“We meet again,” Nova drawls, “Knew this day would come sooner or later. Ya done wrong, and as sheriff 'round these parts, I’m gonna be remedyin’ that.”
“Don’t try to plead for your life, pilgrim! It ain’t gonna help ya now.”
“Don’t care ‘bout your wife ‘n kids! You’ll pay for you done to me and the other nice folks of this county!”
A Scary Faerie Bear stares back at her with black, soulless eyes. If it had been capable of thought, it would probably be wondering why this girl is terrorizing it so. It’s a good bear, a simple bear, not deserving of this kind of torment. It is most certainly not the kind of bear who would steal livestock and kill innocents.
“Bang!” Nova yells, making guns with her fingers, “Bang bang bang bang!”
“Stop!” Luna screams from the other room, “No guns in the house!”
“Not even derringers?!”
“No! No guns!”
Nova sighs. She didn’t understand the Bee ban on firearms. How can she cleanse the Wild West of outlaws without at least a derringer?
She points at the bear and aims. “Bang,” she whispers, “Bang bang bang bang.”
“No. Guns.” Luna yells again, “not even whisper-guns.”
Nova huffs and flounces over to the bear. “Unfair,” she grumbles, “I guess today’s your lucky day, Q. T. Badbear. You’ll live to see another sunrise.”
It’s unfair when the bad guy wins in the end, but what are you going to do?
“This is so girly,” Zenith complains. He doesn’t actually mind the femininity of ballet. He just hates that he struggles with it. He always seemed to lag one move behind all of the other dancers.
“Nuh-uh,” Nova replies, “it’s not girly. Ballet is badass. We’re going to play rats in the recital! That’s awesome.” Nova wishes her mom would let her keep a rat, but apparently they’re ‘dirty’ and ‘carry disease.’ As if. Zenith is dirty and carries disease and yet her mother keeps him around. Unfair.
“But I have to wear tights!”
“Tights show off your junk,” Nova points out, “ergo, not girly.” Zenith is unsure how that proves ballet isn’t girly. Now he hates ballet and he’s ashamed of his body.
“I’m going to be the scariest rat of all,” Nova vows, “all the other rats will cower in fear. I shall be their queen!”
“Rats suck. And ballet sucks,” Zenith mumbles, “and these tights suck.”
“Aww, Zen. I’m sorry I brought up the tights,” She looks over her shoulder and smiles at her brother, “Wanna practice spinning?” Zenith nods seriously. Mindless spinning is just what he needs right now.
Zenith plays it safe while spinning by keeping his limbs close to his body: maximum dizziness, minimum falling-over-like-a-dork. Nova, on the other hand, plays it fast and loose, going all in, spinning as if she’s never spun before.
“I can spin faster,” she taunts her brother.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” he replies. That’s what he tells himself whenever he runs cross-country in PE, or when he’s the last person to finish reading something in class. It’s okay if he’s a little slow. He gets the job done.
Nova giggles maniacally in response, spinning faster and faster. Finally—and inevitably—she falls to the ground, the room whirling around her. Life is simple.
Just do it, Polaris tries to psych herself up, they’re just kids. No big deal! Tell them about their dad. It’ll be cool. Cool. Cool as a cucumber. Oh. Crux liked cucumber…snap out of it, Bee! You got this! Make it without crying and you’re golden, girl.
“Are you going to tell us a bedtime story or not?” Zenith asks.
“Bedtime story! Bedtime story!” Nova chants. She had abandoned her previous resentment of bedtime stories once their mother promised to tell both of them a story.
Shit, why’d I decide to tell them during bedtime? Now they’re going to want a fairytale! Idiot!
“Um, yeah. I’ve got a good one,” she looks around and spots a book on Zenith’s nightstand, “Uh, I was gonna read you this one.” Polaris picks it up and opens it to a random page.
“Once upon a time…” she begins, but Zenith interrupts.
“Hold it to where I can see the pictures, mommy.” She turns the book towards him.
“Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named, um, named Polaris.”
“That’s your name!” Zenith interjects.
“Yeah, what a coincidence. Anyway, Princess Polaris lived in a horrible, terrible kingdom known as Alcyone.”
“That’s where you’re from!” For some reason this excites Zenith. Nova, on the other hand, raises an eyebrow.
“And poor Princess Polaris was ever so lonely,” Polaris continues, “because Alcyone was a dark and scary place.”
“Mom,” Nova interrupts, “this isn’t a fairytale. You’re just telling us about you.”
“Yeah, this is kind of lame,” Zenith agrees, “the story you’re telling doesn’t match the pictures on the page.” He demonstrates by pointing to a watercolor drawing of a duck.
“Eeeeh, tough crowd.”
“Tell us a real story!”
Polaris sighs. “Listen, I want to tell you about your dad.” Zenith’s eyes widen.
“But I thought we weren’t allowed to talk about him,” Nova says.
“It’s time I told you about him. But I’m going to do it my way, alright?”
The twins nod obediently.
“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, intelligent, graceful princess...”
Polaris is so unfocused she hardly hears what the woman was saying.
“In short, the three of you have been chosen to participate in a special training program for agents. At the end of the program, two of you will be selected to work with Commander Eridanus.”
“What?” Polaris asks, “only two of us?” She had been under the impression that she had already been selected to work with the Commander.
“There are only two available spots on Commander Eridanus’ team. Over the next several weeks, we will evaluate your strengths and weaknesses—both physical and mental—and select two of you. Currently he requires only one agent and one guard.”
“What’ll happen to the person who isn’t chosen?”
“They will not advance,” the woman is casual, but ‘not advancing’ is nothing to be casual about. ‘Not advancing’ means being ‘reevaluated,’ and being ‘reevaluated’ means at least a demotion in social status. It could mean a lot worse.
Polaris looks to the young man at her left. She recognizes him. He’s in a few of her classes at the academy and he’s a shoo-in for the guard position—all mass and no mind. He’ll excel at taking orders and beating faces.
The boy to her right was unfamiliar, though. He seems timid, flaccid, a real nobody compared to her or Pyxis. She surreptitiously looks him up and down.
“Wait, you said you were going to tell us about our dad. Which one’s our dad?” Zenith interrupts.
“The purple guy, stupid,” Nova rolls her eyes, “you’re purple, so he has to be, too. Didn’t you pay attention when we talked about genetics in school?
“Can it, kids! And don’t call your brother stupid (though you’re right, Nova—your dad is the purple one. Obviously).”
“So what’d you think of him, mom?” Zenith asks, “Was it love at first sight?
What a scrawny wimp, Polaris thinks to herself. He isn’t in any of her classes, but just by looking at him she’s certain he’s no match for her. Her combined athletic and academic scores place her above the average in the academy. I will end you, she wills her thoughts at him, say adios, motherfu—
“Polaris!” the woman barks, “Pay attention while I’m speaking!”
“Yes, ma’am,” She snaps to attention.
“As I was saying, you three will participate in rigorous academic and physical assessment. We will begin tomorrow with the vertical ambulation test. You are not to speak to each other outside of activities. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” they reply in unison.
“Crux, Pyxis, Polaris—I would like to congratulate you on making it this far,” the woman smirks insincerely.
The ‘vertical ambulation test’ is just a rock-climbing wall, much to Polaris’ disappointment. The trio is told that whoever reached the top first wins. Polaris points out that is seems silly that one can win a test, but she’s met with sharp reprimand, so she grudgingly accepts the ridiculous test parameters.
When the instructor signals them to, the three teens leap up and grab hold of the wall. Polaris quickly paths her trajectory to the top of the wall, evaluating the best rocks to grab and the ones that should be avoided. She begins swinging from rock to rock, moving her way up the wall in a diagonal zig-zag pattern. Crux opts for a direct route, taking a slow pace. While Pyxis was quite muscular, that also means he is heavy. His bulkiness slows him down considerably.
“Havin’ trouble there, tiny,” Polaris hollers at Pyxis. He furrows his brow grunts at her in response. “How ‘bout you, Cruxie?”
“Silence, Polaris!” The instructor orders her. Polaris scoffs—what fun is competition without a little trash talk?
Crux’s tortoise and the hare strategy proves wise. Once the other two begin to tire, he easily outpaces them. As he gets closer to the top, Polaris starts to panic. He’s the real competition for the agent position, not Pyxis, so if he wins…
As Polaris reaches for the next rock on the wall, her hand slips. The meager mat bellow hardly breaks her fall. A sharp pain rips through her body, and she tries to exhale, but her lungs are empty. She struggles for a moment to regain her breath. As she picks herself up off the floor, she hears the instructor praise Crux, the “winner” of the test
Well, maybe he’s stupid, she tries to console herself, I could still beat him on the academic front…
“Was he stupid?”
“No. Quite the opposite, actually.”
“Was he as smart as Solaris?” Zenith asks. Solaris is so cool. He wants to be as smart as his big brother someday.
“Hmmm, maybe smarter?”
Much smarter. One day, while Pyxis is being privately evaluated by Commander Eridanus and the instructors, Polaris and Crux are given time to study in silence. Crux takes the opportunity to practice solving equations. Polaris watches, intrigued, as he begins to write out a particularly confusing equation.
“Wow,” she remarks, “I don’t think I’ve seen that one before.”
“Ptolemy’s equation,” he smiles with pride as he turns around, “I encountered it during independent study.”
“I’m not familiar with it.”
“Oh, it is quite fascinating! It is the basis for our own transport system. Near-instantaneous interplanetary transportation was initially thought impossible because of the unfathomably vast distances between objects in space. Even from our ships, it used to be difficult to transport even from the atmosphere.”
“Uh-huh, yeah, uh-huh. I know that.”
“Of course. Well, Ptolemy’s equation accounts for variable fluxes in atmospheric conditions, which are caused by neutrinos…”
Polaris’ eyes glaze over. Do agents need to know this? If so, she’s completely screwed—she’s focused all of her studies on anthropological and sociological theories and beliefs. While she inwardly panics, Crux continues his impromptu lecture.
No one has ever listened to him this long. He spends a lot of time thinking, but very little time speaking. It’s nice to have someone to listen to him. Polaris, on the other hand, wishes he would shut up. She stares at his mouth: his stupid mouth, movingly stupidly, with his stupid tongue propelling his stupid words through his stupid, stupid lips. Stupid purple lips.
“And….I am boring you, am I not?” Crux deflates. She notices how big and sad his eyes are, like a puppy. Not that’s she’s seen a puppy, but given the descriptions she’s read of puppy-dog eyes, she’d describe his as such.
“Oh don’t worry about it, you’re only boring me to death.”
“Well, I just don’t think this kind of stuff is important for agents. The scientists can figure out all that…science-y stuff.”
“’Science-y stuff? Polaris, science is for everyone. Beyond that, as an agent, you will be expected to be familiar with many scientific theories.”
“Well, my talents lie in other areas,” she replies.
“Please demonstrates,” he hands her the marker and steps aside.
“Okay, sure. I can demonstrates.” She stares at the board for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Finally, she draws a freezer bunny.
“And what is that strange beast?” The judgment is apparent in his voice.
“It’s a freezer bunny. Many academics believe it is representative of Luddite fears of emerging technologies in Simnation.” Crux scoffs. Polaris glares at him and quickly adds a chart to her drawing.
“See, and this flow chart maps what a tool you are,” Polaris smiles, proud of herself.
“I am a humanoid, not an object.”
“No, a tool. Like, you act like a douche.”
“You know, you’re kinda…douchey? It’s hard to explain.”
“I think I understand. You are attempting to ridicule me, but you lack the language skills to do so adequately.”
“I don’t like you,” Polaris narrows her eyes at him, “I don’t like you at all.”
“I am wounded, I assure you. If you are not going to utilize the materials for scholarly gain, please move aside. And in the future, we should not speak to each other—that would constitute fraternization, which is against regulation.”
“I really don’t like you.”
Crux ignores her.
“If you didn’t like him, how’d you end up with dad?” Nova asks.
“I didn’t like anyone very much when I was a teenager,” Polaris shrugs, “least of all your father. He was such a dweeb.”
“So then why did you fall in love with him? What’d you like about him?”
“I’m not quite sure. Despite being insufferable, he had a certain charm. Even when he was acting like a total tool, he was earnest.”
“It’s hard to explain…”
After weeks of assessment and training, they finally had a day to themselves. Polaris takes the opportunity to read. She had managed to find some pretty scandalous fiction in the special collections of the academy library; it takes some convincing to let the librarian allow her to borrow it (“I’m training to become an anthropologist, and I’m utilizing fiction to conduct an ethnography of Simnation.”), but she’s able to abscond with a few meager novellas.
The academy garden is warm and bright. It’s one of the few remaining spots of nature in the city. Most of the forests have been levelled in favor of faceless buildings that accommodate the booming population. Polaris ditches her jumpsuit in favor of an airy shift so she can better feel the light breeze.
“Polaris,” Crux’s emotionless voice startles her, “I did not expect to encounter you in this location.”
“Ugh, this guy,” she mumbles to herself as she closes her book, “what do you want?”
“It is rather fortuitous that we happened upon each other. I wish to speak with you.”
“I thought were weren’t supposed to fraternize,” she sneers. Crux ignores the remark.
“I overheard a couple of instructors speaking today about the candidates—you, me, and Pyxis—and they were rather…unfavorable of your mannerisms.”
“My mannerisms?” What, the fact that I have a personality? That I’m not a drone?”
“You must recognize that you are rather odd. Your demeanor is vexing, and your jests are not as charming as you believe. Perhaps conforming to the status quo would be beneficial—“
“Listen, I don’t know what your endgame is, but only one of us is going to make it. I’m not going to let you sabotage my chances!”
“I am not attempting sabotage; I am offering sincere advice.” Polaris scans his face, looking for signs of subterfuge. She stops at his eyes. His pleading eyes. His pleading, grey eyes. His big, pleading, grey eyes. Stupid eyes.
“Whatever. I was enjoying myself before you showed up, so why don’t you make like a bee and buzz off.”
“Your attire is not regulation,” Crux blurts out, “And the book you are reading is contraband material that is not supposed to be read outside of the observation of an instructor. I am trying to aid you, Polaris. I intend only goodwill. You must trust me,” Her heart flutters momentarily. Weird, “If your case is reevaluated and your behavior is deemed to be erratic, the consequences could be disastrous.”
“Just leave me alone,” she snaps, “I don’t want your help you pompous ass!”
“Fine,” he pauses, “were you enjoying the book?”
“You ruin everything,” she pushes past him, “get out of my way.”
“We never spoke,” he calls after her as she storms off.
Zenith’s snoring interrupts the narrative.
“I guess he got bored,” Polaris remarks, “or he’s too tired. I’ll tell you the rest some other time.”
“No,” Nova says sharply, “I mean—what happened? You said there were only two spots, and that other guy was going to get the bodyguard spot. How did you and Crux—I mean, Dad—how did you end up together?”
“A mundane plot twist, I guess. I reluctantly took Crux’s advice, and performed the hell out of being ‘average.’ At least, by Alyconian standards I was average. The Commander also decided that for the scale of his operation, he required two agents and a body guard. That meant he needed all three candidates.”
“Well that’s kind of a cop-out,” Nova replies, “I was expecting the prince—dad—and the princess—you—to make a daring escape from the evil kingdom, with the royal guard giving chase. There’d be murder and mayhem and love and loss!” Nova really appreciates a good story. Someone should write a story about her mom.
“Nah, that happens later on in the story. For a while, though, it’s nice and sweet.”
“I am grateful for our good fortune,” Crux says shyly, “that the both of us are able to work towards the needs of the Hegemony.”
“Yeah, it’s gonna be a real blast. Why are we here?” The two of them had just been officially inducted into the ranks of the Hegemony. After the ceremony, Crux had requested that they both visit to the same garden where they had argued only a couple of earlier, before they had managed to smooth things over. Strangely, Pyxis was left off the guest list.
“Oh, yes…well…um…I thought you would enjoy examining the botanical specimens,” he gently places a hand on her shoulder, “they are over here.” He gestures to a scanty gathering of crystal plants.
“I’m familiar with crystal plants,” she replies dryly.
“I do not doubt that you are familiar with them.”
“Hmmm. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a flimsy excuse to fraternize with me.”
“Of course not! This is merely an excuse to discuss the fascinating field of botany. Furthermore, since Commander Eridanus altered his request to include two agents and we both were selected, we will be expected to work together in the near future.”
“And obviously, that means we should become more familiar with each other,” he tries to maintain eye contact but his eyes waver.
“Oh, yeah, of course,” she leans a little closer to him.
“And although you may believe you know all there is to know about crystal plants, there is so much we are just learning about them,” Crux overlooks her body language. Goddamnit.
“For instance, despite previous what previous observations suggested, they do indeed need to be pollinated, just like many other plants. However, typical pollinators—such as bees and butterflies—are not what they require. Rather, they seem to be somehow inextricably linked to the emotions of higher beings. Sentient creatures, such as ourselves…”
Once again, Polaris’ eyes glaze over. It’s interesting stuff, really, but she didn’t accept his invitation because she wanted to learn more about crystal plants. She wants to learn more about him, a strange man who was simultaneously off-putting and fascinating.
Despite her obvious disinterest, Crux continues to drone on about crystal plants, their cellular structure, and their reproductive cycles. His stupid lips just won’t stop flapping. His stupid, purple lips. His stupid, purple, smooth lips...
Polaris lunges forward, wrapping her arms around Crux and pulling his body against hers. She presses her lips on his, forcefully, clumsily. Taken by surprise, Crux tries to speak, but his words are smothered. After what seems like paradoxically both eons and nanoseconds, she releases him. They stare silently at one another.
“I’m sorry,” she finally says.
“Never apologize, Polaris,” he smiles as wraps his arms around her waist and tugs her back towards him, “but perhaps do not make your attractions so obvious in the future.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, fascist,” she jokes, “Seriously, Cruxie, you were the one who was telegraphing his attra—“ But it’s his turn to interrupt her.
“What happened to him?” Nova interjects, sick of all the kissing.
“That’s a story for another day, sometime when Zen is awake.”
“It’s not fair, though,” Nova insists.
“It’s perfectly fair. Zenith needs to hear the story, too.”
“No, there’s no happily-ever-after,” she frowns, “It’s not fair. If he’s not here, there’s no happy ending. Mom, what happened to him?”
Polaris freezes up, her mind spinning with a million different responses. Sometimes the bad guys win, she wants to say, Sometimes good people die young. Sometimes life keeps kicking you in the tits.
“Don’t worry about the ending, darling,” she says weakly, “I’ll tell you the rest some other time. Go to sleep.”
By the dim light of her bedside lamp, Polaris wonders if she’s doing the right thing. Should she lie and preserve their innocence, or tell the truth and break their hearts?
Author’s note: I’ve been intending to do a flashback chapter of sorts for a while in order to explain how Crux and Polly met. I wanted to give a few small moments that built up to a (cliché) semi-climactic moment rather than writing a cohesive, beginning-middle-end type story. However, I’m not quite sure I’m happy with the result. I hope it makes sense. If you have any questions, please ask. I know the pacing is a bit weird, but I couldn’t not include the Nova scenes at the beginning of the chapter. I love her too much.
Polaris is making ugly faces in the bedtime screenshots because I occasionally encounter this bug with her (just her, no other sim) where her mouth stops moving and she just smiles like a maniac.