This is one of my submissions to the writing contest. I am posting it properly so that others may comment freely. it is edited from the original submission and so the original submission should stand as such.
By Ambarr Dishwataah
Tallia looked at the vid screen view of the cell. A magnetized bucket sat in the corner. A tray of food. An empty pouch of water. There was a bed. There was a seat and table protruding from the wall. A man knelt in the corner, facing the wall. The metal flooring his chosen surface. He wore a set of blaze orange prisoner shorts. Nothing else dressed his wide shoulders. His dark hair draped long, twisted neatly into a braid and left to hang over one of the shoulders. Kessa the Gallente mission lead and Timeo the lead intelligence for this case looked over Tallia’s shoulder.
“For shame on you people! Why is he dressed like that?” Tallia said.
“He is a risk.” Timeo said.
“You said he was a slave. Why is he even imprisoned?” Tallia said
“He tore up the first set of clothing we gave him.” Timeo said.
“I believe it is called rent, rending, to rend ones clothing. I think it is a religious thing?” Kessa added.
“A sign of the devout.” Tallia said.
“He kept saying something about unholy threads.” Timeo said.
“Don’t you have some Amarrian garb?” Tallia asked.
“There was something in the lost and found just the other day, a jacket?” Kessa said.
“But should we give it to him? He’s still a risk.” Timeo replied
“Why do you keep saying that?” Tallia asked.
“What Timeo means is that this man is a suicide risk. He won’t touch the food we offer. He doesn’t speak, except to ask for forgiveness to the wall and to beg to be returned to the sanctuary, bowing again to the wall. He won’t even look us in the eye. I am not sure if he is terrified or brain mushed or what.” Kessa said.
“I even slapped him up a bit. Nothing.” Timeo said.
“You what?” Tallia said.
“I was thinking I could snap him out of it.”
“You were just being rude Timeo.” The security ops officer, Pheosa said. The snip in her voice was not to be missed.
“I think he is just jealous. All the men seem uncomfortable around him.” Kessa said as she crossed her arms.
“As if!” Timeo barked.
Tallia shook her head. She suspected that Timeo had been trying to woo Pheosa, as he had tried with most of the women on the station, herself included. Neat as he was in his uniform, he had garnered an ill reputation. Tallia did not care for his presence.
There was movement in the cell. The prisoner shifted.
“What is his medical profile?” Tallia asked.
“There is no Vitoc if thats what you mean. No other drugs, just residual vitamins.” Pheosa said.
“Obviously brain mushed. I haven’t seen such a strong devotion to that Amarrian filth since that time that Kameira guy was guts out dying with a smile. But this guy is not a soldier. That is for sure.” Timeo said.
“Why bring in me?” What do you expect to happen with me?” Tallia said.
“I have a hunch that he might respond to you.” Kessa said.
“Because you are Amarrian.” Timeo said.
“A pureblood right? In blood line?” Kessa said.
“I am-mostly. But Officer Kessa, I am the station accountant, a secretary. Not an interrogator or social worker. I type and crunch numbers. Do you want me to do his taxes?”
“Please. He has been like this for three days. We are desperate to help him. We will be right by your side.” Pheosa said.
The camera in the cell trained to the sided of the mans face. Soft stubble shadowed on his cheeks. He had the most beautiful face, still, eyes closed. Those eyes cracked open just a bit. Tallia could see the deep sorrow crinkling to the edges of his lips.
“He will need to put on a robe.” Tallia said even as she felt herself blush. She was a modest woman. Gallente acquaintances thought her prudish. She did not care for their open ways.
“We will try to find him something.” Kessa said.
“So what should I do?” Tallia said.
They entered the cell, Pheosa and Timeo at her sides. Tallia could hear the man breath out, almost a sigh. She was met to a light smell of stala berries, and was that a hint of chocolate? She caught Pheosa taking in a deep breath as well. Timeo stiffened.
In the next moment the man lifted his head. Turning, he appeared to float to a stand. A shallow glance set those eyes to Tallia’s face. Pheosa jumped. Timeo stepped quickly forward, barring the space between the man and Tallia. His baton drawn.
“Stay back.” Timeo barked.
“Ma’Lady,” the man said, his voice a deep croon. In the next instant he was bowed again, low. His eyes looking just below her own eyes, not meeting them but ready to respond to them. Tallia knew this act. It was what was demanded of them in the presence of a holder, them being a Matari slave. Tallia looked away.
“Please don’t do that.” She said.
“Ma’ Lady?” he said.
“Just stand please.” Tallia said.
“As you wish.” The man said. And he straightened though he still did not meet her eyes. Tallia shuddered. She was born on Amarr Prime, pure in blood but her family was an accountant family by trade, commoners. Yet all Amarrians know how it is suppose to be, dealing with a slave. Tallia had left because her Lord Holder was a cruel man and she had helped a family to escape his ownership through the Secret Starrway. But covert operation was not her skill. Her treason was discovered and the Starrway had to get her out as well. Only by the stayed hand of a capsuleer did she live free. There was a bounty still unclaimed. Not wanting to forsake her Empress she had been denied asylum. Tallia was left in this Gallente station in the corner of nowhere to live. Her mother, father, and siblings did not even know she was alive. She dared not contact them. It was safer for them, and her. Another Starrway operative looked in on them from time to time. They were said to be well though sad.
Timeo puffed up. “See, that wasn’t too hard. I knew you could talk.” He said.
“Shh.” Pheosa hushed him and pulled him aside while urging Tallia forward.
“Hi, my name is Tallia. What is your name?” she said as she offered the man the coat pulled from the lost and found box. His hands claimed the coat edge with a grip secure but soft as a child’s. He stepped back into his corner, clutching the jacket as if it could cover him all folded. It surely did not.
“I am called Caber, Lady Tallia.” He said. His words trembled but the depth of their pitch sounded like a smooth cafe’ from his throat.
“Caber, that is good. Are you hungry? Would you like to eat?”
“As My Lady wishes.”
“No, I am asking you. What do you want?” Tallia said smoothly. Caber stared blankly. Tallia gestured to the food tray. He looked to the food tray on the table and back to her. Still clutching the robe he picked up the tray. He kept glancing to her and then around the room, lingering on Timeo.
“See, he is a zombie.” Timeo said. He stepped forward and patted a hand to Caber’s face. The tap turned to a teasing slap. Caber did not react.
“Timeo!” Pheosa said.
“I was just showing Tallia-”
“How much of an ass you are!” Pheosa said as she shoved him. Tallia too glowered at Timeo.
“Caber, the next time someone does that to you, you slap him back. You hear!” Tallia said maneuvering herself in between the hims. Caber’s eyes widened. He looked down at his free hand as if he had never seen it before.
“Is the food not to your liking?” Tallia said kindly.
“It is fine.” Caber said. Tallia could see something was not. Balancing the tray on his arm, Caber gripped the spoon, and poked the food. His eyes kept darting from her to the plate.
Pheosa set a hand to Tallia’s shoulder. “I have seen it before. Slaves are not to eat in the presence of a Holder, or even a freeman.” She said. “You might have to tell him to dress too.”
Tallia looked away. She had forgotten such etiquette. That is how it was in the
Empire. Caber probably wouldn’t even sit in her presence.
“Yes, of course.” Tallia said.
“It is why we don’t have too many Amarrian looking personal here to serve the intake of our rescue services.” Pheosa said.
“Caber, you should eat that later then. But eat.” Tallia said.
“Yes Ma’ Lady Tallia.”
“But please put the jacket on. Now.”
“As Ma’Lady commands.” Caber said. He set the food down. Before she could look back to him he had spun neatly into the jacket. The sleeves pulled tight over his biceps but when buttoned, it covered his chest, mostly. Tallia still knew it was there though, that chest. Not a tenth of the soldiers on this station had shoulders like this man. The breeze of berries and chocolate wafted again. Where in the Empire could one get that scent?
“Ask him who he works for, who his master is?” Timeo said.
“Yes, right. Who is your master Caber?”
“I serve only the will of God.” Caber said with the first certainty Tallia had heard in his voice of yet. Standing, the man was easily a head taller than Timeo.
“Oh, of course God!” Timeo snuffed. Tallia cringed. The Gallente were accepting of all cultures and religions but half of their bravado was a guise. The critiquing of anything they did not believe in was harsh and isolating. Tallia herself was a devout believer, though few saw her practice. Her alter was kept secret in her quarters. The station cathedral was a service closet shared by many faiths. There were only three other Amarrians working on the station. None came to the holo-vid services.
“God is kind and wise.” Tallia pushed her voice out. Timeo raised a brow to her, his eyes rolled.
“Yeah Timeo, thou art a heathen with thy heretical ways.” Pheosa said as she herded Timeo to the door way and out.
Tallia relaxed then. But just for a moment. She realized they were alone, she and Caber. And this made her very uncomfortable.
“Lady Tallia, if I may beg a question?” Caber said.
“Ask what you wish.” Tallia said.
“You are not a Noble, are you?”
“No.” She said. “I am of a common house.” Tallia could see him shift his stance, he too seemed to relax in the shoulders.
“Ask your next question then. I see you have one.” She said, for she could see his eyes looking just so.
“Are you my new handler?” Caber said.
“No. Nobody is going to handle you anymore. You are free. I am a friend.”
She saw his jaw tremble then. A clear tear leaked from his eye and he turned away, back to the wall.
“How can this be? I wished only… what have I done?” he stuttered. Caber gripped the sides of the jacket, pulling them taught, then wringing his hands. A wale began.
“What have you done?” Pheosa said as she returned.
“What have I done? I just told him he was free. Caber, what is wrong?” Tallia said.
“To be banished. I thought to highly of myself. Pride. I thought when my Lady asked…at the hope of the incarnate, I considered that I could be of use always.”
“No, no, no.” Tallia said slow and calming. As if she were talking to a child. She half expected this man to swipe the tray and pound the wall but he only moved to his corner. The words he spoke were of the old language. Tallia recognized it as the prayer of desperation.
“Please, just tell me what is wrong?” Tallia asked.
“What hell hath I earned for my imperfect act! I have been forsaken. Abandoned.”
The prison door beeped. Kessa entered, followed closely by a refined figure of a woman. Her golden hair bound up in braids, woven into loops behind her head and covered with a translucent veil. Her garb modest in cut but rich in quality. She was Lady Elliana. Tallia had seen her on the occasion. The Lady would pass through the station on her business. Once she offered Holy service as was the responsibility of a devout Holder, but only the heathen spectators came to gauk. Lady Elliana did not offer such an event again. Her story was half told. Elliana was under a banishment of sorts. If she would but return and accept the will of her parent and her greater Lord Holder she would be welcomed back as a Holder-Apparent, her living mother’s only heir. To be Lady over a thousand slaves and have dominion of her own palace. This fact she does not refute. She is no traitor to her Empire. Her reasons for staying her claim are her secrets to keep.
Elliana’s presence was palpable. Pheosa gave her space. Tallia bowed. Caber turned from the wall. His wail, stilled.
The grace that befit his first rise now flowed from him again as Caber sank to the floor before the great Lady. Tallia watched as Elliana too, breathed in deeply. Her eyes closing, and then opening, changing from surprise to a mask of stern reprimand.
“What do I see before me?” She said.
“My Lady forgive my despair for my weakness hath overwhelmed.”
“What is thy sin?”
“I expressed a vainglory. My Lady Holder was pleased. It was asked of me what I would want for reward. I said my wish: to follow her where ever she went, to serve to the end of my existence, even onto the stars. She arranged for my wish. But I think now- I know now that I only wanted to see the stars. It was my vanity to think I could be of use to her onto the Celestial realm. I had fallen to sleep. I have woke to this hell. Please, I wish only to return to the sanctuary.”
“I feel your gravity. Rise. Your penance shall be forthcoming.” Elliana said offering a quick gesture of hand.
Caber rose. Though his hight dwarfed her, Lady Elliana was only enhanced by his presence. Tallia shivred.
“You may look upon me.” Elliana said.
“As you wish.” Caber’s gaze turned up.
“Tell me, Caber, was it? What do you do?”
“Anything thou ask.”
“Your divine purpose, and trained skills?”
“I have been specialized in the art of reflexology, ma’Lady.”
“I see. Caber you are to eat. Is that what they are feeding you?”
“Yes ma’Lady. Though I have fasted in my sin.”
“Give that here. I will see that you get a proper meal and I will see to your freshening.”
“Yes ma’Lady.” Caber said as he offered the food tray, not to lady Elliana, and not to Tallia, but to Kessa. Kessa took the tray but not before rolling her eyes.
Elliana took another visible breath. Tallia followed suit. Caber’s cologne of berries and chocolate seemed enhanced with an echo of shaved habal-wood incense. Elliana set her hand to Tallia’s shoulder. “Come, all of you, out. Now.”
Timeo stood viewing the cameras, just outside the door. Lady Elliana pointed at him. “You there, get him a vegetarian meal. Vegan if you have it.” She said. “And see to his cleansing right away.”
“Oh you are a bossy one. Cleanse him? I will get my sponge.” Timeo said.
“She means get him to the showers.” Kessa said. Everyone flooded out into the small observation room. Sandwiches and a chill box of Quafe had appeared. Three new faces tended the cameras. Tallia had not realized that her performance was being recorded.
“You are all idiots. Why would you kidnap such a slave?” Elliana said.
“Kidnap? What is he?” Kessa said.
“How shall I explain it. A marriage for a Holder woman is often unsatisfying.”
“So he is a concubine?” Kessa said.
“Of a sorts. He is a reflexologist. He tends only to the pedites.”
“Oh, a Royal foot massager.” Pheosa said
“He should be turned over to the Federation interrogator.” Timeo said.
“No.” Tallia said in unison with Pheosa. The Gallente woman shared a smile.
“What do you expect an interrogator should gleen?” Ellliana said “You’ve captured a Holder’s reflexologist. You might as well have annexed a foot stool.”
“A foot stool hears a lot” Timeo said.
“But understands nothing.” Elliana added
“And furniture does not really speak. So yeah, I get it.” Pheosa said.
“He can talk.” Timeo growled.
“But he won’t. And he likely understands none of what he has heard. With certainty he will be skilled in the recite of prose and poetry. It is likely he has the voice of a şarkı sözü.”
“Şark-i Su-zuu?” Pheosa asked.
“The sark, a delicate creature that makes the most beautiful sounds.” Tallia said.
“If he can sing, he can mimic.” Timeo said.
“More importantly, where do we get that Amarrian cologne. I seriously want it for my husband.” One of the new guards said.
“I want to sell it to her husband and make my fortune.” Another guard said.
“Please Lady Elliana. What is that brand so that we can find it? If they have an incenses?” Tallia asked.
“That is not a cologne. It is his natural musk.”
The room went silent. All heads turned to the video screen where Caber sat, in quiet prayer. Tallia knew what muscles lay beneath the jacket that was just a hair to small.
“So he naturally smells like chocolate, and berries?” Tallia said.
“For me it’s cookies and lavender.” Pheosa said.
“And shaved habal-wood. He started to smell like that when we were last in there.” Tallia added.
“What is he?” Timeo said. “I have never seen this kind of slave before. Never heard of such a thing.” Everyone looked to Elliana. She only looked at the video screen.
“You have all heard of the Kameira program?” Elliana said.
“The creepy Amarrian slave soldiers? I knew he gave me the willies.” Timeo said.
“I remember that soldier we found at the wreck of that frigate we brought down. Crawling, half dead.” Kessa said.
“His guts were on the ground yet he still got up and squeezed the life out of Private Willard before my bullet put him down.” Pheosa said.
“He didn’t even have on a pressure suit.” Kessa said
Pheosa and Timeo shivered.
“The program, its roots were the testing and enhancement of the body with selective breeding, right?” Tallia asked.
“It started with the Brutar Matari. A savage program.” Pheosa said.
“The Elite Slave program.” Kessa added.
“That man is one of them, an Elite. Bred for select characteristics. Raised in strict zealotry for absolute obedience.“ Elliana said.
“And to be pleasing to a woman” Pheosa said.
“That he is.” Someone replied. The room burst with giggles.
“Don’t be crass.” Tallia scolded. There were more guards now. At least five more had entered. One of them passed around the Quafe and folded sandwich pockets. Kessa pushed a sandwich into Tallia’s hand.
“Why haven’t we heard of such a thing before?” Kessa said.
“We Amarrians are a private people.” Lady Elliana said. “There is much about our ways that you Gallente could never understand. He is a specialized and highly guarded rarity. I have never heard of one to be removed from Amarr Prime. He will have been raised in such isolation and indoctrination that he would rather die than leave his station. How did you even get him here? Where did you find him?”
“He was behind a locked room on some luxo-yacht. Our infiltrator operative hacked the system and flooded the vents with- well, a vaporized blend of Blue and Sooth. Made the whole crew happy zombies.” Pheosa said.
“I even got the steward to put red coloring in the laundry.” Timeo said. “All of their clean uniforms will be pink. All of them.”
“Why didn’t you capture an Admiral or Lord Holder or something like that?” Elliana said.
“He looked important.“ Pheosa said.
“I guess we saw him and subconsciously thought ‘hay- Kameira Commander on vacation’” Timeo added.
“Idiots.” Elliana said.
“Who grabbed him anyway?” Kessa asked.
“This is my fault.” Phoesa said. “Slumped on his bed he looked just so perfect. And he had a slave collar on. Just one of the bow-tie ones but still. In his stupor, He asked if I was an angle or a demon.”
“It’s not like we had other business to be about.” Timeo said, Tallia was quite sure he was being sarcastic.
“Our original target escaped in a shuttle.” Pheosa said. “We changed our objective. Grab a bunch of slaves and anyone we thought was important. As many as we could fit in our frigate. Really a bunch of tourist no-bodies though.”
“Who pray tell was your real target?” Elliana said. Kessa stepped forward then.
“Stop! Lady Elliana, Tallia, we appreciate the help but you are not privy to this information. You have been of great assistance. We will see you out now.”
Tallia looked in through the two way mirror. One of the other male soldiers had entered, giving the vegetarian meal option to Caber. Caber sat down, delicately scooping a yellow root vegetable into the spoon. Dabbing the sauce up with the flat bread, each bite taken with relish. Not the gobbling of the uncouth.
“Please, can I talk to him again? Maybe I can help him.” Tallia said.
“Absolutely not.” Elliana said. “He is the most dangerous of wiles. Especially for a free-civilian Amarrian.”
“He’s not dangerous.” Timeo said. “We were slapping him around and he would do nothing.”
“Of course you idiots. Would anyone let a slave tending to violence anywhere near the feet of your Lady Holder? His obedience is absolute.”
“Do you really think he was a Royal foot rubber?” Timeo said
“Perhaps. If I see his original garments I could tell.” Elliana said.
“He was only clad in a loin cloth.” Pheosa said.
“That is just his underwear. He was probably engaging in his thrice daily physical routine, or at respite when your drugs hit him.” Elliana said.
“What will you do with him?” Tallia said.
“Some big wig from the Federation Navy came and took that Kameira’s body away. Do you think they’ll want this guy too?” Timeo said.
“That would be cruel.” Tallia said. “He is a slave. Shouldn’t that get him asylum?”
“My family, we will vouch for him. This is my fault. We can take him in.” Phoesa said.
“He won’t have any trouble finding work.” A random guard injected.
“I would take him in. We have an extra room-my sister and I.” Said another.
“We can start a fund. Get him an apartment.” Injected yet another voice.
Timeo alone stood in his corner. His eyes widening. “Oh gods, I will call ‘Scantly Clad’ productions right now. We have our new reality show. Lets see how many women can fit in this guys apartment. Holo-vid hall of fame here we come!” Timeo said. His sarcasm was not disguised by his accent.
“You see it Mr. Timeo, the danger here with this man?” Elliana said.
“I-“ he started but then closed his mouth.
“If the secrets to his genetics are unleashed no free-born man will ever stand up to the generation of his get. What woman save the most devout could resist bearing his lineage. No loose Gallente for sure.”
“That is an insult.” Kessa said.
“Take it for what you will. But these do not have the restraint. I barely do.” Elliana said as she gestured to the growing gathering of female personnel.
Kessia slowly nodded.
“He must be returned.” Elliana said.
“Returned to his lap-dog life of slavery? I don’t think so. Ask him what he wants.” Pheosa said.
“That is what he wants.” Elliana said. “He will likely be executed, but if you ask him he would choose that.”
“That is ridiculous. Why would they execute him?” Tallia said.
“The risks of his corruption at the hands of this moment of freedom are too great to let him serve in such an intimate way.”
“I thought that was what glaive-collars were for. You know the drugging kind? Or vitoc.” Pheosa said.
“Your promiscuous culture blinds you to a true peril. Even as your holo-vids and day time operas are slathered with the violent foils and dangers of it. The Glaive, and Vitoc, such physical methods can account for overt defiance but it offers no armor for the heart or soul.”
“Amore’ armor does not exist.” Tallia said in a whisper she hoped no one heard. In that moment she imagined Caber’s arms wrapping around her. Of coming home to his warmth and ways. Of tending to Holy Service via holo-vid in the humble closet of a temple on the station with him at her side. Lady Elliana set a hand to Tallia’s shoulder. The older woman’s eyes creased in sorrow as they offered a quiet denial of the dream. Tallia felt like she wanted to cry. Like when she was a little girl, gently holding the golden furrier chick and hearing her father say ‘no’.
“Such as he is not for a common woman, or even the lesser holder. Of course he may not die. He may be retired to stud.” Elliana said.
“Vile.” Pheosa said.
“You say it so casually.” Kessa added.
“Like a cattle. A mere beast. He his a human being.” Pheosa said. “Damn no. We are not sending him back.”
“What about…can’t he go into retreat somewhere?” Tallia said.
“Perhaps.” Elliana swept up a hologram from her com. All the planets of the Gallente Federation swirled before her.
“There are monasteries in your Federation. This one, an Amarrian temple set up in the Gray Cole hills. It is far away from anything. I understand that the monks there live a cloistered life of solitude and prayer. He may find solace and peace among them.” Elliana said.
“Gray Cole hills, what planet are they on?” a voice hummed from the crowd.
“I just might go on a pilgrimage.” Another quiet voice could be heard.
“Out! All of you.” Kessia barked. “Timeo, get Caber to the showers before we all become loons. Elliana, Tallia, you stay. The rest of you back to work!” It took several more snaps for Kessia to clear the room.
“Lady Elliana, I want you to write a letter to that monastery. Tell them what they need to know. See if they can help us shelter and sequester this man.”
“You will ignore his own wishes?” Elliana said.
“I want to give him a chance to have his own will. When he can act on his own, he may do so.” Kessia said.
“That will surely be his knell. In the end he will choose Amarr. But I will do what you ask.” Elliana said as she moved to the corner with her personal com. Kessa turned toward Tallia.
“Tallia, I will get you the files to process Mr. Caber. Expedited political asylum. I will have the judge review his case this afternoon.”
“Why so quickly?” She asked.
“I need to get him off this station. Now.”
On the monitor Timeo came into view as he entered the cell. He had a towel and a sundries kit. “Come on, I’m suppose to take you to the showers.” He said.
“Why do you need to move him so quickly?” Tessia said. “The judges are never that fast.”
“I suspect Officer Kessa is aware of the Imperial Emissary’s shuttle that has just entered the system.” Elliana said. She was bent to the chirp of her personal com.
“Turn that com off.” Kessa said.
“I though you wanted that letter right away?” Elliana said.
“An Imperial Emissary? From the Empress? Coming here? Does that mean he serviced the Empress?” Tallia asked.
“I suspect they have been sent to bargain for him. A ransom. Unless you have another person of importance claimed from that yacht?” Elliana said.
Kessa was silent.
“By your own laws, he had done no wrong. You can’t keep him if he chooses to go.” Elliana added.
In the room below, Caber stood. Timeo was puffed up again, measuring his height, standing a little too close. His orders barking as he tired to hand the sundries basket to Caber, who refused to take it. Timeo’s hand tapped insultingly on the face of the elite servant of Amarr.
“I told that idiot to stop that.” Kessa stood quickly.
In the next moment Timeo was splayed on the floor. The sundries scattering. Caber having backhanded him with force. Timeo crawled backward out the door. Caber cradled his hand.
Elliana let out a hiss. “You see? It is too late. His corruption has already begun.”
“Oh by the Holy One. I am so sorry. I told him to do that.” Tallia said. “I just wanted him to stand up for himself. To be-I don’t know…”
“To be a real man?” Kessa said.