TW: strong language, rape (allusion)
Capri had never entered the upper dining hall through the side entrance before. The stairs were for the servants. She should have realized something was off when Sullivan had insisted they go that way. He needed to run a quick errand downstairs, kept getting turned around. She’d thought his embarrassment was endearing, genuine.
But what did she know, really?
Her cheeks burned as Shots stepped aside to let her through. She felt like a ridiculous little girl. She’d thought the burly guard was the scary one, but now she knew better. Sometimes scary things came in very pretty packages.
Heads turned. She was late, coming in from an unexpected angle. She kept her head down. Her soft slippers and graceful feet made no audible sound. She felt mortified, as if they must know what had happened. As if they must know she nearly betrayed the king by letting someone else worm their way into her affections. She was supposed to love Ekon and no one else.
Capri stopped in front of the long table where the king sat with his advisor, two couples unknown to Capri, and Marianne. There was one empty chair, on the king’s right-hand side, signifying beyond the shadow of a doubt her status as the rising favorite.
Guilt assaulted her, and she stumbled a bit as she bowed. When she found the courage to meet her king’s gaze, he lifted one dark eyebrow, but his expression was amused. He nodded to her, indicating that she should take her place. She breathed a sigh of relief.
She would never make that mistake again. She would never betray his trust again.
Marianne’s expression was less welcoming. She had long, blond hair, lily-white skin, and deep brown eyes—and she knew what Capri’s presence meant. In two years, she would be replaced . Marianne was nineteen. She’d enjoyed her reign for two years and would likely have two more. It was more than many had enjoyed, but that didn’t matter to her. She didn’t want to give it up.
Capri settled into her chair and thanked the server who placed a glass of cucumber-and-lavender-infused water in front of her.
“Is everything alright, Capri?” Ekon asked in his rich, smooth voice.
The sound was soothing to her. The memories she’d let herself hold onto of her former life were the bad ones, the one from the night she was taken from her home on New Earth and sold to Ekon. She’d missed her mother and father in the beginning, but Mars was a haven. Ekon had saved her. She was special. It didn’t take her long to believe those things.
She’d adjusted because she’d wanted to. The alternative would have been too painful.
“Yes, King. The guard was lost.”
“No. The other one.”
For reasons unknown to Capri, he glanced at Marianne, who turned her eyes towards her plate. She slipped a dainty bite of steamed carrot through her perfect, painted lips and pretended not to notice her king’s scrutiny.
“Shots took over, did he?”
Capri’s cheeks turned pink as she remembered the way Sullivan had looked at the other guard, spat on his shoes. It was more animosity than she was used to, and it had left her feeling shaken.
The meal passed with polite, sometimes flirtatious, conversation. Music played softly in the background. An aerialist performed during dessert, and Capri was even allowed a small glass of sweet wine with her chocolate mousse. It was enough to make her drowsy and the evening seem dream-like. At the end of the performance, King Ekon took her small hand in his large, brown one and kissed the back of it gently.
“Until next time, sweet Capri.”
She blushed and offered her forty-something king a shy smile. He disappeared through a private exit with Marianne on his arm. His own personal guards followed him, but he left one behind to escort Capri back to the dormitory. It was a high honor.
She took one last look at the clear, domed ceiling. It was the only place in the palace where one could see the endless space surrounding Mars. A ship flew overhead on its way to dock. The sight was magnificent.
The evening had been magical. She was in love with a king, and the king loved her. In two years, this would be her life. She would always be by his side at the high table; she would be dressed in bold, daring gowns like the ones Marianne wore, and she would be leaving with him at the end of the evening.
The guard cleared his throat, and, reluctantly, she let him lead her away from the room.
Brody was still at his post outside of the dormitory door, but to her relief Sullivan was nowhere to be found. Capri stole a glance at the big man. The scowl he often wore was deeper now; the events of the evening had worn on him. She felt partly responsible. She couldn’t speak to him. He couldn’t speak to her. So she decided the best thing she could do was learn from her mistake and let today’s events stay in the past—except for the bits she wanted to remember, of course.
She still felt the tingle of Ekon kissing her hand. She held her breath, trying to keep it with her.
The other girls had eaten in the lower dining hall. It was still lavishly-decorated, and they ate the same foods. But it lacked the same view of the sky and the king. They met Capri at the door.
“What was it like?”
“You sat next to him?”
“Oh, I can’t wait until it’s my turn!”
The attention gave Capri a flutter of excitement. Before she could answer, Lady Agatha cleared her throat, and they quieted. “Girls, let Capri breathe. It’s time to get ready for bed.”
They all filed to the bathroom to brush their teeth and use the facilities before returning to dress in white nightgowns. There was a row of beds to the left. Capri’s was farthest from the door and closest to the roomy, walk-in closet. Thick rugs softened the hard floor, and there was always a fresh, woodsy scent in the air and the sounds of birds.
Capri was told that once upon a time, just after the migration, there had been a pandemic of despair. People from Old Earth couldn’t stand being on a big metal box in the sky. Adding ambience had helped.
The right side of the room contained a row of vanities, one for each girl. A large, open doorway in the back of the room led to the lounge. There were sofas, bag chairs, and lap desks for when Lady Agatha taught them lessons in math and reading. They had to travel to the second floor for their training in the arts, etiquette, and beauty.
The Angel dorm had been set up in a similar fashion, so it hadn’t taken long for Capri to adjust to the Maiden dorm. She was familiar with most of the girls there already, too, but she really only liked Gina. She was glad their beds were next to each other. In an atmosphere that was always wrought with competition, finding a true friend was difficult. Capri had missed Gina when she moved to the Maiden dorm, two years ahead of her. Gina was thirteen now.
They both snuggled under down comforters and rested their heads on soft pillows, facing one another.
Gina was a rarity, and Capri fully expected to be ousted as soon as the younger girl turned seventeen. She had wild red hair and freckles. Her father had made the journey from Tycho to Mars when she was just an infant, in the hopes that King Ekon would accept her into his fold. She would have more than he could offer, and the reimbursement money would give her family a better life.
Many parents came to the palace with the same hope, but it wasn’t often that their child was really special enough to captivate Ekon.
“Are you reading tonight?” Gina whispered.
“No, I’m too excited,” Capri replied in the same low tone.
“I’ve only been asked to dine with him once, and I was at one of the lower tables. I’m so jealous.”
“He’ll ask you again. I know it.”
Gina smiled wide. “I’m going to start curling my hair. I bet that would attract his attention.”
Capri laughed. “You don’t have to do anything to attract his attention. Anyone can see that hair from a mile away.”
Gina sighed. “I just can’t wait, you know?”
They smiled and turned away in unison. Lady Agatha had an adjoining room, but she kept the door open. If they stayed up talking too long, she’d reprimand them. Sleep was an important part of staying healthy—and beautiful.
Capri stared at the ceiling for a long time. Finally, she fell asleep.
Something was wrong. Capri lay still, blinking against the fog of sleep and trying to figure out what had woken her. There was light. That wasn’t right. The dormitory door was open, but why?
She sat up and looked around the room. Everyone was sleeping soundly, or seemed to be. She crept out of bed to look in Agatha’s room. She didn’t stir. Capri turned to close the main door herself, deciding it had been some kind of malfunction, when she came face to face with Sullivan. He clamped a hand over her mouth before she could scream.
With one lean arm, he pinned her arms to her sides. She struggled and managed to break free, tried to claw his fingers away from her face. He cursed under his breath but held tight. The room was dark now, and he wrapped her up again. She struggled to breathe. No one was waking up. No one saw what was happening. Why weren’t they waking up?
She felt wet breath in her ear. “Don’t make a sound. Don’t fight me, or I’ll kill them.”
Relief mingled with terror. They were still alive. She swallowed. Then she forced her body to still, and she nodded. He released her mouth but moved so that both arms were wrapped around her from behind. She’d never get away.
“What did you do to them?” she asked in a whisper.
“Chloforom. They’ll be fine—” He nipped her ear, and she shuddered. “—as long as you don’t put up a fuss.”
His teeth caught the skin of her neck. Her stomach lurched. Before entering the Maiden dorm, every girl was given a lecture on the science of sex. Every girl was told exactly what would be expected of them when they turned seventeen. It sounded wonderful, beautiful—the joining of two bodies, minds, and souls.
She knew that some twisted version of that was about to happen now, and she knew it would be nothing like what it should have been.
He dragged her into the walk-in closet, and her mind went briefly to that defining moment ten years before, when she’d been pulled her from the safety of her home and into an entirely different life.
Sullivan closed the door. Capri swallowed again. Her heart was beating too fast; her mouth was dry. At least it was dark. At least one of her senses would be deprived of this memory.
The light flashed on. He wore that greasy, once-attractive smile and began unbuttoning the pants of his uniform.
“It would be a shame if I didn’t get to enjoy all this beauty as I ruin it.”