Night of the ShaydeBy: Lili Zander
I’m having a really great dream. I’m flying a skimmer over the frozen wastes of Boarus 4 in the middle of the night. The sky is clear, and the three moons blaze bright, and my brand-new skimmer purrs like a s’kal cat. A man is sitting in the co-pilot chair, and as I take a tight corner, he’s thrown against me, his hard chest crushing my breasts, his hands on either side of my hips…
The banging on my pod door jerks me awake. “Open up by order of Overlord Zimmer,” a loud male voice shouts.
“Can’t even get laid in my dreams,” I grumble under my breath as I shimmy into a jumpsuit and quickly braid my hair. I press the button, and the thin plasteel door slides open. Sure enough, the man outside my door is Arnie Hento. Bitten human, blood-tax collector for Sector 23, and all-around dickwad.
“Good night, Director Hento.” I have to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. His braids are piled up at the top of his head in something that looks like a bush grub’s nest. Even before Arnie Hento was bitten, he’d copied the court styles of Starra slavishly, but this latest get-up—an aggressively striped green and purple jumpsuit that hurts my eyes—is a new level of ridiculousness. Boarus 4 is a dusty mining colony, almost four hundred parsecs away from the Shayde capital of Starra. Fashion isn’t a priority here. Survival is.
“Raven Peace Unnuk. Your blood-tax is due today.”
“No, it’s not,” I reply immediately. “The law states that the monthly blood tax is due on SecondDay, not FirstDay.” Also, I don’t have any blood. I’ve still got twelve hours of backbreaking work in the mines before I get paid at dawn.
He scowls at me. “You think you’re a lawyer, Unnuk? If I were you, I’d watch that attitude. You wouldn’t want anyone reporting you to the Shayde enforcers. Given your family history, you’ll probably get a six-month sentence in the re-education camps. Minimum.”
Don’t let him goad you, Raven. Don’t think about the camps.
I clench my hands into fists behind my back and stay silent as he spins on his heel and walks down the hallway to the next pod.
Then I glance at the time and curse out loud. If the sun sets before I get to work, Overseer Thrip will dock my pay. Today, of all the days, I don’t need any more bad news.
“Today is the day, isn’t it?” Ana Begić’s whisper is muffled by the sound of pickaxes. “The day your parents were taken?”
I nod mutely. Fourteen years ago, my parents had been arrested on this day, FirstDay of FourthMonth. According to Ma Kaila, FirstDay of FourthMonth used to be a day of practical jokes on Old Earth, but their arrest had been no laughing matter. They’d swiftly been found guilty of plotting against the Shayde Empire and condemned to death, and I, their only child, was sent to a re-education camp in the middle of the Ice Deserts of Glacis.
Ten years in the camp, and now four years in the mines. If anything, my burning need to find the person that betrayed them to the Empire and avenge their deaths has just grown with the passage of time.
“You want to go out after this shift? Grab a drink? There’s a new bar in Sector 24. Drinks are cheap until sun-up. Just half-ounce each.”
“That is cheap.” Overseer Thrip glances in our direction, and we both bend our heads and turn our attention back to the rocks. Thrip isn’t a bad sort, and I don’t think he particularly cares if we talk to each other as long as we continue to work. But ten years ago, a mine collapsed, killing two hundred humans, and ever since then, every one of the overseers is paranoid that it could happen to them.
When I’m sure that his gaze is no longer on us, I slide up to her. “I can’t go tonight,” I whisper. “Next week?” Most of the miners are reluctant to form a friendship with someone from the camps, but Ana Begić has always been nice.
“Of course, Raven.”
Spaceflight would be almost impossible without boarium, and the only known deposits are located in the thirteen planets of the Courus system. The precious metal is too delicate to be extracted by machine. It’s hard, brutal work in the mines, and the pay is crap, but there’s always a steady stream of O-positive people willing to work here. It beats the alternative. When a human cannot pay the blood tax, they’re tossed into Overlord Zimmer’s dungeons.