When I wake up from a deep, heavy sleep to unfamiliar people staring down at me, I know what has happened—I have been sold to new masters. It is always the same story, new faces, new lies, new cages, same ending. I know that whatever they promise—food, companionship, freedom—will be taken away. There will be injections and medical tests, whips and shock collars and days where I am not fed so I can be in peak fighting form. They will jab me with shockers through the bars of my cage until I'm snarling with rage, and then dump me into the arena so I can take my anger out on my opponent. Then I will be forcibly hauled back into my cage once more, all for this to start over again.
So when one of the unfamiliar people smiles down at me and utters a greeting, I snarl and lash out with my claws.
They do not hit; the speaker is female and even though I have been called “beast” and “monster” all my life, I will not harm a female. It is only intended to scare, and it works. The female shouts something and suddenly three males pile onto me. I wait to feel the familiar pain of a shock collar around my throat, but my new owners only grab me and try to hold me down to the ground.
I always fight. It never works, but someday…someday it might. Someday I might break free.
Or someday they might snap my neck and end this. Either one works.
I snarl viciously at them, ignoring the jabber of their words. It is another language I do not know, even though I recognize that some of the faces that swim before my wild eyes are blue, with horns. Mesakkah. Another body presses onto the pile and I jerk my shoulders, trying to lift from the floor. My snarls fill the cargo bay, drowning out their words, and my slaver drips onto the hand of one who gets far too close to me. Someone barks an order.
Ropes are brought out. I fight harder, because I know what ropes mean—they will hold me down and do things to me. I wear old, scarred brands of former masters on my flanks, underneath my shaggy fur. I have scars from old fights and other times I was not an obedient slave. I hiss and rage at them, and even as I do, even through the stink of their pressed bodies, a newer smell wafts through the ship's hold.
Cold fresh air.
I am so close to outside. To freedom.
It makes me fight all the harder. I renew my struggles, ignoring the protests of my muscles, the screaming pain in my bones as I am held down by strong hands of people who have been fed regular meals and have never been starved to ensure a certain weight class. It is cruel of these new masters to bring me this close to freedom.
I will die to try to get to it, and I raise my claws, trying to reach for the throat of the nearest blue face. The male gives me a thin-lipped look of disapproval, barks a word, and then something hard and heavy is slammed into my head.
I do not fall unconscious. My head is harder than that. But I'm dazed, and as I stop fighting, I hear the others arguing amongst each other. A lighter voice—female, perhaps? my new owner?—exclaims in irritation at one of the others, who answers with a sharp tone. Perhaps she does not like that her merchandise is damaged. I wait for my wits to return, and as I do, I am flipped onto my belly and my hands are tied behind my back. My feet are lashed together next, and then more ropes are added.
I am trussed like the beast I am.
I open one eye, slowly, and glare at the yellow-haired female that leans over me, frowning. She says something to me, her hands on her knees. She expects an answer.
I will give her one, then. Snarling, I snap my teeth and lunge for her again, only to be pushed aside by a big ugly mesakkah male with warped horns and a scarred visage. He steps between me and the female, glaring, spear butt raised over my head warningly. That must be what hit me before, and he's ready to do it again if I attack once more.
With a feral grin, I launch myself off the floor and at him.
Gren has never turned down a dare.