She put both her palms on the ivory white perils of a sturdy antique-looking balcony and leaned forward to look at the garden. Breeze of fresh morning wind lifted her long chestnut hair from her shoulders, tickling her neck. The sight stretching below was serene. Small marble fountain in the middle was jetting a stream couple decimeters upwards, then falling down into tiny marble pond with couple lily patches. Six painted white benches were placed around the fountain, facing outside. The roads that were going around the fountain and disappearing deep in the garden were paved with tiny pebbles. Large iron stakes around them were holding candle lantern frames. Slaves were lighting them at the evening and whole garden was filled by the gentle orange light, streaming along the paths. For now they were just hanging down as ripe black frame fruits with frosted glass walls. Just after these posts there were thick bushes, raising to about a meter from the ground. Thick green growth was following paths, sometimes opening clearings with bright green grass and small accurate round hills, covered with flowers. A bit further the scenery was dominated by large garden trees, some of them were purely decorative, and others were bringing fruits. On the right hand there was opening with way larger pond with lilies. Probably it’s from here pads were brought into the fountain. Usually a couple of white swans was swimming there, but today it was empty. Just small gazebo was hovering over the water like a mini-island, supported by two white arched bridges, keeping it floating and connected to both banks of the pond. The bridges with their mirror reflection in the still water were looking like turned to the side digit ‘8’ with the gazebo right in the middle. It’s there where they were finding the escape from the buzzing life of the estate, from the judging looks of his strict parents and siblings, from omnipresent crowd of running around slaves and guests, who were visiting the estate each God’s given day. She thought she was seeing this garden for the last time, her life was about to change, promising a lot of exciting adventures. But somewhere deep in her soul she felt sad leaving this place: so many memories were tied to it! She was playing in this garden since she was just a child, it’s here where she was running to scream from happiness of cry from sorrow, it’s here where she met him for the first time, and it’s in this gazebo they had their first kiss.
The girl lifted her eyes and quickly turned around, slapping ornate balcony perils with her opulent white dress to see a cybernight with golden hair streaming down to his shoulders was marching towards the balcony. His long uniform with pompous epaulettes and golden chain across his chest were emphasizing his stature. Long rapier was beating to his thigh as his reflecting light black leather boots were hitting the floor with constant rhythm.
“Here you are, I was looking for you through the whole estate. We are leaving soon.”
His voice was confident and assertive, but at the same time soft and deep. The feeling from the sound of his words rolled down her spine with small shiver and the next moment she was already running to him and jumping to land on him, grabbing him around his neck with both forearms and lifting both her feet in the air, like she wasn’t a lady, but just a young girl, forcing him to produce heavy “Oof!” Of course, she wasn’t a lady. Helen was just a fourth generation slave, Sebiestor handmaiden in property of House Tynnaya. The house was in a period of decline and in the last attempt to save the legacy of the ancient family, Norrik, the first and only son of rapidly aging Lord Mervan, has graduated as a freelance capsule pilot. Norrik’s decision wasn’t understood in his circles, but his father has accepted it as a form of punishment for his son refusing all the marriage offers Mervan was planning for Norrik to consolidate the family. And the reason the young knight going against his father’s will was his handmaiden, Helen.
Norrik embraced the young girl around her waist with his large sturdy arms and kept her lifted up, smiling at her shining face. Her playfulness quickly melted down his strict demeanor. He exhaled and spoke with way softer voice:
“You should get ready, the shuttle is already on the pad.”
She jumped on the floor, quickly slipping from his hands – but she stayed near him, pushing her lithe forms to his uniform, like was glued to him, lifting up her face.
“I am ready, and I will follow you to the edge of the world and beyond. “
She turned around and gave the garden one last glance. The melancholy again started filling her thoughts. Helen put her palms on his epaulettes and looked up at his face, continuing: “ I have a sad feeling I will never see this garden again.”
Norrik put his large palm on her shoulder blade and walked closer to the balcony, guiding her after him. This time it was his time to lean on the railing and look down. He critically estimated his little garden. It might look expensive and well kept, but it was nowhere close to gardens of famous Holders.
“It’s just some trees and water. Once I earn billions, I will buy you any garden you want!”
Weeks have passed and Norrik learned that getting billions for a freshly graduated capsule pilot without funds behind his back wasn’t as easy task as he has imagined from the start. He managed to get several millions, making him richer than ever before – but all his money went into his ships that he was still learning to fly. Now he was living in a station quarters – just him and his handmaiden. With the automatic services the station was providing, she really had nothing to do except waiting for her cyberknight to dock. All her thoughts were about feeling his hands once again. When his capsule latch was opening, she was already standing there with towels, pushing away all the service drones. His hand was touching hers and a jolt of energy was spreading through all her limbs. Like in old times, she helped him to dress up. She waited for him to dock for so long! Helen just embraced him and put her head on his shoulder. She could stand like that for hours.
Enormous war machines were hovering over their heads. Cold metal walls were surrounding them, going all around the large docking chute with ship platforms. Busy service drones were passing by, feeling the air with constant whizzing and chucking in symphony with other industrial noises of heavy docking machinery, MTACS and cargo carts snooping around on lower floors. This pair, frozen in time in their embrace, could be seen from above like two tiny toy figurines left alone in a large and complicated breathtaking alien world of money and power where they didn’t belong, and only presence of each other was making them feel warm, disregarding what was around them. It didn’t matter to her, were they rich or poor.
But others were feeling themselves in this world like fish in water. One of them was a renowned capsule pilot Cammie, dark skinned minmatar, former freedom fighter, now - experienced mercenary in one of the numerous alliances. She first saw Norrik in a NeoCom holo-conferences, where she among others was helping starting pilots like him with advices. Fancy appearance of the young cyberknight she met quite coldly, yet she treated him like every other new pilot, trying to guide him and protect from mistakes so many new pilots were making. They were discussing fittings, money making methods, markets, safeties and combat procedures. It all has changed when Cammie saw his handmaiden. Helen, as usual, brought Norrik a cup of freshly brewed black coffee – and accidentally or, more likely, on purpose she dropped the teaspoon to his legs – and he just slapped her palms for this, ordering her to get back to her room.
Cammie was outraged. She remembered why she came into the space for the first place, what she fought for – and what she fought against before she became a pilot. The conversation quickly got derailed and now words “slaver”, “monster”, “tyrant” were filling the air. But Norrik was under CONCORD protection and with all her power Cammie couldn’t hurt him despite the amount of money and friends she had behind her back. Yet the solution came rather quickly:
“You will sell her to me, now!”
“What? No way.”
“Two billions isk.”
“Are you insane? I am not even discussing this!”
To sell… Helen? Indeed, how could he discuss this? She was everything he was living for, it’s for her he was enduring burden of living in station and flying ships instead of sitting in great hall of estate with a glass of wine in one hand and posh Amarr lady as a wife by his side. And yet, he heard it. It was now in his head. The minmatar was rich. And not just rich, but filthy rich, if she can offer whole two billions isk for just one slave… No slave could cost even a fraction of a percent of that sum! And if she offered that to buy a slave, how much she could offer to organize life of that slave? It was obvious, that Helen could live better with her, without doubt. But he loved her… He already shut down his NeoCom and was just leaning back in his chair, thinking. His father, Lord Mervan, was a wise man. He told him, “The greatest act of love is letting go.”
She was laying in her bed, keeping her feet standing on the floor with knees bent around the bed edge. Her both palms were under her head with fingers interlocked. She was facing the ceiling, but her eyes were closed. Despite her hand being slapped earlier, wide smile stretched on her lips – he touched her. Butterflies fluttered in the stomach when heavy and even steps were heard behind the door. It opened at once, showing Norrik’s figure. His face was looking heavier than usual and shoulders were lowered.
“Helen. We need to talk.”
It was the hardest talk in his whole life, and word were barely slipping from his trembling lips, when he was telling her the plan. Of course he didn’t have to: she was just his slave, he could have sold her anytime to anybody without even telling her. And she knew that – this was the sad reality of their world. But even in such world he couldn’t do anything he wanted to her. And it included marriage. He was a noble man, an heir of an ancient house. Even in the state of decline they were in, his name was putting him above even regular citizens with way greater wealth than he had. And she was just a slave, not even a citizen, not even a human in eyes of some – just an ‘object’ he owned, even if for him she wasn’t just an object. In this world they had no future. The maximum she could have hoped for is to be his concubine. And you cannot change the world… unless you have money to do so.
The other capsuleer had money. It could be enough for him to start making his own billions. With money he could have bought her back, bought her citizenship and name. Everything he couldn’t do until now was suddenly looking possible. Only if she could understand…
Helen was looking at him – but her eyes were empty. She was looking not even at him, but at the wall behind him, like he wasn’t even present, like he was some sort of ghost, an ethereal and transparent figure. She was hearing him, but not listening. He was getting more agitated, trying to explain his ideas and solution to their mutual future, how he have been seeing it, how they could be… together. But weren’t they already?
He was interrupted in his speech and paused, looking intently at her: “Excuse me?”
She replied with monotone slightly deafened voice: “Yes, I will do this for you.”
The decision was made, and now Helen was standing at Cammie’s quarters door, holding papers of ownership in her trembling hands. The tall capsuleer opened the door and smiled, tilting her head. She was wearing green sleeveless shirt and camo pants, leaving her dark shoulders bare. Small baseliner girl looked in front of her like a scared mouse.
“Ah, here you are.“
Helen curtsied and offered the papers on both her hands, replying with meek voice, while keeping her eyes down:
“My lady, Lord Norrik Tynnaya of House Tynnaya has sent me into your service, signed by these papers, and he expects the payment to be transferred as was agreed.”
The capsuleer smirked and quickly grabbed the papers, looking at them with one eye, without even trying to read.
“You know, it’s the first time I see a slave walking around the station with her own ownership papers. You could have just ran away.”
“I am not running, my lady. I will be loyal to you as I was to Lord Tynnaya.”
Cammie frowned with disgust at such display of subservience. She gripped the papers hard and tore them apart with her strong hands, despite there were quite many pages. She even folded them in two and tore one more time.
“You don’t have to. You are free now. Go back to your home and enjoy your life. I’ll send money to your Lord Whatever, as promised.”
Helen opened her eyes wide, looking how everything she was, how all her previous life was destroyed in front of her own face. She was just standing like that with mouth gaping open, speechless and completely lost. Feeling lack of appreciation from this subservient baseliner, Cammie huffed with irritation and slammed the door shut. She sighed finally with relief and tossed the remains of the papers into the waste bin, then headed towards her couch. After jumping down on it and putting her legs on the coffee table, the capsuleer reached for her NeoCom datapad. Was it worth two billions? That probably was the most expensive slave ever bought in the cluster. Will people remember her now as a slave trader? Or as someone who saved life of a poor girl? And what is a price of human life? Cammie didn’t have answers on these questions. She pressed enter and confirmed the transaction – after all, for her it was just pocket change that she could earn just in a day of flying. Working one day to save one slave from the clutches of tyranny? That was worth it. And it doesn’t matter what others will say. Guns or money – if anything can be used to free slaves, she will use it.
And she would forget it next day… but she didn’t, because when she left her quarters to get herself a can of Quaffe, she saw Helen: she still was standing in front of the door. Cold shiver ran down Cammie’s spine. No, she wasn’t irritated or angry anymore. She quickly rushed forward and embraced poor girl.
“Oh, spirits, you were standing all these hours like this? You… you don’t have a home, do you? Come in?”
“Yes, my lady…”
Cammie moved hair away from Helen’s face and gently smooched her cheek, guiding her towards the couch and helping the tired girl to sit down.
“I am not your lady, and I am neither your master nor owner. “
Helen still didn’t understand what was going on. Now she really didn’t have anything – anything at all. Everything she had were lost with these papers, she felt herself alone and abandoned in large and endless universe. Cammie made small pause and took her hands, “I am your friend.”
“What shall I do now?”
“Oh, darling, you are still asking me like you belong to me. You are free now, completely, absolutely. Your life is in your hands now! But don’t worry, I’ll help you start it. First, we need to find you a place to live and some work to do. And I have an idea for this!”
Cammie embraced the poor girl one more time, rubbing her shoulder through her handmaiden’s dress, then picked up her NeoCom to make a couple calls. She called Margaret – her old friend and co-ed, who now was working as a nurse in a minmatar refugee camp. It’s where Helen was heading now. Capsuleer ship, interbus, planetary shuttles. Systems and planets were passing by Helen, she was flowing along the river on a boat without oars. Each gate she felt part of her was torn away, each gate she felt farther from her former home, she felt falling down the black chute without bottom. Would someone catch her, would someone wait for her, would there be someone in whose hands she can land? Norrik? Cammie?
Margaret hugged the former slave and patpatted her head, looking with large smile at Cammie, “Don’t worry, she’s in good hands now!”
And so she thought, until a week later the nurse called her, starting with distressed voice:
“Cammie, I want to talk to you about your protégé.”
“Hey, Margaret! What’s the matter?”
“Something is wrong with your friend, Helen.”
“She doesn’t eat. She cries every night, - Margaret toned her voice down and almost whispered, - And she prays… in Amarrad. I don’t know if I could protect her any longer. I need your help.”
Cammie jumped into her capsule and departed at once. Systems were changing each other like snap shots, pictures that were discarded one after another. She flew like a wind, all the way back to Pator.
“Where is she?!”
Margaret opened the door, letting the capsuleer to Helen room. The former slave was sitting on her tiny bed, gripping both her knees with her arms. Her long hair were disheveled and unmaintained, she was looking thin and emaciated with dark bags under her eyes, in old looking clothes that weren’t even matching her size properly. Helen was a complete contrast to her former self, neat and tidy proper handmaiden, which Cammie saw for the first time. Small tear was running down her cheek, and she has couple bruises on her arms and legs.
“Oh, my dear, what happened to you!”
Cammie rushed to small girl and sat at her bed, quickly embracing her. The nurse meanwhile disappeared from the door opening, leaving two girls alone. Helen clinged to Cammie and pushed her face to her chest. She put her palm on top of her head and slowly ran her fingers through the hair.
“Easy, easy, honey. You can cry, if you want. You remember? I am your friend now,” - Cammie slowly moved hair away from Helen’s cheek with her finger, - “Did they hurt you?”
The other girl sniffed and embraced her savior back – it was the only one who left in the whole world who still was able to hear her.
“No, not them… Him…”
“Him? Who did that?”
“Norrik. He sold me.”
Cammie exhaled with relief and squeezed Helen tight in her embrace, leaning down to kiss top of her head.
“It’s what they do. Amarrians. They just treat you as furniture and sell you like pets. He doesn’t deserve you crying over it. This is all in the past already. He is gone, you are free now.”
Helen lifted her head and looked at Cammie with her wide wet eyes, starting to cry again. Her both fists hit Cammie to chest as Helen began sobbing again:
“I hate him, I hate him! I hate him with all my soul! I want God to punish him! I want him dead!”
Cammie just caught her again in embrace, “Easy, darling, easy. You will never see him again, I promise. You won’t.”
But it was clear that other refugees mistreated devoted handmaiden and leaving her there in the first place was a mistake. And Cammie understood it was her mistake – and that she has to fix it. She herself bought for Helen whole new house, large and expensive built – all for her alone, where she could live like a real lady in Pator. There’s nothing money couldn’t buy, and capsuleer like her could toss money with ease, everything baseliners needed for her was just a pocket change. Cammie even organized expensive restaurant food delivery for Helen, she ensured that former handmaiden had everything she needed. Unfortunately, in a couple day the restaurant delivery man contacted Cammie and reported to her that Helen didn’t meet them to take the food. The capsuleer groaned out loud, “Again…” And once again she slipped into her capsule and went back to Pator to visit her friend. Helen didn’t open the door even to her. Luckily, Cammie had her own electronic keys and entered the house by herself.
The pilot yelled, but to no avail. She found Helen laying in the bath filled with red like wine water with her pale hand stretching down to the dropped bloodied knife on the floor.
“Oh no, you don’t!”
She rushed to her body and lifted her head upwards, putting her lips to blue and cold lips of the dead girl. But it was too late. Helen was gone, leaving after herself just small letters written with blood on the bath wall: “I cannot live without him.”
. . .
Cammie was angry, red from her ire when she turned on her NeoCom to see his hologram to appear. With the money he got, he already was flying an expensive and powerful ship, looking more confident and determined,
“What the hell did you do to Helen?! You, brainwashing monster!”
“How is she?” – he replied with his usual confident voice despite such strong verbal attack on him.
He couldn’t believe her words. The world darkened and everything lost the meaning. The young man was shaking, while listening all the insults and accusations of slavery and generations his people did to her, about struggle and freedom. But he didn’t care about them, all he cared about was Helen. Norrik turned off the camera and grabbed his NeoCom. In the next couple seconds Cammie has received a transfer of two billions isk with short notice: “Bloody money, cursed be you!”
The station was slowly orbiting the barren planet and the sun started to appear from behind the shadow, lighting red lifeless planes of the surface and flashing with bright searing patches of light on shining metal plating of the station. Norrik’s capsule was silently drifting away without control. He has cancelled his clone contracts and was waiting how the auto-destruction timer was counting the last seconds of his life. With his last breath only whisper “I hate you, capsuleers” slipped out from his lips, silenced forever with loud capsule pop. His frozen corpse kept drifting away for another passing by capsuleer to drag it into the cargobay for his corpse collection. It is often said that if you commit a suicide, the God won’t accept you. But they both did the same mistake, and if there is some form of afterlife, they will get in there together. And for them being together will be way better than any paradise Amarr God can offer.
. . .
The years has passed and the leaves fell from the trees, huddling up on the unkept roads. Slow wind was blowing now through the empty and dilapidated gardens of once famous House Tynnaya. Covered in dust marble fountain was cracked in the middle, unable to keep water anymore – though none was there either, just rusty pipe was sticking upwards with couple yellow leaves laying in the former cup. The darkened paint was peeling from the benches. The pond grew shallow and became covered with dark algae, branches and debris were sticking out from the water.
It is nice to think that there somewhere could be a better world, better than ours. Where the trees are still green, ponds are full, benches are ivory white, and swans have finally returned. And in this land of dreams Helen became a lady, she married Norrik and they now sit together on one of these benches in their old garden, looking at a pair of their children, running along the pathways and playing with kites that raise high towards the bright sun…