The first chapter of CALIBAN'S WORLD (SYCORAX SERIES 1)

Nothing in Caliban's life compared to the taste of sticky sweetbread.

Caliban sat on the top of Mother's building, watching the sun slide across the sky. He held stick, wonderful sweetbread in his hands, the sugar meltin onto his fingertips. He ate it hurredly, like someone might appear at any moment and snatch it away because someone might. Mother had forbidden him to eat sweetbread, said it made him too hyper, too fat. But Caliban was always hyper, so he didn't understand how Mother knew the difference. And he wasn't fat at all, not like silly humans. Caliban was all muscles and bones.

He'd stolen this piece of sweetbread from one of Mother's friends, a man named Jules. Mother always said Caliban was dumb, but Jules was dumber than Caliban. The sloppy, fat man always sneaked extra sweetbread from the kitchens, thinking no one noticed. But Caliban noticed, and Caliban had crept into Jules's room and taken it. Who would Jules complain to? Mother was not nice to thieves, and stealing from a thief was as easy as it got.

The sweetbread tasted like he was eating bright sunshine. The sugar dances on his tongue, the crusty shell crunched between his jagged teeth and all of it melted at the back of his mouth. Mother and her friends did not seem to enjoy sweetbread as much as Caliban did. Maybe their human tongues couldn’t taste as well as he could.

After closing his eyes for a few moments to relish the sweetbread dissolving on the back of his tongue, Caliban looked out beyond Mother's building. To the northwest stood the jungle, filled with Mother's most terrible beasties. It was thick and damp, like taking a bath but not in a good way. To the northwest was the forest, a pleasant place. Caliban did not walk it often, but the animals there were natural and not all crazy killers. It smelled of trees, flowers, and dirt. He loved that forest.

The gray plains stretched to the south, filled with the unfriendly, pointy-nosed wolves and the gray fatties. Everything on the plains was a dull gray: the animals, the ground, the plants. It was also boring, unless a pointy-nosed wolf hunted Caliban. He hated the wolves. A pack of seven had almost killed him once, before he ripped their silly heads off. He only ventured into the gray land when Mother made him.

"Caliban!" Mother's high voice rang through the air, echoing from some speakers. "Wherever you're hiding, I need you. Gestation Room Seven. Now."

He stuffed the last bite of sweetbread into his mouth and licked his fingers; he couldn't let her see or smell his sweetbread. After he was satisfied every speck was gone, he hurried inside.

He sprinted down the gleaming hallways, avoiding the slow, silly humans clogging his path. Less than two minutes after Mother's call, Caliban approached Gestation Room Seven. She must have created a new monster, something she wanted to test. He would kill it like he killed the others. She would curse, and her friends would avoid her angry gaze. Life in Mother's world repeated over and over again, and Caliban liked that.

He pressed his hand to the palm thing, and the door slid open, revealing a room filled with Mother and her friends. She stood in the middle, barking at them as usual. All her friends dressed the same when they worked: a one piece white suit.

Mother didn't dress like her friends. She wore colorful clothes, usually pants and a shirt. She was also the smallest, shorter than all of her human friends, the shortest human Caliban had met. But she was somehow bigger, even bigger than him. Everyone feared her, Caliban included. He was bigger and stronger, but he was somehow smaller.

"Caliban." His name always sounded like a curse when it came from Mother's mouth. "What took you so long?"

He shrugged. He could understand Mother's language, but he struggled to speak it, and he refused to when her friends were around. He knew they mocked him for his slow, stumbling speech. Four years since his birth, and he could barely mumble. It was one of the reasons Mother hated Caliban instead of loving him.

"Never mind." Mother hurried over to a human-sized gestation pod. "I'd like you to meet someone."

Caliban smiled, flashing his razor teeth. He liked maiming her creations; it was the only fun he ever had.

The pod opened, and his smile disappeared. It wasn't another monster; it was another Caliban.

No, that wasn't quite right. Caliban was tall, but not abnormally so among the humans. This Caliban was much taller and more muscular. He shared the same light green skin Caliban had on his face, but the rest of the new Caliban's body was not covered in lizard scales. He had smooth green skin like a human. The new Caliban's hands were also more human. Caliban looked at his own left hand, oversized with three elongated fingers. The ugly new Caliban had normal-sized hands, though all of his fingers ended in claws. Like the old Caliban, new Caliban was hairless. His pee thingy was also exposed, not covered by a flap like Caliban's.

He hated the new Caliban.

"Arise, Balthazar." Mother spoke the words, and the new Caliban, whose stupid name was Balthazar, opened his eyes.

Caliban did not know how to describe Balthazar's eyes. They were yellow like his, with large black circles in the middle. But he knew so few words, he couldn't think of the right ones. Scary. Maybe scary was the right word.

Balthazar flexed his face, stretching muscles for the first time. He looked at Mother's friends, and they seemed to see the same scariness in Balthazar's eyes. Two of the humans stepped back.

Balthazar exited the pod and stretched his limbs. He smiled, a scary smile that matched his eyes like a cup of chocolate drink matched sweetbread.

"Balthazar." Mother called his name, not like she did Caliban's. She spoke with pride, not with hate. "Can you hear and understand me?"

The green creature nodded, his eyes softer when he looked on her.

Caliban remembered his own birth. Well, he kind of remembered it. He'd been confused, and he hadn't understood Mother. But he'd known her, was drawn to her voice and followed her direction, even if it had taken him a year to really understand what she said. Sometimes he wished he'd never grown to understand. Mean Mother wouldn't be so mean if Caliban didn't understand.

"Can you speak, Balthazar?" Her face was bright, her eyes excited. Why didn't Mother ever look at him that way?

"Yes, Mother." Balthazar's voice was raw, like Caliban's was after a deep sleep. "I understand you well." He looked at Caliban. "Who is this?"

"Your lesser self." Her words pained Caliban like she'd taken a piece of sweetbread right from his mouth.

Balthazar sneered, his bright white teeth flashing.

"What now, Mother?" the creature asked.

"The others will conduct some tests. We need to make sure everything is right."

Balthazar's gaze did not leave Caliban, who looked away under the new one's evil eyes.

"You can go, Caliban."

Caliban looked at Mother, wanting her to say something comforting, wanting her to say she loved him still. But did she love anyone? He had walked in on her and a man once touching each other with their clothes off, and he'd heard some of her friends say that was love. But Caliban didn't want that--he wanted anything, a pat, a kind word, anything.

He looked up at Mother, but her eyes were like Balthazar's: indescribable.

Caliban left the gestation room. He felt cold and sad, angry and confused. Why did she need another him? Wasn't he enough?

He would go to the pleasant forest and kill something, maybe a small bird or one of the little cats. Maybe then he'd feel better.

#

Caliban sat in the forest, some stolen sweetbread in his mouth. Even sweetbread seemed less sweet now that the new Caliban was around.

Over the past several weeks, Caliban had avoided Balthazar and Mother. It was easy to do. No one seemed to care about Caliban any longer. He had been their greatest accomplishment, and even though he had been mocked, he had also been feared and given some respect. Now he was given nothing. Being ignored was far worse than being mocked.

Caliban had decided not to call the new one Balthazar. He would call him Smoothie, for his smooth skin. Lizard men like them shouldn't have smooth skin like silly humans; they should have lizard skin, like Caliban's, that's what made them lizard men. And his kind should not have their piss maker on the outside. But Smoothie did, and he wore clothes. Lizard men should not wear clothes. Stupid, silly Smoothie.

Of course, he only called Balthazar Smoothie in his head; he didn't dare say it out load.

"Hello Caliban."

Caliban jumped to his feet, quickly brushing the sugar off of his chest and licking his fingers.

Standing there was Jules, the fatty Caliban had stolen the sweetbreads from. He didn't wear the white work clothing, but instead wore a loose fitting shirt and blue pants. This clothing made him look less fat.

"Can I sit with you?"

Caliban nodded.

For some time, he and Jules sat on the grassy hillside without saying anything, the swaying grass curling away from them. Caliban felt nervous like he did before being chastised by Mother. Was Jules here to yell at him? To tell him that Smoothie was a better lizard man than he was?

He stared at Jules. His face was younger than most of Mother's friends, no lines around the eyes. His hair was blond and unmarked by white. Caliban had never seen a human child, but he'd seen pictures of the little, weak, fatty humans. At this moment, Jules looked like an overgrown child.

"Do you ever wonder who you are?" Jules asked without glancing at Caliban. "Do you ever wonder if you have a soul? If you lived before your birth?" He finally looked at Caliban.

But Caliban looked away. He knew who he was: a lizard man, the son of Sycorax, his mother. Had he lived before he was born? A stupid question from the fat-faced man. Didn't born mean you didn't live before?

Jules turned his face away from Caliban. "I often wonder what we're doing here. Endless funds, terrific science, but no talk of morality. We've created new, sentient life, but we never talk about why or discuss even if we should. We're like stumbling gods, playing with the puzzle of life."

Jules met Caliban's gaze. His eyes were not like Mother's. Jules's held something else, something so unfamiliar to Caliban that it was as hard to place as it had been when he first saw Smoothie. He had never seen a look like that from Mother or any of her friends.

Jules's eyes were soft. Maybe it was kindness.

"I am sorry Caliban. The sweetbread is yours, it was always meant for you. I'm sorry I can't do more." Jules stood and walked over the hill and toward Mother's building.

#

Caliban curled up in his room, feeling cold. Mother's building was often cold, as humans seemed to need to be coddled all the time. He preferred the warmth of the sun to the cold metal of her building.

It had been two days since Jules had come to him, and Caliban still struggled to understand the fatty's words. What was the man sorry for? Caliban felt sorry when he disappointed Mother, which happened often. But what did the fatty need to feel sorry for? And Jules knew about Caliban stealing his sweetbread, but he wasn't angry? How long had the fatty known? Was Jules his friend? Caliban had never had a friend.

But it didn't matter now. When next Caliban had gone to Jules's room, it was empty, none of the fatty's man-trinkets anywhere to be found. And the drawer with the sweetbreads was empty, not even some sugar to lick up.

As he'd walked away from Jules's room, he'd seen Smoothie in the hall. The new lizard man had been walking with a group of Mother's friends who were studying Smoothie's every movement.

Those eyes found Caliban even though he slinked against the wall to avoid them. Even when he turned his head, he could feel those eyes on him. So Caliban would not call Balthazar Smoothie anymore; it was too nice a name. He would call him Bad Eyes.

Caliban had been in his room since passing Bad Eyes. He'd seen Mother shortly after, and she had commanded him to remain in his room. A small, shapeless woman brought him food, and he did nothing but eat, sleep, and stare at the wall for an entire day. He also tried to wipe the image of Bad Eyes from his mind. But he couldn't. The eyes followed him, even here in his room, even with Bad Eyes far away.

The door opened, and Mother stood there. She rarely came to visit Caliban, and he popped up, eager to greet her.

Her eyes held none of the badness they'd held the day Bad Eyes was born. But they weren't nice like Jules's had been. Mother's eyes were empty, and she looked at nothing.

"Come, Caliban."

She turned, and Caliban followed.

"I thought you were it," she said as they walked. "The day you were born was the happiest day of my existence. I had worked so hard for that moment I could hardly believe it. We'd finally created sentient life, a weapon to fulfill my destiny."

Caliban glowed inside. His birth had made her happy? He wanted to jump. He wanted to sing, though he wasn't sure if he could. Caliban had never felt so happy.

"But we'd made a mistake."

His happiness escaped like air from a balloon.

"In our effort to make your mind pliable, we made you stupid. You barely talk, and your actions are bound to your basest instincts. On a battlefield, you would follow commands, but you cannot think, cannot adjust. A machine is a better soldier than you."

Caliban felt small and cold.

"But we may have found something now. Your brother may be the one."

Stupid Bad Eyes. Caliban wanted to tear those eyes from his stupid face so she would know Caliban was better, that he was stronger. His birth was more special than Bad Eye's. Caliban would show Mother.

She looked at him, smiling. "You're so simple Caliban, easier to read than a child. Do you want to show you're better than Balthazar? Do you want to hurt your brother?"

Caliban nodded.

"Good."

They arrived at Arena One, and a door opened before them. Bad Eyes stood in the middle of the room.

"Show me, Caliban, that you're not a wasteful mistake."

He entered the room, and the door closed behind him.

He had spent many hours in Arena One tearing apart some of Mother's creations, showing how strong he was. He'd entered each time feeling strong, powerful. But not today. Today he felt small, powerless.

The walls surrounding one side of the arena were made of thick glass. When Caliban fought, a dozen or more of Mother's friends would gather to watch and take notes. But as he looked at the glass, he saw a sea of her friends. It was as if every human in her building had come to see this. Caliban's eyes wandered until he found Mother; she was easy to spot, she was so small. She stood in front next to the glass, and when Caliban's eyes landed on her, he tried to smile. Smiles never felt right, but he tried. She returned the smile, and it filled him with hope. He would show Mother, he would show her friends. Caliban was strong. Caliban was special.

He looked to the other side of the room. Smooth-skinned Bad Eyes stood there, taller than Caliban by a head. He wore clothes, some uniform Caliban had not seen before, a darker green than his skin, tight on his form. At least Caliban wouldn't have to see his pisser. If only they had covered his eyes.

With a sudden leap, Caliban sprang at Bad Eyes. The new lizard man's eyes widened with surprise as Caliban's oversized claw-hand raked across his stupid face. The bigger lizard man staggered backward, green blood streaking across a scrape which stretched from below his left eye to his chin. Caliban looked over to the windows and saw astonished faces everywhere. No one had believed Caliban could hurt Bad Eyes. But Caliban would not just hurt the new lizard man, he'd destroy him, spreading his limbs across the arena like he'd done to other animals before. Caliban would be everyone's favorite again.

As he prepared to leap, he stopped. Bad Eyes wasn't moving, wasn't scared. He smiled without happiness. His bright white teeth shined in the arena lights. He licked some of the blood which trickled near the corner of his mouth.

"You think you can win," the lizard man said.

Caliban said nothing, did not even nod. Bad Eyes's wicked smile froze him in place.

"Can't you talk, little one?"

Caliban sneered. "Caliban talk."

Bad Eyes laughed.

Caliban charged, his claw-hand reaching to dig those evil eyes out of Bad Eye’s skull.

The other lizard man side-stepped, easily dodging the strike. He still smiled. Caliban needed to rip that smile off his stupid face.

He swiped again, but this time Bad Eyes blocked with his hand, and then kicked out, a quick and powerful blow which sent Caliban backward to the floor. Caliban wasn't hurt, but he was stunned. Bad Eyes was fast, maybe faster than Caliban.

Bad Eyes did not wait, leaping at Caliban. Caliban tried to keep him off by stretching out his leg, but Bad Eyes avoided the leg and landed on Caliban, his clawed hands digging into his chest. Caliban roared with pain. Bad Eyes's claws were buried deep beneath his skin.

He kneed Bad Eyes in the side, and the big lizard man tumbled before popping up to his feet.

Caliban looked at himself. Eight large holes burned in his chest. He howled. No one had ever hurt Caliban this way. He'd had scrapes, had bruises, but nothing like this. Bad Eyes's attack had been so fast, so precise.

Caliban jumped to his feet, snarling. Bad Eyes might have hurt him, but he would destroy stupid Bad Eyes.

Caliban attacked, but Bad Eyes blocked almost every blow. The ones that got through were only glancing. Caliban went faster, he reigned blows down in a fury beyond anything he’d done before. He hadn’t even known he was this fast, this strong. But it didn’t matter. Bad Eyes was faster, stronger, bigger, better.

Caliban stopped fighting and stepped back. Breaths escaped in a heavy bursts and his heart thundered in his chest.

The bigger lizard man waited, the evil smile gone from his lips. His eyes seemed to soften, or maybe Caliban imagined that. Could Bad Eyes really go good?

Bad Eyes looked toward Mother, and Caliban found her as well. She nodded.

Bad Eyes attacked with a sudden fury. Caliban blocked the first few blows, but they came too fast. One kick struck his hip, sending a shockw

Nothing in Caliban's life compared to the taste of sticky sweetbread.

Caliban sat on the top of Mother's building, watching the sun slide across the sky. He held sticky, wonderful sweetbread in his hands, the sugar melting onto his fingertips. He ate it hurriedly, like someone might appear at any moment and snatch it away. Mother had forbidden him to eat sweetbread, said it made him too hyper, too fat. But Caliban was always hyper, so he didn't understand how Mother knew the difference. And he wasn't fat at all, not like silly humans. Caliban was all muscles and bones.

He'd stolen this piece of sweetbread from one of Mother's friends, a man named Jules. Mother always said Caliban was dumb, but Jules was dumber than Caliban. The sloppy, fat man always sneaked extra sweetbread from the kitchens, thinking no one noticed. But Caliban noticed, and Caliban had crept into Jules's room and taken it. Who would Jules complain to? Mother was not nice to thieves, and stealing from a thief was as easy as it got.

The sweetbread tasted like he was eating bright sunshine. The sugar danced on his tongue, the crusty shell crunched between his jagged teeth and all of it melted at the back of his mouth. Mother and her friends did not seem to enjoy sweetbread as much as Caliban did. Maybe their human tongues couldn’t taste as well as he could.

After closing his eyes for a few moments to relish another bite, Caliban looked out beyond Mother's building. To the northwest stood the jungle, filled with Mother's most terrible beasties. It was thick and damp, like taking a bath but not in a good way. To the northwest was the forest, a pleasant place. Caliban did not walk it often, but the animals there were natural and not all crazy killers. It smelled of trees, flowers, and dirt. He loved that forest.

The gray plains stretched to the south, filled with the unfriendly, pointy-nosed wolves and the gray fatties. Everything on the plains was a dull gray: the animals, the ground, the plants. It was also boring, unless a pointy-nosed wolf hunted Caliban. He hated the wolves. A pack of seven had almost killed him once, before he ripped their silly heads off. He only ventured into the gray land when Mother made him.

"Caliban!" Mother's high voice rang through the air, echoing from some speakers Caliban couldn’t see. "Wherever you're hiding, I need you. Gestation Room Seven. Now."

He stuffed the last bite of sweetbread into his mouth and licked his fingers; he couldn't let her see or smell his sweetbread. After he was satisfied every speck was gone, he hurried inside.

He sprinted down the gleaming hallways, avoiding the slow, silly humans clogging his path. Less than two minutes after Mother's call, Caliban approached Gestation Room Seven. She must have created a new monster, something she wanted to test. He would kill it like he killed the others. She would curse, and her friends would avoid her angry gaze. Life in Mother's world repeated over and over again, and Caliban liked that.

He pressed his hand to the palm thing, and the door slid open, revealing a room filled with Mother and her friends. She stood in the middle, barking at them as usual. All her friends dressed the same when they worked: a one piece white suit.

Mother didn't dress like her friends. She wore colorful clothes, usually pants and a shirt. She was also the smallest, shorter than all of her human friends, the shortest human Caliban had met. But she was somehow bigger, even bigger than him. Everyone feared her, Caliban included. He was bigger and stronger, but he was somehow smaller.

"Caliban." His name always sounded like a curse when it came from Mother's mouth. "What took you so long?"

He shrugged. He could understand Mother's language, but he struggled to speak it, and he refused to when her friends were around. He knew they mocked him for his slow, stumbling speech. Four years since his birth, and he could barely mumble. It was one of the reasons Mother hated Caliban instead of loving him.

"Never mind." Mother hurried over to a human-sized gestation pod. "I'd like you to meet someone."

Caliban smiled, flashing his razor teeth. He liked maiming her creations; it was the only fun he ever had.

The pod opened, and his smile disappeared. It wasn't another monster; it was another Caliban.

No, that wasn't quite right. Caliban was tall, but not abnormally so among the humans. This Caliban was much taller and more muscular. He shared the same light green skin Caliban had on his face, but the rest of the new Caliban's body was not covered in lizard scales like Caliban. The new one had smooth skin like a human but it was green instead of peach or brown. The new Caliban's hands were also more human. Caliban looked at his own left hand, oversized with three elongated fingers. The ugly new Caliban had normal-sized hands, though all of his fingers ended in claws. Like the old Caliban, new Caliban was hairless. His pee thingy was also exposed, not covered by a flap like Caliban's.

He hated the new Caliban.

"Arise, Balthazar." Mother spoke the words, and the new Caliban, whose stupid name was Balthazar, opened his eyes.

Caliban did not like Balthazar's eyes. They were yellow like his, with large black circles in the middle. But he knew so few words, he couldn't think of the right ones to describe them. Scary. Maybe scary was the right word.

Balthazar flexed his face, stretching muscles for the first time. He looked at Mother's friends, and they seemed to see the same scariness in Balthazar's eyes. Two of the humans stepped back.

Balthazar exited the pod and stretched his limbs. He smiled, a scary smile that matched his eyes like a cup of chocolate drink matched sweetbread.

"Balthazar." Mother called his name, not like she did Caliban's. She spoke with pride, not with hate. "Can you hear and understand me?"

The green creature nodded, his eyes softer when he looked on her.

Caliban remembered his own birth. Well, he kind of remembered it. He'd been confused, and he hadn't understood Mother. But he'd known her, was drawn to her voice and followed her direction, even if it had taken him a year to really understand what she said. Sometimes he wished he'd never grown to understand. Mother wouldn't be so mean if Caliban didn't understand.

"Can you speak, Balthazar?" Her face was bright, her eyes excited. Why didn't Mother ever look at him that way?

"Yes, Mother." Balthazar's voice was raw, like Caliban's was after a deep sleep. "I understand you well." He looked at Caliban. "Who is this?"

"Your lesser self." Her words pained Caliban like she'd taken a piece of sweetbread right from his mouth.

Balthazar sneered, his bright white teeth flashing.

"What now, Mother?" the creature asked.

"The others will conduct some tests. We need to make sure everything is right."

Balthazar's gaze did not leave Caliban, who looked away under the new one's evil eyes.

"You can go, Caliban."

Caliban looked at Mother, wanting her to say something comforting, wanting her to say she loved him still. But did she love anyone? He had walked in on her and a man once touching each other with their clothes off, and he'd heard some of her friends say that was love. But Caliban didn't want that--he wanted anything, a pat, a kind word, anything.

He looked up at Mother, but her eyes were like Balthazar's: indescribable.

Caliban left the gestation room. He felt cold and sad, angry and confused. Why did she need another him? Wasn't he enough?

He would go to the pleasant forest and kill something, maybe a small bird or one of the little cats. Maybe then he'd feel better.

#

Caliban sat in the forest, some stolen sweetbread in his mouth. Even sweetbread seemed less sweet now that the new Caliban was around.

Over the past several weeks, Caliban had avoided Balthazar and Mother. It was easy to do. No one seemed to care about Caliban any longer. He had been their greatest accomplishment, and even though he had been mocked, he had also been feared and given some respect. Now he was given nothing. Being ignored was far worse than being mocked.

Caliban had decided not to call the new one Balthazar. He would call him Smoothie, for his smooth skin. Lizard men like them shouldn't have smooth skin like silly humans; they should have lizard skin, like Caliban's, that's what made them lizard men. And his kind should not have their piss maker on the outside. But Smoothie did, and he wore clothes. Lizard men should not wear clothes. Stupid, silly Smoothie.

Of course, he only called Balthazar Smoothie in his head; he didn't dare say it out load.

"Hello Caliban."

Caliban jumped to his feet, quickly brushing the sugar off of his chest and licking his fingers.

Standing there was Jules, the fatty Caliban had stolen the sweetbreads from. He didn't wear the white work clothing, but instead wore a loose fitting shirt and blue pants. This clothing made him look less fat.

"Can I sit with you?"

Caliban nodded.

They both sat, and the forest grass retracted into the ground, curling away from them. Caliban felt nervous like he did before being chastised by Mother. Was Jules here to yell at him? To tell him that Smoothie was a better lizard man than he was?

He stared at Jules. His face was younger than most of Mother's friends, no lines around the eyes. His hair was blond and unmarked by white. Caliban had never seen a human child, but he'd seen pictures of the little, weak, fatty humans. At this moment, Jules looked like an overgrown child.

"Do you ever wonder who you are?" Jules asked without glancing at Caliban. "Do you ever wonder if you have a soul? If you lived before your birth?" He finally looked at Caliban.

But Caliban looked away. He knew who he was: a lizard man, the son of Sycorax, his mother. Had he lived before he was born? A stupid question from the fat-faced man. Didn't born mean you didn't live before?

Jules looked back at the sky. "I often wonder what we're doing here. Endless funds, terrific science, but no talk of morality. We've created new, sentient life, but we never talk about why or discuss even if we should. We're like stumbling gods, playing with the puzzle of life."

Jules met Caliban's gaze. His eyes were not like Mother's. Jules's held something else, something so unfamiliar to Caliban that it was as hard to place as it had been when he first saw Smoothie. He had never seen a look like that from Mother or any of her friends.

Jules's eyes were soft. Maybe it was kindness.

"I am sorry Caliban. The sweetbread is yours, it was always meant for you. I'm sorry I can't do more." Jules stood and walked over the hill and toward Mother's building.

#

Caliban curled up in his room, feeling cold. Mother's building was often cold, as humans seemed to need to be coddled all the time. He preferred the warmth of the sun to the cold metal of her building.

It had been two days since Jules had come to him, and Caliban still struggled to understand the fatty's words. What was the man sorry for? Caliban felt sorry when he disappointed Mother, which happened often. But what did the fatty need to feel sorry for? And Jules knew about Caliban stealing his sweetbread, but he wasn't angry? How long had the fatty known? Was Jules his friend? Caliban had never had a friend.

But it didn't matter now. When next Caliban had gone to Jules's room, it was empty, none of the fatty's man-trinkets anywhere to be found. And the drawer with the sweetbreads was empty, not even some sugar to lick up.

As he'd walked away from Jules's room, he'd seen Smoothie in the hall. The new lizard man had been walking with a group of Mother's friends who were studying Smoothie's every movement.

Those eyes found Caliban even though he slinked against the wall to avoid them. Even when he turned his head, he could feel those eyes on him. So Caliban would not call Balthazar Smoothie anymore; it was too nice a name. He would call him Bad Eyes.

Caliban had been in his room since passing Bad Eyes. He'd seen Mother shortly after, and she had commanded him to remain in his room. A small, shapeless woman brought him food, and he did nothing but eat, sleep, and stare at the wall for an entire day. He also tried to wipe the image of Bad Eyes from his mind. But he couldn't. The eyes followed him, even here in his room, even with Bad Eyes far away.

The door opened, and Mother stood there. She rarely came to visit Caliban, and he popped up, eager to greet her.

Her eyes held none of the badness they'd held the day Bad Eyes was born. But they weren't nice like Jules's had been. Mother's eyes were empty like she looked at nothing.

"Come, Caliban."

She turned, and Caliban followed.

"I thought you were it," she said as they walked. "The day you were born was the happiest day of my existence. I had worked so hard for that moment I could hardly believe it. We'd finally created sentient life, a weapon to fulfill my destiny."

Caliban glowed inside. His birth had made her happy? He wanted to jump. He wanted to sing, though he wasn't sure if he could. Caliban had never felt so happy.

"But we'd made a mistake."

His happiness escaped like air from a balloon.

"In our effort to make your mind pliable, we made you stupid. You barely talk, and your actions are bound to your basest instincts. On a battlefield, you would follow commands, but you cannot think, cannot adjust. A machine is a better soldier than you."

Caliban felt small and cold.

"But we may have found something now. Your brother may be the one."

Stupid Bad Eyes. Caliban wanted to tear those eyes from his stupid face so she would know Caliban was better, that he was stronger. His birth was more special than Bad Eye's. Caliban would show Mother.

She looked at him, smiling. "You're so simple Caliban, easier to read than a child. Do you want to show you're better than Balthazar? Do you want to hurt your brother?"

Caliban nodded.

"Good."

They arrived at Arena One, and a door opened before them. Bad Eyes stood in the middle of the room.

"Show me, Caliban, that you're not a wasteful mistake."

He entered the room, and the door closed behind him.

He had spent many hours in Arena One tearing apart some of Mother's creations, showing how strong he was. He'd entered each time feeling strong, powerful. But not today. Today he felt small, powerless.

The walls surrounding one side of the arena were made of thick glass. When Caliban fought, a dozen or more of Mother's friends would gather to watch and take notes. But as he looked at the glass, he saw a sea of her friends. It was as if every human in her building had come to see this. Caliban's eyes wandered until he found Mother; she was easy to spot, she was so small. She stood in front next to the glass, and when Caliban's eyes landed on her, he tried to smile. Smiles never felt right, but he tried. She returned the smile, and it filled him with hope. He would show Mother, he would show her friends. Caliban was strong. Caliban was special.

He looked to the other side of the room. Smooth-skinned Bad Eyes stood there, taller than Caliban by a head. He wore clothes, some uniform Caliban had not seen before, a darker green than his skin, tight on his form. At least Caliban wouldn't have to see his pisser. If only they had covered his eyes.

With a sudden leap, Caliban sprang at Bad Eyes. The new lizard man's eyes widened with surprise as Caliban's oversized claw-hand raked across his stupid face. The bigger lizard man staggered backward, green blood streaking across a scrape which stretched from below his left eye to his chin. Caliban looked over to the windows and saw astonished faces everywhere. No one had believed Caliban could hurt Bad Eyes. But Caliban would not just hurt the new lizard man, he'd destroy him, spreading his limbs across the arena like he'd done to other animals before. Caliban would be everyone's favorite again.

As he prepared to leap, he stopped. Bad Eyes wasn't moving, wasn't scared. He smiled without happiness. His bright white teeth shined in the arena lights. He licked some of the blood which trickled near the corner of his mouth.

"You think you can win," the lizard man said.

Caliban said nothing, did not even nod. Bad Eyes's wicked smile froze him in place.

"Can't you talk, little one?"

Caliban sneered. "Caliban talk."

Bad Eyes laughed.

Caliban charged, his claw-hand reaching to dig those evil eyes out of Bad Eye’s skull.

The other lizard man side-stepped, easily dodging the strike. He still smiled. Caliban needed to rip that smile off his stupid face.

He swiped again, but this time Bad Eyes blocked with his hand, and then kicked out, a quick and powerful blow which sent Caliban backward to the floor. Caliban wasn't hurt, but he was stunned. Bad Eyes was fast, maybe faster than Caliban.

Bad Eyes did not wait, leaping at Caliban. Caliban tried to keep him off by stretching out his leg, but Bad Eyes avoided the leg and landed on Caliban, his clawed hands digging into his chest. Caliban roared with pain as Bad Eyes's buried his claws deep.

He kneed Bad Eyes in the side, and the big lizard man tumbled before popping up to his feet.

Caliban looked at himself. Eight large holes burned in his chest. He howled. No one had ever hurt Caliban this way. He'd had scrapes, had bruises, but nothing like this. Bad Eyes's attack had been faster than the retracting forest grass.

Caliban jumped to his feet, snarling.

He attacked, but Bad Eyes blocked almost every blow. The ones that got through were only glancing. Caliban went faster, he reigned blows down in a fury beyond anything he’d done before. He hadn’t even known he was this fast, this strong. But it didn’t matter. Bad Eyes was faster, stronger, bigger, better.

Caliban stopped fighting and stepped back. Breaths escaped in heavy bursts and his heart thundered in his chest.

The bigger lizard man waited, the evil smile gone from his lips. His eyes seemed to soften, or maybe Caliban imagined that. Could Bad Eyes really go good?

Bad Eyes looked toward Mother, and Caliban found her as well. She nodded.

Bad Eyes attacked with a sudden fury. Caliban blocked the first few blows, but they came too fast. One kick struck his hip, sending a shockwave of pain through his body. A punch hit his neck, knocking out his breath. And finally a backhanded strike to his chin sent Caliban sprawling. He tasted salty blood in his mouth and felt the cold floor against his skin. His own breathing sounded like a distant echo from another room.

But there was no break this time. Bad Eyes jumped on top of him, raining down blows. A flurry to his chest until Caliban felt his ribs snap like tree branches. A stomp to his knee forced out a massive howl, and he looked down to find his leg bending in the wrong direction. And then came a bash to Caliban's skull and a sickening crack.

Bad Eyes paused for a moment, but it didn't matter. Caliban moved his eyes; they were the one part of his body that still obeyed his commands. Bad Eyes's eyes were not bad any longer, not harsh like that first day. They looked sad, kind of how Jules's had looked a few days before. Caliban didn't understand.

"I'm sorry, brother," Not-So-Bad Eyes said.

He lifted both hands high above his head and brought them down on Caliban's face. He heard the bones in his face crack like a tree splitting in two. Then the world faded, and Caliban welcomed the painless dark.

ave of pain through his body. A punch hit his neck, knocking out his breath. And finally a backhanded strike to his chin sent Caliban sprawling. He tasted salty blood in his mouth and felt the cold floor against his skin. His own breathing sounded like a distant echo from another room.

But there was no break this time. Bad Eyes jumped on top of him, raining down blows. A flurry to his chest until Caliban felt his ribs snap like tree branches. A stomp to his knee forced out a massive howl, and he looked down to find his leg bending in the wrong direction. And then came a bash to Caliban's skull and a sickening crack.

Bad Eyes paused for a moment, but it didn't matter. Caliban moved his eyes; they were the one part of his body that still obeyed his commands. Bad Eyes's eyes were not bad any longer, not harsh like that first day. They looked sad, kind of how Jules's had looked a few days before. Caliban didn't understand.

"I'm sorry, brother," Not-So-Bad Eyes said.

He lifted both hands high above his head and brought them down on Caliban's face. He heard the bones in his face crack like a branch breaking off a tree. Then the world faded, and Caliban welcomed the painless dark.