The escape from the station hadn't gone precisely as planned. That much was certain. Swiftfoot remembered exactly when things went wrong for her - the girl. She'd stayed a moment too long, utterly fixated on the girl; more accurately, on the carnage that the girl was inflicting on her former master. The Demarian couldn't move, couldn't think. Someone had yelled at her to run, but she hadn't listened. It was almost as if her feet had been nailed to the deck plates. They may as well have been. All she could hope for now was that the rest of them had gotten away in the confusion. There was gunfire at the landing bay, but she'd been unable to get out of the room once a detail of security showed up. They seemed as surprised to see her as she had been to see them, but they were quicker on the draw.
The girl had killed her master, then gone strangely placid, not even resisting when several white-coated Ungstiri scientists showed up to reclaim her. The sight of that blood-spattered girl walking away amidst those clean white coats was aesthetically interesting - Swiftfoot wished in vain for a set of pencils. She snorted and shook her head at the morbid thought, then went back to musing about the debacle that landed her here in this room, with its blocky, unbreakable furniture, cut off from the hallway by a force field. In other words, a cell. Insult to injury, indeed.
"Why the hell did I agrree to this stupid job, anyway?" the orange-furred pilot yelled at nobody in particular. The three blank walls didn't seem inclined to answer, and the only sound from the force field was the muted buzzing that kept her awake every night until she was completely exhausted. "Oh, rright. Money. Always with the money. Can't spend it now, can you, Starrchaserr? Can't spend it now." She flopped back on the bed, her feet dangling off the end of it as she stretched herself out to full length. "Couldn't even get me a prroperr-sized bed, could you? Assholes." She bared her teeth and stuck her middle finger out at the camera, safe in the corner behind its clear, high-impact plastic dome.
A click and some static indicated that the speaker in the room was activating. The speaker, the panel, and the viewscreen were all utterly impervious to both claw and fist - the Demarian had proved that much to herself already. One of her ears flicked in response to the electronic crackle, and she looked over at the device, eyes narrowing slightly. A pale Ungstiri man appeared on the screen, and Swiftfoot looked away with a snort. "What the fuck do you want, you hairrless ape? Just let me rrot in peace alrready."
"Dobry vyechyir, Gospahza Starchaser," the man's voice greeted, artificially cheerful, and for all intents and purposes utterly ignoring the venomous tirade from the Demarian. A knowing grin rested on his face. "Trust you are finding your accomodations to be satisfactory?" He laughed then.
"I'll show you satisfactorry," she growled in reply. The felinoid bolted up from the bed, and leapt across the small room in mere seconds, one fist landing squarely in the center of the screen. She winced slightly as her knuckles connected with whatever material the device was covered with, then rebounded. Backing off a couple of steps, she eyed the screen with a snarl curling her lip, and her tail lashing. She shook her paw a few times, as if to disperse the pain into the air. It didn't help much.
The Ungstiri man simply laughed again. "Think you'll find that that's about as useful to you as punching a plascrete wall would be, tovarisch. Spaciba for testing out the sturdiness of the material, though. Is good to see that it can stand up to you, even if you aren't exactly a prime example of your species. Don't worry yourself too much about it, though. Will fix that for you soon enough, da?"
Swiftfoot's eyes narrowed, and she backed up another step from the screen, her tail still flicking irritably. "What the fuck's that supposed to mean? You'll fix that forr me? You think I want any parrt of the shit that goes on in this place? You'rre nuts. I'd slit my own thrroat with my claws beforre I'd cooperrate with you assholes." As if to demonstrate, she slid her claws out from their sheathes and held them up.
"You have no choice," the Ungstiri responded, his thick black eyebrows drawing together in a slight frown. "Would have thought you would welcome the opportunity to be part of such a momentous experiment. The girl, she is a breakthrough to be sure, but is still only the beginning of what we can do. We are destined for great things here. We are making history. Only way this could possibly be better is if the rest of your cadre had not slipped through the fingers of our useless security forces." He looked away from the screen for a moment, then shrugged vaguely, his eyes coming back up to meet Swiftfoot's. "Would rather have a willing participant, but we will use force if we must."
"You just trry it, you fucking filthy rrockrrat," the Demarian spat, then flopped down onto the bed and turned away from the screen. She did it with purpose - to hide the smile sneaking across her muzzle at the thought of her companions escaping. "Just trry it."
"If you insist, Gospahza Starchaser," the man replied, his voice tinged with - of all things - a hint of sadness.
A low hissing sound came from the speaker.
The felinoid's ears perked up, and she sat up from the bed, looking curiously in the direction of the sound's source. Seeing nothing immediately amiss, her eyes narrowed, then went to the screen. The Ungstiri was still visible, but a vaguely predatory smile now rested on his lips. The room spun suddenly, and the Demarian reeled, whimpering faintly as she laid her head down on the thin pillow. She curled up in a ball and put her paws to her face, covering her eyes in a futile attempt to stop the vertigo. Bit by bit, the ball of orange fur simply collapsed, eventually falling unconscious onto the undersized bed. Her tail flicked once, weakly, and then was still.
The Ungstiri sighed sadly and shook his head. "Would have been so much easier if you'd only cooperated, Gospahza Starchaser. So much easier. But what's done is done." At this point, he was merely talking to himself.
...and immediately wished that she hadn't. The viscous, pale-green liquid that filled the tank that she floated in gave the entire room a greenish tint. Her back itched intensely, almost painfully, but there was no way she could reach it in her current state. Various tubes and wires were attached to her legs, arms, and torso, and she wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing. Any place that a tube or wire met her body, the fur was at some point completely shaved away. In fact, most of her fur was cut very, very short, which was probably more of a blessing than anything, given her current surroundings. Her lip curled, and she pounded against the glass of the tube. A technician standing at the panel in front of her jumped and looked up in surprise, prompting the Demarian to direct a predatory grin at him. She opened her mouth to speak, but the words were muffled by the contents of the tank. No bubbles rose from her mouth as she tried to speak, either, but in her current muzzy state, she couldn't quite figure out why.
The technician tapped at a couple of buttons on the panel. A whirring sound started up somewhere above Swiftfoot, and she craned her neck upward, trying to see the source of the sound. The liquid swirled about her, and a sudden sleepiness overtook her.
The next time she awoke, she could barely open her eyes. Fatigued beyond belief, she struggled to raise eyelids that seemed to be weighed down with lead. And then, it was there, shining a bright golden light into the interior of the tank. She couldn't tell what it was, only that it was round, and seemed to be dangling from something, as it swayed back and forth erratically. It was almost like a star, taken down from the heavens and leashed. Swiftfoot stared, though its brightness made her eyes water. The thought of looking away from that lovely light filled her with unbearable pain. Finally, unable to keep her eyes open any longer despite her best efforts, she fell asleep, and she dreamed dreams of that beautiful swaying, glowing sphere of molten gold.
She vaguely remembered waking up several more times, every time surrounded by the viscous green contents of the tank. By now, her surroundings had become comforting, the technicians familiar in their comings and goings. The taller of the two female Ungstiri that tended to her was standing outside, apparently taking notes. The felinoid stretched experimentally, but could only stretch so far because of the confines of the tiny glass room, and the various tubes and wires hooked into her body. Something seemed to be amiss with her back, where it had itched so badly the first time she awoke, but she couldn't get her head around to look at what might be causing the feeling. She stared at the technician and mentally implored the woman to look up from her work. The technician, to the felinoid's surprise, looked up, then swiftly scribbled something down on the electronic notepad. She called out to someone over her shoulder then, or at least that's what it seemed like she did. The felinoid couldn't hear anything from inside the tube.
A second technician came over, and looked just as surprised as the first. Soon after, the man she first saw on the viewscreen joined them. The tube drained slowly, the contents going down a drain at the bottom that she hadn't noticed. After it emptied, the glass itself lifted away, and she waited patiently as the pair of technicians detached her from the machine. At that point, she was able to step down off of the metal platform. The Ungstiri man held up the glowing golden sphere, and all she could do was stare at it raptly. She saw now that it was a jewel of some sort. "Good," he said, mostly to himself, it seemed. The felinoid shook some of the viscous, green liquid from her body, the droplets falling to the clean floor of the lab, each with its own little 'splat' sound. The two technicians looked up from their notes. One sighed as she eyed the mess, and then walked away. "Come, let us take you to your quarters," the scientist said then, beckoning for the Demarian to follow as he started toward the corridor.
A short time later, they reached a furnished room. "Are you not pleased, Gospahza Starchaser?" the scientist inquired, looking up at the Demarian fearlessly. He wore the gem around his neck, though it did not glow now. "Or should I perhaps call you Demar? You are the very image of that goddess now, if I am not mistaken." He paused, smiling slyly. "You are our greatest triumph so far. Your bones and your claws, they are like steel, only much lighter. Your reflexes are enhanced beyond what they already were. I think you'll find yourself far stronger than even the most physically impressive examples of your species. You can function in vacuum, just like the girl. Your mind is even able to withstand the rigors of psionics now." He smiled then, a smile to scare small children with. "Your friends, they are coming back to get you. Some sort of ill-concieved rescue attempt. Have decided to let them come. Am sure they'll be pleasantly surprised at the gifts we've given you."
He paused for a moment, looking her up and down. "I will leave you alone to clean up now, da?" He nodded, and then turned to leave, the door hissing shut behind him. Swiftfoot was as much a captive now as she was when she first got here, but it didn't seem to matter anymore. She ran a paw over the greenish spicules that her fur was drying into, then grimaced. The Demarian started toward the 'fresher to clean up as the scientist had told her to do, but paused then, her brow furrowing.
Her wings shifted uncomfortably with a faint rustling sound. She looked back over her shoulder then, eyeing them dubiously, as if it were the first time she'd seen them. The felinoid shifted the feathered appendages again, almost like she was reassuring herself that they were indeed attached to her back, and that they were indeed real. Several feathers drifted lazily to the floor, joining a few that were already there. Some were pure white, like drifts of snow. Others, however, were as black as night.
She stared in puzzlement at the small gathering of feathers, then began to pick them up one by one. Five white. Four black. Something about those numbers was significant, something about them called to her. The rest lay forgotten on the floor. The Demarian held the feathers, cradling them gently between her paws and staring at them for while. She wasn't really sure how long, because time had lost its meaning. Swiftfoot tried desperately to remember her life before she came here, but it just wasn't there. She remembered waking up in the tube. That was as far back as she could recall, no matter how hard she tried. A single tear was all she could manage, shed for the fleeting sense of loss that she felt. The tear fell from the end of her nose. It seemed to gleam with a golden light as it fell, a drop of sunlight speeding downward, finally landing on the floor with barely a sound.
She crushed the feathers in her fist suddenly, the last vestiges of Swiftfoot Starchaser falling away all at once as the mental conditioning, the physical changes, and the influence of the golden-yellow gem fully gripped her mind. Her former identity shifted away into the void, elusive as the shreds of a forgotten dream. The felinoid's wings stirred again, this time with purpose - she stretched them out, testing their strength. A feral grin crossed the Demarian's face then, baring razor-edged teeth, far too sharp to be at all natural. Yes, the intruders would be surprised, indeed.