Page 8 of Broken Earth

She squashed the voice brutally. The idea was suicidal. Someone would notice her dismantling a tent. Even studying the tents as she passed by them, most of them were occupied. No doubt the Reapers lived in the tents as there weren’t many permanent structures in the compound. The few that she did see, Terri gave a wide berth, hiding among the tents as she eyed them in passing. They didn’t appear to be much better than ramshackle sheds. From one of the nearby sheds, she heard women screaming and the drunken laughter of the few men who hadn’t yet slipped into oblivion.

No. She wasn’t about to linger; she would be caught for sure if she attempted to steal supplies. If she weren’t discovered by one of the occupants of the tent, then it would certainly be by one of the men lingering eagerly around the sheds. That was something she didnotwant to happen. Best to stick with her original plan.

She passed one tent and then another, her nerves on edge. As she neared a larger tent to the fore of the cluster, she could hear loud grunts from within. She paused at the entrance and peeked inside to make sure none would look her way as she scrambled by. Her eyes widened at the view of the three occupants in profile to her. A man held a woman with frizzy blond hair beneath him, his hand over her mouth as he drove into her while his tent buddy hammered into him from behind. She stared for a moment, her curiosity overriding her common sense. She couldn’t help it. It wasn’t like there was a bevy of opportunities for healthy sexual experiences. At twenty-nine, she had plenty of experience manually satisfying herself. Liaisons with men had been potentially dangerous even before the Reapers arrived. She had never wanted to risk it, but she watched these three clutching at each other, expressions of affection and pleasure drifting over the faces, and envied them.

She caught herself instinctively leaning closer when Bedlam brushed his nose against her hip. This wasn’t what she was here for and she didn’t need the delay a distraction would cause. She closed her eyes, swallowed, and opened them to study how she would get by the tent without being seen. She couldn’t unsee the fact that all three were moaning, their eyes closed with pleasure, but what she noticed now was that not one of them was facing her direction. With a whispered thanks to any higher power watching, she darted past the tent and made her way into the heart of the compound.

At the center of the camp were several large fires around which men were lying about, passed out in a drunken stupor. The central fire had a carcass hanging above the flames. The stench of burnt, fatty meat made her want to vomit. There was no wild or feral game sufficiently large enough to feed large numbers of people. The cattle had been exhausted long before people took to eating cats and dogs. Terri didn’t need to guess to know what they had consumed. The remains, from what she could see, appeared to be a small human no bigger than an adolescent or petite woman. She couldn’t tell if it had been male or female at one time, but it no longer mattered. She only hoped that the victim had died painlessly before being gutted and spitted.

Bedlam nosed at a broken bottle before raising his long, pointed muzzle and sniffing the air. His long ears tipped toward the fire. He whined and made a move toward the carcass but halted at her sharp, whispered command. “Bedlam, no! Come!”

Although the kid was beyond knowing that an alien dog would have been chewing on their carcass, she couldn’t stomach the idea of her companion filling his belly with human flesh. Not that the dozens of Reapers lying about the fire wasn’t enough of a reason to stay far away from it. Bedlam sighed and continued to pace, sniffing the air.

She narrowed her eyes as she scanned the northeastern corner of the central camp, looking for any sign of where they might keep a huge, scary-as-fuck alien. Her eyes eventually fell on a tall metal pole a few yards away near several torches. Hooked to it was a huge mass of chains facing the fire. The way the shadows fell, she couldn’t get a good look at it, but the entire area around there was littered with broken bottles. She wasn’t entirely certain if that was what she was looking for until Bedlam slipped through the shadows, heading directly for it.

Sand shifted under her feet as she headed toward the dark mass. She had one bad moment when a Reaper suddenly bolted upright beside where she stepped, his glazed eyes staring right at her before he slumped over again. Muttering under her breath, Terri edged closer to her destination.

Jackpot!She could barely make out the outline of the massive alien in the dark but she recognized the vague features. With a silent whoop, Terri crept around the unconscious body, studying the chains holding it down. She pinched her lips together. The padlocks were going to take some work. She had cutters back at her current bolt-hole but hadn’t wanted to risk being burdened with it while trying to sneak about the Reaper camp.

Studying the chains, she followed them back to where they were clipped onto the pole. Good fortune smiled on her. It seemed that the paranoid motherfuckers had wrapped the alien in chains before attaching it to the pole, using only simple metal clips to secure it. Leaning her body against the alien’s to provide some slack, she unclipped it.

The chained body fell forward against her and her knees shook with strain under the sudden weight. Heating the air with every whispered curse she could think of, Terri finally laid it flat on the ground. Pushing back upright, she scrutinized it as Bedlam circled nervously. One thing was certain: there was no way she was going to carry the unconscious alien out of the camp. She would have to drag it out.

With another muttered oath, Terri picked up the end of one heavy chain and yanked. Her arms protested as the body inched across gravel and sand. She only got a few feet before her lungs and arms began to burn painfully. She felt the sting of tears and blinked them back.

This wasn’t working. Dropping the chain, she leaned over and gasped for air. Chains aside, how was it so fucking heavy? Dragging it out of the compound seemed almost impossible. Massaging her hands, Terri picked up the chain again. She barely started to tug when Bedlam appeared beside her and took another chain in its mouth. With a low growl, he pulled with far more power than she had on her own, dragging the body forward.

“Good boy,” she whispered. Gently, she steered him away from the central fires, back into the deep shadows of the camp as they headed for the gates.

It was slow going, not only by design but also by need. No matter how much she wanted to rush out of the camp, she forced herself to keep a slow, steady pace, watching for any sign of Reapers. At one point, she stopped and gathered up the strange tentacles that were dragging on the ground. About as thick as ropes, they were warm, supple, and dry, textured from the tiny scales all over them like those on Bedlam’s head. These, however, had tiny bulges running down the lower lengths like the end of a rattlesnake’s tail. She recalled the way they had seemed to rattle with a strange, cacophonic hiss. The memory alone was enough to make her almost yank her hand away. Resolutely, she kept them gathered in her hand as they pulled the alien’s unconscious body along.

By the time they neared the perimeter, the camp had settled into what she suspected was a near comatose state. Even the sounds of sex had died down to the occasional whimper until that, too, faded into exhaustion. Even with Bedlam’s help, Terri’s arms burned like hellfire by the time they made it back to the perimeter. She glanced at a pair of fresh skulls, still oozing with gore, before escaping the barrier.

She wouldn’t miss Phoenix when she got her ride out. If the alien cooperated, that was.

By the time she arrived at her hiding place, she felt she had more than earned safe passage. It took hours of dragging to get the enormous alien all the way back to her hiding place. Although Bedlam did most of the work, she was exhausted, sore, and covered in sweat in the chill desert air. The alien had been dead weight the entire time. Not once did it even so much as twitch. Abandoning it in the center of the room, Terri built a small fire in what remained of the hearth and threw herself on a dusty sofa. She stared at it bleakly before rousing herself enough to drag her tool bag close.

Rummaging around in the canvas, it didn’t take her long to find her bolt cutters. The fact that the alien hadn’t woken at all at any point during their travel didn’t give her much hope for reviving it. Still, she had to try, and the first step was getting the chains off so the alien no longer looked trussed up like a Christmas turkey. Not that she had ever had one… but the pictures in the old books and ads had looked appetizing enough.

Eyeing the locks, she counted them and shook her head. Five locks, each securing a thick chain in place—a bit overkill if anyone asked her. Theyreallywanted to make sure it didn’t go anywhere. She cocked her head and stared down at the alien. “I wonder what exactly they thought you were going to do that couldn’t be stopped with one or two chains?”

Naturally, it didn’t respond. She shrugged. Oh, well. She might as well get to work.

Bedlam whined and stuck his nose in the way as he nudged at the alien. She gently pushed him back and wiped her sweaty palms on her pant legs before gripping the cutters firmly in both hands. The first lock was the worst. It was the shiniest one and resisted her attempts to cut through it. Groaning with exertion, she put all her body weight into it until the metal separated with a horribly loudchink. Wiping the sweat from her eyes, she scooted to the next lock, methodically moving from one lock to the next until all the locks lay scattered around the body.

The chains were another matter. They were twisted and kinked, forcing her to drag them off the alien one at a time, her feet digging into the matted carpet for leverage, cursing the Reapers for the headache they had made for her. By the time the last chain fell free, she wanted to sing her thanks to the gods above. It landed on the floor with a dullthunkas she let it go to rub the feeling back into her hands.

Fingers still trembling, she dug through her bag and pulled out a small bottle of oil and a tiny clay lamp. A twisted bit of an old shirt lay inside of it to serve as a wick. Although she used the lamp sparingly to conserve oil, she considered this an appropriate occasion while she attempted to assess the condition of the alien lying prone before her. She filled the lamp with a small portion of oil and struck a match. The wick soon caught fire and burned brightly, illuminating the bulk in front of her.

Leaning forward, she brushed back the mass of tentacles. The face revealed was broad and struck her as rather masculine with its square features. A cluster of small horns ran around its brow, leading up to another row of small horns that formed a crest. From the center of that, a ridge ran down, bisecting its forehead, and sloped into a broad, almost flat nose hooked with three small horns. To her surprise, the alien had a wide, human-like mouth, although not far from the corners of its lips, there were tiny hooks from serrated mandibles on its square jaw.

She leaned closer to get a better look at the mandibles when glowing blue eyes popped open and the silvery circuitry along its skin pulsed with light. Terri gasped and probably would have screamed except that its wide hand had shot up with dizzying speed and latched around her throat. The alien lifted her into the air as it got to its feet, its fingers lightly squeezing in warning as it rattled at her.

Her fingers scrambled for purchase on its strong hands as she stared down into the hellish hot blue fire of its eyes. Her eyes watered as she struggled to gasp for breath.

“Please,” she wheezed.

A low growl erupted to her left and her eyes shifted downward. She couldn’t crane her head to get a proper look, but she was able to make out the top of Bedlam’s head as he bristled, his thin whips churning around him. The alien restraining her cocked its head to the side as it regarded its animal and uttered a confused rumble before barking out a sharp command and pointing to its feet. Bedlam whined uncertainly and glanced at her.

Tags: S.J. Sanders Argurma Salvager Science Fiction
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