She paced the streets, troubled, restless. Child safely indoors, blissfully unaware of the world outside.
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Omega was filled with the kind of dread which told her things were about to get a lot, lot worse. As if on cue, a car appeared beside her. She glanced at the image on its side; Guardsmen. Recruited from the Inner Zones, deployed to keep down trouble in the Outer. A Guardsman’s ethics could be judged by his – they were almost uniformly male – distance from home; the further one travelled outward, the worse society became, and the Guardsmen more likely to be involved.
She felt a chill as she examined her surroundings, taking in for the first time the dilapidated houses, the rubbish littering the streets. The only light came from a clock beaming down on her. She risked a glance into the car; only one Guardsman in the front, a few unidentifiable others in the back. The Guardsman got out of the car and looked her up and down.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Just taking a walk.”
“It’s past curfew.”
She glanced at the clock. He was right; 7:15. “I’m sorry, it won’t -”
“Do you know the punishment for breaking curfew?”
She did. In theory it was anything from a week to a year in Exile. In practice a Guardsman could get away with most things in the course of his duties, and many would offer their own form of punishment rather than go the official route. Some took the offer.
Still, she had to keep him talking. “I have never needed to.”
He smiled. “You've got two options. Either I hand you over to my bosses and let them decide how long to send you into that god-awful pit outside. Or you come with me. Live and work on a site I own for two months, basic food and accommodation. Then you leave.”
“You want Exile? I can get you sent out for as long as I want. This is the lesser of two evils.”
“Exile or slavery?”
“Your choice. Make it on the way.” He grabbed her and walked her back to the vehicle. She could see them more clearly now. A young couple, obviously scared, comforting one another. A middle aged man keeping a stern expression. And, crouched on the floor, two children, no more than eight or nine years of age. One of them was crying.
She turned to him. “Children?”
“The law is for all, eight or eighty.”
“And they’re coming to work for you?”
“It’s more humane. They would never survive outside.”
“So you make them your slaves instead?”
“Believe me, it’s a kindness.”
“You son of a bitch.” Without warning she struck him in the face, once, twice, drawing blood. The Guardsman snarled and punch her hard, knocking the wind out of her, and reached for his knife. She kicked it out of his hand and punched him once more. As he lunged at her she fell back, grabbed the knife and in one movement swung it upwards.
Piercing the Guardsman’s throat.
With a strange gurgling sound the Guardsman collapsed forwards, falling to the ground amid a growing pool of blood. Omega shouted at the people in the car to get away before turning to make her own escape, vanishing into the night.