A lonely harvester operator on a remote terraforming project discovers a wild beast that he adopts as a companion, but the relationship isn’t all that it seems. (21 min)
Rafah heard the crunch of bone and the piercing squeals over the engine roar. He palmed the emergency stop button, and the blades ceased their violent spin. Even the plated glass of the cab couldn’t completely drown out the cries.
His hand hovered over the ignition switch. He knew he’d have to check the damage, however much gore he’d have to clean from the intake. With a sigh he reached behind him for his helmet and a long, stained brush.
Rafah kept the business end of the brush at arms length and made his way around the platform toward the cries. His shoulders drooped when he saw the grisly scene.
It was a mother pard and two pups.
Most of the adult pard was gone. The blades had dismembered beyond recognition. Lying beside her was one of the pups – no bigger than his hand. It had deep lacerations down its side, and it was pinned to the muddy ground. The other one looked unhurt, but was pulling at its injured sibling by the scruff of the neck, feebly attempting to free it from the harvester’s jaws.
Life out with the science expeditions could be tough. Lonely. Rafah had lost most of his left foot and two fingers to frostbite on one excursion to an ice planet, and had innumerable other scars and broken bones. He was secretly proud of every one of them. On that same ill-fated trip he’d carried a man nearly a hundred kilometres on his back to shelter. He was a grunt, and he knew it. He volunteered for the shitty jobs, and most of the time he enjoyed the work. He relished being the guy people could rely on, took satisfaction from the fact that he never refused anything that was asked of him, however hard, however much sweat and blood he had to shed to get the job done right.
But watching that little gore-splattered pard pup, futilely attempting to rescue its dying sibling from his monstrous harvester wasn’t easy, even for him. Rafah knew what he should do, of course. He should take the brush and bring it down on the pards’ skulls without any more hesitation. End their suffering right now.
He knew that, but bringing himself to actually do it was another matter entirely.