CHAPTER ONE

 

In the hot, humid arena beneath the bright lights, the sweat poured off Nicky.  Beneath her karate gi, itself damp with her perspiration, her tee-shirt stuck to her.

She was exhausted, her normally crisp, flowing movements sluggish and jerky.  And she was losing.

Yamay!”

The referee’s call for pause was welcome.  Nicky returned to her line and took a moment to tuck a stray lock of her dark cherry-red hair back into place and then wipe her sleeve across her brow so that the sweat would not run into her eyes.  It was phenomenally hot, but this was Sri Lanka so what would one expect?  She glanced at the electronic digital clock, paused on just 34 seconds left to go.  Just below that, the scoreboard confirmed that she was two minor scores down.  From the edge of the contest area, the British team manager was yelling advice, but over the roar of the crowd she could barely hear him.  Nicky breathed deep, her lungs filling with the hot air that she wished contained more oxygen.  This was her last contest, the play-off for bronze: lose it and she would go home with nothing but memories.  Well, if the eighteen year-old was going to lose, she would go down with all guns blazing after giving it everything she had.  But then, that was Nicky all over.

“Hajime!”

Barely had the referee announced the restart when Nicky was moving forwards again.  The other girl was oriental and so probably more used to the ferocious heat, but she too was tired.  Nicky was very fit and she had to use that fitness now.  From somewhere deep inside her came a last burst of energy.  She swung first with her left, then her right.  The girl evaded both, as Nicky planned and expected, but did not see the follow-up as Nicky’s bare foot swung round and made contact with the girl’s temple.  The girl was sent sprawling to the floor.  This karate style was more or less non-contact, but a strike was a strike.  As the referee called pause again, Nicky waited for the judgement of the score.  She fought for breath, her heart in her mouth.

Wazari!  Hajime!”

A high score!  Now she was in the lead and the other girl was suddenly, desperately, coming at her.  Nicky side-stepped, moved around, parried and defended.  Just a few more seconds ...

The buzzer went for the end of the contest.

The British squad broke into a massive cheer.  Nicky felt her legs turn to jelly.  She had won!  Bronze medal at the Junior World Championships!

The next hour was a crazy wave of celebration.  For half her life she had trained in karate, always dedicated, always determined.  Her black belt had come two years ago, but this was an even greater honour, one of only two British medals at the event.  She rushed to a phone and rang her parents at home.  They too went wild with delight for her.  Then she rang her coach, Vic, the man she most respected in all the world.  All that training and hard work had been worth it: the feeling was indescribable.

 

Two days later, it still had not sunk in, but her natural calm had re-asserted itself.

Nicky gazed out from the open-top bus.  The rest of the team were back at the hotel, relaxing, but Nicky had been determined to see something of the country she was in before their return home tomorrow.  She had never been abroad much and she would not miss this chance.  Back home, she had a rather bitter rival, a girl called Claire Sanderson.  Claire came from a wealthy background and could afford to travel all over the world to events, whereas Nicky had to scrape together every penny she could and a trip like this was an opportunity not to be missed.  Claire had even bought time with Nicky’s coach, Vic, to try to emulate Nicky’s success.  Vic had taken the money because he could then quietly siphon some of it to Nicky to help her: that was the sort of man he was.  Nicky was not jealous of Claire’s money, or her good looks that rivalled Nicky’s own but were aided by costly hair styles and sun bed tans and clothes; the jealousy went the other way, because Nicky, having had to work for everything, had a determination and courage that Claire simply could not match and that was why she was the better player; and it was also why, being here, she was determined to get out and see this wonderful country. Her parents would worry if they knew she was out unaccompanied, but they would also know her too well to try to stop her doing it.  Anyway, she was on a bus with nearly a dozen locals and had no intention of getting off until it returned to the city, so she was safe enough.

Or so she thought.

There was no other traffic in sight and the bus was trundling through beautiful woodland scenery when the first loud bang came.  Nicky assumed it to be a burst tyre, but then a whole series of bangs followed as a machine gun opened up.  People screamed and ducked down onto the seats.  Nicky looked around in bewilderment.  The bus skidded to a halt and she realised that the driver had been hit.  From the side of the road, half a dozen khaki-clad figures emerged from the bushes.

Sitting a couple of rows in front of Nicky was an off-duty army officer.  He got to his feet and whipped his gun out of a holster by his side.  Then there was a red flash in front of him and he sat down again and slumped forward into the aisle; blood poured from a gunshot wound.  Some passengers began to scream.

The confusion was quelled by the armed men who invaded the bus.  A couple of men who rose to protest were clubbed viciously and two hysterical women were slapped down hard.  A middle-aged woman, evidently a nurse, pleaded with the gun-toting attackers to be allowed to treat the two shot men.  That was allowed, whilst everybody else, Nicky included, was marched off the bus, hands on head, petrified.  Nicky tried to stay calm, but her heart was pounding.  She had read of Sri Lanka’s problems with terrorists and separatist guerrillas.  This feud was none of her business as a foreigner, but it was still frightening to be caught up in it.

Leaving the nurse behind to tend the wounded, the guerrillas marched them through the bushes to a dirt track and then down the track at a fast pace.  Nicky counted nine prisoners: five men, one older woman and three younger ones: herself, a pretty Negress and a stocky, plain Caucasian girl, both of them of similar age to herself.

They came to an old, battered truck and were ordered into the tarpaulin-covered back.  The truck set off down the track and rejoined the road well out of sight of the bus. Nicky was getting increasingly worried that this was a hostage snatch, but there was nothing she or any of them could do: there were five alert gunmen against them and besides, the sight of the two men being shot had deeply shocked and frightened her.  Facing a karate opponent was one thing: this was very different.  Everything had happened so quickly, too, that she was still trying to take it all in.  Certainly there was no chance right now: one of the men drove, whilst four of them sat in the sweltering back, guns trained on the captives.

The truck rumbled on for many miles before coming to another track, which it lurched onto and down until it came to a farmhouse.  Nicky and the others were ordered out and marched into the barn.  They were lined up and waited, hands on head.  One man in the line whispered something to the man next to him.  A gun butt crashed into his back and sent him to the floor.

“No talking!” barked one of the guards as the man picked himself painfully up from the floor.  Nicky did not feel like arguing.

A new man came in and looked them over.  Like the other raiders, he was of the local, swarthy Indian race.  The way the others deferred to him clearly indicated that he was the leader.  When he spoke to one of the raiders, Nicky was surprised to hear him do so in English, accented but fluent.

“Not a bad haul.  The four younger men can go to the farms in Uzbekistan.  The older man and the older woman for domestic service in Tajikistan, I had a request from there the other day.  The three girls for the Japanese brothels.”

Nicky gasped in shocked horror.  Beside her, the African girl did the same, so she clearly understood at least some English.  The man whirled, realising that they could understand him and came closer to them.  Nicky’s heart pounded anew.

“You two speak English, hey?  Where are you from?”

“E-Essex,” Nicky stuttered in fear.

“Nigeria,” the African girl said tremulously.

“Nigerians speak English as well as their own tongue, don’t they?” the man asked.  The girl nodded.

“These two aren’t bad,” the other man observed.  “Maybe Xanxta or Corvalle would give us a better price for them than the Japs.”

“Possibly, possibly,” the leader mused, regarding the two girls.  “All right, isolate them and we’ll take a decision later.  I want to get the men shipped out as fast as possible.”

The other man signalled to a guard and said something in the local language then he led Nicky and the other girl away to a room in the farmhouse.  As the door was opened, Nicky could contain herself no longer.

“Please!  Won’t you tell us what’s going on?”

For a moment she thought he was going to hit her, then he smiled and she relaxed a little, although it wasn’t a nice smile.  They were ushered inside the Spartan room and he gestured for them to sit down.  He did so himself, but his gun remained trained on them.

“We have a nice little racket going on here.  Every so often we snatch some locals, making sure we appear like the terrorists.  That nurse we deliberately left with the bus will report to the authorities that the terrorists snatched you lot, so they get the blame.  Meanwhile, we make a nice packet selling you off as slaves.”

“S-slaves?”

“Sure.  There’s plenty of demand for manual or domestic workers and plenty of countries in this part of the world with isolated settlements where they can be kept in security and just worked until they drop.  But for young girls, we get better prices from Japanese brothels which will take you, hook you on drugs and then you’ll happily service a never-ending queue of brutal Jap men just to get your daily fix.”  He grinned and Nicky shuddered.  “Between the drugs and syphilis and AIDs, life expectancy there isn’t much more than three or four years, which is great news for us ‘cause they’re always coming back for fresh meat.”

Two girls looked at him in mute horror.  Nicky felt herself go cold and clammy despite the heat.

“However,” he went on, “you two might strike it lucky.  We’ve got a couple of other places which take only the prettiest of girls.  Life there is no picnic either, but at least they safeguard their investment and you’ll live to a ripe old age.”  He got up, still smiling evilly.  “I recommend that you persuade the boss you’d fetch a good enough price to be worth the trouble of sending you there.”  He left them, closing and locking the door behind him.

“Oh my God, oh my God,” the Nigerian girl muttered to herself.

“This can’t be happening!  It must be a dream!”  Nicky said.  “They’re bluffing!  Aren’t they?  They’ve got to be bluffing!  I’m a British citizen!  They can’t do this to me!”  Nicky realised that this sounded racist and forced herself to meet the coloured girl’s eyes.  “Sorry,” she said quietly.

“It’s all right,” the girl said.  Somehow, that last exchange had led to them both calming down a little.  She extended her hand.  “I’m Janet Oluscumi.”

“Nicky Downing.”

The two girls surveyed each other.  Nicky saw a pretty, friendly face above a superb, slim figure dressed in a summery dress, whilst the African took in Nicky’s silky cherry-red hair which brushed her shoulders and framed a very cute face which belied her inner competitiveness.  Nicky had a very fit, well-toned and shapely body clad in t-shirt, shorts and simple trainers.  Only her cat-like balance, her weight always on the balls of her feet, hinted at her prowess in her combat sport.

They shifted their attention to finding some way out of the room, but it was quite clearly hopeless.  As they did so, Janet said quietly, “I don’t think they’re bluffing about the Japanese thing.”

Nicky shuddered.  As a serious sports player, she had always been fiercely anti-drugs to the point of phobia and the thought of that fate made her feel sick.  “We’ll get rescued,” she insisted; “or we’ll escape.”

Janet shot her a withering look.  “Get real,” she said sharply.

“But this can’t be!  It can’t!”

Janet shrugged.  “In my country, people disappear from time to time.  It happens.”

“That was hundreds of years ago, not these days!”

Janet shook her head.  “It still happens; not very often, but it happens.”

“Well, we’re not in your country ...” Nicky’s voice trailed off.  They were not in her country either and Sri Lanka had something of a reputation for lawlessness.  Her parents had been concerned about her coming here, a concern she had at the time derided.  She was not laughing now.

“They say most of the Japanese brothel girls are kidnapped,” Janet said quietly.

“Yeah, I’ve read that as well,” Nicky said equally quietly, her heart hammering in her chest.  “What about those other alternatives they mentioned?  What was it, Gangsta and Coralle?”

“No idea; never heard of either.”

Nicky chewed her lip, then made an uncharacteristic admission.  “Janet ... I’m scared!  What can we do?”

Janet looked far from unfrightened herself.  “I don’t know.  Just ... don’t antagonise them.  Go along with them.  I get the feeling that if we don’t, they could get very nasty.”

“They’re very nasty anyway,” observed Nicky sombrely, recalling the shootings on the bus.

Both girls fell silent, each wrapped up in their own thoughts, so much so that they both jumped in fright when the door opened.  Four of the men, including the leader and his deputy, stood there.  Nicky wondered if it was worth trying to fight them.  She had confidence in her karate skills, but Janet didn’t look like a fighter and odds of four to one were not encouraging; and then there were the handguns which two of them held.  The memory of the shootings was very fresh in her mind so she made no move.           

Xanxta or Corvalle,” the deputy was saying, “might give us a good price for them.  Xanxta would be better: it’s closer, so it would be easier and cheaper to get them there.”

The leader shook his head.  Xanxta is inundated at the moment, the market there is absolutely rock bottom.  Also, they’re trying to go more legit, taking only girls who have been properly and legally - by their system - enslaved.  Corvalle ... maybe, for the English one if she’s any good.  I’m not sure if they go for blacks.  Anyway, let’s have a look at them.”

 What did he mean? Nicky wondered.  Then she found out.  The deputy glanced at the two girls and grinned.  “You heard the man, bitches: let’s have a look at you!”  When neither girl understood him, his voice took on a sharper edge.  “Strip!”

“No way!” exclaimed Nicky.

The leader shrugged and turned to his second in command.  “My contact in Corvalle wants pliable girls, easily trained,” he said. “If this girl can’t behave herself and do as she’s told, they won’t want her.  Put her on the transport to Japan.”

Not the Japanese brothels!  And the drugs!

“Wait!”  Nicky’s anguished voice stopped the leader as he was turning away.  He turned back and eyed her but said nothing.  Desperately, Nicky babbled.  “Please!  My parents will pay a ransom!”

The man shook his head.  “That’s a mug’s game: too many things can go wrong.  And once the ransom’s paid, they’ll set the authorities on us.  It’d blow our cover, too.  So, are you going to be a good little girlie, or do we pack you off to the land of the rising sun?”

Nicky gulped.  What an awful choice!  She could either defy them and be sent to some oriental nightmare where they would put her on drugs and then abuse her in squalor until disease or the drugs killed her, or she could undress herself down to her underwear so that they could look her over like a piece of meat and decide if she was good enough for whatever this other place was.  And she couldn’t even begin to imagine what would happen to her there.

Her phobia about drugs was what decided it.  The rest of it sounded like Hell too, but the thought of being forcibly hooked on heroin clinched it.  And she was aware out of the corner of her eye that Janet was already out of her dress.

Taking a deep breath, Nicky unbuttoned her shorts, nerved herself and pushed them down, letting them fall to her ankles.  For a moment, she took the luxury of pulling her tee-shirt down to conceal her white panties, but she didn’t dare antagonise them any longer.  Grasping the hem of the shirt, she pulled it swiftly over her head and let it fall to the floor.  She now stood awkwardly in white bra and panties, her face burning red.  Her underwear had been chosen for comfort in this sweltering heat, not to be seen in: for coolness, her bra and panties were skimpy and the material was thin to the point of almost being see-through.  Since she had this dark cherry-red hair, her pubic bush would be quite visible beneath the thin gauze and she could feel her nipples pushing against the paper-thin bra.  The humiliation took her breath away and yet she had not dared refuse them.

Worse, she had done what they wanted her to do and yet the leader seemed no less irritable with her.  She looked at him, forcing her eyes to meet his, trying to forget that her now largely unclad body was on display for him.  His eyes glanced down her trim young figure very briefly and Nicky shivered in embarrassment, but then his eyes met hers once more.

“Well?” he snapped.  “What are you waiting for, girl?  Get on with it!”

Get on with what?  What were they waiting for?  She had already ...

Oh.

Realisation dawned.  They didn’t want her stripped to her undies.  They wanted her stripped.  All the way.  Nicky glanced at Janet, hoping that the other girl had a way out of this, but then her heart sank.  Janet was standing fully naked, hands clenched behind her back, a look of total misery on her face, her dense bush of curly black pubic hair completely on display and her more than adequate breasts jutting out unfettered.  

Nicky turned her eyes back to the leader of the men.  The mistake had been hers, of course: just wishful thinking, or naivety, or whatever.  But that was unimportant now.  Somehow the Rubicon had been crossed and there was no longer any debate about whether she would do what they wanted.  Nicky reached behind her back and fumbling fingers struggled with the clasp of her bra.  Suddenly it was undone; for a brief moment she wished she hadn’t succeeded in her grapple with the catch, but then the urge to just get this over and done with took over.  Nicky brought her arms forwards and let the bra slip off them and fall to the floor.  Then she pushed her thumbs into the elastic waistband of her panties and pushed them down until they had gone far enough that they would fall to join her shorts around her ankles without any further action from her.  Her curly bush of that sensuous dark red pubic hair came into view.  Nicky straightened up, blushing furiously and followed Janet’s example by clenching her hands behind her back.  It took considerable willpower to keep them there.

She could feel four pairs of male eyes roving over her flesh.  Suddenly it felt so hot in this room.  Nicky had never done anything like this before.  She wasn’t quite a virgin: she’d had a couple of boyfriends during slack periods in her training, but generally she’d been too busy since she’d come of age, between training and schoolwork.  Even with those boys, she’d been fairly coy about her body.  But now ...

She could only hate every second and wonder and worry whether or not she would make the grade for whatever they had in mind.  Nicky glanced at Janet.  The Negress had a fine hourglass body, really slim but with good boobs.  Nicky’s own figure was pretty curvy, just slightly more solid, with perky breasts.  Unable to bear keeping her private zones on view any longer, Nicky put her left arm across her chest, covering her nipples and part of her breasts, whilst her right hand cupped itself over her dark-furred delta.  She waited for a sharp command to uncover herself, unsure how she would respond, but it did not come.  Apparently they had seen all they wanted to see.  That didn’t make her feel any better.

“Pretty shapely pair of girls,” the lieutenant argued to his boss.

The other nodded almost absent-mindedly, then came to a decision.  “All right, we’ll take the English one to Corvalle.  I’ll get on the phone to them about the Nigerian and see if they want her too.  Get the English girl prepared.”  He turned on his heel and left.

“C-can we get dressed now?” Nicky asked.  It was such a demeaning question to have to ask, so unlike the fierce karate warrior; but these people scared her half to death.

The deputy commander nodded and Nicky reached down and pulled her knickers and shorts up.  How could she ever explain what she had just done to anybody?  If, that is, she ever got out of this and had anybody to explain it to.  She realised as she put her bra on and gratefully pulled her t-shirt back over her head that they did not plan on her ever going home.

“Turn out your pockets,” the second in command ordered.  Nicky had no choice but to hand over her purse.  They rifled through it, pocketed the contents and tossed it into a corner.  The other item that came out of her pockets, however, she clutched tightly to her and would not hand over.

“What is it?” he wanted to know.

“It’s my karate medal,” Nicky said defensively.  “Please ... it’s not worth anything to anybody else, but it means so much to me.  Please ...”

The man turned it over in his hand, making sure it was not valuable and then handed it back with a shrug.  Meanwhile, another of the men had been preparing a syringe.  “Hold your arm out,” he ordered Nicky.

She eyed the syringe fearfully.  “It’s not ... ?

“Just a sedative so you can be transported more easily.”

Very reluctantly, wondering if they had lied to her, Nicky held out her arm.  It was swabbed and she felt a small prick.  He swabbed the wound again and then told her to sit down.  Nicky did, feeling her head start to spin. Then everything went dark.