by Kat Heckenbach -
Xavia fanned herself with her outspread hand and groaned. “Is it always so hot on this level?” Her jeweled bracelets clinked softly in rhythm with the movement of her arm. She wrinkled her nose as she scanned the marketplace around her. Bare metal, garish lighting. Commoners scuttling around the meatmongers’ stands like the beetles whose meat they were there to purchase. “Why did I let you talk me into this, Tomi?”
Tomika rolled her eyes and tucked a tress of long black hair behind her ear. “Aren’t you at all curious about what goes on down here? Where things come from? How they get here?”
“Not at all,” Xavia said as they shuffled forward with the crowd. “As long as it’s on my plate and cooked the way I ask…which reminds me, I need to put in an official complaint about the chef at—”
A scream broke the surrounding chatter, and Xavia clamped her hand onto Tomika’s arm. “What’s going on?”
The mass of people in front of them shifted, but Xavia could see nothing except their backs.
Tomika pulled free of Xavia’s grasp and climbed up on a bench, her high heels ringing the metal seat. She peered over the crowd and then stepped down. “Looks like a gang fight at the other end.”
“You’re kidding me! On our level something like that would never—”
The crowd suddenly surged back, forcing Xavia and Tomika against the table behind them. Xavia reached back to steady herself, and swallowed a scream of revulsion as her hand slid into something firm but…slimy.
She lifted her hand and turned around. A beetle the size of a dinner plate lay on its back, legs splayed. Its belly was pried open, revealing a swell of glistening pink flesh.
“Ugh, oh, Tomi…I knew they were big, but…”
“Xav…” Tomika’s voice came from behind Xavia’s left shoulder. “That one’s just a baby.”
Xavia spun to face her friend and narrowed her eyes. “Take me home.”