“Like They Always Been Free” by Georgina Li from Like They Always Been Free (Queer Young Cowboys, 2014).

The titular story of the collection, this entry could not come at a better time, immediately after the unrelenting harshness of life in the midst of civil war. Here we’re on another planet, and while things have certainly been tough for the main character, Kinger, it’s a fight he has a hope of winning. He fought back at his oppressors while on a slave transport ship, killed a guard, and won a small victory. In that moment, too, he had a very brief interaction with a character he thinks of afterward as Boy.

The memory of Boy haunts Kinger during subsequent years, while he’s hiding in the Underground. He feels sure that Boy’s beauty, most notably his luminescent blue skin, has kept him from the hard life of mining that the other slaves were facing. Not that it means he got away easy; the sort of slavery Boy no doubt was headed to is one Kinger’s had a taste of, at the hands of cruel guards.

I really didn’t expect a happy ending to this story, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it has one.