“A Calico Catgirl. I never thought I’d see the day,” I mumbled aloud to myself in English as I walked back to the intact cafeteria table after breaking the Beastkin’s will. It seemed like it had been something of a fight to capture her, as the team that brought her in were well battered, despite Callic being one of them. Well, neutralizing is always more difficult than killing. I might have felt sympathy for them if it wasn’t for the whole being kidnapped thing.
I sat back down at the table that Aase, Mercy, the two cooks, the base custodian, and I had been sharing (Daphne had gotten up to see to the wounded and the half asphyxiated catgirl). After having settled myself in front of my plate of food that was serving as an early dinner, I picked up the clipboard and ticked off Specialist Gina Reese’s name from the list I’d drawn up from Callic’s memory, “officially” finishing the capturing process for the base. I turned the page to the kitchen inventory to confirm the approximate amount of food supplies the base had from the cooks and reconfirmed something that had been nagging me.
“No barrels for water. You’re sure?”
The Head Chef (his words) Lloyd Brenct nodded his head which was decorated in nearly buzz cut blond hair as he said, “No need for barrels since we draw all our water from an installed well. There’s an underwater vein nearby and we collect the bleed off for use.”
My face couldn’t hide it’s disgust. “Isn’t that unsanitary? I mean, all kinds of dirt, mold, and parasites could leech in from the soil.”
“It’s fine, because I purify all the drawn water before it’s used,” said the Sous Chef (her words) Nina Brenct with a proud smile on her face. Yes, the two cooks were related. Nina was the fourteen year old daughter of Lloyd, and he was allowed to have her assigned to the same post as he was. Apparently in this world with its limited transportation options, it was fine to take the family with you on assignment as long as you were a non-combatant. She had pearly white teeth and hair the same color as her father’s, but not cut quite as short as his. She was taking the enslavement situation best of all, and was talking with me as if I was just another customer. The normalcy of her attitude was really quite surreal, but welcome.
“Purify? Purify how?” I asked leaning forward, intensely interested. This world had the oddest mismatch of high and low tech.
“With my water magic!” Magic filtration systems, huh? I suddenly felt like stabbing my head with my pencil. Yup, they had pencils here, but no erasers, damn it. “Then I put the purified water into the cistern over there for kitchen and personal use as drinking water.”
I looked up to the indicated metal tank with a ladder on the side, a seal-able hatch on top, and various taps. “That’s a lot of purifying every day. Good job,” was my wholehearted reply. Nina hummed proudly at that. So, that was another matter to document… “Okay you two, I’ll let you go back to your normal duties.”
“Now, Janette,” I said addressing myself to the base’s custodian, Janette Pertain, a woman a few years shy of thirty with dull black hair cut to chin length, who used her earth magic to maintain the equipment and facilities. “After we finish eating, I’d like the grand tour. First stop would be to get me some pants with a roomier fit. Mercy,” I said, catching her attention, “I’m going to ask just once more. You’re sure, absolutely sure, that there’s no way to send Aase and me back where we came from?”
“One hundred percent certain,” said Mercy, her voice filled with confidence in her statement. “Not even the Goddess can return people from whence they came.”
I winced once, and bit back my disappointment again. “Then start gathering up all of the documentation of your work, and I mean ALL of it. Packed up and ready to move. Aase, you are now officially the only other free person in this place. I can’t order you to do anything, but it would probably be best if you came on the tour with me. You okay with that?”
Aase was not okay with it, at first at least. My breaking the wills of people in front of her seemed to have left a bad impression, as to be expected. But it was either enslave, kill, or jail the soldiers in the base, and then enslave or kill them later. But by the time the meal ended, it seemed that Aase had decided to join me and Janette. Maybe to make sure I didn’t do anything horrible to Janette.
…Please stop looking at me like that, Aase. It’s painful.
“This is where the spare clothing is being kept,” said Janette, a little gloomily, as she opened a storage room door. Inside were a lot of shallow crates with size markings on them lining shelves set up inside the room as well as lining the walls. “What’s your clothing sizes… sir?”
“No idea. My pants size is a 34 inch waist and 36 inch legs, but I doubt you guys have that measuring system here.”
Wait a sec. Did I just quote off inches or a different measurement just now…?
“Then try one from this crate… sir,” said Janette, lifting the wooden lid of a crate marked with numbers that were definitely not in inches. Oh, man. My brain wasn’t just translating words to their language, but measurements as well?
As I was pondering that bombshell, Janette pushed a pair of bright red canvas trousers into my hands. Something in me felt naturally revolted by the pants. “What the hell is this, Janette?”
“These are the clothes that were prepared for the summoned soldiers on the project. Is there a problem with them… sir?”
“These look like prison convict uniforms, Janette! There’s no way in hell I’m dressing in Prison Reds! What else do you have?”
Janette seemed to panic slightly, eyes rolling around her uselessly as she spoke. “I-I’m sorry sir, we only had the one type prepared for summoned people. I have spares in all sizes but only the one color-”
I wasn’t listening anymore, I was just opening and dumping the contents of the crates around me. All over the floor were dozens of pairs of pants, all bright red. I moved to the next aisle, and dumped crates there, the contents all bright red. The next aisle, bright red. And the next. Every single one was bright fucking red.
“Fuck!” I shouted as I punched through the side of a crate lining the wall. I heard a couple of squeals behind me as my fist punched through the durable wood. …And I just made these two even more afraid of me. I lightly dropped my forehead against the metal scaffolding of the shelving unit in resigned frustration. After a moment I heard Aase’s voice cautiously ask, “Are you alright?”
“Not really, no,” I replied, extracting my fist from the crate and turning around. “I’d already heard we were meant to be enslaved soldiers, but I wasn’t expecting this level of dehumanization. Being treated like convicted rapists and murderers… I just… I don’t have the words.” And I didn’t want to find them. It felt like I’d start weeping in frustration if I found them. I consoled myself with picking tiny wood splinters out of my knuckles as I asked Janette, “Is there any spare clothing in the base that isn’t bright red?”
Turned out there was, in another room. There were spare military uniforms without the armored parts installed. Turned out that the metal bits and chain mail could be transferred from one set of clothing to the next with clasps, buttons, and etc. for the sake of doing the laundry without rusting the armored parts. It was a roundabout route, but I ended up getting uniform pants that were wonderfully baggy, the way pants were meant to be, with Janette promising to have spare sets with the armor installed delivered after. Janette had stopped delaying her “Sir” responses by this point. I guess scaring people can have that effect, sometimes.
The armory was the next stop. It was also pretty disappointing.
“Just swords?” I asked.
“And shields, sir. For the melee fighters, at least. We have battle foci and wind tubes for the casters.”
When Janette showed them to me, they looked exactly like bazookas from Earth. But they had shiny mineral parts to them as well. Parts that shattered under my touch when I was inspecting them. Oops. Seems anything I touched that was quartz would break right away. I decided to leave the armory before I broke anything else of value. But I confirmed that there were no weapons I could comfortably use in the armory. And that there was no such thing as gunpowder in this world.
And yet they had bazookas. And explosives. Sigh.
The training facilities were weights, treadmills without motors in them, padded floors and practice dummies.
The medical wing had Daphne checking over her supplies like I’d ordered her to. Healing with only a focus was apparently more difficult than healing after performing basic medical and surgical aid. Treatment of diseases fell under Light Magic treatment instead of Healing. But infections were Healing… It felt like an arbitrary divide, but there you go. So the medical wing had pain killers, and various other ailment treatment drugs as well for Daphne to inventory for me. I left her to it and continued on to the barracks.
The housing conditions for the troops were as minimalistic as a college dorm, with two bunks to a room. Callic got a room to himself since he was something like an officer. But the rooms prepared for the summoned people were six to a room with reinforced key locks on the doors. Thankfully (small thanks), both the adjutants to Colonel Lumpy had their own rooms so I assigned one of them for Aase to use. She’d been quiet even at the start, shortly after she’d woken up, but now her near silence held a different tone. It seemed like she’d felt the gravity of what had been in store for us and was trying to hold up against it. I was just glad she hadn’t woken up in a morgue like I had.
“Will you be taking the other room, sir?” Asked Janette.
“No, I’ll be taking Colonel Lumpy’s room.”
I opened the door to Lumpy’s room after Janette led me there. The room was big and well furnished with a thick carpet on the ground and a big fluffy bed inside. There was stained wood pieces everywhere and even a booze cabinet near a breakfast nook or a small meeting table or something. It was like a studio apartment with a bathroom connection on one side manned with a chamber pot and a wash basin instead of proper indoor plumbing. But the place had electric lighting. Well, electric might not be the right word for it, as Janette offered, “Please let me refill your battery,” opened a panel in the wall beneath a light switch, and touched a chunk of semitransparent white stone. As she laid her hand on the stone, it glowed with an infused inner power that remained afterwards. It was my first sighting of a quartz battery, and it lived up to it’s name.
“Is there anything else I can help you with, sir?”
Yeah, Janette was ready to please and then get the hell away from me by this point. “Yes. Where’s Colonel Lumpy’s safe and cash reserves?”
“Uh… I’m afraid I don’t know where Colonel Lum- I mean, Colonel Braug kept anything like a safe or money. He might not have had any at all, really.”
“No, no, no,” I denied knowingly. “I only knew Lumpy for a few seconds before I stabbed him, but he seemed like the kind of self involved asshole who would always make sure he landed on his feet. That means he’d have a supply of cash hidden in case he had to make a break for it on his own. Help me look. Start with the work desk,” I instructed. While Janette checked the desk without luck, I immediately checked the most obvious spot a safe would be, and found it. Right behind the ugly portrait of a seascape on the wall.
I guess it hadn’t become a trope in this world yet.
A few minutes with a solidified air drill, crowbars, and hammers and the safe was opened. Inside I found some rather illuminating paperwork on the structure of the facility and a pair of pouches whose contents I poured out onto the table of the dinette set. One pouch held precious stones (that I made sure not to touch in case they exploded like quartz) and the other held gold and silver coins inside. I had no idea what their value was, but Janette’s eyes lit up like she’d just found buried treasure.
“Hey, Janette,” I called, taking her focus off the valuables on the table. “Are there any cities or villages nearby?”
“Oh, yes. One. It’s a rural village, but it’s the closest settlement for miles around.”
“Then pack these things back up and take the people and money you’ll need to buy carts from that village tomorrow morning, enough to transport everything on this list,” which I pulled from the clipboard and handed to Janette, “with room to spare. And before you go, have Callic assign people to boxing up all the food, uniforms, armor, and weapons you can. Use the crates those red prisoner clothes were in as well, ‘cause we’re not taking the prison jumpsuits with us.”
“We’re blowing this popsicle stand, Janette,” I ignored her repeating the word popsicle and continued on. “I know this is a secret military base, but it’s no secret to the people who built it, or the ones who compromised it. None of us are safe here. So we’re bugging out with everything that’s not nailed down, and I’m not leaving anyone behind. Spread the word Janette, because I expect everyone to have their property packed up and ready to go as soon as possible. And before you ask, the answer is yes, everyone’s lives are in danger. Your Colonel had an Enslavement Collar on him before I ever arrived in this world. Everyone who worked under him runs the risk of being charged with treason, even if I let them return to the military.
Janette swallowed hard, her eyes looking like a goggling fish.
“You can check Colonel Lumpy’s body yourselves if you don’t believe me. He’s in the summoning room. You can go now, and take all this,” I said, indicating the coins and gemstones, “with you. Good night.”
Janette hurriedly packed up the money pouches and closed the door after her. A few seconds after she did, I released a huge breath of relief and collapsed into the chair I was now slovenly slouching in. God! It’s exhausting to pretend I knew what I was doing. Thank god for the high school drama courses!
With a few minutes to myself, I looked over the room again from my seat, feeling a vague discomfort that stuck with me. I got some water. Used the facilities. I looked inside various cabinets and the dresser. Oh, extra boots. And a shnazy jacket, too. Before long I found myself flailing my limbs about like I was a bored kindergartner. Even though I wasn’t tired, I plopped my butt down on the bed to test it out. It quickly turned into a bouncing session.
“The hell is wrong with me,” I frustratedly announced to myself, standing up again, disgusted by my own restlessness. I got no answer, and found myself pacing back and forth, just like I did in my rat hole of a dorm room whenever I hit a halt in my studies. Three steps forward, turn, three steps back, rinse and repeat. Three steps. Three steps. Three steps? Only three? In this huge bedroom?
I stopped pacing and looked around me again. The room was as large as a studio apartment. Holding everything one needed to live in semi-resplendent isolation. The type of room I’d never been in before in my life, and the complete opposite to how I’d been living for the whole school year.
“This isn’t my life,” I said as I sat back down on the bed, and looked at where my roommate should have had his bed. “Except it is now, isn’t it?”
I busted my ass learning for years, even before college. I’d worked hard to overcome my communication issues. I had parents who bothered me on the phone at the worst times, but whose calls I was always happy to take. I had an older brother who was happily married, with a baby nephew I’d only seen in webcam conversations so far. I ate three meals a day at a crappy cafeteria who couldn’t cook pasta to save their lives. I had a part time job working at a DIY store in the evenings and weekends. I had enough money saved up to get a nice apartment in whatever city my post-grad internship landed me in, with enough on top for an updated wardrobe.
I didn’t have any of that anymore. I’d lost all of my future when I was abducted by that spell circle. And I lost all my past too. My family. My friends. Even my roommate’s deep nasal breathing when he slept. I was really looking forward to being set free from that, but now that it was gone I felt that huge void where “my life” had once been even more. My past, my present, my future was all lost. Even my identity, cause I sure as hell didn’t trust anyone in this world with my name now that I knew about Enslavement Collars.
My restlessness kept striking me like waves striking a rocky shoreline. I couldn’t calm down, because every time I tried, I just realized once again that I didn’t have anything to keep calm about. Back home, I could just play a videogame, do some boring homework, cruise the internet, or take a long hot shower to calm my nerves. But I couldn’t do any of that here. I couldn’t even shower! How was I ever supposed to ever fully relax again without a hot shower!
I snatched the pillow from the bed and screamed into it, smothering my face and my cries so only I knew I was shouting my lungs out. I screamed loud, long, and hard into that pillow until I was panting from the exertion of my lungs. Then I screamed some more for good measure. When I was done, I had succeeded in wringing out some more my frayed emotions, and forced myself into a kind of dreary acceptance.
“I’ll wait to see what tomorrow brings,” I dejectedly told my empty room. Then I stripped off my clothes, tossed them to the floor, and crawled onto the mattress wearing my purple sweat pants. What? I never said I threw them away. I wore them under the stolen pants, that’s all. Anyway, I crawled into bed and nearly pressed the nearby switch for the light before I caught myself and retrieved the pencil to use that to flip the switch. I didn’t want to risk blowing a fuse by touching the thing myself.
As the darkness enclosed me, I closed my eyes and tried forcing myself to sleep. I emptied my mind of all thoughts except for building plans, and material tolerance loads. Running over cold figures from memory. But my body wasn’t about to be tricked.
My body knew it wasn’t sleeping in it’s usual bed.
I spent most of the night restlessly tossing and turning, trying to find a position that felt safe and familiar.
Roster: 36 people, 34 Enslaved
Combat Personnel: 29 people, 29 Enslaved
Fulchas’ 78th platoon – 29 Soldiers, 23 men and 6 women, all Enslaved
- Sergeant Callic Moraan
- Specialist Gina Reese
- Private Iyleen Burkt
- Medical Specialist Daphne Rogrend
- Researcher Mercedes Fhon
- Custodian Janette Pertain
CooksChefs – Lloyd and Nina Brenct