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UNDER THE YOKE

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>


Chapter One

 

... enlargement of our standard lines in domestic, supervisory and recreational Items for the intending settler in the new territories. Our Agency has had agents on hand for every auction of choice items; stock your kitchens and servants' quarters from the best hotels and restaurants of Europe. And while Settlement Directorate issue may do for field-hands and machine-tenders, when it comes to the strawbosses. interpreters and drivers you will need for your plantation or enterprise, our breaking-and-training establishments are unmatched for price and quality. Why go to the expense of importing your serf cadre from the dregs of the Police Zone?

And amusement? From the snowy blond of Sweden to the olive of Italy, the fruits of conquest are yours to pluck. From peasants to aristocrats, from the illiterate to the ballerinas and university students of Paris, wench or prettybuck. your fantasy is our reality. Whether your desire is sjambok-broken docility or a wild Finn you can tame yourself. Stevenson & de Verre has it! Chemo-conditioning and polygraph testing ensure unmatched reliability for our product, reared in and tailored to local languages and custom, from Seoul to Lisbon! Don't waste precious time and capital training your own; consult our brochures, and contact your local representative for further information.

Advertising flier of Stevenson & de Verre.
Labor Agents, included in:
Settler Information Kit No. Ill
Settlement Directorate, European
Area, 1948 ed.

LYON, PROVINCE OF BURGUNDIA
REGIONAL HQ, SECURITY DIRECTORATE
DETENTION CENTER XVII
APRIL, 1947

 

"Pater Noster, qui est in caelis..."

"Shut up, slut-bitch!" The guard raked her hard-rubber truncheon along the bars in frustration, then stalked off down the corridor.

Sister Marya Sokolowska lowered her head and fought to recapture the Presence; a futile effort, it could not be forced. Enough, prayer is more than feelings, she chided herself, while habit droned the sonorous Latin words and told the beads of her rosary. The words were a discipline in themselves; faith was a matter of the intellectual will more than subjective sentiment. And the others relied on her: even Chantal Lefarge the communist over in the corner was joining in; it helped remind them they were human beings and not animals-with-numbers, that they were a community, linked one with the other. Something easy to forget in the ten-by-twelve brick cube of cell 10-27, under the Domination of the Draka. Though she was the only Pole here, and the only religious.

Covertly, her eyes followed the guard as far as the grill-door would allow. The building had not been designed as a prison; the Draka had taken it over when Lyons fell, back in '45. Before then... a school, perhaps, or some sort of offices. Then the Security Directorate had come, and cordoned off as many square blocks of the city as need dictated; knocked doors and built walkways between buildings, surrounded the whole with razor-wire and machine-gun towers, put in bars and control-doors. It was a warren now, brick and concrete, burlap and straw ticking, the ever-present ammonia stink of disinfectant. Lights that were never dimmed, endless noise. The tramp-tramp-clank of chain gangs driven in lockstep to messhalls or to their work, maintaining and extending the prison-complex. Far-off shouts and screams, or someone in the cell across the corridor waking shrieking from a nightmare. Mornings were worst: that was the hour for executions, in the courtyard below their cell. The metal grille blocked vision but not sound; they could hear the footsteps, sometimes pleading or whimpering, once or twice cracked voices attempting the Marseillaise, then the rapid chattering of automatic weapons and rounds thumping into the earth berm piled against their block's wall... The nun finished the prayer and came to her feet, putting solemnity aside and smiling at the others. Together they rolled the thin straw-stuffed pallets up against the walls, each folding her single cotton blanket on top and placing the cup and pan in the regulation positions. There was nothing else to do; it was forbidden to sleep or sit after the morning siren. Conversation was possible, if you were careful and very quiet, a matter of gesture and brief elliptical phrases, and it helped break the terrible sameness of each day. Newcomers brought in fresh tidings from the world outside, and bits of gossip passed from hand to hand, on work details or at the messhall... not as elaborate as she had expected, there were too many informers and turnover was too high. This was a holding and processing center, not a real prison; a place to sit and wait until they took you away. Terrible rumors about what lay beyond: factories, labor camps, bordellos, medical experiments such as the Germans had done during the Nazi years... but no real information. For herself, it was not so bad; she had much time to meditate, and the others to help, and what came after would be the will of God, Who would give her strength enough to meet it, if no more.

Marya crossed herself and moved a careful half-pace closer to the bars. Good, the guard had gone around the corner. She was just a trusty, a prisoner like the rest of them, with no key to open cell doors. She could mark an individual or a whole cell down and inform the real guards, the Security bulls and retired Janissaries who ran Block D, Female Section. That could mean flogging or electroshock or sweatbox for all of them, you never knew. But the guard would be reluctant to do that; it was unwise to have more contact with the bulls than you had to. A prayer was not enough provocation; a real racket might be, because then she would be in danger of losing her position and being thrown back into a holding pen, which meant being quietly strangled one night. Seven to one was bad odds.

God forgive them all, Marya thought. For them too the Savior died. She herself would probably get nothing more than a whack across the kidneys with the rubber truncheon at mess call.

Not for the first time, she reflected that Central Detention was like being inside a machine. Not a particularly efficient one, more like an early steam engine that gasped and wheezed and leaked around its gaskets, shuddering with loose fittings and friction. But it used the Domination's cheapest fuel, human life, and it was simple and rugged and did its work with a minimum of attention; she had been here six months and rarely even saw the serf guards and clerks who did the routine management, much less one of the Citizen-caste aristocracy of the Domination...

There was an iron chung-chung from the landing down at the south end of the corridor; the main door to Block D, two stories up the open stairwell. A sudden hush caught the cells along the narrow passageway, an absence of noise that had been too faint for conscious attention, then a rustle as the inmates sprang to stand by their bedrolls. The nun moved to her own and assumed the proper posture, feet together, head bowed, hands by sides. She could feel the sweat prickle out on her palms, wiped them hurriedly down the coarse cotton sack-dress that prisoners were issued. Suddenly the familiar roughness itched against her skin, and she forced her toes to stop their anxious writhing in the sisal-and-wood clogs.

A whimper. Therese; she had never been strong, or quite right in the head since they brought her and Chantal in. A slight girl, dark and too thin, who never spoke and slept badly. The nun had had medical training, but it was nothing physical; the abuse that had made the elder Lefarge sister strong with hate had broken something in Therese. Perhaps it could never be healed, and certainly not here. Eyes met across the cell, and someone coughed to cover the quick squeeze of the shoulder and whisper of comfort that was all they had to offer.

Pauvre petite, Marya thought; then with desperation: much too early for the bulls to be down looking for amusement. And they had never picked cell 10-27. Holy Mary, mother of God, please...

The guard pelted down the corridor and dropped to her knees by the stairs from the landing. Marya's bedroll was nearest the door; she could see boots descending the pierced-steel treads. Three sets, composition-soled leather with quick-release hooks rather than eyes for the lacings. Draka military issue, the forward pair black and the other two camouflage-mottled. Quickly, she flicked her eyes back to her toes. A Citizen! Could they have found out? Silently she willed the boots to pace by, on down the corridor. Not praying, because this could only mean bad trouble and the only words her heart could speak would be: somebody else, anyone but me.

Marya swallowed convulsively, thick saliva blocking her throat. Even Our Lord asked that the cup pass from him. But he had not wished it on anyone else. Nor would she.

The lock made its smooth metal sound of oiled steel and the cell door swung open. She could feel the breeze of it, smell leather and cloth, gun-oil and a man's cologne.

"Bow, you sluts!" the guard barked, hovering nervously in the corridor. The eight inmates of cell 10-27 put palms to eyes and bent at the waist.

"Up, stand up." A man's voice, cool and amused, speaking French with a soft slurred accent. "Present, wenches."

Marya jerked erect and bent her head back to show the serf identity-code tattooed behind her left ear, one hand holding back the long ashblond hair that might have covered it.

The position gave her a good look at the three men. Their armed presence crowded the cell, even though there was room in plenty with the inmates braced to attention. Two were common soldiers, Janissaries from the Domination's subject-race legions with shaven skulls and serf-numbers on their own necks. Big men, young, thick heavy-muscled shoulders and necks and arms under their mottled uniforms. Both carried automatic rifles; ugly, squared-off things with folding stocks and snail-shaped drum magazines; there were heavy fighting-knives in their boots, stick-grenades clipped to their harness, long machete-like bushknives slung over their backs. Dark men, with blunt features and tight-curled hair and skins the color of old oiled wood; Africans, from the heartlands of the continent where the Domination began. Their people had been under the Yoke for generations, and the Draka favored them for such work; they looked at the women with indifferent contempt and casual desire.

The third was an officer, a Citizen. In the black tunic and trousers of garrison uniform, with a peaked cap folded and thrust through his shoulder-strap; Marya understood just enough of the Domination's military insignia to know he was a Merarch, roughly a colonel. A tall man, leopard to the Janissaries' bull strength. Tanned aquiline features, pale gray eyes, brown hair streaked with a lighter color, a single gold hoop-earring. No more than thirty, with white scar-lines on his hands and face, one deep enough to leave a V in his left cheekbone. A machine-pistol rested in an elaborate holster along his thigh, but it was the weapon in his hand that drew her eye. A steel rod as thick as a man's thumb with a rubber-bound hilt, tapering along its meter length to the brass button on its tip; a cable ran from the hilt to the battery-casing at his belt. An electroprod.

The tip came towards her face. Sweat prickled out along her upper lip as she fought against the need to flinch. Marya knew what it could do; the 'prod was worse than a whip, as bad as the sweatbox. The Draka used it to control crowds; the threat was usually as effective as an automatic weapon, and less wasteful. Too many times and you could start having fits. Applied to the head it could cause convulsions, loss of memory, change you inside... She closed her eyes.

Metal touched her chin. Nothing. Not activated. She opened her eyes, and the Draka nodded with approval.

"Spirited," he said. "Sound off, wench."

"Marya seven-three-E-S-four-two-two, Master," she recited, fighting off a flush of hatred that left her knees weak, on the verge of trembling. She would not show it, not when it might be mistaken for fear.

The man in black flipped open a small leather-bound notebook with his left hand. "Ssssa; 34, literate, languages French, German, English, Polish..."He raised an eyebrow. "Quite a scholar... advanced accounting... ah, category 3m73, religious cadre, that would account for it." The electroprod clicked against the crucifix and rosary that hung through the cloth tie of her sack-dress. Made from scraps of wood, silently at night beneath her blanket. "Nun?"

"I am a Sister of the Order of St. Cyril, Master."

The Draka flicked the steel rod against her hip, hard enough to sting. "You were. Now you're 73ES422, wench." He read further, pursed a lip. "Suspicion of unauthorized education? Ah, that was six months ago;

Security must have been dithering whether to pop you off or send you to the Yanks with the Pope and the rest." He shook his head and made a tsk sound between his teeth. "Headhunters, typical."

Marya felt herself pale. "The... the Holy Father has been exiled?"

Two more cuts, harder this time. "Master," she added.

He turned without answering, scanning the others. "You," he pointed.

"Chantal nine-seven-E-F-five-seven-eight, Master." Marya could see the film of sweat on the other woman's face, and knew it was rage, not terror.

Calm, keep calm, she thought. Suicide is a mortal sin.

The Draka stepped over and looked her up and down, smiling slightly. She had dark-Mediterranean good looks, long black hair and a heart-shaped face, a full-curved body under the coarse issue gown. "At ease," he said, and the inmates straightened and dropped their eyes again; the officer chuckled as he watched the dark woman glaring at his boots and consulted the notebook.

"Twenty years, literate, numerate, French and English... ex-bookkeeper, member of the Communist Party..." He caught the hem of her gown on the end of the electroprod and raised it to waist height, and murmured in his own tongue: "Not bad haunches, but these Latins run to fat young."

Marya understood him, with difficulty; the English her Order had taught her was the standard British form. The Domination's core territory in Africa below Capricorn had been settled by Loyalist refugees from the American Revolution, speakers of an archaic eighteenth-century southern dialect, and it had mutated heavily in the generations since. He paused, let the cloth fall, tapped the steel rod thoughtfully against one boot.

"Shuck down, wenches," he said after a moment.

There was a quick rustle of cloth as the inmates stripped; the prison gowns were simple cotton sacks with holes for arms and heads. Marya undid her belt, pulled the garment over her head, folded it atop her bedroll, slipped off the briefs that were the only undergarment and folded them in turn, stepped out of the clogs and stood in the inspection posture, hands linked behind the head and eyes forward. The dank chill of the place seemed suddenly greater, raising the gooseflesh on shoulders and thighs, making her wish she could hug herself and run her palms down her arms.

When she had been arrested, it was only chance that the secret school was not in session and the children gone. All unauthorized education was forbidden, under penalty of death; they would have penned her and the children together in the room and tossed in a grenade. Alone, she would have died there and then if any evidence had been found. Two of the mothers had been with her, and there was no room in the police van; the green-uniformed Security Directorate officer had drawn her pistol and shot them both through the head as they knelt, to save the trouble of calling in for a larger vehicle. And inside Central Detention there had been no interrogation, no torture; only the cell and the endless monotony spiced by fear, until she realized that her gesture of defiance was not even worth investigating.

There had been a speech for her batch of new inmates. Very brief: "This is a bad place, serfs, but it can always be worse. We ask little from the living, only obedience; from the dead, nothing."

Beside her Therese was weeping silently, slow fat tears squeezing out from under closed lids and running down her face, dripping from her chin onto her breasts. Most of the others were expressionless, a few preening under the dispassionate gaze; the Draka nodded and turned to the guard.

"This one and that one," he said, flicking the prod toward Marya and Chantal. "Put the restraints on them."

Marya's stomach lurched as the guard's rough hands turned her around and pulled her arms behind her back. The ring-and-chain bonds clanked, fastening thumbs and wrists and elbows in a straining posture that (breed the shoulders back; you could walk in them if you were careful, but they were as effective as a hobble when it came to running. Not that there was anywhere to run; and anything at all might be waiting beyond the iron door. Cell 10-27 was a bad place; of cold and fear and a monotony that was worse than either, grinding down your mind and spirit. Now it seemed a haven... The one thing you could be certain of in the Domination was that there was always someplace worse.

The guard shoved the two women roughly toward the door of the cell. Marya staggered, turned and bowed awkwardly.

"Master," she said. "Our things?"

"You won't be back, wench," the Draka said, stretching. The Janissaries chuckled; one reached out and grabbed the weeping Therese by the breast, pinching and twisting. She folded about the grip in a futile shrimp-curl of protection, mouth quivering as she sobbed.

"Yo" be needin' us'n, suh?" he said. "Mebbeso we-uns stay here fo' whaal?"

The officer laughed, and Marya could feel Chantal quivering behind her. Therese was her younger sister; they had been swept up together for curfew-violation. Distributing leaflets, probably, but they had been clean when the patrol caught them and might have gotten off with a light flogging if Chantal had not attacked the squadleader when he started to rape Therese... The nun forced herself between the other woman and the soldiers, pushing her back against the bars, hearing the quick panting breath of adrenaline-overload in her ear and a low guttural sound that was almost a growl. Madness to attack three armed men with hands bound, but a berserker does not count the odds. Even worse madness if by some freak she could hurt one of their captors; that would mean impalement, a slow day's dying standing astride a sharpened stake rammed up the anus. And not just for her; the Draka believed in collective punishment, to give everyone a motive for restraining the wilder spirits. Innocents would die beside her.

The Draka laughed again, reaching out and playfully rapping the Janissary across the knuckles with the electroprod. "Na, no rough work with Security's property," he said. "Besides, I know you lads; once you had your pants down you wouldn't notice even if one of the others pulled the pin on a grenade and shoved it where the sun don't shine. Then think of the paperwork I'd have to do."

The dark soldier released the woman and saluted. His officer returned the gesture, then grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. "But no reason you shouldn't hit the Rest Center until we're due; consider yourselves off-duty until..." He looked at his watch "... 20:00 hours. Report to the depot then. Off you go; I think I can handle the wild French wenches alone."

"Yaz, suh!" the serf soldiers chorused. Their clenched right fists snapped smartly to their chests before they wheeled and left.

It had been half a year since Marya last saw the main door of Block D; not since the night of her arrest, when she had been kicked through still bruised and dazed from the standard working-over with rubber hoses that all new inmates received. And she was nearly the oldest inhabitant; the others came and went, swept in off the streets for some offense too petty to merit an immediate bullet, processed through and vanishing to places unknown. A few found the courage to call farewell as they climbed the pierced-steel treads... Behind them came Therese's voice, thin and reedy:

"Chantal, don't leave me, come back, please—"

Then the welded panels clanged shut, and they were outside. A serf clerk at a desk-kiosk, a saffron-skinned slant-eyed woman in neat coveralls who bowed as she took the papers the Draka handed her.

More corridors, more cells; the electroprod tapped her on the shoulder, left, right, pointing to crossings. A harder jab to Chantal's lower back, just over the kidneys. She gasped, stumbled, would have turned her head to glare if the aching strain of the restraints had not prevented.

"Walk more humble, wench," the Draka said softly. "Through there, I think."

A men's section, hairy faces crowding close to the bars and glittering eyes, silent and intent, others who looked at her with pity, or away. The nun felt herself flushing under that hopeless hunger, forced herself not to shrink back towards the sound of the Draka's bootheels. Courtyards, and she began to shiver as a thin drizzle of cold rain fell slick on her skin. Cobblestones, a brief glimpse to a road outside as a convoy of steam-trucks chuffed in with a new load of detainees, ragged figures clutching bundles and children as the guards chivied them into ranks for processing. Overhead, huge and silent, a dirigible was passing, its lights disappearing northward...

Then they were in an office complex. Soft diffused lighting instead of the harsh naked bulbs, warmth, rain beating against sound windows of frosted glass. Incredulous, her feet felt carpet beneath, soft and deep; somewhere a teleprinter was chuttering, and the homey familiarity of the office-sound brought sudden inexplicable tears prickling under her lids. She was conscious of her nakedness again; not in shame or modesty, but as vulnerability. Most of those she saw were serfs as well, but they were neatly clad in pressed overalls and good shoes, clipboards and files in their hands as they strode purposefully down the aisles or sat at desks working, typing, filling the air with a clatter of abacuses and adding-machines. Their eyes flicked over her and away, and she could see herself in them: nude and wet and muddy-footed, rat-tails of wet hair clinging to her shoulders, arms locked behind her. Livestock, beneath contempt to these born-serf bureaucrats, the selected elite who occupied the management positions just below the Draka aristocracy.

"Hope these'un're house-broken," a voice said, and others chuckled. Her ears burned, and Chantal beside her stiffened and glared. The man behind them evoked more interest: deferential bows, and curiosity. Marya saw a few other Citizens, through the open doors of offices or walking in their bubbles of social space, crowds parting for them; but those men and women were in the olive-green of the Security Directorate, not War Directorate black. The freefolk grew more numerous as they climbed stairs and at the last an elevator to the upper level. There was no bustle here; empty corridor with wide-spaced doors, wood paneling replacing the institutional-bile paint of the lower levels. Names and mysterious number-letter codes on brass plates: "Morrison: infl.77A Relig.delation."

"Carruthers: alloc.lOF Labor." A larger door still, unmarked, at the end of a hallway.

"Through," the Draka said, tapping them again on the backs of their necks with the prod. Hesitantly, Marya stepped closer. The dark oak panel slid aside with a soft shusssh, and she stepped through, blinking with astonishment. She had been six months in prison; before that six years in war-crippled cities, on the roads of Europe, in refugee centers and tenements... For a moment she lost herslf in wonder.

The room was large, a lounge-office fifteen meters by twenty. Two walls were floor-to-ceiling tinted glass, a view over the tumbled rooftops of Lyon down to the choppy surface of the Rhone, iron-gray under a sky the color of a wet knifeblade. The other walls were murals in the Draka style, hot tawny savannah and herds of zebra beneath a copper sun. A huge desk of some unfamiliar glossy-russet wood occupied one corner, with a sparse scattering of files, intercom, telephone, closed-circuit television monitor. The floor was covered in Isfahan carpets, the furniture soft chairs around a cluster of low brass tables on filigree stands, Arab work.

The remains of a light meal were scattered on one, meats and cheeses, fruit and bread, coffee warming over a spirit-lamp with little pots of sugar and cream.

Marya felt her nostrils flaring and mouth filling. The prison fodder was abundant and adequate; porridge laced with fish and soya meal, hardtack, raw vegetables. Bland, bland; after months of it, years on scrimping wartime rations, the smell of the good food was intolerable. She was used to austerity, would not have chosen a religious vocation if comfort were essential to her, but she could feel her skin drinking in the softness and warmth, eyes flooding with the color and brightness. To feel something besides harsh cloth and stone, to see something that pleased the eye and was not ugly and hurtful...

The Draka officer's hand rested on her shoulder, forcing her to her knees beside Chantal. Inwardly, she shook herself as she bowed her head and glanced upward through the lashes; a prisoner could not afford the luxury of distraction. Focus on the people, she thought. Study them. Know those with power. Knowledge was the only defense of the weak.

There were five others in the room. A man behind the desk; Security uniform, high rank. In his forties but athletic, short, with dark curly hair, blue eyes, tanned pug face and a cigarette in an ivory holder. In the lounger... Marya blinked. The woman lolling there was the first Draka she had ever seen not in some type of uniform; she was wearing low tooled boots, loose burgundy trousers, a long blouse-shirt over a stomach that showed the seventh month of pregnancy. Somehow that seemed unnatural, shocking... Of course Draka had to be born like other folk, but... Tall, hawk-faced, hair a mixture of brown and gold that gave the effect of burnished bronze, one hand holding a cup. A massive thumb-ring, long fingers... And beside her a girl of perhaps ten years in a thick silk tunic, playing with a long needle-pointed knife.

The nun frowned, glanced covertly from one face to another. There were two servants, in dark elegant liveries; one knelt in a corner and played softly on a stringed instrument, the other was a middle-aged black woman standing by the child, probably a nurse. Forget them for a moment; there was something about the Draka... All the Citizens she had seen had a certain look, of course: hard sculpted faces, gymnast's physique, the studied grace that came of long training. Even the girl had none of the coltish awkwardness usual on the verge of adolescence; her hands moved the blade with relaxed precision, spinning it up and snapping it closed again around the hilt without looking down. But there was something more...

Ah, a family likeness. Pale eyes and long limbs and sharp-featured eagle-nosed high-cheeked faces; the pregnant woman might be the sister of the officer who had fetched Marya from the cell. She licked her lips, waiting.

"Gudrun, yo' said you were old enough to carry a weapon; don't fiddle with it." The woman's voice. Soft, rather husky. The child pouted, flushed and pulled up the hem of her tunic to slide the blade into a sheath on her leg. The blush was very evident under pale freckled skin, copper hair; there were dark circles under her eyes.

The pregnant woman worked her fingers and spoke to the man behind the desk. "An' yes, Strategos Vashon, I've been known to do outlines for mural work; the Klimt workshops have a few in their standard offer book. Not takin' commissions right now, though, what with everythin'." She transfered her attention to the two prisoners.

"So, Andrew, these two are the best yo' could do?"

The voice stirred a memory, elusive; darkness and pain, dust and the hot-metal stink of engines... It slipped away as she tried to grasp at it.

The Draka who had brought the women from their cell snapped his fingers for coffee, sinking into one of the chairs with a grateful sigh and hooking the electroprod onto his belt. "More difficult than the manual workers, sister dear, yo' wanted them spirited and intelligent... troublemakers, in other words. That, these are; healthy sound stock, as well."

The woman shifted, sighed, rested one hand on her belly and held out the other.

"The tag," she said, and her brother tossed a strip of metal; her hand picked it out of the air with a hard fast slap. "Yasmin." The girl in the corner laid down her mandolin and rose to take the key. "Take the restraints offn them."

Marya kept her head bent as the serf approached, knelt behind the two inmates. A crisp sound of linen and silk, a smell of scented soap, a soft hand on her arm.

"These-heah on way too tight." The girl's voice was harder to understand than the Draka's had been, the same soft drawl but a more extreme dialect. "It gowin hurt." Metal clicked. Thumbs first, then wrists, then the painful stretch of elbows drawn together behind the shoulderblades. The fetters had been a burning ache; agony lanced through muscles and tendons, throbbing as circulation returned. Then relief through the fading pain, almost as hard to bear; involuntary tears starred her lashes, breaking the light into rainbows that flickered like kaleidoscopes as she blinked, as her hands fell trembling to the rough surface of the carpet. She heard Chantal's hoarse grunt, and the metal of the restraints clanking as the serf-girl folded them. When the dark woman spoke it was in a whisper, barely audible and spoken downward into the rug so as not to carry.

"Be brave, mah sistahs. Tings bettah soon." Yasmin rose, laid the restraints on a table with a bow and returned to her instrument, strumming a faint wandering tune.

Endless moments passed, and Marya became aware of the Draka speaking among themselves.

"... nice pair of Danes, but I thought you still had that Jewish wench, what was her name..." the woman was saying.

"Leja." The officer in black worked his shoulders into the cushions and sipped his coffee. "I do, but I'm out of Helsinki in the field, most of the time. No company while I'm gone, too much work for one when I'm back. Besides, she's pregnant again."

"Why not have her fixed, for God's sake?"

Andrew sighed. "And spoil years of work? She just might not like that, you know; even gratitude has its limits. Why do you think I pulled her out of that Treblinka place when we overran it back in... yes, '42. Don't roll your eyes, I'm not going to start another boring war story."

"You don't have to, I remember the pictures you sent. Fuckin' sick picking her out, too, she couldn't have weighed more than thirty kilos." A grimace. "What happened to the rest of them, anyway?"

"Ask our good friend Strategos Vashon here."

The squat secret police officer looked up from his desk and leaned back in the swivel-chair, picking up a ball of hard indiarubber. "Nursed them back to health, every one we could," he said; the ball flexed under the rhythmic squeezing of his hand. "Most enthusiastic collaborators we've got, particularly in Germany."

Alfred nodded. "And Leja was well worth the trouble, to me; six months an' the bounciest wench yo' could want. Saw she had good bones from the start, an' spirit too." He grinned without opening his eyes, as if savoring a memory, a gaunt expression. "Gave her a knife and she went down a row of SS guards we had tied up, slittin' throats. The two I picked up in Copenhagen, Margrethe and Dagmar, they're just nice little bourgeois muffins, pathetically happy to be out of the ruck and terrified of goin' back."

"Why not Finns?"

Andrew snorted. "Almighty Thor, no! When I want to commit suicide, I'll do it decent, with a pistol." He opened his eyes and extended a finger at Chantal. "Those Finns're most-all like Leja, or her; hearts of fire.

Sieu, they call it. Place won't be safe for a decade. You can tell it by the eyes."

He waved his cup toward Chantal. "Speakin' of which, look at that one, sister dear. I didn't save her from a gas chamber. Sure yo' want her 'round-about the place?"

The pregnant woman rested her elbows on the arms of the lounger, placed her palms together, tapped fingers, addressed the inmates.

"Look at me, wenches." Gray eyes, impassive. Appraising. "My name is Tanya von Shrakenberg," she said. "Yo' will address me as 'Mistress Tanya"; we pronounce it 'Mistis.' This is my daughter Gudrun; you will call her 'Young Mistis Gudrun.' I have bought you out of Central Detention." A smile. "It may interest you to know that your price was roughly the same as a record player's; the tort-bond I had to put up was considerable larger, because yo' two're classified as potential trouble-makers."

Her head went to one side. " This is a bad place..." Freya's truth, and you've probably heard rumors "bout what might happen when you leave; most of them are true... breaking rock and shoveling rubble in a chain-gang until you died, most likely. Or worse. You've been very lucky indeed; now you're going to be part of the familia rustica on the plantation my family is establishing west of here. Household serfs; interpreters, bookkeepers. Possibly in positions of responsibility, eventually. Well fed and clothed, not punished unless you break my rules. Which are simple and plainly stated, by the way." She pointed at Chantal, turned the hand palm-up, crooked a finger. "Come and kneel here by me, Chantal."

The Frenchwoman shuffled forward on hands and knees, wise enough in the Domination's etiquette not to rise without permission. Tanya cupped a hand beneath her chin, forcing the head up. 'I've read your dossier, wench. You were picked up for curfew-breaking by an Order Police lochos; yo then tried to brain the monitor with a piece of pavin'-stone. Why?" A tighter squeeze. 'The truth, Chantal, not what you think I want to hear."

"He—" A pause. "He tried to rape my sister, she's a child, she's only fourteen, Mistis!" The last word was a hiss.

Tanya used her grip on the other's chin to wag her head back and forth. "With the result that you were both raped, repeatedly, then beaten bloody and ended up here, rather than in the factory compound where your family was sent." Another pause. "Have you enjoyed it here? Has your sister? From the report, she's simple-minded now: 'post-traumatic shock syndrome.' How do you think she's goin' to do without you to look after her, here in Central Detention?"

Marya could see the hands clenched by Chantal's sides, quivering. The Draka's voice continued: "Have you learned anything from this, Chantal? Besides the fact that the Draka are not humanitarians, that is.

"Hearken to the voice of experience, wench. Where are we?"

"In—in prison, Mistress."

"Beyond that."

"France, Mistress."

The hand shook her head again. "Wrong. We are in the Province of Burgundia, under the Domination; I am at home, you are an immigrant, ignorant of the laws and customs of the land." A smile. "And a serf, who is new to being a serf. I am a serf-owner, born of seven generations of serf-owners; consider who will have the advantage of knowing all the tricks, here.

"Now, here's what I'll do. I will buy your sister Therese, as well as you. She will have a room, light work; nobody will hurt her, and I'll even tell the overseers that she's hands-off." Chantal jerked and made a muffled sound. "Or, if you wish, I will have you sent back to her cell and pick someone else. Your choice. Shall I send you back, or not? Now, wench."

A whisper. "No, Mistress."

"Louder. I can't hear you."

"No, Mistress, please."

Tanya chuckled and leaned closer. "Now, that's what you should have learned from the incident that brought you here: the difference between courage and recklessness. Not at all the same thing. Tell me, Chantal, do you know what in loco parentis means? Yes? Good; you will be in loco parentis for your sister. Only, for you a special rule will be made; when the parent sins, the child is punished. Understand?"

She removed the restraining hand, but Chantal did not move.

"Yes, Mistress," she said, in a quiet, conversational tone.

"Oh, ho, what a look," Tanya said, keeping her eyes locked with Chantal's. "Andrew was right; a heart of fire, this one. Maybe we'll continue this conversation at greater length, someday." She brought up finger and thumb and flicked the other's nose. "Back."

Marya let her breath out in a long shudder, only then conscious of holding it, averting her eyes as the other woman crawled back and sank on her heels by the nun's side, panting as if from a sprint. The sight was disquieting; the nun felt a flush of shame rising from breasts to cheeks and bent her head, letting the pale curtain of her hair hide her face and silently cursing the milk-pale skin her Slavic ancestors had left her. The war, the Soviet and Nazi occupations, the long flight westward before the Draka had been chaos, random death, hunger, sickness, running through the cold wet squalor of the refugee centers. Soldiers and police, prison and camps she understood; even the Draka occupation had been merely a harsher version.

This was not a matter of armies and bureaucracies, however brutal; it was a ritual of submission rawly personal, as much a matter of calm everyday routine to her new owners as eating a meal. Oh, I understand the psychology of it, she thought; hers had been a teaching Order, and a progressive one. It was still something out of the ancient world, come to impossible life around her.

Tanya turned to her daughter, stroking her hair. "You've been patient, darlin'; now tell me, what do yo' think of these two."

"Well..." the child frowned and wrinkled her nose. "... They seem sort of, well, uppish. Sort of... um, shouldn't you punish them, mother?"

Tanya laughed, and tousled the girl's hair. "Cudrun, sweetlin', school can teach any number of useful things. But handlin' serfs is like..." She pursed her lips and tapped one thumb on her chin. "Like dancing; has to be passed on, one practitioner to the next. There's never a set answer, not on an individual scale. What did the Romans call their slaves?"

Cudrun's frown relaxed; that was much easier. "Instrumentum vocale, mother. The tool that speaks."

"A wise people. But always remember, the tool that speaks is also the tool that thinks, and believes. Watch." She turned her attention back to the two kneeling figures. Fascinated, Marya observed the change sweep over her face; less a matter of expression than of some indefinable shadow behind the eyes, warmth vanishing until frosted silver looked out at her human chattel.

"You, yo' were a nun, eh?"

"Yes, I am, Mistress."

"Were. Now, if 'n I told you to sweep the floor, would you do it?"

"Yes, Mistress."

"If I gave you Gudrun's knife an' told you to cut Chantal's throat, would you?" There was a silent pause. "The truth, wench: don't try lyin' to me."

Marya moistened her lips. "No, Mistress."

"Ah." The Draka smiled. "And if I told you to jump out the window?"

"No, Mistis." At the Draka's arched brows: "Suicide is a mortal sin."

The Draka woman laughed softly. "And if I told you that if you didn't, I'd kill Chantal here?"

Marya opened her mouth, hesitated, shook her head.

"More difficult, eh?" Tanya chuckled and nodded to her daughter. "Remember this; there is always some order that won't be obeyed. Either don't give it, or be prepared to kill. Human bein's are like horses, born wild but with a capacity fo' domestication. These are old fo' breakin', so it'll be difficult." She turned to the serf-girl with the mandolin.

"Yasmin," she continued, writing and tearing a leaf from a pocket-notebook. "Here. There's a Stevenson & deVerre office on the ground level. Take them down and see to them, there's a good wench. Light cuffs, clothin', tell them the basics. We'll come down when yo're finished."

Yasmin covered her instrument in a velvet case and pattered over to them, signalling them to rise. Tanya levered herself to her feet and approached also, stopping them for a moment with a lifted finger, paused.

"You two are mine now," she continued; neither of the women lifted their eyes from the carpet. "All your choices are gone, except one. Obedience, life. Disobedience, death. That one we can never take from you." Another pause. "But yo've already made it, no?" She shrugged. "I am your fate, then. Yo've decided to spend life under the Yoke; so remember, there's no point kickin' and buckin'. Be good serfs, an' my family will be good masters. Resist, and yo' suffer."

 

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