Those Horrible Hungry Things, Benjamin Smith
Originally published in Another Realm
The alien city on the sea looks barren and shattered in moonlight. Only a few buildings stand scattered over rows of stone. Two soldiers run around these rows and through the streets with flashlights, following a track of footprints in the freshly fallen snow.
The soldiers continue to a building archway. Pointing their flashlights inside, they find the scientist covered under an enormous jellyfish. Mucous foams from his mouth, and blood pumps from his chest as the creature consumes him.
Aaron fires his gun. The jellyfish bursts like a water balloon and sprays the room with blue liquid.
“That's disgusting,” Joe says.
“I had to put Russ out of his misery,” Aaron says, moving towards the mess. “Poor bastard.”
“Who's gonna call home about this?”
“Make the pilot.”
“No, we'll decide when the oil drill is finished. We'll all draw straws.”
Aaron shrugs, and lowers his gun. “Russ shouldn't have gone exploring. I told that bastard a thousand times. But why did the thing eat him?”
“Guess it was hungry.”
“But why didn't one try this before? We've been drilling on this planet for over a week.” Aaron steps forward—then quickly points his flashlight at a pool on the floor. “Now what is that?”
Both soldiers kneel down.
“Is that . . . is that a diamond?” Joe asks.
“It's a bunch of diamonds,” Aaron answers back. His voice becomes low and soft. “It's a goddamn bunch of diamonds.”
Seven glisten in the liquid and glitter in the light. They're the size of a grown man's thumbnail, the color of distant stars. More are found outside the pool while others still in the grip of the scientist's hand. The soldiers grab them all.
“We've got to be careful,” whispers Joe. “I bet the jellyfish killed Russ because of these.”
Aaron laughs and shakes his head. “Don't be ridiculous. They're not that intelligent! Russ's studies show they're like the jellyfish back home except larger and adapted to land. Apparently they left the sea and raided this city but they certainly didn't build it. They can't understand concepts like architecture or economics, Joe. They breed and eat.”
“Russ was a drunk.”
“So what's your point?”
“So what if his studies were wrong? All he did was drink and flip some switches.”
“Let's just find where he got the diamonds from,” Aaron says, and Joe agrees. They leave Russ's body behind and walk through a hallway to a large round chamber deep within the building. Sections of the walls and ceiling are missing, letting in snow with sounds of crashing waves, and the floor is flooded under rippling cold salt water that sparkles with countless reflections. The soldiers pause—then plunge into the radiance. Aaron shoves the treasure in the backpack Joe holds open until the backpack overflows. After this they switch, and Joe grabs the last reflections.
Shrill screams pierce the chamber. The soldiers turn to see jellyfish slicing through the water. Aaron fires his gun and the creatures burst but their tentacles continue further. The soldiers splash to separate sides of the chamber.
“That was close,” Joe says.
“That was way too close,” Aaron says. “We should be dead.”
“I told you they wanted the diamonds!”
“But how can they want them if they can't use them? They can't understand their value.”
“Well, they want something.”
“Our flesh,” Aaron says, pulling out a second gun. “Listen to me. Forget about the oil, forget about the drill. This stuff's priceless. Let's just get to the ship and go.” Joe agrees. They grab their backpacks and leave through the hallway, out the archway and onto the streets. Yellow circles streak the stone rows they pass with their flashlights. As the soldiers run around these rows, they hear the movement of unseen things.
The creatures flow from the city over the beach. In unison they stretch and scream—but all in vain. The spaceship rises out of reach, scorching them with green flame. Most burst from the heat. The surviving few keep screaming and stretching toward the stars above, glittering in the sky like their unborn children.
Benjamin James Smith is a writer and editor living in Maine and writing a novel about Soviet time-travel schemes.
His story “Pain of Possibility” was published in Derelict Vol. 1, our zine benefitting 350.org.