Monday the 13th
Lunar 4, Luka 16
Cloudburst – The Palace at Lumena
She hated me now, didn’t she? Hell, I kind of hated me, too.
Two whole weeks passed without word from anyone from the ship, including Jane. I hid the mirror in my bathroom drawer under all of the special soaps and makeup Eddy was trying to teach me how to use. Once a day I checked to see if anything changed with the mirror, or if it had shaken in the drawer, but no one had ever tried to come through.
I was just alone, winging it.
Deep down I was still pissed at the Worlds about what I did or didn’t do, but there was so much else I was fuming about, too, that the feelings all blended together…
The immediate fires I thought I needed to put out turned out to be much less immediate than they once seemed. My parents were still headed to death row, but the legal process was glacial. It was likely they’d stay there unscathed for decades, even if it took me that long to get them free. The good word I put in for them was enough to ensure that their case wasn’t fast-tracked, and enough to get them much better legal help, too. They were still being held without bail, but Portia and Duncan got to visit them three times a week.
The good news was Eddy saw to it that my brother and sister could live with me as long as they wanted. Even better, the Palace was footing the bill for their tuition, transportation, and everything else. Portia really was free to study whenever or wherever she liked, handy, as the acceptance letters just kept coming in. Somehow despite her entire life falling apart, Portia was holding it together, and sometimes she even seemed like she didn’t completely hate my guts.
Seldom did I get to leave Cloudburst. I had no access to media, not even a phone. Eddy said it was for my protection, but I just felt like a prisoner. Portia and Duncan had to abide by the same rules, but they at least got a break at school. Settling into my new role, for me, was just a lot of minutia with Eddy and a seemingly endless menagerie of staff and security guards.
Our days mostly consisted of tea and getting frustrated with one another. It was not going well.
It was time for our second tea of the day when Eddy met me in the foyer. This time in addition to tea, we had some mini cakes and intricately cut seashell-shaped finger sandwiches, too, while Eddy once again tried to run me through the various events coming up on my schedule. The reason it was so frustrating was because she had to stop every two seconds to explain the significance of some ritual, or some person I’d meet, or some weird little part of my day, and it was growing more and more obvious to her that I wasn’t retaining the information I was given. I was still having a hard time figuring out exactly what was important or not. Problem was? It pretty much all was.
“And we can’t forget about your presentation,” Eddy said, her smile big and wide. “I am so excited for you.”
“Presentation?” I asked, a sandwich in my mouth. “On what?”
“Not with food in your mouth, Louie,” she scolded me, not for the first time that day. “And not that kind of presentation, dear. You are being presented to the Queen and the Senate.”
“But I already met them,” I said, glancing out toward one of the many floor-length closed windows that ran down the hall. The way the suns were shining outside made it seem like a pleasant day, one I would’ve liked to enjoy.
Eddy chuckled into her hand. “Oh, no, this is much more formal. Something for the history books, that you’ll remember or the rest of your life—like a prom, but better.”
“Luckily for you, you’re far from the first young lady I’ve guided through this process, my dear,” Eddy said, still smiling fondly. “First, you’ll make a grand entrance, trident in hand, walking down the staircase while the Senate announces you, and you’ll meet Her Majesty and the Queen Mum at the bottom. Then we’ll have pictures, you’ll speak, and we’ll visit Arianrhod’s Lot and the cenotaphs of your ancestors to pay our respects. And of course, there will be a reception — two of them, actually.”
“Oh, wow,” I said, still preoccupied with the window, and hardly paying attention. “Do those open?” I asked, pointing toward them.
Eddy hesitated. “Yes, they do, but…”
I got up and went over to the window. “Then why don’t we open them?”
Eddy ran after me close behind, the click of her heels radiating back behind me. “I’m afraid that’s not—”
“Not what?” I asked, disappearing behind the drapes to find the way to open them, when a sight below caught my eye…
Beyond the fences and the security, far away in the city proper, I could see what looked like a gathering of people. Upon closer inspection, some of them were holding up signs. When the bottom panel of the window tilted open, it all came together in distant cries and unified shouts. It was a protest.
Eddy slammed the window closed again and gently tugged me away, by the wrist. “We keep them closed for security purposes, I’m afraid.”
I glanced back to the window. “Uh… what’s happening out there?”
Eddy shrugged. “This happens from time to time. It’s best not to worry about it, especially when we have so much to work on,” she said, and led me back to the area where we’d been sitting. “Anywhoo, the receptions will be good fun, I assure you! Lots of chances to meet senators and their lovely sons…”
“Right. Sure,” I muttered. “So, when do I talk to the Senate again?”
Eddy almost jumped in her seat, looking quite surprised. She sat her tea down on the table.
“You realize you don’t have to worry about that, don’t you? Not ever, if you don’t want to. I’m sure everyone would understand if–”
“But actually I want to. Maybe not immediately but… yeah. I want to.”
“Divine Lords, why? Louie, really, you’ve been through so much. I can’t imagine dragging politics into that mix.”
“Well it’s my duty, right? What I was born to do.”
Eddy reached out and caressed the back of my hand. “Yes, yes, my dear. But you weren’t born for that alone, either. You can take your time,” she said, her eyes growing a bit glassy. “The throne will still be there for you when you’re older.”
Just when Eddy looked like she was about to say something, to impart on me some great wisdom, we heard an unexpected ruckus from downstairs. One of the members of my security detail knocked on the door, then came in:
“It’s Lady Portia, ma’am,” he said, to Eddy. “She’s refusing to turn in her phone.”
Eddy shook her head. “Tsk tsk tsk. Don’t worry, Fredo. I’ll have a word with her.”
I followed Eddy down to the stairs, myself ecstatic with the possibility that I might see my sister do something rebellious for the first time in her sweet, short life. Sure enough, near the door, Portia was standing with her arms folded tight across her chest, and a frown on her face.
“Lady Portia, you know the rules,” Eddy said. “No technology or outside news.”
Portia wouldn’t relent. “I need the internet to do my homework. I’m getting behind because of all of this.”
Eddy pursed her lips. “Then perhaps we can get you to school a bit early to catch up? Or you could stay late tomorrow.”
Portia sighed. I was too far away to see, but she might have even rolled her eyes. “And what am I supposed to do? Just sit there in the library with my armed babysitter?”
“You are hardly the only person at Brooke Regina with a security detail, young lady,” Eddy retorted.
“Can she just use it outside?” I asked. “Why don’t we go for a walk?”
Portia nodded vigorously. “Yes, that would help. Divine Lords, please, Eddy! Why stay late or go early when I have so much time on my hands here?”
“Really, she has a point,” I muttered, through the corner of my mouth. “And it would be nice to go for a walk, just me and her…”
Eddy turned to me, seemingly troubled by the notion, but apprehensive to disagree. “I suppose it’s been quite a while since you went out, hm?”
“Even just on the grounds. An hour? Hour and a half?” I asked. “Just us, no extra security.”
Eddy narrowed a brow. Before she could disagree, I went on.
“There’s already security everywhere. We don’t need anymore,” I said. “Please? I’m dying in here. Portia is too.”
“Fine,” she said, audibly enough for Portia to hear it downstairs, too. “But don’t go anywhere outside of the interior gardens — none even remotely close to the palace walls,” Eddy said. “And if you’re even one minute late? I’ll come looking for you two.”
ψ ψ ψ
Portia and I took our chance the moment we had it, the two of us damn near skipping out the doors. Since we were only staying in the interior shrub gardens and there was a zero percent chance we could be seen by someone who wasn’t supposed to be there, I didn’t have to wear that awful tiara, any makeup, or even anything particularly fancy, just my regular day dress and stockings with a small heel. I could make myself be okay with it as long as I wasn’t around any mirrors.
“Freedom!” I shouted with glee, and stretched my arms high overhead to crack my back.
Portia kept her eyes on her phone. She was texting away as we walked, and scrolling through something on a video share site. “I really do have homework, I swear—two pages on the whole Lacuna thing due first thing in the morning.”
“Lacuna thing?” I asked, yawning after a particularly deep breath. “Gods, it’s so nice to feel the fresh air…”
“Yeah. Eddy’s told you, I’m sure.” Portia said, scrolling away on her phone.
I laughed. “Now there’s a good one. Eddy, telling me something? Whoa.”
Portia smirked, but not in a funny way, more like she was pissed–pissed at me. “Guess a civil war might be beneath a princess.”
“A what?” I asked, realizing. “Hold up, you said Lacuna?”
That was where Jane and the others were.
“It’s been going on for years,” Portia said, like it was no big deal, and kept scrolling. “Just surging up again lately.”
I tried to put the thought from mind, to enjoy this moment with my sister instead. I didn’t see her screen closely enough to see any faces, but I could tell she was checking up on some of her friends at school, liking posts, that kind of thing. I’d never been too big on any of that myself. Even before the princess fiasco, I’d deactivated all of my accounts ages before, around the time I got my first infraction. There were two reasons: one, because rumor had it that the authorities used sites like that to track people with infractions to see if they deserved more, and two, because everyone else at school mainly just used it as a new, creative way to say evil shit to me. Portia didn’t have to worry about those things, or at least, she hadn’t. Now I had to wonder, the way she froze over certain messages with a sad look on her face…
“So how are you doing?” I asked. “I mean, like, really.”
Portia shrugged. “Decent. Never thought our parents would be the ones I’d be visiting in prison, but I’m dealing.”
I bit the inside of my cheek. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Portia said somberly, though she didn’t sound too convinced of that herself. “Duncan and I get to see them again tomorrow, so that’s…good.”
“Yeah. That is,” I whispered, glancing away. I wanted to ask more about them and how they were doing, but I was almost afraid to know. “You get any more acceptance letters? Looks like you’ve been getting a lot of mail lately.”
Portia froze up all at once. If the air between us was awkward before, this was a whole new level of tension. She shifted her glance away from me, then cleared her throat. “Actually, two of my offers were… rescinded,” she said, a bitterness to her words that made it apparent it was my fault.
“No. No way,” I said sternly. “They can’t just–”
“Turns out they can.” Portia got close to my face, hot anger coloring her cheeks. Her tired eyes were empty, deep bags beneath them. “It’s fine. I still have options.”
“No. It’s not fine.” I was near spitting. “You got the grades. You were admitted–it shouldn’t matter if–”
“Well it does, okay?” Portia whispered, turning away again. “I don’t want to talk about it…”
The two of us walked on in silence for quite a while, making several laps of the interior gardens before either one of us said anything or even looked at each other again. Fighting back tears, my mind kept vaulting between fury and schemes of how to fix this. Fuck. College was all Portia ever dreamed of from the time we were kids. It was bad enough that I ruined our home, our family… how could I take this from her, too? I couldn’t. I couldn’t live with myself. There had to be some damn thing I could do–someone I could talk to, or… I don’t know.
Eventually she was the first to speak, still scrolling away. “School’s still the same old, same old,” she said, flatly. “Everyone’s just in a tizzy that it turned out to be you of all people. A lot of kids are saying your infractions and everything were a cry for help, to show how Mom and Dad stole you.”
I cringed. “Hm. Gross.”
“Fisk’s definitely the weird one out over it,” Portia said, still not looking up from her phone. “Amazing how that tide changed. Everyone used to be all, ‘ohh, Poor Ian, that weird girl hurt you…’ — but now he can barely show his face. He’s been out a lot lately. I think his parents took him offworld for a bit, till things cool down.”
That made my soul feel just a tiny bit lighter. Justice was served.
“It’s a bit of a shame, really. Most of his friends turned on him, tried to make it out like he was the only one ever after you like that…”
I blew out a puff of hot air. “Uh, yeah. It was half the school.”
“More than half,” Portia muttered. “Of course, now they all love you. That’s half of the news you’re missing–lots of girls I’ve never even heard of claiming to be your best bestie.”
“Great. Do I even want to guess what the other half is?”
“Our parents being treasonous monsters. Read a great one today at lunch. Apparently they used to keep us hung up by our ankles and flail us.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s Mom for you.” I rolled my eyes. Our parents never even spanked us or raised their voices, let alone beat us. They were so peace-loving and hippy-dippy we barely ever ate any meat.
Portia changed the subject before I could ask more. “Can I ask you something? What do you do here by yourself all day?”
“Talk to Eddy. Do homework,” I muttered. “Some of it makes me miss school.”
“What kind of homework is it?” Portia asked. “I thought all you were doing was etiquette and stuff so far.”
“I am,” I muttered. “She gives me all these scenarios and things. Like, ‘Describe the position you put your utensils in to signify you’ve finished your meal.’”
“Side by side on the right, fork lower, bottoms up,” Portia said, without skipping a beat. I looked at her like she was crazy. “What? We learned that at school.”
Maybe she did, but my lazy ass always took my lunch plates back in a messy stack. Eddy was lucky I didn’t just say screw it and eat with my hands.
“Give me another. These are sort of fun,” Portia said, smiling. It was the first time I’d seen it in a long time. How could I not oblige?
“Okay. How about… ‘What does it mean when a lady receives a purple orchid?’”
“That her husband’s passed,” Portia said. “Usually a potted one is preferable to a bouquet as a memorial, so it can be placed in the heart of his stone ship.”
I made a face at her. “You’re scaring me.”
“What? Flower language was a fascinating elective,” Portia said, earnestly. “And this is so much better than writing that report.”
I thought hard for another example, one that really stumped me. Portia was a perfect knowledge base for this kind of crap, and she even liked it, too. She’d always been good at people and little rules like this. It occurred to me then that her wealth of knowledge might come in handy in another area of my life…
I cleared my throat. “Okay. Next one. So, suppose a lady wants to kiss. How does she show that?”
“OoOoOh. Now there’s a fun one. Do you mean like a ‘Lady’, or like, any woman?”
“Both,” I said, genuinely curious. I didn’t realize there would be a difference.
“It depends on her relationship with him,” Portia said, imagining a man into a scenario where I didn’t want one. “If they’re a couple, or married? She could just smile. Maybe initiate it herself.”
“And if they’re not?” I asked. “And maybe they’d like to be?”
Portia grinned, twisting her shoulders in a sort of cheeky half-dance. “Ooh la la, Petra. I like this,” she said coyly, and flicked me on the shoulder. “Well, she might get very close, maybe touch him — stick her chest out a bit when he’s near. Stares across a room. Maybe she touches her hair, looks down at his lips…”
Jane had done some of that. I might have done some of that, too. Fuck, I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention to me. I didn’t know there were all these little tells. It was like a whole other damn language.
“And that’s not just for the rich and famous. Normal people do this stuff, too. The rules are just more lax for us–er, for me, not for you. Not anymore, anyways,” Portia said, releasing a nervous chuckle. “See, if it were me? I’d just suggest he ask me to go on a date or something, catch a movie. Theatres are great for making out. But I’m guessing that’s not the answer Eddy’s looking for.”
I was quiet for a moment, trying to terse out in my head which parts of that actually applied to my situation with Jane. Did it change things that we weren’t a man and a woman? Shit, that I wasn’t either one? That she was trans? That she was a pirate? Neither of us fell into the category of ‘normal people’ in any sense of the word, so I knew I had to take all of this with a grain of salt. Still, Portia’s guess was better than mine…
“So, hypothetically, if she were to do some of those things and then not follow through, what would the other person think?”
Portia let out a guffaw. “Oh, that she was a tease, for sure. It’d be mixed signals galore. But it depends on a lot of things, too, like where they are, if they’re alone, what they’re looking for…”
“Well, what if they’re not a couple, but they are alone?” I asked. “What if they’re just friends, but she asks him or he asks her to stay when they’re about to go?”
Portia stopped dead in her tracks, clenching up. “Does Eddy really ask you things like this? Divine Lords,” she said, looking a bit embarrassed. “It’s hard to imagine any woman being that… forward.”
Portia nodded once; a grave seriousness was evident on her face. No one else was around, but she raised a hand to cover her mouth, like she was whispering a secret. “Most men wouldn’t try that approach, either. It would be… extremely inappropriate.”
I wasn’t getting where she was coming from.
“Well, think about it. If she asks him to stay–or he asks her–what are they staying for?” Portia said, still hiding her face. “The implication is usually not just to…”
My face changed at the realization more than kissing was now involved. “Oh. Even if they’ve never been at all…they’ve never even kissed?”
Portia laughed outright. “Then to me, it would look like the one who asked–and I presume it was the man in this scenario–only wanted one thing, that he didn’t really care for her at all. She’d probably never hear from him again after, and if she got pregnant? She’d be the one with the infractions.”
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Was that what she meant when she said that bit about ‘getting caught in bed with the Crown Princess’? Shit. I thought she meant it literally, because we were sitting on my bed. Granted, maybe trying to kiss someone when you’re half-naked in bed already is… shit.
Was that why she was waiting for me to make a move, to figure out if I really meant…what it looked like I meant? No wonder she hadn’t talked to me, and she looked so sad and confused!
I felt myself go beet red, unable to hide how beyond mortified and embarrassed I was.
Portia snapped her fingers, as if she realized something. “I see. I get it now!” Panic rose in me, thinking I’d been found out. “That Eddy is a smart one. She’s trying to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of, teaching you about this stuff. Bless her.”
I laughed, loud and awkward, deep from my chest. Oh, yeah. Eddy’s trying to help me not get taken advantage of, all right, while I’m over here taking advantage of someone else.
Before I could respond, Portia let out a strange, muffled squeal. It happened fast, but I saw it: a flash of rainbow, green–fishnets. Kipley had jumped out from one of the bushes and grabbed her, covering her mouth to keep her quiet, which meant–
The same thing happened to me, and then something bonked me in the back of the head…and that weird feeling came over me again…