Okay, so this one is kind of a big deal to me. I’ve been working on a longer story (maybe a novel??) since the middle of the summer, and I’m (at the time of this writing) 6,491 words into it. I am doing some editing for an audio project (which will be next week’s post), so I have told myself that surely there is no time for a new short story. But haha who am I kidding I have just been napping and playing video games after work cuz I am a grown-ass man and can do what I wanna do.
Here’s the first chapter of a story that is tentatively titled Adventure Princess. It’s all-ages appropriate, but it is especially for you if you dig princesses, adventure, teens, and fantasy.
The wind rushes past me and whips the hair onto my face, off of my face, back onto my face. Head over heels, I’m tumbling. The earth, the clouds, rapidly switching places. I’m falling out of the sky, away from my home and towards the black-green carpet below that I’m quickly realizing is a vast forest. Certainly vaster (Vaster? More vast? It’s big, okay.) than the flying island-city above me, which is rapidly shrinking. That city… I grew up there. I was going to lead it someday. Now, I’m going hit those trees and shred my dumb body into a gazillion bits. If I believed in The Great Beyond, I might take comfort in knowing that geniuses and political leaders get to help run the Bureau of Eternal Souls, but I don’t so I can’t. Oh well.
Oh! This is all probably a bit confusing. I haven’t even provided any context! Plus there’s the logistics, the technical bits. Like, who am I talking to, how am I relating all of this while falling to my certain death, et cetera? It’s a story. Chill out. Look, let’s ease you into this whole narrative thing. Hello! I’m Constance. I come from a flying city in the clouds called Gallarius, where everything is made of technology. It’s an absolute pleasure to meet you! There. With the pleasantries taken care of, we can take it back to where this all began, a few weeks ago, with some Bad Things…
I awoke one morning, exactly one week after the end of school and the administration of my final aptitude test, with a slight headache. Test results could finally be picked up today. It had been difficult to sleep the night before, with the anticipation and all, so I downed a bitter sleeping potion. That stuff’ll dehydrate you. Therefore, headache. The pneumatic tube (we’ve got a system of tubes for delivering letters and doodads) beside my rest chamber (basically an enclosed bed to keep out sunlight and noise) had a capsule in it, and the capsule had an envelope in it. I recognized the handwriting on the front as belonging to Francine, a friend from school. She usually goes by Frankie, which is fine, but I’ve never been one for nicknames, so she’s always been Francine to me. We came up through school together, though our families occupied entirely different social spheres. Though we got along just fine, it was simply a matter of academic inclination that drove us together.
In Gallarius, we specialize. The government determines the aptitude and desire of our citizens and puts them to work for the benefit of us all. It’s a pretty cool system designed to ensure that us Gallarians are happy and productive members of a functional society. Some of us, however, are apt at many things. Being good at lots of stuff makes one suited particularly well to, for example, leadership. Those special few are selected for advanced instruction, which eventually whittles down to an even selecter few (Yes “selecter”, creative wordsmithery is a valued skill so how bout you shut up) who are carefully trained, monitored, and tested. Literacy, problem-solving, maths, wit, manual dexterity. That sort of stuff.
I reached into the tube, removed the capsule, and opened the envelope. Francine’s letter was brief.
Good morning Constance!
Let’s go fetch our aptitude test results together, then we can hopefully celebrate downtown after!
I had nothing against Frankie, but the thought of heading downtown was not so appealing. I liked to exercise, to study, to talk with others, but crowds and strangers held significantly less appeal. I could hold my own in most conversations; that wasn’t the issue. It’s just that I feel a bit paranoid and claustrophobic on a bustling street, and the schedule for the other schools meant that every student in Gallarius would be receiving their test results today. So, strangers from other schools mixed with the familiar faces from ours. I’m not exactly anti-social, but our school was an advanced training facility for the deeply intelligent and highly motivated. Many of my fellow prodigies had personality traits that I found to be… exhausting. Plus, the presumption that we’re likely to have anything to celebrate was foolish at best. Regardless, I dressed quickly and headed out to meet Francine.
Francine and I usually met at the same place and time when we were heading to school: One hour past dawn, near a memorial to one of the Founders. Lynn Sylla was on the first Ruling Council of Gallarius, and it was at Sylla’s insistence and with Sylla’s support that those early Gallarian engineers were able to make Gallarius fly. A hero of Francine’s, but a boring politician to me. I arrived at the memorial on time and waited. Francine wasn’t there, which was a bit odd. She had to take the tram up from the metalworking district, where her family of smiths and smelters lived, so maybe it was running a bit late today? I situated myself in the park surrounding the memorial sculpture in such a way that I could see the tram station where Francine would be getting off, just a few streets over. Several trams came and went, but no Francine. It could be that she went ahead without me I thought, but that wasn’t particularly likely. Whatever the hold up, I couldn’t stand to wait around. I pulled out a pen and paper, wrote a note to Francine (Couldn’t wait for you anymore, sorry!), stuffed it in an envelope, addressed it to her personal tube, and stuffed it into the public capsule transport nearby. It’d go to the processing facility to be sorted and transferred, so there’d be a bit of a delay before Francine received it, but I was get antsy about the test results. I turned down the wide avenue leading up to The Academy.
The Academy (yes, that’s the full name) was a vast campus, which could expected with a student body that required as much intense schooling as we did. This was the top school in Gallarius. The instructors at the school had all attended it at one point, then gone on to careers as politicians or scientists or advanced engineers or adventurers, retiring into teacherdom when The Academy required it. Though everyone in Gallarius was considered precious and essential, the infrastructure that allowed such preciousness would collapse if not for the alumni of The Academy. Every single graduate of The Academy received their specialized job assignment based on two primary factors: The student’s ability and Gallarius’s need. I’m not sure exactly how it worked at the other schools, but it seemed likely to not be much different. Everyone in Gallarius attended school together from age five to age fourteen, getting divided after that into more specialized schools.
I’d spent a lot of time at The Academy. Six hours a day, six days a week, for the last two years. Until last week’s comprehensive testing finished, anyhow. It was the longest I’d been away. I was back after this brief hiatus, possibly for the last time, to learn the future of my education and career. The line to pick up results was long, as there was a whole thing about confirming identities, then the assignments would be handed over only behind closed doors. It wasn’t that the assignment was a secret, but rather to quell any jealousy or bitterness towards students who landed the highly coveted positions. The thing was run by a numbered ticketing system, some complex mathy thing that ensured nobody would wait for much longer or shorter than anybody else. After about thirty minutes sitting around, enjoying the delightful weather and trying to avoid making small talk in the main athletic courtyard, my number was called. I headed into an office with a skinny, bearded man who had taught me calculus.
Fate time. Peak anxiety achieved.
I’d been hoping for the assignment “Adventurer”. Those folks get to go to the surface to collect specimens for study. They fight monsters, climb mountains, dive into oceans, and pilot our most advanced vehicles. The Volatile Environment Exploration Guild (VEE Guild or V-Guild or VG for short, depending on what sort of a hurry you’re in when you’re saying it) didn’t have the most evocative name, but they had far-and-away the best jobs by my reckoning. The public could view the wonders that V-Guild retrieved from the surface, but I longed to explore that mysterious world below us with my own eyes/ears/hands, and the only way I’d get a chance would be if I were deemed fit for adventure.
My score was “Regent”.
Such a ranking essentially made me heir apparent to the Technocratic Republic of Gallarius. The heir apparent stuff, it’s not how you might think! Gallarius really is a republic! I’m not inheriting it because my parents are head of the Ruling Council (even though they are…); I’m inheriting it because I’ve been trained from a young age to be the best possible leader. I’d spend the next four years being trained to lead the Ruling Council alongside two other Regents. One of my parents, or perhaps the other Regent, would retire. Maybe more than one of them. I had no clue if there were other students who’d been assigned regency today. I determined soon after, under unfavorable circumstances, that it had only been me.
I was disappointed (a bit of inconsolable weeping before bed that night), but it wasn’t terrible. I mean, the Ruling Council never went on expeditions, but that could be changed, right? Being named Regent meant that, upon my twentieth birthday, I would be one of three leaders of the Ruling Council, responsible for… well, everything. I won’t bore you with a detailed breakdown of our political structure, but let’s just say that I was basically named Sky Princess of TechnoCity and that it looked like nepotism. This made some of the folks whose aptitude tests had come back “Laborer” or “Artisan’s Assistant” feel like their leadership had become corrupted. I can see where they’re coming from. When you build a society around scientific advancement and imaginative engineering, everyone is trained to see glitches, to hammer out parts that aren’t working. Suddenly, my family and I looked like broken parts of the political machine. Oops.
I awoke the morning after test results day to a rebellion. The workers had banded together to overthrow Gallarian leadership in the wake of my assignment, which had hit the morning newspapers. This tension had been brewing for a while, though. I deduced that the laborers must have been prepared for the possibility of my being named Regent. It was no secret that the progeny of two current Regents was attending The Academy. I figured this was why Francine hadn’t shown up yesterday. Could be that her family was involved with the rebellion, or maybe they just knew about it and anticipated violence. They were wrong about the violence, if they’d expected it. Angry and loud, sure, but not terribly violent, as far as rebellions go. I still managed to land myself in a jail cell by midday. My parents went quietly right away, but wisdom comes with age, so I did the sixteen-year-old thing to do and kicked a rebel dude in the nuts. I’m not gonna lie, I felt like a supreme badass that I got put in solitary with extra guards.
Then, I got to doing what one does in a lonely jail cell. I thought. I thought and thought and thought, coming to many worrying conclusions. The rebels would likely remove my parents from leadership. They’d rescind my job assignment. Our supporters would likely be jailed. These newly-jailed supporters would likely be other members of the Ruling Council, whose presence would be required for either doing their respective jobs or training their replacements. They’d never cooperate with the rebels who deposed my parents. Nobody would be there to fill those important roles in the Ruling Council except members of the rebellion who would have no clue what they’re doing. With the political structure in such upheaval, public utilities would not be getting the attention they need. Transportation, electricity, plumbing, information services, sanitation. These basic needs would not be administrated during a large-scale shift in governmental power. Not something a bunch of laborers would be worried about. Why would they be? It was never their burden to run the Gallarian government. Just as the Ruling Council would be lost repairing an electrical engine or working iron, the rebels would be lost running a complex bureaucracy. I would need to speak to the rebel leader about this as soon as possible.
One night, when my guards brought a meal, I told them briefly of my concerns and pleaded for an audience with their leader. The guards (who were armed, an oddity in Gallarius) muttered to one another in low enough voices to keep me from hearing. Then, they left the room and told me to follow, without even looking back. I did. The guards led me up a flight up stairs, to a balcony at the top of the tower, the highest place in this part of the city. Very dramatic venue for a meeting, I thought. The guards closed the double-doors behind them with a loud SLAM! and left me there alone. I gathered my thoughts as a worrying number of minutes passed.
After a long wait, the leader came through the doors and onto the balcony. He had a sinister look about him. He was wearing a dark coat, closed up the front by hidden clasps. The coat was long enough to reach his knees, the sides and back slit up to his lower back. Combined with the wind, it gave him an appearance not unlike a squid wriggling its tentacles wildly. Still, sinister. He was totally pulling off a sinister squid look. The pants matched the coat and ended in almost knee-high work boots, the kind typically worn by foundry workers in Gallarius’s industrial district. The boots were immaculate. His whole outfit was designed to give the impression of a worker, but not a single thread was out of place, no patch of cloth even close to soiled. A laborer’s rebellion… Yeah right. This guy had just lost all his credibility before he even said a word. Not that he’d get the chance. I’d been so distracted by his boots and his flapping coattails that I hadn’t noticed the most important feature of his outfit.
He was wearing my father’s Ruling Council insignia pin on his lapel. The pin was about the size of a fist, a flat shield-shape worn over the left side of the chest. Inside the shield was my father’s title, “Regent”, boldly lettered in a bright yellow script, to contrast well with the dark blue of the shield. The starkness of the image was a bit wrong though. Something along the top of the shield… a stain…
There was blood on the pin.
I raised my hands slightly, stepped back. Then my body froze. My mind raced. Everything made sense now. The rebel leader spoke words. I didn’t hear them. The guards drew their swords. I never saw the tips of the blades.