Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Cyrus curled in the corner, hugging his aching legs to his chest as though they might crawl off without him were he to let them go. White hot grains of sand glassified in his retinas, and beads of sweat scraped down his flesh, each one making it’s presence felt with excruciating persistence. It may only have been a few hours, but it felt like days since he’d last had a shot. Time had ceased to be a relevant commodity, as he couldn’t trade it for a fix. He felt his stomach heave, but the sensation never left the empty pit of his gut.

“Commander, you seem to be poorly” the words ground their way through the haze as a face loomed in his field of vision, the image slightly out of sync with the noise coming from it as words. Double lids twitched over glistening emerald eyes, startling in their clarity, in sharp contrast to the shifting chitin and dancing shadows beyond.

“Please…” the sound of his own voice made him wince “please, I know you have some, help me.”

“Commander Cyrus,” the eyes slipped backwards into the darkness, the voice booming all around him now “surely you appreciate that these recreational pharmaceuticals you’re asking for, these require currency that you simply do not have”

“I’ve got other things, we can trade, I know things.” Pain shot like lancets up his spine to burst as cannon fire deep within his skull. Never had he suffered withdrawal this exquisitely painful before.

“Trade? Knowledge? Interesting.” There was an elongated pause, as the voice considered his offer “Perhaps you can help me with…” the was a pause again as the next words were carefully chosen “a freight difficulty.’ The face loomed once more in his peripheral vision, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn and look at it. “If one were to want to move cargo through the Earth shield, without interference, would you know how that could be accomplished? Could you help me with that?”. The articulation of each word made Cyrus flinch.

“If I help you, you’ll hook me up? No tricks?” There was a level of desperate excitement in his voice, one that brought what may have passed for a smile to the face of the towering creature.

“Yes, if you help me with my… transportation issue… I promise you will not suffer like this again”

“There was a mining portal on the dark side of the moon, beneath the old InterStar hangers” the words came surprisingly freely through the drumming pain in his skull “it’s been closed for decades, but the power station still works, and the portal’s still stable.” He burrowed his chin into his knees, his brain screaming with anticipation of relief.

“Thank you, Commander, you’ve been most helpful.” The great green face slipped out of the periphery to stare at Cyrus, face to face. “You and your people have taught us so much.”

“Taught? We haven’t taught you anything…” he waited anxiously, one arm relaxing it’s grip on his shins to expose his hypocite to the promise of an injector.

“Oh, we have learned much from your race my dear Commander Cyrus. You have no idea. We watched your people everywhere trading currency and flesh for chemical joy. We never could have conceived of a negotiating tool as powerful as addiction, or a lever as effective as your narcotics. Who would have thought the secrets of your civilization’s safe keeping, entrusted to military men like yourself, could be so freely liberated in exchange for something as trivial as a moment of manufactured ecstasy. But most of all, we’d forgotten how much more expedient violent conquest was when compared to traditional diplomatic relations. Oh yes, you humans have taken us back to our roots, and you’ve catapulted us far into our own futures.’ A vice like grip suddenly had Cyrus’ forearm, pulling it straight and holding it motionless. ‘Now, Commander, I do believe we had a deal, and I think you’ll find this generous enough to alleviate your conscience.’

The warm flood rippled up the Commanders arm, rolling in waves to his toes and up and over his head. For a moment, the room became strikingly clear, he saw the giant chitin plated alien that had first offered him a fix in a bar off base, coached him through his first purchase, and had always been around to hook him up when he needed a fresh hit. What was that on his chest, a military insignia? Was he a soldier? Pounding waves flooded through his head, and he was only momentarily aware of the feed, still jutting skyward from his forearm, as it relieved him of all responsibility.