Iron Age
by Zack

Author's note: This story is part of my 'Star Fleet Survey Service' series. The first story is Field Survey. If you haven't read any of the other Star Fleet stories these definitions will help:

The Great Crash occurred when every computer in the galaxy simultaneously locked up because of a date-time bug in the operating system. This caused an economic, technological, and political collapse that plunged most of the inhabited worlds into chaos, but some managed to avoid this fate. These worlds formed a political union they called the Amalgamation, and as other planets recovered and became sufficiently advanced they were invited to join it.

The Star Fleet Survey Service secretly surveys planets that are possible candidates for membership in the Amalgamation. It also enforces the First Directive, which prohibits any activity that might interfere with the cultural development of a non-Amalgamation society. Rescuing Amalgamation citizens in danger on non-Amalgamation planets is a Survey Service collateral duty.

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It was a beautiful summer day in the island nation of Zarcusa, ruler of what was rapidly becoming a large and powerful empire. The planet, designated by the Amalgamation as W78423, was still in a pre-industrial state, but it had a good chance of one day regaining the technology lost in the Great Crash, although that day was certainly far in the future. Until then, it was being covertly studied by a team of anthropologists. Following standard practice, they were posing as merchants from another country, and their living quarters and place of business were combined in a shabby two-story building located on a side street in Begasis City, Zarcusa's capital.

This week's status meeting was more acrimonious than usual. As it often is, money was the root of the conflict, but it was exacerbated by personal differences. On one side were the four academics, all from the University of Jowze, and on the other side was their nominal 'leader', Jalie Mintal. Jalie's academic qualifications were slim, but her bank account was massive. Conflict was perhaps not inevitable, but Jalie was used to having things her own way. Collegial she was not.

Dalif Nogorma, a 45 year old man of distinguished appearance, was the senior academic, a Professor of Anthropology at UJ. He put it bluntly. "Jalie, you can't be so cheap. We're supposed to be operating as a linen exporter, but this cover is worthless if you won't provide any money for us to buy cloth. We've been here for almost a month now and our supposed 'business' hasn't done any business. If we lose our cover the Survey Service will cancel our permit and force us to leave the planet. And that's the best outcome, the other alternatives aren't so pleasant. If the Zarcusa authorities decide we aren't merchants they might decide we're spies, and if they do the best we could hope for would be enslavement."

"All right, all right! This whole anthropology thing is starting to bore me. I may just decide to drop it." Zarcusan culture discouraged promiscuity, so one of the reasons for Jalie's discontent was the lack of any sexual activity. She had indulged herself freely for the last few years and chastity didn't suit her. "I got some gold in the last supply run and you can buy your stupid cloth, if that's what it takes to keep the locals happy until we leave."

Dalif was aghast. "Shut down the expedition? This is one of the most unusual cultures ever discovered. The entire planet reverted to the stone age after the Great Crash, but they made a remarkable recovery, and most places have now reached the Bronze Age. But Zarcusa advanced beyond that at an astounding rate and is now well into the Iron Age. Not everyone is convinced that they did it on their own, even though the Survey Service couldn't detect any violations of the First Directive. We may make some fundamental discoveries here. And you can't shut us down. We have a contract!"

"Sure, you have a contract. But do you have good lawyers? Do you have the money to pay them? I have both, so I can do as I want."

Yamila Nogorma, Dalif's wife and another Professor of Anthropology at UJ, attempted to calm the tempest. "I'm sure we can all get along. This meeting isn't supposed to be about money anyway. We can discuss that later. Recigan has been investigating one of the consequences of the availability of inexpensive iron. Let's hear his report. Recigan?"

Recigan Tookla was in his mid-twenties and just starting to climb the academic ladder in the UJ Anthropology Department. Since his chosen career would often take him to primitive places, he made a point of being in excellent condition. He wasn't handsome in the conventional sense, but his tall, muscular physique made up for that, and most women found him attractive.

One of those women was Talia Endame, a graduate student on her first field trip. Talia was slim and petite, and her tan skin and black hair were not fashionable at the moment, so she didn't consider herself attractive. Her shyness and sexual decorum would have perhaps prevented her from responding to Recigan's advances in more conventional surroundings, but in this exotic environment she could not resist him, and after a few nights in his bed resisting him was the last thing she wanted.

Recigan lifted a heavy cloth bag and dropped it on the conference table with a thump. "One side effect of the availability of cheap iron is the increase in the slave trade. Raiders can now penetrate more remote regions and still get their captives to market because now they can chain them up. There are several foundries here in Begasis City that manufacture cast iron fetters and chain."

He took a slave collar, about 4 cm wide and 1 cm thick, out of the sack and held it up. "This collar is much more complex than you might notice at first. Note that the two halves are identical, and the hinge and the closure are cast in. This is rather advanced foundry work, requiring the use of cores in the mold. But even more remarkable is the system used to lock it closed." He held up a cast iron pin, about a centimeter in diameter and with a rounded head cast on one end. Near the other end was a radial hole. "One of these pins forms the collar's hinge, and it is secured at the factory with a rivet through the hole in its end. Another pin holds the collar shut, and this is one of the advanced features of this system. As you know, locks are large and expensive here, but this pin can be secured in place with one of these iron rings." He held up a ring of iron wire about four centimeters in diameter and half a centimeter thick. There was a gap in the ring, and the open ends were offset about a centimeter. "After the ring is run through the pin the slaver can just hammer it flat. It is impossible to open it without tools, so the slave is secured."

He took a two meter length of cast iron chain and another pin out of the sack. "Everything is standardized. The same pins are also used to fasten a chain to these rings cast on the sides of the collar, and they can be secured the same way."

Jalie interrupted, "Enough talk, I want to see a demonstration. Put the collar on Talia, she's a natural-born slave girl." Jalie had made sexual advances to Recigan and he had turned her down flat. That stung, and now she did not like him, or Talia.

Recigan said hotly, "I will not!"

"Oh? You're ignoring an instruction from me, the leader of this expedition? That won't look good when I make my report to the university."

Recigan was about to continue the argument but Talia forestalled him. "It's all right, Reci, I don't mind." Her primary motive for intervening was to protect Recigan, but she found that for some reason she really didn't mind. She moved next to Recigan and stood quietly.

Recigan muttered under his breath, but he closed the collar around Talia's neck, inserted the pin to hold it shut, and put the wire ring through the hole in the pin.

"Now the chain," ordered Jalie.

Visibly angry, Recigan attached the chain to the collar.

But Jalie wasn't finished. "I want to see how secure it really is. Pound the rings closed."

"I don't have a hammer."

"The one you showed us last meeting is in that cupboard. Get it!"

Once again Talia kept Recigan's anger from erupting. "We've gone this far, Reci. A little more doesn't matter." She picked up the free end of the chain and walked over to the fireplace, knelt next to the raised hearth, and lowered her head.

Recigan looked like he would rather use the hammer on Jalie's skull, but he rotated the collar so the ring was over a hearthstone and hammered it flat. He secured the chain ring in the same way. He helped Talia stand and glared at Jalie. "There! Happy now?"

Jalie took the free end of the chain out of Talia's hand and walked towards the door, pulling Talia along with her. "I could lead her down to the slave market and get a good price for her. Your funding problems would be solved."

Recigan raised the hammer and took a step towards Jalie, who suddenly realized she'd gone too far. She dropped the chain and hurried out the door, slamming it shut behind her.

Recigan was furious. "That bitch! Why did she want to humiliate you, Talia? She's a jealous psycho. I'm going to let the university know about this."

"No real harm done, Reci. Jalie will claim this was just a demonstration as part of your report, and it'll sound normal enough. Don't say anything, you don't want to stir up trouble."

"I suppose you're right. I'll let it drop, the university would just take her side anyway. Now let's get you out of that collar."

But that was not so easy to do. It proved to be impossible to hammer open the ring without hurting Talia's neck. Finally Recigan gave up. "It's no use. Slavers use an iron bar with a slot in the end that holds half of the ring in place while they hammer it open. I'll have to buy one at the ironmonger's tomorrow. I'm afraid you'll have to wear the collar tonight, Talia."

Talia shrugged. "I guess I can stand it." But she found herself strangely excited by the prospect, and that night was one of intense passion, surprising both Talia and Recigan.

* * *

Later that night Dalif and Yamila were talking in bed. Dalif complained, "Jalie is certainly obnoxious. Why is she so selfish and domineering?"

He meant that as a rhetorical question, but Yamila chose to take him literally. "She's a complex product of her past life. Surely an anthropologist should recognize that."

"Oh? How do you know about her past life?"

"My mother has a friend who knows Jalie's mother, and I asked her."

"Why didn't you mention this before?"

"I asked after the contract had already been signed and we were busy planning this field trip. It was too late to do anything about it and I didn't want to distract you, so I just hoped Jalie had changed for the better. Unfortunately, I was wrong."

"So tell me about her."

"Jalie married old man Mintal when she was seventeen, and he was at least seventy years older than that. He treated her more like a pet than a wife, and she had absolutely no autonomy. She stuck it out for eleven years, and then Mintal died and left her his fortune. She's run wild all four years since then, using the domineering personality we see now to make up for all the repression forced on her by Mintal. She probably used neuro-psychological conditioning to effect the change in her personality."

"You mean this is the way she wants to be."

"Yes, I'm afraid that's true."

"Why did she want to come to this planet with us?

"Millions of people would like to visit a world outside the Amalgamation, but it's difficult to get a permit from the Survey Service. I suppose Jalie wanted to visit some place exotic and unavailable to all but a few, and posing as an anthropologist let her do it."

"Yeah, her donation to the University was so big the administration gave her that honorary degree and made her an 'Adjunct Professor' in anthropology. I don't mind the degree, giving one to a big donor is usual enough, but calling Jalie a 'Professor', even though she knows nothing about anthropology, just proved once again that the administration will do anything if enough money is involved."

"Yes, but we benefited too. You know there wasn't any money in the department budget for this expedition. If it wasn't for Jalie we wouldn't be here."

"I'm grateful, I guess. I just wish there was some way to keep her interested in the project." Dalif yawned. "Let's worry about it tomorrow."

* * *

The next morning Jalie planned to visit Apexil City. She was interested in pottery, and today a famous artist living there was unloading his kiln. She wanted to be there when that happened so she could have first pick of his latest batch of pots. She was dressed in native costume; a leather purse worn on a belt, sandals, a short-sleeved dress made of bleached linen that reached to mid-calf, and a separate bodice of blue-dyed linen embroidered with red silk flowers. The bodice laced up the front and supported and displayed her cleavage. Jalie had the full figure popular in Zarcusa, and her pretty face and light-brown hair conformed to the local standard of beauty.

Old Zarcusa consisted of three large islands, arranged in a roughly circular formation. Begasis, the largest island, formed the eastern half of the circle, with Begasis City near its southern end. Apexil Island formed the circle's southwestern quadrant, and the smaller island of Salinga was in the northwest. There were many other smaller islands, and Zarcusa's expanding empire now occupied much of the adjacent mainland, but these three islands were the cultural heartland.

The sailing distance between Begasis City and Apexil City was about thirty kilometers, and, wind and weather permitting, a packet boat sailed between them once a day, leaving in the morning and returning in the evening. Jalie was a bit late and was hurrying to the dock when she was hailed by a loud voice.

"Hello there, Jalie. Why are you rushing about on this fine day?" The speaker was Gaxos, a portly man in his fifties, a produce dealer and one of the richest men in the city. He was also a member of the committee that approved foreigner's residence permits, and Dalif had cultivated him energetically. He was short and balding, and like all men in Zarcusa he wore a beard. Most men kept them trimmed short, but Gaxos' beard was long and wild, a cloud of gray hair that surrounded his face.

Jalie would have gladly ignored him, but she didn't dare. It was a crime in Zarcusa for a woman to disrespect a man in public, and if convicted of this offense she could be publicly flogged. Jalie had been convicted of disrespect during her first week in Zarcusa, and only fervent pleading by Dalif had got her penalty reduced to a fine and a warning that the next offence would be punished with the whip. Gritting her teeth, she stopped. "Hello, Ser Gaxos. I'm on my way to the dock. Please excuse me, I don't want to miss the boat to Apexil."

"Plenty of time, plenty of time. Just give me a moment to look at you. You are a beautiful woman. One day I might ask your cousin for you. You'd make a fine wife."

"I'd be honored, Ser Gaxos, but I'm already betrothed to a man in my native city."

That was another thing that grated on Jalie. Women in Zarcusa were not allowed to live independently. All had to be under the absolute control of a man; a husband, a father, or some other male relative. To conform to this law Dalif was officially her 'cousin', and under Zarcusian law he could force her to wed any man he chose, whether she liked it or not.

Gaxos sighed. "A pity. The good ones are always taken. Well, have a nice trip to Apexil."

"Thank you, Ser Gaxos." She bowed and resumed her journey at a run, but when she got to the dock the boat had just sailed. "Shit!" she exclaimed. "Now what do I do?"

She was more determined than ever to travel to Apexil City today, but how to get there? Then she had an idea. Her late husband had been an enthusiastic yachtsman, and she had perforce learned to sail; it was one of the few activities permitted to her. She found that she actually liked sailing, and she frequently rented a boat here, although usually only to sail in the vicinity of the harbor. But the weather today was good and the sea was calm. It would take longer to sail to Apexil than to take the packet boat, but she could return on the packet and it could tow her boat back.

Jalie walked to the small pier where the rental boats were kept. She greeted the proprietor, "Hello, Ser Balon. I'd like to rent my usual boat. It's a lovely day for sailing."

"That it is, Jalie. How long do you want it for?"

"All day. I thought I might sail up the coast." Jalie knew Balon didn't think much of her sailing abilities (or the sailing abilities of any woman), so she didn't want him to know she planned to sail to Apexil.

"Just don't go too far out to sea. There are no colors on this boat."

Jalie didn't understand what Balon meant by this, but she didn't think it mattered. She climbed into the boat, which was about six meters long and rigged with a single mast. There was a deck from the bow to amidships, and she checked that the water barrel stowed under it was full. She had purchased a loaf of bread and some cheese on the way to the pier, so she had food for her journey. Balon cast off the mooring line and pushed her away from the pier. She hoisted the sail, it filled in the fresh breeze, and she was on her way.

* * *

The Talask brothers were having a bad day. They had been fishing since before dawn, but so far their catch had been meager. They were about halfway between Apexil and Begasis when Jok, the elder brother, spotted a small sail in the distance. "Let's close with that boat, Lep. Maybe they know where the fish are today."

The two brothers hauled in their fishing lines and set a course to intercept the boat, which was now noticeably closer. When they were within about 300 meters of it Jok said, "No colors. What does he think he's doing?" Reflexively he checked to be sure the Zarcusan flag was still flying at the masthead of his boat.

When they got still closer Jok exclaimed, "It's that pretty foreign woman I've seen around the harbor, and that's one of Balon's boats. What the hell is she doing so far from shore?"

"I don't know, but I don't see no colors. Let's get her!"

Jalie was lost in her thoughts and didn't notice the other boat until it was close alongside. Jok tossed a grappling hook into Jalie's boat and pulled on its line until the hulls were locked together. He tied off the line to a cleat and jumped on board while Jalie looked on, astonished. She was even more astonished when he threw her face-down on the bottom of the boat, pulled her arms behind her back, and tied her wrists together with a thin rope.

While Jok was lowering the sail on her boat Jalie struggled to a sitting position and tried, unsuccessfully, to free her hands. "What are you doing?" she yelled. "Release me at once!"

Jok laughed. "Not likely. You were out to sea without showing any colors, so you're a legitimate prize. And tying your hands makes you a legal captive."

"I don't understand a word you say. What are these 'colors'? And what makes you think you can kidnap me like this and get away with it?"

Jok pointed to the flag at his masthead. "Those are the Zarcusan colors. If you were displaying that flag, or the flag of a friendly nation, then you would be under the protection of that nation and we'd be pirates. But with no colors you're fair game for anybody, and once I've tied your hands I own you."

"Own me! You can't be serious." Jalie looked at Jok with growing fear. "You are serious! What are you going to do to me?"

"I'd like to keep you for myself. But we need money, so we're going to take you to Salinga and register you with the Slavery Bureau. Then we'll sell you to one of the slave dealers there."

"I'm going to be a slave? I can't believe it!"

"You already are a slave. Registration just lets us sell you."

Jok picked up Jalie and handed her to Lep in their boat. Lep sat her on the deck, tied a rope around her neck, and fastened the rope's free end to a cleat on the gunwale. While he was doing this Jok was securing a line from the bow of Jalie's boat to the stern of his boat. Once that was done Lep hoisted their sail and the brothers set a course toward Salinga.

Jalie was starting to calm down. She still couldn't get her hands free and the rope around her neck held her immobile, but she no longer feared for her life. The Survey Service indoctrination lectures warned us about dangers like this, she thought. I hope I don't have too rough a time before Dalif can bail me out. She looked at Jok, who was manning the tiller. He was wearing loose, baggy trousers cut off just below his knees and a sleeveless vest. He had a deep tan, curly black hair, and a muscular body. I suppose as a slave girl I'll have to service my master. Oh well, when rape is unavoidable...

Jok said, "I get to go first, I'm the oldest."

"Let's not fight about it." Lep took a coin from his pocket and flipped it. "Call it."

"Dragon."

Lep caught the coin. "Leaf. You lose, I go first." He untied Jalie's neck rope from the cleat and pulled her to her feet.

"Better strip her out here, it's cramped in the cabin."

"Right." Lep untied Jalie's hands. "Take all your clothes off, slave." He kept a tight hold on the rope tied around her neck.

Jalie quickly complied. If this is rape, she thought, why am I wet?

Lep tugged on the rope and led the now-naked Jalie to a small cabin near the bow of the boat. There was a single bunk right on the deck, and there wasn't enough headroom to stand up. "On the bunk. On your back," he commanded.

By the time Jalie had crawled onto the bunk Lep had removed his trousers. He was already fully erect, and without any preliminaries he plunged into her. What he lacked in finesse he made up for with youthful vigor, and Jalie found herself responding, but before she could cum he was finished. He pulled on his trousers and left the cabin without saying a word.

That was disappointing. I hope the other one is better.

He was. Unlike his brother, he talked to her. "My name is Jok, and my brother's name is Lep. What's your name? Your name before you became a slave, I mean."

"Jalie. Are you really going to sell me?"

"We have to. Fishing has been bad lately, and a boat payment is due. But you belong to us until we reach Salinga, and I want to make the most of it. Kiss me."

Jalie kissed him. He stroked her labia and she gasped when his finger found her clit. Jok was far from the most expert lover Jalie had ever had, but he was good enough that she had an orgasm before he did.

A short time later Lep returned and fucked her again, and then Jok had another turn. By the end of the afternoon both of the brothers had used her three times. Then she was fed a meal of fried fish and mush (made from some grain Jalie couldn't identify), cooked by Lep in the boat's tiny galley. She cleaned the dishes and pots in a bucket of seawater, and when she was finished she was allowed to relieve herself over the stern of the boat. Then Jok tied her hands behind her back, sat her on the deck next to the tiller, and re-tied the rope on her neck to the cleat. Once it was dark Jok wrapped Jalie in a blanket, so she was able to get some sleep.

One of the brothers sailed the boat while the other slept on the bunk, taking turns throughout the night. The wind was unfavorable, so Salinga wasn't visible until about an hour after dawn. When Jok took his turn at the tiller, Lep didn't go to the bunk alone, he untied Jalie's neck from the cleat and took her with him. He fucked her as quickly as he had done before, and she didn't really enjoy it, although having sex with her hands tied produced some interesting sensations.

A few minutes later Jok joined her on the bunk, and he took a lot of time to arouse her. She had several massive orgasms, and when she was able to talk she asked, "Sure you can't keep me? I'd like to be your slave."

Jok sighed. "I wish, but I got to sell you."

He brought Jalie back on deck and tied a long rope around her chest, just under her armpits. Then he threw her overboard. Jalie was caught by surprise and shrieked as she flew through the air. She hit the water with a splash and submerged, and she kicked frantically to reach the surface. Jok let her trail behind the boat for a few minutes and then hauled her back on board. He untied her hands and took the rope off her chest. "Hope you enjoyed your bath. You were very sticky." He gave her a towel. "Dry off and comb your hair. I want to get the best price I can."

The wind became more favorable, and by mid-morning the boat was moored alongside the Slave Island wharf. Salinga City had a large natural harbor, and Slave Island was in the center of it. This was the initial landing point for all of the slaves entering Zarcusa, chosen because it was relatively close to the wild hinterlands to the north, the main source of slaves.

Jalie was fed a meager meal (cold fish and more mush). Then Jok lifted her onto the wharf and tied her hands behind her back. Using the rope on her neck as a leash, he led her to the Slavery Bureau building. She was initially embarrassed by her nudity, but quickly accepted she couldn't do anything about it. Besides, she wasn't ashamed of her body. She was especially proud of her fashionable pubic hair, a thick brown mat that nearly reached her navel.

Jok eventually found the Slavery Bureau's Registry Office. When he entered the room the clerk seated behind a waist-high counter put down the ledger he was reading. "What do you want?" he growled.

"I want to register this slave girl."

"Oh? Where did you get her?"

"I caught her at sea, in a boat with no colors."

"So you say she's a captive obtained in accordance with the Law of Naval Combat?"

"Yeah, if that's what you call it."

"Before you say anything else, I want to inform you that you're going to have to swear an oath that everything you say is true, and if we find out you lied you'll be hanged. So if this is your wife and you just want to get rid of her, do it some other way."

"No, no, I really captured her at sea."

"The Law of Naval Combat is very old, and originally was used during wars. Using it to capture a woman is legally dubious now."

"She's a foreigner. That makes a difference, doesn't it?"

"Yes, it does, unless we have a treaty with her country." The clerk asked Jalia, "Where are you from?"

"I'm from Ainotse," she replied, using the cover story she had memorized. Ainotse was over a thousand kilometers distant, and although there was some trade with Zarcusa there was no military rivalry, so it was a convenient 'home country' for the anthropologists.

Reluctantly, the clerk told Jok, "All right, you seem to have met the letter of the law." The clerk rummaged under the counter until he found a steel pen, an inkwell, and some paper. He then asked Jok a series of detailed questions about his capture of Jalie's boat: Where it happened, what time of day, his name and the names of his crew, the number of people on the captured boat, and on and on. When he finished the clerk read back everything he had written down and asked Jok, "Is this a true account?

Jok answered yes. The clerk then shouted at Jalie, "Is all this true, girl?"

Startled, she nodded. Now satisfied this wasn't a blatant fraud, the clerk asked Jok, "Do you swear by the Dragon God that this is a true account of the incident of naval combat described? If so, sign your name or make your mark on this paper." He gave the pen to Jok, who signed his name, proud of his literacy. The clerk produced an inkpad and had Jok place his thumbprint under his signature.

"Now we can register your slave girl. The registration fee is twenty crowns, payable in advance." Jok dug some gold coins out of his pocket and reluctantly gave the money to the clerk. This was money he found in Jalie's purse, so she was actually paying for her own enslavement. The clerk deposited the money in an iron box he kept under the counter.

"Bring her behind the counter, and put her up against that height scale on the wall over there." The clerk took a form, preprinted from a woodblock, and filled in the physical description of Jalie; gender, height, color of skin, eyes, and hair, approximate age, etc. He made a duplicate copy of the information in a large ledger. Then, with the dexterity that comes from long practice, the clerk inked Jalie's thumb and added her thumbprint to the form and the ledger, without untying her hands.

Next he took a cast iron slave collar from a shelf under the counter. This was identical to the collar Recigan had demonstrated, except it had a serial number cast into the metal. The clerk wrote this number on the form and in the ledger. He closed the collar around Jalie's neck and inserted the locking pin. Instead of the wire ring Recigan had used, the clerk put a shorter, U-shaped piece of wire through the hole in the pin. He crimped this wire tightly against the pin with a tool that looked like a giant pair of pliers, with handles almost a meter long. Jalie's collar was meant to stay on her permanently.

The clerk gave Jok the completed form. "This is your certificate of title. It proves that you own her, and you can't sell her without it. Are you going to sell her to a slave dealer here?" Jok nodded. "Then I don't have to explain the sales and registration procedure to you. That's all, take her away. The Elyrian tribute ship will be here soon and I've got a lot to do before then."

"Elyrian tribute ship? What's that about?"

"Elyria is that remote region we conquered a few years ago. They're so dirt poor they can't pay tribute in gold or silver, so instead every year they send us 200 maidens, to be sold as slaves. These women are all very beautiful, all with red hair and creamy skin, and I suppose a few actually are maidens, but they don't speak our language and they're really ignorant about civilized life, so registering them is a chore."

"Tough on them, to be sold as slaves in a far away land."

"Not really. Their status at home is slave-like. I've heard that in some of the wilder tribes the word for 'slave' is the same as the word for 'woman'. At least here they aren't as likely to starve or be beaten to death. Now go, get out of my way."

Jok took Jalie to the four major slave dealers on the island, getting a bid from each. Finally he decided to sell her to Zak. Zak had a reputation for cruelty, but his slaves were better trained so they sold at a higher price, and he could afford to pay more for good raw material. Jalie was pretty and in good physical condition, and this compensated for her age. Zak offered Jok more money than he earned from months of fishing, and he reluctantly accepted it. He endorsed the back of the slave title and gave it and Jalie's leash to Zak, saying "Good bye, Jalie. Good luck."

She nodded, not knowing what to say. She was sure Jok had treated her better than many men would have done in similar circumstances, but being enslaved wasn't something she would have chosen to do. You wanted an exotic adventure, she thought. Well, you got your wish. Jalie still believed all this wasn't really a serious problem for her, that her status as a rich citizen of the Amalgamation would protect her from harm. Soon Dalif would rescue her, and her life would go on as usual.

Zak led Jalie through a door in the back of his office and into a slave barn. This building had stone walls four meters high, with small barred windows at the top. The floor was paved with large ceramic tiles, and there were parallel lines of knee-high iron posts evenly spaced across it. Each post was about a meter from the adjacent posts, and they were connected at the top by thick iron rods. Zak got a two-meter length of cast iron chain from a shelf and attached it to Jalie's collar with a pin and a wire ring. Instead of hammering the ring flat he too used a tool like giant pliers and squeezed the ring ends together. He pulled her over to the nearest line of iron posts, wrapped the end of her neck chain around the iron rod, and secured it with another pin and ring.

Zak pointed to a trough in the floor, lined with terra-cotta and running parallel to the line of posts and about 30 cm from it. "Piss and shit in the trough. It's flushed every day. I want this barn to be clean, and you'll be sorry if you mess it up."

Jalie looked at the hard floor. "Don't I get a mattress?"

Zak stared at her for a long minute. Then he asked, "How long you been a slave?"

"About a day."

"Thought so. You need some training."

In what seemed to Jalie to be just a brief moment, Zak picked her up, swung her sideways, and laid her face-down on the floor. In another moment he had bent her knees and tied her ankles to the iron rod. Her wrists were still tied behind her back, so all she could do was lie on her belly and squirm helplessly. Zak moved away from her, and she wondered if he was going to go away and leave her like this.

He wasn't. He struck the bottom of her right foot with a wooden rod and Jalie experienced the most intense pain of her life. Then Zak struck her left foot and the pain doubled. She screamed and kept on screaming until she had received ten blows on each foot. Without another word Zak untied her wrists and ankles and left her moaning and crying on the floor.

Jalie spent the rest of the day in a haze of pain. A little before sunset a woman brought her a gourd filled with water and a wooden bowl of vegetable stew. This woman was also a slave, naked and collared. She had iron cuffs around her ankles, connected by a short chain that rattled on the floor as she walked. Her facial expression was blank, as though she were in a different world, far away. Jalie was frightened by this, and began to understand that she was in real trouble.

Jalie ate the food and drank some water, and was careful to squat directly over the trough when she relieved herself. Just after dark Zak himself brought her a blanket. She was too frightened to say anything or even look directly at him. Her improved behavior made him smile.

Jalie's night was miserable. The pain in her feet and the hard floor kept her from sleeping, so by morning she was tired as well as hurting. At dawn the same woman brought her more water and a bowl of mush, and Jalie forced herself to eat. As the day passed she recovered enough to take an interest in her surroundings, and she noticed that although the barn was big it only contained five slaves, all women chained by the neck to the iron rods as she was. None of the other women were close to her, and although she could hear them whispering she couldn't make out any words.

From what she heard yesterday, Jalie had supposed that Zak was a major slave dealer, but he didn't seem to have much stock, at least not in this barn. All that changed later in the day. Double doors at the end of the barn were thrown open and a crowd of women were pushed through them by men cracking whips. All of the women were young, pretty or beautiful, and red-haired. All were naked, collared, and had their hands tied behind their backs. These were the Elyrian tribute women; Zak had been the high bidder. The rest of the day was chaos, with screams, cracking whips, and a constant loud chatter in a strange language. It was sunset before all of the women were chained to the iron rods, but even then there was noise and confusion.

Early in the proceedings Jalie and the other five women had been unchained from the rods and moved to a small room. There they had leg irons locked on their ankles, the cuffs smaller versions of the collars, and then they were set to work carrying water and generally tending to the Elyrian slave girls. Walking on her bruised feet was agony for Jalie, but she didn't want another beating, so she forced herself to obey all the orders she was given. At the end of a long day, when finally she and the other five women were locked in the small room, she just collapsed, and had no trouble sleeping on the hard floor.

This routine was repeated the next day, and the next, and the next, until ten days had gone by. By this time the iron cuffs had rubbed Jalie's ankles raw, and although she didn't know it her face had the same blank expression she had seen on the other slave. She kept asking herself, 'Where is Dalif, when is he going to get me out of this?' She promised herself that when he did get her out she was going to leave this planet. She was going to return to the Amalgamation and stop funding the expedition, contract or no contract.

Then she asked herself 'What if Dalif can't get me out of this?' The answer to this question was so terrifying that despair overcame her, and for the first time since she had been enslaved she wept.

* * *

Dalif wasn't concerned when Jalie didn't return from Apexil City on the day she left, since she had said she might stay over for several days. The first indication of trouble came the next morning, when Balon told him that Jalie hadn't returned from sailing, and he wanted Dalif to pay for the missing boat. Balon knew Dalif was Jalie's 'cousin' because he wouldn't rent her a boat without the permission of the man who controlled her.

Dalif, like Balon, believed Jalie had been shipwrecked on the coast, and he commissioned a man to look for her, or her wreckage, along the shore. The true story only emerged several days later when the Talask brothers returned to Begasis City and gave the captured boat back to Balon. Theoretically, they could claim it as a prize, and Lep wanted to sell it, but Jok refused, because he knew the money from the sale wouldn't be enough to compensate them for the ill-will they'd get from the maritime community. They related their adventures to Balon, who repeated their story to Dalif, who now knew that Jalie had been enslaved and sold.

Dalif couldn't believe this was legal, that a woman on an innocent journey between two cities of a civilized nation could be captured and sold into slavery. He complained to the city magistrate, who directed him to the local office of the Slavery Bureau. He hurried there, and after a short wait he obtained an interview with Deputy Administrator Tolf.

After reciting the facts as he knew them Dalif demanded that Jalie be freed and returned to him.

Tolf replied, "It's not that easy to do now, Ser Dalif. Of course, the real problem is that every sailor has heard about the Law of Naval Combat. Most don't understand what it says or how it applies, but they all dream of getting rich by capturing a ship without colors. I agree that the Law was misapplied in this case, and if we had found your cousin before she was registered she would have been freed. Unfortunately, it's too late for that now. Once the Bureau has registered her she's officially a slave, and the registration can't be canceled."

"Then how do I get her back?"

"You'll have to buy her. This dealer, Zak, probably hasn't sold her yet, because he'll want to train her first. You should go to Salinga as soon as possible."

"What do you think she'll cost?"

"I can't say. Visit the local slave market and see what women similar to her are selling for."

"But once I've bought her I can free her?"

"Ah, no, manumission is illegal. The present law is 'once a slave, always a slave'. Many people think this is a bad law and want it changed, but the Council doesn't agree."

Dalif thanked Tolf for his time and left the Bureau. His next stop was the slave market, but the visit only confirmed what he already knew. After buying the cloth he didn't have nearly enough money left to buy Jalie.

It was very embarrassing, but he had to report everything to the University, and they had to notify the Survey Service.

* * *

It was twelve days after the delivery of the Elyrian women. Normally Zak would have started training Jalie by now, but he was preoccupied with the Elyrians, so he continued to use her as a drudge. He was doing some paperwork in his inner office when his assistant knocked on the door. "Yes?"

"A man to see you, Master."

"Have him wait in the showroom. I'll see him there."

When Zak entered the showroom he saw a large man, with a muscular body and dark brown eyes and hair. Zak tensed. This man exuded menace, even though he just stood quietly. "What do you want?" Zak asked. "If it's about the money, I told Dolf I'd pay him next week."

The man smiled, and even this seemed like a threat. "No, I want to buy a slave girl."

"Oh! Well, you've come to the right place, I have the best selection in Salinga. I'm Zak, the owner of this establishment. What's your name, ser?"

"Mithro."

"I just bought this year's Elyrian women, Ser Mithro, and they're all beauties. Still a bit savage, but you might like that."

"No, I'm looking for a woman who speaks our language and is slightly older than those girls. It's important that she hasn't been a slave for very long. I want to train her myself."

"I have some women like that. Please wait a few minutes while I get them from the barns, and you can see what's in stock."

In the barn, Jalie was carrying water buckets when Zak slapped her bottom. "Stand over against that wall," he ordered. She hurried to obey, moving as fast as the chain on her ankles allowed. Soon she was joined by two other women she hadn't seen before. Zak tied their hands behind their backs and linked their collars with a rope. He led them out of the barn and down a short hallway ending in closed door. Zak unlocked the door and pushed them through it and onto a low stage. The room had several rows of chairs facing the stage, but they were empty. The room's only occupant was a large man standing in the center aisle.

"These women match your requirements, Ser Mithro. Examine them as closely as you wish."

Mithro didn't touch Jalie, but she was frightened when he just stood next to her. When he tapped her shoulder and said, "I like this one. How much do you want for her?" she nearly fainted.

"A good choice, Ser Mithro! And cheap, too." He named a price.

Mithro laughed and offered half as much. The two men haggled and Jalie's spirits rose. Maybe they wouldn't reach an agreement and she wouldn't be sold to this terrible man. But her hope was dashed when they finally agreed on a price.

Zak said, "The price doesn't include the leg irons. Those will be extra. And if you take her off the island she can't be naked in public, but I sell slave smocks."

"I don't want the irons, take them off her. And we'll leave the island on my boat, so she won't need any clothes."

"As you wish." Zak opened the front door and yelled for his assistant. When she appeared he ordered, "Find the paperwork for this one and tell Huf to take off her leg irons." He read off the serial number from Jalie's collar. "Then he's to bring her to my office and take the other two back to Barn 3."

A short time later Jalie was led into the office. Zak endorsed her slave title and gave it to Mithro. "You have twenty days to register her in your home district. Don't lose this title, you'll need it if you sell her." He jingled a bag of gold coins. "Pleasure to do business with you. I hope to see you again."

Mithro smiled. "Not much chance of that." He took the rope tied to Jalie's collar and gave it a tug. "Come, girl."

They walked to the wharf and Mithro lifted Jalie into the cockpit of a large sailboat. "Sit there," he pointed, and she was quick to obey. He untied the mooring lines and jumped on board. The tide was ebbing and the boat drifted away from the wharf. Mithro raised the sail and took the tiller.

Once the boat had left the harbor Mithro fastened the tiller and spoke to Jalie. "I want to be sure I've got the right person. What's your name."

"Whatever you wish it to be, Master." The other slave women had taught her something about proper slave behavior.

"I wish it to be Jalie Mintal. Is that you?"

"Yes! How did you know that? Who are you?"

"I'm Warrant Officer Reg, Star Fleet Survey Service." He stood Jalie up and untied her hands. "Your clothes are in the cabin. Get dressed, then come back here and I'll put some ointment on your ankles."

In a daze, Jalie put on her clothes and returned to the cockpit. Reg put ointment on her raw ankles and wrapped bandages around them. "Do you have any other injuries?"

"No, my feet are still sore, but they're getting better. Can you take this collar off?"

"No, that would be out of character. I'm supposed to be an agent hired by Dalif to find you. When we get to Begasis City I'll endorse your slave title over to him, he'll become your 'owner', and the paper trail won't be interrupted. Then when you leave this planet he can say he sent you back to Ainotse, and there won't be any chance of a First Directive violation."

"Why didn't Dalif come for me himself? Why did he wait for you to arrive?"

"Dalif wanted to buy you as soon as he knew where you were, but he didn't have enough money, and although I could buy you myself using Star Fleet funds, regulations don't allow the funds to be transferred so somebody else could buy you. Anyway, I got here as fast as the money could have arrived."

"You really scared me."

"Yeah, I have that effect on people sometimes."

* * *

When Jalie returned to Begasis City she announced her intention to return to the Amalgamation on the next supply ship, due to arrive in a week. Then she would stop funding the anthropology expedition. The anthropologists argued with her for several days, but she refused to change her mind.

One morning, at Dalif's suggestion, Yamila, Talia, and Recigan went to Apexil City. He wanted to be alone with Jalie, so he could have one last chance to reason with her, one-on-one. They were seated next to each other at the end of the conference table, and things weren't progressing smoothly.

"I don't care what you say," Jalie proclaimed. "I'm leaving and my money is leaving with me."

"But you can't do that!" Dalif protested. "We're on the verge of making vital discoveries."

"Nothing you can discover in this primitive hellhole is important. No one but your inbred little circle even reads all those reports you write."

"That's not true! Our research is of great importance! It helps us advance toward the Amalgamation goal of reuniting mankind."

"Then let the Amalgamation fund it, I'm not going to. I'm going to cancel the automatic payments to the University."

"But it's not much money, and with your fortune you'd never miss it! Hyperspace transportation is our biggest expense, and it's already been paid for. All we need to keep us here is a relatively small amount for our local expenses. You signed a contract that guaranteed those payments. Do you intend to break it?"

"Yes, and there's nothing you can do about it. Money equals power, and I have it and you don't. And I don't like you. I spent a lot of days as a slave waiting for you to help me, and now you won't even take off this fucking collar."

"I can't remove it. It's widely known in the city that you were enslaved, and Zarcusan law won't let me free you. A slave has to wear a collar, and if you appeared in public without it I could be arrested."

"Always thinking of yourself, aren't you?"

There was a knock on the door. Dalif said, "All right, for the last time. Are you going to honor the contract?"

"No."

"Then I have no choice." He jabbed a pressure syringe against Jalie's thigh and injected a mild anesthetic from the medical kit. She relaxed in her chair, not quite unconscious, but unable to move or speak.

Dalif opened the door. "Welcome, Ser Gaxos. Please come in."

"Thank you, Ser Dalif. Do you have good news for me?"

"Yes, I've decided to accept your offer for my cousin. But I'll be frank. She doesn't want to be your slave, and I was forced to drug her to avoid an unpleasant scene."

"Perfectly understandable. It will take her a while to get to know me and accept her new life."

"I want to ask a favor. I would appreciate it if you kept Jalie out of the public view, because it's embarrassing to have a slave in my family. Also, I would be grateful if you didn't mention this transaction to my wife. She might object, and although her objection would change nothing, wives have subtle ways of making a man's life less than pleasant."

"I understand. I'll take Jalie to my country estate. She'll be secluded there, and no one will know I have her. You have my word on it."

"Nuhh!" Dalif looked around sharply at the sound, fearing that Jalie was recovering from the drug. Her head had lolled to one side, and Dalif saw the look of shock and horror in her eyes as she realized what was going to happen to her. He also saw, or imagined he saw, anger, hatred, and a burning desire for vengeance.

"I must warn you, Ser Gaxos, she will use any means to try to escape from you, including making wild claims of coming from another world crazy as that sounds. But I hope you treat her with kindness."

Gaxos smiled warmly. "I assure you, Ser Dalif, I will treat her as I did my beloved wife of twenty years, may the Dragon God guard her spirit." He did not tell the foreigner that he had treated his wife as a slave, or that his brutality had eventually killed her.

"Thank you. Here is the slave title." Dalif signed the back of the form. "There, I've endorsed it."

"And here is the payment we agreed upon." Gaxos put a leather bag containing gold coins on the table and picked up Jalie's limp body. "I have a carriage outside, and I'll leave for the country immediately. Good day, Ser Dalif."

Dalif opened the door. "Good day, Ser Gaxos."

That evening, when Yamila, Talia, and Recigan returned, Yamila asked, "What happened?"

"Jalie won't try to break the contract."

"Wonderful! Where is she, I want to thank her."

"She's gone to a house in the country. She's going to stay there and not come back here."

"I can understand that. The atmosphere here has been really poisonous lately. But congratulations, Dalif! You must have been very persuasive."

"I did what I had to do. The path to knowledge must not be blocked by human weakness."

The End

Copyright© 2012 by Zack. All rights reserved. I welcome your comments. Email me at zack_writer@hotmail.com