The fifth release anniversary of The Beasts of Delphos is being celebrated locally — by my serializing the novel online. Don’t worry, it’s all copyrighted to me anyway.
I cranked this text out in a heat of writing that lasted about eight weeks. Curiously enough, that seems to have been a good thing — this is the best reviewed work I’ve ever done. It’s about 60,000 words in toto, or perhaps 200 printed pages. Enjoy.
The Beasts of Delphos
© Warren Ockrassa
The First Beast
He woke with the rest of the camp in the same way, startled by the screaming. Somehow screaming always carried louder than the noises of the machines. As the alarms began their clamor he boosted himself off the bunk and dashed to the mines, joining the rest of the stream of bodies to the source of the commotion.
Near the center of the activity the crowd rippled back suddenly, and the faces he could see were contorted with a sick horror.
So it was a death, then.
He steeled himself internally, knowing the pit boss would need the mess — whatever it was — cleaned up quickly so the work could resume. Since he was merely an underling, not yet skilled or grown large enough to be good for much else, he was on the death-cleanup crew.
This one was worse than most. One of the rock-chewers had caught an apprentice machinist, apparently somewhere around his middle, and had separated his body into upper and lower pieces. As Barris shoved through the crowd he saw the separation had not been total; a ribbon of innards still connected the truncated torso to its legs, woven intricately among the teeth of the machine, a shocking pink crochet, unknit and then knit again in unnatural ways. The body halves lay about two meters apart, and the boy was still alive.
He looked around in shock, horrified comprehension filling his features, knowing he had been killed but not dead yet. He stared at his sundered body and screamed again as his separated legs twitched independently, and Barris knew it was his screaming that had roused them all. He shook his head in denial of his own death and his breath began coming in gasps. His hands tried to pull his ruined guts back into his torso and he shuddered. His head fell back and his eyes rolled upward and his chest stilled and he died, in time at last with his body.
Barris didn’t know the boy; his camp had many slaves and he was still an underling, high of voice and unhaired, hoping one day to be in training to eventually become an apprentice machine worker as this boy had been. He only knew the boy was a few seasons older than he, and saw in the eyes gathered around the sundered corpse the knowledge and fear they all had that this could well happen to any of them eventually too.
Pit slaves lived very short, very hard lives, and often died — messily — before they reached full adult stature.
Barris caught the eyes of the rest of the mine’s cleanup crew and they nodded to each other, moving quickly to their duties before they had to be told. Slow responses were punishable. He deployed a folding gurney and lifted the upper half of the body onto it as another boy carried the legs over to where the gurney lay. Between them they collected the rest of the remains and placed the quivering pile of guts, still warm, onto the ecmite film between the body halves. The torso shivered a moment, its last life failing, then fell still. With a nod to the other boy Barris indicated his readiness, and they lifted the gurney and took the body to the furnace.
After they slid the wet ruin into white maw of the smelter’s waste-heat vent the reaction set in and Barris heaved miserably. This triggered the other boy and they both lost what remained of their suppers to the hardpan beneath the smelter. Barris wiped his mouth and gestured to his assistant. “We need to get back there and help finish with the cleanup.”
The other boy — Barris thought his name was Rechis — nodded feebly and they quickly rinsed the gurney, folded it and returned to the pit. The wet red was all over the rock-chewer and it needed to be dismantled, cleaned and re-lubricated before work could proceed. The pit slaves were able to do the basic cleaning but it required the master machinist and his apprentices to actually dismantle and cleanse the titanium grinding apparatus.
Barris and Rechis kept close by with water dispensers and grease guns for the apprentices, watching distantly as what remained of the dead boy’s life was worked off the cooling teeth. Every so often a bit of flesh or bone was found and extracted. Having no pockets or pouch — mine slaves were not permitted clothing until they were apprentices — Barris held the bits of meat in his hand as they were passed over to him. They were gelid and sticky in his palm, and they were few; the teeth chewed flesh much finer than stone.
He kept the apprentices in water so they would not be thirsty and so they could clean their hands when they became too sticky. After that came the greasing, bearings repacked quickly as the master machinist moved among the working pubes, making sure all was being properly done. Finally the grinding machinery was reassembled and all the boys fell back as the machinist sparked the rock-chewer back to life. He listened and watched carefully for signs of malfunction, saw none, and nodded approvingly at his apprentices. “Well done,” he said to them. “Nothing like a quick field-cleaning to keep the machines working in top condition.”
The callousness of the sentiment hit Barris harder than he expected, perhaps because he still held pieces of the dead boy’s body in his hand. “Pardon, sir,” he said, “but if our work here is finished…”
“Yes, boy, go,” the machinist waved impatiently, ignoring Barris’s impertinence.
Barris left, disposed of the remains of the remains in the furnace vent, and quickly stole a deciliter of water to rinse himself with. This was not allowed and he moved quickly lest he be caught and strapped to the pain inducer for it. Even though he managed to get all the blood off him he still somehow felt unclean as he went back to his bunk.
There was only enough time left to his rest period for him to just begin dreaming, and Barris woke with the thought still in his head. He had been the boy torn in half and tried to pull his legs back to him by grabbing the slick string of organs that connected them, only to see them tear and spread their contents across the soil in stinking brown clumps. His chest felt tight and hot as he swung his legs off the bunk and sat up, his thoughts churning with his feelings. Opened up to the world. Even death in the mouth of the beast would be better than that.
He shook it off, then hopped to the floor and rapped his bunkmate’s forehead lightly. This was their game, their way for one to wake the other at the beginning of each cycle. Allis’s eyes opened and he grinned at Barris, then frowned as he recalled the events of the night before. “That was bad,” he said simply.
Barris shrugged it aside. Slaves had to learn the habit quickly. “It is the way of it,” he said.
“Did you know him?” Allis sat upright and looked at Barris.
“No. Did you?”
“A little.” Allis stood, looking distressed. “We had some pleasure a few times. His name was Bethos.”
Barris clasped his friend for a moment. “I’m sorry you had to see that,” he said, “and glad you didn’t have to clean it up.”
Allis nodded. “Thanks,” he said. He swallowed his sadness and they went to join the others in the food queue.
Underlings worked hard; no one could deny that. But since they were all as yet undeveloped they could not lift or carry as much as the mid-status laborers and were often ridiculed and treated impatiently. Barris always felt the unfairness of it — a little body hair and a little deepening of the voice and suddenly anyone was allowed to torment the younger boys — but he had learned at a very early age to keep his thoughts to himself, speak only when spoken to, and never give a direct answer to a question about how he felt about anything.
Today was different. The pubes left him alone and it didn’t take him long to realize it was because they had a little sympathy for him. He’d had to do a ghastly job the night before and had borne it stoically and without the slightest hint of hesitation. He smiled bitterly to himself at the horrible logic of it; to gain respect from the pubes he had to clean up a foully-destroyed body, that was all. So simple. Why had he not thought of it before?
Every time he closed his eyes he saw the boy’s — Bethos’s — face in his final moments. So he kept his eyes open as much as he could.
As he carried a satchel of mining dross to the tailing tip — one of countless he’d lift this day — he caught part of what one of the pubes was saying. “…not enough sacrifices to the beast, that’s why.” The boy was shushed by his peers as they caught sight of Barris and he pretended not to have heard anything, but his senses were suddenly keen. Sacrifices to the beast?
“You peeping on us?” The pubes had gathered around him, their developing muscle mass very intimidating. Barris was not weak, of course, and could handle himself in a fight, but there were more of them than of him here, and they were older and larger.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said. “Now let me back to work.”
The first pube grabbed Barris’s arm roughly. His work-callused hands gripped like hard springs. “Maybe you need to be fed to the beast,” he menaced.
Another pube pointed to Barris’s smooth groin. “Wouldn’t work. He’s still an underling.”
The first pube grinned nastily. “Not forever. Next season, I bet. Look at the build of him.”
“Spend a lot of time looking at underling bodies?”
The first pube rounded on his erstwhile friend. “You want a faceful of fist?”
Barris took the opportunity to scoot away. “You heard nothing!” the first boy called to his back. “Nothing!”
Barris was rattled and puzzled. What had the pube meant by sacrifice?
The thought returned to him from time to time as he worked the day through, his arms, shoulders and back sore and rubbery by the end of the cycle. As the horn blew he finished tipping his last satchel for the day, turned in the bag, quickly sponged his body free of sweat, grime and odor with the other underlings, and trotted to the food queue, looking forward to seeing Allis. He would be sore as well and they had ways between them to ease their tensions.
Allis looked up at Barris from where he lay in his embrace, their pleasure spent for the time being, the warmth of their kindling together filling their breasts. All about them were sounds of the other underlings in the barracks at loveplay with their bunkmates, wet smacks of lips to lips and other skin, the light hiss of hands over flesh, sighs and groans and gasps hanging in the dark, bunks creaking with their motions. In the dim the bodies joined in bliss were silhouettes, skin shining with highlights as the limbs twined in embrace. All the older underlings, those near to their time of becoming pubes, shared regularly with their bunkmates; tonight was no exception. In the barracks alongside theirs, they knew, the pubes were doing the same with their own partners. For those that worked in the pits, even the roughest day had its softer moments of compensation. “What’s the trouble?”
Barris stroked his friend’s shoulders easily, working the muscles he knew so well into deeper relaxation — he knew by experience such things worked best after pleasure — and sighed. “I heard a pube talking today about making sacrifices to the beast.”
Allis made an mm sound as Barris’s fingers worked his tired neck and back. “What beast?” he said lazily.
“I don’t know. I guess the one that eats men.”
Allis’s fingers reached to lovingly trace the line of his jaw. “Why would they make a sacrifice to that? And what kind of sacrifice?”
“I don’t know that either, but it doesn’t sound very good. One of them said I might make a good sacrifice.”
“He was angry because I overheard them.”
Allis settled his arms along his sides in a clasp and lay his head on Barris’s chest once more, smooth but broad with the muscles even the youngest boys developed quickly in the mines. He closed his eyes and listened to Barris’s heart beating, felt the even rise and fall of his breath. “I was worried you were angry with me because I shared pleasure with Bethos.”
Barris shrugged. “Pleasure is for the taking when it can be had,” he said philosophically. His breast resonated a little with his voice and Allis took comfort in the intimacy of the sound.
“It was before I knew you,” he went on. “Before I came to this detail’s barracks. He was still an underling then but was kind to me and looked out for me and I shared with him when he asked it. I was sad when I was moved here. I missed him until I found you. And I was glad he was prenticed. I hoped to be his bondsman, but wasn’t chosen.”
“You don’t need to explain,” Barris said. “It had to be more than a season ago, now.” He and Allis had known each other that long at least, though as he knew nothing certain of calendars or counting he could not be sure.
“I do need to explain. I thought of him all this cycle. I even cried a little. And — and I feel badly because of it.”
“Because I’m yours now.” The shoulders Barris caressed hunched in a shrug and then let go, Allis’s fingers lightly tickling his flanks at the motion.
“You mourned him, and that’s proper. As you say we’re together — for now,” Barris reminded him. “One or both of us could be moved any time, or —” he bit the thought but it was too late.
“Or we could end up like Bethos. I know. But for now, we’re together and while we’re together I want you to be the only one for me. For as long as it can last.”
Barris nodded at this; in truth he felt the same way about Allis, didn’t want to see him in the arms of another. He drew his face level with his and kissed him and the kisses became enflamed, open-mouthed and full of flavor, and Barris felt Allis grow against his body even as he grew as well, their hips rocking gently together and bringing them both exquisite friction. They smiled at each other, knowing they would share again.
They tasted gently of each other, mouths to nipples and stones and works, fingers gliding over hard muscles and harder flesh, delighting in the intimacy and freedom of the caresses, skin hot and tingling wherever the strokes slid. Allis moved down fully along Barris and the rhythmic motions of his head brought him to the quivering point of finish, backing off just before he could release and propping his heels on his shoulders to kiss him low and deep where he was cleft, his tongue working in smooth even strokes, his fingers trailing over his works and up and down the length of his body, a light tickle that brought his nipples to stiff peaks, reacting everywhere with the feeling.
Barris drew him level with his face for more kisses and traded places with him, mouth moving down his body and pleasing him in the same way, licking along the line where his stones grew into his thighs and below that, lower, drawing the intimate flavor of him as his mate lay still, filled with passion, his body aglow with the pleasure that ran in waves through him as his lover glided the tip of his tongue upward along the center of his joy, solid as the stone he carried from the mine each day yet yielding enough to fit the curve of his body. He formed his lips into a soft O and engulfed him. Allis gasped and pulsed with the joy of it.
The heat between them built with each caress and motion of lips to skin as Barris moved up once more and swung his bunkmate’s body around so they could join in the same way, their tongues rich beds of pleasure for their turgid flesh to lie in, moving with little darts of heat where they were most sensitive. The smooth, easy actions of their mouths became urgent, lights bursting behind their eyes, their brains and their entire beings afire with the thrusting motions, and they found explosive release together in the finest male way, gasping and murmuring words of affection as their bodies slowly unlocked.
They lay a while like that in the following warmth, inverted and sighing, still tasting each other wherever their lips could reach, thighs, bellies, stones, works, caressing and being caressed, whispers of love and delight misting the air about them. Finally Allis moved off his spent form and kissed him long. “You should go to your bunk.”
They shared a few more kisses before Barris climbed back up to his bed, above that of his bunkmate as Allis nestled beneath him, and let sleep take him, knowing his fatigue was justified — for him the day had begun before the day, and he had seen and heard many things to make him think.
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