Chapter Twenty-Seven

27. 

Monday the 13th 

Lunar 4, Luka 16

Onboard The Neptune’s Rhapsody

Somewhere in the Dimensional Divide

You’d think I’d be used to having my insides torn apart and then redistributed through time and space by now. I wasn’t. Portia’s wits returned to her first. She must’ve presumed we were being kidnapped for real, because she was ready to go down fighting, like I’d never seen her before.  

“You won’t get away with this!” Portia cried, sticking a finger in what she probably thought was Quail’s face. She was blindfolded, so she was standing in completely the wrong direction. She’d pulled up her sleeves, and although she’d never hit anyone in her life, I thought she might. “I’ll…I’ll protect her with my life!”

Quail looked terribly amused. “Aw. Is this one your sister?” he whispered to me. “She’s adorable.”

I slapped at him for getting near me, still furious with the lot of them.  

Kipley came up behind Portia and hugged her gently from behind. “Darling, listen here. We’re just going to have you take a wee little nap,” she said, putting something that looked like a band-aid on her arm. “I promise you’ll feel much better later.” 

Before Portia or I had even realized what was happening, she was getting wobbly on her feet, a bit woozy. “P-Petra…?” she managed, before falling completely limp in Kipley’s arm.

“Whoa, whoa–what the hell?” I demanded, grabbing my sister from her. She was limp in my arms. “What the hell did you do to her?!”

Kipley winked at me. “Don’t worry. It’s just a little sedative. Zero side effects, and she won’t remember a thi–”

“YOU DRUGGED MY SISTER?!” I shrieked, holding Portia tight. 

Quail sighed into his hand. “It’s my fault. I thought she was one of the palace goons.” 

“And we couldn’t exactly leave her…” Kipley said, reaching up to scratch her nose. “Maybe just tell her she stumbled and bumped her head, or–”

“Don’t you ever–ever come near my sister again,” I hissed, the deepest, most seething anger I ever felt seeping out of me. My body was shaking. “Do what ever you want to me, but don’t ever come near Portia or Duncan. Ever.”   

“I can work with that,” Kipley said, as cheerful as ever. “But if it’s anybody else? All bets are off.” 

That should’ve been it, right then and there. I should’ve taken that stupid mirror, figured it out, and gotten us back to Lumeria — maybe after strangling the two of them first. It was half a joke that ran through my head as the two of them helped me carry Portia over to one of the lunch benches in the great room, but with the anger surging through me, part of me wondered if I did have it in me — if I could’ve killed a person if I needed to, if someone ever really hurt my brother or sister. 

One of them ran and got her a pillow while I sat with her, cupping her cheek. She seemed okay, like she was just sleeping, and she was breathing normally. Mealtime was well over and put away, but the tables and benches were still out, although the ship was otherwise deserted. No one else was around.   

“I am sorry,” Quail began, reaching out for me. I swatted his hand away, hard. “It won’t happen again.” 

“You’re damn right it won’t,” I spat, darkly. 

“What would you have preferred us do?” Quail asked. “Do you honestly think she’d be able to handle the truth?”

No. Portia would never forgive me. She wouldn’t forgive me as it was, but if she knew… I bit down on the inside of my cheek, hard, and folded my arms across my chest. Portia was too straight-laced to ever know any of it. She’d try to turn me in, and who knew what the Queen would do to her then? My blood felt like acid, the fury in me freezing all of the sudden — not disappearing, but getting pushed back to where it needed to stay for now…

“Where is everybody?” I asked, folding my arms tight over my chest. “And why am I here?”

“Still on Lacuna,” Kipley said, with a sigh. “We’ve had a little… setbacky-back.” 

“Yeah, Portia was just telling me about a civil war?” I muttered, wanting to add: before you freaking drugged her. 

“That’s what makes it such a great spot for something nefarious,” Quail murmured. “Amazing what you can cover up with war.”  

“There’s something going on there, all right, we just can’t figure out what…apart from that it’s evil,” Kipley added. 

I glanced around, still defensive. “Is he around?”

“Captain doesn’t leave the ship,” Quail said, with a sigh. “And really, Pietro, this will be much easier if you get over it…” 

“Fat chance,” I grumbled.  

As if his name somehow summoned him, Legato announced himself with a knock on the metal bow of the corridor entrance leading towards The Captain’s Quarters. “Welcome back,” he said to me, before his eyes swept over Portia. “Ah. Your sister?”

I stepped in front of Portia as if to somehow protect her, snoring there and drooling on the bench. “She’s already been through enough today, thank you very much.” 

Legato held his hands up, as if to suggest he was harmless. “Just asking. I was relived to hear on the news that you were able to take them in. Are they adjusting well?”  

He was the last person I wanted to talk about Portia or Duncan with. “Yeah, it’s peachy. It just keeps getting worse and worse–”

“Moving on,” Quail said, waving a hand at the two of us, like he was somehow trying to disperse some of the tension I was radiating. “What’s your impression of things in the Palace so far?”

“My impression?” I shrugged. “Lots of security. Corpsmen everywhere. I can barely piss on my own.” 

“We know!” Kipley nodded. “First place we wanted to try to nab you was the shower. Figured you’d at least get ten minutes alone that way.”

I squinted at the two of them. “A little warning would be great, guys. And a little privacy.” 

“And I presume Eddy is keeping you marvelously busy with tea and things of that sort? Tutoring?” Legato asked. 

“Ugh, yes.” I hid my face in my hands. “Don’t remind me.” 

Legato grinned. “Ah, yes. I remember those days… she has a whole separate curriculum for men, I assure you.”

“Hang on. You know her?” I asked. “Like personally?”

“Of course. She was… the former Queen’s Head of Staff, too,” Legato said, glancing away. He cleared his throat, something in his words awkward for him to get over. “She tutored my brother and I as children. She was like a second mum.” 

“Your Mum, The Queen. Just, The Queen of Lumeria,” I murmured, still unable to get that thought out of my head. His mother. His mother he murdered. I shook my head. “Yeah, she’s not so bad. It’s the security that’s hard to deal with.” 

“What’s this presentation that’s coming up?” Kipley said, while scrolling through her phone. “Might be a good oppor-tune-a-titty.” 

Legato piped up. “She gets introduced to the Senate, and to Her Majesty’s Court. Happens to all young women of the blood.” 

I glared at him. “No one asked you.” 

Quail and Kipley exchanged an uncomfortable glance.   

Legato chuckled to himself, grinning. “Like it or not, sister dear, you need my help to get through this. No one else knows about this World the way I do.”

I got a chill when he called me that. As much as I hated it, he was right. “Fine. What’s the presentation about?”     

“Traditionally, it means you’re ready to be married off, but I don’t think anyone’s expecting that of you right now,” Legato said. They sure as shit better not be. “It’s a formality. An excuse to spend taxpayer money–and a worthless one, at that. But you’ll undoubtedly be given a chance to speak again–one we could use to our advantage.” 

“Right now, it looks like the Senate’s shelved any succession talks at least until you turn twenty,” Quail said. 

I about fell over. “FOUR YEARS? Four years of this?!” 

“More like three and a half,” Kipley said. I glared at her. “What? Just being fair.” 

Legato cleared his throat. “If we could grease the wheels a bit, we’d like to get the ball rolling–even if it isn’t tomorrow, the Worlds should know that you want this.” 

“Exactly. You’ve got to make the point known,” Quail said. “Explicitly, clearly known.”

“Any ambiguity could be seen as a polite lack of interest,” Legato said, glancing between me and Quail. “So as hard as this is, you want to make the Senators your best friends.” 

“Do any of them not like me?” I asked, perplexed. “I thought I was everybody’s dear, precious little princess.” 

Legato snapped a finger and pointed at me. “That’s the precise problem. Marsh stalled things by giving you ‘time to recover’ and ‘learn,’” he paused, putting finger quotes around each of the things I’d heard at the senate that day. “Don’t fall for it. Him and his ilk favor the old guard — Luka, and her policies — everything you’re against. He’ll find any excuse he can to avoid putting a young woman on the throne.”  

“Cheema, on the other hand? You could get somewhere with her,” Quail said, pointing to a picture on his phone. It was that lady senator I’d met with, the one who’d palm swapped me, looking furious and strong behind a pulpit. “The Senate Minority already loves you, for all the reasons the others don’t. Problem is, there’s not enough of them alone to matter.” 

Cheema, huh? She seemed kind enough. Most of this political garbage going way over my head. I’d failed my politics and government class the year before for asking too many of the wrong questions, so I didn’t really follow what any of it meant, apart from that it was going to be tedious. 

“Soooo… what do I do, exactly?” I asked.

“Talk about politics. Rub elbows. Make friends,” Kipley said, as if it were nothing. “Show you care, that you’re brilliant and ready for this–which you are, love.”

I tried to hide a smile. Brilliant isn’t something I would call myself ever, but Kipley clearly believed it.     

Quail had a fist under his chin, deep in thought. “Maybe start with something center of the line–things everyone agrees on. Clean water, clean air, that kind of thing. Try to get in with the movers and the shakers on that.”    

“What about the infractions?” I asked. “Or the Lumerians? The re-education camps?”

“What, real change?” Kipley blew a stray hair out of her face. “Crazy talk.”  

Legato and Quail exchanged an uneasy glance. 

“We would like that too, but…” Quail paused, clearing his throat. “I’m afraid that might make people think you’re too radical.” 

“It’s radical to not want people to get their brains turned into goo for the wrong haircut?” I asked, flatly. “For real?”

Legato waved a hand. “You’re preaching to the choir, kid. But that’s what you have to deal with — and you need to make friends before you can make demands.” 

That made sense out of any of it. I still felt a certain uneasiness. I wasn’t exactly an expert at making people like me, let alone a bunch of old men, the same ones writing the laws that got me in this mess to begin with.  

“Okay. I’ll give this a shot,” I muttered, and breathed a sigh through my teeth. “Didn’t think this would be so… weird.” 

“It’s just like a game of chess,” Legato said, smirking. “Strategic, but eventually you take their Queen, and it’s all over.” 

Quail shot him some finger guns, and Kipley smiled. All three of them seemed real proud of that pun, a little prouder than I would’ve advertised if I already murdered one Queen.  

“But it’s about time you head back,” Legato said, to me. “I’m sure Eddy will look for you before long.” 

Kipley readied the mirror, aiming to chuck it at me again.

I held up my hands to stop her. “Wait! No!” I shouted. “Not yet!” 

“What is it?” Legato asked. 

If I was going to keep this up and going to lose so much for it, I needed to know more. I needed to know everything: both from the Queen, and from Legato.     

“I am—eugh, I am so damn tired of being in the dark all the time! I’m not leaving until you answer me. Tell me everything. Everything.” I bit my lip, glancing away. “You both have a story. If you want me to believe yours, you have to give me a little more.” 

More?” Legato said, flatly. “Pietro, there’s an awful lot that even I don’t know.” 

“Fine, but what you do know, I want to know. I want you to show me,” I said, lifting my hand.

Both Quail and Kipley stepped back, surprised. 

“You’ve got like, five minutes, tops,” Quail said, flatly. “Up to you, boss.” 

Legato hesitated for a moment before responding: “Very well. But I have to warn you, Pietro, it’s not a–”

“Believe me, I know,” I muttered, taking a seat on the couch where we’d palm swapped before. “I just… need to know.” 

Legato took a seat beside me and showed his uplifted hand, waiting for me to do the same. “Then I won’t hold anything back.” 

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