Quota, p.1
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       Quota, p.1

           Stephen Cote
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Quota
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  Stephen W. Cote

  Copyright Stephen W. Cote 2012

  Quota

  The herds were thinning, always thinning, and today especially lean.  Quotas must be met, measured in kilo of crop-fed prol.  Stupid prols lapped up taint as though the poison sweetened the grass.  Rancid meat wouldn't save them.  Herds must be culled of taint.  If meat wouldn't fill one quota, it could fill another.

  Murdet adjusted the plastic mask to sit the groove worn into his cheekbone.   He tightened worn straps, the plastic stretched from repeated use, and unsheathed the machete.   Pinching the electrolarynx against his corroded voicebox, he spun the volume dial to zero.

  "Quota," was all the law required him to say.  It didn't stipulate the prol had to hear it. 

  The prol stirred in its stall, asleep.  Murdet raised the blade and cleaved into its neck.  The dull edge broke skin and fractured bone.  The prol woke, opened its mouth for what Murdet thought might become a blood-curdling scream, and he swung a second time.  That kept it quiet.  Following a third strike the prol ceased flailing. Blood trickled from its mouth, spurted from the neck wound. 

  Murdet removed a litmus strip and soaked it in blood.  The fibers turned golden yellow.  The prol had ingested taint, the color told, and doing so poisoned the meat.  He recorded the status in his registry, and then left the stall.

  He had entered the barn alone, so raised the machete when he heard scuffling in the adjacent stall.  "Skag," he began, and then remembered to increase the volume.  He announced himself as "Skag Murdet."

  Someone departed the stall, carrying an armload of cloth wrapped bundles.  They dressed like a skag, wearing a black plastic coat and mask, and a machete on their hip.  Under the layers of shiny and blood spattered plastic hid a man or woman, but Murdet could not tell which.

  "Skag Murdoch," the skag said through its electrolarynx.  It sized Murdet over.

  Murdet, holding a bloodied machete and no meat, held up his registry by way of explanation.

  Murdoch offered a bundle.  "Quota?"  Its electrolarynx resonated an octave higher than his, so Murdet guessed Murdoch to be female.

  Bile rose in Murdet's sternum, acid burbled into his esophagus.   He'd filled his quota for taint.  He needed viable product, not charity. And what was this skag doing culling from an adjacent stall?  He waited until Murdock turned her head and told her, "'Quota."  Then he sank the rusty machete into Murdoch's skull.  The blade split through the plastic and into strings of oily blonde hair. Murdet removed his filet knife, cut off the plastic and made haste butchering the loins and haunches.  Momentarily his hand hovered near her torso, wondering how human women might differ from men.  So far the body looked atypical. He clenched his fingers into a fist.  It didn't matter.

  Murdet plucked the registry from the skag's pocket, ripped out the last page and scanned the entries.  While the signage appeared foreign, there was a familiarity to the symbols. He opened his own registry and compared her last page with his.   Perhaps she'd taken to following him? He wasn't sure.  Well, no longer.

  Now, what to do with the meat? He cut the legs off her pants and stuffed the meat into the plastic tubes.  The remains he drug into the stall and heaped atop the corpse she'd mangled.   She'd filleted a calf for veal.  Since when did skags cull calves?

  He double-checked her registry.  New? In the back page he found a folded square of registry sheaves.  Not that new.   He scratched out the mark of taint from his last entry and marked in her estimated weight.  Her kilos, plus however the veal was weighed, might put him back in black.

  He stripped the remains of the skag uniform from the corpse.  Again he felt curiosity over its physique, but then dismissed it.

  Murdet carried the ripped clothes, boots, and meat out of the barn and set the bundles in his handcart; hers wrapped in dingy white plastic, his wrapped in her plastic pant legs.  He took hold of the wooden handles and wheeled the cart across the pastureland towards the distant town.

  The blight was cold; flakes of gray snow fell through its noxious cloak.  Murdet stopped here and there to pull up a cluster of mushrooms.  This pasture was largely unworked, left to disrepair.  Murdet angled the cart towards a couple prols chipping a furrow.

  The prols stooped, leaning on plastic trenchers.  One raised its hand in greeting, the other pushed the hand down.  Both looked emaciated, judging by the way the plastic hung loose around their obliques and stretched across distended stomachs.

  Murdet scooped up the mushrooms he'd harvested and tossed them into the rocky furrow.  "Quota."

  One of the prols picked up a mushroom, lifted its mask, and stuffed it between its lips.  The other prol also took a mushroom, turned it over in its hand, and then tossed it back on the ground.

  "Quota," Murdet said again.

  It shook its head, spit on the mushroom.

  "Quota!"

  It stretched the plastic to reveal its rib-lined scrawny torso.  Then it held its hand near its mouth and shook its head.  It couldn't speak. Neither could.  They didn't have an electrolarynx, and Murdet had never known a prol whose voice box survived the blight.  The prol wasn't tainted, tainted prols didn't work, and it refused to eat.  Smart prol.  No point culling untainted and stringy meat.  Not enough kilos.  He took Murdoch's mask and coat from the cart, and tossed them at the prol's feet.

  The prol who'd refused to eat picked up the mask and weighed it in its hands.  Its fingers lingered over the electrolarynx.  Then it peeled its mask from its head and donned Murdoch's.  A tuft of brown hair protruded through the split.  It made a noise through the higher-pitched electrolarynx.  "Aaaagghh."

  Murdet tweaked the octave down one click, and passed the prol Murdoch's machete.  He christened the prol, "Skag Murdag."  He handed Murdoch's blank registry to the new skag.  Pointing at the other prol, he said "Quota."  Then, he removed a small canister from his pocket and spritzed the other prol's face with musk, a vitamin-infused barbiturate. And, such was all the instruction a new skag needed.

  Then he took up the wooden cart arms and continued pushing the load to town.  Closer to town the pastureland bloomed with assorted mushrooms flecked by blighted snow.  Prol calves scampered amidst a herd tending the crop.  Skags circled the field, and whenever someone strayed the herd was quick to recover the delinquent. Murdet found beauty in one such ballet: A prol toted a bucket of mushrooms to a cart where a skag lurked with drawn machete.  The skag followed the prol into the field, and four more prols rushed towards the first, encircled it, and escorted it back to the center.

  At the crossroads between field and the few dilapidated buildings compromising the town, Murdet fell into a checkpoint queue.  A skag approached and held out a litmus strip.

  Murdet lowered the cart handles and said, "Quota."

  The skag didn't respond and continued holding out the strip.  Murdet reached for it but the skag retracted its hand. Then Murdet unfastened his mask, lifted it from his chin, and opened his mouth.  The skag swabbed the fibers and its dirty fingers over his lips.  

  It shook the fiber in the air and then held it up to a second skag.  In the past, the strip remained white.  This time the strip showed red.

  Whatever the color meant, the skags took Murdet by the arms, relieved him of his machete, and escorted him to a nearby barn.  Inside, four prols surrounded Murdet while the skags went outside and took possession of his meat.  The prols began to strip Murdet, starting with his mask, and then his jacket and boots.  They unbuttoned his single-piece undergarment and rolled it down to his ankles. 

  Naked, without a mask, the blighted air burned his nose and throat. The prols spritzed him with musk, and soon after relaxation unclenched his muscles.  A prol fastened a collar around his neck, tied a cord to it, and l
ed him by the cord to a stall.  There the prol tied the cord to an iron rung on the wooden wall.  At the back of the stall stood a strange looking human whose eyes oozed aggression.

  The prol held up a small vial attached to a needle.  It touched an electrolarynx against its throat and its lips moved, but no sound emanated.  Then it jabbed the needle into Murdet's haunch.

  Murdet tried to pull away but was held fast by the collar.  The strange human approached, and the prol jerked the lead down and Murdet fell forward to his hands and knees.  He wanted to struggle, to break free, but the musk and the jab made him feel woozy.  Warm.  Tingling. The strange human was behind him now, grunting.

  The prol put its hand on Murdet's shoulder, holding him down, and put its other hand between Murdet and the human.  Then the prol rubbed its hand between Murdet's legs, and followed through with a fiery strike straight into his stomach.  The strange human lunged over his back, and the prol held Murdet's lead in a tight fist.  When the strange human ceased moving, it separated and retreated to the back of the stall.

  The tension eased on the lead, and the prol stood.  

  The prol's electrolarynx emitted a garbled sound, and it patted his rump.  It draped a blanket over his back and guided him to curl up on the hay strewn wooden floor.  It held up the canister of musk and spritzed him in the face.  Soon the ache between his legs dulled and his mind wondered in daydream.

  Musk didn't induce sleep, and Murdet struggled to comprehend the world through groggy senses.  He wasn't sure what happened with the strange human, but the next day he received another needle jab and the prol held him on the ground while the strange human slumped over his back.  He didn't feel as much pain the second time, and afterwards the prol followed the musk with a warm pile of mushroom mash ladled directly on the ground.

  After three more days of being chained to the wall and being mounted by the strange human, the prol tested Murdet with a litmus strip. It showed blue. The prol untied the cord and led Murdet out of the stall.  It put a prol's shift over Murdet's head, guided his arms through the sleeves, and lowered the fabric over his body.  It held up a register with ten empty circles, pointed to the first, and then touched Murdet's stomach. It said,

  "Quota."

  About the Author

  Hello and thank you for reading. My name is Stephen W. Cote. I am a Software Engineer and Consultant, a United States Marine, a martial artist, and an author. You can find more information about my early creative writing and ongoing open source projects on whitefrost.com. I enjoy writing hard and whimsical science fiction, adult fantasy, and poetry. As an early advocate of Creative Commons licensing, many of my short stories and poems have been available online since 1996.

  If you enjoyed this story, or my other free stories, you may also be interested in my fantasy novel, Harlot's Eight, or my short story collection Nothing Like Heaven.

  If you would like to learn more about my writing, open source projects such as the Hemi JavaScript Framework, or inquire about unpublished manuscripts and shorts, please contact me at whitefrost.com.

  Thank you for taking the time to read my work and I hope you enjoy it.

 

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