Chapter Twenty

20.

0830

Wednesday the 1st 

Lunar 4, Luka 16 

Port Helsingin 

Bayside Senate Building 

Our goodbyes were painlessly swift that following morning. Jane woke up early to wish me well. Legato had something else to attend to, or so they told me, but left me a note wishing me luck. I wasn’t ready to look at him again after that awkward conversation the night before, and he probably felt the same. Anxieties about what would come next helped push the whole thing from my mind, but also inversely, the awkwardness from that helped me feel less anxious, too. I was in a sort of disaster stasis. Everything was awful, and that was okay. 

It was all going to be… okay. 

Quail and Kipley were ready bright and early, both looking distinctly unlike themselves in their disguises as Mr. and Mrs. Cliff. Quail wore a flamboyant, deep green three piece suit and patterned ascot, with a lapel pin of a great bird — common of Arya men — chained from his collar to his breast pocket. His pocket square matched his ascot, too, and his hair feathers were done up a bit spiffier than normal. Kipley wore a short black wig and a headband that covered her lobotomy scars, and colors far more subdued than normal, tan and taupe, with a long pea coat and ankle-length skirt like that I might have expected of my own mother. Her perfume was even similar: mature, modest, nothing like the shimmer body sprays she usually wore. 

The three of us left the ship in a small cruiser just outside of the Helsingin airspace, discreetly entering traffic. Quail circled a number of times to ensure no one had followed us. It felt a bit like when my Mom and Dad dropped me off for a formal field trip or something, sitting in the backseat behind the two of them up front, dangling their free hands one over the other. 

“You’ll be fine,” Quail said back to me, not taking his eyes off the spaceway in front of him. “We’ll make sure of that.” 

“But what about you?” I asked. “What if they…”

“We’ve gotten ourselves out of worse pickles, love,” Kipley said warmly. “Don’t you ever worry about us.” 

After circling a few times for good measure, Quail landed at the dock post. Four armed Corpsmen guards in their more formal, ceremonial garb met us at the dock post and swept me away in an instant. Another set took Quail and Kipley, both someplace separate. More of them, too, stayed with the cruiser we took in that morning, appearing to scrutinize it from every angle.

I hadn’t even had the chance to say goodbye. The two of them were joking on the way there, trying to ease my nerves, and then they were gone. 

The four guards led me inside the senate building and into a room that had been repurposed to look like a doctor’s office. 

“Wait here,” one of them said to me, as the other three filed out around the door. 

Eventually a doctor came in and took some blood from both of my arms, and then one of my legs, too. After that, he had me strip, and stared at me for an uncomfortably long time while he noted some things on his clipboard. Measurements were taken, too — weird ones, like of my face, and the distance between my eyes and nose, and of the size of my forehead. Once he was done, I waited there again for an uncomfortable period of time, just waiting in the nude. 

Then the door opened again.

“Get dressed,” he said, still no readable emotion on his face. “Senator Cheema will see you now.” 

“Is that it?” I asked.

“That’s it for my examination,” he said, flatly. “You have three more.” 

ψ ψ ψ

The next room I was led into had little more in it than a table and two chairs. It was empty when we arrived, the four guards fanning out into each corner. I took the seat closest to me and again waited until the door on the other side creaked open, and in came one person, alone. She was an Arya, like Quail, dressed in a beige skirt suit, with her hair neatly tied back. Like the doctor before her, her face showed little emotion. On her right palm was a strange device, a thick black glove, fitted with probes and wires. 

“My name is Arundhati Cheema. I’m the Senate Minority Leader, and I represent the fourth and sixth districts of Aryavarta,” the woman said, not looking me in the eye and she toggled with some buttons on the glove. “Please present your right hand.” 

I did as instructed, eyeing her and the device on her hand curiously. Arya like her couldn’t normally palm swap; it was something only seafolk peoples, like mine or Jane’s, could do, although a device like the one she had could approximate the experience. At first it seemed an odd choice to send her, but then it made sense. She could record whatever was in my head–or rather, whatever was in the thin membrane Quail implanted over my actual right palm the night before, without sharing anything herself. Even if she’d put her naked hand up to mine, I would see nothing. This device added some additional, extra protection, and again, no way for me to gauge any of her thoughts or feelings about the process.

Despite the artificiality of it all, I closed my eyes. Cheema didn’t. I sat there in relative silence while she pressed the glove to my hand. It seemed a longer swap (albeit one-sided) than normal, but that may have been because for me, it was simply sitting in total darkness, nothing coming back on my own end except my thoughts. 

After some time, Cheema took the glove away, and I opened my eyes. 

“Thank you. That will be sufficient,” Cheema said. Though she tried to show no emotion, I caught a glint of something in her eyes — surprise, perhaps. “Please follow me. Senator Marsh is waiting for you next.” 

Again doing as asked, I followed Cheema down a long hallway, silent apart from the echo of her heels. The four guards followed us, too, up until what looked like a larger meeting room office, one with glass doors and windows. Inside was that little old man from the video before, waiting beside an open chair for me. Cheema opened the door for me, saying nothing as she left me there.

“Come, come, sit. You must be tired, poor thing,” said the old man, the one Cheema called Marsh. His voice was airy, full of breath, and a bit raspy. In person he was even wrinklier than he’d been in the video, pale, spotted cheeks hanging down, almost to his collar, with bushy, thick eyebrows. He wore a fancy suit, one covered in dozens of military appellations, stars, and bars.   

 I didn’t say anything back, unsure if I was supposed to or not. 

“Well? Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?” he asked. 

“Oh. I… don’t know what to say, sir. I don’t have any answers, just questions. I’m sure you know more about me than I do.” 

“That I do. I most certainly do…but I do not know how you’ve come to us today, or rather, come back to us,” said Senator Marsh. Did that mean it was over, that everything worked? “Everything we’ve compiled so far is pending review, under quite careful scrutiny I might add — but it should be taken care of in just a few minutes. Until then, I was hoping we might speak.” 

My heart pounded in my chest, all the possibilities running through my mind. What if they’d seen through me already? What would happen to me then?

“I do have one question for you, young lady,” the Senator said, eyeing me closely. “How did you come to know who you are?’ 

“I just knew,” I said. “Or at least, I’m pretty sure.”

“But you seem certain,” Senator Marsh said. “Certain you are who you say you are.” 

“Of course. Who else would I be?”

“My dear, I’m sure you realize many people would be delighted to be who you say you are — and you certainly aren’t the first to come forward. You are the first to implicate kidnappers, and if that is true, then I’m sure you realize you could have been lied to. Perhaps it was all a mind game, as it was.”  

I nodded once, slowly. Like the others he didn’t display much in the way of emotion, though the way he approached the story, giving me the apparent benefit of the doubt, gave me pause. It was almost as if he was giving me one, final out, one more chance to run away from all of this. 

“I am sure that a lovely young lady such as yourself would never be dishonest of her own accord,” the Senator said. “If the results do show the more likely response, it must be because you were tricked.”

“I don’t think I was, sir,” I said, earnestly. “I… I do believe that I am her.” 

“But how can you know? She was taken from us so young, a wee little thing. She would have no memories of her time at home.” 

“I don’t. I don’t remember anything, but…” I paused, giving myself a little more time to make up what I was about to say on the fly. “I have a feeling.”

“A feeling?” 

“That I’ve always known I wasn’t who I was meant to be. Does that make sense, sir?”

“Hm. I see.” Senator Marsh’s features lifted. “And what of that odd couple that brought you here, the ones you say found you?”

“They’ve been… kind. Helpful. I don’t think they were involved,” I said. Panic rose within me at the mention of Kipley and Quail, and wondering what was happening to them, and what might have gone wrong to give him the (correct) indication that they are, well… odd. “What’s going to happen to them?” 

“They’re being questioned. For the life of me I can’t understand why they would take a video like that, rather than bring you to the authorities…or why you would agree to record it,” Marsh said, again eyeing me closely. “But I suppose an old man like me can’t understand the ways of these youngsters too much. In my day, you would’ve never seen a little Tang girl like that end up with a feathered fellow. We didn’t mix back then…”

I nodded along, careful not to let my face make the expression it wanted to. Even on Lumeria it wasn’t common to hear people say things like that in this day and age, and it made me feel weird to hear it — let alone in those words. For all of our other issues, no one my age, or even in my parents’ generation, batted an eye at an interracial marriage, or at least I didn’t think they did.       

   Much to my relief, there was a knock at the door before I had to respond to that. It was that other Senator, Cheema. She didn’t acknowledge me, only gave a slight nod from the door toward Marsh before coming forward with a set of folded papers, handed them off to him, and then retreated back from where she came. 

Marsh opened the papers within his lap and retrieved a massively thick pair of glasses from his breast pocket. After adjusting for them accordingly, he read something to himself. 

The suspense was killing me. 

“We have one more measure for you today, young lady,” he said, taking the papers into his breast pocket. “You’re nearly done. This won’t take long… do you see those tridents on that wall, there, behind you?”

I twisted in my chair, looking back over my shoulder. Sure enough, behind me, there were three tridents hanging on the wall. None of the three were particularly ornate. One appeared to be bronze, the middle pewter, and to its right, one of brass. Each had once depicted something in the etchings of the hilt, however, were now worn enough to make them difficult to make out. The bronze one was even missing a prong spike at the top, worn down with time. 

“The last task we have for you today, is for you to select one of those. You will take it with you from this room, and down the hall a bit further — but choose carefully.”    

I gulped, slowly rising from my seat. Legato and the others hadn’t mentioned anything like this…what was I supposed to do, somehow just know, instinctively, which one to take? Or to take none of them? All of them would be a bit of a challenge, so it seemed most likely that I was meant to just take one. But which? 

None of them looked particularly different from one another, or more or less ornate. The brass looked closest to gold, perhaps, which Legato mentioned was a color of the royal family, but… something told me not to take the brass, that maybe that was too obvious. Or maybe I was overthinking it. 

Between the bronze and the pewter, I had no real guesses. The bronze one looked more similar to Legato’s than the others, which made me think that maybe it should be avoided. Or maybe he’d stolen it, like the necklace. Maybe it was the right choice for some reason. 

Maybe. 

Certain now that I really was overthinking it, my strategy became to close my eyes, walk closer, and take whichever one I touched first. My fingers were shaking when I reached out, but they eventually came to rest upon something cold, and I opened my eyes. I’d grabbed the bronze trident. 

“Very well,” the Senator said, nodding. He slowly rose up from his seat in the way that old men do, and walked toward the door we’d come from, and opened it for me. “It’s just down this way.” 

I expected him to lead me, but instead, Senator Marsh let me walk first, and stopped a few paces behind me. I looked back, intent to wait for him. 

“It’s just through those doors up there,” he said. “Go on, now.”  

  Trident in hand and feeling completely alone in the universe, that path felt as though it stretched on for eternity, not for the measly few steps it took to get to the doors. Seeing that one had been part way propped open for me, I walked through without knocking. 

The room I found myself in was full of ornately crafted dark wood, forming a sort of gallery, with ascending rows of bench seating on each side of the room, which linked together to form rings going upward, all beneath a ceiling painted with murals of sea stars and mermaids in purple and gold. The seats were full of people, mostly older Ambin men, in suits. I was at the bottom, below all of the tiers of seats, in a sort of depressed, open area. There was a podium on the opposite side of the room ahead of me with two seats at it and a microphone, but no one was sitting there yet. 

Some of the people above me began to whisper, each of them keeping quiet, but together enough to fill the room with a hum. I glanced around, awkwardly waiting for someone to say something — to let me know what was happening. 

While I was looking, my eyes caught upon something that startled me. Among the sea of long hair and suits, there was one who stuck out as different: bald, with what I thought was a rack of antlers, but bony and dead, instead twisted and woven with metal, and encased in gems and stones to form a crown out of the skull of a Lumerian. It was the Queen herself. She was seated behind the podium, off to the right, and flanked on all sides by each of her five admirals. In the back corner I recognized Orias, the one who tried to flood Carthage. Thankfully, he didn’t recognize me…   

A door opened on the other side beneath the gallery, directly across from where I’d come from. Senator Marsh came out, walking slowly with his cane, along with Cheema. The two of them together filed into the podium seats. 

Cheema rose from her seat first, leaning toward the microphone. “We call into order the 11th Extraordinary Session of the Lumerian Systemic Senate, with regard to the recent viral video you have all seen,” she paused, glancing forward to me. “Please come forward and kneel.” 

I did as instructed, taking each step forward with the trident in hand, then kneeling.  

“We are pleased to report that the claims made in the video have been verified,” Cheema said. “This young woman is, in fact, Princess Lu-”

Whatever she said after that was lost in an uproar of shocked cries.   

Cheema tapped the microphone. “If we could have order, please…” 

Despite this request, it took some time for them to calm down. 

It worked. I was a princess. 

When it was finally a bit quieter than it had been, Cheema continued. “You may now rise, Princess Lucasta,” she said, and again I followed orders. “The Senate Minority Committee would like to move to examine the Articles of Royal Succession as they pertain to this happy happenstance, and to re-evaluate the criminal inquiry of murder with regard to this count against His Royal Highness, the former Prince, Eliseo.” Whispers erupted again, at this. “We now yield.” 

The old man beside her, Senator Marsh, took his microphone in hand. “The Senate Majority committee will, with reservations, permit discussions regarding the Articles of Royal Succession, if deemed necessary. As for the second proposed agenda item, we decline to revisit the crimes of the former crown prince. Reason being, four counts of murder carry the same charge and sentence as five.”      

 I was not following what was going on at that point, how we’d gotten from me to murder and how some prince got involved, but I knew enough to know that somehow, our crazy scheme had worked. It was still hitting me. I was Princess Lucasta now. And I was alive and well. 

And there was no getting out of this now.

Senator Marsh went on. “Should it be in the best interests of Lumeria, we will, of course, support an abdication from Her Majesty and the coronation of Her Royal Highness as in line with the appropriate channels. However, we would prefer to abstain from this motion until such a time as when Her Royal Highness is prepared to take on this task…” he paused, looking out to me. “Not only is she still a minor herself, but she’s only just been located. Surely she must be given time to acclimate and be reunited with her family, and to better understand her place in both the past and future of this galaxy,” Senator Marsh said. “We now yield.” 

Cheema took to her microphone again. “We would like to request that Her Royal Highness speak on this matter herself, if she is comfortable,” she said, glancing down to me. 

I did not realize she actually meant for me to speak until someone brought me a microphone. I’d never used one before. Seconds passed while I stood there holding it, unsure of what to do. When I eventually began to speak, a loud squeal emitted from it. The man who handed it to me motioned for me to hold it a bit farther from my mouth. 

“I’d just…” I paused, waiting as I heard myself echo. “I’d just like to go home, ma’am.”   

The whole room waited, as if they expected me to say more, or if it was shocking to hear me speak. I motioned for the man who gave me the microphone to take it back. 

Senator Cheema went back to her microphone. “We are prepared to support The Majority Party’s position and bring it to a vote.” 

One by one, then, the senators in the room were called upon to provide an oral vote. It felt like ages past, each one the same, all in unison — they were in agreeance. 

When the vote was finally complete, Marsh took to his microphone one final time. “We hereby close this Emergency Session of the Lumerian Systemic Session. May the suns shine on you all.”   

I stood there waiting, again, lost. Those four guards came back to take me somewhere. 

“Where are we going?” I asked. “What happened to the people who brought me?” 

“We’re going to them now,” one of them said. “Excuse me, Your Highness.”

They led me back into a small room where Quail and Kipley were waiting. We hugged, the three of us all rather emotional, albeit for much different reasons than what the Corpsmen watching us likely believed. 

“You were wonderful,” Kipley said, pulling me close. I held my head close to her chest. “Just wonderful.” 

“Well, where are you headed now?” Quail asked. “Lumeria, I presume?”

“I…I don’t know,” I said, it hitting me just then that I wouldn’t be going back to the ship with them.  

Another Corps Guard stopped by one of the ones in the door. 

“Excuse me, Your Highness,” he said, bowing to me. “Her Majesty would like to meet you.”

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