The Binding Tie
By Maderlin Bidmead
Disclaimers: This is an Alt/Uber story that is for people over 18 as it contains violence and sexual violence. All the characters are mine I tell you, mine!
Feedback: Please! This is my dissertation for my degree and all of the feedback I get is going into the analysis section, you'll all be famous at Brunel University, London: email@example.com
Speeding cars cruised passed the still Land Rover. Their momentum rocking it from side to side, like a babes cradle. To any passing traveller it seemed to be an oasis of calm in a desert of chaos. Unknown to these swift moving spectators, it was truly the heart of a volcano - bubbling with suppressed rage. Ready to explode.
"You did what?!" the agitated hand tried in vain to smooth the creased brow.
"Look, he wasn't working out for me so I let him go. Why does everything have to turn into some sort of mystery to you?" In exasperation the young woman turned to the window and the night.
"Do you even realise the danger we're in?" His voice began to crack, " You haven't..."
"No! No of course not. I wouldn't interfere with the protection of my children. I care about what happens to them!" A lone tear of frustration escaped her eye and was brutally brushed away.
"You're telling me that you honestly don't care what happens to yourself? To me?" Disbelief lay heavily in the air.
A barely whispered "no" was her only response.
The slap of open palms on the leather wheel echoed through the cabin, startling the young woman into facing her husband. His hazel eye's bored into her blue with a feral intensity. His fists slowly flexed in their hold on the wheel. A vein pulsed in his temple in perfect time with the clicking of the hazard warning lights. His voice, now composed, became deadly as a snake's hiss.
"We'll see what your father has to say about this 'Princess'. Your well being is important to the children. They need you. How can you be so selfish all the time? Must be what comes from being a big star."
Without waiting for a reply to his devastating tirade he harshly turned the key in the ignition and recklessly lurched into the fast moving traffic. Tears begin to roll down her face, increasing in intensity as the couple near their home.
"Mr Prince your daughter and her family have arrived, Sir. Should I show them in or take them directly to their suite?"
"Show them in please Lance."
The dapper young butler nodded politely in ascent and headed out of the door. Salvatore watched him until the door closed and let out a contented sigh. For the head of the biggest logistics corporation in the free world, life was good. All of his children were coming to stay and he could start to built some stronger bridges with his eldest son, his heir. Not to mention that his little girl was about to walk through those double doors.
The life of the rich and powerful is not always as easy as people may think. Salvatore Prince had been born into this way of life, but had chosen to have a career and make his grandfathers industrial fortune even greater. The cost of this endeavour was great, almost costing him his wife and son. Even now his rapport with his sons was strained, the grown men still unable to overcome the paternal neglect of their youth. His only consolation was the fact that they loved their sister as much as he did.
His reverie about the past was broken with the opening of the oak doors. He could not keep the grin from spreading across his ruggedly handsome face as he took in the sight of his youngest child. Francesca Prince, his little Fran, was not so little anymore. At almost twenty-eight she was a stunning vision, a feminine version of her father. His rugged handsomeness transformed into the chiselled beauty of this woman. Creamy skin and azure eyes set into a classic face surrounded by onyx hair. Her devastating good looks combined with the greatest singing talent of her generation had garnered her a fortune of her own. Her three children were another light in his life, even though they resembled his son-in-law more than his daughter. Compared to his vibrantly coloured child, her husband was a monotone of brown. Hair, eyes and skin all a variation of the same tone.
The older man rose from his armchair and with open arms walked towards his baby. Instantly three bundles of energy filled the convenient alcove provided by this gesture. Unlike her children, his daughter never greeted him jubilantly anymore. She didn't really seem to do anything with any enthusiasm anymore. The life was ebbing from her more and more as the children grew older. Little by little she was slipping away, at this rate by the time they reached twenty their mother would be dead, the depression defeating her. This realisation sent a shudder to the core of Salvatore's being.
Seeing the clouded look pass behind his eyes, Francesca walked shyly towards her father. She kept a subtle distance between Douglas and herself in order to forestall any questions from her father. She couldn't bear a scene between her father and her husband right now. The drive to collect the children had been enough of an ordeal.
Watching her Papa with her babies drove such thoughts to the back of her mind. The sight always brought a smile to her face and a wash of childhood memories to her mind. She and her two brothers had often run into this study to interrupt their fathers work. At fifteen Nathaniel had still been unsure as to how to interact with his often absent father, he would always hang back by the doors. This was not an attribute that either his ten year old brother or three year old sister shared. Rodrigo never hung back for anything. A man of action today, he had been a child of perpetual energy. He would barrel into their stoic father with wild abandon, a polar opposite to his older sibling.
Even at such a tender age (if tender can describe a child who was often covered in as much mud as clothing) Francesca knew that she was the apple of her daddy's eye. Salvatore lavished attention on his youngest child in the same way that his wife did with the boys. She had been born at a time of self-discovery for the head of Prince Corporations. Unlike her brothers Francesca had been planned with equal enthusiasm by both parents. Looking back she could see how easy it would have been for her brothers to resent her, yet they didn't. Even as boys they had both possessed their own unique forms of sensitivity.
Thinking back to her childhood brought more than simply happy memories. They also brought with them pangs of the sorrow and loneliness of a nine-year-old girl and a future of promise that was never fulfilled. Of a green-eyed girl and her willing acolyte. She quickly tried to shake off the tide of memories, afraid that they would drown her in her already overwrought state.
"Francesca Prince!...Sorry Dougie, old habits. Francesca Rose, you just going to stand there all day or come and give you dear old dad a hug?" The gentle chiding brought sparks to Salvatore's steely eyes as his lips turned down in a fatherly pout.
"Hello Papa," the almost crushing force of the older man's embrace gave Francesca a much needed grounding from which she could pull herself together.
"Hello Dad!" Douglas enthused. "Good to see you again. We'd come more often, but you know how it is with Frany's work schedule. Not to mention mine." He cut his eyes towards his wife and quickly back to the patriarch. His message of discretion was clear. "I need to talk with you later, in private." Casually leaning forward he whispered his next words "It's about Frany's security..." He trailed off as he pulled away, knowing full well that where Francesca and danger were concerned Salvatore would do anything.
"Of course Dougie, no problem. It'll be good to catch up." Inside his stomach was in knots over the fate of hi child.
Francesca's heart plummeted through her chest with the brief, quiet exchange. She had begged Doug not to get her family involved, yet his blatant disregard for her feelings was once again plain. His career and profile ( and her own, if the truth be known) were all that mattered to Douglas Rose Jr. The all to familiar mantle of depression once again settled over her. She had to retreat before she crumbled in front of her family.
"Papa," she smiled at both men trying not to alienate her husband further. "I need to go and arrange the nursery. You know how the kids are when we all get together, so I really think it should be perfect," she knew that her voice was an octave higher than it should be. Fighting tears was hard. She silently hoped that the men in her life wouldn't notice.
They didn't. "Alright Princess, just give your Papa a kiss." She leaned forward and brushed his cheek softly with her lips. She hurriedly turned and left with barely a smile as goodbye for her husband. The children had gone into the playground and were happily playing. She had to get out. Now.
The nursery had changed a lot since Francesca had used it with her brothers. First Nathaniel's and now her own and Rod's children had left an indelible mark on the room. New toys and old held equal importance around the space. A big painting table once dominated it, but now a huge monitor held pride of place, a sign of the times. The walls and carpeted floor were the only things that hadn't changed. They had been studiously kept the same colour since the room was designed forty years ago. Cheery shades of blue and yellow gave the room an airy quality. It was designed to make the children relax.
After locking the door Francesca sank to the floor in tears. She crawled, gasping for air, to the lone uncluttered area of the room. Sobs racking her body as she drew her knees to her chest, she began to rock slowly back and forth. She wanted so much to stop the pain. The room and the tears took her back to being the nine-year-old with no control over her own destiny. They always took away her happiness, her freedom with no question about what she might want.
She raised her tear stained face from her knees and surveyed the room with blurry eyes. The distorted images began to merge into one perfect moment from the past.
"Chess, come on!" the tall, tow headed girl groused as she waited for her friend to get ready.
"You'll only be grumpy if we don't have all the stuff we need. 'Specially if we haven't got enough food," pouted the chubby little brunette.
"It's Especially," the elder child mumbled as her best friend bustled out the door with an angelic smile on her cherubic face.
Francesca was happier than she had been in months. Rhani was home and they had time to play and go on a picnic. For as long as Francesca could remember the blond had been a part of her life. She had been raised side-by-side with the other girl, almost from the day she was born. Her very first memory was of the green eyed little girl, age three, chasing a fat little toddler with the garden hose. Francesca had always been 'plump', she so wanted to be like Rhani. The daughter of her father's savants she was tall and athletic, but she loved her smaller friend dearly and it made the rich little heiress feel blessed.
As far back as that first memory, Francesca had been aware that her friend would disappear from the house and from lessons. Sometimes she was gone for days, at other time's weeks. Nobody would ever tell the child where the blond went and she never asked. It was a simple fact of her life. However recently Rhani had been gone more than ever, the household had been missing one member for almost four months. If Francesca didn't ask this time, she thought that she may just explode. Rhani always came back with cuts and bruises - whatever she did it must be fun, like tree climbing. She resolved to ask her later, by the river.
Six-months her playmates junior, Francesca was a child filled with the wonder of the world. Her big blue eyes in her chubby baby-face would widen in awe at the slightest thing - from a butterfly to a maths problem. She always had to find her own answers to any question life raised. Her creamy white skin, smattered with freckles and her black ringlets gave her the look of a storybook princess. She was simply irresistible to grownups. Today proved no exception, with a pleading look and a carefully placed 'please' she managed to get the duo out of the house with a backpack full of food.
They walked close together down the path that they had made to get them to the water without being seen. Rhani walked slightly ahead, clearing any obstructions out of their way. Due to her greater height, she was also responsible for carrying the bag. She considered herself to be the heiresses protector and the other little girl loved it. Rhani was a full head and shoulders taller than her friend having undergone a growth spurt in the last year. While she had been away she had grown up in other ways too. She longer seemed to be a child, she appeared more like a teenager, her face was thinner and a slightly sullen cast had come over it. Her body was already on the threshold of adolescence, feminine curves trying to break free. Her almost white-blonde hair now barely reached her jaw and her infectious personality had cooled. Yet even with all these changes she still acquiesced to Francesca's wishes. Whatever the younger girl wanted she got. Each child worshipped the other unreservedly.
Although the blonde never volunteered any information about why she had to go away and exactly what she did, she was willing to talk about her friends in these far away places. As they neared the clear water and threw their stuff on the bank she launched into a story about her exploits with a kitchen-maids daughter called Jordan. Fran loved to hear Rhani talk, her stories were always fun and filled with mischief, her voice rich with emotions. Sometimes she felt jealous about these other friends, she wanted to be with her best friend all the time. She always had.
"Jordan and me raided the kitchens last week so we could have a picnic like this 'cept we took her mum's dog with us." Rhani was sprawled on her back in the grass, looking up at her friend with a grin.
"It's EXcept," she teased, falling back in to safety of the game. She felt confused. Her insides felt funny, she did these things with Rhani. It was special to them. "How old is Jordan?" She sat cross-legged beside the reclining figure and pulled the satchel towards her lap. She dug out a stuffed pastry for both of them and rested them on her knees as she waited for an answer.
"What's in that?" her reaching hand was slapped away.
"Not until you answer the question," this was accompanied by a pout.
" 'Kay." She propped herself up on her elbows and looked out towards the water. "She's fourteen. She's a head taller than me and has the most amazing brown eyes. Like chocolate. She's really pretty and her skins sort of gold like her hair. I really like her a lot," she bit her lower lip.
A little voice beside her asked, "More than me?"
"No Chess, it's different. It feels weird... Anyway, there's this boy who keeps eating the apples out of the storage room. He starts this one batch and doesn't realise that they've started to ferment so..."
The day passed quickly and was filled with playing and talking. They tried to catch fish with their bare hands (as they always did) but just ended in a splash-fight (as they always did). They tussled in the grass and played catch and 'name that cloud' until it was time to go head home. The day had been so full that Francesca had forgotten her questions about Rhani's time away, but as they go closer to the house the mood got more sober. As reality kicked back into gear she realised that it would soon be time for Rhani to go away again. The person who loved her unconditionally and never asked anything more of her than she was willing to give was here with her now. Why couldn't it be forever.
"You're going to be here for my birthday? Right?" Francesca almost begged.
"I hope so Chess."
"Love you Rhani."
"Luv Ya back - last one home's a rotten potato," with a raspberry the blonde took off at a dead run, the blue bag bouncing against her shoulder.
"Why didn't you come back?" The choked sobs of the adult Francesca began to fade. Her days with her best friend, although rare, had been the best of her life.
She raised her head a second time and blinked away the last of her tears as her eyes registered the fading light coming from the window. Jumping to her feet she rushed into the children's bathroom. Blue eyes looked back at her from the mirror. The face blotchy and red, eyes and nose swollen. There was no way that she could go in front of her parents looking like this. Opening the door to the hallway she carefully eased around it to check that there was no servants around before rushing to her own room. She quickly donned her silk pyjamas and was soon in bed feigning sleep so that when the servant came to call her to dinner he left alone.
Blue squad to quarters! Red and Orange to firing range four. Green to the mess. Predators remain!"
The four squadrons, encompassing one hundred and eighty men and women, formed ranks and marched to their designated locations. Each individual wore the colours of their group, a spectrum of individuals no more important than a pixel on a computer screen. They left the arena leaving only twenty individuals on the burning sand. The browns and blacks of their training uniforms absorbing the suns heat like sponges. Even at this level of discomfort none of them showed a trace of emotion or twitched a muscle in pain. The only sign that they were not statues was the sweat running off their bodies and pooling in the sand at their feet.
These were the elite. Tuned to perfection like machines. Weekly, devoted audiences would pay to watch them in combat. The stable to which they belonged was popularly known as 'The Hunting Grounds' because of its most famous group of slaves. Every stable had an elite - some as famous as the Predators, some not. These slaves were treated like any other, treated with distain and punished with pain. However, unlike their counterparts they appear in advertisements and commercials to promote their sport.
"As I am sure you are aware from your dalliances with the house slaves Master Hahn's is selling off this stable and all of his other slaves. This is to be a wedding present to the new Mistress Huhns who does not wish to own slaves. You will NOT be emancipated. The Master is going to sell you at a private auction, as of tomorrow you will be the property of new masters. All of the other fighters along with the stable have been sold. You are to be individually sold due to your training in weapons and strategy. In his infinite generosity the Master has chosen to give you the rest of the day to yourselves."
The slave master dismissed them and made his way quickly back to his office. Paperwork waited for no man and he wanted to make a good impression on his new employers. Behind him in the arena the warriors slowly relaxed, uncoiling every muscle until they were at ease. They never completely let their guard down. Years of training had ingrained a state of perpetual distrust into the core of their being. They stood in a loose circle and regarded each other in silence.
The auction catalogue was open in Salvatore's hand. The pages bounced in time with his movements, brushing the slick plastic cover over his thumb and palm. His eyes flicked from the black and white text to the glossy photo that accompanied each dissertation. He looked to his right where his eldest son, Nathaniel, walked and showed him a slave that had particularly caught his attention. Not to be forgotten Rodrigo, who had been walking at his father's left, bobbed behind the other men so he could peer over their shoulders. He joined in the evaluation of the male in question. The three Prince men had decided not to bring Douglas. He grated on the younger men's nerves and was beginning to affect the family patriarch in the same way. It was agreed that he needed to spend some time with his family, something he did precious little of.
Slave sales ran in the same manner as a horse or cattle auction. The only real variation between the sale of human flesh was that the individuals were not paraded around a ring. The buyer still had the opportunity to get close to the bodies and handle them to check for muscle tone and reflexes. Rather than being in stalls each slave was tethered to a solid steel post, which reached from ceiling to floor. The collars around both neck and waist secured them to this. Their arms and legs were also restrained, but more loosely so that the buyers could more easily inspect them. Each one was also on a dais raised a foot off the floor, which rotated to allow a view of the back.
On their original purchase slaves receive a security implant at the back of the neck. This is connected to the spinal cord and controls movement. Any violence performed against a free citizen would be punished with instant paralysis. Each master reprogrammed these chips so that slave could perform new function. The simple programming present at the auction meant that the killers, no matter how well trained these were still killers and had to be kept on a tight leash.
Due to the high profile nature of the sale there was a high level of both security personnel and the media inside the show room. Only the super-rich or corporations could afford the Predator slaves thus although busy the room was not congested. The Prince's walked through the heavy doors and into the circus. The warriors were arranged in a horseshoe around the room, beginning to the left of the door and ending on the right. The less prestigious members of the elite team were in these positions. Those expected to raise higher bids were at the apex of the arch. This was also mirrored in the brochure.
The room was beige walled and high ceilinged; the slave's stands were the only furnishing. Rodrigo bounced around the room like an over excited puppy. He may not have done much with his life, when compared to his peers, but he knew about the physical form. His evaluation of both the male and female body in both an athletic and aesthetic context was more highly developed than his brother or fathers. His love of the arena and his particular fondness for this team made him an excellent commodity to have at this sale. After surveying the room at whirlwind speed, he returned to his family. As Salvatore moved from body to body Rodrigo filled him in on the body form and personality. Nathaniel would fill them in on the level of training and capabilities from the brochure. Once they had toured the room they adjourned to the auction room itself to discuss their options.
"I say we should definitely get 'The Hunter' and 'The Wolf'. Look at their stats. Hunter is trained in surveillance and strategy, she's an expert marksman and has the highest success rate of any living fighter. She has controllable speech and has never attacked a free individual since Huhns has owned her. The only glitch in her records is that rebellion she led and the guy she killed prior to being made a warrior. Anyway, that was over thirteen years ago. She'd be perfect for Francesca. It says she only requires four hours sleep too." Rodrigo's excitement at owning a piece of sporting history was boundless.
"Still sounds too dangerous to me. What if she attempted that again? You have to remember she was a house slave when she killed that man with her bare hands. Little more than a child at the time." Salvatore's main concern was his daughter and her family.
"Father these are all killers. By definition they are going to be dangerous. You've got to remember that whoever we buy will be chipped. As much as I hate to say it, Rod's right." He grinned at his little brother.
"Fine," a long-suffering sigh. "Who else? I thought 'The Wolf', so I at least agree with that. He sounded like a good choice for Douglas." He arched a questioning eyebrow at his son.
"Well Fran's basically sorted. Hunter can be with her basically twenty-four seven. In the four hours that they are not together we can make sure Fran is with the children. I suggest we get four more. That way we have a set guard for each family member and a spare to rotate. Not to mention using private security firms."
"Any of the other warriors would be great, with the exception of 'Thorn'. She's a nut. I know they're programmed, but I still wouldn't trust her." Both younger men settled back in their seats, prepared to let their father do what he does best. Hustle.
"This is going to be one expensive shopping trip, boys."
The slaves were unchained from the daises and led into an antechamber to await the outcome of the sale. They were eclectic group consisting of three women and seventeen men. Hardened killers who, in the main, looked no more insane or dangerous than any other slaves. Their actions, though, set them apart. The way they moved, spoke and even ate said volumes about what business they were in. To realise that even the most inept member of this band had killed over twenty other fighters was shocking. To be told that the young woman, who sat slightly apart from the rest of the group, had been a fighter for over fifteen years and had killed over a hundred men was shocking. To know that her male counterpart had killed almost as many was horrifying.
These two exceptional members of this infamous team were Hunter and Shep. They provided the guidance and leadership that the group needed. As the rest of the warriors began to talk among themselves in apprehensive, but excited tones, Shep took the time to look at his young friend. Shep had been born a slave, both his parents were warriors thus he had been marked for life. Born warriors fetch a high price and are not allowed to fight to the death until they are eighteen although they fight from the age of twelve. Bought slaves can kill and be killed as soon as they can wield a weapon. He had been born to the Shepherd stable and the corporation name had stuck to him. Rather than calling him Mathew or using his stage name he was always known as Shep. It intimated a degree of fallibility that he did not possess.
His young friend had no such stigma. As soon as she had arrived at the stables, after killing a houseguest of her previous master, she had been given the name Hunter. Little else would suite the blue and white haired young woman. Her hair was patterned in a tiger stripped motif matching her modified blue eyes with their cat slit pupils. The rest of her body also paid homage to dangerous creatures. The tattoo that stretched from elbow to shoulder and wrapped the left side of her torso depicted almost every natural predator. Beautiful but deadly. The only part of the woman that was not immediately intimidating was her height. Standing at only five and a half feet she was small when compared to other fighters. Yet when one realised how much punishment that small package could deliver it only made her more frightening.
"Hey kid, looks like you and me'll be going our separate ways."
"You're going to cost some lucky suit an absolute fortune. Your worth what the rest of us are put together."
"Don't exaggerate Shep." Both eyebrows rose in scepticism.
"And don't you be modest. Doesn't suite you." He rubbed his forehead slowly. "Do you think we'll be able to cope on our own?" That he was talking about the whole group was obvious.
"Why not?" Her attention was fully focused on him now.
"Most of us aren't like you. We've been amongst groups of other warriors our whole lives. We build families with each other. I'm just afraid that they won't take well to being the only warrior."
Silence was the only response. The hand gestures, which she used to communicate when her speech implant was active, halted. Her hands rested, still as death on her knees. Looks like that's the end of that conversation, Shep realised. Confronting problems such as these was not something she ever wanted to deal with; she preferred direct action to emotional discourse. He would be left to prepare the others as best he could in the little time they had left.
"SOLD! The Prince Corporation takes our final lot. Thank you for your attendance Ladies and Gentlemen. Those of you with purchases can now proceed to the cashier."
The Prince men walked in the same direction as the handful of other buyers. Prince corporations had, by far, made the bulk of purchases. Rodrigo patted his father on the back lightly. "Nice going Pops. I didn't think you were going to buy seven!"
"Nor did I, but the twins were too good an opportunity. I was just thinking of the whole image thing. Identical twins to guard identical twins. I thought you'd appreciate the aesthetics of that." He shot his son a mischievous look.
"You do realise that Francesca is going to go into meltdown, don't you? Our baby sister isn't exactly known for her love of surprises. Not to mention we've gone completely behind her back and sided with Doug."
"Thanks Nat, your such a ray of sunshine." Rodrigo stuck out his tongue.
"He's right. Maybe we should have them delivered tomorrow so that we can soften her up a little." He began to remove his credit card from his jacket pocket.
"You'll only be giving her a chance to talk you around. The only way she'll accept it is if you put it in her lap. Something she can't refuse. Hell, having another woman her own age around might stop her talking to herself." He folded his arms across his chest.
"She doesn't talk to herself Nat, she's still talking to Rhani," Rodrigo's voice was suddenly sober.
A pained exhalation, "I know."
Heaving sobs wracked the slim form standing in front of the bay window. The fluorescent light shinning through the large glass panels turning her into a black silhouette, nondescript and desolately alone. She still could not believe that she had been betrayed. Her single haven breached, leaving her feeling very much adrift and confused. It was not what her father and brothers had done that made her feel betrayed, rather it was that they had sided with Douglas and told her nothing of their plans.
Francesca's life had, up until this point, been filled with the love and support of a family who shared everything. There were very few secrets, if any in the Prince family. Ever since childhood she had known that she could rely on her brothers for disclosure and support. Until this point she had faith that her brothers were not fond of her husband, Nathan proving to be openly hostile at times. Her views were now turned on their head and everything that her brothers had said to her since her marriage became suspect. Who could she trust now, when she needed someone so much.
She looked down from her second floor window and into the yard of the old stables, which her father had renovated into servants quarters several years ago. They had never been used, primarily because the family kept employees for life if they could and these long-term employees had their own homes. Thus they had stood empty until today when a busload of slaves had arrived and further ruined her already rotten life. A lone figure stalked into view, casting a sense of edgy menace over the previous tranquillity. Great, I'm to be protected by people more frightening than the people they protect me from, the thought skittered through her tear fogged mind. In the middle of the night two figures stood in dark isolation. The watcher and the watched. The hunter and the prey. The master and the slave.
Hands viciously grasping her chin startled her from sleep. Panic gripped her as her eyes snapped open to take in the face of her attacked. After her initial alarm her eyes began to focus in the dim room until finally she could make out the features of the person standing over her.
"Douglas," a breathless plea.
"Listen to me Princess. I'm sick of your self-indulgent antics; I want you, me and the kids safe. Your father wants us to have the best protection available. Tomorrow morning you're going to tell your father that you're ready to accept them. Then you're going to come out with the rest of us to get the slaves suitable attire," he hissed every word, emphasising each point with a rough jerk of her chin. His next words were sardonic as he stood and straightened his pyjamas. "We can hardly have them walking around looking like circus freaks now, can we?"
As he turned to leave he cast his quaking wife a charming smile and sauntered into his adjoining bedroom. Francesca managed to keep herself together until he left and then found herself once again in floods of tears, curled up in the middle of her bed. She had thought that it would take longer for Douglas to snap, this had only been happening for a little over a week, his temper usually took longer to break. She sniffled and drew the bed covers closer to herself, at least with a bodyguard she would be protected from her husband.
They stood on display for their new owners, each of them at rigid attention. It had been ten days since they had been purchased and speculation among them had been rife as to what was happening. They had seen none of the family and had not even been inspected for illness or other weakness. That sort of reception had not been in their frame of reference. Today's events were more in accordance with the 'norm', yet their trepidation remained
Salvatore could see the tension in the bearing of each new slave. They were confused and in need of the relief of an organised practice session, something he had avoided until he knew Francesca's wishes. Now here they were approaching the stables to inspect other human beings. He shuddered at the thought. The Prince Corporation had always been staunchly against slavery and here he was with seven new acquisitions. He looked towards his three children and noticed how his sons walked protectively on either side of their baby sister. They looked so robust and full of energy that they brought Francesca's fragility further into the forefront of his mind. Salvatore knew that something besides the threats were bothering her, but whenever he pushed her she altered topic.
Douglas walked slightly behind and to the side of his wife and in-laws. He was surrounded by his children and looked the picture of the doting father. An identical little girl clung to each hand while his little boy strode purposefully in front of them. He looked comfortable and excited about the prospect of looking at the slaves and the children were feeding off of his emotions. The head of the Prince dynasty felt a new shiver walk across his spin. In the back of his mind was planted the seeds of fear that Douglas was too eager to see men as animals and that his children would feel the same.
He returned his gaze and his thoughts forward to the rank of men and women that were now his army. He had to grin about that. His soldiers fighting a war so protect his little girl, he rather liked that idea. He would keep that image in his mind to stop him thinking about them as animals.
The group walked down the line studying each figure that they approached. It was different than when they had seen them at the auction. They were able to get very close to them and see the expressions on their faces. Dressed in white vests and black running shorts they looked far more human and less intimidating. Added to this perception was the fact that as the children began to run around them all but one face broke into a grin at the antics. Francesca appreciated that and worried at the one sober, stone-like face.
They walked down the line, Rodrigo and Nat filling their sister and her husband in on the names of the various men and women as they came to them in the line. Francesca didn't say a word, she still hated the idea, but knew that she had to take in the information, or at least seem to. The first they approached was a tall man, whip-chord thin with a shaven head. His skin was very pale white and his eyes an equally pale blue. Snake. It suited him. He was to be one of Douglas' two guards, and Douglas was looking at him with approval. They moved on.
The next two were identical except for the colour of their hair. They were mountains. Huge arms and shoulders. One had white hair and the others dark brown. They shared the same deep chestnut skin tone and profuse body hair. They should have been intimidating but their eyes twinkled with mischief, theirs mouths trying desperately not to smile. Polar and Grizzly were indeed a couple of bears. Teddy bears. They would make excellent guardians for the children. She could see that and was happy. The children asked if they could talk to the men and were granted permission (as were the slaves, with a tilt of Salvatore's head) and soon the five of them were in an animated discussion.
Leaving the children behind they neared Savage. This was a man whose name did not describe him well. He resembled a weasel far more then anything threatening. His hair was dirty blond and his eyes were the same dirty colour. Apparently he was an accomplished warrior like the rest of them but Francesca was sceptical. Fortunately he was Snake's second and would have nothing really to do with the children.
The man and woman who came next were standing imperceptibly closer to each than the others were. These were to be the ones who looked after the children when the twins were resting. They would also fill in as Francesca's guards and be present at any functions. The woman had stunning red hair that fell to her shoulders in waves and piercing green eyes. They had named her Phoenix in the arena because she looked like a being of fire. The man who stood so close to her was Wolf. His name as much a play on his real identity as it was a description of his grey hair and eyes. He was almost as big as the twins were. Phoenix came close to his height but was svelte and sinewy, with small breasts making her appear even more streamline.
They moved to the last figure standing several feet away from the others. This was to be her guard. A create that didn't need any real sleep and who was more dangerous than the others put together. Francesca had already been given the remote to this woman's voice box and had made up her mind never to let her have voice. She was an insurrectionist and they had brought her into the Prince family. She couldn't risk her rousing the others. She hated the idea of being watched every moment. Especially by this one. Danger oozed from her. The blue and white hair, designed to look like a tiger was cut close to her head. He white less eyes were an encompassing blue with a black slit for a pupil. Her skin was golden but marred by scars on her face and arms. She was also heavily tattooed on her upper arms, creating the illusion of a dark t-shirt beneath the white. She was stocky with broad shoulders and muscles, which although smaller rivalled even the largest man's in terms of definition. She was Hunter.
Francesca's revelry was broken by a voice over her shoulder. "Aren't they great Princess."
"Yes, Darling." A new shiver ran up her spine as she smiled unconvincingly.
"How was your holiday, Mama?" Francesca sat curled up in the studies large leather chair.
"It was lovely darling, but it's much better to be back. I can't believe I missed four weeks with my babies and grandbabies. Your father was full of it when I got back last night. Seems like I've missed a lot," her eyes travelled to the figure hovering in the corner behind her daughter, "haven't I?"
She watched as her youngest child squirmed and her face grew paler. Blue eyes flicked around the room, not once resting on the short bodyguard. When eventually they focused back on her mother they were haunted and held a depth of resignation that Darla had never seen in her morose child.
"The bodyguards are a really good idea, one of Dad's best. Doug is getting on really well with his pair. They have a lot of sports interests in common, apparently, and he spends hours talking to them. The children are the same," finally her face broke into a rueful grin. "They've taken to Bear and Polar like they really are big toys. They are very alert, always on guard even when they play with the children. I was a little apprehensive when they started, scared that they'd want to hurt them but they both have very caring personalities. I really think they will be good for the girls, they don't know many other twins. As for Terry, he wants to be them. The two floating guards are fantastic, we all like them. They're a couple, did Dad tell you? They are really good together..." Her babble trailed off as the topic drew closer to Francesca's situation.
Darla reached forward and laid her hand on a cotton-covered knee. "How about your 'shadow', Honey?"
"Hunter, out!" The sharp command was sudden. The blue haired woman bowed and made her way out to guard the door.
"Mama, I hate this! She's really aggressive. She does what I tell her but only to the letter. She's subversive and I can see the hate in her eyes. None of the others have that look. Dad told me I should turn her voice on, but I can't, it's too dangerous. What am I going to do?" She broke down into sobs and put her head into her hands.
Darla moved further forward until she was kneeling in front of the young woman and pulled her head to her shoulder. She gently stroked the dark hair and whispered soothing words until the sobs quieted and her daughter just rested against her, breathing raged. Darla looked towards the closed door, resolve setting in her eyes.
Her hand poised casually at her side. The swords hilt held in a firm grip. Sweat beading on her temple, one errantly sliding down to meet her jaw. The pale moonlight around bleached the wood around her, turning it deathly white.
Sword up. Defensive posture across abdomen. Breathing steady. Feet apart.
Lightening fast. Sword switch from stomach to face. Wrist tilts. Knees bent. Sword deflects down-thrust.
Wrist rotates forward. Arm extends. Right foot forward. Lung.
Left foot forward. Right arm down. Elbow tensed. Slash.
Sword down. Pivot left foot. Hips loose. Right knee braced. Foot extends. Round house kick to face.
A low growl emanated from her throat, the only vocalisation she could manage. Soft, low and dangerous. The man had stepped further back into the warmth and relative safety of the slave quarters. He was unwilling to further antagonise the volatile young woman. Turning his voice to it's gentlest register he once again tried to address her.
"Hunter you have to sleep. You can't keep doing this. Constantly training when you should be resting is making you far too edgy. Your going to snap and hurt somebody and then where do you think you'll be? You know that they'll put you down if it happens again. We've been here nearly two months and I don't think I've seen you sleep for more than eight hours a week since we arrived. Just talk to me, maybe if you get it off your chest you can rest."
The sword was suddenly and noisily wracked as she whirled on him, her face a mask of barely controlled rage. His adams-apple bobbed as he swallowed nervousley, he had never been on the receiving end of the fearsome visage and it terrified him, yet he stood firm. She approached him with mechanical precision; closer and closer until her shallow breaths rustled the fabric of his shirt.
"You don't know shit." The emphatic hand gestures clearly expressed her ire.
"Then tell me," he pleaded. "I know that The Princess can be a bitch to you but we've had worse masters. God, you've had worse masters and it hasn't had this effect on you, so it can't just be that. Tell me, you know you can trust me."
"Not this time Shep. You can't know everything about me." Then she was gone, leaving a bemused Wolf in her wake.
"Give it back!"
"I'll tell Mama!"
"I don't care!"
"But it's mine!"
"Becky tell him!"
The two huge men seated in the room looked at the tableau before them with bemused expressions on their identical faces. Although they had grown to adore the children they were totally at a loss when they began to argue. They watched in fascination as the quietest of the three looked up from her colouring book and trudged towards the combatants. This one was the peacemaker. She was always pulled into the fray started by her twin sister and brother. The brothers found it hard to understand how two children born at the same moment like themselves could be so different. The little girls before them were not identical, but looked so alike that only the difference in eye colour and hair shade separated them.
The voices of the two combatants became more agitated as their sister joined them, bringing Rebecca to the verge of tears. Just when the brothers thought that they were going to be forced to intervene, the children's mother rushed in to diffuse the situation. It amazed the men that Mistress always seemed to sense when the children needed her. It was as though she had a sixth sense where they were concerned. They watched as she knelt by the trio and began to talk to them in soft, reasoning tones. Behind the scene of domesticity stood their leader, in their minds at least. Hunter stood rigidly beside the closed door, seeming to make a conscious effort not to look at the other people in the room.
Francesca walked towards the two men with a smile. "I need to speak with you in private for a moment. Come with me." Her voice was warm and pleasant as she addressed the brothers as if they were real people and not property. "Hunter! Stay! Protect!" The commands were given as if to a dog, this fact confusing the other slaves. Of all the slaves the brothers were treated with the most respect and hunter with the least. Strange when some considered that the two women spent so much time together.
Once in the antechamber next to the nursery Francesca began to lay out her plan to the two men. She explained that the children had been arguing more since the slaves arrived. There was no problem with Rebecca, she was quiet and liked her own personal space, hence why she stayed out of the fights. It had more to do with the rivalry between eight year old Terrence and his five year old sister Rochel. They both craved attention and saw their two protectors as people whose favour they should compete for.
"Therefore I have come up with a solution, in the last thirty seconds anyway," she gave a warm chuckle. "I would like for you to pick a child each and sort of... mentor them, I suppose would be the best way to describe it. If they feel that one of you is Terry's protector and the other Shell's it should stop them showing off."
"Not to be out of line, Mistress, but won't Rebecca feel at least a little left out? Alienated?" This came from Polar.
"Really, I don't think she will. Becky really wants a quiet life. She's happiest alone. Do you two ever feel that way?"
"Not really, but I guess that could be because we're identical." The conversation carried on for some time as Francesca found herself fascinated by their unique view of her children.
She heard the words.
"Hunter! Stay! Protect!"
By now she ignored the loud, harsh edge to the words and simply obeyed. Her resignation at this life she was to live was growing like a cancer, taking hold of her and filling her with malaise. They were not given enough stimulated, either mentally or physically and she could feel it driving her slowly insane. As the door closed behind their retreating forms she contemplated how the others seemed to be enjoying the psuedo freedom that they had garnered. They were held in much higher regard than she a fact that very much bemused her. Her thoughts began to stray down a path from which she had forever banned them. She violently shook her head to clear her thoughts.
The sudden and startling movement coming from the silent guard drew the attention of all three children. They caste a look to one another and with a shared grin of total mischief they quickly approached her. Their mother had told them not to get too close to her, talk to her or generally even look in her direction because she was so dangerous. How could they resist a challenge like that? Quickly the three of them advanced on the poker rigid form.
Terry and Shell took the lead in this as in all things. Rushing up to the rigid form the two older children began to make silly faces and pull on her pant legs in order to gain her attention. She remained stoic, not even a blink in the children's direction. The giggles of the three children grew in intensity as they tried more and more outlandish methods of distraction. Rebecca was drawn into the fray and began to pull the same faces when a thought struck her. She drew back and beckoned for the others to follow her a few paces in front of the figure, her five year old plan was simple; be polite.
"Hello Hunter, thank you for coming." A shy smile trembled about her lips.
This caught the warrior's attention. Few people outside of her circle called her by name or even acknowledged her existence as a sentient being, yet here were these small human beings treating her with respect. She gazed down into the soulful brown eyes of the one who had addressed her and raised her hand in a gesture of thanks. Seeing this the other two began to squirm and Hunter could tell that they too were about to make their own overtures.
"Our Mama says that you can't talk and that's why you just stand there like that when you come in. Is it true?" Terrence never being one to hold back asked questions outright. His seven year old sensibilities were his own.
"Are ya really as dangerwus as Mama says you are?" Rochel was in constant conflict with her big brother, their young lives filled with one-upmanship.
Hunter was beginning to find the three of them very amusing. No, amusing was the wrong word. The two louder ones were funny in the comedy duo kind of way, while the third was charming in her quite, shy way. She was so unused to this, and knew that the way these children were behaving was to be cultivated, even if she herself found human interaction difficult. The problem remained, how to talk to them without a voice? That's when an idea came to her. She placed her fingers across her lips and then made a throwing motion.
"See, told ya she couldn't talk."
Rebecca's sensitivity was hurt as she watched her twin continue to be rude to the visitor. She may only be five but she was an old soul, the outsider of the trio and wanted to make the solemn figure feel included. "Can you...um... show us how you talk?"
All Hunter could do was nod.
Francesca stood framed in the partially open doorway and watched her babes play with the woman she had come to think of as no more then an animal. She had been standing, framed in shadows, for a long time just watching. She had expected that if the beast was ever let out of the bag it would be jumpy and incoherent, yet before her she saw the opposite of all her ideals.
The room was quite and the children calm as they sat fascinated by the gentle hand movements that the slave made. Each child was saying a different letter of the alphabet and then the salve was making a hand gesture to each one. It took Francesca a couple of minutes to understand what was going on, but a bemused smile played across her lips when she realised that Hunter was teaching her children to sign the alphabet. She had always believed that they could never learn too much. She decided not to interrupt and allow things to carry on as the slave was being gentle.
"Can you show us how to do our names?" the eagerness in Terry's voice was unmistakable. Hunter nodded in agreement.
It took the children about fifteen minutes to grasp their names and it was very hard for the warrior to teach them how to place gender onto their names because they did not understand what that meant. After all of the quiet, intellectual activities the three began to get fidgety, until with a burst of energy Terry pounced on Becky and began to tickle her mercilessly. The howls and squeals of laughter from the pair brought a smile to both the adult in the room and the one in the doorway. With s suddenness that surprised the adults Rochel launched herself at Hunter and began to tickle her.
Hunter froze. Her every instinct as a warrior was to lash out at the sudden attack. Her own internal fail-safes telling her to pull away from the human contact. When Hunter froze, Francesca's heart began to beat double time as she became consumed with fear for her daughter. She could be ripped to pieces by the body guard with little effort. She had warned the children against approaching the creature. She began to move, but Hunter was faster. Suddenly the killing machine was rolling around on the floor like a five year old. The children where climbing all over her and having the time of their life. The laughter in the room was pure joy. Francesca knew that she had appointments she must attend and to do so she must break up this moment.
Making sure that the door made a lot of noise while she opened it, Francesca was not surprised to find Hunter where she had left her. The children were still rough-housing. After she had kissed each one goodbye she turned to her slave and ordered her to follow. As she passed through the door she caught the beatific smile that the shorter woman through at her babies and was stunned by it. Both women would have a lot to think about that night.
"I blow candle now?" Big green eyes blinked up at the auburn haired woman.
"Yes Rhani. Lets see if you can blow them both out with one breath. Your Mummy's big girl now so you can make a wish." The older woman's grey eyes crinkled at the edges as she smiled.
The little blond head shook vigorously, "No!"
"No what sweetie?" The group of adults and older children looked universally perplexed.
"I blow one an Chess blow one." The beaming child looked towards her friend. The younger toddler sat clapping in her mother's lap, blue eyes wide with wonder.
"Does Fran want to help Rhani?" Excited nodding from the tousled brunette head made her position clear a she climbed down and tottered towards Rhani.
"...blow job! Do you understand me you piece of shit?" The slap resounded off of her face.
"Yes Master." Her words were subdued. She dared not raise too much of his wrath or she would not be able to go home because of the severity of her injuries. The visits she cherished were becoming few and far between and would soon end so all had to be cherished.
"If I ever hear of you refusing one of my clients again you will be indentured to a penal colony. I'm sure your little white ass couldn't cope with much of that. Now go back in there and you can suck the cock of every man in the room and if they want to take you it's on the house. That'll teach you to bite someone's dick, you little fuck!"
A second slap across her face sent her sprawling across the floor. Most eight-year old girls would have started to cry, but it was the only weapon she had. She fought by staying strong and sometimes performing stupid acts like today. To survive she would have to move beyond the pain.
"Get the fuck up!"
"Up. Higher...Um, right there!" The prostrate form moaned in pleasure.
The lithe young blond straddling the muscular torso grinned as she jabbed an elegant finger into a tattooed shoulder-blade. Her actions elicited a howl of protest and a pout from the younger girl beneath her. She leaned down and as an act of consolation pressed a kiss to the same spot.
"You are such a baby!" She laughed at the reproachful look in the other girl's eyes.
"I'll have you know I am a great warrior!"
"Great Wuss." The finger jabbed again.
The reclined form turned quickly onto her back so that she was now looking up at the towering woman. An evil grin spread across her face, mirth filling her green eyes. Using her superior strength she launched herself at the other girl. With no warning the slim blond found her back on the mattress and a grinning lunatic above her, tickling her mercilessly.
"Get off!" this came through a squeal.
"What am I?" The barrage never stopped.
"Cute?" A raised eyebrow and a leer accompanied her response.
The compact youth couldn't resist and lowered herself to the waiting lips of the other girl. Her bare torso brushed against the linen of the other girl's shirt creating goose-bumps on her skin. When she drew back both were flushed and breathless. The shorter girl rolled onto her side and propped up on her elbow she looked down at the other girl.
"You're very good at that, for a kid!" She received a swatt on her abdomen.
"Your only eighteen, miss high and mighty. That's only four yeas older than me. It's not exactly a huge gap. Anyway, I should be good at it, you give me a lot of practice Jordan!"
"Jordan? What have you done with her?" The rage was clear in the sixteen year olds eyes.
"Sedition is a crime SLAVE! You should have learned your lesson. We beat you to within an inch of your life and you carry on. Physical punishment obviously has no effect on you, seeing as your gladiator scum, so you leave us no choice! Rebellion is unacceptable. The servant girl has paid the price for her dalliances with you!" The warrior's face glazed over with pain. "To stop you from creating this sort of debacle again we are taking your voice. You will never speak without the permission of a master. Do you understand Rebel?" A mute nod. "Do it!"
She screamed, "Jordan!"
The scream wrenched Hunter from the nightmare. It echoed from her throat and around the empty barracks, ringing in her ears.
The clicking of computer keys sounded like the feet of a thousand cockroaches moving through the room. It reverberated on itself, becoming increasingly oppresive in the eerily quiet room. The monitor provided the only light, casting ghoulish shadows on the planes of the users face. In this pale, sickly glow the writers face seemed sunken and emaciated. The eyes glowed with a feral light.
Pictures scrolled across the screen, occasionally being annotated by fevered hands. All of the pictures focused on the same group of people. dark a haired blue eyed woman and a man caste in shades of brown filled the majority of the photographs. There were also a handful of pictures of three small children. The hand on the keyboard continued to scroll forward until the watcher reached a new cache of pictures. These featuring people that were unknown to the watcher. The were obviously dangerous and began to appear in the background of all of the family pictures and those of the individuals. They had broken the rules. Bodyguards were unacceptable. They had been left alone while the watcher prepared the next move in this game, but this act must be punished.
The chair was abruptly pushed from the table. Sliding backwards until it hit the wall as the watcher stood and stormed out of the room. A red caste behind the dead eyes and a new plan forming behind the ghoulish visage.
Phoenix sat in Wolf's lap and buried her head in the crook of his shoulder, enjoying the chance to be with her husband and have some privacy. he couple knew that they were lucky. Not only had they been bought together, but they worked almost the same shifts so that they got a good deal of time together off duty. They often just sat and talked.
"I'm worried." Wolf's arms tightened around her waist, holding her snuggly to his chest.
"What about, Matt?" She smiled sweetly as she asked. The feel of her lovers name on her tongue was special because she was the only one who used it.
"Hunter isn't taking this well. I talked to her a few days ago and she started to get very angry. She told me that I didn't know anything about her and that some things I couldn't. She scared the crap out of me. I think that perhaps Miss Prince has a reason to keep her distance." His face was pensive as he spoke.
Phoenix couldn't believe what she was hearing. "You can't mean that! You've known her since she was a kid. Sure she's dangerous, but you we all are. You have to trust her. She needs your belief."
"Your right Morgan." He rubbed his forehead. "I just have to get used to this ne life we're living. It's just weird to have this level of freedom and lack of discipline. That was my whole life for as long as I could remember."
"I know Love." She leaned up and forward to press a kiss to his temple. "I hear the others coming. It must be dinner time. I think it's Savage's turn at dinner tonight. That'll be fun, Hunter and Savage eye-balling each other all night."
"Now who is worrying about nothing then?" The two grinned at each other and shared a soft kiss before the door banged open on it's hinges.
"Yes boys and girls we're home!" The loud and boisterous voice of Grizzly echoed through the room.
"You guys are spending way too much time with those ankle-bitters." This disparaging remark came from Snake who, as always, looked cool and collected even as his eyes twinkled with glee.
The group began its usual routine of joking and laughing. Their frivolity would be interspersed with some seriousness when the mood set in. they ate the meal that was prepared for them in the main house, while sitting on benches around a slick metal table. It was simple fare but it was always good and contained all of the supplements that their enhanced physiology required to maintain their musculature.
After they ate, as was the norm they would sit around and play cards or watch the single small monitor which they had been allowed. This hour of inactivity allowed digestion before they began to train, preventing cramps. Tonight they were playing cards. They never settled on one game and often would drift between poker, jinn and black jack.
"Tonight I feel lucky!"
"We really don't want to know what goes on between you and Meg at night, Shep!" Snakes quip sent the two larger men into fits of giggles.
"You two are way to camp to be as big as you are."
"Hay we're babysitters now, we can be as juvenile and camp as we want and we don't have to prove ourselves to anyone!" Polar's tongue stuck out just to emphasize his point.
"Yeah, yeah. Less talk more cards!" Meg smirked.
The phone slid from nerveless fingers. It bounced on the carpeted floor, creating a muffled thud in when it came to a stop. The blood drained from Douglas's face as he turned and looked between his wife and his in-laws, who ahd formed a loose circle around him.
"What did they say?" Salvatore took controle.
"I...I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman. The voice was distorted, but the threat was real clear. We've broken some rule and now we're going to pay. He said something about the bodyguards." Sweat had broken out across his brow and upper lip.
"Oh God," the strangled whisper escaped Francesca. Tears began to well in her eyes and make silver paths along her cheeks.
"This is becoming quite ridiculous."
"Your right Darla. We need to tap the phone and make sure that all of our mail is intercepted. We can not risk a bomb. I think Hunter should sleep in your room Fran. Be with you at all times. This is obviously some crazed fan." Salvatore turned to Douglas. "You should keep them in your room also. I'll contact your brothers to make sure they are secure and them contact the police and let them know what's happening. Get them to step up their enquiries." His eye's softening he turned to his daughter. "Go to bed Princess. Hunter, protect her please."
The tall woman nodded dumbly and slowly, lethargically shuffled from the room. Hunter strode purposefully behind her, her face set in stone. As they made their way up the stairs Francesca moved towards each child's bedroom. The girls were being watched by Phoenix since dinner, in the room that they shared and Terry was watched over by Wolf. Each of her babies were peacefully asleep, blissfully unaware of the pain their parents felt.
Below them Salvatore turned once more to his son-in-law. "What else did they say? All of it Douglas!"
"The guy was insane! Started to rant about the attention that the family gets and the adoration. How would we like it if the children weren't perfect anymore. Then about marking Fran and spoiling her. Even started to go into detail about disfiguring them. I am so scared Sir." Tears began to run down his face, I don't want to die!
Believing that the tears were for his family and not for fear about his own existence, Darla wrapped him in her arms and began to croon soft words into his tan ear. Salvatore walked towards the bureau and poured himself and the other two people in the room a scotch. He took it to them and picked up the phone from the floor. He moved to his leather chair and began his seemingly endless list of calls. It would be a long night.
The watcher sat back on the sofa and brought the beer to smirking lips. The voice distorter lay on one raised thigh, the cell phone on the other. Tonight was a good night for games. Raising the video remote from it's place on the sofa cushion a large hand pressed play. A tall dark haired women filled the screen, crooning about love and forgiveness.
Continued in Part 2