Rohky Moon by Julie Walsh

‘Remember. They only last two hours. You’ll need at least ten of these to get there. It’s over sixty miles.’ I look at the red and white capsule in her open palm and start to laugh.

‘Seriously Ruben. If they stop working, you’ll be caught. Then you’re really fucked. Just nick enough to be safe, but not enough so that they notice. And pray they haven’t destroyed them all yet.’

‘Relax.’ I reach over to stroke her head but she knocks my hand away.

‘I’ll start the fire in the hospital’s fuel room at midnight so when all hell breaks out, that’s your chance. Follow the yellow line through to Pharmaceuticals. And don’t get caught.’

I can smell her fear and reach out to pull her towards me. ‘Thanks babe. I’m coming back for you, you know that don’t you?’

‘Just reach Taladin Moon and the Resistance. Then we’ll see.’

Even though I’m expecting the blast, I jump and knock over a life-sized cut-out of a yellow-toothed Rohky holding out a palmful of Crenidin. I twist around, but no-one’s noticed. They’re all too busy panicking, lurching about with heavy heads wobbling on their stalk-like necks. I stand the cut-out back in place, aware of the situational irony. I’d seen this advert before. They’d placed them across the city to advertise their latest medical innovation, then removed them just as quickly. The little red capsules were supposed to offer a temporary escape from anxiety, pain, stress - a glorious out of body experience akin to nirvana – according to the blurb. The problem was, they didn’t work. The Rohkys had tried to bury this rare failure but not before we learned of its side effects. If you take them with alcohol, which is, by the way, banned on Rohky Moon, you can enjoy a couple of hours of invisibility. A very valuable superpower for opponents of an oppressive regime.

I follow the yellow line on the floor of the corridor, jumping to the side as Rohkys lope past with their elongated limbs, oblivious to my presence. The line swings right and stops in front of a large door. I push and it opens silently. In front of me, the glass bell jars of medication sit like fat, primary-coloured Buddhas. A Rohky is tipping pills onto a scale pan. I hold my breath, sliding around it, sensing its agitation. Its huge forehead is beaded with sweat and it’s swaying like a reed in the wind. I wonder again how we’ve managed to be conned by this race. Seduced into ditching Earth for a greener and more sustainable future on Rohky Moon. Cleaner air, they said, no destructive weather systems, no planetary exploitation. And the biggest enticement of them all - pharmaceutical heaven.

The Rohkys are medical geniuses. They have a pill to cure everything. Allergies, auto-immune diseases, cancer. All eradicated with the right capsule. I wonder how many humans have been experimented on since we arrived here, how many have died, to perfect their next big medical breakthrough. Well now, albeit through their technical error, we can fight back.

I inch towards the jar with the red pills, keeping one eye on the Rohky . I’m behind it now, and, before I lose my nerve, I reach for the jar and plunge my hand inside.

Two minutes later, I’m outside, feeling disorientated and shaky. It’s probably the nerves but Anna said that those are signs that the pill’s wearing off so I fish about in my pocket and pull out one of the small capsules. I can see some letters printed on its side and I peer at the words. Fucked up. I start to laugh. Who said the Rohkys had no sense of humour? Might as well admit you screwed up. After all, it’s dangerous to have invisible foes in a totalitarian regime. I reach into my coat pocket for the hip flask, arc the pill into my open mouth, swallow it with a slug of whisky and start jogging.

Each time I sense my body reforming and displacing the freezing night air, I gulp down another pill. I wonder if I should get off the road now and save the last couple for the heavily patrolled stretch to the Teleportation Unit. The alcohol’s running out too. And I’m feeling weird. I’m covering more ground, really eating the miles, like my stride has lengthened. I look down at the black surface of the road rushing by. Behind me, an engine growls and I jump into the shadows, watching as the vehicle crawls by, the driver’s head swivelling right, then left, obviously scanning the road for something. It's Anna. Waving, I run out in front of the car but, of course, she can’t see me and I nearly get myself run over. ‘Idiot,’ I mutter, stooping down to find a smooth stone to throw at the retreating car. It dings off the back and the brake lights glow crimson. She steps out, squinting into the blackness.

‘Ruben?’

I’m moving towards her, but my head feels strange, like it's too heavy for my neck. I touch her arm and she flinches. ‘I’m here, babes,’ I say, but the words don’t sound right in my throat. I feel myself reforming again and try to pull her off the road so we won’t be seen but she’s staring at me, slack-jawed and I don’t like the look in her eyes one bit.

‘What’s up?’

‘Oh my God.’ She’s covering her mouth now. ‘The bastards. The fucking Rohky bastards. How many pills did you take?’

‘All of them. I had to stay invisible. Tell me what the hell is going on.’

It’s a ruse. It’s been a ruse all along. I’ve just got a message from Taladin Moon. They say the Rohkys are experimenting. They want us to take them. She pulls me towards the car’s wing mirror. ‘Look at yourself.’

I bend down and peer at my reflection, then begin to scream.

Selected: Picture This #13
Published in Issue #28

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