The Superiors - Read Chapter 1
One night he captures Cali, a human runaway, and becomes fascinated by her ability to maintain a spirited outlook in the face of her circumstances. Although he must return her to the government, he finds himself drawn back to her. He continues to visit Cali until one night he makes the decision to purchase her.
His ambition takes him to further and further extremes as he begins to put himself in greater danger each step of the way, determined to get the money he needs to purchase his own human.
Draven punched out and collected his pay at the sound of the bells signaling the end of working hours. Every morning, the same thing. Although the night marked one hundred years to the night since his evolution, he didn’t think of that. He didn’t know it was an anniversary of sorts for him—like for most of his people, time had ceased to have meaning the way it did for homo-sapiens. Even if he had known of the anniversary, he wouldn’t have thought much about it. His thoughts centered around one thing—eating.
Hunger nibbled continually at the edges of his nerves. Having only eaten one of his five rations that evening and nothing all night, he had begun to weaken from overwhelming thirst. He hadn’t gone so long without nourishment for a very long time. Unlike the usual slow work night, tonight his team had found a cache of contraband—mostly wooden items—that kept his team busy and a bit nervous. But he didn’t think about that now, either. The hunger made him frantic like an animal, clouded his vision, made important things fade and seem inconsequential.
He had nearly reached the restaurant when he saw her. If he hadn’t been so hungry, he would have noticed her earlier. But with his mind so distracted, he didn’t see the homo-sapien until she darted into the street directly in front of his silent car. She glanced up, her eyes huge and terrified, when she realized her mistake. But she didn’t freeze. She kept going. So did he, for a second, too startled to command the Mert to stop. When he did, he also applied the manual brakes. He didn’t think the stop command would work fast enough to spare the animal’s life.
He swore and wrenched the brake back. The car began to skid. He pressed his palm to the steering screen and spun it, pressing down hard, as if that would prove more effective than a light touch. The car spun. It slid sideways and smashed into the corner of a building. Draven’s head jarred against the window. A bolt of pain shot through his head. The car had jolted to a stop, melded to the building it hit. He sat for a few seconds, waiting for his mind to catch up with what had just happened.
“Merde," he said, slamming his hand on the dash. He got out and went around the car. The building had left a big dent in the side of the Mert. He scowled and shoved the car away from the wall, back onto the street. The wheels still functioned, and since only the side of the car had been crushed, he wouldn’t have to pay for the damage. The Memory Metal would find the correct shape again in a night or so. Still, he’d have to drive around with a dented car. And he’d have to get the ad on the side redone.
He’d already opened his door to get back in when he caught a faint whiff of sap and remembered the cause of his accident. Damn sapien, running into the street without looking for turning cars. Or too dumb to notice them. And what was a stupid sap doing alone on the street at this hour of the night, the last meal before Superiors went to sleep? Even trusted saps who ran errands should have gone home an hour ago. And they wouldn’t run like that.
Saps were always causing problems—escaping the Confinement, staying out past the appropriate hours for errands, running away from their owners. Granted, sometimes their owners could be quite cruel, but Draven didn’t like to dwell on that. That was just the way of the world.
He scented the air before getting in the car. He could hear where she’d gone even from a street away. And he could still smell her tantalizing aroma, so tempting in his current state of hunger. He should bring her in. He’d get a bonus if she was a runaway, and he could use it to fix the ad on his car. She’d caused the damage, after all.
He turned onto the street where he’d heard her. After a second he spotted her. He slowed his Mert and watched her. She darted along the side of the buildings, away from the lights. She must have been young then, young enough not to realize he could see her in the shadows, even in the dark.
Of course he had to report her or bring her in, and he needed the money. But he wasn’t sure he could do it, exhausted as he was, pulling on his reserve for strength. He didn’t know if he could resist. Feeding on someone else's property constituted theft. He knew the law as well as anyone. But the law—that was one of the important things that started to seem inconsequential in the face of overpowering hunger.
Another glance at his electronic dash screen told him they were alone. He slowed the car almost to a stop. No one around. What would it hurt? He could just quench his thirst for a minute, just a bite to eat, and then he’d put her out and someone else could bring her in. No one would know, especially if she wasn’t private property. He needed to eat more than he needed money. If he just got a bit of her and let her go, no one could trace the crime back to him. It wasn’t like sap-napping. Just a loan.
He eased up beside her and stopped the car. She stood frozen. When he opened his door, he could hear her heart beating, could hear the blood throbbing out of her center and through her veins, rushing to her head, to her legs, pulsing through her arteries. She kept her back glued to the wall in the darkest pool of shadow. Her eyes darted from side to side. Perhaps she didn’t know he could see her, but she was ready to run if he did. He took a step towards her, then another.
She sprinted faster than a sapien could manage without the rush of added adrenaline. Draven watched her for a few seconds before he pursued her. In a few quick bounds he caught her and gathered both her arms behind her. He hadn’t been a Catcher a dozen different times for nothing. He’d learned a thing or two about dealing with saps in his hundred Superior years.
He glanced around. The discovery of the dangerous material that night had put him on edge, and breaking the law was not something he did lightly. But no one appeared in the street. Even if a few people had seen him, they wouldn’t have known that he wasn’t simply recovering his own possession, or taking her to the Confinement.
She let out a piercing, quite human shriek when he tucked her under his arm. After pushing her into the Mert, he slid behind the wheel. She kicked at him, panicked. He didn’t want her to kick the dash screen while he drove and cause an accident, so he waited for her to tire. Still, her thrashing irritated him, so he caught one of her feet and closed his fingers around her slim ankle. He hadn’t realized how young she was, no more than a child, really. She wasn’t his usual preference, but she smelled scrumptious.
“Do you know my language?” he asked in the slow way he used with animals. Calming their hysteria, soothing them.
She looked at him, her eyes wide and nostrils flared. She nodded.
“Very well. Then calm yourself. I’m not going to hurt you. But if you run again, I’ll have to take you to the blood bank.”
She shrank away from him, and he released her ankle when he sensed her shift from blind panic to simple fear. He could smell it coming off her in waves, filling the car. He didn’t like the smell, but he’d grown so used to it that he hardly noticed it anymore. He pulled away from the curb, the almost silent swish of his tires the only sound in the stillness.
“What are you going to do to me?” she asked in a small voice.
He reached over to pat her dirty, bare knee. “I don’t know yet.”
“Are you going to take me back?”
Her heartbeat slowed as she calmed, but he knew after speaking with her that she was too young. He didn’t like saplings—they reminded him of his childhood. And their sap had an unappealing thinness and lacked the richness that entered the bloodstream when they came of mating age. But she didn’t look any weaker than any other sapien, and she smelled healthy. He’d eaten plenty of sap that didn’t especially appeal to him.
His mind raced every time a car passed. Almost every car had a different ad painted on it, but he kept a lookout for the fancier, plain-colored ones. He only saw two of those—the people who could afford those cars didn’t live in his neighborhood. The people in his neighborhood didn’t own livestock, either, and they knew he owned no livestock. He kept watchful, wondering if he’d have an opportunity to get the sapien inside unobserved. The shabby cars and unadorned buildings around his apartment hummed with activity, last minute preparations for meals and sleep. He stopped in front of his building and turned to the sap.
“Don’t make a scene, and I won’t hurt you unnecessarily. Do you understand?”
“Are you going to kill me?” she asked. Her voice shook.
“Not if you cooperate. Come along then, I just need to go inside for something, then I’ll take you back.”
“I don’t want to go back. They were going to sell me to a restaurant.”
She should be so lucky. He could think of worse places to go—like the blood bank.
“I can’t keep you, although I’d like to,” he said, eyeing her. Hunger and impatience nagged at him. Something different about the smell of her sap drew him in, something wonderful. He pulled her from the car and she started struggling, but she didn’t scream.
“Be still.” He put slight pressure on her neck with his fingers, and she obeyed, gasping in pain at his strength. He slid his hand around the base of her skull under the layer of pale hair that fell down her back. “Good girl, good girl, that’s just right,” he said. While leading her towards the steps, he glanced around and saw a few people out. He didn’t make eye contact, although he thought he felt their eyes on him.
He shot a glance left and then right, but he kept his head down while he climbed the stairs. What was the punishment for being caught with an illegal human? Hunger distracted him and he couldn’t remember for the moment, or perhaps he just didn’t want to remember. He put his hand on the keypad, and his door slid open, and he pushed the sapien into his apartment.
He glanced around one last time, making sure the hallway stood empty before he went inside. The sap started struggling again at the door, but she was weak like all saps, and stupid to imagine she could escape or fight off a Superior.
Draven took off his work coat and hung it on the back of a chair. “Come here,” he said, rolling up his sleeves. He knew he was going to do something illegal, and he hesitated, but only for a moment. The hunger grew and grew, threatening to blind him. Outside the small window in his apartment, the sky had begun to lighten. He hadn’t eaten for so long.
The sap cowered in the corner.
“Come here,” he repeated, pointing to a chair. His teeth throbbed for her. “Do you want to make me angry?”
She came across the room, her wary eyes never leaving his face.
“Good girl,” he said, stroking her hair in the soothing way animals liked. “Do you have a name, little sap?”
“Aspen?” he asked in surprise, remembering the contraband in the ground. That was a dangerous name.
“That’s a good name for such a good girl.” He lifted her and set her on the edge of the table. “Now, Aspen, I’m not going to hurt you any more than I have to, alright? Just a little prick. You’ll hardly feel it.” He continued stroking her hair and her arms while he checked the insides of her elbows. Clean. She had the little port in her upper arm where all government-owned sapiens gave their nightly donation, but no other marks. He lifted her hair and turned her so he could see her neck and shoulders, then dropped her hair and stroked her back in the same soothing way.
Animals were much more cooperative when calm and well-treated. And saps deserved kindness—after all, they were necessary, essential to life. Draven didn’t like hurting them so he tried to be quick. Feeding on the livestock didn’t necessitate cruelty.
He examined Aspen’s ankles, her legs, ran his fingers behind her knees. She sat perfectly still, staring at the wall above his head while he pushed up her shift and checked her groin and thighs. Nothing. She was smooth all over. The insides of her thighs had a few round scars the size of the pad of his thumb, but he didn’t find more. He stood looking at her scars, fitted his thumbs to the tissue-thin skin of the marks. He knew those marks. He had those marks.
He shook his head as if he could shake the memory from his mind.
“How many years do you have, Aspen?”
“Eleven.” Her voice was defiant again. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-three.” He didn’t know his actual years anymore. But to her, he would be twenty-three. He had been twenty-three for a very long time.
“I’m almost twelve,” she said.
He looked at her, calculating. “And you’ve never been bitten?”
“No. I was bought once, but I ran away, and they took me to the blood bank for a while, but I got sick and they sent me back to the Confinement.”
He wasn’t sure how she’d react to this, then. She had run twice now, even after knowing the risk of going back to the blood bank. She must have a phobia of biting, and she’d gotten quite lucky.
“Are you going to run now? Do I need to restrain you?”
She looked at him, childish belligerence in her eyes. “No. I’m not going to run.”
“Good. Because I’m very hungry, and if I get angry, I might hurt you.”
Her heart sped up, and he could smell the rush of blood surging up in her again. It made him ravenous for her.
“Hold quite still for me. That’s a good little sap. Just like that. Very nice.” While he tied a cord around her arm, he continued speaking to her. “I’ll be gentle. I don’t want to hurt you. Just like this, yes. You’re so good.” He placed a towel on the edge of the table and sat between her knees so he could hold her if she struggled. “If you struggle, it will hurt more, yes? It will tear your flesh. So be nice and good for me and I’ll be good to you.”
Her nearness, the mouthwatering smell of her, the sound of her blood rushing under her skin, all of it blinded him. He was so very hungry.
Putting an arm around her back to keep her still, he scooted her forward until she sat at the very edge of the table. He could hardly control himself anymore. But when he looked up, he found her terrified, panicking. He kept an arm around her back like a steel band while he reached up with his other hand and gently covered her eyes. “Close your eyes now,” he said.
Her vein had popped up beautiful and blue and pulsing with life. He couldn’t control himself any longer, but he didn’t have to. He turned her arm and let his teeth enter her vein. She gave a small cry, and her body went rigid, but he kept his arm around her back so she couldn’t escape.
After a moment she gave in, and he stroked her back while he drew gently on her thin arm. The sweet sap in her vein flowed into him, warm and so full of life he could almost, for a moment, feel like he too flowed with that much life.
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