2946-09-11 - Tales from the Inbox: Rattanai Captivity
In this second part of Jaska N.'s story, we find him in a tough spot. Previously, in Tales from the Inbox: Rattanai Raiders, Jaska was part of a failed defense effort against Rattanai marauders. In today's entry, we rejoin him, taken captive aboard the raiders' ship. This is a situation from which few emerge to tell their story, and while I have some concerns that Jaska isn't telling us everything, I have no grounds on which to dismiss this story as wildly unrealistic.
A few readers responded to the previous entry, preferring that I remind the audience that the Hegemony is not blameless in its conduct, when it comes to this persistent unrest along its borders. This is true, but as far as I can tell, the activists vastly overstate the degree to which the Hegemony's two-tiered legal structure and poor treatment of its Rattanai subjects is the motivating force behind the raiders' depredations. To be sure, I do not approve of chattel slavery, regulated or otherwise, but it is easy to forget that the Rattanai Imperium was, to its final day on the interstellar stage, built on the backs of trillions of enslaved beings of all varieties, and it is to this long-vanished heyday to which these fanatics wish to return.
What's more, the settlers who pay the price for Rattanai raids almost never have anything to do with the chattel industry; their tragedies are all the more poignant for the fact that they suffer for the crimes of persons they have almost no connection to, just as the Rattanai in Hegemony servitude suffer for the crimes of their long-dead kin, whose names and roles in the barbarism of the Terran-Rattanai War were not preserved.
Jaska woke to a headache, and to someone shaking him urgently. He was lying on a textured metal surface which vibrated faintly against his stubbled cheek. This told him, even before he opened his eyes, that he was on a starship, and that the craft was under way; Jaska had spent too much of his life wandering the spacelanes to forget the peculiar, ever-present hum of a gravitic drive.
“Jaska, wake up!” A fragile, terrified voice begged.
Jaska recognized the voice, and groaned in dismay. Taking a tentative breath and tasting the bitter tang of cheap cleaning chemicals failing to disguise the metallic stench of blood, he concluded immediately that the panic in Karley’s tone was not completely unwarranted. He remembered the midnight raid on the colony compound and the spirited defense he and a few others had put up against the Rattanai attackers, and how all that effort and the expensive weapons Mayor Stefano had secured to protect the installation in case of an attack had been for nothing, courtesy of the carelessness of the very youth now urging him awake.
At the sound of his groaning, Karley stopped shaking Jaska and moved away, letting him roll over and sit up. He opened his eyes, but it was as if he hadn’t; there was no light of any kind in the compartment. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his limbs, noticing how the headache he’d woken up with persisted stubbornly, reminding him of a mild hangover.
“I was hoping they would just kill us.” Jaska muttered into the darkness. Rattanai raiders did not take prisoners to be merciful, obviously. Rattanai who could even describe mercy were vanishingly rare.
“What are we going to do?” Karley groaned. “What are they going to do to us?”
Jaska didn’t bother to answer either question, already crawling unsteadily across the deck and trying not to think too hard about the damp, sticky residue on the deck plating which clung to his hands. Answering wouldn’t put Karley at ease, and it might push her further into panic. He quickly found a bulkhead, then began following it around the room, feeling for the outline of a hatch or doorway.
“Jaska, are you even listening to me?” Karley whined once she realized she wasn’t going to get any answers.
The answer seemed to be so unexpected that the settlement mayor’s daughter fell silent for some time, long enough for Jaska to find the hatch with his hands. Leaning on the wall, he stood to trace its outline as far as he could. It was clearly proportioned for Rattanai use, being far taller and wider than a doorway on a human spaceship, but it was clearly of the standard sort which would recess into the wall when opened. Evidently, the raiders hadn’t even bothered to store their prisoners in reinforced compartments; the cell was probably a storage closet or stripped-out cabin.
“Karley?” Jaska prompted.
“What?” Her voice was muffled, as if her hands were covering her face.
It was still enough noise for him to use to pinpoint her location, which was the point of prompting her in the first place. Jaska moved slowly toward the voice until his outstretched hand brushed against worn smart-cloth.
At the touch, Karley yelped in surprise. “Jaska, what-”
Jaska guessed where her face was and clapped a hand over her mouth. If the Rattanai were smart, they had someone monitoring the audio hookups which were almost certainly in the cell. His only hope – and thus Karley’s – was the possibility that the marauders hadn’t bothered to rig up infrared surveillance. Karley struggled to free herself, but even ten years out of shape, Jaska found it no trouble to keep her from breaking free until she realized why he was keeping her from talking. It was a bad sign, he decided, that this realization took her almost a full minute.
Not releasing his muffling hand, Jaska helped Karley up and led her back to where he remembered the door was. He forced her to feel the recessed panel where it joined the bulkhead, then pressed her shoulders back against the wall, hoping she would understand, or at least trust that he did. Rattanai were impossible to overcome in a hand to hand struggle, but their peripheral vision was somewhat weaker than a human’s. If he and Karley could elude notice for even a second when the Rattanai came to check on them, they might have a chance to escape, however remote. After gripping her jaw tightly for a moment to indicate that she remain silent, Jaska released Karley and took up a similar position on the opposite side of the door.
He wasn’t about to tell Karley, but he considered being gunned down a form of escape. The cruel life of chattel slavery which waited for any human returned to a raid-ship's hidden base was well-known, even though few returned from it. Jaska would rather die than fall so far – and he was willing to kill Karley, to save her from the far worse treatment she could expect. Jaska knew more than he cared to about how the brigands preferred to expend the female captives they managed to collect on successful raids.
Fortunately, they didn’t have long to wait. Heavy, booted Rattanai footfalls rattled the deck plates, even in ship-standard half-gee. Jaska hoped Karley had the sense to stay put, but it was too late now to do anything if she didn’t.
The footfalls stopped on the opposite side of the door, and Jaska shut his eyes just before the portal whined open on decaying bearings. The light beyond his eyelids seemed blinding after total darkness. There was nothing to do but hold his breath and listen as the guard stomped into the room.
Not belieivng his good fortune, Jaska heard the big alien take a second step before realizing that the prisoners weren’t cowering in the middle of the newly illuminated cell – the way was clear. Still blinded, he reached across the doorway to where he remembered instructing Karley to stand, and tugged her hurriedly into the corridor, where she fell loudly to the deck.
The noise alerted the guard to what was going on, but it was too late. Jaska had already found the door controls hurriedly grafted into the door mechanism outside. He slammed his hand on the lock button, and just as the guard turned around with a surprised snarling noise, the cell shut again. Jaska was sorry that, in his dazzled state, he hadn’t been able to see the look of surprise on the alien’s beady-eyed, wide-mouthed face.
“How-" Karley started to ask, but she was interrupted by a clang against the door panel. The guard’s iron-boned fist had enough force behind it to put a visible dent in the metal, and to flash a warning on the control panel.
“Shut up and run, Karley.” Jaska told her, dragging her to her feet.