At the end of Ursa Tertius, I kept asking myself, “What happened next?”
Korviaaslax Sapphir slumped on her cot unable to think any longer about the outside worlds and the fastest ways to escape the gravidics well of a class three world. Playing it over in her imagination was useless without access to a ship and a co-pilot who knew how to circumnavigate heavy armed cruisers and the United Earth patrols around Wossert Military Penitentiary. Getting to a ship past the goons guarding the prisoners downside was equally problematic. In her day dreams she always surmounted those little obstacles and made for open space and freedom with enough void under her boot heels to go anywhere in the known twelve universes. In the real world of barbed razor wire and las-cannon installations along impenetrable electo-mag reinforced fences, depression was the outcome, not escape. It was not going to happen. She tried not to think about death and thought about death.
Her fifteen cell mates were a cross of human hybrids and sentient insects. Sleeping without safety netting secure, she had been told in orientation, could result in the loss of a limb. At least her bright red paper fiber uniform only had a few holes; no access for the larger vermin. Rat was rare, but tasty. Life was fine.
“Kavargg,” the Livotian hailed her from across the cell.
“Abagat, Lutzj,” Korviaaslx sent greetings and assured the Livot she was not suicidal. Livotis tended to kill themselves frequently, then rejuvenate after shedding their skin. Not an easy process for a full blood human to watch and smell. Lutzj, you’ve died six, no seven times, since I got here twenty four months ago, Earth Standard. You don’t look so good.
“Excellent!” Arrag switched on her translator. “Lessons?”
The Livotian never tired of training; a DNA imprint made them excellent teachers of virtually, well, anything. A’Rrag was the only friend Korvia had made here. Learning Lutzjii was taking lots of time, but then, presently, they both had lots of that. Once you got past the purple drool, he wasn’t bad company.
“Negative,” Korvia mostly fell from the plasbrick wall supporting her back, and rolled onto her cot. She tried to plump up the pillow, but it remained flat and hard. “Later, tomorrow. Any word on when the next water shipment is due in?”
“In last cycle. Not delivered for water worlders. I must change soon.”
This was really bad news. Water was life at Wossert Military Penitentiary. WMP. Womp, as the inmates called it, was short rationing water. If you were not from a water world, it was okay, if you were, it was cause for panic. So far sixty two prisoners had been blood and cell siphoned for the water in their bodies.
The reservoir was reported low due to a spill caused by a shipper tractor wheel malfunction. That was the official version for the prisoners, but somehow Lutzj had ferreted out the truth. The warden, a Galati denizen, a giant among most races, was selling their water to a local mining cooperative. Unfortunately, the only one to file a complaint with was the warden. He was a seven feet or better tall quarterback built Obenar Clan Chieftain of Galat System, who owned four excessively bulky tri-jointed muscular arms. He, currently in male articulation, had no mouth Kor had ever discovered the few times she was in the warden’s company. The first time was soon after arrival, during the orientation talk that had not proven very helpful. She had seen him twice since then, post uprisings when punishments were force-witnessed by everyone. Jims Salec hailed from Galat’s third most populous system that was farmed by the Furstian Empire. He was some kind of royalty, but, according to Lutzj, no one knew his connection to the Hierarchy.
Too many mouths to feed had caused Jims to take this assignment. With him, torture with a pair of pliers or a scalpel would have been more welcome than his version of conditioning or correction. Sadists would have winced at what was left of anyone on his bad side. Remains were what prisoners called what was carried from his quarters when he finished ministrations to out-world born. To survive, Kors tried to remain as invisible as possible. So far, it had been a relatively painless stay.
No recreation, no exercise sessions in null-g gyms, no walks, no contact with anyone outside her cell; it was lonesome, but safe. Exercising in a six meter by eight meter rectangle, when his cell mates were gone, had kept her in relatively good shape. Scurvy had been avoided by drinking small sips of worm water, made from the centipedes that were ravenously attracted to the compound’s citrus stores, their favorite nesting site.
News came in sporadically, usually via new prisoners. There were whispers, which meant they were more than rumors on the shipping lanes, that United Earth Systems was expanding exponentially across Zeta Quadrant. Kors wondered why. There was nothing out there.
She considered a hair cut. Lice and millipedes were a plague in long locks. Too despondent to rise, hungry, thirsty, and insomniatic, she slumped into her flat pillow and tried to remember what a real pillow felt like.
“Kirvas of Earth Moon!”
“Korviaaslax Sapphir,” she corrected, sitting up to find an enormous four eyed Trazian goon on the other side of the e-barrier. Dirty uniform of dull gray, no merit patches visible, a very large lon charged quadri-automatic riot gun hung from a broad leather belt buckled below an overly well fed gut. Two eyes settled on her. Two scanned the other prisoners in the cell.
“What do you want with me?’
“Pleasure call. You’re up.”
The bribes had been costly, rations mostly, so that expressly this kind of thing did not happen. Exotic was not her favorite word and most of the guards were alien with large genitalia that would do more than hurt; more like tear and put in the surgery. Survival stats usually described how many pieces ended up on a morgue slab. Here at Womp, the surgery was a de facto death sentence, and not just for human born.
Stench would have been welcomed instead of what Kors was forced to inhale on route to the guard barracks. She walked, stumbled, fell, rose slow, and got an obedience bat to the buttocks for delaying the inevitable. Jeers from behind e-bars became a conflagration of English and out-sector slung lingo of congratulations. The rule went: If it’s you it ain’t me, so hoorah!
Death was preferable to what was about to go down. Zx, her longest cell mate, had returned from surgery with one breast and less her left claw which had been eaten by a Snorgondian. Korvia wondered if there were going to be any Snorgs in her immediate future. If I survive, maybe Lutzj will help me suicide.
The walk was long and she arrived outside the great wooden off limits field reinforced security doors winded. Fighting off her prospective partners, who would have at her for several days, was not going to be an option. She could already feel the stinging injections and the tight fit of the obedience field that would allow her paramours to control her muscles. Who or what was the question that owned her, for the moment. Life was no longer fine.
* * * *
Jims was the target partner and he preferred no restraints. Kors was thrown into the room at his feet to the sound of his gargled laughter. His robe was open and he was nude beneath heavy shiny gold brocade with a wide black lapel. It had little fern patterns on it. The buzz and sizzle of the restored e-bars behind her caused triplets of despair to show up; a dry throat, trembling, and no escape possible were her new cell mates. Why did everyone here have muscles like a half back with a murder in the eyes attitude? Nice tapestries on your walls. The Toringian Wars?
The voice was alto, high ranged, and irritatingly loud via the translator. “Thought you would not be noticed, Earth born? I’ve been…”
Before he could finish his taunting introduction and explain her fate, teeth, jagged sharp, huge enough to remove half of the room, sliced through the quarter. Tapestries were gulleted by the monstrous metasteel throat. Art ripped away exposed blood stained aqua painted stone beneath. The four poster and its high mattresses and purple dyed drapery joined the mounds of debris. Wood splinters pelted Korvia because the jaws were light speed fast and purely designed to scoop and clear without delay. Someone is in a hurry to destroy the prison, Kor thought as she stumbled to the center of the great room to avoid death by projectiles. Her face bled as walls crumbled around her. The ceiling was swallowed in one unbelievably huge gulp which kept her from being crushed by the three stories overhead. It was big. Whoever owned it knew their business. Fortunately, the next chewed section took the warden and stained the few erect cell stones with blue blood. She smiled wanly that he went first. He had earned such a death. As his screams and howls died, Korvia knew, bone deep, that she too would die screaming.
Troopers in white full atmosphere gear tumbled from the crest of dust clouded rubble and descended on Korvas as the directed wall cruncher moved further along the perimeter, dissuading anyone to try to rescue the warden. More deterring was the fact that it consumed anything that shot at it. Soon, no gun shots or grenades were heard as running was the wiser course. Korvia heard heavy scurrying boots abruptly stop as the jaws descended and ingested the stones beneath them.
She reared, but the emblem on the shoulder of her rescuers were identical to the Imperium of Zakaxenjia. Allies! More accurately, Kors told herself, Subjugated pawns of Thrask.
“Come!” the Captain of the Zaka rescue team shouted.
It was probably the only word the Zak knew. Their antenna looked like multiple spiders on their heads and the eyes were sensors on the side of very long beaks. Add to that their smell and you didn’t mind so much the sixteen crab jointed legs and huge symbiotic sublife feline mites sucking on their pink skin. They wore no helmets. They didn’t need any.
“Yes!” she infused as much enthusiasm as she could yell into the affirmative and darted to the lone standing table, slung the water satchel over her shoulder, then followed the Zee born from the totally demolished quadrant of the prison. Gun fire was silenced by the time they reached the atrium where a medium range squat speeder sat bellowing stream from cooling thruster fins. The rear cargo port opened as they approached. The Captain provided Korviaaslax with an air mask that filtered out dust choked air. Korvias looked through the face shielding at the gargantuan metallic mammoth scooping up what remained of the prison block. She would miss Lutzj and hoped its ending had been quick. There would be no rejuv this time. Korvias’s eyes watered.
This was not the time to ask questions. Zaks were not exactly garrulous beings, and rescue was rescue. Zaks, armed with big weapons, were more action oriented mercenaries, Korvias recollected from exoskeleton biotic denizen studies. She breathed exceptionally fresh air and marched fast to keep up, trying not to stand too long down wind of the alien warrior. Face masks only keep out the big particles, she thought, picked up pace, spitting out stray grit. Either from exhaustion, dehydration, or thinking too much in too short a period of time, she developed a white giant sized headache.
Luxury was defined as lots of space and real seats with flight straps neatly lain upon bright orange pressure couches. Pillows. There were head rests and pillows. The ceiling was high webbed steel, the command pit behind glasteel two stories up was beautiful to a pilot who had not seen operational equipment or a pilot’s berth in a while.
Loudly, the great maw formed by the exit ramp-portal grated slowly toward space worthy seals. Kor became mesmerized by the suddenly open landscape beyond the diminishing egress. Trees. Lots of trees, mountains, and a cloudless pale ochre sky. Urban high rising structures patch-quilted the horizon. Military or civilian? Korviaaslax Sapphir wondered. If this is an UE space port, how did the Zakas get past world defenses?
She wanted answers and turned to the one other occupant in the cargo hold. The Zak born now awkwardly and clamororously scaled the forward metasteel hand stair. Her dry mouth fell open and refused to close as a white uniformed Earther turned from facing the side bar and grinned up at Korviaaslax Sapphir. “What are you doing here!”
In her small gauntlets were two canteens of water. As she advanced, the satchel Korvia had on her shoulder slid off and slapped gurgling to the deck.
“Yeah, it’s me. Pauline,” the little human Bostonian born grinned. “JUu sent me.”