1.21 - Savage Garden (PG-13) Bone to be Wild
| Posted: November 30, 2007 |
| Author: Chaz |
[b]Setting:[/b] Bone to Be Wild
[b]Beta Reader:[/b] The stalwart spirit, who didn?t nitpick at all on this one for the first read-thru, and I was too frelling impatient to wait for the second one.
[b]Author Notes:[/b] Twenty-first story in the Season of Innocence series. Sorry for the long delay between stories, but RL reared its ugly head. Now that I have more time on my hands, I intend to do a lot of writing-as-therapy to take my mind off the depressing facts of life.
[b]Disclaimer:[/b] Hopefully Kemper, Henson, et al won?t have a bone to pick with me for taking poetic license with their creations. No money being made, no disrespect or infringement of anyone?s rights intended here.
If her kind has a specific name, she doesn?t know it. The People are all gone now; only she remains. She will never have a mate. She will never bear offspring. She will die soon on this lonely rock, to slowly rot with nothing but the tiniest of scavengers to eat her flesh and lay bare the remnants of her Bones.
But at least she will take the last of the Outsiders with her.
They arrived in their big, noisy ship, so pleased with themselves, so proud of their species? accomplishment in creating this lush garden world. [i]Her world.[/i] Her People had had this world to themselves for hundreds of cycles, living midst its beauty and thriving off its bounty, their numbers growing in its diverse ecology from tens to many hundreds of People over the course of a few generations.
The Outsiders thought M?Lee primitive and stupid, that she wouldn?t know who they were because her People had no written language with which to pass down knowledge. The People simply had no need of one. They knew who they were and how they had come to be here. They could read the natural world directly, without symbols obscuring matters. Interpret the play of light and shadow through the leaves, the rich spoor and scents of Prey; intimate knowledge of the dense terrain where they hunted; home, playground, larder. They did what they had to do, in order to survive. She knew exactly who these big, coarse, ugly beasts were; the ones who had exiled M?Lee?s People to this place.
Drawing on the wisdom of her Elders, who had schooled her in the art of Hunting all manner of Prey, M?Lee approached the Outsiders subserviently and ingratiated herself with them, and they were arrogant and foolish enough not to fear her. When she knew them all, their scents and routines and vulnerabilities?they came to fear her [i]then.[/i]
They sustained her for a long time, and now only Br?Nee is left. Once he is gone, she will starve and eventually her body will consume her own Bones and she will die a protracted and agonizing death.
This is what Br?Nee?s people had knowingly condemned her People to; starvation while their bodies gradually dissolved their own Bones for sustenance.
There is might in numbers, and her Family had numbered five; her Brothers were among the most skilled Hunters of the People. When the food was all gone, Mother and Father protected M?Lee from the Others; her Brothers fed her. It was heartbreaking to share the Bones of cousins and neighbors, but it was also a mercy.
M?Lee comforts herself with that thought, now that she is all alone; she had done the merciful thing. In the end, when they had no one left but each other, she had swiftly and painlessly killed her Family in their sleep. They had sheltered her, and she had spared them the anguish of killing one another. Upon her own small shoulders, M?Lee took up the burden of guilt and the anticipated agony of slow starvation.
Sweet fortune brought Br?Nee and his mates to her world before the last of her Brother?s Bones were consumed, so that she was able to exert the control necessary to appear harmless and gain their trust so that she could learn their weaknesses.
M?Lee damaged their ship so they could not escape this place. Then one by one by one, she had stalked and killed them, first paralyzing the Outsiders with her venomous barbs and then using her claws and the enzymes in her saliva to free the heavy Bones from the meaty flesh that had housed them and drag them off to her hidden feeding ground.
There she had given proper reverence to the Gods for their bounty, whispering the name of a loved one who had died for the sake of the Outsiders? precious pharmacological paradise as she fed. Much good it will do any of [i]them.[/i]
Br?Nee is stronger than M?Lee, and he has learned caution now that he fears her. She can only be patient a little while; her Brother will sustain her for but a short time. Br?Nee will either make a mistake and succumb to the same fate as the Others, which is only justice, or he will kill her first, which would be a mercy.
Either way, they will both die in this place. Br?Nee is a botanist, not a tech. He can?t escape any more than she can, or so M?Lee thinks until he changes his routine.
The People are calcivores; not scavengers, a predator species. M?Lee has her weapons and defenses, stealth among them. She is weakening from lack of food, but can still get close enough to see and hear what Br?Nee is up to, what he is trying to do.
She learns there are more Outsiders in the area. Br?Nee can detect them with the equipment in his ship and he is trying to send out a message, but doesn?t have enough power. Cursing and muttering, he redirects energy to the communications system.
?Just one chance at this,? he murmurs.
M?Lee crouches still as death within the walls of Br?Nee?s ship until he goes outside to make some final adjustment. The plan springs full-blown into her mind and she explodes into action, jumping up and silently running to the comms array once he is out of sight.
She has only moments to spare; flicking the switch to open the channel, she whispers desperately, ?Please! Please, please, please! Hear me! I'm stranded here with my Family. We're under attack! Please help us! Please come quickly, as soon as you can! There's a creature here??
As expected, Br?Nee returns and roars in outrage. M?Lee screams dramatically and bolts for the exit she left cracked open at the back of the ship, knowing that if she can stay out of his reach till then, he cannot catch her. She will melt into the forest like rain into the river, and bide her time.
She is careless in her elation as she watches the ship descend and Br?Nee catches her unawares. He knocks her to the ground and then viciously kicks her side as she tries to rise to her feet to run. M?Lee rolls away, stands gracelessly and staggers out of the monster?s reach. He gives chase and M?Lee flees, breathless with pain and fear.
Her injury slows her steps and she cannot lose him in the heavy forest. He crashes right through the undergrowth she must dodge around, slowly gaining on M?Lee as she feints and twists. She heads to higher ground, hoping that forcing Br?Nee to power his massive bulk uphill will allow her to outpace the Outsider.
He is panting heavily now, but so is she. M?Lee throws a panicked glance back over her shoulder to judge the distance between them and regrets it instantly when her foot catches on a low-lying branch and she goes down hard and hits the side of her head against a tree. Dazed, she cringes as her pursuer lets out a mighty roar and tears a large rock from the ground and raises it above his head. M?Lee shrieks repeatedly in genuine terror and tries to crawl away.
One of the Others from the new ship shouts and then fires a weapon at him and Br?Nee drops the boulder and lumbers off into the dense undergrowth. Scrambling to her feet, M?Lee rushes towards her rescuer and clutches at him, begging him to help her.
One of his mates joins him and tells her, ?It's all right. You're safe, now.?
The one who drove Br?Nee off says forcefully, ?Where are the Others? Where is your Family??
?You have to protect me!? M?Lee cries piteously.
?No?[i]listen[/i] to me,? he insists. ?Where - are - the [i]Others??[/i]
?He killed them all,? she lies. ?Please help me.?
?Please help me! Please, please, please...?
?He got away,? says the one who chased after Br?Nee. ?He knows the terrain too well.?
The tall blue female says soothingly, ?My name is Zhaan. This is Crichton. That's D'Argo. We are here to help you, dear.?
?What's your name?? Crichton asks quietly, responding as expected to her apparent helplessness and fear.
?I am M'Lee.?
?Look,? the one called D?Argo says impatiently, ?Do you have any maps so we can find our way out of this asteroid field??
M'Lee instinctively throws herself at the glowering newcomer. He is huge, taller than Br?Nee though not as massive, but he is well-armed and will make a fine protector if she can engage his sympathies, and later an even finer meal.
?Used to,? she claims breathlessly, clinging to him. ?All destroyed. All gone. Please don't leave me behind here! Not with him!?
?Let's go back to the transport pod,? D?Argo says gruffly to the Others.
?Oh! Transport pod!? M?Lee is delighted. A transport pod means there is an even larger ship somewhere nearby, with even more food, if she can get to it. ?Is?is it well-guarded? Well-protected? Is it? If not, he will find it! He will attack it!?
They take her with them as they return to their transport pod, where she will have the leisure and privacy to learn their weaknesses if Br?Nee does not ambush her or warn them before they reach it. M?Lee anxiously tries to hurry them and her urgency spurs them to move quickly.
?Fire up the drive,? the tall one orders as they precede her into the small ship.
?I'm on it,? Crichton says and then yells incoherently as he catches sight of Br?Nee, waiting for them inside.
M?Lee screams and hides, infusing them with her fear of Br?Nee, and they draw their weapons on him. The next few moments are a confusion of motion and sound as Br?Nee charges at D?Argo, throws him aside and rushes out of the pod.
As Crichton gives chase, Zhaan rushes to where D?Argo is slumped against the wall.
?I told you this was a miserable place,? he tells his mate, words slurring.
?Where are you hurt?? she asks.
?At the moment?everywhere.?
M?Lee?s heart races with excitement at the scent of blood, but forces herself to calm. She is too cunning a Hunter to give herself away before they return to their home ship, where there is a larger supply of food available.
Crichton returns, saying, ?It's gone. The access point is secure. It ain't gettin' back in. We're safe.?
Her rush of relief is short-lived as D?Argo responds, ?And crippled. I hit the second fuel pump. You hit the main thruster control.?
M?Lee fights panic and despair. Her hunger is growing. Soon she will lose the ability to control it. If they don?t leave this place soon, she is doomed.
?Yeah, yeah. I'll fix it. Are you okay??
Crichton seems nonchalantly confident of his ability to repair the damage, and M?Lee relaxes for the first time in?she cannot remember how long.
?I've a broken teroch. Probably internal bleeding. But I?? D?Argo chokes and gags up blood, and M?Lee?s mouth floods with digestive fluids as the scent intensifies. ?[i]Definitely[/i] internal bleeding...?
Oh, he will make a [i]fine[/i] meal!
Zhaan fusses over her injured mate, trying to persuade him to take the herbs she has gathered, which he petulantly refuses.
As they argue, M?Lee drifts over towards Crichton as he works at repairing the damage to the pod, and sniffs him, eyes closing in ecstasy. His aroma is strong, sweat and flesh nearly overpowering the more delicate scent of hidden Bone. He smells [i]delicious.[/i]
?So, how many in your group, did you say?? Crichton asks, glancing at her briefly.
?Forty-one originally,? she answers truthfully. Carried to this world in cages, like dangerous animals to be released into the wild. His hands make deft adjustments, and M?Lee can almost taste the dainty Bones of his fingers crunching between her teeth. ?We intended to colonize here. My Father, my Mother, two Brothers.?
?And they're all???
?The creature gets ravenous often,? M?Lee dissembles.
Zhaan approaches, saying, ?John, we need more kijrot root. D'Argo?s injuries are not improving.?
M'Lee turns to her and sniffs at Zhaan. She smells?odd. Zhaan frowns at her.
?All right. One quick trip to the pharmacy, coming up. Out the door. Turn left at the creature,? Crichton says flippantly.
M'Lee smiles winningly at Zhaan. ?You smell different.? She sniffs the tall blue female again. ?You smell like?out there.?
?Your olfactory senses are very good. I am also flora.?
At this unwelcome news, M?Lee leaves her side and edges closer to the injured D?Argo.
Crichton chuckles derisively, ?Yeah, right.? At the look Zhaan gives him then, Crichton asks in confusion, ?Say what??
?Didn't you know?? she replies, amused.
?Know what? You're a [i]plant??[/i] he says in disbelief.
?Always have been, John. Why? Does it bother you??
?No, it doesn't?bother me,? Crichton says, though clearly he is nonplussed. ?I just never?suspected... [i]You're a vegetable?!?[/i]
M?Lee crouches beside the injured Outsider and sniffs him hungrily.
As Zhaan laughs merrily, D?Argo says, ?Everyone knows that Delvians are flora-evolved.? He snarls weakly at her and M?Lee recoils.
M?Lee offers to accompany Zhaan and Crichton on their mission, to help them find their way back quickly, she claims. In truth, she fears that the scent of D?Argo?s blood will overwhelm her resolve and she will prematurely give away her true nature by feasting on him in their absence.
The Others discuss Zhaan?s floral origins as she gathers the material she needs.
?Sentient floran life isn't all that unusual, John. I have cartilaginous fibers instead of Bone.?
[i]Useless, useless.[/i] M?Lee loses interest in their conversation.
?You okay?? Crichton asks her a little while later. ?When was the last time you ate??
?I'm not hungry yet,? M?Lee says flatly. Soon, though. Soon her body will have extracted all the nutrition of the last morsel of her Brother?s last Bone and the hunger will take her over.
She takes a few steps away from Crichton and gets a whiff of familiar Prey. ?It's coming!? she warns, and when they don?t leave immediately, M?Lee disappears into the darkness of the undergrowth to hide.
Crichton stumbles after her in the dark, whispering her name furiously. She waits until he is right upon her before whispering back, ?I?m here.?
He takes hold of her wrist and scolds her for making him abandon Zhaan to find her as he hauls her back with him. When Br?Nee?s roar resounds throughout the forest, M?Lee digs her heels in and forces Crichton to drag her while she babbles in fear. When they reach the area where they left her, Zhaan is nowhere to be found.
?I?m sorry about your female,? M?Lee says with false contrition. [i]Useless plant.[/i] Her hunger is growing by the moment, and she is furious with Br?Nee for this fatal delay. ?I was scared.?
?It's not your fault,? Crichton replies shortly.
?No, it was [i]your[/i] fault,? D?Argo growls. ?You were meant to look after Zhaan. Instead, you went run??
?It was [i]instinct,[/i] D'Argo!? Crichton rejoins defensively. ?You understand instinct. Every single thing you do is [i]based[/i] on it.? More quietly, ?Besides, there was no indication that she'd been??
?Eaten,? M?Lee interjects. ?She won't be. The creature will take your friend to his eating grounds before killing her.? It is what [i]she[/i] would do, at any rate, and perhaps she can entice Crichton to follow her there to search for his mate. M?Lee is running out of time and she [i]must[/i] eat, soon.
?He?? [i]That's[/i] it. Tell me how to get there,? Crichton says decisively.
?I [i]can't![/i] Y-you just?have to [i]know[/i] it.? With rising elation, M?Lee jumps to her feet as if making a decision. ?I'll take you.?
?No-no-no! It's too dangerous, I don?t??
?Let her [i]take[/i] you, John.?
?I can smell him?long before you'll ever know he's around,? she says insistently.
?I'm much better off than Zhaan,? D?Argo declares. ?Go. Go! Find her.?
?Fine. C'mon,? Crichton tells M?Lee, and she follows him out of the transport pod.
?This way...over here. This is where the eating is done.? She leads him to the dark, rocky clearing where she always feeds, strewn with the useless, rotting flesh of the Outsiders.
?We'll be out of here as fast as we can,? Crichton assures her. Looking around in distaste, he wrinkles his nose and continues, ?Damn. Ugly leftovers.?
M?Lee couldn?t agree more. Without the lovely, tasty Bones, so white and smooth and enticing, what is left is nothing but smelly garbage.
?Is there another place he could have taken Zhaan??
Before M?Lee can answer, the Transformation is upon her, doubling her over in pain as the rigid venom tubes force their way out through passages shrunken and hardened by semi-starvation. She involuntarily groans in agony.
Crichton glances over his shoulder at her. ?You all right??
?I'm feeling...[i]huuungry[/i]...? she growls.
The unsuspecting Outsider turns away again. ?Look, I'll get you some food as soon as we get back to the transport. Right now??
Weapon spikes begin to erupt from M'Lee?s body and head, her feeding teeth extrude excruciatingly and her mouth floods with digestive juices. She has never experienced such a painful Transformation before; she has never gone so long between feedings before, either. Instinct is taking over, need drives her closer to the unwary Outsider who could have been her salvation, but now will stave off her death for only a few more solar days.
??you know, M'Lee??
?Fooood...? she croons, mindless with hunger.
?Do [i]not[/i] go squirrelly on me here, all right? You gotta help me find my friend.?
Crichton turns towards her again and yells incoherently in shock at the sight of her, but before M?Lee can strike, matters deteriorate into chaos as he fires his weapon first at her, then at Br?Nee who has plunged onto the scene as well. Even if she were not in such a weakened condition, M?Lee could not take both of the massive males on at once and she flees in despair, disappearing into the jungle that has always sheltered her.
Safely away, M?Lee screams repeatedly in fury and frustration as her weapons retract back into swollen, tender flesh. Br?Nee will be filling the Outsiders? heads with lies and half-truths at the first chance he gets, and soon the Prey will all escape, leaving her to starve here alone. She must?she must [i]speak[/i] to them, tell them her side of the matter and beg them for mercy. M?Lee backtracks and picks up the scent their trail, which leads straight to Br?Nee?s ship.
This calms her; while she knows how to gain entry to the transport pod, there is no safe place within it for her to hide, but Br?Nee?s much larger, cluttered ship has several points of entry she can use and many places in which to hide. Stealthily, M?Lee creeps inside and conceals herself while she listens and waits for the opportunity to speak to the new Outsiders without Br?Nee?s interference.
?Howling's stopped,? Crichton comments. ?What's that mean??
?Well, at a guess, she's gone to see if your tentacled friend is out in the open by himself. M'Lee prefers easy prey,? Br?Nee replies with contempt in his tone.
M?Lee gnashes her teeth in hatred. Well, of [i]course[/i] she prefers easy prey. It is the way of all Hunters; the young, the old, the lame are always the first to be harvested. In a fully-balanced ecology, it keeps the food stock strong and healthy. It is [i]not[/i] her People?s fault that they were brought here precisely [i]because[/i] this world is too small to have a truly balanced ecology.
?All right, then. Pick it up, Zhaan! We gotta go.?
M?Lee quivers with anguish, realizing that they will all be leaving this world within the arn, leaving her to starve all alone.
Zhaan is cheerfully gathering up the things she needs from Br?Nee?s stores and he moves closer to help her find something she cannot locate.
?I take it you know a way back to our transport?? Crichton says to Br?Nee.
?Yes. A route M'Lee avoids. Along the ridge line.?
She gives a feral smile. M?Lee only avoids that route because it leads straight back to her Nest, and she is too canny a Hunter to allow herself to become the Prey.
?Then pick it up! Let's go!?
Br?Nee shows off one of his species? machines, which replicates the plant Zhaan needs.
In an awed tone she says, ?By the Goddess, I've never seen anything like it.?
?Couldn't transport all the desired samples if not for the capacity to miniaturize them,? Br?Nee says smugly.
?That is a [i]very[/i] impressive machine,? Crichton says, but when Br'Nee chuckles in pride, he adds dismissively, ?My aunt had one. C'mon, Zhaan, let's go,? and heads for the door.
Br'Nee says frantically, ?You must stay behind with your weapon! It will scare M'Lee away! If not, she'll descend on everything - and [i]destroy[/i] it all!?
M?Lee sneers at the malicious lie. She has no interest whatsoever in Br?Nee?s damnable collection.
?There is [i]no[/i] way I'm gonna let Zhaan go out there alone with [i]you,?[/i] John says aggressively. Perhaps he is not as stupid or as trusting as he seems.
Br'Nee pants heatedly, ?And no way will I let that beast destroy everything my mate [i]died[/i] to help accumulate!?
?We'll be all right, John,? Zhaan reassures her mate.
?After she's with your friend, I'll return and together we can help transport all the vials to your ship. That is my one condition, but it is [i]non-negotiable!?[/i]
?Fine,? John says shortly. ?Go.?
Zhaan leaves the ship, but as Br'Nee makes to follow John stops him and M?Lee overhears him say quietly, ?If you're not back in an arn, M'Lee won't be the only one hunting you down. Capice??
Hope surges within her at Crichton?s protective display towards his female. Perhaps, as is the case with many species, or so her Elders have taught M?Lee, his protective instincts can also be engaged on behalf of an unmated female such as herself. As Br?Nee leaves, M?Lee hisses sharply in pain as her weapons begin to extrude autonomically at the sight of the lone Prey.
John wheels around at the sound, peering about the cluttered ship intently. ?M'Lee? M'Lee!?
?I'm [i]hungry,[/i] John!? she cries, a warning and a plea.
He moves stealthily around, looking for her. ?M'Lee? M'Lee, take it outside! Us southern boys don't make good eatin'. Not without a fight.?
She has no intention of fighting the bigger male. M?Lee needs more from John than just his Bones. She makes a conscious effort to fight her instincts, to appear harmless so he will be willing to hear her out.
?M'LEE!? he shouts.
?Have to eat, John.?
?And I'm it, huh??
?I've been here the whole time. I've heard all that Br'Nee said about me.?
?What? That you're gonna devour our Bones if you get the chance??
?He didn't tell you all of it. I [i]need[/i] you to know the truth!?
?Is that before or [i]after[/i] I supply your daily recommended allowance of calcium?? John asks tauntingly.
Unable to regain full control so quickly, M?Lee nonetheless moves into his view with a shriek of pain and hunger. He fires at her ? he is either a terrible shot, or he is merely giving her fair warning not to approach closer ? and she stops short, facing him, determined to have her say.
?His People brought my Ancestors to this asteroid for a purpose?to rid it of all herbivorous life-forms.?
?So what are you saying, Spikey? You saying there used to be plant-eating life here??
?Thousands of creatures! Plenty of food for my Ancestors, plenty of food. Until?there was nothing.?
?Br'Nee?s kind must have known that?your People would eventually decimate the food supply.?
M?Lee is relieved that he sees the point so quickly. ?They expected us to do their dirty work for them and be long dead by now,? she says bitterly. ?Only their precious plants would remain.?
?How did you survive??
M?Lee bows her head in shame and grief, unable to bring herself to acknowledge the terrible truth.
?M'Lee!? At least John has lowered his gun, signaling his willingness to listen.
Sobbing, she admits, ?In the end, we only had each other!?
?And then Br'Nee?s People arrived. And they became Prey.?
?I was hungry.? [i]And it was no more than they deserved.[/i]
?As you are now,? he says pointedly.
She gives John a long, silent stare, unsure how to get through to him. Well, he has already heard the shameful worst of it and perhaps he can be reasoned with after all. Desperate for him to understand, she moves closer. ?But I also know?after I satisfy myself on your Bones and those of your friends, and finally of Br'Nee, I will eventually starve to death anyway.?
John raises his gun again. ?That's far enough. So what did you have in mind??
?I will control my hunger and you will provide me access to a more permanent food supply,? M?Lee bargains.
?You want me?to take [i]you?with[/i] us??
She can understand his incredulity. John has seen her in her Hunter phase, and she did nearly attack him, after all. ?Br'Nee knows where my kind lives. Make him tell you?and then take me there.?
John laughs in outright disbelief as he says, ?You have GOT to be KIDDING ME! Right??
She can only gaze sadly at the Outsider, realizing that no amount of pleading on her part will sway him.
It occurs to M?Lee that one of the Others may be more amenable to persuasion than John. She judges that Zhaan would be her most likely advocate, but as is only proper, the males see to it that she is never alone. She can see no help for it; she must approach D?Argo and try to reason with him while there is still time and opportunity. M?Lee makes herself as presentable and harmless-seeming as she can, and seeks him out in the Outsiders? transport pod. D?Argo is standing with his back to her as M?Lee enters the ship, busy with some controls.
?Back already? You made good time. Do you have the charts?? he asks without turning around.
The big male seems recovered from his injury and M?Lee sniffs curiously. No scent of blood remains.
D'Argo turns at the sound, and then quickly puts the console between them as he brandishes a weapon.
?NO!? she says quickly. ?Don't kill me, please! I-I came...to talk.?
?You're no longer the feral beast. That means?you've eaten.?
She gives him an ingratiating smile. ?I won't hurt you, I Promise.?
?I cannot guarantee the same for you if you move towards me.?
[i]Fair enough.[/i] M?Lee remains still, remains calm so he will not become too frightened to hear what she has to say.
?What, uh, who?did you eat??
?Why do you look like that??
?I used all of my remaining calcium to present myself in this way.? She has taken a terrible risk. Her body has nothing left to feed upon except itself, and the scent of D?Argo?s heavy Bones encased within his flesh is a maddening temptation.
?So?? Against her will, M?Lee?s body abruptly begins to respond to the scent of Prey and she pants with the effort to control it. She screams as the venom spines force themselves out through her flesh, tries to fight past the excruciating pain to make him understand. ?You?you?? She screams again, writhing in agony as the Transformation relentlessly continues. ?YOU WOULD LISTEN!? M?Lee gasps, struggling with all her might to remain in control. ?I'M-I'M STARVING TO DEATH! I MUST EAT! YOU MUST TAKE ME WITH YOU! OH, GIVE ME [i][b]FOOOOOOOD!?[/b][/i]
?I'm sorry,? he says quietly. ?But I have nothing to offer you.?
Panting and softly weeping, M?Lee begs, ?Please! Please! Anything! Anything!?
?Except, there's a ship of beings out there. Thousands. No one will regret their passing. You can have as many as you can lay claim to.?
And what good does [i]that[/i] do her? Sobbing now in pure desperation, ?How do I?? How do I get there??
?They are coming. Soon. As soon as we start the engines and blast off from here,? he asserts.
?Oh, you?you Promise??
?Thousands,? D?Argo swears solemnly.
?I-I-I will, I will control my urge,? she vows. Struggling mightily to do so, M?Lee leaves the Outsiders? ship before she loses control and with it, her last chance.
The Outsiders are emptying Br?Nee?s ship when she arrives, nearly delirious with starvation. Already her body is leaching the calcium from her Bones and very soon they will be too brittle for her to be able to even stand anymore without snapping under her own weight.
?Zhaan, it's time,? John says. ?C?mon.?
M'Lee steps into view with a roar as the Prey cause painful Transformation to begin anew with a vengeance.
?CRAP!? John shouts, startled. ?M?Lee.?
She has made a Promise and will not break her word, even though it is killing her to do so. ?Starvation,? she pants, and weakly sinks to her knees.
Zhaan crouches beside her, puts an arm around her. ?M'Lee, dear, I wish we could help you.?
John also crouches down to be at eye level with her. ?Zhaan, we have to find a way to take her with us, somehow, some way.?
M?Lee is touched by their generosity and it strengthens her resolve. ?No. Not unless you're willing to sacrifice your shipmates one at a time,? she warns them with bitter honesty. ?D'Argo told me there were others coming?called Peacekeepers. I will try to hold on until then. But I must eat something [i]now.?[/i] She begins to weep hopelessly, knowing they have nothing or they would have surely offered it before now.
?Bones. We have Bones,? John says, and points. ?Br'Nee.?
With a gasp of gratitude, M?Lee recognizes the faint scent of cooked meat. She hurries to what remains of the Prey, saliva falling onto the flesh in a torrent and peeling it away from the precious Bone beneath. M?Lee loses no time in clawing one free and begins to feast, heedless of the blood and bits of meat that still cling to it.
?There is much cruelty in the universe,? Zhaan observes quietly behind her.
?Yeah, we seem to have a treasure map to it. Bone appetit.?
M?Lee tears another Bone free as they leave her.
It is just as D?Argo Promised her. Within arns after their departure, an even larger ship arrives with many Prey aboard. M?Lee offers up a prayer of thanksgiving to the Gods and allows them to find her. They take her aboard their vessel to speak to their Eldest.
?Sir. We found a survivor. She spent time with the fugitives and may have information that is useful to us.?
The Eldest is beautiful, skin pale and near-translucent over his prominent Bones, with not an ounce of useless flesh to spare. M'Lee latches desperately onto him and pleads with cunning guile, ?Please! Please, please, please help me! I'm all alone here! They killed my Family! Please! Please!?
?We must know when to be strong and?when to show compassion,? the Eldest says to his subordinate.
?Thank you. Thank you,? M?Lee whispers, triumph rising like a tide within her.
?As a matter of honor,? he continues, ?Sometimes?? He pulls M?Lee close in what is meant to be a comforting embrace, ?We must be willing to give of ourselves.?
She smiles at this innocently prophetic statement and rests her head against the Eldest?s chest. M'Lee inhales his delectable scent deeply and relaxes into the unsuspecting Outsider?s embrace.
With Br?Nee?s Bones to sustain her for at least several days, M?Lee will have the leisure to learn the new territory and her new Preys? routines and vulnerabilities so that she might safely Hunt among them. In time they may even transport her to another place in which she will have a whole world in which to Hunt. M?Lee closes her eyes, quivering in ecstasy.
??and it appears that the new directives and security measures that have been instituted have finally put an end to the rash of desertions among the conscripted recruits, sir. We haven?t had a single cadet reported AWOL for any of the last three ports of call.?
?Very good, Braca. I believe it would be wise to maintain these new procedures as standard practice. It does not reflect well on us with High Command to have so many deserters among our ranks. Seventeen in total within the last quarter-cycle, was it??
?Eighteen, sir, if you include that alien we rescued in the asteroid field a few monens back. She never reported back in to the Maintenance Provost after being granted shore leave at?? Braca consulted his datapad, ?Kershoom.?
?The agricultural planet? Well, it is of no importance. Perhaps it reminded M?Lee of her homeworld, the poor little wretch.? Scorpius had felt a measure of empathy for the creature whose family had been murdered, much as his own had been. He returned his attention to more vital matters, and never gave the strange little alien another thought.