“This specimen scares too easily so I’ll take you in one by one. Read the information first to keep questions in the nurturing unit to a minimum.”
A door closes. I’m waking up … in a strange place. Where am I this time? What am I? It’s probable I’ve woken up in a different world as a different thing – again.
The voice, a woman’s I think, goes on. “Have you seen a rapser before, Hera?”
Hera, presumably, replies, “No, never been interested. Is that it? How could something so scrawny physically dominate and enslave everyone? I mean, it looks like a long, underfed chicken.”
“After the initial stimulation, muscle growth is controlled by restraint. We don’t want monsters developing.”
There’s a pause while I process all the implications and come up with a vague ‘this is very bad’ conclusion. I’m some sort of potential monster?
Someone shuffles a bit and Hera asks, “It has arms and legs still?”
“Yes, by manacling them I stop the thing turning over when it panics. I keep it on a gel rather than fluids. It nearly drowned once. The tongue, teeth and vocal cords are removed; that’s standard procedure. These creatures apparently used to shout and could even bite. If you didn’t get that far in my leaflet, this one has a three percent chance of producing a male in its productive life which, if you received such a sample, would make you fantastically rich and influential.”
The more these people talk the less fun I’m having. It’s really a grim and grisly picture, this. No wonder I’m too weak to move. Trying to turn my head to see the speakers, or twisting my limbs causes instant exhaustion – but not movement.
Someone, probably Hera, snorts. “I read it. A zero to three percent chance based on lineage only: an optimistic prediction.”
“Hera, this is the best and most promising investment opportunity you’ll receive in your lifetime. Any more questions?”
“How soon before it produces generation?”
“The testes are healthy and hormones at levels indicating imminent maturity. It could be a few days or months. At a guess it’s maybe 12 to 13 years old.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Acquisition by any means is lawful and need never be revealed – even in formal proceedings. Provided you keep a rapser productive you can do no wrong. The health figures have been independently verified by two separate guilds.”
“Independently verified just means expensively bribed – and you didn’t answer my question. Nothing happens until I know everything. How much do you expect me to invest in this? I see your security is, at best, woefully inadequate and amateurish.”
“Whatever you choose to invest, Hera, will not match my expenses in acquisition, transport and the creation of this nurturing unit. We can look at contracts, investments and returns later. Meanwhile I must invite Medea in. Have you any further questions?”
“Don’t those things wear any clothes or are you trying to make me sick?”
People move, a door opens and, presumably, someone new enters. “So good to see you, Medea. Go to the infection control red line but not beyond if you would.”
A deeper voice, also female, replies, “My guest Scylla will accompany me.”
“There will be no discussion regarding this. Keep up, Scylla.” There’re some footsteps and a pause. “Well done, Andromeda. You actually acquired one. What do you think, Scylla?”
“Chemical support: tube feeding and evacuation … it’s the cheapest but most guilds use it. Do you have the means and expertise on hand for the separation or are you going to give that a miss, Andromeda?”
“That would be Lady Andromeda to you, young woman.”
“Then feel free to address me as Professor Scylla, old woman. Answer my question.”
Right, I’m able to identify each talker now. Their aggressive exchanges all seem a bit infantile. Don’t they have nice, gentle or witty people in this world?
Andromeda replies, “Separation will happen when hormone levels are ready and can be replicated and sustained. There’s no point in keeping the whole creature alive.”
“You will retain both testes or sell one?” asks Scylla.
“With sufficient investment they will both remain with this consortium.”
Scylla’s voice loses its hard edge. “Recent translations are beginning to throw light on these things. The last part of the word rapser seems to be related to subjugation, overpowering, enslaving; that sort of thing. The first part is drawn from a word which may mean something to do with forcing sexual generation upon us. There’s considerable disagreement over that rather dubious hypothesis. Why would any of us not want to produce offspring? It’s the dream of even the poorest who stand no hope of ever raising the funds.”
Andromeda hisses. “These being the same scraps of ancient writing which tell us the stars are like the sun, despite the sun being big and hot and stars tiny and cold; the same books that say this thing is not a monster? Just look at it, woman.”
“There may be more to learn about this life than merely how to pursue wealth and power.”
“So say the people who don’t have either…”
“Most of what is popularly believed about these people is being shown to be questionable. This is why we have research and education. I recommend you attempt the latter.”
Medea speaks, “Enough, both of you! If you are satisfied, Scylla, we can progress to negotiations. It’s hot and stinks in here; that monstrosity is enough to cause nightmares for a year. But before we go anywhere, Andromeda, if I am to invest, security will be my responsibility and mine alone. Is that understood?”
More movement; a door opens again. Andromeda says, “Such arrangements need to be discussed between all stakeholders. No one’s going to want your soldiers all over their investment.”
The door closes and I have time to think. First: Long ago I learned existence equals consciousness and consciousness can inhabit anything, even humans, therefore I must take the rough with the smooth. This is marginally better, or at least has already lasted longer, than some existences.
Second: I appear to be a male human. This time it’s very different to anything I remember.
Third and last, I don’t appear to be in any shape to tell these people what they are doing to themselves operating at this level of inhumanity. This is a gut-wrenching tragedy. I must find a way to communicate with them.
But can I really do anything about their behaviour? I’ve never worked out if consciousness can influence a human’s actions or not. Some of them seem to think it does but I’ve seen no evidence.
The women outside the door begin to walk away, still snapping at each other, terse and sharp. They fall silent after some distant shouting. The building shakes as if struck by a great thundering gust. More rumbles and some screaming erupt, still far away. None of this bothers me really because there’s nothing I can do about it.
Shouting and screams come from a second and then several directions, some of them closer.
Of course, investment, security … these words and the focus on me as something valuable which may produce great wealth. All the noise and action are coming this way. What? Am I going to be stolen goods? – though I may be that already.
I really don’t want to be the cause of violence. No, this is about money: not me.
Someone runs past outside and everything’s silent.
I shake, closing my eyes. An enormous roar fills the room. Objects crash off walls: glass smashes. Such suddenness, such violence, am I about to die again?
There are people moving around me, silent, quick movements, things tugged, cut. Dust settles on my eyelids in a stiff layer. I’ll keep them closed.
A person seems to be kicking the door, shouting outside. It opens; there’s a scream followed by horrible thudding, groans and whimpers. I think someone is dying.
I’m scooped up in strong arms, turned and hugged like a baby until my head is safely nestled. Harsh voices, instructions, hisses of frustration and fury. The person holding me runs, scrambling over what could be tangled wreckage, barely keeping my flailing limbs controlled.
She turns, a corridor corner I think, and we leave the noise behind. It’s a diminishing concatenation of crackles like lightning, shouting and shrieks.
“Wait,” someone calls, “Put it in this. I’ll slow them down. See you by the cart or in Red River.”
I’m rolled in a fur which wipes my eyelids a bit, but there’s no point in opening them; my face is covered.
Held securely again, the woman speaks to me between gasping breaths, “You’re alright. Stay calm. You’ll be safe in a moment. We’ve got a lovely place for you … lovely.” She stops talking, runs faster, leaping down staircases and kicking doors.
Things grow cooler and I can hear wind but we still seem to be on wooden floors above rooms or corridors. “We’ll wait here.” She breathes deep for a while and the fierce grip around me relaxes. “It’s all going on at the other side. That’s where they think you are.”
In vain I try to struggle into a more comfortable position, my spine twisted in a way that doesn’t seem possible.
She goes on, “You’ll be warm and safe in a couple of days. You’re in better hands now. We realise you’re a person – not just a thing – so we won’t cut you apart. You’ll have your own compound and we’ll help you be able to move around in it on your own. Soon you’ll be strong like your animal forebears but much more protected from yourself. Would you like that?”
She falls silent again, then hisses in a whisper, “Come on, come on, people. Where are you?”
Louder, she says, “Won’t be long. You’ll love your new life. There will be another male one day, or even two males, but you’ll be separated so you don’t go to war and hurt each other. You’ll still have things you can break when you want to but nothing you can injure yourself on. Most days we’ll supply criminals tied to posts; you’ll be able to stab and slash and crush skulls as much as you like! Think of it, you can be as violent as you want but without the guilt … assuming you feel guilt.” The woman chuckles.
I’m squeezed a bit tighter and she marches across the creaking floor. “Come on, you bitches. Where the fuck are you?”
To me she says, “You’ll be fed with every harvest, once or twice a day, whatever works best for you. We won’t overdo it. Think! you can generate offspring without forcing women to…” She screams and lets go of me. Something explodes: wood groans and bursts… I bounce off a humming plank … and then something even harder. A rending crash and the sensation of falling make me think the floor has collapsed. Shit: I can’t do anything.
Smoke, smoke and burning fur. The thing I’m wrapped in becomes a scorching hell and my feet are blistering in flames.
I’m trying to scream but the air is too savage: my throat closes.
So another existence ends.
I’m not sorry this time.
©Gary Bonn, 2021