In case you missed it: chapter 1 here
The Archives were housed in the basement of the hotel James was staying in, but he suspected that the huge, damp, and musty room with a slightly uneven floor must have existed long before the hotel was built on top of it. He was surprised at the lack of environmental controls to keep the old records in good condition. He got the feeling that Raym's dismissal of the past was echoed in the larger society around him.
He struggled to concentrate on the problem that had brought him to Midros, but the scenes he'd witnessed rolled around in his head and then dove straight down. His dick was at full attention. He cursed it silently, but it refused to stand down. The sight of a pretty woman, bound and punished – well, his dick didn't quite understand the difference between consent and nonconsent, between appropriate punishment and cruelty. He scooted his chair closer to the table to hide the bulge.
"You with me on this?" Raym asked, the impatience in his voice evident when James' gaze went far away from the book that lay open before them.
James shook his head and tried to concentrate. He was a scientist on a mission; he wasn't here to observe the scenery. "Yeah. Um, sorry. Read that part again?"
"Need a little bit of Oblita?" Raym grinned.
James rolled his eyes. "Shut up. You know that drug only works on bad memories." He shifted, still uncomfortably aroused. He didn't have to approve of involuntary slavery to be affected by the sight of collared slaves in small dresses scurrying about all over town... "Besides, as soon as I left the planet the memories would return. That's the problem I'm trying to solve, remember?"
Raym flopped down in the other chair. "I'm starting to think this whole thing is a fairy tale. It just doesn't make sense that a drug that works so well while someone is here, on the planet, doesn't work anywhere else!" He made a noise of disgust in his throat. "Some days I wish my father hadn't dumped this company and this problem in my lap."
"So let someone else find the answer," James proposed.
"And give up the chance to make millions? Billions? There's a huge market for this stuff. If we can figure out how to make this drug last, we'd make a fortune!" His eyes focused on something far, far away. "And I could settle down with a slave or three, and a house here in the city, and a house on the beach, and–"
"–Turn the company over to someone else to run?" suggested James. He liked Raym, and Raym ran his company well, but the man was a bit of a playboy.
Raym cocked an eyebrow at him. "Well, yes."
"To be brutally honest, we waste more time with you complaining about being here than if I were by myself and figuring out the translations on my own. Why don't you go check in at the office or something? I'll be fine."
Raym looked guilty but relieved as he stood up. He offered to put the books they were finished with back on the shelves, but James waved him off.
"I'm fine. I need to get up and move around any way. Are we meeting for dinner?"
"Well, not exactly. I have a business dinner with some friends, and I, um..." He trailed off as shrugged.
"You can't really explain my presence. I understand. I'll see you tomorrow."
Raym flashed him a grateful smile as he summoned the lift. As soon as the doors closed and he was gone, James relaxed. Raym's litany of complaints wore him down. If only there were a pretty slave he could hire who read Br'ini, who could help him translate...
Damn, there he went again.
Four hours and two exceedingly boring old tomes later, he'd found nothing. It hadn't exactly helped that his thoughts kept wandering back to the view from his window. As a visitor, it was easy to ignore the reality of this planet – that well more than half of its population was in involuntary bondage to the other half. Smiling women served his meals, smiling women made his bed, and smiling women hurried to bring him anything he needed. It was extraordinarily easy to fall into the persona he'd not had time for, since before he'd started his fellowship two years ago.
He was no neophyte to the dance of master and slave. There was a time in the past when he'd had a slave of his own – but the difference between his situation and here was stark. His slave had happily accepted his collar when he'd asked her. He'd been as devoted to her as she to him. When he wielded a strap or a flogger, it was more often for her pleasure than her punishment. And when it became painfully obvious that the fellowship he'd won was going to leave little time for a relationship as intense as theirs, she'd chosen to dissolve the bond with his blessing, and they'd parted friends. He missed the intensity of a relationship like that.
He closed the second book with an unintentional bang that stirred up dust and made him sneeze repeatedly. It was followed by a loud growling of his stomach. It was time for dinner and some human companionship again. He headed for the lift, using the transparent key Raym had entrusted him to secure the room as he passed through the heavy doors. Using that instead of the typical palm-wave over an ID sensor, was unusual, but James suspected this kept anyone from knowing he was here. How Raym himself had gotten the key James didn't ask.
The lift took him up three levels to the ground floor, where he exited from a nondescript door twenty feet from the hotel front door. He re-entered the building through wide glass doors and into the soaring expanse of the lobby. He'd never been in such luxury before in his life. As far up as he could see, rose floor after floor of polished red wood panels, glowing in the dappled sunlight that poured down from the skylights above. It shone through the bushes and flowers and greenery of all kinds that spilled from every surface. A few of the walls were solid stone with moss tucked into cracks, providing a cool green and gray relief to the riot of color all around.
In the center of the open space were raised areas of different heights, separated by walls of stone, thick flowering bushes, and full-sized trees. There were small meeting spaces, larger gathering areas and even secluded nooks for assignations of a more private kind.
Near the front door, a suspended ceiling hung over the registration desk, supported by pillars of paeolate bricks, the pink color shimmering with its own odd glow in the muted light. As he crossed the lobby towards the outdoor café, the floor under his feet alternated from spotless white carpet to wood panel floors that shone so clearly he could almost see his reflection. Once he stepped outside, though, the man-made decor faded into the background at the magnificence that lay before him.
The cafe was suspended over the side of a steep hill behind the hotel. Three hundred feet away, the mountain rose up sharply once more into jagged tan and white cliffs that soared up to the deep blue sky. Grasses and flowers grew from every nook and cranny, and small pools of water spilled over the rock sides, providing the faint sound of rushing water to the air. When the wind blew a certain way, a fine mist of cooling spray rushed across the warm patio. He chose a table with a bright red umbrella that shaded him from the sun, which now hung just above the cliffs as the day began to wind down. A very pretty server in a short blue dress and the ever-present silver collar took his order.
The patio was about half-full, mostly businessmen, and probably mostly off-worlders, since this was a popular hotel to stay at. The few women scattered about all wore the black collars they were required to don upon arrival. He knew – because he'd asked – that about half were women who had business here on Midros, and were probably seething at the restrictions placed on them. Midros also had a small but lively tourist industry among the kinkier crowd: voyeurs who wanted to 'live like a master and slave' for a week or two. James had mixed feelings about them, playing out their fantasies among real slaves.
He'd just started eating when a couple was shown to a table nearby. The man held out a chair for the woman, but she hesitated. With a start, James realized it was the woman who had been caned earlier today for throwing the drink. James was surprised to see her out in public. Her pale face suggested she wasn't too sure about it either.
"Sit," her husband instructed softly. James pretended to be lost in the view over the edge of the railing.
"I can't sit in a chair, especially a metal one! I don't understand why we couldn't eat in our room tonight!" she hissed at him.
"I don't want to eat in the room. So sit your sore ass down and act like you learned something since this morning about manners!"
James noticed that several tables of diners were carefully pretending to not listen.
"Manners?" Her voice rose. "These people beat me! They know who I am, and they still beat me! You want to talk to me about manners?"
"Mareen, you knew the rules before we decided to come here." His voice was quiet but determined. "I even tried to talk you out of it, because I know you. We talked about your temper, and what you were not allowed to say or do, and you threw that all away in a heartbeat."
"He wanted to fondle me!" Her voice was carrying across the stone of the patio now, and James saw two hotel employees talking quietly together by the door.
"And I was going to tell him 'no'! That would have been the end of it! But you didn't trust me, did you? Couldn't wait for one second to let me do my job of protecting you as I'd promised I would. I'm sorry, but you deserved what you got today, and I'm rapidly losing any sympathy I have for you, so sit your ass down in that chair no matter how much it hurts. Now!"
She stared at him, wide-eyed, before grasping the arms of the chair and gingerly lowering herself down onto the metal seat. Her eyes screwed up in obvious pain as she settled.
Two large men in black suits approached. "Are you in need of assistance, sir?" one of them asked the still-standing husband.
"I think we'll be fine, now. Although..." he spoke quietly to the man and James couldn't hear.
"As you wish, sir." Both men moved away and the atmosphere relaxed. The other diners picked up on their own conversations again. A few minutes later, the pretty slave approached and handed the husband a thick cushion. His wife looked up with surprise as she stood up enough to let him slide the cushion underneath.
"I told you I'd take care of you. Just give me a chance." He kissed the top of her head and sat down.
The rest of their dinner was uneventful, and James finished up his own just as the sun slipped behind the cliffs and the temperature started dropping in the shadows.