Chapter Six: Culture Shock
A dull pain forced Gil from his dreams, and he was grateful for it. He must have been trying to roll over in his sleep again, but the soreness in his left hip made that a difficult proposition. He felt his lower back with this hand. Pretty tender, he thought.
His head was pointing to the orange disc like an arrow—before the attempted roll that woke him, he’d been in the exact position Korben had put him in and he didn’t have a clue how long he’d been out. The disc’s glow once again reached through the large area like a campfire, which meant that the lights were still off. His entire body was freezing save for his head which, due to its close proximity to the spinning disc, burned as if it were in an oven.
He shimmied himself into a position so that he faced the disc again. The dried blood on his right arm flaked and fluttered to the floor in crimson snowflakes. Pulling his knees to his chest and placing his hands close to the disc to warm them up, he stared uneasily at the space below. In addition to all the other dangers lurking here, enough to fuel a lifetime of nightmares, Gil was also just a few touchpad gestures away from being sucked down the drain like dirty bathwater. It was a new horror, unlike anything he’d ever seen, and he couldn’t imagine a more gruesome way to go.
Gil’s body steadily warmed, but his shivering continued. Still waking up, he also became gradually aware of a dull headache and a mild discomfort in his gut. It felt like the stomach cramps of diarrhea, likely from the raw beef he’d consumed—and he was already half-dehydrated from the outset. Good, he thought. I’ll just shit myself to death, and they can come in here and sift through the muck with a fine tooth comb to get what they’re after.
His own sarcasm somehow flying over his head, Gil sat bolt upright. That sounded terrible—he didn’t want that at all. Not here, wherever the hell this was, and he certainly didn’t like the thought of his own corpse being strained into a fine paste and sucked through a slot after he’d croaked. Maybe I can find out where the hell I am and figure out a way to get outta here. He worked his way to his feet, disbelieving he’d ever complained about soreness before now, and then with wide eyes promptly dropped his jeans and squatted. He was so thankful, despite everything else, that liquid pooled to the center.
When he’d finished, he started towards the edge of the room.
Using his growing collection of bodily fluid smears as a roadmap, Gil located the first door he’d seen when introductions were made. He lifted his hand and touched the wall next to the panel, but nothing happened. He tried again, but still, no luck.
How the hell is this thing supposed to work? he asked himself. However the interface worked, he knew it couldn’t rely on resistive technology because there was no screen to resist his touch—he’d seen the aliens touch pretty much anywhere near the edge of the moving panels, and a phantom display would simply appear at the point of contact. It was exactly like a context menu on his laptop; no matter where his cursor was on the screen, a right click of the mouse would make a tiny menu appear adjacent to it. Similarly, the interface appeared high up when Korben used it, but much closer to the floor for the shorter aliens.
He knew it also couldn’t be capacitive technology, because he was as good a conductor of electricity as they were. Perhaps it’s heat sensitive? Gil recalled the immense heat the aliens gave off and wondered if their systems relied on temperature, but simply weren’t calibrated to detect something as comparatively cold as his human finger. He concluded this to be the case after a contemplative moment, but he had an idea.
Balling his right hand into a fist, he rubbed it furiously against the wall. His hand burned from the friction after only a few seconds, but there was still no response. It wasn’t long before he began to doubt himself. This was a dumb idea, he thought. They wouldn’t even be able to turn on the heat without setting off every display in here. No way they’re heat-sensitive. But just as he was about to give up, with fresh tears welling up in his eyes, a display slowly flickered into view and hung just off the surface of the wall. Two icons appeared and, desperately scared of losing the heat he’d built up, Gil quickly touched one at random.
A panel and window parted ways, creating a wide exit into the corridor.
“I am a genius,” he declared in a whisper. He started towards the exit, then suddenly froze in his tracks. Suppose one of the aliens heard the door open and came running over? God, suppose Korben’s on his way?
Gil had hoped the lights being dimmed would indicate the aliens had sought sleep, but he of course had no idea if this was the case. For all he knew, they might throw Gil into the center room at any arbitrary time, shut the lights off, and then continue to work on their science project with their lab rat safely tucked away.
He stood expectantly for a moment, waiting for something to reach out and grab him, but nothing happened. And after a few minutes of uninterrupted silence, he finally gathered up his courage and sallied forth.
He looked through the porthole directly in front of him and saw only darkness; however, the various instruments along this room’s planked wall assured Gil that this particular tooth of the cog had to be important. He told himself he’d come back to it, but first, he had to make sure that the aliens weren’t stirring. He remembered passing a porthole that looked to have something like beds inside, immediately to the right of the kitchen. And he knew that room was on the opposite end of where he stood now, so he made a half circle around the corridor.
The kitchen was dimly lit, but he could still make out its details. Consulting his mental map, he continued on and then slowly crept up to the next porthole. A dim blue light spilled out, and inside, Gil was relieved to see the pale white bodies of Jeltz, Roger, and Korben sleeping peacefully in their hard, coverless beds. The bed between Jeltz and Roger was, of course, empty. Gil shook his head. What the hell were you guys even trying to do? He turned around and headed back through the corridor.
After another furious moment of rubbing, Gil managed to activate and spread open the planks to the kitchen. Its lights flickered on. He shuffled around, looking for something with a spout, and was thankful to spy a turn valve next to a set of the same, odd drinking glasses he’s seen earlier. Thank God, he thought. He’d never been as thirsty as he was now. He turned the valve, filled up one of the glasses, and drank. He repeated this several times, until he felt the water slosh around in his belly like a bota bag.
He constantly looked over his shoulder, unable to shake the nervous feeling that he was being watched. And yet, a growing part of him didn’t care—if they were going to treat him like a lab rat, he’d sneak around like a rat. And if they caught him, they’d throw him back into his prison cell.
Continuing to search, Gil found something of a refrigerator and retrieved a thin cut of the same raw meat he’d consumed before. He didn’t necessarily want to exacerbate what he was now sure was clearly diarrhea, but he also didn’t want to go hungry. He grabbed a plate and decided to get out of the kitchen.
Walking past the threshold and back into the corridor, Gil triggered the room’s planks to slide back into place and seal the kitchen. After stopping off at the center room again to take care of more business—thank god that door remained open—he walked back to the kitchen porthole, plate in hand, and continued where he left off. Turning back around, he moved to the left and peered in though the next porthole, where he saw what looked like a sink and a series of showers. Out loud this time, Gil whispered, “Thank God.”
His right hand now terribly tender, Gil rubbed the panel with his left and made his way through the unfolding planks of the corridor. He walked straight to the sink, set down his plate of raw meat, and looked for a faucet. He found none, but knew that it had to be a sink—there was a drain at the bottom of the basin.
As he reached to the bottom of the basin to feel for moisture, a thin, horizontal line at the midpoint of the sink shot out a steaming sheet of hot water. Gil withdrew his hand with a start, but still found himself burned by the water’s scalding heat. He sucked through his teeth and vigorously shook his right hand from the elbow.
A quick scan of the showers revealed the same thin strips overhead. Sheesh, he thought, they wash in this? He walked over to one of the showers and swiped his hand through the air. Sure enough, a steaming jet of scalding hot water fell like a pane of glass to the shower floor. No shower for me.
Gil walked back to the sink. He couldn’t clean himself up in the shower, but he had another idea. First, he gingerly touched the surface area at the back of the basin—it was raised higher than the rest of the sink and just above the motion sensor. It burned, and he drew his hand back; but instead of wincing this time, he muttered, “Eureka.”
Peeling the cut of meat from the plate, Gil slapped it onto the raised portion of the sink and was delighted to see it quietly sizzle. Now, he was going to wash up.
With his next meal cooking, Gil slipped his shirt off and twirled it around in the sink like a cat toy. Predictably, the water jets sprang to life and battered his shirt until it was soaking wet and steaming. He set it on the adjacent counter in a heap, kicked off his sneakers, and pulled his socks off.
Delicately, he dangled his socks over the jets and soaked them as well before setting them on the counter. He repeated this process with his jeans, and finally, his soiled boxer shorts.
Now naked, he looked himself over. His body was filthy and covered in red splotches. He wondered for a moment if the rashes were caused by the disc in the center room, but thought better of it—more likely, it was just too much time soaking in his own sweat, piss, and stomach acid.
He groped his soaking shirt. Still hot, but now manageable, he picked it up and wrung it out over his head. Water trickled down the length of his body and splashed onto the floor, and he used the remaining moisture in the cloth to scrub himself down from head to toe. He wasn’t going to get anywhere near clean with this sponge bath, but for the time being, simply not being sticky would suffice just fine.
Careful to avoid the hot water, he dangled and sprayed his shirt again before setting it aside. It was time to wring out and get his clothes back on now, but first, he had to tend to his meal—he used his thumb and index finger to pinch a corner of the fillet, pick it up, and flip it over. It didn’t look particularly appetizing, but it was definitely cooking.
Gil wrung out his socks, boxers, and jeans as much as he could, and then put them on. They were, of course, still wet, but he didn’t mind. Unlike the cold temperature of the center room, the corridor and connecting chambers felt like a hot summer night. It would be nice to walk around in something cool for a little while.
He put his shirt back on and, while the cut of mystery meat finished cooking, he looked around a bit. Conspicuously, there was nothing resembling a toilet. He’d been wondering about that from the get-go—they didn’t seem to have anything going on down below. But they had to create waste, didn’t they? How did they reproduce? Were there even multiple sexes?
And most baffling of all, why the hell were they naked? Were they honestly so advanced that they’d evolved beyond a need for clothes? Gil scoffed at that. What does that even mean? Wherever they were from, did they not need protection against the elements? Perhaps they simply found clothes uncomfortable. Certainly it was a concept they’d understood; they seemed to easily work around Gil’s clothes during both of his exams.
There was one device between the sink and showers Gil couldn’t make heads or tails of. It was a strange cross between a garbage can, a bird’s wings, and one of those old-fashioned scales found in a doctor’s office.
It seemed obvious that one was meant to stand at the base of the device. A long pole rose up from one end of it, leading to two large, symmetrical metal wings covered in dozens of dull prongs—almost like a hair brush. He stared sideways at the device for a moment with a raised eyebrow, and then had an epiphany.
“The mud on their backs…” He trailed off, and then tittered. “They crap outta their backs.” He laughed again, finally understanding that the strange device he saw was something of a toilet.
Gil peeled the fillet off the back of the sink and slapped it onto his plate. He’d already been drenched in a fresh coat of sweat, but it felt great in the still heat. Somewhat clean and with a meal in hand, he headed for the room he promised himself he’d return to.
He passed the beds on his way, and cautiously peered through the porthole again. They hadn’t moved. With his newfound freedom, he briefly mulled over the logistics of tricking one or more of them into the center room and subjecting them to the same fate as their former crewmember. But he shook it off. Gil was the only guest aboard this cruise ship who had to give a hand job to every door he came across; the others could simply open whatever door he closed and send him straight to hell with a single blow. So he supposed sneaking around like a rat wasn’t so bad, and he moved on.
The next room he reached was the exam room, which he passed at full speed. And the room to the right of the exam room had an additional row of four beds. Gil was initially outraged by this, seeing that they had extra room yet still kept him locked in a dank toilet; however, he quickly realized he’d have liked it even less in there. The beds, now that he got a good look at them, seemed nightmarish. The mattress seemed from the porthole to be soft rubber, with a dip where his upper back would be. They were also narrower than a twin mattress. So he decided he was better off, and continued. He finally found himself face to face again with the very first porthole he’d seen. Both of his hands were rubbed raw at this point, but Gil Sanders was on a roll and he had another idea. With a grin, he picked up the cooked meat in his right hand and pressed it to the space under the porthole.
Gil quickly brought the bottom of his shirt over his right hand and wiped the greasy meat juice from the panels as they gave way. He was pleased with himself—that had indeed been a good idea.
The lights flickered on, and he was greeted with five tall-backed chairs behind a large bay of controls that ran the entire width of the 20-foot room. The chair in the center had a taller back than the other four, and the control space in front of it included a strange-looking flight stick. Above the control bay, the tapered ceiling consisted of the same planks that closed off each room from the central corridor. Just as with all the other rooms, everything here seemed to be constructed of the same dark silver. With equal parts curiosity and anxiety, Gil saw this was a cockpit.
He took a seat at the tall chair, its padding reminded him of a mouse pad’s gel wrist guard, and looked over the deep control deck. The controls were thankfully tactile, unlike the phantom touch-screen controls in the corridor and center room, but most of them were still unrecognizable to Gil. The only pieces of machinery that Gil could make any sense of were the aforementioned flight stick, and a sliding knob with what looked like an illustration of a car windshield above it.
He tentatively placed his hand on the slider before pushing it to the right. Silently, the planks above the control board parted in the middle and slid to the left and right, revealing a gigantic window that spanned the width of the room.
Gil’s mouth, full of chewed meat, hung open. In front of him, in sharper detail than any picture or video could have ever shown, he watched as the craters Pavlov, Tsiolkovski, Fermi, Milne, and Hilbert came into view. He didn’t actually know any of these landmarks, and in fact, stared for a long time wondering what seemed so unfamiliar about the landscape out the window. He knew it was The Moon, but it didn’t look right—it didn’t match the picture in his mind from the thousands of times he’d seen it in the night sky. At last, it occurred to him that it was The Moon’s far side. And it was beautiful.
Hold up, he thought, I’m in space. The possibility that he’d left Earth had been a dormant fear of his for a while now. It had been a good possibility from the start, and he supposed it was blatantly obvious after Kif’s exit, but this was the first time he’d had visual confirmation: he sat aboard a spacefaring cliché, also known as a flying saucer, floating behind The Moon.
Gil resumed eating, but didn’t take his eyes off the window. Not yet. He absently touched the stubble on his face with his free hand. The past few days—or rather, the past few indiscernible periods of time—had been some of the worst in his entire life. Never mind his captors’ unsettling appearance; he’d been kidnapped, brutalized, stabbed, and imprisoned, all in the interest of a goal that they either couldn’t communicate to him or just didn’t care to. But as he stared out into space, he couldn’t help but feel strangely sentimental. So few humans had ever ventured beyond earth’s atmosphere, and fewer still had ever had the opportunity to see what he was seeing now. He felt oddly thankful.
Continuing to munch on his fillet, Gil’s mind gradually turned back to his captors.
He recalled reading an online article—in general, Gil had a lot of time to browse the web—where the author posited that alien abduction claims were nothing more than deeply repressed memories of alleged victims’ birth experiences. And Gil liked that; it was a nice and neat explanation that made sense to him.
The alleged abductees would usually claim to be taken from a comfortable place by a bright light. Then, people with huge white heads and black eyes would stand around them and do completely unrecallable and benign things. No one could ever remember; they only knew that they had been on a table, where they were poked and prodded in such a way that no evidence of the encounter would exist. More often than not, people would shrug and simply respond that they ran “tests.” Tests like a nurse would conduct on a newborn under a bright light.
It was convenient enough that the trend of abduction claims seemed to coincide with the cultural shift of births occurring at a hospital instead of at home, but what had really driven it home for Gil was that he knew there were limitations to what newborns could actually see. Their underdeveloped eyes couldn’t see much from far away, and only starkly contrasting colors—like black and white—really popped out. In fact, he’d heard that women’s nipples would apparently darken during pregnancy to increase the contrast and make them more noticeable to newborns. With that in mind, he could easily see why a face in a surgical mask with dark eyes could be blurred into the visage of something that appeared alien.
Gil smiled and shook his head, thinking, I really did like that explanation. But his experiences thus far had too much in common with all those stories. He hadn’t seen any bright lights, but—he’d forgotten about this until now—he was literally plucked from his front yard and sucked into the air. And now, here he was on a space ship, parked behind The Moon, and held captive by mysterious creatures whose likeness was so ubiquitous that popular culture had come to refer to them simply as “Greys.”
With this in mind, Gil had to operate under the assumption that all of the outlandish stories he’d heard—even the weird ones—might actually be true. This meant, of course, that as a species, they didn’t necessarily all have the same motivations for visiting.
He tried to recall all the abduction tales he could, and found at least some difficulty separating actual claims from deliberately fictional TV shows. He wished he had his smartphone with him, knowing such information would be just an internet search away.
There was that logger in Arizona… they made a movie about that. He got picked up and found himself on an exam table surrounded by a few beings likely not too dissimilar in description from Gil’s hosts. He claimed to have been so startled by the encounter that he leaped from the table and then brandished a long and clear pole he found nearby. He apparently acted so macho, swinging around that clear stick, that they ran away from him. He began to wander around the ship and was finally coaxed into cooperating by some other beings who looked more human than the others—hair, lips, and a dull smile. They led him to the exam table, he lay back down, and then things went dark. When he came to, he was near a gas station, filthy and sore.
There was a farmer from Brazil who claimed to have been picked up by some beings who had been observing him for weeks. After finally making contact with him and inviting him aboard their ship, they stuck him in a room with a naked woman who flatly instructed him to have sex with her. And that was it—when it was over, they gave him the boot and flew away.
There was that couple from New Hampshire who’d allegedly been abducted while driving home and given mostly harmless physicals. That had to be something like 80 years ago, at this point.
There were also countless accounts on primetime TV Gil saw when he was a kid, ranging from intergalactic sightseeing, to cloning, stealing pregnancies, planting pregnancies, all the way up to the ultimate alien cliché: anal probing. Gil rolled his eyes when that crossed his mind.
He shook his head again, but this time in frustration. That’s just stupid. I refuse to believe that all these ridiculous stories are true. Some of them, maybe, but a trip here just to be… voyeurs? Gil snorted. Hell, I’d even buy that they were trying to cross-breed, but if any of that wasn’t nonsense, why is this outing straying so far from the norm?
No, they’d have to be separate, unmonitored trips. They must have opened the cruise lines up to anyone, allowing scientists and perverts alike to visit at will. But what of safety? Countries on Earth who met for the first time would unwittingly infect each other with foreign diseases, killing thousands in the process, and these things don’t even wear clothes. Despite their tech, the Greys were so reckless as to—
Gil choked on his food, the word, “Greys” suddenly hanging in his mind like a fishhook. Grey? he thought. These things aren’t grey. It was one of the first things he noticed when he met them. After a few coughs and a firm hand to the chest, he redirected his bite of food and, while panting, mentally ran through a couple of recent events. He recalled the flicker of grey he’d seen in Jeltz’s finger when it absorbed his blood. Then, of course, there was Kif who, in its arrogance, injected itself with some of Gil’s fluids and briefly turned grey before dying. Otherwise, they were completely white, almost sickly—like the pale white and homesick protagonist from the latter half of E.T.
That was exactly like Jeltz earlier, when he passed out in the kitchen, Gil thought.
And then suddenly, it hit him: “They’re sick,” he whispered.
Gil laughed out loud—he couldn’t help it. It was all just so ironic! For all their technological advancements, for all the decades of visits to Earth to study us… In their extreme, literally naked carelessness, what if one of them ended up catching a virus and bringing it back home? Dysentery on an intergalactic scale, perhaps.
It all made so much sense now. His captors didn’t seem to know what they were doing, having no idea how to communicate with Gil, much less draw blood from him—but what if these idiots were the only Greys left not bedridden… or dead? So here they are now, blindly taking shots in the dark in the hopes that they can find a cure. Gil lightly touched his perforated forearm. And they’re not exactly doing a bang-up job.
He also recalled that his friendly neighbor could have just as likely been the subject, but the aliens couldn’t pull it off at first. Hell, they were so inexperienced with whatever technology they were using that they’d almost abducted a sedan.
There were still a few things that didn’t seem to make sense. Gil didn’t understand what they could possibly be infected with, especially since the cure for whatever it was seemed to exist somewhere within his perfectly unremarkable human body. Maybe it was something he’d been vaccinated with? Maybe it was just a common human infection and they had to harvest white blood cells?
Then, of course, there was the question of where they came from. Even with Gil’s limited knowledge of—or interest in—Earth’s neighboring planets, it was obvious to Gil that they didn’t live anywhere within the solar system. These things breathed air, which, far as he knew, was only available on Earth. That put Mars out of the question, and everything past Mars was either nothing but gas or nothing but ice. Or something like that, he thought.
Okay, he continued, so that puts them somewhere in a galaxy far, far away. But how did they get here? Or, a better question, how had they made so many repeat trips in a matter of decades? He’d read recently about a satellite, launched years ago, that had finally left the solar system and gone into deep space. He knew from the Apollo missions that even a trip to The Moon took four days. The only thing he knew of that could travel at light speed—aside from light—were radio waves. So had they discovered a faster method of traveling? Or perhaps it was something Gil couldn’t conceive.
More harrowing, though, was how they all treated Gil—especially Korben, who seemed to have a personal vendetta against him. Had it made up its mind Gil was personally responsible for their ailment? Had they perceived the infection as an attack? Perhaps its size simply made it more aggressive, but if so, why bother bringing it along? Gil didn’t know.
He’d finished his meal. Gil’s stomach felt a little better, but he knew he’d have to use the facilities of his holding cell at least a few more times. He stood up and took one last look at the view outside. But as he reached for the knob to close the window, he caught a whiff of an unpleasant odor.
Gil whirled around, greeted briefly by twin reflections of his own startled face. It was Korben, or more specifically, those gigantic eyes, staring at Gil with palpable rage.
He shouted in surprise, falling backwards and landing on the control bay with his back mashing against an untold number of buttons and switches. Oh God, his mind screamed, they woke up!
Korben lifted both its arms to grab Gil, who instinctively held up the greasy plate to shield his face. Korben froze for only an instant as it put the pieces together: its now-clean prisoner had sneaked into several of the ship’s rooms while they slept.
Dumbfounded and furious, it sent its balled-up right fist towards the plate, smashing right through it like Styrofoam and making contact with Gil’s face. The pain was terrible; the shattered not-quite-glass material of the plate cut into Gil’s face and exploded into the air in a dozen different directions. Bits of it dug into the knuckles of Korben’s right hand, sticking out like peppermint bark.
Gil was dazed—he screamed in pain, but heard only a faint ringing sound. His head now resting against the surface of the control board, only a swirl of dark silver with a hint of white filled his vision.
The hint of white, as it turned out, was Korben’s gigantic hands, reaching for and wrapping themselves around Gil’s throat. Underneath the flexible and slightly cushioned skin of the alien’s hands were what felt like ten metal bars. And as he was lifted into the air, the burden of Gil’s bodyweight once again hung from his neck.
Two spinning visions of Korben’s screaming face slowly converged into one. Despite the screaming, Gil heard nothing but a faint, high-pitched hum in his ears. Unable to breath, he stared flatly at his own reflection in Korben’s eyes with his hands hanging on the creature’s wrists in a vain attempt to support himself. Korben, intentionally or not, was choking the life out of him. He began to see spots—shimmering specks of white danced in his field of vision.
With sound finally coming back into his ears, he heard something unfamiliar. Like pixie dust, he thought, whatever that meant. And then, a gradual but startling feeling of weightlessness rose in him. He opened his eyes and, forcing them to focus one last time, discovered the specks of white were actually pieces of the shattered plate—they were floating. The sound he’d heard was the little bits bouncing off the walls.
Korben must have noticed at the same time, because its grip around Gil loosened, who then inhaled with all the force of windstorm. And when its hands were completely removed from his neck, Gil remained airborne. The artificial gravity in the ship was gone; Gil had flipped a switch or pressed a button when his back hit the control board, and now everything not nailed down moved freely. Korben, for the first time, looked scared. Who knew what was now floating free within the eight chambers of the ship?
Gil, gasping for air, needed to get away from Korben—it was the only thought in his head. Gil floundered for a moment, then lifted his legs and thrust both feet into Korben’s chest. They both flew back from each other.
In a panic, his trembling hands shot up above his head with just enough time to press them against the window and avoid bashing his head. He hit hard, surprised at how much force the kick had produced. He turned around to face the glass, seeing the moon again and fogging the view with his heavy breath.
He was stunned for a moment, in fresh awe of the lunar landscape out the window, but shook himself—he had to move. Scrambling and reaching for purchase wherever he could, Gil situated himself so that his feet pressed against the glass. He looked out of the room, which felt like looking straight up from the bottom of a long stairwell. And at the top, Roger and Jeltz hovered in the doorway leading to the kitchen chamber.
To his right, he saw Korben; it had kicked off the wall to the center room and was now careening towards Gil with amazing speed. With only a second to act, but without a plan, Gil pushed his hands against the control board to bend at the knees, and then blindly kicked off.
Gil screamed in surprise as he flew out of the cockpit, across the width of the corridor, and into the center room. He furiously waved his arms around in an attempt to slow down, but there was no effect—without any resistance working against him, he raced along at the same pace as when he’d launched himself.
Passing in front of the spinning disc with the stalactites from the ceiling brushing against his back, something gripped his ankle and yanked. It was Korben. It had kicked off the far end of the cockpit just like Gil—but with much more force than he’d been able to muster—and caught up to him in seconds. It spun Gil around and gathered up a wad of the front of Gil’s shirt in its left fist. Behind him, the glass pane was sliding shut; Roger and Jeltz had initiated the closing sequence to contain Gil in his prison cell.
He flew past the threshold and into the opposite end of the corridor, where his back thumped against the planked wall leading to the kitchen. It knocked the wind out of him. Korben roared at him from the center room, but to Gil’s relief, the giant was behind the sliding glass—it didn’t clear the door in time.
But something wasn’t right; Korben also still held Gil’s shirt in its balled-up fist. Perplexed, Gil took a closer look at Korben and saw its left arm was… gone. Korben hadn’t been roaring in anger, but pain. Just below the shoulder, all that remained was what looked like a putrefied beef wellington—impossibly thick skin surrounding a disgusting mass of oozing, grey-green raw meat with a single thin circle of bone in the center. Like a thick weed tugged apart, the wound was wet with milky green syrup, but didn’t drip—it just oozed.
Gil, though fascinated by this strange anatomy, didn’t have time to dwell. He looked to his left and saw Roger and Jeltz pin-balling down the corridor. Ahead, a seething Korben fiddled with something to the left of the window. The window started to open. Gil ripped the severed arm off his shirt, threw it, and launched himself to the right.
Bounding off the walls in a zigzag pattern—a technique he’d just observed in the other two aliens—Gil made his way through the corridor. His obvious folly was that he’d eventually come around the bend and run into the other two aliens, but he was hysterical—he wasn’t thinking rationally. Every ounce of his mental processing was devoted to putting distance between himself and the huge alien. He was already panting, breath burning like fire in his throat, but in that moment he’d loop around the ship’s circular corridor until his heart gave out if it meant never having to face the tall one.
As he came around the bend to the section of wall containing the cockpit, Gil saw both Roger and Jeltz tinkering at the control bay. Gil gradually started to glide downwards until he brushed against the floor and stopped entirely. He tried desperately to pick himself up and run, but his body refused—he was exhausted.
Panting and defeated, Gil rolled onto his back and looked behind himself.
Korben walked towards him with purpose, dragging its severed left arm along the floor of the corridor. The alien looked rabid. Gil shielded his face with his hands.
“I’m sorry!” he cried. “It was an accident! I didn’t mean for your—”
But predictably, Korben was not listening. When it approached Gil, it swung its severed arm into the air and beat him with it until he lay unconscious. Eventually, Roger and Jeltz would intervene, wrapping themselves around Korben to stop it and hold it down; they weren’t yet finished with Gil. The intervention was likely the only reason he survived that encounter.