BY

Maderlin Bidmead


Disclaimer: The characters are mine! Been with me in one form or another since my little brain could think of a story. Be gentle as this is my first posting anywhere, although I've been writing for an eternity (well seems that way to me anyway).
Violence/Sex:Got slaves, so got both. Sexual violence of an m/f variety here. Also a loving (sort of) consensual f/f relationship. If your too young to vote, you should probably go elsewhere.
Me:Feedback would be excellent as this is also doubling up as my degree dissertation (yes English Lit is a great course). maderlin@yahoo.com

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cars cruised passed the still Land Rover, their momentum rocking it from side to side, like a babe's 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 grandfather's industrial fortune even greater. The cost of this endeavour was great, almost loosing 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 real enthusiasm these days. 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 father's work. At fifteen Nathaniel had still been unsure about 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 she was the apple of her daddy's eye. Salvatore lavished attention on his youngest child in the same way 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 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 his 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-too 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 servant, 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 she might 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 playmate's 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 heiress' 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 also matured in other ways too. She no 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-maid's 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 skin's 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 (they always did) but just ended in a splash-fight (they always did that, too). 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 got closer to the house the mood got more sober. 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 in the corridor 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.
 
 

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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 people no more important than a pixel on a computer screen. They cleared the arena leaving only twenty men and women on the burning sand. The browns and blacks of their training uniforms absorbing the sun's 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 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 appeared 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 slaves could perform new functions. The simple programming present at the auction meant that the killers - no matter how well trained these were still killers - had to be kept on a tight leash.

Due to the high profile nature of the sale there was a heavy amount 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 Princes 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 father's. His love of the arena and his particular fondness for this team made him an excellent commodity to have at the 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 inform them as to 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 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 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."

"Sure does."

"You're going to cost some lucky suit an absolute fortune. You're worth the rest of us 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 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, you're such a ray of sunshine." Rodrigo stuck out his tongue.

"He's right. Maybe we should have them delivered tomorrow so 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."

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Continued in PartTwo

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