“Your father has conceded,” Sneered Sitient as he thrust open the door to her cell, “Time for the princess to return home. And with the weapons he’s providing, it might be soon that we meet again.”
He smiled, and retched as his breath struck her, watching the open door quiver under the grasp of his shaking hand.
“When I’m back with the Lear,” She rasped, her throat dry from lack of water, “The next time we meet will surely be the last.”
“What’s that?” He asked, cocking an ear towards her, “I couldn’t quite make out the words. Are you thirsty? Don’t worry, we’ve prepared quite the drink for you. With the weapons, I don’t think water is going to be much of problem for us anymore. We have plenty to spare.”
She stumbled after him as he departed, her legs weak from the heavy rationing on the other end of the ship plus the lack of food over the last few days. Ahead she could hear voices, a commotion of activity they grew louder with each step, until she broke into the lighting of the farm fields.
Hundreds of the Agrarians extended before her, stretched in two long and waving lines from one side of the fields to the exit at the far end. Between the two lines there was just enough room to form a narrow path through the dirt, but it was no longer only dirt- buckets lined side the sides, buckets full of manure and water that had been cast into the earth, creating a foul mud concoction that Airomem could smell from the entrance. Her pangs of hunger dissipated under the stench as the guards prompted her closer, then stopped at the front of the two lines.
Behind her, the guards hoisted Sitient into the air on a chair and he began to speak, the crowd quieting as his voice bellowed over their own and his spittle mixed in with the mud.
“On this day, we welcome Airomem, princess of the Lear- for she has fetched us the price of fifteen stun guns, more than our tribe has ever known!” He raised his arms and the crowd erupted into screeches and stomped, spraying flecks of mud into the air. He waited until they quieted, and he continued, “On this day, we are no longer one of the three tribes. On this day, we become part of the one tribe! We take the Aquarians and their water, and then we take the Lear! In thanks for their gift, we have spent our remaining water until the Aquarian tonight in Airomem’s honor! Be sure, I repeat, be sure not a single drop of it goes to waste!”
Airomem felt a foot thrust forward from the small of her back and propel her forward, sending her sprawling into the mud. Jeers erupted ahead of her as she rose to her knees, muck clinging to the front of her clothes and tips of her hair, and before she had a chance to stand a ball of the manure slammed into her right cheek, exploding over the entire side of her face and up one nostril. She shook it off just as another smacked against her side, launched by a woman with no teeth twenty paces up the line as others scooped up the material to make their own projectiles.
Airomem clenched her jaw, then raised her chin upwards.
And she began to walk, her feet sinking ankle deep into the earth.
By the twentieth mudball she she hardly felt the new ones, and by third time she had been tripped or shoved there was no part of her body left uncoated, no patch of skin or hair that stood naked. Their voices laughed and their eyes flashed as she moved past them, the lines constricting in places to make it near impossible to cross while thickening in other areas to allow for more projectiles. For ten minutes she endured it, making no sound, meeting none of their eyes. Staring directly ahead, plowing onward until at last the lines split and she reached a corridor, the one that she had initially taken when she had departed the Lear.
Refuse rolled away from her with each step down the deserted hallway, her feet leaving dark tracks on the metal, the commotion still loud behind her. And after two hundred paces she came upon a group of twenty waiting Lear soldiers circled around a pile of stun guns.
“Halt!” Commanded the first as the others recoiled, “No entry is allowed by any Agrarian past this point until princess Airomem has been returned to the Lear!”
“I am Airomem.” She hissed, throwing her matted hair over one shoulder, “Daughter of Praeter. And I have seen the other side of the ship.”
The soldiers gasped as they recognized her and parted, allowing her to pass and escorting her to the first bottleneck a mere minute away. Upon arrival, she turned to the soldiers and spoke.
“I seek my father’s council, at once. This matter cannot wait for cleaning or rest – bring him here, now! We have but only minutes to act!”
And standing on the doorway, she shook the mud from her feet, and shouted into Agrarian territory, her voice harsh and her eyes cold.
“The wrath of the Lear will not be felt with weapons or words! No, it will be felt with our absence, for our departure is the departure of your lifeblood. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the wicked will have no peace!”