An Excerpt from Arcana Aeternum

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The Part where the Kid Meets a Fair Maiden

It is because of the Shell’s advanced medical technologies that the population can enjoy a youthful physique well into their second century without advanced maintenance techniques. Some signs of age, such as grey, white, or silver hair have been left unchanged, and are simply considered a sign of maturity. Baldness has been weeded out of the gene pool and is only found in intentional cases.

After about thirty years, an individual’s actual age becomes less and less important socially, and only becomes important again when the individual begins exhibiting signs of gene atrophy, and then only willingly, as a badge of honor (unless the individual is becoming aged too early because they are poor or have poor hygiene habits.)

The current oldest individual was present for the construction and launch of the original Shell, and as of the crystallization of this log is three thousand, six hundred and forty two years old. It resides in a silica-based, neutral-gendered body that is less prone to deterioration than traditional organic flesh. It lives in a permanent state of retirement, living off royalties attributed to it by virtue of its contributions to the original design of the Shell. It has gone by many names, exhibited many personalities, and generally attempted to experience as much of life as physically possible. It is most often referred to as Iofiel, a biblical allusion to the angelic guardian of Eden.

The Part where the Kid Meets a Fair Maiden

The kid wasn’t entirely sure at what point during the concert proceedings he had left. He got rather caught up in the surrounding festivities which spilled out over the rest of the floor, filling the cafes and bars with a rowdy ruckus of positivities. He’d long since lost track of his little group, most of which had dispersed like a pack of wolves coordinating an ambush, weaving into the crowd to locate a number of drug addled wildebeests to lure back to their den. No- that’s not right at all. It would be wolves and deer or lions and wildebeests. The young socialite was not particularly strong in either biology or Terran geography, but he tried. Whatever the case, the kid found himself sitting at a juice bar next to a woman who had taken an extreme interest in him.

“Twenty eight?” she chuckled, “not even out of school then?” Her legs dangled playfully off the edge of her stool, the kid couldn’t keep his eyes off how her vinyl stockings shone in the light, but he’d had a chance to glimpse the rest of her mismatched outfit. A shock of straight, black hair peeked out from a bomber hat which framed a small round face with olive skin. Her vest and skirt had matching plaid patterns, and she wore heavy magnetic utility boots, the kind laborers used to walk in low gravity.

After an unnaturally long pause, the kid answered. “Well, I’ve only got a few more courses before I absolutely have to specialize, but I just don’t know what to do. It’s not that nothing interests me or feels natural; I just can’t get enough of... of everything. Engineering, culinary arts, statistics, martial practice—I could do any of it, but I can’t do it all.”

The woman chuckled again. “Well that’s just how it is, hun, what you turn out doing is rarely about what you are best at or what interests you most. Eventually you just need money and you find whatever niche you can fill. If you’re especially lucky, you’ll get a chance to quit and start over.”

“That’s terrible!” the kid paused a moment to thank the bartender as he poured a replacement shake, “how could you just say that and be so nonchalant about it?”

“What’s wrong with it? It should take a load off your shoulders. Constantly thinking you have to find the job you’re destined for. Like you said, you’d enjoy anything, and like I said, you’ll certainly get a chance to start again.

“Worrying about what part of everything you’d like to pursue is wasting time. It’s better just to barrel in, get what you want out of it and move on.” She took a sip of her drink before adding one final thought. “Cover more ground that way.”

The advice was valid, in its own right, but it didn’t really change his situation. Whether he was waiting for something to strike his fancy or waiting for a need to arise, he was still waiting. The kid didn’t correct the girl, even though such a correction was all he could think to talk about. He decided to wait quietly instead.

After a long bout of awkward silence, the girl renewed the conversation: “My name is Usagi White, by the way.”

“White?” the kid was so surprised he almost choked on his shake, “Like White Records?” Considering White Records coordinated the Mark of Hubris concerts, the kid guessed it wasn’t so unbelievable to have bumped into her, but that wasn’t the most interesting thing the boy knew about the Whites. “I’m friends with Salazar White.”

Usagi giggled, “I’ll try not to hold that against you. Salazar is a little... single-minded. I’m surprised he even has friends.” Now that the conversation had gotten personal, Usagi ceased eye contact, gazing instead at the line of slush machines while she drew shapes in the condensation on her glass.

The kid nodded firmly, “Certainly wouldn’t know it from today, he was supposed to be here for the concert.” He brushed some hair over his ear and leaned in to take a long sip of his shake, giving himself time to do some quick background research on the girl. Couldn’t be too careful about what you said in front of a last-namer.

The kid’s student-oriented search filters had a tendency to bring up more of the less practical facts on a given search term. “Usagi... that’s Japanese for rabbit—as in white rabbit?” the boy inquired incredulously.

The girl’s eyes unfocused as she double-checked, “I... guess so, I’ve never looked into it. I’m sorry, hun, I don’t follow.”

“I don’t suppose you’re late for something important?” the kid chuckled, enjoying his private allusion.

“Oh, cripes, I am! I'm sorry—it's been very nice meeting you, but I’ve got to go. What’s your name anyway?”

“Curiouser- and- curiouser,” the boy made out between fits of laughter. “I haven’t got a name just yet, but I’ve got a feeling I’m Alice.”

Usagi frowned in frustration, eyes searching through invisible data, either checking her day planner or trying to make sense of what the boy was saying. While all the data one could need was readily accessible, it was quite a volume, and if you didn’t have enough information it could be impossible to root out just what someone was alluding to. “Really now. You ought to pick something less feminine; people will talk.” Usagi clicked her tongue decisively “I’m going to put you in manually as Adelei until you get yourself sorted out, but like I said, I’ve got someplace I’m supposed to be, and I’ve really got to go.” Usagi stood and started checking her pockets nervously like she was making sure she had everything she came with.

“I’ve actually got quite a clear schedule. Any chance I could just follow you, that way we might pick up where we left off once you’re done with whatever it is you’re going to do. I just have a feeling I need to follow you.” The kid silently congratulated himself on his word choice. He was at the top of the conversation and felt suave as all get out.

Miss White stopped quite abruptly and grimaced, “Oh, you don’t wanna tag along, you’ll have to sit around in the lobby with Cerval, and he’s not... a very... entertaining... person-a-li-ty...” she drew out the last few syllables, trying, with great difficulty, not to simply say person.

“Oh, I’ll be just fine. I’m quite an amicable person.” Oh, he was on fire. He hadn’t even planned to use amicable; it had just rolled right out of his face. “I can’t say I’ve ever met someone I couldn’t get along with.”

By this point, the kid could tell from the rapid blinking and erratic eye movements, Usagi was probably bringing up a route-finder, as she sucked down the remainder of her drink. (The router applications use elevator timing and up-to-the minute crowding data to find the quickest route from point a to point b.) “If you say so, it’s your funeral, Del. Just know I won’t hold it against you if you don’t suffer through the gauntlet.” The woman turned on her heel, orienting herself on a doorway across the crowded hall. “I’ve gotta be there, like, yesterday, so stick in close if you don’t want to lose me; I’m not coming back for you if you end up on the wrong side of a closing lift door.”

With that, she lost herself in the crowd, leaving the kid to choke on his slick comeback.

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