Real Paper And Springs

Promise you’ll write – flash fiction Friday #180 9/12/2022

The letter, surprisingly, came on real paper. It could well have been the first paper to arrive on this particular industrial moon since the official lighting of the largest furnace generations ago.
It arrived at Ember’s family home by courier in official imperial uniform. Ember almost didn’t bother to come out from the back of the house, it would be for Amber, it was always for Amber. Amber was the pretty one, Amber was the courtly one, Amber had remembered to bring a gift to offer the emperor on his visit to their moon.
Ember, on the other hand, was the awkward twin. The one who disappointed people by looking vaguely like Amber but as if doused in both charcoal and fire-extinguisher all at once. A rare genetic mutation exclusive to the moon that did little more than paint the recipient in pure black and pure white and made them incredibly sensitive to cold — not that that was an issue on an industrial moon. Nobody wanted to marry someone with the condition, it was taboo, unwelcome, their blackened fingers a reminder of the endless and inescapable servitude of the moon to the empire. So Ember had no manners. And, when the emperor in his imperial majesty and flowing pastel coloured robes had wandered the moon and met Amber and Ember and all the others who worked in their department, Ember had panicked and searched her pockets for anything to offer him, coming up with only a discarded old spring.
She’d offered some bullshit story about always keeping a spring in your pocket. “You never know when you might need a spring,” she’d said, all manufactured cheer.
He had gracefully accepted and moved along.
But at least that meant Ember wouldn’t have to leave the only home she’d ever known.
Still, it would be mean to not see Amber receive her letter, so Ember emerged and, once the family were all gathered in the foyer, the courier handed the letter to Ember’s father.
Aloud, he read, “The emperor humbly requests your eldest child for his consortium.”
Amber squealed and bounced on the balls of her feet.
“One never knows when one might need a spring, so she is the only logical choice. My Spring, Miss Ember.”
They all turned to face Ember except for Amber who approached the courier with rage twisting her perfect features. “That’s a typo, right? He meant Amber.”
The courier shrugged. “His imperial majesty does not make mistakes.”
That had been three days ago. Now Ember’s things were packed up in bags around her as the imperial shuttle docked for the second time in this planetary rotation.
Amber burst forth, Ember almost expected her to leap onto the shuttle in Ember’s place. Instead she wrapped her arms around Ember and hugged her tight. “Promise you’ll write.”
“Of course,” Ember lied. If she was going to write to anyone, it would be a friend, not the sister who made her life hell.
“And I’ll come visit, okay?” Amber said.
Ember nodded vaguely.
“You can introduce me properly to the Emperor.” Amber twirled her hair around a finger.
Ah. So that was her scheme. Get back in front of the Emperor and try to convince him he’d made a mistake. “I heard some emperor’s like to take on twins,” Ember lied. “Something about mirrors.”
Amber tried her hardest not to let the disgust show on her face.
Ember stepped away without saying anything more. She boarded the shuttle and watched the door close behind her, enclosing her in the small, luxurious space. Alone.
“At least it’s an experience,” she muttered to herself.

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