Thursday the 1st
Lunar 10, Cascade 33 — Sixteen Years Ago
Bayside Senate Building
I was the only one who survived.
Based on the case the courts presented, I wouldn’t for much longer.
It was all my fault. I had started the fire, they said, in a… drug-induced rage, surprise to no one. I killed my mother with my bare hands and locked the girls and all of the servants in their rooms. They all died. Smoke inhalation or… being burned alive. And the baby… the baby was gone, too. They didn’t find her bones like the others, but apparently given her age this wasn’t abnormal. The fire was hot enough to leave no trace.
But… why? Why would I have done–why did I–do such a thing?
I couldn’t remember wanting to, or planning it. Even when I cursed my fate and my duties, I never…I never resented mother or–or the girls. Gods, no. I didn’t want to believe it, the truth was written in my face. With each passing day as my wounds healed and the inflammation decreased, everyone could see that they weren’t burns but deep grooves, scratches. Five fingers worth of claws and fin marks dragged down my face, neck, and chest, matched by the investigators to my mother’s hands. She struggled for her life but I…. I…
I wanted to deny it, fight it, but I couldn’t. Why bother? Was there a point? I had nothing left–nothing–not a damn thing worth defending myself for. I just wanted the end to come, to join them, and quickly.
The trial lasted only seven days.
No witnesses came to my defense, and I was given no attorney to speak on my behalf. No one would do the job, they said. A total of thirty-three people came to testify against me: former classmates, servants, even my own father. They tried to call Eddy to testify for the prosecution, too, but she respectfully declined. That said, she didn’t volunteer to testify for me, either.
At the conclusion of the seventh day, like each of the others, I stood in chains and a straightjacket before the Senate as they reviewed the final, gory details: burned bodies, bones, photos of half-burnt doors and ornate crown molding covered in scratches from people trying desperately to survive, and analyses of my own face.
With the final bang of the gavel, Marsh, the Senate Majority Leader retook the podium to call my trial to a conclusion.
“Your Royal Highness Crown Prince Eliseo di Maritianius… this is the last time you will ever be called by that name,” Senator Marsh began, looking down on me from the podium. “Your titles will be stripped of you today, in accordance with the consequences of your actions. Per the orders of this tribunal and the requests of your father, our beloved King, you are to receive the golden infraction mark most high, and to be exiled from Lumeria and her planetary boundaries, for a period of time from now until your natural death which, with any luck, will come quick in the void of space on this afternoon, Thursday the 1st, Lunar 10, Cascade 33. We hereby draw this session to a close. May the suns shine on you all and may we as a people–a galaxy– put this tragedy behind us now that the hand of justice has been served.”
ψ ψ ψ
Senator Marsh and his team led me to the armory nearby, where systemic senate infractions are prepared. Unlike the rest of the senate hall, it’s drab lack of paint and exposed metal grates and piping made it feel more like an industrial ship. The receding airlock wall that led into the void of space didn’t help.
I don’t know if I’d ever imagined what the last thing I’d see would be, but it hadn’t been this.
An unfamiliar scent filled the air, one metallic and strange. The source was a vat of some gold-like substance, swirling in the center of the room. Beside it was a bot, with a special tool attached to one of his arm tendrils. It wasn’t like the usual infraction device, more like a mold about the size of a golf ball.
Senator Marsh, behind me, pushed me forward. “His Majesty has requested that a tracking device be included, Bot.”
“Tracking, sir?” One of the Senate’s Aides asked.
“So that his remains can be located,” said the Senate Majority Leader. “So they may be destroyed.”
“…Understood, sir,” said the Aide.
I couldn’t turn to face them in my chains, so instead I stared straight ahead. “Is my father coming?”
“We insisted he stay home, for his safety,” said Senator Marsh. “He sends his regrets that he couldn’t be the one to brand you himself.”
The bot took a step closer toward me. “Do you have any last words?” it asked. “I am prepared to record.”
I said nothing.
The bot continued. “The rest of you can watch from the observation deck. Once the infraction mark is placed, the hatch will open, and the prisoner will enter the void.”
With a cool release of air, the doors leading back into the senate hall opened, and the others left with nothing but the echo of their footsteps remaining. The infraction bot latched itself onto the side of the vat and attached its feet to the floor, then reached down into the swirling substance with its mold attachment. The substance bubbled as it began to take shape, cooling enough to have form. Another attachment arm clamped my body in place and my head straight, then pried my eye open wide and plunged the molten ball into place.
With each of the nerves burning away, the pain was less than what I imagined it would be. The searing sensation was one of pressure and cold, overpowered by the scent of molten metal mixed with the sizzle of my skin and tissue. I still screamed out. A cold and clamminess took over my body instantly, as I began to shake. My screams reverberated back to me until the hatch opened, and out I was thrust into the soundless, pressure-filled void, to what should have been the end.
But it wasn’t.
Sometime later I awoke to find my body had landed on a passing garbage barge.
What a fitting end for me, huh?
I laid there in horrific pain, every inch of my body fluxing between agony and non-sensation, wondering when the end would come. I passed in and out of consciousness for many hours, perhaps even days, but I never seemed to die, always waking up from that same dream of running with the girls on the beach to the horrible realization that I had not left my body behind yet to join them. At the same time, I could feel that I wasn’t really alive anymore, either. I was just… there. Floating through space, waiting for my body to give out one final time.
At long last, the barge came to dock upon some satellite somewhere, though I could not discern where, or move on my own. I don’t know how long I waited there in that position until finally, I heard some strange thing rustling in the garbage near me, and then a shriek of horror.
“Divine Lords!” Came a shout. “A-a body?”
Something tapped me on my shoulder, then down my back.
“Poor guy. The Corps must’ve gotten him good,” said the voice. “No wallet. Damn.”
I rustled and tried to turn over, and whoever it was began to shriek, realizing that I was still alive.
ψ ψ ψ
Monday the 13th — Present Day, Present Time
Lunar 4, Luka 16
Onboard The Neptune’s Rhapsody
Somewhere in the Dimensional Divide
“Enough with the sappy hand holding!” Kipley’s screeching voice came, wavering my focus. “The kid’s waking up already!”
The swap must have lasted longer than I’d known, not surprising, given all I had to share. Our false princess’ focus remained steady, their brow furrowed with worry and confusion until I took my hand away. They shuddered, gasping with shock before falling to tears. My agonies from the swap must’ve still been surging through them, the way they wept. Pietro brushed some snot and tears out of the way with a balled fist, then reached up to scratch their head, as if to try to hide that they’d done it — but I knew. I knew what was in that head of theirs. Perhaps they had gotten the answers they wanted, though I couldn’t imagine how. I’d spent a lifetime gazing back upon those same moments and was never satisfied.
They tried to speak, gazing up at me. A newfound bit of empathy seemed to prick their eyes.
“There’s no time,” I said, before they could get a word in. “You’ve got to return with your sister.”
Pietro was silent, gawking at my face — my eye — more openly than usual. “I’m… sorry.”
“Go. Give Eddy my…” I stopped, realizing. “Well, I suppose that’s not the best idea. Just try not to drive the old woman insane, would you? We put her through enough.”
My attempt at levity only made Pietro all the more stricken, so I decided to say nothing more. I led them back to Kipley, Quail and the girl. Indeed she appeared to be waking, and it was well-past time to return the both of them to solid ground.
“Gods, what’d you do to the kid?” Quail asked, motioning at Pietro.
“Just chatting,” I said, as Kipley loaded the sleeping girl into Pietro’s arms. “Cheer up, Princess. Try to enjoy your party. Just keep following the plan and everything will turn out fine.”
“But when will I see you again?” Pietro begged, tears still filling their eyes as they held onto their sister for dear life. “When will I–”
“Don’t worry, Princess,” I said. Kipley readied the mirror to send them home. “We all come back eventually.”