“Cherry Blossom Fantasy”

“I thought you would have been in the examiner’s office all day, Mrs. Albury.” Carmella Albury, aged fifty-two, had been the principal for seven years. She was the kind of woman who could never take the word no for an answer. If need be, she would push compromise by any means necessary, provided it was in favor of her or of the institution she had worked so hard to maintain over the years.

We were sitting in her office, though it could have easily been mistaken for a miniature library. Each wall was lined end to end with thick books, and in the center of the room was a desk crafted from imported Martian Cedar. Its strong aroma permeated the office, swirling with the scent of the paper volumes. It was a clear sign of her inflated perception of affluence as an administrator. I can’t say I really cared for it, and I judged her harshly for it in my head.

“I was having my lunch, unfortunately for you. Honestly, you are quite possibly the most disruptive honor student I have met in the entirety of my career. Hell, I would go as far as to say you’re the most disruptive in the history of this school!” She slumped back in her chair, weaving her fingers in and out while staring at the footage on her desktop monitor. “If we had been in audit when this happened, my entire staff would have been at risk of an inquiry!”

“I don’t believe I did anything out of the ordinary, Principal.”

“Excuse me!?”

Taking a deep breath, I stood up and placed my hands together in front of my hips. “With all due respect, the video footage shows my friends and I playing a card game together, but there is no evidence that we personally used real money for the event. Furthermore, my actions in starting a physical duel were to prevent an already violent situation from further escalating. By willfully parting with some of my own money, I spared another student from serious injury.”

“And you’re willing to stake your record on that, Miss Cassia?”

“I’ll stake my life if need be.” This elicited a sarcastic chuckle from Mrs. Albury, yet she took a moment to drink from her water bottle and think things over. I could tell that her gut reaction would be to hand down a suspension without delay. After all, were this the real world, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on and I’d likely see fines or probation for my recklessness. So it surprised me just a little when she hesitated.

Mrs. Albury turned to me and said, “You are the number twelve student of your class. Your teachers speak highly of your ability to convey reason and it certainly shows here. Why then do you insist on walking the dark side of the line?”

“Is that how you refer to it? You misunderstand; the reason I act as I do is simply because I often don’t know what I want to do. In many respects I have nothing better to do, and if I were to be perfectly honest, I think the true nature of the issue is that nobody else here has anything better to do either.”

“Miss Cassia!”

My resolve began to manifest itself even more fervently than before. “For what it’s worth, I do feel obligated to take some responsibility. I would hate to see Bradley be penalized when I went through all the trouble in the first place to keep him on the straight and narrow. If you want to hold me accountable, in no way will I try to stop you. After all, you do run this place, don’t you?”

This struck a chord in the older woman and she leapt from her chair, eyes locked on my own. I had no intention of breaking and I was certain that she herself knew it. After what felt like an eon, the principal relented and slumped back into her chair. “I don’t care; do whatever the hell you want.”

A sigh of relief escaped me and I turned to walk out the door. She called out to me one last time. “Know this if nothing else. Were the reputation of this institution to be tarnished in any way by your antics, expulsion would be the least of your concerns. I would tread lightly from now on.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Send regards to your father for me.”

“I will, ma’am.” With that, I shut the door behind me and made my way back to the exam room, my heart pounding in my chest. Was I wrong? No, I couldn’t have been. My recklessness, as she put it, was not meaningless. It had… value…

There was that word again, echoing in my mind as it always did. This time, however, was rather unusual. In presenting the argument as I had, I somehow coerced myself into believing that my own value had become more tangible. The circumstances may have been minor, but the sensation of showing collectedness during a crisis resonated with me, filling me with an unprecedented degree of elation.

This was compounded by another feeling which I couldn’t quite place. As I worked through the remaining exam session, I allowed these enigmatic streams of consciousness to stew. It wasn’t until I had gathered my belongings and headed home that something finally began to click.

That was the first time I’d truly enjoyed myself in I don’t know how long. The adrenaline, the thrill of the fight, the prospect of someone biting off way more than they could chew – all of it had culminated in a way that just… made me feel alive. Being an honor student had always meant doing what was expected of me. Even the table games had taken a formulaic turn, where I played the same kinds of people using the same kind of style with little or no deviation to keep things interesting.

Seemingly engineered by the god Loki himself, the cosmic pulls of the universe had melded together to precipitate an outcome contrary to anything I could have expected. I found myself hoping that such an occurrence would happen again, and if it would not come of its own accord, then…

I need to go deeper; I need to cross that line. Mrs. Albury’s words seemed appropriate enough, but once I had passed the threshold, what then? Where would it take me and what would I decide to do once I was there?

“I’m home!” I called out to no one in particular as I entered the front door. My father was likely still asleep, so I grabbed a cold drink from the refrigerator and waltzed into my room, tossing my satchel on the bed. In the opposite corner of my room was a two-tiered desk. Occupying the lower half were two computer monitors and a small tower bolted into the side.

Above this were various plush dolls and trinkets I had collected over the years. My bedroom walls had been fitted with electronic photo tiles from end to end, projecting multicolored butterflies which fluttered in all directions. I darkened the window shade to half-light, the butterflies becoming shinier and more prominent around me. This was my sanctuary, my place for reflecting as much as it was for sleeping.

Waking the computer, I proceeded to open up a database file, poring over the contents. “Locate Megaera, Raiden in SCS Table.”

[“Accessing…”] The Student Cultural Survey was a project in which representatives from each class would collect information pertaining to the aspirations and talents of the student population. This data would then be inventoried and shared publicly across the entirety of the student body. It allowed us to connect personally to each other with the overarching goal of complementing each other’s’ strengths and weaknesses.

[“Data has been found. Megaera, Raiden: son of the Megaera Estate located in the southwest sector of Hemlock. Galactic age seventeen, Raiden is next in line to lead the Megaera Estate, known famously among locals for its production of Ganymede Algae.”]

This caused me to raise an eyebrow and I responded, “Do a net query on Ganymede Algae. Display the results on monitor two.”

[“Accessing… Data has been found. Ganymede Algae is composed of a glaucophyte species native to Ganymede’s frigid oceans. An explosion of glaucophyte flora occurred in 2064 following the construction of solar towers by the MGHV. Ganymede Algae decomposes rapidly at surface temperatures, making it an ideal agricultural supplement.]

“Query the antagonist organism of the glaucophyte species. Display on monitor two.”

[“Accessing… Data has been found. Bacterial strain anabaena ganymedea is an antagonistic bacterium which feeds directly from Ganymede Algae. It is classified as a Class II ecological threat, discovered by marine researchers in 2064 following explosions in glaucophyte populations. The bacterium excretes a choline-adaptable anatoxin, often referred to as anatoxin-c. Significant or prolonged ingestion of this toxin can lead to sclerosis of human tissues, which may be fatal.”]

It all checks out. Everything my father had specified to me was laid out on-screen in much the same way, and it was all tied to a boy who had managed to cross paths with me just hours earlier.

Wait, there’s a possibility I’m overthinking this. If it were that easy to figure out, then father would have looked into it already. “Query investigations of the Megaera Estate.”

[“Accessing… Data has been found. Numerous cases have been presented against the Megaera household from 2091 to the present day. Allegations brought forth by local law enforcement have included but are not limited to: unauthorized dumping of biological accelerants in public waters, fraudulent reporting of annual earnings and financing of criminal groups, unlawful manufacture of recreational substances, and the unlawful manufacture of volatile chemicals. To date, no formal arrests have been made, though the estate has paid an estimated 37,000 Galacticoin (GTC) in penalties to local and regional governments.”]

Frustrated, I leaned back in my chair. It looks like they really aren’t the ones making all of the Cryovenom, but they probably do have an idea of who is. There are two possibilities which exist. The first scenario suggests that they are the backbone of a third party, supplying the necessary materials, finances and even specialized tools. Although, I have no idea what volatile chemicals are being referred to here.

The other scenario I can think of is that they are a cell in a much larger network of producers. If they are taking the heat so an alleged rival avoids discovery, then of course they would get a cut of the profits, and have to further redirect the flow of money to balance the books.

I probably shouldn’t talk to father about this. Odds are he would say the information was classified and then start poking his nose into my own business. That would really suck. No, none of this really matters in the world of a simple schoolgirl, but it does present some really interesting questions… I looked at the profile on the opposite screen.

…Of just what kind of man you aspire to be, Raiden Megaera.

Once midterms had finally come to a close, the students were given a short reprieve before they returned to their independent study curricula and life as normal. Francesca used these breaks in the schedule as a chance to hold parties in the rooftop garden of her family’s private apartment building. It was a complex of sorts, with a winery at the bottom and the living spaces near the top. The rooftop garden was the centerpiece of it all.

A glass dome surrounded the perimeter and rose to nearly thirty feet in its centermost point. The glass contained programmable shades to simulate day and night in a way that was nearly identical to day-night cycles found on Earth. It was one of a select few places in the city that could support any growing season at any given time. This allowed for the production of virtually any liqueur a client could conceive to request.

Francesca’s family wasn’t exactly rich, as they could only produce finite quantities of the coveted beverages during a typical galactic year. Nevertheless, any family with the freedom to exist in such a leisurely way was the subject of envy on Ganymede. These parties were no exception to that longstanding social tension.

Underage drinking was allowed at these parties in very trace amounts and strict moderation. The local authorities never really cared, so long as we stayed over until it was completely out of our system. As I sipped from a glass of soft Chardonnay, I admired the many fruits and vegetables which surrounded me and saturated the dome in the sweetest of aromas.

Orchestral music fluttered throughout the dome, taking us far and away from the world outside. Here we had a wonderful view of an artificial sunset, set to the backdrop of a thick forest. “I wonder if this is what camping on Earth would be like,” I remarked as I twirled my finger around the rim of my glass.

Across from me was Felicity, sampling a citrus drink with a dash of rum. “I heard that in Europe and the Americas, lumber was plentiful and forests would be dotted with cozy cabins and the like.”

“Really? That’s amazing! It sucks that logging is so heavily regulated on Ganymede. I’d love to sleep in a genuine wood cabin just once!”

She gave off a warm smile as she twirled the ice cubes in her cocktail glass. “If it’s any consolation, we are still free to use tents and camper pods, but then there’s the issue of no campfires.”

“It never gets dark!” I exclaimed. “An authentic campfire is one where the bugs start fluttering as close to the light as they can!”

We conversed about the outdoors for a time until Francesca walked over, pulled aside the chair to my right and plopped her head down on the table with a sigh. “Ugh, I’m so exhausted!”

Leering at her, I snidely whispered, “Well maybe if someone would get some sleep instead of hosting parties right after exams…”

“Shut up, you…” Her voice was shaky and I could smell quite a bit of alcohol on her. She had spent much of the party entertaining the two dozen guests that she had invited, and it appeared to have left her a little worse for wear. “All I need is a bit of caffeine to eat up the booze!”

“Eat up the booze? Okay, you’re cut off.” I put my shoulder under her arm, and motioned for Felicity to do the same. Slowly, we carried her to the lower floor and sent her to bed, ignoring her protests all the while. Once she had passed out, I darkened the shades and sat down on the floor next to the bed. “Felicity, can you grab my drink from the garden for me? I’m going to watch over her for a while.”

“It would be my pleasure, Jade. Do you want me to keep an eye on the guests too?”

“Good idea.” It didn’t take long for the smaller girl to return with the item. I thanked her and let her get back to the party while I sipped my drink slowly, lost in my thoughts. Francesca’s bedroom seemed far more modest than my own, plastered all around with maps of Earth and cluttered by knickknacks symbolic of the blue planet.

I was no stranger to the fact that Francesca dreamed of going to Earth someday. Her situation was that where an Earthen college or university was almost completely out of reach, both financially and academically. Despite the overwhelming opposition, she desired it more than anything and told me that come hell or high water, she’d move to Earth when she finished secondary school.

Her parents were strongly opposed, and it wasn’t hard to see why. What opportunity was there for a Ganymede immigrant with nothing more than a diploma to her name, especially if she had no plans to continue her education once she arrived? Could she find happiness in such an arduous lifestyle choice? It was hard to fathom.

The girl in question was curled up under a blanket, lips contorted in something of a pained expression. She probably has her own fears outside of those shared even by her mom and dad. At the same time, though, she is probably even stronger than I for opting to face such fears head-on. I stared enviously up at her as the last drops of alcohol ebbed into the back of my throat. Aside this wonderful girl who I shared solidarity with through thick and thin, I couldn’t help feeling utterly alone.

I know not when it was that I fell asleep, but I was awoken by a shove to my shoulder and Francesca mumbling, “Come on and snap out of it already.” With one hand rubbing my eyes, I used the other to push her back a little.

“Yeah, I’m awake. Did Felicity come back yet?”

“No, she’s probably still up in the garden if that’s where you told her to be. I hope I didn’t cause you any trouble again.”

“You’re an awful host, Fran, but we love that about you.” I did my best to put on a fake laugh as I grabbed the glass that was next to me. Up on the garden, the projection of the sun had changed to that of a beautiful starlit night. Many of the guests were lounging comfortably, and we spotted Felicity near a small tomato patch. I was about to wave her over when I stopped, a powerful shock overwhelming me.

Talking to Felicity with a glass in his right hand was Raiden Megaera. He hadn’t been present when I had left the gardens initially, meaning either someone invited him or he found his own way into the gathering. With everything that had happened recently, I knew that I would need to interrogate him at some point; however, this was certainly not what I had in mind.

Felicity waved me and Fran over to her. “Oh! Mr. Megaera from our school was passing through the city when he saw some friends leaving the party! He wanted to pay his respects to the Descartes household; isn’t that splendid of him?”

As Fran extended her right hand, Raiden moved his glass to his left and locked his right with hers. “Thank you for taking such good care of my associates, and all of the patrons of this fair city who find themselves at your door, Miss Descartes.”

“The pleasure is mine!” announced Fran with a giggle. “This is certainly a contrast to the impression you left on us all the other day, Mr. Megaera!”

“Quite, and I sincerely apologize for any tension which may have permeated beyond that encounter. By the way,” he turned to face me, “you are the daughter of Lieutenant Cassia, if I am not mistaken?”

“Lieutenant Cassia is my father, yes.” My right hand met his as my left gripped its glass rather firmly. “I will be sure to wish him well on your behalf; of that, you have my word.” The empty glass made an audible creak as the pressure of my fingers began to wear on it. Internally, I was screaming. He must have deduced this himself as he broke away, his demeanor softening slightly.

“You are a very intelligent woman, and I must say very beautiful as well. I have caused you a great disservice and I wished to apologize for my earlier insincerity. You see, when in public I must feign ignorance to ensure my safety.”

I nodded and answered with a simple, “I see.” This keeps getting more and more peculiar. I can almost swear that you’re attempting to approach me on a personal level. Is that it, Raiden? Is that the kind of man you are?

As the conversation become more one-sided, I could only affirm the things he said with half an ear. I was thankful for the darkness but nervous that Fran could see the deep blush forming along my cheeks. I had to run away.

Placing a hand to my chest, I let out a cough. “Ahem, I am terribly sorry to cut things short, but I only returned to the proceedings to ensure the status quo was maintained effectively. With that completed, I must see myself out. Good day.” Turning on my heel, I walked briskly to the hall and, once in the safety of the elevator, proceeded to heave a sigh of relief.

It simply cannot be possible; Raiden Megaera falling in love with an officer’s daughter!? Would his family even approve of such a thing with their controversial legal history? What of my own? If Megaera sought to actually, seriously seek my companionship, could he even hope to attain my father’s blessing?

As I turned the key to my motortrike and pulled into the city streets, I was assaulted by another thought entirely. Why am I ignoring the obvious here? It shouldn’t matter what is parents or my parents say because I don’t love him to begin with! That’s right, what am I even saying right now? It doesn’t matter if he promises me the moon; if I have no desires to reciprocate then a relationship should never so much as be on the table. Yeah, it will never happen.

I found myself repeating that fact as I parked in my family’s driveway. It will never happen. My father appeared to be out for the time being, so I let myself in and took a quick shower. It will never happen. Then I brushed my teeth and crawled into bed to sleep for real this time. It will never…

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