“A gilded cage is still a cage.”
– From Rika Outcast: A Tale of Mercenaries, Cyborgs, and Mechanized Infantry, by M.D. Cooper
A cage made of gold is every bit as confining as one made of iron, and all the more insulting for supposing that the captive within it values their freedom so little as to trade it for some so-called “luxury,” as if golden bars were somehow more comfortable.
In the specific context of this story, Rika is a woman who has been sorely mistreated by others. The list of crimes committed against her person is so long and horrifying that I can scarcely imagine it without getting angry on her behalf and wanting to burn the entire establishment responsible for it all to the ground, no survivors. I’ll skip the bulk of it here and get to the end point: literally everything was taken from her, including her humanity and her freedom, multiple times.
At this exact moment in the book, Rika is taking a rare moment to enjoy herself with some peace, calm, and quiet. For a moment, she thinks that maybe her life, and her current enslavement, might not be so bad. But, ah! She remembers that she is a slave, no matter the disposition of her masters at the moment. Even if she has a moment to enjoy herself, even if she can find a peaceful moment here and there, even if her keepers are not entirely monstrous… she is still a slave, and subject to their whims.
Her cage may be golden, but it’s still a cage, and “The chain may be long, but it was still present.”
One of her keepers, or “teammates,” technically, actually doesn’t even see Rika as a human being at first. He sees her as an object, a tool. Even when he learns better, he doesn’t realize that Rika was actually bought and sold at an auction. No, he thinks they just had her in a box in a warehouse somewhere. As if that is actually any better!
Another of her teammates tried to empathize with her, trying to compare their experiences, but she shuts that down with a brief, and very light, description of what was done to her. His “bad experiences” absolutely pale in comparison.
In both cases, they simply fail to grasp what was done to her, what was taken from her. For all that they’ve endured, they simply can’t fathom losing what she has lost: her status as a human being in society.
That is what it means to be a slave.
Compared to that, what does any “comfort” matter?
What does it matter what the collar, the leash, and the cage are made of?
No material gain is worth the cost of one’s humanity.