Interlude Three - So Well Remembered
Khar'shan, Harsha System, Kite's Nest
April 30, 2183 CE
Talitha woke like she always did, with the dawn and the ringing of the slave bells in the distance. Even at night, Khar'shan was almost unbearably hot and muggy, though she had forgotten ever feeling any different. Her own morning maintenance routines were simple enough. It took her five minutes to clean herself with the damp rag every slave was provided, and to brush her teeth and comb her hair. It wouldn't do to be unpresentable to her master and his household. That would be dishonorable.
Every morning, after washing, she'd touch the collar that hung around her neck, and she'd remember. At least she'd try to. That's all she could do, to keep their memory alive. Momma, and Daddy. Even as hard as she tried, she didn't remember their voices, but their faces… she kept those locked tight in her mind. The collar, it helped her remember, no matter how much it hurt.
Despite what it meant for her, the collar still held her prisoner. The first month of her enslavement, she had scratched and clawed at it, but nothing she did even dented it. She could feel the sores and the raw skin as it chafed away at her. An old asari had shown her the best ways to wedge small oil soaked cloths under the collar to soothe the sores.
That old asari was one of the only few positive things she'd ever found on Khar'shan. She missed her. She had never even gotten a chance to learn her name, before the master's son had thrown her to the barrens after she had proven to have outlived her usefulness as both a slave and a toy.
Talitha could still smell the gentle woman's blood as if it had just happened, violet splatters across the dirt and sand, gurgling uselessly as her heart struggled to pump blood to her brain. That had been the last time she ever tried to make a connection with someone. It was the only smart move. Too many people came and went, struggling against the inevitable.
She dressed quickly in the simple robe that all the slaves wore, and pulled on the simple varren leather sandals. With her morning tasks complete, Talitha left the slave quarters of her master's estate, to begin her master's work.
They were simple tasks, though they disgusted her, deep down to her core. She couldn't live with that, so instead, she had long ago shoved it to the back of her mind. Instead, Talitha went about her duties with an almost robotic mindset. She didn't think of what it meant when she washed the master's clothing and removed all evidence of his mistresses latest visit from his concubines. The blood, sweat, and semen had dried and accumulated from the debaucheries of last night, making it even more difficult to peel the sheets back from the mattress.
Getting the soiled sheets and clothes out of the house and to the washing house was a more difficult matter, considering she had to avoid the concubines and their many children, but she had more than enough practice and managed beautifully, if she did say so herself.
With that complete, she went about her less dangerous tasks. Helping the master's daughter dress and get ready for her own day, and then cleaning her room, and the hallway outside, until it sparkled in sun. By the time she finished, the morning was nearly over, and she reported to the kitchen to help prepare the estate's midday meal. It was one of the few things that she actually did enjoy. The smell of fresh bread and cooked meats, swirling together in a beautiful symphony of aroma that reminded her of the dancing and twirling that… no. It wasn't time for memories. Tomorrow, when she could have time to herself.
Either way, she was broken from her thoughts by a shout, and she cowered for a moment before she realized it wasn't directed at her. She continued with her work before anyone noticed her lapse, watching from the corner of her eyes as one of the master's guards beat a young asari for dropping a pan. She was new, and looked to her fellow slaves for help, but she wouldn't receive any. She'd learn her new place quickly, or she'd be discarded, like all the others.
Before the guard could cause any permanent damage to the asari, the general communication system sounded its familiar three bell tone, and all of them froze. It was something they'd all been trained to do, as the master's words were law. Only he could use the communication system.
"Report to the courtyard." The master's voice rang through, in his normal guttural tones, though Talitha thought she could hear a hint of what sounded like anxiety in his voice. "Be ready for the arrival of Warlord Dhargerk. If any embarrass me during his most important visit, they won't enjoy the last of their life."
And with that cheery message, Talitha stopped what she was doing (after making sure that the oven she was manning wouldn't burn down the estate in her absence) and followed everyone else as they streamed out into the yard. Idly, she wondered what had happened, to make the master break from his predictability.
It only took two minutes for all of the slaves to line up perfectly in straight, orderly rows. The guards were even quicker. Of course, the master's concubines and his children were the last to join the crowd, almost wandering outside. None dared to say a word at this,and aside from a few idle thoughts at how unprepared they were, none gave it any real consideration. Their master's family wouldn't get punished for not being fast enough, after all. They were nothing alike (and the still rebellious part of Talitha's mind knew that that was a good thing).
It was this part of Talitha, ever vigilant and looking for danger, that spotted a slave she'd never seen before, an asari With deep blue skin and light violet markings on her face. Her back was a little too straight, a little too proud, and she didn't hold herself like the others around her, not that the guards noticed. No one else noticed, not the slaves, and especially not the overseer or the master. If Talitha had ever made such an oversight, she was positive that it would have earned her a beating within in an inch of her life.
She cast it out of her mind. It wasn't her problem to deal with. Probably just a newly captured slave, she reasoned. She turned her attention away, while at the same time never shifting from her perfectly subservient position.
If Talitha had paid a little more attention, just a second or two longer, she might have seen the flash of metal under the asari's shawl. She might have known that something was truly amiss. She might have been prepared.
She was not.
Instead,she watched as the master straightened his formal jacket (hastily put on she could tell, as she hadn't been instructed to iron it that morning and it showed in the wrinkles), the many medals and awards pinned to it weighing it down unevenly down on his left side.
They were all just in time, as an entourage of air cars descended from above the clouds, gleaming vessels that announced their wealth and status to everyone who might be looking. They were ostentatious and rather ugly, in Talitha's opinion. They landed gently in front of the master and his family, cutting their engines, which went from a deafening roar to silence in less than a second.
With all the airs of a king gracing his subjects with his mere presence, a Batarian stepped from the most opulent aircar, the door having been opened by a Krogan bodyguard (or slave, she supposed, as you could never be sure on Khar'shan). Talitha couldn't tell from this distance. Her eyesight wasn't that good and from what she could remember of Mindoir, she figured her parents would have gotten her glasses long ago.
What Talitha wasn't able to see was that the Batarian was clothed in gleaming robes, threaded with gold strands, a show of hedonism that was more tacky than it was elegant.
He looked over the arranged slaves dismissively, before turning to the master, who somehow perfectly looked like a sniveling sycophant while still standing as straight and dignified as he possibly could. That didn't surprise Talitha in the slightest.
Seeing his attention, the master rushed to the taller Batarian's side. They started speaking, but Talitha couldn't hear from where she was. and it obviously isn't going well for her master.
That didn't matter anyway. Something in the distance caught her attention from the corner of her eyes. Glancing up without ever moving her head, she tried to spot what she had seen.
She spotted nothing at first, but that didn't stop her. Whether it was something or not, it still something to do, and as a slave used to standing around for long periods of time, she was very used to making little games in her mind to keep herself entertained. It was probably why she hadn't succumbed to her isolation yet.
A glimmer in the air proved that it hadn't just been her imagination, though it wasn't as exciting as she'd hoped. Khar'shan had frequent heat waves, thanks to a damaged atmosphere and the fact the planet itself orbited a bit too close to the sun. This... this didn't seem like that. It was far too localized.
It was almost... pony shaped.
That's when everything went to hell.
Nearly as one, all of the Batarians except for the one that just arrived dropped dead, blood erupting from their bodies in fountains of gore. The last Batarian cowered in terror, and he pissed himself, soiling his golden robes. The slaves cringed back, terrified, but they didn't move from their spots. They still didn't want to be punished, even though the ones who could were lying dead around them. All of them except one, and he wasn't in any position to do anything.
The asari that Talitha had noticed before rushed forward, and before the Batarian could flee back to the safety of his air car and escape, she brutally took him down and subdued him. She planted her knee into his back with a grin, shucking off her slave robes and revealing a slim fitting suit of armor, completely black, with a pair of long blades at her hips and a large pistol at the small of her back.
The courtyard became a den of silent commotion as nearly two dozen figures appeared out of thin air, dressed in black armor as well. It took Talitha a moment, also cowering, to realize that they were all ponies.
The tallest of the ponies looked at the slaves, and though Talitha couldn't see it, she could feel the subtle touch of something against her mind, followed by a feeling of peace and relaxation crossing over her.
Her vision faded to black, followed quickly by her consciousness.