Welcome back to Wednesday Briefs, in which writers post a 500-1000 word flash story—or episode, in my case—based on the weekly prompts. This week I am concluding the M/M science fiction story I’ve been posting, “Useful Things,” using the prompt: use a windmill.
If you’d like to read the story from its beginning, click here. [Chapter 1]
You’ll find links to the other Wednesday Briefs bloggers at the end of this post.
Useful Things 20
When Jesse reached for the boots he’d worn the day before, Majak stopped him. “Not those,” he said.
Majak walked to a service cabinet and returned with a package he placed in Jesse’s hands. “I communicated with base yesterday and had them retrieve the footwear you wore when we found you. I noticed you walked better in those. They were filthy, so I ordered Alaksu to replicate some for you.”
Jesse took the package and broke the seal. The shoes were shaped like those Osvith had given him, retrieved from a crumbling warehouse filled with human gear. Osvith had thought the shoes exotic and liked that they kept his feet from developing callouses. The shoes he held now were not relics, however, but new. The deep blue-grey color embellished by ridges of metallic gold in a cloven pattern mimicked the hoof shields worn by the Aeth.
“The first design was based on our attempt to alter our boots to fit your human foot, as we did with the shield skin,” Majak explained. “Our torsos and limbs are similar. Our feet, however, are too different. We did not need to invent something new. Humans already know how to make suitable footwear for their own kind.”
Flashing a smile, Jesse placed his right foot into the shoe. It fit nearly perfectly and much better than the altered Aeth boot had. He would find a way later to tell Majak about socks. Osvith had not given him those either, probably because the Aeth, with their hardened, non-sweating feet, did not wear socks for protection.
“Thank you,” he said, putting on the second shoe and then standing to test the fit. He might still get blisters, at least until he got some socks, but they would not be nearly so bad, and in the meantime he could walk normally. Where the shield skin met the shoe at the ankle needed adjusting, though. He sat back down to work on it.
The ankle tables were designed to attach to Aeth footwear and all he could do was tuck them into the tops of his shoes before tying the laces. The task gave him something to focus on other than Majak. He kept admiring the way Majak’s form-fitting shield skin emphasized the alien’s elegant frame, the powerful haunches and legs, and the thick muscled chest of a male in his prime capable of handling heavy weaponry—or a single human. The vambraces on Majak’s arms glinted with menace, reminding him that even an Aeth noble could be a warrior. Jesse clasped a lighter force shield vambrace around his left forearm and tried to drive from his mind all thoughts that belonged to a slave.
That was easier said than done. For one thing, Majak had not released him from bondage. It didn’t matter what name he used—Jesse or Rasvim—he remained a slave. According to Aeth law, he could be nothing else. His breathing settled and his limbs stopped threatening to shake as he realized his freedoms were limited to his master. Majak remained in control, would protect him and guide him and make sure he made no mistakes. Being set loose alone among the Aeth was the most terrible thing Jesse could imagine.
Majak’s ownership afforded protection.
“How do you wish to use me?” he asked.
“Stand,” Majak said. When Jesse did so, he made a warm noise of approval and said, “Remember all I have told you about how to behave. Your place is described; honor it and none will harm you. You wear my emblem”—he tapped the jewel-toned holograph on Jesse’s breast plate—“and it will be respected. Submit only to me. Speak only to me unless you have my permission to speak to another. Alaksu. Urhal. Enir. These you may speak to without restriction. Others are less to be trusted.”
He recognized a warning in the confidence and met Majak’s steady gaze with his own. “Are you in danger?”
“Perhaps. Human sapience is not universally accepted by the Aeth. If some of these officers or holders knew what I was doing—better to make changes carefully, in ways that do not threaten them.”
“So I’m still your pet?” He needed to hear it.
Majak brushed his fingers against Jesse’s upraised cheek. “An amazing pet. Unlike any they can conceive.”
“But you want other humans to be like me, right? To think, to learn, to speak their minds?”
“I want to give them the chance to demonstrate what they are. The same chance I am giving you, my Rasvim.”
Jesse detected Majak’s careful wording. Whatever it was he ultimately wanted from humans, he was not sure of finding. It hinged intangibly on intelligence or some use for it. All Jesse could be sure of was if Majak found humans useful in a better way than he’d experienced so far, he wanted to help Majak uncover it. He did not think the Aeth would be leaving Earth anytime soon. He wasn’t even sure he wanted that to happen. The criminals would just come back, the ones that weren’t here already. The remaining humans needed Majak just as much as he did.
“Call me Jesse,” he said.
Majak cocked his head, a telling hesitation. “Is that your wish?”
“Then I will do so, but only when we are alone. Do you understand why?”
“For the same reason I call you Majak only when we’re alone. Others would use it against me, and against you also.” The approval that warmed in Majak’s violet eyes told him he was right.
“This is going to be interesting,” Majak said.
They stepped out of the door together, into morning sunshine turned blue by the solar shield. A line of gleaming windmills sliced the cold bright air above the command complex as they walked toward it. New days, Jesse thought.
He was still on Earth, treading the soil of his home world, but this wasn’t Kansas anymore.
Thank you for reading. I hope you’ve enjoyed this story. I decided to end it here because Rasvim has responded to Majak’s handling of him and has clearly emerged from his shell. I’ve also reached a point where I need to go back into earlier chapters and add/expand parts if I want to take it forward. So this is a good place to stop. I will probably extend “Useful Things” to full novel length later this year, because I am truly excited by these characters and what lies ahead for them. If I do that, commenters can count on the same bonus I’m giving everyone who commented on Thick as Thieves.
If you’re looking for other great stories, be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers, linked below: