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Several of the strange alien creatures stood farther down the hallway. It included the one who had watched Mortimer that very morning. At least, he thought it was the same one. It wore the same jumpsuit, had the same bald head, and held a wooden board to which it wrote information on. Although this alien wasn’t watching Mortimer like before. Instead, it stood to the side, reading a display on the wall.

However, two other aliens in jumpsuits stood next to it, and they watched Mortimer intently. One of them was considerably shorter and squatter than the bald one. The third looked odder than the other two. It was perhaps slenderer and a bit more delicate. Mortimer didn’t know what features tipped him off, but he suspected it was female.

“Hey!” Mortimer cried out.

He slammed his hand on one of the bars of the cage, causing the bars to rattle. The shorter, squatter alien jumped at the sudden noise. It seemed on edge, almost jittery. It stood on the balls of its feet and held some kind of device in its sweaty palms. Mortimer didn’t know what the device was, but he suspected it was dangerous. The female-like alien seemed to pretend he wasn’t there, only keeping her eyes on me like she was watching a viper. The bald one was paying no mind to either of them.

Mortimer’s anxiety began to spike, expecting the nervous alien to attack or shoot him at any second. What were they going to do with Mortimer? They had not hurt Mortimer thus far. They had left him well fed and didn’t attempt anything. At least, they hadn’t done anything while he was awake. Then a dreadful thought came to Mortimer. What if they didn’t want to study him? What if they wanted to eat him?

Mortimer jammed those thoughts down as aggressively as he could. This was no time to follow illogical thinking like that. He knew many who tended to act illogically. Some years prior, a large object had fallen from the sky. It had damaged several homes and crushed a poor child. Mortimer’s community had taken the fall as a bad omen. They had begun to panic, convinced that “someone” was to blame for the destruction. Rather than think through their actions, mass rioting had begun. Five people were dead, and eight more homes were decimated in the wake, which was undoubtedly more damage than the object itself had caused. Mortimer never really had learned the source of the destruction. The community literally buried and forgot about it, not wanting their mistakes to become a bigger spectacle.

Then a thought occurred to Mortimer. He was in a unique opportunity to do something he simply hadn’t done before. He talked. He introduced himself to the aliens, trying his best to keep the strain and fear from his voice. The more Mortimer talked, the more he felt like talking. He explained his situation. He asked them questions. He demanded answers.

Lifting his hands up cautiously, Mortimer put on a disarming smile. “Please, who are you?”

However, the aliens stared at him like was speaking gibberish. There was no ounce of recognition that they understood his words. This wasn’t to say that his dialogue didn’t have an effect. The nervous alien seemed to become less nervous. He dropped the device he was holding, cocking his head at a strange angle as he listened. The feminine alien seemed almost excited by his words. For a moment, Mortimer had hoped that the excitement showed that she could understand him. It wasn’t long before Mortimer realized that his excitement was unfounded. Whatever tongue these creatures spoke, they did not understand Mortimer.

“Please, let me go!” Mortimer cried.

He tried to explain to them that it was a mistake. He told them his name. He told them about his family. Meanwhile, they simply stared, seeming mildly curious by his words, but completely unmoved. Mortimer’s words turned to plead before he willed himself to quiet. He finally snapped his mouth shut with a click, having exhausted everything he could say to his would-be prisoners. The female leaned over to the nervous one and seemed to whisper something, although the sound didn’t reach Mortimer.

For one hopeful second, Mortimer thought that they might respond to his words. He thought that he had somehow gotten through to them. Maybe if they didn’t understand the words, they could at least understand that he was an intelligent being, like them, and gain some kind of sympathy.

The bald alien finished what he was doing. He spoke a few words to the previously nervous alien, who gave a nod. The words formed awkward noises and seemed to clip at the end of sounds in an unnatural way. It was not a tongue Mortimer had ever heard before. The nervous alien began tinkering with the device for a minute. Then, in a single swift motion, he raised it up, pointed at Mortimer, and pulled the trigger.

There was a rushing thwwwwp of noise, and then something struck Mortimer’s chest. He glanced down at the object, not sticking in his skin. Angrily, he ripped it out and tossed it to the side. How dare they shoot him? After everything, he has said. How do they not understand that he is a person? How do they not get that he is intelligent? Mortimer bellowed a loud curse at the gunman, but the shout didn’t have the wind he thought he had put into it. 

The world was spinning, and Mortimer’s eyelids were getting heavier. He tried to reach through the cage. They were all far outside his reach, but that thought didn’t seem to occur to Mortimer at that second. He missed, and his hand struck the bar. He didn’t really feel the bar. His arm was numb. His entire body felt numb. The aliens suddenly grew taller. No, Mortimer had fallen to his knees. He could not… he could not…

Mortimer’s dreams were foggy and unsettling. He could never describe what occurred in words, but the feelings were there. A sense of foreboding, death, and helplessness. When Mortimer woke, there was a sharp pain in his stomach. His eyes were blurry, and before he could move an inch, he was already vomiting into a small pile of straw to his side.

He continued to heave into the straw long after his stomach was emptied. Come noontime, the food was put out once again, but Mortimer couldn’t summon up the energy to go get. Eventually, he made his way over to the pool. However, scooping mouthfuls of metallic water into his mouth only served to give him more liquid to spew up a few minutes later.

When dinner came, Mortimer didn’t touch that either. Instead, he just curled up in a bundle of straw he hastily brushed together, and the moved into a fetal position. The nausea didn’t go away, and he spent the night restless, desperately trying to take in mouthfuls of water, only to throw it up.

He had better luck the next day. He was still queasy but was able to eat some of the breakfast that had been left for him. He kept it light, a gruelish looking porridge that went down easy, at the very least. He was almost able to hold it down. He tried again at dinner, and this time was able to keep something down.

The observers had come. He had responded by shouting at them, but the illness had quickly diminished his shouts into whimpers. When he finally managed to get his dinner down, the man had nodded appreciatively. It grated on Mortimer’s nerves. He didn’t want the man’s approval, and he was angry that he had inadvertently given the man what he wanted. What did he want? What did any of them want?

Mortimer didn’t know, and he was beginning to realize that they weren’t going to give him any answers. The only thing Mortimer could do now was start making a plan. He had to escape. It was as simple as that. However, he wasn’t exactly sure how.

The door was solid as was the glass. He had thrown his entire weight against the glass, and that had only served to give him a bruised shoulder. The trays given to him were useless as well, made of a flimsy cardboard material. As his nausea subsided over the next few days, he spent his days moving around the cage, learning every nook and cranny. He spent hours looking outside the cage, memorizing the hallway he had seen the alien in as well as the cage across from his own, just in case.

The creature from that cage was often hard to spot, choosing to stay curled up in some deep cavernous rock structure that Mortimer’s cage was lacking in. From time to time, he got glimpses though, and every time only caused him to shiver in fright.

Still, time seemed to heal Mortimer, and after a while, he had become used to the environment. The food seemed to improve, the better tasting foods arriving more often and in greater varieties. More hay also appeared, and he managed to pile it into a high mound that wasn’t entirely uncomfortable to sleep on, at least compared to the concrete floor. Mortimer tried to fight the monotony of the daily routine, but despite his best efforts, he began to grow comfortable with his surroundings.

Then the crowds came.

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