Chapter Nine: Positive Results
Gil was pulled from pseudo sleep when the lights in the round room flickered to life. God, was he thirsty. Hungry, too. He hadn’t so much slept the previous night as much as he’d simply passed out from exhaustion.
Hours before, once the subtle force holding him against the wall faded away, he cautiously made his way back towards the center of the room. Lying down again, he had yet another fear to add to his steadily growing list: if the ship stopped suddenly, or accelerated in the opposite direction, he’d be sandwiched between his toilet and the hotplate. If he’d randomly chosen to make his bed on the other side of the disc, he would have been dead already. When he finally did calm down and approach something similar to sleep, it felt more like daydreaming. He’d gotten terrible rest, and wasn’t ready to start a new day.
Did they turn the lights on? he wondered. Or is it on some kind of timer? He wasn’t sure if they’d survived the night, but on cue, the panel closest to the cockpit slid away to reveal the quartet. Without even bothering to look up—his tired eyes caught a glimpse of four silhouettes, and that was all he needed—Gil got to his feet and shuffled towards them.
“It’s about time,” he slurred in a raspy and croaky voice, following up with questions about where they were taking him and whether or not he could finally have something to eat and drink.
He looked up a little and saw the newcomer was holding a plate of cubed meat and a glass of water. Roger was snacking on its own dwindling portion of cubes. A grateful smile spread across Gil’s face as he looked higher up, but after his eyes focused on his captors, he stopped dead in his tracks. Something was different.
Finally living up to their eponymous nickname, their skin appeared grey, rubbery, and moist. It looked like the skin of a dolphin. Gil thought they still looked plenty hideous, but they also seemed to be healthier—much healthier, in fact. The newcomer, Jeltz, and Roger looked almost happy. And why not? Though there had been some bumps in the road, they had apparently succeeded in their mission to find a remedy for what was ailing them.
After a moment of confirmation, he let his eyes go back out of focus. He’d gotten rather good at staring past them, the way a person might pretend to be blind: he’d focus on something behind them, enough to reduce them to blurry, poorly-defined shapes. This was the most comfortable way for Gil to face them. He saw the cockpit was opened behind them, although the window panel was still closed.
“Where’s the big one?” Gil asked. “Korben?” He was a little startled by his own question; it was the first time he’d uttered one of his assigned names out loud, and it made him chuckle. He was sure he’d seen four figures in the doorway before getting up, but Korben was nowhere in sight. He figured he must have been mistaken. “Well, I hope your friend is dead,” he concluded flatly.
The window slid open, and the newcomer extended its arms with the meal in hand. Gil stepped forward, took the plate and glass, and then stepped back. Placing the glass of water in the crook of his arm, he wasted no time in eating, grabbing several cubes at a time with his free hand and shoving them into his mouth. Halfway through the meal, he took the glass of water with his sticky hand and turned it up, spilling every last drop into his mouth.
The newcomer spread out its arms, as if to proclaim, “Behold!”
Gil scoffed. “Yeah, I get it. I had a feeling you guys had caught something. I guess they don’t have the common cold where you’re from, but maybe you’ll take some precautions and at least put on some damn clothes next time you wanna go exploring.”
The newcomer continued to stare at Gil with a dull, almost imperceptible smile.
With a mouthful of meat, Gil sheepishly added, “I—I’m glad it worked out. When can I go home?” He knew that if the newcomer had attempted to answer that question in whatever way it could, it would have been simple coincidence. Without any way for them to understand each other, the alien’s own will to take him home would have been the only thing to prompt a response.
The newcomer appeared to be initiating another gesture, but stopped abruptly as if something had suddenly grabbed its attention. With wide eyes, the newcomer pivoted to the left and looked up as Korben, whose footsteps were now conspicuously audible, came into view from the corridor and looked straight at Gil. And of course, Gil only briefly made eye contact before reverting back to his unfocused gaze.
Like its travel companions, Korben’s skin had taken on a healthy and moist shade of grey. Its left arm had grown all the way back to the wrist, terminating in a small bulb. The others seemed agitated. The newcomer placed a hand on Korben’s chest in a gentle command to stop, but Korben lifted its right arm and brushed the short alien aside.
Its right hand held something Gil recognized, but couldn’t immediately place. It was a clear pole, a little over two feet long and ending in a sharp point. Gil looked sideways at the thing and then remembered after a moment it was one of the tools he’d seen in the exit chamber. Next, it became clear that Korben wasn’t merely holding the object, but brandishing it as if it were a weapon. Finally, with dawning clarity as Korben drew the small spear backwards, Gil realized Korben meant to attack him.