Chapter Eight: The Newcomer
A wide-eyed Gil pointed both of his index fingers at the bloody alien and stammered, trying to make sense of what he saw. He’d personally witnessed the creature’s execution and subsequent ejection into space. Its eyes had popped out of that bulbous head like a couple of champagne bottle corks and then splattered against the edge of the void like rotten fruit. Yet there it stood, same height, same timid gaze—unmistakably Kif. Or was it? Gil’s mouth worked for a moment, but the only thing he could force out was an abrupt shout.
The aliens and Gil continued to stare at each other with shared surprise—their surprise that Gil had once again interacted with their foreign technology, and his surprise that they could apparently bring their own back from the dead. Or, no, that wasn’t right; they materialized the thing back from the dead.
After more stammering, Gil simply shouted, “No!” as if reprimanding a small child. He screamed the word at least a dozen times more, the syllable popping out of his mouth in staccato bursts like a dribbling basketball.
They turned away and walked towards the showers. Gil pounded on the window a few times in an unsuccessful attempt to have them come back, and then rested his face against the glass. A droning whine escaped him. He slowly backed up, navigating around the orange disc, and crouched with his back against the wall on the opposite side of the room.
Couldn’t be, he thought. I must have misplaced the commotion—it must have come in through the hatch I saw day before yesterday. They were standing in front of that room! But where did all that blood come from? Korben’s dismemberment had replayed in Gil’s head a hundred times, and he recalled with crystal clarity that the wound hardly bled at all. But more importantly, the blood hadn’t even been red; it was a pale grey with the slightest hint of green.
Maybe it wasn’t blood. Maybe it was some sort of goop they hibernate in during space travel. It had to have come here in some sort of shuttle… maybe it’s attached to the side of the ship… maybe it was discarded and crashed into The Moon. No… no way—it’s not Kif, it’s just Kif’s replacement. Gil had to admit he’d mostly been able to distinguish them by height alone—line up their faces, and it was like trying to differentiate between four ants on an ant hill. There were only the slightest of differences.
Korben‘s eyes always looked a bit angrier. Its hairless eyebrows always seemed to be angled downwards towards its nostrils. Then there was Jeltz, whose brow seemed permanently furrowed and whose lips seemed to curl downwards at the corners in a subtle frown—it looked pompous. Roger and Kif, however, just looked blank. For the most part, they were all nearly identical.
He’d convinced himself the new alien couldn’t be Kif. He recalled the old trope where Junior’s goldfish dies, but mom and dad flush it down the toilet and buy a new one while he sleeps. When Junior wakes up, he has no idea it’s a different fish. Gil just happened to have the insider knowledge of seeing the fish go down the toilet.
Gil calmed down a bit and reminded himself that the aliens were not supernatural. He was still distressed that they had apparently invited company over, but comforted that it couldn’t possibly have been the late Kif. But why is it here? he wondered.
The paneled wall behind Gil suddenly recessed a bit and then started to slide behind another panel. He quickly lurched forward, springing to his feet and whirling around to see his captors as the window slid open as well. The exam room was open behind them. The quartet stood in the corridor, just as they had when he’d first met them. Then the shortest of them, now clean, beckoned to Gil with its index finger. The thing was using hand gestures—a form of communication that Kif had obviously learned through contact with him. Despite this, Gil insisted in his mind that it had to be a different alien.
Gil considered going to them, then shook his head. “No way—you guys wanna play doctor again? What more do you need? You’ve already taken a sample of damn-near everything my body makes. Please, just—please don’t. I don’t want to go back in there.”
He didn’t move until Korben impatiently started towards him. He quickly lifted his hands in front of himself, insisting, “Okay, I’m coming, I’m coming,” but he had misunderstood—they didn’t need him to go into the exam room. Korben reached him and merely hooked its right arm under Gil’s left shoulder. Then Jeltz approached and did the same thing to his right. They held him in place. Neither of them gripped with any amount of real force, but that was somehow worse for Gil than being violently pushed around.
The stench had come back worse than ever before, filling his nostrils with the reek of fetid sweat and old fish. Their bodies were lightly pressed against his, and the hands cupped under his arms rested on his shoulders in a sort of caress. It was unbearable, like standing on a crowded subway train, sandwiched between two warm, naked corpses. Gil wriggled in discomfort.
With the two aliens holding him, Roger walked into the exam room and returned a moment later with a fresh syringe.
“What are you going to—” Gil began, but winced before he could finish. Roger approached his left arm—the arm not already decorated with a dozen needlepoint wounds—and ungracefully pounded the needle into the space just below his elbow. Gil looked down at the source of the pain and whined loudly, his mouth hanging open in a frown like a tragic theater mask. The aliens’ grip around his shoulders tightened a bit, which was preferable to the dry warmth of their soft touch. His high-pitched exhales continued rhythmically until Roger completed the draw and ripped the needle back out—the alien was two-for-two now. Bedside manner aside, Roger had successfully completed a procedure on the first attempt.
With the fresh sample in hand, Roger turned around and walked towards the exam room. The two aliens released Gil and followed suit, with the newcomer trailing behind and fidgeting with some controls outside the center room. The window slid shut again, and the other three panels in the room slid open to reveal their own windows. Then all the teeth of the cog opened up simultaneously, once again giving Gil a view of most of the ship. Gil put pressure on the hole in his left arm to stop the flow of blood. When he returned his attention to the quartet, they were all in the exam room.
Gil was more than a little perplexed. They apparently only needed a blood sample from him this time, and therefore didn’t think it necessary to keep him strapped down on the exam table, but why the sudden transparency? Why open all the doors and let the lab rat observe? He supposed it was possible they wanted to ease his mind—to show him he wasn’t there just to be tortured, but so they could work something out. He of course wasn’t sure if this was really the intent, but Gil admitted to himself it was certainly the effect.
The gesture also added some credibility to his idea that they were sick. They didn’t want to tear him apart; they just wanted to save their skins. Kif had obviously bungled the first attempt when it injected itself with whatever goop it cooked up, so the newcomer had to be the replacement, here to take another crack at things. Yes, it might have just been vain hope, but Gil did see this as an attempt to make him feel more comfortable.
I think I’d feel a lot more comfortable if you locked up the big one, he thought. It was crystal clear at this point that Korben was the only one of them who treated Gil with hostility. The others weren’t exactly good hosts, but Korben was on another level entirely. Granted, Gil had played a large part in the loss of Korben’s arm, but that event hadn’t exactly been the trigger for its attitude.
As usual, Korben sat at the entrance to the exam room on the same seat he’d occupied when monitoring Gil the past few days. Roger and the Kif—no, the newcomer— sat at a counter topped with various assembled technologies and went straight to work. The new blood sample was pumped into a slender tube atop a device not too dissimilar in appearance from a top-loading inkjet printer. It was roughly the size of a shoebox, with a small cavity in the center and a slender tray jutting out the bottom.
All of the technological components stood out from the furniture and walls of the ship. Unlike the rough hematite finish covering all the interior surfaces, the components had a brushed nickel finish similar to the chandelier in the center chamber.
The newcomer produced another syringe and jabbed it into its forearm with only the slightest flinch of pain. Gil stared at the procedure with his open hands against the glass until Jeltz, who had previously stood next to the two seated aliens, walked out of the exam room and down the corridor to the right. Curious, Gil followed along from inside the center room to see where it was headed. The haughty-looking alien stopped in between the windows leading to the cockpit and exit chambers, which meant the mystery room was its destination. Gil couldn’t see what was happening—the room wasn’t in view of his prison cell. But after another moment, it headed back towards the exam room holding a steaming, translucent white cube in its hands. It was a cube of ice, Gil realized, each side measuring roughly four inches in length, with a small mass in the center.
“What is that?” Gil asked rhetorically, the unmistakable tone of fascination in his voice. He followed Jeltz along the wall and stopped at the window outside the exam room, where the alien returned and deposited the cube into a small device—also cubic, and seemingly just large enough to contain the frozen chunk.
Then the newcomer finally withdrew the syringe from its arm. Gil could hardly see it from the distance he stood from—about ten feet—but near the bottom of the upturned syringe sat a small globule of what he recognized from Korben’s wound to be alien blood. He only saw a hint of it. It had to have been less than a teaspoon, which meant withdrawing it must have been tantamount to sucking tar through a coffee stirrer.
The newcomer inserted the syringe’s needle into the same tube Gil’s blood had been pumped into, and ejected the sludgy substance. Then it and Roger were off, their nimble fingers tapping away on the screens at the counter. A flurry of typed gibberish fluttered onto one end of their displays and scrolled away on the other—the distinctive look of data entry.
Jeltz used a pair of tongs to reach into the cubic device and retrieve the small, dripping mass that had been at the center of the now-melted piece of ice. It was roughly the size of a robin egg, grey in color, and apparently fragile judging by the care the alien took in handling it. It seemed almost to jiggle under the timid pressure of Jeltz’s tongs. The small object was placed inside the front cavity of the printer lookalike, and in an instant, needles coming from several different directions within the device plunged into it. Roger and the newcomer continued to type away at their touch displays.
Stuck in his holding cell, Gil periodically grew bored in the ensuing hours, passing the time by circling the room, talking to himself, or occasionally sitting cross-legged and simply rocking back and forth. He watched Jeltz return to the mystery room several times to retrieve more ice cubes—he counted four trips all together—but they otherwise all stayed in the exam room. He wished he could get out of that round room—to be near them and see what they were doing, or see what was in that one room Gil hadn’t been able to see yet. Instead, he felt like he was stuck in a crows nest at the top of a large boat, or a child stuck at the bottom of a well. He looked up into the chamber for no particular reason at one point as Korben got up from its seat and joined the other three at the counter.
Déjà vu, Gil thought. And sure enough, the newcomer just happened to be pulling the syringe out of its chest just as Kif had done before. Gil chuckled in disbelief, but his half-smile quickly curdled into a shocked frown when Korben refilled the syringe and stabbed its own chest with it. One by one, all four of them took a syringe full of the new concoction straight to the chest. Aside from most subtle wince of pain, they each took the shot without issue. On the counter, Gil saw a grey mass in the printer lookalike, and three other gelatinous masses off to the side which were… anything but grey. An unappetizing mixture of white, green, and black speckled the discarded lumps.
“I sure hope you know what you’re doing this time,” Gil shouted through the window. His voice, muffled through the sheet of glass, visibly surprised them as if they’d forgotten he was there, and it made Gil look sideways at them. They were quite good at ignoring Gil, but when he surprised them, it was almost as if they broke character and forgot to pretend they were deaf. It reminded him of visiting old relatives in nursing homes. When the nurses came in to check up, some of the elderly patients were so far gone that the easiest way to deal with them as they thrashed and wailed in their beds was to pretend they weren’t speaking at all.
Korben left the other three and walked to the window, where it lifted its hand and fiddled with what was surely one of the phantom touch displays. A moment later, all four windows were concealed by their panels, and Gil was once again alone in his circular holding cell.
Gil stood in stunned silence, confused by the sudden farewell from the quartet. He stammered for a moment, not sure how to react, but when the lights dimmed for the night, his eyes grew wide. He pounded his fists against the wall.
“Wait a minute!” he cried. “You never gave me anything to eat!” Gil continued pounding for a few moments, but it was no use. He wasn’t sure if they’d gone to sleep, but he couldn’t hear anything through the walls. He ultimately gave up and looked around his holding cell. It was just as it’d been the first night he’d arrived.
He lay down near the center of the room with his back to the spinning disk, but did not fall asleep—he was too hungry. How could they forget to feed me? They never gave Gil enough to eat as it was, so a skipped meal felt like torture.
He briefly considered opening the panel and sneaking out again for a cut of meat, but when it came down to it, he just didn’t have the guts. If Korben were to catch him again, who knew what it would do to him. No, he decided it would be best to wait until morning. At that point, they’d surely open up a door and feed him, unless they’d all dropped dead from—
“Oh, God, what if they’re all dead?” he whispered, eyes wide in the darkness. How could they know for sure the newcomer was more successful than Kif? What if all four of them had taken another faulty batch of ooze and croaked during the night? Experience had certainly shown him they were at least a little reckless. The thought of them all turning into corpses briefly excited Gil, but then terrified him—if they were all dead, how the hell was he going to get home? Even if he got the ship moving, which would be a miracle in its own right, there would still be the issue of steering, not to mention reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, and the act of landing the damn thing. If he crashed into a body of water, would the ship sink? What if he crashed onto land? What if he crashed on land a million miles from home? Did the cockpit even have seatbelts?
Or what if more replacements showed up? What if they didn’t show up until Gil had already gotten the ship moving? Would they board the saucer and drag him back behind The Moon?
Gil didn’t have an answer for any of these questions.
Thoughts of starving to death or eventually suffocating might have kept Gil awake all night if they’d had the theater of his mind to themselves, but these fears eventually received the vaudeville hook. After hours of anxiously rocking back and forth on his side, he suddenly rolled forward involuntarily. He rolled over again and again, like a child would roll down a grassy hill, until finally bumping into the wall at the edge of the room. The force which continued to hold him against the wall was a familiar feeling to anyone who had ever entered a vehicle: the ship had accelerated, and continued to do so. While he was relieved—this meant they couldn’t all be dead—the sudden movement also terrified him.
“Where are we going?” he screamed. At this point, there wasn’t even a sliver of hope for a response; like all his other verbiage of late, the question was rhetorical. But he was fairly certain his destination could only be one of two places: his home, or theirs.