The leaf crackled between the two stones, popping juice filled pods that sent green slime running down the crevices of the rock. Subtext added another leaf as he milled a paste. When the leaves had become a soft pulp, he stuck his finger in it and then wiped the substance on his arm; once near his wrist, and again on the inside of his left arm; below his bicep where the skin was most sensitive. He'd spent the past weeks discovering which plants were edible, and which were not. The testing had become a none stop ritual that spanned every hour of daylight. When night fell, he tended a fire and tried to remain still and quiet. The animals had left him alone thus far, but he wasn't intending to let his guard down any time soon.
His broken rib was a constant distraction, shooting pain through his body with every breath. That, however, was not his only injury. During the days after the crash he'd counted a number of deep cuts, a badly bruised ankle and a toe he was almost certain was broken.
Beyond wounds, he had counted many things in the first days. It was almost an obsession. These attempts included a failure in discerning how long he had spent on the planet. That effort was a losing battle that he finally rationalized as impossible due to the fact that he had no idea how long he'd been unconscious to begin with. Once he'd stopped counting, getting productive things done became a lot more simple.
Testing plants for eating was by far the priority, the animals on this planet seemed largely nocturnal, which made them impossible to hunt in his current state. Subtext was forced to live off the fern and flora, but with alien wildlife, he had no idea if he was eating poison. Luckily, survival training and xenobiology courses had taught him that it's extremely uncommon for any given substance to be fatal in small doses in nature. He'd followed a strict regime for testing plants, their seeds, petals and roots. Most of it consisted of crude allergy tests on sensitive skin before minute taste tests, long periods of waiting in between to wait for possible side effects. So far, he'd ruled out many of the plants that, unfortunately, were some of the most pervasive in this area. One was a long stalked plant with a bulbous flower atop that turned his skin quite red and tasted bitter for the briefest of moments before his tongue went completely numb. Another, a bush fruit of sorts, caused burning on his skin that made him forgo the taste test altogether.
He sat near the fire, taking a swig of water from a funnel he'd made with a large leaf, not edible but for the roots. They were slender things that tasted like chalk. He'd cut them into pieces with a sharp rock since they were rather hard and difficult to chew in their original string-like state. So far they hadn't done him harm, and helped with the sensation of hunger.
He stopped chewing to listen; something had moved nearby. His eyes shifted back and forth, searching for the source of the rustle. Was it an animal? Had the pulp from the leaf made him hallucinate? He looked at his arm to find that there was no reaction so far. Again the rustling came, and his head shot up. Now he was certain of it. Next to him was a stick he had hewn to a point. His hand slowly reached for it. He rose to his feet and put his back up against a nearby tree; listening intently.
Sticks were crushed; footsteps in the undergrowth.
Subtext slid behind the tree, away from the sounds, and silently distanced himself from the fire. Soon, he caught the glimpse of a silhouette in between thick growth. Then it was gone again, moving slowly and silently just as he had been.
A chill raced past the back of his neck, rolling down his spine. His stomach wrenched and his heartbeat pounded in his head and neck. Out of the corner of his eye, he could make out slow deliberate movement. He turned his eyes only, and saw the telltale head and shoulders of a humanoid. Whatever it was, his position had not yet been discovered. Another crack in the woods alerted Subtext to the fact that there was more than one. He stayed silent, standing with his back against a tree that had low and long branches, bowing heavily from a generous number of leaves. Though it provided him great camouflage, it also made it nearly impossible to see. His mind had begun to focus solely on hearing. He concentrated so hard on it that even though his eyes were open, he did not register what he was seeing.
Another crack, and Subtext nearly flinched. The noise had come from somewhere very close behind him. A moment later, he heard the breathing, a heavy breathing of someone who had exerted themselves recently. Then came the smell. A pungent sickly sweet body odor laden with the salty smell of fresh perspiration. The silhouette came up on his right, only a few feet from him, and for a brief moment he caught a glimpse of a face between a narrow gap in the leaves.
“Here.” One of them said.
“Where?” Came the voice of another.
Subtext had lowered the pointed stick, ever so slowly over the course of their search so that now it pointed outward from where he was under the branches. As the man approached, Subtext had a choice to make. Would he strike first?
As if to answer his question, another voice joined them from a ways off.
“Find him already, what am I paying you for?”
This voice, Subtext recognized. He'd heard it before, soon afterward he was falling in a fireball to the planet's surface.
The decision made, he waited for the nearest man to take one more step. Then, with one motion, he lunged forward, bursting out of the greenery with gritted teeth as the pointed end of his stick dug into guts. The vibration of the spear sliding against the bottom of the man's rib cage echoed up and into Subtexts hands.
An inhuman grunt belched from the man's throat as he folded in two over the stick, dragging it out of Subtexts hands as he fell to the ground. He clutched the makeshift spear almost comically, with both hands, as he rolled on his back, writhing in pain.
Without time to lose, Subtext rushed the next man who was standing there, stunned from what he'd just seen. He'd misjudged the distance the man was standing at, and realized once he got closer that he'd also misjudged his size. When they collided, Subtexts shoulder rammed into his chest, pain screeching into his mind from his ribs.
“Djarrd! Get this thing off me.” said the man, grabbing Subtext by the flight suit at his waist and literally picking him up off the ground.
Subtext was yelling, not an ounce of control over where he was going. He continued to yell until the air was blown out of him as he hit the ground with a thud.
“Seems you didn't need my help after all Ghurgatz.”
On the ground, Subtext gasped for air in vain. He climbed to a knee and slowly stood, his lungs finally allowing sharp gasps to pass through.
Djarrd snorted, “Kill him already.”
Ghurgatz smiled, drew a blade and took a step forward.
Subtext knew he was likely to die, but had no choice but to fight with everything he had. It was the only hope. He brought his hands up and began shifting around his assailant who in turn shifted to adjust.
“How does it feel to know you're going to die?”
Subtext remained silent, keeping his eyes locked on Ghurgatz's dark brown irises. Time seemed to slow. The tell came when he dropped his shoulder, shifting weight to thrust the knife forward. Subtext knew he would get cut; he put his arm out, turning his palm inward to protect the inner wrist, and caught the blade at a sharp angle. The metal dug into his arm, but he felt nothing other than the vibrations of it ripping through his flight suit and sinking into the muscle of his forearm. The blow deflected away from him, and with a lunge forward, Subtext put himself right under Ghurgatz's chin. He threw his other hand under the armpit and clenched, pulling him down as he spun around. Now, his back was against Ghurgatz's chest, the knife arm lay over his right shoulder, as though Ghurgatz was holding him hostage. He could tell the man was confused because he tightened his arm into a headlock; precisely what Subtext was expecting. With his bloodied arm, he reached up and grasped the wrist, prying it toward him as he slid beneath Ghurgatz's arm to come up behind him, although, the knife didn't follow so easily. As Subtext pulled his head free from behind Ghurgatz's back, he dragged the blade across his side, splitting the man's flank open as he wrenched the arm into a chicken wing.
Ghurgatz grunted, dropping the blade as his arm was pinned up behind his back, blood spilling out of his side.
Subtext kicked out a knee and watched the large man drop. He pushed him forward, scooping up the knife with his good arm and dropped the point of the blade between Ghurgatz's clavicle and trapezium muscle. The knife went in at an angle, and Ghurgatz's scream of pain soon filled with gurgled spatters of blood as the steel slid through his windpipe.
Subtext kicked the man forward, watching his face bounce off the rocky area near the fire, blood splattering out from his mouth. He turned to see Djarrd holding a pistol to his head. He could nearly hear the trigger squeezing.
Both of them looked up at the ridge line. It was that voice again.
“Bravo indeed my Navy friend. You just killed two Tevarin, do you realize how hard that is to accomplish usually? You did it in no more than two minutes, and you're wounded on top of that.” The man raised his eyebrows, “Well done.”
“Can I kill him now?” Asked Djarrd, his teeth clenched to the point of turning them to powder.
“Hmmm.” The man stood, his chin in hand, thinking with exaggerated body language. He raised a finger. “No.”
“What?” Djarrd wasn't even paying attention anymore, he'd turned to look at this tall slender man. A stark difference to the bulky olive skinned men bleeding on the ground.
Subtext grabbed the man's firing arm and violently struck the inside of his elbow. The arm spun inward, pointing the barrel straight at the Tevarin for all but a sliver of a second before the weapon was discharged.
The body fell, lifeless, to the ground; followed by a trail of smoke that continued to billow from the cavity that had once been a face.
“You continue to impress!”
“Who are you?” Subtext asked, exhausted. “What do you want?”
“You know, I have seven Tevarin in my employ, and now that three are dead, they aren't going to like you much.”
“Answer my question.”
The man furrowed his brow. “You're in no position to demand things.” His eyes lightened and he smiled. “But I'm willing to forgive your transgressions. You see, you're a perfect specimen. I had intended to kill you originally. In fact, I wasn't expecting to have to hunt you down on the planets surface. I thought you would have died in the crash, or perhaps of your wounds, or at least; if anything else, from the elements. However, you have continued to survive. That intrigues me. But I digress. Who am I you ask? Well, that's irrelevant. What I represent is far more important.” He stepped down from the ridge and walked toward the fire, stepping over the writhing man who'd been stabbed in the gut by the spear. Without a flinch, he produced a pistol and fired into the man, his screaming stopped with the echo of the gunshot.
Subtext took a step back, folded over in pain as he held his wounded arm near his aching broken ribs. “You're a lunatic.” He said, grimacing from the pain.
“Oh I know.” the man nodded. “I'm a monster.” He raised his arms in a shrug. “Monsters have to exist though. You see, it's all about survival. Right now, humanity is not going to survive. The posh live in perfect safety in the inner systems, untouched by the suffering of the poor, the disparity of wealth, the Vanduul raids. They're detached. They wake up, have coffee in the morning and look out the window to see a bright blue sky of possibilities. Meanwhile, across the Empire, a twelve year old girl picks the beans that, in a few months, will be pissed out into some rich fuck's toilet. The inner worlds outsource their work to the outer worlds because it's cheaper. The working men in the inner worlds lost their jobs because the manufacturing plants all moved to where they can pay that twelve year old girl pittance for hard labor. Those blue collars from Earth? Where did they go? Well they came here too, because that's where the work is. If you aren't rich, you're poor, and guess what. Only one percent of the Empire's population is considered rich. Do the math kid.”
“So you're an idealistic nut job trying to save humanity by doing what exactly?”
“I'm going to help humanity survive. I'm going to do it by cutting off the fat. Look around you. If you took a business man from Earth and slapped him in this forest he would last three days, then he'd drink his piss for two more before collapsing into a coma, never to wake up again. You go to the border worlds, pick up that twelve year old and throw here in here? She'll be making coffee beans in two days.” He laughed, “Ah I crack myself up.” His gaze locked on to Subtext again, and he stared at him in silence for a moment. “They are useless. If the food didn't get to the grocery store tomorrow, the earth would fall apart. You however, survived nearly two weeks on an alien planet. You are the epitome of what the future of humanity has to be if we are to survive. The rest have to die.”
Subtext cringed. “What about the twelve year old girl going to school on Earth, does she have to die too?”
“Yes, she does. Why? Because she's already been given everything and has worked for nothing. She's watched her parents be given everything, and most of all, she probably doesn't even know where her fucking food comes from. I don't discriminate by age, sex or nationality my friend. If you can't survive, you don't deserve to.”
“So how are you going to cut off the fat?”
“Well, that nice little hole you fell through to get here? That's part of the plan. Come with me and I'll show you the rest of it.”
Subtext was in pain, hungry and thirsty beyond imagining. He sighed, weighing his options, and realized he had no other logical choice. “Okay, show me. But first tell me your name.”
The man smiled. “I am chaos, I am the bringer of change, the flaming sword of fate. I am the destruction; Interitus”