Symbiont Wars Book VI
Chapter 5 – Predators
(Content Warning: Violence & Attempted Rape)
By the middle of the second day, one had covered about 200 kilometers. But at the moment, one was being very still. A puma blocked the trail—a large male with a torn ear. It stared at one. Then, turning, it sauntered into the scrub, pausing to cast a final glance back.
ShwydH had known how to produce smells that would convince most of the big cats of Earth to avoid him, but one had chosen not to try. The Riniana memories might not be able to reproduce one’s intended smell and an apex predator like the puma might decide its territory was being challenged.
One was reasonably certain one did not smell like prey to it anyway. It was good the cat had not been interested. One would have hated to advertise one’s presence by shooting the cat. It would have been nice if the crèche supply had contained silencers for the 1911s.
The ration packets were now gone, and one would need to eat soon. One had been moving west, roughly parallel with the highway to the south
A few hours later, the shadows were growing long. A slight breeze came from the west, bringing with it the furry scent of a herd of whitetail deer. One could hear them browsing on scrub just over the rise ahead.
Coming over the ridge, one used a boulder at the top of the rise to stay concealed. The opposite side was a drop off, and one was above the herd. The nearest deer, a young buck, was an easy jump away. Hungry, one’s hand drifted to the kukri. A short chopping stroke would pith the buck—a painless death. What one did not eat the coyotes would finish. One eased the rifle to the ground and tensed. A memory flooded his mind.
… Riniana’s dymba childhood friend.
One released the handle of the kukri. The creature wasn’t even sentient, but for some reason, the thought of killing it sent a shudder through one from neck to tail. One looked at them again as they browsed on the twigs and leaves of the mesquite. One retrieved the rifle and moved ahead. The herd bounded away with long graceful leaps.
The mesquite here at higher elevation had produced a small autumn crop that was ready to harvest. It wasn’t strong food, but it was nutrition and would fill one’s stomach. But if one wasn’t careful, the mesquite thorns would damage the only set of clothes one had.
The sunset blazed across the horizon, a fiery background for the jutting limestone crags of Guadalupe Peak to the south. One had paused to appreciatet he colors of the sky with both eyes from time to time while gathering mesquite pods. In an hour, one had about ten liters—not counting those that were lost to one’s own grazing while gathering. As the sun kissed the mountains, one sat and ate the pulp between the seeds and the shells, saving the seeds for grinding later but throwing the shells under the tree where they could nourish the roots and keep the ground a bit moister.
ShwydH would never have bothered doing that before coming under HumanaH’s influence.
One kept throwing the shells under the tree anyhow.
HumanaH had always treated ShwydH fairly. She hadn’t needed to—with the leverage of being one of only three persons who could keep him alive. But she had treated him like an equal… like a friend. In the NiiaH Empire, nobody made friends, so HumanaH was the only friend ShwydH had ever had.
Does that mean she’s my friend too?
HumanaH had given one life. Maybe she thought of one as another branch sister. It seemed unlikely though… too much to ask. Perhaps it was more of an experiment.
One felt a darker notion rising up.
Maybe it is a punishment, to inflict on me the memory of what happened to her. I will know it’s coming but be unable to stop it.
One squelched the idea. Even at her most unstable, HumanaH would not stoop to such a thing. One tossed a final handful of empty pods under the tree.
It would have been nice if HumanaH had been more forthcoming concerning her intentions in her brief letter, but perhaps she only wanted to free ShwydH after providing a new perspective. She might not have understood that she would end up making a new person altogether.
One lay down for a brief nap, using the pack for a pillow. When the moon came up, it would be easy enough to keep going. It was safer to walk at night, one could avoid the nocturnal wildlife with little trouble, and the chance of someone with a sniper rifle shooting one for one’s possessions was lower in the dark.
One woke to a distant smell of burning wood and sat up to scan upwind. A flicker, like firelight reflecting from boulders, wavered downslope to the east… perhaps a kilometer away. The wind had changed as one slept. It could be a campfire; the smoke might mask the smell of one or two humans. One stood, shouldered pack and gear, and set off toward the light. If someone’s buried campfire had reignited, it would need putting out.
As one closed the distance to the light, it became clear there was one human at the fire site… a male.
One steered towards a higher point of ground that offered a better vantage and—using the riflescope—was able to see him. The air had chilled to about five degrees centigrade. It was, by no means, cold enough to bother one, but the human, wearing only a hooded sweatshirt a stocking cap and jeans, didn’t even have a blanket. He crouched by the tiny fire, holding his trembling hands over it.
One studied his face. Though partly concealed by the hood and the cap beneath it, one could see it was a bit sallow and scarred from acne. He was young, thin and frowning, no doubt concerned about where his next meal was coming from.
The mesquite pods in one’s foraging bag rustled as one shifted weight.
Should I offer him some food? Trade?
Even thin and hungry the man held nourishment between his legs that would provide one with strength for much needed muscle building. Approached correctly, he would probably be glad to give it over too. ShwydH had watched HumanaH simply walk up to human males and exchange a few words after which they would follow her wherever she led them.
The trouble was, one didn’t have a clue how to produce the pheromones that would create that kind of reaction. ShwydH had learned to build mutualistic relationships with female humans during the last six years, but the males were different. Riniana’s memories had about 2,000 years of accumulating in one’s mind to go before she would even meet her first human.
One tilted back one’s head and looked at the moon and stars. Did one even want to adopt the nii diet restrictions?
One already knew eating sentients didn’t turn out well—at least in the long run. ShwydH had modeled the niiaH strategy enough to know it would never reach a stable equilibrium. It always failed. One’s lip twitched. That didn’t mean some didn’t get away with it on an individual basis though.
Perhaps it just came down to figuring out what one wanted to do. What kind of relationships did one want to have?
Based on ShwydH’s experience, living in a culture of ethical trust and cooperation was much better than being surrounded by ruthless predators.
On the other hand, there was a name for ethical sentients surrounded by ruthless predators….
As one considered approaching the human male and the fire, a realization that one might not be able to count on communicating effortlessly. Though ShwydH’s memories held the knowledge of an entire suite of human languages, one had not practiced speaking any of them, and Riniana had no muscle memories of using them. Well, the light-skinned male at the fire would probably make assumptions about a dark-skinned female with uncertain language skills. One could practice sub vocally for a few moments on the way to the fire.
One hid the rifle and pack between two boulders, paused for a moment to consider whether to keep one of the pistols in the holster under one’s skirt, but decided to leave both with the pack and rifle. No smell of gunpowder or gun oil touched the man’s person or possessions, so he wasn’t armed that way. The kukri in its sheath between one’s shoulder blades was enough. One moved toward the fire silently, using Riniana’s scout training, mixed with ShwydH’s experience from his time in the desert learning from HumanaH while defending the Sun Sea Farm.
Just outside the fire light, one paused, examining the man from close up. Since he was staring at the fire, he would be night blind. It would take him several seconds to see one after one spoke. He had not bathed for a long period. One’s nosed twitched at the assault from the odor’s proximity. Well, water was scarce, it was excusable.
One stepped forward. “Good evening. May I share your fire? I have food.”
The man leaped to his feet at the sound of one’s voice and pulled a large folding knife from his pocket. It took him a few seconds as he fumbled the deployment of the blade, and two seconds more to spot where one stood, unmoving in gray-brown clothing and face hidden by the shemagh.
The knife was a clunky karambit blade made to impress with its jagged extensions and size. Its loose pivot washers rattled when it locked. One snorted through the nose quietly. As an ally, this one would be more liability than an asset in a fight.
“I’m sorry to startle you,” one said. “I saw your fire and came to see.”
“Who are you? Where are you from? Why do you hide your face?” He spun to peer outside the fire. “Are you alone? Did your group send you in first to distract me?”
“I have no group.” One touched the shemagh. “This is the custom of my people.” That much was certainly true… on this planet anyway.
“Effing sand niggers,” the man muttered under his breath, clearly not meaning for one to hear.
Racial bias…. Not a desirable outlook for a companion.
One considered walking away. Still, there was the possibility of an exchange that would be beneficial for both before leaving.
One tapped the forage bag. “I found food earlier. Are you hungry?”
The knife lowered a fraction as his eyes moved to the forage bag. “What do you have?” He licked his chapped lips. “Water?”
One nodded, taking the canteen from the forage bag and opening it. “Toss me your cup or canteen, and I will pour you some.”
The man backed cautiously to his pack, reached inside and pulled out a soup can. He threw it towards her; the toss was low… intentionally low. One could hear the shift in his heartbeat. One stood, waiting for him to charge. The man stood tense, waiting for one to reach for the can.
One kicked it back to him instead. “Try again. No tricks this time.” Perhaps this small show of strength would discourage violence.
“It just slipped out of my hand,” the man said. A shade of whining colored his words.
“Perhaps it would help your aim if you put the knife away.”
He picked up the can again and tossed it to her, accurately this time, though he kept the knife in hand.
One caught the can, dumped water into it from the canteen then placed it on the ground and stepped back.
The man’s eyes narrowed. “What’s in the water?”
Instead of answering, one drank several swallows from the canteen, not taking eyes off the man.
“Perhaps I should just leave now.” One took another step back. “I wish you luck.”
“No. I’m sorry. It’s just that not everyone is safe. Trusting people can get you killed pretty quick these days.”
“These days, those days, all days,” one said, voice even.
The man closed the knife and put it in his pocket. Stepping closer to the can, he picked it up, sniffing it before drinking then draining it all.
“If I meant you harm, one said, putting the canteen back in the forage bag.”I could have hit you from behind by throwing a rock while you were staring at the fire.” Impatience was rising inside one. One reflected a moment on the source of the feeling. The ShwydH part of one’s mind was deeming this a waste of time. Without the leash of his dependence on HumanaH, ShwydH would have been tempted to just take what he needed and go. One wondered why it seemed important to follow this transaction to the end… to see who this person was. What his character was made of.
“What do you want from me?” said the man. “I don’t have anything to give you… unless,” he hooked his thumbs in his belt and pointed to his crotch with both forefingers. “Unless you are interested in this,” he said with a leer as he unsnapped his jeans and lowered the zipper, displaying his lack of undergarments.
For an instant, one envied the human ability to laugh that ShwydH had never truly acquired—in spite of Ayleaha’s insistence on tutoring him.
Then the man rushed.
One recalled the layout of the terrain behind one, concluding that no sharp rocks or obstacles indicated a need to dodge. One could receive the charge without worrying about that. One dropped the forage bag and brought hands inside the man’s arms. As their bodies collided, one plucked the karambit from the man’s hand and tossed it away while pulling him close with the other arm.
The tackle brought them both to the ground with a thump, but one didn’t struggle, simply keeping inside the man’s arms in case he decided to strike.
The man encircled one’s neck with his arm and pressed his forehead into the side of one’s face, a tactic to prevent a biting attack. With his other hand, he reached down and pulled up one’s skirt then slid his hand to one’s crotch.
One allowed him enough freedom of movement with his arm to do that much without being able to touch one’s tail.
He leered again. “What? Nothing on under there? Did you already get yourself ready for me, bitch?”
“I did not come here to get raped,” one answered, voice neutral.
“But is it rape if you really wanted it?”
“Is that actually your ethical stance? Would you stop if I told you to?”
“Not a chance,” he said, his fingers feeling for the opening at one’s mons. “Ah! you’re wet for me already. Maybe both of us will enjoy this.”
One had, in fact, released lubricating fluid to the life orifice upon detecting his intentions, but that had nothing whatsoever to do with any arousal. The fluid would decrease friction, protect one’s inner flesh and increase the man’s arousal. That, in turn, would create a greater discharge that would benefit one nutritionally.
The Tiana memories contained the relevant anatomical data. ShwydH had also consumed sperm, usually with finger filaments. He’d seldom deigned to be involved with the actual process of getting it, preferring the sperm bank he’d set up to avoid that part of the transaction. His normal diet had been more focused on fat and blood which he’d preferred to obtain from his female bodyguards.
The man inserted a finger inside one and moved it in and out. The smell of his arousal grew stronger, as his member stiffened against one’s leg. When he moved to thrust his member inside, one relaxed the orifice to allow the penetration and focused on mining Riniana’s muscle memories, now mature enough to be useful, for information on how to use the life orifice to increase his stimulation.
Though one cared not at all for his pleasure, since he thought he was committing rape. But one could gauge his reactions to learn what might please later partners. It would probably be useful.
There was no danger of being distracted with any hint of pleasure to one’s own body. The man’s sexual organ was nowhere near long enough to approach the pleasure node. Neither did his approach even hint at an interest in—or knowledge of—giving pleasure to a human female. The ShwydH memories held plenty of information from experience about that subject.
When he came with a gasp and a whimper scarcely a minute later, the result, from one’s perspective at least, was decidedly disappointing as far as the sustenance derived. Well, perhaps the man’s starvation diet coupled with dehydration didn’t help. One squeezed the life orifice muscle walls to milk out the last drops of semen.
“What the fuck?”
“Oh, was that painful?” one said, looking for information. It wouldn’t be good to hurt a future partner by accident.
“Not as painful as what I just gave you,” he sneered and raised his hand toward his head.
One clamped down on his arm to prevent the motion. It would have put his hand in a position to strike.
“Let me show you something,” he said. “I just want to take off my hat.”
One loosened the tension on his arm, allowing the man’s hand to reach his hat and tug the stocking cap away from his forehead where a crude tattoo spelled out the legend. Herpes II .
It was a jailhouse tattoo, done with black ink and a nail or a knife. It must have been painful. One doubted he had requested it. No, someone had done it to him because he’d failed to warn someone else of his infection before sex. One looked from forehead to facial expression. The man was gloating in anticipation of a reaction.
One tugged the folds of the shemagh aside, revealing the stripes across the nose and cheeks of one’s face. “What is your name, rapist?” one said calmly. “I would prefer to know your name before condemning you to death, but it will not stop me. You have demonstrated twice now that you are too toxic to let live.”
He stared at one’s face, his mouth open in a shocked gape as he attempted to push away. One locked legs around him and jerked him back, twisting his arms behind his back and wrapping his wrists with one’s tail, pinning them.
ShwydH had been familiar with the herpes II virus. It was one that could jump from human to niiaH, and he had actually contracted it once a century ago. It had taken him months to get it out of his system. But reviewing the internal reaction between one’s new body and the virus revealed an immunity to it already in place.
One considered and turned one’s attention back to the human. Technically, within the nii code, one was entitled to sustenance from an unprovoked attacker when hunger constituted a danger to survival. In addition, the attacker had proven himself opposed to nii ideals. Duty demanded his death. One wrenched the man’s head back and took the vein of his neck between one’s teeth and drank deep, but after seven long pulls, a thought stopped one short of draining all life out of him. Instead, one built a slow-acting toxin and forced it into his blood stream then closed the vein and pushed him away.
The man rolled away. “What are you?” he cried, holding his hand on his neck where one had bitten him.
One stood, collected the forage bag then turned back to the man. “For you, I am justice. I have given you a slow-acting toxin that will kill you about this time tomorrow. I tell you this so you can spend time considering your life choices and—if you can—make peace with whatever deity you might recognize. Though your attempt to infect me failed, your actions make you too toxic for me to leave you alive to prey on otherrs. You will not suffer, but you will be too weak to travel before you die. No antidote exists outside of me. I will leave you water so you will not suffer thirst during your final day.”
One turned and walked back the way one had come.
“What about food? I’m hungry,” the man rasped, rubbing his neck.
One stopped, picked up the tin can and filled it with water, but didn’t turn. “I think your soul might fare better without the distraction during your final hours.”
One placed the can on the ground then walked back into the night.
The dark folded around one, lonely but peaceful, as one followed the bones of the land, smelling out and hunting down the water that was life where it lay hidden in the folds and pockets among the stones.