The war was over.
Night had fallen upon us like a veil and the Beasties howled in ecstatic hunger, anticipating the flesh of their victory. The harsh strobes of the settlement cast a dim glow over the graveyard and the Beasties advanced, ghoul-like. The hulking form of Sloogon rose above them like an avatar of death.
His crime had been cannibalism. He had killed and eaten his entire family, including cousins, distant relatives and even a few unfortunate neighbors who had been in the vicinity when his terrible hunger had reached its crescendo. Sloogon had been on Purgatory for fifteen years, the longest surviving prisoner in the history of the planet. The Administrators above had made that little factoid available to me before sending me down to meet him in the flesh, so to speak.
I shivered again, afraid in spite of myself. Ranae had left my side and moved to the stone wall, where she crouched, her arms wrapped around her knees. The others were also silent; each lost in their own nightmarish conception of what the immediate future would bring.
A new sound rose from the graveyard and I shuddered as I recognized it. The hoots and hollers of the Beasties had been replaced by a purposeful cadence. They were chanting.
“Fok it! Eat it! Food an sex!”
Over and over again, they chanted. Sloogon’s bad habits were in tune with those of his chosen companions. Perhaps as a direct result of his lengthy incarceration or more probably as a result of the morbid dementia that afflicted us all in this hellish place. Ranaes voice was a hollow croak.
“There will be no stopping the Beasties tonight. They will take us all. I know it.”
She was right. Ranae cowered in the mud, staring at me wildly. Her eyes were orbs of white in the faint light. I had no response for her. Could barely think, let alone speak.
But it didn’t matter. The hopelessness of our situation was beyond discussion. Around us, the other Talkers were moaning fearfully as the reality of our imminent deaths marched nearer.
Suddenly, Kahaki was there. He was covered in mud. Only his eyes were visible, flaring with excitement and madness.
He stared at us both, his usually vacant expression replaced by a feral hatred. Still, in the depths of his eyes, I could detect a yearning for love, for the love of Ranae. He spit at me and pointed at Ranae accusingly.
”I’m leaving you, mama. You love the Bugman more than you love me. Im gonna be a Beastie now. Sloogon says I can.”
Ranae looked at him; her mouth working futilely as she tried to respond. A dull croak was the only sound she could make. I watched the little monster with grudging admiration, appreciating the extent of his hatred.
To join the ranks of Sloogon’s Beasties was to align oneself with the dregs of depravity and no salvation was possible from those stygian depths. Kahaki looked at me once more but I did not meet his eyes. Instead, I shrugged and concentrated on Ranae, who stared at Kahaki, despair dripping from her eyes. When I looked back, he was gone.
The Beasties had reached mid-field and their cries were louder now as they sensed our desperation. Sloogon had moved to the front of the assembled Beasties and I could see a dirty cloth twisted around his thick neck, soaked in his own blood. I put my arm around Ranae and she drew closer to me, unresisting in her stupor.
From the ranks of the Beasties, a familiar voice rose, a child’s voice. “Mama, help me! Theyre gonna eat me, Mama! Help me!”
Ranae tensed and called out, her voice quavering. Her will had returned at a most inopportune time.
“My darling boy! Kahaki! Mama’s coming! Ill save you!”
She sprang into action. She pulled away from my weak grasp, drew a flesh-encrusted thighbone from the mud nearby and jumped over the wall, her naked form reflecting the wan light of the settlements glow-orbs.
“Ranae, no! Come back, they’ll eat you too!” I cried, reaching out for her. I was too late.
The dancing Beasties howled and closed in, quickly overcoming her with their numbers. Her screams blended with Kahakis as they both reaped the consequences of their pro-activity, becoming an early-evening feast for the ravening Beasties.
I turned away then and began preparing myself for my death, which surely would not be long in coming. The cache of supplies lay nearby.
A collection of silvery cases, bound together with thermoplast ropes. Some of them had been opened and in the darkness between the crates of dehydrated food and medical supplies, I could see small, beady eyes staring back at me.
I smiled to myself, in spite of the pain eating away at me.
The cycle never ends. Birth, death and rebirth. With the passing of each life, somewhere, another begins. We are promised nothing in this life except pain. Pain, and the promise of death, hence the cessation of pain.
Along the way, the choices we make determine the course of our lives for better or for worse. The Beasties had made their choice and the agonized screams of my fellow Talkers announced the hellish result. Shadows abounded and moist, horrific slavering sounded close by.
I shuddered, awaiting my own call to judgment.
Ranae had been right. The Beasties were showing no mercy. Come morning, there would be no Talkers left in the settlement west of Hells Gate. A shadow covered me, obscuring the faint light of the settlements strobes.
It was Sloogon.
The Beastie stared down at me in triumph, his immense body soaked in blood and gore. As his minions surrounded me and began to grasp at my body, I could hear Sloogons breath whistling through the hole in his throat. How he gathered enough air to speak, Ill never know.
“How’s dat, Bugman? Yo kill alla peeple an now yo die in Hell wit yo bitch! Hows dat, Bugman? Yo be notin, in dis place! Sloogon rules in Hell!”
The pain caressed me like a long-lost lover and I welcomed her final embrace. I flew into the forever-night, my soul diaphanous upon the breath of the solar winds.
The choices we make stay with us eternally. Never are we allowed surcease from the pain we cause others, nor the pain we inflict upon ourselves. My last conscious emotion as a creature of the physical plane was regret.
Regret, tinged with sadness. Regret for the choices that I had made, the life I had not led, the love that I had hoarded jealously, for myself alone.
Last but certainly not least, regret for infecting the rodents aboard the space station with the virus. The rodents that had accompanied me to Purgatory 7, hidden within the silvery boxes that contained the supply shipment. I felt regret for sharing my virus-tainted bodily fluids with them on the station, for knowing the equations answer before the formula was written.
Soon, every living being upon this planet, as well as those who had been aboard the station, would be dead, God willing. This time, there would be no cure and the virus would spread throughout human space until all of Mans works vanished, subject to the ravishes of time.
Ancient of Days, I pray that my Will become the Alter of your Judgment. Let my utter abdication of pro-activity provide atonement for my unforgivable sins against your Creation. Thy Will be done.
Let the church say, Amen-Ra.
BB Series Interludes