To Speak of Dying

A colony in deep space is in termoil as it's disatisfied people launch into violent rebellion.

1.  Accusations

Evening crept in, bathing the colony in a sickly yellow light. Simetra wandered around her stand in the market place packing away her goods as the sun sank behind the mountains. The market was one of several hundred on the colony world. A population the size of Eceerg could not be supported by a single market alone. She loved the mixture of wares on display during the day. The warm colours and rich smells were intoxicating and on a sunny day they filled the whole square. That, combined with the sounds of street musicians, brought the place alive as the other street performers would combine their dancing or acrobatics with the musicians that were nearest them. There was always something to watch or listen to and the street theatre was as varied as the wares on sale. Old pieces from Earth were not played as often as they once were by they were no less popular.

The stalls were placed to form nine squares in blocks of three stalls on each side with the traders in the centre and the colonists flowing through the aisles they formed. Each block specialised in particular type of goods. Hers was by one of the many entrances so was a prime place to catch people as they entered and left the square. She was in no hurry and was no more going to speed her business to suit the new rules imposed upon them than any of the other traders. A law had recently been passed that the square was to be cleared of people by dusk. The rule disgusted her not because of what it was but because of what it stood for. There had been no trouble recently so it was simply a case of The Provider yet again snatching for more power over a long established colony. It was becoming a common occurrence that a new law would be announced and enforced then - all of a sudden - something that had been compulsory would be prohibited. The news of those laws generally filtered from the top down and the first the general population would know of it would be when a neighbour was dragged off into the night and were rarely seen again.

It had been another fairly fruitless day and even the vibrant life of the market had been unable to console her. She was seething about the fact that the pittance she had taken that day would just about be enough to feed her for a day but not the mouths of the people she had to care for. Her brother, Ollopa, had had several unsuccessful hunting trips recently and had trapped no more than a few hares. Even so, he was a local herbalist and had little time these days to go and check his traps as the local population was rising and kept him busy with the demand for his personal services.  People were hungry, and it was not uncommon to find one of his traps had been looted in his absence.  Still, he preferred that the meat went to feed a hungry family than be left to spoil on the forest floor. New taxes had taken almost all of what little profit they made. Looking up, she scowled at the large ornate palace that the so-called ruler's 'Council of the Colony' got to live in while the rest of the colony's buildings fell apart around them. It was a vast white building made of huge stone blocks and finished with glittering marble. The building materials had been brought from earth and, in the first days of the colony, it was meant to have been an administrative centre. It was tall and wide with high columns holding up a huge roof.  The building stood higher than any of the other buildings in the city and there was a steep set of narrow steps all the way around it, adding to its visual power. Its windows were unglazed with only internal shutters to close out the night and early morning sunlight as the climate made glass unnecessary. In comparison with the small and utilitarian buildings that surrounded it, the Palace seemed not only grand but somehow out of place; as if it had been sucked out of another time and nothing like it had been built since.

The name of the council led other colonies to believe that the council had been freely elected and, as all public records preceding their reign had been 'misplaced', there was no evidence to the contrary. A local myth -and public opinion- said that they were a family of traitors and usurpers who stole the reigns of command from the colony founders but voicing this opinion was treason and therefore punishable by death. Others simply believed that the original administration merely seized control.  Thankfully they had not discovered a way to read minds but people under torture will admit to anything. To speak against the Council was treason and punishable by Death.  These days people were very careful with whom and how they shared their opinions.  Gossip was enough to provoke a night-time visit from the guards.  Due to the limited amount of fertile land in the area, fresh food was as closely rationed as was water. Most and the best of what was produced was sent straight to the palace and the growers were paid nothing. A law passed centuries ago meant that tithes were still owed to the colony government on top of taxes. It did not sit well with her that she should starve while they took and took and gave nothing to the people they were supposed to care for except hunger, fear and death. No wonder her brother’s traps were being looted. 

She bent down to secure the sewn together sacks she used to cover her stand. The white slabs paving the square had not yet been swept clean of the day's activities so the evening shut down was dusty work. Her joints and back complained loudly as she rose and she allowed herself a groan. Aching joints and sunburn aside, she still had work to do that evening and sulking about how unfair it all was not going to aid her efforts. The groan had betrayed her presence and she was spotted by a guard.
"It's time to move along now, girl. Stop dallying." A gravelly voice spoke behind her. She did not look around to see who it was who spoke to her. The fact was, she did not really care and was not going to hurry her efforts. She already knew who it was. "Did you hear me?"
"Yes, I know who you are, Selcareh. You are the head of the Palace Guard and, as far as I have been lead to believe, of uncertain parentage." She did not snap but nor did she do him the courtesy of rising to speak with him. It would not have done her any good to argue with the man but provoking him was even less wise. Her matter-of-fact tone was enough to show that she cared little for the position of authority he held and in her eyes he was no better than she was. Still not looking up, she moved around the stall to secure the third corner. It was poor security but it kept the morning dew off her goods and she would know if it had been tampered with. She would not be a victim to theft if she didn't have to be. "I'm busy right now." Her tone stayed flat and emotionless. "I'll move on when I'm ready to."
"Curfew is nearly upon us” he stamped his foot, kicking dust up into her face. She knew it was coming so had closed her eyes on time to avoid the worst of it. "Unless, that is, you'd prefer to spend the night with the City Guard?" He leered at her despite her persistent refusal to look him in the eye.
"No, thank you. I would rather drink poison." She'd heard the rumors. Girls who got picked up by them were seldom the same again and it wasn't just the girls either; the boys, particularly the pretty ones, had been 'interfered' with too and often more brutally than the girls had. She did not ordinarily believe gossip but there was no smoke without fire.  There were girls who made a living that way but she was not one of them.  She intended to remain that way. They haunted the local stay-houses and pavilions hoping to find an easy credit or so. This guard had a taste for either and a reputation for violence. She moved on to the last leg. "I'm nearly finished. Would it kill you to be patient for a change?"
"Don't give me your lip girl" He advanced a step and reached down to grab her arm. In a breath she snatched her blade from her off-side boot leg and still crouching, stuck out her right leg tripping the guard. She bent over the prone guard, and held the knife to his throat. It was a short blade and no match for the weaponry the guards carried with them so was more of a tool more than a weapon but she kept it sharp for practicality. Her weapon of choice was a short bow but for now the knife would have to do.
"Don't touch me. I'm not one of your little whores!" She said the words calmly and even though she was afraid of the guards refused to show her fear. It wouldn't do to betray herself now and he was only one guard. She had been able to outmaneuver him this time but it was more through luck than judgment and she doubted he would let it happen again.
"Attacking me will do you..."
"I was defending myself against an enemy. I am not afraid of you" she lied. She was as terrified of the guards as all the colonists were but would not let them see this. She spat in his face not minding showing the utter disgust he filled her with.

To her annoyance he started to laugh at her and clap. "If there were other guards here you wouldn't be so brave". This was true but even an idiot knows that you don't start a fight unless you are certain that you have a chance of winning. A typical bully needs the support of respect others to feel brave and in control. If they can't get that support willingly they try to force it from people. It was a standard misconception, amongst the guards particularly, that fear and respect were the same thing: a belief propagated by the Provider and his flunkies.
"Maybe not. But how would it look to your friends if you were seen being taken down by a peasant girl? Don't worry though; I'll not tell a soul that the big strong man who tried to force himself on a woman half his size was knocked on his arse when she defended herself." She sneered at him. Inwardly she was screaming at herself to cease this recklessness. Provoking this man was a bad idea but she didn't care by that point; she was far too angry. "Now, if you don't mind. Sir, I’ll just secure this last corner and be on my way." She sheathed her knife and extended a hand to the guard to help him to his feet. The timing couldn't have been worse. Approaching her was six of his subordinates and their reputation was no better than his own.  She rolled her eyes.
"Captain, what's going on?" The foremost guard eyed her suspiciously and turned to face his captain who by this time had risen, unassisted.
"There is nothing to worry about, corporal. This girl was just assisting me to my feet. I tripped, that’s all.  Thankfully I am not so old and decrepit that I need help from a mere pais."

The word meant child-slave. To call a fully grown adult a child was not a severe insult but it was still not considered good manners. The general intonation was meant that to imply that 'you are young and ignorant so who are you to believe you are of any use to anyone?’ The insult was directed at her and was meant to provoke her even though he was looking his corporal in the eye. The rudeness from the guards was nothing unusual. They considered themselves a step above the rest because they worked for the palace.  It was a comfortable life for them but it was a fixed term of service that required them to live away from their families.  A few had wives and children at home and many had sons in the guard with them.  The boys were taken from their mothers at the age of seven and taught survival and brutality in almost a ritualistic way.  They had no friends; only rivals and if they survived those years of training they were allowed to join their fathers in the guard.  The colonists were genetically predisposed to long lives. A normal life span for them was several times longer than that of an Earth-born human. Earth-born was a vulgar phrase meant to show disdain for those whose ancestors had not been 'deemed worthy' for a genetic adjustment discovered before spaceflight and interplanetary colonisation was possible. A few of the newest colonists were Earth-born but not many and had been tragically misinformed about the quality of life the colony would offer them.  Socially, the longevity development was a disaster. It was an expensive procedure which resulted in vastly reduced aging after the onset of puberty and an almost impossibly high resistance to disease though they had still not discovered a cure for the common cold. Not everyone could afford it at first, even if they wanted it and after a while it became compulsory for 'healthy' adults to have their unborn children genetically altered. This was in order to ease the burden on hospitals treating what, by then, were considered to be the easily avoidable diseases of an increasingly large population before it was eventually 'discontinued' for reasons of practicality.

The adjustment was banned after it became clear that the birth-rate had not dropped but there were other reasons behind the ban. At first insurance forms included a section for the longevity gene with a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer as an option. No reason or explanation was requested for this. If the adjustment was not made it was generally thought to be because they had some sort of hereditary flaw that they were trying to wipe out and the premiums would be more expensive though a 'yes' would have to be proven and a false claim would result in severe prosecution. Soon after, employment application forms took up the same line of questioning. This had a huge impact on the number of people out of work as employers began to favour those with the adjustment over those without it for the single reason that they were less likely to take time off sick. Employment law thankfully made it illegal to replace an able employee in favour of an applicant with the alteration but it didn't stop some trying. The idea worked in theory but the gene did not affect work ethics or attitude. It had no affect on personality either if you ignored the superiority complex that became almost synonymous with the genetic adjustment.

It bred true so there was only need for one generation of any family to have the procedure carried out. Those who didn't have the gene still found themselves side-lined in education and work. It was almost as if they were being pushed out for reasons entirely beyond their control. Eventually the top jobs had all been filled with this new breed of human who believed themselves to be all but perfect. Unfortunately, as people do, most failed to realise or chose to ignore the fact that others did not want their genetic make-up to be adjusted in any way and that it was unnatural. It had essentially created a social underclass of people but the social cultural conditioning had not been efficient enough to persuade the 'mortals' that they were less worthy of existence. People tended to discreetly not mention that they had not had the adjustment if this was the case while others, who had been or had their unborn children adjusted, began to be increasingly more arrogant as the generations continued and even boasted that heir families were not only worthy but had been able to afford the ‘investment‘ in their family‘s future.

When the earth became so overcrowded due to the mixture of non-adjusted 'mortals' and the 'genetically improved' competing for space the need for spaceflight to implement colonisation of other planets was thought to be of the highest importance and population controls were clearly failing as people just ignored them. Vast amounts of public funds were pumped into research programs looking into efficient space flight.  People with the adjustment were having even larger families than before and, in a race to keep up, the non-adjusted were doing the same so there would be at least some hope for their own survival. There had been petitions from some activist groups to the Earth governments for non- adjusted individuals to be forcibly sterilized.  Thankfully these were ignored and propaganda from the groups was banned.  There were still some on Earth that agreed with the pro-adjustment activists but they were not readily open with the expression of this opinion.  They were not without their own opposition.  Some believed that the people who had not been adjusted were even being denied much needed medical aid as they were going to die sooner anyway.  It is impossible to prove a negative so this fear was spurred on by various political parties and the tabloid press in order to sell more papers. No news sells faster to the masses than bad news or fear-feeding essays.
After a time it was clear that the two ‘types’ never mixed, each believing the other to be less than human. As the warring between the races became a story of the past it gave way to a battle between 'mortals' and 'those who would be gods': natural selection on a grand scale.  It was no less violent on either side as humans of both genotypes battled for supremacy and socially segregated themselves from each other. Humans being natural competitors were gradually –whether consciously or not- trying to wipe the other out and in some cases the newly separate nurseries and schools were being bombed by fanatics who thought themselves protectors of the human race. Their definitions of what and what was not human, however, often lacked any basis of logic or science and was, more often than not, based around religion.

Teraforming of planets was still a theory and due to the mix of religions and social values, it was under huge public debate as to whether it was wise or right to adjust a planet -the way humans had changed themselves- for their own benefit. They decided against it and when the first planet with the correct atmosphere and gravity was discovered it was offered in earnest to the people who had been subject to the adjustment. Reasons for this were varied. Some, jokingly at first, said it was because those who had been adjusted for long life were so unbearably smug and impossible to live with that the World Union was kicking them out. In actual fact it was due to the fact that the people with the authority to offer places on the colony ships had been adjusted themselves; after they had reserved places for themselves. They believed they had the right to first refusal of a place on a new world to shape as they saw fit. The planet was much larger than earth and would comfortably hold all those who wanted to move there and, as their life spans were so much longer, the long voyage would have little impact on their lives. Unsurprisingly they all elected to move off world and claim a planet of their own. The ship that carried all the genetically adjusted humans to a planet far outside the solar system was sarcastically named The Prometheus by the press and media.
The colony of Eceerg was founded.

"I stepped back and tripped over her that's all. Isn't that right, Miss?"
"Yes." Liar, she thought. Her face was a picture of smiles and apologies but the smile did not extend to her eyes. "I was crouched securing my stand cover. He must have not seen me."
"Very well Captain but I should warn you that this waif is more than she seems. She has a taste for insubordination an..." This was too much. She'd suffered the same insult twice in a row now and was becoming even more angry.
"I'm not one of your guards mister, you don't get to tell me what to do..." She faced him and looked him in the eye. This turned out to be a very bad idea. The Captain seized her arms and wrenched them painfully behind her back, but surprisingly his anger was not directed at her. She struggled but his grip only tightened, signaling her to remain silent for her own good. Even though she knew the act was in no way altruistic, she complied but not without kicking him hard in the shin. He did not flinch but his grip became tighter.
"Corporal, are you suggesting that I cannot do my job?
"No sir but..."
"I will have silence! Does it look like this pais is capable of harming me?" That was three times now. This was just rude.
"No sir"
"Then are you claiming I am a liar?"  The subordinate visibly squirmed.  He had clearly meant no insult to his commander.
"No Sir"
"Get back on patrol. I will join you shortly."
"Yes sir." The guard saluted and marched away with the others. The Captain did not release her immediately though. Shouting for help would not have done any good so she kicked backwards again. He must have been expecting it this time as he avoided the blow.
"There has been quite enough of that! Remember this, girl." He kicked her feet out from under her and pinned her face down on the ground. The cold slabs knocked the wind out of her and for a moment the blinding pain of hitting the ground that hard that shot through her was all she could think of. That would hurt in the morning. "You have the look of an intelligent kid so I'm guessing you don't need me to explain it in too much detail." He leaned over her and breathed on the back of her neck. His breath was hot but thankfully not as vile as some of the other guards. "You will do well to mind your tongue in the presence of your superiors. I will forget this one little episode but cross me again and you will sorely regret it."
"I'm no pais! Go eat lama dung!" It was all the provocation he needed to haul her over his knee and larrup her backside until he was sure she would not sit comfortably for a week.
"Finished acting like a brat yet?" asked as he released her from his grip, dumping her back on the slabs. "If you insist on behaving like a child I shall treat you like one. Tie up that last corner and be on your way." He marched off in the direction that the other guards went only then wiping his face from where she had spat on him.  She watched him brush the dust from his hands and uniform as he stalked away before pulling herself painfully to her feet.

She tied the last corner and limped home to an empty house. Each housing unit was much like another except in respect of size. Family units were much larger than the single person accommodation she lived in. Hers was one of the three ground floor flats of a three story building block. A wide square court yard at the rear provided some outside communal space for the people in her block but it trapped noise and smells. It was surrounded by a high white wall that came up to the roof of the building. The only way into or out of these gardens was through the apartments they were attached to. The people in the upper floors reached them via a stone walkway that was set into the walls and wound around the inside of the walls like a huge screw thread. The space was seldom used as the lack of breeze in hot weather made them stuffy and hot but they were not as unpleasant in second season. The roofs of the white walled buildings were all hipped and covered with greenish blue solar panels. It had no flavour in her eyes. There was no individuality in the outside of the buildings because by law they were forbidden to adjust or adorn them with anything. Each door was a glossy black with a panel to the right hand side at about waist height displaying the vivid blue computerised digits of the unit number, a panel where callers could log that they had visited but missed you and enabled them to leave a message if they chose, and an access panel below for reading palm prints for entry. The units were not privately owned but there was no rental fee either. They were issued as and when people needed them and taxes supposedly paid for the upkeep of the fabric of the buildings.  They were looking decidedly shabby these days as greedy councilors neglected maintenance protocols in favour of their own lavish lifestyles. That didn't lessen the fear that they could just be taken from the habitations to make room for favored others as was the way with the present city council. It was a threat levied more than once to people the council saw as civilly disobedient. It was not an idle threat either.  It had happened to people in her block.  Shabby and run down as it was, it was still home to her and she meant to keep it..

As she approached her door, she noticed it was ajar. 'Must not have shut properly on the way out this morning' she thought to herself though when she came closer it was clear it had been forced. A note was flashing in red on the palm reader. This caught her eye as she rarely had messages and when she did they were displayed in green, and left unopened until she palmed in. This one was on full show to passers-by. "Warrant for searching premises under suspicion of treason and conspiracy to usurp elected officials". Whoever had written the warrant was clearly using the word 'elected' in the loosest sense possible. The colony had long since ceased to be any sort of democracy and there hadn't been elections for over four generations to her reckoning. The people in power chose the laws to maintain the status quo and who stayed in power. If news spread that an official had retired then it was generally because of some form of disagreement or someone higher up decided they were a threat. 'What nonsense! If that's the case, why wasn't I arrested on the spot? It's not like they don't know where I work' She muttered to herself.  Looking around to make sure nobody could hear her; the last thing she needed right now were more accusations or people wondering about her sanity.  She sent the note to her terminal and deleted the blinking red message on the panel, not even knowing why she kept it as complaining would do her no good. Not complaining would be taken as a sign of guilt and she knew they didn't need any evidence to arrest her. She would answer the charges put to her when they arose. So many of her neighbours had been taken for the most unlikely reasons that she knew all they needed was a neatly fabricated excuse that they couldn't refute and a scapegoat to frighten them into being placid, controllable sheep who'd believe anything they're told because they were too frightened not to. It was why they were all so closely watched; even in their homes. This warrant was designed to isolate her further from any friends. It would have been placed there that morning so as many people as possible would see it and read it. The seed had been planted but it surprised and alarmed her more that it really didn't matter to her.

She had no real friends; only people who would thanklessly come to her for help and only her twin brother socialised with her anyway. She was certainly no rabble-rouser. The worst she had ever done was get a reputation for giving cheek to the Guards but this behaviour still painted her as a dangerous influence. There must have been some reason why she had not got into as much trouble as others had for the same thing. Her twin brother, Ollopa was the same but somewhat more hot-headed than she was. Gossips labeled her a spy.  She knew this even though they had never said it to her face but she had heard them whispering. She had borne the forced civility with good grace when they wanted something from her.  She also knew that this reputation guaranteed her a certain level of respect however ill deserved. They were not likely to risk offending a spy for fear of losing the little they had or being sent to The Underworld, or worse. So around her and her brother they watched their manners. That was fine by her. Nobody would associate with her after this for a good long time and that would make gathering followers an impossible task thus proving the secret accuser wrong. Simetra wondered if her brother had received the same note. She had to marvel at the stupidity of this accusation though. Why isolate a known loner even further? The spy, and she knew there always spies lurking, clearly hadn't been watching carefully. Either that or the spy had been watching her very carefully and had decided to ensure the continuation of her social isolation. There wasn't much hope of it ending though the suspicion of her being a spy might be dropped now so she could say goodbye to the fake respect and the false smiles.  The pretense would be dropped but they would at least know now that she was not placed there to trap them.

As she suspected, her room had been ransacked and it looked like she'd had a small hurricane for a houseguest. The terminal was set into the wall and was a feature of all the housing units so was thankfully easily located in the mess. It provided a wide area network connection to all the other colonists on the planet and access to the official libraries and interplanetary news nets in read-only format but communication off-world had been rendered impossible to those outside the government who needed it to send regular reports to the World Union. It would not do for the World Union to receive conflicting information. The current consensus was the World Union had been led to believe the people of Eceerg had no interest in communication off-world. After fighting her way through the upturned and broken furniture to her terminal she logged in and sent a simple message to Ollopa. "Need to talk. My place." She knew the place would be bugged and that message had probably been intercepted before being sent on which is why she left it as empty as possible.  She never communicated much in messages as she saw no need to be explicit. Whoever was spying on her would want to know why she had contacted her brother before reporting to the guards first.  That was fine; let them wonder. They would have a wonderful time explaining this one to The Provider. She laughed inwardly. A few moments later her brother arrived. He was looking cross and flustered.

"What do you want Sim?" as he looked around he registered what the problem was "Got you too then huh?"
"I wanted to know if the same thing has happened to you but you just answered my question." She rose and started restoring her furniture and discarding what the searcher had smashed. "Was it the same accusation?" She wiped her brow as she pointed to the saved message on her screen. The room was stuffy and airless so she had started to sweat.
"You got it in one, sis. Nothing was taken though." He grinned. "Any important stuff I keep with me." He tapped his temple and laughed. As far as they knew they had not developed psychic powers in the council yet.
"Like what?" This was a dangerous conversation to be having even without hard evidence
"I'm trying to find out what happened to our parents. Hacking was working for a while but the records of our birth have been lost too."

She and her brother were orphans and had no status. The very fact that their parents had died so young through illness singled them out as genetic misfits; throwbacks to a time before the adjustment.  Simatra believed they had been poisoned.  Most orphans were schooled and cared for in foster homes so they would be of some use when they reached adolescence but either had their memories wiped and then sold to the traders who travelled the colony worlds or expected to fend for themselves after a certain age. It was better than having the streets littered with starving children but it had been no less brutal. High caste children would come on mass to taunt and throw stones at them and sometimes a passing adult would laugh and tell them how to aim better. What was a mystery though, was that there didn't seem to be a grave for their parents. She and Ollopa had been infants when they lost their parents so had no real idea about what had happened to them.  The other orphans had at least had graves to visit and tend after their parents had starved to death so that their children could live. She had been taunted over and over with the speculation that her parents weren't dead at all.  That their mother was really a whore who had slept with a trader.  How the rest of the colony 'knew' what happened to their parents when they were ignorant of it themselves did bother her but it was not a persistent bug bear. They had never known them so she could not miss them.

"Oh you're back on that little crusade are you? That's public record anyway! It can't just be 'lost'." She gestured to a surviving chair inviting him to be seated. Even siblings waited for the invitation to sit in each other’s homes as a sign of respect.
"I know. What else is weird is that as orphans we have no status but we were given private, state issued rooms when we came of age. Other orphans have to buy their rooms in order to pay back their debt for being raised by the colony. If they don't have the money saved they're simply turned out to the streets or sold. We have good rooms and could never have afforded one between us, let alone one each"
"So what are you saying, Oll? That we have some secret benefactor? The word going round at the moment is that we're really spies."
"Really? Anyway I don't know until I do some more digging and see what gets turned up." He looked around him and shook his head. "Speaking of digging, didn’t there used to be a floor under this mess?"
"Oh very funny. Hacking you mean? I'd leave it alone if I were you."
"Why? What harm could it do?
"A lot of harm could be done. Someone clearly doesn't want us to know something. I'm fine with not knowing and as long as you keep nosing around we're both in trouble. Deep trouble. I'm a loner as it is. How are we supposed to make an honest living?  Nobody will buy from us if we're under suspicion of treason? You know they'll all get skittish and not want to be seen speaking to us."
"Don't blame me! We don't know my search is what caused this. Does it matter what other people think? Besides, if they suddenly change their behaviour the real spies will get suspicious and start checking them out too." Ollopa was becoming petulant
"Yes it matters! You know we have no chance if a charge like this went to trial. And they aren't above making stuff up about us to make an example of us to others. We were specifically told not to tell people we had been given our rooms. So what do you do? You went and got yourself stinking drunk at the nearest pavilion and announced you were celebrating then started blabbering to one of your little girlfriends. By the way is she speaking to you again yet?" She asked. Ollopa looked dejected and shook his head to say 'no'. “Hmm. I’m not surprised” Simetra sat down in the chair opposite and looked him in the eye. "We have good rooms and are allowed to do an honest trade. Forty years ago we were lucky enough to get our independence at the cost of being shunned by everyone we knew instead of being sold. It wasn't fair that we were given rooms and others had to earn them and it doesn't sit right with me..."  Somebody clearly wanted to be able to ensure their misery.
"You'd rather be forced to sell yourself on the streets for scraps?"
"That's not what I'm saying and you know it... And you know I'd never do what those other girls do to themselves because they are too lazy to learn a trade and work for a living." She rose from the chair and resumed trying to fix the mess that had once been her room.
"Hey that's not fair. They aren't all like that. I don't like it either. This is why I am trying to find out why." He paused. "Why are you limping?"
"I gave lip to a guard and got my arse spanked for it."
Ollopa grinned and started to laugh. "It's about time someone started teaching you some manners, Sim."
"It's not funny." Another broken chair hit the pile by the door. "It was the head guard himself. I think you'd like him. He's nearly as arrogant as you are."
"That's just not nice."
"Nor is laughing at my pain and humiliation. They were very rude."
"They're guards. Of course they were rude. They get to prance around acting like they're better than everyone else because they're descendants of the founding colonists."
"We all are, Oll because nobody who wasn’t wants to live here. They're no better than us. They're the worst sort of people because they use their status to bully us and people who are unlucky enough to have lost both their parents in our childhood as if it's our fault or something."
"I know that and you know that and so does everybody else in our position..."
"Our position? Who else is in our position? Because I'd really love to meet them” Sim snapped.
"...but it doesn't make them any less powerful or dangerous to be around” He paused. "Except to us, that is and I want to know what has marked us out. What gets you and me special treatment that everyone else gets to know about? I intend to find out."
"They get to know about it because you get drunk and then can't keep from bragging about it. Got any theory to base this search on?"
"Two. Either someone has really got it in for us for some reason that neither you nor I have any knowledge of or we have a benefactor somewhere that doesn't want us to know. Just as well really because they're doing a really crappy job of it if we have. Either way it's got something to do with our parents.  When I find out who they were I can start working on why we have been singled out."

She heaved the mattress back onto her bunk and remade the bed.
"Okay. But where does that lead you?   As you said we don't even know who they were let alone what killed them"
"Not what; who? And how do we know they're dead? For all you and I know, they could be in The Underworld."
"So they're criminals now? Now you're being paranoid!"
"If I am then why is it such a big secret? If they are alive they have to be on this planet. Only the traders are allowed to come and go."
"Is it a secret?"
"If it wasn't a secret then why is there no record of them or their deaths? And, for that matter, why is there no record of us?  Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to keep us in the dark.  They would have done a better job if we weren‘t so pampered."  The last comment was clearly sarcastic.
"Is that a rhetorical question or do you expect an answer. If you do I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint impatient with him now, mainly because he could see her irritation and would not stop carrying on.

The End

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