From Darkest Skies (April 2017)

It rained a lot on Magenta. Hard hissing sizzling skin-slicing rain, kamikaze hornet-sting droplets sucked out of the sky by Magenta’s relentless gravity.

Cox huddled in the shelter of a service tunnel. He slipped a hand into the pocket of his K-polymer, a battered hand-me-down all-weather skin long past its prime. His fingers kneaded the bag of pills inside. Three left. Powdered and pressed alien life that scrambled human neurochemistry into a hallucinatory mess, concocted by some off-world chemist who’d spent years working on the formula, according to JoJo, but the raw materials grew right here on Magenta. The pills more than made up for the rain and the wind and the oppressive gravity.

The sound of the rain drew him in, the hiss and crackle; now and then it seemed he could pick a single crashing droplet from the white noise wall of thunderclaps. They trickled their way into the tunnel, mingling with chemical stains on the concrete floor into a sheen of rainbow colours. They slipped into his head, painting the inside of his skull with a lurid iridescence, a shimmering of kaleidoscopic tentacles.

Some dim recess of consciousness reminded him that Rangesh was supposed to be here. Any time now, with a fistful of government credits to take one of Jojo’s magic pills for ten times what Cox had paid. Rangesh was such a sucker.

A monitor on the wall flickered on and off, fritzing in the rain. Cox left the colour-sheen stains singing to themselves and walked closer. Its coded flashes meant something, some deep encryption hiding the meaning of the universe, a message unravelling the insane purposes of the Masters who had re-shaped Earth and transported humanity across the stars. He stood in front of it and stared until some long-dormant sense twitched, shifting with the flickering monitor. Behind the oblique on-off flash of numbers were images. Deep space. Movement. Colours of pixelated music. His head felt swollen, blowing up like a balloon. Deeper and deeper into the flicker, as whips of wind lashed him with rain and then were gone.

For one still and eternal moment an understanding hit him that was both perfect and terrible, like peeling back the skin of the universe and glimpsing the mechanisms beneath. Like seeing how the meticulous clicking of electrons between quantum states was in fact run by tiny bearded elves who, as you stared at them, looked back and saluted. Just say the word, boss. Whatever you want.

He started to giggle. A trickle of blood oozed from his nose. So this was what nirvana felt like.

In the flicker of the monitor he saw a figure behind him, a watching monster with arms too long to be real, dressed in a swirling coat. The monster grinned, baring his teeth. Cox grinned too, laughter breaking out of him like water from a cracked dam. There was blood in his eyes and in his mouth. The octopus inside his head stirred. The tunnel began to melt. The monster didn’t move as the octopus tore it to pieces.

Rapt with transcendent ecstasy, Cox haemorrhaged, quietly and gently torn apart, a ripped red wetness across warped tunnel walls.

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