“Ah, Commander. Such a surprise to see you!”
Commander Konrad stepped out of the bio-tube that connected the terradome to his ship. He raised his eyebrow at the mousy, agitated man who had come to welcome him. “A surprise, Director Miles? The U.N. schedule these inspections months in advance.”
“Quite right. Welcome to Xanadu, Commander!”
Konrad frowned. “‘Xanadu?’”
“Oh, it’s what we like to call our stately terradome here.”
“Not ‘Ganymede Outpost IV’?”
Miles blinked, laughing nervously. “Does it matter what we’re called? Life on Ganymede has been good to us, Commander. Ganymede’s subterranean oceans actually can supply us with all the water we need for terra-forming. Ah, such good…good…water, once we’ve distilled out the salts—which are useful, admittedly.” His eyes widened. “But those are only a side benefit.”
“You’ll need to share your good fortune with the other Outposts. They’ve been unable to access potable water. Everything they’ve uncovered is so contaminated with cyanide—”
“They distill their water improperly,” Miles snapped, as if the other Outposts’ mistakes were an affront, “and the cyanogen in the atmosphere reacts with the water. We ran into the same problem at first. Many died.”
Furrowing his brow, Konrad looked askance at Miles. “Why haven’t you shared this information with them?”
“Share? Why would we share the Paradise? It belongs to him.” Miles’ eyes grew even wider, his pupils hugely dilated.
A chill shot up Konrad’s spine. “What on Earth are you talking about?”
Miles let out another nervous laugh. “Well…the distillation process can’t take the Paradise out of the water.”
“Yes, the Paradise. That which brings vision and clarity.” Miles grabbed at the air as if he were catching a butterfly. He held out empty hands. “Do you see it?”
Konrad stepped back. “Are you saying there’s a psychoactive substance in Ganymede’s ocean?”
“It belongs to him,” Miles said, moving forward. “He decides who has it and who does not.”
“Who is he?” Konrad slowly reached for the stunner on his hip.
“The Poet. The Prophet. The One who has drunk the Paradise Milk.”
“When fermented, the Paradise turns to milky white. Only the Poet, the Prophet, may drink of it.”
“Very interesting, Director.” Konrad backed slowly toward the bio-tube.
“Where are you going? Now you are here, the Poet, the Prophet, demands to see you.” Miles snatched Konrad’s arm.
Konrad pulled out his stunner and fired. The electrified cables hit Miles in the chest. Convulsing, he fell to the ground. Konrad turned, heart pounding, and ran for the entrance of the bio-tube. He stopped short. A dozen people in defaced Ganymede Outpost uniforms dashed in front of the bio-tube, their hands extended.
“Beware, beware,” they called, their eyes as wide as Miles’ had been. “Beware, beware: his flashing eyes, his floating hair! The Poet! The Prophet! The One!”
Konrad grabbed for his comm and hit the ship’s channel. “Captain Taylor! The colonists—”
Miles clambered up from the ground and knocked the comm from Konrad’s hand. “You will bend to his will!” He hissed like a cat and sank his teeth into Konrad’s wrist.
Konrad yelled. In seconds, he was surrounded by the chanting colonists, each of them grabbing at him with clammy hands. He thrashed and struggled, screaming for Taylor and praying the comm was still open. One of the colonists landed a heavy fist on Konrad’s skull.
Everything went black for a moment—then Konrad’s eyelids fluttered open.
He had been bound and pulled deep into the terradome, to the place where Ganymede’s ice layer slowly crept over the dome, giving the impression he was inside a great cave. A momentary flash of distant sun lit up the ice like sparkling glass. Droning music like a dulcimer floated through the air. A shadow fell over Konrad’s face, cast by a wild-looking man with bright eyes.
“Weave a circle round him thrice!” the colonists chanted. They began to revolve around the man at a feverish pace.
“I have drunk the Milk of Paradise, Commander Konrad,” the man said. “I am the Poet. The Prophet. The One.”
Konrad strained against the ropes that bound him. “When the United Nations find out about what’s happened here—”
“Once,” the Poet said.
“You will all be under arrest and taken back to Earth for psychological examination!”
“Twice.” The Poet pulled out a long sharp knife. It glistened like Ganymede’s ice. “Have you ever considered how much like a melon the human head is? Like a great honey-dew melon.”
“I demand you to—”
The colonists froze in place.
The Poet grinned, baring red-stained teeth “Thrice.”
“Close your eyes with holy dread!” the colonists said with one voice.
Konrad squeezed his eyes shut, knowing what would come next.
But not why.
“Xanadu” copyright 2017 by A.L.S. Vossler.
Constructive criticism welcome in the comments.
Image courtesy of NASA via PublicDomainPictures.net