Welcome to the Garden
Our first issue
The White Rose Garden is a special magazine exclusively for members of the White Roses in Virtualia and a few Friends of the Embassy.
Its main feature will be the serialisation of a novel which will eventually appear in print, but at present can be read nowhere but here. That novel is at present tentatively entitled The Princess and the Captain and is an Aristasian novel set in the far reaches of space. We shall able to discuss the novel an its characters as they progress amd perhaps some of the social and philosophical issues raised by the story.
As well as this, we warmly invite each of you reading this to contribute something of her own — a drawing, a story, a poem, a favourite recipe or even a joke. This is your magazine and we should love you to make yourself a special part of it. All contributions should be sent to whiterosegarden at aristasia dot co dot uk — all properly joined up, of course!
Lots of goings-on to report this issue. The Embassy has been established and the furnishing of it has begun. Miss Fiona is at present our acting security chief, awaiting confirmation of her deputisation by ISIS — the Imperial Security and Intelligence Service. She has already established an office in an upstairs flat across the square from the Embassy.
We have already had a security incident in which Miss Sushuri Madonna was shot with a semi-automatic rifle by an overenthusiastic roleplayer. Any reports of her death are greatly exaggerated, as are any reports to the effect that her reaction to the incident was: "Didn't hurt — nyadi, nyadi nyaaaadi!".
A temporary security structure has been erected over the Terrace while a more aesthetic long-term solution is mooted.
The Silver Vixen has agreed to allow her work-in-progress, tentatively entitled The Princess and the Captain to be serialised in this very maggie! Quelle coup! It may even work as a sort of deadline to get her off her cute bushy tail and start spinning her magical words. Then again, I hear a deadline didn't help much with her last column in a certain other maggie!
The Princess and the Captain
And now the mome you've all been waiting for: up and away into the wide black yonder with Princess Mela and Captain Antala. You may have heard some of it before in our audio broadcast and its sequel. If you have and you prefer to start with the new part, just skip to Now read on, where you'll find material that has never been made public in any form before.
Of course you can't fly a pennant from a spacecraft. Not when it is in deep aethyr, at any rate, because there is no air. It just hangs limp however fast you travel. Still, every ship carries her own Pennant in the command-room along with the Imperial Flag, the Novarian National Flag and the banner of the Royal Novarian Space Command. On cadet-training ships it has been known for pennants to be captured by cadets from another ship. You know what young brunettes are like. I don't think a pennant was ever captured from a full-service craft before that night.
It was a lovely April evening deep in the Novarian Southlands; the air like warm honey, yet lightened by fresh breezes from the great Ushasti Lake. The clouds were drawn out like strands of half-spun fleece against the magenta sky, still tinted on their lower edges by the last rays of Heaven's Lady.
The Merevendra Fleet-base was quiet after the activity of the day. Only a few ships were stationed here, and most of those were at aethyr. The Silver Vixen, one of the very latest Falcon-class recon-fighters was alongside (as the expression still had it) after a systems-check and some minor repairs.
With a hiss like a lover's whisper, the portal hatch came down, smoothly and swiftly becoming the entry-ramp.
"I knew not that any of the wiseheads were still aboard," said one of the guards - a maid of middle height in the crisp grey uniform of a fleetsoldier.
"I was assured that they were not," replied the other. "Best we board and learn what passes."
The two walked abreast up the silver-stepped entryway and into a small area upon which several portals opened.
"Who is here?" cried the first guard.
There was a noise behind them and as they turned, a dark-clad figure was already racing down the entry-ramp.
"She has the Ship's Pennant!" cried the second guard. "After her!"
The thief moved with remarkable swiftness and disappeared into the shadows, but the two guards kept closely on her track, listening for any sound. They pursued her to the perimeter-fence, where she broke cover and threw the Pennant over the fence. She herself followed it with extraordinary agility and mounted a hover-bike waiting outside.
The second guard activated her transceiver. "Intruder escaping on south-west road. She has the Silver Vixen's Pennant.
The base was not well guarded. No enemy had been inside Novarian territory for a thousand years. Guards were a formality, a general help in keeping things in order and a discouragement to the odd misdemeanour. There were only four altogether on this base.
"Keep on her tail. She is a tricksy one," said the second guard into her transceiver.
She and her partner mounted their hoverbikes and joined the chase.
"Livens the evening at any rate," said the other.
The thief was indeed a tricksy one. With four fine fleetsoldiers after her it was a good twenty minutes before she was run to ground. Finally cornered, she dismounted and bowed most courteously.
"I am sorry to have brought you trouble, good knights," she said.
"No trouble in the world, rayalin," said one of her captors. "Though I fancy trouble may come upon you. What is your name and why came you upon this wild enterprise?"
"My name, good knights..."
But their learning of her name was deferred for a short while; for at that moment they heard the muted chirruping throb of hyperthrust engines and the unmistakable hiss of a take-off. They turned back toward the base. The Silver Vixen was rising slowly into the magenta sky.
* * *
The main concourse of HMSS Silver Vixen had been converted into a sort of throne-room. On a large armchair the dais sat a blonde in late adolescence or early adulthood. Before her stood three blondes and a brunette of about the same age.
The brunette addressed her:
“The ship is yours, your highness.”
“Splendid work, Captain Antala,” she said. “As you claimed, you are a very clever strategist.”
“Oh, I picked up a few tips at the Academy. That and one’s native genius, of course…”
“What now, madam captain?”
“We shall soon be over the Golden Sea, your highness. Chinchi is increasing our speed steadily as well as our altitude. In ten minutes or so we should reach escape velocity, and then off we go into the jolly old aethyr.”
“Any sign of pursuit?”
“Not so far, but I doubt if it will be long before they get after us, your highness. They have two ships at the Ushasti base. They will get them up shortly, but they are both big starships, faster than the Vixen at top speed, but much clumsier and less manoeuvrable. It will take them some time even to get off the ground. As far as I know the ships at aethyr are quite a long way off. There are also other bases in Novaria which may have light craft on standby. They will probably scramble those and get them on our tail as quickly as they can. Those, I fancy, will be our main concern.”
“What should we do, captain?”
“Our best bet, your highness, is to get off the planet as quickly as possible and lose ourselves in the wide black yonder before they have a chance to track us.”
* * *
“Great conquering Vikhe! Who would have the audacity to steal our latest experimental craft from under our very noses?” Hereditary Aethyr-Vikhar, Ray’ Shuratil Liante glared at her hapless aide-de-camp.
“We have no idea, ma’am. The apprehended accomplice speaks fluent Westrenne with a Quirinelle accent and a perfect grasp of East-Novarian etiquette. It would be astounding if she were an off-worlder.”
“What then? It is hardly likely that Her Quirinelle Majesty is stealing her ships. Holy Thame — she could have the technics if she were able to use them. We are all daughters of the Empire.”
“Rayati Raihiranya,” responded the aide-de-camp correctly.
“Yes, yes, Rayati Raihiranya,” came the obligatory but exasperated response. “But surely no child of the Empress could sink so low as to collaborate with the outlander. Such a thing was never known.”
“They are bringing her to you, Vikhar. You may question her yourself.”
“Good. And what of the pursuit? How goes that?”
“There are five Far-Darters stationed at Tristillaine, ma’am. They have all been despatched. Our tracking station has the Silver Vixen’s bearings and we are streaming them to the interception party’s ordinators. The Vixen has a head start, of course, but the Darters should have her within the hour.”
“Thank Sai Vikhe for that.
* * *
Another adolescent brunette rushed into the makeshift throne-room.
Message from Chinchi, Anters,” she said breathlessly.
“Captain Antala when you are on official business,” said the Captain.
“Aye-aye Skipsipops. Chinchi says we are approaching escape veloccers. So hold onto your pretty blue bonnets.”
“Top hole. All right, brunettes get the blondes to the safety-room and strap them in. Strap yourselves in too if you want to.”
“What about you, Skip?”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“We’d quite like you conscious and functioning for the big chase-scene.”
“I said don’t worry about me. Gnati?”
“All right. I gnati.”
Princess Melenhe was led to the safety-room with the other blondes while Antala wandered up to the cockpit to oversee Chinchi.
“She’s vaht’he” said Claralin, the brunette who was fastening Melenhe’s safety harness, perhaps half-consciously choosing a word that commonly means ‘mad’ but has more ancient associations of ‘inspired’. “It isn’t just her own life she’s playing with now. Can’t you do something with her, Mela.”
“You knew what she was like before you came,” said the princess. “You aren’t getting scared now, are you?”
“Chicken? Of course not. But there’s no need to be irresponsible.”
Mela laughed. “What’s responsible about swoggling a navy ship and putting out to Aethyr in it? Perhaps you should take up safer games like knitting or something.”
“Very g’doinking funny,” said Claralin giving a final tug to the safety harness. The blondes were all secured and the brunettes were now strapping themselves in. Despite her dismissive manner, Mela did worry a little about Anters. She remembered the first night she had ridden with her in a game on her great chrome-glistening hoverbike. The wind blowing in her hair; the thrill of the 150mph frictionless glide over the long grass at Chevendil the crazy head-on collision course with another bike doing the same speed. Mela’s own nerve had cracked briefly that night.
“We’ll hit at 300 miles an hour, she had screamed. Great Dea, there’ll be nothing left of us.”
Antala’s steely-calm voice sounded in her wireless ear-buds. “She knows that too. She’ll chicken. Don’t worry.”
The other rider did chicken, of course. They always did. Riding against Antala, the only alternative was death. Riding with her meant taking one’s life in one’s hands. Sharing the thrills of a vat’he daredevil. But perhaps Claralin was right. Things were getting a bit more serious now. Their very irresponsibility had put them into a position where some degree of responsibility was almost called for. After all, this was an important experimental ship. A Queen’s ship; ultimately the Empress’s ship. They had a duty at least to get it back intact after the joy-ride.
Deep in thought, Mela had hardly noticed the stress of leaving the planet’s atmosphere. She was the 54th in succession to the throne of Novaria. She had also run away room her finishing school in Upper Quirinelle and lived the life of a crazy Quirrie ton-up girl with a group of other consciously idiotic young aristocrats. Now she was a ton-up girl’s blonde in a world where the ton was replaced by the mach; and while they played at deferring to her royalty and Anters played at captaining the ship — well, it didn’t matter. They’d be rounded up in a while and ’Nettie would have to get them off. Funny how she was half looking forward to authority’s re-asserting itself. One didn’t like the feeling of having to become authority. Anyway. It was still the great Game, the big chase-scene. Keep out of their reach for as long as possible. That was the objective.
* * *
"Good business, Chinchi," said Antala in the cockpit. "We've made it free and clear; out of the atmosphere into the wide open aethyr."
"Did you think we mightn't?" asked Chinchi.
"Well, you've never done it before, have you? Of course, I didn't doubt you, but sometimes a first time can be tricky, I imagine."
"Can't see why," said Chinchi. "The physics is all perfectly clear. Just a question of putting theory into practice."
"What's that thing over there?" asked Antala pointing ahead into the aethyr. "It looks like -- I don't know what -- like the aurora borealis in space."
"Oh, yes, that. You can't see it from planetside. You can't even see it from the aethyr all the time. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't. They call it an aethyr-crease. As far as we understand it, the aethyr somehow turns in on itself."
"What does that mean?"
"Well, imagine a piece of paper and suppose that paper was the whole of space. You might be at one edge, and the opposite edge would be an unimaginable distance away. But if the paper were folded in half, you would be right next to the opposite edge, even though, travelling on the surface of the paper, it would still be just as far. Of course, this would be pretty unimaginable to you because your universe would be in two dimensions, like the paper."
"You mean our three-dimensional universe might be 'folded' in another dimension that we can't even perceive?"
"That is the theory. No one is absolutely certain though. There might be various folds at different times. It might fold into elaborate patterns and unfold again, just as much of nature forms patterns. We could not see any of this with our three-dimensional perception, except when we actually came upon a 'crease' like that one."
"What would happen if we flew into it? Has anyone ever tried?"
"Yes, two parties of explorers on two different occasions. Neither of them ever came back, so we are no wiser."
"How excessively fascinating."
"D'you think we'll get into awful trouble?" asked 'Lannie. "When they catch us, I mean."
"No, love," replied Sharrie. "In Novaria a maid's duty is to do whatever her mistress tells her. If she don't do that she's breaking the law. But if she does, she's in the clear. Any misdemeanour is the responsibility of the mistress."
The two girls stood facing each other in the ship's galley in their short black dresses and starched white aprons. Sharrie had been the best cocktail waitress in Chelverton when Princess Melanhe had offered her more money and a life of adventure. After all, one could hardly take to the aethyr without decent cocktails.
"It's not like that back home in Quirinelle is it, Sharrie?"
"No, love. In Quirinelle individuals are equal in the eyes of the law, but in Novaria bonded maids are regarded in the light of their bond."
"But we did volunteer to come up 'ere with 'Er 'Ighness, didn't we?"
"That don't make no difference. A maid is supposed to serve her mistress at all times, and whether the mistress is doing wrong is entirely her responsibility - unless she's under age. Now 'Er 'Ighness is under age - but so are we. So if anyone is punished it will still be 'er, so long as we're in Novaria, and since it's a Novarian ship, any proceedings will be Novarian, won't they?"
"Greenies! You ain't half well up in the law, Sharrie."
"You want to be when you get involved in this sort o' business."
"But what about 'Er 'Ighness? Won't she get in trouble?"
"She thinks the old Vikhar will get 'er orf any bother. I don't know. But she says: 'Sharrie, are you game for the biggest joy-ride in history? I promise you won't get into any trouble, but we might all get killed'. So I says: 'All right'. Then I says that to you, and you says 'all right' too. Well, you're only young once, ain't you? And if the mistresses ain't chicken I don't see why we should be."
"That's 'ow I see it too. Anyway, they'll look after their own skins, I reckon."
"I wouldn't reckon too much on that, love. That Miss Antala don't care about nothin'."
"It's Captain Antala now, Sharrie."
"Maybe it is; but she still don't care about nothin'. Come on, hurry up with them cocktails or we won't even be obeying our mistress. Then we'll be offenders in Novaria too!"
They each took a tray of elaborate and brightly-coloured cocktails and set out for the main concourse of the ship.
"Here are the drinks at last!" shouted Antala, taking one from a tray. "I am now in a position to propose a toast to the biggest swoggle, the fastest joy-ride and the most outlandish fun in history."
A cheer rose from the assembled company.
"Here's to the Silver Vixen," shouted Claralin Carshalton.
"And here's to the clean pair of heels we're about to show the Novarian Navy!" shouted Antala. There was great hilarity as they drained their glasses. The maids moved about refilling them.
"Only one more cocktail for the brunettes," said Antala firmly. "We may have tricky business ahead and I want a crew, not a party."
It perhaps sounded uncharacteristically responsible for Antala, but those who knew her best, Chinchi and the Princess, knew it was not. Wild as she was, she never over-indulged in alcohol when riding hard or playing chicken. She kept her wits about her and expected those riding with her to do the same.
She cast her eye over the company. First in her eyes was Chinchi Reteliyanhe: her first name was really Chirenchihara, but even her family called her Chinchi. She was an East-Novarian from a family of those scientists who had made the profoundly traditionalist nation of Novaria into the most technically advanced country in the West: not by abandoning its traditional character but by applying the principles of traditional metaphysics to the new problems of technical development. Chinchi’s mind dwelled almost exclusively upon the plane of theory. Practicalities to her were but a question of the proper application if ideas; and yet somehow, at the Space Command Academy, she had found herself drawn to the fiery young officer cadet Antala, had advised her on her madcap schemes and even taken part in them, and when Antala had left the Academy under rather unfortunate circumstances, Chinchi had decided to leave with her, because she felt Antala needed someone to look after her. It was a curious bond between the two brunettes. Chinchi felt that in Antala she had found a person of supreme quality whom it was her duty to stay beside. Antala found her friend’s devotion inexplicable and felt somewhat guilty at involving this brilliant young scientist in a life of cocktail parties and midnight rides. The thing had irritated Antala. She wanted to waste her life. Why must she be forced to feel that she was wasting Chinchi’s life as well? And then to worry about it? She often resolved to send her away, but then— well— Chinchi was Chinchi; faithful, serious Chinchi. How could one send her away?
In a way this whole venture had started because of Chinchi. She had read in the Morning Letter about the new experimental craft Silver Vixen. She had followed it up on the Ushasti Research Facility’s ordinator system. She no longer had access to any academic ordinator systems, but, given the general principles of its data-structure, she could break into just about anything in a matter of minutes. Lacking that information, the task could easily take her several hours, but she was very familiar with the main Novarian University systems.
The Silver Vixen became something like an obsession with Chinchi. She talked about its hyperthrust, its reverse-gravitar and its weapons systems in much the way that Antala herself might discuss a coveted new model of hoverbike.
Oddly enough it was Mela who first suggested it. It was in the Hot Six espresso bar in Doriston. Antala had been talking to her about Chinchi and her new love; as always, feeling a little troubled about the waste of her brilliant scientific mind and Mela said:
“Why don’t we get it for her then?”
“Get what? “ asked Antala. The idea was so radical that for a moment she failed to grasp it.
“The Silver Vixen, of course. We could swoggle it.”
“Swoggle her,” corrected Antala. “Ships are blondes — like bikes.”
“Well, swoggle her then. Why not? She’d be a ripping toy for Chinchi and rather a jink for us.”
“Swoggle the Silver Vixen. Are you vaht’he?”
“Aren’t you? Of course ’Nettie will be furious but——”
“Yes, I forgot. Your brunette mater is Aethyr-Vikhar for that division, isn’t she?”
“That’s right. She’s a darling, but somewhat irascible. Especially when someone half-inches her most important ship. Not that anyone ever has half-inched her most important ship so far. But I can positively guarantee she’ll be irascible when someone does. I mean she gets irascible enough about overdone sausages at breakfast.”
The fact that Mela’s brunette parent was the final custodian responsible for the Silver Vixen did not make any difference to the practicality of the swoggling thereof. They had no intention of using the relationship as part of the scheme. The very idea was dishonourable according to the curious code of these young tearaways. But in some indefinable way, the relationship made it all seem closer and more possible to Mela, and now it was making it seem closer and more possible to Antala.
“You know, we could do it,” she said. “It would take a bit of planning. We’d need to find a tactical approach. But we could do it.”
“You having your second cocktail, Anters?” Antala’s reverie was broken by Claralin Carshalton. She took a bubbling blonde bombshell in its black-stemmed, triangular, art-neo glass from the silver tray borne by one of the maids. Claralin raised her glass. Antala noticed her perfectly-varnished red nails, her matching lipstick, her dashing black-lined eyes. Claralin was a daring rider, a hard drinker and a potential rival for the place of lead-brunette of the pack. She hadn’t quite the nerve to challenge the present captain; but if Antala slipped — well, Claralin was a good brunette to have in one’s crew provided one could keep on top of her.
Claralin came over to Antala and Chinchi, who were standing together, each immersed in her own thoughts.
“I say, you two have done a wonderful job, swoggling the Vixen and then getting her clear of orbit, all clean as a whistle. I can’t imagine why the Navy ever sacked you two.”
“Gro-ohs misbehaviour,” chimed in Estrelle a school-friend of Mela’s from one of the older Quirinelle families. “On Anters’s part, of course. Chinchi is far too sensible and serious, aren’t you, Chinchers?”
Antala’s eyes flashed. She did not like to see Chinchi baited like this but what could one do about blondes?
Chinchi blushed slightly. “Well, if you call piloting a swoggled ship off-planet sensible and serious, I suppose I must be.”
Mela felt like applauding but she restrained herself. How deftly Chinchi handled herself in her diffident, self-effacing way. Whether the reply was (as her manner suggested) merely ruminative, or whether it was a deliberate riposte no one could possibly tell. Applause would have travestied its subtlety.
Evelynn, the fourth brunette aboard, had been detailed to watch the ship’s monitors. She ran into the room.
“There are five ships after us,” she said, attempting, with some success, to appear unruffled.
“How far off?” asked Antala.
“Quite a way, but they’re gaining.”
“What type are they?”
“I don’t know. Long sleek things. They look fast.”
“Far-darters, probably,” said Antala. “This is more or less what we were expecting. Chinchi, get to your post. I’ll follow.” Chinchi turned and walked smartly to the control-room.
“Have they got us, captain?” asked Claralin.
“They think they’ve got us, but they’re in for a surprise. They are expecting a pilot who is just feeling her way around an unfamiliar vessel. Actually, Chinchers probably knows this ship and its systems better than the official test pilot. We’ll give her a test they weren’t expecting. We’re doing them a favour really.”
Antala turned to go and Claralin made to follow her.
“You stay here,” said the captain. “We don’t need a crowd in the control room. Entertain the blondes.”
“There are times when Anters could almost annoy me,” said Claralin to Evelynn.
“She’s simply dreamy,” said Estrelle.
“Let’s hope she doesn’t dream one dream too many,” said Claralin darkly.
“How are we going?” asked Antala, entering the control room.
“All serene,” replied Chinchi. “They aren’t gaining now, and we shall start opening the gap shortly. I don’t think they knew the old tub could do this.”
“Haya!” shouted Antala exuberantly. “You’re a genius, Chinchers.”
“I didn’t build the machine,” she replied diffidently.
“No, but I don’t suppose there’s a soul alive can fly her like you.”
“Oh give them a few months, they’ll all be able to do it.”
“What’s that on the fore monitor?”
“I don’t know. Can’t be anything significant.”
“Are you sure? Take a look.”
“Sell my hat!” exclaimed Chinchi with uncharacteristic vehemence. “That isn’t possible.”
“Is it what it looks like?”
“It’s a Valkyrie-class battle cruiser bearing down on us at full speed.”
“Can we turn?”
“Only if we want the darters up our tailpipe.”
“But you said there was nothing within four hours’ flight, even at Starship speed.”
“There wasn’t. There’s something wrong about this.”
“The Darters are closing again.”
“I know. What do you want me to do? Smack into the cruiser’s range? We’re tagged.”
“No we’re not. Head into the aethyr-crease.”
“But no one’s ever come out of one.”
“Not this side. They must have come out somewhere.”
“Not necessarily. The stress might destroy the ship.”
“What are you, chicken?”
“No. But there’s something wrong about that cruiser, Anters. I don’t quite believe it.”
“We’ll take your course in epistemology later, Chinch. Right now, head into the aethyr-crease. That’s an order.”
Well that's all for now. Until next ishy, darlings, Rayati. Oh — and don't forget to send your contributions to whiterosegarden at aristasia dot co dot uk It doesn't matter if you think they are just little and silly: it's just fun to share, and sharing is what The Rose Garden is all about!