Trial-By-Fire: Young Blood Chronicles
Round One: I Am Not a Boy
Samsa blinked and gasped. Warm, moist air rushed into his respiratory sacs. Everything around him was a mix of murky earth tones and a lurid shade of pink. The air smelled of decay and brackish mud and some cloyingly sweet nectar, and was quiet except for some sort of mating insects. He shook his head to clear it and then looked around more slowly, taking it all in piecemeal. It was a swamp. A swamp full of some kind of pink, fluffy plant. “Where am I?” Samsa asked aloud, not really expecting an answer.
He got one. “BEEP! You are on the Planet of Fuzz. Welcome to Round One of Trial-By-Fire!” Samsa turned to find the camera drone he had dealt with earlier. Of course it had teleported in with him.
“Why did you beep just now?” Samsa asked. The voice was bad enough without the voicemail-message beep, which was louder than necessary by an order of magnitude.
“BEEP! I am required to always answer the contestant when a question is asked of me! I provide the minimum amount of companionship to ensure contestants who are not insane do not go insane! At least not from isolation! The BEEP is a prompt!”
“Oh... okay.” Samsa liked having companionship, but the drone's voice was... well, he wasn't that desperate just yet. He turned around and immediately tripped over something nearly his own size, falling into the smelly mud face-first. Coughing and spluttering, he wiped his face off and looked at what he had tripped on. “Whuzzis?” he mumbled, forgetting for a second that -
“BEEP! CONGRATULATIONS, CONTESTANT! You have found your CAAAAAAAAAAAAARE package! That marks your first objective for round one... coooooomplete!”
“Objectives?” asked Samsa, and then he immediately gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut against the -
“BEEP! You have three objectives this round! Objective the first: Find your care package from the Tallest, and the sticker located within! Objective two: Find your opponent! Objective three: your opponent is dead! Once all of those things are true, I am empowered to teleport you to the location of the next round!”
“Okay.” Samsa was now looking over the box-shaped object he had tripped over. It was box-shaped because it was, in fact, a box. A gunmetal-grey box made out of something sturdy enough to be dropped from orbit. It had been right in front of his feet and half-submerged in mud, so he'd missed it at first. He wiped mud off the top and sides, looking for an opening. He found hinges. Wrong side. “This was a really easy objective,” he said, enunciating the last word carefully. He remembered it from a book Rith Zith had read to him once.
“Yeah, well, you got lucky, Blacky!” The droid pointed at Samsa with one claw and made a sweeping gesture with the other. “All this tournament's contestants got teleported in here somewhere, but not all of them got teleported in practically on top of their care package!” Samsa found a latch, then another. He popped them both loose, and the box opened itself with a hiss of hydraulics.
Inside, on the very top, was a sticker. It was a little cartoon of the button Samsa had pressed to teleport out, complete with “glow lines” around the button built into the sticker, laid flat across a sheet of wax paper. Samsa peeled it off and stuck it to the middle plate of carapace on his forehead, smiling and sticking his tongue out. “D'aww! Let me get a close-up shot of that for the highlights reel!” Ignoring the camera for the most part (as he usually did in the Filter arena), he threw the wax paper into the swamp and dug further into the box. There were a roll of bandages and some other stuff he recognized as first aid gear, or “nurse stuff” as he thought of it. He didn't know much about them other than that most of it went directly on wounds and vaguely in what order, so he left it as it was. Beneath that was paydirt – ten compartmentalized boxes covered on one side only in plastic wrap. These he recognized, too – MREs. Meals ready to eat. Not Samsa's absolute favorite food in the world, but he wasn't picky, and he was hungry.
Samsa tore the plastic wrap off, triggering a chemical that heated some parts of the meal and chilled others. In just a few seconds, he could smell the hot cheese bubbling. “Yeah, those MREs can sustain an adult Irken with a PAK for ten days or more!” the drone bragged. “Even an adult PAKless Irken has an easy three days of food there, so you should be fine... oh, you're hungry now? Well, that's no problem, it shouldn't take too long to find... your... opponent.” The droid was temporarily dumbstruck by the ferocity with which Samsa was attacking his plastic food tray. “Jeez, kid, you'd think you'd never eaten before – AAH!” A drop of sizzling cheese spattered onto the drone's lens. “I'm hit! Mayday! Mayday!” The drone spun wildly out of control for a moment before it realized it had a tiny windshield wiper equipped. By then, Samsa had finished the first MRE... and started on a second.
Samsa didn't stop until he had polished off three of the ten MREs, well over 2000 calories. Satisfied, he belched loudly for the now-speechless camera drone and pushed himself up to his feet. He walked to the other side of the box and pushed the lid closed, then shoved the whole thing up onto dry land with a few grunts of effort. “Uh... alright... so, kid, how about we find that opponent of yous? She can't be more than a couple miles, they wouldn't have teleported anybody closer to you than her...”
“Later.” Samsa flopped down on his back in a short, grass-like patch of the pink vegetation. It was soft and comfortable, and the source of the sweet smell. He yawned. “Nap first,” he said, turning his head to the side, and found himself looking unexpectedly at the skeleton of a small rodent-like creature. “Hunh.” He reached over and plucked a diminutive rib off the creature's torso, noticing the way the pink threads grew among the bones and out the eye sockets. The rib was only about the size of a comb's tooth, although of course curved. He rolled it around between his fingers, then shrugged, popped it into his mouth, crunched down, and closed his eyes.
* * *
“Hmph.” Kroe stepped her way around another shrub of pink fuzz. That stuff was nasty, and ever since she'd seen a dying bird-thing caught in it, she'd been giving it a safe distance. She stopped, looked around, looked up just to be safe. Absentmindedly, she scratched at the fading bruise on her neck where Mor's chains had dug in the day before. That hadn't been fun. Now she was in the damn tournament, though, and she'd just have to make the best of it. “How much further to that care package?” she grumbled to her camera drone.
“You've been going the wrong way for miles!” The bot said, flailing its tentacles in exasperation. Kroe just made a “yap yap” motion with her hand in response, her other hand fishing for her antennae-phones. Maybe she could listen to some radio instead. “Well, at least we're near your opponent.”
“Say what now?” Away went the headphones. Kroe took another close look around. Nothing. She climbed a stunted, pink fuzz-studded tree. Looked around again. “Ah-hah.” She leapt out of the tree, hit the soft ground in a crouch, padded forward, sticking to the dry spots to minimize noise. Brushing past some bushes, she came into view of what could only be her target. And a box. An opened box. He had opened her package!
She pre-emptively shushed her camera drone (which, to its credit, was making no sound except the quiet whir of its propulsion drive), and stalked forward, sticking her tongue out in concentration. It was a small guy, roughly Irken in shape, although she couldn't be sure because of the black armor he wore. He was prone on the ground, belly-up, which was odd, especially since he was in that pink fuzz. Was he stupid, or... maybe already dead?
She was close enough now to look closely. He was alive. His chest was rising and falling. Definitely Irken, too. She could see pale green eyelids. His eyes were closed, his breathing was regular. He was asleep. In the fuzz. “Wow...” she whispered. Small guy, big head. The pink fuzz had actually tried to dig in on his hands, feet, one side of his face, apparently without much success on those armor plates. It was digging in a little on a small vulnerable spot on his throat, and some of the threads were reaching toward his eye sockets, which also seemed exposed. “What's his name?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Samsa.” The drone's voice was very much not a whisper, and Samsa's eyelids started to flutter, purple eyes cracking open. Kroe grumbled and drew her gun.
“Hey, Samsa.” She pointed the gun at him and gave him a soft kick to the ribs, drawing a grunt of discomfort and surprise as he snapped fully awake. “Caught you napping,” she said mockingly, and squeezed a laser blast right into his forehead, just above that stupid sticker She was expecting to burn a hole right through his head. Instead, all she got was a ruddy brown glow from his armor's forehead plate as a circular patch of it was superheated. Samsa started thrashing in pain, too, first stiffly as he ripped the pink fuzz loose from his body, then more wildly. Grumbling, she put her foot down on his chest to hold him still (or still-ish), and fired again into his forehead, this time getting some tangible results. Specifically, Samsa shrieked in pain and his forehead plate shattered from the heat. “Nice,” she said, lifting her foot.
The mistake nearly cost her her life. Samsa was up on his feet in a matter of seconds, and still directly under her, his eyes level with her stomach. Wicked claws, pink threads still clinging to them, slashed upward with killing force. Kroe was fast, and that kept her from being disemboweled, but a claw still caught her across her inner forearm, spattering rust-colored blood along a nearby tree trunk. Kroe cried out a half-formed profanity and staggered back, firing a few wild laser shots. One struck Samsa in the shoulder and he yelped and ducked behind some foliage.
Kroe steadied herself and took stock of her situation. That guy's armor, whatever it was made of (ceramics?), was pretty effective, even against laser blasts. His claws were lethal, too. She checked her arm wound. Good news; she could still use her hand just fine, although it stung like a bitch. Bad news; the wound was a bleeder. She'd have to end this quickly. At least he was small, and didn't seem to have any ranged weapons.
“Excuse me,” a quavering voice said, not too far away. Kroe's antennae folded back. He sounded so young. The small body, the big head and eyes, the voice... she was fighting a Smeet. Well, if they thought she'd be squeamish about that... well, okay, she didn't find the idea pleasant, but she'd do it if she had to. “Are you my opponent?”
“Of course I am,” she snorted. “I shot you twice in the head, didn't I?” And you didn't have the decency to die, she added mentally.
“Okay, good,” the voice said, and Kroe blinked in confusion. After a few seconds, he added, “I don't want to have to kill people who aren't my opponents.” A moment passed, and there was a rustling, off to the side of where Samsa had been talking from. Kroe trained her gun on the spot, but after another second, Samsa burst from the foliage a distance away from where she had been aiming.
As she wheeled around and fired more laser blasts at Samsa, another part of her brain was taking stock of him, filing information away for later. His forehead had a blistering burn on it – that laser shot had hurt him through the armor, but it was just a flesh wound. A plate from his shoulder was gone too, and the burn on the exposed wintergreen skin there was less serious – maybe he had taken that plate off himself. There was an intensity in his eyes – this kid had seen no shortage of fights. When she stopped firing wildly and took a half-second to steady her aim, he brought up both arms in front of his face and took a laser blast on the forearm that could have otherwise hit his eye and killed him. “Shit,” Kroe spat, and drew the knife from her boot, switching her gun to her bleeding off-hand.
She swiped her knife at his eyes as he drew close, and he ducked under it, slashing at the meat of her thighs. Kroe jumped up and back, letting Samsa's momentum carry him under her, and came down with a boot on his arm, dragging him entirely to the ground. She slashed at the back of his neck... and the knife scratched harmlessly along it. Samsa must've felt it, though, because he let out a wail and his free hand raked across her shin, tearing through the rubber of her boots, the synthetic cloth of her tights, and the skin underneath. “Shit shit!” Kroe's leg flinched back, letting Samsa push himself up to his hands and knees. She fired two more wild laser shots onto his back before he pushed off on all fours into a sloppy tackle, spilling them both into the swamp water.
Foul water splashed across Kroe's face, and she spat it out, kicking blindly to get Samsa away from her. She was rewarded with a grunt of pain and the sensation of something cracking against the toe of her boot, and pushed herself away. The water sizzled painfully against her skin where it was exposed – her hands, her face, her wounds. She wiped her face and looked up in time to see Samsa get ready to pounce, and held him back by slashing her knife at his face. He flinched back, and she put two plasma shots into his chest, shattering a piece of his armor when they hit in roughly the same spot. He yelped and fell back into the water – which was only burning him where his armor was gone, she noticed. In fact, it had seemed to cool off a couple of other places where he'd been shot.
“I'm going to kill you,” Samsa said, in a tone that suggested killing her was some unpleasant chore that he knew he had to do, like math homework. It sent chills down Kroe's spine, although she'd never admit it. He leapt forward and she slammed him square in the chin with a kick, shattering another piece of armor along the right side of his jaw and knocking him back into the swamp water. She HAD him now and it was a clean shot and she brought up her gun...
And the shots went wide, sending a cloud of steam hissing up a full meter from Samsa's exposed chest and head portions. “Triple shit,” Kroe said. The pain and the blood loss were affecting her, and her coordination was suffering. She had to get some distance, apply some first aid to herself... but Samsa was already back on his feet. Kroe turned, holstered her pistol, and ran, the slash on her leg slowing her only a little. It wasn't enough for Samsa to outpace her, but it was enough that the shorter Irken could more or less keep up.
Salvation came in the form of an outstretched branch at what was, for her, waist height. She vaulted over it, grabbing it with her good hand as she did so. She pulled it along behind her for a second, and just when the resistance peaked, she let go, shaking off the feeling of pink fuzz trying to cling to her wet palm and fingers. The branch snapped back, and Kroe glanced behind her. Samsa had been quick enough to duck, but the branch had caught him in the antennae and shattered some of the armor on that, leaving him howling in pain and disorientation.
“Enjoy the taste, kid,” Kroe chuckled, finding a tree and climbing it. The tree wasn't entirely overtaken with fuzz, so it would be high ground and a relatively safe place to bandage herself up as long as the branch she picked was stable. If Samsa started climbing the damn thing, she'd feel it, even if she didn't see him. “You did some damage, so I can't end this quickly. I'll have to drag this out. And that means I'm gonna make you suffer. “
* * *
Over twenty-four hours had passed since the first skirmish between Samsa and Kroe, although Samsa had no way of knowing it. At the orphanage, he'd been too young to learn how to tell time. Later, he lived in the Filter, which was built on a small moon of Devastis. The “day” on that moon was very long, and natural light was slim, so Samsa had never had a proper day-night system on which to tell time. The Filter ran on Imperial Standard time, but to the gladiators it made little difference. Samsa's only internal clock was based on the time it took him to get hungry again after he filled up on food, and of course that depended on how much he had eaten.
Most of the MREs were gone. Samsa had sneaked back to the care package whenever he'd gotten the chance, grabbed one, and scarfed it even faster than usual. The second time Kroe had caught him, and the third time she'd been waiting for it. The pizza pockets from that particular meal were scattered in the mud now. Then later Samsa had caught Kroe eating one of the meals and nearly taken her foot off with his claws. At some point Samsa had gotten another meal in peace, and noticed that at some point Kroe had made off with another of the meals herself.
Not that the stalemate had just been over food. The two of them had spent most of the last day only vaguely aware of where the other was, jockeying for location. Whenever Samsa threatened to close in, Kroe would shoot at him and force him to dodge back into the trees. Whenever Kroe tried to get herself to a properly defensible location, Samsa would already be right on top of her by the time she got there. The sun had set and risen again on the Planet of Fuzz, and no decisive wounds had been inflicted.
But the stalemate couldn't last forever. One of them would make a critical mistake, and soon. Samsa knew it. He was a child, but he wasn't stupid, especially not in the realm of tactics. Kroe was wounded, wounded worse than him. And her main advantage was having a gun, but it couldn't last forever. Samsa had already found a laser battery lying in the dirt, acidic-smelling smoke wafting up. She'd fired at him again since then, but maybe this battery was her last one. Meanwhile, Samsa's carapace had already half grown back in the places where it had broken, and he had no ammunition to run out of.
But only on the surface did Samsa have all the advantages. He was dead tired, and Kroe... wasn't. Her beat-up, decrepit old PAK didn't seem to work (it lacked the quiet bubbling sounds Samsa would hear from most of the Irken gladiators), but the knife girl (as he thought of her) was as tireless as a bloodthirsty crowd. He also got hungry faster than her, faster than any other Irken he had ever met, and food was scarce. She could outlast him if it came down to that. His forehead wound was an issue, too, even if it wasn't life-threatening. The stinging pain was always on the edge of his mind, and the broken, blistered skin occasionally wept jade-green blood and banana-colored pus into his eyes, threatening to temporarily blind him. The carapace growing back was no help here – it was slowly growing down over the offending wound, rubbing against it, and itched terribly.
Samsa peered out from behind his cover, careful not to let the pink fuzz rub against his forehead wound. It was dangerous, but as long as he kept moving, it wasn't gonna kill him... but he'd gotten it on his forehead wound a while ago, and it was a world of pain. The flags of his antennae scraped against the back of his head, the armor pieces on them dragging them down flat against his skull now that some of the lower segments of antenna carapace were gone. There, fifteen meters dead ahead, he saw the rippling-light effect of Kroe's camera drone. Both bots had cloaked themselves and shut up once the fight started, but for whatever reason the stealth cloak wasn't perfect. Where Kroe's drone was, Kroe couldn't be more than a few feet away. And she didn't know that this time, Samsa had brought more than just his claws and teeth to the fight.
He had closed half the distance to Kroe's bot when the woman herself leapt into view. She had rusty orange bloodstains on the bandages decorating her arm and leg, and her skin was blotchy from water irritation, but her grin bespoke cruel confidence. “You're goin' down, kid!” she taunted, drawing her gun. Samsa responded with a low hiss and flicked out a roughly triangular black shape from his right hand. The shard, a broken-off piece of his own carapace, flew straight and embedded itself deep in Kroe's jacket, piercing a few millimeters into her skin underneath. “Ugh, what?” Kroe winced as more rusty orange welled up around the black-on-off-black, but she squeezed off a few shots at Samsa, only scoring a glancing hit on a spine on his back before he ducked into cover. She sucked in a breath and yanked the shard out. “This stuff is just going to ruin my day, all day, isn't it?”
That may as well have been Samsa's cue. He leaned out from the shrubs and threw another improvised shuriken, this time aiming for Kroe's big mouth. She spat another curse and leaned her head out of the way, but her left antenna lagged behind, and the shard hacked right through it an inch below the flag. It was a lucky shot, but it left Kroe screaming in pain, so Samsa wasn't going to complain. He dashed forward, kicking up mud as he closed the last few meters between them. Still screaming, Kroe started shooting at him. His bicep and ribs lit up in dull pain as the plates over them were flash-heated by laser fire, and Samsa dropped into a slide, taking advantage of the wet ground. Kroe made another impressive leap before he could get close enough to slash at her, and aimed down at him, sticking her tongue out.
The shot missed. That could've killed me. I was lucky. Samsa dug a hand into the soft ground, halting his momentum and allowing him to pull himself up into a crouch and turn a quick one-eighty all at once. Kroe ended her leap in a combat roll right out of Basic Training, pivoted, and squeezed off a couple more shots at Samsa, but he was right on top of her again. A shot went wide and hit a high patch of pink fuzz on the tree, igniting it. Turned out that pink fuzz not touching anything wet was highly flammable... and it burned with a cyan flame.
Samsa grabbed the barrel of her gun and jerked it forward, ignoring the burning heat from touching the business end of the thing. Kroe pitched forward, caught off-guard for a second. That second was all Samsa needed to sink his teeth into Kroe's left forearm, biting down with bone-crunching force. She drew her dagger, now beyond pain, beyond screaming, and took a stab at Samsa's eye socket. That saved her arm... or at least, most of it. Samsa came away with a chunk of bloody flesh and a splinter or two of bone, and a blade tip against his temple – a killing blow for anybody else – scratched against armor and glanced off harmlessly.
“What the hell are you?” Kroe asked, staggering back. Samsa saw her eyes flicker toward the gun at his feet, where it had dropped from her limp hand. She would try and go for it again. He couldn't relax yet. He chewed twice and swallowed, dropping into a stance half-remembered from the Vortian Rin Kan in the arena two days ago. Kroe gritted her teeth, and her fingers on her good hand tensed against her dagger. “I asked you a question, kid.”
He thought back to the words, the words he had heard so many times since the fighting had started, the words the guards had said, the nurse had said, the audience had said, so many opponents had said. So many dead opponents, dead by his hand. By his tooth and nail. “I'm not a kid,” Samsa mumbled.
“What was that? Speak up, I can't hear you past that wad of MY FUCKING ARM in your throat.”
“I'm not a kid!” Samsa shouted, and Kroe charged him. The words had seemed unkind at the time – to say that he wasn't Irken, that he was a beast, a monster, not even a person. But what was being a person? Was it being like Kroe, cruel, self-absorbed, a bully, just as vicious as him, but using a gun? If that was what being a person was about, it suddenly didn't seem so important. “I'm an ANIMAL!”
He ran forward to meet Kroe, a hurricane of spinning claws, his exposed skin flashes of lightning against the black-green storm clouds of his armor. Kroe leaped over him, using her height and agility. But it was the same trick again. Time for the other surprise he had brought for her. He had picked the longest threads of pink fuzz he could find, handling them only with his hands and other still-armored parts of his body. He'd soaked them directly in the mud and muck and swamp water until they were stained olive drab and smelly and swollen up to twice their usual thickness. And then he had tied them all together, knotting and braiding them all into a crude length of thin rope which he'd wrapped around his belly for safekeeping. It wasn't much, but when she had been expecting just claws, it made all the difference in the universe.
The loop of rope wrapped around Kroe's ankle and yanked mid-leap, pulling her off-course. It wasn't much, maybe a decimeter or two, but it was enough that she hit the ground in a heap instead of a roll, and without nabbing her gun. “Fuckshitcockfucker!” she said frantically, grabbing for her gun, but the bad landing had cost her just enough time and rattled her head just enough that Samsa was able to kick the gun into a deep puddle before she got to it. He turned on her, but she had her dagger out, forcing him to step back with a wild slash before cutting herself free. “You want to be an animal, fine!” she snarled. “You'll die like a fucking dog!”
Samsa stepped forward, ready to parry a blow from her dagger with his carapace-plated arms. Instead, he got a swift kick between the legs. He gasped and his upper body snapped forward. Blood spilled into his eye from his forehead wound. Kroe pulled back her leg, grinning at the bits of armor plating dropping from his groin, and kicked him again in the unarmored shoulder, dislocating it and spinning Samsa around. A third kick to the calf knocked him to his knee and broke another plate, and she hopped into the air, bringing her foot down across the back of his head, smashing more carapace and driving his face into the dirt. He coughed burning mud out of his mouth, but his efforts to get up were aborted when Kroe put her foot down on his uninjured arm. “Not even a PAK to fuck up, that's a shame. Well, kid, it's been... protracted.”
“What does protracted mean?” Samsa asked from the dirt.
Kroe blinked and hesitated in stabbing her dagger downwards. “Means, like... long. Stretched out. Longer than it had to be.”
“Oh, okay.” Samsa suddenly thrashed backwards, stabbing the spines on his back up against Kroe's leg. She hissed and shifted, and he was up. It was just like the beginning of the fight, only this time it was two exhausted, blood-soaked, wounded contestants kept going only by their last adrenaline surges. The outcome was nearly the same, too – but this time, Samsa had been aiming for her arm. His claws pierced behind the wrist and burst up between the two bones of her forearm. The force of the blow and her knee-jerk reaction (pull away from the thing that is injuring you) worked together to toss the knife straight into the air as it dropped from Kroe's limp fingers.
“COCKSUCKING... son of a bitch...” with one last gasp of effort, Kroe brought her elbow of her other arm down on Samsa's collarbone, breaking another piece of armor. The shock against her wound on that arm meant the attack hurt her more than it did him. “I didn't come all this way... to die here...” Samsa's fingers tightened on one of Kroe's forearm bones, squeezed, and pulled, dragging her down to her knees. Samsa tilted his head back, leaned away from Kroe, and caught her Bowie knife by the handle in his mouth as it fell back down. “Hey, nice catch.” Then Samsa's head snapped forward again. He whipped his head from right to left, using the knife in his mouth to slash her throat.
Samsa spat the knife out and stepped back. Kroe sagged forward one inch at a time, her eyes dull, her mouth still working but unable to produce any more sounds. Blood streamed from her forearms and her throat. Finally, she finished whatever last obscenity she had chosen, and dropped forward like a marionette whose last string had snapped. Samsa, meanwhile, was popping his shoulder back into place, and finally letting the tears of pain fall. He looked around reflexively to scan the crowd, as he would at the end of many of the battles he had fought sober, but there was no crowd. Instead, the sky was blocked out by billowing smoke, leaving the spreading blue flames to provide a ghostly faerie-fire light across the swamp.
Just when Samsa had thought about how there was no audience, the camera droids decloaked, reminding him that there, in fact, was a bigger audience than ever. Kroe's camera, which had tentacles and a camera lens built like a single detailed eye, stayed back, letting Samsa's bot with his cheese-grater voice and his little pair of claws loom right in Samsa's face. “Hey, great work, Blackie! You met and killed your opponent, and you got the sticker... hey, you didn't lose the sticker, did you? That's important!”
“Kroe picked it up,” Samsa said, and held out the knife. At some point, she had picked the singed sticker off whatever shard of forehead carapace it had stuck to, and restuck it along the pommel of her knife. “S'mine again now.”
“Yes, yes it is. Good contestant.” Again, the done produced the hard-light hologram of a button. “Well, press this whenever you're ready to go on to the next world. If you haven't pressed the button in twenty-four Irken Standard hours, I am obligated by my programming-”
“I'll press it now,” Samsa said, interrupting. His stomach grumbled. “Actually, in a little while. I'm hungry. Food, nap, button.” Ignoring the bot's complaint to its counterpart about how meatbags were always hungry, he thought. Off to his right was the “care package” and its last MRE. On his left was Kroe, no longer conscious, her heart weakly beating for perhaps only seconds longer. Fresh meat, skin-on and bone-in, marinating in its own blood, or a last box of hot, cheesy 'people food.'
Samsa turned left.