Page 5 of Broken Earth

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a dog,” she said. “I wonder if your master may not miss you too much and let me keep you. No one would fuck with a woman who had you nearby.” She laughed. “You and your master are both scary motherfuckers. Crazy scary, in fact. You do look like a Bedlam to me. I think I’ll call you that.”

Groaning, she leaned back once more and stared at the midday light scattered across the room from the remaining broken glass in the window.Broken.That pretty much summed up everything on Earth. The entire planet was broken. The only good news was that nature was recovering and starting to take over. In just a few decades, humankind would probably be nothing more than a memory on the face of a world that they had no shame in destroying.

Scooting down, she lay her head on her pack and closed her eyes. She felt the alien shift its weight to settle next to her, his nose buried against her neck. For now, they would rest and recover. Everything else could wait.

3

Veral groaned as his processors rebooted and his mind swam back into consciousness. His mandibles opened and closed, tiny receptors on the thin inner membrane tasting the air. The foul taste of sewage, sweat, smoke, and spoiled meat flooded his mouth. He wrinkled his nose and attempted to move his head, only to perceive that he was restrained with something unfamiliar flooding his system, inhibiting his nanos and keeping him in a weakened state. He growled and strained, testing his restraints.

“Ah, finally you’re awake,” a raspy voice intruded. Veral’s processors picked up on the native tongue and he turned his attention to the speaker. Another one of the filthy filament-faced beings. He sneered distastefully. He preferred the first one he saw. At least that one faced him respectfully in combat and hadn’t been so… dirty. With this one, he felt nothing but disgust and a desire to rip out the eyes of the being looking at him as ifhewere a commodity.

He extended his mandibles and growled from deep within his chest. The alien paled and swallowed before it bared its teeth at him in a weak gesture.Pathetic.Veral rolled his eyes away from the being, uninterested in giving it any more of his time. He would close his eyes altogether, but he did not trust anything enough to willingly close his eyes around them. He didn’t even sleep near others of his own bloodline since becoming an adult. Even littermates become potentially dangerous rivals.

To his frustration, the alien leisurely paced into his line of sight once more. It smirked as it looked at him while sucking on a stick that stank like jibwa weeds, a rank plant used medicinally only by the desperate. The alien cocked its head.

“I have to admit you’re a fascinating creature. Ugly as sin, but terrifying… strong too, from what my men tell me. Right now, you’re looking at me as if you wanna rip my innards out. I imagine you understand every word I’m saying too, don’t you?” Its face wrinkled as it bared its teeth again with more enthusiasm.

Veral wasn’t impressed. The teeth were dull and flat, and the jaws small and delicate in appearance. It was nothing compared to the massive jaws, mandibles, and sharp teeth of an Argurma. He bared his own teeth at it but the creature, although it stank and tasted of fear, had the audacity to laugh. Veral bared his own teeth in a terrible grin, threatening violence that was sure to come as soon as he regained complete control of his limbs and systems. He was gratified to see it stumble back a few steps.

The alien pursed its lips and let out a low, piercing sound. “You’re something special, indeed. That’s why, instead of just outright killing you for coming into our territory, I’m going to make you an offer.” The creature paused as Veral snarled at the insult. “I’m sure you know that you don’t have control. We’re using our generators to shock your system in combination with some pretty powerful drugs. It took some experimenting to find a dosage that kept you unconscious. You’re only awake now because I allow it.”

“And what are you?” Veral growled back in a rough voice.

“I’m the only human being on this miserable planet you need to worry about. I am Marcus, President of these here Red Reapers. I run this place. Anything that goes on here does so only with my say so. Which brings me to the purpose of our little meeting. It has been reported to me that you’re collecting various bits of junk. Old tech and metal mostly. We have no use for it, as you can imagine. We’ve already collected what we need and run off our own limited power systems. As far as I’m concerned, you can take as much of it as you like from the city with my blessing. All you have to do is one very small, insignificant thing for me in return. Do this and you’ll be left in peace to work.”

Veral narrowed his eyes on the human as he saved the species identification to his memory. His processors were already reporting wide-scale interference and damage. Despite the intentions of the technicians, they have never been able to create an invincible model when it came time for the change. Adult Argurmas were superior to other beings but could be damaged and overpowered, especially those who were far from the network of their planetary alliance. The worst of the damage to his systems would take months before his nanos would be able to repair it all and return him to optimal performance.

Although he wanted nothing more than to make the human suffer, he had to acknowledge that the offer was a good one and worth considering if it allowed him to carry out his work undisturbed. His salvaging was his primary concern, and he already lost a day. Still, logic demanded that he proceed with caution. Despite the numerous advantages to the proposition, he didn’t trust this so-called president.

“What do you want?” Veral hissed, his body jerking as he felt another low-level jolt of energy shock his circuits.

“Really, it’s a small thing,” Marcus said as his lips twisted upward. He turned and gestured to another by a canvas structure. The human standing there nodded once and disappeared inside only to return minutes later hauling a smaller human with a smooth face.

“All right, I’m coming. Jeez, Dale,” the smaller human snapped. Although it was not the same one he saw earlier, it had similar features and a pleasant pitch to its voice. “I’d better not be putting out to fuck another guy. You agreed I wouldn’t have to do that anymore,” it said.

Veral recoiled at the idea of anything touching him intimately. Unmated

Argurma did not possess sexual desire. It was an essential part of their programming that kept their people in line socially and limited reproduction. Unauthorized reproduction, especially across species, was a punishable offense on Argurumal. He snarled in objection but was ignored by the humans, much to his displeasure.

“Shut it, Meg,” the one named Dale grumbled as it dragged the smaller one to Marcus’s side. “Do what you’re told and be thankful I’m not making you do worse.”

Marcus smiled down at the small human and stroked a hand through the long dark filaments on Meg’s head. If it had been Argurma, the vibrissae would have either attacked the offending touch or twined around it affectionately as one mated. A mate or parent was the only one who ever touched another’s vibrissae. The long filaments on the human’s head did not react, although it winced and flinched away from the touch.

“Relax, Meg,” Marcus crooned. “You won’t be required to fuck anyone right now. You’re here as an example only.”

Meg shook nervously, its wide eyes falling on Veral fearfully as Marcus turned it fully to face him. Marcus gestured the length of the human’s body with one hand.

“My request is simple: I want you to hunt for me. I want more of these for my men. Women are prized commodities these days. They break too easy and are hard to replace. Their families hide them, and they make every effort to evade us despite the fact that we offer them protection in a cruel world. Isn’t that right, Meg?”

Meg shied away from Marcus’s touch but nodded in affirmation. “Yes, that is right. We’re protected,” the small human whimpered as the hand knotted tightly in its head filaments.

Veral watched, unmoved by the interaction, before finally grunting, unclear of exactly what the humans were talking about. Man and woman didn’t translate in a way that he understood. “Why do you want women?” he asked at last.

Marcus watched him for a moment before bursting out into laughter. “Surely our species work similarly in at least one fashion. Don’t your males want females?”

Female.So that was it. Marcus and the other rough faces were males. Meg and the one from before were females. The males wished for him to procure mates for them rather than win them by their own efforts. Disdain rose sharply in his belly. He did not hold with the ethical code upheld by his species, but the rules of courting were sensible and for the wellbeing of everyone. The most that was permitted for an Argurma was to run their mate down and lock themselves together in a mating hold until the other yielded. They did not trap mates… and certainly not for other males. A male who wished a female had to conquer her on his own.

“You wish for me to gather mates for you,” he snarled in offense.


Tags: S.J. Sanders Argurma Salvager Science Fiction
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