Stacie’s air-cab closed in on a palatial countryside residence cloistered within the lowlands at the outskirts of Cornerstone City, traveling above green pastures, homesteads and their outbuildings.
The flyer’s alarm—the mellifluous strum of a violin—went off three minutes before touchdown as programmed. Stacie stirred and rubbed her eyes.
“We have reached our destination,” the automated chauffeur informed her. The computer lifted the windows’ tinting, unveiling the picturesque blue sky and letting in warm sunshine. The flyer slowly dropped its altitude. A low pulsing hum, followed by a quiet clunk. The flyer was now stationary. “Thank you for choosing Air Escort.” A red flashing warning-notification told Stacie to yield movement. “Please ride with us again.” The canopy flung upward. Ding! All warning lights dimmed to black.
Stacie’s seatbelt auto-unbuckled. A chirp gave her the all-clear. She swung one stocking-covered leg out, then the other, and stood into the harsh heat. She arched her back, stretching stiff joints.
The cab received its next passenger’s location. The engines whined, and the car elevated up and away, accelerating into a quick zoom.
Stacie approached the wrought-iron fence guarding the mansion, high heels making a soft clacking sound against the pavement. She pressed her palm to the gate’s biometric scanner. After her identity was authenticated, the gate screeched aside, along its guiding rail, permitting her entry into the immense, well-manicured yard. She walked down a winding flagstone path framed by trimmed hedges on both sides. Above, birds chirped in green-leafed trees bearing brightly colored berries. All around the estate was an array of colorful blooms. In the distance were greenhouses where the Spencers’ farmers cultivated crops for them.
The path formed a loop around a sculptured fountain of an adult female angel—clothed in a tunic, with her wings outstretched—and kept going.
Stacie reached the mansion, an incredible feat of modern architecture with too many windows to count. She walked up five steps to the veranda. The overhead colonnade provided relief from the sun’s simmering heat, much to her delight.
She wiped sweat from her glistening brow. Before she could scan her biometrics again, one of the large ornamental doors creaked open. Standing in the doorway was a little bald man of elder years. He had a bushy gray mustache and wore an elaborate purple tux with a red bowtie.
“Greetings, Madam Spencer,” the old man said. Security sensors had informed him of Stacie’s approach.
“Clifton, good to see you,” Stacie remarked.
The butler bowed from the waist. “You as well, Madam Spencer.”
Gliding past the colonnade, a bird cooed.
“I take it Mother and Father are furious,” Stacie commented.
“Indeed. You joined the Defense Force without their blessing.”
Stacie scoffed. “I don’t need their blessing,” she declared in a righteous tone. She turned her nose up and folded her arms, leaning her hip against the balustrade of the veranda. “I’m a grown-ass woman, not a fucking child. I told them I was enlisting and that there was nothing they could do to stop me.”
Clifton had hoped that perhaps the CDF would’ve changed her. But it didn’t. He was still staring into blue eyes of vanity, arrogance, and stubbornness. Her mother’s doing, though.
Stacie took a long slow breath, calming down from her rant, but a rant not without merit. She began unsnapping the red fasteners on her service jacket. “So, where are Mom and Dad, off at some high-profile meeting?” she asked in a snippy manner.
“Your mother awaits you in the common room. The baron is away on business.”
She wrestled off the jacket. Sweat patches wet her white Class-D shirt.
After neatly folding the jacket and wrapping the cape around it, she passed the garment off to Clifton. “How is Father, by the way?” she asked, worry seeping into her voice.
“Not in the best health, but he is managing.”
Stacie undid the first three buttons of her shirt and tugged on the collar for air. “Good.” With that news, the worry in her voice vanished.
“Shall I escort?”
“No, I’m a big girl. I can escort myself.” Direct and independent as usual, Clifton thought. Some of her better traits, though. “Take that uniform piece to my room for me.”
Stacie traversed a broad, lengthy hall with skylights set into the ceiling—spilling sunlight onto the expensive red carpet. She passed small housekeeping golems tending to the mansion’s upkeep. Bracing herself for confrontation, there was a gutsy look on her face.
The hall widened into a grand oval foyer lined with a semicircle of family portraits. Stacie stilled and tilted her chin upward, staring thoughtfully at the hard-copy photos of the cute little girl with the long plaited ponytail. The girl’s adorable smile stretched ear to ear, expanding her puffy cheeks. But that radiant smile was all show for the camera, a masquerade. Her small innocent eyes were empty, devoid of happiness. Stacie’s childhood was marred by her perfectionist mother’s insistence on her being nothing short of superior at academia and every single avocation.
She thought about the one-year horror of the Eight Elite’s boarding school, which they sent their seventeen-year-olds to, to prepare them for post-high-school education. She dreaded the days of being taught how to “walk like a lady” and of nonsense such as balancing pewter dishes atop her palms or head to learn balance and coordination. It was no wonder that after enrolling at Cadwell Institute of Higher Learning, for undergrad, that she went totally wild. Her first two years were full of alcohol, parties, recreational drugs, and sex binges. By year three she realized she wanted to do more with her life than waste it away with frivolous decadence and be the family-business predecessor. So she decided to enlist into the CDF after graduation.
Stacie proceeded through the archway, in the middle of the foyer, and entered a richly decorated, well-furnished common room. Blue rugs lay across dark wooden floorboards. Landscape paintings in gold frames adorned the walls. There were windows with tapestried draperies.
Her daunting mother, Darlene Spencer, sat in a high-backed armchair fit for a queen—an unlit fireplace fifteen paces from her back. She wore a regal-looking black dress with ruffled sleeves and an ankle-length ruffled hem. On her finger was a gold ring bearing the family crest—a man wearing a crown and holding a sword, atop a horse standing on its hind legs. Glaring at Stacie intensely, she genteelly, and silently, sipped at a ceramic cup of hot tea.
Stacie went up to her. “Mother,” she spat in a fiery tone, anticipating an earful of chastising.
The cup tinked the glass coffee table as Darlene set it down. The expression on her face spoke volumes about her feelings toward her daughter’s new military career. She jumped up from the chair and stomped up to Stacie. Brows knitted, she slung her hand across the air. Her palm smacked Stacie’s cheek with a ferocious whack! “You insolent little degenerate. I thought we raised you better than this.”
Stacie rubbed her sore flesh, frowning from the slap that was all too familiar. “Selfish? I . . .”
“Quiet,” Darlene thundered, cutting her off. “Your father is ill, and you go off to play Guardian? You sully our estate with this . . . uniform?”
With a hard edge in her voice, Stacie said, “This uniform is a symbol of prestige, Mother.” Maybe to “regular” Eden inhabitants but not the alpha, the Eight Elite. “And Father . . .”
Darlene interrupted Stacie again. “You have an obligation to your family. You are to be groomed to be our predecessor. You were to begin attending the quarterly assemblies between the eight family heads. You were to begin familiarizing yourself with our organizational structures. What the hell were you thinking?” She threw her arms up.
“I’ll take up the torch after you guys croak.” Darlene quailed, in shock. “Right now I need to . . .” Stacie searched for the right words. “I need to prove I’m more than . . . more than this.” She whipped her arms out wide.
“More than what?” her mother’s voice rumbled.
Stacie sighed. Her tone softened. “More than just some . . . some blue-blooded, silver-spoon child.” Her eyes were pleading for some semblance of understanding. “Is that so hard for you to comprehend, Mother?”
Darlene shook her head in disappointment and huffed frustration. “Your father may pass any year, any month, any day now. You are to be our successor, but you go off to possibly get yourself killed? Such stupidity.” Her tone became even frostier. “You need to be living up to the responsibilities that come with this namesake.”
Stacie rolled her eyes. “Forget it.” She turned around and headed back through the archway.
“Stacie Lynette Spencer, where are you going?” Darlene demanded of her wayward daughter.
“Just to my room, to rest. I’ve got a graduation banquet to attend tonight. Tomorrow, I leave for my duty station. And don’t anticipate me coming to you in the morning to say bye.”
As Stacie was leaving, Darlene pinged her implant. Stacie rejected her request, a sign of total disobedience for a daughter of the Eight.
Darlene muttered under her breath.
Stacie scaled the carpeted staircase leading up to her room. She couldn’t wait to get to her duty station. She couldn’t wait to get away from the stringent expectations that came with being a daughter of the Eight. She was expected to take over family operations, having no say-so in her own destiny. She was expected to always conduct herself in a moral, ethical, and honorable manner. She was expected to never act in a way that would disgrace or humiliate her family. She recalled when she got her first DUI, at the age of eighteen, and totaled her car, which she probably should’ve put on autodrive. After explaining what had happened to her parents, she was subjected to the archaic, draconian disciplinary measures of the Eight Elite’s rule book. The slightest of infractions was unacceptable.
Since Stacie was female, the female head of household, her mother, decided the form of punishment—ten belt lashes across Stacie’s back. Just like the punishment she took as a child. Foolishness, to her.
She opened the door to her room and toed off her heels. Next she shrugged out of her shirt and slid off her stockings. Then she took her skirt down to her ankles and stepped out of it. With cool air conditioning soothing her skin, she plopped onto her bed—in white cotton lingerie—next to her uniform’s service jacket, placed there by Clifton.
Sunlight gleamed through her window, which boasted an outstanding view of the countryside.
She looked at the white walls surrounding her, and her lips compressed. She needed a more relaxing change of color to sober her mind, after butting heads with her mother. “Harold,” she said to the mansion’s digital living assistant, “change wall color to pink.” A palette of pink hued the walls. Easily her favorite color. “Better.” She screwed off the locking lid of the humidor on her nightstand, extracted a cigarette and lit it with a lighter. She tucked the cigarette between her lips and sucked in the nicotine, letting it detox her mind of past quarrels with her mother, dredged up by their argument downstairs. She was on the verge of ditching the habit, thanks to Randy—Mr. Righteousness, Health and Fitness. She grinned. But today would have to be a cheat day.
Her wrist PDA rang. She ground out the cigarette in the ashtray and received the call with a finger tap. From the PDA came Oviereya’s voice. “Just wanted to congratulate you, Stacie. I’m proud of you.”
“At least someone is.”
“Mom and Dad not too thrilled, huh?”
“Of course not. You know them.”
“Well, I commend you for making such a life-altering decision and redirecting your future down a path you desire. However, you still have family responsibilities. Don’t forget about them.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Stacie changed the subject. “Saw you on a newscast earlier. Are you gonna run?”
“I’m . . . considering it.”
“I think you should totally do it. You’d make a great Chief Executive.”
“We’ll see. I have to go. Parliament has an emergency meeting in an hour. Again, congratulations.” The call ended.
Stacie closed her drowsy eyes for a much needed slumber.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish