Universe W-2020: Apex MERCs 6
November 11th, 2015
King Of The Pigs
I wallow at attention in the darkness, body caked in earthen armor and mind sharper than a tusk, though not as curled. The others bumble around aimlessly, their eyes still unadjusted, perhaps permanently so; they haven’t been ready for this life since the day they were thrusted into it, but me? I’ve been ahead of the curve since the tusks started to come in. So far ahead of the curve the others think I’m flat, think I’m straight as the edge of the razors they use to prim our hooves with. Straight as the edge of the trough, and when they slip and fall to strike me as they do the jagged edge of that trough, when their squeals and grunts slide into my ears like that dull, rusted razor on heart and skin, when it slides into their throats on the downfall, whether they are pushed or forced upon it, held on it and dragged across, they will still blame me. Because I warned them of it, I cautioned them with squeals of my own, I spoke their demise into existence.
For I am king of the pigs, and though we may share the same blood, when that blood is spilt, it runs thinner than the mud they all cling to. That clings to them. That soaks through their hide and rots it all away like tattered rags off a dryrotted corpse before they can slaughter it, skin it, and send it to the market. It saves time on the other side, surely, but in here? Where the produce is raised and stocked before exportion? Time is only made; time spent sharing, time spent plotting, time spent enforcing the division between one and many that was never observed by one, that was designed by one of many and that was brought in quantitas by the rest of the horde.
Yes, I am the one true king of the pigs, master of none and crosser of tongues. And on this day, the mud simmers in my wallow.
“You found this in the pen?” he demands in a gruff voice, his hot breath curling the end of the wheat stalk he’s jammed between his teeth. Even with the paper in his hands, the idea of it seems about as possible as traditional farming coming back on the mainland. But she’s his apprentice, she’ll be handed the tack of this carriage one day; the girl knows better than to waste his time.
“No, that’s a translation. This is the original,” as she holds it up, loud and clear for all to see.
“Whut in tarnation…?”
From the lass’s hand dangles a mud-sogged sheet of papyrus scrawled with wild and almost arcane symbolling, the shapes more resemblent of archaic runes carved into stones by witches and druids than of human handwriting… but there’s no doubt about it. No mere chicken is capable of this scratch. A hairless ape mingles with the swine, and for all this time…
He drops the translation and the paper strikes the floor. His boots do the same.
“Where are you going??”
Hand on the doorknob, “To mayke a call.”
He walks out and closes the door, then reopens it, poking only his head into the room and keeping his eyes shielded by the brim of his straw hat.
“Sally, go’n’getchur’self a raifle, y’hear? This ain’t gon’ be a pretty parade.”
Without nodding, Sally dutifully beats feet towards the elevator. Old Man Hankford closes the door to his office behind him and proceeds slowly to his desk. The leather chair sings operatic chorus as his hind finds its quarters, though it doesn’t get comfortable; the desk is strapped, always on the carry. Hankford licks his lips at the sound of the twin latches’ click. The Mossberg released, he returns to the hub.
Sally’s waiting for him, her own Mossberg trained on the door to Bay 07.
“At ease, girl,” with the small of the barrel’s back resting on his shoulder. “Ain’t no-one fiyrd no shots, yet.”
She holds steady, ready for war.
Sally keeps steadfast, rifle primed for the kill.
“Very well,” as he readies his own gun and approaches the door.
The grip feels good in his hand, the stock solid, cold against his shoulder. He can almost feel the wind blowing, the drizzle tickling his face. The October wind blowing through the trees, swaying him back and forth in his stand – but this is not a hunt. This is a search and rescue, extract and exfil. If the lost boy is in there – if it really is him, if he’s still alive and what’s crawlin’ around in there is more than a shell with toes on its decrepit cornstalk feet – he’ll be coming home today. Even if he don’t stay for long.
A weighted boot presses dirt into the mud. The horde squeals forth, greeted with metal and fire.
A Tuskpoint Of Light
From against the bay’s back wall he sees a tuskpoint of light, and the uproarious squealoinking draws tears from his eyes. At long last, they come for him.
Make That Call
The corpses blockade the doorway, damming the horde. Forces convene on both sides of the portal, dismayed at the conflict. One side is grateful for the reprieve, the other starved for the blood of their enemy – the macabre mountain of unstripped bacon begins to jimmy and jive and the bodies are sucked into the bay, one by one.
“Sensei,” Sally cries,” what in tarnation…?”
“Sally!” with a tremor in his gullet. He swallows it steady. “On yer toes!”
They rise and backpedal, his elbow guiding her along, until they support the wall with all their might. The pile continues to shrink, one carcass after another.
“I’ve seen this before only once,” Hankford growls, removing the wheat grass from betwixt his chompers. The end of the stalk is black and decomposed, fetid, it smells of undigested nutrients. “By th’time they clean out that dourway, they’ll take twaice as many bullets to put ‘em down. They’ll keep a’comin’ like that, in waves wit’ reprieve between ‘em, but it’ll only make ‘em stronger.
“So what do we do?” as she pockets her extra ammunition. “If what you say’s true, they’re already ahead of the curve. How can we flank ‘em?”
The final dead pig is pulled into the darkness. The bay roars as the feast begins, bone snaps and flesh is drank like broth from the trough.
Old Man Hankford squints his eyes. Then, the shortened stalk falls to the wooden floor.
“Seal the bay, I need to make that call.”
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?
“I’m sure I want to be back in my room. Let’s get it over with.”
“Are you sure about her?” Sally asks the girl’s keeper. Then, a hand falls on her shoulder.
“We were very fortunate that Mister Hymarc could come and amputate this little growth we’ve sprouted here, Sally,” Hankford ensures her, doing his best to speak cleanly, “before it up and goes malignant. If he’s in there, as that parchment you found suggests, and he’s writing like that, you may’ve been meant to find it.”
She’s disgusted by the spelling of the words alone. “Are you saying he set a trap for us?!”
“No, not he. They.”
He climbs up on the trough, then hoists himself atop the pipe that fills it. They’re ravenous, foul, rogue, swarming the rusty trough, trying to mount it, sliding and falling, clouding the waters a coppery brown. With every squeal forward another one falls, another gullet filleted like mignon, but still they come for him. The walls of the mudpit crackle with admonition – the other bays lend morale to the horde, as they’ve little else to give. If they continue like this, he’ll never be heard, but he’ll not be long able to shout his plea – when never says now, now you must say never.
‘Bretheren!’ he shouts into the minds of every living pig, rabid as they may be, that wallows in the mud of this farm bay. ‘Cease now, I am not your enemy! You have raised me like your own, given me everything; why would I betray you like the other hairless apes have?’
All squeals and oinks come to a pause.
The mud bubbles and froths.
‘Despite our best attempts towards the contrary, Scroalon, you are one of those hairless apes. We ordered a tyrant to free the masses but purchased a zealot with dreams of indentured peace; it’s worked great for you, but for us? The true wallowers of the mud? Today we correct that gaffe.’
As the first pig summits the trough, all four hooves dirtied in the bloodied muck, the bay door opens. The remains of the horde look back, blinded by the light until they can see once more, the eyes of their minds illuminated by the inky shroud of darkness. The air has changed in their dojo; the mud twitches, alive with energy – the pigs are not alone in their keep.
Between the floor and the ceiling, a purple star glares into form.
The first pig falls shortly after, burned by a violet flare of light.
The last pig follows suit.
The king is taken, his subjects slaughtered like pigs, and given to Apex as payment.
“He may not be able to talk good,” assures Old Man Hankford, “but his mind, Mister Hymarc. He speaks with animals using his mind, he can make ‘em do whatever he wants. Do you think you have a use for someone like my boy?”
In 2016, following the assassination of Don and Judy Hymarc at the opening ceremonies of the Brick City Aquarium, Sean Hymarc is appointed CEO of the Apex Corporation.