"Tonight, you will all become adults in the tribe. Tonight, you will be true Simvan! And you, Ramson, will be comes Ramson Belloc, true heir to Chief Belloc!"
The elder spoke the last directly to the chief's son, a proud lad who stood tall in the night. This final Rite of Passage was all that was needed to secure his place as the future ruler of the tribe. Then he could take his first mate, Kallagh, who was probably the best hunter of their genera--.
His reverie was cut short by screams and the roar of engines. A flying platform, shining brilliant lights down upon the tribe, suddenly came out of the night sky from above--and from downwind, he noted, explaining why no one anticipated their arrival on the cloudy night.
A blend of nets and plasma fire rained down upon the tribe. The plasma mostly struck the great beasts of the tribes Monster Riders, killing them before the attackers came down from the sky to begin capturing those caught in the nets--including Ramson.
The round-up was swift, with the captives rapidly hauled on board the barge. Above the lights, Ramson could now see his captor clearly--a hideous fiend, huge, with monstrous tentacles, flesh fused with the material of the barge itself. Human-like females rode the sky-barge as well, each hauling a different captive up. Ramson noted, with relief, that neither Kallagh nor his father were among them.
Then he heard his father bellow out. "Return my son, or we shall hunt you to the end of our days, fiend! Never shall you rest easy, for fear of the night we find you!"
The monster laughed, without mirth. "I believe you would, primitives." And then the sky was filled with fire and lightning, and the air was thick with the smell of burning flesh. "Six of you go, make sure none of the beasts live to come after us another day. We shall rendevous at the peak to the south in three days, after I have sent this lot back to Atlantis." Without a word, a half-dozen Altarans leaped to the ground, and more screams were heard--including the unmistakable cry of Kallagh's voice, ending in a death-rattle.
The collar chafed against Ramson's throat, as he was led up to the auction block. Bidding was sparse--Simvan captives were fairly common, so only a few bidders seemed interested in this particular specimen. After a few rounds between a trio of bidders, the winner was a long-limbed humanoid with large, blank eyes, "Je'Smi of House Gourdaine", as the auctioneer referred to him while confirming his victory.
Ramson played at being docile until the moment he was brought before his new 'owner', and then made a desperate attempt to lunge for the alien's throat. The Altaran who was escorting him activated the shock collar immediately, bringing him low. He snarled in pain on the ground, but Je'Smi did not seem offended by the attempt at murder. "Perfectly understandable, but of course, utterly futile, dear boy. You are a boy, yes? Not yet confirmed a man in your tribe?"
The Simvan looked up in surprise--it was rare for the purchasers to seem to know, or want to know, anything about their slaves. He tried to see if this could be a trick, but ultimately decided that there was no point in denying it. "Yes, the slaver stole my Rite of Passage when he slaughtered my tribe."
"Well, then, let us give you a new one. On the anniversary of your acquisition, and every year thereafter, I shall give you the chance to earn your right to freedom, and more than that. It will be a worthy Rite for you, believe me, though it may take a few years to live up to it."
Ramson made no effort to refuse or accept Je'Smi's 'offer'--really, he'd already come to understand that as a slave, a master's whims were law. But he did vow to himself that if such an opportunity did arise, he would seize it. Je'Smi took possession of the shock-collar's control, and led him through a shimmering portal to somewhere else.
"You will be working here, in my kitchens." The immense space was filled with tools, devices and gadgets. "I know the Simvan eat their enemies; that expanded palate will serve you well, here. I will teach you, not merely how to prepare foods, but how to enjoy them, savor them. And I will teach you how to conduct yourself in my environment. You will be given access to the library; so long as you do not neglect your primary duties, you may also study anything else you desire."
The simvan youth found this to be a strange concept--but his life was nothing if not strange, now, and he simply adapted. Survival was the Simvan way, and adaptation was the core of survival. If he had to learn to cook, to act appropriately, then he would do so, so that he would survive, and thrive, in this new place.
And in due course, he found writings his mind could absorb, and enjoy--lessons of war, and of travel. Granted, this travel was through stars, rather than across plains, but the nomadic instinct in his blood was appeased by the idea, just the same. And the former son of the chief of his tribe could not ignore the call to lead others into battle, and he made a fast study of strategy and tactics.
Of course, that was all in Ramson's off-hours; during his days, he spent endless hours in the kitchen, preparing exotic species, and learning how to tell almost at a glance if a particular creature would be better with a spiced curry, or slow roasted over a flame, or in a cerviche, cooked not with flames but with acidic juice. And he would serve meals to his master, and to the master's guests, and while doing so would listen to them speak. Je'Smi was, among other things, a diplomat of the UWW, and so he was exposed to a great deal of political debate and maneuvering. He learned to read the thrust and riposte of verbal banter as a kind of battle in itself.
He also became accustomed to strange tastes. During an 'internship' of sorts (or so his owner called it) at the Everything Buffet, he encountered an unusual individual who had a taste for fried Jovian wasps. Capturing and cooking those was actually the day Je'Smi decreed his training as a chef was done. As such, both the day and the customer (not to mention the subsequent fate of the EB's restroom) were all burned into his brain--which proved fortunate, several years later, when he began to assemble his crew.
And every year, he took his opportunity to try to earn his freedom.
He stood over Je'Smi, five years after his sale, the alien drawing shuddering breaths through the wound Ramson had inflicted. "Well done, boy--no, well done, Ramson. As I promised you, you are free. But more, you are my legal heir. On my desk is a document that gives you the right to claim my property, and my family name. I am the last of my people, and so I give you us as a legacy. Oh, and one other right comes with it--you may choose how you wish to consume me."
Ramson wiped Je'Smi's blood from his knife, and smiled. "I think raw, and still twitching."
Je'Smi smiled in return. "Exquisite."
It was a wonderful feast.
The last of the estate had been sold off to fund his expeditions--a blend of treasure-hunting and adventure dining. Now Ramson Gourdaine, he traveled to world after world. On Callatolloq, a jungle planet in a forgotten corner of space, he encountered a great rainbow-colored serpent in a ruin. Their eyes met, and a particular need he'd had for years actually became known to him--the need for a companion animal. The beast attempted to subdue him with its gaze, but his will was stronger, and he soon commanded it.
Interestingly, Thissok was no mere animal, though he responded to the Simvan the way any other beast would. The creature could not speak, but the serpent's mind responded to him as a peer would. Furthermore, he discovered the serpent had a gift with languages. She could understand almost anything said in front of her, so long as she could spend time listening to them.
Thissok proved quite useful as he entered the next phase of his life. Ramson had gone through most of the Gourdaine money, and now it was time to find work. He'd decided on mercenary work. After all, a small band of warriors under his command, traveling and fighting for those who paid? It would almost be like having a new tribe. Thissok was able to serve as translator when potential employers sought to discuss things in front of him, believing he had no clue what they were saying.
Crew assembled, ship ready, Captain Ramson Gourdaine stepped into the newest phase of his life.