Because I do more of these than any kind of finished work I should be proud of.
I don’t have hair nearly this luxurious, or sunglasses nearly this cool.
[This is the account of the sizekinkster previously known as Kisupure. Meaning, I spent most of my time in the fetish as a she/her SW and am now mostly a he/him GT.]
Giants, giant machines, BDSM, and vore about sums me up. If it's tacticool, it's kosher!
I’m no stranger to the macro community, but I thought I’d introduce myself here. I’m Kisupure (yes, a nod to the infamy of Kiss Players!), I’m a FTM and sizeswitch, though I lean more towards the giant end of things.
The good lord above put me on this earth to bring a little more Heavy Metal Magazine to macro/micro world, so here I am, with guns and engine grease in tow. Oh, the gravel truck’s here? Tell 'em to dump it just out back.
I like realistic size difference, and wildly unrealistic size difference. I like gun play that involves stuffing tinies down the barrel of a nice, loaded M4. I like giants with their boots on, muscles bulging behind their body armor. I like daddies in dusty kevlar. I like giants who are cyborgs, robots, and machines that are designed to have people sit inside of them. Giants who are large and in charge, but also giants who are soft and kind and scared of losing their little lovers or allies or fuckbuddies, giants who have flaws as well as sexy things they’re really really good at. Giants that are unapologetically dominant, and giants that are good at faking it. Vore and endosoma are A+ too.
I’m also an objectum sexual (as in orientation), so to me, “male” can mean flesh and blood as well as axles and ailerons. An A-10 warthog is just as much a lovable giant to me as the guy on your bag of frozen peas. OS representation all the way.
I write, I draw, and I’ve got some long-form stuff in the works including a “graphic novel” that I hope tickles somebody’s fancy (other than my own, of course). So howdy!
I think the problem with topics like this is that there is always going to be the implication, however small, of entitlement. It’s never “I wish more people were into the thing I’m into”, but always some kind of “I wish creators would make things for me for free”. Creators make all kinds of free things already, the internet is full of them. That none of it, or enough of it, is your favorite thing isn’t anyone’s problem but yours. Creators don’t owe you their time, skill, money, resources. It’s kind of a slap in the face to creators who make things for free already, like myself (and I even take requests!), because it’s not the thing you want to see.
But that’s what commissions, trades, and financially supporting creators who make things you like are for. The more you actually pay people to make things, the more your interest is going to be noticed and acknowledged.
Griping like this is not a good look, especially when there are creators reading and posting here.
Camp Fox was currently located in a wide, shallow granite canyon, its floor carpeted in fine sand and dotted with fire ants. It was only a few hectares in size, but it was enough: Corps leadership preferred to limit contact between the camps in its broad, diffuse network, and to the best of anyone’s knowledge Alpine ran 22 camps like this, each staffed by around a thousand. The logic was that it was harder to take out the whole resistance when you could only hit one or two outposts at a time. And so far, the strategy worked. It’d been over a decade since the Anakim were able to mobilize enough bodies to launch a full–scale assault on even a dozen camps, let alone hit Base Camp far, far in the mountains.
Visits between camps were reserved for officers and toons borrowed to bolster numbers on the rare occasion when an attack was anticipated in advance, but transfers happened often enough. Once or twice a year a camp’s weakest soldiers were rounded up and marched off to other parts of the Corps, never to be seen again. Problem corpsmen were also usually sent off to be Retrained—that is, to work Corps quarries and ammo-packing lines, where afterward they were said to be given another chance at Freedom at some other camp. Gray had met transfers but not any retrained corpsman. Fox was a well-oiled machine, however, and Hitch made quick work of malcontents in his own way. Supposedly their camp had one of the highest morale rates in the Corps. Hitch made sure to keep it that way, and Gray actually managed to find a little pride in it.
When Exercises were done, she was filthy. But it was also Friday, and she lined up outside of Captain Burke’s office to receive her two weekly liquor vouchers because truthfully, she wanted a drink more than she wanted a shower. A minute or so later and she was already walking out, little while slips in hand, each embossed with the seal of the Western Human Defense Corps. Though they felt like sturdy paper, they weren’t, and melted when held to a flame.
On her way out, Gray checked the bulletin board, and her heart sank when she saw that this month’s movie had been canceled. The projector was broken, and they were waiting on some replacement parts form Alpine. And who knew when that would be. A pair of corpsmen came up beside her to check it too, and grumbled loudly at the news.
“And it was gonna be a Henry Fonda!”
Gray made a face and sulked away. She liked westies. Movies (when Camp Fox could get them), books (when she could get them), it didn’t matter. She liked them for being simple. She liked that even in a gunfight, nobody ever had their brains shot out, or their throats cut open. Nobody took 3 days to die of a gangrenous leg. The action was exciting, the stakes were high, and it resembled life as she knew it in the Disrupted world, but there was an ease to it all, a cleanliness, that helped her forget the dirt under her fingernails and the ever-present preoccupied hum of fear in the air that you could very well die out here before earning Freedom.
Moreover, Henry Fonda was handsome. Errol Flynn wasn’t so bad either.
The broken projector was going to be the least of her worries that evening, though. As the sun was getting low on the horizon, she sensed tension in the camp, even freshly showered and with a shot of ‘shine in her belly. A few clerks were running between officers’ tents with that look in their eyes. Slowing to an amble near Green Fox’s captain’s tent, Gray trained her ears and through the canvas heard that they’d lost contact with the first checkpoint.
“Reroute the outgoing B patrol to see what happened. Tell them to use the cable box to check-in, and if they don’t, we assume the worst.”
“Yes, sir. Should I inform the Commander?”
“No, I’ll do that. Dismissed.”
Gray made sure to keep walking by the time the clerk rushed out again, then as soon as she was a little ways away, picked up the speed herself. She rushed past corpsmen at work in the fading light, past a group gathered around a badly-tuned guitar, looking for Harper and Finch; Wesson was still out on Exercises.
She ran into Harper first, but the wireman already seemed to know what she was about to tell him.
“Look alive, Gray,” he said, grabbing her shoulder. “Somebody’s gone and dusted our-”
“First checkpoint, I know.”
“Second now, too,” he said. “Berg’s just been ordered off the box to go get his gun.”
“Fuck. Where’s Finch?”
“She wasn’t with you grabbing her Fridays?”
“Must be at the showers, then.”
“I’ll go get her.”
Gray was only halfway there when she heard shots report at the edge of camp. And worse, it was an all-too familiar kind of sound: deep, loud, brutal. These were no brigand weapons. They were ‘Nak guns.
And ‘Nak guns hit harder than anything else she knew: their standard-issues used fifty–fucking–caliber rounds, and could blow a corpman’s head clear off their shoulders. It had been eight months since she last heard one. Gray swallowed a ragged gulp of air and turned to beeline for her tent to grab her gear. Finch could get herself to the muster point.
“’Naks!” came the call from around camp. “’Naks incoming!”
Out of the corner of her eye, Gray spotted Harrison, the resident Corps chemist and almighty bartender who had just served her, hefting the camp’s only submachine gun as he moved like a thunderhead out of the bar and cellars dug out of the canyon wall. He closed a camouflaged door behind him to protect some of the their most precious resources: not just liquor, but solvents, ethanols, combustion fuels and rare chemicals, all prime targets for both human and ‘Nak raiding parties.
The shouting and exchange of gunfire was drawing closer, and Gray sprinted over to the muster point outside of her toon’s captain’s office where about sixty other Brown Fox corpsmen were already anxiously gathering, with more pouring in every minute.
“We think there’s only about nine or ten dozen of the bastards, so this should be easy!” Burke shouted. “Form ranks at the southern end and maintain cover! Break into your fireteams if you have to, but do not, I repeat, do not go solo! Get going, move, move!”
Gray ran, not knowing where any of her close friends were, so she clumped together with some other corpsmen she knew and let both her training and adrenaline work their magic. She began to wonder why the ‘Naks were sending such a small force against an entire camp. They weren’t dumb. But it wasn’t long before her ears were ringing with the sound of battle, and there were suddenly more important things to think about, like the fact that it appeared that ranks were already being broken.
This was a deadly embarrassment to both sides. Not that Corpsmen weren’t gifted survivalists, but there were too many fuckers running around without clear orders. Out of the small handful of engagements they had with the ‘Naks each year, most of them were lethargic, and rarely did they get this close to home. Neither side could afford to lose so many soldiers so often, but they still needed to exchange fire and make a bunch of noise. Worse than losing men was losing morale, and going soft on the enemy was out of the question. There’s no telling what the ‘Naks would try if they knew just how threadbare the Corps could be some days. This, however, was not one of those days. Eleven-hundred corpsmen against one hundred of the giant bastards on Corps turf was going to be far from lethargic.
Gray knew something was different when the smell hit her. She paused just long enough to scowl as it sank in. This was the pheromone, she noticed, and her body reacted. Her heart raced and her muscles wanted to pull her in the opposite direction. She was supposed to run, this was it, this was the unthinkable thing. But the seventh-year steeled herself and dove down behind a water drum to remember her discipline.
“It’s strong,” she said to herself, panting. Stronger than usual.
Was this a new cocktail from The Algo?
When she glanced up, the evidence was all around her. The chaos, the cries of panic, the sound of someone puking, someone else sobbing. It was amazing what a chemical could do, the suggestion of predation, the thought that you could have a hundred exit routes and still be cornered. It was evil. Gray swallowed and knew what she had to do. Against all animal logic, she turned the safety off on her kicker and prepared to fight. It was her or them. As much as she hated it, this was her life, and she was going to defend it.
“They’re advancing!” someone yelled from across the road as they turned on their heel to take cover further up the path. They were made quick work of. Gray had to do something. The ‘Naks were moving quickly, hunched like big, bloodthirsty beasts as they popped off thundering blasts from their even bigger guns. Down the road someone’s chest exploded, spraying canvas with red.
She got down low, peeking out from behind her cover, and got off a few shots at one of the ‘Naks’ feet, crippling him. She gave the same treatment to another who watched his comrade fall, but a third noticed her muzzle flash in the growing twilight and she pulled back.
“Shit, shit, shit…” Gray’s brown eyes darted around, looking for a window of opportunity to make her retreat, but her water drum cover was quickly turning into a deathtrap. She couldn’t help the scream when the metal suddenly filled with holes and precious water poured out onto the dusty ground.
The ‘Nak’s guns grew louder and louder, and Gray knew she was going to get shot. Which was all the more reason to at least attempt falling back.
“It’s working! Spread out!” she heard one of the giants bark, and they broke formation.
Someone had managed to re-man one of the heavy guns and a dusky ‘Nak was knocked to the ground with the force of his own bullets, moaning in the dirt like any other wounded creature on god’s green earth, then a few more went down. Gray was about to take this opportunity to get away from the drum, maybe duck into a tent, when a ‘Nak soldier suddenly loomed overhead. He glanced down, and through the thin strip of face she could see between his helmet and the cloth covering his nose and mouth, their eyes briefly met.
Through the haze of panic that his proximity was inducing in her, Gray managed to notice his face soften, and turn to acute concern. And the squeeze… was not so oppressive.
But then there was pain. A 50-cal bullet hit him in the chest, clearing his armor and ammo pouches to land a bloody blow near his armpit. Her face was spattered with his living heat as he collapsed over the drum and on top of her, cloth torn away from his face. Gray suddenly found herself pinned under a pair of three–hundred pound legs with something stabbing her in the side. She hissed, barely able to breathe.
“F–fuck…” she wheezed, and then fell deathly still when she realized that it was the muzzle of her own kicker sticking her in the ribs. One wrong move and it could go off at any minute. She tried pushing against that weakening body on top of her, pushing against the fear. “G-get off me, you giant piece of shit…”
He was wheezing too, and she could now hear a wetness in his lungs. But he reached out with a massive hand, big enough to palm her skull, and touched her cheek. Gray froze.
Signy? Who was Signy?
“I didn’t know you came… back.” Blood appeared at the corner of his mouth and he tried licking his lips. The ‘Nak’s brown eyes were glazing over. “I’m sorry. I didn’t… know…”
His hand fell away from her face and Gray just laid there, fighting for breath, unable to do anything but watch the fire disappear from those strangely human eyes as he gave his last gasping death rattle.
I would totally be the mysterious, mythic figure living in the mountains and minding my own business, Big Lebowski style. People would seek me out to complete their manhood initiation rituals, to cut a lock of my hair in my sleep or something and bring it back to town. Of course the “battle” that they have to do with me to get it would involve more cum and less blood!
There’d be stories about capturing maidens and things too, but mostly it would just be unmarried farmgirls or unhappy princesses coming to me to ask if I could eat their betrotheds and save them from a life of misery. For especially horrible arranged marriages I’d probably be down for a little murder, but I might have more fun helping fake the girls’ deaths so they could go off and be happier somewhere else. My services wouldn’t be free, though…
I’m more interested in being an immortal and modestly-sized giant (20-30 feet) with generations of folklore surrounding me, a slew of villages that would defend me and my territory to the death because my existence is a backbone of their local culture, than a tyrant. Because let’s face it, at the end of the day I’m lazy!
Intimate relations between one (1) or more enlisted corpsmen are not expressly forbidden by Protocol. Corpsmen in good standing are permitted to indulge themselves in sensual, sexual, and romantic behavior without the permission of their overseeing Officers, provided that this behavior is not expressed while on-duty. However, intimacy is not to interfere with the good corpsman’s performance or punctuality, nor should loyalty to any individual corpsman overrule one’s loyalty to the Western Human Defense Corps as a whole. Failure to correctly prioritize may result in Gross Insubordination charges against offending corpsmen as a Camp’s ranking Officers see fit.
It was dark by the time she returned. The moon was out at least, bathing the dry, rocky landscape in just enough light for her to plan her steps by. On a whim, Gray practiced the footstrike of the Anak from earlier, ball first, heel following. It was difficult to replicate while wearing marching boots, but the modifications were effective. She knew that there were still some part of the technique she was missing, though.
Upon returning, Gray checked in with Captain Burke to fill out a debrief form: during her watch, did she see or encounter any humans; did she discharge a firearm at any point; would she be willing to submit her weapon for a count; did she see or encounter any Anakim. No, no, yes, and… no. Gray stared at the check mark she’d made on the form next to the last question.
It wouldn’t make a difference if I said anything anyways, Gray reasoned. It’s not like they don’t know we’re here, now.
Slipping the sheet back to Burke, she was promptly dismissed for the rest of the night. Gray was grateful, and she headed out the flaps of the officer’s tent to her own. I need to find the guys and put these fridays to use.
Until excavations were completed, Harrison’s was a tent like any other. Sappers were hard at work digging out cellars further up the canyon, and it would be another few weeks before they could wire the place for lighting and open up shop.
Harper was manning the cable tonight, so only Finch and Wesson were with her, and before long the three had gathered around an oil drum with their friday rations and a ratty deck of cards. Finch dealt, though Gray had no idea what they were playing.
“I thought you used up your last friday this week already?” she asked Finch, who was already looking over her hand of seven cards.
“Small miracle, gambling,” she said with a smug grin. “Gold Fox held some tarantula fights while you were gone, and I had my money on the smaller one. Now come on, it’s just a few rounds of Rummy.”
Gray shook her head and grabbed her cards. It was a terrible hand. “We’re not playing for keeps, are we?”
She shot a deadpan look at Finch. “Does it look like I have anything worth keeping?”
Wesson laughed and made his first discard. “So how was the treehouse?”
Gray suddenly found herself frowning and tried to make it look like she was studying her cards. “Fine.”
“Boring, huh? Even with your rib?”
“The pain was the most exciting part, actually.” She made to discard something.
“You forgot to draw.”
“Right.” She took another deep drink of her liquor and did as told, suddenly able to put together a short run of spades. The back of her neck prickled with warmth as she fought the temptation to start thinking about what she had seen.
“And how was inventory?”
Wesson shook his head. “Found a bad batch of ammo, leaving us with about a ton and a half until the next delivery.”
“Well, it’s good that we’re not expecting any company for a while, then.”
Wesson threw back the rest of his drink. “I mean, if ‘Naks were the only thing we had to worry about. Fox itself may be safer, but we’ve moved closer to gang territory.”
He was referring to organized bands of brigands that usually liked to stay just as far from civilization—‘civtown’—as the Corps. They were a dangerous type, known to jump anyone passing through their borders who might have anything worth stealing, sometimes shaking down entire caravans. She even heard stories of brigands taking on small teams of Anakim. Sometimes abiding folk in civtown would ask the Corps for help with particularly disruptive activity, but small-time brigands usually exercised more discretion than that.
“Patrols may be exchanging fire more often,” he went on. “Be careful out there.”
Finch made her play: four kings. Gray’s shoulders and eyelids both slumped. She stared at the ace and queen in her hand and cursed at her friend. Finch just grinned.
“Be careful in here too,” Finch chuckled, downing the last of her shine. “So I heard that Alpine says the ‘Nak scent was more concentrated for this last fight.”
“You heard? You were there.”
“No shit, but it’s nice for the Alpine labcoats to agree with us every once in a while.”
Wesson’s attention was piqued. In fact, he looked surprised that a sixth-year would find this out before him. “Harper told you that?”
Finch shrugged. “What? It was an open message. It’s going on the boards tomorrow.”
He looked taken aback. “Yeah, but you… gotta have a little respect for the process, right? You can’t just do whatever you want, the Corps couldn’t run like that.”
Finch rolled her eyes. “Look. Does Harper act like a gossip? Even if it were a secret, it’d be safe with me.”
“It just confirms what we already know because we were there, Wesson. Nothing confidential about that,” Gray said.
“Fair enough. But I don’t think I’m being unreasonable either.”
Finch sighed loudly. “We can both be right.”
Wesson played a four-card straight and discarded something Gray couldn’t use, so she finished her drink and waved at Harrison for another. She parted with a second friday for it, and threw back the small cup, feeling it burn all the way down. They played a few more rounds.
Eventually, there was a lull in the conversation, and something was percolating its way through Gray’s mind as the alcohol started kicking in. “Something I’ve been wondering,” she began. “What’s the most human thing you ever see a ‘Nak do? How much like us are they?”
This wasn’t the smartest question she could have asked in a Corps camp as it skirted some important rules, but she could have asked dumber. Questions like, “how hot is the sun?”
“I seen one jack off once, remember that?” Finch laughed.
Gray did remember and she found a tightening in her chest at the thought now.
“Must’ve been a big piece of meat,” Gray muttered with a strained chuckle, keeping her eyes on her cards.
“God, are you kidding? It was like…” She held her hands up in the air, greatly exaggerating. “Wouldda been easy target practice.”
“How ‘bout you, Wesson?”
“They only look and act like us in order to fuck with our sense of empathy,” he said, avoiding the question entirely. “If you talk to vets from the first phase of the Disruption, they’ll all tell you that dusting machines was easier than flesh and blood. The Algo figured that out and decided to use our likeness against us.”
Gray frowned. “When did you get to talk to veterans from the old wars?”
“I mean, I didn’t talk to them. But I’ve hung around when we got some passing through once, and they talked about it with the officers.”
That was a mighty privilege, Gray thought. It wasn’t often that enlisted corpsmen were given an opportunity to even get near outsiders, let alone speak to them.
“Anyways, I don’t care what they look like,” Finch said coldly. “I’m happy to kill the fuckers dead after wiping six billion humans off the map. Including my mom and auntie.”
Gray swallowed at the reminder. She discarded, realizing too late that she had a run of hearts hiding in her hand, and Finch promptly won a second time.
“Remind me to never play cards with you ever again,” Wesson snorted.
Finch smiled obnoxiously. “There’s no shame in losing.”
The blond-haired man slapped the remainder of his hand on the table, not even counting his points, and Finch roared with laughter. She shoved the mess of cards at Gray. It was her turn to deal.
The alcohol made gathering up the cards more difficult than she thought it’d be. Her fingers were clumsy, and a few dropped on the ground. When she bent to pick them up, she hit her head on the table.
“God dammit,” she hissed. Wesson’s hand was soon on her arm and he pulled her up.
“You OK there?”
“I think I just… need something to eat.”
“And a night in your own cot,” Finch added. She took the cards back.
Wesson didn’t let go of her arm. “C’mon, I’ll help you back.”
Gray nodded and they began walking. With dehydration and growling stomachs being the accepted norm around here, a little shine, she remembered, went a long way in Corps bellies. She focused on walking straight.
They headed steadily down the road between tents. “Hey Wes,” she slurred, bending the ban on nicks by just shortening his surname. “You ever get confused sometimes?”
He chuckled, and his arm worked its way around her shoulders instead. “Yeah, when I’m trying to do inventory on 3 hours of sleep.”
“No, no. Confused about… what our enemy even is.”
He looked at her wistfully, cautiously. “Well, I can tell you what they’re not.”
Gray screwed up her face. “I’m trying to be serious, man. I’m not that tore.”
“After five years you’d think I’d know you well enough to know when you’re full of shit. Now look, we’re here.” She pushed open the flap to her section of the tent and Wesson helped her to her cot. “Hang tight while I find you something to eat, alright?”
“Yes, sir,” she mumbled, rolling her eyes. He disappeared back outside with a smile. It figured Wesson would like getting sir’d. He was gunning for promo, after all, and it was no secret that he intended to get it. It was also no secret that he liked being buttered up.
In the big toon tents, which were partitioned off into fourteen rooms, each housing four or five cots and a single light bulb that was cut off at exactly 10pm every night, there were usually a few folk mingling or trying to catch some shut–eye before a shift. The place was impeccably clean, mostly because her tent–mates hadn’t had time to settle in and make a mess of the place yet. The tents were not especially comfortable places to be: dimly lit, and stiflingly hot if you wanted to keep the sun out. Gray wondered what conditions the Anakim lived in, and decided it was probably much of the same.
She didn’t know how many minutes had passed before Wesson came back, though it was probably fewer than it felt. He handed her a small cup with a metal foon sticking out of it.
“It’s all the cook would give me,” he declared as she balked at the slurry inside. “And here.” He produced a flask of water, which he began to pour into her own. “Or you’ll be begging for a bullet to the head tomorrow.”
She sat up and spooned some of the green–brown mush into her mouth. It was salty, and the high algae content made it taste distinctly like pond scum. There was meat in there somewhere too, but the only clue was in the small tough bits of ground–up tissue and the thin film of grease that clung to the utensil when she took a bite. What animal the weekly shipments of ‘wet ration’ were made from had already become a popular subject of the rumor mill.
Still, it at least didn’t suck the moisture from your mouth like hardtack.
“Thanks,” she mumbled.
“And between you and me,” Wesson said quietly, crouching down to give her his best fatherly look. “Be careful of the stuff you ask around here, even with friends. I know you don’t sympathize, but some young boot hearing you talk at the bar doesn’t. People still get reported. People still get retrained.”
Gray just frowned.
“And I know it’s easy to get confused sometimes. But just remember that the Corps is our lifeblood. Without it, humanity wouldn’t have stood a chance. We could all be dead, or worse.”
“What’s worse than being dead?” she scoffed.
Wesson leveled his eyes at her and she swallowed. “We could be packing ‘Nak bullets right now, for one thing.”
Gray blinked, surprised at how odd this sounded. Bondship was bondship, wasn’t it? Every enlisted Corpsman was a bond. The only reason anyone was here was the hope of getting that coveted freemark and being addressed by your given name for the first time in a decade. The Freedom Ceremony was what dreams were made of.
She almost opened her mouth to ask him if he really thought that being the property of the Corps was better than being property of The Algo. But you didn’t say things like that in a Corps camp, no matter how much you drank or how much you wanted the last word.
“Probably,” she mumbled. “At least its only ten years of this, and the Corps does keep its word.”
“The Corps always keeps its word.”
Wesson smiled again as he rose, satisfied that he’d reached her. But just as he was about to leave, she stopped him.
“What happened to us, Wesson?”
The handsome tenth-year paused and his eyes fell to the ground for a moment. “It’s like you said, you weren’t feeling it.”
Gray thought for a minute, chewing slowly. “I guess I just got tired of sneaking around. We’re not youngyears anymore.”
“I think being a good corpsman really matters to you now. I respect that.”
“And you’re almost out of here anyways.” She looked up and their eyes met. “Even though you want to stay with the Corps, I’ll probably never see you again after you get your promo.”
“Everybody’s gotta say goodbye at some point.”
Gray nodded drunkenly.
“Now get some rest, I’ll tell Harper you missed him.”
Not to play sads olympics here, but uh… I have to say, I’ve seen way more giant couples material than the niche-r stuff I’m into. And of course I’m just talking art. I think you need to adjust your expectations when it comes to real-person video stuff - it is very expensive, very time-consuming, and if the market isn’t there, then… you as a creator out a lot more than $800-1000 worth of labor and materials.
I built an entire website around the under-served kinks I’m into. I built a Discord community. I make my own smut, in whatever capacity I’m capable of. “Make the porn you want to see in the world” is my motto; haters can go fuck themselves.
FINALLY, A SEX SCENE!
Gray had spent the afternoon napping, or trying to. Her thoughts were spinning in all directions, and after staring at the canvas above her head for a long time, she realized that her feelings were not incompatible with each other. In fact, the fire in her belly burned for two reasons, like riders approaching each other from different directions on the road. They met, now. Shook hands. Her lust for the sentinel and her frustration with Wesson were one in the same thing.
If he showed up tonight—there was always the chance he wouldn’t—and if he didn’t use this opportunity to wreak bloody havoc—there was always the chance that he would—then maybe, just maybe, this was the solution to her problem. The middle finger she was looking for. Gray could dangle her treason in front of his face every time she stepped into his office without him suspecting a goddamn thing.
Maybe she could have this.
One of her bunkmates came in to change out of a shirt drenched in sweat. “You’ve been hard to find lately,” she said, pulling the garment off to reveal a back crisscrossed with a few old switch scars. “Gonna play some strip horseshoes when the sun goes down. You in?”
Gray swallowed. “Nah, I’m busy.”
“With what? C’mon, don’t you wanna see that nice ass Tucker’s got? Or how ‘bout Hill’s?” Hill was a woman.
“I think I might have a date with somebody else’s ass, actually.”
“Ooh. Who’s the corpsman?”
Gray bit back a smirk and her heart began to race at the thrill of it all. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“I’ll find out one way or another,” the other woman said, pulling down the new shirt. “Have fun!”
Gray waved her out. “I’ll try,” she murmured to herself.
* * *
2140 arrived. Gray was restless, abuzz with anticipation, excitement, a sense of danger not unlike the kind she felt in a firefight. But she wasn’t going to war, so the corpsman had settled for spending a friday to throw back some hard shine near the checkpoint to watch the summer sun dance along the far horizon. Near the end, it flattened into a lumpy red blob in the haze for a short while, then finally winked out of existence along with her drink.
Dusk in the Southland was her favorite time of day. The tans and golden browns of the landscape ripened to purple and ochre, and when the afternoon heat finally began to evaporate into the cooler night air, it was almost possible to imagine that the world wasn’t one endless, shell-pocked desert. As she started walking, a pleasant breeze picked up and Gray found that her nerves had calmed a little. But she couldn’t delay any longer, it was almost time.
Gray made her way up the canyon, shivering despite the heat.
For all intents and purposes, she looked like any other tired corpsman taking an evening stroll to clear the mind. She passed the mules in their corral, passed the pair of patrolmen whose movements the sentinel had tracked, noted, and memorized long ago. Their uniforms indicated that they were with Rose Fox, so she didn’t know them and by her guess, they were only a few minutes away from the beginning of their circuit. The Anak’s comment about their behavior was proven right also: these two were taking their sweet-ass time, barely aware of their surroundings as they talked and chewed on what looked like a couple codys. She nodded to them as they went by, but neither noticed.
The canyon began to narrow here, its walls steep and rocky. Gray had no idea how the sentinel would find his way down from a path along the top of the hills, but she didn’t doubt that he had one in mind. The hairs on her arms stood on end as she turned her brown eyes upward, following the ridges above, trying to see any signs of life or movement among the tall grass and tobacco trees. Nothing but the rustling breeze. Up ahead was the long maze of storage: mismatched crates, boxes, barrels of varying make and age, all of it salvage. Inside them? Extra tent canvas, spare parts for everything from guns to cot frames, paper, light bulbs, copper wire. The important stuff was kept under better lock and key, but everything here, bulky and unconcealed, was the boring necessities of sustaining a Corps camp. And it provided ample cover for an illicit encounter. In fact, it was a surprise that she hadn’t stumbled across anyone else with the same idea yet.
“Can’t believe I’m doing this,” she whispered to the mass of containers.
Gray passed row upon row of storage, some piled neater than others. She hurried along, not quite sure why, but decided that she was looking for a place they could meet. Don’t mind me, she declared in her head. Just figuring out where to fool around with a goddamn ‘Nak.
The perfect spot was near the end. Crates stacked well above her head, encircling a small area. But that’s when she saw it: several storage rooms dug out of the hillside, kept cool and hidden by a board of plywood and canvas flap. Gray glanced around, listened, heard nothing. Heart beating, she set the board aside and pushed away the flap. Feeling around for a switch, with a flick the single bulb heaved to life above. It couldn’t have been more than 20 watts. Just enough to bathe the small space in a meager, shadowy glow. Enough to find one’s way through a tangle of limbs. She checked her watch: 2158.
She immediately shrugged off her overshirt and undid her belt, setting them quietly down on the floor just inside. Her sider was going to be next, but as she considered its modest weight in her hand, Gray turned on the safety and put it in her pocket… just in case. He was still an Anak after all.
Then, she waited.
But she didn’t have to wait long.
There was a noise outside. It wasn’t him, as far as she could tell, and it took a few moments of searching to find the source: there was a stick at her feet that hadn’t been there before. When she held it to the light, she saw that it was roughly inscribed with three straight-lined marks, separated each by one dot. Her Morse was rusty, but the prosign was familiar: ATTENTION, it meant.
There was another noise, then. A faint crack from the right, the smallest shuffle, and a moment later her eyes fell on that towering wall of gray shadow that blended expertly into the twilight, rounding the corner with predatory skill. The sentinel was right on time. She looked at him, some part of her still in complete disbelief at what was unfolding.
The soldier in her reached for the comfort of her little sider, ran her fingers over it, told herself that if this was all a ruse then she still had a chance to make it out alive, because there was no turning back now. She wondered if she could ever trust him more than this, or if she was going to be content fucking a man she might have to pull a gun on.
All nine feet of him stood beside the bank of crates as he rested his elbow on it, the wood creaking under his weight. In the thinning light, though, he was quite a sight: lean, imposing, with his face obscured by that cloth and eyes hidden behind the striking green lenses of what could only be a pair of night–vision goggles. She’s heard about them before, but never seen a pair herself. Gray could only imagine what they would look like while in the squeeze.
Quickly he tugged the fabric under his chin and raised the eyewear to rest above his forehead, and his face caught the light in just such a way that it occurred to her she was looking at one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen in her whole goddamn life. Besides her nerves, it felt like her heart was going to explode.
“W-we’ve got forty minutes,” was the first thing she said. Gray could have smacked herself for how unsexy of an opener that was. Worse, her apprehension was showing.
But he didn’t seem to give a damn. The giant wasted no time kissing her: it was deep and salty and he tasted like cigarette smoke. That roughed–up palm of his glove was behind her neck, up in her hair, down to her shoulders and then her arms. He broke away, giving her a little wink and a smile before twisting on his heels and pushing her in through the door as though he knew what she’d planned for them.
“We’d better get started, then.”
Gray glanced at her watch for reference, committed the hour to memory and marveled as he entered the small shelter, ducking deeply. He closed the door behind them. This was it now.
As if reading her mind, he asked: “We gonna do the enemy soldier song and dance again?”
Fuck, she loved the sound of that deep voice, so raspy around the edges. Gray couldn’t tell if she wanted to jump him or call it all off. But she steeled herself. This is it, corpsman. You’ve got treason to commit now, or didn’t you know?
He didn’t have his pack on, she realized—he must have left it somewhere nearby—and so he started with his body armor. Slim spaulders went first, dropped to the dirt floor, then he quickly undid the bracers around his big forearms. Gray watched him in fascination, forgetting herself for a few moments. She never in her life imagined be here, close enough to a ‘Nak to see the whites of his eyes outside of a battle, outside the do or die logic of war. Well, she did on the rare occasion. But she never told a soul.
“Why?” she countered, blood still beating in her ears as she went for the belt holding her pants up. “You want to?” Surely, false confidence was better than none.
The Anak shook his big head.
“You wouldn’t be able to put up much of a fight in a tight space like this,” he said with a smirk, eyes roaming around the interior of the sandstone bunker for a moment to punctuate his point. “I’d have you on the ground in no time.”
Was he talking about killing her, or fucking her?
Gray shot him a look, at once wry and flirtatious, and realized that he was trying to make her—or the both of them, maybe—feel more at ease. She was half his size and a quarter his weight, sure, but he could still catch lead like her, could still bleed out with a well-aimed shot. She cocked a hip and an eyebrow at him, acutely aware of the gun in her pocket and the fact that once she discarded her pants, she wouldn’t be within easy reach of another weapon.
“You don’t know what I’m packing,” she half–joked.
Before she had a chance to slowly shimmy off her slacks, he had her by the hip–bones against him again, pressed very fully against that familiar tenting in his pants. Every nerve–ending in her body lit up when he ground those hips into hers, pressing that bulge against a much smaller mons. She was surrounded by him, his dust, his need. She had to remember to breathe.
“You don’t know what I’m packing either,” he smirked into her shoulder as she could feel heat beat her cheeks red.
She braced herself against that wall of a body as his still-gloved hands began to roam, and it wasn’t long before he came to the familiar shape in her pocket. He reached in with two fingers and pinched it out. Gray looked away. Embarrassed?
“Weren’t going to be able to hide that for long,” he said, and dropped the sider to the floor before yanking her pants down.
Gray still averted her eyes, settling on the rippling muscle of his clothed thigh. “A little protection,” she said, forcing a laugh.
“Yeah,” he said with a faint snort. “Old habits die hard, don’t they?”
Then he reached into his boot and slid out a fierce looking knife, showing it to her before pushing the blade into the dirt beside her gun. The small gesture said a lot to someone like her. He kissed her again, finally tearing off his gloves.
“It feels weird to not be afraid,” she said when she broke for air. It was another dumb thing to say, but it was true.
The sentinel chuckled and it sounded like gravel. “Spoken like a true corpsman.”
A minute later they were both shirtless and he was on his back with her straddling his firm waistline. Finally, she could see what he looked like under all that brown and gray.
And he was marvelous. A quick survey of his chest, broad and strong, revealed a hard life: scarring, chillingly symmetrical from implants, and scattered others from his time in the wilderness. There was a fading tattoo underneath his left collarbone: R-402, it read in plain black. Gray became momentarily aware of the slight metal chain around her neck, and the stamped tags tucked into her compression top that had a something similar pressed into them, her Enlistment Identification Number. Her fingers found the ink in his skin. She wanted to see if she could feel the tattoo, and found that she could.
“They call me Rice,” he murmured. No given names for Anakim either, then?
“Gray,” she replied.
“I know.” His bare hands, almost as rough as the gloves, were on her back now, imposing against her slender bones. Imposing, but god, so good.
How could this be treason?
She could sit there, staring at that body, that handsome face, and feel those strong hands against her spine for eons. But they didn’t have eons: they had barely more than half an hour. The giant soldier underneath her seemed to remember this and he decided to push her compression top up to reveal soft, lean breasts.
Gray sucked in air as the sensitive flesh was exposed, and Rice rumbled deep in his chest, his eyes fixed on the smooth swells punctuated by dusky pink. His fingers soon followed, each one taking a breast and giving an almost reverent squeeze.
She couldn’t help the little moan. He grabbed harder this time, raking his thumbs across a pair of nipples quickly puckering up at the attention. He seemed to revel in their meager weight, their plump curves, stroking and cupping. Gray was aware of a throbbing heat between her legs and realized that she wanted to be touched there too. She arched, sliding her hips back so that her ass just grazed him through the fabric of his pants. A bold move.
“I’m not going to fit,” he grunted after drawing her face down to his for a second. Then he kissed her, as if to make up for the disappointment. “You know that, right?”
“Like hell you won’t.”
He cocked his head at her. “I’m nine–one, five–hundred and sixty pounds, Gray.” A chuckle. “If you’ve never taken five fingers, you’re not taking me.”
She bent over and nipped along the side of his thickly corded neck. “Never say die, Anak.”
The little human had no idea why she was fighting him over it. He probably could have convinced her if he’d stopped suppressing his pheromone, though, and the thought made her shiver.
In a swift motion, he was suddenly on top, a padded knee on either side of her ankles. He palmed at the bulge in his pants for a moment before going in to undo the buttons on the fly. She watched, enraptured and curious. It’s not that she’d never seen ‘Nak dick before, but she’d never seen one like this. Never seen one that wanted her.
Then there it was. The length of flesh that slipped out was almost startling, actually— thick, long, and with a little bit of a curve to his left. It only took a half second to realize that it was as big around as her forearm, and not at the wrist.
Poised above her, Rice met her gaze again with a pair of very dark eyes. “Told you,” he said.
The excitement went straight between her legs and she unconsciously arched up toward him, wanting, needing to be touched again. Gray, partly driven by a refusal to admit defeat and partly driven by some animal need to feel that thing between her legs, set her jaw and dug in her heels.
“Never say die,” she repeated.
He quirked a brow at her and one corner of his mouth curled in the faintest hint of a smirk. “I would if I were you.”
Rice seemed to enjoy moving her comparatively slight weight around because he had her again, grabbed her with those huge hands by the hip and the shoulder, turned her as he pulled her up to him and sat back on his heels. Gray’s shoulders were against his warm chest, simply dwarfed by the breadth of his own. The crown of her head barely grazed his chin as he held her precipitously above that heaving organ.
Big, was the only word that crossed her mind for a moment. Fucking big… all of him. Jesus!
With a hooked thumb he slid her underwear down her thighs just enough to expose that moist heat between her legs with practiced confidence. The suspense was killing her and she fought back a whimper.
Her mind nearly exploded when the head, a rich, purple-red, slid up against her folds and brushed her clit, sending a jolt of pleasure rushing from her head to each of her curling toes. Gray arched even more, trying to angle herself against it by some primal reasoning but froze when she felt the pressure of him trying to enter.
“Yeah,” he panted above her with both warmth and frustration, “Never say die until you realize you have no lube. Now hold still while I…”
He wasn’t interrupted so much as he didn’t bother to finish. With a deep growl he was in. Well, the first inch of him.
Gray hissed loudly and gasped.
The sentinel’s girth had her stretched as wide as she’d ever been in her life and her aching cunt stung around the invading member. She had to do something with her hands— anything—and they settled for holding on for dear life. He shifted slightly underneath her, and even that seemed to push the air from her lungs.
Still, Gray was no stranger to pain, and it didn’t take long for her to feel the pleasure percolating beneath it.
“You can tap out.” Rice’s words were breathy and ragged, and he struggled to hold still.
“So can—” Gray whimpered when he moved the tiniest bit. “—you.”
That appeared to be a challenge he wasn’t going to walk away from. Quickly, the giant adjusted their positions, pinning her knees to her chest with one arm and wrapping his fingers around her slender neck with the other. A pang of fear electrified her and her own little fingers grasped at the hand at her neck, strong enough, she imagined, to crush her windpipe in the blink of an eye.
He plunged in another nearly unbearable inch, and muffled her cry with his tongue in her mouth.
Gray’s head swam, and she was prepared to regret playing with fire. But what she didn’t expect was the intense wave of pleasure when he pulled out. A clever quip would have taken more wherewithal than she had now. A wordless moan was all she could manage instead.
He worked himself back in with what few inches her body could accommodate like this, hand still on her neck but not tightening. It was there for effect—an effect that she found she liked. It kept her on edge like the pheromone.
Gray realized that she wasn’t going to last long like this. Rice withdrew once more and drove back in, rocking his hips so carefully into her, and she was all ragged whimpers and straining muscles and hot, hot heat—
Orgasm rolled through her, spreading from the pressure in her pussy down to her toes and up to the scalp on the top of her head.
His hand was quick to cover her mouth before her cries could reach their crescendo. The corpsman’s body stiffened so much and so quickly that her bones felt like they would break if her climax had hit any harder, and she made ugly, desperate noises against the palm of his hand.
Her legs shook and her cunt shivered, greedily clutching at that massive cock, either trying to push it out or pull it further in, maybe both. The giant groaned when her muscles gripped him even harder, but he was patient, she dimly noted—he was waiting for her to finish. Eventually she collapsed back against him, shaking and holding onto herself.
“Mm, you sure showed me,” the giant muttered into her hair.
Gray didn’t dare move because he was still in her, still hard, and still putting pressure on all the right places. But she was tired now. Her hips ached. She was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. It felt like she’d just walked a mile with a hundred-pound ruck. But they weren’t done. At least, Rice wasn’t, and something told her that he hadn’t risked life and limb just to get her off.
She was about to say something, but the rosy haze had turned her mind to mush. After a moment he gave a small thrust into her hypersensitive cunt: she yelped, and he laughed.
“Wake up, corpy,” he chuckled. “We’ve got fifteen minutes.”
He eased himself out of her, and she whimpered.
“Over there.” Rice picked her up and set her on the ground against a few crates. Kneeling, his cock was at the perfect height for her to use her mouth. Above, she saw him brace his massive hands on the containers, effectively pinning her down. Gray swallowed, reminding herself that this was a dangerous position to be in. More dangerous than what she’d just done? Hardly. But things still felt weird without the fear. Disorienting; only, in a good way.
The one thing she could know for sure, though, was that this Rice, this deadly Anak sentinel, was using her as a means to an end. But it was mutual, they both understood. Their allegiances didn’t matter here in this cramped room, only that base hunger for touch. For a witness.
But there was something else, too: why agree to go through the trouble to fuck a corpsman on camp soil? Surely, there was another, bigger game he was playing that Gray was providing a set piece for.
And yet, it still didn’t seem wrong. Or, wrong enough.
As the massive man rolled his hips in closer to her face, Gray momentarily thought of Wesson. She’d slept with him a number of times; the sex wasn’t bad, exactly, but not good either. He’d been gentle and mealy, sentimental. But there was no time for that. Not at Fox, not in the Corps, not anywhere in the vast rolling desert of the Southland.
Why Wesson wanted romance was beyond her. Romance didn’t just stifle, it made things more complicated than they needed to be. Then she remembered another corpsman, his name forgotten to her now, and how he’d put his hand around her neck once too. But still, it hadn’t been like this. It hadn’t been an Anak’s hand.
Rice’s boots scraped against the floor, and the sound drew her out of her head. Boots in the dirt, she thought, turning the image over in her mind a few times. It was one of the most honest sounds she could think of.
He grabbed himself, touched the sticky moisture at the tip of his cock to her lip. Gray smelled herself on him and blushed. But beyond that, he was clean. He must have bathed for this, somehow.
Gray’s tongue darted out to lick at the precum, and she could feel his eyes digging into her from high above. She took him in both hands, suddenly wondering if her knowledge of human anatomy would be enough here.
“Are you… it’s like a human’s, just bigger, right?”
She glanced up, suddenly sheepish and feeling very, very small now.
“Far as I can tell,” he grunted.
Rice reached down to grab and stroke her chin, a little roughness in the gesture reminding her that the clock was ticking.
Licking her lips, Gray opened her mouth as wide as it would go and he pushed in to the back molars, which was as far as he could go. Even then she had to fight a gag.
Rice felt it and massaged at the bulge under her chin. “Don’t need you to deepthroat,” he murmured. “You can grip me harder than that, though.”
Gray nodded with his cock still splitting her mouth open and got to work synchronizing her pumping fists with bobbing her head around the first few inches of his heaving length.
She couldn’t believe how hot he was! Or how rock-hard now; it was like stroking sun-baked saddle leather. His veins were so pronounced that she felt like she’d be able to feel the pumping blood under the tight skin. It was like even his dick was made of muscle.
“Fingers can’t wrap all the way around me, can they?” he quietly teased.
She responded with a short moan that vibrated around his hot cockhead, so swollen now that she could barely tug at his foreskin. She rubbed her tongue along the underneath of his head, and when she pulled away, she licked up along the slit, oozing his moisture now.
“Getting close, keep going.”
Gray picked up her pace. She stroked along his thick shaft as hard as she could, lubricating him with her spit, and hollowed her her cheeks to suckle at the tip. A swear left the giant’s lips and wood creaked high above.
He reached down to cup the back of her head, threading fingers through her hair as he began rocking his hips in a way that told her he was still in tight control. One overzealous move and he could choke her. Or have his dick bitten. It was impossible to tell which one was the stronger motivator.
Before long, Gray was sucking and stroking as fast as her tired little body could go. He helped by grabbing himself at the root to stroke his bottom half, and from what she could see, his breaths were growing more labored, his cut belly tightening with every heave of his chest.
“Y’ready?” he breathed.
A second later he grabbed her by the hair hard enough to sting and stiffened. His huge body convulsed once, twice, and he kept his cock firmly buried in the back of her mouth as he pumped his load into her with a groan. Gray held onto his hips and made a noise as she struggled to swallow the globs of heat hitting her throat, concentrating on not gagging, don’t gag, don’t gag!
There was still so much of it in her mouth when he freed himself from her aching jaw with a thread of milky split connecting them for a moment.
Licking her lips, Gray was finally able to actually taste him. His flavor was surprisingly clean, too, and human enough, but there was a note there, faint, that was immediately recognizable, and it made her heart jump.
Rice sat down, an arm resting on his knee as he breathed slow and content, need satiated for now. Gray was still busy swallowing the last of his cum as she went to sit beside him. Idly, they both watched his erection flag until it lay limply against his leg.
He tucked it away again, buttoned up his fly, then without warning pulled her up into his lap like the rag doll she suddenly was. They sat like that for a minute or two, half–listening for approaching corpsmen, half lost in the doped–up haze of post–orgasm. But something else made her not want to get too comfortable.
“How’d you learn to fuck a human like that?” Gray asked, not sure she really wanted to know the answer.
“I’m a sentinel,” he grunted. “A free-range operator. And there’s still a lot of free–range humans out there.”
Gray started to wonder what that meant, having been only sixteen when she left that world behind. But why should that surprise her? There were more people out in the wastes than the Corps, after all. She supposed that if he had something valuable enough to offer someone, then they would probably have no problem trading themselves for it. She wondered if he ever threatened anyone for sex, but something struck her odd about the idea.
“Though to be honest,” he continued lazily, and there was the faintest hint of satisfaction in his voice that she couldn’t get a read on. “I’ve never fucked a corpsman before.”
Neither of them said anything for a long beat, but the way the air in the storage room was starting to feel, Gray could tell that a something was bubbling to the forefront of both their minds. He spoke to it first.
“Question is, the hell do we do now?”
He’d been naive, she realized, in pursuing her like that, and he knew it. Maybe he was used to having the kind of latitude that let him follow his whims, used to being able to bend the rules. Gray wondered if he hadn’t actually thought this through, or if he’d been thinking with his dick too much.
Because fuck knows she hadn’t been thinking with her brain either.
Her mouth was suddenly dry, but she spoke anyway. “We put on our uniforms and go back to doing our jobs,” she muttered.
Gray suddenly felt that his pants were too rough for her bare thighs, and his skin too warm for her bare back, so she released herself from his loose grasp and staggered back to her clothes across the room. Her watch told her that their time was almost up.
She hefted up her pants and underwear at the same time, and reached for her shirt. She stole a glance at the Anak as he dressed, watching him strap on his matte beige gear. He must’ve caught her looking, because he nodded in distant agreement, but her answer also seemed to bother him.
She was ready in the short span that he was, and it was time for him to go. The light was switched off again. She sucked in a shaking breath and held it as she peeked outside the door, listening to the silence for any trace of movement. There was none, and Gray stepped out. He followed and the two found themselves among the crates again, obscured by the deeper shadows of night.
“Let’s do that again,” he said. He’d taken a knee, goggles hanging loosely around his neck. His gloved hand held onto her hip with his thumb stroking her belly.
Images and sensations passed through her mind’s eye and she tingled with a small surge of adrenaline. Could they have this? Would they be able to hang onto this simple, dangerous arrangement, even when all the forces of their world were hurtling them towards the grim and inevitable? Gray felt compelled to try. If she couldn’t assert herself against the interests of the upranked, she could at least assert herself here. She could bring this back to camp and unlike shifts, unlike fridays, unlike codys and blankets, the Corps didn’t give it to her, and so the Corps couldn’t take it away.
Gray’s own game had begun.
“Yeah, we should.”
“This is your territory, isn’t it?” she countered with a little smile. “You tell me.”
He laughed quietly, and she almost lost herself in that deep, earthy sound. “You won’t like me gettin’ the drop on you.”
Gray grabbed the webbing of his vest and yanked him forward with the help of his cooperation. “You thought my pussy wouldn’t like your cock either. Seems to me like you’re in the habit of being wrong.”
His smile widened and he showed teeth. “Big words for a human.”
She snorted, was about to make some kind of clever, sexy rebuttal, but Rice just kissed her before she had the chance. His fully-loaded silhouette, ominous and striking in its effect on the senses, blocked the starry sky from her field of vision. But he was gentle, if not a little trepid, even. Not the behavior of a well-trained ‘Nak.
Then he lifted up his goggles, depressed a button along the side, and disappeared back into the wild like a rustle on the breeze.
@olo Argh it was so hard. I didn’t want to dwell too much on the emotional turmoil because it’s supposed to be the most jarring series of events in the story, and yet… Gray’s world is being ripped away from her forever.
The line with Wesson serves to both establish something like that, and also help set up the other, more accurate version of the revelation that happens soon after this. For all we know, Wesson is told the soylent story, and it serves to explain what he saw in the wreckage of that battle. The soylent story is all the Corps’s officers need to know, after all, and even Gray has a difficult time understanding the real form of “cannibalism” that actually takes place. Rice explains it in very simple terms in pt 2 but the technology is way beyond anything she’s ever known, and likely anyone other than brass too.
Pureed is right!
Jesus, this was very hard to write. It might be the most intense chapter so far. Still have a bit to go, but this was a decent stopping point and I thought I’d share.
She heard them coming up the canyon long before she saw them: a group of five. Four of them were armed, and one of them was carrying an empty duffel bag. They were surprised to see her sitting on a rock in the shade across from Avers’ body, with a smokestick taken from one of the brigs hanging from her mouth.
“Holy shit!” one of the eighth-years remarked. “You’re alive, Gray?”
Gray had pocketed a few things from the dead men worth gambling away, including a nicer tac knife. She watched the group of corpsmen as they kicked at the bodies to get a better look at the faces.
“My gun could shoot more bullets than theirs,” she panned. “Basic fucking math.”
Two of the armed corpsmen searched the brgs while the other two scaled the rock fall to have a look around above. Torres glanced back at Avers, the poor fucker. Then Torres set her pack down and got a gulp of water from her canteen before producing a pair of folding shovels. She handed one to Gray.
“Y’know what they say about F circuit,” Torres said as she began moving dirt. “The F stands for “fuck you”.”
Ah yes, that old joke. Gray snubbed out the last of her smoke, pocketed it, and got to work helping dig a shallow grave for her comrade.
One of the corpsmen who was busy examining a brig turned and made eye contact with Torres.
“Hey, check this out. This is a pretty nasty hole. Big.”
Gray took a glance at the gore from where she stood. The white of his ribs was visible in among the red and purple. She swallowed, looked at her boots. “Kicker can do that too, you know.”
Torres stopped and went to get a look for herself. She poked at the dead brig with the end of her shovel, moving his arm away from the wound on his side.
“’Nak lead if I ever saw it.” She turned back to the seventh-year sentry. “Gray, what happened over here, exactly?”
She shrugged stiffly. “They ambushed me and I made ‘em regret it.”
“One of these men was killed by a 'Nak.”
Gray shrugged again.
“You don’t seem bothered by that.”
“Yeah, I’m alive thanks to that bullet. Kinda glad I got the help.”
Torres frowned deeply. “Alright, guys, hurry up, help us dig. There might be a ‘Nak nearby and he’s not invited to this funeral.”
* * *
The remnants of water clung to her backside as Gray stood in the shower stall, eyes screwed shut as she held onto the arched neck of the shower head. A rip in the tent canvas threw a long needle of light along her shoulder, which she felt as heat. More often it was used when someone wanted an eyeful of wet skin.
She’d spent two minutes on water, but fifteen minutes in the stall and was already drip-dry by the time she was ready to leave. The corpsman was busy trying to put Rice’s face out of her mind, trying to forget that she’d ever met him. And as she tired, she was realized that he’d done something for her. She didn’t quite understand what it was, but something about her was very different now than before. And that made trying to forget him all the more important.
She whispered a swear and grabbed a towel to dry off.
Later, Gray went to the privacy of her toon tent to look over what she’d lifted from the dead man. The knife, the smokesticks. They were worth something, she knew that, but how much? What might Craft give her for it? A few books, at least. Maybe he’d keep an eye out for a nicer gun.
The tent flap was suddenly pulled aside, and outside stood Torres of all people. Stout and solid, Gray didn’t want to just tell her to go away, especially because of the look in her eye.
“’Cap wants to see you.”
“You can tell him I’ll be right there to fill out the debrief sheet.”
“Ain’t that. He wants you now.”
Heat rose to Gray’s face—she knew she was in trouble. Or that Wesson wanted to act like she was in trouble.
Maybe he wants to punish you for surviving that.
Gray mustered her strength and headed out, passing another toon tent, a latrine, and the quad, before coming to Wesson’s square little office made of canvas. She took a deep breath before stopping inside, needing to gather her wits. The promo bastard had something up his sleeve, she knew it. Glancing behind her to see Torres stand, watching from the other side of the quad, was all the evidence she needed.
“Have a seat, Gray,” came that voice of his, commanding and strained.
She did, slowly. What was it going to be this time?
“Torres says you fired your gun, corpsman…”
He spoke like he didn’t know who she was, and between him and her pounding heart she began to grow confused and frustrated.
“Of course I did. I took on three fucking brigs. Was I not supposed to defend myself?”
Wesson chuckled, and behind her someone entered the tent. He waved them in, and it was Torres again, with Gray’s pair of Corps-issued weapons. Torres must’ve slipped into her tent and grabbed them just now, something that would normally get you beat up. But not this time—this was an officer’s errand.
“Do a bullet count,” Wesson ordered, still not having made eye contact with Gray yet.
The seventh-year just sat in her uncomfortable chair, watching the eighth-year in stiff silence as she slipped the magazines out of their respective guns and proceeded to empty them out onto the great wooden desk for counting.
“Sider fired six times,” Torres said. “And kicker fired eight, sir.”
Gray narrowed her eyes and in a mocking voice said: “_Forty-_eight, sir. She must not have seen the two empty mags sitting on my cot waiting to be packed again.”
“Thank you Torres, that’ll be all. She and I need to talk alone.”
“Torres and Dunn found thirty-nine of your shells out there,” he said once she’d gone.
Gray swallowed, feeling warm under hr shirt collar. To illustrate this, he produced one of the precious little sleeves of brass and set it on the desk.
“And one of these, about 150 yards away.”
Another, altogether different shell was then stood up beside the first: it was several times larger, with a jagged-looking taper in the middle. Gray knew that it was also heavy.
She studied the pair of shells, glancing from one to the other. “There’s ‘Nak casings everywhere in these hills… sir.”
There was no way that what she thought was happening was happening. It wasn’t possible. What case was he going to try and build based on one shell?
Wesson rubbed his chin, still not looking her in the eye. Why didn’t he? Look at me while you do this, you goddamn bastard.
“It was fresh,” he said carefully. “Not a grain of sand in it.”
And then he paused. Gray possibly stopped breathing as he did.
“Know what else was fresh? His prints up on the ridge.”
She tensed as if hit with the pheromone of several scenting giants. Her blood ran like cool water, and all she could think about all of a sudden was his hands on her back, on her breasts, between her legs, and she was coming, coming—
“What are you trying to say, Wesson?”
“I just want to know what happened.”
“I was out there trying to survive the fucking suicide mission you sent me on. I wasn’t making friends, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Wesson turned to swat at the heavy canvas behind him and call through the fabric: “You can come in now, Kessler.”
This was about the moment that Gray’s stomach felt like it dropped to the floor because it all made sense. This was all coming back to finally haunt her.
The young man looked intense when he came in, at once both afraid and angry. Burke never knew about what had happened that evening before the ambush, but Wesson did.
“Holy shit,” was all Gray could stammer.
Wesson said to Torres: “Go get the Commander, please.” And to Kessler: “You, tell me again.”
“There was a ‘Nak with her that day. I remember him… h-he was on top of her. They thought no one was around.”
“On top of her.”
On top of me.
“Y-yes, sir. When I… attacked, he was on top of her.”
“On top like what? Was he trying to kill Gray?”
“No, sir. I don’t know what he w-was doing, sir.” Kessler swallowed. “But she lied, sir. She lied to Burke’s face. She said the ‘Nak was a dog. I knew what I saw. I never forgot.”
Wesson stood up and began to pace.
“What did you tell him?” he asked Gray.
Gray’s mouth was open and it felt like she’d been tied to the chair. Not a sound came out.
Wesson exploded, kicking her to the floor in the rib she’d injured all those weeks ago, and the seventh-year cried out in pain. She hit the floorboards with a hard thud, gasping.
“What did you tell him, Gray?”
He stepped over to her and grabbed her by the collar.
“You traded something for your life, corpsman! Now what was it?”
Wesson shook her or maybe she was shaking or maybe both were happening. Barely recognizing the sound of her own voice as she struggled to say something—anything, idiot!—and with a horrified wheeze, a few words were dragged out.
“We f… f-fucked.”
Gray had no idea if she’d just saved or damned herself to more torture than she could possibly imagine. But the fact was that a lie hadn’t materialized. All she could speak was the truth.
“That’ll be all, Kessler,” Wesson growled from where he was crouched over her like a fox with a vole.
“I said, that will be all!”
When he was gone, Wesson let her go, but only in time for his hand to go sailing across her face hard enough for blood to spatter.
“You fucking whore,” the captain hissed. “I thought I knew you, Gray. I thought I knew you. You wanted nothing but that freeman’s mark, and you’d be the good corpsman to get one. But now, now…"
Gray lay there on the floor and clutched her side, the pain almost as bad as it had been in the beginning, and all she could take were quick, shallow breaths. It made it hard to think.
But Wesson continued without her. “And you used me, didn’t you? Played me like a fucking fool, getting me to schedule you for all those solitary posts. And all so you could commit treason. Unless…” He paused to take a few rough breaths through flared nostrils, and still all Gray could manage was a wheeze. “It was rape?”
Gray shut her eyes tight, not wanting to even think about answering this question. She focused on trying to breathe.
“Tell me he forced you, Gray. Tell me he put his gigantic hands on you and shoved you to the ground.”
She panted wordlessly, and Wesson stood up again. He watched as she began pulling herself back up into her chair.
“So you’re just a fucking whore,” Wesson whispered. “For years I stuck out my neck for you. I felt bad for you.” His flushed face drew close, and he grabbed her by the chin. “You barely knew how to suck a cock when we first met. You were what, seventeen? New to Fox after spending that first year getting your ass kicked at Camp Jay.”
Wesson drew even closer, and he spoke with a choked, hushed voice.
“What does he have that I don’t, huh? What’s he got on me?"
Gray was seated again, moving carefully as she tried to sit upright in the chair. Her hair was in her eyes but that was fine because there was no sitting up when she hurt this much and no looking him in the eye.
There was a flash in his eye, brief but unmistakable, before he lifted his leg and kicked her again. This time she went tumbling across the floor along with the chair.
While Gray was busy trying to breathe steadily and keep herself from vomiting, Hitch had stormed in with a pair of armed ninth-years in tow. It took a few seconds for her to be able to sense the world outside of that pain.
“Get her to the med tent. We’ll keep her there until she can be picked up.”
“Picked up? But s-sir this is treason. She… she…”
“Captain Rhyd Wesson, it’s time you learned what retraining is.”
* * *
The captain’s liquor had tasted so sweet on her lips, and she’d fallen so neatly into that silky stupor that she was gone before she knew it. The pain went away, it seemed, and Gray was at least able to take deep breaths. She couldn’t quite see straight, but that was fine, she wanted to sleep, anyway.
Where was she? The cot didn’t belong to her, and how did it get so clean?
“A couple morph should do the trick,” a shadowy figure said.
“Jesus, Bauer, we’re not trying to kill her.”
“Alright, just one morph, then.”
Gray opened her mouth to speak, but found it very dry. “Wh… ere am I?”
“Shit, she’s awake.”
“Did the commander say she wasn’t allowed to remember this?”
“Well, no. But it would sure as hell make our job easier.”
“…W-what’s going… going on?”
The pair turned to her, and Gray could barely keep her eyes open to see them through the haze. “Whatever it is, it’s between you and Hitch,” one of them said. “I’m just here to medicate.”
Something small and chalky was stuck into her mouth, then, and she struggled with it for a few seconds. Then a few beats later and Gray fell into a dead sleep.
* * *
The next thing Gray knew for sure was happening was being woken up from a tent somewhere, filled with several unwashed bodies. Her hands were bound in front of her, there was a length of fabric tied around her head as a gag, and some kind of bag over her head prevented her from seeing anything. She felt woozy and hoped that she wouldn’t puke, or it would have nowhere to go.
“Up, up, everyone up,” came a voice. “We leave for the trade-off point in twenty minutes.”
There was groaning and shuffling, all of it sad.
Gray still sat on the hard ground, feeling stiff and tender as she pieced together that she, too, was to get up. She tried and failed, not quite finding her balance yet.
“You too,” said the same voice, now much closer. The seventh-year jumped when a big hand grabbed her by the arm to hoist her up and out of the tent. And it added in a very low voice: “Traitor.”
It all came back to her, now—Wesson, the shell casings, the beating—and the nausea roiling her stomach redoubled. She swallowed bile as black fear overcame her, and tried to speak: I’m not a traitor! I didn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know!
But all that came out was muffled grunts.
Outside, she was shoved and herded and instructed to stand still for a while, and she listened through the pounding in her head, the pounding in her chest, to the sounds going on around her. Orienting herself was almost impossible, but she acted like her life depended on it.
Nearby there was shuffling, the gathering of rope, the saddling of horses. A man barked orders at someone, and in the meantime she heard tack and leathers in several places to her left, and hushed murmurs to her right. In the distance were the sounds of camp—she was not far, and the idea of trying to escape briefly crossed her mind, but it hit her then, really hit her, that there was no going back.
This was it.
The Corps was through with her.
At least, for now.
She remembered Hitch mention retraining: where was she being taken? A bullet-packing line? The ponds where the base for rations were grown? Was she being taken to a bond market?
Almost eight years. All gone.
Washed away like dust in the rain.
Gray stood there, shaking, hands cold, and waited for whatever fate was in store for her. It seemed like a long time. But it was only the twenty minutes before she was shoved again from behind, situated into place, and someone began fastening something to the rope around her wrists—a line.
“If you stumble, catch yourself. If you fall, get up. Nobody’s slowing down for you until you get to the trade-off. Got it?”
It was Wesson, and his voice cut her to the bone.
But he was gone, too.
She tried inflecting the wordless groaning she was able to make to get something more from him. But he ignored her.
“Never taken a retrainee,” one of them said. “I’m surprised the camp isn’t gawkin’.”
“Camp won’t miss her.”
Those were her old friend’s last parting words before she heard the clicking of tongues and the jangling of bridles as they got underway, and the line tied to her wrists tugged her roughly forward through the glow of pre-dawn.
Gray was 16 years old again, except this time she was being led back to the caravan.
* * *
Once they were out of sight of camp, the bag was taken from her and she was finally permitted to see where they were going. Gray blinked, the knot in her stomach loosening from nothing else but exhaustion as she took in her surrounds: the rope tied her to a line of eight corpsmen, and she recognized them all as being those rejected from service during the inspections. They were a ragged bunch, limping along and lead by a man on horseback. Ahead of him were two more riders, each heavily armed.
It was several hours of hard walking in the baking sun, going on in pensive, defeated, anxious silence, before anything changed. Before the exhaustion settled into her bones and the wind pulled from her sails. It wasn’t that she wasn’t terrified, it was that she had no fight left in her. And that was part of what changed now.
They stopped, and Gray, too tired to even continue imagining the worst anymore, assumed that this was the destination. The riders dismounted, and people spoke in hushed voices so that Gray could barely hear.
The trade was happening, and between the trembling, the thoughts broken and scattered by fatigue, and the ghost of yesterday’s drugs, Gray couldn’t make much more sense than that. They must have been the rejected prospects, being dumped on somebody else in exchange for… for whatever. Paper. Light bulbs. Canvas. Anything but more useless humans.
She didn’t dare wonder what their fates would be, instead sitting still and anxious on the dirt, waiting for a hand to drag her to her feet so that she, too, could be sold to the wasteland.
Hoofbeats disappeared down the road along with the shuffle of bonds. Eventually, Gray was alone with the three Corps riders.
“Who they savin’ her for?” one of the men grunted.
“The next client,” another snapped. “Due at dusk.”
“How much does a trained bondie like her go for these days, anyways? Those eight we just got rid of were barely fit to dig a ditch.”
“Goes for more than you think. Now you two get goin’, I do the rest of this job alone.”
A gun cocked, and Gray stiffened.
“You’re damn right, I’m sure,” he said in a low voice. _“_This the goddamn protocol. Now get.”
Two of the men mounted their horses, and after a few more mumbled sentiments exchanged, they too faded into the distance. After a minute, all she could hear were locusts.
She sat like that for another five, ten minutes, as her unseen companion walked a slow, steady circle in the dirt, not saying a word. Gray was thirsty, but dared not bring attention to herself.
Eventually, those footsteps came to a stop nearby, and she could feel him standing close. So close that she almost jumped when he spoke.
“You’re not gonna like your new holders,” he said quietly, voice raspy from smoking. “They don’t do things like we do.”
Gray shifted herself to face in his direction, trying to make out his silhouette through the burlap weave. He snorted.
“S’funny to me that after all these years, they still don’t tell you enlisteds anything. Not like knowin’ changes things. In fact, knowin’ would just make you more scared of ‘em. You know what they do, corpsman?”
She sat motionless, tense, listening.
“They eat humans,” he said. “They take us, grind us up, turn us into wet ration. That’s the real reason we fight ‘em. ‘Naks don’t grow nothin’, don’t raise nothin’. They farmin’ us, though.”
No, it couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be. Gray made a noise through her gag and shook her head. The man laughed bitterly.
“It’s true! You think they raid the caravans for pencils and indigo? C’mon, bondie, you can’t tell me you really believe we survive ‘em because we’re just that good. Humans are just resourceful and plucky enough. No… they let us win. They let us live our lives, be fruitful and multiply. We bargained for it, kid. S’where you’re goin’.”
She imagined it, the picture terrified her. She saw blood and gore, bones being turned to pinkish paste. This was her fate? This… this is what retraining was? Fuck the Corps, fuck the Corps, fuck the Corps…
Liars, all of them. Finch was right, who cared if General Pierce was ever real, that wasn’t the myth that the entire fucked place was based on. Since childhood, she knew the Corps helped hold the line against a shadowy and distant enemy, a race created to be human, but better.
And then, for the past seven years, Gray learned all the ways that the Corps did what it did. How the telegraph lines were laid to keep the camps connected. How their power and reputation gave them access to some of the best weapons deals available in the Southland, and how Corps-packed bullets were known to be the most reliable on the market. How they were the only organization in the waste—no, maybe the whole state—that freely and expertly trained bonds for more than menial labor.
How they were the only ones to eventually free them.
Gray wanted so badly to hate the Corps. But she couldn’t.
She couldn’t and it hurt because everything she knew was being taken from her, and as she thought about ‘Naks eating people again she remembered the liquid pumped into Rice’s side, and it all made sense, such horrible sense—
Gray gasped through the gag and froze.
Shot, shot, h-he’s been shot—
Gray shuffled herself backward until she collided with a rock and then threw herself to the ground, blood running cold with sheer panic. She couldn’t get hold of her breathing, her chest felt like it was going to explode and tears stung her eyes.
It took everything she had not to moan in despair when she heard the sound of boots approaching. Death approaching. Death was approaching. He shifted, turning on his heel. Searching. Didn’t have to search long.
She was grabbed, lifted to her feet, and the bag was ripped away. She cried out at the suddenness of it, the fact that there was no chance whoever had her now had any better intentions than a ‘Nak or a brig. In the span of a single morning, Gray had been kicked down to the lowest rungs of the social order. Carrion, ripe for the poaching. She screwed her eyes shut, not wanting to look him in the eye.
The gag was taken from her too, and the cry that escaped was long and agonized as her body pitched, ready to run.
“No! No, let me go!” she sobbed.
“Gray, it’s me! It’s me.”
A pair of arms surrounded her, the ground fell away.
It was him.
But he was a ‘Nak.
“No, no, no, stop, stop—“
He crushed her to him, and he grabbed her by the wrists to hold her still, so still. She fought him, her human’s strength against his.
Life left her, and next all she could do was sob into his dusty, armored shoulder. Cry tears she’d been holding back for seven years. This was… this was grief.
She grieved for her short, miserable life. She grieved for her species, for doing this to itself. She grieved for the eight bonds from earlier, for the countless rejects she’d seen during her time with the Corps. She grieved for Finch and Wesson and their friendship. She grieved for once having been sure of anything in life.
The giant just held her tight and stroked her hair.
When the tears dried and all that was left of the corpsman named Gray was an exhausted, empty husk draped over Rice’s shoulder, he loosened his grip and sat on the ground. Girl in lap, safe within the fortress of his body.
“Tell me you don’t do it,” she whispered. “Please. I need to hear it from you.”
“I don’t do what,” he murmured.
“You e-eat us.”
He hesitated and her heart shuddered.
“Let me go, let me fucking go!”
His massive hands were on her arms now, holding her still in a completely different way. Their eyes met, his hard blue ones and her agonized brown.
“Let me show you something.”
“Rice, Rice, please… just let me go. Let this be over.”
He shook her. “Gray, it’s not what you think. I have to show you.”
“Gray, please. I’ll explain.”
“Ellis,” she whispered.
“Ellis! My name is Ellis!”
Rice said it slowly, trying it out. But hearing it brought her to tears again, stirring something old and worn and fragile in her, and she buried her face in his shoulder once more.
“It’s going to be OK, Ellis. It’s going to be OK.”
I will have more coherent things to say later, but - yessss. YESS.
Yeah, creek water makes for lousy lube.
I… try not to think hard about it.
Rice, in particular, doesn’t seem to like not knowing the lay of the land.
Bingo! He puts himself out there only when he feels like he’s going to get the pre-planned outcome. Gotta love that humble pie.
I’m still not relaxing around Finch.
First draft, she was much more of a victim and Gray wanted to save her - and not doing it very well of course - but this time, Finch is turning out much more chilling in her own right.
In other news… I think one more chapter will do it, then I’ll be penning the rest away in cloistered secrecy! I hope to make it one helluva cliffhanger.
The brig took a shortcut, sliding down the hillside and making a damned racket, kicking up dust. The barrel of a gun, still hot, pressed to the back of her head, and she swallowed sharply. Gray knew better than to turn around at this point. It would be better not to see it coming.
“I know you’re gonna pull that trigger,” she said quietly, trying to muster a chuckle, “But if you could do me a favor and promise me that you’ll shoot my CO too someday?”
The voice that answered was a rough and rocky baritone, though. Too baritone to be human.
“Might be able to work something out.”
Gray spun around and found herself face–to–face with Rice’s lowered 50–cal gun.
“Y–you son of a bitch,” she barked, and the giant just erupted into smug laughter. “Fuck you!”
He lowered the cloth from his face and flashed a fine set of teeth. Gray went straight back to the flask and choked down half of it, still muttering curses.
“It’s called gallows humor,” he said when she was done.
“Very funny,” Gray murmured.
She looked around again, trying to put together what had just happened. A silence passed between them and after a beat she realized that she was still shaking. With a groan, Gray sat down on a large rock. The flask she flung away.
The sentinel’s blue eyes were hard and impenetrable when she finally looked back toward him.
“How’d you know I was here?”
He reached up and pulled the device from his ear. So the rumors were true, they were easy targets for eavesdropping.
Rice turned his attention toward the fallen brigs, then up toward where the other pair lay. Without a word he adjusted the strap on his boomer, and climbed the rock fall with ease— it was, after all, less than chest–high for him. He picked his footing up on the ridge, and then kicked down the other two. They rolled and flopped over each other with a discomforting irreverence, then came to a stop in a pile of tangled limbs at the bottom of the gulch. Rice slid down again like he had before: an eerily boyish thing to do given the circumstances.
Gray sat there and stared blankly at the dead men.
“I’m sick of this shit,” she murmured. “Fucking sick of it.”
Rice cocked his head and took a step closer.
“Part of me wishes you would’ve pulled that trigger on me just now.”
Did Gray really mean that?
There was a pause as he seemed to think this over, before he closed the gap between them and with a quiet, practiced motion, had his sidearm pressed to her skull. She remembered what he looked like pointing it at that brownband, and wondered if he was the same now. No, not the same. There was no pheromone, and no fear.
“Still wishin’ for it?” he asked calmly, quietly.
She turned her head and looked down the black hole at the end of that gun, then her eyes fell back to her knees. Gray didn’t want to think about it right now. Not this trio of wasteland scum, not Avers. Not Finch or the captain.
“I don’t know anymore.” Gray possibly wanted to cry, but felt like she didn’t remember how. It’d been years, and instead her throat just tightened.
When the Anak fired above her head, she just about jumped right out of her skin. They listened to the sharp crack echo down the gulch and give way to the ringing in her ears again.
“I think you do, soldier,” he said.
A whisper. “All I know is what I need right now.”
When she met his gaze, there was a look of interest there, a little predatory, but very human. Rice sized her up briefly, evaluating like the apex predator he was designed to be.
“Can I… can you stop suppressing?”
He looked at her a little harder. What kind of request was that? Where did it come from? Did she actually want him to scent? Did she want that fear? Want to play with it? Yes. Because it wasn’t the same fear she had of the Corps now. Fear on the battlefield was honest, but at camp it was the dirtiest weapon of all.
“You really want that, don’t you?”
I want… something raw.
She wanted him to be like the sun, hot and searingly bright. She wanted him to immolate her. Because maybe then there was a chance she could be remade into something else.
The giant stooped steeply to kiss her on the mouth, grabbing her under her jaw to lift her face skyward. Already she felt enveloped, at the mercy of the wall of this man-like creature and she wanted so badly for him to whisk her away like the hero in one of her Westies. The kiss was salty, smoky, warm, and firm. And it made a promise.
“Just follow me,” he said, rising up again and adjusting the kerchief around his face.
No, she wouldn’t be carried off into the sunset. But having the earth under her feet was almost better.
Taking one last look at the four bodies strewn about the head of the canyon, she hoisted up her own gear and hastened when it became clear that Rice would not be slowing down for her.
* * *
Where the path back along the circuit made a left, Rice made a right, up a narrow track of stones that hid his 24–inch–long bootprints. They followed that trail for a few minutes as it wound its way back toward civilization, sweeping up an easy hill. On the other side, she discovered, was the grounds of some ruined estate. They descended down into it.
It was a large brick and concrete pad, to the south of which was the bones of an impressive structure, rising up from charred rubble. Trees and greenery of all sorts grew out of the cracks in the pad, rustling and throwing them into mottled shade as they crossed the property. But perhaps the most astonishing part was the swimming pool beside them, full of water.
A small stream came out of the hills behind the house, its water flowing into a ditch created by the rent concrete and guided like a canal into the old pool. Its bottom was damaged, and half-filled in with rocks and dirt, but there was still more than enough room for several people – humans, that is – to submerge and swim. Gray gawked.
“What is this place?”
The Anak threw down his ruck and walked past her to the edge of the pool where he knelt and threw water on his dusty face.
“Rest for the weary.”
He undressed. Gear and shirt formed a neat pile on the ground, which were soon joined by his boots. She heard the jangling of a belt as he began to work off his pants. Gray shivered, remembering their night in the storage room. Then she remembered all the thoughts she ever had about him, actually. All the fantasies, the hopes, the wonderings. Then she remembered the bullet he put in that soldier’s head. The Tobins.
Maybe the Grays were more trouble than they were worth, too.
She sucked in a ragged breath.
Before long he was completely naked, and Gray realized that she hadn’t yet seen him bare from head to toe. Rice looked so much like a man—every muscle and tendon, the placement of every hair… it was all an exact copy of the real thing. Except for the fact that he was grown in a vat and just short of twice her height.
His knees, she immediately saw, were not original. The skin there was different: was it real, or something artificial? It was the same, too, for his ankles and toes. Surely that wasn’t the extent of it. She could only begin to imagine what his insides looked like. His brain.
Rice sunk into the pool in a way that made her want to follow. For him, it was shallow, but its cool, clean water was more than anyone in these parched hills could ask for. Her muscles almost relaxed at the sight, and soon she was naked too, staring at her feet in the water as she stepped into it.
Rice, sitting cross–legged, pulled her into his lap and maneuvered her to sit square on his dick. He firmed.
Then Gray thought of Wesson. She didn’t want to, but his face kept appearing in her mind with that cold, unsettling look in his eyes. She suddenly recalled another memory from that night: the smell of leather and exotic smokesticks. She could almost taste the vomit in her mouth.
“Hey. Eyes up here.”
Gray must’ve given herself away because Rice was holding very still all of a sudden, her delicate shoulders under his enormous hands. She just looked at him, struggling to focus because staring into those eyes was suddenly so difficult.
“I need… help,” she said.
The giant reached down between his legs and began to stroke himself, rubbing his hardening shaft between her thighs. The point of contact was electric, drawing her attention like lightning to a tent pole. She didn’t have to look at him, now. It was OK. She could just feel.
He stiffened quickly, and when that was done he pushed her into the water and began to rub her down. She’d already bathed that morning, but it still felt as if he were taking off weeks’ worth of dust and sweat and grime. But the idea of being coddled like a goddamn infant sickened her.
When Gray was back in his lap, thick shaft pressing up against her cunt as she ran her fingers down his finely muscled chest, the tightness was still in her throat.
“Don’t give me your pity,” she whispered, staring at the place between his abs where a bellybutton should have been. “And don’t give me your pity fuck.”
Rice grabbed her hair and jerked her head back to expose her neck. “You should know me better than that by now?”
She shivered at that. A good shiver. This was the kind of danger she wanted, Gray realized. There was a sense to it that seemed to pull all her loose threads together, even if it was just for a short while in the scheme of things.
“I’m gonna fuck you like the human you are.” He turned them around and her ass was on broken concrete. It was rough and uncomfortable.
Gray stared past him, into the trees. “No. Fuck me like a bond.”
He didn’t need an explanation. Her back was against the hard edge of the pool suddenly, and she hissed in pain when one of his thick fingers entered her, lubricated only by the waist–deep water.
Rice thrust in and out of her until whimpering pants were squeezed from her lungs. The friction was too much, too soon. But it was the wrongness of it that was good right now.
His free hand grabbed her chest and pushed her harder into the pavers around the edge of the pool. He had more than enough breadth for him to squeeze both tender swells at the same time, and he did so with terrible roughness. The skin burned and reddened under his hard ministrations, but her nipples puckered and she arched into it like the sick bliss it was.
Fuck you, Wes.
“Bonds like it rough,” Rice said.
“Seen some bonds fucked black and blue.”
His voice dropped even lower, deeper.
“Break something. Set the bone. Then break it again. They love the pain.”
Gray panted, reaching for the wrist between her thighs. She needed something to hold on to. But a swift, wet, slap to the face startled her.
“You’re a slave, Gray. You move when I tell you to fuckin’ move.”
She nodded quickly, blinking away wetness in one eye.
Rice bent down and covered her mouth with his. It was hardly a kiss—it was more a storm of huge tongue and teeth that left her with raw lips and a surge of moisture down south. Sensing something in her, he curled his finger and rubbed an entirely different spot inside, filling her with sticky-sweet heat.
Gray moaned at the intense sensation. She wanted to press herself harder against him, wanted to grab him, wanted to do something. But her stinging cheek reminded her not to.
After a few moments he stopped thrusting altogether and settled for simply rubbing at that spot inside of her, which created the most intense sensation of all.
The corpsman whined, trying to hold still, but it was so hard to.
The giant said nothing more as she clenched and writhed underneath him, almost trying to fight the building pleasure. But it was a losing battle. With a loud, ugly cry, she came, clutching at the pool’s edge. He looked on in that way of his, not covering her mouth this time, letting her scream it out. But this wasn’t like her other orgasms; this one kept going, and he didn’t stop rubbing until she was crawling from the stimulation, trying to get away from him.
Rice withdrew his finger when he deemed that she’d had enough, leaving her to slump there while she caught her breath and stilled the tremors still passing through her.
But he wasn’t done yet.
Without a word the giant rose up from his kneel and aligned his hips with her face as he stooped over with one foot planted firmly on the pool’s edge. Water sloshed. He parted his legs and steadied his aim.
She reached out for him, though, pawing at that immense cock with both hands and almost started at the warmth. The Anakim ran hot, maybe. He rolled his hips at her experimentally, and Gray quickly caught on that she was to encircle him with her hands and keep in time with his movements.
A rumbling bubbled deep inside of him and with a more forceful thrust than before, the end of his dick pressed against her face, demanding more attention. At the same time, something prickled in the air, and Gray recognized the sensation. She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply, greedy for it.
This wasn’t just a fuck, it never was, and they both knew it.
Rice smeared his big cockhead along one cheek, then across her chin, and along the other. Slowly, methodically. She could feel his eyes on her, burning. Her skin tingled and she felt awake.
“You really do love it, don’t you?”
Gray just sucked in a shaking breath, trying to lose herself in it. This was familiar, comforting. It was everything else that was inexplicable.
Pre–cum glistened on her face and her heart beat faster and she opened her mouth wide to take as much of him as would fit. Teeth grazed the folds of his uncut flesh, pulling it back so that little pucker on the underside of the head was crushed against her tongue.
Gray’s heart went from beating to pounding, and panic convulsed in her before steadying again.
Nostrils flared. She breathed heavy, giving herself to the choreographed wrongness of it. The sentinel was so strong before her, around her, so capable. So effective. Who was she before this thing? He was like the land: undeniable, smart in ways she could only guess at, vast. Yes, there was a vastness to Rice, and a sharpness, too. Like the way the whole desert could be found in a cactus spine. What did the desert think of the little human called Gray?
The throbbing heat of his shaft stretching open her mouth like it had stretched open her core was absurd and dangerous in just the right way. It was right because she wanted it, pheromone and all, and that wanting, Gray was learning, meant all the difference in the world.
Like a knurled oak he bent over her, and the giant watched intently as he slipped himself into her very human mouth. The muscles in his hips flexed. His chest, still glistening with water, swelled when he took in air. The pheromone made him seem like a beast, huge and heaving and made of pure sex.
I’m still safe.
“Told you you’d be sucking my cock eventually,” he rumbled, those teeth now framed by a wicked smile.
True to his word, his hand slid back along her scalp to palm her head, bracing her for a thrust that hit the back of her throat and made her body jerk and gag. Fuck! Rice pulled out only a little, waiting for her to suck in a gulp of air before forcing himself back in again. Gray reeled and hands went to his thighs.
“Didn’t say you’d like it, corpsman.”
He seemed to get bigger, heavier. Rice continued to thrust into her mouth, holding her head in place with a fistful of hair.
He squinted down at her in a strange way, then.
“Humans make me sick,” he ground out suddenly. Gray shivered, alert to his subtle change in tone. But it was difficult—between the cock invading her mouth, the sting in her scalp from his rough grip, his pheromone thick in the air…
Rice continued with a dark look in his eye. “You’re weak, you’re slow… loud…”
He timed his thrusts now with his words.
Gray gagged again, finding it hard to breathe.
“Arrogant.” He thrust faster and she sputtered around him. “But you know what? Unh. You give us something to do. Whether we’re fucking you… or killing you.”
Gray’s head swam and the squeeze was tight. She choked on his massive tool, and started trying to push him away, but it was no use. He held firm, and jerked her head to remind her who was in control.
Rice didn’t yield.
She fought him harder, kicked her legs in the water until it was muddy.
That’s when he pulled out, and Gray gasped loudly for air, panting against the concrete. After a moment, she looked up to him, to his hard, cunning face and its distinguished contours. God damn he was big.
“You didn’t bite,” he panted, a little something in his eye.
“You meant that, didn’t you?”
“Well it’s true.”
She grabbed his girth and stroked. Bold, for a little human.
But the pheromone, in a weird way, egged her on. Already she wanted more: deep down she knew she was safe, the squeeze was a chemical lie. Would he hurt her? Could he, like her instincts were telling her he could?
Then it was both her hands. She wrapped them around his heat and bent forward to tongue his slit, rubbing him from base to head. The corpsman made sure to leave behind dripping trails of saliva. Rice muttered a swear.
“Look good down there,” he rasped in that clipped way of his, muscles tightening in his belly. Then he noticed something about her, and he went from gazing to reading.
“You need more, don’t you?”
Gray licked her lips, not even intending to look good doing it. But Rice’s eyes, already dark, narrowed, and a crease appeared between his brows. He stopped, staring at her as he slowly licked his lip, and there it was.
A sheen of sweat formed on his forehead from the effort.
His face grew meaner, and his hard look turned into a scowl. The air felt hot and the light felt bright and the slate behind her cut into her back.
Bold. She had been so bold a moment ago.
He moved. Like a massive, bulging man, scarred and hungry he moved. His hands were on her thighs, lifting them, her, parting them. And then she was on her back on the ground, and his finger was massaging her asshole—
“What’d he do to you?” came the dark, growling voice at her ear.
Gray just breathed, shaking, hands holding onto the Anak’s tree-trunk arms.
My god, I wanted this? Who was he? Really? Who was Rice? Was this, this superhuman menace, underneath that veneer? Or was this an act like the one he played for the other Anakim? Who are you?
“You want him dead. Tell me why I should kill him.”
There was pressure at her hole and she whimpered.
With a growl he was in.
Gray was stretched so tightly around him that it almost hurt, almost, and why wasn’t she dead yet?
Why am I turned on?
The corpsman was hot—sweating now herself, shaking with adrenaline, body clutching greedily at that invading tool. So much of her wanted him to run her down like an animal, her body language was begging for it, Gray very distantly realized. She was. She was prone on her back, spread wide open for him, pinned. Her nipples strained in the air, wanting to be touched. Every inch of skin was on fire for the giant fucking her.
Let the ‘Naks take over, part of her was saying. This is where humans belong. We were made to be owned!
Rice didn’t say anything else for the next short while. He covered her with his body as he worked himself in, almost to the hilt, then he paused to catch his breath and position himself. The rest of his thrusts came fast and heavy. Neither of them had a chance to speak, there was no point bothering with words. Or at least, that’s what it felt like to Gray—she was sore by the second stroke, and he filled her so completely that every time he drove in he brought her to the breaking point, forcing a muffled moan. Rice grit his teeth and soon clutched her to him, the sheer pressure inside and the stimulation from his dark hairs tickling her aching clit. Panting, grunting, gasping—they came together.
He lifted away from her, still inside, and propped himself up. Neck bent, he could look down and into her eyes, which felt moist when she blinked.She listened to him breathe.
“Are you going to kill him?” Gray said, barely above a whisper.
Curling as much as he could, he managed to reach her much smaller lips.
“I’d like to.”
He pulled out and she winced, feeling suddenly both empty and vulnerable. Anak cum dripped out of her, and she wished it could mark her somehow.
But it didn’t, and she had to get ready to leave. Rice knew this and he dunked his head in the water before stepping out of the pool.
She followed him with her eyes as she slipped back in to wash the sex off. Gray had no idea if he was still scenting, or if he was doing it as strongly as before. She decided it didn’t matter. She had managed to keep hold of a thread running through it all—safety—and Gray realized that it would take a lot more than pheromone to make her afraid. It was just a chemical after all—real fear needed malice.
It wasn’t long before Rice fished out a cigarette, so small for him, and lit it up.
“What else does that machine pick up on?” she asked, tilting her head in the direction of his pack.
“A lot of static,” he said. “Some bands have voices that read out numbers.” The cigarette went out and he lit it again. “Sometimes I hear music.”
Gray thought about it for a moment, wondering what music was there, invisible in the air all around her. She wanted him to show her, she wanted to know his favorite song. But then she stopped, and Gray suddenly felt very tired.
“Didn’t think it was like you to want to die like that,” he said. “With a gun to your back.”
She frowned deeply and stood up, going over to her clothes. “You don’t know what I’m like, Rice,” she said. “You don’t know anything about me.”
The Anak turned to get a good, careful look at her. She paused to glance up when he drew nearer, looming like a naked god as he crossed his arms across that broad, scarred chest. Smoke curled from his nostrils.
“The hell does that mean?”
“It means you don’t know anything about being a corpsman.”
She grunted and shoved her foot into a boot and began lacing it.
“And being a corpsman means bending over and taking it up the ass because that’s what surviving looks like.”
“You didn’t have to—“
“I’m not talking about you, dammit!” Gray snapped. There it was, the lump in her throat again. “You know what, just forget it.”
Rice looked at her for a long moment as she dressed. Then he narrowed his eyes at her, like something had occurred to him.
“You want out. But you won’t defect.”
“’Course not. It’s only a matter of time before someone catches you with your pants down, mark-less, and you’ve got a rope around your neck. Again.”
He looked away, keeping the smokestick close to his mouth.
“Things are easy right now,” the giant soldier said, almost muttering. “But it won’t be that way forever. You and I will see combat again.”
Gray hadn’t thought about that nearly as much as she should have. He was right.
“And when we do… I’ll be happy to miss my target.”
She drew her lips into a tight line. “I don’t know if I can say the same.”
There was a stunned silence.
“So that’s how you really feel,” the sentinel spat.
“Goddammit, Rice, you have your freedom already!”
Gray’s chest burned and her throat clenched and her hands shook. But she didn’t get a chance to finish her thought because he already knew what it was.
“…And you’d kill me to get yours.”
The corpsman wanted to so badly to tell him that he had it all wrong.
But he didn’t.
“I hate it, Rice. I hate it more than anything. I hate it more than ‘Naks, the Algo, the fucking wars that ripped this place apart. I…”
“You should get going,” he growled, reaching for his own pile of gear. “There’s Corps activity in the area I might have to report.”
Gray was out of words. And as she glanced at her watch, she was out of time too. This wasn’t how this was supposed to end, but she had to get back to Avers’ body before anyone else arrived. Shrugging on her pack and with gun in hand, she took one last look at the tall, lean, Anak sentinel. There was still so much about him that she didn’t know, and would never know now.
Gray stepped onto the dirt with the sun behind her, heading up and over the hill, and was back in the gulch not twenty minutes later. Silently, she grabbed a sheaf of grass and got to work erasing his bootprints.
This chapter, last chapter, and next are all part of a trio that will need some srs business editing. At least I get to look forward to some wacky shit going down in chapter 16.
Gray’s face hardened in the dark and she swallowed resolutely. After a few moments she mustered the courage to survey herself, gently poking with fingers for the soreness of a bruise or spots dried to a… crust.
There was nothing.
Not even a stranger’s scent.
Had it happened at all? Or was this a convoluted trick he was playing on her? A threat he was not actually capable of making good on? But then just as likely was that he did.
She was playing with fire all along.
Wesson, she understood now, was not capable of keeping her or anyone else safe, as much as he might have wanted to. And maybe he really believed that’s what he wanted, or it’s what he wanted to want.
Promotion was safety—no, promotion was power. And power was safety. Power was control; it was a shield, a buffer. It was the grand defense strategy. Even The Algo wanted it.
Gray licked her dry lips and got up. For some reason, the idea of staying in that cot until dawn made her stomach churn again. She needed to stay moving in the fresh air. Stay on her feet. On her toes.
She soon found herself standing outside of Finch’s bunk of sixth-years a few flaps away in the big toon tent. In the distance she could her the camp beginning to stir—there was the sound of night patrols coming in, the hollow clang of metal as cooks began getting breakfast rations ready, the sharp whinny of an outsider’s horse, the chirping of an unseen bird in the underbrush.
“Finch,” Gray whispered.
Everything stayed quiet.
She slipped inside, stepped nearer to where her friend was splayed out on her cot.
The sixth-year stirred in the dark, groaning and grumbling for a few seconds before wiping her face.
“Finch, something happened.”
“Huh? Gray, is that you?”
She nodded, not sure if Finch could even see.
“Something happened last night.”
“Yeah,” the groggy corpsman mumbled. “You pissed off the captain.”
“It’s something else.”
Gray darted back out and waited, chewing her lip. In hindsight, she wasn’t sure why she felt the need to tell Finch; all she knew was that she needed to tell someone, and she had hoped her friend would understand. Or know.
There was some shuffling inside as Finch put on her boots and a moment later the redhead trudged outside, not even bothering to put her pants on. Gray looked to her then to the ground, suddenly embarrassed that this was a secret she couldn’t keep to herself.
“Well, what the fuck’s the matter?”
“You woke me up, now spit it out.”
“When you and Wesson sat down with those wastelanders, how did it go?”
It was Finch’s turn to hesitate.
“He asked me and I said sure.”
“And that’s it?”
“Yeah, that’s it. We were there for maybe an hour or two, played pitch, poker, a couple other games. I kept winning, so Wesson pulled me aside, told me I needed to start giving them plays. I said some shine would help me lose. I got all the shine I wanted.”
“Did any of them touch you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know exactly what that’s supposed to mean.”
“Wait, I thought you dragged me out of bed to tell me something, not ask me a bunch of questions about fuck all that’s even your business.”
Gray closed the gap between them and grabbed Finch by the shoulders with trembling hands. The sky was beginning to glow, and in the dim light she could just make out Finch’s face. The girl looked old and tired.
“He drugged me,” Gray whispered.
“He what? How?”
“A couple of the majors gave him something earlier. I don’t know what it is, he… he made me drink it. I don’t remember anything after we left his tent.”
“Did they do anything to you?”
“I checked, I don’t think so.”
“Then what’s the big deal?”
A knot formed in the pit of her stomach and she tried desperately to look into her friend’s eyes to see what was there, but dawn was still a ways away and all she could make out was the suggestion of a head, face, and a pair of narrow shoulders under a shabby brown shirt.
Gray let her hands fall and she stepped back.
“I guess it’s not,” she murmured.
“They don’t need to touch you,” Finch said after a moment. “A lot of ‘em are happy to look. Like I said, not a big deal.”
Gray’s skin erupted into goosebumps.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Go back to sleep, Finch.”
* * *
The next day was supposed to be R&R, and Gray spent much of it sleeping as much as possible. Her body hurt, ached, and no matter what she did nothing seemed to help the exhaustion. Everything was spinning out of control, mutating into something ugly and unfamiliar and as she looked up from where she lay in her cot at 1000 hours, it felt like even the tent skins were slowly collapsing around her. It was as if some great hand was pushing down, and all she wanted to do now was let it crush her deep into the parched soil of the flood basin.
It was noon when Gray stepped out of the showers, blinking in the midday sun and wondering if someone would loan her a book for the afternoon when one of brown’s clerks walked up to her with a piece of paper in his hand and a smokestick hanging from his lip.
“Change of plans for you today,” he mumbled, shoving the paper at her.
Gray hesitated a moment, feeling distinctly like a pile of wet ration. When she finally grabbed it, her movements were stiff and clumsy.
The clerk noticed and laughed in a way that let her know she was the butt of the joke. “Got dusted last night, did ya?”
“Might say that,” Gray replied, low and cold, then turned away to read the paper. The clerk thought this was rude. He made a noise and walked away.
It was a handwritten note, she discovered, and recognized the scrawl as belonging to the good captain:
Avers disappeared last night on F circuit
Need Gray ruck out ASAP, find him, report status
- C. Wesson, 898.43
“Hey!” Gray called after the clerk, crumpling the paper in her fist. “Hey!”
He stopped, obviously irritated.
“Why do I have to do it?” she asked.
“Fuck if I know!”
He disappeared around a corner in a puff of smoke.
* * *
Her pack and gun were heavier than she ever remembered them being. Gray trudged along the footpath, now two hours out from Fox and skirting the furthest northern edge of their land claim. Hunger gnawed in her gut, and even if she’d been hungry, she wouldn’t have dared to eat anything; who knew how long Wesson’s drug would be there for. She cursed him under hear breath, several times, and found herself wishing that Rice’s great, big form would step out from beyond a bend in the trail, or from behind a tree or rock and make…
…make her feel different for a while.
While Gray knew the general meandering path of the patrol route from studying the new maps, it took walking it to find out just how hellish F circuit really was. The ten-mile loop cut deeply along an arm of the mountain range and zigzagged her up far above the flats below. It also took her eerily close to where civilization used to be, before the Disruption, before the Algo came and razed it all to the ground. Gray paused to catch her breath at one point and looked out, spotting rows of concrete pads in the distance, separated into blocks by strips of dark gray pave-mint. Streets used to be paved with a sort of thick, muddy paste, Cleo once said, which dried and grew tough, like a skin covering the landscape. Sometimes Gray would pull out her binos and see wastelanders cutting blocks of pave-mint like stone to sell or do other things with.
Directly below her were trees—sycamores, oaks, and other greenery she didn’t know the names for—that told her there was likely a trickle of water coming from a spring somewhere. She wanted to slide down the hillside and disappear into the cool oasis. But duty called, and she tore herself away from the thought. Duty always called.
Eventually the trail turned and carried her up and into a shaded canyon. She kept going. Another mile, two. The canyon began to lose its depth, but it also grew narrow, and Gray was almost grateful for the kind of unease that settled into her as she paused to gaze ahead. This was a dangerous puzzle, one she was intimately familiar with. One she knew she had a hope of maneuvering her way out of. For the first time since Wesson sat down on that bedroll with his glass of whiskey, Gray felt alive. She was even grateful for whatever idiot sapper team decided to cut the path this way; as treacherous as it had been for Avers, for her it was an opportunity to focus and forget.
She adjusted the weight on her shoulders, kicker slung along her back, and navigated the rocky footing ahead of her. The roughness of the earth felt good under her boots, under her hands. Color was coming back. Blood pumped and she breathed hard.
Another half mile and she found Avers.
Or rather, his body.
Gray stopped, sucking in a breath and found herself listening. The canyon was nearly silent except for the the rasping call of a scrub jay and the shuffling of a squirrel. She exhaled.
Avers, another seventh-year, had been shot three times: twice in the shoulder, and once in the side of the neck. His fatigues were drenched in blood, and already turned to a sickly brown crust. From where she stood about twenty feet away, she could see that his pack, weapons, boots, and ammunition were gone. And as she crept a little closer, she saw prints in the dirt around him. It was impossible to tell from where they’d come or where they’d gone to.
“Brigs,” she whispered, keeping a few feet between her and the dead man as if his fate were contagious. Should she bring back his tags? No. Nobody would care. And she needed to keep moving.
Gray readied her sider. She was more than halfway through with the circuit, so it was best to just keep going. She did so while keeping her eyes glued to the ridges on either side of her. Avers’ wounds had been inflicted from above.
The last of the canyon was up ahead, where a short but steep rockfall had been fitted with a rope to climb out with. _Idiots! s_he shouted in her mind. It was only chin-height: more than enough to slow a corpsman down for a minute.
But that rope, she saw now, had been cut. Gray froze in her tracks for a few precious seconds.
The first shot almost caught her by surprise—almost. It had come from her right, so she dove that way, pressing herself tight up under a rocky ledge as more bullets hit the ground near her feet, kicking up dust.
Shit, shit, shit!
Gray scrambled, heart pounding, to gain more coverage. But the ledge was shallow, and it was going to be impossible for her to return fire.
She heard the voices now, but couldn’t tell what they were saying to each other as they maneuvered about the ridgeline above. The corpsman steadied her gun, aiming it at the spot just above the rockfall where they’d get their first clear view of her, and scrambled to dig out the radio. It had been three years since she’d used one.
“Fox, come in Fox—this is G–Gray,” she hissed. “I’m pinned d-down by brigs after the 6-mile mark on F circuit. Avers is dead.”
As soon as her finger left the button, the corpsman realized that it using the radio had been more about Protocol than good sense: it would take backup two hours to get here. Meanwhile, she was moments away from being carrion food. The corpsman jumped when a few more bullets sunk into the dirt inches away from her feet.
She scowled, there was no use. She had to try.
Wesson, you son of a bitch.
Try, dammit, try!
OK. Gray listened, counted. They stopped shooting for a minute because they didn’t want to waste ammo, and whispered to each other briefly. Then there was movement, and two more shots. That’s when Gray realized that they had all been using small guns.
_Siders, she thought. And I have a semi.
Avers’ kicker must’ve jammed, otherwise they would have been using it.
Pebbles tumbled down the hillside as they began to make their way around and into the canyon, and she could hear them navigating the thick scrub brush out of her line of sight. Gray holstered her own sider and readied the larger weapon as best she could. It was her only chance at getting out of here alive.
She breathed. “Three, two, one…”
A loud shot rang out, a deeper, sharper sound. Distant.
There was a commotion above as the report echoed through the canyon briefly. She wasn’t sure where it had come from, but the bastards were distracted. With a growl, Gray hefted her kicker and launched herself out from her hiding spot, aiming for the brigs above. She saw them just as she fired her first sweeping burst, the echoes making it seem like she had a hundred guns. The rounds ripped into them, or it sounded like it at least—shrill cries of agony tore through the air as they were enveloped in dust. One man slid down the steep embankment and lay still beside the pile of cut rope, staining the rocks red.
There were a few shots returned, but with another lethal sweep, two more went down, and it didn’t look like they were going to get up again. Three, right? She’d counted three in total.
Gray’s heart was pounding and her breaths came short and heavy. She stood still for a few more moments, finger hovering over the trigger, until she deemed the situation safe again. The corpsman took a slow, deep breath for her nerves.
“Fuck,” she gasped, throwing her gear to the ground, body still amped and mind buzzing. She stepped over to the nearest dead man, turning him over to begin going through his pockets. A knife, she found; a handful of carob pods; a flask. She had just put the mouth of it to her lips when footsteps from above and behind made her freeze and raise her hands slowly into the air. Blood pounded, ears rang.
You miscounted, Gray thought.
Was it strange that all she could think about now was killing Wesson?