Morning arrived on the space going trader ship Eris. We were two days from landfall on Arcadia and there was work to be done in preparation. I unwound myself from the tangle of warm sleeping bodies in my bed. As I crawled out of the bed I left a warm spot that the twins immediately snuggled into as they slept back to back under the covers. We had burned off a lot of energy the night before. I smiled and my cock twitched as I remembered the writhing flesh and cries of ecstasy that echoed off the walls. Even after two years we still approached having sex together like it was the first time. We didn't fuck like that every night. Hell, there were even nights when I slept alone and didn't mind. It was enough to know that all I needed to do was ask or even give a significant look and one or both of them would have eagerly crawled into my bed at any time with their strong hands and soft lips, their hard wonderful pricks and their tight willing asses.
It wasn't always that way, though. I had lived pretty much alone on my ship for almost ten years, moving cargo from planet to planet. Sometimes turning a profit and sometimes losing it. Things happened.
I still recalled the first day I met them. That wasn't a happy day by any stretch of the imagination, but it turned out pretty good in the end, I thought.
It was my fourth night since landing my ship on Iskander. I would have left as soon as I unloaded my cargo and gotten paid, but customs officials on this planet made you stay for five days to guarantee that your cargo wasn't defective goods.
I knew that ahead of time. Some of the stuff I had picked up at the last minute on Hellespont would last a good seven to ten days before breaking down.
I'm not a cheat by nature. The majority of my goods are top quality. I like making money and most of the time I strive to have repeat customers on ever planet I visit. Ask anybody on two dozen planets. They'll tell you that Captain Jazz Ford is an honest man who sells top quality goods. But I'm also a great fan of the man who, thousands of years ago stated "There's a sucker born every minute." If you are willing to buy it, I will certainly sell it to you.
At a reasonable price, of course. You want I should starve?
Another great sage back in prehistory stated "A man's gotta know his limitations." And I certainly have mine. Between thousands of planets and thousands of cultures no matter how you load your cargo, there is going to be something somewhere that they will declare is illegal. But I plan my loads and my trips carefully to avoid such pitfalls.
Oh, I always make sure that there is some small "forbidden" item in my hold. Usually a luxury thing like books or fresh fruit or small gems. That way they can be "confiscated for the good of the kingdom" and disappear into the pockets of whoever is in charge. It's like paying taxes.
But there are certain things that I will not transport. Not willingly, not ever, not anywhere.
First thing on that list is slaves. That is why I hated landing on Iskander and did it as seldom as possible. Their society ran on slavery. Without it, their whole economy would collapse. Slavery.... Involuntary slavery, anyway, set my teeth on edge. It made me fundamentally sick and I didn't mind ripping off the warlords of Iskander when I thought I could get away with it.
But as a free trader I have to govern myself by the laws of economics, as well as the laws of physics. It just so happened that this end of my trading run took me too close to Iskander with a cargo bay full of items that would sell there for a high price. If I had given in to my pickiness and skipped on to the next stop, say Boonesboro or IX, I would have lost money and made virtually nothing this run. So I had to swallow my pride and pretend that I was honored that the mighty lords of Iskander smiled on my poor self and my pitiful wares.
It always took a long soak in a very hot bath with a vigorous scrubbing when I left there before I could feel clean again.
My ship was already loaded and ready for takeoff. With the proceeds from the cargo I brought in, I had purchased metal farming tools and other implements that would sell like hotcakes on Boonesboro. Just the metal parts. Boonesboro was still an agrarian society. They were high on native wood and medicines, but poor on metals. Their craftsmen would waste no time in putting wooden handles to the hammers and axe heads and things that I had brought. And not shipping the wooden parts meant I could stow more metal.
Economics, like I said.
The remainder of the profits I had traded in for pure gold ingots and coins. Gold was almost always a good medium of exchange no matter where you went. The ingots were locked in my ships safe and the coins were in a pouch on my utility belt that only opened to my touch. That sort of thing tended to discourage pickpockets.
The following evening my mandatory wait period would be over and I would be taking off a soon as the tower sent word. I was spending one last evening wandering the markets and factories, looking for one more item to add to my cargo. I suspected that it was probably a fruitless exercise, as Iskander produced very little besides fairly crude metal tools. And slaves, of course. But sometimes I got lucky and found something unique that I knew would sell somewhere else.
And I actually did get lucky, in a manner of speaking. In a couple of ways.
I had just finished up purchasing a load of colorful locally woven cloth that would sell good on IX. It was fairly inexpensive and wouldn't take up a whole lot of room in my cargo bay. I knew somebody somewhere would buy it. I made the deal and added a healthy tip to have it delivered immediately to the port. I wanted to finish loading tonight.
I was turning to head back to my ship when I heard an awful noise coming out of an alleyway just across the marketplace. Angry shouting and screams of pain and the sharp "crack crack" of something striking flesh. It wasn't uncommon on Iskander to see a citizen beating his slaves. Some of them did it just for fun, it seemed. But something about the rage in that voice and the terror in those screams made me move closer.
I moved down the alleyway until I could see what was happening. The scene filled me with a deep disgust. A fat, sweaty citizen was standing in front of a large post where two slaves were chained by their wrists and the collars around their necks. He was swinging a long leather whip with all of his might. The whip was striking them hard enough to make the blood fly with every stroke. From what little I could see of the two past his corpulence, they had long open cuts and were bleeding freely. They screamed and sobbed and tried to get away from the strokes but the way they were chained left them no room to maneuver.
It occurred to me that if I let this continue he would beat them both to death.
Call it a sense of honor. Call it a sense of nobility. Call it stupid, for that was what the little voice in the back of my head was saying to me when I stepped in. I just couldn't stand by and watch. I couldn't walk away and know it was happening. I'm a jackass sometimes.
As the citizen swung back with the whip I raised my arm to catch the tail against my forearm. The last two feet of the whip quickly wrapped around my arm and the tail slapped into the palm of my hand with a sharp "crack" and blood immediately flew, a few droplets striking me in the face and spattering my clothes. As I closed my hand around the tail I saw that there were several small sharp metal blades on the tail of the whip. Nasty.
As the citizen tried to swing forward I set my center of gravity and pulled back, snatching the handle of the whip out of his sweaty hand. He turned, at first in astonishment, then in rage when he saw me holding the weapon.
"How dare you?" he screamed. He pointed at the whip dangling from my hand and screamed again "That is my property!"
I held up my hand and let him see the blood flowing down my arm from the sharp nasty little blades. I said calmly "You struck me."
He blanched and immediately stopped his tirade. He knew, as well as I did, that by the laws of his planet since he struck me first and drew blood I could immediately kill him and be entirely inside the law. He eyed the blaster at my belt and the very large knife sticking out of the top of my boot. I wore those weapons openly to discourage thievery and confrontations. They were not, of course, the only ways in which I was armed.
Unable to vent his frustration at me, the citizen pointed a trembling finger at the two slaves and screamed "Three weeks! Three weeks I have had them! One thousand gold talents wasted! I have beat them and beat them and they still will not serve me willingly! Every time I have had to take what I wanted by force!"
I stayed calm. It took all of my willpower to do so. I shook the bleeding hand for emphasis. "And for that you struck me? I have done you no wrong." I glanced at the two slaves still chained to the post. All I could see was blood stark against pale white flesh and the fact that both of them were still breathing. I dropped the whip to the ground and my bleeding hand went to the butt of my blaster at my hip.
He went even paler when he realized his bluff wasn't working. "Your pardon, sire!" he groveled. "I did not see you there! I meant no offense to you!"
I stared at him for a moment, watching this fat disgusting creature sweat under my gaze. Finally I dipped a hand into my pouch and threw a handful of coins in the dust in front of him. He looked down and I could see his eyes greedily counting up the golden coins.
"Three hundred talents?" he sounded insulted.
"Give me the keys to the chains and walk away."
"Three hundred talents?" he said again, a little louder. "I spent...."
I cut him off with a wave of my hand. "You walk away and I let you live." My hand moved just enough on my weapon to make sure he knew I meant business. He eyed me shiftily and I could see the fleeting thought that maybe he could reach into his robes for whatever weapon he had hidden there. I just stared at him until the thought died in his mind. Everybody knew that traders were always armed and armored. Sure, a sharp enough knife or a blaster hit in just the right place could kill me. But he would have to be very fast and very good.
He knelt down on the ground and scrabbled for the gold coins in the dust. As he rose and turned to walk away I said "The keys."
He reached inside his robe and my blaster was suddenly an inch from the tip of his nose.
His piggy eyes crossed as he stared at the barrel of my gun, he dipped one finger down into his belt with exaggerated care and dropped a set of keys at my feet. Then he stepped back with his hands in plain sight and fled back down the alley.
Great job, Jazz. Now what?
I looked down to the two huddled bodies. All I could tell from the moment was that they were still alive and breathing. First thing I had to do was get them some medical attention. Then I could figure out what the hell I was going to do with them.
I flashed a silver coin at a young boy out in the street. He came trotting up and I pressed the coin into his hand and held another just like it in front of his eyes. "Fetch me a cart and something to pull it. Big enough to fit these two." I indicated the two bodies behind me. "And hurry!" The boy trotted off at a fast clip, avarice giving his feet wings.
I knelt and unlocked the shackles from the tangle of arms and legs. They were barely conscious at that point. A closer inspection told me that they were both males. Fairly young. Early twenties at best reckoning. They were both skinny and underfed and I could see old scars under the fresh cuts. None of the slashes seemed to be life threatening at the moment so I just waited.
I was turning to see if the boy had returned with the cart when one of them spoke weakly. "Master" he said. "You saved us. Our lives are yours."
I snapped back "I'm not your master, boy. I'm just an idiot." But he had faded off into unconsciousness along with the other.
A clatter of hooves announced the return of the boy. He was leading some sort of small draft animal pulling a rickety cart half full of hay. One by one I loaded the bloody forms into the back of the cart and told him to lead me to the nearest healer. It took two more silver coins before he led me to the stall of a man he claimed was his uncle and a great healer.
The uncle took ten more of my silver coins but cleaned and dressed the wounds, putting in a few stitches where necessary and had his assistant clean most of the blood off of them. My two charges never stirred during the entire process.
As more and more money was leaving my pouch I really began to kick myself for a fool. What was I going to do with them? I couldn't just free them and go on my way. I couldn't even cut off their collars while we were on this planet. On Iskander once you were a slave, you were always a slave and slaves were required to wear collars. If I let them go they would either get resold in the market or killed as escapees.
The best I could come up with was take them along to Boonesboro and try to find someone to take them off my hands. Maybe a farmer who needed a couple of strong boys to help work his farm. Kind of an apprenticeship program. I had a few contacts there. Maybe someone would help me out.
So I had the boy come along to the spaceport. The customs official at the gate gave me some grief, both about the boy with the cart and my two new charges. A couple more of my few remaining gold coins helped settle the matter.
My cargo lift was down and locked where I had left it. The merchant from earlier had delivered my cloth and it was in an untidy pile in the corner. I spread it out and laid the two unconscious forms on the pile of cloth. I flipped the boy with the cart one more silver coin and told him to beat it as I unlocked the lift and rode it into the belly of my ship.
Locked inside the comfortable and familiar confines of my own ship, I felt my jitters and nerves leak away. This was just a cargo problem and I could figure it out. I got to work.
My ship originally had four staterooms when I bought her. I kept the biggest for myself and used the others for extra storage and other things. I knew the room right across from mine had two bunks in it and decided to put them in there. It took an hour of cursing and sweating to get the room emptied out and the stuff stowed away somewhere else. Making extra room on a cargo ship was no easy task! I had always used every available extra inch of space to load in as much as I could carry. I ended up with some crates and cartons lashed down in the passageway. It didn't leave much room to walk, but it was doable.
One by one I carried the two former slaves into the stateroom and strapped them down lightly to the bunks there. Just one strap to keep them from falling out of bed. Once I got them in I grabbed my debonder tool and cut off those hateful collars and tossed them out the airlock back onto Iskander soil. I didn't care about their laws anymore as my ship was sovereign territory. And frankly, I hoped I never set foot on this planet again as long as I lived. I'd rather take a loss in profits.
With that thought in mind I decided I wasn't going to wait another 48 hours to leave the place. I snugged a few more straps down over my sleeping charges and headed for the control room.
Eris. That's her name. My baby. My girl. My ship. I had always kept her in tip top shape and she had saved my bacon many times by always being ready to scoot or fight, depending on the situation. She had never let me down and tonight was no exception. A few quick flips of some switches and all my boards and her tubes went from standby to hot in milliseconds. I had already figured my orbit to Boonesboro based on leaving the next night. It took seconds to change the vectors and lock it in. My baby girl swallowed the numbers and everything popped up green. I slipped a strap over my waist just in case I had to jink around some. Iskander had nothing in the way of planetary defenses but they did have a few old patrol ships. I could outrun them in a hot second if needed.
A quick check of the scope showed the air around the port was clear. I pressed the contact and we lifted, making the upper atmosphere in seconds. There was some confused squawking coming from the planetary band radio but I ignored it. By the time they figured out who I was and where I was going it would be much too late. I stayed at the controls, a little tense and wary for any possible pursuit until we were well out of range of Iskanders patrol ships. Then with a sigh I locked my boards and relaxed. We were now free and clear of that nasty little planet.
And I now had three months before we reached Boonesboro to figure out how to get myself out of this mess I was in. "Captain Jazz." I said to myself "That noble streak is going to get you killed one day..."
I headed back towards my cabin with an eye on taking a long hot shower. Eris had large water tanks and a great recycling system so I could have as much water as I wanted. Remembering the events earlier, I looked down and saw that my jumpsuit was covered with old dried blood. Making a face, I stripped off as I went down the passageway until I was down to my shorts. I tossed my belt and armor and weapons into my cabin and slid the jumpsuit into the washer. It was one of the newer Harriman-LaCroix models and it only took sixty seconds for my jumpsuit to drop back into the slot, clean pressed and folded. I never skimped when it came to personal comforts and cleanliness.
I had only intended on taking a peek at my newest passengers when I hear a noise. A groan and a soft thump and whispered voices. Sticking my head in the door I saw that one of the young men had managed to unstrap himself and was on his hands and knees on the floor, one hand on the bunk trying to rise. The other one was awake and trying to figure out how to get loose from the straps. I stepped in and put a hand under the ones arm and helped him up to the bunk. As I tried to step back he grabbed my hand and pressed it to his lips. "You saved us, Master." he said and kissed my fingers again. "You saved us. Our lives are yours." With that he slid back down to the deck on his knees and bowed his head.
Oh, for crying out loud.
I picked him back up and set him back on the bunk. Then I went over and helped the other one who was still trying to get unstrapped. I showed him how to unbuckle himself and stopped him when he too tried to bow to me and kiss my hand.
"Look" I said "I am not your master. From now on no man is your master. My name is Captain Jazz Ford and you are on my ship. You can call me 'Captain' or you can call me 'Jazz'. We have left Iskander and you won't ever be going back there. You are slaves no more."
As I looked back and forth between the two young men I was beginning to notice that they looked remarkably alike. Same builds and noses and eyes. Same freckles and fair skin and it looked like their hair was probably red, but there was still too much dried blood in it to be sure. And they stunk! It was a reek of fear and sweat and blood and neglect. I decided to do something about that right away.
The refresher in my cabin was always something that I was proud of. It was a deluxe model from Harshaw and Co. that I had installed myself years ago. Even though I was (up to this point, anyway) the only person to use it, the thing was big enough to hold four or five people in a pinch. A panel in the floor would slide out to make it a large bathtub (I loved a good long hot soak now and then) or it could be a shower with multiple shower heads and spray settings. I figured a good scrubbing was our first order of business.