Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

This planet’s dominant life was insectile and large. A special breed of ranch-hand was needed.

Jake was a milliboy.

The millipede was as big around as a tree trunk, bright red and armoured. The saddle looked ridiculous on such a creature but it served its purpose. It kept Jake astride his steed.

Jake and a few hundred others worked this ranch. Breaking in the tranchlas, the kaydids, the scorps juners, skeeters, and the jackflies. Wasn’t one insect a body could trust, the earthers said. It just wasn’t in the creatures. They operated on a completely emotionless level. You couldn’t build up a rapport with them.

Jake and the other milliboys would beg to differ on that point.

“You spend enough time around the ‘sects,” Jake and the milliboys said, “you get to know the way they think, what the twitch of a leg means, the angle of one of those huge multifaceted eyes. The ‘sects know you’re watching. They learn to avoid pain.”

Jake’s mount was addicted to meth. It was easy to make around here. The millipedes were the easiest to hook, easiest to train, and damn near impossible to kill. Those pincers up front underneath that bulbous, eyeless face could cut a prayer in half or so they say. Slow movers but they never turned on their riders after they had been broken in and hooked on the drug.

Penelope was breaking in a mantis. Only the girls could work the mantii. The milliboys just got their heads nipped off when they tried. With the pheromones in the air, the female mantis could tell that it was a problem of dominance, not survival. A contest of will. There were dozens of species of mantis. They made up half of the planet’s population. Mantis-breaker girls were in demand. Prayers, they were called.

Penelope hadn’t lost one yet. She was there, hat in hand, whooping as the mantis bucked, kicking up fantails of brown dirt. Penelope had a hold of the wings with her legs and she was smiling from ear to ear, freckles dotted on her red cheeks.

After a long time, the mantis calmed down and knelt. The contest was over.

“Well, hell. I think this’ll be my new mount.” She said and slapped her knee after dismounting, laughing as she walked over to Jake.

“You always were a firecracker, Pen.” Jake said, smiling underneath the brim of his hat.

“How much money you got in that mouth of yours, Jake?” asked Pen. “I reckon I can break a hive queen before you can tomorrow.”

The other milliboys laughed. Jake stopped smiling. He squinted up at the two suns as if measuring something in the sky. He looked back at Penelope. Everyone around them went silent.

“You’re on” said Jake, smiling again. She smiled back.

Around them, money started changing hands.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows