Submitted into Contest #182 in response to: Write a story where someone’s paranoia is justified.... view prompt


Science Fiction Speculative Suspense

The skyline arched from the ground all the way up to spear the sky. The afternoon sun blazed its ivory crown over a cityscape of spires, needles and transport lattices, topping them with a creamy glare. Tiny specks of airborne thru-lanes thronged the high tiers far above and near-surface pedways below. Tariel swiveled his eyes up and down as he glanced through the lensed windows, searching for a momentary escape from the escalating anxiety wracking his conscience.

“So,” the tone of the city Commissioner pierced the room, “tell me more about these hallucinations you’ve been having.” He seemed composed as he carried himself with suave demeanor. The smirk on his face was no less a mark of smugness and should have been a red flag; Tariel thought it would have been better to swill the flask propped on the cantilever aside his chair, collect his wits, and storm through the door to be done with it.

But he perished the spiteful thought. Instead, he took another sip and allowed the alcohol to quell his frustration.

“I told you from the very start,” he snarled. “But I suppose I can’t shake your state of denial.”

“No. No.” The Commissioner casually brushed the accusation off. “Some topics need a little more time to digest along the way.” He lifted his hands. “Please, go ahead.”

Tariel plunked his drink back down onto the cantilever with a measure of impatience. “Look…” he paused, gathering what little was left to say, “I keep hearing these strange voices running through my head! I mean, they speak our language, though in pigeon-speak of sorts. How else would I have been able to understand what they've been yammering away about? Simple, yet condescending.”

“That’s gratitude for you,” the commissioner quipped. Tariel rolled his eyes, unconcerned with his show of emotion at the jab. “Sorry. But getting back to the subject, I recall that you said these 'voices,'" he flicked his fingers, "tend to repeat themselves.”

“Yes. Repetitions made to address a stubborn child, as though they had a rudimentary grasp of our tongue and used basic semantics to get their message across, a very wicked one at that.”

“Interesting. Now, what is it they keep saying to you?”

“They're warnings…a series of warnings…”

“A warning?”

“Yes,” Tariel was growing agitated. “That’s what I said. That we're in mortal danger…but there’s nothing we can do about it…Our world is imperiled…but that we have to accept it…accept that we are weak, and it’s our condigned fate to be annihilated––Off the wall stuff like that. Of course, they didn’t leave any solutions or preventative strategies to combat the problem, leaving us out in the cold so we have no chance to save ourselves.”

“Sounds more like an open threat than a warning.”

“From my interpretation, it rang more as a fair warning, though invariable to change, giving us ample time to panic.”

“Like a sport.”

“Yes. Toying with us before biting our heads off.”

“What else?”

“Uuh,” he spun his fingers in earnest, “they said ‘surrender’ a lot. Funny thing was that it was preceded by phrases like ‘give over’ before they realized their idiom didn’t translate well and subsequently replaced it.”

“So, I see these other beings make mistakes too.”

“I suppose. But it doesn’t explain who they are. All I know is that I’ve been slowly losing my mind; I can’t work, I can’t think, and most of all, I can’t do a damn thing about their modus operandi, whatever it is!”

“Of course, this all rests on the authenticity of your claims, coming from an external source as opposed to a wild imagination.”

“I don’t think a wild imagination would reveal truths I didn’t know about!”

“What truths?”

Tariel huffed. “It's apparent they know where I went, know where I’m going, know my habits, the way I think…it's as if they’re watching me around the clock!”

“Well, that’s a new one for me. Can you elaborate?”

“Yes, in fact I can. After the first few days of possession, if that’s how you want to describe it, I was at my lab when it was kindly mentioned to me that I had forgotten my reagent at home and that it would have been wise to go back and retrieve it, and quickly. Those last two words were taken verbatim. It was obviously another one of their taunts, and justified accordingly due to my negligence, a show of weakness that would only spur them into continued harassment. I'm sure they're finding this as amusing as beneficial to their agenda.”

“So, in other words, they are now able to see what you’re doing, and take full advantage of it.” The statement sounded less like an interrogation than a passive way of eliciting information from Tariel.

“How else would they have known about what I do?”

The Commissioner placed his hands on the armrests. “How many others do you know who have experienced these rather berating messages?”

“Just myself right now. I’m sure there are other cases––”

“Well, considering that you're the only one they’re treating as a transmission node, might I suggest that it would be wise not to rule out…certain delusions. What that cause is, I don’t know; maybe you're dissatisfied with your life. Or conversely, you’re hitting the flask a little more often that I’d recommend. Either way, from what you’re telling me, it sounds like you're a little paranoid.”

Tariel eyed the drink watching the fluid settle. “I would imagine anything so circumstantial would drive anyone to drown themselves in intoxicants.”

“Wouldn’t a physician––” The Commissioner was interrupted.

“Whoever’s speaking to me so impetuously makes it pretty clear!” he shouted. “And empathy doesn't seem to be their preferred method of verbal exchange.”

“Attrition is often a tactic the enemy uses against their opponent.”

“It would behoove me to agree since they have no plan on stopping, that is until we're properly disposed of, and it looks like I'm already out of ammo.”

The Commissioner stared into a corner in contemplation before turning back toward Tariel. “Alright. Let's just say you're honest. Now, when did this all start?”

“About half a cycle ago.”

“And prior, everything was…peachy?”

“I suppose so. As an entomologist, I was studying the mating habits of the klyxiks at the end of their migrations. They’re the only known insect to cross an entire ocean without ever resting, meeting up with their counterparts on a small, uninhabited island far south of our latitude.”

“The Isle of Hazyt. It was marked for protection for such a reason.”

“Yes, but I noticed something rather disturbing. Their numbers were tapering off. And this was over the past few breeding cycles. The change was imperceptible at first, but it became more noticeable the second time I examined them. Deep inside their reproductive apparatus sat an organism that I hadn't seen before. After consulting with several of my colleagues, we all shrugged our shoulders, flummoxed at its origin. We postulated it could have been something that genetically deviated from other microorganisms, as if by some freak mutation. Regardless, it threatens the sustainability of the insect whose future is now in question.”

“Please excuse my ignorance as I am not familiar with your field of study,” the Commissioner said, throwing his palms up to feign submission.

“These insects spearhead an elaborate food chain. On their return to the mainland, scores of them are consumed by avian predators and various sea life hopping out of the water for a tasty meal. They provide a specific protein and several fatty acids unique to their species. This dependency tells us a portion of the sea life has been feeding on the klyxik for as long as they’ve been around, perhaps since their inception. We, in turn, harvest these creatures known to contain some of the most nutrient-dense meat around. Therefore, it’s not a far cry to claim the insect maintains one of the most delicate ecological balances on our planet.” He took another sip, keeping a pair of hooded eyes on the Commissioner.

“Now,” he continued, “imagine if this new form of parasite starts infecting other food chains?”

“I’m quite sure we have ways of correcting a disturbance if it arose.”

“Repercussions! It takes a long time to readapt. It’s far too difficult to undo the damage across a whole interdependent cycle.”

The Commissioner readjusted himself. “Okay. Let’s get back to the crux of the matter. So then, was it just after discovering this potential problem that you started feeling ill?”

Tariel dropped his head and looked at the Commissioner obliquely. “Not ill, I assure you. It’s almost as if their onset paralleled my discovery, neither by chance from the way they watch me––”

Tariel’s brow twitched. The spasms were involuntary, and his mind felt like it was submerged under several meters of water. The room around him grew hazy, so did anything the Commissioner might have said. Words faded in and out of his mind like he was tuning in a broadcast until each sentence became clearer.

“Fool!” a voice shouted inside. He began to sweat as the broken syntax overtook him again. “You stop not us! We have conquer you! Can’t eat…Will starve! Surrender! Surrender!” And so forth.

The Commissioner swayed from side to side observing Tariel’s unusual behavior. “Citizen Tariel, is something wrong?” His expression was ambiguous, showing no sign of genuine concern.

In a sudden burst of panic, Tariel shouted. “There they go again!” he said, scything the edge of his hands as a gesture to silence any interruptions. A smooth object butted up against the medial border of his palm followed by a gentle thud and a splash.

“What are they saying––?”

“Wait!” He paused for a few seconds. “I wish you could hear this, Commissioner, but––” Tariel’s eyes twitched again like his facial muscles were losing motor control. “They’re saying…”

“Saying what?”

“Uuh…there’s no recourse for we––meaning us––and…that we’re bugs too…”

“Like the klyx––”

“Shshsh.” He intensely focused. “Like bugs…be squashed by better…much better race…more fit…have weapons…can and will kill…”

“You mean someone’s beaming threats into your skull claiming we’ve been invaded, and it only happens to be you who’s experiencing this?”

“They keep saying ‘starve, starve, starve.” Tariel struggled to focus on both modes of communication. “And yes, as far as I––Now they’re saying ‘We reveal soon…We see and know you…’ Confirms my paranoia!”

“I see. Now, haven't you thought about why no one else has reported these kinds of problems?”

Tariel snapped back to reality, blinking his eyes and caressing his temple. “How would I know if they're haunting others? The messages are one-way, arbitrary. I don’t think they’re looking for someone to reciprocate with, just relentlessly intimidate. Regardless, people like you need to be aware! Can’t you understand?” The voices returned, muttering away. Gabriel became more frantic. “Isn’t there anything you can do? Run a mental interrupt? Scan for a transmitter fused into my brain matter? Hell, just blow my brains out!”

The Commissioner remained glib. “First of all, Citizen Tariel, what you require is immediate medical attention, not the tested patience of an authoritative figure forced into listening to the ramblings of a mad man.”

“They’re too vivid to be a product of my––”

“To you, yes. To everyone else, they’re the figment of a biologist––”


“Whatever––a professional who lost his marbles overtaxing himself with hours of drudgery. It’s time you need to be committed.”

“I don’t think you understand—”

“No. What I understand is that you knocked over the flask during that last episode and spilled the contents on my rug. Now it’s time you understand!”

“Alright, I think I get it now,” Tariel said, getting up out of his chair, ready to pounce through the door.

Before he could take a step, the door hissed open. Two security staff entered, marched up to Tariel and restrained him as fast as he could open his eyes. He strained in protest, unable to break free, as they wrestled him to the floor, his face digging into the carpet inches from the stain of alcohol he spilled. The guards pinned him down, one over his head and shoulders, the other over his back as he shackled his hands. Tariel shouted expletives, admonishing them of the secret messages only he was privy to, but it was futile. He sounded like a fool.

The door hissed open again. Another figure donned in the yellow attire of an emergency medical technician entered and directly stopped in front of Tariel with his arms akimbo and a wicked smile splitting his face. The Commissioner remained seated just behind with steepled hands, swiveling his chair side to side, his expression empty, phlegmatic.

“Thank you chief man,” the looming figure said without averting his eyes from Tariel. He muttered something in an unknown tongue. The guards immediately pulled away and assumed position just beyond the one dressed as a medic who now hovered over Tariel’s prostrate form.  “Well, well, Tar-vell. Look how you serious so!”

“That’s not how you pronounce––” Tariel stopped in his tracks. “Wait…you sound like––”

“Like voice in you head?” He broke into what Tariel identified as a laugh, one that had an obnoxious bray. And their command of the language, Tariel mulled, was an affront to his cultural dignity.

“Why…? Why did you use me as a medium? Was I onto your little scheme––?”

The EMT kept smiling like he was photogenic. “Best thing we do, destroy food chain, just like about you complain.” The sheer volume of arrogance in coupling insults with the intent to kill was astronomical.

“You knew exactly what I was doing all along! When I discovered the anomalies in the mating rituals––” the other continued his brazen monopoly of the conversation.

“Oh, that bug. How you call it? No one cares. Had to go. We make you not let parasite we sent into public hearing.” Trying to solicit meaning from their lingual stumbling was a hassle, but Tariel implicitly understood how they stymied his attempt to warn others of the threat to the klyxik. 

 “And starve us! You got what you wanted, I suppose!”

“You bet!” Tariel failed to comprehend the idiom. “Process be slow. One chain of eating. Then another. I think that how you say. Whatever. Then you famine all over puny planet, then we come conquer! Your planet rich, much resource…and nice vacations. We make money off planet!”

“Planet? Are you some kind of galactic brigands?”

“What else? Planet nice, but star too bright. Need shades and sunblockers.” The creature bellowed another round of laughter.

Tariel raced to the point. “Who the hell are you?”

“Oh, yes. This…” The sound of shuffling and tearing of fabric filled the room.

Everyone except the Commissioner dug into their clothes, removing them haphazardly and tossing them in tatters onto the floor. Tariel thought they were about to striptease and that the Commissioner was playing an elaborate prank on him, but the sight of blood dribbling down their skin revealed to his horror that they were tearing at their flesh. Soon, the carpet was pooled with a violet ichor that made Tariel reel back into his seat.

Something, however, caught his eye that confounded his rising fear.

Purple skin filmed with the velvety pelt of his kind peeled like fruit, making way for a smooth toned exterior. A set of mechanical arms dropped to the floor with an indifferent thud, revealing whoever these creatures were had only one set of upper limbs. Beaks were ripped from their heads; the faces beneath were flat, eyes straight and centered and their mouths deformed into large toothy grins that never changed. Tariel noticed one of them grumbling, “Stupid pointy toes!” and kicked aside the last of the false skins, exposing tiny triangular feet.

It was clear to Tariel these creatures were not of his world. They were shorter, more hideous, sadistic, and when fully stripped of their disguises, oddly androgynous. The central figure, most likely the leader, was a shade on the paler side with a lantern jaw and a mouth twisted into a palsied state.

“You must know,” the creature continued, “Earth says ‘Hi!’”

“Urth? What’s that? Your world––?”

“Uh, huh. Safe say planet Idiot now ours.”

“That’s Imayet!”

“Not matter. We rename it––hmmm. How ‘Dirtball’ sound?” The creature erupted into another unworldly guffaw.

“You languid sods! We’re an open society. You could have asked for a trade alliance. What stopped you from brokering a treaty?” 

“We in hurry.” The creature sneered away, keeping that giant alien grin that was beginning to become an eyesore. “It why we do it like this.” It waved its hand indicating their handiwork in subverting a higher civilization. "You advanced, but us crafty. Done in secret. It why defeat on you."

“Well, you certainly did a nice job in butchering our tongue!”

“We get better at your stupid language, but computer better.”

“What computer?”

“Moron! That…” the creature gestured toward the Commissioner leaning back on the chair in the same smarmy pose with all four hands folded over his lap. “That robot. Program say better. We speak stupid babble.”

“No! It can’t be! He’s had this position for several rotations!”

“No anymore! Robot replaced. Like you!”

Tariel could only stare in a state of paralytic shock. He tried to get up, but his shackled restraint threw off his balance and he staggered back into the chair. The creatures, hairless, haughty and mouths full of grinning teeth, crept towards him, one wielding what appeared to be a projectile weapon, the others pounding their fists in the opposite palm. Terror stricken, Tariel tried to curl into a ball, his beak peering through the narrow aperture between his knees. The shadows of the invaders crept closer until he was enveloped by darkness, which afterwards he would never remember anything else.

January 27, 2023 15:28

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Amanda Fox
16:15 Jan 31, 2023

This is such a great line: "The EMT kept smiling like he was photogenic." I can picture that kind of smile perfectly.


R. J. Garron
16:27 Jan 31, 2023

Nice! I'm glad you got the visual.


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