Monday, 25 February 2013

Slave Pens

Another visit to the never published manuscript of Prisoners and Exiles.

Chainer Slave Pens
“My lord, slavery has been a part of our society since the Fall of the Second Republic. But never has slavery been as profitable and widespread as it is now. In prior years only the nobility had the right to hold other men in bondage, but even a serf has rights and protections bestowed by his lord. Slavery is another matter; these are men and women held in bondage without the rights of even a serf. They are property to be used, abused and discarded.
“Some among the nobility have been known to sell their own serfs into slavery to discharge mounting debts. I consider this the basest violation of the protections required of a lord. A serf is a prerogative of the land, and those that protect and minister to that land might use the serf to do their bidding in return for protection and good management of those resources. To strip a serf of these protections is a violation of a noble’s duty to protect the land and those that tend to it.
Yet in this day I must make note that the ugly work of the Chainers is never done, and in fact is ever more profitable. The demand for an indentured workforce without rights has created a budding market place where this black trade can be plied without interference. I refer of course to the blot on the jump map that is Pandemonium. 
“I myself have traveled to that hellish backwater to witness the crimes of the slavers markets. I have seen men, women and children auctioned like so much head of cattle. I have witnessed a proud man beaten to death rather than walk to the auction block; I have seen families separated and broken apart to be sold into servitude on different worlds; I have seen those purchased by the Order of Engineers being subjected to terrible experiments that wound not just the body but the very soul. I must ask how can this trade be just? How can this trade be permitted in these enlightened times of the Phoenix Emperor?”
-- Sir Rasmir al-Malik, Knight of the Order of the Phoenix, 5006

Slavery has been a part of the Empire since the time of Vladimir I, but until now the numbers of people forced to live in bondage has been relatively low. Since the opening days of the Emperor Wars, the scourge of slavery has increased one hundred fold, fueled during the war years by large numbers of prisoners of war that underpinned the military economics of all the major factions. This reliance on inexpensive labor within the Known Worlds has been a contributing factor the growth of economic power groups within the Guilds for the past fifty years. 
Since the end of the war years the Chainers have been hard pressed to meet demand by conventional means and have turned to alternative methods. Indeed the Chainers have established arrangements with a number of purgatoriums throughout the worlds of the Empire, buying out prisoners that have not been legally sentenced to slavery by a court. Men and women who have received minimal sentences for the most minor of offenses are being sold in to slavery to supply to the demand for cheap labor. Indeed, there are rumors of Chainer representatives bribing the courts to sentence as many criminals to slavery as they can – usually those strong and sound of body. Other reports indicate that Chainers purchase deeds of those sentenced to a few weeks’ forced labour – only to ship them off-world and make that sentence rather more permanent.
The Chainers’ operations, no matter how repugnant, are in fact only bowing to the pressure of demand and market forces. While the vast majority of the slaves have been drawn with the Phoenix Empire, there is also a growing trade in those taken from beyond the Empire. Specifically, the Hazat who, in need to replenish their dwindling war chest, have taken to selling Kurgan prisoners of war to the Muster. But there are others taken from worlds that have no mention on any current jumpmap, giving the Chainers a wider net that the guild cares to admit.

When last I visited Pandemonium, slavery was a relatively minor trade within the local agora. Upon my return after a scant five years’ absence, I have learned that Muster holds no less than three slave camps in the Badlands within only a few dozen kilometers of the Hub. One of these camps deals exclusively with the labor required to erect the Orthodoxy’s most recent Cathedral. I have further learned that each of these camps has a capacity to hold 10,000 slaves either as work force or for sale during the now infamous weekly pageant that has become known as the ‘Festival of Flesh’ or simply the ‘Fleshtival’. 
Everyday ships arrive bearing the Chainers mark with fresh bodies destined for processing at the camps. There is now no way to calculate how many unfortunates arrive on Pandemonium, the Chainer ships no longer land at the Hub’s spaceport; its security inadequate for dealing with the large number of arrivals. Instead these ships have landing zones right in the slave camps.
I tried to speak with the Muster’s chief representative on Pandemonium, Solomon West, but I was declined an audience citing a lack of availability in a busy schedule. Despite numerous attempts to obtain an interview with someone in authority the only comment I was able to obtain was, “No comment!”

Correctional Philosophy
In truth the Slave Pens do not have a correctional philosophy despite what some might claim. Correction is discarded in favor of control. Discipline is rigorously enforced with a casual brutality that speaks volumes about the disposable nature of the slave. The Chainers are not above making an example of one man or woman to deter the others from even contemplating escape. Indeed those that have escaped rarely survive for long, usually dying in the badlands. Even death is not an escape, I have observed hunting parties of Chainers recovering a dead slave and hanging the corpse from the camp stockade to deter others. I must protest this indignity, even a slave is one of the Pancreator’s children and is deserving of the last rites and funeral. I have made my protest known to Chief Solomon West in the form of a letter; as yet I have had no formal response.

From my observations I can say that each of the slave camps is laid out differently, but they do share certain common features. The walls are high and usually built from cheaply available local stone. High watchtowers are placed every 30 meters and there is an inner fence line that prevents the slaves from reaching the other wall. Usually there are guards patrolling the perimeter between the walls and the fence line.
The slaves are accommodated in an assorted variety converted cargo pods, laid out in fenced off blocks. The camp that supplies labor for the Cathedral has only two large blocks segregated along gender lines. The other camps seem to have a more intricate segregation policy used to separate both gender and function of the slaves camped there.
The centre of the camp is a large administration building that I believe is used for processing the captives when they arrive on the packed-earth landing pad on the far side of the building from the converted cargo pods. The Muster guards live in a secured compound within the camp adjacent to the landing pad. I counted as many as three ships arriving in a given day at one of the camps and I can only estimate how many new inmates were received and processed that day.
I must make particular note that sorting of slaves has meant that a large number of those being forced to labor in the construction of the Cathedral are Kurgan prisoners or war. I can only speculate the Orthodoxy considers the construction of a Cathedral to be a penance worthy of these unbelievers. Still large numbers of the Kurgan prisoners are being sold on the open market, though primarily to farming concerns that will keep these barbarians far away from the Hub.
On the day of a Fleshtival the prisoners are sorted and loaded into locked trucks for transport to the Hub and the market. Mercifully this is done in the early hours of the morning before the sun has fully risen, the transportation in those cramped trucks would be hellish enough without the baking heat of the sun to contend with.
In a bid to understand more about the goings on in the camps I attended one of the Fleshtivals and purchased a slave, in trade for all that she could tell me about her ordeals I offered her freedom, initially somewhat skeptical and reticent to speak I did in fact learn a considerable amount about the day-to-day operations of the camps. True to my word I then did release her, but not before I registered the release with the authorities, I have no wish to see her hunted as an escaped slave when she is a free woman.
From what I have learned the camps are now so big that the Chainers are having logistical problems feeding and securing their investment. In fact they are making use of slaves with some degree of literacy to operate the camp processing and administrative functions. They have also instituted an internal police force to maintain camp order.
I have come to believe from the information I have obtained that there is a fourth smaller camp in the far north beyond the Groaning Desert and that this camp is responsible for the irrigation of a farm system that is used to supply the food that feeds the other camps. So far I have not managed to acquire anything but hearsay evidence for the existence of this farm camp.

The Hub played host a weekly market, when merchants and farmer would come out into the streets and set up their stalls in the area around the spaceport. The slave trade at this point was a much more limited affair that it is now. Market days were a minor local celebration, but I guess that even being able to have a market was a major event on Pandemonium after the cataclysms that have befallen that world. At the time the newly arrived Muster Chief Solomon West took the decision that the expense of selling a few slaves at a weekly market wasn’t worth his time and that instead of weekly the Chainers auction block would only be setup monthly. 

Chief Solomon West
A large man of few words and a sour disposition, he is responsible for the organisation and running of the Fleshtival. His bad temper actually stems from his intense discomfort with the job he finds himself doing. He joined the Muster at a young age with the promise that he would get to visit the many different worlds of mankind. As a soldier and a bounty hunter he excelled, until he took one of the team and lost his left leg. Refusing to integrate machinery into his body he has instead made use of a carved peg leg that has given rise to a number of derogatory nicknames for him.
The loss of his leg forced him to take a desk job. Now he is assigned to what he considers to be the arse-end-of-space, to run a slave market. 

When he started out, the Agora was a backwater supplying only a small number of able-bodied slaves to local farms. These days he is at the centre of the Known Worlds’ slave trade, while he takes pride in his achievements he has a growing self-loathing for those same reasons. 

Myra Swan
A slightly built woman with a face blemished with the harsh treatment she received in captivity. Captured and taken from her home world by the Solace Slavers, she arrived in the slave camps of Pandemonium only a year ago. In a trade of fortune she was sold at the Feshtival auction to a Knight of the Phoenix who sought only information from her before turning her lose. Life was not easy in the slave camps and freedom has been no easier, she is alone on a strange and foreign world with only her own wits and a handful of coins the Knight gave here before he left.
Obtaining work was not easy and she has had to resort to thievery to feed herself. In her dreams she can return to the paradise of her home world and she has taken the name of her world as a reminder of who she is and where she is from. Myra contemplates revenge against the slavers who stole her life but instead has built up contacts within the Hub’s underworld, where her talents are appreciated. She has established a small underground railroad to help escaped slaves survive and escape from the Hub.