Author’s Note: This is a story about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. We here on the Earth are part of it — we just don’t know it, because as yet the powers that be haven’t made contact with us. We’re still a bit too backward for their taste.
This multi-tentacled entity is presided over by the Kaïna Rysha Delamona, the hereditary leader of a hereditary elite arising from the planet Varnis. Her home, a large rural estate north of the Varn city of E’o Cinorra, is called Skyhill. Most of her time and energy is consumed in continual political battle. Skyhill is occupied, maintained, and run by a large staff of slaves, some of whom work in day jobs or contract jobs off the estate (their pay is used to make life better for the servant class there) and some of whom work at the manor and grounds.
The Empire acquires slaves by condemning convicted criminals to lifetime servitude — those whose offenses are not deemed serious enough to merit execution. This provides a steady stream of workers, since the poor are always with us…and since at least one world, Michaia, possesses a busy underground of active, highly seditious revolutionaries.
Ella is the co-overseer of the Kaïna’s staff, working as a kind of second-in-command to Dorin, technically her boss, in practice her equal partner. Like Dorin, Ella — now a woman late in middle age — comes from Samdela, a world that is covered from pole to pole with urban development. Samdela is a center of organized crime. A vast syndicate based on Samdela functions as an inverted shadow government behind the official structure that is the Empire. As a young woman, Ella was a lieutenant in this organization, on her way up until, by a misstep or by betrayal still unknown, she was caught by the Blacksuits — an empire-wide police force and spy agency — convicted, punished, and sent off-world to a lifetime of “service.”
Ella’s Story, a kind of e-telenovela, is very much a work in progress. There’s always more to come…
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The Cast of Characters
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She could hear a voice moaning, muffled behind heavy privacy curtains, as she strode down the hall into the men’s quarters in search of Dorin. He called; she came, no questions asked. Ten doorways down, she found the source of the unhappy sounds, and her boss. She pushed the cube’s drapes aside and poked her head in.
Dorin perched on a stool beside the slave cubicle’s Spartan bed, trying to quiet and comfort its occupant. A small, dark-haired man, his eyes red and tearing, struggled to push off the covers Dorin was trying to keep on him.
He spoke in Ganel, a variety of Samdelan favored by the upper middle classes: “It hurts too much!” Samdi, then, she surmised, and not your average stick-up artist.
“I know,” Dorin was saying. “But you need to keep warm. It gets a lot worse if you don’t.” He also spoke a Samdi dialect, but much as he might try to polish it, the whiff of street argot misted like smog through his words.
“You wanted me, brother?” Dorin glanced over his shoulder –- he must not have heard her walking up the corridor.
“Ella! Yes, I sure do.” She stepped into the small room. “We might do better with a woman’s touch here.”
At our wit’s end, are we? “What have we got?” she asked.
“This is Darl. You know: the doctor I told you about.”
The man looked like he needed a doctor himself. That, of course, would not be forthcoming…and those details, taken together, were the gist of the fierce, body-searing ordeal Varn justice inflicted on convicted felons privileged to bypass execution for a life of servitude. Dorin and Bis, one of the Kaïna’s bodyguards, had been gone for quite awhile, presumably at the slave market where they picked up her ladyship’s latest acquisition.
She knelt beside the bed and laid a hand on the man’s coarsely shorn ebony hair. Slaves were required to wear their hair cut short. The first thing the blacksuits would do, even before clapping their victim into the cooker, was to hack off any hairstyle that fell below the ears — as most Samdelan men’s did. He was, she noted, just starting to go to gray.
Her grandmotherly frame protested. She shifted to a more comfortable pose, sitting on the floor next to the cot. The man quieted briefly and stared at her wide-eyed, tears coursing down his face. She realized her livery, the Kaïna’s blue the same shade as the worksuits worn by every government functionary of the interstellar empire, must make him think she was someone else come to torment him.
“Shhh, it’s all right. I belong to the Kaïna Rysha. So does Dorin here. And so do you now. We’re brothers and sister, hm? We’re going to take care of you.”
“It hurts,” the man murmured. “Oh, God, it hurts.” He moaned and sobbed in one spasmodic breath.
“I know,” she said. “I know. It hurts a lot. I’ve been there.” She pulled up a sleeve so he could see the scar branding her wrist, kept hidden below the distinctive green and violet cuff bands that identified her as Rysha’s property. “But it’s going to get better. Takes some time, but it does get better.”
He clenched his eyes shut.
“Couldn’t get any worse, hm?” When she stroked his hair, he looked at her, maybe a little less fear in his glance. “Just breathe, one breath at a time. Think about breathing, breathing easy. One breath, that’s good. And now another. And one more…”
He seemed to quiet a little under her coaxing. Slowly he came round to breathing instead gasping for air. She saw a little of the tension release from his rigid shoulders.
“We’re going to take care of you,” she repeated. “You’re safe now. We’re here with you.” Like talking to a toddler, she thought. Keep the voice low and lulling.
Minutes passed. The atmosphere in the room grew calmer. Dorin looked relieved. The man looked less frantic.
At length she spoke again. “Darl, hm? This is your name?” No objection arising, she continued: “You need to stay warm, Brother Darl. Dorin will have turned up the thermostat in this room — you did, right?”
“But there’s always a draft under the curtains. So you should stay covered up.” She reached for the blanket to pull it over his shoulders.
“No,” he protested. “It hurts too much.”
“I know, it’s not very comfortable. But believe me: you don’t want to get cold. That makes it a lot worse. If you’ll let me put this over you and lie really still — don’t move and just keep on breathing like we were, hm? – then it gets better. In just a few minutes. I promise.”
He flinched as she spread the covers over him, but now at least he wasn’t fighting it. She gave Dorin a little wink and he smiled back, ever more relieved and now looking downright grateful.
Gratitude from one’s overseer, she reflected, could make your day. Even if he was your co-overseer.
The storm past, Ella climbed to her feet. Dorin offered a hand up, which she cheerfully accepted. Opposite numbers, brother and sister in service, they were so similarly built — stocky and well fed — they could have been blood relatives.
“So,” she said, having smoothed her close-fit livery and straightened her work belt. “What is this? Shouldn’t this guy be in the Recovery Center? How come they let you take him, with him in this kind of shape?”
“They threw him out in under two days. He was on the market floor.”
“Well, they claimed they had a big influx in felons to process. Didn’t have room to hold his bunch more than a few hours.”
“Ah.” She snuffed a soft snort through her nose. “Another little uprising, hm?”
His eyebrows lifted. “Shhh sh sh,” he whispered. “Careful.”
She sighed. “Right. Crime wave. And this guy…is he one of the, uhm, criminals?”
“Absolutely.” Dorin fished a sheaf of papers out of his belt pouch and handed it to Ella. They were the new slave’s service record and terms. Halfway up the first page, she caught her breath and glanced at Dorin, then took a closer look at Darl.
“Oh, my,” she said.
The man had killed his wife.
Amira: Proprietor of a cathouse and a lunchroom/bistro
Bintje: slave woman at SkyHill and thorn in Ella’s side
Bis: member of the Kaïna’s guard
Brenny: a small child, son of Sehbad and Faisa, both blacksuits
Chadzar: a Michaian slave; head of the Kaïna Rysha’s guard
Dade: companion of Tand and aristocratic friend of Rysha in her youth
Darl: a defrocked medical doctor who is purchased by Rysha after her father dies and she takes over running the place. She thinks it would be a good idea to have a healer not only for her own people but for slaves on the surrounding estates.
Deela: a woman slave at Skyhill, given to making mischief
Djetti Delamona Kaïna leh Varnisiel ch’Molendi Hededalla: Rysha’s mother, deceased some years ago
Dorin: overseer of the Kaïna’s estate at Skyhill
Eestom: Companion of Ghemma
Ella: matron and second-in-command to Dorin; oversees women and married couples.
Emarr’, heiress to the title of Yrandag’chla; friend of Rysha in her youth
Essio: member of the Kai’s guard
Faisa: a blacksuit; father to Brenny
Ghemma leh PlehkNembine: aristocratic friend of Rysha in her youth, brother of Tand
Haddam: owns an academy that trains high-end servants for the elite
Hebedalla: Sahuru’s former title: Lord Hebedalla
Iteile: Chadzar’s mother; formerly a revolutionary activist
Myallim leh Zsian-tinan: woman aristocrat; companion of Rysha in her youth
Narehtal: ambitious, scheming Machiavellian aristocrat
Nehdo: member of the Kai’s guard
Odine le yNoraldia: companion of Rysha in her youth; has crush on Pachilu
Pachilu besh Andona leh Ciand’paran: a young aristocrat and admirer of Rysha
Pach’Ora besh Andona leh Ciand’paran: Pachilu’s father, a powerful aristocrat and advisor to the Kai and Kaīna
Rysha Delamona Kaïna leh Varnisiel ch’Molendi Hededalla: daughter and heir apparent of the Kai Suhuru
Sahure en Delamona Kai leh Varnisiel ch’Molendi Hebedalla: Rysha’s father; after Djitti’s death, emperor of the known universe. Kaï by virtue of marriage to the Kaïna Djetti; sovereignty descends through and to the female line
Sehbad: a blacksuit; mother to Brenny
Siji: a carpenter
Skeet: an eight-year-old boy
Syo: member of the Kaïna’s guard
Tand leh PlehkNembine: sister of Ghemma and aristocratic friend of Rysha in her youth
Treykhan or Treykam: son of Narehtal; articulate his full name
Vighdi: Ella’s overseer during her time on Zaitaf
Wilig: a ten-year-old boy
E’o Cinnora: capital city of Varnis; a large metropolis to the south of Skyhill’s locale
Ethra: colony and resort on Zaitaf
Idaemas: member world of the Empire
Kana: member world of the Empire
Michaia: an ice world; incubator of rebellion and revolution
Samdela: fully industrialized and urbanized world in the Empire. Birthplace and center of operations for the Syndicate
Skyhill: hereditary home of the Kaïna; so named because of a set of distant, low mountains
Takrai: Mining colony on Zaitaf
Temeha: member world of the Empire
Veshia: the smaller of Varnis’s two moons
Varnis, the Mother of Worlds: birthplace and ruling capital of the Empire
Zaitaf: the larger of Varnis’s two moons