The bun made for poor company and was left abandoned on the floor while Sid tried to run through her plan for the morning. She’d already called the queen a monster and while it had angered her, it hadn’t been enough to make her so incensed she’d wanted to kill Sid. She needed to hit a nerve in Leona’s stone heart. Trigger the queen enough to push her over the edge. She hadn’t the slightest clue what she had to do or say to accomplish that and it was a fine line between directing Leona’s rage at herself and away from some poor Domer who happened to be in the way.
She was playing out scenarios when the guards perked up outside and spoke incoherently. Their tones were higher than normal and she quickly fortified the entrance with her body. Someone was coming to see her and from the sounds of it, it was someone the guards feared.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” the queen’s indulgently civil voice rang behind the door, “I’d like a moment with the girl.”
She heard the sound of blades knocking once on the ground and could picture the guards bowing awkwardly before scurrying away. She hated them and their lackluster, pathetic way of serving. Even the droids the humans built had more character than those two.
When they left, Leona moved closer to the door.
“Are you awake?”
Sid kicked the metal enough to cause it to vibrate, hopeful the queen’s cheek was pressed against it by some dumb luck.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Leona said. “Starise is a few hours away.”
“Great,” Sid scowled.
“I wanted to come here to let you know that you have my word that no one else will get hurt as long as you cooperate with the procedure.”
Procedure. She was talking about the chipping as though it was some trip to the physician for a routine diagnostic. It made Sid sick. “Your word isn’t worth much these days.”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk, that’s not very cooperative, is it?”
“Do what you want, I don’t care anymore.”
“Interesting,” the queen said and Sid could hear her smile on the other side. “How quickly the hero gives up.”
“I’m not a hero. I didn’t come here to save anyone. I came here for Colton and he’s dead, so I’m done.”
“Interesting,” Leona said again.
“What is so stardamned interesting?” She yelled.
“Oh, nothing,” Leona sighed and pressed the weight of her back on the door. “I just find it fascinating that the Domers are willing to die for someone who only came back to find one of my Citizens. Do they know that? Or did you lie to them like you lied to Colton’s son?”
“No one should have died for me.”
“So many already have; Colton included.”
Tears burned her lids but she pushed them away. “I didn’t ask him to do that.”
“Oh, but he chose to do it. He chose you over me.”
“So that’s what this is about?” Sid scoffed, “Your bruised ego? Aren’t you supposed to be above it all? Like a true queen?”
“I am a true queen, beast. I was Colton’s queen and I am Ashlan’s queen. But not yours because you’re not like us, no matter how much you want to be. You’re no one, nothing.”
She stayed quiet. Not because she didn’t have the right words but because in part, she agreed with the queen. She was nothing. Nothing important, nothing special, nothing to die for. In the morning, everyone would see that they had placed their hopes on a kid that didn’t belong on Kartega and once they saw, she’d know they were free. Free to choose what they do next without holding their breath for some savior her parents promised. Free to either follow or revolt. She knew which one she wanted them to choose but she’d be stardamned if she was going to be the reason for the decision. In everything she’d learned in her lessons, nothing good ever came out of following a hero. Especially if that hero was someone like her.
“And I will not sacrifice my people’s future for a nothing,” Leona added.
“But you’d sacrifice the Domers? The Al’iil?”
“In a heartbeat!” Leona said, her voice ringing through the hole. “We are the only thing that matters. We saved this star. Without us, the Al’iil would have sucked it dry with their magic. Those savages.”
“Kartega didn’t ask for your saving. It was just fine before you got here.”
“Where did you learn that word?”
“Didn’t know it was a secret.”
The queen grew silent for a brief moment before speaking again. “It isn’t. It’s simply,” she paused, “antiquated.”
“Just because you don’t like a name, doesn’t mean you can delete its identity.”
“Oh, that is where you’re mistaken,” Leona grinned. “How many Domers do you know that still call themselves Kartegans? How many speak their native tongue? We dictate the order on this star and if we choose a name, it stays chosen.”
Sid couldn’t argue with that. Until she was taken by Tazmin and the Al’iil, she hadn’t heard anyone refer to Neostar by its native name. It was as though it had been wiped from their memories, though she knew it hadn’t been. The older generation knew the name, they just refused to speak it. How much fear did a person need to be exposed to before they forgot their true name? Sid didn’t know the answer but she guessed it was a lot.
“What did you do to them? How did you make them this way?”
“Me?” Leona cried out, genuinely baffled. “I didn’t do anything. You can thank my mother for that. The one thing she managed to do right.”
“The original queen of Neostar, the creator of the entire facade, really. Her Circulum System is the reason we advanced as far as we did. If it wasn’t for her brilliant mind orchestrating the ring, we’d never have had enough power for the technology we planned to build on this star. The system saved us all!”
“You mean the prison,” Sid said quietly.
“Call it what you will but it worked. We had enough energy to build an entire world on this star. A world I won’t let you or anyone else destroy!”
She hated the way Leona spoke about the ring. Like it was some mucking miracle. The humans didn’t need it to live on Kartega, they wanted it for power and control. The queen’s mother started this mess and here she was, acting as though they had brought salvation to the Kartegans by giving them a cozy little cage and fashionable collars. The worst part was that she believed all the nonsense. Sid could tell, in her core, Leona truly thought that the humans were on the right side of this.
“So you trapped them, robbed them of their magic and then what? Threatened to kill them if they disobeyed?”
Leona chuckled. “We didn’t just threaten. Well, at least I didn’t. Mother was always too weak for the task.”
“You actually expect me to believe that you disobeyed the queen herself and did whatever foul things you wanted?”
“Oh, forgive me. I seem to forget I’m speaking to a savage. People like me don’t disobey. We either agree or we do not and if we do not, we find a way to get our point across.” Leona said. “Besides, mother was starting to get sentimental in her delicate age. It was best I dealt with her swiftly before she ruined everything we’d built here.”
“She died of Amperfuge,” Sid said in almost a question.
“She died because I willed it!” Leona howled. “Just like the rest of those beasts did when it was time to teach them a lesson about what happens when they disobey their queen!”
Sid’s stomach turned and the image of Leona standing on a mountain of dead Domers rushed her thoughts. She was right, the queen was a monster. And she was the worst kind of monster; the kind that believes that what they’ve doing isn’t wrong. “You killed innocent people to prove your point?” She asked, tears flowing freely down her filthy face. “Your own mother?”
“I killed useless creatures to save humanity. Mother was…” Leona paused and though Sid couldn’t see her, she could feel the queen frown on the other side of the door. “Well, simply something that had to be done.”
Sid turned the words over in her mouth before speaking. “From what Colton had taught me, humanity is kindness, not monstrous killings.”
“Humanity is something you could never know anything about, beast!”
Leona’s hiss pierced through the metal and she took a step back. The words rammed Sid right in the chest and impaled her heart. She might not know anything about being human but this wasn’t what humans were like. Humans were like Colton, and Professor Cevil, and even Ashlan. Humans weren’t this thing on the other side of the door that cared only for her own kind. Muck, I’m more human than she is.
The voice on the other side of the door grew still.
“I must prepare for the telescreens,” the queen finally said. “Don’t do anything rash tomorrow. Perhaps consider those friends of yours in their holes if any wild thoughts run through your tiny brain.”
“Abbot!” Leona barked. Behind the door, boots shuffled. “Watch her closely.”
She heard the whoosh and jingle of her gilded skirts and retreating steps. When the queen was gone and the guard’s annoying laughter returned, Sid sank back against the wall and continued to plot for the morning. Leona’s visit rattled her but it also brought a hint of assurance — she now knew the queen’s weak spot. In the morning, she would use Leona’s selfish need to save her own people against her. She would threaten the humans until the queen had no choice but to kill her where she stood.