Hooked on a Feeling
The witch squats in an abandoned recycling unit in the bowels of Ananke station, and no station commander, including me, has ever dared try to evict her, and now I never will.
I have a habit, you see.
She has what I need.
It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.
I enter without knocking, as usual. As I enter, my feet lose contact with the deck. The damn artificial gravity is on the fritz again. I swallow an oath and try to stop spinning before I throw up. I’m afloat in a multicolored sea of revolving bottles; they shine blue and green and red, and inside one a darkness like deep space writhes, while yet another glows like starlight. Brushing them aside I stretch my fingers toward the wall, trying to grasp a handhold, a loose bit of piping, anything. Finally my hand brushes a cluster of rubber tubes that are swaying back and forth like seaweed, and I pull myself up to the ceiling and make my way down toward the control panel.
“Inna? You there?” I call out as I struggle with the panel. There’s no answer. The unit isn’t large, but the air is so thick with her belongings that it’s hard to tell if the woman is among them. My hands shake as I punch in my override code. The safety turns off, the panel opens, and I reach into the wiring. Rerouting the power is tricky, and I get shocked a few times, but then the panel hums and gravity reasserts itself. Yelping, I crash to the floor, and suddenly I’m surrounded with breaking glass, trying to shield my face from the flying shrapnel.
Trying not to breath the heavy purple cloud of despair laced with yellow tendrils of fear, I pick myself up and venture deeper into the recycling unit. Whisper-thin vials of hope crack under my feet, and their turquoise bubbles tickle my nose like finest Old Earth Champagne.
“Inna? Are you okay?” I stop to listen, and hear a soft sigh from under a pile of smashed crates. As I pull the splintered pieces off the witch, I feel the jolt of pink pleasure.
The world makes sense again. Pleasure fills me, flowing from my lungs to the tips of my toes. I shudder and fall to the floor.
I don’t know how long I lay there, but it must have been hours. When I wake, Inna is dead. She looks small and sad and dirty, and her skin is cold to the touch. I shake her, but she doesn’t stir. The ghost of a smile is frozen on her lips, like a wilting flower captured in a hologram.
A false sense of peace still lingers from the pleasure fumes, but now a tendril of unease worms into my mind.
Inna is dead.
All the vials and bottles lie shattered on the floor.
I’m cut off.
It takes the withdrawal symptoms three days to kick in. I beg off work, blaming the flu epidemic sweeping the station. Five other officers have already succumbed, and I wonder whether they visited Inna too. When the chills of self-doubt and a fever of anxiety claim me, I don’t feel so bad about lying. The wracking waves subside and condense into the sticky gloom of despair. I can’t eat or drink for three days; I just lie in bed, my limbs too heavy to lift, the very air a noxious soup that’s hardly worth the effort of drawing breath.
On the fourth day I drag myself out of bed and dial up a cup of coffee and some white chocolate. A small ghost of pleasure lights my senses. It isn’t much, but it gets me as far as the shower. Being clean again, I return to the bed, which has taken the opportunity to change the soiled sheets into crisp, new ones. I sigh, and fall into a cool, refreshing sleep.
I never found another witch like Inna, so I had to discover other ways to cope. Sometimes a good meal or a skilled lover will awaken in me something akin to the witch’s concoction, but it’s not the same. It’s never the same. I can only live my life, day by day, seizing any small pleasures I can. They’ll just have to be enough. They’ll never be enough.