Chapter Four: Shots in the Dark
Korben, Kif, Jeltz, and Roger stood before Gil and seemed to agree that, no, he couldn’t receive any of their silent transmissions. After a short period of silence, during which Gil was again reminded of their stench—it had a habit of coming back stronger than ever just as soon as he forgot about it—Kif raised a hand and pointed to the exit. Gil’s eyes grew wide with surprise, as this was the first time any of them made a noticeable effort to communicate with him. “Hand gestures!” he exclaimed. He stood up and followed them.
As the five of them marched through the corridor that wrapped around the circular room, Gil looked around to try and get a sense of where things were. He knew a kitchen of sorts sat behind one of the portholes, and he’d previously seen an exam room behind another. He looked through the first porthole past the kitchen and saw a row of what he thought looked like four beds.
Gil deduced that there was likely a room behind each porthole—the setup reminded him of a large cog. The room he’d been in was the center, and the outer wall of this corridor led to the cog’s many teeth. Short of observing the rooms through their small portholes, Gil saw no simple means of identifying them—they all looked the same from inside the corridor.
The others knew where they were going, however; they halted at the next porthole they reached and stared at it. Kif expanded the walls to reveal the same exam room from before. Trying to keep his cool this time, Gil proceeded agreeably. He did a little bit of mental math and quickly deduced that eight portholes would be found in the corridor, meaning eight different rooms—this particular cog had eight teeth.
Gil approached the table and willingly put his back on it. But this time, black straps were produced and pulled from the edges of the table. Two of the aliens wrapped the straps over him and attached them to the opposite ends of the table, securing his wrists, ankles, torso, and head in place. And after a brief moment of contemplation, Gil’s good feeling was gone. Korben took a seat at the entrance to the room.
Jeltz stood near Gil’s head and began doing things that would best be described as uncomfortable. It opened his mouth and retrieved a sample of saliva—not with a swab, but something that scraped gently along the inside of Gil’s cheek. His eye was stretched open wide, and Jeltz stared into it before swabbing some of its moisture away. Gil was thankful that, despite the brightness in the room, its eyes just looked like black orbs. Something that did feel like a swab was shoved into and spun within Gil’s ear. Jeltz stopped often, sometimes to store samples, but more often to consult and interact with a tablet of some sort.
Gil didn’t particularly enjoy any of this. The rich stench of Jeltz’s body odor was nearly overwhelming, and its hot and rough skin brushed over Gil with a distinct lack of gentility. He wondered angrily if these beings had even been endowed with a sense of touch, but he knew that wasn’t right—he’d prodded Korben’s eye by mistake and was hit hard enough to make him bleed. Still, he felt confident that their sense of touch had to be dulled, as if forever stuck in a thick, fleshy glove. Pain was likely a rarely-experienced sensation.
Eyes rolling as far as they could from the restricted positioning of his straps, Gil strained to lift his head and look around while Jeltz continued to prod around the orifices of his face and collect samples. Korben continued to sit at the entrance to the room, almost as if on guard. More likely, though, was that it didn’t have a clue what to do in here. Gil got the impression that Korben was just the muscle in this scenario—the military man among scientists. Korben was also the only one of the four who consistently expressed disdain for Gil. He made a mental note to try and figure out why that was the case later.
The restraints on Gil’s forehead were tight, so he let them smack his head back onto the exam table to rest his already-aching neck muscles. Then, rotating his head as much as he could and looking to the far right of his peripheral vision, he spotted Kif, slowly pacing the floor, eyes studying the tablet that Jeltz had held a moment ago.
But what first appeared to be independent study seemed after a few moments like Kif was actually feeding Jeltz instructions—Jeltz looked at Kif, then Gil, then Kif again, and finally at Gil’s right forearm. It used one hand to turn the crook of Gil’s arm upward, and produced something that resembled a syringe with the other. The syringe was empty, plunger completely depressed, and its needle seemed to be about twice as thick was Gil was familiar with.
Jeltz stared for a moment as if lost in thought, and then jammed the syringe into Gil’s forearm with all the grace of a child popping a balloon with a pin. Gil screamed as sharp pain shot up his arm and raced all the way to his toes—the needle had gone straight into the bone. He felt—no, he swore he heard—the needle scrape against his ulna. Then Jeltz’s thumb pulled back on the plunger, which intensified Gil’s pain but drew nothing. It was obvious that a blood draw was being attempted, but Jeltz hadn’t jabbed the needle anywhere near a vein. It didn’t know what it was looking for.
Jeltz ripped the syringe out of Gil’s arm and stared for a moment before jabbing it back in with the same results.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Gil screamed. Again, the syringe was tugged out and thrust back in. Out, and back in. Out, and back in. At least a dozen times, Jeltz aimlessly stabbed different areas of Gil’s forearm. All the while, Gil screamed through gritted teeth. His eyes bulged from their sockets, face beet-red and tears streaming down his face. It played out like a prison stabbing.
At last, perhaps by chance alone, the needle made contact with a vein and Jeltz was able to procure a blood sample. The needle was yanked out one last time, and Gil could feel warm blood droplets forming on the surface of his cold skin. Panting, he screamed curses at Jeltz through strained vocal chords, spittle spewing from his mouth and wetting his lips. He screamed more for his own sake than Jeltz’s; he knew perfectly well the thing didn’t have a clue what he was saying, but he knew it could hear him, and it was cathartic to scream regardless.
Jeltz turned away and went to a nearby counter, where it began to futz with its freshly-procured samples. Gil looked down the length of his body, startled by the feeling of his shirt being pulled up to his belly button. His jeans would surely have also been pushed down a little if they hadn’t already been sagging around his waist—the urine and intense sweating had made them soggy and ill fitting.
It was Roger, who once again held its strange syringe gun. It obviously wasn’t meant to draw blood, because Jeltz had just done that. So what was this device’s purpose? Gil’s head slammed back down against the table, neck muscles exhausted from fighting against the strap wrapped over his forehead.
“What are you doing down there?” he demanded in vain. He didn’t wait long to find out—using its left hand to put pressure on Gil’s left side, Roger jammed the needle into the space just above Gil’s left hip.
Gil wasn’t a complete stranger to pain, but he’d also never felt anything quite like this. He screamed in agony, flexing every muscle in his body and once again turning red. It wasn’t until much later Gil realized Roger had extracted a marrow sample from his hip bone. In light of Jeltz’s performance, he had to give Roger some credit—it at least seemed to know what it was doing. It’d wielded a dangerously-large needle and hit the mark flawlessly. Still, Gil thought he’d take another dozen pricks in the arm before going through that again.
Roger finished up its procedure, withdrew the needle, and walked around the exam table to join Jeltz and Kif. En route, it stopped to ponder for a moment and then turned back around to face Gil. Approaching him again, now from the right, it reached for a button, and the left side of the exam table rose up. Gil, still tightly strapped to the table, was positioned in such a way that he could view the three aliens as they worked. Awesome, Gil thought. Front row seats.
He looked wearily at Roger and muttered, “Thanks a lot.” The tone was sardonic, which was of course wasted here, but still cathartic for Gil. He continued to shiver, tears absently sliding down his face and snot dripping from his nose in thick, clear ropes. One of the whites of his eyes was now completely red—all his straining had burst a blood vessel. Roger stared for a moment, and then walked to the counter to join the other two aliens.
Gil sat for nearly an hour, suspended on the slope of the upturned table like a fly on the wall and idly staring at the backsides of Kif, Jeltz, and Roger as they all worked on their little freak show at the counter. In addition to the fluids they’d extracted from Gil, various other liquids of different colors and consistencies populated the workspace. Gil couldn’t make sense of the seemingly aimless mixing, stirring, and pouring, but could tell they worked with a purpose. It seemed to go on forever.
But at last, they turned around. Kif now held a syringe gun in his hand similar to the one Roger had used to extract Gil’s marrow, but this one was already full. A translucent grey sludge sloshed around the glass tube, at which Gil took just one look before raging against his steep table.
He was fearful Kif had a plan to shoot it back into him. And next thing you knew, poor Gil would be exploding all over the walls, only to be mopped up and burned to ashes in their oven so these things could go pick up some other unfortunate soul. They would shrug and think to each other, “Well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs! Back to the drawing board!”
This wasn’t the case, however; as Korben got up to join them, Kif raised the syringe and planted it into its own rib cage. Kif winced a little. It was the first time, Gil later realized, any of them had shown any signs of pain. He stared in stunned silence, and the aliens all stared in much the same manner.
For a long time—nearly another hour—nothing happened. Every eye in the room stared at the tiny hole in Kif’s chest made by the syringe. Eventually, the four aliens intensified their gaze and brought their heads closer to the dot—they had noticed a change. At first, Gil couldn’t make anything out, but after a few more moments, he too saw the focus of their scrutiny: the area around the needle’s insertion point was turning grey.
Initially just a small cloud, the grey color slowly swirled outward like a miniature galaxy over Kif’s skin. From its chest, down to its stomach, then its legs, and finally terminating at its toes, the new color seemed to be engulfing Kif’s entire body. Their shoulders sank and their heads lowered—it looked like relief. Roger and Jeltz reached for each other’s hands, and soon, all four of them embraced each other in a circle. Gil, brow furrowed, stared in confusion.
After a long pause, Korben approached Gil, lowered the table back down to a level position, and released his restraints.
Gil sat up and let his legs hang off the edge of the table as Korben, Jeltz, Kif, and Roger exited back to the corridor. But as Kif crossed the threshold and turned around to close the room, it noticed that Gil hadn’t gotten to his feet yet. The rich grey tone emanating from the dot on its chest continued to grow and cover Kif like paint on a canvas. At this point, it looked like a grey toga draped over Kif’s pale body.
It gestured to him, encouraging him to follow along, but Gil wasn’t quite ready to move yet—he couldn’t wrap his mind around what had just happened. He had been their lab rat, for what purpose he didn’t know, but they seemed to have accomplished something. And with their purpose now complete, their interest in Gil had vanished. Perhaps this meant they’d take him home?
Gil put his feet on the floor and started towards Kif, who seemed to be wearing a turtleneck. The grey tone had covered its appendages and now slowly crept up its neck.
With mere feet between them, Kif’s left eye started to twitch. Gil stopped in his tracks. Kif’s legs give way like rubber as it fell to its knees, and then smacked face-first onto the ground. Eyes closed, its entire body now twitched. Korben, Roger, and Jeltz all whirled around and rushed to Kif’s aid, whose new grey tone at last crept into its bulbous head.
Roger turned Kif over on its back and elevated its head. Kif, no longer simply shaking, convulsed brutally in Roger’s lap. Kif’s eyes fluttered. A foamy, yellow, foul-smelling liquid bubbled over and spilled out of its mouth. Once again, Gil was treated to the unsettling sound of its vocal chords, undulating like a viciously strangled animal.
Korben rose up from its haunches and bolted down the corridor at a speed Gil wouldn’t have thought possible, and another of the cog’s teeth opened to reveal a room Gil could only see a sliver of. It was far enough away that the curve of the corridor mostly obscured it.
A moment later, Korben was bounding back towards the examination room with a device in its hand similar in shape to a large thumb tack—large enough that Korben’s hand wrapped around the base like the hilt of a sword. The hilt had a brushed-nickel finish, and a single button at its base. The business end of it, a large, jet-black spike, was roughly four inches long.
Korben leaped into the air with its right arm outstretched like a baseball player touching the home plate. As the giant came down, the tip of the device crashed cleanly into Kif’s forehead all the way up to the hilt. Holding it steady, Korben used its thumb to depress the device’s single button.
The device illuminated red and blared like a foghorn for a moment. Gil winced and covered his ears. When it stopped, the area was once again filled with the gargling, choked undulation of Kif’s voice as it convulsed in Roger’s lap.
Korben held one hand firmly around the device, the other pressed firmly against Kif’s chin to hold the head stable. After another short moment, Kif inhaled for the last time. Its eyes now open wide, body stiff as a board, Kif let out a muffled, bone-chilling shriek that went on for the better part of half a minute. When its lungs had completely emptied out, its body went limp. The device illuminated green for a moment and emitted a short, pleasant, high-pitched warble. Korben withdrew it, leaving behind an execution-style bullet hole in the corpse’s cranium—Kif was dead.
Gil stood frozen in the exam room and simply gaped, baffled by what had happened. They had taken a sample of his blood—a proper sample this time, through sheer persistence—had mixed it with his bone marrow and God-knows-what else, and injected it back into one of their own. Gil had no idea why. He only knew the obvious: things hadn’t gone as the aliens had hoped.