The hand fully recovered in thirty minutes, fingers taking the most time. An arm took an hour, or, as it was with all other appendages, a few seconds if the removed limb was pressed against the severed flesh. Feet were only ten minutes, yet separate toes needed longer. Lower leg was about an hour; cut from the thigh, though? Three.
He wished he had longer to study, especially with such a broken in specimen, but the first sun had set. It wouldn’t be long before Bren or the kitchen workers would check on him. Nick had done a well enough job of stifling the lad with a quick blow to the throat. He even dislocated the third and fourth vertebrae so he couldn’t feel Nick remove the limbs. However, as he replaced it, growing pains were always a nasty business; even with his throat partially shut, he spewed bile, pelting the underside of the stall’s canopy hard enough to spray back down. Nick had chosen the stall the furthest away from the kitchens, from the main road, but the sound alone was sure to draw attention, pattering like a heavy downpour.
Nick helped him on his side, rubbed his back with the blunt of the spear. Its tip was coated in blue blood, a reflection of his old friend but only just. It didn’t have anywhere near enough on it. Yet. A few more days, and it should be a spitting image. However, he doubted it would be from this kid. Not because of the experiments, no, but because Nick talked his ear off during. After he had calmed from the jab and severance and Nick explained what he was going to do, he was more curious than afraid, which what fear held was gone after he cut off the first arm. Nick held it up so he could see, that one reattached so he could work on specific parts of it, all the while the kid’s eyes held a morbid gleam. Gone now, taken by the surge through his body.
At last he saw a reprieve, panting, gasping at that rancid, acrid air. Bile was never a scent one would call enticing (save for ambergris); couple that with the pungent layer of fermented fish, and, truly, he was starting to feel hungry. Nick searched the stall as the boy panted, and found a cloth under the bar, using it to cover the pile of limbs before helping the lad to his feet. He had a name, but, for the life of him, Nick could not remember, so he’ll simply call him Subject A, which was having a hard time adjusting to his new legs.
“Take your time,” Nick mumbled, patting Subject A’s back, helping clear the crackling in his breathing. “No rush... though we should get out of this stall soon. As in the next few minutes.”
He huffed, trying to chuckle, but only had the strength to warble his breathing a little. The rest of it went into simply standing there, shaking like a leaf. He took a step, towards the raised bar in the back of the stall, and it proved too much, falling, kept from smashing into the garish puddle around by his good doctor. Nick once thought about being a doctor, as he explained to Subject A as he worked, but could not get behind the Oath.
“There are some people in this world that don’t deserve treatment,” he explained, chopping off the middle finger and working towards the ring, the thumb and index already removed. “Doctor’s, under their Oath, have no choice but to treat everyone. It’s not their position to play God... However, look me in the eye and tell me you would care for a killer? Not just a ‘heat of the moment’ sort of killer but somebody who planned for months to take not one but several lives. What would stop them from looking up your name after? What if you botched it up, which they are always looking to blame something on somebody, and want to enact revenge? What do you think would happen? Let’s say the person was never caught or even considered for the crimes and they seemed like a random, normal person, only for you to give a wrong prescription or cut the wrong way and then POOF your whole family is now in pieces and small parts are made into a cock ring as a memory.”
Shame, too. He loved to work the scalpel, and it loved him. He might not have had any formal training, but he spent enough time watching surgeries while at college and even picked up one himself to test on fruits and raw meats. He got to the point of removing a turkey heart within a minute with only three cuts.. However, once he took an interest, he sought out those who were trying to get in the medical field... and lost all desire. Which he explained to Subject A, about the grueling hours, the insurmountable debt (“unless you were a ‘special case’”), the cutthroat world and how it removed people on a whim. In fact, the very path to becoming a doctor seemed to contradict the Oath. It treated those that were able to make it through as though they were the gods among all the squalor that tried and were stifled. Law was very similar- but Subject A finally found the strength to stand upright again, so he could stop reminiscing. For at least another step.
He made it out of the stall, if only by two steps, but it was enough for Nick to shut the bar behind, tucking the edge of the tarp in it so as to make it look like a solid, brown floor. It wasn’t much, considering the bile that still pattered down upon it, but it would be enough that simply gave it a cursory glance –such as Bren. She exclaimed, rushing to meet him and Subject A as the lad fell again.
“Diresh!” She cried out, swooping under his other arm. Her face was a mix of fear, anger, and disgust, her nose wrinkled as she smelled the horrid tincture splashed on his front. She glared at Nick, teeth gritting, face turning green as she lightened her breathing. “What did you do?”
“I was simply showing him some Earth customs,” Nick said. “He wanted to know what experiments were.”
“What did you do to Diresh?”
“Right. That was his name... and, as you can see, physically, nothing permanent.” Can’t speak for mental, though.
She scoffed, and raised Subject A’s head.
“What did dex do to you?”
“You’ll forgive him,” Nick continued. “His throat’s a little sore. It should be back to normal after a drink or two, though-”
“I wasn’t asking you!” She caressed his chin, tears ebbing on his- oh dear Lord. Of course, of all the people he had to be stuck with, Nick’s test subject would be Bren’s romantic interest. “Diresh.”
“I’m fine,” he croaked, trying to shake her away, but the exertion almost caused him to fall again. Meanwhile, it unleashed a new wave of bile onto the stone foundation.
“Yes. Diresh. That’s his- er, dex name,” Nick grumbled, patting the lad’s back. “You see? You stressed dex to heaving again. I was trying to help dex to the kitchen so I could give dex a drink, but n- wow, he’s putting out a loud. Look at dex go... Where was I? Aside realizing how many times us humans use pronouns as we talk.”
“Do you always talk this much?”
“Yes!” Diresh, of all people, exclaimed, panting as his whole body relaxed. He allowed them to ease him back to his feet, swaying, unable to keep his head upright, but Nick could see the coy grin on the lad’s face. He took a deep, raspy breath, stilling himself with the first, and he seemed content by the fifth, looking to Bren. “Yes, dex does. And what dex talks about... You should hear about dex world, Bren. It’s... a loreshu. It’s no wonder a simple stab didn’t work on dex; they are literally killing themselves to help others live. They fight for the right to live at all. I understand dex now, and understand what dex does isn’t from a place of lour or spere, but love and rential.”
Nick... never felt such a confusing mix of admiration, embarrassment, guilt... and indigestion. To hear such praise, for the evils of his world; he wasn’t sure to be thankful for it or stab Subject A through the head then and there. It was obvious there wasn’t something right up there, so it could be considered course correction... and he wasn’t the only one thinking it. Bren’s face reflected the horror playing behind her eyes, the thoughts, the answers and questions melding into one and the same.
No more words were exchanged between the three. They made their way to the kitchen in silence, but it was quite apparent that wasn’t going to be their first stop. Something must be done with Subject A’s demeanor, his disposition at the time. When they reached the main road, it was decided that he needed to pay a visit to the lake. And it would only be Bren and Subject A. Nick watched after them a moment, thankful to have a moment away from the two lovebirds, but felt unwanted attention, prickling on his backside.
Nick turned around. There were at least sixty in the kitchen, forty of them at the tables, and not a single one’s eye was any higher than the belt. This was why he needed his boxers; that damnable package always got too much attention, even though it was only a modest one, if that. That didn’t stop them from continue to watch as he made his way up the steps and to one of the tables, and only when he sat did some of them look away. Others, those far enough to continue to see, could not, as if ensnared; his boxers couldn’t be dry soon enough.
It was another night of sea bug and cave carrots, but there was something about this batch that tasted better than the previous. Perhaps it was because he had a step towards enlightenment, but the crisp, buttery flavor of the oversized brine shrimp seemed stronger, the cave carrots more supple, more filling. He found himself wanting seconds, and ate it in bliss as Bren and Diresh finally joined. Diresh looked like a new man, his stone scales gleaming in the last light, sullied just as quick as he engorged on his quadruple serving.
Bren, meanwhile, didn’t seem to be hungry. In fact, she looked ready to hunt than to eat. Her eyes seemed to glow, the fire in them so hot, so bright, burning into Nick’s nape as he bent over that sea bug. Her hands were flat on the table, shaking it hard enough to make his plate rattle. Indeed, there would seem to be no sating her hunger until his heart was on a platter and his head ran through a spear and placed at the edge of the village –which, even considering it, took away what was left of Nick’s appetite.
He only had a bite left, anyways, and majority of the others already went to bed. The red sun only had a last gasp, clinging to the horizon with desperation, so he discarded the husk, washed his plate, his fork and knife, and started towards the mountain.
Raising his spear.
Bren’s met it, the tip snagging on the haft, but she didn’t have the chance to pull him as he yanked her, making her stagger. He spun the spear, and the blunt caught her on the chin, catching it as he closed the gap, looking into her eyes.
“Careful now,” he said, replacing the blunt with his hand, spinning the spear back to his side. “Awfully close to your bedtime.”
“Monster,” she spat, recoiling from his hand. “I will find a way to kill you. Especially after what you did to my kin.”
“... Huh. That was a miscalculation on my part... though, at the same time-”
“Stop. Talking... Just stop.”
Nick chortled, bowing to her, making it into a grand gesture. Rolling his wrist, flourishing his arm, putting his all into it. He was in her debt, after all; her wish was his consideration. He simply sneered at her as he righted, returned by a bitter scowl, and they returned to Diresh, scraping out the last of the flesh inside the fourth bug. He patted his belly, stood, and made for the mountain all on his own, leaving him and Bren to the lovely little basket in the entry.
But, speaking of miscalculations.
As they approached it, Nick heard her raise her spear again, its wood clacking just enough on the stone, not pulled up quick enough to give off that small tap. He wheeled, raising his own spear, but this time when the two met she yanked it off to the right, causing them both to clatter on the stone ground. She launched at him, not with balled fists but open hands, pulling him tight against her as she shoved him into the basket. Her lips pressed against his, stealing a kiss, but her eyes would not shut, the fire in them burning hotter than ever... and he only realized now that it wasn’t out of fury.
He managed to shove her back, long enough to catch a breath, before she latched on again... but sleep won in the end, locked in that state. Her lips were practically sealed on his as she sighed and snored away, her body like lead on top, holding him down. Those scales weren’t for show, and they dug into him, pushed him down into the basket all night until, at morning’s first light, he felt how the people pretty much immediately woke to its touch. Her whole body lightened as the warmth blazed on her back, and he was able to take a full breath at last, panting against her face.
Her eyes fluttered open, calm, still, but, as soon as she saw him, the fire was back. She gagged, jumping out of the basket, and crossed her arms, glaring at him. Sadly, the jig was up and he could see it for the show that it was. Which took all the allure out of their relationship; he was hoping for a good, old-fashioned, hate-hate rivalry, but no. Must all women love the bad boys?
“Morning, sunshine,” he said, leaping out of the basket, as well... and felt a bit red as he realized his original lance was standing proud. “You see? This is why I need my boxers. It gets way too awkward without them.”
“What are y- By Reyla’s mercy, what is that!”
“... Okay. Not going to lie: Best reaction I ever got, but, hopefully, this will be the last time for that. I hope. Let me go back to my desal-station then we can begin the d-”
She lunged at him again, kissing him, but this time he was smart. He raised his arms, as if ready to box, and was able to shrug her off.
“What’s wrong with you? Mating season or something? Wait, are you at least of-age?”
“She’s well past it,” Diresh said, making them both jump. “Mirrha, I’m in charge of fishing today.”
“Whose accompanying you?”
“Hrush. Styr’s always late, so I’m going to be waiting at the kitchen.”
“Alright. Have a nice day.” He left... and she must have noticed Nick looking at her, returning her hot gaze on him. “What?”
“‘Mirrha’, huh? Where’s your soul tender?”
She scoffed, and stomped towards the mines, leaving him to lead with his spear to the stall and finally hide that extra. As he said, it was nothing but trouble... though he never thought he would run into a milf on an alien planet. Life was certainly full of surprises... He lied, though. He had two stops to make. Considering how active they were yesterday, the fish will love some fresh-cut bait. It was the least he could do for his potential-never step-son; he helped make it, after all.