- Part One
Traditional Ceremony by Zack
The Amalgamation Survey Ship Interloper moved in a synchronous orbit above Gamma, the third planet of star P314159264.
Lieutenant Pami Erig, the bravest field surveyor in the Star Fleet Survey Service, was running for her life. She was also cursing her bad luck. She had been waiting for night in her carefully concealed camp when a call of nature made her move into some nearby bushes. Too late, she saw a group of at least thirty savages moving quietly down a dry stream bed less than 50 meters from where she was squatting. Even then she would have probably escaped detection, but one of the warriors, evidently answering his own call, moved directly toward her. She froze, hoping that he wouldn't see her, but the bush she was crouching behind was thin and had small, sparse leaves. She muttered to herself, "I knew I should have chosen the jungle planet."
Erig was close to the Galactic norm in appearance, so she hadn't needed much of a disguise to fit in on this world. Her dark brown hair had been lightened, and her skin had been dyed to simulate exposure to the sun, but her face and body were unchanged. Her scars and ropy muscles didn't look out of place in a society of nomads with stone age technology. Since this was a training exercise, rather than a field survey, she hadn't attempted to infiltrate the local tribe, just observe it from a distance. Now, apparently, the tribe was going to observe her.
The savage stopped and sniffed the breeze, blowing from Erig to him. He detected the smell of human ordure and moved closer, sniffing the air and peering over the scattered bushes with his beady brown eyes. He spotted Erig, let out a whoop of triumph, and charged. She stood and assumed her fighting stance. Her attacker wasn't subtle; he ran toward her in a direct attack, whooping loudly. He was armed with a war club; a fist-sized round stone bound to the end of a wooden handle by leather thongs. Erig easily eluded his careless charge and wide swing and delivered a combination of blows with fists and feet that killed the overconfident attacker. But now the other savages had seen her, and they launched a shower of stone-tipped arrows.
'This primitive technology is no match for Amalgamation science', she thought, 'so why am I the one who has to flee?' She picked up the club dropped by her now-defunct attacker. As she turned away from the charging savages Erig felt a stab of pain. An arrow had hit her right calf and opened a deep cut that was bleeding profusely. The point had struck a glancing blow; three centimeters to the left and it would have embedded itself in the muscle.
No time to tend to the wound, and no time to pick up any of her equipment; she ran through the dry, yellow grass and the scattered bushes clad only in moccasins, a headband, and a leather bandeau around her high, firm breasts. The savages chased her, whooping and yelling as they ran.
Erig was a trained runner in good condition. She moved into her smooth, economical stride, confident that she could leave the muscular but rather squat and bandy-legged savages in her dust. They may have been savages, but she quickly learned they were experienced at chasing down prey. Two of the warriors sprinted away from the pack, and Erig was forced to speed up to keep ahead of them. They couldn't catch her before they were forced to collapse, panting for breath, but they accomplished their goal, and some of her energy reserves had been expended. Two more savages repeated the exercise, but they didn't get nearly as close as the first two, and the savages didn't try the trick again. Erig settled back into her preferred pace and was gratified when her pursuers couldn't keep up.
A few kilometers later Erig was seriously concerned about her leg wound, which was still bleeding and becoming more painful with every stride. Blood was streaming down her calf and her moccasin was filled with so much blood she could hear it squish with every step. Her pace had slowed, and a quick glance over her shoulder showed that the faster savages were catching up, and worse, only a few of the pack had dropped out of the chase. If she didn't stop the bleeding she would weaken and they would run her down. Somehow, she had to shake them off, but she knew she had no chance of hiding on this dry plateau with its thin vegetation. "I know there's a river close by," she muttered, "if I can reach it I know I can dodge these savages. There's thick vegetation along the riverbank."
Erig leaped over a small gully and winced as her injured leg took the strain of the landing. She spotted a faint trail in the sandy soil, made by animals going to the water, and turned to follow it. She increased her speed when she could see the ground drop away into the steep-sided valley eroded by the river. All she had to do now was descend the bluff without breaking or spraining anything and she would have an excellent chance of escaping her pursuers.
She reached the edge of the escarpment and stopped. A groan of dismay forced itself from her panting lungs. She could see the river below, and the trees and brush that lined its banks. But she could also see a native encampment. What looked like the whole tribe was spread for several kilometers up and down the river, with hundreds of lodges visible on the dry floodplain next to the stream. And coming towards her from the camp was another band of savages, and they were less than twenty meters away.
Trapped! Erig had only moments to choose a strategy. Running was a poor choice. The new band of savages weren't tired and they could easily catch her, and when they did she would be too exhausted to fight. She looked for a place to make a stand and spotted a group of large yellow sandstone boulders about fifty meters to her right. She jogged to them and put her back against the largest. It wasn't much of a fortification, but it did help cover her back. The running savages turned towards her and their whooping increased in volume. Soon they had formed a semicircle facing her, waving their weapons and screaming taunts. Several raised their bows, but the leader gave a sharp command and no arrows were released. They wanted to take her alive; torture was their national sport.
Three of the savages carelessly moved towards her like they expected her to surrender. She waited until they were close and then launched her own attack. She used her club to parry the blows aimed at her and delivered a combination of swings with the club and a flurry of kicks that left all three sprawled motionless on the ground. The others looked on with shocked surprise and then they all charged at once. She began a desperate ballet of violence as she used her club, hands, and feet to rain killing blows on her attackers. More bodies were scattered on the ground; the very numbers of the savages hampered their movements.
The leader of the war party shouted until all of the surviving savages backed off. Then he organized a more coordinated assault. Erig continued to resist and more savages went down, but one managed to grab her ankle and trip her. Before she could get off the ground the savages piled on and the sheer weight of their bodies pinned her, face down in the dirt.
Her arms were pulled together behind her back and a leather thong was wrapped around her wrists and tightly knotted to hold her hands crushed together palm-to-palm. Other savages tied her ankles, and more thongs were used to join her elbows. The pain was severe, but Erig stifled any cry; the savages respected only bravery, and any show of weakness would eliminate her already slim chance of escaping death by torture.
Her wrists and ankles were tied together in a hogtie. The pain caused by the tight bondage got much worse when a pole was placed under the connecting thong and two of the savages lifted it to their shoulders. She was a trophy, carried along as the surviving savages headed for the camp, her body swinging and twisting below the pole.
Once Erig was bound none of the savages had hit or kicked her in spite of the havoc she had inflicted on their comrades. It wasn't kindness; they wanted to save her for the torture. There weren't any sexual assaults either; this tribe had a taboo that prohibited sex with any woman that hadn't been purified in a traditional ceremony. Her bandeau was removed, but only so it could be used as a bandage to stop the bleeding from the cut on her leg. If she bled to death she would cheat the savages of the entertainment that ritual torture provided.
A savage reached out and twisted Erig's right breast. The unexpected pain startled her, and she grunted, more from surprise than the pain itself. The savages smiled and talked, praising the clever ploy that forced out the condemnatory cry. Erig cursed to herself, "Damn! So much for being the brave, silent type. Now I'm cooked, most likely literally."
Runners had been sent ahead and by the time Erig reached the camp most of the tribe had assembled around a large open space near the river. There were hundreds of them, the men dressed in loincloths and leather vests that exposed the coarse brown hair that covered their chests. Their faces were covered by long wooly beards in many shades of brown. The women were more modest. They all wore long shifts of leather, fur, or crudely-woven fabric that covered them from neck to mid-calf. The crowd was noisy, talking excitedly and eager for the fun to begin.
Three lodge poles had been set up as a tripod and Erig was carried to it. The men carrying her dropped her onto the sandy dirt and the thong connecting her wrists to her ankles was cut. She barely had time for a sigh of relief before a long rope was tied to the thongs binding her elbows, thrown over the top of the tripod, and pulled until she was standing on her toes. Her ankles were untied and then retied to stakes so her legs were spread far apart and her feet were off the ground. Her weight was now supported by the thongs cutting into her arms and her shoulder joints were strained and wracked, but pride made Erig grit her teeth and stoically endure the pain.
A hush descended on the crowd of celebrating savages when two women carrying bundles of firewood moved close to the tripod. They were dressed in blood-stained leather dresses and their front teeth had been filed to points. Erig felt true fear when she recognized them as the pain-bringers. They had been trained since childhood in the art of extracting the maximum amount of pain for the maximum amount of time, and they could keep the object of their skill screaming for days.
The pain-bringers used some of the wood to prepare a small fire on the ground directly below Erig's crotch. She noted with dismay that it was small; death would not come quickly. One of the pain-bringers brought a blazing stick from a nearby campfire, and when she thrust it into the waiting wood Erig used her tongue to dislodge a small capsule from the roof of her mouth and guide it between her teeth. The capsule would bring this to an end; she closed her eyes and bit down hard.
When she opened her eyes the VR goggles had become transparent. The crowd of savages had disappeared and she could see the bare bulkheads of the deactivated holodeck on the Interloper. The two pain-bringers were revealed as Sonji Regan and Swamka Mahoon, her friends and fellow field surveyors, who were dressed in black exercise leotards instead of blood-stained leather.
Like Erig, they too had the famous 'field surveyor' look; athletic bodies and an aura of competence that was displayed with every movement. They did differ a bit in physical appearance; Mahoon had light brown hair and pale skin, while Sonji's hair was very black and her skin was tan. They differed the most in their facial expressions. Erig's face had a hard, cruel look, a product of her years of experience, while Sonji's face was still innocent and unmarked. Mahoon was somewhere between these extremes.
Sonji said, "That was a very impressive performance, Pami. You killed or crippled a total of thirteen savages; that's four more than Swa's total and nearly twice as many as I did."
"I accept your congratulations. Now how about untying me? This hurts."
Mahoon said, "I don't know; you look very attractive like that, and you must like it. You could have stopped the action back when you first went down."
"You don't get the full benefit of the training if you stop it as soon as you encounter a difficulty. And if you screw up you deserve to suffer."
Mahoon sighed. "You're a hard woman, Pami. But I like that." She moved close and caressed Erig's exposed pubes.
Sonji interrupted, "Enough, you two! Wait until you're in your own compartment." She cut the bindings on Erig's ankles and had the winch pay out cable until Erig's feet were flat on the deck. Mahoon kissed Erig, and then freed her wrists and elbows.
Mahoon looked at all the wreckage and shook her head. "This is really going to piss off the maintenance officer. He doesn't like it when we bust up so many of his robots."
"I don't care what he says, it was a good workout." Erig knew that he'd be pissed off, but so what? She was the one who put her life on the line on hostile planets, and she wanted realistic training. She peeled off the transparent tape that had kept her wrists and arms from being cut by the thongs. "Which of you sadists programmed the robots so I would be carried suspended in that hogtie?"
Sonji gave her an innocent look, but Mahoon's face carried a smirk that proclaimed her guilt. Erig produced a scowl, "I'll get my revenge, just you wait." She removed the wound-simulator from her calf and the pain stopped.
Sonji said, "Let's get cleaned up and go to the wardroom. I have something I want to tell you."
* * *
The three field surveyors, dressed in the blue coveralls that were the normal working uniform for shipboard personnel, entered the wardroom. Mahoon felt, as always, that the surroundings could have been a lot more pleasant. The wardroom bulkheads were painted the same drab gray that was used on the rest of the interior, and the only attempt at decoration was a cheap plastic plaque with the ship's crest (a stylized eyeball) and motto ('You Can't Hide'). There wasn't even a dropped ceiling, so the overhead was visible, complete with the ubiquitous pipes and cables. She had been assigned to ships where a lot of effort and money had been expended on the wardroom and the mess decks to produce a resort-like ambience. Not on this ship; it was strictly business.
The wardroom was occupied by the supply officer, Lieutenant Miki Amano. She was seated at a mess table and using her data terminal to work on some accounts, a scowl of concentration distorting her pretty face. A plate pushed to one side held the remains of a meal.
Miki looked away from her terminal when she heard the other women enter. "Hi. If you want to use the wardroom for a meeting I can go someplace else."
Sonji replied, "No, please stay. I have an announcement I'd like you to hear too. But I don't want to disturb you if you're busy."
Sonji wanted to make Miki feel she was part of the group. She had only recently reported aboard the Interloper, a transfer at short notice after her predecessor had been abruptly removed when an audit determined that some funds had vanished from the maintenance account. The records were a mess, and Miki had been left to decipher them on her own. This hadn't left her with much free time to get acquainted with her shipmates.
Miki shut down her terminal. "I've done enough with these records for now, and I'll use any excuse to postpone an inventory of the storeroom. Please join me."
The three field surveyors sat down around the table with Miki. Erig said, "So tell us, Sonji. What's your news?"
"Dag and I are going to be married."
Mahoon exclaimed, "Congratulations! I'm so happy for you." Then she frowned. "But does this mean you're going to leave the Survey Service?"
"No, I'm not going to that. I have a lot of leave accumulated and I'll spend it with Dag, but I'll be back. Now that Gamma is in the Amalgamation ships will be here on a regular schedule, so it's not like I'd be stranded."
Miki asked, "I don't think I've met Dag. Is he assigned to this ship?"
Erig replied, "No, Dag is a native of Gamma. Sonji met him when she was doing a field survey before Gamma was invited to join the Amalgamation."
Sonji smiled. "It was a little more intense than that. I was his slave for a year."
Miki was shocked. "His slave? How could that be? A planet that allows slavery can't join the Amalgamation."
"I was convicted of a crime, and the punishment was a year of involuntary servitude. Dag's father bought me and gave me to Dag." Sonji smiled as memories flooded back. She remembered their last night together, and Dag's touch. She could feel herself becoming aroused. Then she fainted. Erig kept her from falling out of her chair.
Erig and Mahoon were familiar with this phenomenon and they had no trouble reviving Sonji. Not for the first time Erig remarked, "Isn't that neuro-psychological conditioning a major nuisance if it makes you faint every time you remember a passionate interlude?"
Sonji was embarrassed. "Yes, I have to be careful. But Dag and I have worked out a way to get around it when we have sex, and it works so well that I don't want to risk spoiling anything by getting the conditioning reversed. I've fallen away from my old church, so there's no longer a religious reason for it."
Miki's expression showed her bewilderment at finding herself among these strange creatures. Then she forced a smile. "If you're going to marry him it's obvious that Dag didn't mistreat you. When is the wedding going to take place?"
"In a few days; a lot depends on when everybody can get together. Dag and I would have liked a quiet, private wedding, but his father is insisting that we go through the traditional ceremony, including all of the prenuptial activities."
"Is Dag's father still President of the National Council?" Mahoon asked.
"Yes. The wedding is going to have a lot of political overtones. Because Dag's the son of the President and I'm a Star Fleet officer many people even consider it to be sort of a symbolic uniting of Gamma and the Amalgamation. There is still a surprising amount of local opposition to Gamma's membership in the Amalgamation, and Dag's father thinks the wedding may help overcome that. Captain Goda agrees, and she's going to encourage Interloper crew members to attend the wedding."
Erig said, "I wish you the best, and I certainly will be there."
"Actually, I was hoping that you would take a more active role. I've been told that the bride needs a large entourage, and I would like you three to be my attendants."
Erig and Mahoon quickly agreed, but Miki hesitated. "I appreciate the invitation, but I really couldn't. You need close friends around you, and we've just recently met."
"You are a friend, Miki. And even more, you're part of the Survey Service, so you're like family. Please say you'll be part of the wedding."
"Well, if you're sure, I'd be happy to be an attendant."
"That's wonderful! I know we'll all have a good time. I understand there's a lot of partying before and during a Gamma wedding, and some of the tastiest beverages in the galaxy are brewed and distilled here. And the best part is that this won't count as leave time, since we're officially 'improving galactic relationships'."
Mahoon said, "Drinking on government time, that sounds good to me! But on a practical note, where will we stay, and what do we wear?"
"Dag's father has invited us to stay at his house in Brombeg. Kealii, Dag's sister, has offered to be my guide though the rather complicated schedule of events, and she'll also be one of my attendants. She provided some sketches of appropriate clothing and we can have the ship's costume shop make what we need. Most of the clothing isn't too different from the peasant dresses we wore for the field survey, except that the fabric is better and we'll have underwear."
"Is there anything we can do to help here on the ship?
"No, I believe I've taken care of everything here. Oh, you could check your data file to be sure your dress measurements are correct, and pick the colors you want for your casual clothes. The local cloth is dyed with vegetable dyestuffs, so only pastels are available."
Erig said, "I can do that. When are we landing on the planet?"
"As soon as we can get ready. I'd like to leave tomorrow if that's all right with you."
"I've got some reports to finish, so I'd better get to them."
Sonji asked Miki, "Can you speak the Gamma language yet? If not, don't forget to go to the biocomputer lab and have them program you with the language transplant."
Miki nodded. "I'll be sure to do that. Well, much as I hate it, I'd better get the inventory started. I'm short a chief storekeeper, so I have to do a lot of the work myself. Luckily, the storeroom isn't as messy as the records are."
Erig and Miki left the wardroom. Sonji also started to leave, but Mahoon stopped her. "I'm glad you asked us to be part of the wedding, Sonji. Pami really needs something to distract her. Will Dag have some men as his attendants?
"Yes, he'll have at least as many men with him as I have women with me."
Mahoon nodded. "That's what I thought. I've been to other weddings where there was quite a bit of interaction, and I hope you can find some man who'll take up with Pami. And one for me too, of course."
Sonji was surprised. "I thought you and Pami were a couple."
"Well, we are, but only because there isn't anybody male in the picture. Pami took it very badly when she broke up with Thar, and she turned to me for consolation. I like her and we have fun in bed, but it's not my first choice. It's not really hers, either."
"I heard that she and Thar broke up, but I was away from the ship when it happened and I never got the complete story. Did he dump her?"
"Sort of. He was fooling around with Zoe and Pami caught them. But this was just the final blow. There had been a lot of strain for some time. The real problem was that Thar wanted a submissive woman and that's not our Pami. I think he was actually afraid of her."
Sonji nodded. "I can understand that. But why did Pami get so upset over the breakup?"
"She really loved Thar, and his rejection of her was what hurt. Pami doesn't have lot of men competing for her attention, and I think this really bothers her."
"I'll talk to Dag and ask him to be sure to include someone for her among the unattached men in his group. But it isn't easy to find somebody who's a match for Pami."
* * *
The next afternoon the shuttle from the Interloper landed on a dusty field just outside the city of Brombeg. A crowd of local residents had gathered to watch as the shuttle glided down on its extended wings, and then shifted to thrusters for the final fifty meters of descent. Flying machines were something new and fascinating to people living in a pre-industrial society.
Like the rest of the galaxy, Gamma had lost its technology in the Great Crash, when every computer in the known universe had locked up at the same time because of a date/time bug in the operating system. Unlike almost all of the other planets, which had descended into savagery, Gamma had managed somehow to maintain its social order. Thus, the democratic system of government was far in advance of what was usually found at this level of technology, and this made Gamma eligible to join the Amalgamation in spite of its lack of industrialization.
The semi-mythical Elder Ones had seeded every inhabitable planet in the galaxy (and maybe in the universe) with the same life-forms, but over the millennia evolution had caused them to diverge to fit their particular environment. Gamma had only one small, temperate continent, and the appearance of the people in the crowd reflected this; the range of skin colors varied only from pale to tan, and most of the hair color was some shade of brown, from sandy to black, with a few blondes mixed in.
The four Survey Service officers disembarked from the shuttle. It was normally painted non-reflective black, but for this semi-ceremonial occasion it had been oversprayed with white. The paint didn't completely cover the original finish, so the net result was a sort of dingy gray. Erig said, "It feels strange to be getting off a shuttle in daylight, and next to a city. I'm used to landing in the dark and way out in the bushes."
Mahoon agreed. "Yeah, and it's also strange not to be in some disguise. I don't know how to react when I'm not wearing some weird outfit. But this isn't too bad." She twirled to display her simple, pale pink dress. It had a sleeveless bodice and a full, ankle-length skirt.
"I know what you mean. Of course, we are wearing the same kind of clothes the locals are wearing, so it could be considered a disguise. But I am glad that the local style isn't too different from what you'd see anywhere in the Amalgamation."
A young woman waved and hurried over to them. She had long, honey-blonde hair and her trim figure was clothed in a pale blue dress. She hugged Sonji and introduced herself. "Hello, everybody. I'm Kealii, Dag's sister. Welcome to Brombeg."
Sonji returned the hug. "Hello again, Kealii. I'd like you to meet my friends; Pami Erig, Swamka Mahoon, and Miki Amano."
Kealii hugged each in turn. "I'm happy to meet you." She looked at the shuttle with awe. "Advanced technology such as this is so impressive."
Erig snorted, "It's not that advanced. Except for the fusion power source the design hasn't changed much in hundreds of years."
Mahoon added, "Yeah, the physicists keep telling us that anti-gravity devices are going to appear any day now, but somehow that day never comes."
Kealii said, "Well, I'm impressed. Do you have much baggage? I can arrange for a cart if you need one."
Sonji lifted her satchel, "No, we're traveling light. You'll have to guide us to your house, though. I didn't see much of the city the other times I was here. In fact, the first time I was taken to your house I was inside a barrel."
Miki and Kealii laughed at the joke, but the field surveyors knew that it was the literal truth.
The five women walked through the city streets. Kealii pointed out some of the points of interest, such as there were. Brombeg architecture wasn't distinguished; almost all of the houses were just two-story, whitewashed boxes built close to the street. The only structures that even tried to make some gesture towards distinction were a few municipal buildings near the center of town.
Miki was fascinated. It was all so different from Taeoku, her home world. That was a totally urbanized planet, covered with a vast grid of buildings hundreds of meters high, and with moving pedestrian transport belts that were thronged day and night. This city was so different. Its narrow streets, paved with stone blocks, were almost empty except for a few pedestrians and the occasional oxcart. She marvelled at the clean, clear air and the intense blue of the sky. She liked the sparse, simple layout of the city, especially the small, beautifying details, like the elaborately carved doors, all painted in bright colors, that made a pleasing contrast to the stark whitewashed stucco of the walls.
Miki paused to admire a fountain standing in the center of a intersection of three streets. "Visiting places like this is why I joined Star Fleet," she muttered under her breath, "not spending my days in a metal box on the ship." She hurried to catch up with her friends.
All of the Survey Service officers were dressed like Kealii and the other young women they passed on the street, in sandals and the ankle-length, pastel-colored dresses that were now the local fashion. It would have been psychologically difficult for them to wear anything else. Blending into their surroundings was an imperative deeply engrained in all field surveyors from their first day of training. They were happy to be mostly ignored by the local residents, except for the admiring looks they drew from young men. A trio of men actually followed them for a few steps, shouting compliments. Erig turned and glared at them until they decided the risk outweighed any possible reward of pressing their advances.
Finally they stopped in front of a large house, which like the other houses in Brombeg presented a blank face to the outside world. Kealii knocked on the bright blue, elaborately carved wooden door, and after a short wait it was opened by an old man. "Hello, Ludg. Is Dag at home?"
Ludg stepped back so the women could enter. "No, he's with your father. He won't return until just before the party starts tonight."
Sonji asked Kealii, "What party is that? I didn't realize the wedding festivities started so soon."
"This isn't actually part the wedding ceremony. It's nominally an introductory party, with you and Dag as the guests of honor. My father has invited a few hundred of his closest friends, so it will inevitably be a political meeting too. That's one of the things a politician's daughter gets used to, and you shouldn't let it bother you either. You can just ignore the political talk."
"Is the party going to be held here? This is a big house, but that many people would fill it up."
"No, my father has arranged to use a large meeting room in the courthouse. Do you know where it is? It's not far from here."
"Yes, I've been to the courthouse." Sonji remembered how frightened she had been at her trial. Her first-ever field survey took place on Gamma, and it had gone terribly wrong. She had accidentally assaulted a court official, and she had been afraid of receiving the maximum sentence, ten years of involuntary servitude.
Kealii led the way into a lounge, a large room that opened off of the courtyard in the center of the house. It was colorfully decorated with bright wall hangings and matching carpets. It was furnished with comfortable upholstered chairs arranged around a low table, and she invited her guests to be seated.
Sonji remarked, "This room is a lot different from when I was here before. Is this your doing, Kealii?"
"Yes, I'm staying here while I'm going to the university, and I felt the house could use some new furnishings. The rest of the family is living in the Presidential Palace in Tarnbeg, of course." She left the room and returned with a tray holding two earthenware pitchers and some cups. "The blue pitcher contains wine and the yellow pitcher has beer. Please serve yourselves."
When everyone had refreshments she said, "I suppose you all know that my father wants the wedding to use the traditional ceremony? There are many people who worry that membership in the Amalgamation will cause Gamma to lose its own culture, and he wants to demonstrate that this is not inevitable."
She turned to Sonji. "I know that this is presumptuous of him, since it is your wedding, but he thinks it's important."
Sonji wasn't so naive that she didn't know that marrying Dag would also mean becoming involved in his father's political activities. She reassured Kealii. "I can understand his concern, and I suppose I don't really mind because I too want Gamma's membership in the Amalgamation to go smoothly. But what exactly is involved in the traditional ceremony?"
"It's based on what was a common practice in olden times. Back then when a young man saw a woman he liked he and his friends would kidnap her. He then had a few days to convince her to accept him, and to demonstrate this acceptance by having sex with him."
Erig stated, "That sounds like a license to rape." Erig didn't like rape, and she had been known to treat rapists harshly.
"Oh no, that's never been allowed even in the earliest times, and to be sure that it didn't happen girlfriends of the prospective bride were kidnapped with her so they could later confirm that no coercion was used. Of course, the groom's friends often attempted to persuade them also, and sometimes this meant there would be more than one wedding. And usually before a man went to all this trouble he had some indication that the prospective bride would welcome his attentions."
Mahoon commented, "I've heard of stranger customs; in fact, variations of this kind of marriage-by-capture are fairly common on many planets."
Kealii assured everyone, "You do understand that it has been a great many years since the kidnapping was real? Now it's all symbolic and everything is done by prearrangement. The bride is only held 'captive' for a short time."
Sonji said, "It does sound different from what I'm used to, but I haven't any objection." She addressed her friends, "How about you? Do you still want to be my attendants?"
Miki giggled, "Oh, I want to. I've never been kidnapped before. This will be an exciting new experience for me."
Erig and Mahoon had been kidnapped before, but they also nodded their agreement. Sonji admonished them, "You will remember that you're only supposed to put up a token resistance?"
Erig answered, "Yeah, I'll try not to kill anybody." She said this with a straight face, and Miki and Kealii laughed.
Sonji asked, "Is all of this going to happen here in the city?"
"No, this custom goes back to the days before there were cities. Some wedding abductions do happen here, of course, but it's nicer in the country, where there aren't any city crowds. My family has a country estate and Dag and his friends will use it for their headquarters. My father has rented a nearby farmhouse for us to use, and we'll stay there until the abduction. The wedding itself will be in the city. Oh, before I forget, Sonji, you've got to sign the application for the marriage license. It's over there on the table. I'll witness your signature."
The two women stepped to the table and signed the document. Sonji smiled. "I'm glad everything is arranged. Now, what should I know about tonight's party?"
Kealii explained the party arrangements, and then the women began a general conversation, which led to a discussion of the way male foibles varied from planet to planet. Erig was telling a story and they were all laughing when there was an interruption.
Dag entered the room. "Hello, ladies."
Kealii exclaimed, "Dag! We didn't expect to see you so soon."
"When I heard the shuttle had arrived I slipped away as soon as I could. Could you introduce me to our guests?"
Kealii obliged. "Miki Amano, Pami Erig, and Swamka Mahoon, meet my brother Dag."
Everyone nodded and smiled. Kealii looked at Sonji's glowing expression. "Dag, I'm sure you and Sonji want to exchange a private greeting. We'll see you both later."
Dag laughed. "That's one way of putting it, Kealii." He beckoned to Sonji and they left the lounge.
Kealii waited until Sonji was out of the room and couldn't overhear. She whispered, "There's another old custom that's part of the traditional ceremony, and that's for us to play a prank on the bride. Sometimes it's just some crude practical joke, such as hiding her underwear and weakening a seam in her dress so it splits during the ceremony, but mind games are always the best. Sonji doesn't know about this tradition, so it should be possible to run an elaborate hoax without her catching on. Let me tell you what I plan, and you tell me if you think it would be too upsetting. We don't want to be cruel; we just want to bother her a little."
* * *
Sonji was careful not to touch Dag and she tried to keep her thoughts neutral as she followed him along the familiar path to his room. She was proud of her self-control when she managed to get there without fainting.
Dag didn't waste time. He ordered, "Take off your clothes."
Sonji stripped as fast as she could. When she was naked she knelt and bowed her head. "How may I serve you, Master?"
Dag pulled her to her feet, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her deeply. His hands roamed over her body and Sonji was so aroused she just had time to wind her arms around Dag's neck and kiss him back before she fainted.
Dag held Sonji's limp body in his arms for a few moments before he put her down on his bed. He opened a drawer and took out a mass of leather. He found what he was looking for and attached padded leather cuffs to Sonji's wrists and ankles. Dag had these cuffs made wide and strong, because Sonji used all her strength when she struggled against her restraints. Struggling against bondage was the only way she could keep herself from fainting when she was aroused. He tightened the clamps that held the cuffs locked in place and used short straps to connect each wrist to the corresponding ankle.
Dag took off his clothes and got onto the bed with Sonji. He looked at her innocent face and felt an overwhelming feeling of love and tenderness sweep through his mind. Then he looked at her bound and naked form and felt overwhelming lust sweep through his body.
Sonji moaned as she regained consciousness. Dag kissed her breasts and then her lips, his hot tongue rolling inside her mouth, his lips pressing and sucking, his hot hands roaming over Sonji's sweat-slick body, caressing her breasts and sliding down her belly towards her sex. She pulled and twisted, straining against the straps that held her wrists close to her ankles. Dag couldn't control himself and forgot about continuing the foreplay. He entered Sonji and she synchronized her struggles against the straps to the rhythm of Dag's strokes until they both climaxed.
They cuddled for a while and then Dag disengaged and lay next to Sonji. He kissed her ear and murmured, "I'm so glad you're back. I love you so much, and I missed you."
"I love you too, Master. I'm so happy we're going to be married." Just being this close to Dag aroused her, and she pulled hard on her restraints, trying with all her strength to separate her wrists and ankles. He was so strong and handsome, and she so enjoyed the contrast between his pale skin and light brown hair and her tan skin and black hair.
"I'm not your master any more, you know. I won't be your master after we're married either, because a wife has never been considered subordinate to her husband."
Sonji was used to having her wrists strapped to her ankles, and she easily managed to roll onto her side so she could kiss Dag's chest. "When we're alone I want to be your slave, Master. Will you allow it?"
Dag laughed, "It will be difficult, but I suppose I could. But seriously, are you sure you want to get married, with all that implies?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I love you so much that I want the universe to know that we're together. And while I like being a field surveyor, occasionally I have to do unpleasant things, and being with you helps me forget. Also, I want to have children sometime, and that requires the stability of marriage."
"I know you are used to being away from your home planet, but if you live here you will visit there even less often. Are you going to miss your family?"
"No, not really. My family still practices a religion that prohibits all pleasure, and I could never go back to that now. Living with you and your family is all I want." Sonji squirmed on the bed until she could kiss Dag's penis. "I also like the sex, Master."
Dag rolled Sonji onto her back and spread her legs. He used his lips and tongue to bring her to another orgasm. She screamed and struggled against the straps. Then he entered her and they rode the wave of passion together once more.
They cuddled together for quite a while, but eventually Dag stirred. "Time to get out of bed and rejoin the others, Sonji."
She kissed him. "It's all your fault that we're still in bed. I'm bound and helpless, remember?"
He lightly swatted her hip and she yelped. "You were much more respectful when you were my slave girl. I'll have to start beating you again."
"You never beat me!" Dag had been strict, but never cruel, although Sonji had been careful not to provoke him.
"I didn't? Then I suppose it's too late to start now." He kissed her. "This is more fun, anyway."
"Yes, Master. Thank you, Master. Please release me, Master."
Dag removed the cuffs and Sonji stretched her arms. She examined her wrists, which were red, but not chafed. "Remember how the rope we used before cut me? You were wise to get the leather cuffs. But we're missing something. I don't have an iron collar riveted around my neck any more."
Dag smiled. "Wouldn't it look funny with your uniform?"
Sonji laughed. "Probably, and that iron collar wasn't very comfortable, either. But could you get a leather one made?"
"Why didn't I think of that? It'll make an ideal wedding present."
They washed and dressed. Just before they left the bedroom Sonji remembered Mahoon's request. "Dag, you'll have a group of your friends with you to help with the abduction, won't you?"
"That's the custom. Are you sure that you want to use the traditional ceremony? I could speak to my father and I'm sure that he would go along if you've decided that you're uncomfortable about being kidnapped."
"No, I don't mind. Why I ask is that Pami and Swa don't have any men in their lives right now, and it would be nice if you could find men who would be willing and able to pay attention to them. Swa always has male companionship if she wants it, but for some reason Pami finds it hard to attract men."
"I can understand that. She's not bad looking, but she has this aura of menace about her, and many men would find her threatening." Dag thought for a moment. "I know just the man. My friend Reg is a captain in the Civil Guard and an expert warrior. He isn't intimidated by anyone, and it shows. He's not violent in his personal life, but most women are still frightened of him."
"Sounds like a perfect match, unless they kill each other."
* * *
The party had be going on for over an hour. It had reached the point where everyone was relaxed enough to be talkative, and the din was considerable. Radg, Dag's father and the President of the National Council, was accompanied by Sonji and Dag as he circulated through the crowd, greeting everyone he met. Many people wanted to engage in a long conversation, but he politely cut them off after the introductions. He was making an attempt to keep this a social occasion and not let it turn into just another political meeting.
Dag wore the gray clothing that was traditionally worn by a qualified advocate. Sonji was wearing the dress uniform of the Star Fleet Survey Service, as suggested by Captain Goda. Her friends had also followed this suggestion, and this made them stand out from the other women in the crowd. Tonight Sonji's uniform featured a long skirt and a tight, sleeveless bodice with a high collar fastened around her neck. It was made of a light weight, dark blue fabric, with shoulder straps to display her rank badges.
The Survey Service had a unique uniform policy. The style and color of the dress uniform varied depending on where it was worn. It conformed to the general pattern of the other branches of the Star Fleet when it was worn on official occasions, but in a social setting it was adapted to match local custom. Tonight the civilian women wore long dresses and the men wore trousers tucked into calf-high boots, so the uniforms followed the same pattern. If at some other time the civilian men were wearing kilts the Survey Service men would do the same. The reason for this policy, as explained to confused outsiders, was that the Survey Service always tried to blend into the local culture. What the uniform would look like if nudity was the local custom was a question that had not yet been answered.
Erig was standing alone against the back wall of the room, somewhat apart from the noisy, milling crowd. The press of bodies and the many oil lamps made it warm in the room, and she was wondering if she could slip outside for a little while. She had made an effort to be sociable ever since she had arrived at the party, but now she was taking a moment to herself. She was so rarely approached by people interested in casual conversation that she was surprised when a man stopped in front of her. He looked ordinary and normal, so Erig was unprepared for what he said: "The decent people in this country don't want you Amalgamation sluts here! Get off of our planet, or we will destroy you!"
If Erig had been on a field survey she would by now be choosing the best way to dispose of the body. But she didn't want Sonji's party to be marred by violence, so she didn't respond to the threat, except with a yawn.
At this show of disrespect the man flushed with rage. He took a quick glance around and when he was satisfied that no one was watching he pulled a dagger out of his sleeve and moved towards Erig. "You don't think we're serious, do you? I'll show you. Into the closet!" He pointed towards a nearby door and Erig let him crowd her towards it.
Erig backed into the small, cluttered room without hesitation. The man gloated to himself and thought, 'How easy it is to frighten these Amalgamation sluts!' He grabbed an oil lamp from a wall sconce and followed her. Once inside put the lamp on a bracket and shut the door. "I won't kill you too quickly. I think I'll carve your face off first."
He slashed at Erig's head. She deflected the blow with her left arm and punched with her right fist. At the last instant she decided it might be useful to let him live and aimed for the man's jaw instead of his throat. Her blow connected and he went down in a heap.
Erig massaged her knuckles. "This joker has a head as hard as a brick. He has the brains of a brick, too." She picked up the dagger and frisked the man, removing another knife from his boot. The knife was very sharp, and Erig hummed softly as she cut some strips of cloth from the man's trousers and used them to tie his hands behind his back.
Erig stepped outside the closet and closed the door behind her. The party had proceeded without interruption; apparently no one had noticed anything. She wondered what to do next. Then she saw Captain Goda standing nearby. She muttered, "I'll make the proper bureaucratic response and buck it up the line by reporting the incident to her. Taking the initiative all the time is sooo exhausting."
Captain Goda was talking to a distinguished man in formal clothes. When Erig reached her she paused in her conversation. "Ambassador, I'd like to present Lieutenant Pami Erig. She did a field survey here. Ms. Erig, this is Ambassador Adjaka, the Amalgamation's representative on Gamma."
"Pleased to meet you, sir."
"I'm pleased to meet you. I've read some of your technical papers; they were very interesting. You do lead an adventurous life."
"I had an unusual experience just now. A man came up to me and said I would be destroyed unless I got off the planet. He used a knife to force me into a closet and then he tried to kill me. This wasn't personal, he came at me because I represent the Amalgamation. Captain, I think we should tell President Radg's security people. He may be threatened too."
"Where is the man now?" Captain Goda concealed her alarm well, but Erig could hear the tension in her voice.
"He's still in the closet."
"Is he alive?" People who attacked Erig usually weren't.
"Yes, I knocked him out and tied him up. I don't want him to remain unguarded for very long, though."
"Right. You go watch him and we'll meet you there. This is a dangerous situation. What do you think, Ambassador?"
"I agree." Ambassador Adjaka beckoned to a man standing close by and whispered in his ear. The man nodded and moved into the crowd. "That was one of the President's bodyguards. He'll notify President Radg and get some help. We don't want a disturbance, so let's act normally."
Erig returned to the closet. Captain Goda resumed the conversation with the ambassador as though nothing had happened. "Ms. Erig is going to be one of the bride's attendants during the rather unusual wedding activities."
Ambassador Adjaka chuckled. "There are stranger wedding rituals than this, as I know from personal experience. I was married in my village's traditional ceremony, which started when my bride-to-be was taken deep into the forest before dawn and tied to a tree. I had from sunrise until sunset to locate and release her, or the wedding would not take place. The theory is that for a successful marriage the husband and wife have to be linked mentally, and I had to demonstrate this link by finding my bride."
"Were you able to find her?"
"Yes, I really did feel a link between us. Of course, it also helped that she had concealed a sack of white pebbles under her skirt and dropped one every few meters as she was led away."
Conversation continued for a few more minutes until the bodyguard returned. He was accompanied by a well-dressed but tough-appearing man, whom he introduced as Todj, the head of the Civil Guard's Division of Council Security.
Todj acknowledged the introductions with a nod and got right to the point. "I heard that one of your officers had been attacked. Is she hurt?"
Captain Goda answered, "No, and she captured her assailant. Follow me."
Captain Goda led the security men to the closet, and Ambassador Adjaka casually moved towards President Radg.
Captain Goda knocked on the closet door and announced herself; she certainly didn't want to startle Erig. Erig opened the door from the inside and Captain Goda and Todj crowded into the stuffy little room. Todj told the bodyguard to stay outside and keep everybody else out.
Once inside with the door closed Captain Goda introduced Erig and Todj. He rolled the still-unconscious assailant face up and gave a grunt of recognition.
Erig asked, "You know him?"
Todj hesitated. He was accustomed to asking questions, not answering them. Then he took a careful look at Erig's stance and the way she held the knife and decided to make an exception. "Yeah, his name is Nodg. He's a high-level thug in the National Purity Movement. He's a favorite of Modeg, the NPM's maximum leader."
"The National Purity Movement? What's that?"
"They're the main opposition to Gamma's membership in the Amalgamation. We always figured they were capable of violence, but this is the first time they've been so open about it." Todj was obviously worried. "We've heard rumors they were planning something big, something involving the whole organization. I don't think that this attack on you was it, though. I'm sure Nodg did this on his own. He has a history of violence and he never could keep his temper under control."
Nodg moaned and opened his eyes. Todj said, "You'll do twenty years of involuntary servitude for this, you scum. But if you want to cooperate we can give you a break. What is the Movement planning to do?'
Nodg sneered, "You'll find out, but when you do it will be you and the other traitors like Radg who'll be doing the I.S."
Todj slapped Nodg and repeated the question, but received more taunts in return. This went on for some time and Nodg had a colorful collection of cuts and bruises before Erig intervened.
"You're being too harsh, Todj. Let me talk to him. I'm sure I can appeal to his better nature and he'll tell us what's being planned. I bet he doesn't really want the Movement's image sullied by violence."
Todj responded with a look of incredulity and Nodg with a stream of curses. Erig said, "Why don't you wait outside so Nodg won't feel intimidated?"
Todj had no intention of leaving, but Captain Goda whispered to him and he reluctantly followed her outside and closed the door. Todj exclaimed, "What does she think she's doing? She'll never get anything out of a hard case like Nodg."
"You'd be surprised. Erig can be very persuasive."
As Captain Goda and the two security men waited outside the door she talked to Todj, trying to make it look like a casual conversation. "Are you in charge of counter-subversion, Todj?
"As much as anybody is. Officially, my Division just provides bodyguards for President Radg and the other members of the National Council. This is something new. Before about a year ago Council members had to provide their own bodyguards."
"How did you find out that the NPM was up to something?"
"It was just a fluke. One of the members was arrested on an unrelated charge, and he told us that Modeg was planning something violent, and whatever it was threatened the President personally. We were shocked; before this everyone thought the NPM was just another political faction. My Division was assigned to do the investigation because it supposedly involved presidential security, but actually because no one else was interested. You've got to understand that all of this is new to us. Since there's always been only one nation on this world we've never had to deal with external threats, and the internal threats were just the usual criminals, except for the occasional bandit gangs in the forests."
"How much have you found out about the NPM's plans?"
"Not a lot. We managed to plant a man in the organization and he confirmed the threat story, but he's not high enough in the leadership to tell us much. Nodg would know what Modeg is planning, if we can get him to talk."
Todj became more and more impatient as the minutes dragged by. He heard muffled screams, but he couldn't make out any words. He was about to see what was happening in the closet when Erig opened the door and stepped outside.
Erig was somber. "I've got his story and it's bad. We have to speak to President Radg." She told the bodyguard, "You stay inside with Nodg. Keep him there out of sight until the party is over, and don't let anyone know he's been caught. If you like, you can try to stop the bleeding."
Todj told the man to follow Erig's orders and the bodyguard entered the closet. Todj led the women towards the other end of the room. "There's a courtroom next door that we can use. I'll get the President."
Erig said, "Captain, I'd like to have Mahoon in this meeting." Captain Goda nodded her approval and Erig moved into the crowd to find Mahoon.
A few minutes later the three Star Fleet officers were joined in the courtroom by Todj and President Radg. Ambassador Adjaka was with them. Radg asked, "What's all this about, Lieutenant Erig? Is there something wrong?"
"Yes, sir. A member of the National Purity Movement attacked me with a knife. I managed to disarm and capture him, and Todj and I asked him some questions. He said that the NPM plans to kidnap Sonji and her attendants, especially your daughter, and use them as hostages until you meet their demands."
"What! Does this seem reasonable to you, Todj?" Radg was deeply shocked.
"Yes sir. We've heard rumors that the NPM was planning something big and violent."
"Why haven't you arrested them?"
"No evidence, sir, especially nothing against Modeg and the rest of the leadership."
"Well, now that we know we can at least postpone the wedding until we can arrange for tighter security."
Erig interrupted. "Or we could go on with the wedding as we planned and catch them in the act."
"You mean let yourselves be kidnapped? Wouldn't that be very dangerous?"
"Not that dangerous. If they want us as live hostages we won't be killed out of hand. And if Nodg is typical of this bunch they will seriously underestimate our capabilities because we're women. Sonji, Mahoon, and I have faced much greater risks on field surveys. The only problem is with Miki and Kealii. They haven't our training, but if they're not in the wedding party the NPM will know we're on to them."
"My daughter is very brave and very loyal. I'm sure she'll agree to take part in your plan."
"That's another problem. If we tell Miki and Kealii what's happening I doubt that they could act naturally enough to fool the kidnappers. I don't want to tell Sonji, either. She hasn't had as much experience as Mahoon and I, and she can't let slip what she doesn't know. We must not let the kidnappers suspect we're on to them. If they aren't fooled they would likely kill us. Miki and Sonji are Star Fleet officers and danger is part of their job. You have to decide about involving your daughter."
President Radg was silent for a moment. This was a hard decision, with his instincts as a father opposing his duty to his country. Then he nodded grimly. "If we don't stop the NPM now they'll just try again, and my daughter will still be a target. The wedding will proceed as scheduled." He addressed the Star Fleet officers. "We will provide all the help we can, but I'm going to leave the planning to you. Todj and his men will follow your lead." He started to say something else, but then just shook his head.
Radg and Todj left the courtroom, and Ambassador Adjaka and Captain Goda followed separately. Some time later Mahoon and Erig also rejoined the party. Everyone had tried to be unobtrusive, but Miki noticed the comings and goings. She asked Erig, "What was that all about?"
"Oh, someone tried to crash the party and the guards asked if any of us had seen him earlier. He was just some nut who has tried to do this before, but the guards wanted to be sure."
"I guess people are the same on every planet. There is always somebody strange just around the corner." Miki bubbled, "Taking part in a wedding on another planet is very exciting for me, especially since Gamma has just joined the Amalgamation and it hasn't absorbed Galactic culture yet. I suppose it's dull for you, after all of the field surveys you've made."
"Dull is always welcome. Believe me, a little excitement goes a long way."
"I suppose so, but I don't get any excitement at all. Ever since I joined the Interloper most of my time has been spent hunched in front of a terminal doing some sort of accounting. I could have done that without ever leaving my home planet. I expected more excitement in the Star Fleet."
"You need some romance in your life. It's too bad that all of the available men on the ship are such losers. Unless you..."
Miki laughed. "I like men. But you're right, I haven't met anybody on the ship that I could really care for."
"Maybe you'll meet somebody here. That's one nice thing about being in the Star Fleet. You can love 'em and then leave the planet before they become tiresome."
* * *
The next afternoon Kealii and the four Star Fleet officers started their journey to the farm in the country. They left the house and found an two-wheeled oxcart waiting for them in the street. Miki was fascinated. This was the first domestic animal she had ever seen. She asked the driver, "Can I touch it?" He smiled and nodded, and she tentatively stroked the animal's back. "Wow. This is amazing. I never realized that animals could be used for transportation."
Kealii said, "It's not that romantic when they're all you've got. Oxen are the only draft animals on Gamma, so all transportation moves at a walk. Humans are the fastest land animals on the planet. One of the first benefits of Amalgamation membership will be to speed up travel, and I'll be very glad when that happens. It's going to take the rest of the afternoon to get to the farmhouse, but if we had land cars we could be there in minutes."
"Why don't you have, what do you call them, horses?"
"We did once. Ancient bones have been found, but for some reason horses died out thousands of years ago. I think there's a plan to import some colts and try to reestablish them."
The women loaded their baggage and got in the small, open-top cart. The driver goaded the ox into motion, and the cart creaked as it moved slowly down the street.
Miki instructed, "Improving transportation may take longer than you think. It's not just importing land cars; you need to build a complex infrastructure, and that will take a lot of capital investment."
"Yes, I know that's true, but I can wish. We will get some improvements soon, though. For example, one of Dag's friends is planning to start a bicycle factory. This would be a leap forward, and yet Gamma has the technology to support it."
"Bicycles are a step forward, but even they require a lot of infrastructure, such as tubing fabricators. And then you'll need paved roads. Change will take longer than you might hope."
Conversation continued as the cart moved through the countryside. Miki said, "I notice that some of these fields have crops ready to harvest and others look like they've just been planted. I don't know anything about farming, but isn't that unusual?"
Mahoon answered, "Yes, it is. Unlike most planets, Gamma has a near-circular orbit and almost no axial tilt, so there isn't any seasonal variation. Crops are grown and harvested all year."
Miki enjoyed the view of the fields, with their different shades of green and brown, and the woods with their varieties of trees. This was so much nicer than her home planet, where all traces of the natural world had disappeared generations ago. "I know you think that development will improve things, Kealii, but you can lose a lot too."
"I realize that, and if it were just me I might want to keep things as they are. My father is rich, and I have all I need. But most of our people are farmers or peasants, and their lives are hard. Development will give them a chance at a good life too."
Miki and Kealii continued to discuss economics, but eventually Sonji was able to interrupt. She asked Kealii, "What's going to happen next?"
"After we're kidnapped and dragged off to his estate Dag will try to persuade you to marry him, and the rest of us will party. The next day we'll party some more to celebrate your capitulation, and then travel back to Brombeg. If the only guests were family and close friends we would have had the ceremony right there in the country, but my father has to invite his many political acquaintances and there wouldn't be any place for them to stay. Actually, he had to rent the Brombeg concert hall to make room for all of the guests."
"The crew of the Interloper has been invited too, so there will really be a crowd. This is looking more and more like a political convention." Sonji wasn't able to keep the disappointment out of her voice. She wanted her wedding to be a personal emotional experience, not a public event.
Kealii noticed Sonji's regret. "We could arrange to have a private wedding ceremony before we go to Brombeg. Would you like that?"
"Oh, yes! That way I could be me, and not just someone on exhibition, part of a theatrical performance."
"Having a private ceremony shouldn't be a problem; the judge who is going to perform the ceremony in Brombeg will be a guest at the estate."
Miki asked, "What do the kidnappers do, club us over the head and stuff us into crates?"
Kealii smiled. "No, nothing brutal. We're supposed to struggle prettily and then swoon from terror. Usually there's some token bondage. The last time I was in a wedding my brutal abductor loosely fastened a belt around my chest and over my arms; this pinned my arms to my sides, but I had to remember to keep my elbows bent so the belt wouldn't fall off. Once I was completely helpless he had to take care of me, which meant he held my cup to my lips and kept it filled while our wagon slowly traveled to the groom's house. It made the journey go a lot faster, and the party got off to a good start."
Submitting quietly was something Erig didn't often do, but now she had to do it and make it seem natural. She decided to treat this as a field survey and pretend she was disguised as an ordinary woman. She said to herself, "Posing as a normal woman; what a novel experience. But the man who tries to treat me that way for real is in for a surprise".
The sun was just setting when the oxcart finally arrived at the farmhouse. The five women got their bags and climbed out of the cart. The cart driver hadn't finished his journey; he would continue on to the estate where Dag and his friends would gather.
The farmhouse was a one-story wooden structure, with a large porch extending across the front of the building. It was post and beam construction, with outside walls made of wide, vertical boards. The roof was made of wooden shingles, weathered to a silvery gray. A low picket fence enclosed the house and a large barn. In front of the house was a large tree that shaded the yard. A rope dangled from a branch and a child's swing swayed in the gentle breeze, the weathered wood of the board seat reflecting the setting sun.
Both buildings were shabby and badly in need of paint. The house was once white, and the barn still displayed traces of red. Most of the fields surrounding the buildings were fallow and covered with grass, but no animals grazed there. Thick woods started just behind the barn and spread to cover several thousand hectares.
A middle-aged woman in a worn dress and patched apron stepped onto the porch and greeted the visitors. "Welcome. My name is Hojee. Please come in. Dinner won't be ready for several hours yet. If you want to wash the pump is in the kitchen."
"Thank you for letting us stay in your home." Kealii carefully didn't mention the money her father had paid. She introduced each member of the group.
Everyone entered the house and Hojee led them to the parlor. The plastered walls had decorative moldings, but they were cracked and chipped. Everything was very clean and neat, but the furniture was worn and the carpet was threadbare. Hojee was poor, but it was genteel poverty.
Kealii asked, "Where's the privy?"
"Behind the barn."
Miki said, "I'll go with you." The two women walked through the house and out into the yard. Miki stopped and sniffed the air. "What's that funny smell?"
Kealii replied, "I don't smell anything unusual. The dung heap is closer to the house than I would like, but it's not too bad."
"This is so exciting! I've never been on a farm before; on my home planet all of the food is produced synthetically."
The women walked through the barn and found the privy. Miki asked, "Where is the sewage processed?"
"It isn't. When the privy starts to fill up it's covered with dirt and a new one is dug."
"That's amazing! On my planet everything has to be recycled."
"I don't think I would be comfortable with that." Kealii entered the privy and closed the door.
Miki uneasily watched the thick woods just outside the fence. She was a city girl through and through, and she wasn't too sure that some wild animal wasn't going to leap out of the forest and devour her.
Kealii exited the privy. "Your turn. See you back at the house." Miki nodded and entered, prepared for another new experience.
Kealii entered the barn. It was dark inside now that the sun had set. She couldn't see the two men, dressed in dark clothing and armed with swords, who waited there, hidden in an empty stall. When Kealii walked by the stall they seized her from behind. One man pulled her arms behind her back and the other used a wide leather strap to pin her hands together, palm-to-palm. The strap was pulled very tight, and Kealii winced. She opened her mouth to complain, and a wad of cloth was jammed into it and held in place by another cloth wrapped around her head and tied behind her neck.
Kealii knew all of Dag's friends who were going to take part in the abduction, and she didn't recognize either of these men. She started to struggle, but one man tripped her to the floor and held her there while the other tied her ankles together with several turns of rough rope. They carried her out a side door of the barn and dropped her on the ground, just outside the picket fence.
A third man was waiting. He picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. "I'll put this one in the wagon. Get ready, the other slut will be along soon."
He carried Kealii down a path that led through the trees. She squirmed ineffectually and mewed through her gag until he gave her a sharp slap on her bottom. The man carried her through the forest for about a hundred meters before he reached a large wagon parked on a narrow track cut through the woods. The two yoked oxen hitched to the wagon were tethered to a tree alongside the road.
The kidnapper dumped Kealii on the open tailgate and climbed into the wagon. He dragged her towards the front and used another piece of rope to cinch the loops around her ankles and pull her legs into a tight hogtie. The rope was tied around the strap pinioning her wrists and then wrapped around one of the wooden bows that supported the wagon's canvas cover, where it met the high wooden side of the wagon body. When he tied it there Kealii's wrists and ankles were pulled up painfully, and she couldn't move at all.
Kealii was very frightened. This was no mock abduction; this was a real kidnapping. She had often been warned by the guardsmen that she might be a target of one of her father's enemies. She had laughed off the warnings then, but she wasn't laughing now. And her new friends were going to be victims too. She struggled frantically against her bonds but achieved nothing. She tried to scream, but produced only muted bleating.
Miki entered the barn, thinking that using an outhouse was one adventure that she didn't really enjoy. When a man grabbed her she was startled, but then she giggled and relaxed. She didn't struggle when her hands were strapped behind her back, and when the gag was pressed against her lips she obligingly opened her mouth. She didn't resist when a man held her arm and guided her out of the barn and into the woods, and she cooperated when she was lifted into the wagon. Even after she was bent into a tight hogtie and the rope was pulled up and tied to a cover bow Miki didn't realize she had been kidnapped, but she did think, 'If this is token bondage, I wouldn't want to be tied up for real!'. She was uncomfortable, but she was also aroused, much to her surprise.
Sonji wandered into the kitchen and found Hojee peeling vegetables. "Do you know where my friends got to? They've been gone a lot longer than I expected."
"They said they were going to look around the farm. I expect they're in the barn."
Twilight was fading fast and the inside of the barn was dark. Sonji took two steps inside and called, "Miki? Kealii? Are you in here?"
A man pushed her from behind so she was pressed against the barn wall. He held her arms behind her back while a second man circled her wrists with a strap and pulled it tight. Sonji opened her mouth to protest and a wad of cloth was stuffed in it and the gag held in place by more cloth tied around her head. Now that it was almost too late Sonji realized something was wrong. She didn't recognize Dag, and she was sure that he would have tied her personally. When the men turned her away from the wall she kneed one in the groin and kicked the other in the knee. She hadn't been able to aim the blows very well in the dark, but the men yelped and released her.
Sonji ran out of the barn and sprinted towards the house. An oil lamp was burning in the kitchen and she ran towards the lighted window. Unfortunately, it didn't illuminate her path in the deepening twilight, and she never saw the shallow ditch until she stepped into it and tripped. She couldn't use her bound hands to break her fall and she landed face down in the dirt with a jolt that knocked her breath out. The men were close behind, and before she could get to her feet one of them pinned her to the ground by sitting on her thighs. The other tied her ankles together with coarse rope.
The man who had been kneed said, "Give me some more rope. I owe this slut something." He took the rope the other offered and looped it several times around Sonji's elbows and pulled until they almost touched. He knotted the rope and then looped it around her neck, but the other man stopped him before he could tie it.
"We don't want her to strangle. Run the rope through her armpits instead."
The man with the rope nodded and rerouted it. Then he used more rope to connect Sonji's ankles to her elbows, and he tightened it until her feet touched her hands. The two men grabbed her upper arms and carried her to the wagon.
The men tossed Sonji into the wagon and she landed on her side, the impact forcing a grunt of pain through her gag. The rope connecting her ankles and elbows was tied tight to a cover bow, pulled so high that only her torso touched the wagon bed. One of her captors groped her breasts and pinched her nipples, and she squirmed with the pain.
The head kidnapper said, "No time for that now. Get out of the wagon."
The three men moved towards the house. The man who had mauled Sonji asked, "Now what do we do, Ledg?"
The leader replied, "The other two sluts are in the house, so let's go get them there. It should be easy."
Back at the house, Erig and Mahoon entered the kitchen. Hojee was still working at the sink, although she hadn't got very far with her vegetable peeling. Erig asked, "Can we get some water?"
"Here's the pump, help yourself."
"Do you have any cups?"
"I suppose." Hojee opened several cupboards until she found cups and gave two to Erig.
"Have you been living here long?" Erig held the cups under the spout while Mahoon pumped the water.
"Oh, yes. I've lived here for years."
The conversation was interrupted when three men burst into the kitchen. Erig and Mahoon exchanged glances and Erig shrugged. Then they squealed and scampered around. The men easily caught them and soon their hands were strapped behind their backs. Neither of the field surveyors resisted when gags were stuffed into their mouths and two of the men led them outside and into the woods.
Ledg said to Hojee, "That takes care of the alien sluts. You leave now for Brombeg. Here's the ransom note; deliver it to Radg's house just before dawn and then go to the Movement's office and wait for more instructions."
story continues in Traditional Ceremony 2