There weren’t many
things Adam enjoyed more than laying out in the fields of his farm,
gazing up at Zerric when it was at its peak storm season.
Living on a dry, barely hospitable moon floating around the violent planet that was Zerric, there were few joys to be had.
Day in and day out, you worked until you were ready to drop.
There were fifty-one days of sunshine and then fifty-one days of night, and during those fifty-one days of sunshine it was pleasant and warm, but you hardly got to enjoy it because you were in the fields working as fast as possible, doing as much as possible, to see that you grew enough food to sustain you when it was night. Because when it was night it was night.
Every day during the night phase it grew colder and colder until, by day twenty, everything was covered in ice and you couldn’t go outside with any exposed skin, lest you want frost bite in twenty seconds flat. You had to stay inside you home under the frozen ground, survive off of what you had farmed until the sun came back out. When the sunlight came back it took about eight days to melt all the frost away and then you were back to slaving away.
You worked until night came again, and then the cycle repeated.
And that was pretty much life on Zerric’s third moon.
There were a total of six moons all orbiting the beast of a planet, but none of the others could support human life. They had some nasty little critters that were native to the other moons, sure, but humans didn’t have time to acclimate to the much rougher climate. They were lucky enough that this moon was just barely habitable.
Though ‘lucky’ isn’t how Adam would describe it. They were considered so when they first crashed into God’s galactic blind spot, though he suppose that wasn’t really fair. There was a human colony in the next solar system over that had to deal with some monstrous water dwellers on a plant with no land, but they hadn’t heard from that particular colony in a long while, so it was assumed they were all dead and Adam’s home officially had the title of ‘worst colony’. His colony had crash landed here almost eight hundred years ago on the way to colonizing a more peaceful, gentler plant, but the Zerric’s had found out and shot them out of the sky.
Adam was told his fellow man had a long-standing pissing match with Zerric, which is why they reacted badly to them sailing by their home planet. Others had said that that gentler planet they had been on the way to had only been a story the Zerric constructed to get them to sail by so they could shoot them.
Either way, eight hundred years of hard life and desperation and Adam had been born, only knowing what was told to him and living the only life he had ever known as a farmer.
The Zerric were funny creatures, used to be humans like Adam was, but the planet changed them after they colonized it hundreds of thousands of years ago and now those on Zerric were…well, not human. Not like Adam was, anyway. For starters, they were completely blind, but their other senses were way better than Adam’s. Profoundly better. Those on Zerric had tapped into a more primal part of the brain during the many generations they spent surviving on the hostile planet, having been forced to focus on surviving day to day, something that Adam and his fellow man on the moon didn’t really understand, didn’t have to develop, not even now.
Because even though it was hard here on the moon, they were still being supported by the Zerric, still getting funds and sent provisions whenever they requested them. Food, water and other supplies necessary to make it through the long nights. It was a lot when you had almost nothing.
But it sure as hell wasn’t for free.
The Zerric liked to fuck humans. They couldn’t mate with them anymore because they were genetically to different, but boy did they like to keep them as trophies, pretty little trophies they got to parade around, keep as ornaments for their homes and arms, living breathing things they thought were just there to get off to.
They had been humans once and the theory was that it stirred some sort of sense of nostalgia in them, but most accepted the more plausible theory that they wanted something to cuddle, which their species didn’t encourage. The males and females would reproduce together, but the creatures down there were as hostile as their environment. They mostly kept separate with their own territories and got together to mate, but didn’t stay in pairs, even though they seemed to want the company.
Of course, no Zerric would ever admit to it. As they would say through their pointy gritted teeth, that – A, it just wasn’t true, and B, saying that really pissed them off, everyone tried not to joke about it if there was one of them around or else you would get a proper smacking.
But the fact of the matter was that when Adam’s ancestors crashed, the Zerric kept them alive specifically so they could make pets out of them.
They had a code of honor though, the Zerric, which was dull and complicated, but pretty much meant that they didn’t like just getting handed something. They liked to fight for it or hunt it, so when his ancestors crashed, the Zerric didn’t just round them up and auction them off like they might have on another planet – Adam was looking at you, Essan 4.
What they had were trophy runs, or what was popularly just called The Run.
In exchange for goods, each year every town on the moon had to have one human go down to Zerric for a good old fashion hunt down. If you were a human like Adam, you would be stuck in ‘point A’ and have to make it to ‘point B’ without getting captured, or you could wait out the clock, which was roughly twelve hours, give or take an hour, depending on the weather. If you were captured at any point, you belonged to your captor, your master and basically just existed to be their pet.
If you waited out the clock or successfully made it point B, you’d get to go back to your town with a prize on top of what your town already got for sending you – that prize was always a sizable sum of funding and supplies, which was supposed to act as an incentive so the town didn’t rebel and fight sending one of their locals.
Theoretically, for every human sent down, a town would get x amount of funds and supplies, and if that human came back, they would receive that again as well as a little more…but no town ever sent more than one local because, frankly, it was incredibly rare for that local to ever come back and they were always on the edge of having a genetic crisis.
Only two dozen humans in their entire history that had come back from the run, though none had been so lucky when they got sent back down the second time around.
There was just one stupid bitch that had entered three times and came back each run.
That stupid bitch was Adam.
Everyone told him to watch his pride, but he couldn’t help but brag about his successes – there was just so little he had to be proud of, and beating the trophy run three times? Come on! That was three years in a row he brought home the good stuff. Most of his prize funds had been sent to his sister on the other end of the colony, who had recently had her sixth kid, all girls, and was doing pretty much both his and his sister’s duty to keep the colony populated, but whatever he had left over was spent fixing up his town.
It was an itty bitty town – just twenty-nine of them, and with a mean age of forty-seven, he was by far the youngest there so he got sent down every year since he turned twenty. Here they had six family farms, a pub where everyone gathered after work, a church, and a field that served as a marketplace. That was it. It was a dying town that would have broken up and joined one of the much bigger ones, but because Adam kept beating The Run and kept the funds and enough supplies rolling in, they were able to limp by each year and put it off.
He couldn’t imagine ever leaving this place.
Sure, the other towns were more industrialized all were all centered around bigger cities, but his was just…cozy. It was all grassy fields and lazy, grazing goats, quaint little houses and music carried on the breeze from the wonky speakers that dotted the fields. They were farmers. They were small town folk and stayed to the old way of scraping by but being deliciously independent while the others became increasingly dependent on the Zerric. The rule of thumb was for every thirty persons, that particular settlement would have to send one human for the goodies to keep the populace alive through the cold months. And in cities with a couple thousand people?
Well - math wasn’t Adam’s strong suit, but that was a lot of humans per city.
At least here it was more impact when he went down. His return was a big party and everyone would be there to greet him with a big hug. He’d never have to pay for another drink or a hot meal at the pub. In the city, he would just be another lamb for the slaughter. Even if he came back, it’d be announced and then moved on from so everyone could return their their jobs and focusing on trying to get by before night came.
Adam was hellbent on never leave his town. He’d have to get a wife from elsewhere, but he’d always return to here. This place was home – the place he grew up, in the city his sister and her family were, that was just a place he would visit to see his sister and her girls. He didn’t miss it when he left, he missed them.
Besides his sister’s family, it was this town that he thought of when he was down on Zerric.
Or was it up?
Adam shrugged at that and tucked his arms behind his head as he stared up at the big gray storms that swirled in their lazy march across Zerric’s skies, giving the illusion of two great eyeballs staring back, accented by the lightning that was constantly shooting through it, serving as the veins. It was quite a show to watch and his favorite thing to do when he was getting ready to call it a day. He could lay here for hours watching it, the slow turning of the clouds almost hypnotizing in their dance.
Half of the planet’s surface was always under a storm like one of these, a massive hurricane, though every five years or so it goes through a ‘quiet period’, which was about two years where the storms would stay out to sea. It had been almost eight years since the last ‘quiet period’, but everyone on the television was talking about how that was coming about again.
The sound of his wristwatch going off alerted him to the fact that it was about time he got ready for bed, so he rose from his resting place in the tall, lush grass and stretched, brushing off the amber colored petals that dotted his pants from working the fields to head over to his little house built into the side of a small hill. It was a pretty sweet set up, warm during the cold days and cool during the warmest days, and had recently gotten another bedroom, bathroom, and closet added thanks to leftover fund from his last successful bridal run. It might not be as big as the ones back in the city, but it was home and it was all his, and now that he had room his sister was talking about sending out some of her girls to spend some of the days with him to help out on his farm, something he and the town were pretty damn excited for. It had been a long time since they got new blood here, someone to bring a new story to tell.
As he went inside he was greeted with his notice, a sheet of paper that told him the date and time he was going to be picked up and ferried to the nearest city for his shuttle to Zerric. At the sight of it he was reminded that he needed to pack his bags, something he had been neglecting and decided to get that out of the way first.
Anyone who was captured during the run wouldn’t be returning, instead of going wherever their new master wished. Some returned to the colony with their captors and lived in the city while their master took on a policing position there or some government seat, but most Zerric wanted to stay on their planet in their own homes, so stay their trophies did as well. There was probably one Zerric on the colony with their pets for every two hundred humans, but you couldn’t ever hold your breath that you might get captured by one of those.
Because of this, they suggested you pack a bag of your things to bring down with you in case you were caught – they were even kind enough to provide the bag! They sent for the rest of your things later, but it could take anywhere from eighty to two hundred days between shuttles to the moon, depending on the weather, so it was wise to bring something down to wear. On the past three times Adam had entered, he was lucky that he only had to stay down for about six days each time before he could shuttle back up here, as the weather had been good enough, but that was still six days he needed clothing, so packing was a necessity.
He didn’t like to wonder what would happen to his house if he didn’t return to it - if he finally got caught. Renovations had just finished, and he was only just now getting to enjoy it, but he had forced himself to deal with that thought the other day and had arranged for his sister to have it. She said she could use it as a summer home, but more likely she’d just let it sit, since she wouldn’t want one of her daughters here in town if he wasn’t here, as without him, one of her daughters would surely be chosen to be sent down for The Hunt.
Adam was used to the motions of packing and finished pretty quickly. The first time he had felt sick all the way and had in fact thrown up after finishing, but now it was so ‘meh’. He was confident enough in himself that he could throw together what he needed. After a quick shower, he pulled the windows closed, throwing his bedroom into darkness, and then crawled into bed for sleep.
The collectors arrived when they always did, right at the time the notice said they would. The first time he did this he had to almost be dragged out of the house, kicking and cursing because it had been a surprise – their town hadn’t even been included on the list of chosen settlements due to the ages of their citizens and their small numbers, but that ended up being a mistake and he was chosen because he was the youngest. This time he locked up, threw his bag at the collectors, and then followed them to the vehicle.
He had this.
He always did.