or the Scream Heard Cross the Realm
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Then again, it’s not that hard to do. After all, I made Cordelia Mathers scream so loud that people swore they could hear it as far as Rigel, three times no less and that’s over eight hundred light years from home. It was the first time that I remember the most though. Follow. Cordelia, or more accurately Cordelia Marie Eugenie Gabriella Imelda Eva de Leonis Mathers and I were never close. How could anyone get close to someone with that many names in the way? I just had four. I am Alicia Margaret Catherine Taylor, but my friends all call me Ally. First off, some background.
Earth is the capital world of the Terran Realm. Ever hear of the British Empire? We’re kind of like that, but much less harsh. We never colonize worlds in the expansion pattern of another starfaring species, nor do we try to take over other worlds that are already inhabited. I’d love to say we disposed of things like class warfare and inequality, but I’d be lying about that. Status in the Terran Realm is based only in part on bloodlines. The King and his family rule simply because their ancestors created so many things that made interstellar society what it is: faster than light travel, near immortality, and two-way matter to energy conversion. Our population is well-educated as a rule, except in more backwater regions, and there are many opportunities to be had throughout the Realm.
Well, that is if you have ties to any of the forty families. These families had been our original pioneers, colonizing and terraforming worlds. The more accomplishments they had that contributed to Terra’s success the more prominent they were. My family was connected, but only because one of my cousins married a member of one of the forty families. I even have a title, but I never really use it. Anyways, back to me and Cordelia. It was the Terran Season, when all the young people were presented at Court every year in theory to declare their fealty to the King. In reality, it was a meat market. Marriage brokers and matchmakers would sidle up to the parents of all the eligible young men and women and try to get them married off to a good match, while the parents would haggle. It honestly bored the hell out of me. Oddly enough, I wasn’t really invested in the idea of being some pure lily-white china doll to be married off when I hit eighteen. This was the second time I met Cordelia.
We had been in a few classes as children. We were the same age, but my family was of lower prominence than Cordelia’s was, a fact she never forgot to remind me of. She had a whole gaggle of girls around her. Even then, she was spoiled, selfish, and her mom encouraged her to be so. As she grew older, notice I said grew older, not grew up, she got a reputation of being predatory and had no qualms about stealing someone else’s boyfriend. She had been known to cut in front of people simply to get the ear of a hot young duke or heir apparent. In a wedding, she was beyond aggressive in her attempts to catch the bouquet. You get the picture. Well at Court, her and her entourage roughly shoved me aside so they could curtsy at the Crown Prince as he walked by. I couldn’t see him, but judging from all the sighs, he was probably pretty easy on the eyes. That, or his lands and titles were. Cordelia wouldn’t move, wearing a hoop skirt of all things. Damn impractical garment if you ask me, but I digress.
I tried to get by. I had never seen the Prince as he was somewhat reclusive, and didn’t even permit holo-recordings of him so he could keep some degree of anonymity. Cordelia and her pack squeezed in even tighter. Cordelia gave me a glare and turned around to show herself off to royalty. As to what happened next, it wasn’t entirely my fault. I was hot, tired, and well, Cordelia was being a bitch.
“Cordelia?” I said sweetly.
“Yes?” she said, rolling her eyes as she turned to face me.
“Nothing,” I said. Then I punched her in the eye. She fell in front of the prince. It was glorious! She fell over on her hoopskirt, and landed right on her gold-digging rump. More than a few people gasped and laughed. There was a huge uproar and I was hustled away. I was twelve.
I was never in so much trouble in my life. My parents practically banished me to our country estates. I was assigned a strict tutor/governess who made it her mission to make me into a proper young lady. She broke down and cried whenever I was out riding a horse, and raged at me for not wanting to wear a corset. I swear though, she loved brushing my hair when it had twigs tangled in it from climbing trees because it gave her a reason to hurt me and be able to get away with it.
Surprisingly enough, I was happy. Once I got good at getting around my handler, I could go swimming all I wanted, play in the snow in the wintertime, and go on adventures with other kids as long as I didn’t tell them my title. But as I neared my seventeenth birthday, my parents pulled me aside. My governess/tutor had quit in tears.
“What do you have to say for yourself,” My father rumbled ominously.
I thought for a moment.
It turns out that was not the answer that they wanted. My mother pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Alicia, you’re running out of options. You’re pretty much banned from Court after that little incident your first season. But don’t worry, we are going to help you.”
“Must you? Why should I get married off to some sop simply because he has a bank account and a chunk of land? Maybe, I don’t want to get married.”
Both my parents gasped. You would have thought I told them that I wanted to go on adventures and do even more unladylike things. I did, obviously. But there was no need to tell them that. My father was red. I could tell he wanted to shout. I was surprised at how measured his tone was.
“There will be a costume party. Here, in one month. You will be a lady, and you will be charming and beguiling and you will end up on a young man’s arm, and betrothed, just like your two sisters or else.”
“Or else what?” I asked arching my eyebrows, “You’ll put me in the dungeon? We don’t even have one.”
“Oh nothing so harsh as that,” father said with an evil smile, “But there is a tradition that the unmarried daughter or son of any great house has to enter the clergy.”
I shuddered. Marriage didn’t wow me but being forced to be pious and live a live of chastity sounded even worse. And besides. Trusting me to help someone with their soul? Kind of like letting a wolf guard the sheep.
So what did I do? I played along. I couldn’t believe how vapid and obedient I sounded. I swear my voice sounded sweet and cooing. All the while I was planning my escape. I’d stay at the masquerade, make my appearance and then quietly beat a retreat. Even though I was a bit curious to see the prince as he had replied that he would be attending, I definitely wanted no part of this life. There was a whole galaxy out there to explore.
I made my own preparations. I had a good chunk of money that was ostensibly my allowance put aside, and I discovered I had a knack for investing. I’d have my horse and a change of clothes in the small copse of trees near the broken wall, and then take off. There was a freighter leaving New York spaceport just a few hours after the party started. When I saw my costume, I almost died though.
“A hoop skirt. Lovely.”
I put it on. I guess I was supposed to be Bo Peep or something. Fairy tale designs were the big theme that season. Granted, my costume was elegant, opulent and there was no doubt whose family was hosting the event. I imagine that everyone invited to party were discretely notified not to outdress me. I was the only one in bluish white as I came down the stairs. Every eye was on me. I felt ridiculous though. I saw Cordelia and tried not to spit. She was dressed as Cinderella of course, what else? She curtsied and gave me a fake smile. I gave an equally fake smile back. After about an hour, I made my way out to the patio for some fresh air.
I made a beeline for the gazebo. It was far enough away from the party so I could catch my breath and then it was just a matter of going back in, pleading a headache, ditching my hoopskirt prison. Then I just had to shimmy down the trellis and make my escape. The gazebo was shaded and partially hidden by the trees. But in the moonlight, I noticed that I wasn’t alone. A tall, young man was sitting there. There on my bench!
“Do you mind?” I asked, “this is my spot.”
“Is it? I don’t see your name on it. But if you insist, I’ll take the other bench.”
I wanted to tell him to take off, but I didn’t want him to report I was out there. It might lead to suspicions and foil my mad scheme.
“God, I hate these things.” He said explosively.
“What things?” I said politely, not really caring.
“Parties. Being presented as something to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. I always make it a point to get off somewhere quiet until I can get out. I’d rather be home, or doing almost anything.”
“I understand. My parents are trying to get me married off too.”
We started talking. He stood up and clicked his heels together once.
“I’m Roland,” he said, hesitantly
I couldn’t help it. Roland? I snorted once.
“I know,” he said with a laugh, “a many times great ancestor’s name.”
He was handsome, with a cleft chin and auburn hair. He was charming, funny, witty, and he didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who he was either, which made it great. It got close to the time though, so I got up to excuse myself. I don’t know why, but I told him I was planning to run away. It was then he said something that I wasn’t expecting.
“Take me with you.”
His eyes gleamed.
“The scandal would be enormous!”
“Not my first one,” I boasted, and I told him the story about punching out Cordelia at Court.
He burst into a laugh.
“So it was you. I wondered what happened. She had a black eye for a while. I really loved seeing her fall, her skirt going up.”
I laughed too. I didn’t know him, but it might be fun to travel with him awhile. Besides, it would really get my parents frothing at the mouth if I did this. And he was right, the scandal would be a thing to behold. But a part of me didn’t want to ruin his life, like I was probably going to ruin mine.
“Look, Roland, if you do this, you’ll likely be disowned. I know I will be, but I have some money put by. I’ve enjoyed chatting with you, but I should go.”
It was then I heard it. A bunch of the party guests led by my father came out. Roland stepped back a bit in the shadows. The lights came on, and my father looked at me.
“What are you doing out here?”
“Actually, she was talking with me,” Roland said. Bemused, I watched the party guests either bow or curtsy.
“Prince Alexander,” My father said, pale, “my apologies.”
I looked at him. I’m sure my mouth was open like a fish. I closed it, and just stared at him. I had been talking about running away. With the crown prince. Damn good thing I wasn’t wearing a corset or I would have fainted.
“No worries. We are done for now.”
He leaned down and took my hand in his. He kissed it, his bright blue eyes looked up at me. They were, well, breathtaking. He winked once. It was then I heard the scream coming from Cordelia. The first one anyway. It was a scream of rage and frustration. I knew the sound anywhere. If this was a fairy tale, I’d tell you that I didn’t run away that night. I didn’t board that freighter and take off into the void and go on adventures. Instead Roland and I developed a relationship and we ended up married, had some children, and my proud parents became even more prominent because they married into royalty. But that’s not what happened. I still managed to put my scheme into play. I got a ride to the train station by myself. I was just about to board the train that would take me to New York Spaceport, when he came sprinting up, a hastily packed bag on his arm.
“Do you still want to go on some adventures?” He asked.
“More than you know,” I said.
We barely made it to the spaceport. The captain of the freighter grumpily welcomed us aboard his ship. It was beat up, and patched together, but to me it was gorgeous. As we took off, I knew that both of our families were looking for us. As New York Spaceport was quite a distance from the spaceport that was actually closer to my family’s estate, we had a bit of time before our ruse was discovered. In the passenger section, he sat next to me.
He put his hand on mine, and we looked out the portholes as we lifted off. And somehow, against all odds, we made it. By the time it had been discovered that we had boarded a freighter, we had already disembarked and vanished into the crowd on the spaceport orbiting Alpha Centauri. We sent some messages to let our families know we were okay, but we wanted to be left alone. My folks were upset but they seem kind of muted in their criticism, probably because I was in the company of the crown prince. We picked a place at random and boarded a starliner for it.
“So what do I call you?” I asked, “Roland? Alexander? Lex? What?”
He looked thoughtful.
“I like Alex.”
He pulled out a book from his backpack, and so did I. Every now and then he’d pause and smile at me. I admit it. When he smiled he kind of made me forget everything I wanted to say. Later on the flight he told me he had smiled more with me than he had in a long time.
When he wasn’t looking, I had an evil thought that gave me another sort of smile. I really couldn’t help it. Somehow, somewhere, I knew Cordelia was fuming. I could almost picture her screaming so loud that every mirror in her room shattered. Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. That’s what you think. I did get her to let out one more scream though. But I’ll tell you about that later.
I hope you enjoyed my story. Tips, pledges, and subscriptions are most welcome.