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Mariko looked up as one of the prison guards came bursting into the underground complex where they’d been held ever since they’d been arrested. She’d lost track of time as the days wore on, leaving her unsure if they’d been held for a week or much longer. The other prisoners hadn’t been much help; they’d either been shipped out to start their sentences or bribed the guards enough to secure their release before they’d been willing to chat openly with the girls.
The guard leered down at her as he stopped outside her cage. It was a neat prison, she had to admit, a network of wired cages that allowed the guards to move freely without giving the prisoners a chance to plan an escape together. And even if they had managed to break out, where would they go? Mariko and Mai, her sister, both had the Japanese features that had been engineered into their line by their distant ancestors. They’d stick out like sore thumbs on Dorado and their freighter, according to the guards had been confiscated and sold for a small profit. The guards had claimed that the profits had barely been enough to pay for their stay in prison.
“The bidding war has been completed,” the guard informed her. He smiled as he heard Mai gasp from behind him. Mariko winced. Her sister was only sixteen, barely old enough to be allowed out on her own…and now she was looking at lifetime involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime she hadn’t committed. “Your new owner should be along to take custody of you within the hour.”
Mariko blanched. Despite herself, she’d hoped – prayed – that there would be a way out of the trap, but nothing had ever materialised. Their father was rich enough to pay a ransom, yet there wasn’t enough money in the universe to soothe the man they’d offended. And yet what else could they have done?
It had been less than six months since they’d left their homeworld and headed out to the Rim, the very outskirts of the Imperium itself. As independent freighter owners, they could hope to make a reasonable profit and perhaps even found a proper shipping line of their own, but first they had to make contacts and build a reputation. Dorado was one of the worlds which lay off most of the shipping lanes, so she’d decided that they should go and see if the world had anything to offer the rest of the sector. In hindsight, it was clear that most of the bigger shipping corporations had good reasons not to visit Dorado.
The first two days had gone well, well enough that she’d agreed to visit a nightclub near the spaceport with her sister. There, Mai had caught the attention of a half-drunk local who had tried to ply her with drink, and then, when she proved resistant, had tried to have his way with her by force. Mariko had stepped in and kicked her sister’s assailant in the groin, only to discover – too late – that the bastard had had friends. The beating they’d received had been savage, and when the local police had finally arrived they’d arrested the two sisters instead of the local youths. And then Mariko had discovered that the man she’d kicked in the groin was actually the son of one of the local aristocrats, the big men who ran the planet.
She’d tried to argue, but the local courts were as corrupt as they came. Their trial had been brief, formal and edgy; the judge had dismissed their pleas and sentenced them to involuntary servitude. Carlos – the man she’d assaulted – had watched them from the audience as sentence was passed, his eyes silently promising bloody revenge for what had happened to him. Mariko had no doubt that Carlos would win the bidding for a pair of slaves, even though slavery was technically outlawed within the Imperium, and when they fell into his hands…
It would be horrible. Of that, she had absolutely no doubts at all.
“Perhaps you should have considered entertaining us a little,” the guard said, his eyes leaving a trail of slime all over her breasts. There was no official prison uniform and so they’d been forced to wear what remained of the clothing they’d worn when they’d been arrested. It had been falling apart even then. “Some of us even considered bidding on you when the reserve price was announced.”
Mariko doubted that it would have made any difference. From what the other prisoners had said, life was cheap on Dorado. The police, who existed more to enforce the rules laid down by the wealthiest men on the planet, wouldn’t have been able to do more than drive the price up a little for a matched set of exotic slave girls. They’d probably console themselves with a visit to the nearest brothel while Mariko and Mai found themselves entertaining Carlos. The guards had been quite happy to tell them all about Carlos and his tastes…and if half of them were true, Mariko knew that Mai would not survive the first night. Her sister was younger and vulnerable; she’d never even had a boyfriend before leaving their homeworld. All Mariko could do was pray that Carlos fell asleep next to her, giving her an opportunity to slit the bastard’s throat. His father would have her killed for it, but it would be worth it if she took him down first.
The guard stepped back and turned to look at Mai. Mariko’s sister had retreated into herself ever since they’d been arrested, almost as if she was in a permanent state of shock. Mariko wanted to hold her, to promise her that everything would be all right, but the guards hadn’t even allowed them to share a cell. It was yet another form of torment for two prisoners who they hadn’t been allowed to touch physically. Whatever they had said, their actions suggested that they would have raped both girls if Carlos hadn’t been interested in them. They’d certainly raped another female prisoner, in full view of all of the other prisoners, before taking her out of the prison to an unknown fate. But maybe even that would have been preferable to spending the rest of her life as Carlos’s slave.
She covered her eyes, allowing her long black hair to fall over her face. Coming to Dorado had been the biggest mistake of her life, she knew that now. Her ambitions had led her to overlook the signs of trouble on the planet; her determination to enjoy her life had caused her to agree to go away from the spaceport and find a place to relax. And she’d led her sister to her doom. The planet didn’t even have a wormhole station that was connected to the interstellar communications network. She couldn’t send a message home begging for help.
A whimper from Mai caught her attention and she looked up. The guard was reaching through the bars, his hand clutching Mai’s breast. Mariko felt a flash of dull helpless anger even as she stumbled to her feet, trying to reach out to the guard and pull him away from her sister. The guard glanced back, smirked at her, and then moved just out of her reach. Mariko watched helplessly as he groped Mai, who seemed unable to even crawl away from him. Her sister’s spirit had been broken and it was all her fault. And there was nothing she could do to save Mai from facing a lifetime of servitude behind her.
She gritted her teeth and called out to the guard. “Let her go,” she said, trying to sound inviting. “Let her go and I’ll…I’ll suck you off.”
The guard let go of Mai at once, his hands reaching down to his pants. Mariko winced inwardly as his manhood, already hard, sprang out of confinement. He stroked it twice and then stepped towards her, inviting her to take it into his mouth. Mariko braced herself, trying not to breath, and then grabbed his testicles in both hands, hard. The guard let out a bellow of pain as she squeezed, trying her hardest to crush them before someone arrived to save her victim from his well-deserved punishment. Mariko heard the sound of footsteps just before someone struck her with a shock-rod. The guard screamed louder as Mariko let go of him and flopped to the floor, her entire body twitching with the residue of the electric shock. He had to have taken some of the shock himself. They’d certainly been in bodily contact when his comrade had zapped her.
She would have laughed as the other guards had started to work on her cell door, if it hadn’t been so hard to even stutter. The guards looked merciless, even the female bitches who were often worse than the men. Their comrade had been hurt and they wanted to punish her. Even the thought of what Carlos would say, or do, in response to any visible damage wouldn’t deter them. At least they were focusing on her, rather than Mai. Her sister would have a chance to recover before they turned their attention back to her. And perhaps they’d cut her throat after they’d used her, spiting Carlos at the final moment.
The first guard came into the cell, picked up Mariko’s twitching body and pushed it against the bars. She grunted in pain as he locked her hands to the metal and then started tearing at her clothes. Oddly, she felt herself growing distant from the scene in front of her, feeling more contempt than fear for the men who intended to torture and rape her. Dorado might never be a paradise, but if men like Carlos’s father and these thugs who passed for police officers and guards were removed, perhaps the ordinary human and alien citizens would have a chance at a better life. Instead, they tolerated them out of fear, or the cold knowledge that without them the aliens who worked in the plantations would turn on the humans. How could anyone consider it worth the price?
A hand touched her bared breast and she shuddered, trying not to show any sign of pain. It started to grip tightly as she closed her eyes, and then stopped. It took her a moment to realise that the other guards had fallen silent too. And then the hand fell away from her and she opened her eyes.
There was a newcomer in the underground prison. He wore the black top hat and dinner jacket of a person of true importance, a Class One Citizen from Homeworld itself. His face was handsome, almost too handsome to be real; his dark eyes seemed to flicker over her position for a moment before they narrowed in disapproval. He carried a black cane, topped with a silver bird’s head, in one hand, leaning on it in a languid pose that suggested that he’d seen it all before and he hadn’t been impressed the first time. The guards stared at him, as well they might. No one on Dorado, as far as Mariko knew, would have worn such an outfit unless they were trying to pass as a Grand Senator from Homeworld. Even Carlos, for all of his local power and influence, couldn’t match a Grand Senator, or even the least of their relatives. Such men had enough money to buy entire star systems.
“Good morning,” the stranger said. His voice had the aristocratic tones of Homeworld too, a slow drawl that suggested that the speaker knew himself to be the most powerful person in the room. “I came to pick up my property. I trust that I have not come too early?”
He stepped forward, the cane rapping out his footsteps on the stone floor. “What do you think you are doing to her?”
The guards looked at their chief, a man who seemed to enjoy the perks of his career as a jail supervisor. “We…we were teaching the bitch some manners,” he said, finally. Mariko had never heard someone sound so terrified before, even her mother when she’d pleaded with their father not to allow the girls to set out on their own. “She injured one of my men.”
“I did not pay fifty thousand credits for damaged goods,” the stranger said. There was something about his voice that suggested that there would be unpleasant consequences in the future. Fifty thousand credits! Mariko knew that the value of the Imperium’s Credit had been declining for centuries, but one could still buy a bulk freighter for fifty thousand credits and have spare change to hire a crew. “I am The Honourable Lord Fitzgerald d’Anconia Narragansett Grytpype-Thynne. We do not pay anything for damaged goods.”
Mariko felt her eyes widen in shock. The Grytpype-Thynne Family was a legend, one of the oldest of the families that made up the Grand Senate. There was no way to know how Lord Fitzgerald was related to the Grand Senator who headed the family, but there was no doubt that they would respond to an insult to their name. The next visitors to Dorado might be a squadron from the Imperial Navy, intent on teaching the locals some manners. It had happened before and would probably happen again.
Lord Fitzgerald glanced at her again and shook his head. Unlike the guards, he didn’t seem to linger on her body. “Release her,” he ordered, “and then open her sister’s cage.”
The guard stared at him. “But they’re dangerous criminals…”
“…Who happen to be my property,” Lord Fitzgerald said, firmly. Mariko felt herself blanch inside. She was a slave now. The only good thing about it was that Lord Fitzgerald didn’t seem to be Carlos. Maybe he’d decided to buy them on a lark and he’d give them their freedom sooner or later. “Release them, and then go find their property. I paid for that to be included in the auction.”
“Yes, Milord,” the guard said, and started barking orders at his subordinates. The guard Mariko had hurt was helped to his feet and dragged off to the medical bay, where he would probably be given some painkiller and told to get back to work. Dorado was not known for having a good healthcare system, unless one happened to be rich and powerful. “I’m afraid that some of their property was taken before we managed to secure their ship.”
“I’m sure it was,” Lord Fitzgerald said, dryly. The police would have gone through their property, taken anything interesting or valuable, and then shipped the rest to the prison, where the guards would see if they found anything interesting or valuable. Mariko had no idea how much of their property had survived long enough to be sold with them, but right now she found it hard to care. They wouldn’t have been able to take the funds from their Imperial Credit Bank account. There would be enough there to get transport back home, if necessary. “Now, leave us.”
Mariko slumped to the floor as the handcuffs were removed, her body still tingling after she’d been shocked. Lord Fitzgerald walked over and offered her a hand, helping her to her feet, before stepping aside to allow her to hug Mai tightly. Her sister was crying openly, as if she thought that they’d been reprieved – and in a sense, they had been. Surely Lord Fitzgerald couldn’t be as bad as Carlos.
“I was given to understand that you were both qualified space pilots,” Lord Fitzgerald said, after a moment. He’d been kind enough to let them hug each other before interrupting. “Is that true?”
“Yes, sir,” Mariko said. The qualifications had been why they’d been allowed to purchase a freighter and set off on their own, although on Dorado she suspected that it was easier to bribe the local Imperial Shipping Officer than actually sit for the exams. Maybe Lord Fitzgerald had had reason to distrust the local claims when he’d entered the auction. “We were both tested on Edo two years ago – our files should be accessible if you use the codes on our ID cards.”
“Which isn’t actually possible on Dorado,” Lord Fitzgerald said, dryly. Mariko flushed. She should have realised that that wouldn’t be immediately possible. Lord Fitzgerald might have had enough money to buy the planet and everyone on it, but he couldn’t alter simple geographical realities. The nearest system with a wormhole station was twenty-three light years away. “But rest assured I will inspect them once they are back in your hands.”
He turned and led them out of the prison complex, up a long flight of stairs and into a large open room that had clearly been designated as the clearing house. Most of the guards had vanished, but two had remained to sort out the boxes containing everything they’d taken from the Happy Wanderer. Seeing the small pile of clothing and a handful of datachips made her wince. Their property had been pawed by strangers and most of the good stuff was gone.
“Here, Milord,” she said, as she recovered the wallets containing their ID cards. They, at least, were difficult to fake without causing major problems for anyone who actually tried to use them. “You should be able to check the certificates easily.”
Lord Fitzgerald nodded and pulled a reader out of his suit’s pocket. Mariko left him to it and concentrated on digging through the boxes. The searchers had had odd priorities. Some fashionable clothes from Edo had been ignored, but they’d taken all of her sexy underwear and a handful of short skirts. The strictly boring underwear she wore while in deep space had been left behind, as had her shipsuit. But Mai’s shipsuit – which was more fashionable – was gone.
“Dress quickly,” Lord Fitzgerald said. Mariko remembered their position and scrambled to put on some clothes, urging Mai to do the same. They were his slaves – and would remain that way until he let them go. No one would protect them against a Grand Senator’s family. “We have a great deal of work to do.”
But it could be worse, Mariko told herself firmly. It could be a great deal worse.