The fighting and struggling over, we are stripped of our miserable rags, our wrists chained behind our backs and the remnant of seven, including me, force-marched at a run in a north-easterly direction across the desert – destination, I find out, is the City. Two of the wounded women stagger and fall and are seared through the head with lasguns, their bodies left on the sand for the circling vultures to clean what’s left of flesh from their skeletal remains. To the men, this behaviour appears to be business as usual. The ever-present aura of pure horror and dread I experience remains beyond any word I possess to describe. I’m in a living nightmare from which there is no awakening.
After days of steady running stretched into weeks, the fear, pain, verbal and physical abuse so intense I cannot remember much of anything, we reach what the four survivors call “the City,” a place that resembles more a medieval fortress or keep of Old Earth than any normal city, except much larger than any of the ones ever erected on Old Earth that I know of.
Having introduced the term “Old Earth” I feel I must explain it better than can be drawn from the current context. If you are reading this in or about C-21 (Twenty First century classic time or Earth time) you will think of your planet as “Earth” and not necessarily as “Old” in time. The term “Old Earth” is an Altarian definition referring to Earth at the time just before, and during, the great die-back that followed the sudden end of crude oil (so it was named) use due to severe climate change believed to have been caused primarily by use of “fossil fuels” on the planet. With the collapse of Earth’s patriarchal civilization the question whether climate change was indeed caused by the extracting, processing and burning of fossil fuels was never answered.
Generally, Altarians use their own term for Earth, that being the personal living planet entity name of “Túat Har” which loosely translated means “Planet of Chaos.” During the rest of this story I shall use these terms interchangeably.
The enormous keep, surrounded by an interlocking array of high crenellated stone walls complete with an encircling moat and square guard towers, is an awe-inspiring, intimidating, fear-inducing and absolutely depressing kind of place. Barely able to stand, we are dragged in over a typical draw-bridge of folding struts operated by hydraulics and remote controls. The streets are lined with men who stare at us, some laughing in a monotone and unchanging guttural laughter I was to hear often and become too familiar with. There is an evil in it, aimed specifically at women.
Some point at me and note my height (I stand a head taller than the tallest of them) interests them more than my nudity though I do not fail to register the lewd gestures they exchange for my body still holds its youthful healthy form, not yet reduced to the tough dried-looking skin and bony frame of the underfed young women I’ve seen so far.
The bounty hunters’ lasguns are drawn and none of the street men try to reach for us or touch us though they would have jumped us in a moment had the protection of the heavy guns not been so much in evidence. I avoid looking them in the eye as I observe them under my eyelashes and through my hair, pretending not to notice them at all. I have already learned from incessant whipping, cuffing and denial of water and food through our forced march across the desert, that a woman’s survival consists only on demonstrating and maintaining absolute subservience to all men. If she angers one while not yet the property of an “owner” or while under his care, and she has the misfortune of being classed as an “offender” he can legally kill her using whatever method he chooses – lasgun, sword, whip, cudgel or bare hands. Gang rape and torture are common ways of disposing of unwanted or troublesome females.
I received many such ‘lectures’ during and after rape sessions and beatings on my way here. I won’t forget those, not ever. I learned to keep my mouth shut, to bite my lips bloody in order to absorb my pain for every time I’d make a sound while being abused I’d get much worse treatment as ‘punishment’ for my attempt to draw sympathy to myself. That is how they interpret any kind of sound made by a female. Bowing, kneeling or walking backward in utter silence is how a female interacts with a male under normal conditions. Since there are no, what I’d call, “normal” conditions, this translates as under any and all conditions, no exceptions. Subservience and servility are to be demonstrated at all times.
The men who line the passage we walk through are short, almost squat, with thick necks and round pale faces. Their hair is worn almost universally shoulder length and of a dirty brown colour with few minor variations towards lighter tones. Their skin is uniformly white or cream coloured and appears streaked with dirt. They wear little but loin cloths or loose sleeveless garments made of some kind of coarse cloth that drops freely to terminate anywhere between mid thigh to just above the knees. All of them are armed with what resembles “six shooters” protruding from holsters, reminiscent of Wild West lore on Old Earth. I wonder what they use them for. All of them exude a skunk-like stink.
After crossing through a small grated opening under a wall several meters thick we arrive into a dark place that gives the impression of endless depth. We are separated and put into what I shall call cages rather than cells. Just row upon row of steel-barred cages, each holding one or more naked females, some free to move around, some chained to the bars. Between each row of cages there is a ‘hallway’ of about one meter in width through which guards can walk to observe or count their captives.
No words are spoken while we stumble in. We are literally thrown into our cages and I hear the dull thud of a body slamming into bars. I sit down to ponder and wait or if possible, fall asleep. The lights go out, though the light of Albaral still comes in through square openings high above us in thick stone walls and I hear muted crying and much sighing but no words spoken.
That which is not spoken has happened: another effort, another attempt at breaking free has failed. I feel their despair, the fear and the palpable, helpless, hopeless hate for these are also my feelings in this moment. My olfactory senses are overwhelmed by the stench of sweat and urine and feces from so many bodies packed together in cages with only straw for bedding and cover.
I have arrived in the compound that houses female gladiators. No female ever leaves this place alive unless she manages to escape. Here you have but one purpose: to fight, kill and eventually be killed. Every fight is purportedly to the death. This I already know from what I remember of my studies about this world. I also remember that I chose to be one of these women, and why I “arrived” as I did in the desert and came upon the refugee camp. These were not coincidences, but planned events to introduce myself to Malefactus. To my new life.
In pre-dawn, the morning following my arrival, our cages are opened by remotes with two armed guard standing by each gate. We are led out by those I later learned, are dubbed ‘trainers’ and ‘handlers,’ one row at a time. I’m directed – shoved describes it better – to toilet and cleaning facilities in an open courtyard. Following and imitating the others I wash in ice-cold water from long parallel rows of holding troughs, some for washing, some for drinking. I sit immobile and silent on equally long rows of rough hewn benches made of some black hardwood attached to equally rough tables. Benches and tables are worn smooth, indicating these facilities have been used a long time already. We wait, shivering in the numbing cold morning breeze.
Even at the sound of a cough from one of the women the guards look around and raise whips made apparently of spring steel with barbs on the ends that uncoil loudly and viciously when flicked. I see several of the women nearest the guards flinch at the sound and the men laugh in their low, guttural tones as they maliciously drag the steel barbs over bare backs, buttocks and breasts.
Other gladiators and trainees emerge and we are fed by young naked servant girls emerging from a low, vaulted, dimly lit room that smells of cooking. They hold metal bowls in their hands and arms and begin to serve us a bland, thick gruel apparently made from coarsely ground grains and fibre.
The food, though bland is enough and filling; rather better than I had anticipated, but then we are after all prize stock. Our performances can mean huge profits for our owners. Doubtless they provide the funds for the food and other amenities. I am starving and eat every scrap and again imitating my neighbours I lick the inside of the bowl clean.
After the meal which must be eaten with bare hands, or sucked by tilting the bowls to our mouths or literally sticking our heads in it to lick it, there being no utensils, we are lined up once more in the cold yard. I’m singled out to stand some three meters from the other women. A man in a dark skin-tight suit, a guard of some kind or handler, puts a stick in my hand and makes me hold it up to eye level. He takes out his lasgun and I think he’s going to fry my face when he takes a strange gadget from a pouch and mounts it to the muzzle of the gun. He fingers a dial on it and lights come on, and a beep sounds. He aims the thing at the stick I’m holding and presses a trigger. Smoke erupts from the stick and I see a line of numbers in it. As I read them, I realize it’s the date of my arrival at the compound, with a space then “1” another space, “1” another space and the number “04” at the end.
He enjoys seeing my total lack of comprehension of his fiery display and laughs as he motions for one of the women to come forward and he makes her turn her back to us. On the upper right buttock are two lines of numbers similar to the ones on the stick. Now I understand only too well. It’s my brand!
Two other guards grab me and force me face down to the ground and hold me while slipping some kind of steel restraint that lays on my back and locks my arms and legs so I can’t move. Then one of them puts the wooden stick, still smoking, in my mouth. The one with the lasgun aims it at my buttock and presses the trigger. I bite the stick and scream at the same time. I remain conscious just long enough to begin smelling burning flesh until a guard hits me on the side of the head and knocks me unconscious.
I learn later that uttering anything above a low, hoarse request by a female fighter in the compound is punishable by death. The only reason they did not kill me outright is because they are intrigued by me and their investigators are still puzzling over my appearance at that camp without having the mandatory brand, or series of brands every female on Malefactus receives in stages, beginning in the crèches when just a baby to indicate her class. Later come embellishments like destination, arrival date by year (and a number indicating how many arriving on that day) and sometimes the number or symbol of her owners. Females on Malefactus have no name. It is forbidden and a capital crime for anyone to give a female a name, or call her by one.
My brand reads 1328-1-1-04 which means admission year one thousand three hundred and twenty-eight; batch of one (the others were returning and already branded); number in batch one; class four, arena fighter. I do not have a birth date brand as do other females. I’m classed as a legally harvested ‘wild’ slave.
The four surviving women from the annihilated rebel camp – I don’t count in this judgment – are slated to be the next ones in the arena, likely to be butchered as an example to others who may hold aspirations of freedom. They are certainly in no shape to put up any kind of energetic struggle. I later stand to be corrected on my assessment of their fighting skills and abilities as well as their toughness. All four of these skeletal creatures hold their own and kill their opponents to return bloody and more scarred, to the compound. This gives me hope, for I learn some of these were the mothers whose children had been slaughtered and in this display of strength beyond nature, were taking silent, deadly revenge. There is hope. Candles that can be lit into conflagration if I can find the match to light them. Or if they already have the match, I can convince them to light it. Rome did burn once and the world changed, at least for a time, for the slaves who survived the pogroms, diseases and hunger.
Dream big, girl. You won’t have much else here. Dream big.
[end blog post #3]