Sahaa looked down at the town as she traveled. The transportation pack kept her floating above streets, houses, and stores teeming with activity indicative of a thriving economy. This wasn’t her home world. This wasn’t the spires of silver stretching into the clouds she was used to. This wasn’t the green gardens of her equatorial villa.
People below bustled about on missions of the day, buying food, heading to work, repairing infrastructure. She scoffed. These creatures beneath her were beneath her.
She checked her ammunition, turning her wrist to read the inside of her forearm. Seventy-eight shots, she thought, pursing her lips. Should be more than enough if I get caught out.
Flipping over her other wrist, she checked the fuel level on her transportation pack. Three quarters. More than enough to get there and back.
Being an owner had its privileges. She had the best education, the best housing locations, the best nutritional advantages. She had medical care, a term she laughed at, medical care. She got the care she needed when she wanted it. She had the best slaves and she truly loved them, unlike her father. He abused his slaves, forced them to perform menial labor outside their areas of training. Sometimes he beat them.
She wasn’t like him. She wasn’t like that. Her doctor even had his own house away from the others. It took a long time to train a doctor and she wasn’t about to let that training go to waste if she could help it.
Her father had arranged this date, this young man from Earth, a disgusting planet. This boy had better be worth it.
Sahaa looked him up and down. His bone structure, befitting of any god walking the paths of Mount Olympus, showed the strength of his muscles as they flexed underneath the light blue shirt. A healthy head of hair, shone with the multicolors of youth, draped across his shoulders.
He had such beautiful teeth, the teeth of an owner, spotless, perfectly straight. He was an owner of multiple generations, obviously bred from the best his planet had to offer.
A good match.
“You’re here early. That’s good. I’m Evan.” He held out his hand and squeezed hers gently, his fingers brushing against the back of her hand as he let go. “No problem finding the house? Most people don’t fly themselves in personally.”
Sahaa smiled and said, “Well, it is a bit small. I had a hard time making it out. So what’s the plan? I haven’t had a proper date in ages.”
Servants arrived carrying trays of fruit and meats. They placed these on a marble table overlooking the ocean and hurried out of the room. A hundred feet below, small waves rushed against the stone walls, breaking gently. A breeze rustled the flowers lining the railing.
“Did you want to get changed?”
“What’s wrong with my flight suit?”
“Oh, you can’t wear that here,” he said, looking her over. “It’ll mark you as an owner right away. I’ll have some servants bring you something more suitable for our date.”
Once changed in to a red and black dress, Sahaa was beginning to feel at home, her hair lovingly brushed, her body rubbed with oil by soft fingers as gentle as the hands of a lover. The servant girl had rubbed her skin with a light oil, relaxing the anxieties of travel.
She sat with Evan on the veranda, sipping whiskey, their dinner an exquisite selection of meats and the sweetest fruits. Out of earshot of the servants, the conversation fell to Sahaa’s questions about the planet economy.
“We let them train themselves.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Oh, you would not believe. They even pay for they own training.”
“It cost us a fortune to train our population. How do they afford it?”
Evan sipped the amber liquid in his glass. “Each family budgets their income to provide for their children.”
“They compete against each other. Some rise above the others to become leaders. Some fall into obscurity.”
“So how do you choose who works here in the house?”
“Eventually, we find the right person, and when that happens, we let the other one go.”
“You just let them go?” Sahaa shook her head at such a liberal stance.
“There are many fish in the sea.”
“What happens when one becomes too wealthy, when they stop being a fish?”
“We have many laws they must follow. Sometimes we use a civil forfeiture law to reclaim wealth, but for the most part we find it’s easier to just let them fight among themselves. They are so at war with each other that no one ever notices us.”
Sahaa liked this young man. She felt herself looking at his lips, wondering if the night would end with a kiss. His smile calmed her.
“So what are we doing next?”
“I thought we’d have a car bring us into the middle of town and I could show you some of my favorite places.”
Sahaa balked. Walking in town among the slaves on her home planet had shown her how dangerous they could be.
“I don’t know,” she said, taking a deep breath.
“It’s different, here.” Evan laughed again. “You can walk among them. There’s no reason to be afraid.”
Sahaa looked out at the street with fear. Back home, one did not walk without an armed guard force at night. The night walkers were vicious in their retribution of the owners.
“You don’t use transportation packs?”
He laughed, showing his perfect teeth, breathing deep. “No, there’s no need. We haven’t had a slave revolt in three hundred years.”
“How did you get your slaves to be so docile?”
“It took centuries to build the system, but it all falls down to one simple principle.”
“And what’s that?”
“We told them they were free.”
This story first appeared in Gestalt Media Best of 2020.
Edited by Marie Ginga.
Steven M Nedeau lives in NH with his family. He holds a BS in Engineering from UNH and works as an Analog Layout Mask Designer. Steven likes to twist his stories into mind bending tales reminiscent of Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone and has been compared favorably to Patrick Rothfuss and Terry Goodkind.