When Illan is given the choice between getting put down like a mad dog or exile on a hostile, desert planet, he chooses to survive.
(This is a survival horror story. Approximately 5k words.)
© Sam Clover 2022
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced or modified in any form without the sole, explicit permission of the author, and credit properly given. This story is also available on the free fiction archives ‘Dreamkle’, which is partnered with The Erotica Abyss Discord server, and ‘Archiveofourown’.
This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Warning: Graphic violence, execution-style death.
Author’s Note: This story was written for a ‘heatwave’ event in The Erotica Abyss discord server. It is not meant to be a professional work, and therefore the editing process has been… somewhat relaxed. You have been warned. Enjoy!
“Your name, inmate.”
The guards jostled the next man forward. His shackles rattled between his ankles as he stumbled. They shoved him onto the metal stool with the blunt end of their cattle prods.
That part, the violence, it wasn’t unusual. At the best of times, the world treated them like deformed chickens at an overcrowded factory farm. It was unavoidable. Those fuckers tossed two thousand hardened criminals into a pit together. No guards, no safety, no structure. All the food and water going in flowed through the violent pricks at the top of the hierarchy, leaving the rest of them to fight for scraps.
But this… This was new. Now the guards were inside, and wearing hazmat suits. They wielded cattle prods with shaking hands. Their high-strung shouted commands dripped with near-shrieking fear, and somehow they’d corralled the entire prison population into neat, single-file lines in a maze of tents.
Someone screamed. A loud clatter and a thunk came from somewhere down the makeshift corridor of plastic curtains in what used to be their yard.
Illan turned to look, but a guard’s thick gloved hand knocked his shoulder to force him forward. His mask fell off. Gasps and grunts of surprise chorused through the guards nearest to him. One of them gagged and lurched to turn away.
“Pick that up,” a guard barked at him and jabbed the cattle prod into his ribs with his finger poised threateningly over the trigger. “Now, inmate!”
Illan bent down to pick it up. He kept every move nice and slow, because the guards were jumpy and there were at least four of the trigger-happy fucks within reaching distance. The mask was a cheap plaster thing, painted with one long vine down the centre that had bullets for thorns.
He dusted it off and slipped it back in place where the skin used to be of his left cheek and eye.
Another jab forced him to shuffle forward. His own shackles clinked loud against the floor.
In front of him, his cell mate, Lars had what remained of his ear pressed to a plastic-covered receiver. Something had changed about his demeanor that Illan couldn’t put his finger on. In there, there was always tension. They were always on high alert—it was the only way to survive. But the colour had drained from Lars’s rich tanned skin. He wasn’t reacting to the noises in the corridor, and instead kept his wide eyes locked on the woman on the other side of the plastic wall.
His hand started to shake, tapping the receiver against his ear.
What was she saying to him?
Minutes ticked by before Lars spoke. In a quiet rumble that only Illan and one of the guards were close enough to hear, he said, “I’ll take the stud.”
He set down the receiver. His wide eyes passed over Illan and glistened with the threat of tears that he would never dare let fall. Not in that place. And before Illan realized what was happening, the guard moved behind him, took out a stud gun, and shot it into the back of Lars’s neck.
Lars’s head snapped forward. Illan recoiled with a jerk and one good wide eye as blood sprayed across him and the plastic curtain. A hush fell over the rest of the lineup. Two guards moved in to drag Lars’s twitching body out of the corridor through a flap, and then the one with the stud gun grabbed Illan by the arm and forced him onto the stool.
“Your name, inmate.”
Illan’s eyes fluttered. His stomach twisted into knots and he darted his one-eyed gaze over the mess of the only friend he’d had in that fucking place. “What…”
A cattle prod slammed into his ribs. Pain shot through his chest. He jerked away with a wheeze as the guard shouted down at him, “Pick up the fucking thing and tell her your fucking name before I make the decision for you.” He lifted the stud gun in front of the good side of Illan’s face and cocked it.
Illan’s hand shook so hard, it took him two tries to pick up the blood-slicked receiver. His breath turned shallow and shaky as he tried to stifle his fear and shock, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t stop shaking. He stared wide-eyed at the woman. “Illan Solar.”
She typed into a console. Everything about her remained stoic, from her bored gaze to her lazy strokes across the keyboard. “Illan Solar. Here you are.” She eyed the screen for a long time before she bothered to treat him to a disinterested glance. “The entire prison population has been infected with a flesh-eating parasite.”
“No fucking shit,” Illan grumbled.
The cattle prod jammed into his already-tender ribs and Illan lurched sideways with a grunt at the fresh splash of agony.
“A highly infectious parasite. Treatment is expensive and lengthy, and you’re a criminal.” She offered a shrug and a lazy flourish of her hand. “Due to public outcry about wasting valuable resources on murderers and rapists, the government has made the decision to close the prison and remove all infected inmates.”
“I haven’t even had my trial yet…”
“Consider yourself lucky, you’re one of the few who are actually given the choice.” She offered him a cold smile. “You can choose euthenasia. As you are now aware, it will be carried out immediately via stud gun. Your remains will be cremated with the rest of the criminals. I’m sorry, ‘inmates’. Or you may choose exile, in which case someone will take you to a remote location in a foreign system. You will be required to sign a contract promising to never make contact with humans for the”—she tapped at the keyboard and squinted at the screen—“approximately five years you have left to live.”
It didn’t feel real. Everything around him took on a hazy glow like a dream. What was he supposed to say? All he could think of was Lars and the way his head snapped forward.
The cattle prod gave him an impatient jab. Illan bit back a yelp. “Exile! I’ll take the fucking exile.”
Home sweet home.
Nothing but endless stretches of sand in all directions, baked until it cracked by an unforgiving sun. The countless dust devils were the only things breaking up the golden hellscape. They danced across the dunes at wilding speeds. Some stretched as tall as skyscrapers and threatened to become tornados without the help of any storm clouds.
The descending shuttle kicked up the sand into a fog that obscurred the horizon. It did nothing to stifle the brutal sun, though. But what could?
It was brighter than Sol. And a deep, intense red, marbled with blue. He’d never seen anything like it.
“Don’t stare at it,” the pilot grumbled. “You only got one good eye left. You looking to lose that too?”
Illan’s lip twitched into a sneer, but he averted his eye back to the fog of sand blasting the clear shuttle wall. The wall cracked open. Dread pulled at his galloping heart as it unfurled into a ramp.
The heat hit him like opening an oven door—so stifling, it burned the air in his lungs when he sucked in a sharp gasp. He recoiled back a step, but the pilot’s hand hovering over the handle of a pistol was enough prodding for him. He gathered up the bag he’d been given and stepped out into the dust.
His hair whipped around his face on a hot gust and nearly blew him over. He stumbled forward and fought the jet black tangles out of his face. Well, it was mostly jet black. Around the edges of the bad side of his face, his black hair had gone silver and cobweb-thin.
“There’s an oasis about two miles North.”
Illan shielded his eyes. Which way was North? “Why didn’t you drop me there?”
“Bad enough we have to waste the fuel to exile you fucking cockroaches, and risking a run-in with the worms. I ain’t gonna gamble on whatever the fuck is in that water too.” The pilot sneered and hit a lever.
Illan stumbled off the ramp as it lifted under his feet.
“Wait, worms? What worms!”
And as the shuttle folded closed, the pilot shouted one last, “Good luck,” and grumbled, “Stupid cunt. Shoulda picked the stud.”
An extra blast of heat shot out from underneath the shuttle at the same time as another scorching wind blasted Illan’s side. He staggered sideways and fell hard on his ass on the rocks. With a string of curses, he fought his way back to his feet, and swept his wild, wide-eyed around the sea of sand.
Fucking pilot. Fucking prison. Fucking mankind. He didn’t deserve to be there. Lars didn’t deserve to die like a pig in a slaughterhouse. No ceremony, no hesitation, not even a chance to call his family and say goodbye.
With a near-hysterical laugh, Illan shook his head. As if ‘deserving’ ever had anything to do with suffering.
Sand stung at his eye as another gust swept over him. Time to move. He half-walked, half-skidded down a slope into the only sliver of shade beneath the rocks, where there was some shelter from the worst of the wind.
He unzipped the front pocket of his bag to find the compass, but something moved. He froze. What was that deep rumbling? An engine? An earthquake—or a whatever-the-planets-name-was-quake?
Wouldn’t that be the perfect end to a perfect life. Survive prison, survive the mass execution and the long trip down to exile, only to get swallowed up by a chasm. Or maybe a rock would fall on his head and put him out quick.
“You ain’t even got a name, do you?” He settled onto his ass and glowered at the rocks beneath his feet. “Just a string of numbers.” He inhaled noisily through his nose and ran his fingers up over the semi-cool shaded rock at his side. “I’ll name you… Tombstone.”
Another rumble. Sand and rocks shook beneath his feet. The rocks cracked and lifted, sending a spike of alarm rocketing up his frame. He grabbed onto the rock beside him and chased the crack with his wide eye. Something was down there. The way it moved, it wasn’t a weird nature thing, it was alive. His muscles coiled, ready to spring into action, but whether it was fight or flight teetering on the tips of his synapses, he had no clue.
But instead of bursting out, the raised ground continued off ahead of him and into the distance.
What the fuck was that?
Sweat dripped from Illan’s nose and matted his hair to his face and mask. He grunted with every uphill step. As the dune slanted steeper the closer to the peak he got, he didn’t have to bend far to dig his fingers into the sunbaked sand to pull himself along. It burned at his fingertips, but the wind was stronger up there. If he didn’t claw his way up, it would blow him over.
A heated blast hit his side with a cloud of grit. The stiff, cracked surface of the dune crumbled under him. He scrambled to get a better grip. His boots slipped. He let out a frustrated growl as he skidded halfway down onto his belly onto the blistering sand. Sun seared across his back with another hot blast of painfully sandy wind.
How the fuck was he supposed to survive there?
Illan let out a defiant roar as he staggered back up to his feet. He hadn’t eaten well in prison. Wasn’t exactly high on the totem pole, and in the last two years he’d lost a lot of weight and muscle. But he was still strong enough not to be felled by a two-fucking-mile hike.
He reached the top with a victorious, “Fuck you!” shouted at the dune. A blast of wind answered that sent him staggering backwards, and almost slipping back down, but he caught his balance quick.
And as the gust dispersed a rogue dust devil around him, a striking flash of glassy blue stole his full attention. A lake. His eye grew wide. There it was, the oasis. Still a bit of a hike. A lot of sand and sun between him and those waters.
He swallowed down gritty air. His mouth tacky and dry, burned his throat with need of a good gulp. Fuck, he didn’t even care if the thing teemed with monsters and parasites, all he wanted to do was gulp it the fuck down.
Illan tossed his bag down the other side of the dune. He braced against another gust and was about to follow his bag, but something else caught his eye. Something white and grey buried in the sand a few miles to the East. A structure.
He squinted and shielded his eye with his hand. Not a building. Judging by its sideways slant and the ruins of a burnt-out metal framework crushed underneath, that was a ship. A crashed ship, but no ship he’d ever seen before.
Planet like Tombstone, he imagined he’d find a lot more of those. He mumbled a respectful word for the poor sons of bitches who died—or even worse, survived—that crash. And he moved down the other side of the dune in a controlled slide.
The ground shook. Sand raised at the bottom like something was gliding underneath, drawing a line straight for him. Alarm coiled through his exhausted frame. He dug his heel into the dune and tried to scramble back up.
The line burst in a hot blast of sand and a spray of swampy moisture as a massive circle of teeth shot out at him.
Illan screamed. He twisted around and clawed up the slope. A long, ridged slammed to the sand in his wake. He threw a panicked glance back just as spikes shot out the side to grab onto the sand like legs.
“What the fuck are you?!”
The worm coiled back and snapped forward to launch at him. Another scream ripped from his throat as he threw himself to the side. He just narrowly missed losing a leg in that gaping abyss of a maw, and tumbled down the slope in a chaotic roll.
Pain shot through his ribs. His arm twisted with an excrutiating pang through his shoulder. He scrambled to his feet at the bottom with a yell and was going to run, but skidded to a stop.
He needed his bag. It had everything: food, water, first aid. It had a tarp for shelter and a fucking knife. Sure, a small, useless piece of shit, but better than nothing.
But the moment he turned around and laid his wide eye on the massive body, Illan’s blood ran cold. It reached up towards the marbled sun and curved down, poised to pick him right off the sand.
“Fuck the bag,” he coughed. “You can have it.”
And he whirled right around and ran. He ran until his lungs burned from the strain, and his legs ached. Then he kept right on running. Didn’t stop, didn’t slow. Other lines of raised sand darted in his direction, so he ran harder.
Until finally, he reached the oasis. He stumbled over strange knobby vines that stretched across a pane of rock to the water. He threw himself over plants and crashed onto his stomach on the rocks banking the lake. Air hissed from his lungs mistreated lungs. His whole side radiated with agony.
With a groan, Illan rolled onto his back, and as a gust of wind washed over him, the telltale sting of sand and air hit his exposed bone.
Illan hissed through his teeth and choked on the sand in the air. He climbed to his feet and swept his wide eye around at the bright world around him to search for it, but it wasn’t there. Probably back by the dune where he’d fallen. How long would it take for the sand to bury it? Hours? Minutes?
His attention locked on the water. Three massive cliffy waterfalls surrounded the crystal-clear lake on three sides. The bank across from him was thick with a forest of strange plants. The wind was softer. Not as painful as out on the sand, and carried almost enough cool moisture to cut through the sweltering heat.
He glanced behind him for any sign the worms might be still on his ass, but save for a bit of raised sand beyond the rock, they were gone.
That fucking mask. No one would see him out there. No one was going to see him ever again, so he knew he didn’t have to hide his face, but… But he did. He’d feel better with it hidden. Even if just to hide the sensitive damaged nerves from the elements, but also because that water looked far too reflective. The last thing he wanted to see when he was trying to convince himself not to give up, was his fucking face.
He gripped his aching ribs with his sore arm as if the injuries could stabilize each other. He half-limped, half-ran his way down the bank, across the wet rocks, and dove into the gap beneath a waterfall and a cliff to find a cave.
A fucking cave.
He dropped to his knees inside. The break from the heat was instant, with the steady spray of water, the sand-free air, the cool shade, the complete absence of the wind. With a grateful gasp he collapsed against a wall and let a shaky sob wrack through him.
For the first time in two years, he let himself cry.
The first sign that Illan wasn’t alone in the cave system was a metal dish still wet and smelling of broth.
He licked it clean. Didn’t even know what the fuck it was, but it tasted good and it had been two years since he’d had anything but the flavourless gruel the inmates low on the totem pole had to fight over.
The second sign was the camp. So discreet, he almost didn’t see it there if not for the ribbon of smoke coming out the back end. A lean-to built with those knobby vines and covered in debris.
If it was a human, being within fifty feet of that lean-to would already be a breach of his contract. If he got any closer, he’d infect them for sure.
He stood there in the water-carved tunnel, next to a shallow stream that ran through and strained his senses. The humid air warmed with the scent of cooked meat and strange herbs, but the only sound was the crackling of a dying fire. His stomach rumbled with a painfully empty pit.
Fuck the contract.
Time to be selfish, he told himself like he’d done a million times since they tossed him in that prison.
Time to forget his humanity.
Time to survive.
He crept in as silent as a mouse. Hell, he’d had plenty of practice. That prison was nothing if not a training ground for stealth and stealing. He peeked through a flap of weeds.
The fire burned low in a small circle of rocks. Almost down to the embers. Thanks to the curve of the rocky wall, the inside was much more spacious than it looked from the outside. A long makeshift table lined the sloped side, sporting a big pot of some kinda stew, dishes, spoons, one strange-looking gadget… and a knife.
He darted in so fast, he knocked the flap right off. He grabbed the knife off the table and shoved it down the back of his pants. Damn thing was long. Almost sliced through the ass of his pants and he fumbled with it to shift it onto his hip so it wouldn’t do just that the moment he tried to bend or crouch. Then he went for the pot. Still hot to the touch and in the creamy brown stew were chunks of things he didn’t recognize, but he was in no position to be careful or precious. He hefted it up, tilted it at his mouth, and scarfed it down so fast, his stomach lurched and clenched.
Something scraped against the rocks. Footsteps. Illan set the pot down as quietly as he could. Panic clawed up his spine. There was no easy escape. No matter which way he went out, there was open cave in two directions and nothing to hide behind.
A flash of eyes looked in at him. A massive, hulking shape stepped into view and Illan froze like a deer in the headlights.
Looked like a giant lizard, but without scales, with near-human musculature, if not for the four fucking arms. Long, thick horns fanned out on either side of its massive, stooped head. Thin black lips lined a mouth full of protruding, jagged teeth, and its short snout glistened with a natural wet sheen.
Its amber eyes flickered to the bad side of his face. Illan reflexively turned his head away. The creature made a noise. Sounded almost like speech. As it stepped inside, it’s bulk easily filled half the space.
Illan backed up. It glanced down at where he’d stashed the knife, and its eyes narrowed. The next noise it made was all too familiar. He didn’t need to know the words, because he’d heard that same tone a thousand times from guards who treated them like vermin, from administration, from politicians, from family… Derision and disgust.
“Go fuck yourself,” Illan coughed out. He snatched the strange device off the table and stuffed it in his pocket and darted out the other side of the lean-to.
The beast lunged after him with a growl. Fast, too. Way faster than he expected something that big to move. It slammed into him from the side. He screamed as he hit the wall, but the clawed fingers wrapping around his throat cut it off with a thumb pressed into his windpipe.
He yanked out his new knife and slashed. A crimson line opened across the beast’s shoulder. It let out a hiss. Its grip loosened just enough for Illan to bolt.
It would outrun him in the cave, but he’d have a chance out in the sun. Maybe he’d get lucky and it would shrivel up like a fucking slug.
Illan raced around the corner and dove out from under the waterfall, into the sun and wind. His stomach twisted with the blast of heat greeting him and the surge of pain through his ribs, but he didn’t dare slow. He tore off across the rocks as footsteps thundered in his wake.
A hand shot out and grabbed him by the hair. It yanked him back. His neck cracked, and he landed hard on his back on the rocks, gasping and gripping his throat. As the creature got down on top of him to straddle his waist, he thought it paralyzed him. He thought his neck was broken.
But he felt that weight crushing down on him. And as those four clawed hands grabbed at his wrists and his sides, he let out a feral scream.
He tried to slash with the knife, but the fucker caught his wrist. It shouted something in his face with a spray of wet that tasted of herbs. It forced his arms over his head and grabbed him by the jaw to tilt his head roughly up.
Its lip curled over its dripping teeth in a vicious sneer.
Illan’s chest heaved with shallow, frantic huffs. It was too strong to fight. It was over—he lost.
He swallowed and shied his head away from the blast of sandy wind and braced himself for whatever it was going to do to finish him off.
Silence pulsed between them. The gust died and seconds ticked by before another gust blasted them.
The creature grunted something that sounded like a curse.
Illan flashed his wide eye up at it, but before he could figure out what the hell it was going to do to him, the ground beneath them shook. He and the creature shouted in unison. It scrambled to its feet and yanked Illan up with it.
The sand at the end of the rocks burst. A circle maw shot out. They tried to scatter, but Illan slipped on the wet rocks. The creature dove after him as he hit the ice cold water. Bubbles enveloped him, disorienting, and tasting bitter. Water stung at the exposed bone and flesh of his face, and he screamed into it.
It flooded his lungs. He choked. Something slick and sharp grazed his jaw. He barely glimpsed the strange long sea-weed-like fingers reaching for him from the shadows under the rocks before a hand grabbed him by the leg.
Another hand dug a painful grip into the side of his ribs and wrenched him out of the water. He barely hit the rocks before the massive, ridged body of a worm slammed into the lizard creature. It engulfed the lizard’s whole side with gnashing teeth.
The lizard’s scream tore through the air only to get ripped away by the sand blasting gusts. The monsters tumbled to the sun-baked sand. The worm dragged it as it burrowed backward into the sand, but the lizard fought with swinging fists and vicious bites.
Illan let out a feral roar. He lunged at the thing and stabbed the knife into its head with the full force of his weight. It let out a gargling squeal. Blood sprayed across his face. He stabbed it again and again, until finally it released its hold, and then he kept right on stabbing.
Four arms wrapped around him.
They tore him off the worm with another spray of blood in his wake. The worm flopped around, still squealing as it leaked blood all over the rocks. Illan growled and wrenched and tried to break free, but the fucking lizard was too strong.
“Let me kill it!” He roared and kicked at the rocks. “Try to eat us? I’ll fucking eat you! How about that?!”
The lizard dragged him out of the sweltering heat, into the cool of the cave under the falls, where they collapsed together against a cool rocky wall. Illan’s struggles stilled to seething, trembling, rage-filled huffs. He wasn’t done. The adrenaline seared through his veins with an unrelenting bloodlust.
But it wasn’t long before the cool cave air against his exposed bone, and the four bloody arms still bound around him bled relief into his feral haze. He let out a long, shuddery exhale.
A massive, clawed hand slid down his forearm. His eye widened and followed its progress. It slid over his wrist to gently pry his fingers from the handle of the knife, and it grunted a soft word into his hair that sent chills racing down his spine.
“I need it,” Illan insisted, but his voice came little more than a rasp.
The lizard took the knife and made a show of setting it aside on the rocky ground. And then it slipped two clawed fingers into Illan’s pocket to retrieve the device he stole. Its gaze flitted over the bad side of Illan’s face. A soft, curious expression tugged at its lips and furrowed the ridge of its brow as it wrapped Illan’s hand around the device and guided his thumb over a sensor.
The device jolted. Illan yelped. It extended like a telescope and fired off a shot into the rocky wall.
A small section of rock exploded on impact. Illan jerked as rock rained down, half of it rendered an oily black liquid by whatever the fuck that thing did to it.
“Well…” Illan gulped and flicked his eye up at the monster’s face. “That would’ve been handy five minutes ago.”
And a deep rumbling rolled from the lizard’s throat that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.