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Chapter 2

Memories 9.21.23 .jpg

In case you missed it:  Chapter 1 here



“What the fuck is taking so long?” I grouse, as I propel myself out of the chair and stalk across the room. I’ve been stuck in this hotel for more than a period, which is eight interminably long days on Miros, and I’m going out of my mind.

“You know I can’t tell them why we want access. In their opinion, there’s no hurry to approve an off-worlder’s request for time in the lab.” Raym Dukeren is sprawled on his stomach on the hotel room bed, reading something on his vidscreen and erupting into sporadic laughter.

“Yeah.” If any of his pharmaceutical company’s competitors find out why I’m here, they’ll interfere with every move I make, and offer me a lot of credits to come work for them. We have to keep this trip secret. “We should head back down to the Archives.”

Raym makes a face. “You really want to go down there again? It’s dusty and smelly and dim.”

I laugh. “You’re not happy unless you’re in a clean, bright lab.”

Raym waves his hand in dismissal. “The history of Miros is dirt-poor poverty! It’s full of superstitions and weird ways. Until paeolate came along and made us rich, there was nothing here worth writing down to remember. I doubt any of those books have anything useful.”

“Hey, dumbshit, I happen to think the people of the past have a lot to teach us. You asked me to come here and see if I could figure out why Oblita removes traumatic memories here on Miros but doesn’t work anywhere else in the universe. And since you told me that legends say Oblita used to work on other planets, you get to help me dig around in old books and translate.” I shake my head in frustration. Chemistry and pharmaceuticals are my strengths; languages aren’t.

“Give me five minutes to finish this,” Raym grumps, and turns back to his tablet.

A growing noise outside the window catches my attention. With a glance at Raym, who doesn’t seem to notice, I wander over to the window.

I push aside the sheer curtain and survey the city from above. Large open areas of grass, walking paths, and fountains are tucked between massive high rises in this medium-sized city that is the capital of Miros. Small trees with pink blossoms dot the sidewalks, softening the sharp edges of the urban landscape. The air sparkles with the faintest tinge of pink, courtesy of the paeolate dust glistening in the sunlight as it bounces off the walls of the blue glass buildings.

A little more than one hundred years ago, no one had heard of the mineral called paeolate. Intersolar travel had been a reality for centuries, but casual travel and the easy movement of goods from planet to planet were just dreams. Ships escaping the gravity of a planet needed thick, heavy hulls, to protect them from burning up as they sped through the atmosphere, which took enormous amounts of fuel. Only after they were in space could passengers and cargo be transferred to more comfortable, streamlined ships for the journey. At the destination, the whole process was repeated in reverse.

Then, someone figured out that paeolate, an abundant mineral found only on Miros, mixed with a few other things and painted on the outer hulls of ships, would keep them from burning up. Overnight, ships became incredibly thin and lightweight, and trade between planets exploded with pent-up fury.

This planet—this formerly modest, quiet planet with a simple way of life—was suddenly the richest planet in the known universe.

The middle of the grassy area nearest to the hotel holds a small stage that is usually empty. Today, however, a large crowd of women are gathered on three sides, looking expectantly at the platform, where a pole has been erected. The women are kneeling, and the sun glints off the silver around the neck of every single one of them.

Miros is the only planet that still has slaves. When paeolate money started rolling in, the owners of the large mining conglomerates, flush with cash and sudden power, built their vision of a perfect society, placing themselves at the top. Employment, education, and even the ability to marry and have children became available only to those who agreed with the new government. Protests were few, and put down ruthlessly. Within fifty years, women, whose equality had been tenuous before paeolate, lost everything. When outsiders protested to the Bureau of Interplanetary Affairs, Miros told them to go away, or the paeolate would disappear. The greedy interstellar community has left them alone ever since.

I’m about to ask Raym what this gathering is for when my attention is caught by a woman climbing the stairs to the platform. She wears a loose white shift along with her shiny silver collar, and her arms are bound in front. A security officer turns her towards the pole and raises her hands so high she’s on tiptoes. He moves her long brown braid over one shoulder and releases some strings at her neck, and her shift falls open so that she’s bare to the crowd. Another man steps forward and positions himself beside her. Without hesitation, he draws back something long and thin and snaps it forward to land on the woman’s back.

The scream that comes through the window knocks me backward. “What the fuck?!”

Raym is still sprawled on the rumpled covers.

“What the fuck are they doing?”

Raym shrugs. “It’s Punishment Day.” His eyes never leave the tablet screen.

“What the fuck is Punishment Day?”

His reply is cut short by another scream. I turn back to the window. Even from up here, I can see the wide red blotches across her previously unmarked skin. They aren’t using an ordinary whip, and this is no ordinary punishment. This is a judicial punishment, designed for maximum pain that will be felt for days to come.

I ignore my twitching cock.

“Every lunar,” Raym finally raises his head, “all the slaves in the city who’ve broken major rules, or whose masters are too lazy to punish them at home, are sent here. Every slave is required to attend twice a year. Sometimes it’s over in just an hour, and sometimes it’s longer. Just depends.” He turns back to the screen.

“What kind of rules deserve this kind of punishment?” I’m still mesmerized as a third scream rises up to disappear into the deep blue sky.

“Oh, about what you’d expect. Running away, fighting or disrespecting a master, getting caught with someone who isn’t her master, touching books written in Br’ini... I don’t know. There’s lots.” He shrugs again.

I turn to him, managing not to flinch from yet another scream. “Touching books written in Br’ini?”

“Didn’t you have the mandatory orientation on the ship before you arrived?”

I scowl. “I was busy. I skipped it.”

“You really shouldn’t have.”

“So educate me,” I snap. He’s seriously irritating me right now.

He rolls his eyes. “Okay,” he begins, as though I’m a little child, “We all speak Eluiim, which was the common language before Basic was introduced. But most of our literature, law, and science has always been written in the ancient language called Br’ini.”

I sigh. I’m very familiar with Br’ini, because I spent most of the last lunar, and the entire flight from Prima, studying it, so I’d have a chance of deciphering some of the written texts I hope hold some clues. Once Miros joined the modern era about a hundred years ago, they embraced electronic records with zeal and relegated almost all their written texts to the Archives.

Raym continues. “Women are forbidden to learn it. Even holding or opening a book in Br’ini is grounds for severe public punishment. And the punishment for learning to read Br’ini in secret is... well, maybe it’s a little too harsh, in my opinion, but that’s the law, and what can you do?”

My mouth drops open. “What? Why?”

“Because reading what men think and write gives women ideas that aren’t healthy for them. They’re happier when their world is predictable and limited.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“James, don’t make me regret that I asked you here. This is our way of life; it has been for a long time, and we don’t appreciate criticism.” The dark tone in his voice is unusual for the normally cheerful young man.

I knew being here was going to be tough, and I told myself many times that I would have to stay aloof. I turn back to the window. The whipping hasn’t ceased, but the screaming has. The woman sags in her bonds, no longer struggling as the last strokes are laid upon her back. Her skin is bright red from her shoulders to the middle of her back, and then again over the curve of her ass. At least this guy knows to skip the vulnerable part over her kidneys. Her escorts reappear to release her hands. One of them catches her as she falls. They drag her off the stage and disappear into the building.

I can’t stop watching. Another woman, this one with blonde hair twisted up onto her head, appears with two escorts, but she isn’t as docile. She protests and fights the whole way to the stage. She, too, wears a white shift, but she has a black collar on, marking her as a visitor from off-world. Women who visit Miros, even professionals, still have to register as slaves, wear a collar, and observe most of the rules of behavior while on the streets. Most never stray outside the ‘safe zone’ of this hotel, a place where their behavior is only loosely monitored.

Raym finally joins me at the window. He chuckles. “Oh, I heard about her. This ought to be good.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“There was a reception last night at some government official’s house. She and the Minister of Energy were having quite a nice conversation about hydroelectric plants, and then apparently he turned to her master and commented that she had lovely breasts and would her master permit him to fondle them? Everyone understands that most off-world masters say no, and that’s the end of it. She didn’t give him a chance. She threw her drink in the Minister’s face.”

My eyes widen as I imagine the uproar from that incident. Though she’s an off-worlder, she won’t escape punishment any more than a woman who lives here.

Her shift is open, and the punisher picks up a cane. He swings the thin rod, and the dent it makes on her soft backside is deep. Her scream takes a moment to arrive at my window, but it’s shrill and clear. She struggles furiously against the pole.

I’ve had enough. “Let’s go. I’m not sure I’ll be able to focus up here if this goes on all day.”

I’m not sure I’ll be able to tear my eyes away from the window if naked young women are punished where I can watch with both fascination and horror.

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