A Dog's Diet

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Octavia struggles to tear at her jerky. She's never had meat in a barbaric way like this. The grilled cheese sandwich slice she struggled with earlier, having to fight its stringy and gooey nature, was already enough. This tough, chewy meat belongs to a dog's diet, befitting the Chromies but not her. However, she knows this is the only food she'll get today.

Shard had already finished his food and has been watching Octavia with amusement. He knew there wasn't a chance to talk to her while she was eating her grilled cheese. She's much less incapacitated eating her jerky.

"Now, about your modeling career and my contract," Shard says.

Swallowing, Octavia says, "What have you been talking about?"

"Hostage negotiations went yesterday. Not as good as I hoped but not as bad as it could've been. The Politician Committee is willing to negotiate but not 'til we provide them evidence their babies all are alive and in 'good health'. So, I proposed a photoshoot to showcase all y'all's spectacular health. So tomorrow, those of you who have been behaving good will gather in the courtyard, and we'll be your paparazzi."

"The Political Committee will notice the missing hostages."

"Maybe. Possibly. Probably. But it's their fault they never specified all their babies."

"They won't negotiate."

"They will in time. They just need to learn to be more specific and not so loopy, dodge-y, vague-y in their words. But that's what politicians do. And as long as they play their games, we'll play ours."

"The Political Committee does not play these games you play. I don't know how they keep patience with you Chromies. Chromies all act like you do: childish and stupid."

"That's almost flattering, Sweetheart. But just a gentle reminder about the attitude. 'Stupid' is not a nice word. Otherwise, you'll get to spend the whole day with me instead of being able to strut your stuff and see Winters."

Hope flickers in Octavia's chest and flashes in her eyes.

"You'll let me see her?"

Shard smirks under his mask.

"Under surveillance. All of y'all will be checked and heavily watched while in the Courtyard, the locale of the photoshoot. We're letting only the goodie-goodies first to make it easier on all of us. So, hope Winters stays good. I did order her guard to tell her the same thing I'm telling you so, I expect her to keep her head on her shoulders. And, when the politicians ask us about the missing hostages' images, they're gonna have to compensate us for the labor with..." Shard rubs his thumb and fingertips together. "...that good ol' untraceable moolah. But supplies to help us self-sustain will be good, too. As long as it's not tagged of course."

"They will tag it and find us. You're not getting away with this."

"For your sake, Sweetheart, and for everyone else's, they better not tag. Otherwise, we Chromies," Shard boops Octavia's nose, "aren't going to be the only ones who are sorry for their actions."

Octavia swallows her last piece of jerky hard before swatting Shard's hand away.

"There will be consequences for this," she says.

"You're right. And we await them," Shard says. "And until then, why not fix your rat breath matching your cheese-colored teeth? I see your done eating. I'll collect our dishes and be back with a toothbrush and toothpaste that I'll take back when you're done. Don't want ya making any pointy, stabby objects from that toothbrush handle now."

Octavia curses in her head.

Shard seemed to read her mind. His eyes crinkle.

"How sad you don't want to get to know me before trying to kill me. I'd like to get to know you at least a little more before you die. Whenever that will be..."

Icy water, like that of Octavia's shower, rises from her skin. Chills run along her body as she feels her heart hit her stomach. Her throat tightens on impact.

"So you are going to kill me, anyway."

"Don't go puttin' words in my mouth. I never said that," Shard says. "But it's a fact we all die someday, someway, somehow. But right now you do have a little bit of a choice in how that could go down. Be a good girl, and fate might grant you an easy death at a grey age. It'd be a shame if a pretty, young thing such as yourself had to die in a place like this because she's still stupid."

Octavia glares at Shard.

"'Stupid' is not a nice word," she says.

Shard lets out a few chuckles.

"And she might have some brains for herself yet."

He collects the dishes and leaves.

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