Final Truths

It's time to come clean. We have two delights for you, and we're bringing them to you, palms raised in supplication, because we ask that you enjoy them as much as we did. In Jen Mierisch's story, sweet treats lead to years of guilt. In Mikal Trimm's poem, the road ends in the air.

To the Highest Height

by Jen Mierisch

I know it sounds lame, but I never meant to cause an inter-species environmental catastrophe. The night it all started, I thought I was going to one of our usual get-togethers at my best friend Nebula’s place, to relieve our summer boredom before school started back up.

Neb’s house had been our favorite hangout spot since junior high. The roomy split-level had comfy couches and a big video screen in the den. But we always ended up climbing out the dormer windows to sit on the roof. It was the perfect place to watch the starships sail by, smoke certain herbs, and tell secrets.

That night, I had just emerged through Neb’s bedroom window when I saw my friends halfway across the roof, standing in a cluster, looking at something. “Zenith!” Neb called to me, waving. “Come see!”

I squeezed into the circle to peer at the open box in Neb’s hand. It contained white tissue paper and a flat brown square. Its sweet smell was unfamiliar to me.

I gasped as I realized what the square must be. “Is that—”

“Chocolate!” Neb squealed. “Saros got it from some guy at school!”

Chocolate was contraband, of course. It had been illegal on Calyptra ever since scientists learned of its toxic effect on the local flora. Medicinal plants were Calyptra’s principal exports, and our government wasn’t about to jeopardize that cash cow. Its effects on the native fauna were not well studied, but apparently there had been some disturbing results there, too.

My botanist parents, whose jobs had brought our family to this planet, would not approve. They would remind me how lucky we were to live on Calyptra, recently discovered, newly colonized, home to the cheapest real estate in the galaxy.

“So, are we going to eat it?” asked Delta, bouncing up and down on her tiptoes.

“Of course we are!” Neb exclaimed. “I didn’t show this to you guys so you could just look at it!”

“Won’t it kill all the trees within a mile or something?” asked Liane, always the practical one.

“Only if it touches them,” said Neb. “It can’t do any damage up here. Right, Zee?”

They all looked at me.

“Don’t look at me,” I said. “My parents are the ones who know about that stuff.”

“It’ll be fine!” Neb assured everyone. “We’ll just wash our hands after we eat it.”

“Um, guys?” Aurora piped up. “What happens after… you know….”

“After what?”

Aurora squirmed, not looking us in the eyes. “Later on, you know, when it passes… through.”

“When you poop it out?” howled Delta, cracking up. Aurora cringed.

“Shut up, you guys, it’s a legit question,” said Liane.

“Remember that field trip we took in seventh grade?” I said, as the memory bubbled up suddenly. “Of the wastewater facility?”

“You mean the sewage treatment plant? Way to ruin my appetite, Zee,” moaned Delta.

“Shut up! Remember, they told us how they test and treat the water for any possible contaminant that could harm the ecosystem.”

“Okay then,” said Liane, grinning. “No worries about your dookie, Aurora.”

“Enough already,” Neb declared. “Let’s have some!”

It is both a sin and a shame that no word exists to describe how extraordinary chocolate is. Calling it mind-blowing is like calling a supernova a teeny bit unstable. Chocolate definitely deserves its own adjective, its own epic poem, maybe even its own religion.

My eyes and taste buds had been opened. Some way, somehow, I had to get more of it.

I combed the data webs for all the information I could find about chocolate, down to its Earth origins a few thousand years ago. Apparently, the ancient Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had divine powers. Right on, Mayans, I thought.

I found an online copy of an old Earth book for children called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That night, I dreamed I was swimming in a chocolate river, letting it wash through my hair and run into my mouth like sweet brown water.

When my sister Azimuth finished her summer term and rode the star shuttle home from college, I grilled her. “Do they have chocolate on Patera?”

“Yeah, they sell it in snack shops,” Azi said.

“Did you try any?”

She shrugged. “I had some once or twice.”

“What did you think? Was it the greatest thing, like, ever?”

“It was okay, I guess. Why are you so interested?”

“Oh, no reason.” I walked out of Azi’s bedroom, shaking my head. Okay? It was okay? That confirmed what I’d suspected since we were babies. My sister was clearly adopted.

Our dog had puppies that summer. My parents didn’t bat an eye when I named two of the pups Nestle and Snickers. Mom and Dad were always better at science than history. 

I started mentioning chocolate, casually, at my summer job, operating the hot-air balloon rides at the Umbra County Fair. “Did you folks know hot-air balloons are Original?” I enthused to the customers. “Yes, they were invented on Earth! Just like the metric system, and leather jackets, and chocolate!”

Most people looked surprised, or disapproving. Until the day someone didn’t.

The pair of women waited until I had elevated us to twelve hundred meters before they made their offer: drone delivery of a special gourmet item, produced on the nearby planet Lindstrand, which was famous for its abundant cacao crops.

The price they quoted was one-third of my wages for the entire summer. I agreed immediately.

Then I experienced a moment of panic as I pondered where to tell the drone to deliver. No way could I risk my house and my parents’ wrath. I thought about Nebula’s roof, but I didn’t want to get her in trouble either. Then I had a brainstorm. On Mondays, the fair was closed except for private bookings. Quickly I added a fictitious client to the schedule.

The following Monday, at dusk, I let myself into the deserted fairgrounds, crossed to one of the plain yellow balloons, and started the fans. Climbing into the basket, I lit the burner flame and began my ascent.

A blinking red light approached. Watching the drone come closer, I grinned as its robot arm unfolded. The box was white and unmarked.

Bouncing up and down with excitement, I stretched out an arm, grasped a corner of the box, then screamed as a sudden gust of wind sent the balloon rocketing sideways. My fingers slipped, and the box tumbled, end over end, toward the planet’s surface.  

Quickly I threw open the vent and adjusted the burners, bringing the balloon down as fast as I dared. The basket hit the ground with a thump. Not bothering to tie it down, I leaped out and sprinted toward the clump of trees into which the box had vanished.

My flashlight beams revealed that I was too late. Animals had torn the box open and were devouring its contents. The six-footed xixis, cute mammal-like creatures native to Calyptra, had been nicknamed “sixies” by the first human colonists. Damn critters didn’t look so adorable now. Cursing the smugglers and their cheap packaging, I yanked the remains of the box from the animals’ teeth.

Miserably, I plunked myself down on the ground, nibbling the one remaining piece of chocolate. It had been a sixteen-piece assortment. The sixies lay next to me, whimpering.

As I watched, their furry bodies seemed to twitch. I blinked. Were their skulls changing shape, or were the shadows playing tricks on me?

The first sixie struggled to its feet. It reared up onto its back two legs. Turning slowly, it looked me right in the eyes, with a keenness it should not have possessed. Scrambling to my feet, I turned and ran like hell.

#

It took two years for the sixies to reproduce. Four years later, they had developed their own language. Nine years after that, they had their own religion (with allegorical tales of a creator goddess), their own government, and fledgling armed forces.

Along with their newfound cleverness, the sixies had developed empathy. They didn’t want war. They signed a treaty with Calyptra’s humans, dividing the planet’s habitable land between them. The humans didn’t have much choice in the matter, having established no military when they colonized a planet with no intelligent life and no natural predators.

Scientists traced the DNA mutations to a chocolate exposure somewhere within ten miles of the Umbra County Fairgrounds. They didn’t have a chance to narrow it down further before the treaty assigned that zone to the sixies.

By then, I was married, living on Lindstrand, and working in marketing for the chocolate company Cocoa Dreams. On my lunch break, I read the news with my jaw hanging open.

It couldn’t have been me. It just couldn’t.

Could it?

My phone rang.

“Hi, Zenie,” said my mom. “Your father and I have lost our jobs. The Sixies’ new medicinal plant factory drove ours out of business. We’re coming to live with you.”

#

My friends tried to talk me out of confessing. But, after fifty years, I had kept the secret long enough. It feels good to have unburdened my conscience.

Nebula, my lawyer, keeps talking about filing an appeal. But I feel a need to serve my time. What would I go home to, anyway? The kids are grown, my parents have passed on (thank goodness they never learned about this), and Nadir left me for a younger woman, the unoriginal bastard.

No, I believe I’ll stay here. It’s not so bad here at Lindstrand West Penitentiary. There are books to read and work to do (even if it’s just making license plates for starships). I’m housed in a wing with other women my age, and those dames’ stories are exceptionally entertaining. And all my needs are met: the commissary sells chocolate.

* * *

Last Flight

by Mikal Trimm

Death denies all reasonable claims.

There is no pre-boarding.

Youth does not sway his judgment,

Nor fatherhood nor motherhood nor

Childhood.

Those with special needs

Must wait their turn,

Same as the rest.

You will all fly

Coach.

Check your baggage at the gate,

Keep your complaints to yourself,

And don't let the door hit your

Astral body

On the way out.

Your one-way ticket

Will be punched.

If you look to the left, you will see

The Valley of the Shadow.

Too late.

You missed it.

In case of turbulence,

You will find your own

Sanctum Sanctorums

Where you may.

The smoking light

Is always

On.

Please place all seats

In supine position

And assume

The proper pose,

Hands crossed over chest.

If you are sitting near

Children

Please assist them with

Their final arrangements.

You are flying

Destiny Air.

Thank you for

Your patronage.

Requiescat in pace.

* * *

About the Creators

Jen Mierisch's dream job is to write Twilight Zone episodes, but until then, she's a website administrator by day and a writer of odd stories by night. Jen's work can be found in Horla, Dark Moments, Sanitarium, and numerous anthologies. Jen can be found haunting her local library near Chicago, USA.

Frankenstein monsters don't get enough genre love. How would you revive the Frankenstein trope in the 21st century?

Totally agree! I would write a sci-fi novel about people who are so bored with normal life, and eager for social media followers, that they compete to see how many pieces of other people they can add onto their own bodies. Skin swaps, toe transplants, borrowed bones, you name it. But one of them takes it too far and dies and has to be reanimated... and a certain "fringe" doctor is just the guy for the job....

If you had to sing the plea of humanity for continued survival, what would the chorus be and what existing melody would you use?

"I Wanna Crack You Up" (to the tune of Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up") - because humans may be supremely bad at a lot of things, but we're the funniest damn species on the planet. Maybe the aliens will spare us if we entertain them?

Mikal Trimm has sold over 50 short stories and 100 poems to numerous venues including
Postscripts, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. He’s also on
Facebook because he’s old, and that’s where old people congregate.

You've just discovered you're a zombie. As if they are in control, your legs take you to the local
Walmart, where no one seems to take notice of you because your rotting face is concealed by your
cheery Hello Kitty facemask. You're hungry. What do you do next?

Act inappropriately, make odd noises, scratch myself in various orifices, and bite some lady in
Hardware. You know, like all the other Walmart customers…

If you could rename any person, living or dead, in all record and memory, who would it be, and what
would their new name be?

I’d rename Attila the Hun as Attila the Hon, because most people don’t realize what a little sweetie-pie he
actually was.

About the Artist

Our very own D.R.R. Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and you can get a free copy of his janky retro JRPG, which was formerly on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.

Source images from Pixabay creators rauschenberger, Momentmal, and anaterate.

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