Thus do I begin the training of a slave girl to come to a place of self-awareness and understanding. Small steps, all to be taken within the system. Step outside, even once and your chances of being flogged to death are almost one hundred percent sure. You can bend rules as long as you are willing and able to unbend them immediately, but woe to you if you break them.
[end blog post #57]
[begin blog post #58]
That night Tiki is angry. Not at me, she knows nothing of my intercession to get her to work kitchen duty, but at the men.
“Damn them, damn them, damn them!” she mutters in that hoarse whisper all females learn to speak in from the time they utter their first words. “I be fighter, not gorok! I train with weapon, not clean dirty bowl and sweep floor for dirty cooks. Damn them!”
A ‘gorok’ is a particular class of female worker slave who does the most menial type of kitchen work. She doesn’t cook, or even serve. She peels, grinds, husks and cleans, cleans, cleans, endlessly. Her “shifts” have no set times. She is up hours before anyone else, warming up ovens, washing utensils and cleaning counters and floors. She sleeps, when permitted, during the middle hours of the day and of the night. She is up late into the night cleaning, locked inside the kitchens with sensors ready to set off alarms if she walks outside her perimeter. A slave of slaves. There is usually a round the clock complement of eight of these goroks in our kitchens.
Because Tiki is my slave, she is allowed out of the kitchens at nightfall to spend the night with me. I had hoped otherwise, but I can redeem this time, I think. I fully enjoy her outburst. There is fire in this one. Not hate, not pride, just pure fire. She has a dream, a vision, however short: to be the best fighter ever to grace the arena. To beat my record. I can tell. Now to blend patience and humility into that fire so it can never be doused, whatever happens to the body of this woman. This one is going to develop into a true mind being, I can sense that already. I have three years to prepare her to become a hero to the women of her world. That’s sufficient when one has good material to work with. It is my turn to do my hoarse communication.
“Come Tiki,” she rolls between my legs and cuddles against my body. “You be fine. You no gorok. You be fine fighter, best fighter. Say you this every day. Pick up broom, it ‘staff’ for you. Sweep husks and peelings from floor like opponents in arena – just dust to Tiki. Strong is Tiki. Mongoose shaking cobra to death.” She nudges deeper into me, her hair tickling my throat and begins unselfconsciously sucking her thumb. I take her hand gently and pull the thumb out of her mouth and offer her my nipple instead. She takes it greedily and smiles at me. Haven’t I been here before? Beware Antierra, the snakes aren’t all outside in the coarse grasses at the edge of the desert! They be hissing from the very walls that contain you.
Wars aren’t won in a day. They take planning, patience, courage and finally just the sheer gut of the fighters to win them. Tiki does not take kindly to her new life. From kitchen duty she is shifted to cleaning the straw in the cages and then to sweeping the yards and washing the blood on the flagstones where some of the women have been “punished” for certain infractions. In this past week we were made to witness two “punishments” to the death, one of an older fighter whose owner cancelled his contract and condemned her to the next killing orgy. She was put into a private killing orgy for the trainers, a bit of fun approved by the overseer. She was led to the centre of the yard and armed with nothing but a standard training staff, was viciously set upon by six trainers until they had managed to break several ribs and one arm. When she could no longer defend herself they crushed her skull. When she died they cheered and toasted their victory. Old king Jestor would have been truly proud of these men.
The other, a trainee who had a nightmare and did not shut up in time when one of the women tried to awaken her, was flogged to death for breaking the rule of silence. We watched, listened to her screams and pleas for mercy, her dying moans. We heard the standard warning, returned to life as usual. What I would give, had I anything to give, to enter the auto-medic and be given the heart of an android, or better, a heart of stone. To not feel. To not have to endure this suffering planet.
It is the way of it… and I cannot help feeling. To cry? To curse? I glance at the bloody, pulpy mess hanging from that steel torture pole I know intimately. I wonder why it is not I who is hanging there. I imagine the life that was there, that is no more. I sat next to her yesterday at morning meal and she smiled sadly at me under her eyelashes. Well, maybe it is me there because I realize I cannot curse. If I cannot curse, then I have incarnated all of it. Each time another dies, I die two deaths: hers and mine. Malefactus is a neuro-inductor and I am attached to its probes all the time.
Under the wan light of Albaral coming through the openings in the high black stone walls Tiki and I talk in our cage as we nestle against each other enjoying the mutual warmth of our bodies. Menial labour brings anger and shame from Tiki. She is afraid they want to demote her to the rank of goronda, the general purpose female worker drone. “Damn them!” – her favourite expression towards men in general. That fire is burning dangerously bright. The wick needs trimming or the flame will smoke up the glass and obscure the vision.
I study my feelings for her as a hawk watches his prey moving unawares, feeding peacefully in the grasses below his perch. I must let her take all of me she needs yet refuse to ever let her possess any of me. I know how to do this, I know I can do it, but do I have the willpower? How does an older woman not lose herself in those black pools of sadness that pass for eyes in such children who have never experienced childhood? Creatures destined to die before they experience adulthood? What does that make them?
I try my best logic on her. “Tiki, listen me. I good fighter, yes?”
“Yes sir, you best fighter. All women say you best.”
“You trust me, Tiki?”
She replies with a hoarse grunt. “Huh?”
“Trust. Believe me. You think me true to you?”
“Oh yes! You say, I believe.”
This is extremely dangerous ground. Who in their right mind wants to be believed by someone who will put her life at stake for what you tell her? I speak slowly, pitching my voice so she can get every word, every inflection – the tone of voice to them being much more meaningful than the words used to convey it.
“Good you believe. But careful you be not believe everything I say.” She tries to speak and I put my hand on her mouth. “Wait, I finish, I explain. I know things you not know. Things good for me. Maybe not good for you. You, me, different. You listen – I say – you try. If work for you, is good for you, yes? If not work for you, is not good for you. I not know if good for you. I guess. I have vision. Like you but is my vision. You have vision to be best fighter. Good vision. I have different vision. To be best woman; to be good woman. I not good woman Tiki. Good fighter only. But man can be good fighter too, better than best woman. But man cannot be good woman. I have what called “exclusive” vision – be special.
“You woman now. What you want be? I not understand you.”
“I want be more than what I be, Tiki. Better. In good ways, not evil ways. I tired of killing. Tired of blood and screams. Tired all over. Old now Tiki, very, very old. But cannot go yet, cannot leave, cannot die. I first find me, better me. Good woman me. I first do something good for another person. If you not understand, no matter. You remember I say this and put my words in your head. They grow there. Ideas. You say to me woman thinks is stupid. Is not stupid Tiki. I think always. Think, think. I watch men, learn. Design new weapons, train in new way for women to fight so live longer; so you live longer. I stay here, not die because I want help women be stronger, live longer. Is nothing else for me.”
[end blog post #58]