The tall, lanky kid from Ohio had had it out from Steve from their first day in class. He didn’t know why… all right, he did know why, but it seemed kind of petty. So he’d made the guy move at lunch. He was taking up a whole big table by himself, and Steve wanted to sit with his friends. And, okay, he’d snickered at him once or twice – but the guy was such a suck-up, seeming to buy into the shit they wanted to force-feed them.
So he’d been a little shitty to – Fred, that was his name – the Ohio kid, and then it turned out that Fred had a temper that just had a really, really long fuse. And Steve had made one comment after Religion class - all right, one comment after comments pretty steadily over the last three weeks, but they weren’t big comments or anything. It was just that he couldn’t say anything to the teachers without getting hit, or, once, when he’d been really mouthy, gagged, and Fred seemed so much like everything the teachers wanted. So he mouthed off to Fred for selling out.
This time, they’d been studying the ways one could honor the Goddess, and the way service to a Mistress should echo one’s service to the Goddess. Sickening pagan shit. Steve had turned to Fred as they left class and muttered, too quiet for the proctors to hear, “you’re gonna love it, aren’t you? Praying to your goddess-mistress, down on your knees?”
He hadn’t seen the punch coming, at least the first one. The second one he saw, but not in time to do anything about it, and after that, it was a bit of a blur. Steve thought he was a pretty tough guy – but even soccer didn’t prepare him for the pummeling he was getting, and the kid was all fists and elbows, no way to get away from him. He thought he got in one good punch. Two, maybe. He was going for a third when the proctors showed up and pulled them apart.
It took, as far as Steve could see through vision gone blurry and a bit red, four people to pull Fred off of him, and a fifth to keep Steve from kicking the lanky kid back once he had room to breathe. They dragged them to the infirmary, where Steve found himself restrained to a cot.
The nurse worked over him patiently, her gloved hands cool but gentle, though the antiseptics stung. Steve closed his eyes and tried to think of anything else. He’d gotten his ass handed to him. That was pretty humiliating. But more than that, the kid – he hadn’t been going to stop. He had been trying to kill Steve. That… that was something else altogether.
“Frederick claims you provoked him.” The voice was not the nurse’s; he opened his eyes to see their Civics teacher sitting next to him.
Steve opened his mouth to say something snide, and then closed it again. Even though she wore a slave collar, Miss Svetlana had been harder on them than any of the other teachers. Why would she be any better after he’d started a fight?
She pursed her lips unhappily anyway. “Was Frederick correct, Steven?”
Was he? “I might have said a few things,” he admitted, hastily adding on, “Miss. Okay, I said a few things.”
“That will mitigate his punishment, then,” she nodded. “Would you mind telling me what sort of things?”
“I’d kinda mind, yeah.” He squirmed against his bonds. “I mean, come on, I already got my ass handed to me, miss. I’d rather not get beaten on again just yet.”
She frowned faintly at him. “Is that your concern?” Seeing him pause, she gestured imperiously with one hand. “You may feel free to speak freely for the duration of this meeting, and will be punished for nothing you say here. Immunity.”
She really wanted him to talk? If she was going to open herself up for it, he was certainly going to let her have it. “Well, come on, every time I open my mouth around here,” he said, twitching again against his restraints as he tried to gesture, “I get hit or beat or, if someone’s feeling really generous, sent to go sit in the corner like a five-year-old. So yeah. I figure I’m going to get punished for this somehow.” He yanked hard on the cuffs. “Why else would I be tied down to a bed?” He might be the dumb one of the group, but Steve could think of some “why else’s,” and was trying hard to ignore those options. He hadn’t been that mouthy, had he?
“Aah.” Miss Svetlana’s frown deepened, and he began to think he really had gone too far. “And it wouldn’t occur to you that we were worried about your well-being?”
“Well, I guess you have to protect your investment. I’ve got to be worth a couple grand to you, don’t want me getting all banged up, right? But what’s that got to do with tying me to a bed?”
The teacher stood, pacing rapidly around the small room, her heels beating an angry staccato on the tile floor. When she turned to him, finally, she was glaring, and her voice was sharp and high.
“How could you think that was all you are to us? A number, a product? I know being captured has been hard on you, but do you really think I’m the sort of monster that cares only for the numbers?” She tugged roughly on her own collar. “Do you really think I’m that crass and inhuman?”
“You sure as hell act like you only care about obedience.” He wanted to shout it, but she was nearly crying, and it took the heat out of his anger. “Every time any of us fuck up, you come down like a ton of bricks.”
“And that’s half as hard as an owner would come down on you,” she snapped back, the tears flowing for real now. “Do you think we want to see you sold into service unprepared, whipped or beaten because you didn’t know how to behave?”
He gaped at her, not sure what to say. “Why not just tell us?” he asked sullenly, his whole body aching.
“We do!” She sat down on the edge of his narrow bed. “We tell you, over and over again, but some of you are so hung up on how it’s ‘wrong,’ how you’re better than born-slaves, that you won’t listen unless we pound it home. And some of you don’t listen even then.” She glared at him through tear filled eyes.
“What?” he sputtered, although, guiltily, he knew she had a point. “Aw, come on, I don’t think I’m better than you.” Crying was cheating, but she was sniffling on his bed, and he’d made her cry. “Come on, miss…” He patted awkwardly in her direction. “I don’t…”
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