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       Humanity, p.1

           Edward James Bowman
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  Manticore Metropolis or Màn tí kǎo Chéngshì: the foremost and only city on the whole of Manticore. In many ways, the planet would resemble Mars from the old Solar System, however it was habitable. The only problem was that conditions were not entirely habitable for humans. Only the natives of the planet could survive the light from the fearsome Jhard. Humans burned in the light of the powerful star, and yet humans became the primary inhabitants of Manticore Metropolis. Desperation can lead to drastic measures.

  The old Solar System had become overcrowded as well as polluted and humans yearned for new planets to call ‘home’. One of the arks found Manticore; home of the svellik. The svellik were a peaceful race who took the human refugees into their great city where the light from the Jhard would not harm them. After a thousand years the svellik population had diminished to almost the point of extinction. Humans were the race that bit the hand that fed them. They could not comprehend sharing the planet and so they took it by force. They maintained the high-rise buildings of Metropolis that protected them from the Jhard, but they refurnished the great city to serve human needs.

  The city was split. The wealthy politicians, entrepreneurs and aristocrats lived uptown in the upper-halves of the skyscrapers while the poor wordless discards of mankind lived downtown in the lawless ghetto. With such a defined divide in the population, the most any child from downtown could dream for was to become an employee for their uptown masters. That was every downtowner’s dream; escape their lower elements anguish and catch a glimpse of what it meant to live uptown.

  * * *

  The great star in the sky had just sunk below the orange peaks in the distance. The canyon Manticore Metropolis sat in suddenly became dark, and that was a good thing for the uptowners. The upper-city’s nightlife instantly came alive. Fortunately, the days on Manticore were only nine hours while the nights were eleven. On a planet where humans, no matter their historic ethnicity, were fair skinned it was better to have more night than day.

  However, the downtowners would dispute the notion. In the dark was when all the monstrous humans emerged from their hiding places and wreaked havoc. Every night was the same downtown; a non-stop riot. There was no authoritative voice of reason so there was no incentive for the damaged humans to act civilised.

  In the rapidly darkening alleyway a doomed youth ran for his life. In the 21st century he would have looked too little to be eight, yet in 50th century Manticore Metropolis stunted growth due to malnourishment was common downtown. The uptown tycoons owned all food and water that went in and out of downtown. Most had decided that there was not enough profit in feeding the poor and cancelled the downtown shipments. When regular food became beyond scarce the downtowners turned on each other. Cannibalism was for survival.

  He was exhausted and injured, but the little boy picked up the pace when he heard an aggressive man repeatedly screaming ‘Erik’.

  The little child panicked when he felt like the continuingly narrowing alleyway was closing in on him. He went tumbling when his barefoot struck a dislodged piece of the pavement. He whimpered in his own language, wishing that it would all just stop.

  Slowly, he hobbled over to the old wreckage of a giant unknown contraption. His blood speckled the ground as both his nose and split toenail bled. Only a little too late did he realize the mistake he had made.

  “Rarr!” a boy screamed as he jumped out from behind the wreckage.

  Erik squealed and stumbled backwards before his back hit the asphalt. He heard numerous people laughing and froze.

  Three more urchins came out from their metal fortress. Filthy rags covered most of their faces as they tried to hide their boyish appearances. The apparent alpha of the pack wore black goggles to make his face featureless. The metal rim of his goggles was dented while both lenses were severely cracked which suggested that they had possibly fallen from above.

  “ lookin’ like wǒmen havsa dinna t‘night,” the leader said maniacally.

  It took the little boy a moment to understand what the urchin had said. He was not very fluent with their language. However, he understood their intentions when the alpha pulled a jagged piece of metal from his jacket. Erik screamed ‘no’ in his own language which was not understood by the boys. He scrambled to his feet and tried to run, but one of the other pack members grabbed him under the arms. No matter how much he tried, he could not wriggle free. The leading urchin dragged the shard of metal down Erik’s cheek mockingly. The little boy flinched when the urchin pressed too hard and drew blood.

  “Ya tryin’ to run?” he hissed. “Bǎobèi, wǒ’ma hungry.”

  Erik whimpered when the leader lifted his ragged shirt up to examine his prey. The boy’s intestines were sucked in behind his rib cage which was perfectly defined behind his sickly white skin. “Skinny thingie, aren’t cha? Ah well, a meal’s a meal.”

  Erik made an animalistic grunt when the shard of metal was jabbed into his chest. He heard the urchin holding him smirk before taking a step back and letting him drop. The small child curled up into a foetal position to protect his bloody chest as he wheezed.

  “We eatin’ the whole thing now?” one of the other pack members asked. His stomach had been growling for days.

  “Nah.” The leader shook his head as he knelt down to get a better look at Erik’s suffering as he bled to death. “We’ll start with a leg. Gotta lotta meat in the thighs. Bàba can put the rest in the coola for later.”

  Erik was in a daze and did not hear the conversation going on about him. His vision began to fade just as an animalistic hissing sound echoed through the alleyway. The urchins looked up at the source before instantly retreating back into the shadows.

  The boy deliriously croaked ‘help me’ in his own language as a tall figure overshadowed him before he closed his eyes.

  “It’sss okay, child. Mama’sss herrre,” a soothing voice hummed as the little boy drifted into unconsciousness.

  The last thing the little boy heard was a man still calling out his name, but now the voice was far away.


  The Parliament House was a gigantic upside-down pyramid. Of course, human architects had not designed such a strange building. The svellik had built the enormous structure thousands of years before the ark landed on the surface of Manticore. Humans had never truly understood the purpose of the building in the time when their alien counterparts ruled. In the svellik language, Tenue, the strange grey and gold pyramid was called Knelekt. There was no translation for Knelekt in any human language. The closest synonym was ‘explain’ or ‘enlighten’. It had been a religious monument in svellik times; however the humans had made it the home of government as it was the only true distinguishable building from the hundreds of other straight up and down grey buildings surrounding it.

  Like all constructions, the lower floors were completely ignored by the uptown civilians as they were too close to the lower city. To move from one building to another without using the filthy streets of downtown, there were light-repellent skyways that linked all the buildings and created the shadow of a spider web above downtown.

  The monorail system acted as the primary transportation method for travelling lengthier distances uptown, nonetheless important businesspeople and famous politicians tended to avoid the skyways and monorails as they were too public. Taking a private shuttle was more logical when you lived constantly in fear of being assassinated by a radical.

  With a little over one month till the new chairman – or zhǔxí in formal terms – was elected, the three candidates were under a great amount of stress as they tried to scrape in the assured voters. Former Chairwoman Penelope Renard from the House of Dragons led with forty-five per cent of the uptown population in favour of her while the other two candidates shared the other per cent of the po
pulation evenly between them.

  Like the other lords and ladies of the House of Dragons, she had no doubt in her mind that she would win the election and get another ten years in office. She did not see any way that she could lose. The annoying part of the whole electoral system was the one month in which she legally was not chairman. For that single month at the end of every decade there was no chairperson. It was up to the senate to maintain Manticore Metropolis for that single month. Penelope was over seven-hundred years old so she knew very well that the lords and ladies in the senate could not be expected to maintain a function system.

  At the end of the first of three debates the candidates stood together for the short press conference that followed. All of them proudly wore their House’s colours. Lady Penelope Renard was in a red and golden robe, Lord Finn Yuan from the House of Oxen was in a dark blue, grey and silver robe while Lady Fae Sonata from the House of Rats was in her brown and dark grey robe. All three candidates wore the same style robe and the same black dress shoes, pants and dress shirts.

  Lord Lysander Jordanis stood by in the shadows with the other deputy chairman candidates to observe the brief press conference from the back of the room. He and Penelope had made an excellent team during their term in office. In the eyes of the public Renard had been seen as a stern woman who got things done while Jordanis had been the poster boy who did more work behind the scenes than the public realised. His six-hundredth and fifth birthday was in a few days, however he was still incredibly youthful both physically and spiritually. That was why the people loved him; he looked like a typical youthful man. His fair hair and unusual jade-like irises certainly attracted people. With his looks people thought he was just a brain-dead poster boy. They were quite surprised when the realised how wise he was.

  “Indubitably?” the slender man joked as the former chairwoman walked over to him after the press conference. He was referring to when Renard had stated that she would ‘indubitably’ deal with monorails to make sure they were on time and more efficient. “I do not think that word has been used since, oh, I don’t know, the twentieth century on Old Earth?”

  “My choice of words was intentional,” she explained. “I figured it was a sincere, almost adorable word that would endear me to the public, and also assure them I would get the job done.”

  Lysander nodded along although he doubted Penelope was telling the truth. She had most likely been lost for a good substitute for the word ‘undoubtedly’ which was a word she had already used too much in that press conference and wanted some variation.

  The chief of the House of Dragons security strolled over to the candidates. Neil Van Halogen, he was a six-foot bulky man who did not suit the slim-figured flamboyant lords and ladies of the House of Dragons.

  “Will you be attending the dinner party tonight?” he asked in a deep voice.

  “Indubitably.” Lysander said with a smile. Penelope rolled her eyes – she knew he would never let it go.

  The small party for the high-ranking lords and ladies was held on the roof of the Parliament House just after sundown. All candidates were peer pressured into attending as photographers would be there and it would be good publicity for them if they could be seen as casual and friendly.

  Lysander never had a problem with the parties with his socialite qualities. He would make his way through the politicians with jokes, gossip and a bit of flirting. There was only one man he could not get his head around: Lord Koris Young. The man was a rookie in the game of politics. At only seventy years-old he was the deputy chairman candidate for the House of Oxen. Although he had had the anti-aging treatment to make himself appear much younger, Koris did not seem to put much effort into his looks. His face was covered in stubble and his short, yet thick black hair was all over the place. Lysander knew the young man was not a typical politician, and he wanted to know why the House of Oxen had thrown him into the ring.

  Koris didn’t look happy to see Lysander strolling over to him. They knew each other outside of politics. Everyone knew everyone uptown. These two knew each other because Koris’ daughter, Melody, was dating Lysander’s son, Princeton. Koris had never approved of Prince and not just because of his overconfident name. At eighteen, he was over two years older than Melody and seemed to have a one track mind when it came to their relationship; he wanted sex. He was just like his father in that sense. Both men were always frisky. However, Prince was a little more patient when it came to his desires and respected Melody’s abstinence. When his father craved intimacy he simply threw one of his downtown servants on the bed. Lysander felt no guilt doing that: due to the Servants Union he was required to give any servant he had sex with a small bonus in their pay check. Like most lords and ladies, he presumed that prostitution came with the job of a servant. Koris, on the other hand, despised the servant-master dynamic in Manticore Metropolis. He knew his viewpoint was different from most other politicians which was why he stayed silent.

  “Lord Finn Yuan did a good debate tonight,” Lysander said ‘sincerely’ as he lit up an orange cigarette. Poor Finn had been quite lost for words when it came to a question about the new Olympus United factory opening up within the month. He had had no idea what Olympus United was and Koris had been forced to stand by and bite his lip while Finn rambled about nothing.

  “Quite.” Koris sipped his apple juice nonchalantly. Any type of juice on 50th century Manticore was considered fancy because natural fruits and vegetables could not be grown outside under the scorching light of the Jhard. All fruits were either grown in the artificial biospheres, or frozen and then shipped to Manticore from other planets humans had colonised.

  Orange smoke seeped from Lysander’s mouth as he exhaled. He had no clue what strange concoctions had formed the cigarettes he smoked so willingly but did not care providing they did not kill him.

  “What are Melody, Andromeda and,” Lysander looked up in thought as he tried to remember the fourth member of Koris’ household’s name, “Flick!” He snapped his fingers. “What are those three up to tonight?”

  Koris shrugged and took another small sip of his drink. He did not feel like talking. He especially didn’t feel like talking to Jordanis about his wife because he knew that Andromeda and Lysander had had been intimate with each other before Koris married her many years later. Lysander knew that Koris felt awkward whenever he brought up Andromeda, and yet he took pleasure in making Koris annoyed. It was a new pastime he greatly enjoyed because Young was so uptight about everything.

  Lysander opened his mouth to speak when he noticed the pair of dark brown eyes staring at him judgingly from the other side of the party. Nikhita: the deputy chief of security for the House of Oxen. Anyone, even a downtowner, could instantly tell she had not been born on Manticore. Her natural skin was very dark compared to the sickly pale people she was around daily. Two-hundred and seventeen years ago she had been born in the Indian biosphere on Old Earth and a hundred years after that she boarded a transit spaceship and ventured to Manticore with a handful of others. Lysander remembered day well when the dark-skinned woman emerged from her deep sleep chamber. He and a few others had been requested to be the hospitality reps when the transit spaceship landed:

  “Breath out,” the nurse in white said soothingly as a man hacked-up the deep sleep gel he had been pickled in. The nurse patted him on the back like he was a new-born baby to help get the fluid out of his lungs.

  The hospitality representatives from each of the houses stood on the other side of the glass as the deep sleep passenger chambers were opened one at time. They had to be out of the contamination zone in case any of the new citizens had unforeseen diseases. Even if they had a disease that was common on Old Earth, the immune systems of the Manticorian people may have never been prepared for the new sickness and the virus would spread through the city like the Black Death.

  There were six passengers aboard the shuttle which was the largest number Manticore had ever received in one transit. The amount of money and effort it require
d to move planet was not worth paying for a new life on Manticore. Lysander figured that these people had moved to a desolate planet so far away from Old Earth because they desperately needed a new life. That, or they knew wanted their share of the rich mineral deposits below the surface of the orange planet.

  Finally, the nurses were opening up the sixth passenger chamber. Two of the passengers were from Britain, another was from Norway and the final three were from various parts of Asia. Compared to the people of Manticore, these Old Earth people were considered incredibly tanned… and then the sixth chamber was opened.

  Jordanis heard the House of Rats representative gasp as the dark woman emerged from the blue gel. They had all heard stories about the range in skin colour on Old Earth; they had even seen some photos on the internet, but never had they expected to find themselves in the presence of such a dark, beautiful woman.

  Her long black hair was stiff due to gel in it as she sat up and started coughing. The nurses did not seem to know what to do with her and just stared at her. They had seen her profile and photo, and yet they still had not been mentally prepared for how different she looked.

  Blue gel dribbled from the corner of her mouth as she looked at the three people on the other side of the glass. Their expressions were priceless. She herself was surprised by how pale the people were. They looked like walking corpses. Suddenly she began to fear that she would never feel rays of sunlight hitting her skin again. She sighed: it was a small price to pay for a new life.

  “Hey, a picture will last longer!” she yelled to startle the hospitality representatives. They had all been staring at her wet, naked body.

  Surprisingly, the House of Oxen rep did raise her tablet so she could take a photo. Jordanis swatted it back down and gave her a scolding look. “Take a mental picture,” he muttered so that Nikhita could not hear him nor read his lips.

  “You are looking… I believe it is somaina.” Lysander said smugly before inhaling more of the orange smoke from his cigarette.

  “I do look beautiful,” Nikhita noted while looking down at her not-so-attractive security uniform, “and Bodo is not my first language. Nice try.”

  Lysander exhaled loudly. “Rest assured, Miss Kothari, I will figure it out.”

  “Uh huh,” she nodded along with a patronising smile.

  The pair had a game going: every time they encountered each other Lysander would try and guess Nikhita’s first language. This was all because a few years back she had informed him that she had not originally spoken Mandarin, English or Hindi when she was a child. Jordanis hated not winning so if he knew he was going to come across Nikhita at an event or party, he would memorise a few key words from a particular language in India and then incorporate some of them into their next conversation in hopes that he had found her first language. The two were not exactly friends, however the former deputy chairman enjoyed studying Old Earth in his spare time which meant he and Nikhita had a connection.

  “It is something like Arabic, isn’t it?” he asked with a pitched voice that suggested he was annoyed. “It is a language that isn’t native to India.”

  “Yes… my first language is actually Slovak,” she joked. “Now go away. I’m on duty.”

  Koris flipped his wrist to check his watch. It was just a few minutes past the eleventh hour mark and this party was most likely going to go till the thirteenth hour. He sighed. Young was not a socialite. He would have much rather been at home or in his office doing something productive.

  He considered making up an excuse so he could slip out, but that would not look good in the news. The reporters were stalking the party scene and would notice his departure. He was stuck here at least until the chairman candidate from the House of Oxen left. Sadly, Lord Finn Yuan seemed to be enjoying the festivity very much and would most likely be the last person to leave.

  He avoided making conversation for most of the night unless conversation was forced upon him by the more assertive lords and ladies. Koris was not antisocial; he simply despised all other senators even though he was one himself. The truth of the matter was that Young worked so hard in politics because he wanted to change government and ‘bring back democracy’. Here all the uptowners were acting like royalty and having nameless servants bring them drinks, but Koris was very aware of the world that was down below them. Most uptowners found it easier to be ignorant to the on-goings of downtown. Koris couldn’t bring himself to do that. Unlike most other lords and ladies, he was still a young politician who had not closed his mind off yet.

  A lady from the House of Rats had just sparked up a conversation with Koris before everyone’s eyes darted to the sky. There was an eerie sound as an object whizzed through the air. It looked like a star in the night’s sky as it first shot directly up and then started downwards… toward the rooftop of the Parliament House.

  The reaction was split for the lords and ladies. Some screamed and panicked while others stood still like deer in the headlights. None of them could truly comprehend what was about to happen. Precautions had been taken to keep them safe during the dinner party – how could nobody in security have seen this coming?

  Nikhita cursed repeatedly as she made a dash for the House of Oxen lord closest to her: Koris Young. She grabbed his wrist roughly and hauled him toward the stairwell. Unlike everyone else, she was never surprised to see bombs, missiles, drones or anything of that sort. She came from a hard planet where those things were common in the constant wars for the dwindling resources of Old Earth.

  Most of the security guards had quickly gone into action. However, some ran off without even thinking about the lords and ladies they had sworn to guard. The House of Oxen Chief of Security, Renaldo Davys, was one of these cowards who panicked and dashed to the stairwell as quickly as he could without even taking one look at Lord Finn Yuan: the man he was supposed to primarily protect.

  “It’s a missile,” Koris stated bewilderedly as Nikhita pushed him through the door to the stairwell.

  “Yes, I know!” she hissed. Nikhita did not like it when Koris was this dazed as he was usually so calm and rational.

  Looking back over her shoulder, she saw that Finn was still standing there staring up at the sky. With Renaldo not coming to his aid, Nikhita would have to act fast if she was going to save the man. The warhead would reach its target within seconds. She was not sure how big the detonation would be, she could never tell with missiles. She had seen huge ones leave barely a scratch, and small ones destroy city blocks.

  Nikhita took a step in the direction Finn was before she was pulled back. At some point within the last few seconds Koris had snapped out of his disordered state and realised the danger they were in. He had pulled the deputy chief of security back because he knew it was too late.

  Lady Penelope Renard had fallen to the ground when a panicked lord pushed past her. She looked up just in time to see the missile in the final moments before it exploded. It had been coming for her. The missile had intentionally found her on the rooftop. That was the problem with being the leading candidate: there were many that loved her and many that resented her for being loved.

  Nikhita was winded when the shockwave from the blast blew her and Koris to the ground. The stairwell protected them from most of the blast, but it still left her ears ringing. One of the ladies was hit so hard by the shockwave that she flew over the rail and right down through the never-ending spiral staircase. Nikhita didn’t notice that. Time slowed as she lay helplessly on the floor and watched the fiery explosion consume the poor lords and ladies who had not made it out of the blast range in time. Finn was one of them. He had nearly been at the heart of the explosion. Though her ears were temporarily deaf to all sound save the annoying ringing, she swore she heard Koris scream ‘no’.

  Medics arrived quickly on the scene. Usually a squad of the quantity needed to help so many people would take a while to assemble, but with politicians’ lives on the line they arrived within half an hour. Stepping over the slowly dying servants they
rushed to the fallen lords and ladies with medical kits at the ready.

  The damage done by the missile was without a doubt going to affect the upcoming election. The real question was how many lords and ladies had died… and how many of them had been candidates. The election had never been postponed in Manticore Metropolis and not even the death of every politician in the senate would delay it.

  Only the precise impact point of the missile was charred black. The Parliament House was made out of incredibly strong metal that was virtually indestructible to any manmade weapons. Next to the small black circle lay the disintegrated remains of Lady Penelope Renard. Jordanis stared down at them expressionless with his arm raised so that a medic could seal the large gash across his elbow. It was less than an hour after the chaos and Lysander was already smoking again. He usually found that the long orange cigarettes helped relieve stress, though right then the ‘magic sticks’ were not working.

  “Death lies on her like an untimely frost upon the sweetest flower of all the field,” he murmured before inhaling more orange smoke.

  “Hmm?” The medic looked up from her duty questioningly.

  Lysander looked back: “Romeo and Juliet? No?” Her blank stare made him sigh. “Honestly, what are they teaching kids in schools these days?”

  The medic blushed. She was young, but Shakespearian plays were not taught in the mainstream courses at Manticore Academy. Shakespeare was only taught in the Old Earth fine literature classes. The metaphors used in most of the plays were too hard for a student to comprehend as no Manticorians had ever seen frost blanketing a field. Their planet was a desert wasteland where frost would never form and flowers would never grow under the burning light of the Jhard.

  The only living chairperson candidate was Lady Fae Sonata from the House of Rats. While staring down at Penelope, Lysander thought about how the House of Dragons was most likely going to choose him to be the new chairperson candidate. In that case; who would the deputy chairperson be? Strange things to think about in the aftermath, but there would be time to mourn the lost when he was in office.

  Koris Young chose not to hang around the impact zone. He was stories down getting into his shuttle. Nikhita had advised him to go home and remain safe. There was always the chance that there were more missiles to come. Of course, she remained to help with the investigation as she was the chief of security for House of Oxen now that Renaldo Davys was deceased.

  Based on what the security cameras had picked-up, the trajectory of the missile suggested that it had been a remote-controlled missile fired from downtown. The thought of any downtowner having that sort of weapon made Koris sick out of fear. He wanted to see the downtowners as equal to the uptowners, but he could not deny the state of anarchy the city below was in. If a madman had a stash of remote-controlled missiles in his possession then no one was safe. In times like these all the security personnel from all of the houses worked alongside the police to track down the culprit of such a crime. The police force was small as they were only needed for dealing with issues uptown and therefore they would certainly benefit from the extra assistance.

  “Sssirrr,” A voice hissed behind him as he opened the door to his shuttle.

  Koris spun around instantly before relaxing when he realised it was Ghoad: the new deputy chief of security for the House of the Oxen.

  Ghoad was one of the few svellik remaining in Manticore Metropolis and virtually the only svellik who had a respected occupation. Ghoad was as new to her job in security. Koris had selected her himself because he wanted to see a svellik in the workforce. He had chosen her out of pity, but she certainly made a great security guard. The silver and azure creature stood at eight feet with her superhuman strength and a bullet-proof exoskeleton. Physically she was made to hunt, kill and yet her species had been so tranquil in the time they had ruled the planet.

  Young clasped his chest melodramatically. “You scared me there, Ghoad.”

  The svellik was not one for making small talk. She got right to the point: “Nikhita ssssuggesssted that I essscorrrt you home.”

  He swallowed and looked up at the giant woman: “I do not think you would fit in my shuttle. It was only made for humans.”

  Ghoad made clucking noise that suggested she was snickering. No matter how long had known her, Young still found her species strange. Her speech pattern gave him goose bumps while her lack of human expressions made it impossible for him to really understand what she was thinking or feeling. He wished he understood more about her and her kind, but his job required him to focus on humans, not svellik.

  “I have my own method of trrransssporrrtation,” she said, gesturing to her large insect wings.

  “Right.” Koris nodded, embarrassed. “Of course.” He quickly changed the topic. “Where were you tonight?”

  She did not give him an answer, and he did not push her for one. Her species was strange to him. If she could not or did not want to give him an answer she wouldn’t.

  “Arrre you alrrright, sssirrr?” Ghoad asked via earpiece as she flew beside him through the night’s sky. “I am ssso sssorrrrrry about Lorrrd Finn Yuan and the otherrrsss.”

  “Thank you,” Koris replied with a trembling voice. He was still in shock. “I’m fine for the time being. Everything just feels so surreal.”

  “I underrrssstand,” Ghoad hissed sympathetically. Out of everyone in Manticore Metropolis, she understood loss the most. “Wasss Lady Andrrromeda Sssun at Parrrliament Houssse tonight?”

  “No,” Koris shook his head although Ghoad would not know that, “she was at home in her office.”

  “Have you told herrr you arrre okay?”

  “Yes, I texted her.”

  “Ssshe may dessserrrve a call.”

  “Nah,” he smirked despite the dark situation, “I’ll see her in a few minutes anyways.”

  Ghoad dove down so she was flying right alongside Koris and tapped the glass. He glanced out at her and shrugged with a smile before returning his attention to the front. He had a very worrisome expression.

  “Arrre you going to sssee a doctorrr to make sssurrre you arrre okay?”

  “Eh… Wǒ méiyǒu need to.”


  Koris blinked. Fracturing Mandarin and English and taking word from each language to form a sentence was so natural to him that he did not think twice. Bhoad’s brain did not work that way. She understood both Mandarin and English, and yet she could only process one language at a time.

  “I don’t need to see a doctor,” he repeated fully in English.

  “Andrrromeda will be the judge of that.”

  Koris waved goodbye to Ghoad as he waited for his garage to open. She zipped away, off to help Nikhita Kothari with the investigation.

  One figure stood in the doorway of the garage while a second bounded forward before putting its paws on his stomach.

  Koris smiled sincerely for the first time that day. He scratched the grey-haired dog’s head as he gently pushed him down. “Hey, Kiddo.”

  Young looked back up at the figure in the doorway. A part of him had expected her to run with outstretched arms and embrace him, then he remembered that he was married to Lady Andromeda Sun.

  “A text message?” She held up her silver phone to show him the message. “Zhēn de ma?”

  Her tone suggested that she was more annoyed than relieved to see him. Koris did not care. He knew that’s just how she was. At her grand age of nearly two-hundred she found there was little time to be anxious. However, there was always time to be irritated.

  “I felt like it was better for me to just send you a quick text confirming I was alive and then… No, Kiddo.” Koris pushed the dog down when it tried to jump up on him again. “… And then I thought it would be better to talk to you in person instead of over the phone.”

  “Uh-huh.” She nodded along sarcastically. “I’m sure.”

  In a brief moment of heart; she ran her hand across his cheek before leaning in for a kiss. Koris knew bette
r than to miss this opportunity to kiss her back. She rarely expressed her emotions physically and when she did, they were in private so that the rest of the world wouldn’t know.

  After the tender moment, Koris followed her out of the garage and into the lounge where his children were waiting. Most important politicians lived in large apartments or, if you were Lysander Jordanis, up on top of the canyon outside of the city in a large estate, but Koris and Andromeda lived a more humble life in a moderately sized apartment. Neither of them saw a reason to get a larger home as they did not spend much time in it anyways with their busy schedules.

  Silently, Melody and Flick jumped off the white couches and ran to Koris. Andromeda had told them to stay in the lounge until she had seen him first and they both new better than to defy her. Flick slowed down so that Melody could hug her father first. He knew that she always had first rights to their parents.

  Few words were exchanged between Melody and Koris. She just hugged him before taking a step back and sniffing. That was when he saw her red eyes.

  “Nǐ okay, sweetie?” he asked with a smile.

  She nodded, but was too afraid to talk because her voice would be croaky. Flick glanced at Melody, voicelessly asking permission for his go at hugging Koris. She looked at him before looking away. He took that as a ‘yes’ and proceeded to hug Koris.

  “W-we saw the footage,” he stammered in a higher voice than most would expect to come out of a man his age.

  Koris indistinctly swayed with the boy from side to side in attempt to calm him as he sobbed. He was certainly the most openly emotional member of the household. Although Melody was teary eyed, she had already gone back to the couch to watch her favourite soap opera which had just started. Andromeda was similar and had gone to the kitchen area to prepare dinner. The pair preferred to hide their emotions and reflect on them while continuing with their usual routines. Then there was Flick, who had never learned to control his feelings.

  To an outsider looking in; there was something off about the family of four, and that was because they were not all family. Melody was very much Koris and Andromeda’s daughter. She looked like a sixteen year-old clone of her mother, but her skin tone was more like her father’s. Then there was Flick: the one that didn’t make sense. He was not of Old Earth Asian heritage unlike the other three. Even if that fact was ignored, his facial structure was completely different. While the rest of the family had more rounded faces, his was long and sharp. While everyone else had straight silky black hair, he had chestnut brown hair that flicked out to match his name.

  The differences from his family were not the only things about him noticed on first look. His body looked abnormal. Although he wasn’t exactly a towering giant, he had elongated limbs that made him seem taller. The poor boy could not wear tight shirts without looking strange because of his rib cage that bulged out as if it wanted to tear through his skin and escape. Koris felt grief for the young man. All these traits, and then he had stunted learning and dyslexia. He loved his daughter, Melody, but he knew she would make it in Manticore Metropolis. Flick… he was not so sure about.

  The four ate dinner in silence. Although Andromeda, Flick and Melody all wanted to ask questions about what had happened on the rooftop they knew Koris was not in the proper headspace to have a discussion. After all, it had only happened hours ago.

  “Does that mean you’re the new zhǔxí candidate?” Melody muttered quietly so that if Koris was offended by the question, she could act like she had said nothing at all.

  Koris did not reply before he had taken a sip of juice to slicken his dry throat. “That’s for the House to decide,” he said calmly.

  “Do you want to be?’ she persisted.

  “Mel,” Andromeda said firmly.

  Koris looked up in thought for a moment. “I want a good night’s sleep. That’s what I want.” He stood up with his empty bowl and cup. “Tomorrow is most likely going to be a grim, hectic day and I need some rest before I face the day. Wǎn’ān.”

  “Wǎn’ān,” Andromeda and Melody chorused.

  “Goodnight!” Flick said with the best smile he could manage on this sad night.

  He put his dishware in the washing machine before disappearing into the master bedroom. Andromeda gave her daughter a judgemental look. Embarrassed by her own rudeness, the teenager avoided her gaze and continued to eat her meal.

  Grey water filled the sink basin of the master bedroom’s bathroom. Only the water from the kitchen faucet was safely drinkable while the rest of the apartment’s water supply was poor quality. Their family was fortunate enough to be able to afford quality water in one tap. Compared to other families in the apartments nearer to downtown who could only afford was the poor quality water, they were quite lucky. And all of them we’re luckier than the downtowners’ whose water supply had practically been cut which was why many downtowners had resorted to drinking the blood of other humans.

  The water helped cool down Koris’ face which had been heating up since he arrived home. He felt like he was coming down with a heatstroke even though he had been in cool environments the whole day. When splashing droplets onto his face was no longer enough, Koris shuddered out of his robe and let it drop to the floor – as to avoid getting it wet – and plunged his whole head into the basin. Eyes closed, he listened to the water swirling around in his ear canals. The sound helped him imagine that he was swimming in one of those great seas he had seen in timeworn photos and videos from Old Earth. Oh, how he wished he was on Old Earth, or any other lush planet. If he ever made the money, he would get his family off Manticore.

  He came back up when his lungs were depleted of air. Water dripped from his choppy bangs and into his eyes, blurring his vision. However, he noticed a tall figure leaning against the doorway in the mirror’s reflection.

  “I sure hope that wasn’t your attempt to drown yourself,” she said calmly.

  “No. It wasn’t,” Koris gasped as he regained his breath.

  Andromeda stepped into the bathroom as he reached for the towel. Looking down, she saw his House of Oxen robe on the floor. She had worked from home the whole day and yet she had still worn her black and red-lined chief consultant of synthetic agriculture robe. It went down to her knees unlike Koris’ which went to his ankles unless it was a special occasion in which case he wore his robe which went down to the floor.

  As he dried off his face, she reached down and picked up his robe before draping it over his shoulders. Koris was very aware of the robe’s weight. It felt as if boulders had been tied to it, dragging him down.

  “They’re dead,” he said coldly. “Tāmen died only hours ago.”

  “The bastardly killer will be found.”

  “No.” He made eye contact with her reflection. “The missile came from downtown. There are too many nutcases to put in the line-up.” He dropped his head and sighed. “The House of Oxen doesn’t have chance in hell now that Yuan is dead.”

  “They have nǐ.”

  “That’s the wèntí. Wǒ only seventy. Even if I somehow managed to defeat Lysander at his own game in debating, there would still be the bias due to my age and the people would remain in favour of the oldest candidate.”

  Andromeda swallowed. She had only then just realised that with Penelope gone, the charismatic lord would be taking her place.

  “All is uncertain at this time. Nǐ bù zhīdào if the House of Oxen will even choose to have wǒ as the zhǔxí candidate,” she said in broken Mandarin and English. Like her husband, she jumped between the languages when she was speaking casually, but when in formal company she would either speak fully in Mandarin or English.

  “And, starting tomorrow, wǒ going to have to address the public, then have a meeting with the House of Oxen about the election whilst planning Finn’s funeral service,” he moaned before scooping some water into his hand and throwing at his heating-up face.

  His wife stared at him curiously. He did not necessarily seem sad about Lord Finn Yuan’s death
. He seemed more annoyed that he had to deal with it. She decided not to judge him for it. After all, he was going to be under a mountain of stress for a good long while. Had the election been even a few more months away, he probably would have found more time to mourn Finn, but with only a month he had so little time for his own thoughts.

  “Tell the House nǐ don’t want to be the zhǔxí,” she suggested.

  “But I do want to be it,” he insisted with a strained voice. “It’s just… wǒ wish I had longer to prepare for everything. I want to be the chairperson, and wǒ want to run this chéngshì and make it better, however I’m not sure that I’m ready.”

  Andromeda smiled. “You know, back in the ‘ye olden’ days, a seventy year-old would’ve actually been considered pretty old and wise.”

  “Oh, how wǒ wish for those times.”

  The only sound in the room came from the grey water circling the drain. Koris’ face was still hot, but he did not want to look strange in front of Andromeda by repeatedly dousing his face with water.

  “All will be sorted in the morning… Which is why you need to sleep,” she said before strolling out of the bathroom and into the dim-lit bedroom.

  Sleep did not sound appealing to Koris. He felt that he should still be out with Nikhita and Ghoad sorting at the Parliament House. Would the public think he was careless for just leaving the crime scene and going home to have dinner? Would the public reject him as a chairperson candidate? Who knew? All the answers would have to wait for the morning. By that time, the whole of uptown Manticore Metropolis would be aware of what had happened the night before. They would be scared. Scared because if terrorists could easily kill such important politicians then how safe was anybody?

  He quickly pushed these thoughts from his mind. Not only for the reason that they made him stressed, but because he felt like now was not an appropriate time to be thinking about all of this. Lord Finn Yuan, a good friend of his, was dead along with many other lords and ladies who had perished in the attack. Koris felt he was supposed to be grieving, and yet could not bring himself to.

  In bed, he was no less stressed. In fact, he was wide awake and messaging the heads of the House of Oxen. Of course, he had his tablet screen set to dark as not to disturb Andromeda. She had rolled over a few times and watched him avoid sleep, but never said a word.

  Koris was left alone when even the House of Oxen heads went to sleep. He switched off his tablet and set it on the silver bedside table. Quietly, he slipped his feet onto the ground and sat up. Koris never had to worry about cold night air giving him goose bumps. After all, he lived on the hottest planet known to mankind.

  After throwing on a thin grey shirt and a black pair of pants, he quietly slipped out of the bedroom and into the lounge. Only the motion detecting lights came on, giving the lounge and kitchen area a nice dark ambiance. The only other light source came from the glass wall that faced the city, including the Parliament House. The wall of thick glass was clear for the moment, however as soon as the Jhard started to rise it would automatically switch to black so no light or heat could pass through it – a clever design for the windows that the svellik set up just before the humans turned on them.

  The city was very quiet that night. That was partly because of how late it was and partly because of the attack on the Parliament House. Even from this far away, Koris could still see the emergency shuttles flying to and from the rooftop where the missile had detonated. He wondered if Nikhita and Ghoad were still up there. Maybe it would have been wise for him to go back and try to help them. No, Nikhita would send him straight home again.

  I could start writing my obituary for Finn, he suggested to himself.

  Again, no. He certainly wasn’t in the proper headspace to start a thing like that. He could always have another House of Oxen lord or lady of a lower ranking write it for him. Sadly, once the thought was in his head he began to mentally note down what he was going to say.

  He glimpsed away from the window when he heard a scratching noise followed by a very quiet ‘woof’. No matter how quiet he tried to be, Kiddo always heard him when he got up late at night.

  Naturally, he opened the door and the dog slipped out. Had he left him in there he would have most likely woken Melody up to try and get her to open the door. Kiddo associated people waking up with food. No matter what time it was, he would expect you to feed him as soon as you got up.

  “Shush, shǎ gǒu,” he muttered as Kiddo jumped around him while making snorting noises. “Wanna go for a walk? Huh, is that what you want?”

  As soon as Koris heard the word ‘walk’ he heard the clicking of an opening door. Flick emerged from his room half-naked as he tried to step into his pants while walking. Once he finished hastily dressing he looked over at Koris and Kiddo and put on a smile that appeared to be masking his true emotions. His red, swollen eyes told Koris that the young man had been crying. He chose not to ask why Flick had been crying because he already knew the answer. It would always be the same answer.

  Koris found himself averting his eyes from Flick’s bare chest. The boy had lived with him, almost like a son, for ten years and yet he still was not used to seeing the abnormal structure of Flick’s skeleton. Outsiders would think Flick was starving because his bones were so blatant underneath his skin.

  “Can I come?” Flick whispered as to be considerate of the members of the house who were still asleep.

  Koris nodded before dipping his hand into the glass bowl on the kitchen counter in search of the dog leash. “We’re just going to Jīngāngshí Jìshù building and back.”

  “Okay,” Flick said before tip-toeing back into his room to quickly grab a shirt.

  Koris looked away again when the young man turned to reveal his equally disturbing back. His spine throbbed with every movement he made as if it was a snake under his flesh. Although he was not sure why, Koris always found himself comparing Flick’s deformed skeleton to Ghoad’s exoskeleton. It was terrible to compare the two, but Koris couldn’t stop himself.

  Luckily Flick came back out wearing a loose and baggy T-shirt that covered his disturbing torso. Now it was just his long lanky arms that were the problem. Oh well, Koris thought, nobody else will be walking through the skyways at this hour.

  Regardless of who was walking Kiddo, the walk always consisted of walking to Jīngāngshí Jìshù – and further if Kiddo wanted a longer walk – because the two skyways taken to get to the Jīngāngshí Jìshù were quite long. When Koris and Melody took the dog for a walk at the sixth hour they would always encounter other people walking with their pets. Unlike in the past of Old Earth where dogs would greet and sniff each other, the modern Manticorian dogs simply ignored one another as they were determined to finish their tedious walks. What the humans of Manticore did not realise was that dogs weren’t meant to be contained in escapeless buildings and skyways. The creatures would actually prefer to be downtown where there were so many different smells instead of up in the sterile skyways. Koris never even considered how unnatural Kiddo’s life was. Why would he? He knew no different himself.

  Like in the apartment, the glass flooring and ceiling of the skyways was clear at night and would only darken during the day. Koris found himself in a serene mood whenever he strolled barefoot through a skyway at night. This was the time of night when even the advertisements on the wall were motionless and therefore less irritatingly distracting.

  With the stars above and the dark city below, he felt like he was walking on air. He walked very dreamily and for that moment forgot all about what had happened mere hours ago. Sadly, he was repeatedly snapped back into reality whenever he accidentally slowed down and Kiddo tried to drag him forward.

  It was a different effect for Flick. The young man had not spent his time around glass as a child and had to avoid looking down. No matter how thick the glass was, he felt like he could fall at any moment. Nobody ever understood why the young man insisted on going on the walks at night if he was so afraid of them, and Flick w
as not sure why he did it either. It was most likely because he liked spending time with Koris away from the other two members of the family. He understood that Melody hated him, and he was afraid of Andromeda. When he first became a part of the family ten years ago he was truly an uncontrollable rascal as he had never learned manners. Andromeda was the one who disciplined him with a firm hand because Koris did not have the heart to do it himself. Flick was grateful she had taught him manners, but their relationship was built on him respecting and fearing her. But with Koris; the man was security for him. The man was almost a father to him even though Flick would never use that word to describe Koris. To Flick, that word only brought up painful memories… Memories that he wanted to remain where he had left them: downtown.

  “You sleep at all tonight?” Koris asked to break the silence.

  “Uh huh,” Flick replied, lying.

  Young looked away for a moment as he thought about the best way to phrase his words: “I know I’ve said this before,” he paused when he saw Flick’s worried expression, “but if you’re not sleeping then I think you should give the medication Doctor Kùn suggested a chance. I think it could really help y–”

  “No,” Flick said simply.

  And that was that. Legally, Koris couldn’t make the young man do anything he didn’t want to. He was twenty-two, so he was recognised as an adult and Koris was not his legal guardian anyways. The boy had lived with the family for decade, but social services had guardianship of Flick up until he was twenty-five. The social service laws and requirements annoyed Koris. An uptowner child who was adopted would be happily relinquished by social services, and yet they always kept a leash on downtowner children so that they would be the deciders of the children’s fate if for some reason they broke the law or went insane.

  Koris just wanted Flick to start sleeping again so that when social services did their annual check-up on the boy, they would not declare him insane or ‘unfit’ for uptown society. If that happened, Flick would be shipped down to McCarty’s Haven for Children, and then when he was twenty-five he would be thrown out onto the pavement before most likely getting killed by a crazy downtowner who wanted his organs – Koris did not want the young man to have this tragic fate when he knew it was avoidable.

  “Just… think about it,” he whispered solemnly.

  Flick did not reply, and he was not expected to. The young man was not much of a talker. Part of that was because of how shy he was, and the other part of it was because he had only started to learn proper English nine years ago – because he did not go to school in his first year uptown – which was when his dyslexia was discovered. He had not started learning Mandarin yet. Koris wanted the boy to have a good understanding of casual English before moved to formal Mandarin.

  They soon reached their destination, and no surprise the glass doors that lead into Jīngāngshí Jìshù were locked. They could have continued walking down the skyway until they reached the next building but Kiddo was ready to go back to the apartment. The dog had originally gotten up because he had wanted to be fed, he had not been desperate to walk.

  “You’ra gonna be really busy till the election thingy aren’t ya?” Flick asked as they walked home.

  Young was surprised to hear the downtowner-type language style breaking through. He presumed the boy was talking like that without even realising it.

  “Yes, I suppose so,” he replied after a moment of thought. “Well… more busy than I was already going to be.”

  “Are ye scared?”

  Koris shrugged. “Surprisingly, no. I think a part of me still thinks this is all a bad dream that I’m going to wake up from. Once that idea dissipates I should be freaking out.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  He looked at the young man with an intrigued expression. “Sorry for what?”

  Flick shrugged. He was not sure why he was apologetic. It just felt like the right thing to say. Young swapped the leash to his other hand and reached up to ruffle Flick’s hair in a good-natured manner. The young man’s childlike ways always made him smile. Then again, he also knew his innocent nature was only tip of the mountain peeking through the grey dust clouds. Flick was only innocent-minded because of his lack of understanding of the universe.

  Although it was sad that the young man had never gotten the basic knowledge he should have back when he was a child, Koris liked that Flick was the one other person uptown who didn’t care for the political system. The boy did not understand why decisions always took so long to make in the senate. All he wanted was action. Koris expected that Flick had this attitude because when he was younger, he absorbed every word out of Koris’ mouth and agreed with him on everything – save the discussions about his own body – and took his words as own opinion. He also suspected that Flick had this outlook because in the downtown realm people didn’t wait around for a senate to dictate their actions. Downtowners were all about instant action – that was probably why there was anarchy down there as well.

  “I hope you win,” Flick said simply as they reached the door to their apartment.

  “That would be nice,” Koris admitted, “but it has not yet been decided if I’m actually going to be the chairman candidate. That decision will most likely not be discussed until tomorrow.”

  “Why won’t it be discussed today?” Flick asked in an irritated manner. He looked checked the time on the clock in the skyway. They had the whole day ahead of them to discuss who the new candidates would be.

  “Because today is the day that all the houses are going to have to formally address the public about the deaths. We need at least one day of grievance before we get right back into politics.”

  Flick nodded. He understood that. “Will ya get more money if you become the zh-zhǔ… the chairperson thingy?”

  Koris scowled jokingly. “It’s not about the money.”

  “So it’s the power?”

  “I can’t please you, can I?”

  Flick’s giggle was pitched like a little girl’s. Koris was used to the young man’s strangely high voice, but it shocked outsiders. Then again; everything about Flick shocked outsiders.


  About two hours before the Jhard was to disappear behind the walls of the great canyon, the top lords and ladies from the House of Dragons filed into the meeting room on Lysander’s estate. Yesterday had been all about commemoration and grievance for the lost, but today had been the day when the new candidates were chosen from the parties.

  Lady Fae Sonata was still the chairperson candidate from the House of Rats, but the original deputy chairperson candidate, Lady Arietta Sparrow, had perished in the attack so Lord Isaac Hobart had replaced her. Unsurprisingly, Lord Lysander Jordanis was the new chairperson candidate for the House of Dragons while his new deputy chairperson candidate was Lady Ester Banai. Lysander wasn’t happy with having Ester chosen for him. The girl was only two-hundred and eight, but somehow she still wasn’t the the youngest candidate running.

  Koris Young had originally been a surprising choice for deputy chairperson candidate, and now he was an absolutely shocking choice for the chairman candidate. His deputy chairperson candidate, Lord Norman Blanc, was certainly not happy about Koris being the candidate and happily told the reporters that at the press conference after the decision was made.

  All the lords and ladies could not help but give Lysander a strange look as they found their seats in the dimly lit room. He sat at the head of the giant silver table with his feet up and orange smoke seeping from his mouth as he exhaled. Usually the House of Dragons heads did not allow smoking during a meeting, but this was Lysander’s estate so he could do whatever he wanted… and it did help that he was the chairman candidate now.

  Jordanis looked rather content on the outside regardless of how many thoughts were racing through his mind. He was not exactly stressed despite the situation and he could thank the orange cigarettes for that.

  “Honestly,” he began in English which meant the whole meeting now had to be
in English, “it’s as if the House of Oxen intentionally wants to lose the election this year.” Nobody answered, so Jordanis swung his feet off the table and leaned forward so that they all knew this was serious. “Give me all of it, all the dirt you have on this kid and someone explain why he’s the new chairman candidate.”

  “Lord Lysander Jordanis.” A holographic picture came up to match the name. “Old Earth English-European descendant. Age six-hundred and four until his birthday tomorrow. Son of Lord Preston Jordanis. He has been a major member of the House of Dragons for three-hundred years. Before then he taught economics and history at the University of Manticore…”

  “Hang on a moment.” Koris put his hand up to stop the presentation. Everyone around the bronze table looked away from the picture and at him instead. “Who is Lysander’s mother?”

  “We have no record of her,” the lady reading out the facts stated in clean Mandarin. Unlike the House of Dragons, the House of Oxen always tried to hold their important meetings in Mandarin as it was the formal language.

  “How can we have no record of his mother?” Koris asked. “She likely would have had to be in the records if she was with Preston. And if she was around the same age as Preston was then she would have to be in the original ark database. Have you checked the archives?”

  Another lord stepped in for the lady presenting: “We believe Lysander was given to Preston anonymously in a kind of a left-on-the-doorstep incident. She was likely a young servant or prostitute.”

  Koris raised an eyebrow. He was unconvinced.

  “Don’t you find it strange that there is no information on this? Preston was on the ark, and was the translator for the svellik. You’d think we’d know more about his life and how Lysander came into being. Jordanis is a household name.”

  The lord nodded in understanding. “Maybe that is something to bring up to the press,” he said impishly.

  Young shook his head. “I don’t want to seem judgemental… because I’m not.” All the lords and ladies in the room knew he was telling the truth. After all, he had adopted Flick. “And even bringing it up would give the impression that I was nit-picking the petty things.”

  “Lord Koris Young. Old Earth Chinese-Armenian descendant. Age seventy, turning seventy-one in three months on the 3rd. Son of Lady Jade Young, deceased, and Emmanuel Baek, also deceased. Brother o–”

  “I know all this,” Lysander stated firmly. “Well, I didn’t know Koris had a sibling. Please continue.”

  The pale man rolled his eyes before signalling for the presentation to start again. “His sister, Fátima Young, was fifty-six years his senior and died thirty-six years ago from her injuries when an unknown attacker assaulted her in the Marley Skyway.”

  Lysander inhaled orange smoke and exhaled it before answering. “How charming. Tell me, was it a sexual assault?”

  The lord checked his tablet before shaking his head. “Just a random killing. It’s kind of expected on the west side of town where the Marley Skyway is.”

  It was a strange and dark question for Lysander to ask, but he was trying to piece together Koris’ psychological makeup to understand his rival better. Past incidences would affect how Koris responded to situations in the modern day. Lysander had already figured out that Young put the responsibility on his own shoulders to save downtowners from death, and maybe that was because he felt guilt around his sister’s death.

  “Have any of us thought about why the House of Oxen made him the chairman candidate?”

  “It’s all speculation at the moment,” one of the heads of the House of Dragons, Lady Naomi Turay, said. “We believe that the House of Oxen knows they’re going to lose the election this year, so they are simply testing unusual candidates, like Koris, to see what kind of approval rating they get from the civilians so they’re more prepared in a decade.”

  “So you don’t see Young as threat,” Lysander murmured, unconvinced. “I think we’re underestimating him and that is exactly what the House of Oxen wants. That boy is going to have so much publicity on him due to his age that he could sway people his way via the media.”

  “That is unlikely,” the head laughed in a low voice. She – who used to be a ‘he’, but got bored of that gender – was of Old Earth African descendant which was impossible to tell because of her sickly white skin. “Nobody will be swayed by a seventy year-old.”

  “Nobody from the generations above him, but he may have more of an appeal than I do to the younger generations… and the downtowners.”

  The ears of everyone in the room perked up.

  “Downtowners don’t vote,” one said.

  “Because they do not understand the point and there is no way to vote down there, but with over three quarters of the population below what if Koris appealed to them and the House of Oxen paid to put in voting systems for the downtowners?” he asked even though he wanted no answer.

  “Like I said,” Naomi said calmly, “it’s all speculation at the moment.”

  “My tactic is to appeal to a greater variation of people,” Koris boldly told the Oxen members. “I’m aware that I am simply a test subject for this election as Lysander is likely to win the election, but that means I have nothing to lose by doing my own experiments.”

  “Who do you want to appeal to?” one of the heads asked anxiously. “The generations below yours? That’s not a very large demographic.”

  “There are a lot of downtowners that should have their say in who runs Manticore Metropolis,” he murmured in hopes that no one else would hear. Sadly, even Nikhita who was standing on the other side of the room at the door heard him. He knew that because of how quickly her eyes widened.

  “You’re hilarious” the head said in an aggressive tone. “I refuse to let the lunatics down below vote for things that affect my life.”

  “We vote for things that affect their life all the time,” Koris objected. “The downtowners don’t even have any say in what happens to their water.”

  The head’s nostrils flared: “Well I–”

  “You should use that against Lysander!” one lady interjected without realising she had cut-off one of the heads. “The Jordanis family has owned the purest water in our pipes since we arrived on the ark. In the first debate you have with him you should bring up the fact he lets downtowners – and even some uptowners – die of thirst or contaminated water as they do not have access to his water.”

  “I like that.” Koris nodded. “We just have to give the downtowners a way to vote.”

  The head who had disagreed before was still displeased: “You can get every downtowner to vote for you, and it won’t matter. Lord Jordanis will destroy your soul before he lets you win an election.”

  Young raised an eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”

  “If he sees you as any kind of threat he will find ways to ruin both your career and your life. Remember what happened to Lady Dakota Morris?”

  He had heard the story: Dakota had been the deputy chairperson candidate from the House of Rats thirty years ago. Although he was not running for deputy chairperson for his own party, Lysander still took it upon himself to unveil all of Morris’ secrets and also ruined her home life when her husband walked in on him and Dakota in bed together. Koris doubted that would happen to him, but it was always a fear. His family was already so tangled with the Jordanis family as Prince was dating Melody and Andromeda had had sex with Lysander long ago. The thought made Koris realise that his family was too close for comfort to Lysander’s.

  “I don’t have any real secrets to hide from the public,” Koris reassured the head.

  “If that were true,” the head said with obvious doubt, “then Lysander would make secrets for you that you would want to hide from the public.”

  “Did he do that to Lord Finn Yuan?”

  “We believe he did not consider Finn a threat. He may see you as a threat though, because of your young age. If we know anything about Jordanis: we know he likes to be the most youthful of the candida

  Young smirked. He would hardly consider himself ‘youthful’ even if he was the youngest. In fact, he acted more like a grizzled old man than anything. Nonetheless, he was undoubtedly going to be known for his young age.

  “Well,” Lysander stood to signal the end of the meeting, “although all this speculation about Lord Koris Young is intriguing, I would prefer to do my own research on him from now on.”

  None of the lords or ladies asked Jordanis what is personal research would include. They couldn’t because all his research was better off the record. Also, most of them already had an idea of the types of things he would do to get information.

  “Remember Lysander,” the head began cautiously, “you only have a month to do your ‘research’… and do it subtly.”

  “Understood,” he agreed before snuffing his cigarette by crushing it into the silver table. “In fact, I will start tomorrow night.”

  “How so?”

  Jordanis smiled manically. “You’ll know soon enough.”

  The head who was sitting closest to him smiled as she stood up: “For a moment I thought that evil look on your face meant that you were going to spit out another Shakespearian quote that alluded to your master plan.”

  Lysander sighed jokingly. “I could not find any to fit the situation in my quote index. Well, except for ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’, but you don’t even know what I’m talking about anyways.”

  “You’re insane. You know that right?” Nikhita said in a strained voice as she escorted Koris to his shuttle. “Getting downtowners to vote is not going to win you any uptowner’s favour.”

  “I have nothing to lose,” he replied sternly.

  “Save the election.”

  “The House of Niú thinks I’ve already lost the election.”

  “But now your loss is certain.”

  “I’m doing what I think is right and that’s all that matters,” he looked her directly in the eye. “This is my one chance to really change the city. Even if I do lose the election, at least I will have gotten my opinion out.”

  “Just don’t damage the House of Oxen’s reputation.” After getting an annoyed glare from Koris, she decided to let that part of the conversation go: “Are you going to primarily market to downtowners?”

  “I’m going to empathise with them at the least and try to get the downtowners to understand that I want to help them. A real victory would be if I could get more uptowners to feel sympathy for them too.”

  “Good luck with that.”

  Both of their devices ringed simultaneously. Nikhita checked her wrist computer while Koris pulled out his tablet. After a skim read of what they had been sent both looked at each other with surprise.

  “Did you just get a message from Lysander?” Nikhita asked as they halted just outside of the shuttle hangar.

  “The one about his birthday bash?” Koris smirked. “Oh yes, yes I did.”

  Nikhita looked at the message again: “Hooray, it says we can each bring one guest… Now I have to figure out something to wear before tomorrow night.”

  Young raised his eyebrows. “Děngdài, you’re not actually considering going are you?”

  “Yeah,” she nodded slowly, “and you’re going too.”

  He scoffed. “You’re hilarious. It’s a trap, Niki. He’s going to try and ruin me and probably you too.”

  “Hey may be,” she agreed, “but it may ruin your more to seem like a foul player by not attend your opponent’s party.”

  He considered this even if he did not want to. Nikhita gave him a hard pat on the shoulder.

  “Besides, providing you keep your lips sealed, what’s the worst thing that could happen at his party where we’ll be surrounded by hundreds of other partygoers? If we know anything, he’s a man of the shadows when he plays dirty. Only at the final moment will he go public and are you going to give him anything to go public with?”

  The look he had on his face suggested uncertainty within himself. “He has a way of squeezing information out of people.”

  “Relax, I’ll have your back,” she said sincerely.

  Koris still was not convinced. “Eh… I’ll tell you my answer tomorrow morning. I’ll probably check what the heads think I should do. Maybe some of them are going”

  She shook her head as she looked at who the message was sent to. “No… None of the others were invited.”

  Koris swallowed. That was not a good sign.

  “You going to bring a ‘plus one’?” she asked, as she thought about the question herself.

  If he knew one thing, he knew he was not going to bring Andromeda. Lysander was a very dangerous man to be around when he got competitive and he would undoubtedly bring up the fact he had had sex with his wife while Koris was still preparing for high school exams. And now that Koris was his direct rival the man would probably see if he could seduce Andromeda again.

  “We’ll see, but probably not.”

  Nikhita laughed. “Then we shall be loners together.”

  “This is all if I go of course.”

  “Sure. Whatever.”

  The Jhard was still high enough in the sky that Koris’ shuttle windows were tinted black and he had to use the monitor to navigate the sky.

  While flying, he pondered the birthday situation. He wasn’t suspicious about why he was invited to the gathering, but why would Lysander invite Nikhita? Did he intend to get House of Oxen security information out of her? He had to know her will power was stronger than any other person’s on Manticore, and yet Koris was still anxious. Jordanis could be so subtle about stealing information that she wouldn’t notice. Maybe it would come down to her pride if he questioned her efficiency. Nikhita could be quite boastful and what if she boasted a little too much?

  You must give Nikhita a little more credit, he thought in a scolding tone. Nonetheless you should attend the party with her just to make sure Jordanis doesn’t try anything.

  “Sounds like it’s going to be a blast.” Andromeda passed him back his tablet over the dining table before returning to her meal.

  Koris shifted in his seat. “Nǐ bù xīwàng to come, do you?”

  “Do nǐ want wǒ to come?” she asked suspiciously.

  “Wǒ think it may be wiser if nǐ don’t, but don’t let me stop you.”

  She shrugged. “Wǒ have work to do. What about you, Mel?” Their daughter looked up from her meal upon hearing her name. “Do nǐ want to go?”

  “No. Prince has invited wǒ to the cinema because his bà is having a party. Wǒ really have no interest in hanging around with a bunch of dull politicians.”

  Melody could not figure out why her father was glaring at her judgingly. Was it because she was disrespecting politicians or the fact she was going out with Prince?

  “This close to election, try to avoid political talks with Princeton,” he warned. “If tā is anything like his bà–”

  “He’s not,” she growled.

  Koris put his hands up defensively.

  “Hey, it’s not tā de fault. Lysander can get anyone to do his bidding. The man’s a menace.”

  “Prince isn’t a political guy,” Melody said proudly. “He likes artsy stuff.”

  “So he says,” her father muttered before taking another bite of his meal.

  “Can I come?”

  The other three members of household looked to Flick questioningly. He suddenly shrunk in his seat, fearing judgement.

  “I beg your pardon?” Koris asked in a soft voice as to not scare the boy.

  “Can I go to the party thingy?”

  Andromeda and Koris exchanged a look. Was it wise to send the boy who feared his own shadow to Jordanis’ party? Lysander would tear the boy’s already fragile mind to pieces just for fun.

  “Down, Kiddo. Not now.” Koris whispered before pushing the dog’s face away from his plate.

  “Why do you want to go?” Andromeda inquired.

  The young man shrugged and cast his eyes downward. The
truth was that he could not remember the last party he went to. And now that he was out of remedial school he felt he was socialising with other people less than he should’ve been. He did like being around other people even if he did not fully understand how to interact with them.

  “I’m not sure if it’s… your kind of party,” Koris said cautiously.

  Flick shrugged again. “I don’t mind. I just wanna go.”

  “Flicka-roo, it’s Lysander’s party. It is not exactly for younger people.”

  “Then why did Andromeda ask her if she wanted to go to the thingy?” he whined in a high voice, pointing at Melody accusingly.

  Lost for words, Koris decided that it was easiest to give into the young man: “All right. You can come if you want, but we just have to be careful.” Flick cocked his head to the side in confusion. “We’ll be in enemy territory.”

  “I’ll be fine, “the young man said to try and reassure Koris. “It should be fun.”

  Koris laughed at the idea of Lysander’s party being ‘fun’.
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