Andra watched Simmo, the gang leader, heave himself up onto the top of a rubbish pile. Silhouetted by the morning sun, the gang leader cast a broad shadow over Andra and George. Simmo was the only person Andra knew on the Heap who wasn't skinny. She guessed he was about her age – whatever that was – but he must have been at least double her weight.
"Stay close," Andra whispered, urgently as six other kids flanked their leader.
Simmon ran a gang that extracted food from scroungers on the Heap in exchange for what he called "security." The people he stole from called it "extortion;" but never to his pierced face. Andra noticed a new collection of paperclips decorating his ear lobes today.
"We is a family," Simmo said, looking at George. "Thaz what you want, ain' it Grunge?"
"Pay no notice," said Andra, then turning to confront Simmo. "We're just passin' thru. We don' want no trouble."
"Ya stepped right in it," called one of the boys, wearing a shredded baseball cap with a picture of a blue bird on it. Andra had never seen such a creature. The only birds on the Heap were the pestering seagulls that people tried to capture for roast dinner and the vultures that feasted on people when they died.
"Iz real simple," said Simmo. "Ya either join us, or yer tresspassin', like."
"It's everyone's Heap!" cried George. "We get up early, comb it same as every--"
Simmo pointed at Andra's new bracelet, stopping George in mid-sentence. "Shiny," said Simmo. "I wannit."
Andra stroked the bracelet with her finger. It was smooth and cool, but most importantly...it was hers.
"You got somethin' to trade?" she asked.
"I'll let you two walk away," Simmo snarled.
"We're doin' that anyways," answered Andra.
Simmo grabbed for the gasket, but Andra slapped her right hand over Simmo's and pulled back her left hand. She stepped backwards and slid her hand out of the gasket. Simmo lost his footing and grunted as the full freight of his bulk slammed into the moist rubbish by her feet.
Andra scooped down, snatched back the gasket and placed it back on her wrist.
"It was a gift," she said. "C'mon George."
Andra pulled George down the slope, away from the fresh rubbish but hopefully to the safety of another gang's turf.
"Wait, don' go that way!" called Simmo from behind them. His followers scurried to his aid, but Andra didn't know if any of them were going to chase them.
"This way," she ordered. "We can hide—"
She slammed into a man.
But he was a man in form only. Covered in black leather, his face obscured by a mirrored visor, and breathing through an air tank strapped to his back, this was a man feared by everyone on the Heap.
Andra turned to run, but the man's black glove snatched her matted hair. She punched and kicked, but she was stuck.
She saw George's legs rise into the air, his body restrained by another uniformed military man.
"He's got me," George gasped.
Andra's captor pulled her close and slipped an electric binding cuff on her right arm, twisted it around her back and closed the loop. "Me too," she said.
"By the authority of the Raj," her captor announced in a monotone, metallic voice. "I hereby remand you into custody of the Galactic Navy."
"No pleez, don't" Andra protested.
The second man, who'd applied his electric blue cuffs to George's hands and slung him over his shoulder, reminded Andra they didn't have a choice. "We're pressing you into service for Raj, for planet, and for survival."
Andra looked at George, flung upside down, and knew she'd failed at the one thing she'd set out to do. All she wanted was to protect him, but now they were being shipped off to the Front.
And no one, not nobody, ever came back.
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Star PressedScience Fiction
When orphaned siblings Andra and Grunge are abducted from the landfill site they call home, they are pressed into service on the HMS Ghandi with three teenage aliens where they form a surrogate family in an unfair universe. PARTY OF FIVE meets GUAR...