Chapter Two: Introductions
Gil froze for a moment, stunned by the bizarre sight in front of him. It was only when the cold air in the room stung his eyes and forced him to blink that he realized he’d been holding his breath—he inhaled sharply, reinvigorating the goose bumps all over his body. He tried again to remember where he was, but the only thing that came to mind was falling asleep on his couch. It felt far too real to be a dream, and he wondered if he’d been taken from his home while he slept. He felt scared, but as he got to his feet, his initial terror dissipated. His heavy breathing quieted and he started to calm down—no one was running towards him or even moving at all. He squinted and exhaled, cocking his head to one side. Now he was just annoyed.
Despite what was standing in front of him, a dozen feet away behind the clearest sheet of glass he’d ever laid eyes on, Gil didn’t have a doubt in his mind that this was all bogus. It had to be a setup—an elaborate prank concocted by some group of jerks with a camera. Maybe one of those stupid reality TV shows where they scoop up some sap and try to scare the crap out of him for laughs—and he’d already pissed himself.
The dead giveaway, as far as Gil was concerned, was the stillness of it all—it was like looking into a museum diorama. At one end of the large and round room he stood in, the sheet of glass separated Gil from four beings that looked like what he supposed space aliens would look like. He had never really thought about what a space alien or the inside of an alien ship might look like before now, but as a child of the 90s, he had seen his fair share of science fiction movies and these four things fit the bill pretty damn well.
One of them was very short, like a middle-school child. Two others were a bit taller, and behind them was a fourth alien that towered above at what had to be about seven feet—tall by any standard, but a giant compared to its friends. Each pair of disproportionately-large, black, and shiny eyes was housed in a body that otherwise looked powder-white and featureless. They looked fleshy but rail-thin, completely hairless, and inexplicably naked. Two thin and diagonal lines, barely visible from the distance Gil saw them, made up a nose. There were no visible ears or mouths, but the heads were shaped as if to accommodate them—a prominent chin under the faint nose, and concave indents where he expected ears would be.
They each had a slender torso with arms and legs like sticks. His eyesight wasn’t awesome at this distance, but they appeared to have five long fingers on each hand. Focusing on one of the torsos, he saw a clearly-defined chest, but no nipples. Farther down, there was no belly button. And even farther down, there was… absolutely nothing. Gil scoffed and chalked this up to lazy design. They were run-of-the-mill “Greys,” the generic alien design Gil had seen in everything from South Park to The X-Files. The only difference, Gil noticed, was that the color was wrong—they were called Greys for a reason, but these things weren’t grey at all.
The beings were also completely lifeless. Just props, Gil thought, and sighed again. Of course he thought they were staring at him. Their eyes were so damn big they’d have to do a one-eighty for Gil to feel like they weren’t staring at him—like a statue in a haunted house, they were likely designed to appear as if their gaze followed the viewer in passing. He assured himself again they were clearly fake—not even any signs of breathing. Gil figured that if he’d woken up in his bed in the middle of the night with one of these things standing in the darkness, he’d have had a massive heart attack and died right then and there—they’d never be able to air that on television. But in this bright light, they just looked… hokey.
He took in his surroundings, and he admitted they were elaborate for a fake—maybe it was an old movie prop? The surface area of the ground, walls, and ceiling all shared the same, roughly-polished hematite finish. Behind the glass pane on the edge of the round room—past the dummies—elaborate piping weaved in and out of a planked wall, terminating at various points with strange vents, meters, and turn valves. They were all normal enough for Gil to understand what they were, but their aesthetics were still unfamiliar.
Above him, various channels in the ceiling fed light into the large room. The sides of each channel obscured the source of the recessed light, but it was bright enough to spill over and reflect off all of the room’s polished surfaces. Gil turned around and looked up. The channels all led to the center of the room, where they met and formed a circle around a large disc—a metallic circle with a lighter finish than the rest of the room. It reminded him of brushed nickel.
This of course put it directly above the spinning disc that hovered off the ground, but unlike the flat surface of its counterpart, the disc on the ceiling had a series of odd stalactites hanging from it. Not natural, and perfectly smooth, but cave stalactites was the closest thing he could compare it to. There were dozens of them, at various lengths, all pointing straight down. The orange glow from the disc near the ground reflected off of it brilliantly, and—
Gil’s train of thought was interrupted by an abrupt and loud bang on the window behind him. He whirled around, heart pounding in his chest, and looked back at the four figures. The three shorter figures were situated just as he remembered them. But the taller one—the giant—was no longer standing straight up with its arms at its sides. Its left arm was now raised with its hand open and pressed against the glass. Its eyes now seemed to be arched down in anger, and its neck was extended to bring the head closer to the window.
Gil, who was on the verge of pissing himself again, thought of a creepy wax museum—he’d never been to a wax museum he didn’t find at least a little creepy, but he especially disliked the type that moved. He saw no seams or joints on the dummies to allow rotation, though Gil imagined it would be easy enough to swap one static wax figure out for another.
Were there a dozen wax figures hiding just out of the view of the window? Did some zit-faced little stage tech come out from stage left and swap props while he had his back turned? Gil didn’t like to be scared, and he thought he might like to punch that intern right in the nose, but the feeling quickly evaporated: while Gil’s eyes were fixed on the giant, it drew back its hand, balled it into a fist, and slammed it again into the window. It moved its head even closer, stretching its neck out and fogging the window with its breath. Gil gasped, cupped his hands over his mouth, and let loose a string of profanity. He watched it happen. No stage tech in sight; this was not a television show, and that thing just goddamn moved.
The giant once again drew its arm back before pivoting its feet smoothly to the left. It marched past the view of the window and out of sight, but Gil could hear it walking along the outside of the round room. Its enormous footfalls made it easy for Gil’s bulging eyes to follow it. As thin as the being was, it would have to be incredibly dense for its feet to hit the ground that hard.
Ninety degrees to the left of the window—exactly where Gil’s head had swiveled to—a panel recessed and then slid to the right behind the adjacent section of wall. Another brilliantly-clear glass sheet was revealed with the giant standing behind it, and no sooner than the panel moved out of the way did the glass sheet do the same thing in the opposite direction. There was now nothing between them.
The giant stomped towards Gil and stopped in front of him, hairless eyebrows arching more and appearing even angrier than before. A small and weak, “Oh my God,” escaped Gil’s mouth, in a quick exhale that made it sound like just a single syllable. The words left him along with any last shreds of doubt about the creature.
He couldn’t believe he ever thought this behemoth was a fake; now that it was in front of him, Gil observed a heart beating visibly in a chest that subtly rose and fell with each breath. Further, though still closed, it was obvious that this thing did indeed have a mouth—a low-toned and barely audible growl escaped from the slit it hid behind. The exhalation steamed in the cold room.
Gil did not dare reach out and touch it, but its skin looked to have the texture of sun-bleached driftwood—rough and porous. Worse, the thing stank—it stank like old fish and body odor. It made him gag for a moment, but fear of how the alien might react to his vomit forced him to hold it in. His mouth clapped shut, teeth clenching like a vice grip to hold back the retching and rendering him powerless to avoid breathing in the stench. He rapidly inhaled and exhaled though his nose like a wailing infant who’d only just been given a bottle.
He looked down and took in the rest of the strange creature. Its tall and thin legs were interrupted halfway down by a pair of knobby knees, and ended in two thin feet—mostly familiar in shape, but with only three toes, and no toenails. The entire surface of its body was utterly devoid of wrinkles, birth marks, scarring, or, really, anything. The only exception was when skin was forced to overlap itself and form crow’s feet, such as the joints of its armpits, or the corners of its eyes.
The alien leaned in closer and towered its head over Gil, who instinctively looked up and met the alien’s gaze. And once he got a good look at its eyes, he couldn’t look away.
From a distance, Gil had seen only two massive, black, and featureless orbs within the head of each alien. But with the giant’s eyes now just inches away from his own, an overwhelming amount of detail came into focus that forced a pained whine from deep within Gil’s gut. They were huge, and they terrified him. Everything that made up a human eye—a sclera, an iris, a pupil—seemed to be present here, but they were all different shades of black that became only barely visible when penetrated by the light. The glow of the room refracted in its eyes like jet-black polished quartz, and Gil felt as if he were falling into those seemingly bottomless pupils. He became lightheaded and his intestines seemed to rise up into his chest, as if he were plummeting from a great height. Gil began to babble.
His words disintegrated as they fell out of his mouth. Questions of what was happening and pleas to be taken away from this place mixed together and resulted in an incoherent mess of words. As much as he wanted to, Gil couldn’t break eye contact with the giant. He stared helplessly into its eyes, the massive irises contracting as the alien’s focus intensified.
Suddenly, the giant’s head snapped to Gil’s right, and it stared back at the other three beings. The break in eye contact felt like a hand loosening around Gil’s neck. Catching his breath somewhat, Gil was reminded of the stench and tried hard to control his breathing. He looked to his right as well, where he saw that the three shorter beings stood exactly as they had when Gil had first laid eyes on them. His confused gaze shifted back and forth between the beings at the far end of the room and the goliath in front of him, wondering what was going on. The taller alien turned to once again face Gil, quickly stepped around to his other side, and wrapped its left hand around the back of Gil’s neck. Hot enough to make him sweat, the hand grabbing him felt like dried-up driftwood, sun-bleached and baking in the sun. He yelped in pain as the alien angrily pushed forward and marched them both towards the three shorter beings.
Gil fought hard to keep up, all the while protesting and begging to stop. He spent most of the short trip unable to keep in step with the giant’s long strides and found himself seamlessly dragged when he slipped—the strength of the being was immense. As the two of them approached the window, Gil was gradually lowered until his knees banged against the ground. He became aware that their pace was not changing. He screamed, pleading to slow down or stop entirely, and then snapped his eyes shut and clenched his teeth to brace himself.
A pained grunt erupted from Gil as his forward motion halted abruptly—his face had just smashed nose-first into the large window. Vision blurry, and with his knees brushing against the floor, he muttered idle threats through a slack jaw as the giant used the palm of its free hand to push back on Gil’s forehead.
Basically on his knees, the hand forced him to look upwards at the three beings, which all still remained completely… actually, now that Gil was this close, he saw the same familiar signs of life observed in their taller friend. And… had their heads all angled down slightly to meet his gaze?
Frightened and exhausted, Gil obeyed and stared at the beings for a long while before finally shouting, “What! What do you want?!” He didn’t know what else to say—what else to ask. He just didn’t know what they wanted, and they didn’t seem to be keen on telling him. In fact they hadn’t said a word—could they even speak? And why the hostility? He didn’t poke his head in through the front door of wherever this was and ask if he could come in. He wasn’t some door-to-door salesman peddling magazine subscriptions. No, they had brought him to wherever this was, and were now treating him like a peasant in the presence of royalty. If the giant was anything to go by, Gil’s presence alone was offensive.
The beings stood and stared blankly at Gil as if he’d been quiet as a mouse, and then suddenly, perhaps independent of Gil’s intense questioning, their eyes grew wide. They seemed awe-struck, filled with wonder.
The alien farthest from Gil reached up and touched something near the edge of the window—some sort of button or panel—causing the sheet of glass to slide away and disappear into the wall. It and another of the beings turned to Gil’s left and ran down the corridor.
Their footfalls, though nowhere near as massive as their taller companion, were still disconcertingly heavy. The remaining short alien—the shortest, actually—approached Gil slowly and studied his face. Gil averted his blurry gaze, making up his mind that he never wanted to get a good look at their eyes again.
The two short aliens returned moments later, one of them holding a thin, uncapped vial. They were all crowded around Gil now. Even the tallest being, who still had one hand wrapped around the back of Gil’s neck with the other pressed against his forehead, looked on in amazement.
The smack on the front of Gil’s face had of course been painful, but it was dwarfed by the incredible discomfort of the position the tall alien continued to hold him in. It was as if it had been meant as a cue for Gil to regard the aliens in some way, like a father chastising a child for ignoring a mother’s inquiries.
Gil was just high enough off the ground that his knees could feel the cold metal, but not close enough that he could rest his weight on it—nearly all of his weight rested on the hand wrapped around his neck, and as a result, he felt like an old-time circus performer who’d had the awful luck of a lion biting down directly on his head. With some effort, his feet scrambled underneath himself until he finally stood in a squatting position. He was at last supporting some of his weight.
One of the aliens shoved the vial underneath Gil’s nose with a noticeable lack of grace. It made an airtight seal with his nostril, which Gil realized meant he must have been bleeding from the nose—his blood had formed a gasket. Gil stared back at the aliens in similar amazement. Did they not bleed themselves? If they did, how could they possibly be so shocked that smashing his face into a window would result in a nosebleed?
After a few moments, the alien holding the vial drew its hand back and looked at the now-brimming sample of blood. Given how quickly the vial had filled, Gil thought there must have been a small pool of blood on the floor—it likely accounted for some of the difficulty in getting his feet stabilized.
The alien holding the vial rotated its hand to look at its index finger—some of Gil’s blood had spilled from the brim and now rested in a fat droplet near its fingertip. The other two aliens Gil could see followed suit and stared at the droplet, and after a moment, it was absorbed into the alien’s skin like water disappearing into a pumice stone. Gil couldn’t be sure—though too scared to openly cry, his vision was still blurry with tears—but for just an instant, he could have sworn the point of absorption turned slightly grey.
The vial was capped and quickly set aside. The alien held up the affected hand with its index finger pointed upward, and the other two gathered around, all examining the finger with intense curiosity.
Gil, still staring in sheer bewilderment, hadn’t realized that the blood running from his nose had begun to pool in his gaping mouth. The taste of iron finally clued him in just as a single drop of it aspirated into his lungs. Gil snapped his mouth shut, but couldn’t keep himself from coughing—the blood in his mouth ejected in a viscous spray that showered the aliens in a pink mist. The collective scream that resulted made Gil shudder.
The giant drew both its hands away from Gil in an instant, sending him sprawling towards the floor. Gil stared at the ground, too terrified to look up, but he could hear them stomping around in a panic. The commotion gradually dwindled, the blood likely disappearing into their skin, but Gil continued to stare down, now lost in thought.
He wondered just what the hell these things were—could the sandpapery feeling of the giant’s skin be attributed to a lack of moisture? On one of the little guys, its finger had consumed Gil’s blood like an open mouth. He pictured white driftwood again, but that wasn’t right… the skin felt hard and thick, but also flexible. It was the roughest, thickest, most calloused skin Gil had ever felt—and so hot! From his low vantage point, he saw steamy condensation forming on the ground along the outlines of their feet and figured that if he were that warm, he’d have a fever intense enough to cause brain damage.
The giant balled up its fist and punched the wall. Gil’s focus jolted upwards, but he realized that he wasn’t the target of its rage—it was staring at its shorter travel companions in an expression that seemed almost like defiance. Again, the fist collided with the wall, and its foot stomped in protest. It looked like a tantrum.
After a few tense moments, its eyes suddenly dropped back down to look at Gil. And of course, Gil looked down so as to not make eye contact. He could feel it step behind him. The giant shoved its hands underneath his armpits, and hoisted him to his feet in a single, smooth motion. Pushing Gil along like a hostage, all five of them exited the large room.
Craning his neck around, Gil saw the doorway behind them disappear—the sheet of glass slid back into place, and a darkly metallic panel slid from the opposite direction, clicking as it came to a stop and blending in with the rest of the wall. It was as if a doorway had never been there.
The five of them moved down the left of the dimly-lit corridor that wrapped around the circular room they’d just exited. To his right, Gil saw that the wall opposite the round room was made up entirely of roughly eight-inch-wide vertical planks, one after another, only interrupted by a small porthole every twenty-or-so feet. In passing, he looked through the first porthole he could get his eyes on, but saw only darkness.
They all halted abruptly at a porthole seemingly identical to the others. The shortest alien raised a hand and pressed one of its slender fingers to the wall underneath the porthole. A glowing symbol appeared underneath its finger, which then swiped downward. The planks collapsed under each other, contracting to the left and right from the location of the plank the alien had interacted with.
It revealed a room wider than it was deep. The ceiling at the far end of the room tapered off, dipping so low at the wall that Gil wouldn’t be able to walk all the way to the end of the room without bonking his head on the ceiling.
The three short aliens walked inside, and the tall one resumed shoving Gil along. Looking up into the room, Gil spotted an exam table and instinctively planted his feet to the floor, shifting his weight against the pushy alien. He felt pretty sure he wouldn’t like anything that might happen in here, and a quick mental scan of all the extraterrestrial movies he’d seen told him he had good reason to want to opt out of whatever they had planned for him.
But the thing pushing him was stronger—much stronger—than Gil, and it didn’t falter. The other three stood around the exam table, waiting for Gil to be delivered so they could get to work.
A fresh fear washed over Gil as he approached. The last thing he needed after his introduction to these four assholes was for them to start drilling holes in his teeth and shoving stuff up his ass. Those procedures would be nightmarish even if conducted by the world’s best dentist and proctologist, but these bozos? He got the feeling pain wasn’t a concept these things were familiar with and doubted they were about to break out the kid gloves now.
The big alien picked Gil up and deposited him onto the table despite loud and damning protests. He called them perverts. He threatened them. He begged them to stop and take him home. But they carried on as if he hadn’t said a word. One of the shorter beings pulled his shirt up to his armpits while the tall one pinned his arms down.
In his efforts to avoid making eye contact with any of them, Gil turned his head to the left. Past one of the beings, he saw something resembling a long oven—or rather, a wide oven. Ashes were scattered around the floor of it in little piles and, realizing he’d fit in there rather nicely, Gil looked to his right. Next to another one of the beings, a thin rod protruded from the ground and terminated in a large bulb. And jutting out of the bulb were various scalpels, spikes, and serrated blades.
Gil, still shouting and with nothing comforting to look at, shut his eyes tightly and braced himself for the worst.
And then, suddenly, the pressure on his arms lifted. Gil opened his eyes and saw the tall one was walking away; it took a seat next to the entrance of the room and continued to conspicuously stare at Gil with what looked to him like resentment. He couldn’t be sure if it was resentment, but that downward-arched brow seemed like a good indication.
One of the shorter ones—he couldn’t keep track of which was which—dipped its hand into the rear of the bulb and scooped out a small handful of clear, viscous paste. Then its hand hovered over Gil’s head and torso, stopping every now and again to dab a tiny amount on his skin. As it did this, another of the aliens produced a number of black wires, and it stuck one into each of the dabs of paste. When they were both finished, it resembled a hospital EKG unit. They walked away, joining the other short one at a nearby counter outfitted with various assembled technologies.
With the tall one still sulking near the entrance, Gil nervously watched the other three as they did… whatever it was they were doing. He couldn’t help but notice that all three of them had dark, dry mud on the upper portions of their backs; from shoulder to shoulder, each wore a dry and cracked smear of something that resembled a mudpack.
Gil thought the smallest of them looked almost childlike. Unlike the almond-shaped eyes the rest of them wore, this short alien’s eyes looked almost round by comparison, bright with what appeared to Gil as enthusiasm and confidence. It also looked to be the busiest, executing various swiping gestures on touch screens and inputting data.
Behind it, one of the midsized aliens stood with its arms crossed as if supervising, but the expression of what seemed like confusion indicated that it just wasn’t sure what was going on or how to contribute. The other of the midsized aliens sat next to the short one and also stared, but looked to be paying close and knowing attention to the display in front of them.
Meanwhile, for nearly ten minutes after being equipped with their otherworldly EKG, Gil rested on his back with his head on its side so he could see them. He occasionally glanced back over to the tall alien to see if its stare persisted, and it always did. Just once, Gil started to hesitantly get up, but lost his nerve when the giant snapped to its feet. It clearly wanted him to stay put.
Turning his attention back to the counter and its perplexing components, he could see they were obviously monitoring his vitals, but he wasn’t sure for what purpose. Also, the vial of blood they’d collected from his nosebleed was hooked up to some sort of device—perhaps for some sort of analysis, but again, he couldn’t be sure.
Gil didn’t know a whole lot about blood, but he’d donated a pint here and there and had made a couple of observations. First, and the most obvious, was that it was usually drawn from a vein. As far as he knew, technicians didn’t make a habit of bopping people on the nose and hanging their heads over a funnel.
But perhaps more importantly, great care had always been taken to seal the blood off from any contaminants and store it at a controlled temperature. Never mind the sweat and snot swimming around in there, the vial likely wasn’t sterilized to begin with.
Seemingly on cue, one of them let out an agitated grunt, ripped the vial from the device, and poured it into something that looked like a small sink—the sample had been unusable. Then another one of them, the one who previously stood with its arms crossed, walked over to where Gil lay. When it reached the table, it grabbed one of Gil’s ankles and harshly yanked him half-way off. He shrieked as the wires attached to him tore free, bringing with them the now-solidified dabs of paste, plus patches of Gil’s hair and skin.
Gil kept himself from slipping off the table by gripping the edge of it with his hands and digging his fingers into the underside. The abrupt halt forced him into a seated position, and he was now face-to-face with the agitated alien. Standing, Gil would have been taller by about a foot; but on this short table, where his feet touched the ground, the alien actually had an inch or two on him. Its stench made Gil lightheaded. And then the alien drew closer, examining Gil’s nose. He could see the individual pores in its skin, like pinholes in white clay. Its eyes narrowed, and then its warm thumb and index finger pinched Gil’s nose shut, as if to turn it like a spigot. Gil grimaced and moaned in discomfort.
“What are you…” Gil began, but stopped when the alien took advantage of his open mouth and shoved its fingers inside. The clump of fingers pried his mouth open wide and moved his tongue back and forth. Gil wretched at the taste, like dirty pennies with a dusting of salt, and shouted. He finally lifted both hands, pushed the alien away, and then spat several times onto the floor. The foul taste in his mouth persisted.
“God, what’s the matter with you?” Gil shouted. When he looked up again, still grimacing, he saw the tall one near the edge of the room had gotten up and was now heading towards him. In front of him, one of the other aliens headed his way with what looked like a cross between a syringe and a pistol in its right hand. The barrel consisted of an incredibly-thick needle, and the gun’s cylinder was a glass tube. It held its hand around the grip with its index finger on a long and curved trigger.
Gil panicked and flailed his arms to keep them away. Just as the tall one reached him, and completely by accident, Gil’s hand made contact with the giant’s eye like one might grab a bowling ball. It was unpleasant for both of them.
The giant grunted loudly before grabbing Gil’s flailing arm with its left hand and viciously backhanding him with its right. This got Gil’s nose bleeding again, but his captors no longer seemed interested. The one holding the syringe dropped it onto the floor and then aggressively pushed the giant back. For a moment, Gil only had a vague idea of the fight that broke out behind him as he wormed his way between them and scurried to the corridor. At least two of them were grunting and barking over the sounds of footfalls and closed fists colliding with their thin frames.
Gil turned around and was shocked to see that he was right—the tall one and one of the others were engaged in some sort of fistfight, while the other two attempted to intervene and separate them. What the hell is going on? he wondered. After some more struggling, the tallest alien stumbled backwards and bumped into Gil, who then also stumbled backwards, tripped over his own feet, and fell onto his rear end right inside the center room. The giant whipped around, deciding to direct its anger back to Gil, but then the shortest of them ran to the doorway and tapped at something off to the side. Gil stared up at them and saw that they were now all standing at the threshold. One of them had wrapped a hand around the upper arm of the giant in an attempt to hold it in place. They stared as the glass pane slid shut, and as soon as it clicked into place, a panel revealed itself and closed over the window. He heard footsteps outside the room disperse and slowly fade away.
Now, all the walls in the large room looked exactly the same: a ring of identical, dull, and dark silver panels. Gil would have to look at his cold smear of vomit or the now-congealed pool of blood to be able to determine where the first door had been. Then the room went dark—pitch black at first, but eventually a dull orange color as Gil’s eyes adjusted. The spinning disc from the center of the area finally had the floor to itself, and its dull glow touched everything in the room.
Gil put his hands behind him and slowly lowered himself onto his back, breathing hard with eyes wide open. Now alone with his thoughts, and with his situation settling in his mind, his new terror was the possibility of a heart attack. He forced his eyes shut and whispered, reciting basic facts about himself. “Deep breaths,” he said aloud. “Just take deep breaths.” Each time a flash of the exam materialized in his mind, his heartbeat quickened, so Gil told himself he had to let it go for now and just focus on not dying. And, eventually, his breathing did slow down. He sat for a long time, with measured inhales and slow exhales. At last, he opened his eyes again.
The orange glow seemed surprisingly bright now. Gil slowly made his way to his feet, with growing awareness of the immense pain he was in. He felt as if he’d spent an hour in a tumble dryer after the ordeal with those strange creatures, and the cold temperature of his surroundings didn’t help. He paced around the room for a short time as his mind raced. He tried, but failed to verbalize his current situation. He could hardly think it, let alone say it out loud. And before long, he found that he could hardly think at all—Gil was exhausted.
On the verge of shivering, Gil looked to the center of the room. He remembered that the spinning disc was uncomfortably warm, and now its delicious heat beckoned to him. En route to the center of the room, Gil wondered whether or not it was safe—the thing might be radioactive, and a nap too close to it meant that Gil could wake up with all manner of ailments that would make his hosts seem like resort masseuses by comparison. But his pace didn’t falter—he reached the disc, curled up into a fetal position, and as the dubious heat warmed his back, sleep overtook him.