The stories are everywhere: in books and films, on talk shows, on the World Wide Web. Dr. John E. Mack of Harvard estimates that as many as several million Americans may have been abducted by aliens in UFOs. His 1994 book Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens presents representative case histories. Budd Hopkins gives a more detailed report of one case in his 1987 book Intruders, later a TV miniseries. And Whitley Strieber provides a gripping first-person account of being abducted in his 1987 book Communion, later turned into a film. All the stories are quite similar. The aliens are gray, hairless, about four feet tall, with leathery skin and vaguely humanoid features. Their eyes are deep, black, and unblinking, and have hypnotic power. If you look directly into them, your will crumbles and you are paralyzed. The encounters usually take place at night. The victims are mostly white Middle Americans. They are snatched from their beds or their cars, and taken aboard a UFO. They are stretched out on a sort of operating table. First, the aliens take tissue samples. They impress strange marks on the skin, like stigmata. They insert small implants into the abductee's body. They stick long needles through the eyes, nose, or ears, and on into the brain. Then they bring out the notorious anal probe. Many witnesses have described this device. It's a thick metal rod, about fourteen inches long. At one end, there is a tiny sphere like a ball bearing. The sphere is surrounded by little prongs that enclose it as in a wire cage, or open outward to let it roam freely. When Strieber was penetrated by this tool, he says, "it seemed to swarm into me as if it had a life of its own... I had the impression that I was being raped... I have never felt so tiny, so helpless." No part of the body is safe from these intrusions. But all in all, the aliens are less interested in our anuses and brains than in our genitalia. They attach suction devices to men's penises, milking them for sperm. They implant embryos in women's wombs, only to extract them again a few months later. The little alien fetuses are then placed in transparent tanks. One abductee saw rows of these tanks stacked up against the wall, like a display of Barbie dolls in a toy store window. Perhaps the aliens are trying to breed a hybrid species, mixing their genes with ours. Or maybe they can't even reproduce on their own, but need help from our bodies and DNA. We service them as bees do flowers. In any case, the aliens seem clinically detached during these procedures. Sex is evidently not joyous or fulfilling for them. "They don't know what a porn movie is," one victim remarks. "[They don't] understand the concept of voyeurism or anything like that." Their interest in us is not prurient, nor do they bear us malice. It's just that they don't realize how much it all hurts. As Hopkins puts it, "they simply appear unable for the most part to understand us, our feelings, our terror, our love for one another." They fail to grasp even the simplest things about us, like how we dress or how we do our hair. Human emotions are "like candy" or "like a drug" to them, one abductee explains, a dangerous luxury in which they dare not indulge. No wonder our close encounters end in mutual misunderstanding. Maybe their hybrid breeding project is an effort to close the gap. If so, it is an endeavor gone sadly awry. They re-abduct women whose wombs they have previously 'borrowed.' The surrogate mother is brought to meet her putative offspring. The aliens seem to expect some grand scene of reconciliation. But it's hard for us to regard these young with ordinary human affection. They do not seem like anything of ours. They are silent, frail, and disturbingly listless. They show no signs of love, nor even of recognition. They require a colder, more rarefied atmosphere than we can provide. No, these odd children do not join the human to the alien. Rather, they are living reminders of how vast a distance remains. They embody, not our hopes and dreams, but something we cannot even imagine. If they are a part of us, it's the part that we have lost and will never find again. The yearning we feel towards them is like an ache in a phantom limb. What does it mean to be intimate, against your will, with a stranger? Once you have been abducted, you are stranded between two worlds. You've been exiled from the one, without finding refuge in the other.

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