At the slavers estate

Aeryn paced. Apart from having been displayed for various buyers and having spent time in the box, she didn't have much to do. And still the other females around her annoyed her even though two of them had helped her after she'd been released from the box again. She hated being dependent on them. They were weak and gutless and she despised them for being so feeble.

After a sudden inclination, which had not really hit her before, she found a way up on the roof of the enclosure after making sure none of the overseers were within hearing range. She scaled the slick roof up to the wall separating the enclosures, glanced toward the open space outside the enclosures to make sure she wasn't being watched, and then turned her attention to the male enclosure. She couldn't see John anywhere, which probably meant that he was under the roof. "John?" she called quietly and glanced back toward the front briefly. She had to keep an eye out for trouble. "John?" she tried again. There was no response.

After a moment, she sighed and was just about to let herself slip down the roof again when she heard someone climbing up on the roof on the other side. It wasn't John, though. It was a big thug of a Sebacean male.

"You must be Aeryn," he whispered and sent a nervous glance toward the gate.

"Yes, I am. Where is John?" she countered and eyed him for a moment. She had seen many of his type in the Peacekeepers; the quite type who had no ambition and was always passed over for promotions.

"He has been sold," the big guy whispered.

Aeryn opened her mouth to reply, but found herself in want of words. All she could think of saying was, "What?!?"

"Not so loud," the big guy shushed her. "They'll hear."

"Frell them," Aeryn retorted, but in a low tone of voice. "What the frell do you mean, he has been sold? To whom? And when?"

"Yesterday morning. To some female. It happens very rarely," the big guy countered and shrugged. "I'm sorry. I wish I knew more."

"No, that's okay," Aeryn said and sighed. "Frell," she then hissed. "Thanks for the update," she added, raised a hand in greeting and slid back down the roof. She could hear him doing the same on the other side.

She hit the ground on both feet and straightened up. So, they had sold John, had they? Well, they were going to be frelling sorry for that. She sneered darkly. Once she was out of here, she would find a way to track him down. And when she got her hands on that frelling tralk who had bought him, she was going to make her regret she had ever thought of keeping slaves. "Frelling tralk," she hissed.

***

Madam K'irri's abode

Over the next many days, John found out the true meaning of being a slave. He hated every second of it and was hard pressed to put up with the way he was being treated. Heecan and Declan watched over his every move like a pair of hawks and if it hadn't been for the fact that the 'delicate' Madam K'irri was obviously either afraid of him or annoyed with him, he was certain that she would have made more than just a pass at him. She didn't smile, just watched him with her big eyes while her two goons stayed close to prevent him from attacking her again. He was required to perform certain menial tasks like polishing a part of the wall in her living quarters that didn't need to be polished or move furniture around at random. He was completely aware that he was being forced to do this because the fish-lady liked to watch him and the more he had to do it, the more he hated it.

The first few days he went along with it because he was tired of being tortured and kicked around. Here, at least, he was fed a little more frequently and could drink as much as he wanted to. His cough had been reduced to the occasional tickle in the back of his throat, which was good news in his book. But he was constantly cold and sleep deprivation was beginning to take its toll. Sharky, as he had dubbed Madam K'irri in his mind, either didn't sleep much or was just up at weird hours, because she had him do weird tasks that either taxed his strength or made him yawn with boredom at all hours of the day and night.

After six days of this stupidity, John had reached the end of his rope. He was tired and grumpy and cold and was beginning to long for the mine shafts. At least there no clammy-skinned half-fish was watching his every move.

Heecan and Declan obviously considered him safe now because they had left him alone with Sharky, upon her insistence, and John couldn't help thinking that he might get his chance at antagonizing her beyond repair at this point.

He sighed heavily, audibly, at the stupid task of once again polishing one of the walls in her living quarters and made no secret of the fact that he was both annoyed and bored at the same time.

"Are you going to behave?" she asked.

He stopped short and let his hand drop, the cloth fluttering to the floor at his feet. "Why should I?" he asked and glanced over at her. She was watching him, obviously expecting something other than refusal to cooperate, but she said nothing. He turned around to face her and gave her a frown. "What the frell do you get out of treating others like this, huh? Does it turn you on?"

She blinked like a stupid, big cow and sat up straighter on her divan. "I am giving you a chance to get away from the mines, to be treated better than you are at the slavers estate. I do not understand why you are not grateful," she said and rose.

"Grateful?" he huffed. "You want me to be grateful for being a frelling slave? I want my damned freedom back. I want out of here, off this dump of a world. I want to go home. I don't belong here and neither does anybody else. What about Terrian? He's old, skinny. He's constantly cold and he hates your guts," he snarled, feeling the need to mention and stand up for the old guy who had helped him in the beginning.

"Terrian does not hate me," K'irri barked back. "How dare you?"

"I dare because I've got some pride left, you clammy fish. And you're not gonna strip me of that too. You think I like being gawked at by some big-eyed, clammy-skinned half-fish like you?" He knew he was going overboard with the insults, but he figured that if he didn't push her far enough, he would just end up getting beaten up again and that would be it. He needed to make her understand that nothing she did would break him, nothing she said would change his mind. "I AM NEVER GOING TO SETTLE FOR THIS SORRY EXCUSE FOR A LIFE," he yelled just for good measure.

K'irri stared at him, her big eyes even wider than normal, and didn't move for a moment. Then she walked straight up to him, slapped him hard across the face and glared at him. "You will behave. You are my property, no matter what you may think. I don't care what you did or had before you came here. You are mine now and that's the end of it. You'd better forget about your past, because you will never leave here," she stated and placed a cold, clammy hand on his stomach. With the other, she grabbed the collar and pulled him forward.

The moment he got within a few hand's breadth of her, his nose was suddenly filled with a sickening sweet scent that almost made him gag but at the same time activated his libido with a vengeance. Disgust erupted in him like an active volcano, but no matter how much he tried to rationalize that she disgusted him, he still could not control himself.

When she pressed her thin, cold lips to his, he responded in kind while his mind screamed in outrage. His actions were completely controlled by pure and simple sex drive and no matter how disgusted he was by this half-fish, he had at the same time never seen anything hotter than her.

She didn't release her hold on the collar, but did lean back a little. "In case you're wondering," she said with a slight smile on her thin lips, "my race is called Heppel."

***

Sometime later

He sat in the furthest corner of the slave quarters, wrapped in a blanket which he held tightly together just below his chin, and stared ahead of himself, trying not to think, to feel, to do anything other than just be.

Whenever he allowed himself to consciously acknowledge his surroundings, he could feel her almost scaly skin rubbing against his, could smell her sickly sweet smell, and it made him sick to his stomach. The taste in his mouth made him want to throw up and the memory of how she had felt beneath him made him quietly swear that he would abstain from sex for the rest of his life.

She was cold inside and out and to his great regret, he mostly felt close to tears at what he had just been forced through. He hated that he didn't have better control over his body than this. Somewhere in the back of his head he knew that whatever the smell on her had been, it had acted like a drug on him, forced him to comply even though his morality had told him not to, but it still didn't make it easier to bear.

With a shudder, he pressed his lips together into a thin line and wished desperately that he could brush his teeth or take a long, hot shower so he could wash the feel and smell of her off him. At the same time he promised himself, once and for all, that he would not allow her to get this close to him again. He would kill her before he would give in to her once more.

"Fucking fish," he whispered hoarsely under his breath.

***

The following day

Madam K'irri was overly pleased with herself. Although she did consider herself to be a benevolent creature in general, she took great pleasure in demeaning Sebacean males. Due to her race's nature, the female of her species was sought after by higher-ranking males among both Peacekeepers and general Sebaceans. No male of any species she had yet come across could withstand the influence of the heppel oil, yet unlike those who had stolen a heppel gland from a female Heppel and had it surgically implanted, the oil was an essential part of a Heppel. K'irri did not need to thrust herself upon the males she wanted. All she had to do was to get close to them.

She smirked delightedly and ran her hand lustfully over her stomach. Her latest addition certainly liked to oppose her and despite all her complaints, she found him more interesting than the rest. "Much more so," she whispered to herself with a satisfied smile. "Heecan?" she then called.

The big Sebacean male stepped into her quarters. She knew that he had a soft spot for her and she made certain he continued to do so by giving him little morsels now and again. She did know that Heecan was a little sore over that she had taken to the newcomer so easily and that he had gotten closer to her than Heecan ever would. She would tire of her new toy soon enough and return to what was safe and right in the end, but for now she would enjoy this new addition to her household. Heecan did not take liberties and on a certain level, she believed he had deeper feelings for her. She just liked a little adventure in her life now and then and her new pet would offer her that.

This world was not her idea of paradise. She liked the cooler, wetter worlds and would give anything to return to Heppel. Unfortunately, she was considered an outcast there due to this specific kind of revenge she had decided to enact on the Sebacean race as a whole and could never return, so she had to settle for this inferno of a dustball.

"Bring me the new one," she said. "What's his name again?"

Heecan made a face. "I don't know. I'll find out," he said.

"Do so," she said with a smile. She got the most joy out of the feisty ones and this one had no doubt been a Peacekeeper before becoming a slave.

***

Heecan strode angrily down the corridor toward the slave quarters. It killed him a little bit inside that Madam K'irri would choose to consort with that fekkik in any way. His hope, that she would lose interest in her newest acquisition fast, was beginning to dwindle. He had been here a weeken now and K'irri still liked to look at him. And yesterday ...

He shuddered involuntarily. What if she never tired of this one? What if this one actually began to like her? That would be unthinkable and unbearable. Anger surged through him and he swore that if that fekkik showed even the slightest bit of opposition to having to visit with Madam K'irri again, Heecan would beat the dren out of him himself; just to state an example.

Declan was waiting next to the door to the slave quarters. He watched Heecan with that special look he reserved for him when they were alone and Heecan mostly felt like punching him in the face for it. "Stop gawking at me like that," he snapped. "Madam K'irri wants her new plaything," he added.

Declan nodded his massive head once, opened the door and stepped inside. The recipient of all Heecan's current resentment sat in furthest corner wrapped up in a blanket and he did not look happy when Declan stepped in.

Heecan followed Declan and stopped short at the - to him - pitiful sight of this newest addition. "Madam K'irri wants to see you. I cannot imagine why, but that is not for me to question. Get up," he said.

The male made no move to comply, merely remained where he was and pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders.

"Declan. Get him up," Heecan ordered, annoyed. He most of all wanted to return to Madam K'irri and tell her not to bother about this one. But he could not and would not defy orders.

Declan closed the distance and easily brought that upstart to his feet.

"I don't want to see her," the male snapped, desperately trying to disengage himself from Declan's hefty hand. "She's clammy."

Before he could say another word, Heecan had slammed a fist into his face. The impact would no doubt have thrown him off his feet if Declan hadn't been holding on to him. "You do not get to talk about her that way," Heecan snarled. "If I had anything to say about it, you would not get to lay a hand on her either."

"I wish you had something to say about it," the male said, covering his sore nose with one hand. "If you're so nuts about her, why don't you tell her and get it over with? Are you afraid she'll turn you down?"

"Frell you," Heecan spat and felt the nearly untamable urge to kill anyone who spoke ill of Madam K'irri. Instead, he grabbed the male's chin in a harsh grip and looked him straight in the eye. "What's your name?"

"John," he replied with a sneer of his own.

"Now, listen to me, John, and listen good. If you do anything, and I mean anything, to upset Madam K'irri today, I will take it out of your hide and then I will advise her strongly to return you to the pound she found you in. Is that understood?" he said angrily.

"Got it," John replied.

***

To be forced to consort with that bitch again was out of the question, but John found himself seriously outnumbered while Declan easily dragged him along the corridor towards Madam Kirri's inner sanctum. He did struggle, put up quite a fight if he had to say so himself, but with Declan holding onto his arm like an angry teacher holding onto the arm of a little kid, there was next to nothing he could do to break free. And even if he should have managed that, he would have to deal with the scorned, love-sick pup that was Heecan. Even though it appeared that Heecan would rather have thrown him to the curb than let him touch his 'fragile' Madam K'irri again, he also did what he was told to do.

"Grow a spine, Heecan," he tried, attempting to turn back to face the other man trudging along behind them. "Tell her how you feel. I don't want her. I've got someone else. She's all yours."

"Shut the frell up," Heecan snarled and slapped him hard over the back of the head.

John tried again to get out of Declan's grip again, but didn't even manage to slow the big guy down. He wanted a piece of Heecan right here, right now, but Declan wouldn't let him go and Heecan wouldn't be provoked enough to do more than take a swing at him right now.

Declan opened the door to Sharkey's realm and literally threw him inside. He lost his footing and hit the floor on his stomach; a rather painful impact since he wasn't wearing more than those odd pants, and the tiles on the floor were hard as marble.

He grunted and started to get up, but stopped short when he saw her sandaled feet right in front of him. Rather than give her a chance to get close enough to use whatever the hell it was she used to drug him, he scurried backwards until he hit the door with his back and only then rose up and pressed his back against the icy door. "Stay away from me," he snarled.

Madam K'irri smiled almost benevolently, exposing her shark-like teeth in the process. "You're my property to do with as I see fit," she said and started toward him.

The air suddenly seemed too heavy for him to breathe. With his back to the door, he shifted sideways, but she matched him, anticipating his every move. When he tried the other way, she matched him there to. By the time she reached him, he was wishing that he could merge with the wall behind him.

"Get away from me, you ... fish," he pressed out. For a moment he stopped breathing, refused to inhale to avoid whatever she was secreting, but the sickly sweetness of it tickled his nose. Her clammy cold hand slipped onto his chest, her thin-lipped mouth stretched into what passed for her smile and her eyes seem to grow bigger. And the thought of having to go through that again, of having no control, of having to feel her scaly skin rubbing against him just made him snap. Gathering all the strength he could, he grabbed her and used the obvious surprise of the moment to hurl her across the room. She hit the floor on her back and skittered a few more feet before coming to a stop.

He could easily admit that he feared the consequences of his actions, but the disgust of having her touch him again made that inconsequential. Almost panicky, he rubbed the back of his hand under his nose, and remained pressed against the wall behind him.

Madam K'irri slowly got back to her feet, her eyes wide, her fish-face agape with stunned surprise and rising anger. "HEECAN!" she screeched. When she got angry, her voice rose to a pitch that hurt his ears and judging by the cutting agony that ripped through his skull, she was furious.

A second later, Heecan and Declan came rushing in. "Madam K'irrri," Heecan exclaimed, his attention going from her to John and back again. "Are you alright?"

"That frelling beast attacked me again!" she spat, this time doing nothing to hide her anger. "Punish him! Punish him!"

It took Heecan less than a second to respond and he took great joy in beating the snot out of John. In between beatings, he activated the collar and by the time he was through, John had started questioning the sanity in opposing the fish-lady. Although nothing was broken, he felt like everything was. He could barely breathe, his head hurt, his back felt like crushed glass.

When the blows and kicks and shocks stopped raining down over him, he just lay there on the cold floor and all he could focus on was breathing. The rest was agony.

A hand grabbed his hair and yanked his head off the floor. "Will you conform?" K'irri asked, her tone a mere whisper.

"Never," he rasped and flinched when she released his hair and his face smacked into the hard floor.

"Madam K'irri. This one is not for you," Heecan tried. "He will never conform."

"I realize that now, Heecan," K'irri agreed. "Take him back and get my money back. He is not worth a single credit I paid for him."

***

Heecan lugged him out of the room and into the back of the transport before he could even consciously consider what this meant. By the time they reached the slavers' estate, John was beginning to question if he would ever be able to walk again. The transport stopped and he was literally kicked out of it and landed face first on the dusty ground. With a groan and very little strength left, he raised his head just in time to see a group of females being hoarded past a little way off. One of the females was Aeryn and her expression told him all he needed to know. With the utmost effort, he smiled at her and shook his head lightly to prevent her from doing anything stupid.

She lagged behind a little and one of the overseers shoved her in the back. John mostly felt like rushing the man, but could barely bring up enough strength to keep his head up. Before long, he gave up on even that and sank down on the ground with a halfhearted groan.

"Madam K'irri wants her credits back," Heecan said to head overseer Teelum, who looked anything but pleased.

"Naturally. Send her my sincere apologies, Heecan," Teelum said. "If you will recall, though, I did warn her against this purchase."

Heecan nodded. "I know. But you know what she is like. And she is a delicate creature. His obsession with rude language was too much for her sensitive nerves."

Teelum inclined his head a little and handed over a payment pad. "This should be enough to reimburse her for her trouble, I hope?" he asked.

Heecan eyed the pad for a moment and then arched an eyebrow. "This will please her," he then said with a smile. "As always, it was nice doing business with you, head overseer Teelum."

"Likewise, Heecan. Likewise," Teelum replied and folded his long fingers while Heecan and Declan climbed back into the transport and took off.

Once they were outside the gates, Teelum turned his attention to John, who had been paying attention but pretended to be unconscious.

Teelum squatted down next to him and eyed him thoughtfully for a moment. "You are no good to us as a sale unless someone wants to buy you for hard physical labor. But I must admit that I will strongly advise against any such sale," he said, thereby disclosing that he knew John wasn't unconscious. "But your behavior toward Madam K'irri is not acceptable and normal punishment seems to only increase your defiance. What to do with you then?"

John shifted a little and pushed himself up on his elbows. He found it hard to bring his head up too, though, so he refrained from doing so. "You could consider leaving me the hell alone," he suggested weakly.

"I could," Teelum agreed. "You have caused more trouble than you're worth. But we have fed you for over half a cycle now and I like to get my credits worth." He made a gesture with one hand and two of the other overseers grabbed John and hauled him back on his feet. Teelum rose too and regarded him solemnly. Then he grabbed John's chin and thereby forced him to face the head-overseer. "I think time alone will make you reconsider your actions. A monan in solitude might give you a different perspective."

John sneered and pulled his chin out of Teelum's bony grip. "If you think that locking me in a room alone for a month is gonna get you anything, you've got another thing coming, bone man," he snarled. "I'll make you sorry you ever laid eyes on me."

Teelum smiled and John found that very disconcerting. It was worse than when Scorpius smiled. The head overseer literally looked like a skull covered with paper thin skin when he smiled. "Oh, I am sorry already," Teelum admitted. "But I am not nearly as sorry as you will be before this monan is over. If you still have not changed your attitude by then ... well, then we will have to use more drastic measures." Then he waved a hand and the overseers dragged John away toward the building he had only been inside once since his arrival.

A quick glance over one shoulder told him that Aeryn was long gone. He wished he'd just had one more glimpse of her before they locked him away for a month. But he could sustain himself on the knowledge that she was still there and obviously giving them hell.

***

Aeryn had been very close to breaking formation to rush to John's aide when she had seen him hit the ground from that transport. Seeing him back felt good, but the way he looked didn't. He could barely keep his head up, but one look and a light shake of the head from him had been enough to make her abstain from interfering.

One of the overseers herding them back to the enclosure saw fit to shove her in the back and she gave him a nasty look for his trouble before picking up speed. But she never took her eyes off John.

As soon as the gates closed and cut her off from seeing what was happening, she jumped up to grab two of the spikes on the top of the gate and pulled herself up so she could see what was happening.

Teelum spoke to John and from what she could see at this distance, the head overseer was not happy. Then the two overseers standing by hauled John off the ground and Teelum spoke some more. Whatever John had said to that caused the overseers to drag him toward the building instead of the male enclosure and that worried her.

"Frell," she hissed and let herself drop back down on the ground. Rubbing her palms restlessly against each other, she turned and looked around in search of an answer. Then her eyes settled on that old female who kept annoying her. If anyone knew what was going on, it would have to be her.

Without hesitation, she strode over to the old crone, grabbed her by the arm and hauled her out into the center of the estate with her. "If someone is taken to the building rather than back to the enclosures, what happens to them? Are they put in the box?" she demanded.

The old female wrinkled her brow, but then cackled almost gleefully. "Isolation," she said and nodded.

Aeryn released her arm and stepped back. John didn't do well with being alone and she couldn't imagine that he would take too well to the treatment in the box either. "What's the purpose?" she asked.

"Indoctrination, of course," the old female said. "The same that happened to you a while back. He will be locked in a small room, bombarded with sound and light. Normal full term is a weeken, but nobody has ever lasted that long," she added. "Before long, he'll be begging to be let out."

With a snarl, Aeryn turned around and stared at the gates. There was nothing she could do to help John. All she could hope for was that his in her opinion already frail psyche didn't crack under the strain. "He's tough. He'll make it," she hissed, mostly speaking to herself.

"Not unless he's completely healthy and well-rested and even then, he won't last a weeken in there," the old woman inserted.

Aeryn sent her a sharp look over one shoulder. "Crawl back to your pad, old fool," she snapped and returned her attention to the gates. "He'll make it," she added quietly. "He frelling has to."

***