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  #21  
Old June 21st, 2019, 06:32 PM
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* * *
“I can still feel the callous where the hoop was,” remarked Zhevra who had reached up to feel the scar where her hoop once hung.

“Barbaric,” opined Kzaeng the Psion who got up first at the end of the day. He was followed by Allain Templeton who did not have an opinion.

Zhevra fired back, “Says the cowed Aekhu who is brightly tethered with a blue dye between his eyes and is bound by an Oath.”

Kzaeng’s mouth fell open, his canine teeth lining his tongue, “That! That is different. I chose this path. You were forced into it.”

The Suedzuk narrowed her eyes at the Psion, “Was I, telepath?”
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  #22  
Old June 21st, 2019, 06:41 PM
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VII. Regina (Spinward Marches 1910) A788899-C, Jumpspace of Zhevra’s testimony
The advocate and the Psion did not return the next day. In her cell, Zhevra was forced though to endure another one of her nightmares, brought on by her diagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She shook under the covers of her bunk almost like convulsions, alone and without Gev. She cried to herself as the shakes came on and balled herself in a fetal position. They were followed by shivers as he remembered how cold she was when she had awoken in the hospital. But Zhevra decided to tell that chapter to the advocate and the Psion later. Right now, she would keep her PTSD from the Human and conceal her tremors as best possible from the telepathic Psion.
When the shaking subsided, Zhevra decided to stretch and exercise again in the cell. If she was too dangerous to allow on the yard, in the triple sunlight of Regina, then Gev would be proud that she kept muscle tone by performing as many exercises possible here in the cell. Doing so, she recalled the nightmare from the night.

Gev was fur-only, his augments and beveled collar; the EMP shielding quality of the device protecting his delicate, internal circuitry. He beckoned to her with his index claw. Hung on the index digit was her lavender, leather collar with a gold heart pendant and round silver studs. It had a buckle closure and he held it out before him to her. With a heart of desire, she was nodding to him. Then a flash of blue washed over the jumpspace quicksilver background of the dream. Gev’s expression changed. The collar on his digit was no longer her gifted lavender. Instead, it was another slaver capture collar, the kind with painful barbs on the inside of the ring. The nightmare ended when Zhevra’s shaking startled her awake. She had begun the day crying.

Now at the end of her exercises, delivered meals, Zhevra was feeling somewhat better, the dream fading. Gev was alive somewhere, somehow. The day wore on as the Suedzuk marched in place or tried yoga or straightened her cell.

The following morning, Zhevra hid her appreciation for the return of Advocate Templeton and Psion Khzaeng. They brought her another slab of meat and vitamin supplements with her water. Together they took breakfast and Allain explained their absence the day before.

“It was the weekend day and we weren’t allowed to see you,” said Allain to Zhevra. Khzaeng just stood in his usual corner, content to have eaten.

When the recording device’s blue LED was lit, Zhevra sat back to continue her story. Allain had the folder of hardcopy open again and his pen at the ready.

* * *

After the concubines split to go study, prepare a meal in the galley or go to bed, Zhevra was spotted by Gevaudan. She was considering what skill to study, if any at all, when she scratched at a spot under her capture collar. When her claw digits came away bloody, she stood there surprised as the white Vargr came up to her. He had been watching her from afar.

“Zhevra,” he sighed at the sight. “You worked too hard on the jumpdrive field emitters. How much torque were you employing on the mounts?”

The Suedzuk looked from her hand to her current owner and answered, “It doesn’t hurt. It’s just raw. I think I scratched myself too hard, is all.”

“Uh-huh,” said the Gvegh disbelieving. “Let me have a look. I should have checked you earlier. Yep. You’ve rubbed your entire neck raw and bloody. Come with me in to the pantry. My medical supplies for the ship are in there. He then ushered Zhevra forward to the starboard side pantry next to the main airlock. In addition to the stacked laundry washer and dryer, were cabinets. Unlocking one cabinet marked with a red rod and serpent symbol the male opened it to take out sprays and bandages.

“You could just take this off and let me air. I’ll be fine.”

“Like hell in this ship’s cramped quarters,” answered Gevaudan. “I won’t remove the collar until you are sold, but I have better than cabin air, girl.” Zhevra smiled inwardly at the use of the human word, ‘girl’ as if she were some adolescent female of the species. It was an endearment and she marked it inside herself.

Using painkiller sprays, antiseptic gels and gauze bandages, the white male tended the raw ring the collar had worn and then admonished her with, “These collars are meant to keep the stock in them from fighting, athletics and other strenuous activity. Your hours-long recalibration of the emitters rubbed the barbs past your neck ruff to the skin. See?” His touch was administrative of the stinging treatment, trained to a rating in Medical. Yet, his extremities were gentle even with his black, male’s, unmanicured claws. Gentlemanly. A flush of alien desire blushed in her solar plexus but subsided.

“I guess I did not register them until the itching started,” Zhevra offered.

“This is why I wanted the ladies to learn peaceful skills from the terminals,” explained the slaver. “Nothing overly active, you see now. If you are truly rated in Starship Engineering, be a good servant and tell me about the heavy-duty tasks instead. I too am rated in all my drives. Understand? You’re precious and that neck need not be ruined.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed Zhevra meekly. He was cute in that moment. Sincere, like her sire had been in her youth. She smiled and let Gevaudan wrap her neck under the collar. She at first thought his ‘precious’ meant monetary value in his slaves, but after his speech about not needing profits from the sale of them to the Society of Equals, the notion was discarded for the nicer definition. And there was that tingle of desire again.

“That ‘sir’ crap is not going to get you ice cream or some other dessert,” Gevaudan continued sternly. “Stay away from hard work. You might not be a concubine, but for me, act like one. I can keep my paws off a concubine in my stateroom.”

She snickered as he smiled, his ocean blue eyes flashing under the pantry lights. It was his eyes that did it. A random curiosity caused her to ask Gevaudan a question about him. “Are you an albino, Gevaudan?” she asked. “I’ve never encountered a pure white Vargr in my travels from the Enclaves before.”

The Courier tilted his head humorously and smiled. In answer, he explained, “It’s hypomelanosis and no, I’m not an albino, else my eyes would lack their blue. You never took classes in Medical, did you?”

Zhevra shook her head no. Now she was embarrassed to have asked.

Gevaudan nodded and added, “My sister, the white female in the picture above my stateroom terminal, is just as white. We came from the same litter.” He pointed to his nose, indicated his hands and said, “Blue eyes, black nose, pink skin with black extremity pads. It is however a recessive gene in my family tree coming from my dam. The rest of Pack Cannagrrh comes in a variety of light grays and mottled dark gray.” He then shrugged off the question, having answered it. “And you? Are all Suedzuk this deep red-brown?”
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  #23  
Old June 21st, 2019, 06:44 PM
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Zhevra looked at the parts of her pelt that were the signature Suedzuk and answered, “Most. We stand out in any crowd, marked for hate since the Sack of Gashikan. But I don’t hate my coloration, Gevaudan. I am who I am and not the bad things said about us. But, yes, most of us are this red and cream and come in various shades.” She yawned, tired.

“Off to bed with you,” said Zhevra’s current owner. “Plenty of time as we transit jumpspace to choose a skill from the Library.”

The two left the pantry, Zhevra ducked into the captain’s cabin while Gevaudan returned to the cockpit bridge. Inside his stateroom, she took a second look at the photo print of Gevaudan’s sister. She was dressed in a golden cape which framed a reflective once piece covering her torso, abdomen and ended in a waist high bikini. She wore a rounded, silver collar. A bracelet that dangled a large, octahedral, crystal spindle rode one wrist while an oval gem rode a silver wrist bracer on the opposite forearm. Her center forehead was adorned with a second oval ruby that was dangled there between two tiny chains leading to two circlets of gold that rounded the base of each ear, a pair of ear-cuffs. She was young adult in the picture and seemed to be celebrating some promotion or new career.

In the upper left corner of the same image was captured a titanium sphere of a floating robot drone hovering within the shot. Zhevra assumed that Gevaudan was the photographer since he was not in the image. She looked like a female version of Gevaudan only less bulky and lither. His sister’s tail was bushy, more so than her brother’s. Her pelt was meticulously trimmed to sharp edges as if she were used to being in front of a camera.

Moving the wall magnets holding the picture to it, Zhevra removed the picture and turned it over. Guessing correctly, she saw Gvegh words in what was readily apparent to be a female’s flowing script. The Suedzuk was unable to yet read Gvegh though she saw similarities in the alphabet. Sentence structure was still too difficult for her. She thought that there was a date written immediately after the caption, but could not make it out. Simple doodles of ink pictures punctuated the written script. Smiling with a tinge of envy to have a sibling, Zhevra returned the photograph to the wall above the computer.

Then the bed was too inviting to ignore any longer. Slipping out of the work overalls, Zhevra pulled back the covers and climbed into the bunk. It smelled of Gevaudan, his scent stored in the mattress, covers and his pillow. His light musk was without colognes or other fragrances. The laundry detergent smell was background to his. Better to use an unscented cleaner in the pantry, she decided. The alien desire again threatened to rise out of her solar plexus and up and down her spine, but weariness claimed her. She had been awake since before she was presented on the tarmac for sale to the crowd of bidders. Before falling asleep, Zhevra whispered to herself, “A good owner, this Gevaudan Cannagrrh.”

The rest of the time “in the hole”, Zhevra noted that Gevaudan was silently pleased that she was running Piloting simulations from the terminal in his stateroom. He said nothing about the course, but his Mag told her otherwise when he leaned over her shoulder to observe the current lesson. “Watch the atmospheric pressure when you begin your descent for skimming,” he added to the monologue of the computer instruction. “It will help you determine the best approach for refueling.”

Zhevra nodded, on final approach to a gas giant while piloting a simulated version of the Sixth Horizon Far Scout. Then she heard him duck into the shower because she could not turn to look away from her flightpath. He had quickly stripped and darted to the fresher perhaps too shy to be seen fully unclad. Zhevra smiled in that she had already seen his wet bar statue in the portside jumpdrive section. She thought to ask him about the sculpture, but deviously waited until he emerged from his shower, clean and ready to take a meal in the galley. Then she could finish her simulation run and corner him.

Zhevra had been wearing her crimson concubine’s dress since her other clothes were in the laundry in addition to his. This day had been their turn to wash clothes in the pantry. When Gevaudan was to select their meal, she would extract the dry clothes. But for now, she let the loose dress hang precarious as she rose from a successful gas giant atmosphere skimming to refuel the virtual ship.

Not one to spy on the Captain, Zhevra instead straightened the stateroom and gathered Gevaudan’s flight suit to deposit in a laundry bin next to the closet. A shower was still to her a blessed private moment from the workday. She valued it and gave the same respect to the white Vargr grabbing for his towel. Tactically, he stepped from the shower, somewhat toweled-off with the terry cloth wrapped about his hips and over his waist. The statue was not lying, Zhevra thought, though how he knew where she was in the stateroom without looking from the shower first was a minor oddity compared to the rest of his exposed form. He smiled at her when he noticed his clothes were no longer on the floor where he had discarded them. His blue eyes wandered over her dress as if to volley her opportunity to watch him get dressed. His tail wagged as if it had a mind of its own.

“Let’s not be messy if we are to share a room, roomie,” she said as she nodded to the locker where his extra clothes were kept. “By the way, don’t you have to be water tight with your augments?”

“Only the wafer jack,” answered Gevaudan who turned his head to show the port in his skull plugged with a watertight rubber cap. “Everything else is either biological augments like the subdermal armor or is already watertight and internal to begin with. If I keep the jack clean and dust-free, I don’t get a pixelated interface with the ship.”

Zhevra’s face perked to the new information involving Gevaudan’s cybernetics. She watched him dress from near the door to the cabin.
He was shy, but when it came down to it, he did have to dress. Gevaudan made quick work of a black mesh underwear and a ballistic armored cloth, one piece number also in black which contrasted his white pelt. Running a fur brush through his facial, skull, neck ruff and mane, Gevaudan turned and asked, “Okay for a galley date, ma’am?”

The male could clean up given his limited wardrobe of a lonely Spacer. “Yes,” she said then asked him, “Hungry?”
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  #24  
Old June 21st, 2019, 06:48 PM
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Gevaudan in black nodded eagerly. He finished his grooming in a mirror then gestured toward the door. Zhevra stepped from the cabin and diverted toward the finished laundry in the dryer as her ‘date’ went to select a meal from the galley stores. When she had cleared the pantry for Arksouel and Dhaeos to use, she delivered the dry clothes to the captain’s cabin. She could smell the dinner Gevaudan was preparing as she folded and put away his clothes first and then her loaned work overalls, her bra and undies. Stepping from the cabin and aft to the galley, she looked about for any of the other females. The other five were busy with lessons, practice with Vincent or Bob or were asleep in the passenger staterooms. Alone then, she began the date conversation with a request.

“Tell me about your statue in Engineering,” Zhevra said, “the one of you holding a planet on your shoulders.”

Gevaudan nearly choked at the opener request, “I-I knew I should have put that in the maneuver drive room.” He sighed at her wicked grin. That smile told him that Zhevra had seen his likeness in full display. She made sure of it. He blushed pink under his white facial fur.

“Tell me?” she asked as she dug into her meat.

“It was a good five years of employment to a mercenary group that did civilian jobs and clandestine missions just as a war broke out, played its course and ended,” Gevaudan began. “I was hired on initially as a Navigator on a Free Trader, but was later asked to cover both Pilot and Navigator positions on an 800-ton Broadsword.”

“You flew one of those Sword Worlds ball ships?” asked Zhevra, interrupting at the name of the class of Mercenary Cruiser.

“It was clunky, but yes,” continued Gevaudan by pointing his utensil at Zhevra’s food to indicate she should eat and listen to him. Zhevra complied. “We had many adventures and mishaps in those years before I was banished back to Gvurrdon Sector. Before you interrupt again, I won’t tell that tale yet. Just know that I came back here in this ship I designed as a variant. Augmented in the Darrian Confederation back then, I could fly a starship by use of my Ship Integration rig, cybernetic control by attention and decision alone. I returned my Sister-Dame, Qiktha is her name, to the Dzen Aeng Kho so as to put her on the throne as Alpha of Pack Cannagrrh. She would have never agreed to ending her career as a field Journalist and Entertainer if I had not tricked her that day she stepped from my ship along with her attaché, Uthka Varzeekh, an Unequal whom also I owe much. If she were to call, I would answer.”

“Before I left the Artemis Group by cashing out my investments the mercenary company I was employed with, I fashioned six wooden Wands over a wood lathe machine. I gifted them to the closest of co-workers I valued most. Each has their story in how they helped me in times of trouble. Each Wand has my bust on the pommel of the handle. They were parting gifts in thanks and camaraderie. In return, they threw me a going away party and the center piece was that statue, filled with ice and various libations. To this day, I don’t know where or how they photographed me without clothes. I suspect that our company spook, a Darrian had something to do with that. Since I could not bear to part with a wet bar, I parked the sculpture in Engineering on this ship. My likeness reminds me that I have friends in the Regency. Their Wands remind them that they have a friend in Gvurrdon Sector. That is the gist of why there is a statue of me on this ship. A parting gift for service and for the adventures we shared.”

Zhevra had finished her meal as Gevaudan recounted and she waited for him to continue his meal before speaking. “Amazing. I’ve never had friends like that, folk who would immortalize me in stone.”

Gevaudan spoke with his mouth full, saying, “Not everyone in the company were my friends. Some wanted me dead, thinking I had betrayed them or lied to them about...things I could not admit. Though the friends suspected or knew anyways and did not judge an ethnic Vargr from Vargr space.”

Zhevra began cleaning up the meal but kept her attention pinned on the male who finished eating. Gevaudan finished the story with, “So, you Zhevra are the first person to see that statue in a long time, ever since I put it in that corner of the jumpdrive section.”

In her head, and by the tone of Gevaudan’s voice, Zhevra did the estimated math. To her, that statue looked the same age as the male Vargr across the table from her. But to hear him speak of the statue as stored for a long time, gave her bumpy-flesh and a shiver up her spine. Saying nothing, she stored the deduction for digestion later.
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  #25  
Old June 21st, 2019, 06:53 PM
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The two sat up late into the ship’s night hours talking. Zhevra had Gevaudan Cannagrrh tell her about how he tricked his sister into becoming Alpha of his Pack.

“Ah, about that,” Gevaudan chuckled but then sobered. “There is a stupid tradition in the Pack Cannagrrh. If there are three or more candidates to succeed an Alpha who is abdicating, that Alpha may choose that Vargr. In the Pack, there were three branch factions on the family tree. Two of those branches had black marks against them, the Progressives faction and the Traditionalists faction. But the balancing fulcrum between them was my dam’s faction which was smaller but hinged on Emissary work instead of scientists and artists bickering across the aisle with business Vargr and military warlords. My grandsire chose my dam as Alpha. Years later, she had to abdicate for health reasons and because she was tired of the responsibility at that age. Everyone in the Pack with any amount of charisma knew full well that her successor had to be an Equal and of our branch of the Pack family. Both Qithka, my elder sister by minutes, and I had passed the Equality Test. However, when there are only two candidates and both are equally qualified and supported by sufficient numbers in the Pack, the tradition states that the current Alpha must preside over an Infighting combat to first blood, a wound that would prove one’s charisma over another. I hate that tradition.”

“You refused to harm your elder sister in ritual combat,” said Zhevra and she smiled. Such brotherly love. Zhevra wished she had siblings with that kind of kinship. Suedzuk were close-knit, but her sire and dam had only her for a child, showering her with all the opportunities to attend trade school, and Service academy and come up with the funds to tack on NOTC to boot.

“When we got the coded, hardcopy notification, Qithka and I were devastated. We had fought like sibling rivalries for a long time. But by the time that letter arrived we had mended our rivalry and became close, too close to ever harm each other. I was contracted to deliver Qithka home, but in doing so I would be forced to Infight her, no small task I’m telling you. We had Infought many times in our youth. She always had the upper charisma to field against my bodily power. Neither of us were military or even fighters of any true skill. She was a new magazine field correspondent and propaganda actor. I was a Scout-Courier. However, both of us were proficient in Infighting, just as any Vargr learns to bite, claw, wrestle and throw an opponent.” Gevaudan paused to pull a can of hard cider from the refrigerator which gave Zhevra time to interject.

“How then did you trick her?” asked the female stealing a draw from the same can as the white Vargr.

“She had been a pain in my side, covering my adventures Rimward for five years in that company, the Artemis Group,” Gevaudan said as he watched Zhevra take a long draw on the hard cider. Her swallows rippled down her creamy white throat and behind the capture collar. Continuing, he recounted, “But in those adventures I learned that Qithka could not stand to miss a story and that she needed to be around others, hence why she became a Journalist and Entertainer – to be put in the spotlight of others’ attention. She followed me to be near me as her older sister, I her younger brother. Both of us almost died in separate occasions in that chapter of our lives. The near deaths made us appreciate life and each other better. I needed her just as much because she far outmatched me in her charismatic star power where I was just another, everyday Vargr in a flying Human can. We worked well together, though there were times we did not recognize it.”

“It hurt me to have to trick my Sister-Dame. So, when the gears touched down on the asphalt of Ouse Faeg World Downport, I let her disembark first as was her station. She was received by her patron magazine, a heroine of theatres of war, a snooper of secrets, willing to go toe-to-toe with Human Nobles and dignitaries who otherwise shunned the media. Kfan Uzangou, her magazine, welcomed her home. My contracted fee hit my account as soon as her footpads touched the warm tarmac. She turned to look up at me as I closed the airlock door and gave the order to lift. The local control tower bitched at me the entire way to orbit. Zhevra, she called me on her wristcomm. I didn’t answer her. I knew she was the better choice and I knew I had to make her give up her career as a rabble-rousing propaganda actress and step into true responsibility above and beyond the objectivity of press coverage and observation overt reporting or investigative snooping. It would have gotten her killed. No. Better to see “Blooded Fang” Dame Qithka Cannagrrh ascend to Alpha in my absence and refusal to appear in Pack court. If I ever return to the Pack territory, I still fear to this day that that stupid tradition will get dredged up out of some Pack bylaw file or document and force Qithka and I to Infight. No, this way was better. Through the years, she has led the Pack and been efficient just as our dam had as an Emissary. Qithka’s reporting integrity has served her well. I believe in her and am a coward to visit her. I don’t know what she thinks of me killing her career as a reporter and forcing an Administrator career of responsibility as Alpha of Pack Cannagrrh. I have my project as you now know. The Collapse is decades old and has Splintered Vargr space. I mean to do what I can to heal its peoples, including the Suedzuk, Zhevra.”

Noble, cowardly, gentlemanly, polite, and valorous if the story behind the statue was true. Gevaudan’s Mag and Lek did not betray him with the tells of spinning yarn to Zhevra’s sensitivity. Not once did his fields rise in a lie. The two Vargr shared the cider in the can until it was very late and almost time for bed.
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  #26  
Old June 21st, 2019, 06:56 PM
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* * *

Allain Templeton stopped his shorthand with revelation on his face. He looked up to Zhevra in the cell with him. With disbelief in his voice, he asked, “You, Zhevra are next in line after this Dame Qithka for Alpha of Pack Cannagrrh subsectors to Coreward?” He rubbed his temples at the causality.

Zhevra jumped from the bunk and rushed Allain, getting her claws into his suit jacket, shaking him and yelling, “No, I am not! Gevaudan is. Never say that to me again! You get me? I am not the next Alpha! I’m not! I’m not a Red Pelt! I’m not a whore! I’m a wife. Runetha, I miss him.” Her teeth were bared.

Psion Khzaeng grabbed Zhevra from behind and pried her off Allain. She sniffed tears as she cried, “Get out! Leave me alone. Gev is alive! He is!”

“She’s hysterical and we have provoked her,” warned the Psion. “Her mind is jumbled and it is late.”

Allain fell back standing against the bars of the cell, but he heard the guards running towards the door to Zhevra’s cell. Keeping well away from both the Vargr, he called to the guards and picked up the hardcopy folder, his pen and the device which had been recording through the attack.

Khzaeng pinned Zhevra down, his strength growing as his concentration and zen-like calm grew. Zhevra could hear him whisper his Oath under his breath in his own Aekhu Vargr dialect though she could guess what was said. He Infought like a monk who had trained to do so since a small pup. The Suedzuk was forced to yield by baring her neck’s carotid artery in submission. She sobbed and cried, tears flowing.

The two left her in the cell when the guards opened the door. Templeton calmed the guards with nightsticks by saying, “It’s okay. I’m fine. I said something I should not have. No blood, no foul. Let her sleep it off.” Then Allain and Khzaeng were gone from the cellblock.

Zhevra panted, cried and shook uncontrollably alone in the cell.

In the dark of early morning, the guards returned to her cell and put a struggling Suedzuk back in manacles, collar and chains leading to a mount in the wall. Once they were locked on her, she quit struggling having managed to punch or slap each guard once or more. Curled on the bunk again, she was hugged by something again, even if it was warming steel against her neck and wrists.
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Old June 21st, 2019, 06:59 PM
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VIII. Regina (Spinward Marches 1910) A788899-C, Jumpspace to Okhtous (Gvurrdon 2425) E555374-3 of Zhevra’s testimony
Another nightmare inflicted its torture upon Zhevra which lasted up until Allain and Khzaeng stood once more outside her cell. They watched as she woke from a dream where she saw or imagined her husband suspended in the nothingness of quicksilver jumpspace or outside it. The indecision between outside nothingness and jumpspace mire caught her in fear and frustration of trying to piece together a puzzle too complex for her.

Opening her eyes to the reminder of last night’s attack, Zhevra numbly sat up and regarded the two males who had returned. They brought breakfast. Allain looked remorseful but retained a professional demeanor. Khzaeng the Psion was likely already probing her mind to check her state of being. She felt weary from shaking all night, the chains on her like tiny alarm clocks. Exhausted was a better word, Zhevra concluded at the telepath as if to clarify her state to him. Khzaeng merely shifted his robe on his shoulders in response.

“Ms. Cannagrrh, may we come in?” asked Allain Templeton. Another business suit surrounded him as he cradled breakfast, his recording device and the hardcopy file. In his lapel was the pen she wanted to stab him with.

“And what if I say no?” Zhevra mumbled.

“Then Khzaeng and I will be forced to sit outside the bars to bring you breakfast and continue the interview.”

“I hate you, but come in. I should apologize.”

“Me too. I was wrong. I should have kept that part nonverbal and merely noted it on paper. I could not have known without tapping our Psion to avoid a trigger.”

Zhevra nodded and this time did not fire off a glare at the Aekhu in the robe. “I am sorry. The doctors on Dzuerongvoe said I have PTSD after-…. well I’ll get to that part eventually. Sorry.”

Allain nodded to the guards who unlocked the cell door to permit him and Khzaeng. Meat again for breakfast and coffee this time as an apology, the cream and sugar added further woke Zhevra to sit and eat. Cradling the warm and tall beverage against the morning chill in the cell, she spoke more of her tale.

* * *

“I can work any two boards I like on the ship as long as I’m jacked into the ship through my rig,” explained Gevaudan. He and Zhevra were seated in the compact bridge. A yellow flashing light on the astrogation board across from her was warning of imminent jump precipitation back into normal space. “Stand by to divert power from the jumpdrives for cooldown and to the maneuver drives, Zhevra.”

“Aye, Captain,” acknowledged.

The Sixth Horizon fell out of jumpspace, a majority of its liquid hydrogen or L-hyd fuel spent in the four parsecs jump from Rorroksueknea to Okhtous. The milky gray quicksilver split at the bow and melted to black of space and stars. Slightly different in position but still in familiar constellations to Zhevra, she reported to Gevaudan, “Clear of jump. Drives on cooldown. M-drive readied.”

“Engage,” Gevaudan commanded. Then he spun his chair on its mount to face Vincent who was helping Zhevra by monitoring the ship’s sensors. “What have we got on passives, Vince?”

“No contacts and ready on comms.”

“Very good,” said the white Vargr. “Vectoring for the system’s only gas giant and bringing up skimming protocols for later. Have Bob warn our passengers of the rough ride we’ll be enjoying.”

“Acknowledged.” Vincent then stepped from the bridge in a Vargr-like lope, obviously programmed to mimic the living gait of biological Vargr.

“Is it not illegal to initiate communications still, Captain?” asked Zhevra who was inured to radio silence even this far past the Virus era.

“The system knows I pass through and refuel only. They know my signal, a patterned howl if you will. It’s not long enough to infect in either transmission or receival.”

“Oh. This is outside the Wilds.”

“Yes, Zhevra. You are free of that which Regency calls the Dreamtime.” Gevaudan smiled at her warmly.

The gas giant ahead was a blue ball of methane. It had planetoid moons and a tiny ring of ice barely thick enough to rate as a ring at all. The flightpath for fuel skimming lit up on the navigation board but the Pilot-Astrogator kept his hands off the controls and instead concentrated.

“You’re not going to do this on instrumentation or maneuver software?” asked Zhevra curiously.

Gevaudan took his eyes of the unseen virtual boards she could not see and he focused on her. “I never have. Manual only. It keeps me sharp when wilderness refueling time comes around. You might want to strap yourself in. It will get bumpy from upper atmosphere turbulence. You remember the simulations, right?”

Zhevra nodded and proceeded to work the web belts over her work overalls.
The Far Scout dipped into the upper atmosphere and bounced along at otherwise disintegrating speeds. “Opening scoops and queuing the fuel processors to chew on the gathered needs,” notified Gevaudan. Immediately the ship shuddered from turbulence. Everything outside the hull through the view ports was a pale blue below and stars above as he rolled to flush with the gas giant horizon.

The ride was harrowing for only four hours of turbulence against the hull of the Sixth Horizon. Zhevra watched as the fuel gauges rose slowly until full. Every so often the fuel processors would vent whatever was unneeded, causing the gauge needles to drop a step. The unrefined fuel was being replaced with condensed L-hyd.

Her hips were sore, her tail was stiff from being in the cockpit chair for so long. Yet even as her aches mounted, the shipboard operations were finally coming back to Zhevra. Her navy days as a junior engineer and bridge crew in the Service were revitalized even in this 200-ton Far Scout.

Gevaudan, a long-time Spacer, seemed to take it all in stride and for granted. He had said to his stock of slaves that this route was rote to him. This was merely a small part to a three-jump journey home to his Society of Equals. With the tank full of refined L-hyd, he at last pulled up on the virtual yaw and the ship answered by ascending from the upper atmosphere of the gas giant. Stars again ruled the forward view ports.

“Go aft and visually account for our fuel status while I begin calculations for our next jump and vector to 10o diameters, Zhevra,” Gevaudan commanded.

“Aye,” the Suedzuk said and left the bridge.
__________________
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Incoming Code: tc 23- mt+ mgt++ tn++ t20- t4- t5++ tp? tg- th? to~ ru+ ge- 3i+ c+ jt- au+ ls+ pi+ ta he+ kk hi+ as++ va++ dr+ ith? vr? ne? so+ zh+ vi+ da+ sy~
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On assignment: Dhillourr (Gzaekfueg 1413) B110A7A-G Hi In {5} (D9F+3) [8F3F] 102 F9 V VRo5

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Old June 21st, 2019, 07:03 PM
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Passing the third passenger stateroom on her left as she moved aft down the axis corridor, Zhevra saw that the door was open. Through the door, she could hear and see Arksouel kneeling over the fold-down toilet and regurgitating. “Bob! Come help. Ark is having distress and is vomiting into the fresher toilet.”

Bob paused its cooking at the galley and loped over to Zhevra who then entered the stateroom.

“Arksouel? Ark honey, are you okay?” asked Zhevra cautiously. Was the huge Urzaeng female ill with a disease? Being untrained, she decided to ask questions first before getting too close.

“Is okay,” panted Arksouel between surges of regurgitation heaves, “Bumpy ride and not felt skimming in years.”

Zhevra let out a sigh. Motion sickness not compensated for by the gravity plates in the ship’s deck had jostled the Urzaeng concubine female. Arksouel was not ill, just losing her lunch. Zhevra wondered if any of the other slaves were suffering too. “Bob, she’s okay. She’ll recover fine. Please check the others’ status.”

“Compliance.”

Without stopping at the local world of Okhtous, the Sixth Horizon returned on a similar tack to its entrance from jump precipitation. To maximize a safe jump, a distance equivalent to 100 times a system body’s diameter, in this case a gas giant was needed. To jump inside 100 Diameters was asking for that planetary or solar primary’s gravity well to pull on the mass of the jumping vessel which risked ripping at the molecular level as the remainder of the ship entered jumpspace. The result was a catastrophic derelict spat out of jumpspace after a week of disintegration as parts broke off and were claimed by the nothingness outside the fuel-invested jump bubble. While technically possible to initiate a jump anywhere, even inside 100 Diameters, there was not an astrogator in Charted Space that recommended such.

Zhevra again made herself useful in the second jump in the route. Gevaudan had opened up to her and let her see the route of jumps. The next world was called Tagnaghoutsozaeng, a Rich, Water World planet with over 95% of its surface consisting of oceans. The route called for another wilderness refueling at that system’s only gas giant too. When the jumpdrives kicked the ship into its own pocket universe of a jump bubble, the Suedzuk helped Gevaudan stand down the bridge for jump transit. Then she went to the captain’s cabin to continue her training in Starship Pilot simulations.

This week’s curriculum chapter was combat vector movement and the most exciting chapter of the training. Eagerly she used a simulation flight stick to vector her virtual ship and pulled triggers to command the simulated vessel to fire its turrets against randomized enemy ships. Her teeth bared and leaning forward to the terminal monitor, she growled at her virtual foes. She was so intent that she did not register Gevaudan come up behind her.

The white Vargr placed his black pawed claws on her shoulders as he examined her maneuvers. “Breathe and be one with your ship,” he advised in a calm, male baritone. “The enemy can’t hear your vocalizations. Relax and maneuver. Don’t fight the controls.” His hands were warm and they melted Zhevra at his touch. She obeyed and felt a slight massage from his thumb and digits. It felt good and she leaned into his ministrations.

Zhevra passed combat flight easily that week, making higher marks when she fought computer-generated Corsairs on the terminal while Gevaudan rubbed her neck or shoulders. She had never been the recipient to tactile massage before that week in jumpspace. Just before jumpspace precipitation she approached her owner.

Zhevra licked up the side of his white muzzle once and said, “Thanks for helping me, Gevaudan.” And as soon as she had done so, she was off to the bridge and leaving the surprised slaver standing in the center of the stateroom. That felt good too, she thought. Appreciative and not too much, she hoped. Sitting down at the engineering and operations boards in the cockpit, Zhevra waited for the Captain to announce jump precipitation and enter the bridge.

Her claw tapped on the jumpdrive board for two minutes before Gevaudan’s arrival on the bridge. Was it too forward, she asked herself inwardly? Without a word, the pair got to work on exiting jumpspace, professionalism ruling the cockpit. But, with the Gvegh just three meters from her, she could feel his elevated Lek. She had indeed shocked him. The Sixth Horizon continued its journey by refueling its tanks with a second rough ride over a banded orange gas giant in Tagnaghoutsozaeng system. This time however, Zhevra had informed Gevaudan who prepared a dosage of Dramamine to help Arksouel. When the Urzaeng weathered the turbulence, she came to find Zhevra.

“Thanks to you, no visit to fresher and donate lunch,” announced the tall female. The two stood just aft of the passenger staterooms and in the axis corridor. “I owe you.”

Zhevra almost shied but took in a breath to ask Arksouel for a favor. “Ark, would you-… would you help me to be a better concubine, just in case Gevaudan does sell me to a Madam? I-I have never done it. I know about males and females, but have never given myself. I am unspoiled.”

“Och, little one,” said the gray female. “Say not this ‘unspoiled’. Look at me. Would you say I am spoiled just because I am sex worker? Is not bad if one is safe, enjoys the task and careful about who to share beds with. And better if you love when you do. Get me?”

“I think so,” said Zhevra who chewed her thumb claw nervously as she had seen Dhaeos the Logaksu do so often since they met in the cages of the scavengers. “I should learn to perform the act better, I think.”

“Better?” said Arksouel more as an exclamation than a question. “Little one, for your first time, let a worthy gentleman have you. If he is gentle, you will know how. Then can come – how you say – variation.” The Urzaeng then patted the Suedzuk on the head and stroked her red-brown mane. “Choose wisely.”

Zhevra nodded. The two then spent the day primping and dressing. The large female refreshed Zhevra on the lessons Madam Karrnae had given the captives from the Vadar. From a naval Spacer to concubine and prostitute, Zhevra received crash course in attraction and act. By the time the Urzaeng’s territoriality kicked back in gear, Zhevra was ushered out into the corridor to the captain’s cabin. Gevaudan had been asleep while she trained.
__________________
Virus: When you care to infect the very best.
Empress Wave: Not something done in a local stadium.
Incoming Code: tc 23- mt+ mgt++ tn++ t20- t4- t5++ tp? tg- th? to~ ru+ ge- 3i+ c+ jt- au+ ls+ pi+ ta he+ kk hi+ as++ va++ dr+ ith? vr? ne? so+ zh+ vi+ da+ sy~
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On assignment: Dhillourr (Gzaekfueg 1413) B110A7A-G Hi In {5} (D9F+3) [8F3F] 102 F9 V VRo5

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Old June 21st, 2019, 07:09 PM
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IX. Regina (Spinward Marches 1910) A788899-C, Gnoengungag (Gvurrdon 1923) B759623-7
The jump from Tagnaghoutsozaeng to entry to the Society of Equals was to end the journey with Gevaudan Cannagrrh. Zhevra found herself not wanting that week to end as the L-hyd fuel boiled outside the Sixth Horizon in jumpspace. The mock exam of the Piloting certification test did little to take her mind off the arrival on a world called Gnoengungag (Gvurrdon 1923), another mostly water world with, strangely enough, a Participating Democracy and a liberal mindset. The planet only had a Downport, no orbital docking facilities.

“My exam time for you,” said Gevaudan calmly as the Far Scout made final approach to Gnoengungag. He had already signaled his incoming vector and over the comms was welcomed heartily by the Downport Tower. They knew the white Scout-Courier on this world.

“What?” asked Zhevra.

“You have the conn, Zhevra. Take us down and land. I will watch the other boards.” With that, Gevaudan sat at Engineering-Operations and laced his clawed digits of both extremities together.

Zhevra said automatically from her years in the Service, “I have the conn.” She then sat down and took up the controls on the helm and checked them with the navigation board’s flightpath. “You trust me that much?” she asked two minutes later.

“Implicitly,” said the Gvegh. “Either you save our lives and land the Sixth Horizon or I get early retirement and a one-way vacation to the Seventh Horizon if you catch my drift.” He then unfocused his ocean blue eyes to check boards only he could see.

Zhevra had never before live-piloted a starship. She was exhilarated and nervous. Though he was monitoring from inside the computer, she still felt he was watching Zhevra over her shoulder. But the real Sixth Horizon responded to her control adjustments, the holographic ‘stick’ feeling a little more forgiving than the practice controls in the captain’s cabin. The protocols came to her from the simulations when she noted aloud, “Reentry in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, mark.” The blue gem of a planet was blanketed with clouds in its tropics but the targeted Downport’s beacon registered on the navigation board as sitting in the temperate northern hemisphere. If the sensors were correct, it was partly cloudy skies with gentle cumulus puff clouds pushing six knots across the island. The ship’s hull registered the atmosphere, its heat shielding armor and wedge shape accepting the resistance. Zhevra kept the Imperium vessel in the virtual tunnel presented by the HUD relaying info to her from navigation.

Gevaudan sat through it all, seemingly a statue in the chair to Zhevra’s right. Finally, he said, “We have an aerospace local G-limit of three gees, but in a pinch I can give you up to five at your command.”

“Five?” she asked.

“Or six if it’s an emergency. Your call. You do have the conn.”

Six gees of acceleration in atmosphere would blow out the windows of a skyscraper back on Llotree, her homeworld in the Enclave. Given the smooth ride on this vessel, Zhevra smiled to know that the Sixth Horizon offered such in-system speeds. It awoke something primal inside her.

“Give me three then.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Gevaudan smiled and concentrated on a virtual board.

The wedge starship shot down through the clouds and left holes in the puffs of white water vapor where it passed. In the rear cameras, Zhevra could see the supersonic cone surrounding the fattest part of the vessel. She pulled up and into a controlled descent with her heart thumping. So fast!

“Okay, final approach. Back it down to one and let’s call the ball.”

“On it.”

The island was visible outside the forward view ports. A volcano was cooling with a small jet of smoke indicating the prevailing wind direction which was helpful to know. Now Zhevra did not have to ask. Green temperate forest was bisected by a swath of black lava flow down one side of the caldera. Small fires were being fought by VTOL aircraft. The ship flew over a bay of ocean water that was home to white sailing craft and wharves were full of cargo ships being fed by cranes. Tree line topography seemed to wave in the winds a greeting to Zhevra’s overhead passing. Then the Downport came into view and she vectored for it with a lazy bank to port.

“Zhevra?”

“Hmm?” the Suedzuk did not take her eyes of the landing field as the ship descended.

“I need a second crew.” Gevaudan announced to her. “Want the job? There might be complications that delay that collar coming off but do you really want to be sold as concubine like the others? Do you want to be sold at all?”

The question nearly distracted Zhevra who flushed under her cream white face. The first gear touched down easy enough but the other two came down hard and she heard their pneumatics hiss from inside the bridge.
With precision actions, Zhevra stood down the bridge, “We’re down. Vincent tell the others and tell Bob to coordinate with ground for umbilical power.

“Compliance.”

The two were now alone in the bridge as the hum of the power plant lowered its pitch to a sound level that indicated that the ship was on Downport umbilical lines, power flowing from the landing field. The Suedzuk measured the white Gvegh’s Mag and Lek with a focus she had not done in some time.

At last she answered Gevaudan, “There might be complications, like buying me clothes and tools sized for me.”

“Done.”

“When does the collar come off?”

“Immigration laws prevent naturalization at this time, Zhevra. But if I register you as my s-servant, pay the taxes on the ‘sale’ and you agree to keep that hoop in your ear after I remove the collar, you should be able to be mine and my crew and bypass naturalization as my property until you can buy your freedom or the courts find me in violation and emancipate you as I said before.”

“Is there a catch to this, Gevaudan?” asked the Suedzuk who was taking the full measure of the fields about the cyborg.

The white Vargr Equal answered her with, “I’d need you to walk out the ship as a concubine and help me sell off the current stock long enough for me to do the paperwork and pay the fees. In your dress, down the ramp and alongside the other ladies.”

A debut. Gevaudan was asking for Zhevra to portray a concubine until he could do the admin needed to solidify his true purchase of Zhevra. Imagining descending the airlock steps to the Downport on Gnoengungag, Zhevra could already feel the trade winds off the bay in her mind.

“Done,” she agreed. “I walk the carpet as a whore for one day, no assignations and get to say farewells to the ladies.”

Gevaudan smiled and said, “Welcome to the Sixth Horizon, Engineer.” The two shook claws on the agreement.
__________________
Virus: When you care to infect the very best.
Empress Wave: Not something done in a local stadium.
Incoming Code: tc 23- mt+ mgt++ tn++ t20- t4- t5++ tp? tg- th? to~ ru+ ge- 3i+ c+ jt- au+ ls+ pi+ ta he+ kk hi+ as++ va++ dr+ ith? vr? ne? so+ zh+ vi+ da+ sy~
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On assignment: Dhillourr (Gzaekfueg 1413) B110A7A-G Hi In {5} (D9F+3) [8F3F] 102 F9 V VRo5

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Old June 21st, 2019, 07:16 PM
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Zhevra stood outside the low berth room on the starboard side, forward of the small cargo hold. Gevaudan keyed the lock on the chamber and stepped in to begin reviving the sleeping slaves. One by one, the concubines and the one male came awake shivering and receiving blankets. Zhevra saw that the white Vargr took extra time to slowly and carefully revive each and monitored their vitals as they began to move. All ten sleepers were revived successfully. The females were helped by the six concubines with hoops in their ears. The male was aided by Gevaudan personally. All were fed and given hot drinks to warm up.

Gevaudan then gave them the same lectures about the Society of Equals, its slavery laws and how each servant could rise to freedom using the system. When each of the sleepers had accepted their fate on this new world, The male Equal brought in the ear hoop jewelry for the left ear of each he was to sell later that day.

“Get dressed in your crimson,” ordered Gevaudan Cannagrrh, “then step outside the airlock to your new home polity, the Dzen Aeng Kho, far and away from the dangerous Wilds, Safe from Virus and vampire fleet bombardment. These six will help you to the ground. I will have my Ongrung sonic rifle so don’t embarrass me and yourselves with poor behavior. These people know me and know my policy of transplanting rescues from the Wilds. As I’ve said, I have done this before.”

Zhevra put on her crimson dress and settled it correctly on her Suedzuk frame. She was the last of the slaves to exit the Far Scout, down the ramp in the evening sun and with the gentle wind pushing on their apparel. Below was small crowd of Equals as none of them wore the protestant head belts and waist belts in the public of this island Downport.



Gevaudan emerged last, dressed again in his black ballistic cloth uniform. He had used a velcro patch to attach the emblem of the Society of Equals, two upper canine fangs over a blood red circle. On a gun strap slung on a shoulder was a curious rifle, supposedly the Ongrung sonic rifle he had mentioned. At his belt hung the strange, finned flashlight she had seen him wear before. Zhevra looked over her shoulder and up at him. He looked charismatic in the evening sun with the light wind moving his neck ruff and mane. For a cyborg, a slaver, a male and a Gvegh, Zhevra again appreciated how Gevaudan could clean up. He was just formal enough for business, but in a duty uniform that allowed him to get the job done. Zhevra took another step down as the line of slaves moved to the ground below the Far Scout.

Fifteen females in crimson and revealing dresses had to hold down the split side falls in the wind and the male in a crimson kilt stood a little taller in his crimson kilt. From the crowd, there was light applause to Zhevra’s surprise. These people were applauding Gevaudan who reached the ground after her. They knew him to bring rescues out of the Wilds. This was not his first ranching fair. He moved to the crowd and clasped claws with a few buyers. Words of welcome were exchanged. The white Cannagrrh smiled handsomely, charismatic with his teeth white and the late sun glinting off his facial augments. Zhevra felt a twinge of new pride in that she had just agreed to be his slave, his crew. She straightened taller like the male slave had done, though with less silent protest.

Though to an outsider, it may have appeared that Zhevra was again the last concubine to be sold, she went to each slave as soon as a price was confirmed. As each was signed to a new master, Gevaudan stepped up to key in the unlocking of a collar.

“Dhaeos,” said Zhevra as the Logaksu was confirmed sold, “Good luck and I hope you put your new admin skills to work for your new owner.”

“Thank you, Zhevra,” said Dhaeos who then added while rubbing her freed neck ruff, “It’s not a Madam like Karrnae. He’s tall and looks like he might own a concubines’ villa. I hope you find a good placement, little Suedzuk. I’m sorry my Logaksu folk treated you badly. Be safe.” With that the two females parted. Near the last in the line of sales, the Urzaeng Arksouel hugged Dhaeos.

“Give them hell, number cruncher,” Arksouel said to Dhaeos.
Dhaeos nodded as another sale of the original sixteen was confirmed over her shoulder.

The Urzaeng female was hard to place but Gevaudan managed an off-world buyer who needed to hide protection for his concubines inside the concubines themselves. Gevaudan explained such to Arksouel.



“I can handle myself,” the large gray female said as she flexed her claws. She lowered her stance so that Gevaudan could properly and correctly key in the combination to her extra-large collar. As he did so, she surprised him with a lick to his forehead from above him, a kiss in human equivalent. “You have been good, Gevaudan Cannagrrh. I understand your project better now. Be well.”

“And you, sky reacher,” replied the smaller, white slaver. “I will write, so watch for my profile sigil on any posts.”

The Urzaeng nodded and then said, “Now. Show me this new master you have given me.” Arksouel accented her request by running her left claw through her thick mane and flicked her index claw across her ear hoop. It sparkled in the evening light.

Robots Vincent and Bob appeared in the cargo hold doors which slid open to allow them to unload the sold slaves’ possessions which amounted to less than a displacement ton. Zhevra saw them hand each their baggage and keepsakes. She also noted that there was less fear of the two robots even this late after the Collapse and the long nightmare of Virus. Local xenophobia must have been lessened or that they knew of Gevaudan’s Servitor assistants.

The Gvegh slaver met with a taxation representative and exchanged hard currency for sixteen sheets of hardcopy paper, Zhevra had counted each from afar while waving to the departing concubines. Even the male had sold to a brothel that featured males. At the sixteenth receipt, Gevaudan nodded and the two male Vargr clasped claws. Then Zhevra’s new master was confirmed, the Captain of the Sixth Horizon. She waited in an obeisant stance for Gevaudan at the foot of the airlock stairs to his ship.

“Stand up straight and proud, Chief Engineer Zhevra,” ordered Gevaudan. “It doesn’t do to have cowed crew.”

“Yes, Sir,” Zhevra acknowledged but added, “Though I’m the only Engineer on board.”

“A technicality.”

The white-furred cyborg displayed the receipt with Zhevra’s name on it. Gevaudan explained the Gvegh document that it detailed her Universal Personal Profile, some skills he had seen her display and her role under his ownership. At the bottom, a sum of the taxes was shown. It was almost as much as a full slave.

“The taxes are not nearly as high here as other worlds in this subsector, but I make a do.” A nostalgic flash of memory came over Gevaudan’s white face as he looked to the horizon where the sea touched the sunset sky. He came out of his remembered past and looked to Zhevra with an order, “I have to grav into town to pay fees for docking and maintenance. I’ll be back before midnight local. Please watch the ship with Vincent and Bob. Here is the combination to the ship’s locker, crewmate.”

“Yes, Sir,” Zhevra answered. The emphasis on ‘Sir’ to her was increased because Gevaudan was now her owner and her Captain on a vessel that would not mistreat her as the Service back home had.

“I’m not going to live down that ‘sir’ business, am I?” Gevaudan said with a half-grin.

“No, Sir.”
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Last edited by The Pakkrat; June 22nd, 2019 at 09:34 AM..
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