Chapter 9

Not so very far away, the day found Kivutan very distressed. In the secret hideaway for Xanatos and his slave project, Kivutan had awoken early. As he opened his eyes, he started at the unfamiliar ceiling. Then the previous evening's events flooded back to him and his confusion evaporated.

"That's right! Offworld finally caught me! Well at least I know where all the missing children have been disappearing to!" he thought, rolling over and glancing around at the other children in the room. He recognized more than he was happy with. There were the children he had hoped to protect! To gave a safe, happy place to live, even if they didn't have parents anymore. How miserably he had failed.

He sat up, feeling dejected and useless. "You're finally up!" Trajo remarked, startling Kiv.

"We've been up for hours already, trying to come up with an escape plan."

"Why didn't you wake me up?" Kiv demanded.

"You just looked so cute and content lying there," Dari answered, "I couldn't bring myself to disturb you."

"Well you should have." Kiv grumbled. "So what so you have so far?" Trajo looked disgusted.

"Nothing." He answered. "We can't figure a way past the slavemaster. He has the only set of keys, besides Xanatos, AND he has the electro-jabber. There's no way to succeed with only three people. Especially when two of us are in cages. If we could convince ALL the kids to help, we might have a shot, but there's no way. They won't risk their necks. It's too risky, too dangerous. If only we had a REAL plan!"

Just then, a shrill bell sounded, forcing Dari to leave them, as the other children arose. Kiv looked around curiously, eager to see how the mornings here progressed. He saw no reason to bring unwanted attention to himself by messing up in the morning routine. Trajo attempted to get his attention. "Try to clean yourself up as best you can." He whispered. "If we're tidy, we have a much better chance that they'll give us breakfast."

Appalled by the outrageous negligence this showed, Kiv never the less tried to clean himself to the point where he at least looked presentable. At about that time, the sound of the door being thrown open caused all conversation in the small room to come to an abrupt halt.

The "slavemaster" as Trajo had described the man the previous evening, stepped inside with a menacing look about him, right down to the whip in one hand. He cracked the whip once, and the children immediately formed a ruler-straight line. The slavemaster the walked down the rows of cages, opening the doors with keys from a large ring on his belt. The children then filed out and joined the line. At one cage, a boy of about 12 years spat on the slavemaster and tried to make a run for it.

He had made it but a few steps before he was rewarded with a stab from the electro-jabber the slavemaster pulled from his belt. The slavemaster the stood there menacingly, and the buy stumbled into line, clutching his side.

The rest of the cages were emptied without incident. A few children cowered in corners, but when the slavemaster raised his electro-jabber, they quickly forgot their fear, and scurried into line. When Kivutan's turn came, he walked out of his cage and took his place in line, right behind Trajo. He was feeling satisfied that he had succeeded in following the routine, when a quick blow from the electro-jabber corrected him.

"Don't be looking so cocky now!" the slavemaster ordered. "We'll be working that swagger right outta ya!" he said with a leer.

And so saying, he went back to retrieving children from the cages they were imprisoned in. Once they were all in the line, the slavemaster walked up and down the line, dealing out criticism and punishment. To Kiv he said, "Don't stand so tall! You're not the king of the world. Remember that!" He then proceeded to the boy behind Kiv, who was slouching, hoping to avoid criticism. "Stand up straight! Chin up! Back straight!" the Slavemaster barked.

"There really is no pleasing him." Kiv thought. The slavemaster continued down the line, criticizing most, ignoring a few, until he came to a boy around Kivutan's age. He was immaculately clean, and had an air of superiority about him, as if he was better than everyone else was.

The slavemaster looked the boy up and sown, and then smiled. Or at least Kiv assumed that was what he was trying to do. It was sort of hard to tell. "Very good!" the slavemaster praised. "You're doing perfectly! I always knew you'd do well! Soon, you might move onto greater things!"

The boy looked very smug and pleased. "Now!" the slavemaster barked, turning and marching up to the head of the line. "Soon things will be changing around here! No more of these luxurious breakfasts!"

"Yes we get a whole piece of bread some mornings! How luxurious!" Trajo whispered sarcastically to Kiv. The slavemaster continued,

"Yes one meal a day is plenty for scum such as yourselves. But today, as a reward for the triumph of your fellow man," he gestured at the buy he had praised before, "you will not only get breakfast, but double rations!" All the children raised their heads a little higher at these words, but obviously knew better than to cheer. Then, the slavemaster looked straight at Kiv. "Except for you." He proclaimed. "New boys get nothing to eat."

Kiv held his head high, and tried not to show his outrage. "Tsk. Stubborn one, aren't you?" The slavemaster commented quietly. "Come now!" he addressed all of them, turning to leave the room. The children followed, keeping the line perfectly straight as they exited the room.

The slavemaster led them to a room, where people Kiv assumed must be guards were sitting at long tables eating. The children went to one side of the room, joining a cafeteria-style line, where they were given a small bowl of gruel, and a piece of bread each. Kivutan stayed in line, although he was not offered anything. The children then sat at one of the tables, and began to eat.

Kiv looked around awkwardly, feeling very out of place. He noticed the slavemaster on the other side of the room, eating from a platter heaping with bread, meat, and fresh fruit. He was startled to feel Dariya's hand in his, slipping him her bread under the table.

He glanced around quickly, and then satisfied that no one was watching, he quickly ate it, shooting Dari a grateful look. Soon after, the slavemaster came to the table. The children stopped eating immediately, and stood up, some even leaving food at the table.

"Come." The slavemaster barked, leading them out of the room again. The children naturally fell into line as they exited silently. The slavemaster led them down a long hallway, and then another, until they came to a massive door, which he threw open. He led the children inside, rushing now.

"You're late!" proclaimed a massive man covered in grime.

"Yes, well, I had new children, and you know how that is, training them, and disciplin-" The man cut the slavemaster off mid-sentence.

"Enough of your excuses! Just leave the children and go. Consider yourself lucky I don't report this to Xanatos." The man said. The slavemaster gulped, almost imperceptibly, and nodded, then shot a quick glance over the children. "All the regulars. plus, you." The slavemaster said, pointing at Dariya. "Come with me." And he whirled around and exited the children right behind him. Dariya sent Trajo and Kivutan a look of farewell, and then passed out of their sight.

With the slavemaster gone, Kivutan turned to Trajo and whispered, "Where are they going?" "They are the favored ones. They get the easy work, cleaning, cooking, care of the droids, etc. We new kids, and the rebels get the grunt work. "Trajo replied in a whisper, gesturing around them.

For the first time, Kivutan looked around the room they were in. In fact, it wasn't a room at all, but a cavern of sorts. It extended as far back as Kiv could see, and then some. "Of course!" Kiv thought to himself. "Offworld is a MINING corporation!"

Kiv looked up to see the man towering above him. "You! New kid! Get in line!" he barked. Kiv looked around, startled. Sure enough, the other children had formed a line, and were now looking at him strangely. "Stupid!" he chastised himself. "Pay attention!" he thought, as he rushed to get into line.

"Yes sir!" he said forcefully. In front of him, Trajo winced.

"Are you mocking me?" the man roared.

"Nnno sir!" Kiv stuttered. "There will be no supper for beings who mock me." The man stated. Kivutan, not trusting himself to speak, nodded meekly.

The man seemed satisfied and walked to the front of the line. "Come now!" he ordered, marching into the midst of the bustling cavern. He stopped in a tunnel, and consulted a clipboard he was carrying. "You!" He barked, singling some of the children out. "To packaging!" They formed a cluster, and then were escorted away by a worker who appeared from the shadow. Kivutan looked more closely, and saw that there were actually several workers standing in the shadows, apparently waiting to escort them to their work places. Kivutan wondered how many of them had once stood in this very line, having been stolen from their homes. It seemed obvious to him now that this had been going on for some time now. Xanatos was very good at this, and Kivutan wondered how many slaves he had trained and shipped away, right under the noses of the people searching everywhere for their lost loved ones.

The man called forward another worker from the shadows, and surveyed the children again. "Take these ones to digging." He instructed the worker, pointing to children, including Kiv and Trajo.

The worker nodded, and led them off into a side tunnel. They walked for sometime, up one tunnel and down another.

"This is the hardest work. This they save for those who they need to break, the real rebels. You must have made quite an impression on Xanatos last night." Trajo said to Kiv. Kiv decided not to ask what Trajo had done, to end up on Xanatos's bad list.

After a while, they came to a room, where the worker selected tools for each of the children. Then he brought them to a passageway, and set them to work collecting the valuable minerals found underground. The day passed much as this, with Trajo and Kiv talking as much as they could without bringing attention to themselves, and without any breaks.

By the time to worker told them that they could stop, Kiv was exhausted. They went back to the cafeteria room for the evening meal, where they were reunited with the other children. After that, they were brought back to the small room that Kiv had first found himself in last night. That already seemed so long ago.

Now, back in his cage for the night, Kiv was exhausted AND hungry, since he was still being denied food. As he was contemplating his situation, Dariya walked up to his cage, looking around her warily.

"Here." she said, handing him a bit of bread. "Oh, yea." Trajo said, fishing bread out of his pocket and handing it to Kiv.

"Maybe they'll feed you tomorrow." Dariya teased lightly. "They won't starve you entirely, a dead person doesn't work."

"I guess we'll find out." Kiv said. "Which reminds me, why don't the kids escape on the way to meals?"

"They're afraid." Dari said with contempt. "There are security cameras, and guards here and there, but an escape would be manageable, if there weren't so many cowards among us. We would all need to work together, and as long as so many children fear our captives, that's not going to happen."

"Maybe they could be convinced." Kiv suggested.

"Unlikely." Trajo said with a snort.

"But if we could, with all of us, we could overpower the slavemaster. Easily."

"And he has keys! To just about everything.." Dari said, eyes lighting up. "This could work! I can talk to the other children, if we all put our heads together, this'll be a cinch!"

"Let's not get carried away yet." Trajo said practically. "We don't even know where we are. Say we did escape, where would we go?"

"There must be a way to figure out where we are." Kiv said with a determined look in his eye, as he paced back and forth in his cage. "There must be some clue.. I've got it! Is it just me, or are there NO WINDOWS in this place?"

"What's your point?" Dari asked.

"Plus, when we went to work in the mines, we didn't really have to go down at all."

"Great Mother, you're right! We're UNDERGROUND!" Dariya exclaimed.

"But where underground?" Trajo asked, getting exasperated.

"We must be under Offworld headquarters." Kiv decided. "Where safer a place to keep kidnapped children than under the headquarters of the most powerful corporation on Telos? Besides, we've already figured that they are involved here. It makes a lot of sense, actually."

"All right, well I'll talk to the other kids about this, and we'll form a plan. This could work!" Dariya rose from her seat on the floor in front of the boys' cages. She turned to see the boy that the slavemaster had praised that morning.

"What could work?" the boy drawled, arms crossed in front of him.

"Nothing!" the three chorused. The boy laughed, a harsh, terrible sound.

"Nice try. I heard the whole thing, and you three shall pay for your plotting." He turned and walked to the corner of the room, and spoke to the security camera near the ceiling.

"Slavemaster, with all due respect, I suggest you come here at once. I've overheard some troublemakers plotting an escape." Then, with a last look at the three of them, he sat down to wait.

It didn't take long. Within a few moments, they heard the sound of a key in the lock, and the door swung open. The boy who ratted them out looked up expectantly. The slavemaster closed the door again and spoke.

"Owen, point out these troublemakers to me." The boy rose and pointed to them. "Trajo, Dariya, and the new boy, Kivutan, sir."

"You shall be rewarded for your loyalty Owen. And as for you three, visits to the Room of Pain seem to be in order."

"No, please sir!" Kivutan pleaded. "It was me who was plotting escape, and me only. These two simply tried to talk me out of it!"

"Is this true?" the slavemaster asked them. Behind his back, Kivutan shot a look at them. Dariya looked as if she were ready to cry, but they both nodded.
"In that case, you had better come with me." He said, unlocking Kivutan's cage. "And just in case." He grabbed Dariya and dragged her to a cage on the other side of the room. "I don't want you three together." By now, all the children were watching the proceedings.

"Come." The slavemaster beckoned to Kiv. "Oh, and Owen, you had better come along too." The boy got up, and followed Kivutan and the slavemaster out of the room.

"Now." the slavemaster said, turning to Owen. "This incident has proved to me that you're ready for bigger and better things. Of course, I can't simply let you go. Telos is just too dangerous a place for a boy who's seen as much as you have here. What would you say to traveling to another planet, and making you home with a nice family there?" he asked.

"Of course!" Owen nodding enthusiastically.

"Very well, it's settled. Wait here until I can come back for you." The slavemaster opened a door to a small room, and once Owen had stepped inside, closed it again, and locked it.

"This just reeks of slavery!" Kivutan thought, all doubts about what his captors were up to evaporating."

"And you." The slavemaster turned to Kivutan. "You will follow me now." He smiled cruelly, and walked off down a hallway. Kiv looked around, thinking of making a run for it, but quickly discarded that idea, when two guards appeared from the shadows. He followed the slavemaster with mounting apprehension, until the finally stopped in front of a large metal door. Kiv gazed up at it with a touch of fear. What was to happen now? The door opened, and the touch of an electro-jabber at his back was all the encouragement he needed. He stepped inside.

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The door creaked open. Trajo and Dari looked up from the cages, and saw Kivutan stumble inside. He looked dazed, confused, and a little lost. Dari thought of her experiences with the Room of Pain, and her heart went out to him. Trajo watched his longtime friend with concern. He'd never seen Kiv like this before.

The slavemaster opened a cage, and Kiv walked in quietly and sat down immediately, withdrawing into himself. The slavemaster locked the door, and left without a word. A long silence drew across the room. Trajo and Dari watched Kivutan for any spark of his previous fire, but to their dismay, he continued to sit quietly in his cage, and looked at neither one of them.

Trajo was surprised when a boy came to stand in front of his cage. "Is he going to be okay? The Room of Pain is no picnic." Trajo continued to stare at the boy, stunned by his presence. The boy raised an eyebrow. "Why are you so surprised? I'm just as anxious to get out of here as you are. I've just been waiting until I could talk to you safely. That Owen character was trouble."

"What is it that you want?" Trajo asked finally.

"I want to help you," the boy said simply.

Dari was the next to have her cage graced with the boy's shadow, and then he went to Kivutan. He still had yet to look up since he came back from the Room of Pain. He looked to see who was at his cage, and the boy caught a glimpse of his eyes, the look there giving him hope. Those eyes were tired and hurt, but there was still a fire burning in them.

"My name is Garen Muln." the boy ventured. "I'd like to help with an escape plan."

As the conversation continued, the hurt in Kivutan's eyes faded slowly away, and by the time that Garen went to talk to the other children, all that was left was determination.