It wasn’t a face I expected to wake up to, all gray pebbled flesh and bristling fangs, with those big, bulbous black eyes peering down at me.
“Finally awake,” the creature grunted. They snorted through their nostrils and then looked toward someone else off to my right. “Told you he wasn’t dead.”
I followed the direction of their gaze toward a smaller reptiloid alien. “Won’t take his boot, then.”
Just one boot? That didn’t make sense. I pushed myself up so that I could sit with my back against the metallic containment railing of the flatbed hovertruck that carried us along a stone thoroughfare that stretched toward a city backed by spiky, white-peaked violet mountains. I looked down at my legs. The left leg looked okay, fully intact, complete with a foot resting inside a polished black leather boot. The right leg…ended in a stump, with the pant leg folded and clipped in place. So, not a recent injury.
The larger reptiloid puffed up their broad chest and proclaimed: “I am Guththrun Ubulbruh, of Clan Ubulbruh, Son of Oolagh and Runk, Brother of Tothmun, Warrior of the Rebellion, the Nall Breaker.” They stared at me before asking: “What are you called? Is it as awe-inspiring as my name?”
“Maybe,” I said, stalling. Stalling because I couldn’t quite remember my name. Which seemed silly. Or not. I didn’t know who these people were or how I’d ended up in the back of a hovertruck on an alien world, so maybe it was perfectly appropriate to forget my name. How I lost my leg. Where I came from. What I did for a living.
“You need to pick a name,” the smaller reptiloid said from where they crouched. The truck angled up a rising hill on the outskirts of the city.
“I don’t need to pick a name,” I snapped. “I’ve got a name. It’s…” Vernon? Wemple? Verbal? Vermin? I could almost see it, but couldn’t bring myself to say it.
“Fret not,” the big bipedal lizard said. “You will be assigned a default name.”
I blinked. “I *have* a name,” I protested. “You can’t just assign one to me.”
That didn’t seem to faze Guththrun. “I will call you Sleeps in Flatbeds.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but then I heard a chiming noise. A portrait appeared in the upper left of my view. It looked like me, next to a nameplate that read: SLEEPS IN FLATBEDS.
Suddenly, this looked like a game to me. Was I playing a game? I thought maybe I could find a way to quit. If I could just find a way to interrupt the cutscene and exit.
“Are you in the rebellion?” Guththrun asked.
Their smaller companion grunted. “That’s just what we need. More ‘freedom fighters’ making trouble for the common folk of Grimlahd.”
“Ignore him,” the big one grumbled. Then they leaned closer to me and said, “I need to know, though. Have you cast your lot with the rebellion against the Parallax? If not, it is fine, but, of course, I will have to crush your skull, which is satisfactory exercise.”
I shrugged with a scoffing laugh. “I don’t know anything about your rebellion.”
Guththrun thumped their chest. “We are rising up against the Nall oppressors! Banish them from our world! Freedom for Grimlahd!” They clacked their fangs and stared boldly at me: “Where do you stand, offworlder?”
“I mean, I literally just have the one leg,” I complained, gesturing to the stump on the right. “Show a little sensitivity.” The combined portrait and nameplate gleamed just over Guththrun’s left shoulder as I stared at him. “Anyone else see that interface element?”
The hulking alien stuck to their script: “Are you with us or against us?”
“I have no idea,” I growled. “I just got here. I have no idea what’s going on.”
The smaller reptiloid braced their forehead with the palm of their clawed hand, sighing.
“Oh, no,” Guththrun muttered, clutching my head between their huge hands. They started to squeeze. Maybe it was a simulation, but the growing pressure and pain felt absolutely, exquisitely real. Something went pop. Consciousness faded into numb twilight. As I toppled sideways, I heard a rumbling: “Anyway.”