Jupiter pulled on her wrist, dragging her behind the shed. It was right after evening prayer, and the sky was turning bright orange and deep purple. He kissed her like he had seen his parents do, putting his tongue in her mouth, wiggling it around. She backed away from him, giggling.
â€œCan I do it?â€ he said, holding out his hands, palms up in front of her.
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ she said.
â€œPlease Katie? Donâ€™t you like me?â€
â€œI like you.â€ Katie pulled his hands down onto her tiny breasts and he massaged them though her wool dress. It felt warm when he touched her like that; so different from when she touched herself.
Jupiter smelled like boy sweat and river water. He fumbled with the buttons at her waist. She let him unbutton her, and he slid his hands up on her slender ribs, on her small breasts. His fingers found her nipples, and he pressed her against the shed, grinding his hips on her thigh. He squeezed her nipples tight between his fingers, and she clenched her teeth, letting out a sharp whistle of breath. Jupiter mistook this for encouragement, and he twisted them, hard, and she cried out. Just a little, but she cried out, and then Jupiterâ€™s uncle came running round the corner with a lantern.
Jupiter got six lashes, but they were going to exile her. They didnâ€™t need girls around that would tempt good boys to the devil. They lashed Jupiter outside of the courthouse, in front of the terrible small cell where they put her. As they lashed him, the people in the village came by to throw rotting fruit at her between the bars, and call her horrible names. Her brother came by and called her a slut and spat on her. Her mother and father watched her from far away. Her aunt came by and said that her parents were happy, because now the village would let them have another child, one that wasnâ€™t a slut and a whore and one that would be a god fearing child who would be with them when they all went to heaven.
At night, the guards came by with knives, and they showed her what would happen to her after exile. They would shoot her up into the blue sky, past the blue out into the black, and then the metal men would take her out of the pod, and she would be their whore. They showed her what they would do, thrusting with the knives into the air. The robots were made of knives, they said, and they would cut her from the inside out. Thatâ€™s what they did with girls.
Once, someone had been exiled who had been possessed by evil spirits. When they sent the pod up in the air, it burst into flames partway up, exploding like fireworks, bits of plastic and flesh raining down from the sky. Katie prayed all night that she would explode, that God would hear her, even though she was a whore, and that he would kill her rather than let her die with the robot men.
In the morning, the same men took her out of the prison and bundled her into the pod. As they closed the door, Katie saw her mother in the crowd, crying. They had always held each other when they were feeling low, and Katie wanted nothing else than to have her head in her mothers lap, her mothers fingers in her hair. Katie cried out for her mother, and the door sealed shut.
The pod rocked so hard that Katie threw up and knocked her head against the cushioned sides. The pod was so small, she couldnâ€™t move inside it, and the sides became terribly hot, and then suddenly so cold that frost formed on the inside walls.
Then, after a long time, the pod stopped. There was a hiss and then the door to the pod slowly swung open. Kneeling on the other side of the pod was a bald woman in what look liked tight blue underclothes. The woman reached out to Katie.
â€œItâ€™s alright.â€ said the woman. â€œNo one here is going to hurt you.â€
Katie cringed. â€œAre you a robot?â€ she asked, her fingers pressing into her thin arms.
â€œThatâ€™s complicated sweetheart. Iâ€™ve got a cybernetic net over my brain and there are a few cameras in my body, but Iâ€™m mostly meat, so no, Iâ€™m not a robot.â€
â€œAre the men out there robots?â€
â€œNo robot men on this ship little one, though there are robots in the universe, but they arenâ€™t likely to hurt you.â€
Katie shivered. The bald woman sat back on her haunches.
â€œThirty-eight years ago the people on our planet launched me into space, just like you were launched. They though they were sending me to slave traders, because that is what their grandparents did. But things have changed here in space, and slave trade is outlawed in this sector. I set up an organization to collect the girls, and itâ€™s mostly girls, that our people exile. Iâ€™ve been doing this for a long time, and I have to tell you, there are bigger things than on that planet down there, and some of them are wonderful and some of them are scary, but not one person coming off our home world hasnâ€™t been able to handle it. You canâ€™t go back, and you canâ€™t stay in the pod. Why donâ€™t you come out and we can get you something to eat.â€ The bald woman held out her arms, palms upward.
Katie reached her hands out of the pod. â€œIâ€™m Katie.â€