Wandering Stars

Bats on an asteroid? Whose idea was that?

I have to think a bunch of idiot dwarves were sitting around in their mines back on the dwarf world, discussing the things they’d miss most when they set out into space on their mission to strip asteroids of firegems. For some reason, they all agreed on little leather-winged flying rats.

Probably to help with homesickness out here in the belt.

That’s great for them, but for the rest of us, the bats aren’t so nice to have around. They swoop out of nowhere, they bite, and will even try to carry away small animals. They especially like to dive bomb me when I sit at the top of the arch of D’nash, like I’m doing now. So I stay low.

Other than the risk of bat-bite, the top of the arch is perfect for me. The dwarves refuse to look at it, which has something to do with their religion, so it lowers the odds that I’ll be spotted. My sister Meg told me that we should try to understand the dwarves to help us get along better with them, but I just don’t get it. Why bother having a religion if that religion doesn’t allow you to look at the monuments you build because of that religion?

Yeah, they brought their bats to the asteroid, they brought their religion, and they brought me and Meg and a whole bunch of other human slaves. They’re wonderful creatures, dwarves.

But as little as they pay attention to their religion, I figure that following their beliefs is still more important than a scrawny twelve year old human girl, so they don’t know or don’t care that I sit up here. Which is fine by me. If they did care, then I couldn’t get away with what I’m doing now.

I sit up as I see a flash of pink in the crowd below. What I’ve been waiting for – an orc administrator, wearing his standard pink jacket, pushing his self-important way through the crowded square below, totally unaware that he’d just been pegged to donate to the Human World Orphan’s Fund.

I just love orcs. Their skin has a delightful greenish color that reminds me of my vomit after I’ve eaten too much of Meg’s langua bean soup. Their eyes are as mesmerizingly black as the deepest, darkest, coldest mine, a color which – incidentally – matches the color of their black souls, if they have souls, which I don’t think that they do.

I mean, what’s not to love? They invaded my homeworld, destroying everything in the process, killed my parents, and then dumped Meg and me off as slaves for their stubby longbearded allies to take to the stars. I love them so much that it’s my pleasure to do what I can to inconvenience them whenever I get the chance. It’s just the kind of girl that I am.

Meg says I have a real problem with sarcasm.

If she only knew.

Looking back at the orc, this one is moving fast. Probably late for an important orc meeting, or maybe just late for dinner. Either way, it means I’ll have to move faster.

First, though, I scan the crowd until I see Turi, sitting obediently by a garbage receptacle, looking up at me, waiting for my signal.

He’s such a good dog. Slaves aren’t supposed to have pets, but I dare anyone to try and separate us. Three years ago I was walking past this goblin café on an errand for my owner when I heard this panicked yelping from around back. Meg says I’ve always been more curious than is healthy, but in this case, it saved Turi’s life, because I ran around back and found a horde of bats trying to carry this little brown fur ball off for dinner. He was only a puppy, but that day he became my puppy, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. We have a special connection, which makes what I’m trying to do here today that much easier.

I flick my hand and whisper, “go, boy!” and he immediately bursts into the crowd as if powered by dragonfire.

And that means I have to get down quick.

Fortunately, I’ve done this dozens of times. It’s just a matter of sliding down the arch while avoiding the razor sharp blades that stick out at random spots. They apparently symbolize the way dwarves are supposed to cut themselves in obedience to their gods or something.

What a weird religion.

But, as I’ve said, I’ve done this before, and so sliding down while avoiding the blades is not as hard as it sounds.

But avoiding the gaggle of dwarf nuns at the bottom, that’s another issue.

Of course it would be the only members of the bizarre religion who are permitted to look at the arch as they pray. Only now, they’re not looking at the arch. They’re looking at this scrawny human girl sliding down the arch towards them.

Crap.

When I hit the ground, I expect the nuns to start doing the same to me, and I’m prepared to take the beating long enough to satisfy their anger and then scurry away. But hit with a flash of inspiration, I grab my left ear, bow, and say, “V’rak D’nash!” (which means “Praise D’nash” in dwarvish). I hold my breath and tense, prepared to feel their little rock-hard fists pounding me from all sides. But when that doesn’t happen, I risk a glance. To my shock, the nuns are smiling at me! In unison, they grab their own right ears, bow, and say “P’nash D’nash!” (“May D’nash be praised”), then turn and walk away, giggling.

Maybe Meg was right after all?

Not wasting any more time on my near beat-down, I dive into the crowd, pushing my way through the crowds of dwarf miners, orc pilots, and some multi-limbed creatures that I don’t recognize until I see the puke green head and bright pink administrator jacket just ahead.

But before I can make my move, my way is blocked. I’m about to use some of the dwarf words that Meg never lets me use when I realize that it’s not a dwarf blocking me. It’s a man. A slave, heading for the mines. He’s wearing the simple brown work bibs that mine slaves are provided, a rough fabricated material that is just enough to provide protection, but nothing you would ever choose to wear. He’s linked to six or seven other men with energy beams that prevents them from running away (although there’s nowhere to run on a mining colony). And he looks at me with blank eyes, the result of spending most of his time in the darkness of the mines. For a moment, his eyes seem to clear.

“Anna?”

Then he and the others are pushed on by their dwarf minders, who don’t bother with me. After all, I’m wearing the crest of my owner Jazrah on my tunic. I’m obviously on important business. I breathe a prayer of thanks to D’nash that my owner works in shipping and not mining, or else Meg and I might be a part of that chain gang. But I can’t afford to be distracted, and so I hop past the last dwarf and run up ahead.

I’m about to give Turi the signal when I remember the cams. Dammit, I forgot the cams, and the cams capture everything in public places like this. Stupid bats distracted me. I now have a choice to make: either call the whole thing off and try again later, or try one of Meg’s spells. I’m not supposed to use them in public, but I do it all the time and nobody’s ever been any wiser for it. What Meg doesn’t know won’t hurt her.

I do it quickly, reciting the magic words my sister taught me and making a circular gesture with my left hand. If the spell works (and it usually does), the cams should be on a loop for the next few minutes. It’s not the best way to deal with them, but it’s the only choice I have now.

Knowing that Turi is ready (he’s such a good dog), I take a deep breath and whisper “Go boy”, and the dog is off like a flash, jumping in front of the administrator so quickly that the only thing he can do is go down in a flurry of arms and legs, the stack of sims he’s carrying for his work exploding from him like a wall cracker during the Remembrance Day celebrations.

It’s a perfect move.

I leap out to play my part, grabbing Turi by the back of his neck. “Bad dog!” I scold, sticking my finger in his face. Turi’s ears go back and he lowers his head, whining. Good boy, I think as I turn to the orc. “I’m so sorry,” I say, lowering my head like a good slave.

It’s all I can do not to laugh at the sight of the orc trying to stand and pick up the slips he’d dropped at the same time.

“Let me help you,” I start, scooping up handfuls of slips and shoving them at the orc in what appears to be a random and chaotic movement, but is in fact a move that I’ve practiced hundreds of times.

The administrator, as I expected, is not very interested in my help. The blue veins stand out in his green head, a sign of intense anger in an orc. It occurs to me that if this was one of the larger and angrier orcs – a pilot or a warrior – he would have twisted my head off by now. That’s why I picked an administrator. They get angry, but the nature of their work requires more restraint.

“Just leave it alone!” he shrieks. “Leave me alone!”

This one is surprisingly loud. Loud enough to attract unwanted attention, meaning that the Red Caps – the dwarf constables with their distinctive red caps – would likely be along soon to investigate the fracas. This means that it’s time to make my exit, especially now that the orc’s money bag is now tucked safely in the back of my tunic. So, I raise my hands, dropping the slips I’m still holding, I bow my head, and I back off.

And then, when I’m the required three paces away, I give a short whistle and Turi and I do our best vanishing act into the crowd.

Leaving behind a small victory for enslaved humans everywhere: a much angrier and much poorer orc administrator.

Yay for us.

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