by Clare Seven
Anya was tough. She was a security expert, an ex-marine familiar with working in a war zone, under fire, whether in a combat role or, as was more common for her these days, protecting or rescuing civilians who had had the misfortune to become embroiled in the conflict. And she was very good at it.
Surely what she saw in the company’s laboratory was some sort of simulation, a test for her? All she had to do was to dive through the glowing metallic ring in the middle of the room into what appeared to be a desert beyond, and do what she did best: rescue the young woman who seemed to have been tied down helplessly by humanoid, vaguely lizard-like creatures.
Of course it was not real. It could not be real. It made no sense. Surely it was not possible that Anya was captured by the humanoids, that she had no chance of escape, and that she was destined to become a pleasure-slave or, worse, far worse, a work-slave for the rest of her life…
Anya was exhausted. Her captors had been unused to her fighting style, it seemed, but they were strong. She was fast, but her own strength had quickly been used up against these apparently unstoppable brutes. They were wide shouldered and lithe, and now that some of them had cast the black hoods back from their heads, she realized that they were not altogether human in appearance. They had ears, eyes, flat noses and all the features that would suggest that they were of the same species as she was. Their eyes, however, told a different story. They were green with large pupils, almost reptilian in appearance as they darted toward her then elsewhere, as if expecting trouble from her or some hidden accomplice. She pulled against their vice-like grip, though it was quickly reinforced each time she did so. Two of the stronger ‘men’ held her, her arms pinioned by her sides, their free hand gripping her by the shoulders. It seemed that she was not going anywhere of her own volition as she was forced along the soft sands, her boots sinking with each difficult step.
“Where are you taking me?” she grunted, resigned now to her fate and aware that she must have failed this part of Michelson’s test. Her captors did not answer, although they began to speak to one another in a sibilant chorus of sucks and hisses.
“Oh this is bullshit,” she grunted. “So you guys are not supposed to understand me, is that it?”
She shook her head. So this was all some part of Balham’s grand design for the simulation? Still, she shuddered, it seemed real enough. She considered her self awareness. Unless she had been drugged at some stage, this definitely felt as real as it could be, and she had seen reality in all its horrible forms, including through the dreamlike split second horror of close combat. No, this was definitely real, in which case, how had Balham done it?
The sound of the stark welts, followed by horrible pleading cries was quite audible as she was marched toward the camp. In the heat haze she could make out the large reptilian creatures that she had seen before and she realized now that they clearly were not elephants. More of the figures who had taken her, cloaked and bent in some cases, were gathered around two posts that had been placed in the sands, and between them…
She gasped as she saw it, and pulled against her captors again, who she was sure could push harder against their arms with inhuman strength if they wanted to.
The blonde woman who she had come through the gate to rescue was still naked, her flesh burnt by the sun, though now her predicament had changed horribly. She had been released from the ground, though she still remained bound. Her arms had been drawn up and secured either side of her. Had she been left like this between the two posts, she would at least have been able to stand. As it was, her legs had also been drawn up and secured at a position near her hands on the posts, so that her body formed a V shape. The position would have been agony, Anya realized, and then saw that it was made doubly excruciating through the actions of the cloaked figure who was striking a multi tailed whip harshly between the victim’s legs. Her cries were awful now.
“Hey! HEY! Stop this!”
Anya finally got an arm free as she struggled to get away from the group of men who guarded her, making for the woman who suffered on the posts. But there was no escape.
They held her, despite her vigorous protests, as the woman suffered another ten strokes. As she was forced to watch the scene, Anya slowly became aware of a taller figure, clad as per the rest of the group, who had now started to move toward her, with two slave women in tow. They moved gracefully, though both were naked aside from the large amount of jewelry that one of them wore around her waist. Both had long, dark hair, though their skin was heavily sunburned, and they too, she noticed as they got closer, bore the same reptilian eyes as the men had. Both of them wore heavy leather collars – slave collars, Anya now realized.
The man pushed back his cloak and spoke to her captors in the sibilant and increasingly grating language that she had heard the others speak. At first it had seemed like the sound of a snake moving through sand, but when the taller man spoke, his voice was deeper and seemed to echo inside his mouth somewhere. His face was old, pockmarked and wrinkled. His head was almost bald but a thin pate of gray hair was visible. Anya noted that he was thin and athletic like the others, but seemed somehow wiser. He turned to regard her.
“You have some objections to me disciplining a slave?” he hissed.