(Note: This is a story written in a traditional storytelling style, intended for submission as Prose for the YC 121 New Eden Capsuleer’s Writing Contest. Enjoy!)
“Were you drinking this morning?” Renelle asked me.
Of course I was drinking that morning. “No,” I answered, offended. “Why would I drink in the morning?”
Renelle scowled at me.
“Besides, we’re here to talk to the kids,” I added. “Can’t be drinking for that. They need us in tip-top shape.”
“Here’s what we’ll do,” Renelle said. “I’ll do all the talking. Answer all the questions. You look pretty. You know, do you.”
I could tell Renelle had been plotting a way to unfold this plan of hers for some time, probably during the long drive from our hometown, Ramijanawa, to here, a similarly isolated Sebiestor community in the vast freezes of Mikramurka, Matar. Maybe also while we shared a breakfast back home, the first time we’d done so in months. Possibly also overnight. And the day before.
Yes, the looseness of my movements and the fluidity of my speech merely provided a convenient target on which Renelle could pin her plan. Curses!! But I resolved that I would not be erased from our joint mission. I had been invited just like Renelle, and I would speak if I so chose. I was sure I would have plenty to say.
We walked into the lobby, which is a generous way of describing the squat tiled area where the outdoors stopped and the learning academy began. A lively holomarquee mounted on the rafters read SPACE CAREER WEEK!!! I surmised that this was opposed to Land Career Week, or maybe Ocean Career Week, which had already taken place and featured lots of agriculturists and top-ranked belugas.
An office aide in a neat business suit stepped out of the one door in front of us. “Hi! You must be the Ramis,” she said, smiling and using a local pet name for our clan. “Thanks for traveling all this way. Come this way, please.”
She led us through the door, which revealed a hallway with a few more doors. A three-room schoolhouse, each door was marked with the relative age group held within.
By the way, nothing that I’m about to tell you actually happened. It’s all made up. So don’t ask me about it like it’s real. Just go with what I tell you.
Renelle and I were sent toward the door that said ‘Middle.’ We walked into the classroom. Inside were more children than I had ever seen in one place in my life. There had to be at least fifty of them, squeezed into as many square meters.
The children stared at us. They looked at their teacher, an older woman in a frumpy maxi dress. They looked at Renelle, in her standard station gear–thermal shirt, adaptive vest, cargo pants, boots. Then they looked at me. My stylish three-piece with the flared legs and sleeves now seemed a touch too extravagant. But then again, some of the children in the room had headdresses interwoven with enough fine threads to finance half of a Keepstar.
“Everyone,” the teacher said without getting up from her slouch. “Say hello to Renelle and Melisma, two capsuleers who have come all the way from Ramijanawa to talk to us.”
A few students clapped in polite obedience.
One girl with spidersilk weaved into her braids narrowed her eyes at us. She might have been fourteen years old. “From Ramijanawa?”
“Yeah,” Renelle said.
The girl stared harder. I could tell she was analyzing our clothing. Renelle’s outfit looked cheap but was made of high-enough quality materials, as such things go. My suit was haute couture. She fixed her glare on Renelle. “You lie. Poor people can’t be capsuleers.”
A scowl blossomed on Renelle’s face like a pod explosion. Like. Is Ramijanawa flat broke? Ayup. Should you remind us of that? Not if you want to keep your front teeth. And especially not Renelle, whose family of freedmen pretty much died so our clan could have eggers.
“Now, Aesha,” the teacher said in a monotone, her voice absorbed in part by the risqué choose-your-own-come tableau unfolding on her datapad. “Let’s be polite to our Career Week guests.”
Aesha flounced back in her ergonomic chair, a Corovid Industries model so old that it must have been made when my great-grandmother was CEO. “We worked hard to afford capsuleer training,” Renelle said, finding her indoor voice. “It was expensive, but we passed, and now we make lots of money.”
I’m not so sure about that last part.
A little boy raised his hand, then asked his question without waiting to be called on. “Are you really immortal?”
“In a way,” Renelle answered. “In space, if we die in our ships, then our minds get downloaded into new bodies. It’s kind of the same beyond our ships too, but the process is different and there’s some amnesia involved.”
Many of the kids listened with loosened jaws as Renelle underexplained cloning. “That is so cool,” some of them whispered to each other.
The little boy raised his hand again. “Is it true that you fly naked?”
“That’s true,” Renelle acknowledged.
“Yeah, in goo.”
Our young audience erupted in a chorus of Eeeeeewws.
I glanced at Renelle. She needed to control the room, and this was not her strong suit. Public speaking of any kind was anathema to her being, unless she was drunk. Ha. Maybe she should have been the one day drinking.
“The goo is part of what keeps us safe and helps us fly the ships,” Renelle explained. “We fly by becoming one with the ship, not just by moving controls around.”
This reasoning appeased the crowd. Then the little boy spoke up again. “What happens if you have to pee in the goo?”
More Eeeeeewws filled the room. Renelle looked confounded. I rocked on my thin heels and waited for her to explain this one.
The teacher flipped to a new chapter on her datapad. Based on her facial expressions, the tableau had gifted her with quite an entrancing scene of lovemaking.
“Peeing is a totally natural human function,” Renelle said. “The pod is equipped for that. Now. Any questions about capsuleer training?”
The kids started to squirm, raise their hands, and/or shout out questions.
“Wow,” I muttered to Renelle. “Maybe you should go into politics.”
Renelle responded to me with an unkind word, then started to sort through the questions. Most of them were earnest inquiries. A few were silly. Kids will be kids.
After about half an hour of asking questions, the teacher finished her tableau and took over the class, ending the Q&A. We left the classroom on a wave of enthusiastic applause.
Similar discussions were had in the other two classrooms, with the younger and the older kids. The teachers were decidedly more involved. The students, though, were about the same, despite the age differences. Restless and curious. Everyone asked about pod pee. I said very little, if anything at all. Renelle handled everything just fine.
For our last act, we spent the academy’s lunch hour in their cafeteria, seated at a boring foldout table with some flyers and brochures from our capsuleer training school. The cafeteria was large but not large enough. As with all schools in our area, it featured a few tables from which the students were served their nutritionally-devoid food, then a wide open space for the kids to sit and eat on the floor. This is meant to help them socialize, and it has the totally unintended side effect of saving the school some money and resources.
The students from all three age groups flooded in, rushed the tables, and then formed things shaped somewhat like lines. From this organizational morass Aesha was the first to emerge. She started toward a far corner of the room, but then she spotted us, spouted a most evil grin, and made a beeline for our table.
“Here to pick up a brochure?” Renelle spoke in a dull monotone. I’m not sure she even recognized the girl.
“I have another question,” Aesha announced. “You’re capsuleers. So does that mean you have super-fast reflexes?”
Renelle frowned. “Not necessarily. We’re not superhuman. Though I suppose maybe our reaction times might be faster because we’re used to working under pressure.”
It was clear that Aesha had no interest in Renelle’s long-winded answer. Her gaze wandered everywhere but Renelle’s face while Renelle talked, and as soon as Ren was done, the girl piped up, “There’s only one way to find out!!!”
Now, bear in mind that none of this actually happened. This is a theoretical event that just happens to track well with my best friend’s penchant for obliviousness. You know us. Neither Renelle nor I would ever find ourselves in a situation where a teenage girl and nine of her closest friends were eyeing us with giddy malcontent and various items of spherical produce.
Renelle, still not quite hip to the jig, began, “What exactly—”
Aesha hauled her little arm back and threw a tomato at Renelle’s face—and Renelle caught it. Her eyes narrowed. The fruit popped and wept in her grip.
A few of the kids gasped, and all of them started backing away.
“She can only do that twice!” Aesha roared. “Fire at will!”
The other kids pelted us with noni and otaheite and panganat (all fruits which, I should add, arrived in town in shipments routed through Corovid’s spaceport). Renelle shielded her face behind her arm, and I ducked under the table. The kids laughed and cheered, dropping their trays to high-five each other.
“Grab anything!” Renelle hissed above me. “Aesha is primary!”
We rushed the kids, ending their much-too-premature celebration. Renelle jumped over the table, sending flyers everywhere, and I darted out from under it; we picked up lunch meat, sauce packets, juice boxes, and other items the kids had discarded in favor of the fruit, and we let fly as the minions scattered. The budding FC was indeed the first to go down; she took a slice of lunch meat to the face. (It was a thin slice.) She also got sauced, as did all of her friends.
By then, of course, more kids saw the growing food fight and jumped in. Some of them kept to the original idea and threw food at me and Renelle. Others joined for the chaos, and pelted their peers with cuisine. Soon most of the kids from all three classrooms were involved.
The cafeteria aides shouted for the kids not to waste their food, while the teacher on duty, the one with the frumpy dress, was too engrossed with her tableau to notice the very loud and very busy food war unfolding beyond it.
I remember seeing Renelle slide in a long slick of jam to deliver a serving of yogurt to one of the older kids, and somersault to avoid an onslaught of currants. Me, I was more interested in hitting whoever she was distracting with long-range ammo like berries and boxed juices. We’re a great team, see. Yet much of the fight was a blur of quick reactions and sudden strikes, and it all got a little confused. I’m sure Renelle is the one who rubbed yogurt in my hair at one point. She was the only person tall enough to do it. But she’s a slippery one; I can’t prove a thing.
By the time administrators rushed in, blowing whistles, we were all getting tired anyway. Everyone was covered in stick and ick. Renelle must have gone swimming in Quafe, and my beautiful suit looked like Native Freshfood had barfed it into existence. But as it turns out, goat yogurt is an excellent scalp conditioner. My hair is so nice these days.
Renelle and I were marched to the administrative office. The kids weren’t disciplined for their part in the war. It’s kinda hard to punish your entire school. But also, as the admin claimed, clearly our presence had instigated this thing, because “the children are never this out of hand.”
I found that hard to believe.
“Unfortunately, I’m going to have to report this misbehavior to your corporation and alliance leadership,” the admin said, folding her hands in a prim, condescending gesture.
“Okay,” I scoffed. “I’m the chair of my corporation, so great job, that was easy, what do?”
The admin looked at Renelle.
“Let’s think about this,” I said. “Are you really going to complain to Electus Matari that one of their members was involved in a food fight with a bunch of little kids? You do know exactly what they’re going to say, right?”
The admin squirmed a bit. It was like she was reading the bog-standard EM disclaimer scroll across Renelle’s face.
“Well, I’ll speak with your clan leader,” she declared. “She sent you here, after all.”
“You’re welcome to try,” I said.
“I’m sure she’ll be concerned.”
“I’m sure you’ve never met Tiama Ramijozana.”
The admin folded her arms.
“Besides,” I said, leaning forward. “Do you really want your academy to be known for letting kids throw their food around? Because no matter how you try to spin it, that’s the takeaway folks will get.”
“Are you threatening me?” the admin snarfed.
“Not at all,” I replied, waving my fingers. “I’m just making a point.”
“A very valid point,” Renelle added.
Five minutes later, we walked out of the academy with a pair each of goody bags and the administration’s sincerest apologies for the damage to our wardrobe.
You know how most storytellers swear up and down that their stories are true? In Ramijanawa, we do it a little differently. We swear that our stories are lies, so that we can speak freely while avoiding liability.
Our ride pulled up to the door just in time. “I guess that wasn’t so bad,” Renelle remarked as she loaded the box of unruined brochures into the trunk of Shorai’s hovercar. It was a small, half-filled box.
Shorai, stepping out of the car, took one look at us and demanded, “Grief above, what happened to you?”
“Uhh,” I said. “Cooking class gone wrong?”
“Literal grapeshot,” Renelle suggested.
“Student lab explosion,” I tried.
“Delivery truck crash,” Renelle added.
“Abstract painting incident.”
“New Quafe advertisement.”
“Poor supply chain management.”
“Dinner might be a bit late.”
“Let’s go back to ‘food fight,’” Shorai said.
I shoved a goody bag at him and made my eyes so big and pitiful. “I brought you snacks!”
He glared at me. “You can’t bribe me, Mel.”
“There’s ginger cubes in there,” I told him.
He snatched the bag and ferreted it away, then threw open the car door. “Get in before I change my mind.”