Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG

Synopsis: John and Aeryn go shopping on a commerce planet and John messes up, landing them in a very bad situation that teaches him more about the UTs and how he can't expect this part of the universe to bow to human rules.

Author's note: Someone else did a number on this story a few years back because I couldn't finish it at the time and it turned out quite differently from what I had in mind. It's been bugging me ever since and I've finally found the drive to complete it. Needless to say ... it's a very different story. I hope you enjoy it, now that it's finally finished the way I saw it ending already back then (I had an outline and I've followed that to complete it).


Aeryn glanced around the spaceport of this latest commerce planet, drawing the scents of this world in through her nose. There was a lot of dust in the air – heavy, metallic dust – which told her that there had to be some kind of metal mine in the area.

"I'm tired of this," she confessed, speaking mostly to herself.

"Of what?" John jumped off the ladder and landed on the soil next to her, stirring up a cloud of dust. "Ho-wow!" he exclaimed, waving a hand in front of his face. "That's nasty."

She glanced at him with a slight frown. "What is?"

"The dust, baby. The dust," he replied and briefly attempted to hold his breath. But he had to give it up after a moment and settled for coughing instead. "What are you tired of again?" he then asked and gave her a crooked grin.

Aeryn briefly rolled her eyes toward heaven. "Supply-runs," she said. "I'm tired of having to get food for that slug all the time. If Rygel empties the supplies this fast again, I'm going to frelling kick his tiny shiny hinny out the nearest airlock." John was having the hardest time suppressing a grin, but Aeryn had actually intended to make light of the situation. She gave him a small smile and then winked at him. "Let's go find some food cubes so his eminence has something to stuff his face with," she added.


In the city

John eyed the merchandise so richly laid out on the stands along the main shopping street. Food was first on their list, but sometimes he liked to browse; to see what was there; to discover new and strange things. On occasion he would stop Aeryn and ask her about a specific thing, but most of the time he played mind-games and guessed at what the various things might be.

They stopped at a foodstuff stand and Aeryn started haggling with the owner while John's attention was attracted by something happening further along the street. His previously so bright mood darkened a little when he took in the scene unfolding there.

A young kid, obviously a native by the way he dressed, was being harshly bullied by two grown men, who kept pushing him around and made lewd faces at him. "Every damn town," John muttered under his breath while the scene escalated when one of the men threw a rope around the boy's neck. "What the hell?" he snapped, broke away from the foodstuff stand and walked briskly toward the now crying kid and his tormentors.

Without hesitation he ripped a knife out of his belt and cut the rope holding the boy, grabbed his arm and pulled him backwards while giving the two men a nasty glare. "That's enough," he said. "Leave him alone."

It took him a moment to realize that the street around him had gone quiet except for the approaching footfalls he knew belonged to Aeryn. It struck him as odd, but he did not reflect on it any further. Instead, he returned the knife to his belt and pulled Winona instead.

"What's the matter? Don't you idiots have anything better to do than bully a kid?" he droned, angered by the behavior of the men and more so by the fact that nobody else had taken notice of the event. He glanced around and saw startled expressions all around until he met Aeryn's dark eyes.

He was too ticked off at the situation to pay her expression much heed, though, and returned his attention to the two men, who had suddenly become six. And they did not look impressed by his little stunt, or the fact that he carried a weapon. A very reasonable explanation for this could of course be that they were all armed as well and every single gun was aimed at him.

"Release the boy," one of them said and stepped forward. "He is legal prey."

Under normal circumstances John would have backed down at this point. He was outnumbered and definitely outgunned on this one and even if Aeryn did take a stand on this as well, they still didn't stand much of a chance. But the fact that this male considered the kid to be legal prey made him furious.

"What the frell is the matter with you people?" he demanded angrily and shrugged Aeryn's hand off his arm when she grabbed him. He sent angry glares around at the non-participating bystanders. "How the frell can you all just stand by and let something like this happen?"

One woman among the shoppers gave him a frown for his trouble. "It's official hunting season," she stated in a miffed tone of voice as if everybody knew that.

The wind went out of John's sails at that point and it happened rather abruptly. Something told him that he'd just gone and done something really stupid. But he maintained his hold on the crying kid's arm and made a half-hearted gesture toward the six men, who had somehow turned into eight now. "Hunting season?" he asked and glanced around at the crowd, now noting that their expressions were not of concern but rather of trained indifference. This had to happen a lot around here.

He released the boy's arm and glanced back at him. "Run," he said. "Get out of here."

The kid didn't have to be told twice. He took off like a scared rabbit, weaving in and out among the shoppers who did nothing to stop him. Satisfied that he had at least saved the kid's hide, John returned his attention to the eight. Even though saving the kid made him feel good, he still had the definite impression that this was far from over and, no matter how it ended, it wouldn't end in his favor.

The guy who had first spoken to him – a large, brutish looking male – didn't look happy about this development.

"John, we should leave. Right now," Aeryn hissed, her hand on his arm again, her tone urgent.

"Leave?" the brute asked and grinned. "I think not. Your mate just cost us hard to come by prey. We will need compensation," he added and took a step closer.

At that moment John realized why this guy didn't seem concerned about him being armed. The brute and his goons were wearing shield belts. "Aw shit," he muttered and took a step back, bumping into Aeryn in the process. "I've screwed up, haven't I?" he asked quietly.

Aeryn nodded, tight-lipped.

"Well, that is a matter of opinion," the brute said with a smile. "We might actually be able to get more for the two of you together than for that young one. Not a bad substitute."


With no way of escaping this suddenly hostile situation, Aeryn contemplated their chances and assumed they'd have to go down fighting. What little she knew of this sector of the UTs was enough. There were unwritten laws in this sector, laws that allowed slavery if the subject to be enslaved was a runaway, a homeless or an outsider. They were outsiders. The kid these drannits had been after had probably been a runaway or a homeless. Essentially, they were knee-deep in dren and had no way of getting out of it without some massive assistance.

"You and your incessant need to help," she hissed at John. This was his fault. It was always his fault. He always got them in over their heads because he didn't understand how things were done here. He kept applying his human rules to this galaxy and it didn't add up in the end. What annoyed her to no end was the fact that he didn't learn from his mistakes.

"What should I have done? Just ignored it?" he hissed back, very obviously nervous.

"Give it up. You're outnumbered," the head goon said, nonchalantly waving what Aeryn perceived as a stun rod in their general direction.

"Frell you," she spat and had both pulse pistols out before anyone could make a move. "We're Peacekeepers. You do not want to frell with us."

The head goon eyed her for a microt and for a heartbeat she thought he bought it. Then his gaze shifted to John and he chuckled. "For you I could believe it. But not him. He's far too nervous to be a Peacekeeper," he said. "Drop your weapons. They do you no good."

Aeryn glanced around at them, counted them, and noted that their numbers had increased again. It had to be what that female called 'hunting season' and that frellnik was right. They were outnumbered and their guns would do no good against the shield belts the opposition wore.

"Frell," she growled and straightened. "We can do this two ways, John," she added. "We can give up now and probably spend the rest of our lives in bondage. Or we can try and fight our way out. The chances of that are not good, mind you."

"I'm not giving up my freedom without a fight," John countered angrily.

Aeryn grinned tensely. "Then we fight," she agreed.

With four pulse-pistols between them, she hoped they would be able to make a dent in the ring of slavers surrounding them. The fact was, though, that they didn't even bruise anyone. Mere microts after they had opened fire, they were both down for the count, disabled by the powerful electrical discharge of the stun rods.

Unceremoniously, they were then moved to the slavers estate outside of town and not even one of the surrounding civilians had given them a second glance. If she had read them right, it was a matter of 'better them than us'.


The slavers estate

John was not happy about this outcome; not in the least. He fought the slavers every inch of the way, but could not break free of the cuffs holding his hands behind his back. He was separated from Aeryn once they reached the slavers estate when they were both dragged into one of the few buildings and then into separate rooms.

The one he was taken to, reminded him very much of a doctor's office with a desk and an examination table in the middle of the room. The slavers, who had stayed with him, were joined by two more and together, they managed to get him up on the table on his stomach without too many injuries, even though John gave it his all to break free.

"Get your hands off me, you bastards," he snarled and tried to wiggle his way out of their grip, but they were obviously used to a little bit of everything, because none of his stunts worked.

"What have we here?" someone asked and a fifth male entered the scene.

John couldn't see him because he stood at the footend of the table and was therefore out of his at presently limited line of sight, but the tone of this male suggested he was a doctor; or a medic as they were called in the UTs.

"A new addition to your collection, head overseer Teelum," one of the slavers said and grunted when John managed to kick him somewhat ineffectively in the guts. The slaver clamped down on his calf hard enough to nearly make the muscle spasm and John hissed angrily and stopped moving for a moment. "And a lively one at that," the slaver added with a grin in his voice.

"So I see," the fifth man said. "Get him up. I can't determine his state when he's flat on his stomach."

The slavers pulled him off the table again and got him back on his feet. The head overseer immediately brought an image of a crazed doctor to mind. All he was missing were the thick glasses. He was tall, spindly even, with thin, frizzy white hair sticking out in all directions. His eyes were a peculiar lavender color, his lips thin and they appeared unaccustomed to smiling. He was dressed in a moss-colored long lab-coat that was buttoned on the side rather than in the middle. His spider-like hands were in constant movement.

"Well, this is a healthy-looking specimen, isn't it," Teelum commented.

"I'm not a frelling specimen, you sick fuck," John snapped at him. "Who the frell gives you the right to grab people off the street anyway?"

"The law, my boy. The law," Teelum said with a thin, almost nonexistent smile that briefly made the corners of his lips twitch.

One of the slavers slapped the back of John's head. The impact wasn't hard enough to hurt, but it was humiliating nonetheless. "Better behave yourself, boy," he said with a grin. "Head overseer Teelum doesn't like unruly slaves."

"I'm not a frelling slave," John snapped and hammered a boot down on the slavers' foot.

That earned him a fist in the face and it knocked him into the opposite slaver, who braced him with the help of one of the other men and shoved him back into the arms of the first slaver. This one grabbed the front of his t-shirt and gave him a warning glare. "Watch it, slave," he snarled. "You're just a male. Unless there's some frelled-up female who wants to buy you, you've got about as much chance as a pod before a budong of being sold. Do you know what that means?" He didn't wait for John to confirm or deny that. "That means that you're in for a lot of pain."

John sneered and tried to pull out of his grip, but the slaver yanked him back in and John took the opportunity to try something he had always wondered about. He slammed his brow against the slavers' brow and it did make the man let go. But it hurt like hell too. A bit dazed from the impact, John stumbled a step backward and was grabbed from behind by two men.

The first slaver rubbed his now sore brow with an angry glare.

"Enough," Teelum said in an almost bored tone of voice and stepped forward. "I will not have you damage the goods before I've had a chance to appraise them," he told the slaver who backed down with an angry snarl.

"You're lucky. Very lucky," the slaver snarled and stepped back to give Teelum space.

The head overseer eyed John thoughtfully for a moment. "A bit battered now, but still in one piece," he said quietly and grabbed John's chin in a steel grip. He might look frail, but his grip indicated he was anything but. "Interesting eye color," he commented. "Hmm. Well, he will do. I'll give you five for him."

John's anger flared at the mere thought of what was happening to him. "I'm not for sale, you bastard."

Teelum arched a white eyebrow. "Are you not?" he asked, his tone even. "Well, that's not up to you to decide. Not anymore."

"Frell you," John spat and tried to lunge at Teelum, but the two men behind him were holding on tightly.

Teelum rolled his eyes and shook his head, then pulled something that looked like a small gun out of one pocket. "Hold him still," he said to the men holding him.

One of them grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked his head to the right. Teelum pressed the gun against his neck and pulled the trigger. He felt the sting and hissed, but there was nothing he could do to stop this from happening.

He kept on struggling against the hold they had on him to make it as hard on them as he possibly could, but could still not prevent that freak from taking a blood sample or whatever the hell this was.

Teelum finally stepped back, his eyes on the 'gun' in his hand. He turned away and walked over to a console at the wall, where he inserted the 'gun' into a slot made for it. Apparently, he was analyzing the sample and that worried John. Now that freak would find out he wasn't Sebacean. And the implications could be numerous.

For a moment, the head overseer watched the results scroll over a small screen, then he turned back to eye John thoughtfully. "Fully functional, I see," he said.

John wasn't sure what that cryptic remark meant and he didn't much care either. All he cared about was getting out of this mess, but he just couldn't see how right now. And he wasn't going to get out without Aeryn.

"Good to hear," the lead slaver said with a grin. He had obviously gotten over being head-butted. "The price is acceptable," he added.

"Good," Teelum said and turned his attention to one of his men. "Get him out of those clothes. He won't need them anymore. And put a collar on him. We don't want him running rampant on us. He seems a bit ... opposed to what is happening to him." The man nodded. Teelum glanced back at John while folding his long-fingered hands. "Time to check out the female," he said with another tight-lipped smile and left the room.

John fought them every step of the way, but it didn't stop them from stripping him naked and slapping a flat collar around his neck. He compared it to that collar the Nebari had used on him and wondered if that was the same type. It didn't look like it though. This thing was tighter for one, and it wasn't as bulky either. It had a ring at the front and was welded in place in the back.

Once the collar was in place, they released him and tossed him some sand-colored clothes. "Put this on," one of the other overseers said.

John sneered at him, but did as he was told. He didn't much like the idea of attacking these bastards while he was naked. Once he'd pulled the loose-fitting tunic over his head and pulled the equally loose pants on, he gave the nearest overseer a dark look and then lunged at him. But that didn't get him very far.

The collar was similar to the Nebari collar he had been unfortunate enough to be subjected to. Only this one didn't use liquid, but rather shock-treatment. Needles sank into his neck all the way around and administered a charge that sent him sprawling immediately. It was only a brief charge, but it was enough to nearly knock him out.

Gasping for the breath the attack had stolen from him, he struggled to get up on his hands and knees. His entire body was tingling unpleasantly.

"That was a taste of what's to come," the overseer said calmly. "If you attempt to attack any of us, you will be punished. If you do not do as we say, you will be punished. Is that understood?"

John raised his head and glared up at him. "Frell you," he snapped. That earned him another 'punishment' which sent him sprawling again and he gave up on further obstinacy for the time being.


Aeryn had almost managed to escape, but these slavers were downright brutal in their approach and two of them had tackled her before she had reached the door. The impact had sent her sprawling and both of them had thrown themselves on top of her to keep her down. She had used the advantage of having her hands tied behind her back and had sunk her nails into the thigh of one of them. Yelping in pain, he had let go of her, but the second one had been more cunning and had slammed a fist into the small of her back, making her curl up in a near cramp from the pain.

Obviously these frellnicks learned from their mistakes, because they tied her feet together and wrapped a piece of rope around her upper body, effectively pinning her arms to her sides.

Unlike John, however, she saw no sense in trying to reason with these males and kept her mouth shut.

Tied up like she was, they sat her on the examination table and backed up to wait for whatever came next, but all she did was to stare angrily at them.

Moments later, the door opened and a tall skinny male stepped in. His hair was unruly and his gaze penetrating. He had long thin fingers that were moving constantly. He stopped just inside the door and eyed her with cool appreciation. "Ah," he then said. "What a fine specimen."

Aeryn grimaced at him, but said nothing. She eyed him angrily as he stepped closer, but her anger made no difference to him at all.

"She looks healthy," he added.

"Oh, she is," one of the slavers said and glanced at Aeryn with a grin. "And full of energy. You should be able to get much fun out of her. After you break her, that is. She's a bit ... unruly at the moment, head overseer Teelum."

Teelum eyed him like he was a particularly interesting specimen of bug before returning his attention to Aeryn. "She looks strong," he said, obviously choosing to ignore the comment. "I will give you ... seven for her," he added thoughtfully.

The slavers looked pleased by that offer, which annoyed Aeryn; but she was still not annoyed enough to speak up. She felt it would make no difference what she had to say at this point.

"Hold her, please," Teelum said, pulled a bio-tester out of one pocket and approached her when the two slavers had a solid hold on her. One of them pulled her head to one side by taking a firm hold of her hair and head overseer Teelum pressed the tester against her neck and took tissue and blood samples, which he then entered into the datastores and had the machine check them. "Excellent," he muttered and turned back to face her.

The slavers looked pretty eager and Aeryn wondered why that was. But Teelum's expression was painfully indifferent. "You may release her again," he said when the slavers continued to hold onto her.

Aeryn gave them both nasty glares and was somewhat pleased by the fact that they looked disappointed. Teelum waved them away with a dismissive flick of the wrist and stepped closer to her. "I do hope that you realize that I have just spared you the humiliation of having these ... brutes strip you down," he said with a faint smile on his thin lips.

One glance at the door told Aeryn that the slavers had left, which gave her ample opportunity to face this frellnick alone. "You are dead. Do you understand me? Unless you release us right now, I will kill you."

Teelum's smile stayed on. "And how do you propose to do that? You are tied up and quite defenseless." His tone alone revealed that he was not impressed by her display.

"I don't frelling care how long it will take. I will kill you," she snarled. "We have friends waiting for us. They will not rest until we are free."

"If they want you so bad, they will have to buy you out. The laws in this sector are very specific, my dear," Teelum countered and grabbed a handful of her hair. "You were caught legally during hunting season. Even though you may once have been a Peacekeeper, you are no longer one. I have no interest in the bounty on your heads, both you and that ... male. All I am interested in is giving my customers something to buy. And you two are quite the catch." He let her hair slide through his fingers with that faint smile still lingering on his lips. He seemed to like the feel of her hair. Then he shook himself out of admiring her and stepped back, his expression once again indifferent. "You are both legal prey," he continued. "That means that no law in this galaxy will ever go against me. The fact is that you two are here to stay until you either drop dead or get sold off to some potential buyer. Whichever comes first is of no consequence to me."

With that, he turned around and left the room. Aeryn bared her teeth in sheer frustration and struggled against the ties holding her. In her opinion, there were some laws that needed to be changed out here. "Frelling fringers," she hissed angrily, using a word the Peacekeepers used for those who chose to live in the UTs.

It was with a snide and somewhat sarcastic snort that it hit her that she was one of them now. "I never thought I'd live to see the day," she muttered to herself and stopped struggling when two men wearing similar outfits to Teelum's came in.

They were big and strong and it took them no time at all to strip her of her clothes. She managed to get a few good punches and kicks in, but nothing that gave her an edge she could use. Once her clothes were gone, they slammed her face down onto the table, pulled her hair out of the way and welded a collar shut around her neck. Then they released her, stepped back and one of them threw a bundle of tan clothes at her. She was off the table the microt they let go of her and had backed up a few steps, but she caught the clothes with ease.

"Put that on. We will be back in a few microts," one of the men said.

Aeryn was quick to get into the clothes and wondered what the collar did other than give them a place to hook a leash to. She fingered it for a moment, tried to figure out what it did, and hissed with anger when she realized that it was similar to the Nebari control collars. "Frell it all into the nearest sun," she spat and vowed that she would give John a piece of her mind if she got the chance.