Sure, you could follow King Krackpot into his office. You just met the guy, and despite all outward appearances of custodial cleanliness, he could have been king. He sure knows a lot about Martian politics.
Then again, you could be an assassin, but you’re pretty sure you’re not. You haven’t detangled all the details of what happened to you that led to waking up in Malloy’s foul locker, but you will, and when that happens, you’ll realize –
What? That you’re more important than you seem? Please.
The one thing you’re sure of is that you can’t go into the office with that regal janitor. You’ve walked into one too many ambushes already, thanks, and you’re sure this will be more of the same.
You think about following the team, but – well, there’s something dangerous about those guys. You can almost sense a need to party coming off of them. They may be all friendly and cheerful and generous, but sports guys party harder than anyone at your novice level of partying could handle (you still think “Pin the Tails on the Grosnark” would be a fun drinking game). It would be better to hang back, surely, and wait. Maybe President Womack will show up and make this easy on you.
Yup, it’s just better to hang out here, in the hotel lobby, and while you’re doing that, you can satisfy your appetite for one of those ooey-gooey Mars-A-Bons.
You wander over to the kiosk. The sweet cinnamon smell is like a siren’s song. You look over the offerings. They have the ever-popular standard, called the Earth-A-Bon, which is obviously dripping with butter, cinnamon, and frosting. However, they’re also offering the trademarked Mars-A-Bon, which is suspiciously like the Earth-A-Bon, but filled with Kerraberry filling.
You don’t like Kerraberries. You remember watching a Mars nature program when you were in school that demonstrated that when Kerraberries are harvested, they scream. You can’t get that image out of your head. It doesn’t help that the filling looks like human blood.
“One Earth-A-Bon, please,” you say, fishing some enloms out of your pocket.
The creature behind the register smirks at you. This is obviously a third-gender Martian. “Don’t have the stones to try a real Martian treat, eh?”
You pause. For some reason, you feel like you’ve just become the representative for the whole human race, and you know full well humans aren’t pansies. Even so – taunted into eating Kerraberry filling? “I don’t like Kerraberries,” you explain, feeling a bit like the 90 pound weakling on the beach who’s staring down the big hunky body-builder and waiting for the sand to be kicked in his face.
“And why not?” The Martian is checking its fingernails in a very feminine fashion. The biceps in its arms are flexing conspicuously.
“I just –“
“Because they scream?” There’s a teasing quality in the creature’s voice.
You think about this for a moment. You have to admit that you’ve never actually tasted a Kerraberry. Your prejudices against the fruit-like organism are based solely on those screaming sounds you heard when you watched the film, and the twitching of the Kerraberry’s death throes as it was harvested from the vine and thrown in a metal basket to die in darkness . . .
“Fine. One Mars-A-Bon,” you say, and put an enlom on the counter. You feel wretched. You’re reasonably certain whatever it is you taste when you bite into this thing, you’ll get physically sick from it.
Doesn’t matter. You’re eating now for the pride of your home planet. In a way, you’ve been raised to the level of Team Earth, and that gives you some small bit of courage.
The Martian gives you a lipstick-over-beard-stubble smile and hands you a warmed-up Mars-A-Bon. You decide to only see the comforting similarities to the Earth-A-Bon as you bring the confection to your mouth. The smell of cinnamon assaults your nose, but right behind it is an almost gamey odor, something you’ve smelled when meat is going bad.
Never mind that, you think to yourself. You take a bite.
The warm creamy frosting and buttery taste is the first thing you notice, but the normal bliss doesn’t last long. Your mouth is flooded with an organic, almost metallic taste. Since it’s warm, it tastes like what it looks like: Blood.
You feel your gorge rise, and you turned a stunned, nauseated eye on the Martian. It’s watching you intently – waiting for you to fail. You refuse to do that. You choke down the first bite and taste the rush of sickly sweetness, apparently the Martian attempt to make this disgusting “fruit” more palatable to humans.
“How do you like it?” the Martian purrs.
“It’s – fine,” you stammer. You know you want to preserve your sanity and endure this by thinking positive thoughts, but you can’t help but gaze into the heart of the thing you’re eating. The filling is blood-red, and it’s mixing with the frosting, which looks more and more like infected pus.
As gross as this is, something is happening to you. Suddenly, you find yourself ravenous. This bloody, pus-covered mess in your hand is just the thing to take care of this primal carnivorous urge, and you take another huge bite. Frosting and Kerraberry filling coat your cheeks, chin, and nose, but you don’t care. You have to get this whole thing into your belly, and NOW.
You barely notice the noises coming from the Martian behind the counter. You’re lost to this weird compulsion for blood, and the closest thing you’ve ever tasted is the filling in this Mars-A-Bon. All too soon, you find yourself without any more Mars-A-Bon to consume, and you lick hungrily at your mess-covered fingers.
Then, with new eyes, you notice the creature behind the counter. Before, it was just a third-gender Martian, one who taunted you into doing something you really didn’t want to do. Now, however, it’s something completely different: It’s filled with blood, and it’s that blood you want, desperately.
“You’re allergic,” it whimpers as you leap over the counter. “You’re having a reaction. Let me get my needle . . .”
You don’t give it the time to do anything of the sort. You remember vaguely what the film said about Kerraberry allergies, but the information seems to be coming from another life. Your nails, once neat, clean, and tidy, are now long and razor-sharp, and you rip open the Martian’s throat and take a deep, satisfying draught of blood straight from its neck.
Whatever the hell you are now, you don’t care anymore about President Womack or saving your reputation or even getting back to Earth. All you care about is killing and drinking.
This is hella better than being in NOSSA, you decide, then turn your eyes back to the janitor’s office . . .
THE ENDOops...RETURN TO CHAPTER 8