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UNDER THE YOKE

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


Chapter Four

 

... which is not to say that the Domination was totally unique. Like Rome or Macedonia it had its beginnings as a 'marcher'stats, on the fringes of civilization, expanding at the expense of wholly alien and less advanced peoples and thus gaining access to population and resources on a scale impossible to the states of the core area. Like Czarist Russia it was essentially imposed from above, using imported technology, organization and in the beginning personnel to impose Western standards of rationality and efficiency on an uncomprehending and hostile peasantry. Established by coercion, it was a state that existed primarily to maintain its own armed forces, which in turn maintained and expanded the state; a circular arrangement much like the classical Prussian formula. Indeed, the society that resulted bore considerable resemblance to Prussia: an aristocracy of uncouth militarists ruling a brutalized peasantry of landless serfs. As in Prussia the state was created from nothing by a generations-long act of collective will, producing a political culture that exalted discipline, service to the state, the military virtues, ruthlessness. and a hard, unsentimental realism.

What gave the Domination its relentless dynamism was. essentially, a series of 'accidents.' If the Netherlands had not entered the War of the American Revolution in 1779. Southern Africa might not have been available for Loyalist settlement might even (although this seems unlikely) have remained a backwater for generations. The thirty-year period of the French Revolutionary wars gave the early Draka a period of cultural and partial economic isolation, crucial to their development Geological accident ensured that the high spine of south-central Africa was a treasure house of gold, diamonds, coal, copper, iron, manganese, with a native population numerous and hardy enough to sustain the shock of conquest and furnish a labor force, yet technically backward enough to be successfully dominated by a small minority of immigrant conquerors with the simple technology of the eighteenth century. If great navigable rivers had been available, nothing more than another colonial export-economy of mines and plantations might have developed: the isolation of the plateau forced the beginnings of the great complex of industrial cities between the Orange river and Katanga which formed the basis of the Domination's power-machine...

The Age of Domination
by E.P. Hobsdown
Nicoifield and Weidenson
London. 1987.

LYON, PROVINCE OF BURGUNDIA
DETENTION CENTRE XVII
APRIL, 1947

 

Therese had been crying when the guard thrust her through the side door of the serf-dealer's office, into the holding-bay.

"Anybody goan' sign for thissere piece a' shitbitch?" he said, giving a final flat-palmed shove between her shoulder blades that sent her sprawling on the floor; she was unbound, but the guard was a hulking man, muscle under fat, a baton in one hand and lead-backed brass knuckles on the other that held the clipboard. His green coverall was faded, and there was no weapon on his webbing-belt.

The room was a four-meter cube with wooden benches along the walls, dusty and empty and dim, silent save for Therese's sobs as she crawled toward her sister. Chantal broke forward and hugged the slight girl to her; Marya sat trembling on the brink of action, suddenly acutely conscious of the slats digging into her naked flesh. Beside her, she heard Yasmin take a long breath and then rise; the serf-girl had only just come in from the main section of the shop.

"I's the one," she said calmly, striding forward, trim in her jacket and skirt. The guard saw her, straightened slightly at the clothes and manner; only slightly, and his smile was insolent as he transferred his gaze back to the nude prisoners and extended the sheaf of documents. Yasmin took it, read, signed, pivoted on one heel and slammed the pasteboard flat across the side of the man's face with a full-armed swing.

Crack. The sound seemed loud as a gunshot in the musty stillness, and the nun felt time slow in gelid coldness as her stomach clenched; the green-uniformed man loomed a head higher than the dark serf-girl, and Marya saw the tension in her back. None of it showed in her voice as she spoke, even when the fist with its glove of spiked and weighted metal pulled back.

"Is that how yo' treats yo' momma? Yo' sistah? Tings not hard enough fo' the po' little wench, yo' big, strong man gotsta make 'em worse?" Marya could make out the angry red right-angled mark of the clipboard as the man paled in rage; it had not done any great harm, but a blow like that carried an unmistakable significance in the world of the Domination.

"Yo, cain' talk to me like that-there, wench! I's Security; yo' blind?" He jerked his chin at the skull markings on his collar.

"Ohhhh, dearie me," Yasmin drawled, and Marya could suddenly see the expression of mock-fear even though the girl's back was turned. "Whut have I gone an' done? I's jes' pissin' mahselfs with fear; watch me throw mahself on mah back 'n spread outa tremblin' respec' fo' yo' awesomeness, chain-dog."

She stepped closer. "Security? Where yo' rank badge? Where yo' gun, chain-dog? Security? Yo's a jumped-up strawboss whut ain't talked to nobodies but new-caughts fo' too long." Her other hand dipped inside her jacket and came out with a palm-sized leather folder, snapped it open and held it at eye-level for the man, above her own head.

"Cain yo' read, hmm? See this? This whut I is; I gots Category I papahs, chain-dog. I's gotta thousand-auric bond posted on me, I's private property—an ol' fam'ly servant, and mah mistis trusts me, an she a von Shrakenberg, an she a Landholder, an' my pa a soldier under her pa. Citizens doan' lay hand to me without they got permission or provocation." She raised the clipboard and slapped him across the other cheek.

His fist snapped up again. Yasmin laughed; a little breathless, but loudly.

"Go 'head, chain-dog. All I has't'do is say yo' hits me, an' they trice yo' to the frame an' uses a whip to show the world yo' backbone."

The fist relaxed; the man's eyes dropped from the intimidating identity-card, past Yasmin's glare.

"Jes' doin' my job," he grumbled.

"Yo' job was to brings her heah," Yasmin snapped. "Not to slap her 'round. These wenches is all bought-out now, belongs to the von Shrakenbergs same's me. An' ifn' they didn't,'s that any cause to be treatin' 'em rough? Is they fightin', disobeyin'?" She tore the top sheet from the clipboard and threw the remainder into the guard's face. "Ain't tings bad enough fo' us, withouten we makes it worse fo' each othah? Git outta my sight; yo' makes me sick."

Yasmin turned as the door closed, drew her hands across her face and then clenched them together while she struggled to control her breathing; looked up with a smile as Chantal brought her sister to her feet.

"Thank you, Yasmin," Chantal said quietly. Yasmin shook her head wordlessly, then smiled again as Therese stretched out a hand, wiping at the tears on her face with the other and watching the serf girl with wide, astonished eyes. Yasmin took the hand in both of hers, parted it and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Don't worry, little one," she said in slow, careful French. "I look after you now." She leaned forward to kiss the other girl on the forehead, urged her back to her sister's side, then slumped back to the seat beside Marya. The nun turned to study her for a moment.

Yasmin. Another person it would be better to study carefully, Marya thought. Elegant was the word that occurred to her; pleated blue silk skirt and high-collared jacket with silver-and-lapis buttons, dazzling white blouse, ostrich-skin pumps. Even with a light dew of fear-sweat along her upper lip... Young, not more than twenty, small and slender-built, long limbs and long neck, trim-figured, with an oval face that hovered somewhere between prettiness and beauty; the hair was beautiful, abundant and coal-black and softly curled. Her features looked European but the skin was darker than Italian or even Gypsy, a milk-chocolate color. The serf identity-tattoo stood out bright orange against that brown, below her right ear.

A trusted servant, though, Marya thought. Be careful.

"That was brave," she said.

Yasmin rose again to pace nervously, making an odd rapid up-and-down gesture with her hands and forearms. "Oooo, somtimes I gets so"—she stamped one slender foot—"so... so angry. Some people! Some people!" She shivered suddenly. "They woulda whupped him ifin he'd hit me, but my face'd still be... some people, I swears, give 'em a stick and they acts worse'n Draka, like they was Jesus an' Allah an' the masters' dead gods all put together." She sighed and laughed, relaxing. "Plantation life gets dull, sometimes, but they's a good deal to be said fo' stayin" where everybody knows we. Doan' worry, we home soon an' yo' ain' gonna see no green coats fo' a year at a time."

"Yasmin?" The girl looked up at Marya's voice. "Is that an Arab name?"

"Mm-hm," she nodded. "My momma, she Arab. Druze, really, but that no-mattah; a new-caught, like yo'uns. I's house-born, though; on Evendim. That Mistis Tanya's poppa's plantation, it near Baalbeck." Seeing their blank looks, she continued: "Syria Province; I'll show you on a map, sometimes. Cain yo'uns read?"

Chantal bristled, then relaxed.

"Can you?" she said, then flushed with embarrassment. "Sorry, Yasmin," she muttered.

Marya stepped in hastily. "You're a house-servant, then?"

Yasmin's brows rose. "Does I look like a field-hand?" she said dryly. "I's Mistis Tanya's dresser. Dressmaker, that is, in charge of all her clothes." A sigh. "Back on the old place, that is. Here I's in charge of a dozen Frenchie wenches 'n bucks, an' you'd think they craves whuppin', what with whinin' and work-dodgin' and carryin' on." She sighed again and shook her head. "It goin' age me befo' my time. Hopes y'all has more sense." Brightly: "Well, what do y'all say to a nice hot showah, 'n then we'll get you somethin' to wear? Y' feel bettah clean an' with coverin'."

Marya's eyes met Chantal's in sudden wordless understanding. Cleanliness in the cellblock had meant being hosed-down with cold water under pressure.

Hot water, she thought with a wave of longing.

"Jes fo' now," Yasmin said cheerfully, fitting the light padded handcuffs to their wrists. Therese shrank back with a sound of protest; the dark girl immediately laid the cuffs down and sat beside her, laying an arm around her shoulders.

"It's all right, Therese," she said, in her accented French. "S'all right, really. Just for the rules, understand; just for a little while. I'm here, nobody will hurt you..." Coaxing, she stroked the younger girl's arm until it relaxed, then slid the metal circlet around the wrist. "See? It don't hurt..."

Chantal jerked her hands apart to the full twenty-centimeter length of the chain, ignoring the pain in wrists still bruised by the over-tight restraints, and again. The serf-girl frowned, concern on her face; Marya stepped close and shook the Frenchwoman by the shoulder.

"Chantal! Save your energy for something useful, and your anger. See to your sister, she needs you."

The communist took a deep breath and turned to Therese, who sat wide-eyed and on the verge of tears again, shrinking from her sister's tension. They were in the dealer's fitting-room, space leased from the Security Directorate by a labor agency and used to process serfs bought out of Central Detention into private ownership; racks of clothes and undergarments and shoes... Yasmin had sneered at the quality, but the drab-colored skirt and jacket, blouse and head-scarf and flat-soled brogans felt solid and warm. Good-quality cotton and wool and leather, with metal snaps and fasteners; better than had been available to ordinary people in Europe since before the War started. Marya smoothed her hair back and tied the scarf tightly; there was ample slack in the handcuffs for that if she was careful. It was a relief to have her hair covered again; the full habit of her Order was a physical impossibility, but even this little felt good.

"You've been very kind," she said, fighting down a sudden irrational surge of optimism and vague friendliness; that was merely the effect of comfort, clothing and privacy and the remembered benevolence of hot water cleansing her skin. As to Yasmin... Marya reminded herself that her confessor had always chided her for an excessive fondness for beautiful things; not to possess them—the vow of poverty had never been a burden to her (she crossed herself)—but to simply know them. The vestments of the mass, the great Baroque churches of Lwow and Crackow, the plainsong, the crystalline semetry of a mathematical soulution...

The Order of St. Cyril had not been large or wealthy, but it had taught children and cared for the sick and given so many bright and pious girls a window on the life of the mind...

Old enough to remember teaching secret classes in Polish in Poznan, in Bismarck's time. She had stopped once to show a novice named Marya how to bunch the skirt of her habit under her knees when scrubbing floors.

1939, when the Bolshevild divided Poland with Hitler. The day in the little village in Malopolska, mist and gray mud and the hating eyes of the Ukrainian villagers who had betrayed them to the Red cavalry. Mother Superior had told the Sisters to forgive them, they were simple peasants and had no reason to love Poles, who had forbidden their language and Orthodox church, which was a heresy but must be combated with truth, not guns—

"Spit!" the Soviet officer had said to the Mother Superior. "Spit on the cross!"

Marya remembered the thin pockmarked face, cap with the red star above. Torn mustard-yellow uniform, a smell of old sweat and cheap perfume, a Russian smell. Gaping dull faces of the soldiers, and the long triangular bayonets on their rifles glinting in the rain. His hand slapped the Mother Superior's head back, forth; the wimple of her habit came lose, exposing her cropped gray hair; there was blood on her cheeks, but she signed herself; he struck again and again, until she fell and crawled to kiss the carved rood they had carried from the abbey in Lwow, embracing it where it lay in the slick churned-up clay and sheepdung of the street. The officer stepped back, signing to one of his men; the Cossack grinned, heeled his shaggy pony forward, drew the long guardless saber and leaned far over.

The honed steel glimmered wetly, a shimmering arc that ended in flesh...

Two. Sister Kazimiera. Slight and nervous and dark, a lawyer's daughter from Znin, always ill with something.

1941, in German-occupied Mazovia, north of Warsaw; Modlin, that was the name of the town. Some of the Sisters had objected to hiding the Jewish children, in the root-cellar below the stable that was their only shelter; there were Christian youngsters whose need was almost as great. Sister Kazimiera had looked at them and quoted, "Insofar as ye do it unto the least of these my little ones..."

Marya remembered the bored impassive faces of the SS Einsatzkommandos as they hammered with boots and rifle-butts on the floors and walls, thrust bayonets into the heaps of straw and bedding. The nuns had gone down on their knees and begun to pray. Marya remembered fighting a sneeze as ancient hay-dust flew up from the boards of the walkway; it was an old stable, brick and battered wooden stalls and bright sunlight streaming through small broken windows and the cracks in the doors.

All of them kneeling, except Sister Kazimiera in the cellar, keeping the children quiet. But there were a dozen of them, some only five or six years old; they must have heard the shouting in German and been frightened. One cried, a thin reedy sound through the boards, then the others. The Rottenfuhrer had laughed, going down on one knee and probing amid the straw and dirt for the lifting-ring of the trapdoor. Marya had screamed as he lifted it and pulled the stick-grenade from his belt, and he had laughed again with the Schmeisser bouncing against his chest as she lunged forward and froze with a trooper's bayonet before her face. Then more of the nuns were shrieking, as the heavy timber of the trapdoor lifted and the sound of the children weeping came louder; Marya could see them, thin black-clad bodies and sidelocks and yarmulkes, the girls' kerchiefs, the huge staring eyes. Sister Kazimiera's were closed as she crouched protectively over them; the SS-man yanked the tab on the grenade, tossed it in and let the door drop...

Marya squeezed the wood of her rosary until her nails showed white.

Three. Sister Zofia. Fat, so long as they had any food at all. A peasant's daughter, her father had beaten her when she claimed a vocation until the village priest shamed him with valuing a pair of hands more than God's will.

1944. Marya and the others had been looking north, toward Brussels, when it happened. A high whistling in the sky: one of the new reaction-jet airplanes, a thin thread of contrail against the aching blue of a morning sky. Draka; there were almost no European aircraft left. A flash of... not fire; light, intolerable, brighter than the sun, a single moment of light so intense that the shadow of a single leaf before the face could be felt against the skin. Then hot darkness, absolute, not even the flickers that come beneath closed lids.

Blind, she had thought. I am blind. The earth shook, rose up and struck her amid a noise like the laughter of Satan, louder than the world's ending, and the heat; there were screams, and the sound of buildings breaking. Sister Zofia had been inside; she pushed her way out of the rubble and stood looking at the mushroom cloud climbing above the horizon like the wrath of the angry God who turned His eyes on Sodom; had led them stumbling in a line to the intact cellar and sealed it, and bandaged their eyes, and nursed them through the weeks that followed, and gone out to find sealed food and water. Nursed them through the fever and the bleeding gums and the falling-out of hair, and had said when they heard her vomiting in a corner that it was bad food. Marya's eyes had recovered first; the vision was blurry but she had been glad of that, it would have been unbearable to vomit herself at what Sister Zofia's face had become, or shrink from the oozing, ulcerated hands that had saved her life. God had been good; Sister Zofia died quickly, with none of the raving that brain lesions brought to some of the others. Her dosage had been too extreme.

Marya's mind skittered sideways, the focus of remembrance darting away as the hand does from a fire, instinctively. "No," she whispered fiercely, in Polish. "No, I will remember. I will remember all of you; always, I will remember."

There were sixty beads, a name for each. She would keep this, or if it was taken from her make another, but nothing could take the memories, and if she was the last of the Sisters of St. Cyril she would keep the Rule. Marya looked down at the scrap of wood and string: a poor thing, the cruxifix and the three greater and lesser beads, the ten sets of five with their dividers, each a mnemonic to a series of meditations... and there was a name for each now; perhaps that was bad doctrine, perhaps a sin, but she did not think so. And it was something not issued to Marya 73ES422, it was something of her own.

You do not need a rosary or cross to be near to God, she reminded herself severely as the breath caught in her throat and she stuffed the thing of wood and string into the pocket of her skirt. They walked out behind Yasmin, behind Tanya and the beautiful evil-eyed child in the silk dress, through the outer rooms of the shop that sold people, into the corridors of Central Detention. The guards and clerks looked at her differently. As if they saw her now, as if the clothes and the company of the Draka made all the difference, and she had been invisible naked. Part of the process, she judged; strip everything away, then give it back in another pattern. Clothes were part of it, symbolism, psychology, the vulnerability of nakedness; the Draka were descended from people with a Christian sense of modesty, even if they were as shameless as rutting dogs themselves.

I am afraid, she thought, as they came out into a courtyard. The rain had stopped, and the clouds were breaking up; the courtyard had been a road, the walls that closed it off on three sides were new concrete block topped with razor wire; the gate was tall panels of perforated steel. There was a work-group sweeping rain and mud into the gutters; the Draka loved neatness, puddles offended them. Gray-faced men in burlap sacks, their feet in wooden clogs. The serf foreman had turned to see the party of Citizens and their servants leave the buildings; he bowed, turned back and swung the long whip at one of the gang who had lagged a little. The whip did not crack, instead the air whistled as it passed and there was a flat smacking sound across the backs of the man's thighs. It hummed again in a whirring circle too fast to see, like a propeller, struck.

They passed the gang, the scrutch-scrutch of the straw brooms on the cracked and broken asphalt, and the sound of a man sobbing. The air was warmer, smelling a little of spring and more of wet pavement and motor fuel. There were two cars and a truck with a torn canvas tilt parked by the gate, the draft-fans of their boilers making a gentle hissing. The truck was an Opel of German army make; a coffle of serfs in neck-collars linked to a central chain waited by it, twenty or so. Mostly men, working-class Lyonnaise by their looks, with the dulled skin of people who have not eaten properly in years, dressed in new drab issue-clothing of the same sort she was wearing.

The two cars were large six-wheelers with sides of stamped steel panels colored olive-drab. Marya had always been interested in machinery; in the abbey in Lwow she had been the one who could fix the boiler and the balky electrical system, and later in the War years that had been more than useful, it had meant survival. Now she recognized the type from newspaper photos, from know-the-enemy articles in copies of Signaal, the German soldiers' magazine. Two-ton Oraka staff utility vehicles, civilianized with hard roofs and windows. Not very civilian; one of them had a heavy machine-gun pintle-mounted on a hatch in the middle of the roof.

Two Draka waited by the lead car, a man and a woman in soft black leather trousers and armless cotton singlets, passing the time throwing a heavy medicine-ball back and forth. They had the Draka look, long swelling muscle moving under skin with no padding of fat, blurring-quick speed and a bouncy, tensile physical presence. The man threw, pirouetting like a dancer, the heavy shot-filled leather sack arching across the five-meter distance; the woman leaped, caught it two-handed close to her stomach with an audible smack and a grunt, front-flipped in place, a complete forward somersault, landed on her feet and flowed smoothly down into a crouch, coming erect and flinging the ball high. Involuntarily the nun's eyes followed it, a long parabolic curve, a breathless moment hanging where inertia balanced gravity. It fell, a slow instant stretching down into a straight-line drop that went neatly through the roof-hatch of the first car to land with an unseen hollow tunk on the floor within.

I am afraid, ran through her again, as the two looked at her and Chantal and Therese. The sensations were familiar, dry mouth and nausea and a lightness behind the eyes. Hard tanned Draka faces, one thin and freckled, one broad and flattish; cold light eyes examining her. Not with hostility, not even the deadly indifference of the Security officer who had arrested her those six long months ago. She was a servant, not an enemy; they were looking at her and wondering whether she would work well or badly, how much trouble she would be to direct.

Odwaga, she thought: courage, in her own language. I am afraid but I will not show it. I am a Pole, we are a small people and poor and backward, we have no frontiers and everyone on earth has taken it in turn to crush us but even when we must hitch ourselves to the plough so that our men may ride the horse to fight tanks we have never lacked odwaga. Common sense, yes; luck, yes, but never courage. I am a Pole and a religious and a Sister of the Order of St. Cyril and these I will be until I die, and if this is the sin of pride I cannot ask God's forgiveness because I do not repent it.

Perhaps there would be a priest, though, wherever they were going. It would be good to confess again, and receive the sacraments.

Chantal Lefarge looked away from the Draka. Her eyes fell on the green-uniformed Order Police by the gate, caught the glitter of the chain-slung gorgets around their necks; she turned away, shaking as her mind turned back the months, her mouth dry, hearing—

"Hold her, Achmed." Therese screaming through the muffling of her dress that the Orpos had pulled up over her head, thin rabbit-shrieking, running blindly into the wall, dress a blot of dark in the night-dim alley and her body thin and white. The monitor rose staggering with blood running down his brown acne-scarred cheeks and turned to face Chantal; he had ignored her while he stripped her sister and pushed her down. They had all ignored her; she could wait her turn. Ignored her until she picked up the rock, raised it high.

The fist struck her and filled her mouth with the taste of salt. Again, and the world blurred.

Jean-Paul had said that leaflets were essential, to show the workers that the Party still existed. In Lyon the Party was Jean-Paul, who had been a minor cell-leader before the war, and a dozen others. More had survived the war and the Gestapo, but the Draka found them somehow; impaled them all; Jean-Paul said he was still getting orders from Paris, but she had seen him once writing the letters from "headquarters" himself, sitting alone with the papers and a bottle of absinthe, writing and drinking and weeping slow tears. She had backed out silently and said nothing.

The serf policeman stepped closer and rammed his fist into her again, into the belly, and she doubled over with an anguished whoof of air, silver dazzles before her eyes, weakness like water running through her arms and legs. A foot kicked her behind the leg and she was down on hands and knees on the garbage-slimed cobbles of the alley. One of them squatted and ripped open her blouse, grabbed at her breasts and squeezed first one and then the other; a milking gesture, saying that she was nothing, a cow. Another knelt behind her and hit her again, a hard ringing cuff to the back of her head. Threw up her skirts and tore her underwear down one seam and let it fall along that thigh. Night air cold on her buttocks, raising gooseflesh.

"Changed my mind, Achmed, yo kin have that othah little thing," the voice said. Hands gripping her hips, another pain through the dazzle. Then—

No. She shivered back to the present. The coffle were looking at her and the nun. Marya was a good sort despite her absurd superstitions and that air of passive meekness... Most of the coffle were just staring, dazed; some with curiosity, others with a sullen burning hostility broad enough to lap over from the Draka onto her and anyone standing near them, all overlaid with a heavy numb fear. Those were her people, she had grown up among them in the shrilling garlic-smelling brick tenements between the two rivers, ancient noisy factories and little frowsty shops and cafes... the run-down overcrowded schools which taught her nothing but reading and writing and how to be an obedient drudge for the rich, the Party libraries that had opened a world.

The Draka woman was walking forward; the two who had waited by the car as well, shrugging on jackets of the same soft black leather as their trousers, buckling on gunbelts, slinging assault rifles and the machete-like bushknives; the long whips they swung in their hands. Blacksnake whips, sjamboks they called them, tapering cylinders of rhino-hide that could touch lightly in the hands of an artist, touch the corner of the mouth or an eyelid or the groin, or slice a back to the bone; the lashes trailed on the wet pavement, the metal tips making dull chinking sounds on the cracks. The coffle struggled to their feet, bowed, jostling one another in their clumsiness. Chantal watched and felt a taste at the back of her throat, sour, like vomitus after too much cheap Languedoc red wine; it was odd that hatred had a physical taste. The sjamboks cracked suddenly, a volley like gunshots; birds flew up protesting from the walls of the courtyard, and a fine mist blew from the wet leather.

"Good." The Draka woman speaking, French this time; nodding as she saw the eyes fix on her. "It is too early for the whip, serfs." A thumb directed towards herself. "I am Mistis Tanya von Shrakenberg; my husband and I are your new owners." She paused.

"You are stonemasons, builders, electricians; we have bought you for our estate, because we need more skilled labor. You will serve me all your days, and your children will serve mine. This is your fate; accept it." A smile. "Pray to your God for rewards in the afterlife, or hope the Yankees will come and rescue you, as you please... but on this earth, and in this time, obey.

"You've all been here long enough to learn a little about the Draka; I'll add to it. Think on the fact that we have never lost a war, or given up an inch of earth once we possessed it."

Another pause, and she rested her hands on her hips. "Now, being plantation serfs is about the best thing that could happen to you all, here in the Domination; you've got the added advantage of belonging to the von Shrakenbergs, who do not believe in unnecessary cruelty to underlings." Another smile, this one like a shark's. "Unnecessary. You will work, and work well; don't delude yourself that you can play stupid, shirk, break tools, make 'mistakes'; we've seen every one of those tricks a thousand times. Work well, bow your heads in meekness, obey every order as if it were the word of God, without resistance open or secret, and you can live out your lives; you'll have cottages of your own, not factory-compound barracks; permission to marry and raise families; good food, medical care, clothes, even an occasional holiday. Try any stupidity with us"—she shrugged—"and you can spend the rest of your days working in a chain hobble, with your dried balls in a sack around your tongueless head. Do anything really stupid, and you'll die on the stake."

"You have a chance," she concluded. "Use it."

Oh, I will, Chantal thought fiercely. I will. Mistress.

Tanya turned her back as the overseers chivied the coffle into the truck; there was a creaking of springs, a metallic clatter as the ends of their chain were reeved through stout eyebolts and padlocked closed. It was difficult, dealing with Europeans. They certainly had weaker stomachs than born-serfs; you could terrify them with even the mildest physical punishment; on the other hand, anything could set them off, something as routine as a cuff over the ear. She shook her head. Then there were others who just collapsed completely, more totally pliable than any but the best house-bred servants in the Police Zone.

Strange, she thought as she walked toward Yasmin. The three local wenches were shaping up nicely; the dresser had them in hand, she was a steady and reliable one, young as she was. Tanya wished there were more like her available, but then, demand was high; millions from the old territories were being drafted in for supervisory work, and even so...

Hope these two work out, she thought wearily, studying Chantal and Marya; bookkeeping was a high-status occupation, usually reserved for house-reared serfs or the products of the training creches. She shifted her gaze to Therese; slim, not over fourteen, huddled close to her sister and flinching at every moving shadow or loud noise. Sick dread in the huge fawn-like eyes whenever they strayed to the green-clad Orpos at the gate. Pity about that, Tanya thought. Wasteful. Elite serfs had to have their privileges, of course, and there were good reasons for making the Order Police an object of fear. Gentle ones rarely volunteered for the green coat, but there should be some sort of age restriction on this type of thing. Her father had had a strict rule that no wench was to be touched before her sixteenth birthday, and there was a good deal to be said for that.

"Good work, Yasmin," Tanya said, running a critical eye over Marya and the Frenchwomen. "No trouble?"

"No, Mistis. 'Cept that-there greencoat who brought Therese up from th' cells. I had a few words wit' him, he bein' rough." A sniff. "They pigs, beggin' yo' pahdon, Mistis."

"No argument, Yasmin," Tanya said. The serf-girl glanced about, leaned closer.

"Ah, Mistis, 'bout Therese, might be good idea, iffn—"

Tanya nodded. "Already gave the orders." A sigh. "There are times when I wish I were still in uniform," she said.

Yasmin smiled, with a small chuckle. "Not what yo's sayin' right after the War, Mistis, when yo's come home." A sly glance from under demurely lowered lashes.

"Hmmmm, true enough, too busy celebratin'."

She rubbed her back; they had managed to get a competent home-trained masseur for Chateau Retour, thank the gods. "The thing is"—she nodded to the little three-vehicle caravan—"it was easier. Officer has to think last under pressure, time to time, but mostly war isn't a very complicated business; there's a sort of... brutal simplicity to it. Limited number of situations, an' a limited selection of responses; the people on y'r own side are a known quantity, an' all you have to know about the opposition is how they fight. That's one reason command don't require genius, just trainin' and willpower." She shook her head. "Anyways, get these three loaded in the rear car, should be room. Tell the driver standard convoy distancin', and no tailgaitin'."

Her gaze turned towards the airship haven; Andrew's flight would be leaving that afternoon; officers returning from leave did not rate heavier-than-air transport priorities. At least I'm not heading into a combat zone, she thought. Luck go with you into the north, brother.

 

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