from moonwolf‘s prompt “More on the Cali Catpeople.
She had been born the smallest kid in her litter, the runt, and so she’d learned early on to be quick and clever where size sufficed for her peers; she learned quickly how to dodge, and how to entertain herself, because she was often left out of their games – tiny, weak, dark where the other slave kids were often as pale as the masters, sharp-tongued and quick-witted.
She found herself, in that small age before they had regular duties, “volunteered” quite frequently for chores that no-one else wanted to do, “volunteered” by being shoved forward to the front of the pack of kids.
But from being volunteered, she learned that the masters and the foremen liked slaves who were eager to work, who stepped forward to do the unpleasant tasks. They liked them, and they rewarded them. For a runty house slave born to a kitchen drudge, the chores forced on her by her peers became a ladder out of the kitchen.
She grew up, although she never grew too tall. Her eyes faded to a funny yellow-green as she reached puberty, and the slave children of her litter took it as even more reason to hate her: the alien princess. The brownnoser. The runt. The volunteer.
When the men from the Agency came to peruse the slaves of the Countess’ house, the foremen remembered her. There were four foremen for the house (it was a very large house, with many slaves to maintain; three stayed silent. Bay was a good worker, with initiative hard to find in those born to the collar, and an asset. They didn’t see the backstabbing and the namecalling, because it behooved them not to see it.
The fourth, however, had seen the bruises and heard the thin excuses: “I fell down the stairs” is not that believable the third time in a month, especially from someone as lithe and quick as Bay was. And the girl had all the traits the government men were looking for, so the fourth foreman put her name forth.
They asked her to volunteer for the program. It would be hard, and it would hurt, but it would, they told her, earn her freedom eventually.
Bay waited for them to finish talking only because it was the polite thing to do, and because they were free and she was a slave, before she said “I volunteer.” She was the volunteer, after all. The freak.
They took her away from the other children, from the Countess’ home, from the foremen; they gave her a new collar, one that was small, shiny, and gold, and a small room she shared with another volunteer. They gave them a week to acclimate to the new place, and to each other, the forty new volunteers in their bright, clean, new dorm. There was a lot of sniffing of tails, a lot of pecking-order establishment, but many of them had been the runts, the freaks, the brown-nosers where they came from, and they were more inclined to band together than they were to fight for dominance.
They had settled into loose social groups and alliances when the Agency men came to change everything.
They brought them into another room, a wide, white room with no furniture and no windows, in groups, not coincidentally in the groups they themselves had established. They herded them into the center of the room, and three royals with their grey eyes and their red hair, men with the arrogant pose of titled nobility, surrounded them.
Bay leaned against her roommate, a tall, scruffy looking slave named Jon from the far North of the country, and one of their closer friends, Natasha, a short, busty girl from the far south. She didn’t know what was happening, and she was a bit scared, but she’d volunteeeeeerrrrrrrrreed….
“Awwwwrrrwwwww.” The yowl startled her; was there a cat in the room? There had been only them, and… “noawwwww.” She hissed, trying to shut herself up, and stared at her fingers, at her paws, at her what?
“‘ay,” Jon called; she twisted to look at him, to see that his hair had grown into a pelt of soft tabby-striped fur, his nose had flattened, his teeth had sharpened.
“What did they do?” Natasha moaned, her words garbled but understandable. Bay, staring down at her strange new feet, could only shrug philosophically.
“We did volunteer.”
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