The view honestly wouldn’t be that bad if Jenniah could get her mind off that one Natalie Portman movie where an astronaut sees her life from space and never, like, mentally comes down. Jenniah could see Earth surrounded by a rim of gold that gave you this stupid rush of epiphany, but she still thought “what is it like in outer space?” was one of those questions she would have been more than happy to take to the grave right along with “are we alone in the universe?”
‘Cause from the luxurious belly of this glorified metallic whale drifting and warping through the soundless, soulsucking heavens, Jenniah was struck with the answer to both:
As a matter of fact, 2. had been such a hard ‘No’ that the other intelligent life in the universe decided to pay Earth a visit and make it clear that humans were also not the only creatures in the universe capable of evil, and now she was rocketing through an ocean of constant, stomach-stealing dread as the virgin bride-to-be of an intergalactic colonial general, a decision she couldn’t recall making and definitely hadn’t agreed to. (She had never been the martyr type, though she appreciated the aesthetic.)
The last thing Jenniah wanted to think about was school, but somehow the view from her window as the ship approached Mars reminded her of Bertie Tower, a huge stick in the sprawling Stanley Lanford University campus, which she had been set up to attend that fall. Tourists loved to climb to the top of Bertie Tower, just as she and her family had on Admit Weekend, taking selfies against the thousands of perfectly groomed acres, each flourishing tree with its own special set of soil regulations.
She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was about the half-crescent of ocean, land, and sky that brought the world’s top liberal research university to mind, but she was glad to think about something other than—Jenniah felt her bowels clench and re-focused her attention on Earth. It looked so pure, crisp, and lively against the darkness, clouds swirling on its surface like a pair of twiddling thumbs searching for a lie.
Jenniah had three tabs saved on her smartphone, which had surprisingly not been confiscated upon imprisonment—maybe her extraterrestrial captors thought the devices were necessary for human survival, she mused. The first tab displayed a gallery of very expensive, very lacey, floorsweeping dresses and lily-white bridal gowns from Ilium Boutique. The second was a recipe for chocolate cake she’d planned to bake for Effie’s birthday, and the third was an SLU wiki page Effie had sent her. She would often swipe through the gowns while on the toilet or when she wanted to seem occupied, imagining herself in the ostentatious garments her parents had reserved for special occasions.
Jenniah had been that 4 year-old child who wore her custom-made Snow White costume 24/7, something that had been tolerated for, say, a month or two. “A princess must always move among the commoners in common clothing,” her mother would say, as if being wealthy actually made them royalty, “otherwise she’ll be targeted for her riches.”
“Commoners?” Effie guffawed when they recounted the memory. “She would say that, wouldn’t she. I tell you, mom and dad’s heads are going in the basket for sure.” Effie had been attending public university for a year, and they’d already come back with like five piercings, a string of don’t-tell-mom-and-dad girlfriends, and fluorescent braids.
After days (?) of diving in and out of haunted sleeps, Jenniah finally sighed up the energy to explore the ship’s corridors. A buzzing fluorescence throbbed in every hall, glossing the cold metal walls in shades of violet. She came across a portal hidden in the walls, which slid open at her presence revealing a room full of assorted donuts, sweet breads, those really soft playdough-looking cookies that stick to the roof of your mouth, and—you get the picture. She’d been subsisting off these tiny nutrient capsules she’d found in her nightstand, so she was more than ready to eat anything that resembled real food, even this processed junk. As she approached the portal, however, shivers radiated down her spine and she realized some sort of high-tech saran wrap prohibited her entry. Jenniah was too exhausted to be infuriated.
Who was the stash for, then, if not for—uggh, this better not have been her parents’ idea of a dowry. Every new thing she learned about this mystery wedding was a big old middle finger to her face.
Those three tabs were literally her only source of entertainment (call her entitled, but staring out at space got old fast). She’d saved the SLU page ages ago with the intention of reading it by Effie’s birthday, but realistically she would’ve probably “forgotten to read it” and let Effie talk at her. She skimmed the page now, even though she’d probably never see her sibling again, and could pick out exactly what Effie would have wanted her to know:
SLU land had been home to a sizeable indigenous population before Spanish colonization in the 18th century, the Lanford family’s wealth came from exploitation of Chinese immigrant railroad workers, subcontracted workers were still being exploited, ongoing expansion contributed to gentrification, SLU invested in the fossil fuel industry & prison industrial complex, etc.
Effie loved getting up on a moral soapbox, probably because they knew everyone in their family—CEOs, politicians, self-serving philanthropists—was corrupt. Effie was probably the only one in the world who knew Jenniah wasn’t the good Christian virgin she made sure everyone thought she was. She was definitely a virgin, something she had been proud of until her parents decided to go all Abraham-and-Isaac on her, but she was just as definitively not good.
Secretly, Jenniah told Effie about how she knew she could buy whatever outcome she wanted—from high-achieving marks to friends who would boost her ego and angelic image. The lurch of disdain she felt when meeting Effie’s undercut-tatted-up-five-piercing girlfriends. The way she could cut people off without looking back, or the fact that she had told Effie to stop eating lunch with people from the wrong side of town, then commenced to give a list of how you could spot those people in a glance. (Effie hadn’t listened, of course). All this to say, Jenniah was never surprised when she learned about the “dark side” of anything. She, herself, was a walking dark side who had managed to convince (most) everyone there was something beautiful behind the veil she presented.
A part of her wanted to believe being earth’s virgin political token was divine retribution, but she knew no one deserved this fate, not even someone like her.
Jenniah walked over to the window again. Now, the vessel had rocketed beyond Neptune—she knew this because one of Effie’s girlfriends had talked her ear off about Carl Sagan the first time they met, pulling up an image on her phone taken by some sort of NASA satellite gizmo at the edge of the solar system. Earth really was just a pale blue dot from here. Like a drop of water, a dust of sapphire. Jenniah knew the inhabitants of Earth were no gems, though, just as she knew the truth about herself. She wasn’t sure how she would get out of this situation, but at the very least she took pleasure in knowing whatever sick marriage ritual had picked her out as the “pure, unsoiled lily among a field of weeds” would be a sham as long she was there.