The sleek silver metal gleamed brighter than any star he had ever seen. Shading his eyes in fear of burning out his retinas, Marcus took in the exceptional design, noticing there were no visible seams, rivets or screws. Could it be possible that one giant piece of spacemetal made a ship larger than four city blocks? Ka’leen technology was magical indeed and their mothership only served to prove that.
When Marcus first heard the Ka’leen had come to his dank dirty moon, his excitement had been interstellar. He knew the superior race saved dying planets…for a price, of course. But the price had seemed minor to Marcus for the rewards his family would receive; a one-way ticket to Ka’leenta and a lifetime of servitude— it’s not slavery if you go into it willingly, right? He knew the Ka’leen as kind and benevolent saviors, so Marcus couldn’t imagine them abusing those who agreed to their thralldom. Even so, he would gladly suffer if it meant his family would not.
Thinking of his four younger siblings and their distended stomachs made his heart hurt. Kids should be happy and healthy, not sporting skin that was taut over tiny bones, giving them a skeletal presence. His mother fared no better. The constant kerchief on her head hid the hair loss from malnutrition, but the big bags under her eyes, the constant shake of her hands, and the frequent fainting spells were obvious indicators.
Feeling the need to help his hapless family, Marcus had crept out of the house to be first in line at the lottery, how the Ka’leens chose who to take with them and, subsequently, whose family got the help. He prayed to all the Gods he could recollect before he dropped in the small metal disk that held an impression of his thumbprint. In a short twenty-four hours, he would know whether he was amongst the lucky few or if he would have to stand by and watch powerlessly as his family withered away and died.
The fact that the new day dawned and he found himself waiting in line with a handful of other lotto winners made him think that the Gods had heard his heartfelt pleas and blessed him. Marcus made a mental note to leave offerings for all the deities he had dared to call upon. It would do no good to win the drawing only to be smited by an angry God before his family could reap their rewards.
Shifting his weigh from foot to foot, Marcus found it hard to hold back his exuberance. His body bounced with unbound energy as he recalled his mother’s tears of joy this morning when he had told her of their good fortune. His siblings had piled on, their tiny arms tangling themselves around his torso. He was careful not to crush their frail little bones as he squeezed back. Images danced in his mind of bellies full of food, rather than gas, ruddy pudgy cheeks and sparkling eyes.
Nudged from his delightful daydreams by an elbow to the back, he heard a voice: “Hey guy, you’re next.”
Marcus’s attention swiveled towards the tall willowy creature in somber gray robes standing regal before them. Its skin was luminescent, and its multiple eyes blinked in unison— all four of them. The Ka’leen’s mouth was an insignificant slash, only seen when it spoke. With no visible nose, Marcus wondered how, or even, if, the creatures breathed. Maybe they absorbed oxygen through their skin. It was an interesting idea.
A long branch-like appendage swept in front of him shaking him out of his musings as it gestured for Marcus to move along. Head bowed, he walked quickly, mumbling an apology for his tardiness as he passed the glowing being.
Once inside, a much older man greeted him. Taught to be polite, Marcus said hello. Rewarded with only a bow before being led down a dim hallway, a portal appeared as they reached the half-way point. Marcus peered around the man, trying to see what it was that he had touched to trigger the door, but there was nothing. Baffled, he followed the man’s silent gesticulations and stepped through the entryway.
The alcove he entered was small and nondescript. Inside there was only a man at a desk and an additional empty chair. This new man looked to be older than Marcus’s twenty years, but not as old as the mute man that had deposited him here. Turning to look at his guide, Marcus saw that he was no longer there, and the doorway was gone. There was no turning back now.
“Sit, please,” the man at the desk said without looking up at the room’s new occupant.
Seeing no other choice, Marcus followed the polite order. His eyes roamed over the room’s rugged companion. Bushy bearded and sporting a scar that spanned from brown eye to turned down mouth, he seemed like the kind of guy one wouldn’t want to meet in the dark, even though he was very obviously missing his right arm. The left seemed to over compensate for its missing mate with a bulging bicep.
“Sorry for the delay, I just needed to add some information on a questionnaire for a previous candidate who defaulted on his contract.”
“Defaulted?” Marcus asked. He wondered what that meant.
Dropping his eyes, the man shifted in his seat, looking vaguely uncomfortable. “Yes, well…there was a binding contract and the candidate refused to hold up his end, even though he set his own price.”
“I see…” Marcus wasn’t sure he really understood, but figured it best to just leave it at that lest he be seen as uncooperative or not willing to uphold his own contract.
Sighing, the man tapped on the desktop, bringing up a blank screen, the blinking cursor beckoning him to enter data, dutifully.
Tap, tap, tap, went less than ten tidy fingers. Marcus watched the man touch and swipe through several screens, entering his name in multiple locations.
“Reason for entering the lottery?” the man asked, not bothering to look up from his form.
“Reason?” The question befuddled Marcus. “Isn’t everyone’s reason pretty much the same? To save my loved ones from starving to death. I would give anything to keep them safe and healthy.”
The man froze, hand poised over the projected keys of his data machine, shaking with tiny tremors. He swallowed audibly before his head came up. Marcus couldn’t quite read his expression, but something about it set him on edge.
“Anything?” The man questioned with a quivering disbelief in his deep baritone.
Marcus’s brow furrowed. Did this man think he wasn’t serious? Who would joke about something like that? “Yes, anything. Wouldn’t you give anything for yours?” his tone emphatic.
The man frowned from his forehead to his hirsute chin. He didn’t bother answering the question before pecking at the keys and continuing to fill out the form. He asked about Marcus’s general health and family background before looking back up. There was a somber sadness in his eyes as he made a swirling motion on the desktop to turn the form towards the candidate.
“You are pledging your servitude to the Ka’leen in return for them providing for your family. The reward is a one-way ticket to their home. You have vowed that you will give “anything” and once you sign, that will be a legal and binding contract. To default on said contract will leave you and your family in dire straits. Do you agree to the terms?” The man pointed to the contract with a shaky digit. Annoyed by what he though was the man’s skepticism of his willingness to sacrifice, Marcus was quick to press his thumb on the small square at the bottom corner of the contract before he could think twice about it.
As soon as he removed his thumb, he felt a pull of some unseen force that had him rising from his chair and walking towards the wall, which opened before him. With a mind of their own, his feet moved him out into the hallway. Confused as to why he could no longer control his own movements, Marcus looked over his shoulder at the other man for answers.
“…said I’d give my right arm,” the man mused, looking off into the distance rather than at the odd sight of Marcus retreating not of his own will.
Earlier elation dropped like a rock into the pit of his stomach. Growing dread flowed like ice through his veins, causing the hairs on his arms to stand on end. His feet continued to take him on an unknown journey. Marcus passed no other people, alien or otherwise, and saw no more openings that would allow for him to escape. He was entering the belly of the beast and had a notion that he was to be swallowed whole.
His body continued to propel him forward and through an opening that suddenly appeared. The area that they deposited him in was large and reminded him of operating rooms like those that he had seen in old movies that were popular in his grandparents’ time. Several of the Ka’leen stood around, chattering excitedly to each other. It was almost a disturbing sight, as Marcus had never seen them show any kind of emotion. They were always calm, stoic even.
“Come in, come in,” one beckoned. Marcus took a tentative step, surprised he once again had control over his movements. Another alien came and took his arm, leading him to a table of sorts that was standing on end. Strong hands, stronger than he had imagined they’d be, pushed him until his back touched the metal, the cold of it sending shivers down his spine.
Before he could blink, Marcus found himself strapped to the table which tipped back slightly, picking his feet up off the floor.
“Look at that strong profile,” one of the beings said, grabbing Marcus’s chin and turning his head side to side.
“Very strong,” replied another.
“And hair like fire. How usual.”
“Yes, like fire.”
“And those eyes…don’t they resemble the green grass of Earth?”
“When Earth existed.”
“True,” the Ka’leen agreed.
“Ex-excuse me,” Marcus sputtered. “Is this a medical examination? I didn’t know there was going to be one…”
All alien heads swiveled to look at him.
“So noble, dear boy,” one said as he reached out towards Marcus.
“Yes, noble,” another agreed before the first Ka’leen brought a strap around Marcus’s neck, locking in it, tight.
“His head will make for an excellent addition to our collection, will it not, brother?”
“Oh yes. I do love when they agree to give anything. It leaves us with so many options. Could we use another heart specimen?”
“Perhaps. Go check, brother, so we may preserve it before the body dies.”
Pulse racing, Marcus’s body went into fight or flight as he struggled to break free of his constraints. “That is not what I meant by anything!” he cried, unable to believe the turn his luck had just taken.
“Dear boy, you said it yourself and signed the agreement. You should choose your words more carefully, lest these things can happen. Alas, I fear it’s too late a lesson to learn, but worry not! For your sacrifice, your family will be cared for and you will make for a lovely specimen. Now, if you could just hold still, the pain will be minute.”
When the whirl of a tool sounded in his ear, he thrashed as best his confined body could. The bright overhead light glinted off the rotating alien metal and into his eyes. Automatically, Marcus looked away just in time to see his own hot viscid blood splatter across the face of one of the Ka’leen. The alien’s smile turned sadistically sinister as its pointed black tongue snaked out of its gash of a mouth to taste the lifeblood of its most recent candidate.
“Delicious,” it crooned.