The Boars swarming the cavernous space create such strong vibrations, loose rocks and dust fall from the ceiling of the basement. The ground shakes beneath us almost making the IV machine tip over in the middle of Koshi’s treatment. He manages to catch it despite his ill state; he groans from exhaustion.
“You mean to tell me nobody dug some kind of escape route in case anything like this ever happened? There has to be a way out that isn’t through all those Boars.”
“HEY! This operation has only existed for a few months; we were getting to it, but obviously, things did not go as planned. We do have a panic room, but it’s small and he would not be able to fit in there with all those cords and machinery attached to him. Besides, I do not run from a fight. I would never abandon the resistance when they need me most. I need to go out there and help them before any more of us get slaughtered.”
She grabs her weapon ready to storm out,
“Wait, wait, wait, WAIT just a second!” I tell her, “And what if you don’t come back and the Boars make their way in here? How am I supposed to protect him and myself at the same time? Like you said earlier, I have never even been in a real fight before.”
She grabs a high voltage prod hanging on the wall and hands it to me,
“Well, you have now. Prove me wrong, okay?”
I nod, not knowing what else to say.
“I will hold them off from coming in here as long as I can. If they find their way in here, assume I’m no longer alive.”
She tells me, before putting on her protective gear and charging out the room, and slamming the door shut behind her.
My first idea is to barricade the door with as many heavy objects as I can find in the room, and there are not many. Everything from sandbags to tables to chairs to boulders, I place against the door; and we still look vulnerable, like that door is going to crash down at any second.
Koshi still looks weak as the antibiotics pump into his veins. He continues coughing and gasping for air, which is limited down here.
“I need you to teach me how to use this shock stick Rio gave me. I have only seen illustrations of it, but never one in real. Where would she even get this? I thought only the bovidae ranch used these for human torture on their ranch.”
“They do, the humans on the bovidae ranch have their own resistance as well. One of them was able to steal it for Rio; it was a favor for a favor. We like to have ammunition the swine will not be expecting. The pro about the cattle prod, or as the bulls like to call them, a hot shot, is that you do not have to get so close to your victim to shock them. Normally the con is it doesn’t incapacitate the victim as the stun gun does, but Rio rigged it to have a higher voltage. The shock can be fatal.”
“You sound like you have experience using these weapons. Teach me.”
“I’m a little incapacitated myself right now, as you can see.” He coughs again.
“You don’t have to show me physically, just explain and I’ll listen.”
“Alright, fine. All you have to do is pop off the guard and you are ready to go.”
“Sounds too easy.”
“Yeah, just don’t accidentally shock yourself.” He says with a chuckle.
“You honestly believe that I’m capable of doing something that stupid?”
“You’re right, you’re right; don’t accidentally shock me with that thing. I’m already dying from something else. But then again, maybe the prod would be quicker.”
“Don’t say that, Koshi. You’re going to be just fine.”
“Oh please, Chinatsu, listen to yourself. Even I was going to survive this Black Death, the Boars sound like they are tearing through the humans. They are about to burst through that door any moment now. I just hope Rio is alright out there.”
“Yeah… me too.”
“Just go hide in the panic room by yourself. I’ll be fine out here.”
“Are you serious?”
“Do I sound like I’m not?”
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I certainly did not trek through rain and mud for hours through unclaimed land, sneak back and forth between here and the med barn avoiding patrols while lugging that piece of junk all to save you from dying just to leave you behind! Everything I’ve done would be in vain if I gave up on you now!”
“No, it wouldn’t. You proved to Rio that you aren’t weak and you proved to me that you aren’t a stuck-up, self-centered traitor. So at least I’ll go knowing I had more than one friend in this forsaken place. You just have to promise me you’ll take care of the rebels once this is all over if there are any left alive. As I said, you are the only one with medical knowledge on our side. You’re the only one who can bring them back. Promise me?”
“I promise… but that still doesn’t mean there is any way I’m abandoning you in this condition.”
He eyes me up and down, and then swiftly leaps up from his chair with what little energy he has left and snatches another prod from off the wall. He holds it up to my neck in an attempt to scare me into submission.
“Get in the panic room, now.”
“Huh! You aren’t going to shock me with that thing. You said it could be fatal.”
“Do you really want to risk it?”
“I’M NOT LEAVING YOU! THERE’S STILL A CHANCE WE CAN OUT OF THIS!”
“If you aren’t afraid of this, maybe you’ll be afraid of me. He starts walking closer and closer to me knowing I’m not wearing my face covering or any protective gear whatsoever.
“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!”
I back away, step by step.
“This is for your own good, Chinatsu. It was nice knowing you. Thanks for trying.”
I suddenly feel electricity flow through my body from top to bottom. My whole body paralyzes in fear and shock; literal shock. My hands tense up and my teeth chatter, until finally, everything fades to black.
I wake up on a cold, metal surface with white lighting filling my vision. All I see are four walls of stone and, the cattle prod lying across from me. My ears are ringing. Before I make any movement, I stay still and wait for the white noise in my ears to clear so I can listen to what’s going on outside. Would I even be able to hear external noise from the inside of a panic room? That would only make sense.
I don’t hear anything. There’s no murmuring, no footsteps, no hoofsteps, no discharging of weapons or the grunts and groans of combat. Silence is much scarier than knowing what is happening on the outside. I try to crawl to the door and open it, but the wooziness takes me over; so does the claustrophobia.
Nausea and terror fill my stomach. I cannot even remember the last time I ate or had an appetite for that matter. My mouth is as dry as the unclaimed land during the summer season and I don’t even recall drinking water today. What a mistake.
I muster up enough energy to open the door and it swings out, allowing the full view of the room to be presented in front of me. I see so much on the walls of the basement and a couple of fallen rebels lying on the ground and the tables once stacked against the door now thrown down. I see the two blonde girls who always kept watch of the cellar doors, now with their eyes closed and limbs flailed in awkward positions.
But I do not see Koshi’s or Rio’s bodies. That’s a good sign. That means there is still a chance they may be alive somewhere. My only priority now is to locate them so we can figure out a way off this ranch before it’s too late. I crawl out of the stone room onto the dirt on all fours. I grab the prod and hold it close to my side as I make my way to the next room, still on my hands and knees. There are more bodies, but none of them belong to Rio or Koshi. I take a sigh of relief.
I stand below the cellar door entrance not knowing what I will face this time when I open them, but I open them nonetheless.
There are cries and oinks in the distance, but not close enough to be of any danger. I throw the prod up outside the doors and pull myself up following it.
As I fall into the mud outside, I realize I am surrounded by metal panels embedded into the ground on either side of me. It feels like I’m stuck in some kind of maze with no other choice but to walk forward. I know this is a trap, but I cannot hide in that panic room forever.
I step with caution holding the prod up in the air ready to shock the first thing that moves. The sound of heavy breathing approaches, so I take off the guard. A male rebel flies past me with no weapons in hand continuously looking back.
Before I can warn him that there is nothing to go back to, he has passed me and is gone. I recognize that I’m now walking in the direction of whatever had him so terrified. There is no other way to go. I continue walking and pick up my speed.
A roar of human cries starts to fill my ears the further I walk between the panels. The panels start to vibrate viciously back and forth as I come upon a human herd yelling, fighting against the Boars and against each other at the exit of the strange maze. We’re outnumbered with nowhere to escape. They have us completely under their control. The herd is acting so uncivilized and chaotic, it makes the mammalians seem right; like they are superior to us.
I push my way through the crowd to the frontlines where I’m met face to face with an extremely hairy, seven foot Boar with tusks intertwined.
“Get back human! Get back!” He yells in my face.
“I’m not resisting, I just want to know what’s going on! I passed out earlier and woke up to this commotion. I’m trying to locate some friends!”
“Ask somebody who cares, human!”
“I will, I will ask the General why you allowed a manor vet to be trampled to death by this stampede of disobedient humans you couldn’t keep under control. I’m sure he’ll care to know that his Boars have zero regards for the loss of laborers in charge with the caretaking of his son, sir.”
He huffs, before escorting me out of the herd.
“Thank you for your service, sir.” I bow to him and walk away swiftly before he could change his mind.
The entire field is a warzone between humans and mammalians. Nobody is at the feeding mill or harvesting crops. The wheels and gears of this ranch’s system have rusted and fallen off. There were small fires from flammable objects used as weapons and glass on the ground from bashed-in barn windows, so I had to watch my step.
I notice another herd being gathered through smaller, metal barricades lined up against a wooden stage. The humans are being tied to the bars by the Boars using everything from rope to zip ties and hoses. When they finally stop resisting, a swine steps from behind the platform and onto the wooden stage in front of everyone.
He bows to all the humans and pulls out a blade. It glints as the rising sun hits its edges. It is a strange, curving dagger that squiggles back and forth. It has words engraved into its side which read, “Superior.”
He tosses it between both his hooves in a playful manner slowly, then increasing his speed. He begins a kind of choreography of him slicing and slashing into the air. His cuts are swift and precise, which I’m assuming is what he wants to demonstrate happens when he bleeds a human. He tosses the dagger up into the air about five feet and it lands on its handle directly on the tip of his snout. The crowd can’t help but be captivated by his artful performance despite the horror that is about to ensue.
As he closes his act, he points his dagger at the crowd and centers it on each human individually. For the first time ever, I hear him speak;
“This, could be you.” He says
In an unsettling, nasally voice.
“To all the rogues and resistors who think that if you have the same numbers or weapons as us that you will be able to turn the tables; you’re wrong. It has nothing to do with our armory, our number of fighters, or even our physical capabilities as mammalians. It has to do with our intellect, which is something your kind will never have over us.”
Suddenly, two Boars bring out a human with a sack over his head. His gear is that out of a rebel’s and his body looks worn down; there are obvious burn marks on his arms from some sort of pre-torture. They throw him onto his knees onstage for everyone to see. He is wheezing and coughing when I see droplets of blood leave his mouth and stain the cloth over his head from the inside out. It can’t be.
Somebody else could have been infected on the ranch. The plague spreads like wildfire when it isn’t treated; that is the only explanation. I refuse to believe it is him.
The two Boars remove the sack from the poor rebel’s head, and my worst fears become true. It is Koshi. I knew in his condition he did not stand a chance, but he was so tough and clever I thought he might have beaten the odds.
I instinctively shout his name, not caring if the Boars or any other rancher suspects a relationship between us. “Koshi!” I shout again, hoping he will see me.
His expression is disoriented for a while, then he makes eye contact with me, and he smiles. I promised him I was going to save him, and now he is about to be bled in front of all these laborers who never cared about him or knew his idealist plans for a better world for humans.
I mouth to him, “I’m sorry.”
He slightly bows his head to me, as soon as The Kunekune sticks and slices one of his body and he falls to the ground instantly.
“No!” I scream making my voice crack.
The Kunekune flips his body over and gives him another slice parallel to the first.
I watch the blood drain from his body and seep into the splits of the wooden stage. It starts to drip over into the crowd unable to move. I step back remembering how he is… was infected. All this blood is contaminating everything and everybody it touches.
Once again, the Kunekune grips Koshi’s body and throws it dead smack in the middle of the herd. His blood splatters over every human tied to the railing. My reflexes allow for me to jump back before any droplets can hit me, but others tied to the barricade were not so fortunate. He is still breathing and conscious of all that is going on around him even if he can barely move.
My first instinct is to rush to his side and hold his hand as he bleeds out. But I know this is impossible. I cannot risk infection; I still haven’t found Rio yet and can’t risk endangering her either. I can’t even give Koshi comfort that Rio is still alive, because I am not sure myself.
He looks to me as if he can understand why I am keeping my distance, I only hope he does. The saddest part is I have only known him for a week and never had the opportunity to see him as he truly was; a fighter. He didn’t just fight when the General ordered him to, but he fought for what he believed in too.
His eyes stay connected with mine the entire time his blood leaks further and further through the soil beneath the herd’s feet. The brown and green grass becomes tinted red. Humans try to shake the blood off their boots only to step back in the puddles again. Suddenly, the field becomes covered in darkness.
I look up to see grey clouds gathering and hear thunder. Acid rain begins pouring down with no warning. The raindrops splatter the blood onto the people’s clothes and create multiple streams in Koshi’s blood allowing it to travel like a bunch of little rivers scattering in all different directions across the normally unquenched soil. When I look back down, I see his eyes have closed and whatever life he had left in them was gone.
I only knew him for a week, but he gave me something to fight for and something to heal. What good is a veterinarian without somebody to heal? I couldn’t heal him from this and I wasn’t sure if I could heal Rio or myself from this loss emotionally. Maybe in the next lifetime, he will be born a better species or at least a more fortunate one.
Some humans begin to faint at the sight of the blood streaming further away from Koshi’s body and staining everything in its path. Others try to climb the barricade while still being tied to it to avoid being tainted by the blood. The Boars refuse to untie them and stand in the blood puddles unfazed. They should be in complete panic and nobody knows the danger that lies ahead. I keep thinking it is not my responsibility to warn all these humans here who should have known better than to challenge the mammalians in any form or fashion. But I made a promise to Koshi and I have to stand by it; the same way Panacea did for what my mother asked of her.
I walk up to one Boar with a snare around one human trying to bite his way through the zip ties confining his wrists.
“Sir! You need to listen to me!”
“Get back or you’re next human!”
“Please, I’m begging you! I’m a vet from the manor, and the rebel you just killed had contracted an ancient disease called the Black Death. Your men have handled him without wearing face coverings or any protective gear, and on top of that, you have just thrown his mangled body into a crowd of hostile humans! This thing is already killing off General Pol’s ranch, don’t allow for us to be next!”
He looks conflicted on whether he should continue tackling the belligerent human or take heed to my advice, but before he can come to a conclusion, the Kunekune continues his performance with his blade as the Boars bring out a second rebel, and this time it is a female human. There are battle wounds all over her arms and abdomen. Her white tank top is halfway torn off and is tossed on her side onto the stage.
As the Boars snatches off the sack from her head I cannot believe my eyes.
They got Rio, too.
Her eyes flutter open as she becomes aware of her surroundings. She squints and observes the crowd, and they widen in horror when she finally spots Koshi’s body lying in murky, rainwater surrounded by disorderly and unruly humans whose only concerns were themselves. Tears drip down her temples as she screams through her teeth in grief.
She pops up even though she is tied and kicks one of the Boars in the stomach and the other one in the face. She runs up behind the Kunekune and knocks him over causing the blade to fly out of his hand. She goes down with him and falls closer to the end of the stage. She spots the dagger a few feet away from his hoof and tries to grab it with the little wiggle room her wrists have. She succeeds.
She starts cutting the wire with the dagger still covered in Koshi’s blood until the wire breaks. With the “Superior” blade in hand, she rushes behind the Kunekune and cuts his arteries the same way he did to those they deemed as “rogue” in two swift slices.
Nobody, not even the ranchers notice as he collapses to the floor in the same spot where they threw Rio herself moments ago. She hovers over him as he clenching onto where his heart would be and in that very spot, Rio punctures allowing for the swine blood to spew all over her face.
She tosses the blade offstage into the rumbustious herd so loud you don't even hear the clink of the steel as it hits the ground. She yells with tribal fervor to anyone who can hear, “We are Superior now!”
The mammalians and the humans cease warring to stare at the person this voice belongs to.