Citizens of the Imperium

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The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 05:22 PM

Zhevra's Dance Novel
This thread begins the novel Zhevra's Dance. A second thread will do for reactions and feedback. Please place such there. The novel started with the 2016 NaNoWriMo 50K-word challenge and sometimes filled the gaps between the illustrations. I hope you enjoy this gift and labor of love to the Traveller community.

A note on lore: Written in 2016-2017, the story uses what we had so far gleaned of the Empress Wave in that year. Since then, we fans have learned more about the psychic phenomenon. This book took Mongoose Traveller 1e characters and other aspects and slowly moved them into Traveller5. There will be elements that prevent this novel from canonization to be sure. So, I have decided to post the novel here.

The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 05:32 PM

Zhevra's Dance
By The Pakkrat


I. Regina (Spinward Marches 1910) A788899-C
The female stepped from the front door of the local Circle of Mysteries lodge, a structure like a basilica she remembered of the Church Of The Chosen Ones back Coreward, back home. There were only a few hours before dawn she reckoned given her night. She saw the stars’ backdrop to the large gas giant Assiniboia in the sky. It was true night on Regina still with the system’s three stars over the horizon and soon to rise. By the scent of the trees on the campus, she could smell the full onset of autumn or something like autumn on this unfamiliar satellite planet. Taking to a moment to check her surroundings, no sounds were a threat. The sounds of the never-ending, contragravity traffic in and out of nearby Credo Downs were a hum counter to the gentle winds through the trees here at the University of Regina. No one was about this late at night or early pre-dawn, she could not tell which as a visitor to this world.

With this new information that she had gathered from the Dean of Psychoportation, she could begin a vector now that she understood the realm of teleportation a little better. Padding down the steps of the lodge, a thought came to her as she reached the bottom step. The notion had no words, no concepts and no message. It just occurred. Her right claw went for the pistol in the web belt’s holster at her right thigh, but the button snap refused to yield the weapon to her. In the blink of a sudden revelation, the world tilted sideways and she felt her body give out from under her. Her last coherent concern was how hard she felt herself collapse to the ferroconcrete before darkness took her.

“Remember this always: I love you unconditionally always,” reminded her husband before he removed his white, clawed digits from the hair of her mane. It was strong and had his scent and strangely an aroma of frankincense. Then he was gone in the wet mists gathering about him.

The female regained her mind and froze still before moving. For her the sense of smell was a first choice here in the darkness with her eyes still closed. But the sense of touch is fundamental and she felt first, before taking in that first scenting breath through her nose. She lay in a heap of herself on a hard floor. Around her wrists and her neck were shackles and a collar. With barely a move, the female could hear the chains joining each. She had been captured and was alive. Without effort, her eyes came open in a very dim room. Sounds of her slight movement made faint echoes off the metal walls of the small area. And then scents flooded her first breath of controlled surprise. Don’t let them, whomever they are, know you’re aware yet, she warned herself. The old smell of at least two different urinations in different corners of the small room – no, a cell – told the female that she was indeed captured and chained in a dark jail. There was no one else in the cell with her. She would have sensed their scent, heard their breathing in such a small and confined space. A rusty aroma told her the age of her confinement. The walls must have been metal as well. Without light, the female could not tell where, if there was such, the cell’s door was.

Risking a move, the female sat up and bumped her head in the darkness against what she determined by feel to be a table bolted to the floor. There was no chair nearby, so she continued to sit on the floor and gathered her wits. Her leg still hurt where the bullet had barely grazed her left thigh. That gave her a sense of time since her collapse outside the lodge. She began feeling about the room and up the table to help herself to her cautious, digitigrade stance. That was when she found that she had been chained to the floor next to the table. In a controlled panic, she jerked on the chain to test its solidity. The chain to her wrist manacles and collar refused her with a metallic jangle. A table and chains in a cell mean that this was an interrogation room as well as a putrid and rusty cell. So, she was to be questioned. Quickly she recalled that she was no citizen of the Regency and her captors might not afford her any rights. In response, she balled herself in the corner to relieve her bladder separate from the first two, past urinations. She was still wearing her black-and-yellow leathers, her arm sleeves and double thong. The metal collar rode below the lavender leather collar and orich heart pendant given to her by Gev-. She silenced that thought fast. Let them deal with her scent since they cared not for cleaning this cell between prisoners. Then she returned to the table and felt about it as far as her chain would reach which prevented her from reaching the far wall, likely where a door would logically be.

The female could not tell how long she waited, but eventually she could hear dim voices from beyond the table, in the direction of the unreachable wall. Then a mechanical lock’s tumblers turned and a sliding bar outside what sounded to her like a door let lances of fluorescent light into the cell. The bright light silhouetted two figures. One was an upright human form escorted by one of her own race. A Human and a Vargr were her first jailors. Very well, she thought. Not my first cage.

“For Norris’ sake,” complained the Human, a baritone voice of a male. “Why do I get all the Vargr cases? Lights.” The man stepped into the cell as an incandescent light caged in the ceiling illuminated after a side gesture from the Vargr just outside the door. Then the upright, canine form stepped into the cell behind the Human, its clawed feet scratching the metal floor. The female squinted her eyes to adjust to the increase of light from pitch black to a sickly, industrial yellow. It was also when she noticed her captors had trimmed down her claws on her hands and feet to the harmless quick. Infighting with claws was out of the question now.

“Get some chairs while I get set up, will you?” requested the Human male. “You, miss, please join me,” said the man when two solid metal chairs arrived. The female did not immediately move and stayed in a defensive, digitigrade stance. In response to her reaction, the man produced a small package holding twin medicine tabs, a full glass of water, a thick folder of paperwork he seemed to regret and a recording device. “My name is Allain Templeton,” he sighed when the female did not approach the chair offered on her side of the table. “I’m an advocate, your defense in this case,” he declared. “You’re about to get a nasty headache. These are for you.” He then pushed the water and the tablets pack to her side of the table. Keeping his hands flat on the rusty table, the man waited for her.

The female studied the two who had entered her cell. The Vargr who remained standing in the last, unscented corner of the room next to the door wore the same bland, burlap robe style she had seen in the Circle of Mysteries lodge. A blue circular dot between the male Vargr’s eyes was of a dye meant to indicate to others that he was a Psion, a tested and trained adept at psionics. His pelt was a mottled gray with a white ventral coloration and his eyes were red-brown, a typical combination for the Aekhu Vargr of this region Charted Space. The Aekhu had long ago cowed under the Humans of the destroyed Third Imperium, integrating with human society and culture while managing to maintain their personal charisma, the pack level of self-worth and small group esteem. The Psion remained quiet and observed the female. He was obviously a telepath, the female guessed such, here to determine the truth of her answers to this Allain’s interrogation. She flattened her canid ears in revulsion.

Allain Templeton waited patiently as he calibrated the recording device on the table for the size of the cell and its acoustics. He was tall she had noted, wore not some paper-pusher’s suit but an outfit of boots, fatigues, black casual shirt and covered with a bomber jacket. His black hair was short but bushy and neat on the sides near his ears. His face was shaved, something the female in chains always detested, but his eyes were a gentle blue, very blue, like her missing husband’s ocean blue eyes. His gaze, though human, was inviting and patient as he laced his fingers and waited for her.

But then the headache Allain warned her of evidenced. Lancing from the back of her skull near her neck to the front and stabbing out her right eye, the pain blossomed as if it were a scheduled mag-lev train arrival. The female Vargr put her white claw palm over the afflicted eye and wavered in her defensive stance. She had suffered headaches before in the past but this one had a character all its own. She felt it should have been on the tail end of being struck from behind with a blunt weapon. Her resolve collapsing, the female dragged what little reach of the chains she wore to the chair and sat down.

“Go ahead,” offered the Human Allain Templeton. “We have all day,” he said half-sarcastic. He looked over his shoulder at the Vargr Psion to make sure he was present. The Aekhu was in a relaxed stance and yet alert to the two at the table. “I guess you’ll stand, Psion Khzaeng?”

The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 05:53 PM

The male Vargr in the corner nodded as he noted the third chair he had brought into the room. Zhevra detected a slight raise in the hackles of his neck ruff. The male Vargr must not have liked his name spoken in this meeting. Perhaps it was charisma that kept the psionic analyst professional and standing. The advocate shrugged and returned his patient gaze to the female who ate the pills and drank down the entire glass of water. Allain then switched on the recording device. A tiny, blue light emitting diode acknowledged that it was recording the room.

“Registered Advocate Allain Templeton with Psion Khzaeng, registered telepath interviewing the accused on 341 of 1190 Credo Downs Penal, Regina, Regina, Regency,” announced the Human to the device. “Before me is a red-brown Vargr female with a white ventral pelt, eyes green and standing about five-foot-six. For the record, I don’t think the chains were necessary despite the warnings from the Vargr cellblock guards. The female before me has the ethnicity so-called Suedzuk – also known as a Red Pelt.”

The female narrowed her eyes at Allain. She hated that last moniker. She was no Red Pelt, a term used by others to label her as a bloodthirsty, genocidal murderer, Corsair and ransacking thief. The accusations and rumors blown far out of proportion, piled up through the thousands of years of her ethnicity’s actions, but she was guilty of none of her ancestors’ brutality. Finally, she spoke, finding her voice after the much-needed glass of water. Through the headache, she said, “The Sack of Gashikan was millennia ago. I am no Red Pelt.” Her voice was raspy but getting better and she rubbed her temples in hopes of encouraging the medicine to quell the pain behind her eye.

“Ahh, she speaks finally,” Allain the advocate smiled and brightened. “Please state your name for the record.”

The man’s demeanor and aura relaxed a little. She could tell. She could also tell by his seated stance that this man could defend himself though he was unarmed. She could take him. The Psion in the corner, a psionic lapdog for all she could gather, was a different story.

The Psion, this Khzaeng, bristled a little and re-settled his robes over his shoulder. She guessed it was a reaction to reading her thoughts and revulsion to him. The action and his overall aura confirmed that her thoughts were being read. She looked to the advocate with an accusatory glare. “Are you going to mind-rape me for answers if I do not cooperate?”

The Vargr intoned a memorized oath and recited with a monotone yet honor-bound voice, “I am a Vargr, I am a Regency citizen, I am a Psion. I am a person to be trusted. I possess a gift that-, “ he was cut off by Allain.

“Yes-yes, we know about the Psion’s Oath, Khzaeng,” assured Allain Templeton. “Miss, he’s not here to ‘mind-rape’ you. You are suspected of being an un-registered user of psionics and Khzaeng has been sent to assist me in that you don’t dishonor the Regency Psions.”

“I am no Psion,” the female denied. The headache was starting to let up in the minutes that the three uncomfortably endured in each other’s presence.

Allain broke the silence again, “Your name please? Names don’t incriminate, miss. I am here to help you.” He looked at the recording device as if to make it a further request.

The female, feeling the pain in her head let off significantly, answered, “Zhevra Cannagrrh, of Pack Cannagrrh.” She rattled the chains to punctuate her name and remind the advocate that he was safe. She had somewhere to go, but the cell she was housed in had other intentions.

“Zhevra Cannagrrh,” pronounced the advocate carefully, feeling out the syllables. “Your name isn’t Gvegh or Aekhu, so you are Suedzuk, yes?” asked Allain. “But that surname is Gvegh. I speak Gvegh and Aekhu, miss.”

“Yes, I am Suedzuk. But I am no Red Pelt, Human.” Zhevra Cannagrrh meant that to stick or this interview was over. In her mind, she had always been equated as a bloodthirsty killer on sight of her red fur, a signature coloration which stood out to others to recall again and again the Sack of Gashikan. Zhevra meant to squelch that with this Allain Templeton and to hell with whatever the Aekhu in the corner felt.

Allain opened the thick folder of hardcopy paperwork. Even this late, decades after Virus spread through computer networks via starships throughout Charted Space and faded to rumors, the Regency still took no chances with anything with the processing power greater than a hand computer. The documents were piled inside the folder. Allain produced a pen, carefully from his jacket and wrote the name Zhevra on the first page. “Could you spell Cannagrrh? I don’t think you spell it the same as it sounds.”

“My hus-,” Zhevra stopped herself and amended her answer with, “The Pack Cannagrrh spells it differently to show their opening to Gvegh-Human relations by using Galanglic letters and spelling. I care not.” She then spelled out the name to him in Galanglic letters.

“So, a Suedzuk married into a Gvegh Pack. Gvurrdon Sector? Just Coreward of the Marches?”

Zhevra didn’t answer. By giving her name, she had just admitted to being married, given away her Pack name and telling this Human that she was proud of the name. It was perhaps an asset of charisma to Zhevra. She could not devote more attention away from the here and now.

Allain looked over his shoulder at Khzaeng with an unspoken question.
“She does not shield her mind, advocate,” said Khzaeng. “Until she emits psi-waves or evidences a talent, she is no Psion.”

To Zhevra, the action the advocate had shown was akin to asking her if she was lying. Consulting the Vargr lie detector in the corner was just as insulting as being asked directly in her world. She frowned at Allain when he looked back to her, presumably with more questions. Zhevra tried to fold her arms in front of her breasts but the manacles forbade it. Still the gesture was enough to the advocate to notice.

The advocate put down his pen, closed the folder and pushed it to a side on the table. Sitting back in his chair across the table from Zhevra, he stared at her, his face half-shadowed by the radius of the overhead light. Zhevra thought he might get up and leave her to her cell. Maybe just as well, she thought. She could read his attitude. It was in his position and his vibe. He did not want to be here anymore than Zhevra. And Zhevra shot another go-to look at the Psion who shrugged again in his robe.

Allain Templeton shut off the recording device by leaning forward and putting his elbows on the rusty table. Zhevra noted that his bomber jacket’s zipper was broken. In addition, the advocate had no identification tag or other credentials hung on his apparel.

Tilting his head to one side, Allain spoke in a quieter voice now that the device was no longer recording, “Do you want off this rock?”

The question struck a memory in Zhevra. Her husband had asked her the very same question five years past. She glanced at the Psion watching the two at the table, passively. She nodded the same angry affirmative to Allain as she had to her future husband back then.

“Good,” said Allain, “so do a lot of other people here. If I stop asking questions, will you give me everything from the very beginning? It can only help me to help your case. You are accused of a stack of crimes since coming into the Regency and I can wager that there are more than that in the Splinters to Coreward. Since you say you are no Red Pelt, there must be a motive for your actions. You can tell me your story so I can prepare a defense. Okay?”

“Anything I say will more likely be used against me, Allain Templeton,” answered Zhevra Cannagrrh. “I have no rights here. My life is forfeit for all those other people care.”

“Then choose your last testimony wisely and truthfully,” suggested Allain. “Maybe your reasoning will have weight as well as being truthful as Khzaeng will attest. It is his duty here.” He pointed to the recording device. “May I, Ms. Cannagrrh?”

His demeanor changed again. Its sincerity unlocked Zhevra the way her husband was similarly able to get her to lower her defenses. She decided to test this Human’s integrity and nodded.

The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 06:04 PM

II. Regina (Spinward Marches 1910) A788899-C
Allain Templeton again activated the recording device. “Please begin.”

It was the way this Human kept using ‘please’, his aura and vibe lending sincerity to the request that gently ushered Zhevra Cannagrrh to begin her tale.

“I was born in 301-1153 on Llotree,” Zhevra began, her mind suggesting that going back that far might be superfluous. But she was determined to make Allain endure it all, to record her entire story if indeed her life was forfeit. “That is, Llotree (Ktiin’gzat 0839) of the former Vargr Enclaves, Coreward-Trailing of the Julian Protectorate remnants if you know where that is.” She saw him nod and wisely avoid interrupting her. “I was an only pup to a loving sire and dam and granted standard ED5 schooling at the Vought City School District. I tested and was rated with a Universal Personal Profile of 7BA565, up from my genetic 4632XX gleaned from my dam and sire. Llotree was a high-population, extra high-tech, industrial trade hub with other worlds and needed to feed its masses even after the Collapse. There was much outbound populace then as the system was not recovering as well as projected. I was accepted into a trade school for a year, took up electronics and majored in jumpdrive technician. The early know-how granted me high enough marks to waiver me into the Llotree Service Academy when they initially turned me away because of my coloration. They wouldn’t have allowed a Suedzuk in otherwise. I spent four years in academy learning drive engineering, specifically jumpdrives and maneuver drives though there were electives I could have taken in other in-system propulsions. It was busy learning and I wisely stayed away from males in the same institution. They stayed away from me, from my coloration. A planet like Llotree teaches one street smarts. Since the Academy was funded by the planetary military sector, I received both a B.A. and an early Officer 1 rating. My parents sprang the extra funds to allow me, after some begging, to tack on Naval OTC curriculum that was voluntary. The Enclave Famuuruergoghz was not at war with anyone and fully half my home polity was ready to sign into the Julian Protectorate which had buffered Llotree from the worst of Virus per the history classes. The OTC coursework saw me through basic power plants and it was fast becoming whispered that I was bound to be a starship engineer in the military. Completing the OTC through the Service Academy required a minimum two terms of Service despite my high marks. The military wanted to see what kind of engineer I had become and I entered my first starship as a junior Engineer O-1 for my first tour.”

Zhevra paused her story because she noted that her head no longer hurt and she could recall her early years more clearly. She paused to spell out the name of her home polity since Allain Templeton had taken up his pen again and reopened the folder. She also noted that he wrote ‘astrogator’ on the same page. She had leaked another detail to him by accident. Since he asked no questions, Zhevra felt bound to continue her story.

“My first tour put me on a ship of the line that was involved in a siege of a world that was violently opposed to annexation with the Julians. At age 27, as an engineer of jump tech, maneuver tech and power plant ops the ship came under counter attack and the bridge astrogator was killed by a lucky shot. The Chief Engineer pushed me all the way to the bridge and offered me up to the captain. For the rest of the tour, I was the voice of the ship on comms and pushed paperwork, but it landed me on another military vessel for my second, required term to pay for my education. Still an O-1 of Engineering, the ship was assigned a simple patrol now that the uprising had been quelled. I don’t know if it was sexism or what, but the new captain had me working all over the bridge and back and forth from engineering on sensors and life support systems. Then he used his rank to make me into his workout partner during off hours. The jerk was a voyeur and liked watching me move, work, fight and whatever else would draw his sword in the night.”

Zhevra paused for any effect, but saw that Allain Templeton was not going to bite the hook. Khzaeng was beginning to switch his weight from one digitigrade foot to another in subtle shifts.

“So, one night,” Zhevra continued, “the captain became too forward. Thankfully it was at the end of the tour and the ship was on its way home to Llotree. I put him in his place and he put me out of the Service. But news got out and I was exonerated from fraternization charges and was both promoted to O-2 and medaled for exemplary service in standing up for female Service Vargr in the fleet. It helped my charisma but stopped my career right there, all hush-hush and back patting. Captain reassigned and subordinate female out of the picture for all. I had met my required two terms, paying for my education. My final UPP should read 7CB675 and I still am no Psion. I took the bonus of one year’s worth of passages Spinward to leave Llotree after saying my farewells to my loving extended family. From 1184 to 1185 I travelled across the Vargr Splinters, as you call them, in hopes of finding a stable place to settle away from the Wilds.”

The advocate seemed to detect Zhevra’s pause. “Please do go on.”

Zhevra jangled her chains slightly, “Not until I eat since this will take some time. As you say, we have all day.”

The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 06:10 PM

III. Regina (Spinward Marches 1910) A788899-C
The three ate a meal together, the human and the two Vargr. During the meal of two protein bars and water, Zhevra noticed that Khzaeng, the Aekhu Vargr eating fruits with his meat. Though her mouth watered at the carnivorous side of the dish, she questioned the Aekhu’s diet. Of course, he answered her before she spoke.

“Long ago, our people aided their own integration to the arrival of Humaniti by adapting to an omnivorous diet, taking in at first fruits and nuts alongside our meat,” explained Khzaeng who had sat in the third chair at the rusty table in Zhevra’s cell. “It has greatly increased our health, lifespans and ability to better mesh with the Humans, especially at the table. Humans tend to talk more there and among their families at dinnertime.”

Zhevra looked to Allain who was pretending not to listen. He was feeding himself an omnivorous stew, so she asked him while his mouth was full, “And are the Aekhu so cowed, integrated with Humans and human culture?”

Allain Templeton swallowed hard, but answered, “For my experience, Ms. Cannagrrh, the Aekhu are upright citizens of the Regency. The newcomers, Gvegh, Logaksu and such rarities like you are having a tougher time what with the incompatibility gap between Vargr charisma and the stratifications we Humans have accepted. I think they are excellent cooks, rival even to the Vilani.” He smiled to the Psion at the end of the table then went back to his stew. If Khzaeng had some response or thanks, he did not let it show and worked at his meal to finish before the Human and the prisoner.

Khzaeng had not risen at the end of the meal when Allain Templeton reactivated the recording device, resuming the interrogation. “Your journey Spinward across the Vargr Splinters started in 1184, please?”

Khzaeng stayed in his seat, perhaps seeing that the advocate had no preference for where the Psion plied his trade in the cell. Allain began writing in the stack of documents as Zhevra cradled the refilled glass of water and continued her story. The advocate was taking notes in some form of shorthand, the kind of legalese only lawyers shared.

“I travelled for a full year through Amdukan, Mendan, Meshan, Windhorn, Provence and into Tuglikki Sector. Every polity, every pocket empire still struggles to recover from Virus. Most are not going to make it. I have seen. For my part, each turned me away at first sight of my red coloration. No one wants a Suedzuk. They still harbor their horror stories of the Sack of Gashikan to this day, like some mythical, cautionary tale to tell their pups and hold themselves superior to my people. So, I moved on or was chased out of a system or pocket empire.”

Zhevra walked her first two fingers along the links of the chains that restrained her before continuing. It was a gesture to give adequate pause and punctuate her next words.

“My story does not gain any true depth until the liner I had booked passage was attacked by Logaksu Corsairs, some forty years after the extermination of the first wave of so-called Red Pelts to make it all the way to the Trailing border of Tuglikki Sector. The Corsairs pretended to be answering our distress call, Signal-GK or Mayday you Humans name it. The liner’s maneuver drive became unstable and was flickering on and offline intermittently and delaying our transit in the system. The Logaksu pulled up beside our liner, nice as you please and offered to help realign the drive. Since everything seemed Virus-free to the liner’s captain, he opened the hatches to the Logaksu Corsairs. I was in my stateroom shaking my head at the small view port when the Corsairs in vaccsuits crossed the gap between ships. I saw their weapons and knew before our airlock was overrun that we had been fooled. A former navy Spacer, I was able to recognize the trick, but as a passenger I was unable to do anything as the Corsairs overwhelmed our liner in the Wilds.”

“The crew were slaughtered one by one as their uniforms marked them for death as soon as the laser sights dotted them. Anyone who resisted was summarily spaced without expenditure of ammunition. I had the sense to dress in civilian wear though my pelt gave me away immediately. Passengers were rounded up and gathered into the emptying cargo hold as commodities, supplies, luggage and anything else valuable was seized by the Logaksu. We, the passengers of mostly Vargr females, injured males and pups huddled in the hold as a Logaksu hauler took over for the Corsairs. I remember the captain of the hauler addressing us as the Corsairs took their loot and left the ship for salvage after being stripped. In our only clothes left he announced our worst fears, a fate worse than death.”

“Slavery,” guessed Allain to which Zhevra nodded. “Let’s continue this tomorrow, Ms. Cannagrrh. I want to hear how you dealt with the Corsairs. Logaksu are some of the shrewdest merchants of the Vargr that we know of.” Then the advocate and the Psion picked everything up and left Zhevra in the cell with table and chairs. Perhaps it was a kindness to her that they chose to leave the yellow incandescent light on in her cell.

Allain Templeton and Khzaeng found Zhevra the next morning sleeping on the detached cushions of the steel chairs. She was still chained but had somehow gathered all three of the chairs and ripped the seats from them. She lay on a line of them in the cell as a makeshift bed.

“Damn, I forgot the chairs,” said the Human advocate. “What are we going to sit on now?”

Rousing from a stiffened and sore position on the scavenged seats, Zhevra answered inside a wide-mouthed, canine yawn, “You could always move me to a more comfortable habitat, Human. Vargr are not dogs, as we try to tell you century after century and still the comparisons arise.” She then stretched and twisted her torso to adjust her spinal vertebrae with audible pops.

As Allain formed a facial response, Zhevra offered, “I am not some Urzaeng barbarian, Templeton. Surely I have been manageable until now as to make this cell and these restraints an overreaction.”

The advocate looked to the Psion in a new robe of gray, workman’s canvass. Khzaeng shrugged, “The Suedzuk has been away from her people for years, has married into a Gvegh Pack. I believe her. At least a better room if not the restraints.”

Thus, the two had Zhevra transferred to a medium security, one-person cell that thankfully had a folding bunk, a sink and a toilet. Allain with the help of the guards brought in new chairs and breakfast. Khzaeng stood his unobtrusive sentinel in the corner as Zhevra accustomed herself to the cell. A tiny, barred window that slid open enough that she could stick her nose out and smell the morning air was the first order of business. Then, though still chained at the wrists and neck, the Suedzuk lay on the padded bunk which featured a prison blanket and a down pillow. It wasn’t her favorite stateroom, but it was an upgrade from the rusty cell. Every wall was painted with a thick sky blue, no doubt a color that encouraged rehabilitation and the promise of freedom someday. The two males, Allain and Khzaeng allowed Zhevra a female’s privacy before sitting down with her for breakfast. Then the advocate produced the hardcopy folder and the recording device again.

“How long is this going to take, Advocate Templeton?” asked Zhevra from the bunk bed. “I have things still that need doing.”

“That depends on your story and if I can get a magistrate to be lenient on the charges against you,” explained Allain. The Human sat down and activated the recording device once more. “Please continue, Ms. Cannagrrh.”

Zhevra ate breakfast from a seated position from her bunk as Allain and Khzaeng listened. She told her story, replete with details, as much as she could recall.

The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 06:17 PM

IV. Regina (Spinward Marches 1910) A788899-C, Tuglikki Sector of Zhevra’s testimony

The Logaksu captain was slightly taller than Zhevra and was nowhere as intimidating as the actual Corsairs that had stormed the Vadar, a stripped and scavenged liner capable of very rare three parsecs jump transits. Zhevra had booked passage on this ship’s very rare capabilities in this era. The male was dressed in work coveralls normally meant for typical ship crew. She guessed that the departing Corsairs kept the best wardrobes for themselves. This immediately dropped the loot hauler captain before her a few notches in Vargr charisma.

“I am Captain Aeghzllo, former passengers of the Vadar,” said the Logaksu captain addressing the captive passengers corralled in the cargo hold of the liner. “This ship’s drive is very valuable and it is my lucky day at your unfortunate expense. The Corsairs of this subsector have no need of prisoners, mouths to feed and have already taken what they could fit in their armed Sorrgeghg. This leaves me with just the ship and I don’t have the crew to take care of two vessels. Therefore, you are to be moved to my hauler as this ship is disassembled for its systems, components, spare parts and whatever is left.”

The passengers, including Zhevra began to whisper and huddle closer. Worries of being killed were whispered before Captain Aeghzllo continued, “Play your cards right, and you will see dirtside safely in the slave markets of nearby Ksoun, a vacuum world just now restarting itself in the Wilds of Tuglikki Sector. Miscreants and resistors will see the quicksilver of jumpspace up close and personal. Do you get me?”

Drooping Vargr tails and flattened ears seemed to answer the decree of the hauler captain. No one wanted death for now and Zhevra had to agree with them. To be enslaved was at least a chance at life and later freedom. The captive passengers were to be transferred to hauler’s vast cargo hold in pairs. Zhevra and the other females were separated from the males. One dam was separated from her male son. The two had been Splinters refugees, much like Zhevra. She remembered them boarding the Vadar. Further separated into pairs of the same gender, Zhevra managed to whisper to the bereft dam, “You will see your son again. The hauler may be big but they will keep us in the same hold and you will be able to at least see him.”

“How do you know?” sobbed the dam, a Logaksu Vargr like the Corsairs and scavengers.

“I saw the ship through a stateroom view port as it pulled up behind the Sorrgehg Corsair. The hauler’s main cargo will be filled with the scavenged hulk as we are packed into a secondary hold on a different deck. I used to be a Spacer, navy Service though not for very long. I am familiar with that class of hauler.”

“Quiet, you two!” commanded the female Logaksu scavenger in charge of the female captives. “Get out of those civilian clothes. Here are your new clothes. Find your size as best you can and put them on.”

There, on a nearby table were a wide size range of crimson red dresses for the eighteen female Vargr. Zhevra hated dresses ever since her bad experience with Captain Thueg on her last tour who demanded that all females on his ship take on utilitarian skirts as part of their uniforms. The Suedzuk engineer had always schooled and worked in ship flight suits, work pants and utility tops for their pockets. These dresses before her had no pockets, were a solid crimson and to her surprise were slit up both sides to her lower midriff. Baring her thighs and shoulders the sleeves and falls also threatened to bare her chest to the breasts. All the better to keep her from concealing objects and displaying her physicals to observers, Zhevra concluded.

“Put it on, Red Pelt,” sneered the scavenger. “It matches you perfectly.” She was referring to Zhevra’s red-brown fur coloration and ethnicity as a Suedzuk.

Zhevra narrowed her eyes at the Logaksu female and though began disrobing her civilian garb down to her breast garments and undies, she corrected her with, “I am no Red Pelt. I am no pirate either.”

Pulling the dress over her, Zhevra was met with the Logaksu female who had come close to her, well within personal space. Zhevra could smell the alcohol on the gray-furred female’s breath and the faint tell-tale of tooth decay when the scavenger spoke directly to her.

“Soon, you’re going to be someone’s red bitch, Red Pelt. I ought to paint your ventral with your blood to liven up that pelt, but you’re worth more unspoiled. So, shut it and learn your new place.”

Zhevra stepped back and closer to the dam Vargr who was dressed in crimson over her light beige pelt and whispered. “Come, let’s see if we can find your son on the hauler.”

In pairs, the females were reunited with the males in the upper deck cargo hold. Kept separate by huge, 20-ton slave stock cages that had been erected for them, the dam of the son rushed to the corner closest to the males’ cage as Zhevra took note of the other females in crimson dresses with loose sleeves. There was subdued expression and whisperings of hope among them.

The male Vargr in the cage nearby were in worse shape and worse apparel. Each had been herded into their cage after being forced out of their civilian clothes and into barely concealing crimson kilts that while covered their hips and thighs, they left their torso and arms bare to their pelts. Zhevra immediately was grateful that the females’ dresses were long enough that Vargr tails did not expose them as they did on the males’ kilts.

The cages were called stock barracks as each had ports for serving trays of food and each had a mounted, brushed nickel toilet with no privacy whatsoever. Within arm’s reach of each other, Zhevra saw the dam from earlier reaching through the bars to hold claws with her pup son. Zhevra herself began to hear the other females whisper behind her back. Her coloration was betraying her to the Vargr of this region of the Splinters.

“A Red Pelt,” noted one of the fellow females.

“Rare nowadays, but don’t get too close,” warned another. “I’ll tell you later about them. For now, let’s just sit and keep our wits.”

Other degrading vocabulary and unmentionables were whispered about Zhevra as she found her own corner to rest. It had been folly to think she could cross the Vargr Splinters without the Vadar getting attacked by desperate Corsairs and scavengers in this era. Zhevra decided it was not worth asserting her self-identification on the others in the barracks and tucked her canid muzzle in the folds of the dress’s sleeves to contain herself.

The journey to Ksoun, the vacuum world Zhevra had overheard was the hauler’s destination, was a rarity. Zhevra had been educated that after the Collapse of the Third Imperium due to the onset of computer infections by Virus and the infested starships called vampire ships. Many states of the Vargr Extents slowly crumbled in desperate struggles with the various and often deadly strains of Virus that was the downfall of interstellar community and empires. The Vargr Splinters, as the Extents came to be called, suffered slightly less than the Human empires of Charted Space in that the Vargr made less use of robots and the fight to eradicate, contain or quarantine Virus strains was easier. However, the ever-changing Vargr charisma that made the Extents so mutable allowed the catalyst of Virus to shatter empires which ‘collapsed’ in on themselves to cores of six systems or so so-called “pocket empires”.

As worlds failed due to lack of interstellar trade for survival needs and technological failures, either by Virus infestation or by everyday wear and tear, entire systems suffered exodus. Worlds that could not maintain life were abandoned often with begging and pleading citizens stuck planetside, left behind on a doomed planet. It became known as the Doom Trade, offering passages off world to safer worlds within the Wilds as technology continued to plummet below the minimal needs of Virus infection. Society backslid until every starship that approached a civilization was treated with xenophobic standoffishness at best. At worst, the vessel was at risk of being shot out of the sky as it descended to dilapidated starports.

Decades later after Virus had mutated and self-reduced to smaller numbers and thus became seldom encounters, many worlds were attempting to reach the stars again in recovery. The entire Vargr Splinters had been labeled as Wilds, lost to the Collapse and without lines of communication. Vampire ships still roamed the stars and communications were still silenced lest infection occur. Precautions in starship operations kept the spread of Virus in check. If a computer showed signs of infection, now it meant that only that block of computers could be extruded from a ship and destroyed, saving the remainder of the ship to undergo refit if suitable technology was available. The Wilds were just that. Without interstellar law and without any sure lines of communication above hardcopy in technology, worlds were severely hindered in their recovery.

The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 06:20 PM

It was this recovery that Zhevra had sought in her travels Spinward. There were rumors of larger and more stable states that had cordoned off Virus in a region Spinward of the Great Rift, a region of space with very few solar systems. The Great Rift on galactic maps was shaped like a great claw and all Charted Space Spinward and Coreward of the galactic feature was long nicknamed as being “behind the claw”. The Great Rift had helped slow the spread of Virus such that rumors had reached Zhevra. There were regions of Safe space quarantined against Virus and bulwarked against vampire fleets under Virus control. Refugees like Zhevra were migrating in the direction of the Great Rift and the sectors of Charted Space that had, if the rumors were true, maintained a modicum of interstellar society. Humans, Vargr, the felinoid Aslan, reptilian and recluse Droyne and a few minor races still held stability in loose hands or claws. All huddled behind the claw and away from the Wilds.

Ksoun was one such recovering world that should have been abandoned being that it could not sustain life. But upon reaching orbit, Zhevra and the other enslaved passengers overheard that Ksoun was now a hub of second-hand markets for everything that could be reprocessed after a find. In recovery, everything – every piece of technology - that could pass a thorough screening of active and dormant Virus was reclaimed and reprocessed for sale in markets such as Ksoun. Corsair bands had come together to reactivate the old Starport as a Corsair Base and now conducted a crossroads pirate cove to sell off their captured goods. And in Zhevra’s case, the former passengers of the Vadar were to be taken to the slave markets on the vacuum world. It was an ideal hub for the flesh and fur trade as there was little to nowhere an escapee could run on a planet that sustained no life. From Ksoun, captives could be separated and processed, retrained for their new lives as slaves and sold to non-aligned worlds in need of workers or to remnant states and pocket empires that needed to fill the ranks of workforce for recovery, a decades long process of sophont suffering.

The trouble with being an enslaved Suedzuk, as Zhevra soon learned, was that inanimate commodities sold first on average. Supplies sold almost as fast as they were temporary solutions to entropy. And since no one wants another mouth to feed, slaves came in a distant third to be sold off. Additionally, those purchasing slaves typically bought skilled workers first, then regretfully took on unskilled laborers in order of slaves from higher technology worlds to lower ones; and so on and so forth down the slave pecking order until the healing males were long sold and females were left behind to wait.

It broke Zhevra’s heart to see the male son of the Logaksu female purchased and taken from her. In her Suedzuk upbringing, Vargr families and larger packs were close-knit back home. It was both dangerous to Zhevra’s kind to see an offspring leave on their own cognizance before they were ready to face the universe. Thus, she was at the dam’s side when she thrust her arms through the bars of the cage upon seeing her son dragged away too early in his life. Zhevra did not know if the same was true of Logaksu Vargr, but it seemed so when the dam sank to a begging all-fours in pleading to hold her crying son a last time. The opportunity never came. This was one of the few times that Zhevra was glad to not have such a vulnerability herself.

Then came the slave-buyers from Ksoun’s red light district and from nearby worlds with similar occupations. By then, it had been at least two weeks in the market pens before female slaves were purchased as ‘concubines’. It was during this interim period that special trainers for the universe’s oldest occupation came to train the remaining, unsold slaves. By then only a handful of males meant for the same fate and many unskilled, female Vargr were reluctantly yet firmly trained as unpaid prostitutes for the more degenerate and wealthy districts of Ksoun and stars beyond.

Zhevra had hoped to be purchased as a skilled worker slave, but each time those seeking such took an initial, gloss-over scan of the females, her red coloration instantly blacklisted her from purchase. Racism and sexism were two undeniable demerits working against her. Though she loathed to think of her attractiveness to members of the Suedzuk, Zhevra eventually had to take a critical look in the mirror. Training was coming in the ways of grooming, primping, gait, interview of clients, socialization, and of course seduction. Zhevra hated it all, to know that she had been schooled in high-tech engineering, been promoted and decorated in the military only to again fall prey to such objectification. A rage built up inside her as she resolved to internalize still more skills that would only further such degrading status. Each week that the females were marched out of the pens to be put on display for purchase, a few females were selected to the vocal advertisement of Captain Aeghzllo on stage and doing his best to tout the quality of the product. Zhevra came to despise and hate him. Not only were the descriptions of each female’s personality false, his downplay of Zhevra’s coloration seemed to strip her of her ethnicity on a weekly basis. Yet, the dam of the male pup was sold on this world and Zhevra was forced to harden her heart to separation anxiety. She watched as the loss-ridden female was hauled from the market. Zhevra resolved to survive this treatment at any cost.

Still, any skill that was usable was a potential asset and Zhevra tried her best to walk like a strumpet in heat, stand at attentive submission with a slightly tilted head, brush her pelt to a red sheen, touch up her eyes, manicure and sharpen her claws to acute points, swish her tail seductively, flatten her ears at charismatic males and wear a dress to near-revealing levels. Zhevra tried even to act cowed when she was led on stage by Aeghzllo. For a month, all them were instructed. The females were taught wiles and techniques by a second scavenger female named Madam Karrnae who was a former concubine herself though never a slave.

Karrnae was nice as a madam could allow herself. She was on a time table set by Captain Aeghzllo to educate both male and female concubines. A medium and solid brown Vargr, Karrnae evidently drew from years of experience before signing on a scavenger loot hauler. It was this female and not the dressing female who administered the inoculations through a painful injection gun.

“Apologies if this hurts,” said Karrnae during the injections.

“How come the entire stock was not given these shots?” whispered Zhevra to Karrnae as her turn came.

“Not enough vaccines and panaceas for that many, honey,” answered Karrnae. “Better to let their buyers pay for such. The Captain usually holds off until after the first world so the remaining slaves can stay healthy, those that will require longer trips. Hold still.” The madam then triggered the gun’s injector needle into Zhevra’s shoulder muscles through the bars of the cage on the upper cargo deck. Karrnae then moved on to the next slave.

But eventually the Captain, his crew and the remaining, unsold slaves had to move on to more demanding markets ever Spinward. Tuglikki Sector’s demand for Aeghzllo’s stock had dwindled and even lowered prices were not going to sell the likes of the three males and eight females. Zhevra found her cage and the males’ cage loaded back into the bulk hauler and continued onward. From the female crewperson, she had privately named Eng Vorrg, or Tooth Decay in Galanglic, Zhevra overheard the name of the next sector of space. The hauler was to rendezvous with another Corsair that had more slaves ‘emancipated’ from a vampire ship they had incapacitated. This was Zhevra’s first news of such an encounter.

Vampire ships, infected and taken over by Virus which then wrest control from their living crews, were becoming scarcer unto rumors. Rarer still were the fearsome, hive-minded vampire fleets. It was so named ‘vampires’ because the ship’s computer was literally converted from unthinking, high-tech computers into Virus-infected, meta-entities of incalculable personalities, egos, drives and goals. To be caught on such a vessel when Virus took over was a death sentence at the hands of a suicide strain of Virus to living out one’s life as a subordinate processor ‘meat’ to one’s own vessel.

And now Captain Aeghzllo’s ship was to scavenge the disabled derelict for anything that was not Virus-ridden. Those infected components were slated for the nearest star to digest. Even shards of silicon computer boards were judged unsafe and to be annihilated. The Corsairs had freed the vampire ship’s living crew, but only to enslave them to the loot hauler once they had taken their full cargo hold, the prime pickings, first. That left armor, hull plating, low berth cryo-sleep chambers, components for staterooms, anything that was capable of reprocessing in second-hand markets. Zhevra watched as more slaves became separated by gender and the females of the vampire ship join with the previous eight.

Though it took better part of a week for the realization of their freedom from the monotonous and mechanical, structured life as meat aboard a vampire ship to sink in. It made Zhevra’s bile rise to see such happy Vargr females come up from the status of ‘meat’ in the face of Virus master control, to the level of captured slaves bound for sophont markets in the next sector – Gvurrdon Sector. It was a reminder that she was still alive, that Zhevra helped the females dress in new crimson dresses and get settled in the hauler’s upper cargo bay stock barracks.

The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 06:21 PM

That first week, Zhevra was powerless to watch the new Vargr react unthinkingly to any command they were given, as if they had been programmed from birth for obedience. Horrified but determined, the Suedzuk helped each female come slowly to a sense of identity and renewed too long-forgotten Vargr charisma. One female who seemingly forgot to eat and drink without being told died of starvation or perhaps a lack of commands to survive by her former vampire master. Gradually, one by one, the new slaves came to a new chapter, a new life and future though one of servitude to sophonts rather than computers. Another Vargr female died when Captain Aeghzllo’s loot hauler touched down on a new world’s crushing surface gravity and pneumonia from a large planet featuring oceans not made of water. The hydrographics fogs killed the female who was unable to adapt, her bones fracturing under her own weight and her lungs asphyxiating. Zhevra tried her untrained best along with the other slaves help the female die in as little pain as possible by bundling up crimson dresses to cushion her death. This was when Zhevra protested to Tooth Decay. The scavengers should have known better than to touch down without checking the health of the stock above and beyond the stupid and painful inoculation gun injectors used on each captive.

Tooth Decay heard the protest and said nothing to Zhevra, but the explanation the former Spacer gave to the alcoholic Vargr was passed up the chain of command. The next day, the loot hauler lifted from the heavy gravity world of Otse (Gvurrdon 3128), Zhevra overheard and understood due to her astrogation experience. Captain Aeghzllo never came to the cargo hold to see the suffering of the vampire slaves trying to adapt to their new lives, though all were happy to be freed of Virus control.

Upon repeating the new sector’s name to some of the slaves who spoke Gvegh, the regional Vargr language of this end of the Vargr Splinters, Zhevra slacked off her training as a concubine so she could learn spoken Gvegh. Talking long into the nights, the Suedzuk made new acquaintances among the Gvegh, a hardier folk than Logaksu Vargr. The Gvegh females touched Zhevra’s red pelt, fascinated that such a deep red coloration was possible. In return, Zhevra told of her people, the Suedzuk. She was pleasantly surprised to learn that not everyone in this region of Charted Space had the history of the Sack of Gashikan and the brutality of her ancestors drilled into them in cultivation of hatred and revulsion. In Gvurrdon Sector, the Gvegh had heard tales of Red Pelts, pirates travelling from far Trailing sectors, but had not equated the moniker with Suedzuk. With an eye for the truth, Zhevra did confess that long millennia ago her Suedzuk people had been responsible for blanketing a Human world, Gashikan with nuclear weapons detonations then ransacked the ruins. But she also told how Humaniti and other Vargr ethnicities, horrified at the Sack had violently hunted the Suedzuk, intent on total extermination of the ethnicity. The “red pelts” were forced to flee to what was once called the Vargr Enclaves, pockets of marginalized Vargr far to Coreward-Trailing of Charted Space. To the Gvegh females’ credit, they shared stories of the Gvegh Wars on this, opposite end of Vargr space, noting that every Vargr ethnicity had its share of barbaric events. Zhevra smiled faintly to learn this commonality.

Three weeks later, the loot hauler exited the Wilds and into the Thoengling Empire, a much-reduced pocket empire from its former, pre-Collapse glory. This was Zhevra’s original goal, to continue Spinward, though nothing how she envisioned emerging from the Wilds of the Vargr Splinters.

The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 06:38 PM

V. Regina (Spinward Marches 1910) A788899-C, Rorroksueknea (Gvurrdon 2628) B574500-8 of Zhevra’s testimony
Zhevra imagined from inside the stock barracks cage on the loot hauler that emerging from the Wilds for the first time in her life was like a trip to the market without sufficient funds to buy anything there. One could smell freedom but not attain it without stealing it. Now trained as a slave concubine behind bars and destined to be the market product instead of the buyer, Zhevra could see freedom from that backdrop fear of Virus, vampire ships and vampire fleets each capable of infecting ships, orbital facilities and entire planetary computer networks, destroying anything they could not. Civilization still thrived on the Spinward end of the Vargr Splinters formerly the Vargr Extents before the coming of Virus in the 1130s according to her ED5 histories.

Now she saw freedom of one, civilized kind but was locked away from it inside a cage. She was a concubine now. If Zhevra wanted to continue further, she would have to be sold off Captain Aeghzllo’s loot hauler. Who knew if the cur was going to return to the Wilds for more junk to harvest and peddle in Tuglikki Sector and this new Gvurrdon Sector. With no current star and system charts in hand, Zhevra could only hold hope in her heart to be rid of the Logaksu scavengers.

The Thoengling Empire was a fraction of its original size. Zhevra had overheard from the scavengers moving the looted commodities around the vessel that Virus had at one time breached the defenses of the original Thoengling Empire and rapidly infected entire subsectors until a firebreak line could be established and a bulwark against vampire fleets could be reestablished. Now trying to recover, with a new capital system in control, the state was buying anything it could recover from its former worlds.

The markets of Rorroksueknea, a name in Gvegh language still new to Zhevra, were sparse of buyers. The world was a middling technology backwater of ranching communities, countryside and lacked both government and planetary law enforcement. Each ranching province was barely demarcated with a navigation beacon for landing. The world did feature a Downport however. After the looted, second-hand junk sold locally, then Zhevra and the other slaves were once again off-loaded in the stock barracks, one for crimson kilted males and a second for the females in loose dresses.

As the female stock barracks came to a halt on the open sky tarmac of the Downport outside the loot hauler, Zhevra caught sight of Captain Aeghzllo. The Logaksu Captain was on the asphalt after being sucker punched by one of the male slaves. Though the male was beaten before his fellow Vargr, Zhevra smiled. She was not the only one angered at the scavengers.

On Rorroksueknea, the flesh and fur markets were safe from anti-slavery governments and law enforcement. Thus, all the slaving gathers from local ranchers were held near a landing beacon or on the very tarmac before the supplying slave ship. Without the cover of a building to shelter the caged slaves, Zhevra could only hope the local weather of this agricultural world held up.

Was it a quirk of inverse fate that the slaves taken from the vampire ships were sold first? Zhevra watched as the ranchers purchased the recovering spacers as ranch hands and herders. With a mixed satisfaction that the mistreatment of their Virus masters was now dispelled and commuted to life on a green planet with full bellies and people, real people to talk to instead of constant mechanical commands and ship-wide updates. Though not fully recovered from a life of such mistreatment, every slave from the vampire ship looked forward to a new life dirtside.

Most of the males sold to the more urban Vargr on Rorroksueknea. Down to only one angry male, the one who had decked Captain Aeghzllo, the females were then lined up on the tarmac for sale. Gvegh, Logaksu, and even a huge female Urzaeng rippling with wiry muscles and thick claws were presented to the buyers gathered. The sun’s summer glare on this world was occasionally obscured by clouds allowing the winds to cool all concerned. Zhevra was last to stand behind a painted white line, a landing marker for parked vessels. She looked up in time to see a descending starship dip down out of the partly cloudy sky and final approach to a smaller landing pad that bordered the large berths occupied by the loot hauler, cargo transports, ore lifters and other heavy classes of starship.

Zhevra was watching the dartlike, arrow-shaped ship descending to land. It was a Third Imperium design, white plates with red stripes, red airlock and cargo doors, circular stateroom view ports and two dorsal laser turrets. Zhevra knew it to be Imperium design.

* * *

“How did you know that it was an Imperium Far Scout, I mean by that description, Ms. Cannagrrh?” interrupted Allain Templeton there in the cell with Zhevra and Khzaeng who finally had to sit down from standing so long.

“You said you wouldn’t interrupt, Allain,” huffed Zhevra who was now splayed out on the bunk. “It will cost you these if you still need more of my story.” She jangled the chains joining her collar and manacles to the back wall of the cell. “Good night….Gentlemen.” She said the last ‘gentlemen’ after a pause as if it was an honorific. And it was. Her husband, an Equal used the term on anyone who was not an Equal.

Allain ran a hand through his short black hair, “We’ll see. You have not mentioned your husband yet.”

Zhevra’s eyes narrowed again. She had let her status out to these two by accident. Not that Khzaeng had not already gleaned it through telepathy, so she shot the Psion another glare of disgust as the Human man and the Vargr Psion packed up to leave for the day.

In the morning, Allain Templeton and Khzaeng arrived with breakfast and three jail guards. The advocate stood aside next to Khzaeng as the guards entered Zhevra Cannagrrh’s cell to unchain her with a set of keys. The Regency guards were Human, Vilani-Solomani mixes for all Zhevra knew. They bade her with nightsticks to stand against the back wall of the cell as the chains were unlocked. Zhevra merely shrugged when one of the black batons was pressed like a bar against the back of her skull to pin her in place as the manacles and collar were removed. Then like a team the three guards gathered the chains and backed out of the cell enough to allow the advocate and the Psion ingress. The barred door was locked and the three were alone in the morning light through the window measuring the hours for the prisoner.

Allain had changed to a sweater shirt over a pair of dress pants. Zhevra could smell sandalwood aromatic oil in the Human’s hair, a nice scent over a man’s own to Zhevra’s opinion. Allain had left his bomber jacket at home today. The advocate’s shoes were dress formal and the overall outfit meant that Allain had been successful in winning the chains struck per the jail’s warden.

Khzaeng was dressed in yet another Psion’s official, working robe. His tail poked out a slit in this third robe of homespun wool and was loose on the Vargr’s body. Zhevra thought the telepath must be sweltering in wool, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She smirked at the Psion this morning as all three sat to eat breakfast.

Zhevra was again fed wrapped protein bars and water. Allain offered a bite of his quiche but she refused though she could smell cubes of ham and bacon in the dish. Khzaeng ate nut-encrusted slab of glazed meat of some herd animal Zhevra could not place. The meal was eaten in silence. Then Allain reactivated the recording device and smartly waited for Zhevra to continue.

* * *
As Captain Aeghzllo began to pontificate lies about the quality of his flesh wares to the gathered buyers of slaves, Zhevra on the far left of the line of females saw the kilted male Vargr slave bolt. Seemingly forgotten except for a single scavenger guard, the gray jumped up and sprinted into the grassy field aside the landing strip for aerospace craft. Trading halted as all heads turned to see the escaping slave being chased by the Logaksu looters.
“Catch him!” called Captain Aeghzllo. Don’t let him get to the trees!”

Zhevra thought the beaten male was about to make the trees lining around this end of Rorroksueknea Downport. It was Tooth Decay who produced a strange rifle that Zhevra had never seen before. The female, faster than the other Logaksu males in pursuit leveled the weapon at the kilted slave and Zhevra heard an audible THUMP!

It was not some laser, or bullet or barrage of shot that came out the end of Tooth Decay’s rifle. Rather it was a silver-gray ball of what looked by duct tape. Between the rifle and striking the slave in the back, the ball unraveled in a cloud of expanding bands of slimy and sticky tape that slapped the male and wrapped their lengths about him. The strands that caught his legs clung and held fast, tripping the escapee. Dust from running through the plains grass and dirt kicked up a cloud that almost obscured the male who wrestled with the adhesive tape adhering to his gray fur. Growls and snarls from both the entangled slave and the Logaksu slaver who caught up with him could be heard in the distance. Closer to Zhevra, the remaining crew of the loot hauler laughed and snickered.

The Pakkrat June 21st, 2019 06:45 PM

Zhevra could see that the tape was some concoction of contact glue that had a chemical poisoning effect as it touched skin or hide of its wriggling victim. Infighting began between the slavers and the beaten slave. Already the Suedzuk could see who would win for the glue was a sedative designed to deaden motor nerves, decreasing muscle strength and coordination while the strong tape hindered movement. The wrestle was one-sided and almost a mockery of Infighting, the racial martial art of the entire Vargr race. Muzzle teeth and claws were banded by the sticky tape and the slave was easily overpowered by the chasers. Anger rose again in the pit of Zhevra’s solar plexus. But she remained still. When that tape would be removed by peeling it off the fur of the male, it was going to be a nightmare of depilation hair removal. He was in for some hurt.

As the drugged and subdued male was dragged back through the grasses, Captain Aeghzllo resumed trading with the gathered saying, “Excuse us for that. Let’s move on to these comely females.” Not even a word from him of intelligence or education or skills; the descriptions the Logaksu slaver belted out were more like curses to Zhevra.

Bidding for females started and it was a good day for the slavers. Zhevra hoped the scavengers choked on whatever booze the money brought them. Every female that sold was destined for personal use as a concubine, sold to a street pimp, or peddled to savvier brothel madams. She watched as claws rose and fell at the rising prices of the auction of each female. It was then that she noted a newcomer to the small crowd of buyers.

He was white, all white without any other coloration or mottling. His nose was coal black as were the pads of his claws as he took off his gloves to bid. The male Vargr must have joined the initial group from that Imperium starship that had landed moments ago. He was panting with his tongue hanging out a side of his muzzle, having run from the angular vessel. He had ocean blue eyes. To Zhevra, he looked somewhat childish in joining the bidding late. He was suited in a bulky Spacer’s Hazardous Environment VaccSuit, the kind meant for dangerous worlds. The white Vargr was obviously overdressed for the lazy, agrarian, ranching world of Rorroksueknea. But perhaps it meant that the white male had come from such a dangerous environment to warrant the HEV. Zhevra continued to watch the newcomer as bidding for the concubines continued. There was something about his demeanor, his aura or perhaps his attitude that held Zhevra’s stare at him though she kept her stance with her head tilted the way she had been trained by Madam Karrnae. She felt silly and still full of anger at Captain Aeghzllo for his lies.

Successful buyers were parting from the shrinking crowd to claim their purchases in exchange for hard currency. The remaining bidders’ hands fell when prices became too high for Rorroksueknea locals. Zhevra saw the white male’s exuberance rise before he moved. It was how his white mane ruff flared out and above his helmet housing about his shoulders. Zhevra was pleasantly not surprised to see the white Vargr Spacer step forward.

“May I inspect them, sir?” asked the white male in the HEV. Zhevra could feel his confidence now that he was closer.

Captain Aeghzllo noted the approaching Spacer. “Don’t see why not. But no touching them. For many this is their first time. You got a name, stranger?”

“Senior Scout Gevaudan Cannagrrh, of Pack Cannagrrh,” answered the white male.

Aeghzllo stepped aside to permit the inspection, “Be our guest, Senior Scout.”

From behind the painted stripe on the tarmac, Zhevra watched askance from the end of the line of concubine slaves as this Gevaudan Cannagrrh paced before them. He had a critical pair of ocean blue eyes that were confident even as he panted the last of his run from his nearby ship’s berth. Nodding his head, as if in conversation with himself, the white Vargr in the bulky HEV stopped at each of the fifteen remaining females.

“Tall sky reacher,” addressed the Scout to the very tall Urzaeng female, “What is your name?” He had spoken in Logaksu ethnic language to the female who towered over him in height. Zhevra guessed that Scouts of this Gvurrdon Sector needed to learn quite a few languages.

“Arksouel,” was all the massive Urzaeng said. She was standing in a relaxed, digitigrade stance with her arms folded. Zhevra wished that she had better absorbed the lessons Madam Karrnae had imparted the concubines.

“Please show me your open claws,” requested Gevaudan Cannagrrh.

Arksouel took a second look at the smaller white male in slight confusion, but complied by unfolding her arms and displaying her palms and digits. The long claws of the Urzaeng impressed Zhevra, being that the Urzaeng ethnicity had through the millennia of Vargr expansion from the historical origin world of Lair always been the largest of the Vargr race.

The overdressed Senior Scout gazed intently at the displayed claws. He genuinely was impressed. Zhevra could read his body language and his demeanor changed to curiosity. Gevaudan seemed to sniff once through his nose and then asked, “What do you call yourselves, your people?”

“Urzaeng,” answered Arksouel in the Urzaeng language. This was obviously the Senior Scout’s first encounter with the sub-species, Zhevra guessed. She had seen her fill of the huge Urzaeng in her travels Spinward through Meshan and Windhorn Sectors of the Vargr Splinters. To her, Urzaeng were the largest, strongest, and most aggressive ethnicity in the Splinters. But they were not the most intelligent nor the most numerable in Charted space. Zhevra reminded herself that though she was Suedzuk, the most reviled of Vargr ethnicities, she felt maligned to be judged by the Sack of Gashikan. Thus, she checked her own judgement of the Urzaeng in favor of the present Arksouel who withdrew her claws again.

Gevaudan Cannagrrh nodded, stood upright again and continued down the line of concubines. One concubine opened her mouth for him. Another tried her attraction wiles on him from across the painted line. Unfazed, the Scout continued. Zhevra had to ask herself if this Gevaudan was truly another slaver, purchasing concubines, or was he something different. He continually sniffed the air as he moved down the line towards Zhevra. She wondered at what the Scout was doing since his demeanor was genuinely curious. Was he judging each by their scent? The thought of such made her angry at Captain Aegzllo, the Corsairs, her predicament and the training she had endured just go be sold.

While the white Vargr was sniffing the air, Zhevra noted that he wasn’t sniffing anyone in particular. Vargr did value their sense of smell true, but this male seemed to take it a step further. Perhaps he was suffering sinus troubles on this planet, Zhevra guessed. Hope fell as her anger grew. In a subtle, passive-aggressive gesture, Zhevra put her left footpads to the white stripe of paint on the black tarmac. She hung onto her rage. This Vargr was no Urzaeng or Ovaghoun, no bigger or ferocious. He was only a few inches taller than her, a Gvegh.

When Gevaudan Cannagrrh paused before the female to her immediate left, a Logaksu named Dhaeos, Zhevra saw his face up close. In addition to the comm unit encircling his right ear with an antenna and a boom microphone, the Scout’s cheekbones immediately below each eye was bare of facial fur. Instead, the pink, glabrous skin there was lined in gunmetal lines likened to small facial circuit boards. The lines barely glinted in the light of the Rorroksueknea’s two stars. He was augmented. The white Vargr’s body housed cybernetic implants, extremely rare in this day and age after the Virus era. Then she noted that Gevaudan had a cybernetic wafer, a tiny and shiny black stick inserted into a jack behind his right ear under the comm unit. Third, she noted he wore a thick, high-tech, metal collar of beveled geometrics about his neck, the kind that had some unseen and passive function for all the engineer could fathom. Perhaps it was related somehow to his augmentations? Zhevra took a quick breath when the augmented male stepped before her, last in the line. Internally, Zhevra was unsure now whether she wanted to be sold to this Gevaudan cyborg of any extent. Was this male clean of Virus in his augments? Despite his childish gait, silly panting and with a strange look on his face and in his aura she was caught in the moment. At this proximity, Zhevra could now feel her own fur hairs raise a little at his bioelectromagnetic presence. The Suedzuk was now angrier than ever at the entire situation. Did the other females sense what she sensed in this Gevaudan?

The white Gevaudan with his augmented face turned on her and sniffed once, a curt and cursory inhalation. It was not intrusive. Without looking up at him, Zhevra held her ground, pretending to not notice that she had brazenly put a foot a little forward onto the forbidden line. He was standing closer now, his shadow on the deck looking up and down the line before he spoke to the red pelt before him. The cooling wind picked up a little, concealing his voice.

It was a deep voice, elderly but gentle. He eased back a little, his tail in her vision swishing gently with calm. “I am not your enemy,” the male Gevaudan spoke to Zhevra. “You want off this rock?”

Thinking that her foot had been the only brazen thing about her, Zhevra subtly nodded an affirmation to the question to the white Scout, an odd profession for a buyer of slaves. The tarmac was getting hotter in the mid-day sun and a few of the other females were shifting on their foot pads impatiently.

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