Science Fiction labor

The Didibug Pin

By Barbara Krasnoff
Apr 5, 2020 · 5,720 words · 21 minutes

Photo by Marissa Daeger via Unsplash.

From the author: Lize spends her days harvesting cliffcrawlers for the Company, but she suspects there's a secret behind the insects that the workers aren't being told.

The sun was hot on Lize's back. It burned relentlessly through her lightweight top and onto her arms; she could almost feel the rays searching for the seams in her wide-brimmed hat so that it could sear patches in her dark brown hair and against her neck.

She clung to the rope with one hand, her feet planted flat against the side of the cliff to steady herself. The small cleats in her shoes kept her fairly steady on the slimy surface, but the holes that they created widened slowly, so that she still had to shift her position every so often. The rope loop that she rested her buttocks against had begun to cut, in spite of the considerable amount of padding she was using. But this could be a good spot; she couldn't afford to move just yet. So she ignored her growing discomfort, and continued to scrape away at the cliff.

Above and somewhat to the side, she could see Piara just beginning to lower herself again after depositing a load of cliffcrawlers into the weighing basket at the top of the cliff.  Her best friend's form was always distinguishable to Lize among the other harvesters -- no matter how tired she was, no matter how awkward her position, there was always a sprightly grace about Piara that made her stand out among the dozens of women hanging at the side of the cliff. It didn't hurt, Lize thought wryly, that you could always catch the sparkle of the tiny glass earrings that Piara insisted on wearing even during work hours, despite the danger of losing them into the muck below.

"I eat with them, I sleep with them," she would laugh, "and I screw with them. So why shouldn't I work with them as well?"

Lize, who hoarded her small savings with the tenacity of a mother bird, was always amazed at Piara's happy flouting of the conventions. You did not tempt the fates by showing yourself off during working hours; you didn't upset the other women by openly rejoicing in your sexual conquests; you didn't attract thieves by leaving your valuables to be found. Lize, like most of the other workers, hid her valuables in a well-disguised hideaway in her quarters or in a pocket sewn into the inside of her sash. Piara, as far as she knew, didn't bother. Perhaps, she thought wryly, Piara's secret was that she didn't hold onto her money long enough to have to worry about hiding it.

A hollow sound announced that Lize had indeed found a good source. She stuck her tool in her sash, and reached with her gloved hand to scrape out the struggling shelled creature that had burrowed into the damp cliff side. The cliffcrawlers were small, mean, insect-like animals who defended themselves with tiny, venomous stings that were lethal to their natural enemies. For the women who collected them, it meant occasionally painful welts that disappeared in a day or so. 

Below, in the dirty white of the mud flats, the older children scurried underneath the workers, gathering up any crawlers that had dropped from the cliffs, and digging with sticks to find any that had buried themselves in the hard mud. Across the flats, the dull thudding sounds of the machinery of the mines, where the men worked, drifted faintly on the breeze, a steady background to the high voices of the children and the calls of the women.

Every evening, each harvester's take was weighed and the results tallied; each week, a percentage of that take was put against what she owed in rent and purchases at the company store, and whatever remained was paid out in coin. 

The cliffcrawlers were packed away by some of the older men, loaded onto trucks and taken to the spaceport several miles off. What they were used for, nobody really know. Some of the older men claimed that the shells were pounded to a powder and used as an aphrodisiac. Others said that the meat inside was a delicacy served at some of the best off-planet restaurants. 

When Lize was a child, she and some friends had found an injured cliffcrawler trying to dig into the sand. They hit the creature with stones until it stopped struggling, pulled off its stinger and boiled it in a small urn over a fire. They each tried a bit of the meat; it was one of the foulest things Lize had ever tasted. And anyway, Lize thought, she knew what cliffcrawlers were really used for. Assuming that lady was telling the truth...

Lize shook her head; it was late and she was getting tired, or she wouldn't let herself get distracted like this. She pushed her hand into the hole she had made, pulled out another struggling little monster and dropped it into her sack. At least her shift was almost over, Lize told herself. Then she could wash, change her clothes, meet her friends in the pub, and drink until it didn't matter.

"Lize!" Piara lowered herself in practiced jerks until she was just below and to the side of Lize's position. "Looks like you have a good source there. You think it'll keep you for today?"

"Think so." Lize pulled one last creature out, deftly avoiding the twisting stinger that sought the heat of her hand, and dropped it in. "Just want to make sure this one's dry, then I'll be up. Saw you take your last load. Wasn't that enough?"

"Not quite." The sound of Piara's scrapings joined Lize's and those of the other girls. "Sonovabitch admin said that four of them were undergrown and threw 'em back. So I have to get a few more to fill the load. But then I'm done. You going to the pub tonight?"

"Yeah. Gotta go get my monthly checkup, then I'm done. Meet you there?" Lize pulled her guide rope loose from where it looped around the main rope. She tugged it lightly, hearing her bell ring distantly above, and waited for the signal that would let her know that the other end was loosened and ready for her to begin her ascent.

"Sure." Piara began to lower herself again. "Though at this rate, all the hot water'll be gone when I get there. Never mind. You go ahead; I'll see you later."

After she had delivered her last load and made sure it was registered properly to her credit, Lize walked slowly along the dusty road that headed away from the cliffs and toward the women's residences. She walked along the familiar lines of two-storey pale green dormitories, all manufactured out of a thin, rigid material that repelled the fierce sun that beat down on the town. 

Past the single women's section were a line of small two- and three-room cottages, made of the same green material, where the women with children lived and where Lize had lived with her mam when she was young. Beyond that was the common area: the pub, the company store, the school, and a clearing that could be used for sports or the occasional party. Beyond that, there were the men's barracks, identical to the women's.

Lize reached her building, pushed open the door, and trudged up the steps and down the bright green hall to the room that she shared with Piara. The two had become roommates several months ago, and the room was littered with small paper flowers, discarded clothing, and other detritus typical of two lively young women. 

She quickly grabbed her towel, her sole remaining clean tunic, and a pair of leggings that had only been worn once, and headed for the bathroom. Luckily, she had ended her shift early, and there was no line for the showers. It took her only a few minutes to rinse off the worst of the dust and grime from the cliffs; she hurriedly dressed and ran back to her room to drop off her work clothes and grab a couple of coins from the small bag of savings that she kept beneath a loosened floorboard under her bed. It was still three days until payday, but she had done well today, and Lize thought she could spare the price of a couple of drinks.

As she put the bag back, her fingers brushed a soft cloth that was resting under the bag. For a moment, she paused. She was, after all, in a hurry.

Still. She pulled the piece of folded material out, opened it, and looked at the small piece of jewelry that lay there.

Her didibug pin.

When she was nearly eight years old, Lize's mam had told her that she was going to have a special treat. They were going to the spaceport, or rather, right outside it, to the market fair that took place there once a month. 

For a little girl who spent her days looking for cliffcrawlers in the sands of the swamps, the idea of seeing a market fair was nearly overwhelming. Lize had been a little worried lately; her mam seemed preoccupied, and spent most of her spare time talking to some of the older women in the singles barracks. But perhaps she had only been planning this trip, and didn't want Lize to know, the little girl told herself. Ecstatic, she scrubbed her best tunic until one of the seams gave way and had to be re-sewn, and borrowed a nearly new sash from one of the other girls.

It would take two days, her mam said, to walk to the marketplace. It was the farthest Lize had ever been from the town. They set out very early in the morning, and to the little girl, it seemed as though there were hundreds of different things to see along the way: thick plants taller than she was, laden with fruit that her mother warned her not to touch; small furry animals that sniffed at her from a distance and then dashed away; homes and stores built of rock and sand rather than the thin green material.

Sometimes a wagon would pass through, spraying dust from its wheels. Once or twice, a passenger floater screamed a high-pitched warning that could be heard when it was five minutes away, so that all those walking on the road moved to the side; when it finally passed, it was so fast that Lize hardly saw it. Once, to her great delight, a floater stopped near where Lize and her mam had paused to drink some water. It was red and purple, long and elegant. A boy about Lize's age pressed his nose against the glass, and the two children made faces at each other until the floater started up again, and whizzed away.

They slept outside, in a small mossy place where several other travelers also were spending the night. Lize stared up at the stars and the two moons, wondering if anyone lived there, and whether they knew that Lize was looking at them. 

The next morning, a wagon gave them a lift to the outskirts of the fair. Lize, who had been up much of the night, slept then, lulled by the hot sun and hum of the motor.

And she was glad she did, because when they got to the fair, there were more things to look at than she could have dreamed of. 

It was a cacophony of sights, smells, and noise. Men, women, and children in all different types of clothing, with long hair and short, some loaded with jewelry and others plain and unadorned; some laughing and celebrating and shopping; others grim and somewhat frightening. Booths where all sorts of fascinating things were being sold. Stages where musicians played and large animated animals did weird dances.

Her mother kept tight hold of her hand, pulling her quickly, making it difficult for Lize to see anything for more than a second or two. Finally, at a booth selling powdered stuffs in bottles (most of them an uninteresting brown or gray), her mother talked to a man for a few minutes and then knelt and gave Lize a small coin. 

"Here, girl," she said. "I'm going in to do some business; you take this and find yourself something to eat. Don't go far, and be back when the sun is at noon. And remember, don't let nobody take you into a tent or behind a counter. You understand me?"

Lize nodded, but inwardly wondered how stupid her mother thought she was. A child who scoured the sands for stray cliffcrawlers certainly knew enough to dodge any adult who thought that she would be an easy target. 

"Well, remember that!" Her mam followed the man into his tent.

Set free, Lize didn't know where to go first. She scooted from booth to booth, crashing occasionally into adult legs, staring at all the riches available to her. And she had money to spend!

Finally, she decided on a bubbling pink drink that came in a tall glass with a straw in the shape of an eel. She had stopped to pull her coin out of her sash when a large, fat man crashed into her. Cursing, he hurried off while Lize landed, dazed, on her backside.

After a moment, Lize stood and started brushing off the back of her tunic -- and then stopped. She had been pushed in front of a small, unassuming yellow booth. On the counter before her were dozens of tiny pins, shining and sparkling, in the shapes of fish and insects and all sorts of weird creatures. She looked closer; they appeared to be some sort of metal, but polished brighter than any of the metal mugs and cans she was used to, and decorated with little jewels that blended into the metal so that you could hardly see where the jewel ended and the backing began. They were the most beautiful things she had ever seen.

"May I help you?"

The woman was tall, with a thick braid that was coiled around the top of her head and kept in place with one of the pins. Several other pins decorated the dark blue sash that was wrapped around her waist, and her tunic was a bright yellow that echoed the materials of the booth.

Lize looked down, suddenly shy. 

"Were you interested in buying one of my pins?"

The woman's tone was friendly, and she sounded as though she fully believed Lize capable of purchasing anything. "I have a wide selection. Is there one that you'd like to try?"

Try? For a child whose basic assumption was that she'd better hold onto or hide whatever she owned before someone took it away from her, this was a completely alien concept. She stared at the dozens of sparkling items, overwhelmed. 

"How about his one?" the woman said, smiling. She reached out and picked a small pin from the counter, and held it out to be admired.

It was in the shape of a didibug, a small, fat, harmless insect that made a quiet buzzing sound when it flew too close to your ear and occasionally had to be fished out of your bowl when it made an unfortunate landing. This didibug was actually a bit larger than the real thing; its wings, which were opened slightly away from the bright red body as if it was about to take off, were impossible shades of yellow and brilliant blue.

"How much is it?" Lize breathed, not yet able to believe that the beautiful little creature might be hers.

"How much do you have?" asked the woman. Lize dug in her sash for her coin and held it out for inspection.

"Why, how lucky," said the woman. "That's exactly how much it costs."

She took the coin and handed Lize the didibug pin. Lize held it gingerly in her hand, a little frightened to be the owner of such a fragile and precious item. She looked up at the woman.

"Don't show it to anyone," said the woman, immediately understanding what was in the child's face. "Keep it safe. Pin it inside your sash. That way, nobody will know it's there but you."

Lize's face brightened, and she immediately tucked the little didibug inside her sash, securing it with its pin. "Wait here, you," she whispered to the didibug. "I'll let you out when we get home."

She looked up at the woman. "Thank you, lady," she said happily. "It's nice."

"So are you," the woman smiled back at her. "Tell me, child, what's your name?"

"Lize," she said. 

"And where do you live, Lize?"

"In the town, in the mothers' quarters," and she pointed in what she thought was the general direction they had come from.

"And you live with your mother? And she works for the company?"

Lize nodded. "She harvests cliffcrawlers. I help."

"I see." The woman leaned over the counter, resting her arms on it, so that her face was closer to Lize's. She smelled of fruit and sugar. Lize could see, this close, that her eyes were a curious shade of yellow and her lips lightly colored so that they had a slight phosphorescent glow.

"Tell me, Lize," said the woman. "Do you ever think of doing something else than harvesting cliffcrawlers. Something better?"

"Like selling things?" Lize asked. Right now, she couldn't think of anything that would be better than spending her life behind a counter, selling beautiful things to people.

"Well, yes. A little. Wait here." She turned, opened the flap of the tent behind her, and a tall girl came out. The woman bent, and then straightened and walked around the counter, holding a small stool in her hand. She put it down at the side of the booth, sat, and motioned to Lize to come over.

"Now," she said when Lize approached, "we can talk properly. And we're still out in public, so you know you're safe, right?"

Lize nodded. This was true; her mam had told her never to go behind the counter or into one of the tents, but there were people here all around.

"Now, Lize. You know that the universe is not made up of just your town and your people. You know that there are many other peoples, many other places. There are many ways to live, and many things to learn. Do you understand me?"

The child nodded. She understood; she had watched the market wagons loaded with cliffcrawlers making their way down the roads to other places, and she looked up sometimes when a ship from the port pushed its way into the sky and then disappeared with a distant pop.

"You don't have to stay here. You can travel to some of those other places."

Lize stared at her. "How?" She was curious, but not yet believing. The idea that she could actually leave her town and the cliffs and the mines had never occurred to her.

"Well," the woman said, "you would have to go to school and learn new things. And that might mean leaving home.

Lize shook her head firmly. "We're not supposed to leave town. My mam told me. We owe them money, and if we tried to leave, they could lock us up."

The woman smiled. "Lize, do you know why your mam collects cliffcrawlers?"

Lize shrugged.

"Because their venom is actually very valuable. Properly processed, and with all the toxins -- the bad parts of it -- removed, it helps cure people of a very nasty disease. People have tried to copy that venom for a long time, and they can, after a fashion. But you still need the cliffcrawler venom as a base, even for the copies. And do you know the only place you can find cliffcrawlers?"

The little girl waited.

"Here. Right where you live. And do you want to know another secret? The ore that the miners dig up -- your dad was a miner, wasn't he?"

"I guess so," Lize said. She actually had no idea who her dad was, but she had no intention of admitting that to the lady.

"Well, there's nothing special about that ore. What the men actually do -- although they don't know it -- is to disturb the cliffcrawler nests, which are hidden down in the same places as the mines. The cliffcrawlers leave their nice cozy nests, and escape up the cliffs, so they can get caught by women like your mam, who know exactly the right way to do it. And who will teach you to do it also. So you see, what she does is very important. But..."

Lize leaned forward. "But?"

"But because what she does is so important, the people who manufacture the medicines are afraid that, if she knew that it was also dangerous, she might stop doing it. So they don't tell her to be extra careful when handling the cliffcrawlers, and don't give her special uniforms to protect her from the stings, because that might make her realize..."

"Lize!" Her mother's voice. Her mam came bustling up, and grabbed her arm.

"What are you doing, talking to this woman! I told you to be careful who you talked to!"

The woman stood. "I was just explaining to the child..."

Lize's mother pulled her around behind her, but Lize peeped out the side, wondering why her mam was so angry.

"I know what you were explaining! I heard you! I know what you were trying to get her to do! To come with you and who knows what would happen then!"

The woman, surprisingly, didn't become angry, but kept speaking in an even, careful voice. "Ma'am, I represent an organization that wants to help rescue the children of cliffcrawler harvesters from a dangerous environment and educate them, give them another choice..."

"Sure." Her mam's hand in hers was trembling slightly. "That's what you say now. But once you've got her with you, that would be a different story!"

"Ma'am," the woman repeated, her voice a tight monotone, "you are free to check our licensing and records at your local admin office."

"I don't believe..."

"Certainly," the woman said, raising her voice slightly, "she would be better off than you are. Tell me, how often have you been stung? And what have your medtechs been telling you lately? Is that what you want for your daughter?"

Lize's mam stared at the woman, and then just turned and pulled Lize away. "You don't listen to her," she told Lize as she dragged her through the crowd. "Your mam is fine. And that's an evil lady; I don't want you ever to go near that booth again."

Lize turned her head and caught one last glimpse of the booth; the lady was shaking her head while the girl behind the counter was laughing. Lize wondered what she was laughing at.

Many times after that, Lize thought about the lady in the booth. She finally decided that she would go back to the port when she got old enough to travel on her own, to find the woman and question her further.  But a few days before Lize's tenth birthday, her mam fell from her ropes and was brought screaming to the medcenter, with her arms and legs bent in ways they weren't supposed to.

The medtech checked his records, sighed, put her mam's arms and legs in casts and gave Lize a scrip for a weekly allotment of medicine. Her mam spent the next two years in bed, racked with pain and getting thin and old. Lize sold everything she could, worked the sands and scrounged behind the pub and other houses for whatever leavings were there.

The day after her mam died, Lize, who had begun her monthly bleeding and had shot up to a reasonable height, went to the admin's office, signed a paper that she was of age (even though she was still four years short of sixteen) and became a cliffcrawler harvester.

Now, sitting on the floor in her room, Lize regarded the sparkling didibug pin. She had never dared to wear it, not knowing its worth. She didn't even dare show it to any of the local storekeepers. It was probably just bright metal and glass, but it could be something well-crafted and valuable, and how would they know? And if they did, would they tell her?

It all seemed so long ago. Lize sighed, wrapped the bright pin up again and put it back in its hiding place.

The monthly medcheck usually meant taking off your clothes and, walking slowly through a room where your stats were taken and a small amount of blood pulled from your foot. You then put your clothes back on, got a nod from the tech at the door and left. It was a few minutes out of your free time, but nothing more than that.

This time, however, Lize didn't get the usual nod. As she approached the exit, the stout woman who sat checking the small screen that hung over her right eye gestured to the left. "Third door," she growled. "Wait until you're called."

Lize obediently turned left, counted three doors, and walked in. The room had nothing in it but a bench that ran around the periphery of the room; there were five other workers sitting there, two men and three women. Most were older than Lize and sat with patient stolidity. One woman, however, bit her nails nervously; there was a small tremor in her left foot which she tried to hide with her right. 

There was nothing to do but sit and wait with the others. Lize stared at the wall opposite her, white and stained with the marks of dirty hands and greasy hair, and tried not to be frightened. 

Somebody called her name. She looked up; a young man in a long yellow jacket was staring at her impatiently. "This way," he said, jerking his head to indicate she should follow him.

Lize did, and he led the way into another, smaller room with three chairs and a cabinet. The tech didn't suggest she sit; he simply stared at his paper and said, "Your numbers are hitting the redline. How many cliffcrawler stings have you gotten?"

Lize stared at him. His face reddened slightly. "Okay, sorry. About how many have you gotten in, say, the last three days."

She thought a moment. "Five?"

"Yeah." He made a note. "You been feeling any pain in the joints? Having any trouble seeing? Speaking?"

Lize shook her head. Then, realizing that the tech was still staring at his paper, said, "No."

"Well, it's early days yet."

"What is it?" Lize asked. But her stomach was roiling and her mouth dry; she had a sudden memory of her mam rubbing her elbows with a paste made from the powder they'd bought at the fair.

"Your bloodcount is a little elevated," he said. "It's nothing yet, but we need to monitor your progress from here on in."

"What does it mean?" she asked. He shrugged.

"It's nothing you need to worry about," he said. "If you start to feel pain in your knees, elbows, or neck, even a little, then come back and I'll give you something for it. Or any dizziness or loss of coordination." 

He paused. "And strap yourself in well when you hit the cliffs. We don't want you breaking any bones."

The pub was called, humorously, the Mudhole. It was a former barracks with most of the walls knocked out on its lower floor, and rooms above which could be rented for the hour by those who wanted a little privacy. The place was relatively clean, although the ceiling and windows were glazed with years of smoke and dirt.

Lize and her friends usually sat at a table in the center of the room, far enough from the crowds so that they were not always being bumped by people on their way to or from the bar, but near enough so they could see and be seen. Lize pushed her way through the crowded room, waving at an acquaintance or returning a friendly greeting.

Piara was already there; she had managed to borrow a bright yellow tunic that was just tight enough across her breasts to occasionally distract the attention of the two young men sitting with her. They were miners, nearly indistinguishable in their company-issue coveralls (somewhat worn, but clean and well-mended) and shaved heads.  As she got closer, Lize recognized them as Svinder and Naill, friends who had been part of the pack of kids she ran with before her mam took ill. 

She nodded a greeting and took the chair that her friend had been saving.

"Hey, Lize," Piara said. "You took a long time. Here, I got you a drink"

"Thanks," Lize said. She swallowed a good portion of the glass of ale in front of her and reached for one of the meatsticks that sat in a dish in the center of the table. The men grinned at her and went back to discussing a sports match that they were planning for their afternoon off.

"So what happened?" Piara asked. "It took a lot longer than usual. Is something wrong?"

"Nah," said Lize, and then, because she couldn't bear not to talk about it, added, "Tech said my numbers were elevated."

"What numbers?" asked Piara. 

"Don't know. He didn't say. Just said they were going to watch my numbers and that I should strap in more securely."

"If he's talking about your daily cliffcrawler stats, you'd better let me in on your secret," and Piara laughed. "You been outdoing me for the past month."

Lize suddenly, and unexpectedly, found her friend's high spirits irritating. "It's not funny," she said. "When I was a kid, a lady told me that it was the stings that were making people sick. If so, the medtech should have told me. He should have told me how to stop getting stung."

Her vehemence attracted the attention of the two men. "You wear gloves, don't you?" asked Svinder, the younger of the two. "So that's how you stop getting stung."

"Maybe you just need to be more careful," added Naill. 

Piara grimaced at him. "Don't be an idiot," she said, and turned to Lize. "Look, you don't feel sick, right? So whatever the medtech found is probably some weird tech thing that won't make a difference. You're only sixteen, you're not going to get sick."

Lize stared at the table. "That's not what the lady said, the lady I met at the market fair when I was a kid. She said that there were better ways to stop stings, only the admins didn't want us to be scared of harvesting. She said..."

"And how did your lady know any of this?" Naill said through a mouthful of meatstick. He swallowed. "Could she prove it?

Lize shrugged. "I was only a kid."

Piara laughed again, leaned forward, and gave Lize an affection kiss on the cheek. "You see? The lady was probably just trying to scare you. Don't worry about it."

"After all," said Svinder, "why would the admins lie to us? They need us."

A small didibug, glistening black and red, landed on the table and crawled toward the remains of Lize's meatstick. Lize watched it, wondering who had seen enough hidden beauty in that homely little insect to create her pin. Was it the lady? The laughing girl? Or somebody else, somebody who lived somewhere different and strange?

"Forget it," said Piara. "Let's just have some fun." She grinned at the two boys.

Lize slowly put her hand over the didibug. She felt its wings against the palm of her hand as it struggled to escape the darkness that had suddenly, unexpectedly, imprisoned it. She could, she thought, flatten her hand against the table, and the didibug would never know what had killed it. Or why it had died.

"No," she said suddenly. "No, I won't forget it."

She pulled her hand back and watched the didibug fly away. Then she stood and pushed her chair back. 

"I'm leaving," she said.

"You're just upset about what the medtech said," Piara said. "Don't go."

When Lize ignored her and strode toward the exit, her friend called out, "I'll see you later, Lize." 

Lize didn't respond, to her or to the people who cursed at her as she pushed heedlessly out of the pub. She was suddenly angry -- at her mother, at Piara, at the medtech and the young men, and most of all, at herself. She strode back to her barracks and into her room.

She looked around for a moment, then pulled out her collection bag, turned it inside out so that any stray shell fragments and sand were on the outside, and then started filling it with her few belongings: her work clothes, an extra pair of shoes, some dried meatsticks, her water bottle. She knelt under her bed, pulled out her savings and tucked them into her sash pocket, and then reached for the piece of cloth that hid her didibug pin and put it carefully beside her coins.

She knew that she already owed more to the company than she could ever pay back -- especially when her mother's debts were added on. And when she didn't show up at the cliffs the next morning, odds were that the admins would start looking for her. 

But with any luck, Lize could lose herself in the chaos of the market until she could find some way to get passage off-planet.  Perhaps the booth with the beautiful pins would still be there; if so, Lize would ask the lady if she was still willing to take and teach her. If not, if Lize was too old, there were probably jobs she could get on an outgoing ship. Worse came to worst, she could try to attach herself to a crewmember and get him to smuggle her on board.

Whatever Lize had to do, she would. She would find the answers to her questions: why her mother died, whether she was really sick, and what the cliffcrawlers were really for.

And then she'd do something about it.

Read about this story's background here.

This story originally appeared in Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction.

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Barbara Krasnoff

Writer of weird speculative short stories.