Mei was given heavy leg irons in addition to the manacles on her wrists. It made it very tiring to move about.
Percival had cackled while putting them on her. “So if you get any foolish ideas abou’ goin’ fer a swim, you’ll sink right tuh the bo’om.”
English folk. Did they just sometimes forget that the alphabet included the letter T?
She’d then been handed a buck and mop and told to spend the rest of the day swabbing the decks.
Until now, the meaning of the words ‘swab the deck’ had always been a mysterious nautical term, something that evoked romantic notions of the high seas and historical settings. How disheartening to learn that it just meant to mop the floor on each level of the ship.
Barefoot, she wore nothing but crude white cotton pants and blue cotton shirt that left nothing to the imagination. She had neither underwear nor bra, which left her larger-than-average girls swinging in time with the way the ship rocked, and had all eyes on her as she worked. To make matters worse, whenever the ship drove through rollers and waves sent cold, salty spray across the deck, it soaked her clothes and they clung to her, eliciting a chorus of cheerful catcalls from the crew on deck on up in the rigging. Only the more dignified captain seemed to refrain, his only emotion in her direction being apparent boredom.
She spent hours grinding the mop into the wood of the deck, working it free of salt buildup and moss and tiny critters trying to build a life in the cracks. The sea breeze dried her clothes out quickly. Her hands ached from the strain of the work. Her long, straight black hair, without anything to tie it up with, flowed loose in the breeze. A solitary seagull soared overhead, the only break in the clear, blue sky. The sun beat down uninterrupted, and she could feel it going to her head, yet she was given no breaks and no water.
Off in the far distance as they topped a particular high roller in the afternoon, she caught sight of land. It was an island. Perhaps this was Barbados, their destination. She saw little more than haze on the horizon, however, before she was sent below the main deck to scrub there as well.
It was an oven below, cramped and small. At 180cm, she was much taller than most women and barely had room to stand. Some of the taller men had to hunch over at all times. The second deck, right below the main, was the gun deck. Cannons were lined up in rigs, ready to be thrust out square portholes and fired. At the far end of the ship, at the stern, was a door to another room. Of course, that left plenty of deck to swab.
While she was now out of the sun, heat stroke had already claimed hold of Mei and had left her stumbling and dizzy. She was dying of thirst. Whenever any of the crew passed by her and her bucket, she held out a hand and meekly pleaded, “Water! Do you have any water?” None was forthcoming. Mostly, they just laughed at her. While the soldiers were real people, the crew seemed to be either NPCs or fellow prisoners. She could tell from the name tags over their heads: NPCs were white while real people were green. The NPCs must have been programmed for coldheartedness and the prisoners didn’t seem to indicate any sympathy for one of their own.
It wasn’t until the sun set and the day began cooling slightly into evening that Percival and Saxston came for her. They dragged her down to the fourth deck, the lowest one, and to a tiny room in the bow of the ship, where they tossed her into an iron cage that went from floor to low ceiling. It was only two meters square. Dropping some white bread and a leather skin of water onto the floor next to her, they departed.
Mei was exhausted from all that hard mopping while trying to constantly keep her balance while wearing those chains, plus the sun and the heat. It had drained her. Now that she’d hit the ground, she could barely move. It took an effort of will to summon the strength to uncork the skin and drink from it. And when she did, she ended up guzzling it too fast and vomited half of it up. The bread she was too sick to even consider. Which was good because, in no time at all, a huge rat appeared and made off with the entire chunk, not the slightest bit scared of the woman in the cage. Mei, not normally squeamish, still would have screamed at the sight, but couldn’t summon the energy.
She lay alone, in the dark, with the soothing sound of the water on the hull, wood and nails creaking, bare feet slapping the deck. It wasn’t long before she drifted off to sleep.
The sound of the cage squeaking as it opened woke her. She blinked sleep away, feeling sluggish, yet could make very little out. Someone was entering the cage, yet they didn’t carry a lantern and only a tiny bit of light reached from the nearest porthole. Wariness shot through her, giving her a spike of adrenalin. Yet she wasn’t so foolish as to move, even if she had the energy. She’d only partially recovered.
“Time t’ have a little fun,” the man in the cage giggled.
Mei tensed. It was Saxston. And when his hands grabbed her and started pulling her pants off, she nearly sighed as she began putting up a weak struggle. Of course this was going to happen. And of course it would happen on her first night. While the man was being secretive by not bringing a light, his actions were unlikely to be objected to should she try to complain to the captain. The captain might even have an unofficial policy for this sort of thing, to reward his crew and to show the new prisoners who’s boss.
She felt herself pushed into her back and her chained legs, pants now around her ankles, were pushed towards her head with one hand. She felt the coldness of a liquid hitting her between the legs and a powerful, fishy odour came at her. She flinched. The liquid was viscous. Given the year and location, it was probably whale oil: gross. She had no further time to think about that before he was trying to push his stubby little thing inside of her.
She had to consciously remind herself: this was not real. She was in a digital system. She could not get pregnant here and, as far as she knew, there were no sexually transmitted diseases. It might be incredibly unpleasant, but this bastard couldn’t actually hurt her as long as she refused to allow it in her mind. She clung to that and chose to be strong.
She stopped fighting back and went limp. She let him think that she was going to let him use her body the way he wanted. Let him get confident. And eventually he seemed to register her lack of resistance, assumed her compliance, and focused elsewhere. And she felt the grip on her legs slacken.
She curled her hips towards her like a crunch exercise, then pushed her legs up and over his head. The pants and chains went around the back of his neck. She pulled hard, yanking him forward and off balance and making him yelp in surprise. Feeling her way across his face, she cruelly jammed stiffened fingers into one eye and then the other while holding him in place.
He tried to scream and clawed at her legs.
She pushed his head back and jabbed her fingers repeatedly into his throat, cutting the sound off.
He wildly flailed about, turned around and tried to extricate himself from between her thighs.
That allowed her to get the leg irons around the front of his neck. She dragged him down with her legs, pushed on the back of his head and started strangling him. Part of her couldn’t believe she was doing something so violent, yet the instinct for self preservation was strong and after all she’d endured since her arrest, she wasn’t going to take any more abuse in this place.
He kicked and fought, but he was not a big man, nor a strong one. Yet she was tall and athletic for a woman. And he was in pain and already struggling to breathe. His HP bar appeared under his name tag and started going down. His movements slowed. He shuddered repeatedly. Then his HP bar reached zero and disappeared; he went still.
She released him, letting the head thump to the deck. Then she pushed away, putting her back to the wall of the cage, huffing and puffing and shaken.
It was the first time she’d ever killed anyone. And while this was just, technically, a game world in their shared minds, it was not a pleasant experience. It felt unnatural and deeply wrong. And yet, she’d already tried to harden herself to expect this sort of thing before arriving in the prison system. She wasn’t going to let it get the best of her now.
“Told you I’d kill you before I got off this ship,” she said to the corpse. She pulled off the dead man’s shirt and used it to clean the smelly oil off of herself. Pulling her pants back on, she looted the body. No keys. Wait, hadn’t they hung them up outside the cage somewhere?
Creeping as quietly as she could over the corpse, she exited the cell and felt along the walls for the keys. To her joy, she found the iron ring hanging from a hook. Removing it with a slight jangle, every sound of her movements freaking her out lest she be detected, she sat down on the floor and worked to silently unlock the chains. After a few minutes of fumbling around with shaky hands, she was free.
She stood up and smiled. Now, how to go about escaping?