Under the yoke, p.1
Under the Yoke, page 1
Under The Yoke
Area One: The Old Territories
Land Tenure and Plantation Life…
Agricultural Marketing and Technique
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Advertising flier of Stevenson & de Verre.
Labor Agents, included in:
Settler Information Kit No. Ill
Settlement Directorate, European
Area, 1948 ed.
LYON, PROVINCE OF BURGUNDIAREGIONAL HQ, SECURITY DIRECTORATEDETENTION CENTER XVIIAPRIL, 1947
"Pater Noster, qui est in caelis …"
"Shut up, slut-bitch!" The guard raked her hard-rubber truncheon along the bars in frustration, then stalked off down the corridor.
Sister Marya Sokolowska lowered her head and fought to recapture the Presence; a futile effort, it could not be forced. Enough, prayer is more than feelings, she chided herself, while habit droned the sonorous Latin words and told the beads of her rosary. The words were a discipline in themselves; faith was a matter of the intellectual will more than subjective sentiment. And the others relied on her: even Chantal Lefarge the communist over in the corner was joining in; it helped remind them they were human beings and not animals-with-numbers, that they were a community, linked one with the other. Something easy to forget in the ten-by-twelve brick cube of cell 10-27, under the Domination of the Draka. Though she was the only Pole here, and the only religious.
Covertly, her eyes followed the guard as far as the grill-door would allow. The building had not been designed as a prison; the Draka had taken it over when Lyons fell, back in '45. Before then… a school, perhaps, or some sort of offices. Then the Security Directorate had come, and cordoned off as many square blocks of the city as need dictated; knocked doors and built walkways between buildings, surrounded the whole with razor-wire and machine-gun towers, put in bars and control-doors. It was a warren now, brick and concrete, burlap and straw ticking, the ever-present ammonia stink of disinfectant. Lights that were never dimmed, endless noise. The tramp-tramp-clank of chain gangs driven in lockstep to messhalls or to their work, maintaining and extending the prison-complex. Far-off shouts and screams, or someone in the cell across the corridor waking shrieking from a nightmare. Mornings were worst: that was the hour for executions, in the courtyard below their cell. The metal grille blocked vision but not sound; they could hear the footsteps, sometimes pleading or whimpering, once or twice cracked voices attempting the Marseillaise, then the rapid chattering of automatic weapons and rounds thumping into the earth berm piled against their block's wall… The nun finished the prayer and came to her feet, putting solemnity aside and smiling at the others. Together they rolled the thin straw-stuffed pallets up against the walls, each folding her single cotton blanket on top and placing the cup and pan in the regulation positions. There was nothing else to do; it was forbidden to sleep or sit after the morning siren. Conversation was possible, if you were careful and very quiet, a matter of gesture and brief elliptical phrases, and it helped break the terrible sameness of each day. Newcomers brought in fresh tidings from the world outside, and bits of gossip passed from hand to hand, on work details or at the messhall… not as elaborate as she had expected, there were too many informers and turnover was too high. This was a holding and processing center, not a real prison; a place to sit and wait until they took you away. Terrible rumors about what lay beyond: factories, labor camps, bordellos, medical experiments such as the Germans had done during the Nazi years… but no real information. For herself, it was not so bad; she had much time to meditate, and the others to help, and what came after would be the will of God, Who would give her strength enough to meet it, if no more.
Marya crossed herself and moved a careful half-pace closer to the bars. Good, the guard had gone around the corner. She was just a trusty, a prisoner like the rest of them, with no key to open cell doors. She could mark an individual or a whole cell down and inform the real guards, the Security bulls and retired Janissaries who ran Block D, Female Section. That could mean flogging or electroshock or sweatbox for all of them, you never knew. But the guard would be reluctant to do that; it was unwise to have more contact with the bulls than you had to. A prayer was not enough provocation; a real racket might be, because then she would be in danger of losing her position and being thrown back into a holding pen, which meant being quietly strangled one night. Seven to one was bad odds.
God forgive them all, Marya thought. For them too the Savior died. She herself would probably get nothing more than a whack across the kidneys with the rubber truncheon at mess call.
Not for the first time, she reflected that Central Detention was like being inside a machine. Not a particularly efficient one, more like an early steam engine that gasped and wheezed and leaked around its gaskets, shuddering with loose fittings and friction. But it used the Domination's cheapest fuel, human life, and it was simple and rugged and did its work with a minimum of attention; she had been here six months and rarely even saw the serf guards and clerks who did the routine management, much less one of the Citizen-caste aristocracy of the Domination…
There was an iron chung-chung from the landing down at the south end of the corridor; the main door to Block D, two stories up the open stairwell. A sudden hush caught the cells along the narrow passageway, an absence of noise that had been too faint for conscious attention, then a rustle as the inmates sprang to stand by their bedrolls. The nun moved to her own and assumed the proper posture, feet together, head bowed, hands by sides. She could feel the sweat prickle out on her palms, wiped them hurriedly down the coarse cotton sack-dress that prisoners were issued. Suddenly the familiar roughness itched against her skin, and she forced her toes to sto
A whimper. Therese; she had never been strong, or quite right in the head since they brought her and Chantal in. A slight girl, dark and too thin, who never spoke and slept badly. The nun had had medical training, but it was nothing physical; the abuse that had made the elder Lefarge sister strong with hate had broken something in Therese. Perhaps it could never be healed, and certainly not here. Eyes met across the cell, and someone coughed to cover the quick squeeze of the shoulder and whisper of comfort that was all they had to offer.
Pauvre petite, Marya thought; then with desperation: much too early for the bulls to be down looking for amusement. And they had never picked cell 10-27. Holy Mary, mother of God, please…
The guard pelted down the corridor and dropped to her knees by the stairs from the landing. Marya's bedroll was nearest the door; she could see boots descending the pierced-steel treads. Three sets, composition-soled leather with quick-release hooks rather than eyes for the lacings. Draka military issue, the forward pair black and the other two camouflage-mottled. Quickly, she flicked her eyes back to her toes. A Citizen! Could they have found out? Silently she willed the boots to pace by, on down the corridor. Not praying, because this could only mean bad trouble and the only words her heart could speak would be: somebody else, anyone but me.
Marya swallowed convulsively, thick saliva blocking her throat. Even Our Lord asked that the cup pass from him. But he had not wished it on anyone else. Nor would she.
The lock made its smooth metal sound of oiled steel and the cell door swung open. She could feel the breeze of it, smell leather and cloth, gun-oil and a man's cologne.
"Bow, you sluts!" the guard barked, hovering nervously in the corridor. The eight inmates of cell 10-27 put palms to eyes and bent at the waist.
"Up, stand up." A man's voice, cool and amused, speaking French with a soft slurred accent. "Present, wenches."
Marya jerked erect and bent her head back to show the serf identity-code tattooed behind her left ear, one hand holding back the long ashblond hair that might have covered it.
The position gave her a good look at the three men. Their armed presence crowded the cell, even though there was room in plenty with the inmates braced to attention. Two were common soldiers, Janissaries from the Domination's subject-race legions with shaven skulls and serf-numbers on their own necks. Big men, young, thick heavy-muscled shoulders and necks and arms under their mottled uniforms. Both carried automatic rifles; ugly, squared-off things with folding stocks and snail-shaped drum magazines; there were heavy fighting-knives in their boots, stick-grenades clipped to their harness, long machete-like bushknives slung over their backs. Dark men, with blunt features and tight-curled hair and skins the color of old oiled wood; Africans, from the heartlands of the continent where the Domination began. Their people had been under the Yoke for generations, and the Draka favored them for such work; they looked at the women with indifferent contempt and casual desire.
The third was an officer, a Citizen. In the black tunic and trousers of garrison uniform, with a peaked cap folded and thrust through his shoulder-strap; Marya understood just enough of the Domination's military insignia to know he was a Merarch, roughly a colonel. A tall man, leopard to the Janissaries' bull strength. Tanned aquiline features, pale gray eyes, brown hair streaked with a lighter color, a single gold hoop-earring. No more than thirty, with white scar-lines on his hands and face, one deep enough to leave a V in his left cheekbone. A machine-pistol rested in an elaborate holster along his thigh, but it was the weapon in his hand that drew her eye. A steel rod as thick as a man's thumb with a rubber-bound hilt, tapering along its meter length to the brass button on its tip; a cable ran from the hilt to the battery-casing at his belt. An electroprod.
The tip came towards her face. Sweat prickled out along her upper lip as she fought against the need to flinch. Marya knew what it could do; the 'prod was worse than a whip, as bad as the sweatbox. The Draka used it to control crowds; the threat was usually as effective as an automatic weapon, and less wasteful. Too many times and you could start having fits. Applied to the head it could cause convulsions, loss of memory, change you inside… She closed her eyes.
Metal touched her chin. Nothing. Not activated. She opened her eyes, and the Draka nodded with approval.
"Spirited," he said. "Sound off, wench."
"Marya seven-three-E-S-four-two-two, Master," she recited, fighting off a flush of hatred that left her knees weak, on the verge of trembling. She would not show it, not when it might be mistaken for fear.
The man in black flipped open a small leather-bound notebook with his left hand. "Ssssa; 34, literate, languages French, German, English, Polish…"He raised an eyebrow. "Quite a scholar… advanced accounting… ah, category 3m73, religious cadre, that would account for it." The electroprod clicked against the crucifix and rosary that hung through the cloth tie of her sack-dress. Made from scraps of wood, silently at night beneath her blanket. "Nun?"
"I am a Sister of the Order of St. Cyril, Master."
The Draka flicked the steel rod against her hip, hard enough to sting. "You were. Now you're 73ES422, wench." He read further, pursed a lip. "Suspicion of unauthorized education? Ah, that was six months ago;
Security must have been dithering whether to pop you off or send you to the Yanks with the Pope and the rest." He shook his head and made a tsk sound between his teeth. "Headhunters, typical."
Marya felt herself pale. "The… the Holy Father has been exiled?"
Two more cuts, harder this time. "Master," she added.
He turned without answering, scanning the others. "You," he pointed.
"Chantal nine-seven-E-F-five-seven-eight, Master." Marya could see the film of sweat on the other woman's face, and knew it was rage, not terror.
Calm, keep calm, she thought. Suicide is a mortal sin.
The Draka stepped over and looked her up and down, smiling slightly. She had dark-Mediterranean good looks, long black hair and a heart-shaped face, a full-curved body under the coarse issue gown. "At ease," he said, and the inmates straightened and dropped their eyes again; the officer chuckled as he watched the dark woman glaring at his boots and consulted the notebook.
"Twenty years, literate, numerate, French and English… ex-bookkeeper, member of the Communist Party…" He caught the hem of her gown on the end of the electroprod and raised it to waist height, and murmured in his own tongue: "Not bad haunches, but these Latins run to fat young."
Marya understood him, with difficulty; the English her Order had taught her was the standard British form. The Domination's core territory in Africa below Capricorn had been settled by Loyalist refugees from the American Revolution, speakers of an archaic eighteenth-century southern dialect, and it had mutated heavily in the generations since. He paused, let the cloth fall, tapped the steel rod thoughtfully against one boot.
"Shuck down, wenches," he said after a moment.
There was a quick rustle of cloth as the inmates stripped; the prison gowns were simple cotton sacks with holes for arms and heads. Marya undid her belt, pulled the garment over her head, folded it atop her bedroll, slipped off the briefs that were the only undergarment and folded them in turn, stepped out of the clogs and stood in the inspection posture, hands linked behind the head and eyes forward. The dank chill of the place seemed suddenly greater, raising the gooseflesh on shoulders and thighs, making her wish she could hug herself and run her palms down her arms.
When she had been arrested, it was only chance that the secret school was not in session and the children gone. All unauthorized education was forbidden, under penalty of death; they would have penned her and the children together in the room and tossed in a grenade. Alone, she would have died there and then if any evidence had been found. Two of the mothers had been with her, and there was no room in the police van; the green-uniformed Security Directorate officer had drawn her pistol and shot them both through the head as they knelt, to save th
There had been a speech for her batch of new inmates. Very brief: "This is a bad place, serfs, but it can always be worse. We ask little from the living, only obedience; from the dead, nothing."
Beside her Therese was weeping silently, slow fat tears squeezing out from under closed lids and running down her face, dripping from her chin onto her breasts. Most of the others were expressionless, a few preening under the dispassionate gaze; the Draka nodded and turned to the guard.
"This one and that one," he said, flicking the prod toward Marya and Chantal. "Put the restraints on them."
Marya's stomach lurched as the guard's rough hands turned her around and pulled her arms behind her back. The ring-and-chain bonds clanked, fastening thumbs and wrists and elbows in a straining posture that (breed the shoulders back; you could walk in them if you were careful, but they were as effective as a hobble when it came to running. Not that there was anywhere to run; and anything at all might be waiting beyond the iron door. Cell 10-27 was a bad place; of cold and fear and a monotony that was worse than either, grinding down your mind and spirit. Now it seemed a haven… The one thing you could be certain of in the Domination was that there was always someplace worse.
The guard shoved the two women roughly toward the door of the cell. Marya staggered, turned and bowed awkwardly.
"Master," she said. "Our things?"
"You won't be back, wench," the Draka said, stretching. The Janissaries chuckled; one reached out and grabbed the weeping Therese by the breast, pinching and twisting. She folded about the grip in a futile shrimp-curl of protection, mouth quivering as she sobbed.
"Yo" be needin' us'n, suh?" he said. "Mebbeso we-uns stay here fo' whaal?"
The officer laughed, and Marya could feel Chantal quivering behind her. Therese was her younger sister; they had been swept up together for curfew-violation. Distributing leaflets, probably, but they had been clean when the patrol caught them and might have gotten off with a light flogging if Chantal had not attacked the squadleader when he started to rape Therese… The nun forced herself between the other woman and the soldiers, pushing her back against the bars, hearing the quick panting breath of adrenaline-overload in her ear and a low guttural sound that was almost a growl. Madness to attack three armed men with hands bound, but a berserker does not count the odds. Even worse madness if by some freak she could hurt one of their captors; that would mean impalement, a slow day's dying standing astride a sharpened stake rammed up the anus. And not just for her; the Draka believed in collective punishment, to give everyone a motive for restraining the wilder spirits. Innocents would die beside her.
by S. M. Stirling / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Alternate History have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes