Staring up at the digital butterflies which danced along my walls, I found myself trapped in a state of half-consciousness. Beads of sweat trickled from my body and that of my boyfriend, who stared down at me in passionate awe. Every rise and fall of my chest was labored, yet quick. So this is what it’s like to be in love…
Raiden and I knew everything about each other now. There would be no more secrets, no more feigning ignorance or hiding our feelings. In body and spirit, we were now one. So I guess I really wasn’t too surprised when Raiden asked me to marry him.
I said nothing at first, simply blushed and nodded. As my lips mouthed a delicate yes, I imagined myself as being much like the butterflies on my wall. Fresh out of my cocoon, I was now a proper woman seeing the true wonders of the universe for the first time.
“WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE!?” Oh no. Oh please, no! My father arrived home unexpectedly. Like a fool, I left the door to my room open. He was now in the doorway, still dressed in his uniform, and he held a baton in his right hand. “Raiden Megaera, you have five seconds to get away from my daughter!”
Pulling the blanket over my chest, I sat up next to Raiden. “D-Dad! Why are you back so soon?”
“Your friend Bradley called and told me you were being unnecessarily reckless lately. I can now see why that’s the case. Do you really think I would allow you to marry this foolish boy, Jade?”
“It shouldn’t be up to you!” I countered. Next to me, Raiden was grabbing up his clothes in an effort to look presentable. I reached for some lingerie and hastily slipped them on.
“Anything you think he’s done is simply not true! He’s a respectable man who will bring honor to his family name!”
“The Megaera family has been full of criminals since day one!”
“You know nothing, father!”
“How dare you when I’ve been at this far longer than you!”
“Oh, like that’s supposed to matter!?
The fighting continued back and forth for several minutes. When it seemed there would be no end to it, Raiden stepped in. “Jade, the time has come for you to decide. If you want to be with me as much as I want to be with you, let’s leave this house and be married.”
Raiden had a point. As much as I loved and respected my father, I was not about to sacrifice my happiness for his sake. From the start, this kind of ultimatum was inevitable, and I already knew in my heart what the answer would be. Taking my boyfriend’s hand, I rushed with him past my father and out the door of my home.
“You’re throwing your life down the goddamn drain!” My father’s words echoed behind us, but he made no attempt to give chase. As Raiden’s car drove us back through the streets of Hemlock, I buried my face into Raiden’s chest, tears streaming down my face. He wrapped his arms around my back, holding me tight until the car arrived at its destination on the southernmost apex of the city.
Megaera Estate, while a part of Hemlock, could have easily been its own township. In fact, a third of the city’s population was housed in the expanse of tenements surrounding the manor’s main house. There were private shipyards, marshes to grow rice, and factories to process organic material. Marine vessels would arrive every few minutes with hauls of Ganymede algae, deep-sea fish and other goods.
The main house was built atop the highest hill, overlooking the complex in its entirety. The Megaera family lived in a small part of it, leasing the rest as a business hotel, casino, convention hall, chapel, and museum. Up close, the sheer magnitude of Raiden’s wealth was beyond comprehension.
I felt a nervous chill as I stepped from the car. My shoddy appearance only added to my anxieties. Raiden must have sensed this, for he placed a hand on my shoulder and whispered, “Don’t worry. You will be safe here.” He squeezed my hand and led me through the double doors to his family’s private wing.
There they were in the foyer. The master, Arthur Megaera, was a bulky man in his early forties. He kept his head bald and wore a purple business suit. The cane in his right hand contained a large diamond. The master’s wife, Lorraine Megaera, wore a flowing pink evening gown, a pearl necklace and matching pearl bracelets on both arms. They represented a world I had never known, and I couldn’t hide how intimidating it was at first.
“Miss Cassia!” Arthur’s booming voice rang out. “It is a pleasure to finally welcome you to the Megaera Estate. Raiden has told us so much about you!”
I bowed immediately, nearly falling over in my hate. “It… It’s a pleasure to meet you too! I am Jade Cassia, the daughter of Johnathan Cassia. I hope my intrusion isn’t an issue…”
The man bellowed, holding a hand to his large belly. “Nonsense; your father and I may be rivals, but your outward demeanor is that of a girl with a good head on her shoulders! I wish only for peace and cordiality forevermore.”
“Father, Jade is with me because she has decided to leave her home,” Raiden interjected.
“Oh? Well, I don’t see an issue with her crashing here until things cool down! There’s certainly plenty of room!” And Arthur’s jolliness was certainly his most prominent feature. No, I shouldn’t get distracted by this hospitality! There’s something I need to do.
Shaking my head, I stood up as straight as I could and clapped my hands together. “Lord Megaera, please take me on as an apprentice!”
“Oh?” The master stared at me curiously, his cane twirling against the marble floor.
“I am truly and deeply moved by the charity you have offered so graciously unto me, but I know also that I must be a stronger woman to rightfully be worthy of Raiden’s love.”
Raiden’s jaw dropped. “Jade…”
“I love Raiden,” I continued, “but I am not yet ready to enter his world and call myself wife to a prince, for that is truly what he is. If I ever hope to be, I must start from the bottom and work my way into that role.”
Arthur smiled. “I can see clearly how you and your father are related. You have his stubbornness and his sense of justice. I have a feeling you will blossom into a fine woman, but if you must absolutely put yourself through these trials, then I shall accommodate your request.
“The Megaera Estate is home to the Fortuna Hotel. It is visited year round by business and political figures from across Ganymede and even other parts of the Solar System. These are the clients who purchase from our dockyards, our fields and most importantly, our factories. You would need to learn about them and attend to their needs with the utmost professionalism.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” was my definitive answer. The master nodded warmly and instructed Raiden to lead me over to the hotel proper. I gave my deepest thanks and proceeded into my new life. No matter what, I will become a woman the Megaera family can be proud to adopt into their ranks.
The hotel lobby consisted of a glass chamber with automated kiosks. The far wall at the end projected a complete directory, though squinting through the refracted image revealed the lights of the casino floor behind it. Next to this were openings for a hallway which looped around the octagon-shaped ground floor.
The left hallway led to the convention center, chapel, and escalators for mezzanine access. The right hallway led to a bar and a smoking-approved restaurant. All forms of smoking or vaping were prohibited on the mezzanine, and an integrated ventilation system assured no smoke would be carried from below.
Sadly, I wouldn’t be allowed on the casino floor due to ordinances banning youth tobacco exposure. I would instead be working an all-ages restaurant on the mezzanine. The dining tables doubled as oversized tablet computers, and they were interconnected with other restaurants in the complex. Patrons could battle in tabletop games or watch other tables compete while enjoying their meals. Connecting one’s smartphone opened up an even wider array of activities.
I introduced myself to the restaurant supervisor and was informed that I would be able to start work the next day following classes. Lord Megaera believed that the environment would allow me to become more familiar with the types of guests who frequented the hotel. Once introductions were out of the way, I returned to the lobby kiosks to get the key for my room.
It was on the third floor with all of the other employee rooms. The furnishings were typical: a single bed, a nightstand with a lamp, a dresser, a corner desk, and a closet. The bathroom was small but satisfactory. I would have to eat my meals on the mezzanine or invest in a mini-fridge. A laundry facility was down the hall.
For a girl of seventeen, I really couldn’t ask for anything better. This was my first home away from home. For all intents and purposes, I was officially a part of the real world and it was so incredibly liberating that I nearly had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t in a dream.
Raiden gave me time to settle in. Opening the curtains revealed the hillside behind the complex, but it was still a pretty view nonetheless. I’m only going to use this place to sleep and change anyway. Of course, that would require me to have clothes I could change into. They, along with the rest of my personal belongings, were still at my dad’s, and there was only one way I would be able to get them back.
I swallowed my pride. “Call Meredith Cassia.”
[Dialing…] It took but one ring. “Jade, where are you right now!? Is Raiden Megaera with you? Oh, your father and I are worried sick!”
“It’s alright, mom; I’m at Fortuna. After what happened, I don’t think I can go home for a while.”
“You know that isn’t true! You’ve always had a home with us and you can still go back now! I talked to your father and tried to calm him down. I’m sure if you told him everything he’d listen!”
“No, he won’t.” I let out a deep sigh. “What he said were things I’m sure he had been wishing he could say this whole time. Even if he tried to take it all back, his true feelings would remain clear as day.”
“I’ve made my choice, mom. I will marry Raiden if it’s the last thing I do, and I am going to start my life within the Megaera Estate. That’s just how things are.”
There was a silence on the other side of the phone, and then, “I understand. It pains me as a mother, but I am going to let you have your way. I hope that it’s worth it; really, I do. I’ll call your father and tell him what you’ve decided. Anything that’s in your room is yours.”
“I love you mom.”
“I love you too. Please take care of yourself, honey.” On that somber note, the call disconnected. When I set my phone on the table, I noticed teardrops falling onto my wrist. Get it together, Jade. This is for the best, isn’t it? Everyone deserves happiness, even mom and dad. I shouldn’t let my actions get in the way of the life they built for themselves. I just hope they’ll forgive me someday…
I took an hour nap, woke up and washed my face, trying to look presentable. A text message from my mom told me I was free to go back to the house one last time. Lord Megaera loaned me the keys to a small truck and I set off anxiously toward my former home.
My father was waiting on the front steps. He said nothing as I parked along the shoulder, got out and opened the tailgate. Empty shipping crates were collapsed in the backseat. I took the first, folded it into shape, and set off for my bedroom.
My mind continued to race in all directions as I packed. I wanted to face my father, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words in my heart. Was that hypocritical of me? My father’s gaze followed me back and forth as I slowly erased my existence from the room I had occupied for so many years. I lamented most that the butterfly frames were too set into the wall to be removed. They would remain along with any excess furniture already substituted by the hotel.
I wondered if my mother and father would rent out the room once I was gone, or maybe they would convert it to something else entirely, like a home gym. They’d certainly talked about renovating once I was off to college. Right… Will they even come to my graduation now? Stop it, Jade! Don’t think like that!
Squeezing my hands into fists, I took a deep breath and then moved to close the tailgate. This was it. Getting back in the driver’s seat, I drove up the hill, made a U-turn, and didn’t look back.
The day was spent arranging my new living quarters, and then rushing to classes late in the afternoon. Focusing on my studies given the circumstances was an exercise in futility. I did the best I could, ate dinner and then returned to Fortuna to get some more rest.
It was now the middle of December, Christmas little more than a week away. The first days were miserable; I remember crying a lot in my room between shifts of work and school. Then it started to become easier, little by little. I spent the holiday with Raiden’s family, continued to get to know them, and that eased the depression little by little. I called my mother once a week – short calls to let her know I was still breathing.
Before I realized it, we had entered the year 2108. The satellite continued its gradual trajectory across time. My life had descended into a routine of work, school and sleep. I competed in territory battles on the weekends, though these were becoming far less frequent with me. It felt as if the incident with Bradley had put taste in my mouth, quelling some of my original enthusiasm.
Carmella was running the show anyway; I merely needed to keep up appearances and the money would pour in. I’d proven the innocence of Raiden’s family, at least in my own eyes. I may have still been in the dark about the Cryovenom, but after a while I concluded that it wasn’t my problem.
I had no idea at the time that this erroneous assumption would eventually become my downfall. My haste would ultimately subject me to hubris beyond anything I had before witnessed.