Idols

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Science Fiction


A group of human astronauts discovers two alien races. Sequel to UNTIL IT'S GONE, SCARLET BEAST, and ICHTHYS. Continues in WHEN MUSES DIE, FORWARD TO THE PAST, and DEUS EX NARNIA.

Submitted: January 03, 2018

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Submitted: January 03, 2018

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In the year 2120 AD, declining loyalty to any of the Earth’s three superpowers – United States of Democratic West, the Caliphate, and China – an independent organization known as “Ichthys” emerged. Its members took control of four spaceships and left the Earth in the early spring of 2121, shortly before the planet became engulfed in a devastating three-way nuclear war.

The captains of the four ships targeted four different known planets.

Jack Lewis piloted a ship with a crew of seventeen people to the closest exoplanet, Proxima Centauri b. Eight years later, the spacecraft landed without casualties, and humans came into first contact with an alien race, the Nsheos.

Jacob Oduya ventured, together with nine others, towards the slightly more remote Alpha Centauri bc in the same triple star system. Scarcity of resources on the uninhabited planet led to mutiny, suicides, and murders among the crew members.

Priya Xu navigated the largest ship, carrying thirty-nine people and various animals, in the direction of the only habitable planet of the star Wolf 359. The ship crash-landed on the planet, killing everyone onboard, with the exception of two dogs.

Alexei Men was in charge of a crew of four people onboard the smallest and fastest spaceship, IS Voznesenye, on its way towards a tiny satellite orbiting a gas giant near the red dwarf Lalande 21195, the farthest of the four.

 

2149 AD

The spaceship plunged heavily into the sand, like a gigantic bug trying to burrow its way into the heart of the planet. An alarm howled languidly, stifled and muffled – and stopped as abruptly as it had started. The humans inside the ship, pale and terrified, frantically gripping the scarce furniture until their knuckles turned white, or cowering behind the imposing mass of the navigation console, exchanged quick glances, their fear gradually giving way to hope.

“We made it.” Captain Alexei Men’s voice was hoarse and unsteady.

Olga Tingeeva crossed herself.

They laughed, color returning to their cheeks, prying away their cold, sweaty fingers from armchair backs and cryogenic chamber hatches, leaving the shadows of their shelter, stepping into the welcoming light.

“Phew! That was a close one.” Dr. Nils Kumar shook his large bald head.

“Does anyone own an extra pair of underwear?” Kazuhiro Montag grimaced.

The laughter was forced, and exhaustion started creeping in. They had spent the last few hours in the tumult of a malfunctioning spacecraft about to crash onto the surface of the planet. At the last moment, the emergency system had leaped to life, stabilizing the descent and safely landing the ship between two large dunes of hard, greenish sand.

“Is everyone alright?” The Captain looked around.

“Mechanic Kazuhiro Montag, reporting for duty!” Montag jumped up and blew at the fringe of jet black, curly hair descending onto his forehead.

Olga knelt in front of a golden icon of the Christ, tears welling in her almond-shaped eyes.

“Communication officer Ayelet Livni.” A tall, bony woman with a stern expression on her long face stepped out from behind a spacesuit stand.

“We’re all alive. We made it… We're on another planet!” Dr. Kumar’s dark, rugged face shone with childlike enthusiasm.

“More than eight light-years away from home.” Alexei Men smiled. “And we’ve made this distance in only twenty-eight years. Twenty-eight short, frozen years…” He coughed and looked at his crew members as they gathered around the central recreational area, hugging each other, smiling, and sitting down on the soft couches.

“What are we waiting for?” Montag’s boisterous tone cut through the pensive silence. “Let’s get out there and see if there are aliens or something… What does our astrophysicist say about the atmosphere and stuff? Or is she still praying?”

“The astrophysicist has some information.” Olga was already working with her iDevice, conjuring a net of holograms. “As we know, this is technically not a real planet, but a satellite of a gas giant, to which it is tidally locked. It’s terrestrial, with a mean radius of 0.155 Earths – very small, smaller than the Moon. Five sixths of it is covered by an ocean. The atmosphere is uncommonly thick, but with only 9% oxygen. Outside temperature is currently close to 265 K.”

“Can there be aliens?” Montag made a move towards the spacesuit stands.

“What do you think?” Dr. Kumar suddenly pointed towards the main porthole with a shaky finger.

They froze.

Two faces were staring at them.

Both faces were growing from the same neck – oblong, purple, and glistening, like a mutant eggplant. The neck was pulsating, seemingly sending energy waves to a grotesque, monstrous body with a chaotic growth of irregular, asymmetrical appendages – a pastiche of Salvador Dalí’s wildest dreams with a touch of Hieronymus Bosch’s intimidating lucidity. But the worst were the faces themselves – each an Argus Panoptes, a kaleidoscope of colorful rhomboid eyes adorned with wobbly, dangling reddish objects, which eerily resembled human internal organs.

“Holy –” Montag stood still, unable to avert his gaze.

The creature suddenly turned around and sauntered away from the spaceship, leisurely strolling through the sand on multiple feet. In a minute it disappeared behind a large dune.

Without exchanging a word, the astronauts hastily put on their spacesuits. The Captain took a plasma rifle, while the others armed themselves with ordinary laser blasters. They left the spaceship and hurried towards the dune, staggering and performing extravagant leaps.

Thick, leaden clouds hung in the air, sometimes drifting apart to reveal what the humans perceived as a gigantic brown moon, but in reality was a planet towering over its tiny satellite. Scarlet rays of the local sun penetrated the dense fog. Isolated patches of bizarre black vegetation emerged throughout the desert, and in the horizon one could distinguish the silky surface of the great ocean.

They climbed onto the largest dune, easily bouncing off the hard pebbles. What they saw there made them freeze in terror.

In a spacious valley surrounded by charcoal black bushes, a group of aliens gathered around a colossal stone statue. It had a snake-like body, yet its head was akin to a primitive, childish sketch of a terrestrial animal – two round eyes, no nose, a square mouth, and several horns protruding from its sides.

Bowing to the statue, shaking in what appeared to be ecstasy, the aliens then walked towards a large container on the outer rim of the valley, took small pink creatures out of it, carried them back to the idol, and, with swift and precise movements, tore them apart, throwing flesh and pouring blood at the base of the idol’s tail.

Using the binocular function of their iDevices, the astronauts could clearly see that each small creature consisted out of a head sitting on a foot-like appendage with multiple digits. Their skin was pink and completely bare, and their faces bore an uncanny resemblance to those of human babies.

“Oh my God!” Olga’s lips were trembling. “We have to stop them. We have to do something!”

“Those poor, helpless creatures...” Montag shook his head. “Come on, guys! Let’s teach the bastards a lesson.” He raised his blaster and stepped forward.

“Wait a minute.” Ayelet blocked his way, frowning. “Why do you want to interfere? Do you even know what is happening out there? These are aliens. They might have a completely different culture, completely different customs –”

“Culture? Are you out of your mind? They are sacrificing babies, for Pete’s sake!” Montag turned to the others. “Captain, what do you say?”

“We have to interfere.” Alexei Men was looking straight at Ayelet. “They are clearly killing the small ones. It does look like a sacrifice.”

“I can’t believe this.” Ayelet’s horse-like face expressed cold contempt. “We are intruders. We come to their planet out of nowhere. And you want to interrupt a possible religious ritual – or maybe just a dinner, who knows? Use force at the very first opportunity, instead of establishing contact –”

“This is not a dinner!” Olga said angrily. “And if it’s a religious ritual, it’s a bloody pagan one –”

“Of course.” Ayelet grinned sarcastically. “You are the mighty Christian, Olga, you alone know what’s right and wrong, you are fit to judge the entire world –”

“Enough!” There was steel in the Captain’s voice. “We escape from a war-torn Earth, spend twenty-eight years frozen on a spaceship, safely land on an alien planet – and the first thing we do is fight each other? Is that what we’ve come to?”

“Right you are, Captain,” Montag said quietly. “But we need to do something here. I mean, if we just stand there and sing kumbaya, then Ayelet has won.”

“Oh, now I’m the enemy.” Ayelet laughed bitterly. “Always blame it on the Jews, eh, Kaz?”

“What the fuck is wrong with you, lady?” Montag’s face was visibly red behind the glass of his helmet. “And who the fuck are you? I’ll do what the Captain says –”

“The Captain says we go and demand them to stop.” Alexei’s voice was firm. “We try to avoid bloodshed… or shedding whatever liquid they have in their bodies.”

“Aye, aye,” Montag muttered impatiently and jumped down into the valley. The Captain, Olga, and Dr. Kumar followed.

The aliens paid almost no attention to the humans. They continued to walk about, bowing to their idol, extracting more pink baby-like creatures from the container, and methodically slaughtering them. The ground all around the statue was drenched in blood, and heaps of flesh began to accumulate near its tail. There were about twenty aliens in the valley, and only two of them interrupted their routine to stand in front of the astronauts for a few moments and exchange what looked like curious glances with their multitude of eyes.

“Hey, you bloody beasts!” Montag’s voice was quivering with indignation. “Let them go! You!” He half-pushed the alien closest to him and showed him his blaster. “You see this? This make bad. I shoot – bang! – you bad. So you drop it. Drop! On the ground!”

The face of the baby-like creature was distorted in a grimace. It had no nose, and its eyes were completely gray, without any noticeable irises or pupils, but its expression conveyed pain and misery in a shockingly human-like way. Alexei rushed forward and tried to pry it away from the alien’s many appendages. The alien reacted by extending a few of them, circling around the Captain, and lightly touching his lower back.

“What… Is he patting you on the butt, Captain?” Dr. Kumar covered his face, suppressing a giggle.

“This is not funny!” Tears were flowing from Olga’s eyes. “They keep killing them… Do something!”

Alexei managed to take the small creature away from the alien, and was holding it in his hands. Some of the other aliens dropped their burdens and started slowly advancing towards the humans. The one closest to the Captain opened one of his mouths, and produced a series of gargling and hissing sounds:

“Glrzz… Ksssstz…. Hhhyrrrgt…”

Montag hit the alien hard across one of its faces. It stumbled, dropped the sacrifice, and stood still, its neck pulsating faster and faster, making its body change its natural silvery color to a venomous yellow. It began to talk rapidly, in a monotonous drone.

“That’s what you get for killing babies.” The mechanic wanted to spit on the ground, but remembered that there was a full face helmet on his head.

“Kaz, they may not be babies… at least not in our human sense,” Alexei said quietly. “They might be animals. You are enraged because they look like human babies. Let’s try to communicate with them. Let’s not get too emotionally involved –”

“Well, I’m sorry, Captain, I am emotionally involved.” Montag lowered his head. “And what are you waiting for? Where the hell is Ayelet?”

Alexei activated the Advanced Siri function on his iDevice.

“Translate,” he ordered, coming closer to the mumbling alien and the babbling “baby”.

“Good afternoon, Alyosha.” A husky female voice came out of the iDevice. “Two languages detected. I am terribly sorry. The languages are not registered in my catalogue of 7,948 languages. Possible lexical similarities to Proto-North-Caucasian may be accidental, otherwise a valid translation would suggest ‘Cabbage needs to vehemently subdue speaker of urine.’ Would you like to drink a large cup of soy cappuccino and stream the Lord of the Rings trilogy from your vintage movie collection?”

“Bloody useless,” Montag muttered. “But at least now we know that they are both sentient. None of them are animals. Let’s just take the poor little fellows away from them and –”

At that moment, the nearby alien emitted a piercing shriek. Almost instantly, the others sprinted towards the container and, within a few seconds, hacked the pink creatures to pieces with their sharp appendages.

“Noooo!” Olga fell on her knees.

“Motherfuckers!” Montag roared. “That’s it! This is going to be the death of you all!”

The Captain and Dr. Kumar aimed their blasters at the aliens.

Ayelet jumped down from the dune, pointing her weapon at the Captain.

“Drop your weapons, or I’ll kill him!” she shouted.

“You fucking bitch… Fucking traitor…” Montag was breathing heavily.

“Ayelet, drop your gun,” Alexei said quietly.

“Do you want to start a genocide, Captain?” There were tears in Ayelet’s voice. “After everything that happened… back there? Is Earth not enough? You want more killing? More death? More suffering? Is that what you want, Captain?”

The aliens began to rub the blood of the tiny baby-like creatures on their faces and bodies. A few of them took pieces of flesh and started juggling them with their multiple hands.

Montag directed a laser ray at the aliens, killing two of them instantly. Ayelet fired at the mechanic, missing the target. The next shot from Montag’s blaster blew the woman’s head off. Blood and brain matter soiled the Captain’s pristine white spacesuit.

Dr. Kumar tried to grab Montag’s elbow, but the mechanic savagely kicked him in the groin and proceeded to shoot at the aliens, his finger glued to the trigger. More dead bodies joined the landscape. Squealing and hissing, three or four remaining survivors sprinted away from the valley, in the direction of the ocean.

“Let’s get them!” Montag bellowed, raising his blaster and firing into the clouds.

Olga tackled him, and they both fell down, their helmets touching each other with a clank.

“You too…” The mechanic wheezed, using his weight to pin the woman to the ground. “Traitor… You have no compassion… You want to kill babies… You deserve to die…” He pointed the blaster at her.

The Captain fired. A bolt of plasma incinerated Montag. Flames consumed his flesh greedily, while Dr. Kumar pulled the screaming Olga away.

“Olga! Olga!” Alexei ran over to the two others. “Are you alright?”

“The fire…” Olga mumbled, smiling faintly. “A lake that burns… with fire and brimstone…”

“Olga, you need help.” The Captain’s voice was shaking badly.

Large tears were flowing down Dr. Kumar’s flabby cheeks.

“It can’t be happening!” he sobbed. “It can’t be happening!”

“Come on, Nils! Be a man!” Alexei’s brown eyes were sparkling. “They are dead. There is nothing we can do here. Let’s get Olga back to the ship.”

“It’s him,” Dr. Kumar whispered, his eyes wide with fear, pointing at the statue of the idol. “It’s him… He makes us act this way. He destroys us. He curses us –”

“Shut up! Help me here, will you? I can’t –” The Captain stopped, alerted by a strange noise.

Using its only foot to attach itself to the ground, one of the tiny pink baby-like creatures, having miraculously survived the massacre, was hopping towards the humans, uttering pitiful gurgling sounds.

“Oh my, he’s so cute…” Dr. Kumar shook his large head and sniffled.

Alexei carefully took the little creature and put it into one of his spacesuit pockets. Dr. Kumar wiped off his tears and helped the Captain carry the semiconscious Olga back into the spaceship. They knew they had to return to the valley and bury Montag and Ayelet, but neither one of them was ready to do that yet.

Dr. Kumar spent the rest of the day performing tests on the pink alien in the laboratory. When he came out, his eyes shone with quiet fervor. He motioned the Captain to the sofa in the recreational area.

“Alyosha,” he spoke calmly. “Do you know why we age?”

“Err… Cellular senescence? Mitochondrial DNA damage?” The Captain looked exhausted. “Why do you ask? You know I’m not a biologist.”

“Ah, you don’t need to be one to get what I’m about to tell you.” Dr. Kumar waved his hand. “Those were the old theories, yes. And they are all true. That’s not the point. The point is – well, we need to think larger. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of inverted Werner’s syndrome –”

“Is that the hypothesis of artificial gene mutation?”

“Bingo.” The doctor pointed a thick finger at the Captain. “It was impossible with the old genetic engineering technique, because we are talking about some serious reprogramming here. But with the gene transplantation technology nowadays, the practical realization of that would be a piece of cake. Basically, all we need to do is extract genes from an animal that doesn’t age. The problem is, none of such known animals was even remotely compatible with the human being genetically. I mean, we can’t just absorb a genetic code from a hydra.”

“Did you say ‘was’, Nils?” The Captain frowned.

“Ahh, there you go.” Dr. Kumar smiled and waved his finger playfully. “I just spent hours with that tiny fellow. It’s a good thing we have the equipment onboard.” He leaned over and whispered, his eyes wide open with excitement: “Alyosha, these guys are essentially immortal. I mean, of course they can be killed, like we saw earlier. But their genome… it’s amazing. Natural DNA damage reduced to a negligible minimum. And the best part is – they are genetically the closest thing to human beings after –”

“What’s the point of this, Nils?” The Captain rose. “You want to take their genes and, what, achieve eternal youth?”

“Something like that. Or at least a very long life. Which we’ll really need, seeing as there are only three of us left on this planet –”

“But won’t they die in the process?”

“Well… of course. Yes, they will. We aren’t talking about extracting a tooth here, you know.”

“So that’s your plan? Kill them to make the three of us young?”

“Not just the three of us.” Dr. Kumar spread his hands. “We’ll have kids… I mean, not you and I. You and Olga.”

Alexei started to laugh.

“Are you alright?” Dr. Kumar stood up. “You need to get some sleep… After everything that happened –”

The Captain grabbed the doctor by the collar of his shirt.

“Maybe you were right about that idol in the valley cursing us all.” He spoke with clenched teeth, grimacing. “You are out of your mind. I won’t let you do that, so help me God. We didn’t come here to commit genocide.”

“I always thought that your religious scruples prevented you from becoming a first-rate scientist.” Dr. Kumar spoke coldly. “Now I know it for a fact. It’s a good thing that I’ve foreseen that.” He produced a small old-fashioned gun from the pocket of his lab coat and pointed it at the Captain. “Just stay out of the way, Alyosha, and nobody will get hurt.”

Alexei threw his head back and headbutted Dr. Kumar’s face with force. Blood gushed out of the doctor’s nose. He lurched to the side and fired. The bullet grazed the tip of the Captain’s head, but in the next instant, three laser rays penetrated Dr. Kumar’s body, turning him into an unrecognizable pile of flesh and bones.

Olga dropped the blaster on the ground and collapsed.

“Olga! I’m sorry! He was about to kill me… I’m unarmed. There was nothing you could have done...” There was despair in Alexei’s voice.

“It’s alright.” Olga closed her eyes and smiled.

“Come on, let’s get you back to bed, you haven’t recovered yet.” He tried to lift her.

“Don’t bother, Alyosha.” She pushed him away gently and spoke in a feeble voice. “I’m glad I could save your life. Though it doesn’t matter. I heard what Nils said about the genes… It’s not that. We die because we have to die. You’re a Christian, Alyosha, how come you don’t see that? We’re being punished. Our sins stink… weep and wail to heaven… That’s where we end up. Fire and brimstone… That’s what He created us for. You get it? We live only so that we can die… eternally. So why bother?”

“Olga, stop this madness! It’s the idol out there… It’s affecting you!”

“Out there? Or in here…” Olga whispered, putting her hand on her chest. Her body stiffened.

“Olga… Olga!” Alexei felt her pulse.

She was dead.

The Captain was alone.

He slowly rose and walked out of the ship, without putting on his spacesuit. He thought of the idol and the way it had cursed his crew, dooming them all to madness and death. But he, Alexei Men, was different. He was still alive. He was in full control. He wouldn’t let a stupid statue change him. He was a rational human being, a believer, a Christian. God was protecting him. God chose him among all human beings, him alone, for this mission. Here he would ascend to divinity. He should call this planet “Voznesenye”, ascension. With wisdom and dignity, he would rule those pathetic creatures, destroy their powerless idol, and become their god. He would justly award those that obey him, and subject dissenters to unspeakable tortures, so that they shall know his power, his wrath, his 

He woke up in cold sweat.

He was in the spaceship.

Outside, thousands of stars were gazing at him, twinkling in the black sky.

“Where… What –” He sat up.

“Captain, you all right?” Kazuhiro Montag walked past him, dragging a toolbox.

“Our Captain had too many Bloody Maries yesterday.” Dr. Nils Kumar squinted at a bacterial culture inside a glass vial. “I should take that back to the lab...”

Alexei’s face was pale.

“Captain, seriously, drink some sour cucumber broth.” Olga Tineeva laughed melodically. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that old Russian cure against hangover.”

“Yup, the Captain can’t hold his liquor.” Ayelet Livni smiled. “And apparently twenty-eight years in the cryogenic chamber was not enough sleep for him.”

Everybody laughed.

“Come on, Alyosha.” Olga took his hand. “Say your prayers. With God's help, we will land tomorrow.”

 

THE END


© Copyright 2018 Oleg Roschin. All rights reserved.

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