Chapter 3: O-gape of Complete Despair
Shaia was never a business woman. During a time of emergency, she was required to work in her sister's stead at Mr. Yurgen's store. Many of the items were self-sold based on necessity. However, the sales that day had a decline of fifty percent. Not because she was unaware of the goods, on the contrary, but because she was too honest and convinced patrons to better use their money elsewhere. She could not sell a product if her life depended on it. And now it does. And she is the product.
The slave auction is a grand event hosting thousands upon thousands of captives with thousands upon thousands of buyers. The large warehouse divided by twenty floors, which are divided by fenced stalls, bears a gaping center so that one would be able to view the happenings of the left, right, above and below. Captives are separated by gender, then by size. Rusted pendant lamps cast a dull amber glow above the depilated forms within each cell. Each is tethered by the ankle to a post that bears an identification number and the latest bid. They have enough space to walk a radius of two meters.
Roars of shouts thicken the air as the auction nears a close. Buyers are attempting to drive a low bid from the respective slave company. Slaves are audaciously advertising their worth. Shaia looks down at her ankle. It is still sore from the microchip implant, a crescent shaped cut that will be a scar. Her starting bid was 5000 jarefs, three months' worth of income on her planet, with not yet even one bid. How is ones worth determined? How is that worth given a monetary value? What right does someone have to label a human being with a price?
"Look no further, my lord! I'm everything you need!"
The girl next to our heroine serves as an interruption to her humanitarian thoughts. Shaia looks upon her with curiosity. Her neighbor is of the stouter kind, though of equal height. She struts to and fro in front of passing buyers, even performing shows of physical strength.
"My good sir, what are you looking for? A gardener, you say? I'm terribly good at weeding, and I'm awful careful with roots and flowers and such. Just look at my ruddy hands. My lady, what about you? An in-home slave? Why, I'm excellent at cleaning. I'm good at sewing, cooking, and fixing. And you won't hear a squeak of aches from me, no ma'am, I can promise you that." The girl exhales a short sigh as she is ignored, but is yet determined. She glances at Shaia and notes her feeble posture. "Pep up, girl," she says, "you want to be bought, don't you?"
Shaia feels meek in comparison to her neighbor's gumption. "Well, yes, I suppose so."
"Suppose? You must be a first-timer."
A small nod.
"If you don't get yourself sold, you end up in the labs. You know what they do in the labs, don't you?"
Sapphire eyes widen. You see, reader, unsold captives become the equivalent of laboratory rats in your time; but in this time, there are no such morals or ethics for humane practices.
"What can you do, girl?"
Shaia has to think. She was never one for talents and was actually quite ordinary.
"Certainly there must be something you can do. Can you at least cook?"
"I can teach."
Her neighbor gives a pitied scoff. "A slave can't do much with that. You're just going to have to lie then, aren't you?" She resumes her struts and swaggers so as not to miss an opportunity.
It is greatly uncharacteristic of Shaia to lie, especially when she has strong ideals about the truth. Yet she cannot accept her life as a sacrifice to science, for how will she be able to find Aeureilia? She promised she would do her best. She promised she would save her sister. Shaia finds herself suddenly shy knowing she must not be. For a few moments her voice fails its duty. Her lips only move the first few words as busy men rush by. Then she hears her whispered voice say, "I can teach." She repeats this to each passerby, the next statement more audible and bold than the last. "I can teach." Her hands wring the hem of her burlap gown. "I can teach." Not one even spares a glance. "I can teach."
An alarm buzzes to notify the last minutes of the auction. The noise suddenly doubles with shouts of desperation from buyers and slaves alike.
"I can teach! I can teach!" she yells desperately. Everyone is in a frantic hurry and pays her less heed than before. She realizes that she is trying harder for something that is not working. She must try something different. Instinct takes a hold of Shaia for that is where her impetuous boldness is derived. She grabs the wrist of the buyer closest to her and begs, "I can teach!"
Rosser of Pason gapes in surprise as he stares into the bluest eyes he can last remember. For a moment he is shocked by the captive's intrepidity, but it is not her determined grip or her look of utter despair that holds him; rather, her glabrous traits flood him with a familiarity that he may regret if ignored. "Ella?"
"No, I . . ." she releases him, worrying that she is not what he is looking for. But she mustn't give up. "I'm Shaia Kaim. I, I cannot sing, or dance, or draw, but-"
"You can teach, I'm sure," the old man interrupted. "Where are you from?"
"Were you born there?"
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen." He looks disappointed. Perhaps loss of hope is a more accurate description. Shaia thinks that he too lost someone and is looking for her. She could only imagine the pain of believing she found her sister only to realize that she was wrong. She puts a gentle hand on his rolled sleeve and says with sadness, "I'm sorry I'm not who you were looking for."
Rosser stares at her for a moment. He turns his back to her, enters digits in his remote, then scans her post. He continues to face the pathway and says over his shoulder, "You may not be who I'm looking for, but you're looking to be who I need." When she realizes he placed a bid on her, he hears her weep with relief. He remains at the post to ward off straggling bidders while praying he made the right choice.
"Greetings, everyone." Rosser speaks to a crowd of fifty slaves as the ship departs. "Take care of the words that I say for it will help you on your journey thus forward. You are now of the Pason household designated to the labors of the resort. You are to rid yourself of basic expectations. Education, respect, choices, desires – these will hinder your adaptation if they remain ideals. Loyalty, obedience, and a humble heart are now your expected standards. You must have quiet steps and quiet hands when you work. When in view of masters, be still and ready for any command." Rosser studies the grave faces before him. He softens his tone. "I understand this situation is the farthest from your choice, but trust when I say your fate is up to you. Master Pason is a fair man, and he bestows freedom for those who are able to earn it. However, it follows that laziness and rebellion do not go unpunished. Remember that he is not the one who captured you, and he is a choice master among the others."
All on board is taciturn for the remainder of the trip for no one is in the mood to exchange pleasantries. The ship is bound for one of the neighboring solar systems within the galaxy, and is expecting to arrive in two days. The vessel itself is sophisticated and clean. Each individual has his own cushioned chair that is able to recline slightly for additional comfort. Though she lived as a free woman, Shaia never rode in a space craft, other than her original capture. Exposure to this high degree of technology is a luxury for most. For a moment Shaia feels she is embarking on her path to freedom, when in reality it is the exact opposite.
During the voyage, our heroine relies on her mind and imagination as solace for her grief. She harbors no bitterness towards her sister, though it would be understandable if she did, but instead she is ridden with guilt and anger towards herself. As the elder, she could have prevented them from going to the exhibition. She should have trusted her instincts. Alas, should-haves and could-haves are only devices to aid backward thinking. So Shaia dreams of endless ways to reunite her family. Her first step would be to send word to her mother and let her know of what happened but assure that she was out of harm's way. The next step would be to locate Aeureilia. How in heaven would she be able to do that? Even if she were free back in Imberia, the task would be nearly impossible, and now that she is bound, the task is actually impossible. Unless!
"Everyone, welcome to Otium."
Shaia cannot not help but gape at what her eyes can see. She has only heard and read of this planet to be considered the worldly Heaven. It is known that half of the planet is used as a resort, for Otium is one of the most scenic and climatically agreeable planets in its galaxy. The other half is leased to celebrities, tycoons, social and political magnates, and other elites. The craft is docked near a body of water surrounded by a small canyon filled with gently arced waterfalls and rainbows. Plush green grass carpets the ground with soil so rich with minerals it is red. Varieties of flowers and blossoms are abundant yet organized, and to Shaia their mingled fragrance is divine. The sun is setting and casts a very golden glow, making colors seem more vibrant. At this moment, blinking is a detriment for she may miss something more exquisite than the last. She follows the others onto a carriage to be pulled by two grand and powerful creatures akin to horses. If only her mother and Aeureilia could witness such magnificence. Tears begin forcing their way through, for no matter the amount of beauty this planet possesses, she cannot be rid of how and why she is here.
The new slaves are taken to a large plain house at the border of one of the resorts. They unload and are given instructions of what to do and where to go. She learns that much of the labor will be out of doors, either maintaining the condition of the resort or serving resort guests. Having grown up in a household where she had to do everything on her own, the light manual labor is not overly daunting to her. Shaia is about to depart with the other females, but Rosser holds her back. "You are to come with me."
Confused yet obedient, she follows the old man back to the carriage. She takes a seat beside him and is in awe of how much larger the animals were up close. The ride is silent, but our Shaia is one of a very curious mind and broad imagination. She loves asking questions for she loves to learn, and she loves being asked questions for she loves to teach. Knowing all do not share her passion, she attempts to side with patience lest she annoy the man who saved her.
"What is it?" Rosser asks, eyes still on the dirt road.
"I'm sorry, my lord?"
"You keep looking at me as though you have something to ask. What is it?"
He was more perceptive than she thought. Shaia thinks how to word her question before asking, "Where am I being taken to?"
"The Pason palace."
She wants to ask why, but thinks the question inefficient. "What are my duties to be, my lord?"
"You will soon find out. And address me as Sir Rosser. Perhaps I should teach you the hierarchy titles since you are not familiar with them." He gives her a questioning look.
She shakes her head.
"A free man is addressed as Lord or Lady. A servant above you is Sir or Madam. The master you directly serve is to be called Master. Thus, you call me Sir Rosser because I am merely a servant but still your superior."
"Are you not my master then?"
"No, I am the head servant of Lord Pason. Not many servants in Otium have slaves."
"Oh." She was hoping Rosser would be her master for he seemed kind enough to her. "Who will be my master?"
"For now you are under my direction, but I plan to introduce you to Lord Pason and see if he may be interested in having you."
His ambiguity worries her. "What do you mean by interested in having me?"
"It is as it sounds. Learn to curb your questions with your superiors. Here we are." The carriage slows to a halt. They arrived at an air port to board a craft that will take them to the other side of the planet. Rosser is already near the vehicle when he notices the slave is not with him. He turns around and sees her petting the horses. "Come along!" he waves an impatient arm.
Shaia strokes the velvety muzzles one last time and whispers a thank you to each before running to catch up with her host.
The Pason palace is truly something to behold. Guarded by an invisible barrier, the extensive property is comprised of dozens of buildings, lush gardens, fountains and pools, and expansive courtyards. The architecture is archaic in design yet pristine in condition. It is what Shaia imagines Zeus' realm to be like if it was embellished by Michaelangelo. Again, she is taken to a plain building at the edge of the estate. Rosser introduces her to the female overseer, Tae, who seems surprised to receive a new slave. "She needs immediate rest. Please help her settle in." He turns now to Shaia. "Rest. I know the last few days have been a harrowing experience. I will collect you tomorrow morning."
Shaia takes his hand in her two small ones. "Thank you, my lord, for everything." Her grip is tight with genuine earnest while her eyes speak loudly of her grief.
Not bothering to correct her, he pats her hand and adjourns.
Tae shows Shaia the women's communal bathroom and showers. She is given basic toiletries and a clean set of night wear. After washing up, she is taken to a dormitory shared by nineteen other females. She is assigned a top bunk by a window. Moonlight spills onto her pillow and she stares at the reflective orb. This moon is farther compared to the one she saw in Imberia, but it is still pearlescent and magical to our heroine. I'm standing on the moon, with nothing left to do, with a lonely view of heaven, but I'd rather be with you. She is comforted and suddenly very lonely. "Mother," trembling lips whisper. Her small white hands cover her mouth. Aeureilia.
Only the moon's face witnesses the full tears spilled from a broken heart.
Rosser studies the girl before him. This simply would not do. Though normally petite, the white garment adorned engulfed Shaia to make her look even more child-sized. She actually looked like an infant due to her hairlessness. "Perhaps we can . . ." he starts to roll up her sleeve, ". . . or maybe . . ." he gathers the excess material from behind, but there is nothing to cinch it. He sees a rope and fashions it around her waist as a belt. "This should do." Taking a step back, he sees that his efforts are wasted, and so is time. He has no choice but to proceed. "Come. We are to meet Lord Pason. Make haste."
Shaia does her best to keep up with Rosser. He is an old man, but tall and robust. They walk through halls and atriums with fountains and ivy walls aplenty.
"The galaxy's economy has been muddled as of late," Rosser informs without slowing his pace. "Lord Pason is beginning to bear the burdens that come with being a magnate. Tensions are arising among the mogul families, many already initiating war."
"Oh dear, I can't imagine the seriousness that comes with wealth. It must be trying and very stressful. I hope he'll be alright."
"As do all of us. He is in desperate need of hope. And distraction. For that I'm counting on you."
Her brows furrow. Me? Distraction?
As they walk around the corner, Rosser notices a particular man bound for their direction. He grabs a firm hold of the new slave and moves to the side of the corridor away from the central path. Confused, she looks at the man who in soldier's uniform, then looks at Rosser and notices that his head is bowed. She immediately does the same.
"Welcome back, Lord Pason."
Shaia freezes. So this is her master.
"Rosser." The man stops in front of the old servant. "It's been quite some time."
"Yes, my lord. We rejoiced when we heard of your latest victory against Syndia, and relieved when your health and safety was confirmed."
"Thank you. Have you seen Lady Pason?"
"Not yet, my lord. I have arrived from Erndut just yesterday."
"I see. Is this part of the new shipment?" He nods towards Shaia.
"Ah, yes, my lord," Rosser answers in a curiously nervous way.
He frowns. "Miserable and weak planet. Imberians know only to be simple and live simply. No strength or power there. She - I presume it's a female - doesn't seem very useful. Her form is pathetic, and looks a hideous creature to say the least."
Although she cannot see him, Shaia's face burns with shame as she feels the man's eyes scan her from head to toe. His deep voice drips of judgement and contempt.
"I trust the price was low. What is she to be used for?"
Rosser is slow to respond. Usually the young master did not query of trivial things. "She is to be a household slave." He hopes that information suffices.
The young master stares down at the shaven head and downcast eyes for a moment, then says to Rosser, "So be it. Carry on." A sharp turn on his heel and the soldier continues down the corridor.
When he is out of sight, Shaia hears Rosser exhale a sigh of relief. "Come along," says he.
"Sir," she starts, "it may not be my place to say, but I cannot do it."
"Cannot do what?" His look is quite impatient.
With futile efforts, she tries to control the tears that spring to her sapphire eyes. "I am grateful that you saved me from a wretched and meaningless life as an experiment, but I'm not sure this is any better." Oh, the shame she would bring upon her family! Her mother would die of shock and she would never be able to look Aeureilia in the eyes again.
"What are you talking about, child?" He shakes her arms in frustration.
"A consort," she whispers through tears.
Rosser straightens himself, his lips pressed thin. "You were right to say that it is not your place to say such a thing. Freedom is now a privilege not a right. The direction your life leads is now in the hands of your master. Also, you insult my master greatly to think he would take a mere child to his bed."
Shaia blinks twice. She is unsure what to think. "Forgive me, sir. I misunderstood what you meant by distraction."
"He's old enough to be your father," he scoffs, still offended out of loyalty. He starts to walk briskly for they are almost near the appointed time.
Father? She jogs to keep up the pace. "He looks very young to be a father of a seventeen year old."
Surprise strikes the old man's face. "Young? He is nearly seventy years."
"Seventy years! How spry and youthful he seems!"
"When did you see him?"
"Just a moment ago. In the hallway."
"Ah, that was Lord Garrex Pason, the elder Lord Pason's son. I now understand your confusion. Now it is clear: my master, Lord Hanon Pason needs you. So I pray."
Shaia is relieved that she does not have to be under the precept of that boorish young man; but now she is pressured to fulfill an older man's needs that may be on his death bed. "I'm sorry, sir. I haven't much to offer your master. I have no talents, and as the young master said, I am hideous."
"Those are petty things to my master. He needs not of those. He needs hope."
"How could I possibly give him hope?"
Rosser stops. "Because you are the spitting image of his late first daughter."