This excerpt is from Chapter 2 and the protagonist, Davi, has been discovering that life on the neighboring planet, Vertullis, for enslaved peoples (aka workers) is worse than he'd ever thought under his uncle Xalivar's rule. He's now finding himself torn and coming into conflict with friends and family as he begins to question it. Here he's just received a letter from his mother about his questions.
Davi sat at his desk stunned. His mother had always been candid, but the content of her missive left him at a loss. He’d expected her to remind him of his uncle’s love and urge him to not be hasty in rushing to judgment, but he’d also expected her to tell him he did not yet have the full picture to understand the reasons behind the decisions his uncle had made in regard to Vertullis. Instead, she confirmed everything he had discovered and been wrestling with. What now?
He would have to be careful. Xalivar would indeed have spies and most people in the Alliance were loyal to him. Davi needed to control his feelings and consider each move. Would he take on the whole Borali Alliance as Farien had said? Not even his status as a member of the Royal Family ensured success. He would be fighting an entire system and way of life for his people, and he knew few would support him.
Slow down, Davi, and remember your place.
Needing to get out of this office and distract himself, he decided to explore areas of the capital he had yet to see. After all, for the time being, this would be home. It might be a good idea to get to know his environment. He deleted his mother’s e-post from the server and shut his terminal, returned the paperwork he’d been reviewing to his inbox and headed out the door.
Outside the noise of the city assaulted his ears. As the twin suns sank toward the horizon, the late afternoon light began to fade, dressing the transportation corridors around him in a mix of light and shadows. Past the end of a long block of administrative offices, he entered the narrower corridors of a residential district. The area surrounding the Borali Alliance’s offices had become prime real estate and contained some of the largest houses in the city, most occupied by off-world government employees.
A few corridors over, a tall security fence sectioned off that neighborhood from the adjacent one. On the far side, the houses changed noticeably, three story apartment buildings mixed with small dwellings, the landscaping sparser, the corridors narrower. He heard even more noise here than in the area around the government center. People bustled around the corridors past shopkeepers on sidewalks drumming up business. It almost seemed like earlier in the day, rather than early evening. In such worker neighborhoods, life began when the people came home.
He wandered, pondering the juxtaposition between houses which seemed run down, set between pristine, newer dwellings on either side. In other places, a thatch-roofed house would have added plants or laser displays on the sides, its small yard kept tidy and fresh, while vines ascended the walls of sleek modern transparent aluminum dwellings with overgrown yards. Finally, he reached a point where the corridor made a sharp turn.
Turning the bend, he found himself in the market with rows of stalls and tents of all shapes and sizes, bustling workers and vendors. A few saw his uniform and looked at him with wary glances but most went about their business as if he weren’t even there. The smell of various perspirations mixed with manure and fresh meats and fruits assaulting his nose.
Vendors offered everything from standard vegetables like green heads of lettuce, orange carrots, and shiny red tomatoes to more exotic ones like Feruca, Gixi, and Jax—fruits from other parts of the solar system. Feruca was black with a thin skin and soft pulp and was often served with various sauces. Gixi, a round, purple fruit grown in orchards on Vertullis and Italis had a delicious, tender pulp and sweet juice. Jax were blue and oblong with crispy pulp and a taste, which went from bitter to sweet during boiling. All had been discovered when colonists first emigrated here centuries ago and now were regular staples of their diets.
Other vendors offered livestock for sale, everything from blue Daken and goats to Quats and Qiwi, a long antlered creature from icy Plutonis. Dark brown with white spots lining either side of their spines, Qiwi stood waste high on Davi and had four long legs ending in black hooves. Their antlers grew up to forty centimeters out of their skulls. He also spotted Gungors, the six-legged brown animals with yellow manes raised for their tasty meat. Davi moved on past as vendors hollered prices and argued with customers, while the various animals brayed and moaned around them.
As he neared a tent, someone grabbed his arm—a smiling vendor who looked half-human and half-Lhamor, gesturing with his bottom two arms when he spoke, his forked tongue giving him a strong lisp.
“’ello, Capt’in, my frien’, wha’ever you nee’, I can ge’ for you,” he said with the accent of Italis and patted Davi’s back like they had been lifelong pals.
There’s a reason others of your race use translators. “No thank you, just passing through,” Davi said, moving on.
The market fascinated him. He saw many species and products he’d never seen before, realizing how big the Alliance really was. He hoped someday he might have time to explore it. When he was younger, he’d dreamed of going on a starship to see the planets in the outer solar system—alien species, plants, animals, alien languages. He’d spent so much time in the office, he hadn’t even bothered to discover what awaited him on Vertullis. He dodged another eager vendor and ducked into an alleyway. Quats moaned and darted out of his path, scattering the trash crowding the walls as they ran.
Might as well see what the neighborhoods are like on the other side.
Entering a corridor so narrow it was restricted to pedestrian traffic, he set about exploring. The corridor and buildings curved, making it impossible to see one end from the other. He walked past doors and windows of one dwelling after another. Separate units shared outside walls like one long building. The area appeared deserted. Everyone must be at the market or already inside.
A woman screamed around the bend ahead.
He quickened his pace, rounding the corner to see an Alliance Captain the size of an air taxi with a worker girl backed into a corner. His gray uniform was dirty and wrinkled, his hair graying around the edges. The girl looked to be upper teens, almost a woman, her face full of fear and apprehension. The Captain struck her across the face with the back of his hand and was preparing to do it again.
“Please,” the girl pleaded, “let me go.”
“You’ll go, when I say you can go,” the Captain responded, his voice like poison.
Neither had noticed Davi creeping toward them along a wall behind them. As he drew near, his nose crinkled at the overpowering smell of the Captain. He reeked of sweat and alcohol. Not even the girl’s sweet, flowery perfume could overcome it.
“What do you want from me?” The girl demanded.
“I want you to show me the proper respect.” The Captain swung his arm, but instead of hitting her face, which she turned away, he grabbed the collar of her blouse and ripped it open.
She slid along the wall, trying to get away. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”
“Workers like you are always disrespectful,” the Captain said. “Stop moving and come closer.” She shook her head as he grabbed her and pulled her to him, trying to press his lips against hers. She kept wiggling and pushing, making it difficult.
“I’m gonna teach you what it means to obey now, slut,” he said. Buttons popped as he ripped her blouse again and threw her to the ground, climbing on top of her and trying to force her legs apart.
Davi rushed up behind him, grabbing the Captain by the shoulders and pulling him off. “Enough, Captain,” Davi said.
The Captain swung to his feet and whirled around, pulling free with a power that sent Davi stepping back. The sobbing girl picked herself up and cowered against the wall behind him. “Who do you think you are?” the Captain sneered.
“A fellow officer concerned with a peer’s professional conduct,” Davi said.
“I’m off duty,” the Captain said.
“You’re in uniform,” Davi said.
“I guess this worker slut’s not the only one who needs a lesson in respect,” the Captain said, looking Davi over. He towered over Davi, muscles bulging from his jacket.
Davi stepped back. Maybe he has slow reflexes.
The Captain swung at him and Davi ducked, throwing a fist into the man’s gut. His fist throbbed like it had hit an iron wall.
The Captain laughed. “Is that the best you can do?”
“Run,” Davi said, his eyes meeting the worker girl’s. “Get away now!”
The Captain swung at him again as the girl backed away. “Where you going?” The soldier asked, missing Davi as he whirled and reached for her. Her blouse pulled loose into his hands.
Davi glimpsed a necklace around her neck with a blue-green crest at its center. The Captain knocked him to his knees with a blow he hadn’t seen coming.
Where are my friends when I need them? He struggled back to his feet.
The Captain swung again, and Davi dodged to one side. “You need to learn to mind your own business!” Keeping ahold of the girl with one hand, he swung again at Davi’s midsection.
Davi ducked to one side as the girl tried to pull free. His adversary found himself pulled in two directions but managed to grab Davi’s collar and jerk him roughly off his feet.
As the Captain pulled Davi closer and closer, the girl bit the Captain, who yelled and flinched, letting her go. Davi tried to use the moment to pull himself free, but the Captain pulled the collar tighter and cause Davi to slip and fall away from him and into wooden double doors which cracked loudly as they splintered from the force.
Seeing the girl slipping away, the Captain chased after her, turning his back on Davi.
Davi needed some kind of weapon. He thought for a moment of his blaster, but the Alliance had laws and he could think of none which would justify shooting a soldier, especially not to save a worker. Besides, the Captain had a blaster hanging on his hip.
As he climbed to his feet and stepped away from the door, part of it slipped back inside the house behind him. He looked at the splintered wood and began pulling free a section he could use as a club. Wood creaked and snapped as he pulled.
“Why are you doing this to me?” the girl screamed, as she continued dodging the Captain.
“Because you’re a worker,” the Captain said, grabbing her again as he looked around for something to tie her with.
Davi ran up behind him with the board. Seeing him out of the corner of his eye, the Captain turned, raising an arm, as Davi swung the board down hard atop his head.
The Captain’s arm deflected the board, sending it hard against the side of his head. He froze and emitted a loud gurgling sound, releasing the girl and falling to his knees as blood poured from his ears.
Davi pulled the board away and saw that a large spike had entered the man’s head at the temple. The Captain fell over face down and lay still as the salty smell of warm blood rose into the air from a widening pool around the Captain’s head. Oh my gods! I killed him!
“Is he dead?” the girl asked, petrified.
Davi knelt beside him, feeling for breath. The strengthened stench almost made him gag but he swallowed hard. “I think so. I don’t know.” The Captain’s chest wasn’t moving.
The girl gasped. Davi saw her pointing at his chest where his ripped uniform revealed his own necklace—an exact duplicate of the one she wore around her neck.
“Where’d you get it?” the girl asked.
“I’ve had it since I was a baby,” Davi responded.
The girl’s eyes widened as she turned and ran back up the corridor.
“Wait! Come back here a moment!”
But her footsteps faded into the night.
Davi glimpsed faces peering at him from nearby windows and heard footsteps behind him.
A worker stood in the splintered doorway as it finally sunk in—he’d killed an Alliance soldier.
Davi took dark side corridors all the way back to his quarters, ducking into alleyways every time anyone approached. Gasping for breath until his lungs were about to explode, he ran as fast as his feet would take him, his soaked clothes sticking to his skin. I hope no one got a good look at my face. How am I going to explain this?!