Author: Thomas Tilton
The gentry signaled me by dilating the pupil of its lidless right eye. Time to work. I hoped my task would not be too demeaning.
I promptly headed over to the gentry’s floating throne/toilet and inquired as to its needs.
I could feel the thought-tendrils slithering around my brain as, wordlessly, the gentry made its request known.
But of course.
I reached for the organic feeding mechanism from which sprouted dozens of tubes placed at different ports on the gentry’s body like the wires of an old earth EKG machine. The feeding mechanism itself resembled a giant white kidney bean.
Mid-reach, my body was stopped, frozen in place. Again, I felt the thought-tendrils coil around my brain.
Gingerly, I reached for a tray of fried squirrelcat which had materialized next to the gentry’s massive throne/toilet.
I popped two pieces into my mouth and masticated. I worked a lot of saliva around the mush in my mouth, pocketed the mush in my left cheek and sort of half-gargled it.
Then, I bent myself over the gentry, held my nose against the exhalations of its fetid maw, and let the mush of squirrelcat and saliva dribble down my chin and into the gentry’s widening gyre of a mouth.
It chewed, as much as the gentry could, being toothless and not having much of a chin to speak of, or rather several chins.
The voluminous folds of its neck shook with pleasure as the gentry consumed the food.
A moment later and I heard the hollow echo of expulsion into the gentry’s chamber pot.
I took a step back, thinking my job here was done, when once more I heard the silent call of the gentry.
Again? I thought.
I looked around for a tray of food, something to chew on, but there was nothing.
What am I supposed to feed you? I thought.
I will, but I don’t see —
It took me several seconds to comprehend what the gentry was asking. And then at least another minute after that to accept the reality of it.
I’d heard of the ritual feedings. Terran blood sacrifices made to appease the gentry. You couldn’t come of age on Betazus without encountering the stories at some point in school, or more likely around a campfire. They were stories told to scare children. And apparently, they were true.
This was it, then. The day of my deliverance.
To stop the quivering of my jaw, I bit my thumb.
Without making the conscious decision to do so, I stepped forward. Bent at the waist, against my will. And once more I was frozen in place, hunched over the maw of the gentry, unable to move.
I was released and fell to my knees.
Beside me, I heard a sharp intake of breath, followed by a skin-flapping chortle.
It seemed the gentry had developed a taste for cruelty. Unlike talking, or chewing, or independent movement of any kind, the gentry could dispense cruelty, exert their power, shame their subordinates without mechanical or human assistance.
I wondered then if the gentry’s awesome powers were worth its revolting appearance, its inability to move without aid, its no longer having access to the basic human pleasures. Generations of evolution in that direction would seem to answer in the affirmative. But staring into the gentry’s lidless eyes just then, I still wondered.