By: Evangeline Anderson


In the Dungeons of Yonnie Six

Hell. I’m in Hell—one of the Seven Hells, but which one?

He tried to think, concentrating on holding the thought in his head. But the thirst was too great—it drove out everything else. His throat was parched, his mouth dry as a desert and his tongue was swollen in his mouth, desperate for even a drop of the life-giving water which was so tantalizingly close.

The soft rippling sound filled his ears, filled his entire consciousness. The little brook that ran right in front of him was both a torment and a desire so strong he could barely stand it. Sometimes he thought the mocking chatter of the crystal clear water as it ran over the stones at his feet would drive him mad. Sometimes he was sure he already was mad.

Which Hell? Which of the Seven Hells? He tried to push his mind away from the thirst and the water at his feet again. The Hell reserved for murderers, maybe? For he was a murderer—many times over. And just because most of his kills had happened within the arenas of the Blood Circuit didn’t absolve him of his crimes. He had been known simply as Korexiroth—The Demon—there and he had enjoyed some of those deaths—especially the last one. The death of his old master, Phenras. It had been a pleasure to wrap his fingers around that fat neck and squeeze and squeeze until he saw the life fading from his master’s dull brown eyes.

A pleasure that had landed him in Hell.

The Hell of Thirst. Is there such a place?

There had to be because he was in it. How many kills did he have? How many years would he be damned for them? Aside from the ones in the arena and the murder of his master, he’d been told that he had killed two guards assigned to escort him to Yonnie Six. But those kills he barely remembered—they had given him some kind of drug that maddened him. Still, he supposed it made no difference. The guards were still dead and their blood was on his hands.

He changed his position and the chains binding his arms behind his back clinked. The pain collar around his neck shifted with the movement, sending an agonizing jolt of electric current through his entire body.

The prisoner gave a stifled groan. That bitch, Pope’nose, had set the damn thing on the most sensitive setting so that the slightest motion on his part resulted in a horrific burst of pain. It was excruciating—unbearable.

Rather than subduing him, however, the painful shock seemed to galvanize him into action. He growled low in his throat—a deep, animalistic sound—and thrashed recklessly against the chains that bound him.

Jolt after jolt of agony struck him but still he thrashed, fighting the thing around his neck. He swore to himself if he ever got it off he would make his new mistress pay. He would give her pain for pain until she regretted her foolish decision to buy him in the first place.

But even a male as big and strong as he was couldn’t keep this up forever. At last the prisoner fell to his knees, panting. He would have hung his head if the damn collar would have allowed it. As it was, the best he could do was to close his eyes and let his shoulders sag. Around his neck he felt the pain collar readying itself for the next jolt. Under it, as always, was the dull burn of another collar—the inhibitor band he had worn since the age of six cycles. But that was an old pain—one he barely even noticed anymore.

Now that he was down on his knees, the sound of the brook was maddeningly close. How he wished he could have just one mouthful of that cool, clear water! His entire body cried out for moisture and it was so close…so close.

Slowly, ignoring the stabbing shocks delivered by the collar, the prisoner bent down. His hands were chained behind his back but he had some slack, enough to lower his face to the surface of the brook. He knew it was no use but he couldn’t help himself—he had to try again.

Taking a deep breath, he pushed his face into the clear, cold surface of the water. And he felt it—felt the chilly wetness caress his cheeks and eyelids, felt the blessed moisture at his parched lips.

But while the water caressed his mouth, it could not pass his lips. He stuck out his tongue, attempting to lap at the water like an animal dying of thirst, but not a single molecule of the life saving liquid touched his flesh.

The prisoner gave a low, hoarse moan. He pressed his face deeper into the bubbling, chattering brook but though he felt the cool chill of the water caressing his skin, not a drop of it actually touched him. It was as if there was a barrier—a thin but impenetrable membrane between himself and the moisture he so desperately needed.

The dust. It’s the dust.

He knew it was true. The fine, silvery gray dust that coated his entire body, even his hair and eyelids, was the culprit. It formed a barrier between him and the water and until that barrier was breached, he would go on thirsting forever.

He sat up again, ignoring the horrible shocks of the pain collar, and leaned away from the brook. It was the worst kind of torture to be right beside the brook, to be able to actually put his face in the water, without being able to drink any of it.

Hell, he thought again. I’m definitely in Hell.

He closed his eyes, wishing for release, desperate for a respite, however brief, from this horrible agony. Sometimes he managed to sleep, though only in snatches. The moment his head started to nod the pain collar activated and jolted him awake. But in those brief moments of peace he had seen something…no, someone. He couldn’t see her entire face—she wore a strange apparatus of glass and metal which covered her eyes. A cyborg then, maybe, with mechanical oculars. If so, she was a very pretty one. And why anyone would bother to build a cyborg with tousled, honey-blonde curls and full, curving hips, the prisoner couldn’t guess.

Still, the sight of her, however brief, soothed him. When he saw her, he forgot his torment and agony, forgot even the thirst. He knew she was only a dream but still, maybe if he kept his eyes closed he would see her. He would stare into her face and finally find the secret color of her eyes…if she had any.

He would—

See me. Oh my God, he can see me!

Maggie Jordan sat straight up in bed—and promptly banged her forehead against the bottom of the bunk directly over her.

“Ouch!” She rubbed at the spot on her forehead which was probably going to swell. But even the knock on the head couldn’t dispel the awful dream she’d been having.

It was the man again—the prisoner who was chained in place. He was in terrible agony and thirsty…so thirsty.

If only I could save him…ease his pain…give him a drink…

She shook her head, trying to clear the crazy thoughts. Just a dream, she reminded herself. But still, it had seemed so real. Especially the prisoner’s terrible thirst…

Just thinking about it made Maggie want a drink of water herself. Well, it was time to get up anyway. She fumbled for her glasses and put them on, bringing the world into focus. Her tongue felt swollen in her mouth as she staggered out of the tiny cot, trying not to bump anything else as she went.

The room she was in had been designed for two as evidenced by the bunk cots which took up most of the small space. Maggie supposed she could have taken the top bunk instead but then, she just would have hit her head on the low ceiling instead and probably fallen out as well.

Maggie was what nice people termed “accident prone.” Her fiancé Donald, just called her clumsy. She’d always been horrible at sports or dancing or anything athletic. Luckily, she was very strong academically, having earned a doctorate in both Xenobiology and Xenobotany by the age of twenty-five. That was the main reason she found herself here now, cramped up in a tiny space ship and on her way to explore a distant new world.

It was a lot to take in—a lot of stress as well as a lot of excitement. Which was probably why she kept having the strange, spooky dream about the thirsty, muscular man with pale blue slitted eyes who stared at her.

It’s nothing, Maggie, she told herself firmly as she made her way to the door. Just an anxiety dream. You’re subconsciously missing Donald, that’s all.

Of course, the man in her dream looked nothing like her fiancé. In fact, they couldn’t have looked more different. Donald was tall and thin with narrow shoulders stooped from leaning over a microscope all day. The man in her dream looked like he could have broken her fiancé in half with one hand. He was big and muscular and mostly naked, which was another weird and disturbing detail of her dream.

Still, Maggie couldn’t think of any other good reason why she would keep having the same dream night after night. She told herself it was stress related. After all, she was going to be without her fiancé for at least six months—if not more. Not that Donald would probably miss her, but still, she was missing him Right?

Right, she told herself uneasily. She reached for the door latch… just as the door slid open on its own.

“Ferna?” Maggie stared with surprise at the tall Kindred girl with dark green hair who stood in the doorway. Normally she looked amazing—perfect and beautiful and regal. But now her sleeping clothes were a rumpled mess and her face looked as green as her hair. “Ferna?” she asked again.

“M-maggie,” the girl gasped and put a hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry. I…oh!” She turned away and staggered down the narrow, short hallway that ran down the length of the ship.

Concerned, Maggie ran after her. She wanted to ask what was going on but just then Ferna practically dove through the bathroom door and began noisily throwing up in the small, practical toilet in the far corner of the tiny room.

“Oh dear…” Maggie hung back, uncertain of what to do. She always felt so awkward in these situations. At last she came forward, wedging herself into the little bathroom with the Kindred girl, and helped to pull Ferna’s long hair away from her face. There was a washcloth lying by the miniscule sink and Maggie got it damp and pressed it to Ferna’s forehead when she finally sat up.

“Thank you…” She looked up at Maggie gratefully and wiped her mouth with a trembling hand. “I’m so sorry…just came to say…to tell you…”

Her words were interrupted by the sounds of retching coming from the other side of the ship.

“Oh dear.” Maggie peered down the hall, concerned. “Is that Ratner?”

Ratner and Ferna were a mated pair of Kindred—both scientists and both extremely kind, if a little distant. Maggie was happy to be working with them although she did wish the Kindred pair was a little more approachable. Of course, she thought, watching as Ferna bent before the porcelain throne once more, this is a little more approachable than I actually had in mind.

“Yes, it’s Ratner,” Ferna said at last, wiping her mouth again on a swatch of toilet paper. “We’re both…indisposed. It must have been the varla slugs we had for last meal. They’ve made us both very ill, I’m afraid.”

“Yes, I can see that.” Maggie wet the washcloth and rung it out again before wiping the Kindred girl’s sweating face once more. She was glad all over again that she’d turned down the helping of slimy, green slugs the Kindred couple had offered her at dinner. If they looked that disgusting going down, she could only imagine what they looked like coming up. “Are you going to be okay for what we have to do on Yonnie Six?” she asked, trying not to think about it. “We’re almost there, aren’t we?”

“Yes.” Ferna pressed the damp cloth to her face and took a deep, trembling breath. “In fact, we’re in orbit now. That’s what I came to tell you—Ratner and I can’t go deliver the Hurkon collar.”

“You can’t?” Maggie looked at her in dismay. “I mean, I can see that you can’t now but maybe in a day or two…”

Ferna shook her head. “The appointment has been made and it must be kept. These people—the Yonnites—are strictly punctual. It’s considered very rude to keep them waiting.”

“So…what are you saying?” Maggie asked warily.

“You’ll have to deliver it. I’m sorry, Maggie…” Here Ferna paused to retch some more although Maggie was positive she must have already gotten up everything that she had ever eaten and then some. “I’m sorry,” she repeated when she finally stopped being sick. “But it has to be you.”

“Me? But…I don’t know anything about the culture here. In fact, I was told specifically to stay on the ship and away from this planet,” Maggie protested. In fact, she had been warned several times and by several people that Yonnie Six was bad news. To hear Lissa—who had come here on a mission—tell it, the place was a freaking snake pit. Not a good environment for an accident prone girl like Maggie at all.

“You can manage,” Ferna told her. “I’m sorry, Maggie but you have to. Of course you have no male to act as your body slave so we’ll have to make up a story about that—”

“Wait—what?” Maggie frowned. “Body slave? What are you talking about?”

“Yonnie Six is a world ruled by females. All the females of rank have body slaves—male slaves that wait on their every whim and need. Ratner was going to pose as mine but unfortunately…” Ferna turned green and started retching again.

“Oh dear…” Maggie held her hair again. She didn’t know what made her feel worse—seeing the nice Kindred girl so horribly sick or knowing she was going to have to take her place down on the surface of Yonnie Six.

“It’ll be fine,” Ferna gasped, sitting up again at last. “Just…do exactly what I tell you and you’ll be off the planet in no time. All right?”

“I…I guess so,” Maggie said doubtfully. “If you’re sure it’s safe.”

Ferna nodded. “As long as you follow directions and don’t do anything you’re not supposed to do. Also remember not to mention the Kindred.”

“Why?” Maggie frowned.

Ferna ran a trembling hand through her hair. “The Yonnites don’t like us—don’t like any society where males penetrate females.”

“Um…okay.” The whole penetration thing made Maggie’s cheeks get red—it wasn’t normally something she’d discuss with a colleague—but she nodded earnestly.

“I was going to pose as a buyer and seller of antiquities,” Ferna continued. “This female you’re meeting with—Lady Pope’nose—has a number of historical documents from the Kindred home world which were stolen and sold to her some time ago. They are the early history of our people and the Kindred would like them back. Lady Pope’nose has agreed to trade them for the Hurkon collar you’re going to be bringing to her.”

“Okay.” Maggie nodded again. “So I just go in, swap the collar for the documents, and come right back to the ship?”

Ferna looked troubled. “Well, it might not be quite that easy. The Yonnites have unusual ideas about hospitality. You may have to agree to have dinner with her or even spend the night.”

“Spend the night? On a strange planet?” Maggie squeaked. Not that she didn’t like to see and experience new things—she was, after all, going to a whole new world the Kindred had discovered to study its flora and fauna. But she preferred her alien experiences to be of the scientific variety. And she was much more comfortable studying new and exotic plants and animals than being thrust into a whole new culture—especially a hostile, man-hating one that had views on who should penetrate who. Or was that whom? And if the males didn’t do the penetrating then how…Never mind. Maggie didn’t know and she didn’t really want to find out.

“You’ll be all right,” Ferna assured her. “You got your translation bacteria back on the Kindred Mother Ship, right?” Maggie nodded and she continued. “Then you’ll be just fine. All you have to do is nod your head a lot and agree with whatever Lady Pope’nose says. Just avoid giving offense and stay out of trouble, all right?”

“Sure,” Maggie said with more conviction than she felt. “Just stay out of trouble—how hard can that be?”

Except trouble seemed to follow her everywhere.

No, stop thinking like that, she ordered herself. Everything is going to be just fine—won’t it?

Maggie certainly hoped so but she had a bad feeling about this. A really bad feeling.

Chapter One

“So very pleased to meet you, little Mistress.” The shirtless man bowed stiffly to Maggie. “I am the personal body slave of Lady Pope’nose.”

“Uh, nice to meet you.” She started to bow back and then remembered she wasn’t supposed to. Women were superior to men here so she should be courteous but distant—at least, that was what Ferna had said.

The shirtless slave frowned. “But where is your body slave? Forgive me, but I was told to expect a person of rank.”

“I am rank. I mean, of rank,” Maggie corrected herself hastily. “But I, uh…my slave got sick on the way here. Actually,” she went on, hoping to make her story even more convincing, “He died.”

“Oh!” The man bowed low. “My condolences, Little Mistress. Had you owned him long?”

“Oh yes, ten years! He was a…uh…a birthday present for my fifteenth birthday,” Maggie said. “I’m heartbroken over it, really. He had the…the uh, purple spotted chicken mumps.”

The slave frowned. “I’m sorry—the what? That disease is not known here.”

“Never mind.” Maggie waved airily. “It’s not contagious but it is deadly once contracted. Anyway, I thought it was better to continue here and give you the Hurkon collar in exchange for the historical documents as we agreed. So, uh, here.”

She held out the black velvet pillow which contained the strange device. It had multicolored lights all over its black wire surface, reminding her of some kind of bizarre Christmas wreath. But there was nothing Christmassy or cheery about it. Frankly, just holding the thing on the cushion gave her the creeps although she couldn’t say why. She was more than ready to get rid of it and the little remote control that went with it.

The half naked slave took a step back, his boots making a gooshing sound in the deep mud that surrounded the ship.

“Oh, I couldn’t take that, Little Mistress! You must deliver it to Lady Pope’nose yourself.”

Inwardly, Maggie sighed. Well, so much for an easy end to her quest. Although it did seem like the slave could have taken it. After all, he was wearing a similar collar himself, though his was much less elaborate than the Hurkon one.

“Of course,” she said smoothly. “Well, where is she?”

“She would never come to this side of the chasm,” the slave said. “I must take you to her.”

“All right,” Maggie said, resigned. “Let’s go then—lead the way.” She didn’t like the idea of tramping through mud in the one good dress she’d brought on this mission but she’d been on enough field expeditions that exposure to the elements didn’t make her squeamish. She could deal with it. She started to step down into the mud but the slave shook his head, obviously horrified.

“Please stop, little Mistress! You cannot soil your feet in such a manner. As you have no body servant of your own, I will carry you.”

He held out his arms to her but at this, Maggie balked. There was no way she wanted to be carried in the arms of a complete stranger across this field of mud. Besides, while the shirtless slave seemed nice enough, he had a strange, weasely look in his eyes which darted from side to side as they talked.

Also, he was skinny and she didn’t want to embarrass either of them if he couldn’t lift her. She was short but heavy in the hips—something no amount of exercise seemed to help—and she’d packed on a few pounds eating Lauren’s delicious cupcakes which seemed to be always available on the Mother Ship.

“No, that’s all right,” she said firmly. “I’ll just go get my field boots on so I can walk.”

“You mustn’t,” the slave insisted. Then he appeared to have an idea. “If you wish, you may ride upon my back instead of in my arms. Whatever makes you more content, only we must hurry as my Mistress, Lady Pope’nose, is waiting for us. She gets very angry when she’s kept waiting.”

“No, really,” Maggie said. “I couldn’t.”

The slave looked nearly desperate. “But my lady will punish me if you do not! If I slight you in any way I will taste her wrath.”

The look in his squinty little eyes was so fearful that Maggie began to reconsider her decision. Taking a piggy-back ride was scarcely more appealing than being held in his arms but she began to see that she had no choice. If she broke the protocol of this place, they would suspect her and dig into her background. And if they found out she was from a Kindred ship, she might lose the documents which had been promised.

Also, the deal for the Hurkon collar had already been held up once and it had to be delivered soon. Apparently there was a dangerous prisoner who could only be tamed by the strange thing in her hands. Plus, she didn’t want the skinny little guy to get punished—she felt sorry for him, even if he did look a little like a weasel without its fur.

“All right,” she said at last, hiking up the skirt of her best dress and nodding for him to turn around. “Piggy back it is—let’s go.”

He looked relieved. “Thank you, little Mistress. I will not fail you.” He turned his back to her and crouched down, getting ready to take her weight. With grave misgivings, Maggie hitched her dress a little higher and began to climb aboard.

Getting on his narrow back while still holding the pillow with the collar on it wasn’t easy. It would have been considerably easier if she could have brought herself to touch the collar but somehow the black wire contraption with its blinking lights scared her. She tried to balance it on the cushion while scrambling onto the slave’s scrawny back. If only he was wearing a shirt she could hold on to! Putting her arms and legs around a strange, half-naked man was really not appealing to Maggie at all.

“Ooof!” he gasped, when she was finally mounted with one arm around his skinny throat.

“I’m sorry,” Maggie said at once. “You’d better put me down. I’m too heavy for you.”

“Not at all,” the slave said in a tight, strained voice. “Are you well mounted, my lady?”

“Uh, yes, I guess so,” Maggie said, feeling miserable. She really should have laid off those cupcakes on the Mother Ship! But she’d been indulging herself, knowing that she wouldn’t see Donald for six long months. With no one to criticize her for letting go a little, it had been easy to say yes to just one more sweet and even easier to skip her usual gym time.

“Let us proceed,” the slave said in the same, tight voice. “I must get you to my lady soon if I wish to avoid punishment.”

He started out, staggering through the thick, deep mud, his boots making slurping and gooshing noises with each step. Maggie held on for dear life, still trying to balance the Hurkon collar and its remote on the satin pillow with one hand while she clung to the man’s skinny, pale back with the other.

“Have you lived here on Yonnie Six long?” she asked, trying to make conversation to defuse the awkwardness of the situation.

“All…my life,” he gasped, still plodding along. “My mistress…bought me from the training house…when I was but fifteen cycles old.”

“Wow,” Maggie said. “So you’ve been with Lady Pope’nose a long time then? Say…fifteen or twenty years?”

“Only…five years,” the slave puffed. “I am but twenty cycles…little Mistress.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Maggie felt worse than ever. “I’m a terrible judge of age,” she said apologetically. But really, the man looked to be at least in his mid thirties. Did they age faster here on Yonnie Six or was he just living a really hard life?

“You must not apologize,” he protested. “Many other slaves have…” He paused to take a deep breath and then continued. “Have fallen under the whip or been rendered useless by the pain collar. But I…I survived.”

“Wow,” Maggie muttered. Was the slave mortality rate really so high here? What was this Lady Pope’nose doing to her people? She had an awful feeling she was going to find out.

“Here we are,” the slave gasped out and Maggie looked up to see a rickety looking cart and a narrow track spanning a vast, deep trench that looked a little like the Grand Cavern.

“That’s…wow, that’s huge,” she breathed. “Are we really supposed to cross it?”

“The only way to Opulex is by crossing the chasm,” Lady Pope’nose’s slave assured her. “And so—”

But just then, Maggie felt herself slipping. She tried to hold on but the slave’s narrow, bare back was clammy with sweat and there was simply nothing to hold on to.

“Oh!” she gasped, beginning to slide down his back. “Oh my! Oh, no!”

“Little Mistress!” he cried, trying to grab her legs. Unfortunately he got her dress instead which made a loud ripping sound as Maggie fell on her back in the thick brown mud. Worse, the Hurkon collar and its remote went flying and landed with a juicy splat several yards away.

“Oh, my lady! Little Mistress!” The slave floundered around in the mud, clearly unsure of what to do. He tried to haul Maggie to her feet but just when she was getting up, they over balanced and she fell in the mud again—face first this time.

Maggie lifted her head, spluttering, and wiped the cold, oozing muck off her cheeks. Luckily, it was just the bottom half of her face which had been dunked in the mud—except for a few splatters, her glasses were clear. The slave reached for her again but she shook her head.

“I’ll manage myself. Just get the collar.”

He did as he was told, wading over to the hopelessly stained satin pillow and the blinking Hurkon collar which was half buried in the sludge.

“Ugh.” Maggie finally managed to stand up but by now she was completely covered from head to toe in cold, brownish muck. “This is awful. Maybe I should go back to my ship and change.”

“But if you do, we’ll be even later.” The slave had rescued the collar and it was resting on the pillow, which he had tried to wipe clean without success.

“All right,” Maggie said. But I’m hardly fit to be seen like this.” She gestured to herself.

“True. True. And if my lady sees you this way, she’ll know I failed. I will be punished for certain!” The slave was nearly dithering with fright.

Maggie took a deep breath. “Look, don’t worry—I’ll tell her it was all my fault. This kind of thing is always happening to me. I’m not exactly as graceful as a ballerina.”

“I do not know what a ballhyena is, my lady,” the slave said humbly. “But you need not take the blame—the fault is clearly mine.”

“No, no,” Maggie protested. “Seriously, I’m an accident waiting to happen. That’s what my fiancé, Donald, always says.”

“All the same, if you wish to go change, I cannot stop you. Though we will be very late.” The slave still looked fearful.

Maggie was about to insist that she needed to go take a shower and put on some new clothes (although she didn’t have anything else even remotely dressy in her kit) when she had an idea. Surely if she showed up in this state, Lady Pope’nose wouldn’t make her stay for dinner or spend the night. She’d probably just want to do the deal and let Maggie go.

“Let’s just go see your mistress,” she said, nodding to the slave. “Do you have the collar?”

“Yes. Yes, I do.” He indicated the mud smeared satin pillow and the collar, which was also quite muddy.

“Good, well then, let’s just go.” Maggie looked at the rickety track over the vast chasm and shivered. “Before I lose my nerve.”