The one thing Desmond didn’t expect to find while he and Jack were taking his new car for a spin in Cadeyrn’s downtown area, was religion.
He was on his way to the mall. Mostly going just for the sake of going. His attraction to the place having been born after he’d realized that all his purchases up till then had been by online order. Thus making him want to see what this version of the Agartha’s malls looked like.
It was three o’clock on a Saturday so naturally the streets of the downtown area were jammed. Packed full of every kind of vehicle, with the crosswalks cluttered with all sorts of idiots who jaywalked, cutting the flow of traffic while they took their lives in their hands.
Desmond tapped the steering wheel, wondering what the cause of one particularly long hold up was. Jack sat beside him, pouting. She‘d wanted to drive, because according to her such things were below her master’s dignity and also because she kind of just wanted to drive. For such a stern looking little lady, the girl liked to go fast.
Perhaps it had something to do with having ancestors who served as the piloting AI for faster-than-light, freight ships.
Whatever the case was, Desmond just barely managed to placate her, by promising to install one of her cores into the car once he was done enjoying the car as just a car.
Which would probably be soon, since he was quickly re-discovering all he’d hated about driving during his first life.
Mollified, she’d responded quite positively, her usual impassivity giving way to a shy blush and smile.
“Ah…does this mean, I’ll finally get to have master inside me?”
He’d reflexively replied with a forehead flick, a sigh and a scolding.
“….I…get what you’re trying to say, but please refrain from making such easily misunderstandable statements while you’re walking around in the body of a ten-year-old.”
Like all trips that didn’t include an unexpected change of heart, an accident, or a death, their trip downtown, ended with them getting to where they’d been headed.
The mall was nice. At the very least, had Desmond enjoyed his first hour or so there. Walking surrounded by people of all shapes and sizes. Wandering in and out of the stores and occasionally giving the carts and stands that couldn’t rate their own store space, a look.
Passing the couples who meandered through the stores. Passing teenagers who loitered about while chatting with their friends.
Around the end of hour two of their stroll through the mall Desmond and Jack hit the food court which lay near the rear portion of the mall, near its back entrance.
He bought a liter of sugary, slushed, whatever-in-a-cup, and a pretzel for himself. Jack said she didn’t want anything, but her eyes kept going towards the miniature ice-cream parlor, so he bought her an ice-cream sundae.
Which she ate with look of conflicted pleasure. On the one hand the girl liked her sweets. On the other hand she was quite the stickler about playing her roles, be it as a maid, a knight, an advisor, a steward, or a general.
Jacqueline Weiss would perfectly play any parts she accepted to their logical extreme, it was both her greatest strength and weakness.
He smiled as he watched the young lady eat her ice-cream. Affectionately tousling her hair, wondering why she’d never once accepted his offers, to adopt her as a little sister or daughter.
Considering the difference between their subjective ages, it had seemed appropriate at the time.
Instead she’d insisted on becoming his first mistress or partner. By his reckoning she could and should have at least asked to be his wife, he owed her at least that much, and if she had he wouldn’t have gone through with the marriage. Or if he’d had to go through with it, he would have asked for a divorce once they were in Ashok and out from under their families’ influence.
Thinking that he was thinking too much of himself and missing some nuance of what the woman really wanted he’d asked about her goals. He asked her dreams. He asked about her deepest, darkest ambitions.
With his inherited memories, Desmond was no stranger to playing demon, god or djinn, and he believed he owed the girl enough to see her suitably repaid for all that she’d done and continued to do for him.
Being the surprisingly open and guileless girl that she was, she’d answered directly smiling shyly as she did so.
“To watch you die, master…”
An answer that naturally called for clarification. As while Desmond had still not been sure that he entirely understood the girl and what she wanted or felt, he’d at least thought that she didn’t hate him.
After all neither he, nor the Caldwells had been responsible for the deaths of her royal family…nor had they been the ones responsible for her fall.
Sure, the Caldwells had thrown her away, broken as she’d been when she’d first fallen into their hands. A mere extra that the vendor had tossed in when the Caldwells had purchased the contracts of a group of her more able bodied countrymen.
But Desmond had nothing to do with that, as the plans for tossing “him” away had already been started by then.
He asked her to explain, and she spoke of porches and rocking chairs and watching him die of old age, which though slightly morbid also sounded like she did in fact like him as he thought she did.
He explained that he’d probably never die, of old age or anything else…And though she gave him a look that said she didn’t entirely believe him, her response was modified. Her wish becoming a desire to stay by his side, and watch the stars fade, together.
Again, it sounded like she didn’t hate him and while their type of affections were somewhat different in nature, it at least looked like they both liked each other to the same extent, if not to the same extremes.
Their two lonely souls reaching out to each other.
So he asked her to marry him and she said no, insisting that she would instead be his mistress.
He asked why a mistress, she said, because her mother was a mistress and though she still ended up dying, she died happy. Surrounded by her war-sisters, and their shared husband, all of them standing and fighting together, against their final foe.
She didn’t want a simple nuclear family, what she wanted was to be part of a tribe, a clan. She was a child of a big family and wanted the same in her adult life.
Desmond didn’t quite understand that logic, even if he didn’t particularly have anything against the concept of non-monogamous unions, he “was” still somewhat influenced by the practices of his past.
He asked what she’d do if he never got a first wife, wondering if she’d marry him then.
The strange mechanical woman simply gave him a look like he was being silly, and said that she would handle that when it came.
Soon after his parents brokered the deal with the Andrases.
Desmond had the sneaking suspicion that somehow, someway, she was the one responsible for his marrying the Andras girl. There had been other families willing to take the Caldwell’s deal, but somehow her’s managed to make it to the top of the stack.
Those his guess was of course, correct, unbeknownst to Desmond, the machine girl was actually somewhat regretful of her actions.
She’d wanted her master to marry for the sake of her being able to be the mistress that came in between the two.
Her plan had gone off both better and worse than she’d hoped. The two barely interacted, yet there seemed to be something there, some connection.
Though her beloved, was naturally considerate, he seemed to be slightly moreso where the green haired ghost girl was concerned. At first Jack just told herself that it was just because the woman happened to be his wife, but there was nagging feeling, this bit of instinctual understanding that there was something else to it.
The time to leave came and the man and his maid headed towards the exit, heading towards the mall’s back entrance because that led to the lot that they’d parked in.
They were almost out when suddenly Jack stopped mid-stride and turned.
“What’s up?” said Desmond.
She pointed to a door, that was right next to the entrance, one with a sign over it, like the signs they’d seen over all the other shops and stalls.
He frowned as the archive read past the innuendo on the sign and just told him everything that was going on in the floor below.
If he had his way Desmond would have just continued as he’d intended and headed out to the car, but Jack was insistent. Standing stock still and using her not at all childlike strength to make sure he stayed as well.
With a sigh, he gave in, as if there was ever a time where he didn’t just give in.
He walked through the door and down stairs to the basement of the mall. At the bottom of the those stairs was a hall with yet another sign over, one identical to the one on the floor above.
Desmond took a breath and gave the girl a look just to see if she’d possibly changed her mind. What he saw, was her taking the lead, striding forwards to pull the door open.
The door, they entered led to a small chamber, like a miniature version of the hall they’d just walked through. There was a man in a domino mask and a khaki colored dungaroos, like some mixture of zoo keeper, farmer, and card shark.
The man was a doorman, just one of the few visible bits of security that the shop had in place to keep both the customers and the wares, in line.
The man looked at Jack and smiled in a way that made Desmond grab her hand and pull her back despite the fact that he knew she was A)a grown woman, and B) more than strong enough to take care of herself.
Even though it wasn’t needed Jack didn’t mind the gesture.
The two of them met the eyes of the doorman and the man stepped aside tipping an imaginary hat.
They entered the shop and the first thing that struck Desmond was how loud it was, like a circus or a concert. Last years top hits played at a level that drown out most conversation and the dozens of conversations happening in the room were turned into shouting matches to make up for it.
The second thing that struck Desmond was the smell. The shop felt like a cross between a zoo and a strip club. And in this case, the sensation was absolutely accurate.
With men, women, children, and beasts being kept locked in various cages on the elevated stage that lined the walls of the shop. All of them in a state of undress. Some of them looking scared, some of them looking angry, others looking like they weren’t really looking at anything at all. Their souls seeming to have left their bodies while their hearts were still beating.
This was a place where they sold slaves. Technically, if signs were to be believed it was in indentured contractor market, a Labor-Mart. But that was just sophistry. Slaves were slaves no matter where you were. And all but the most enlightened countries allowed slavery in some form or the other.
Some places were better, some places were more humane, with more rules and regulations to protect the sentient product. Still it was, what it was…
And what it was, was yet another reminder to Desmond that no matter how much the world looked like his old one, it was still a very brutal and barbaric place. A place where family conflicts almost always ended in massacres. A place where one bad loss, one word in the wrong ears, could mean either death or a slave collar for you and yours if you were unlucky.
A world that every inch as feudal as it had always been despite being democratized.
He knew this very well. The archive that picked up on each and every atrocity and horror within its million mile range, wouldn’t let him forget. He knew that even if the savage creatures. around him were suits and ties and makeup, that didn’t make them any less dangerous.
Frowning at the dark spectacles around him, he let Jack lead him, aware that she wouldn’t have brought him there without good reason.
He kept close, to keep any idiots from think she was just a product that someone had let loose. Or one of the enslaved staff.
He followed her and was led to a cage, where a girl in tattered underwear, lay curled up on her side, her bare back covered in bruises.
Jack turned to him her eyes solemn and bright at the same time. Her gaze calculating and sharp.
“Look…Really Look.” she said.
He did as she asked and seeing the true nature of the girl in the cage, seeing how bright she glowed he couldn’t help sighing. Patting his maid on the shoulder as they both basked in the light of what seemed to be a fallen divinity.
“…A good find indeed.”