“If we win, we get all yo’ food an yo’ give up de Bugman, too, less we get im inna fightin’, kay?” The giant said, his voice deep and rumbling. A woman’s voice, equally powerful, answered.
“Whatever, Sloogon. The rules haven’t changed; they’re the same as always. The winner gets the losers food supply and five members of the winner’s party. That’s it. Now get the fok out of my face.”
“Yah, right. Hah! You fokers will lose fo’ sho’, den! Foken tokkas!”
Sloogon was a whale of a man, standing seven feet tall and almost as wide. His pasty white complexion glowed pinkly in the forever-bloody twilight of Purgatory 7’s red dwarf sun.
We stood facing each other over a rough stone wall; beyond which lay the muddy graveyard that separated our two camps. His followers were across the field, shouting and hooting their derision, their grayish-brown forms alternately wallowing in the mud and jumping up and down in feverish excitement.
He had called us Talkers. In the heavy dialect of Class 4, it sounded like a curse and, in fact, it was.
On the prison world of Purgatory 7, the social hierarchy mirrored that of the Triquad: the galactic society from whence we had all been culled.
Those of similar class status gravitated towards each other in what must be some universal rule of like attracting like. Settlements were scattered all over the planet, the distance between them prohibitive, making travel improbable given the limited amount of rations available to us. There were no guards or administrators on this world, nor were there social conventions other than those imposed by the stronger over the weaker.
Once a month, an automatic shuttle descended from the orbiting station and landed on selected drop sites across the planet: here in the far north, that point was an unscaleable mesa called Hell’s Gate by the denizens of this world, for obvious reasons. It deposited its cargo of prisoners, a small cache of extra supplies and retreated, leaving them to their unenviable fate.
Each prisoner was issued a change of clothes and a pair of shoes as well as a week’s ration of organotabs. We were also given a single-use parachute and indifferent instructions to jump only from the western edge of the mesa, where the ever-present easterlies would presumably carry us to the safety of the ground below. Safety, in this context, meaning only the prolonged agony of living in Hell’s waiting room. There was no safe place on Purgatory 7, least of all in the settlement lying beyond the western rim of the mesa.
“Shall we get started then, Sloogon? Your people seem quite hungry, jumping about like that.”
Sloogon stared Ranae Millar, our leader. She was almost as tall as he was. She was an amazon priestess of deadly proportions.
When I had arrived, she had taken me under her proverbial wing, introducing me to the more sublime pleasures of life on Purgatory 7. News of my arrival had preceded me and her curiosity about the nefarious Bugman had thus far guaranteed my safety from all but her.
Sloogon rumbled deep in his chest, a sound that seemed to well up from the roots of the planet itself. He trembled slightly as he looked at her, his lust obvious.
He knew better than to attack her. Ranae’s fighting skills were well known. Still, his instincts almost overcame his better sense and I tensed, preparing for another scene of senseless violence, one of many that I had witnessed during my short sojourn on the planet. But he held himself in check, just barely.
“We git it on den, woman. Bring yo bes’, we come widdit. And den, yo an’ me, we tok, eh? Mebbe fok, kay?”
His laughter was gelatinous and bubbles of snot burst from his nose and lips, mixing with the grime that covered his body.
Ranae sniffed and glanced sidelong at me. She reached down and caressed the side of my head, her fingers lingering on my lips. She knew that jealousy lay just beneath my surface calm and she loved to drive me crazy.
“We’ll talk then, Sloogon. If you’re still alive, that is.”
Sloogon laughed again, glancing down at me and heaving a thunderous fart. He scratched at his groin, a motion that produced a cloud of dried dust particles and small creatures that hovered and buzzed in the air around him, upset at being disturbed. Sloogon turned and stalked away, his immense bulk causing his feet to sink deep into the mud surface of the field, leaving footprints that quickly filled with pestilent water in his wake.
Ranae watched him walk away, disgust marring her otherwise-perfect features. Then she turned to me, pulling on my leash. I jerked irritably, still seething with unreasonable jealousy.
“Well, my big-headed, little man. It seems that Sloogon wants you for himself. I wonder what he thinks you can do?”
I didn’t answer her rhetorical question, preferring to let her words stand without response. It was petty, I know, but I was allowed few victories in this life.
Of course, she didn’t allow me this one either. Moments later I tasted the foul mud of Purgatory 7 and the laughter of the other Talkers nearby filled my ears. My face burned with shame as I sat up and wiped the putrid mud from my eyes.
“Didn’t you hear me, Bugman? I asked you a question!”
“I do not know the answer, Ranae.”
I spat mud from my mouth. “Why would anyone on this godforsaken planet want me? I am worse than useless, here.”
Ranae knelt beside me, her voluptuous body barely covered by the thin layer of insulated cloth she wore. From my vantage – stuck in the mud – I could look straight down the front of her shirt and her pink nipples were rigid, causing my sex to rise in response. She noted my gaze and smiled, raising her hand to caress my filthy cheek once more.
“Ah, my little Bugman. Don’t you know your worth, here? Status, my darling, status. To have a master of destruction such as you under my control does wonders for my reputation. The Beasties are just insane with envy.”
Her gaze left me and I contented myself with staring at her heaving bosom as she reveled in her primacy.
The crime that had gotten her sentenced to Purgatory was murder in the first degree. The premeditated and cold-blooded murder of eight men and four women, to be exact.
Her modus operandi was simple. She would proposition them with sex and then decapitate them while in the throes of passion. A perfect black widow, except, of course, for her pale skin coloration.
From my own personal experience, I can attest to her sheer sexual potency and vast knowledge of orgasm-inducing exercises. I lived every day in a state of wonderment, alternately delirious and dumbfounded at my continued presence amongst the land of the living.
From across the field, a blood-curdling cacophony greeted Sloogon’s return as his minions shouted and danced about. His thunderous bass rumbled throughout the noise as he taunted and cursed us, whipping the genetic misfits into a berserker’s frenzy.
Around me, the rest of our group watched in silence, preparing – as far as they were able – for the bloodbath that was sure to follow.
The rules of the engagement were simple. Every month, a day or two after the supply ship dropped off new prisoners and a small cache of food and clothing, the two sides would meet on opposite ends of the mud-covered graveyard and do battle in a little game they called War.
Each side would send a single warrior to the field to fight. The winner of the battle was determined by whichever person emerged from the muddy graveyard victorious. The winners of the individual engagements were allowed to keep the personal belongings of their opponent if the battle resulted in death.
Most often, the two combatants would stumble and drag themselves, crippled, back to the relative safety of their respective sides after hacking each other into a bloody standoff. The life spans of these individuals were barely longer than that of the losers, access to foodstuffs being what it was on Purgatory 7.
I was not chosen to fight, being one of the prizes.
At the end of the day, whichever side had won the most individual battles got to choose five members of the survivor’s party with whom they would do what they wished. They also gained possession of the entire month’s cache of supplies. There were no prisoners taken during the game of War.
BB Series Interludes