The buyer was Sebacean. He was old, fat and smelled of something Aeryn couldn't decipher. Not that it mattered. There was no way in Hezmana that he was taking her home with him. She stood ram-rod-straight, her eyes on nothing, her whole demeanor that of a soldier under inspection. The other females cowered before him, shrank back and were pushed forward again by the overseers.

Aeryn didn't cower and she didn't pull back. She stood still and stared right through him when he stopped in front of her.

"I take it this one's new?" he asked and eyed Aeryn with obvious lust.

Aeryn very nearly sneered, the urge to pound this fekkik into the ground rushing through her. She knew what it would earn her if she did, so she refrained from going to such extremes, but she was not going to be groped by this male either.

"Yes, she is fairly new. She's not broken in yet, so keep your distance," head overseer Teelum said with a paper-thin smile on his nearly none-existent lips.

"Nice, though," the buyer said and licked his lips in a disgusting display of sexual hunger. "Looks shapely. And strong," he added and reached a chubby hand out to grab Aeryn's right arm.

Teelum gave her a warning stare when she made a move to pull free. For a microt, she considered spitting the male in the face, but refrained from doing so. She wasn't too sure what another punishment would do to her right now. She was having trouble enough remaining on her feet and didn't want to end up in a situation where she would have to depend on the help of any of the others.

The buyer smacked his lips while feeling over her arm. "Strong," he confirmed.

Just then, two overseers stepped up behind her and grabbed her arms, pulling her back against them so she couldn't move her upper body at all. The unexpectedness of this 'attack' made her tense up at once, but since she didn't know what the outcome would be of any aggression she displayed, she remained calm and waited for their next move.

The next move, as it were, did not come from the overseers but from the buyer. And Aeryn could honestly say that she had never felt this disgusted with her own race before. He cupped a hand over her right breast and squeezed, not paying the slightest attention to how she might perceive this.

Aeryn's response was immediate. Using the two overseers as leverage, she brought both legs up and hammered the heel of her right foot into the buyer's face while she locked her left foot behind his neck to give her kick maximum impact. And it worked too. The overseers were so surprised by her response to this that they held onto her rather than letting go and the buyer was down for the count with a broken face.

Head overseer Teelum took matters into his own hands at that very moment as he pressed the button on his control box down and brought everybody within range down.

The overseers let go of Aeryn's arms and she toppled to the ground in a twisting mass of agony, but even through the pain she could not help but relish the thought that she could give as good as she got. This incident would hopefully make them think twice before offering her up for sale again.

***

As soon as she was even marginally back on her feet after being dumped back in the enclosure with the other females, Aeryn pried the control box apart with little trouble. It was a very rudimentary box with rudimentary contents, but she found what she was looking for nonetheless; a piece of metal she could conceal in the waistband of her pants when she was being watched.

She clutched it in her left hand, rolled over on her left side to face the wall and started fiddling with the welding of the collar around her neck. The piece of metal was strong enough to act as a knife and flexible enough for her to wiggle it into a small crack that hadn't been welded shut. In time, she would be able to undermine the collar's welding and break it off. And once she did, she swore that she would enact some vengeance on these fekkiks.

Pretending to be asleep, she worked on the collar all through the rest of the day and well into the night. She didn't give a frell about anything else, but did interrupt long enough to grab one of the food cubes dumped just inside the gates when it was time to eat. She was the first one there and briefly considered grabbing more than her share. The other females moved slowly, agonizing over their injuries rather than working up a healthy dose of anger and for a brief moment the urge to grab as much as she could to sustain herself flared up in her. But then that little voice in the back of her head spoke up and for some reason it sounded suspiciously like John. She growled under her breath, scaring off one of the other females, then grabbed one cube and returned to her blankets.

Aeryn was disgusted with the lot of them. They were all spineless tralks who'd rather subject themselves to being groped by some potential buyer than to stand up and fight for their rights. With a helpless sneer, she kept on wiggling the piece of metal deeper into the crack. She was beginning to understand John's point of view on this one. It didn't mean that she would try and interfere in public business like he had, but she understood why he did what he did. It just annoyed her beyond reason that he couldn't be a little more subtle about it and always had to act before he thought.

Sleep finally overtook her but she did have sense enough to hide the piece of metal in her waistband. The remains of the box lay buried in the ground underneath her blankets. Even if the overseers removed the blankets, they wouldn't find the hole she had dug. She was good at covering up her tracks; another thing her Peacekeeper training had taught her.

***

John didn't sleep much the following night. He lay awake and stared up at the roof over his head, his whole body aching; and it wasn't in that healthy, good way either. He knew he'd overdone it and that he would probably have to struggle to keep on his feet the following few days. But at the same time he couldn't stop being angry; angry and embarrassed. He'd screwed up; big time, and there was nothing he could do to correct that mistake.

He reached lightly shivering hands up to grab the collar and pulled weakly at it. Even if he'd been able to put as much strength into it as he would have liked to, he doubted the damned collar would give. And he couldn't start fiddling with it either. The overseers would notice at once. The ring, which was normally at the front, was pulled around to the back in the mines when it was hooked into the chains hanging from the ceiling. The shackles around his ankles were not the only thing keeping him in place.

Any thoughts of rebelling against the overseers in the dimly lit mine had died on the very first day. He couldn't even get close enough to his neighbor to whisper thoughts of rebellion to him. It would be pretty damn tough to inspire anybody that way. But John had far from given up. One week was nothing. It was painful, but it was nothing. D'Argo and the others were probably just having trouble scraping up the dough to buy them out. That was all it was.

He kept telling himself that, over and over, just to subdue that little voice in the back of his head that kept screaming about betrayal and abandonment. There was no way in hell that he would give in to defeat. Not ever.

But it still did not make him feel physically better. He promised himself, though, that once D and the others had come to their rescue, he was going to sleep for a week at least. He needed rest so badly, it only added to the physical ache, and that despite the fact that he could spend the latter part of the day and the whole night sleeping if he wanted to.

***

Several days later

Days passed without end and Aeryn kept working on her collar to get it off. Slowly, meticulously, she scraped away at the welded spot and had managed to get halfway through the collar by the time the next buyer turned up to take a look at the females.

A few of them – the strongest from what Aeryn could tell – were taken along. On her way out of the enclosure, Aeryn noted that the female with the sickly-looking male was alone and huddled up against the wall at the back. There were two other females with her and Aeryn figured her mate had finally died. She hadn't noticed the removal of the corpse, but since dead people didn't just disappear into thin air, it had probably happened at night while she had been asleep.

Trying to keep suddenly worried thoughts at bay, Aeryn focused forward and wished that those fekkiks would give her a reason to lose her patience. She felt the need to kick the frell out of someone.

All of them were herded into a pen. A platform skirting the edge of the pen gave the buyer and head overseer Teelum a better view. The buyer, as it turned out, was fully Sebacean. He was handsome enough, tall, powerfully built and smiled almost benevolently at them. But Aeryn saw a gleam in his eye she didn't care for at all. He looked like the type who preferred to batter his intended partner into submission.

She narrowed her eyes when his gaze fixed on her. She took on her Peacekeeper stance again, back straight, feet together, head high, and looked him straight in the eye. Unfortunately, that did not appear to impress him at all. He smiled and said something to Teelum, who glanced down at Aeryn with a slight frown.

Teelum shook his head, but the buyer was persistent. Aeryn was curious what their conversation was about, so she pushed forward to the front of the pen, while she slipped her fingers under the collar and put pressure on it. With a little luck, this frelling thing would snap and release her from any immediate repercussions.

"I do not advise you to go for this one. She is new, not broken in yet. She has a high opinion of herself," Teelum said, his attention fully on the buyer.

"Needless to say, head overseer Teelum, I like the feisty ones. And with the collar in place, I'll break her in fast. You know my reputation," the buyer replied with a smile. "But, essentially, I'd like to test the merchandise before I buy."

Teelum sighed. "You know the rules, Shea. She is strong and hence good breeding stock. If I let every buyer test the merchandise, she would not be worth much in the end. And I doubt any potential buyer would be happy to find her carrying a previous buyer's offspring if you were not to be satisfied with her."

Shea chuckled under his breath. "Teelum, you know me. I would never return damaged goods to you. I just want to make certain that she's ... fitting," he said.

Aeryn glanced backwards at the other females and noticed that the majority of them cowered near the back, and they were reeking of fear. They had probably experienced this one before. Not needing to hear more of the two males' discussion, Aeryn stepped back toward the others, grabbed the one nearest to her and pulled her in close. "Why are you so frelling afraid of this one?" she whispered angrily.

"He 'tests' us," the female whispered back, keeping her eyes averted.

Aeryn had understood as much. "As in rape?" she asked quietly.

The female finally looked her straight in the eye. "No, head overseer Teelum would never allow that," she whispered a little heatedly.

Before Aeryn could ask any more questions, two overseers stepped into the pen and motioned for her to follow them. Aeryn turned around to face them, but didn't move. "If you want me, you'll have to come and get me," she snarled.

One of the overseers raised a control box. "You don't want me to use this, do you?" he asked.

"Frell you," she spat.

The overseer pushed the button and sent Aeryn sprawling. She hated the pain, but she was not going to make it easy on them. Not now, not ever.

***

The overseers dragged her into the building and into a room, where she was strung up in shackles dangling from the ceiling. There were shackles for her ankles as well, but for some reason the overseers left them off. That did not change the fact that she stood with her arms stretched over her head, ready for inspection.

She stared coldly at the buyer when he entered together with Teelum, who watched Aeryn with a slight frown. His gaze dropped briefly to her feet, but he said nothing about the ankle shackles either and that made Aeryn wonder what the frell he was up to. She had proven that she could and would hurt any potential buyer as easily with her feet as with her hands.

The buyer rubbed his hands together in anticipation, then stepped up to her and eyed her with a smile. "Let's just see how good a fit you are, shall we?" he asked and shoved his hand down her pants.

Aeryn remained immobile for a full microt while he felt around between her legs. She didn't much care for the treatment, but had expected nothing less and she was not going to let him get away with it either.

Before he could do anything further than just feel, she suddenly lurched backward, thereby effectively removing his hand from her pants. The momentum gave her enough space to leap off the floor after grabbing the chains holding her wrists, bring her feet up around his neck and snap it like a dry twig.

He toppled to the ground, dead before impact, and Aeryn let herself drop down again, her eyes now on Teelum. Confirming her suspicion of before, he didn't look the least bit upset. He merely stared at the corpse on the floor and then sighed. "I warned him," he said, shook his head, turned around and left.

Aeryn became aware immediately that Teelum hadn't liked this buyer for whatever reason and had wanted him dead. He was fully aware that Aeryn would do this for him if she was being demeaned enough and that was the only reason for that he had allowed this session to take place.

"Fekkik," she hissed. It ticked her off quite a bit more that she'd been used to kill someone than it did that she had been violated by some frelling male who was after a sex-slave.

The overseers freed her of her ties again and took her back to the enclosure and that was the last she heard of that business. Nobody was punished for the death of the buyer and Aeryn had her own opinion about that.

Angry, she returned to her place under the roof, hunkered down, wrapped her hands around the collar and pulled as hard as she could. None of the other females approached her, but they all stared at her. They knew something had happened, but probably just assumed that she had been rejected by this buyer.

Aeryn considered telling them that this particular buyer was not going to come back for any of them, but decided not to say anything. There was a certain amount of power in the fact that she was the only one who knew this.

But at present she did not care what they liked or didn't like. She needed to get rid of that frelling collar so she could kick her way out of this drenhole. Her anger at her present situation upped her strength because the collar suddenly gave way under the relentless pressure she put on it. With a barely audible pop, the welding in the back cracked and the collar sprang open. She pulled it away from her neck and raised it up to study it thoughtfully for a microt. Then a smile slipped over her lips. She replaced it around her neck again, letting the spring-mechanism in the joint push it closed, and sat down on the ground. There was a time for everything and right now, it wasn't the time to carry out her plan. She would rest, regain her composure and wait for the overseers to bring them their morning feeding.

With a grimace stuck halfway between a sneer and a grin, she settled down for the night. The following day would see her liberation; and once she had located the necessary means and preferably the others, she would go in and liberate John. And she would take great pleasure in killing Teelum when she got to that point.

***

The morning came all too fast, but Aeryn was ready to pounce on the first hapless fool that stepped through the gate when it opened.

The first overseer stepped through and she jumped him without delay, knocking him off his feet. Her fingers closed instantly around the stunrod they all carried and ripped it out of his grip when he fell. She used it to incapacitate him with vicious joy.

The second overseer raised his control box and pressed the button. At the same time he noticed that she wasn't wearing her collar and his eyes went wide before she slammed the stunrod into his rib cage and fried him alive. He was dead before he hit the ground.

Aeryn sneered, grabbed his stunrod and pushed the gates wide. It was their loss that they thought the females wouldn't put up too much of a fight and had only sent two overseers to feed them.

Armed with two stunrods and the attitude of an aggravated keedva, Aeryn slipped out of the enclosure and briefly glanced around. As of yet, no other overseers were on the move. Then her gaze settled on the open gates to the males' enclosure and a frown slipped over her brow. Where the frell were the males?

She jogged over to the gate and sent a quick glance inside. There was nobody there. It took her a moment to realize what the male slaves were being used for and it sent a cold shiver down her spine. "Frelling fekkiks," she hissed and turned her smoldering anger toward the low buildings. There was no time to take her anger out on Teelum and his cohorts right now. She needed to get out so she could get help and save John.

Determined to see her plan through, she jogged over to the entrance gates and inspected them for a microt. They were charged. She could sense the electricity the microt she got close to them. That meant she would have to get into the building and kill the power before she could get out. Well, she had been trained for operations like this.

Without hesitation or second thoughts, she turned around and jogged right up to the main building, ready to kill anyone who got in the way.

She managed to get inside and had to take out two more overseers, but managed to do so quietly and did therefore not attract any undue attention. A quick search of the front part of the building offered the result she wanted. She found the gate control. Switching the power off, she unlocked it and turned around to leave.

Teelum stood in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest. "Well, well, well," he said, his expression serious. "It would appear that I underestimated you, didn't I?" he asked.

Aeryn sneered and rushed him. She drove him out the door of the control room and into the wall across from the hall where she pressed her lower arm hard against his scrawny-looking neck. "I should kill you where you stand, Teelum," she snarled. "But I don't have time to frell with you right now."

That said, she stabbed him with the stunrod and electrocuted him. But she was interrupted by two further overseers, who turned up at the end of the corridor. Instead of staying to fight them, Aeryn turned tail and ran. Racing across the estate towards the open gates while still clutching the stunrods, she was almost at the gate when they started to close again. Fortunately, they cycled shut too slowly and she knew she would make it, but then she heard the discharge of a pulse pistol. For some reason she could not fathom, she had never thought they would actually shoot their prisoners and it took her completely by surprise when she was knocked off her feet when the blast caught her in the back and threw her forward.

The stunrods went flying and she could just about touch the gates while they slowly cycled shut, but she could not get up. The blast had not been a normal shot, but rather a stun blast and she felt tears welling up in her eyes; tears of frustration and anger. Her one chance to get away had been fouled up because she hadn't been fast enough or aware enough. If she had been at the height of her training right now, she would have cleared the gates several microts before anybody had even been able to think of closing them. Now there was nothing left for her to do than grind her teeth in frustration and await her punishment.

***

With her whole body tingling and her responses down to a minimum, Aeryn could do fairly little about anything they might do to her now. She was dragged back into the building, where the two overseers came to a stop in the corridor and hauled her to her feet. Someone grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her head up so she could face Teelum.

The male looked paler than normal and a light sheen of sweat was covering his face, telling her that he was still in pain from her attack. She almost smiled at the thought, but assumed that he would not take too kindly to that. And right now, she was completely at his mercy.

"You should not have done that," he said. He had one arm wrapped around his obviously aching chest and kept his distance from her. "You will be punished for your actions. You have killed four of my men and you nearly killed me," he added.

"I'm just sorry I didn't kill more," Aeryn countered, her voice a little slurred.

Teelum's lavender eyes darkened dangerously. "I have had enough of your insolence. If you will not be broken by the collar, you will be broken in the box," he said. "Strip her down and throw her in there. I do not want to see her for the next few days," he added, waved a dismissive hand at her and walked away.

The overseers did what they were told. They took her clothes off and dumped her on the rubbery floor of a very cramped chamber. She struggled for a moment to get up, but gave up on it again. Her muscles were still too shaky from the stun-blast. "Frell them and all their kin," she hissed against the floor of the room and closed her eyes. Whatever the frell this room was used for, she would find out later. Right now, she needed to rest.

***

A few days later

The ground rose up to meet her forcefully when the overseers let go of her arms in the middle of the enclosure. Aeryn didn't have strength enough to brace herself, only to turn her head slightly. Small pebbles cut into her skin, breaking it in places, but all she could do was lie there and focus on breathing while her world spun out of control. The fact that she was naked was of less concern to her than the fact that she was out in the burning sun without a thread on and no means of getting under the shelter of the roof without assistance; assistance she was not going to ask for.

Before she could give her predicament any further thought, someone grabbed her arms and hauled her into the relative coolness of the shadowy overhang. Only when they lowered her down on the blankets she had accumulated and turned her over did she see who her rescuers were. The mere fact that one of them was the old woman made her groan weakly, but she did not have the strength or presence of mind to tell the old crone to frell off. Instead she settled for passing out and completely managed to miss the struggle of the two women as they dressed her and cooled her skin with their water rations.

***

She awoke with a start several arns later and struggled to sit up despite the warnings her body gave her. The world was still spinning around her, making her dizzy and nauseous, but she drew on her training and managed to pull back against the wall before she gave in to the need to just close her eyes.

"You have to lie down. You're up too early."

She cracked a lid and eyed the old crone with nothing short of annoyance. "Leave me the frell alone," she rasped.

"Oh, I'm good enough to save your scrawny behind from baking in the sun, but not good enough for this? The least you could do was say thank you," the old woman replied, her tone lacking the annoyance she should have shown. Instead, she wet a piece of cloth and dabbed it against Aeryn's brow.

Aeryn made a half-hearted attempt to bat away her hand, but couldn't muster the strength. Instead, she settled for groaning angrily and allowed the old woman to have her way for now. "I don't need your help," she croaked helplessly.

"No, of course you don't," the old woman replied and snorted. "Disgusting how little you Peacekeepers really know when it comes down to it. Don't you know you'll never survive here on your own?"

Aeryn's response to that was as forceful as it was obvious. She lashed out to grab the old woman's throat and gave her an angry glare. "You know nothing of Peacekeepers, you frelling stack of dren," she hissed through clenched teeth and then pushed the old one away from her. "Now, leave me the frell alone," she added.

The old woman eyed her for a microt, then sighed, shrugged almost indifferently and left her to her own devices.

Angered by the obvious truth behind the woman's words, Aeryn slide back down on the ground and closed her eyes while hugging herself. Only time would tell if she would ever get another chance at escaping. She doubted it, though. But the old woman gave her plenty of incentive to try. She wanted to get away from the old hag; the sooner the better.