“They didn’t tell me what to expect,” he said. The humanoid creature in front of him narrowed all six of its eyes. It seemed incredulous, but because it had no nose to scrunch in doubt or mouth to curve into a frown, he couldn’t be certain.
“You must be an hallucination, right?” He motioned to it. “How long before it wears off?”
“I am not sure what you mean,” it said in a voice that struck the man as feminine, all lilting and gentle. He had heard the voice and the echo of the words against the metals walls, yet she had no mouth, so how could she speak? She had to be an hallucination, he reasoned, pulling his brain away from the edge of panic.
The man shifted on the metal table. The creature kept her distance. The fluorescent light reflected off her bald, oblong head; a long drape of pale fabric covered her skeletal body, and elongated, multi-jointed arms stuck out of gauzy sleeves, each one ending in a few needle-like fingers. She looked as though she were made of putty stretched to its limits.
“A side effect of what they gave me to knock me out,” he elaborated, his brain still fuzzy from the drugs. “I signed a contract. It was this or…” He dragged a finger across his throat; he would probably have deserved death if he had been caught. Instead he had ensured his freedom.
“The elixir worked how it should have, Mr….” Her top two eyes changed from a dark, liquid black to an iridescent silver. The man flinched as something brushed against his brain. “Mr. Farris.” Her top two eyes reverted to black. Farris slid off the table and sidestepped toward the door, keeping the creature in his sights.
“I don’t know how you know my former name, but I would like to leave now. If everything worked, then I’m a free man.”
She tilted her head. “Where do you think you are, Mr. Farris?”
He reached the door and paused, taking in the metal room. Everything was too long, too slender, too tall. Including the door. Farris blinked and shook his head, hoping to force bits of reality through the hallucination; his head swam, but everything remained solid, unfamiliar.
“I don’t care as long as the people looking for me can’t find me. Now tell me when the hallucinations will end so I can get on with my new life.”
“Please have a seat, Mr. Farris. I need to explain some things.”
He made no move to sit.
“I assure you I am real,” she continued. “I think you may be misunderstanding what has happened.”
“I read the contract. I’m not an idiot—”
She held up a hand, and Farris’ mouth hung open as the words he had been about to say vanished from his mind.
“This is your new life, Mr. Farris. You see, we have an arrangement with certain organizations on Earth. You are not in jail, and you will not be killed, which I believe were your two primary concerns, correct?”
“Oh, Jesus.” His knees gave out, and he stumbled forward, collapsing into a nearby chair that was too narrow and high for comfort. His feet couldn’t reach the tiled floor. “What’s going on? What is this place?”
“We need test subjects. But we’re not an unkind race; we didn’t want to abduct innocents. So instead we take people like you off the hands of other humans.”
“I did not sign up for this.”
“We don’t require you to sign up for anything. The contract applies only on Earth; do you remember what it said?”
Farris closed his eyes. Bits and pieces came back to him, but he hadn’t spent much time memorizing the contract. He had surrendered his identity—Roger Farris would be considered legally deceased; thus, all warrants and potential charges against him would be void. The process was irreversible, untraceable. Exactly what he had wanted, needed, to escape. Other words from the contract floated through his brain but resisted assembly into coherent sentences.
He shot to his feet and went for the door. There was no knob, so he began hitting buttons on a nearby panel. Nothing responded to his frantic smashing and pounding. He tried to peer out the thick window in the door, but it was too high, taunting him from above.
“Let me out of here!” He spun back around to face the alien creature. She stood much closer now, about a foot away; her approach had been silent, and Farris pressed his back against the metal door, its strange warmth leeching through his thin shirt. All of the creature's eyes turned silver, and something slick and unfamiliar began swimming through the narrow channels of his memory.
“Why don’t you review that contract again?” the creature said, the words echoing against his skull as she plucked the recollection from him like ripe fruit from a tree. He tried to recoil but was still pressed against the door.
In his memory, he
snatched a folder from a man in a suit and flipped it open. Inside, his face stared up at him from
a grainy photograph, accompanied by a list of his outstanding charges and
alleged crimes on the left-hand side. His name had been blacked out. Clipped on
the right-hand side was the contract.
The jumble of words from his earlier attempt at recalling the contract coalesced into the crucial sentences. The client agrees to be subdued and transported to an undisclosed location. This contract is complete upon delivery to the location; at that time the contractor is no longer responsible for the client’s well-being.
"See?" the creature said as she withdrew from his head with the unsettling feeling of a tapeworm being pulled from his brain.
“They…they tricked me,” Farris said, followed by a string of expletives. He slid to the floor and stared at the alien, wondering if she would let him go when she finished her experiments. Wondering if she would ever be finished.
“I’m sure your victims thought much the same; don’t you?”
He kept silent out of habit, even though he knew his being in that room was an admission of guilt.“Now that you understand, let’s continue with the tests,” she said, reaching for him with her needle fingers.