Howard decided not to even venture onto the vanity of the body-paint. Or the fact more clothes could only improve some people's physical attractiveness. Instead he tried another tack. "My companion. The alien Kretz," asked Howard. "What are you going to do with him? He needs to get back to his own kind, Ma'am Judge."

            "Ah." She scowled. "He's a problem. As a male he can't just be allowed to wonder around. There are a few women with exotic tastes in what they choose to add to their harems. But it would be very awkward for someone to enter into such a contract, as he says that soon he will become female. Anyway, as a male, the disposition of another male is not your problem."

            "But I need to know, Ma'am," persisted Howard. "I promised to look after him."

            "Well, as a male in the Matriarchy of Diana, your promises to another male have no standing. If whichever woman wins the bidding for you wants you to know, then she can make enquiries," said the judge firmly.

            "You are going to sell me into slavery?" said Howard in horror.

            "It's not slavery, dear. Like a child, a man has to belong to somebody," the judge said kindly. "You men can't help yourselves. You're creatures of base and uncontrolled instincts, weaker in mind and body than women. You instinctively turn to women for wiser counsel. It's all that testosterone. It interferes with your thinking. You need a woman to take care of the rational side. It is the natural human pattern, you know. Matriarchal Societies predated patriarchal societies, and humankind moved from bestiality to civilization. Then along came patriarchal societies and patriarchal rule, and it was all downhill from there. It led to conflict and psychological trauma, especially for men. Men are much happier when they have women to tell them what to do. To take responsibility for their actions for them and see they don't get into trouble."

            "The Society of Brethren believe that all men are created equal in the eyes of God," said Howard, stiffly.

            "My dear young man," she smiled patronizingly at him, her eyes roaming over his body a lot more than was comfortable, "of course all men are, if not…physically. It's women who have the edge, mentally." She looked at her desk. "Now. I have a number of bids for you. Normally this would be arranged by your mother, but as you've so eloquently pointed out—your mother is not here. It's been agreed that, as in the case of orphans, the court will stand in loco parentis for you. And I must say," she beamed. "You've attracted some very good bids, in spite of being so big. Some of these are women of power, wealth and influence, with wonderful harems. I'll arrange for the meetings this afternoon, shall I?" she said. She got up from her desk and sat down next to him. "We've got an hour or two to spend together in the meanwhile. I need to be able to give a testimony as your… ability," she said, putting her hand on his inner thigh.

            Howard backed away uneasily. "Uh. Please don't," he said nervously. "We… don't believe in relations before… or," he said hastily, a horrible thought occurring to him, "outside of marriage."

            "I wish that not believing in my relations would make them go away, honey," said the judge, throatily.

            "I mean, uh, physical relations. Sex," he said desperately as she advanced on him.

            That stopped her. She put her head on one side. Shook her head in amazement. "You mean you've never… Oh honey, you need me. I can teach you all sorts of things you need to know. Give you the pleasure that only comes with experience." She was advancing again.

            Howard hastily turned his back and pressed against the wooden edge of the box. "No." he said firmly. "I am keeping myself pure for my marriage."

            "You'd better not take that attitude with me," she said sharply. "I can make things very difficult for you, young man."

            "I'm sorry, but no." Howard looked resolutely at the wall, and pressed himself into the security—poor security—of the corner.

            "If that's the way you feel, so be it. You're going to regret this." She walked away back to her desk. Leafed through a pile of papers and pulled one out. "This'll teach you lesson," she said grimly. She flicked a switch on her desk. "Find Captain Lani LaGarda. Tell her that her bid has been accepted."

            Howard looked at her.

            She smiled at him with an unpleasant satisfaction at Howard. "You'll have the joy of living with a non-entity with no status, who can't even afford a place in the city, instead of a good catch with age and experience on her side. LaGarda will beat you too. She has a reputation for aggression."

            Miserably, Howard had to believe her about the last part anyway. He'd experienced it firsthand.

            The speaker on the judge's desk crackled. "Have located Captain LaGarda, Ma'am. Shall I send her to your chambers?"

            "No. Send her to the clerk of the court, to have her deed of acceptance written up. And send someone to escort this male from my chambers, to his new mistress."

            So it was that Howard found himself marched off to the Painted Jezebel who had got him into this situation in the first place. Now he had an extra problem, as well as being indecent and having somehow to find and rescue Kretz, and get on with Kretz's mission. Life out here was anything but pleasant and simple. Even being shot at might be easier to cope with.

            She was waiting in the foyer—a large room with more of the hunting scenes with the naked woman and her bow. And the sheep with branched horns. They must have a lot of these wild mutant sheep here.

            He felt a bit like lamb to the slaughter himself.