art by Marcus Gannuscio, short story by Jad Ziade
He floated onto our ship like an angel; the green glow of his belly shined against the starry night. His name was Mr. Addare. The captain called for security but Mr. Addare stopped him, explained to us he knew who we were, why we drifted between the stars. He told us of a red planet where lava erupted into rivers and the land was made of glass. In the sunny ravines there was a tree in the likeness of a palm that seeped sap from its limbs down to cover the cracked glass at its roots. He tapped his belly and told us that was how the Green was made. Then, he told us how to get there.
I edged close as he spoke, but when I reached for him he struck me and a spark flew from his glowing finger. Crackling blue light encircled my chest and I fell, writhing in agony, teeth chattering even after he released me from the wicked spell.
He knew what I wanted, and he said the red planet was very close, so I hid the blood that had collected behind my lips and waited, sitting, for my knees shook too much for me to stand. Soon the sensors blinked red and the navigation system announced the proximity of the red planet. The captain gave the order to land.
We lurched as we entered the atmosphere and I swear I smelled the Green right there on the bridge. Of course, I told no one. I watched quietly as the yellow clouds passed us and we dipped beneath bronze ridges toward Mr. Addare’s destination—a smooth, black surface that reflected the ship’s underbelly. The ground cracked when the pilot set us down. Lava bubbled out over the landing gear. Mr. Addare assured us it was safe.
The crew rushed out; I clambered slowly behind them, worried the monster’s attack had left me wounded worse than we knew. But I gasped when the alkaline scent filled my nostrils. I had never smelled so much of it at once, and it was real. I rushed down, pushing aside the captain and a man from Security. A tree like the one Mr. Addare described was no more than five steps away, its tallest limbs only twice my height.
I ran my hand along the trunk, collecting sap into my glove, and turned toward Mr. Addare. “How?” I demanded. He smiled and tapped his belly.
“The process is simple.”
“How?” I said.
He stepped close, but almost slipped on the glass and I yelped, afraid his belly would shatter and spill the Green. I prayed it would and presented the sap on my palm.
He reached forward. “Thank you,” he said, and the stained tube at the end of his hand sucked up all the sap and shot it into the bowels of his stomach. I watched, entranced, as the Green in his belly bubbled and fizzed, breaking the sap into small pieces until it dissolved and turned into more Green.
“So quick?” I said.
He nodded. “Abundance.”
“Why are you helping us?” I said to him. He smiled again, but turned away, silent. I reached out. “Tell me your secrets.”
To my surprise, he agreed—almost immediately. He walked away from the others and beckoned me to follow so I did, listening to the glass crack beneath my boots. We stood face-to-face behind a massive, jutting rock and he reached for my brow with that terrible, glowing hand. I edged back into sight of the landing party. “No,” he said. “No pain. Come back and see.”
I shook my head.
“Do you want to know?” he asked.
Slowly, I returned. His finger pressed against my brow and grew hot. Later I would learn he had marked me. But when his finger pressed against my skin all I could see was another world, another people. He showed me his masters and why they needed us to take the Green into our bodies and what they wanted with us after it was done. It wasn’t what I expected, but it wasn’t unimaginable either.
When the vision was finished I pushed his hand away and my courage returned. After all, I’ve explored most of known space.
He waited for me to speak on what I saw, but I stared back, stoic. That must have impressed him. His mouth jolted with a surge of current very much like an approving nod, and he motioned for me to follow him back toward the others. “Wait,” I said. “You want me to take command, don’t you? That’s why you led me away from the others.”
“Yes,” he said.
I held up my hands. “I want things of my own.”
He nodded. “A house, or a tower. Large, safe, defensible.”
It was as if he read my mind. “Of course, that,” I said.
“Raise a few of the others into a squadron,” he continued.
“Yes,” I said. But then, it seemed ungracious the way he spoke, his tone dismissive and bored.
I demanded he apologize and he bowed. “I haven’t even met your masters,” I said.
“You won’t,” he answered. “And I won’t return unless trouble takes you.”
I dwelled on his words and he beckoned me back to the landing site where the others had already filled a large tub with sap. I was overwhelmed with mirth watching them struggle to scrape every last smear off the tree they surrounded. But they worked well together, shared in the labor. I made note, however, of those who were less energetic than the others, those more keen on whispers than work.