Miri was raised in the royal household at the Palace on Legallis, where her grandfather, father and brother led the Borali Alliance. Whereas her brother, Xalivar, was groomed for leadership, Miri was allowed to engage in more enjoyable pursuits and used her time to educate herself and learn to think freely and outside of the box of her family. However, the one thing she never did was find a suitable mate. Having the men in her life so over shadow any potential mates was certainly part of the problem. She also never had the children she so longed for.
Then, one day, a baby arrived at the Palace in a pod which crashed. A note and necklace were with him, and soon, Miri had adopted him and raised him as her own. To cover the farce, she went on a long trip, spending the first few months of Davi’s life far away and out of view of her brother and family. When she returned, they accepted the boy as a suitable distraction for Miri—something to keep her out of the power business and distracted. But then Xalivar came to enjoy Davi so much, he began to think of him as heir. And he helped raise him as his own. The sole opportunity to see any softness in her brother was when Miri watched him with her son.
When Davi grew up and discovered the truth about his heritage, Miri feared losing him. She just wanted to protect them both. But Davi persisted and Xalivar showed his true colors, so now Miri finds herself exiled to ordinary citizenry, adjusting to a life she never anticipated and yet more driven than ever to question authority and push for justice. In The Returning, while settling in to ordinary life, she nonetheless finds herself in demand as a speaker at various functions. This brings her both support and derision from the various sides as controversy continues to rise over the status of the Vertullians as citizens vs. slaves. Then several tragic events convince her: there can never be justice until the Vertullians are free of the Boralian suppression and she joins their side in protests that bode great changes for everyone.
The invitation had been Danae’s idea, an attempt by the new lady of the Palace to ease the growing uselessness her predecessor felt in her new lesser role, Miri assumed. The gesture was appreciated, but coming so close after the incident at her brunch, Miri couldn’t help feeling restless, even a little trepidation about what might occur.
“You’ll do fine,” Danae said with a reassuring smile and a gentle nudge to Miri’s right shoulder. “To them, you’re still a princess.”
Miri’s smile never wavered as she sat next to Danae on the dais awaiting introductions. “I hope their reaction isn’t like those of our circle.” She fidgeted in the hardbacked chair, trying to get comfortable.
Danae’s eyes darkened. “Of course not. These people don’t have bias acquired from years of special privilege. These are the everyday citizens, the kind who can most relate to the Vertullians’ plight.”
As his peer finished the announcements and vacated the podium, their host stepped to the mic, smiling as he panned the room with delight. “So many good people here today—people who are the heart and soul of this Alliance. The work you do keeps the Alliance strong; keeps it moving. Gods know you don’t get recognized for it enough, but today, this Commission celebrates you for it. Just as we celebrate all the little people who matter a lot everywhere in this Alliance. Our next guest knows the value of those people as much as anyone. Her own adopted son is a fine example of a person rising above his station to great heights, disproving the assumptions that genetics determine one’s fate, perhaps.”
With that, he glanced over to Miri and Danae and smiled. Miri held her smile firm, nodding, as he gave a slight bow before continuing. She knew he’d meant it as a compliment but still felt, as any mother might, that he’d stated it in a way that cut Davi down. She hoped her own words could rectify that.
“The daughter of a once mighty dynasty of great leaders, High Lord Councilors, Lords all, Miri Rhii has lived a life of service to others, making many sacrifices. Every time we needed her strength, she never failed us, including during our most recent difficulties, a time of great change. Miri Rhii has always been there for us, loving us as her people, her extended family perhaps. And she’s here today to tell us more about some who are new among us but have now joined the family. Let’s welcome Princess Miri!” He turned, applauding as the attendees joined him from tables placed around the room. It was a modest-sized ballroom and modestly appointed, appropriate to the status of those present, except perhaps Danae and Miri herself.
With a nod from Danae, who joined the applause, Miri stood, smoothing her dress and stepping forward to take her place at the podium. Those present seemed delighted to see her, their faces filled with anticipation. Most even offered warm smiles. As the applause faded, she surveyed the room, smiling at the mostly adoring faces. A few toward the back looked bored, as expected, but the warmth of the reception thrilled her after her experience the previous week. She closed her eyes, took a breath and began.
“Good afternoon, my friends. It’s so good to be here with you today and share with you about some new friends who are now part of us. We all know the history, the years of animosity and fighting between our peoples. I think I speak for generations of mothers when I express my joy and relief that those days are finally behind us for good.”
She paused as new applause broke out around her from most of the tables. The bored onlookers toward the back remained indifferent.
“You’re no strangers to hard work, like our new friends. They too have worked hard for generations.”
Then it happened. A deep voice from the shadows in a back corner rose: “Not hard enough, and not long enough, I’d say.”
Pain stabbed at her insides like a knife and Miri struggled to maintain her composure as her eyes sought the source of the voice. “Why do you say that, my friend? Are not all humans worthy of appreciating benefits from their labor, including times of rest?”
“All they do is rest these days,” the taunter said, stepping forward, “while we do all the work!” His hair was graying at his temples, but his body had a muscular form. He was obviously a man used to hard work, not far from Miri’s own age. His eyes and wrinkles added depth to his countenance. And he spoke with an authority and confidence, as if no one could dare disagree.
“We are all doing our part, my friend,” Miri answered, averting her eyes from his hateful glare.
“Since when are we friends?” he snapped.
She ignored him and continued: “They share our labor, work alongside us as equals, with the same demanded of them.”
“In appearance it would seem,” the man said, “but how long ‘til it changes? We’ve seen the beginnings of it now.” Grumbles of agreement came from the tables around him.
Miri breathed deeply and glanced to Danae for reassurance but saw her friend was at a loss.
“They’re already starting to get priority, the best assignments, favoritism clearly!”
This time some of the grumbles were decipherable: “That’s right!” “You tell her!” “Send them back where they belong!” Miri stepped back from the podium as her host and Danae rushed to her side.
“Please, we are not here for negativity,” the host said, leaning to the microphone. “This is a time to recognize our common achievements.”
“Achievements like betraying our people? Let our speaker speak to that. She’s an expert!” The taunter raised a fist in triumph as several others jumped to their feet around him, applauding.
“I did no such thing. I only wanted the best for us all,” Miri mumbled, her voice cracking, the microphone barely picking it up. She felt small all of a sudden, a tightness in her chest making it harder to breathe.
“They are not like us,” a woman near the front shouted. “You are kind hearted, because of your son, Princess. But it can be exploited. And those tricksters are masters of exploiting us!”
“Yes!” Several shouted at various points around the room.
Miri stepped back in a daze as the host looked panicked. Clearly the room was out of control, and he had no idea how to respond to it.
“The people supported this,” Danae shouted over them, stepping to the podium. “Your Council acceded to your demand to end the slavery, to make peace.”
“There can be no peace with their kind!” A well-dressed young man raised his fist in solidarity with the taunter at a table in the middle of the room. Fists rose into the air around him.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.