Chapter 2: The Ways Of Youth And Age


They walked the prairies of her realm, Lopex Minor, hand-in-hand, by the light of the two moons that orbited Terracon.  She smiled like a maiden alive in an old dream about love and reticent warriors.  Paladin, aged and wise in the ways of battle, strode beside her, unsure and boyish in his affections.

He watched a borealis of unborn fairies shimmer in their nocturnal playground.  So many aspects of Lopex Minor deserved his admiration he could be forgiven for avoiding the phenomena of her and her gray eyes, keepers of all the secret goodness of existence.

All her joy focused upon him.  It was palpable.  His stomach churned with the need to pull her lean, strong body to his, to finally look at her with all his passion, to caress her dark hair and get its stardust on his fingers.  Their lips would burn gently with each soft kiss and all would be perfection.

He deserved this love, having suffered the lonely road for so long, but  suppressed it all.  The years had been an education in the mores of the 7 Worlds.  Too many passion plays ended in war and revolution when those of unequal station mixed.  Their love could prove a greater danger than any he faced on the battlefield.  The irony brought no comfort.

So, in silence he sought some magic that could alter time and diminish the gulf between them.  He wished for youth, to rewrite all he knew of the 7 Worlds, and create a new tale: The Chronicles of Paladin and the High Maiden of Terracon.  Yet, even in this mystic realm, temporal law could not be defied.

Cool breezes invaded her sheer, silvery gown.  Dewy grass sent her chills as penalty for her barefooted trampling.  Neither assuaged the desire that inflamed her.  She stared at his eyes, made golden and catlike by the darkness and distant by his secret calculations.  A shade of stubble discolored his chiseled features.  A protracted sigh escaped his full lips.

His discomfort had to be respected.

She wanted so much more than his hand in hers.  His caution set the pace of their courtship, so her imagination explored what flesh it could.  To her fingertips his palm felt like history.  Every callous told a tale of the 7 Worlds, every scar a passage in the formal annals.  She wished she could alter time and join his long journey from its commencement, but, alas, no such spells existed.

His timidity was not unreasonable, yet the changes brewing in the 7 Worlds had seemed to escape his notice.  Her generation of princes and maidens waited for succession, drawing power and responsibility from the aging Overlords.  Their progressive ideals would shape the vitality of the 7 Worlds.  And many were students of the Order of the Paladin.

Suddenly, his quiet angered her.  The strength below his gentleness had more to do with the shaping of things than the High Overlords cared to recognize.  Did he not see the formidability of their love?  Was he so humble to believe himself undeserving of her?  She wanted to demand his secrets and know his mind.  There would be violence if he answered poorly when she asked when he would kiss her.

She halted under the behest of his tightening grip.  A rumble whispered distantly.

He crouched, touching the ground with his free hand.  It quaked.  All of Lopex Minor quivered beneath a growing roar.  Paladin rose, smiling.  He stepped behind her, cupping his hands against her stomach.

Before them a herd of unicorns crossed the prairie.  The dual moonlight reflected off their thousand backs.  She pressed her dark hair against his chest and closed her eyes to enjoy the sound of hooves and thunder.  The strands tickled his nose.  This simple joy inspired him, and the mighty Paladin professed his love in a whisper hidden beneath the din.

It did not go unnoticed.



Europa Dohan barged through the gates of her secure community beneath the Hollywood dome, a study in proverbial last minutes.  The clock on the lower left of her field of vision read 8:58 a.m.  The Metro map above it tracked the 9:04 from Sunset/Gower station to the Mall.  It was on time.  She was questionable to tardy in that regard.

Music assaulted her drowsiness through the buds that replaced her unsatisfactory eardrums.  It was a thunderous remix of tribal mating dances from the last discovered natives of the former rain forests of South America: The Exxon Penetration, recommended #1 on her Sounds network.  Its libidinous drums set the pace.

The threads and fibers of her clothes divided, subdivided, re-divided, colored, neutralized, and colored again.  Template choices spun through a viewer adjacent to the Metro map.  With one step she’d tap a choice.  Three steps later, her mind changed, another template would be engaged.  Wet emotion began to form at the edges of her eyes.  Everything had to be just right, yet it was turning out all wrong.  This was the day and she couldn’t even wake up on time and choose a fashion.

Start with the basics, she thought, calming herself. 

A basic template clicked in as she descended the steps at Sunset/Gower.  9:02.  Graphics and color began to fill as the turnstile debited her fare.  At the edge of the platform she ordered some length and a deeper red from the smart weave in her hair.

9:04 and Europa Dohan saw herself reflected on the shiny silver of the slowing Metro train, wearing a skinny T, a mini, leggings, and Doc’s.  The template was called Baby Doll.

What the fuck?

Though only 16 years old, she was cursed as few teenagers were, suffering a knowledge of the world beyond her years.  It was a frustrating affliction that created a mature outsider who needed the comfort of the deeper understandings that would only come with age.  That being the case, Baby Doll just would not do.

She clicked a new template, releasing her body from constriction.  Though she carried the softness of her age, her Gametats did well to conceal it.  The adornments tracked her body like an exoskeleton, every fiber a potential interface with the Gamesphere.  Updated, multiplatform, she could join any game, but their design expressed her loyalty.

Any of the millions who walked the 7 Worlds would recognize the crest of Terracon that began on her forehead, appearing like a small, Egyptian pectoral.  They might bow before her should they decipher the runes etched along her cheekbones.  She was the High Maiden of Terracon who ruled the realm, Lopex Minor.  Few residents of the game would have the courage to approach her in the Sad Reality;  no one would risk retribution or banishment.

Past 9 a.m. was still called Off Peak, but bodies filled the platform.  They waited, their faces slack, zombie masks as they dealt with virtual matters.  Their profiles remained vital, assaulting her with friend requests and instant introductions.

A civic notification joined the barrage, alerting her to the presence of four parolees on the train whose crimes were sexual in nature.  They were curious bits of nostalgia.  Old, medicated, and stripped of all augmentations, who exactly could they harm.

Disconnection was their punishment.  They managed to survive in their ghetto, decaying in ways that could only be called subhuman, only to bare witness to evolution.  People who had known the world longer than these criminals occupied the train, as well.  But who could identify the 16 year olds from the septuagenarians when nanites filled wrinkles and regenerated flesh?  Extinction loomed for the parolees.  Medication made them amenable toward it.

Concerned with greater worries, she filtered up and entered the train.

9:07.  She stormed from the train, searching the Mall for his profile, to confirm his location.  Ascending the escalator, she gave herself a final inspection in the mirrored walls of the archway.

In accordance with the template, she wore a black button-up, long sleeve shirt and similarly colored slacks.   A red T-shirt adorned with the face of her favorite Mad Prophet of the early 21st century added some color.  A bit of sheering and a touch of glow to her concealed Gametats created an allure beneath the graphic.

She looked like herself, again, and found some calm.

The Mall bustled, per usual, firing adMines at the mob, but the queue at Buckian’s dwindled.  She stood by the rainbow fountain, watching the shoppe front.

Does he know I’m here? she wondered.  Did he set his networks to watch for me? He had asked her not to visit too often, yet she wondered if he felt excited when she did.

9:15.  Lexter Adept lumbered out of the front door of Buckian’s, his khakis and polo hidden below a dark apron.  In each hand he carried a good morning in a grande cup and a pastry bag.  On his face he wore the same expression of excitement and worry on display since the day the High Maiden of Terracon, Europa Dohan, introduced herself in the Sad Reality.

Differences surrounded them – the mall, its cacophony, their very bodies – yet, their hearts swelled just the same.