Will adjusted his back against the metal bars
of his cage, welcoming the cool touch of steel against his hot skin. It would
have been nice if the cage had at least one solid wall to lean against.
Instead, it was fashioned like a giant bird cage, and the metal bars were a
bitch on sore muscles. Of course, they weren’t really meant for long-term use.
Their sole purpose was to display Zeds to shopping Alphas like zoo animals. If
all went well, a Zed would spend a few days, maybe a week, in one of these
cages before being carted off home with an Alpha. That was how it was supposed
to work, but in the back room of Emporium, it wasn’t so simple.
A flash of pain shot up Will’s left leg, and he
winced as he shifted position. He could barely look at the twisted mess of a
limb. His leg was the reason he waited in the back room instead of out front.
He looked around the room at the other cages. The most undesirable of the
undesirables stared back at him with no hope in their faces. It was easy in
this stuffy room to see why the Alphas and Betas viewed Zeds as less than
human. Everyone in the back room had some deformity, something that made their
resale value plummet—something that made it all right in the eyes of the law
for them to be quietly disposed of if they weren’t sold within a month.
The air chilled, and goose bumps rose on Will’s
flesh where sweat had been a moment before. He scrambled to his feet along with
the others in their cages. If the climate control was being activated, it could
only mean one thing: an Alpha was approaching to do some shopping. As he stood,
the goose bumps spread without the huddled warmth of his body. He wore a pair
of tight gray shorts that barely covered him, displaying his scrawny frame and
mangled leg. He hadn’t been attractive before the accident, and he certainly
wasn’t now. In a few more days, one of the handlers would pull him from his
cell, and he’d finally learn how Zeds were disposed of. Was it a nice, quiet
injection? Will scoffed. He knew better than to hope for such mercy at the
hands of the Alphas or even the Betas who operated Emporium. More likely, he’d
be tortured, and then when he happened to die, it’d be a nice little “oops”
that no one would have to account for. Yeah, that was more in line with how New
Will was so lost in his dark thoughts that he
almost missed the shadow of a man who strolled into the back room like a
regular visitor. Not only was he silent as a shadow, he resembled one. Thick,
straight black hair curled slightly at the ends. A smartly tailored black suit
complete with black dress shirt clung to his tall, perfect frame. Not too
bulky, but not skinny either. He sported the build of a man whose muscles were
strictly for show. Like most Alphas, he probably hardly had to work to maintain
The man made his way from cage to cage,
examining each inhabitant with a silent, cool gaze. Will steeled himself when
the Alpha reached him. He stared straight back into the man’s eyes, trying his
damnedest to show that he wouldn’t be judged by his deformity. The man didn’t
even seem to notice. Gazing into the Alpha’s eyes, Will had to keep himself
from jerking in surprise. Staring back at him were two differently colored
irises: one ice blue and the other amber. He never thought he’d find such an apparent
flaw in an Alpha, and Will took a little satisfaction in seeing it before he
The man finished his inspection and went to a
Zed who must already belong to him. She appeared to be in her late thirties—old
for a Zed in personal service—and was well-attired in a modest, bright blue
dress that appeared to be made out of real cotton instead of synthetic fabric.
She was the exact opposite of her Alpha. From a distance, she could have passed
for a Beta if it weren’t for the metal collar encircling her neck. She must
hold some sentimental value to her owner for him to keep her so long.
Will leaned against the bars of his cage. He
would have sat back down, but there was no way for him to do so with dignity,
and he wasn’t about to show an Alpha even a smidge of weakness. Will wished the
man would just pick who he wanted and leave so he could get back to his morbid
thoughts. He knew this man was just one more prick he didn’t have to worry
about belonging to. The Alpha hadn’t looked at Will any longer than the others,
and Will wasn’t the only one to meet his eyes. There was nothing to distinguish
him from the other offerings.
The Alpha leaned down and whispered into the
woman’s ear. She snapped her head around to look at him with what appeared to
be disapproval and pursed her lips before nodding. He swept out of the room as
quickly and quietly as he had entered.
“That one.” The woman’s voice seemed loud in
the silent room.
Will startled to see her finger pointed
directly at him. His stomach sank, and he tried to keep the shock from his
face. Who knew what she’d report back to her Alpha about his reaction. Their
Alpha. Will hadn’t ever expected to be owned again. I was so close to it all
ending. If only he’d had the courage to take care of it himself before he’d
been brought to Emporium. He should have done it the day that damn horse broke
The tall, unpleasant Beta who was on shift in
the back room unlocked Will’s cage. Will ignored the Beta’s helpful hand as he
stepped out. There was no way he would appear weak in front of the Zed woman.
She sighed. “What’s your name, boy?”
She flinched slightly at his name, and her eyes
narrowed for a moment. “How old are you, Will?”
She tsked, as if his answer didn’t please her
at all, then turned to the Beta. “If you’ll send the invoice to my tablet, I’ll
transfer the credits.”
“Payments must be authorized by the purchasing
Alpha.” The Beta sneered.
“I have the authorization code. Let me worry
about doing my job. Or if you like, I can go get my Alpha to come back in here.
I’m sure he’d be thrilled to explain to a Beta how to do his job. We’ll see how
long you keep that job and how long Emporium will keep my Alpha’s business if
this is the kind of hassle he has to put up with here.”
Will could’ve sworn the temperature dipped a
few degrees. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. Under
different circumstances, Will might have even liked her. The Beta murmured
under his breath, something about barren Zeds getting above their caste.
Nonetheless, he went to the data screen in the corner of the room as the woman
withdrew a glass square the size of her palm from her pocket. She swiped her
thumb across it, and the glass unfolded into a rectangular tablet. It was
common for Zeds to have tablets in order to assist their Alphas, but Will had
never seen a Zed with a Glass Tab before.
“There. Did you get that confirmation? Or do I
have to come show you how to find it?”
“I have it here. I don’t need an arid bitch
mouthing off at me. You’re free to go.”
Will bristled. It was a low blow to insult a
Zed for being sterile, as if they had any choice.
Will followed her to a side door. It was no
surprise Emporium didn’t want him exiting through the front, soiling the
appearance of all the young, attractive Zeds on display. As they passed the
Beta, whose name Will had never heard, he couldn’t help throwing him a dirty
look, not only for his insult to the woman, but for his complicity in Will’s
Outside the side door, a sleek black and chrome
bullet car waited. The woman opened the door and gestured for Will to get in.
He scooted all the way over, and the woman followed. As soon as the door closed,
the car took off without a word or glance from the Alpha behind the wheel.
Will’s nerves crawled up his stomach. The
others had told him not to stare down Alphas, that some of them liked that, and
the ones who did relished the challenge of breaking Zeds to their wills. Will
wouldn’t let that happen. Before this man could do too much damage, he’d
provoke him to kill him, or he’d off himself somehow. There was no way he’d die
in misery as an Alpha’s plaything.
No use thinking about it. In moments of honesty,
Will doubted he had the nerve to follow through. It was nice to imagine he had
that kind of control over his life. However, it was best to not make too many
assumptions. After all, the man clearly had a soft spot for the woman beside
Will. She was pretty in her own way. Her long brown hair was thick and
straight. Dark blue eyes kept casting worried glances at the driver.
The silence in the car felt taut, but the man
to whom Will had been sold didn’t seem to notice. He kept his eyes on the road,
veering in and out of traffic with the kind of clipped movements that made it
seem like he only just kept his anger in check. Will wondered why he didn’t fly
or use the autopilot if the traffic bothered him so much. Only Alphas had
clearance to disable autopilot and drive manually or fly if they wanted. Maybe
it was a good sign that he was keeping to the streets. If he wasn’t showy with
his vehicle, there was a chance he wouldn’t be showy with his Zeds. Reserved.
That was the word for it. This Alpha seemed entirely too reserved. With any
luck, that was a good thing.
Will lost track of time as they sped out of the
city. He tried to relax and enjoy the relative safety of the drive. The green
of the suburbs faded, and the barren wastes spread out before them. Eventually,
they ended up outside a large concrete wall. Will craned his neck, but the wall
extended out of sight in both directions and rose over twenty meters tall. The
blue light of the security net crackled and flickered in the air. So the wall
wasn’t exclusively to keep Betas and Zeds in or out; it was also to protect
against other Alphas. Interesting. Will had never seen a compound anywhere near
as massive as this one.
Giant steel gates opened to allow the car to
pass. Inside, the drab scenery instantly transformed into manicured lawns, neat
walkways, and well-kept flower beds, like an idyllic park, with houses
interspersed throughout. The car approached a hill on which perched a mansion
that looked like something from before the Great Destruction instead of the
modern homes of most Alphas. Underneath the house, wooden garage doors opened
to admit them. The bullet car pulled in next to six other cars, all flashier
than the one they were driving.
“Welcome home.” Something sounded off about the
Zed’s voice, but Will was too distracted by his appearance to puzzle it out.
The man was huge, barrel chested with rich, dark brown skin, much darker than
the light tan hue of the people of New Cali. Will had never seen a foreign Zed
before. He knew some Alphas liked that sort of thing, but importing was a
hassle and pretty rare.
Will’s new owner strode past the Zed before
Will or the woman could even get out of the car. “Take care of him, Kaleana.”
He never broke his stride or glanced back. Within a few steps, he was inside
and out of sight.
Kaleana shook her head at the big man, and he
got back to work on one of the other cars. “Come on then, Will. Do you need any
Will exited the car. “No, I walk just fine.”
His leg was twisted, not missing.
Kaleana simply raised an eyebrow and turned to
go inside. Will followed, trying to mask his limp as much as possible. Walking
felt like a novelty after three weeks in that cage. Once his leg stopped
sending shocks of pain through his body with every step, he paid attention to where
they were going.
Will felt his eyes widen. He didn’t know why he
continued to be amazed by the wealth the Alphas held. The floor was marble:
gray, black, and white swirls polished to a clean shine. Old-fashioned light
fixtures hung from the ceiling without an embedded light in sight. The walls
above the chair rail were upholstered with white fabric with a black filigree
pattern, and below, the colors of the fabric were inverted.
Kaleana disappeared around a corner, and Will
hurried to catch her as she ascended a narrow staircase. The steps presented
something of a challenge, but he settled into a rhythm. They passed the first
floor, and on the second, Kaleana led him to a thick, rich wooden door. The
dark wood of the doors was an interesting contrast to the stark walls, and the
gold doorknob was carved with the Alpha crest of the New Cali nation-state. It
seemed a work of art in itself. Will had no idea where such an elegant door
Kaleana opened the door, and Will followed her
inside. A large mattress with stark white bedding rested on an intricately
carved black wooden frame. The furniture was all black and white with a few
polished metal accents. It was the cleanest place Will had ever seen.
Will shook his head, thinking something must be
lodged in his ears. “Excuse me?”
A smile played at the edges of Kaleana’s lips.
“You heard right. There’s a bathroom through the door over there.” Kaleana
nodded toward the far right corner. “There’re some clothes in the closet. We’ll
get you some new ones that fit better.”
Will’s mind raced. A private bathroom? Clothes
specially made for him? His new Alpha must have some weird sexual kink that
attracted him to deformed Zeds. It was a basic fact that Zeds either did hard
labor that was too dangerous for Betas, or they served as sexual or
entertainment companions. It was clear which situation Will had landed himself
in. He couldn’t decide if it was a good thing.
“Do I share this room with another Zed, ma’am?”
“No, and there’s no need to call me ma’am. It’s
just Kaleana. There’s a Glass Tab by the bed that you are free to use. It has
limited access at the moment. Now, there are very few rules in this house,
which means there’s no excuse not to follow all of them. You’re to keep
yourself clean. Your meals will be taken with the rest of the boys.”
“The rest of the boys?” When Kaleana had said
he wasn’t sharing the room, he assumed that meant there were no Zeds other than
the man in the garage in the house. It didn’t make sense to give each his own
“Yes. There are seven, including you.”
“And what are they all here for? What are my
“To do as you’re told. Now, stop interrupting.”
Will got the distinct impression Kaleana would rather be somewhere else.
“Breakfast is at eight o’clock every morning. Lunch is at one, and dinner is at
six. Keep yourself and your room tidy. There is to be absolutely no fighting
with anyone else. As long as you don’t cause trouble, you should fit in well
here. This is a nice home. You’re very lucky. Do you have any questions?”
He had hundreds of questions, but Will was
smart enough to wait until he found the right time—and the right person—to ask
them. Only one matter left him with too much curiosity to ignore. “The Alpha,
what’s his name?”
Kaleana fully smiled for the first time, her
face softening around the creases next to her eyes. “Malcolm.”