Ande pulled off the cap and rubbed her hands slowly against the stubble on her skull. She looked over at her Oristalt client, already being helped from the couch by his attendants, his pale face masked in shadow. A fleck of what looked like drool sparkled for a moment at the corner of his mouth.
She had no memory of the entry. Or of what he did while he was inside. Where he went. Where he lingered. But, with this one, afterwards, she always felt violated. Wronged in the deepest part of her.
“He never even touched you,” Chavez said when Ande mentioned it on their way back on the transit. “None of them do. Ever.”
So they never touch us, Ande thought, these great ones, these Masters of the Universe, no shit intended. Ande had learned long ago that those with power do as they like. And the Oristalts were all-powerful here on Venus V.
They couldn’t get it up of course, not even for Mastersbation. But they found other ways to pleasure themselves. Who wouldn’t?
“Oristalts just sit there,” her pimp continued, “with that thing on their heads, and they….” She stopped.
Ande’s jaw tensed, “And they what?” she asked. “What do they do while they’re attached to us? What do they do while they’re in our minds?”
Chavez scowled, her eyes squinting to slits. This could be anger, or excitement or even fear—it was all the same look with her. She stared past Ande at the darkening cloudscape passing by the transit window. “Let’s just say they look the way all our satisfied customers look after they’ve finished.”
Chavez folded her muscular arms and slid down in her seat. She was done talking about it. Ande turned away from her and licked her fist. She sprinkled it with micro-snuff, and breathed in. She pressed her forehead to the window, shut her eyes, and waited for the rush.
It was past dusk when she opened them again, and the darkened window threw back her face like a mirror. She barely recognized it. Where was it-the desirability that was her ticket off Old Earth and onto the colony worlds, the stark allure that had given her her big chance?
Her big chance. She’d thrown that away, giving it up to the first pretty-boy colonist who’d put a hard move on her. There were too many fairytales left on Old Earth spreading out-of-date memes among her feral children. She thought she had found her prince. She expected happily ever after.
Within two years, Mychel was finished with her. She was as beautiful as ever, but less desirable. She’d gone out of fashion. No hard feelings, but the new model had arrived from off-world, and he had to have it. Mychel thought he had done her a favor. She had her papers by then; she could stay. But she was on her own, penniless in a rich man’s colony.
That’s when Chavez had stepped in. Chavez knew how Ande could use her desirability to turn a profit. She had the contacts and she had her girls’ backs, no matter what the odds. Not that Ande needed much help in that area. She could probably even take Chavez, despite Chavez’s edge in size and brawn. But, over the years, Chavez had saved her butt more than once from deranged clients and client wannabes.
For a time, Ande had thought she might have her happy ending even without the prince. She was making money, and she had Jaffi-her child with Mychel, the son he didn’t know about. He was to be her best and ultimate revenge. Her Jaffi. Her little Jaffi.
Ande began banging her forehead against the transit window, lightly at first, then harder and harder until Chavez had to grab her and pull her away.
“What the fuck is wrong with you,” she hissed, but without any anger in her voice. She pressed her face against Ande’s. “Knock off the snuff, would ya.”
“You didn’t object when I took it before doing the Oristalt.”
That shut her up, but Chavez still held her. She thought she felt a slight shudder. The shudder of someone trying not to cry.
At their core they were weak, these colonists. Even badass children-of-the-moon colonists like Chavez. Ande was tougher. Survivors of Old Earth always were. They had to be. Old Earth murdered most of her children. Those she didn’t kill were prized throughout the colonies for their strength.
Ande had a secret, and the secret was this: the survivors of Old Earth were too strong. They were pathologically strong. So powerful was their reflex for life, they persisted without purpose. They continued to exist even when they knew with unassailable certainty they were better off dead. So far, despite her best efforts, the micro-snuff hadn’t dulled that reflex. It hadn’t left her weak enough to die.
That night, Ande slipped out to a bar on a lower level. One near the Bottom. It was dark, smoky, dank-thoroughly unwholesome. It had a sister bar in every stop she’d made on her way out into the colonies. Ande felt at home. She ordered a drink. A strong one.
She took a sip and glanced at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. She looked better here. Yes, the ghost of beauty still shrouded her, despite the baldness, despite the years.
Someone else had noticed. She saw his reflection in the mirror. He was coming up behind her and their eyes met in the glass.
“I was going to ask to buy you a drink,” he said as he stepped beside her. “But I see you’ve taken care of it.” She turned halfway to take him in. He was about her age and height. Dark, compact, probably handsome. But what struck her was his hardness, his strength. She was never wrong about this. Never.
“Let me buy you one, cousin,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows. “Is it that obvious? Hmmm. Old Jakarta, and you?”
“Old New York.”
He ordered her a drink anyway. They sat in silence for a moment. “I’m Ular,” he said. “And because I respect your intuition and where you come from, I’ll tell you that I already know who you are, Ande. I also know you’re being abused.”
Who the fuck is this guy? thought Ande, sensing danger and savoring the frisson.
“Tell me about it,” she said as she finished the first drink.
“I know what you do. I know who you do it with. One of the Oristalts is exploiting you. It’s an abomination. It’s a rape.”
Ande’s body tensed, but it was imperceptible. She still moved deliberately and her voice was chill. “How do you know so much?”
“I have Oristalt… clients.”
“Clients,” she smiled. “That’s what I call them.”
Ular shrugged. “You know how it is with us. We’ve gotten where we are because we serve others’ needs. There are clients for everything.
“The Oristalts pay me to look into the habits of some of their associates. The one you were with today-his habits could be deadly.”
“That’s always a risk of doing business, isn’t it?” she said. “There’s Chavez.”
“Chavez won’t be enough,” Ular said. “If she’s there at all.”
Ande stared at her second drink and waited for Ular to make his play.
“There’s a gray satchel at my feet,” Ular said. “Take it, Ande. What’s inside will let you know where he goes in your mind. You’ll see what he does. And you can make him pay, if you want.”
Fellow-worlder or not, she wasn’t going to bite. Ular wasn’t doing her a favor. No one did anyone favors. And she wasn’t going to do him one. She took a sip of her second drink, stood abruptly, and walked out.
Heading for the elevator was out of the question. He must know where she was staying, and a confrontation between him and Chavez was the last thing she wanted. So Ande hopped the transit to the next building. Bad move. At this level, at this time of night, the passengers were probably more dangerous than whatever Ular was plotting.
Sure enough, a group of kids on hover-boards was hassling the travelers at the other end of her car. No, these weren’t kids, they were men in black bodysuits and face shields. It was a transit robbery, the assholes.
There were three of them and they came on her in a rush. She wished she hadn’t downed the drink, but she wasn’t going to back away from only three. Their helmets put her at a disadvantage, but her kick smashed the faceplate of the first and he went down amidst blood and curses. The second came off of his hover-board and body slammed her. She hit the transit door, bounced off and kicked the board out from under the third one, sending him crashing to the floor. But the second one was up and a blade flashed in his hand. Shit. Only Oristalts and their attendants were permitted to have weapons on Venus V. This guy must be desperate. Robbing a transit was one thing, but the penalty for using the blade was death.
Ande squared to face him, rocking onto the balls of her feet and trying to time his lunge. It never came. He seemed to be looking up through his faceplate past her at the interior door. Suddenly, he turned and ran. His two associates staggered to their feet and joined him in his scramble, leaving their hover-boards and heading for the opposite exit.
She turned. There was Ular, and he had a goddamn beam weapon in his hand. The Oristalts had outlawed those here entirely.
“Yeah, but you won’t be if you’re caught with that.”
He tucked the weapon into his belt and buttoned his jacket. There were about a dozen people in the car and all of them were working very hard at minding their own business.
Ande and Ular hopped off at the next stop and caught a transit back towards her building, but they went past it and ended up at his. Ande didn’t mind. He was her type. Besides, she didn’t need to lie to him about herself and what she did. He knew what she’d had to do to get where she was, to have become a specially chosen plaything of the Oristalt Masters. She wondered about him. How many dicks had Ular sucked to get here? She didn’t say this though. She didn’t say anything, and neither did he.
His apartment was small and spare. His bed was narrow and the bedding coarse. It suited Ande just fine. She had a real workout-her first since coming to the land of the mind-fucking Oristalts. It pleased and satisfied her, and, afterwards, she enjoyed a deep, dreamless sleep.
In the morning, she found the gray bag sitting by the door. She took it with her on her way out.
Chavez had apparently waited up for her, and she glared at Ande through bloodshot eyes as Ande entered the apartment. One of the other girls, Cyndia, moped in a corner.
“You’ve got a job this morning,” Chavez said through clenched teeth.
“Who this time?” Ande asked evenly.
“Same as yesterday. A repeat performance.” Chavez attempted a cruel grin, but Ande could tell her heart wasn’t in it.
Ande brushed past her into the bathroom. She flipped on the light and looked in the mirror. She appeared rested. Relaxed. She put the gray satchel on the sink and opened it.
Ular knew her habits well. The drug was in snuff form. And… my, my, what was this? A flesh knife. She hadn’t seen one of these since Saturn II. There, she never turned a trick without one. It had cost her a small fortune. If she pressed it against her body it adhered, blended with the tone of her skin and was virtually undetectable. But, when she pulled it off and snapped it, it would stiffen and its razor edge could readily sever muscle or cartilage. She’d never imagined she’d find a flesh knife on Venus V.
“Are you coming?” It was Chavez, banging on the door. She’d been pushed about as far as Ande wanted to push her.
“I’m out now,” she said. She slipped the drug into a pocket and threw the flesh knife into the disposal chute. Now that she knew they were available here, she’d have no need for this one. She opened the door. “Let’s go,” she said.
Cyndia went with them. Ande figured that this was Chavez’s revenge. After Ande’s session with her Oristalt, she’d have to wait in a hallway somewhere for Cyndia’s client to finish. Ordinarily, Chavez would never have pulled this shit with her, but maybe she had it coming. As it turned out, this wasn’t what Chavez had in mind at all.
“You’re going up alone today,” Chavez said as their transit neared the Oristalt’s building. “I’ve got to run Cyndia to her job.”
This was as big a “fuck you” as she could utter. For a moment Ande wondered if Chavez knew what she was doing. By sending her up there alone, she was breaking their contract. She’d been with Chavez for fifteen Old Earth years. They’d worked their way through the colonies to this, the richest gig of all. They’d pissed each other off dozens of times and they’d gotten over it. There’d be no getting over this.
Ande stared at Chavez in silence. Chavez wouldn’t look at her.
“Okay,” Ande said, her voice as cold as space.
Ande stepped out of the car and didn’t look back. She knew she’d never see Chavez again. It wounded her, but she’d always healed fast. She punched the elevator button and began the vertical journey to the Oristalt’s apartment. Ande leaned her back against the elevator wall, sprinkled Ular’s snuff on her fist and breathed. It was cut with the real thing and the rush was a good one.
If the attendants were surprised to see her alone, they didn’t show it. They were young, silent men with hard muscles and impassive faces. Killing knives hung from sheaths at their belts. They searched her thoroughly as always in the mirrored hall near the entrance, then led her into a private chamber.
The Oristalt sat on a couch, his heavy body supported by pillows. Folds of fat billowed into his lap. His pale, white skin, dotted almost everywhere with faint pink freckles, glowed unhealthily, and he grinned, showing only his stained, upper teeth.
With his thick right hand, the Oristalt adjusted the cap on his bald head and stared at her as she pulled on its twin. She was reminded of the crude condoms she used back on Old Earth. But these caps didn’t keep him out. They let him in, into her mind. Oh, how these omnipotent, impotent Oristalts loved to stick it in there. But this time, if Ular was right, she’d know where he went and what he did.
The Oristalt threw the switch. Ande didn’t black out as usual. Instead, her consciousness fogged over, then cleared. She was back in her own mind, in her own memories. She was on Old Earth, huddled, arms clutching her knees, in an air duct. There was a blackout and the generator could only manage intermittent puffs of fresh air. Little Ande had crawled in to make sure she got hers.
As she huddled there, clutching her skinny knees in perfect blackness, she heard someone inching his way through the duct towards her. It was one of her so-called uncles. Uncle Petar. She remembered this one. His long, greasy, gray hair and prickly beard. She knew what he wanted, and she scrunched herself farther into the duct.
“Come on out, baby,” he croaked. “It’s the blackout. Uncle Petar needs his cuddles.” His breath was on her now and it stank of alcohol and decay. Feelings of fear, hate and powerlessness gripped her. Then she became aware of another presence in the duct. It was the Oristalt, and he was feeling something quite different-the flush of erotic pleasure. And his emotions began to seep into hers.
Ande felt nauseated. Could this be what Ular had been talking about? It was foul. But it was exactly what she expected from the Oristalts. She’d talked about it with Chavez before they came. They guessed that the Oristalts were sick bastards who wanted them for their memories of abuse, sexual degradation, sadomasochism, and the like. Chavez had even suggested that Ande and the others add some bestiality to their resumes before the voyage, but animals were scarce at Departure Point and they’d run out of time.
This wasn’t a rape. It was a job. She was trading on what she had, on what made her desirable to the Oristalts. Ular was full of shit.
The Oristalt meandered through a variety of sordid encounters from her past, all degrading, and Ande endured the leak of his repulsive emotions into her mind.
But this was mere foreplay. The Oristalt’s climatic interest lay in a different direction altogether.
Ande was suddenly in pain, the worst of her life. Sweat bled down her face. A limp and feverish Jaffi was pressed against her breasts. Her communication had just gone through. She rubbed her dripping face against her arm, clearing the sweat from her eyes. Her chin brushed across Jaffi’s thick hair. She lifted her head and strained to be desirable.
Mychel’s dark, youthful face filled the screen. He smiled, but looked annoyed. “Ande, I thought we had an understanding,” he chided. “I suppose this is some sort of emergency?”
Emergency? The little prick. Half the populace had the plague. The rest were immobilized from fear of it. Getting the link to Mychel had cost her all her savings and two freebies. And there he sat, above it all, isolated but unaffected, buffered by his wealth. She had wanted to talk nice. She had wanted to be civil. But how could she?
“Listen, asshole. If it was about me, you’d never have heard from me again. But there’s someone else involved. Your child. Your son. Here,” she pushed the link back so that it could take in both her and Jaffi.
More softly now, she continued, “your son—I swear, you can test his DNA-he’s sick. He needs special care.”
Mychel’s smile disappeared. “My son. My genes mixed with yours. Ah, what an interesting experiment that could have been. I wish you’d mentioned it sooner. But I know you. You were saving it as a kind of surprise, weren’t you? And now the surprise is spoiled. Too bad, Ande, the timing’s all wrong. I’m afraid the colony will have to do without that particular offspring of mine.”
Ande managed a sound, but it was unintelligible, atavistic, animal.
Mychel’s smile returned. “My dear Ande, let go of the past. We’ve moved on. If you survive this, this, illness, contact me again. Maybe you can come over when we’re doing a party or something.”
He clicked off.
A spasm passed through Jaffi. His dying had begun. For the next twenty-four and one-half Old Earth hours, she would suffer the grotesque antithesis of labor. She would bear Jaffi’s death.
The Oristalt fast-forwarded now to a particularly horrible point in the dying, near the end, when the plague did its worst. Ande had tried everything she could to make Jaffi comfortable, but her efforts were futile. Convulsions shook his skeletal form with such violence she thought he must come apart, and his heaving coughs left trails of blood trickling down his ashen face. Ande had thought herself beyond grief. Now it now consumed her.
Or it should have. But something was different. She and Jaffi were not alone together as she remembered it. There was someone else in the room. The Oristalt. He was pleasuring himself on the death of her son. Worse, his bestial pleasure was leaching into her mind, perverting a mother’s pain, poisoning her final memories of her only child.
A part of her mind detached itself. It stood outside the memory and realized that this was what Ular had been talking about. This was an abomination; it was a rape. And she knew she must put an end to it.
The detached part of her mind returned to the horror and entered the Ande there. Ande got up from Jaffi’s mat and walked over to the Oristalt. His pleasure peaked for an instant, then was extinguished by a wave of terror. Ande seized his fat throat and squeezed.
In the Oristalt’s chamber, almost everything appeared the same. Ande sat in her chair, three meters from the Oristalt who remained propped on his couch with attendants on either side. But the Oristalt was dying. His face was darkening to purple and his eyes were rolling up into his head. In Ande’s mind-and his-he had fallen to his knees beside Jaffi’s deathmat as Ande’s strong hands irrevocably crushed his windpipe.
At the same instant the Oristalt’s death gasp alerted the attendants to the attack, Ande returned to her body in the chamber. She heard the scrape of knives clearing their sheaths as she dove towards the Oristalt’s body. Her right hand scratched across his bare left forearm, at a place within easy reach of his dominant hand, a place she’d noticed had no freckles.
Ande tore off the Oristalt’s flesh knife, snapped it, and, in the same motion, brought it up and into the solar plexus of the first attendant. She twisted it and turned, already on her feet, to face the second, but he was too quick. His blade was already slashing down towards her neck. She had only one option. She leaned into it, and the blade caught her cheekbone and stuck there for just the second Ande needed to thrust her knife up and into his throat. He fell across the body of his dead Master.
Ande dropped the flesh knife, pulled off the cap linking her to the Oristalt corpse, and sucked in a breath. She made no attempt to flee. The cameras positioned throughout the Oristalt’s apartment had captured everything. There was no place to run and no one to run to. Oristalt security would be here momentarily. She was going to die. Finally.
She had thought that this would be a relief, that this was what she wanted. But, a survivor of Old Earth to the end, all she could feel was regret that her desperate life was over.
Already she heard footsteps and voices at the apartment’s entrance. Ande listened and counted. There were four of them.
“You were supposed to have had the entry code.” The whispered voice seethed with heat.
“I did, I did, I swear. He must have changed it today. He must have suspected something.”
“Well, it was a fuck-up. There’s no telling what we’ll find now,” said the first. “We may be too late. You two, watch the door. You, come with me.”
Two men stepped into the room, beam weapons in their hands. One had a bruised face and a bandage across a recently broken nose. The other was Ular.
Ular surveyed the scene with a professional eye, reconstructing what had occurred. Then he smiled. “Ande, Ande, Ande,” he said, the pride of kinship in his voice. “We thought you might need help with the attendants, but were delayed. I see we underestimated you.”
Ular’s voice became hard again, as he ordered his men to clean up the room and delete all surveillance files. He approached Ande, lifted her chin and looked into her face.
“They nicked you,” he said softly. “We’ll take care of that. You did well, Ande. And you have nothing to fear from here on out. I have your back.”
He sounded like Chavez.
“I killed an Oristalt,” Ande said, “and there’s to be no consequence?”
“Ah,” said Ular. “You killed a lesser Oristalt. His betters will be very interested in you and what happened here today. The murder of an Oristalt and his attendants is quite a novelty. I don’t think it’s ever been done before. You have some very valuable memories now, cousin. I’m sure you won’t mind sharing them.”
Ular took her hand and led her towards the door.
Yes, thought Ande, there are clients for everything. She was going to live.
She squeezed her new pimp’s hand as they passed through the mirrored hallway. She didn’t need to look at her reflection.
Ande knew she had never been more desirable.
L.E. Elder teaches first grade in a public school in Louisville, Kentucky. In an earlier chapter of his life, he was an attorney in a large law firm in New York City. He has co-authored a book on international intellectual property and won prizes locally for his flash fiction.
Children of Old Earth was written for a planned horror/science fiction anthology that the editors were forced to abandon. Stories for the anthology had to feature a prostitute. This provided an opportunity to juxtapose the forces of deviant desire, maternal love, and lust for survival.