Page 10 of Broken Earth

It tapped one of its thick fingers on its knee in a human-like gesture as it considered her offer. Bedla—no, Krono, looked up from where it lay at his master’s feet. She barely dared to breathe as the alien considered her and her offer.

Finally, it let out a low growl and sat back. “Very well. Agreed.”

Terri sat down and settled against her pack with a smile. That was all she needed. Her imagination immediately conjured up images of the coast. Miles of sparkling beach with blue waves breaking across it. If humanity was a dying species where only the most resilient were destined to survive, she wouldn’t mind spending her last days beside the ocean. She would greet her ending by the fierce appetite of Mother Nature rather than by the hands of marauders and the mad.

“What is your name?” she finally asked. She couldn’t keep calling it alien.

“I am Veral’monushava’skahalur of Argurumal.” She stared and moved her lips as she turned the name around in her mind. She didn’t think she even caught half of it. It chuffed again. “Veral. You may call me Veral, little human, Terri of Earth.”

“Well, Veral, we’d better move into one of the other rooms with four walls where we can get some sleep. I don’t know about you, but dealing with spiders and scorpions is bad enough. Dirt blowing into my eyes and mouth while I sleep is something I try to avoid. I’d rather wake up without that… assuming you aren’t going to murder me in my sleep,” she added worriedly.

Veral chuffed again as it stood and followed her farther back into the dwelling.

“Do not worry, human. You will not die this night.”

“Comforting,” she muttered.

They settled into what was clearly once a nursery. She was surprised that it didn’t pick another room but instead seemed content to keep her within eyesight. Or maybe her alien was just that suspicious.

Terri wanted to laugh as she checked the area for nasty critters before finally settling down. Unable to keep her eyes open any longer, she pulled a thin blanket out of her bag. Wrapping it around herself, she ignored the pang of guilt that she had nothing for her alien companion and settled down to sleep.


Terri woke to the smoky scent of meat and discovered that Veral had left while she was sleeping and returned not only with meat that the alien was patiently roasting over the fire, but with two metal carts filled with various metal parts. The alien hunched over them, its brow furrowed as it dug through them, likely checking to make sure that everything that it collected was still there and accounted for. Seemingly satisfied, it nodded and rose to its full height to walk the short distance to the fire.

Terri stared longingly at the large, fat lizards skewered over the fire. Her stomach grumbled. She hadn’t had fresh meat for a very long time. She’d tried catching lizards before but they were too quick for her. Her eyes trailed over to where Krono lay in a corner with his own, tearing it apart hungrily. She swallowed back her saliva. She wasn’t going to assume that Veral intended to share with her. She didn’t catch them, after all.

Ignoring the smell of cooking meat, she dug into her pack and pulled out a tin of SPAM. She pulled the tab and grimaced at the slimy contents. Eating the sludgy meat was less appealing than ever. She poked at it and started when Veral chuffed.

“Do not eat that vizi,” the alien growled as it thrust a skewer at her. “That is not food. This is food. Eat.”

Setting the can down, she gratefully accepted the skewer, her mouth watering from the aroma.

“What’s vizi?” she asked as she blew on the hot meat to cool it.

Veral huffed and regarded her with amusement. “Vizi is a way of saying the foulest of the foul. By the smell alone, I can tell that whatever that is, it is barely edible.”

Terri pinched off some of the seared, flaky skin and stuffed her mouth full of the tender meat. It burned her tongue, but the flavor was so welcoming that she moaned with pleasure. Veral glanced up at her at the sound, the whips around his head puffing out as he watched her. She gave him a sheepish look as she stuffed more into her mouth.

“Sorry,” she mumbled around the meat. “It’s been so long since I had real meat. This is delicious.”

The alien continued to stare, frozen in place, before making a low trilling sound and turning its attention back to its own food. As she ate, she watched in fascination out of the corner of her eye, trying not to stare as Veral’s mandibles widened as its mouth opened to receive food. The sharp, serrated mandibles seemed to cut through the meat even as they guided it into the alien’s mouth, where the chunks were chewed a time or two before he swallowed. It was both a fascinating and unsettling sight.

Clearing her throat, Terri looked away and nodded to the carts in the middle of what was left of the living room. “So, what’s all that?”

Veral grunted and gestured to the nearest cart. “Quality scrap metal.”

Obviously a being of few words. Terri continued to chew as she leaned forward to glance into the cart nearest her. One section was filled with random bits of metal, while another held works of art. She raised an eyebrow as she looked at Veral’s findings.

“You actually get paid for this junk?”

Veral swallowed the last bites of its meal and jerked its head roughly in the affirmative. It was less a human nod and more a rapid circular motion of its head that culminated in a downward tip of its chin. The motion sent the whips on the back of its head moving.

“The metals are accumulated and melted down. The relics are bought by collectors. Many credits to be made from simple salvage.”

“Wow, incredible! It’s almost hard to believe.” She grinned at Veral and the alien stilled, its mandibles widening as it bared its teeth at her with a threatening rattle. Her smile wilted and alarm surged through her. But she refused to be cowed. Instead, she glared up at it. The alien’s whips writhed in a clear show of dominance. Her skin shivered in reaction, but she didn’t back down.

Finally, Veral chuffed and leaned back, giving her another peculiar nod.

Tags: S.J. Sanders Argurma Salvager Science Fiction
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