This story might be too sad. Dedicated to all who during Christmas are lonely, hungry, ill or suffering.
This story starts far away from the paradise of Betelgeuse, in the Old World, on a planet orbiting the binary star Sirius. It is a rich place, with a long-lived powerful economy and one of the first places where humans came, outside the Solar System. The planet benefits from an Earth-like climate with long seasons, illuminated by its blue-white sun. Here, some people live a very rich and happy life, while the others are living in poverty. It is a world of contrasts. In one part, you see luxurious buildings, but not far, people are starving.
On planet Sirius A VI, at 80 km from the rich city of Tyras, there is a rural area. There are a few villages that sustain themselves by agriculture. All the goods they produce, are sold in the city: vegetables, fruits, milk products and meat. Everything looked very good. Except for a few alcoholics, everyone is working in agriculture. Then, other people, also from these villages, take the goods and sell them in the city, in Farmers' Market. Everything worked this way for generations. The elders remember that, when they were children, their grandparents also worked in agriculture. It is a tradition that lasted for over 300 years.
It all worked this way, until came a rich man, with dirty interests. His name does not matter. Everyone calls him Boss. He is the son of a rich senator, who now is in jail for life, for bribery. Well, Boss also wanted to be someone important in the government, but he was much worse then his father. He was offered a chance: go to a remote part o the state or face the same sentence as his dad. So, he went to the city of Tyras, willing to make more money.
Boss came to Tyras as a local governor, willing to make more money, to bribe his way up to power. First, he received bribery from some companies, to allow construction of supermarkets inside the city. Until now, this was forbidden, to protect the local farmers. More even, until then, farmers and merchants were tolerated in all markets. From this point on, state employees started to force them out. Slowly, they could no longer sell their products. Then, supermarkets started to open where former free markets were. Desperate, farmers started to sell their goods on the streets, online or from their villages. Boss decided to stop this form of commerce.
It took only two Earth years until farmers were ruined. They started to sell their land for nothing. More and more of them, started to go to work to the city. Realizing that this is a new source of money, Boss started something even more horrible. He cancelled nearly all trains on the railways, then forced a transport monopoly. He created a bus company, the only one allowed to carry people to Tyras and back. Busses became overcrowded and very expensive, also very rare. People had to wait even five hours. Boss then increased transport taxes, so that nobody would travel without his busses.
Boss started to rule the city. The only thing that matters for him is how much money he can make. As a result, by the time the rural areas were ruined, in the city, some people were extremely rich and the largest part were in poverty.
And here comes the story. A poor girl, named Natalia, was trying to find her way in life. She is about 17. Her dad was a farmer for all his life. He then ran out of business. Unable to pay land fees, he had to sell the land his family owned for generations... then he became an alcoholic... and an aggressive one. Her mother tried to work in the village, taking care of an old woman. But, she could not sustain the whole family and especially her alcoholic husband.
The planet is in the habitable zone, but Sirius is a much brighter star then the Sun. So, its orbit is much further. A local year lasts for about six Earth years. Each season is much longer. Winter lasts for over an Earth year. This is the worst time, mainly if you have no job. Natalia's parents had to sell their cows because they ran out of food. Then, they started to cut down wooden things, when they ran out of wood. Natalia also has two younger brothers, who were at school. But, without much heat in the house and without enough food, both went sick.
To make things worse, Natalia had a grandma that became very sick. Doctors requested 47 thousand SC (Sirius credits) to operate her. Even before the crisis, this was too much. Now, it is impossible. Grandma is struggling between life and death.
Natalia wakes-up in morning. She lies, telling her parents that she will go to school, but she is not going there anyway. Her dad is in a hangover, while her mom has her head wounded. Dad was again aggressive. She does not want to eat, knowing that a few slices of bread are all they have. She jumps out of the house and takes the overcrowded hovering bus. She travels eighty km in 3 hours, standing on her feet, with only little space to breath. It is dark outside and cold. All is covered by ice and snow.
As she arrives, she jumps out of the bus and goes to the supermarket, where only five Earth years ago her mother was selling their own products. She buys some biscuits and a pack of cigarettes, then eats and smokes.
She should go to high school, but she ceased going there. How could she stay there and learn, when her brothers are both sick? Last night, they were coughing and having fever. She is here to make some money, even if her parents don't know. There is a place where she can make money: the subway. There, it is always warm, even if outside it is freezing. There are many small shops at the subway. She helps sellers to carry goods from surface to the shops, to clean-up and to take out the garbage. But not today. Nobody asks her for help. Boss increased the fee for all small shops along the subway. Saying that the shops are selling illegal staff, he wants to take them out. All sellers are very sad of this.
Desperate, she goes out. She starts begging people for some money on the streets, but nobody gives her anything. It is day already. People rush to work, nobody cares about her. Then, she goes back to the subway and enters a metro train. She sings carols in the train. A few people give her some money. This is good, but by far not enough. Too little for what she needs.
Evening comes. She goes back to the street and begs for money. Then, a police officer spots her and takes her to the station.
"Why do you do that?" they ask. "You know it is forbidden".
"I need money, my brothers are sick", she answers.
One officer gives a punch in her head. She starts crying.
"Shut up, bitch! The fee for begging on the streets is 500 SC".
"This is all I have", she says, giving them all she made: 25 SC.
The officer gives her a punch in the abdomen. She falls down, crying of pain. All she ate today are those biscuits. They hit her again, with a boot in the stomach. She does not give them any money. One officer takes her out, by hair, then throws her in the dirty snow.
She has to return. There is only one bus in the evening. So, she goes to a small shop in the subway, to an old woman that knows her very well.
"Camilla, please help me", she says. "I made no money. I need 30 SC to go back home and return tomorrow. It's for the bus".
"My boss will be very angry", says Camilla. I give you, but tomorrow morning, you pay me the money".
Natalia takes the money and goes back to the bus. It is very crowded and the heating system does not work. Freezing air enters through a window that is not closing. Hungry and hurt by the police guys, she would cry... but there is nobody to help.
At home, it is cold, almost freezing. Her brothers are ill. Nobody has money for their medicine. Her dad is drunk again. She gets fast into her cold room, jumping in bed, as she is, dressed. She can hear her mother crying, as her dad is beating her. He curses and screams, while she begs for mercy. He just sold the front fence for alcohol... here goes the wood that could heat their house for two weeks. She puts a pillow on her head and tries to sleep.
Then, she wakes-up. It's the day before Christmas. Maybe she will find something to work today. She takes the bus and goes to the city.
Once she is in the town, she goes to the supermarkets. People are buying goods, over and over: food, presents, Christmas trees, all sort of staff. Someone asks her for help, to load goods in his car. She finds some food, dropped by someone: a frozen pretzel. Not much, but still good for her stomach. It is the first time in her life when she eats junk food. Another customer wants help with a large tree and a lot of cookies, but doesn't pay her anything. She begs for mercy... The first person spits on her. Someone else says: "For alcohol? Go to brothel, bitch!" Another guy says: "If you don't go away, I will call the police". Finally, someone hits her... and she moves away.
She goes back to the subway and starts singing carols. An old woman gives her 20 SC and an old man gives 10 SC. Enough to pay her debt to Camilla. So, she goes to her shop... But there, two officers are shouting to her:
"The fee for selling goods in subway is 1000 SC a day, you did not pay it!"
"What? I don't have that money. Nobody makes that much".
"I don't care, woman! This is the law. You pay now or we will take you to the section".
Officers take her cuffed. Then, they serve themselves for free with anything they want. They also see her. She recognizes them, from last evening.
"It's that bitch", says one. "So, where is the money?"
They give Natalia a punch in her head. She gives them all money she has: 40 SC. Taking the money, one officer hits her with a hard punch in her face. She falls down. People spit her. Someone hits her too. Crying, she manages to stand and moves away.
All day, she hangs around, trying to find something to do. Everyone is happy. Nobody cares about her. She does not make money even for the bus. How can she return? Who can give her 15 SC? She goes back to the street and begs for help. Then, comes a couple. A woman wants to give her 5 SC, but her husband says:
"Stop! You see that wound on her face? She was drunk! That's where your money go! Street rats like this one should go to UV Ceti and be sold as slaves".
"But darling, she is just a kid!"
"No! I will not let you give her anything. Oh, here is a policeman".
He grabs Natalia and brings her to the cop. Dead end. The policeman takes her to the station. Hungry, scared and tired, she cries. She remains in arrest, in a small, cold room. It's freezing. The bus has gone by now. She thinks about her parents. About her mother. In old days, she could bring 50 SC home each day, plus her food. Now, it is a nightmare. She corners herself in the cell, waiting. Then comes one cop. She recognizes him. It's the guy who bitten her and took her money.
"Hi, bitch!" he smiles. "It looks like we are together this night. I am here to watch you, in case you do anything bad".
She looks scared. The officer hits her with a palm on face. Then another one. Then, he gives her a boot in the stomach.
"Come on, sweetie", he says. "Or you want to be sold as a slave in UV Ceti".
She heard about UV Ceti. Who hasn't? Nobody wants to be there. Those pirates, lurking for slaves, go deeper and deeper. They even attacked the empires of Sirius. Anytime they come, they show no mercy to anyone.
"Or, you want to pay your debt now. Two days for begging on the streets, that's 1000 SC".
"I have no money", she scries.
"Oh yes, you do", says the officer, unzipping his pants. "You do have something that is more valuable then this".
"No!" she screams.
"If you make any noise, you will only make it worse. My colleagues are here and they want a piece of you, too".
The officer forces her to undress. He rips some of her clothes, giving her more punches and another boot in the stomach. Then, he rapes her. Natalia cries, shouts of pain, while the officer shows no mercy. It all takes about five minutes. When he is done, he looks. Blood. Natalia was a virgin. He then calls another cop:
"Here you are! Take advantage as she is still hot!"
The new guy rapes her too. Then comes another one, who hits her hard in the stomach again, saying:
"Open wide! And don't bite".
Finally, this cop finishes too, letting her mouth full with his sticky fluid. He gives her a boot in her face, then takes her out and throws her in the snow, with another boot in her mouth.
Natalia is out, in the bitter cold night. She spits blood. She tries to clean the mouth of this horrible taste. Hungry, cold, tired, bitten, she hardly can walk. Near the door, she finds a pack of cigarettes. Little she knows, this pack belonged to Camilla, as she was also bitten here.
Natalia slowly walks on the empty streets. Nobody is here. All her body hurts. She goes to a park surrounded by apartment blocks. She leans on a bench and looks inside. Through one window, she can see people. They are happy and enjoy the Christmas meal. They eat. She can hear carols singing. On another window, she sees a big tree, full with lights. A man comes late in night from the subway, with many boxes. She watches him, as he enters a building and goes to his apartment. There, his wife and his children come and hug him. They are all happy. One of the children opens a box and finds a small guitar. The other one, finds a toy car. Another man comes to the building carrying flowers. She looks through other windows and sees another family. They eat. It is hot in there.
Natalia remembers her family. Dad is probably drunk again, shouting and breaking staff in the house. He sold something else from the house for alcohol. Her brothers are both sick and starving. The youngest had a strong fever. Is he still alive? She sees her mother crying. How cold is in the house? Freezing? She has a bottle with water in her room... and last night, it had some ice inside. How could her brothers heal? And her mom... Did she ate anything today? They have no electricity, since they did not pay the bill.
She needs to do something to survive. So, she corners inside a trash box. She lights one of the cigarettes she found near the police station. At least, this can cheat hunger. She dreams with opened eyes, about the times when everything was well, when her parents were farmers. Dad grew animals and vegetables, mom sold them at the market. Santa used to come every Christmas. One time, he brought her a new dress. Another time, it was a big doll. She remembers the time she was at school. Second in class.
She cries, slowly smoking the cigarette. Then, she falls asleep. But, this is worse then everything. She has a nightmare. Worms and snakes are devouring her body, blowing slimy staff. She screams and wakes-up. She lights another cigarette and relaxes, falling again to sleep. Oh no! Again, she dreams snakes and worms. They all taste and smell like the sperm of those cops.
Waking up again, she cries slowly. She finds some food in the trash and eats it, but all she can feel is the taste of sperm. She lights another cigarette, trying anything to remove the taste. Anything. Everyone is sleeping. It is a silent night. She remembers the song: Silent Night. Christ was born this night, over 3000 years ago.
She walks on the streets, trying to survive the freezing cold. Then, she returns to the bus station. She waits and smokes, crying helpless. Then, luck strikes. She finds 15 SC on the street. Her bus ticket home! Anything, but leave this nightmare place.
When she arrives home, the door is open. So strange! She enters. Just close to the door, she finds her dad, surrounded by bottles of alcohol. He lies in the middle of the room, cold. She checks out, but he is already dead. Too drunk, he fallen on the floor, with the door open. Killed by hypothermia. She continues to the kitchen... but there, her mother is dead too, with foam at the mouth. Frozen. On the table, she can see insecticides. She committed suicide. Natalia hurries to her brothers. She finds one of them dead too, in bed. The other one is paralyzed, crying in bed.
"What happened?" she asks.
"He didn't wake up".
"He will never wake-up".
"Natalia, do you have something to eat?"
She looks around, but nothing. There is nothing to eat in the whole house. She goes out, to look around. There still might be some corn from when they had cows. Maybe she could make some cornmeal. But, when she comes back, she finds her brother on the floor, screaming of pain and with foam at his mouth. He drank the same insecticides his mother did. Too late.
Poor Natalia. What can she do now? With all her family dead, now she needs to sell the house only to get money to burry all four. She sits in the middle of the house and lights a cigarette. It is the first time she smokes here. Like in a dream, she sees the house when they were all happy. Christmas day was so different. They all came together in evening, celebrating. Santa used to come. Then, in morning, it was time for children to make a surprise for their parents. All walls were freshly painted. The whole house was clean. They had animals, they had gardens, trees and vegetables. And now, there is nothing to eat around. Death and starvation.
Her cigarette ends and she lights another one. A cloud of smoke gets out from her hungry body. She slowly smokes, remembering the old days. All until she feels her body losing power. Then, she remembers an old story: The Little Match Girl. Isn't her story the same? No. It is far worse. At least, that girl was not abused. Or was she... and the narrator forgot to tell us.
"I want to die too", whispers Natalia, as she leans on her cold bed.
But, just as she feels asleep, she has again nightmares. Oh no! She wakes-up and goes to a neighbor, to tell someone what is going on. They immediately call the police.
One might think that the story will end like this: Police came and arrested Natalia. She was raped again. Unable to take this any longer, she went suicide.
But, things are not like this. As police comes, they arrest her. Another cop is there, who wants to take over the cop who raped her. He remembers her and says: "If you confess, I will take you out of here". And things go exactly this way. Natalia confesses (and even lies), saying that the cop abused her many times, that her dad went on alcohol because of him, that this cop also abused her mother, that he took a protection tax... until her bothers died because they had no money for food, wood and medicine. The trial takes only a few days, because it is Christmas and the judge wants to return to vacation.
As promised, the cop asks Natalia where does she want to go and she answers short: "Betelgeuse". She realized that she became a sfenist. The cop buys her a one-way ticket, because he knows that if she remains around, she can confess something else. And just as Natalia departs from Sirius, he takes what remained from her house, to build a holiday house... built on the bones of her parents and her brothers.
Natalia arrives at Betelgeuse VII. She starts there a new life, much happier then before, but with deep scars in her soul. She is instantly accepted as a sfenist and finds out that she is not the only one. She gives away her former name and identity and choses the name Nick, getting dressed as a man from now on. Only close friends know who she really was: The Little Girl With Matches of the 31st century.
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