With delicate care, Henniver landed his space craft in the parking lot on the western edge of the Twilight Belt of Mercury. Carefully but absently, he adjusted his space suit, making sure he put in two fresh oxygen tanks, and zipped, latched and wrapped his suit, finally attaching the helmet. With a harsh little flip, he opened the hatch, and descended the little ladder into the crepuscular air.
He stood still for a moment in the parking lot of spacecraft. Henniver closed the hatch with his clicker key, locking it. For a moment he regarded his vehicle; it was small and cheap, and he’d worked for five years in the harmonium mine to afford it. He put the key in his inside pocket, undoing his spacesuit to access his jeans. With the same distracted care, he put the spacesuit back together again, checking it twice.
Henniver’s lips were a hard thin line, and he touched his ray gun with a certain cold satisfaction. He imagined Zookie’s insouciant grin erased forever through force of laser burns and the thought brought a certain satisfaction to Henniver’s heart, making his blood run hot and his heart beat loudly in his ears.
Zookie must die! he thought to himself, and consulted his trackerscreen. Zookie was on the western half of the Twilight Belt, about seven kilometers away from this spacecraft parking lot. According to the trackerscreen readout, Zookie had fled to the Darkside. Mercury! thought Henniver; of all places to run, Mercury. Strip-mall of the universe, sleaziest planet there is. Nothing here but bad burger joints, Uranian dice and hookers. On the Twilight Belt everything goes and nothing matters. The local girls watched Henniver orient himself clumsily in his full spacesuit.
“What you want spaceman? Want to spend some time with us?” they cried in a chorus with their colorful wigs, big nails and garishly painted faces bare in the dry Mercurial air. Uranian jazz played somewhere in the distance with its compelling rhythms and atonal melodies.
“Zookie’s going to die!” screamed Henniver, red faced. The girls slithered away, taking cover in a burger joint made of extruded plastic in the shape of a monstrous ice-cream sundae. There they watched him nervously as he strode down the boardwalk, so clearly all rough and no trade, bad business.
Zookie…thought Henniver remembering the day he came home and heard him and Julia making love, screaming in ecstasy. Shortly afterwards she had become addicted to rekt, the latest space drug. Zookie was always carrying, and what else was there to do in the endless expanse of the old suburb? Henniver remembered cleaning up Julia’s vomit, of sympathetically listening to her complain about her hangovers and fraught feelings and of finally finding her pale blue body after she overdosed on a deadly combo of rekt and Uranian spilanthes. That was three days ago. It was he, Henniver, who had stayed with her, who hadn’t left her, who had…loved her.
As he walked through the Twilight Belt, it became increasingly dark, cold and sleazy. The buildings more rundown, the prostitutes uglier in faux furs and headdresses to protect against the cold. Henniver followed Zookie on the trackerscreen. He felt his face burning red, he remembered the shame he had felt as his friends mocked his forbearance, of how Julia had always been taking money right out of his account to give Zookie for drugs, and how the mockery turned into exile after Julia died. His old friends had abandoned him, but why? It made no sense to Henniver. Was it because they too were snorting rekt with Zookie? That they were embarrassed by Henniver’s integrity? They couldn’t respect a man who let his woman get away with all of that?
No matter, thought Henniver, my entire life I’ve done what’s been expected me. The only thing that has been unexpected has been how well I played my part, how slavishly I followed the script. Well what script is this? I may not have my dreams, but I will have my revenge!
He could see Zookie’s blue eyes, his ruddy face, his little lithe body. He saw the easy smile that Zookie wore and his ready laugh that made everyone happy. And then Henniver saw Zookie’s beautiful body covered with laser burns, his space suit cut open to let in the frigid air, just a few degrees below absolute zero, his body freeze-dried in a flash. For Zookie had fled to Mercury of all places, the land of extremes. The Brightside forever hot enough to boil led, and the Darkside forever cold as deep space. Only in the Twilight zone did you see the fast food joints and painted easy women, the slot machines and the gaudy good time boys. Henniver smiled grimly to himself in spite of his vigilance; of course Zookie comes here, he knows it’s the last place in the universe someone as uptight as me would dare to venture.
Henniver followed the flashing of the trackerscreen. Five kilometers away was the red dot he pursued flashing on the screen, as he walked deeper and deeper into the Darkside. Henniver didn’t think of himself as religious, or superstitious, but he was afraid of the Darkside. There were those persistent rumors of people disappearing there, of spacecraft going missing…the Darkside was a place where things got lost, and according to the old legends, where lost things were found. Zookie had gotten lost real fast after Henniver had thrashed him, still daring to come into his house and snort rekt with Henniver’s old friends, even in the days after Julia’s overdose. One day Henniver snapped, Zookie was laughing real loud at some dumb joke in the other room, and Henniver had kicked down the door where the little party was listening to Uranian jazz and bumping rekt. Zookie’s faced blanched as Henniver grabbed the little addict by his hair and began hitting him hard, again and again, right in the face and then dragging Zookie’s limp, beautiful body by his golden curls down the stairs. Henniver had put Zookie’s head right there on the chopping block by the wood shed, and gone to grab the axe, blind with fury, seeing red, and sometime between when Henniver had stepped away to the shed and returned in incandescent rage Zookie had…disappeared, without a trace.
As the surroundings grew increasingly dark, Henniver turned on his headlight, with its pale ghostly green tinted LED. He swept it down on the cold, pale gray rocks and followed the trackerscreen, flashing. Now only four kilometers separated him from his prey.
Bless Gwanice’s heart, thought Henniver, who had managed to slip a nanotracker into Zookie’s skin the night before last, while he was in the Prime Numbers bar, his face bruised and bloodied, talking loud and stupid, passing the pale blue powder of rekt around the table. Late in the night, Gwanice had taken the nanotracker on her finger and then poked Zookie in the face with it while he was drunk and half asleep leaning against the bar, talking slack. She poked him real hard and the little bead entered his forehead and burrowed into his skin as it was designed. Zookie muttered and swatted. And that was that. Gwanice gave Henniver the accompanying trackerscreen the next night.
“I hope you kill him. Kill him for Julia and kill him for being such a jackass,” she told Henniver and Henniver smiled coldly.
“Thank you Gwanice,” he put the trackerscreen into his pocket, and then looked at her with a simian grin, “but I reckon that I’m going to kill him for me.”
And before either of them had thought about it they were mouth to mouth, hands tearing at each other’s clothing, naked and Henniver was holding Gwanice in his enormous arms, strong from working in the harmonium mines, holding her, her legs wrapped around him while they fornicated harshly, hard, screaming and scratching, making not the sweet, funny faces of love, but the ugly faces of hate.
Afterwards they drank whiskey and smoked cigarettes and talked about nothing in particular, and now, walking into the Darkside of Mercury so far from Earth, Henniver thought with titillating shame, how much more he had enjoyed Gwanice over Julia, how with Julia it had been little pets and soft tickles and pecks, whereas with Gwanice it had been two roaring demons at each others’ throats. In the morning, she had begged him to return and Henniver had flicked the cigarette he was smoking onto her lawn, winked and boarded his spacecraft. Henniver didn’t think of himself as a smoker, but remembering last night with Gwanice how he wished that he could smoke a cigarette while he searched out Zookie, smoke curling around his face as he had his revenge. Three kilometers, flashed the tracker screen.
Henniver stumbled on the uneven ground of Mercury, the great darkness that seemed to diminish the feeble light of his LED, the lack of reflectivity of the stones, the sand and gravel on submerged monoliths. He half looked at the trackerscreen and half towards his feet, telling himself, his heart racing, sweat pouring down his face, that if he tripped and tore a hole in his suit…well, that would be lights out, game over. It was only too easy to die stupid and hasty on the Darkside. Henniver involuntarily shuddered, remembering the images of the bodies in satellite orbit, the people who had gotten thrown from the al-Azoz satellite after its windows broke, the dead mummy faces on the after-dinner news.
Henniver’s dim LED lamp caught the sight of something that looked different than the grey pebbles and craggy stones off about four meters to his left. Curious in spite of himself he looked, and there was the bent body of a painted girl in a faux-fur coat, her blowsy face stuck in an expression of fear, agony, and hate, laser burns running across her naked chest. Henniver had never seen laser burns like this before; he shuddered at the blistered, scorched flesh, and the frozen expression the girl gave now. Someone killed her in the Twilight Belt and carried her body here to avoid detection, thought Henniver; cheaper than paying her I reckon, he thought, and then blushed at his own cynicism. I wonder how long she’s been out here. Could be fifteen minutes or five hundred years... He trudged on, feeling sick to his stomach, struggling to avoid vomiting in the space suit.
Henniver had been saving his money to buy a little farm where he and Julia could settle down, pup a few brats. Land was cheap around the Moons of Jupiter, rich and fertile and produced enormous apples, peas, turnips, and sugar beets. They could have led a simple life, contributed to the betterment of the human project of the universe. He had once possessed a beautiful dream, and it was a dream and he had seen it collapse into scorched ruins in a moment. Henniver could take a lot, he had survived more than he wanted to remember, but having his dreams wrenched from his heart was more than he could take. He took his money out of the bank and bought a spaceship, a little economy one on the cheap side. Then he went into the gun store and bought the most powerful ray gun they had. He regretted that he would have to kill Zookie in such a cold, silent and unforgiving landscape. He had look forward, with a certain bragging satisfaction, to the smell of Zookie’s burning flesh and the sound of his screams.
Onwards he walked, in his bulky space suit, a mere two kilometers from his prey. Henniver involuntarily remembered when the Martians had invaded Earth before the Johnson administration managed to patch together a global dictatorship, strong enough to forcefully repulse the Tharks. The Tharks were despised with their senseless killings and evil laughter. So different from humans, more than anything these giant green tusked men of Mars seemed to enjoy the hot thrill of hatred. Henniver remembered the propaganda movies of Tharks, faces bent in malevolent sneers, splitting open chests with their tusks, and eating the still beating hearts from their human victims, laughing all the while. Henniver wished that he could do the same to Zookie. Stab some nails through Zookie’s beautiful hands and feet and carefully expose his beating heart to sharp teeth, Henniver imagined the fearful whimpering and malicious laughter as Zookie’s exposed heart trembled in terror. Henniver paused in this brutal reverie and thought; who am I becoming? And with strained restraint, Henniver resolved to tone down his enthusiasms; I’ll give him a merciful death Henniver thought, bloodlessly and milquetoast, no torture, no unnecessary pain, no frills. This lack passionless scheming made him feel somehow even worse, more coldblooded and plotting.
And so now, gaining ground, Henniver decided not to think any more about the details. He redoubled his resolve to kill Zookie, while trying to quiet any protesting inner voice. Who was he becoming? Henniver wondered seriously, his temples pounding. He wasn’t a smoker, he didn’t sleep with women like Gwanice, he didn’t fantasize about killing his enemies like a bloody Thark…No, he was in the right, he was good. Best not dwell on it…but as he thought about not thinking his thoughts gained more traction in his fevered brain.
Henniver came to a sloping depression that led into the depths of Mercury; the trackerscreen indicated clearly that his prey was somewhere in the depths, and so he cautiously walked down the slope, trying to avoid slipping. He continued downward into a darkness so great that his very soul began to quiver, and his heart beat like an alarm clock against his ribs. He went down and had to twist around great rocks, several times almost skidding on loose pea-gravel. As he walked, he saw a white light in the distance. It looked like a great fluorescent light. Henniver turned off his head lamp and grabbed his ray gun and though, it’s go time! And rushed towards the light.
What he saw took his break away; shelves and piles, and great heaps of every last little thing. Here were keys of every sort, and here were hair pins, and there were coins from the bottom of the sea and from underneath the couch in a thousand climes. Figurines, and statuettes, statues, every toy, cutlery and pots of pans, pets of every species, children, elders, and madmen. Houses, cities and entire cultures. Raving minds were next to dancing gossamer dreams like mirages in the desert, which were on shelves below ancient heroic ideals and forgotten myths. The place of lost things, thought Henniver suddenly cold, as he walked down aisles, seeing disposed gods and drowned collective imaginings, right next to souls screaming in their bottles; he walked around in a daze; how do I get out of here he thought until he walked into the dead prostitute he had seen not an hour prior, she looked happy and young and was holding hands with Julia. Julia was happy and laughing, she mouthed words Henniver couldn’t understand, pointing. Henniver’s eyes followed her finger and he saw…himself. He saw himself, big and strong, decent and happy like he was just a week ago. He saw someone sweet and innocent who would never dream of killing someone, never dream of hurting anything.
Involuntarily he dropped the trackerscreen and dropped the ray gun. His old self picked them up and handed them back to him: look said his old self pointing, look at the trackerscreen. Henniver did and saw he had found Zookie, and he looked down and there was Zookie, his face still bruised and swollen and two black eyes, in a cheaply made spacesuit, hastily assembled, cracked along the side. It seemed that while running Zookie had tripped and fallen, breaking the seal of his suit and that had been lights out, game over. Zookie stared up at Henniver with dumb dead eyes, and Henniver stood there, cold sweat pouring down his face, a huge sense of relaxation sweeping his body. He blinked, and he was no longer standing in the place of all lost things that seemed so real for a moment ago. Now he was standing over the very real dead body of Zookie, who had died in his own dumb escape, his luck running out. Not knowing what else to do, Henniver picked up a handful of pebbles and threw them over Zookie’s body.
“Rest in peace,” said Henniver, before he dialed the reverse function on the trackerscreen, walking slowly back across the dark, featureless landscape. As he trudged the five kilometers back to the Twilight Belt, he felt an enormous sense of relief; it would probably be years before anyone found Zookie’s body, and Zookie wasn’t the sort of person who inspired a lot of questions on the part of a mortician or detective.
Still, another shadowy question followed Henniver as he walked; I may not have killed Zookie, at least not directly, but have I killed a part of myself? The more he tried not to think of the look of his own eyes while he started at himself in the place of lost things, the more he thought that perhaps he was indeed somehow inwardly dead, lost to himself.
He returned to the twilight zone, and realized that he had lost his ray gun somewhere in the Darkside. A cold sweat of paranoia suffused anew over his skin; the Johnson dictatorship, the prison camps, the torture rooms, his ray gun somewhere on the Darkside; had he just signed his death warrant? Henniver took off his helmet and deeply inhaled the dusty aromatic air of the Twilight Belt. He forced himself to find the key and with a shaking hand opened the door to his space craft. He forced himself up the ladder into the cockpit, and after closing the hatch he set his course to Gwanice’s house with a smile and took off.
Well, he thought, sometimes lost things are found. Henniver leaned back in the black leather cockpit chair as his craft raced towards the small blue point in space that he called home. Maybe I am not dead to myself, maybe my innocence hasn’t been murdered...Maybe, he thought, exhausted from his travails, hurtling rapidly towards Earth, towards Gwanice, knowing in his gut that something very important had been decided.