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Hard.


Cold.


Two things Derek had never associated with his bed before. For just a moment he wondered what had happened to his down comforter and memory foam mattress topper. And his pillow. Where the hell was his pillow?


“I think this one’s coming around.”


That snapped Derek awake.  His eyes popped open and he sat bolt upright.


“Who are you and what are you...” he began, fully intending to finish the question with a shouted ‘doing in my room?’, but the words died on his lips as he took in his surroundings.


Huge. Circular. Empty, but for the crowd of naked people standing around on the gray, almost shiny floor upon which he lay. It looked to be of the same material that made up the walls of their enclosure; smooth, gray and slightly reflective -- more like smoked glass than a mirror.


Hey, he thought, admittedly not wide awake yet. Why is everybody naked?

He felt a draft, felt it in places he usually couldn’t. He looked down at himself.


“Oh my God!”


His hands flew to cover, cup and protect himself as he scrambled to his feet.


“Why am I naked? Why are you naked? Where are--”


Memory hit him right between the eyes and caused a chill to settle into the more dangly bits of him currently nestled in his own palms. Lights. Huge lights in the sky, coming right at him. The engine sputtering, then dying. Screaming in fear as he abandoned the stalled truck in the road and running, running but the lights were so fast... and then it was all blackness.


“Aliens,” he whispered, feeling the fear again.


“Okay,” said the loud voice that had wakened him in the first place. “Looks like this genius is all caught up. Now, you are going to explain to the rest of us just what the hell is going on here.”


Derek tracked the voice to its source: a large, thick-waisted man with the look of a college football player maybe a decade past his sell-by date. He was marching through the crowd of eighteen or twenty naked people, gesturing with both hands for them to clear the way. He was either comfortable with his nakedness or was too freaked out by what was going on to care, but he was making no effort to cover himself up; his angry, foot-stomping stride made Derek glad he was walking away and all there was to see were his jiggling buttocks.


Beyond him, beyond this crowd of nudists Derek was suddenly part of, was a lone man, also naked, sitting on the floor. While everyone gathered by one wall of this strange enclosure, he was out toward the middle of the thirty yard circle circumscribed by the smoky, glass-like walls. He sat alone, and next to... was that a pile of dog shit?


“When I woke up, this guy was the only one already awake,” the big man said to the crowd, pointing to the seated man. “I asked him about the lights. We all saw the lights, right? I asked around, when some of you woke up... anyone not see the lights?”


He waited, but no one raised either hand or voice, so he continued. His voice, though loud, shook, and even without knowing the man Derek could tell he was on the very edge of control.


“So we’ve all been... you know, abducted. By aliens. Right? I mean, it’s gotta be aliens, right? What else could it be? Well this guy was here before me, was here before all of us. Long enough to have to make that --”


The big man pointed at the small, stinking pile the man sat next to, and Derek realized with a shock that his assumption had been incorrect: there were no dogs here.


“--and I think he’s been here long enough to know what they want with us. What they’re gonna do to us. And I think we need to know. Now.”


The smaller man stood, also unashamed of his nakedness.


“You’ll find out. Trust me.”


Then he actually smirked. The big man put a hand on his shoulder, almost gently, though Derek could see his knuckles whiten as the grip tightened.


“They gonna probe us?” he said, shaking the shoulder. “Test us? Breed with us?”


“You’ll see,” said the smaller man. “You’re just too stupid not to.”


The first punch split his lip, the second knocked him down. The naked crowd, as crowds have always done, gathered around the fight. Derek, at the back of the group, saw one of the smoky walls ripple up near the ceiling, and there was a great booming thud.


“Stop!” Derek said, forcing his way through the tightening crowd. “Stop it! Something’s happening!”


Another huge thud rocked the room just as Derek reached the fight, but it was over. Broken and bloody, the small man crawled across the floor, the big man’s attention stolen by the sounds breaking the air. Derek crouched by the crawling man.


“Why did you do that? Provoke him like that?”


“Because I’m smart. I’m a survivor.”


The broken man stopped crawling and, to Derek’s disgust, scooped up the pile of filth from the floor and began smearing it on his naked skin.


“What the hell are you doing?”


“Becoming unappealing,” said the man.  A huge crack rent the air, and he stared at Derek.


“Do you know the story of the one-clawed lobster?”


“What?”


“This guy in a restaurant gets a lobster, but it’s only got one claw. ‘Where’s the other claw?’ he says. Waiter says ‘He got in a fight in the lobster tank, and lost it.’ The guy says ‘Well bring me the winner!’”

The roof of the room suddenly lifted away as a taloned arm the size of a telephone pole reached in, plucking the big man from his feet as he screamed.


“We have a winner!” the small man screamed.


Derek began smearing shit on his skin.


~ ~ * * ~ ~

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