by Trudy West (

Title: Forgotten
Author: Trudy West,
Archive: MA, Boys in Chains, others probably OK, email to ask
Categories: Q/O, POV, AU, Angst
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Explicit sex, brief references to past rape
Disclaimer: Neither the characters nor this tired plot device is mine, and no money changed hands
Summary: A slave with memory loss is purchased by an owner with a hidden agenda.

The sound of an unfamiliar voice broke through my stupor.

There are no benign visitors here. This wing is for the insane, the violent, the damaged. The dregs of the pens are sent here for one last opportunity to monetize the small value they represent. Buyers that come here are looking for cheap meat for deadly tasks: toxic or high radiation environments, medical experimentation, death combat, snuff entertainment. That's your destination after you leave here.

Otherwise it's the kill cell and the incinerator, after your time expires and it becomes cheaper to throw you away than to keep you.

I earned a place in this wing after being returned by my buyer as incorrigibly violent. I would argue that that label was better applied to him, considering how badly he'd beaten me. But they didn't ask me, and even if they had, I wasn't talking. I refused to speak. I was a slave. Someone else owned my body, controlled my future, compelled my behavior. But at least I could control one thing, my voice. They could not compel me to speak.

I had been returned almost two months ago. That was the time window they'd put on me, and I hadn't been bought yet.

Yesterday when the guard dropped off the daily feed he said, "Congratulations, you ugly bastard. Just two more days. Two more days."

The end was close. I had no fear. This life was a greater hell than anything that might wait on the other side.

So when I heard voices, I hoped they would pass by and leave me here to die.

The voices carried clearly down the length of the corridor outside.

"This would go a lot faster if you could be more specific about what you needed a slave for," said the familiar voice of the guard.

The other voice said, "I told you, I'll know the right one when I see him. Human, male, older but not frail, tall...maybe a fighter, or a bodyguard, or a manual worker."

"So it's a body type you need, rather than a skill set?"

"More or less."

"How about this one?"

"No, too young."

"Over about him?"

"No, he's not it either."

"Fine. Why don't you just take a stroll and check out what's available. I'll watch over the monitors. Anything you want, just give me a shout."

"Thanks, I will."

Heavy footsteps receded.

A slow, muffled tread came closer. Occasionally the steps would stop for a long moment, then continue. Otherwise the ward was silent. A predator was stalking in our jungle.

The footsteps stopped outside my cell.

"Hello?" the voice said. It was directed into my cage. "I can't see you. Could you please turn and face me?"

I ignored it.

"Excuse me! Could you come back down here a moment?"

Thump, thump, thump of boots back down the hall. "See something you like?"

"Maybe. This one has potential, but I can't get a good look at him. He's sitting with his back to the door."

"We'll fix that. Hey you! Stand up and turn around!"

I ignored him.

The guard's voice sharpened. "If you want to spend your last days in peace and quiet, you'll do what you're told. Or you can spend them with the pain collar dialed up. Your choice." To the visitor: "He can hear us, he just likes to pretend that he can't."

I considered. I preferred not to spend my last hours screaming and spasming.

I rose stiffly -- I hadn't moved from my kneeling position in many hours -- and turned to face the bars.

Next to the guard stood a young man with an intent expression. Human, medium build and height, nondescript clothing. Hair a light color, straight to his shoulders, framing a face that many would consider handsome. The intelligence in his eyes was unnerving. Intelligence in owners is not always a desirable trait.

"Step forward into the light, please," the young man said.

How polite. Pretentious young ass.

I thought of the collar and moved forward one stride, two.

The young man looked me up and down. His face was blank, but I sensed a hunger behind it. "Yes," he said. "Yes, this one may do. What can you tell me about him?"

The guard snorted. "Smart. Crazy. Stronger than he looks, though he's wasted down some. First brought in almost a year ago, returned a few months back. Trashed a whole manufacturing complex trying to escape from a perfectly good assembly job. He can hear just fine, although he likes to pretend that he can't. Doesn't talk since he came back. Either it got beat out of him or he just forgot - some of the mindwiped ones develop memory problems later."

"You keep his cuffs locked all the time?" The buyer was referring to the manacles, which bound my hands in front of me.

"This one? You bet. Told you, he's dangerous. Hands free just means he'd be going for us through the bars."

"What's that second collar?"

"They put it on a few of them, the ones who can do weird mental tricks, mind reading, that kind of thing. The collar prevents that nonsense. It's unusual for a human to have one, though. Yep, he's a weirdo."

"What's the price?"

"Five hundred and that's final. These are already been marked down."

"I hear you," said the young man. "So, shall we take him to the office and wrap things up?"

"Wouldn't you rather have him delivered? You can't walk him out of here by yourself. I wouldn't recommend it."

"The port's right next door. I'm sure I can manage to get him back to my ship."

"Now there aren't any refunds on this type, right? If he gets away from you, don't complain to me. Now move back." The guard directed his voice at me. "All right, asshole. Come on out, slow and easy. Any trouble and I shoot you dead, sale or no sale."

The bars to my cage retracted.

I stepped out, the plating cold under my bare feet. I could attack, and the guard would shoot me, and I would die, and this would be over. I thought about it for a moment, then turned and paced towards the entrance into the wing, with the guard and my soon-to-be owner following.

Behind me, the guard said, "Does he need to be able to see, for what you need him for? We could blind him for you. Make him easier to handle."

"That's all right, I'll take him as is."

"Just takes a minute."

"Thanks anyway."

I stood silent while they fussed through the details. At last the guard said, "Here's the keys to his collars and cuffs - for your own sake don't remove any of them. Here's the control. It activates the pain collar, and you can set the proximity limit for the implant. That's turned off now, since he's been in his cell. In a worst-case scenario you can detonate. You want to be standing at least a couple meters away if possible, but if you aren't, don't worry, it's just messy, not dangerous. It splatters, that's all."

"Anything else?"

"Nope, that's it. This is discount and you get what you pay for. No clean-up and dress-up like what you get with the better classes of slaves."

The transaction complete, my new owner turned to me. He was a full head shorter than I. He looked up at me and said, "Don't be afraid. Everything will be all right. Just come with me. We'll go to my ship and then we'll talk some more. Walk in front of me and don't cause any trouble. I've dealt with people rougher than you, so don't get any ideas."

I didn't look at him or acknowledge that he spoke.

The guard opened the gate. We walked out of the ward, away from the pens. I had been resigned to dying in there. Now I had a chance. But I had to take it before we reached his ship. Once on board I would no doubt be trapped again, caged and restrained.

Outside the sky was lovely. Ironic that such a pretty sky should look down on such a dreadful place.

The entrance to the spaceport was nearby. The port would be as good a place as any to hide. Of course he might use the detonator, but I was betting that he would try to recapture me rather than waste his investment. He'd only activate the detonator as a last resort. That would give me time to hide and find a sharp object to cut out the implant.

We went through the main entrance and turned down one of the corridors. Freight zone, not passenger. We walked by open doors, and I got glimpses of large docks filled with ships and containers.

I waited until we were ten paces past one door, then hopped up on one foot with a gasp, as if I had stepped on something sharp.

My owner hurried up to me with an interrogative "What --" and I swung my bound wrists at his face. My manacles connected with his jaw, and he slammed against the wall. I bolted, back to the open door, inside, dodged to the right.

My luck was bad. I plowed into a dockworker. His friends heard him shout and came running. I looked around frantically. No doors, no hatchways down, but a stair up to a small walkway. No other choice, up the stairs, one two three four landings, and along the catwalk --

Agony around my throat, spiking down my spine. I stumbled and fell heavily onto the mesh of the walk. I could see my owner standing in the door of the warehouse, holding the control.

The pain increased. I'd soon pass out. With my last effort I staggered up, threw myself at the railing and let my center of gravity roll me over the edge. From this height, I'd have fatal injuries. Or die on impact.

I shut my eyes.

I hit something unevenly with my shoulder and back. It wasn't machinery. It was the thud of flesh on flesh. I had fallen on someone. Instinctively I responded, trying to roll into the fall, but arms around me hampered the movement.

We landed with a teeth-rattling crash. I realized that I wasn't injured. I rolled over to look at my rescuer. It was my new owner, lying limp. His eyes were closed and there was a thick stream of blood running down his temple.

My new owner had broken my fall. It didn't make sense. He had been back at the doorway. There was no way he could have moved that fast.

The man's eyes opened. They were an indeterminate color between blue, green and gray. He looked at me from a breath's distance, and he said something. It sounded like "master."

Shouts, hands on me, pulling me away. The dockworkers. I was punched in the face, in the gut, while they screamed at me.

"Stop it! Stop it right now!" Commanding voice. The blows ceased.

One docker said, "He almost landed on that lift! He could've ruined the damn thing!"

My owner was on his feet, face and collar dripping with blood, but his voice was firm. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but he's mine to deal with. We'll get out of your way." He waved a handful of money. "Please take this for your trouble."

The scowls subsided. The shift captain took the money and said, "All right, no real harm done. But we'll get him to your ship, can't run the risk of him getting loose again."

"Very well," said my owner. "My ship is at dock 37."

They herded me along the dingy corridor. We entered a hanger where a small dented freighter was parked. At the ramp, my owner said, "I'll take it from here."

The shift captain was full of advice. "Make sure he's locked up. And doped up. You'd be better off going back to the pens and swapping him for one that's better behaved."

"Thanks for the concern, friend, but I can handle it," my new owner said, nudging me inwards.

Onboard, he faced me squarely. Those intelligent eyes bored into me. "Let's get a few things straight. I know you, and you used to know me. I rescued you from that hellhole. We're going to a place where they'll help you recover your memory. In the meantime, I'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from throwing yourself off things, damaging equipment, opening airlocks, assaulting me, or any other creative acts of mayhem. Do I have your promise that you won't do anything violent or dangerous to yourself, me or the ship?"

I deliberately broke eye contact and stared at the wall over his head.

He moved suddenly and I flinched, but he only wiped the blood from his face.

"If you won't promise, then I'll have to restrain you. I can't take any more risks."

I said nothing.

"Fine. Stubborn as always. Come on then. I'd best have you where I can keep an eye on you."

We moved through the cargo hold and forward into a small bridge. He waved me towards one chair along the back wall, away from the more sensitive equipment. "Have a seat." He stood well clear as I sat down. Before he approached, he said, "Please keep in mind that we are still sitting on the ground only a short distance away from those slave pens. Damaging me or the ship at this point only guarantees that we have to stay here longer."

He leaned forward and fiddled with the manacle lock. The mechanism stuck, and he struggled with it before it opened, freeing my arms to move separately. He sealed cuffs to chair arms. The movement jarred the metal against my wrists, and blood began to ooze down my hands.

"Sorry about that. After we're under way, we'll both need medical attention." He said it lightly enough but his face was grim. He must have a devil of a headache. His face and hair were very clean, aside from his blood. He smelled clean.

I watched his profile as he piloted the ship from the dock, into the city traffic pattern, and up into the orbital skyway. He seemed competent. I didn't care. I'd take any ride to get away from the pens.

As he worked, I thought about my next steps. After that debacle, I had to be very careful. Wait until we got some distance away and only act when I was sure I could get away successfully.

I had to create an environment that would give me that opportunity. I needed to get my owner to relax around me, allow me some freedom. Unfortunately I had just tried to escape, which would put any fool on his guard. Fortunately he seemed a decent enough man. He hadn't punished me yet, not so much as a slap.

I needed to make him happy. I couldn't accomplish that by being aloof and defiant. Rather, I needed to feign compliance -- show myself as won over, grateful, agreeable. Be helpful, wait on him, do chores. Get him to fuck me if possible. Sex breaks down barriers and reveals weaknesses like nothing else.

It shouldn't be difficult, particularly since there didn't seem to be another slave about. I had to consider the implications only for the two of us.

Pleased with my strategy, the tension eased out of my body. I listened to the hum of the air recyclers and watched the back of my owner's head. His hair was an unusual color, a reddish blonde, straight, fine and thick. Clean. As sweet smelling as the rest of him, probably.

I must have dozed off. I woke to see my new owner watching me quietly from the pilot's seat. We locked gazes. If I wanted to convince him of my tractability, I could start by interacting rather than ignoring him.

"What should I call you?" he asked. "They said I shouldn't use your real name, or talk about anything from your past, until they'd had a chance to review the wipe."

I said nothing. I would be pleasant, but I still was reluctant to talk.

He sighed. "It's going to be a long flight. We'll both get tired of the sound of my voice. You can call me Ben. Since there's no one else aboard, if I'm talking, you can assume I'm talking to you, or to the walls, since they seem about equally likely to answer me. Come on, let's visit the infirmary."

He unclipped my manacles from the chair, walked away and I followed. He seemed to have forgotten his earlier caution. I looked at his neck and thought how one blow could disable him. But we weren't far enough away from the pens yet.

The infirmary was a small room off the cargo bay, crammed with medical equipment and supplies. My owner said, "I had a full medlab installed because - well, I didn't know what we might need, and I didn't want to be without anything. So let's start by getting those cuffs off."

It took him longer than he expected to remove my cuffs. They didn't put good functional equipment on my class of slave. As he worked, he muttered in some strange language. I looked around the infirmary, noting everything. There was even had a medical droid (deactivated) and a bacta tank. This part of the ship looked expensive, unlike the rest of it, which seemed functional but battered. The medlab proved he had money to spend, even if he preferred cheap slaves.

At last the one cuff clicked open, and its weight dropped off my wrist. My arm felt light, as if it might float up towards the ceiling. My owner made a distressed sound. My wrist was a nasty sight, sores open, oozing blood and other less wholesome fluids.

"Other cuff first, then we'll do a full body scan." He bent his head over the other cuff until it fell off as well. I rubbed the base of my hand, being careful not to pull at the raw holes in my wrist.

He picked up a scanning device and ran it over me, giving a commentary. "No physical brain physical damage from the pain collar or the force dampener ... proximity implant in the neck, healed over, minor scarring ...four cracked ribs, mended now, that must have hurt...malnutrition...general poor health and physical deterioration...overall much better than we could have hoped for. Much better. By all the little gods, much better." He seemed upset, flustered, fumbling with the device, pinching the bridge of his nose.

After a moment, he turned back to me. "I'm sorry, but I can't remove either the collars or the implant. They advised me against it, said to let them do it when we get back. You'll have to live with them for now. At least the collars aren't as heavy as the cuffs, and they don't seem to have chafed."

He reached up to touch the collars, his hand coming towards my face. I stiffened, pulled back. He froze in response. I forced myself to relax. I could feel his fingers touch the collars, the sensitive skin of my throat. "No, no injury there."

You should feel it when the pain collar fires, I thought. You tear your own flesh trying to get that collar off.

By coincidence he said, "It must hurt terribly when it's activated."

You saw it for yourself earlier, I thought.

He gave me an odd look, then touched my face, my cheekbone. "Thankfully you still have your eyes," he said. "That guard talked about blinding you. What an appalling place."

He took a deep breath, then wrinkled his nose. "You need a bath. More than one. You have a backlog of showers to make up. But first, let's patch your wrists. The scan didn't show any other current injuries, but I'd like to do a visual. Call me paranoid but I need to make sure I didn't miss anything. Go ahead and undress."

I didn't move. I had stripped and been stripped multiple times, but for some reason I hesitated.

"Come on, I've seen you naked more times than I can count. This won't hurt."

I thought about that as I removed my tunic and pants. He claimed to have known me before I was mind-wiped, had seen me naked. So he could have been my owner previously. But he didn't act like it. In fact, he didn't behave like an owner at all, not the owners I was familiar with. He seemed more like a parent with a child, or a host with a recalcitrant guest.

Perhaps he was a bounty hunter, a slavecatcher, returning runaways to their owners. His easygoing manner would be effective at reassuring nervous slaves.

He was silent as he looked me over, front and back. I stood impassive but my skin crawled. A slave should become accustomed to being examined, evaluated as a potential worker or a potential fuck, but it never ceased to disturb me. He touched me several times, but only to check scars or bruises, or so it seemed. Well, he shouldn't be surprised. From my age, looks and the price he paid, he should have known he was getting well-used merchandise. I hadn't been beaten too recently, so the marks from the last time were healed over, if still visible.

"Let me see your wrists, please." He turned my wrist one way and the other as he moved another device over it. My skin tingled. "This may be a little uncomfortable. We have to drain the infection and sterilize before we can seal the lesions." Another device was waved around, then a layer of dermaplast added. He took my other hand and repeated the procedure. His hands had a pattern of calluses. He was accustomed to handling something other than medical instruments.

"This should help the bruises and abrasions," he said, picking up another gadget and running it over my torso, back, left thigh, knees where I'd torn them falling down on the catwalk. He wore the same look of concentration as when he piloted the ship: focused, impersonal. He might have been an engineer repairing a piece of equipment.

"Now my turn." He turned one device on himself. "Yes, that needs help." He fiddled with the various devices over his scalp wound, cleaning and sealing it.

He pressure-injected me, saying, "For you, one broad spectrum antibiotic, analgesic, and nutritional boost." Turned the syringe gun on himself, he added, "And for me, just the painkiller. My head hurts, thanks to you."

Your own fault for getting in the way, I thought. But for you, I'd probably be dead.

He looked at me somberly. "You know, I would never have forgiven myself if that was how it dead, just after I'd found you. Please, please, don't do anything like that again."

I wanted to ask him how he'd moved so quickly to break my fall, but I didn't.

He sighed. "I wish I knew if your silence was by your choice or not. The slaver said you spoke earlier on, but hadn't in a long time. He thought you might have forgotten how. Sometimes the wipe has side effects. I'm hoping that you're just being difficult. That would be in character."

I watched him attentively as he spoke, trying to convey that I was grateful, tractable. His mouth was finely cut, with straight white teeth behind his half- smile.

"Enough of this chitchat. Time for a bath." He nodded towards the door and I moved. I still didn't have a good sense of what would make him happy with me, other than obedience and speech, and the latter I wasn't inclined to give just yet.

He showed me where the facilities were, a single room with sink, toilet and both sonics and a water nozzle. There was a mirror on one wall. I looked worse than I had imagined. Skin sooty with filth, matted hair. A wild animal would look more approachable. And tidier.

My owner seemed unfazed. He whipped off his clothes and tossed them out the door. "Hope you don't mind company. I need to get the blood off anyway. And I can help you wash, since that's going to be an extended project. Besides, I still don't quite dare to let you out of my sight yet. From what that guard told me, you'd have the fresher dismantled within minutes."

He looked me up and down as he talked. I wasn't very appetizing at the moment, but surely later, when I was cleaned up, I could find a way to seduce a hormonal young man. I hadn't been used sexually very often, since I wasn't one of the younger or more attractive slaves. The guards had found me amusing a few times. He certainly wouldn't come close to what they dealt out. A quick fuck would be his style. It shouldn't be too difficult to manage.

After I stood under the sonics, which hardly seemed to make a dent in the grime, he turned on the water. It was warm. I stood under it and luxuriated.

His palms were on me, slick with soap, rubbing vigorously. I lathered my hands and worked on my face and hair. My beard wasn't too bad, since it had only grown for the last two months. My hair was so knotted that I couldn't get my fingers through it. Patiently I slicked the snarls with soap and loosened the tangles. It would be easier just to cut the whole mess off. For some reason that thought gave me a pang.

My owner said, "Just do the best you can with the hair. We'll work on it later. It'll take time to comb out. Remember that time -" He stopped speaking abruptly.

We must have been on our twentieth recycle by the time he turned the water off. The room was filled with steam and wet heat. Like a jungle. When had I been in a jungle? Gods, I wish I could remember something, anything.

He was wiping the water off me with his hands, long strokes along my back that slowed, became almost a caress. Ah, I thought, it's time. I braced my hands against the wall and spread my legs. The position could only mean one thing.

His hands stilled and his voice stuttered, "No, that's, that's not what I meant, I don't -"

Right, he was a full head shorter, even spread like this I'm too tall for him. I sank down on my knees.

"No, don't do that, I'm not going to do anything, so don't -"

Why was he objecting? He wanted me. I could feel it. He had enjoyed touching me. What was the problem?

Perhaps he was inexperienced in using a pleasure slave, or even just sexually inexperienced in general. Hard to believe, with his good looks. Surely he wasn't a virgin. Perhaps he was just horrified at the idea of fucking an old slave who might have been his family's servant, or his friend's, or whoever else he was returning me to. No matter. I needed to keep him happy, and his emotions were saying this would make him happy, regardless of what his mouth was saying.

Still on my knees, I turned from the wall, took his hips, and put my mouth over the base of his cock. He stilled like he had a blaster to his head, or rather his crotch. I softened my grip and licked him slowly. I wanted to arouse him, not frighten him.

As I nuzzled him, his persistent voice with that elegant accent began to fail him at last. His series of protests sounded more and more like pleasure. He hardened, and I took him in my mouth and slid one hand between his legs to stroke his sac.

This was actually somewhat enjoyable. He tasted of clean skin and male lust. If I could show him that I knew how to satisfy his body, despite my age and rough looks, he might develop a taste for this pleasure, with me. That could be useful.

He was getting into it now, mouth open, panting, hands touching my shoulders, thighs turning out slightly. I took him deeper and sucked harder. My hand went further back and touched his opening. He twitched but didn't pull away. Risky. If he was unused to penetration, he might terminate our encounter. On the other hand, if he liked it, it would put him over the top better than oral sex alone.

I decided to gamble and pressed upward with one finger. He hissed, but I was quickly in past the second knuckle. He was dry so I didn't dare work him too much, just moved to the depth to reach his prostate. I eased in and curled my finger. A moment of gentle probing and he jerked, clamping around my finger and digging his nails into my shoulders. Success. I stroked that spot inside his body while sliding my tongue under the length of his erection, now fully down my throat.

He came with a gasp, and I tasted bitter. He pulsed four, five times, then his legs began to shake. I released him as he buckled onto the floor. He leaned forward to rest his head against my chest. I petted him and felt him breathing against my skin. His hair was silky under my hand.

It had gone better than I had expected.

Eventually he sat back on his heels and looked into my face, took a deep breath. "You didn't have to do that. You -" I kissed him, slowly, deeply, my tongue in his mouth, holding his jaw and the back of his head. I put everything I had into it, and he melted against me, stroking my arms, my torso.

Better and better. He was susceptible to a more gentle approach, as well as to blatant sex.

He finally pulled away, breathing hard, looking at me as if I were a puzzle to solve. I looked back mutely, trying to radiate dependency and attraction. His eyelashes were long and delicate. He had shadows under his eyes, the thin skin darkened and pinched. I wanted to run my fingers over his eyelids, touch the bone of the sockets, but my hands were torn and rough. Perhaps lips and tongue instead along the curve of his brow, over his temple, down to the curve of his ear --

He cleared his throat and said uncertainly, "We should get dressed. And have some dinner. You must be starving." I smiled at him faintly, and he beamed with joy. So he liked to see me smile. That was useful information.

Back out in the bay, he disappeared into a doorway and returned with clothes for each of us. The clothes fit me. Since he claimed he was looking for me, he must have brought along appropriate clothes. They were serviceable work clothes, comfortable. No owner's name or mark, however, which seemed odd. Perhaps where I had lived in my forgotten past, it wasn't the fashion for owners to distribute labeled clothing. Perhaps that explained why I didn't have an owner's brand or tattoo, either.

The kitchen was - surprise, surprise -- off the main cargo bay, opposite from the infirmary and the bath. My owner insisted that I start out with a simple broth, to see how my stomach reacted. The soup was delicious, and I had to pace myself to keep from gulping it. He shared a bit of his meal with me, and it was wonderful too. I ate only a small amount. My digestive system needed time to adjust.

At the end of the meal, he said, "I have to check the ship and our course settings. It's a long trip back, and I'd rather not have it be any longer due to any mistakes of mine. You can go to sleep, if you like."

I looked at him pleasantly. A long journey was just what I wanted. It got me further away from the pens while giving me time to pick my opportunity to escape.

"I wish you'd talk to me," he said quietly. I looked at my plate. I didn't want to speak, but he was distressed that I wouldn't. I needed to do something to head off any resentment. I thought of what I knew about him so far, and I decided to try the pathetic approach.

I slid off my chair, knelt on the floor, and placed my head on his knees.

It worked very well. He threw his arms around me, stroking my hair, my shoulders, saying half coherently, "It's going to be all right, everything will be all right," over and over.

He pulled me to my feet and led me back to the room he had brought my clothes from. It was a sleeping room with a large bed and storage closets. My owner said, "Sorry, this is the only bedroom. I converted the other one when I remodeled the infirmary. We'll work something out."

I'm sure we will, given our performance earlier, I thought.

He blushed for some reason -- he must have had the same thought -- then said, "Try to get some rest. There's sleep pants in the storage bins. I need to check our course settings. And please, I know I'm sounding repetitive, but please don't do anything to yourself or the ship. I could keep you unconscious for the duration, if I have to. But I'd rather not. So behave yourself." He exited.

My new clothes were soft, I could just sleep in them. No, he mentioned sleeping pants, he must want me to wear them. I opened several drawers before finding a pair that looked like they would fit. I removed my clothes, neatly folded them and put them away, and pulled on the sleep pants. I lifted the covers and climbed clumsily into bed. Soft bed, clean sheets. They smelled slightly of him.

I turned off the primary light. There was still an ambient that made the room brighter than the pitch black of the pens at night.

I fell asleep almost instantly.

I startled awake and was halfway out of bed before I realized what had frightened me. "I'm sorry," he whispered loudly, "it's just me. Didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep."

In the dim light I could see him rustling around on the other side of the bed. He dipped down out of sight, then a hand appeared and pulled a pillow over the side of the bed.

How odd. He was going to sleep on the floor.

I scooted across the bed and peeked over the edge at him, like two children playing a game. I could see his outline but not his expression in the dim light.

He said, "I didn't know if it was a good idea to sleep next to you, I thought it might disturb you. I'm quite comfortable down here."

Ridiculous, I thought. If anyone sleeps on the floor, it should be the slave, not the owner.

I rolled out of bed, picked him up - he yelped - and laid him down on the sheets. Then I lay down on the floor.

That upset him. He leaned over and grabbed my arm, pulling. "No, no, no, you're up here, we'll both sleep in the bed. Both of us. I'd like that. Come on, get up here."

I slid back under the covers, having already missed their warmth in just a few seconds on the floor. I was already becoming accustomed to creature comforts on this ship, meager as they might seem to a regular person. To a free person.

The dreams were bad.

I was back in the pens. The guards were pulling people out of their cells to be terminated. They came for the person across from me, an older woman with unfocused eyes who had the loveliest voice when she sang. She screamed, looking at me desperately as they dragged her away. I pulled at the bars of my cage, must get out get out get out--

I jolted awake, sweating and shaking. I saw my young owner's eyes glittering in the dim light. He was watching me with what might have been compassion, or perhaps just attentiveness. I rolled over, turned my back towards him.

The second time the dreams woke me, my young owner moved close, put his cheek on my shoulder and his arm on me. I slept more lightly with him pressed against me, but at least I didn't dream of the pens again. No one had ever slept with me there, so the sensation must have reassured my body that I was indeed somewhere else.

When I woke again, it seemed some hours later. My owner dozing on his back. He had tossed his cover away. I watched his bare chest rise and fall as he breathed. The crotch of his pants jutted upwards. He was aroused in his sleep.

This was an opportunity to continue what we'd begun earlier. He'd be more malleable when he was well fucked. I clasped his erection gently.

He grunted lazily, in that in-between place between sleeping and waking. I fondled his organ through the cloth of his pants.

"Most people touch someone's shoulder when they're trying to wake them up." He was looking at me. I pumped his cock slowly.

"But I know you like to do things your own way," he continued.

Suddenly he seized my wrist and sat up nose-to-nose with me, challenging. "You don't have to do this, you know. This isn't why you're here, it's not why I rescued you."

Of course not. If he had wanted a bedslave, I wouldn't have been at the top of the list. Still, now that I'm here, perhaps he can be persuaded that the sex is a fringe benefit.

I leaned in and kissed him, open-mouthed. He responded for a moment, then pulled back and murmured, "I guess I should be grateful that you're showing interest in anything, rather than being unresponsive or comatose, as they said you might be."

He did like to talk. I mouthed a trail along his jawline as he continued, "Since this seems to please you, I'm willing, but only so long as it pleases you." His voice got huskier. "I want to help you..." He tilted his head back as I moved down his throat, nipping and tonguing. "Ah, you're good at that."

When I reached his collarbone, he pushed me away. "No, let me, you did the work last time. I was so shocked I didn't even try to return the favor." He kept pushing until I was lying half flat, half on my side. He leaned over me, his mouth just brushing mine. "Let me please you, tell me how to please you." He tongued me sweetly, lightly, no forcing, then his kisses drifted across my beard, my brow. His hand caressed my hair, my throat, then trailed downward to my chest.

I lay still. His hands felt achingly, shockingly good. My skin had been my armor in the pens, a shell the guards could abuse. Now that shell seemed to be cracking open. I felt a strange sensation in my groin. My genitals were stirring. It felt odd, it had been so long.

He nuzzled my chest as his hand wandered across my torso, skimming past my crotch, moving behind to trace the curve of my ass and grasp my thigh. To show him I was willing, I rolled my hips forward and opened my legs.

He made a mild negative sound. "No, we won't do that right now. Tell me, did they force you in the pens?"

I don't know why he keeps asking questions, when I've made it clear I won't answer.

"You can tell me. You don't have to speak. Just nod."

He's asked me twice, I'd better comply. I nodded once.

"I know. I thought as much. I'm so sorry. That won't happen to you again."

We were getting sidetracked. Thinking of me being used by others was distressing him, not arousing him. I shifted positions and reached out to touch his flank.

We lay side by side, stroking, touching everywhere we could reach. He slid one leg over mine, and I slipped a hand past the waistband of his pants. At the joint of his hip I paused, then moved backwards, my fingers ghosting over his buttock and down into the cleft of his ass.

He whispered, "You touched me there before. Do you like that? Do you want to take me like that?"

In reply, I found his hole with my finger and pushed lightly into the pucker. His hips began to undulate, and I made slow rotations with my finger to match his movement. He clearly wanted it.

"Yes," he hissed. "We can do that."

I felt relieved that it would be him getting penetrated, not me.

My next thought was that this act would actually be more difficult for me than the alternative. To ride him and make him enjoy it would require me to be hard enough to penetrate him and able to stay in control of myself, so that I could focus on his learning his needs, his pacing. I'd have to be more involved than if I just lay there and got taken myself.

I removed my hand from his ass and held it up in front of his eyes, rubbing fingers and thumb together suggestively. He understood. "Yes, I have something we can use. Just a second." He sat up and rose from the bed, pulled off his pants, and opened a drawer in the wall, pawing its contents. I removed my pants as I looked at his naked back. He was an attractive man, well proportioned, muscled without being bulky. It wouldn't be unpleasant to touch him, be inside him.

He returned with a jar. He twisted it open and dipped his fingers in. "Let's see if this works." He took my penis in his greased hand, a long slow glide from head to root and back. Sensory overload. My cock stiffened as he pumped. I would be able to penetrate him.

I needed to get him ready. I wet my fingers in the lotion. He rolled flat on his stomach obligingly when I touched his ass. I smeared the lotion along the length of his cleft before homing in.

"I trust you, just go slow," he said. "I haven't done this very much."

I gave him the tip of my finger as I had before. He took it readily enough. I began to screw my finger into his body, every rotation getting me deeper into him. He was tight but he took it easily. I avoided touching his prostate intentionally at this point. That had gotten him off quickly before, and it would be better for him if he was still highly aroused when I gave him my cock, he'd tolerate the penetration more easily.

I tried two fingers. That wasn't as easy. The muscles in his back knotted as I scissored my fingers, loosening his sphincter. I kept at it, each time going a little further, then backing off, then pressing in again.

Three fingers and we went through the same process again - his muscles clenching in rebellion against the invasion into the core of his body, followed by a slow easing. Despite his discomfort, he was becoming very aroused. The heat was rising from his skin like invisible smoke. I could smell his sweat. He began arch his spine and push back against my hand. I held it steady and let him move against it, controlling his own penetration.

He turned his head, looking at me. "I'm as ready as I'm going to get," he gasped, "so go ahead. Do it."

He wasn't as out of control I'd like for him to be, but apparently we were finished with foreplay. I moved in between his legs, positioned myself against his opening. He rolled his head back and moaned, "Yes, please do it, now, give it to me, please -"

That was promising. I shifted my hips forward, sliding the tip of my cock into him, and his sphincter clamped down. I almost lost my presence of mind. The pressure was intense and it felt very, very good. I could sense his emotions clearly now, could feel his shock and his excitement.

For a moment neither of us could move, then we both did simultaneously, shifting together a little more. His hole was well greased, and I moved into him smoothly. I was more inside of him than out at this point. The hell with it, I thought, and eased my last fraction into him. I wanted him full and stretched. I could feel his tight ring around the base of my cock, the curve of his butt tucked into my pelvis.

He turned his head sideways against the sheets and said breathlessly, "Is it good for you? Do you like it? I can't see you like this."

If he was still coherent at this point, my performance was sadly lacking. I began to thrust gently, just a bit. He seemed very tight. I didn't want to hurt him.

He said in a choked voice, "Ah, that's, that's, it's all right, I can take more--"

I lowered my torso against his back, resting my weight on him, ran my hands down his arms and gripped his wrists. I'm larger than he, I covered him completely. He turned his head under my chin, trying to make eye contact, murmuring "Please, is it good, tell me, I want it to be good for you -"

I put my mouth to his ear and said, "Hush."

He froze in shocked silence.

I whispered, "Yes, it's good."

He cried out loudly and bucked up under me, lifting us both off the bed. Strong little bastard. "Yes yes, master, please, more more harder-"he babbled.

He said master again, as I thought he had earlier, when he'd knocked himself silly. I had no idea what it meant to him. I'd been told that some owners had their little fantasies with their bedslaves. Perhaps this one liked to play at role reversal. Fine by me.

"Easy," I said in his ear. "You're too tight to take a hard fuck."

He moaned and ground his butt back into my hips, my cock shifting its angle inside of him as he moved. "Your ass is so sweet," I said in his ear, "come for me now, come, I want you to come -"

That did it. He shouted and surged up against me. I gripped his wrists and pinned him with my weight, moving my hips more urgently, yet still careful not to ride him too hard. He snapped his head back, almost cracking my nose with his skull, and gave a long gasping shriek. I felt his whole body clenching in pulses with his orgasm. I let him finish then thrust deep several times and came, emptying myself into him.

We lay there unmoving, dripping sweat and ejaculate onto the sheets. I pulled out of him. I didn't see any blood in the faint light, which was a relief. I rolled myself onto my side next to him.

He turned his face close to mine, his hair spiky with perspiration, and I expected him to start yet another conversation. But I was wrong. "Thank you," he said simply, and closed his eyes. I reached down and pulled the sheet up over both of us.

I fell back into sleep as into deep water.

I dreamed of the pens again, but this time my owner was there, spread-eagled on the floor of my cage, screaming encouragement as I rode him in that frustrating dream fuck where you are aroused but can't quite get to the final stage of orgasm.

When I woke, I felt as if I'd slept for a long time. I was alone. His side of the bed was cool. The wrinkled sheets were evidence to the night's events. So we had fucked, I hadn't only dreamed of it.

I reached for the door, expecting it to be locked.

The door was open.

As I walked to the fresher, his voice came over the intercom. "Oh, you're up. I'm making something to eat. You're welcome to join me in the mess if you like."

He got his point across without explicitly saying it. I was being watched.

I showered, again enjoying the luxury of cleanliness. I dressed and went in search of him.

Entering the small common area, I saw my owner mixing something in a pan over the heating element. "Hello," he said, waving a spatula.

I went to him and knelt, burying my face in his thigh. Humility had worked well yesterday.

He put his free arm around my shoulders and kissed the top of my head. "Good morning to you too, but you shouldn't kneel like that. It's too formal and it's hard on the knees, as we both know. Please get up and help yourself to anything that looks good. There's hot and cold foods, dried fruit, various things. Tea's brewing. I'm making a scramble, enough for us both if you want some, but don't feel obligated. Culinary options are distinctly limited, but I'm afraid we can't stop for groceries right now. We need to keep moving to get out of this zone. I'll feel better once we're nearer the core."

I helped myself to a few items and accepted his offer of half the scramble with a nod. We sat down at the tiny table. I ate slowly, savoring everything. The flavors and textures were exotic after months of bland slop. The leathery sweetness of the dried fruit, the savory taste of the scramble, all seemed very sensual. Perhaps it was an aftereffect of the sex.

I felt self-conscious eating with utensils. At least I still remembered how to use them. Some of the mindwiped could only eat with their bare hands.

He watched me eating, and said, "You know, on one of my stops on my way here, I came across one of the most amazing food markets I've ever seen. It was on particularly rich agricultural world, and --"

He chattered on. He was an excellent storyteller, his whole body engaged in visually conjuring the scene. I paid polite attention, smiled at the correct times, but in truth his animation was as entertaining as the story itself. He had an open, engaging face.

He seemed likeable enough, for an owner.

But I could never forget who he was, and who I was. An open and honest relationship between an owner and a slave was impossible.

The story and breakfast finished. We sat in companionable silence, sipping tea. I was contented as a beast in the sun. It was mesmerizing to sit peacefully in a warm place with a full stomach. I could stay like this for hours.

"There's something I'd like to do, if you don't mind," he said suddenly, with purpose.

That sounded ominous. My mood snapped, but I had resolved to be agreeable. I took a sip of tea and prepared myself to acquiesce.

"I'd like to trim your beard." He smiled, as if knowing I had steeled myself for something dire. "You used to wear it in a certain style. It would make you look more like your old self. It would make me feel better, at least. I can't help with your mindblock, but I can cut hair, more or less."

Was that all? He could shave me bald if he liked. A slave's appearance belonged to his owner. I shrugged.

"All right then." He stood and began clearing the table. No, I should do that. I jumped up and took the dishes from his hands, but he seemed to think I was helping him rather than offering to take over the manual work. Between the two of us, the dishes were quickly scrubbed and put away.

"Hold on," he said, "Let me get some things," and he disappeared out the door.

I waited, not sure whether to stand or sit. Sitting without being specifically instructed to do so could be a sign of disrespect.

My owner returned with his hands full of brushes, combs and bottles, with a towel over his shoulder. He turned one chair sideways to the small table. "Take a seat," he offered, and I obeyed. He draped the towel around me, squeezed shaving gel into his palm and began to work it into my bristles.

"I confess I don't have a cosmetology license," he said cheerfully. "But I'm cheap and you don't have to tip." He winked.

He picked up a small shaver. It buzzed against my cheekbone.

He seemed to have an idea of what he wanted to do, since he worked some areas carefully and avoided others. He continued to chatter. "This is harder to do on someone else. Everything is in reverse."

Eventually he put down the shaver and wiped my face with the towel. "Better," he said, and picked up scissors and snipped.

At last he handed me a small mirror. "Take a look."

My reflection looked much better groomed than it had earlier this morning in the fresher mirror. He had left a mustache and a ribbon of beard along the length of my jaw, but my cheekbones were smooth. The style had a deliberateness to it, and it seemed overly vain for a lower-class slave. Still, I would have worn the hairstyle that my owners preferred, not one of my own choosing, so they must have had their reasons. I handed back the mirror and briefly ducked my head in thanks.

He grinned, happy that I communicated, even if not in words. "Why don't you stay there and we'll work on your hair next," he suggested. "It's clean enough but has a lot of tangles, not that that's a surprise. From what I saw of the pens, personal grooming didn't seem to be a popular concept among the guards, much less the occupants."

I remembered the monthly cleanings of cells and slaves by guards with a high- pressure hose. Bathing meant stripping and rubbing oneself down in the blast or in the water running across the floor. They always sprayed you with an insecticide afterwards to eliminate vermin, and the chemicals left skin coated and itching.

My face must have showed the turn of my thoughts, because he said, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned the pens."

He moved behind me, gently fanned out my hair and took hold of one handful against my scalp to prevent pulling. I could feel the picking of the comb as he worked at the knots.

I faded out.

I was dozing, or daydreaming. I saw images which didn't make sense to me, places and people I didn't recognize. My young owner was in some of the scenes. Sometimes he had a strange hairstyle himself, hair cropped quite short except for a long ropelike braid behind one ear. The images were often chaotic. As the scenes flashed by, I felt like I was present as an invisible observer, apart from the action.

Then one of the people in my dream looked directly at me. It was a terrifying face, black and red and horned. My dream demon lunged at me, scowl looming close. I felt a blow to my upper chest.

I jerked. My owner patted my shoulder and went back to combing my hair.

The blow had felt real. My chest still tingled. I pulled open the loose neck of my tunic to look. I didn't remember if I had a mark there or not. When you're covered with fresh bruises, as I usually was, you're more interested in taking care of new wounds than looking for old ones.

There was a faint roundish mark on my upper left chest. The scarring was very light but I could feel it with my fingertips. Not the mark of a demon, of course, that was ridiculous - more likely the result of an industrial or construction accident where I took a metal bar or something similar in the chest.

Regardless of the cause, it must have been a near-fatal wound. A puncture in that location would break ribs, pierce the lung. But why someone would bother to heal a low-level slave who had such a serious injury? The cost of the treatment would be more than the cost of the slave. So I must have been more valuable in my past than I was now. Worth the cost of patching up. I wondered what had happened for me to go from being valuable to being a mindwiped menial.

My master might know. He said he knew me from before, from that time I had forgotten.

I was tired of having no past. I had already broken my vow of silence last night, by talking to him when we coupled.

"Master, how did I come by this mark?" I asked.

His hands stopped combing my hair. "Please don't call me that. It's... inappropriate." His voice sounded strained.

"I'm sorry..." I grasped for something to call him and settled on, "...sir." Just my luck that when I finally decided to speak, I offended him with my first sentence.

He sighed and said, "I wish I could tell you. I really do. But they advised me not to. If you integrate the different memory sets, the slave imprint could contaminate the original substrate. You could have lasting mental damage. If nothing interferes, then things should be fine for the short time it'll take us to get back. That's why I can't remove the collars either. You've stabilized on the current mix of physical and neurological influences, nasty as they are, and I don't dare risk tampering with them and triggering a collapse of the whole construct."

I didn't fully understand what he was saying, other than the fact that he wouldn't tell me what I wanted to know.

He continued, "I know it's frustrating, and you have every right to be angry that I'm withholding something from you, something that belongs more to you than to me - your past. But all I can say it that it's for the best. It won't be much longer. We'll arrive back home in several tendays. The healers can help you then."

I gave it one last try. "Is there anything you can tell me, sir?" Pleading. Humble.

"Well..." I could sense his emotional struggle. "What happened to you - the mindwipe -was a mistake. You weren't supposed to be there in the pens. I've been looking for you for some time. I'm very glad to have found you."

I could use as much information as he could be coaxed into giving. "How did we know each other, sir?"

"Ah...we used to work together. I learned a lot from you. Then there was a serious situation, where you got that injury, and I was promoted right afterwards. There was another person you wanted to train, but then everyone decided it was best for him to be assigned to someone else. You were traveling, investigating something, when you disappeared. I was notified, and I've been searching for you ever since. When we get back, they'll probably be able to reverse the mindwipe with no lasting ill effects. And that's all I can say. I probably shouldn't have told you that much."

My owner continued to comb my hair. I weighed what he had said. I knew better than to believe it at face value. Owners were very selective about what they told slaves. Misinformation was a method of control. Yet lies are best when mixed with truths. Some of his statements were likely to be true. We probably had worked together, and I had been valuable, a highly-trained slave of some kind, entrusted with training others, including such talented freeborns as my owner. Too bad I didn't have the slightest memory of it now. Those skills could have been useful.

However, his other statements were partial or total fictions. Mindwipes didn't happen by accident, and it made no sense to mindwipe a high-skill slave; it destroyed their value. There must have been some reason behind what was done to me. Perhaps I had erred in some way. I tended to be obstinate and willful, not attractive qualities in a slave. And a mindwipe could not be reversed. I wasn't sure why he would lie about that. Perhaps from misplaced kindness, or to keep me happy and hopeful.

My owner had leaned close to the back of my chair and put his arm around my chest. "Don't worry," he said close over my shoulder. "You recovered completely from that previous injury. And you'll recover from this one. Just be patient a little longer."

His arm was a pleasant weight across my chest. He had placed his hand directly over where the mysterious scar was hidden under my tunic. I should have responded to his gesture of affection, but I didn't. His proximity was disturbing. After months of deprivation, I had been exposed to one sensory experience after another - bathing, eating, sex. Casual acts seemed overwhelming. I felt unbalanced, vulnerable. I didn't like it.

He pulled away and resumed combing my hair.

Some time later - I had dozed off again - I heard him stretching, his joints popping. "All done," he said. "And I hope I never have to do that again. That's a wonderful drill for dexterity and patience. I should recommend it to -" and he stopped.

After a moment, he resumed, "Time may hang heavy on you these few tendays. There's not much to do on this ship. Eat and sleep whenever you feel like it. I'll set up a datapad for you -- I can't let you read anything, but you can play the graphical games. I'll exercise and meditate on occasion. Whatever I'm doing, you're welcome to join me, or be by yourself. The only thing I ask is that you don't damage the ship, yourself, or me. If you do, I'll have to confine you. Please don't make me do that."

I nodded to indicate that I understood.

"Good," he said. "Then let's find a datapad."

We went to the bridge, where he configured a datapad and showed me how to use it, which did seem familiar. I stayed there quietly for a while, flipping between the various games, none of which held my attention for long. I had too many other things on my mind.

When I left the room, taking the datapad with me, he glanced up and gave me an absent-minded smile, then went back to his work.

Knowing that he was probably watching me via the onboard sensors, I roamed through each room on the ship, taking careful note of everything I saw. I opened cabinets, examined contents. There were laser scalpels in the infirmary, and knifes in the kitchen, either of which would be useful for cutting out the implant. There were changes of clothes, plenty of foodstuffs. No weapon or transportation device. Nothing that was of obvious value for pawning. Many of the cabinets and shipping containers were locked. He had secured the ship well.

After hours of thinking through resources and escape plans, I felt exhausted. I went back to the bedroom and fell asleep.

When I woke, his side of the bed hadn't been slept in, as far as I could tell. I could have been asleep for a few hours or a few days. I had no sense of the passage of time.

When I stepped from the bedroom into the cargo bay, I got a shock. My young owner hurtled by, missing me by a handbreadth.

He landed lightly on his feet, looking contrite. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you. I told you that I like to exercise sometimes. Literally bounce off the walls, rather than just figuratively. Just ignore me, I'll stop eventually." He turned and leaped away.

I moved to an out-of-the-way wall and sat down to watch.

I knew he was fit - his muscle tone was obvious. Watching his performance, it was clear he was an amazing athlete. He must have gone on for at least two hours. He was following some kind of system. His movements were patterned, as if he were dancing. Some of the dances were slow, with an emphasis on balance and control. Others were fast and involved jumps and leaps, like the one I had interrupted.

I kept watching. At first I attended to the motions and the patterns. Later I found myself staring at his body. I hadn't paid overmuch attention to the aesthetics of his appearance before. When we coupled I had been focused on sexually satisfying him, to gain influence over him. His body had just been a tool to that end. Watching him, I realized that the young master had a grace and power that was truly beautiful. He had stripped down to undershorts, his skin bare and dripping with sweat, his muscles visible in the harsh light. He seemed unaware of me, his expression turned inwards. It felt as if I were spying on him in some private activity, like prayer, or masturbation. I remembered him in the shower, his skin flushed from the hot water and his own blood rush, and then in the bed, lying beneath me, that fine body shuddering. I got hard, enjoying the sight of his near-naked body and the feel of my own arousal.

He completed his workout. He knelt quietly for some time in the center of the room, his profile to me, eyes closed, hands upturned on his thighs.

I shifted my back against the wall, and he turned towards me and broke into a brilliant smile. He rose, approached and crouched in front of me with a teasing expression. "Any feedback? Flaws? Obvious weaknesses? You could always find something."

I met his eyes briefly, then glanced down, submissive. He followed my eyes down. My arousal was visible through the crotch of my leggings.

He placed his hands on my knees. I looked back at his face. His pupils were dilated. He looked like an expensive body slave, skin oiled and mind spiced. So that young male body was as susceptible to sex as I had hoped. Unfortunately it seemed that my old male body was equally susceptible. I wanted him badly, for pleasure, not just for manipulation. I must be going insane.

He stood and peeled the damp shorts down his legs, freeing his erection. He was unabashed. So must the gods appear in their lust, beautiful and unashamed.

"How do you want me?" he asked, that cultured voice dropping lower.

I had taken him before, now it was his turn. I moved to roll over onto my hands and knees. His hand stopped me.

"No, let's not do that. You don't need to offer just to please me." I hesitated, looking at him, wondering what he would like.

"Can we do what we did before?" he asked. "I like it -- it felt good."

I was very willing to take him again, but he must be sore. Best to have him on top, then, let him drive so he could control the depth and speed.

I grasped his shoulders and pulled him towards me, into my lap, straddling me. He grinned as he reached down to unfasten my leggings and free my cock. We would need lubricant. I glanced towards the bedroom.

As if he read my mind, he murmured, "I should still be greased enough from before. I couldn't bring myself to clean up."

Well, well, well. He was very agreeably going along with my plan of fucking him into acquiescence. Now if I could just keep from getting overly distracted myself.

As I ran my hands down the curve of his back, he canted his torso, positioned my penis at the opening of his body and bore down.

He stopped with a wince. I gave him a questioning look. "I'll be all right," he said. "I told you I don't do this much."

"Why not? You seem to like it well enough," I said, surprising myself.

He smiled, happy that I was speaking. "The right opportunity hadn't come along yet."

"I know how that can be," I said, stroking him from shoulder to hip and leaning in to lick his lips.

He opened his mouth to me, and we plunged our tongues into each other. I instantly wanted to be inside him, all the way. I tightened my grip on his back, digging my fingers into the muscles along his spine. I refrained from pulling him down and impaling him. He needed to set his own pace, as his arousal built and he could take more bulk with less strain.

I ran my hands over all of him that I could reach -- his back, the spread cheeks of his ass, his bent legs, the arches of his feet, the length of his arms, his chest, his belly. His sweat was flowing again, warm and slick. I mouthed drips of perspiration from his temple, from that spot in front of his ear, then down his neck. I licked the hollow of his throat.

In this light and position, I could see him clearly, as I hadn't been able to during our previous encounters. His skin was glowing, the occasional scar puckering smooth flesh. I thought of him injured, blood on that perfect skin, and got an erotic panicky thrill. If our positions were reversed, if I were the master, or were we equals, I could use him roughly -- mark him, inflict bruises, sensitize his body in preparation for sex. Stimulate that well-trained body. He would enjoy it -- he clearly liked pushing himself physically.

He eased down onto me, shifting his weight, and it was glorious. Knowing that his passage was still sensitive from the previous penetration made the thought of filling him that much more arousing. The lube that remained was sufficient to easy my entry, but meager enough that I could feel the friction.

He took my whole length, and I felt his butt touch my thighs. Perversely I held still. Let him make the effort, show how much he wanted it.

He rubbed his ass against me, working my cock into the right position inside him. He grumbled in frustration as he wriggled. He caught me looking and said with a grin, "Having fun, watching me struggle?"

"Only because you'll appreciate the outcome all the more," I said.

"Doesn't that sound familiar," he grunted.

He leaned back, angling my cock firmly against his prostate. He moaned happily and rolled his hips. I gripped his ass, massaging, feeling the big muscles squeeze as he tightened his grip on my cock.

I was curious to see how long he would last, if he could resist the urge to rush to the finish. He lasted longer than I expected. He held still when he got too close, resumed his motion when he regained control. I was barely restraining myself. Face-to-face, belly to belly, I could see his expression, watch his swollen cock twitch.

In the midst of his rhythm, he locked gazes and said throatily, "Please talk to me. I love your voice."

I hesitated. I had no idea what he expected.

I murmured, "What do you want me to say?" I just stopped myself from adding "master."

His eyes were huge, glassy. "Whatever you want to say."

Gods, what now? Who knew what his fantasies were, what he wanted to hear? What did I have to say that would move him?

My thought process lost coherence. I said stupidly, "You're beautiful."

"So are you," he said, grinding.

"You have strange tastes," I said. "Fortunately for me."

"I admit the circumstances are odd. But someone has told me many times to trust -- my instincts." He leaned in and kissed me, chuckling.

I was getting mental flashes, images of him, of us. Fantasies? Memories? Side effect of the mindwipe?

"Tell me," he said. "Tell me what you want."

It was too late now to hold back. I had committed to this course, best to throw myself in completely.

I clamped my hands on him and whispered, "You, I want you, I want you --"

He jolted, crying out. He hit his peak, crested, face twisted in climax, cock dripping his cream down the shaft and into the hair at the root. My whole body spasmed as I came. The energy in my knotted muscles became fluid and rushed into my pelvis and out through my cock and into his body. I felt that river pouring up his spine, flooding his skull with light and heat. He cried out again as he felt me surge into him, flesh suffused with lust --

Then it was over.

I became aware of us huddled together, curled around each other. Slowly, like injured creatures, we moved limbs and separated. His face was slack, his eyes unfocused. And all I could think of was that I wanted to do him again, as soon as possible. Try another position, and another. On his back, his thighs to his chest. Over the table. Against the wall. I wanted to experience him in every way possible.

My plan of seduction seemed to be working too well. On me, at least.

The days settled into a pattern. We slept when we were tired, sometimes together and sometimes apart. We ate when hungry, sometimes together and sometimes apart. We exercised. He did his strange routine of movements, and I did simple calisthenics and stretches. We pondered - I about escape, him about gods know what.

Eventually one of us would go to find the other and initiate sex. Or rather, I would initiate sex. He was always receptive, often invited it with a look or a provocative gesture, but never made the first move. I wondered why he was so passive at first then so passionate later, but people's sexual turn-ons are mysterious.

We were creative. In the incidents in the bridge alone, I turned him face down and fucked him, had him suck me, had him masturbate while I watched. And those were only the times when he never left his chair.

After several days, I realized that I actually wanted him to penetrate me. It took several more days before he finally obliged. His rejections of my obvious body-language invitations became annoying. I was sure he would enjoy it, if I could just get him to try it.

I finally had to speak to win him over.

We were lying in bed, aroused but not to the point of desperation. I was fondling him, rolling his foreskin back and forth. I looked into his handsome face, relaxed in pleasure, and said, "I want this."

"You have it well in hand, last time I noticed," he grinned. He always liked it when I talked.

"I want you inside me."

He hesitated. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"Why not?" I asked. "You seem to enjoy it when I penetrate you."

His pupils were wide and dark. "It's incredible. I've never felt anything that good. But I want you that way."

"I want you that way too. Would you deny me that pleasure?"

"No, but..."

"I was raped and that repulses you."

He touched my cheek. "Nothing about you repulses me. You were abused. I regret it, more than you can imagine, but it doesn't change how I feel about you."

I persisted, "It was in the past. Leave it there. When you refuse to do this one act with me, you bring the past into the present. Don't give it that power, please. Do this for me." I rolled onto my stomach and bent one knee.

He looked determined, unsmiling. "Promise me," he said intently, "promise me that you'll tell me if you change your mind. Any time, I can stop. We'll go slow."

I laughed at his fierce expression. "Relax, it's a sex act, not a test. You won't hurt me. Try to enjoy yourself."

Suddenly he had tears in his eyes. I frowned in concern. "No, it's all right," he said. "It's just that sometimes, you seem like your old self. You say something a certain way, or have a certain expression, then it's gone, and your slave face comes back. I wish I could help you more, I wish that this was, that you were..."

"You are helping me," I said, playing along. I dipped my fingers in the lotion, then reached my hand back and touched myself. He watched, swallowed, glancing from my face to my ass and back.

I slid two fingers inside my hole, stretching myself, spreading the lube deeper. I closed my eyes and pleasured myself. I could hear his breathing quicken.

After a few enjoyable minutes of this, I blinked my eyes open. He was ready, face and chest flushed, erection full. Still he didn't move. I reached over and fisted his cock. "Now?" I asked him.

He nodded sharply and scrambled on top of me, clumsy compared to his usual grace. I had a twinge of doubt. If he were rough, it would hurt. Too late now - I had to pretend to like it, no matter what happened.

I felt him balancing himself, knees between mine, pushing my legs apart, hands on my hips, my waist. He touched my entrance with a finger, probed slowly. Already loosened, I let him in easily. His hand began to move with more confidence. I braced my forearms and arched my back. His finger slid out of me, then I felt his blunt tip touching me.

He inserted himself slightly. I pulled my knees forward and pushed my ass up and back against him. He held still as his cock entered me. His erection felt marvelous as I took it in. Long, thick, solid. He moaned as I tightened against the stretch. But still he didn't move.

"More," I said. Nothing happened. He was more active in his sleep.

"Move, damn it," I said desperately. "Give me this, fuck me, damn it!"

Something must have gotten through because he clawed my hips and started to thrust carefully. I concentrated on relaxing so I could take him fully. I wanted him as deep as he could go. I wanted him passionate, hungry, urgent.

"Are you all right?" his voice came from behind me.

"No, I'm being ridden too gently for my taste," I snapped. "Come on, get with it!"

He laughed and lay his body down over mine, wrapping his arms around me, his chuckles vibrating through our joined bodies. "All right, all right," he gasped, "hold on -"

He thrust harder, deeper, moving more freely now, abandoning caution, sound of flesh on flesh. I spread my knees wider and he growled, humping against me, driving strongly, and I gasped encouragement -

After we finished, he cuddled, making sounds in between purring and grunting. He looked very pleased with himself. I knew the feeling. Being in control of your lover's pleasure was a rush on top of the orgasm.

Lovers. I was thinking of us as lovers, rather than as master and slave. I was in a very dangerous place. But I didn't want it to stop.

I had given up any illusion that the sex was merely a manipulation of him by me. I wanted it for its own sake, seized it literally with both hands. I was demanding of him, and he seemed to like it. He was more hesitant to dominate in return, but my emphatic pleasure reassured him, and he unleashed more of himself and his strength each time we coupled.

I often thought about this -- why I was so needy, so effected. In between sexual bouts, when he was flying the ship or repairing various equipment, there was plenty of time to think.

I could have blamed my response on the sex alone. But I knew better. I remembered that I had had a lover before.

At the factory to which I had been sold, there was another slave who had developed an interest in me. He was a former pleasure slave, old enough for his master to want to replace him, but still beloved enough that he wasn't sold to a brothel, but to the factory, which belonged to an acquaintance of his owner.

When this man asked me into his bed, I had refused, and he had looked surprised and then sad. Later I thought, what was the harm? He wanted me, and how often did I have the power to make another person happy? I went to him and said yes. He was touchingly delighted. Having no memory of earlier relationships, I had wondered how I would perform sexually, but my body remembered what my mind did not, and my new friend was generous in helping me where I faltered.

For those few months I almost resigned myself to a life as a slave. The work was tedious but not particularly dangerous. The overseers were paragons of justice compared to the guards at the pens. Food was plentiful. The barracks were warm. I had a lover. Things didn't get much better for a slave.

When they took him away, I fought and was beaten for my interference. Apparently the factory owner had waited a time for my friend's owner to forget him, then sold him to a whorehouse. A trained pleasure slave, even one past his youth, was too valuable to waste as a factory menial.

That loss shattered my complacency. I promised myself that I would escape or die trying.

When my opportunity came, I sacrificed it by damaging the factory, rather than slinking off undetected. Instead of becoming a runaway hiding in the city slums, I ended up back in the pens with my ribs broken. But I had no regrets. In the uproar that day, I saw several other slaves make their escape. Those few got their chance at freedom.

So based on that short sexual relationship, I knew that it wasn't the sex alone that was coloring my response to my young master. I sensed there was something else, something that drew me to him at an emotional, instinctual level. I felt a hunger to be in his presence, to watch him, interact with him, touch him. It seemed that there was something I should tell him, but I had no idea what. It obsessed me.

The sex helped to relieve the obsession. I craved sex with him. It stirred me up and calmed me down. Sometimes I had bizarre fantasies of extreme behaviors, bondage and erotic violence that occasionally expressed themselves in our more explosive encounters. He enjoyed it all. I wondered if this was his usual taste in sex, or if it was mine, or if it was it something that had flowered between us, dark passions seeing their reflection in another and breaking out into the light.

He still called me master in his moments of climax, and so I imagined him occasionally as a slave. He would not have been a menial, not with those looks and that body. A pleasure slave, and an expensive one, indulged and pampered, with his owner's tattoo on his chest and hip, piercings through his tongue and cock, rings through his nipples. When I mentioned this, Ben laughed and asked me how I knew about such things. I told him, very briefly, of my previous lover. For once my talkative owner was silent, but there was kindness in his eyes.

The days passed. Time felt as if it had stopped. The star trails always looked the same. We were outside the constraints of the universe. I found myself thinking that I had died or was hallucinating while still in the pens. The only evidence against that was the nature of my current existence. I didn't think I was fanciful enough to invent something that was this unlikely.

Then one day the pattern changed.

"I'm afraid we have to make an unscheduled stop," my owner said over our meal. "This ship isn't the ideal choice for traveling this distance. I've been nursing the equipment along, but my luck ran out yesterday. There's a transit hub nearby. I'll get what we need and we'll be on our way." He looked at me knowingly. "Don't get any clever ideas. You'll stay on board. This station isn't a big tourist attraction anyway."

I focused on my food.

"We'll be arriving within the hour. You're welcome to join me up front. I know I'll be glad to see something other than those damned star trails for a change."

He had planned it this way, giving me almost no advance notice. That was all right. I had been thinking about escape since we boarded. Whatever the odds, I would make the attempt.

I followed him onto the bridge and watched as we came out of hyperspace. We were inbound towards a large station, a looming hulk in the bright light of a binary star.

"There's a mining operation in the asteroids here," Ben said. "And there's a reasonable amount of other traffic passing through. No slavers here however. The mining corporation must find free labor to be more cost effective than slaves," he said ironically. "No up-front investment, no responsibility for food or housing."

Better and better. No slave market meant there wouldn't be slaver kidnappers looking to pounce on anyone who was alone. As I would be.

Our ship was directed to a small landing dock and settled down with a thump. My owner bustled about, opening several storage units with his handprint. He equipped himself with both a blaster, which he displayed prominently on his hip, and another item, a short tubular device, which he tucked away out of sight.

He seized my elbow in a tight grip. "I'm not going to sedate you, or restrain you. But I am going to lock you in the ship. I'll be gone for only a short time. Wait for me. Don't do anything stupid." He grinned. "I'll get some fresh food. Or different food, anyway. I'll cook when I get back." He tweaked his eyebrow. "You can thank me later, if you think I deserve it."

He lowered the ramp, exited, closed it behind him. I watched from the bridge as he exited the dock.

I quickly filled a bag with food, equipment, and such small items as might be useful to sell or trade, particularly the few medical supplies that I could access in the infirmary. Medical supplies were always in demand, at some price. I took one laser scalpel for my own use, along with a mirror. It was the small mirror that he had used to show me my face after he shaved me. I dismissed that memory.

He had locked the ramp and had almost certainly set alarms. I hadn't seen him take the control bar that activated my pain collar and implant. When we left the pens, I remembered the guard telling him that the proximity limit for autodestruct was deactivated. I hadn't seen him activate it, but I couldn't be certain that he hadn't done so. I would have to remove the implant. Assuming I managed to get out of the ship.

I went to the emergency hatch tunnel, where a short ladder led to hatches topside and bottomside. This was the only other possible exit from the ship. He knew that, of course, and would have taken precautions. But I had a few tricks he didn't know about. Although my memory was scrubbed, I was able to piece together certain things. When confronted with a specific problem, my intuition was very strong. That was how I had been able to destroy the factory in my previous escape attempt. Whether it was inspiration or memories resurfacing, it had worked. I was hoping the same thing would happen now.

I opened the control panel and studied it. After a prayer for help to whatever deities I used to believe in, I went to work.

Unbelievably, something I did had the right effect. The locking indicator switched to open. I had only moments; I had no doubt that I had triggered an alarm. I jumped down the short ladder, yanked open the interior hatch. The external gate stayed closed. I grabbed one of the tools from my bag, one with a tapered end, jammed it into the seam, and twisted. The lock was still open, if I could only force the outer gate manually. I slid my hands inside the slight gap, risking my fingers, and pushed with all my strength.

The gate slid open. I jumped down and ran.

There was no one in the corridor. No way to tell which direction my owner had gone. The longer I stayed in the open, the more likely I was to be seen. I needed a nearby place to hide, remove the implant, and assess my situation.

I hurried down the hallway. About half the doors that I passed were open, and I could see various ships sitting at dock. The opposite side of the corridor seemed to be storage rooms. I ran a short distance before entering one. It looked like all the others I had passed - large, cluttered to the ceiling with storage containers and equipment. It was dark - one assurance that there were no workers inside - and I took a small hand light from my bag. I slunk through the mess, looking for a corner where I could settle.

I found a gap where two large containers hadn't been pushed flush together. I crawled inside, pulling a discarded slab of packaging behind me to hide the opening.

Now the implant. This step was the most dangerous. The implant was in my neck. One slip and I could nick a major blood vessel. Then I would have to decide whether to bleed to death, or go for help and end up back with my owner.

I put the light between my knees and took out the mirror, laser scalpel, and tweezers. I fingered the implant, as I had a thousand times. I could feel the scar from the original incision. Steady, I thought to myself, and lowered the blade to my neck.

It was not something I ever want to do again. I felt a panicky urge to hurry, because of the pain and the risk of my owner activating either the location tracer or the explosive at any second. I forced myself to go slowly, cutting a long shallow gash, making it slightly deeper with each stroke, until I hit the edge of the implant. Blood was running freely. I dropped the scalpel and took up the tweezers. There was too much blood to see the cut clearly, I had to go by feel. I probed, my nerves screaming in protest. Blood covered the tweezers and made them slippery.

After an eternity, the tweezers closed on the implant, and I carefully worked it out of the gash in my neck. I looked at it, that small disc that symbolized my status as a slave. Taking one of the heavier tools from my bag, I pounded the disc into the floor until it bent and cracked. I leaned out of my hiding place to throw it across the room.

I was bleeding but not too badly, not from the artery. I sprayed antiseptic and coagulant on the cut. This would have been much harder, if not impossible, if my young owner had secured all his medical supplies.

I waited for my head to stop spinning and the nausea to pass.

Suddenly the lights went on, glaringly bright. I heard a noise by the door. Someone had entered the room.

I knew who it was.

"I know you're in here," said the voice of the unseen Ben.

He must have the control. He would activate the pain collar. I braced myself. If I could only keep quiet, he still might not find me.

My owner's voice carried through the room. "I know you don't want to be a slave. I know you want to escape. You unconsciously subverted the slave overlay from the beginning. I had hoped that you trusted me enough to wait, but I was wrong. That's my miscalculation, not yours.

"I hoped to convince you that I cared for you, that you were safe with me. But the programming is too strong. It's not your fault. I'm not angry. You're doing the best you can in the mindset they imprinted onto you.

"But think. This isn't the right answer. What are you going to do here, stranded on this station? You have no money, few possessions of value. So you have three choices. You can hide, steal what you need to live. You might get away with that for a while. Eventually, you'd be caught and imprisoned, or executed. You could sign up as a miner. You're past your physical prime and you're untrained, but someone might hire you for a job that's high risk and low pay. Or you could sign up with the local criminal element. They would use you as an enforcer, a guard, whatever.

"Whatever path you take, your life here would be short. There's plenty of cheap labor here. This place devours people. Is that how you want to end your life? So poor and worn down that you might as well be a slave, for all the choices you have?

"There's so much more for you where we're going. There are people who love you, people who want you to get well. You're an important person to us. Why do you think I looked for you? Do you think I don't have anything better to do than to escort recalcitrant slaves around the galaxy?

"So think about it. You can choose to stay here, or you can choose to come with me. You know what waits for you here. At least with me you'll have the best comforts the ship and I can provide. Soft bed, good food - well, adequate food anyway. Freedom to do as you please. Sex if you want it, none if you don't.

"I'll wait here while you make up your mind. There's no rush. Take your time."

I waited, listening for sounds of his searching, looking for me. There was no sound other than my own breathing. If he were still here, rather than investigating other rooms, he was waiting somewhere quietly.

I thought about what he said.

He was right. Gods damn him to a thousand hells, he was right.

I had been so desperate to escape. To what? For what? To steal to survive? To die in a mining accident?

If I had wanted to commit suicide, I could have done so at any time on the ship. I could do it this moment. I touched the handle of the scalpel. That idea felt wrong, as it always had. The thought of suicide always filled me with guilt, a sense that I was abandoning my duty, my responsibilities. Probably just another programmed effect from the wipe, but it felt real.

I thought about Ben and the time on his ship. My unlikely young owner. Silky hair and calm, friendly eyes. His one-sided attempts at conversation. He had never struck me. He had never forced me to do anything.

Minutes passed as I debated my options. Impoverished freedom versus comfortable captivity. An uncertain end down either path.

My weakness overcame my pride. If I died here, no one would never know or care. I would have wasted the last trivial piece of myself. At least with Ben, I could hopefully give him a few good memories of me, and encourage his kindness towards his future slaves. He was a good man, considering what he was, an owner. That was a better legacy than to die alone here, unnoticed.

I pushed away the concealing panel and crawled out. I picked my way through the disorder, moving towards the door.

I turned a corner and there sat Ben on the floor next to the door, watching me approach.

He jumped to his feet and rushed towards me. "By the force, what happened to you? Your throat - oh gods, you cut the implant out. I never thought -- are you still bleeding? We have to get back to the ship right away, you might have punctured your carotid. Stupid, stupid, Kenobi -"

He continued babbling as he pulled me back towards our dock. He didn't realize what he had said. Kenobi, a name. At first I wasn't certain if he had been calling me stupid, or himself. From his ongoing chatter, I decided it was himself. So Kenobi was his name. Ben Kenobi.

Figuring that out didn't trigger a mental collapse, but it didn't revive any of my memories either. It was just a name, two words.

Back on board, he dragged me to the infirmary and scanned and muttered until he decided that no, I hadn't done myself a fatal injury. He spent a long time inspecting and cleaning the cut. Then he put the palm of his hand over it for a few minutes. I had no idea what he was doing but I stood quietly. The drugs must have taken effect, since the pain receded.

He removed his hand and said, "I have to go finish my shopping trip. It was interrupted when I got the alert that you'd somehow managed to open the emergency hatch. Some day you'll have to tell me how you accomplished that. I suppose it's one of those things that a -" He stopped, shook his head, glared at me. "Stay here. Rest. I'll be back."

I went to the bedroom and lay down to rest, as he had instructed, but I didn't sleep. It almost seemed as though nothing had changed, that I had dreamed it all, until I touched my throat and felt the sore skin where there had been an open gash.

Now what?

Wait for him to return. Wait until we arrived at our destination. Wait until I met my previous owners, found out what they had planned for me. Wait like a dumb beast for others to make the decisions that would decide my fate.

I was truly a slave now, in soul as well as in body and mind. Too beaten to keep my freedom once I'd achieved it. What the pain collar and the beatings had failed to do, my canny young owner had achieved with the comforts of food and sex. Just like training an animal.

My despair should have been complete, but I couldn't stifle my relief at being back on the ship, back with him. Gods willing, I'd have a few more days with him before the trip ended, and we parted ways and he went on with his life and I went on to -- what?

After some time, I heard the hatch reopen, the noise of Ben's return. Soon the ship's motion indicated that we had left the station and reentered the quiet of hyperspace.

I must have fallen asleep, because I imagined I saw Ben as a boy, young, frightened. He was clutching a small rock in his hand as a group of men dragged him away.

When I woke up, I lay on my back and stared at the dimly lit ceiling. I was alone in the room.

I rolled over and pushed myself into sleep again.

Finally I woke up and was unable to fall into sleep any more. I had escaped into unconsciousness for as long as I could. The universe moved on. It was time I rejoined it.

I couldn't tell if Ben had been in the room during the time I had slept.

After I showered and changed, I moved through the rest of the ship. I wandered into each room, lingering, looking, as if I had not seen everything too many times before.

Last of all, I entered the small bridge. Ben was there. I stared at him. He stared back. I had thrown away my escape for this man, my owner, and now I felt...I didn't know.

"How's your neck?" he asked.

I touched it reflexively and felt the mark where the cut had healed over. I remembered the scalpel in my hand, watching myself bleed in the mirror.

"You must be hungry, considering how long you've slept. Want to take advantage of our new food supply? I loaded up at our last stop. Not that there was much to choose from."

I didn't respond.

"Well, I'm starving. I'll make enough for both of us. Come along when you like."

He brushed against me as he exited. A quick touch, and he was gone.

I sat and watched the star trails.

When the smell of cooking permeated into the bridge, I got up. It was time to leave my melancholy behind. I had made my decision. The past was gone. Live in the moment.

Ben had outdone himself. The meal was outstanding. Not that I had much basis for comparison. I wondered how many meals remained before we arrived at our destination. I intended to enjoy every one of them.

I leaned back in my chair and considered Ben. I felt freer somehow. I had chosen to be here. There was no need for the fictions of obedience and humility. I stared at him boldly, challenging.

He grinned. "Well, well. Look who's back." He leaned back in his chair, mirroring my body language. His eyes took on the smoky look of arousal.

I sat unmoving, gave him a slight smile. If he wanted sex, let him initiate for once. Otherwise he could smolder alone. I had that much self-control, certainly.

He said, "Want to see something else I picked up at our last stop?"

I angled an eyebrow in reply.

"Never mind then," and he made to stand up. I grabbed his forearm.

"If you insist," he said gravely and shifted his weight back into his seat. Looking at me steadily, he slowly unfastened his shirt down to the waist.

Managing to look both sultry and embarrassed, he pulled his shirt open to show his nipples. They both sported small gold rings.

I must have looked astonished, because he began to ramble, "I hadn't planned it, it's quite foolish really, but there were a lot of body art shops there on that station, and you had said something about this once, and I thought, maybe you'd like it. I've never done anything like this before, never had an interest, but I thought, what the hell. The vids in that place, I had no idea you could pierce so many body parts in so many distinctive ways, it was very educational - "

"You did that for me?" I asked.

"Do you like them?"

"I liked them before."

He deflated. "So much for my romantic gesture." He fingered one ring despondently. "I could remove them. I'll have to when we get back, they're not standard field equipment." He looked at me mock mournfully. "I wonder if I can expense it under some creative label. 'Rescuer assistive therapy for posttraumatic stress' or something."

"I'd hate to be ungrateful," I said. "Perhaps we should try them out."

He brightened. "Oh good. Because I'd hate to have completely wasted the money."

I made certain he got his money's worth. I took him on the floor, bending him double, pressing his knees to his ears, while he strained against my weight and shouted his pleasure. Halfway through I remembered that I had meant for him to initiate the sex. So much for that.

I had no idea what really awaited me at the end of this journey. By choosing to return to Ben, I might have condemned myself to permanent slavery, or even to death. No matter. I intended to enjoy the fruits of my choice until the last moment. Slave or free, the present moment is all we have.

I did have one lapse. One time he was riding me, his eyes closed in his ecstasy. I gripped his throat in a firm clasp, and he leaned his weight trustingly into the vee of my hand. I thought how easy it would be to close my fist and strangle him. As strong as he was, I could still crush his windpipe before he could defend himself. I could kill him and sit beside his dead body while the ship cruised on endlessly through hyperspace, past the boundaries of the known galaxy, until its power expired, its life support failed, a tomb for the two of us...

I didn't do it.

I lay watching him while he slept and wondered if he knew that I thought of killing him.

Several days later, I was lying in bed, playing a game on my datapad, when Ben stuck his head in the door. "We're there," he said. "Coruscant."

I followed him to the bridge for the last time.

The skies above the planet were crowded with ships. Ben paid close attention to the proximity scan as he followed the landing instructions.

The land below seemed craggy and sharp-edged yet laid out in a pattern, and as we continued to lose altitude the features resolved themselves into buildings and other man-made structures of gigantic scale.

We slowed as we approached a massive complex crowned with spires. This must be our destination. My former owners must be wealthy or influential or both to live in such an impressive place. This also explained why they could afford to send someone like Ben to track me down.

Ben landed us neatly on a large platform. "We're here," he said unnecessarily. He was smiling, happy to be back.

No sense in delaying the inevitable. Anything that happened here could be no worse than the pens. I followed him without looking back.

He lowered the ramp and walked down into the daylight. I descended slowly. A breeze met me as I stepped down onto the platform.

Ben was talking with a small group of people near a door into the building complex. I stood a deferential distance away until he waved me to approach.

I stepped up to the group and, thinking it would be a good thing to show respect, I dropped to my knees, bowed my head.

"Get up," a voice said crisply. "If I had any doubts about your mental condition, that's confirmation enough of it."

I rose. The speaker was a tall, dark, bald man who fixed me with a stern, almost angry expression. There were two other people, a woman with blank unfocused eyes and a young boy with short blond hair.

"Remember what I told you," said the dark man to the boy. "Now you've seen him, you should get back to your class."

"Ok," the boy said. He looked at me. "I'm glad you're home, sir. I just wanted to see for myself. I have to get back to my master now, but I'll visit when you're feeling better." He waited for a response. I didn't give him one. After a confused moment, he turned and disappeared into the building.

There was one more person present. I had missed it because it was so small. A wrinkled green creature no taller than my knee hobbled forward, leaning on a stick. The others respectfully moved aside. It peered up at me, its long ears twining above its head.

"So returned to us at last you are, my padawan," the small person croaked. "Glad we are to see you back with us."

I wonder about that, I thought.

He/she/it cackled. "Hear you, I do. Even the force collar insufficient is, when so strong a one as yourself wears it. Hear him also, you can?" The small person looked at Ben.

Ben replied, "No, master, not exactly...I can't make out words, but I can sense the trend of his thoughts, and I pick up images sometimes."

The dark man said, "You deserve congratulations, Knight Kenobi, for succeeding where so many of us had failed. It's more than we dared hope. And your contribution to our limited information about the Unknown Region is an added bonus."

"I don't know that I'll have very much to add, Master Windu, other than confirming that it will be a long time before most worlds in that outer arm would be ready to meet the standards for Republic membership."

"He seems to be in pretty good shape," said the blank-eyed woman, looking right through me. I realized that she must be blind. Then I wondered how she could tell what shape I was in, if she were blind.

"He's better than when I found him," Ben said, "but I'm glad to be here where the healers can help. Things were done to him that I can't understand, much less undo. The slave thought pattern is imprinted deeply, and it's resistant. I tried to follow the healers' instructions, but some of my methods were unorthodox, as I mentioned in my reports. I hope I didn't cause more problems than I solved."

The dark man said, "You met him where he needed to be. His higher functions are impaired. He can only relate down at the survival level -- shelter, food, physical contact."

"Worry not," said the gnome, looking at Ben, not me. "Be with him, interact with him, connect with him, talk with him, all this we told you. Your best you did. Enough it was."

Interact, get me to I wasn't the only one with a hidden agenda behind our sexual encounters. The only times I tended to talk with Ben was before, during or after sex. I had thought I was playing him, when in fact he had played me. I had been a fool. I felt betrayed.

"No, please don't get angry, I didn't do it to manipulate you," Ben said. So he could sense my emotions. "I don't regret it. I would have done anything, anything at all, to help you. I just didn't initially consider that things would take that particular turn. Besides," he stepped close to me and dropped his voice, "you know I enjoyed it. More than I should have, given that you weren't in your right mind at the time. I hope that you'll eventually forgive me for that."

Something suddenly dawned on me. The young boy had referred to a "master" Ben had called this two of these people "master." Ben was a slave.

Many things suddenly made sense. His strange habits, such as treating me as a guest rather than a servant, or calling me master in bed - I had thought he was just odd. A slave would make an effective bounty hunter. A smart slave would know how to trick another into trusting him, following him, causing no trouble. He was very good -- he had gotten me to accept my delivery into their hands.

"You're a slave," I said.

They all looked astonished at the sound of my voice, except Ben. He said, "Not a slave, but a servant. I am a servant of the light, and so are you."

"We are all servants of the light," said the dark man.

So all of them were slaves. To the light? It didn't make any sense.

"True it is. Safe you are," said the little green person. Annoying to have your private thoughts heard by others when you don't intend it. I kept my face blank but scowled internally. The small person laughed.

"Changed in some ways you have not, my stubborn padawan. Saved you perhaps it has, this stubbornness."

"I don't remember," I said.

"You will soon," said the blind woman. "Come with us, we'll walk you to the healers. We need to go there straightaway -- you'll start experiencing a memory resurgence soon. The healers can help you."

They all turned to go, except me. I had only a moment. This was no time for anger or regret. I might not live out the hour, depending on what they had planned for me. What Ben was, why he did what he did, it didn't matter any more. He had been kind and generous throughout our time together, despite provocation, when he could have punished me, locked me up or drugged me unconscious. He deserved my acknowledgement for that.

I took Ben's arm, pulling him to face me. I said, "Thank you for getting me out of the pens, and for your care on the ship. Whatever happens now, I'm grateful for that."

"If it helped you, I'm glad of it," he said with a smile. "But let's see if you still feel so appreciative after you've regained your memories. You may be very pleased or very displeased. Hard for me to predict."

"Will you stay, for whatever happens next?" I asked him.

"Of course. I didn't track you all the way to a sith hell and back to abandon you now. I'll be waiting, master." He laughed at the expression on my face. "I'm a servant of the light, but I also used to be a servant of yours in a way. Although you used to say, quoting Yoda, that the master is a servant to his padawan's potential as much as the padawan is a servant to the master's authority. You'll remember it all very soon now. And afterwards, we'll have some talking to do."

He started to walk away, turned back and said, "Don't be afraid. Everything will be all right. Just come with me."

He walked through the doorway. The dark man gestured for me to walk ahead. The blind woman took my arm, and I followed Ben into the building, back to face my previous life.