Far down in the southern oceans of Earth, on the island of Tasmania, in a small cottage, a daughter fought with her mother. The argument, like so many arguments between mothers and daughters, was about the daughter becoming a woman.
“Annie, my little Annie, you mustn’t say such things,” said Olga. “You must think of your future. You will be a woman soon and will need every advantage you can get to find a good station in life.”
“I can say such things, Mother, and I will,” replied Anastasia. “It is my ceremony, and I will choose what commitment I make. You cannot tell me what to do and you cannot change my mind. It will be a finger.”
“But Annie, my little Annie, you need to think of your future. You are coming of age already, I know marriage is not on your mind yet, but it should be. Finding a husband is very important. We need to be looking now, trust me, you don't want to leave it too late.”
“I'm thirteen, Mother.”
“Exactly. I wish I'd been married at your age. But no, I was foolish, I waited, and before I knew it all the husbands were gone and I was too old. I was nineteen when I married your father. My mother practically begged him to take me.”
“Why are you telling me this again, Mother? You know I don't care. I live to serve the Empire and the Emperor. I don't care about boys or their stinking dowries.”
“Well, you should care. You really should. The Empire doesn't put soup in the pot, or bread on the table, you need a husband for that. And any husband with money is going to want a young wife. A young wife with all ten fingers still attached.”
“I told you, I don't care. I live for the Empire. The only person I love is His Holiness. He's the only one who deserves my love. I won't shackle myself to some fat merchant. You'll see Mother, I will do great things for the Empire. I'll be a hero, just like the Virgin Queen.”
“Not this again! Why must you always be so stubborn? You have your whole life to consider, don't make the silly mistakes I made. Find a good husband, a rich husband. It will already be hard enough for you with your hair, why add to things by maiming yourself?”
“Enough, Mother,” said Anastasia, trying not to get annoyed at the mention of her hair. “I will not let you ruin this for me. This is my ceremony and I will choose how I show my commitment to the Emperor. I have already decided. I will give my index finger.”
“Oh, why have you given me this child? What did I ever do to deserve such hardship?” cried Olga, eyes to the ceiling.
Ultimately, both of them argued because of love. Olga loved her daughter—as all mothers must. Anastasia loved her mother too—as all daughters must. But not as much as she loved their sovereign: Donald the Great, God-Emperor of Earth.
“I love His Holiness with all my heart,” said Anastasia. “Giving my finger is nothing compared to what he has given to me, what he has given to all of us. When the old world burned he gave us this paradise. When the kingdoms of America and Russia were betrayed by the yellow peril and the socialist Euro-trash, he rose up as the protector of the innocent. I would gladly give my whole hand if such a commitment were still allowed.”
“That is ancient history, Annie. It has nothing to do with today. Why must you torment me like this? Me, your own mother!”
“You seem to forget that this is no ordinary Commitment Ceremony. The Emperor himself will be there. This is a special occasion and a momentous milestone for the Empire. I am blessed to be coming of age at just this time in history, and I will not disgrace myself by offering a toe, or an ear. I must give more. I love the Emperor, with all my heart, it is my duty to honour his anniversary.”
“Oh, Annie, stop. Please stop.”
Anastasia did not stop, she continued to be single-minded and stubborn in her devotion. But she did not stay to hear any more of Olga’s protests either. She ran for the door and dashed out into the street.
The anniversary that Anastasia referred to was, of course, the God-Emperor’s birthday. But this is not just any birthday for His Holiness. In the following week, on the 14th of June 2246, the benevolent God-Emperor of Earth was turning three hundred years old.
Anastasia ran through the streets of New Manhattan, up past the rows of identical cottages, up past the school, up past the barracks, she kept heading up, away from the old inundated city, up towards the wide open lawns at the top of the hill. As she ran, she felt the clean air and hot blood coursing through her. They cleansed her, taking away her mother's base and selfish wants, confirming her love for the Emperor. She felt free and pure again.
The shops and terraces give way to larger houses, two-story constructions, with their own lawns and high fences. Ahead she saw a splash of green and a glint of gold. Quickening her pace, she ran up the street, and out into the sudden openness of Buckingham Green.
The grass stretched out like a sea of green, a huge open field, no trees, no paths, just grass. The greenness pressed hard up against the city, waves of grass lapping against the gates and fences of New Manhattan. Across this sea the imperial palace twinkled in the sunlight.
Anastasia stopped at the edge of the grass. She loved this place. Breathing hard she raised her eyes to the golden crucifix that guarded the Green. The crucifix was huge, towering over the nearest houses, which seemed to cower, as though they were cattle being driven before it. The figure of the Virgin Queen hung from her cross, arms flung wide, face serene in her suffering. Anastasia imagined, not for the first time, that Queen Melania was staring directly at her. That she hung here, arms spread, just so Anastasia could come and bow before her. Just so Anastasia could be reminded of the great things she would achieve in the name of the Empire.
Scowling, Anastasia turned to see who was interrupting this quiet moment. A gangly boy came racing up the thin path between house and grass, legs and arms flapping in improbable arcs. His eyes were wide and bright, his hair a mop of yellow curls.
“Hello Vasily, what are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” he panted.
“I've come to be with her,” said Anastasia, pointing up at the statue. “The Virgin Queen.”
“She wasn't really a virgin, you know,” said Vasily.
“Of course she was. Don't be stupid.”
“How could she be a virgin if she is also the mother of the Tsarina? It doesn't work like that, my brother told me. You have to have sex to have babies, he told me that. You don't just have babies for no reason.”
“You're such an idiot Vasily. I know where babies come from,” said Anastasia. “And of course she was a virgin, the Emperor himself said so, and the Emperor never lies. We learned all this at school, but I guess you weren't paying attention, like usual.”
“Well, my brother said that the Emperor lied about this so he could marry Tsarina Ivanka.”
“Why would the Emperor need to lie to marry the Tsarina?”
“Um, I forget why, but my brother told me! Anyway, it's stupid to think you can be a virgin and also get pregnant.”
“I suppose it's also stupid to think you can live to be three hundred years old? But the Emperor is that old, isn't he?”
“I guess,” said Vasily, uncertainly.
“And we know that Tsarina Ivanka is the most pure and beautiful person ever born, don't we?”
“I guess,” says Vasily—his faith in his brother’s logic already beginning to crumble.
“So how could the Tsarina be born to anyone other than a pure virgin? That is how we know Tsarina Ivanka must be the daughter of the Virgin Queen.”
Anastasia was well versed in the theology and history of the Empire. Unlike Vasily, she always paid attention in school. She had heard the snide remarks of the naysayers. She knew their semantics and how to answer all of their objections. She knew the truth.
“Can you believe we'll have to come out here in a few days for our Commitment Ceremony?” said Vasily. “We'll actually walk out on Buckingham Green, in front of the whole city. And not just our city, I hear kids are coming from all over Tasmania.”
“And the mainland, they are coming because it's the Emperor's birthday next week.”
“I wish they weren't,” said Vasily. “I don't want a bunch of strange kids at our ceremony.”
“I can't wait,” said Anastasia. “I'm going to give my index finger.”
“You are not! That's not allowed anymore, the Emperor said so.”
“It is so allowed. You're just not allowed to give a hand or a foot anymore, nothing that will leave you crippled. But an index finger is still allowed.”
“Then why does nobody give them? My brother gave a toe and he said that was a lot. I'm only giving an earlobe, and I'm scared about that.”
“People don't give a proper commitment anymore because they're selfish and lazy. They forget everything the Emperor has done for us. They forget what he's done to bring us peace and prosperity. They forget the sacrifices he's made.” Anastasia pointed up at the Virgin Queen.
“Well, you won't see me giving a finger, no way. I couldn't stand it. Just the thought is making me ill,” said Vasily, wringing his hands.
“Well, I feel sorry for your lack of faith.”
But Anastasia didn't feel very sorry, most of all she felt proud. Proud of herself and the notable commitment she was going to give. It would mark her for life as a true subject of the Emperor. She also knew that Vasily didn't really understand what the ceremony was for. She suspected he was, perhaps, not smart enough to really know what it was to be truly devoted. And because of this, she did feel a little sorry for him. But only a little.
“I don't think it's a good idea, Annie.”
“What's not a good idea?”
“Giving a finger. It's already hard for you, missing a finger isn't going to help with… you know.”
“With what? I don't know what you're talking about.” She knew exactly what he was talking about.
“Annie, we all know you from school, we know you are a perfect subject of the Empire. But it's hard, cos you're the only person in this city who isn't blonde. People still look at you sideways, even when they know you. When we leave school you might have to go somewhere people don't know you, where they might think you're a Chinaman.”
“I am not a Chinaman.” Anastasia hissed through her teeth.
“I know, I know, Annie, please don't be mad at me.”
“That is exactly why I am going to give a finger. So everyone will know I'm completely devoted to the Emperor, nobody will be able to call me a slit-eye or Chinaman ever again.”
“If you say so,” said Vasily. “But you won't see me giving a finger, no way.”
“And my eyes are round and green. No Chinaman ever had green eyes.”
“Annie, please don't be angry, I was just saying-”
“I know exactly what you were saying, Vasily, but there is no need. I will be a great person in this empire, you'll see. The first step is to show everyone that I am devoted to the Empire and the Emperor. I do not need your pity or your advice. You'll see. I'll show everyone at the Commitment Ceremony, and I can't wait.”