his balance.
“Matt!” Sam rasped. He coughed as he dropped to his knees, but unable to help Matt off the floor due to his hands being bound. He glared up at the alien, then turned to the other one. Both stood there, watching, before the other, a very tall alien with two-toned purple fur, drawled out:
“Is there any reason that you are giving Commander Sendak sick prisoners? What use is that one for the gladiator arena if it cannot stand, and what of the one for the research camps? You've come from the main fleet, you should have basic prisoner supplies.”
“They're just prisoners. I'm not wasting my limited resources when I have a crew to feed and keep maintained.”
“A crew of primarily sentries.”
“Do not disrespect me, Officer Haxus. Unlike you or Commander Sendak, I've earned my spot through hard work and loyal service. Take them and get off my ship, I've a system to return to.” He turned and glared at Matt and Sam as he stalked by, his sentries flanking him.
Haxus clicked his tongue and stepped forward.
“You. Prisoner. Are you and your kind sick?” He stared at Shiro, who slowly shook his head. Haxus sighed.
“In Galran that gesture is an insult. Speak.” Shiro blinked and tried to create some saliva in his dry mouth. He opened his it, but only air came out.
“Need...water. Dehydrated. Sick.” Sam had choked out a reply, and pointed to Shiro when he said sick. Haxus stared down at Sam, then back at Shiro and sighed. He turned, addressing the sentries quickly. Shiro stumbled to Sam and Matt, who had managed to roll himself onto his side by this point, although panting heavily.
“You will be given liquid and quarantined until cleared. The Commander wants no alien diseases on board. You will comply or face punishment.” Haxus turned and walked towards the ship, and the sentries moved forward, pulling them all up and dragging them into the craft. They were ushered into a small holding cell with an energy field in place of a door. In perhaps a few minutes, they felt the engines rumble to life and the ship move.
In no time at all, it came to a halt again and they were all pulled out by the sentries. As they were marched through the hangar, Shiro spotted the tall Galra, Haxus, in conversation with an even larger Galra. Just how big did this race get, he wondered. Perhaps he would have chance to ask, or not. By the sounds of it, he was probably never going to know since him and Matt were the two likely off to the gladiator arena. They were pushed into a small tiled room. It looked sterile; something between a public shower and hospital ward. Shiro stiffened, and looked to Sam who was holding Matt in his arms, glaring warily around the room. Shiro looked up to see what looked like sprinklers. Suddenly, the light dulled and they sprayed hot liquid down.
Matt rasped and brought his hands up to protect himself. Sam pushed him into his chest and bowed his head, a pained frown on his face. Shiro threw his hands over his eyes as the liquid, which smelled similar to the antiseptic sprays in a hospital, soaked into his hair, skin and prisoner garb he wore. It wasn't burning, but hot enough to be a shock to the system. Eventually it stopped, and all three stood there, rubbing water out of their eyes or spitting it to the floor. Sam pawed around for the wall, and Matt guided him slowly over to it so he could try and get his bearings.
“It stings.” Sam hissed as he blinked his eye a few times.
A door in front of them opened up, and the group took it as a sign to move forward. Shiro and Matt took one of Sam's arms each, and walked together. It helped to keep them balanced, but the rags they wore felt heavy and moving in anything soaked was uncomfortable as it hugged against their skin. As they entered a second, narrow room, it looked like a giant dryer, similar to ones Shiro remembered in a pool he visited once with Adam when they went on holiday. The fans came to life with a low hum, and soon they were having to brace themselves as warm air hit them from all sides. Their hair blew wildly in all directions, while Matt had to try and ground himself before the fans knocked him over. The temperature in the room was rising as well, and just like the sun in the middle of summer, they dried quick enough.
From there they left to find a third room. In it was someone, this time not a sentry, dressed in all red. They were possibly a Galra, judging by their height.
“There are fluids here. Drink. Sustenance will be provided in due course. You will be taken and checked for all foreign disease and infection within half a varga.” They motioned at the small bottles of liquid on the table. Finding the energy from somewhere, they scrambled for a bottle each. Shiro pulled the cap up by his teeth before taking a sip. He wanted to chug the bottle down, but it wouldn't help him. He took small, slow sips, and felt his throat moisten up. He'd never experienced dehydration before, and this was something he didn't want to experience again.
“You, Prisoner 117-9875,” Shiro blinked, pointing at himself.
“Yes. Follow.” Shiro grabbed another bottle of water and cautiously followed the alien. He looked back at Sam and Matt, who were anxiously watching him. As he followed down a small corridor, he had to blink to adjust to the low light levels. Everything was dark with this strange purple light and he couldn't understand why everything seemed to be the same colour. He could feel his hands become clammy and sipped some more water as they came to a stop.
“You will be seen. Enter.” Shiro, unsure how to respond, gave a small bow, before quickly entering the room. He regretted it as a sharp pain shot up his right leg. He hissed, grabbing it and dropping his water bottle to the floor.
“That can wait. Sit.” The voice sounded old, and Shiro looked over to see a Galra sat at a desk with a hologram projected screen. This technology. Shiro wanted to see what it did, but the pale Galra with pinky-white markings just stared at him. He sat down on a cold metal table as the medical officer approached. He took out a small hand scanner and ran it down Shiro's body. His eyes squinted as he possibly read the screen, Shiro wasn't sure since he had no pupils, but grumbled something under his breath.
“Of course the human has something wrong which they could not fix.” He opened a cupboard and pulled out a long needle, then a vial of some strange, bright white liquid. Shiro pulled himself inwards as the Galra approached.
“How'd you know I'm human? How can I understand you?” He eyed the needle nervously.
“We have been watching your species for millennia gathering information. There is a translator implanted behind your ear. It is universal. Stay still and do not ask questions.” The Galra pulled his right arm out roughly and injected the strange white liquid straight into his artery in his elbow. Shiro hissed in pain as he watched the contents empty from the vial, but then something...felt warm.
“W-What did you inject? What is this?” He went to shove the Galra away, but was held back by stronger hands.
“Quintessence-based medicine. You have a disease that is easily curable. We cannot afford it to infect anyone else on the ship.” The tone was so matter-of-fact, like somehow curing his genetic condition was that simple.
“It's genetic. It's not something you can simply cure with one needle of fluorescent liquid.” Shiro rasped, glaring at the Galra in front of him.
“And I suppose you know so much about Galran medicine, human? Your race is primitive in comparison, but if you wish to believe you are not cured, then think whatever you please. I will not repeat myself again: do not ask questions.” He rose and walked over to his display, typing something down before taking another needle. This was empty.
“Other arm. I am taking a blood sample. Afterwards you will strip and I will check your vitals and run a few extra tests. Then you may leave.” He watched Shiro glare at the floor and shrugged. After a few seconds, Shiro raised his left arm. He looked away as the needle went in. Even across the universe these tests were just like home. He wished someone was here with him, like when Adam used to come along with him.
After what felt like hours, he was allowed to leave. He pulled the ragged shirt over his head and left without saying a word. He sipped some more water, his cracked lips stinging. The warm feeling that had entered his arm now felt like it was all around his body. It was strange, he felt heavy but in a good way. He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. It was all a lie. As he entered the room, he found Matt and Sam still sat there. They rushed to his side, pulling him over to the table with them where a small bowl of purple goo sat. Shiro wrinkled his nose at the sight of it. He couldn't cook, but this looked awful – almost as bad as natto.
“What happened? How are you?” Sam placed a hand on Shiro's shoulder while Matt pushed a bottle of water closer to him.
“It was just like any other medical exam. They took blood – they can scan you with this device and apparently see what's wrong with you. He found out about my condition and...” Shiro coughed a little and took some more water, “he gave me something...quintessence? He called it that. Apparently I'm 'cured'.” He made air quotations with his fingers. Sam looked pensive for a moment before nodding to himself.
“Do you believe it?” Shiro knew that look.
“There's a possibility. I'd need to know what this stuff is made of. I know the word, but there's several definitions. I am wary though. It could be something else entirely. I don't know for certain – I mean look where we are.” Sam scooped up some of the goo from his bowl and slowly put it in his mouth, chewing as he remained in thought. Shiro glanced at Matt, who'd barely touched his 'food'.
“Is it that bad?”
“It's disgusting. I heaved.”
“Does it taste like chicken?”
“No. It tastes like a raccoons ass.” Matt forced a smile but it went when Sam stared at him.
“Please try and eat a little more. Your mother will kill me.”
“I'll...try.” He got a tiny spoonful and raised it to his lips. He sniffed it and pulled away. Sam groaned and motioned for him to pinch his nose. Matt whined but conceded. As he placed it in his mouth, his eyes shot open and he turned away from the table, coughing out the goo.
“Prisoner 117-9874. You are required.” The attendant in all red appeared in the doorway. Sam sighed heavily as he rose from his seat, taking his bottle with him.
“Shiro, please try making him eat.”
“I'll try. Good luck.” Shiro's mouth tugged into a small smile as Sam left, before he returned his attention to the goo.
“C'mon. Let's try and eat this shit.” Shiro smirked at the forlorn look Matt gave him, and ruffled his hair a little. This warm feeling inside him was somehow making his mood the tiniest bit better.
The cell was silent aside from the soft grunts and sighs of Matt sleeping, finally. He was snuggled against Sam's side, who was absently fiddling with his hair.
“Shiro? Can I ask you something?”
“Yeah?” Shiro glanced over at Sam, who just kept stroking Matt's hair.
“I hate to ask you of this but please; please take care of Matt for me.”
“You never need to ask me for anything, Sam. I'll do whatever it takes to keep him safe. Don't talk like you'll never see him again.”
“Shiro. I don't think we'll be seeing anyone again.” He pushed stray strands of Matt's hair from his face, smiling fondly at the soft features. “I'm proud of him; he's accomplished so much, but I never should have taken him on this mission. Or you. I've sentenced you both to death.” He choked on the last word. “This is the last time I'll see him so peaceful. The last time I'll ever see you. You know, he sees you like an older brother, and honestly,” Sam looked over solemnly, “I've seen you like a second son. I'm sorry I've failed you both.”
Shiro opened and closed his mouth, swallowing down a lump in his throat.
“You've supported me so much since dad died, and been an amazing friend, as well as Colleen and the kids. You've not failed us and you're not a terrible father. Mark my words; I'll keep us both safe and we will find you. We will save you.”
“I appreciate your optimism, but the Commander refuses to see me to defend your cases, and they're dragging me away in who knows how many hours. It's something you have nightmares about, as a parent, outliving your kids. I'm scared for him, for you, and...Colleen and Katie will never know.” Sam's voice cracked. He tried to muffle it, and sniffed to clear his nose.
“I can't wake him. Not now. Did you know he used to do this when he was ill or wanted me to get him some new gizmo; cuddle up and sleep on me. Then he became a stroppy teenager and hated most of the decisions I made, especially around curfews and tidying his room. Colleen told me when we were away in the Kaiper Belt, Matt and Katie would sit on the roof until the small hours of the morning talking to me. She pretended she didn't know what they were doing.” He smiled and sniffed again.
“Sam, please listen. I'll protect him. We'll get you out. I promise.” Sam glanced up to see Shiro with his head bowed low. Sam sighed and opened his other arm out, Shiro crawling over.
“I love you and Matt like family, and I'm happy I found you all.” Shiro relaxed when Sam pulled him in.
“I truly hope you can find me.”
“I'll protect Matt with my life, and will sacrifice it if I can save him.” Shiro reached out and brushed Matt's arm, gaze hard as he took in every detail of his peaceful face. It was probably the last time he was going to see him like this again as well.