- SIMaS: Chapter 20 – The Raid
- SIMAS Chapter 1 – Link Moss and the Magic Hippo
- SIMAS Chapter 2 – In-Flight Memories
- SIMAS Chapter 3 – Link Moss: Devious Mastermind
- SIMaS Chapter 4 – Curiouser and Curiouser
- SIMaS Chapter 5 – Welcome to Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 6 – So I Married a Supervillain
- SIMaS Chapter 7 – Little Talks
- SIMaS Chapter 8 – His Excellence, King Link
- SIMaS Chapter 9 – The Megardian Royal Family
- SIMaS Chapter 10 – How Double Lives Start
- SIMaS Chapter 11 – The Morning Report
- SIMaS Chapter 12 – Paradigms Shifting Without a Clutch
- SIMaS: Chapter 13 – Thunderstruck, Enlightening
- SIMaS Chapter 14 – Eris Lives
- SIMaS Chapter 15 – The Guardian Spirit of Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 16 – Midnight Council
SIMaS Chapter 10 – How Double Lives Start
It was a long elevator ride down from the Royal Suites to the secure garage of the palace. Along the way, Link managed to learn a bit more about the two women who, just as he suspected, made up one shift of the Princess’s Guard.
Like Ari and Dekembe, they only spoke while spoken to, and even then, not much at all, so most of what Link learned came from Mr. Cross, who beside being intent on breeding his son like a champion thoroughbred horse, was also a living personnel database for the Grand Palace of the Philosopher Kings, a name which Link was no longer surprised at thanks to the ostentation of the names for everything else in the island kingdom.
According the Mr. Cross, one, a woman in his fifties with tanned skin, short, brown hair, and a ragged scar on her cheek was Octavia, a mother of a four grown children and grandmother to three; a six-year-old girl and twin ten-year-old boys. The other was Tasha, a fair skinned, raven-haired woman in his late twenties or early thirties who dual-wielded sci-fi looking pistols instead of the usual rifles. She was the mother of a nine-year-old boy.
Both had been chosen for the Princess’s Guard expressly for the fact that they were mothers themselves, as were the other members who would take over the duties of protecting Chloe on other shifts and during vacations.
Besides being amazed that people in the apparently dictator controlled nation got vacations, Link mused on the lighter side effects of every adult or near-adult being militarily trained. It certainly made the old ‘my dad can beat up your dad’ fights on the playground more interesting. And considering the Princess’s Guard, those had probably expanded to include ‘my mom is a better shot than your mom’.
Meanwhile, Arisa had been trying her level best to copy the highly trained stoicism of her senior counterparts, but was having a hard time at it because Nathan was also doing his level best; trying to chat her up about other videogames she’d played, those he’d played and which ones they should play together sometime.
For the first thirty or so floors, she’s kept her answers terse, but respectful, which clearly wasn’t enough. Finally, Amanda told her that she had ‘permission to speak freely’, and the two teens were chatting happily about the Stealth Warrior Maximum franchise and how much less fun the latest installment was since the developers removed some of their favorite items like boots that let them jump unnaturally high and a grappling hook that could drag people toward them.
Link glanced aside at Ari, wondering if he should try and make some small talk. Only the man looked like the only subjects he might want to talk at length about were ways he could perform a take-down on an assailant with his thumb, and the best brands of gun oil. Something told him that a hearty ‘how ’bout them Hornets?’ would be met by a cold, blank expression.
So he did what he usually did in socially awkward situations where he was certain he should be saying something, but didn’t know anyone else well enough to try doing so with them: he turned to his wife. “So where are we going first?” He asked, bouncing Chloe a bit as she stirred, “Volcano Lair? Zeppelin hangar?”
“You’re starting to have fun with this.” Amanda shook her head.
“Not like I have a choice.” He pointed out, “Besides, I did promise you I’d give you the benefit of the doubt until the tour.”
“My regrets, Excellence, but I don’t think that we have time to tour the zeppelin fleet in Cognitiopolis and still return in time for the dinner hour.” said Mr. Cross without a hint of self-consciousness or irony.
Link stared at him for a moment, wondering if, against all possibility, the little man was joking. He wasn’t. “T-there’s a zeppelin fleet? As in a fleet of zeppelins?”
“Two fleets, actually if you count the civil patrol dirigibles that monitor the cities, participate in search and rescue, and are equipped for fire fighting. The Cognitiopolis fleet is meant for cargo and inter-city transit. We have no oil here, Link, and very few states will trade with us for it, so we have to use alternative means. With the fleet, we save on having to install heavy-duty recharging stations for electric trucks between the cities.”
“Progressive.” said Link.
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” She shrugged, “But honestly, this technology existed in Europe and the United States long before Megardia. Yours were just purchased and scrapped by auto and oil concerns in the sixties—we just didn’t stop developing the tech. Not that a lack of oil hasn’t set us back: we have almost no plastics industry and depend on synthetic lubricants for our engines.”
The elevator stopped at that moment and the doors opened on a large, chamber with a floor made of bare concrete. In the middle of it sat the Royal conveyance.
‘Conveyance’ was the only word Link could summon to describe the thing, because ‘car’ or ‘limo’ or ‘tank’ just didn’t cut it.
Someone had started with a humvee and rounded out the square edges, including expanding the wheel wells outward to accommodate double tires and covering them with rounded cowling like a Rolls-Royce, only the vehicle sported a second set of tires, front and rear for a grand total of sixteen tires on four axles.
While they were at it, they expanded the wheel base until the thing was clearly too wide to be street-legal in the free world (though presumably on Megardia, the Queen and her family always had the right of way). The cab of the monster was six inches taller and the whole thing was stretched limousine style. Wide, tinted, and most likely bulletproof windows allowed the passengers as much of a field of view as possible while not allowing anyone to see in.
The whole thing was the black with every instance of chrome replaced by metallic yellow, and the Royal ‘M’ Crest was stamped on the hood and doors in dark orange and yellow. Miniature Megardian flags, slashes of the same shades of orange and yellow on a field of black, were attached to the hood above the headlamps. Also attached to the hood: a pair of nasty looking machine guns. Link could only imagine the fire power hidden elsewhere on the behemoth.
It was attended by two actual humvees with a dark orange paint job, and a fleet of six odd motorcycles that had bulletproof glass shells that slid over the rider like a cockpit. All of those vehicles had soldiers in the tactical uniform Link had seen when the Sovereign Elite rescued him from Extraordinary Response International Services custody. At the arrival of the Royal Family and their attendants, all stood at attention and slammed fists to chests.
The entourage stopped and Dekembe went forward to examine the assembled Sovereign Elite and their vehicles. After five minutes, he returned with nothing more than a nod to Amanda.
She returned the nod and started toward the monster of a vehicle. “He was just making sure there were no spies with our motorcade.”
“Is that usually a problem?”
“Once or twice a month. They never get far because the Royal Guard get a visual briefing of all additional guard details and a scanner that detects a unique protein strand included in meals from the Sovereign Elite’s mess that stays in their system twenty-four hours.”
“That’s frighteningly thorough.”
“Would you rather a spy get close to us?” Link had no reply to that because of course he didn’t. That didn’t make the whole thing any less creepy. Satisfied that her point had been made, Amanda held out her arms. “Let me carry Chloe for a while, okay?”
Reluctantly, because he was still shaking off the fear he’d had of losing the kids from earlier, he passed Chloe off to his wife, both being as careful as they could to make the transfer as gentle as possible to prevent jostling the little girl awake.
Cuddling her daughter, Amanda led them the rest of the way to their waiting chariot. “The Royal motor-bus.” She said softly, mindful of Chloe. “Less of a bus these days than it was when the first one was commissioned in nineteen thirty-five, but the name stuck. This one is less than a year old and personally designed by myself. It has eight independent electric motors, one for each set of wheels, a cylinium polycarbonate shell for maximum strength with minimum weight, and a top speed of one hundred and eighty miles per hour with a battery range of two hundred miles.”
“Kind of kicks the crap out of your car at home, mom.” said Nathan, emerging from his conversation to be insolent.
“Nate, watch your language. You little sister is here.” Amanda said automatically.
She blinked, surprised that he hadn’t taken the opportunity to curse. “Oh. So you did.”
“But for the record,” he continued, intent on pressing his luck, “I’m pretty sure you can never get mad at me for anything I do ever again without looking like a huge hypocrite.”
Ari hurried forward to open the rear door to the motor-bus while Amanda gave her son a measuring look. “I’ll tell you what, Nate: every time I or your father are about to ground you, we will immediately rescind said grounding if you can explain how the thing you’re being grounded for was of vital national importance.”
Finding himself being ushered into the motor-bus by Arisa, Nathan still managed to scoff. “Like everything you’ve done was.”
Amanda tilted her chin imperiously. “Part of the reason the tour takes us to my section of the Megardian Museum of National Pride and History.”
Titus Christophos, the tenth steward of Megardia and the man who, according to the fancy flat screen information kiosk in front of the exhibit detailing his four year reign, the man who attempted to depose the rightful Queen when she returned.
Given both the laws of propaganda and what obviously had to be bad blood between the fallen steward and the then-future Queen, it was surprising to Link to find his painted marble statue to be just as heroically handsome and well posed, and given just as much standing in the Hall of Reigns as any of the other men and women who once ruled the tiny nation.
He started to ask after that, but Nathan beat him upon noticing a piece of information that was relevant to him. “Wait a minute: you kicked this guy to the curb the same year I was born?!”
Link and Amanda winced identically. The year of Nathan’s birth had already led to an embarrassing and degrading conversation with their son. When he was fifteen, he’d finally done the math and realized that his parents had gotten married seven months before he’d bee born.
As the event that made him pay attention to their anniversary was their fifteenth anniversary party, much awkwardness and public discomfort was had by all, because as a vindictive teenager, he’d worked it into a toast he gave at their anniversary party. Then he ‘innocently’ asked Margaret Moss if she’d known that he’d gotten his girlfriend pregnant out of wedlock.
Because fate occasionally loves making things exponentially worse, Nathan then did the math on the date ending Titus Christophos’s reign. “And that was a month before your wedding.”
Amanda coughed uncomfortably. Link looked at her, agog. She coughed again and looked down at Chloe. She’d removed her gauntlets and clipped them to her belt so she could hold the girl’s hand once she woke up on the ride to the museum.
“Chloe dear.” She said through a smile, as parents instinctively did when they didn’t want to upset a young child with the upsetting things going on. “The nice ladies there have a game for you to play. Be a good girl for them and later, we can have milkshakes!”
Even as she said the last words with enthusiasm, she nodded to the Princess’s Guard, one of whom was, of course, armed with a tablet computer loaded with games for just such an occasion. It wasn’t standard operating procedure for the Royal Guard, but Octavia was a grandmother and knew it would come up.
“Can I get banana?” Chloe asked, homing in instantly on a flavor that was common enough to promise, but rare enough that it might be a pain to find.
“Of course you can get banana.” Amanda grinned at the little girl and swung the hand she was holding. She had no fears of not being able to find a banana milkshake because she herself loved banana flavored anything. And what the Queen loved, Megardian merchants made sure to have close at hand just in case she showed up.
“Yay!” exclaimed Chloe and quickly scampered off to play with the games Octavia wisely supplied. If it had occurred to Amanda to have had the tablet computer in the first place, she would have requested it loaded with educational games. But she hadn’t and, as a grandmother, Octavia had also thought of that—and loaded it with nothing of the sort. ‘Grandma’ is an attitude that knows no borders.
Amanda watched her go fondly before turning to find a weary look from her husband and a look on her son’s face that she usually reserved for him when he broke curfew. She sighed and, uncharacteristic of the Queen of Megardia, fidgeted.
“Is that why you turned down my proposal the first time?” Link asked.
Nathan made a rude noise. “Maybe it was because you only proposed because you knocked her up.”
“Nathan Julius Moss!” Amanda instantly admonished. “You watch your mouth.”
“I’m not the one we’re mad at.” Nathan hadn’t flinched. He was secure in the fact that he had ammunition now and was reveling in it.
Amanda brought both hands up and massaged the bridge of her nose. “Let me set one thing straight: Your father didn’t know about… well you when he proposed. And neither did I.” She caught Link’s eye. “The reason I rejected his proposal was because he came to me at my apartment to take me out on a date right after I was almost killed there by an assassin sent by the Titus Christophos.”
Looking at the handsome, almost godlike figure, Link imagined him giving the order to have Amanda killed. He didn’t seem so handsome anymore. “Bastard.” He spat in spite of himself.
“Bastard is right.” She agreed. “And greedy idiot. If he hadn’t tried to have it all and just left me alone, he could have ruled Megardia forever. Link, I would have abandoned my throne and just been your wife if that night had gone differently. But the betrayal… it cut me deep and I couldn’t let it go.”
She looked at the stone likeness of the steward and shook her head sadly. “I remember him teaching me to ride horses, and then to drive. He… I thought he was so kind. When I was little, he brought me little gifts that no one ever thought to give a Princess, like match box cars, and those party snaps you throw on the ground and they go off. And he got me my first chemistry set, and…” A tear came to her eye. “And then he just wanted the Megardian Royal family’s power source so bad he was willing to have a man sneak into my home and try to cut my throat.”
Nathan bit his tongue at the sight of his mother so hurt, but ventured a question, “The… Power source?”
Amanda rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands and nodded. “The power that runs this suit; the suit that lets me protect Megardia and her interests. A mere steward can’t use it; he had to use a kind of battery our scientists designed that could only run the suit for about two hours each day. That wasn’t enough for him. As it turns out, nothing was enough for him.
“By the time I returned to Megardia, the quality of life had plummeted. Where under my parents and most other Philosopher Kings, the resources of the nation were geared to uplifting everyone on the island, Titus Christophos re-geared everything to increase his wealth, comfort and power. He held back technological advances for himself and made the factory workers little more than slaves with no say over their treatment, hours or compensation. As far as I was concerned, he was killing the Megardia I’d grown up in.”
Nathan seemed fully engrossed in the story, no longer trying to push against his mother’s authority, and it wasn’t hard for Link to see why: it sounded like the plot of a movie. And for someone Nathan’s age, having your life turn into a movie was still an exciting prospect instead of a terrifying shift in how reality worked.
“So,” the young man started thoughtfully. “You say you came back—because he tried to kill you?”
There wasn’t much else for Amanda to do but nod. “I was hurt and angry, and I knew that the only hope Titus had of gaining the power source was to finish off the last of the current royal lineage: me. See, the power source is protected by a guardian spirit. You’ve heard that Queen Mageddo is a sorceress, right?”
“Yeah, they’ve got a whole dossier of what they think you can do online.” he said.
“Right.” said Amanda, “Well on of my ‘tricks’ is that our family has pacts with a number of mystic beings, including the Spirit of Megardia. It protects our most powerful secrets and treasures and only allows the royal family to use them. If Titus had killed me, as steward, his family line would take our place. Power like that you don’t give up on after one assassin fails, so I knew Titus would come after me unless I went after him first.”
Link stuffed his hands in his pockets, lips pursed. “And you decided on that right before I proposed.” Understanding hit him. “And then, only after you deposed him did you realize that you were pregnant.”
“That’s the size and shape of it.” She reached out and despite his protests, ruffled Nathan’s hair. “He was the perfect excuse to convince me to come back to you, Link. I wanted to, but everyone,” And here she shot an unfriendly look at Mr. Cross, “told me that going back to you when Megardia needed me was selfish. But I couldn’t deny you your son, so I went back to marry you—and that’s how my double life started.”
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