I need at least one or two short stories to fill out a second collection for publication. In “Regent,” which had the working title of “Colour” as I explored it here on my blog, there was a moment when demi-human princess Aurelia Hartmann killed twenty-seven men, pirates. She started with her rifle, then pistol, then knife, then teeth and hands. She seemed to revel in it.
Later in that story, talking with her grandparents at their place, we learn she has done this at least once before, and is somewhat uncomfortable if not embarrassed about that old memory. I wondered, when was the first (only? I don’t know) time this happened? How old was she? What were the circumstances?
And thus this short story was born.
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Aurelia Hartmann washed the last of her lettuce, bacon, and egg sandwich down with water from her canteen, laughing with her friend’s suggestion they should have their own Sisterhood marching song. Even at twelve, Aurie had already stood next to her aunt, the empress, during legionary planning and briefings. The one time she snuck onto a parade ground of recruits, the young men had been horrified that who they thought was maybe a waterboy was in fact a princess, and had been listening.
They sure sang a lot about poo and sex. I have heard recordings from the legions, even marching behind Faustina, and they said very rude things about her naughty bits. I am older that male, legionary culture is so far away from the girls here, so I must take great care.
“You think that’s funny, Tomboy Hartmann?” Tracy demanded with a snark, indicating that while ten of the other eleven girls were either in summer dresses or pants to just below their knees, Aurelia wore her typical: legionary boots, uniform, and cap, the last atop her black-purple hair which just came to the back of her neck. Tracy was the same age and in a white dress with flower accents.
Her father is an excellent farmer from just north of here but she has always seemed self-conscious about who I am. And besides my clothes, I never bring it up.
“Nope, I think Betty is right. How many other Sisterhoods have a song? None that I recall,” Aurie said, trying to be nice. The two eldest, Jill and Sydnie, both seventeen, looked over from where they were eating lunch to make sure a catfight didn’t break out. “But what can I do? My mom and dad made me learn piano. I tossed the violin out the window. And, y’all have heard my voice.”
The girls laughed at that. The youngest, eight-year-old Carrie, said, “Well, it does carry, Sister.”
“I think it should glorify God,” Marie Rose, daughter of a Baptist preacher spoke up. “If this… if this is going to be a tradition, we have to hand on something righteous.”
“We’re not gonna get this done after our field trip today,” Monika, the most bookish, said, pulling a paper notepad from her pants pocket and a pencil from her shirt. “But we sure can get some ideas going!”
While the other girls began to call out ideas or even entire lines of lyrics, Aurie took her lunch trash and that of her supposed rival, Tracy, to a garbage can. They were at the northern edge of the recently reopened Knoxville Zoo, closed since the Change, nearly two generations ago. Mister MacRae, who ran the city and its surrounds, thought it a waste of money. Then Red Raccoons showed up from Japan, followed closely by snow leopards from Siberia – diplomacy from her aunt – and a fund created for private donations. Local fauna was added: mammals, birds, reptiles. When Jill, oldest and head of their Sisterhood and a month from leaving, suggested a field trip, everyone screamed yes.
Two young men were just taking a break from refitting the toilets, twenty feet further north. One Black, one White. Both in white tee shirts and patched jeans. Maybe early twenties. And they set my teeth on edge, the demi-human thought. Her kind always followed their hunches, so she glared at them before turning back to her Sisters.
Monika had just handed her pad, already covered in scribbles, Aurie saw, to Brenda; she had the best voice. She mouthed some of the words, hummed a little, then closed her eyes.
“Hey, hey, hey,” she softly sang, “when I need to be saved, You’re making me strong, You’re making me stand. Never will fall, never will end… I’m Your rocket shot into Your sky, nothing can stop me tonight.”
“So what’s the chorus?” Betty asked.
“God makes me feel invincible, earthquake powerful. Without You I am nothing, I am sorrowful,” Aurie sang with the same bare tones Brenda used. A voice used to shouting over rifle fire, it was not remotely the same.
Another smile from one to another. Monika wrote that down.
“Sydnie?” she called. “Don’t you have a piano keyboard can your place? Can we go out of turn and meet there, Thursday instead of Betty’s.”
“I have no objections…” and nor did anyone else. “Okay, kids, we have the reptiles last – don’t look like that, Marie – so if anyone needs to pee, do it now.”
It seemed the only one who did was Tracy, who wandered off to the north to the bathrooms. While her Sisters kept coming up with more lines, poor Monika scribbling furiously, Aurelia suddenly snapped her head left and north.
Something’s wrong. Used to acting before thinking since before she was born, Aurie ran.