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.
Dorin, she thought, must have been a good-looking man when he was younger. Well. Good enough. From across the lawn she watched him help Ronel the head gardener carry heavy bags of fertilizer-laced tcompost into a storage shed. He had a certain grace, given his age and his chunky frame.
Sigi’s crush on him, after Merren died, had quietly come to naught. Dorin had taken Sigi into his arms and comforted her and seen her through the worst of her shock and grief. Of everyone’s shock and grief. But when he sensed her affection was transferring itself to him, he deftly stepped out of the way and guided her in another direction.
Nothing if not deft, Dorin was. Sigi would’ve been a little young for him, to Ella’s mind. Yet why not? She’d have made a good mate.
Why not, Ella reflected, had to do with a wife back on Samdela that he would never see or hear from again. He did not speak of her. Yet Ella knew he thought of himself as a married man, one who had sworn an oath to be with that one woman. Another indicator of Syndicato: an oath was permanent. Forever, never to be denied. Even if it was, for all practical purposes, inoperative.
What was her oath worth, she wondered: the one that swore her to her band and bonded her with the Syndicate?
Not only did Lohke make love to her that would shake Zaitaf’s moonscape, if anyone had been measuring seismic waves, but he brought her gifts from worlds she’d barely heard of. Little gems. A shiny black stone necklace that she could hide under her livery or not, but wear close to her skin all the time, even in the showers. A box of strange, unbelievably tangy sweets. More sex.
And the next time he asked her to correct a set of lading figures, she refrained from arguing with him.
“Errors” kept surfacing. Five crates here, ten barrels there, three tons somewhere else.
When Lohke would ask her to fix some anomaly, she would oblige. And then he would oblige her. Within a few months, they were climbing into some hideaway every couple of tennights for some special experience. She found their encounters uniformly satisfying. So, apparently, did he.
It was Syndicate business as usual, she reasoned, when she thought about it at all. Her being, after all, was dedicated to the Syndicate. That she had been caught, tried for a long string of felonies real and invented, tortured almost beyond endurance for the privilege, and then relegated to a lifetime of service on the godforsaken moon of an alien planet did not erase or even slightly change the oath that bound her to her people. To the Syndicate. Did it?
She wondered. Did it? She pushed the question into the back recesses of her mind.
One day Vighdi called her in for one of the company’s periodic reviews. Ella sent her a report reprising the jobs she and her assistants had been doing, identifying her accomplishments, and highlighting room for improvements. At the appointed hour, she trotted up the metal steps to her overseer’s office and presented herself, as directed.
Trying to appear at ease in the chair next to her boss’s desk, she watched Vighdi skim over several months’ worth of data and reports from the other departments her group served.
“How are Behji and Hanya doing?” Vighdi asked. “Are they both handling the work on time? And without making a lot of mistakes?”
“Corrections” were silently installed before the records moved out of Ella’s precinct – after her assistants had done whatever they had to do with the data. “They’re fine, ma’am. They help a lot.”
“Mmm-hm. I’m sure. It’s a big job.” She studied a spreadsheet, pausing over it longer than she had with other parts of Ella’s report and records. “Had any particular problem with one or the other of them?
Vighdi raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“Sometimes Hanya needs to be reminded to finish up things. But once you mention it she always gets it done.”
“Well. That’s why we call it ‘riding herd.’”
Ella smiled politely. She had never seen a “herd”—of anything., And why would ride on one – or how – escaped her.
“What about Behji?”
“She’s very smart, ma’am. And thorough. Never a problem with her. But…are you going to send her down to the surface?”
“She wants to go to some business school there. So she can get a better job. Said she’d talked to you about it.”
“Oh…yeah,. We talked about that. Bhotil and I are still looking into it. Are you willing to train up someone to take her place?”
Just what I need, she thought. “Uhm…yeah. If you send her away. That’s what I’ll have to do, no?”
“Yes. But I expect you can manage it.”
Vighdi leaned back in her chair and gazed at Ella for a couple of seconds.
“I’m proud of you, sister. You’ve come a long way from laundering sheets for the tourists.”
How to answer this? Or was an answer expected? Ella smiled shyly.
“You couldn’t even read Varn when you got here. You’ve always done good work. But now you have a very responsible job. You’re doing it well, and you’re supervising two helpers. Good job, Ella. I hope you keep it up.”
She felt a blush spread over her face. “I hope so.”