S’oren came awake into a dimly lit world that stank like a scow, was as hot as the Vulcan desert and rattled like a busted machine. Before she opened her mouth, she remembered where she was supposed to be and hoped all had gone according to plan.
“Where am I?” she asked using the Romulan dialect reserved for the working and labor classes.
“You’re fine girly,” the ham handed androgynous being that stomped around the table she was laid out on responded in Romulan.
“Where am I?” she repeated waiting to hear the words her contact would say. She sat up slowly careful not to make herself dizzy.
“You’re on my ship. Well not my ship exactly. But Captain Terik’s ship. I’m Nex and you’re going to make me a lot of money. You’re going to make Captain Terik a lot of money. But I get some of it. I’m the one what found you. Well he found you, but I’ve been watching you. Not touching…” Nex’s face flashed with irritation as it scolded itself. “Just looking.”
Not what she wanted to hear. Silence was her best option at that moment. A quick physical examination told her she was unharmed physically, still had her space suit on, was rather clumsily bound by the wrists and ankles and was probably not as vulnerable as Nex hoped.
“Whatever are you going to do with me?” She parted her lips slightly, panted a bit and flashed her eyes about the room like a caged kitten. She willed the color to rise in her cheeks and her pupils to dilate. She had more weapons than her hands and feet at her disposal. She’d been trained to use her pretty along with her fists. She didn’t know if Nex was male or female, but wasn’t going to miss any possible chance at an advantage.
“Well,” Nex said. “First of all that won’t work on me. The pouty lips and the perky boobies. For what Captain Terik can sell you for I’d rather leave you just as you are.”
“Who is Captain Terik planning on selling me to?”
The door to the compartment she was in opened with a clang. A Romulan male with the height and physical presence of one that could not be ignored strode into the room. He was shaved bald and had the markings of one of the laboring class across his forehead, but wore a confused mixture of clothing that left S’oren wondering where exactly he came from and who he might be. What she knew about Romulans came from studying them at the academy. She suspected there were holes in her education that would have to be patched up on the fly.
“Leave her alone,” the Romulan said. “If she’s harmed we’ll make half what we hope to make. Go find food for her. Decent food. Not that stew you serve the rest of the cargo.”
“Yes Captain.” Nex stomped out of the room, the door clanging shut behind her.
“I don’t know what you’re hoping to do with me…”
“The universe is a large place filled with many opportunities for a young woman without ties.”
“I have no ties,” she said nearly sighing in relief. “And I seek opportunities. I am a poor girl that will work hard for her bread.”
“Then let the fates carry you forward,” he said. “We are going to the slave markets of Rela Prime.”
“I am not a slave. I was born free.”
“Who are your people?” Captain Terik asked.
“I do not know. I am alone.”
“You are not alone, S’oren.” He lifted her arm then ran a light wand down her forearm. A sting like a slap snapped against her arm. When he pulled the light away there was a marking on her arm which permanently branded her a free born member of the servant class. All of the identification she would ever require to move freely through the Romulan Empire had been etched on her permanently.
“We arrive on Rela Prime soon enough,” he said. He tossed a large canvas sack at her. “Change your clothes. Leave your space suit and helmet in the bag. Nex will be returning soon. Don’t eat what she gives you. That is unless you like space rat.” He pulled a wrapped packet out of his pocket. “Eat this.”
She caught the ration bar between her palms. “Thanks,” she said.
“Don’t thank me until you’ve tried it,” he said. “Nex isn’t terribly bright and she has the long term memory of an amoeba, but she’s not a total idiot. The sooner you are off my ship the better off we will all be.”
“What did you do with the capsule?”
“We passed a binary star system a few clicks back.” He stared at her like an annoyed professor that is finished answering his pupils’ questions. “Can you guess what happened or do I need to tell you?”
“There are some things I needed out of there.”
He thumped his fist against a bulkhead which popped open. “Your stuff.” He tossed her the gold bracelet which was a communication device and the seemingly innocuous satchel which actually held many secrets. “This is not as we say back in Texas, my first rodeo.”
“How long was I out there?” She slid the bracelet over her wrist then opened up the satchel. She’d packed the bag herself and all was as it should be.
“Ten days,” he said. “Give or take.”
“I was only supposed to be out there for three.”
“I was waylaid.”
“You ask a lot of questions.” His eyes scanned the bulkhead signaling her to keep her mouth shut. “Change your clothes and make yourself presentable. You’ll want to fetch a good price at the markets.”
The door clanged open and Nex entered carrying a covered cauldron with two filthy rags to protect her hands.
“I’m not hungry,” she said quickly.
“More for me then,” Nex said setting the cauldron down with a thump. “Rela Prime Space Dock is on the comm requesting your clearance codes Captain Terik.”
“Get yourself sorted out.” He left without another word.
She slid off of the table she’d woken on giving Nex room to put her cauldron down.
From the bag Terik had given her she took the sort of loose fitting black thick legged trousers of a servant along with the long sleeved fitted shirt with tails which fell to her knees and slits up the sides to her waist.
She began to unclasp her space suit to remove it then noticed Nex watching her intently as she licked the gravy off of the spoon from the pot. “This isn’t a show,” she said.
“Sure it is,” Nex said.
“Can I have some privacy?” S’oren wasn’t particularly modest, but she didn’t care to have the ogling Nex staring at her while she disrobed.
“No,” Nex said dipping her spoon into the pot. “You’re pretty. I want to see you without your clothes on. Besides, Captain told me to stay with you.”
“No he didn’t.”
“He meant to,” Nex said. “I want to see you without your clothes on. I turned the cameras on, but the Captain doesn’t know that.”
“You’re disgusting,” she said. She sorted out the rest of the contents of the bag which included undergarments, a cloak and the sort of conical straw hat which would be tied under her chin with a wide ribbon that servants wore.
Ignoring Nex and her penetrating stare, S’oren slipped out of her spacesuit leaving her just in the fine black bodysuit she wore next to her skin. She considered leaving it on, but knew that no servant would have such a garment and it would be foolish to hold on to it.
She turned her back to Nex and slid out of the garment only then realizing how hot the space trawler was. The suit had regulated her body’s temperature to perfection and she was hesitant to give it up. The suit was discarded for the moment as she began to remove the sensors which had been so carefully placed on her skin.
“You’re pretty everywhere,” Nex said. “Your bottom is round and smooth.”
“Get a good look,” S’oren said. “Because you won’t get another chance.”
“I told the Captain he should keep you. He needs a woman.”
“What about you?” she laughed.
“He said he’d rather eat a dog,” Nex replied without a twinge of hurt but a whiff of confusion. “Can I touch you?”
“No,” she said firmly.
“I want to touch your skin. How is your skin so pretty? It’s so white. Like a fine lady. Why do you have skin like a fine lady?”
The door opened with a clang and Terik entered.
“Why aren’t you dressed yet?” he asked clearly not as enamored of her skin or enchanted by her nudity as Nex.
“You try removing all of these sensors while someone is visually violating you.”
“She has pretty skin like a fine lady,” Nex told Terik. “You should have her before you sell her. Bend her over your bed and have her from behind. The in and the out.” Nex demonstrated by thrusting her hips. “She looks like she’d scream and cry but good like that whore at Riga Station that gives it to you good and for free…”
“Will you be quiet?” Terik demanded of Nex. “Go and make sure the others are secured in the cargo hold and ready to be taken into the pens.”
Nex walked past her to the door but not without taking her time to have a good look. “Your nipples are pink,” Nex said. “Like flowers.”
“Go.” Terik jerked the door open and pushed Nex out. When they were alone he started to pull sensors off of the part of her back she couldn’t reach. “I’d apologize, but quite frankly you should be able to handle a whole lot worse than that in this game if you’re going to make it.”
“Nex doesn’t bother me,” she said truthfully as she stood and let Terik remove the last of the sensors.
“I thought you were coming in under deep cover,” he said.
“Why are you suddenly chatty? I thought I asked too many questions.”
“I went and did a sensor sweep,” he said. “No one is listening and V’rek is monitoring the room for anomalies. We’re free to talk.” He pulled the last sensor off of her upper thigh. “You’re good.” He walked around her to the table and leaned against it with his arms folded across his chest as he watched her without interest continue to dress.
“We can talk then?”
“We can talk.” He grinned slightly.
“What is your crew compliment?”
“Me, Nex, another agent and two Romulans that would rather not have dealings with the authorities. We constantly run sensor sweeps.” He placed a hand against a bulk head. “She doesn’t look like much, but you might actually be surprised what she’s capable of.”
“Let me guess,” she said. “Beneath her dilapidated shell beats the heart of a true warrior?” She pulled a comb through her hair then braided it into a long plait.
“The finest stealth ship Starfleet engineers could design. The USS Mata Hari can do warp 8 in a pinch and we’re armed to the hilt. If we ever had to make a run for it, this is the ship to do it in. She is state of the art, outfitted for stealth, long term surveillance and is actually quite comfortable when not in rattling hulk mode. If I needed to I could point her to the middle of an asteroid belt or a nebula and hide out long enough for the Romulans to give up the hunt. Why aren’t you under deep cover?”
“I choose to go in with my wits about me. The only thing that scared me about this mission was going in blind.”
“I did it once. Never again. The only people that think field agents operate better in deep cover are people that have never been field agents. You know the drill?”
“I find employment with one of the middle houses. After a sufficient enough period of time to get a good reference, I will create a family emergency and leave. If I’m lucky I will get in with one of the great houses and land on Romulus. If all goes well, I remain behind in the Romulan Empire and continue to build my cover. Otherwise, I signal for help…”
“And with any luck I can beam you out before anyone knows any different.”
“You’re my handler then,” she said. “You’re not just some middle man.”
“I am your handler,” he said. “The original plan fell through about the time you were supposed to be retrieved. Be very grateful you had not already been picked up when everything went to shit. You’d either be dead on waiting to be traded as a prisoner of war.”
“That little call you placed to your boyfriend was intercepted.”
“What do you mean?”
“You had to pour your little gray heart out to your boyfriend? That transmission was intercepted. Romulans knew an agent was being inserted. People died. Friends of mine. Agents that I’ve known for a long time. Agents that were worth a whole lot more than a rookie that couldn’t resist one more chat with her sweetie.”
“He is my husband.”
“That makes it all so much better. Just so you know, a lot of people would really enjoy your failure at this moment.”
“No. Not including me. I would rather you make something of this shambles you created. Make those lives meaningful. Don’t turn coward when you need to be bold. People died to put you into play. Never forget that.”
“Good,” Terik said. “Moving on. The Romulans are on high alert. They knew something was going down. They think they’ve intercepted the agent that was coming in, but they’re paranoid to begin with. You, by the way, are perfect. What are you? Half-human, half-Romulan?”
“Human, Romulan, Vulcan,” she said. “Didn’t they send a dossier to you? You seem to have a lot of information to not know that.”
“I hear the gossip,” he said. “Not the facts. Too dangerous to have too much information. I operate on strictly need to know. You’re ideal. Romulans are inherently prejudiced. They’d never trust anyone other than a pure Romulan to do a job that they would believe only a Romulan would be capable of doing. They’d never suspect you, because they’d never use someone like you as a spy.”
“Good to know I’m good for something,” she said.
“Maybe,” he said. “But then again you’ve already racked up a body count.”
“I know.” She looked at him as he leaned casually against the table. “So Starfleet Intelligence has no idea whether or not I’m in.”
“No idea,” he said. “When it’s less risky I’ll try to get a message out. Until then, they’re going to have to be content with the fact that no news is good news.”
“You’re not Romulan are you?”
“No,” he laughed. “But no one would ever be able to tell. I’ve been altered down to the genetic level.”
The comm beeped petulantly. “What?” Tirek demanded.
“We’ve arrived.” A male voice said.
“Show time,” Tirek said. “Hurry it up. I need to put you in with the rest of the property.”
“You’re a slaver?”
“Yes,” he said. “Even the Romulans find slavers to be a disreputable yet necessary evil and try to avoid having any unnecessary dealings with us. It’s the perfect cover.”
“It’s vile,” she said.
She followed him through the low ceilinged corridors of the ship. It was as she entered the cargo bay that she had a first glimpse of Riga Prime.
The M-class planet hung against the black velvet of space like a glimmering blue and green orb. Similar in composition and climate to Earth, it was a planet just like thousands of others in the galaxy. Hanging above the planet, away from the delicate sensibilities of good women and children raised sheltered from the ugliness and inequality of the universe was the slave markets of Riga Prime. Moved off world when the technology allowed for such advancements, the trafficking of flesh was one of those things the residents of Riga Prime knew happened, but didn’t have to look at. It was the business of other people.
The exterior of the orbital station was unremarkable and to S’oren’s eyes, was indistinguishable from any other structure of its type she’d seen with one glaring exception. It was the pale gray green color consistently used by the Romulans in building their space vehicles. Green like their blood. Green the color Romulans associated with rage.
Rage was the emotion S’oren attempted to control as she sat in the cargo hold with the slaves being brought to market.
It was a useless emotion, but it was preferable to tears.
They had been sat for over an hour and until they received clearance and a docking port, they would continue to sit. Around her were about three dozen beings whose lives were about to be altered. Most painful to see where the families that huddled together for what could be their final minutes together.
She realized as she tried not to look at the families that there were two children with no adults accompanying them.
A boy and a girl perhaps ten years in age. They held hands, but did not speak.
The girl troubled S’oren the most. It occurred to her as she sat staring at the two, that she knew little of her mother’s childhood and had been easily rebuked at an early age. Inquiries into her mother’s history were strictly off limits. What she knew was that when her mother had been a child, that Spock had rescued her from an abandoned Romulan colony then taken her in. It wasn’t until later, after her mother had given birth to her, that Saavik and Spock had become engaged as a couple.
“What is your name?” she asked the girl.
The two children looked at each other, whispered into one and others ears then remained silent.
“I know you heard me,” she said. “Why don’t you answer me?”
A man dressed as tradesman leaned forward. “Probably because their mami told them not to talk to anyone other than the herder. Tell me girl, are you as naïve as you look?”
“I’d answer you, but my mami probably wouldn’t like it,” she retorted.
The man laughed. “I like a bit sauce with my sweet,” he said. “Why don’t you come and sit next to me? Get to know each other a bit better.”
“No thank you,” she said.
“Well since you asked,” he said ignoring her withering look. “I’m Hiren. I am a freeman and a carpenter by trade.” His boot nudged a large satchel full of tools. “With an impressive list of references that would make even your mami happy.”
At that S’oren laughed out loud despite herself. “You really have no idea. My mami is a very hard woman to please.”
“You’d be amazed at how intoxicating my charm can be. I have an attractive number credits and I seek a wife. A girl that will work hard, support me well and perhaps offer me comfort in the great universe. Tell me, are you alone in this universe? Who are your people?”
“I am alone. A girl with no family.” S’oren swallowed hard. Words were sometimes just words, but in her line of work, they were often keys.
“You are not alone S’oren. The universe is a large place filled with many opportunities for a young woman without ties. What opportunity will you make for yourself?” Hiren’s eyes studied hers as the back of his hand absently rubbed the line of his jaw.
“I have no ties,” she said looking with interest at Hiren. Tirek has said there was another agent on board. S’oren believed she currently had the pleasure of making his acquaintance.
That or she was in the midst of the most eerily coincidental conversation she’d ever had in her life.
“And I seek opportunities. I am a poor girl that will work hard for her bread.” She had been taught well what a Romulan freeborn of the servant class would say. It was possible that she was simply repeating a script as common as asking a stranger about their day would be with humans.
“Then let the fates carry you forward,” he said.
“A man with references and credits has appeal to a girl,” she said. “Are you an apprentice or a journeyman?”
“I am a master. Come sit with me girl,” he said making a place on the bench. “Let’s get to know each other.”
S’oren rose from where she sat and moved to the place Hiren had made for her.
“I need you to do something for me,” Hiren whispered into her ear.
She nodded slightly as she leaned into him a bit. He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “Don’t worry about the children,” he said. “If you are who you seem to be, then you would know that at the age those children are, they would be sent off to either a house to learn to serve or to masters for apprenticeship. They’re not human. They’re Romulan and you are frightening them by talking to them. Chances are their mami has warned them a thousand or so times to stay with the herder and to speak to no one.”
He pulled back slightly to look at her then pushed a lock of her hair behind an ear and smiled at her. “I understand how you feel, but you must remember who you are S’oren Hfai.”
“Who are you Master Hiren?” Like Tirek he had the clean shaven head brow markings of a Romulan of the trade caste. He was handsome and his eyes were a succulent pale green. A common color for Romulans, but nice none the less.
“I am a humble carpenter attempting to make his way in this vast universe. Do you look to like me girl?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Should I?”
“Aye,” he replied. “You should look to like me. There may come a time when the moons are full overhead on a pleasant evening and I may fancy a stroll through the park with a pretty maid. If you’re of a mind I could call on you.”
“I would like that very much,” she said looking away shyly. “As I am a virgin of suitable age, I look to like you Master Hiren.”
“Let’s talk about quick courtships and love at first sight,” he pulled her a touch closer. “Perhaps not today or perhaps not any other day, but there may come a day when you and I would make a better one than a two. Do you follow me lovely S’oren?”
“I do,” she said. The one result of their conversation that shocked S’oren the most was how aroused she felt. Hiren was handsome without a doubt. So was Ajay, but Hiren had something that Ajay lacked. There was a sexual energy and a certain magnetism that the slight and cerebral Ajay lacked. It was the same sort of pull she felt towards Surak when she saw an image or watched a recording of him. Something was very different. Perhaps even wrong with her. It was possible she was having some sort of delayed physical reaction to coming out of stasis. Men, regardless of how handsome or sexual she perceived them to be, never quite lit a fire in her like this one did. Odd. “How will I contact you? The universe is a large place.”
“I’ll find you,” he said. He ran a finger down the line of her jaw. S’oren held her breath for a moment wondering if he would kiss her. The ship gave a jolt and the moment passed. Hiren stood from the bench and walked to one of the small portholes. A moment later he returned to his seat next to hers. “We’re being boarded.” He pulled her near to him.
“Is this normal?”
“Yes,” he said. “It happens often enough to not worry. You’re going to let me talk for us.”
S’oren waited patiently with her hands folded in her lap and Hiren’s arm around her shoulders.
The door to the cargobay opened with a clang and Tirek followed by Nex and three Romulan grunts entered. The Romulan soldiers began scanning the room as if it were not filled with human cargo. After they had finished running their scanners over the bulkheads, they turned to the people. One by one their arms were scanned as they were questioned.
“Freeborn,” the Romulan soldier that reached S’oren first addressed her. “Your markings.”
“Don’t speak to my woman,” Hiren said simply without fear.
The Romulan officer looked at him for a moment then nodded. “Sela,” he called out.
The only woman among the group of Romulan soldiers came up to them. “Name?” she asked S’oren without a pause as the man continued with Hiren.
“S’oren Hfai,” she said holding out her arm to the woman. She was scanned along with Hiren then the soldiers moved on without a word. The soldiers continued to move about the cargobay until they were finished and moved on with Tirek and Nex.
“Your woman?” She kept her hands folded in her lap as she looked up at him out of the corner of her eye.
“Not the time or the place to let conventional notions of equality get the better of you,” he replied.
“I’m not bothered,” she said. “It’s actually kind of nice in a thump me over the head and drag me to your cave sort of way.”
“You like men that protect your honor?” Hiren laughed a little his arm again around her shoulder.
“Maybe I do,” she said with a shrug. “It’s not something that happens a lot in my life.”
A second lurch gave everyone in the cargo bay a shake as the Romulan ship detached itself. Moments later they were moving in the direction of the orbital station. S’oren had a moment when she wanted nothing more than to continue on the path that had been chosen for her with Hiren. There was a sense of safety and security about him that she wanted to wrap around her like a blanket. It was foolish to deny she was frightened. Having a hero that was willing to protect her was extraordinarily comforting at a moment in her life when comfort and security were elusive dreams.