Chapter Three: The Naming Ceremony
Gil awoke from dreamless sleep some time later on his side, face resting on his hands. The lights flickered to life again. He was still tired, still dirty, and now thirsty to boot. His stomach growled and he thought he also wouldn’t mind something to eat. Touching the tips of his fingers to his cheeks, he felt the sandpapery roughness of a day’s stubble.
Facing the disc—he must have rolled over in his sleep—he wondered what would happen if he were to touch it. Would it burn him? Electrocute him? Would it feel like sticking his finger into a spinning fan? Suppose it wasn’t actually spinning at all? He didn’t have the nerve to find out; he rolled back over onto his other side and found himself, once again, a room’s length away from the four aliens.
Just as before, they separated themselves from Gil with a sheet of clear glass. But this time, the corridor gave way to a sort of kitchen area, where they were seated and didn’t seem to be paying close attention to him. Instead, they were focused on small meals. The look of the aliens set Gil’s teeth on edge. So ugly, he thought. His mouth worked for a moment, until he finally asked in a voice barely qualifying as a whisper, “Why am I still here?” He was only just beginning to come to terms with where he was and what he was a part of. But he’d expected the encounter to be done by now.
He sat up and looked around. The remnants of his vomit were behind him, which meant this window was on the opposite side of the room from where he first encountered them.
The aliens sat at a round table surrounded with eight backless chairs protruding like stumps from the ground. Every surface, including the table and chairs, had the same, now-familiar dark grey metal finish. It was also seamless, as if the table and chairs had bloomed from the ground like blown glass. In front of each of them was a small white plate topped with pink cubes.
They ate with their bare fingers, pinching one cube at a time and delicately inserting it into seemingly lipless mouths. They chewed openly, teeth bared, sickly grey tongue massaging pink mush. They also each had a tall, white, tubular pipe next to their plates with a tapered edge like the end of a woodwind instrument. They were drinking glasses. Whatever they were drinking, Gil figured the edge probably made insertion into their tight mouths more manageable.
Gil stood up and slowly walked towards the glass. The four figures shot him an absent glance, and then went about their business. He arched his eyebrows in confusion. That’s it? he thought, and then whispered, “Hello?” There was no response, but of course, how could anyone hear a faint whisper through a sheet of thick glass? He awkwardly shook his head and then greeted them in a loud and clear voice: “Hello?” Two of them apparently heard this and shot him another quick glance, but that was all. What the hell is going on? he wondered, then shouted, “Why am I still here?” He studied their faces.
There was no talking, but eyes darted around amongst them as if to suggest conversation. Gil could see now the pink cubes resembled tuna sashimi from an upscale Japanese restaurant, and the sight of it made his belly rumble. He hadn’t eaten anything since his small dinner the night before—or at least it felt like it was no more than a dozen hours ago—and he’d thrown that up not far from where he stood now. He placed one hand on the glass window and the other over his stomach. After a few moments spent gawking, the tall being took notice, got up, and walked out of sight. It returned a moment later with a fresh plate and glass, and stood in front of the window.
Gil stared at the plate of food for a moment and then, after a pregnant pause, the giant took a short step back with its left foot and then kicked the window with its right. A loud thud reverberated. Gil retreated back to the center of the room and looked up with just enough time to see only the far edge of its angry face turn out of sight as it faced the others. Its back and neck muscles seemed to tense up, and then relax. After another long pause, the giant made a conspicuously-long turn back around to face Gil. The window slid open, the giant gingerly set the plate and glass down beyond the threshold, and the window returned to its closed position. The giant then returned to the table, took its seat, and resumed eating.
Gil apprehensively approached the dishes, picked them up, and returned to the warmth of the spinning disc before sitting cross-legged and setting the plate in his lap. He didn’t exactly have an appetite for raw fish to begin with, but after closer examination and a few smell tests, Gil concluded that this was actually raw beef. Or, at least, that’s what it looked and smelled like. He supposed it could be just about any damn thing from just about anywhere in the universe.
He briefly considered refusing it, but then remembered that he was aboard a space ship where dying at the hands of his captors was a distinct possibility. If not them, perhaps it would be the radiation poisoning he’d surely receive from sitting next to this mystery disc. With these terrifying possibilities in mind, death by food poisoning at least seemed terrestrial. Gil dug into his mystery meat. As he ate—first hesitantly, then greedily—he observed his captors.
Just who the hell are these guys, Gil thought, and what do they want with me? More importantly, why am I just sitting around? I’ve heard about abductions before, sure, but they’ve ranged from encounters where people walk away enlightened, to horrible encounters where people have awful things shoved up their asses before being dropped back on earth with an ID tag. This, however, seems like a hostage situation perpetrated by children. I’ve seen the big one throw a couple of tantrums, and if the surprise at my bloody nose is any indication, they don’t know anything about human anatomy. For God’s sake, one of these bozos dug around in my mouth trying to find… what, a blood source? On the other hand, the one with the syringe last night might have intended to attempt a blood draw.
Looking around the table, Gil studied the beings and tried to get a handle on their personalities. To an extent, some character traits were apparent from the start—especially with the big guy. Its elbows rested on the table, back slumped over like a thug in a seedy bar. Gil found its personality easy to peg, and he summed it up with a single word: angry. He had a feeling that, while none of them seemed to like him very much, he’d already be dead if it were just the big guy running the show.
Gil lifted the glass he’d been given and smelled the liquid. How about that, he thought, it’s just water. He upturned the glass and drank its contents in a single go. Then, without any clue as to how long he’d be here, or if he was ever going to leave, Gil figured he’d better come up with a better way to identify them than, “the tall one and the other three.” He decided he would give them names.
Starting with the tall one, Gil recalled a Bruce Willis movie he’d seen years ago, which featured a race of large, brown, grumpy, and war-hungry aliens called… well, actually, he couldn’t remember—overall, they played a bit part. He absently reached for his hip pocket to look it up on his smartphone, then smiled and rolled his eyes. His pockets were empty. He wondered for a moment if they had taken his stuff, but a memory flickered in his mind of him dropping off his wallet, keys, and phone when he came in from his garage. Then again, if he’d had the phone with him, he would have forgotten about the stupid movie and called for help. But he didn’t, so he wouldn’t be looking up anything on his phone. The name of the main character from that movie stood out in his head, however, so he settled for that and decided to refer to the tall alien as Korben from now on.
To Korben’s left sat the shortest of the bunch, who barely came up to Gil’s elbow. In between bites of food, it timidly flicked its gaze back and forth between Korben and the other two aliens with a strange expression of optimism—as if assuring them they’d all figure out what they were supposed to be doing. This was the one who’d apparently been doing all the work in the exam room. This was also the alien who quickly shut the door after Gil’s exam to put up a wall between him and Korben. There was a cartoon Gil used to watch, set far in the future, which featured many alien characters alongside humans. Looking at this being, a timid, green alien rose to the forefront of Gil’s mind, and so he decided its name would be Kif.
To Kif’s left sat an alien who was a bit taller but still a full head shorter than Gil. It had finished its meal, and now sat rigidly in its seat with a blank expression. It was clear at this point verbal communication wasn’t how these things operated. Gil supposed it had to be telepathy or something, although even that didn’t seem to align with any of the alleged abduction stories he’d heard, nor any of the science fiction movies he’d ever seen. He was thankful he hadn’t been subjected to the clichéd headache induced by high-pitched wailing, but he also certainly hadn’t been imparted any of the clichéd wisdom of beings from another world.
Whatever the method they used to communicate, Gil couldn’t participate. But how could they not have known that? he wondered. They stared at me when I first met them for what felt like ten minutes, probably trying to talk to me before Korben got impatient. As if I was being rude or something—like I was purposefully ignoring them. Did they expect me to be telepathic? What could they have so calmly been trying to tell me before Korben flew off the handle?
But also, regardless of how they communicated, it was obvious to Gil that this third alien simply wasn’t interested in participating. This was the same alien who’d collected Gil’s blood and unwittingly absorbed some of it into its finger. It was also the idiot who shoved its disgusting fingers into Gil’s mouth looking for blood. Now it sat like a teenager still relegated to the kids’ table for the holidays. Gil decided its name had to be Jeltz.
Finally, to Jeltz’s left and at around the same height sat the fourth alien. The only thing Gil had gotten from this alien was the possible intent to prick him with a big needle, and he found it difficult to name it based on that single interaction. Or, Gil wondered, wasn’t that also the one who stepped in when Korben backhanded me? The name Roger came to mind, given to a particularly crass alien character from an equally crass cartoon he used to watch. The name didn’t fit at all—he seriously doubted this one would have an affinity for costumes and pecan sandies—but he was running out of fictional aliens to name these creatures after.
Gil thought for a few more moments, and then his train of thought was interrupted when the pompous-looking one, Jeltz, suddenly tipped forward and smacked its face on its empty plate. It looked to have passed out. The other three aliens jumped to their feet and rushed to Jeltz’s side. Korben lifted the unconscious alien upward and held its shoulders upright as red-tinged juice from the plate dripped from Jeltz’s face. Its mouth hung open, huge eyelids fluttering open and shut. Then the alien came to after a few moments and gestured to the others to move away. They took their seats again, and Jeltz wiped the pink drops from its face with its hands. Before long, it was as if nothing had happened.
What the hell was that? Gil wondered. He was fine just a minute ago. The other three aliens stared at Jeltz with what looked like concern as they ate their meals. Gil stared at all four of them, wondering what they might be saying to each other. Was something wrong with Jeltz?
He had only just gone back to thinking about names again when the four of them rose up with their plates and walked out of view. Gil figured they’d finished their meals and were likely headed for the window afterwards. Though he was unhappy with the name, he decided Roger would have to do for the final alien.
They walked into the corridor. The kitchen area behind them disappeared as planks from the left and the right—all the same dark grey metal— obscured it like a sliding lens cover. All that remained behind them was a small, round porthole.
Gil felt good. As long as he didn’t go spitting blood on them or punching any of them in the eye anymore, he’d probably be fine. Further, it was nice to have at least a small amount of food in his belly, and it was therapeutic to sit quietly and assign identities to these strange creatures. He smiled a little—this was like Jane Goodall naming the apes she studied, but in reverse. Now in front of him, they stood silently and stared. Gil still didn’t have the nerve to look any of them in the eye, but he did offer up a single, calm sentence:
“I don’t know if any of you are trying to talk to me, but if you are, you gotta know that I’m not getting anything.”