Chapter 1

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My little house in the southernmost district of Punctilious is rigid and tidy, far from homey, much like the rest of the gray row houses, all meticulously identical to mine.
There is one mirror, in the entire house, located in the small bedroom on the second floor. It is a tiny mirror, barely a foot long and about as tall, but it is the one small piece of comfort that I have obtained in this hard life.
In the entire continent of Punctilious, which stands where Europe stood in Old-World, has no room for the frivolous delights of my old district, Jouissance which stands where The America's stood in old world. Jouissance is based off of a lie, though. It is like a decorative vase, beautiful and delight provoking on the outside, hollow and empty on the inside. Punctilious, while stiff and regimented, is real. And a horrible reality is better than a wonderful lie.
Sometimes I feel as if I long for Jouissance, the parties, the fancy clothing, the pure carelessness of it, the feeling that everything was being taken care of for you, and all that you needed to do was be happy. But then I reminded myself, those days were behind me. Duchess Lady Valencia Rosewater had died when she signed the legal papers to transfer to Punctilious. And I, Vale Rose, had taken her place.
And Vale Rose needs no frivolity.
I looked into the small, perfectly polished mirror and scraped back the loose tendrils of platinum blonde escaping from my tight bun. Suddenly, I saw myself as someone else, my tight fitting, threadbare grey tweed practical garments were a purple and gold regal dress, made of the finest of silk, and my tight bun was now perfectly curled, streaked with pink.
And then I was back in Punctilious. Back in reality.
I sighed and pulled a stray hair off of my uniform, making sure that I looked perfect.
In Punctilious, mistakes were not tolerated.
A stray hair from your bun. A calculation mistake. A loose thread on your uniform. All of these would get you sent to the frigid depths of Pariah. Pariah stood on the practically uninhabitable continent of Old World Antarctica. You would live there with the rest of the outcasts, and you'd be tasked with a task you had to complete in order to leave.
Many were impossible.
Only four who had been exiled had made it out.
And my late sister, Aleksandra Rosewater, a transfer to Punctilious, was not one of them. Before she'd left, I'd asked her why. And she replied, I had to get out of the cage. She had died trying to succeed, alone in the frigid waters of Pariah, with no hope and nobody to comfort her.
She didn't even get a proper burial.
After she'd died, I saw Jouissance for what it was. I knew why Alek had transferred. And now I'd be free from the cage.
But then, living in luxury, I hadn't even considered the possibility that I was trading one cage for another.
And I didn't consider the possibility that I was going to join Alek in a cold, lonely, death that lacked purpose.
No. I thought firmly. I am Vale. Quadrant A, Sector B, Chief Inspector of Punctilious. I will not go into the cage.
With the job of Chief Inspector, I'd sentenced many to Pariah, and I'd seen it too, when delivering them to their fates. There was a little girl, she had paper stuck to her shoe. I had to choose between me or her.
And I chose me.
I chose my own safety over the safety of a scared, innocent, little girl.
And her name was Indi, and I'd watched her die.
She'd fallen into the water when she was exiting the boat.
When I'd stopped at her, and taped the red citation slip to her coat, she'd looked at me with wide blue glass eyes, and she'd smiled. "Did I win something, Inspector Rose?" She asked, excitement in her eyes. And instead of telling her the truth, I gave her a forced half smile back and gritted my teeth as I said, "Not even close." And I watched as she comprehended what was going on. I was terrified that she was going to cry and prolong her sentence but she swallowed back the tears and stood at attention. After all, Punctilious do not cry. "I understand, Inspector."
I would never forgive myself.
And if I got cited, both Indi and I would be banished.
And for no good reason at all.

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