The auction was hours over. The Coveted were made ready and released to their Keepers. The Buyers, who could now relax, settled in around the edges of the room, boasting their profits to one another behind the backs of hands, taking care not to sit near any of the Dispatchers. A confetti hum rose and fell as tense excitement built in the dim; the testing had begun.
…..Mine took me with an owner’s grip to a stool at the bar. I sat, hands folded, eyes down. I knew to be quiet and become small (Canon 14) as he went through my documents, asking me several questions about similar subjects; a drilling. He gave only what he wanted. I took it, which was my place (Canon 17). I told him my truth when asked, trying to give my voice strength, not wanting it to sound as feeble as it sounded to me. The Trials had already been so hard; I just wanted to get through the testing as quickly as possible.
…..Forty minutes later he says, “It’s time. Look at me.” And I know I have to. My head is stone heavy like the ends of my hair are tethered to the ground. His face will be forever and I don’t want to see it yet, there are years to see it, decades, and I am afraid of what I will find there. I must take care to breathe.
…..He repeats himself, more forcefully this time. I tilt and look, my neck cramping with the new movement. He is dark, as expected, his face wide, skin smooth, head, bald. He looks strong, bullish and younger than I expected. His eyes grip mine and I shiver, feeling the intensity of his stare run through my body like a current. I now know the testing will be easy. He is a Keeper most Coveted would long for, I am a lucky one. I search his eyes for any kindness but he is not showing any yet. I know that won’t come until later after the testing is through and my classification confirmed.
…..I know to keep my expression even (Canon 12), but he is a force and I am alone now and nervously blurt, “I was the top ranked in obedience during my Trials.” I cringe with the mistake as soon as the words leave my mouth.
…..“Then why do you speak without being asked? Do you not realize this is testing? Do you not see your file in front of me?”
…..I nod and look down. “I am sorry.” Feeble. Again.
…..“Cage fodder,” he slurs and the words create a pit in my stomach. What have I done? Have I already failed? I fear the cages. We all do.
…..I bring my drink to my lips, taking a long sip through the little red straw and immediately regret the swallow as I am starting to feel tipsy. I should not drink to excess (Canon 13). My eyes cross, fighting to stare at the ice crowding the surface. I am upset I gave words without permission (Canon 6). It is one of the most basic of the Canons. My Trial Master would be irate.
…..He touches my face with his hand, my body flinches. “Sit still. Girl.”
…..Two statements, firm. There’s something in the way he says it that makes me feel adolescent. He pulls the straw out of my mouth and turns my chin so that I’m looking at him again. The stool swivels taking the rest of me to face him. It’s then I realize I am squeezing my thighs together so tightly the muscles are beginning to twitch. My skirt, although draping my knees, does not feel long enough. He parts my lips with his thumb and pushes it into my mouth.
…..His thumb tastes faintly of tobacco but I suck anyway. The ice cubes in my drink rattle and turn in the glass I am shaking in my hands that are giving me away. My eyes can’t close and now he is smiling in a way that winners do; still no kindness.
…..He slowly pushes his thumb towards the back of my throat. I take care to lighten the scrape of my teeth over the bump of his knuckle. When my lips meet his hand I begin to choke and automatically reach for his wrist. “Uh, uh, uh,” he corrects, shaking his head, fingers now firm and pressing painfully into my jaw. My thighs clench again and there is a heat between them I know he must be able to feel.
…..Obediently, I put my hand back on my glass and the cubes return to their rotation.
…..I relax my throat, as I know how to do, as I have been taught. I feel my knees creating an inviting distance between them. He whispers, “Good girl,” and pulls his thumb back slowly. I hold it with my tongue as it moves; my eyes steady with his. “Yeah, that’s a girl.” He pushes it back in and I take it, tight and gentle. I now think he is considering me for a Roamer or a Subjected; I am hoping for the latter.
…..The hum of the bar has shifted now as the Keepers finalize their Coveted classifications. Dispatchers leave the walls and walk, waiting to be called. The tension is palpable but I keep my focus. It is important.
…..When the first scream breaks the drone I flinch involuntarily; my head begins to turn toward the noise, but I remember myself and freeze. The terror inside the pitch of the girl’s screams dwarfs any of the screams made by the animals used during the Trials. To compare them would be laughable. I could never be prepared for this sound or for what I know is coming. I want her to stop. I want to plug my ears. I do not. I can’t.
…..My Keeper raises his free hand and now I know it is my turn and I brace myself as calmly as I can. A Dispatcher drags the screaming girl next to our stools. My Keeper tells the Dispatcher to begin and he does. I hold my eyes to my Keeper’s and he raises an eyebrow, tilts his head, waiting for me to fail, but I don’t, even when he tells me to watch. I continue taking his thumb like a lover while the Dispatcher breaks the girl. A few minutes pass before my Keeper nods his head and dismisses the Dispatcher, who lets the girl’s body fall to the floor, useless.
…..When the gun goes off there are reflexive screams from many of the Coveted, but not me. I am still busy with my mouth and tongue. “Good girl,” he says, praising my focus. I want to smile, but cannot. I know my Trial Master would be proud. More Dispatchers begin making some of the failed Coveted succumb and I don’t react. Their Buyers will be upset. I am again thankful I didn’t scream.
…..“You are doing well.” He pulls his thumb out of my mouth and rubs its slick wetness all over my lips, pushing them like clay, smearing them slippery. I close my eyes and make no attempt to stifle a moan.
…..He sees this. He knows. He laughs. “I have made a good investment.” And then, “Your testing is over.”
…..He tells me to stay and I do. When he comes back he takes my hand and brings me to my feet. I am careful to bypass the girl, but I cannot avoid what has come out of her. I do not look behind me, but imagine the tracks my shoes must be making in my wake.
…..We stop at the Processor before exiting.
…..My Keeper hands him a thick folder and the Processor scans the pages within, shooting glances at me as he reads.
…..“Looks good,” he says, closing the folder. He eyes me again. “Okay, let’s code her. She one for the cages? We offer transport help if you need it.”
…..“No. She’s gonna be a Subjected. My cages are full enough already.”
…..My heart leaps and untwines at the sound of the word, “Subjected.” My future has been classified. I can walk this path, I think. I hope he is not too cruel in his needs. Even if he is, I must endure. I am a Subjected now.
…..The Processor lifts the hair over my left ear and snaps open the disc that lies flat against my skin. He punches the scanner’s keyboard and aims the scanner at the exposed disc. There is a high-pitched tone and then a hot flash of pain in my skull like a scab has been ripped off of my brain. Before I can muster a scream, it is gone.
…..The Processor looks at my Keeper, now officially, “She’s all yours.”
…..I trail him through hallways connected with heavy doors until we arrive in the transport hub. He puts me in the back of his vehicle and begins to secure me. I slip my legs into the slots and when he smooths my skirt against the curve of my thighs, I tremble. As he pulls and tightens the straps I can smell his strength; the musky stench of it lies thick against my skin. I put my hands into fists and hold them together above my head before he even has to tell me. He clips the metal around my wrists stopping just short of pinching my skin, but then, as if suddenly discovering his reign, pushes the cuffs once more, causing the metal to bite into my flesh. I use my jaw to tame my mouth. I breathe.
…..He releases the cuffs and studies my face and then asks how I am feeling. When I tell him it does not matter (Canon 7) he nods, grins and shuts the door.
…..My Keeper drives the transport into the out of doors where the world is blazing with daylight. I surrender my eyes to the sun; holding my breath as the burning blindness reaches its peak then retreats. I am proud. I have beaten the sun.