This is a story about 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.
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.”
“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.