Field Survey
by Zack

The Amalgamation Survey Ship Interloper moved in a synchronous orbit above the only landmass on the third planet of star P314159264. Three young women entered the Captain's office and saluted. "Lieutenant Pami Erig and Ensigns Swamka Mahoon and Sonji Regan reporting as ordered, Captain."

Captain Goda returned their salute. "At ease. I've summoned you because we have an important field survey in progress and a problem has come up. This planet, which the inhabitants, for some reason, call Gamma, is a prime candidate for membership in the Amalgamation. Since that unfortunate incident on the holodeck last night we're now short-handed. I need three field surveyors and you are the only ones who have the necessary characteristics. I really dislike sending you out on such short notice but I have no choice.”

Erig asked, “Why is Gamma eligible, Captain? I thought it was pre-industrial.”

“It is, but it’s also apparently unique in the galaxy. Like all of the other planets it lost its technology in the Great Crash, when every computer in the galaxy locked up at the same time because of a date/time bug in the operating system. But unlike all of the other planets, which also lost all civilization and descended into savagery, Gamma was able to maintain its social order. Exactly how they were able to do this is a question that will keep the xenoanthropologists busy for years, but the tentative theory is that the physical characteristics of the planet are responsible. All of the habitable land is in the form of one compact continent without notable physical barriers. Apparently, this inhibited the formation of warring factions, and there has never been more than one government for the entire planet.”

“But isn’t that going to make it difficult to do a field survey? If we can’t pose as foreigners how can we explain a bad accent or ignorance of an important custom?”

“You three will be disguised as peasant girls. Most of Gamma’s population is employed in agriculture, and subsistence farming is so demanding that it is normal to have a rural population that is unsophisticated. Each of you will enter a major city and gather information just as a real peasant might, by walking around seeing the sights and asking questions. Most city people think peasant girls are ignorant and naive, so any gaps in your knowledge will seem plausible. You can ask questions that a city child of five would know the answers to without arousing any suspicion. Compared to your other field surveys this will be easy. You said something, Ensign Regan?"

"I, er, I haven't been on a field survey, Captain".

"You haven't?" The Captain motioned to Erig and Mahoon. "Wait outside".

When the door had closed behind them the Captain sat down behind her desk. "Sit down, Ensign, while I look at your service record."

The Captain typed on her keypad and looked at the screen that popped up out of her desk. "Let's see... Sonji Regan, Ensign, Star Fleet Survey Service. It says here that you have been on board this ship for four months and this is your first Fleet posting. It also says you didn't attend the Academy but instead got your commission through the Officer Training Program at your home planet university. Is this correct?"

"Yes, Captain".

"You have been to Field Survey School, haven't you?"

"Yes, Captain."

"How much experience have you had outside of the Amalgamation?

"Er, none, Captain. Until I went to Field Survey School I had never been out of my home city."

The Captain sighed. "Under any other circumstances I wouldn't do this, but I have no choice, I've got to use you. All you have to do is enter a city, ask some questions, and leave the city. Can you do that?"

Sonji sprang to her feet. "Yes, Captain! Thank you, Captain!"

"Get the others. There is one thing more."

Sonji opened the office door. When the other officers were inside and the door was shut again, the Captain said, "You all know the First Directive..."

Sonji chirped, "Never interfere in any way, however minor, with the culture of a non-Amalgamation society."

"Thank you, Ensign. Now, as I was saying, you all know the First Directive is often bent if it gets in the way of an operation..." The Captain noticed Sonji's shocked expression. "Well, most of you know it. Don't count on any slack now, though. Until the stink from that fiasco in Sector Four dies down we're going to have to play it strictly by the book. You three report to the Bio-computer Lab for your language transplant and then go to Survey Supply for your costumes and equipment. Lieutenant Breg will meet you there to answer any questions. Dismissed."

The three women saluted and left the office. Once they were well along the passageway Mahoon started to giggle. "Unfortunate incident on the holodeck. What an understatement!"

"What happened?” Erig asked. “All I heard is that the three who were supposed to make these surveys are in sick bay in some kind of a coma."

"Well, they went together to the holodeck and activated that rough-sex scenario."

"You mean the one where you're gang-raped by the space pirates?"

"Yeah, that's it. Well, somehow the computer went into a loop and the scenario ran eight times before the techs could get it stopped. Luckily the safety backup worked so there wasn't any tissue damage, but it really messed up their minds. They're all under sedation now, and they all have this big smile on their faces."

"Wow, I did that scenario just once and it really shook me up. Did you ever try it, Sonji?"

"No. I've been conditioned to avoid bad sex."

"Well, it's true that some of those holodeck scenarios are really bad. What do you consider to be good sex, Sonji?"

"Good sex is when a husband impregnates his wife. Bad sex is everything else."

Erig and Mahoon exchanged did-we-really-hear-that looks. "Why would you believe something like that?" Erig asked.

"In my religion we believe that the way to Enlightenment is through the voluntary renunciation of physical pleasure. When I reached puberty I received the neuro-psychological conditioning that now keeps me from being tempted."

Mahoon said, "We've shared a compartment since you arrived on board and you know I often have overnight visitors. Doesn't it bother you that I don't share your beliefs?"

"No, you must find your own way to Enlightenment. It does not have to be my way. The only things that bother me are your moans and screams when I'm trying to sleep."

Erig shook her head, "I'm glad I'm not of your religion. I wouldn't have a social life. Ah, here's the Lab."

The language transplant took only a few minutes, and when it was over the three women could fluently speak the Gamma language.

A short walk brought them to the Survey Supply compartment. Waiting for them were the store keeper, a communications technician, and a lieutenant. Erig wrapped her arms around the lieutenant and gave him a passionate kiss.

Finally they came up for air. Erig said, "Hi, lover. I missed you while you were gone. You know Mahoon. This is Sonji Regan. Sonji, this is Thar Breg, the ship’s best Xenologist. He can tell us all we need to know about the planet. Thar did the initial field survey. He posed as a mentally retarded mute and pretended to have a job as a sweeper in a university library. He was able to copy books and set up listening posts so we could prepare the language transplant."

"Pleased to meet you, sir."

"Yeah, me too. Listen girls, the shuttle departure time has been moved up so we've got to get going. We can save time if you change here while I talk. Roget, give me those costumes."

The store keeper handed Breg three large bags, and he gave a bag to each of the women. "Here are your costumes. After you've changed put your uniform in the bag and I'll have it delivered to your quarters."

Sonji opened her bag and examined the contents. She found a dress made from a coarse gray fabric, a knitted shawl, a pair of leather sandals, and a small leather purse containing a handful of copper and silver coins. She asked Breg, "Where is the underwear, sir?"

"Peasant girls don't wear any. Hurry up and change."

Sonji was stunned. "Here, sir? In front of everybody?"

"You won't shock us. Do it, Ensign! That's an order."

Sonji looked at the other women. Erig was naked and Mahoon had just pulled her dress over her head. Blushing all over her body, Sonji turned her back to the men, stripped off her uniform and underwear, and quickly put on the dress and the sandals.

Mahoon examined her dress. The bodice was just a sack with holes for her arms and neck. A full skirt was attached at the waist and ended just above her ankles. "Well, I wouldn't want to wear it to the prom, but it doesn't feel too bad. Do we get a change of clothing, Thar?"

"No. In this culture clothing is expensive, because spinning, weaving, and sewing all have to be done by hand. Most peasant girls never have more than one dress at a time. Your dress is better than most, because it doesn't have any patches."

Erig said, "At least we don't have to put on a lot of makeup. For one of my surveys I had to dye my skin green and paste phony antennas on my forehead."

"Yes, all of you will fit in as is. Most people have brown hair like yours and Mahoon's, a few have hair as black as Regan's, and there are also blondes." He waved over the communications technician. "CT2 Aoki will test your comm devices."

Aoki gave each woman what looked like a wooden disk, about 5 centimeters in diameter and a half-centimeter thick. There was a hole near one edge with a leather thong threaded through it, and an eight-pointed star was burned into one side. Aoki said, "The comm device contains an audio recorder, but it's sound activated so you don't have to worry about it. To activate the communicator part pull on the thong. It will buzz to indicate you have contact with the ship, and then you can speak into the star or put it to your ear to listen. It will stay activated as long as you hold it in your hand. The signal also acts as a tracking beacon and we can locate you to within a couple of meters. Let's run a communications check. You first, ma'am." After all three women had made the check Aoki looked up from a test set. "All of the equipment is operable, sir."

Breg said, "The star is the local deity symbol. These devices are made to look like the religious medallions most peasant girls wear. Remember, the communicator is only to be used in private. It would be a violation of the First Directive if any of the locals saw you using it."

Breg ordered, "Now listen carefully. We have selected three district capitols, one for each of you. The shuttle will drop you off just before dawn. You'll be as close as we can get without being detected, but you will still have about a half-day's walk to the city. Here is a list of the questions you should ask." He gave each woman a piece of paper. "Memorize the questions and leave the paper on the shuttle. It would be hard to explain where you got something written in an unknown language. When you get to the city just walk around, ask the questions, and record the answers. You have enough money to pay for five days of food and lodging in a hostel. After that walk back to the drop-off point and call in. You'll be picked up after dark."

Mahoon complained, "What's with all of this walking? Don't they have horses on Gamma?"

"Actually, they don't. The only draft animal they have is a small ox, which is powerful, but slow. Anyway, no peasant girl would pay for transportation when she could walk. Now, get your stuff together and let's get moving."

Sonji wrapped the purse’s thin leather belt around her waist and tied it in place. She picked up her uniform and put it in the bag. She didn't see Erig whispering into Breg's ear.

Sonji put her shawl over one shoulder and started down the passageway towards the shuttle bay. Erig winked at Mahoon. "Thar, don't forget to tell Sonji about the bandits."

"Oh, yeah. A gang of bandits has been reported near where you'll be. They've been robbing travelers and kidnapping women for ransom. They wouldn't do more than gang-rape a peasant girl, though."

Sonji stopped walking. She stayed that way until Mahoon grabbed her arm and pulled her away.

Breg asked Erig, "Why did you want to do that?"

"Just a little initiation. Besides, she'll be more alert if she's nervous."

"You're a cruel slut."

Erig kissed him. "Just the way you like me, lover." She ran towards the shuttle bay.

* * *

Sonji walked down a dirt road toward the district capitol, Brombeg. It was mid-morning on a bright, pleasant day and the road was empty of other travelers. The weather reminded her of early summer on her home planet, but here some of the fields had crops ready to harvest, while in others the plants were just beginning to sprout. It had been cool earlier and she wore her shawl over her shoulders, but now it was warmer and she took it off and wrapped it around her waist.

Some of the fields she passed were planted in grain, others in root crops or vegetables, and about a third were fallow and covered with grass and clover. Mixed in with the fields were woodlands of various sizes, from less than a hectare to over a square kilometer. Sonji always grew tense as she neared the woodlands, expecting bandits to appear from behind the trees.

Sonji was just leaving a dense patch of woods when she saw something that made her stop and gasp. Ahead of her the fields on both sides of the road were fallow, and it was about 50 meters to the next patch of woods. On the right, close to the woods and about 20 meters from the road, an ox hitched to an empty wagon grazed on the grass.

Sonji was shocked by what she saw on the other side of the road. A rope was tied chest-high between two trees. Two women were standing with their backs to the rope, facing away from her. And she could see that the women's hands were tied behind their backs!

Sonji's first thought was of bandits, and she ran towards the women without hesitating. Helping them to escape was her only concern. The women heard her running and turned toward her.

Sonji asked the nearest woman, a blonde in a light blue dress, "Where are the bandits?"

"Bandits? What ban... Oh, yeah, the bandits! They're close. Get me loose, quick!"

Sonji examined the woman's bonds. Her right arm had been put though a loose loop in the rope tied between the trees, and a wide leather strap around her wrists held her hands palm-to-palm. The strap was fastened by a brass clamp instead of a buckle.

Sonji asked, "How do I get this clamp open?"

"Look at the clamp end closest to the free end of the strap. See those two tabs coming up from the base? Pins in the clamp handle spring into holes in those tabs. You have to push both pins in."

Sonji located the pins. She looked on the ground and found two sharp twigs, and after some fumbling she was able to push in the pins and lift the clamp handle. As soon her hands were free the blonde pulled her arm out of the loop and ran into the woods.

Sonji heard heavy footsteps coming from the direction of the road and turned to see a heavy-set man running towards her. He was shirtless and his left hand was holding up his trousers. He had a wooden cudgel in his right hand and he raised it overhead as he got close to Sonji. She used a move she had mastered in her self-defense classes and kicked him in the groin. He fell to the ground, emitting loud groans.

Sonji turned back to the other woman. "Now I'll get you loose."

The woman backed away. She exclaimed, "Not me!"

Sonji was surprised. "But you're a prisoner! Why don't you want me to free you?"

"Of course I'm a prisoner, I'm on my way to jail. But I only have to serve fifty days, and I don't want an escape charge added on to that."

"You mean that man I kicked isn't a bandit?"

"No, that's the jailor, Hodg. He's a piece of shit. The other jailor over there in the wagon is Madii. They tied us here while they took a fuck break."

Sonji looked over at the wagon. A naked woman stood up in it and dropped a dress over her head. "Why did that blonde run away?"

"Oh, that's Flixee. She was sentenced to three years I.S. for fraud. I guess she figured she didn't have much to lose. My name is Jonii, by the way."

"What's I.S.?"

"Involuntary servitude. I thought even peasant girls knew that."

Sonji walked over to Hodg, who had recovered enough to get to his knees. "I'm sorry, I seem to have made a mistake...Oooff."

Hodg punched her in the solar plexus. She fell down and he turned her on her stomach, pulled her hands behind her, and strapped them palm-to-palm. Then he pulled a piece of thin rope from his pocket and made a harness by running each end of the rope forward over a shoulder, back through an armpit, and tying the ends together in the middle of Sonji's back. He took out a wide strap, looped it around her arms just above the elbows, and pulled until her elbows almost touched. He used more rope to cinch the center of this strap to the harness. Then he crossed her ankles and tied them together. He ran a rope from the cinch on her ankles to the cinch on her elbows, pulled until her feet touched her hands, and tied off the rope.

Hodg stood up, kicked Sonji, and shouted, "Madii! Bring the wagon over here." He walked, bent over, to the trees and untied the rope holding Jonii. When the wagon arrived he helped her get into it and she sat on the floor. Madii tied one end of the rope around Jonii's arm to a ring at the front of the wagon.

Hodg picked up Sonji and tossed her into the wagon. She landed heavily on her side and screamed in pain. Hodg climbed into the wagon, jammed a wooden bit gag into her mouth, and fastened the straps behind her head.

"That'll keep you quiet. You can think about your future. Let's see, assaulting a judicial officer, ten years. Aiding an escape, three years plus the escapee's time. You've got sixteen years of I.S. ahead of you, slut."

Hodg pinched Sonji's nipples and she squealed from the pain. Madii turned around and shouted, "Hodg, you piece of shit! Get your hands off her and get up here!" Hodg climbed onto the seat and Madii urged the ox forward.

The wagon had traveled no more than half a kilometer when Madii was stopped by a farmer standing besides the road. The farmer's left hand was tangled in Flixee's blonde hair as he held her bent over with her head at waist height. Her wrists were crossed and tied behind her back with thin rope.

He said, "I think I got something you folks lost."

"Yeah, she's ours. Where did you find her?" Madii asked.

"She came to my house and asked me to loan her some money so she could get to town. She said she was a kidnapped heiress and her father would give me a big reward. But I was in my field and saw you tie her to the trees while you ah, rested." He leered at Madii, who blushed. "Blondes are so much smarter than most folks they sometimes think everyone else is stupid."

"Good job. Getting her back now will save a lot of trouble. You can apply for a reward."

The farmer smiled. "Oh, I've had a reward already. She did everything she could to persuade me not to turn her in."

He handed Flixee up to Hodg, who sat her on the floor next to Jonii and tied the end of the rope holding Jonii's arm around her neck. Hodg got back on the seat and the wagon moved on.

Several hours later the wagon was still moving. The straps binding Sonji’s arms were very painful. She was crying, sobbing into her gag.

Flixee said, "The girl is really hurting. Can't you untie her elbows?"

Hodg replied, "I'm hurting too. We'll be at the jail in less than an hour. Shut up or I'll gag you."

Flixee muttered to herself, "Hodg, you're a piece of shit."

The wagon entered Brombeg and traveled along the city streets until it stopped in front of a wooden gate in a high stone wall. Hodg got down and pounded on the gate until it was opened from the inside, and Madii drove the wagon into a large courtyard and stopped the ox. She got into the back of the wagon and untied the rope linking Jonii and Flixee from the ring. She helped both women out of the wagon and led them toward the jail.

Sonji screamed when Hodg picked her up by the rope attached to her ankles and elbows and carried her into the guardroom. He dropped her onto the floor next to the desk of the duty Civil Guard sergeant. "I want this slut arrested for assaulting a judicial officer and aiding an escape."

The sergeant stood up. "Are you the one she assaulted?" He looked at Sonji, who was lying on her stomach. "She really looks dangerous. You were lucky to escape with your life. How long have you had her trussed up like that?"

"Couple of hours."

"I'll bet. Hodg, you are a piece of shit."

Hodg flushed. "I don't care what you say. If a judicial officer makes a complaint the law says you have to make an arrest."

"Yeah, yeah. The complaint book is on that table. Fill in your part and then get out of my sight. I'll get information from the girl once she's able to talk."

He walked over to Sonji, took out a knife, and cut the ropes off of her ankles. He cut the shoulder ropes and the cinch at her elbows. He took out a clamp tool, a U-shaped piece of wire with the ends bent in, and used it to release the clamps on the straps that held her wrists and elbows. Sonji's arms were purple and they dangled limply at her sides as the sergeant picked her up and put her into a chair.

Sonji moaned as the sergeant took out her gag. She croaked, "Water, please, water."

The sergeant took her limp arms, crossed her wrists in front of her, and loosely fastened them with the strap. He got a jug of water and a pottery mug from his desk, poured water into the mug, and held it to Sonji's lips so she could drink. "Oh, thank you. My mouth was so dry."

"I need some information from you and then I'll put you in a detention cell and you can rest. First, what's your name?"


"How do you spell that?"

Sonji realized that she didn't even know the alphabet of the local language. On Gamma she was completely illiterate. She whispered, "I don't know."

The sergeant wrote ZONGEE on the form. "How old are you?" Sonji paused to calculate the difference between a Gamma year and her home planet's year. The sergeant looked at her innocent face and wrote down '18'. He put down BROMBEG as the place of residence.

The sergeant picked up Sonji and carried her to a door in the back of the room. He kicked on the door and a sturdy woman opened it. He said, "Pre-trial detention," and followed the woman into the cell block.

The woman opened an iron-bound wooden door with a key from the ring attached to her belt. The sergeant carried Sonji into the cell and put her down on a wooden bench attached to the back wall. There was an iron collar connected to a ring in the wall over the bench by almost three meters of heavy chain. The woman closed the collar around Sonji's neck and fastened it with a large padlock. The sergeant removed the strap from Sonji's wrists.

He said, "She's had some rough treatment. The doctor should look at her."

"The doctor is here now, I'll bring her over. I can search the girl at the same time. What happened to her?"

"Hodg brought her in."

"Hodg is a piece of shit. He always mistreats any woman he gets his hands on."

"Yeah, I know. One of these days we'll fix him."

By the time the doctor arrived Sonji was in a lot of pain from the returning circulation in her arms. The doctor had her drink a cup of bitter liquid and she was soon asleep.

* * *

Sonji woke up to find the cell illuminated by dim light from a small barred window high in the wall over the bench. She was on her back, wearing her dress and covered by her shawl. Her arms and shoulders hurt and her bruises ached, especially the place on her thigh where Hodg had kicked her.

She struggled to a sitting position on the bench and adjusted the collar so the chain dangled in front. She stood up and went to a stinking wooden bucket, squatted over it, and relieved herself. She found a pottery jug and drank some water. She went back to the bench, stretched out on her back, and fell asleep.

The sound of the cell door opening woke up Sonji and she looked over to see a woman slide a wooden bowl across the floor and close the door. Sonji got the bowl and sat on the bench. The bowl was filled with porridge and there was a wooden spoon. Sonji hadn't had anything to eat since she left the ship and she was very hungry. The porridge was bland but filling, and Sonji scraped the bowl clean before she put it back on the floor.

She heard a shout from outside and found that if she stood on tiptoe on the bench she could just see out of the window. A courtyard was bright with morning sun and about twenty uniformed men were lined up near a gate in the wall. Sonji recognized the man standing in front of the line as the guardsman who had been kind to her yesterday. He shouted something and the rank broke up. Sonji guessed this was the morning muster. The weight of the chain was pressing the collar painfully into the back of her neck, so she lay back down on the bench.

She inventoried her possessions. Her money and sandals were missing, but she had her dress and shawl. She raised a hand to her chest but she couldn't feel her communicator. She used both hands to feel her neck and back but soon there was no doubt. Her communicator was missing.

Sonji considered her situation. She was chained to the wall of a jail cell. No one on the ship knew what had happened to her, and even if they did know they couldn't help her if it violated the First Directive. She was going to be treated as if she were an actual peasant girl. Sonji felt panic and then fear. Sixteen years in prison! She would be almost forty when she finished her sentence. She said to herself, "I'm a Star Fleet officer. I must be brave!", but the thought of spending her youth in servitude on a backwater planet was too awful. She started to cry.

Sonji cried for a long time and then fell into a fitful, broken sleep. Once again the sound of the cell door opening woke her up. A woman put a wooden bowl and a small loaf of bread on the floor and relocked the door. Sonji was too depressed to be hungry, but she made herself get the food. The bowl contained warm vegetable soup and the bread smelled fresh. She forced herself to eat and was surprised by how good the food tasted. She ate it all and then drank some water and squatted over the bucket.

She got back onto the bench. The chain was so heavy she was uncomfortable except when she rested the collar on the bench. She tried to empty her mind and pass the time with sleep, but before long some memory would come to her. Her family back on her home planet. Her friends from the university. Even the cramped compartment she shared with Mahoon on the Interloper. She thought of her bleak future and how long it would be before she saw a familiar scene or a friendly face. Then the tears would start.

The sun was sending a yellow beam of light through the cell window when another meal arrived. This time it was a bowl of stew and more bread. Once again Sonji forced herself to eat, drink some water, and use the bucket.

The sun was down and the cell was getting dark when the cell door opened one more time. A woman came in and picked up the empty bowls and put them into a basket on a cart outside the cell, and exchanged the water jug for a full one she got from a lower shelf on the cart. The cart rolled out of sight and another one took its place. This one carried a stinking barrel. Another woman came in, took the latrine bucket, and emptied it into the barrel. She poured some water into the bucket and brought it back into the cell. Sonji looked at the woman. It was Jonii! Jonii smiled at her but didn't say anything. Finally, a woman with keys at her belt looked into the cell and made a mark on a tablet. The door was locked and night left the cell in blackness.

The next three days were the same. Sonji had gotten better at blanking her mind and she didn't cry as much. Her arms had stopped hurting and her bruises were changing to vivid colors. She spent as much time as possible on the bench with her eyes closed.

Her sixth day in jail started the same way, but about an hour after the morning meal a woman came into the cell. She looked to be about forty, and she was smartly dressed in a gray jacket and a pleated gray skirt. She carried a rectangular case made of polished wood and a folding camp stool. She waited until the cell door was closed and then she unfolded the camp stool and sat on it. She put the case on her lap, opened the top, and took out several sheets of paper.

"My name is Lornee. I am an advocate, and I have been appointed by the court to be your representative." She raised an eyebrow. "Unless you want to hire someone else?"

Sonji sat up. This woman reminded her of Captain Goda. "No, ma'am. I don't have anyone else."

Lornee looked at a printed form. "Your name is Zongee?"

"Sonji. Please tell me, will I have to go to prison for sixteen years?"

Lornee looked surprised. "Why do you say that?"

"That's what Hodg told me."

"Hodg is a piece of shit. First of all, the aiding an escape charge has been dropped. Flixee was never reported as missing, so there wasn't any escape to aid. Second, the maximum sentence for assaulting a judicial officer is ten years, but you wouldn't get that much time unless you had a long history of violence. On the other hand, the court considers any attack on its officers as an attack on the court itself, so it tends to deal harshly with this kind of offense. I've read Hodg's statement, and he says you attacked him from behind with a club, without any provocation. Madii backs him up."

"But that's not true!"

"Knowing Hodg, I don't doubt it. You tell me what really happened."

Sonji related her story. When she finished Lornee nodded. "I talked with Jonii and she agrees with what you said, although we both wonder how anybody could seriously believe there were bandits in the area, or that they would leave woman captives unguarded."

Lornee sighed. "I hate to tell you this, but I don't think you have a chance of being acquitted. It comes down to your word against Hodg's and Madii's. Jonii and Flixee are both convicts and their testimony wouldn't have much weight. Your best chance for a light sentence is to plead guilty. If you express remorse, and the judges take into account your age and background, you won't get more than a few years I.S."

Lornee thought, 'If you look like that in court, with that innocent face, that woebegone expression, and those tear-stained eyes, the judges will have to have hearts like kidney stones to give you any more than that'.

"You know best, ma'am. I'll do as you say."

"Your court appearance is scheduled for the first thing this afternoon, and I'll meet you there. Don't worry, everything will work out." She put the papers back in her case, stood up and folded her camp stool, and knocked on the cell door. The door opened and she stepped out of the cell. She looked back at Sonji and smiled. The door closed.

Sonji sat on the bench, with tears of relief running down her face. For the first time in days she felt some hope. She muttered, "Maybe I won't have to spend all of the best years of my life on this planet!"

Sonji ate her noon meal and had just finished using the bucket when the cell door opened and the woman with the keys came in, followed by a uniformed guardsman carrying a handful of leather straps.

The woman dropped Sonji's sandals on the floor. She ordered, "Put them on."

When Sonji had done this the guardsman took a wide leather strap and clamped an end to each of her ankles. She spread her feet and found the separation allowed by the strap was about 30 centimeters. She could walk, but she couldn't run. The woman took a key from her belt, unlocked the padlock, and removed the collar that had been around Sonji's neck for almost six days. Sonji rubbed her neck, happy to be free of the weight.

The guardsman commanded, "Stand up and turn around."

Sonji quickly did so, and the guardsman put a thick belt around her waist and buckled it in the back. There were straps riveted to the belt, and he used them to fasten Sonji's wrists in front of her hips. Sonji found that she could just make her fingertips touch.

The woman folded Sonji's shawl and tucked it under Sonji's left arm, and then put the communicator's thong around her neck and put the medallion inside her dress. She said, "Your money will be held by the court. You’ll get it back now if you’re acquitted, and after you complete your sentence if you’re not."

The guardsman took Sonji by the arm and led her out of the cell and down a corridor to another door. He knocked and a peephole opened and an eye peered out. The door was unlocked and opened, they went though it and down another corridor, and then through an unlocked door into the courtroom.

Sonji looked around. To her left was a large desk with three chairs behind it. To her right were maybe twenty benches, in two rows with an aisle between them. The only other people in the room were three old men sitting on the bench farthest from the desk, against the back wall. Sonji started to panic when she didn't see Lornee, but a door in the back wall opened and Lornee walked down the aisle and over to her.

Lornee said, "We'll start soon. Let's go sit down." She led them to a bench in the front row and sat down. Sonji sat next to her and the guardsman sat just behind Sonji.

"Listen carefully, Zongee. Let me do all of the talking. Don't talk unless I give your arm a squeeze. When you are asked if you want to say anything before sentencing tell them how sorry you are. Cry if you can. Do you understand?"

Sonji nodded. She was confused and frightened, and happy to let Lornee take charge.

A clerk came into the room from a door behind the desk. "All rise. Criminal court for Brombeg district is now in session."

Three judges in gray jackets and gray trousers with a red stripe along the outside seam came into the room and sat in the chairs behind the desk. The one in the middle looked at some papers. He announced, "Case number 3141. Assault on a judicial officer alleged against Zongee. Is the allegent present?"

Lornee took Sonji's arm and led her in front of the desk. "Yes, Excellency, this is Zongee. I am Lornee, her advocate."

"How does the allegent answer this charge?"

"Guilty, Excellency. We request immediate sentencing."

"Granted. The convict may make a mitigation statement before sentencing."

Lornee squeezed Sonji's arm. Sonji started to cry and wailed, "I'm so sorry! It was a terrible mistake! I didn't mean to hurt anybody." She was now sobbing so hard she couldn't speak. Lornee put her arms around Sonji and patted her back.

The judge announced, "We will recess for a judges' consultation."

Lornee led Sonji over to the bench and they sat down. She held Sonji until the crying stopped and then got a cloth from her case and dried Sonji's tears. She whispered in Sonji's ear, "Very convincing!"

Sonji looked puzzled. "What?" Before Lornee could say anything else the judges returned and the two women moved in front of the desk.

The judge said, "Assaulting a judicial officer is a very serious offense. It is a crime of violence, directed not only against an individual but against justice itself. Even allowing for the convict's youth and inexperience we are obligated to deal with her harshly. Zongee, you are sentenced to one year of involuntary servitude. You are placed in the custody of the Warden of Prison Farm Number Four. Court is adjourned."

Sonji had experienced increasing terror as the judge spoke. When she realized that she had been sentenced to only one year I.S. she swooned and Lornee held her up until she recovered.

Two women in tan dresses moved up to them. One said to Lornee, "We're keepers from PF 4. I now take custody of the slave Zongee."

Lornee moved in front of Sonji, held her head with both hands, and kissed her on the lips. Lornee had tears in her eyes. "Good-bye, Zongee. I'll never forget you."

The keepers led Sonji away to begin her new life as a slave.

* * *

A wagon pulled by two oxen entered Prison Farm Number Four. Two keepers in tan dresses sat on the seat and the back was filled with sacks of seed grain. Sonji sat on top of the sacks. She still wore the straps that the guardsman had put on her back at the jail, and a rope was tied around her neck with the free end held by one of the keepers. Sonji didn’t like having her hands immobilized for so long, but she was grateful she didn't have any of the pain she experienced in Hodg's wagon.

She felt her anxiety increase when the wagon stopped. The keeper holding her tether got down and she felt a tug on her neck. Sonji moved to the edge of the wagon. The keeper helped her down and led her into a stone building.

Inside the building there were two more women. A keeper was sitting in a chair behind a large table. The trusty standing beside her wore a smock made of coarse brown cloth and a tan headband, and she had an iron collar around her neck.

The keeper holding Sonji's tether said, "This is the new input. Let's get her processed now so the Warden can interview her today." She removed the tether and used a clamp tool to release the straps and free Sonji's wrists. She unbuckled the belt. "Strip," she ordered.

Sonji hesitated just a moment as she said to herself, "I'm a slave now. I'd better get used to humiliation." She put her shawl on the table, removed her dress, and put it next to her shawl.

"Sandals and medallion, too."

Sonji took off her sandals and put them on the table. As she removed her medallion she pulled on the thong and felt the buzz that meant communication was established. She kept the medallion in her hand as long as she dared before she dropped it on the table.

The keeper used a strap to fasten Sonji's hands behind her back. The other keeper got out a ledger, a quill pen, and an inkwell. She asked, "Name?"

The first keeper answered, "Zongee."

This was written in the ledger. "Offense?"

"Assaulting a judicial officer."

"Impressive. Good thing you've fastened her hands. She might have overpowered all of us. What's her number going to be?"

The trusty entered the room with a semicircular piece of metal in her hand and read the number stamped on it. "628". Then she got a brown smock from a shelf in the corner and wrote 628 on the front and on the back using a small brush and a clear liquid. Where the liquid touched the cloth the brown changed to a dirty yellow.

The keeper said to Sonji, "Open your mouth." When Sonji complied the keeper looked inside. Then she ran her hands through Sonji's hair.

She turned Sonji so she faced the table. "Bend over and put your face on the table".

Sonji obeyed and the other keeper held Sonji's hair so her cheek was pressed against the table top. The next command was, "Spread your legs."

Sonji moved her legs to the limit permitted by the hobble strap connecting her ankles. Then she gasped as she felt a finger enter her slit. The keeper doing the probing said, "This is amazing! I feel a maidenhead."

The other keeper chortled, "A virgin peasant girl! I'll write this down. She must be a fast runner, or else her brothers are slow."

Sonji felt a finger probe her other orifice. Silent tears rolled from her eyes as she started to understand that humiliation could always get worse.

Sonji's hair was released and she was pulled upright. The trusty pulled the smock over her head and under her bound hands. It was actually just a rectangular piece of coarsely-woven cloth with a hole in the middle. It was long enough to reach Sonji's knees and wide enough to allow the edges to just meet when the trusty tied a string around her waist. It left her hips and the sides of her breasts exposed.

The keeper pointed to Sonji's chest. "628 is your number. Answer when it is called. You no longer have a name."

The three women went through a door in the back of the room, pulling Sonji with them. In the next room a small forge smoldered in the corner and near it was an anvil, a bucket of water, and some tools. A keeper put some iron rivets on the hot coals and the trusty worked a bellows. The forge started to glow brightly.

The other keeper had the iron semicircle with the number on it, and she rummaged in a wooden box until she found a matching semicircle. This one had an iron half-ring welded to it instead of a stamped number. At each end of both of the semicircles was a radial flange with a hole in it.

Once the rivets were hot the keeper ordered, "Kneel beside the anvil and put your head down."

Sonji knelt and the keeper put one semicircle under her neck and the other above it, made sure the holes in the flanges lined up, and used a large wooden clamp to hold everything in place. She moved Sonji's hair out of the way, worked a piece of leather inside the iron circle, and adjusted it so it covered Sonji's neck and part of her face and shoulder.

The other keeper came from the forge holding in one hand tongs clamped on a red-hot rivet. She had a hammer in the other hand. She put the rivet up through the flanges and moved Sonji's neck so the head of the rivet was on the anvil. A few blows with the hammer flattened the rivet, and the keeper dipped some water from the bucket and cooled it. The clamp was removed, the circle was rotated around Sonji's neck, and another rivet was hammered into place. Sonji now wore a slave collar.

Next the keeper removed the ankle strap and riveted leg irons on Sonji. These were crude, just semicircles of rounded metal with the ends flattened and punched to accept a rivet. They were connected by a chain fabricated from two rods with interlocking loops forged on the ends. Sonji wondered at this and then she realized this was the easiest thing for a blacksmith to make by hand.

Sonji stood there, with her wrists strapped behind her back, an iron collar around her neck, and the heat from the rivets warming her leg irons. For some reason she thought, 'What would happen if Star Fleet put this adventure on their recruiting posters?'

A keeper removed the strap from Sonji's wrists. "Twelve, take charge of 628 until lockdown tonight. Take her to the Warden's office and then show her the routine."

The trusty replied. "Yes, Keeper." The keepers left the room. Twelve said, "I'll show you something that will help your ankles." She took a piece of string and tied a loop around Sonji's right calf just below her knee, then looped the other end around the leg iron and pulled it up as high as it would go. She did the same on the other leg. "You can get some bad bruises if the irons keep bumping your ankle bones."

"Thank you. This is all so new to me."

Twelve and Sonji entered another building. A blonde in a slave's smock sat at a table reading some papers. Twelve said, "Here's the new input for her interview with the Warden".

Flixee looked up and recognized Sonji. "Are you Zongee?"

"Yes, but I pronounce it 'Sonji'."

"I'm really sorry for what I did. If I had told you I was a convict you wouldn't be here now."

"I was the one who made the mistake. I'm sorry you didn't escape."

"We can't talk now. We're both in Barracks 2, so I'll see you before lockdown."

Flixee got up and knocked on a door. "The new input is here, Warden." She turned to Sonji. "Go in."

Sonji entered the office. A gray-haired woman sat behind a desk. She looked Sonji over carefully. "This is a pleasant surprise. I had expected that someone convicted of assault would look hard and tough. You will be volunteering for private servitude, won't you?"

Sonji didn't know what she meant, but something told her not to disagree with this woman. She nodded yes.

"Excellent! I knew we would get along. That's all, 628."

Sonji left the office and the building as fast as she could. Twelve caught up to her and led the way towards four barn-like wooden buildings. A narrow trench was located about 30 meters from the first building, and the smell made it obvious what its purpose was.

Sonji asked, "Can we stop? I have to pee."

"All right. You stand on two of those boards crossing the trench. Hold my hand. It can be tricky until you get used to the irons."

Sonji shuffled out on two narrow boards spaced about as far apart as she could spread her legs. She squatted over the center of the trench and urinated. When she finished she shuffled to the other side of the trench.

Twelve explained, "You can pee in the fields, but this is the only place you can dump. When you're working you get a chance to use this latrine only in the morning and at night, so plan ahead."

They went into a large building. The only furniture was a long waist-high counter. The floor was dirt. Sonji asked, "Is this the barracks? Where are the bunks?"

"See those chains?" Twelve indicated four parallel chains that stretched most of the length of the building. Each had one end fastened to a ring in a stone block set in the floor and the other end padlocked to a similar ring. "At lockdown everyone has their irons around a chain, and the end is padlocked. This makes sure that nobody takes a walk during the night. As the new girl you'll be first on a chain and the last one off."

"You mean we have to sleep on the dirt floor?"

"Yeah, we're out of featherbeds. You'll get used to it. Besides, I don't expect you to be here long. Now, the routine. Wake up is at first light. As soon as the chain is unlocked go use the latrine. Then back in here for morning meal. They bring it in from the cookhouse and serve it at the counter. Then everyone lines up outside in the main yard for roll call. Don't miss it. The Warden makes new work assignments and hands out punishments. Then you go to your work assignment. You quit work about an hour before sunset and come back here. There's a pond you can use if you want to wash all over. You will want to use it, because you're going to be dirty and sweaty. Night meal is served exactly at sunset, and you have to be in the barracks, so use the latrine before then. After the meal everyone goes back on a chain for another roll call and lockdown."

"What about the noon meal?"

"That's brought to you at your worksite. It's usually something that doesn't need cooking, like bread and cheese. Now I'll show you where the pond is and you can wash. You smell bad."

When Sonji returned from the pond Flixee was in the barracks, and Twelve let them have a private conversation. Sonji said, "When I saw the Warden today she said something about private servitude. What did she mean?"

"You can do public servitude, like work on this farm, or they put you up at auction and whoever buys you gets your I.S. for a year. Most of the money goes to the district, but a lot gets spread around, and it can be a lot of money. If there is a year or more of I.S. left on your sentence after the first year you're auctioned again. You didn't know this?"

Sonji was shocked. "You mean if a man bought me he could do anything he wanted with me?"

"Well, not anything. He couldn't burn his initials into your butt, for instance. The rule is, no permanent scars or other damage. That includes mental damage. Driving you crazy isn't allowed either."

"But if he wanted sex I'd have to give it to him?"

"Sonji, sex is the minimum he'd want. Whoever buys you wants a slave, someone he can control, someone who has to do as she is told whether she wants to or not, someone who can be punished. If all he wanted was sex, he could get it easier and cheaper from a brothel, or a concubine, or even a wife."

"Have you ever been sold?"

"Yeah, my last I.S. was for two years. The first year a middle-aged man bought me. He'd tie me up, and spank me, but it was really just play. He whipped me once, but I had deliberately provoked him. It hurt, but the marks were gone in a week. We had some great sex, and I was sorry when the year was up. The next year a woman bought me, and it was just the opposite."

"A woman? What did she want?"

"Well, at first she wanted a body servant, and my tongue was always busy too. She'd have me give her a massage, or oil her body, or do up her hair. If I didn't do it exactly the way she liked it she'd whip me. Soon she stopped pretending it was a punishment and she just tortured me for the fun of it. She knew every way there was to cause pain without leaving any marks. Usually she would fasten me in some contorted position and leave me there for hours. Before long I was looking for a way to kill myself. Then I had some good luck. The one time she went too far the court inspectors made a surprise visit."

"What did she do?"

"She made me stand on a box and tied my hands over my head. She tied my ankles to rings in the floor. Then she ran a thin iron wire between my legs and pulled it tight. She kicked to box out from under my feet. I held myself up with my arms as long as I could, but it didn’t take long before all my weight was supported by the wire. In a few minutes blood was running down my legs and I was screaming and begging. I don't know how long it was before the inspectors found me, but it took a lot of surgery and almost a month in a hospital before I was repaired enough to function. They let me finish my I.S. doing clerical work. It was almost enough to make me give up crime."

“That’s terrible! Is everyone treated like that?”

“No, there’s a severe penalty for hurting a slave that much. Also, the court inspectors are a lot more diligent now.”

"Flixee, I can't do private servitude if it means I have to have sex. I just can't!"

"Sonji, you really don't have a choice. I know the law says you have to volunteer for private servitude, but the Warden has your custody, which means she gets part of the money. She is also the one who determines your work assignments and orders your punishments. Believe me, she can force you to volunteer eventually, so save yourself a lot of pain and do it sooner rather than later. The Warden will call for volunteers the day after tomorrow, and I'm going to step forward. Please, you too."

They noticed the sun was almost down and went to the latrine. Just after they returned to the barracks vats of stew and baskets of bread were brought in. The slaves lined up at the counter and as they walked down it they were given a wooden bowl filled with stew and a chunk of bread. They sat on the floor to eat it. Sonji thought that it wasn't nearly as good as the food she'd had in jail.

After eating the slaves formed four lines, one for each chain. Flixee went to the head of one line and put Sonji in front of her. Two keepers entered the barracks and one shouted, "Lockdown."

"What do I do?" Sonji asked.

"Pick up the end of the chain and pass it back to me between your legs. Then just walk forward, picking up the chain as you go."

One of the keepers padlocked the chain ends and then walked along and made sure each slave's leg irons were under the chain. The other keeper called out numbers and checked the responses against a list she held. When she finished the roll call the keepers left the barracks and the slaves could lie on the floor. There was a chorus of groans and a rattle of chains.

Flixee pointed out two shallow hollows in the dirt next to Sonji. "One of those is for your hip and the other is for your shoulder. You can use that block of wood as a pillow. If you untie the strings from your calves you'll have more slack."

Sonji lay on her side and found she was more comfortable than she had expected to be, but she still spent a restless night.

The next morning the slaves assembled in the main yard. The morning meal had been bad-tasting gruel. Sonji stood next to Flixee in the front row. In front of her was a raised platform covered by a pitched roof. When the Warden and ten keepers walked onto the yard and climbed the steps at the front of the platform everyone became silent.

The Warden announced, "Today we welcome 628 to our happy company. She is assigned to Labor Gang 2. Now I have an unpleasant task. 238, step forward!"

A slave with that number on her smock reluctantly moved towards the platform. Two of the keepers moved next to her and held her arms. The Warden said, "It was reported to me that you defecated in a field yesterday. Is that true?"

"I...I...I couldn't help it. My bowels were loose and..." the woman stammered.

"I'm so sorry, but you broke a rule and now you must be punished. Twenty lashes."

The keepers dragged the wretched 238 up onto the platform. Another keeper tied a rope to each of her wrists. The ropes were looped over hooks in the ceiling and pulled until 238 was standing on her toes with her arms spread apart. Her smock was removed and she stood naked with her back to the assembled slaves.

A keeper swung a wide, heavy strap. It hit the middle of 238's back and a puffy red welt sprang up. 238 groaned. After the third stroke she screamed.

Sonji flinched as the strap hit. She closed her eyes so she didn’t have to watch, but she couldn’t shut out the screams.

238 kept screaming until all twenty lashes had been delivered. When the last stroke hit her she collapsed, dangling from the ropes on her wrists. She had red and swollen welts from her shoulders to her knees.

Sonji glanced at 238’s body, but quickly looked away. She was shocked by the brutality, and afraid that it might happen to her. The other slaves and the guards seemed to be indifferent to what had happened, and this frightened Sonji even more.

After roll call Sonji was collected by the leader of her labor gang and led to a field. She was given a hoe and shown which plants were the crop and which plants were the weeds. After she had been hoeing for a while she paused to wipe the sweat out of her eyes. She heard her number called and turned to see a keeper walking towards her.

The keeper shouted, "You weren't told you could stop working! Two strokes. Bend over."

Sonji was shocked. She stood motionless until the keeper pulled her hair and forced her head down.

"Stalling gets you another stroke. Grab your ankles and don't let go."

The keeper lifted up Sonji's smock and pushed down on her back so that her bare bottom was uppermost. Then she swung a short strap. A red welt appeared on Sonji's skin and she gasped. The next stroke hurt even more. When the third stroke was delivered the pain was so intense that she had trouble holding in a scream.

This was just the start of a very long day for Sonji. Every keeper seemed to seek her out and hit her with a strap for any reason or for no reason. By quitting time her backside was just one big welt.

After she got her food that evening Sonji ate it standing up. Flixee saw this and raised the back of Sonji's smock. She gave a low whistle when she saw the condition of Sonji's bottom. "What happened to you?"

"The keepers just kept hitting me. I don't know what I did wrong."

There was a sudden hush as the Warden entered the barracks. She announced, "I want to remind everyone that tomorrow you can volunteer for private servitude."

The Warden walked over to Sonji. "I heard that you had a hard time today. It is so, so easy to break a rule without even meaning to, and then be punished for it. Just look at what happened to poor 238. But you promised to volunteer, didn't you? Then you won't be here, and this won't be a concern for you."

The Warden left the barracks. Flixee said, "Well, that was a clear enough message. If you don't volunteer tomorrow she'll whip you to a bloody pulp. Please Sonji, she'll break you eventually no matter how much you resist. Don't suffer a lot of pain for nothing."

"I know you're trying to help, and I thank you. But I just can't do it." Sonji expected more arguments, but Flixee said nothing.

At roll call the next morning Flixee whispered to Sonji, "This is it. Are you going to volunteer?"

Sonji shook her head. Flixee shrugged and nodded. The two women standing to either side of Sonji grabbed an arm and forced Sonji's hands behind her back. Another woman wrapped string around her wrists and knotted it. When the Warden asked for volunteers to step forward Flixee pulled Sonji by her hair and forced her to walk to the front of the ranks. The Warden looked at them and smiled.

* * *

It was morning of the next day. Sonji, Flixee, and two other women, Kanii and Punee, were in a room not too far from the courtroom where Sonji had been sentenced. All of them were sleeping on straw pallets, luxury bedding compared to what they had at the prison farm. A keeper opened the door to the room and a woman entered carrying a pot of porridge. She put the pot on a table and all of the women but Sonji went to the food.

Sonji stayed on her pallet because she was chained to the wall. The chain, attached to a waist-high ring and locked to her collar, was just long enough to allow her to stand up or lie down. She had been fastened to the wall since she arrived yesterday, and she was tired of it.

Flixee brought her a bowl of porridge. "Have you forgiven me for forcing you into this?" she asked.

"Of course I have. I know you meant to help me and I can't explain why this is wrong for me." She changed the subject. "Why am I chained to the wall while you three can move around the room?"

"Because you're a dangerous woman, convicted of a crime of violence, and all we did was steal. Maybe I should move back, out of your reach."

"Very funny. What's going to happen to us now?"

"If it's like the last time I was here, they'll take off our leg irons and give us a medical exam. Maybe even a bath. About two hours before the auction starts we'll be put on display in the auction room."

"What do you mean, on display?"

"We'll be tied up so everyone can look over what they'll be bidding on. But all they can do is look. Touching isn't allowed."

"That's awful. What's the medical exam for?"

"They write down all of the scars you have, so that when your owner brings you back he can't claim you were damaged before he got you. They look for disease, especially sexual disease, and they put a pebble in your womb unless you have one already."

"A pebble! What's that for?"

"It keeps you from having a baby. I thought you peasant girls knew all about things like that."

Sonji quickly said, "Oh, yes. In my village we use a copper coin instead of a pebble."

"I've heard of that. Coins are supposed to be better, but pebbles are cheaper. What else do you want to know?"

"Flixee, I'm so scared. If a man buys me, what am I supposed to do?"

"The simple answer is that you do exactly what he wants you to do. The problem is finding out what that is. Usually he doesn't give you a complete list of what he wants, and sometimes he doesn't know himself. All I can do is give you some general rules. The three most important are, be humble, be obedient, and be very polite.

"Unless he tells you differently call him Master, and be sure you use it in every phrase. Don't speak unless he gives you permission to do so, or asks you a direct question. Don't ask him for anything. Especially don't ask him to let you loose, unless you want to be tied tighter. Don't deliberately disobey him or defy him unless you really want to be punished. Thank him for everything he gives you, whether it's sex, or food, or a whipping."

Sonji wailed, "I'll never be able to remember all of this."

"Let me put it another way. You want to make him believe that he is the center of your world, and that nothing is more important to you than pleasing him.” Flixee held Sonji’s shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Remember that, Sonji. Pleasing your master is all-important. If you don’t he can make your life such a misery you’ll want to end it, and he can do it without breaking the law. Do you understand?”

Sonji nodded, her eyes wide. She was very frightened.

Flixee went on, "Body language is very important. I'll show you. Stand up."

Flixee also stood. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked Sonji in the eyes. She said, "How may I serve you, Mistress?" Then she knelt, bowed her head, and using the same tone repeated, "How may I serve you, Mistress?"

"Wow, Flixee, it really gives me a funny feeling to have you kneeling like that. I felt nothing when you were standing."

Flixee stood up. "If you were a man the feeling would be even stronger. Once you know how to do it, you can have a lot of control even though you're a slave."

"What if a woman buys me? What would she want?"

"That's easy. She'll want you to give her sex, and she'll want to give you pain."

While Sonji was pondering that two keepers entered the room. One took Kanii and Punee out of the room and the other came over to Flixee and Sonji. She strapped Sonji's hands behind her back and unlocked the chain attached to her collar. Sonji and Flixee were taken to a small room that had a large vise with horizontal circular jaws mounted to the floor. The keeper closed the vise around one of Flixee's irons and used a chisel to cut off the head of the rivet holding it closed. She repeated the process with Flixee's other leg, and then replaced the leg irons with a hobble strap.

When it was Sonji's turn Flixee took her arm to steady her. She commented, "I'm glad they have this vise. Otherwise you can get some really nasty bruises when the irons are cut off."

Sonji's ankles were hobbled and the three women entered another room. Kanii was supine on an examining table. Her knees were spread and strapped to posts extending from two corners of the table. A doctor was examining her, and when he finished Flixee stripped and got on the table. The doctor described the massive scar on Flixee's crotch and a woman wrote comments in a ledger. When the internal examination was finished Flixee was released and the woman examined her body for other scars.

The keeper removed Sonji's smock and helped her onto the table. Her knees were strapped to the posts. She moved her arms and tried to find a comfortable way to lay on her bound hands.

The doctor started his examination. He said, "This is unusual. A violent criminal who is also a virgin. She won't be one for long, though, so let's make it easier for her."

He took a scalpel and slit Sonji’s hymen. He completed the examination and implanted a pebble in her uterus. Sonji felt her humiliation was now complete.

When Sonji and Flixee returned to their room they found Kanii sitting in a large tub of water and Punee drying herself off with a large towel.

"Wonderful! I really need a bath." Flixee said.

"We have to share the bath water? Who goes next?" Sonji asked.

"I do."

"I need a bath too! Why do you get to go next?"

"Because my hands aren't strapped behind my back."

* * *

Sonji and the other three women had been on display for almost two hours. They were standing on a low platform, and each had her hands fastened to a ring in the wooden beam over their heads. Their wrists were crossed and strapped, and they weren't stretched, but after all this time they were uncomfortable. They were all naked. Each woman's smock was next to her feet, folded so her slave number was visible.

Sonji's mind was detached from her body, and she watched everything as if it were happening to someone else. The young woman who had blushed when she changed clothes in the presence of her shipmates was somewhere inside, but the Sonji-body on the platform didn't react to the stares and lewd comments of over a hundred strangers.

A man climbed onto the platform. He clapped his hands loudly several times, and waited until the crowd had quieted. "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Brombeg indenture auction. We only have four slaves this session, but they are all choice! Our first offering is number 628."

A guardsman moved Sonji next to the auctioneer. She was still naked, but now her wrists were crossed and strapped behind her back. The auctioneer said, "628 was convicted of assaulting a judicial officer. Looks dangerous, doesn't she? You'll have to take special precautions with her! Eighteen years old and still a virgin, if you can believe it. Look at that flawless body, that tan skin, that black hair. You could get lost in that bush. What am I bid?"

The initial bidding was spirited, but the price quickly reached a level that caused all but two bidders to drop out. One was a man with a shaved head and a scarred face, who wore a sword and body armor. The other bidder was Longee. Soon the price became higher than she could pay, and Sonji was sold to the warrior.

A guardsman pulled Sonji from the auction platform and dressed her in her smock. He took her to a table where the warrior who now owned her was paying money to a clerk. The warrior hardly looked at his purchase. He grabbed her arm and led her into a small room, where another warrior was standing next to a large barrel. They picked Sonji up and stood her in the barrel, forced her to crouch down, and fastened on the lid. The barrel was put on a hand truck and rolled outside and down the street.

The barrel had a hole in the side that let in light and air, and it was large enough that Sonji wasn't excessively cramped, but she was very frightened. The man who bought her looked cruel, and she was afraid of what he would do to her if she didn't please him.

The two warriors with the barrel were joined by another man. He had a patrician look and wore fine clothes. One of the warriors tapped the barrel. "We bought a beauty for you, Councilor Radg. Are you going to take her to Tarnbeg?"

"No, take her to my house here."

The group walked about a kilometer and stopped in front of a large house. One of the warriors knocked on the door and it was opened by an elderly doorkeeper. A young man met the group in the entrance hall.

"Hello, Dag. Can we come in?".

"Of course, Father. It's still your house." They embraced. "But I am surprised to see you. I thought you were still in Tarnbeg."

"I'm just in town for some meetings. I won’t be here long.”

“Does this have anything to do with you becoming President of the National Council?”

Radg grinned. “That’s just a rumor. Officially, I’m no more than Brombeg’s elected National Council representative.”

The two men exchanged smiles. Radg said, “I stopped by to wish you a happy birthday. How are you, Dag? How are you doing with your studies?"

"I'm doing fine, Father. A year from now I should be an advocate. Come in and we can talk. Can I get you some wine, perhaps?"

"No thanks, I have a meeting soon and I can only stay a few minutes. Join us for dinner tonight at your brother's house. We can talk then. By the way, how's your love life?"

"Bleak. Studying doesn't leave time for courting. I visit a brothel about once a month, and that's it."

Radg smiled, "I haven't given you your present." He pointed to the barrel.

"What's this, Father? Beer? Wine?"

The warriors removed the lid and lifted Sonji out of the barrel.

"Here's something to keep you occupied when you're not studying. When you aren't using her she can be Bomdee's helper. She's been convicted of a violent crime, so you have to keep her restrained. That hobble strap qualifies when she's escorted, but she has to be in something more secure if she's left alone." Radg handed Dag a clamp tool. "Use this to remove the strap if her legs won't spread far enough."

“You’re very generous, father. She must have cost a lot.”

“A young man can get into trouble if he doesn’t have easy access to sex. Now you can stay out of the brothels.” Radg and his bodyguards went to the door. "Good-bye for now, Dag. I'll see you later, at your brother’s house."

As soon as the door had closed behind his father Dag returned to Sonji. He removed the straps from her wrists. "Hello, my name is Dag. What's your name?"

Sonji replied, "Sonji." Then she remembered what Flixee had told her. She quickly knelt and bowed her head. "How may I serve you, Master?"

Dag's erection nearly tore his pants. He pulled Sonji to her feet and dragged her after him by her wrist. "Come to my bedroom and I'll show you!"

When they reached the bedroom Dag took off his clothes and Sonji's smock. He threw her on the bed and lay down beside her. He kissed her deeply and stroked her breast. Her nipple started to harden, and then she fainted.

Dag revived her by splashing cold water in her face. He was puzzled. "I once knew a girl who laughed uncontrollably when I touched her, but this is the first time someone has fainted. I wonder what happened."

Sonji was terrified. She knew exactly what had happened. This was the way her church kept girls from being tempted by physical pleasure and thus denied Enlightenment. But how could she explain neuro-psychological conditioning to someone who had never even seen a brain scan? And if she couldn't participate in sex, what would he do to her instead?

"Please, Master. Permission to speak?" she begged.

"Yes, Sonji. And anytime we're alone you can speak without asking for permission."

"Thank you, Master. This had nothing to do with you, Master. I have been this way since I changed from a girl to a woman. I'm sorry, Master."

"You mean every time you get aroused you faint?"

"Yes, Master. I can't help it. Could you have sex with me anyway?"

"No. Necrophilia has never interested me."

Dag sat on the bed and touched Sonji's shoulder. She flinched at the contact and he could see she was trembling. "Why are you so frightened?"

"I didn't do as you wished, Master." Sonji remembered 238's screams. "I'm afraid you’ll whip me."

"You can relax. I'm not going to whip you now. How did your other men work around this?"

"There are no other men, Master. You are the first."

Dag thought about that for a while. He said, "Suppose I don't touch your body? Kneel between my legs and open your mouth."

At the first touch on her lips Sonji fainted. This was one of the ways her church kept the boys from being denied Enlightenment.

Dag revived her. "I'm sure that we'll solve this problem eventually, but I've got to leave soon. Get dressed, and I'll take you to Bomdee."

They found Bomdee taking an inventory in the kitchen. Dag said, "This is Sonji. She'll be your helper when I don't need her. I'll leave the details of her duties to you. Remember, she was convicted of a violent crime, so you can't let her run around loose. I'm going to tell Mudg to fix up the inner storeroom for her, so tuck her in there before you go to bed. I'm going to dinner at my brother's house and I won't be home until late tonight."

After Dag left Bomdee inspected Sonji carefully. She asked, "What did you do before you became a criminal?"

"I was a peasant, Mistress."

"Your master is Dag. Call me Bomdee. Now, listen carefully. I think it's foolish to bring a violent criminal into this house, but I wasn't asked. I have been with this family since before Dag was born. I was his nanny, and I couldn't love him more if he were my own flesh. If you even try to hurt him you will regret it every minute of your brief, painful life. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Bomdee."

"Good. Now, your duties. There isn't a lot of work to do here when the National Council is in session, because then the family lives in Tarnbeg. Dag is the only one living here now, and he spends most of his time at the university. On most days he leaves here just after morning meal and returns several hours after sunset, so only the staff's meals have to be prepared. I'm the cook as well as the housekeeper, and if I eventually feel that you can be trusted you can help me here in the kitchen. Until then there is cleaning you can do."

Bomdee took a coil of thin brown rope out of a drawer. "I can't watch you every minute. Hold out your hands." She made Sonji cross her wrists and wrapped the rope around them in both directions. She cinched the wrappings and tied the final knot on the bottom, where Sonji couldn't reach it with her teeth. She took another piece of rope and made two turns around Sonji's waist and tied it in the back. "Knees and hands on the floor." she commanded.

Sonji quickly got down on the floor. Bomdee tied a rope from the knot at Sonji's waist to the center of the hobble strap and pulled it tight. "You can get that loose, but you'll be sorry if you do."

Bomdee put a scrub brush and a bucket of soapy water on the floor next to Sonji. "Get the kitchen floor clean. When you finish you'll be fed."

Cleaning the kitchen floor took Sonji over two hours. When she finished she was in a lot of pain from kneeling on the stone floor, and the motion of her hands while she scrubbed had chafed her wrists until drops of blood appeared in a few places.

Evening meal was served shortly after Sonji finished cleaning the floor. Bomdee cut the ropes off of Sonji's wrists and waist. She examined the red marks left by the rope but didn't say anything.

At the evening meal Sonji met the elderly doorkeeper Ludg and his equally elderly brother Mudg, who was sort of a handyman. They, along with Bomdee, were the entire staff. Sonji thought that if she really were a violent criminal she could probably escape. Then she remembered that Bomdee was tall and looked strong and fit, and that she had never turned her back when Sonji was near, even when Sonji's hands were tied.

After the meal Sonji washed the dishes and utensils, and when she had finished it was time for Bomdee to put her to bed. Bomdee lit a candle and directed Sonji to a small, windowless chamber near the center of the house. Sonji was happy to see that it had a straw pallet and a coarse blanket, but she wasn't so happy to see the short chain that was attached to a ring mounted in the stone floor.

Bomdee put her candleholder in a niche in the wall near the door. "Use the chamber pot now, Sonji. It won't be as easy after I've chained you up."

After Sonji had squatted over the pot Bomdee padlocked the end of the chain to the ring on Sonji's collar. The chain was barely long enough to let Sonji sit up. Bomdee took her candle and left the room, and when she shut the door it was totally dark inside. Sonji heard a bolt being fastened. She put her head down and tried to sleep.

The next morning Sonji was scrubbing another floor. Her wrists were still chafed, so Bomdee had used the leather straps to fasten them instead of the thin rope.

Dag saw her before he left for the day. "I know a woman who is aroused just by being tied up. If she were fixed like you are now she'd be moaning on the floor, but it doesn't seem to have any effect on you. I've got an idea on how to get around our problem, though. We'll try it out tonight."

"Yes, Master." Sonji bowed her head. Her stomach churned with anxiety. She wondered how long Dag would be patient if she couldn't perform a slave's first duty to her master. He might not like to hurt her, but what if he gave her to somebody cruel, like the scar-faced man who bought her?

That evening Dag brought Sonji to his bedroom and had her drink several glasses of wine. "Wine releases inhibitions. Maybe this will be the solution."

He fondled and kissed Sonji. She fainted. He revived her. She threw up.

The next day Dag was late leaving for the university. Bomdee and Mudg had gone to the market, so he had to secure Sonji before he left the house. He took her into the storeroom intending to lock the chain to her collar, but he found that Bomdee had locked the padlock and taken the key with her. The straps were there, so he crossed Sonji's wrists behind her back and fastened them tightly using both straps. He put her on her side on her pallet, released the hobble strap from her right ankle, pulled it around her wrists, and refastened it.

Sonji was very uncomfortable. The tight straps irritated her chafed wrists and the hogtie strained her sore knees. She moaned quietly.

Dag heard the moan. "I'll help you. You won't have any discomfort if you've fainted."

He kissed her neck and stroked her bare bottom. At the same time Sonji tried to relieve her pain and frustration by pulling against the straps. She tried with all her strength to separate her wrists and ankles, and as she did so she felt a wave of heat through her body, centered between her legs. Her skin seemed to be on fire where Dag touched her. She panted, "Master, I..."

Dag could hear Sonji's panting and see her flushed face. He rolled her onto her back and stroked her bottom with one hand and a breast with the other hand. She moaned and thrashed. He opened his trousers, spread her knees, and entered her. Sonji screamed. She pulled against the straps, synchronizing her efforts with Dag's thrusts, and with each pull she felt a wave of sensation. The waves increased until she felt Dag come inside her and then she screamed and fainted, but this time it was from ecstasy.

When Sonji returned to the world she was lying naked on Dag's bed. Dag, also naked, was standing beside her. She looked at his body, at his broad shoulders and his muscular arms and chest. This was the first time she had ever closely examined a naked man. She admired Dag’s flat belly and his erect… she felt herself becoming aroused. She closed her eyes before she fainted.

Dag said, "I think we are on the way to solving our problem. Let's try an experiment." He had a coil of rope, and he used it to tie Sonji's wrists and ankles to the four corner posts of the bed. He adjusted the ropes so there wasn't any slack, but she wasn't stretched, either.

Dag instructed, “Now, just remain quiet. Don't move a muscle." Dag kissed Sonji and stroked her breast. She promptly fainted.

He revived her. “This time struggle. Fight to get loose with all your strength.”

Dag got on the bed with Sonji and moved his hands all over her body. She thrashed and twisted, straining against the ropes until the bed creaked and groaned. Dag kissed her hard nipples and when his probing finger found her clit she screamed and spasmed. After he entered her she again synchronized her pulls against the ropes to his strokes and came twice more before he had his climax.

Eventually Sonji was able to talk. "Thank you, Master. Did I please you?"

Dag brushed her sweat-soaked hair away from her eyes and kissed her on the forehead. "Yes, Sonji. You pleased me."

When Dag removed the ropes from Sonji's wrists he was shocked to see that her skin was raw and even bleeding in places. Her ankles were also red and chafed.

He heard Bomdee return. He called her to him. "I'm leaving as soon as I wash and dress. I want you to bandage Sonji's wrists and ankles. Don't tie her wrists until they've healed, and go easy on her."

Sonji put her smock on and Bomdee took her to the kitchen. "Hold still while I put this salve on your scrapes."

Bomdee applied the salve and wrapped Sonji's wrists and ankles with strips of cloth. She clamped the hobble strap loosely around the bandages on Sonji's ankles. She thought about how best to secure Sonji's arms. Bomdee still regarded her as a threat, no matter how Dag felt about it, and she wasn't going to let her go around the house with only her ankles hobbled.

Bomdee fastened the two wrist straps together. She pulled Sonji's arms back, looped the straps around them just above Sonji's elbows, and tightened the loop until Sonji's arms were held at her sides. To keep the loop from slipping down she tied rope from its center to the ring on Sonji's collar.

She handed Sonji a cloth. "Go dust everything that needs it. Start with the books in the library."

Later that day Dag sent a message. His father had summoned him to Tarnbeg and he would be away for several days. Sonji was disappointed. Now that she knew what sex was like she wanted more of it.

Four days later Dag returned. He took Sonji to his bedroom and had her strip and get on the bed. He kissed and fondled her until she fainted. Then he got out the leather goods that had just been delivered by the harness maker. He clamped padded cuffs on Sonji's wrists and ankles. After some thought he closely strapped each wrist to the corresponding ankle.

Dag revived Sonji. "Surprise, Sonji! Now you can struggle without damage. Let's go!"

Dag got on the bed with Sonji and moved his hands all over her body. She thrashed and twisted, straining against the straps that held her wrists and ankles together. She liked this position because it let her use most of her major muscles. She strained so hard that Dag was glad the cuffs and straps were made of the thickest leather.

Dag liked this position because it left Sonji open and exposed. He entered her and she synchronized her struggles against the straps to the rhythm of Dag's strokes until they both climaxed.

Afterwards they cuddled together. Dag said, "You are unique. I've known women who liked to be tied up during sex, but you are the only woman I know of who has to be tied up during sex."

Sonji smiled and hugged him. “I’m glad I please you, Master. I do it because I like to please you, not because I have to.”

This set a pattern for the days that followed. Dag would make Sonji faint and then strap her body into some erotic position. He even had Mudj rig a hoist so Sonji could be suspended over the bed and lowered onto Dag's waiting body. But after the novelty of the more bizarre positions was exhausted they settled on a few favorites, such as the wrists to ankles position they both liked.

* * *

Dag returned from the university just as Sonji was finishing her kitchen work. He sat in one of the kitchen chairs and gestured to her. She knelt in front of him and bowed her head. "How may I serve you, Master?"

"I'm sure you know the answer to that question by now, but we'll get to that later. I have something for you to wear." Dag pulled a brown object from his case and gave it to Sonji. She stood up, stripped off her prison-issued smock, and put on the new garment. This too was a smock, but it was made of fine linen instead of coarse sackcloth, and the numbers were embroidered with gold thread. It was also smaller, so more of Sonji's body was exposed.

"Thank you, Master. It's lovely."

"This is more of a gift for me than it is for you. You can wear it when we're together."

Dag continued, "You've made me very happy, and I want to reward you. What do you want?"

"All I want is to serve you, Master."

"Don't you desire anything for yourself?"

"My only desire is to please you, Master."

"Do you want me to whip you?"

"No, Master! Please, no!"

"At last, a straight answer! Now give me another one. What do you want for you?"

"I want to learn to read, Master."

Dag was surprised. He had expected Sonji to ask for some frivolous, personal item, but he could grant this request. "Bomdee taught me to read, and she can teach you. There are some basic books in the library, and you can probably find others that are useful."

The language transplant had given Sonji a complete knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, so all she had to learn were the symbols and the spelling irregularities, and this was relatively easy because Gamma used a phonetic alphabet. In two weeks she could read at the elementary level, and in a month she could read the Gamma language as easily as she read Galactic.

The 'other useful books' included everything in the library, and she spent as much time there as possible. She didn't exactly lie when Dag asked her about her reading skill, but she misled him enough so he never had to wonder why a peasant girl was reading a law book.

* * *

One morning Dag and Sonji were relaxing in bed after their usual strenuous sex. Dag said, "Today is the half-year point of your I.S."

"Is it, Master? Being with you makes time pass so swiftly I can't keep track."

"I wouldn't have known either, except that a court official notified me yesterday that your mother will be visiting you today."

"My mother? How can that be, Master?"

"Didn't you know that you’re entitled to a visit from a relative every half-year?"

"No, I didn't know that, Master. But my mother lives so far away!"

"Well, she'll be here soon. After her visit the court officials will question her about how you’re being treated, and I think it would be best if they thought it was more like a violent criminal being punished and less like the pampered daughter of a rich merchant.”

Dag removed the cuffs from Sonji’s wrists and ankles and lifted her out of bed. “After you’re dressed meet me at the storeroom. I’ll chain you there during your mother’s visit. Wear your prison-issue smock.”

Sonji put on her old smock. She hadn’t worn it for quite a while and it was dirty and smelly. She entered the storeroom and Dag locked her collar to the chain fastened to the ring in the floor.

Dag looked her over. “You still don’t look like an abused slave girl. But I can fix that.” He ruffled Sonji’s carefully brushed hair until it was a tangled mess. Next he rubbed a piece of charcoal on her cheekbone and smudged it with his thumb. “In this dim light this’ll look like a bruise.”

He stroked Sonji’s exposed hip. “A few whipmarks here will be very convincing.” Sonji gasped. “You don’t agree?”

Sonji choked out, “Whatever you wish, Master.”

Dag kissed her. “I’m just teasing, Sonji. I’m sorry, I forgot talking about whipping bothers you.” Sonji sighed with relief and returned the kiss. She pulled hard against the chain holding her neck and didn’t faint.

Sonji was sitting on her pallet in the storeroom wondering what was happening. As far as she knew, her mother was on the other side of the galaxy. Then Bomdee brought a middle-aged peasant woman to the door.

The woman saw Sonji and cried, "Zongee! My baby!"

Sonji looked up and gave a cry of astonishment. It was Captain Goda! “I never expected to see you here!”

She gave Sonji a hug and whispered, “Call me Mom. Yes, it has been a while since I did a field survey, but I was glad to find an excuse to do another one. We've found you at last! We were afraid you were dead. You didn’t call in.”

“The guards at the prison farm took my communicator.”

“We figured that was what happened once we knew you were at the prison farm. We couldn’t trace you after that. If it wasn’t for Erig we might never have found you. She volunteered to break into the court offices and go through their records. If she had been caught she too would now be a slave. What has happened to you since you left the ship? Tell me everything."

Sonji gave Captain Goda a detailed account of the last half-year of her life. (She didn't mention the sex). She also summarized all she had learned about the social conditions and the political organization of the planet.

Captain Goda said, "This is one of the most successful field surveys I've ever seen. The method you devised to infiltrate the household of one of the most important men on the planet was absolutely brilliant! And the fortitude it took to allow yourself to be subjected to such hardship! Just seeing how you’ve been abused and chained up like an animal is so disturbing to me I can hardly bear it, yet you accept it without visible upset. I'm going to see to it that this survey is classified as Extremely Arduous. That will make you eligible for accelerated promotion."

Captain Goda handed Sonji a medallion. “Here’s another communicator. It has a camera in it. Scan as many books as you can.”

Sonji handed it back. "I can't accept this without permission. Give it to Bomdee and ask her to pass it on to my Ma.., I mean, Dag. I'm sure he'll let me have it."

Captain Goda ordered, "Once you're in communication with the ship transmit as much detailed information as you can. Unless we find something really bad Gamma will be invited to join the Amalgamation. Having you on the ship will expedite the process, so return as soon as possible."

"Aye, aye, Mom."

* * *

During the next half-year Sonji scanned as many books as she could. She relied on Dag for the nuances of social life that weren’t in the books. Dag, like most advocates, loved to talk, so she could ask him leading questions and get a whole discourse on some aspect of life on Gamma.

Every day she would upload everything she recorded. When Dag asked her why she always left her medallion outside the bedroom while they had sex she told him it was just a custom of her village.

* * *

Dag and Sonji cuddled together in exhausted bliss. Sonji was still tied to the bed in a loose spread-eagle. Tomorrow was the last day of her I.S., and this was their last night together.

"Sonji, I love you. I can't marry you until your civil rights are restored a year from now, but you could stay with me as my concubine."

"I love you too, Master. But my mother needs me, and I promised I would return to her as soon as I could."

Sonji started to cry. She loved Dag so much, and going away was so painful.

Dag kissed away her tears, and then continued with kisses on the rest of her body. Soon Sonji was struggling against the straps that held her to the bed.

Sonji lay awake long after Dag had gone to sleep. She had changed a lot during the past year. She was no longer innocent and naive, but she still retained her idealism and her personal code. Leaving Dag was hard, but Captain Goda had ordered her to return, and when she accepted her commission she had sworn an oath to obey all lawful orders. Sonji thought, 'Why is honor so hard, when happiness is so easy?'.

The next day Dag accompanied Sonji to the entrance hall to meet the keeper who would take her away. The keeper buckled a belt around Sonji's waist and strapped her wrists to it. She still wore the hobble strap.

Dag objected. "She'll be released in a few hours. Why do you have to tie her up like that?"

"Regulations, sir. All violent criminals have to be restrained."

"Then I might as well get some good from it." He kissed Sonji's lips.

The keeper wondered what there was about the kiss that made Sonji struggle so violently against the straps, and why she was crying when soon she would be released from I.S.

Sonji was taken to the courthouse. The straps were unbuckled and her collar was chiseled off. She was given a medical exam and her pebble was removed. Her smock was taken away and her possessions were returned. Soon she stood on the street wearing her dress and sandals, free of all restraints for the first time in over a year.

When she was sure no one could see her she contacted the Interloper for directions to the pickup point. She walked out of the city and met the shuttle after dark. Her field survey was over.


Soon after Sonji returned to the Interloper Gamma’s National Council received a formal invitation to join the Amalgamation. During the negotiations that followed Sonji was often consulted, but she kept away from the Gamma delegation because it was always possible she might have to make another undercover field survey.

Now all of the agreements had been reached, and it was time for the formal ceremony that would mark the entry of a new member into the Amalgamation. The Star Fleet personnel who had played key roles in the process were invited to the ceremony, and Lieutenant Sonji Regan was included in this select group.

Sonji was circulating among the guests while she waited for the ceremony to begin. She was wearing the dress uniform of the Star Fleet Survey Service, with the Meritorious Achievement medal she had received when the agreements were reached.

There was a stir in the crowd when Radg, the President of the National Council, entered with his entourage. Sonji saw that it included a young man wearing the gray clothing of an advocate.

She walked up behind him. "Hello, Master."

Dag spun around. When he recognized Sonji he was speechless with astonishment.

"How are you, Master? Have you found a wife yet?"

"No. It seems that every woman I meet can't even come close to matching a black-haired slave girl I once owned. But now I understand why she always seemed to be so much more than a peasant girl."

He reached for her hand but she backed away.

"We had better not touch. It would be embarrassing if I fainted. It would be even more embarrassing if you made it so I didn't faint."

Dag backed her into a corner and took off his belt. He used it to fasten her hands behind her back. "I'll take that risk."

The End

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