Chase stuck his hands into his pockets. They were empty, as usual, which was why he’d come to the slave market. He really didn’t like the place; not many people did, and that was the reason it was the one place anyone could easily get a job. Times were tough on Orien; the planet was suffering a major population drain. For some reason—and the doctors had yet to figure out what it was—many of their women had become sterile. Thus began the market for the hill women, who were very fertile. They were also feral and anyone dumb enough to go into the mountains unprepared did not come back.
So he was here to learn the business. He was very disappointed in himself. Thirty years old, law degree, and yet he couldn’t find work. Entering the massive gates of the market, he saw various sale areas. On the right and left were the small stalls where the prime subjects were on display. These were the women who had been domesticated enough that they were safe to be around. Chase licked his lips. They were gorgeous! That was the thing about the hill women; they were strong yet supple, tall and firm, and their massive breasts heaved with each breath.
He moved on. Just the sight of them got his cock twitching, and he had work to do this day. Through a wide and tall archway was the main auction area. This was where the simple basic women were sold. While lashed into submission, they were still wild, and so they were brought to the block in magno-cuffs and sold to be simple breeders. Chase actually jumped in surprise when one of them, standing off to the side in line, growled and bared her teeth at him.
“Don’t show fear, dude,” a voice said. “They’ll rip your throat out, first time you do that.”
Turning, Chase found himself facing a man who had clearly been on many hunts. Tall, strong, and missing his left ear.
“And you would be Eric Michaels, correct?”
He nodded. “What gave me away, the ear or the scars? Chase Pasini, yes? You brave or broke?”
Chase looked him up and down. He could see what he meant about scars; his arms and legs had several long ones, and more bite marks than he could count. “Ah, broke. To be honest, brave is not a word most people associated with me.”
“Eh, don’t believe them. Most men don’t want this job, as it’s very dangerous. Just the fact that you’re willing to give it a shot says a lot about you. Come on, I’ll give you the nickel tour, and then we’ll head out.”
“Thanks, I… wait a minute, out? Out as in… out into the hills? Out as in out on a hunt?”
Eric led him through a small door, and Chase actually stopped dead for a moment. As neat and clean—and civil—as the main room had been, this was chaos and noise, and rather brutal. Women were caged, chained to the walls, and three were being whipped.
“That’s where the women are, so that’s where we go. What’s the problem, dude? You signed up for this, you did the training; so, out you go. We got a quota to meet and frankly, we almost never do. What am I saying? We pretty much never do. Look around, this is two months’ worth of hunts.”
“Um, okay. I just thought learning the business would mean learning the inside stuff first, and then going… out.”
Eric shook his head as he placed his palm on a scanner. “No, that’s not how it works around here. We need every able-bodied man out there with a tranq-gun catching as many women as possible.”
“Oh. Okay,” he said simply.
They entered the main processing area. This was where the women were brought after their initial intake. It was where they were broken. As he looked around, naked women were strung up, and men stood behind them with small rods. Chase recognized them from his training sessions: neural whips. The men could vary the pain level, and the devices didn’t leave any marks. After all, the women needed to be clean and unblemished when they went on the block. This was where they were whipped into submission.
Chase was suddenly glad he wasn’t staying inside. As much as he felt a large degree of trepidation at going into the hills, he didn’t relish being part of this part of the business. Eric showed him the cages, the cleaning stations, the medical clinic, and finally the rovers, the special hovercars they used to get into the mountains. Once he met the six other men on the hunt, all of whom were as badly scarred as Eric, they loaded up their gear and headed out. Doing a quick calculation, Chase realized that the team had an average of seven fingers, one ear, and one and a half eyes. As Chase climbed into his rover, Eric handed him a neural inhibitor.
“What’s this for?”
“For you, if you’re captured by the women.”
Chase’s jaw dropped. “What? B-b-but, won’t it… kill me?”
“That’s the idea. Trust me, dude, a quick and painless death is far better than what awaits you with the women. If you’re lucky, they’ll only kill you.”
He swallowed hard. “And if I’m not?”
“They’ll force to you mate with them first.”
“Mate? So, I get to make love to one of them? What’s so bad about that?”
“It won’t be one, it’ll be a dozen, all of them fertile; they’ll crush your bones in the process, and then leave you for the critters to come devour—alive.”
“Ulp! Ah, shit, what a way to go, loved to death.”
“Yeah, some guys think, ‘Hey, not a bad way to go.’ Trust me, dude, it is. We’ve found some of their discarded men. Not a pretty sight.”
Chase felt his chest tighten. “Oh, man, what kind of shit storm have I gotten myself into?”
Eric chuckled as they headed out. “Don’t worry, dude, the rule of thumb is that if you survive the first month, you’ll do fine. Look at me, two years, and I’m great.”
He laughed harder, floored it, and zipped off to the front to lead the way. Chase had to wonder: What on Orien was he getting himself into? Was the money really worth the risk? Well, he was about to find out.
Up, up, up into the mountains they went, passing the limits of the city (gleaming metal and ceramic spires thrusting into the clouds), past the lush farmlands, and finally past the safety zone: the limits of the protection provided by the authorities. The landscape turned wild—open fields of orange grass, waving tall multicolored trees, and the occasional skeleton. Chase wasn’t sure if they were just animals or other hunters who didn’t make it back, and he didn’t want to study them too closely.
If they were the latter, he might lose his nerve and turn back.
It took the better part of two hours, but they finally came to the dense woods, prime hunting area. They clustered the rovers together, armed themselves with tranq-guns, and scanned the area. Chase did a thermal scan and got a single signal. He reported it to Eric.
He shook his head. “Not worth it. As this is your first time, you guard the rovers. Tim’s got a good lead, looks like a pack. We’ll try to nab them.”
“Ah, okay,” Chase replied, grinding his teeth.
The others chuckled and raced off into the woods. Chase knew what was really going on. The hunters had a tradition; on your first hunt, any women you bagged were yours and yours alone. Eric just wanted to make sure he didn’t get one. Stomping around the area, Chase swung his rifle back and forth. It seemed he’d found his courage, and he was anxious to get out there and try his luck. He looked off in the direction the guys had gone. Using his scanner, he got a lock on them; they were at least three clicks away. He checked on that signal he’d gotten. It was not only still there, it was stationary. She seemed to be rubbing her ankle.
Yeah, an injury. An easy target. I’m going for it.
He took off at full speed, darting right and left around the trees, and soon found her. The sight of her took his breath away. What a vision! Even thought she was curled up on the ground, he could tell she was tall, her legs were long, her torso firm and strong, and the deep redness of her long straight hair was quite the contrast to her milky complexion. Chase was a little surprised to see her in clothes, albeit a simple bikini-like outfit made of animal skins; he was under the impression that the hill women were completely feral. Oh, well, it didn’t matter. One quick shot and she was his. Raising his rifle, he took aim at her, and then the hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up. A branch rustled behind him, and he knew there wasn’t enough wind to cause it.
He licked his lips. Don’t tell me I just walked into a trap.