Tag Archives: Free Reads

PRESENTING… Another Free Read! Fire-Rider!

Well! Having discovered that the “Free Reads” hobby here at Plain & Simple Press apparently generates sales over at Amazon, I decided to add the current Fire-Rider tome to the serial publications.

As I mentioned yesterday, getting the thing online will be a large project. It has 79 chapters, f’rhevvinsake. About 87 berzillion images are scattered hither and yon, on WordPress, on Facebook,, on Pinterest, and on my hard drive…finding a specific one is a challenge.

Rather than dribble these things out at the rate of one squib a week over a year and a half (will I even live that much longer??), I’ve decided to publish a section a week. Fire-Rider has 18 sections (published at Amazon as short “books”), so if I keep to the schedule (good luck with that!), the whole thing should be online in 18 weeks.

That assumes I get my act that much together and keep it together.

The first four chapters will go online tomorrow, along with a foreword and a parody scholarly article on the life and times of Kaybrel and his cohort (I think it’s pretty deadpan funny…but maybe you have to read and write scholarly papers to realize what it’s poking fun at). Wednesdays and Thursdays are rumored to be the best days to publish blog posts — supposedly readers are bored with their jobs along about then and so tune in to tune out. So I will try to post weekly on Wednesday mornings.

This little project has absorbed the entire day. But if, as I’ve done with the other serialized books, I can get the entire thing scheduled for publication in upcoming days, it will be pretty self-sufficient. Then the only real challenge is to remember to plug each new appearance on Facebook and Twitter…a chore that has been slipping my mind of late.

Really…computer stuff flummoxes me! 😀

At any rate, a start is made. Watch this space: links to the first four chapters, the front matter, and the back matter will go up tomorrow morning. You can find a link to the Fire-Rider saga at the top of any page or post at Plain & Simple Press. Whenever the chapters go live, I’ll insert links in the table of contents in the Fire-Rider page.

C’mon by…it’s SO much better than working.

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


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 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.”


“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 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 17 *Free Reads*

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


Ella disliked close, dark places. They reminded her of closets that she’d been locked into as a small child. She had learned, though – had been trained – never to reveal any sign that might betray fear or let others know what made her nervous. That moment at the first, with Bohtil – how long, now…two years? – fell beyond the pale. So as they rode up the long, dim passage between Lake Vesiah and Takrai, she spoke quietly of things that didn’t matter much or mean much.

Still, she hoped this mine of Lohkeh’s would have a skydome over it. Or at least some lights, for godsake.

Eventually the car rounded a black bend and, not so far away, a blue-gray glow seeped into the far end of the tunnel. The light emanated from a large cavern into which they soon glided. The road, at last unconfined, dropped down to the cave’s floor past several stages, spiraling along the outer edges of the walls, built and unbuilt On each level, a road circumnavigated the excavated cavern. Below, workers and heavy equipment dug at the floor and lower walls, pulling out rock and dirt, piling it in mounds, loading it into large self-driven carts to be hauled away. These, she observed, made their way to other tunnel openings, of which a number penetrated the outer walls at each level. Overhead, glowpanels lined a solid, rocky roof, illuminating the huge dig. Some of the circumference walls also cast light.

Walls reverberated with the machine growling, the rattle of tumbling rocks, and the workers’ shouts, punctuated by an occasional loud buzz or ring that seemed to warn the men and women below of some happening about to occur. The air smelled of dust and heavy machine lubricants, and a light fog blurred the view through the uniform artificial lighting.

“So…this is the mine?” She could think of nothing less obvious to say.

“One of them.” Having taken control of the vehicle, Lohkeh steered them onto a pathway about three levels above the cavern’s floor. “There are half-a-dozen in this cluster, all told.

“See those holes in the walls up there?” He indicated a number of dark openings spread irregularly along the topmost circumference road. “Those are tunnels that’ll take you to the other digs.” She had surmised they must be tunnel entrances, but going where…she couldn’t imagine.

“Then, those bigger tunnels down near the bottom?” Much wider and taller gaps appeared at iintervals along the second-lowest perimeter road. “Those are for ore freights. Those big trucks carry ore to be processed a ways from the site. Then the stuff is hauled to the cargo piers to be sent to Varnis. Or loaded aboard a deepspace carrier, sometimes – to go to some outfit on an exoplanet. Samdela has a lot of buyers, as a matter of fact.”

Much of the brown haze in Samdela’s air came from ore refining and metal operations, Ella knew – even though most of the planet’s usable deposits of metal and radioactive elements and been exhausted a century or two before. If any remained, they were covered by factories, mills, refineries, and warren-like piles of housing. She didn’t know how much of what was needed to support Samdela’s vast cities came in from off-world, but she had been told it was a lot.

The vehicle pulled up to a small receiving dock outside a structure built flush with the noisy mine floor. Chiseled cavern walls were lined with multi-story gray structures, their faces pocked with windows and doors whose view, Ella thought, would get very dreary, very fast. Most of the buildings stood along the roads and walkways that spiraled up the mine’s sides, beginning four or five levels from the hectic floor.

A couple of women in Distributed Offworld liveries – identical, with their gray fields and coral-orange wristbands to Lohkeh and Ella’s suits – stepped out onto the platform to greet them, even before the vehicle came to a stop. The seemed to know the two were arriving – and, she reflected, they probably did: Lohkeh’s embedded passchip would have signaled their position. No doubt hers did, too: on the ride to the transit station, the trip underground to this place…everywhere.

Including the lounge at the methane lake. He was a bold one, this Lohkeh.

The one in charge greeted him by name. She looked Samdi, to Ella’s eye. The other, the quiet one, clearly was not, Ella surmised, by the broad flat face, the wavy orange hair, and the squat, husky build. How long, she wondered, had it been since this pale creature had seen sunlight?

Lohkeh returned the niceties and introduced Ella to Haidar and Naji, boss and underling.

“Welcome, then, sister,” the Samdi woman said. She spoke Varn like a native, not something you could say of Lohke or of Ella. “What do you do for a job, here in the colony?”

“Freight and transport tracking, mostly. I just got transferred over from bookkeeping a couple months ago.

A flick of an eyebrow and a glance in Lohke’s direction vanished in less than an instant. Ella noticed and wondered – very briefly – what that was about.

“That’s a task to keep you busy,” Haidar remarked, interrupting her unspoken question, which disappeared as quickly as the gesture. “I used to have one of those jobs. Have you been off-world long?”

“Almost a couple of years now. I think. It’s a little hard to reckon, you know?”

“I do. Time is weird in this place.”

Weirder, Ella imagined, if you spend all your life underground, without even a glimpse through a transparent dome of the mother star against infinity. Although, on reflection, that was pretty weird, too.

Lohkeh and Ella helped the two women carry the laden boxes into a storage room and stack them as Haidar directed. Behind the high concrete façade, interior space was dug out a couple hundred feet under the lunar surface. Lined from its floor to a ceiling so high it was out of reach for anything but robotic machines, the storage room was an artificially carved cavern lit only by glow panels stuck to the walls or ceilings. Because all its walls were lined with shelving or closed, locked cabinets, the only lighting came from the ceiling, a harsh, unforgiving glare cast over everything and everyone in the room.

This Haidar, she reminded Ella vaguely of Vighdi. She was like Vighdi and not like her: assertive, confident…yet so not-Varn. By the cavern’s blank light, she looked older than Vighdi, or more worn. Older than Lohkeh, so it seemed. Certainly older than herself. Surely longer in service.

It struck her that the woman’s manner was more like a capo’s – more like Lohkeh’s – than like an overseer’s. Was she Syndicato?

Likely. Most Samdi were associated with the Syndicate in some way. However distant. But that wouldn’t make her a capo, any more than it made Ella herself anything other than a low-ranking lieutenant. But then this one had some years on Ella. So it appeared.

The vehicle’s cargo stowed away, Haidar asked Lohkeh where they were going next.

“I have to take some packages up to the Air and Fuel Department.” He dropped the data tab of receipts she’d given him into his workbelt pouch. “Then I thought Ella might like to see the Deep Mineshaft. If they’ll let us in.”

“Expect they will…we can arrange it. Does that sound like something you’d like to do?” she asked Ella.

“Sure.” That which does not involve work, Ella thought.

“Why don’t you go up to Chem Standards,” Haidar returned to Lohkeh. “While you’re at it, will you take a couple of boxes of junk to their supply sergeant?”

“All right.” The neutrality of his tone suggested a certain dearth of enthusiasm for this chore.

“And while you’re doing that, I’ll give your friend the grand tour.”

“Good idea,” Lohkeh said, not offering Ella a chance to opine. Haidar responded with a small, tight smile and a nod, and Ella understood that a message had passed between them. What it was, she had no idea. but pretty clearly, here as inside the aircar there were listeners.

“Naji,” Haidar addressed her slow-looking assistant, “you can go downstairs and help Waiwya. And Loh’, we’ll see you back here in a little while. Call me when you’re coming into the station.”

He dipped his head subtly, an acquiescent gesture Ella knew from the Life back home. Did they know each other from before? Maybe. Maybe not. But one recognized another’s rank.

Haidar led the way up a set of switchbacking exterior stairs carved into the cavern walls. These took them to the next level pathway up and an entrance to a building face with many more windows and doors. Inside, rows of offices lined the walls of several open storeys, layer after layer like shelves stacked one atop the other.

“This is where most of the shipping, transfer, and acquisition business gets done.” Haidar guided Ella toward a set of moving stairs. “This floor has the supply and requisition intercept crew for the whole colony. We coordinate requisitions for the mine, the shipping and receiving docks, and the resort. Whatever anybody orders comes through here. And so do all the receipts for incoming cargo and distribution.”

Before they reached the ascending risers, Haidar stopped at a desk that, unlike most of the others, was partly sheltered in an open cubby.

“Zeff,” she addressed the occupant, who had watched their approach. “This is Ella. She’s in freighting now at Ethra Station.” The man behind the desk, slender almost to the point of cadaverous, his hair black and his cheeks sunken, stood when he saw them draw near.

“Sister,” he greeted her laconically.

“Zeff oversees this team’s work and coordinates records,” Haidar added.

“Mr. Zeff,” Ella spoke politely enough. Yet she looked him straight in the eye. He was no free man, so she wasn’t obliged to bow her head or drop her gaze. Nor would she.

He looked at her expressionlessly, his obsidian eyes unfathomable. “Ella. I’ve seen your name on some of the lading receipts. You haven’t been long in the job, then?”

Chapter 18

Ella’s Story: Chapter 1 *FREE READ*

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…

Click here for
The Cast of Characters

Click here for
Place Names

Ella’s Story


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?”

Dorin nodded.

“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.”

“You’re kidding.”

He wasn’t.


“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.

Chapters 2 & 3

Cast of

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

List of
Place Names

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