The first thing Majorie says to me as we meet at the fountain in Paradisia is, “Well, at least it’s an easy choice which bar to drown our sorrows in together.”
She’s referring to the fact that there is literally one dedicated bar in Paradisia. The rest are restaurant bars that close by 22:00 most days.
But that doesn’t make a difference to me anyway because, “Actually… I’m only 20.”
It takes her a second to understand the relevance of me stating my age.
“Oh my God! I totally forgot it’s 21 here, isn’t it?! Where does that random age even come from?”
“That’s what it was in the United States,” I say.
“No, I know.” She laughs, like duh. “But where did they pull that number out of?”
“It wouldn’t be so bad if Gulf Sails would just park 20 goddamn meters off the coast. Then at least the bars in Gulf Sails could serve me.”
“Right,” Majorie rolls her eyes in agreement, “Well let’s run to the store before it closes. And get us something to drink on the beach?”
I laugh because the way that she ends the sentence in a question is really adorable. She smiles too.
“Yeah, but I better not go in with you. They might ID both of us.”
Majorie bursts out laughing. “Oh my god, you’re probably right! It’s like this place is stuck in the dark ages.”
She buys. I wait. We walk.
The buildings get sparser, and we transition onto a gravel road with the ocean to our right just over the dunes. Then there are just a few houses–compounds?–and now we are past all civilization.
There’s hardly anywhere on Gulf Sails where you can be alone like this. The stars are out. The rhythm of the ocean is peaceful.
Majorie and I are passing a bottle of whiskey back and forth. That’s what she came out with. This woman is amazing. She bought us a bottle of whiskey, and a six-pack of beer to wash it down.
“You know when I lived in Heartland,” Majorie says, “The drinking age was also 21, but they were still using actual ID cards. They were sooo easy to fake. I was going to bars when I was 16.”
“You lived in Heartland? That must have been a trip.”
“Yeah… I mean people exaggerate about it. But it can get pretty intense.”
“How did you end up there?” I ask.
She takes a deep breath, “Well, that was when my parents were going through their Christian phase,” she laughs.
“I take it you didn’t go through it with them?”
“Oh, I went through the motions. Do you know how painful it is to sit through church with a hangover?”
“Luckily, I do not,” I say. “Why did your family move around so much?”
She shrugs, “My parents just liked moving. Always searching for something better while they saved for the day they could move to Gulf Sails.”
“Damn I hope they aren’t disappointed.”
Majorie laughs, “So far so good. Three years is a long time in one place for us. And they seem happy. Or else they are too terrified to admit to themselves that they’ll never find Eden. It probably helps that the island sails to three different ports throughout the year.”
“You said you lived in Florida too. Anywhere close to where Gulf Sails docks?” I ask.
“No, no, no. That’s not Florida,” she corrects me, half joking, “They are very adamant that you do not call Seminole part of Florida. Know many locals there?”
I feel my cheeks get a little red.
“I’ve been a few hours inland,” I say. “People there are… nice.”
“Right. But nice doesn’t make up for their creepy.”
“Certainly makes it interesting,” I muse.
“Something is off there,” Majorie adds, “We stayed near Lapachicola for a few weeks, but my parents decided it wasn’t worth it… plus I think it would have just been torture watching the island sail away, and waiting 8 months until it came back. So we opted for Florida instead.”
“I always thought of Florida like the wild west.“
“That’s an accurate way to describe parts of it,” she laughs. “But it’s not as bad as New Orleans.”
“Shut up! You did not live in New Orleans!?” I almost shout in surprise.
“Sorry, don’t shut up. But really? I’ve been there with Dean and Craig, it’s like a pirate port.”
Majorie laughs, “Well, I lived there for about two and a half months. But yeah… it does have a pretty piratey vibe.”
“Why would your parents want to move there?”
“Actually, I moved there without them… It was just me and a friend.”
She laughs, “Oh my god, stop. Why are you so surprised by that?”
Actually it’s sort of just terrifying me how much of a badass she is. But I don’t want to tell her that.
“You just seem so wholesome,” I wink.
“Oh please!” She scoffs, but can’t suppress a smile as she brings the whiskey bottle back up to her lips.
“So what was the deal with New Orleans? Why did you go, why did you leave?”
She swigs her beer before continuing. “By the time I was 17, I had had enough of Heartland. So my friend and I cooked up a plan to move to New Orleans and become musicians.”
“You play an instrument?”
“Guitar. And I sing. So we got a complete shithole of an apartment, like one step above homeless. But you really can’t tell the difference between someone homeless in New Orleans and a typical resident…”
“I think half of them are just homeless because they got too fucked up to find their way home.”
“Probably accurate. We ended up getting some gigs, since like every bar in New Orleans has a live band. But it was barely enough for rent, and we were living off comped food at the bars we were playing… It got ugly pretty fast.
“In the meantime, my parents moved to Florida… I guess they were pretty sick of Heartland too.
“And then… well, the prodigal daughter returned home. Like, literally, my parents threw me a party, which I’m sure would have included a fatted calf if they could have found one. Luckily I don’t have any siblings to get jealous.”
“Praise Jesus.” I say, “I thought Christian parents would have responded differently.”
“The Christian phase was over by then… We kind of have a weird relationship. I’m pretty convinced I was an accident, but then they just incorporated me into their lives, and I became more like a sidekick. I can hardly relate to most people who live at home. I honestly feel more like I have roomates.”
“So your parents are pretty chill then?”
“Almost to a fault.”
“I still feel like a kid at home. I gotta get my shit together and move out at some point…”
“Don’t stress,” she says, handing me the bottle of whiskey.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to get an underage boy drunk,” I say, slightly slurred. We’ve been sitting on the edge of the dunes passing the bottle back and forth for a while now.
She takes the last two beers from the cardboard box, one in each hand. She cracks them both open.
“Drink up little boy,” she says seductively.
Laughing. Silence. Waves.
Moon. Stars. Still.
Eyes. Lips. Kiss.
We run along the beach, hand in hand. Strip off our clothes spontaneously. Splash naked into the ocean. Swim out to where the sandy floor drops away from our dangling feet. The waning moon shimmers off the ocean chop.
“Wait, don’t sharks feed at night?” she says, and swims into my arms, her hands laced behind my neck.
I think she’s joking, but now I’m actually freaked out.
“C’mon,” I say, pulling her into shore.
We spend a moment rolling in the surf intertwined, recreating that scene in From Here to Eternity (still iconic only 147 years later).
Turns out rolling around in the sand, letting the waves wash over you makes you… sandy. And it gets everywhere. Pretty soon we are grinding sand between our tongues.
And everywhere else.
And now I remember that salt water doesn’t exactly render your manhood particularly presentable. She still looks great, lying there on the sand next to me. The moon glistens off her wet, sand-speckled skin.
We both get a touch embarrassed and awkward. We giggle, and continue giggling like kids as we get dressed, our clothes considerably less comfortable than before.
There’s still some whiskey left. And its eyeing us like a challenge.
We stumble back into town, holding each other up.
“Francesco sure has a nice house for being such a man of the people,” Majorie scoffs, as we walk past it.
It’s Caribbean style, pink stucco with balconies and curvy staircases galore. He has a white gravel–or shell?–driveway that circles around a fountain of a man holding a crystal ball in his outstretched hand.
“Do ya… do you dare me to take the big marble?” I ask Majorie.
“The thing, the ball, the crystal ball there,” I stammer back.
We are standing in between the open white painted cast iron gate looking in.
Majoriorie chortles, “If you love me you’ll bring–you’ll make, it as an offering of your… love or whatever.”
“Do you think I can climb that?” I ask.
“I’d judge the shit out of you if you couldn’t,” she says straight-faced.
We meet eyes and burst into laughter, coming in to brace each other… which turns into an embrace.
She looks up into my eyes, serious. Her lip quivers a bit before she whispers, “But… are you still gonna get me the ball?”
I start giggling and my head drops against her chest. I can feel the vibration as she laughs. I like it like this.
I snap to attention.
“Ew. Don’t… that just sounds so awkward. Don’t say that.”
“The ‘me’ part is half the problem.”
“I will grab… whatever balls you command.”
“Just get me the fucking globe!”
I spring into action.
The statue in the center of the bubbling shallow pool is surprisingly easy to scale. I hop from the edge to the platform, pull myself up by some historical figure’s marble kneecaps, and scramble past the platform and onto his shoulders. I straddle the neck for a moment and wave to Majorie.
“That’s actually pretty impressive,” she laughs.
I shimmy my way down, straddling the statue’s arm, realizing that if I fell off at this point… it would really hurt. But this realization is diluted… by three beers and half a bottle of whiskey.
The arm is actually pretty skinny when you get far enough to reach the glass globe it’s holding.
“Get ready to catch it,” I say.
I pick up the orb, and it is heavier than I expected.
I hold it up with both hands to look at it. It’s brilliant.
Swirls of ruby micro-gems surround tiny imbedded globes of gold and silver. Blues and greens flicker off, and every second I stare it seems to draw me deeper into some less-apparent detail–emeralds, sapphires, and pearls.
It’s sucking me in, swirling into ever finer levels of cosmic beauty.
Crack. Snap. Gravity.
I’m in mid air. My heart and stomach have been left behind. But they catch up as I slam into the fountain.
I manage to land on my side, with my arm shielding my head from blunt force bashing against any marble.
The wind is knocked out of me. I hope I haven’t’ broken anything.
The magnificent orb shatters on the marble ledge of the fountain.
As drunk as I am, I still planned to ultimately return the globe to its resting place in the statue’s hand.
But now the entire marble arm is lying in the fountain. And the globe he held outstretched to the world is obliterated into a million tiny shards and several larger chunks of jagged crystal.
I manage a pained glance at Majorie, who is standing frozen in horror with her hands over her mouth.
And then I see two security patrol’s screech to a halt in the driveway behind her. How did they get here so quick?
They are joined by two guards jogging out from the mansion.
To their credit, the first thing security does is make sure I am all right. They get me and Majorie seated on the fountain edge and radio whatever codes apply.
And there stand six Paradisia guards. And there sit Majorie and I, in front of a thick wall of human security.
And out from his home pitter-patters Francesco, holding up his flowing white tunic, loose long hair dancing behind him.
And behind his hair comes fluttering more casually a girl younger than Majorie and I. She doesn’t appear to look too unlike Francesco in the dim light, with practically identical robes, and the same long dark hair.
And behind her, strolling with one hand in his pocket… is Elijah Braze. I recognize one minion following him… the chubby one from the deck at Cask of Amontillado on Halloween. There’s another trendy follower I don’t recognize.
“My galaxy!” Francesco exclaims as he sees the shards of his globe on the marble. “And my statue! What have you done to L. Ron Hubbard’s arm!”
“What kind of damage are we looking at?” The guard in charge asks Francesco.
“The galaxy is a piece of art! One of a kind… it can hardly be reduced to a price… But I paid $25,000 for it earlier this year.”
I almost choke. Instead I break into a coughing fit.
Francesco turns to me as if he has just noticed that the perpetrator is at hand.
“And the statue itself was a $40,000 commission,” he says gravely.
A patrol guard is recording all this on his handheld.
He already knows who we are, they have us on camera somewhere. But he asks to confirm anyway.
A drone lands, and out step two Gulf Sails security agents. They talk to the Paradisia security, and watch something on the Paradisia guy’s handheld–probably a video of what just transpired. They seem to agree.
A Paradisia guard reads the indictment against me and says I can go home tonight if I agree to show up at a hearing tomorrow morning. Then I have to sign the indictment with my thumbprint.
This feels dirty… like using a public restroom. You can use your thumbprint anywhere to pay or verify your identity… If you’re smart you require back up verification in addition to the thumb print with a password or iris scan.
But like most people, I prefer to use a chip, like the one in my bracelet. It’s more secure because there is less room for your biometrics to get hacked.
But for legal issues like this there’s no getting around the thumbprint. It’s not like I seriously think I am going to get hacked here, the security is trustworthy. Just, like I said… it feels dirty.
“You’ll need to provide documentation at tomorrow’s hearing for the prices you gave here,” a Gulf Sails agent tells Francesco.
“I know that!” Francesco snaps back.
“I didn’t realize you were such a troublemaker,” Elijah says to me, walking over. I don’t even look at him.
“Majorie!?” the chubby friend exclaims. “Is this seriously the type of company you keep?”
Surprised, I look questioning to Majorie. Her pained expression has returned, and she looks like she is searching for an explanation.
“You’re fired,” he says.
Elijah’s head darts towards his friend and his eyes narrow. Then he looks at Majorie, then back to the friend. He looks pissed.
“Data division,” the friend says.
The friend is relaxed and speaks casually. He must work for Elijah. And Majorie works for him? I realize now we haven’t actually talked about what we do for work yet.
“I didn’t know we had a data division,” Elijah says with a fake smile, “You told me this young lady was just a friend of yours.”
A Gulf Sails security agent approaches, “Alright Rodigio and Marjorie-”
“It’s MAJorie,” Majorie responds reflexively. But her voice cracks and I see her brush away a tear.
The security guy looks at his handheld, “Oh, oops. Majorie. Sorry. Well, you two come with us, we’ll escort you home.”
Majorie and I are silent, just looking out the opposite windows as the drone gains altitude.
At this time of night, there are some house and street lights on the mainland, but as soon as you get about 20 meters up you can see the city of lights sitting in the harbor.
Getting higher, you see the shape of the man-made island come into view, veins of lights growing dimmer, away from the dense island center.
I feel the descent, so we must be approaching Majorie’s parents’ house.
We turn to one another at the same time and blurt out in unison, “I’m sorry!”
“What?!” She says, “I’m the one that should be apologizing. That’s so much money!”
“Well you just lost your job apparently, just for being associated with an idiot like me,” I say.
We look into each other’s eyes, and it seems to say it all.
We hug and stay in the embrace until the drone stops and an agent says, “Okay, this is your stop.”
She watches from the platform as the drone takes off again.
“You want to get in touch with your parents to authorize the bug on the home system?” the same agent asks.
“Can you?” I ask.
The two security agents look at each other and laugh. Then he takes out his handheld and does something.
When we get to my parent’s house, the system has been authorized to accept the bug, and one of the guards uses his handheld to install it wirelessly.
Until tomorrow’s hearing, I will not be allowed to order a drone to go anywhere off the island. They also have access to all entry and exit security cameras, including ones focused on the drone pad.
I flop into my bed and manage to pass out for a few hours.
You know that feeling when you wake up first thing in the morning after a night full of regrets?
I’m not hungover… mostly because I still feel a little drunk. But I’ve sobered up enough for the crushing wave of Oh Shit to wash over me.
I have to force myself every little movement required to get ready. My hands are heavy, my face feels melty. Gravity is working extra on me today.
I tell my parents I am going to walk to the hearing, before they can say anything to me.
Looks like they briefly assess how likely I am to throw myself into the ocean. Apparently I don’t look that desperate.
They’ll take a drone. It’s a 20-minute walk.
I step outside and see a world I’ve never seen.
Of course, I’ve seen some version of it about 7,100 times really. But it’s never been painted with these circumstances; this concoction of emotions. When you’re walking to the gallows, it adds an alarming vibrance and sharpness to your surroundings.
A butterfly flutters by me and lands on a flower in the prime of it’s bloom. There’s faint gulls in the background and the sweet, fresh smell of ocean breeze.
I’ve stepped out of the half-shell home and onto a patio surrounded by tropical plants. The stone path opens to a lush field of thick soft grass. Walls of rock slope down from the hill that engulfs the half-circle, three-story dome.
I walk through the gate, close it behind me, and linger to look back over the platform. It looks like the shire, only the hobbit hole is much larger, and the entire front is made of glass and metal.
Now I’m out on the deck where the platform connects to the frame of Gulf Sails and the neighboring platforms.
In front of me, across the deck, is the neighbor’s platform. Each platform has six sides. My parent’s has three decks, one on each side capable of docking.
To my right is the open ocean since my parents have an end slot. The deck still goes out that way. I hardly over go out there, but now somehow I have the urge. I just don’t have the time.
I step off the raised deck and onto the street portion that the platforms connect to.
The roads meander back and forth on the edges of the hexagonal platforms.
On the way to the center, I cross a couple bridges. From each you can glimpse a bit of the layout of the floating city. There are channels of ocean, 5-10 meters below the platforms, depending on if you are on a bridge or a main walkway.
Every now and then a boat passes by underneath. As the platforms get smaller and denser toward the city center, you can see families and couples having breakfast on their lower docks, below street level, on the water level. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Venice.
And the center of the island, the main city square, is actually quite the spectacle. There are restaurants, apartment buildings, shops, museums, bars, and studios. It’s not a large area, but it is built up, congested, and the buildings are tall.
But today, I am heading for the city arbitrator.
“I sentence you to compensation paid to the victim of $70,000. Our records indicate that is a sum you are unlikely to be able to afford.”
“I could probably come up with a downpayment,” I say hesitantly, fighting the urge to glance over at where my parents should be… but they aren’t here yet.
“It is indicated here,” the arbitrator says, looking at his tablet, “that you would be able to come up with less than 10% of the fine. The victim has requested, and been granted, $40,000 as the threshold to avoid confinement while you pay off the rest. Are you able to post this amount?”
I stay silent, waiting, hoping that my Dad will walk through the doors. I glance over. He hasn’t magically materialized in the past few moments.
I should have known this was coming… I expected my dad’s lawyer to show up and represent me…
When he didn’t, I waived my right to counsel. They know what happened. It’s all recorded. I watched every cringe-worthy moment myself in the courtroom.
The Arbitrator is staring at me like, well?
I swallow hard and say faintly, “No sir, I am not.”
I sentence you to class-3 confinement. You may be released upon reaching the $40,000 threshold and committing to payments for the other $30,000 due.