Shay paused at the sound of an auctioneer's fast-paced babble and glanced into the room it was coming from. Several well-dressed men and women milled around a stage that held a young woman in chains and tattered clothing. A moment later the bidding was concluded and the girl was dragged offstage, her face a mask of hopelessness.
Fucking slave auction, she thought in disgust as a young man was yanked roughly onto the stage. She hated slavers.
The handlers forced the young man to his knees. Acid burned in her stomach as memories assailed her. The handlers always got to have their fun before the auction, provided they didn't mar the "merchandise" too much.
It had been over a decade since she had been one of the poor souls on a stage very similar to the one she was looking at now, but the memories still had the power to make her sick. Never again, she vowed to herself. I'll never give someone that much power over me again. Death first; it's a kinder Mistress.
She was about to walk away when the young man slowly raised his head. A jolt went through her when she saw the burning hatred in his eyes as he gazed at the people murmuring excitedly in the audience. As she watched, the hatred faded into dull acceptance. His hair was leaf green and barely brushed his shoulders. She squinted for a better look as it seemed to move around his head with a life of its own. Each strand ended with a black spot as if it had been burned off.
He looked half-starved, but his lean frame hinted that he would have been strong and muscular if he had ever been given enough food and care to grow into the broad shoulders that graced him. A shimmer of color around his hands caught her attention. Someone had tattooed leafy vines and starbursts along his wrists and hands in an iridescent green, which matched his hair. Odd, maybe one of his former masters did it. Although, it was rare for a slave to be permanently marked, as it lowered his resale value in this sector. His deep green eyes threw daggers at the crowd of vultures waiting for the bidding to begin.
Unconsciously, she took another step into the room and absently took the bidding chit an attendant handed her. Her movement somehow caught the slave's attention and his gaze collided with hers.
He held her stare as if it were the only lifeline in the universe as the auctioneer began listing his attributes.
"Male of unknown race, approximately twenty cycles in age. Excellent body slave. Unfortunately, he's impotent," the auctioneer began, ignoring the murmurs of dissatisfaction that rolled through the crowd. "However, he has a fine, tight ass for the discerning gentleman and has been well broken to ride." The auctioneer motioned to the handlers, and they yanked the slave to his feet and spun him around, tearing off the loincloth that was wrapped around his genitals.
One of the handlers leered at the crowd and squeezed the slave's ass, pulling the cheeks apart to flash the crowd.
The auctioneer continued without pause, "His vocal cords have been cut since he had some ability to cloud minds with his voice. We do not recommend having them rebuilt." He paused and scanned the restless crowd. "Damaged, but still usable. What am I bid?"
Shay watched the slave tremble, his back still to the crowd. "Please help me," a wispy voice said in her mind. She jerked and looked around cautiously. Psychics were hunted and killed in this area of space as heretics to a faith no one really worshiped anymore. If anyone learned she could hear people's thoughts, she would be dead within a week and so would her partner.
A halfhearted bid of one thousand credits scrolled up on the reader board and the auctioneer tried to drum up a few more. Shay watched with one eye as she continued to scan the crowd.
Another bid scrolled, someone was offering fifteen hundred credits. It was a ridiculous amount for a slave. The average amount was twenty thousand, but no one really wanted an impotent troublemaker, and having his vocal cords cut indicated a difficult slave, no matter what the auctioneer claimed.
Suddenly the bid jumped to five thousand and a deep voice rolled across the room. "I'll take the little scrap. The crew needs a new toy."
Ice formed an ugly ball in the pit of her stomach. She knew that voice. Everyone else in the room knew it too and backed away like herd animals scenting a predator.
Pirate. Assassin. Slaver. Pedophile.
The local government hired him to keep the other parasites away. And as long as they kept him supplied with his favorite toys, he did it. Occasionally he just took what he wanted. No one disputed anything he did because people who pissed him off had a habit of disappearing and then showing back up. In chunks.
Not quite sure why she did it, she bid eight thousand on the slave. Gods knew she didn't need the trouble, but she also knew what would happen to the slave if Skand got hold of him. He'd pass the slave around to his crew until he died as a result of the gang rapes and beatings. Then, Skand would go buy another one for them.
Skand raised an eyebrow at the new bid that flashed up on the board and looked around slowly, obviously trying to figure out who was challenging him.
Shay inspected her fingernails and fixed a bored expression on her face, trying to act like she wasn't paying attention. Pick your battles, baby, she thought to herself. She would be happy stealing Skand's prize but wasn't stupid enough to give herself away so he could hunt them down.
He stopped glaring at the crowd and pushed the bid to nine thousand.
The handlers spun the slave around, and he stared at Skand. Fine, visible trembles shook his emaciated frame.
She didn't know how the slave knew who else was bidding and prayed he wouldn't look at her as she bid ten thousand.
The slave jerked his eyes to the floor and kept them there, almost as if he had heard her thoughts somehow. She didn't think she had sent anything; she was very careful about shielding her mind.
Skand scanned the crowd again and growled like a feral beast and bid eleven.
Shay's stomach jumped around her insides like it was trying to crawl up her throat as she bid twelve. What the fuck am I doing? she screamed in her head. She had already used up half her savings on a slave she didn't want. If the bidding went much higher, she would be forced to back out. Gods help the slave then. Skand was sure to take his anger out on him.
Suddenly Skand laughed. "I like a challenge, makes the rape more fun later," he snarled and exited the room from another door.
Fuck. Shay had just screwed herself. Whether she got the slave now or not, Skand would be after the person who dared to bid against him.
The auctioneer cleared his throat. "Any more bids?"
The crowd whispered and nudged, but no further bids flashed across the screen. Apparently, they had no desire to take on anyone who was willing to piss Skand off.
Feeling like her innards had turned to jelly, she used the chit to pay for the slave and arranged to pick him up in an hour. Then, she waited until three more slaves were sold before strolling out of the room with forced casualness, tossing the chit back to the attendant. She had pocketed the chit with the proof of ownership and lifted another out of someone's pocket. Now it would look like she had left without making a purchase.
Skand was lounging in the hall, watching everyone who came and went from the room. She nodded politely and continued on her way to the marketplace. She still had some supplies to arrange to have delivered to her ship, Crimson Shackles, before they could get as far from the station as possible. Hopefully, also before Skand figured out who stole the slave out from under him.
Her teeth started to chatter with nerves and she locked her jaw, trying to pretend nothing was wrong. She froze as she realized Skand could track her through the credit account she had used to pay. Fuck! I gotta get that account closed out now! She mentally thanked whatever Gods were listening that she had set up a temporary account when they had docked; there wasn't any way to track them once it was closed. Looking around slowly, she spotted a Cashet machine and strode toward it and had the account closed and cash chits issued to her. The machine burbled a cheerful message that the station was not responsible for lost or stolen chits and sang out a mechanical salutation before humming back into its passive mode.
A quick look assured her no one was paying her any attention, so she eased back into the flow of foot traffic and made herself scarce. Raerei is gonna kill me! she thought as she made arrangements for the deliveries hours sooner than her partner was anticipating.