Imperial Year 25026 GE.
Acey Mondeleros, Edouard’s granddaughter sprawled, loose-limbed, across a rose-colored divan in the residence’s study. She tapped long fingers staring daggers at her comm unit willing it to buzz. The large minimally furnished study on the third floor of the Institute was offhandedly luxurious. Crown moldings stair-stepped up into a high ceiling. Outside, beyond wide soundproofed monolayer windows, gale winds off the ocean hounded ragged clouds across the murky sky. Her thoughts were turbulent as the gloomy weather. Acey wrestled with an unsolvable dilemma. Existential, really. The only response she’d come up with was unthinkable. She was shocked she’d even consider it. But she couldn’t dismiss it from her thoughts.
I’ve got to bounce this off somebody. But it’s got to be someone who gets me. I mean, really gets me. So, definitely not Grandpapa Edouard. No, no. Or Mrs. Powell. That lets out Quin, too. Love my little brother, but no way he’d understand. Her mind ran through these options over and over—like a rodent on an exercise wheel—coming up with the same answer every time. She always came back to one person. My best friend. At least she’s supposed to be! Dammit, where is she?—if only that thoughtless girl would comm me back!
She popped up to thumb the quick-call button on her comm unit for what must be the hundredth time. When Loni’s voice leave-a-message replied, Acey ripped fingers through her unruly hair and shook it out with an aggravated growl. She drew breath to yell at the comm unit. “Alondra! This is my thousandth call and third message! Get back to me right away girlfriend! I gotta talk to you. It’s monumentally urgent!”
She jumped to her feet, tight with frustration. She’d turned to pace when a flicker from the holovid player across the room caught her attention. She was supposed to be studying a holovid lesson in the History. She thought of it as capitalized. When Edouard referred to the “History,’ he meant the lessons and tutorials he’d personally authored and added to her and her brother’s studies to further torture them with.
All this studying! And for what? She’d graduated from Dayschool with honors three years ago. But that’s not enough for him. Her grandfather demanded it and Mrs. Powell strictly enforced Edouard’s rules. But for the god of tech’s sake, why? None of her other ex-schoolmates had to waste all their free time on this…this archaic bullshit!
Acey slapped the off button on the holovid’s remote in annoyance. Which promptly fell to the floor with a thump before sliding away. Instead of shutting down, the narrator’s voice resumed the lecture. “. . . many years after the ancient object had been discovered.” The commentator continued in a reverent tone, “The Monah civilization bequeathed humanity a treasure of the ages in what we commonly if wrongly, call the Book of the Elder Gods.”
Acey fell to her knees muttering, Damnation! Why is it demonstrably certain that when you drop something, it never fails to fall into the most inaccessible place possible? She swept her hand under an overstuffed wing chair.
The incessant lesson continued. “…which accounts for its ironic name, since it isn’t actually a book at all.”
“Aha!” Acey shoved the offending chair aside to recover the remote.
“And, because its creators, the original builders of the world Gates, used technologies so far beyond ours that many true believers consider the Monah deities—”
Acey hammered the remote’s off button. The player squawked and the holo image fragmented into shivering blobs.
“Blast this… this shitty piece of junk. I’m so sick of … of every bit of this useless crap!” With her final stab, the Holovid expired in a final resentful wail. Acey glowered at the blank platform as if to blame it for Loni’s irresponsible failure to get back to her.
Her emotions were still seething when Edouard Mondeleros shuffled into the room. She glanced over her shoulder. His silvery hair looked like it had been combed with a firecracker. Somehow, though, he still managed to appear distinguished in his more salt than pepper goatee and mustache. He wore a black suit with a long shapeless coat over an immaculate white collarless shirt that sharply contrasted with his coppery skin. The same clothes she’d always seen him in. Whenever she’d seen him. Which was never. Almost never anyway. She imagined his closet with rows and rows of these dismal outfits.
“What!” Her grandfather glared at her. “What in the blue blazes of hell is going on in here!”
Acey’s shoulders and stomach tightened. She whirled on him. The years on Kalgoorlie had not been kind to the renowned master scientist. He seemed shrunken into the husk of the man she’d remembered brought them here. Somewhere along those years Acey had reached his height and passed him. Now she overtopped him by several centimeters.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on! I’m trying to figure out why I am studying this ancient crap on this stupid antique player.” She stared back at him determined not to give an inch.
His expression remained grim and stern. He came closer. She steeled herself. He still thinks I’m that mouse of a girl who won’t stand up to him. If he’d been around to pay any attention, he’d have realized I broke out of that miserable shell eons ago. I’m a full-grown woman now.
“Acey. You never listen. How many times do I have to tell you? It’s critically important that you know and understand our real history when we return to Delagua. Not that basic and often claptrap nonsense you were taught in dayschool.”
She leaned away allowing herself to plummet dramatically into the wingback chair behind her.
“I know you’re anxious to get back to the Inner Worlds. I am too. I don’t have the final details from the Woer-Halins for our departure yet but any day now. But unless you’re the idiot you act like sometimes, you must have noticed. The off-world techs are gone. Our local staff is down to Mrs. Powell, and she’ll be off soon.”
“I know. That’s the problem.” Acey collapsed deeper into the chair. “I don’t think we should go,” Acey got out in a murmur.
“What?” Edouard stiffened in surprise. “How many times did you break down in tears, begging me to take you home? It wasn’t so long ago that you complained of how terrible everything was here. How much you missed— how did you put it? ’not living in an actual civilization.’”
She made an exasperated noise. “That’s not fair. That was forever ago. When I was a kid. It’s different now. I really don’t understand why you can’t get this. I’d be so out of place … I’d just… oh, bugs in the Holy Code! I don’t know what in the hell I’d do. Just die. Probably… I would know what to wear. I wouldn’t know anybody!” She dipped her head in sullen misery. “I’d hate it. Who’d want to be friends with some ignoramus from a backwater planet inhabited by a buncha scruffy knockabouts?
(to be continued)