Here’s something new for your enjoyment. This is the seed of what may later develop into a whole story. Or maybe not. It’s a little dark. Maybe you’ll like it; maybe you won’t.

His world was dark. He was lonely… And in pain. So alone. Hopeless.

Marshall lay there in quiet agony, waiting for the death blow. He wondered weakly how it would come and what it would feel like. A shot to the head, perhaps, as he had witnessed to many times before? He hoped for something quick. This torture seemed endless.

For once in his life, he truly felt old. His body ached. He was weary. His future was empty, irrelevant. He was old and worthless. Unnecessary. Unloved. Not hated, really. Just held in contemptible indifference.

His mind drifted to happier days. His life had been his own. He had been powerful. People adored him and he smiled. He loved them back. He had peace when he wanted it, but he enjoyed his fame.

Then the Masters came and took that all away. They destroyed people, not just by killing, but by stripping men and women of what made them human. They were nothing now. No one was anything. And he was alone and all was dark.

It was dark to him, anyway. In truth, lights blazed all around. But he kept his eyes shut, fearful of what scene they might capture should he open them. He listened dimly to the sounds around him. The shuffle of feet, the slamming of doors. A chain rattled. In the distance, he heard a man cry out in pain. He wondered if he had made that sound himself.

He was prodded, but he did not stir. Perhaps they would think him dead. Tears ran freely from his eyes. This he could not restrain. But otherwise, he lay completely still. One of the Masters grunted and moved on. A sob escaped Marshall’s lips, then he was silent again.

At least the cage in which he laid was padded. He almost felt warm. And they had taken the bit from his mouth. He licked his lips and tasted his own blood, mixed with the saltiness of his tears. So distant were those happier times. They were gone. And now he waited. He was tired and ready to meet his own end.

The masters came and went, their heavy boots pounding the ground. Occasionally, Marshall heard the rattle of a chain and the shuffle of bare feet. Other men and women were being moved about. The stomp of solid-soled shoes alerted Marshall to the entrance of two masters into the room where he was caged. They spoke to each other, discussing him – his health, his behavior – as if he were little more than a draft animal. Fresh tears welled in Marshall’s eyes. That’s what he was now. Not a man, but a beast of burden. Tears dripped and soaked into the thin pillow upon which he rested his head.

The cage door crashed open.

“Boy,” spoke one of the masters. Marshall recognized the voice of Master Taugh, who held high rank among the masters, overseeing the others that worked directly with the captives. “Wake up, boy,” said Taugh, shaking Marshall’s shoulder to rouse him. Marshall did not respond except to flinch and sigh.

Taugh straightened up, disappointed. “Has he eaten anything?”

“No, Master Taugh,” replied the other master. This was Master Keyrt, to whom Marshall reported directly. “I put some food in his mouth earlier, thinking it might inspire him to eat. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was still there.”

Hands fell on Marshall’s face and his mouth was forced open. Something swept through his mouth, scooping away the food that he had tucked into his cheek. Keyrt had been correct. Marshall had no desire to eat.

“Yup,” commented Taugh. “We need him to eat. It would be a shame to lose this one.”

Marshall’s heart sank. They meant to keep him alive.

A coarse hand stroked Marshall’s cheek and forehead, lifting his hair off his swollen and bloodied features. “Hungry, boy?” said Master Taugh into Marshall’s ear. “Gotta eat.” Marshall remained motionless.

Taugh shook Marshall hard in an effort to wake him. Marshall cried out in pain and wept a few sobs before falling still and silent once again. He never opened his eyes. Taugh scratched his head, frustrated.

“We need to motivate this boy,” commented Keyrt.

“Of course. But how?”

Marshall’s arm was wrenched backward, forcing him to roll onto his back. He yelped in pain. A finger tapped him high on the chest, at a brand he’d been given the day he was captured.

“I was thinking that too,” said Taugh. Marshall’s arm was released, but he remained twisted in the cage. A sob escaped his mouth. He licked his lips and fell silent again.

Marshall listened as one of the masters left the room. The other stayed behind shuffling through papers beside Marshall’s cage. The master cleared his throat and Marshall knew it was Taugh that remained. Taugh once again shook Marshall’s shoulder. “Boy! Wake up! Eat!” Marshall’s only response was a wince. Taugh sighed.

A couple of clicks and the cage door slammed down again. With a clunk, Marshall was locked in. Taugh strode away. Bitter pain and loneliness filled Marshall’s consciousness again. The world was still dark. His life was over. He drifted into a miserable sleep.

The returning voices of Taugh and Keyrt jarred him from his dreamless rest. He opened his eyes wearily and saw the masters approach his cage. A third master now joined them, with a captive woman in tow.

Marshall shut his eyes. The woman was naked, as he was. She was a slave now, too, once a free member of human society. He’d witnessed so many men killed in horrible ways, and so many women brutalized and raped, that he didn’t care to see another human again. He felt pity for the woman, not knowing what was in store for her, but assuming the worst. He lay still, not daring to stir.

The masters spoke among themselves for a moment. Then one approached Marshall’s cage with heavy footsteps. Marshall heard the jingle of a lead chain and the soft slapping of bare feet. The woman was being dragged along. A strong hand gripped Marshall’s shoulder and shook him violently. “Wake up, boy!” Marshall groaned. He did not recognize the voice of this master. Marshall turned his head away. The hand gripped Marshall’s chin and twisted his face back toward the master.

“Wake up,” the master said again, slapping Marshall’s tender cheek. Marshall winced and tried to roll his eyes open. He squinted at the ceiling, hoping this would satisfy the master.

The master cleared his throat. “Tell me boy. Do you still want her?”

The question startled Marshall. First, it was asked in English, a language he hadn’t heard in what seemed to be months. Second, He’s been asked this question before.

He slowly moved his eyes and settled them upon the woman being held firmly by the master. He knew her. It was Katrine.

Marshall knew her from before the capture. They had worked together for a while, and he had grown quite fond of her. Alas, it was not to be, since she was married and he had a long-standing relationship with his own girlfriend. Nevertheless, he had been drawn to her. He once even admitted it to Katrine. She had smiled. With a nudge, she replied, “That feeling might be mutual.” In the end, they both agreed that romantic involvement could never happen and they had backed off – way off. They tried to be friends, but it was awkward.

They had been at a promotional event together when the capture happened, each thousands of miles from their ‘significant other.’ They ran as the masters approached and were caught together. Marshall fought viciously to protect her from the masters. He was punished by being restrained and forced to watch her repeatedly raped my their new captors. He cried and begged for them to stop, until they finally silenced him with a bit shoved between his teeth. When the masters were satisfied that neither she nor Marshall would be fighting them any more, she was dragged before Marshall. She hung there, gripped by the arms between two hulking masters, bleeding and crying. A third master gripped his hair and demanded, “Do you still want her?”

“Yes, yes,” he cried. “Please.”

They were both branded on the upper chest with a mark indicating that they were a pair. Then they were separated and the training began.

Marshall had seen her only once since then, a brief meeting that ended with him being beaten and her being raped again.

He didn’t want to see her raped yet again.

“Do you still want her?” the master asked again, impatiently, shaking her lead chain. Marshall gazed upon her. Katrine was gaunt and dirty. She bore a few bruises. But she was still lovely to him. A tear rolled down her cheek.

Marshall shut his eyes and turned his head away. He didn’t want to see her hurt again. He wished he could touch her, hold her, even properly make love to her, but that life was over. To see her again was agony. It would be best for her if he were gone.

“Disappointing,” muttered the master.

“Mar—,” started Katrine, cut of by a violent tug on her lead chain.

“Quiet girl,” growled the master, slapping her hard on the side of the head.

Marshall jumped and a sob slipped from his lips. The master paused and looked thoughtfully at him for a moment.

“I guess,” said the master, gripping Katrine’s lead chain tightly and speaking loud and slowly, “we’ll just have to find her another mate. Perhaps one more aggressive.” The master spoke the last words menacingly, with the clear implication that another mate would hurt Katrine.

Another sob escaped from Marshall. He didn’t want her to be hurt.

“Humph,” grumbled the master. “Come on then, girl. Let’s find you a proper mate.” He rattled the lead chain, beginning to walk from the room.

Marshall rolled his head back toward the masters and Katrine. “No. Please, no,” he whispered, almost inaudibly.

“What boy?” grumbled Taugh.

Marshall reached his arm weakly through the cage bars toward Katrine. His whole body ached. His arm dropped. “No, please,” he breathed.

“Do you still want this woman?” boomed the master that still held Katrine.

Marshall nodded faintly. “Yes. Yes I do. Master. Please.” He struggled to speak.

“Then eat your food!” shouted Taugh.

Marshall turned his eyes to the dish of food that sat on the padding before him. It was the gray, tasteless food he was always fed. He wasn’t hungry. He frowned and stared at it. Taugh reached through the bars and forced Marshall to look at him.

“Eat your food. All of it. Then you can have her,” growled Taugh. “And not a moment before. Do you hear me?”

Marshall tried to nod, causing Taugh to grip him tighter. “Do you hear me, boy?” snarled Taugh.

“Yes Master,” whispered Marshall.

Taugh released him. “Show me. Eat,” he commanded.

Marshall dipped his fingers into the gray mush and scooped some into his mouth. Taugh motioned to the master holding Katrine, and she was placed against the wall across from Marshall’s cage. Her lead chain was locked to a ring on the wall. She sat there miserably with her knees drawn to her chest. Marshall looked at her sadly, an expression she hesitantly returned.

“EAT!” boomed Taugh.

Marshall jumped, then began the arduous task of eating a meal he didn’t want and wasn’t sure he could stomach. He mechanically placed bite after bite into his mouth, chewing then swallowing each, trying not to think too much about it. The masters walked from the room, leaving Marshall to eat his tasteless meal as Katrine watched.

He wondered what he must look like to her now. It must not be good, judging by the expression on Katrine’s face. From his perspective, she looked like a sunrise after a stormy night. Though thin and bruised, she looked beautiful to him. The darkness in his heart lifted a bit each time he glanced up at her and their eyes met.

Finally, the meal was eaten, and though it sat uneasily in his belly, he felt better for it. He lay on his side watching Katrine through the bars. She had shut her eyes and was dozing uncomfortably against the wall. He smiled to himself.

Katrine’s eyes snapped open as two masters returned to the room. Marshall cowered weakly as Taugh approached his cage.

“Good. You’ve eaten,” remarked Taugh after examining Marshall’s empty bowl. Taugh turned to the master who had brought Katrine. “Go on, then, Magkt. Bring her here.”

Magkt gripped Katrine by the collar and released the lead chain from it. He pulled her to her feet. Taugh opened the cage door and Marshall cowered back further.

“Oh no, boy,” said Taugh. Marshall froze. Taugh turned to Katrine. “In you go, girl. Behind him. I need to keep an eye on him.”

Katrine crawled into the low cage and over the top of Marshall. The cage was no wider than a twin bed and afforded hardly enough room for a person to sit up. It would be tight, but Marshall looked forward to the company.

Taugh tossed a rumpled blanket in on top of the two of them. “Rules,” he growled. “No speaking. No mating. You do as you’re told and nothing more.” Taugh slammed the cage door closed again and locked it. He and Magkt left, with Marshall and Katrine looking after them in silence.

Marshall realized he’d been holding his breath and exhaled sharply. Katrine began to straighten out the blanket. Marshall rolled slowly to face her. She stopped fussing with the blanket and looked back at him.

She touched his cheek and he winced. She tried to brush the hair out of his eyes and he flinched. Tears welled in her eyes and her lip began to shake. Marshall reached up and touched her cheek, trying to show strength with a smile. It didn’t last. They lay together, embracing each other tightly, weeping for the lives they had lost and terrified for what the future might hold.

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