“Mama! Whatcha gon’ do with Bugman, huh? Can I play with him before you kill him? Huh? Huh?”
The child-like voice actually came from a child, and a quite dirty child at that. He squatted frog-like on the low stone wall, wearing only a loincloth of undeterminable color. His pale body was barely visible beneath his protective dirt encasement. His eyes were huge and seemed to take up the entire breadth of his face. I swatted at him futilely. He had positioned himself just beyond my reach.
Ranae tugged my leash, causing me to gag and fall back into the mud again. The child’s name was Kahaki and his laughter was louder and lasted longer than anyone else’s did. He hated me passionately and I returned his affections as well as I was able. Before I had arrived, he had been Ranae’s plaything and I hesitate to speculate on their relationship. Accordingly, he took every opportunity to humiliate me that came his way.
“Kahaki, my sweet. Come to mama. That’s a good boy.”
The little demon jumped nimbly from the wall and landed in Ranae’s arms, snuggling deep into her bosom, all the while staring at me, his wide eyes blank and expressionless.
Sterilization of prisoners was mandatory upon assignment to Purgatory 7. He had not been born here. Rather, he was a convicted inmate like the rest of us. His crime, murder.
At the age of four, he had poisoned every child in his nursery by spiking their nutri-milk with industrial strength rat poison. Afterwards, he had displayed no remorse and his family had shunned him, leaving the young sociopath to face the Galactic Tribunal alone.
His case had made the holovid networks of every planet in the Triquad and his sentence of life imprisonment on Purgatory 7 had been greeted by calls of clemency and a renewed scrutiny of the ages old Criminal Justice Code. The viscera-spattered wheels of justice had revolved ponderously and soon after his incarceration upon the prison planet, the furor had died down and everyone had forgotten about poor little Kahaki.
Now here I was, stuck with the little demon for the rest of my natural life.
“My Bugman is special, Kahaki. You cannot have him. I will give you a Beastie later, if you’re a good boy.”
He looked up at her adoringly, snuggling even closer. His little hands were lost in the folds of her clothes and by her expression, I could tell he was caressing her nipples.
I almost gagged, I was so furious. Before I could stop myself I spoke, my voice dripping with spite.
“Surely you’re joking, Ranae. You’re actually going to give that little Beastie-in-training a living person? Why don’t you just let him enter the field of battle? He’s definitely got the killer instinct, even if he hasn’t got the strength to back it up, yet.”
They both stared at me; surprised by my daring. I could sense Ranae toying with the idea of jerking my chain again, but she didn’t, preferring to punish me in a more subtle fashion.
“Hmmm, interesting idea, Gaitan. Kahaki, what do you think of that? Would you like to participate in the battle this cycle?”
Kahaki’s eyes never left me, nor did they lose their blankness, but his voice seemed weak and even more child-like when he answered.
“The Bugman don’t like me, mama. He want me to die so he can have you his self.”
I cursed his wily ways silently. He knew how to work Ranae’s emotions and I knew what would happen next.
“Don’t worry, Kahaki. The Bugman will never have me all to himself, baby. When the night falls, perhaps I shall give him to you after all. What do you think of that?”
“I would like that, mama. Oh, I would like that.”
Sure enough, I found myself face down in the muck once more, subject to the derision of the others. I wanted to remain blind, my awareness limited by the womb-like darkness of my mud encasing, but life summoned me, its final act whispering seductively from the nether regions of Purgatory 7.
When I pulled myself back to a kneeling position I was no longer the object of attention. The others were focused upon the muddy graveyard and the first two combatants trudging across it to meet in its center.
The war had begun. I hung back, preferring to enjoy the brief respite. Briefly, a stab of pain shot through my chest and I bent double with the force of it. The night couldn’t arrive soon enough for me.
BB Series Interludes