Monday, March 2, 2009


This is the very beginning of a story I've been working on. It's not humor or politics, but I thought ya'll might like something a bit different. It's a very rough first draft, but let me know what ya think so far.

My father was convicted of stealing fuel cells from the transport yard when I was yet a babe in arms. He was, of course, executed for his crime, along with my mother, as the law at that time dictated. Had I been older, I should have shared their fate. However, given my tender age, settlement law dictated that I was to be considered untainted, and given over as a ward of the territories, to be raised in the girl’s orphanage at Surma Unda.
Life at the orphanage was not as harsh as it might have been in other places. We were given sufficient food, clean uniforms and dormitories, and even provided a basic education. The Matris of the orphanage, while maintaining the discipline needed when providing for just over 100 young girls, also recognized that a certain amount of spirit in a young girl is not always a bad thing.
Being spirited myself, I had many occasions to discuss this belief with her, and she found assignments for me that fit with my active curiosity. Most days, this meant that I worked with Domina Ardinis , assisting in the repair and maintenance of the orphanage’s various machinery, including the elderly ground transport slide the dominas used to carry goods to and from the market district.
The slide was a rusting relic “donated” to the orphanage by the consulius when the Matris was still young. I had gathered from eavesdropping on Domina Ardinis and the Matris during their many discussions about whatever parts of the slide currently needed replacing that the consulius had discovered a clause in territorial law that allowed them to acquire a new transport at the expense of the territory if a presently functional one owned by the consulius were to be appropriated for the use of territorial wards. They quickly diverted the aging slide from its overdue trip to the recyclium and gifted it to the old Matris.
As unreliable as the old slide was, it was still a vast improvement over the udana cart the old Matris had to make do with, a fact that our Matris never failed to remind Domina Ardinis of whenever the Domina’s side of the discussion grew too “spirited”. I could scarcely imagine a darker prospect than having to rely on one of those treacherous beasts for transportation. Only poor Outlanders used them for cart-pulling, and even those hard provincials were wary of the brutal, filthy, frighteningly quick jaws. I’d read in my history of their use as mounts by the soldiers of the warlords during the War of the Territories, but this was clearly a fiction, as the creatures were only just tamer than the mountain wolves, and not a small part larger besides. The orphanage had a small herd of surly udana cows, for their thick fur could be dyed and woven into cunning tapestries and cloaks that we could sell in the market district for the coins needed to purchase those staples we could not produce for ourselves. Of course, the huge animals could only be sheared after a healthy dose of tranquilizer. Given their great size, this meant there were often any number of them wandering about half shorn, the half that had landed on the ground still sporting a full growth of dirty gray fur. I had a healthy fear of the creatures, and gave their pen a wide berth.
The hours I spent helping Domina Ardinis tinker with that disreputable old slide were the happiest of my young life. The Domina was a stout, profane woman with a quick wit and a quicker temper, but she taught me everything she knew about machinery. And as I would discover, that was a great deal.

I had many friends amongst the other orphans, but Iliki was the closest to a real sister that I would ever know. She was as calm and serious as I was wild and giddy. She was a tiny thing, fine-boned and refined even as a child. She had hair the color of honey and copper eyes set in a perfect porcelain complexion. I think she knew that we were all a little in love with her, and she endeavored in all things never to wound anyone. For all her austerity, she had a merry laugh, and I was ever trying to coax it from her with some bit of foolishness.
Iliki’s regular assignment was in the barnyard, caring for the stock and fowl, for she had a true gift for soothing the beasts. I had even seen her (from a prudent distance) cooing to a pregnant udana from the top of the wooden fence, while she fed a tuft of yellowtop grass to the massive animal. I called out to warn her away, but she merely laughed and patted the beast’s broad side before dropping to the ground and running to join me.
I often laughed to watch her as she fed the chickens in their pen, for they would follow her about as if they were bewitched. She could gather their eggs without arousing even a cluck of protest, and to see her cupping a downy chick in her hand was to witness something akin to magic.
More rarely, she would come to the machine shed with me and watch me work with Domina Ardinis , who could scarce abide my mischief as I sought to entertain my friend. Likely the Domina was as fond of Iliki as everyone else was, and she never had to send the girl away. Iliki could tell when my antics had tested Ardinis far enough, and she would laugh and wave as she headed back to her beloved animals.
I worked alone with Domina Ardinis, but Iliki usually had other girls assigned to work with her, and no particular Domina was charged with the animals. Rather, they all seemed to take a turn at the hard chores of our tiny farm, although Domina Mies presided over the gardening.
Most often, Iliki worked with a hard girl named Nessa. Nessa was the fastest runner, the best climber, the best fighter, the best at all things physical, of all us girls. She was boastful and insolent, and we all feared and secretly despised her. Except, of course, for Iliki, who saw the good in everyone, even the udana. Nessa affected to be unmoved by Iliki, but I noticed she never bullied my friend, and was even a bit less combative in her presence.
I asked Iliki how she was able to get along with such an unpleasant girl, but she just frowned and said, “Sira, don’t be mean. She just misses her family, that’s why she’s angry.”
I was chastised. I knew that the girls who came to the orphanage older than I had usually wept inconsolably when they first arrived, and I had heard them speak of their grief openly, in the way that children do, but I would never have ascribed such feelings to Nessa. I didn’t think Nessa had ever cried, even in the beginning. To my knowledge, Nessa only caused pain, not felt it herself. I knew immediately that Iliki was right, but I would never have seen it on my own, and it did little to impair my instinctive dislike of the girl. Curious, I asked Iliki, “Don’t you miss your family? You’re never mean to anyone”, but she just gave me a sad little smile and turned away. It broke my heart, and I labored ever after not to antagonize Nessa, as disagreeable as she was.

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