The grey-brown haze that had settled over Zed’s mind began to lift, and he became vaguely aware of high-pitched voices chattering around him. He tried to move, but his limbs would not respond. His body felt far away and inaccessible, and all he could do was lie in wait.
The world around him grew steadily bright and loud. One by one, Zed’s senses returned to him. An inhalation came with the sudden awareness of a foul and alien stench, like the smell of stagnant water. He realized that his eyes were seeing the pale red haze of his own illuminated eyelids. The chattering- once muffled and distant- grew sharp and clear, and Zed guessed there were four or five aliens standing in a circle around him.
Without warning, something cold and metallic pressed firmly against his temple, punching a needle through his skull and into his brain with a loud mechanical hiss. Zed’s eyes flew open involuntarily and he let out an uncontrolled moan of pain.
Six gray figures, blurred and hazy, stood over Zed, shining a kind of surgical light into his face. His eyes adjusted quickly, and the beings became more clear to him. They were short with gray skin, thin limbs and large heads with unblinking black eyes… almost the exact image Zed had seen on so many sci-fi shows and abduction documentaries in the past. They wore loose blue robes that hung like oversized hospital scrubs and sparkled in the dim light. These weren't the aliens Zed remembered killing in the portal room.
One of the aliens held a small device that seemed to draw the attention of the others. It spun a small knob, and Zed heard impossibly loud sounds of crackling and distortion in his mind, as if a shortwave radio was being tuned in his head. When the sound disappated, Zed could hear the high pitched voices of the aliens along with a loud, clear voice in his head, translating in perfect English.
“I have found his biofrequency”, the alien with the device said formally, “We are comprehensible to him”.
“Good”, said another, “Alert the Master”.
As one of the aliens left the circle, the remaining aliens turned their attention to Zed.
“Earth man”, said one, “Can you understand me?”
Zed tried to sit up, and realized that he was held down with restraints. Turning his head as far as he could, he saw that he was laying on some kind of operating table. “Fuck… you…”, he said, struggling with each word.
“Are his reflexes and muscle control returning?”, asked another.
An alien standing at the end of the table drew a small cylindrical object from its pocket and touched it lightly to each of Zed’s knees, sending them flailing involuntarily upward.
My legs are free, Zed thought excitedly.
“Reflexes normal”, the tester said, “Nerve damage unlikely”.
On the opposite side of the room, a large door slid open with a hiss, and bright light spilled into the dim room. Zed watched the silhouette of a figure- taller than the others and wearing a flowing red robe- approach the operating table. The smaller grey aliens bowed as it approached, and whispered the word "Master" to show their respect. As the large creature neared the table, its face was lit by the operating lamp, and Zed could see that it was different from the others. It was more muscular and had a t-shaped head with slitted black eyes peering down at him from each end. It reminded Zed of a hammerhead shark.
“So this is the Earth-man that gave us so much trouble?” it asked to no one in particular, glaring down at Zed and scanning him intensely. “No matter”, it continued, “This one will draw a large sum when we reach Garantua-3.” The large alien turned and began to leave the room when Zed spoke suddenly.
“What are you gonna do with me?” he hissed.
The Master turned. “It speaks”, it said sarcastically, taking a step toward Zed. “Well since you ask, Earth-man, let me show you…”
It pulled the right sleeve of its robe back a few inches revealing a glowing bracelet with glittering lights. It tapped the bracelet quickly, and rows of panels on the each side of the room began to pop outward and slide toward the ceiling. As the panels slid upward, they revealed dozens of dark glass cubes. Zed could see shapes in each of them, but could not discern what they were.
The Master tapped its bracelet again, and bright light flooded the cubes. To Zed’s horror, each cube held a single living human head! The heads, each fitted with a strange metallic life-support collar, seemed to span every possible race, age and gender. When the lights came on, many of them woke from sleep and screamed in fear.
The Master smiled broadly at Zed.
“What the hell is this sick shit!?!” Zed cried in anger, struggling to free himself from the restrains.
The Master smiled. “Why, it’s our bread and butter Earth-man”, it answered. “There are wealthy collectors all over the galaxy who pay handsomely for specimens such as these. Think of them as living trophy pieces."
The alien drew closer to Zed, and leaned in to meet him eye to eye, “You, my lucky friend, were our last catch before we left the system. When the bidders see how hard you fought back on the holograms”, it continued, “They’ll be falling over themselves to add you to their collections”.
With that, the Master spun and barked orders at the small gray aliens as it marched toward the door. “Ready the Surgical Laser! Double check the life support systems! We want to keep this one alive!”
The crew of aliens turned their heads to watch the Master leave the room, and Zed saw his opportunity, sliding his foot toward one of his restrained hands. Fumbling only slightly, Zed lifted the jean cuff and pulled his trusted semi-automatic pistol from its ankle holster. He knew he had at least nine shots, counting the one in the chamber, and he had to make them count.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
The first three shots took the crew by surprise, and two of the aliens flew to the ground, brains spread violently across the walls of the room. The third shot hit an alien in the shoulder and spun him backwards against a tray of medical tools, one of which sent a brilliant laser flying randomly around the room as it fell to the ground.
One of the lasers cut across the left eye of an alien who seemed tfrozen in fear, cutting it open and spilling its wet contents down the front of its surgical smock. As luck would have it, the laser whipped across the surgical table, cutting the restraint of the hand without the gun.
The remaining crew members- four including the Master- finally began to comprehend what was happening, and rushed the table. Zed reached across the table and grabbed the pistol with his unrestrained hand, firing on each of them moments before they reached the table. Each alien fell dead to the floor, and Zed aimed the at the Master, who stood before him with a wide-eyed expression of fear.
“Stop!”, Zed yelled, aiming the gun at the Master's head. The alien listened, staying where he was. Zed took a deep breath, and began to speak slowly. “Now step toward the table and pop these restraints. I don't plan on laying here while you sick fucks cut my head off and stick it in a cage.”
The Master hesitated.
Zed grew impatient. “Listen", he said, "I’m gonna get outta these restraints one way or another, and I got no problem shooting you right now”. As if to illustrate this, Zed spared a bullet for the alien with the spliced eye… its cries of pain annoying him.
The Master looked over its shoulder and watched the latest victim fall to the ground- half of its face missing- and began to move slowly toward Zed.
“You realize if you kill me you’ll never get back to Earth” the Master said, taking slow and deliberate steps toward Zed, “We’ve already traveling at light speed”.
“We’ll see about that”, Zed growled, keeping the gun aimed at the Master’s head.
“I can make you a deal”, the alien continued, “I’ll bring you back to Earth, and you let me move on with my cargo…”
Zed was careful to remain alert as the Master grew close to the table. “Pop these restraints, and we’ll talk”.
The Master reached the wrist of his restrained hand and tapped its fingers quickly across its surface. The restraint fell open. and Zed urged him onward. The alien continued, working around the table and opening the chest and head restraints.
"You're an odd human", the Master said as it worked, "You destroy our robotic defenses on the way into the ship, you take twice the dose of sedative to put down, and you kill, what, eight or nine members of my crew? Who are you?"
"Just a hick with a gun", Zed answered, and the last restraint popped open, allowing him to sit up
Out of nowhere, the alien he'd shot in the shoulder ran out of the dim light and tackled him to the ground, shreiling a wild war cry. Zed shot the alien in the chest, and its body fell limp on top of him.
Struggled to get out from under the alien corpse, Zed caught a glimpse of the Master tapping quickly on its bracelet. He flew to his feet, and aimed the gun at the Master's face.
“What’d you do?” he yelled, "What the fuck did you do?"
“You might as well give up”, the Master answered, “My soldiers are on their way up. You have no way of escaping”.
“We’ll see about that”, Zed answered, and shot the Master in the head. While its body crumpled to the ground, the main doors slid open, and short stocky aliens poured into the room, raising their blasters.
Zed slipped his arm through the open restraints on the table and yanked up. The table came free, and Zed raised it in front of him just as the blaster fire began to rain down around him.
Zed attempted to fire his pistol at the oncoming aliens, but the pistol was empty. Moments later, the gun was shot out of his hand, and it flew against the wall behind him, melting slightly as it went.
Glancing around for a way out, Zed wondered if these would be the last few seconds of his life. He wanted to get back to Amber and Zoe, to crawl into the sheets between them and pretend none of this ever happened.
Unfortunately, the steady stream of blaster fire landing violently around him- heating table he used as a shield and melting the wall around him- told Zed that survival was very unlikely...
(to be continued...)