They came with the rains.
I had my suit on. Jane didn’t.
The turquoise sky just frosted over with clouds as quick as a finger snap, and the rains fell.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. To let her take her suit off. But she was desperate. You get that way sometimes. You just want to feel real air against your skin, the sun warming your hair. These tin cans can feel like a tomb and you just have to get out of your shell or you’ll go mad.
So I let her.
And now the rains are falling all around us, plinking off our suits with tinny clinks, and we just look at each other through our fishbowls.
There’s an ocean between us, but not a word comes to our lips.
By now, they’ve wriggled in through her pores, burrowed straight down through her flesh and into a vein, caught a ride on some hemoglobin up into the brain, and are feasting.
I watch her pupils swell till her eyes become black holes.
And then I run.
I’ve this mad notion that I can reverse this. That it’s not too late. That I can somehow use the ship’s equipment to suck the squiggling tadpoles out of her grey matter and there won’t be just swiss cheese left.
I pound across the cracked earth in my titanium suit, shouting into the COM to open the ship’s door. Shouting for help.
I mount a red dune with just a couple of strides. I cross a desert with a bound. When I mount the final hill, I see the ship is gone. Just its square prints are left in the red earth.
They’ve left us.
Left me to die at the hands of my deranged wife.
From what I know, the adult parasites burrow in and live symbiotically with the host; whilst it’s the juveniles that live in the clouds who are hell-bent on life and death. They fall down with the rains, land on a host, and send it on a rampage, killing everything it can get its hands on. Then the bodies in its murderous wake become more hosts for the rains. And on and on the cycle of life goes.
But the adults are solitary creatures. They’re known to consume any competition in the host. They even heal a host’s body, give it life, vitality, which is why the Imperium pays us top dollar to collect them.
If I could just…
“Bruce. Can you hear me?”
My heart stops.
“Bruce, my sweet, sweet love. Where are you?”
My startled gasp frosts the front of my fishbowl.
It’s her voice coming through the COM, her exact voice. But she can’t be. She’s infected. They’ve eaten away her brains. She shouldn’t be able to even speak.
“Bruce. Where are you, my sweet love? Talk to me baby. Tell me where you are?”
I spend the day hiding in a crevice, crying my eyes out and listening to her call for me.
That moment where I tell her it’s OK, that I’ll watch the skies while she sunbathes in her underwear, plays again and again in my mind.
And I see myself run, like a coward. I throw it all away and just run because I was scared.
That’s the most unbearable bit of it all. In a split second, I abandon her after twenty years of marriage.
“Bruce. I’m scared. Tell me where you are? I need you.”
A terrible cry surges up my throat. I bite down on my lips to stop it from spilling out. Tears make the rocky, desert landscape a wavering, liquid sea.
I was on a collecting crew one time where some idiot forgot to keep his gloves on. He went mad. He became a senseless killing machine. Took a shovel and smashed open the foreman’s fishbowl, then crushed his windpipe with his bare hands. Then he lifted a girl up by her legs and dashed her like a doll against a rock.
But Jane seems sane. It hasn’t affected her like it’s done to others. Perhaps what I’ve read isn’t completely true?
A pebble plinks off my fishbowl and I look up into the chink of day.
She’s high above, bent over the crevice and looking down at me. Her long brown hair has fallen forward and pooled in her fishbowl, her face just a furry mass.
“Bruce! There you are!”
And then she heaves down a fist-sized rock at me and I’ve no time to react.
It hits my fishbowl square with a resounding gong that nearly splits my head it two. The world seems to separate and then come back together.
Cracks spread across my fishbowl, and there is a soft hiss as the outside pressure equalizes.
I can taste the planet’s air now, it’s arid and sweet.
And I run.