World of Zekira Stock in Trade is a novel set in the World of Zekira. Copyright 2004 Lethe and Droppin the Fork Productions. All rights reserved, no copying for any reason.
Labor's Love Lost 1
“I'm surprised that the whole Membayar thing wasn't to your liking, Farek,” Likas said, waving his blue dashed fingers at his brother. “You have a talent for it.”
“No, you're the one who does, I just don't have the …” Farek rolled his light purple and faintly bemused eyes around, “the attention span for it. There's nothing for me, brooding over money and debt. You know I like things a little more … active.”
“Fidgety Farek,” Likas jibed, and they both laughed. It was true, too, that Farek had never been able to sit still for long periods of time. So unlike their mother Fesli, though that was more because she practiced throughout her life and took pains to remember to be still when in a courtroom or in a documentary. Of course, Fesli did not have the added twitchiness of a long tail to get in the way – her partner Karr's legacy to their sons.
The Bayaran that had been working under the brothers had largely paid off their debts in the fifteen years since their removal from ex-Lord Vehdar's divestiture and his murdered fiancee High Mistress Tenya's estate. Likas still Held two of them, and they were quickly turning into more of a problem than they were worth. He would pass them over to someone else, but even though he was poking fun at Farek's desire to reutrn to LandMastery, Likas himself wasn't sure he was going to pick up another Bayaran after these left his care.
Rather, they would both enjoy a return to a slower paced (or, less complicated) lifestyle soon enough. Their cousin Malvee however brought a little more complication into their lives quite shortly.
She had of course maintained her financial and physical interests in mining, since she herself was quite well-tuned to crystals and technology. With the long ears and thick fingers of a ‘tech elf' she paraded herself around always smiling, always jumping into things just to see what would come of it.
As the brothers brought their conversation to a close, they could hear the distinct sound of Malvee's hover vechicle as she arrived. Likas stood and answered the ringing of the bell at his door, while Farek put on a pot of water for tea. They'd always liked that strong stuff introduced to their family some two or three generations back. Not quite that hallucinogenic stuff, but close enough to make one's fingers tingle, and the edges of one's vision tinge into dots. Malvee was fond of it, and since she wouldn't be leaving – they were taking a long weekend jaunt into the countryside – they didn't mind if she drank to her heart's content. She wouldn't be driving.
As the energetic elfin woman entered she had a big smile across her metallic golden lips. She was always like a gift package, all dolled up brightly. Today she deposited herself and her travel bags on the big flat couch in Likas' den, and musically announced, “There is a place I'm going to invest in, and I think you might be interested in it too, Likas!”
Both brothers perked up, and Likas asked, “annnnd?”
Over-dramatic as usual, Malvee drew herself back onto the couch and grinned. “There was this High Master, out in Rèimal, that just passed on and it was all in the news – I don't know why you two don't pay more attention to the news – but anyway he died and didn't leave any Inheritors so all his Slaves and stuff got booted into Freeworker Status,” she took a breath, as the brothers tried to follow all this tumbling out of her, “you know that's a mining town so I had interests in there anyway right? Right. So this guy leaves his estate and splits it up with all these ex-Slaves and stuff, so now, there's this girl from the mine and I want you to meet her!” She gave a little nod at the end, her sunlight-colored hair slipping into her vibrantly red eyes as always.
They could hardly keep pace with that. Likas, since he was the focus of this little cascade of words, gulped and raised his violet eyebrows. “…. Really?”
“You missed the part where I said there's a girl?” Malvee said, leaning forward. “I met her at the mining supplier, she'd been asking about some shovel and you know how I get into conversations and all. It wasn't too long before she told me she'd just been Raised and Freed and all that, and you know, two and two together.” She lifted her thick fingers, she only had the three, so emphasizing only two made the brothers chuckle. “She's a nice girl, kind of young, but –”
“Wait,” Farek said with a smile, waving a cup of tea under his brother's nose and passing his cousin another, “you're playing Breeder now?”
“Not – exactly!” Malvee exclaimed laughing. “But … you'll have to meet her, I told her we'd be coming by her place. She rents a nice place in Zovora, near where her old Lord used to live.”
“You've already … You've totally decided this already, Malvee?” Likas said, and though he acted both surprised and faintly disgusted, he had to admit that he was intrigued. He'd had girlfriends and even one boyfriend, but they'd never been serious and he really was losing interest in keeping the family line together. Farek was only borderline fertile, though he went through partners like they were going out of style.
“I think you should meet her,” Farek said, “if anything just to get Mal here off your back about it.”
“I've only been in the house and on his back for what, ten minutes!” Malvee exclaimed, “I've hardly even begun being on his back about it!”
Laughing, they finished the pot of tea together, watched stars in the sky where there were none, and planned on what they'd be doing over their vacation.
Derna, as it turned out, was a far more sedate young woman than their cousin. She carried herself strongly, she was used to working heavy equipment and lifting things, but she was not a burly-bodied person by any stretch. Her eyes still told them she had been quite used to being a Slave, she hardly met their eyes the whole time that Mavlee was introducing them all.
But eventually she did warm up, since the men were relaxed, and they could talk shop – with mining in their family history so strongly and with changes in Status abounding (as both men had finally abandoned any Membayar work, and gone back to Land Mastery in title as well as function) they always had something interesting to say.
But Likas was in fact more interested in why Malvee had introduced them. She was fascinating to look at, Derna had pale blue skin over most of her body but her face and hands (and probably feet, they were covered so he couldn't see) was a rich cobalt shade. Her hair was curled tightly and a shocking white color, contrasting strongly with the cobalt of her face, and her eyes were a lovely light grey that somehow wasn't lost among all the other shades. Fascinating to Likas, and of a passing interest to Farek, was that she was able to sense the ground in general to enough of an extent that her choice to remain in the mining business would suit her well. Their family had always stressed working in one's best environment, so it was no wonder that they both were free with praise for her situation.
Derna was still shy about talking openly in public, but over the course of the next year, the turn from Fifteen to Sixteen Hundred, she and Likas established themselves as quite the couple. And with Malvee's mining interests taking them place to place, small investments all over the world, Derna was able to see more of the wonders of her world than most her Status.
“I really appreciate it,” Derna said, as she left for work. Leaving Sedil in Likas' care for the day meant she could concentrate on that one strip of ore that her boss had commented on.
Likas sat at the big oak table in the dining room and waved his son's hand in the air, “say bye-bye, Sedil, bye bye mommy!”
Laughing, smiling widely, Derna went off to earn her keep – while her selectively jobless partner bounced the year old boy on his knee. Likas only regretted that they hadn't met earlier – wouldn't it have been great to have a child on the eve of the new century? It was a year off, in Sixteen-oh-two, but then he was one up on his brother, who still had no permanent (or even semi-permanent) partner, and no children to his name.
“I guess I'll be carrying on our lineage, Sedil, how do you feel about that?” He said, absently chatting to the sharply marked blue-violet and pale blue skinned boy. Malvee's eye was right to have been attracted to the girl, their coloration was carried beautifully in their son. And who wouldn't think highly of the boy? His appearance would be stunning but his potential was strong too.
Hard work was in his blood though, diligence and stability his food and drink for years to come. And he would need them.
Though his parents never married, the news that Sedil's mother had been killed was a blow to both he and his father. Likas brought himself into Sedil's apartment and sat down, hands and tail trembling.
“They said that …. it would be weeks before they can remove all the rubble. Weeks!” Likas moaned. “Her body down there…. What if they don't even retrieve it?”
“Father,” Sedil said, “it is possible that they won't. It can't hurt anything to leave them there, and it may endanger more if they try –”
“Don't say that!” Likas yelled, and his son thought that this irrationality did not suit him. “I know she worked that mine with love, but … don't you think she deserves to be properly found and …”
“And buried?” Sedil asked. “Or did she wish to be cremated?” He brushed back his short wavy lavender hair, and blinked before looking away.
Likas could not respond. She had in fact spoken of how she loved being around the very earth that surrounded her now. Though they rarely spoke of morbidity, Likas and Derna had differing views about death and what it meant. Of course, to most of Zekira at that time, cremation was the norm. Four hundred or so years back it had been preservation and display. Another couple hundred beyond, and plain old burial was ‘in'.
But it was clear that Derna and the mine she worked so lovingly in would not be parted any time soon. Sedil turned to his bleary-eyed father and said, “the only concern I have is to know that they didn't suffer, that there wasn't something that could have been done to prevent this. Your family should know that everything could potentially be suspect, I just don't get that feeling from this…”
The way his father looked at him was stunning, cold. “You certainly do not act as though you're grieving, son.” He said, then turned to leave. “I know you were not very close, but you could at least pretend to be sad to see her gone.”
Before Likas could take two steps, though, Sedil blocked the door. “That was uncalled for, father. I am sad, I am grieving. But I also want to respect her wishes, don't you?”
Angrily Likas pushed past his son. “I want her to be placed in a proper grave, if she's to be in the ground at all. Not in some nameless mine with a dozen others. It's undignified.”
“Their bones hardly care whether they're mixed in death, father,” Sedil said, as his father left. He saw that got a reaction but Likas did not turn to retort or say anything more. Sedil had a terrible feeling in his gut – one that told him he'd lost more than his mother this week.
“It was called Neflet,” Sedil said as his father's carriage jangled away loudly, “in Altem, and she died with fifteen others who all worked just as hard as she to find their fortune…”
His voice did not carry. He did not raise it. Sedil shut the door to his home, and began making arrangements to travel to Altem.
Sedil wanted the weather to be worse. He had an image in his mind of the mine and how it would have looked, which in fact looked nothing at all like Neflet did. He thought mines, since he'd never actually visited one, were stark places where stone and jumbled rocks mingled with cart tracks and the sounds of endless work. It should have been raining, on this scene. But to Sedil's surprise, it was positively the opposite here. There were trees all around, few boulders, and a strong, warm wind. Neflet would have been a good community to work in, Sedil thought to himself. There could have been a market over here, a steed tack shop over there, and beyond that ridge the homesteads should have been popping up like weeds. The ground was good for all kinds of plants. Animals abounded. The mine had collapsed and with it, the entire area's chances of getting zoned. If the ground was that unstable, why had Derna mined it? Wouldn't she have known better?
When he arrived to the area, in a carriage with two others traveling to pay their last respects to their departed FreeWorker relatives, Sedil could already feel his emotional stability slipping. The legacy that he still carried, that of a strong empathic ability, now came to haunt him. They had exited the carriage at the last portion of the broken road that led to the mine, and had to hike a little ways to get there. At last, the group of mourners approached, carefully, where the land had literally buckled and shot up stones where there had been soft dirt.
In fact, it was those stones which attracted Sedil's attention the most. “Come look at this,” he called to the others, and with hesitation in their step, they came to his side. “Look here. There are very few of these rocks exposed like this,” he waved his sky-blue-specked hand around the scene, “but these have come to the surface.” He knelt, touching them. “Recently.”
“When the mine collapsed?” Asked the woman, who lost not one but two nephews. “That isn't surprising, look at the way it all bumps like this.”
“Yes, but…” Sedil stood again, his warm grey colored eyes misting over suddenly. It wasn't because of the emotion – it was because another power that he had nestled in his genes came to life just then. “I can feel what went on here,” he said as though entranced. “There was a lot of work going on, reinforcing the walls and ceiling.”
“What's he talking about?” Asked the young man whose sister had been killed working here. The older woman shushed him, not wanting to distract Sedil.
The duotoned blue man's head turned from side to side as if he were looking at activity, and said, “and they had felt only one tremor in the mine before this.”
“A tremor?” Asked the woman, “here? Altem hardly ever has earthquakes.”
Sedil nodded, he wasn't completely given to his vision. “I know. Yet, there it is. And this one was sharper than most, I can sense that when it came most everyone was busy – not enough time to drop their tools and escape before they felt the collapse above.” He walked carefully to the entrance, which had fence posting around it now and warning signs nailed to it. “This area went in first, and a blast of air with dirt and dust carried down into the mine. I think those near the front were choked on it, not crushed.”
A look of concern went over the younger man's face, but he said nothing and continued to watch Sedil as he paced around.
“And then the lower cavern fell.” He paused, “ah. … They did not know it was there, before it fell in. Apparently this ground is so full of minerals that they throw off the sensors and readings for assessing things.” Sedil saw the woman nodding, she must have known something about mining, herself. “And before they died they were all together there,” he pointed to a spot somewhere past the odd stones jutting up. “My mother cast those stones up through the soil. Her last action, she could summon the stones themselves…”
At last Sedil cried. His eyes no longer unfocused with the vision of the past which he'd been seeing, now they were blurred with a stream of hot tears. “This is their grave stone, their marker,” he told the others, “one point for each of them. Look, sixteen of them in all.”
There were three large points, and several medium sized ones, all gathered around almost as though a pair of hands were tearing through the soil below. Surrounding them though were more, distinguished clearly from the soil and any stones above, by their sharp white coloration.
The woman was the first to kneel next to him, by the stones. She placed her fingers on two of the points, deciding that they were the ones to represent her nephews. The young man reached out and briefly did the same, to another. They had arrived from far places, strangers traveling to say their last good byes. The only thing in common was death, for these three. Together though, the aunt and the brother took the son back to the carriage, as he had sat there limply unable to rise.