If her tutors were to be believed, it would make her feel truly alive, give her boundless energy, and she’d be able to think with clarity and serve her new master with skill and care.
She hoped with all of her heart they were right.
The land cruiser, with its huge, buoyant, nausea-inducing wheels, rattled across the alien landscape of Roun. Through the small round window opposite Briella, the uneven landscape was made up of the same orange-hued rocks as had stood around the training camp she’d spent the last six weeks in. Where were they now, though? Some rocks smoked, trickles of red vapor leaking out of them. They were driving through volcanic landscape, and not somewhere the all-male Roun citizens lived. They preferred the more temperate climates of the north where the ground wasn’t prone to fissures and wells of boiling water.
The north would be her new home.
There was no going back to Zoid.
She closed her eyes and rested her head back, took several deep breaths as the tablet began to work its magic. As the effects of the previous pill had worn off, she’d been aware of her bronchus tightening, of the air her lungs had never been designed to breathe caught in her throat instead of traveling lower. Without the small black pills she wouldn’t have lasted a day at the training camp her king had sent her to. She’d have suffocated within hours.
“You okay?” Nhah asked.
“Fine.” Briella kept her eyes closed but smiled, knowing her best friend was as anxious as her.
“What do you think yours will be like?” Nhah asked.
“I have no idea.”
“But you must have a hope.”
“We’ve discussed this before, many times.” Briella opened her eyes. “I hope only for kindness and a good memory.”
“A good memory?”
“Yes, so he doesn’t forget my medication.”
Nhah twisted her hands together and a frown marred her pretty face. “Yes, a good memory is vital. The tutors told us they must supply us with semen at least three times a day.” She shook her head. “It seems like a lot of effort on their behalf.”
“Really, just relax.” Briella tucked a strand of Nhah’s hair behind her ear. She’d become like a younger sister to her. “Our new masters have been well vetted by the king’s enforcers. They have all agreed to the deal—in return for supplying us what we need to breathe, we will keep their domes clean and tidy, cook, and be at their bidding.”
“I guess.” Nhah sighed and pressed her hands onto her thighs as though willing herself not to fidget. “What if they can’t, you know. Three times…”
“As I said, they’ve been thoroughly vetted. They don’t give Zoid women to just anyone, do they?”
“I guess.” Nhah pulled in a deep breath. “Look, the city is in the distance. We’ll be there soon.”
Sure enough, through the window the outskirts of Ryl, the capital of their new planet was coming into view. All she could see initially were small structures rising from the ground and as the cruiser continued, they grew, becoming needles pointing into the lilac sky. Small airborne cruisers reminded Briella of hovering insects around flowers—her knowledge of both drawn from books at the library back home. There were no flowers left on Zoid. There were also no flowers on Roun. Trees, grass, some animal life, but no flowers.
She curled her toes in her black boots; within the pointed stiletto heels were seeds—sunflower seeds. Weeks ago she’d stolen them, then sneaked them through transport security to the training camp. She’d kept them dry and dark. Then last night, when the tutors were out celebrating the successful graduation of another class of submissive women, she’d put them in her heel. If she said so herself she’d done a good job, as long as the glue she’d used stayed solid, that was.
The vehicle slowed.
Briella glanced around at the women she’d spent the last few weeks with—all of whom had become her friends—and knew this was the last time she’d see them. From now on it would be just her and her master. Her days would be solitary, ones of work in return for life.
The nervous tension was tangible as the engine switched off and silence wrapped around the women. The decision they’d taken to leave Zoid had been a momentous one.
But for her, at least, there’d been no other option.
Zoid was a dying planet, its only sun weak and fading, the nourishment in the soil and the air almost at zero. If life was to go on, the women had Roun as an option, the men the choice of two planets in the distant galaxy.
She hoped her brother would be happy with the one he’d chosen. He’d have to work hard, using his skills as a pilot to ferry the people of Tarn around the galaxy. But in return Tarn would be his new home. A place of safety and the chance of a healthy life.
The rear door swung open, and with a soft hiss the ramp descended.
Briella blinked in the harsh light. It was taking some time to get used to after growing up in near darkness on Zoid.
“Everyone out, your masters await.” Frah, their head tutor, clapped his hands and grinned.
He was no doubt being paid handsomely for his duties, and there was no disputing the fact the slaves looked the part.
Each had on thigh-length black boots teamed with a mini-skirt with short tassels around the hem. Breasts were uncovered, but chests were laced with an intricate pattern of leather straps crisscrossing and weaving from waist to neck. Each wore a collar with a small silver hoop.
Briella stood, along with the other women.
Nhah gave her hand a squeeze. “I’ll miss you, my friend.”
“And I you.” Briella smiled at her. “I wish you a long and happy life.”
“Long only if I’m happy; if not, there is no point and I wish it to be short.”
“You’re right there.”
As they were paraded down the ramp, single file, a row of Roun men came into view. They were tall, broad-shouldered, dressed like warriors going into battle, and each had their arms folded over their chests as they surveyed the new women.
Briella swung her gaze from left to right even though she wasn’t supposed to. Their expressions were stern, some had copious amounts of facial hair, others ink on their skin. If she had to choose one to be her master, she had no idea which she’d pick.
“Eyes down,” Frah shouted, then gave one hard stamp of his foot. “Remember your place, women of Zoid.”
Briella stared at the dusty ground and clasped her hands behind her back, the way she’d been taught to. Her heart was thumping. Beads of sweat popped on her brow.
The ramp to the cruiser drew up again, shutting into place with a resounding clunk.
This was it.
“Slave number one, step up,” Frah called.
A woman known as Kai stepped forward. Briella could just see her out of the corner of her eye.
“Who takes this woman?” Frah shouted toward the men.
“I do.” A deep voice rumbled around the courtyard, the vibration of it seeming to go straight through Briella.
Kai gasped. She was a small, quietly spoken woman. A huge master with a voice that sounded like galaxy thunder would likely scare her half to death.
“Very good, take her,” Frah said.
Kai’s footsteps faded into the distance.
Frah consulted his clipboard. “Slave number two.”
Next to Briella, Nhah pulled in a deep breath. She then took one step forward, jutting her breasts out and twining her fingers behind herself.
“Who takes this woman?” Frah asked.
There was a tense pause, then, “I do.”
Briella was unable to help herself. She glanced up, curiosity about the man who’d claimed her best friend simply too strong to resist.
He was extra tall with long, white-blond hair that floated around his shoulders like a silk curtain. His eyes were pale gray and his mouth wide. On his bare chest he had ink depicting the several moons and suns of Roun, each one a vivid color and surrounded by glittering dust clouds.
Briella had a good feeling about this man. She didn’t know why. But there was a kindness in his eyes, in the way he moved. She hoped that her first instinct was right about him and he’d treat Nhah with respect and consideration. Not that she was afraid of hard work, Nhah would never shy from that, but she was entitled to a life worth living.
Nhah moved away from Briella’s view.
A knot grew in Briella’s belly. She hoped she wouldn’t be sick. Her knees were weak and her palms sweaty.
“Slave number three,” Frah shouted.
Briella stepped forward, keeping her eyes firmly on the ground. Small dusty sprinkles topped the ends of her boots, and their orange glow was startling against the polished black.
“Who takes this woman?” Frah called, his voice echoing through Briella’s head, banging against the insides of her skull.
Whoever answered this question would hold her destiny in their power and her life in their hands.
A tremble spread over her skin. She forced herself to stay looking downward. The man’s voice had rumbled over her body like a supersonic wave, the richness of it settling in her chest. What could she tell from it? Was he kind? A man of morals?
A hand appeared beneath her chin and, to the small black collar around her neck, a lead was attached.
Still she didn’t dare look up.
A tug. She was forced to follow.
He wore boots, worn and scuffed, and tight pants made of soft leather. His ass was high and pert, and a belt appeared to hold a sheathed hammer and chisel. Other than that she didn’t know as she kept her attention lowered.
He led her past Frah and the other men.
“Nice one, Gast,” someone said.
“Always was quick off the mark,” another deep voice muttered.
Were they talking about her? Had her new master beaten other men who’d considered claiming her by speaking up first? Was his name Gast?
She didn’t know and it was the least of her worries right now.
“Keep up,” he said, taking big strides and tugging the lead. “We have a long journey.”
She trotted along, aware of her breasts jiggling. A couple of times the lead tightened farther and she had to speed up or risk being pulled over. She’d practiced walking this way, being led, but still, with a Roun man and not another woman from the camp, it was trickier than she’d anticipated.
Soon they were distanced from Frah and the masters waiting to choose their slaves. They moved through a busy street packed with men, their voices loud and brisk, their movements sharp.
Briella didn’t need to look up to know she was the center of all of their attention. Women were few and far between on Roun and their gazes were a heated caress.
“Not much farther,” her new master said, dropping back and wrapping his arm around her waist.
He was hot and strong and propelled her toward an area neatly packed with vehicles.
He pulled open the door of the nearest one. It was much like the vehicle that had brought her to Ryl.
“Belt up,” he said.
He dropped the end of the lead onto her lap and slammed the door.
Quickly she did as he’d instructed.
Within seconds he was next to her and driving the car from the lot.
“I don’t care for the cityscape,” he said. “I prefer the mountains to the east.”
“Is that where we’re going, Sir?”
“Yes. That is where my home is.”
And my home now.
She allowed herself a quick glance at him, hoping he wouldn’t catch her and punish her before they’d even reached the east.
He had wild black hair that streamed down his neck and shoulders. His jaw was strong and square and his nose long and proud. He had heavy dark eyebrows and his mouth was set in a grim line.
Unlike Nhah’s new master, he wore a leather waistcoat, the arms hacked off with small threads hanging from where they used to be attached. His bulging biceps were huge, and thick veins and tendons were visible in his forearms.
She looked down at her hands again. He must weigh at least twice as much as her, if not more. If he turned out to be unkind, to have no control when he punished her, she’d likely end up with broken bones or worse.
A shiver went through her, fear of the unknown finally getting the better of her. She’d tried so hard to be brave, keep up the stoic attitude, partly for Nhah’s sake. But the reality was life was going to be so different now. And it all depended on this man.
“My name is Gastion Ribald Newton of Reme,” he said. “I am thirty-one years old. I’m a trained fighter, rock and wood carpenter, and master. I earn my living selling carvings; it doesn’t make much but I like the simple things in life.”
“You may look at me.”
“Thank you, Sir.” She raised her head.
He glanced at her. For a moment their gaze connected.
Quickly she stared straight ahead, at the dusty road they were now traveling down. She was not permitted to look her master in the eye. That rule had been drummed into her. It was disrespectful and insolent and would earn her a flogging.
“I hope you have been well trained, slave,” he said.
“Yes, master. Very well. I will not disappoint you, I promise.”
“Good.” He paused as he navigated a pothole. “Because I will not tolerate disobedience.”
And she did understand. She’d achieved top marks in the exams and tests during her training. She could prepare Roun food, wash used and dirty clothes so they looked like new, whatever their material. And she could clean, scrub, and polish from suns’ rise to suns’ set.
As long as Gast supplied her with semen, of course. Otherwise she’d run out of breath and be as dead as the trees they were driving past now.
“Fierce storm,” Gast said, obviously following her line of sight. “Took out many trees. We could ill afford it; any plant life is precious here on Roun.”
“Of course, Sir.” She cleared her throat; the dust had made her dry.
“When did you last medicate?” he asked, turning to her.
“Not long ago. Less than an hour, Sir.”
“And you are breathless?” He frowned and turned back to the deserted road.
“No, I’m perfectly fine. It’s just the dust, Sir. Thank you for asking.”
“Your breathing is my responsibility now, slave. If you are short of breath, if you need semen, you are under instruction to ask.”
“Yes, Sir, of course, Sir.”
“Delay in asking, if you allow yourself to become unwell, I will punish you most severely.”
“I would expect nothing less, Sir. I know that you, too, would be punished by the king for allowing a slave to die in your care.”
“Yes, that’s correct.” He paused. “But equally I would not forgive myself.”