Sol lived with her guardians on a lake of ice. Every day she would strap on skates and push her way across a mile wide lake to her school, which was inside a giant crystal dome. All the children on her ice world were guarded by slim solemn men and women who watched each other as fiercely as they watched the children.
Today was eighth day, Shipfall, when the white ships would land from the sky and bring food, supplies and teachers with new stories and games. Many students had one or more teachers just for them, and each student learned different things. Sol was the only one who seemed to get a taste of everything. She didn’t have nearly as work as Lussurioso, the small boy with gold skin, nor did she have as much freedom as slender WanWen, who ran around the compound like a wild child.
She stuck her hands in her pockets and felt for the paper note that Lussurioso had slipped her. All it said was: Second floor bathroom, Shipfall. She didn’t know how Lussurioso was going to meet her, since kids weren’t allowed in the bathrooms together. Still, her curiosity got the best of her, and she wanted to know what Lussurioso had to tell her. Lussurioso thought of the best strategies in the games they played. Although he wasn’t athletic, everyone always wanted him on their team.
The guards waited outside while she went into the bathroom. She ran some warm water over her stiff hands and watched the door. She should have known better. A ceiling tile moved, and she jumped.
“Lussurioso?” she whispered.
The ceiling tile was pulled away, to reveal the golden face of Lussurioso.
“Sol. We have to talk.”
She dried her hands on her coat. “Sure. Where are your guardians?”
Lussurioso smirked. “I ditched them. They are waiting outside the bathroom in the next hall. I’ve been taking long bathroom breaks for a while now, reading books while in there, trying to build up their tolerance so they wouldn’t suspect anything when we had this meeting.”
Sol’s eyes went wide. “You’ve been planning for this?”
“For months, yes.” Lussurioso swung his legs down from the ceiling tile, on to an outcropping in the wall. He leaped, landing silently on the stone floor.
“Whoa! I didn’t know you could move like that! Why don’t you do that kind of stuff in the games?”
Lussurioso shrugged. Standing next to Sol, he only came up to her armpit. “I think you’ll find Sol, that sometimes it’s best to hide some of your abilities.”
“What do you want to talk to me about?”
“About you, and me, and why we are here. Why we don’t see our parents and why we play all these games.”
“We’re being educated.”
“Yes. We are. But I get to read more than you, and most children aren’t taught like this. Most children live with their families, they are not sent away to ice worlds.”
“Our parents want us to have the best education, and this is the best school.”
“You really believe all that? Listen to me; you have the right to know this. Sol, you are the heir to the Empire. You are the future Empress of the Known Worlds.”
Sol’s stomach twisted, like she had eaten something bad. “Are you playing a game with me Lussurioso?”
“No Sol. I’m beyond games now. It’s time that you knew, because something has happened to your mother, the Empress, and we will be moving out soon.”
“What?” Sol said, a little loudly. There was a knock on the door that made them both jump.
“Are you alright in there?” asked her female guardian.
“Yeah, just girl stuff!” called Sol. Lussurioso rolled his eyes.
Sol whispered at him furiously. “How do you know this?”
Lussurioso pulled her to the far side of the bathroom as far from the door at they could get. “I guessed when I was eight. The guards were stupid. They told me everything I needed, even when they didn’t say a thing, even when they lied. Especially when they lied. Then, this year, I hacked the system, and what I knew was confirmed.”
“If you knew all this, why didn’t you tell me earlier!”
“Because it’s dangerous to know things. Don’t worry Sol. I love you, I would never betray you, but the world out there is dangerous right now.”
Sol stepped back, stunned. “You love me?”
He took her hand. “Of course I love you Sol. They made me to love you. All the children here are your court. When you go to become Empress, they will come with you and be your advisors and your lovers and your family. Every Empress comes with a court. Most of the kids don’t know it yet, but you are our reason for being. We were all designed for our place by genetic engineers, birthed for this purpose. I was designed to be your military advisor, WanWen was made to be your lover, we are all your court.”
“You are my court?”
“Sol, next to me you are the smartest person on this world. You know this is true.”
“I knew something was going on, I just didn’t know it was this.”
Lussurioso smiled at her, a rare, genuine smile that didn’t come from beating someone in strategy or tricking an adversary. “Don’t worry Sol. You won’t face this alone. I’ll always be with you. All of us will. We will face the worlds together.”