After her family is killed in the cleansing, Bethany’s purpose in life has changed. No longer will she be allowed to work to save her dying planet. As a slave, endurance is her goal as she marks each day as one moment closer to an eternity spent reunited with those she loved. But when her planet is invaded, everything changes. Now she must decide either to align herself with those from her planet who condemned her faith and killed her family, or with the warriors who have conquered her world. Ultimately her choice will mean life or death for more than just her planet’s ecosystem. She alone holds the key to a powerful secret, and the fate of the entire galaxy depends on her decision.
Available Through These Ebook Retailers & More!
Only the chimes, oddly sweet, told the passing of time. This far beneath the surface, day and night were arbitrary, dictated by necessity, not nature. Bethany looked around at the other workers, some in standard issue coveralls and others, like her, in the tunics of slaves. Only she and Elisheba carried the mark of Seeker. They were the last two left in this worker block, both of them female, one too old to bear children and herself just entering adulthood.
Slave or free, the designation didn’t really matter. Their lives were all governed by someone else. She tried not to fidget as she waited for the supervisor, and Elisheba gave her a half smile from the opposite end of their shared station. The refuge of the chest-high worktop provided a place to lose herself in the tedium of work. Bethany nodded back at her friend, unwilling to speak and draw attention to them.
“I’m no seeker-slave.” The old woman at the next workstation glared in Bethany’s direction. “They shouldn’t force me to stand here waiting.”
Elisheba tapped the hardened steel worktop with her broken fingernail three times. It was their personal code for patience. Bethany didn’t need Elisheba’s caution. She wouldn’t answer the angry woman. She might have laughed had there been any energy left in her body. These people could label her anything they chose. She wasn’t here to please them. Her purpose was to endure—until the One finally called her home.
Elisheba edged closer. “We’ve little output to show today. The supervisor won’t be pleased.”
Bethany frowned at her. Conversation was strictly forbidden. Once they’d been dismissed and reached the safety of their sleeping cells, they’d discuss the day.
“The Behavior Board called me in for another hearing. It’s my seventh.” She looked up and met Bethany’s eyes. “I won’t deny the One.”
Bethany reached out and covered Elisheba’s hand with her own. They didn’t need words. The board had summoned Elisheba a few days earlier. They both knew what happened at the seventh inquisition.
Bethany had been called before the governing board four times herself. No, there’d be no discussion tonight. This would be their final time to await inspection together. Tomorrow, Bethany would stand alone.
She stiffened her spine and searched for the strength to continue. Controlling her emotions at the end of any day was a struggle. Now this? The cavernous environment didn’t help. Intense task-lighting and poor circulation led to the ever-present odor of sulfur mixed with leaching compounds. Few chose to remain in these conditions long.
The agonizing headaches and recurring respiratory problems ensured a short, miserable lifespan. At almost two klicks beneath the metropolis, the noxious haze, unable to dissipate, burned the throat of any unfortunate worker. Wrinkling her nose, she remembered the smell of earlier times, when she roamed above ground in the sweet rasoon fields of Sintue.
The supervisor stopped at their table. “Worker 456, is this your total for the day?” Simon, always correct in his address to Bethany, had adopted a strange formality that denied the fact they’d grown up together. He didn’t even glance at Elisheba.
“Yes, sir.” Bethany kept her head down, unwilling to be drawn into his game. She concentrated, determined to keep the tears that pooled in her eyes from falling. She couldn’t afford to irritate him. Early on, she believed he’d found her in the slave pens and recommended her for this job, in spite of her Seeker affiliation, because of their past bond. Now she wasn’t so sure.
Simon inspected the small amount of assembled electronic components on Bethany’s workstation. It didn’t matter that the tedious work called for intense attention to detail, with almost two hundred different connections required for each tiny unit. Every worker’s quota was based on the need of the talarium dealers—and nothing else.
“And once again, your output falls short.”
Bethany could feel his lingering look as his pale hand brushed hers. An accident or on purpose? His height had never bothered her before, but now, he always seemed to loom over her, dark eyes flashing with an avarice she tried to ignore.
“We must come to an understanding.” Simon stepped closer, and she tensed her muscles to keep from taking a step back. “I would consider it a personal favor if you’d see that your totals are a little higher in the future.” His voice, though low, contained the hint of a purr underneath.
She willed herself not look up. “Uh…yes, sir.” Why didn’t he leave? Give her a moment with Elisheba. They must solidify their plan. They needed time. Elisheba must not attend the hearing.
“All right, then.” Simon turned, slapping his hands together and rubbing them. “All workers in this section may leave.” He held up a finger. “Except, I wish to see numbers 142, 301, and 456 in my office.” He strode back down the aisle, workers making room for him to pass in the tight space.
“He called you.” The urgency in Elisheba’s whisper colored her words. “Number 456 is your number.”
Bethany shook her head. Her inadvertent gasp at hearing her name called had given her lungs a large concentration of harsh fumes that made her throat close and eyes water. She grabbed Elisheba’s hand.
“Wait for me.” She glanced around. “Go to the designated place. I’ll meet you.” She’d do whatever it took to save Elisheba. In spite of the older woman’s pushy ways, her friendship had been just what Bethany needed, fresh to the rank of slaves. She’d never have survived those first few months without Elisheba and her managing ways. She owed this woman so much and she’d do everything she could to ensure her safety.
She sensed Elisheba’s whispered prayer following her as she dodged through the throng of dismissed laborers to answer Simon’s summons.
“Hope they’re getting rid of that snotty Seeker.”
“Thinks she’s better than us, does she? I’ll wager the supervisor will soon change her mind.” An ugly laugh followed.
Other, similar remarks dogged her steps as she crossed the immense workers’ block to the area of cubes reserved for those with rank and authority. It would be so easy to hate, but the Text, the Book of Truth, stated clearly what her response must be. Love your neighbor. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemy. Such simple instructions, but so difficult to follow. Times like these made her wish she’d never heard the Truth. But she had, and now, those responsibilities outweighed any temporary difficulties. She shook her head. Temporary difficulties indeed. What cruel, cosmic joke labeled her fight to survive in such an innocuous way? When would the One have mercy on her and just take her home?
She hurried down one cramped gray row and into another. This particular block contained almost five hundred workstations, designed for maximum speed of assembly and not the comfort or needs of workers. High-yield light fixtures, necessary for the detailed work, hung low over the tables and left the ceiling in hazy darkness, giving the area an oppressive ambience. Was this her future, a world always in shadow?