Second part in a short story published in four parts based on a supporting character from my novel in progress. Get caught up with part 1 and read on to find out Meelo’s fate.
When the guard came back he was accompanied by five women. The first three were unfamiliar, but the last two Meelo knew well. He hadn’t seen Olivia or Kestrel in a long time. All five women were carrying babies a year old at the oldest. Kestrel’s was tiny. The baby—he wasn’t sure if it was a boy or girl–couldn’t be more than a few months old.
Kestrel smiled weakly when she saw Meelo, but the baby began fussing and she nervously tried to quiet it. Both Olivia and Kestrel looked haggard. Their hair was damp on the back of their necks and each had deep dark circles under her eyes. Meelo knew Olivia had had a child on purpose, thinking family duty would be easier than work duty, but she didn’t look like she had it any easier than Meelo and Bennett and the others. Kestrel had not wanted this, though Meelo could tell she cared desperately for the baby. Bennett wouldn’t tell him who had done it to her.
The administrator prattled on about how this was all the women available from this indentured bracket on short notice. The man in grey studied each woman carefully, even more carefully than he’d studied the first group of indentureds. And once he had looked at each of them, he went back and inspected them again, his expression troubled.
Next to Meelo, Bennett shifted and Meelo noticed him trying to get the man’s attention. It took a moment for the man notice because he was studying the women so intently, and Bennett was trying to avoid getting the administrator’s attention. Finally, the man in grey made eye contact with Bennett, and Bennett tilted his head toward Kestrel. Meelo couldn’t believe it. Why was Bennett selling Kestrel out?
The man turned to face Kestrel whose baby was still fussing. Meelo glanced at the administrator, but he was absorbed in whatever was displayed on the tablet. He had not seen Bennett’s signal. Meelo’s heart beat rapidly, willing Kestrel to stay focused on her baby, but the man in grey stepped closer and she looked up at him. As soon as they made eye contact, he whispered her name, “Kestrel?”
Kestrel’s eyes grew wide with surprise and confusion, which was answer enough. The man stepped back to the administrator and looked at the tablet over the citizen’s shoulder.
“Have you made your choice?” the administrator asked.
“Let me see the list again.” The man in the grey suit studied the tablet. “No, not that one…Not him…not what I’m looking for…” The administrator waited patiently, nodding at each choice. They both stared at the screen. Finally, the man flicked his finger across the screen. “You give me these two, and I’ll give you…” he tapped the screen a few times, presumably to put in a price.
“That number is less than the total debt,” the administrator said cautiously.
The man scoffed. “The woman is hardly worth anything especially with the baby, and you know it. You’ll have the kid to feed for at least ten years before it becomes useful. You should be paying me to take them off your hands.”
“If the woman is so useless, why do you want her?”
The man in grey scowled dangerously. “What I do with the woman is my own business.” Kestrel shivered. Her baby was finally quiet. Meelo could tell than the man in grey hated this administrator, though he couldn’t figure out why. Of course, Meelo hated him. He bought and sold humans which was reason enough to hate him, but the man in grey also dealt in human trafficking.
“Eventually the child will earn its keep,” the administrator said calmly. “In ten years we’ll have another…”
“In ten years, the woman will have paid off her debt, or nearly so, and you will just be out the expense of the child. Give them to me at a discount. It’s hardly a difference.”
“I’m not authorized to negotiate below the debt level,” the administrator claimed.
“Well, get someone in here that can,” the man growled.
The administrator flinched, which Meelo found ironic considering his job. In fact, the citizen looked weak. In a fair fight against this citizen administrator, Meelo was sure he could win. But then, it wasn’t a fair fight. The olive clothed citizens had all the guns and all the keys.
“Of course. Please excuse me. One moment.” The administrator left, but no one in the room relaxed. Six guards still stood around the perimeter. The group of indentureds were growing restless. They had missed their meal, they were exhausted after a long day of work. The man in grey was pacing the room, ignoring them as if they weren’t even human.
Meelo noticed angry stares on some of the faces, and felt the anger in him building as well. He clenched his fists. “Steady now,” Bennett whispered, touching Meelo’s forearm as a warning. He gave Meelo a look that must be significant, but Meelo did not understand what he was trying to convey.
The administrator came back with a companion. A manager. The new citizen addressed the man in grey, the administrator relegated to lackey. “Sir, I am so glad you have chosen to do business with us today. I understand that there is an issue with the cost of two indentureds you wish to purchase.” The man merely nodded. “My associate has shown me the two indentureds in question and I have the price listed for both of them.” He held out the tablet.
The man glance at it briefly. “That is the sum of both of their debts. Surely you can give me a deal.”
“This is a deal! You will receive the child too. Three for the price of two.”
Meelo thought he was going to be sick.
“The child is a burden for you. You would be more than happy to get rid of it. And the woman is used up. You must be able to see that. You will hardly get a good day’s work out of her again. This is a bargain and you know it.”
“I am sorry sir, but the condition of the indentured does not erase the debt owed. We cannot give you a product at a loss,” the man said.
“I’ll increase my offer by ten percent,” the man snapped.
“That is still less than the debt. I’m sorry I cannot accept that offer, but if you would like, I’m sure I can find a woman who would fit into that price range. It won’t take—“
“No.” The man turned to face the wall, his hands behind his back. Meelo knew he was frustrated, but he wasn’t sure why Bennett seemed to be growing agitated beside him. Finally, the man turned. “Fine! I will just take the first one. I cannot afford to spend that much on a woman at this time.”
The two two citizens looked relieved. “A good choice, sir,” said the manager. “Will you please confirm your choice?” He held up the tablet for the man in grey to see. The man nodded. “You have payment now, I assume?”
“Very good. The rest can go,” he directed. And led the man in grey to the door. The guards surrounded the indentureds and herded them toward a door on the other side of the room. Meelo felt relief that all this was over. Finally, he could sleep. The women shuffled out first and Kestrel managed to send him another encouraging smile before she disappeared into the hall.
Meelo was thinking about how he was going to ensure he woke up in time to get a good first meal when the original administrator pointed at him. “You. Stay.” Meelo felt a sinking weight in the pit of his stomach. His mouth fell open and his feet stopped.