Ella’s Story: Chapter 27

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

27

It bothered her, what her boss said. Proud of her? Wouldn’t she be thrilled to learn what Ella had gotten up to with Lohkeh.

They had been getting up, all right: to more and more. That very afternoon, not two hours after she’d met with Vighdi, he showed up at her desk with a new set of “corrections” to enter in the lading records of the freighter that had just docked at Ethra Port. Part of the cargo was bound for Takrai – but not that much.

“How did your pow-wow with the boss go?” he asked.

“All right.” She shrugged. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Nothing ever is, around here,” he remarked.

“She did say she’s going to send Behji down to the planet to get trained for some new job they want her to do. I’ll have to bring up the new person to take her place.”

“That so?” He paused, appearing to consider. Then he said, “I know a guy who could do that job.”

The thought flickered like distant lightning on the horizon of her conscious. Oh, good! Let’s park someone in here to keep an extra eye on me! She tried to push it out, but it wouldn’t go.

“I expect she has someone in mind,” she offered.

“Probably. She’ll change her mind when she talks to this guy, though.” He winked, sexy and wily at once, and sauntered off.

Haidar had said Lohkeh was still in the life. “In”? The man personified the life. She even wondered if some Syndicate general had found a way to get him arrested, run through the cooker, and sent specifically to this place – just so he could do what he did best: steal. Embezzle, filch, swipe, and liberate.

He had drawn her back into the life, too.

Her first couple of years in service at Ethra had felt, ironically, like some kind of escape. She’d been bound into slavery, true; yet in the process she sprang free of the life. And that, she’d found, was like breathing clean air.

Which, she supposed, was what breathing amounted to here on Zaitaf. Filtered, recyled air. But clean. Very clean.

Hiding Lohke’s purloinments made her feel like she was back in the filthy air and daily dirt of the life on Samdela.

What if they got caught?

They weren’t going to get caught. Of course not. But if they did? She and Lohkeh would be summarily executed: deported down to the surface and infused with a fast-acting poison. Few, if any, questions would be asked. There would be no defense. Because there was nothing that could be defended.

But what about Vighdi? What would happen to Vighdi if they got caught?

They were not going to get caught.

But if they did…?

If they did, Vighdi would get some blame for it, so Ella figured. Vighdi’s job was to help oversee the Company’s slaves, to see that they did their jobs, got straight, and stayed straight. She was, after all, about to certify that Ella had spent the past year doing admirable work.

What would happen to Vighdi. If they got caught…

Would the blacksuits, the law, think Vighdi was in on the con? That she was abetting the theft of some tens of thousands of bars worth of rerouted goods?

How could she prove that she wasn’t… It would be her word and maybe Ella’s against Lohkeh’s. And Haidar’s, Ella imagined. There would be no way to prove Vighdi wasn’t complicit. Or at least selectively blind.

Even if she could persuade the authorities that she didn’t know what was going on, that would be held against her, too: ignorance a sign of incompetence.

Vighdi had never shown her anything but kindness. Even when she was being strict with Ella, even when her patience may have worn thin, whatever she asked, demanded, or ordered ultimately seemed to drift more toward the good than…otherwise.

How then, Ella wondered, was she, Ella, not returning the favor?

She turned on a printer and set it to emit several pages of figures. Working quickly – for she was a fast and efficient worker – she selected a page apiece from each of six recent lading books. She got up and ambled over to the refreshment bar. There she refilled her glass mug with hot kekel tea, one of her favorites. She paused to visit with Hanya, asking how the day was going, chatting about the previous evening’s dance competition at the rec hall. Picked up the printed sheets and carried them back to her desk, where she folded them in thirds and stuffed them into the waistbag she wore on her work belt.

She sat down and got back to work.

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