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The Unfathomable Beast of Xanadu-IV

Fly in, Capture the Thing, Get Paid. Simple, Right?

By Bradley RamseyPublished 6 months ago Updated 6 months ago 32 min read
Image: Juli Kosolapova via Unsplash

I didn’t know it was possible to hate someone as much as I hated Freddie Montauk, the kingpin of the Darlucian Syndicate.

He was an untouchable, irredeemable pile of sentient shit, but more than that, he was directly responsible for my wife’s death. Plenty of people had reasons to hate him, but mine was a special case.

And yet, somehow, I found myself in his debt.

“Hey, are you fucking paying attention?” Freddie asked.

Pain shot through my jaw as I realized how violently I was clenching it. My hands were balled into fists. My blood was boiling. I hated every second I had to look at his greasy, wrinkled, hairless face.

“I’m listening,” I said.

Freddie snapped at a scantily clad android woman standing in the corner of the room, still as a statue. Her eyes lit up with a soft blue light, and a smile crossed her face, as fake as the synthetic skin covering her body. She walked over to him and stood waiting for orders.

“Get this miserable prick the job brief so I can stop looking at him.”

The feeling’s mutual, asshole.

She nodded and turned to face me. The moment we made eye contact, a tingling sensation crawled down the right side of my face. The cybernetic implant in my eye synced with the woman’s own, and my vision was overlaid with data on a nearby desert planet.

Most people with Cyberdex implants used them for porn, but it was an efficient way to transmit information wirelessly. Of course, you had to be able to afford one, and most people couldn’t, myself included.

Working for Freddie, though, came with its perks. He subsidizes the implant in return for your undying loyalty. What a sweet deal.

My eyes scanned everything, but the visuals were just a formality. The implant absorbed everything I needed to know, downloading it directly into my brain.

In just a few seconds, I would know the most important details about the job without listening to any more of Freddie’s mindless drivel. The rest I could catch up on later.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“That’ll be all Johnny. Go get me my new pet!”

I forced a weak smile and turned to leave. The data from the transfer was slowly trickling into my brain, like a computer processing a large file.

Details started coming to me like Déjà vu, half-remembered memories, the only way to avoid overloading the brain and killing the recipient.

Freddie Montauk had a menagerie of the galaxy's most dangerous and rare creatures. His own personal zoo, where everything was either ready to kill you, fuck you, or both, and not necessarily in that order.

No one was allowed in, but everyone knew about it because he told people every chance he got.

There are also “unverified” stories that he’s also used his pets to get rid of people he dislikes, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

The job’s details were as follows: join a squad of mercs and fly to a nearby desert world uninhabited for centuries.

Xanadu-IV was classified as an Omega-level threat with all kinds of red tape. It’s not the kind of place where you’d plan a vacation; let me put it that way. If the thing down there Freddie wanted ever escaped, it could wipe out the entire galaxy.

A couple of decades ago, an archaeological team was permitted to study some ruins on the surface, but you can imagine how that went. The archaeologists were wiped out, and the powers that be put the whole planet on lockdown to ensure no one would ever set foot there again.

Of course, rules like that don’t apply to people like Freddie, so we’re supposed to capture whatever is down there and bring it back so he can add it to his collection.

Now, mind you, he already has a few apocalyptic monsters locked up there, so what’s one more, right?

I had twenty-four hours before I was supposed to join the mercs and fly to Xanadu-IV. I rode the elevator down from Freddie’s penthouse, The glass walls around provided one hell of a view.

Darluca was one of the largest mobile space stations in the galaxy. Shaped like a giant cylinder, the interior walls were lined with apartment buildings, casinos, shops, and bars. The Darlucian syndicate runs every single one.

They even had their own currency here. It was a self-contained slice of hell, and if you worked for Freddie or anyone else in the syndicate, this is the place you called home.

Freddie’s penthouse sat atop a tower in the station's center. It was equal parts decadent and dystopian, but you’d never hear Freddie admit that. If you’re starting to get the idea that he’s compensating for something, though, you’d be right.

Walking through my district's entertainment and shopping areas was like bathing in neon light. Businesses had to compete for your attention, with redundancies everywhere.

You couldn’t take a step without getting slapped in the face by glowing text promising pleasure in the form of food, booze, or a warm body. There were no rules regarding the economy or the markets in Darluca.

It was every sentient being for themselves. The only rule was to follow orders, and when a job came, you took it without question.

Of course, no one comes to Darluca looking for a better life. The Darlucian syndicate may be headquartered here, but its tendrils spread to all corners of the galaxy. They had plenty of ways to pull you into debt with them.

They prey on the weak, the poor, and the underdogs. When the inevitable time came that you couldn’t pay, they’d contract you for a decade or more on the Darluca under Freddie’s watchful eye.

It’s how I got here, what brought my late wife here, and probably how all these sorry souls got here, too. We’re all just cogs in Freddie’s machine.

“Hey Johnny, fancy a drink?” a voice asked.

I was at the edge of the business district, about to set foot into the slums. A bar was situated right at the line, owned by a Hindrax whose name I could never pronounce. I don’t think it’s something human tongues can say.

“Hey, uh, man, how’s business?” I asked.

The owner stepped out into the neon light. Hindrax were mostly humanoid in body shape but had claws instead of fingers. They also had twelve eyes, six on either side of their head.

He always did this thing where he winked at me with one set of eyes, and honestly, it was fucking weird.

“Shitty Johnny, business is always shitty on Darluca. You’ve got that walk about you, though, like you got something shoved up your ass. You go to see Freddie or something?”

I nodded. “Yeah, new job on Xanadu-IV. Heard of it?”

All twelve of the owner’s eyes went wide.

“Yeah, of course, I know about Xanadu-IV. What the hell are you going there for?”

“Freddie’s got his eyes on a new pet living there.”

The owner shook his head. “We all know what happened last time he sent someone to fetch a pet for him.”

Don’t remind me.

“Listen, I’m shipping out in the morning, so I should get going. I’ll take you up on that drink when I’m back. Well, if I make it back.”

The owner chuckled. “If you make it back, Johnny, the drink’s on me.”

I crossed over to the slums. Like someone hitting a light switch on their way out, the street went dark, save for some sterile streetlamps mounted from the roof of apartment buildings.

No more neon lights or promises of hedonistic indulgences, just the stench of garbage and depression that hung like a cloud everywhere you went.

It was here where I lived, tucked into a tiny one-bedroom apartment. Hell, the whole thing was one room. The toilet was in the corner, the sink and fridge were on the other side of the room, and the bed was in the middle. Believe it or not, it was one of the nicer apartments they had on Darluca.

Perks of working for Freddie for as long as I had. I shut the door behind me and collapsed onto the bed. I tapped my right temple as I rolled onto my back, and a digital menu appeared above me.

“Set an alarm for eight hundred hours and play memory-217,” I said.

The menu navigated itself, selecting the alarm and booting up a program called Remembrance. Cyberdex implants can let you relive any memory stored in the subject’s brain after installation.

Every detail, down to the smells of that moment, could be recreated in real time. It was the closest you could get to time travel. It was the closest I could get to seeing her again.

A digital wave swept over the room, taking me back to that day three months ago. A beautiful woman appeared beside me in the bed in the blink of an eye.

Her name was Selena. My incredible, intelligent, drop-dead gorgeous, very much dead wife. She had jet-black shoulder-length hair, skin the color of moonlight, and piercing green eyes. She was wearing one of my shirts, which looked like a dress on her slender form.

Her fingertips danced across my bare chest, and I could feel her breath hot against my skin. I took a deep breath, smiling as the scent of her shampoo brought back a rush of familiarity.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked.

I’d relived this memory hundreds of times, yet I never knew how to answer. Remembrance does everything it can to preserve the original memory, but its generative AI capabilities allow it to adapt and adjust how things play out based on your inputs.

Each trip back to that moment was slightly different as a result.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” I said.

She turned her eyes up toward me. My heart skipped a beat every time I gazed into them.

“You know just as well as I do that no one says no to Freddie.”

“I know; I just worry about you.”

Selena smiled and pressed her lips against my chest before laying her head back down.

“Don’t worry, I can take care of myself.”

I brought my hand up the curve of her back and ran my fingers through her hair, gently massaging her scalp as I rested my head against the wall behind me.

“Just a little longer, and then our contracts are up. We can finally get out of this hellhole. Where do you want to go once we’re free?” I asked.

Selena took a moment to think it over.

“Oh, what about Neptune? They have those amazing all-inclusive resorts in the upper atmosphere. Could you imagine the view?”

She always wanted to visit Neptune. Neon lights aside, the color blue was rare in Darluca; it was one of those trips we’d always talked about taking.

“I agree. Neptune is the perfect first stop. Should just tour the whole solar system,” I said.

Selena’s head shot up. A smile crawled across her face as I saw her eyes light up.

“Don’t fuck with me, Johnny. Are you serious?” she asked.

“Of course! I’ll get a big payout at the end of my contract and finally give you the honeymoon you deserve.”

Selena wrapped her arms around my torso and squeezed.

“Thanks, babe, I’m going to hold you to that. It’s getting late, though; I’ve gotta be at the docks early for that job tomorrow.”

“That’s fine, we can get some sleep. Do me a favor, though?”

“Of course, my love, what do you need?”

“I just want you to stay here. Like this.”

Selena climbed onto her arms and legs and leaned forward, pressing her soft lips against mine—the perfect kiss.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she whispered.

Fuck, I wish that were true.

Selena curled up next to me, resting her leg on mine as she laid her head on my chest. I closed my eyes and tried as hard as I could to hold onto that moment as I fell asleep.

My shitty alarm took me out of what was a nice dream several hours later. I crawled out of bed and took a quick shower. I stopped just as I was about to leave my apartment. My whole life was confined to a single room. These jobs were often dangerous, I never knew if I would make it back.

Usually, I wouldn’t take anything with me. Freddie makes sure we’ve all got the gear we need. This time, though, I had something in mind—a good luck charm. I walked over to the nightstand beside my bed and opened the drawer. Inside was a single photo, printed on glossy paper and taken with an antique camera. A Polaroid is what it’s called if I remember correctly.

It was Selena, standing under a blue sky on Earth. She was wearing a white dress and smiling like she had her whole life ahead of her. I picked up the photo and slid it into my pants pocket before leaving for the docks.


I was unsure what to expect from Freddie's crews for these jobs. Usually, you get some mercs, a few sad souls living on Darluca, or a combination of the two.

I found myself with three others, riding in the back of a transport shuttle to the nearby planet of Xanadu-IV. We’ll go from largest to smallest.

At nearly eight feet tall, the most impressive member of our crew was Drognan. He was human at one point, but not much of the human was left. His skin was covered from head to toe in shimmering silver scales. His eyes had slits running through the irises, and any time he opened his mouth, a forked tongue slithered out.

DNA splicing, reptilian if I had to guess. Some people just changed a few things, but others got into it. It was an addiction if you let it get out of control. Drognan was an extreme case but not the worst I’d ever seen.

Sitting beside him, coming in at a respectable six feet, was your average merc who joined jobs like these for the adrenaline rush—a different addiction.

His name was Anthony, but he went by Tony. He was the kind of guy who had tattoos on every square inch of his body and looked at his guns like he wanted to fuck them. It's not the worst kind of merc, but not the best either.

That left the last member of the team barely coming in at five feet. He was a Sluggoth, which is what it sounds like: a sentient slug. He wore loose-fitting clothes, had a thin layer of slime glistening on his exposed skin, and had two eyes atop stalks protruding from the top of his head.

Sluggoths were nice enough, but something about seeing a slug standing upright with teeth just weirded me the fuck out. His name was Grido.

“Been a while since I’ve had a good fight,” Drognan said, brandishing a thick serrated knife.

“What about that job on Frenella? I thought that one was good,” Tony replied, holstering one of his pistols.

“Frenella was a warm-up. Looking forward to this one, I hear it’s got tits like you wouldn’t believe.”

Everyone shot Drognan the same look of utter confusion.

“Why the fuck would it have tits? It’s a monster, not some broad. Who the hell told you that?”

Drognan gestured with his knife to Grido, whose eyes widened at the prospect of being brought into the conversation.

“Well, I never said it would have breasts. I simply shared my hypothesis about the creature’s inherent telepathic abilities.”

I sat back and shook my head. Here we go.

“So, you’re saying it could have tits?” Tony asked. His curiosity was thoroughly piqued.

“The creature has a central cerebral cortex, but its body is made from thousands of microscopic entities. They all share the same mental connection, like a hive mind. The telepathic force allows the creature to alter its appearance from the viewer's perspective. It could become what you fear most or the object of your desire. Whatever suits its needs most.”

Tony nodded along, but he wasn’t following.

“So, it's a shapeshifter then?” I asked.

Tony, Drognan, and Grido looked at me for the first time.

“Well, not technically. The creature can alter its size and shape, but it manipulates your senses by overtaking your brain. It can make you see, feel, or experience whatever it wants.”

“Okay, so what does it want then?” I asked.

“That’s the million-credit question. I doubt it wants to be captured and displayed in Freddie’s collection, but that’s not our choice.”

The conversation petered out. Fine by me; it was bad enough that I knew their names. Knowing as little as possible about your squad for such jobs was best. It makes their inevitable deaths easier. I reviewed the mission brief again while waiting for us to land.


The landing coordinates put us near some ancient ruins on the surface. The desert sand has eroded most structures, leaving only half-broken walls and smooth pillars. The equipment from the archaeological expedition that last arrived on Xanadu-IV was still strewn about, albeit covered in sand.

Everyone armed up the second they stepped off the craft. Drognan held a laser rifle, semi-automatic from the looks of it. One burst would tear through anything organic, leaving nothing but scorched remains.

Tony had a pair of pistols, revolvers, to be precise. They were ancient but well-preserved. Each sported an ivory grip and gold trim, which did nothing to make them more lethal but somehow fit perfectly with his personality.

I was a lousy shot, so I had a shotgun with incendiary shells. If anything got close enough for it to be effective, the spread would ensure I couldn’t miss.

Meanwhile, Grido had the most pathetic pistol you could imagine. He probably didn’t even know how to turn the safety off. I felt kind of bad for the guy.

Drognan took point, leading us into the center of the plaza. A makeshift fence surrounded an opening in the ground ahead. As we approached the edge, it was clear this was how the previous team had met their end.

Dried streaks of blood still stained the makeshift steps leading down into the depths.

“Something dragged them down from the looks of it,” Tony said.

Grido looked up at the blazing sun in the sky above us. It was massive due to Xanadu-IV being the closest planet to it in the solar system.

“Perhaps it does not like the sun?” Grido asked.

“I will drag it out here, kicking and screaming,” Drognan declared.

“Then, by all means, you can go first,” I replied.

Drognan ignored my joke and stepped over the fence. Tony took offense to it, glaring at me as he stepped over the makeshift fence and followed the hulking merc down.

“Fucking pussy,” Tony whispered.

I ignored him, stepping down the bloodstained steps as Grido followed in the back. The air was cool and musty, and darkness quickly took hold as we headed deeper. Everyone activated their shoulder-mounted flashlights.

At the end of the stairs, we entered an underground chamber. It was a chapel of some sort, with rows of wood pews on either side of the chamber and worn tapestries hanging from the walls. Their colors were faded, and the images were barely legible after all this time.

At the back of the chamber was a stone altar with a faded carving on the front, and behind that were two entryways. We moved down the center between the pews, guns at the ready. It was deathly quiet; every footstep echoed throughout the cavern.

We approached the front altar. Drognan crouched down to shine his light on the carving across the front. It had faded with time but seemed to depict a woman with six arms, three on each side of her body. The other details were too eroded.

“Hah, I fucking knew it! Tits like you wouldn’t believe,” Drognan chuckled.

We all leaned in to look at the carving.

“Huh. Well, I’ll be damned. Alright, you win the bet,” Tony said.

I shook my head. “No one is going to mention the fact that she has six arms?”

Grido was silent during the conversation, carefully examining what detail was left on the faded carving.

“Fascinating. They must have worshipped the creature. Strange that it would take on such a peculiar appearance,” Grido said.

“Maybe the civilization that lived here had six arms? Would make sense for her to take on a form they’d recognize,” I said.

Grido nodded. “Yes, that could be it.”

“Enough nerd talk; we’ve got a job to do!” Drognan said.

He went to the back of the chapel with renewed vigor. Two doorways were carved into the back wall, equal in size and height. Drognan walked to the left with Tony.

“You and the slug should take the other way. We’ll find it faster if we split up,” Drognan said.

“Yeah, and we’ll die faster, too,” I replied.

Tony scoffed. “I thought you were some big shot merc like us? What’s the matter, can’t handle it?”

On second thought...

“You know what? Fuck it. Grido and I will handle it. Let’s split up.”

Drognan and Tony’s laughs echoed through the chapel as they started down the pathway on the left. I turned to Grido, who was visibly shaking beneath the glossy veneer of slime on his skin.

“It’s going to be fine. Probably. Just stay behind me, alright?”

He nodded.

“Make sure your safety is off, too,” I said, gesturing to his gun.

He looked it over much longer than I would have liked but found the switch and flashed me a nervous smile.

I hate those teeth.

We made our way down the passage. It was a slender tunnel, and claustrophobia was starting to set in. My chest tightened as the walls seemed to close in. I was begging for another open area or just some fucking room to breathe.

After what felt like an eternity, the tunnel ended, and we stepped out onto a stone overlook and a staircase leading down.

In front of us was a gigantic hollow cavern beneath the planet's surface. We stood overlooking an entire city. The architecture was strange; it hurt my eyes if I focused too long.

Twisted spires made from a peculiar material rose up from buildings that seemed to shimmer like a mirage. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t identify any specific details. It was as if the material that made up the buildings defied logic.

“Incredible! It seems to be some sort of non-euclidian architecture! Could this be a vision from the beast? A distraction?” Grido asked.

I clutched my head and looked away from it.

“It’s making my head hurt looking at it. Like staring into the sun.”

“I imagine it would! Such geometries are not physically possible. This is truly fascinating!” Grido said.

“Well, I’m glad you’re having a good time.”

A piercing shriek echoed through the cavern from somewhere in the city. The stutter of gunfire followed it. I curled my finger around the trigger of my shotgun and started down the stone steps toward the city below.

I looked back and saw Grido keeping pace, though he was panting within seconds. My lungs were on fire by the time I reached the city streets. Gunfire still punctured the brief silence, joined by more inhuman shrieks.

“It’s coming from that way!” I shouted, pointing to the left.

As Grido and I wandered through the labyrinthine streets, I kept my eyes on the uneven stone pathways below my feet. Every time my eyes wandered to the shimmering, oily exteriors of the buildings, I felt like someone was driving a knife into my temples. Another scream, but this time it was different. Lower in pitch.

Grido and I turned a corner, and the smell hit me first. A powerful metallic smell, like hot copper, combined with the pungent odor of sulfur. I didn’t have much breakfast, but it came up immediately. I turned and vomited hot bile to the side as my eyes tried to understand what I saw.

Drognan and Tony were torn apart. Their bodies were shredded, so you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. It was a steaming pile of flesh, organs, and tattered limbs. My eyes broke free from the horror in front of me just long enough to spot a woman looking out from one of the buildings nearby.


The woman shrieked, and her body exploded into a cloud of chittering insects in the blink of an eye. The cloud swarmed around some sort of mass in the center, carrying it through the air as it soared down the street and retreated into an alley.

Just like the buildings, I couldn’t focus my gaze on it. The moment I did, my eyeballs started shaking like my hands after a week-long bender.

I looked over to Grido, who was frozen solid. I couldn’t blame the guy.

“Grido, hey, you still with me?” I asked.

His eyestalks might as well have turned to stone. I reached out and touched his shoulder. He let out a gasp and turned his bewildered gaze to me.

“Don’t look at it, okay? Look at me. We need to figure out a plan.”

Grido let out a squeak, but nothing I could use. I saw a device hanging from his waist that hadn’t caught my eye until that moment. The screen was flashing, cycling through multiple colors.

“Hey, what’s that thing doing?” I asked, pointing to the device.

Grido broke free of his daze and plucked the gadget from his side. He looked down at the screen and tapped a few buttons on the surface.

“I’m getting a huge spike in radiation nearby,” he said.

“Is it from the creature?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“No, something like this? It’s a bomb, gotta be.”

Thank fucking God. Finally, some good luck.

“Do you think it’s a leftover from the last expedition?”

Grido nodded. “Could be. I imagine they would have tried killing it before restricting the entire planet.”

“Okay! Lead the way, man, we’re gonna arm that bomb and get the fuck out of here!”

“What about Freddie? We can’t come back empty-handed.”

Oh, how I had waited for that day when I could say those two words.

“Fuck Freddie.”

Grido laughed. “Good enough for me. Cover me, I’ll lead the way.”

I was impressed by Grido’s sudden bravery. Amazing what a glimmer of hope could do for someone on the edge.

I followed Grido down the streets, keeping the barrel of my shotgun up the entire time. I expected the thing to come rushing out, but it didn’t. Things were way too quiet.

“Do you think they wounded it? Why hasn't it come back?” I asked.

“It sounded like they put up a fight. This could also be a trap,” Grido said.

Lovely, thanks for putting that thought in my head.

Grido stopped and lifted his gaze from the device in his slime-covered hands.

“Should be right there.”

Ahead of us, placed in the center of the road, sat what could only be described as a hell of a bomb. A silver cylinder cradled by a network of black metal pipes holding it aloft. Wires snaked their way into, out of, and all around the structure. A panel on the top still glowed with an artificial light.

Grido rushed over to the panel and looked it over.

“It’s armed; it just needs a detonation order. They were so close. All they had to do was press this button to begin the countdown.”

I turned away from the bomb, my head on a swivel and my shotgun swaying across the full scope of my vision.

“Stop talking about it and just press it so we can get the fuck out of here!” I said.


“Grido, let’s go, start the countdown!”

No response.


I turned around and saw Grido standing perfectly still before me. A polished blade protruded from his chest. A trickle of green blood bubbled out from his lips.

“Sorry, Johnny,” he whispered.

The blade slid out from his body, and he collapsed onto the ground. The creature stood before me, at least ten feet tall. Six arms total, each wielding its own blade.

Her skin rippled like the surface of water, as if all the microscopic insects were trapped beneath, holding her form together. Her eyes were black, soulless, devoid of life.

Great tits, though.

I pulled the trigger on the shotgun, sending a blast point blank into her torso. The incendiary ammo worked, setting her skin ablaze and tearing holes in her illusion as she screeched in pain. As she stumbled backward, clouds of insects escaped from the holes in her skin.

I dropped the gun and reached for the bomb, pressing the button on the screen to start the countdown. When I looked up, Selena was standing in front of me, wearing the dress from the photo I had in my pocket.

“No, this isn’t possible,” I whispered.

She stepped forward, pressing her palm against my cheek. She always had such a warm touch.

“Johnny, you can’t leave me here.”

I slapped her hand away and picked up the shotgun. Tears were already building up behind my eyelids. It was an avalanche of emotions, seeing her again.

“This is fucked up! Stop wearing her face, you fucking bitch!” I screamed.

Selena’s eyes started to tear up, and despite my backpedaling, she continued her approach.

“Johnny, please. I don’t want to die.”

I turned the shotgun to the side and fired off a warning shot. Selena covered her ears and cried out in fear.

“Stop! Just stop. Selena is dead, and soon you will be, too. You think I’ll let you walk out of here and wipe out everything?” I asked.

Selena wiped the tears from her eyes. “I can’t leave. The light won’t let me. I need your help.”

Huh, Grido was right.

“So, what then? Do you want me to wait until nightfall? Hate to break it to you, but we don’t have that kind of time.”

“I need your body. I don’t want to kill everyone. I just want vengeance for my children.”

I lowered the gun. Hearing Selena’s voice eroded my resolve. I was ready to hear her out.

“Talk fast; I’m leaving in two minutes,” I said.

Selena nodded. “Freddie Montauk. He is the human who took my children—and trapped them in cages. I can see him in your mind; you hate him, and so do I. You want revenge for what he took from you, too. I can feel it. Help me so I can help you.”

“That’s a hell of a pitch, but let me guess: I don’t get my body back when you’re done?”

She shook her head. “My consciousness will overtake yours, but before you go, I can give you what you seek.”

My heart skipped a beat.

“I don’t even need to ask, do I?”

She closed the space between us and pressed her lips to mine. All it took was a kiss to send my entire body into overdrive.

“I can give you one more moment with her,” she whispered.

My eyes wandered over to the literal ticking time bomb beside us. It was now or never. Honesty, my life ended the day hers did. I know most people won’t understand that, but fuck it, I don’t need them to.

It’s my life, my story, and I’ll write the ending I want. The one where she and I are together.

“Alright, fuck it. Come on in, the body’s yours,” I said.

Relief washed over her face. She took a step back.

“You may want to close your eyes for this part.”

I did as she asked, shutting my eyelids. A sloshing sound filled the silence between us, followed by the chittering of a thousand mouths that made my ears ring.

A morbidly curious part of me wanted to catch another glimpse of her true form, but before I could catch a peek, a pair of claws dug into the sides of my face, wrenching my jaw open.

An incredible pressure filled my insides as I felt all the tiny insects that made up her body funnel past my lips and down my throat. My ears were ringing from the high-pitched cacophony. My eyes rolled back as a streak of white-hot pain shot through the center of my head.

Then, all of a sudden, everything went numb. It was a total absence of feeling. Hell, I couldn’t even feel my heart beating anymore. I tried to open my eyes but realized I didn’t have control over my eyes anymore. The only thing I was aware of was that I still had awareness. Seriously, it was an absolute mind fuck.

I was a passenger now. My vision came back to me as my new driver opened their eyes. I was suspended in nothingness. My view of the world floated like a TV screen suspended in the air.

We left the cavern in a hurry. The shuttle was waiting. As we climbed inside, the pilot looked utterly bewildered.

“What the hell happened?” he asked.

“The whole job was a bust. The thing slaughtered everyone. I found a bomb left behind by the last team to go in there and decided to blow the fucking thing sky-high. Better take off; we’ve only got a few minutes left.”

The pilot let out a long sigh. “Freddie ain’t going to like that.”

We sat down and strapped in.

“Let me handle Freddie.”


We made our way up to Freddie’s penthouse. I couldn’t feel my heartbeat, but I had to imagine it was racing. She mimicked my personality well, I was looking forward to this next part.

“Hey, can you hear me?” I asked, speaking into the void.

“Yes, I can.”

“Oh good, okay, do me a favor. Don’t make his death quick. I want him to suffer.”

“I can do that.”

We stepped out of the elevator and into that same room where, just days earlier, Freddie barked orders at me like I was his lap dog. The second we walked in, he waved his fembots out of the room. His greasy face was a deep red. He looked fucking pissed.

“Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. What will I do with you?” he asked.

“Promote me? You’re lucky anyone survived that shitshow.”

Freddie leaped out of his intricate seat and charged toward us, fists clenched.

This should be good.

He pulled back to swing. My mouth dropped open, and a cloud of insects flew out. They swarmed around his fist. Freddie’s screams somehow drowned out the chittering.

Within seconds, the insects devoured all the flesh on his hand, leaving nothing but glistening bone.

“Fuck, fuck! What the fuck is this?” Freddie cried.

My hand shot out and gripped his neck.

“You kidnap my children, put them in cages, and for what? For your amusement?”

Tears poured down Freddie’s eyes, and snot ran from his puffy nose.

“Wait, are you the broad from Xanadu-IV? Please, you can take them; just let me go!”

“I will be taking them, but you won’t be alive to see it.”

My mouth dropped open again. The cloud of insects in the air joined thousands more that flew from my lips and into Freddie’s gaping mouth. His body shook and rippled as they forced their way into him.

His eyes went wide as he struggled to scream. Blood started pooling over his expensive shirt. Crimson streaks ran from his eyes and ears. They were eating him from the inside out.

I didn’t have a choice but to watch, and even if I did, I don’t know if I’d look away. The insects made short work of him, but it was a painful way to go.

Good. Fucker deserved it.

The insects returned to their host. My eyes looked up from the decimated corpse of Freddie Montauk and stared out through the glass windows that lined the room. Darluca never looked so pretty.

“It is done,” she said.

“And nicely done, may I add. What happens next?” I asked.

“A deal is a deal. I don’t know how much time you have left. Tell me, where would you like your final meeting with her?”

“Take me back to Earth. That day from the photo. You’re in my head, you know the one.”

“I do. Thank you, Johnny.”

“No. Thank you.”

The void filled with a blinding light. When it faded, I felt sunlight on my skin. Warm and comforting. It had been years since I’d felt it. I was back in my body. I could feel the grass beneath my feet, smell the crisp air, and taste the bitter notes of coffee on my tongue. Fuck, I missed coffee.

“What do you want to do now?”

I blinked a few times to confirm I still knew how and then turned towards the direction of her voice. Selena was there, in that gorgeous dress. This memory was from before I got my Cyberdex implant, but I don’t think even that level of tech could make this feel as real.

I reached out and took her hand, lacing my fingers between hers.

“Fucking hell, you look beautiful today,” I said, staring into her eyes.

“Thank you, baby, you think so?” she asked.

I could get lost inside those endless green eyes.

“I fucking know so.”

I looked over to the waterfront nearby. A fountain sat in the lake's center, with the park surrounding the exterior. A bench sat empty across the sidewalk beside us.

“Why don’t we just sit and relax for a bit?” I asked.

Selena smiled. “That sounds good.”

I held her hand tight as we walked over to the bench. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders as we sat down and pulled her close. The sweet scent of her shampoo filled my senses as I softly planted a kiss on the top of her head.

“I love you so much,” she said.

“I love you too, baby.”

You couldn’t put a price on this—the chance to relive a perfect moment. I didn’t know how long I had left. Hours? Minutes? Didn’t matter. This was the right call.


About the Creator

Bradley Ramsey

Lover of dogs, gaming, and long walks on the beach. Content Marketing Manager by day, aspiring writer by night. Long time ghostwriter, finally stepping into the light. Alone, we cannot change this world, but we can create better ones.

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