The voice came from the speaker in El’s cell.
“Two nine B seven eight four, attention. Two nine B seven eight four, attention. Release to custody, ten minutes.”
What? Someone had paid her custody fee? El felt her forehead wrinkle. There must be a mistake, she thought. These bureaucrats were always making mistakes. They had set her custody fee at five times the normal rate precisely with the intention of making sure that no one would pay it, and El couldn’t see how the device would fail.
“Eliana Wildwood, you stand convicted of grand felonious theft of government property, intent to commit treason, and reckless endangerment of human life,” the judge had said. El had simply stared back at him. “Not only did you steal the prototype system, with clear intent to harm Earth’s economy for your own personal gain, but you exposed five men to gas that would have killed them had you not been apprehended.”
El looked arrogantly (she knew—arrogance was something El the Outlaw, as she thought of herself, did very well) around the courtroom. She fixed her scorn first on the government attorneys, at their table to her left, then upon her own court-appointed attorney, who had begged her to make a deal with the government and give up Gad Relman—though of course only she knew that it was in fact Gad Relman who had hired her. She turned to the court reporter, who had eyes only for her transcript. Finally she turned back to the judge.
How can anyone with a brain see ‘justice’ as anything but a fraud perpetrated on idiots and babies? So you caught me. So you’re sending me to the Bridge cluster, with the rest of the people who have figured out the pyramid scheme of your society and were unlucky enough to get caught before they could get on top. At least I tried, and now Relman is going to take care of me on Bridge. If you think I’m going to grovel and beg for mercy so that I can spend my life under surveillance as some government drone, you deserve the ‘justice’ you pretend to give.
“Nor, Miss Wildwood, have you expressed the slightest degree of remorse, demonstrating to my satisfaction that you are a danger to this fragile society of ours. I sentence you to penal exile in the Bridge cluster. Deportation to occur on the next voyage. Custody fee 10,000 credits with high-risk conditions.”
“Your honor…” her lawyer started to say. El knew he wanted to try to lower the custody fee. She even understood that he considered it his ‘duty,’ whatever that meant. She did understand how it worked; she just didn’t care.
“Counsel may appeal the sentence, as you know,” the judge said, rising from the bench. He looked at El, as if challenging her a final time to demonstrate that she cared at all about what she had done or what it had now brought upon her.
She stared back, then turned to her lawyer and said, so that everyone in the little courtroom where the secret trial had taken place could hear, “No appeal.”
He gave her a defeated look. Really he wasn’t a bad guy, but El’s life expectancy wouldn’t be long as a custody servant, without even the protection the government would have given her if she’d turned state’s evidence.
El didn’t get up from the cot when the door opened and a corrections officer came in.
“Two nine B seven eight four, Eliana Wildwood?” the man in the blue uniform asked.
“Yeah,” El replied, “but there’s been a mistake. My fee was 10,000.”
“No mistake. Come with me, please.”
El shook her head. This was crazy, but she had no need to be beaten into submission and dragged down the hallway, something that could definitely happen to a girl about to be deported.
The custody laws hadn’t really interested El—any more than anything else about the criminal justice system had caught her attention. Everyone knew, though, that the idea of rehabilitating non-violent criminals through service to responsible citizens had been a pillar of the reforms enacted when society rose again on Earth a hundred years before El was born. When first contact with the Earth colonists from Draco had occurred, the Draconians bearing word that they had developed faster-than-light travel, all sorts of new laws had come into being.
The Earth the Draconians had found had begun to recover in the places called the enclosures, with help from the so-called elites on space station Athena. The process of restoration accelerated many times, however, with the help of resources from other worlds and the prospect of migration for any who wished to try to build a new society by the light of a distant star. By the time El was born in 3052, her tribe had recently bowed to the pressure of returning civilization; El was born in one of the enclosures.
She was born, though, to a mother who hadn’t wanted to come to that safety, and hated the rules and the obligations of civilized life. El had grown up at the edge of the new-risen society of Earth, and she didn’t regret it. It let her see the hypocrisy. It let her understand, when she saw so many of her family and friends, tribals like herself, arrested and sent to Bridge, enslaved as custody servants, for trying to live the way they wanted.
Her brothers had been sent to Bridge on the same voyage, for stealing a painting. A painting! Who knew why the elites even cared about that stuff?
Her sister had been made a custody servant to a wealthy man, for repeated disorderly conduct—as despite the trouble it got her into, her sister Sally drank. That was the way this society made everyone feel.
They broke rules. They stole. But the elites and the people who played their power games with them had more stuff than anyone could ever need. Why couldn’t the tribals return to the wild where they belonged?
El knew the essential foolishness of that idea. The enclosure council had forced her to sit through school for eight years, hadn’t they? In the wild, the teachers had said over and over, might always made right, and the basic human dignity of everyone but the strong men of the tribes received no respect at all.
When she had asked her mother, who had lived in the wild for the first thirty years of her life, about that, she had shrugged. “Your father was chief. He protected me and your brothers and sister. And your brothers would have protected us when he got older. Damn them elites for taking them away.”
She had started to cry then, of course, and though El had wanted to ask about the women—and even the men, and the boys—who hadn’t had the protection of the chief, she didn’t have the heart. For a time, though, she had decided to work hard in school. They said she was smart and could do anything she wanted, now that the prospect of migration to any of the new colonies they seemed to announce every day opened up before the young people of Earth.
Then she had fallen in love, though, with Prender, another tribal, and he had made her feel bad about playing by the elites’ rules. The stealing began, and occupied most of their time when they weren’t having sex or altering their consciousness with some of what they stole. El’s intelligence let them carry on with the stealing when most petty thieves like them would have been caught, but finally they stole from the wrong elite—Gad Relman, a powerful, wealthy man who had a post in the regional administration but was in fact thoroughly corrupt.
Prender got shipped off-world; El had never seen him again after the night Relman’s men had stepped out of the darkness to seize them and put black hoods over their heads.
Relman had kept El for himself. When the time had come, he had sent her into the Treasury Department as a secretary, and the process of stealing the keys to the black box that ran Earth’s economy had begun.
Before that, of course, he had required sexual favors of her and she had given them, not enjoying it but also not really caring and finding it easier to do as Relman wished. Following the guard down the corridor, El shook her head to clear it of that memory. Besides El, who had belonged to him because he could send her off-world if he wanted or simply turn her in and have her deported to Bridge, Relman also had paid the fees of several custody servants, with whom he had sex in various decadent configurations.
Like those custody girls, according to the custom of most elites, as a tribal girl in an elite’s household, El had to strip naked when indoors. She hadn’t liked it, but by this time El the Outlaw had perfected the art of forcing herself not to care. She had stripped for Relman, and let him fuck her. So what.
The sex had been the least interesting part of life with Relman, although it seemed to take up a good deal of his time. Much more interesting to El had been the scheme to steal the keys to the black box. They had caught El, but she found it hard to regret the attempt because she had enjoyed the planning and even the work at Treasury so much. Now it was all over, but Relman had promised her that if she got deported he would use his influence on Bridge to set her up with a cushy job in one of the mining companies he controlled there.
But now… what? It’s a bureaucratic error. Of course it is.
At the end of the jail corridor lay a nondescript office where corrections officers sat at their desks, tapping on keyboards to fill out the forms on their view screens. The guard who had come for her led her to one of the desks, at which an elite—you could always tell from their faces; someone had once told her that it had something to do with the elevation of their eyebrows—was sitting, his face turned toward her with a smile upon it.
“Eliana,” he said.
Not an error. Who the fuck is he?
“El,” she replied mechanically.
“I prefer to call you Eliana,” said the elite. “Sit down.” He patted the seat of the chair next to his.
El stared at him. The guard stood behind her, doing nothing as far as El could tell. On the other side of the desk from the elite was a corrections officer, also looking at her. Something in the man’s voice seemed to affect her strangely. Relman had also been used to getting his way, had also ordered El and his other girls around. This man, though, delivered his orders in a different sort of way, as if he were suggesting that you would want to do what he said, if you truly understood why he had asked it of you.
She found that her face had grown hot, and she realized she was blushing. The elite had dark brown hair, cut short the way all elite men seemed to wear it, and ice-blue eyes. He seemed in decent shape, though his muscles weren’t ostentatious, the way Relman always made certain his appeared to best advantage in tight clothing. A sort of serenity made his face seem perhaps a little handsomer than it really was, but El felt that the more she looked at this man, the more attractive she would find him.
She looked away and fixed her eyes on the desk, as she couldn’t help picturing what she must look like to him. Eliana Wildwood, twenty years of age. Black wavy hair. Dark brown eyes. Still tan from days of enforced nude sunbathing by Relman’s pool. Dressed now in a dark green prison uniform that must appear extra ugly in contrast to the elegant suit of blue tunic over black pants that the elite wore.
“Eliana,” he said again. “Sit down. I won’t ask again. I’m sure you know that I’m entitled to discipline you as I see fit. If I have to, I’ll have the guard hold you down over the back of the chair while I give you your first spanking.”
My first spanking?!
El compressed her lips into a tight line. Without looking at him, she sat down. Relman didn’t spank his custody servants, or whip them. They were simply too afraid of him ever to disobey, and it didn’t seem like his tastes ran along those lines. Eliana knew, though, that her sister Sally did get spanked often by the man who had her in custody.
“Thank you,” said the elite, his voice receding from the severity it had held when he made the threat a moment before. “I’m Dr. Fitzgerald. I’ll be taking you home today.”
“Why?” El asked, though she hadn’t meant to speak at all. The question had burst from her without her even wanting to know, she thought, what a doctor would want with her.
“Well,” he said, “you’re going to learn all about it when we get home, but you may as well know now that I’ve paid your custody fee so that I can try to rehabilitate you, using a certain experimental protocol I’ve developed in my research.”
El felt her brow furrow deeply. She actually did look at him, then, and instantly regretted it, because again she saw the serenity that seemed to call to her like an enchantment, trying to persuade her to trust him. “Protocol?” she asked, much more weakly than she intended.
“Yes,” he said, nodding. “I call it the dominance protocol. I have data that suggests that women with criminal tendencies can be fully reformed through enforced sexual submission. I’m going to train you as a submissive sexual object, using scientific methods, to test that hypothesis.”