Tuesday the 31st,
Lunar 3, Luka 16
Somewhere in the Dimensional Divide
Onboard the Neptune’s Rhapsody
Quail’s Sewing Room
Exactly three weeks ago this morning, I stabbed Ian Fisk in the hand during gym class. Now, I’m half naked standing in a mirror with a drag queen trying to make me into a princess.
We met in secret that morning before breakfast time, Quail, Kipley, and Legato and I, in the sewing room where Quail worked on his drag outfits and stored them, along with disguises the rest of the ship used. It was mostly a huge closet, along with reams of fabric, dress forms, and a few different stations with sewing machines and supplies. There were also large mirrors — full length ones, like you see in department stores. I was standing in front of one of them, naked from the waist up with swaths of fabric hanging from my shoulders. Quail was trying to get a handle on what colors fit me best and that I liked, as if that would help me forget I would be wearing a dress.
My focus was elsewhere, at my head, and on my stomach. Over the past few weeks of preparation, Quail and the others had fitted me for a specialized, custom wig, the more permanent kind that sews into the scalp. I had hair now and it felt real — looked real — the same white hair I would have normally grown, down to my ears, only for now there was no risk it would get any longer and get me in trouble. When my own hair began to grow underneath, it would naturally blend with the wig until it was gone through the power of trims alone. The others were kind enough to let me have a bit of length. The original plan was for me to be bald like the Queen.
I also had all my teeth again, and whiter, straighter ones than I’d ever had before.
And then there was my stomach.
Lucasta had a cloud-shaped birthmark right above her belly button. I had one now, too, and already after two weeks, it was healing in a way that did make it look more like an old, discolored spot, not like someone had tattooed it on me.
Kipley was at one of the sewing stations, studying pictures of women I’d never seen before and the kits of makeup she’d brought to help better match my face, too. Legato, seated beside her, had been kind enough to look the other way for my privacy. It was hard for me to believe that a little makeup and a change of clothes was all it took, but the adults seemed certain. They’d been preparing for this for quite awhile.
“Ooh, try that yellow one,” Kipley said, pointing to one of the fabric reams. “That one looks fancy.”
“It has to be purple or dark blue,” Legato said. “Colors of the royal family. Let’s start planting the seed early.”
“Good point.” Quail returned to his reams of fabric, then, seeming to realize he might have another option, he went to the dress racks and pulled off a finished piece, one of his own. “How about this one? It’s a little bit of both.”
Legato glanced over, avoiding me. “Ah, yes. That’s perfect.”
It was an attractive pattern, one with tiny sea stars and sand dollars intricately sewn into the exterior layer. Quail held it gingerly in his arms as he brought it over, looking a bit sad to part with it.
“That one was a fave,” he admitted. “It’ll be a shame to cut it up.”
“Aw, I’m sorry. I’ll take good care of it,” I said, trying to hide the disappointment on my face at having to wear something that had been precious to him. He handed it off to me and I almost dropped it. It was so much heavier than I expected, well-constructed, and durable.
Much like any of my dresses at home, I just tossed it on over my head and pulled it down, layers of fabric seeming to rain down around me. It was the sort of dress Portia would’ve loved, sleeveless, with a cowl neckline and tightly fitted chest, fanning out down into a long, full skirt that went down to my ankles. It was probably meant to end higher, but that was where it fell on me so far. It didn’t fit that way on me quite yet, but Quail went to work addressing that immediately, using clips to better secure it in various places from behind and up my sides. Within minutes, I had a better idea of what it would look like, and Quail went back to the closet to retrieve some additions. He came back with his hands full: a golden scarf-like thing, and several pairs of purple and gold fin tips.
As I took them into my hands, he snuck around me and tied the sash tight around my waist, forming the extra fabric into a bow. He then backed up a few paces, eyeing his work.
“Not bad,” Quail said, looking impressed. “What do you think?”
Before I could respond, Legato did, as though the question had been meant for him. “You’ve outdone yourself yet again, my friend,” he said, resting a hand on Quail’s shoulder.
“You do look…like one of them,” Kipley said, glancing me up and down. “Could totally imagine you calling the cops on me.”
“From your private yacht,” Quail added. “Where you watch the common folk with binoculars, just to see if you can stir shit up, maybe ruin someone’s life before morning tea.”
I grimaced. “Eugh. Can I take this off yet?”
“Let’s do the makeup first,” Legato said. “Then Quail can get to work.”
Kipley went back to grab one of her cases. “And that’s my cue,” she said, taking my chin in her hand. “Lucky for you we don’t have to do much with your features… maybe a little contouring.”
She brought with her the photographs, most of which were of rich-looking women I presumed to be royalty, and sat me down in front of the mirror on a foot stool. Without warning, Kipley started tweezing my eyebrows. I squirmed away, but she continued on anyway.
“Think of pleasant things,” Kipley said, focused on my forehead. “Like kittens, or coupons for your favorite place to eat.”
I tried to distract myself, but that wasn’t exactly easy. I’d never plucked my eyebrows before. Portia did it all the time, but it just seemed weird to me. Why inflict literal pain on yourself for no reason?
“What happens after all this?” I asked, to no one in particular.
“We have a little script prepared for you,” Legato said, speaking in the other direction. “We’ll give you some pointers, then record you saying it and send a video message out.”
“A video?” I asked.
“Yep. You’re gonna go viral,” Quail said, pins sticking out of his mouth. “Best way to make sure no one makes the video disappear…”
“So after this video — then what?” I asked.
“Then we wait,” Legato said. “We wait for a reply from the Palace.”
“Turn this way,” Kipley said, pulling my head to the side before I could do as asked.
“What if they don’t respond?” I asked.
“Oh believe me–they will,” Legato said. “And I’m sure they won’t be the only ones.”
I closed my eyes, trying to avoid it as much as possible. “So what do I even say?” I asked. “Hey, I’m not dead, let me be Queen?”
“Close.” Quail handed me a piece of paper. “Give this a try.”
My eyes peeked open and traced over the page.
GOOD EVENING PEOPLE OF THE GALAXY — I HAVE RECENTLY LEARNED OF MY TRUE IDENTITY, THAT OF LUCASTA MARITINIUS OF LUMERIA. DESPITE A NEFARIOUS PLOT THAT UNFOLDED SIXTEEN YEARS AGO, I AM ALIVE AND WELL, AND HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS DAY. IF YOU ARE READY AND WILLING TO ACCEPT ME, I AM PREPARED TO TAKE ON MY DUTIES FOR THE GOOD OF THESE WORLDS.
“Well, what do you think?” Quail asked.
“Uhm…” I cocked a sore, hairless brow. “These are definitely some words on a piece of paper, for sure.”
“Give it a try,” Legato said. “You can tweak it a little if you’d like.”
“Good evening, people…” I paused. “Don’t I just say that some pirates found me and I’m fine?”
Legato had turned around in his chair at some point, and was watching the scene with intrigue. “That’s… out of the question, I’m afraid. Under no circumstances can you mention us. Best not to mention the ‘P’ word at all.”
“We’re working on your backstory,” Kipley said, as she began to paint something over my eyes. “Don’t worry, we’ll keep it simple.”
“You disappeared as an infant, so you don’t need to remember any of the palace or the royals,” Quail said, a fist under his chin. “But I suppose we’ll need to address where you’ve been all these years.”
“Orphanages. Defunct ones, preferably,” Legato said. “We can’t implicate any specific person or party. The backlash would be…”
Quail nodded. “Orphanages it is. And then you became aware of your identity by…?”
“That I have taken care of,” Legato said, walking over. He retrieved something from his pocket and placed it around my neck. It must’ve been a necklace, but it felt like a pile of bricks. I could barely breathe with it on and my head tilted back.
Both Quail and Kipley looked surprised, impressed. I leapt up, unable to take it anymore, and caught a glance of myself in the mirror. Before my mind could even begin to process the makeup… the rocks. Holy shit, the rocks. No wonder it felt like I couldn’t breathe — it was four massive purple gems hanging down in a teardrop shape, surrounded by seven rows of glittering transparent stones.
Kipley whistled, impressed. “That’s a helluva forgery, boss. Can you make me one?”
“Afraid it’s the real deal,” Legato said, eyeing me carefully up and down. “The former Queen’s purple soul stone rubies.”
Quail’s jaw hung wide. “How the fuck did you get that?”
“Stole it,” Legato said, disaffected. “Much like everything else on this ship… and half the ship.”
Both Quail and Kipley accepted this explanation, appearing rather impressed.
“So… what?” I asked, looking between them. “I somehow kept this priceless royal artifact with me in an orphanage? And no one noticed?”
Quail laughed. “Fair point.”
“Hm. So maybe not an orphanage,” Legato said, considering it. “Well then, perhaps you were trapped by captors, but you never saw them. And you recently escaped… and were found by Quail and Kipley.”
Kipley waggled a finger. “Oh, no, no no! Not Quail Chakrabarti and Kipley Sappho–you were found by Mr. and Mrs. Cliff, a lovely, completely heterosexual, normal married couple who sell tulips on Flanders.”
“In our garden,” Quail added. “Where nothing at all abnormal has ever occurred.”
“Or gay,” Kipley added. “We are so, so very hetero.”
“Do you guys really have a tulip shop?” I asked, glancing between them. I found it hard to believe either of them could pretend to be normal, let alone a couple — let alone married.
“We do now,” Kipley said, holding up her phone. “According to all public records, it’s been in the Cliff family for generations…and as for Quazies and I, don’t worry. We’re quite good at pretending to be married.”
“It’s not actually pretend,” Quail said. “We’ve been married for almost fourteen years.”
“What?!” I laughed, sure it was a joke. “But you’re both gay…gay, in opposing directions, right?”
“Well, yes,” Kipley said, moving her fingers around in various directions. “Several different directions, none of them straight. There’s nobody I’d rather be exiled from eternity with.”
Quail looked a bit embarrassed, trying to hide a smile. “It’s a rather long story,” he said, clearing his throat. “Perhaps another time.”
“Indeed,” Legato added. “As you can see, these two have been assigned a role to ensure they can stay by your side, for whatever comes next. That means all that’s left is your part, Pietro… or should I say, Your Highness.”
“Wait! A few last minute things,” Quail said, running back over to me, and pinned some live purple flowers in my hair.
“Perfect,” Legato said, nodding. “Quite striking, really.”
“No pressure,” I muttered.
“Just breathe,” Legato said. “Let it be real, and it will be.”
“I’ll get to work — shouldn’t be terribly long,” Quail said. “You can get back in your regular clothes, but don’t mess up all Kipley’s hard work.”
I couldn’t get out of that thing fast enough. I took the flowers out of my hair to keep them safe, but put the rest of my clothes back on with haste. While the adults took care of some things on their end, I wandered through the closets of clothes and things, seeing what else it had to offer. Apart from Quail’s assorted dresses and things, there were other types of clothes, too, extras, clothes for disguises, all sorts of things. I fingered through the racks, until I came upon the section of pants and separates that were more appealing to me.
For a moment, it felt a lot like back to school shopping with my family in one of the department stores in the city. I’d walk past an intriguing room of men’s things I’d longed to try on and imagined myself wearing, reality crashing down on me as I arrived at my designated area of dresses, skirts, and skorts. After what felt like hours of suffering, we’d then travel back to that forbidden wonderland to select some solutions for my dad and Duncan, but it would only take minutes. Shopping for them was so easy. Their sizes were always their sizes, and they never had to worry about how things fell or what showed what — too much, not enough, wrong look, wrong color, weird length, those sorts of things. They just took whatever they wanted off the rack, tried it on, picked between the one or two colors it came in, and left without mom’s agonizing dressing room scrutiny or any lectures about what anyone at school would think if they saw them in that.
“Can I try some of these?” I asked.
“Sure. Knock yourself out,” Quail said. “That’s all up for grabs.”
I took a mix of things — pants and shorts of all lengths, jeans, belts, blouses, button-downs, and some things I’d never seen before on Lumeria or otherwise. Some were more feminine, but I didn’t mind. It wasn’t that I hated all things girly; I just wanted to be able to pick for myself what went with what, and to dress in that way only when I wanted to, and not to worry about who would think what. I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin, for me.
My first selection was a patterned pink pineapple button up shirt with a cute little collar, and some green and blue tartan pants that reached my ankles. It looked a bit weird with my socks and sandals, even to me, but it was comfortable, and it didn’t fit too badly either. I spent some time switching out my tops and bottoms for a while, resulting in massive stacks of clothes around me.
After sometime, the door slid open. The four of us froze, panicked we might be discovered until we realized it was Jane. She still looked exhausted, but at least now she could stand on her own, and carried with her a basket of bread and fruit, one piece dangling from her mouth.
“Morning,” she said, through bites. She took the basket over to the others, then chucked an apple toward me.
Not knowing it was coming, the apple hit me in the side. I turned to her. “Hey,” I said.
She looked at me completely agog, like she was looking at a car accident, and then between me and the adults. “Oh hell no. I refuse to be governed by Princess Socks and Sandals,” she said, her lip twinging. “Gods, why?”
My most recent attempt had been a bit more daring, with two different, very busy patterns, and a somewhat odd color combination of orange and gray. Both pieces were also much too big for me, and I’d needed a belt just to get the pants to stay up. They were still falling off my butt. I smiled, sheepishly. “Yeah, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Realization dawned on Jane’s face. “You’ve never gotten to just… try things out, have you?”
I shook my head no. “I don’t really shop for fun. At all.”
“Then carry on,” Jane said, her tone completely changed. “How can I help?”
“Well, seeing as you always think I look so bad…” I laughed. “What do you think?”
“You shouldn’t worry about what I think,” Jane said, looking guilty. “I probably shouldn’t say those things, either…”
Holding my pants up with both hands so they wouldn’t fall, I turned back to the mirror. “You can help me by making sure my bright pink ass doesn’t fall out in public.”
“Fair,” Jane said, and went to the racks herself.
Over the next few minutes I learned a few important style pointers from her, things I probably knew but hadn’t realized before, like that if you’re going to wear a busy pattern somewhere, you should try to pair it with solids to make it less overwhelming, and a little bit about what colors went with what other colors (traditionally speaking). I took all of this with a grain of salt, still preferring comfort over anything else, but many of Jane’s creations looked snazzy. I might have liked how I looked for the first time, and it was me, in things for me, not things I’d had to pilfer from my dad or a friend.
One of my favorites was a pair of brown, tapered pants with checkerboard print, in a fabric Jane called ‘tweed,’ which we paired with a black button-down shirt with three-quarter sleeves that I’d rolled up an extra time. I’d also left the top couple buttons undone, and the collar popped up. Jane even convinced me to take off my sandals, although just for a few minutes.
“Huh,” Jane said, looking me up and down. “For someone who wears socks and sandals, you clean up… good.”
“I do, don’t I?” I said, unable to take my eyes off myself.
There was a bit of silence for a moment, and I just kept looking at myself, thinking that for the first time ever, for as long as I could remember, I wouldn’t change a thing. I was happy, and my face looked it, too. What I wouldn’t have given for that moment to last forever, to never take off that outfit, and keep looking in that mirror.
Then Quail cleared his throat.
“We’re ready for you,” Legato said. “My apologies, Pietro.”
I turned back to find them holding that dress and the other things. It was time to get to work.
Kipley probably recorded about seven takes before I got anywhere close to reading the script right. I actually laughed the first few times, but even once I started to remember it I couldn’t sound authentic. I was too busy staring at myself in the mirror, at that person, Princess Lucasta. It sure as hell wasn’t me anymore…
“Let’s try this again,” Legato said, sounding a bit tired of everything himself.
Kipley was munching on an apple, a stack of cores beside her. It was probably well past lunch now, and everyone was starving.
“What’s so hard about the script?” Jane asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t know… it’s just… hard.”
“Oh yeah,” Jane said, seeming to remember. “You can’t lie for shit.” The others looked at her. “You wanna tell them about Misthee Geyser or should I?”
Kipley and Quail both snickered at the name. I blushed. That incident was the last thing I wanted to think of, but Jane was right: I was not a great liar. I’d never been. I always got nervous and then just started blurting out whatever came to mind, which was usually the truth.
“This is a mess,” I muttered. “I don’t think I can do this…”
“You can,” Legato said again. “You just have to believe it yourself.”
“Try it without the script,” Jane said. “Just talk.”
Trying to push Misty Geyser out of my mind, I took Jane’s advice. I still couldn’t help but stare at the mirror. She must’ve noticed, because she moved her chair between it and me so I could no longer see myself.
“Just let it be real,” Legato said. “You were kidnapped sixteen years ago, and now you’re free, and you want to make things right.”
Quail started filming again.
Legato’s words struck me: make things right. What would I have to make right, if I were the one kidnapped? Wouldn’t I just want to go home? I did want to go home. That was something she and I would have in common…
“Good evening,” I said, taking a pause. “You may not know who I am. My name is Lucasta Maritinius of Lumeria, and sixteen years ago I was taken from my home. Recently my captors let me go, and…” I paused again, my hand tracing over the necklace. “I am ready to go home, even though I don’t know what that means, or where home is without my family. I hope… the Worlds can help me find my way.”
The record light turned off on Quail’s home.
“That was much better,” Legato said. “We could use that.”
Quail and Kipley nodded, seeming to agree.
“Touching the necklace was a nice bit,” Jane said. “I think you can do better, though.”
I groaned. “How?”
Jane shrugged. “Seemed like you were onto something that time. What were you thinking of?”
“Things I have in common with her,” I said. “The real her. If she’s out there.”
“Well there’s your problem. You are her–so start there,” Jane said, matter-of-factly. “And then just… keep on that thought. Why is this important? Why are you making this video instead of staying quiet?”
My family was my reason. I needed that money. And I needed… more than that money, because I knew that even if I went home with all the riches in the Worlds, I’d be back where I started if the laws didn’t change, or I’d end up with some doctor drilling my brain into mush. But most importantly, I knew now that even if I was the perfect, little Petra my parents always wanted and I somehow lived an easy life back home, there were still people like Isi and her mother out there in the galaxy, and so many more people like them, just struggling to survive. It was so much bigger than me now, than my family, or even my planet. It was an entire galaxy and then some.
And there was a way that I could help.
The camera light turned on again.
“My name is Lucasta Martinius of Lumeria, and I was kidnapped when I was a baby. Recently I found my way free, and…I am alive,” I paused, tracing my hand along the necklace. “I am ready to come home to what’s left of my family and Worlds. I know I have a duty to fulfil, and I am ready to do everything I can to do it.”
“All right,” Quail said, after turning off the recording. “I’m convinced.”
Jane nodded. “I think so.”
Kipley gave a thumbs up.
Legato, at last, seemed struck. He covered his face with his hand, speechless for a moment. “Agreed,” he managed.
I chuckled, thinking he was pretending to be choked up. It was more emotion I’d ever seen from him. “Does that mean I’m done?” I asked. “I can take this thing off?”
“For now, yes,” Quail said. I began shimmying out of the dress immediately, handed it back to him, and immediately got back into my new, prized outfit. “But don’t get too comfortable. Tonight we’ll have to tell the crew… something.”
“Sweet. I’m gonna eat. And check on the Nav,” Jane said. “You wanna come, Pietro?”
I shrugged. “Sure,” I said. “Haven’t been up there yet.”
“Great. The stairs are just over here by the pool,” Jane said. “Let’s–”
“THERE’S A POOL?!” I shouted by accident, too excited to control myself. “Why did no one tell me there’s a pool?!”