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After staring at Roddy for a moment, most of the indents lost interest and wandered away. He was not their bondholder, after all, and therefore less important as far as they were concerned. Some headed back to a collection of cots that had been spread out for makeshift sleeping berths. Others wandered toward the bathrooms.

Curious about the extent of the hold, Roddy took a couple steps forward and craned his neck to look both ways. Evidently, he decided, the hold stretched almost the entire length of the ship.

A young lady standing nearby approached him. He turned and looked down at a beautiful woman with blonde hair to her shoulders and deep blue eyes. She had high cheekbones, a button nose and an outstanding figure clearly evident under the skintight silver unitard.

She said, “Hi there. I’m Raquel. Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation a minute ago. You’re right that servitude is not too bad. At least under proper circumstances, I suppose. It all depends on who you get as a master. My first one was terrible. Very abusive. My second one did some things that were entirely unethical before he got rid of me.”

Intrigued, and slightly mesmerized by her beauty, Roddy said, “What happened? Why did he get rid of you?”

He couldn’t imagine why an indent this attractive would be given up and placed on a transport ship.

She shrugged, and her face dimpled. “The short version? Jealous wife.”

“Ah! I see. That’s makes sense, you’re very beautiful. I take it the wife was not?”

“She was a terror, in looks and in personality. My bondholder tried to hide me from her in another residence he owned, for a while. But eventually she found out about it and made him sell me off.”

“Well, you mean your bond. Not you, exactly.”

Raquel shrugged. “Whatever. It amounts to the same thing, doesn’t it?”

“No. No it doesn’t. You work to pay off the bond, and then you’re free to do whatever you want. It’s an important part of the galactic economy, and it can help lift a person out of poverty if they want out.”

She shrugged again and looked off into the hold where a handful of indents gathered around the feeding center again.

Raquel said, “I think it’s funny how lots of people say it’s such a great thing, but they’re not the ones who are serving time on a bond. You know?”

He nodded. He said, “Yeah. But, I still think in general and overall, it’s better than what we had before the Welfare Wars.”

Welfare and other entitlements in the systems eventually overwhelmed government budgets, leading to economic collapse and widespread chaos. When order was finally restored, the AI systems abolished government welfare, and many other facets of socialism.

The AIs reasoned free money dampened enthusiasm for honest labor. The truly destitute could resort to non-government charity. Meanwhile, the AIs introduced the indentured servant system as a way for the poor to get a large chunk of money and go to work at the same time. As a government program, so far it had proven highly successful, particularly since the government stayed mostly out of it and all funding came from the private sector.

Raquel seemed emboldened to speak her mind, probably since Roddy was not her designated interim bondholder, he figured.

She said, “It’s easy to hold such thoughts when someone has never actually been an indentured servant.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. But in my case, I actually was one.”

She jerked her head up and stared at him in shock, the surprise evident on her face.

He said. “I’m serious. I grew up in the slums of Vitruvius. I signed the contract the day after I turned 13.”

Her expression softened, and she looked at him with newfound respect on her face. It reflected in her voice, too.

“What were your masters like? How many did you have?”

“I had one bondholder the entire time, and he was terrible. But suffice it to say, even after going through ten years of hell I still think the indentured servant program is a good one. And given a chance, if I were in the same circumstances I was in at 13, I’d do it again.”

She smiled, sadly, and said, “Well, I’m glad you feel that way. I can’t say the same for myself. This whole experience has been a living nightmare so far. I would never in a million years sign up for it again. Maybe it’s different for girls.”

Full of empathy, he said, “How long do you have to go?”

She touched the center of the collar, and a timer displayed in holographic letters in front of her face. It read “5 years, 3 months, 22 days, 18 hours, 9 minutes, 47 seconds.”

The seconds ticked down as they watched.

Roddy said, “Well, you’re halfway there.”

“Hm. You would think so. Funny how it doesn’t feel like it. Kinda feels like forever, if you ask me.”

She glanced down at her feet. She seemed so crestfallen. Roddy’s heart ached for her. Plus, he could not help but notice how attractive she looked.

She said, “If only I could get a good master. One that won’t . . . abuse me. You know? So far, I guess I’ve just had the worst luck out of this whole bondservant thing the AIs dreamed up. Maybe I can get somebody better to buy me this time.”

Roddy crossed his arms and rubbed his chin in thought. She peeked a glance at him, then quickly resumed her downcast expression.

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