The space pods zoomed above Cassiopeia Jaiden Starwing as she stood on the moving sidewalk on her way home from Academy. Cassie ignored the zooming noise as everyone else did, but her mind did not focus on the obvious. Cassie always acted mellow—she was the youngest of seven children, and the only girl, and she was used to lying low while her brothers got into trouble. But today Cassie was bubbling inside. Tomorrow was her thirteenth birthday, but, like everyone on the planet Earth, she celebrated a day before with her family members. Today was her special day—her day to shine.
Cassie grinned as the sidewalk approached her home. It was common knowledge throughout the galaxy that the people on Earth had some of the richest homes anywhere—Earth was a base station to the other planets and jobs there were well paying and important. Cassie's home was no exception—it was a huge house, with floor upon floor of circular living space. Cassie's father owned the fastest growing rocket ship company in the galaxy, and was always busy. Cassie's mother used to work for the Intergalactal Peace Council and retired soon after her second son, Forrest, was born. Now Oriana Starwing was one of the most admired economics teachers on Earth, and was known as far away as Neptune.
Cassie entered her home, expecting to be greeted by her family at the door, the way her brothers' celebrations began, but things were not as she suspected. In fact, they were the opposite. Her mother rushed around, collecting papers and briefcases, her pretty blond hair pulled off her face, exposing her Martian features, a skinny pointy nose and a heart-shaped face. Her father, unusually harried, barked instructions into the videophone in the living room. Cassie could see he was talking to his secretary, the chubby one, and an immigrant from Venus. Something about his wife going away . . . needing a housekeeper . . .
"Cassie, star beam, how was your day?" Draco Starwing said quickly as he pounded the TERMINATE button on the videophone. "How was that event . . . what was it? A debate on who discovered Mercury first . . . or was it a Moon Ball championship?"
"The debate was two weeks ago. I lost. Yumi plays Moon Ball. His championship is in two weeks. He'll probably lose too . . ."
"Oh, that's fab!" exclaimed Draco, having not heard a word Cassie had said. "Now, Cass, I gotta tell ya something. Your mom got a grant to go get her hands dirty and learn about the third-world areas in Saturn . . . so she'll be going away for a month or so. And I'll be at a forum on Jupiter for the next two weeks, so that means you'll be here with your darling bros, won't that be fun?"
Cassie felt her face grow hot. She hated her life sometimes—her parents never home, her brothers endlessly annoying her, and now her own birthday was ignored. She stalked away from her father and headed up the curving DNA-like stairs. Right before she reached the second level, she swung around on her heels. "Aren't you forgetting something?" Cassie asked quietly, her face twisted into a sarcastic smile.
"Cass, whadaya mean? We've got it all set up, a student from Neptune is studying here and she'll live with you guys for a month to take care of you. The school knows, the government knows, your brothers know. Your grandmother knows. What's missing?"
"A happy birthday." And with that, Cassie dashed up to the seventh story.
The next day, in the wee hours of the morning, Cassie heard the vr-vrooming noise of her parents' space pods zooming away, one to the right, one to the left. Throughout the night they had tried to come in and apologize, but Cassie would pretend to be asleep. Finally, an hour before they left, Cassie's mother simply came in and placed a parcel on Cassie's Holovision.
Cassie woke up at exactly nine o'clock. It was the first day of Daybreak, the three days of freedom that came after every eight days of work and school. She turned off her floating bed as she hobbled to her mirror, her back sore.
Cassie stared at her reflection. She had fallen asleep in her academy uniform. All I see is a short girl in a purple-and-white outfit. Long, stringy dark hair. My father's big green eyes, my mother's broad smile. No one even knows my name. Ha, but maybe that will all change, now that I'm thirteen—if they even remember.
She moped into the shower and emerged eight minutes later. She changed into one of her comfiest outfits—a silver shirt with fleecy black pants. Now she was prepared to meet the housekeeper.
"Oooh, wet hair, did wittle baby Cryeoweepa have a bad night?" Pisces, her fourteen-year-old brother on his way to the kitchen, ambushed Cassie. Only a year older than she, Pisces was Cassie's biggest annoyance. Her other brothers had a more seldom and subdued teasing style, but Pisces did not pick up on the trend. "Heavens, Cass, you're what? Thirteen now? And you still act like a baby. Mom and Dad just forgot. Oh, yeah, by the way, they couldn't find a good present at such short notice, so Dad got you a Starwing Rockets shirt. Have a great one." And with that, Pisces was on the run again, toward the kitchen.
"Oooh, you must be . . . uh . . . Kwasseo- no. . . no . . . Caspian? Ugh, I've taken Earthen for several years and still I cannot pronounce the simplest of names. But, no worries, I am Daviana, your housekeeper. I go to school in Neptune where I study Earth, but I wanted to come here and learn about an average family on Earth. At the University of Neptune, all they teach is history and government issues." All this was said very fast in a very heavy accent that Cassie identified as the one of the people of Southern Neptune. Very high-pitched and watery-sounding.
"Cassiopeia. Nice to meet you, Daviana. I'll have an ostrich egg scrambled, please."
"Oooh, it's so funny how you and your brothers all order the same thing! Hmm, I wonder if I can't get your names straight now—Octavio, Forrest, Yumi, Silvanus, Riordan, Pisces and Cassiopeia! Wonderful!"
Cassie ignored the enthusiastic housekeeper and stepped on the motion sensor door leading to the backyard. It was spring, and the air was the perfect kind for cloud surfing. One of the things Cassie loved about Earth was the presence of actual seasons. She knew it was true that not all areas on Earth had such defined seasons, but there was more variation here than on any of the other planets. Last year, when they had studied the ancient Earth, the class located what "country" they would have been in if they lived in the year 2001. It was France. Now, in the year 3014, only two planets still had countries—Neptune and Saturn. All the other planets were divided into five sections.
Cassie climbed into a tall tree with a wooden platform at the top, supported by a storage area underneath. This was her family's cloud surfing platform. Cloud surfing was the base of many sports on Earth. Using a special board, people could fly on air thermals and float on clouds. Though Cassie enjoyed simply gliding over the city, most sports incorporated this skill into games.
She knew that it would be another forty minutes or so until the egg was ready, so Cassie climbed into the storage area to get her board. It was about five feet long and two feet wide, silver, and made by Cirrus, one of the best board makers in the Galaxy. Cassie strapped her boots on the board and felt the warm feeling that came with rising into the air. She hovered there, one hundred feet above her home's platform. The slightest movement with her foot, and she was off, flying around the city.
Though the more advanced surfers, like her brother Yumi, actually rode the clouds, Cassie opted to stay relatively close to the ground and relied on the winds to fuel her rides. She twisted and turned, guiding herself to the best winds, picking up bursts of speed. Her favorite part was coming up—descending to fifty feet above the ground and then turning around, bursting back into the sky. She leaned forward, accelerating the speed of her board, but the wind turned so that every few feet the pressure would push up the tip of her board, but Cassie would continue to lean. As she reached fifty feet above the ground, she swung around and leaned on her back foot, sending her up to one hundred thirty feet above the ground, bursting and flying against the flow of the wind. She reached the platform and landed. It had been a wild ride.
All through her breakfast of ostrich eggs, Cassie listened to all of her brothers' endless talk of sports. Cassie never knew anyone could talk about one brand of moon ball net for half an hour. Yumi and Silvanus argued about high-flying cloud surfing boards. Silvanus threw his eggshells at Riordan. Riordan screamed at Octavio, blaming him. Cassie threw in a few tidbits for her brothers to swallow and chew, and then to incorporate into the conversation, but she soon gave up. Everything she said was either turned into an argument or turned against her.
As the days passed by, Cassie became immune to their constant bickering. Every few days one of her parents would call on the videophone. During the first week of their absence, Cassie's spirit was fueled on the idea of seeing their faces again, but now it was just an event, something that happened regularly.
"Cass, Mom's on the VP. She cut all her hair off, can you imagine that, it almost makes her look as ugly as you," Riordan said, brushing by her in the hallway. "But anyway, she needs to talk to you."
Cassie walked up to the videophone. It was a big black screen, with lots of silver buttons, dials and gauges on the side. When she whined about her brothers being on the videophone too much, her parents lectured her on their childhoods, when using a videophone was a privilege that was granted every month or so. Cassie did not have many friends, so she used the VP rarely. She played with the machine until her mother's face appeared clearly on the screen.
"Cassie! Star beam, how are you? I've learned so much out here, I have to take you sometime."
"Look, I found something out here . . . your great-grandmother Aquamarine used to teach here—and I never knew that, but everyone in this village knows all about her. I've found something of hers that I thought might interest you. I had Daviana put it on your bed."
"Gotcha," Cassie mumbled, hanging her hair in her eyes.
"K, love ya light-years, bye."
Cassie headed up to her bedroom. The pale yellow bed blended nicely with the icy Alice-blue walls, and at first glance did not appear to have anything on it. But as Cassie approached the bed, she found a thin, shimmery material lying on it, folded into a triangular shape. In the center of the triangle, embroidered in the darkest blue, it read "Aquamarine Adored, Duchess of Saturn." Intrigued, Cassie unfolded the material. It emitted an angelic noise, resembling the light airy chimes heard every Sunday morning. The material pulled itself away from her hands and floated in the air, reshaping itself into an octagon. Dark ink appeared in a blob at the top of the cloth, and suddenly the ink began to form into letters, then words, then sentences. And the distant, far-off voice of the long-gone Duchess of Saturn began to read:
Sometimes, I feel as if I am often forgotten. Saturn is the only planet that has not yet chosen the more conventional Democracy as its system of government. Instead, we follow the old ways. Because of this, I am the forgotten ninth child of Stag and Ignasia, and I will never be any more to them than their girl child that they wish was never there. My parents go away often without warning, sometimes bringing my brothers, sometimes going alone or with their friends. Once when I was a young girl I confronted them about this, but they brushed my questioning aside, and said, "Marina, one day you will understand that a characteristic property of life is that you will not always be the most important priority." And, painful as this is to know, I know that I will be stronger than the others, because neither mother nor father cared about me. And, as much as I hope this does not continue generation after generation, because love is one of the most confusing things in this world, and it should be unconditional from at least two people. So I make this scroll in the hopes that, one day, a member of the Andromedas, no matter how distantly related, will find this, and have the unconditional love of one more.
Cassie found herself staring at the material, but it efficiently folded itself back into a triangle and placed itself on her bed. If a fragile duchess that lived in a world without technology could endure a lifetime of neglect, Cassie could stand a month.