- We scrubbed mud and blood off the broken monolith by hand. Not a chance they'd let us bring the hoses to bear - those were for keeping us in line and cleaning our cells. No, we worked half a week on that thing with sponges and buckets to save the guards a little risk. They joked around the edge of the cargo bay
- By the third day I could see the stars again, first time since before the breaking camp. I pretended I saw constellations in the flecked black stone. I felt like I could see a way home.
- We slaves peeled away a hundred centuries of lunar grime. We scoured the broken monolith harder and cleaner than the guards ordered. That wasn't an intentional choice; it came down to Grandmother's song. She’d sung it all my life, around campfires mostly, while she roasted wild meat using the old recipes. Six weeks as a slave had shattered her legendary patience. Now she clung to the song, chanted it louder and faster until the guards smacked her around.
- Toughest thing I ever faced back home was a busted wagon or a cold night sleeping rough. Nothing I could do but scrub harder and listen - keep her company in her pain. That helped with the guilt.
- Though I'd heard the song a hundred times, it spoke to me about the monolith. By the fifth day I understood that the black granite had always been the heart of the song.
- “Once we found our way by stones like that, Makketh,” she said through bruised lips, cleaning the monolith beside me. “All the Talcka did, every family, every wagon. We took our bearings by the stones. They were the center and heart of the universe, bound to our wandering. We have no home and our home is freedom.”
- “We have no home and our home is freedom.” The rote words tasted bitter. I mashed my fist against the broken stone, turned it this way and that, and wondered how a fist should align to kill an Amarr.
- Grandmother's hand closed around mine. “That is not how a Talca touches a star-stone, Makketh. You do not hate the stone.”
- The word unlocked something in me, gave a name to the burning tension behind my eyes. Grandmother let go of my fist and drew me close so our foreheads met.
- “Someday we'll find the sky again,” she whispered. “The stone told me so.”
- The drive rig blew on the nineteenth day of cleaning the monolith. A handspan of toxic smoke clung to the ceiling throughout the Bestower. For the first time since embarking, I heard the Captain over intercom. He had the voice of a bored immortal in a young body: juvenile, but dispassionate.
- “All hands, warp drive is offline. There's a wreck on grid, unknown type. Moving to match orbit. Teams four through nine, suit up for salvage.”
- About half the guards left. The rest shoved is away from the stone and back to our cells in the other cargo bays. They tried, anyway: on edge and understaffed, they missed me slipping away.
- I didn't have much of a plan. If one system could break and tie up half the crew, so could another - that was my logic. I hadn't thought of how we might fly the ship if we managed to kill or isolate the Captain. I hadn't really understood the risk - after all, we slaves were a tiny and disposable fraction of the cargo’s value. Hadn't thought of much of anything, except that this chance might not come again.
- I've always had a knack for finding my way by instinct, sometimes to places I didn't know I needed to go. By chance, but not really by chance, I found myself at a little round window.
- I put my forehead against the tempered pane and drank in the sight of the stars. The constellations were nothing like the view from the worlds in Okkelen, but even so, the sky comforted me.
- A green moon whirled above us. The derelict came into view. Sleek, tapered, hawk-nosed, it had a simple elegance that made this ship look gaudy and cheap. The first suited crew crossed the gap and fixed lines to breaches in the derelict's hull. A basic cofferdam connected the ships as the lines drew them close together. I'd heard the guards complaining: without a dedicated salvager module aboard, they had hours of work ahead.
- I moved on to find a target. Cut that link, trigger the maneuvering thrusters somehow, and half the crew would be trapped in the wreck. I felt real hope for once.
- Right up until I saw Grandmother sneak into the cofferdam.
- I'd been meaning to dart past the open hatch between salvage crews when she took the opportunity. Somehow or other, she'd snuck away like me. And she wasn't alone: seven more followed her, the other Talca among the slaves. I didn't hear a thing from inside the cofferdam: they hadn't run into a team coming back. They'd chosen the perfect time, by instinct.
- “All hands, this is the Captain,” said the intercom. “The salvage crews report the wreck is too old to give us anything compatible. We're taking some curios aboard and moving on. It looks like there might be a mining base on another moon a few days from here.”
- I'd snuck into the cofferdam by then, and it took some doing to squeeze between the accordion walls, out of sight. The crews came back in a rush in case the Captain got impatient. They were ants to him, same as us.
- What drove me to run, I couldn't say. When the last crew passed me, I struggled out of the collapsing accordion wall and bolted down the cofferdam. A cold wind pushed me along. My stomach churned and the floor fell away as I left the Bestower's artificial gravity. I pulled myself along by the wall-ridges, faster and faster. When the gap came, the hard vacuum between the retracting corridor and the derelict, I sailed across in a couple of heartbeats.
- Pressure grew in my eyes, throat, and lungs. I breathed out and watched it puff away in a frozen cloud. A moment later, I drifted through the hull breach and crashed into a gray-green bulkhead.
- Into, and through. For the same dizzying moment, I was both inside the wall and not. The impact spun me around and I saw five corridors branching away at impossible right angles. One held a door, and it was opening, and then Grandmother pulled me inside.
- “Welcome home, Makketh,” she said. Behind her, lights flickered on dead panels, and the Talca looked up at the green moon.
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