You can read Part 1 of the story here.
The night before, he’d dined on Draquavorian.
Alien carcass, ripped from the corpse of an eight-foot, green-grey tripedal creature with seventeen eyes and a tail. Draquar, the being’s home planet, was approximately 3.4 light years away from Terra Magnus, which meant that it’s body had been taken on an extremely long trip to arrive at whatever subterranean warehouse he’d been dismembered at. After a good chopping up into a few hundred pieces, a shipment vehicle to La Barbarosa, and storage in a freezer, the entity that had been this lone Dracquavorian had transformed into something more essential, more pure, and more eternal: the single most powerful drug William had ever taken.
Holding it in his hand, playing with it between his fingers, brought fragments of his memories back in bursts.
Pink lights and screeching, music from the mind of someone removed from humanity.
Bone-rattling vibrations and guttural, orgasmic thrill.
Fourteen blue suns spinning arrhythmically inside of his skull.
A massive white room painted in euphoria.
There were three rules to membership at The Exhibit, and one unwritten law:
- Admitted by passcode, bio-verification, and pre-exposure screening only.
- No communication on The Exhibit, its facilities, or its members allowed.
- Any and all take-home portions to be purchased via four-factor E-Coin transaction.
- Display proper respect for the sacrifice
These four guiding codes, these laws, were the foundational truths of the organization he’d joined only a few months prior. Located three stories under a mysteriously-purchased warehouse on the long-abandoned Camino Pier, one could only reach The Exhibit through reference and critical examination. From his first introduction to the recruiter by his associate Frederik Rommel, a high-ranking advisor in the Regional Representative’s office, to his preliminary health screening, his time with The Exhibit was a masterful exploration of secrecy. Every official of note in the quadrant was aware of its existence and paid handsomely for their troubled knowledge, if they weren’t members themselves. In no more than three sessions, he’d encountered no less than twenty of the wealthiest, most famous, most powerful people in all of La Barbarosa. Celebrities, politicians, artists; individuals he’d met at parties and rubbed shoulders with at galas. The most dignified members of society, gathering in a giant white room once a night to shatter their minds into a hundred tiny pieces.
Illegal wasn’t even close to the word; this was a violation of post-annexation rehabilitation, a slap in the face to galactic diplomacy. The quintillion-kumai industry of Extra-Terrestrial Trafficking was the bane of the Terra Nova Republic’s Interplanetary Trade Commission and a major blocking issue in the ratification of the Second Romuleian Treaty, a peacekeeping agreement twenty years in the making between nineteen planets whose completion was being delayed until the defeat of the last withholding signee, the hostile world of Vala Nueva, the same world that William’s missiles were helping to subjugate.
He opened the container and removed his portion of flesh. The Exhibit insisted on only allowing consumption of the sacrifices through an injection of blood and spinal fluids. Before each session, all approved participants, dressed in comfortable white jumpsuits and barefoot on the reinforced glass floor, were seated in large reclining chairs and hooked up to a monitor to check for vital signals. Each participant was given, at the exact same time in the exact same vein (to preserve the uniformity of the shared experience), a 500 milligram injection of the “dimensional transportation liquid”. Once a successful inoculation was confirmed, the chairs were lowered down into the floor and the room retuned to a perfect, empty, white cube. This was the state of affairs for about five more minutes; strangers, many of whom knew each other under far more appropriate circumstances, standing in an empty room, waiting for the miracles to begin.
At William’s last session, everyone had reported a different “awakening”, as The Exhibit preferred to called it. One woman had said her arm started to feel like it was being washed with buttermilk and lavender; an older gentleman had felt his bones start to sing inside his body, as if to the calming melody of a childhood lullaby; there’d even been a married couple who swore that for the first hour they had fully switched bodies, leading to the most intensely bizarre live sexual performance that William had ever been given the privilege to witness.
Everyone experienced some new, insane version of the most insane thing they could imagine. It was an elevation of consciousness beyond the bounds of sense and reason, shocking the participants by revealing no more than their deepest subconscious energy.
William’s own vision was a suspension in pink light, the weight of freezing cold water without the actual cold. His breaths had become ragged and coarse, but stable, creating the sensation of a slow and avoidable death. His mind danced with the lights and collapsed with every change in rhythm.
The magic lasted all of three hours, perfectly manifested, and then powered down to a dull faint blur. Everyone was suddenly returned to Earth, this version of Earth, at the same time an in the same reduced capacity. Before any participant was able to ascertain the full impact of what happened to them, a crew of staffers moved in and began the sanitization process; strapped back in the chairs, the guests were given several nutrient IV injections, put through a baseline diagnostics test, and rested for a few minutes until they were able to stand up and collect themselves.
William had been released from his constraints, and was ready to go back home, but he knew there was no possibility of his night ending on a note of moderation. Every cell in his body was replaying the moments he’d just lived through, synchronizing the movements of the light to his heartbeat. It was the same feeling that had coursed through him his very first time at The Exhibit, and the only thing that had changed from the first to the tenth were the specific details of each new miracle encounter. His first dalliance with the wonders of otherworldly flesh had rendered him numb to the rest of the universe and now he was living in something he could only categorize as lesser. He knew that he couldn’t simply leave the magic in this place, that he couldn’t keep his actual existence contained to this space.
On The Exhibit’s second level, behind a white door in the middle of a jet black wall, was The Take Out Section. One singular employee behind a counter in a square room with a massive wall of shelves holding small, circular jars, each one containing a small, cubic portal to a different dimension.
In the hundreds of years that mankind had set itself to the task of exploring the stars, the species had made contact with approximately 419 undiscovered planets. Of those 419 planets, 284 had contained the conditions necessary to support life and of those 284, 213 contained species of alien creatures bordering on indescribable to any person without the luxury of seeing them up close. Giant, minuscule, grotesque and mystifyingly beautiful, all manner of life forms witnessed for the first time in history — each sight a new milestone in the second age of human history.
Of those 213 species, The Exhibit contained samples of 177.
No one remembered or knew who had first discovered the power of the effects of consumption. There was no record of the first human to capture, kill, and eat alien flesh, and there was no description of the first ultra-psychedelic experience thereafter. Rumors had circulated among staffers of Republic starships, tales that eventually made their way back to the homeland. Wild descriptions of crazy alien drugs and cannibalistic rituals, removed from the truth but verging on it.
What began as a highly illegal taboo among space bound troops became, as all things in the world do, a capitalized market, a business for those with the means, daring, and ambition to engage in the outer reach’s first true criminal enterprise. As time went on, the industry transformed from desperately captured and shipped corpses to finely prepared, premium samples, and with the specialization came a marked increase in price. ETT became the exclusive luxury of the mega-elite, and it was in that refined setting that William found himself indulging in his new purchase.
Sample Q-2512-HU3-866: Vala Nueva, Female, Lobotomized, Taken Alive.
He’d recognized the cruel irony of his purchase immediately and moved past it even quicker. A victim of the year long war with the far-off planet that was directly funding his ability to be in that room at that moment. While his missiles hadn’t managed to kill her, the men riding their blasts radii to victory had no doubt assisted in her capture and transportation off the planet. Will had never seen a sample from an alive subject, but there’d been stories of certain creatures presenting unique physiologies that required more analysis. It seemed that he was helping to aid the conquer of some truly magnificent organisms, a fact that bore no impact on him outside of his own fascination.
After purchasing the sample, he’d ordered an auto-craft to the nearest 24-hour nightclub and spent the next five hours drinking away whatever smidges of war-profiteering guilt he could muster. That was the state Karlo had found him in, and his brief period of drop-dead sobriety in the car was the most he could tolerate before needing another fix. He had the rest of the day in his dark, silent office to explore a new facet of the cosmos. The excitement was eating into his core faster than he consumed the hunk of meat.
He sat back on his chair, removed his shoes, undid his tie, and set his eyes squarely upwards towards the ceiling. In that position of that rest, suspended within himself, he waited for the first signs of change. And waited. And waited.
There was nothing, no tingles or vibrations. No stimuli. In the midst of his own anticipation, disappointment exploded like a bullet.
And then there was another explosion. A second, a third. In an instant they began to rattle in his ear like fireworks. He saw bursts of light and tasted dry, hot air that broke his lungs momentarily and forced him to jump out of his chair in a fit. What he landed on was rougher and dirtier than the floor of his office, and stuck to his face like glue.
It was only when he tried to wipe it off with his three fingered claw that he began to understand what was happening.