“Joan! Come here.”
I look at the Headmistress in panic, clutching my mop hard enough that the bucket rattles.
I don’t gather much attention in this camp, so when it happens, it’s usually bad.
Did I mess up on my first day of work?
I set down my equipment and hurry to the Headmistress. Camp is busy today. The women are rushing around, getting their makeup and hair done to prepare to meet the Masters. They’ve painted their skin with streaks of gold, put beads and flowers in their hair, and sprayed the finest oils.
I weave through their tall, glistering bodies to reach the Headmistress. Some frown as I pass them. I’m no stranger to the squint of their eyes and curl of their lips. I look as ugly as smell as bad as my mop. The social rejection used to make me cry, but I’ve learned to ignore it.
“Yes, Headmistress?” I ask, keeping my eyes low. The Zolano race is strict about eye contact.
“Come in. The session is about to start.”
“What… session?” It takes me a while to find the right word. I still struggle with speaking their language.
“We are reviewing the bedroom rules. Hurry now!”
She waves her red hand. The females of her species are a red color, unlike my tanned, very-human shade.
It doesn’t make sense for me to be here. I don’t have to listen to the bedroom rules because I’m not an entertainer. I’m only a cleaner. No alien wants to fuck an ugly, tiny human incapable of handling a warrior. At least that’s what Ronton told me.
The eyes of the tall Zolano women narrow on me when I duck my head inside. Technically, I can meet their eyes because they’re not higher status than me, but I still choose to stare at my mud-caked sandals. I choose peace over pride. It’s better this way.
“Alright, girls.” Headmistress says from the front.
The women are arranged in lines of five. There’s twenty of them in here. I’m the odd one out; the one that messes up the pattern. Typical.
All the women here came voluntarily, desperate for the ride of a lifetime.
“Now, now. Hush your giggling. The Masters will be here in no time and we have much to review.”
I can’t see the Headmistress from back here. The women are too tall, creating a blanket of red flesh and hatred. It’s funny how I’m supposed to be the leech of their society.
“I know you are excited to ride your first Master, but you need to learn the rules. The Masters are not your friends. They will give you much pleasure, and much fear if you break any of these rules.”
Masters. They terrify me more than the thought of scrubbing fifty outhouses. I’ve only seen the shadow of one, and it was enough to send me scattering.
The Masters are male, built for battle and breeding. They enjoy thrusting their fists into enemies and cocks into females. They’re the elites of the male race, born with the ability to tap into an Enraged state. Fucking women pumps them full of adrenaline, so the government organized these camps. The Masters fuck before battle, and that gives them the enhanced strength to destroy every enemy in their path.
With that gift comes a curse, though. The Masters are physiologically superior but psychotically withdrawn. They’re incapable of feeling excitement or happiness. They’re machines in the flesh.
“Silence!” the Headmistress booms.
“Listen closely. The Masters take no pleasure in harming females, but they often lose touch with reality and destroy property or any male they perceive as competition. You may be hurt if you’re standing in the wrong place. The rules are here to prevent you from triggering them. You must adhere to the rules, or you will be banned from camp.”
The women silenced.
“Good. Rule number one, no eye contact— none! I don’t care if you think a Master is sweet on you, or if you feel like you understand them. Do not push your luck. None of you are special because all they feel with you is lust.”
Not making eye contact is a given. I’m a fan of this rule because it keeps me out of trouble.
“Rule number two: No trespassing. They are territorial and hate smelling others in their space. The only exception to this rule is Joan because she is the cleaner.”
Eyes lock on me. I can sense them.
“Rule number three: No skin contact. All Rides happen in the public view. If a Master request to Ride you and you’re interested, you must bend at the waist and grip your ankles. This minimizes skin contact. If you are not interested, say so and wait for them to walk away from you. They will not touch you without consent.”
Rides means fuck. I’m not surprised by this rule. The Zolano are not shy and Ride anywhere if they’re in the mood.
“Joan!” I hear someone yell.
I turn to the entrance of the tent, where the chef stands. He’s an older male, but not a Master. He was born a normal male.
“Excuse me, Headmistress. I need Joan urgently.”
The Headmistress sighs. “Fine. Go on then.”
I slip outside.
“Tantre is very upset that you did not finish your work. You must clear The General’s space at once.”
“I’m sorry. I was going to finish, but the Headmistress—”
“Excuses. Get to work!”
When I was younger, being yelled at would have made me burst into tears. I was afraid for a long time. I still am, but I now can keep a level head when I’m confronted and know how to avoid trouble.
I pick up my utensils and go for the red tent at the edge of camp. It’s the biggest one with a red flag at the top. The flag waves as if warning me to stay away.
The Masters haven’t arrived yet, so this tent is cold and impersonal. Everything is scattered haphazardly. It’s up to me to brush the sticks and leaves outside, set the bed, prepare the writing ink, unbox the crates, and every little thing that has to get done.
I set my things down and begin. It doesn’t take me long to finish. I’m good at my work.
I hear my boss approaching the tent. With a final scan, I look at the entrance and walk out. Sunlight is denied when something solid blocks me. I reach out to stabilize myself, grasping an enormous arm, but still crumple down.
I was supposed to close my eyes and apologize profusely, but in my shock, I made the mistake of looking up and meeting two icy, dead, blue eyes.
The General is home, and I broke at least two of the rules.
No touching, and absolutely no eye-contact.
I think this is the part where I die.