Uncle Shahtsi was a bit character in my science fiction comedy of bad manners, SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING. He’s the uncle of one of the main characters, a native of the planet Marner. The people there are covered in fur and have slight muzzles, more pronounced than human faces, but not as pronounced as cats’. They have hands with opposable thumbs and retractable claws.
Shahtsi has a jewelry store, and sells touristy kitsch on a table outside the shop. He was in one scene in SIDESHOW, but he kept talking to me until I gave him his own story. This was published in an online magazine that has since folded, and I reprinted it in my collection of science fiction short stories, OTHER EARTH, OTHER STARS.
Uncle Shahtsi Gets Involved
excerpt from “The Woman Who Wasn’t A Shave-Tail”
by Marian Allen
I was standing here, right in this very spot, when this bare-necked beggar, not old but not a kit, came up. He was yellow-orange–they’re never anything but trouble–and obviously out of place in the big city. You know how these yokels are…well, I guess you don’t, you being an off-worlder. They’re either rough-looking or over-groomed; some of them use pomade to get that fur just so, you know? This fella was a little on the shaggy side. Nothing on–not a chestpack, not a purse-belt, nothing. Oh–he had a burlap pocket fastened to his fur with a couple of pinch-clips; it was up under his arm, where the hicks like to tuck them. Those evil city-slickers can’t steal your alfalfa money if you clip it right up there under your arm, right?
“Go on, get out of here,” I said. “You’re blocking the table.”
He looked around, but nobody was interested in jewelry and holy trinkets; this stuff I put outside usually grabs tourists, but this was off-season. He pulled out his pink slip–his status papers–to show me he was freehold–like I couldn’t tell from his neck: no collar, you know?–as of the Release.
See, at the Release–comes every seven years–all slaves are freed. All slave records automatically roll over to freehold at the Central Registry.
–You’re doing that face: that “slavery is evil” face you Terrans make. Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude, but it gets my back hairs up. Look at this–look at how they’re standing on end back there. I hate that.
Our slaves get a signing fee–sometimes pretty hefty–in place of a salary. They have a union. No kidnapping allowed, like you people used to do. –Okay, okay, it was before your time. No offense meant, none taken, I hope.– Every seven years, they’re all freed and either sign up again or don’t.
“So you’re free,” I said to the beggar. “Congratulations.”
“I need a place to spend the night, and some food.”
“Why tell me? Look–” I pointed across the street. “There’s a man with a brazier. Smell that spiced meat? He sells that to hungry people. And look over there–There’s a sign in that window, ‘Rooms to Let’.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Is that my problem?”
“Help me. Please.” He held out his palms, like this, with the fingers spread. That’s like a kit wanting to be picked up, it’s that kind of asking. He was telling me he wasn’t a man compared to me, that his universe revolved around me.
His palms were calloused but not cracked. He had done plenty of hard work on a long-term basis; had kept his pads medicated until they toughened up, a sure sign of a good worker. So what was he doing in the city, asking me for a handout?
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A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: What would persuade — not force or coerce, but persuade — your character to do something against their better judgement and strongest impulse?
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