I’m headed to the castle.
I’m strapped in the VIP seat they’ve booked for me on Captain Cassidy’s ship Siren. The captain has been very courteous to me. From what I’ve heard about him, it’s the way he is and, of course, I am a VIP passenger, but I do wonder if he knows. It was my wish to keep everything as secret as possible, but certain people have to be in on it. And a captain of the ship transporting me from my home planet of Gaia to the moon Luna may be among them.
What the Yegoroffs think of my wish for secrecy, I have no idea. To them it makes no difference, public announcement or not, they’ll spin things the right way. I could have milked it for all it was worth, but I didn’t. “She’s so modest,” they said and I went along with it. Truth is, I am in denial. The fewer people know, the bigger the chance it will not happen.
But that’s stupid and foolish, because it will happen, and I know it will happen. It’s why I’m on my way to the castle. Aboard a passenger ship, instead of flying by a private transport, due to my insistence on keeping the matter secret.
I was never that important. Or… I didn’t think myself important, is the right way of putting it. I was oblivious to my family’s rapid rise through the ranks to the upper echelons of the society. Sure, we were always rich. But we were never of any social significance, at least not when I was growing up. I preferred art over politics, philanthropy over economics. At seventeen, I left home, ditched the title of “lady”, changed my surname to Dmitrio, and moved to the other side of the planet. In the valleys of Caltannia, I joined a commune of artists. We lived a simple life. We made art from garbage and discarded materials. We were activists, we wanted to change the world. Less consumerism, more conscience. That sort of stuff. Here I also got into making light sculptures. I became quite successful at them. And two years ago, I returned to my hometown.
I told everyone that I’d get more opportunities in Zommette. After all, it is one of the largest cities on Gaia. It sounds better than saying “after half a decade, I got fed up with the hippie lifestyle”. I went back to my real surname, not pretending like I was not using my family’s connections to get commissions. Though I still avoided calling myself “lady”. I rented a small apartment in the city. For the first time in my life, I lived on my own. And I lived. The last two years have been the best in my life. I made money, travelled, had experiences, met people of all types. I had no idea what my parents were planning, I paid no attention to the Yegoroffs’ affairs. Then one of my friends, who keeps up with gossip columns, told me of his suspicions. “Either I’m crazy, or your parents are having meetings of some kind with the royals of Luna. And it can be only one kind.” He was not crazy. Thanks to him at least it didn’t come off as that big a shock when they informed me of the arrangement.
“It is an honour,” my mother said. I’m pretty sure I never heard her use the word “honour” before. “There is no other woman more suitable for Prince Nikolai than you.”
I remember how, at that moment, my most intense thought was: that can’t be true, there have to be women more suitable than me. As if prospective brides for the prince were the issue and not, you know, the fact that my life was to make a drastic turn.
I understood right then that there was no use in trying to fight it. The only way I could escape it was by running away to Titan with a new identity, but for that I lacked the nerve. Titan, our nearest neighbour planet has only been sparsely colonised and I have no pioneer bone in my body. So I went along with it. That’s why I’m coming to the castle. Their castle. The castle of the Royal House of Yegoroff of Luna.
I’ve never been to Luna before. I’ve been on a spaceship on an orbital tour a couple of times—once on a school trip and once with my parents. This will be the first time my feet will touch a surface of a different celestial object.
It is not an object of a friendly nature to us Gaians. Its atmosphere is too thin, you can’t go outside without a space suit. Not if you want to live.
Luna is full of rocks. Inside one such rock, two centuries ago, Yegor the Great built his first habitable base. He received much ridicule when he declared it his kingdom. But he was no fool—Luna is rich in resources and he was smart enough to know how to make use of them. Yegor’s son was the first human to be born on Luna. He and his descendants kept on expanding the base, sideways and upwards, until it grew into a castle. They were kings, they had to have a castle. Though the more precise word for it would be a city. Or a small country. It has its own ecosystem. At the last census, the population was five million. That includes immigrants, obviously, but they won’t be that for long. To gain the Lunar citizenship, you only need five years of continuous living and working on Luna. And an absolute and unquestionable loyalty to the Royal House Yegoroff.
And why would you not give them an absolute and unquestionable loyalty? The Yegoroffs look after their people. A job on Luna comes with automatic living quarters, medical care, generous holiday allowance, and the benefits only increase the longer you work there. Recruitment on Luna is cutthroat. I remember hearing about two men coming to blows over a position of a junior security officer. Only the best, the brightest, the strongest for the mighty House Yegoroff.
And I am on my way to the castle to become one of them.
How did I get into this?
My father became Lord of Demetrius after his older brother died with no heirs when I was ten. It sounds more glamorous than it is; that title never amounted to much, originating from the time when titles were easy to obtain. It was merely an aesthetics, an icing on a cake—he had already made a name for himself as an investor. Asteroid mining, food replicators, spaceship manufacturing, he rarely makes a bad call. And vaccines. That’s what he started with and that’s how he met my mother, who comes from a long line of med-tech experts. But brilliant as they both are, there are many men and women on Gaia like them.
“You’re less scandalous than the others,” suggested my friend Ralf, the one who likes gossip columns. I trusted him on that, I had no other frame of reference. But is that it, is that all I am?
Captain Cassidy’s smooth, deep voice comes out of the intercom. We are halfway through the voyage to Luna. Halfway through to the castle.
I lift my left hand in front of me and stretch the fingers. The diamond is impressive, that has to be said. Lab grown on Luna. Even the box it came in in was exquisite; white leather with gold leaf pattern. There was a little card with it. For Ivanna, the one and only to be my wife, with love, Nikolai. Written by hand.
Nice handwriting. Whoever wrote it has a nice handwriting.
He is a prince. He has servants for everything.
I’ve spoken to Nikolai a few times over video and… he doesn’t strike me as a guy who would let someone else write a card for his bride. He would always write it himself, never mind his handwriting. It’s that desperate effort of mine not to get fooled that makes me cautious about every detail. Yet, what is there for me to get fooled about anymore?
Siren is nearing the moon. From the window by my seat on the port side, the castle comes into view.
“Wait till you see it for real,” Nikolai said when we last spoke. “Photographs don’t do it justice.”
He was right.
It’s a breath-taking sight. Beautiful structure of stainless steel and titanium, with towers and cupolas. Satellite dishes and solar arrays designed to be visually pleasing as well as purposeful. They knew what they were doing when they were building it. They were the kings. They are the kings.
And I know, in an instant, that I have to make a light sculpture of it. I take out my tablet and sketch a quick outline. I’ll start working on the code tonight as soon as—as soon as I get settled.
I am mesmerised by the view. The castle gets larger as we’re closing in on it. Bigger than anything else made by humans. It’s still growing, new modules being added almost every year. And why not? It still occupies only a tiny piece of the moon’s surface. So far, no one has claimed any part of Lunar land, not to live. Several mining companies have established their operations here, all hundreds of kilometres away from the castle. But that’s about it.
Pearly grey… no, white. White and magenta. White castle with magenta windows, solar panels, tower roofs and domes. And a giant golden sphere in the middle, to symbolise the power of Yegoroffs. My next project.
We have arrived on Luna. The ship docks, Captain Cassidy speaks over the intercom.
I take off the ring, place it back in the box and put the box in my jacket pocket. I put on the calm, dignified face that I’ve been working so hard on for the past few weeks. I won’t let any minion of Yegoroffs see my nervousness.
Underneath there’s a strange relief that I won’t have to worry about my luggage, it will be taken care of. Now that I’m important. I don’t have many things anyway. I lived a frugal life in the commune and only bought a few outfits in the last two years. This is all about to change now, of course—but that’s for the Yegoroffs to sort out.
“Lady Ivanna Demetrius?” I hear the deep, smooth voice next to me.
“I hope you found the voyage pleasant?”
“I did, thank you. This is my first time on Luna, you know.”
The captain smiles. He’s an attractive man, black, broad-shouldered, with clean shaven head and a neatly trimmed goatee. I wonder if I should ask him to let me stay on all the way to Titan. I’d get off there, start a new life. But I know I’d get him, and by extension his family, into trouble. Besides, I had a chance and didn’t take it. That ship has sailed.
“I hope all goes well for you,” Captain Cassidy says. “I am to escort you.”
I stand up and follow him, walking with my head held high. I am on Luna. I enter the castle.
The arrival hall looks much like arrival halls at the airports on Gaia. A figure approaches us. I hear someone say my name.
I halt. It’s not a minion. “Nikolai!” I exclaim.
I stare at him, unable to speak. Why ever did I think he would not come to meet me himself? And how was I to know he would be more handsome in the flesh? Tall, honey blonde hair, eyes blue like the waters of fjord up north. He’s smiling at me and his smile is warm, genuine. He extends his hand towards me. His handshake is firm.
He asks about the voyage and I reply that it was good. Then he turns to Captain Cassidy. “Thank you, captain.”
The captain bows to us both and departs—and with him, my old life.
Nikolai points at my small backpack. “You’re alright with that?”
“It’s okay, it’s not heavy.” I appreciate the gesture but the stuff my backpack contains is too personal; we’re not there yet.
I spy two pairs of uniformed men wearing expressionless faces a few metres from us. Nikolai’s security.
“I’ll take you to your quarters,” he says, “no doubt you want to rest.”
“Good idea,” I say and we’re off. The security men are behind us.
We pass the hall into a “royals only” corridor, where we enter a turbolift. “Well, this is new,” I say, hoping to combat the awkwardness. Nikolai smiles at me, tilting his head towards the security officers. They look so serious, it’s near comical.
As far as beginnings go, it could be a lot worse.
We exit the turbolift in Section 16, the visitors’ section. They’ve given me one of the most expensive quarters. Spacious living room, bedroom and bathroom, as luxurious as you can get. The living room itself is bigger than my apartment in Zommette. “Surely there’s no need for this,” I’m about to say. I bite my tongue in time. I put my backpack on the side table and go check out the view from the window.
Everything is different here. The sky is black, but it’s not night. It’s early afternoon. The castle on Luna uses the same time zone as Yegor the Great’s homeland back on Gaia, an hour ahead of Zommette time.
The best thing, and the most beautiful, is the crescent of a pale blue sphere dominating the sky. Gaia.
Nikolai speaks. “First impressions?”
“I think it will take me some time to get used to this.”
“Take as much time as you need. You can stay here while you adjust.”
He comes to stand next to me. “It’s good to see you finally, in the flesh.”
I didn’t expect that. “Yeah, you too,” I say. It’s not a lie. He has his mother’s colouring and his father build, but even so, he seems a bit too… well, perfect. Flawless. A few years ago, when I was at the commune, we heard rumours of genetic engineering. They died out as fast as they appeared, but still some of us never forgot. Genetic engineering is banned, of course, but—
They are the kings.
“Do you have the ring?” he asks.
I take the box out of my pocket and hand it to him. He takes the ring out and slides it on my ring finger.
I sense him wanting to get closer, but I keep my distance. He can wait.
“Seeing the castle for real was something else,” I say in a casual tone. “I’d like to make a light sculpture of it.”
“I thought you would.” He keeps his eyes on the window. “I’ve been following your work with light sculptures for some time. When it came to consider marriage, it was a no brainer.” He turns to look at me and smiles.
Was that what it was? I learned light sculptures at the commune. I lived in the commune because I wanted to escape. And it led me straight to him.
Not knowing what to say, I remark: “You know, I used to live a life exact opposite to this.” I wave my hand towards the living room, with its leather sofas, plush carpet, giant screen and a mini bar.
“Your time with the artists’ commune,” he says. “I once dreamed of dumping the royal duties. So I did. I ran away to Titan.”
“It was quite good, you know. I stayed there for a year. One day I’ll tell you all about it.”
That explained the missing year from his biography. I thought he spent it incognito on Gaia. Titan is a different matter, I have to give it to him.
“I suppose everyone has to go through a phase,” I say.
He laughs. “I suppose so.”
I drink in the sight of Gaia in the sky.
I’m in the castle and the castle is my home.
Author’s Note: This story was inspired by the song Castle by Halsey (Youtube link, the version that appears in the film The Huntsman: Winter’s War). Initially I planned a typical historical fantasy setting, but as it wasn’t working for me (I couldn’t imagine her going to the castle on her own in such setting, without entourage, and I wanted her to go on her own), I changed it to sci-fi, or more precisely, royalty in space. Though it turned out to be an oligarchy. This is my very first attempt at a sci-fi setting. While I occasionally do try to make a statement with my writing, there is no reason behind the naming of the royals. I just wanted some Slavic names for once–I’m Slavic myself. But if you’ve ever watched Star Trek Deep Space Nine, the captain might sound familiar to you!