Chapter 2: Inside Out, Part 2C: Tom's First Alien
Tom focused, bringing his heart rate down.
The inside-out man reached the side of his table. Tom watched with barely-controlled revulsion as a hand reached out, towards his face.
His heart was now down to about 40 beats per minute. Conserve adrenaline, he thought to himself, and focused on doing so as the slimy, oozing hand touched his face.
The thing was talking. Tom looked at its face and saw it had no teeth. His eyes, adjusting to the lighting, flicked around the room and he saw some uniforms, uniforms just like his, held up and pinned to the wall and otherwise displayed for apparent study.
"You're one of my crew," he whispered.
The shuffling, dripping man paused, tilted his head, and appeared to struggle to talk. His tongue, somehow inside-out, too, did not work right and eventually the skull surrounded by a topographical map of a brain, with backwards eyeballs embedded deep within it, nodded.
**that is right**
Tom heard off to his left.
He turned slowly, deliberately, and looked, keeping as calm as he could. He would need the reserves of energy that random bursts of fear used up foolishly, and he could not do anything now filling his tied-up body with acids from useless bursts of activity.
He saw his first alien.
It nodded at him, and then nodded off to its left. Tiny wires embedded in the ceiling, the walls, the floors, and all the equipment pulsed and began to glow a pinkish-purple color, lighting the room with hues Tom found hard to see in. He could make out other shapes of other aliens beyond the one that had spoken to him in that crackly voice.
The aliens were not birdlike at all.
**does it frighten you** the alien asked Tom, with a gesture towards the inside-out crew member that stood next to him. Tom ignored him-- it-- for a moment while he tried to study the aliens, absorb everything he could learn about them as quickly as possible.
They appeared to be large shambling balls, almost. And he wasn't sure about the shambling. The aliens were almost perfectly round and Tom attributed the lack of perfect roundness to the gravity he could feel pulling him down, too. The one that had spoken to him had an eye in its center, staring at him, and a clawlike appendage not far from that eye, folded up, he could see, the claw attached to what was obviously an arm-like mechanism. He could not see the mouth and regretted that he had missed it when the thing spoke, but then it spoke again and he could see that it did not use a mouth at all to speak.
**does it frighten you** the thing asked again and Tom saw that several tiny little holes round its globelike body moved when it spoke, each producing a different part of the sound so that the words actually came out all at once, jumbled, almost: his brain was sorting them out quickly and assembling them into words, and he wondered if the alien knew that.
The thing moved forward, and it did so by rolling, edging forward and spinning so that the eye which had been centered on him pointed now down to his left towards the floor. Tom watched that eye close and the thing spin slightly so that a new eye was able to focus on him and the inside-out man at the same time. There were three appendages on this side but fewer of the speaking-holes. The voice sounded different - -more muted, whispery.
**we need to know** the alien said to Tom.
The inside-out man had, meanwhile, been ignored by Tom as he'd touched Tom's face and shoulder and arm, getting blood and various juices on him as his skeletal-muscular appendages had gripped and reached for Tom, the inside-out man being ignored by the aliens, who now moved even closer in the pinkish glow their light-tubes had created.
**are you consciously controlling your reactions** the alien asked him. It was unable to make any inflections in its voice. Tom had to work to sort out that this was a question, the more complicated sentence being harder to work out.
**we need to know** his interrogator said again. **so we don't have to do that to you**