by Travis Perry -
Jax ran after the headless coriander beetle that dragged Ernsto under its body. The spear would not be effective against the thick shell at the rear of the creature, but he thrust it anyway. Perhaps some sort of pain reflex would slow it down…
The beetle’s hindquarters twitched when Jax jabbed, but otherwise the spear point had no effect. A streak of dark human blood flowed behind the dragged human, from Ernsto’s back.
“Help! Help!” Ernsto barked as he helplessly kicked and punched upward. Jax briefly considered pulling his scythegun. It would ruin the value of the kill, but it certainly would stop the beetle’s forward motion. He hesitated, concerned the blast might also injure or kill the human underneath the beetle…
Before he could decide, the beetle’s headless—but still running full speed—thorax pushed into the sandy patch where Ernsto had hidden. In the sand, Jax saw him push hard with arms and legs and disengage himself from the bug’s undercarriage, the softer ground allowing him to succeed in pushing himself down and away. The decapitated beetle kept moving forward until it impacted a boulder on the other side of the sandy patch. Its way blocked, it still tried to move ahead, its legs vainly scratching the rocky ground, the headless torso pressed into the boulder too big for it to budge…
“You all right, pal?” asked Jax, standing over the motionless Ernsto, who had rolled over to his stomach on the sandy ground. Quite a lot of dark venous blood oozed from his back, all over the back—the wounds in fact seemed deeper and more extensive than what he could account for based on the recent scrape along the ground.
“Just give me a minute,” said Ernsto. “I’ll be fine.”
“We need to get you to a doctor,” Jax replied. “With this bounty of a harvest—three corianders in good condition—we should be able to pay the medics for some treatment.”
“Bounty,” muttered the voice below him, “That’s an interestin’ choice of words…there’s a bounty on my head that’ll make your notion difficult to carry out…”
“Don’t worry. Nobody checks that sort of thing at the Palmer trading camp.”
The man chuckled bitterly. “If only you knew.”