LONGINGS OF SURRENDER
In case you missed it: Longings Chapter 1
Captain Matias Acoff let loose a string of curses his superiors would probably frown upon. The object of his wrath was a beefy man, glowering at him from the corner of the small shop that sold leather whips and floggers, where he'd been corralled by Matias' sergeant. Three women with identical shiny silver collars around their necks stared up at him from their tiny hiding place under the floorboards. They'd probably been shoved there just a few minutes ago when the soldiers from the Deminos Home Guard began pounding on the door. The first light of the day was beginning to seep through the windows, and Matias had had a hunch the owner might not be expecting a pre-dawn visit.
"Uh huh. You sold them and they aren't here anymore? You goddamn lying, cowardly, sonuvabitch. Ladies, pardon my language." He held out his hand to help them stand up one by one. They clung to each other in obvious terror, but exactly who they were afraid of, he wasn't sure.
"Ladies, do you know why I'm here?"
The oldest one glanced at her scowling master and finally nodded. "You wish to see if we were born on Midros, or kidnapped from somewhere else and brought here as children."
"That's right. This is how it goes. If you're not from Midros, well, you're free. We'll escort you to the processing center, interview you, and you can decide what you want to do after that. We're not going to force you to do anything." He glared at their master, who had his arms folded across his chest. "The Midrosian government requires me to inform you that, despite being granted the status of 'free', any woman who chooses to remain on Midros is required to continue to obey all slave laws, and must stay registered with a master as long as she is here.
"Now, if you were born here, we stamp your hand, enter your name in our records, and check in from time to time to make sure you're being treated well. I wish we could do more, but legally we can't, right now." And that knowledge kept Matias awake almost every night. Midros was a sovereign planet with the right to enslave all the women born here, if they so desired. But no longer could they get away with stealing kids from other planets, now that their century-long illegal scheme had been uncovered.
He held the scanner out and motioned to the statuesque woman with grey hair. She placed her hand on the screen. The scanner was a new technology; it could analyze obscure properties of blood more accurately than any device prior to now, and it could pick up trace amounts of minerals found only on other planets. With this machine, they were sorting out women born elsewhere from the women born here. The Deminos Home Guards had uncovered the kidnapping plot, and initially invaded to stop the execution of just one of their women. After that, the Bureau of Interplanetary Affairs had finally gotten their heads somewhat out of their asses and declared jurisdiction over the issue. Once troops from other planets arrived to help, they'd been able to start sorting every woman on the planet.
The scanner pulsed under the woman's hand for a few seconds before emitting a sharp beep. The name of a planet showed up on the small screen, and it wasn't Midros. The woman's eyes grew wide.
"What is your name?" Matias asked softly.
"Sonna, sir," came the soft reply. Her eyes hadn't left the screen.
"Well, Sonna, this is what's going to happen. You're going to leave here for a while, and if you want to come back, you can be home by this afternoon. If you don't, you never have to see this man again."
"I'm really not from here?" Her eyes had teared up. "I'm really going to be free?"
"The BIA considers you free now."
With her shoulders back and her head held high, she moved to stand in front of her former master. Without warning, she drew back her hand and slapped him across the face, knocking him backwards into a shelf. Matias' sergeant moved to restrain the woman, but Matias held up his hand. Sure enough, Sonna stood calmly once more, her demeanor again relaxed and dignified. "You will never lay a hand on me again," she declared in a whisper.
Matias cleared his throat. "All right. Let's keep going." He motioned to a dark-haired woman in her twenties. She sneaked a glance at her master, as though seeking permission, and Matias moved to stand between them. The name that showed up after the beep was again not Midros. But instead of moving, she put her arms around the shoulders of the youngest woman, who looked barely old enough to be eighteen and newly purchased. With a shock, Matias realized the young woman was pregnant, her stomach just beginning to show.
A harsh thought occurred to him. If she were Midrosian, and this baby was a girl, they'd take her away in a few years. Matias was sick with that thought. He crossed his fingers as she placed her hand on the screen.
He looked at the screen and put a frown on his face. "Huh. Something's not right." He banged the scanner on his hand a few times and reset it. "Try again."
The result was no different. Holding the device so the screen wasn't visible, he shrugged. "Looks like this thing needs a charge. I can't get a good reading on her at all." His sergeant frowned, no doubt about to inform his idiot captain that the devices were fully charged fifteen minutes ago.
"Well, there's nothing for it. I'll have to take her with us and have the scan done at the processing center. If she's Midrosian, she can come home later. Thank you for your cooperation! Bye!" He pushed the three women out the door and into the waiting autocar as their owner protested and the sergeant blocked his exit from the store.
As Matias started to close the door, Sonna leaned her head out. "I know what you did just now, and I thank you. He is a pig."
Matias nodded and shut the door, and the car took off. He pulled out a small flat device and pushed a button. "Hey, Finn, it's Matias. Got another baby bird headed your way. This one's going to have one of her own."
"Got it. We'll keep an eye out for her."
He took off his cap and ran his hand through his damp hair. It was early in the day to be so warm. They'd been identifying slaves for more than a month, and Sonna and the other two women had been three of the last four in this district unaccounted for. He let out a sigh. His unit had been promised a well-earned week off as incentive to get the IDs done. They'd seen the best and the worst during their time: slaves loved and doted on by their masters; slaves who were badly mistreated; slaves who lived in poverty; slaves who lived in luxury.
They'd come across slaves who were terrified of being forced to leave masters they loved and had children with. And they'd seen women like Sonna, who shook off slavery like a dog shakes off water.
There was one missing slave left, and Matias had doubts they'd find her. She'd been reported escaped months ago, and while Matias was inclined to doubt the honesty of her smarmy, too-charming-to-be-real owner, a search of his house and interviews with his other slave seemed to support that story. He hoped his boss would just let it go. He wanted nothing more than to take a week of vacation and catch up with his sister Lydia, though he'd have to be satisfied with talking to her on a vid – she was on Prima with her partner James, and it would be a 6-day round-trip to get there and back.
His sergeant walked up and saluted.
"Yes, absolutely." Matias didn't even need to hear the question. "Get everyone together and head back to the barracks." His men had been up all night, first doing patrols and welfare checks, and then staking out this place. "I'll be there in a little bit. I want to see the sunrise."
His sergeant quirked one eyebrow up, then turned without comment to signal the other four soldiers to head back to the hotel that the Deminos forces had appropriated to use as barracks, to get some sleep.
There was a jumble of crates across the street, facing east. Matias found one that would let him see the sun as it rose between two buildings, as well as keep an eye on the store they'd just come out of in case the owner decided to do anything stupid. The street was still deserted, the business of the day about an hour from starting. He relaxed back in the quiet, waiting and hoping he would finally see the pink flash he'd heard about – a moment when the rays of the rising or setting sun would hit the fine paeolate dust in the air, and turn the world pink for just a split second. It didn't happen every day, and he was rarely in a position to stop to watch, so he had yet to catch it.
He remained motionless as the sun crept up towards the horizon. The birds began to sing in the nearby trees. He still marveled at the contrast between the beauty of this planet and the ugliness of their way of life. Because of Midros' appetite for female slavery, they had been kidnapping young girls of about five years old from war zones across the galaxy, for decades, relying on the chaos surrounding the conflicts to disguise the disappearances. They were brought to Midros and mixed in with the young girls born here, and raised to be sold as slaves when they turned eighteen. All the girls were given a drug called Oblita that made them forget who they were and where they came from. And it had worked – until now.
Just before the first ray was about to spill over the distant hill, he saw a movement across the street, next to the shop he was watching. A figure, slim and lithe, dressed in pants and a coat entirely too heavy for the mild temperature, crept around the side of a building. As it crept past a bush, the cap on its head caught and pulled off, and long brown hair tumbled down its – her – back. Even more astounding was the glimpse he had of the silver collar that marked her as a slave, as she paused to twist her hair up under the cap again. She continued her creeping until she came to the side door of a small medical clinic, where she stood up. She flattened herself against the wall, watching the side door, her nervousness showing in the twitching of her left hand, though her right hand hung motionless and oddly shaped next to her body.
At the front door of the clinic, an older woman unlocked the door and let herself in. The woman at the side door tensed at the noise.
Two things happened simultaneously. The side door opened and the older woman stuck her head out, handing a bag to the waiting woman, and a man walked up to the front door of the clinic and entered. At the noise of the front door opening, the older woman called over her shoulder back into the building, "Doctor? You're here early!"
The younger woman looked in the bag. "I told you I needed Hematase!" she protested.
"It's too dangerous now! Come back later, after we close!" The older woman disappeared inside the building, pulling the door shut. The younger woman's mouth hung open before she turned on her heel and darted away, disappearing behind the buildings. Matias briefly considered following her, but he heard a cycleglider start up and speed off, the harsh sound of the old engine quickly fading away.
The sun was over the horizon now, and any chance of seeing the pink flash had disappeared. He thought about what he'd just witnessed. He had a feeling this was Enna, the runaway slave from his district, and she was desperate for medical supplies. That meant there were others like her.
He was about to make his way back to the barracks when two Midrosian soldiers pulled up to the clinic's front door in their government autocar. The doctor appeared, dragging the struggling and protesting clinic slave out the door. He shoved the woman into the back seat, and the four of them disappeared down the street.
Whoever the young woman was, she would be in a heap of trouble if she came back later. He needed to think about what to do.
~ ~ ~
He slept for a few restless hours before giving up. He showered, put on a clean uniform, and went to talk to his CO. After convincing him that they'd found every slave that could be found in his district, he and his men were granted a week of leave. He gave the good news to his sergeant just after lunch, then called an autocar and headed out of town to talk to someone he'd only met once, but who might just be able to help him track down the last runaway slave.
Not Convinced? Read Chapter 1 of Tears of Surrender (book 3)