The Great Event was the worst disaster that befell Earth since the Ice Age. Decimating humans’ way of life, it wiped out most technological advancement, leaving a populace scrambling to survive without the tools they had heavily relied on.
One glimmer of hope emerged—the nations now knew they would have to work together for humanity to survive. Nothing was effortless anymore. And as hunger increased, governments tried to organize and become the public servants they had promised to be. They formed a new Coalition of Nations, uniting all nations across the globe.
But then the mighty alien race known as the Arcans arrived and demanded a meeting with the Coalition of Nations. They informed the Earthers they were the descendants of a colony of humans sent into space long ago. Only the oldest on Earth remembered hearing family stories about a colony of scientists, explorers, and convicts who had left in a whirlwind of fanfare. It had been a stunning multi-national achievement. When they vanished without a trace, the world leaders abandoned them to their fate.
After years of struggle, the colonists had flourished, but in different ways.
The researchers had remained behind the walls of the great city and made tremendous advances in scientific endeavors.
The explorers had, for the most part, left to travel among the stars.
The convicts had been given a choice: return to Earth to serve out the remainder of their original sentence, or take their chances in the wilderness. None had chosen to return.
The new environment had affected those that did not live within the confines of the city. Those outside evolved over time. Their daily contact with the planet had sparked an evolution—a profound transformation. Their human DNA and bodies had undergone a synthesis with the planet itself, creating new and different species shifting from their Earth roots—human, but also Arcan.
The representatives had returned with a purpose. The inhabitants of Earth possessed compatible genes with the lost colonists. Terra Arcus needed genetic material, as the rate of females born on their planet had crashed. Retracing the voyage back to the colonizing planet that had abandoned them, the Arcan scientists theorized that Earth females would be genetically compatible with their males. The Arcan scientists completed extensive testing and confirmed that Earth females were a perfect match.
The Coalition of Nations sent out an appeal to the inhabitants across the planet:
The Coalition of Nations seeks volunteers to come to the aid of all peoples on Earth. In exchange for sharing our best and brightest, the Arcans will share their vast technology resources and knowledge. Families of the volunteers will receive endless food, clothing rations, and medical care. Volunteers will live in luxury, enjoying all the privileges that Terra Arcus offers.
Motivated by a desire to support their struggling families as well as their wish to bolster the lives of others across the globe, skilled minds from all industries and arts began to line up at the centralized Selection Arenas. There, each completed a series of tests and a detailed questionnaire that tasked the mind and body.
Versoth Bride by Maren Smith
My hands were shaking as I moved through the swampy overgrowth. Keeping a sharp eye out for snakes, I circled the hearth tree that made up the backbone of the grass hut I had come to call home and carefully cut the required number of switches. Six switches per lasher. One lasher per mate. Three mates for me once tonight’s bonding ceremony was through. It was going to be a long and, at times, terrible night. Small wonder I couldn’t stop shaking and yet, I wasn’t scared. Not really.
All around me, the buzz and chirps of insects kept me company. The gentle lap of slow-moving water bumped up against the stilts of the narrow wooden dock as I climbed up into the crisscross of low-hanging branches that sheltered our home. The soft moss felt good under my bare feet as I scaled the tree to reach those new-growth verges higher up. Living in a swamp was hard on clothes. Even if they hadn’t stripped away all my belongings in my first few terrifying moments on this world, nothing I’d brought with me would have survived more than a handful of weeks. I hadn’t known it at the time, but escaping from the horseman, his clan and his cage, naked and wounded into the swamp, had been like being born again.
That I’d survived at all had been nothing more than luck.
Fate, as my Versoth mates would say.
Fate truly was a funny thing…
Saying goodbye to everyone and everything a person has ever known was a lot easier than one might think. Honestly, it was as simple as signing my name on the document at the Centralized Selection Arena. Once I received my acceptance letter promising that first transfer of food credits and medication, all of which would arrive at my grandmother’s door just as soon as I completed my testing, was enough to put me on the transport for the CSA. I didn’t get to see her withered face light up when it arrived or watch as my siblings dove into their first really good meal in… I honestly can’t remember how long… but knowing it would happen made what I was giving up more than worth it. The sickness eating away at my grandmother’s already frail body would take her from us soon enough. The medication I’d won for her would do nothing except make her comfortable, but I’d do it again. In a heartbeat. For the woman who’d raised us since before I could remember, she deserved not to be in pain.
My brother and my youngest sister, both still in school, would get to keep the house after she, and now I, were gone. These extra food rations would continue to the ends of both their lives, plus they’d get college scholarships. Free rides all the way. That was the promise that was made to me in exchange for leaving Earth, traveling God only knows how far away to Terra Arcus where I would start my life all over again. The willing wife to an absolute stranger—because unlike most of the people who were going, I wasn’t the smartest woman on the planet. I was pretty enough, maybe, but not beautiful. I don’t have a doctorate in anything. Before signing up for this program, I worked in a grocery store, which let me take home scraps smuggled out of the garbage and, believe me, I knew how lucky I was to have that job. And yet, when the alien ship came, like some bad 1950s movie, demanding women, I dropped everything to sign on. If it weren’t for the artists’ clause, however, I never would have been accepted.
The best of the best. That’s what they say the aliens wanted. I don’t know how well I stack up against the best on Earth, but I do like to draw. It’s my hobby, my passion, and charcoal pencils are my preferred medium. Anyone who has seen the walls of my bedroom knows I’m good at it. They’re covered floor to ceiling, just a hodgepodge of things I’ve seen and that stick in my head. Faces of people I both know and don’t know, all of them caught in little moments that I like to think define everything that’s good and decent about humanity. Little kindnesses—a shared touch between a mother and child, man and wife, complete strangers doing something they don’t have to for someone they don’t know. They’re all recorded on the walls of my room in charcoal and plasterboard.
When I found out artists were being allowed to sign up, I grabbed a camera, took pictures of all the ‘little moments’ I thought showed my abilities to their best advantage, and I submitted it to the online application program along with my contact information. Two days later, I got the phone call.
Two days after that, I was saying my goodbyes and packing a single suitcase to take with me to Dallas where I was scanned, assessed, medically cleared as both healthy and fertile, and then cataloged with all the other girls who’d been accepted and given a bracelet.
“Don’t put it on unless you’re sure,” I was told by the intake recruiter.
My family needed what they were getting in exchange for my going. I put the bracelet on right away, because I couldn’t afford to change my mind. I couldn’t afford to even think I had a choice.
The moment it clamped around my wrist it melted—for lack of a better word—against my skin. Only there was no heat. Rather, it became like a steel manacle, with two flashing red lights and one green one and at least two needles that punctured into my arm. It stung, but it likely would have hurt a whole lot more if not for the numbing agent those needles injected as they punctured my skin.
One flashing blip of those lights at a time, the manacle linked itself into me and began reading… whatever it was supposed to read.
The actual voyage itself was weirdly surreal. I was a participant at a massive slumber party, only I didn’t know anybody and it was in space. The whole ship hummed to the vibrations of the engines, but as fast as we were traveling, I could barely feel us moving as we jumped from wormhole to wormhole, turning all those distant star dots into white-line streaks.
I kept to myself mostly, watching out the windows at the vastness of the universe while behind me, women were chatting, laughing, and eating all the exotic foods and fruits they constantly brought out for us. We lounged about as if we were some grand sultan’s harem, all of us from different walks of life and bound to the same unknown, uncertain fate.
And then we arrived.
From space, Terra Arcus looked a lot like Earth. It was big and round, with lots of blue water, white clouds, and smudges of green and brown continents—just not the right number of them, in the right shapes or even in the right places.
I stood at the windows watching that world growing bigger the closer we approached, and all I felt was excitement. For the first time since I’d made my decision, I was eager to land. My new life would be a grand adventure and I—in good company with every other woman on this vessel—was doing something that none of us would ever have considered possible even a short month ago. We were going to help colonize a completely different world. True, this was attempt number two for Terra Arcus. The first colonizing effort had failed dreadfully. But that had been a long time ago, back when most of the people chosen to be sent here had been criminals, much like America and Australia back in their colonizing days. That didn’t bother me. As far as I was concerned, their technology was advanced and they had all the resources—food in abundance, fresh water and air—that Earth… my family… so badly needed.
Just my being here meant we were all going to get a fresh new start in life. How could that be anything but good, for any of us?
As we drew near, a polite voice over the intercom ordered us out of the common luxury area to our individual quarters. For safety in the landing process, the unseen man explained. So we obeyed. All of us, including me.
My room didn’t have windows. It was just a narrow closet, no bigger really than the space required for a narrow bed and a washing station.
“For your own safety, please lie down on your beds.”
The first hint of a niggling doubt tickled at the back of my head, but I did that too. Almost immediately, my entire body was caught in some kind of invisible field, sucking me firmly to the bed. I couldn’t raise or even move my head. I couldn’t so much as twitch a finger. All I could do was lie there, feeling the vibrations of the engine shake through me until the dread of it rattled my bones as we cut through Terra Arcus’s atmosphere. Over and over, I told myself that I was being ridiculous and there was nothing to get scared about. That this was just as that voice had said, a safety measure to prevent my getting hurt in this process. That this was still exciting.
Then came the even more dreadful stillness once we were down and the engines cut off.
And then that long, horrible silence, with me still stuck to my bed under the weight of that inescapable force field that refused to let me go.
Eventually, the silence was broken by the echoing tromp of footsteps passing back and forth down the corridor outside my door. Passing, but never stopping. Not knocking. Ignoring me completely, although now and then I could hear the high pitch of female voices softly asking questions as they were being led off the ship. One by one now. We were no longer a harem together; we had very easily and effectively been segregated down into captive units without any leverage to argue or protest, and certainly no way to fight back.
Not that I knew what I was fighting back against. Not then, anyway.
Eventually, they came to get me too and it was as I was walking out that I finally realized that the truth of my new situation was nothing like I’d been led to believe. These people didn’t look on us as their saviors, or even as their equals. We were not coming there to be their mates. We were captives.
I was led straight from this luxury ship, past all those comfortable chairs where we’d enjoyed all that fresh fruit and food, and straight out the hatch doors into a tunnel of mostly fabric. It billowed in and out, as if it were a living, breathing thing, granting me only one direction in which to go and shielding from me even the most accidental glimpse of the world on the other side.
I could hear it though, familiar city sounds—vehicles traveling on a road, street vendors calling their wares, the rumble of many low masculine voices talking over one another.
With every outward snap of cloth, I could smell it too. The most marvelous scent I’ve ever filled my senses with—fresh, clean air, infused with the smell of baking bread, cooking meat, trees, flowers, earth—it was all there. In every breath, I could smell it and it was fantastic.
I stumbled along between the two guards who held me, one of my arms in each of their hands, letting them lead me wherever they pleased and breathing that wonderful scent. Just trying to get as much of it into me as I could before we reached the tunnel’s end and I had to go into the next building. The guards at the door opened it for us and the light on the other side was so glaring and bright that it blinded me.
“In,” one of my escorts ordered. He nudged my back and, shielding my eyes, I reluctantly stepped inside. With a sharp, almost medicinal hiss, I was enveloped in a blue mist. The mist didn’t hurt me, but it dissolved my clothes. The fibers deteriorated into nothing even as they fell off me. I tried to catch the shreds as they dissolved, becoming threads and then nothing within seconds.
Clapping my hands over my nakedness, I tripped right out of my fast-dissolving shoes as I shrank backwards out of the room. Or would have, had the door not slammed shut behind me, freezing me naked under the brightest of lights.
“Step forward,” a man calmly commanded.
I didn’t move. Panting I was breathing so fast, I hugged myself that much tighter and squinted in an effort to see who was in here with me. Was… was this the man who would be my husband? I could hear restless movement, shuffling, definitely more than one set of feet, and humming, an electric sound that I felt through the floor more than I heard. Like the ship’s engines, the vibrations moved up through my feet until I could feel the dread of it in my bones.
“Move forward,” the voice commanded again. “Do it now or be disciplined.”
What did that mean? What did that even mean?
“I-I-I don’t understand,” I called out, my voice quavering. I cringed against the door, unable to see anything but the brightness, and unwilling to bare myself long enough to shield my eyes.
“When you are given a command, you are expected to obey,” the voice answered, sounding bored. “Move forward now, or you will be disciplined.”
Trapped, unable to run or even to think, I felt my way forward with my feet, stumbling over the rubber soles of my sneakers, which was all that was left of my shoes. That and a few scattered metal grommets on the floor. Shivering in spite of the heat of the blinding lights, I ventured a few steps deeper into the room. The lights were hard to get used to, but the further out I went, the better I was able to see.
I was on a stage, with bright lights glaring at me from both the floor and the ceiling, and just beyond them a massive sea of darkness divided into sections by what looked like electric force fields.
“Five more steps,” the disembodied voice coaxed.
Five more steps would take me underneath a giant holographic display of flashing blue and white readouts. Some looked medical, some looked mathematic. Images of my artwork were up there, picture after picture being displayed as I crept like a whipped puppy to stand beneath it. Baffled, I craned my neck, trying to see it better.
“Obedient,” a voice from the blackness of the audience said.
“Pleasing,” another added, amid a rumble of masculine agreement.
“Plain,” a third scoffed. “Someone buy the beast so we can get a pretty one back on the stage.”
“Hands at your sides,” the disembodied voice ordered me.
Shaking, I squinted, trying to see into the black of that segregated audience. Shapes were all I could make out—shapes and the muted flash of red lights, all seeming to be linked to the holographic display of numbers that ran the length of the images floating in the air high above me.
The slow thump of footsteps reverberated through the stage beneath my bare feet, and then a man stepped into the ring of lights that blinded me. He was tall, broad in the shoulders, his black trousers and white shirt fitting him well and emphasizing the strength of his muscular frame as he walked directly in front of me. It took a moment for me to realize he did not come empty-handed. A long black strap dangled from his right hand—two feet in length, a good four inches wide, well-oiled and supple in spite of the thickness of the leather, and topped with a red wooden handle that he gripped loosely.
“This is a replica of one of the old prison straps your people once used on mine, back when this world was first colonized,” he calmly told me, his tone damn near soothing despite the awful words. Every thought I had was frozen. I could scarcely comprehend what he was saying. “Your disobedience had earned you three with this strap. Lower your hands or I will make it six.”
I stared at him, shaking under the coldness of his gaze and his all-business tone. My trembling hands lowered until they hung limp at my sides. My nipples tightened. I’d never been this frightened before, with no one and nowhere to turn for help.
He circled me and, unable to help it, I moved with him, keeping him always in my sight until my back was to the audience and the lights were now behind me. I could see him clearly now. His eyes were the bluest I’d ever seen. Honestly, he didn’t look cruel, despite the strap clutched in his hand.
“Spread your legs and bend at the waist,” he told me, almost gently. “Put your hands on your knees. If you can hold that position, I won’t add to the strokes. The first time you move, I’ll have you held down and I won’t bother counting. Don’t think anyone in the audience will help you, either. The more I tear your ass up, the higher your bid will go.”
My heart was racing. I couldn’t feel myself breathing, though my chest was heaving. He couldn’t be serious. He just couldn’t. I was going to be beaten?
Taking a single step toward me, his smile barely seemed to change and yet his face hardened with grim warning. “Spread your legs,” he repeated, and by his tone I knew it would be for the last time. “Bend at the waist.”
Did I want it to be three strokes, or did I want to be held down for heaven only knew how many more?
Shaking, I shifted my feet apart. In my shock and confusion, I even looked to him for approval.
“Wider,” he coaxed. “There’s a good girl. Now bend, hands on your knees.”
Already blinking back tears, I bent. That the audience—all those men—could now see every hidden part of me was more than I could stand to think about. I braced my trembling hands on equally shaky knees. My legs were barely steady. Staring at the floor, it was all I could do not to cringe as the man walked around me, taking up his awful position to my left and a little behind me.
“If I were intent on training you, I’d ask you to count them.”
Was that a hint? My mind raced, but my throat was so tight I couldn’t even swallow. I could, however, shout, something I discovered a half second later when he brought that heavy strap down in a great arcing swat that damn near knocked me over. The smarting pain drove me onto my tiptoes, but my hands never left my knees. Eyes and mouth both wide, I sucked air, writhing and waggling my bottom in a lewd dance of pain that had the audience laughing. It took everything I had not to fall bawling on the floor.
“When you are given a command,” the man asked, sounding so calm and even kind, “are you going to obey?”
I immediately nodded.
He brought the strap down again, a mighty thh-wap of sound that both arched me back onto my tiptoes and nearly dropped me to my knees. I did cry now, sucking air as the hurt chewed all across both buttocks. He’d struck in nearly the same exact place as before, only a little lower down.
“When you are asked a verbal question, you will give a verbal answer.”
“Yes!” I bawled. “Yes, I will! I promise! I’m sorry!”
The entire surface of my bottom stung and burned. I was on fire!
“Is that how I should be shown deference and respect?”
I wasn’t stupid. “Sir!” I hastened to add, but too late.
The third and last stroke slapped across the lower curve of my ass, catching the top of my thighs and sending a whole fresh new explosion of pain jolting through nerves that had never felt the like at any point ever before.
How I stayed bent, I don’t know. My hands never left my thighs, but oh, how I cried and oh, how the red lights in the audience began to flash, bright and fast. The holographic display above me flashed too, the reflection of its corresponding lights jumping all over the floor, blurred though it was by my tears.
Strong fingers slid up the back of my bent neck into my hair, closing on a fistful of hair and pulling my head slowly back. Bending, he brought his mouth so close to my ear that I could feel the heat of his breath. I didn’t understand it, but the whisper of that sensation caressing hot over the shell of my ear stirred the hotter heat searing its way across my ass. Before I knew what was happening, that heat shifted its focus and suddenly it wasn’t just my backside blazing and pulsing… it was between my legs too.
“When you are given a command, what are you to do?” he murmured, the silken drawl of his voice sending shivers racing all the way through me. My nipples tightened with it. My pussy did too.
My ass hurt.
I was so confused.
“Obey it, Sir,” I whispered back. “I’ll obey it, I promise.”
“Shall we test that?” he asked.
I stilled, catching my breath when the length of the strap touched the back of my leg. It shifted, moving lengthwise in between my thighs to caress its way up to my undefended sex. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even cry anymore. I just stared, wide-eyed and horrified and praying he wouldn’t slap me with it there.
The strap patted the folds of my pussy.
“Kneel,” he said, and I dropped to my knees right there at his feet.
The strap moved to the small of my back.
“Back arched, breasts up.” He patted me there too, and I threw my shoulders back and offered up my breasts without the slightest hesitation.
My face burned, but the humiliation of it was nowhere near as intense as the smart still lingering in the flesh of my throbbing ass.
He circled behind me, coming around to stand in front of me. He smiled as he looked me over. Using the strap, he caressed the curve of my cheek before hooking the looped tip under my chin and forcing my gaze to lock with his.
The audience was a constant low rumble of hushed male voices consulting one another, but none of them mattered. Nothing mattered except the strap in this man’s hand.
“I am tempted to buy you myself,” he said, making my heart race terribly. The holographic readout high above my head was blinking now. Glancing up at it and then back at me, he tsked. “Too late. Sold.”
That last word boomed from the stage as if he’d spoken it into a microphone. I didn’t see it. I was so startled and scared, I barely saw him move, but I heard the footsteps as one of those force fields came down and hands seized my arms, pulling me backwards off my knees before I was marched to the edge of the stage. Every step made the wounded flesh of my buttocks burn and pulse that much hotter. I stumbled, but they kept me moving past those blinding lights, to where a group of four men waited impatiently to take possession of me.
Because that’s what I was now—a possession.
This was not supposed to happen. This wasn’t at all what I had been promised.
And from halfway across the universe, I had no way of knowing if the promises made to my family would be any more accurately honored, either.
I was trapped on an alien world, without representation, without options. Without anything, not even my belongings.
I was only an object, and I had just been bought.