Marku 3 was a planet with a sun in eternal eclipse.
I landed there just over a week ago, careful to make camp within a small clearing in a forest full of pale, leafless trees. It was midday. It was brisk. There was a calming eeriness about the way the dim orange sunlight painted everything in shadows.
On that first night a group of the planet’s natives came to the camps’ perimeter and watched me in wonder. They were primitive with skinny inverted legs, bulbous heads covered in wire-like hairs, and a single eye embedded within the center.
They communicated amongst themselves with clicking noises made by tapping two bone plates on the inside of their knees together.
One came as an emissary, approaching within feet of me. As it stepped within the harsh glow of a floodlight behind me it suddenly froze.
It’s single eye dilated. Every hair was out like spikes.
It started with a low rumble in its chest. A soft frequency vibrated inside me, growing stronger by the second.
It was warm.
It was mesmerizing.
A dopamine rush flooded my system. Nothing else existed but ecstasy.
When I finally came to, I was warm and fuzzy all over on the ground. The floodlight had been knocked over. Two of the other natives were dragging the emissary away as it struggled to claw its way back to the light.
I mistook its vibration as a welcoming gift.
Soon, it would become an addiction.
I’ve chased highs all my life.
Morphine drips paired with sky falls on a moon without gravity. BASE jumping and methamphetamines off the cliffs of Desadia. On an asteroid inhabited by dust rakers I took crystallized feeder-whale adrenaline glands straight to the head.
It was never enough. I was born with a need for self-destruction that was beyond my control.
By the time I lost the love of my life to a game of Cerrilian roulette, it was already too late.
The threat of death was supposed to be our foreplay.
I had to get away from everything.
On the second night I noticed one of my floodlights was missing.
I followed a set tracks back to a small village. Inside the natives were standing in a circle, knees clacking violently. In the center of it all, one stood motionless. It was the emissary. Head up. Eye wide. The floodlight held high and shining inches from its face.
Its head glowed red within.
It didn’t take long for one of the others to pounce.
The following hours were chaos as they fought each other for rights to the forbidden light.
Factions were made.
Bodies were everywhere.
By the time they caught me watching, it was too late to run.
I awoke at my ship, tied to a tree trunk.
The natives were in a frenzy as they fought over the remaining flood lights. Yet one walked amongst them, completely unaffected as its brethren ripped each other apart.
Its vibrations were different from the rest. More soothing. More dejected. It was only when it had me fully untied, that I notice its eye was missing.
It put its hands gently on my shoulders. I could feel its will in my head. Seven slow clicks and five scratches meant it was too late for his own tribe, but my escape could save all the others.
Three clicks and a head nod ordered me to run.
I was at a side hatch in seconds. One turned towards the light it emitted upon opening. I slipped quickly into my ship as it called for reinforcements. I panic hit a button on a panel next to the opening as three rushed me. The hatch slammed shut, leaving a pair of severed limbs twitching at my feet.
The cockpit was only a jog away. The natives scratched in desperation at my ships outer hull.
The thrusters were ready at a flip of switch. Barely contained nuclear fire painted everything in a thirty-foot radius in hot white light. On a screen above me, all the natives went still outside, basking in its glow.
They formed a collective, surrounding the engines. The following vibrations shook the entire ship.
Nothing about what happened next was subtle.
The dopamine rush was overwhelming. I froze, finger inches from ignition, every muscle seized.
All I had to do was press go. I fought it as long as I could, but in the back of my mind that same nagging pull for instant gratification was there.
I looked up at a dark sky filled my stars surrounding a faint orange ring. There was nothing for me left out there but the same hollowness I ran from my entire life. Here, I could feel that euphoria in exchange for endless supply of artificial illumination forever.
On the screen above me, the blind one sat cross-legged amongst the carnage, head low, patiently waiting for death.
The vibrations grew.
Ecstasy welled within me.
I tried to shake it off.
It was the same false promise I had chased my entire life. Always thinking happiness was only an adrenaline surge away had taking everything.
My wife. My sanity. I was a wrecking ball of selfish intentions.
I had to resist. Getting away was the only gift ever had to offer. It didn’t matter how it started.
In a single moment of defiance, I screamed and pressed the button.
The engines ignited. Fire spread below in all directions.
On the screen above, the silhouette of the blind alien burst into ashes with the rest of them.
The vibrations cut off in an instant. A strange calmness came over me. I smiled for the first time in years. Neutralizing a hostile tribe to save an entire planet was the first good thing I had ever done.
At least that’s what I now tell myself as I huff engine cleaner.
I need another taste of that thrill.
Just watch. On the next planet, I’ll really be a hero.
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay
6 thoughts on “Step 13 by Joe Jablonski”
I’m impressed with the amount of detail you were able to put into such a short piece. Several good images and ideas, yet it flows wonderfully.
Has a great retro feel!
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A different kind of sci-fi. Intertwining it with addiction gives it a kind of gravity. Nicely done.
Nice story Joe. I echo the previous comments – deftly handled, retro and rich.
Lots of great imagery. I particularly enjoy how you use single, short sentence paragraphs – very effective in giving a sense of drama.
Well this is different.
So the aliens are drawn to the light and they get a high from that which transfers itself into the human??
Makes me think a bit on sharing exhaled heroin smoke. (I actually don’t know if that is factual or just a Hollywood take?? Most of the addicted folks I knew were too greedy to share anything!!!)
I think why he has saved them was because they went a bit rogue by hurting one of their own, maybe this is a sort of tribal cannibalistic metaphor???
This is one of those that niggles at you – As you read you keep thinking that you know what the parallel / metaphor / meaning is but it’s just outwith your knowledge. That can be frustrating but interesting.
The sharing, the light and even the hints towards post-orgasm all point to various addictions. (HAH – As a nod to that auld sleaze Michael Douglas, even sex addiction. The mention of his partner, well we now have a gambling reference)
Also the title points to the AA with an addition.
This is a very interesting and rich piece of writing!
Hope you have more for us soon.