Oh right, it’s Friday.
Last chapter, Barris got very lucky, and took his bunkmate Allis to share his fortune. Here we see how he does as an apprentice to the machine slaves.
Previously we’ve heard others talk about how bright Barris is. He is intelligent and observant, and while these are desirable traits in anyone, they may not be so ideal in a slave population. Still, here and now, we start seeing that the kid’s head may not actually be entirely up his ass.
By the way, if you decide to buy the book — thank you — do me a favor and get it new. When you buy used, you see, neither the author nor publisher gets paid. So what, you ask? Well, do you expect to just keep getting free shit all your life?
The Beasts of Delphos
© Warren Ockrassa
The First Beast
“And if I have this pile and that pile and I put them together, how much does that make?”
Barris stared at the little clusters of pebbles, his thoughts working for the answer. He was being taught numbers and some days the effort made it feel like his brains would leak out his ears. That pile had four, and this pile had two. In his mind he imagined them forming one pile and brightened. “Six?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
Barris thought again. “I’m telling you.”
The pube shook his head sadly, and Barris’s heart sank. Then he smiled and said, “That’s exactly correct.”
Barris felt piqued at the joke, but hid it and smiled back. “You fooled me.”
“Thought you were wrong, eh?”
“I did.” He studied the face of his mentor, and then spoke again. “No, I did not.” His teacher, a boy who had been an underling himself not so long ago and who had an aptitude for instruction, smiled again. His name was Theossa and he didn’t bear malice toward Barris for his sudden and completely unprecedented promotion.
Unlike some of the other apprentices.
Several of them had, as the boss predicted, worked quite hard to make Barris’s life difficult, sometimes tormenting him, other times simply glaring at him, and occasionally playing jokes on him, some cruel, some merely irritating, most of them having to do with grease, since it was abundant, tacky and nearly impossible to clean.
One evening he’d gone to his two-bunk barrack with Allis to discover his thin mattress had been replaced with packing grease. Another day his apprenticeship loincloth had been stolen and turned up hours later being used as a grease-rag in the machine shop. Yet another day he’d been greased himself and covered head-to-toe in metal shavings; they stuck to the grease everywhere and pricked his skin with their sharp edges whenever he moved, especially in his most delicate folds.
And it was many cycles before he learned that their showering facility — entirely new to him but necessary to get the toxic and skin-clogging machine lubricants off their bodies — had the capacity to spray hot water mixed in with the cold, making the showers much more pleasant. The others simply had not told him everything about the operation of the shower heads and he wondered at how they could appear to luxuriate under what he was sure had to be frigid blasts of icy water. By mistake he had fiddled the head in a different direction one evening and discovered the temperature settings. After that he joined the chorus of ahhhs and ohhs that accompanied the showers, and that seemed to spell the end of his initiation. Many of the other apprentices still didn’t treat him well, but they had at least stopped with the jokes and taunts after that.
Well, most of the taunts. He was still called “littlestones” by some of the pubes, a reference to his as-yet undeveloped anatomy. He didn’t care; his little stones meant he was safe from the beast, and he knew they knew it.
He’d learned enough of numbers to know he had been apprenticed for twenty cycles now, and was beginning to feel a bit more settled, but the learning was hard.
Theossa elbowed his ribs and set him to another counting task, and his concentration returned to his lesson.
When he got back to the double-bunk barrack Allis rose to meet him and took his loincloth as he peeled it away in the quiet of the empty space. Barris had at first been surprised at their semi-privacy and had trouble getting to sleep the first few cycles, missing the sounds of many pleasuring and sleeping bodies all around him, but had grown used to the relative silence.
He stepped over to the basin they shared with the barrack’s other inhabitants, Mellis, a boy about two seasons his senior and Jorris, his own bondsman, and waited as Allis ran water and soap over the cloth, hung it to dry on the footrail of Barris’s bunk, then washed Barris as he stood, doing his duty to his demi-master. Showers were bi-cyclic and this was not a shower day, so the apprentices were cleaned by their bondsmen. Allis’s soapy fingers lingered over his stones and works, the light gentle friction filling him and making him rise.
They were alone at the moment and Barris took the time to share with Allis, first washing his bondsman as Allis had washed him, bringing him also to fulness, then leading them both to the pleasures bunkmates enjoyed as Allis cooed his delight.
He lay next to him now, dozing slightly after their sharing, and Jorris came into the room. His demi-master was due back from the shop soon and he was to be ready for him when he arrived, to clean his cloth for him, massage his worked shoulders — Mellis did a lot of assembly work and that meant much heavy lifting — and please him as he desired. Barris nodded to the boy, who was actually his own age even though in a subordinate position to him, indicating with the gesture that he was not disturbing the couple that lay on Allis’s bunk. Jorris nodded back with a little smile, then sat on his own bunk with a sigh and reclined, awaiting Mellis’s advent.
In a while the apprentice arrived, grimed with sweat and grease, and let Jorris clean him as he stood by the basin, then took him to the bunk and had pleasure. Barris closed his eyes as the sounds of passion filled the room. Their barrack-mate took pleasure more often than Barris and Allis did, and he had grown a bit self-conscious with the act for the first time ever. He wasn’t sure why but it seemed slightly strange when it was just the two couples, as opposed to an entire barracks-floor sharing with their bunkmates. He thought of the freeman he’d saved and wondered if that was how he felt about pleasure as well.
When he knew Mellis had finished he propped up on an elbow and Allis turned over; he had not been asleep either. He smiled at Barris when his stomach rumbled audibly and they silently rose, the apprentice donning his loincloth and his bondsman remaining nude, as was proper for both in public, and went to the food queue, leaving the other couple on their bunk, Mellis dozing while Jorris reclined near him, quietly giving himself release as he lay beside his demi-master, his eyes on the older boy’s bare muscular body.
Mealtimes were different for apprentice machinists and those that served them. Rather than having to line up within a brief set interval to get their rations, they were able to simply walk in casually over a fairly lengthy period, particularly in the evening, that Barris still didn’t fully understand, time-reckoning yet to be taught to him in real depth. Theossa spotted them and gestured them over to his table. They took their trays and sat.
Theossa’s bondsman, Adessa, was an underling perhaps two seasons younger than Barris or Allis — who were of about the same age — and reclined easily against the apprentice’s larger frame, casually and happily feeding him little crusts of bread from the roll that remained on his tray. Odd dark shapes circled on Adessa’s chest, but Barris had not asked about them. Many slaves were branded or tattooed. The older boy bit playfully at his bondsman’s fingers as Adessa giggled, then withdrew and pulled the crust into his mouth with a quick flick of his tongue, finally kissing the younger boy’s palm as he gazed up, enraptured and smiling, his eyes half lidded. “Mellis back from the shop yet?”
Barris nodded. “He got in — um —”
“Still working on time-reckoning.”
“Yes, I am. Pardon. I know the displays show time’s passage but I haven’t the grasp of it just yet.” There were digital clocks in the walls, counting time in sixteen-hour cycles of forty-five minutes each, and Barris was still trying to get the sense of it, both in terms of handling the numbers and guessing how much time had elapsed from one point to another.
Adessa plucked another bit of crust and put it between his lips, then leaned up so Theossa could catch it from them. Their mouths lingered a moment in contact before they parted. Barris began to feel they were intruding but Theossa seemed casual still with their presence. He was easy with his bondsman, clasping and caressing him lightly, and that set Barris at ease as well.
“Here’s a tip for you,” he offered, swallowing the morsel. “Just look at the clocks from time to time and note the numbers. Don’t try to think about the reckoning and don’t try to grasp the flow of the time — just look at the markings. You’ll pick it up sooner that way. Thanks, Adessa, I’m full now.”
The bondsman nodded and took the trays away, lingering a moment as Theossa drew his cheek to his lips for a fast peck, flushing a little at the gesture and smiling. Barris watched him as he left, bemused. “Do all apprentices get bunkmates for their bondsmen?”
“No, you and Allis are unlike most. Generally you don’t choose your bondsman. I didn’t choose Adessa.”
“But he’s clearly — I mean, you and he —”
“Oh, yes, he and I are most certainly fond of each other.” Theossa watched as Adessa weaved back among the tables to them, his eyes soft on him. “Sometimes it happens that way. Mellis and Jorris are how it more usually is.”
Barris nodded. Mellis took pleasure from Jorris, but never returned it. As the bondsman’s demi-master that was his right, but to Barris it had seemed unfair. Yet Jorris did not complain, and Barris supposed it was because he felt being bondsman to an apprentice was good enough. He looked about them and saw that, at several tables, apprentices and their bondsmen had become close and affectionate as the hour wore on, lingering together, laughing, clasping, trading soft touches as Theossa and Adessa had done.
Theossa’s words rang in him and he let his arm slip around Allis’s waist as they began eating, his fingers gliding easily along his bondsman’s bare hip. Allis sighed happily and leaned into his clasp, sometimes lifting little bits of food to Barris’s lips as Adessa had done with Theossa. They were … fond of each other as well.
“Are you feeling ready enough with numbers to proceed?” Theossa said after they had finished their supper. Adessa glowed in his arms where they crossed over his chest, stroking the thick muscles lightly with a gentle touch, his eyes distant with happiness, occasionally rocking his hips against where he nestled between Theossa’s parted thighs. “Not tonight, of course, but tomorrow?”
Barris considered, then nodded. “I think I can start studying other things now besides.”
“Then next cycle I’ll begin you on letters. Don’t look shocked. Machinists need their apprentices to be able to read as well as count, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“Well now you do. Letters are much harder than numbers — they can take on shades of meaning that numbers never hold — but if you’ve a knack for them you’ll find they can be powerful doorways to much knowledge. That tickles, Adessa. All you’ve learned until now you’ve had to be shown, either as an info holo or by direct teaching. I didn’t say stop it, my light, just that it tickled. There, better. Words — ahh — words let you learn silently, from teachers not visible to you — and some of them in their graves for many hundreds or thousands of seasons.”
Barris stared at Theossa, looking for signs of jest. “How is that possible?”
Theossa smiled and winked. “I did not believe it either at first, but it’s true nonetheless. Tomorrow you’ll begin to see how.”
Allis looked into Barris’s face, happy for him. “My demi-master a man of letters,” he smiled, and clasped him.
Theossa nodded seriously. “Indeed,” he said. “And now with your pardon we’ll take our leave.” He rose and Barris could see by the pitch of both his body through his cloth, and that of his bondsman, bare of any covering, that they were in anticipation of pleasure.
“As you say,” he answered, and thoughtfully watched the couple as they walked, their arms about each other’s hips, back to their barrack, Adessa laughing at something Theossa whispered to him, meant only for his ear.
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