FIRST PART: LIVING FREE FROM JUPITER'S LAW
"Hey Riki!! Pass me some of that yellow sauce!!" Luke yelled from across the table.
Riki took the bowl and sniffed its contents curling his lips. "All yours! I really don't understand how you and Iason can eat this stuff! It's disgusting! Cal, what's its name?"
The placid brown-haired boy looked up from his plate to answer. "It's mustard, Master Riki."
"M A S T E R Riki" Sid mimicked him sarcastically "Still with these titles, Cal? What must we do to convince you to stop addressing us as if we were your superiors?"
“Uh… er… excuse me Sir Sid. No ... Sid ... I mean, only Sid." Cal blushed, and if he could he would have sunk into the pot of stew in front of his nose.
"Sid, don't bother poor Cal." Guy admonished him "He's a kid and it hasn't been a month since the new laws were passed. Give him some time!"
"Guy, this reasoning might perhaps apply to Benson, but not to Cal!" Sid insisted "He's been living out of Eos for almost two years, and for as long as Katze wasn't around, he's been leading the black market pretty much alone! We've told him a million times to stop with these subordinate appellations!"
Benson, who was sitting next to Guy, looked shyly at Cal who seemed to be holding back an outburst of tears, and sympathized with his upset. He understood his state of mind very well because it was also very difficult for him to assimilate all the changes of the last few weeks. Just the fact that he no longer had a tag on his wrist made him feel almost inadequate.
Norris, realizing the sensitive state of the former Mink family’s furniture, tried to divert the conversation. "Riki, Guy, what happened to your Blondies? Why aren't they here?"
"They had some kind of formal dinner in Parthea, a reunion between the 12 brothers." Riki answered.
"Dude, big stuff. Where are Katze and Daniel instead?" Norris asked again.
"I don't know, I invited them but they had other plans." Riki explained with a shrug "They're always busy: Katze is taking that boy a bit everywhere, he says he wants to make up for him for the lost years."
Norris also wanted to ask about Aylin and Creek, but ultimately decided to avoid that subject, especially considering Sid was there. The two youngsters, despite living a few blocks away from Riki and Iason's house, had plainly made it clear that they didn't like invitations nor company. They lived practically isolated from the world and left home only the bare minimum to get food. Sid had not been able to talk to Aylin either.
It was the first time that former members of Bison had gathered since the siege of Tanagura. Luke had lost a couple of phalanges in his left hand and Maxi had undergone surgery for the damage within his internal organs but had already almost fully recovered. All in all they got away with little and everyone was really satisfied with the results.
Thanks to their efforts, anyone in Ceres could now work and earn their living without the need to sneak up on the citizens of Midas or stumble out of Stout until they forgot the squalor of their own existence and the boys, instead of joining gangbands to fight and killing each other, managed to feel useful and to live in a dignified way.
Although in Midas and Tanagura most of the owners of shops and factories were still reluctant to offer employment to mongrels and former pets, seeing them with suspicion and distrust, there was also a wide range of jobs within Ceres itself, among the works construction, training institutes, agriculture, maintenance, new factories and businesses that dealt with cleaning up the city and recycling waste. These last two activities were particularly efficient, so much so that raw materials often arrived from the other two macro-sectors that were unable to dispose of them all.
Furthermore, the intergalactic cooperative of human rights had offered the possibility to those who wished to emigrate to any other planet of the coalition and was in charge of organizing and facilitating transfers.
Ceres' army had disbanded, but everyone had declared themselves available for a new call, should it be necessary.
Eos' furnitures and pets were given the choice of leaving the tower to be reintegrated into the community or remaining as regularly salaried employees - in the case of furnitures - or as protected without obligation to perform sexual services - in the case of pets. The latter, in practice, limited themselves to keeping the Elites company and to brighten up their days.
The furnitures and pets who decided to move away from Eos and become part of society, on the other hand, were included in special training programs where teachers and therapists helped them to lose the inculcated conditioning, guided them towards the choice and learning of a job and, in the case of pets, they provided to literate and give them a basic education. Throughout this period and until the achievement of economic independence, their financial support was borne by their former Masters and regulated by a special court.
Almost all the Elites, despite having the possibility to change their place of residence, had remained to live in Eos. The exceptions were Iason, who had moved with Riki and Cal to a cottage in New Ceres, not far from Gideon's which now housed Creek and Aylin, and Raoul, who had bought a mansion in the north of Mistral Park and moved there with Guy and Benson. They had chosen that area because it was a good compromise, close to both Ceres and Tanagura.
When it was recorded that Lord Mink had returned from the world of the dead, all the properties and accounts that had been inherited by Katze went back to his name. Nonetheless, the Blondie had given the black market boss some of his properties including Apathia's apartment, and the man had moved there with Daniel, as his offices were not very suitable for hosting a couple.
Orphe Zavi had been elected governor of Tanagura and Iason - although most of the mongrels continued to refer to him as Minosi Kan - governor of Ceres. Riki, Sid, Norris, and Guy became part of the council as Ceresian representatives. The governor of Midas elected instead was a high-ranking human whose name was Palacius Gru.
The large numbers of former pets who served Midas brothels were also released from slavery, although many of them had decided to remain as regularly paid employees enjoying greater rights and better living conditions than before. After all, engaging in sexual activities was what they had always done and what they did best.
After they finished eating, the boys decided to bring their motorcycles to end the evening at Depravities, the local historian who had seen them born and grow up as a gang.
"Are you coming with us, Cal?" Riki asked, handing him a helmet.
The young ex furniture shook his head, not very attracted to the idea of going there. He didn’t like confusion and thought he was different from the people of Ceres, which is why he felt out of place whenever he was among them.
"No Master Riki, I'll stay at home". He answered, but quickly realized that he had again used one of those ‘subordinate’ titles for which he had been reprimanded earlier. "Oh ... I'm sorry" he added, taken by despair.
"Cal, you can talk any way you want. Don't listen to Sid's words, okay? Forget about it!"
Unconvinced, the boy nodded.
"Tomorrow I'll help you clean up, don't do it all by yourself!" Bison's former leader added.
"I can stay too to help him!" Benson, who had been silent for much of the evening, suddenly exclaimed.
"Don't you want to come either then?" Guy asked, already at the door.
"No Master Guy, I wouldn't feel comfortable."
"As you like" accepted the mongrel "I'll come and get you in a couple of hours at the most."
They all got on their flying motorcycles and ran away in the direction of Ceres, leaving a trail of light behind them.
Cal began clearing away, quickly followed by Benson. They were very efficient and working together they had a clean living room and kitchen and all dishes in the dishwasher in less than half an hour.
The former servant - now housekeeper - of the Mink family was not used to the company of other furnitures. He had left Eos before he was 16, and since then his only company had been Iason, Riki and Katze, whom he considered a Master and not a colleague. For Benson, however, that was a perfectly normal situation, being used to working with Daniel in the maintenance of Raoul's penthouse in Eos.
"Thanks Benson." Cal said after putting the rag away.
There was nothing else to do and they both sat down on the sofa in the living room. Cal would have preferred to retire to his room to read a book or listen to some music, but it would have been very rude of him to leave a guest alone. In the end, he decided to break that awkward silence with a few words of circumstance.
"How do you find living outside Eos?" he asked, not really interested in the answer.
"Master Raoul likes it, so it's good for me too." replied the forest-green haired youth.
"Don't you get bored sometimes?" Cal asked, a little intrigued now.
When he lived in the underground bunker his life was very full and exciting, as he served as a link between his Masters, who could not show themselves around, and the outside world and he also took care of Katze's needs. When he had to take over the black market then, he was full with commitments, but now he didn't have much to do and often didn't know how to pass the time.
“Actually no, it's hard for me to get bored. Master Raoul hasn’t yet resumed work, he doesn’t go out and I take care of his needs. Also, I often see Katze and Daniel and twice a week I go to training meetings for former Eos furnitures, so I don't have much free time."
"Oh ... I see ..."
Cal felt a little sad. He was very fond of Katze, but having always considered himself a mere subordinate, he had never established a true friendship with him and the latter had never invited him out. He had no friends apart from Riki, with whom he shared a great deal of complicity due to all the experiences they shared since he was a pet, but he didn't feel comfortable doing the 'mongrel things' that the other man liked and couldn’t open completely to Riki as he still considered him a Master. And then, Riki and Iason were always busy and the few times they were both at home they kept each other company or isolated in intimacy and Cal made himself invisible for not being a third wheel.
"Why don't you come to some meetings too?" Benson asked him "They are fun and give you the opportunity to make friends with other former furnitures and try new experiences!"
"I ... I don't know ..." Cal replied.
The boy actually still had a bitter taste in his mouth dating back to when, after the alleged death of his Masters, the guards had come to snatch him from the apartment where he lived and locked him in a cell awaiting his fate, almost without giving him any food or a change of clothes. Since then, he had held on tightly to his life outside the tower and had no intention of reopening old wounds. He feared Eos and everything that went around it and didn’t want to encounter other furnitures that had worked there.
"What do you do to pass the time?" Benson then asked.
"I read a lot. Master Iason gave me a dataslate with a practically infinite library. Then ... I like working on the computer. I learned some programming languages when I replaced Katze and now that I have more time I started developing a couple of applications."
"Really? What kind of applications?"
"The one I'm working on now, turns written language into audio. It’s used to allow illiterate or blind people to read a book, a newspaper article or a manual, for example. Now I'm implementing it with languages from other planets, so it will also be used to listen to books not translated yet into Amoian." Cal said. It was the first time he had talked to anyone of his hobbies.
"But that's great!" Benson exclaimed. "Such a thing could be useful in many fields. I'm sure many would be interested in buying it, you could make a lot of money!"
"Yes ... actually it's still in beta. I don't want to sell it, it's an idea that came to my mind several years ago observing Riki, when he was still a pet and lived in Eos. He ... he was very bored, so Iason gave him a dataslate like mine and spent most of the day reading. As you know, most pets are illiterate and at the time I thought that if such an application existed, other pets, who might get bored like Riki used to be, could devote some of their time to a useful and enjoyable activity like reading. When it's tested and working, I'll make it free to download, I don't need any money."
Benson was impressed by the technical skills and generosity of his interlocutor, who spoke naturally and humbly about a subject that at least any other person would have bragged about. Cal instead, realizing what he had just said, suddenly turned pale, remembering that Riki didn't like rumors about his life as a pet before Dana Burn.
"Listen… what I just told you about Riki… I shouldn't have said that! If he found out, he'd be mad at me. Don't tell anyone!" He said almost begging.
"Sure, don't worry. But why doesn't he want these things to be known around? Everyone knows he was Iason Mink's pet, so he must have done what all pets did."
"Yes well… outside Tanagura people are not very informed about the rules of pets and here in Ceres they know almost nothing. For most mongrels those things would be seen as ... humiliating: chains, collars, nudity, skimpy clothing, copulating and masturbating in public, aphrodisiacs, not being able to decide what to wear or eat and having to fully depend on their furniture - even for personal hygiene, the fact of having to sit on the ground at the feet of their Master, pet-rings, obedience etc … Riki has a reputation to maintain here and prefers some details as such not to reach prying ears. It's kind of a secret between me, him and Master Iason. So don't tell anyone about it ... especially Master Guy!"
"I understood. You don't have to worry, I'll keep my mouth shut ... even if I think Master Guy already knows a lot of these things because Master Raoul told him about it. I once heard him talk about how Riki at Eos was a stick in the mud for everyone and just broke the rules and caused problems. I think Master Guy felt proud of those rebellions."
"Yeah, well… don't tell him anyway. Listen, would you like to come and see my application and tell me how it looks to you? But remember, it's still being tested!" Eventually Cal said, trying to change the subject and stop talking about Riki's life in Eos.
"Sure!" The two former furnitures moved to Cal's room, where the boy's terminal was.
When Iason got home, about half an hour later, he already knew he wouldn't find Riki waiting for him because his motorbike wasn't parked in the driveway, but he was surprised to hear voices coming from Cal's room. He walked over to the door and saw the two boys who seemed to be engaged in a stimulating conversation. He had never seen his employee speak with such passion and decided not to disturb them by announcing his presence. He served himself a cognac with ice and sat on the living room sofa to wait for Riki.
He didn’t have to wait long because, about a quarter of an hour later, the door of the house opened and the object of his desires hurled himself at him with a staggering step and a Boeotian smile on his face.
"How much did he drink?" The Blondie asked , not at all bothered by the fact that his mongrel had collapsed practically unconscious in his arms, to Guy who had entered immediately after him.
"A little too much, I think. I made him throw up on the way back." The other replied amused.
"You wouldn’t have allowed him to drive in these conditions, I hope!" Iason wrinkled his eyes slightly in a fit of rage at the thought that Riki might have risked his life by driving so crazy.
"No blond man, don't worry, I took him. Tomorrow accompany Riki to retrieve his bike in front of the Depravities. Listen but ... What happened with Raoul? Don't tell me he's already back home!"
"I followed him in the car all the way home and we separated about 50 minutes ago."
"Shit! BENSON HURRY!" Guy called his friend with sudden urgency.
"Why is it a problem that my brother is home?" Lord Mink asked with perplexity.
"It doesn't matter" Guy cut it short "BENSOOON!!"
The ex-furniture left Cal's room just in time to grab the helmet Guy had thrown at him.
“Raoul is home. Let's go!” He explained.
Without repeating it, Benson turned to greet his colleague, took leave of Iason with a half bow, got on the bike with the engines already running and Guy in the driver's seat, and immediately they took off.
Iason thought for a moment about the strangeness of that urgency and then concentrated on the man who lay in his arms with a piece of the fabric of his tunic clutched in his fist. He got up and carried him to bed. Then, heedless of the smell of beer and vomit coming from his stomach, he bent down to kiss him and began stripping him of his clothes until he was left in his underwear and shirt. As he took off his pants, Riki opened his eyes slightly, looked at Iason and muttered something incomprehensible.
"You are a mischievous pet." the Blondie whispered in his ear.
"Mmmmmh" replied the mongrel smiling. Riki curled up on his side and fell asleep again soon after.
Iason shed the formal clothes he had worn for dinner in Parthea and lay down beside him, he would wait the next morning to claim his love reward.