Category Archives: Ella’s Story

Ella’s Story, Chapter 35

Ella’s Story

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog about once every three weeks, and then links will be collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Chapter 35

Sigi, the personification of common sense, bent over the big table in the downstairs kitchen and eating hall, where she had spread out her draft plans for the proposed new clinic. Her short ebony hair, lit by the dining hall’s light-walls and lanterns, glowed with a shine that spoke of her robust health and energy. Dorin and Darl, uniformed like Sigi and all the kitchen and scullery crew in the Kaïna’s aqua-blue liveries, studied the sheet she had unrolled across the tabletop.

The afternoon was past half-done, and Ella had come downstairs to check on the happenings and give herself a moment’s break.

Slender and sturdy, the young woman worked with rare concentration, Ella thought. Around her pots clattered, domestic machinery grumbled, kitchen servants gossipped and laughed, a couple of small children tussled over a set of toys. Banging pots and pans, Lior the cook genially ordered his crew around, while his wife Tabit, one of Ella’s fondest friends, clucked over Darl, who, Tabit had decided, needed hot tea and personal care.

Ella slid onto a bench near the cluster around Sigi. As if by magic, a grey mug appeared at her elbow. Tabit poured steamy tea into it.

“Good morning,” the plump woman greeted her. “How’s your day?” Her curly hair was graying amiably.

“Quiet enough. You?”

“About the same. But a dull moment never goes unpunished: we need to go into town to reprovision for the Kaïna’s dinner party.”

Ella sipped the brew in silence, watching the carpenter woman and the new doctor pore over the evolving floor plan.

“This wall,” Sigi was saying, “holds up the roof from here to here.” She indicated points on the exterior walls. “We can’t take it down. But we can put new doorways in it. Or close up old ones.

“Where do you want water to come in?”

Darl gazed at the diagram, apparently thinking. “There should be a sink and a tap in the exam room. And any lab space – that’ll need hot and cold running water. And if we’re to do any surgical procedures, the room where that happens will have to get the same: hot and cold.”

“That’s a lot of plumbing,” Sigi remarked.

“Yeah,” Dorin agreed. “But if you had a couple of those rooms back-to-back, a single source could supply them both. Just run the spigots from the same connection, only on either side of the wall.”

“Uh huh,” Sigi agreed. “That gives us two. We’ll still need a third outlet.

An exquisitely unmechanical soul, Tabit distracted Ella’s attention from the strategy session. “Do you mind if I take Bintje into town with us this evening?”

Ella smiled. “Then you can listen to her bellyaching!”

Tabit laughed. “Give her some slack, sister. She’s never been pregnant before.” Tabit had three children in the Kaïna’s service, two of them mostly grown and holding jobs in the city.

“Thank the Goddess for that!”

“Well, there are some small favors to be grateful for. How about it?”

“I suppose. Just don’t let her out of your sight.”

“She’s not going anywhere.”

That is the truth.”

The clinic’s layout grew more concrete beneath their gaze: a shaded walkway along the front face (this would require a new extension of the roof to be built, filling a good week of Sigi’s time); a reception room with a desk, communication and records equipment, and seating for the proposed patients to wait; behind that a suite of rooms to include one dedicated to examination, one for whatever procedures Darl could conduct on his own, and a lab. But wait! He would need a private office, no? Rearrange that plan…

As this discussion proceeded, the mother herself appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Oh, dear Goddess. Did you tell her you were going to ask me about that trip into town?”

“No!” Tabit replied. “She reads minds, hm?”

“I must have done something to offend. It would be kind if She would tell me what it was… Would you hie her over here, please?”

Tabit gave her a co-conspirator’s glance and got up to retrieve the girl. Or, as Ella thought of her, the brat.

Bintje and Tabit approaching, Ella rose to her feet and broke into the group’s conversation.

“Would you like to meet your first patient, Mr. Darl?”

He looked a shade blindsided but gamely replied, “Of course.”

Ella wasn’t sure how much Dorin had told him about the Bintje situation. As little as possible, she imagined.

She presented the young woman with a gentle push toward him.

“This is Bintje. Bintje, Darl here is our new doctor. And Darl, Bintje is our new mother.”

He smiled – a little uncertainly, she thought. “Evidently,” he said. “I’m glad to meet you, Bintje.”

The girl also looked uncertain. “Mr. Darl,” she greeted him. “Welcome to our home. I hope…you like it here.”

“Darl will be taking care of you, now that he’s on his feet.”

“Oh,” Bintje said, almost a gasp. “But…won’t I be able to see Piritsi again?” Piritsi was the village midwife, who had delivered every baby born at Skyhill within living memory. “I’m supposed to go to her tomorrow afternoon.” Bintje shot a sidewise glance at Darl and then looked up at Ella.

Just the kind of backtalk Ella expected. The expecting annoyed her more, not less. The expecting, she reflected with an inscrutable smile, all the way around.

“Well, you understand…the reason the Kaïna bought this man was so that he could care for her people here at Skyhill. He is a doctor, after all.”

Bintje looked to Tabit for support. Tabit shrugged. Bintje’s face reddened. She appeared to be about to cry. “But…”

Ella cut her off with a glance. Bintje evoked an even more dramatically downcast face.

“Wait a minute,” Darl interjected. “May I go with you? I’d like to meet the town’s midwife. It would be good for me to know her…and she and I might be able to work together, no?”

Tabit smiled and raised her eyebrows. Ella couldn’t guess whether this meant she was amused or questioning what would happen next.

“Well, I…”

“Why not?” Tabit said. “Then you won’t have to take her into town yourself tomorrow, sister. Or send me with her.”

Bintje assumed a hopeful expression.

“You could just put off today’s trip until tomorrow, sister,” Ella pointed out.

“There are some things Cook needs for tonight,” Tabit replied. This one always had an answer at hand, Ella thought. Was she another Bintje when she was a young thing? Couldn’t be: surely this world was never visited by two of them.

“All right,” she capitulated. Bintje’s woebegotten clouds disappeared and her face lit up with a broad smile. Tabit nodded her approval in silence.

“What are you doing down here, anyway?” Ella asked. Bintje was supposed to be cleaning the rooftop pool patio at this time of day.

“I’m hungry.”

Eating for two. Fine: “Well, get yourself a snack and then get yourself back to work.”

The prospective mother supplied and Tabit returned to the food prep crew, Ella turned to Darl before he could get too re-engaged in the plan-fest.

“You,” she said: “We need to talk. When you’re done, will you come see me, please?” It was not a request. “I’ll be in my office at the top end of the women’s quarters. Or, if I’m not there, out in the atrium.”

“Sure,” he said.

Yes, ma’am,” she corrected him as she walked away.

§

Not very much later, Darl found his way to Ella’s door, near the entry to the single women’s part of the slave quarters.

“Did I speak out of turn?” he asked, instantly after the new hello’s were exchanged. She gestured to him to take a seat near her desk.

“No, not at all. Not really. I’m just feeling a little cranky today.” He looked unconvinced. “Just remember: it’s ma’am for a female overseer or a free woman. Madame for a woman aristrocrat. And sir for just about everyone else. But that’s not what we need to talk about.”

He sat down and looked attentive, refraining from any further question or comment.

“Actually, it’s a good idea for you to go with Bintje to meet her midwife. And I think it’s an interesting idea that you might be able to work with her – Piritsi, I mean – in some professional way.”

“Women who are trained to help deliver babies are often very competent,” he remarked.

“Well… You need to realize that these people are not like…say, some paramedic on Samdela. A town attached to a Varn aristrocrat’s estate is not so much a town as a village. The inmates are pretty rural.”

“I imagine.”

“You’ll see, soon enough. It’s a nice change from the estate, though. And Bintje loves to bucket into town, at the drop of anyone’s hat.”

“Well. She’s very young.”

“Isn’t she. Look, there are some things you need to understand about that young lady. You can take her into town, that’s fine. But do not – do not under any circumstances – let her out of your sight. You’ll both know where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to be doing. Go there, do that, and then come back.

Do not let her talk you into taking any side trips or going to some shop or visiting whoever she thinks she’d like to visit or stopping at the town snack bar. Understand?”

“I think so.”

“There’s nothing to think about this. It’s into town, take her to Piritsi, chat with Piritsi as you please, then turn around and bring her back here. If she says she’d like to go do something while you and Piritsi are talking, tell her ‘no.’ No exceptions. Keep her in your sight all the time.”

“Well…all right.” he sounded nonplussed. Or puzzled. She felt she should continue:

“Bintje, she can be quite a pistol. She knows she’s on restriction for a good long time – and she’s already very tired of it. She will try to pull some sort of fast one. Believe me. Don’t let her get away with it. Hm?”

“All right.”

“Truly, Darl: she will try to take advantage of you if she figures she can get away with it. Keep her in hand. Yes?”

“I understand. And I will.” He smiled. “You make her sound like an unholy terror.”

“No more than some of us were at that age,” Ella replied, mellowing a bit. “But yes,” she laughed softly, “you could use that term.”

Ella’s Story, Chapter 34

Progress is mighty slow on this particular magnum opus. Three weeks have passed since chapter 33 went live, and lo, I’ve written…ahem…well…this:

Ella’s Story

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog about once every three weeks, and then links will be collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Chapter 34

Of course. They had passkeys, only legitimately. “I’ll be right down there, Yia. Get the women in their bunks and don’t let them out. Unless one of the Suits asks you to. Understood?”

She shut Yiadwene off, called Security, and asked them to sent a Blacksuit to her quarters.

Before she could end that exchange, a page from Bhotil flashed up on the vidspot.

“What the hell is going on?” he demanded. He pulled on a company uniform shirt over his head, covering a skin-tight gray undershirt, then ran his fingers through his hair to brush it off his face. “Chief Geffad says the women’s quarters were breached?” Ella could see Yiadwene watching in a tile on the vid exchange’s viewer, and Geffad in another.

“Yiadwene says some guy got in and tried to stab Ella. But Ella’s all right. She’s here with me.”

“With you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“In your quarters.”

“That’s right, sir.”

Bhotil fell silent for a second. The Blacksuit chief said nothing.

“Boss,” Vighdi said, “would you please come up here so we can talk about this? And Chief Geffad, we need an armed guard here. We’re in the senior staff women’s quarters.”

“I gathered,” he said drily. “A crew is on their way up. They should get there in a couple of minutes.”

Bhotil said, “I’m going down to the slave women’s quarters first, Vighdi. Soon as I finish talking with Yiadwene, I’ll come up in your direction. Keep Ella there with you, if you will. And…well, don’t go wandering around. Keep the door locked.”

“Of course.”

“We’ll need to let the other senior staff women know what’s up,” Geffad remarked.

“I’d like to keep at least some sort of a lid on this, until we have a better grip on things,” Bhotil replied. He strapped a work belt around his waist.

“Most of them will be asleep,” Vighdi said. “Tell your people to come in quietly. And don’t send an army up here.”

Geffad made no reply but nodded, seemingly in agreement. Or at least acquiescing.

“If they knew where Ella was, they wouldn’t have sent their spook to her bunk,” Bho observed. “Let’s send just a couple of Blacksuits over to the staff quarters. And station them inside the doors, so they’re not so obvious. Vighdi, can you let them in when they get to your parts?”

“Sure. Tell them to signal me direct – don’t make a lot of noise out there.”

“Are the doors locked now?”

Vighdi touched a control panel near the vidspot. “No.”

“Well, lock them.”

She’d hit the switch before the words left his mouth.

“What’ll we tell the women? They’ll see the guard when they get up for breakfast.”

“It’s a security exercise,” Geffad suggested.

“Right!”

Bho snuffed a kind of chuckle. “If you can think of something better, use it. Just let the rest of us know what it is.” He headed out the door. “I’ll be up at your place shortly.”

Two steps backward…

…for every one step forward, eh? Doesn’t it sometimes feel that way? 😀 Lately it’s felt like that way all the time, here at the Funny Farm.

Like just this instant, f’r example: I actually did write a coherent first paragraph to this damn post. Then wanted to italicize a word or two, highlighted and hit command-I for the purpose, and AUUUGHHHHHH! Whatever keys I hit formed a magical mystery “delete” command…and disappeared the entire post!

Doing it all over again is getting to be the story of my life. The exceptionally tedious story of my life. One catastrophe after another has been holding forth in these parts, leaving me too tired to write anything on Ella’s Story, when I’m not too distracted.

Rejiggering the “publication” schedule so as to post one chapter of just ONE of the three books in hand per week was a lucky move that turned into a godsend. Because The Complete Writer and If You’d Asked…” are finished and sitting in Word subdirectories, it was relatively easy (though incredibly ditzy) to post all the chapters for both books and schedule WordPress to publish them on specific dates. This freed me from a weekly brain-banging computer hoop jump, two weeks out of three. And this, I imagined, would free up a couple of hours a week to write Ella.

Yeah.

So…why wasn’t I making any progress? Yesterday I realized that every time I sit down to work on that thing there’s another interruption. Yep. I started to type a sentence, got through ONE phrase, and had to jump up and tend to another crisis, phone call, barkfest, doorbell ringer or whatfreakingEVER. Even when I’ve got time carved out to do my thing, I can’t stay focused long enough to build up a head of steam.

It is amazing how much ditz the computer adds to chores that ought to be fairly straightforward.

Today, for example, I wanted to install live links in the Ella’s Story page, so that if a person wanted to read the thing, said person could simply run down the page and click on links to the chapters, in the order of the narrative. Et voilà! Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?

No. Installing links to 33 posts is an activity that consumes freaking HOURS.

To locate the post, get the URL, go back to “edit page” for the Ella’s Story page, insert the link, make it open in a new page, change the color of the link to match the theme’s color scheme, and on and on requires NINE point-and-click-and-copy-paste-or-type maneuvers for EACH LINK. Consider: for 33 posts that’s TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY-SEVEN DITZY MIND-NUMBING OPERATIONS!

By the time you’ve fixed the 87 gerjillion typos your flapping fingers insert, it’s well over 300 operations. Brain-banging tedious!

No wonder I don’t get around to doing it…one can always find a way to avoid doing that kind of workoid.

Ella’s Story, Chapter 33

Ella’s Story, Chapter 33

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog about one every three weeks, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Chapter 33

Vighdi called the kitchen, ordered a couple of meals delivered to her private quarters and then directed Ella toward the single women’s section of the employee apartments. The door to Vighdi’s rooms slid open as it sensed her walking up the hallway. Ella could see the walls’ glow panels fade up from dark to a soothing off-white. By the time the two women reached the doorway, they stepped into a fully lit living space.

“Nice,” Ella murmured, almost unwittingly. Despite all the early maid work at the resort, she’d never been inside any of the free company employees’ quarters. A windowless, oblong room spread out behind the entrance, a broad loosely covered bed tucked behind a couple of low pony walls in the far left corner. Images, some of them abstract and some figurative to the last detail, decorated the walls. A desk and chair stood against the left wall; to the right a pair of soft-looking lounge chairs filled a sitting area in front of a table that looked like it was designed either for eating or for games. On the far wall, another door opened into what looked like a private bathroom and maybe a storage closet.

“Pretty much standard issue,” Vighdi said, ushering her in.

One helluva lot more issue than our “standard,” Ella thought, given her own digs: a bunk inserted inside a cubbyhole in a wall with a curtain for privacy. Such as it was.

“Make yourself comfortable, dear.” Vighdi gestured to one of the large  stuffed chairs and started a built-in device near the broad table making hot drinks. Ella watched her brew and pour a couple mugsful of the dense rust-red tisane she favored – Ella was not asked what she would like, if anything. Eventually Vighdi set a steaming cup on the table beside her and alit in the other chair.

Vighdi drew her legs up under herself, took a tentative sip of the hot drink, and sighed. Ella sensed a ripple of tension flowing out of the woman’s body.

“So,” Vighdi said after a moment of quiet. “You do understand, right? How close you came?”

Did you bring me here to lecture me some more? Ella wondered. She saw Vighdi gazing levelly at her and figured she would have to put up with it. Surpressing her own weary sigh – for she was indeed very weary now that the immediate danger of peremptory execution seemed to be over – she nodded. “Yes, boss. I do.”

“He wasn’t kidding about sending you down to the surface with your boyfriend. Bho is not a man who blows smoke.”

“No, ma’am. No. I do know.”

“No,” Vighdi repeated. Was there an edge to her voice? Ella wasn’t sure then; wasn’t sure to this day, many years later.

“I…,” she couldn’t see what direction to take her thought, or what direction to come from. “Thank you, Boss Vighdi. For helping me.”

“I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was worth the effort.”

“I appreciate that.”

Vighdi gave her a sharp look, as though she didn’t appreciate the reply. “Are you going to let me down?”

“I hope not.”

“Yes or no?”

“No, ma’am.”

Vighdi fell silent, stared at her. After what felt to Ella like minutes, she said “I hope not, too.”

Before Ella could figure out whether a reply was expected, came a buzz from the door. “Dinner, ma’am,” a voice said through the intercom. An image appeared on a vidspot next to the entrance and Ella recognized Taz, one of the chow line workers.

“Come in, dear.” With a gesture, Vighdi persuaded the door to slide open. Taz carried a tray to the table and gave the overseer a deferential nod. “This looks fine,” Vighdi said.

“Do you need anything else, boss?

“This will be fine,” she said.

“It’s almost curfew, ma’am,” he remarked. “If you’ll put your dishes outside when you’ve finished, we’ll pick them up first thing in the morning.”

The graying Kanaian man dismissed, Vighdi motioned to Ella to sit down and eat.

“If it’s curfew time, I should go down to my bunk,” Ella said. “I didn’t realize it was so late.”

“You need to eat, Ellie. Sit down and fill yourself. I’ll take you down there after we have a meal. But as a matter of fact…better do this…”

She picked up a vidspot controller and turned on the communication service. Yiadwene, one of her assistants, appeared. “Do the bed check for me tonight, will you?” The woman nodded, looking a little surprised. “Ella is here with me. I’ll bring her along a little later.”

“So… All right.” A quizzical tone signaled some curiosity.

“Good,” Vighdi said, cutting off any discussion. “Go on to bed. No need to wait up, dear.”

“Thank you, ma’am”: as close, in tone, to a shrug as one could come without lifting one’s shoulders.

The chow, Ella thought vaguely, was also standard issue. She didn’t taste it especially, though: just ate. She was hungry and not hungry: a state of mind she had rarely experienced before.

Vighdi, across the table from her, also dined without much obvious enthusiasm. Few words were spoken. When they both had eaten as much as they were going to, Vighdi told Ella to pick up the dishes, which she did, obediently enough, and without being asked to do more, piled them on the tray and set the mess outside the door.

Expecting to be escorted down to the single slave women’s quarters, she paused by the open door.

“Would you like something to help you unwind a little, Ella?” Vighdi slid open a door in the cabinet behind the table, displaying a variety of relaxants.

“Uhm…” Surprised, Ella wasn’t sure what to say. But…yes, she surely would. “I wouldn’t mind something to drink,” she said tentatively. Her preference was for soft candies spiked with white powder, a specialty of Samdela’s southern mountainsides. But…while those in service were allowed some alcohol ration, in moderate amounts, most other entertainments were off limits.

“All right. Do you like…how about this brandy?” She lifted a bottle out of the cabinet and displayed it. Ella recognized a Varn variety much favored among a certain type of Syndicate boss back on Samdela: sweet, rich, and expensive.

Vighdi filled two small ceramic cups with the elixir in question, handed one to Ella, and slid back into one of the lounge chairs. Ella reclaimed her place in the one next to it.

“Mmmm,” she sighed after a first sip. “So nice. Thank you!”

“Enjoy, dear. You need a few minutes of peace.”

“I’m afraid I stole quite a few minutes of your peace today. I’m sorry.”

Vighdi glanced up at her, the ghost of a smile on her lips. “Well. There’s never a dull moment around this place. But…yeah, I will admit: this was pretty good drama.”

“Really, I…”

“Please don’t fret. Let’s just move our minds off it now.”

In silence they took in the golden liquor. Ella wondered how Vighdi afforded it, but then realized there wasn’t anything else to spend one’s pay on, unless you chose to frequent the expensive restaurants and bars at the rich people’s resort. Did paid staff get discounts there? Maybe they even got comped.

Probably not. In the months she worked there, she never saw Company employees hanging out like guests. Well. Almost never. Those she did see were decidedly higher-ups. Not the kind of people who lived in the colony full-time.

Eventually Vighdi spoke: “Do you like to play tabs? I have a short-game here.”

“Yeah…if it doesn’t take all night.” Tabs was a board game that involved moving silver or glass stones around according to an involved strategy. Some variants could occupy hours. Some could run through in a few minutes. A short-game used a six- by six-square playing board – a printed roll-up mat, actually. Vighdi pulled a mat and a box of stones from a drawer in the table between the two chairs, laid it out, and let Ella choose her color.

Just as they were spinning a die to decide who would get the first play, the intercom buzzed: an urgent call. Ordinary conversation was signaled by a quiet chime, just audible to the room’s occupants.

Now what?” Vighdi aimed a gesture at the device and it came on, bringing Yiadwene’s face into view. She was pale and wide-eyed.

“Miss Vighdi! Somebody just tried to kill Ella!”

Ella sat up stock-straight. An adrenaline rush set her blood to roaring in her ears. Vighdi, very still, gazed expressionlessly at Yiadwene.

“Oh, yes? Well, they seem to have failed. She’s sitting right here with me.”

“He came in the east door and went to her bunk and stabbed all around in there with a knife. The mattress is shredded and the bedding is all cut up and…”

Ella could hear the other women chattering in the background, some of them hysterically.

“He came in the door? Didn’t you lock it?”

“Yes, ma’am. Of course I did! He must have had a pass. Look, here’s a vid of him.” Yiadwene’s image blacked out and was instantly replaced by a blurry image of a figure moving quickly up the half-lit corridor. He – if he it was – went straight to Ella’s bunk, pushed a drape aside, and had at the contents of the bunk. Quick enough, he apparently realized no one was there, turned, and left the way he came in, but not before one of the women noticed him and screamed.

“Well. Isn’t that…just fine.”

“The Blacksuits are out there,” Yiadwene said.

“Then let them in.”

“They’re already coming in.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 34

 

Ella’s Story, Chapter 11

Ella’s Story, Chapter 11

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog about one every three weeks, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Republished, December 1, 2018… By golly, I remember publishing this thing because I remember the images I posted with it. But somehow WordPress has managed to disappear it. And so, here it is again.

Chapter 11

After her shift one evening she wandered over to the lounge where the great arm of the galaxy sparkled through the clear domed roof. She’d missed the chow line’s last full meal of the “day,” but she could get a hearty snack at the lounge’s food bar. If she wanted an alcoholic drink, which she did, she’d have to pay for it from the pennies she was given for consistent good work, but that was fine. She had quite a few such pennies.

Plenty of other workers were sitting around, taking in the slack. Formless music and relaxed chatter filled the air. Stars like sand scattered across black velvet glittered overhead. She sat at one of the small bars intended for singles or small groups, nursing the remains of a bowl of stew and a mug of dark ale. Tired, she wasn’t ready to go to bed but neither did she feel like socializing. She just wanted to eat and sit quietly for awhile.

No such luck.

She felt him come up to her before he pulled out the chair next to her and sat down.

“Hello, babe,” he said.

She looked at him, surprised. “Hello there, butch,” she replied. “Do I know you?” She did, of course – everybody knew who he was. Everybody knew who everyone was: the colony was like a small town.

“Well, we haven’t had a formal introduction. Your name is Eliyeh’llya, right?” He spoke Samdi with a smooth NorthCity accent. “They call you Ella here.”

“Mm hmm,” she gave him a vague smile and an assenting nod.

“My name is Lo’hkeh jai-degh Inzed Mafesth. ‘Lohkeh’ to the overseers.”

“I’ve heard the name,” she allowed. “Good to meet you, brother.”

Handsome fellow, this one. Sandy hair spread a golden late-afternoon shadow across his sturdy jaws, his green-flecked brown eyes framed with black lashes under dark brows. He wore a red gem in his ear-stud. Whether it was real or not, she could not tell, though she assumed it was glass.

She wondered at this. The blacksuits took away every piece of jewelry or decoration on a newly convicted felon, especially the ear stud that marked a Samdi man’s coming of age. Once in service, he could buy another one – if he managed to earn enough…if his owner agreed to it.

So…sure, he bought himself a stud. But did they – the overseers, the management here – know what the red jewel signified?

Depended on the shade of red, o’course. His had some deep orange overtones: imitation garnet, she figured. That would make him…what? A midlevel boss in the Syndicate’s transport and communication business. Way over her head, that much was for sure.

But why would they let him make a statement like that, about his past life? They must not know, she thought. The blacksuits and the overseers where always dumber than you expect, Teryd used to say. Once again, he was right.

“Would you like another drink?” he offered.

She would. Careful, she thought…take it slow. “Thanks,” she said. “But I’m pretty beat and it’s getting late – don’t think I should.”

“Next time, then.” He smiled and leaned back in the chair, displaying a finely muscled torso.

“All right.” She returned the smile, trying not to look over-eager.

“So, Ella. You’re pretty well settled in by now, no? You’ve been in-colony for awhile.

“Yeah… I’ve kind of lost track of time, without real days or months.”

“Mm hmm. It’s been a year or so, give or take. Samdi time, that is. How are you getting on? Service suiting you all right?”

“It’s good enough,” she said. “I’m getting used to it. They treat me pretty well.”

“Yeah, they do. If they like you.”

She made no attempt to answer this odd remark.

“The work’s decent. The bed is warm. The food’s edible. What more could you want?”

He laughed. “What more?” He raised his mug to her.

He continued, after a swallow of beer. “I understand you were a lieutenant in the Tullsta Band. Back on Samdela.”

“Well, yes. I worked for the Zaïn. For B’jadaram.”

“Mm hmm.”

“How did you find that out?” she asked. One’s past life, as she had been firmly instructed, was to be left in the past: dead and buried. Never mentioned again.

“I know a guy who knows things.”

“Nobody has any secrets, hm?”

He smiled and allowed as to how that was so. After some small talk, he said, “I’m going up to Takrai in a couple of days. Would you like to come along?”

The mining colony was at Takrai, and Ella had also heard there were some exotic extra-planetary geological features near there. “Sure,” she said. “If we do some sight-seeing, too?”

“Absolutely. That’s the whole idea.”

“I’ll have to get time off from my boss. And I guess I’d need to clear it with my overseer, too.”

“Don’t worry about that—I’ll arrange it. Ask Vighdi for a pass tomorrow – wait till after mid-day. I’ll meet you here first thing, next day after tomorrow.”

He had noticed her.

Chapter 12

 

A tidy new “publishing” scheme

As you know if you follow “News & Chat,” the P&S Press blog, I’ve been amusing myself (and possibly you, with any luck!) by posting chapters here from three self-publishable books: The Complete Writer, Ella’s Story, and If You’d Asked Me… (the latter being the world’s finest collection of bathroom reading).

This self-imposed task got to be a little much, when I insensately decided that a chapter of each should go up each week. That is, each week would see publication of not one, not two, but three bookoid chapters here at P&S Press.

So I decided to put the brakes on that.

The inchoate result didn’t seem especially well organized, to my mind. And since Ella is a work in (very slow) progress, it still didn’t leave enough time to draft a full chapter between deadlines.

So I’ve come up with a new schedule: One chapter a week of just one book, which will go up whenever I get around to it, but no later than Friday of a given week. Bookoids will rotate: first Writer, then Asked, then Ella.

In theory, this shouldn’t be difficult…and wouldn’t be, if WordPress hadn’t kindly deleted all the formatting I installed in months’ worth of The Complete Writer. Thought I was getting away with something, but nooooo…. To prepare that thing (and, it develops, all of the things), I had to create separate posts for the remaining un”published” chapters and “schedule” them in WordPress.

And that, as you can imagine, was a royally time-consuming task.

Now I’d like to do the same for Asked, all of whose content is tucked away in a manuscript that I’ve had neither time nor inclination to upload to Kindle. This also will take many hours…just not this hour.

Ella is, of course, still under way. What you see is all I’ve got! 😀 And the next chapter may or may not get written by the next deadline. Pray for the best.

Part of the plan, too, is to publish links to the published chapters at this site’s pages for The Complete Writer, If You’d Asked Me, and Ella’s Story in table-of-contents type lists. I managed to get this done for Complete Writer, but the other two remain. Once the existing posts are linked to entries on those pages, all that will appear there will be a TofC with live entries, rather than the aggregated content of the book in question.

This will make life a lot simpler for me! And since I usually have my links open in a new tab, a reader could in theory toggle back and forth between a bookoid’s TofC and its contents, easily and smoothly.

So it all sounds great, eh? Alas, though, these time-sucking projects have been much complicated by Life, the Universe, and All That: one crisis after another, to say nothing of the distraction that is paying work. My little dog has hovered near death for the past six or eight weeks (amazingly, she finally seems to be recovering). Friends have died. I crashed my car. The veterinary and house-maintenance adventures are running me out of money…

All that and more (if you like to follow real-life soap opera, you can do it at Funny about Money by entering the category “dispatches from hell” in the search bar at the upper right)…yes, all that and more have tended to work against the project to write Ella’s Story. When I have time to think about it, I’m so exhausted I can barely move, much less dream up new copy. So…I may not be able to keep up even with the new, attenuated schedule.

We shall see.

Meanwhile, watch this space. Whenever I get the energy to write it, I’ll publish a rough schedule for future posts.

Speaking of exhaustion, I cannot type another word. And so, to bed…

 

Ella’s B-a-a-c-k! For the nonce…

Ella’s Story, Chapter 32

Okay, so I finally stumble to the end of the current chapter. Never did recover the last scene that Word so kindly disappeared for me. However, what doesn’t make you crazy…makes you crazier, I guess.

So this is actually chapter 32, not chapter 30 as I remarked in yesterday’s grutch. You may want to catch up or refresh your memory by visiting chapter 31, or simply go to the site’s search bar (in the right-hand sidebar) and enter “Ella’s story,” which should bring up all the chapters. And then some, probably.

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Chapter 32

Sigi, lithe but tall and substantially built, walked around the perimeter of the room. Here and there she put a hand on a countertop, tested a weak-looking spot in a wall, ran her fingers over the grain of an old window’s trim. Ella and Dorin, the new doctor Darl in tow, stood by and watched quietly while she explored.

“This room is a lot bigger than I thought,” she remarked, mostly in Dorin’s direction.

“It was chuckablock full of junk,” he replied. “You couldn’t see the back wall from the front door.”

She glanced up from pacing off the length of the far interior wall. “What did you do with it all?”

“It was a challenge.” Her quizzical look elicited a chuckle. “Threw most of it out.”

“Good riddance, then,” she replied, a little distracted as she thumped a fist along a suspect wall. Ella expected she must be pleased to find she didn’t have to clean house before she could start working. “So, Darl: how do you want to lay out this place? What do you need, and where do you want it to go?”

Seeming to study the space, he looked flummoxed. “Not sure. I’ve never tried to do any such thing before.”

Sigi paused in her inspection. She could, Ella reflected, be a little intense once she got focused on something. “Well,” Sigi said, “it’s not so hard, brother. Let’s think about what you’ll be doing here. You would have people coming to talk with you, no?”

“Yeah. I expect.”

“Where will you want them to be? And what else would you be doing in here, besides talking to people?”

He paced stiffly across the room and stood looking around. “We’d want a waiting area over there, near the door, I expect.”

“All right. We can move the doorway, if you’d like. Or you can have more than one door.”

“In one and out the other?”

“I guess. This wall,” she indicated the long stretch of dirt-gray paneling that held a bank of cabinets and shelves, “backs onto the men’s quarters. If we had an entrance somewhere along about here,” she waved vaguely toward one end, “some people could come in without having to go out into the weather. Or…hmmm…” She stepped over to the door and looked out. “We could build a covered breezeway along the front. It would shade the front wall—that would be good—and people could come out through the servant house’s east entrance and pass along here, under cover if it was raining.”

A master of ambition, Sigi was, Ella reflected. The more elaborate she could make this project, the longer it would take to build it and the longer she would be able to stay on the estate instead of having to go into the city to work. Before long they’d have a hospital with half a dozen wards, no mere in-and-out clinic. Ella waited for Dorin to have something to say. Not a word, though, was forthcoming.

“So we have a kind of entry, greeting, and waiting area. Near a door. You’d need a room to talk to a person in private, yes?”

“An examination room, yes. And a separate consultation room would be good. So we can talk and they don’t feel so…vulnerable, hm?”

“Makes sense.

“And if I could have a small office or study space?”

“We can work that. What kind of storage do you need? How much stuff will you need to keep in here?”

“We have other storage space for things you don’t need right at hand,” Dorin said.

“Right,” Sigi said. “So we’ll just need to build space for things you use day-to-day. Plus of course the electronic gear.”

“So…that would mean bandages and dressings, a fairly standard set of medications. Products for tests. Some things I can do myself, some of it would have to be sent to a laboratory.”

“That would be in the city. E’o Cinorra.”

“There’s no chemist in the village?”

“I dunno. Dorin?”

Dorin shrugged. “I don’t think so. But the midwife there would know.;”

“She probably does whatever she needs herself,” Sigi remarked.

“Herself?”

“Well. Yeah. They’re trained for that kind of thing.”

Darl gave her a dubious glance, then after an instant’s thought said, “That could be useful.”

“Do we have a water line in here?” Sigi peered under the rickety, time-worn cabinet.

“Nope,” said Dorin. “You can run a line off the service to the men’s showers.”

These people from the upper classes of Samdela, the rich ones of the remote south, were almost as alien as…aliens. Did he think midwives had no training? Had he ever even met a midwife? Possibly not, Ella speculated. She herself had never seen a doctor, one who had specialized training from a special center, until she was sent to Zaitaf. And that one was no Samdi. She was a Varn. An employee of the Company. And there for good reason: the equipment in those mine shafts could create some pretty spectacular injuries.

That woman—the Company medic—had three assistants, all of them prepared to help in the event of the next little disaster. They also dispensed all the routine health care required for a population living in low gravity.

But why, Ella persisted in wondering, did the kaïna imagine such a person was needed here? True, occasionally one of the estates had some kind of agricultural accident, usually involving heavy machinery. But the victims would be carried into Cinorra by air-car. That took time…but she’d never heard of anyone dying because of it.

A figure passed in front of the door, blocking much of the outside light that shone in through the open frame. Speaking of aliens, she thought. Chadzar, the kaïna’s Michaian head of guard, struck her as about as exotic as they come, with his snow-colored hair and the emerald-green eyes traced by white lashes, the long fingers, and those wide feet seemingly made for balance on ice and snow.

Yet somehow he seemed less…what?…less foreign to her than this new creature from the other side of her own world. More like her own: worker, brother in service. Unmonied, unpolished, unsheltered. Not that Chadzar wasn’t highly polished. He was, indeed, having been brought up in Haddam’s service to be some aristocrat’s valet. But in Ella’s opinion that was surface buffing.

He smiled and nodded respectfully in her direction. She returned the silent greeting, unnoticed (she thought) as his face lit up at the sight of Sigi.

“Hello,” he said to the new man, who looked up uncertainly. “We met in the mess hall a couple of nights ago. I’m Chadzar, one of the guard. Mr. Darl, no?”

“Eyah,” a Southern Samdi term. Would he ever fit in? “Mr. Chadzar, I recall…but I’m having a hard time with the names.” It would be hard not to recall one that looks like this one, she thought.

“There are a few of us,” Chad agreed. “It comes to you eventually.

Eventually. This Michaian was a quick enough study, she reflected. True, Merren had been grooming Chad for awhile to stand in for him, in the months before the assassin’s bomb took his life and the Kai’s. But still…in a matter of seconds he’d found himself at the head of the remaining crew, and also pretty much constantly at the Kaïna’s side.

He’d taken things in hand, though, without a blink. Appropriately enough, since Michaian eyes seemed never to blink… An army of blacksuits had descended on the estate – they would have been there before he could have taken Rysha home even had she not insisted on going straight to the Central High Ministry. There she learned that her father was dead and his personal guard Merren mortally wounded.

Ella recalled her own astonishment at seeing her young mistress, barely more than a child, address the crowds of citizens who already had gathered below the ministry’s façade. That day…that day: it was hard for her to think about that day, though every minute remained vivid in her memory. Everyone on the staff had been called in off their jobs and confined to the servants’ house, though it had taken awhile for some who were working in the city to get back out to Skyhill. A few of those had been detained by blacksuits as they were trying to make their way home, but most got back inside the gates within an hour or two.

Varn kais and kaïnas did not speak to the people. They sang to them. And though Ella had heard her practicing voice and elocution, Rysha had never had a chance – or a reason – to stand on a balcony over the people, out in the open air with the vidsound equipment broadcasting her words and song. She was, after all, just short of eighteen years old. Chadzar, too, was very young. Tall and blue-suited, he stood behind her, his ice-white hair glowing in Varnis’s hot gold sunlight, seeming to co-opt the five menacing armed blacksuits who looked more interested in staring down the crowd than in heiress to a galaxy-wide realm.

To this day, Ella could remember most all of what the Kaīna Rysha had sung, the words she sang with perfection, sounding—impossibly—as though she were rehearsed. How did she do that? In the blood, so people said, as though one who was born to power were born with all it takes to wield it.

She sang to the people the same message, first in Varn and then in five other tongues. The Samdi came across to Ella as strong, clear, and plain. It was the language of the people. Surely not the [inflection] of this fancy doctor man, nor, for that matter, of her own lowly northern dialect.

Best, Ella imagined, to converse with this one in Varn, as much as possible. That would limit the annoyance factor.

Chapter 33

Where’s Ella?

Lost in space, of course… 😉

Seriously: it’s been one frustration after another in the Creative Department. I’ve been cranking my way through chapter 30 of Ella’s Story, verrryyy slowlyyy, as one interruption after another falls from the heavens, like meteors upon the dinosaurs. Some of those interruptions have been paying work, which you may be sure supersedes all other demands and cravings. Others have been various little personal crises — surgery for skin cancer that turned out (surprise!) not to be skin cancer (please, can we max out the stress and drama a little more?); the dog at death’s door but refusing to go through; one unholy doggy reaction to one unholy medication after another (three times, I thought that dog would die before day’s end); friends dying right and left; a week or ten days’ worth of pool renovation going on in the back yard; editorial jobs flying in over the transom; and of course the unceasing sideshow that is our national politics, a constant and constantly amazing distraction.

Last week as I was trying to wrap up the chapter, in came not one but two new assignments within a few hours of each other, both from Chinese authors. One was a doctoral dissertation in, of all things, accountancy.

Who knew accountants did Ph.D. dissertations?

This, while not especially lengthy, was difficult to read because of the annoyance factor: they were making the kid emit an elaborate covariance analysis to prove…the obvious. The thing went on and on and on, essentially saying the same damn thing 15 ways from Sunday and demonstrating…nothing, really. Other than the obvious. It was an exercise in pointlessness.

By the time you removed all the tables and the references section, you ended up with a magnificent 29 pages of narrative. I mean…say what?

This, from my point of view, added another layer of annoyance. My dissertation was a full-length book that contributed a whole lot of new information based on months of archival research and that was published by a major academic press in its field. And you may be sure that my first full-time academic job did not start in the five figures, as his will.

So I leave Ella up in Word as I plod through this thing.

Then as soon as I shovel that back into the ether, I have to turn to the other author’s project: Chinese math. Transmission of HIV through certain high-risk groups in Guangzhou…don’t ask. Turns out to have been quite short, adding another layer of annoyance: I should’ve done this writer’s project first, because I was able to move it off my desk in a day. Better to have returned it promptly than to have made this person wait while I plowed through 28 pages of pointless palaver.

Math papers sent to American editors from China are commonly written in a program called LaTex, then converted in a crude way to Word with the equations stripped out. This, as you can imagine, occasionally creates an unstable file. And yea, verily…

The minute I wrapped that damn thing up and hit “save” for one last goddamn time, it crashed Word! Everything went down, including the Ella’s Story file I’d left open.

And yes, even though I’d saved, saved, and re-saved that file as I was working on it, and yes, even though I’d hit Command-S before I turned to the paying work, Word lost the new stuff I’d written in it.

Infuriatingly, Wyrd is set to save every five minutes on this computer, because of its propensity to crash at the most impossible times. So even if I hadn’t manually saved to disk, it should have auto-saved…many times over, during the several days I was working on the customers’ papers.

Wyrd is supposed to back up to what is called an “autorecover” file. If you know how to get at it, you can find the most recent autorecover and that will contain most of what you’ve done. In my case, it would retrieve everything done up until the previous 5 minutes.

But n-o-o-o-o-o-o-ooooooo, No chance. I can NOT find an autorecover file with the passage I wrote and felt so smug about.

Shit, Hell, and Damn!

I brought the computer down to the church office, which normally is quiet as the tomb, figuring I could sit here in the silence and, if not reconstruct what I’d written, come up with something new.

At the risk of repeating myself: n-o-o-o-o-o-o-ooooooo! The phone has been jangling nonstop. People have been wandering in and out the door, most of them wanting nothing more than to chat. EVERYBODY on the clergy and the staff is here this afternoon, meaning they’re all here to receive calls and try to dodge time-sucking visitors.

An hour and ten minutes to go. Then I have to fly home, bolt down a few bites of food, feed and wring out the dogs, and then turn around and fly back down to the church for choir rehearsal.

I’ve done almost nothing on the Ella opus — certainly not try to reconstruct the lost passage, except to realize I can’t remember any of it — and obviously there will be no time for any of that this evening.

Just hope my dog is still alive. That’s about the best I’m up to…hoping the dog hasn’t croaked over yet.

Ella’s Story: Chapter 31

Augh! Still trying to get caught up and stay caught up with Ella’s Story. The editorial bidness is a classic drought and flood affair: months go by with hardly any paying work, and then a tsunami comes pouring in. I just moved the fourth full-length math paper off the desk, when an entire issue of our client journal flew in through the transom. Working seven days a week is barely enough to keep up. And so…here’s a bit of a stopgap in the Ella tale.

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story

31

In the morning . . . ah, but she loved a morning on Varnis, a real morning, not artificial lights sliding from dim to bright enough to roust you out of bed. She needed no alarm to get her up to greet the day. Its strangeness never stopped fascinating: that golden sun sharply defined, most days, through the unnaturally clear air that faded from deep violet, sometimes through red or pink, and finally lit the sky to topaz. A few low clouds glowed orange in gold in this dawn’s rising light.

She lingered on the walkway outside the servants’ quarters and gazed out over the waking pastures, the fields and distant forest copses, as she always did for a few minutes before launching into another day.

“Good morning!” A bright greeting interrupted her quiet moment.

“Sigi. Good morning, dear.” The carpenter girl had a towel tossed over her shoulder, on her way to wash up for first meal.

“Wow! It’s really pretty today!”

“Mm hmmm.” Born and raised on Varnis, Sigi surely wouldn’t see the sky here, with its almost coppery blue-green clarity, as quite so exotic as Ella herself did. Pretty might not be the word she’d choose. Beautiful, maybe, though inadequate. Incandescent, if she thought that hard. But strange was the word that would first come to hand. If she were asked.

“You finished up the job in Cinorra,” Ella remarked, redundantly, by way of making conversation.

“Just about. Thank goodness.” The job had dragged on a ten-day and a half too long. “I’ll need to go back this afternoon or tomorrow to check on the clean-up. But otherwise I think we’re done.”

“Good. So, are you ready to start working on the clinic thing?”

“Yes, ma’am. That’s what I wanted to talk with you about.”

Thought so. “All right…”

“May I get a couple of strong backs to help set up the room Dorin wants to build out for this project? There’s stuff stored in there that we’ll need to find new homes for. And I’d like to get it scrubbed down before we start measuring and painting and things.”

“Darl seems to be well enough to start planning what needs to go in there.”

“Give me a day or so to shovel the place out.”

“We should get started thinking about this project, Sigi. Even if you’re not ready to begin drawing plans, you ought to take some time to talk with him.”

“Needs something to take his mind off his troubles, does he?”

“No doubt.” Sigi had a way of seeing through to the point. And Ella thought Darl should be occupied – very soon now – with as many plans, tasks, and physical jobs as he could tolerate, increasing in number and demand as he recovered strength.

As it developed, Ella didn’t have to get her way this time: Dorin was already seeing to it. After the morning wake-up, feed, and rush, he summoned Sigi and Darl to meet with the two overseers in his quarters. So Ella was sipping the obligatory morning tea, served up from Dorin’s desk steeping pot, when first one of them and then the other showed up

Darl was settled, stiffly, into a chair near Dorin’s desk. He would, she thought, not be a bad-looking man, once he recovered his bearings and his chopped-off hair grew back enough to brush smooth. Well fed yet fit, even slender, dark of hair and eye, he carried himself with understated but unmistakable grace: very upper-class. He came from a slice of Samdelan society that Ella had never seen, at least not up close, and never would have seen had she been left in the life.

“I’m not sure I understand…” he began—and then was cut short when Sigi bounded in. Bounding, Ella reflected, was Sigi’s default mode of locomotion. Did she ever slow down?

“Hello,” she said to the new guy, evincing not the slightest bit of deference. And why should she, Ella thought…they were both slaves now, no matter what this Darl had been before he landed here. On his tush. “You must be Darl. The doctor?”

He smiled tentatively. Ella thought he looked nonplussed, but he spoke up with humble enough self-possession: “I am. Yes.”

“I’m Sigi. The carpenter. I’ll be building out the space you need to work in.” She offered her left hand, palm up, and, to Ella’s mild surprise, he laid his own hand, palm down, on hers. She slipped into the chair that Dorin had set out for her.

“So, brother. Are you ready to get started?”

“I…well, don’t know. There are some things I don’t understand altogether.”

“Like what?” Dorin responded. “Ask away.”

“So…you want me to operate a clinic here for…the slaves on this estate, do I have that right?”

“Yeah. For us and the people around here.”

“Even though I’m not allowed to practice medicine now.”

“The kaïna has already canceled that out of your terms. The way it reads now,…” Dorin pressed a few links and brought up the official record that described Darl, his crime or crimes, what he was cleared to do, and what he was prohibited from doing. He ran his eye down a long stream of text written in an avalanche of Varn symbols. “You are allowed to dispense and direct healthcare services to people in service, to the landless in the care of the state, and to local residents, as long as you’re doing it in the employ of your owner. Rysha Delamona, Kaïna leh Varnisiel ch’Molendi Hededalla.”

“Because…?”

“Because she said so. Circular, hm?”

“All right. Then…how many people are we talking about?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Oddly, Dorin seemed not to have considered that question. “We have about sixty adults here at Skyhill, plus another fifteen children. Various contract workers come and go, who I suppose could get hurt or sick while they’re on the grounds.

“She has in mind you’re going to be available for staff on the estates around here – north of E’o Cinnora. There’s over a dozen of those. And Skyhill isn’t the largest. Not by a long shot.”

“The kaïna doesn’t own the largest estate on Varnis?”

“Hardly. The House of Delamona was never given to unnecessary…showiness. Historically, it was not the biggest hereditary property when the first of the line took power. And it still isn’t.”

“So twelve or fifteen times about sixty people?”

“More like about seventy or eighty, on average. Maybe 850 to 950 all told. Give or take. Plus the people who live in the villages.”

“Villages?”

“There are several of them in the north district, mostly attached to the estates. And the only medical carers they have are lay healers. And midwives. The midwives are mostly trained in Cinorra.

“The one that’s closest to us – that’s Skyhill Village – has…uhm…about a six or eight hundred people living there. I guess. Wouldn’t you say?” He cocked an eye in Ella’s direction.

“That’s probably about right.”

“Most of the great ones’ manors have a village associated with them, little places that have grown up around the estates.”

“And they’re all about the same size as this Skyhill town.”

“More or less.”

“Twelve or fifteen times eight hundred people…ninety-six hundred to twelve thousand villagers? Plus another nine hundred retainers in service?”

“I’d guess that’s about right.”

Darl looked at him in disbelief. “That’s ten to thirteen thousand potential patients. I’ve never had a population of more than about two thousand. That’s about as many as any one doctor can handle. And then some.”

“Well. They don’t all get sick at once.”

“Sure. Never rains but it pours, you know.”

Dorin laughed softly. “You won’t be the only one providing care. If that were so, we’d all have been dead before you got here. Besides, there’s not fifteen villages. It’s more like eight or ten.”

A doubtful smile ghosted over Darl’s face, briefly.

“Look. Most people in a place like this are pretty healthy. We get plenty to eat and we get a pan-immunization that keeps us from getting sick. So what we’re talking about here is an occasional accident. And…well, we have a pregnant mother just now – it would be nice not to have to drag her to a midwife or call one in every few weeks.”

“And most people will go to a village healer before they travel to town for a doctor,” Ella added. “Unless they’re really sick, they get over it first. About nine-tenths of the midwives live in the villages, and they take care of the women there. And sometimes our women.”

“So…then what would I be needed for?”

“This is the kaïna’s idea,” Dorin replied. “I don’t second-guess her. I just do what she says.”

“No, c’mon Dor’,” Ella interrupted. “It’s reasonable, brother. We don’t have a real medically trained doctor, one who does science, anywhere on this side of Cinorra. To find someone who isn’t just practicing folk medicine, you have to travel into the city. Like Dorin says, most people don’t get very sick. But when they do – and when they get hurt – it would be a lot better to have someone like you here.”

“Well. I guess we’ll see, then.”

“Let’s go see the space Dorin wants to turn into an office for you,” Sigi proposed.

“It’ll have to be quite a place to accommodate 13,000 patients.”

Chapter 32

Ella’s Story: Chapter 30

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story

30

Bhotil listened silently while Vighdi described what Ella had told her: cargo records altered, offloaded shipments shorted, missing goods diverted to some unknown destination…possibly with almost every incoming freighter. Ella felt herself shiver as Vighdi spoke.

The news delivered, he remained quiet for a moment, his expression blank. Time passed: an era, an eon. Half of Ella’s lifetime. Vighdi also fell silent and stayed silent, as though afraid to interrupt his thought.

“This has been going on…how long?” After the endless hiatus, the question felt anticlimactic.

“Five and a half circles, sir.” Zaitaf, distant from its mother planet, had gone five times around Varnis and then some, after that first day Lohkeh had asked her to “correct” a figure. Five circles took the better part of a Samdelan year. Samdela’s biggest moon would have waxed and waned eight times by now, the smaller one fourteen times.

Another moment of silence. “Can you tell us,” he resumed, “what exactly was taken?”

“Not specifically, Mr. Bhotil. I have…I just have the categories.”

“You’re stealing cargo but you don’t know what cargo you’re stealing? Doing it just for the fun of it, then?”

She felt her face go red.

“What in the names of all your people’s cock-eyed gods possessed you? You’ve been doing this for…why?”

“I don’t know, sir,” she murmured, barely audible.

“You don’t know what you’re stealing and you don’t know why you’re stealing? Is that it?”

She shrugged.

“What put this project into your head?”

“Lohkeh asked me to, sir.”

“Lohkeh.” He glanced at Vighdi, whose expression remained studiedly noncommittal, then turned his gaze back to Ella. “I see. So. Love loses its mind at the garden gate, hm?”

“I…no… Yes. Sir.”

Vighdi’s expression shifted, but Ella couldn’t read it. Anger? Disgust? Pity? Or was she suppressing laughter at his remark?

Bhotil expelled a sigh through his nose, unmistakably disgusted. “I’m disappointed, Ella.” This brought on an instant sting of tears. “Really, I am disappointed. You work hard. You’re smart. You’re polite, you behave yourself. You learn fast… I thought you were going to be fine. But behind the scenes, you’re doing this?

“I’m sorry, Mr. Bhotil,” she said into the heavy silence that followed, a silence that seemed to demand a reply or an explanation.

“I’ll bet you are.” He gave her a vexed look. “Damn it. I thought you were going to be all right.”

At this, Vighdi spoke up. “She is going to be all right, Bho. She just needs a chance to come all the way over.”

“She’s had her chance. And she squandered it.”

“No. Not yet.”

“She is done.” The statement was said with finality.

“Boss.” Ella had never heard Vighdi address him that way. She saw it got his attention, but whether this was in a useful way, she couldn’t guess. “She wouldn’t have told us any of this if she hadn’t wanted to break free. Can’t you see she’s trying to come over to us?”

He snorted softly. “Sure! It’s a creative approach.”

“If she’d said nothing, chances that we’d have found out about this, ever, are about nil. Why would she come forward if she weren’t trying to come out of the life?”

“She was already out of the life. That’s what this whole exercise is about.”

“Bho. She’s Syndicato. She was some capo’s lieutenant. You don’t just walk away from that, any more than you walk away from living and breathing.”

“Right. That’s exactly right. And that is why she’s done. As of now.”

The silence that was his response rang in her ears. She drew a breath, but didn’t seem to be able to pull in much air.

Moments seemed to pass before she could speak.

Mr. Bhodil,” she managed. “I did a wrong thing. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway because…I…” Briefly she considered her words. “I was attracted to Lohkeh. When he asked, I did what he asked because I wanted to please him. Because he’s so beautiful.”

Bhodil raised an eyebrow.

“I loved him and I wanted him. And I got him. And so yes, that’s why I did it. I never knew what became of the redirected crates or what was in them. He didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask.

“I let you down. And I’m sorry.

“But what he said would be a one-time thing got to be a regular thing, all the time. When you brought me here, I thought I would be out of the life. Forever. But it sucks you back. It was sucking me back into the life, and I don’t want to be there.

“So…so I came to Boss Vighdi. To make it stop.”

Bhodil seemed to gaze at a point on the wall for a moment. Vighdi and Ella waited for him to reply.

“Does he know you’re here?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“He can’t be doing this alone. Who’s he working with?”

“I don’t know.” Haidar, she figured. But she couldn’t prove it, nor did she know who or what Haidar really was, if she was more than she appeared to be. So she refrained.

He seemed to think for another moment, then addressed Vighdi. “What do you propose we should do about this?”

“Remove Lohkeh. Right away. Say nothing about it. The point will be made, to those who know there’s a point. As for this one? Well…would you please give me another chance with her? Let me have her for awhile.”

“My inclination is to put her in isolation now and send her down to the surface with loverboy on the first planet-bound ship.”

“Please don’t do that. It would be a waste. A total waste.”

“Looks suspiciously like a waste right now.”

“I know. But I think we can turn that around. Bho, she’s worth another try. Let’s not just throw her away.”

He looked at Ella as though he were trying to make an appraisal. “I don’t know,” he said.

“When in doubt, don’t,” Vighdi returned. “Let her try again, will you?”

He sighed, more capitulating than conciliating. “All right. All right: once. But that’s it. One more fiasco and she’s gone.” He looked at Ella. “Do you understand?” She nodded.

“I think she’d better be isolated while we deal with the male,” he added.

Vighdi caught Ella’s wince. “Let me keep her with me.”

“She could be at risk. He is a capo. This won’t be kindly received.”

“I can handle it, you know.”

He looked at Vighdi a little askance. “All right. But…be careful, will you? Stay alert.”

“Always.”

§

Bhodil left the room, bound to give out a string of orders from the comfort of his own office. Vighdi let a sigh of relief escape her lips. She reached for Ella, who was beginning to weep again.

“That was a close call,” Vighdi said, gathering the other into her arms. “Don’t cry now. You made it.”

“Are they going to kill him?” Felons who escaped execution would not live past a second offense, committed in servitude.

“Ella. On Zaitaf, that’s what it means, to send someone to the surface.”

Chapter 31