Azia and Oden Nainu looked at their tiny new home.
“Well, it’s not perfect,” Oden said.
“But it’s clean, dry, and insulated,” Azia said.
“We can live here,” their teenaged son Aozo said confidently. “We’ll survive.”
“The grass is cold on my feet,” Prisco, the youngest, complained.
“Well, I think it’s pretty,” their daughter Andromeda declared. “I don’t know why you guys don’t like it.”
Oden and Azia exchanged glances. How did they explain to their daughter about the Slave Lottery?
“We haven’t made enemies of Emperor Domino,” Oden whispered to his wife. “Hopefully we won’t be picked for the lottery, at least for a long time to come.”
Azia nodded, pressed a kiss to her Plant Sim husband’s cheek, and went inside to lay down.
For a while, all seemed quiet. Azia gave birth to another boy, and then almost instantly got pregnant again.
But then Mars showed up.
He came late in the evening, when everyone but Oden and Aozo were asleep.
“Aozo Nainu, congratulations,” Mars said, grinning. “You’re the first to die. Come with me now.”
Aozo threw a panicked look at his dad and hung back.
Mars glared at him. “Now, boy. I’ll drag you if I have to. Keep some dignity and walk.”
“Wait!” Oden said, stepping between Mars and Aozo.
“Out of the way, Pops,” Mars said. “The boy won. There’s no arguing with the Emperor’s laws. We’re already behind schedule because the Sim who originally won… Well, never mind that. The point is, someone needs to die. Now.”
Oden and Aozo exchanged glances, then Oden squared his shoulders and said, “Take me instead.”
Mars rolled his eyes. “What is with you Slaves and your desperation? It’s disgusting. But fine, if you come right now, you can die instead of Aozo.”
“No, Dad!” Aozo shouted.
“I love you, son. Tell your mother I love her, too,” Oden said, seeing truth in Mars’s eyes. If Oden didn’t leave immediately, Oden would lose his son.
“No!” Aozo shouted again, pulling on his dad’s arm. “I was chosen! It’s me that needs to die, not you! I won’t let you do this!”
Mars growled loudly and shoved Aozo away. “I’M KILLING YOUR FATHER; NOW GET OUT OF THE WAY!” he bellowed, clearly having lost all patience.
Azia heard the yelling and ran outside, but by the time she appeared, Mars had already dragged Oden out of sight. Aozo tearfully explained to his mother what happened, and Azia sank to her knees, sobbing.
She shouted curse after curse at Mars, even though he was long gone. Yami Ungi, who was patrolling nearby, heard her and came to see what was the matter.
Neither Azia nor Aozo got much sleep that night. And then the sun rose, exposing Andromeda and Prisco to the harsh reality that their father was gone. Paolo, at the Emperor’s Palace, would return home to find his father gone for good. Azia’s latest child Abaco and her yet-unborn child would grow up never knowing their father.