Aphelion Issue 252, Volume 24
July 2020
 
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Oceans

by Branden Szabo



The biggest question on my mind at any given time was "How do I get out of here?"

Ayva Island was a small kingdom in the middle of a vast ocean. For all we knew the world ended at the horizon, where the dark sky and sparkling water converged as one. You could have called it paradise; it was a world that ran on water alone, wooden water wheels dotted every corner of the island powering houses, businesses and everything you needed for day to day life. There were no roads, just rivers, ever moving Gondolas ferried people to their destinations.

I was in the fall of my life, an older gentleman with the high title of senator. For decades I had smelled the ocean and listened to the rumble of the water wheels, it was my daily routine. On my way to the senate hall I always passed by the royal palace peeking out from behind the buildings like a shy sentry. Ayva Island's ruling family was made up of a well-mannered but reserved Queen whose desire to not offend anyone was admirable if not jejune. Her daughter by contrast was a fiery fourteen year old named Minerva.

As a senator my duty was to be a politician, and that came with all the perks and curses you'd expect. Even though I had been elected multiple times I was still pretty unknown by my peers. But this was by design and not coincidence. I grew up with the values every boy on Ayva grew up with, and the most important of those was to act in a manner that benefited the collective. I was warned not to be a standing nail, not to offend anyone with out of place mannerisms or ideas. I did, and although it never made me popular, it also made me successful.

One night as I lay awake in bed gazing at the shoreline outside my window, my mind began to wander places it hadn't before. I had always wanted to leave Ayva Island but I never asked myself why. The answer seemed to be because I could never really be myself, and I wanted to change that. When it came time for me to speak on the Senate floor, I spoke impulsively, without thinking: "I think we should start a Navy and find out how far this ocean goes."

The idea wasn't met with hostility; worse, it was met with confusion. You'd think I was speaking a different language.

The Senate Leader, a young woman with dark green hair and thin, silver glasses on the tip of her nose, softly nodded and asked "Why? To what end?"

We would only find the answer to that question after we started exploring of course. To my bewilderment, there wasn't a single soul in the room who looked receptive.

The ocean was filled with all manner of hostile creatures and we were having a hard enough time keeping them away from Ayva Island. Nobody thought it was a wise idea to go looking for trouble. The Senate Leader's eyes slowly moved from one side to the other, surveying the floor for any signs of interest. She turned my idea down but in a very polite, non-offensive way. This was policy on Ayva Island, rudeness or aggression did not benefit the collective.

I was frustrated, but I had to keep it from showing.

####

The sun was going down after another hard day of work. I took a gondola all around town in order to gather my thoughts. I had lived a pretty full life without drawing any attention to myself; why was I trying to change that now? The gondola was brought to a stop and the gondolier dropped his oar, I asked what was wrong but he looked too scared to say.

"Hey, you!" it was the rough voice of Ayva Island's princess, Minerva. She pulled alongside us in her own gondola befitting her rank. Her hair was impossibly long and shined gold just like her tiara. She was wearing a royal dress, modified into a mini skirt because that was just her style. Why was she stopping to see me? You see, I was the only adult she would talk to, even if I never talked back.

We took a ride around town after dark while everyone was sleeping. Despite the obvious age and gender gap between us, Minerva and I had managed to strike a pretty solid friendship. The girl could talk and talk about the most meaningless things unfortunately, but I liked how skeptical she was of Ayva Island customs. If she didn't like something she didn't hide behind a smile; she came out and said it. This often led to pretty bad arguments between us. Comical really, a man my age arguing with a fourteen year old girl.

She brought up the scene I had made in the Senate hall, word traveled fast. I told her I just felt like bringing it up for some reason.

"You know how people get around here," Minerva said.

I knew all too well. It was all about being friendly and dedicating your life to preserving the balance.

"I'd love to travel past the horizon though," said the young princess while looking out at the ocean dreamily.

I had already forfeited the idea. If no one else was interested, why should I be?

A distraught young girl cried out to us. We had been found out; Minerva's only Lady-In-Waiting, Miss Ariel, was over us on a pedestrian bridge, her doll-like face flushed with anxiety and her cat ears fluttering all about. "P-Princess Minerva! You're out past your curfew! Her Majesty is very upset!"

Minerva and I began to row the gondola faster while sniping at each other. I criticized her inane chatter and she shot back with digs about my age.

"Row faster!" she barked.

The water began to ripple. I put my arm out and pulled the princess into the safety of the gondola. Lately, strange creatures from the sea had been swimming into Ayva Island with bad intent; I feared they were present at the moment, stalking us below the shallow waters. Minerva drew a thin silver sword at her belt and I readied one of the two black powder revolvers I always had with me. Miss Ariel watched from afar, unaware of the danger around us.

One of the creatures leapt out of the water without so much as a splash and landed in the gondola, standing no more than four feet tall in front of Minerva. It had scaly skin, its natural armor and two beady red eyes tucked under a muscular brow. It resembled an oversized bipedal lizard. The creature raised a crude wooden spear and thrust it towards us.

I took aim but the hot headed princess beat me to the punch, slashing the creature in two vital places and kicking it overboard. Another jumped onboard to join the fight; she sliced its head off with one fluid motion. I saw the water around us gain a healthy red tint.

Miss Ariel fretted from a distance. Usually Ayva Island contaminated the waters with a special poison that kept dangerous creatures like this at bay but they must have forgotten tonight. Minerva was acting as I expected, impulsive and violent, almost falling overboard in her enthusiasm.

I on the other hand took the back seat. I watched the waters and whenever the head of some poor lizard peeked out to spy on us, I shattered its skull with a mini ball from my revolver.

"Hey! Take it easy!" Minerva was being enveloped by the smoke clouds my revolvers were spewing.

I switched out revolvers, hoping the assault wouldn't last much longer.

Minerva was starting to pant in fatigue and swing clumsily, cutting ragged lacerations in our opponents. It was Miss Ariel who saved the day, chanting a fire spell from a distance. The water began to boil like lava, encouraging the remaining lizard-things to abandon the fight and return to the sea. When our safety was certain, we disembarked much to Miss Ariel's relief and said our goodbyes.

Before Minerva went home, she left me with one request, "Meet me tomorrow in Cerulean Square after the Senate adjourns. I have something important to talk about." She was referring to a part of the island with the highest concentration of water wheels. It was a secluded spot where the rushing water protected your words from eavesdroppers.

I was worried, if that was to be our rendezvous, the information she wanted to bestow was anything but trivial.

####

Everyone in the Senate hall seemed to have forgotten about me again. Business went on as usual; I smiled, did my job and saw to it that I made everyone comfortable and happy. Another day of perfect balance, with little accomplished, but no discord.

I departed to meet the princess, jumping from gondola to gondola to ensure I wasn't being followed. It was silly; everyone was so eager to please no one would have dared to stalk me, lest it make me unhappy. I made it to a Cerulean Square under the shadow of tall buildings and massive wooden wheels. Minerva was waiting.

She thanked me for meeting her and then got straight to the point, "I-I'm in love with a boy."

That was it? I flicked her in the forehead. "That's the big important thing you wanted to tell me? Minerva, you're fourteen, you're going to say that at least a hundred times before you're my age."

We fought of course, she even tried to kick me but I was big enough to grab her foot and knock her down. "You don't understand a girl's heart at all!" she sobbed. I apologized and began to feign interest; I asked what district of the island he was from. "He's not from Ayva Island," the princess said, "He's from another island called Twilight Harbor."

Every hair on my body stood on end. Another island? As far as everyone was concerned Ayva Island was the only civilization in existence; that was the whole reason I proposed exploring the ocean. But somehow this girl had already done so!

Minerva explained that she stole a gondola after getting into a fight with her mother and came across another kingdom like ours.

Imagine that. My mind raced with possibilities. Aloud, I asked, "What is this other island like? What are the people like?"

"You can ask them when we go there tonight," said Minerva. She was going to take me there to meet Twilight Harbor's prince, the boy she had fallen in love with.

I was apprehensive, scared even. I wanted to tell everyone about this new revelation but Minerva pinned me down and swore me to secrecy. She didn't want her relationship plastered all over the newspapers.

I ran home and prepared to meet her at the shoreline once the sun went down.

Miss Ariel found us out. She was waiting on the sand and flailing her limbs, "P-Princess you mustn't! You know I have to tell your mom about this!" Minerva simply abducted her and brought her along for the ride.

We took a boat out, passing the edges of Ayva Island's boundaries. There was nothing but ocean in every direction, no landmarks or points of reference. Miss Ariel was quaking with fear under a blanket and I can't say I didn't want to join her. Minerva was the only one not intimidated, confidently guiding the ship through the dark waters. She succeeded; we came upon the lights of civilization.

To my surprise, Twilight Harbor was quite similar to Ayva Island. Miss Ariel clung to me in terror as we traversed the sleepy town but after a while she began to open her eyes to the discovery we had made. Their roads were made of stone, not water, and they used wind instead of the ocean to generate power. There was a wind turbine on almost every corner.

Minerva met with her new love in secret at a candle lit restaurant; he was exactly her age and treated her like a goddess. I withdrew for a time, dragging a concerned Miss Ariel with me to another table. I knew Minerva's was just a simple teen romance but there was a purity there I admired.

Things got dicey when the sea creatures that enjoyed harassing Ayva invited themselves into Twilight Harbor. Minerva and the prince jumped for cover as grotesque amphibians knocked over tables and scared restaurant guests.

"Princess!" cried Miss Ariel. I jumped to the young lady's aid and drew my revolvers, discharging both barrels into a lizard creature at point blank range. Minerva drew her sword and slashed a monster's arm off, wincing at the amount of blood. The prince fought hard too, hacking and slashing with a sword of his own, trying to keep up with his girlfriend's vigor. He saw the danger in Minerva's blind spot and tried to warn her but the crude spear of a lizard tore into her shoulder.

"Duck!" I shouted to the prince. He obeyed, giving me a clear line of sight to blow Minerva's attacker's head off. The battle continued for a few more seconds until the monsters retreated, weighing their desire to create chaos against their will to live.

God knew how late it was when we got our mess cleaned up and found a hotel for the night. Miss Ariel, forever the princess's servant, tended to Minerva's wound and brushed her hair while the princess went on and on about her date, which was so good she had already forgotten about the battle. As usual I wasn't paying attention to her, I was instead preoccupied with all we had managed to accomplish, I wanted to sail straight home and tell everyone about Twilight Harbor and Minerva's new romance.

"Don't you dare!" said Minerva stabbing a finger at me, "I don't want anyone to know about this, not yet." I hated to say it but she was right, best not to cause alarm. We all caught a few hours of sleep and left for home before the sun rose.

####

I was plagued with a new found restlessness when I got back to Ayva. I tossed and turned in bed with new ideas, seeing Twilight Harbor had awoken a new motivation in me, one much stronger than when I proposed to raise a navy and explore the ocean. I was no longer content with simply going through the motions in order to make everyone happy, I wanted to say everything on my mind, regardless of what people thought about it. And I did just that.

At the Senate hall I spoke for nearly an hour. I didn't reveal Minerva's new romance but I did talk about Twilight Harbor, I told everyone the mysterious creatures attacking us needed to be stopped and the best way to do that was to set forth and see it done. I was astonished to see all my new ideas get met with confusion; everyone was shaking their heads as if I was trying to contaminate them with some kind of disease. Why were they so confused? Tensions got so bad I stepped out of line and insulted a few of the other senators, which earned me a quick trip to the Senate Leader's room.

The stoic woman played with the sliver glasses on her nose, "You should know better than this," she said.

I apologized for leveling the insults that I did but I defended my choice to speak my mind.

The Senate Leader steepled her fingers and glared at me. "On this island, people have a right to be comfortable. Your comments and ideas are disrupting that right." The argument continued but I refused to give up any more ground. I owned up to being a little rough around the edges but I wasn't about to change who I was just to make sure people were comfortable! It was no use. I was finally able to see what Ayva Island really was: a hellish utopia where individual had to yield to the collective will "for the common good", even if that "good" would endanger us all.

The woman before me brushed back a strand of her dark green hair and asked if I had any other questions.

I answered by leaving.

Things got worse from there as I began to see more and more of Ayva's shortcomings. I was waiting for a gondola to come along but I recognized the gondolier; he was a pretty bad operator, slow, clumsy, and prone to getting lost. I told him that I'd wait for the next ride, which earned me the harshest looks. Once I did get home, I turned down a charity bin because I had been donating for three days straight. I could tell it made them angry. What kind of place was this? Exactly how far were these people to go to make sure everyone was happy?

I stopped meeting the princess but that had nothing to do with my recent actions. The queen summoned me to the castle and explained that Minerva had locked herself in her room, most likely due to depression.

"She sees you as a second father," the queen told me, "Could you talk to her? She's so distraught about something."

I of course obliged but if she didn't want to be bothered she didn't want to be bothered. There were times people became disagreeable, simple as that. But no such thing was allowed on Ayva Island apparently.

"By the way," the queen continued with a quizzical expression, "Minerva has a cut on her shoulder. Be honest, has she been rough housing again?"

I said yes, making good on my promise to keep Minerva's relationship a secret.

Minerva let me into her room; I found her crying her eyes out into a pillow. Miss Ariel was running all about trying to find something that would cheer the princess up. The source of the trouble was her new boyfriend from Twilight Harbor; they had apparently gotten into an argument or something. She wanted to send him a letter apologizing but Ayva Island had no service for doing so. They wouldn't even admit Twilight Harbor existed. So I offered to deliver it myself.

####

I snuck out in the dead on night on a gondola and rowed for the new rock we had found; Minerva was nice enough to give me some generic directions. When I arrived, I had a hard time convincing their royal family to let me see the young prince but I bewitched them with my superb oral skills. One of the perks of being a senator. I found the prince just as depressed as Minerva but his face lit up once I gave him the letter. He told me he thought Minerva hated him but that obviously wasn't the case. As the boy read her letter, stamped with a kiss mark in lipstick, I began to reflect on them both. Here were these two love birds, barely fifteen years old, able to work out their differences through conflict. They were bound and determined to say what was in their hearts, for better and for worse. I wished all of Ayva Island could see them.

I traveled back home and learned my departure was not as stealthy as I had thought. The Senate Leader was aware of my actions and again read me my rights. And it wasn't just her this time, it was everyone. I had become the standing nail whose actions were making everyone uncomfortable. I had heard enough of it. I told them everything about Minerva's relationship with the prince of Twilight Harbor, hoping that maybe if they saw their princess going against the grain, they would too. I was gravely mistaken.

I was summoned to the castle; the queen was waiting for me with the saddest look on her face. The Senate Leader was there too.

Naturally I asked what was going on.

"The princess wants to tell you something," said the queen holding back her tears, "before she is exiled from Ayva Island."

Exiled from Ayva? I was aghast, what in the world had she done to deserve that kind of punishment? Then it hit me. I had irresponsibly revealed her relationship to the public.

The Senate Leader began to go on and on about how the citizens of Ayva were not comfortable with having to befriend some unknown kingdom because their princess was in love. Minerva was cornered and asked to end the relationship. She chose not to and the Senate moved to exile her. I saw the young lady get escorted out of her own home, she was crying and yelling at me for ruining everything. She said she never wanted to talk to me again. And this wasn't like our usual fights; she really meant it this time.

My blood turned to magma; I felt something I had never felt in my life before. It was like I was lost in thick fog, fighting to get out.

The Senate Leader began to lecture me again about my actions and how unprofessional I was to aid the princess's secret activities.

I stopped her with two of the clearest words in our language.

It echoed through the whole castle, it made people stop and drop what they were doing.

I looked around, challenging them. "What?! Need me to say it again?!"

They were all drones. They would sacrifice a young girl like Minerva in order to make everyone else happy. But what about her? What about me? Were we subservient to everyone else's will? I was suspended from my job on the spot. Good, I had some planning to do.

####

My house was as dark as the ocean at night; there I surrendered to my emotions. I was plotting my revenge against Ayva Island for everything they had done. And I was more than serious, you see, my revenge was going to end with me looking down on a pile of corpses. I was going to kill the people who exiled Minerva. I climbed to the highest part of Ayva Island where the wind smelled of sea salt and the seagulls made their homes. I made it my own home for the next few days; I didn't want to even look at the people I lived with. So how was I going to do it? A bomb? Poison? Or maybe something more direct. I settled on something inconspicuous. Everyone in the Senate hall was complicit in Minerva's exile; if the building collapsed, it'd kill quite a few of them.

I made my preparations under the cover of night over the next few days. Much time had passed since Minerva had been exiled but the decades of pent up frustration I had withheld fueled me. But on the morning I planned to do the deed, something happened. The sea monsters rose up again like children who couldn't learn their lesson and attacked the Senate. Perfect, I thought, let them all bleed that way.

I was watching my colleagues from afar get mauled and tormented by the monsters, unable to defend themselves. They had ignored my warnings, and had never learned to fight, as I had, from old manuals left over from "less civilized" times.

Someone pulled on my sleeve, whimpering and crying. It was Miss Ariel; she wasn't allowed to follow Minerva into exile. "You have to stop this!" She begged, "What would Minerva think of you?!"

Stupid girl, Minerva's life was ruined by these people. But I came back to my senses after a great deal of reluctance. I was acting like a child; I wanted to harm everyone on the island but I never asked myself why or to what end.

Ariel sobbed into my jacket and told me she missed the princess too, everyone did. "I think she's happy though, she never liked Ayva Island so I know she's happy wherever she is."

I could very easily believe that.

Miss Ariel was learned in fire magic, she put a spell on my revolvers endowing them with the power of flame. I leapt into battle and fired a single shot, watching my target ignite in a ball of fire. I did the math in my head: two revolvers, eleven remaining shots, eight monsters left; I had little room for error. I fought to protect everyone, no matter what they did to me in the past, the smell of gunpowder and burnt flesh filled the room. The violence ended with minimal casualties and much appreciation for my help. And at that moment, I got yet another new idea in my head.

I had mused about leaving Avaya Island for a long time and now was finally the time to do so. But I didn't do it in secret; I made sure to tell everyone. The queen was heartbroken and the Senate Leader, still nursing her wounds from the attack, shook her head in pity. They really believed Ayva Island was a paradise that no one would ever want to leave. They were wrong but no actions of mine would convince them. I bought a boat and sailed away with only the barest of necessities. I didn't need to be angry, I already knew there were other islands besides Ayva, all I needed to do was find one I liked.

A messenger bird woke me up one early morning carrying a letter in its talons. I recognized the handwriting as Minerva's. I was more than shocked to learn she was happy; she had managed to escape from exile and find shelter in Twilight Harbor with her prince charming. And she had room for one more too. It sounded like she had forgiven me, which was a nice weight off my shoulders. I turned my boat around. Even if I couldn't find Twilight Harbor again, there were other islands in this ocean to discover.

THE END


© 2012 Branden Szabo

Bio: Branden Szabo lives in Macedonia, Ohio. Mr. Szabo holds a Bachelor's degree in political Science from the University of Akron. This is his first online publication under his own name, but he has numerous stories posted on websites like "Protagonize.com", "Necrotania.com" and "Fanfiction.com" under the pen-name Wesson. Branden is expanding "Oceans" into a novel. He says: "I picked up writing during some rough periods in my youth so I never really studied the craft; it's proven to be a doubled eged sword for me. I try to focus on creating original concepts and ideas while remaining less concerned with the textbook mechanics of a story." (Words to make a copy-editor's blood run cold...)

E-mail: Branden Szabo

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