YC 124 NEWCWC -Salvaged-
“What is your name?”
“Bellia” I said.
The man chuckled. His voice slurped making me think of a serpent, like the one that poisoned St. Temusu. His hand reached out to pat my head. I ducked behind my mother’s skirt. Snake man stood tall, the jovial grin crinkling his nose. I hissed at him. Mom shushed me.
His hand moved to trace his jaw. The other drew out a monies fold.
“You got a card yet? Naw, you don’t. Fresh boaties so the cash discount applies. I’ll give you twenty ISK for her. You know what an ISK is?”
Mom put her free hand across me. The other was wrapped tight around my baby sister. Mom backed up pressing us to a crowd that wouldn’t yield. No one wanted to be on the edge. An old woman said that was where the vultures fed. Snake man grabbed mom’s arm, leaning in close, whispering.
“You know you’re all headed for the Republic camps. That girl won’t be left in one piece. There isn’t enough food and she won’t sell for half as much.”
He flashed some metal rectangles. I could see Mom’s pupils follow them. Mom clutched my sister tighter.
“She’ll have a good life, educated even. This will feed you and that tiny one for a year at least.”
Mothers arm of protection slackened.
“Get away from there!” came a shout.
The man shoved mother down, flinging the rectangles to glitter across the floor. His hand lashed, wrapping fully around my wrist. I struck him. My fists punching to the stiff fabric of his jacket. He laughed. I looked to the crowd of my fellow Amarrians. There was a surge, but not to reclaim me. Three men threw themselves to the front, scrabbling to grab the monies. Mom howled, rolling to shelter my sister- or maybe rolling to guard the ISK?
“Mom!” I screamed. The man twisted my arm. I yelped, my feet tripping as they dragged across the floor. One sandal dangled off my big toe. Then it was lost. My bare foot set down to the metal tread of the station.
“Hush” he hissed. His free hand coming across my face, lightly. “You will have a better life with me.”
My hand reached for the wooden sun dangling on my chest. The symbol of God. He would help me help myself. I reached up and poked Snake man in the eye.
“You little ■■■■.” He jerked me up onto my tippy toes, his hand squeezing my chin.
It was then I noticed them. Three fearsom men with eyes shadowed, wild Matari. Each was clad in leather with more pockets than any man could ever need, long knives tucked in the belts. The smallest one would have surely intimidated Master Talobhu’s guard. He had a face all drawn with rusty lines like a raging water ripple. The three surrounded us. My heart, I felt it thump in my neck where Snake held my chin. I must not be worthy of love. God has left me.
Snake suddenly released me. I curled up, watching. The smallest one barked thick words. Snake growled “Quota”, backing up, his eyes flashing between power and fear. The man with a red bandanna on his head countered him, shoving him forward. Snake struck then, elbowing to push away. The third man caught him by the shoulder. Red Bandanna grabbed his other arm. The smallest man took his wallet, shaking it before tucking it into a pocket. Then they beat him. No knives were drawn, just bloody fists.
I kissed my symbol, crawling to a stand. A tooth flew with a splatter of saliva and blood. I was sure it was Snake’s tooth.
The third man, wrinkled of face but definitely not a tottering grandpa stopped the fists with a pointing. Five uniformed men all in brown were heading towards us. The station security staff. Snake wiggled away. The three with blood stained fists left in a hurry, the uniforms following.
I turned. The crowd of my fellow slaves surged. The green dressed women were back, handing out rations. I looked for the hunched shape of my mother in the sea of same faced, same dressed beings. She was there, no longer in the front. I blinked. Mom vanished into the mass of us.
A curly haired woman bent down, proffered goods poking toward me. My hands found flex to wrap around the water pouch and food bar.
“There you go honey.” the lady said. She nudged me toward the crowd. Her skirt was way too short!
In the next moment four more wild Matari came out of a side door. Each dressed as something from the Dark Fables holo-vid. Fierce patterns traced on the faces of some and each had a stick carved with sigils. Mistress said the Matari practiced dark magic with such things. Their eyes all looked, assessing us slaves. But I knew they were not proper masters.
My people lined up to receive the food. One of the Matari, the woman with reddish hair leaned her stick out, pointing to a woman at the front. The wide eyes of the woman met back to the fierce stare. A red tag was unhooked from the Matari belt and offered to the woman.
“Quota” the Matari said. Close words were shared. The woman took the tag and moved toward the side door. It happened then, all at once. The crowd pressing forward. The strange line of Matari passing out each their own colored tags. Some slaves even ignored the food and went up to the Matari, bowing, begging, for a tag. Sometimes a tag was offered, most times the sticks were used as sticks. The word ‘Quota’ rose loud above the din. The unchosen were ushered down a further corridor.
Mistress had warned me against such people. They were rebellious to the truth, infidels. I touched my wooden symbol. Mistress had given it to me even as they pushed us onto the ship. She said to let God choose my path. But which one? Or perhaps none of those?
“Guide me.” I prayed. I took off my sandal. The other sandal was gone and I didn’t want to limp. I tucked it and my ration into my dress pocket even as I inched away from the crowd, backing towards the gate we had been herded through not long ago. My three saviors had left that way. If God put them there to save me, then I had to be for them.
I moved slowly, not looking at the door or the guards. It was like sneaking up on a black fowl, if you looked at them they knew you were coming. In a flash I turned, slipping between the brown uniforms. A shout of “hay!” chased me.
Beyond the doors there was a domed world. Walls of shops selling everything from clothing to parts. Scores of dark people, shoulders held back, heads high, and too many pockets. The Matari people. A guard was moving slowly toward me, his hand beckoning. Another was waving to the attentions of those nearest me. I dared to look one in the eye. She looked down at me with eyes dark as the night sky. Her hair was cropped short. It was just like the Mistress said, that woman must have sinned. I pulled my chestnut braid in close to my neck. No one was aloud to steal it. I ducked away from the woman into the tide of beings.
Weaving in and out put distance between me and the uniforms. I climbed up a container, crouching low. The station trembled beneath me. I knew my mother would be yelping. I didn’t care. A station in space was alive and turning. I knew the tremor was a ship moving, a big one. That was where I wanted to be, on a big ship…
From my vantage the red bandanna man became a beacon. I saw him turning a corner. “Big Red” I named him. I slipped down the container’s side, weaseling my way forward. Big Red turned down another hall and up the auto stairs. I followed, stepping high so my toes wouldn’t get sucked into the floor.
I turned where I saw him turn, stopping short. The dock yawned bearing a ship longer than my Holders barn. It looked like a caterpillar, twice bigger than the nasty rust slug master made us board. Big Red disappeared into the wide door of it. I watched as a lift car came, laden with boxes and two women, one hanging off the back. The floppy hatted guard didn’t even look up at them.
I approached, peering into the dark. Metal bolts and rusty panels were fixed to everything. The guard didn’t move. He was watching a screen in his hand. I stood up straight. If I walked like I belonged, no one would notice me: ten lengths, five lengths, one length…
“Stop, there kid.” Came a sharp voice. Floppy hat man, he was next to me in three strides. I stepped away, tripping against a container. It teetered. Floppy hat grabbed my arm, tugging me away.
“Thieves loose their hands, the lucky ones that is.” He snarled.
“I’m not a thief” I said.
“And I’m not a prince.” He said. “What r’ you doing here mite?” he said. His eyes suddenly scanning the docks before they came back to me. Those eyes were not fierce, but his grip certainly was.
I looked him right in the eye. “Quota” I said.
He laughed like a jack-haw. “Who’s Quota’d you. Where’s your mum.”
“The man with the red bandana.” I said pointing to the ship.
“No, no, no.” He snorted. The two women came back, walking this time. He beckoned them over. “Laursa, Bennish, look, boss sent us a Quota.” He held up my hand. I wiggled it away. He didn’t know how to glower, but I knew I could.
“Careful Jester. She’s a thief scout.”
“I am not a thief!” I said.
“Yeah I looked. There isn’t anyone on the docks. I think she followed the Captain. Now tell me small fry, what do you expect to do for us?”
He stared at me. The one called Bennish gave me a proper squint eye. The hum of dock machines and some distant horn sounded. I had no idea what one does on a ship.
Bennish leaned in. “Bet she fixes nano-coolers”
“Mite box mining maybe?” Jester said.
“Polishing the low knobs. I hate bending down that far.” Laursa said.
They were making fun of me. Each job was fake. I could tell. But I remembered one job for slaves in space. Mistress told me about it once. A job I surly could be qualified to do. I squared my shoulders. “I will herd your fedos.” I said.
I really had never seen a fedo. Mistress said they were like giant slugs. I knew how to herd shep and black fowl. As long as fedo weren’t faster than them I could figure it out. I folded my hands and bowed.
The dock machines hummed. Jester turned, stumbling back to his post. I could hear him snorting, trying desperately to catch his breath. Was he choking? Bennish looked down at me.
“If you’re a real Fedo herder, you’ll know how to use this:” She turned and looked around, grabbing up a staff of copper, thin with a split end going each way in a twist. She poked the fat end at me. I grabbed it. If I looked it I could fake it until I could do it. My hand ran over the twisty end.
“Yes, you will know how to use the khumaak” Laursa said. Jester fell over.
“Take me to your fedos” I said, brandishing the khumaak.
Laursa led the way. Bennish cuffed Jester when he tried to follow.
“But I need to see this skill.” He said.
“No you idiot. You’re on guard. You leave the door you’ll be on half rations.”
“Film-the technique, I must…“ he brandished his data pad.
“Bay 3- camera 34. Just watch it like your suppose to.” Bennish said.
I followed Laursa. There were so many boxes and nets of things secured to the walls. I clutched the khumaak, keeping my hands to myself. We stopped at the door, Laursa’s hand poking the panel. A weak light rose to illuminate my fate. A stench, like the back of a diuretic slaver hound came forth. Bay 3 was mostly empty. A corner had some containers strapped to the wall.
“Here, this room’s full of them. Just show us your stuff and I’ll give you a station coin. You can buy a Quafe or something.” Laursa said.
I don’t really know what a Quafe is but I wasn’t going to tell them. Laursa and Bennish, I knew they weren’t Ladies, but here they were greater than I. “At your command.” I said, and bowed. When I looked up I saw a funny kind of sorrow played at their eyes. They left, closing the door behind them.
I walked into the middle of the bay. Bits of junk were scatted at the edges and more than a few rusty spots bloomed in clusters on the floor and walls. So where were the fedo? They probably were in the net of boxes. I turned the khumaak in my hands as I patrolled to the bay edge. I could really look at the tool now without seeming ignorant. The thin spirally end was flimsy with two of the tubes being flexible and three of them rigid. There was a bracket too, complete with bolts and washers. I stuck a finger in one of the tubes. When I breathed into the end it came out the other.
I wasn’t watching and my bare foot kicked a pile of detritus. It squished with tickling thorns brushing against my ankle. I froze in horror, realizing what I had done. There they were, every pile of rusty trash on floor and wall, was a fedo. And I had kicked one. Hurting the livestock meant a lash. If I killed it, I was sure to get beaten.
The pale lump landed on its back. A round mouth worked in the air as the tiny claw legs waved like a beetles. I reached down to right it and the tiny claws grabbed my hand, pulling it to my fist. Shudders were held back with shear will. I desperately wanted to shake it off but if I threw it, it could die.
“Breath.” I told myself. It wasn’t hurting me. It just prickled with it’s tiny feet. The mouth felt like a gouder’s tongue. Now was the time to learn. I brandished the khumaak, maneuvering the stiff tube ends under the fedo’s body, but it kept slipping through the gaps. If the tube was as wide as my arm I could load the fedo into it, but this was not so.
I set the khumaak down and gripped the fedo by the back. It was cold and solid, like an over ripe daou fruit. A more pungent stink erupted. Clawed tentacles angled up toward my invading hand. I gently squeezed, pealing it off my hand. With a hop I set it down and whipped my other hand away so it could not affix to it. That seemed to work. Maybe the khumaak only guided a group? At least with shep, the crook could catch one.
I patted the fedo’s jelly back. Slowly it began to side away, its little hooked tentacles undulating. I searched through the dim light of the room, making a count with my fingers and toes. With herding, a beast either followed or ran. It was easier if they followed but you had to have their trust. I would earn their trust, one by one. The next fedo eagerly climbed to my proffered hand. I walked it to the far corner of the bay and slid it gently onto the flooring.
“One by one.” I counted off my pinkey finger.
It is impossible to tell time without a sun, but moving the fedo took a long time. There were two hands and a foots worth high on the wall and away from the scaffolding so I just couldn’t reach, even with my khumaak. The rest were in my corner. I even managed to grab the biggest one. I called her Gummy. She was as big as both my feet long. I hummed to her as I pealed her off the wall. she seemed to like it. The fedo didn’t seem to want to stay in my corner though. I broke up my food bar crumbling it on the floor to feed them. I had a hard time poking open the water pouch but I eventually got it to drip and squirt. A sip for me, a puddle for them. Gummy sat in the middle of the puddle.
A yawn slipped out but I stopped it. It was not correct to sleep when a job was expected. I hoped a fedo shepherd didn’t sleep with their stock, they were kind of cold. Maybe if I closed my eyes just a bit. I could hear the masters coming and could stand to attention then?
A tap of foot steps slowed to the door. Laursa and Bennish must be back to check on my skills! I squared my shoulders and looked down. My left hand on my khumaak, my right wrapped around God’s symbol in prayer. Please fedo, please stay in my herd. I will feed you and tend you, and we will journey the stars together!
Gummy brushed against my foot.
The door opened. Giggling laughter echoed through the bay. It was not Laursa or Bennish. A man and a woman entered, holding hands. Even I knew what that meant.
“Selka my soul, the Commander shouldn’t be kept waiting.” The man said
“We have an hour before you undock.” She replied. His vest clinked to the floor.
“I should be on my slasher.” He said.
“Your frigate is fine. I just need five minutes. It will be two weeks before I can touch you again.” She said.
“Yes Captain. Then you’ll have too much of me.” He said
“As if I could ever have too much.” She said.
They were kissing. Lust, one of the seven tribes of sin, unless it was sanctioned by the master. And then no one was suppose know about it and most definitely not interrupt.
A buzzer rang. The two jumped. A voice came over in a fuzz of the speaker system.
“Captain, please report. Commander Berkist is waiting for you.” Jester’s voice sounded.
“Give me that.“ a deeper voice cut in. “I’m coming down to that bay, and you’d better have most of your cloths on.” He said. The com cut off.
The woman and man laughed. She moved in for another kiss but their movement stopped. The man pulled away. I froze. He was looking at me.
“Selka, why are all the fedo in that corner. Is that a child? With your refrigerant splitter?”
“Eh?” she said. “What in the mighty Eldars? Who are you?”
I bowed. “Captain Selka, ma’am. I am your new fedo herder” I said. I stuttered a bit but I think I seemed sure enough.
The metal flooring made great echoes as the Captain tromped toward me. I turned my eyes to her boots, sneaking a peak at her face. It was then that I understood, She was the one, the littlest one who beat on the Snake man. The one God had sent for me to follow. I had thought she was a man.
“What kind of joke? Jester you dumb…“ Selka finished with a whisper.
The man laughed. He squatted down, his eyes starring into mine. I looked at his boots too.
“Fedo, eh? Where are your parents?” he asked.
“Her mom’s on the refugee dock. Did you follow me?” Selka said.
“Yes.” I said.
“Oh what a proper little Ammatar.” The man said as he reached out. I let him pat my head. Captain Selka glowered, showing me her wrathful face.
“Look, you can’t just follow strangers.” She said. The echo of boots in the corridor made everyone freeze.
“Jousul, you have to hide her.”
“Where” he shrugged. Gesturing to the tightly packed net of cargo.
“Well, have her stand behind you. If she doesn’t move the Commander might not notice. Just not by that.” She said as she pointed to my neatly herded fedo. A few were moving from the formation and I bent the khumaak to poke at them so the Captain would know that I know what I am about.
She grabbed me and Jousul, I found myself sandwiched between his butt and the wall.
“Just stay still” she hissed.
The door creaked. The man who entered did not bother to close it.
“Captain Selka.” He barked. Selka sprang to attention.
“Commander Berkist.” She replied.
“I am assuming Captain Jousul has ‘briefed’ you?”
“Ye-No sir. Just tell me where to pick up the ore.” Selka
“Your orders have changed. You are taking this wreathe hauler to Hama, you’re on salvage.”
“Salvage?” Selka looked at Jousul.
“The Eldar fleet is pressing forward and there is a lot of scrap in their wake.”
“Thank you sir!” She said. Selka stepped forward then. Her hands reaching out. Berkist met them with a weird arm to arm grip. It was like a hug that didn’t quite happen. I felt Jousul relax a little. I could finally turn my head.
“You know you deserve a destroyer, but this is the best, and safest I can do. Considering Chief Ellido’s edict. She holds our future foremost.”
“You’ll be at the wedding?” Selka said.
“You put me next to your mother, didn’t you?” Berkist said.
I could see Captain Selka smile.
“Get your crew back on board. You leave in a turn.”
“A turn? I was told we had three days.”
“A turn. The fleet is pressing into Sarum Prime. We’ll be knocking on the Imperial door.”
“Oh, and one more thing, keep tighter collars on your muscle. Station security was threatening to boot us because some yahoos decided to help in the Quota hall.”
“We were just taking out the trash sir.” Selka said.
“Thieves and vagrants, those were his words. Just leave it alone. I already had to listen to an hour about ‘unsanctioned’ fleet ■■■■. Republic are not Thukker. Understood?”
“Captain Jousul, come.”
Jousul trotted to Berkist side.
“Oh and be sure to-“ Berkist began, but he stopped. I could see Selka’s stance stiffen. Berkist pointed. I bowed most humbly.
“Already taken care of sir.” Selka said.
“I don’t know how.” Berkist said. “The boat for the refugee camp un-docked fifteen minutes ago.”
Selka’s face went long with eyes bulging. Her hand shot out, jerking me toward the door. On the dock she peeled the khumaak from my fingers and handed it to Jester. He turned his face down.
Selka must know I am no good. I don’t know fedo. I embarrassed her by being seen. I don’t know space rules. I trotted, silent. Speaking was forbidden now, of that rule I was sure.
Captain Selka tugged me to the refugee’s hall. No one was left, just a man with a mustache sweeping up bits. My mother was gone. Tears leaked to the corners of my eyes. I won’t blink. They would all run then. Tears just got you a backhand.
The place she brought me next had a glass door and carpeted floors. Many people in the brown uniforms walked in and out. Captain Selka spoke with a woman who bent over the counter to look at me.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Bellia” I said.
The woman typed on her data pad. My hand was lifted to sit on it. It clicked and an image of my hand appeared on the screen at her desk. A stick with a light was shown in my eye. Selka ordered me to stay still and look at it.
“You are being registered” the woman said.
Mom had told me about this. This place must be where I would get sold properly.
We were guided to another room where a dozen people milled.
“Here.” Selka said, pointing to one of the puffy chairs. I proceed to dust the chair off for her. It had been very clean though. I don’t know why she needed me to clean it too.
“No I mean sit in it.” She said. Her hand moved to cover her eyes. She peaked at me through those fingers.
I knew better. I wasn’t supposed to sit in view of a master. Was this a test?
“Just sit, now. Sit!” She said, pushing me into the chair. I sat. The chair squished most pleasantly. My eyes started to close. I willed them open. You can’t fall asleep in front of the masters. I stood up. There was now dirt on the seat where I had been.
“Sit back down” Selka said.
Selka sat next to me and pulled out something from her vest pocket.
“Here, eat this.”
It was a clear packet containing colorful dots, candy. I looked at her face. Was I really suppose to eat? Selka wasn’t even looking at me. She was focused on her data pad, typing furiously. I was starving. If it was alright for me to sit, maybe I could eat? I carefully tore the corner off the package. I slipped the orange one into my mouth and closed my eyes. It was too sweet and a little bit sour. I willed myself to not bite. It would last longer if I didn’t bite it up.
“Captain Selka” a rather official looking man strode up to us, extending his hand. Selka stood but she didn’t shake it.
“I checked. The freedom barge is already underway.” The officer said.
“I know that, idiot. How much will it cost to get her back to her mother.”
“No need to worry. We will take care of her. I just need you to sign here.”
“I want to leave her an endowment.” Selka said. She took out a monies fold, extracting a handful of rectangles.
“How generous.” He said.
Selka lifted a finger to sign the compad. A man walked in from the corner door. The voices in the room quieted.
“There, that’s the Thukker that robbed me. She even has ‘my’ wallet!” the man shouted. It was Snake face again. One of his eyes was blacked and his left arm was in a sling. All eyes went to the captain. I curled down into the chair.
The official took the compad back. Selka had not signed. Her face put on the mask of wrath. Snake pranced forward but he slowed before he got close. Then he looked twice at the chair as he spotted me.
“See too, she has kidnapped my Quota, my ‘ward’.” He pointed. Selka turned her glare to the official, then back to Snake.
“What right do you have to Matari children?” Selka said. The official moved between them.
“Now, now, Mr. Pan is a Gallente talent scout. His benefactor has been quite generous to the orphans fund.” The official said.
Mr. Pan straightened his tie and raised his hand in welcome to the room of onlookers.
“Everyone here has seen ‘Ollies Orphans’, ‘Mighty Mite-matar’, and ‘Little Sashta’s Freedom’. That’s the kind of flicks my clients are doing. With those eyes, this kid is going to be a star. Food, education, toys, She’ll want for nothing.” He said. “A new face of compassion for the Republic.”
His hand reached for mine, flicking my bag of jellies away. I watched them scatter in-between the seats. The sweaty-hot grip was more that a bit too tight, crushing the one jelly I managed to hold onto. At least his smile was clean, though he was missing that tooth.
“You can’t believe him?” Selka looked at the official and across the rest of the room.
“Don’t worry Captain. There are groups that verify such things. We’ll see to the child’s welfare.” The official said.
I could see Selka’s stare; calculating, assessing. Her scary face of wrath was what she offered the room. She grabbed my other hand.
“Quota,” Selka said.
“I know you. Thukker aren’t part of the Republic. Your kind don’t aid a refugee Quota, only your own tribe, living in the Wild Lands. I on the other hand-” Mr. Pan said. But he stopped. Selka had inched more than a bit closer, looking up into his face. He was taller, but at that moment he didn’t seem that way.
“Quota.” Selka repeated. She grabbed Mr. Pan’s hand off of mine and twisted him to the floor.
“God damn Thukker!” He screamed. I am very certain the Captain broke his arm. As certain as I was that Mr. Pan was going to hell for his blaspheming.
Captain Selka pulled me up. She ramed through the fencing of brown clad officials. I had to really trot to keep from falling. I tripped and she pulled me up. My eyes were drooping and fuzzy. I had to shake to open them. The squashed purple jelly slid from my fingers. I reached back as it bounced away. Selka jerked me up again.
“Are you fool enough to stay with that man?” Selka asked, “I can assure you he is all lies.”
“Sorry m’Captain. I stay with you, please? I don’t know, I am so tired.”
“By the Eldars, you have no shoes. And when did you last sleep?”
“When was sundown last?”
“Damn you really are fresh from a planet. There is no day or night in space.” Selka said. She looked back. I could see the guards coming. Selka turned, and picked me up.
No one had carried me since I was three. I felt light, flying like a bezz. I didn’t know if it was right, but I hugged the Captain.
It must have been right, She gripped me tighter.