The heavy steel door opened and a thin strip of sunlight brightened her cell.
“It’s time,” came the guard’s voice.
Rowan’s heartbeat quickened as she looked up to meet his eyes, but he wasn’t looking at her. Not one of them would dare meet her gaze.
“Bring her out,” he said, and immediately, two sets of hands closed over her arms, lifting her to her feet. Her wrists were bound behind her and her ankles were chained so that her steps were hobbled, and if they let her go, she would fall.
But it was all for show. One guard alone could easily overpower her. Although breeders were taller than average human women, they were no match for the strength of the men.
The sound of the crowd hungry to witness her punishment filled her ears as soon as she stepped out into the cool morning air. She shivered, the ground ice on her bare feet, her only cover a thin, white, or once white, dress as was her usual uniform. She looked from her place up to the raised platform where, within moments, she would be led. Where she would be stripped naked, bent over, and bound to the cold stone block and made to endure her very public switching.
The knowledge of what lay in store sent a shudder through her.
Captain Amro’s voice came over the loudspeaker as the guards walked her forward. For as much as she wanted to walk up there with her head held high, she found herself resisting, pulling back just a little, even as she knew it was futile.
“This breeder has been found guilty of inciting rebellion within the community, and, most horrendous of all, the death of another breeder, and the subsequent loss of a child as a result of her actions…”
His voice died away as the crowd audibly sucked in their breath and their shouts calling for her punishment, even her death, began.
“An act warranting a sentence of death…” the loudspeakers blared.
Terror now paralyzed her as the guards urged her up the stairs.
“However, our laws and our mercy prevent us from condemning any breeder to death…” the captain’s voice continued.
Rowan struggled, trying in vain to free herself as the guards now lifted and carried her up the stairs and to the platform.
It wasn’t true what he said. It was a lie, all of it. She would never, never have harmed another breeder, never would have done anything to cause the death of one of her own sisters, or a child—neither within nor outside of the womb. Captain Amro was the guilty one, not she.
“But rest assured,” Captain Amro carried on, just glancing at her as the guards set her on her feet on the platform. Her entire body trembled while she scanned the crowd whose shouts grew louder as the grips of the hands that held her tightened, as if they knew that in an instant, if she could, she would run, even hobbled as she was within her chains.
“Rest assured,” Captain Amro raised his voice and with his upraised arms, gestured for the crowd to quiet. “The breeder will be punished to the full extent our laws allow.”
His glance fell on her again as she was forced forward toward the thick stone block that took up the center of the platform. The switches stood, cut and ready, soaking in a pail beside the block. There were too many of them to count.
Her stomach heaved and she was glad they’d not fed her this morning.
“Bring her,” Captain Amro said.
Strong hands forced her forward.
Once again, Rowan resisted, struggling against them. She turned to one of the guards. “Please,” she begged, catching his eye. His filled with fear and she used this, used their archaic belief that the breeders, with their startling green eyes and slanted pupils, could curse them with a mere glance. “Let me walk on my own,” she pleaded.
He nodded once and looked away.
She had intended on taking her punishment with her pride intact. They could punish her body, but they could not touch her mind, not unless she allowed them to.
She was innocent of any crime, unless resisting rape was a crime. She raised her eyes to the captain’s and if contempt had a sound, it would be the hiss that left her lips in that moment. His gaze was flat, devoid of any emotion at all, and, keeping his eyes on hers, he bent to pick up one of the switches and tested it, the sound hushing the crowd, sending cold fear to her core.
She closed her eyes then and forced a deep inhale. Exhaling, she stood straighter and opened her eyes, meeting the captain’s gaze once more.
His eyes narrowed at this shift.
“Face the people you have wronged, breeder.”
Breeders were only given first names. They were known simply as breeder to most as this was all they were.
The guards turned her to face the people and all eyes lowered as she scanned the angry crowd that had come to bear witness to her punishment.
“She cannot harm you now,” Captain Amro said to the people. “Watch. This is why you came.” Then, to the guards: “Strip her.”
One held her while the other tore away her dress, stripping her naked. Rowan kept her head raised even as she felt heat flood her face.
“Bend her over the block.”
She was taken to the large, cold stone, the top of which declined a little so that once she was bent over it, her hips would be the highest point and her head would lay some inches lower. A hand at her back pushed her forward so she bent at the waist. The restraints at her wrists were undone and her arms were stretched outward, the chains affixed to the holds set in the stone. Her legs were next and Rowan rested her chin on the rough stone as her legs were spread and her ankles rebound. Next were the leather ties just above her knees and finally, the thick leather strap was pulled tight across her low back forcing her back to arch, raising her hips higher to present a target to the captain.
“You’ve always been prideful,” Captain Amro said from behind her, coming so close that every hair on her body stood on end as she stiffened. He ran his knuckles just over her hip before leaning in close to her. “But I don’t think you’ll be so proud once I’m finished with you, breeder.”
She hated him. His breath on her ear made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end and she clenched her hands into fists.
“It could have gone easier for you, but just remember, you chose this,” he whispered only for her to hear.
That’s what this was about really. He would punish her for her resistance. Most of the breeders were too afraid to and she didn’t blame them for that. Fear could paralyze in a time like this, and today, as the breeders watched the example they made of her from behind their locked windows, that fear would only be strengthened.
“Get on with it then,” Rowan hissed at him, feeling her body begin to tremble as he ran the length of the switch over the flesh of her bare bottom. She would not show her fear. Not to this man. Not even as she knew he could whip her raw.
Captain Amro stepped back then and that was when she saw a male doctor approach. She had seen him before, but males were not permitted to treat or have any contact with the breeders unless they were being bred. He carried in his hand a large syringe, the barrel of which was filled with a dark green gel-like substance that she recognized immediately. Her eyes widened and she snapped her head around to watch Captain Amro watching her with a small, victorious grin on his face.
“Humility,” he said so softly only she would hear it. “Proceed,” he instructed the doctor.
The man gave her one chastising look and stepped behind her. A hush fell over the crowd.
“We can’t see!” came someone’s voice.
“Give them something to look at,” Captain Amro instructed.
The doctor’s hands were sweaty when he pulled one bottom cheek out to access her back hole.
“This is a large dose for one her size,” the doctor said. “It may be too much.”
“Do it,” Captain Amro barked.
Rowan felt the plastic tip of the syringe press against her back hole. It wasn’t very thick at least but she squeezed her eyes shut as he pushed it into her, slowly taking inch by inch of its length. It would be pressed deep inside her so that the jelly-like stuff would take its time to work. It would cause a fire inside her, burn her from the inside out. The pain would be followed by the humiliation of release, but she might be too far gone to care at that point.
She felt the warm, invading substance as the doctor depressed the plunger, knowing in a matter of minutes, that warmth would begin to heat up until it became a hot coal inside her.
“Keep your bottom soft, girl,” the doctor instructed with a slap to her hip. “It will go easier for you. Stay relaxed and it will not be as painful.”
As painful. She understood the reason for this and knew it was twofold. Humiliation, of course. Captain Amro enjoyed her humiliation. But the second was that she would not be able to clench her bottom throughout her switching. That would only intensify the burn inside.
She knew of one other breeder punished in this way and remembered how she’d been displayed in the square for the others to watch, to witness what happened when one disobeyed. Rowan hadn’t been able to decide whether the pain or the embarrassment had been the worst of it, but when she had approached the poor girl to offer a drink of water, she’d felt a stripe of the switch across her own bottom and had retreated instantly.
She still hadn’t forgiven herself for her cowardice then. She should have taken the beating and stood with the girl. Captain Amro’s punishments were harsh and very personal. Although breeders were, by most accounts, treated well and even lived better than most of colonized society, they were prisoners and Captain Amro made use of their bodies, the parts he could use without jeopardizing the breeding process itself. And the women rarely refused him; they could not.
Rowan gasped, unable to contain the sound any longer as the stuff filled her and finally, the syringe was removed. She clenched her bottom tight then released it just as quickly, already feeling the initial burn of the stuff.
Without a moment’s delay, the sound of the first switch whipping through the air filled her ears. It was a moment after contact before she registered its pain and sucked in a breath. The second stripe fell and she gasped again. If people called out, she quickly became unaware as her whipping continued. Captain Amro worked fast and struck hard, hard enough that the doctor approached him more than once to stay his arm. She had been spanked before, it was how the breeders were punished, but this was something else entirely. The strap she was used to, although terrible, didn’t compare to this pain.
Sweat covered her and she heard her own screams. When the fourth switch broke and Captain Amro reached for the next, she thought she would die. She saw him raise his arm and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to somehow disappear into the stone that held her prisoner.
Rowan made some sound, expecting the switch to fall, but after that one command, all was silent behind her. Her bottom and the backs of her legs all the way to her ankles throbbed.
“You’ll kill her.”
Rowan knew that voice, she’d heard it before.
“Commander Norrin,” Captain Amro said, his tone surprised and more annoyed.
Rowan dared a glance over her shoulder to find Captain Amro standing before Commander Norrin. Commander Norrin ruled all of the colonies. Captain Amro answered to him and only to him as the leader of this particular colony, Andorra. Commander Norrin’s visits to the colonies were rare and always unexpected.
“I am well within my rights as captain to punish her as I see fit,” Captain Amro said.
Rowan swallowed, awaiting Commander Norrin’s response, which came quickly in the form of him taking the switch and breaking it in half. He turned to Rowan then back to Captain Amro before taking the two steps to reach her.
“Look at me,” he said to her.
Rowan kept her gaze to the stone. She shouldn’t look him in the eye, it wasn’t allowed. Commander Norrin was the highest-ranking officer of all the colonies.
“I said look at me,” he repeated.
Something told her Commander Norrin saving her from Captain Amro would not bode well for her.
Slowly, she turned fiery green eyes up to meet his.
“She is a breeder, captain,” he said, looking at Rowan all along, his gaze traveling the length of her before he reached to grip a handful of hair and lift her face up as if to show it to the captain. “Or have you somehow failed to see that?”
“Sir, she would have been put to death if she were not a breeder. I showed mercy.”
Commander Norrin then looked at her bottom, the backs of her legs, his eyebrows rising. “I see your brand of mercy. Unbind her,” he told the guards who immediately ran to do just that. He took one menacing step toward Captain Amro and in that moment, Rowan knew this man was not to be fooled with. “Without the breeders, we die,” he said through clenched teeth. For a moment, Rowan thought she glimpsed a battle behind his eyes, but his next sentence left her feeling cold. “Besides, there are other ways to punish one so valuable.” This last sentence was directed at her and the look in his eyes as he said it turned her blood to ice.
She rose slowly as her bonds were removed but before she could rise fully, Commander Norrin reached out a hand and, without even having to look at her, gripped her by the back of her neck and dragged her forward to face the people.
“People of Andorra,” Commander Norrin began, addressing the crowd who instantly quieted. “The crimes this breeder has committed against the state, against Andorra, and against all of you, are horrific. If she were not a breeder, she would be publically executed,” he said, pausing for effect. “However, as she is a breeder, you must rest assured that her punishment will be carried out to the fullest extent of our laws. For now, I ask you all to go home. This spectacle is over.”
The crowd began to dissipate, their sighs and mumblings making their disappointment obvious.
“Take her to the examining room. The doctors are ready for her. Bind her if she gives you any trouble,” he ordered the guards who had brought her to the platform. “Captain, come with me,” he finished.
The guards took her roughly by the arms, every one of their movements agony on her bruised body as they made their way into the massive building that housed the breeders. As they marched her down the corridor and to the stairs that would lead to the medical rooms, she heard a roar she would have thought only an animal could make. When a door opened, she and her guards all turned their heads in the direction of the commotion. There, a giant of a man who dwarfed even the six-foot-tall men of the colony, gripped a guard by the throat and pushed him hard against the wall.
“Do. Not. Touch. Me. Again.”
Rowan’s mouth fell open and she stopped breathing altogether at the deep, dark rumble that was his voice. His black hair was thick and his face was covered with a beard she’d only ever seen in old pictures. Since the epidemic that killed so many and rendered the majority of the population sterile, the men no longer grew facial hair, or if they did, it was nothing like this. She watched as he lifted the guard who had his attention off his feet, still holding him by his neck.
The guard gurgled and kicked his legs, his face growing redder, but the man, the man she knew was one who lived in one of the settlements outside of the colonies, held him there and looked over each of the other seven guards who stood and watched in disbelief.
“I am not your prisoner,” he said. “Do not make that mistake again.” With that, he let go of the man he held and let him fall with a thud to the floor.
It was in that moment that he turned his gaze in her direction. His eyes were a color she’d never seen within the colony, a bright, clear, almost magnetic cobalt blue. Within them, she glimpsed something she did not expect to find there: intelligence. The men from outside of the colonies lived like beasts. They were violent, barbaric. It’s what she had been taught all her life.
For a long moment, his eyes bore into hers until the guards who held her suddenly became animated again.
“Move,” one said.
They tugged her forward and she went, glancing once over her shoulder to find him still watching her. She’d never seen anything like him before, his skin was darkened by the sun and hair covered his arms and part of his face. His right arm and the side of his neck were decorated in some sort of ink, the pattern the most intricate art she had ever seen.
“He’s right,” came Commander Norrin’s voice from back in the corridor. “Silas is our guest, aren’t you?” he asked the large man. No answer came from Silas. “You will treat him with respect,” Commander Norrin finished.
Guest? Rowan wondered, but she had no time to think on it when the door opened before her and she eyed the doctors waiting there, all in white coats, their hands already gloved, the room stinking of sterilizing solution, the cold steel table fitted with restraints empty and waiting for her. That was when she realized her ordeal had only just begun.