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Where No Flowers Bloom

gaveedra 7's life on his homeworld, where lives are spent to amuse the great spineless ones

Part 1

Prologue

Born one of many, he was spilled from the warmth and shelter of the chamber to lie on the cold floor to cough and choke out the growth medium - 4-6 minutes of oxygen depravation results in varying degrees of brain damage - at the feet of the medicos and the crèche workers - four targets, no weapon, non-combatants - until he was able to sit, shakily, on his own.

"That's a keeper."

Hands - splayed against the dark packed earth of the hatchery and still damp with blue birthing fluids. His hands. Hands hard on him - three opponents, vulnerable at genitals, kneecaps, non-combatants - pulling him forward as uncoordinated muscles struggled to put into action training imbedded in a newborn brain.

Laughter. "Look at him go!"

Pain - flesh wound, right shoulder, heat damage - and he screamed jerking against the cage of knees and thighs as the medico branded him.

"Take it then. It's intact, good brain function. The Gaveedra line's always been a good one."

1.

Cycles of learning what he knew; how to walk and run, how to speak the rasping tongue of the Spineless Ones, how to fight - for that was his function - how to live. Learning too things he did not know; the small words and gestures of the crèche language, how to catch the attention of the trainers by being beautiful and wild and showy, how to winnow lies from truth, how to find the secret moments of quiet in the dorms where fifty others of his kind learned and fought and waited.

"Gaveedra -" Whispers in the dark. It was lights out, the trainers gone and the crèche wardens just past their rounds. It was the free time - stolen moments of pleasure or fear or hate. Killing had been done during lights out and other body things more promising. Gaveedra rolled over and sat up, drawing his blanket with him to hide the pallor of his skin.

"A?"

"Did you hear - did you hear?" It was Narrun12, crouched at the foot of his bed and out of sight of the doorway should a warden come along.

"What?" Gaveedra looked around to see many of the others also awake, eyes shone in the dimness and crèche-tounge whispers drifted like dreams in the dark. "I heard nothing."

"The winnowing." Narrun hissed. "It comes."

Gaveedra's mouth soured with fear. The winnowing.

"The trainers have not spoken." He gestured disbelief though no one could see. His fingers were shaking and he tucked them under his chin and chewed on his lip.

The winnowing was what they were all waiting for - their greatest hope and greatest fear all in one. The winnowing would free them from the crèche, from the hard hands and anonymous, dull routine of the training, eating, sleeping and waiting. For those who lived.

"They will not."

"But this -" Saliia4 and her clone Saliia5 whispered in unison and pulled at their pale hair which hung past their ears. Gaveedra touched his own hair - the color of copper wire, shining and straight. He'd never seen it before. It just now brushed his jawline, a touch that still made him flinch. It was new. Always before the crèche keepers came by and stripped the hair that grew on their heads - and was just beginning to dust some other places - away.

"It is different." He agreed, pressing a fingertip into his mouth to chew thoughtfully on it. The habit was comforting, if forbidden. Small disobediences were overlooked and too much obedience drew attention. "But sometimes things are different."

Sometimes the trainers changed things, sometimes they were kind when they had been cruel. Other times they gave punishment for no reason; Gaveedra was terrified of the trainers, they all were. Trainers and whitecoats held all their lives in their hands; over the years, the unfit and undesirable had been culled. He had watched as cadre-sibs were dragged away to be recycled on the careless word of a whitecoat or trainer. He had groveled more than once to keep from being culled himself. Their fear pleased the trainers and it made Gaveedra sick with a heat that he knew better than to reveal.

"So they can tell us apart." Narrun hissed. All the others fell silent for a moment, all of them feeling the same awe - near worship - and fear.

"The Spineless Ones -" Gaveedra whispered, falling into the complex tongue of their masters. Their lords. The ones who gave them purpose - those who ruled their every moment, every hope, every dream. It was for them that Gaveedra struggled so hard - to be the best - to be the victor. To win. So did everyone else, all the world turned for them.

"Through the winnowing." Narrun whispered. "So they can tell us apart. It will be soon."

"When -" Gaveedra leaned off the side of his cot to grip Narrun's arm and shake her, feeling wild, dizzy with excitement. She knew things - she talked with the trainers when most of them avoided them. "When?"

She tried to jerk away, wincing, but Gaveedra was stronger. "I don't know. Soon."

"Soon." Gaveedra released her, licking his lips. "Soon."

Tomorrow would not be soon enough.

2.

"All right you runts!" The bellow jerked Gaveedra's attention from his food. Around him the scrape of fingers on plastic bowls fell silent as the Overseer waddled down the center of the chow hall. Fingertips shifted minutely against the edges of tables and dishes as the cadre whispered among themselves in silence.

"You been learned." The Overseer turned to them, huge and heavy - nearly seven feet tall - bred for power and durability not grace. Bred to control, bred to train and bred to serve the Spineless Ones - as they all were. Small dark eyes scanned the tables and Gaveedra held his breath, hoping for invisibility. The Overseer cracked the punishment prod against his big thigh and the whole room flinched.

"You been ed-u-cated." The rumbling voice barked. "You as pretty as you gonna get. Clever as the whitcoats made you. Now you gonn strut you stuff, runts. It's time."

"-time - time -" Whispers now, the cadre too excited to keep obedient silence.

Gaveedra met Neruun's eyes, breathing fast. He wasn't hungry now - adrenaline already making his heart pound and his blood race. His gaze flicked around the room, measuring himself against the others. He knew, without pride, that he was among the best of the cadre - most of the others could not hold against his strength and reflexes. There were only a few worthy competitors; Karril17 had broken a hip yesterday, he would still be weak. Gaveedra's attention turned back to Neruun again, measuring this time. She was as fast as he was, nearly as strong. And, like him, she wanted to win.

Over the cycles, they'd learned each other's strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes Neruun won the sparring matches, sometimes he did. Sometimes they fought each other into exhaustion. Gaveedra's eyes narrowed, sharp with challenge, even as Nerrun's did. He would win. It mattered now and he would win.

"Up! Up! Up!"

They scrambled from the benches, food abandoned at the Overseer's call. The cadre was driven to the washing chambers and, under supervision, they cleaned themselves. As Gaveedra washed his new hair, he saw the Saliia's, wet and shaking approach one of the trainers. He pulled his glance sharply away, ashamed. Still he could not but glance back, hoping he was wrong but … the twins were seeking favors. Refuge. He could hear their whispered pleas over the sound of water. They were afraid. They always had been.

There was nothing wrong with them, they were strong, fast, pretty and graceful. They learned quickly, they were smart and they protected each other fiercely. Yet they rarely won the matches. They did not burn for victory, the way Neruun did, or he did. Gaveedra had faced them in matches, though he didn't like it, and he could always see the fear in them. They flinched away from his strikes, played too cautious, costing themselves victory. He couldn't stand to see it and he had tried to drive it from them but the fear had only gotten worse. Now - Gaveedra glanced up through his dripping hair - now he could see them leaning against the Overseer. They were trying to avoid the winnowing.

"Aya - runts! Quick now!" The Overseer, arms around the twins, hollered at everyone else to move. Saliia4 caught his gaze; blue eyes wide and frightened. Mouth thin, Gaveedra looked away and left them behind. They were not warriors, taking shelter under the Overseer's body, not anymore.

Wet and naked, Gaveedra hurried with the others down the packed earth hallways to the huge room where they usually did their practices. The room was enormous, able to hold all of them while they fought and practiced under the watchful gaze of the trainers in the catwalks above. Walls of blank, dull gray earth were braced by rusted steel, the ceiling soared into shadows where catwalks crossed and the whitecoats sometimes stood to observe them. The red eyes of cameras gleamed in the dimness, always watching. At one end, huge steel doors, pitted and scarred from accidental blows, had always stood locked. Gaveedra knew, they all did, that those doors led out of the crèche into - he didn't know what they led to and he had only prayed to the Spineless Ones that someday he would find out.

Today, those doors were open.

Noise poured in, harsh, rhythmic, deafening; Gaveedra could hear screams and smell blood. He and the others spread reflexively into the training room, each staking out a territory, wary in the sudden light and sound. Gaveedra kept a corner of his attention on Neruun12, knowing her as his greatest opponent. He could see her watching him too and bared his teeth in challenge. He was shaking, naked skin prickling with adrenaline and fear and hunger. He could taste the challenge ahead, hungered to answer it, to throw himself on it and win. Behind them, the doors to the crèche slammed shut and all of them jumped in unison. The Overseer was gone, the catwalks above empty. They had been given no instruction.

It was long minutes before Karril17 stalked forward, Gaveedra could see the unsteady balance from his injured hip, to peer beyond the open door. His dark skin was stark in the harsh light spilling from the unknown, he was naked and narrow and weaponless and dwarfed by the newness beyond. Karril had always been the first to become restless, sometimes earning punishment, sometimes reward, for his curiosity. Gaveedra had never been able to predict when curiosity was acceptable and so he stifled his own and let Karril or others take the risk. After a moment, Karril twisted his hand, calling them forward with a cadre sign of careful approach. They each took their turn, looking beyond the world they had known since hatching, then drawing away, shaken.

"What should we do?"

"Wait for instruction." Always the safest answer.

"How long?"

Gaveedra didn't know who spoke first, he only heard the questions echo around him in cadre whispers and in faces as bewildered as he was. He crept forward again and looked beyond the door, the noise hitting like a blow, the lights flashing and the scent of blood making him pant. There was death out there and the screams of wounded.

There was a great arena beyond their training room. A true arena, Gaveedra knew it in the flat, pure way he knew his own name, or the names of every joint in the human body - by implanted knowledge. Bright lights shone over glaring white sand - white except for the puddles and smears of blood and the crumpled shapes of bodies - high walls the color of bone gave way to hazy shadows that he strained to see clearly. The Spineless Ones were up there, they had to be and he longed to see them, his masters, his rulers, and his gods. The noise and vivid flash of lights defeated him and, shaking, Gaveedra turned his attention back to the arena proper. If he could not see the Spineless Ones, he would make them see him.

The arena was huge and bare and little more than a killing ground. Bright green lasers darted down from the audience high above, chasing after the figures fleeing across the sand, leaving screams or corpses in their wake.

"There are others," Kaliin hissed, crouched beside the door with a handful of white sand in his fist. "Like us, others."

Yes, there were others, naked like them, lanky and half-grown. Gaveedra squinted at features he had never seen before and others who were duplicates of faces he had known all his life. "Other cadres," Gaveedra muttered, glancing over at Neruun12 and away from her dead duplicate lying not too far away in the sand. There were other openings in the arena wall, pitch black against the harsh lights and every now and then a group or individual would dart out and make the run into the killing ground.

In the center of the arena was a great hole, an iron lip kept the sand from spilling away and dozens of chains dangled down into it. Those warriors who survived the dash across the sand leapt for the chains, scrambling down them in a mad race to escape the lasers. The lasers, Gaveedra noticed, were not terribly accurate but there were so many, as if every seat in the arena came with its own weapon. The sand was completely open and the hole in the center was vulnerable to every laser in the place. It was clear what was wanted, the cadre had been run through obstacle courses before; the goal was the hole and the chains and whatever lay below. The obstacle was the Audience itself.

"If we wait too long," Neruun's voice came from above him and Gaveedra twisted around to see her standing at his back. She gave him a sharp grin at his carelessness and he blushed - another time and he might have taken a killing wound for his foolishness. "there will be no other targets to distract the hunters."

She was right and Gaveedra stood, gaze flicking to his cadre, seeing the familiar rush of tension and eagerness. Lone individuals came under concentrated fire out there, those in a group could use each other as cover. Gaveedra swayed, back, forward, breathing hard and sweating already - trying to gage his own cadre for the moment, the right moment to run - he wanted another to go first, to draw fire and give him a better chance of survival. He knew that every one of his cadre thought the same thing, hoping for another to go first, scheming for another to die. He knew -

Gaveedra threw himself aside, grabbing the hands that had been aiming to shove him onto the sand. Twisting, he threw Yeaa2 out into the open where he screamed, leapt to his feet, ran two steps and died. Eager and fierce, Gaveedra fought with his cadre, snarling and shouting, as the weak were forced out. In a sudden burst, seeing a chance when four of his companions were thrown out at once, Gaveedra leapt out of the doorway and ran. Now, his heart thundered. Now was the time. Now was the chance. There were others on the sand, sprinting as he was, jinking and twisting across the killing ground in a dance of brilliant green lights and hot blood. Neruun, flashed a grin at him and leapt ahead, always faster. Dead bodies flashed by as Gaveedra sprinted for the hole, writhing wounded, sticky sand, dangerous footing, distracting lights that would kill him if he paused. The darting lasers grew thicker, the smell of death stronger, he danced back and forward, slagged sand cutting his bare feet. The hole was huge, he had no idea what waited within it - Gaveedra leapt onto the shallow lip and threw himself into the air, grunting, straining for one of the chains hanging from the unknown ceiling above.

Cold metal cut into his hands and Gaveedra screamed as a sudden burn skimmed across his hip - flesh wound, heat damage - his own flesh stinking under the brief touch of a laser, hands slipping at the agony. Blinded by tears, Gaveedra clung fiercely to the chain, slithering down it as blood slithered down his leg. He had to go, he was still vulnerable to the Audience. It wasn't over, he wasn't dead. He was - he could - still win. Groaning in pain, goaded by desperation, Gaveedra scrambled down into the darkness.

TBC (041205)