"So what's this dirtball called, anyway?"
"New Salem," Joneph said, turning from his navigation console. "The main town is also called New Salem. If you'd bothered to read the Guild synopsis more than once, you'd know that by now."
"Hmph," Angelique snorted. "I'm a drive core engineer, not a tourist. We aren't even going to spend a full rotational day here, just drop off that load of frozen meat." She jerked her thumb towards the passenger bay, where 420 new colonists, conservative anti-technologists, were waiting in suspended animation to be shuttled down as soon as they reached orbit. Angelique couldn't imagine why. The planet was small, the main exports being wood and fish. Indeed, trees were the only thing the world was much use for; they grew more quickly than on most other worlds, and with genetic tinkering, produced a variety of attractive woods. But the colony's insistence on low tech -- axes and horses, not chainsaws and powered vehicles -- hampered economic progress. In fact, they were determined to live like 17th-century New England Americans in every way possible, even down to their dress.
Angelique didn't want to even think about how sexually stunted they must be.
"It looks like we'll be staying more than 24 hours there," Captain Ib said worriedly, emerging from the core shaft. "That last fix you made to the drive core didn't take. There's no spare; we'll have to wait until the Guild shuttles us in a new one."
Angelique blazed a curse. She should have requested an extra drive core before they left; she should have. But this hadn't been a long trip for them from the last colony, and the one they had was newer and working fine. She'd never imagined it would go out like this. "How long will that be?"
"I don't know; I'll keep trying to contact the Guild office in Coriola. Some kind of cosmic interference keeps getting in the way." He went off to the subspace transmitter.
Joneph nudged her. "See? You'd better read up on the place."
He sounded remarkably unconcerned. Angelique made a face at him. She didn't want to be stuck in a gravity well for more than she had to, particularly not a backward, dull little planet like this.
The next day, there was more bad news. Pictoris 327 had gone supernova, rendering the route between New Salem and the rest of the Hotspur colonies impassable; it might be hours, or years.
"That's just fuckin' great!" Angelique cursed.
"All isn't lost," Joneph assured her. "There are always independents, freebooters. We may be able to bargain with them for ride home. And the Guild won't forget us."
"But we're stranded here."
No one had an answer for that; not Captain Ib, Ryoko the medical officer, or Bligh, the colony mission specialist.
"Well," the Captain said, "let's see about getting the colonists down."
The Endeavor was automated, as all the Guild's leased colony ships were, and ordinarily it would have been amusing to Angelique to watch the colonists being phased back to life in their pods, emerging like Lazarii into the arms of the medbots who gave them stimulants, nutrients, and mild exercise to ease them back to life. But she found no entertainment in it now. They were just meat, and stupid meat at that. However they were to accompany the meat as it was shuttled down in a dozen batches, to the colonist welcoming center in the town of New Salem, the seat of governance on that world.
Angelique disliked New Salem immediately. The sun was a red dwarf which cast dirty red light over everything, rendering the sea, which crashed continuously on bleak, rocky shores, an inky black. The air felt chill, humid, and somewhat stale. The town -- almost a small city -- was built of dark, finely-grained wood that might have been sensual and luxurious in another setting, but here it was only austere. Horses and horse-drawn carts were the only vehicles they saw. Everyone dressed in dark brown, black, and white; the men in hose, knee breeches, and boxy jackets, the women in shapeless pinafores and white aprons, their hair concealed by a close-fitting black bonnet. So closely fitting, Angelique wondered if they had hair at all. They wore no makeup, no jewelry, and their pale, unwrinkled skin, though healthy, only highlighted the very plainness of their faces.
"This place is spooky," Angelique whispered to Ryoko. They were riding in the back of a horse-drawn cart on their way to the center of town.
Ryoko nodded. Her hair was black, but covered with a multitude of wild braids; her ears were pierced six times each, and her lower lip too. She offered her metallic grin. "Hopefully, we won't be here long. And this isn't the only town you know. There may be others that are a bit more cheerful."
"Mmmm," Angelique said. This place certainly wasn't. Terran vegetation had been adapted to the local ecosystem (the plantlife already there, having nothing to recommend it, had been exterminated) but the ruddy light made her feel sleepy and depressed. The sky was a dark grayish-blue with bands of somber red, dull orange, and buff-colored clouds. From time to time the sun would peek out, the effect like a dull coal in the embers. The crew of the Endeavor looked very incongruous in their silver, neon-green, and fluorescent shipboard uniforms, drawing stares.
"Where are we going?" she asked Joneph.
"To the Council Hall. The leaders of this place want to speak to us."
Of course they would, she thought glumly, being we're stuck here. House after nondescript house passed. Suddenly she saw something of interest. On a hill a little beyond them, to her left, a dozen human statues had been arranged around a central monument. They were too far away for her to make out genders or expressions, but all were of dark gray stone, and in the same position -- spread-eagled, arms and legs thrust outward in an X-shape, impaled upon iron poles as if they were human lollipops.
"There," she said. "What is that? A cemetery?"
"That is the Garden of Penitents," the cart's driver said in a heavy tone. A tone that said he wasn't going to say any more about it.
The horses thudded on. Angelique strained her eyes, but considering the dim red light, and the cloud cover, she couldn't make out much. She thought some figures were male and some female, but that was all. There was a low wall around the garden, but no path led to it. It looked like a place no one wanted to visit much.
They came to the New Salem's main square, and this was somewhat more cheering. The omnipresent wooden buildings were more stately here, with finer degrees of decoration. With the new colonist's spokesmen they were let out to walk into Council Hall where the leaders of the colony had their offices, Captain Ib in front, the rest of them behind.
"Hello, I'm Ossir van Hanic. I represent the Spacing Guild." A middle-aged man of a mild appearance came immediately to greet them. He was dressed as a native, but was not of native stock, going by his face. The Spacing Guild kept reps on all colony worlds, to mediate any conflicts between Guild members and the native population. It was thankless position in a lot of ways. The colonies depended on the Guild for trade and commerce, yet the Guild depended on the colonies for fuel and other resources. There was often resentment on both sides: the colonists thought the spacers wanton, dangerous, and unprincipled, while the spacers despised colonists as close-minded, religious and cultural zealots. Thus the need for professional mediators, like Hanic.
He ushered them into a small room and closed the door. "I'm sorry all this has happened this way, I really am..." he said shaking his head.
"What?" Ryoko spoke up. "I know we're stranded here until the next Guild ship comes in. But honestly, it's not a big deal. We'll just return to ship and go into hibernation until it gets here, right?"
"I'm afraid you can't do that," Hanic explained in a worried tone. "You see, the charter by which New Salem is set up... if any are stranded here, they are considered a colonist, whether they like it or not. And must obey the colony's rules."
"You mean we're stuck? Down here?" Angelique said in a shocked voice.
"I'm afraid you're correct. You'll go through the orientation like any other newcomer. Of course, when the next Guild ship comes in, you may leave. But until then, you must live here and obey as any other colonist."
"But we'll lose a chunk of our fuckin' lives!" Bligh protested. "No one knows how long all that radiation's going to last. It could be five or six years! We can't get that back."
"I'm afraid that can't be helped," Hanic said.
Captain Ib looked very unhappy. He had to have been appraised of the situation first, on one of the earlier shuttles down. "He's right," he said. "There's no other alternative."
"You'll be paid a salary still as if you were on active duty," Hanic pointed out.
"How nice. Where're we gonna spend it?" Angelique said sarcastically.
"It will be held for you in trust -- and accruing interest."
Both Bligh and Joneph made rude noises at that.
"Look, people," the Captain said in his deep, heavy voice, "I know you want to go home, or return to the ship. But we can't. The colony's charter states that stranders must join the colony until rescue comes; that is it. We have no choice. I suggest that everyone here learn to do deal with it. We won't be returning to the ship, either. I've had all your belongings sent down; it will be mothballed until we get a new drive core."
Argument followed. But there was nothing to do.
Afterwards they met the rulers of New Salem at a reception for the new colonists. The colony was run by a semi-democratic Council consisting of prominent Elders who held stakes in the main sources of revenue, such as mining, fishing and timber. The Council Leader was a genial, distinguished man named Pier Van der Woot. But the actual ruler of the colony, as everyone pointed out, was Director Liese. He was a man in late middle age with silver hair and a cold smile Angelique did not like. "The culture is a patriarchal one," Joneph whispered in passing. "They have a monotheistic religion with a god known as The Pater. Females are considered secondary creatures, shamed, whose proper place is the home."
"Cut it out, will you?" Angelique said irritably. He had meant it in fun, but it was uncomfortably close to the truth. This was no place for a freespirited young woman of the Guild.
After that (the light was so dim she hardly noticed that night had fallen) they were served a late dinner of indeterminate seafood, some rooty vegetables, honey pastries, and a warm, sweet beer. Not bad compared to the shipboard food they'd been eating -- at least it was fresh -- but dull compared to the exotic cuisines they'd had on other worlds. After being assured the Council Leader and Director would "Do everything they could to make them feel at home" they were shown to their new quarters... the men to one part of town, the women the other. Angelique felt like protesting; she and Joneph had been lovers for some time, though she'd also had occasional flings with Ryoko. But Captain Ib gave her a warning look, telling her not to protest. "We'll all see each other soon enough," he said.
She and Ryoko were sent to single women's quarters, a dormlike building for unmarried female colonists without families. It was clean and homey, rather rustic: a hearth, a kitchen, a communal space to eat. It was late and many of the young women were in their plain white nightgowns and sleeping caps. They regarded Angelique and Ryoko with awe and not a little fear, staring especially hard at Ryoko's piercings and Angelique's dyed pink hair.
There was an awkward moment as their host introduced them and told their story. Thankfully they didn't have to socialize as they were immediately ushered upstairs to their room.
Angelique had a bad feeling ever since they were separated, that had only grew worse when they'd come to the dorm. Now, on seeing her future quarters, it grew stronger. The room was crude, but spotless, and they were clearly expected to keep it that way, by the brooms left in the corners. On each hard, narrow bed had been laid a plain black pinafore and starched white apron, along with a bonnet. A chest held more garments of the same kind, uncomfortable-looking underwear, a plain wool cloak, and the wooden clogs women wore here instead of shoes.
"Do they really expect us to wear these?" Angelique said in some outrage. "I'm not!"
"We can't wear these forever, though," Ryoko said fatalistically, pulling at her jumpsuit. "They haven't the proper chemical solvents to clean them, for one thing."
Angelique flung the clothes from her bed with a growl. "I hope that other ship gets here soon." At the head of each bed was a set of shelves on which might be displayed trinkets, and here were several small books: Reflections on the Pater's Teachings to Young Females Come of Age. Proverbs from the Founding Fathers. The Art of Goodwifery, with Digressions on Temperate Behavior. Angelique began to page through. They were written in English-standard, slightly archaic but still readable. "Look at these. What is this shit? 'Married women are to follow always two steps behind their husbands.' "Morality is the hygiene of the soul.' " She threw the books away, too. "Do they really expect us to read this?"
Ryoko sighed and began to remove her rings.
"Were you listening, Ryo?"
"What good does it do to complain? We just have to put up with it, that's all. You're still a new recruit, you know. I remember when I was with the Tiger's Milk, when we stranded on Xin-Nak. Now that was a living hell. Some of the crew were eating each other, at the end." She dropped her rings on the shelf. "Look, just play along with it. Even in a place like this, you can preserve some individuality."
Angelique growled in reply. She didn't want to strip off her jumpsuit -- she felt it would sever the last connection she had to the world she knew -- but she didn't want to sleep in it either. Finally, she did, and slept nude. She half-hoped Ryoko would come creeping over to her bed, to poke her tongue between her thighs as she often had when feeling horny, and Joneph was not around; but she did not. Angelique passed a very restless night.
The next morning, more enforced boredom, as the Mistress of the dorm -- a sort of chaperone -- explained to them in serious tones how to dress and deport themselves, and what tasks they must do to upkeep the house -- laying the fire, baking bread, milking the local goats. Angelique felt her world spinning further and further out of control. She desperately wished to walk to Joneph or Ib. But young girls (she seethed at that, as she was well over the marriageable age here) were not to talk to men unbidden. There were chaperoned socials where they would do that, a combination of work party and religious lecture. When she and Ryoko had mastered the basic tasks of the house, they would specialize in a line of work the town found useful, weaving, sewing, animal husbandry, or some such -- to make themselves more attractive wives.
"What! We are to marry here too?" Angelique thundered.
The other young women scampered away. The Mistress looked at her strangely. "You have much to learn here, Miss Davies," she said.
That was an insult too. No one used Miss as a term of address for over a millennium on any world.
After a dull meal with the others (Angelique cursing as she worked the sink's pump) they were taken by wagon again to receive more instruction with the newly arrived colonists. She seethed at that also. Women didn't ride horses here, they walked, had males drive them, or drove small pony carts if they had the means. "Women and horses don't mix," Mistress said. Angelique wondered what she would say if she told her she had ridden a more powerful horse than any man there, the ESS Endeavor. But she did not.
At the Orientation Center the males and females were segregated by sex, the new female colonists already wearing their penguin gear, and looking very satisfied with it. Only Angelique stuck out in her silver jumpsuit; Ryoko had given in and put on the pinafore, though she'd hiked it up a bit. Here came more nightmares. Both female and male colonists were supposed to enter themselves into the Colony Breeding Index, where their medical histories and personality profiles were compared by the Elders to match them with suitable mates. To Angelique's horror, they were then expected to marry and start producing children right away.
"No! I will not stand for that!" she shouted. Dozens of bonnet-clad heads turned to stare at her.
"Angel, shhh, get down," Ryoko whispered. "It'll be all right."
"No! We're not cattle or brood mares! This is insane!"
"That won't mean anything to us," Ryoko whispered a little more loudly. "We're spacers, genetically damaged! No one's going to want to mate with us."
By that time, on hearing Angelique's outbursts, several Mistresses decided she really was insane, and came to take control of her. Angelique fought, but even spacer's trained combat techniques, after a time in low-G, were no match for the muscles of hard-working dirtballers. She was subdued and taken to a small room, where the Mistress gently explained to her that she was a colonist on New Salem now, and that she had her duty. Angelique flushed and grew angrier by the second. "And now, dearie, why don't you put on that dress and cap. See, everyone else has..."
There was no escape.
They returned to the dorm very late, too late to visit any of her male crewmates. She wondered if she ever was going to be able to. There was more mundane labor, sweeping, washing dishes, then some of the maidenettes took out hymnals and began to sing, accompanied by others on flutes and a dulcimer-like instrument. After that, reading from one of the colony's sacred books, and hot cocoa -- "an indulgence, because today is Founders' Day," Mistress explained --and they were sent to bed.
Ryoko fell asleep almost immediately. Angelique lay awake. Is this to be my life? she thought. She knew that, logically, another Guild ship would reach them, but when? It was the first major downturn she'd experienced in her short career. What if it never comes, and we're stuck here forever? Even another day was too much. She inserted her fingers between her legs and masturbated, but even that did not relieve her. She kept thinking of that awful dress, those insipid songs, the dull light and dirty clouds. That dark polished wood everywhere.
The next day, still refusing to put on the pinafore and bonnet, she went to have a meeting with her male crewmates.
"Do you think we like this any better than you?" Captain Ib said. They were all wearing the men's' costume here, which including thick hose in scratchy goats' wool and ugly buckled shoes.
"At least you've got a whole house to yourselves, and servants," she grumbled.
"They are not servants but slaves, and that's what happens to colonists who don't toe the line," the Captain said angrily.
"What sacrifice and austerity!" she bawled.
Joneph motioned her away, to outside where they might talk privately. "Look, I know you don't like this, and I wouldn't either. I sympathies totally. But none of us have much freedom of action here. It's better to fit in, fade into the background. Then, when the ship comes in, we split."
"You don't have to marry and have kids."
"Oh yes we do, and do you think I am looking forward to it, saddling some poor woman with gene-damaged kids? But I can't get out of it. Look, I'll see about all of us getting a transfer to one of the other towns, one out on the frontier. It's more casual there, more loosely supervised. We could all breathe a little easier."
"All right," she said doubtfully.
She left the little house, shoving her hands in her pockets. It was market day, but the crude things for sale -- strange fruits, livestock, woven mats, household implements, saddles -- did not impress her. She had faked this trip saying she wanted to buy some things at the market, though there were precious little luxuries for a single woman to buy. Eyes slid over her jumpsuit, but nothing was said; spacers though not common, must visit here from time to time.
To her surprise she ran into Director Liese. "Good Afternoon, Miss Davies," he said in a courtly tone, with his cold and superficial smile. "Enjoying our marketplace?"
She was not enjoying it much at all. And she'd liked being addressed as Miss Davies even less, as if she was no more than a scared little mouse like all the other females here. She was spacer, a drive core engineer. She would not be treated like this. "Director, you said we could come to you with any problem we had."
"Yes, I did," he said, still smiling, his eyes glinting. He wore a chain of office with a medallion, the only jewelry she had seen any person wear here so far. She realized he was glinting at the tightness of her jumpsuit, and moved away slightly.
"I was told that all colonists, as we are, must be put into the Breeding Index, to be matched to others we must marry, and produce children."
"That is true," the Director said, his smile unchanged.
Oh no, she thought. He can't really mean that, can he? "But since we are to leave at the next ship, we must then abandon those spouses and families."
"They may go with you, if you wish," he said blandly. "If they do not, however, your place as a woman is here, with them."
It was getting worse. "Director," she said, keeping her tone authoritative, "as members of the Spacing Guild, crewing colony and charter ships across deep space to the colony worlds, we are exposed to very high levels of radiation, and it has damaged us genetically. Males and females both. We cannot possibly bear healthy children, and perhaps not even children at all. The men's' sperm count is low, and our own ova... I hope you see what I mean."
Director Liese said nothing. He remained staring at her. He might have been shocked, or amused. "Miss Davies, " he said slowly and inflexibly, "the law is the law."
"Director Liese, respectfully, you must understand. Ryoko Sasaki, our medical officer, can show you our genetic profiles, and --"
She had no time to get further, as the Director had suddenly grabbed her, pressed his lips on hers, and stuck his tongue in her mouth.
"Stop it! What are you doing?" Roughly, she pushed him away. A kind of madness gleamed in his eyes and he was breathing hard. To add to her anger she had been without sex for a while and found herself the smallest bit aroused... and was immediately angry at the arousal, because this fuck had been the cause of it!
"Miss Davies," he said, "I can save you from that fate. We have wives here, but also concubines. Consent to be my concubine, and you needn't worry about any of that."
"What?" She wiped her mouth with her hand. She couldn't believe this, not any of this! "Fuck you!' she shouted, not caring who heard. "Go to hell!" She pushed off through the crowd.
She was nearly in tears by the time she got back, but sniffed them up her nose. Mistress asked her what she had bought. "I couldn't find anything I wanted," she said dully. Mistress only clucked her tongue.
Ryoko was helping with the evening meal, stirring a stew. She looked, if not content, placid and under control. "You won't believe this place, Ryo," Angelique said in a low voice. "They have slaves here and prostitutes. I met that guy, Director Liese, and he damn near raped me, and wanted me to be his concubine! Can you believe that?"
"Maybe you should. It's better than being a slave, or drudge," Ryoko said simply.
"They do have a slave market here, you know," Ryoko said. "Men and women both, in chains... miscreants they import them from some other planet in the system, which is glad to let them go. If they work hard enough and have enough children, they can earn their freedom."
"That wasn't in the info the Spacing Guild sent us."
"A lot of things weren't," Ryoko said, and handed her a bowl of stew. "Do be quiet. You're going to make trouble for yourself, you know that?"
Feigning tiredness, Angelique retired early, even before that dull red sun had set. But she had other plans. Ryoko came up later, and when she had fallen asleep Angelique put on her new cloak and shimmied out the window, closing the wooden doors behind her. I don't care what happens. I'm going to have some fun in this town.
She hurried along the silent streets. Young women did not go out at night, but young men did, or married women in the company of their husbands. Some men were with garishly painted women in tight, corseted dresses -- concubines, she knew that now. She couldn't see how the men thought their charms any more appealing than the plain, capped women they both honored and derided. Their hair looked like birds' nests of cheap mica powder and lacquer, and the dresses, though colorful, were cheap and tawdry. Wonder where they get those things here, she thought. It seemed a secret world of vice was opening up before her, and she wondered if her male crewmates were out having a good time as she, as a single female, could not.
She hurried along the streets, trying to melt into the shadows; not so hard to do as they were very poorly lit. She followed the narrow alleyways to a poor part of town that was not so well kept, to a long, low, building that had merry fiddle music leaked out from under the door. An inn, or a tavern. The door opened, letting several concubines, or perhaps prostitutes, through. Smoke came out too, and laughter. It was the first honest laughter she'd heard here.
Well, she thought, if I'm damned, I'm damned. She opened her hand, examining the coins she'd swiped from the domicile kitty; they might be good enough for a stuff drink or two. She walked through the doors.
"Unhhh, where am I..."
Angelique groaned out loud, noting the floor was very hard, and damp. Her right nipple came into contact with something cold and wet. Squealing, she opened her eyes and saw the torn flap in her uniform and the bruised breast that had popped out of it. The nipple looked sore and red... chewed, or abused.
Cursing, she sat up. What had happened last night? Rough iron bars rose before her face, very black and thick. A pile of straw had been strewn haphazardly in one corner, a chamber pot next to it. Chains trailed down a wall, open cuffs dangling from their ends... it occurred to her she was in a dungeon, or at least an archaic form of gaol.
"Great Bitch of the Cosmos..." she muttered. It all came back to her then. The tavern, the music. She'd drunk too much, and wound up dancing on the tables with the other fallen women. It grew fuzzy after that. The men... she flushed. There'd been a gangbang, she was sure of it. Her silver-gray uniform was torn in some places, slit in others, and her pussy had that not-so-unpleasant soreness that comes after a night of heavy sex; thank god the contraceptive shot she'd had on the Endeavor hadn't expired yet.
And now here she was in this dirtball's despicable gaol, which they doubtlessly thought very highly of. The fucks. She looked up, meeting the eyes of a single guard who regarded her like a piece of stable filth.
"You there!" she barked, her voice rising. "Why am I here? What is the meaning of this?"
He sneered at her. "You're under arrest."
"Arrest?" The sheer effrontery of it amazed her. "After what... what those men in the tavern did to me?"
"Silence, slut!" he roared. "You won't pollute me with your ramblings."
She shut her mouth. Obviously, he would be of no help. In a wooden dish next to her lay a piece of meat in a fatty sauce, and a wilted root vegetable boiled beyond recognition. She slammed it away with her fist, sending it flying, and drew herself into a ball. The Spacing Guild had prepared her for situations like this as part of her training: what to do if stranded on a hostile world, with ignorant natives. She drew on it then, deciding not to antagonize her captors.
Her head hurt. Damn, what did they make their native liquor out of?
She went to the straw and tried to sleep. A few hours later, the gaol door clanged open and footsteps came down the hall.
"Visitors," her guard cried out in a withering tone. It was Captain Ib and Joneph. The guard gave them all a hard stare, but retreated down the hall, out of earshot but within running range... or shooting range, of the small but wicked crossbow he carried.
"Angel! Are you all right?" Joneph went running to the bars. She wanted to caress and kiss him, she felt so relieved.
"I...I think so," she said. "Aside from the universe's biggest hangover. But what's going on? What have I been arrested for?"
Joneph and the Captain looked at each other in a warning way. She recognized that look from their long, lightless jumps between the stars: It said Nothing can be done. "Jon! What the hell's going on?"
Slowly, Captain Ib began, "They warned you there were rules here..."
"The tavern," Joneph said shortly. "They objected, I suppose."
"Those narrow-minded, hypocritical prigs... They were the ones who raped me!"
"And they said you tempted them, set them up for it. We've tried, Angel; it's no good. You've been arrested for 'sexual transgression' and will sentenced for it before the whole town tomorrow."
Her heart sunk. How could this be? Things like this just didn't happen within civilized space. But to argue it was useless. "The Guild," she said desperately. "Contact the Guild rep, that Ahnic, or whatever his name was. They won't let this happen to me."
Another uncomfortable look passed between the men. "I'm afraid the Guild's power is limited here," Joneph said. "This is a colony world; because we've been stranded here, their law assumes we are colonists. Not the Guild's law, the colony's law, and colony law takes precedence as you know. I'm sorry Angel, we tried, really we did..."
"There is a trial, at least?"
Again that shamefaced look. "No. Look, we tried to get them to show some leeway, but..."
"No trial!" She exploded. "What's gonna happen to me, then?"
"We don't know," the Captain said. He looked concerned now. "The sentencing's set for tomorrow, whatever it is. I'm guessing it will be some kind of forced labor. The colony has too few people to waste resources. Listen, don't make any more trouble about this, it could reflect badly on the other crew. Remember we're stuck here just as you are, until the Guild can get another ship through."
"Is that all you care about, yourselves?" she retorted.
The normally even-tempered Captain grew angry. "Like you cared about us after that performance in the tavern last night?"
Joneph broke in. "He's right. Ryoko's adjusted, so has Bligh. Use your common sense. What right do you have to jeopardize everyone else for your own desires?"
She shut her mouth. It was no use, no use at all. She shivered, trying to pull the shreds of her jumpsuit back together. "At least get me a change of clothes."
"Listen, there's still dissent about the arrest. The Guild may come through for us yet. Keep your chin up OK?"
She nodded, though she felt like weeping. No simulated experience in the Guild Academy had prepared her for this. This was real, rats and all; she would not be woken from it by the training bell. After some final reassurances the guard came to escort her crewmates back. With a sour look, he glanced at her, then ushered them away. She was alone, and she felt like she had been abandoned in the cold dark matter between the galaxies.
There were no windows in the gaol, and no way to tell the passage of time. She slept, and fretted, and slept again, and when she woke most of her hangover had gone. It seemed to be morning, judging from all the footsteps she heard on the floor above. Too soon, a pair of guards came down to fetch her. They were brusque, unsentimental, cold; she might have preferred some cruelty. They chained her at the wrists and neck, then escorted her down the damp corridor to a set of stairs. Gray stone walls soon became polished wood, the dark somber wood of this planet, the only thing of any beauty or luxury New Salem offered.
Her boots made tapping sounds on the smooth, waxed floors. Underlings rushed out of their way. Why chain me like this, she thought, as if I'm some dangerous criminal who might escape any second. She suppressed a bark of dark laughter. Yeah, like I'm really going to escape and shake my titties in their faces again, driving them into insane rages of lust.
At the next bend she knew where she was. It looked like an archaic courtroom that might have been from 18th century Earth: a podium of honor for the judge, a set of high-backed benches for witnesses, a large area in the back where onlookers sat or stood. There were quite a few of them she noticed, men and women both; it seemed she had become a celebrity. The women's glances were a mixture of pity, shock; the men's ranged from righteousness to contempt... mixed with an easy, casual lust, a male prerogative on a patriocentric world like this. The women seemed more sympathetic; might her case turn yet, if they were to give testimony?
But that was not to be. Chained, she numbly listened to the prosecutor give an account of all her "unacceptable" behavior to date -- her refusal to wear a woman's garb, her rejection of the breeding index, her night in the tavern... at which there were over a dozen witnesses, saying how she had tempted them, seduced them, as the harlot she was. The women of the audience listened with wide eyes that appeared even wider under the drab little bonnets they wore. Angelique wondered if she was to be a sort of cautionary lesson to them.
"Miss Davies, do you have anything to say for yourself?" the Prosecutor's voice boomed.
She could not deny anything. Indeed, to say anything at all might damn her further.
"Since you are silent, this hearing is concluded. By the authority of the New Salem Council of Elders, Miss Angelique Davies, of the ESS Endeavor, is to be sentenced to public stoning, carried out immediately. Escort her to the town square."
Voices rose: various degrees of excitement, condemnation. The onlookers rose to leave. The witnesses congratulated each other, shaking hands, aiming glances in her direction. Her crewmates were present but avoided her eyes; they had been difficult to pick out, dressed in drab grays and umbers like the rest of the townspeople. She wanted to call out to them, but thought better of it. Public stoning. The thought made her entire body go numb. Were these people really such primitives to do that?
She balked in her heavy chains, but the guards dragged her on. The words echoed in her ears: Public stoning. Public stoning. The town square was a short walk away; the townspeople, many more than had been in the courtroom, were already assembling, jostling for a good view. Workmen were wheeling out a device like a giant metal ring with four gravsuspensor nodules spaced equidistantly around; behind it was a console. Angelique had seen it before: it was a primitive form of hibernation device used to put spacebound passengers in suspended animation. They must have salvaged it from one of their first colony ships, she thought. In her time at the Guild Academy she'd heard that those first devices sometimes malfunctioned, turning their subjects into...
Stone. A public stoning.
"... electrochemical petrification, for a period of not less than six months, for commission of sexual acts without permit from the Council. Said petrification shall be performed and sentence served in the Town Square , as a lesson for all." Director Liese closed the court ledger, glancing over the crowd with a look of hypocritical levity on his face.
You bastard, Angelique thought. Helplessly she looked around, but her crewmates had vanished in the crowd. She was unchained and dragged to the device. Up close it looked even more sinister. Lovely, in its way, made of ceramalloy metals sleekly worked and styled, but its surface was pitted here and there, and streaked with... she dared not think with what, but it was streaked. Fuck, she thought. Never crew a colony ship without a spare drive core... oldest lesson in the book! Does this thing even work anymore? It's so old... but a faint telltale vibration in the air told her it did; a cable snaking away to the left connected obviously to some sort of generator. So the council members ignore their own ban on high technology to serve up a spectacle such as this, she thought bitterly.
One of the guards grabbed her. She couldn't help squealing as they removed her spacer jumpsuit and boots, then her underwear, leaving her naked and manhandled in the cool, damp air. The ring could be spun from a horizontal to a vertical plane, and now they were positioning her, feeding first her feet, then her hands, into the gravsuspensor nodules. They closely tightly around her wrists and ankles with a sucking sensation, leaving her with the feeling her feet and fingers had been cemented permanently in place. She was spread-eagled now, naked, giving any who cared to look a magnificent view of her exposed pussy... doubtlessly how they had planned it.
The Garden of Penitents. Of course.
All victims, as she was now to be.
From in front of her a metal appendage snaked itself out. It seemed to be made of surgical steel, with a smooth, polished, rounded tip glistening as if with lubricant, that seemed to be either rotating or spinning on its axis. It clearly was not part of the original device. Hers eyes goggled as it rose before her like the tail of a scorpion, then lowered... a second later she felt it burrowing between her legs, working its way between her spread pubic lips. My god! What is this...
She squirmed, giving all who watched her a show. Inside her the probe felt larger than it looked from outside, spreading her almost uncomfortably. She whimpered deep in her throat as it settled, the thing humming now in tune with the strange vibration that permeated the ring, and warming. Two wires trailed from its base. Before she could imagine their purpose they were clamped on her tits, one on each nipple. The sensation was pinching, but also sucking as air began to drawn out of the cups, leaving a tingling, swollen, almost painful feeling in her breasts. To add insult to injury, a third probe poked her between the buttocks, invading her anus. Mercifully it was smaller than the first, yet also warm and humming.
She flushed with shame, but was presently spun back upright, at a slight angle, to better see the crowd, and they, her.
She turned her head, trying fruitlessly to hide her face. She'd never been shy about nudity on her homeworld or in the ship, but to be presented, cored in two places, as a delicacy for the crowd, unnerved her. And all of them so goddamn silent and condemning. If she was the lesson, it was the lesson of all lessons. Her nipples tightened as she imagined the degrading tableaux she made. Against her will, her pussy grew moist, from both fear and arousal.
Her sentencers had gathered at the bottom of the ring, talking casually as if this was just another barnraising. They did not look at her at all. She was of no consequence to them any more, just another gear in the mechanism.
"The Jury confirms your ruling," said the Director Liese. All nodded. (Damn you, she thought.)
"The Guild concurs, though there was dissent," said the Guild Representative. (You fuck, she thought. I thought you were on our side?)
"The Council of Elders stands firm, director," said Council Leader Van der Woot in a self-congratulatory way. "The spacers must live by the law, as we all do." Heads bobbed.
All of them, so goddam smug. She tried to twist to get a better look at the panel behind her, but the nodules held her firm. All she succeeded in doing was making her wired nipples bob from side to side, drawing a hush of comments from the crowd. Harlot, strumpet. Whore.
Fuck you all, she thought.
Liese said with a cold cheerless smile, "Then the Council's decision shall be executed! That the spacer's machine enforces the Council's wisdom only serves to heighten the sense of justice!"
That bastard, after he had... rage struck her then. "You're a pack of lunatics! I'm not about to be a... a.. brood mare for a bunch of horny zealots! Besides, most of us have put in more than ten years of space time, we're a freak mutation waiting to happen!"
"Silence!" Liese roared. "Begin the sentence."
The humming increased, transmitted directly by the probes into the interior of her body. Behind her, some nameless technician was playing the machine like an instrument, orchestrating her doom. They can't be doing this to me, she thought. Turning me to...to...stone, to... don't they realize I'll be conscious for the whole time? "You can't be serious! For god's sake, someone help me!"
Liese only looked smug. "Since your colony ship failed, a healthy population requires proper procreation. It is only coincidental that this matches our views on the matter. "
"At least give her a sedative. The Guild will protest!" Hanic said, shaking his head. "Local laws are one thing, blatant cruelty another."
Liese growled. "As for being knocked out, we're not about to waste highly valuable supplies on that -- "
They continued to argue. Their voices were lost to Angelique as the ring's vibration increased, with new sensations coursing through her helpless body. She felt oddly light-headed, yet also oddly heavy... rooted to the earth, yet she might fly away any second. The device crackled and buzzed archaically, and she even saw a few sparks thrown off. I'm turning to stone. While completely conscious. Starship passengers, even spacers when off-duty, were always drugged while suspended... and that was only light suspension, not a total transformation of body matter like this. "Don't do this to me!" she cried, looking desperately from face to face. "Please... "
"Stop it!" Joneph's voice. She opened her eyes to see him pushing to the front of the crowd. "You're going to kill her with that thing! It's too old, it's not working right..."
Liese arched an eyebrow at him. "Need I remind you of our laws?"
"I know your laws, goddamit! I mean... your man there, he's not a spacer. He doesn't know how to run a machine like that. Let me do it. I'll take full responsibility for whatever happens."
He crossed to her right, blonde head shining, and she was just barely able to see him through a slitted eye. He looked up at her briefly, whispering, "I had to, Angel," before disappearing from sight behind her. Was his self-recruitment a good thing or a bad thing? She didn't know, though she felt at once betrayed, and relieved. Betrayed he had chosen to participate, relieved that, at least, he understood the device better than the dirtballers.
"I object..." that asshole began again.
The Guild Leader stared him down. "Crewman Shimael's suggestion has merit, and I grant it. Need I remind you, Director Liese, that your existence as a colony depends upon the Guild's graces." He nodded. "You may continue."
The buzzing was all around her now. She sensed a slight increase as Joneph took the controls. Please, let this all be over soon, whatever happens. Her back arched, sweat ran down her face. A low whine began, reverberating through her body, and out through the palms of her hands and soles of her feet, as if pouring up from the very bones of the earth itself. Now it begins, she thought in dread. She panted in deeply in fear, but also arousal.
They can't... this can't be... how it's supposed to feel... mmm... nipples... clit... deep inside... throbbing... pulsing... everyone watching me!
"...ohhh..." she moaned, nipples tightening rock-hard, diamond-hard, then beyond hardness, contracting to zero density as if swimming down a black hole. Fluids leaked down from between her legs where the probe spun and buzzed. "Aggh!" she cried, unable to keep it back. "Please... ohhh..."
"What have we done? She's in so much pain..." the Prosecutor murmured.
"Mind your own," Liese said shortly. "Keep us appraised, officer," he said to Joneph. "I want to know every detail."
"Of course, Director," Joneph said in a patronizing tone. "Bio-transformation serum fully injected. Electromagnetic field is engaging now...."
The tingling in her nipples and clit rose to unbearable levels. She wanted to squirm, dance where she was impaled, but she could not. She threw her head back, moaning in ecstasy. Everyone sees this, she thought, and there was shame in it, but also glory. She was fast approaching orgasm in front of hundreds of hostile strangers in this shameful device that might kill her, and... she didn't give a damn.
Almost there... throbbing, bursting... I just want to curl my toes and ... I can't!... no... don't leave me like this... almost there... so close... WAIT! She opened her mouth to give a fullthroated cry of pure pleasure.
"Petrification phase wave is at 100%... cell transformation accelerating now..."
From the guts of the device came a monstrous crackling noise, tortured flicks of yellow-white energy playing over Angelique's outstretched form.
"What's that noise?" Liese said in some urgency.
"It's a normal byproduct of the cellular transformation," Joneph said, fingers playing at the controls. "This is exactly what was done to you on earth before you were packed on to the ship, you just slept through it."
"That's enough! Do your job!" Liese snapped.
"Oh! Gah!" Angelique cried. Then, she went silent. her body stopped the infinitesimal trembling and jerking and seized up, becoming still as a sculpture. Before the mesmerized eyes of the crowd she took on an ashy color that quickly darkened to iron-gray; at the same time she took on the texture of stone. Was stone.
"All cellular indications are normal. Shutting down and removing probes."
The vaginal and anal probes snaked themselves out, leaving visible channels in their wake. With them went the nipple probes, exposing a pair of stiff nipples pointed forever at the sky. A dark gray statue of a woman was suspended in the ring now. A statue trapped in the throes of sexual ecstasy... though many took it as pain.
"Excellent," Liese murmured cruelly, eyes traveling over Angelique's suspended form. "Bring in the workmen, I want the ring removed and taken to the Council Hall for display."
"People of New Salem, the first part of the sentencing has been carried out," the Council Leader announced. "Henceforth, for six months, pending further review, Miss Davies will be on display in the Council Hall for all to see, and take as precaution."
The crowds began to disperse, some returning home or to places of work, others heading to the Council Hall to see the miscreant put on display. There was a curious mood among them. Some were subdued, others excited. Not a few looked back over their shoulders as if expecting Angelique to start writhing and moaning again, but she did not.
"The phase waves are gone, the probes are out; your sentence is carried out. Satisfied?" Joneph said tiredly.
"Very satisfied," Liese said coolly. "And the Council will be satisfied you have cooperated. Tell me... is she actually aware of what is going on around her?"
I did what I could, Angelique. I knew the rotten bastard would make you stay awake. I knew it! I only hope that pleasure is better than pain. Joneph sighed, withdrawing from the console.
He felt like he had blood on his hands, though he had acted for the best.
"There were a few human experiments, Director Liese, early in the development of the phase wave, before the first spacers discovered how to calibrate the energies involved. Some became as Angelique, some... were unrecoverable. Of those who survived, their experiences differed. Angelique may be aware, or she may be trapped in a loop of the last few seconds before solidifying."
Both men looked to the statue. Angelique's pretty face was caught in a grimace of ecstasy, teeth and tongue exposed, as if about to give cry; it was easy to imagine her last moments had been frozen forever.
"At any rate, here is your six months of justice," Joneph said shortly. He moved off the speak to the Guild Leader, hoping, no doubt, to bring a turnaround to the situation.
Liese knew that would not happen. He and the Guild had reached an uneasy accord over many years of being forced to depend on each other. The Guild had its power, but he had the final say.The workers had gone to fetch the draft horses, leaving him alone temporarily with the statue, so he spun her horizontal, bringing her cold, stony face close to his.
Remarkable how lifelike she still was, yet definitely not alive -- at least in the way he knew. He stroked her cheek. The texture was not as smooth as a woman's skin, but had a slight stony burr, almost ironlike. The whole of her was very solid and unmoving. Cruelly he smiled. She might be very brittle as well.
"Angelique," he whispered to her stony ear, "so you can either hear me, or you're trapped in the last few seconds of agony... It really doesn't matter to me, however." He chuckled, pinching the hard nub of her nipple. "When all this is over, perhaps you'll think twice about refusing me again..."
His hands wandered lower, to trace the solid arabesque of pubic hair between her thighs, and the rounded channel left by the probe's departure that gave entrance inside her. Any might look at her whore's charms now, see her for what she was. His hands clenched on the smooth globe of her buttock.
She should be made into a proper New Salem woman, a meek and mild goodwife. But, failing that, a concubine was good enough.
"Enjoy your time in the ring," he whispered. "You may be spending more time there than you know." With a final pat he let her go, as the workmen wrestled the ring into the cart that would pull it to its final resting place.
And so Angelique Davies, drive core engineer of the ESS Endeavor and unwilling colonist on New Salem, was hung from the entry arch to the Council Chamber as a six month long object lesson for any colonist who dared to flaunt the Council's laws. A wooden plaque carved with the directive OBEY hung from her erect, stony nipples.
Some who passed beneath her rigid figure thought her in stasis, others felt she was caught in unimaginable sensation.
But both theories were correct. While Angelique's senses were trapped in a ten-second loop of ecstasy, her mind was aware and curiously distant. She was an engineer and calculations came easily to her. At some point she determined she would experience one and half million orgasms in six months.
One and half million acts of disobedience... she liked the thought of them.
She was unaware of what went on around her. But if she had been able to see, in the following months she would have seen three more display rings hung beside and behind hers, each with a naked petrified female suspended inside, all in unbearable pain, or unbearable ecstasy...
True to Lieses' word, he contrived a way to keep Angelique Davies petrified far beyond her original six month sentence. Meanwhile, the effects of the supernova prevented the Guild from returning to New Salem for over three decades.
When they did, they found revolution had occurred. By that time Angelique had suffered too much cellular deterioration to be brought back using the colony's crude equipment. She had been preserved and was now serving as a hanging sign for New Salem's first and oldest brothel, The Stone Lady.
When the Guild brought her back, she looked around at all that had changed, and smiled.
You bastards, she thought. I've beaten you all. I've beaten you good.
This work is copyrighted 2005 - 2006 by Cobalt Jade (Cobaltjade@aol.com). This work may be be freely distributed over electronic media provided no fee is charged for its use. Charging a fee for this story, or publishing without author credit or this notice violates my copyright.