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Alter Reiss is a scientific editor and field archaeologist. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife Naomi and their son Uriel, and enjoys good books and bad movies. This is his fourth story in Daily Science Fiction.

Arric rode on white horses, on bays and on roans, in ox-carts and in carriages. He wore fine clothing and poor, farmer's hats and trader's breeches. Always moving, always hiding. If the Others learned how far he'd gone and why, he'd die. They didn't. Three months after he set out, he arrived at a ruined city marked forbidden to man.
He crept in at night, as the black metal craft of the Others looped and whirled overhead. He darted from shadow to shadow, through fouled water, past twisted steel and shattered concrete. It took some hours before he found it, a building covered and recovered in paint and filth, looking little different than the ruins around it. "I come from the cape," he whispered to the darkness, "to see the technologist Asher." He gave the password, and hoped that it was worth what it had cost.
A ruined table shifted out of place. "The technologist Asher is dead," said a voice from within. "But come in, quickly."
It was as though he had been taken by the Others, like he'd been stabbed and mounted on a cull spike. All that, wasted? He followed numbly, into a dark, dry tunnel. "I am Asher's apprentice, Nathaniel," said someone, ahead of him.
They came out into a room, and the lights there were not torches or lanterns. They were old things, electric, and Arric let himself once again feel hope. The technologist was dead, but maybe his apprentice knew what was needful. Arric showed the pitted metal box he had brought, crusted over with barnacles and dried seaweed. "This was brought up by a fisherman," he said. "We had hoped that the technologist Asher--"
"Military issue!" said Nathaniel. "This might be something." He was gaunt, tall, black-bearded, with scars all along the side of his face. He was not the technologist Asher, but he moved with assurance, trying one tool, than another. The box popped open, revealing a half dozen globes, black and smooth. Arric reached out to touch them, to feel the things for which he had risked so much.
"Don't," said Nathaniel, who was crouched beneath a desk, looking through the drawers. "If those are explosive, they'll bring the whole block down."
Arric jerked back as though they were sea snakes. "Do you think they're still live?" he asked.
"Fair question." Nathaniel took something out, and held it over the box. "Late period. Nanoplague, I think, and some might be live." He looked over to Arric. "This will take some time."
There was a pallet in the corner, and without hesitation, Arric took it. He had been snatching an hour or two of sleep here and there; he was so tired he could almost cry.
When he woke, the light was the same, but the globes were all cracked open, smooth black fragments scattered over the table and benches.
"All flown?" asked Arric. "All worthless?"
"No," said Nathaniel. "Do you know what the Others do with the culls?"
"They kill them," said Arric. "For pleasure."
"Not just," said Nathaniel. "They kill them for food," he said.
Arric shook his head. "So?"
Nathaniel gave him back the box; it was filled with little twists of cloth. "They have become gluttons, the Others," he said. "They no longer fear us, so they eat only the choicest parts--blood and liver, fear and hope. They take so much, that sometimes a morsel drops from their table." He pulled back his shirt, to show the scar of a cull-spike.
"It was difficult for Asher to find an apprentice," he said. "He needed someone who knew how to hate. The Others took me in a cull, along with a hundred more. They gave us pain and fear and death, and the faintest sliver of hope. I think they loved that the best; the hope, when they took it."
"So?" asked Arric, again.
"So," said Nathaniel. "I saw them kill, again and again. I saw how they killed. I know them and I hate them, like nobody else alive. They fed me such a mix of hate and fear that my friends went mad with it, that my sister died of it. The Others eat nothing that cannot hope and fear, nothing that cannot reason. According to Asher, when they came, they brought a reserve of prey from their own world, but that is long gone."
Nathaniel looked at Arric, who had begun to understand. "The grenades contained a plague," continued Nathaniel. "I've weakened it; most of those who breathe the dust will not die. But they will sicken. They, and those they infect, and so on. It will weaken with each transference; the nanos will not replicate quickly, and human blood is strong. But if everything you eat has this in their blood, it will concentrate, and it will kill. The Others can only eat intelligent prey, and we are their only remaining stock."
Arric understood. Back down that tunnel, back through the ruined city, and out into the world. He had to ride far, and he had to ride fast, so he could not breathe the dust that he spread. If he went a hair too slowly, the Others would see what was happening, they would quarantine, they'd kill the sick, and the threat would pass. Arric rode on white horses, on bays and on roans, in ox-carts and in carriages, and he rode to all the ends of the Earth.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author Comments

The way certain poisons concentrate as they make their way up the food chain always struck me as being sort of interesting. This story starts from there, and moves the food chain up one more link.

- Alter S. Reiss
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