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Rakata
c. 27,000 BBY
Planet Unknown


K...Krell.

That’s what they call it. The light up there. The light that travelled through the sky each day to disappear each night. That light. That was Krell.

What a funny name.

They had a name for everything - everything wasn’t just there, it had a name. Even different kinds of the same thing had a name. It was as if the Rakata had so much time on their hands that they decided to name everything.

What a funny way to waste time.

Grass, sky, stable, house, rain, Krell, Machine...and Us. They called us a “livestock.” Sometimes we were a “cattle” but they pretty much meant the same thing. Took me a while to figure that one out. I also figured out that I was a special kind of livestock. There were only a few like me. I was a “breeder.” Not sure what it meant, but it sounded nice. It was because I was a “breeder” that Aruaa - the Master’s mate - didn’t like for the “handlers” to use me as a “draft animal” even though there was a “shortage.”

All those words. I wasn’t sure what many of them meant; but the fact that they must mean something was...amazing. Everything that came out of their muzzles meant something - a bunch of sounds that could be taken apart to mean all kinds of things. That was...that was something, that.

Us? We couldn’t talk. Not like they could. They could make all sorts of noises with their muzzles. We couldn’t. I’ve tried. All that came out was breath. I hated that. I wanted to be able to talk about my ideas and thoughts. But I suppose I never could. None of Us could. We were silent. I didn’t want to be. Though it seemed most of the other livestocks didn’t much care - they stayed as far away from the Rakata as possible.

Not me.

I loved being around them, listening to them, trying to make sense of them. I was happy that they had me working the grain near the house - Aruaa called it the “soft grain” - so I was always around them. Livestocks had to work pulling the Machines to reap the grain. I had heard Aruaa say that, once, the Machines pulled themselves, or that the Rakata powered them, then something happened to the Rakata that made the Machines not work, so we livestocks pulled. The Rakata said that we livestocks were closer to some “flow of Power” or that it was more “innate” in us that allowed the Machines to work if we were near them, but they still had to be pulled. We apparently weren’t as strong as they were in this “Power.”

Aruaa constantly taught her colt - called it a “child” - things like that. “History” they called it. Didn’t usually make a lot of sense, but it amazed me, usually. Aruaa said that the Rakata on Krellyaa - what they called the “colony world” thing that was made up of all the ground - came there because of the grain that needed to be harvested “manually” now. Called it farming. That’s what we livestocks did - farming.

What a funny idea.

All these stories that told about things that had already happened. It was amazing that they cared enough to have told one another these histories to tell over again. We weren’t often mentioned - but we were livestocks, we didn’t matter that much. The only thing about us was that we lived on this planet before the Rakata took over and “domesticated” us. I figured that meant “made us pull things.”

That was okay. We were fed and taken care of. I didn’t like having to drag things around in the heat of the day, though. I suppose that’s what you have to do to go on being here. When a livestock couldn’t pull anymore, they went into the Back Room of the stable and disappeared forever. I always wondered what was back there, but something in me was terrified of it. Especially the smell. The handlers didn’t let me back there, anyway.

The stable. That was where we were all put at night or when we didn’t feel good. We “breeders” - “males” we were sometimes called: depended on the Rakata’s mood - were stuck in individual paddocks while the “females” were stuck into a few large paddocks all together. The whole “female” - “male” thing confused me for a while until I noticed the “fe.” There were a lot more females than males, though - they said they "euthanized" a lot of males. Whatever that was. But that was okay. I liked females. Didn’t usually work in the same place as them, they worked with the “hard grain” pulling larger Machines - the Rakatans said they did that and had a lot more of them because they were too “stupid” to “catch on” when we males might. Had no idea what any of that was about. I still didn’t get to see them a lot during the day. Too bad, really. At least I got to go back to the stable soon, the day was almost over. Before I was put into my paddock I could usually catch a glimpse of a few of them. Made me happy.

There!

They were driving me back to the stable. The handlers had sticks they used to direct us when we didn’t feel like doing what they wanted. It hurt. Sometimes they just needed to tap us if we knew exactly where we were going, especially if we wanted to. In my case, I did. I usually played a game with them, though, when we neared the paddock and they unhooked me from my Machine. I’d pretend I didn’t want to go in my paddock. I’d pull on the rope and bit that they held to drag me to the paddock and give them a hard time about it. Most of the time they weren’t happy about it, but that’s okay because I didn’t really like them. They had a habit of kicking me and talking to me in a nasty voice. My...”revenge”? Yes, revenge...you might say. I liked it. They finally managed to drag me in and shut the paddock. I bit at them just because I wanted to before I turned back to find...

Huh?

I cocked my head.

I looked around in my paddock confused. Yes, they had put me in the right paddock. It smelled like me. But then what...?

I walked up to the corner, where a...yes it was...a female was curled up in the corner, obviously frightened and confused. I could smell that much.

Don’t try to figure out why, just enjoy it.

I got a little peppier as I pranced over by her, but she backed away. Frightened of me? Hm. Maybe she wanted water. I knew I wanted water when I came back in after I got back. I walked over to the water trough - the feeding trough and the water trough were both called troughs for some reason - dipped my mouth in and started drinking, looking over to her and gesturing with my head to do the same. After all, maybe she didn’t know where the trough was.

Nothing.

Hm. Maybe she wanted food.

I trotted on over to the feeding trough and tried the same tactic again. Again, nothing. Made me wonder what was wrong. Intent on trying to figure her out, I plopped down near her, though she backed away. I just watched her until, in my boredom, I listened to the handlers, who were doing something outside the breeders’ paddocks.

“I tell you, he’s too wild.”

Talking about me. They always say that about me. Don’t know what a wild is, but I am definitely a wild.

“He shouldn’t be used for draft work - just like the other male shouldn’t. He gets too close to us and he gets too curious. Sometimes I think he is listening to us.”

“You’re just paranoid.”

“And you’re avoiding the subject. All the males are to be kept for breeding. You know that. We can’t risk it.”

They used the word “males.” They must not be happy.

“There’s a shortage, we need more draft animals and Aruaa can’t afford to buy more. She just has to work the ones she has.”

“She could do just fine if you’d stop discouraging her.”

“Shortage. You forget about the shortage of them.”

“It’s short-sighted Rakata like you that are causing the shortage.”

“Hey, I dumped a female in there with each of ‘em. What do you expect me to do?”

“You should have done that sooner so we’d have fresh colts now. Instead of, you know, having a shortage we could help prevent it, Arvan.”

“The males need to work. They need to be kept rested so they can work.”

“You have no vision.”

“You talk too much.”

That’s when they faded out. Must have finished their “chores.” Again, I had no clue what they were talking about, they used too many strange words, but I knew some of it. Someday I would know it all. The thought excited me.

Speaking of exciting...

I looked back over at the female who still seemed scared. Hm, why? Maybe it was because she’d never been here before. That could be it.

Nothing to be afraid of. Nothing in here except me.

I moved in a bit closer, but she only tried to get farther away, pressing herself against a wall. Why was she so scared of me?

I moved a bit closer, at which she seemed even more scared. That hurt.

Don’t be scared. Please don’t be scared.

I leaned forward to gently nuzzle the side of her head.

Ooh...I like that.

'She seemed to relax a bit, I wasn’t hurting her.

I wish I could talk to you. Tell you I don’t want to hurt you.

I kept being gentle with her until she relaxed enough to lie down in weariness. She felt very cold...must be the night air. I didn’t want her to feel cold. I lay down next to her, wanting to keep her warm.

Didn’t make me feel too bad, either...






No!

I snapped at the handlers, bit at them, kicked and fought them every inch of the way.

“He’s never acted this way before!” one of them shouted. I ran at him in a rage. I just wanted to hurt them, hurt them all.

My dream...it was taken before I could ever dream it.

How dare they.

I jerked in startled, pained surprise as hurt coursed through me. I stood stunned for a moment before turning to see what had happened. Angered, I caught sight of the “cattle prods.” I hated those. I hated them.

I jumped at the handler, biting at him, trying for flesh each time. Again, the cattle prod made me hurt, even more. It was more than I could bear.

They had already unhooked me from the Machine early, trying to drag me back to the stable. I was being too much of a wild to go on.

I didn’t want to go on. Not now, not ever. I hated them. I hated them.

Pain. It blinded me. I didn’t care. I just wanted to fight them. I wanted them to hurt. It didn’t come to anything though, with the rope they still managed to drag me from the field to the stable. It hurt me very much. I didn’t care. Even after they shut the door behind me I still kicked and rammed the door.

“He’s gone rabid!”

“Don’t be stupid, how would he get rabid? Something just spooked him.”

I hear you in there. I don’t know everything you’re saying, but I hear you. I know.

“He’s rabid because he heard me. I tell you, he heard me, and he understood me.”

“You’re crazy. He’s a dumb animal.”

“I tell you, he knew.”

Yes, I know.

I know. I heard you. I heard you say that the livestocks could make noises once, back when you Rakata first came. But you didn’t like the noises. “Grated” on you, you said. So now, at birth, you make us silent. Forever.

Forever.

I wanted to talk. I wanted to make noises. I wanted to tell them just how much I hated them.

I kept attacking the door. I just wanted to hurt that door, I just wanted to get it all out of me, no matter how much it hurt. Inside me...something was in pain. I wanted them to feel it. I wanted them to...

I flinched at a gentle nuzzle. I turned to find my female, concerned, nuzzling me to see what was wrong.

I wanted to tell her. I wanted to tell her so much...

Now I never even have a chance.

I nuzzled her in return. She made me feel better. I liked that. I liked her very much. I think she liked me. I could never know, she could never say. She just made these gestures with her body and limbs sometimes with an earnestness that told me she might be trying to tell me something, all the females gestured to one another in the fields when there weren’t Rakata around. I thought it was very strange. It had been several...weeks, I think it’s called...since I found her in my paddock. Still didn’t make much sense. But that’s okay. She made me happy. I hoped I made her happy. I didn’t want her to hurt or have to fear, and I especially didn’t like the handlers touching her or being around her.

At last, I calmed down enough to begin to relax, lapping up the water. Working made me really want water.

Having drank, I rested - but it was not a peaceful rest.

Once...we could make noise. What...what did that mean?

Did we have a name for everything once? Did we name the stars? Did they have another name before the Rakata changed everything?

I wonder...if they did have a name...what that name was.

What Our name was.

Did We have a name?

...Do I have a name?






Footsteps.

The handlers were coming back.

They never came back after locking us up.

I turned and snarled, snapping at the door, waking up just to stand on the other side of the door, watching as if I could see right through it. Just waiting, just in case they decided to open it. If they did, I wanted to be there to make sure they hurt.

“This one.” One of them said, tapping the door. I kicked it in return. “See what I mean?”

“That’s hardly a display of sentience.” A Stranger’s voice. Didn’t matter, I hated it.

“He hears and understands what we’re saying. He heard me this afternoon. Heard me when I said that all of the livestock have their vocal folds removed at birth so they can’t make any noises.”

There he was! He said it again...again! How dare he, how dare he...

I tore at the door again, I wanted to hurt him, hurt him until he could hurt no more.

“Whoa, watch it,” the handler said.

“There’s no chance of him breaking through if this is made right, don’t worry,” the Stranger said, calm.

“It is made right. It almost bumped me, though.”

“Hm. I believe this is the reaction you refer to?”

“Yes. Just as if he heard me.”

“It does seem that way, doesn’t it, Arva?” Footsteps drawing closer. I waited, breathing heavily. “Hm. Does he have anything you know he likes?”

“How’m I supposed to know what he likes? He likes his food, I guess.”

“Anything else?”

“Well...I suppose the female...”

“He’s got a female?”

“Yes.”

“Do they get along?”

“Oh, yes. I’m just surprised she’s not with foal yet.”

“That will do,” he said, getting very close to the door. I waited, wanting the stranger to open it so I could make him pain. He tapped on the door. “Breeder?”

Before he even said the word I was about to attack the door, but suddenly it occurred to me.

He’s talking to me.

As if...as if I could speak. I paused, waiting to see what he was planning to do.

“Yes, in there, I’m talking to you. Now, listen. You know your female in there?” I looked down at her.

“Yes, her. You see her?” I cocked my head in confusion. Of course I saw her. What was he planning?

“You like her, don’t you? Pay attention, you," he said, voice getting quiet as if he had turned away, "watch for any reaction. Listen closely for it. Now, you, breeder...” The Stranger said, a bit louder as I heard him take a step forward. I did the same in turn, pressing my ear to the door. I’d never been spoken to like this before. I wanted very much to listen.

“You listen, breeder. We out here, we’re going to take that female away from you, and we’re going to hurt her and we’re...”

Rage.

I didn’t hear anything after that. Didn’t matter. I knew he was near the door, so I just kicked at it and bit, breathing hard so as to make some kind of sound as I tore and ripped.

How dare you. How dare you.

Pain will be the only thing you know.

She’d never done anything to them. I was going to do everything to them.

The door shook and rattled on its sturdy hinges, but held firm.

“That,” the Stranger said, “is a result.”

“Is he positive, Culla?”

“Positive. He’s dangerous. We’ll have to dispose of him.”

“We can’t do that. Good breeders are valuable property.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve had to deal with this quite a few times in the last couple of years. I have a system that will sic the police on a gang that’s supposedly been doing this recently and keep you from being blamed.”

“You mean the gang that-”

“Now, shall I explain it to you? Away from the paddock, of course. Who knows how much he hears.”

That’s right. Go away.

I may not know everything, but I know enough. Enough to know that you will hurt.

I kicked at the door one last time as they got too far away before turning back to my female.

Don’t worry...don’t fear...

I gently nuzzled her.

I won’t let them hurt you.






I couldn’t sleep.

Something was wrong. I knew it. That and...

Gah. My whole world was turned upside-down and I didn’t know what to do about it. What could I do?

I wanted to do something. I didn’t know what.

What do I want?

It was a question I hadn’t really thought about, all I’d ever known, all the Rakata let me know, was that I wanted to work, eat, and sleep.

Now that I think of it...

What kind of life is that?

Surely there has to be more. I never thought of it that way before, I never thought I could or should, but now...

I stood up, looking up through a square hole in the ceiling. Up at the stars.

What are stars, I wonder.

I thought of the outside, outside the barn. I’d never seen beyond several hills that surrounded the fields.

I wonder...I wonder what’s out there.

I looked down at myself.

What do I want?

I want...to go over those hills. I want to see the other side. I want...

To be free.

Freedom. What a strange idea, considering I didn’t know what it was like to be free. I’d never been free, no one had specifically told me what it was like. But I figured...it was the a chance to live out my dreams, to go over those hills, to not be ever bound to a Machine until I was taken to the Back Room. I figured freedom was...was...

Oh, I don’t know.

But I want it. I didn’t want it before, but I want it now. I don’t want to be a dumb draft animal. I want...

I want to go over those hills.

I want...

I want...

I looked up at the sky.

I want to talk.






I started. I had finally fallen into a deep sleep, but something had awoken me. That off feeling...it was back, in full force. I didn’t like it.

I heard the stable door open.

This late? Why?

I got up and walked to the door, putting my ear against it.

“Quiet. Careful not to wake them.”

Handlers. Hm. By the smell of it, the Stranger was here, too.

I backed away from the door in disgust before I began pacing back and forth behind the door, waiting to see what they’d do.

They slowly approached my door, at which I got ready to pounce on them should they open it.

When they did, all I saw was suddenly a long, metal tube, spooking me. I knew that tube, it shot something that made the world go dark, then you woke up someplace you didn’t want to-

Hurt.

I collapsed as suddenly tiredness swept over me. I didn’t like it. I snarled at the handlers and the Stranger as they tried to get close to me, trying to bite them and get them away, but they kept coming with their “rope.” I hated that rope, even more as they threaded it around my neck then into my mouth. I wanted to do something, but everything just kept getting darker.

No!

If I kept awake, then maybe the pain wouldn’t make me go to sleep. I didn’t want to go to sleep.

A yank on the rope.

The handlers had gotten a hold of the rope and were dragging me along. I fought them as hard as I could, even as I fought to keep my eyes open.

The cattle crush. They were taking me to the cattle crush.

I fought with newfound vigor and fear - I knew the cattle crush. It kept you from moving as they made you do things you didn’t want to do - open your mouth, move your head, let them stick you with things...I hated it. I feared it.

“How long is the tranq supposed to take?” One of the handler’s shouted to the Stranger.

“This is my fastest from a distance. Normally tranqs take fifteen minutes - be glad you don’t have to put up with him that long.”

“I already deal with him on a regular basis.”

“Not anymore,” The Stranger said as they managed to pull me into the crush and close the different things holding me in place. I’d have been deep in fear, but I couldn’t feel anything, and the world had grown black...






Pain.

Everything was...pain.

I wanted to scream like I had heard the Rakata do so much when something hurt them...but of course I could not scream. My mouth opened wide, but nothing came out except breath. I just wanted to relieve the pain...I just wanted to do anything that might make the pain stop...

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t...

Agony.

“Aruaa! This way!” I heard, vaguely, but everything was so distorted in the sheer pain. She made some reply, but I couldn’t make it out, I just hurt, I just hurt...

Suddenly I fell to the ground as I was released, though I could barely notice it...it was all drowned out...

“Vandals!” I heard Aruaa scream in anger. Suddenly her tone changed. “Shh, little breeder, it’s all right, it’s over now.”

Even as I curled in a tight ball to try to stop the pain, I could feel her gently stroking my muzzle and neck in an attempt to get me to relax.

“The vet should be here any minute,” One of the handlers said. I wanted to snap at him, but I didn’t have the strength. “Yes, I told him it was an emergency.”

“Those vandals.”

“This is the third such attack this month. Don’t worry, the law enforcers are bound to catch them and bring them to justice.”

“They couldn’t do that before they gelded my breeder, could they? No, that would have been too convenient!”

“There’s nothing to be done about it now.”

“Feh. I just hope he lives,” Aruaa said as he took my head and laid it in her lap as she began to try to calm me. “Shh. It’s all right. My little breeder,” She began to run her hand through my mane, soothingly. I began to feel a bit calmer, but still the pain was incredible. I shut my eyes to try to focus on something - anything - else. “It had to be the one with the brown mane, didn’t it? I always liked you.”

“Almost all the males have brown manes.”

“Yes, but this is the brown-maned one that works near the house. And you’re missing the point...”

“Ma’am?”

My eyes snapped open.

I know that voice. “You the emergency vet?”

“Yes, ma’am. Let me see the animal.”

It’s the Stranger.

“Of course.”

I began to fight as Aruaa let me go to let the Stranger look over me. I didn’t have strength enough to fight very hard, so soon they pinned me down so he could do things to me. I didn’t know what he was doing, but in my pain I almost didn’t care.

“Will he live?”

“Yes. Here, hold him, I’m going to give him some painkiller and sedatives.”

I didn’t want to let him do whatever he was doing, but with Aruaa and a handler holding me still, and with me so weak, I couldn’t fight it as he jabbed me with his needle.

“I don’t want him to suffer. Will it take long to work?”

“An animal his size...maybe five, ten minutes.”

“Oh, oh good...”

“You care for this animal?”

“Oh, yes.”

The stranger sighed. “Well, I’m afraid he isn’t much use now.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The males are only good as breeding animals.”

“You saying I should put him down? What if I want him to pull Machines?”

“A male? Pulling machines?”

“Why not?”

“They are a dangerous race, miss...”

“Aruaa.”

“Aruaa. Very unpredictable. They like to try dangerous things. It just wouldn’t be advisable.”

“He’s been doing just fine pulling Machines for the last year or so. I don’t see why he couldn’t continue to do so.”

I saw the stranger shrug. “All right, if you want to risk it. Though I advise that he no longer be pampered, treat him as you would a female. A female’s work is all he’s good for now.” “So he shouldn’t keep pulling the lighter load?”

“Well, whatever you or your handlers’ think best, of course. Just my advice. What with the shortage, they all need to be worked harder. When he’s strong enough again, of course.”

“Of course.”

“How many females does he have in his paddock?”

“Just one.”

“Just one? We have a shortage and you only have one female in with him?”

“They seem to get along better with just a pair.”

“Well, they’re your animals. At any rate, the female should be moved to another breeder’s paddock.”

“They were getting along so well together...”

“Shortage, miss, but I guess that’s your call. I shall take my leave.”

“Wait. That’s it? You aren’t going to stay and watch him?”

“No, ma’am. I was going to leave you with these.”

“These?”

Oh...the darkness is coming again...but this time I wanted it...it made the pain stop...

“Yes. Give them to him on the hour for the next day, then every five hours every day after that until you run out of them. By then he should be well. He won’t be able to move around for a while, so he will have to be hand fed and watered until he can walk again. That’s all you need to know.”

“Well...”

“Why don’t you just go back inside while the handlers take care of him? It’s obvious that this is taking its toll on you. Just rest. You can’t help him any more tonight, wait for the morning.”

“Well...if you suggest...”

“I do. Get some sleep, it’s late.”

“I know...”

“Goodbye, Miss Aruaa.”

The world’s almost gone...leave, world...leave...

“Culla!” one of the handlers shouted after a while. It made me wince.

“What is it?” The Stranger replied, calmly.

“You told me he’d be dead before morning. Unless you just pumped him with poison...”

“No. That’s so messy.”

“Oh, and this wasn’t?

“Calm yourself. I didn’t expect her not to put him down, but nonetheless I am prepared. Just listen carefully as I tell you what you must do next...”

I didn’t want to listen anymore. I just wanted the world to stop...

Just stop...

And, at last, it did.






When I opened my eyes again, all I felt was a numbness, both in my head and all over.

It was day - the light hurt my eyes...what had happened...?

“Breeder? Shh, there...you hungry?”

Hungry?

“You want some food?”

Food! I know food.

That was Aruaa’s voice, and it reminded my how much I wanted food. And water.

I want to get some food...

I tried to readjust myself so I could stand and walk over to the feeding trough. However, I fell to the ground when I tried. Confused, I looked around to see what had happened.

“No, no, breeder...shh...here...”

I looked over at her as she moved a bucket of something next to my nose.

“Hm. Can’t really reach that like that, can you? Didn’t think of that.”

I tried to stand again, only to have Aruaa hold me down. I was surprised at how little she had to push to keep me from standing.

I feel so weak.

“Here,” She said, tipping the bucket over so whatever was in it fell near my muzzle. Or on it. I sneezed, snaking my head to get some of it off me before sniffing at it to see what it was.

Food? It was food!

I began trying to eat it, but eating while lying down proved a little difficult for me.

“Poor thing. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do this very long. I’m going to take care of you until you’re well.”

“Don’t you have better things to do?” a nearby handler asked.

“Well, of course, but I’m sure I can make time for him.”

“Even when he’s no good anymore?”

“He’ll always be worth something.”

“Yeah,” the handler said, not very happy about what they were talking about, before making his voice quieter, “maybe his sirloin.”






It was several days later, and I was well again.

But everything was different.

They had taken my female away, for one. I didn’t like that. I wanted her around. But it was so strange...I knew inside me that I was supposed to feel very sad and angry at her leaving, but, though I was for a little while, it didn’t stay. There was just a feeling of being alone. I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t as strong as I knew it should be. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.

For another thing, when the handlers dragged me out to my Machine, I didn’t struggle as much as I could, especially knowing what I had found out those few days ago. I just felt as if I didn’t care. It filled me with a kind of fear. I didn’t know why I was acting like that.

And then, when I was hooked up to the Machine, I noticed that it was bigger that the Machine I normally pulled - it was as big as the females’. And then I didn’t get the part of the field near the homestead like I normally did - I got the field out a far ways - the “hard grain.” I also couldn’t help but notice, especially with how hot it was, that I was out longer, as long as most of the females.

Last of all, the part that most terrified me, I found that I didn’t want nearly as much to focus my mind on figuring out what the nearby Rakata were saying, or even listening to them.

What’s wrong with me?

I was frightened. I could just hope that maybe the feeling would come back to me, and that maybe it wouldn’t last long. Sometimes I felt a little bit like this...but never this much. Oh...I want to feel normal again...






“In you go...” one of the handlers said as he shoved me into my paddock. I didn’t fight him.

Once inside, I curled up, fearing all the strange things happening around me and to me. I wanted it to stop. I just wanted it to stop...

Please stop.

I stayed that way a while, before I felt the need for water, I was dry inside. I at last managed to force myself to stand up and walk over to the watering trough, lowering my head in to drink.

What?

I licked at the water, but all I found was the dry bottom of the trough. I licked again, but still no water.

I began licking at the trough over and over, trying to find some water. I was so dry. I wanted water!

After a while, I looked up at the curved thing that the water usually came out of, first nuzzling it to maybe make it work before I began hitting it with my head and body before trying to drink out of it. Still nothing. Fear began to take over me. I wanted water.

“Thirsty?” I heard a handler say through the wall of my paddock. I didn’t like the way he said it. He laughed. I ignored him as my want to get water grew, as did my attempts to get it. “Ha. Go ahead, keep trying. It gives me something to laugh at.”

He stopped, leaving me to keep trying everything I could think of to get my water, but, after a while, I was hurting from trying, and still very thirsty. I noticed I was bleeding, and began to lick the hurt, getting something to drink from that at least. I licked from it until it stopped bleeding...feeling so hurt and so very dry.

I lay down, right beneath the water trough so I could watch it to see if water might come. I kept watching for a long time, my throat and mouth getting very dry.

Please. I want water, please...

I kept waiting, but still nothing. I kept up the waiting and watching. After a while, I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, and I fell asleep, mouth still dry.

At least...at least I might dream of water...






I don’t think I slept much. I felt hot all over, and something about me was not right. It made it difficult to make myself stand up the next day. Hoping that the water had come back overnight, I cantered over to the water trough, only to find it empty again. Once again I began to hit at the thing the water came out of, but still nothing. I thought as much, so I wasn’t hitting as hard. I just felt like hitting something.

Even though I didn’t feel like I could pull a Machine all day, when the handlers began walking me to my Machine, I remembered that, after a while of pulling, they let us pause and drink some water.

Just some pulling, then you can drink, you can do that...

But...it was very hot out.

That amount of time seemed so very long, so very long...and the pull so very hard, the handlers pushing me to work harder than I normally did. I didn’t want to do what they wanted, but I really wanted that water...I really wanted that water.

There! There!

I perked up as I saw some of the females huddle around the large watering trough. Oh, oh, it’s so close...

I immediately began making my way towards it, trying to reach it...

I fell. I fell over, almost backwards as the rope around my throat grew taught.

“No you don’t.”

I didn’t know what was wrong; the rope must have been short...

No!

Using all the strength I had, I began pulling towards the trough, choking myself with the rope, but...if I could get to the water...that didn’t matter.

“Give him a little more rope. This is funny.”

Suddenly, the rope wasn’t pulling so hard. In my happiness, I once again galloped towards the trough, but again reached the rope’s limit, pulling me back. I kept pulling, lowering myself and trying to push forward, stretching my neck out to the trough that was so close...so close...

I kept trying and trying, and as I did, a few females must have seen me and splashed some water towards me. In my need I licked up what few water drops I could before the handlers began setting all our Machines to return to their normal place...including mine. They drove me back to the place where I was to pull.

I didn’t want to pull. I just wanted to lie down and drink, but the handlers kept using the pricks to force me to keep going. It began not to matter as everything grew dull, I just pulled, though a lot of the time it wasn’t strong enough for the handlers, who kept driving me faster and harder. I just kept pulling, I just wanted this day to end...I wanted everything to end.

Before I realized the day was over, I was back in my paddock, feeling so very weak, falling under my own weight. I didn’t try to go for the water trough. I just stared at it, knowing it was dry. Everything seemed to swirl around me...I just wanted it to go away. I wanted to go to sleep and wake up from all this...

Before I knew it, the sun had come up and I was being dragged back to my Machine. It was so hard to stand, I kept falling. My head was in pain. I couldn’t go out today, I couldn’t go out...

I was hooked up to the Machine, and before I could think I was pulling it, though I wasn’t thinking about it...I just did it.

It was so hot...so hot...

“He don’t look too good.”

“Good. Maybe today is the day, then. At last.”






I just kept pulling...pulling...all was so...strange...so hot...

Oh...

I didn’t know what was happening, and I didn’t want to think, not about it, not about anything.

Oh...why did it suddenly get so cold...?

I shivered uncontrollably, or maybe I was shaking because I was so weak, I didn’t know. It was getting hard to see, everything was getting very dim...

Maybe I’m falling asleep...please...I want to sleep...

I stopped.

I couldn’t help myself...I just stopped pulling.

They kept prodding me with the pricks and the prods, but I couldn’t feel them, I could just stand there, shaking...before I fell.

I could hear things around me, but they were all quieted, all strange. Two things I could discern, though, eventually...Aruaa’s voice...and the Stranger’s voice.

I was moved around to my side, making it easier for me to breathe...I could feel the Stranger above me.

“Heatstroke. Quick, get the water.”

“Heatstroke...?” Aruaa said, before water was dumped all over me. It was nice and cool...

I felt someone lift my head, maybe Aruaa, and I felt water being gently poured into my muzzle, but I couldn’t do much but let it fall down my throat.

“He’s not drinking it.”

I was suddenly moved around again as I felt something being put into my mouth, water coming out of that.

“Try giving some to him out of this canister.”

That was easier for me...but still...it was difficult to move at all...everything was so strange...

More water was dumped on me as the world grew darker. I couldn’t drink the water...

“Stop, stop,” the Stranger said, “He’s choking on it.”

“What are we going to do...?”

“Right now, we have to cool him down, maybe then he’ll be able to drink the water, but I don’t know. This sometimes happens to the creatures and they don’t often get over it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Hm...you, work hands, has he been getting plenty of water?”

“Of course, we gave him plenty of water, but after the female left he got kinda mopey. I didn’t think he was that depressed, though.”

“Oh, you poor thing...” Aruaa said, holding my head gently.

“Hm. It does look like this was caused by dehydration combined with the work. It doesn’t look good.”

“You mean...he’s going to die?”

“No, no...but he probably won’t be able to pull Machines anymore. His brain’s been affected by the heat.”

“Oh, no...” she said, holding my head even tighter. I didn’t care...not about anything... “You’re...you’re a vet, isn’t there something we can do?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“What...what can we do then?”

“I’m afraid you’ll just have to put him out of his misery.”

“...Oh,” she said, beginning to stroke my mane again. “I was hoping...”

“It’s best not to put it off, miss.”

“I know, but...”

“You have a little place for that in the back of the stable, don’t you?”

“Yes...but I...”

“Shh. I know, it’s hard, but he’s suffering.”

“I know...though I...I don’t want to be the one to do it.”

“That’s fine. You can go, I’ll help the handlers with it.”

My head was put down onto the hard ground, right before I felt myself being dragged. My eyes fluttered open for a second, showing me one quick glimpse of the Back Room of the stable. I was going back there. I didn’t know what was back there...I didn’t want to go back there...but...but it didn’t matter now anyway...

I felt cold metal around me, closing in on my head, holding it in place as something was pressed against the back of my head.

“You are one smooth operator,” one of the handlers said. “Stunner ready.”

“Thank you,” the Stranger said I felt something tingle in the back of my head. “I try.”

Suddenly, for a moment, before I could almost realize it, all was pain...then all was black.

Then nothing.






The handler, Arvan, took the head brace off from the breeder, letting him drop to the floor.

Disgusting creatures.

“Help me strap him in,” he said to Culla as he dragged the breeder over to the processing line.

“I got it,” the vet said, moving the breeder’s hind limbs to the line and strapping him in. Arvan walked over to the switch and pressed it, lifting the breeder off the ground by his hind limbs, upside down. As he did so, he looked over at the screen, asking him for the animal’s number, so as to put it in the logs.

“What’s his number?”

The vet reached over for the breeder’s ear tag, pulling it closer to him. “263.”

As Arvan typed in the number, he automatically reached over for the butcher knife.

“Well, 263,” he said, walking up to him. “Been nice knowing you,” he said as he expertly sliced both sides of his neck, letting the blood pour out.

Culla found and brought Arvan a much better tool for the next step, one that gave him a bit more leverage. Arvan reached up, and with a quick, forceful snip, cut one of 263’s upper limbs off. He moved over to do the same with the other one before picking up the two limbs and dropping them onto a nearby metal table. He might as well get this out of the way while the blood was draining out. That usually took a while.

As he reached for his knife, he said, thoughtfully, “You know, it’s almost a kind of a shame to have to do this to so many inquisitive breeders.”

The vet shrugged as Arvan deftly chopped the hands off the limbs. “Humans can’t ever know of their own sentience.”

“...True,” he said, beginning to skin the arms, “true.”

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