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Cayla Fox had been digging weeds for hours under the hot sun with a long-handled hoe with a pointed blade. She paused to take out a rag from her pocket to wipe the sweat from her brow before it started to drip in her eyes. The men and women working the other rows of the crop did the same periodically.
Cayla couldn’t fathom that a civilization that had interstellar space ships would use slaves to work their fields. Until she was abducted by aliens from Earth over a year ago, she never believed in aliens or that they actually came to Earth and kidnapped people. Yet here she was on an alien world called Berrapo, a slave working in a field under the hot midday sun.
Even though she could probably escape if she planned it out, there was nowhere to go. The slave masters’ drones would find her and the masters would punish her with the pain stick. It was sort of like a cattle prod, but many times more painful. She had learned that lesson the hard way.
She’d had three days of freedom in the nearby forest before they found her. Those three days, she’d had very little food because she didn’t know what was edible and what was not on this strange planet. Her military survival training was of little use to her on Berrapo.
At least, here she got to spend time outdoors. On the slave ship, she’d spent the whole time in a dingy, smelly holding cell with eighty other women of various origins and species. The highlight of her days there was when the keeper brought the slop, they called food. It was a bland stew with many vegetables and mystery meat. It was edible though the portions were small.
Hardly a day went by that Cayla didn’t wonder what happened to her friend Luanne Field who was abducted with her. The two of them were soldiers, driving through the desert to their next assignment when their vehicle sputtered and died. They called for help, but they were accosted by human looking aliens who stunned them with a small weapon.
When they next awoke, they were strapped to bunks inside a space ship. After they landed on Berrapo, they were separated. Luann was sent to work in a factory in the city. It wasn’t much of a life for either of them.
They’d had dreams for the future after the army to find a nice guy and settle down to have families. That was not likely on Berrapo, where they worked twelve-hour days with one day off in ten. There was no time for socializing because at the end of their days they were too tired to do much more than eat their evening meal and go to bed.
Determination to find a way out kept the threat of hopelessness at bay for Cayla. She would plan better the next time she tried to escape. If she could just get to the spaceport where they came in, maybe she could stow away on a ship. But it was at least an hour away by transport. It could take weeks to walk it. What she didn’t know is that all of the slaves were microchipped with trackers. They would be able to find her anywhere on the planet.
“Thanks for bringing me here,” Lieutenant Commander Narzek Pardantu to his warrior friend Kragyn Vermaktu. “The new house is more beautiful than the old one. But my family may never get the chance to live there. I don’t know whether they are dead or alive.”
“I am glad we only ever saw the damage in the vids. That was bad enough. I was here when the Sargan’s came. One of the blasts knocked me out, and I regained consciousness strapped to a bunk on a slave ship. That’s probably what happened to your parents and siblings,” said Kragyn.
“That’s what I hope, that’s why I’m going back out with Dreadnaught Seven.”
“You were lucky a lead spot for a ground team opened up,” said Kragyn.
“That’s because there were more officers like you that found their families alive and well. After fearing them dead for months, they want to spend their time with them.”
“I had decided to retire when my contract was up before the Sargan attack. Finding Reanne was the only good thing that came of the whole ordeal.” Kragyn said, shaking his head.
Narzek didn’t miss the shadow of painful memories that flickered in his eyes. “If I knew one way or another about my family, I would be staying too. Finding them is a longshot. I have to go out there and try.”
“As would I. I hope you find them.”
“Thanks. We should go back to the starport, so I don’t miss my shuttle.” Narzek took out his com-tablet and snapped a picture of the new house that replaced the one bombed to rubble in the Sargan attack on Farseek. “In case I do find them, I can show them they have a home to come back to.”
Kragyn nodded, and they started walking back to his personal flyer. It could be called a hybrid shifter. It had wheels so it would be driven on land, or it could hover a couple feet above the ground, and it had retractable wings to fly like a plane. The flyer could stop midair and land vertically. That was the most common use of the flyers because there were few roads between settlements on Farseek.
“I almost wish I could go back out there to help you find your family and more of our people,” Kragyn said after they lifted off.
“I appreciate that, but I would be staying if I were in your boots. Besides, Farseek needs experienced warriors right here to defend our world and train new warriors. Your mate and your family need you here.”
“And that is why I’m not coming with you.”
A few minutes later, they landed at the flyer lot at the newly rebuilt Farseek Spaceport. Both men climbed out, and Kragyn came around to embrace his friend knowing it could be the last time they ever saw each other.
“Fare well my friend,” said Kragyn, I will ask the Maker to guide your journey to success.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you when I get back,” Narzek asserted. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew it could be a one-way journey.
Narzek turned and pulled his duffle from the cargo compartment and slung the strap over his shoulder, gave Kragyn a final nod in salute then strode to the entrance of the terminal without looking back.
The new spaceport was built on basically the same layout as the old one, but with some aesthetic improvement. There were only twenty shuttle pads since most of the ships coming to Farseek were freighters too large to land.
Before the Sargan attack, Farseek was a major supplier of food crops for the Transtellar Consortium of Worlds. The huge freighters came to transport them for distribution among the other worlds, and to bring tech and other goods needed on Farseek. Only, they would not happen again anytime in the near future.
The population was decimated in the attack and abduction of the survivors. So far, the Farseek Brigade had only brought back around twenty thousand people. Some of those were not from Farseek but were asylum seekers who had also been enslaved by the Sargus Empire.
Thousands had died in the bombings, but they didn’t account for a million missing people. Some of the slaves rescued were abducted from worlds in the United Galactic Alliance of Worlds, located in the sector opposite the Consortium. They formed an Alliance to bring down the Sargan Empire and attempt to recover the people abducted from their worlds. It was a slow process even with military from both federations going from world to world.
The Farseek Warrior Brigade retrieved data from a Pican slave ship that listed worlds where they had delivered people abducted from Farseek. During their time as self-declared mercenaries the Farseek Warriors had just scratched the surface.
This is why the brigade split their ten dreadnaught defense force between defending their star system and retrieving their stolen people. There was a remote string of star systems on the edge of Sargan space where thousands of Farseekans were enslaved.
Although news of the removal of the Sargan Emperor had reached most of the Empire many worlds still had not freed their slaves and reported the origins of their slaves. Each federation in the Alliance could spare only so many military ships for the job. The Farseekans were not content to just go back to their world and wait for others to do the job.
For them it was personal. Narzek was only one of many that
transferred from Farseek star system defense to the slave retrieval force. Many
had family still unaccounted. So, five Farseek Brigade Dreadnaughts took flight
back to the Sargus sectors to look for their loved ones and end slavery on the
planets where they found them.
Narzek boarded the shuttle to Dreadnaught Ten nodding to fellow warriors as he ambled up the center aisle to the next empty seat. The ten-rotation layover on Farseek made him and the others anxious to get back to the mission they had begun over a year ago. His stay on his homeworld was bittersweet. They had made it back to Farseek without their loved ones.
It wasn’t hopeless because they had records from the slave ships and the distribution centers that many of their missing family members were taken alive. Even though the Consortium and the Alliance took out the Emperor Arbentine Sargus and his whole regime, the worlds under that regime didn’t automatically adhere to the declaration that outlawed slavery throughout the empire.
The law would have to be enforced, but they didn’t have enough enforcers to administer the edict on every world in the former empire. Both the Consortium and the Alliance encompassed hundreds of worlds and neither had ever eradicated humanoid and sentient beings trafficking by slavers.
In ten short minutes, the shuttle eased into the landing bay on Dread Ten. The forces on each dreadnaught were divided into teams of ground fighters and starship operations. The dreadnaughts were as heavily armed as most battlecruisers but more compacted and fewer staff. Each of the dreadnaughts carried 150—200 personnel. Only the best of the best warriors made it into the Farseek Brigade. Their small force could do things that larger star fleets would not attempt. In addition, they had some of the best tech available.
Narzek was the new team leader for a team of six warriors who had transferred in as he had. They had thirty rotations to train and function as a team before they reached the first in a string of systems where many of their people were sent. All five dreadnaughts were spaced out on the same course so they didn’t all get to a star system at the same time.
The designated scout would arrive first for reconnaissance. By the time the others arrived, they would know where the biggest groups of Farseekans were held. On the more heavily populated worlds like Berrapo, they needed all the ground teams from all the dreads on the ground to search for their people and any other people enslaved by Sargans.
Narzek was glad to have the lead in time to prepare his team for that mission. They were all good men and women, seasoned warriors; they just needed time to learn their functions in the team. It was almost boring how everyone performed as they should, but they kept training to fill the time until they went groundside to start their rescue operation.
The Kurellis, a huge passenger ship they stole from the Sargans at Tegliar Station, came with them to carry the rescues back to Farseek or where ever they might wish to go along the way. Its maximum capacity was ten thousand and maybe a few hundred more if they doubled up.
The nights alone in his quarters were the hardest for Narzek. That’s when his imagination haunted him of all the horrible things that could have happened to his mother, brother, and sisters. They had all heard the horror stories.
The worst part was the whole Farseek Brigade was off fighting in the Sargus Empire when Sargans attacked Farseek. The plan made and executed by Evzen Guryan, Governor of Halor and member of the Consortium High Council was born of pure greed. That he was caught and punished for his treachery we of little comfort to those whose families were missing over two years.
Guryon had been stripped of his vast holdings and all of his political power. Where he had once lived in a palatial mansion, he now occupied a tiny prison cell, sentenced to life in prison. That wasn’t enough as far as Narzek and many other warriors were concerned. Even if it were allowed by law, torturing him every day for the rest of his life would not be enough for the thousands killed and a million people unaccounted for.
When he couldn’t sleep Narzek would go to the gym and perform a meditative exercise similar to tai chi. During one such exercise, it came to him that his negative feelings about Evzen Guryon and his missing family were detrimental to him, not the people responsible for his anguish. They were stealing his energy and focusing his mind on those negative feelings. That negativity was sapping his energy for the task ahead.
Whether he found his family or not he was doing what he could to find them. If he never found them, he still had his memories of spending a happy childhood with them until he went to warrior training at sixteen. Barring the odds, he could possibly find them. He could not change the past, there was no use dwelling on it.
Going back would put Narzek and half of the Farseek Brigade back in the warzone. The military forces still loyal to the Emperor refused to surrender and declared war on the Consortium and the Alliance. It was possible he might not come back at all. If he didn’t find any of his last family, it didn’t much matter.
Cayla’s body ached at the end of every day when she finally climbed into her bunk. What she wouldn’t give for a shower and a clean nightgown to wear to bed. She might as well wish for a miracle to get her off this miserable planet so she could go home. But if she ever found her way back to Earth, she could face charges for desertion and AWOL. She almost laughed as she wondered if being abducted by alien slavers off the face of the Earth would get them to drop the charges.
They slept on bare mattresses in their clothes as that was all they had to wear. Cayla might have worn her underwear only to bed except it had worn out months ago. They were each given one blanket that most of them used for pillows because it was always hot in the barracks.
She didn’t have trouble sleeping anymore. Her exhausting workload left her too tired to lament over the past or worry about the future. She fell asleep within minutes of closing her eyes, and this night was no different.
It seemed like minutes after she had fallen asleep that a ruckus teased her awareness at the edge of her dream. Suddenly, the bright overhead lights came on to moans and groans of the women who had been sleeping. How could it be morning already? Then came the voice of explanation.
“Ladies, please listen. I am Lieutenant Commander Narzek Pardantu of the Farseek Brigade,” he said from the front of the room. He paused as a few women shouted their approval. “Slavery has been abolished in the Sargan Empire, and we have come to free you and take you home to Farseek. Please dress and gather any belongings, and we will take you to the shuttle up to the passenger ship.”
“Farseek?” Cayla muttered. She pulled on her boots and jumped down from her bunk, walking over to the man who had spoken. He was quite a bit taller than her 5’7” and clad in some kind of body armor with his headgear retracted to reveal a handsome face and a bit of bristly platinum hair.
“Commander Pardantu, I’m not from Farseek. I’m from Earth. I’d kind of like to go home,” Cayla told him.
He sniffed and looked at her with a slight frown. She almost expected a curt retort. It probably sounded ungrateful to the man who had just announced he was freeing them from slavery.
The commander blinked a couple times and shook his head then said just one word, “solmatu.”
“I’m sorry, what?” It was a word that didn’t translate, like many other words with the inferior translator chip the slavers injected into her.
“Maker, I’m not ready for this.” But his expression softened as he looked down at her. “It will take some explaining, but we have thousands of people to get off this planet. Will you tell me your name?”
“Cayla Fox. Before I was a slave, I was a soldier back on Earth. I was in a warzone when those slavers stole my friend and me.”
“That should make things a little easier. I need you to come to our ship, the Farseek Dreadnaught Ten. We’ve got another farm to evacuate, then I will be back to explain,” he said cryptically. Then he said, “open comm. Lieutenant Commander Pardantu to Commander Lagatu.”
Cayla could only hear the LC’s end of the conversation, but it didn’t shed any light on the situation.
“I am declaring solmatu, Cayla Fox of Earth. I’m sending her to Dread Ten.” He paused. “Thank you, sir. No, sir. We’ve got at least a thousand people to move from our assigned locations. That comes first.” He paused to listen again. “Affirmative, sir. Pardantu out.”
“I won’t even ask,” said Cayla. “Tell me how I can help.”
“Are there more than four slave barracks, and do the guards have weapons?”
“Only four, here. The slave masters have pain sticks but no other weapons. When they touch you with them, it seems like every pain receptor in your body is on fire,” said Cayla. “We’ve all felt it a time or two. They are not allowed to damage us. But they do other things…”
“To you?” he demanded.
“No.” Cayla shook her head.
“Good, you can best help us by making sure we have everyone who wants to leave.”
“What are the chances I can get back to Earth someday?”
“It’s possible, but right now we need to get these people moving.”
“Of course,” Cayla said, but she found herself staring at him. There was something about him that attracted her, and made her feel reluctant to leave his presence. But he was right, whatever this unspoken awareness between them was, it needed to wait.
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