The Star Fleet Series
Copyright© 2001, 2002. All rights reserved.
The Amalgamation Survey Ship Interloper moved in a synchronous orbit above the only landmass on the third planet of star P314159264. Three young women entered the Captain's office, and one said, "Junior Lieutenant Erig and Ensigns Mahoon and Regan reporting as ordered, Captain."
Captain Goda returned their salute. "At ease, ladies. I've summoned you because we have an important field survey pending, and since that unfortunate incident on the holodeck last night we're now short-handed. I need three field surveyors and you are the only ones that have the necessary characteristics. I really dislike sending you out on such short notice but I have no choice. The ship has other commitments and we cannot remain here beyond our original departure date. Fortunately, this survey isn't difficult or dangerous. I'll give you a summary of what you'll be doing, and if you need more details you can get them later from the net."
"This planet, which we have designated as Gamma, is apparently unique in the galaxy. Like all of the other inhabited planets it was seeded with life by the Elder Ones, and like all of the other planets it lost its technology in the Great Crash, when every computer in the galaxy locked up at the same time because of a date/time bug in the operating system. Unlike all of the other known planets, which lost all civilization and descended into savagery, Gamma was able to maintain its social order. Exactly why they were able to do this is a question that will keep the xenoanthropologists busy for years, but the tentative theory is that the physical characteristics of the planet are responsible. All of the habitable land is in the form of one compact continent without notable physical barriers, and the theory is that this inhibited the formation of warring factions. We've gotten some good images of the surface, and so far we haven't found a trace of any ancient or modern fortifications."
"This political and cultural uniformity is a barrier to field surveying, however. On other planets the surveyor can pose as a foreigner, so that a bad accent or ignorance of an important custom can be easily explained. Obviously, that cannot be done here. The initial field survey was done by Lieutenant Breg, the ship's Xenologist, who posed as a mentally retarded mute and pretended to have a job as a sweeper in a university library. He was able to copy books and set up listening posts so that the language transplant could be prepared and so we could determine the basics of this culture. Now we need to know more about the larger society."
"This is where you come in. You three will be disguised as peasant girls, our substitute for the ignorant foreigner. Gamma's technology is at a preindustrial level, and as is usual in such societies most of the population is employed in agriculture. Subsistence farming is so demanding that it is normal to have a rural population that is unsophisticated. Also, Gamma's orbit is so circular and its axial tilt is so small that there isn't much seasonal variation and crops are grown all year. This means there is no winter break that might otherwise allow the rural inhabitants time for intellectual pursuits."
"Each of you will enter a major city and will gather information just as a real peasant might, by walking around seeing the sights and asking questions. Most city people think that peasant girls are ignorant and naive, so any gaps in your knowledge will seem plausible, and you can ask questions that a city child of five would know the answers to without arousing any suspicion. Compared to your other field surveys this will be easy. You said something, Ensign Regan?"
"I, er, I haven't been on a field survey, Captain".
"You haven't?" The Captain motioned to Erig and Mahoon. "Wait outside".
When the door had closed behind them the Captain sat down behind her desk and ordered, "Sit down, Ensign, while I look at your service record."
The Captain typed on her keypad and looked at the screen that popped up out of her desk. "Let's see... Sonji Regan, Ensign, Star Fleet Survey Service. It says here that you have been on board this ship for four months and that this is your first Fleet posting. It also says that you didn't attend the Academy but instead got your commission through the Officer Training Program at your home planet university. Is this correct?"
"You have been to Field Survey School, haven't you?"
"How much experience have you had outside of the Amalgamation?
"Er, none, Captain. Until I went to Field Survey School I had never been out of my home city."
The Captain sighed. "Under other circumstances I wouldn't do this, but I have no choice, I've got to send you. Look, all you have to do is enter a city, ask some questions, and leave the city. You can do that, can't you?"
Sonji sprang to her feet. "Yes, Captain! Thank you, Captain!"
"Get the others. There is one thing more."
Sonji opened the office door. When the other officers were inside and the door was shut again, the Captain said, "You all know the First Directive..."
Sonji chirped, "Never interfere in any way, however minor, with the culture of a non-Amalgamation society."
"Thank you, Ensign. Now, as I was saying, you all know the First Directive is often bent if it gets in the way of an operation..." The Captain noticed Sonji's shocked expression. "well, most of you know it. Don't count on any slack now, though. Until the stink from that fiasco in Sector 4 dies down we're going to have to play it by the book."
"What happened, Captain?" Erig asked.
"Well, we don't know exactly, but the result was that an early iron age culture somehow got tactical nuclear weapons. What a mess."
"Now, you three report to the Bio-computer Lab for your language transplant and then go to Survey Supply for your costumes and equipment. The Xenologist will meet you there to answer any questions. Dismissed."
The three women saluted and left the office. Once they were well along the passageway Mahoon started to giggle. "Unfortunate incident on the holodeck. What an understatement!"
"What happened? All I heard is that the three that were supposed to make these surveys are in sick bay in some kind of a coma."
"Well, they gave themselves a party by going to the holodeck and activating that rough-sex scenario."
"You mean the one where you're gang-raped by the space pirates?"
"Yeah, that's it. Well, somehow the computer went into a loop and the scenario ran eight times before the techs could get it stopped. Luckily the safety backup worked so there wasn't any tissue damage, but it really messed up their minds. They're all under sedation now, and they all have this big smile on their faces."
"Wow, I did that scenario just once and it really shook me up. Did you ever try it, Sonji?"
"No. I've been conditioned to avoid bad sex."
"Well, it's true that some of those holodeck scenarios are really bad. What do you consider to be good sex, Sonji?"
"Good sex is when a husband impregnates his wife. Bad sex is everything else."
Erig and Mahoon exchanged did-we-really-hear-that looks. "Why would you believe something like that?" Erig asked.
"In my religion we believe that the way to Enlightenment is through the voluntary renunciation of physical pleasure. This is something I have known since I was a little girl. When I reached puberty I received the conditioning that now keeps me from being tempted."
Mahoon said, "We've shared a compartment since you arrived on board and you know that I often have overnight visitors. Doesn't it bother you that I don't share your beliefs?"
"No, you must find your own way to Enlightenment; it does not have to be my way. The only thing that bothers me are your moans and screams when I'm trying to sleep."
Erig shook her head, "I'm glad I'm not of your religion. I wouldn't have a social life. Ah, here's the Lab."
The language transplant took only a few minutes, and when it was over the three women were fluent in the language spoken on Gamma.
A short walk brought them to the Survey Supply compartment. Waiting for them were the store keeper, a communications technician, and a lieutenant. Erig wrapped her arms around the lieutenant and gave him a passionate kiss.
When they came up for air she said, "Hi, lover. You know Mahoon. This is Sonji Regan. Sonji, this is Thar Breg, the Xenologist. He'll tell us all we need to know about the planet."
"Pleased to meet you, sir."
"Yeah, me too. Listen girls, the shuttle departure time has been moved up so we've got to get going. We can save time if you change here while I talk. Roget, give me those costumes."
The store keeper handed Breg three large bags, and he gave a bag to each of the women. "Here are your costumes. After you've changed put your uniform in the bag and I'll have it delivered to your quarters."
Sonji opened her bag and examined the contents. She found a dress made from a coarse gray fabric, a knitted shawl, a pair of leather sandals, and a small leather purse containing a handful of copper and silver coins. She asked Breg, "Where is the underwear, sir?"
"Peasant girls don't wear any. Hurry up and change."
Sonji was stunned. "Here, sir? In front of everybody?"
"You won't shock us. Do it, Ensign! That's an order."
Sonji looked at the other women. Erig was naked and Mahoon had just pulled her dress over her head. Blushing all over her body, Sonji turned her back to the men, stripped off her uniform and underwear, and quickly put on the dress and the sandals.
Mahoon examined her dress. The bodice was just a sack with holes for her arms and neck. A full skirt was attached at the waist and ended just above her ankles. She said, "Well, I wouldn't want to wear it to the prom, but it doesn't feel too bad. Do we get a change of clothing?"
"No. In this culture clothing is expensive, because spinning, weaving, and sewing all have to be done by hand. Most peasants never have more than one dress at a time. Your dress is better than most, because it doesn't have any patches."
Erig said, "At least we don't have to put on a lot of makeup. For one of my surveys I had to dye my skin green and paste phony antennas on my forehead."
"Yes, all of you will fit in as is. Most people have brown hair like yours and Mahoon's, a few have hair as black as Regan's, and there are also blondes." He waved over the communications technician. "CT2 Aoki will give you your comm devices and test them out."
Aoki gave each woman what looked like a wooden disk, about 5 centimeters in diameter and a half-centimeter thick. There was a hole near one edge with a leather thong threaded through it, and an eight-pointed star was burned into one side. Aoki said "This equipment contains an audio recorder, but it's sound activated so you don't have to worry about it. To activate the communicator pull on the thong. It will buzz to indicate you have contact, and then you can speak into the star or put it to your ear to listen. It will stay activated as long as you hold it in your hand. The signal also acts as a tracking beacon and we can locate you to within a couple of meters. Let's run a communications check. You first, ma'am." After all three women had made the check Aoki looked up from a test set and said, "All of the equipment is operable, sir."
Breg said, "The star is the local deity symbol. These devices are made to look like the religious medallions that most peasant girls wear. Remember, the communicator is only to be used in emergencies, not for routine matters. It would be a violation of the First Directive if anybody saw you using it."
Breg ordered, "Now listen carefully. We have selected three district capitols, one for each of you. The shuttle will drop you off just before dawn. You'll be as close as we can get without being detected, but you will still have about a half-day's walk to the city. Here is a list of the questions you should ask." He gave each woman a piece of paper. "Memorize the questions and leave the paper on the shuttle. It would be hard to explain where you got something written in an unknown language. When you get to the city just walk around, ask the questions, and record the answers. You have enough money to pay for food and lodging in a hostel for five days. After that walk back to the drop-off point and call in. You'll be picked up after dark."
Mahoon complained, "What's with all of this walking? Don't they have horses on Gamma?"
"Actually, they don't. The only draft animal they have is a small ox, which is powerful, but slow. Anyway, no peasant girl would pay for transportation when she could walk. Now, get your stuff together and let's get moving."
Sonji wrapped a leather thong around her waist and tied on her purse, and then she picked up her uniform and put it in the bag. She didn't see Erig whispering into Breg's ear.
Sonji put her shawl over one shoulder and started down the passageway towards the shuttle bay. Erig winked at Mahoon and said, "Thar, don't forget to tell Sonji about the bandits."
"Oh, yeah. A gang of bandits has been reported near where you'll be. They've been robbing travelers and kidnapping women for ransom. They wouldn't do more than gang-rape a peasant girl, though."
Sonji stopped, her eyes wide. She stayed that way until Mahoon grabbed her arm and pulled her away.
Breg said to Erig, "Why did you want to do that?"
"Just a little initiation. Besides, she'll be more alert if she's nervous."
"You're a cruel slut."
Erig kissed him. "Just the way you like me, lover." Then she ran towards the shuttle bay.
* * *
Sonji walked down a dirt road toward the district capitol, Brombeg. It was mid-morning on a bright, pleasant day and the road was empty of other travelers. The weather reminded her of early summer on her home planet, but here some of the fields had crops ready to harvest, while in others the plants were just beginning to sprout. It had been cool earlier and she wore her shawl over her shoulders, but now it was so warm that she took it off and wrapped it around her waist.
Some of the fields she passed were planted in grain, others in root crops or vegetables, and about a third were fallow and covered with grass and clover. Mixed in with the fields were woodlands of various sizes, from less than a hectare to almost a square kilometer. Sonji always grew tense as she neared the woodlands, expecting bandits to appear from behind the trees.
Sonji was just leaving a dense patch of woods when she saw something that made her stop and gasp. Ahead of her the fields on both sides of the road were fallow, and it was about 50 meters to the next patch of woods. On the right, close to the woods and about 20 meters from the road, an ox hitched to an empty wagon grazed on the grass.
Sonji was shocked by what she saw on the other side of the road. A rope was tied chest-high between two trees. Two women were standing with their backs to the rope, facing away from her. And she could see that the women's hands were tied behind their backs!
Sonji's first thought was of bandits, and she ran towards the women without hesitating. Helping them to escape was her only concern. The women heard her running and turned toward her.
Sonji asked the nearest woman, a blonde in a light blue dress, "Where are the bandits?"
"Bandits? What ban... Oh, yeah, the bandits! They're close. Get me loose, quick!"
Sonji examined the woman's bonds. Her right arm had been put though a loose loop in the rope tied between the trees, and a wide leather strap around her wrists held her hands palm-to-palm. The strap was fastened by a brass clamp instead of a buckle.
Sonji asked, "How do I get this clamp open?"
"Look at the clamp end closest to the free end of the strap. See those two tabs coming up from the base? Pins in the clamp handle spring into holes in those tabs. You have to push both pins in."
Sonji located the pins. She looked on the ground and found two sharp twigs, and after some fumbling she was able to push in the pins and lift the clamp handle. As soon as the strap was loose the blonde pulled her arm out of the loop and ran into the woods.
Sonji heard heavy footsteps coming from the direction of the road and turned to see a heavy-set man running towards her. He was shirtless and his left hand was holding up his trousers. He had a wooden cudgel in his right hand and he raised it overhead as he got close to Sonji. She used a move she had mastered in her self-defense classes and kicked him in the groin. He fell to the ground, emitting loud groans.
Sonji turned back to the other woman and said, "Now I'll get you loose."
The woman backed away and exclaimed, "Not me!"
Sonji was surprised. "But you're a prisoner! Why don't you want me to free you?"
"Of course I'm a prisoner, I'm on my way to jail. But I only have to serve 50 days, and I don't want an escape charge added on to that."
"You mean that man isn't a bandit?"
"No, that's the jailor, Hodg. He's a piece of shit. The other jailor over there in the wagon is Madii. They tied us here while they took a fuck break."
Sonji looked over at the wagon. A naked woman stood up in it and dropped a dress over her head. "Why did that blonde run away?"
"Oh, that's Flixee. She was sentenced to three years I.S. for fraud. I guess she figured she didn't have much to lose. My name is Jonii, by the way."
"Involuntary servitude. You're a peasant girl, aren't you?"
Sonji walked over to Hodg, who had recovered enough to get to his knees, and said, "I'm sorry, I seem to have made a mistake...Oooff."
Hodg punched her in the solar plexus. She fell down and he turned her on her stomach, pulled her hands behind her, and strapped them palm-to-palm. Then he pulled a piece of thin rope from his pocket and made a harness by running each end of the rope forward over a shoulder, back through an armpit, and tying the ends together in the middle of Sonji's back. He took out a wide belt, looped it around her arms just above the elbows, and pulled until her elbows almost touched. He used more rope to cinch the center of the belt to the harness. Then he tied her ankles together, ran a rope from them to the cinch on her elbows, pulled until her feet touched her hands, and tied off the rope.
He stood up, kicked Sonji, and shouted, "Madii! Bring the wagon over here."
Hodg walked, bent over, to the trees and untied the rope holding Jonii. When the wagon arrived he helped her get into it and she sat on the floor. Madii tied one end of the rope holding Jonii's arm to a ring at the front of the wagon.
Hodg picked up Sonji and tossed her into the wagon. She landed heavily on her side and screamed in pain. Hodg climbed into the wagon, jammed a wooden bit gag into her mouth, and fastened the straps behind her head.
"That'll keep you quiet. You can think about your future. Let's see, assaulting a judicial officer, ten years. Aiding an escape, three years plus the escapee's time. You've got sixteen years of I.S. ahead of you, slut."
Hodg pinched Sonji's nipples and she squealed from the pain. Madii turned around and shouted, "Hodg, you piece of shit! Get your hands off her and get up here!" Hodg climbed onto the seat and Madii urged the ox forward.
The wagon had traveled no more than half a kilometer when Madii was stopped by a farmer standing besides the road. The farmer's left hand was tangled in Flixee's blonde hair as he held her bent over with her head at waist height. Her wrists were crossed and tied behind her back with thin rope.
He said, "I think I got something you folks lost."
"Yeah, she's ours. Where did you find her?" Madii asked.
"She came to my house and asked me to loan her some money so she could get to town. She said she was a kidnapped heiress and her father would give me a big reward. But I was in my field and saw you tie her to the trees while you ah, rested." He leered at Madii, who blushed. "Blondes are so much smarter than most folks that they sometimes think everyone else is stupid."
"Good job. Getting her back now will save a lot of trouble. You can apply for a reward."
The farmer smiled. "Oh, I've had a reward already. She did everything she could to persuade me not to turn her in."
He handed Flixee up to Hodg, who sat her on the floor next to Jonii and strapped her right ankle to the rope holding Jonii's arm. Hodg got back on the seat and the wagon moved on.
Several hours later the wagon was still moving. Sonji's arms and shoulders hurt so much that she was sobbing into her gag.
Flixee said, "The girl is really hurting. Can't you loosen the ropes a little?"
Hodg replied, "I'm hurting, too. We'll be at the jail in less than an hour. Shut up or I'll gag you."
Flixee muttered to herself, "Hodg, you're a piece of shit."
The wagon entered Brombeg and traveled along the city streets until it stopped in front of a wooden gate in a high stone wall. Hodg got down and pounded on the gate until it was opened from the inside, and Madii drove the wagon into a large courtyard and stopped the ox. She got into the back of the wagon, unstrapped Jonii's wrists, took the loop off of her arm, and refastened her hands behind her back. She unstrapped Flixee's ankle, helped both women out of the wagon, and led them towards the jail.
Sonji screamed as Hodg picked her up by the rope attached to her ankles and elbows and carried her into the guardroom. He dropped her on the floor and said to the duty Civil Guard sergeant, "I want this slut arrested for assaulting a judicial officer and aiding an escape."
The sergeant asked, "Are you the one she assaulted?" He looked at Sonji, who was lying on her stomach. "She really looks dangerous. You were lucky to escape with your life. How long have you had her trussed up like that?"
"Couple of hours."
"I'll bet. Hodg, you are a piece of shit."
Hodg flushed. "I don't care what you say. If a judicial officer makes a complaint the law says you have to make an arrest."
"Yeah, yeah. The complaint book is on that table. Fill in your part and then get out of my sight. I'll get information from the girl once she's able to talk."
He walked over to Sonji, took out a knife, and cut the ropes off of her ankles. He cut the shoulder ropes and the cinch at her elbows and took off the belt. He took out a clamp tool, a U-shaped piece of wire with the ends bent in, and used it to release the clamp on the strap that held her wrists. Sonji's arms were purple and dangled limply at her sides as the sergeant picked her up and put her into a chair.
Sonji moaned as the sergeant took out her gag. She croaked, "Water, please, water."
The sergeant took her limp arms, crossed her wrists in front of her, and loosely fastened them with the strap. He got a jug of water and a pottery mug from his desk, poured water into the mug, and held it to Sonji's lips. She drank some and said, "Oh, thank you. My mouth was so dry."
"I need some information from you and then I'll put you in a detention cell and you can rest. First, what's your name?"
"How do you spell that?"
Sonji realized that she didn't even know the alphabet of the local language. On Gamma she was completely illiterate. She whispered, "I don't know."
The sergeant wrote ZONGEE on the form. "How old are you?" Sonji paused to calculate the difference between a Gamma year and her home planet's year. The sergeant looked at her innocent face and wrote down '18'. He put down BROMBEG as the place of residence.
The sergeant picked up Sonji and carried her to a door in the back of the room. He kicked on the door and a sturdy woman opened it. He said, "Pre-trial detention." and followed the woman into the cellblock.
The woman opened an iron-bound wooden door with a key from the ring attached to her belt. The sergeant carried Sonji into the cell and put her down on a wooden bench attached to the back wall. There was an iron collar connected to a ring in the wall over the bench by almost three meters of heavy chain. The woman closed the collar around Sonji's neck and fastened it with a large padlock, and the sergeant removed the strap from Sonji's wrists.
The sergeant ordered, "She's had some rough treatment. The doctor should look at her."
"The doctor is here now; I'll bring her over. I can search the girl at the same time. What happened to her?"
"Hodg brought her in."
"Hodg is a piece of shit."
By the time the doctor arrived Sonji was in a lot of pain from the returning circulation. The doctor had her drink a cup of bitter liquid and she was soon asleep.
Sonji woke up to find the cell illuminated by dim light from a small barred window high in the wall over the bench. She was lying on her back, wearing her dress and covered by her shawl. Her arms hurt and her bruises ached, especially the place on her thigh where Hodg had kicked her.
She struggled to a sitting position on the bench and adjusted the collar so the chain dangled in front. She stood up and went to a stinking wooden bucket, squatted over it, and relieved herself. She found a pottery jug and drank some water. She went back to the bench, stretched out on her back, and fell asleep.
The sound of the cell door opening woke up Sonji and she looked over to see a woman slide a wooden bowl across the floor and close the door. Sonji got the bowl and sat on the bench; the bowl was filled with porridge and there was a wooden spoon. Sonji hadn't had anything to eat since she left the shuttle and she was very hungry. The porridge was bland but filling, and Sonji scraped the bowl clean before she put it back on the floor.
She heard a shout from outside and found that if she stood on tiptoe on the bench she could just see out of the window. A courtyard was bright with morning sun and about twenty uniformed men were lined up near a gate in the wall. Sonji recognized the man standing in front of the rank as the guardsman who had been kind to her yesterday. He shouted something and the rank broke up. Sonji guessed that this was the morning muster. The weight of the chain was pressing the collar painfully into the back of Sonji's neck, so she lay back down on the bench.
She inventoried her possessions. Her money and sandals were missing, but she had her dress and shawl. She raised a hand to her chest but she couldn't feel her communicator. She used both hands to feel her neck and back but soon there was no doubt. Her communicator was missing.
Sonji considered her situation. She was chained to the wall of a jail cell. No one on the ship knew what had happened to her, and even if they did know they couldn't help her if it violated the First Directive. She was going to be treated as if she were an actual peasant girl. Sonji felt panic and then fear. Sixteen years in prison! She would be almost forty when she finished her sentence. She said to herself, "I'm a Star Fleet officer. I must be brave!", but the thought of spending her youth in servitude on a backwater planet was too awful. She started to cry.
Sonji cried for a long time and then fell into a fitful, broken sleep. Once again the sound of the cell door opening woke her up. A woman put a wooden bowl and a small loaf of bread on the floor and relocked the door. Sonji was too depressed to be hungry, but she made herself get the food. The bowl contained warm vegetable soup and the bread smelled fresh. She forced herself to eat and was surprised by how good the food tasted. She ate it all and then drank some water and squatted over the bucket.
The chain was so heavy that she was comfortable only when she was laying down, so she got back on the bench. She tried to empty her mind and pass the time with sleep, but before long some memory would come to her. Her family back on her home planet. Her friends from the university. Even the cramped compartment on the Interloper that she shared with Mahoon. She thought of her bleak future and how long it would be before she saw a familiar scene or a friendly face. Then the tears would start.
The sun was sending a yellow beam of light through the cell window when another meal arrived. This time it was a bowl of stew and more bread. Once again Sonji forced herself to eat, drink some water, and use the bucket.
The sun was down and the cell was getting dark when the cell door opened one more time. A woman came in and picked up the empty bowls and put them into a basket on a cart outside the cell, and exchanged the water jug for a full one she got from a lower shelf on the cart. The cart rolled out of sight and another one took its place. This one carried a stinking barrel. Another woman came in, took the latrine bucket, and emptied it into the barrel. She poured some water into the bucket and brought it back into the cell. Sonji looked at the woman. It was Jonii! Jonii smiled at her but didn't say anything. Finally, a woman with keys at her belt looked into the cell and made a mark on a tablet. The door was locked and night left the cell in blackness.
The next three days were the same. Sonji had gotten better at blanking her mind and she didn't cry much. Her arms had stopped hurting and her bruises were changing to vivid colors. She spent as much time as possible on the bench with her eyes closed.
Her sixth day in jail started the same way, but about an hour after the morning meal a woman came into the cell. She looked to be about forty, and she was smartly dressed in a gray jacket and a pleated gray skirt. She carried a rectangular case made of polished wood and a folding camp stool. She waited until the cell door was closed and then she unfolded the camp stool and sat on it. She put the case on her lap, opened the top, and took out several sheets of paper.
She said, "My name is Lornee. I am an advocate, and I have been appointed by the court to be your representative." She raised an eyebrow. "Unless you want to hire someone else?"
Sonji sat up. This woman reminded her of Captain Goda. "No, ma'am. I don't have anyone else."
Lornee looked at a printed form. "Your name is Zongee?"
"Sonji. Please, ma'am, will I have to go to prison for sixteen years?"
Lornee looked surprised. "Why do you say that?"
"That's what Hodg told me."
"Hodg is a piece of shit. First of all, the aiding an escape charge has been dropped. Flixee was never reported as missing, so there wasn't any escape to aid. Second, the maximum sentence for assaulting a judicial officer is ten years, but you wouldn't get that much time unless you had a long history of violence. On the other hand, the court considers any attack on its officers as an attack on the court, so it tends to deal harshly with this kind of offense. I've read Hodg's statement, and he says you attacked him from behind with a club, without any provocation. Madii backs him up."
"But that's not true!"
"Knowing Hodg, I don't doubt it. You tell me what really happened."
Sonji related her story. When she finished Lornee said, "I talked with Jonii and she agrees with what you said, although we both wonder how anybody could seriously believe there were bandits in the area, or that they would leave woman captives unguarded."
Lornee sighed. "I hate to tell you this, but I don't think you have a chance of being acquitted. It comes down to your word against Hodg's and Madii's. Jonii and Flixee are both convicts and their testimony wouldn't have much weight. Your best chance for a light sentence is to plead guilty. If you express remorse, and the judges take into account your age and background, you won't get more than a few years I.S."
Lornee thought, 'If you look like that in court, with that innocent face, that woebegone expression, and those tear-stained eyes, the judges will have to have hearts like kidney stones to give you any more than that'.
"You know best, ma'am. I'll do as you say."
"Your court appearance is scheduled for the first thing this afternoon, and I'll meet you there. Don't worry, everything will work out." She put the papers back in her case, stood up and folded her camp stool, and knocked on the cell door. The door opened and she stepped out of the cell. She looked back at Sonji and smiled. The door closed.
Sonji sat on the bench, with tears of relief running down her face. For the first time in days she felt some hope. She thought, 'Maybe I won't have to spend all of the best years of my life on this planet!'
Sonji ate her noon meal and had just finished using the bucket when the cell door opened and the woman with the keys came in, followed by a uniformed guardsman carrying a handful of leather straps.
The woman dropped Sonji's sandals on the floor and said, "Put them on."
When Sonji had done this the guardsman took a wide leather strap and clamped an end to each of her ankles. She spread her feet and found the maximum allowed by the strap was about 30 centimeters. She could walk, but she couldn't run. The woman took a key from her belt, unlocked the padlock, and removed the collar that had been around Sonji's neck for almost six days. Sonji rubbed her neck, happy to be free of the weight.
The guardsman commanded, "Stand up and turn around."
Sonji quickly did so, and the guardsman put a thick belt around her waist and buckled it in the back. There were straps riveted to the belt, and he used them to fasten Sonji's wrists just in front of her hips. Sonji found that she could just make her fingertips touch.
The woman folded Sonji's shawl and tucked it under Sonji's left arm, and then put the communicator's thong around her neck and put the medallion inside her dress. She said, "Your money will be held by the court."
The guardsman took Sonji by the arm and led her out of the cell and down a corridor to another door. He knocked and a peephole opened and an eye peered out; then the door was unlocked and opened. They went though it and down another corridor and through an unlocked door into the courtroom.
Sonji looked around. To her left was a large desk with three chairs behind it. To her right were maybe twenty benches, in two rows with an aisle between them. The only other people in the room were three old men sitting on the bench farthest from the desk, against the back wall. Sonji panicked when she didn't see Lornee, but just then a door in the back wall opened and Lornee walked down the aisle and over to her.
Lornee said, "We'll start soon. Let's go sit down." She led them to a bench in the front row and sat down. Sonji sat next to her and the guardsman sat just behind Sonji.
"Let me do all of the talking. Don't say anything unless I give your arm a squeeze. When you are asked if you want to say anything before sentencing tell them how sorry you are. Cry if you can."
A clerk came into the room from a door behind the desk and said, "All rise. Criminal court for Brombeg district is now in session."
Three judges in gray jackets and gray trousers with a red stripe along the outside seam came into the room and sat in the chairs behind the desk. The one in the middle looked at some papers and said, "Case number 3141. Assault on a judicial officer alleged against Zongee. Is the allegent present?"
Lornee took Sonji's arm and led her in front of the desk. "Yes, Excellency, this is Zongee. I am Lornee, her advocate."
"How does the allegent answer this charge?"
"Guilty, Excellency. We request immediate sentencing."
"Granted. The convict may make a mitigation statement before sentencing."
Lornee squeezed Sonji's arm. Sonji started to cry and wailed, "I'm so sorry! It was a terrible mistake! I didn't mean to hurt anybody." She was now sobbing so hard that she couldn't speak. Lornee put her arms around Sonji and patted her back.
The judge announced, "We will recess for a judges' consultation."
Lornee led Sonji over to the bench and they sat down. She held Sonji until the crying stopped and then got a cloth from her case and dried Sonji's tears. She whispered in Sonji's ear, "Very convincing!"
Sonji looked puzzled and said, "What?" Before Lornee could say anything else the judges returned and they moved in front of the desk.
The judge said, "Assaulting a judicial officer is a very serious offense. It is a crime of violence, directed not only against an individual but against justice itself. Even allowing for the convict's youth and inexperience we are obligated to deal with her harshly. Zongee, you are sentenced to one year of involuntary servitude. You are placed in the custody of the Warden of Prison Farm Number Four. Court is adjourned."
Sonji had experienced increasing terror as the judge spoke. When she realized that she had been sentenced to only one year I.S. she swooned and Lornee held her up until she recovered.
Two women in tan dresses moved up to them and one said to Lornee, "I'm a keeper from PF 4. I now take custody of the slave Zongee."
Lornee moved in front of Sonji, held her head with both hands, and kissed her on the lips. Lornee had tears in her eyes as she said, "Good-bye, Zongee. I'll never forget you."
The keepers led Sonji away to begin her new life as a slave.
End of Part One
Copyright© 2001, 2002
by Zack. All rights reserved.
I welcome your comments. Email me at [email protected]
story continues in Field Survey