[begin blog post #10]
Chapter 6 – Life in the Cages
“We cannot conquer fate and necessity, yet we can yield to them in such a manner as to be greater than if we could.” (Walter S. Landor)
I feel the most terrible ache in my heart. I remember a time in a past life when I was taken from my home, accused of witchcraft. My twelve year old son was taken from me and I was kept in a dungeon and I knew I’d never see him again. I would never leave that place until, after an endless series of indignities were performed upon me, I was formally condemned for practising witchcraft by using herbs considered to have Satanic properties and I was hanged, my executors claiming compassion in my case by deciding not to burn me alive as was the current practice. They said my healing arts had been of value to the village before I began consorting with demons and performing the black arts. Men have never been short of excuses for “punishing” women, even in so-called modern, civilized societies. But the greatest pain they cause women is not physical, it’s psychological. The continual put-down of her knowledge, natural skills and abilities; of her intuition and innate compassion.
That sort of pain is what I’m speaking of: emptiness of heart and an atavistic fear rolled together like some choking fog that will never lift until perhaps after you are dead. And even then… who really knows? Now imagine my temporary despair, that I, Antierra, who promised a better life to Tiegli, would lower herself to doubt her own knowing? Who better than I can know of the future of a certainty? But shock does strange and terrible things to one’s thought pattern. I feel as if my mind is unravelling as it feeds from the poisoned mind sewers of Malefactus.
Tiegli is gone and I haven’t seen the doctor in many days. My arm still does not feel right but the tingling of the wound tells me it is healing. There will be an ugly white welt there, but that seems a small thing now. I wonder how I can get near the other women who all seem to be avoiding me. Something about me frightens them. It could be any number of things. The superstition about my status as the reincarnation of their Desert Beast and my ‘natural’ skill with their basic weapons. My size. The colour of my eyes. But mostly, I think, the way I talk. Can I ever learn to speak in their pidgin? Would that make a difference?
This morning I wake up to a low cry followed by a steady wailing in a cage close to mine. In the early light I see a young girl sitting up holding the body of another and rocking it. Soon all the women are keening along and to my surprise I am too. The heavy blanket of death touches us all. The one they called “The Brute” – the dark-skinned woman Tiegli pointed out to me who’d been captured in the deep south beyond the desert has killed herself in the night and her cage-mate has awakened to her cold body against her. The dead woman had managed to find, hide and bring a sharp piece of broken flagstone into her cage. She inserted it in her own jugular and bled to death.
The wailing brings several handlers, trainers and a dozen guards armed with lasguns. A shrill whistle silences the women and the first row of twenty cages are opened and we are led outside to stand in the cold dawn. The Brute’s mate and another nearby are made to carry the body outside to a door in the far wall. A carrier awaits and the body is dumped in the open back. It leaves and the door is locked.
Perhaps I should describe these strange conveyances they call carriages (if equipped to carry people or carriers if for handling supplies. Basically they could be compared to cars or pickup trucks of Old Earth except they use a directional anti-grav force field instead of wheels, are totally silent and are usually, not always, operated by remote control or pre-programmed to run a set course. I cannot get near enough to one to study it and tell but I sense they are, again using Old Earth observations, of a very light alloy material that appears to be metallic. They do not carry as much of a load as did the old polluters of Earth. They also appear to be quite slow, at least the ones I’ve seen. Maybe there are great roads somewhere and they move faster, or maybe they have some that can rise much higher above the landscape and run “as the crow flies.”
So much I do not know, and so much I thought would be of no consequence to me may turn out to contain crucial knowledge in the future. Expect the unexpected! I must approach the other women, or perhaps if I see him again, seduce the doctor to talk to me and tell me of things beyond the obvious here. A tall order that can get me killed and nothing gained, maybe, but I need to know more. Despite the fear of the moment, my mind reels with thoughts around Malefactus’ strange mix of technology. They seem to be a very primitive people, social mores and practices resembling those of medieval Old Earth.
Yet their “castles” are equipped with auto-lifts and automatic doors, and draw-bridges weighing tens of tons operate on hydraulic energy run by computerized remotes. They have laser weapons and sophisticated fabrics. Also they seem to have endless time and energy to engage their depraved ways, apparently having no need to concern themselves with provision of food stuffs or materials for armour or weaponry, even though, technically they are a world constantly at war with the enemy, the Estáani. I know that much of the labour is provided by a great river of slaves, not all of them women as my research had so emphatically indicated. Many males slave as beasts of burden and castrated ones (eunuchs) look after young males and females in crèches and sorting wards. Where do these male slaves come from? How do they become slaves?
A light but painful flick of a whip on my buttocks shocks me out of my reverie. We are told to return to our cages and clean them out. We grab wooden pitchforks stacked in a barrel against the wall by our entrance and begin the task of raking and piling the old straw bedding which we roll into sheaves and carry to a rock pit where it is burned. A fresh pile of straw is brought in, also by carrier, and we make fresh bedding in our cages. After we wash and eat we are returned to our cages, locked in and the next row goes through the same procedure. No one makes a sound and I have a deep sense of foreboding while this apparently normal effort proceeds.
After these chores are complete we are once more taken out, all of us together, and made to stand in a large circle around the steel post I’d spent a night chained to. The young trainee who had wailed at the discovery of her friend’s death is dragged out from the group and chained to the post, her hands raised above her head and the wrist chain affixed to a hook. She appears beyond petrified, wild eyed and mouth agape, beyond the power even to scream. Two trainers throw ice cold water on her and two handlers proceed to flog her. She is allowed the freedom of her legs, probably to make the flogging more interesting for the men.
As she brings her legs up for instinctive protection the long whips wrap around them and as the handlers pull their whips free, her body slams against the post over and over, leaving their bloody marks on the thin white-skinned legs. Now she screams and her cries are non-stop and beyond heart-rending. Her blood splatters everywhere. The terrible whips tear into her skin and rip it into shreds and finally she stops screaming, then stops moaning. Only then do they quit. When they see she no longer moves they leave her hanging there, her body shredded beyond recognition, her blood still dripping down onto the paving stones.
Some dark energy beast inside me wants to pounce on these men and tear them apart as if I had fangs and claws. I throw up and immediately two trainers come over to me and look me over. Something stops them from administering the same treatment to me – what? What protects me at that moment when they know my feelings towards them? All I see beyond the totally irrational hate is an even deeper fear. What kind of Power drives these men?
[end blog post #10]