The First Name
Our interview ended at that moment. The Queen's presence left just as light flooded the chamber ahead. Shielding my eyes against the brightness and a stab of pain in my head, I blinked my way toward the opening, the Queen's padd now in my travel sack. As I neared the light, it turned out to be a door that better suited my human form. I pondered why the Queen would need such a place down here when she had her own illustrious quarters above in the main city. Shrugging, I walked through the door into a small chamber, my travel sack flung over my back. The walls wore a soft gold color, save for the left wall, which wore a deep red. The floor lay bare. Two chairs sat to my right near the wall, small, lighted alcoves over each feeding soft light up toward the ceiling. A desk stood to my left, a single book lying open atop it. My eyes widened at the sight of the ancient tome. It appeared to be a religious text, translated into the Ancient tongue.
"So, not as ancient as you seem," I whispered, looking over the script and lifting the edge to see the binding. "Still, old enough."
I set the edge of the book back down and moved back in front of the desk. Another door stood opposite the one I'd entered. Stepping near caused it to slide open, revealing a larger living chamber. A single table with two benches stood in the center. To the right I saw what appeared to be a kitchenette, to the left a sitting area with a large, leather sofa. The book had been one thing, a leather sofa altogether another. I stepped near and ran my hands along the smooth, dark-brown surface. A window stood beyond the sofa, and I forgot entirely about what my hands touched.
Beyond the window, the blinding core shone far below. Above, giant broken stalactites reached down from the bottom of our shell toward the world's center like the teeth of some horrific monster. Each hung like a pillar, massive in girth, and disappeared at the top into the broken, solid, land mass floating in the heavens. In the distance, another smaller shell orbited. This close to the core, several, similarly sized shells orbited in proximity to each other. Ours was one of the lowest. Far above lay much larger shells, some filled with large populations of people. I stepped around the sofa toward the glass, stunned at the beauty our broken world offered us.
"I see you enjoy the Queen's view," a quiet voice said from behind me.
My head spun, shame rising up at my intrusion. There stood a beautiful woman, red hair hanging over one shoulder in a long braid, blue-silver eyes on me, small red lips formed into a smile. She wore a rich, bright green dress that clung close to her svelte form, sleeves just reaching beyond her shoulders, collar cut to accentuate her neckline. At her waist, she'd cinched a simple yet elegant gold belt. One of her thin eyebrows arched slightly.
"Nothing to say?" she asked.
I coughed and bowed my head. "Forgive my intrusion, High One. The door opened and I assumed the Queen meant for me to enter."
"Yes, she did, or you wouldn't be here," the woman said, moving around the room to join me by the window. "So, are you enjoying the view?"
I looked back outside to avoid staring at the newly arrived woman. "Yes, it's amazing what beauty this shattered world offers us now."
The woman let out a long breath. "Yes, it is."
I looked over at her to find the woman staring out the window, her eyes moist. She blinked, and a tear fell down her cheek.
"High One, are you all right?"
She nodded, wiping at the tear. "Lost in memory, is all. And please, don't call me that."
"What do I call you?"
She smiled, a pleasant, welcoming thing. "Micaela."
My eyes darted toward the door. "As in, the Micaela on my list?"
"List?" she asked, her brow furrowing.
The Queen's warning fluttered to the surface. "You were invited here, yes?" She nodded. "Your name was on a list of guests."
"Are we expecting more?" she asked, looking around the room.
I shook my head. "The Queen didn't tell me that much."
"Pardon, but who are you?"
My face flushed as my head bowed. "Apologies, High One, my name is Logwyn."
"Logwyn," she said, reaching out to put a hand on my shoulder. My eyes lifted to hers, blue-gray with flecks of green in them. "My name is Micaela. Call me that."
"So formal," she muttered, dropping her hand and looking around the room. "You people are all so stiff."
A frown twisted my mouth. "Excuse me?"
She waved a hand at me as her eyes took in the sofa. "Never mind." She moved nearer the piece of furniture. "I've always loved this piece."
"You've been here before?"
Micaela nodded. "On several occasions. My duties keep me away, but I visit whenever possible."
"Did you wait long?" I asked, thinking of my delay to look at the book in the foyer.
"No, the Queen sent for me recently, and I'd only just arrived," the woman said, moving to sit on the sofa. "Please, join me."
Easing myself onto the priceless piece of furniture, a small part of my mind wondered if the Queen had fabricated it, too.
"Did she mention the reason for her summoning you?"
The woman shook her head. "I just arrived," she said, lowering her voice, her eyes darting about. "She's a bit paranoid about certain things."
A glance around the room revealed a lack of any Ancient technology. "Yes, the network."
Micaela arched an eyebrow, tilting her head as she did. "A bit more than just the network, but that'll wait till later." She looked at my sack. "That's an odd thing to see one of you carrying around."
My hand gripped my travel sack tight. "They have their use."
"Agreed," Micaela said, smiling. "But as most of you tend to stay in your blessed form."
My eyes dropped to the floor, hands shifting to the edge of my sack.
"How long has it been since you tried?" Micaela asked. When I looked up at her, brow furrowed, she went on. "The blessing. How long since you tried to take the form?"
"Fifteen cycles, High One." My mind wandered off. She frowned at the moniker but didn't say anything, so I continued. "There's been no reason to try again."
I shook my head. "I failed and missed the blessing. Seems moot to try again or pine over it. Not all of us are that lucky."
Her silence drew my attention. She sat there, eyes locked on me, a frown on her face.
"Did my words offend you, High One?" I asked, bowing my head.
"Besides your refusal to call me by name? No, they're just confusing." Micaela waved a hand at me. "My apologies, you don't want to talk about it." Her eyes narrowed as she looked out the window. "It's just a different way of thinking."
Another moment of silence followed. I shifted the sack and felt the mysterious box move inside. Pursing my lips, my mouth opened to speak, then stopped, uncertain of how to proceed.
"Out with it," Micaela said, her eyes turned back to me. "I know a question when I see one."
"Might you tell me a bit about you?" I asked, putting on my best smile in hopes of hiding my nervousness. "You know, your story? I'm a scribe, and taking notes on people is my hobby."
It sounded plausible to me.
"My story?" She glanced over my shoulder toward the foyer. "Is this her idea?"
Attempting to feign confusion didn't fool Micaela.
"It is." She shook her head and chuckled. "Dragged me all the way down here to have me talk." She scrunched her nose slightly. "It's not a tale I like to tell." She glanced at my hands gripping the edge of my pack. "You've got what you need to hear my story tucked away in that sack of yours."
There didn't seem to be any point in hiding that fact, so I pulled the padd out from the sack. I placed it between us and activated the recording software.
"It's unclear what we're supposed to be recording, but the Queen did seem adamant it happen."
Micaela smiled. "She usually is when she sets her mind to something." She glanced at the padd. "So, just talk? Now?"
I waved her on. "By all means."
The woman nodded, her eyes wandering back to the window. My back began to hurt, and shifting on the sofa didn't help. Micaela noticed and nodded at the table.
"Would you be more comfortable there?"
I glanced at the table and fingered my sack. "Maybe."
Soon, we sat across from each other at what turned out to be solid wood table. My hands ran along the surface, marveling at the feel.
"You don't see much wood around here," Micaela stated, eyes twinkling with a smile.
"It's so rare these days," I whispered. "Trees vanished long ago, you know. The fact that some of this still exists is amazing. This must have cost the Queen a fortune."
Micaela nodded, looking down at the table. "You have no idea," she whispered.
My eyebrow arched at her. She smirked and shook her head.
"Where were we?" she asked, waving a hand at my padd on the table.
"You were about to start telling me your story."
"That's a broad topic. Maybe be a bit more specific."
I pursed my lips, searching for the right words. In the end, boldness seemed the best option.
"The network is breaking, or so the Queen believes. She thinks I can help her figure out the reason."
“Perspective,” Micaela muttered.
She nodded. "Outside perspective. You said you're a scribe?" It was my turn to nod. "So, outside perspective coupled with a curious mind used to noticing details."
I frowned and looked down at the padd. "She gave me some other names along with yours."
"I'll bet she did," Micaela stated, running a flat hand across the table. "One is Quentin, yes?"
Our eyes locked. "Do you know where he is?"
Her head moved up and down, very slowly. A tremor of emotion broke through her clearly practice calm.
"He's dead," she whispered.
I frowned again. "How am I supposed to talk to someone who's dead?"
She continued speaking in a whisper. "Well, as good as dead."
My head cocked to one side but I held my tongue. She arched an eyebrow at me.
"Confused yet, dear scribe?" I nodded. "My part in this story I can tell you, but for his part, there is only one person who you might find answers in. A Nomad named Suyef. If anyone knows where Quentin is or if he's even still alive at this point, it's him."
"Where might he be found?"
"Probably on the Nomad shell."
I pulled a single sheet of paper out along with the stylus and jotted a note down. She leveled a questioning look at me.
"I like to take my own notes."
She fell back into silence with me waiting, not looking at her out of respect. After a moment, she nodded and sat upright."I'm supposed to tell you my story," she said. "It isn't a fun one to tell. But, if the Queen believes the answer to her puzzle is in it and you want to hear it, well, here it is." She paused, a single finger tapping the table, lips pursed in thought. "This is the story of how my world ended."