Rough breath, as if his throat was coated in sandpaper instead of skin, came between his still and now somewhat colorless lips.

The woman stared at the closet for a few minutes with that dumb, no-one-home look still on her face, and then she turned and left the room through the other door as if she had no idea what to do. Alice finally managed to break the door's grip on the wall and spilled out on the floor like drink from a cup. She scrabbled to her feet, but her knees were covered in slippery cloth, and she went back down, splay-legged. Stellan was still laying on his cot, eyes back and forth, back and forth. Rapid-eye movement, her mind whispered. He's dreaming!

She got to his side and started to rip the idiot strap off his wrist. This inspired no change, and forced her to, slicked with fear, pull him up, put him on his feet, and wrap his arm around her shoulder. He bent over as if he was about to throw up- because she was several feet shorter than him and at least fifty pounds lighter- and his feet dragged. Tears began to slick her face- what if something was wrong with him? What if whatever the woman had injected him with made him idiot forever?

Stumbling with the weight of the world on her shoulders, she staggered to the door that had been locked- the other one led nowhere but back to the dormitory and Mistress Barson (oh god! Alice had forgotten all about her!). The woman had not locked it, and it swung open on the first try.

Alice shrieked.

It was another dormitory that stretched as far as she could see, and filled with bunkbeds seven cots high on which lay people, unclean and gritty, clothed in unwashed clothing that hung in tatters around their bodies. None of them where attached by canvas to their sullied divans, but they were affixed by other means- an IV in one arm, and what appeared to be a plug going into the wall, coming out from their right temples. A small drone buzzed through the air, checking to see that they were properly attached.

The door burst open behind her, and Mistress Barson appeared, tall and intimidating, like a wrathful god. Alice crumpled back, struggling to keep Stellan upright and herself out of the woman's claws, but to no avail; she could only limp, and Mistress Barson cleared the distance between them in a few long strides, and Alice cried out in fear as cold hands closed on her forearm hard enough to bruise the bone.

"Let go of me!" she wailed, swaying as the Mistress jerked on her arm and she nearly lost control of her best- now catatonic- friend. "Let- no- stop- you bitch!"

"Drop it," Mistress Barson hissed, twisted, and Stellan, at last, rolled off her shoulder and crumpled to the floor like a sack of wet cement. This freed Alice to scream and cry with all her might, but nothing came of it; fingers closed on the back of her neck and squeezed, and she was suddenly capable of nothing more than curling up and yelping.

Scowling furiously, the woman signaled the drone to come over, and it lowered itself down to their level. "Bring a selling cot," she told it, as it hovered like a dragonfly, propeller fans humming. "And Buzz this one here."

Almost immediately, someone, another idiot, given the way their faces were blurred, came through the set of doors behind them, baring the cot Stellan had been on moments before. Alice tried to wrench herself free, but in one sharp yank, her wrist was encircled with the strap, and it was pulled so tight she could neither move her body around it, nor wiggle her fingers. As her body bounced against the dirty fabric, her other arm was secured. She tried to struggle for a moment, but her shoulderblades screamed in agony, and she flopped down.

Mistress Barson sighed, bent down, and secured a third strap across Alice's stomach, and now she could not move at all. Panic flooded her mind, twisted her senses out of their shape.

"Alice, you are a conundrum," she sighed, and began to drag the gurney through the long aisle between bunks. "You are strong, intelligent- a highly developed brain is important, of course, it allows for the Chip to attach better, long life, more efficient-"

A chip? Alice's mind scrabbled for an explanation. She'd heard of mental chips, things implemented in the brain to influence behavior, from a science textbook published in 2089, but that was supposed to fix social problems, like aggression and antisocial impulses.

And free thought?

So much terror, she could hardly think straight.

"But I obviously can't bring you back to the dormitory now, you'd just stir up trouble, and neither can I Buzz you. But-" she added, sounding thoughtful. "There are people who live by the black market who would prefer someone without a chip, and I think that would do nicely."

"You're crazy!" Alice wept, trapped as a hunted rabbit, unable to move.

"Oh, I forget, you don't know any of this- well, do you think everyone grows up like you? No, this is just one little section of the world, one business, truthfully, and do you know how much the free people of the world would be willing to pay people like me for someone who does everything that's asked of them? It's what happens in modern day warfare- new worlds begin."

"No! Let me go!"

They had come out into the outdoors again, and Alice, strapped, was capable of looking at the sky and nothing else. She heard the sounds of vehicles, and foreign voices talking.

"Sit tight," Mistress Barson said, and there was the sounds of her footfalls leaving on crunchy gravel.

Alice began to writhe and try to break her straps, and as her muscles were beginning to protest, the footsteps returned, and the Mistress and a black-haired, heavy-browed man was with her. He looked at Alice, crying on her transportable prison, and asked something to the Mistress in a foreign language. She returned it, and for a few minutes they bantered back and forth- it sounded like bartering- until he muttered something that sounded vaguely conceding, and she nodded.

"No!" Alice shrieked. Her vocal chords burned. "You can't sell me, I'm not yours! No- let me go!"

"This would have been easier if you had done as you should have," Mistress Barson said indifferently, and with a shrug, she pivoted on her heel and left as Alice, still weeping, was loaded into the back of a van.