I’m breaking the rules, and I absolutely refuse to care.
Veda gallops through the floating gardens and whinnies ecstatically as we pass the last of the designated security posts. Each gallop takes us farther and farther away from the main quarters, and closer to where the island ends and the clouds begin.
For a moment, I forget I’m virtually a prisoner. I can leave this island, but not unsupervised. And even then, there is little I’m allowed to see, especially what lies below.
Back in the main quarters, Governess will go to wake me from my rest. She’ll be displeased at my unexpected absence, to say the least, with so many tasks yet to be done: final gown mods, vitamin injections, rosebud cheek infusions, last-minute blemish inspection and evulsion.
Then there is practice. There is always practice.
The curtsy: low, but not unladylike. The conversation: pleasant, but not probing.
There are fan drills to rehearse. The art of fan communication is delicate, this I’ve been endlessly taught. An incorrect flick of the wrist, a hereafter with a man I despise.
Expand the fan wide to indicate interest. Tap his shoulder to flirt. Right hand: I am available. Smack closed: I daresay we are incompatible.
I plan on using that last one a great deal.
The guest list must be memorized, ranked in order of importance. There are more insults to perfect, not to mention an inhuman amount of grooming.
Tomorrow is the most important day of my life, after all. I’ve been told it so much I’m starting to believe it and fear it.
“Keep going,” I tell Veda. The rhythmic thumps of her hooves grow faster. A frenzied, unrestrained drumbeat.
My mother loved music just as I do. She spent entire days on her air harp, her fingers dancing along its cords, weaving songs while painting her studio with colorful beams of light.
My mother, according to Governess, was a charming conversationalist and graceful dancer. Governess tells me all about my mother, and she often repeats herself. There is only so much to tell. Only so many stories. I know that she designed her own formal wear, and enjoyed berries and chocolate after dining. That she favored the color blue, and wore one long braid down her back unless the occasion dictated a more formal updo.
I know a great deal about my mother, and yet nothing at all.
A sudden rush of cold smacks me across the face, the air off the clouds growing stronger. “Faster,” I tell Veda. I pass the hedge maze and Tranquillity Pastures. Roar underneath the welcoming gate.
Not that anyone is really welcome. Not to Helix Island.
I want to go faster than I ever have. Farther than I ever thought possible.
Now, Governess will have gone from displeased to frantic. This is worse than skipping penmanship, worse than rolling my eyes when one of the debutees expresses her unfortunate opinion during Etiquette Training.
“Why can’t you just try?” asks Governess when I’m reported for impropriety. “Can’t you put forth the tiniest bit of effort?”
What she will never understand: not saying those things takes a lot of effort.
This is the farthest I have gone without a chaperone. Beneath me, Veda snorts with elation, and fear. “Don’t be afraid, girl,” I say. I hold my own fear tight, letting it surge through my body and push me farther.
When I’m found, Waslo will be informed. He is sure to engage me in a Discussion. Waslo Souture was my father’s protégé. My father had friends as well, though I haven’t met any. They have good reason to keep their distance from the legacy he left behind.
I can’t imagine Waslo was ever a friend to my father. A most talented student, I can’t deny, for his ascent into the Independent High Council is praiseworthy. If that’s the sort of thing you’d like to do with your life.
Waslo has been around for as long as I can remember. There have also been Discussions as long as I remember.
Perhaps he will choose “Respect for the Family Name” or “Appropriate Behavior as a Reflection of Upbringing.” Those classics I have committed to memory. Waslo grows especially passionate nearing the end of “Appropriate Behavior”; sometimes even a little spittle catches on his bottom lip.
No, those are not suitable enough. Not for an offense this bold. For this, he will choose “Being a Proper Young Woman.”
“A Proper Young Woman would never dishonor her legacy in such an inappropriate manner,” he will say. “And on the eve of your Emergence Ball, at that! What would your father think?”
I wish I knew, I will think but never dream of saying. Instead, I will stay silent, head bowed in shame, waiting for him to finish. Hoping his spit doesn’t find purchase farther than his thin lips.
I will feel inadequate, just as he intended. Perhaps this is why Waslo is so important: he has a gift for making others feel unsatisfactory.
This will be our last Discussion, I suppose. In a few hours, I will reach my seventeenth year of life. Tomorrow is my Emergence Ball; within the week I will have a cohabitant. Shortly after, I will be relocated to my cohabitant’s island or, as is done in some cases, he will come to live on Helix. And then we will officially, as The Book of Indra tells us, “embark upon the journey of becoming Proper Cohabitated Citizens of Indrithian Society.”
Waslo shouldn’t fret so much; soon I will be someone else’s problem.
Strangely enough, the thought makes me laugh, hard enough to shift across Veda’s bare back. I can’t help but regard my laughter as highly unbecoming. But I do it anyway. I shake the pins from my head, letting my hair fall against my shoulders, allowing the wind to whip it into tangles, and surge forward.
◊ ◊ ◊
Proper Young Women of the New Indrithian Society are happy to practice elocution and become versed in etiquette. They will memorize flower sonnets, never questioning that real flowers have not existed for centuries. Once flowers even had a scent, like perfume. There were more strains than we have selected to synth.
I’m sure grass must have smelled wonderful as well, not like the synth-fields Veda tramples with each stride. Synth is as close to the former earth as Indra’s finest scientists can replicate, but it will never be truly real. I often wonder if anything is in Indra.
Proper Young Women of the New Indrithian Society understand that penetrating questions are unnecessary. Curiosity is rude. Proper Young Women need not think beyond the gift of each magical Indrithian day: the lovely blooming of the synth-trees, the filtered air, and purified water. “Best not dwell below,” the old saying goes. Or as written in The Book of Indra, “Unpleasant topics bring about unpleasant feelings, so why ever broach such subjects?”
I cannot help myself. I want to question everything.
I want to rip off my sashes and shriek like a hellion. I want to roll in the grass and soil my spotless white frock. Nothing is more pointless than a white gown. It’s like telling the world you are incapable of interaction.
I’m not normal, I think. Or, at least, I’m not like anyone else.
◊ ◊ ◊
When they find me, Governess will sputter and cry, “Your happiness is my sole reason for existence.” Needless to say, I will apologize profusely. I will play at embarrassment, put the fault on my nervousness, willingly submit myself to her itinerary of torture.
Even better? I will pin the blame on heartbreak. “My impending cohabitation means leaving you, dear Governess. You are the closest I have ever had to a mother.”
That should quiet her quickly.
Strangely enough, the sentiment is true.
I often wonder how she felt, after all those years of training, for the High Council to assign her to an orphan. An impossibly strange one at that. An odd little girl who, when choosing her leisure pastime as a child, insisted on swordsmanship. Not social dancing or needlepoint, as practiced by the highest ranks. I would wager Governess has regretted her assignment every day since.
But doesn’t she see the respect with which I hold my zinger? With every slash it barks. In the hands of a skilled swordsman, it would weave dangerous melodies. The more adept, the more sophisticated the song. The dissonant chorus of my practice must haunt her waking moments. Can’t she imagine the songs it will one day sing?
Raising me cannot have been an easy task, but tomorrow is the day Governess has been planning since my infancy. My birth into the social stratosphere, my official welcome into the realm of Indrithian Citizens of Importance . . . and I am off riding Veda.
My Emergence Ball will be spectacular, and that is all that matters. As for me? I’m more of a gilded centerpiece to be admired. I’m Livia Cosmo, the Orphan Airess. Living, breathing memorial to the great Armand Cosmo. My father was a true Indrithian of Importance.
Before he died. The dead are never as important.
My mother is at his side. I’m the only one who remembers them. And yet, I have no memories of them.
I’m not sad. I never knew them. You cannot miss something you never had in the first place.
Orphans are rare in Upper Indra. In fact, I believe I’m the only one. Life expectancy is long here. Citizens are limited to a single progeny per cohabitation. This is how it has always been: father, mother, and child.
A child on their own? An orphan? Who would look out for such a thing? Who would show it care?
Veda is an anomaly, too. Horses have not existed for centuries, but my father successfully bred them in his labs. The colts were pitch-black, and none survived very long. Only a solitary mare.
Most refer to Veda as white, but they’re mistaken. Veda is ivory. And that is altogether different.
No one knows how long she will live, but I do not worry. No one knows what to expect from me either. Veda belonged to my mother, and now she is mine.
And she has never run faster.
◊ ◊ ◊
What I know: my father was the most famous geneticist of Indra. He worked in the City of Indra, where the Middler population is trained from birth to serve those of us on the Islands. My father had Middlers at his beck and call, perhaps even wiping his backside after a visit to the privy if he so demanded, which I very much hope he did not.
My father was that important.
According to Governess, I’m an Indrithian of Importance as well. I inherited the Armand Cosmo legacy.
Too bad I won’t understand a word of it. Life Guide refuses to instruct me in genetics. I excel at every other subject, especially mathematics. I solved proofs and deciphered evolutionary patterns before Life Guide even taught me how. But still, genetics are too advanced, he says.
“But what about the test?” I ask him. “The one the High Council administered when I was little? The results said I have an aptitude for genetics. A gift.”
Life Guide pretends not to have heard me. If I persist, he claims that I’m remembering incorrectly.
I have a flawless memory.
“Just like her father!” That is what Waslo exclaimed when he heard the results, my memory is clear. “She is like him,” he said, looking down at me with shiny eyes half filled with wonder, half with fear.
I wish to understand the secrets in our cells, the mysteries of the blood that beats within our flesh. We all exist as one, but forever apart. Did my father even know this? I want to know all that he knew, and more.
Instead, Life Guide and I study Indrithian history, to marvel at our great society and its innovations and advancements.
Mostly we study The Book of Indra.
“Best not dwell below,” Life Guide cites when I ask a question he wishes not to answer.
What he means: learn what you are told to learn. Close your mouth and memorize a flower sonnet.
Sometimes I think he doesn’t know the answers himself.
Sometimes I think “the answers” are all he knows.
◊ ◊ ◊
In my father’s time, genetics research was of the utmost importance. Population control, ensuring sufficient air and water supply for every Indrithian. The EX2 pill was his creation. I have taken my daily supplement since I turned twelve, as has every other Proper Young Woman. When I am cohabitated, I will discontinue my daily dosage, conceive my single offspring, and resume my daily EX2 pill after the birth. Except for the small human creature growing within me for nine months, everything will remain exactly the same.
Perhaps it’s good we’re only allowed one. I can barely manage myself.
Due to my father and the EX2 pill, the population is suitably controlled. Indra thrives. Now genetic research and implementation have evolved into something else entirely. Geneticists specialize in enhancements: dimple insertions, skin replenishment, skeletal adjustment. Nothing that changes the world, just your appearance.
Governess begged me to get a chest alteration before the party season. “No need to inflate for the whole evening,” she confided. “Only your debut entrance. And perhaps for the formal dinner.”
I refused again and again, and she would sigh dramatically, whole body crumpling as though I had stabbed her with my zinger. Governess believes in enhancements with the same intensity she believes in perfectly tied waist sashes. Her own face ceased changing when she began her yearly visits to the Rejuvenation Island Clinic. You could not discern her age unless you noticed the dullness in her eyes. She has yet to have the sparkle put back in, which is a very painful procedure.
◊ ◊ ◊
Up here in the upmost of Upper Levels, we have everything we could possibly want for, according to Governess, who never fails to want for an opinion. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include an actual person with whom I can have an actual conversation.
Life Guide doesn’t count. Master comes once a week to oversee my swordsmanship, and he doesn’t count either.
I have never visited the City of Indra, and the only Middlers I know are the maids appointed to scour the endless white surfaces of the main quarters, and the garden crew that reprograms the synth-trees to bloom for new seasons. Their leaves are gold and red and orange now.
Last year Governess chose white blossoms. I thought much the same of them as of my white dress. This year they grew apples. They look far better than they taste.
Veda neighs nervously. I’m getting closer to the edge. “Keep going, girl,” I tell her.
My Emergence Ball will be the biggest of the season. Everyone will be there, desperate to see Helix Island up close. Desperate to see my inadequacy up close as well.
And the Proper Young Men of Indrithian Society? They will line up to cohabitate with the Cosmo Airess. I will be forced to pick one of them—that’s how it’s done. That’s how it’s always been done.
The air grows chilly. The clouds draw closer.
Veda comes to a sudden halt. We’ve reached the edge. Nowhere else to go.
I gaze up at the dome that keeps us all protected. It is far above and faint, but I’m always aware of it. It is what keeps us from burning with radiation.
I gaze down. The floating islands glide through the clouds beneath me, caught in their predictable orbits. They’re beautiful from afar—you can almost imagine each is a slice of paradise, but must paradise feel so limited? For a moment, in the space between, I see the bottomless City of Indra, the twin towers of the High Council rising above all others. There is so much glass that it’s hard to look at directly, the way it refracts the sun’s light. It all looks as if it could be broken so easily, yet it has stood for centuries.
Behold Indra: city of impossible architecture, her beauty timeless, her secrets dark. Whose mind dreamed her to life?
For a split second, I imagine leaping into the sky and falling into the endless, unknown Indrithian void. Past one of the construction rigs, the crew of Hubbers astonished at my falling form, distracting them from island maintenance for a mere moment. . . .
The feeling I get is exactly like experiencing an Emergence Ball. Falling into an endless, unknown social void. . . .
Veda senses something. She backs us up. I shift her so we face Helix Island. My home, though not for much longer, if everything, unfortunately, goes according to the very well thought out and endlessly practiced plan.
I will return to the main quarters and apologize to Governess. Tomorrow I will open my fan wide and curtsy low but not too low. I shall smile at each of the Proper Young Indrithian Men as though they are the most fascinating Young Men in existence, and then I will choose one with which to spend the rest of my life. At least it’s my choice, right?
In that moment, I feel something boiling to the surface of my skin. This part of me I cannot control. This part is not only improper but something far worse. Dangerous.
I give Veda a squeeze with my heels, and we gallop toward an enormous tree. On its branches hang the last of the apples. We’re going faster now, the wind blowing through my hair. When we’re practically flying, I draw the zinger from the sheath on my back.
I swing as we race, cutting through the air, and the blade releases a few notes.
The sound rises, growing angrier and more distorted. I hold the blade steady, the feedback disrupting the island’s well-preserved harmony. I pull myself to standing, balanced upright on Veda as she races forward, just as a burst of melody emerges from my zinger.
Not a song, but closer than I’ve ever gotten.
In the split second, we race under the tree and I launch into midair. I land where I started: sitting safely on Veda’s back. Veda halts. As I’m catching my breath, she turns.
Beneath the tree looms a tall figure in white.
I don’t have swordsmanship today. Why’s he here?
Is he constantly watching?
He bends down, picking up an apple from the ground. He holds it out to me in his open palm, gives it a slight twist. The apple falls into two perfectly cut halves.
“Livia,” he says. “We do not damage nature. We do not kill what grows.”
“But it isn’t real, Master. Nothing here is real.”
Excerpted from The Book of Indra, Chapter VII: “The Archives: A Universe of Wonderment”
The Archives are a gift to Indrithian Society. Accessed via wrist implant, entering the Archives can be easily mastered by both child and adult. A fully immersive environment, these Archive experiences range in nature and are entered via access chips.
As for your memory Archives, they are stored on an individualized chip assigned to each Indrithian citizen by the High Council at childhood.
From replications of historical events pre–Great Catastrophe and educational training programs (“simulations”) to reduplication of your personal memories, the Archives serve to Educate, Entertain, and Enlighten.
To Access Archives:
♦ Find a calm, quiet location that is free of distraction. The Archives can be accessed from any location, though many prefer to do so in the comfort of an Archive access center. Archive access centers are located throughout Upper Indra, the City of Indra, and the HCP Hub. (For a complete listing of locations, see appendix LXIV.)
♦ Administer two quick, firm taps to the wrist to circulate the blood. Insert Archive access chip into left wrist slot.
♦ Quickly place thumb tip to pulse point.
♦ Once thumbprint has been matched, DNA activation will be immediate.*
♦ The length of the simulation is dependent on the Archive accessed. Memories provide the briefest duration, while historical archives can be looped to ensure the most satisfaction with your experience.
♦ To end an Archive, within the memory or simulation tap your wrist twice to remove the access chip. Upon removal, you will immediately regain consciousness within the safety of your Archive access location.
The Archives: just another example of Indra’s greatness!
The Archives: offering a wealth of knowledge, a virtual preservation of your personal history, and hours of fun!**
The Archives: a universe of delight at your fingertip!***
* Your Archive access is monitored by the High Council via thumbprint DNA matching. Your individual Archive access is restricted at their discretion.
** If you attempt to access an Archive the Indra High Council has not made available to you, you will face immediate dismissal from the Archives. This process, also referred to as “flinging,” is both shameful and illegal. Repeat offenders will face punishment as dictated by the High Council. In extreme cases, the High Council Archive Commission may choose to give the offending citizen permanent “shadow” status. Shadowed citizens are rendered voiceless and sentenced to wander the Archives for the remainder of their lives. You will know them due to their blank stares and hooded cloaks. Do not interact with them. Shadowed citizens serve as living reminders of the great gifts bestowed on the citizens of Indra, the Archives being among them, and the severe penalty for taking advantage of them.
*** Archive areas and experiences are restricted by and provided at the sole discretion of the High Council. The High Council has the power to alter, modify, and adjust archival simulations. All further matters regarding Archive operations and “shadow” status are restricted by High Council command.
The Story of Lex and Livia
Rebels: City of Indra
The Story of Lex and Livia
In a world of the far future, the great City of Indra has two faces: a beautiful paradise floating high in the sky, and a nightmare world of poverty carved beneath the surface of the Earth.
Lex grew up in an orphanage deep in the dark. But even as a child, she instinctively rebelled against her fate—the time when she would be judged either useful to Society or forced to live among the mutations in Rock Bottom, the lowest level. When she is chosen to become an elite cadet of the Population Control Forces, only her fellow cadet Kane truly understands her longing for freedom.
Unknown to her, one girl secretly shares her defiance. Livia Cosmo, the Orphan Airess, may live on a sky island surrounded by wealth and privilege, but she is just as restricted as Lex. Rigid discipline governs her every movement, as she learns the art of becoming a Proper Young Woman, the belle of the Emergence Ball, ready to be picked for “cohabitation” by the finest of the Proper Young Men. Her future is assured, until an intriguing encounter with a young man named Kane changes everything.
For that is when Lex’s and Livia’s destinies collide….
Approached by an old enemy to help save Kane from mortal danger, Lex sacrifices her Special Ops career to find him in the Islands among the clouds. Her search, high above in the beautiful spires of the City of Indra, brings her instead to the airgirl Livia. Lex and Livia should have nothing in common, and yet they share a kindred yearning for escape from the strict rules that bind them...and a mystifying identical mark. Brought together by danger, they set out to find Kane, but what they discover is even stranger than either dreams.