Warning: This story (at some point) may contain dubcon, noncon, abuse, and slavery
Loneliness is a strange sort of thing
Only criminals mined tesac rock.
Their records may have been cleared, they may have been allowed to own land again, but the only reason they were on Monarus Three, a backwater planet several months journey from Orahn, was because they had broken some law worthy of exile.
Monarus was a gloomy planet. This included its habitable regions, which were all constantly deluged with rain, leading to dangerous mudslides down the mountainous, forested terrain. Fortunately, the tesac rock deposits were revealed with each occurrence, so the miners rarely complained. They knew where the land was steady, where it would crumble under their feets. If they wanted to survive, they adapted to Monarus.
Garth, for one, had. Fifteen years since arriving on the mining planet's as a surly teenage delinquent, and he already owned a small chunk of land on the south side of the westerly mountain range. Only took him about three days to get to the Shegalice by hoverport. There were card halls and prostitutes there, both of which Garth partook of when he could afford it… which wasn't often.
On that particular day, he was out of extra funds, and had decided to stay home. His house was modest, but then again, he had built it himself. There was only one room, but it contained the essentials: stove, table, bed. A few yards from the back was an outhouse.
He was standing at the stove, watching the kettle and waiting for it to boil. There was no mining to be done, the rains were too heavy. They pounded on his roof.
He looked up, wondering if there would be a leak.
thudthudthudthud thud thudthud thud thudthud
Glancing back at the kettle, Garth sniffed. It was a little chilly in the house, but not so much so that he would turn the heat on.
When the kettle boiled, Garth's movements felt mechanical or lodged in syrup. He was deep in his own head as he poured the water into a mug with some tea.
Amidst this fog, a piercing shriek woke him. His comm on the wall. It was blinking.
Still slightly dazed, he answered it.
The face of Dell Edder appeared on the screen. He was younger than Garth, and had only just fulfilled his release terms. He was grinning. "Garth! Glad I caught you, you're gonna want to hear this."
"There's a new prisoner shipment coming in... "
Garth frowned slightly, already tuning out. Another shipment of men to be dropped off on Monarus. That's not what they needed here, not more hungry, angry men.
He blinked, and realized he really had stopped listening. "Sorry, Dell. Just tired."
"Yeah well, this will wake you up. This shipment… they have a new designation for some of the prisoners."
Garth rubbed at his face, trying to follow. The only designation he had ever heard of was "worker" with either "class A" or "class B", which determined how long you were indentured for. "Well?" he said.
Grinning, Dell looked mighty pleased with himself. He leaned closer to his camera. "Bride, Garth. They've finally decided to let us freemen take on a prisoner for ourselves."
Everything seemed to freeze for a moment. Garth's insides made a little twist. "How—how did you find out? How… does this work?" he managed to croak out.
"I don't know the details. Apparently this is a test run, or the only run. I think it's meant to settle us down a little bit, but they probably won't keep doing it. Least, that's the feeling I got. Only a third of the transport are designated as brides, and I think the disbursement is first come-first served."
Garth pinched between his eyebrows, trying to plan. His heart was thundering. "Do we have to pay something for one?"
Something hit him. "Is there a timeframe on this—" A hint of panic creeped into his voice. "Would we have to let them go at some point?"
But Dell was shaking his head and grinning again. "That's the beauty of it, Garth, we choose when they're released, or if they're released at all." He chuckled. "Like hell that's gonna happen."
Garth knew exactly what he meant. "I have to go," he breathed.
"Yeah, yeah. See you at the auction."
The video screen blacked out, and immediately Garth stumbled over his untied boots as he rushed to pack. He'd be pushing his hoverport to the limit to make sure he got to Shagalice before that transport ship.
He swung the front door open, ready to barrell outside when he paused and looked down at his worn miner clothes, covered in mud. No. This wouldn't be right. He turned back and went to his rarely touched trunk. Inside: his father's suit.
There was, at least, a well-kept road from his region of Monarus, and Shagalice. Of course, it was there for transporting tesac rock, but he used it all the same.
For two days of almost non-stop driving, he thought and thought, a grim look on his face.
The thing was, there was no chance for romancing on Monarus. Only men were sent there, and any freeman willing to give up the chance of owning his own minelands in favor of shacking up with another freeman on his lands was openly mocked.
The sick thing about that, Garth thought, was how insanely jealous those assholes actually were. If any one of them could convince a sweetheart to relinquish the dream of independence and money after becoming a freeman, they wouldn't hesitate.
But this prisoner transport. It was finally happening. The freemen of Monarus were becoming restless and agitated. There were murmurs of blocking tesac shipments until they got some sort of…
Garth didn't know how to put it, not even to himself. No one talked about the isolation of living in the mountains. They just talked about tesac and the old world. During get-togethers of men close enough to travel for it, they would act merry while secretly eying the freemen in relationships with envious, wary gazes.
He tried to imagine all those men rushing towards Shagalice. He wondered how many people the overeager and not so discreet Dell had called.
Fortunately, the local heavyweights in the city liked Garth. Especially Ham Venn, who he was going to see directly. Hamm was the man in charge of prisoner disbursement. Garth powered his hoverport all the way through Shagalice until he got to main street. The city was a boom town—pretty large, but everything hastily put together from old ship parts and badly crafted natural materials. Still, it was improving and growing at a rapid pace.
Just walking down the steps of city hall's meager front, Venn waved. Garth nodded in return, climbing down to the dirt road from his hoverport and pulling his hat off as he approached. "Afternoon, Venn."
Behind him, the main road of Shagalice was rowdy with tradesmen, orphans. Venn fit in naturally with this boisterous atmosphere. He came up to Garth with a laugh, dropping his arm around Garth's shoulders amiably. He whistled. "My, my, what's with this get up?"
Garth felt self-conscious in the suit. It must have been completely out of fashion, with it's three pieces: trim vest, jacket, and trousers.
Before he could get a word in edgewise, Venn leaned in closer. "I suppose you heard."
Garth could only nod mutely.
Venn had a certain way of looking at Garth, like he knew exactly what Garth would have said if he wasn't such a mute idiot. There was a small smile on the man's ruddy face, his squinty blue eyes flashing. "Well you're right on time. Would you like to come down the the port with me and see them unload?"
As interesting as that seemed, Garth needed to find his voice. "Venn," he said. "Just tell me where I need to go to make sure I get one."
Venn smiled at him, patted his back. And then he turned to a man beside him. "Put him on the waiting list."
The man clicked a few things on his telepad. "Got it."
"Alright," Venn said happily, nodding towards the road. "Let's go get an eyeful of these brides shall we?"
Garth nodded a lot, muttering his thanks through a thick tongue. He was on the list. He was on the list. He wondered if that was a guarantee. He walked beside Venn down main street to Shagalice's government port as the other man chatted about inconsequential things. Garth listened with half and ear while also trying to conjure up an image of what the man who would be surrendered to his custody would look like.
He wondered how someone became designated as a bride. The crime would have to have been something the statesmen felt meant that the criminal did not deserve a chance at being a freeman.
Something the man with Venn said caught his attention. He was reading off names: "Toth, Horton, Cerrick—"
"That's thirteen so far," Venn replied thoughtfully.
Were those the men? Garth futilely tried to recall the names.
"Indeed. Shall I began disbursing the worker commissions?"
"Yes, but leave the brides be for the moment."
As they approached the city's port, Garth saw the crowd of miners and freemen milling around. When they saw Venn, the crowd seemed to shift with a new tense feeling. They all started shouting different questions at once, but Venn held up his hands. "Gentlemen! We have living souls in that ship who haven't stepped on ground for months. Please let me disburse our new neighbors and friends so that they may get a breath of fresh air."
That seemed to calm the men down a little, until someone shouted: "And what about the brides? Is it true?"
"Yes," Venn said levelly.
There was a collective exhale of wonderment from the crowd. Venn turned to Garth and muttered, "You're on the list, I promise. So would you mind going to the ship and helping with unloading the new workers?"
Garth was hesitant, but he nodded. He knew better than to snub Venn.
"Great—" Venn said to him, and then to the port guards, "Let him in!"
Someone grabbed his shoulder, and he saw the other man with Venn holding up his telepad. "Make sure everyone on the manifest is there."
Garth nodded again, and took the pad. The port gate opened and he strode through as confidently as he could with all the miners glaring at his back. On the other side sat a typical government transport vessel. It said T.A.S. Sherry on the side of it's worn hull. The unloading ramps were already down.
Garth met one of the guards at the bottom of the ramp. "Worker disbursement?"
The guard nodded. "Just keep an eye on them as they go down. We're gonna line them up for now and separate out these bride boys everyone's talking about."
While he waited for the prisoners to come down, Garth took a look at the telepad. He realized it was a fully-connected government hook up, complete with access permissions. He could have found his own name and added statesman to the title, although someone would be bound to notice that kind of switch.
His musings were interrupted by a grinding clank. The doors to the transport vessel were opening out onto the ramp. Garth had flashbacks to his own unloading, the first time he saw rainy Monarus, the first time he breathed that wet air. He wondered what these men were feeling, especially the ones designated as 'bride'. Well, soon enough, he would be able to ask one them himself.
Checking through several inventories, he found the waiting list for the brides. He was just below Dell, of all people.
The guards started ushering the two lines of chained men down the ramp. They each had a pair of cuffs which hooked forward to a chain around the next man's waist. They were wearing tan jumpsuits, just like the one Garth had worn fifteen years earlier.
They came slowly down the ramps. Each man was wide-eyed with their heads swivelling around to get a view of everything. A lot of them seemed to notice the crowd building up outside of the port.
"Over here!" Garth shouted. "Keep it steady!"
The rows started to pass him, and he watched each man from the corner of his eye as he pretended to take note of the telepad. Most of them seemed young and, while not exactly clean-cut, not worn out like the miners.
When the lines came to a stop, Garth glanced over at Venn, but the man was still trying to calm the crowds. The guards in the lines were walking down the rows and calling out names. Garth waited to hear one of the bride names he recognized.
There was a low cough. "Hey."
Carefully, he glanced up from the telepad. One of the prisoners was trying to catch his attention. He quirked an eyebrow.
The man smiled. "I'm Oliver." His eyes moved down expectantly to the telepad.
"The guard will get to you," Garth replied.
"Oh. Ok." The words were said with a breezy carelessness. "Say, you a freeman?"
Garth shifted on his feet. "That's right."
"Did that take a long time?"
"Seemed like it."
After a second, Garth looked at the man again. He was swamped by his jumpsuit, and his brown hair was too long. There were dark circles under his eyes, but that was understandable with the months of travel. All in all, he didn't look more than a few years younger than Garth, if that.
When he caught Garth looking, he lit up again. "Oliver Turry. I'm a class b worker."
Garth frowned at that, and then quickly looked down at the telepad.
He wasn't fond of class b workers: they had been freemen on Ohran, but had chosen indentured work for a set period of time on Monarus in payment for free travel. They sometimes had technical skills that the mining companies needed desperately, and they filled the gaps when there wasn't enough workforce from the criminal side.
Despite Garth's cold shoulder, Oliver kept talking anyway. "You know—well I guess you of all people would know, but this doesn't seem like a bad deal for anyone. Ohran is overcrowded, this planet is lush. I heard it's not that hard to build up capital here to buy your own land."
"Yeah, something like that." Garth was distracted when he noticed the guards pulling certain men out from the lines and putting them into their own group. Venn was there, overseeing the whole thing.
Garth blinked, and looked at Oliver, who was watching him with naked curiosity. "Do I what?"
"Own any land?"
Garth nodded and this seemed to excite Oliver even more. "Amazing," he breathed. "You're so young."
Face heating, Garth cleared his throat. Before he could say anything in response, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Venn was behind him, and… he looked resigned.
"Listen, Garth," he said calmly.
Garth's stomach dropped.
Venn nodded at what was probably Garth's pale face."We just went through the waiting list. Dell got the last one."
Dell. Dell had been right above Garth on the waiting list. That was… that meant that Garth drove out to Shagalice for nothing, had imagined bringing back a bride for nothing, had put on this suit for nothing—nothing nothing nothing, he would return home to nothing and no one.
"All right," he said mutely. "I appreciate you putting me on the list, anyway."
Venn clasped his shoulder in a tight grip and then walked back over to where several miners were gathered. They all looked like nervous children, clutching their hats in their hands and listening carefully to Venn. Garth hated them suddenly. A rage had been lit in his core. He clutched the telepad, knuckles going white.
"What was that about?" Garth heard Oliver say. He was also watching Venn, leaning out of the line to do so.
Garth stared at him. And then he came to decision.
Pulling up a new list, Garth tapped in a few things and then cleared the whole telepad. He strode over to Venn and thrust the thing out towards him. "You missed one."
Venn, looking taken aback, turned to the man who was with him. The man then grabbed the telepad from Garth while muttering, "Impossible." But then his furious scrolling stopped, and his eyes widened. He shoved the pad under Venn's nose.
Venn's eyes moved at rapid fire. Then, after a moment, his lip quirked up. "My, my." He snapped his fingers at a guard. "Go and fetch Prisoner 808, Oliver Turry".
Watching as the guard strode over to the lines, Garth slipped his shaking hands into his pockets. There was a conversation, Oliver looking confused as the guard unlocked his cuffs, and then even more hesitant as the guard led him over to the group of miners.
"Put him with the other brides," Venn said casually.
"Wait—" Oliver had come to a dead stop. "What?"
"My apologies for the mix-up," Venn said.
"No, there's no. I mean, mix-up? I'm a class b worker."
"The jig is up, Oliver. We caught our error, so please go quietly." Venn was smiling his politician's smile.
Meanwhile, a slow panic was seeping into Oliver's brown eyes. "I'm serious. This is the mistake. I registered with the justice clerk on Ohran, I—I signed a five-year contract as a class b worker."
Garth almost scoffed at that. Only five years?
"And this manifest is from the justice clerk," Venn's assistant replied. "It clearly has you listed at a bride."
Oliver was shaking his head. "No. No. That's wrong. Something glitched…"
"I'm sure," Venn sniffed. He made a subtle movement and two guards appeared on either side of Oliver. "Please put him with the brides."
Garth had to drop his gaze when Oliver started screaming in a blind panic. He winced when he heard someone call for a sedative, and then closed his eyes when the screams died off. He felt a presence next to him, and then Venn grasped his shoulder again.
"Well," the man said lightly. "How's that for luck?"