Art by Melissa Mead
W is for When
by Tim Pratt, Jenn Reese, Heather Shaw, Greg van Eekhout
The warden found me in some dusty little town in 1897. He wrinkled his nose with distaste. "You smell awful."
"A whore, hmm? With your intelligence you were expected to at least achieve a..." He consulted his notes. "School 'marm,' or seamstress position."
"The teaching gigs all go to respectable wives, warden. And you have to know how to sew with a needle and thread to get a seamstress gig. As I have no such skills, no husband, no family, and no one to vouch for me, whoring is the only way I can support myself." My throat felt funny making the vowels of the language I'd grown up with again. I hadn't spoken it since my exile six years before.
"You were expected to marry."
"Do you know what most of these men do to their wives when they don't produce sons, let alone never get pregnant at all? I'll pass on the regular beatings because of my contraceptive chip, thanks."
The warden looked around the room--he'd had to pay my whore price just to come in. Bare, splintery wooden floors and walls contained only a straw-stuffed bed, a nightstand, and a water pitcher. The mattress was saggy and hadn't been cleaned for some time.
"I suppose a whore's job seemed an appropriate alternative, in that case."
I sighed, wishing he'd just get on with it. I knew how it looked to him. I doubt he ever visited his prisoners, and coming from the gleaming future--with its constant hygienic services and garment crispers--to this dusty little hellhole must be quite a shock. It was part of the point of my punishment--placed in a female body and sent back through time to an era when women were considered less than human. Simple. Horrific. A fate worse than death, though of course, it was the modern way of avoiding such barbarism as a simple death penalty. Effective, too. Violent criminals had a hard time causing much trouble in these conditions, though there were a few notable exceptions, like Belle Starr and Pearl Hart. Even they had to endure the fact of being female in such debased times, and to deal with rough, violent men. Most of us ended up on our backs, staring at the ceiling and holding our breaths many times a day just to eat. "Why are you even here, warden?"
"They've decided that feminine exile is cruel and unusual punishment. They decided this some years ago, actually... you were one of the last to receive that sentence. But now they're reviewing old cases. I'm visiting inmates to find out what sort of lives you're living, whether you're moral enough to be transported back, or moved to a different era."
"I see. And here you caught me, whoring."