Home > Worse Guy(6)

Worse Guy(6)
Author: Ruby Dixon

Not me, specifically, I can't help but notice. He just wants a mate so he can flaunt it in front of the others. I've caught him bragging—and not in pleasant ways—about me to the other males. I know he's using me, and I'm using him, too. I should break it off, but tonight I'm just too tired and my mind is on a million other things. So I smile sweetly and apologize. "I know, Riffin. It's just hard for me. Give me a bit more time?"

"I've given you a lot of time already. I just want to know when it's my time," he grumps, but sighs and opens the door to the boarding house, gesturing I should go in. So much for chivalry, I think, as the doors practically smack my ass on the way inside. I should pay attention to my friend Lucy, who insists that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. She's recently mated to an adoring hunk that works over at the port custodial offices, and has offered to set me up with a friend if I ditch Riffin, but I haven't taken her up on it yet.

Men are such work, sometimes, that the thought of having to train a new one is exhausting.

Thinking about Lucy reminds me that there's more than one way to get on a man's good side, and it doesn't have to be with kisses. Since this world is strongly laced with misogyny, I've adopted a “cheerful but somewhat idiotic” nature so I get what I want without pushing too hard. No one sees me as a threat, and it serves me well. I head for the kitchens, because I think I'm going to bring some baked goods to my new co-workers in the morning.

The more they enjoy having me around, the better it is for me.



The next morning, when I arrive back at the guard station, I do so with a massive batch of cookies.

Well, I guess they're more like scones. Biscuits? I know that most of the blue aliens aren't a big fan of sweets, so I ease off on the sugar and add nuts instead. The result is a chunky, textured, nut-filled unsweetened cookie that tastes terrible to me but everyone else snaps up with excitement. The men crowd around me with eagerness, and for a moment, I feel bad for them. They're all young, and I know they're like Riffin, taking these jobs because they pay well, are considered honorable posts, and so they can send funds back home. They're all younger than my thirty-three years, and right now, I feel like a PTA mom in charge of snacks.

Even Riffin forgets to be mad at me when I arrive with the treats. He beams benevolently at his co-workers as they dig into the cookies. "Play it right, and I'll have her make you treats every day," he tells them, like I'm a trained dog who's learned a new skill.

I keep smiling, even though I want to stomp on Riffin's foot in irritation. I take out a specially wrapped package and hold it to my chest. I gesture at the window into the next room over, where Crulden is being housed. "So who is going to give Crulden his share?"

That silences them. The guards stop, watching me.

"Crulden?" one asks, crumbs flying from his mouth. "Why d'you wanna feed him?"

I blink innocently. "Why, he's my job. And he's not a prisoner, right? He's being reformed, not condemned, so why wouldn't I bring him a treat as well?" I smile sweetly at them. "After all, the goal is to integrate him into daily life here, yes? That includes the good things, too."

The guardsmen look at me as if I'm insane. "You want to feed him?"

One laughs. "Don't you like having hands?"

"Well, I thought we could do like you guys and slide his plate over." I flutter my lashes, and if that doesn't get me somewhere, I'm going to have to start twirling a lock of hair around a finger. "What can it harm, right? It'll make me feel so much better about doing my job."

They look over at Riffin, as if he's in control of the situation. Ugh. My “boyfriend” is frowning. "I don't like this idea, Bee."

"But I bet Crulden is hungry," I point out, and move to the window. I peer in and sure enough, Crulden is on the floor in his cage, but his eyes are open and he's watching me with intense eyes. "Hello Crulden," I call out in greeting. "I've brought you delicious treats. Are you hungry?"

"He's not going to respond," Riffin says. "He—"

"I could eat."

The voice is low and ominous, and his gaze remains locked on me. I shiver, because it occurs to me that he's not talking about cookies at all. I suspect it's all bluster, though. Wouldn't I do the same if I was locked up with a bunch of people staring me down and acting like I'm a monster? It's like poker, and he's calling my bluff.

Well, I've never known when to fold my cards. So I smile triumphantly and hand the package of cookies to Riffin. "Please give these to Crulden." When he looks reluctant, I pat his arm encouragingly. "Small steps to victory, Riff darling. Small steps."

"Right." Riffin doesn't sound so convinced, but a moment later, the reinforced door into Crulden's quarters is unlocked and Riffin steps inside. The awful stink of unwashed flesh and dirt hits me, but I do my best to ignore it, smiling cheerily as Riffin takes a few wary steps toward Crulden's cage and then slides the small, cloth-wrapped package toward him.

The moment it gets close, Crulden shoves the entire thing in his mouth, cloth and all. Oh. Oh dear.

Okay then, I decide as Riffin races back out of the room and slams the door shut behind him. Crulden chews, bits of fabric visible between his tusks. Tomorrow, unwrapped cookies.



It's the third day of cookies when I notice the men are getting careless. I make a comment about how Earth people like to have their cookies with milk, and practically all of the guards head out for the mess hall in search of milk to have with their treats. I'm left alone with one junior guard outside of Crulden's cell.

It's Riffin's day off or he'd probably be here with me, but instead, I've just got a stranger shoving cookies into his mouth and Crulden, double-locked behind his doors and no one to give him his treat. He's eaten the cookies every time I've brought them, and I know he's aware of when I arrive. This could be my chance to talk with him quietly, while the others aren't paying attention. It's hard to have a conversation with someone when you can't even enter the room, after all.

So I put Crulden's share of cookies into his metal bowl and hug it to my chest. I gesture at the locked door. "Go ahead and open that so I can give him his food."

The junior guard gives me a look of terror. "You're going in there?"

"I did yesterday," I lie. "And it was just fine. Now, come on. Open up." I give him an impatient look and put a hand on the door handle, bluffing my way in. This could either be the breakthrough that I need, or a really, really bad call. I'm running out of time, though, and if I can't make progress with Crulden, I'm going to be doing garrison laundry for the rest of my life. Besides, I'm reasonably sure Crulden won't attack me.


The guard hesitates for a moment longer and then makes a low sound of protest in his throat even as he types the code in to open the door. I watch him type, trying to memorize the keys. The alphabet they use is nothing like an English one and all the squiggles look the same, so I try to remember the pattern of his fingers on the panel instead. The door opens with a quiet buzz, and then I step inside.

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