gaila: played myself

Fic: Caged Bird Singing (Gaila - gen)

Title: Caged Bird Singing
Author: igrockspock
Character: Gaila
Rating/Warnings: R for thoughts of violence and frank depiction of sexual slavery
Summary: She takes freedom wherever she can find it, in notebooks begged from clients, stolen ink pens, and pictures of the stars
Notes: Inspired by this picture of Saturn's mooon Enceladus. Thanks to rubynye for the suggestion!



Gaila graduates from training when she is twelve. For her trouble, she is given three sheer, low-cut dresses, a gold bikini, and a robe to wear when she is not working. Her new quarters come with a wide bed decorated with a gold-threaded coverlet and fluffy pillows that only look shabby when she stands too close, and one of the older girls donates worn tapestries to cover the cold metal walls. Gaila is still naive enough to think of this as a favor rather than the beginning of a debt.

"You want better than this, you'll have to get it yourself," the Slave Mother says in a voice that sounds as wrinkled as her skin. Gaila doesn't ask how; she knows now that she's not to question her betters. Not out loud anyway.

She'll never see a single credit of her earnings, that much she knows. She knows too that the Syndicate will feed her well enough to keep her tits perky and her ass nice and round. And that, she supposes, is the tool they give her to support herself. If she wants jewels, a data padd, trinkets for her hair, or clothes to cover her growing body, she'll have to wheedle it from her clients. They'd taught her to do that too, how to see which men need flattery, which need vulnerability, which need to be reminded of a niece or daughter or wife left behind on a faraway world.

She wonders if they'd seen any danger in teaching their slaves to provide for themselves.

***

Gaila eyes her client, an overweight dilithium merchant, with practiced eyes. He wears a coat of purple velvet trimmed with gold braid wholly inappropriate for his rank and station. The gems on his fingers are as big as her eyes. She is unimpressed, but she does not need to be impressed; she just needs someone she can use, and he is that.

"Would you like a present, pet?" His voice is unctuous, even when speaking to someone as lowly as her.

"I'd like a book with blank pages." She casts her eyes down, pretending that this small favor is all she dare ask him for. In truth, she is terrified; most whores have no use for books, and she cannot risk appearing to be more than ordinary.

"You can write?" the merchant sneers.

"Of course not, sir." She keeps her voice meek and her eyes on the floor but pictures herself meeting his eyes and answering with the truth: of course I can write, probably a lot better than you can. She tries to stop the fantasy there, but her mind never lets her gloss over reality. She can write because it makes her worth more money. Some men prefer educated whores, and a smart whore can pretend to be stupid -- she's doing an excellent job of it now -- but a stupid whore can't pretend to be smart.

Now she is thankful that pretense demanded she not meet his eyes. If he'd been looking at her, he would have seen the glint of defiance there. She licks her lips and slides her hands across the smooth fabric of her skirt, pretending that the long pause was born of nervousness.

"I'd... I'd just like a book for keeping trinkets and the like. All the older girls've got one."

The merchant takes a step closer to her, his gelatinous belly pressing into firm one. A shudder of revulsion quivers down her throat and into her belly, but she keeps it on the inside of her body, where she hides everything else about herself that's true.

"Well, my favorite whore can't do without," the merchant says, settling a meaty hand against her jaw.

She eyes the fat, pink thumb lying so close to her mouth and resists the urge to bite it. She imagines the shock in his eyes -- a master betrayed by his favorite dog -- and wonders if it would be worth it to die for that one moment of defiance. But her fingers are unfastening his belt before she truly considers the choice. These thoughts cross her mind at least once a day, though the sentient rights advocates in the Federation would never guess it's the boredom she longs to escape even more than the sexual slavery. She would gladly accept an unpredictable customer, even if it meant that he hit her. But she did her job well, and she is worth too much for the Slave Mother to entrust her with anyone dangerous. So every day, she imagines a hundred tiny ways to revolt and quashes them all without a second thought because her life is worth more than a single petty gesture of rebellion. She's not going to die for a moment of freedom; she's going to lie her way to a lifetime of it -- no matter how unfair, illogical, or ironic that she must debase herself every day to make the escape that will prove her worth.

She lies back on the bed and opens her legs.

***


On the first pages of the book, she glues swatches of fabric for bed hangings and curtains. Underneath, in puffy handwriting that is not her own, she writes about the color scheme she will use to redecorate the bed chamber. The deception is superficial, but that won't matter. No one believes she will escape, and the bored guard who searches her room every week will never open more than the first page or two.

She flips the book to the next invitingly blank white page and pauses for a moment, savoring the moment of freedom that is about to come. Then she plucks a fine point drafting pen from the topmost drawer of her desk. She'd stolen it from an artist she'd serviced a few weeks ago. He had been her least favorite kind of client, the sort who rented her because no one would listen to him without pay. Men like these strained her considerable skill at artifice; pretending a man was god in bed was far easier than pretending to be fascinated by his boring, pathetic, petty ranting. That night, she simply could not bear the tedium of it, so she mixed a sleeping pill into his tea and searched his possessions at her leisure.

Gaila loved stealing because it required her to think. She could not simply drug a customer and seize whatever she wanted because if the station developed a reputation for thievery, the customers would not come. If she were caught, she would be beaten, and she could not work until the bruises healed, which would mean she'd have to give up her bed chambers and serve the station staff for a whole solar cycle. She'd learned that lesson the hard way. When she was younger, the risk terrified her, but now she welcomed it as a respite for the endless boredom that dulled her mind and poisoned her days.

Absently, she twirls the pen between her fingers, cataloging the small rebellions it represents: her ability to steal, her creativity in taking what people did not want, her capacity to turn these seemingly worthless odds and ends into small but satisfying freedoms. Best of all, she loves using the skills they'd given her to please men, like drawing, to please no one but herself. It was the only way she could prove to herself that she was worth something greater than money.

She makes one long, thin line down the edge of the page and stops. Her eyes search the room for inspiration, and by this point of her career, she does not lack beautiful, intricate objects to copy. None of them feel right, but that does not matter; she will make do, just like she always does. Looking down, she begins to sketch the rippling folds of her skirt, but she stops a second later, feeling sick. She does not want to decorate her book with symbols of captivity, but nothing in this sumptuous room speaks of freedom. Not one single thing. Not even her mind, which can only think to draw when directed by a customer.

Suddenly, the walls of her spacious bed chamber feel as if they're closing around her. She can feel the coldness radiating through the tapestries that cover the metal walls. Her chest feels tight, like she can't breathe. She forces herself to stand and walk across the room with measured, deliberate strides that do not reflect her growing panic. Kneeling on the floor with all the grace she's been taught, she pulls a drawer of stolen trinkets from beneath her bed. She will find something in here. Her fingers skitter over forgotten earrings, worn gloves left behind in haste, fragments of wiring filched from the pockets of unwary engineers -- things no one would value except her because touching free people's things is as close to freedom as she can come. Finally, her fingers close around a data cube labeled "Guide to the Sol System."

When she plugs it into her workstation, she sees that it is a child's science text with fat, white print and glowing holographic illustrations. One by one, she flips through the planets, moving hastily past the dull blobs of Mercury and Venus before dipping her fingers into the holographic waters of Terra. There is no sensation but the strange buzz she gets whenever she accidentally touches a hologram, but she lingers anyway, trying to imagine whether the water would be hot or cold, whether it would lap gently against her flesh or suck her deep under its surface. Ignoring the pinpricks in her fingers, she closes her eyes, imagines herself floating naked across a vast expanse of blue, her body belonging to no one but her. The fantasy lasts only for a second before her practical mind kicks in. Predators probably lurk in the water, and even if they don't, she cannot imagine naked women last long anywhere. With a little shake of her head, she flips through the rest of the illustrations, pausing again only when she reaches Saturn's moons.

"Enceladus is unique in the Sol system for its high-powered water geysers," she reads, looking up the unfamiliar words in a dictionary as she goes. "Heat sources inside Enceladus melt ice into deposits of subsurface water. Under pressure, these water pockets burst through the icy crust in fountainlike jets. Most of these droplets freeze immediately and fall back to the surface, but others escape the atmosphere to become part of Saturn's far-flung E ring."

When she finally understands the text, her first impulse is to zoom in on the geysers immediately, but she disciplines herself, makes herself wait. She starts at the moon's south pole instead, the hologram automatically magnifying as she skims her index finger its surface. Half-formed fantasies flicker through her mind. She sees herself in an envirosuit, the old, bulky kind humans had before they learned to travel outside their own system. First, she is walking, but then she imagines herself flying in a hover speeder; she does not like the thought of marking the cold, pitted ground with her own footprints. The geysers loom at the edge of the hologram and her imagination, but she jerks to a stop centimeters before the come into full view. Later, she will realize that she could not bear the sight of so much beauty in the midst of her captivity, but now she tells herself it's better to start drawing something less complicated.

With steady, even lines, she sketches the craters and rills of the planet's surface, deftly incorporating the abandoned drawing of her skirt. She loves the precise lines made by the pen's fine tip; they seem to belong to someone mature and accomplished, not just a whore who sometimes draws on her client's chest with fat colored markers. She's had more things for just herself than the Slave Mother knows; her drawer of stolen trinkets, for one thing, and her dreams of escape. But she likes this one the best; it's more tangible than her dreams, and it belongs to her more clearly than a stolen button or data cube ever could.

Her fingers stray toward the hologram again, hovering toward the north pole where she could see the geysers. But she turns off the projector with a precise jab of her index finger instead. She cannot stand the thought of looking at so much beauty she cannot possess.

***

Hatred flares in her heart the next morning when she meets her client, an interplanetary geophysicist who dwells all day in the beauty she could not look at the night before. He came to her when he could have paid for a free woman's time in a hundred places in the Federation, and that means he wants a slave. That is reason enough to hate him. Or perhaps he came to her because he thinks she is an animal who does not mind her captivity any more than a dog minds having a master, and that is even more reason to hate him. But in her heart, she knows the truth: he came to her because he did not think about her at all. That is the best of all possible reasons to hate him. They would rape her to death if she killed him, but no reasonable being -- god or earthly -- could blame her for it. She grinds down harder, imagining her hands closing around his throat. He would like it because he would not know what was happening, and by the time he did, it would be too late.

She doesn't want to be punished, she doesn't want to die, and she still wants to be free. But in that one moment, she wants justice for her suffering even more than she wants freedom, and the only justice she will ever get is what she exacts for herself. She stares at the pulse beating in the skin of his throat and tries to summon the anger she will need to do this. It flares inside her for a moment, but before she can fashion it into anything useful, the sour taste of bile floods her mouth, leaving her even more nauseated than the feeling of his cock moving deep inside her. He does not see her expression change, does not notice the tremor that breaks past her iron control to shudder down her spine and arms and into her hands. Gaila notices him not noticing.

He'll never know that she spared his life, much less that she did it to save herself. In that single moment of blinding anger, she could see no beauty, and she would not die for a moment that made her world even uglier than it already is. She can see now what a pretense their control is; they have taken every choice from her but the most important one, the choice of who she will be. Right now, she is better than all of them -- the parents who sold her, the traders who bought her, the men who hurt her, and the ones who choose not to see her. That one thing, she will not give up.

Years later, she says that escaping was the bravest thing she has ever done, but inside herself, where she still keeps her deepest truths, she knows her greatest act of bravery was what she did that night: she looked at the beauty she could not have, and she hated no one for it. In sure, even strokes, she had drawn geysers spewing water into the sky and raining diamonds of ice down to the surface below. Every line hurt, and every night, she hurt herself a little more to imagine herself there. One night, she pictured tiny droplets of water reaching up into Saturn's rings; another, she imagined her feet sliding across a surface of jewel bright ice. A stroke at a time, over the course of years, she had added herself to the picture until her hope of escape had hardened into resolve and then finally a plan.

Eight years later, her first year at the Academy, she had applied to a research team bound for Enceladus.

"You are a first year cadet with limited scientific background, therefore your academic qualifications are substantially less than other applicants'," Commander Spock had said. She felt defeat, but did not show it on her face, and when he asked the next question, she had the answer ready.

"In light of your limited qualifications, why should you be selected to this position?"

"Because I know what it's worth."

She got the job.
So gorgeous. I love how you depict her as such a strong woman, so intent on survival and happiness.

One note - fourth paragraph from the bottom, I believe you mean "applicants" instead of "aplicants".
Oh, GAILA. I adore your Gaila, which you know. And this just made me cry, because...

because of her, stretching out her hand to that beauty, to freedom, to the life beyond those walls and shackles...

and because of me, because like many of us, I used to dream of Saturn's rings and Europa's ice sheets and Enceladus' sparkling geysers. You've reminded me of when I used to hide books under my bed and read them by my nightlight, books about science and evolution and sex and everything I wan't supposed to read about.

And (I may fumble saying this, but I'll try) isn't that what the best fiction does, tells a story at once singular and universal? My childhood's part of why I loved that image of Enceladus in the first place, and it means so much to me that you made this astonishing piece of narrative art from that prompt.

[Third time's the charm.]

Edited at 2009-11-23 04:10 am (UTC)
Your dedication to editing your comments is so kind :)

Anyway, I'm really glad you enjoyed the story on a literary level and a personal level. Even though I was obsessed with astronomy when I was young, I had no idea about Enceladus' geysers till I saw the photo you linked to. Thank you again for the idea -- this really was fun to write.
This is shockingly beautiful, and so believable and heart-breaking. I love the way you write Gaila. The feeling that she's worked so hard for everything makes her the most wonderful character.
So beautiful, heartbreaking and lovely. I love how you think about Gaila.
Love your Gaila backstory.

Years later, she says that escaping was the bravest thing she has ever done, but inside herself, where she still keeps her deepest truths, she knows her greatest act of bravery was what she did that night: she looked at the beauty she could not have, and she hated no one for it.

This made me cry. In a good way. :o)
This was fantastic! I have so much more respect and interest for Gaila, as well as the other Orion slave girls, now. Definitely a huge inspiration to hear her story and courage. Gorgeous writing, so filled with heart felt descriptions of how she felt. Thanks for introducing me to something new!
This reads very differently than your other writing. I'm having difficulty isolating just how, but the tone is different.

I like the concept of seeing freedom in the pictures of space.
I've been reading a lot more lately, actual books instead of just fanfic. I tend to pick up the rhythm of other people's writing when I read, so maybe that accounts for the difference.