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I walked down the ramp exiting the ship and was assaulted by the bright sunlight.
I paused for a moment to try and get my bearings when I felt a tug on my neck.
My master pulled forcefully and growled some command to me which I have come to understand means, 'Come on you lazy slave or I'm going to beat you!'
Well, he was going to beat me anyway. But if I didn't hurry and follow obediently, it would be here and now rather than later in his cabin.
As I hurried to follow, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a hooded figure watching me.
I turned my head to see who was watching me and made eye contact for just a moment.
I quickly turned my gaze ahead of me.
Never make eye contact with anyone... It just leads to another beating.
* * * * *
After leaving the makeshift landing area in the desert, we walked into the small village.
We stopped outside a building where my master disconnected the leash from my slave collar and grunted a command that I now know means, 'Stay here you lazy slave, or I'm going to beat you!'
I stood as ordered, feeling the aching in my bare feet from walking across the burning sand.
I didn't dare even reach down to try and soothe them for fear that I might be seen by someone.
I could feel the tingle of the sunburn on my exposed skin.
I wore one tattered scrap of cloth draped over a string around my waist to cover my groin.
One gust of wind and I was fully exposed for all to see.
The cloth and my slave collar were all that I wore.
My mind drifted back to the time before... my family... my home.
* * * * *
"What is your name?" A computerized voice asked from behind me.
I turned and looked with surprise at the hooded figure who had watched us leave the ship.
"Am I speaking your language?" The figure asked.
It was strange, I could hear him speaking in another language, but a device he was wearing was speaking in my language, the language of the Ocampa.
I nodded hesitantly, not daring to look into the eyes of the stranger.
"What is your name?" The stranger asked again.
"Kro 'kath." I said without thinking.
The figure shook his head in disapproval, then said, "That is a Kazon word. Do you have an Ocampan name?"
I nodded and whispered, "Kel."
My name. My own name. I hadn't said it or heard it spoken in such a long time...
"Kel, give me your hand. I promise that I won't hurt you." The stranger said seriously.
Hesitantly I reached my hand out to him, ready to withdraw it in an instant.
The stranger grabbed my hand by the wrist and turned it palm up, then quickly pressed a device into the palm of my hand.
I heard the device hiss, then he took it away.
"Kel, what I have just given you is a drug that causes a hypnotic trance. Do you understand?" The stranger asked in a firm voice.
"Yes." I whispered as I looked at my hand to find it undamaged.
"I'm sorry I have to do it this way, but I need you to tell me the truth and if you don't agree to what I'm going to ask of you, I need to be able to make you forget." The stranger said seriously.
"I understand." I said as I felt a strange sensation, like someone else was answering him and I was just watching the events from a distance.
"It is my intention to take the ship you arrived on. In the process of taking the ship, most, if not all the crew will be killed." The stranger said in a considering voice.
I remained still and silent.
"I cannot force you to do anything that is in direct opposition to your nature. I need to know if you are willing to help me take the ship." The stranger asked carefully.
"Yes." My voice said without me being able to control it.
"If the situation calls for it, will you be able to kill?" The hooded stranger asked firmly.
There was a moment of silence, then my voice answered, "I will kill Kazons".
"Good, that's what I'd hoped. When do you expect to be going back to your ship?" The stranger asked seriously.
"Normally, the master returns to the ship at sunset." My voice said, completely independent of my own thoughts.
"Do you know where to find and how to operate an emergency breather unit in the event of a loss of atmosphere?"
The stranger nodded, then asked, "If there were an emergency on your ship, how would you know?"
"There would be a loud buzzing sound." My voice said without emotion.
"Good. Then listen carefully. You are to forget about meeting me and everything that we've talked about. Do you understand?"
"When you hear that buzzer, I want you to immediately get the nearest breather unit and put it on."
"Then I want you to hide. Get under a piece of furniture or in a storage room and stay there until the buzzer stops." The stranger said firmly.
"When the buzzer stops, you will remember everything we've talked about. Go to the engine room and wait for me there."
"I'm going to leave now. Act normally and forget that you saw me or talked to me."
* * * * *
I snapped back to attention as I noticed a Kazon walk through the door I was standing beside.
What was I thinking about? Oh yeah, my family... my home...
* * * * *
My master came out of the building stinking of alcohol and holding a giggling woman at his side.
This was a good sign.
When my master found a woman for the evening, I would only have to stand by and serve them, and with any luck she would satisfy all his 'appetites' before she left the ship.
He quickly attached the leash to my collar and gave it a tug as he led the woman toward his ship.
As I followed I noticed that the woman smelled like old cheese.
* * * * *
We walked up the ramp and into the ship as the sun was setting.
In another time and place, I might be able to stop and enjoy the sight.
My master was being rougher than usual with me, yanking my leash and nearly throwing me where he wanted me to go.
Once we were in his cabin, he commanded me to stand then started to undress himself.
One or two grunted words to the woman prompted her to do the same.
I remained standing, looking forward, seeing without seeing as my master sought his own gratification, using this woman's body much as he had used my own so many times.
My master grunted the word that usually gave me a sense of relief.
I don't know the literal translation, but the basic meaning is 'lubricate me'.
I grabbed the ceramic pot of lubrication and hurried behind him.
I got some on my hand then did my best to get my hand between them and coat his shaft.
He let out a gurgled growl that I took to mean, 'Enough'.
I replaced the lid of the pot and put it back in it's place, then moved back to my standing place to await further orders.
All of a sudden a buzzer sounded and before I could think, I had grabbed the emergency breather unit from beside my master's bed and hurried into the clothes closet.
Distantly I could hear the voice of my master calling out, not to me, but on the communications equipment to the others on the bridge of the ship.
I huddled tightly into myself, imagining the beating I would receive when my master found me, but couldn't force myself to leave my hiding place.
I noticed that my master's voice was becoming fainter and his words were becoming slurred.
The woman who had shared his bed screamed and I could hear her pounding on the door to the cabin.
* * * * *
When my master and his companion finally fell silent, time seemed to lose all meaning. The only sound that could be heard was the buzzer that indicated that there was a problem.
I was frozen in place with the breather unit on my face, unable to force myself to move.
Then the buzzer stopped and the memories flooded back to me.
The engine room. I have to go to the engine room.
I got up out of the floor of the closet and cautiously cracked open the door to look out into the room.
The bodies of my master and his companion were laying unconscious against the door.
There were streaks of blood where the woman had torn off her fingernails trying to scratch her way through the metal bulkhead.
I pressed the release button beside the door and it opened immediately.
I stepped over the bodies in the doorway and hurried to engineering and to my new life.
* * * * *
"Good, I'm glad you made it." The stranger said as he walked around the engineering console.
I could barely hear his muffled voice speaking, but the artificial computerized voice sounded clearly from the right side of his chest.
"This is going to be easier than I thought. Come here." He said, then pointed to some controls.
"See this?" He said, then took a marking pen and made a single slash above the control.
"This is one." He said, then moved down and to the left of that control and made two slashes."
"This is two." He said and moved to another control.
Finally he had marked eight controls and said, "When I call you over the ships communications system, I'll just call the numbers I need you to push. Do you think you can do that?"
"Y... yes." I said shyly, my voice muffled by my breather unit.
"Keep that on for a while. We need to move the ship now. Once we're safely away, we can deal with the crew and restore the atmosphere." The stranger said seriously.
I nodded, then said, "Thank you."
I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was smiling, then he said, "I'll be calling you in just a minute. As I call each number, press that control. That's all you have to do."
"I've got it." I said as I looked over the controls again.
* * * * *
"One." I heard through the speakers.
I quickly pressed the number one control.
"Two, three." The voice said quickly.
I pressed the controls, then heard a low discordant beep.
"One." The voice called again.
I pressed the control.
"Three four." The voice said with a note of distraction, like he was having trouble.
I pressed them, and heard the beep again.
"One, three, four." The voice said, this time with full frustration.
I quickly pressed the buttons and heard the expected beep, then noticed a blinking button to the side.
"There is a yellow button flashing beside number three." I said, hoping it would help.
There was a long moment of silence, then the stranger responded, "Of course, the engine controller wants confirmation before doing a cold start. Hold down the yellow flashing button and keep holding it while you press one, three and four."
I held the button with my right hand, then carefully pressed one, then three and finally four with my left hand.
I felt a vibration as the engines came to life.
"Good. You're going to make a great ship's engineer." The stranger said, then I heard some beeping over the speaker.
"Press five, wait, then six." The stranger said in a voice of deep thought.
"Should I release the yellow button?" I asked hesitantly.
"Yes, release it. You won't be needing it again unless we have to restart the engine." He said confidently.
I released the yellow button then pressed five, waited a few seconds, then pressed six.
"Good. Do you know your way to the bridge?" The voice asked.
"Yes, what about buttons number seven and eight?" I asked as I looked at them carefully.
"We won't need them until we have to shut down the engines. Come on up to the bridge so we can take off." The stranger said in a casual voice.
I took one last look at the engine console, then hurried out of the engine room.
There were bodies scattered in the hallway. They looked as if they had dropped in mid-step, not even looking uncomfortable.
I quickly stepped around them and got on the lift that took me to the bridge.
"Take a seat over there Kel. I don't think I'll need you to do anything, but be ready just in case." The stranger said as he gestured to a console.
I rolled the Kazon sitting at that station out of the chair and into the floor before taking his seat.
"Hold on, this might be a bumpy ride." The stranger said, then started pressing buttons in a quick sequence.
"This thing handles like an ox-cart. It's a wonder it can even get into space." The stranger said with difficulty as he worked furiously on the controls.
I looked at the main view screen and was surprised to see that we weren't lifting into space, but gliding just above the ground.
"I have to make one stop before we leave the planet." The stranger said informatively.
I looked over at him to see that he was watching me.
"You're the pilot." I said helplessly.
I could tell by the expression of his eyes that he was smiling as he said, "And you're the engineer... Hang on, we're about to land."
I grabbed onto the sides of the console and held tight as the ship awkwardly jolted to a stop.
"Do you know where we can find a cart or something to help us move these bodies?" The stranger asked as he stood.
"Yes. I have seen some flat-bed carts in the hanger bay." I said quickly as I also stood.
"Show me where. We'll have to move some bodies before we take off." The stranger said as he walked to the lift and motioned for me to join him.
I quickly ran to his side, then pressed the button to take us to the proper level of the ship.
"Hold on." The stranger said and gently placed one hand on the side of my head.
I felt a presence in my mind, beckoning to me.
I flinched away and backed into the corner of the lift.
"Please don't be afraid, I just want to fix it so we can talk without this translator." The stranger said softly.
"It is forbidden. That... what you tried to do... it is the most forbidden of all things." I said quickly, trying to explain the seriousness of what he tried to do.
"Who has forbidden it?" The stranger asked seriously.
"I... I don't know. The elders told us... All my people know it is forbidden." I said in thought.
"Kel, I wouldn't do anything to hurt you and I wouldn't ask this if it weren't important. If we are to survive, we need to be able to communicate. The time it takes for my translator to work may be the difference between life and death. Besides, it's a device and it can make errors in translation. We can't afford to take that chance." The stranger said in a softer voice.
I reluctantly nodded my head, giving my permission.
"This will take a minute. My father was a telepath... but this is about all I can do." The stranger said as he walked to me and placed his hand on the side of my head.
I tried to fight down the feeling of revulsion and violation as I felt the foreign being in my mind.
"Shhh. Almost done." The stranger said quietly.
I held still and willed myself not to strike out at this being who had saved me from my master.
"Done." The stranger said, then slowly backed away.
"I'm sorry." I said, feeling ashamed by my reaction.
The stranger reached into the Kazon robes he wore, and did something then said in his own voice, "No Kel, you have nothing to be sorry for. I'm sorry that I had to violate your beliefs like that. I promise that I will never do that again."
I nodded in understanding as I could hear the true remorse in his voice.
"Are you ready to go?" The stranger asked gently as he pressed the button to open the lift doors.
I nodded and took one step away from the corner I had been cowering in.
"Please help me clear the bodies out of the hanger bay so I can get my ship inside." The stranger said in an encouraging voice.
Please help? It wasn't a command. He asked for my help.
I walked to his side and pointed to the door to the hanger bay.
* * * * *
We walked in and looked around only finding two Kazons.
"Where is the cart you were talking about?" The stranger asked.
"I believe there are a few of them in this supply room." I said and pointed.
"Let's haul these bodies out of here before we open the hanger door." The stranger said with purpose as he walked to the indicated door.
"Why?" I asked hesitantly.
I couldn't remember the last time I had questioned anything, but if our mission was so urgent. Why did we have to bother with these corpses.
"Because I didn't evacuate all the oxygen from the ship, I just lowered the air pressure and reduced the oxygen so they would lapse into unconsciousness. They might still be of use to us for something." He said as he walked into the supply room
"So you didn't kill them?" I asked with a hitch of fear.
"Not yet. But unless we add more oxygen to the ship's atmosphere, they won't regain consciousness." He said as he walked out of the supply room pushing a cart.
"Why didn't they put on breather units when they felt the suffocation?" I asked curiously.
"Because I lowered the air pressure to knock them unconscious, then the oxygen to keep them that way. The only thing they might have felt was sleepy or drunk... Help me load these two onto the cart and we'll put them in the hallway." The stranger said firmly.
I grabbed the feet of the Kazon and helped him lift.
"On three. One... two... three." He said and we heaved the heavy body onto the cart.
"Good, just one more, then we can open the outer door." The stranger said as he moved the cart to the other unconscious Kazon.
"One... two... three." He said again, and we hefted the dead weight up on top of the first one.
"Wait here." He said and pushed the cart into the hall. A moment later he walked into the hanger bay and sealed the door behind him.
"One more minute." He said quickly, then hurried to the computer console beside the outer door.
I heard a hiss and noticed that there was a blinking light.
"That's it. The pressure is equalized now." The stranger said, then pulled the breather unit off his face.
I slowly did the same and took a deep inhale of fresh air.
"You'd better grab another breather unit after we close the hanger door. These are about used up." The stranger said as he opened the large door.
I nodded hesitantly as I saw the desert landscape through the opening door.
"You want to come with me?" The stranger asked as I saw the exit ramp extending to the ground.
I nodded immediately.
I'm lost here. I would be completely helpless without the guidance of this stranger... my savior.
"This way." The stranger said and motioned for me to follow.
* * * * *
We walked for about five minutes when I saw a small ship that was partially sheltered by some overhanging rocks.
"That was one helluva walk from here to the town." The stranger said casually.
I thought about the distance we had traveled by air and estimated that the walk must have taken days.
"I have a couple changes of clothes with me. They might be baggy on you, but they should work." The stranger said without looking back at me.
I looked down at my nearly naked body, then back at the stranger in multi-layered Kazon robes.
"It'll be good to get out of these Kazon clothes. I know they're practical here in the desert, but honestly, I feel like I'm tangled in my bedclothes." He said with a smile in his voice.
We finally reached the door of his small ship and he pressed a button on the side to enter.
"Come on in. Can I get you anything?" The stranger asked gently.
I shook my head and looked around. It was odd, but this ship felt comfortable. Like home.
The stranger looked in one box, then another and finally handed me a large bundle of clothing.
"Go ahead. It's got to be better than wearing a hankie and a shoestring." The stranger said and started to unwrap himself from the multiple layers of the Kazon desert wear.
I quickly unfolded the bundle and found it to be a set of clothing much like the style we had in my home.
I looked at the stranger with question in time to see him pull the last of the layers of clothing off his body.
He noticed that I was looking at his naked body and smiled.
His features were... they reminded me of the small reptilian creatures that lived among the rocks of my home near the caves.
"Yeah. I know I look kind of funny, but hopefully you'll get used to it." He said casually, then stepped into a pair of pants.
I shook myself out of my daze and stepped into my own pants.
When the stranger had finished dressing, he took the bundle of Kazon clothing and threw it out the door of the ship.
"Someone needs to introduce the Kazons to the concept of deodorant." He said, then turned toward the front of the ship and started pressing controls.
I heard a noise and saw the door of the little ship closing.
"Sit down Kel, we're about to lift off." The stranger said while working the controls in a comfortable and well practiced manner.
I took a seat and looked down at the controls in front of me.
"This is my language." I said in shock.
"Yeah, the original owners of this shuttle were Ocampan scientists." He said and I felt the engines power up.
"Did you... kill them?" I asked hesitantly.
"No. They were long gone when we found the shuttle." He said as we lifted slightly off the ground.
"We?" I asked cautiously.
"That's kind of a long story. Once we're in space I'll tell you. Okay?" He asked as he turned the ship and started moving us forward.
"As you like." I said automatically.
"I need to do something that might seem kind of strange to you, but don't worry." The stranger said as he maneuvered us to come along side the Kazon ship.
"I trust you." I said in a whisper.
He smiled at me, then made some careful adjustments to the instruments before him.
There was a 'whoomp' sound as a blast of light impacted the side of the Kazon ship.
"You are going to destroy the ship?" I asked before I could think.
"No. I just want it to look like it's been in a battle." The stranger said, then fired another shot.
The second shot breached the outer hull and I looked at the stranger with disbelief and question.
"That's a non-vital part of the ship. I hate to compromise our hull integrity, but it's necessary if we're going to get away from this planet." He said firmly.
I just stared at the view screen again.
"One more should do it." He said, then fired a longer sustained blast down the side of the ship, severely scoring the hull.
"Perfect." He said with accomplishment, then moved us toward the hanger bay.
* * * * *
After landing the shuttle, he said, "Get a new breather unit and get to engineering. The engines are on stand-by so you shouldn't have to do anything, but I'd like to have you there just in case."
I opened the cabinet by the outer door, pulled out two breathers and handed the stranger one, then put on my own.
As soon as we were both ready, the stranger evacuated the atmosphere from the hanger bay and equalized it with the rest of the ship.
"I'll let you know as soon as it's okay to come up on the bridge." He said in a muffled voice through the breather.
I nodded my understanding.
"Don't be worried if you feel some shuddering or vibration. That's just the hull breach. I promise that it will be fine." He said with cheer in his voice.
"I trust you." I said seriously.
He nodded in my direction then walked toward the lift that would carry him to the bridge.
I walked to the opposite end of the hall and took the lift down to engineering.
* * * * *
"Hold on, here we go." His voice came over the speaker.
I held onto the engineering console and felt the ship quake with effort as it fought against the planet's gravity.
"It's fine Kel, this is just what I wanted." He said in an assuring voice.
"I trust you." I said over the hum of the engines and the shuddering of the entire ship.
I heard his delighted laughter over the speaker, then he said, "Just keep telling yourself that and by the time we get away from this planet, you might believe it."
I couldn't help but smile at his comment as I slowly released my grip on the engineering console.
"As soon as we've broken out of the planet's gravity, you can come on up to the bridge. The engines are working perfectly." He said happily.
I felt a tingle of something deep inside me that I hadn't felt for a very long time.
I don't know the exact word for the sensation, but I knew the source. The tingle was sparked by knowing that this person, my savior was pleased.
Suddenly I realized that there was nothing I could think of that would give me greater pleasure than to know that something I did caused my savior to have that feeling.
I felt the shuddering quiet as the ship finally escaped the last of the planet's atmosphere.
Without further thought, I hurried to the bridge where I might find some way to bring pleasure to the stranger, my savior... my new master.