"Yes, my name is Ron," he said in Kosti, as Mal still thought of it, despite it's being called Masmas locally. His voice was pitched a little higher than Mal remembered. Ronald had been a very macho member of the expedition who had always claimed that with his training as a Marine he could take care of himself in any situation.
Mal suspected that he had sampled the attractions of the female population of Dozzu perhaps too freely. The expedition had considered him dead, but now Mal thought that he had probably incurred some Kosto's jealousy and been sold to these apparent slavers.
"Are you all right, Ronald?" she asked, watching bis face.
"I am...fine. Here, eat. I am to teach you Aurmo. You are not to speak Masmas."
"What happened to you, Ron?" Carl asked curiously, in "Masmas.".
"We speak Aurmo, not an infidel language. I work for my master, captain of this ship."
"You're a slave?"
"Infidels all are. Now, eat, you will need your strength, you Carl."
Further questions were met with silence. Ron untied the rope behind Carl's back, but refused to loose his hands. He removed the platter when they had eaten and drunk what he'd brought, and shut the door behind him as he left.
"I can't say I liked what Ron had to say, Carl. Carl?" Suddenly Mal was overcome by a strong desire to sleep. "I'm sleepy, Carl. I've got to snooze a bit."
Carl was already asleep but Mal never noticed as she slumped in the half-barrel chair.
"Wake, wake!" A loud voice interrupted Mal's comfortable snooze - or she had thought it comfortable, so deeply had she been asleep - but the aches and pains which accompanied her return to consciousness belied that sweet dream.
"Wha'? What? Where...?" Mal was thoroughly confused, she had been dreaming, she now believed - about herself and Carl back on Solman, their home planet, when they were first in love. The reality was considerably grimmer. A dim light came through the round window - porthole, she muzzily supposed Carl would call it - and there was no Carl, just Ron, now shaking her roughly.
"All right!" she snapped unthinkingly in Galactic.
Ron hit her a smack on the cheek. "You must speak Masmas until you learn Aurmo, understand?"
"Ron!" she replied in shock. "You always said you liked me. Why're you hitting me?"
"The master told me to wake you. I did. Now, you're untied, get up."
When her aching joints and muscles at first refused to support her, Ron grabbed her by the waist from behind and lugged her unceremoniously backward through the doorway and up the ladder to the deck.
"Master, she is here," he said in what Mal took to be Aurmo. It was oddly accented, but similar enough to Kosti, or Masmas as they insisted it be called here, that she could get the gist, she thought.
Mal knew she was good-looking and had kept her firm body, but she had never let that distract her from her work, or her loyalty to Carl. However, she knew well that several times while dancing, accidentally brushing against a man, being in close quarters, she'd seen or felt the other men's response to her proximity, usually by the protrusion in the man's trousers. She had never pursued the thought, had not wanted to, but she knew that she aroused those feelings in any man over the age of puberty. Ron had not responded in the way any man would while he held her very close to enable them to fit through the hatch at the head of the ladder and she had sensed no reaction.
She looked at his naked torso, still muscled as she remembered it. A slightly guilty look? And was that kirtle or kilt quite smooth below his waist? No sign of male arousal? Mal was no prude, but she had a sudden frisson of repugnance at the thought that the man had handled her as though she were nothing more than a slab of meat - and the realisation came to her that she was little more than that to a slave-owner. Or perhaps another slave!
The captain and another Aurmo were standing looking at her. Her scientific mind wondered if that was a singular or plural.
"Sfkipa," she used the Kosti...uh, Masmas word, "is Aurmati one person or more?"
"Ron...what she say?" Mal had forgotten to speak in Aurmata. Ron smacked her across the cheek, making it even more tender.
"She learning now, Aurmat is nation. Aurmati is many, Aurmo is one. Aurmata is speech.." Ron used the Galactic word "nation" in default of any Kosti or Aurmo word for the concept.
The Aurmo captain and his mate stood like statues while this was explained to Mal. She knew she would be slapped or worse if she did not learn how to get along, very quickly. The captain spoke,
"Stand. No hurt, just keep you...safe," in his bad Masmas, and the mate raised a sharp knife. Mal had a moment of deadening fear. He slid the blunt edge of the knife along her neck, cut her collar and down the back of her blouse, then ripped it off, cutting her bra strap as he did so. Her breasts stood proud, her nipples expanded and tingling. Within moments he had slit her trousers at the waist and down both legs and as they fell to the deck he ripped off her panties. He motioned at her shoes, and she quickly took them and her socks off. The captain looked curiously at the torn clothing, then motioned for one of his men to toss it over the side. The mate withdrew long enough to sheath his knife and pick up something heavy from the deck, returning to affix a locking metal collar about an inch wide around her neck. From this depended a heavy chain, the links of unbroken three-quarter inch metal.
"Pick up, take with," the captain said. She bent and retrieved the chain and waited.
Ron showed her by shoving and pulling where she was to go. At the hatch leading below to the fore part of the vessel, she could not see very well, and almost fell down the steep ladder. The weight of the chain on her neck was beginning to hurt as the sharp edge of the collar dug into her neck and collar bones.
She noticed again that Ron seemed clumsy on the steps, but he came down quickly enough, stepping slightly sideways. His kilt bulged from his pistoning knees, but she did not assess that - until very much later, when it did her little good.
Ron grabbed the far end of the chain and fastened it to a staple in the wall - "bulkhead," thought Mal, but what was it called in Aurmata?
"What's this in Aurmata, Ron?" she asked in Masmas, pointing to the bulkhead.
"Le'ern, but you don't need to know it," and he slapped her for the third time. "You need to know this..." shaking the chain, "...vakka, and this..." tapping her collar "...van. And this..." touching her between her breasts "...šrainda"
"Veern, vakka, van," she repeated, pointing where he had named the objects. She would not point at herself, to name herself "slave!" Speaking very slowly, trying to use the Aurmata accents she had heard, she said, "I am chained to the wall by my collar."
Ron looked amazed. "Not bad. Now, on word 'van,' break voice at end. Va'n. You hear?"
She tried that and he seemed satisfied.
"I come back, you eat then." He spoke in Aurmata and she understood him! He was using the simplest Aurmata. Slave talk!
Still, trying to use simple Masmas, with what she hoped was an Aurmata accent, she asked, "Where is Carl?"
Ron said something that sounded like "behind," which she took to mean, "aft," if that was the right word. She noticed again that Ron's kilt showed no protrusion as he ran up the ladder - again, sideways. Her next meal, near dark as far as she could tell, was heavily laced with some drug, for Mal slipped slowly into a state of unthinking calm, lying against the bulkhead completely uninterested in anything. She neither saw nor comprehended the passage of time and the comings and goings of shadowy figures. Since succeeding meals were also drugged, perhaps not as heavily, she was able to rouse herself to eat, take care of her bodily needs and crawl onto the deck when ordered, to be hosed down by crew members.
After a time which she afterwards could not recall, she vaguely realised that the ship was still, only a gentle rocking sensation impinging on her deadened mind, instead of the rise and fall to which she had become accustomed. Her mind made nothing of the cessation of the rocking sensation, save that after a time her thoughts became more coherent as she was led on deck by her neck-chain.
Mal was led down a narrow gangplank onto a wide pier, stone-paved, which hurt her feet, but she paid no attention to that, only looking vaguely around her at the buildings, wondering what they were. Her mind could as yet understand very little, nor had she any idea of her whereabouts. She could recall nothing, not even her name, or what she was.
Mal was soon led into a smelly, enclosed conveyance, and shoved onto a bed of some kind of dried stuff where she lay, rocking slightly with the conveyance's turns, halts and sudden movements.
She was taken from the conveyance, told to stand still while the collar was removed, and then shoved into an open space surrounded by high walls. Someone told her to sit or stand as she pleased, and in a while she began to recover somewhat from the effect of the drugs. When what wits she had remaining allowed her to focus her eyes, she saw that there were a number of "people like me" in the courtyard. One in particular came over to her and asked in what sounded like Kosti - to her surprise and alarm,
"Are you all right?"
Mal cowered, expecting a blow, but the other placed an arm around her and raised her to a shaky stance. The "other" - Mal could not put a name to how they were alike - proceeded to walk Mal around and around the courtyard until she more fully regained her senses and could walk by herself.
The woman, as Mal now realised she was, murmured, "There. Now, do you feel better?"
This time the woman spoke Aurmata, and Mal replied in the same halting tongue,
"Aye, a little. What's this? Where are we?"
"I don't know. None of us knows where we are or why, or what this is,, except that we're prisoners of the Aurmati. I've been here tve setda."
Mal gathered that meant "two weeks," as she recognised the word "setda" from Kosti. "Tve" might mean "two," or "three," and Mal was pleased to discover that the analytical part of her mind had returned to her. She had understood most of what the woman was telling her. She asked her,
"Count ten in Aurmata?"
"Yun, dva, tvé, katra, kvige, sei, sekt, okt, nova, dent."
"That is not too different from Kosti, is it?"
"What is Khosti?" The very manner of pronunciation was guttural, a growly sound compared to what Mal had heard of the Kosti dialect.
"It is another language, it cannot be spoken in this place."
"Uhm, I know the punishments. Where are you from?"
"Sulpane, to start. Now, Kostanz."
"Sool pah nay? Kostanz, I know."
"Different place, it's a long way." Mal hated being reduced to pidgin, although Carl would have loved this exchange.
"All right. We'll have food at dark..." a word Mal had to wriggle around until she understood the meaning, "...then some women sleep, others make love."
"Make love. There are men in here?" She had a hazy notion that if there were men here, Carl might be close.
"No, here there are no men. Maybe a cut, sometimes."
Mal was puzzled as well as horrified. She had not been acquainted with many lesbians on Earth, and the expedition included none that she knew of - but she wouldn't, would she? She was neither the administrator nor was Carl a leading light in the hierarchy, so they remained dedicated to their work and relatively uninformed about others' alliances.
Her expression must have showed as much, for the friendly woman looked her up and down, grinned and withdrew. Mal was left wondering what the difference was between "man" and "male," in Aurmata.
After the reasonably good supper, Mal noticed that the other women, after they all took turns washing in buckets of warm water and relieving themselves in the distant row of "latrines," went almost at once to the pallets on which they slept, where some held hands with others, kissed, rubbed each other with oils, rubbed their bodies against each other and eventually began doing what Mal had only known of men and women doing. She was so sleepy herself that she watched fascinated and repelled at the same time for but a few moments and then fell onto her pallet to sleep like one drugged - which she and the other sleepers certainly were, just like the sexually active women.
She was awakened by her "friend" of the previous day.
"Get up, there's food. Someone's looking for you, Kosto." Mal understood more and more Aurmata as she continued to hear it.
Mal thought at once that Carl had somehow made his way to her, but it was not Carl. The man who confronted her looked as short as Ron had, and his kilt protruded in back in an odd way as he squatted to her. This one wore a metal collar, thinner than the one which she had worn.
"I will wait for you to eat, then you come with me."
Mal could think of nothing to say but, "Yes." That seemed to be all she wanted to say, to her slight amazement.
"Why do I want to say yes?" she asked her acquaintance.
"Oh, that's a breeder, that's why."
That told Mal nothing. She just knew that she and Carl had been betrayed, but subsequently she had been so bullied, drugged and dragged about that her mind, when she was conscious of her surroundings, was constantly assailed by new facts, few of which she could as yet assimilate. She hastily ate her food, some kind of mashed meat with a green and a purple tinge to the vegetables, for the male was bidding her hasten the entire time.
"All right. Come, now!"
He took her, not lightly, by the arm and rushed her into the street, then into a closed conveyance of some kind, with what looked vaguely to Mal like camels hitched to it. He squatted rather than sitting on the cushions.
"Be quiet!" Mal shut up.
They traveled for quite some time, stopping at what seemed like an inn similar to what she had seen at Dozzu twice, eating a meal served on a platter as she had experienced earlier, and then lurched on, over good to poor roads. The carriage - "koscha" the male called it, same word in Kosti...uh oh...Masmas - stopped and she was urged into a narrow doorway and into a small but comfortable - by Kostanz standards - room. There was a real bed with springy slats, the inevitable pot, this one tightly covered, a chair and a bench, all covered with padding and blanket. Mal threw herself onto the bed with a sigh of weariness and slept for a considerable time.
After another meal, a woman appeared to escort her to a bath and help her bathe during a long and luxurious immersion in hot water, with numerous brushes, soaps, unguents and all the pleasures of a really good soak, she was told by a different, handsomely imperious woman to dry herself and to follow.
She was led to a large room where sat a man, a tall, handsome fellow, for whom Mal suddenly felt desire. It was not quite sexual, although her quim was wet and her nipples hardened as she looked at him. It was a desire to please.
"Ah, the new one," he said, languidly. "She looks like a good breeder. What do you think, Haubi?" This was addressed to the woman who had led Mal here.
"I think so, master. She is well built, sturdy, good stance. That does not, of course, really matter Yes, master, I think she will breed well."
"You, slave, what is your name?"
"I am Mal..." She could not remember her last name!
"You were of Kostanz?" Maybe, Mal thought, that's where I'm from.
"Interesting. Well, if she carries successfully, Haubi, then we will know, eh?"
"Give her some kushra so that she's amenable, and we shall see. Has she come in season?"
"No, master, She has eaten kushra, and a male has had her before she got here, master."
"Ah? She is not then a virgin?"
"No, master. I think she may have had a mate."
"So. I will have a word to say to the man from whom I bought her. Well, as she comes in season, breed her to...h-m-m. Uski? Miro? Pak? Who do you think, Haubi?"
"Perhaps Pak, master?"
"Very well." He turned to Mal, still standing naked before him. "Mal, you will find that I am a good master. You will eat good food, bathe every week except when in season, then every day. Haubi will instruct you. Dismiss."
Mal watched Haubi form the corner of her eyes, and noticing that she began to back form the master's presence, followed suit. She found that she was resigned...her mind accepted the fact that she was...a slave. Her mind was now set toward being the best slave she could be.
Haubi chatted with her as they walked back toward the bathing room.
"Master is very kind. He has never had a Kosto. You will want to breed when you are in season. Master wishes to see what happens. He bought you for a huge price. I am master's head slave, and he sometimes makes me very happy, but you will tell no one, ever, even another slave, that master does so. It is against the law - but master is a very powerful man, and owns many hekti and many, many slaves. You will be happy.".
Mal was quite convinced that she would be. Her mind no longer yearned for Carl - she had forgotten him for practical purposes, for she had no idea where he was, had indeed almost forgotten who he was, and the many drugs she had been given dulled her mind to memories. Her past was very hazy, and she was forgetting the circumstances of her betrayal and enslavement. If her name had not been said daily, by herself or someone else, she would quickly have forgotten that, too.
Now she entered into what she could only know as the real life of a slave, and it was, for her, a pleasant one, while she learned more and more Aurmata. Her mind seemed able to assimilate the language and her duties rather quickly.
Her duties consisted of cleaning, mainly, although it was light dusting, some polishing, for Haubi told her, in the course of instruction, that she was a breeder, not a worker. What that meant, other than that she wore nothing, Mal could not as yet know, for she felt no particular urge to sex, and she had forgotten any sex she had had with Carl. Then, one day....
"Haubi, I feel very odd this morning. What is the matter with me?"
Haubi felt her brow in an age old and universal gesture among humans. She also sniffed at Mal's crotch.
"You're coming in season, Mal. It will not be bad, it happens only three times a year, and the first time may be uncomfortable for a little while. You're excused from all duty, but await a summons to the breeding place." Haubi looked a little concerned, but Mal did not wish to question her.
Mal went back to her quarter, more comfortably furnished now with a bed, a couch - since she had been designated a breeder, the few amenities had been increased - an alcove which contained a shaped pot with a cleverly closing lid to retain such odors as might arise, and several chairs. Another slave, a female worker, emptied the pot and brought her certain things that Haubi ordered for her. Her interest in this breeding business increased as she realised that she was not only locked into her room but was served her next three meals therein, instead of going to the eating room with the other slaves. Her lower belly was twitching, she noticed, and when she laid her hand there, she felt very peculiar...pleasantly so, though.
After the third meal, late the next afternoon, Mal was taken to the bath, again laved and scented by other slaves - she suddenly realised that she had seen no males, no men, neither master nor slave, since she had "come in season." Until now that had not mattered particularly as she had felt no need for the opposite sex. She was taken into a large rom with a padded floor, and left alone.