Have you heard the good news?
We were on the edge of an unknown solar system in an unknown sector when the alien craft appeared.
It was massive, a perfect sphere. All black. Large hair like growths jutted out in all directions. The soft glow of the systems blue giant reflecting off its exterior was absolutely beautiful.
We hailed it to no avail.
A tractor beam locked on to us, trapping us within a false gravity. A set of bay doors opened at its front. Then a flash. Two metallic tendrils shot out of the dull blue haze within, their claw-like tips digging into the front of the ship.
Decks three through six lost both pressure and atmosphere. There were no survivors.
The captain gave the order. Ten volleys of plasma torpedoes followed and not a scratch.
We were pulled inside to the sound of klaxons and screams. Another flash and everything went black.
This was first contact.
This was a complete nightmare.
I woke in small cell without windows or doors. Cold. Fetal. A nutrient tube had been sown into my stomach. Dried blood surrounded the point of insertion. Pulling only made the stitches grow tighter.
There was a presence behind me. I could feel the coldness of it; the wrongness of it.
It shifted its weight and spoke.
“Hello, Pat, is it?”
I looked up, my eyes rolling lethargically within my skull. The ships waste management tech stood over me wearing a shiny robe of red velvet. His head came into focus. A glowing orb drifted above his face. Two wires in the back connected to the empty sockets of where his eyes once were.
I recoiled and scuttled backwards. “What the hell happened to you?”
“Stay calm,” he said taking a step towards me. His grey lips stretched into a smile. Purple liquid dripped from the corners.
His name was Raymond. There was a rumor among the ship that he was the sole survivor of a suicide cult on a desert planet. Their method of self-execution was walking out into the vast wasteland outside the safety of the port city and starving themselves of all water and food.
Two months after the cult’s leader broadcasted the groups intentions, Raymond was found drenched in blood in a small cave, thirty pounds overweight and surrounded by the hacked up remains of forty-three people.
The genitals were first to be eaten. Or so they said.
No one ever got too close.
“Do you trust me?” said Raymond.
“Not really,” I said. I was panicked. Hyperventilating.
“You should. I come to you today with a wonderful offer.”
The color of his face orb shifted. My breathing slowed. A strange calmness came over me.
It was hard to move.
It was hard to think.
Raymond sat down at my level. Legs cross. Elbows on his knees. He said I had a choice: accept the Pale God’s guidance or become an offering.
I could only stare. Whatever they had drugged me with was kicking in. I was trembling. My vision blurred. The walls vibrated all around us.
Raymond was a rock within it all. He gently put his hand on my shoulder and moved in closer.
With growing fervor, he told me how the Pale God only gave his blessings to those who joined willingly.
He told me how he couldn’t even begin to describe how good it felt to live in its light.
He told me how in its infinite kindness, it would absolve me of all my sins.
I just needed to say yes.
By now the entire room was shaking. Raymond praised the Pale God at the top of his lungs like a mad man, head up, arms to the ceiling, his face-orb brightly flashing a rainbow of colors in sync with the words.
My back was to the wall. There was nowhere to run.
Suddenly, Raymond froze and held up a finger. All went still in an instant. The orb drifted closer until it was inches from my face. A million tiny particles danced within its now soft purple glow. It was all I could focus on.
I was drawn to it, mesmerized by it.
Raymond reached out from beyond its light, squeezed my arm softly, and said, “My friend, I have no doubt that when the time comes, you’ll do the right thing.”
He then stood.
He then smiled.
Then flash, and he was gone.
A coldness came over the room. Everything seemed so empty and hollow in the absence of his orbs glow.
That void within was a parting gift.
I had a day to decide.
This was the part where I’d usually give you an engaging insight into my past, but my memory was fading fast within the fog. Only glimpses remained: A woman scorned. A cat smuggled. A plasma torch igniting.
This wasn’t the first time I was offered a false hope in exchange for enteral servitude.
We were all running from something…
I stood naked in near darkness, placed single file in line with my former crewmates, our muscles locked in place by some invisible forces. The air was thick and warmed. A severed nutrient feed dripped down my leg.
Glowing particles rose from the floor all around us, slowly merging and taking shape, forming the landscape of an Earth I’ve never seen with my own eyes.
In minutes we were all standing in a field of violet flowers within a mountain valley. Ethereal sunlight seeped through the cracks of large, vibrant clouds, shining onto a large stone platform engraved with intricate gold patterns.
But something off. Everything was too crisp, too saturated, all of it blowing in a breeze I couldn’t feel.
Shadowed specks drifted in and out.
Suddenly, a voice boomed over the valley.
“Please welcome your savior, the Pale God.”
A small creature appeared on the platform, serenaded by loud, disembodied claps, and draped in purple. It rode atop an elaborate machine, all torso and head without features. Fleshy growths clung to the cracks in skin textured like chipped marble. An orb twice its mass was embedded deep into its skull.
On either side stood a pair of massive aliens with massive limbs. Their heads were oval with jaws fillies with razors. Each had an orb of their very own, single wires extending into their single eye sockets.
The Pale God’s orb rippled and flashed green.
Our muscles suddenly freed. Many of my former crew looked around in confusion. Some murmured. Some wept.
Not one deviated from the line.
“This isn’t right,” a voice whispered from behind me. “Did they talk to you too? What’d they mean by ‘an offering?’”
I didn’t answer. All my focus was on the Pale God. I could feel a gentle vibration somewhere within the back of my mind. It was faint, almost soothing.
Our ships’ captain jumped up on the podium with gusto. Her crimson robes were pressed to perfection. Her face orb glowed bright blue.
“It’s a wonderful day for all of you,” she said with uncharacteristic glee. “Today is the day you get to receive the truth of our God’s glorious blessing.”
The captain motioned to the person at the head of the line. It was the first time I had ever seen her smile.
“You, Madeline. You get the honor of being first.”
Madeline held a rosary tight in her grip, her lips moving wordlessly. Two robed figures guided her up onto the platform until she was just feet from the Pale God.
Madeline brought the rosary to her face. She was sobbing uncontrollably.
“Kneel before him to receive his gift,” said the captain.
The woman froze. She shook her head ‘no’ rapidly, her eyes closed tight.
“Oh dear,” said the captain.
The Pale God’s orb turned red. It didn’t hesitate.
Madeline’s body was lifted inches off the ground, limbs locked and outstretched against her will. Her screams of protest cut off in an instant as a fine red mist her shape and size was ripped from her. The false Madeline hovered in the air for mere moments before being absorbed into the pale Gods orb.
A dried husk hit the ground. No longer moving. No longer defiant. It flaked into dust piece by piece, blown away by a gentle breeze.
When it was finished only the rosary remained.
The line erupted in terror. I vomited uncontrollably, starting a chain reaction that spread to the next three in front of me.
The orb flashed a warning. The vibration in my head was growing warmer. I tried to resist it, the comfort of it, the wrongness of it.
It was nothing more than a false hope, a tease to convince us to submit.
“Please, everyone, calm down,” said the captain, waving the crowd to silence. “I know how you all feel right now. I really do. I was hesitant to receive the gift myself. But, my friends, I assure you, I now can’t even imagine a life outside his grace. All the pain, all the suffering, ever sin I ever took part in or endured, all of it has been forever washed away. It will be the same with you. All you have to do is submit and we can continue our journey, spreading word of his eternal love to all we come across.
The vibrations grew stronger.
The man behind me whispered it was all bullshit. He said he saw our ship be destroyed with everything on it. Our only chance now was to fight.
The words were slow to sink in within the fog. Muddled glimpses of everything I had lost flashed in my head: A rock from my home planet. An engagement ring returned. A cat freed from a butcher in a shipyard in exchange for six pounds of thigh meat.
Everything I owned was on that ship, everything I ever knew and loved; all off stripped away in an instant.
My fist and jaw were both clinched tight. Sgt. Snugglesworth didn’t deserve any of this.
I whisper back to the guy behind me that I was in.
The podium shifted.
Next in line was the ships head cook. Old. Rotund. He made his way in front on the Pale God and dropped to his knees instantly, professing his undying devotion.
The Pale God’s orb glowed blue.
The captain plucked a fleshy mass out of a crack in its skin and approached the cook.
“Open your mouth,” she said softly.
He did as he was ordered. He was shaking. He was drooling. There were so many tears.
The captain gently placed the flesh on his tongue. It sizzled on contact.
Then a pause. A moment of silence.
The chef suddenly stood and turned towards the crowd in a panic, grunting and clawing at skin around his eyes as they started to boil and melt into a thin milky liquid that ran down his cheeks.
The chef dropped to his knees, gasping and pleading.
Two robed figures calmly approached, one with a uniform, the other with an orb. The former wrapped him in red velvet. The orb was placed just above his face. Two wire snaked from the back, slowly finding their target, and digging their way deep into the chef’s now defunct eye sockets, latching tight onto his cerebral cortex beyond.
The orb floated from the latter figures grip. It flickered green, matching that of a Pale God’s.
The cook froze, slowly lowered his hands, mouth agape with a look of wonder stretched across his face. A newborn discovering newborn things.
He welcomed the captain’s embrace with a smile.
He beamed when she told him how proud she was of him.
He jumped and clicked his heels together with all the grace of a seventy-four-year-old, proclaiming loudly to all of us how he had never felt better in his entire life.
Twelve people ahead of me and counting.
A woman with dreadlocks and a purple face orb moaned and writhed with delight atop the platform. I now knew with absolutely certainty that all my ex-girlfriends had faked it.
The vibration grew louder. The brain fog cleared. This bliss was just a taste of what the Pale God promised.
It was getting harder to resist.
Next up was a steel worker. As the captain cheered, he turned towards the crowd with a smile and an orb, just like the rest of them.
I was so close to the front. The fear was overwhelming. The vibration was overwhelming. A complete dopamine rush radiated throughout my entire body. Better than finest meal. Better than the finest drug. Better than sex.
I couldn’t let it get to me. I had to be stronger than this. I knew deep down that there was no real choice, no real way out. Die in excruciating pain and become nothing or live as monster, blinded and enslaved.
I was terrified of the things it’d make me do if I accepted. I was terrified I would only be a mindless husk of my former self. But most of all, I was terrified of eternity.
Do you really want to live forever?
The line inched forward.
At two from the front, the man behind me whispered it was time, he said he had a plan.
I was all ears and endorphins.
He moved in close, whispering that he had smuggled in two plasma grenades from the ship before initial blackout just in case. He said to not ask where he stored them.
The person ahead of me took the podium. He was only the second to refused. He shit himself as his soul was torn from his body.
The man behind me shoved a plasma grenade in my grip. He whispered to take the Pale God out and he’d handle the rest.
I armed it behind my back as the captain motioned me up. I looked from her to the Pale God on its tiny throne and took a deep breath.
Its orb was bright and all consuming.
I shook in awe of it.
I was so close to giving it.
I closed my eyes. The grenade felt so real in my grip. A tiny red light flashed on top. It beeped softly, a countdown my imminent demise.
But I no longer mattered. I was going to end this, for the man behind me, for my cat, for every single person and thing lost or indoctrinated. I was going make damn sure no one would ever be given this terrible choice ever again.
My eyes shot open. The grenade was white knuckled in my grip. I drew back for a pitch of a lifetime.
The captain smile faded.
The Pale God’s orb flashed.
The man behind me yelled to do it already.
It was then I heard a meow.
I froze mid-throw. Eyes wide. Mouth wider.
There among the initiated was Sgt. Snugglesworth. He wore a collar of red velvet. Dried eyeball juice was crusted into the orange fur around its now empty eyes. A tiny orb drifted just above it all.
He was a calico.
He was purring.
He was being held by the woman scorned.
She reached her hand out to me. All the horrible memories came flooding back; memories I joined this doom expedition into the unknown to forget; memories I never wanted to relive again.
It started when we were neighbors in a slums of dumpster fire of a planet. It was a new colony. The air was thin. The crops weren’t taking. Every night I went home starving to a tiny shack, eating what little rations remained from the ship. The distress beacon had been on for three months and counting. We were all getting weak and losing hope fast.
She lived only one shack over. We shared a wall of plywood and fiberglass. Neither muffled the sound of her husband’s abuse.
I didn’t just kill him for her benefit. No, it was a slow torture. I lost a hundred night’s sleep to his rage. I thought of every single time I had to hear her cried out in pain as I grazed my blowtorch against his skin.
I thought of her protests.
I thought of the sound of her body slamming into the wall.
I thought of every time I was too cowardly to stop him.
It took him hours to die. When it was done, all I could focus on was the smell of his burnt flesh.
I cut and rationed it carefully, hiding the rest of his remains deep down into a sulfur pit where they’d never be found.
It was that same smell that lured her over. She looked at me with eyes filled with the same exhaustion and desperation I felt. I should’ve turned her away.
We spend hours together, just talking and eating. At sundown she said it was getting late. She said she was starting to worry about her husband’s whereabouts. Then, as she reached for the door, she turned and thanked for the first real meal she had had in months, asking me where it came from.
Telling the truth was a mistake. I thought I’d be her hero.
Not long after the federation came with an offer and a way out. Three ships were being sent to scout the unknown regions. They were looking for the best of the expendable with the promise of unlimited food and shelter. No background check required. None of us had any illusion it was anything less than a suicide mission.
I signed up immediately, pretending to be surprised when I bumped in her in the shipyards. Going in for a hug was my next mistake.
I never did learn her name…
Back on the podium the Pale God shifted.
I looked around in a panic, the grenade still tight in my grip. Everything was hazy and out of focus. Figures drifted in and out in rapid succession.
The Pale God.
I raised the grenade above my head, my hands shaking violently, phantom orbs seared into vision. The fog was back. I was warm and fuzzy all over.
The man behind me ordered me to kill.
The Pale Gods orb turned red.
The brain vibration were teeth shattering.
Time froze. Suddenly everything went dark. I saw visions of countless alien races on alien planets. Their collective memories all rushed in at once. Their accomplishments. Their sins. Their wars. All of it wiped away.
They Pale God knew everything they knew; all knowledge was gained from those absorbed into it orb and feed directly to his disciples. It took what it needed and discarded the rest.
The vision shifted to a future with me and the woman of my dreams. Her past didn’t matter. Neither did her name. We were on Earth having a picnic, surrounded by countless indoctrinated. Everything was clean, and in perfect harmony.
All the people were polite. Everyone smiled and helped one another. There memories were my memories.
Underneath a twilight moon, the woman grabbed my hand and placed it on her stomach. She had the beginnings of a baby bump. There, poking through both her shirt and stomach, was two tiny wires connecting to a tiny flashing orb.
The vision shifted. I saw a million murders committed by a million species.
I saw a creature wrapped in the limbs of his enemies drive a sword down the throat of another of its kind.
I saw two lanky green aliens drive a probe into a caveman.
I saw Raymond castrate a dead bearded man with his bared hands.
The Pale God was there overseeing it all. There was no judgement. Only forgiveness. Only love.
The vision shifted.
I saw myself cooking another man alive with glee.
It was all too much. Complete sensation overload…
Back on the podium I dropped to knees, tears running down my face. The grenade was nearing its countdown. The Pale God’s orb dimmed, it’s two alien guards were tense and ready for anything.
This was the part where I was supposed to tell you that I could see through the fantasy to all the Pale God’s nefarious true intentions. I could say that it was all an illusion, a false promise devised only to expand his kingdom of slaves. I could exposé the virtues of how some people shouldn’t be forgiven so easily.
But I won’t.
I deserved this. I wanted this. Within his grace I could pretend I was still the good guy. The how didn’t matter.
I switched off the plasma grenade with only a second left, letting it roll from my grip, a coward all over again.
Sgt. Snugglesworth jumped into my lap, nuzzling up to my chest. His orb was yellow and pulsating in rhythm with his purrs.
As I scratched his ears, the captain asked me to open my mouth. I ate the flesh of the Pale God without hesitation, never noticing the man behind me running up, his grenade armed and blinking…
Joe writes out of Charlotte, NC. His work has been published in over 40 markets including K-zine, Strange Constellations, and Liquid Imagination, as well as having been twice nominated for the Pushcart prize. You can check out his blog at jablonskijoe.blogspot.com.