The prisoners were laid out in rows in the hold of the ship, a layer of gas floated inches above their faces. A single figure moved among them, clad in heavy leathers and wearing a gas mask, looking more like a monster than a person.
As the figure stooped over each prisoner, it slipped a copper collar around each neck, holding the ends together until a puff of smoke indicated that the metal had fused together. Aside from the mark indicating who had captured them, the collars were blank, waiting to be inscribed with the name of the family or company who purchased them and their assigned duties. Most of the men here were destined for the mines, salt, coal or copper.
It hesitated as it stooped over the last body. It belonged to a woman, beautiful in the right circumstances, who had disguised herself as a man. It recognized her face and felt its heart speed up as it decided what to do. It could hear the hum of the engines and the fwap fwap fwap of the propellers as it reached slowly into its pocket and pulled out a different collar.
The collar was a white-gold etched with a delicate filigree. Where the copper collars could be taken off, this one never could.
Its hands shook slightly as it put the delicate collar around her neck. The owners name was already inscribed and the puff of smoke indicated the deed was done. Doubtless, she’d be a screaming fury when she woke up, but it didn’t matter. She belonged to the captain now and, if he got his way, she’d never step foot off the airship.