Act 4: Fake Props on a Fake Set
At first, there was light, so white and harsh I was briefly blinded, closing my eyes hard while one hand covered my face protectively. It took a few moments of furious blinking until I could see again.
While blinded I noticed the eerie, unnatural music. In confusion, I tried to make sense of that alien and joyless piping sound was until realizing it was Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ transposed into a tuneless elevator music playing inoffensively from a nearby speaker.
When I could see again, I saw an immaculately clean room, with beige walls and no windows. The music was coming from speakers in the corners, and the lights hung from the ceiling, which reflected on the little marble tables arranged in rows, as well as the glossy hardwood counter in a corner which surrounded an impressive bar. Incongruously, the room was lined with white reclining chairs, of the kind you might see on a beach or cruise. The entire thing gave the impression of an unholy mixture of bar, outdoor lounge and hospital waiting room.
“This is… Not what I was expecting,” I said, glancing nervously at my surroundings, as if a monster was about to pop out of the walls and suck my brains through as straw, which could very well happen for all I knew.
“Our hosts will be here shortly,” said Suzy, walking briskly towards the bar. “For now just relax and enjoy yourself. No need to hold back, we’re honored guests.”
True to her words, she walked behind the bar and started inspecting the bottles avidly. I followed her, increasingly confused. ”Hold on, slow down a sec. Honored guests? Where even are we?”
She sighed and turned back to face me. “We’re in a hidden alien base in Pluto.”
My staring at her only intensified. “I keep waiting for you to tell me it’s one of your jokes,” I said eventually. She frowned and briefly turned away from the bar to look at me.
“It’s not a joke. How can I make it any more clear? They’re alien beings. They established a base in pluto. We’re in it now. Also, we’re their guests.”
“So… Aliens?” I asked.
“Technically they come from a different dimension as well as another planet.” Suzy had returned her attention to the bar, as if searching the bottles for something. “But I don’t think that matters too much. Point is: they come from far, far away. Aha! Found it!”
She pulled a bottle from the bar and walked triumphantly back to a nearby table, swiping two glasses on her way. “You should try this, it’s the best!” She said excitedly tugging at the lid. I approached her and read the label.
“Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar?”
“It’s an acquired taste,” she admitted. “If you don’t want it there are other options on the bar. Or you can get juice or pop, take your pick.” She managed to open the bottle and eagerly poured herself a glass. It was a thick, murky brown liquid that would have rung alarm bells on all but the most devout of beer snobs, or the drunkest.
My patience, as always, was quickly wearing thin, but I decided to be cautious. The Queen in Yellow, infuriating as she way, never did anything without purpose. Even if that purpose was just ‘fuck with Cody’s mind’. “So. Mind telling me how these aliens will help us save humanity?”
As if right on cue the single door in the room opened to reveal an incredibly odd creature, which carefully crawled into the room. It resembled a mix between a giant insect and a shrimp, with four long, thin legs supporting a misshapen body that had a thick carapace and wings, currently tucked in its back. There were also two more legs which were used to close the door, with pincers at the end that almost resembled human hands with an extra thumb opposite the regular one. However, the most noteworthy feature was its head, or lack thereof. Instead, there was nothing but a mass of tiny tentacles, like an anemone, surrounding a dark hole in the center. As the creature approached us the tentacles waved and undulated in an unnerving fashion, twisting and twitching at times, while moving smoothly in others, as if part of a weird dance or ritual I could not comprehend.
“It’s greeting us,” said Suzy, still sitting at a table with a glass in her hand. She was smiling while looking attentively at the creature. “They communicate through their tendrils. Hang on.”
And with those words she extended one of her arms in the direction of the other creature, and the arm burst into a thousand small tentacles. These resembled the alien’s head, except they were inky black and a bit larger than the creature’s.
“He’s being super polite and giving me greetings, worshipping me a little… You know how it is when you’re famous.“ She chuckled. “I’m telling him to skip the pleasantries. We’ll get started right away, no need to get impatient.” She shrugged with her single shoulder and took a sip from the beer, completely unconcerned that her other arm was now a mass of tentacles wriggling and undulating independently from the rest of her body.
The creature seemed to take this as its cue to give a short hop, assisted with its wings, to the table immediately behind me, which startled me enough I jumped away. When I turned, the creature seemed to move back and forth in short bursts of movement, still wriggling its tentacles while moving in circles around me. I was forced to keep turning to face the thing while growing increasingly frightened.
“Are you sure you translated correctly?” I asked, trying my best to keep my voice from sounding panicked. Who knew what these creatures understood from my speech, because I sure as hell did not understand theirs.
“Oh, he’s just geeking out over you. Asking lots of questions, wanting to examine you closer, that sort of thing,” said Suzy, pausing for another sip of Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar. “By the way, this is a Mi-Go. They are scientists and researchers at heart, and this one in particular is one of their leading experts in human conservation.”
Her words managed to tear my attention away from the creature and its tentacles, as I started at her, dumbfounded. “Human conservation?” I asked.
“You know how you people have Greenpeace and Save the Dolphins campaigns? Well, the Mi-Go at the moment have a pretty big ‘save the humans” campaign. To be honest, they’re a lot better than you guys at those things.”
She grinned, while her tentacles still wriggled, their tips turned at the Mi-Go that was circling and studying me. I noticed that, even as it moved and twitched its tentacles excitedly, it never so much as touched me.
“A conservation movement for humans?” I asked weakly, still in disbelief. Perhaps by this point nothing should have phase me anymore, and yet I still found myself regularly phased.
“Their perspective is a bit different from earth’s on the subject. They want to conserve humanity mainly for research purposes.” One of Suzy’s tentacles paused its undulating to quickly brush some of her blonde hair away from her face before she took another sip of the brown sludge in her glass. She noticed my open staring and grinned. “You’re looking at humanity’s best hope of survival.”
I stared back at the creature, which had calmed down somewhat. Carefully it reached inside an opening in its carapace and slowly took out and unfolded, of all things, a small T-shirt. It was worn, but you could still see printed on its front a stereotypical grey alien, you know the type: large head, green skin, black eyes and completely naked. The alien was waving its hand while smiling and written below it were the words ‘we come in peace’. In Comic Sans.
“Oh,” was all I could say. The Mi-Go waved the shirt enthusiastically in response.
“I’m sorry. We’re doing WHAT?” I asked, as we walked down the corridor
“We are here,” explained Suzy, “to test their new resort built for humans. It’s supposed to resemble a fancy hotel and a beach area. Right now it has a pool, a bar, two restaurants, a few shops as well as a Spa and even a small cinema. Quite luxurious, don’t you think?”
We were all walking down what looked like a hotel corridor, after riding an elevator briefly at the guidance of Suzy. The Mi-Go researcher didn’t go with us, instead handing over the key to room 1045 to Suzy and awkwardly waving goodbye to me with its pincer, tendrils still waving excitedly. “He wants us to get settled, but will keep an eye if we need anything,” translated the Queen in Yellow, and as the doors of the elevator closed, so did her tentacles coalesced back into a human arm. Inexplicably the hoodie had formed around the arm as well, its sleeve a little over her hand which went back into her pockets.
“So we traveled all the way to Pluto, in an alien base, just to… What. Spend time in an alien vacation spot?” I frowned skeptically.
“I thought you would like to get a feel for the place before we begin sending people here,” replied Suzy, raising an eyebrow. “But if you’d rather I just teleport people straight away that can be arranged.”
“Send people away? Here?” I asked.
“This is a conservation unit, Cody,” she said. The elevator doors opened to an immaculate corridor, with a brown carpet and warm lights extending until the far end. Regularly spaced doors to different rooms were visible on either end. Apparently there were fourteen floors in the building, and a lot of rooms. “This place is still under construction, but when it is finished it will house a little over a thousand people, to preserve them from extinction.”
“So that thing at the end of the world... ” I left the words hanging.
“Will not affect this place. Pluto is too far,” she spoke with absolute certainty. “The people living here will survive, unharmed. And, I might add, quite comfortably.”
I looked around at my surroundings again, deep in thought. “A thousand people. Stuck in a resort,” I said, at last. “Is that our plan to survive the end of the world?”
“Quite nice, huh?” Suzy grinned, before waving her hand dismissively. “Oh, There are more places. Other habitats and different cultures preserved, the Mi-Go are quite thorough. But if we’re trying out this human conservation unit, I’d rather do it in style! And with room service!”
Her grin only widened as she unlocked the door and threw it open. The room inside was seriously fancy. There was a plush couch and an ornate table facing a flat screen TV that easily occupied half the wall. The lamps and decor were equally expensive-looking, but tasteful, drawing attention to the enormous king-sized bed in a corner of the room, complete with blinders that you could pull to cover it. A complimentary bottle of Champagne stood on the table, along with two glasses and a bowl of fruit.
“It’s even got a Jacuzzi!” I heard Suzy exclaim excitedly from the bathroom.
Despite my nervousness it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep. I had spent a whole day saying goodbye, and drunk my fair share back on earth. The only thing that had kept me going all this time was my nervousness, the intense anxiety and stress of my circumstances. But that high could not last. All I had to do was lay down my head on the pillows, and from there it was not even a conscious decision. I fainted, plunging straight into unconsciousness before realizing I was falling asleep.
So when I woke up, groggy and with high expectations of the day ahead, I wasn’t thinking as clearly as I should. That is my only excuse for why I opened the bathroom without worrying about the noise I heard coming from it.
Inside the bathroom, Suzy, aka. The Feaster From Afar, monstrous abomination of infinite power and madness, was lying in the Jacuzzi while watching a show on a tablet propped on the edge. She also had a box of fancy chocolates beside her, and was carefully tucking another one in her mouth when she noticed me. She was still wearing her yellow hoodie, even in the Jacuzzi.
“Don’t judge me,” she mumbled through a mouth stuffed full of chocolate.
I sighed and closed the door again.
The breakfast buffet, I was forced to admit, was exquisite. They had the usual toast, sausages, eggs and bacon, but also croissants and yogurt, fresh fruit and pancakes with maple syrup. There were three tables offering various selections of breakfast and they were packed full of delicious-looking homemade food, even the bread was fresh from the oven and warm to the touch. It was the nicest breakfast I had in ages, and my mouth watered at the smell.
“Not bad. They’re really making an effort,” Suzy nodded approvingly. “Think you could eat here every day?”
“Obviously my meals were never this good back… You know. Back home. In my previous life,” I muttered, while piling another slice of bacon on top of my pancake.
“Previous life,” she let out an amused snort. “Makes you sound like a reincarnation, or that you died and went to the afterlife.”
“It sure feels that way,” I replied, frowning. The next tray had baked potatoes, cut up in small pieces and cooked with herbs and butter.They glistened like jewels under the lights that bathed the dining room in bright tones of orange and white. “I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“No place is perfect,” said Suzy while calmly pouring warm butter over her frozen yogurt. “But people we send here shall be happy, carefree and well-fed while surviving the horrific events afflicting earth one year from now.”
“That… Doesn’t sound too bad,” I cautiously admitted. “But even a place like this could feel like a prison if you stayed for too long.”
“The Mi-Go... Have ways around that,” she replied. Something about her tone instantly made me suspicious. She caught me staring and sighed, rolling her eyes. “They can manipulate the memories of their guests. They won’t even know they’re in an alien base in another planet.”
“What? That makes it even creepier!” I pointed at her with my fork. “You didn’t tell me they were brainwashing their guests.”
“I promise not to hide or lie about anything in this place, Cody. But can you blame me for trying to show you best this place has to offer first, rather than scare you away with the worst?” She looked at me critically, pursing her lips in annoyance while ignoring the fork pointed at her. “If you look only at the downsides of every option I give you, then you’ll never be able to find a way to save humanity. Your efforts are doomed to fail.”
“Maybe, but… Brainwashing? Is that we have to accept to survive?” I was adamant, and her stance softened.
“When you had your evening with Marcus, drinking and talking until the late hours of the night, didn’t you wish, even for a moment, that it would last forever?” said the Queen in Yellow, with a small, sad smile. “Well, maybe here your wish could be granted. I would not say it’s perfect, but then again, what is?”
My shoulders slumped as I looked away, remembering my own words to her - or him I suppose - in the bar as I argued for my friend’s existence. I remembered how much I did not want to leave that place, how I resisted any change.
“You have a point,” I admitted.
“You overthink things too much!” She chided, grinning again, all signs of her previous seriousness gone. “Sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses. Or enjoy the meal.” He pointed at her plate for emphasis, which was a ghastly mish-mash of different foods and toppings piled on top of each other with little regard for taste or common sense.
“Alright. I’m almost done anyway,” I said, walking to the last table and scanning for anything else I wanted. I found an interesting kind of pastry filled with ham and cheese, of which I put one in my plate, before walking to the end of the table, where I found a tray full of white powder, neatly labelled ‘cocaine’. It had a silver spoon for easy serving.
“Hmm,” I pointed at it. “I might not know much about fancy resorts, but I don’t think they serve cocaine in breakfast buffets.”
“Ah,” she said, looking unsurprised. “Probably a placeholder. They still haven’t established a good way for guests to get access to drugs, so this is what they’ve put in the meantime.”
“So… Is there a reason they are giving us drugs?” I asked.
“Probably based on typical behavior they have studied. If they see a lot of people doing cocaine at resorts, they just think it as part of the experience.” Suzy chuckled. “ And I suppose they’re not wrong, in a way. Think of it as a special guest service.”
I looked again at the tray holding the drug. It was very ornate, with embellished handles and polished to a shine, just like the trays holding scrambled eggs or bacon strips.
“Still think I’ll pass on the cocaine, thanks.”
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to take it if you don’t want to. It’s all a matter of taste,” she said, while taking the spoon and cheerfully sprinkling cocaine over her pancake.