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On a world where women have no freedom, one woman refuses to submit.
Enna is a runaway, forced to hide in the desert mountains with others like her. But despite the harsh environment, what she’s escaped from was intolerable, and she will never let herself be captured. When a chance comes to find her daughter, ripped from her arms just months before by her sadistic master, she only has her courage to fall back on, because she trusts no one else. Especially another man.
Captain Matias Acoff found his missing sister on Midros, kidnapped as a child from their home planet and raised as a slave. Now he’s helping to sort out other kidnapped women and return them to their homes. When he meets Enna, he finds himself involved with a group of runaway slaves. Even if she accepts his help to find her daughter, he can’t free her. She’ll always be a fugitive. And if she’s found, the law is clear, and the punishment for running is severe. When his assignment ends, how can he leave behind the woman he’s come to love, to face that by herself?
*This second book in the Midrosian Slave Chronicles. While there are moments of laughter and love, and a HEA, please be aware that it is set against a backdrop of darkness that includes explicit sexual themes, unequal power dynamics, capture fantasy, and corporal punishment. Please consider whether this book would offend you before purchasing.
Enna ran through the darkness, her grief so deep she longed to lay down and die on the barren desert floor. The only thing that kept her feet moving was the memory of the one shining light in her life; as long as there was any chance of seeing Miria again, Enna would struggle on.
She hardly knew what she was running towards. The cryptic message, the vague directions, the hope of a refuge – she wasn't sure any of it was real. But she knew that what she'd left behind was intolerable, and she would never return, never let herself be taken. Unless it meant she could have Miria with her. She'd accept any slavery, any bondage, if it meant Miria could be with her, and be happy and healthy.
But Miria wasn't with her now. Miria would probably never be with her again.
The grief overwhelmed her and made her steps careless. She tripped, falling hard. When her injured hand hit the ground, she screamed. The hand had probably been broken as she was beating on the door of the small bedroom in her master's house, where they'd imprisoned her after they'd taken her daughter away.
Enna had known they'd be taking Miria soon. All girls were taken from their slave mothers when they turned five, to be raised in schools far away until they were eighteen and old enough to be sold. The grief would have probably been no less consuming if they'd waited the last four months, until Miria's birthday. But they'd stolen her right from Enna's arms as mother and daughter lay together in a deep, probably drugged, sleep. Enna's master had known his slave well, had known the anger and rage that would probably erupt, and had made a preemptive strike.
The next few days had been a blur. She remembered screaming and crying and beating against the locked door until she collapsed, her right arm cradled against her chest after one hard blow had exploded in pain that ran from her hand up to her shoulder. When the door finally opened, she'd been limp and unresisting. Nara, Master's First Slave, and his favorite, helped her into bed, bandaged the hand, and fed her soup while Enna wept quietly and refused to talk.
"Master will be glad to see that you're better when he returns," Nara told her. The young woman had never borne a child. She didn't know there would never be a 'better' for Enna.
Something Nara said pricked at Enna's mind as she lay facing the wall. "Where is Master?" she asked quietly.
"I don't know. He said he'd be back later. He told me not to open your door, but I could tell you were calmer, and I wanted to help you."
Enna didn't really have a plan even as she replied. "Thank you. I do feel better. I think I'll get up now. Would you be able to hand me a clean dress to wear?"
Nara turned to the small closet that held Enna's three dresses. Enna rose out of bed and threw herself at the smaller woman, knocking her into the closet. She slammed the door and grabbed the ladder back chair, shoving it under the knob awkwardly with her good left hand. Nara pounded on the door and yelled. Enna reached under her thin mattress and scooped up the small amount of money she'd managed to hide away in the vain hope that she and Miria might get away before her daughter was taken.
She shut the bedroom door behind her and the sound of Nara's yelling faded. Enna wasn't really worried about being overheard. She and Nara were the only other occupants of the small house. They did the cooking and cleaning and served their master's seemingly endless sexual needs.
Nara was better at that stuff. Enna wasn't interested in sex and performed her duties perfunctorily, something which Master frequently complained about. She'd dared to retort once that if she was so bad, maybe he should just sell her, and the beating she'd received had left her black and blue for days.
She wondered why he hadn't sold her, to be honest. He clearly didn't like her very much. He'd won her in a bet from her first master, and made it plain from the start that Nara – younger, prettier, and always ready for sex – was his First Slave. He doted on her, and Enna cringed to see her sitting on his lap and cooing in his ear. Once Miria had been born, Enna stopped caring. It had left more time to be with her daughter, the only one she really loved.
Miria had been a surprise. When Enna realized she was pregnant, she hid it from Master as long as she could, until one day Master had commented that she was getting fat. She gritted her teeth and informed him her birth control had failed and she was pregnant. He was annoyed; Nara was supposed to be the one to give him his heir, and the plan was to have a boy embryo implanted in her next year. Then he shrugged and said that maybe having a baby would calm Enna's rebellion down. He treated her better for a time, but when the test showed it was a girl, he went back to ignoring her. The plan for Nara to bear his boy was back on.
Nara, to her credit, had known Enna was pregnant and said nothing. She confessed later that she was relieved because she didn't really want to have a baby. When she found out that she wasn't off the hook, she was disappointed. But the round cherub with curly dark hair won over her heart, and she doted on Miria. And Enna poured all her energy into loving her baby and was, for a while, a model slave.
Enna didn't hate Nara, and she was sorry that the young woman would face Master's wrath for disobeying him today.
Before she left the house, she broke into his office. All of the legal papers concerning the slaves were written in Br'ini, which she was forbidden to learn, but she knew Basic as well as anyone, and Miria's name looked similar in both languages. She saw a number next to Miria's name and committed it to memory, praying it was the number of the school she'd been sent to. What exactly she was going to do with that information, she didn't know. Then she let herself out the front door. She wasn't sure where she was going, but she knew she had to get away. Her steps as she walked down the gravel path to the street crunched like a metronome of grief.
Miria's gone, Miria's gone, Miria's gone, Miria's gone...
Her hand throbbed and she couldn't bend the fingers. Tears that she'd pushed away since Nara had come into her room earlier rose up and spilled over. She couldn't see, but it didn't matter. She dropped her head down and put one foot in front of the other and headed away from the house.
~ ~ ~
She wound up across town, hiding behind a large trash bin, barely escaping from soldiers who had tracked her to this row of shops. She crouched in the cold and dark, nightmares of previous runaway slave punishments she'd witnessed running in an endless loop through her mind.
She'd slept fitfully, awakening every time some drunk spilled out of the back door to one of the bars. She heard slaves coming and going through the night, emptying trash or sweeping up litter.
When she emerged in the first grey light of dawn, a miracle waited. Across from her hiding place was a loaf of bread, some cheese, a container of water, and a note:
24 Lindau Lane. In back.
~ ~ ~
Number 24 Lindau Lane was a run-down house that backed up to an abandoned industrial warehouse. The lot was littered with boxes and barrels that came right to the edge of a dirt path which ran between the site and the house's short wooden fence. The extraordinary wealth of Midros was not shared equally among all, a truth Enna knew well.
The boxes and barrels had made an excellent hiding place. Enna had watched and waited most of the day, ducking down when someone came near, but it seemed that no one was looking for a runaway slave here, either to help her, or to hunt her.
Towards dusk, an elderly woman, loaded down with shopping bags, had ambled down the lane, cursing loudly at just about every ill of the world, including her master. As she'd reached a point about twenty meters from Enna, one of the bags burst open and spilled its contents on the ground. With more colorful cursing, the woman set everything down and retrieved the rolling fruit, brushed the dirt off jars, and loaded everything into her remaining bag. She resumed her walk, now whistling cheerfully.
Enna had been about to doze off again when she spotted a piece of canava fruit sitting in the dirt. It was yellow and round and Enna knew it was sweet and wet. In her desperate thirst, she'd crept forward in the fading light to snatch it, when a second miracle appeared. A pack of food was sitting behind a box, out of sight. She pounced on it, pulling out dried meat, more fruit, and bottles of water. And at the bottom, there'd been another note:
Travel east until the time when our mistress shines her full light upon you, and you will be found.
Men might be their masters, but women had always paid homage to Mistress Moon, who ruled the cycle of their bodies more powerfully than any man. Enna shouldered the pack, looked at the darkening sky and the small moon visible right now in its waxing gibbous phase, and headed east towards the distant mountain ranges.
~ ~ ~
By the time they found her, several days later, she was barely conscious. Her hand had swollen up to twice its size and was a sickly greenish color. She was aware of feminine voices, a cool cloth on her feverish head, and a whisper into her ear:
"You're safe now."
Captain Matias Acoff let loose a string of curses his superiors would probably frown upon. The object of his wrath was a beefy man, glowering at him from the corner of the small shop that sold leather whips and floggers, where he'd been corralled by Matias' sergeant. Three women with identical shiny silver collars around their necks stared up at him from their tiny hiding place under the floorboards. They'd probably been shoved there just a few minutes ago when the soldiers from the Deminos Home Guard began pounding on the door. The first light of the day was beginning to seep through the windows, and Matias had had a hunch the owner might not be expecting a pre-dawn visit.
"Uh huh. You sold them and they aren't here anymore? You goddamn lying, cowardly, sonuvabitch. Ladies, pardon my language." He held out his hand to help them stand up one by one. They clung to each other in obvious terror, but exactly who they were afraid of, he wasn't sure.
"Ladies, do you know why I'm here?"
The oldest one glanced at her scowling master and finally nodded. "You wish to see if we were born on Midros, or kidnapped from somewhere else and brought here as children."
"That's right. This is how it goes. If you're not from Midros, well, you're free. We'll escort you to the processing center, interview you, and you can decide what you want to do after that. We're not going to force you to do anything." He glared at their master, who had his arms folded across his chest. "The Midrosian government requires me to inform you that, despite being granted the status of 'free', any woman who chooses to remain on Midros is required to continue to obey all slave laws, and must stay registered with a master as long as she is here.
"Now, if you were born here, we stamp your hand, enter your name in our records, and check in from time to time to make sure you're being treated well. I wish we could do more, but legally we can't, right now." And that knowledge kept Matias awake almost every night. Midros was a sovereign planet with the right to enslave all the women born here, if they so desired. But no longer could they get away with stealing kids from other planets, now that their century-long illegal scheme had been uncovered.
He held the scanner out and motioned to the statuesque woman with grey hair. She placed her hand on the screen. The scanner was a new technology; it could analyze obscure properties of blood more accurately that any device prior to now, and it could pick up trace amounts of minerals found only on other planets. With this machine, they were sorting out women born elsewhere from the women born here. The Deminian Home Guards had initially uncovered the kidnapping plot, and invaded to stop the execution of just one of their women. The Bureau of Interplanetary Affairs had finally gotten their heads somewhat out of their asses and declared jurisdiction over the issue; once troops from other planets arrived to help, they'd been able to start sorting every woman on the planet.
The scanner pulsed under the woman's hand for a few seconds before emitting a sharp beep. The name of a planet showed up on the small screen, and it wasn't Midros. The woman's eyes grew wide.
"What is your name?" Matias asked softly.
"Sonna, sir," came the soft reply. Her eyes hadn't left the screen.
"Well, Sonna, this is what's going to happen. You're going to leave here for a while, and if you want to come back, you can be home by this afternoon. If you don't, you never have to see this man again."
"I'm really not from here?" Her eyes had teared up. "I'm really going to be free?"
"The BIA considers you free at this exact moment."
With her shoulders back and her head held high, she moved to stand in front of her former master. Without warning, she drew back her hand and slapped him across the face, knocking him backwards into a shelf. Matias' sergeant moved to restrain the woman, but Matias held up his hand. Sure enough, Sonna stood calmly once more, her demeanor again relaxed and dignified. "You will never lay a hand on me again," she declared in a whisper.
Matias cleared his throat. "All right. Let's keep going." He motioned to a dark-haired woman in her twenties. She sneaked a glance at her master, as though seeking permission, and Matias moved to stand between them. The name that showed up after the beep was again not Midros. But instead of moving, she put her arms around the shoulders of the youngest woman, who looked barely old enough to be eighteen and newly purchased. With a shock, Matias realized the young woman was pregnant, her stomach just beginning to show.
A harsh thought occurred to him. If she were Midrosian, and this baby was a girl, they'd take her away in a few years. Matias was sick with that thought. He crossed his fingers as she placed her hand on the screen.
He looked at the screen and put a frown on his face. "Huh. Something's not right." He banged the scanner on his hand a few times and reset it. "Try again."
The result was no different. Holding the device so the screen wasn't visible, he shrugged. "Looks like this thing needs a charge. I can't get a good reading on her at all, either way." His sergeant frowned, no doubt about to inform his idiot captain that the devices were fully charged fifteen minutes ago.
"Well, there's nothing for it. I'll have to take her with us and have the scan done at the processing center. If she's Midrosian, she can come home later. Thank you for your cooperation! Bye!" He pushed the three women out the door and into the waiting autocar as their owner protested and the sergeant blocked his exit from the store.
As Matias started to close the door, Sonna leaned her head out. "I know what you did just now, and I thank you. He is a pig."
Matias nodded and shut the door, and the car took off. He pulled out a small flat device and pushed a button. "Hey, Finn, it's Matias. Got another baby bird headed your way. This one's going to have one of her own."
"Got it. We'll keep an eye out for her."
He took off his cap and ran his hand through his damp hair. It was early in the day to be so warm. They'd been identifying slaves for more than a month, and Sonna and the other two women had been three of the last four in this district unaccounted for. He let out a sigh. His unit had been promised a well-earned week off as incentive to get the IDs done. They'd seen the best and the worst during their time: slaves loved and doted on by their masters; slaves who were badly mistreated; slaves who lived in poverty; slaves who lived in luxury.
They'd come across slaves who were terrified of being forced to leave masters they loved and had children with. And they'd seen women like Sonna, who shook off slavery like a dog shakes off water.
There was one missing slave left, and Matias had doubts they'd find her. She'd been reported escaped months ago, and while Matias was inclined to doubt the honesty of her smarmy, too-charming-to-be-real owner, a search of his house and interviews with his other slave seemed to support that story. He hoped his boss would just let it go. He wanted nothing more than to take a week of vacation and catch up with his sister Lydia, though he'd have to be satisfied with talking to her on a vid – she was on Prima with her partner James, and it would be a 6-day round-trip to get there and back.
His sergeant walked up and saluted.
"Yes, absolutely. Get everyone together and head back to the barracks." Matias didn't even need to hear the question. His men had been up all night, first doing patrols and a few welfare checks, and then staking out this place in the hopes of finding the three slaves. They were exhausted. "I'll be there in a little bit. I want to see the sunrise."
His sergeant quirked one eyebrow up, then turned without comment to signal the other four soldiers to head back to the hotel that the Deminian forces had appropriated to use as barracks, to get some sleep.
There was a jumble of crates across the street, facing east. Matias found one that would let him see the sunrise as it rose between two buildings, as well as keep an eye on the store they'd just come out of, in case the owner decided to do anything stupid. The street was still deserted, the business of the day about an hour from starting. He relaxed back in the quiet, waiting and hoping that he would finally see the pink flash he'd heard about – a moment when the rays of the rising or setting sun would hit the fine paeolate dust in the air all around, and turn the world pink for just a split second. It didn't happen every day, and he was rarely in a position to stop to watch, so he had yet to catch it.
He remained motionless as the sun crept up towards the horizon. The birds began to sing in the nearby trees. He still marveled at the contrast between the beauty of this planet and the ugliness of their way of life. Because of Midros' appetite for female slavery, it had been kidnapping young girls of about five years old, for decades, from war zones across the galaxy, relying on the chaos surrounding the conflicts to disguise the disappearances. They were brought to Midros and combined with the young girls born here, and raised to be sold as slaves when they turned eighteen. All the girls were given a drug called Oblita that made them forget who they were and where they came from. And it had worked – until now.
Just before the first ray was about to spill over the distant hill, he saw a movement across the street, next to the shop he was watching. He flicked his eyes in that direction and was stunned at what he saw. A figure, slim and lithe, dressed in pants and a coat entirely too heavy for the mild temperature, crept around the side of a building. As it crept past a bush, the cap on its head caught and pulled off, and long brown hair tumbled down its – her – back. Even more astounding was the glimpse he had of the silver collar that marked her as a slave, as she paused to twist her hair up under the cap again. She continued her creeping until she came to the side door of a small medical clinic, where she stood up. She flattened herself against the wall, watching the side door, her nervousness showing in the twitching of her left hand, though her right hand hung motionless and oddly shaped next to her body.
He caught another movement, at the front door of the clinic. An older woman unlocked the door and let herself in. The woman at the side door moved her head at the noise and seemed to tense.
Two things happened simultaneously. The side door opened and the older woman stuck her head out, handing a bag to the waiting woman, and a man walked up to the front door of the clinic and let himself in. At the noise of the front door opening, the older woman called over her shoulder back into the building, "Doctor? You're here early!"
The younger woman looked in the bag. "I told you I needed Hematase!" she protested.
"It's too dangerous now! Come back later, right after we close!" The older woman disappeared inside the building, pulling the door shut. The younger woman's mouth hung open before she turned on her heel and darted away, disappearing behind the buildings. Matias briefly considered following her, but he heard a cycleglider start up and speed off, the harsh sound of the old engine quickly fading away.
The sun was over the horizon now, and any chance of seeing the pink flash had disappeared. He thought about what he'd just witnessed. He had a feeling this was Enna, the runaway slave from his district, and she was desperate for medical supplies. That meant there were others like her.
He was about to make his way back to the barracks when two Midrosian soldiers pulled up to the clinic's front door in their government autocar. The doctor appeared, dragging the struggling and protesting clinic slave out the door. He shoved the woman into the back seat, and the four of them disappeared down the street.
Whoever the young woman was, she would be in a heap of trouble if she came back later. He needed to think about what to do.
~ ~ ~
He slept for a few restless hours before giving up. He showered, put on a clean uniform, and went to talk to his CO. After convincing him that they'd found every slave that could be found in his district, he and his men were granted a week of leave. He gave the good news to his sergeant just after lunch, then called an autocar and headed out of town to talk to someone he'd only met once, but who might just be able to help him.