The Bound Workers
by Roberto Sanhueza
We’re not slaves, mind you; the technical term for us is “bound workers.” There’s no such a thing as slavery in this day and age. It’s not as though we aren’t allowed to leave, it’s that... where could we go? Really now, where?
The seven of us are clonic identical twins. We were designed and created to live and work in a low-gravity environment by Kinkdom Inc. Owned? We didn’t say that, not in print anyway, and we live and work for good old KI in the asteroid belt.
We search and mine the belt for water ice asteroids. We find ’em, we go there, claim ’em for good old KI, put the boosters to ’em and send ’em down the gravity well to Jupiter, where a different crew catches them and takes them to the upper-atmosphere floating factories to be processed.
We were designed small so we don’t burn many calories or oxygen, and our morphing includes opposable thumbs in our feet, which comes — no pun intended — handy in low gravity.
We are also neuter, although we have a mostly male-looking appearance. This neuter design is common among isolated workers, guess it avoids lots of troubles.
All in all we live a pretty much contented life. Knowing you can’t live anywhere else kinda makes you appreciate what you’ve got.
We don’t see many people around, either. Our ecology is pretty well designed, and whatever we might need that we can’t synthesize is sent to us from KI.
All that changed when Blanche arrived. She appeared out of nowhere, never showing in any of our detection systems. She just was there in our dome’s outer lock, matching air pressures with her pod.
To say we were startled is to put it very mildly. Not only had she bypassed all our probes but her pod was not intended for the distance she’d had to cover from the nearest human habitation.
We were even more startled when we found out who she was. Blanche was, no more no less, the daughter of old man Kink, founder and owner of Kinkdom Inc.
Everybody working for KI is familiar with the story. Blanche was Kink’s only daughter and heir when he passed away leaving the child in care of Stephanie, Kink’s third and last wife.
Lots of rumors concerning Kink’s death but nothing official. Blanche was to come into possession of her heritage when she came of age at 16; meanwhile the family fortune was administered by a council directed by — you guessed — the stepmother.
As far as we knew in this far corner of KI’s influence, Blanche was coming of age a standard week from the moment when she showed up at our door. Why and how she had managed to cover the distance from the Kink estate in low orbit over Jupiter to our habitat we were about to find out.
Right then we didn’t yet know who was at our door, so we gathered around the lock door grabbing whatever weapon we could find and asked rather hesitantly through the lock’s intercom. “Who... who’s there?”
“It’s Blanche, Blanche Kink. Please let me in!”
What we saw on our screens was a beautiful young woman who did indeed look a lot like who she said she was. So we complied and let her in. The first thing she said — after she said hello — was please not to let her family know she was with us. We complied.
Actually we couldn’t have done otherwise. Obedience to the Kink family is deeply ingrained in our programming (bound workers, remember?)
“My you’re cute little guys. Who are you and what do you do here?”
“We’re miners and we work for you.”
“And do you miners have a name?”
We looked at each other rather puzzled, we had never needed names before.
“You could say our name is DW. DW1 through DW7”
“But that’s a serial number, not a name!”
“We don’t have any other.”
“DW it is then. I’d better tell you guys why I’m here.”
She didn’t really have to, we would have done as she bid anyway, but it was nice of her to do it.
“You probably know, guys, my stepmother holds control of the corporation my late father founded. That is, until I turn sixteen, which is a week from now.
“I guess you also know my stepmother and I don’t get along well, and she knows I’m bound to challenge her power within the corporation. She can’t have me killed, as much as she would love to, because it would be too obvious a move.
“So she’s trying for a much more subtle approach. I don’t know how she did it but she managed to have a virus put into my sensorial implants and the damned nano-machines are replicating like crazy within me.
“Soon she’ll have control over every action I take. She doesn’t have to kill me if she can control my vote in the stockholders’ meetings.
“This where Prinz comes in. Prinz is the son of Charles Reign, head of the Reign corporation, which works in Saturn orbit.
“I met Prinz in the virtual chat rooms during my lonely days at Kink headquarters. We became friends first and, later, lovers.”
Here she blushed prettily.
“That is, virtual lovers, of course since he is in Saturn orbit and I am in Jupiter orbit. We haven’t met in person yet.
“Prinz has been a great comfort in this my dire hour and he gave a good piece of advice.
“He told me to hide from my stepmother and go in deep freeze hibernation to keep the virus from spreading further. Meanwhile he has all resources from Reign, which are considerable, working in a password which will nullify the virus.
“He promised to find me and wake me up, and we will face stepmother together, and maybe we can eventually merge Kink and Reign together some day.”
Here she blushed again.
“And that is my story, gentle miners, will you not offer me sanctuary within your habitat to hide from my mean stepmother?
“I managed to get a deep freeze unit in my life-saving pod when I escaped from the family cruiser as we went through the belt. I know my stepmother will search for me and will eventually find me. My hope is Prinz finds me first.”
She fell quiet.
Needless to say we helped her. We would have helped her even if we hadn’t been bonded. She was so lovely and seemed so helpless.
We settled for a new routine. Every standard morning we went to work as usual, and every evening we jacked into Blanche’s subconscious brain output and shared her dream world while she lay in her hibernation urn.
We learned about a life we never had dreamed could exist. Far from mining and low-gee.
Blanche had even been to Earth, wonderful half mythical Earth. In her dreams we were there, too.
Every now and then we could detect in our screens the search going on for her. The searchers never stopped by our humble habitat.
This went on for a long time but sweet things don’t last forever.
One standard day Prinz showed up in our habitat.
We let him in, of course; we had promised Blanche after all.
He approached her sleeping place and knelt by her. Through the transparent cover he could see her lovely, pale face with the quiet stillness of the freeze-sleepers.
“Blanche,” he said as a silent tear rolled down his face. “You are even more beautiful than I dreamed. Sleep no more, my love. Here I have the password which will stop the cursed virus and you will rise and together we shall face any evil.”
As he turned to the keyboard to input the password code we came from behind and smashed his head. We are not bound to the Reign corporation, you understand.
Today we live the most wonderful life ever. We do our job, careful not to attract attention from over- or underworking; we keep our quota.
At night we jack in and live the vicarious life of dreamers.
We now it won’t last forever. Most probably Prinz, if he wasn’t stupid, has a memory backup recorded somewhere, as well as tissue samples. He’s bound to come knocking at our door again, more carefully this time we suppose.
Either that or Stepmother finally figures out where her runaway stepdaughter is hiding.
But we don’t care. They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We rather feel it is true.
While it lasts, we live a most wonderful life.
Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author