The sheath had once held a weapon, something like a very curved, very fine rapier, but now Freeman was using it to transport an animal. It was one of the newer hybrids so he did not know what to call it. It had four frog-like legs, but was long and thin like a large worm, and had a bird-like head from which emerged two, ever-twitching antennae. Its skin was almost human – soft, pale, lightly furry – and at the base of its stubby tail sat a small, spiky club. This last had been impossible to fit into the sheath so Freeman had simply cut it off and tossed it away in the hope that, in the manner of most of the hybrids, it would grow back once the animal had space to do so.
The hoped-for buyer was new to Freeman, someone from one of the outer zones with a taste for the exotic. She had been recommended to him by a mutual acquaintance, a former border guard now turned rogue. The pick up point was one of the old offshore detention centres, abandoned since the government had simply decided to mine the sea, let the refugees drown where their boats took fire. Hardly any boats came now. The world had turned, and turned, and turned against refugees, until the only place that would take them was the ocean, the black depths of which their bodies now thickly layered like new sediments.
It was late, and hot. Pinkish sunrays were slanting across the Bismarck Sea. Freeman’s guide was a large, ebullient Papa New Guinean named Samson who had a small boat and knew where the few remaining mines were. Shouldn’t carry that, he had told Freeman on sight of the sheath. People will think it’s a weapon. Freeman had ignored him, affecting a roguish laugh, but sure enough they were attacked as soon as they made landfall – another hybrid, this one humanoid and not for sale. It wielded a shotgun. Dark man go, it said, and Samson shrugged and rowed his boat away. What that? Freeman emptied the sheath out onto the sand, the drugged, unconscious creature collecting in a heap, a new tail club unfurling like a time-lapsed flower coming into bloom. Which hybrid? It meant Freeman or the animal – was evidently not that bright. Me, said Freeman, I’m the hybrid. He remembered, suddenly, a strange contortion of the elbow he used to perform to amuse his school friends, and he did it now, evidence enough, he hoped, of his superhumanness. The hybrid beamed, and shot Freeman’s animal clean in half, the noise reverberating around the island like thunder. Just you me now, the hybrid said, shotgun trained on Freeman’s chest. You fetch good price. Freeman risked a look behind him but Samson was gone. Fire danced on the sea.