Kartega

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Chapter 15

She wasn’t lost; at least not exactly. One couldn’t really be lost in a place where most of the walls were made of glass, even if there were about fifty floors of those walls spanning high into the sky. Sid knew the Magistra quarters must be on one of the higher floors, as close to the queen as possible. The layout of the Queen’s Tower was fairly simple. The top floor was occupied by the Arcane, the most highly regarded creatures on the star due to their connection to the ring. The queen’s floor was right below them, with her ladies in waiting just beneath. Everything under the main three floors were dedicated to the weaponry, droid stations and the mechanical rooms of the Circulum System. What the two towers that housed the Citizens looked like was beyond Sid but she had this one memorized in fair detail. Her admiration for the queen extended even to her living quarters. Which is why it surprised her when she turned a corner and found herself in utter confusion as to her location in proximity to the top three floors.

The elevators from the labs took her and the droid as far as the dining hall just below the throne room which she assumed had put her roughly three quarters of the way there. Though when she glanced out of the clear side panel on the staircase she was climbing, she realized they couldn’t have been higher than the twentieth floor. What was the queen storing between here and her own floors? And why had Sid not seen any of these layouts in the disclosed tower schematics?

She searched for another elevator but when she couldn’t find one, opted for the large glass staircase that seemed to lead all the way to the top. The stairs spiraled triumphantly with large steps that could fit three Sids lengthwise lying down. Everything in the Queen’s Tower was larger than life and Sid found herself shrinking with each step she climbed.

It was eerily quiet on the staircase, the only thing jarring her back to reality were the obnoxiously loud footsteps of the droid — or Fred, named by Sid after one of the famous dancers from Colton’s home planet. Each one of Fred’s steps made the breath caught in her throat tremble and she insisted on holding onto the handrail despite there not being any real danger in sight.

After climbing a few floors, Sid stopped, motioning for Fred to join her on the bottom step for a break.

“Are you excited to be back with your Magistra, Fred? What was her name? Kelyn? It’s a beautiful name, don’t you think?”

The droid stared blankly at her and she tapped her fingers on the projection screen, making him nod furiously in response. Satisfied, she rested her chin in her hands and stared out over the railing at the bird’s eye view of Tower City below them. “Everything is beautiful here, Fred, just everything.” She cooed at the vast city lit up by nightly activity. The lights that shone bright blue in the early evening had now been transformed into a mélange of rainbow colors, all forming intricate patterns above the streets below. Telescreens projected videos and images of things Sid had never experienced on the ship. Beauty products and foods and living quarters that felt false in their perfection. A few of the screens played pre-recorded messages from the queen herself. Sid watched in awe and admiration. “That must look pretty amazing from down there, huh?”

Fred was silent, still shaking his head from her last command and she felt silly for not coding him to stop after the first few nods. She was about to enter in a sequence when the sound of light footsteps coming from the floor above them stopped her.

Sid had a good story in place and with Fred by her side, she had no reason to come off as an outsider but she still would have preferred making it to her destination with as little interaction as possible.

Hopping to her feet, she readied herself for the encounter. Her eyes watched the tall, silver boots descend down the stairs toward her until she was face to face with the stranger on the stairs.

“Well, hello again. I see you made a friend.” The stranger, who was no stranger at all, said.

“Ash. I should have known that’d be you. Shouldn’t you be somewhere else right now?”

“Not really, I usually spend the evenings alone and,” Ashlan paused and looked past her shoulder, “why is he nodding like that?”

Sid looked back to the droid that was still shaking his head maniacally. “Who? Fred? He’s fine. Just have to turn him off.”

She entered the code into her screen and the droid relaxed his stance, resting his head to the side which Sid was certain looked even odder than the nodding. She’d really have to figure out these commands before handing him over to the Magistra.

“You named your droid?”

“He’s not my droid!” She exclaimed. “I was fixing him for Professor Cevil. He’s Magistra Kelyn’s droid.”

“So what exactly are you doing with Kelyn’s droid in the middle of the night in a stairwell? Please tell me this isn’t some weird little date.”

“What? Ew! No! I am returning him to his owner but I got turned around somewhere and was just taking a break when you showed up.”

“Thank the stars. I thought I’d have to bring you in for improper droid use.” He chuckled and she stuck her tongue out in response.

“Well, you don’t. So move along to wherever it is you were going.”

“How do you even get lost in a stairwell? Don’t you just go up or down?”

Sid scrunched her nose, annoyed with the petty jabs at her expense. “I didn’t say I got lost. I said I was turned around. I got off the elevators and though I was right under the throne room but then it seemed there were all these other floors I didn’t know about and now I have no idea how long it’ll take to get there. And I’m starving so how about we cut this conversation down and go our own way?”

“Wow. You sure know a lot about the towers for a Domer,” Ashlan said curiously.

“I like to read.”

“Right. So do you need some help getting there maybe?”

“I’ll be fine. Like you said, it’s just up!”

He laughed and she hated that her lips twirled into a smile at the sound of his cheer. “It’s not exactly just up. I really don’t mind showing you. Come on! Let’s go!”

Before she could object, he grabbed her hand and pulled her behind him on the stairs. When she met his steps with her own, he let her hand go and she could feel the warmth of his fingers linger for a few moments. Sid shoved her hands in her pockets and marched after Ashlan with furious but obedient steps.

“So what’s on all these floors? I don’t remember seeing them in the tower plans.”

“Here? Oh, nothing really. Just empty rooms.” Ashlan bit the bottom of his lip and she wondered if he was lying. Why would there be almost twenty empty floors in the Queen’s Tower?

“Really? Nothing? That’s odd. Why wouldn’t they just give the Arcane or Magistras more space?”

“Oh, they wouldn’t want that.”

“That’s crazy. Why not?”

“The queen’s ladies are very close. Unnaturally close, really. They’re like sisters but even closer if that’s possible. It’s impossible to keep them separated.”

“And the Arcane?”

“Kind of the same except the sister part. They have to stay close for the Circulum System.”

“Because each holds one of the keys?” Sid asked, remembering her studies of the ring system. The three women of the Arcane were chosen from the native population of the star. Picked for their loyalty to the queen’s mother and her plans for their collective future. Each woman was given a key, a chip like the rest of the Domers but much more powerful. Instead of syphoning the magic into the ring, the Arcane’s chips were coded to give their inner magic control; a connection to the ring’s control panel. It was one of the main reasons Sid had always dreamed of working with the Circulum System; she found it entirely fascinating how one small chip could have such an impact on magic. The things Colton’s people technology could do was stardamned amazing! On their own, the keys are useless but when the three women that form the Arcane are together and can intertwine their magic, the keys come alive and can be used to turn the Circulum System on and off. From what she’d read, Sid understood that when the queen’s mother developed the ring, she needed to make sure it could be shut down for maintenance but due to the sensitive nature of its existence, allowing just anyone in her ranks to have access to it would be too dangerous. To further show her support for the native people of Neostar, she offered them the honor of joining the Arcane — a means of giving them control over the ring. It was this act alone that allowed for the chipping to be instated and for the Circulum System to become the life-saving machine that it had become. The population of the domes may be giving up their magic to help sustain the technologies of the towers, but it is the chosen three that have full control. The honor of being chosen had always fascinated Sid and she wondered how many Domers stood in line to be considered for the roles when the keys exchanged hands every two decades. She assumed it was a lot.

“Yep. Each has a key so they need to stay close together.”

Again, something about the way his words trailed off made her think he was lying. She wanted to push the point further but her stomach growled loud enough shake the walls and suddenly, she was unable to think of anything but her hunger.

“Please tell me that you’ve had a chance to eat something tonight?” Ashlan asked.

She shook her head and tried to smile proudly but her lips barely made a move and she looked instead like she was trying to digest a frigger egg too big to be swallowed whole. Muck. She really was hungry!

“Come on, we’re only a few floors away from the Magistra floors. There’s a dining hall there we can get some food in. Just make sure that thing stays put and in the corner,” he said and pointed to the droid.

“Don’t worry about Fred. He’s the silent, brooding type.” She smirked, winking at the droid playfully. She took two stairs at a time, jaunting behind Ashlan excitedly, her stomach cheering with every step they took. “So,” she asked, “do tell, what mouth-filling magic are we about to consume?”

“Also, that. Don’t say things like that,” Ashlan frowned.

“Fine. Let’s just get something to eat already!” She yelled and passed him running up the stairs.

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