“Admiral, has the drilling stopped?” Victoria asked knowing full well it had. “Admiral?”
“Yes, I’m here, ma’am. The drilling has stopped.”
“Is everyone away from the door?”
“They should be, ma’am, but if they’re drilling then they’ll eventually get through.”
“If they know what they’re doing, a few minutes.”
“Are your marines ready?”
“Standing by, ma’am.”
Victoria was half inclined to send them right now. No cameras could see the intruders where they were, but Josephine had to be doing worse. Possibly, she’d already passed out.
If she sent marines now and Josephine hadn’t passed out, then those marines would become more than just useless. They’d become obstacles. Victoria might send only a few marines, but without their rifles, they’d be no contest to Tan’s lucky nunchucks. It would need to be all of them.
“Admiral.” she said.
She projected her mind into the bridge. There was the layout. The officers were all at their stations. The admiral was… somewhere? She didn’t see him. And now that she thought about it, she wasn’t entirely sure what the other officers were doing either.
She she wasn’t actually seeing the room. This was just what she imagined it looked like.
“Admiral,” she shouted.
“You’re not hearing me, Major?” Admiral Medina said to Tan. “You’re not taking that woman anywhere until the medics arrive. Why did you even bring her here?”
Tan continued to Not Hear Him as he scrutinized the control panels across the bridge. The other officers watched from the side where Tan had shooed them off to, although two now worked with Naema to staunch Josephine’s bleeding. No one remembered what was going on, only what they were currently doing. And people in motion tend to stay in motion.
“Are you ignoring me, Major?” Medina said.
“Jose,” Tan mumbled without glancing up.
Josephine forced her eyes to focus. She looked at the Admiral and concentrated. The angry scowl he was directing at Tan grew distant. In a minute, he would restart the same cycle of figuring everything out. It would be the third time.
“Admiral,” she said. Words were a struggle. “You need to lift… the lockdown.”
The admiral stared sternly at her, as though wondering whether to berate a bleeding captain for forgetting her rank.
“I need to get… to a hospital,” she muttered.
“We’re taking you to the medical bay. Lieutenant Cross…” he turned to address his operations officer only to find him standing in the corner with all the other officers. He frowned at them all.
Naema took over. “The doctors can’t treat her there,” she said. “They said we have to take her to the ground, so you lift the lockdown.”
Medina studied her. “Are you a civilian? What are you doing on the bridge?”
“I’m a… doctor. With the humanitarian league. Why do you have the ship on lockdown?”
“I…” He thought, though he would not remember.
“Lift it,” Naema urged. “We need to get her on a ship.”
The admiral looked at her doubtfully. He turned to his XO. “Why is this ship in lockdown?”
“I’m not sure, sir. It may be a malfunction.”
“Then lift it.”
“Hold on, sir.” That came from the communications officer. He was still in the corner, but his hand was against the ear of his headset. “We’re getting a call request direct from the queen.”
“The queen?” The admiral looked distance, as though something about that rang a bell. “Put her on.”
The operations officer approached the radio console. He hardly touched a button before Tan yanked off his headset and pushed him away. Before the officer could protest, Tan drew his revolver and fired several shots into the radio console. Its screen went black.
The report of his gun startled everyone. Two men grabbed Tan, including the communications officer, but by then it was too late. They’d already forgotten. Tan pulled away and moved to join the rest.
Naema turned back to the Admiral. “Have you stopped the lockdown yet?”
Josephine finally appeared on a security feed in Fore Sector deck 1. It was hard to miss her. Not only was Tan and Naema’s family with her, they’d recruited several other officers along the way, including two medics. Where had they come from? Who knew? Bishop had yet to recontact the bridge, or anyone, despite there being multiple means of contacting a citadel. The most frustrating part about this was that she wouldn’t be able to yell at anyone about this failure. Everyone who’d failed her would have no idea what she was talking about. She supposed this spared her from having to deal with Admiral Medina’s knowing too much—a small silver lining.
“Of course…” she muttered as she watched them select a craft in which to fly away. It was a self piloting one, not a grid ship, which trashed the idea of trapping them in a grid holding pattern.
A pity. Josephine looked barely conscious. If Victoria could only contact the marines on board, she’d win.
Bishop spoke. “I got a hold of them.”
“No. Strike room. I’ve told them to get up to the bridge and tell them to close the bay doors.”
Victoria shook her head. Bishop must not be watching the footage. Even if all the bay doors started closing right now, it’d only serve to make Josephine’s escape more thrilling.
“Look at the cameras for Fore Sector Deck One. Do you see that ship?”
“Give me a second… yes.”
“That’s them. Get the military to track it.”
“When they land, I want wall bots ready to deploy.”
“That’s a C-300 Corsair. They could be in the air all day.”
“Then we have time. Make arrangements. I’m giving you whatever authority you need.”
“This isn’t over, Bishop. Not by a long shot.”
In Victoria’s office, the lights were off and window panels covered the missing wall. It made the place a very different room, foreign and uninviting.
Helena stumbled into the dark, feeling along the wall for a switch. She thumped something. Delicate-sounding things rattled, and Winnie waited for a crash, but none came. Finally, the lights popped on.
And it was an office again, though no less inviting to Winnie.
“Come on.” Helena motioned, and Winnie stepped in. It shouldn’t have been such a momentous step, but it was. Helena was already prancing around Victoria’s desk and searching drawers. Items rolled inside each as she’d open and slam them. Helena didn’t seem to care about how much noise she was making, but then this was Victoria’s private floor. There were no cameras, nor staff, nor security—unless summoned.
“Ah hah!” Helena ducked and reemerged with a bottle. “It was at the very back, like she thinks somebody would fire her if they find it. Did you bring the glasses?”
“I thought we were taking it back to your room?”
“Nah, we’d just have to put it back later.” She reclined over the desk like a starlet upon a piano. Unstoppering the cap, she took a swig, then coughed voraciously.
“Oh God, it’s like… What is this?” She scrutinized the bottle.
Winnie laughed despite of herself. She came over to sit on Victoria’s chair, but thought better of it and perched on the edge of the desk. “Let me try.”
Helena handed her the bottle. Winnie took a whiff. “Oh, God.”
“How the hell does she drink it, right?”
“It smells like someone juiced a Christmas Tree.”
Careful not to put her lips on the bottle, she poured some into her mouth. It did not taste like a Christmas tree. She coughed, spraying gin over the desk and onto Helena. Helena cackled.
“Noooo.” Winnie mopped up frantically.
“Leave it. It’s fine.”
“No. I have to clean up. This is the queen’s desk.”
“So?” Helena poured gin on its surface.
“Stop. What are you doing?” Winnie caught her. “She’s going to know we were here?”
“Are you serious?”
Winnie realized how stupid a concern that was. Of course Victoria would know. She could read minds. “No. I mean, yeah. I know she’ll know, but let’s not ruin anything.”
“And what’s she going to do about it? You’re too important to her.”
“We can still get in more trouble.” Without anything to mop up the spill, Winnie bent and sipped the gin off the table, then buffed the remainder away with her wrist.
Helena laughed again. “Did you just slurp that up? Are you going to do that will all the spilled gin?” She poured more on the desk.
“No. Stop.” She caught Helena’s hand.
“Are you going to drink that up too?”
“Do you promise to stop?”
“Okay. I’ll stop if you drink it.”
“Okay.” Winnie sipped up the gin puddle. More spilled beside her face. “No! That’s not funny.”
Helena was beside herself with laughter.
“No, seriously. I can’t drink any more,” She tried to be serious, but she was infected with Helena’s laughter. That only encouraged Helena, so the only recourse was the wrest the bottle away. They struggled, both laughing. With a yelp, Helena rolled off the table onto Winnie. They stumbled back together and crashed into the terrarium behind the desk.
A loud pop sobered them both.
On the front panel of the terrarium, a cluster of white cracks fanned out from where Winnie’s hip had struck it.
“Oh shit oh no oh no.” Winnie examined the glass panel. It was loose in its frame. Inside, Marzipan came out of his shell to peer around as though someone had just run his doorbell.
Helena snorted, then broke into peels of laughter. “Oh my God,” she said. “My mom is going to be so pissed.”
“What are we going to do?” Winnie asked.
“We should go.”
“What? Why? Because we upset poor Marzipan? Don’t worry. It’s happy. Look at it.” Her voice took on a babying tone. “Look at you. You’re such a dumb little shit, aren’t you? Yes, you are. Yes, you are.”
Winnie forced a chuckle, but her mood was gone. “Come on. We should go now.”
“You know my mom talks to it like that. Baby talk and everything. She dotes on this thing like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Yeah. I know. I’ve seen it.”
“No.” Helena chortled. “You haven’t seen anything. I once saw her take this tortoise with her to the Founding Day’s Parade. She kept it in her lap, and I had to listen to her the whole time. Look at that crowd, Marzipan. All these people are here to see their queen. Isn’t that wonderful? Oh, look at that float. That’s supposed to be me. Oh, how special, Marzipan.”
“That…” did not fit Winnie’s image of Victoria at all. “She actually talked like that?”
“It was disgusting. She smothers the little guy. Look. Look at this.” Helena pointed to the latch where the top of the terrarium would open. A padlock sealed it. “She’s paranoid of something happening to him, like rebels would take Marzipan hostage. Vacate Europe or the tortoise gets it.” She laughed. “She’d probably rather they took me.”
Winnie tried to think of something to say while Helena stared down Marzipan. If the conversation continued, she was going to fall into her funk again. And nothing Winnie said seemed to get her to leave.
But as Winnie was thinking, Helena banged on the broken pane with her fist. The web of cracks grew.
“Don’t do that,” Winnie yelled.
“What? The glass is already broken.”
“Are you trying to get in there?”
“Yeah. We’re going to break the little guy out.”
“No. Just leave him. Please, Helena. Let’s just go. Your mother is going to throw a fit.”
“She already will. Might as well let the little guy have a taste of freedom while it lasts.” She banged it a few more times.
Winnie kept expecting the pane to shatter, and for Helena to bleed profusely, but instead it crumpled inward like a fractured windshield. When it was loose enough in its frame, Helena pried it out.
“Please, Helena. Stop.”
“I’m not going to hurt him.” Helena set the pane aside. “We’re just going to have some fun.”
She reached in and grabbed Marzipan.