A Flower beneath a Steel Sky

 "Probably waiting for Jom-Zayter..."


The young child, Mona of Clarra, had been looking for her friend Vanny for a few minutes. She had seen her ‘friend with the voices’ a few hours earlier in the day when their first lessons had ended, but now the classes of Clarra and Rochelle were about to reconvene and she knew her friend had a bad tendency of being late.

It had been getting more and more difficult for the twelve-year-old Mona not to tell Vanny, her closest friend, about the boy in her own class whom the Clown had described. She was sure Vanny already knew, after all, it seemed to be the children's worst kept best secret. The boy from Clarra liked Vanny of Rochelle, one of the most sought after non-rankers and the most likely candidate to become mate official to Lieutenant Commander Jom-Zayter, the most dashingly good looking soldier of the Joms. It wasn't so much that the boy was from Clarra class, indeed Jom-Zayter was of Clarra too, but that he had lost miserably to her in the last Battle Union and had since avoided her like a plague. That had made it seem so unlikely they could ever create a sustainable relationship, let alone the fact that Jom-Zayter was still free and single and they were a preferred couple to the Sanice Council.

In the end, it was not too difficult for Mona to figure out where her friend was. She usually found Vanny in the same place – Estmarla - the Gardens of the Heroes. It was an incredibly beautiful garden in the greenest section of the domed city, one of the greenest and most representative of nature's past known to still exist on Earth. Estmarla was the only place in Terrania's city where someone could potentially get lost among trees, grass and flowers. It was believed that if you stood at the exact center of Estmarla and only at the center, you could look in every horizontal direction and see only what the ancient humans saw when they stood among the trees - no dome ceiling, no armed soldiers, just nature. The park was a large place, but there was only one place where the Solace grew.

Mona hurried, knowing she only had a little time left. She had been carried away with thinking about her illegal boyfriend, Twombles, known as the Clown. Even though it was widely known that they would soon become official state recognized mates within a few years, Terrania had not yet recognized their partnership because she was not yet an active ranker and the Sanice Council had not reviewed them. She often daydreamed about him during her lessons.

As Mona practically ran down Terrania's streets and past its glass buildings, she ignored the thoughts that continued to plague her. Twombles was in high demand by Terra-actual excursion teams; there had been a lot of talk that he would soon be recruited by Colonel Jon-Azon's elite Over-world squad. While most Terranians would be honored to serve under him, Twombles and Mona knew it would guarantee the end of their relationship. It had never made much sense to her that Terranians competed so strongly to serve with the man whose squads consistently had Terrania's highest mortality rates. It seemed as if they had only started their relationship and now he was in serious danger of being sent to the surface. It was a difficult possibility for her to reconcile with and no one had helped her get through it more than Vanny, the girl-child least likely to have a problem finding a suitable mate among the rankers.


"When the names of your people start evolving into crazy bastardizations, or they start calling all land above the sea 'Over-world', maybe that's a good time to start thinking about reeling them back in." - Lenny Davis, United States Senator



Young Vanny had always been fascinated by the ancient concept of the birthday. A special day from the Green & Blue ages to commemorate the amount of time spent alive since birth. The problem, as she understood it, was in order to know your birthday, you would have to know what year it was. Terrania stopped recognizing the true yearly calendar after the cataclysmic events of Metal Rain, when the Earth's rotation and solar orbit became too irregular to be measured by the old calendar. No one had yet spent the time needed to create a new calendar, so time, as it existed in Terrania no longer had anything to do with the planet's orbit or rotation and served as nothing more than coordinating units of measurement to a measurement structure that no longer existed.

The Earth, a planet made hazardous to human life, had become a place with time but no dates - a place where time seemed to be nothing more than a countdown to the inevitable. Terrania existed at the bottom of the ocean and for most of its inhabitants, never felt like a natural place for humans to be. For generations, it only felt like the last place for humans to hide and Vanny always seemed like she wanted to hide.

Also, Vanny was never able to find any concrete answer as to how many generations had gone by since the Metal Rain. She wondered if anyone even knew, after all how could they ever continue the calendar if nobody had any real idea when they were.

Mona believed Vanny was a historian at heart and whether she was right about that or not, her friend seemed to have an unhealthy attachment to Terrania's single purple flower that almost no one else seemed to know or care about; a flower she often said would clear her head and allow her time with her own thoughts.

"Vanny," Mona suddenly called out from behind her. "What are you doing?" Mona was glad to finally catch up with her friend who was exactly where she expected her to be. It was at the same secluded place she usually was, doing what she always did, playing with the petals of the purple flower called the Solace.

Vanny seemed to suddenly realize she had been daydreaming. It hardly surprised Mona that Vanny tried to spend so much time alone. Mona understood why she always came to spend time with the Solace. It really was peaceful - beautiful.

"What are you doing, Van? We're going to be late, you know?" Mona asked before her friend could speak.   

"I was just thinking,” Vanny responded, barely moving from her cross legged position. She seemed to be in some state of meditation and returned her gaze to the Solace.

"About the dance?"

"No, not really." Vanny's long jet-black hair, beautiful face and ridiculously charming personality always made Mona feel honored to be in her company. Like her, Vanny had already had the opportunity to turn down so many boys to the most important 'dance' of their lives - the Battle Union.

Probably waiting for Jom-Zayter, Mona thought of her friend's rejection of the many Jom rankers that had asked her to it. Vanny could probably get any boy or Jom ranker she wanted and Jom-Zayter of Clarra was the most sought after. He was often considered among the greatest of the non-Jon soldiers in Terrania's history and thus more than worthy of the title Jom; a title given to an excelling ranker within their required tour who showed the skill and experience of the title above them, but for one reason or another, was not yet in a position to be promoted. It was no secret to the girls of the Rochelle class how much Jom-Zayter liked Vanny. The girls were so envious and that had a lot to do with why they thought it was so tragic that Leon, a mere child from Clarra was enthralled by her to such a fruitless degree. "I think we should get going." She replied to her friend.

Vanny smiled at the flower and smiling helped her ignore the voices. The flower was said to be the only one of its kind left in the world and she believed it smelled like happiness.

"Okay, let’s go," she finally told Mona. Leave me alone, her thoughts made their own commentary, I need this time alone.

The girls began to walk away. It was time for both of them to receive another lesson from their sanice.


"I ascend my glory unto God that even in the face of my own doubt, it should not defeat my virtue as the light against the relentless darkness of evil forces." -  Major Brett Mosquainne, Terranian Falco Paladin Knight



The little girl ran screaming through the grass as she did her best to evade her pursuer. Like all children in Terrania, she wore the distinctive scarring of her sanice class on her face. The woman chasing the laughing child was beautiful, graceful and elegant. Other similarly aged and branded children looked on and laughed as they awaited their turn to be pursued by the Sanice Rochelle.

Rochelle, who wore the mark of a Meredin on her face, was in a particularly good mood today because she had just learned from her military source that Brucer had survived yet another suicide mission - an important one, but it still sounded like suicide. Catching the girl and laughing, they collapsed onto the soft ground. The girl immediately ran off to her green and blue-eyed friend while the tired Rochelle wiped away another phantom tear, the second since she had first heard about the Terra-Actual deep penetration mission. The other children started cheering. Young Hundled made the girl laugh by doing a dance around the sanice. It would be his turn to play any second and he was excited.

The sanice took a moment to roll onto her back and stare at the city's dome ceiling. They were bringing him back. She would see him again. Rochelle wanted little more than to help. She wanted to help him reclaim his humanity. She wanted to bring him back from his secluded island of social isolation. It was her duty, to herself, to Terrania. It was her responsibility toward him. To free him from the false persona that trapped him and ate at his soul. She climbed back onto her feet as her little captive fled and joined the others. She believed that helping Brucer was her duty to the late Sanice Meredin.


Hundled startled the daydreaming sanice. He wore a large smile on his boyish face. Rochelle wasn’t sure how she was going to tell him about Jonesy.

"Sanice Rochelle."

Rochelle dusted off her white, flowing traditional sanice dress as she got up. She knew whom the voice belonged to - her closest ally in the Sanice Council. By the sound of her voice, Rochelle knew that Sanice Clarra had brought the information she had requested. She ignored her building anxiety and for the moment, the children. "Sanice Clarra, you've returned much earlier than I was expecting."

Sanice Clarra was physically striking because by all accounts, her uneven jet black hair, missing tooth and limp to name a few, she should look ugly, but didn't. Men were attracted to her against their will.

"I can understand your unease. Even for you, this was incredibly risky." She handed Rochelle a sealed folder.

"Then I can't imagine what it has been for you. What you've done goes beyond anything I could have asked of you."

"And yet you did." Clarra smiled and when she did, her left eye, as always, almost closed completely. "The council and especially Sanice Mosquainne should never know." The sanice turned to look at the inquisitive children. She focused on one. The girl Rochelle had just been chasing who was now playing with Hundled. Her name was Cinda. "You think she's the one?"

Rochelle gripped the folder tighter, but did not reply.

"She's different, isn't she?"

Sanice Rochelle finally looked up into her colleague’s eyes. "It might explain him."

Clarra stuck her hand out and patted the folder in Rochelle's arms. "No matter how good we are at fooling ourselves, no matter how detailed, records cannot explain a person."

Such statements endeared Clarra to Rochelle. The sanice had an incredible ability of reminding Rochelle of her own beliefs even if Clarra herself did not share them.

Clarra smiled at the children who in turn all bowed. "Remember, Roche, you can't make Meredin's mistake. You can't treat her any differently than the others." She then traded nods with Rochelle and began to walk away.

The Sanice Rochelle of Great Meredin wanted nothing more in life than to do the right thing. Growing up, her own sanice had taught her a lot about the things Terranians were now practically forbidden to teach, even with the state's severely diminished ability to enforce its own extreme laws. Possibly, she had learned too much. For a time, she felt that her foundations of thought had outcaste her from the Sanice Council because they were too radical. For a time, she felt it was the reason the council still kept things from her.

After the murder of the Sanice Meredin, Sanice Rochelle never heard of many of the great woman's concepts of love of the individual and such from anyone else and that was a major reason she tried to keep them alive. However, under the old, shameful and terrible laws of the domed underwater city, it felt like a monumental task. It was especially so under the current threat of Terrania's ‘dark divide’ and the risk she had just undergone to acquire this information threatened to create another divide within their own council. She held the folder against her chest, looked at the children and smiled at Cinda.

"Are we still going to play?" the children, led by Hundled, began to ask.

She smiled back at them, but the voices of the approaching older class soon caught her attention. She immediately recognized two of the voices. One belonged to Lt. Major Cammy who had, under Sanice Mosquainne's brief substitution as head of Meredin's class, long been a sanice hopeful before choosing Terra-Actual violence over ‘Domer’ education.

Cammy's turning down of the sanice position had made the way for the much older and already combat experienced Rochelle to take over, but ever since she did and was told to pay attention to a particular girl but never told why, Rochelle had developed a whirlpool of suspicions about her.

The other voice recognized among the approaching children belonged to her own young Vanny. She was one of the most intelligent girls the sanice knew and the most likely of her older children to become a sanice herself, that is, if she did not end up like the major she kept close company with or if the voices she kept hearing in her head became public knowledge.

The sanice looked back at Hundled and the other young children and shook her head. Their time was up. She thought about browsing through the information while the classes transitioned. Maybe she would get her answers, but then, if Terrania was going to have a future worth living, then it would be up to these children to do so. Sanice Rochelle decided that for now, she would focus her attention on the children because she believed that would be the right thing to do. She placed the folder down. For a time, she felt that her foundations of thought had outcaste her from the Sanice Council because they were too radical. For a time, she felt it was the reason the council still kept things from her, but soon enough she would discover who the girl's biological mother and father were, and what it might mean for Terrania's future.


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