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Continued from Part One.

Part Two: Reign of the Reptile

August 2030.

When Mags and Patches stepped out of the Bêlit and set foot on the beach, a formation of reptiles awaited them. Dekarna stood at attention to one side, and the younger warriors stood in two ranks of three. The blunt ends of their spears were planted in the sand. The stone tips gleamed in the sunlight. The youths resembled a military squad summoned for review by its commander, and the effect was not lost on Mags.

The smuggler raised a fist in salute. “Long live the resistance! You lot are looking top-notch! Sorry I’m late, but I brought prezzies.”[1]

Patches relieved herself in the sand and kicked it into a pile to cover her waste. Busied with the task, she did not notice the grimace that clouded Dekarna’s face.

Walking back and forth in front of the juveniles, Mags assessed her troops. “I see you don’t have any problem making weapons. Those knives are to die for! You gotta make one for me.” She clapped her hands together once with a resounding smack. “Now, my little angels, are you ready for something in a higher caliber?”

Dekarna struck with her spear.

It would have impaled a normal human, but Mags’ reflexes were faster. The spear tip sliced open the skin on the back of her head and ripped out chunks of her hair on its way through.

With even more speed than she had moved underwater to kill the octopuses, Dekarna pulled back the spear and struck again.

Mags dropped into a crouch to avoid the strike. Her fingertips plunged into sand. Adrenaline pumped into her blood, counteracting the disorienting first blow.

The juveniles stormed her. They toppled her and rolled her into the water, screaming battle cries in their mother’s native tongue.

Patches joined the fray. She sprinted after the troop and leapt onto the back of a young reptile’s head. Her claws sank into his scales.

He stumbled under her weight and fell face-first into the wet sand at the lagoon’s edge. The force drove him a meter forward, carving a wet gouge into the beach and scraping away his facial features.

Before the rut could fill with water, the fallen warrior’s siblings abandoned Mags and focused their rage on Patches. They formed a semi-circle around her, brandished their spears, and squawked at her in a challenge no ears on Earth had heard in more than seventy-five million years.

With the chaotic precision of a flock of birds, they ran from Patches, past their mother, toward the tree line, and into the jungle.

Mags rose from the lagoon. “Patches!” She spat through the saltwater clogging her airways. “Patches! Take the little ones!”

The angry calico gave chase.

With the back of one hand, Mags wiped snot from her face and flung it into the water. “Leave the boss bitch to me.”

☠️

Patches pursued the reptiles into the jungle. She had eaten lizards before, and her overgrown assailants meant little more to her than fast-moving snacks on legs. The tropical underbrush whipped her face. She ignored it.

Cats are ambush predators, no strangers to single-minded patience when hunting. Although Patches had herself been ambushed by the juveniles, her relentless focus remained undaunted even by the tangled plant life and insect swarms she plowed through.

The scent trail and thumps of running footfalls led her out of the chaotic undergrowth and onto a hunting trail trampled flat by months of use. Her speed increased on solid ground. The scents grew nearer. The sounds grew closer in her tuft-filled ears. Patches poured on the speed like a miniature cheetah, like a lioness chasing down a larger animal to feed her cubs.

Without warning, Patches’ world fell out from under her. The trail gave way, and she plummeted into a trap.

☠️

When Meteor Mags first battled Dekarna on Tannis, the pirate was armed to the teeth, including tear-gas grenades and her favorite Benelli shotgun, and encased in two layers of armor—one of which was her indestructible bodysuit woven from Patches’ hair.[2] In that fight, the newborn sextuplets had been too young to pose any threat, so Patches teamed up with Mags and focused her ferocity on Dekarna, too.

On Isla Salida, Mags stood alone, up to her thighs in water, with the sun in her eyes, and severely under-dressed for the occasion. Still, she had not left the relative safety of the Bêlit unarmed. From twin holsters on her hips, Mags pulled her pair of custom Desert Eagles, one in each fist, and fired.

Tumbling through the gritty seawater had not been kind to the pistols. Both misfired.

Mags tried a second time. “Fuck!” Without releasing her grip on the pistols, she glared at Dekarna. “Bring it, you crust-filled cunt! You and me!”

With a roar, Dekarna hurled her spear.

Mags dodged it. The evasion cost her a second—just enough time for her enemy to charge first. Mags ran to meet Dekarna head-on, but the water slowed her advance.

The two combatants collided with a force that knocked them off their feet.

Mags struck with her pistols, like clubs. But Dekarna outweighed her, and the reptile had months of experience hunting in that environment. Mags choked on seawater under the onslaught. Her fury was no match for her opponent’s.

Dekarna’s tail wrapped around the smuggler’s torso and pinned her tattooed arms to her sides. Tighter and tighter it squeezed, compressing Mags’ rib cage, making it hard to catch a breath.

Dekarna landed a savage blow on Mags’ skull.

The pirate’s world became a blur, then blackness.

Dekarna could have killed Mags then and there. The death would have given her some satisfaction. But a quick, unconscious dying would have brought no suffering to her prey.

As Dekarna dragged Mags’ motionless body ashore, she fumed over her memories. Too many in her life had used and abused her, including her former commander. Every time she came close to achieving freedom, someone else came along to enslave her.

She chose the mammal she had captured to pay the price for those injustices. Dekarna intended to make Mags suffer until the final agonies of her dying breath, and to prolong that moment for quite some time.

☠️

The juveniles’ trap for Patches resulted from of a month of planning with their mother. Dekarna knew the seven of them together could never defeat a well-armed spaceship. Instead, she constructed the ruse of remaining under the octopuses’ control and loyal to the smuggler—until Dekarna’s prey was drawn out of the ship and lulled into a false confidence. Then, with her primitive weapons, she could win.

Dekarna never believed she could kill Mags with one unexpected blow. She and her brood built a plan—a plan to catch the mammals off-guard, separate them, and exterminate them.

Her plan went well. She had not attained the rank of Major for nothing.

Dekarna’s children led Patches down a pre-determined path. They knew the well-worn hunting trail like the scales on the backs of their hands.

Dekarna helped them dig the trap three meters deep. She showed them how to carve branches into sharp sticks and plant them vertically in the bottom of a pit so the spikes would impale any animal who fell. She taught them to cover the pit with leaves fallen from the tropical canopy, so a foe would not detect it in a chase.

Seconds after Patches fell in, the young reptiles emerged from leafy shadows to stand around the hole, raise their spears, and chant a raucous, birdlike chorus that could not be translated into human speech, except for the word victory. They lit torches and tossed them into the pit.

Their celebration reached Dekarna’s ears. She called her children to join her.

☠️

Mags.

Where the fuck are my octos? It’s my first thought when I wake up.

Next: I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be staring at a strand of skinless, barbecued rats right in the bloody face. Christ, there’s more of them. Roasted rats on ropes and smoked serpents hanging from the—

Wait. Why are the trees upside down?

Nevermind. It’s just me.

That’s why there’s blood dripping into my left eye from my split lip. I don’t even want to know how bad it is. When I probe with my tongue, the teeth behind the lip feel loose. Without thinking about it, I try to wipe my eye.

Jesus bloody fuck. I can’t move my arms. They’re bound by rope, and rope connects them to my ankles. More rope has me dangling from a tree branch. The ground’s a meter from my head. “Patches!”

My kitten doesn’t answer. Instead, my captor steps into view. That fat fucking cow.

“You stupid snake! You slimy, overgrown pile of frog shit! Let me the fuck down! I will rip off your arms and piss on the stumps!”

She doesn’t like that. Nope. Not one bit. She hits me with a well-carved staff I don’t have time to admire before it’s leaving bruises on my legs, belly, and arms. Whose idea was it to weaponize these lizards, anyway? “Gah! Stop, you whore! Puta madre! Fucking stop!”[3]

She does.

The blood’s been rushing to my head for I don’t know how long. It’s still light out, and not just from the bonfire. The burning wood chokes me. Heat singes my tail.

Judging from the sun’s position—which is right there, yeah?

Nope. It’s over on that side.

It’s all over the place.

Fuck me running. I feel like a drunk bitch who can’t focus on what’s in front of her face. The surrounding jungle is a buzzing blur. The ground and the sky spin so fast I can’t tell which I’d rather puke on.

Maybe both. My guts give it their best shot.

The shit gets in my nose. I gag and cough.

With one hand, the lizard brings me to a halt. The world keeps spinning around her.

She says some shit to me. I know by the inflection. I can even make out some of the words. I’ve touched her mind briefly, thanks to my octos. My babies had the ability to translate any language, human or otherwise, to any mind they included in their weird experiments. I guess I picked up a few things.

What I think she’s telling me is that she killed my fucking octos! She’s bragging, strutting back and forth, yelling at me, and I think how nice it would be if she did one of those villain monologues while I sort a way out of this mess.

She doesn’t.

That slut wasn’t born yesterday. For all I know, she’s older than me. Nobody knows how long these lizards live. It could be hundreds of years, like a tortoise.

For a moment, while she picks up the knife, my blood-addled brain recalls the missing member of my island entourage: the ichthy.

Last time I was here, I set free a cybernetic ichthyosaur, and he was supposed to be working with the octopuses to keep the island safe from intruders. Yes, the same useless octos I can’t hear at all anymore. What the hell happened here?

The lizard pinches a patch of skin on my upper arm like she’s testing it for something. Her claws draw blood. She holds firm. She slides an obsidian blade into my skin, like she’s slicing a roast, or peeling an apple, and I can’t help but scream.

I thrash and try to kick.

She snaps her tail around me and holds me in place.

I hate her so fucking much. What is she doing to my arm?

She steps away and holds a trophy to my face. Something wet slaps me, and I can’t make it out until she pulls it back.

My skin.

I know it’s mine because it has three of my star tattoos, and on the other side it’s raw and red and dripping, and my arm is screaming like a cat caught in a Cuisinart. I might be bleeding to death.

She holds the skin to her teeth and rips it in half. She chews it twice with her open mouth and swallows.

“Bitch! You are fucking dead! Do you hear me?” But I can’t move, and I can’t even tell if the words make sense anymore.

She eats the rest of it.

I barf again on my own face, but only bile.

Those dickheads Patches was chasing step out of the forest. Where the fuck is Patches?

I only see a couple of them, but I smell and hear the rest. They stand around the fire, chattering, like they’re blessing their blades in the flame. Where the hell did they pick that up?

I don’t know if they understand the curses I hurl at them, but I know the looks in their eyes. They surround me. They stink like rotten meat. Dekarna grabs my tail and pulls it. Hard.

They go at me with the knives, and the pain is even worse than before.

Goddess help me.


[1] “Prezzies” meaning “presents”.

[2] The bodysuit was a gift from Tarzi and Celina on Mags’ birthday in 2029. See The Battle of Vesta 4.

[3] “Puta madre” literally means “prostitute mother” but is typically translated as “motherfucker”.