The Inspector’s furry antennae unfurled across the eyeball grid, brushing the tops of the razor walls. Each hair twirled in a tight curlicue, swirling molecules to divine deeper flavors. “Whhhhat’s this then?” The Inspector cried, planting his talons against the far wall to hoist himself up. Each claw was long and sharp and marbled black, with streaks of haulers’ blood. “I ssssmell dawdling!”
Maebel shook her face free of the cyclopes’ grip. They smelled as they usually did, but the moment the Inspector crested the grid he’d see what had happened. Perhaps she should throw herself at his mercy, or pretend that someone had tampered with the razor walls. But this was her grid to manage, and nobody else could be blamed.
She made several bad decisions all at once. First she gave the cyclopes a mighty kick, sending them sliding into one of the empty cells. Then she grabbed one of the Inspector’s antennae, using it to rappel down after the cyclopes. The sensitive organ scraped against the top of the iron wall, and the Inspector began to shriek and heave. Her tether grew first taut then slack then taut again as the Inspector tried to break free of her grip, before the antennae finally snapped off his head and she fell into the warm skin of the monster.
It was sweaty buried in the cyclopes’ folds and the smell was more powerful than ever, but Maebel nestled in as deeply as possible. “Please, please escape,” she whispered as the Inspector scrambled overhead. There was a scuttle of bone on metal as one of his stilts swung into view, penitents pierced on its barbs. They were haulers like Maebel, likely put on stilt duty for some minor offense like harvesting a grid prematurely or backwashing into the slaw trough.
The blood of the penitents rained overhead while the Inspector spat and wailed. Drops stung Maebel’s eyes and sizzled on the cyclopes’ skin. They screamed in two voices, which even now struggled to find the same pitch. “Dig, you stupid thing!” Maebel yelled. The Inspector’s compound eyes peered down into their cell. Each yellow facet displayed a glowing backwards image. Marbled talons scrabbled towards Maebel’s exposed belly. “Dig!” she screamed again.
But the cyclopes tried to climb, one half up the left wall, the other up the right. Maebel weighed down their connective tissue as they squirmed up, sinking lower into the cell before both halves snapped back on top of her, grazing the Inspector’s claws. The cyclopes moaned in fear.
“Frrrraternizersss! Cohhhhabitants! Ssssymbiotes!” the Inspector accused, clawing one of the cyclopes across the mouth. Blood and tears poured over Maebel’s face. The monster’s blood was red like hers, burned her skin as the penitents’ blood burned it. And the damn thing couldn’t make a damn decision, even as the Inspector extended his needled proboscis.
Maebel plunged a fist into her pouch of eyeballs. They were warm and moist in her hand, red veins lapping salt from her palms. She grabbed one and crammed it down deep into the cyclopes’ shared flesh, holding it still until she felt its veins latch on and take root.
The cyclopes bellowed, two mouths in a low roar and the third in a high, tiny shriek. “Dig!” Maebel screamed one last time, and this time the third eye met her gaze. The cyclopes’ shared body constricted around her. She felt three pulses rattle before synchronizing into a steady staccato. The creatures’ two fractal hands resolved into smooth scoops, a third and fetal arm rising from the back to grasp the snapped-off antenna.
And then they were digging, soft grey mud shooting high into the air overhead.