Ready for Rapunzel

“Do you know of how the assassins’ academy first came to be?” asked Sif Edelweiss Rommel Reinhardt, better known as Rapunzel Reinhardt, she of the blonde hair so long it reached the floor even with a bun piled atop her head, she of the computer-chip fortune that made every member of her family billionaires for over a century, she of the maritime eyes set in peaches-and-cream face, she of the steely mind and hourglass figure, she of the visions calling her soul to the gods, she of the Rapunzel Reinhardt Academy of Assassination and Outlawry.

When, as was customary, no one in the assembled crowd answered, she raised a blonde eyebrow and, turning her head so her dangling earrings glittered in the sunlight filtering into the space habitat, replied “No? Then I’ll tell you. It all began one night, on my personal craft, deep in space, when I seemed to wake up, yet it was not my world I woke up to – it was a vision, a blessing of foresight.

And an odd kind of foresight it was, for I beheld a being of light, terrible as the gods and angels of myth, above my bed, taking the form of a brilliant dragon hovering in the air, slithering and spiraling before me. I feared him not; somehow I could sense he meant me no harm. Soon his light, which would have blinded my eyes were it not for some kind of special protection I enjoyed, dimmed as his immaterial spirit formed into the shape of a man, and a rather handsome young man at that.

My memory of it, even from my diary entry from when it was still fresh in my mind, is clouded, but I clearly remember being romanced by him and chosen as his mate, being swept up in a tide of good feeling, feelings of love so good I threw cares away and bound my soul to a being I had just met, as he explained to me how I was a special girl, special because I was a dhampire, a descendant of humans on one side and vampires on the other side.

Vampires, the mortal enemies of the beings of day, huggers of the sun and the residents of the innermost solar system, who breathe life into you known as dragonkind; vampires, the beings of night who suck the life out of you, resident between feedings in the Öpik cloud where the sun never shines brighter than the full moon. That was my heritage, and he proved it to me by honing my dhampiric abilities under his guidance, for what seemed like day after day after day, my life but a haze of love as I saw more and more of the magical world.

Turns out, the magical world is something like Friedrich Nietzsche’s abyss: if you stare into it, it stares also into you. Me and my draconic beloved, the light, all the light, nothing but the light, shared so many wonderful adventures across the solar system together, passing like a whirlwind from one planet to another, culminating when he asked for my hand in marriage, presenting me with a heart-shaped locket with a picture of himself in human form in it. Breathlessly, I said yes, wearing the locket around my neck for always, not thinking anything of how I was of the vampire and he was of the dragon.

But then one night the patriarch of my vampire lineage showed up, and as he formed in the starry sky before my bed, he showed me the full powers I had at my command as a dhampire, claiming that I was being held back by the man I had chosen, laughing at me when I protested we were to be married, as if a mere marriage could compete with the bond of my own people’s blood.

Thenceforth my forefather appeared to me by night, my husband-to-be appeared to me by day, each honing my powers yet giving me a different story as they showered affections upon me, my forefather even matching my husband-to-be’s gift by presenting me with a vampire-fang dagger for me to keep on me always.

As time passed it became clear to me that both the dragons and the vampires were under curses, the dragons cursed for being ancient sorcerers who became one with the flow of spiritual energy pervading the universe, feeling the call to guide mankind, but they forsook it, causing nature to strike back, sundering their spirits from becoming one with the universe until their task was done. Their enmity for the vampires? The vampires are the humans who went the most wrong because they failed their task, the single greatest obstacle to their ghosts moving on, those beings who cheated death by feeding on the ghosts of the living.

The specifics are nebulous to me today, lost in the mists of memory as last night’s dreams are wont to do, but this part I recall vividly: my forefather got to me with his sweet words and encouraged me to blossom in my vampiric heritage, feeling more and more like the dhampire girl I was, and less and less like I belonged with my draconic beloved, feeling more and more alien to him, and more and more at home with my fellow vampires.

One thing, however, gnawed at me: something my beloved told me, that the very reason both dragons and vampires come to Earth and mate with mankind is the compatibility of the human bloodline with their own, to the extent that, properly diluted, the blood of both lineages can combine in a chosen one, a human with both draconic and vampiric abilities, someone with the power to destroy both and break all their curses. He told me so often that our descendants would be the chosen ones.

It gnawed at me, but only in the back of my mind, until the night came when I chose to forsake my future husband and join with my own people. Taking the locket off my neck, I smiled as I had a wicked idea. Unsheathing my vampire-fang dagger, I pointed it toward the locked on my bedsheet, which elicited a curious expression from my forefather. Not pleasure, like I expected, but fear!

It was then it all fell into place for me. Somehow I knew it was not my descendants who were the chosen ones: I was the chosen one! I recall not how I did this, but I summoned draconic abilities within myself, and with an upward sweep of my eyes beheld my forefather coming to smite me. At once I plunged the dagger into the locket, and he started to shatter apart into fragments of light. Plunging it in again and again, meditating into my soul, I dispatched the vampires, the visions, and myself, enveloped within a blinding white light.

I awakened in my own bed, thinking it was all over, but a memory, but suddenly I beheld my stained-glass window in front of me, my image of the goddess Sif, she of the long golden hair, had become me, with a look on her face betraying an absolute bottomless pit of despair. She closed her blue eyes, and placed both her hands on her heart, releasing what was left of her life in a torrent of blood pouring forth from her heart, erasing her image in the stained glass window.

The blood congealed into a swastika bound by a circle, the blood congealing into runes. From childhood I was super into my own people’s roots in ancient Germanic culture, and I’m sure all of you recognize the swastika as the symbol of peace and of the New Age of spirituality, along with the circle twisting into itself along its rim, the cycle of life. What some of you might not know is that the swastika and the circle are truly ancient and esoteric symbols.

I remember this part of the vision the clearest of all; thenceforth, I’ve always worn my swastika earrings, all my necklaces reflecting the essence of my spirituality. One day, like today, I might be wearing Thor’s hammer, others I might be wearing the circle of life, or even the world-tree. I’ve always been able to read the old runes, and the message etched in blood on my window in my vision was a prophecy about my future, with one warning clearer than all the rest: allow no man unworthy of me to become my consort.

Advice I hope all you darlings will take to heart. In ages past your options for a husband or any masculine companionship as part of a sisterhood of assassins would have ranged from slim to settle-for-less to dangerous. But today, now, thanks to the blessing of modern reproductive technologies, you may bear a child on your own, needing only the seed of a donor, ample supplies of which we have right here in our habitat. If you feel called to have children, leave your dreams not to chance.

After my vision I awakened in my room, but that’s not the end of the story. I had received my calling from the beyond, one I knew I must heed. I’ve had people tell me my dream didn’t make much sense, but lessons from it were etched into my very being. I’ve had those of little faith dismiss it as a passing flight of fancy, but it was not.

For when I woke up for real, a strange man was looming over my bedside, frightening me into letting out a gasp, for he was one and the same in appearance as the human form of the draconic lover in my vision, only he was not my draconic beloved, he was my pilot, one I had hired through an agency but never seen before…except in my dream.

He saw how startled I was, and was so cute as he apologized for frightening me – apparently I went to bed but didn’t close the door and he was starting to get concerned. When I beheld him, somehow I felt a nigh-irresistible urge, an upwelling from deep within my being, that told me what I had to do. I leapt up from my bed, took his face in my hands, and locked lips, kissing him with quite some aggressiveness, making love to him for several minutes at a stretch. His blush was glorious.

When I had my fill of him and pulled away, I locked eyes with him, he had such a cute bewildered expression, eventually getting out ‘Am I your beloved now?’. I replied, dreamily, with what my intuition told me to say: ‘Only if thou be worthy’. That’s when I got the idea for what many of you might know as Rapunzel Reinhardt’s Challenge. I was young, so very young, just coming into womanhood, younger than a great many of you, dear maidens of death, but I knew I must find a worthy husband, and soon.

Those months I busied myself with setting up the challenge that would deliver a husband into my arms were dreamy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I must have been kind of impressionable back then, because I was heavily inspired by my cousin Menteith Reinhardt having set up the now-legendary ‘Hunt for Count Gleichen’s Treasure’ the previous year as a test of his apprentices’ worthiness. I too devised a challenge in space, an obstacle course demanding a series of feats, penetrating each layer in a region of space like peeling back the layers of an onion, before reaching me in my spacecraft, the spider at the center of the web, so to speak.

I also took inspiration from a fashion sensation that year, a young fresh model named simply Imogen, whose images of her gloriously long hair spread like wildfire. I joined the legions of girls who got their hair extended to her length: long enough to pile a bun as big as my head on top, and still leave a cascade reaching down to the floor. I stood out, being a billionaire heiress and a figure of some import, and the only member of the Reinhardt family to have gotten that treatment at the time. I got myself photoshoot after photoshoot, from whence came my nickname you all know me by: Rapunzel Reinhardt. I even beat the original trend-setter Imogen herself as a Rapunzel: my hair was then as you see it now, the most glorious golden blonde.

I set up my spacecraft – that was before we even had my own famous design lineage of flying saucers; we all used cousin Teith’s spaceplane designs back then – to have that Asian Fusion interior design that I love. You might notice during your studies around here, if you haven’t already, that I love me some Art Nouveau motifs, traditional Chinese style for all the furniture, and hearths everywhere, not to mention red silk, dragon symbolism, and if you look closely some vampire symbolism as well. Hmm…maybe I shouldn’t have told you that: it might distract from your studies. On the other hand, a good assassin is observant.

Anyway, I decked out my spaceplane, prettied myself up, created some buzz on all the Web’s social networks, and had my people arrange everything for the greatest competition a rich man with red blood flowing through his veins could ask for, for I made myself the prize of a game in physical space where I had to be rescued from hazards of my own design. Maybe some of you should try that sometime – I’ve always had a magnetic effect on men, the ones I don’t frighten off with a glance anyway, and even I noticed how much more engaged they were in the whole idea of me when I was in the damsel in distress. That fantasy really gets them going, even if they know it’s a fantasy – remember that for when you’re on a mission and you need to manipulate the strong sex.

As for the challenge, I monitored all their progress for days and weeks as I lay in my Chinese lounger, just me, the sky lanterns drifting through my spaceship, and the windows providing me a view of the darkest and starriest sky a man can hope to see. Imagine my surprise when of all the competitors the one who got the furthest and was certainly going to win the game was none other than my own pilot! He met the wealth hurdle I set by when game time started by founding a startup firm in astronautics, his passion in life – the initial public offering of their stock had made him rich. All in a matter of months!

You might be wondering what all this has to do with how the assassins’ academy first came to be. Well, now you’ll know: the web of defenses I had suddenly in that moment turned against me, for they were hacked, and hijacked, by none other than one of the all-time great masters of computer hacking, a space pirate known as the Lone Wolf, so named because he traveled in his stealth pirate ship alone, without, owing to his hacker-borne distrust of computers, even the benefits of robotic companionship, only animals, such as African Grey parrots, and, most especially, his dogs. The dogs…ugh…ever since then I’ve always hated dogs.

I couldn’t see him coming until he was right on top of me, and from then, at just two miles’ range, it was a simple matter for him to intimidate me into having no choice but to let him board my spaceship. By that point my man was already along for the ride, having docked to my spaceplane as part of the final challenge, already being on board when the defense web deactivated, along with everything else in the challenge, which according to him startled him and immediately alerted him to something being wrong.

Both of us were taken hostage, and held for ransom, transferred to his ship lest he incur the wrath of my grand-aunt Emma, who already was famous – infamous in some quarters – for going all-out in hiring mercenaries to rescue friends and family at the slightest provocation. The Lone Wolf’s plan would have worked, but for one crucial ally – a transmitter disguised as a comb embedded deep in my Rapunzel hair bun, bypassing normal means of detection using a form of technology so secret even I don’t know how it works, and if it did I wouldn’t tell you. These transmitters are one of the few ways we have of counteracting the barbarous piratical practice of being shanghaied in stealth ships.

Emma detected my transmission, which was the signal we arranged for before I started the challenge that would tell her I was in distress and to send help. Since the ransom message was delivered to my family, she already knew the kind of danger she would be facing, and it wasn’t too long before she personally led a strike force of mercenaries, guided by the strategic thinking and full power of her sisterhoods and women’s collectives active in the high-tech industries, to rescue both me and my man.

Aunt Emma’s strategy was rather clever. She sent a full-scale mercenary fleet to the center of my defensive web, making it look like she assumed we were still being held hostage in my own spacecraft, but in fact they were empty ships with skeleton crews; the real strike force was all in a stealth ship of Emma’s own she piloted to me as she homed in on our position, firing nuclear missiles right across his bow just before she closed to within detection range and saber-rattled so much – I still remember her stirring rhetoric as the Lone Wolf heard it aboard with us – our captor was persuaded to flee the scene, responding with a rather clever tactic of his own: jettisoning us in an expendable section of the ship, quickly resuming stealth mode with the remainder and executing a cold burn out of detection range, promising in his last message to Emma that we hadn’t seen the last of him.

I still remember Emma’s reply to him as she mated with the escape pod we were in: that if he ever came within two miles of them again, he will have seen the last of this world.

I’m grateful for Emma having rescued me, but really, my man impressed me so much during our time together as captives being held for ransom; he was the picture of steely calm, diligently and very cleverly plotting ways for us to escape – I won’t bother all of you with the details, but suffice it to say we were very close to pulling one off when Emma arrived.

I was apprehensive at first, but the sheer…intensity of the experience brought us so much closer together during those days and weeks we were in that ship. I realized I loved him, and by the time we were finished with the crazy mixed-up ways we met and crossed each other’s paths, when I was being carried in his arms over the threshold into Emma’s spaceship, I knew he had proven himself worthy, and I knew what I wanted to do more than anything in the world. Just days later, we were married, and not long after…you, my dear Amaranth, were born.

It took a while for all this to sink in, but I had an inkling even as soon as I was rescued, an inkling that in the fullness of time congealed into a burning question: why was the Lone Wolf allowed to escape? I knew Emma said saving our lives were so much more important than ending a pirate’s, but what if we could have done both? What if there were warriors of the night who dedicated themselves to cleansing the black sky of filth like him? Nay, not just the black sky, but the enemies of liberty everywhere, whether they secrete themselves above or below the Karman line.

It started to strike me: for all his vileness the one redeeming quality the Lone Wolf had was he never gave the slightest hint he’d violate me. He was gentlemanly in his treatment of me. I’ve met many other victims of these terrors of the wild black yonder, and many of them weren’t so lucky. And the worst part of all: what about those who don’t have a grand-aunt Emma to marshal women’s tech collectives and whole fleets of mercenaries to come to their rescue?

Pirates like the Lone Wolf are the enemies of liberty in space, but lest we forget, they are not the only menace to the birthrights of mankind. For down there on the mother planet they still, in the year two thousand forty, live under the worst pirates of all: the state. Which has proven as indolent as it is impotent at the one duty they all say justifies their plunder of mankind: protection. Something must be done. And so it is. By you, by me, and now by my daughter, who stands beside me.

Send me the powers of your spirits, pray to whatever gods you believe in, for soon shall I walk into the maw of evil.”

She took a pause to end her speech, surveying the rapt crowd of assassins-to-be, her angels of death, the foremost avengers of tyranny. Proud of her work over the years, she turned to Amaranth and told her “Rise, my daughter.” Amaranth, nearly the spitting image of her mother when she was younger, strutted up next to the lectern on stage and raised her right hand.

“Do you, Amaranth Reinhardt, swear to teach all worthy women and girls the arts of assassination, to smite the enemies of liberty, to avenge wrongs against man’s birthrights above and below the Karman line, and to never betray the trust of the sisterhood?” Amaranth gathered herself and, with her blue eyes awestruck by the magnitude of the moment, said “I do.”

Mother and daughter shared a hug, and as Amaranth presented herself before the applauding crowd, Rapunzel told them “Give my daughter your confidence. Farewell, my assassins.” Blowing a kiss, she pulled a string and released sky lanterns for the occasion as she walked off the stage, letting her daughter handle the school from now on as her mother walked into “the maw of evil”.

At another point in time and space, Rapunzel Reinhardt was at the edge of her maw, blowing kisses this time to the starships of the Thalassan Expedition, mankind’s first crewed mission to another solar system, Proxima Centauri, home of an ocean planet drenched in oxygen..and, as the probe fleet that arrived just a few years earlier revealed, drenched in life. Earth-like life. The closest man had come to touching another Earth, but after the twenty years’ journey of the massive fleet assembled before Rapunzel man was going to get a whole lot closer.

Blessing them as she closed her eyes, her beswastikaed head swaying only to move from one starship to another, she reached with her eyes the last starship before her, whispering in a dreamy voice “Goodbye, Imogen”, for her fashion idol had chosen to be one of Thalassa’s first colonists. Raising her arms as if to encompass all the fleet from the perspective of the assembled crowd, she thundered like an oracle of yore: “Farewell; Gaians of yesterday, Thalassans of tomorrow.”

As if on cue, the starships then all lit up at once with the flash of their nuclear pulse drive, their solar sails already unfurled, the fleet hurtling toward the sun to get a boost from a close pass of what Edelweiss still thought of after all these years as those most draconic regions of space. As they receded from sight, she strutted toward a judge, clad in black robes and white hair, there for the occasion.

Raising her right hand, he asked the latter-day priestess “Do you, Sif Edelweiss Rommel Reinhardt, solemnly swear that you will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of your Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?” She replied “I will.”

As applause erupted, Rapunzel tuned it out as if it wasn’t there, instead wistfully gazing toward the fast-receding Starfleet, the crescent of the Earth visible in the distance. Smiling, she dreamily recounted her waxing interest in politics through the years, how proud her grandfather Wolfram would have been of her following in his footsteps as President if he were still there then, having died not long after her challenge.

But most instrumental was her cousin Menteith Reinhardt, Count von Gleichen, the man who eschewed electoral politics but for his last aged years, when he made an exception for his election-happy little cousin Rapunzel as he taught her everything he knew about politics, and became his successor, ensured by successive episodes of the wily count faking his own death and returning to see if his minions had followed his instructions, until one time came when he mysteriously disappeared and never came back.

It had been over a decade, but in that moment the newly-minted President couldn’t help but look out at the stars and in her mind’s eye talk to Teith as if he was still out there somewhere – even if the rumors of his physical survival, all the rumors that he was working on some new, fast, and above all exotic form of spacecraft propulsion, were false, she was sure his ghost was still wandering the stars, and in that moment reached out for guidance as she had crossed into the maw of evil.

She wouldn’t even have been there were it not for all the efforts of the radical movement through the ages, paving the way for her to be the first woman President, and a 34-year-old woman at that; were it not for a constitutional amendment spearheaded by none other than her grandfather Wolfram only a few decades earlier, she wouldn’t have even been allowed to take the oath. Now, leading an unprecedented multi-party coalition, her movement had fulfilled the dream: having not only reassembled the New Age coalition, whose fragmentation had led to twenty years at a stretch of conservative rule, but expanded it so much that radicals and liberals now held the Congressional and state-legislative supermajority to pass constitutional amendments.

Savoring the memories of the campaign trail, her own personal charisma having made the difference, she strutted to her standing desk and gazed at all the executive orders, laws, statues, and resolutions before her, knowing that was but a sneak preview of the transformation that was underway for the American political system: it might have taken forty years, but the twenty-first century was now arriving in the halls of power. The age of states was over. The tide of man had come.

She picked up her pen and was going to sign them, but right before the ink was to hit the page, something held her back. Pensively, she held her pen’s top up to her lips as she thought; swaying herself back to gaze at the blue rondure that was the Earth, lit in crescent by the brilliant sun, she beheld the twinkling lights of the Thalassan expedition, speeding away on the greatest voyage in man’s history, and she beheld the blue rondure lit acrescent that was the Earth, the outline of her country faintly visible to her, clear of the cloud cover that was all around it, as if the people, the country, the Earth, nay the whole cosmos, was smiling upon her.

She took a moment to smile upon it in return, and with a toss of her blonde cascade threw herself into her noble work.

Thus began the Rapunzel Reinhardt Presidency.

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