Tuesday the 31st, Lunar 3, Luka 16
Somewhere in the Dimensional Divide
Onboard the Neptune’s Rhapsody
We stopped by my room just to get my swimsuit, drop off all the new clothes, and to change and stash the necklace. Jane spent most of her time critiquing my room for being gross and drab and dark even with lightbulbs, and me, for keeping her from going to do her work. I told her she was free to go, but she maintained that she wasn’t going to let me get away with swimming the whole day away without helping her, so she came along, too.
“Here’s your damn pool,” Jane said, flipping the lights as she walked in. I pranced in behind her, heading straight for the deck.
The pool appeared well-kept, deep blue with chemical and preservatives, just like at school. Nothing else was in the room, apart from a few lounge chairs. I thought Jane might sit in one of them, but much to my surprise, she sat down on the deck, dangling her feet into the shallow end. I dove in on the other side, and did a 50 of breaststroke to get warmed up. When I got back to where I’d started, I popped up to the surface.
“You should come in,” I called, from across the pool. “Water’s not too cold.”
“I’ve had enough water lately, thank you,” Jane said, kicking her feet back and forth. “I don’t even know how to swim.”
My eyes bulged out of my head. “You don’t–what?!” I swam down to the shallow side. “Not even a little?”
“Well, a little,” Jane admitted. “But I’m no good. I just sink.”
“The only way to fix that is to practice,” I said, water and makeup dripping all down my face. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
“Pfft. The last person I want to swim with is someone all gross like you,” Jane muttered, glancing away. “Probably dirtying up the whole pool with sock stink and fuzzies…”
I probably shouldn’t have, but my first thought was to grab her foot and yank her in for that. She wasn’t expecting it, and she slid right in with a squeal.
“You ASS!” Jane screamed, flailing at me and slapping me over and over with her hands. One of her fingernails sliced my cheek. “I’m gonna sink! I’m gonna sink!”
“Just stand up,” I said, trying not to laugh. “You’re tall enough to reach the bottom here.”
Jane stiffened, doing as I said. Her eyes were squeezed shut. She seemed quite surprised to see it for herself, but the water barely came up to her chest. It was higher on me. Her little yellow sundress floated out around her, and curiously, flowers. I’d thought they were from my hair, but they were the same flowers I saw on the tree back on Carthage, floating out from around her.
“That was totally mean,” Jane said, her voice high and squeaky. “You… you big bag of dicks.”
“You make flowers, too?” I asked, probably not as surprised as I would’ve been a week ago.
Jane clutched them close to her, surprised a bit at the sight of them. “Sometimes. When I’m a little… surprised, is all.” The flowers quickly fell apart in the water, shedding their petals as they floated around us. “Well? Aren’t you going to teach me?” Jane said, splashing me with as big a wave as she could muster. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Sure,” I said. “Hold the wall with your hands, here. Just kick.”
“Kick you in the face,” Jane grumbled. She held onto the wall, like she was clinging to it for dear life. She kicked, but her legs stayed low in the water behind her than they should have. “Like this?”
“Close,” I said, observing her. “Can you get your butt up any higher?”
Jane snorted, and laughed. “Not a question I was expecting to hear from you today,” she said, and arched her back a bit.
“Y-yeah,” I managed. “That’s a little better.”
This was proving a lot more awkward than I thought it would be. A million times more awkward than when we started teaching my brother, or any of the other kids in the neighborhood.
“So can I just go now?” Jane asked, still kicking away. She let go of the side and tried to turn, but began sinking as soon as she did. I grabbed her by her sides and held her up.
“Let’s try on your back first.”
“Again, not something I thought I’d–”
“It’sjusteasierforfloating,” I screeched, flustered. “That’s it.”
Jane flipped over in my arms, though I still used my hands to ensure she’d stay afloat. Normally I’d just put my hands on whoever I was teaching, but that somehow felt much more awkward now.
Was she just saying that kind of stuff to be funny, or… ?
“I put my hands over my head for this one, right?” Jane asked, but the moment she tried to lift her right arm her left leg sank, and vice-versa.
“Uh, yeah. Getting there,” I said, still holding her. “Just close your eyes and focus. Keep your neck straight. One movement at a time.”
“But what if I fall?” Jane asked, trying to look behind her.
“You won’t. I have you.”
Jane did as instructed and closed her eyes. From above, her face looked terribly troubled at first, all wrinkled and frowny, but eventually it began to soften. She swam back three or so paces impressively well, keeping her head above the water. I gradually lowered my hand, until she was more or less swimming on her own. Then, all of the sudden, she jumped up, bowing in the water, and latched on my side.
“Thought you said you had me,” she said, frantically. “Think you’re funny, huh?”
I giggled, uncontrollably. “Oh Jane… I was expecting you to be more Worldly than this. And here you are, terrified of five feet of water.”
She splashed me with her free arm. “You take me back to the other end,” she grumbled, eyes narrow and angry. “I should’ve left you in jail.”
“Y’know, come to think of it, I don’t think you ever thanked me for saving you,” I said, grinning a bit haughty. I did walk a few paces closer to the edge, so she could hop down and walk on her own. “And it seems like you were in worse trouble than I even realized.”
“Well then. Thank you,” she muttered. “I guess you’re okay, after all.”
“Really? Not too vanilla?”
Jane splashed me again. “Don’t push it,” she said, paddling over to the ledge to get out. “And you definitely owe me some nav work now you big jerk.”
“Fine by me,” I said, flipping back to do another lap before I got out with her.
Neither of us had any towels, so we had to drip our way back to our rooms to change. We were still laughing and teasing each other a bit, skidding down the hall in puddles of water when we came across a rather wide-eyed Hart and Jack, both of them whispering loudly at each other in the hall. It almost appeared as though we intercepted a fight. Jack was shaking with nerves.
“What is it?” Jane asked, quite concerned.
“Have you seen it?” Hart asked, holding up her phone to Jane. “The video?”
Though her hands were shaking, completely unnerved, I could tell it was the video we’d taken no more than an hour or so ago, except it was online, and had almost two million views already–and counting.
Jane and I exchanged an awkward glance, both of us just standing there dripping in the cold. None of the four of us said a word to one another while the video looped over again. Two very important things occurred to me:
- Legato’s plan had worked.
- If Hart and Jack recognized me as the person in the video, the plan would be dead before it got started.
“T-they’re…they’re saying some tulip farmers found her,” Jack said, finally breaking the silence.
“Yeah. Tulip farmers,” Jane repeated, without skipping a beat. She kept her eyes on the video, seeming to have no problem deceiving her friends. “Interesting. Didn’t realize Lumeria had tulips…”
“They’re Flandian,” Hart explained, a bit of hope in her voice. “She was right here in the System the entire time.”
“S-so does this mean we have a new Q-Queen?” Jack asked.
Hart shrugged. “It’s supposed to.”
I kept quiet, counting my blessings that they didn’t seem to realize it was me. A little change of clothes and soppy pool drips was enough to hide the truth.
Neither of us said a word, both having come to the same realization at the same time.
“Hey, Jane! Pietro!” Quail shouted, from down the hall. “We need you up on the bridge—like, now,” he said, snapping his fingers.
Both Jane and I trotted over to him.
“Do they know?” he whispered.
Jane shook her head. “Doesn’t look like it.”
“Thank the Gods,” Quail whispered, grabbing me by my wrist. “We’ve got to get you dressed. Her Majesty requires a word with… Her Majesty.”
“W-what?” I managed, gawking at him.
“Welcome to fame and fortune, Your Highness,” Quail said, glancing back at me. “You’ve got a reply.”