Friday, 8 March 2013

The Raven Tree

Carmilla walked away from the Last Gate with a smile. So unusual that a way of dealing with her troublesome slaves had been found. The trip to Suroken would not take long and once there it would be easy to pick up the replacement stock. Plus some of the new strains of tea that had come from the gallente estates. And, she had a guest for dinner at the estate. All in all, a most interesting evening.

As the sound of her heels clicking down the walkway passed a figure detatched itself from the darkness of the wall and started to follow her, slowly and carefully.

By the time she had reached the hanger bay and got the crew back onboard the hour was nearly up. Then the door chimed and slid open. A small sebeistor woman clad in a long coat and pulling a wheeled case walked in and looked around. Carmilla walked over to her and embraced her with a smile.
"Janessa, I'm so glad you came!"
"Well, when it comes to exploring and bouncing from system to system and seeing new sights, I'm game. Although...."
She looked up at the battered prowler and shook her head slowly.
"What is that? It looks like a piece of..."
"I know what it looks like. But she's fast and she cloaks and carries a lot of small cargo. That, and I built her myself."
"No way! That's soo cool."
"Come on, one of the crew will show you where your bunk is. I'll join you after we lift off."
Carm detailed a crewman to escort her in and then waited. A figure slipped in through the open door and up to her. Clad in black she stood before Carmilla then bowed.
"Nothing following her or you Mistress. All is clear, at least from this end."
"Yeah, but it's out there I'm worrying about. Never mind, send a message to the estate, get them ready for my arrival. Let them know that the executions will cease as soon as I get back and prepare 3000 slaves for transport."
"As you wish, Mistress."
She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply for a moment, and then let it out is a quick bark of laughter and headed back to the ship.

The trip to the estate was uneventful, the cloaking transport slipping past several gate camps and landing on a quiet, out of the way planet. The plateau they landed on was surrounded on all sides by sweeping plains interspread by winding rivers and leading to a great ocean. Janessa walked over to the edge and leant against the raillings and looked out across the plain.
"Do you like the view?"
Jan didn't turn around, too busy looking at everything she could. The way the clouds seemed to roll, the passage of the great birds that filled the sky and the great estate spread out before them.
"It's magnificent. Do you own this?"
"I lease it from the local warlord. I do him some favours, mostly cooking actually."
Jan turned her head but saw the woman before her was being serious.
"Yeah, he loves khanid food but just can't get the ambience right."
"And you can?"
"Yeah.. it's a gift. Come on, I'm dying for a drink."

Carmilla showed Janessa around the estate from the back of a large hoverpad, flying over the fields towards the river. The fields below stretched into the distance, interrupted every now and then by pillars of rock or large stands of trees. When they turned around she saw the house. It was perched on the side of the plateau, partially wrapping around it, looking like a snake on an old stump. Right infront of it there stood an old tree, bent and crooked as if blow by constant wind.
"It's a mixture of my house, the facilties for sorting the tea out, and the quarters for the work force."
"You mean... your slaves?"
"Yes, most of them are slaves. But there are a load who are simply indentured criminals, the Warlord helps with those."
"But how do you keep them under control?"
"Fear of death?"
"Nah, more like fear of the future."
"I dont..."
"Fear that if they don't do as I instruct them they won't have much of one."
Janessa sniffed with disdain. The hoverpad stopped infront of the house in the lee of the crooked tree and they departed, walking slowly towards the house.
"I suppose you use vitoxin on them?"
Carm sighed and shook her head. She noticed her girls approaching and smiled softly.
"Only on the worst ones. The habitual offenders. I prefer, actually, to use blue pill on them."
Janessa snorted.
"Would it surprise you to know that I was once like them?"
"I dont believe it."
"It's true. Raised on a plantation, like this one, but with Amarri overseers. Raised as livestock, treated as such. It's a long story, and one I'll tell you if you wish. But.. I was born free, raised a slave, and now I'm a Holder. And now, I have more slaves than I know what to do with, but with that the problems of keeping them."
"If you've been a slave.. then how can you keep them?"

Carmilla stopped and sat under the tree. High up in it's branches several ravens watched them. She kept quite for a while as her girls approached and took a bottle of wine from a basket and two glasses. Before long they had laid a small cloth and covered it with morsels of food and drink. Carm popped one in her mouth and sat down, Orchid holding her glass.
"You can ask that question to a hundred different holders and get a hundred different answers. During my time as a slave, both forced and free will I've seen sights that would make you turn pale and run screaming. This here, and my other estates are nothing compared to some. Yeah, the Empress talks about slavery, but she rules the Empire, she doesn't run it. Slaves do. Both Amarr and Khanid... it's more widespread than anything thinks, and more so than the usual Matari hotheads know with their punitive raids and hunting down of slavers. Here, they are well fed, not drugged too much, and yes they have to work a full day. But it's better than the alternative."
"Rubbish. The alternative is freedom."
"Aaah, and there you have it Janessa my dear. In all your travels have you actually seen freedom? In Gallente space, yes, most likely, as they have the most insidious form of slavery. In Caldari space, it's being a minion to a corporation, a wage slave. The veneer of freedom under the chains of oppression. They did it well, the people believe they are free, but are too bovine to see the truth of it. Amarr space, freedom comes with genetics. If you are not of the blood, pardon the old raider pun, you are fit to be a slave. And the Minmatar...."
She sipped her wine and looked over at Rose, kneeling next to Janessa
"The Matari set you free and let you rot. They have little in the way of helping you out after they free you, so you are left to your own devices. Which often leads to the slums, and from there the gangs, or the brothels, or worse. There is a hidden subculture where they wear the chrome, they yearn for it. Freedom? The only freedom is to be encased in an egg, planeted into a starship. There you are free. Free to go anywhere, do anything, kill anyone.... because everyone who is a capsuleer has a chance.... "
She stopped and sighed. Again she was talking on and on. The things that had been on her mind, coming to the surface and being spouted.
"In the end, it's because I have the power and the wealth to afford it. Doesn't make it right. But then who said life was fair. You know the most important thing I have learnt in my life? Rebellion cannot go unpunished. Ever!"

She threw her glass, the sound of the breaking sharp in the dying sunlight, the ravens flapping their wings and calling out. Standing up she stretched and held out her hand to Janessa, who took it, cautiously.
"I promised that woman in the bar that I'd give her 1500 slaves. I don't particuly care what she does with them. She can have the ringleaders and their families. And however many else make up the numbers. Then I'll drop you off and you can continue your journey."
"Have I done something wrong? You seem.. different."
"Your expression says it all my dear. Not everyone likes what I am. And I can't blame you. I'm cruel and harsh because that is the nature of the beast. I'll leave you in the tender care of Rose, she will look after you while you are here."
"Carmilla... I..."
Janessa looked at her host as she walked away into the fields, the geisha Orchid following behind her. She turned to Rose and bit her finger softly.
"I didn't mean..."
"It's okay, Janessa was it?"
"She is not used to having guests such as you. I think she sees something of what she once was in you."
"Have I offended her?"
"No more than most people do. She has tough skin, the Mistress, but she's also human. I think people forget that the more they know of her."
"But how can she do what she does? I mean.. keep slaves?"
Rose laughed and slipped her arm into Janessa's and led her into the house.
"My dear, you have to understand her and her family to really know why she does what she does. Her sister is a pirate, her father is a Tribal Shaman, her mother a genocidal psycopath. She's spent more years as a slave than as a free woman, tortured by the Serpentis, taught by the Blood Raiders and had her heart broken twice."
"That... sounds awful."
"No, that's just Carmilla. She used to say that a bottle of quaffe and a bath and everything will be allright."
"Used to?"
"Yeah, now she said a cup of tea and a bath. This is your room, I'll call you for dinner this evening, unless you wish to remain in your quarters."
"What will happen tomorrow?"
"Well, as I understand it she is taking her transport and 3,000 slaves into Suroken and delivering them to some woman she met at a bar."
"Yes. We already loaded them up into the bays. Instructions were fowarded to us while you were enroute. Untill dinner?"
"Yes.. thank you."

Janessa walked slowly around the room she was in, her mind full of strange thoughts. The revelations of her host, and about her host led her to believe she was with a manwoman. Unfortuantely, she also believed there was a large streak of sanity in her. But, without access to interbus she was stranded here until she was given a lift. She thought again about the numbers of slaves, at the bar she had specifically said fifteen hundred, and yet they had loaded up three thousand! As soon as she was back in Empire space, the better. Things out here were just a little... scary.

Just before dinner Rose returned, carrying with her a long gossamer dress of pale pink silk and the appropriate accessories. Jan looked at the dress with awe and ran her fingers over it.
"My god Rose, it's beautiful!"
"It's yours. For dinner, and a gift."
"But I can't accept it, it must be worth a fortune!"
"You can and you will. Now, lets get you dressed. No need to be coy, unless you dont want help changing."
"Yes, my dear?"
"You are a slave.. aren't you?"
"Yes. I'm one of Carmilla's personal slaves, and one of the few close friends she has that she can trust."
"Why? Why do you let her do that? Own you?"
"Because.... just because... I wouldn't expect you to understand, and I certainly won't tell you the reasons me and the girls stay with her. Perhaps she'll tell you about our home, and what we do. Then maybe.. you'll understand. But until then... just because."

Carmilla and the slave overseer were deep in conversation when Janessa and Rose walked in. Both of them looked up.
"My dear, you look stunning. If you'll forgive me two moments. So, once we're gone, you know what to do. Ten, to remind them, half and half."
"It will be as you wish, my lady."
The overseer bowed low and departed, leaving Carmilla to walk over to Janessa and embrace her.
"You make me look drab at my own table, that hasn't been done for a while. I sense Rose picked this one out for you? I hope so, because you look divine. Now come, sit. Eat!"

For the next couple of hours they sat and talked, eating and drinking as each course was brought in. Both were served by Rose and Orchid, while a third geisha sat on a raised dias playing a musical instrument. As the night wore on they moved into the main rooms and sat on large comfy sofas and kept talking until they both simply fell asleep infront of the roaring fire and the dancing moonlight.

In the morning Janessa was taken to her room to change and escorted by Rose to the landing pad. The great battered transport was before them and they waited. It wasn't long before Carmilla turned up, followed by Orchid and Whisper and two other slaves. One male, one female.
"Jan my dear. I hope you had a wonderful evening?"
"I did, thank you, I dont know how I can thank you."
"You can do that easily by accepting a gift from me. Choose carefully as it will have consequences."
"What gift?"
Carmilla clapped her hand and the two slaves walked foward and knelt before Janessa.
She looked up, startled and almost flew back.
"What? I can't!"
"You can. Which ever one you choose lives and is your slave. What you do with them after that is up to you."
"And.. the other one?"
"Goes back to the fields."
"I can't choose... I can't own a slave, I wouldn't... I don't."
Carmilla's voice took on a cold tone as she ran her finger under the female slaves chin.
"Look. She is gallente, about twenty years old. She is obedient and well trained. No addictions, no implants, no scars on her body. She can cook, clean, and serve as you need. This one, he is brutor. A bit of a brute, as dumb as anything, but trained to protect. He is scarred, but then he fights and he is good at it. Too good. He's a disruptive influence, but he has promised to be good. Choose."
"What if I don't choose either one?"
"Then I'll kill them both and be upset you didn't take my gift to you."
"You'd kill them, just because I couldn't choose?"
Jan looked over to Rose who smiled at her.
"I'll take them both. If it saves their lives."
Carmilla tapped her chin with her finger and nodded.
"Done," she said as she pulled the papers out of her jacket pocket, "I bet Rose that you'd take them both."
"You guessed?"
"Yes. I'd have done the same once."
The group walked into the transport and took their places in the lounge as it took off. For a moment Janessa thought she could hear screams, but just assumed it was the old ship leaving the atmosphere and heading into orbit.
"You are a strange woman Carmilla. You give away three thousand slaves to a woman in a bar and
give me two...."
"Oh I'm not giving away three thousand, only fifteen hundred."
"But I thought...."
"Rebellion must not go unpunished. Fifteen hundred will be delivered. Alive."

As the prowler left the atmosphere, the air in the aft cargo hold, carrying fifteen hundred of the rebellious slaves trickled out until it was replaced by vaacum. In the other cargo hold, the howls of anger from the slaves who had watched their loved ones die was carried through to the earpiece in Carmilla's ear. She smiled, it was not a pleasant smile.

In front of her estate, the estate overseer selected ten slaves, five men and five women. He gave a speech that Carmilla had prepared, letting the surviving five hundred slaves know that they had been spared, but these ten would be executed. The ten wailed and swore and fought, while the rest just watched. They knew the creed of the estate. Rebellion does not go unpunished. Before long the ravens returned to the tree and the ten hanging corpses. Those who were spared looked at the Raven Tree, as they had done before, and were glad that they obeyed and one by one returned to the fields.

As soon as the ship landed at the station in Haatomo Janessa left it along with her two slaves. The papers in her bag were all legal for all space except Matari. She was still coming to terms with it, unsure what to do with them. Carmilla came with her and the ship departed almost as soon as it was able. At the portal into the station Carm stopped and called to her.
"I dont know how you think of me, and quite frankly, I dont care. But I enjoyed your company and I hope we will meet again. Your slaves, you can do what you wish with them If you free them there are offices here that will help you with them. If you choose to keep them.. well, I don't choose slaves poorly when it comes to looking after people."
She watched her for a moment and then smiled and walked away. Jan turned around to her to slaves and started to shake and cry. Both slaves pulled her into their arms and held her. They didnt' say anything, it wasn't necessary.

Several hours later the prowler landed at the designated station in Suroken. Saede Riordan was waiting at the docking bay and watched with amusement as the two geisha walked over to her and bowed. In the distance automatic systems removed the two large containers from the prowler and laid them side by side. It was but a moments work for the systems to spray the logo of the Alexylva Paradox.
"Madam Riordan. As representatives of the Lady Carmilla we are delivering to you fifteen hundred live slaves. The formalities of transfer have already been pushed through."
"You deliver them as livestock. You disgust me!"
"I will inform my Mistress that you think of her so. Good day, ma'am."
The two geisha bowed and headed to the exit. Just as Saede's men reached the first container and opened it....

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