- Part Two
Traditional Ceremony by Zack
The wagon carrying the captives had been plodding along for a several hours, most of the time traveling on rutted narrow roads cut through woodlands. The two men sat on the seat, and the leader stayed in the back near the tailgate, alternating between watching the back trail and guarding the captives. Finally the wagon stopped near a side door of a large hunting lodge deep in a forest. It had been a stressful trip for the bound women; the tight hogties quickly became very painful, and the unsprung wagon bed transmitted every bump in the road directly into their immobile bodies.
Kealii was hurting badly. She tried desperately to free herself, driven by her knowledge that this was not a mock abduction. Sonji had also struggled, until she recognized the futility of it and decided to save her strength. The other women had rested quietly. Miki wasn't worried, and Erig and Mahoon had a plan.
Ledg directed, "Take them into the lounge. Keep them tied up, and keep your hands off them. I'm going to report to Modeg and get his orders." He entered the building through the front door, leaving the other two men to carry the prisoners inside.
The side door opened directly into the lounge. It was a rustic room, with a large stone fireplace, stuffed animal heads attached to the log walls, and a vaulted ceiling. It was dimly lit by logs smoldering in the fireplace. Erig had been nearest to the tailgate, so the men carried her in first and dumped her on the floor near the hearth. One of the men put some more wood on the fire while the other lit candles in holders on the mantle.
Once the room was illuminated the men examined Erig. "So this is what an alien slut looks like, eh? Not very attractive. I wonder if she has all the standard equipment? I suppose we'll find out soon enough. She certainly is a timid little thing. She'll most likely swoon if you touch her."
The other man rubbed his crotch. "They aren't all like that. One of them put up a fight."
"Just a lucky blow. Let's get the rest of them inside before Ledg gets back."
The kidnappers brought in the other women and dumped them on the floor next to Erig. Comfortable, leather upholstered chairs faced the fire, and the two men sprawled in them. They used Erig and Mahoon as footstools, grinding their heels into their captives' bound bodies. Neither woman resisted, but more perceptive men might have noticed some anger in their expressions.
All of the women were suffering from the tight bondage, but Kealii was in the worst condition. She had been struggling continuously to free herself, and now she was exhausted. Her chafed and bruised wrists and ankles ached. She was crying, as much from fear and despair as from pain. Her nose was clogging and she was having trouble breathing.
Ledg returned with another man. When the two seated kidnappers realized he was Modeg they jumped to attention and saluted. He returned the salute. "Good work, comrades. Now we have the means to strike a blow at that traitor Radg and his unholy alliance with the Amalgamation."
Modeg pointed to Kealii. "Take out her gag; we don't want her to smother." He indicated the other captives. "Take out all of the gags. They can scream all they want without anyone caring."
As soon as Kealii could talk she threatened, "What do you think you're doing, Modeg? My father will kill you for this."
"Your father will do as I say if he expects to see you and your friends alive. The National Purity Movement has advanced from talk to direct action! We have demanded that Radg issue an amnesty for all of the Movement's followers, denounce the alliance with the Amalgamation, and then resign. My supporters will seize control of the Council, and I will be named President."
"You're mad. My father will never do any of that. And you will never be President!"
"We shall see." Modeg turned to the men. "I've got to return to the meeting. Our most important financial backers are here, and it is vital that we get funds now."
He looked over the captives. "We can use these women as prizes; whoever makes the largest donation gets first choice. Strip the sluts and string them up. Don't abuse them now, but after everyone has left you men can use them as you wish before you dispose of them."
Modeg left the room. The three men untied Kealii's feet and removed the strap holding her wrists behind her back. She moaned as she uncurled from the tight hogtie, and they waited a few minutes until she had recovered somewhat. Then she was lifted to her feet and Ledg demanded, "Strip!" When she hesitated he slapped her face and threatened, "Do you want some help?"
One of the men grabbed her, but she twisted away. She unlaced her bodice with trembling hands, then pulled the dress over her head and let it fall to the floor. She begged, "Please, let me keep my underwear."
Ledg laughed. "What, and conceal your charms?" He ripped off the garments and Kealii started to cry again. The men held her while Ledg used the strap to fasten her wrists together in front. He tied a rope around the strap and tossed it over one of the beams running across the room, then pulled the rope until Kealii was on tiptoe. He tied it off and moved his hands over her body. "Very nice! You'd be my first choice."
Kealii tried to be brave, but she cried out when Ledg's cruel hands pinched her nipples and squeezed her breasts. She whimpered when a finger probed her mound.
Now it was Miki's turn. She was very frightened, and when she was untied she quickly stripped off all her clothes. Once she was naked her hands were strapped and tied to another beam, about a meter away from Kealii. She forced herself to be silent when her body was groped, but she gasped when she was lifted and the rope attached to her wrists was retied so her feet were off the floor. One of the men roughly squeezed her breasts and then moved his hand along the arch of her ribcage. She screamed when his hand probed her labia, kicking and jerking as she twisted around the rope.
Erig was the next to be untied. When she was free she worked the stiffness out of her arms and took as long as she could to remove her clothing. When she was naked one man grabbed her arms and another moved in with the strap.
She exclaimed, "Wait! Don't you know this is wrong? If you surrender now I'll recommend that the court be lenient when you're sentenced."
This statement was so unexpected that the kidnappers actually paused until Ledg shouted, "What are you waiting for? String her up!"
Erig kneed the groin of the man holding her arms, and when he doubled up in pain she pivoted and used the edge of her hand to crush the throat of the man with the strap. She pivoted back and delivered a two-handed blow to the back of the neck of the man she had kneed. Ledg reacted very quickly and was able to draw his sword, but Erig kicked it out of his hand and continued with a flurry of kicks and punches that left him lifeless on the floor.
When Erig had completed her attacks all was quiet except for the crackling of the fire and the rasping gurgles from the man with the crushed throat as he struggled to breathe. Sonji and Mahoon were not surprised at this outcome, but Miki and Kealii stared wide-eyed at Erig. Both found it difficult to accept what had just taken place. The brutes that had handled them so easily had just crumpled when Erig attacked.
Erig took a dagger from one of the bodies and used it to free Mahoon and Sonji. Mahoon recovered quickly and massaged Sonji's rope marks to help restore the circulation in arms numbed by the tight binding of her elbows.
When Erig freed Miki and Kealii they both collapsed on the floor, sobbing with relief. Both women were crying as they hugged and comforted each other, trying to recover emotionally from the terror they had just experienced. They were badly upset, but they were young and healthy and it wasn't too long before they had revived enough to function.
In the meantime Erig had searched the bodies of the defunct kidnappers, but she didn't find anything interesting. She armed herself with Ledg's sword and gave the other swords to Mahoon and Sonji.
Mahoon hefted her sword, "This is better than nothing, but I'd like a phasor about now." None of the field surveyors had been carrying Amalgamation weapons. If they were searched the weapons would have aroused suspicion, and also armed their enemies.
Erig smiled. "What's the challenge in that?" She ordered, "Sonji, you take Miki and Kealii and get out of here. Stay in the woods, away from the road, and move as fast as you can. When you're well away contact the ship and tell Captain Goda what's happened. Mahoon and I will stay here and delay any pursuit."
Sonji nodded and fingered the communicator disguised as a religious medallion that she wore on a thong around her neck. Miki and Kealii dressed, and the three women left the lodge through the side door. They crossed the road, but before they entered the woods Miki balked. "Wait a minute! We're not going in there, are we? It's so dark that something could grab us before we saw it."
Sonji said, "Don't worry, Miki. There's nothing on this planet that can hurt you. Nothing four-legged, that is."
Erig said from the doorway, "Go with Sonji, or come in here and I'll tie your hands to the beam again. Take your pick."
Miki whispered to Sonji, "She's kidding, isn't she?"
"No, she'll really do it. Now come with me. We're in the field now, so buck up and follow survey team orders. I realize you haven't been trained for this, but I know you can do it."
Miki thought a moment, and then decided that the unknown beasts in the woods were the lesser evil. Erig watched them go, and when they were out of sight she turned to Mahoon. "Let's give the rest of these Movement people a chance to repent their evil deeds." Mahoon smiled. She loved it when Erig talked like that. It meant the action was about to start.
Erig retrieved her underwear and put it on. Mahoon removed her dress; long skirts got in the way in a fight. The two women quietly opened the door that Modeg had used and entered a large dining room where eight men sat around a rectangular table. Modeg was standing at the head of the table with his back to the door. He was delivering a harangue, but paused when he noticed his audience was no longer paying attention.
One of the men asked, "What's this, Modeg? Is the entertainment starting already?"
Modeg turned, and goggled with surprise when he recognized Erig and Mahoon. He sputtered, "What are you doing here? Where are Ledg and the others?"
Erig replied in a calm voice. "They've resigned from the Movement, so to speak. If you want to live you'll surrender right now, you worthless pool of slime."
"No alien slut can speak to me like that! It's you who will die!" Modeg drew his sword and lunged. Erig blocked his blow and her return stroke opened his throat. The other men sat frozen with shock as Modeg's body hit the floor. He gurgled as he bled to death.
Erig announced, "We really don't like being kidnapped, and all of you were part of it. We're going to deliver you to the judicial authorities, and anyone who resists... like Modeg here... will be killed."
The Movement members might have been traitors, but they weren't cowards; besides, it was four to one, and their opponents were just women. They all drew their swords and attacked.
* * *
Sonji led Miki and Kealii at a brisk pace until they had traveled about a kilometer through the woods. She stopped when they reached the edge of a small clearing. "This should be far enough. We can wait here for the shuttle."
She used her communicator to contact the ship. They waited for quite a while before the shuttle landed in the clearing. When they entered it Sonji was surprised to see that Erig and Mahoon were already on board.
After the shuttle lifted off Sonji looked at a screen displaying a view of the ground and saw a large fire. She asked Mahoon, "Is that the lodge on fire?"
"Yeah, somebody must have dropped a candle."
Erig ordered, "Don't say anything about this to anyone. It's important that the rest of the Movement people aren't warned before they can be arrested."
Kealii nodded. "I won't say anything. I understand that we can't let the others be warned. But it's such a shock that anyone would try to use violence to change government policy! This has never happened before."
Erig didn't voice her cynical thought, 'Times have changed, girl. You're in the Amalgamation now.'
Aloud, she said, "It might be some time before all of the Movement members can be arrested, so it's important that we go on with the wedding as though nothing had happened. Miki, Kealii, do you think you can do that?" Erig didn't bother to ask Sonji and Mahoon if they could go on; they were field surveyors.
Kealii had been thoroughly frightened during her ordeal, but her loyalty to her father and her desire for revenge overcame her reluctance. "I'm ready to go on. I'm not going to let those traitors decide what I can do."
Miki still couldn't believe that what had happened was real; to her it all seemed to be just a holodeck scenario. She was young enough and sheltered enough to still believe that she was immortal, so she also agreed to continue as part of the wedding party.
A short time later the shuttle landed next to the farmhouse. Erig said, "Let's be sure there aren't any more surprises. Sonji, you and Swa search the barn and the yard. Miki, you and Kealii come with me."
Erig did a quick search of the ground floor of the house and found nothing threatening. The door to the cellar was in the kitchen, and when she opened it she heard a sound from below. She cautiously descended the cellar steps. She heard a moan and directed her flashlight beam towards the sound. A middle-aged woman was tied to a post. The woman blinked at the light and tried to say something through the gag stuffed in her mouth.
Erig removed the gag and the woman coughed for a few moments. "Please untie us, we've been here since noon."
"Who else is here."
"My daughter. She's tied over there."
Erig aimed her light at a young woman tied to another post. She slumped like she was dead, but as Erig got closer she could see that she was breathing. The woman had been treated brutally; her wrists and elbows were pulled back behind the rectangular post and bound with many strands of thin rope. More rope crisscrossed her torso and waist and wrapped around her legs. Her dress was ripped open and bruises made purple smudges on her breasts and thighs.
Erig shouted for Miki and Kealii; they freed the two women and carried them to the parlor. Erig asked the older woman, "What's your name?"
"Hojee. Is my daughter all right?"
"She'll be fine." Erig contacted the ship and explained the problem, and the shuttle returned to the farm to pick up the women.
Hojee was agitated. She asked again, "Are you sure my daughter is going to be all right?"
Erig tried to reassure her. "Don't worry. Your daughter's injuries will be treated on the ship and she'll surely recover." Erig didn't mention that they would be kept aboard until after the wedding.
After the shuttle left everything quieted down. Erig told the others, "There are some field rations in the kitchen if you're hungry. Then let's see if we can get some sleep before it's time to be kidnapped again. To be on the safe side Sonji, Swa, and I will take turns keeping watch."
The three field surveyors kept watch during the remainder of the night and into the morning hours, but nothing hostile happened. Erig was scouting the woods several hours after sunrise and she detected a large wagon moving along the track. She took a close look and spotted Dag in the group of men accompanying the wagon.
She returned to the farm and woke up her sleeping friends. "The action is about to start. Get up and get ready. It's time to take a stroll in the woods."
The women woke reluctantly, Mahoon grumbling about the lack of sleep. After they finished their morning routines they breakfasted on leftover field rations and gathered on the porch, enjoying the cool fresh air of a bright, pleasant day.
Kealii was worried. "Pami, are you sure that this is the friendly bunch of kidnappers?"
"Yep, I saw Dag."
"That's a relief. I've had enough real excitement to last me for a long time." Kealii consulted a list and gave everybody a scarf, each of a different color. "This will identify you so the men will know who to abduct. Dag and I have tried to do some matchmaking, but feel free to swap."
Mahoon leered, "No limits?"
Sonji said in a sympathetic voice, "It's so brave of you to try to hide your paralyzing shyness behind a facade of simulated lust. Don't worry, Swa, someday you'll manage to lose your virginity."
Kealii and Miki exchanged blank looks while the three field surveyors laughed. The women draped the scarves around their necks. They left the farmhouse porch and strolled into the woods, with Erig leading the way.
They reached the road and walked along it, chattering and giggling. After a while Erig and Mahoon detected several men lurking in the woods, but they didn't say anything to the others. They pretended to be surprised when five men with scarves covering the lower half of their faces jumped out from behind the trees.
Kealii screamed, "Bandits! Run for your lives!" The women scattered, shrieking with mock terror, and the men ran after them. The color of each bandit's mask matched the color of the scarf worn by the woman he was chasing.
Miki was farthest from the bandit's point of attack. She forgot Kealii's instruction to 'struggle prettily and then swoon from terror' and sprinted back down the road, her city-girl instincts keeping her out of the woods. Miki's pursuer was impeded by the milling crowd of bandits and their prey, and by the time he got clear of the mob she had a long head start.
Miki's bandit ran down the road after her. He sprinted until he was about ten meters behind her and then held back and enjoyed the view of her swaying hips and pumping arms. She had run almost 200 meters along the road before he closed the distance and caught her. By this time Miki was out of breath, (all of those hours in front of her terminal hadn't helped her endurance), and when the bandit put his hand on her shoulder she was glad to stop. She put her hands on her knees and stood bent over, with her eyes shut, while she gasped for breath.
He said, "I've got you now, my beauty! My name is Bedg, and no maiden is able to resist me." Miki looked up, and Bedg's heart flipped when her saw her exotic face, with its oval eyes and small nose. "Wow!" he croaked.
Miki was too sophisticated to say 'Wow', but she thought it. Bedg was tall and muscular, with a thick mat of yellow hair and bright blue eyes. His mask had slipped off to reveal a handsome, deeply tanned face. Most men were clean-shaven, but he sported a bushy blond mustache. He was dressed in tight black leather trousers tucked into black boots, and his loose, long-sleeved shirt was the same shade of pale green as her dress.
Miki straightened up and struck a pose by lifting her chin and putting her left hand over her heart. "You'll never conquer me! I am Lady Miki, and I'll escape from your evil clutches, no matter how tightly you bind me."
Bedg twirled his mustache and chortled, "No one escapes from me! Your fate is sealed!" He tied a slipknot in the end of a four-meter length of braided flaxen rope and flipped it over Miki's shoulders; it settled around her elbows and pinned her arms to her sides. He turned, put the rope over his shoulder, and walked up the road, towing Miki behind him. Miki promptly grabbed the rope and pulled it hand-over-hand until she had enough slack to slip the loop over her head. She was going to just drop it and run, but then she had a better idea. There was a large tree branch at the side of the road and she put the loop around it before she quietly tiptoed back down the road.
Bedg walked another twenty meters before he realized something was wrong. He turned and cursed. By this time Miki was fifty meters down the road, and she giggled and ran. Bedg took the time to retrieve his rope from the branch, so when he caught up to her they were almost back to where they started.
He declaimed, "So you dare to take advantage of my leniency to try to escape, do you? Very well, now I'll show you no mercy!" He wrapped the end of the rope three times around Miki's wrists and fastened it with a square knot. "That will hold you, my stubborn beauty."
"Alas, now that I'm helpless you can drag me to my doom." Miki ended this sentence with a giggle.
Bedg turned to retrace his steps, and as he started he yanked the rope to demonstrate that he was prepared to be merciless. Miki stumbled forward, and used her momentum to bring her wrists up to her mouth. Her teeth found the knot, and two dozen steps later her hands were free. She tied a loop in the end of the rope and this time she snagged a large rock before she retreated down the road.
Bedg was more alert now and he detected the substitution as soon as Miki made it. He turned with a roar of simulated rage. "You were warned, wretch, and now you shall suffer my wrath!"
He caught her before she had run ten paces, and grabbed her around the waist. Miki shrieked and struggled. Bedg put the loop over her head and tightened it around her waist, with the knot in back. He took his knife out of his boot and cut two half-meter pieces off of the other end of the rope. Miki reached behind her back to try to untie the loop, and Bedg seized her hands. He easily held them both in his left hand while he wrapped one piece of rope in horizontal coils around Miki's wrists, and then he made vertical coils with the other piece.
Miki was panting now, and not just from the effort to escape. She twisted so she was facing Bedg and pushed her body against his. She lifted her chin, and he bent down so their lips met. Their tongues meshed, and Miki felt a wave of heat, centered between her legs, as she fought the rope binding her wrists. Bedg glanced around. The wagon had gone ahead and no one was in sight. He carried Miki to the side of the road and lowered her onto a windrow of dead leaves. They kissed again, and she panted, "Yes! Oh, yes."
He raised her skirt and cupped her mound. Her panties were wet, and he pulled them off and caressed her clit with his finger. She screamed and moaned in response. He unlaced her bodice and kissed her nipples, then bit them gently. The moans intensified. Bedg spread Miki's legs and entered her, and she wrapped her legs around his waist and screamed with every stroke until he silenced her with a kiss. Miki's passion soared with every thrust until it exploded.
When Miki returned to the world she was looking up at the clear blue sky overhead. Above her was a tree branch, complete with serrated green leaves and a small gray animal with a long tail. She sighed happily. "Wow! This was a first for me."
Bedg sputtered, "You mean you were a..."
Miki giggled. "Of course not. I meant that this is the first time I've made love outdoors. On my home planet it's not possible to even be alone outdoors." She sighed. "This was the most intense orgasm I've ever had."
"It was good for me, too." Bedg cleaned their bodies as best he could using the scarves as towels. He stood and fastened up his trousers and then pulled Miki to her feet. "We're going to have to hurry to catch up."
"Don't I get my underwear back?"
"No, it'll just get in the way...later."
"Alas, it is my fate to be irresistible to men, especially villainous bandits." She pointed to her bare breasts with her chin. "Are you going to expose my shame to your henchmen?"
"Actually, I was planning to remove your dress entirely." He laughed at her shocked expression. "Perhaps not. If you were naked my comrades would surely demand to share your charms." He tucked in Miki's breasts and laced up her bodice.
Bedg started to untie her wrists but she moved them away from his hands. "Just because you had your evil way with me doesn't mean I won't escape if I can."
"Then I'll have to take more precautions." He untied the loop from Miki's waist and used the rope to cinch the bands on her wrists, putting the knot where she couldn't reach it. He wrapped the long end of the rope twice around her waist and tied it in front to the short end. "There! You won't slip this leash."
Miki struggled to free her hands, but they were firmly anchored to her back. "Yes, now I'm your helpless captive, and you can ravish me whenever you wish." She giggled. "And that's the way I like it."
* * *
Erig watched the 'bandit' attack with an air of cynical amusement. Miki was the only one of the women to show a sensible reaction, sprinting down the road out of danger. Kealii was obviously trying to set a good example of proper maidenly behavior, shrieking and fluttering before she fainted in the grasp of her captor. She revived quickly enough when he kissed her, returning the kiss with enthusiasm and initiating one of her own before he looped a belt around her arms and led her to the wagon, which was parked just down the road.
Dag had brought leather cuffs, and he used them to fasten Sonji's wrists behind her back before she too was taken down the road to the wagon. Mahoon was more hesitant, but the bandit assigned to her was unusually handsome, and when he removed his mask and she saw his face she also managed to produce a muffled shriek and a half-swoon.
Erig was wondering who had been assigned to her when there was a tap on her shoulder and a soft voice said, "Excuse me, but I'm supposed to kidnap you."
She whirled around to face the speaker. He was a large man, with a muscular body and dark brown eyes and hair. He was dressed like the other men, but unlike them he wore a sword. His face was far from handsome, and the look in his eyes and the set of his jaw gave him an aura of menace that caused her to recoil a step.
The man also recoiled. He said, "Please don't be frightened. I won't hurt you." His body sort of slumped, as though he was used to having women flee from him.
"I'm not frightened. You just startled me. You move quietly for a big man."
He smiled, but even this was vaguely threatening. "My name is Reg. What's your name?"
"You have two names? Ah, you must be from the Amalgamation."
"Does this bother you?"
"Oh no, I'm glad that we're going to join. This will open us up to the whole galaxy, and it will provide a lot of opportunities. So, Pami Erig, what is your task in the Amalgamation?"
"Call me Pami. I'm a field surveyor. I visit planets that might be ready to join the Amalgamation and study their civilization. In fact, I did a survey here several years ago."
"You do this secretly, don't you? Why don't you do it openly?"
"Well, if a planet's not ready for membership in the Amalgamation we don't want to influence their development. Just knowing other worlds exist can be a profound shock to a culture, so we conceal our activities. But enough about me. What do you do?"
"I'm a Captain in the Civil Guard. I command the military company that is used against bandit gangs and other large groups of malefactors. It's the closest we have to an army."
"Sounds exciting. Do you see much combat?"
"No, its been a while since there's been a bandit gang large enough to require us to take action. There is talk of disbanding the company and reassigning us to normal police work."
"You sound disappointed."
"I am, for myself. Of course, it's good for the country that we no longer have organized banditry, but I want to be a warrior, not a policeman."
"You're the only man in the our group who's wearing a sword. Is that required of Civil Guardsmen?"
"No, I just thought it would be prudent." Reg paused for thought, then said carefully, "There have been rumors that Kealii might be threatened. But don't worry! I'm sure there is nothing to them, and I don't want to alarm you. In fact, the usual guard detail was recalled, so I'm sure there's no danger. I'm just being overcautious."
Erig did her best to feign wide-eyed innocence, all the while wondering why the guard detail had been recalled. The presence of bodyguards was normal, so it wouldn't have made the NPM suspicious. Did the NPM have anything to do with the recall?
Reg said, "I'm going to scout ahead. You can stay with the wagon if you want. I'll understand if you'd rather not be alone in the woods with me."
"No, I'll go with you."
Erig gave Reg a smile she meant to be reassuring, but he interpreted it as a brave attempt to hide profound fear. He was used to that reaction, and was surprised that Erig had even agreed to accompany him. He turned and walked swiftly down the road until he was about a hundred meters ahead of the wagon. Erig silently followed him.
They walked along the road, with Erig to Reg's left and slightly behind him. Both were silent and alert, searching for any sign of danger. Erig noticed an unnatural movement in some bushes next to the road. She moved next to Reg and touched his shoulder, then indicated the possible ambush. He nodded, and drew his sword. As if that were a signal five men carrying drawn swords burst from the undergrowth and massed on the road a few meters ahead of them.
Reg shouted, "Run, Pami! Tell the others to leave the wagon and hide in the woods. I'll try to hold them off until you get away."
Erig laughed. "Why should I do that? There are only five of them." One of the intruders had advanced to the front of the group. Erig took two quick steps and delivered a flying kick that broke the man's neck before he had a chance to react. She scooped his sword off the ground and ran the next man through the belly. The other three were frozen with shock for a long moment, then turned to attack her. She parried their blows, and her counterstroke opened the throat of one of the assailants. She was hard-pressed for a moment, but Reg sprang forward and with one blow disemboweled one man. He killed the remaining attacker with a backslash to the neck that almost decapitated him. The fight was over in about two minutes.
Erig sneered as she examined the fallen attackers for signs of life. "What a bunch of losers. Do you recognize any of them?"
Reg didn't reply at once. He just stood there, looking at Erig and at the havoc she created. "I... I seem to have misjudged you. Are all field surveyors as capable as you?"
"More or less. We often go into dangerous places, so we're trained to take care of ourselves. You're not bad with a sword yourself." Erig belatedly noticed Reg's expression. "I haven't shocked you, have I?"
He gestured at the bodies sprawled on the road. "This doesn't bother me. I've seen men killed before, and this scum certainly had it coming. I'm just surprised. Not many men are as good as you in a fight, and I wouldn't have expected you to be so expert with a sword. I thought you would only use advanced Amalgamation weapons."
Erig shook her head. "The Prime Directive prohibits the use of advanced technology on non-member planets, so we only have energy weapons available in special circumstances. Field Surveyors train with all types of weapons, including clubs and battle axes."
"The axe? Isn't that clumsy against a sword?"
"The trick is to keep it in constant motion and keep pressing the attack. It's tiring, but in trained hands, deadly! A swordsman never gets an opening." She return to reality. "We can continue this discussion in more pleasant circumstances. Do you know any of these clowns?"
Reg looked carefully at the faces of the dead men. "I recognize these two. They're known members of the NPM. That's an organization opposed to joining the Amalgamation."
"I've heard of it. Let's hide them in the woods. I don't want the others to see the bodies." No point in upsetting the civilians, and the longer the news of this failure was kept from the NPM, the better. She grabbed one of the corpses and pulled it off the road. Reg didn't question her actions; he just followed her example.
They spent the next few minutes concealing the dead men and erasing the signs of combat from the road. When they finished Reg put his hands on Erig's shoulders so she was facing him. "You aren't easily frightened, are you?"
She smiled. "Not by fighting." Just by emotional encounters.
"Would you be terrified if I kissed you?"
"I don't know. Let's try it and find out." Erig wrapped her arms around Reg's neck and their lips met. After a long kiss she said, "Wow. Fear is definitely not the emotion here. Let's do that again, just to be sure."
* * *
Sonji woke on the morning of her wedding day with hazy memories of a lot of sex, a lot of bondage, and much too much alcohol. Gamma's beverages had certainly lived up to their reputation as smooth and very potent. She raised her head from the pillow and gasped as the throbbing pain inside her skull intensified. She paused to recover, then made another attempt to sit up. It wasn't successful, because her wrists were still fastened behind her back. She looked down her naked body and saw that the leather cuffs on her ankles were strapped to the bedposts, keeping her legs separated.
There was a knock on the bedroom door, and a moment later Kealii entered the room. "Hi, Sonji, ready to get dressed for the ceremony? Oh my, you and Dag really took this captivity thing seriously, didn't you?
Sonji blushed. "Well, it goes deeper than that. For reasons too lengthy to explain now I have to be restrained when I become aroused, or else I faint. Dag and I discovered this when I was his slave."
"Oh, that is unusual. I know that some people like bondage, but I've never know anyone who had to have it."
"It's not very common. I'll tell you all about it sometime if you're interested." Sonjii struggled a bit. "Could you release me? I want to do something about this hangover. My head is splitting."
Kealii unclamped the ankle cuffs and helped Sonji sit up. "I drank too much too. Do you have some magic potion?"
Sonji swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. "Yep, yet another marvel of Amalgamation science. Undo me and I'll get a pill for you, too." She groaned when Kealii released the cuffs on her wrists and she was finally able to move her arms. "Dag was drunk too. He doesn't usually keep me fastened like this for so long." She rummaged in her luggage until she found her medical kit and extracted two hangover pills. She gave one to Kealii and swallowed the other. "Ahh, that's much better. In a few minutes I should feel like living is a preferable option. But first..." she dashed for the toilet.
Sonji returned in a few minutes, wearing a robe. "I'm ready now. You say that my wedding dress is just what I was wearing when I was captured, and not some special gown?"
"That's true. It symbolizes the impromptu, wild, spontaneous nature of the capture. We ignore the fact that now it's about as impromptu as a sunrise."
"What if I happened to be wearing a nightgown, or nothing, when I was captured? That could make the ceremony kind of embarrassing."
"Yes, it could. But you don't have to worry about being embarrassed, at least by what you're wearing."
Kealii seemed to smirk a bit when she said this. Sonji had a uneasy feeling for a moment, then shrugged it off. The dress she had been wearing was attractive, and it didn't really matter to her anyway. The knowledge that she and Dag were to be wed was exciting enough. She put on her clothes and they went into the kitchen of the farmhouse.
All of her companions had gathered there, and it was clear that someone had dispensed the hangover drug, because everyone was feeling good. They greeted Sonji and Kealii with a roar of pleasure, accompanied by a certain number of suggestive and even crude sexual remarks.
Kealii shouted, "Settle down, everybody! We're going to have to be on our way back to Brombeg soon, so the traditional ceremony has to happen now. Has anybody seen the judge?"
Someone said that he was in the parlor. Kealii said, "Then that's where we have to be. Let's get a move on, folks."
Finally everyone assembled in the parlor. Sonji was surprised to see that Dag's father wasn't there, but then decided that he probably had to leave early for Brombeg. He'd be at the 'official' ceremony, of course. Dag took her arm, and they moved to the front until they were standing in front of the judge. She panicked when she realized that there had been no rehearsal and she hadn't the slightest idea of what she was supposed to do or say. She turned to Dag, but before she could say anything there was an interruption.
"Are you Zongee?"
Sonji was shocked to hear the name she had used when she was a convict. She turned and received a bigger shock to find two Civil Guards were standing behind her. "What do you want?" Her voice squeaked with fear.
"You're under arrest."
"Arrest! What for?"
"You signed an application for a marriage license before your civil rights had been restored. Come with us."
One Guard stepped behind her and held her arms while the other clamped leather straps around her wrists. The straps were riveted to a thick leather belt, and when this was buckled tightly around her waist Sonji's hands were immobilized, one just in front of each hip. A hobble strap was fastened between her ankles, and now she was restrained just as she had been years ago, when she was tried and sentenced to a year of involuntary servitude.
Sonji had been stunned, but she rallied quickly. "Dag! What's happening here? You said we could get married a year after I completed my sentence, and it's been a lot longer than that."
"That's true! After a year you can petition for a restoration of your rights, and the petition is routinely granted, unless you've been convicted of another offense."
"You did file a petition, didn't you?"
"No Dag, this is the first I heard about it! I thought everything happened automatically."
Dag groaned. "Oh no! Oh, what a disaster!"
"But I didn't know! Surely I won't be convicted!"
A guard spoke up. "You've already been convicted and sentenced to two years I.S. All the judge needed to see was your signature on the application. We're to take you to Prison Farm Number 8, the one for repeat offenders. Of course, you can volunteer for private servitude, and someone is sure to buy you. I'd bid myself if I had the money." He leered, and Sonji blanched.
Dag said brightly, "It's all right then. I might buy you, at least for the first year, and you can be my slave girl again."
Reg interrupted, "You'll have to outbid me. I want a tasty morsel like her. I'll make sure she knows she's a slave."
His face was such a mask of maniacal cruelty that Sonji staggered. Dag quickly hugged her and kept her from falling. This calmed her enough that she started to think again, and her mind detected the inconsistencies in the recent events. She squirmed out of Dag's grasp and asked him, "What's going on here?" She was answered by a roar of laughter from the crowd.
Kealii said, "Fooled you! This is another part of the traditional ceremony, to do something to embarrass the bride. But we're all very civilized these days, and it's just mental foolery now. In the old days it was some crude physical prank, like dumping a bucket of paint over your head."
"This was bad enough! I was terrified, until I realized that Dag was acting so far out of character." She stomped on his foot. "Buy me for the first year, maybe? I'll take care of you!" Sonji struggled against the straps on her wrists.
Dag laughed, "I think I'll keep the straps on you until you've cooled down." He kissed her. "Besides, when you're fastened like this you don't have to worry about fainting." He kissed her again, and the crowd cheered.
* * *
It was several weeks later. Erig and Reg were in his bed, wrapped in each other's arms and basking in the afterglow of perfect sex.
Reg asked, "When does the ship leave?"
"In about five days."
"I'll miss you when you've gone."
"I'll miss you, too." Erig had said that many times to many men, but this time she meant it. She was deeply in love with Reg, and the prospect of parting was ripping her up. She kissed him and said, in a voice close to sobbing, "I just can't stand being separated from you. It's like losing my soul."
"For me too. I've never known a woman like you. I'll miss you every second you're away. How long will it be before you can return?"
"There's no way to tell. It could be months." Erig basked in grief. Then she got an idea. "You could come with me!"
Reg was surprised. "How could I do that?"
"You could join the Survey Service. We always need Field Surveyors, and you have all of the basic qualifications. I could teach you the special skills on the ship; the holodeck can simulate all of the training environments."
"Is it that easy to join? I thought it was hard to get a Star Fleet commission."
"Getting a commission does take a while, but you could be a Warrant Officer. Captain Goda can authorize that herself. Your warrant would need Admiralty approval, but that should be almost automatic because Star Fleet actively recruits citizens of planets that have recently joined the Amalgamation."
It never took Reg long to make a decision. "I'll do it. I've been looking for a change; there's no action in the Civil Guard. And if it means we can be together..." Reg kissed Erig. When it finally ended he asked, "Does this mean you'll be my superior?"
Erig kissed him back and ran her hands over his body. "Only in military rank."
* * *
Sonji crept along the sandy track, her senses straining for any sign of danger. It was hot, and she was sweating in the chain-mail armor of a mercenary warrior. Her steel helmet felt like a cooking pot, parboiling her brain. Her bow was in her hand, with an arrow nocked and ready. Not that she would have anything like a clear shot in this forest of scrubby conifers. She jumped when a small, scaly animal ran across the path and vanished into the knee-high, grass-like plants that covered the ground under the trees.
She was very worried. Mahoon had gone ahead to scout a route over two hours ago and hadn't returned. Worse, she didn't answer repeated calls on her communicator. Even if she had met some of the locals she could have unobtrusively activated it.
Sonji cursed under her breath, "Damn, where has that girl gone? I knew it was a bad idea to split up. That gang of slavers can't be that far away."
The undergrowth thickened, and Sonji heard something moving in the bushes just ahead. She flexed her bow and aimed the arrow at the sound, and then relaxed as an old woman hobbled into view. She was an ancient crone, clothed in a tattered brown homespun dress, with a ragged gray shawl wrapped around her rounded shoulders. She was barefoot and limping slowly with the aid of a long wooden staff.
Sonji greeted her, "Hail, mother. I'm searching for my companion. Have you seen anyone?"
"Yes, daughter. We are well met; there is a woman just down the trail, and she needs help."
She turned and retraced her steps and Sonji hurried to take the lead. Thirty meters down the trail there was a small clearing, and when Sonji entered it she gasped with shock. A large tree shaded the clearing, and a rope descended from an outstretched branch. Mahoon was suspended at the end of the rope.
When Mahoon heard Sonji's gasp she moaned through the wooden bit gag that was tied so brutally tight that her face was distorted. A leather strap crushed her arms together from her wrists to above her elbows. Other straps were wrapped around her ankles and her knees. A rope was twined through her armpits and across the back of her neck to form a harness, and then it was connected to her wrists and ankles. The suspension rope was tied close to her ankles, and Mahoon's body was bent into a painful arc. The harness rope was deeply imbedded into her shoulders.
Sonji dropped her bow and drew her knife. She took a quick step forward and fell on her face when the crone tripped her with the staff. Before she could recover the crone had leaped on her back and pulled her head up; Sonji felt the edge of a knife across her throat. She panicked, and then relaxed when she realized that it was the dull edge of the knife.
Erig said, "All of the time you spent on the planet has made you just as soft and careless as Mahoon, Sonji. You deserve to be paying the same price that she is, but now it's time for Reg's training session."
The holodeck was deactivated, and the 'crone' disguise vanished, revealing Erig clad in her black exercise clothes. She stood and helped Sonji to her feet. "I've got to get ready for Reg. Release Mahoon, and then I want everyone off the holodeck."
Sonji operated the winch controls and lowered Mahoon to the deck. Mahoon groaned as the suspension rope went slack. Sonji quickly unwrapped the straps and Mahoon groaned again as her legs straightened and her arms fell limply to her sides. The wide straps hadn't cut Mahoon's skin, but the pressure caused by the suspension had left deep red welts. The rope harness had engraved purple grooves in Mahoon's shoulders.
Sonji removed the gag. "Can you walk? Or should I call the medics and have them bring a stretcher?"
Mahoon pondered the question for several minutes before answering, "No, I can walk." She struggled to her feet, helped by Sonji. "That hogtie really hurt. I should have known that Pami would hold a grudge."
"Right. She hasn't kept herself alive all these years by being nice."
Sonji helped Mahoon totter into the locker room. The two women stripped and showered, and after they had dried off Sonji massaged some of the knots out of Mahoon's muscles. Eventually Mahoon was able to move almost normally.
After they had dressed Sonji asked, "Why do you suppose Pami seals off the holodeck during Reg's training sessions?"
"Well, Reg has a lot of natural talent, but he hasn't learned all of the advanced combat techniques yet. I'd guess that Pami doesn't want to embarrass him by beating him up in front of an audience."
"You're probably right. A few days ago I saw him just after a workout and he was really dragging. We both know how brutal Pami can be, even during a training session."
Sonji stepped up to a network terminal. "Everything that happens on the holodeck is automatically recorded unless it's deliberately turned off. I wonder if Pami forgot."
Sonji tapped some keys until an image appeared on the screen. "Swa! Look at this!"
The terminal displayed the image of a young woman reclining on a gilded litter. When she turned and faced the camera Sonji and Mahoon stared unbelievingly at the picture. It was definitely Erig, but not the Erig they saw every day. The hair color of the woman on the litter was still brown, but now her hair was long and wavy, not short and straight. But the biggest change was in the facial expression. Erig's hard, intimidating look had been replaced by the innocent gaze of a naive girl.
Suddenly the litter was attacked by several men armed with cutlasses. The bearers dropped the handles and fled. Erig tumbled out, and she struggled ineffectually as two of the bandits held her while another bandit tied her hands behind her back with a silken cord.
The leader of the bandits stepped up to Erig and tore the gauzy dress from her body. Erig's high, firm breasts were unchanged, but her ropy muscles were gone, replaced by soft contours and a hint of baby fat. The scars left by a decade of dangerous surveying were also gone, leaving an expanse of smooth, unmarked skin.
The camera focused on the bandit leader, and neither Sonji nor Mahoon were surprised to see that it was Reg.
He proclaimed, "Princess, you are now my prisoner."
"What are you going to do with me?"
"That will be your decision. I can take you to a broker in the Free City and he will contact your father. If King Zarg thinks you're worth the ransom and pays promptly you'll be returned to him unharmed. Or you can come with me, as my slave girl. I can promise you much pleasure, and some pain. Decide now!"
Erig dropped to her knees. "I want to go with you, Master."
"A wise decision." Reg tied a silken rope around her neck and pulled her to her feet.
Sonji's finger pressed a key and the screen turned gray. She and Mahoon had the same shocked expressions.
Sonji wondered, "How long do you think we'd live once Pami found out we'd seen this?"
"I don't know, but you could measure the time in microseconds."
Sonji pressed the 'memory delete' key. "It was a good thing nothing was recorded." She struck the terminal, which emitted a puff of smoke and went dark. "And even if something had been recorded we couldn't have seen it, because the terminal was broken."
The women stared at each other, blank-faced. Then they giggled simultaneously.
The mysterious fire at the hunting lodge was so intense that the bodies of Modeg and the other deceased members of the NPM were completely consumed; it was as though they just disappeared. Before long rumors spread that the NPM had tried to stage a coup, and the Amalgamation had foiled it. Some of the citizens of Gamma were outraged, but most were relieved. Whichever, no one could ignore the Amalgamation, and opposition to Gamma's membership faded away.
The Survey Service was being called upon so often for special actions, such as rescues and counter-espionage, that Star Fleet decided to formalize the arrangement by organizing Special Activities Detachments. Lieutenant Commander Pami Erig was made Officer-in-Charge of the prototype of these units, and she was responsible for writing much of the operating manual. She was also allowed to recruit whomever she wished, and Mahoon, Sonji, and Reg were charter members of her unit.