“Rise for the count. Rise!”
I dragged myself up in time to see centuron HekVar kick my new bedmate over onto his back. Big Blue continued the roll, got up on his feet and lunged at the Hsktskt.
I closed my eyes, but the sound of the zap he took still made me wince.
“Fool.” HekVar was not amused by such antics, and glared down at him as he writhed on the floor in agony. The wide scar on his brow wrinkled as he bent down and snapped Big Blue’s arm back into its socket. “Gnat, why have you not instructed this one yet?”
I immediately assumed the position of response, dropping to my knees, bowing my head and holding my hands open and out.
“Forgive me, centuron. I don’t speak his language.” I hoped it wouldn’t get me zapped, not when I had warming to get through before breakfast.
“He likes to fight; he has been doing so since we removed him from the transport last night.” HekVar walked around Big Blue in a circle. “I will allow you translators.”
Great. Now I’d have to talk to him, and he was completely untrained. I changed position, clasping my hands behind my neck, and elevating my head an inch higher. It meant I needed direction.
“What do you not understand, Gnat?”
I’d never gotten a raw captive before. “Centuron, will I be held responsible for his infractions?”
He considered that. “Not for seven days.”
I only had a week to train him? It would be simpler to kill him. Touching my head and palms to the ground in the position of gratitude nearly made me choke, but I was a good slave, so that’s what I did. “My thanks, centuron.”
We were counted and then hustled out of the crawl. My new bedmate didn’t try to escape – the passages beneath the arena were narrow, featureless stone, so there was nowhere for him to go – until we hit the sands. Then he ran at an entry and discovered the inhibitor grids.
He landed at my feet again, totally dazed.
“Those are charged, too.” I held out my hand and helped him to his feet. He was big and heavy. HekVar had better get those translators for us soon, or this one wouldn’t last the day. “Stay with me and do what I do.”
“Nua.” He slapped his chest and glared down at me. “Jalka Adan.”
“Jalka Adan?” I pointed at his chest as I repeated it, and he inclined his head. I nodded and tapped my own sternum. “Gnat.”
His palate was really too fluid for my lingo, but it was close enough. I copied his gesture and inclined my head. “Yes.” Then I saw the warmers coming out of the training hall and grabbed his arm. “This way.”
The warmers never wasted time but went right to work and attacked us with their padded weapons. We were supposed to dodge and evade. The Hsktskt considered it a good way to loosen tight slave muscle.
Jalka Adan didn’t understand, and would have counter attacked the warmer who came at him, had I not rolled in front of him and shoved him back before whirling away from the padded pole end.
The warmer, an old slave named Yerv, snorted in disgust. “Why give you him?”
“Don’t know.” I yelped as large blue hands grabbed me and Jalka tried to shove me behind him. “No, big guy, it’s okay. Yerv, you rec his kind?”
“Jorenian,” Yerv told me as he went after a sluggish Tingalean. “They self term.”
Which meant they committed suicide. A lot of newcomers did, when they got to the crawls – not every species accepts enslavement, and it was better than going crackbrain and killing everyone around them. As a couple of Emsalmalin warmers headed our way, I tugged at the Jorenian’s arm. “Come on, move.”
He glanced at me, then the spiny pair. “Fa klaree n’oal.”
“You can Fah-clare-ree-no-all later. Come on.” I yanked, and he finally followed me.
Warming continued for another ten minutes before a guard sounded the end chime and the warmers retreated back to the training hall. I prevented the Jorenian from getting whacked, but it wasn’t easy – he kept digging his heels in and wanting to counter. By the end of the session, some of the guards had perked up and were watching us – not a good thing.
“Stupid Gnat,” Yerv muttered as he passed by me. “He get you killed.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I hadn’t had this much trouble since they’d stuck me with an Icthorii last cycle. The feeding horn sounded, and I looked up at the stern blue face. “Time to eat.”
I showed him how to fall into line and shepherded him into the feeding hall. Since Gffra was gone, there was a space open at my table, and I pushed Jalka to kneel down beside me.
Distributor drones rolled up and down the aisles delivering food, which was allocated based on species and body weight. I showed the Jorenian how to identify himself by using the DNA scanner, and watched the drone dole out a huge pile of assorted syn veg.
“Not a meat eater, huh?” I scanned and got my own small bowl of mixed protein stew.
Jalka gingerly sampled his fare and grimaced. “Gtak.”
“Yeah, this sucks, but it’s all you’ll get until after the bouts. Force it, you need the calories.” I made faces to go with the words, and he must have understood because he started eating.
We were only allotted ten minutes for feeding before the guards came to hustle us out to walk. We had to trot in pairs around a one kim track for the next hour without stopping, but it was the one place we were allowed to speak to each other. We formed our usual information relay teams and I passed the word on about Gffra.
Kosper, the latest and smartest of the crawl bosses, fell in behind me and Jalka. “I see you scored raw meat,” he called to me. “Need any help?”
“Not yet.” I checked the guards to see if they were watching Jalka. They were. “Kos, you got anybody who speaks this guy’s lingo?”
“He’s Jorenian. I know some.”
“Good.” I let out a pent-up breath. “Tell him we’re getting translators, but until we do he needs to do what I do.” When Kos relayed that, Jalka almost turned around, then eyed me and said something back.
“He wants to know your name.”
I frowned. “Gnat”
Jalka shook his head and said something else to Kos.
The crawl boss frowned. “Something about kin – I think he wants your birth name.”
I didn’t remember the one I’d been given, but I’d heard one I liked once, from an old Terran merchant trader. He’d been beaten to death by the guards for trying to start a riot.
I looked at Jalka. “Mary.”
“Mah-ar-ee.” He made it sound pretty, then he said something else to Kos.
Kos chuckled. “Uh, he doesn’t want you to hit him in the head with the rock anymore.”
Fair enough. “Okay, but tell him that he has to sleep when I do.”
The scrubs horn sounded, and I guided my new bedmate to the cleanser corridor. He watched me pull off my tunic, then reluctantly did the same before following me under the sprayers. I rubbed my hands over my skin, sluicing off the sweat and dirt, then felt something pulpy touch my hip.
“Suck on someone else.” I shoved at the Edpriyin trying to attach itself to me.
“You taste like alloy.” The skinny bloodeater gave me a lascivious grin. “But I like your new friend, Gnat. He looks hydrated.”
Jalka grabbed him by his emaciated throat. “F’tal et samballo neechal Mah-ar-ee.”
The Edpriyin’s four eyes about popped from their sockets before Kos and a couple others were able to pry him away from Jalka. Kos argued with my bedmate for a minute, then snorted and gestured to me. “Gnat, say Ayral tebas tunirecas.”
I repeated the words and watched Jalka’s expression change from enraged to only somewhat pissed off. I looked at the crawl boss. “What did that mean?”
“You shielded the bloodeater. It’s the only way to keep him alive.” As guards entered the tube to see what the hold up was, Kos hustled us out to the dryers. “Gnat, you’d better ask HekVar to pair the Jorenian with me for the bouts today, or he’ll go after anyone who lands a blow on you.”
I was completely confused. “Why the hell would he do that?”
“Don’t know.” Kos waved a few tendrils. “I think he’s decided to adopt you or something.”
We donned fresh tunics before we were marched back to the arena. Heavy betting already filled the board displays, which meant we’d have a capacity crowd. As soon as I saw HekVar, I dropped and requested attention. Since I hardly ever assumed the bitch position, he came over to me.
I thought of how to say it, and touched my forehead to the edge of his footgear. “Centuron, it is possible that the new Jorenian slave may serve longer if paired with Kos.”
“Indeed.” HekVar gestured for me to rise and follow him into an empty crawl. Once we were out of sight of the others, he hunkered down to my eye level. It was kind of a compliment. “Why do you ask this of me?”
I might get Jalka zapped to death for telling the truth, but the centuron was the only one who could switch pairings. “He tried to kill a bloodeater in the cleansers for touching me. He doesn’t seem to understand that I’m sword bait, same as him.”
“Has he attempted to breed you?”
“No.” It was odd that he hadn’t made a demand for sex yet – that was the reason we were bedmates. “He might have some kind of taboo about Terrans.”
“More likely he thinks you a child.”
Why would that make a difference? “As you say, centuron.”
“He can fight alone for now.” HekVar tapped my cheek with one of his talons. “You will do well not to become attached to this one, Gnat.”
I never got attached to any of them. “Yes, centuron.”