They sat me down at a table and set a cup of water down in front of me. I didn't even consider drinking it.
Kayden sat down across from me.
"Why didn't you kill me?" I asked.
Kayden didn't react. His face was like a statue's. When the silence got too deafening, I spoke some more. "I just killed one of your men, why am I still alive? This- None of this makes any sense!"
I wanted to kill him. Part of me was straining at the leash, contemplating ways to make him stop breathing. As far as I could see, he was unarmed. There were only two other raiders in the room, and they were both standing by the door, on the other side of the room. The cup of water was light tin, not useful as a weapon. Maybe I could use my chair? But that would take too long, they would be on me before I did anything.
"So what do you want, kid?" Kayden asked.
That didn't make sense. None of this made any sense. He shouldn't care what I wanted, he should have just let Kane cut my head off and been done with me.
"What are you trying to pull?" I asked him. "I want you dead, I already told you that!" My voice was getting louder and louder all on its own.
Kayden shook his head. "What can I give you to change your mind? Vic already told you that if you work for me, you'll get plenty of food and water. You won't need to worry about your town being attacked, like the rest of these savages do. What else do I need to give you to keep you on my side? Women? Your own men to lead? Prisoners to kill? Whatever it it, I'll make sure you get it."
I was even more baffled now. Kayden was offering me a job? "Okay, start from the beginning," I demanded. "What the fuck are you asking me for?"
The man sighed through his nose, like he was dealing with a pouty child. "I want you to be one of my raiders."
"I already am. You threw me into a truck and brought me out here, remember?"
He waved me off. "We brought you here as just a regular recruit, like all those others," he gestured wildly outside. "But you're different. Most of them didn't have the balls to fight Ricky at all. You killed him as soon as you decided you didn't like him." A small smile pulled on his mouth. "I'm willing to bet you were sent to this planet because you're a murderer. You're crazy, and that makes you useful.
"If you work for me, you won't just be some grunt, you'll hopefully be one of my best men. You're so crazy, I'll only need to send you into one town, let you kill most of the people there, and every other town will just surrender as soon as we come near. You'll be useful enough for me to overlook your... Transgression. So tell me, what do you want?"
Things clicked into place. Kayden was a dumbass. He'd known me for less than an hour, and he thought he knew everything about me. He thought I was going to be some sort of ultra-badass raider that was totally loyal to him just because he gave me a few slices of bread and a sip of muddy water. He was a complete idiot, or maybe just desperate for manpower. He didn't understand why I killed Ricky, or why I wanted to kill him.
"So is this what you did with Kane?"
"Yes. He was eager to become a rader, his only condition was that we didn't order him around too much. Do we have a deal?"
I was still angry, but I had calmed down enough to understand what was going to happen next. "Tell you what," I said, "why don't you find a nice tall cliff and jump off? I killed that piece of shit because-" I had to stop to breathe. There was no way I would start crying again. "Because he was a rapist, and I would do it again. I won't do anything for you, I wouldn't spit in your shadow."
Kayden looked disappointed. He knew I wasn't going to be his good little attack dog. Then he just shrugged. "Join us or we'll-"
"Yeah, yeah, you'll kill me," I mocked. "Just fucking hurry up." I probably couldn't get out of this. I had nothing to fight with. Even if I escaped Kayden and the guards, there were dozens more raiders ready to catch me. And if I escaped them, I was surrounded by desert. I wasn't going to escape this time.
That didn't give me any excuse not to try though.
Kayden stood up and looked at the guards. I jumped over the table and tried to tackle him. It didn't work as well as I'd hoped. My reach wasn't long enough, and my hands just wound up hitting him in the throat while I tumbled over the edge of the table.
Before I could get back up, one of the guards kicked me in the ribs. One of my lungs collapsed and refused to inflate again. He kicked me again, and I weakly hit his leg. He didn't react. The other guard joined in, just continuously beating me.
I flailed about, trying desperately to hurt them, to make them stop. It didn't work. Everything hurt. Blood was starting to fill my mouth. I yelled, feeling like my insides were being wailed on with hammers.
Just let it happen, son. It won't hurt so much this time, I promise.
I could still see the piece of shit every time I closed my eyes.
With a cry so firey my throat instantly went raw, I punched directly on top of one of the raiders' feet. He was barefoot, and I could see some of his bones bend in ways they weren't meant to.
He screamed and fell on his ass. The other raider paused in surprise. Kayden was still clutching his throat, struggling to breathe. I rose to my feet and the standing raider reached for his knife.
The door crashed open behind him. Like an idiot, he turned away from me to look at it. A spearhead plunged into his gut, then came back out, trailing a small piece of his intestine. Faster than a snake, the spear went into the eye of the other raider, then slashed across Kayden's throat. The one who had been stabbed in the gut finally screamed before he was silenced.
Before I had even registered what was going on, all three raiders were dead. I blinked and suddenly the spear was hovering right in front of my face.
"A- Ala?" I asked, my voice hoarse.
Slowly, the girl lowered her spear. "What are you doing in here?" She asked.
"I- Kayden- I killed one of them, and Kayden thought that he could get me to join him." I turned and spat, taking care not to hit anywhere near Kayden. "Fucking idiot."
Looking at Ala, I noticed how horrible she really looked. The rags that she had been wearing before had been replaced by skimpier rags that showed off her legs. Her ankles and wrists had rings of missing skin where they had been bound. There was blood seeping from her mouth, and dripping from between her legs.
"Jesus Christ, what happened to you? Why is your mouth bleeding?"
"It's not mine, I bit someone's fingers off." She took a knife from one of the dead raiders and threw it to me. "I'm leaving. Come if you want."
The knife felt too heavy. "I don't know if I can use this," I mumbled to myself. I could bluster and threaten plenty, but I didn't think I could kill anyone else. When I thought about Ricky or Ian, I could barely keep down the contents of my stomach.
I must have spoken louder than I thought, because Ala responded. "Then you'll probably die," she said. She made it sound so simple. If I didn't fight, I would likely die.
But I couldn't leave everything to Ala. I looked at the corpses on the floor and felt... Relief. If they had lived, I would have died. Was my life really worth more than all three of theirs? More than Ian's? Ricky's? Murphy's?
"They deserved to die," Ala said, seeming to read my mind. "They've all killed before, they've taken over towns, carried off girls and-" She stopped to take a breath. "There's ten upstairs. They aren't worth crying over. Don't die just because you feel bad for them."
I couldn't argue with that.
Ala stepped out the door and I followed. We had to step over four bodies on our way to the stairs. There were others that I could see, scattered all the way down the hall. She had done all this practically silently? By herself? How the hell had she been captured in the first place?
The sound of running came from the stairwell. Some other raiders must have heard the commotion and come to check it out. They were clustered single file though, and as soon as she took out the first one, he fell back onto the others. They were all practically waiting for her to kill them.
A thump came from behind me. I spun and brandished the knife, only to get it smacked out of my hand. I just had time to see Kane's face before he lunged at me with his own knife.
Somehow I managed to move to the side and avoid getting skewered. Grabbing his wrist, I punched him in the nose. I was too far away to put much power into it, but Kane still stepped back.
He ripped his hand free and stabbed at me again. I grabbed the blade before it got stuck in my chest and pushed. The feeling left my fingers, and Kane just kept pushing the knife closer and closer to me. I tripped and fell on my back with him on top of me. He gritted his teeth and pushed harder, using both hands.
"You little shit!" He hissed. "We had a good thing going here!"
I didn't say anything. I just lunged up and grabbed his windpipe in my teeth. I bit down so hard my jaw popped. The taste of copper filled my mouth, and Kane stopped pushing down with the knife.
Throwing him off of me, I looked at his face. His eyes were bulging out of his head in disbelief, and he was trying desperately to stop the flood of red that was coming out of his ruined neck. A disgusting gurgling sound came from him for the last moments of his life.
His eyes rolled back and the light left them forever.
Grabbing his weapon, I looked down the hallway, where he had come from. There were several other black guys huddled together, staring at me. Kane's friends. Well, a few of them. Mikey said that there were ten, so I was only seeing half of them.
I spat out a piece of their leader's windpipe. Every one of them ran around the corner in terror. Ala was still busy with a few remaining raiders, and I couldn't leave her back exposed. I might have hated her, but I respected her more than anyone else on this godforsaken hunk of rock.
I followed them up the stairs.
My eyes were swollen as I finished filling in the grave. It was the tenth one that I had dug that day, and it wouldn't be the last.
Ala had killed Kayden and twenty-five of his raiders. When the "recruits" that they had taken to Bricks realized what was happening, they had helped her. Together, they had beaten eight more raiders to death. And once the people of Bricks knew that they had an opportunity, they killed three more. Even those that tried to surrender were killed. Mobs obviously didn't make great judges.
Still, I had to feel like they were at least partially justified.
All in all, there were over fifty deaths in less than an hour. I was one of the first to volunteer for clean up, the dead deserved that much.
I got started on grave number eleven, only for Mikey's voice to break my concentration. "Yo, Junior, you're working too hard. Take a break." I turned to catch a water jug that he threw at me.
The water practically burned, and I loved it. "Thanks," I said. Then I went back to digging.
Mikey stayed silent for a moment. "Why are you burying people that you hated?" He asked, timidly. He seemed afraid that I might hurt him.
"Because," I said, still working, "someone needs to do it. I don't want to handle dead bodies, but it has to be done. I didn't-" I sipped water to calm my stomach. "I didn't want to kill some of these guys, but that had to be done too."
I finally finished the hole and rolled one of Kane's friends into it. I had tried to get him to surrender. He had attacked me with a club. Maybe he didn't deserve what he got. But when his friends saw me kill him, they all begged for their lives. They told me they had just gotten swept up in what was happening and they didn't want to fight. I let them go, and they weren't hurt.
I didn't want to make any of them the seventh.
I wrapped my scarf around my face, I would need it when the dust kicked up. I had enough food and water for almost two weeks. According to Ala, that should be plenty of time to reach the next town. I would have taken one of the raiders' cars, but I thought that the town could use them more than me. I didn't kow how to drive anyways.
The sun was just starting to rise. No one else was awake yet. Only one person gave a shit where I went, and I had already said goodbye to him. Mikey was staying in Bricks, hoping that it would be a stable source of food from now on. They had a bunch of new workers to help them farm, so maybe he was right. Staying here seemed like a safe idea.
I couldn't stay though. No, that's a lie. I didn't want to stay. Every time I saw those graves it would remind me of who I was. I was a murderer. A justified murderer, but a murderer nevertheless. I might snap again one day.
I took off down the road, only for a shape to materialize in front of me.
"You're leaving early," Ala remarked.
I sighed. Dragging this out was going to make it more stressful. "I told you I was leaving," I replied. "Do you need something else?"
She shook her head. I was no longer angry at her for kidnapping Mikey and I. She had put us in a shitty situation, but she'd also gotten us out. That didn't mean she was my friend though.
"I decided to come with you. I saw another star falling last night. We can go together."
I almost said no. There was no reason that she couldn't come though. Her knowledge of the desert would be useful. And if we ran into trouble, that trouble would run into her spear.
I shrugged. "Sure."
Ala was already packed and ready to go. We took off down the road. After a few minutes, when the sky was turning a brilliant shade of orange, she said: "You said that your star was broken. Do you think that this star will take us into the sky?"
There was no point in trying to explain science to her. "No. Like it or not, we're stuck here until we die. We may as well make the best of it, because there's no life after this one." Without thinking, I stroked the hammer that was hanging at my waist. If I was lucky, I'd never need it again.
That was the beginning of my life on Colony Pollux.