She was nothing, now.
In one instant, everything she had ever trained for, worked for, fought for… stripped away.
How had it happened?
Aysha sought again and again for the answer, looking for the moment she had made a mistake. She had chased the male behind a pillar where he was pinned down, then closed. Predicted which way he would come around on, correctly. Lunged around the pillar, railrifle ready.
How had he moved that fast?
Her railrifle had been pointed right at him. The computer should have fired before she even registered it. But he had slapped her weapon up before the computer could react.
Then shot her in the back before she could dodge.
He was barely competent. She had seen him fight. She had driven him around the arena! And yet somehow he had put three rounds right into her power core and a fourth into her anchor’s control center.
Oh that he had put a fifth into her.
She tried to still the shaking in her body. Tried to stop the tears running down her face. She hadn’t cried in a decade. She was thirty years old. A warrior and commander in her prime. She had been champion of all Zdar Army! She wasn’t a person who…
No. She was nothing.
And soon she would be less than nothing.
Nothing could cry.
Why? Why hadn’t he just shot her? Mother’s wrath, why hadn’t he been a killer?
Because he was a three-legs. And there was only one thing a three-legs really wanted.
The thought twisted through her until she pressed her thighs together and hugged them tight against it. But it was no use. They would part soon enough. Her body wasn’t her own anymore. He had won the right to her life, and instead of ending it, he had taken it for himself. And that meant…
He would thash her again and again and make her a breeder.
That was what males did with women when they were given control.
She pressed her face against her knees. The shaking increased and was joined by queasiness. Which grew to nausea. Thoughts of the male using her turned into thoughts of escape.
She could kill him. He was no taller than she was, and she was certain he wouldn’t be able to fight as well.
But then her sisters–her former sisters–would call her honorless and strike every mention of her from the records. Then sell her to pirates, who would also make her a breeder.
She could run. She knew the base. Could find a way off it.
But again her former sisters would call her honorless and strike her name from the records. Instead of pirates she would face the wilds and a life alone, one she didn’t really know how to live beyond a few basic survival skills. And on her own, all it would take was one slip, and the bandit males that controlled that world would again make her a breeder.
She could kill herself.
Yet again she would be honorless. But at least she would be dead, and wouldn’t care. What would it matter that she would be denying everything she had ever believed? That she would be telling all those she had trained, served, or grown up with that obedience was not to be borne?
She considered it more. A quick slash with a knife. A jump from the window.
Her shaking stilled as she filled her mind with the solution.
Could she? Could it be that easy?
Was she that much of a weakling?
Aysha had failed her sisters once already. Failed the First Mother who had trusted everything to her. Would she fail them again with the little bit that was left to her?
She was still a Warsister. Stripped of possessions and place, owned by a male and destined to be his toy, yes, but still left with the shred of honor that came from having one task to perform, an obedience she could give.
She had fought in the forfeit match and lost. She could still submit to that. Remember who and what she was, and honor the traditions of her mothers. Even if no one who mattered ever saw.
It was something. More than adding death as an honorless betrayer to her shame as the champion that had failed her sisters’ trust.
She held to it while she waited for her owner to arrive at his room. Meditated on it until the fear and sorrow retreated enough for her to feel the ache in her neck where shrapnel had cut her. She touched it, and felt a gash running across the side of her neck. Open, but clotted. Not serious.
Aysha hadn’t even noticed. She remembered seeing the red blood smeared across her battlesuit as she stripped it off and handed it to the bluehairs loading up her former anchor, but it hadn’t seemed important then. She hadn’t felt it as she walked to the guest section of the apartment towers, and no one had commented when she asked which room the victor had been assigned. She had only known she was beaten and claimed, and that tradition demanded she go and wait until the winner came to celebrate.
This was the first time she had been the prize, but not the first time she had been part of the act. She had beaten more women than she cared to remember in similar forfeit matches. All of them had been waiting when she came back to her room. All of them had submitted to her as she took her victory thash. It was tradition. Now that it was her turn, she had instinctively copied them.
But she was a sister. They had been sisters. She had always restored them eventually. The rules didn’t demand it, the ownership of the victor had no bounds, but to do otherwise was almost unthinkable. A little humiliation, then several months as a personal servant, and finally a sponsorship to a challenge match and the opportunity to get a place in a combat unit again. That was how she had done it every time. That was what any sister in Zdar Army would have done. Probably most of the sisters on the mainland, too.
What would this male do?
What would he…
The doorlatch clicked. The knob turned.
Aysha let go of her legs and sat up. Pulled her shoulders back. Faced the door.
She wouldn’t cower before him.
The dark wood swung in revealing a high-tree Okendan male in military dress whites, complete with breastplate. She recognized him as Rixken ArdAnkadia, the victor, more by the sword hanging at his side than his face, which she hadn’t really paid attention to before. He stepped in, eyes on the floor, turned around and shut the door, then locked it. He moved with the exaggerated smoothness of someone who was drunk.
He turned back around, scanned the room.
His gaze started at her face, flicked down over her bare chest to her legs. Bounced back up to her face, then went to an upper corner of the room. His cheeks turned red despite his olive complexion.
“Excuse me,” he said in rough, stuttering, Timlai. “I seem to be in the wrong room.”
He turned around and unlocked the door.
“This is your room,” she said.
He stopped, hand on the doorknob. Cocked his head to the side and tilted one ear back toward her.
“If this is my room, why are you naked on my bed?”
He had to know. He had spared her. Had demanded her surrender.
He had to know she was his prize.
“Because I had no clothes left to call my own.”
“That explains the naked. Why are you on my bed?”
He didn’t know.
“You demanded my surrender.” She gritted her teeth. “I am your prize.”
A long moment passed. The male stood motionless, staring at the door as far as Aysha could see. She wondered what was brewing in that stick-brain head of his.
A knot formed between her shoulders. So tight it hurt.
Surely he would realize that he could do whatever he wanted and…
He muttered a single word. Not in Hakat, a language she knew from the Emprin civilians, but in Doga, the religious language of the Imperials.
He stiffened his spine.
“What happens if I order you out of my room right now and send you back to your people?”
Aysha felt a chill wash over her skin. Thoughts of shame and exile returned. She struggled for words.
“They… they will assume that I displeased you after giving my surrender. That I… did not submit to the victor. My shame… I… if they are generous they will exile me.”
“And if I explain I did not know what your surrender meant?”
“They will still exile me. I have no place now, and no sister will sponsor me.”
His left hand gripped the hilt of the sword at his side. So tight his arm trembled.
A minute passed. Aysha brought her hands to her lap and twisted them together.
He released the sword and began to unbuckle his breastplate. Off it came, along with the pauldrons, and clattered on the floor. The sword and swordbelt followed, though he leaned the sword against the door frame. Then he was working at the buttons of his double-breasted white longcoat.
She relaxed her hands. At least she wouldn’t be exiled. He would…
He tore the coat off and held it out to her in one hand, without looking back.
“Put this on. In my culture it is shameful for a grown woman to be naked with a man who isn’t her husband.”
Aysha stared at the coat. What was he doing?
No. The victor had given an order.
She got up and took the coat. Put it on and buttoned up both rows. It fit, bottom hem coming down to her mid-thighs, just like it did on him, though a little bit tighter against her hips.
“Are you clothed?”
He turned around and met her eyes. Then his gaze dropped to her neck and he hissed.
“Didn’t you stop for medical treatment before coming here?”
“It wasn’t life threatening.”
He approached, turning his head to get a better look at the slash.
“Not life threatening. Right. You’re going to have a nasty scar.”
He shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have left the field until I knew you were alright.”
He walked past her to a duffel sitting on the foot of the bed.
“At least someone brought this here for me. Zemril said she packed my first-aid kit in it so I should be able to do something for your cut.”
She watched him rummage through the bag for a moment, then turned her head forward again. After a few seconds he pressed a wad of fabric into her hands.
Forest green uniform pants.
“Put these on, too. The supply office sizes them loose so they should fit. I hope.”
She pulled the pants on while the male continued rummaging in his bag. They did fit, though it was close in some areas. Very close. But they were made of kring cloth, so they had some stretch and there was little chance they would tear.
Aysha heard footsteps heading away, then running water.
The male came back with a wet towel in one hand and a small first aid kit in the other.
“Sit down, please.”
Aysha sat on the bed and held still while he opened the top buttons of the coat back up and washed the blood off her neck with the towel. It hurt a little, but he was very gentle. At some point the wound must have started bleeding again because he cursed softly and pressed the towel tight over it while he searched through the first aid kit with one hand.
She recognized the antibiotic spray when she saw it, and the clotting agent that came next. Butterfly-sutures followed, and he finished with a coat of wound spackle. She watched his face as he applied each step, and took in the soft, clinical touch of his fingers on her neck.
When he was all finished he examined his work and nodded.
She didn’t want to say the words, but she had to.
He met her gaze again. This time she studied his face, trying to understand it. She hadn’t seen many males this close. Not any, actually. But she had met civilians before, as well as a few of the redhair breeding males and the breeding males of the other castes. Was this one different?
He didn’t look it. His face was angled and hard like most males. His brown eyes were just eyes. A little angry, perhaps. At her? His mouth was thin, lips pressed tight together, adding to the angry.
Had she displeased him?
“You…” she drew in a breath and let it out. Took another. Dropped her gaze to his chin in submission. “You can do anything you want with me. I’ll do… whatever you ask. My body is yours.”
His lips thinned more.
“It’s tradition. I don’t have any experience with males, but…”
She winced at the mention of her former rank.
“I’m not a Commander anymore.”
“Then… Aysha, was it?”
“Aysha. If you tell me one more time that I have the right to rape you, then I swear I will burn this entire base and all its twisted inhabitants to the ground if I ever have the power. Minus yourself.”
She looked at his eyes again. They were burning with suppressed rage.
“I’ve seen far too much of such things already, and I’m tired of it all. Now tell me what I can do with you besides defile you.”
This was not what she’d expected. Aysha tried to get a handle on the situation, running through possible answers. It should be simple, but… there was a tradition, and he wasn’t following that. Or doing what she expected a male to do.
No. He was skipping that.
Was she displeasing? It couldn’t be that…
“Do you not… am I ugly?”
He closed his eyes. Ran one hand back through his hair, then dropped it to massage his eyes. When he opened them the anger was gone.
“Aysha, you, like every other woman on this base, are so beautiful it hurts to look at you. You are not ugly. I, however, am Ankadarul. Moreover, I am the Preparer now, which means I have to be an example to all other Ankadarul. And, before either of those, I am a man who’s already made mistakes that I never wish to repeat. The only way I will ever touch you in the way you’re worried about is if you marry me and want me to, in that order.”
Aysha processed the words and concepts, trying to form a picture of his motives using information she had only barely paid attention to when she learned about the religion of the Emprin civilians. She had known Preparer was a religious title that went with Emperor, but an example to all the Ankadarul? The Followers of Ankad?
Marriage. Sex, for him, required marriage. An exclusive, lifelong pairing.
According to those of her sisters who liked to spend their leisure time in the city, there were any number of civilian males who claimed that status but didn’t honor it. But… some of some of her sisters said there were others who couldn’t be drawn away from their woman for anything.
Was he one of those?
“Look at me.”
She focused on the male in front of her again.
“I’ll rephrase my question. What do you want most right now, that your traditions will allow me to do?”
The answer flew out of her mouth before she even thought about it.
Her face heated. She couldn’t believe she’d said that. It was far too soon.
“To fight me?”
Did she have to explain? If he wasn’t going to take her, then he should keep her as a servant. But he’d asked.
“Put me in an anchor and let me fight again. That’s what I meant. But usually…”
“Done. You have your old anchor back. If you hate the idea of serving me you can keep it and head off on your own. But if you’re willing, I’ll employ you as my personal body guard until I can find someplace better for you.”
It wasn’t traditional. It was too soon. He was still a male.
Thash tradition. Thash too soon. It was his right and his choice.
If he’d wanted it, she’d have dragged him down on the bed and given him a tumble that would melt his brains out, as long as it got her back in an anchor.
But he’d said she could keep it. Even go off on her own.
There was no way she’d do that, though. Even if her sisters wouldn’t have considered it dishonorable, she still would. Thash it. Why did someone this generous have to be a male? She hadn’t had a decent relationship in years.
No matter. She would keep him alive. Even if he refused to act like he owned her, he did, and she would honor his victory, and his generosity, by making brutal warfare on his behalf.
She grabbed his right bicep and grinned.
“I’m willing. Anyone who threatens you won’t even get a chance to blink.”
This chapter is part of the in-progress serial web novel The Unbroken Blade, intended to be book one in The Shattered Empire trilogy, and features a mix of sci-fi and thematic elements reminiscent of near-future military fiction such as Gasaraki or Isaac Hooke’s Atlas series and sci-fi combat classics such as Mechwarrior/Battletech and Gundam. The story is rich with battle and conflicts of honor and conscience arising around a civil war on the forested world of Dankar, far from our own, but is primarily focused on how the main characters deal with the challenges they face, not their machines or their world. Follow this blog to receive each chapter as soon as it is released. Like and share to give me a shot of encouragement. Full chapter updates on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.