The heavy steel door opened and a thin strip of sunlight brightened her cell.
“It’s time,” came the guard’s voice.
Rowan’s heartbeat quickened as she looked up to meet his eyes, but he wasn’t looking at her. Not one of them would dare meet her gaze.
“Bring her out,” he said, and immediately, two sets of hands closed over her arms, lifting her to her feet. Her wrists were bound behind her and her ankles were chained so that her steps were hobbled, and if they let her go, she would fall.
But it was all for show. One guard alone could easily overpower her. Although breeders were taller than average human women, they were no match for the strength of the men.
The sound of the crowd hungry to witness her punishment filled her ears as soon as she stepped out into the cool morning air. She shivered, the ground ice on her bare feet, her only cover a thin, white, or once white, dress as was her usual uniform. She looked from her place up to the raised platform where, within moments, she would be led. Where she would be stripped naked, bent over, and bound to the cold stone block and made to endure her very public switching.
The knowledge of what lay in store sent a shudder through her.
Captain Amro’s voice came over the loudspeaker as the guards walked her forward. For as much as she wanted to walk up there with her head held high, she found herself resisting, pulling back just a little, even as she knew it was futile.
“This breeder has been found guilty of inciting rebellion within the community, and, most horrendous of all, the death of another breeder, and the subsequent loss of a child as a result of her actions…”
His voice died away as the crowd audibly sucked in their breath and their shouts calling for her punishment, even her death, began.
“An act warranting a sentence of death…” the loudspeakers blared.
Terror now paralyzed her as the guards urged her up the stairs.
“However, our laws and our mercy prevent us from condemning any breeder to death…” the captain’s voice continued.
Rowan struggled, trying in vain to free herself as the guards now lifted and carried her up the stairs and to the platform.
It wasn’t true what he said. It was a lie, all of it. She would never, never have harmed another breeder, never would have done anything to cause the death of one of her own sisters, or a child—neither within nor outside of the womb. Captain Amro was the guilty one, not she.
“But rest assured,” Captain Amro carried on, just glancing at her as the guards set her on her feet on the platform. Her entire body trembled while she scanned the crowd whose shouts grew louder as the grips of the hands that held her tightened, as if they knew that in an instant, if she could, she would run, even hobbled as she was within her chains.
“Rest assured,” Captain Amro raised his voice and with his upraised arms, gestured for the crowd to quiet. “The breeder will be punished to the full extent our laws allow.”
His glance fell on her again as she was forced forward toward the thick stone block that took up the center of the platform. The switches stood, cut and ready, soaking in a pail beside the block. There were too many of them to count.
Her stomach heaved and she was glad they’d not fed her this morning.
“Bring her,” Captain Amro said.
Strong hands forced her forward.
Once again, Rowan resisted, struggling against them. She turned to one of the guards. “Please,” she begged, catching his eye. His filled with fear and she used this, used their archaic belief that the breeders, with their startling green eyes and slanted pupils, could curse them with a mere glance. “Let me walk on my own,” she pleaded.
He nodded once and looked away.
She had intended on taking her punishment with her pride intact. They could punish her body, but they could not touch her mind, not unless she allowed them to.
She was innocent of any crime, unless resisting rape was a crime. She raised her eyes to the captain’s and if contempt had a sound, it would be the hiss that left her lips in that moment. His gaze was flat, devoid of any emotion at all, and, keeping his eyes on hers, he bent to pick up one of the switches and tested it, the sound hushing the crowd, sending cold fear to her core.
She closed her eyes then and forced a deep inhale. Exhaling, she stood straighter and opened her eyes, meeting the captain’s gaze once more.
His eyes narrowed at this shift.
“Face the people you have wronged, breeder.”
Breeders were only given first names. They were known simply as breeder to most as this was all they were.
The guards turned her to face the people and all eyes lowered as she scanned the angry crowd that had come to bear witness to her punishment.