The Slave’s Hand
The woman screamed in fear as her young boy bit the arm of the
soldier holding her. The soldier kicked the child into the street and
shook the woman’s arm. “Thief! You, thief!” the soldier growled.
There were civilians on the street, eyes cast down, shoulders
slumped, paces quickened. But no one interfered. These Alliance
monsters weren’t the first to conquer this world, nor would they be
the last. It wasn’t a rich world by New Alliance or Commonwealth
standards. It just happened to orbit an area in the middle of any
named conflict for the last millennium. The people who survived each
generation were the ones, like these on the street today, who turned
their faces away, who stepped aside, who bore their captivity like a
filthy cloak and never rose above what the universe had dealt them.
The child continued to scream from where he had landed in the
middle of the street, distracting the soldier from wrestling his purse
back from the woman’s grasp.
“Shush, Dooley, stop crying. It’s alright.” The mother did well to
try to quiet her child. Whatever had possessed her to bring her child
into town? This most recent occupation force was a band of Alliance
monsters from planets where most females were barren. But it did not
stop them from punishing pick-pockets, even if she was a breeding
woman. It was natural. It was the way things worked. She should have
shut her mouth and returned the soldier’s purse without bringing
attention to her child. But she had to spit in his face. “Stupid monster.
This money is mine, not yours.”
The soldiers spoke Alliang along with their own native languages,
but they had picked up enough of this world’s Commonwealth
language to understand what the woman had said. They laughed and
one shouted a phrase in Alliang which loosely translated to “Been
robbed by a girl!”
Enraged and embarrassed, the man slapped the woman and then
whistled, pointed to the child, and grunted a one-word command.
From beside the soldiers’ hover transport burst four beasts. They were
all shaggy hair, snarling teeth, and barbed collars. They attacked the
child as they had been commanded. They circled him first and the
woman beat at the man, screaming incoherently in her language. He
hit her again and heard something snap. She lay dead beneath him, as
the dogs closed in for the kill.
Acacia, who had been sweeping the porch of the apothecary shop,
had been watching. Her eyes and ears focused on the scene, but her
head was bowed and her hands were busy with her task. When the
soldier grabbed the woman, the slave had done nothing. When the
soldier kicked the child, Acacia had paused, but not interfered. This
was the way the world worked, and the boy child would learn how man
treats man. But the dogs were something else entirely. She snatched
the broom in both hands and dashed into the street. Her first blow
came down across one cur’s back, snapping its spine. It yelped more
in surprise than pain and collapsed. Her second blow swept the feet
out from under another dog and then she stabbed the tip of the broom
handle into its ribs, crushing its heart.
Battle-trained, the two remaining dogs tried to flank her. She kept
the bloody broomstick balanced at shoulder height, her fists gripped
firmly as she waited on the beasts.
The boy crawled backward toward the crowd. A man dressed in
livery picked him up and spirited him away. The boy clung to the man’s
neck, sobbing, but he kept his eyes on the slave for as long as he could.
The beta dog lunged for her right arm as the alpha dog watched.
She swung the broomstick with her left, forcing the massive body
up and over her head, the wooden stick connecting with the tender
undersides between the dog’s legs. Like any male attacked in that area,
the dog collapsed and lay in agony, unable to defend himself as the
broomstick crushed his skull.
Acacia ignored the cheers and jeers of the crowd. She faced the
alpha dog now, her weight on the balls of her bare feet. The next move
belonged to the dog. They both knew it. He began to circle her, drawing
her to the right.
Her right arm was on fire where she’d been racked by claws. Her
breath came in gasps; sweat rolled down her face, stinging her eyes and
making her shift cling to her breasts and thighs.
The dog had circled her twice now, observing her. A rock thrown
from someone in the crowd struck her chest, knocking her backward,
and the dog lunged. He knew her now. She was not one to play with. He
must kill her quickly. He went straight for her throat. She brought the
rod up, catching the beast under his chin. Bone cracked; saliva exploded.
The dog, thwarted, fell to the ground but would not surrender.
“Call him off!” an Alliang voice shouted above the crowd’s ruckus.
“Call him off Dog-Sarg, or by Satan herself, I’ll feed that dog your balls!”
A shrill whistle split the air. The dog growled low in his throat, and
then sat down. His eyes remained on the slave. Acacia held the dog’s
gaze for three beats, and then dropped her gaze to her feet.
First-Defender Myrthyr Hamm looked at the woman he had just
saved. She seemed to have adopted the submissive stance of her people.
But she had single-handedly dispatched three battle-dogs with only a
stick. The First-Defender did not turn his back to her as he spoke in
Alliang, “What is this, Dog-Sergeant? Have you taken to using civilians
to pit-fight your dogs?” He kept his voice soft, inquisitive, almost jovial;
a good-natured barb between comrades in arms.
“This woman stole my purse. As is my right, I took time to punish
this woman.” Dog-Sarg pointed at the limp form draped across the
hovercraft’s loading platform, and then remembered with a start that
she was dead. He had killed a breeding woman; an act punishable by
slow death on his home world. “That girl,” he gestured at Acacia. “Took
offense to what the law allows and attacked me. I called my dogs and
she killed them.” Dog-Sarg wiped the spittle from his face, hoping the
First-Defender wouldn’t notice and blustered, “I’ll have her life for the
death of my dogs. It’s my right!”
The First-Defender didn’t have to look directly at the other soldiers
to see their reactions. Dog-Sarg was lying, or at least expanding the
truth. He also knew the soldier was within his rights as a Dog-Sarg to
slay the young woman. Despite the dead dogs at her feet, she looked
more child than woman.
“There was a child.” Acacia spoke softly but without fear. Her
Commonwealth words were strongly accented, but Hamm understood
them. Her face was bowed, her broom still grasped in her hands, but
down across her thighs. Blood dripped from her right arm onto the
“I see no child.” He replied, matching her language and her gentle
“There was a child. He kept crying and your soldier could not
concentrate,” she caught her breath, “on his legal right to recompense.”
Hamm silently watched her, so she continued. “Your soldier set his
dogs on the child.”
The First-Defender waited silently for more; Acacia was quiet. He
glanced at the faces of his men and knew she was telling the truth. He
settled his gaze on Dog-Sarg. Returning to Alliang, he stated, “Dog-
Sergeant, your thief is not moving.”
Dog-Sarg gulped; sweat popping out on his pasty skin.
The First-Defender spat with disgust. “Ta-pikes base.” He repeated
it in Commonwealth. “Take your men back to base.”
Dog-Sarg beat his right fist against his chest and whistled. His
dog led the rest of the soldiers onto the transport. Dust swirled for a
comtime and then the transport hovered away.
The dead woman’s body was held in the embrace of the liverydressed,
sobbing man. Skittish youths grabbed the legs of two of the
dog carcasses and began to drag them away.
“Stop! Leave them alone!” Hamm shouted in Commonwealth. The
youths dropped their loads and ran into the crowd.
“Why were they doing that? What did they want with the dogs?”
he asked Acacia.
“They were hungry. Each dog weighs more than those boys do.”
“Meat? They would eat the dogs?”
“They were hungry.” Acacia risked looking the First-Defender
directly in the eyes, but he was staring down at the dogs.
In Alliang, Hamm asked, “Why did you interfere?” He glanced at the
girl and realized she had been staring at him with brilliantly blue eyes.
“How could I not?” She asked in perfect Alliang.
He nodded, his assumption confirmed. “How did you come to
learn Alliang? It is taught only in New Alliance Military Academies.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I listen. I learn words. I
have always been able to do so.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Why not?” She looked at him.
“You just killed three battle-dogs with a stick.” He stared back.
“Aye-yah! You wicked girl!” A spindly old man wobbled into the
street, shrieking in Commonwealth at the top of his lungs. “Wicked!
Wicked! I will beat her, General! I will beat her until she begs to be
killed!” The old man grabbed Acacia’s elbow, his hands trembling so
much the broom shook. “I will beat her severely, General. You can be
sure of it! She will never cause problems for the Alliance again. Never!
This I swear!”
The First-Defender grinned down at the tiny ancient man. In
Alliang, he asked, “Would you, a woman who can kill battle-dogs,
allow him to beat you?”
She patted the Wisdom’s papery hand and bowed. She answered in
Alliang, “If it will keep your men from returning and taking revenge
on my master, I would have him do exactly as he has said.”
“You used the word ‘master’. Is he your teacher?”
“I use the word ‘master.’ He owns me.” She patted the old man’s hand
again and smiled down into his worried face. “But he has taught me many
things. He is a good man.” She looked back up at the First-Defender, still
smiling. “He has never beaten me, nor treated me unkindly.”
“Treat your slaves with kindness and justice by day so that the
knife in the slave’s hand will not strike you by night.” Hamm’s eyes were
unfocussed as he repeated words he knew by heart.
“Wise words.” The slave bowed. “They sound like scripture.”
Anger sparked from Hamm’s eyes as his words bore into her, “Do
I look like a priest?”
She pointed at the dead dogs and softly asked, “Do I look like a slave?”
© Evelyn Rainey