Mason stumbled through the doorway into the Jade Falcon camp cafeteria; surveying the room with a black eye and bruised face. The facility was awash in personnel, both full fledged clanners and bondsman of varying degrees like himself. The room was filled with chatter, laughter and something else… music. He had yet to hear music in all his time at the camp. Mason wandered around the edge of the room toward a small stand in the corner where a group of bondsman were playing various instruments. One wore a uniform with what looked like a torn Ghost Bear emblem. They were playing “Take 5,” an old Jazz standard from Terra.
Mason’s day had been terrible. He had pissed off every instructor and finally one of the other bondsman had challenged him to a circle of equals over his calling all of them slaves. The Clans liked to dress it up as an honor, that they were somehow special for being chosen for this “integration”, but it was slavery all right. He had tried to talk the other bondsman out of it, but the surprise tackle had left him stunned. The fight had been quick. A few elbows, and sacrificial face blocks had allowed him to corral the other man into a bad position and Mason had shoved the man out of the makeshift circle ending the fight. The rapid brainwashing of the other prisoners worried him. How soon until he cracked, until he saw himself as a Jade Falcon. Mason closed his eyes and breathed in deep letting the Jazz wash over him. His ribs hurt. Hell, his whole body hurt and he felt like he might be fighting a losing battle.
“What are you doing Surat?”
The voice startled him, but he turned around calmly to face it. Showing weakness like fear or jumpiness seemed to make Clan Warriors more predatory. The woman in front of him was huge, at least 7 feet tall and built like a brick wall.
“Uh, nothing. Nothing. Why? Is there a problem, uh…” he searched the uniform for a rank and name “Warrior Faraday?”
She glared at him and he felt like he was shrinking, or maybe she was growing taller. He couldn’t be sure.
“You were doing something with your feet and fingers. Was that a nervous twitch, or some sort of epilepsy?”
“Uh, no. I was keeping time with the music. They, they’re playing Take 5. It’s a song I like.”
The enormous woman tilted here head at him.
“Contractions are filthy and unbecoming of a clansman but I will overlook them. Tell me about this song.”
“It’s old, from Terra. People used to dance to it, I guess. It was popular. My mom and dad liked to listen to holo-recordings of it.” Faraday’s face screwed up at the mention of parents for a moment before softening.
“Do you know much about music, bondsman?”
“Well, yeah. I guess. I used to have a huge archive back on the ship. I sometimes liked to listen to it in my mech when doing ambush training.”
“You were a mechwarrior?”
Faraday paused a moment and then leaned close. This is what having a building slowly fall on you is like he thought.
“Do you still have this archive?” Her voice was hushed, husky. Mason blushed uncontrollably and was suddenly very hot.
“Um, yeah. It’s in my quarters. The Star Captain let me keep it. But, wha–”
“Is there…” The elemental seemed lost for a moment and then she smiled “Rock and Roll?”
“Of, course. Why do yo–”
“You will come to my quarters tonight and bring the archive.” Faraday returned to a safe distance and Mason was left feeling slightly agoraphobic at all the personal space he had regained. “You will come at 2000 hours.”
“You will come.” Mason flushed. He had been beaten, scolded and treated like shit for weeks, and here was this… this woman just treating him like property. He exploded.
“What did you say, Surat!” Faraday grabbed him by the collar. Mason could swear she had grown 3 feet in 2 seconds.
“I said no, you can’t just treat me like this. I’m not property!”
“But you are Surat. You are property of the Clan.”
“I’m no slave!” Faraday let him go, a shocked look on her face.
“You think you are a slave?”
“Aren’t I? You and all your clanner friends treat me like I’m your personal property.”
“Has no one explained to you our ways?”
“They’ve tried, but apparently I don’t understand the nuances!” Mason pointed at his bruised face. Faraday looked alternately hurt and then thoughtful.
“You will come to my quarters and bring the archive, and I will… tutor you in our ways.” Mason felt the unwelcome blush rising in his face again.
“Ummm, yeah… OK… Why not.”
“Bargained well and done. 2000 hours.”
“2000 hours.” He repeated back. Faraday smiled, turned and left. Mason’s head spun. What the hell had just happened? Shaking his head he made his way toward the food service line. As he passed the Jazz band the leader winked at him. What a strange damned day; and it wasn’t over yet.