Introducing monsters

She sat across the room from the monster. There was an unsettling red glow coming from the small window, as if something once hot was dying.

She asked the monster how he’d managed that level of control. The monster told her he was good at lying. She asked the monster how he’d brought them here, this far, how he’d managed to persuade them. Charm, I guess, the monster said. They liked me. They did what I told them to. But didn’t it bother you, knowing what you knew? Why should it, he said? No-one cares. I didn’t care what happened to them. I needed a crew and I needed… What? She asked the monster. What did you need?

Meat.

The monster was left on his own. He sat there, in the room, in the cell, wondering if there was any escape. He sat perfectly still, eyes fixed on the bare grey wall ahead of him. There was no obvious way in which he was restrained, but his captors knew he couldn’t move, even if he wanted. The light from the small window above his head continued to burn weakly. Yet there were no shadows cast by his form, or by the table and chairs; the only items within the room. The monster thought about freedom, escaping, but had no idea how. He knew time was running out, and that if he didn’t free himself soon, he would die. He wondered if his captors had a plan to flee as well. Maybe they’d already gone and they’d left him here, rewarding his hubris with his fate.

He thought he’d been asleep, although his eyes had remained open. He was facing his keeper, although he had no memory of her return. I’m going to play you something, she told the monster. Play me something? I don’t understand. Call it evidence; call it…your accusation. He tried to shrug but physically couldn’t. The light in the room shifted slighted; the red glow hardened and an image appeared between them, hovering about 3 centimetres above the table top.

He remembered them instantly. They had left his home with him. How could he forget, even though they’d been dead for months. How did you…? He wanted to know how they had these images, but his jailor waved a hand and his mouth stopped working. You will no longer speak, monster, she said. Watch, she said. He watched. It was on his ship. On the bridge. He was working at the navigation controls, alone. He hadn’t heard them approach, but he had suddenly known that they were there. Helena and Joss. There was a conversation:

-We want to go home. Joss.

-We don’t think this is a good idea. Helena.

-Yes, we’ve all talked about it and we think it’s best for all of us if we turn round. Joss.

-Talked? The monster.

-Yes. Talked. Helena.

-And they sent you? The monster.

-Look. C’mon. People have gone missing. It’s a big ship, for sure, but people shouldn’t get lost, or…Someone said that we should be there by now. Someone said…Helena.

-Said what? The monster.

-Said…

Helena paused, looked at Joss. Was it doubt in her eyes? Nervousness? Fear?

-Said maybe you weren’t being honest with us. Joss.

-Home was dying. Everything was dying. The monster.

-Yes, but, maybe not yet? Joss.

The conversation was over. The monster watched the rest of the scene play out, while his captor watched him. He watched himself rise from his chair and walk the few steps to where the couple known as Helena and Joss were standing. They backed up and noticeably stiffened. In a swift and merciless graceful movement, he had grabbed Helena’s head a wrenched if off her shoulders, and while her lifeless body crumpled to the floor, span around and kicked Joss in the chest, knocking him off his feet into the wall. Blood and body parts decorated the walls of the command hub. He dropped the head as if it were nothing. Joss lay there unconscious, thankfully for him, as his end came when the monster’s foot came down and flattened his face to the floor.

She asked the monster if there was anything he’d like to add to the evidence. He couldn’t move and he couldn’t speak so he continued to stare at his accuser. There was nothing he could say. The scene matched his memory. That was how it happened. That was what needed to happen. He could still taste their flesh and he had continued to live, because they had died.

Didn’t you like them? She asked the monster? Didn’t you become their friends? Did you even mourn their deaths? The monster’s eyes remained blank.

She asked the monster how he knew? Knew what? The monster had the power of speech again. Heat death? The star? It’s not the star. Not just, anyway. Still didn’t answer my question, she said. It’s everything. Dying, said the monster. I just know. Somehow, I know. So where were you going, said the jailor. Where?, he thought. And then said: Black hole. Only hope. Only chance. Die anyway.

The monster had no concept of time any longer. It was meaningless. He was in blackness, or maybe they’d blinded him. He couldn’t feel any discomfort so he assumed they were still keeping him in whatever technology that was holding him in the illusion of a chair. He couldn’t remember being hungry or tired or thirsty and he had a vague recollection of what dreaming felt like. He thought he might like to feel something, some physical sensation, just one more time, before he died. Or an emotion even. They’d found him on the edge of the system, butchering a body, preparing it for storage. One minute he was carving strips of thigh meat and without warning, he was frozen, motionless, and they were in front of him and behind him, studying him with their tentacles and huge eyes on the end of prehensile stalks. Not one of them looked alike but if he were to guess, they were related on the generic level; same 8-fold body plan and bilateral symmetry, same iridescent skin, same mix of tentacles and limbs, just in varying combinations. If they hadn’t frozen him, his skin would have crawled with instinctive revulsion.

The monster was left alone as his captors abandoned the asteroid they’d been using as a mine. They had no hope of escape, but they tried. The monster’s binds remained as the star finally exploded. In the smallest instant, his skin was burned off his skeleton, which promptly melted, before the asteroid itself disintegrated. If he could’ve had a final thought, it might have been that at least he’d been the last human alive, as the universe died.

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