Aphelion Issue 268, Volume 25
December 2021
 
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Overshadowed

by Sergio “ente per ente” Palumbo

Edited by Michele Dutcher

A Mare Inebrium story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield




The evening clouds began drawing peculiar trails across the sun. A long reddish starship, three times the size of a skyscraper, landed near the drop site in the distance. Then, in a very short time, it was gone. The next three space vessels that followed were, at least, three times as large as the first.

Within moments the street ahead cleared, creating an interesting interplay of shapes and empty space. This allowed him to focus on the overall appearance of the area, instead of getting caught up too much on a single detailed portion of his surroundings. And there it was: The Mare Inebrium. The well-known Space Bar was located inside a one-hundred-story building near the Spaceport field, its tower standing near the Old City and the Bazaar. The venue was certainly a noteworthy, and famous, sight here on planet Bethdish, indeed. There was also a restaurant on the 100th floor, open to the public, though that wasn’t his destination for tonight.

And he needed that idea to be okay… One way around the problem.

A long pair of hairy, brilliant electric-blue legs, taller than him and almost half the height of the very tall Fhltls performers, that were well-known in the area – who commonly wore tiny shoes made of wood - came out of a nearby alley, hurtled past him, followed by two other similar creatures. These were Vlebvs from the Dljwt system, located many light-years from here, and Imranovich Oumanoff immediately recognized them for what they were. Their bulbous greenish shape, with a flat face and long, skinny black nose that appeared on top of those legs made their traits unmistakable, as no one would ever forget about such unbelievably strange aliens once spotted.

As for the human, he hadn’t had the chance to see one of those in person before, as he had only watched them on holo-magazines or in the media. But seeing one of them before your eyes was a moment to be treasured. He had read years ago that the common habitat on their planet was mainly plains and open places, but he had never been there. After all, his job didn’t frequently bring him to a world like that where there weren’t ancient ruins, or site excavations, to be studied. ‘They’re certainly not local,’ the man thought without speaking. These creatures were the second very unusual alien beings - after the showy Ethiralz from a few minutes ago, that were endowed with transparent bodies - he had seen since he had started walking towards the Space Bar. This clearly indicated that he would soon be surrounded by the most incredible creatures in this part of the galaxy. This diversity was one of the draws for any customer, or regular, who entered that crowded venue, guaranteeing that no visitor would want to miss the chance while staying on this world, be it during the time required to wait for their next spaceflight or for a few free days out of the ordinary from their common occupations.

The street entrance was in the middle of the North wall, and the 49-year-old, gray-haired man descended the three steps from the doorway to the floor. Once he had removed his thin overcoat, he asked for the person he wanted to talk to, and waited only a few minutes before he arrived. Then, the well-known bartender stood there before the man, very average-looking, with short dark hair, dressed in his typical medium-brown colored clothes.

“I’m glad to see you again,” Max said, with a pleasant smile, his eyes widening, while making his way towards the human customer. The two started walking around the ground floor of the Mare Inebrium, the main room being around 100 feet wide, and was full of many different kinds of aliens who wore varied clothes, many having modern devices in their ears – that in some cases were six or more. Most of the aliens sat at tables, while others drunkenly danced with all of their many hands and their elongated noses raised to the sky.

One thing you immediately could see was that the chairs were adjusted to suit a wide range of species, which was a predictable accommodation given the number of different customers that came here, ambassadors included, from different planets, with their varied heights and sizes, and their special needs. There were other smaller rooms with varying themes adjoining the main room along the east and west walls, revivified with costly dark hardwood, and a few were seated on an upper floor. Some of the rooms seemed to be full of pieces of wrecked architectural elements and large appliances of unknown frivolity, strangely assembled from the point of view of an Earthling like him. But such objects, and the density of gas or dust available inside there, appeared to be appropriate for the aliens who chose these rooms to have an entertaining time while drinking and eating until day, or night, came in the end. It was as if many years of grayness had made such people desperate for forbidden or strange things, or maybe it was merely the excitement of being on vacation on a different world than their home planet.

As Imranovich had told himself more than once, everything that happened in this bar went way beyond common sense, and he was referring to the common sense of several alien species, anyway.

After walking for a short distance on that same floor - leaving behind a group of weird female humans wearing provocative traditional maid’s costumes, who had appeared near his table with gray whisky already in hand - the man was let into a special empty room by the bartender, and the lights turned on automatically as they went inside.

‘Any time now,’ Imranovich thought without saying a thing. ‘As every other time…’

In the middle of the room stood a small table with a lone chair in front of it. This wasn’t a place meant to have more than one guest sitting at a time, its purpose being to not allow others in.

“May I leave you here alone, as usual, from this point on?” Max asked the customer.

“Yes, I’m ready.”

“We have these rooms, here at our Space Bar, that are separated from the other customers to please people like you: customers that have some special needs, so to say…but you’re already aware of this.”

“I know that and I appreciate it,” Imranovich said in a low tone as he slowly tidied one of his gray curls. With a strange look, he stared at the other.

“You can place your orders through that machine at the table, but you know that as well.”

“I’ve been here before, obviously. Thanks for setting all this up,” the man replied before the bartender took his leave. Max - who always took care of the needs of that usually silent customer in person - moved to the door and without a word he eventually left.

‘Constant care,’ the bartender thought as he walked along on the way back to his office. ‘This is what is required with certain customers…’ He had wondered once, the first time that gray-haired man had come to his Space Bar, what he was looking for here. But he was just one of many regulars who came to this place and commonly asked for the most unbelievable things, including costly and uncommon drinks, so his questions would need to go unanswered as he didn’t have enough free time for all that. ‘Maybe it’s a little illusion of his, or he just needs to stay all alone for some time there, who knows,’ Max thought. ‘Or maybe he will simply begin running around in circles as he stays inside that room. After all, I’ve seen much stranger things than this inside these walls, and that man usually doesn’t cause any trouble.’ The bartender, soon moved away from the room as he began thinking of his next important duty for that night.

Inside the room, Imranovic remained alone, in silence, thinking to himself: ‘Restday. This is what today is supposed to be for’.

The machine in front of him seemed to come to life with all its data and the many possible choices to be made once he put his hands on the table. Being from an Old Russian family on Earth - though most of its history had been lost across the previous centuries, its hometown known as Samara in that long-gone country where they had probably been living before moving abroad - he thought about trying all sorts of pickles, which would be perfect with the strong Vodka he wanted to choose. He wondered about ordering pelmeni (meat dumplings), traditionally made in vast quantities in the coldest lands and then kept through the winter. These were also, surprisingly, pretty popular in this Space Bar as well. Who knows, maybe it pleased the tastes of some carnivorous human-like aliens, or possibly they were appreciated by a completely different species. He was planning on ordering a grilled shashlyk made of lamb, but he saw that, differently from the last time he had stayed here, there wasn’t a description of that dish nor the possibility of a choice of it, which meant that it wasn’t available, at least at the moment.

Then, his eyes stared at the listing for Vodka, straight out of the freezer, that he ordered when the machine rang, and it immediately appeared on his table. He really thought that no other single product from old Russia might sum up its cultural, geographical, and historical origins in quite the same way. It seemed to be a direct reflection of the eagerness of most of its people for constant drunkenness, actually. There had also been famous people well-versed in the liquors’ field who were quoted as saying that Russian Vodka - world equivalent of the most-renowned French wines, and certainly that very costly bottle of Imperial Collection Super Premium Vodka ™ in particular - was one of the best liquors ever produced. It had been distilled three times, being filtered through charcoal to have the impurities completely removed, though not everyone could afford such a thing. Even the simple reddish box that contained that peculiar flask adorned with gold and crystals was noteworthy. Moreover, the colorless and odorless liquid – though the true Vodka-lovers like him were capable, of course, of tasting its differing notes of sweetness - happened to be enough to light a very powerful fire in the coldest of human hearts, and it was also considered a real ‘man’s drink’. On second thought, actually, Imranovich considered that such liquor was usually reputed to be a Russian invention, but it might have been developed, in reality, in another old country of Earth; Poland, where it was known as wodka, the name referring to medicinal products in the medieval period. He had also heard the name itself came from the Slavic term for water, Voda. He was certain he had read it somewhere, years ago.

This would be the first glass of what was to become a night of heavy drinking, with great food which he would eat until he was satisfied…time permitting.

Anyways, as it frequently happened to him, his recollections went back to what had happened long ago, and he saw before his eyes, again, what he had undergone that day. Because he could never forget about it, undoubtedly!

*****

Years before today’s events, a much younger Imranovich had been very busy, and in deep trouble, within a sector of space very distant from this one. Being a member of a group of seasoned Space-Archaeologists, the man had set off into the far reaches of the firmament called the Dark Unknown in their ship, the Lonely Wayfarer. “There are jobs much easier than this,” was a common saying among him and his crewmates, “but no one else can make bigger breakthroughs than we can, far surpassing others who work in our field, discovering the past! Well, certainly scientists might find and create new things: new particles, new machines and new technologies in the future, but for a better comprehension of the past history, some low tech devices of a time gone by and the likes, we are the best indeed!”

In the course of their expedition, after exploring several planets, while retrieving some important and valuable remains of two lost alien civilizations, they had run into the iced world of Khmeb orbiting the local star Zmay – an old Serbian word that referred to dragons, actually. Less massive gaseous bodies that emitted radiation like that were redder and fainter than the Sun of the Earthlings and stayed on the main sequence longer. This clearly indicated, the same as all the data from their instruments corroborated, that it was an ancient star. That planet’s continents, with its ruins and fascinating secrets, had remained silent and lifeless for several centuries. The archeologists had kept watching the planet’s starry sky and had witnessed three thin rings in space with characteristic radial shadows called ‘spokes’ as projected on their shape when viewed at low angles, that were reputed to be particles held above the rings themselves by electrostatic forces, similar to rings that were featured in the well-known Saturn’s B RING and orbiting other smaller gas planets outside Sol’s planetary system.

Things had silently remained that way until their vessel had appeared as a vivid dot in the upper atmospheric layers before becoming larger and larger as their planned landing course brought them nearer to its surface. The approach maneuver didn’t go as expected, however, because of some malfunctioning instrumentation aboard, which meant the starship arrived on the surface below with unusual, and unwanted, speed. This had led to a disaster as its lower portion hit the pointed rocks situated not far from the landing site of their choice which was missed by about 60 miles. An alien place that had remained so calm, and completely dead, for so long had been suddenly disturbed, and wildly shaken by their surprising coming exactly as if it had been an unwelcomed asteroid that had noisily fallen from space to bring destruction to the surface.

Most of the crew, and their food provisions, were lost during that disastrous attempt to land safely, but two injured survivors managed to send a signal from the main control room before the flames enveloped the craft, leading to the spaceship’s almost complete destruction. Though there were survivors, they knew there were not many possibilities for them to leave that world, or be found before it was too late, as their only way to survive – once the oxygen tanks were emptied and the breathing systems aboard were stopped, which was going to happen soon - was their spacesuits, that, luckily, had been designed to let them stay protected both within the remains of their vessel and also in the open for about a few days days. Maybe even longer… Such protective equipment was part of what had been specially built for Space-Archaeologists like them who usually planned on working on alien planets for long and exhausting hours in the most hostile of environments.

Some of them wanted to stay inside the Lonely Wayfarer as long as possible, but the release of radiation from a damaged portion of the ship’s engine section settled the matter for all of them, forcing them to move away immediately, or die sooner than imagined.

Imranovich could still see before his eyes the sadness of the moments they had left behind what was still intact of their spacecraft, knowing they had no other choice. He remembered the sensation of desperation and impeding death which they all felt inside as their steps took them slowly away, further and further from the metallic bulwark of the Lonely Wayfarer. Their bodies were well wrapped in their spacesuits which, in turn, had large cloaks attached, made of super-protective fabrics, that were meant to prevent their metallic structure from becoming too dirty, or badly damaged because of the abrasion and the continuous scratching due to the strong dusty winds that constantly beset the planet’s surface.

The strength of the wind could be plainly numbered among the many adversities of this alien environment. They had seen such data on the holo-screen of their computers while still in space, but the force of the wind would soon become something overpowering if you had to face such gusts night and day in the open field with no place to stay shielded from its power. While they hiked away from the ship, the expectation of finding valuable artifacts in the still-to-be-opened excavation sites on Khmeb – those they had marked on their holo-maps before the ill-fated descent course to the planet - had been removed from their worried minds. They were no longer interested in the importance of those very ancient ruins - and the weariness while walking in the open airless terrain soon began to get the better of the six of them.

How could it be different?

They knew very well they had started a journey through the alien lifeless ground of Khmeb that wouldn’t take them very far, and the obvious conclusion of their last attempts to remain alive would probably be a sad demise. However, thanks to their equipment and the technology that still made them feel normal, they preferred to keep death away, or in the distance, the longer the better.

Imranovich had taught survival skills for many years, during the brief course all Space-Archaeologists had to take before their first journeys into space to an alien excavation site. He had learned that four elements had to be in place for a survival situation to have the chance of a good outcome: knowledge, ability, the will to survive, and luck. Also necessary were the required provisions, like food and water, that humans needed, along with proper clothes and shelter. Well, food provisions were exactly what they lacked at present as what they had been able to take with them from their vessel would last, in their best hopes, until next week. After that, they would be relying only on water and nothing more. Which probably wouldn’t be enough to keep them alive, waiting for help to come, if ever.

While knowledge and ability to survive could be learned, and Imranovich was well aware of this, the will to do so was connected to a man’s personal survival mechanism, and no one knew - before it came to that - if he really could master it. Not until he was put to the test. For example, people who were perfectly trained and well-equipped gave up hope in survivable conditions, unexpectedly, while others, who were less well-prepared and ill-equipped, survived because they simply refused to give up. But it wasn’t his will to survive, or that of his fellows, that was the real matter under those terrible circumstances, as food couldn’t be bought nor found anywhere on that world, and there was no prey to be hunted nor eaten, of course. And, though their personal backpack could get breathable air which was continuously circulating in their exo-system – thus sustaining them for a month - it wasn’t the only thing they needed. As cadavers didn’t require air.

More than that, the peculiar icy surface of that alien planet was impossible to be turned into water that a man could drink because of the poisonous substances it contained, minerals that the filters they had in their spacesuits would ever be able to purify. To produce useful water, they would need a better and much larger device, like the filters they had left behind. Of course those were all destroyed now, burned as if they were of no use anymore, in the remains of their starship when they had moved away from it.

But water, for now, wasn’t their main problem. In an sad way, Frank Ewall, the eldest of the crewmembers who had survived and the tall leader of their expedition, pointed out that their remains might be able to swim in the drinkable liquid that would still be available to them also once they were already dead in their spacesuits, because of their lack of food. Probably, if a man’s face wasn’t inside his helmet at that time - Imranovich knew for a fact - he would make a wide grin while stroking his beard, but he simply couldn’t even try that, given the circumstances. And he didn’t know if his facial features would ever come out of his spacesuit again.

It was a sad fact that the bald Ewall himself died first, and not because of his food provisions running out, but simply as a consequence of a bad fall down a steep slope that, in an unexpected way, irreparably damaged his personal exo-system. The loss of the air which was ejected outside was too fast to be stopped or sealed on time, nor could such problem be repaired by means of the few tools they had with them.

Pilot Harry Yudley and the blonde-haired Glintovl were the next ones to have their names listed in the electronic book of the crew’s casualties in his wrist device. The death of the female academician left him particularly stricken as he had started to develop a personal relationship with that 47-year-old woman during their journey to this planet. Glintovl was the first person he had felt close to after his previous wife had passed away three years before. Which meant that there were only three of them left on the surface. Two days later there were only two survivors left, as the young researcher Klertewf died because of a malfunction with his spacesuit, which added to the sad thoughts and worries that they all – well, the two of them who were still alive… - had on their minds.

Now it was up to Imranovich himself and the second pilot James Wazon to try to remain safe and sound, and on their feet, in that incredibly challenging environment of the alien world for as long as they could. It was not just due to luck that, just eight days later, only Imranovich found himself still on this side of the grave, anyway. The two men had continued walking for almost two hours through an icy plain full of rocks, while attempting to hide from the worst gusts that pounded the surface. When they finally got to ground that was even more treacherous, it was the Space-Archaeologist’s knowledge of rocks that allowed him to follow the safest way. However, the other man, being a pilot, was more accustomed to space routes and orbiting courses than to the detail of the terrain, and he chose the wrong path that brought him below an icy cliff from which there happened to be no way out.

It was of no help that he had stayed on top of the place where Wazon lay a hundred feet below, continuing to communicate with his poor crewmate for almost an hour. Wazon told him that he had broken his back, and that the blood he was losing inside his spacesuit came out faster than his exo-system could overcome. Perhaps surgery could have saved him, but they had nothing like that at present. So, it was only a matter of time, and when Wazon stopped talking, Imranovich knew that he had died.

The next two days went by very slowly, and gusts that continuously blew through that frightful area, seemed like many small predators that came from the sky to attack anyone who would try to escape, night and day. Only those three star-like rings that were visible above his head, with their brilliancy, turned nighttime into something less cold, more bearable and heart-warming as that sight gave him some comfort. They brought to him the recollections of how vivid those features had first appeared when their starship had approached this planet from space so many days ago. Though, it was a short-termed thought. “It will not last for long…” he kept telling himself as his tiredness made every step even more painful, more pointless, given the fact he knew that the end would come soon, no matter what he hoped or tried of course. ‘I’m certain I’ll be dead in the next few hours,’ he finally told himself.

This was exactly why, as the man imagined that his demise was not far, he chose to set his course towards the nearest ruins in the area – the same ones they had come here to study, before the disaster left them hopeless and without any chance left. He believed he could cower down there, among those low walls and broken stones that housed a small statue with its dark surface almost completely removed from long centuries of being blasted by the brutal wind. Little was standing where some of the buildings had once been located, as he silently waited to live out his last minutes while taking cover from the unending storm.

His eyes had long admired the ancient rectangular stone platform, with stepped sides, which might have once been a focus of court rituals. Perhaps it had been used in ceremonies when the prehistoric species that had once lived here built such a site. He also considered that the place reminded him of Eastern Polynesian temples found on the home planet all Earthlings were from. Those pyramids had been built long before humans started to spread through space, and Mankind had almost forgotten about the world where their civilization had evolved in the past. Who knew how many interesting stone tools, unbelievable vases or body remains might be found below the iced terrain if only they had been given the time to start their excavations. He wished they still had the machinery they had loaded on their starship but it was now lost. Also, it was too late for such considerations. Maybe one day somebody else would come here and do the job that they were unable to begin on this expedition, of course. It was impossible to make predictions about that.

It was at that moment, before he was able to get to the point he had selected as his possible burial ground, that Imranovich wasn’t as attentive as he needed to be. He found himself falling down a slope he hadn’t really seen until that moment, and what would probably follow was well known to him.

Glittering particles of ice swirled around his face and surrounded his spacesuit from all sides, cutting down his visibility for a while. At least, he thought, his exo-system didn’t report any fatal wounds yet, and there were no other problems with his body. It was dark in the square of the visor of his helmet, just him and the hole in the alien ground and that dust floating outside.

Then something hit his senses. Something new and unexpected. Seven colorful shades, some vivid hues between yellow and blue Imranovich hadn’t seen in years. From where he was standing, colors like these might as well not be real from a certain point of view. The colors seemed to dance in the open, playing with the dust he had fallen into.

At first, they appeared to be a huge and hideous mixture of waves and feeble vapor. After a few seconds they took on the look of many tall, creature-like figures that stood before him now, becoming more and more visible. You might think they were ghosts that had decided to reveal themselves, allowing others see them in that forgotten site. Perhaps these were shadows from a past alien civilization that was now extinct, or possibly they merely came from his fancy, products of his tired mind. Had the fall been that bad, or had he hit the inside of his helmet too hard and was now suffering from a concussion? He didn’t remember the fall being that bad!

Then, the shapes became better defined, and they now looked like colorful, tall specters in that silent, wild alien scenery. He was still also surrounded by the dust particles his spacesuit had unwillingly thrown into the sky and he was in the mist of those unknown ruins which were still to be dated by human technology. What a scary sight, for these spirits were an unexpected unearthly occurrence!

The hairs on every inch of Imranovich’s body seemed to be electrified and bristled immediately. What were these figures? Were they merely a result of his tiredness, or were they simply a trick of the eye? If he was in the open, breathing air and with no need for a protection for himself, certainly he would have thought that those images were driven by visual factors mainly, perhaps with some other environmental influences. He was a scientist after all, he believed in facts above all. But he wasn’t in touch with the exterior of his spacesuit, and his skin, the eyes and his brain were perfectly secluded from the outside terrain. He was shielded against the changes in air temperature and the whole airless scenery of the alien world that surrounded him.

Moreover, the small video display on the corner of his visor that indicated data shot by the infrared camera and the footage of the camcorder connected to his helmet didn’t show anything. It was exactly as if there were no strange creatures to be brought to the attention of the viewer.

That really had been an unforgettable sight! And there was more to come.

*****

As he eventually began to sober-up, after spending four hours in that room alone at the Space Bar, eating food and many other sweets, the still confused Imranovich began feeling those strange sensations again. This was the same way he felt as he did on that day, long ago, through the dust that was all around the visor of his helmet. His disorientation was a fact, though not unexpected. The few hours he had spent in that room had left him calm and satisfied. And now his eyes started detecting a singular presence. Then the others appeared.

All those figures standing before him looked like strange clouds of varied-colored gases. The shades of their long transparent hair were changing by the second, while their feeble skin glowed softly as if their presence was continuously exciting the air around them. They also had huge, unusual and awe-inspiring staring eyes. Then, there were those curl-like spikes extending from the lower portion of their weird body.

These were the same alien ghosts he had stumbled into while he was on planet Khmeb. Or had they chosen him, a lonely dying human, to reveal themselves as he was waiting that day, for his death to soon come? Why him? And why at that time? Why hadn’t they appeared to his fellow crewmates who had passed away on that same icy world before it was his turn?

They didn’t speak, preferring to only watch him now. Which was good. Of course, nobody else could see them. This was because of two circumstances: in the first place it was only him in that room at present; and the second reason was due to the fact that no known SuperHD holo-camera was able to detect their figures, at least as far as he knew. And the man had done his research by now, so he was certain about the history of their culture, now long gone. These beings were the same ones he discovered during that first encounter among the ruined buildings of those lost temples from Khmeb’s ancient past, when an intelligent alien species had ruled over the rocky surface of the planet.

They had followed him since the day he had been healed, and since the time Imranovich had left that planet. They were a constant presence that came along with him wherever he went, never leaving him.

They kept staring at him. And they knew.

At times, some of them became feebler, or almost disappeared, briefly, as if the source of the energy that kept them in this world was cut off. It was almost the same as the way the electrical current stopped in the ancient light bulbs of the first industrial era, when they were turned off. He had never understood how it happened, or the reason for it. However, he had long since come to a conclusion, a deep and sad idea which had started slowly forming in his mind as soon as he had set his foot on the vessel that luckily had arrived to save him just in time, taking him away from Khmeb.

The man considered in silence, ‘The famous scientist from old Earth, Professor Einstein, proved that all the energy in the universe is constant and can neither be created nor destroyed. So what happened to that energy when people died? And what happened to aliens when they passed away, as well?’

Many people had seen ghostly appearances, or thought they had, in many places, even on old Earth since the birth of Mankind. What about such sights? The existence of ghosts was a way of explaining these experiences. But he had never believed in those reports until that day had come on that forgotten iced world situated around that ancient star called Zmay.

That day, the day he imagined he would die, he wished he had enhanced senses and had been better prepared, with experience gained through drills. He wished he had been one of the Space Footsloggers who trained in the Martian Army. This would have helped his body to survive wounds like those that he was afraid he could feel because of that terrible fall. He had also wondered about the blood that might soon fill the spacesuit that protected him from the icy climate of that alien environment. The man also wished he could make himself believe that everything would be all right at the end of the day. But Imranovich was just was a human Space-Archaeologist, and there wasn’t much training he could draw upon to help him survive that day.

It was those creatures alone that had kept him alive. Otherwise, he would have died a few hours after he got to those ruins. And they had done it for the long and cold following days, for reasons unknown to Imranovich at that time, until a starship with other humans had finally arrived on that same planet. They had followed a signal sent into space weeks before by the two injured survivors of the control room, now long dead. That message has just been sent before that part of their vessel was engulfed in flames.

The crewmen of the starship Homesteader who had come to help and had landed on the icy Khmeb, hadn't been so lucky. Not like the Space-Archaeologist anyway. But Imranovich preferred to keep the details of what happened aboard later to himself. He had his reasons to behave that way, of course.

What the man remembered clearly, and he liked to keep in his mind, was that on that occasion, within a few minutes he thought that – in the common viewpoint on holo-newspapers and the media of the Solar System - he was presumably going to become just another academician from Earth who had disappeared on an alien world while putting a bold face on exploring. He thought he might eventually be seen as one more scientist lost while studying a site, among crumbling and unsafe ruins of an ancient civilization that had long gone, being very ancient when Mankind was just taking their first steps on prehistoric Earth.

But, contrary to his worst fears, on that day, Imranovich had made it. Yes, he had survived, though unexpectedly, even to himself.

And then he had to accomplish other difficult tasks to be alive, and safe. Those were the things you must do just to remain alive, he considered with a pensive look.

But the sight of those ghosts he had seen in the same room near his table at the Mare Inebrium made the man think that it was time to go. It was preferable to pay the bill, retrieve his overcoat, take leave of the well-spoken bartender named Max and immediately exit that place, leaving quickly, the sooner the better.

*****

As Imranovich left the famous venue, he took a middle-of-the-night walk through the empty street. Probably Imranovich thought that it might help him see his situation more clearly.

‘Fresh air, and a reinvigorated mind, that is what I need now,’ he considered. And as his thoughts began to take him elsewhere, it was at that moment his eyes fell on a tall, slender eight-handed alien from Dlekthk that wore a yellowish garment from his own world. This wasn’t what he wanted to see. How deeply he would have preferred that the street was completely empty, and it would have certainly been better for him if such a place had remained that way for a while.

But this was the busy world of Bethdish and he was near its important spaceport. Most of the streets near the transportation area were usually crowded by many members of many varied alien species, so how could he think it would be different from that? After all, the man knew he couldn’t always live on a desert planet, alone, or stay far away from anybody else, busy doing exacations. Much to his regret.

Then the voices he knew so well began filling his head in that very strong manner he had been accustomed to since he had first set his foot on the vessel that had saved him from the icy Khmeb years ago. This was always what happened when he stumbled into anybody else in the open ground, with no other person – human or alien – around. Though briefly, this was when those alien ghosts made their demands known. Their orders had to be followed, undoubtedly. Now, when nobody else could look at what he might be doing.

‘We helped you, that day, by helping you survive the fall while you were looking for shelter in that site. We healed you from your deadly wounds,’ the first voice said in Imranovich’s mind. This insistent tone came from the ghastly shape of the alien called KKl-ooo, or so he had told the man on Khmeb – whose real name had once been EEE-WX. He had died long ago, before that planet was turned into an icy world without any creature living upon it.

‘You owe us a favor, and you always will. We found each other that day, and this was for our common good. You know what must be done,’ added the second shape of the alien next to the first one, that who was called XXl-uuu.

‘Do it! We can’t directly harm living beings or kill them, but we need to feed on those bodies once they die. The remains of a life that had just been put to an end were usually so tasty, and we were around for so long, on the empty world of ours, with nothing to get new energy from. But we will become strong again, after this tasty meal of today. And we’ll continue to live out our unearthly lives,’ the third one, called WWj-iii, said in his very low tone that could reach the farthest recesses of the man’s mind.

‘Yes, you came to us at that site, among those ruins from our lost civilization, that day, and you were most welcomed. We didn’t know how much longer we could have maintained our unearthly shape, the same as a living being of your human species can’t stay in one piece forever without eating, because it had been centuries since the last time we had taken energy from a real body. But you came and we saved you. It was when we thought we would be turned into nothing within a few decades, as the vaporous remains of our souls were being weakened day by day in an unrestrainable decay that we had no way of stopping. In return, you agreed to do things for us. And you know what you have done all these years,’ KKl-ooo stared at him.

‘Yes, you well know. Only you can accomplish this for us. You have the duty to give us a newly killed victim we now can feed on,’ the third one demanded, making his voice heard again in Imranovich’s head now.

‘You’re our pawn, and our retainer. The human we protected, and healed, so we could have you at our service later. You’ve already done this before, on all the planets you have visited, since the day you were saved, starting with those humans who helped you and transported you off our icy world. What were their names? Rouleau, Archult, Iglert…Who came next? Wasn’t their captain, Brett Utchirt, the first one you pierced using your new blade in his room, the first night when you got to talk about your difficult days on icy Khmeb? This only added more uneasiness to that confused crew that wasn’t expecting a murder from someone like you. And you remember what happened to them all - all those men and women who were your first victims, the first bodies we eagerly fed on after so long. Now replenish our unearthly energies and let us get more strength so we can continue our journey with you,’ WWj-iii insisted for a second time.

‘This is what your life is meant for, and you must be thankful to us for that, such as it is. This is also how you’ll keep getting our help to sustain your life until the next time comes. This killing today will give us the power to support your ill body over the days to come,’ the second alien made it clear.

Imranovich nodded, well aware of what he had to do, after all. He gestured to the tall alien passer-by from Dlekthk that walked nearby to make the stranger look at him and answer a stupid request, while the human prepared to hit him with the electronic blade he always hid in his clothes. Once he had done that, the poor victim would become a lonely corpse, empty of his life energies, which were eaten by the ghosts that followed him everywhere. But having been fed, eventually those voices would move away from his mind. At least for a few weeks, until the next moment they urged him to kill again, of course.

Was this alien’s life-energy enough to fill them up, or might they want the life energies of somebody else, to be even more satisfied, before the end of the month? When you had unearthly stomachs the size of those alien ghosts, you could never know for certain.

“Anyway, I can’t get my hopes up,” he said, and kept walking along in the night once his cruel duty was done. The death of somebody, and the energy output that came out from his body, was what happened to be the most valuable thing to those ancient creatures. Well, this was nothing he could really appreciate deep in his heart, of course, but it was an agreement that had kept him alive so far.

His eyes closed, as much to keep his mind out the world as from the fatigue of a day’s work. The man knew he had to find something new to occupy his thoughts, because he didn’t know when the next call would come, or where it might happen anyway.


THE END


2021 Sergio “ente per ente” Palumbo

Bio: Sergio “ente per ente” Palumbo s an Italian public servant who graduated from Law School working in the public real estate branch. He is also a co-Editor, together with Mrs. Michele DUTCHER, of the new Steampunk Anthology “Steam-powered Dream Engines”, published in march 2018 by Rogue Planet Press, an Imprint of British Horrified Press, and of the new Fantasy/Sci-Fi Anthology “Fantastical Savannahs and Jungles”, published in march 2019 by the same Publisher. The subsequent book edited by him, together with Mrs. Michele DUTCHER, is the new Sci-Fi Anthology “Xenobiology – Stranger Creatures”, published in september 2020 by Rogue Planet Press, an Imprint of British Horrified Press. In 2021 he edited, along with Mrs. Michele DUTCHER and Mr. Curtis MAGNES as co-editor, the new Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy Anthology titled “Bleakest Towers”, published by Rogue Planet Press. The first Historical/Horror screenplay written by him, titled “Tophet- An Ancient Evil”, completed in 2018, won an Honorable Mention Award at The 2018 International Horror Hotel Award - script Competition held in Richfield, Ohio. Sergio's other publishing credits are too numerous to mention as he is a VERY prolific writer!

E-mail: Sergio “ente per ente” Palumbo

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