Author’s Note: This is a brief excerpt from a work in progress, tentatively titled Cleo and Meander. It is one of a set of novels I’m writing, all of which touch in some way upon our world and another planet named Circe. Even if you’re not a science fiction/fantasy fan (or a fiction fan in general), I’d ask you, dear readers, to give it a fair shake and let me know your thoughts. Thanks from the bottom of my flinty black heart!
It wasn’t her fault.
To be fair, she had been wandering through the Lost Promenade again, but that was no reason for Father to get so angry. She was a woman grown, not the willful child he’d once banned from visiting the Station alone. And yet, here she was, locked behind the garden gates once more, her skipstone confiscated, her dinner growing cold on the tray. “Inri burn him and his pride!” She stood, brushing a stray lock of auburn hair from her eyes as she tested the lock on the garden gate for what had to be the hundredth time. “Father! FATHER! Let me out!” Her small, strong hands grasped the ironwood bars, the flat rattle of the gate giving voice to her frustration. “FATHER!”
“Why don’t you go to bed, Meander?” The voice came from the shadowed doorway just past the garden gate. “You know he can’t hear you, and although I can, I’d rather not.” Meander glared in the voice’s direction; she could just make out the silhouette of Rafo, her father’s housewarden. He was smoking a nepeta cigarette, the ember bobbing as he spoke. “He’s got enough birds to snare without having to chase you down as well.” The ember vanished for a moment; a cloud of fragrant smoke drifted through the gate, then the ember returned, a tiny red sun in a distant sky.
“Did I ask for your opinion, Rafo? What do you know about scientific endeavor? About curiosity? All you know is sneaking and spying in the shadows.”
Two lambent green pools appeared above the ember as Rafo regarded her silently. He crushed out the cigarette he’d been smoking, red sparks scattering under his heel as he stepped into the moonlight. “What I know, princess, is that you’ve been doing a little sneaking and spying of your own.” Meander tossed her head, pointedly examining the hinges in the gate for weaknesses as the housewarden went on. “And since you can’t be trusted to stay out of places you shouldn’t be, your father has to treat you like a gatita, locking you up in your apartments until you learn to behave yourself. And I would think that you of all people would be able to appreciate the hidden dangers of an overly curious mind.” His voice was smooth, but his tail was lashing; she’d hit a nerve with that bit about curiosity. She looked up and his eyes caught hers…she winced, but refused to look away from the burning pools of green. Finally, Rafo sighed, then laughed, shaking his head; she felt their eye contact break with an almost palpable snap, suddenly glad for the bars between them. “Ai, Andi, don’t you know that your father loves you more than anything in this world? How do you think he’d feel if you were hurt? Or worse?” A blush crept up Meander’s neck, but she didn’t reply. “Ever since your mother…” The big Felis reached out to stroke her hair, a gesture of comfort from the days when she’d run to him, sobbing, over some minor wound to body or pride.
She could feel the tears welling up; it would never do for him to see her crying. She wasn’t that scared, lonely little girl anymore – and she was tired, so tired, of being weak. Brushing aside his hand, she blinked back her tears and drew herself up, making her voice hard. “Since the…incident…with my Mother, Housewarden, the only thing my Father has cared about is making sure everyone else is as miserable as he is – and the only thing I’m curious about is how long it will be until I leave this place forever!” Brown eyes bored into green, and whatever Rafo saw in hers made him take a step back. Spinning on her heel, Meander walked away from the stunned Felis, her back straight, her shoulders squared. If any tears fell from her eyes, only the shadows saw them.