The Amalgamation Survey Ship Interloper moved in a synchronous orbit above Gamma, the third planet of star P314159264.
Lieutenant Pami Erig, the bravest field surveyor in the Star Fleet Survey Service, was running for her life. She was also cursing her bad luck. She had been waiting for night in her carefully concealed camp when a call of nature made her move into some nearby bushes. Too late, she saw a group of at least thirty savages moving quietly down a dry stream bed less than 50 meters from where she was squatting. Even then she would have probably escaped detection, but one of the warriors, evidently answering his own call, moved directly toward her. She froze, hoping that he wouldn't see her, but the bush she was crouching behind was thin and had small, sparse leaves. She muttered to herself, "I knew I should have chosen the jungle planet."
Erig was close to the Galactic norm in appearance, so she hadn't needed much of a disguise to fit in on this world. Her dark brown hair had been lightened, and her skin had been dyed to simulate exposure to the sun, but her face and body were unchanged. Her scars and ropy muscles didn't look out of place in a society of nomads with stone age technology. Since this was a training exercise, rather than a field survey, she hadn't attempted to infiltrate the local tribe, just observe it from a distance. Now, apparently, the tribe was going to observe her.
The savage stopped and sniffed the breeze, blowing from Erig to him. He detected the smell of human ordure and moved closer, sniffing the air and peering over the scattered bushes with his beady brown eyes. He spotted Erig, let out a whoop of triumph, and charged. She stood and assumed her fighting stance. Her attacker wasn't subtle; he ran toward her in a direct attack, whooping loudly. He was armed with a war club; a fist-sized round stone bound to the end of a wooden handle by leather thongs. Erig easily eluded his careless charge and wide swing and delivered a combination of blows with fists and feet that killed the overconfident attacker. But now the other savages had seen her, and they launched a shower of stone-tipped arrows.
'This primitive technology is no match for Amalgamation science', she thought, 'so why am I the one who has to flee?' She picked up the club dropped by her now-defunct attacker. As she turned away from the charging savages Erig felt a stab of pain. An arrow had hit her right calf and opened a deep cut that was bleeding profusely. The point had struck a glancing blow; three centimeters to the left and it would have embedded itself in the muscle.
No time to tend to the wound, and no time to pick up any of her equipment; she ran through the dry, yellow grass and the scattered bushes clad only in moccasins, a headband, and a leather bandeau around her high, firm breasts. The savages chased her, whooping and yelling as they ran.
Erig was a trained runner in good condition. She moved into her smooth, economical stride, confident that she could leave the muscular but rather squat and bandy-legged savages in her dust. They may have been savages, but she quickly learned they were experienced at chasing down prey. Two of the warriors sprinted away from the pack, and Erig was forced to speed up to keep ahead of them. They couldn't catch her before they were forced to collapse, panting for breath, but they accomplished their goal, and some of her energy reserves had been expended. Two more savages repeated the exercise, but they didn't get nearly as close as the first two, and the savages didn't try the trick again. Erig settled back into her preferred pace and was gratified when her pursuers couldn't keep up.
A few kilometers later Erig was seriously concerned about her leg wound, which was still bleeding and becoming more painful with every stride. Blood was streaming down her calf and her moccasin was filled with so much blood she could hear it squish with every step. Her pace had slowed, and a quick glance over her shoulder showed that the faster savages were catching up, and worse, only a few of the pack had dropped out of the chase. If she didn't stop the bleeding she would weaken and they would run her down. Somehow, she had to shake them off, but she knew she had no chance of hiding on this dry plateau with its thin vegetation. "I know there's a river close by," she muttered, "if I can reach it I know I can dodge these savages. There's thick vegetation along the riverbank."
Erig leaped over a small gully and winced as her injured leg took the strain of the landing. She spotted a faint trail in the sandy soil, made by animals going to the water, and turned to follow it. She increased her speed when she could see the ground drop away into the steep-sided valley eroded by the river. All she had to do now was descend the bluff without breaking or spraining anything and she would have an excellent chance of escaping her pursuers.
She reached the edge of the escarpment and stopped. A groan of dismay forced itself from her panting lungs. She could see the river below, and the trees and brush that lined its banks. But she could also see a native encampment. What looked like the whole tribe was spread for several kilometers up and down the river, with hundreds of lodges visible on the dry floodplain next to the stream. And coming towards her from the camp was another band of savages, and they were less than twenty meters away.
Trapped! Erig had only moments to choose a strategy. Running was a poor choice. The new band of savages weren't tired and they could easily catch her, and when they did she would be too exhausted to fight. She looked for a place to make a stand and spotted a group of large yellow sandstone boulders about fifty meters to her right. She jogged to them and put her back against the largest. It wasn't much of a fortification, but it did help cover her back. The running savages turned towards her and their whooping increased in volume. Soon they had formed a semicircle facing her, waving their weapons and screaming taunts. Several raised their bows, but the leader gave a sharp command and no arrows were released. They wanted to take her alive; torture was their national sport.
Three of the savages carelessly moved towards her like they expected her to surrender. She waited until they were close and then launched her own attack. She used her club to parry the blows aimed at her and delivered a combination of swings with the club and a flurry of kicks that left all three sprawled motionless on the ground. The others looked on with shocked surprise and then they all charged at once. She began a desperate ballet of violence as she used her club, hands, and feet to rain killing blows on her attackers. More bodies were scattered on the ground; the very numbers of the savages hampered their movements.
The leader of the war party shouted until all of the surviving savages backed off. Then he organized a more coordinated assault. Erig continued to resist and more savages went down, but one managed to grab her ankle and trip her. Before she could get off the ground the savages piled on and the sheer weight of their bodies pinned her, face down in the dirt.
Her arms were pulled together behind her back and a leather thong was wrapped around her wrists and tightly knotted to hold her hands crushed together palm-to-palm. Other savages tied her ankles, and more thongs were used to join her elbows. The pain was severe, but Erig stifled any cry; the savages respected only bravery, and any show of weakness would eliminate her already slim chance of escaping death by torture.
Her wrists and ankles were tied together in a hogtie. The pain caused by the tight bondage got much worse when a pole was placed under the connecting thong and two of the savages lifted it to their shoulders. She was a trophy, carried along as the surviving savages headed for the camp, her body swinging and twisting below the pole.
Once Erig was bound none of the savages had hit or kicked her in spite of the havoc she had inflicted on their comrades. It wasn't kindness; they wanted to save her for the torture. There weren't any sexual assaults either; this tribe had a taboo that prohibited sex with any woman that hadn't been purified in a traditional ceremony. Her bandeau was removed, but only so it could be used as a bandage to stop the bleeding from the cut on her leg. If she bled to death she would cheat the savages of the entertainment that ritual torture provided.
A savage reached out and twisted Erig's right breast. The unexpected pain startled her, and she grunted, more from surprise than the pain itself. The savages smiled and talked, praising the clever ploy that forced out the condemnatory cry. Erig cursed to herself, "Damn! So much for being the brave, silent type. Now I'm cooked, most likely literally."
Runners had been sent ahead and by the time Erig reached the camp most of the tribe had assembled around a large open space near the river. There were hundreds of them, the men dressed in loincloths and leather vests that exposed the coarse brown hair that covered their chests. Their faces were covered by long wooly beards in many shades of brown. The women were more modest. They all wore long shifts of leather, fur, or crudely-woven fabric that covered them from neck to mid-calf. The crowd was noisy, talking excitedly and eager for the fun to begin.
Three lodge poles had been set up as a tripod and Erig was carried to it. The men carrying her dropped her onto the sandy dirt and the thong connecting her wrists to her ankles was cut. She barely had time for a sigh of relief before a long rope was tied to the thongs binding her elbows, thrown over the top of the tripod, and pulled until she was standing on her toes. Her ankles were untied and then retied to stakes so her legs were spread far apart and her feet were off the ground. Her weight was now supported by the thongs cutting into her arms and her shoulder joints were strained and wracked, but pride made Erig grit her teeth and stoically endure the pain.
A hush descended on the crowd of celebrating savages when two women carrying bundles of firewood moved close to the tripod. They were dressed in blood-stained leather dresses and their front teeth had been filed to points. Erig felt true fear when she recognized them as the pain-bringers. They had been trained since childhood in the art of extracting the maximum amount of pain for the maximum amount of time, and they could keep the object of their skill screaming for days.
The pain-bringers used some of the wood to prepare a small fire on the ground directly below Erig's crotch. She noted with dismay that it was small; death would not come quickly. One of the pain-bringers brought a blazing stick from a nearby campfire, and when she thrust it into the waiting wood Erig used her tongue to dislodge a small capsule from the roof of her mouth and guide it between her teeth. The capsule would bring this to an end; she closed her eyes and bit down hard.
When she opened her eyes the VR goggles had become transparent. The crowd of savages had disappeared and she could see the bare bulkheads of the deactivated holodeck on the Interloper. The two pain-bringers were revealed as Sonji Regan and Swamka Mahoon, her friends and fellow field surveyors, who were dressed in black exercise leotards instead of blood-stained leather.
Like Erig, they too had the famous 'field surveyor' look; athletic bodies and an aura of competence that was displayed with every movement. They did differ a bit in physical appearance; Mahoon had light brown hair and pale skin, while Sonji's hair was very black and her skin was tan. They differed the most in their facial expressions. Erig's face had a hard, cruel look, a product of her years of experience, while Sonji's face was still innocent and unmarked. Mahoon was somewhere between these extremes.
Sonji said, "That was a very impressive performance, Pami. You killed or crippled a total of thirteen savages; that's four more than Swa's total and nearly twice as many as I did."
"I accept your congratulations. Now how about untying me? This hurts."
Mahoon said, "I don't know; you look very attractive like that, and you must like it. You could have stopped the action back when you first went down."
"You don't get the full benefit of the training if you stop it as soon as you encounter a difficulty. And if you screw up you deserve to suffer."
Mahoon sighed. "You're a hard woman, Pami. But I like that." She moved close and caressed Erig's exposed pubes.
Sonji interrupted, "Enough, you two! Wait until you're in your own compartment." She cut the bindings on Erig's ankles and had the winch pay out cable until Erig's feet were flat on the deck. Mahoon kissed Erig, and then freed her wrists and elbows.
Mahoon looked at all the wreckage and shook her head. "This is really going to piss off the maintenance officer. He doesn't like it when we bust up so many of his robots."
"I don't care what he says, it was a good workout." Erig knew that he'd be pissed off, but so what? She was the one who put her life on the line on hostile planets, and she wanted realistic training. She peeled off the transparent tape that had kept her wrists and arms from being cut by the thongs. "Which of you sadists programmed the robots so I would be carried suspended in that hogtie?"
Sonji gave her an innocent look, but Mahoon's face carried a smirk that proclaimed her guilt. Erig produced a scowl, "I'll get my revenge, just you wait." She removed the wound-simulator from her calf and the pain stopped.
Sonji said, "Let's get cleaned up and go to the wardroom. I have something I want to tell you."
* * *
The three field surveyors, dressed in the blue coveralls that were the normal working uniform for shipboard personnel, entered the wardroom. Mahoon felt, as always, that the surroundings could have been a lot more pleasant. The wardroom bulkheads were painted the same drab gray that was used on the rest of the interior, and the only attempt at decoration was a cheap plastic plaque with the ship's crest (a stylized eyeball) and motto ('You Can't Hide'). There wasn't even a dropped ceiling, so the overhead was visible, complete with the ubiquitous pipes and cables. She had been assigned to ships where a lot of effort and money had been expended on the wardroom and the mess decks to produce a resort-like ambience. Not on this ship; it was strictly business.
The wardroom was occupied by the supply officer, Lieutenant Miki Amano. She was seated at a mess table and using her data terminal to work on some accounts, a scowl of concentration distorting her pretty face. A plate pushed to one side held the remains of a meal.
Miki looked away from her terminal when she heard the other women enter. "Hi. If you want to use the wardroom for a meeting I can go someplace else."
Sonji replied, "No, please stay. I have an announcement I'd like you to hear too. But I don't want to disturb you if you're busy."
Sonji wanted to make Miki feel she was part of the group. She had only recently reported aboard the Interloper, a transfer at short notice after her predecessor had been abruptly removed when an audit determined that some funds had vanished from the maintenance account. The records were a mess, and Miki had been left to decipher them on her own. This hadn't left her with much free time to get acquainted with her shipmates.
Miki shut down her terminal. "I've done enough with these records for now, and I'll use any excuse to postpone an inventory of the storeroom. Please join me."
The three field surveyors sat down around the table with Miki. Erig said, "So tell us, Sonji. What's your news?"
"Dag and I are going to be married."
Mahoon exclaimed, "Congratulations! I'm so happy for you." Then she frowned. "But does this mean you're going to leave the Survey Service?"
"No, I'm not going to that. I have a lot of leave accumulated and I'll spend it with Dag, but I'll be back. Now that Gamma is in the Amalgamation ships will be here on a regular schedule, so it's not like I'd be stranded."
Miki asked, "I don't think I've met Dag. Is he assigned to this ship?"
Erig replied, "No, Dag is a native of Gamma. Sonji met him when she was doing a field survey before Gamma was invited to join the Amalgamation."
Sonji smiled. "It was a little more intense than that. I was his slave for a year."
Miki was shocked. "His slave? How could that be? A planet that allows slavery can't join the Amalgamation."
"I was convicted of a crime, and the punishment was a year of involuntary servitude. Dag's father bought me and gave me to Dag." Sonji smiled as memories flooded back. She remembered their last night together, and Dag's touch. She could feel herself becoming aroused. Then she fainted. Erig kept her from falling out of her chair.
Erig and Mahoon were familiar with this phenomenon and they had no trouble reviving Sonji. Not for the first time Erig remarked, "Isn't that neuro-psychological conditioning a major nuisance if it makes you faint every time you remember a passionate interlude?"
Sonji was embarrassed. "Yes, I have to be careful. But Dag and I have worked out a way to get around it when we have sex, and it works so well that I don't want to risk spoiling anything by getting the conditioning reversed. I've fallen away from my old church, so there's no longer a religious reason for it."
Miki's expression showed her bewilderment at finding herself among these strange creatures. Then she forced a smile. "If you're going to marry him it's obvious that Dag didn't mistreat you. When is the wedding going to take place?"
"In a few days; a lot depends on when everybody can get together. Dag and I would have liked a quiet, private wedding, but his father is insisting that we go through the traditional ceremony, including all of the prenuptial activities."
"Is Dag's father still President of the National Council?" Mahoon asked.
"Yes. The wedding is going to have a lot of political overtones. Because Dag's the son of the President and I'm a Star Fleet officer many people even consider it to be sort of a symbolic uniting of Gamma and the Amalgamation. There is still a surprising amount of local opposition to Gamma's membership in the Amalgamation, and Dag's father thinks the wedding may help overcome that. Captain Goda agrees, and she's going to encourage Interloper crew members to attend the wedding."
Erig said, "I wish you the best, and I certainly will be there."
"Actually, I was hoping that you would take a more active role. I've been told that the bride needs a large entourage, and I would like you three to be my attendants."
Erig and Mahoon quickly agreed, but Miki hesitated. "I appreciate the invitation, but I really couldn't. You need close friends around you, and we've just recently met."
"You are a friend, Miki. And even more, you're part of the Survey Service, so you're like family. Please say you'll be part of the wedding."
"Well, if you're sure, I'd be happy to be an attendant."
"That's wonderful! I know we'll all have a good time. I understand there's a lot of partying before and during a Gamma wedding, and some of the tastiest beverages in the galaxy are brewed and distilled here. And the best part is that this won't count as leave time, since we're officially 'improving galactic relationships'."
Mahoon said, "Drinking on government time, that sounds good to me! But on a practical note, where will we stay, and what do we wear?"
"Dag's father has invited us to stay at his house in Brombeg. Kealii, Dag's sister, has offered to be my guide though the rather complicated schedule of events, and she'll also be one of my attendants. She provided some sketches of appropriate clothing and we can have the ship's costume shop make what we need. Most of the clothing isn't too different from the peasant dresses we wore for the field survey, except that the fabric is better and we'll have underwear."
"Is there anything we can do to help here on the ship?
"No, I believe I've taken care of everything here. Oh, you could check your data file to be sure your dress measurements are correct, and pick the colors you want for your casual clothes. The local cloth is dyed with vegetable dyestuffs, so only pastels are available."
Erig said, "I can do that. When are we landing on the planet?"
"As soon as we can get ready. I'd like to leave tomorrow if that's all right with you."
"I've got some reports to finish, so I'd better get to them."
Sonji asked Miki, "Can you speak the Gamma language yet? If not, don't forget to go to the biocomputer lab and have them program you with the language transplant."
Miki nodded. "I'll be sure to do that. Well, much as I hate it, I'd better get the inventory started. I'm short a chief storekeeper, so I have to do a lot of the work myself. Luckily, the storeroom isn't as messy as the records are."
Erig and Miki left the wardroom. Sonji also started to leave, but Mahoon stopped her. "I'm glad you asked us to be part of the wedding, Sonji. Pami really needs something to distract her. Will Dag have some men as his attendants?
"Yes, he'll have at least as many men with him as I have women with me."
Mahoon nodded. "That's what I thought. I've been to other weddings where there was quite a bit of interaction, and I hope you can find some man who'll take up with Pami. And one for me too, of course."
Sonji was surprised. "I thought you and Pami were a couple."
"Well, we are, but only because there isn't anybody male in the picture. Pami took it very badly when she broke up with Thar, and she turned to me for consolation. I like her and we have fun in bed, but it's not my first choice. It's not really hers, either."
"I heard that she and Thar broke up, but I was away from the ship when it happened and I never got the complete story. Did he dump her?"
"Sort of. He was fooling around with Zoe and Pami caught them. But this was just the final blow. There had been a lot of strain for some time. The real problem was that Thar wanted a submissive woman and that's not our Pami. I think he was actually afraid of her."
Sonji nodded. "I can understand that. But why did Pami get so upset over the breakup?"
"She really loved Thar, and his rejection of her was what hurt. Pami doesn't have lot of men competing for her attention, and I think this really bothers her."
"I'll talk to Dag and ask him to be sure to include someone for her among the unattached men in his group. But it isn't easy to find somebody who's a match for Pami."
* * *
The next afternoon the shuttle from the Interloper landed on a dusty field just outside the city of Brombeg. A crowd of local residents had gathered to watch as the shuttle glided down on its extended wings, and then shifted to thrusters for the final fifty meters of descent. Flying machines were something new and fascinating to people living in a pre-industrial society.
Like the rest of the galaxy, Gamma had lost its technology in the Great Crash, when every computer in the known universe had locked up at the same time because of a date/time bug in the operating system. Unlike almost all of the other planets, which had descended into savagery, Gamma had managed somehow to maintain its social order. Thus, the democratic system of government was far in advance of what was usually found at this level of technology, and this made Gamma eligible to join the Amalgamation in spite of its lack of industrialization.
The semi-mythical Elder Ones had seeded every inhabitable planet in the galaxy (and maybe in the universe) with the same life-forms, but over the millennia evolution had caused them to diverge to fit their particular environment. Gamma had only one small, temperate continent, and the appearance of the people in the crowd reflected this; the range of skin colors varied only from pale to tan, and most of the hair color was some shade of brown, from sandy to black, with a few blondes mixed in.
The four Survey Service officers disembarked from the shuttle. It was normally painted non-reflective black, but for this semi-ceremonial occasion it had been oversprayed with white. The paint didn't completely cover the original finish, so the net result was a sort of dingy gray. Erig said, "It feels strange to be getting off a shuttle in daylight, and next to a city. I'm used to landing in the dark and way out in the bushes."
Mahoon agreed. "Yeah, and it's also strange not to be in some disguise. I don't know how to react when I'm not wearing some weird outfit. But this isn't too bad." She twirled to display her simple, pale pink dress. It had a sleeveless bodice and a full, ankle-length skirt.
"I know what you mean. Of course, we are wearing the same kind of clothes the locals are wearing, so it could be considered a disguise. But I am glad that the local style isn't too different from what you'd see anywhere in the Amalgamation."
A young woman waved and hurried over to them. She had long, honey-blonde hair and her trim figure was clothed in a pale blue dress. She hugged Sonji and introduced herself. "Hello, everybody. I'm Kealii, Dag's sister. Welcome to Brombeg."
Sonji returned the hug. "Hello again, Kealii. I'd like you to meet my friends; Pami Erig, Swamka Mahoon, and Miki Amano."
Kealii hugged each in turn. "I'm happy to meet you." She looked at the shuttle with awe. "Advanced technology such as this is so impressive."
Erig snorted, "It's not that advanced. Except for the fusion power source the design hasn't changed much in hundreds of years."
Mahoon added, "Yeah, the physicists keep telling us that anti-gravity devices are going to appear any day now, but somehow that day never comes."
Kealii said, "Well, I'm impressed. Do you have much baggage? I can arrange for a cart if you need one."
Sonji lifted her satchel, "No, we're traveling light. You'll have to guide us to your house, though. I didn't see much of the city the other times I was here. In fact, the first time I was taken to your house I was inside a barrel."
Miki and Kealii laughed at the joke, but the field surveyors knew that it was the literal truth.
The five women walked through the city streets. Kealii pointed out some of the points of interest, such as there were. Brombeg architecture wasn't distinguished; almost all of the houses were just two-story, whitewashed boxes built close to the street. The only structures that even tried to make some gesture towards distinction were a few municipal buildings near the center of town.
Miki was fascinated. It was all so different from Taeoku, her home world. That was a totally urbanized planet, covered with a vast grid of buildings hundreds of meters high, and with moving pedestrian transport belts that were thronged day and night. This city was so different. Its narrow streets, paved with stone blocks, were almost empty except for a few pedestrians and the occasional oxcart. She marvelled at the clean, clear air and the intense blue of the sky. She liked the sparse, simple layout of the city, especially the small, beautifying details, like the elaborately carved doors, all painted in bright colors, that made a pleasing contrast to the stark whitewashed stucco of the walls.
Miki paused to admire a fountain standing in the center of a intersection of three streets. "Visiting places like this is why I joined Star Fleet," she muttered under her breath, "not spending my days in a metal box on the ship." She hurried to catch up with her friends.
All of the Survey Service officers were dressed like Kealii and the other young women they passed on the street, in sandals and the ankle-length, pastel-colored dresses that were now the local fashion. It would have been psychologically difficult for them to wear anything else. Blending into their surroundings was an imperative deeply engrained in all field surveyors from their first day of training. They were happy to be mostly ignored by the local residents, except for the admiring looks they drew from young men. A trio of men actually followed them for a few steps, shouting compliments. Erig turned and glared at them until they decided the risk outweighed any possible reward of pressing their advances.
Finally they stopped in front of a large house, which like the other houses in Brombeg presented a blank face to the outside world. Kealii knocked on the bright blue, elaborately carved wooden door, and after a short wait it was opened by an old man. "Hello, Ludg. Is Dag at home?"
Ludg stepped back so the women could enter. "No, he's with your father. He won't return until just before the party starts tonight."
Sonji asked Kealii, "What party is that? I didn't realize the wedding festivities started so soon."
"This isn't actually part the wedding ceremony. It's nominally an introductory party, with you and Dag as the guests of honor. My father has invited a few hundred of his closest friends, so it will inevitably be a political meeting too. That's one of the things a politician's daughter gets used to, and you shouldn't let it bother you either. You can just ignore the political talk."
"Is the party going to be held here? This is a big house, but that many people would fill it up."
"No, my father has arranged to use a large meeting room in the courthouse. Do you know where it is? It's not far from here."
"Yes, I've been to the courthouse." Sonji remembered how frightened she had been at her trial. Her first-ever field survey took place on Gamma, and it had gone terribly wrong. She had accidentally assaulted a court official, and she had been afraid of receiving the maximum sentence, ten years of involuntary servitude.
Kealii led the way into a lounge, a large room that opened off of the courtyard in the center of the house. It was colorfully decorated with bright wall hangings and matching carpets. It was furnished with comfortable upholstered chairs arranged around a low table, and she invited her guests to be seated.
Sonji remarked, "This room is a lot different from when I was here before. Is this your doing, Kealii?"
"Yes, I'm staying here while I'm going to the university, and I felt the house could use some new furnishings. The rest of the family is living in the Presidential Palace in Tarnbeg, of course." She left the room and returned with a tray holding two earthenware pitchers and some cups. "The blue pitcher contains wine and the yellow pitcher has beer. Please serve yourselves."
When everyone had refreshments she said, "I suppose you all know that my father wants the wedding to use the traditional ceremony? There are many people who worry that membership in the Amalgamation will cause Gamma to lose its own culture, and he wants to demonstrate that this is not inevitable."
She turned to Sonji. "I know that this is presumptuous of him, since it is your wedding, but he thinks it's important."
Sonji wasn't so naive that she didn't know that marrying Dag would also mean becoming involved in his father's political activities. She reassured Kealii. "I can understand his concern, and I suppose I don't really mind because I too want Gamma's membership in the Amalgamation to go smoothly. But what exactly is involved in the traditional ceremony?"
"It's based on what was a common practice in olden times. Back then when a young man saw a woman he liked he and his friends would kidnap her. He then had a few days to convince her to accept him, and to demonstrate this acceptance by having sex with him."
Erig stated, "That sounds like a license to rape." Erig didn't like rape, and she had been known to treat rapists harshly.
"Oh no, that's never been allowed even in the earliest times, and to be sure that it didn't happen girlfriends of the prospective bride were kidnapped with her so they could later confirm that no coercion was used. Of course, the groom's friends often attempted to persuade them also, and sometimes this meant there would be more than one wedding. And usually before a man went to all this trouble he had some indication that the prospective bride would welcome his attentions."
Mahoon commented, "I've heard of stranger customs; in fact, variations of this kind of marriage-by-capture are fairly common on many planets."
Kealii assured everyone, "You do understand that it has been a great many years since the kidnapping was real? Now it's all symbolic and everything is done by prearrangement. The bride is only held 'captive' for a short time."
Sonji said, "It does sound different from what I'm used to, but I haven't any objection." She addressed her friends, "How about you? Do you still want to be my attendants?"
Miki giggled, "Oh, I want to. I've never been kidnapped before. This will be an exciting new experience for me."
Erig and Mahoon had been kidnapped before, but they also nodded their agreement. Sonji admonished them, "You will remember that you're only supposed to put up a token resistance?"
Erig answered, "Yeah, I'll try not to kill anybody." She said this with a straight face, and Miki and Kealii laughed.
Sonji asked, "Is all of this going to happen here in the city?"
"No, this custom goes back to the days before there were cities. Some wedding abductions do happen here, of course, but it's nicer in the country, where there aren't any city crowds. My family has a country estate and Dag and his friends will use it for their headquarters. My father has rented a nearby farmhouse for us to use, and we'll stay there until the abduction. The wedding itself will be in the city. Oh, before I forget, Sonji, you've got to sign the application for the marriage license. It's over there on the table. I'll witness your signature."
The two women stepped to the table and signed the document. Sonji smiled. "I'm glad everything is arranged. Now, what should I know about tonight's party?"
Kealii explained the party arrangements, and then the women began a general conversation, which led to a discussion of the way male foibles varied from planet to planet. Erig was telling a story and they were all laughing when there was an interruption.
Dag entered the room. "Hello, ladies."
Kealii exclaimed, "Dag! We didn't expect to see you so soon."
"When I heard the shuttle had arrived I slipped away as soon as I could. Could you introduce me to our guests?"
Kealii obliged. "Miki Amano, Pami Erig, and Swamka Mahoon, meet my brother Dag."
Everyone nodded and smiled. Kealii looked at Sonji's glowing expression. "Dag, I'm sure you and Sonji want to exchange a private greeting. We'll see you both later."
Dag laughed. "That's one way of putting it, Kealii." He beckoned to Sonji and they left the lounge.
Kealii waited until Sonji was out of the room and couldn't overhear. She whispered, "There's another old custom that's part of the traditional ceremony, and that's for us to play a prank on the bride. Sometimes it's just some crude practical joke, such as hiding her underwear and weakening a seam in her dress so it splits during the ceremony, but mind games are always the best. Sonji doesn't know about this tradition, so it should be possible to run an elaborate hoax without her catching on. Let me tell you what I plan, and you tell me if you think it would be too upsetting. We don't want to be cruel; we just want to bother her a little."
* * *
Sonji was careful not to touch Dag and she tried to keep her thoughts neutral as she followed him along the familiar path to his room. She was proud of her self-control when she managed to get there without fainting.
Dag didn't waste time. He ordered, "Take off your clothes."
Sonji stripped as fast as she could. When she was naked she knelt and bowed her head. "How may I serve you, Master?"
Dag pulled her to her feet, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her deeply. His hands roamed over her body and Sonji was so aroused she just had time to wind her arms around Dag's neck and kiss him back before she fainted.
Dag held Sonji's limp body in his arms for a few moments before he put her down on his bed. He opened a drawer and took out a mass of leather. He found what he was looking for and attached padded leather cuffs to Sonji's wrists and ankles. Dag had these cuffs made wide and strong, because Sonji used all her strength when she struggled against her restraints. Struggling against bondage was the only way she could keep herself from fainting when she was aroused. He tightened the clamps that held the cuffs locked in place and used short straps to connect each wrist to the corresponding ankle.
Dag took off his clothes and got onto the bed with Sonji. He looked at her innocent face and felt an overwhelming feeling of love and tenderness sweep through his mind. Then he looked at her bound and naked form and felt overwhelming lust sweep through his body.
Sonji moaned as she regained consciousness. Dag kissed her breasts and then her lips, his hot tongue rolling inside her mouth, his lips pressing and sucking, his hot hands roaming over Sonji's sweat-slick body, caressing her breasts and sliding down her belly towards her sex. She pulled and twisted, straining against the straps that held her wrists close to her ankles. Dag couldn't control himself and forgot about continuing the foreplay. He entered Sonji and she synchronized her struggles against the straps to the rhythm of Dag's strokes until they both climaxed.
They cuddled for a while and then Dag disengaged and lay next to Sonji. He kissed her ear and murmured, "I'm so glad you're back. I love you so much, and I missed you."
"I love you too, Master. I'm so happy we're going to be married." Just being this close to Dag aroused her, and she pulled hard on her restraints, trying with all her strength to separate her wrists and ankles. He was so strong and handsome, and she so enjoyed the contrast between his pale skin and light brown hair and her tan skin and black hair.
"I'm not your master any more, you know. I won't be your master after we're married either, because a wife has never been considered subordinate to her husband."
Sonji was used to having her wrists strapped to her ankles, and she easily managed to roll onto her side so she could kiss Dag's chest. "When we're alone I want to be your slave, Master. Will you allow it?"
Dag laughed, "It will be difficult, but I suppose I could. But seriously, are you sure you want to get married, with all that implies?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I love you so much that I want the universe to know that we're together. And while I like being a field surveyor, occasionally I have to do unpleasant things, and being with you helps me forget. Also, I want to have children sometime, and that requires the stability of marriage."
"I know you are used to being away from your home planet, but if you live here you will visit there even less often. Are you going to miss your family?"
"No, not really. My family still practices a religion that prohibits all pleasure, and I could never go back to that now. Living with you and your family is all I want." Sonji squirmed on the bed until she could kiss Dag's penis. "I also like the sex, Master."
Dag rolled Sonji onto her back and spread her legs. He used his lips and tongue to bring her to another orgasm. She screamed and struggled against the straps. Then he entered her and they rode the wave of passion together once more.
They cuddled together for quite a while, but eventually Dag stirred. "Time to get out of bed and rejoin the others, Sonji."
She kissed him. "It's all your fault that we're still in bed. I'm bound and helpless, remember?"
He lightly swatted her hip and she yelped. "You were much more respectful when you were my slave girl. I'll have to start beating you again."
"You never beat me!" Dag had been strict, but never cruel, although Sonji had been careful not to provoke him.
"I didn't? Then I suppose it's too late to start now." He kissed her. "This is more fun, anyway."
"Yes, Master. Thank you, Master. Please release me, Master."
Dag removed the cuffs and Sonji stretched her arms. She examined her wrists, which were red, but not chafed. "Remember how the rope we used before cut me? You were wise to get the leather cuffs. But we're missing something. I don't have an iron collar riveted around my neck any more."
Dag smiled. "Wouldn't it look funny with your uniform?"
Sonji laughed. "Probably, and that iron collar wasn't very comfortable, either. But could you get a leather one made?"
"Why didn't I think of that? It'll make an ideal wedding present."
They washed and dressed. Just before they left the bedroom Sonji remembered Mahoon's request. "Dag, you'll have a group of your friends with you to help with the abduction, won't you?"
"That's the custom. Are you sure that you want to use the traditional ceremony? I could speak to my father and I'm sure that he would go along if you've decided that you're uncomfortable about being kidnapped."
"No, I don't mind. Why I ask is that Pami and Swa don't have any men in their lives right now, and it would be nice if you could find men who would be willing and able to pay attention to them. Swa always has male companionship if she wants it, but for some reason Pami finds it hard to attract men."
"I can understand that. She's not bad looking, but she has this aura of menace about her, and many men would find her threatening." Dag thought for a moment. "I know just the man. My friend Reg is a captain in the Civil Guard and an expert warrior. He isn't intimidated by anyone, and it shows. He's not violent in his personal life, but most women are still frightened of him."
"Sounds like a perfect match, unless they kill each other."
* * *
The party had be going on for over an hour. It had reached the point where everyone was relaxed enough to be talkative, and the din was considerable. Radg, Dag's father and the President of the National Council, was accompanied by Sonji and Dag as he circulated through the crowd, greeting everyone he met. Many people wanted to engage in a long conversation, but he politely cut them off after the introductions. He was making an attempt to keep this a social occasion and not let it turn into just another political meeting.
Dag wore the gray clothing that was traditionally worn by a qualified advocate. Sonji was wearing the dress uniform of the Star Fleet Survey Service, as suggested by Captain Goda. Her friends had also followed this suggestion, and this made them stand out from the other women in the crowd. Tonight Sonji's uniform featured a long skirt and a tight, sleeveless bodice with a high collar fastened around her neck. It was made of a light weight, dark blue fabric, with shoulder straps to display her rank badges.
The Survey Service had a unique uniform policy. The style and color of the dress uniform varied depending on where it was worn. It conformed to the general pattern of the other branches of the Star Fleet when it was worn on official occasions, but in a social setting it was adapted to match local custom. Tonight the civilian women wore long dresses and the men wore trousers tucked into calf-high boots, so the uniforms followed the same pattern. If at some other time the civilian men were wearing kilts the Survey Service men would do the same. The reason for this policy, as explained to confused outsiders, was that the Survey Service always tried to blend into the local culture. What the uniform would look like if nudity was the local custom was a question that had not yet been answered.
Erig was standing alone against the back wall of the room, somewhat apart from the noisy, milling crowd. The press of bodies and the many oil lamps made it warm in the room, and she was wondering if she could slip outside for a little while. She had made an effort to be sociable ever since she had arrived at the party, but now she was taking a moment to herself. She was so rarely approached by people interested in casual conversation that she was surprised when a man stopped in front of her. He looked ordinary and normal, so Erig was unprepared for what he said: "The decent people in this country don't want you Amalgamation sluts here! Get off of our planet, or we will destroy you!"
If Erig had been on a field survey she would by now be choosing the best way to dispose of the body. But she didn't want Sonji's party to be marred by violence, so she didn't respond to the threat, except with a yawn.
At this show of disrespect the man flushed with rage. He took a quick glance around and when he was satisfied that no one was watching he pulled a dagger out of his sleeve and moved towards Erig. "You don't think we're serious, do you? I'll show you. Into the closet!" He pointed towards a nearby door and Erig let him crowd her towards it.
Erig backed into the small, cluttered room without hesitation. The man gloated to himself and thought, 'How easy it is to frighten these Amalgamation sluts!' He grabbed an oil lamp from a wall sconce and followed her. Once inside put the lamp on a bracket and shut the door. "I won't kill you too quickly. I think I'll carve your face off first."
He slashed at Erig's head. She deflected the blow with her left arm and punched with her right fist. At the last instant she decided it might be useful to let him live and aimed for the man's jaw instead of his throat. Her blow connected and he went down in a heap.
Erig massaged her knuckles. "This joker has a head as hard as a brick. He has the brains of a brick, too." She picked up the dagger and frisked the man, removing another knife from his boot. The knife was very sharp, and Erig hummed softly as she cut some strips of cloth from the man's trousers and used them to tie his hands behind his back.
Erig stepped outside the closet and closed the door behind her. The party had proceeded without interruption; apparently no one had noticed anything. She wondered what to do next. Then she saw Captain Goda standing nearby. She muttered, "I'll make the proper bureaucratic response and buck it up the line by reporting the incident to her. Taking the initiative all the time is sooo exhausting."
Captain Goda was talking to a distinguished man in formal clothes. When Erig reached her she paused in her conversation. "Ambassador, I'd like to present Lieutenant Pami Erig. She did a field survey here. Ms. Erig, this is Ambassador Adjaka, the Amalgamation's representative on Gamma."
"Pleased to meet you, sir."
"I'm pleased to meet you. I've read some of your technical papers; they were very interesting. You do lead an adventurous life."
"I had an unusual experience just now. A man came up to me and said I would be destroyed unless I got off the planet. He used a knife to force me into a closet and then he tried to kill me. This wasn't personal, he came at me because I represent the Amalgamation. Captain, I think we should tell President Radg's security people. He may be threatened too."
"Where is the man now?" Captain Goda concealed her alarm well, but Erig could hear the tension in her voice.
"He's still in the closet."
"Is he alive?" People who attacked Erig usually weren't.
"Yes, I knocked him out and tied him up. I don't want him to remain unguarded for very long, though."
"Right. You go watch him and we'll meet you there. This is a dangerous situation. What do you think, Ambassador?"
"I agree." Ambassador Adjaka beckoned to a man standing close by and whispered in his ear. The man nodded and moved into the crowd. "That was one of the President's bodyguards. He'll notify President Radg and get some help. We don't want a disturbance, so let's act normally."
Erig returned to the closet. Captain Goda resumed the conversation with the ambassador as though nothing had happened. "Ms. Erig is going to be one of the bride's attendants during the rather unusual wedding activities."
Ambassador Adjaka chuckled. "There are stranger wedding rituals than this, as I know from personal experience. I was married in my village's traditional ceremony, which started when my bride-to-be was taken deep into the forest before dawn and tied to a tree. I had from sunrise until sunset to locate and release her, or the wedding would not take place. The theory is that for a successful marriage the husband and wife have to be linked mentally, and I had to demonstrate this link by finding my bride."
"Were you able to find her?"
"Yes, I really did feel a link between us. Of course, it also helped that she had concealed a sack of white pebbles under her skirt and dropped one every few meters as she was led away."
Conversation continued for a few more minutes until the bodyguard returned. He was accompanied by a well-dressed but tough-appearing man, whom he introduced as Todj, the head of the Civil Guard's Division of Council Security.
Todj acknowledged the introductions with a nod and got right to the point. "I heard that one of your officers had been attacked. Is she hurt?"
Captain Goda answered, "No, and she captured her assailant. Follow me."
Captain Goda led the security men to the closet, and Ambassador Adjaka casually moved towards President Radg.
Captain Goda knocked on the closet door and announced herself; she certainly didn't want to startle Erig. Erig opened the door from the inside and Captain Goda and Todj crowded into the stuffy little room. Todj told the bodyguard to stay outside and keep everybody else out.
Once inside with the door closed Captain Goda introduced Erig and Todj. He rolled the still-unconscious assailant face up and gave a grunt of recognition.
Erig asked, "You know him?"
Todj hesitated. He was accustomed to asking questions, not answering them. Then he took a careful look at Erig's stance and the way she held the knife and decided to make an exception. "Yeah, his name is Nodg. He's a high-level thug in the National Purity Movement. He's a favorite of Modeg, the NPM's maximum leader."
"The National Purity Movement? What's that?"
"They're the main opposition to Gamma's membership in the Amalgamation. We always figured they were capable of violence, but this is the first time they've been so open about it." Todj was obviously worried. "We've heard rumors they were planning something big, something involving the whole organization. I don't think that this attack on you was it, though. I'm sure Nodg did this on his own. He has a history of violence and he never could keep his temper under control."
Nodg moaned and opened his eyes. Todj said, "You'll do twenty years of involuntary servitude for this, you scum. But if you want to cooperate we can give you a break. What is the Movement planning to do?'
Nodg sneered, "You'll find out, but when you do it will be you and the other traitors like Radg who'll be doing the I.S."
Todj slapped Nodg and repeated the question, but received more taunts in return. This went on for some time and Nodg had a colorful collection of cuts and bruises before Erig intervened.
"You're being too harsh, Todj. Let me talk to him. I'm sure I can appeal to his better nature and he'll tell us what's being planned. I bet he doesn't really want the Movement's image sullied by violence."
Todj responded with a look of incredulity and Nodg with a stream of curses. Erig said, "Why don't you wait outside so Nodg won't feel intimidated?"
Todj had no intention of leaving, but Captain Goda whispered to him and he reluctantly followed her outside and closed the door. Todj exclaimed, "What does she think she's doing? She'll never get anything out of a hard case like Nodg."
"You'd be surprised. Erig can be very persuasive."
As Captain Goda and the two security men waited outside the door she talked to Todj, trying to make it look like a casual conversation. "Are you in charge of counter-subversion, Todj?
"As much as anybody is. Officially, my Division just provides bodyguards for President Radg and the other members of the National Council. This is something new. Before about a year ago Council members had to provide their own bodyguards."
"How did you find out that the NPM was up to something?"
"It was just a fluke. One of the members was arrested on an unrelated charge, and he told us that Modeg was planning something violent, and whatever it was threatened the President personally. We were shocked; before this everyone thought the NPM was just another political faction. My Division was assigned to do the investigation because it supposedly involved presidential security, but actually because no one else was interested. You've got to understand that all of this is new to us. Since there's always been only one nation on this world we've never had to deal with external threats, and the internal threats were just the usual criminals, except for the occasional bandit gangs in the forests."
"How much have you found out about the NPM's plans?"
"Not a lot. We managed to plant a man in the organization and he confirmed the threat story, but he's not high enough in the leadership to tell us much. Nodg would know what Modeg is planning, if we can get him to talk."
Todj became more and more impatient as the minutes dragged by. He heard muffled screams, but he couldn't make out any words. He was about to see what was happening in the closet when Erig opened the door and stepped outside.
Erig was somber. "I've got his story and it's bad. We have to speak to President Radg." She told the bodyguard, "You stay inside with Nodg. Keep him there out of sight until the party is over, and don't let anyone know he's been caught. If you like, you can try to stop the bleeding."
Todj told the man to follow Erig's orders and the bodyguard entered the closet. Todj led the women towards the other end of the room. "There's a courtroom next door that we can use. I'll get the President."
Erig said, "Captain, I'd like to have Mahoon in this meeting." Captain Goda nodded her approval and Erig moved into the crowd to find Mahoon.
A few minutes later the three Star Fleet officers were joined in the courtroom by Todj and President Radg. Ambassador Adjaka was with them. Radg asked, "What's all this about, Lieutenant Erig? Is there something wrong?"
"Yes, sir. A member of the National Purity Movement attacked me with a knife. I managed to disarm and capture him, and Todj and I asked him some questions. He said that the NPM plans to kidnap Sonji and her attendants, especially your daughter, and use them as hostages until you meet their demands."
"What! Does this seem reasonable to you, Todj?" Radg was deeply shocked.
"Yes sir. We've heard rumors that the NPM was planning something big and violent."
"Why haven't you arrested them?"
"No evidence, sir, especially nothing against Modeg and the rest of the leadership."
"Well, now that we know we can at least postpone the wedding until we can arrange for tighter security."
Erig interrupted. "Or we could go on with the wedding as we planned and catch them in the act."
"You mean let yourselves be kidnapped? Wouldn't that be very dangerous?"
"Not that dangerous. If they want us as live hostages we won't be killed out of hand. And if Nodg is typical of this bunch they will seriously underestimate our capabilities because we're women. Sonji, Mahoon, and I have faced much greater risks on field surveys. The only problem is with Miki and Kealii. They haven't our training, but if they're not in the wedding party the NPM will know we're on to them."
"My daughter is very brave and very loyal. I'm sure she'll agree to take part in your plan."
"That's another problem. If we tell Miki and Kealii what's happening I doubt that they could act naturally enough to fool the kidnappers. I don't want to tell Sonji, either. She hasn't had as much experience as Mahoon and I, and she can't let slip what she doesn't know. We must not let the kidnappers suspect we're on to them. If they aren't fooled they would likely kill us. Miki and Sonji are Star Fleet officers and danger is part of their job. You have to decide about involving your daughter."
President Radg was silent for a moment. This was a hard decision, with his instincts as a father opposing his duty to his country. Then he nodded grimly. "If we don't stop the NPM now they'll just try again, and my daughter will still be a target. The wedding will proceed as scheduled." He addressed the Star Fleet officers. "We will provide all the help we can, but I'm going to leave the planning to you. Todj and his men will follow your lead." He started to say something else, but then just shook his head.
Radg and Todj left the courtroom, and Ambassador Adjaka and Captain Goda followed separately. Some time later Mahoon and Erig also rejoined the party. Everyone had tried to be unobtrusive, but Miki noticed the comings and goings. She asked Erig, "What was that all about?"
"Oh, someone tried to crash the party and the guards asked if any of us had seen him earlier. He was just some nut who has tried to do this before, but the guards wanted to be sure."
"I guess people are the same on every planet. There is always somebody strange just around the corner." Miki bubbled, "Taking part in a wedding on another planet is very exciting for me, especially since Gamma has just joined the Amalgamation and it hasn't absorbed Galactic culture yet. I suppose it's dull for you, after all of the field surveys you've made."
"Dull is always welcome. Believe me, a little excitement goes a long way."
"I suppose so, but I don't get any excitement at all. Ever since I joined the Interloper most of my time has been spent hunched in front of a terminal doing some sort of accounting. I could have done that without ever leaving my home planet. I expected more excitement in the Star Fleet."
"You need some romance in your life. It's too bad that all of the available men on the ship are such losers. Unless you..."
Miki laughed. "I like men. But you're right, I haven't met anybody on the ship that I could really care for."
"Maybe you'll meet somebody here. That's one nice thing about being in the Star Fleet. You can love 'em and then leave the planet before they become tiresome."
* * *
The next afternoon Kealii and the four Star Fleet officers started their journey to the farm in the country. They left the house and found an two-wheeled oxcart waiting for them in the street. Miki was fascinated. This was the first domestic animal she had ever seen. She asked the driver, "Can I touch it?" He smiled and nodded, and she tentatively stroked the animal's back. "Wow. This is amazing. I never realized that animals could be used for transportation."
Kealii said, "It's not that romantic when they're all you've got. Oxen are the only draft animals on Gamma, so all transportation moves at a walk. Humans are the fastest land animals on the planet. One of the first benefits of Amalgamation membership will be to speed up travel, and I'll be very glad when that happens. It's going to take the rest of the afternoon to get to the farmhouse, but if we had land cars we could be there in minutes."
"Why don't you have, what do you call them, horses?"
"We did once. Ancient bones have been found, but for some reason horses died out thousands of years ago. I think there's a plan to import some colts and try to reestablish them."
The women loaded their baggage and got in the small, open-top cart. The driver goaded the ox into motion, and the cart creaked as it moved slowly down the street.
Miki instructed, "Improving transportation may take longer than you think. It's not just importing land cars; you need to build a complex infrastructure, and that will take a lot of capital investment."
"Yes, I know that's true, but I can wish. We will get some improvements soon, though. For example, one of Dag's friends is planning to start a bicycle factory. This would be a leap forward, and yet Gamma has the technology to support it."
"Bicycles are a step forward, but even they require a lot of infrastructure, such as tubing fabricators. And then you'll need paved roads. Change will take longer than you might hope."
Conversation continued as the cart moved through the countryside. Miki said, "I notice that some of these fields have crops ready to harvest and others look like they've just been planted. I don't know anything about farming, but isn't that unusual?"
Mahoon answered, "Yes, it is. Unlike most planets, Gamma has a near-circular orbit and almost no axial tilt, so there isn't any seasonal variation. Crops are grown and harvested all year."
Miki enjoyed the view of the fields, with their different shades of green and brown, and the woods with their varieties of trees. This was so much nicer than her home planet, where all traces of the natural world had disappeared generations ago. "I know you think that development will improve things, Kealii, but you can lose a lot too."
"I realize that, and if it were just me I might want to keep things as they are. My father is rich, and I have all I need. But most of our people are farmers or peasants, and their lives are hard. Development will give them a chance at a good life too."
Miki and Kealii continued to discuss economics, but eventually Sonji was able to interrupt. She asked Kealii, "What's going to happen next?"
"After we're kidnapped and dragged off to his estate Dag will try to persuade you to marry him, and the rest of us will party. The next day we'll party some more to celebrate your capitulation, and then travel back to Brombeg. If the only guests were family and close friends we would have had the ceremony right there in the country, but my father has to invite his many political acquaintances and there wouldn't be any place for them to stay. Actually, he had to rent the Brombeg concert hall to make room for all of the guests."
"The crew of the Interloper has been invited too, so there will really be a crowd. This is looking more and more like a political convention." Sonji wasn't able to keep the disappointment out of her voice. She wanted her wedding to be a personal emotional experience, not a public event.
Kealii noticed Sonji's regret. "We could arrange to have a private wedding ceremony before we go to Brombeg. Would you like that?"
"Oh, yes! That way I could be me, and not just someone on exhibition, part of a theatrical performance."
"Having a private ceremony shouldn't be a problem; the judge who is going to perform the ceremony in Brombeg will be a guest at the estate."
Miki asked, "What do the kidnappers do, club us over the head and stuff us into crates?"
Kealii smiled. "No, nothing brutal. We're supposed to struggle prettily and then swoon from terror. Usually there's some token bondage. The last time I was in a wedding my brutal abductor loosely fastened a belt around my chest and over my arms; this pinned my arms to my sides, but I had to remember to keep my elbows bent so the belt wouldn't fall off. Once I was completely helpless he had to take care of me, which meant he held my cup to my lips and kept it filled while our wagon slowly traveled to the groom's house. It made the journey go a lot faster, and the party got off to a good start."
Submitting quietly was something Erig didn't often do, but now she had to do it and make it seem natural. She decided to treat this as a field survey and pretend she was disguised as an ordinary woman. She said to herself, "Posing as a normal woman; what a novel experience. But the man who tries to treat me that way for real is in for a surprise".
The sun was just setting when the oxcart finally arrived at the farmhouse. The five women got their bags and climbed out of the cart. The cart driver hadn't finished his journey; he would continue on to the estate where Dag and his friends would gather.
The farmhouse was a one-story wooden structure, with a large porch extending across the front of the building. It was post and beam construction, with outside walls made of wide, vertical boards. The roof was made of wooden shingles, weathered to a silvery gray. A low picket fence enclosed the house and a large barn. In front of the house was a large tree that shaded the yard. A rope dangled from a branch and a child's swing swayed in the gentle breeze, the weathered wood of the board seat reflecting the setting sun.
Both buildings were shabby and badly in need of paint. The house was once white, and the barn still displayed traces of red. Most of the fields surrounding the buildings were fallow and covered with grass, but no animals grazed there. Thick woods started just behind the barn and spread to cover several thousand hectares.
A middle-aged woman in a worn dress and patched apron stepped onto the porch and greeted the visitors. "Welcome. My name is Hojee. Please come in. Dinner won't be ready for several hours yet. If you want to wash the pump is in the kitchen."
"Thank you for letting us stay in your home." Kealii carefully didn't mention the money her father had paid. She introduced each member of the group.
Everyone entered the house and Hojee led them to the parlor. The plastered walls had decorative moldings, but they were cracked and chipped. Everything was very clean and neat, but the furniture was worn and the carpet was threadbare. Hojee was poor, but it was genteel poverty.
Kealii asked, "Where's the privy?"
"Behind the barn."
Miki said, "I'll go with you." The two women walked through the house and out into the yard. Miki stopped and sniffed the air. "What's that funny smell?"
Kealii replied, "I don't smell anything unusual. The dung heap is closer to the house than I would like, but it's not too bad."
"This is so exciting! I've never been on a farm before; on my home planet all of the food is produced synthetically."
The women walked through the barn and found the privy. Miki asked, "Where is the sewage processed?"
"It isn't. When the privy starts to fill up it's covered with dirt and a new one is dug."
"That's amazing! On my planet everything has to be recycled."
"I don't think I would be comfortable with that." Kealii entered the privy and closed the door.
Miki uneasily watched the thick woods just outside the fence. She was a city girl through and through, and she wasn't too sure that some wild animal wasn't going to leap out of the forest and devour her.
Kealii exited the privy. "Your turn. See you back at the house." Miki nodded and entered, prepared for another new experience.
Kealii entered the barn. It was dark inside now that the sun had set. She couldn't see the two men, dressed in dark clothing and armed with swords, who waited there, hidden in an empty stall. When Kealii walked by the stall they seized her from behind. One man pulled her arms behind her back and the other used a wide leather strap to pin her hands together, palm-to-palm. The strap was pulled very tight, and Kealii winced. She opened her mouth to complain, and a wad of cloth was jammed into it and held in place by another cloth wrapped around her head and tied behind her neck.
Kealii knew all of Dag's friends who were going to take part in the abduction, and she didn't recognize either of these men. She started to struggle, but one man tripped her to the floor and held her there while the other tied her ankles together with several turns of rough rope. They carried her out a side door of the barn and dropped her on the ground, just outside the picket fence.
A third man was waiting. He picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. "I'll put this one in the wagon. Get ready, the other slut will be along soon."
He carried Kealii down a path that led through the trees. She squirmed ineffectually and mewed through her gag until he gave her a sharp slap on her bottom. The man carried her through the forest for about a hundred meters before he reached a large wagon parked on a narrow track cut through the woods. The two yoked oxen hitched to the wagon were tethered to a tree alongside the road.
The kidnapper dumped Kealii on the open tailgate and climbed into the wagon. He dragged her towards the front and used another piece of rope to cinch the loops around her ankles and pull her legs into a tight hogtie. The rope was tied around the strap pinioning her wrists and then wrapped around one of the wooden bows that supported the wagon's canvas cover, where it met the high wooden side of the wagon body. When he tied it there Kealii's wrists and ankles were pulled up painfully, and she couldn't move at all.
Kealii was very frightened. This was no mock abduction; this was a real kidnapping. She had often been warned by the guardsmen that she might be a target of one of her father's enemies. She had laughed off the warnings then, but she wasn't laughing now. And her new friends were going to be victims too. She struggled frantically against her bonds but achieved nothing. She tried to scream, but produced only muted bleating.
Miki entered the barn, thinking that using an outhouse was one adventure that she didn't really enjoy. When a man grabbed her she was startled, but then she giggled and relaxed. She didn't struggle when her hands were strapped behind her back, and when the gag was pressed against her lips she obligingly opened her mouth. She didn't resist when a man held her arm and guided her out of the barn and into the woods, and she cooperated when she was lifted into the wagon. Even after she was bent into a tight hogtie and the rope was pulled up and tied to a cover bow Miki didn't realize she had been kidnapped, but she did think, 'If this is token bondage, I wouldn't want to be tied up for real!'. She was uncomfortable, but she was also aroused, much to her surprise.
Sonji wandered into the kitchen and found Hojee peeling vegetables. "Do you know where my friends got to? They've been gone a lot longer than I expected."
"They said they were going to look around the farm. I expect they're in the barn."
Twilight was fading fast and the inside of the barn was dark. Sonji took two steps inside and called, "Miki? Kealii? Are you in here?"
A man pushed her from behind so she was pressed against the barn wall. He held her arms behind her back while a second man circled her wrists with a strap and pulled it tight. Sonji opened her mouth to protest and a wad of cloth was stuffed in it and the gag held in place by more cloth tied around her head. Now that it was almost too late Sonji realized something was wrong. She didn't recognize Dag, and she was sure that he would have tied her personally. When the men turned her away from the wall she kneed one in the groin and kicked the other in the knee. She hadn't been able to aim the blows very well in the dark, but the men yelped and released her.
Sonji ran out of the barn and sprinted towards the house. An oil lamp was burning in the kitchen and she ran towards the lighted window. Unfortunately, it didn't illuminate her path in the deepening twilight, and she never saw the shallow ditch until she stepped into it and tripped. She couldn't use her bound hands to break her fall and she landed face down in the dirt with a jolt that knocked her breath out. The men were close behind, and before she could get to her feet one of them pinned her to the ground by sitting on her thighs. The other tied her ankles together with coarse rope.
The man who had been kneed said, "Give me some more rope. I owe this slut something." He took the rope the other offered and looped it several times around Sonji's elbows and pulled until they almost touched. He knotted the rope and then looped it around her neck, but the other man stopped him before he could tie it.
"We don't want her to strangle. Run the rope through her armpits instead."
The man with the rope nodded and rerouted it. Then he used more rope to connect Sonji's ankles to her elbows, and he tightened it until her feet touched her hands. The two men grabbed her upper arms and carried her to the wagon.
The men tossed Sonji into the wagon and she landed on her side, the impact forcing a grunt of pain through her gag. The rope connecting her ankles and elbows was tied tight to a cover bow, pulled so high that only her torso touched the wagon bed. One of her captors groped her breasts and pinched her nipples, and she squirmed with the pain.
The head kidnapper said, "No time for that now. Get out of the wagon."
The three men moved towards the house. The man who had mauled Sonji asked, "Now what do we do, Ledg?"
The leader replied, "The other two sluts are in the house, so let's go get them there. It should be easy."
Back at the house, Erig and Mahoon entered the kitchen. Hojee was still working at the sink, although she hadn't got very far with her vegetable peeling. Erig asked, "Can we get some water?"
"Here's the pump, help yourself."
"Do you have any cups?"
"I suppose." Hojee opened several cupboards until she found cups and gave two to Erig.
"Have you been living here long?" Erig held the cups under the spout while Mahoon pumped the water.
"Oh, yes. I've lived here for years."
The conversation was interrupted when three men burst into the kitchen. Erig and Mahoon exchanged glances and Erig shrugged. Then they squealed and scampered around. The men easily caught them and soon their hands were strapped behind their backs. Neither of the field surveyors resisted when gags were stuffed into their mouths and two of the men led them outside and into the woods.
Ledg said to Hojee, "That takes care of the alien sluts. You leave now for Brombeg. Here's the ransom note; deliver it to Radg's house just before dawn and then go to the Movement's office and wait for more instructions."
* * *
The wagon carrying the captives had been plodding along for a several hours, most of the time traveling on rutted narrow roads cut through woodlands. The two men sat on the seat, and the leader stayed in the back near the tailgate, alternating between watching the back trail and guarding the captives. Finally the wagon stopped near a side door of a large hunting lodge deep in a forest. It had been a stressful trip for the bound women; the tight hogties quickly became very painful, and the unsprung wagon bed transmitted every bump in the road directly into their immobile bodies.
Kealii was hurting badly. She tried desperately to free herself, driven by her knowledge that this was not a mock abduction. Sonji had also struggled, until she recognized the futility of it and decided to save her strength. The other women had rested quietly. Miki wasn't worried, and Erig and Mahoon had a plan.
Ledg directed, "Take them into the lounge. Keep them tied up, and keep your hands off them. I'm going to report to Modeg and get his orders." He entered the building through the front door, leaving the other two men to carry the prisoners inside.
The side door opened directly into the lounge. It was a rustic room, with a large stone fireplace, stuffed animal heads attached to the log walls, and a vaulted ceiling. It was dimly lit by logs smoldering in the fireplace. Erig had been nearest to the tailgate, so the men carried her in first and dumped her on the floor near the hearth. One of the men put some more wood on the fire while the other lit candles in holders on the mantle.
Once the room was illuminated the men examined Erig. "So this is what an alien slut looks like, eh? Not very attractive. I wonder if she has all the standard equipment? I suppose we'll find out soon enough. She certainly is a timid little thing. She'll most likely swoon if you touch her."
The other man rubbed his crotch. "They aren't all like that. One of them put up a fight."
"Just a lucky blow. Let's get the rest of them inside before Ledg gets back."
The kidnappers brought in the other women and dumped them on the floor next to Erig. Comfortable, leather upholstered chairs faced the fire, and the two men sprawled in them. They used Erig and Mahoon as footstools, grinding their heels into their captives' bound bodies. Neither woman resisted, but more perceptive men might have noticed some anger in their expressions.
All of the women were suffering from the tight bondage, but Kealii was in the worst condition. She had been struggling continuously to free herself, and now she was exhausted. Her chafed and bruised wrists and ankles ached. She was crying, as much from fear and despair as from pain. Her nose was clogging and she was having trouble breathing.
Ledg returned with another man. When the two seated kidnappers realized he was Modeg they jumped to attention and saluted. He returned the salute. "Good work, comrades. Now we have the means to strike a blow at that traitor Radg and his unholy alliance with the Amalgamation."
Modeg pointed to Kealii. "Take out her gag; we don't want her to smother." He indicated the other captives. "Take out all of the gags. They can scream all they want without anyone caring."
As soon as Kealii could talk she threatened, "What do you think you're doing, Modeg? My father will kill you for this."
"Your father will do as I say if he expects to see you and your friends alive. The National Purity Movement has advanced from talk to direct action! We have demanded that Radg issue an amnesty for all of the Movement's followers, denounce the alliance with the Amalgamation, and then resign. My supporters will seize control of the Council, and I will be named President."
"You're mad. My father will never do any of that. And you will never be President!"
"We shall see." Modeg turned to the men. "I've got to return to the meeting. Our most important financial backers are here, and it is vital that we get funds now."
He looked over the captives. "We can use these women as prizes; whoever makes the largest donation gets first choice. Strip the sluts and string them up. Don't abuse them now, but after everyone has left you men can use them as you wish before you dispose of them."
Modeg left the room. The three men untied Kealii's feet and removed the strap holding her wrists behind her back. She moaned as she uncurled from the tight hogtie, and they waited a few minutes until she had recovered somewhat. Then she was lifted to her feet and Ledg demanded, "Strip!" When she hesitated he slapped her face and threatened, "Do you want some help?"
One of the men grabbed her, but she twisted away. She unlaced her bodice with trembling hands, then pulled the dress over her head and let it fall to the floor. She begged, "Please, let me keep my underwear."
Ledg laughed. "What, and conceal your charms?" He ripped off the garments and Kealii started to cry again. The men held her while Ledg used the strap to fasten her wrists together in front. He tied a rope around the strap and tossed it over one of the beams running across the room, then pulled the rope until Kealii was on tiptoe. He tied it off and moved his hands over her body. "Very nice! You'd be my first choice."
Kealii tried to be brave, but she cried out when Ledg's cruel hands pinched her nipples and squeezed her breasts. She whimpered when a finger probed her mound.
Now it was Miki's turn. She was very frightened, and when she was untied she quickly stripped off all her clothes. Once she was naked her hands were strapped and tied to another beam, about a meter away from Kealii. She forced herself to be silent when her body was groped, but she gasped when she was lifted and the rope attached to her wrists was retied so her feet were off the floor. One of the men roughly squeezed her breasts and then moved his hand along the arch of her ribcage. She screamed when his hand probed her labia, kicking and jerking as she twisted around the rope.
Erig was the next to be untied. When she was free she worked the stiffness out of her arms and took as long as she could to remove her clothing. When she was naked one man grabbed her arms and another moved in with the strap.
She exclaimed, "Wait! Don't you know this is wrong? If you surrender now I'll recommend that the court be lenient when you're sentenced."
This statement was so unexpected that the kidnappers actually paused until Ledg shouted, "What are you waiting for? String her up!"
Erig kneed the groin of the man holding her arms, and when he doubled up in pain she pivoted and used the edge of her hand to crush the throat of the man with the strap. She pivoted back and delivered a two-handed blow to the back of the neck of the man she had kneed. Ledg reacted very quickly and was able to draw his sword, but Erig kicked it out of his hand and continued with a flurry of kicks and punches that left him lifeless on the floor.
When Erig had completed her attacks all was quiet except for the crackling of the fire and the rasping gurgles from the man with the crushed throat as he struggled to breathe. Sonji and Mahoon were not surprised at this outcome, but Miki and Kealii stared wide-eyed at Erig. Both found it difficult to accept what had just taken place. The brutes that had handled them so easily had just crumpled when Erig attacked.
Erig took a dagger from one of the bodies and used it to free Mahoon and Sonji. Mahoon recovered quickly and massaged Sonji's rope marks to help restore the circulation in arms numbed by the tight binding of her elbows.
When Erig freed Miki and Kealii they both collapsed on the floor, sobbing with relief. Both women were crying as they hugged and comforted each other, trying to recover emotionally from the terror they had just experienced. They were badly upset, but they were young and healthy and it wasn't too long before they had revived enough to function.
In the meantime Erig had searched the bodies of the defunct kidnappers, but she didn't find anything interesting. She armed herself with Ledg's sword and gave the other swords to Mahoon and Sonji.
Mahoon hefted her sword, "This is better than nothing, but I'd like a phasor about now." None of the field surveyors had been carrying Amalgamation weapons. If they were searched the weapons would have aroused suspicion, and also armed their enemies.
Erig smiled. "What's the challenge in that?" She ordered, "Sonji, you take Miki and Kealii and get out of here. Stay in the woods, away from the road, and move as fast as you can. When you're well away contact the ship and tell Captain Goda what's happened. Mahoon and I will stay here and delay any pursuit."
Sonji nodded and fingered the communicator disguised as a religious medallion that she wore on a thong around her neck. Miki and Kealii dressed, and the three women left the lodge through the side door. They crossed the road, but before they entered the woods Miki balked. "Wait a minute! We're not going in there, are we? It's so dark that something could grab us before we saw it."
Sonji said, "Don't worry, Miki. There's nothing on this planet that can hurt you. Nothing four-legged, that is."
Erig said from the doorway, "Go with Sonji, or come in here and I'll tie your hands to the beam again. Take your pick."
Miki whispered to Sonji, "She's kidding, isn't she?"
"No, she'll really do it. Now come with me. We're in the field now, so buck up and follow survey team orders. I realize you haven't been trained for this, but I know you can do it."
Miki thought a moment, and then decided that the unknown beasts in the woods were the lesser evil. Erig watched them go, and when they were out of sight she turned to Mahoon. "Let's give the rest of these Movement people a chance to repent their evil deeds." Mahoon smiled. She loved it when Erig talked like that. It meant the action was about to start.
Erig retrieved her underwear and put it on. Mahoon removed her dress; long skirts got in the way in a fight. The two women quietly opened the door that Modeg had used and entered a large dining room where eight men sat around a rectangular table. Modeg was standing at the head of the table with his back to the door. He was delivering a harangue, but paused when he noticed his audience was no longer paying attention.
One of the men asked, "What's this, Modeg? Is the entertainment starting already?"
Modeg turned, and goggled with surprise when he recognized Erig and Mahoon. He sputtered, "What are you doing here? Where are Ledg and the others?"
Erig replied in a calm voice. "They've resigned from the Movement, so to speak. If you want to live you'll surrender right now, you worthless pool of slime."
"No alien slut can speak to me like that! It's you who will die!" Modeg drew his sword and lunged. Erig blocked his blow and her return stroke opened his throat. The other men sat frozen with shock as Modeg's body hit the floor. He gurgled as he bled to death.
Erig announced, "We really don't like being kidnapped, and all of you were part of it. We're going to deliver you to the judicial authorities, and anyone who resists... like Modeg here... will be killed."
The Movement members might have been traitors, but they weren't cowards; besides, it was four to one, and their opponents were just women. They all drew their swords and attacked.
* * *
Sonji led Miki and Kealii at a brisk pace until they had traveled about a kilometer through the woods. She stopped when they reached the edge of a small clearing. "This should be far enough. We can wait here for the shuttle."
She used her communicator to contact the ship. They waited for quite a while before the shuttle landed in the clearing. When they entered it Sonji was surprised to see that Erig and Mahoon were already on board.
After the shuttle lifted off Sonji looked at a screen displaying a view of the ground and saw a large fire. She asked Mahoon, "Is that the lodge on fire?"
"Yeah, somebody must have dropped a candle."
Erig ordered, "Don't say anything about this to anyone. It's important that the rest of the Movement people aren't warned before they can be arrested."
Kealii nodded. "I won't say anything. I understand that we can't let the others be warned. But it's such a shock that anyone would try to use violence to change government policy! This has never happened before."
Erig didn't voice her cynical thought, 'Times have changed, girl. You're in the Amalgamation now.'
Aloud, she said, "It might be some time before all of the Movement members can be arrested, so it's important that we go on with the wedding as though nothing had happened. Miki, Kealii, do you think you can do that?" Erig didn't bother to ask Sonji and Mahoon if they could go on; they were field surveyors.
Kealii had been thoroughly frightened during her ordeal, but her loyalty to her father and her desire for revenge overcame her reluctance. "I'm ready to go on. I'm not going to let those traitors decide what I can do."
Miki still couldn't believe that what had happened was real; to her it all seemed to be just a holodeck scenario. She was young enough and sheltered enough to still believe that she was immortal, so she also agreed to continue as part of the wedding party.
A short time later the shuttle landed next to the farmhouse. Erig said, "Let's be sure there aren't any more surprises. Sonji, you and Swa search the barn and the yard. Miki, you and Kealii come with me."
Erig did a quick search of the ground floor of the house and found nothing threatening. The door to the cellar was in the kitchen, and when she opened it she heard a sound from below. She cautiously descended the cellar steps. She heard a moan and directed her flashlight beam towards the sound. A middle-aged woman was tied to a post. The woman blinked at the light and tried to say something through the gag stuffed in her mouth.
Erig removed the gag and the woman coughed for a few moments. "Please untie us, we've been here since noon."
"Who else is here."
"My daughter. She's tied over there."
Erig aimed her light at a young woman tied to another post. She slumped like she was dead, but as Erig got closer she could see that she was breathing. The woman had been treated brutally; her wrists and elbows were pulled back behind the rectangular post and bound with many strands of thin rope. More rope crisscrossed her torso and waist and wrapped around her legs. Her dress was ripped open and bruises made purple smudges on her breasts and thighs.
Erig shouted for Miki and Kealii; they freed the two women and carried them to the parlor. Erig asked the older woman, "What's your name?"
"Hojee. Is my daughter all right?"
"She'll be fine." Erig contacted the ship and explained the problem, and the shuttle returned to the farm to pick up the women.
Hojee was agitated. She asked again, "Are you sure my daughter is going to be all right?"
Erig tried to reassure her. "Don't worry. Your daughter's injuries will be treated on the ship and she'll surely recover." Erig didn't mention that they would be kept aboard until after the wedding.
After the shuttle left everything quieted down. Erig told the others, "There are some field rations in the kitchen if you're hungry. Then let's see if we can get some sleep before it's time to be kidnapped again. To be on the safe side Sonji, Swa, and I will take turns keeping watch."
The three field surveyors kept watch during the remainder of the night and into the morning hours, but nothing hostile happened. Erig was scouting the woods several hours after sunrise and she detected a large wagon moving along the track. She took a close look and spotted Dag in the group of men accompanying the wagon.
She returned to the farm and woke up her sleeping friends. "The action is about to start. Get up and get ready. It's time to take a stroll in the woods."
The women woke reluctantly, Mahoon grumbling about the lack of sleep. After they finished their morning routines they breakfasted on leftover field rations and gathered on the porch, enjoying the cool fresh air of a bright, pleasant day.
Kealii was worried. "Pami, are you sure that this is the friendly bunch of kidnappers?"
"Yep, I saw Dag."
"That's a relief. I've had enough real excitement to last me for a long time." Kealii consulted a list and gave everybody a scarf, each of a different color. "This will identify you so the men will know who to abduct. Dag and I have tried to do some matchmaking, but feel free to swap."
Mahoon leered, "No limits?"
Sonji said in a sympathetic voice, "It's so brave of you to try to hide your paralyzing shyness behind a facade of simulated lust. Don't worry, Swa, someday you'll manage to lose your virginity."
Kealii and Miki exchanged blank looks while the three field surveyors laughed. The women draped the scarves around their necks. They left the farmhouse porch and strolled into the woods, with Erig leading the way.
They reached the road and walked along it, chattering and giggling. After a while Erig and Mahoon detected several men lurking in the woods, but they didn't say anything to the others. They pretended to be surprised when five men with scarves covering the lower half of their faces jumped out from behind the trees.
Kealii screamed, "Bandits! Run for your lives!" The women scattered, shrieking with mock terror, and the men ran after them. The color of each bandit's mask matched the color of the scarf worn by the woman he was chasing.
Miki was farthest from the bandit's point of attack. She forgot Kealii's instruction to 'struggle prettily and then swoon from terror' and sprinted back down the road, her city-girl instincts keeping her out of the woods. Miki's pursuer was impeded by the milling crowd of bandits and their prey, and by the time he got clear of the mob she had a long head start.
Miki's bandit ran down the road after her. He sprinted until he was about ten meters behind her and then held back and enjoyed the view of her swaying hips and pumping arms. She had run almost 200 meters along the road before he closed the distance and caught her. By this time Miki was out of breath, (all of those hours in front of her terminal hadn't helped her endurance), and when the bandit put his hand on her shoulder she was glad to stop. She put her hands on her knees and stood bent over, with her eyes shut, while she gasped for breath.
He said, "I've got you now, my beauty! My name is Bedg, and no maiden is able to resist me." Miki looked up, and Bedg's heart flipped when her saw her exotic face, with its oval eyes and small nose. "Wow!" he croaked.
Miki was too sophisticated to say 'Wow', but she thought it. Bedg was tall and muscular, with a thick mat of yellow hair and bright blue eyes. His mask had slipped off to reveal a handsome, deeply tanned face. Most men were clean-shaven, but he sported a bushy blond mustache. He was dressed in tight black leather trousers tucked into black boots, and his loose, long-sleeved shirt was the same shade of pale green as her dress.
Miki straightened up and struck a pose by lifting her chin and putting her left hand over her heart. "You'll never conquer me! I am Lady Miki, and I'll escape from your evil clutches, no matter how tightly you bind me."
Bedg twirled his mustache and chortled, "No one escapes from me! Your fate is sealed!" He tied a slipknot in the end of a four-meter length of braided flaxen rope and flipped it over Miki's shoulders; it settled around her elbows and pinned her arms to her sides. He turned, put the rope over his shoulder, and walked up the road, towing Miki behind him. Miki promptly grabbed the rope and pulled it hand-over-hand until she had enough slack to slip the loop over her head. She was going to just drop it and run, but then she had a better idea. There was a large tree branch at the side of the road and she put the loop around it before she quietly tiptoed back down the road.
Bedg walked another twenty meters before he realized something was wrong. He turned and cursed. By this time Miki was fifty meters down the road, and she giggled and ran. Bedg took the time to retrieve his rope from the branch, so when he caught up to her they were almost back to where they started.
He declaimed, "So you dare to take advantage of my leniency to try to escape, do you? Very well, now I'll show you no mercy!" He wrapped the end of the rope three times around Miki's wrists and fastened it with a square knot. "That will hold you, my stubborn beauty."
"Alas, now that I'm helpless you can drag me to my doom." Miki ended this sentence with a giggle.
Bedg turned to retrace his steps, and as he started he yanked the rope to demonstrate that he was prepared to be merciless. Miki stumbled forward, and used her momentum to bring her wrists up to her mouth. Her teeth found the knot, and two dozen steps later her hands were free. She tied a loop in the end of the rope and this time she snagged a large rock before she retreated down the road.
Bedg was more alert now and he detected the substitution as soon as Miki made it. He turned with a roar of simulated rage. "You were warned, wretch, and now you shall suffer my wrath!"
He caught her before she had run ten paces, and grabbed her around the waist. Miki shrieked and struggled. Bedg put the loop over her head and tightened it around her waist, with the knot in back. He took his knife out of his boot and cut two half-meter pieces off of the other end of the rope. Miki reached behind her back to try to untie the loop, and Bedg seized her hands. He easily held them both in his left hand while he wrapped one piece of rope in horizontal coils around Miki's wrists, and then he made vertical coils with the other piece.
Miki was panting now, and not just from the effort to escape. She twisted so she was facing Bedg and pushed her body against his. She lifted her chin, and he bent down so their lips met. Their tongues meshed, and Miki felt a wave of heat, centered between her legs, as she fought the rope binding her wrists. Bedg glanced around. The wagon had gone ahead and no one was in sight. He carried Miki to the side of the road and lowered her onto a windrow of dead leaves. They kissed again, and she panted, "Yes! Oh, yes."
He raised her skirt and cupped her mound. Her panties were wet, and he pulled them off and caressed her clit with his finger. She screamed and moaned in response. He unlaced her bodice and kissed her nipples, then bit them gently. The moans intensified. Bedg spread Miki's legs and entered her, and she wrapped her legs around his waist and screamed with every stroke until he silenced her with a kiss. Miki's passion soared with every thrust until it exploded.
When Miki returned to the world she was looking up at the clear blue sky overhead. Above her was a tree branch, complete with serrated green leaves and a small gray animal with a long tail. She sighed happily. "Wow! This was a first for me."
Bedg sputtered, "You mean you were a..."
Miki giggled. "Of course not. I meant that this is the first time I've made love outdoors. On my home planet it's not possible to even be alone outdoors." She sighed. "This was the most intense orgasm I've ever had."
"It was good for me, too." Bedg cleaned their bodies as best he could using the scarves as towels. He stood and fastened up his trousers and then pulled Miki to her feet. "We're going to have to hurry to catch up."
"Don't I get my underwear back?"
"No, it'll just get in the way...later."
"Alas, it is my fate to be irresistible to men, especially villainous bandits." She pointed to her bare breasts with her chin. "Are you going to expose my shame to your henchmen?"
"Actually, I was planning to remove your dress entirely." He laughed at her shocked expression. "Perhaps not. If you were naked my comrades would surely demand to share your charms." He tucked in Miki's breasts and laced up her bodice.
Bedg started to untie her wrists but she moved them away from his hands. "Just because you had your evil way with me doesn't mean I won't escape if I can."
"Then I'll have to take more precautions." He untied the loop from Miki's waist and used the rope to cinch the bands on her wrists, putting the knot where she couldn't reach it. He wrapped the long end of the rope twice around her waist and tied it in front to the short end. "There! You won't slip this leash."
Miki struggled to free her hands, but they were firmly anchored to her back. "Yes, now I'm your helpless captive, and you can ravish me whenever you wish." She giggled. "And that's the way I like it."
* * *
Erig watched the 'bandit' attack with an air of cynical amusement. Miki was the only one of the women to show a sensible reaction, sprinting down the road out of danger. Kealii was obviously trying to set a good example of proper maidenly behavior, shrieking and fluttering before she fainted in the grasp of her captor. She revived quickly enough when he kissed her, returning the kiss with enthusiasm and initiating one of her own before he looped a belt around her arms and led her to the wagon, which was parked just down the road.
Dag had brought leather cuffs, and he used them to fasten Sonji's wrists behind her back before she too was taken down the road to the wagon. Mahoon was more hesitant, but the bandit assigned to her was unusually handsome, and when he removed his mask and she saw his face she also managed to produce a muffled shriek and a half-swoon.
Erig was wondering who had been assigned to her when there was a tap on her shoulder and a soft voice said, "Excuse me, but I'm supposed to kidnap you."
She whirled around to face the speaker. He was a large man, with a muscular body and dark brown eyes and hair. He was dressed like the other men, but unlike them he wore a sword. His face was far from handsome, and the look in his eyes and the set of his jaw gave him an aura of menace that caused her to recoil a step.
The man also recoiled. He said, "Please don't be frightened. I won't hurt you." His body sort of slumped, as though he was used to having women flee from him.
"I'm not frightened. You just startled me. You move quietly for a big man."
He smiled, but even this was vaguely threatening. "My name is Reg. What's your name?"
"You have two names? Ah, you must be from the Amalgamation."
"Does this bother you?"
"Oh no, I'm glad that we're going to join. This will open us up to the whole galaxy, and it will provide a lot of opportunities. So, Pami Erig, what is your task in the Amalgamation?"
"Call me Pami. I'm a field surveyor. I visit planets that might be ready to join the Amalgamation and study their civilization. In fact, I did a survey here several years ago."
"You do this secretly, don't you? Why don't you do it openly?"
"Well, if a planet's not ready for membership in the Amalgamation we don't want to influence their development. Just knowing other worlds exist can be a profound shock to a culture, so we conceal our activities. But enough about me. What do you do?"
"I'm a Captain in the Civil Guard. I command the military company that is used against bandit gangs and other large groups of malefactors. It's the closest we have to an army."
"Sounds exciting. Do you see much combat?"
"No, its been a while since there's been a bandit gang large enough to require us to take action. There is talk of disbanding the company and reassigning us to normal police work."
"You sound disappointed."
"I am, for myself. Of course, it's good for the country that we no longer have organized banditry, but I want to be a warrior, not a policeman."
"You're the only man in the our group who's wearing a sword. Is that required of Civil Guardsmen?"
"No, I just thought it would be prudent." Reg paused for thought, then said carefully, "There have been rumors that Kealii might be threatened. But don't worry! I'm sure there is nothing to them, and I don't want to alarm you. In fact, the usual guard detail was recalled, so I'm sure there's no danger. I'm just being overcautious."
Erig did her best to feign wide-eyed innocence, all the while wondering why the guard detail had been recalled. The presence of bodyguards was normal, so it wouldn't have made the NPM suspicious. Did the NPM have anything to do with the recall?
Reg said, "I'm going to scout ahead. You can stay with the wagon if you want. I'll understand if you'd rather not be alone in the woods with me."
"No, I'll go with you."
Erig gave Reg a smile she meant to be reassuring, but he interpreted it as a brave attempt to hide profound fear. He was used to that reaction, and was surprised that Erig had even agreed to accompany him. He turned and walked swiftly down the road until he was about a hundred meters ahead of the wagon. Erig silently followed him.
They walked along the road, with Erig to Reg's left and slightly behind him. Both were silent and alert, searching for any sign of danger. Erig noticed an unnatural movement in some bushes next to the road. She moved next to Reg and touched his shoulder, then indicated the possible ambush. He nodded, and drew his sword. As if that were a signal five men carrying drawn swords burst from the undergrowth and massed on the road a few meters ahead of them.
Reg shouted, "Run, Pami! Tell the others to leave the wagon and hide in the woods. I'll try to hold them off until you get away."
Erig laughed. "Why should I do that? There are only five of them." One of the intruders had advanced to the front of the group. Erig took two quick steps and delivered a flying kick that broke the man's neck before he had a chance to react. She scooped his sword off the ground and ran the next man through the belly. The other three were frozen with shock for a long moment, then turned to attack her. She parried their blows, and her counterstroke opened the throat of one of the assailants. She was hard-pressed for a moment, but Reg sprang forward and with one blow disemboweled one man. He killed the remaining attacker with a backslash to the neck that almost decapitated him. The fight was over in about two minutes.
Erig sneered as she examined the fallen attackers for signs of life. "What a bunch of losers. Do you recognize any of them?"
Reg didn't reply at once. He just stood there, looking at Erig and at the havoc she created. "I... I seem to have misjudged you. Are all field surveyors as capable as you?"
"More or less. We often go into dangerous places, so we're trained to take care of ourselves. You're not bad with a sword yourself." Erig belatedly noticed Reg's expression. "I haven't shocked you, have I?"
He gestured at the bodies sprawled on the road. "This doesn't bother me. I've seen men killed before, and this scum certainly had it coming. I'm just surprised. Not many men are as good as you in a fight, and I wouldn't have expected you to be so expert with a sword. I thought you would only use advanced Amalgamation weapons."
Erig shook her head. "The Prime Directive prohibits the use of advanced technology on non-member planets, so we only have energy weapons available in special circumstances. Field Surveyors train with all types of weapons, including clubs and battle axes."
"The axe? Isn't that clumsy against a sword?"
"The trick is to keep it in constant motion and keep pressing the attack. It's tiring, but in trained hands, deadly! A swordsman never gets an opening." She return to reality. "We can continue this discussion in more pleasant circumstances. Do you know any of these clowns?"
Reg looked carefully at the faces of the dead men. "I recognize these two. They're known members of the NPM. That's an organization opposed to joining the Amalgamation."
"I've heard of it. Let's hide them in the woods. I don't want the others to see the bodies." No point in upsetting the civilians, and the longer the news of this failure was kept from the NPM, the better. She grabbed one of the corpses and pulled it off the road. Reg didn't question her actions; he just followed her example.
They spent the next few minutes concealing the dead men and erasing the signs of combat from the road. When they finished Reg put his hands on Erig's shoulders so she was facing him. "You aren't easily frightened, are you?"
She smiled. "Not by fighting." Just by emotional encounters.
"Would you be terrified if I kissed you?"
"I don't know. Let's try it and find out." Erig wrapped her arms around Reg's neck and their lips met. After a long kiss she said, "Wow. Fear is definitely not the emotion here. Let's do that again, just to be sure."
* * *
Sonji woke on the morning of her wedding day with hazy memories of a lot of sex, a lot of bondage, and much too much alcohol. Gamma's beverages had certainly lived up to their reputation as smooth and very potent. She raised her head from the pillow and gasped as the throbbing pain inside her skull intensified. She paused to recover, then made another attempt to sit up. It wasn't successful, because her wrists were still fastened behind her back. She looked down her naked body and saw that the leather cuffs on her ankles were strapped to the bedposts, keeping her legs separated.
There was a knock on the bedroom door, and a moment later Kealii entered the room. "Hi, Sonji, ready to get dressed for the ceremony? Oh my, you and Dag really took this captivity thing seriously, didn't you?
Sonji blushed. "Well, it goes deeper than that. For reasons too lengthy to explain now I have to be restrained when I become aroused, or else I faint. Dag and I discovered this when I was his slave."
"Oh, that is unusual. I know that some people like bondage, but I've never know anyone who had to have it."
"It's not very common. I'll tell you all about it sometime if you're interested." Sonjii struggled a bit. "Could you release me? I want to do something about this hangover. My head is splitting."
Kealii unclamped the ankle cuffs and helped Sonji sit up. "I drank too much too. Do you have some magic potion?"
Sonji swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. "Yep, yet another marvel of Amalgamation science. Undo me and I'll get a pill for you, too." She groaned when Kealii released the cuffs on her wrists and she was finally able to move her arms. "Dag was drunk too. He doesn't usually keep me fastened like this for so long." She rummaged in her luggage until she found her medical kit and extracted two hangover pills. She gave one to Kealii and swallowed the other. "Ahh, that's much better. In a few minutes I should feel like living is a preferable option. But first..." she dashed for the toilet.
Sonji returned in a few minutes, wearing a robe. "I'm ready now. You say that my wedding dress is just what I was wearing when I was captured, and not some special gown?"
"That's true. It symbolizes the impromptu, wild, spontaneous nature of the capture. We ignore the fact that now it's about as impromptu as a sunrise."
"What if I happened to be wearing a nightgown, or nothing, when I was captured? That could make the ceremony kind of embarrassing."
"Yes, it could. But you don't have to worry about being embarrassed, at least by what you're wearing."
Kealii seemed to smirk a bit when she said this. Sonji had a uneasy feeling for a moment, then shrugged it off. The dress she had been wearing was attractive, and it didn't really matter to her anyway. The knowledge that she and Dag were to be wed was exciting enough. She put on her clothes and they went into the kitchen of the farmhouse.
All of her companions had gathered there, and it was clear that someone had dispensed the hangover drug, because everyone was feeling good. They greeted Sonji and Kealii with a roar of pleasure, accompanied by a certain number of suggestive and even crude sexual remarks.
Kealii shouted, "Settle down, everybody! We're going to have to be on our way back to Brombeg soon, so the traditional ceremony has to happen now. Has anybody seen the judge?"
Someone said that he was in the parlor. Kealii said, "Then that's where we have to be. Let's get a move on, folks."
Finally everyone assembled in the parlor. Sonji was surprised to see that Dag's father wasn't there, but then decided that he probably had to leave early for Brombeg. He'd be at the 'official' ceremony, of course. Dag took her arm, and they moved to the front until they were standing in front of the judge. She panicked when she realized that there had been no rehearsal and she hadn't the slightest idea of what she was supposed to do or say. She turned to Dag, but before she could say anything there was an interruption.
"Are you Zongee?"
Sonji was shocked to hear the name she had used when she was a convict. She turned and received a bigger shock to find two Civil Guards were standing behind her. "What do you want?" Her voice squeaked with fear.
"You're under arrest."
"Arrest! What for?"
"You signed an application for a marriage license before your civil rights had been restored. Come with us."
One Guard stepped behind her and held her arms while the other clamped leather straps around her wrists. The straps were riveted to a thick leather belt, and when this was buckled tightly around her waist Sonji's hands were immobilized, one just in front of each hip. A hobble strap was fastened between her ankles, and now she was restrained just as she had been years ago, when she was tried and sentenced to a year of involuntary servitude.
Sonji had been stunned, but she rallied quickly. "Dag! What's happening here? You said we could get married a year after I completed my sentence, and it's been a lot longer than that."
"That's true! After a year you can petition for a restoration of your rights, and the petition is routinely granted, unless you've been convicted of another offense."
"You did file a petition, didn't you?"
"No Dag, this is the first I heard about it! I thought everything happened automatically."
Dag groaned. "Oh no! Oh, what a disaster!"
"But I didn't know! Surely I won't be convicted!"
A guard spoke up. "You've already been convicted and sentenced to two years I.S. All the judge needed to see was your signature on the application. We're to take you to Prison Farm Number 8, the one for repeat offenders. Of course, you can volunteer for private servitude, and someone is sure to buy you. I'd bid myself if I had the money." He leered, and Sonji blanched.
Dag said brightly, "It's all right then. I might buy you, at least for the first year, and you can be my slave girl again."
Reg interrupted, "You'll have to outbid me. I want a tasty morsel like her. I'll make sure she knows she's a slave."
His face was such a mask of maniacal cruelty that Sonji staggered. Dag quickly hugged her and kept her from falling. This calmed her enough that she started to think again, and her mind detected the inconsistencies in the recent events. She squirmed out of Dag's grasp and asked him, "What's going on here?" She was answered by a roar of laughter from the crowd.
Kealii said, "Fooled you! This is another part of the traditional ceremony, to do something to embarrass the bride. But we're all very civilized these days, and it's just mental foolery now. In the old days it was some crude physical prank, like dumping a bucket of paint over your head."
"This was bad enough! I was terrified, until I realized that Dag was acting so far out of character." She stomped on his foot. "Buy me for the first year, maybe? I'll take care of you!" Sonji struggled against the straps on her wrists.
Dag laughed, "I think I'll keep the straps on you until you've cooled down." He kissed her. "Besides, when you're fastened like this you don't have to worry about fainting." He kissed her again, and the crowd cheered.
* * *
It was several weeks later. Erig and Reg were in his bed, wrapped in each other's arms and basking in the afterglow of perfect sex.
Reg asked, "When does the ship leave?"
"In about five days."
"I'll miss you when you've gone."
"I'll miss you, too." Erig had said that many times to many men, but this time she meant it. She was deeply in love with Reg, and the prospect of parting was ripping her up. She kissed him and said, in a voice close to sobbing, "I just can't stand being separated for you. It's like losing my soul."
"For me too. I've never known a woman like you. I'll miss you every second you're away. How long will it be before you can return?"
"There's no way to tell. It could be months." Erig basked in grief. Then she got an idea. "You could come with me!"
Reg was surprised. "How could I do that?"
"You could join the Survey Service. We always need Field Surveyors, and you have all of the basic qualifications. I could teach you the special skills on the ship; the holodeck can simulate all of the training environments."
"Is it that easy to join? I thought it was hard to get a Star Fleet commission."
"Getting a commission does take a while, but you could be a Warrant Officer. Captain Goda can authorize that herself. Your warrant would need Admiralty approval, but that should be almost automatic because Star Fleet actively recruits citizens of planets that have recently joined the Amalgamation."
It never took Reg long to make a decision. "I'll do it. I've been looking for a change; there's no action in the Civil Guard. And if it means we can be together..." Reg kissed Erig. When it finally ended he asked, "Does this mean you'll be my superior?"
Erig kissed him back and ran her hands over his body. "Only in military rank."
* * *
Sonji crept along the sandy track, her senses straining for any sign of danger. It was hot, and she was sweating in the chain-mail armor of a mercenary warrior. Her steel helmet felt like a cooking pot, parboiling her brain. Her bow was in her hand, with an arrow nocked and ready. Not that she would have anything like a clear shot in this forest of scrubby conifers. She jumped when a small, scaly animal ran across the path and vanished into the knee-high, grass-like plants that covered the ground under the trees.
She was very worried. Mahoon had gone ahead to scout a route over two hours ago and hadn't returned. Worse, she didn't answer repeated calls on her communicator. Even if she had met some of the locals she could have unobtrusively activated it.
Sonji cursed under her breath, "Damn, where has that girl gone? I knew it was a bad idea to split up. That gang of slavers can't be that far away."
The undergrowth thickened, and Sonji heard something moving in the bushes just ahead. She flexed her bow and aimed the arrow at the sound, and then relaxed as an old woman hobbled into view. She was an ancient crone, clothed in a tattered brown homespun dress, with a ragged gray shawl wrapped around her rounded shoulders. She was barefoot and limping slowly with the aid of a long wooden staff.
Sonji greeted her, "Hail, mother. I'm searching for my companion. Have you seen anyone?"
"Yes, daughter. We are well met; there is a woman just down the trail, and she needs help."
She turned and retraced her steps and Sonji hurried to take the lead. Thirty meters down the trail there was a small clearing, and when Sonji entered it she gasped with shock. A large tree shaded the clearing, and a rope descended from an outstretched branch. Mahoon was suspended at the end of the rope.
When Mahoon heard Sonji's gasp she moaned through the wooden bit gag that was tied so brutally tight that her face was distorted. A leather strap crushed her arms together from her wrists to above her elbows. Other straps were wrapped around her ankles and her knees. A rope was twined through her armpits and across the back of her neck to form a harness, and then it was connected to her wrists and ankles. The suspension rope was tied close to her ankles, and Mahoon's body was bent into a painful arc. The harness rope was deeply imbedded into her shoulders.
Sonji dropped her bow and drew her knife. She took a quick step forward and fell on her face when the crone tripped her with the staff. Before she could recover the crone had leaped on her back and pulled her head up; Sonji felt the edge of a knife across her throat. She panicked, and then relaxed when she realized that it was the dull edge of the knife.
Erig said, "All of the time you spent on the planet has made you just as soft and careless as Mahoon, Sonji. You deserve to be paying the same price that she is, but now it's time for Reg's training session."
The holodeck was deactivated, and the 'crone' disguise vanished, revealing Erig clad in her black exercise clothes. She stood and helped Sonji to her feet. "I've got to get ready for Reg. Release Mahoon, and then I want everyone off the holodeck."
Sonji operated the winch controls and lowered Mahoon to the deck. Mahoon groaned as the suspension rope went slack. Sonji quickly unwrapped the straps and Mahoon groaned again as her legs straightened and her arms fell limply to her sides. The wide straps hadn't cut Mahoon's skin, but the pressure caused by the suspension had left deep red welts. The rope harness had engraved purple grooves in Mahoon's shoulders.
Sonji removed the gag. "Can you walk? Or should I call the medics and have them bring a stretcher?"
Mahoon pondered the question for several minutes before answering, "No, I can walk." She struggled to her feet, helped by Sonji. "That hogtie really hurt. I should have known that Pami would hold a grudge."
"Right. She hasn't kept herself alive all these years by being nice."
Sonji helped Mahoon totter into the locker room. The two women stripped and showered, and after they had dried off Sonji massaged some of the knots out of Mahoon's muscles. Eventually Mahoon was able to move almost normally.
After they had dressed Sonji asked, "Why do you suppose Pami seals off the holodeck during Reg's training sessions?"
"Well, Reg has a lot of natural talent, but he hasn't learned all of the advanced combat techniques yet. I'd guess that Pami doesn't want to embarrass him by beating him up in front of an audience."
"You're probably right. A few days ago I saw him just after a workout and he was really dragging. We both know how brutal Pami can be, even during a training session."
Sonji stepped up to a network terminal. "Everything that happens on the holodeck is automatically recorded unless it's deliberately turned off. I wonder if Pami forgot."
Sonji tapped some keys until an image appeared on the screen. "Swa! Look at this!"
The terminal displayed the image of a young woman reclining on a gilded litter. When she turned and faced the camera Sonji and Mahoon stared unbelievingly at the picture. It was definitely Erig, but not the Erig they saw every day. The hair color of the woman on the litter was still brown, but now her hair was long and wavy, not short and straight. But the biggest change was in the facial expression. Erig's hard, intimidating look had been replaced by the innocent gaze of a naive girl.
Suddenly the litter was attacked by several men armed with cutlasses. The bearers dropped the handles and fled. Erig tumbled out, and she struggled ineffectually as two of the bandits held her while another bandit tied her hands behind her back with a silken cord.
The leader of the bandits stepped up to Erig and tore the gauzy dress from her body. Erig's high, firm breasts were unchanged, but her ropy muscles were gone, replaced by soft contours and a hint of baby fat. The scars left by a decade of dangerous surveying were also gone, leaving an expanse of smooth, unmarked skin.
The camera focused on the bandit leader, and neither Sonji nor Mahoon were surprised to see that it was Reg.
He proclaimed, "Princess, you are now my prisoner."
"What are you going to do with me?"
"That will be your decision. I can take you to a broker in the Free City and he will contact your father. If King Zarg thinks you're worth the ransom and pays promptly you'll be returned to him unharmed. Or you can come with me, as my slave girl. I can promise you much pleasure, and some pain. Decide now!"
Erig dropped to her knees. "I want to go with you, Master."
"A wise decision." Reg tied a silken rope around her neck and pulled her to her feet.
Sonji's finger pressed a key and the screen turned gray. She and Mahoon had the same shocked expressions.
Sonji wondered, "How long do you think we'd live once Pami found out we'd seen this?"
"I don't know, but you could measure the time in microseconds."
Sonji pressed the 'memory delete' key. "It was a good thing nothing was recorded." She struck the terminal, which emitted a puff of smoke and went dark. "And even if something had been recorded we couldn't have seen it, because the terminal was broken."
The women stared at each other, blank-faced. Then they giggled simultaneously.
The mysterious fire at the hunting lodge was so intense that the bodies of Modeg and the other deceased members of the NPM were completely consumed; it was as though they just disappeared. Before long rumors spread that the NPM had tried to stage a coup, and the Amalgamation had foiled it. Some of the citizens of Gamma were outraged, but most were relieved. Whichever, no one could ignore the Amalgamation, and opposition to Gamma's membership faded away.
The Survey Service was being called upon so often for special actions, such as rescues and counter-espionage, that Star Fleet decided to formalize the arrangement by organizing Special Activities Detachments. Lieutenant Commander Pami Erig was made Officer-in-Charge of the prototype of these units, and she was responsible for writing much of the operating manual. She was also allowed to recruit whomever she wished, and Mahoon, Sonji, and Reg were charter members of her unit.
Copyright© 2003 by Zack. All rights reserved.
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