- 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
Link took a deep, steadying breath at the question before responding. “Honey; I know that I should have learned my lesson by now, and that in the coming weeks and months, I’ll probably regret asking the following question,” Mr. Cross was giving him another small unappreciative look, but Link had long since stopped caring about his approval. “But: What does ‘the other side’ of your world mean?”
He didn’t know if it was a good sign or a bad one that Amanda continued to fight laughter bubbling up from inside her.
“I know you’ve had a hard few days, but this isn’t bad, I promise.”
A new, more worrying thought came to his mind. “Wait a minute. Linda Pruitt has called the house at least once a week while you were home for the past five years and told me she worked with you for the airline. Only, you never worked for an airline. So…”
Amanda sighed and took another sip of coffee, knowing full well that it would be a long day. “She’s Keeva, the Night Queen.” she said without ceremony, hoping that quick and clean, like tearing off a band-aid might be the best way to break things to Link, who thought too much for his own good sometimes. “And her boyfriends is Thunderstruck.”
There was a long moment of quiet, as Link managed to stop himself from doing s spit take, swallowed carefully, and only then exploded in a flare of incredulity.
“The Night Queen is the most prolific cat burglar in the Tri-State area.” He stated while blinking in disbelief. Amanda nodded in confirmation.
So not only had he been sleeping with the most dangerous mortal on Earth, but once a week he’d been making small talk with a famous thief. He wondered if the pizza delivery guy might not be a projection of an Elder God onto the Earthly plane. And just as quickly, he decided not to ask.
He continued restating the facts. “And she is dating Thunderstruck, the self proclaimed defender of the Tri-State area.”
“Mmm-hmm.” said Amanda, “And don’t look at me like that; I was against it.”
“Because it isn’t like she goes out of town to do her job.” said Amanda. “They are constantly in direct conflict, and it’s an inherently unequal relationship. Think about it: Linda goes to steal a painting, Thunderstruck comes to stop her what do you think happens?”
Link frowned. “I don’t know. I can’t imagine they’d actually fight… unless they were into that sort of thing. They’ve got to flip a coin or something right?”
Mr. Cross adjusted his collar conspicuously in an attempt to draw the Queen’s attention back to his briefing, but Amanda was used to jawing with Link at length on the rare mornings that they were both together and it was overriding her normal royal routine.
“Wrong.” She said over the top of her coffee cup. “She has to give whatever she stole up and ‘escape’ before the police arrive.”
“That doesn’t make much sense… well as much as anything about dating the kind of person you’d sworn to fight makes, this makes less. Wouldn’t they trade off if this is so important to both of them?”
Shaking her head, Amanda set her cup down and held it in both hands. “It doesn’t work that way though. There’s too much politicking involved. You see, For me, or Night Queen, or the Chaos Ranger, public opinion doesn’t matter much. If we win, we succeed in whatever we planned, but if we lose, it only matters to us… or those that depend on us… but not the world at large. For Night Queen, it’s just a matter of not getting paid.
“But for the heroes; they’re slaves to public pressure. They can literally live and die on it. If Linda escaped with the loot half the time, the best thing that might happen is that people start to think Thunderstruck is incompetent and lose faith in him. That means the police don’t respond to him as quickly, people won’t be so trusting of him when he needs information, and other heroes might be less willing to lend or ask for aid.”
She took another drink and sighed. “And at worst? Well you’ve heard me say before that the court of public opinion is complete idiocy stacked up on itself. Sometimes the idiots get it right. Maybe they speculate that yes, Thunderstruck was colluding with Night Queen, and suddenly they turn against him and it’s far, far worse than the best case scenario. And this is for looking the other way for petty theft; they won’t even care about how many people he’s pulled out of fires or saved from marauding aliens. The second a hero shows a crack, public opinion goes to work like ice in a pothole.”
“It take it there’s no tabloids in Megardia.” said Link.
“Of course not.” Mr. Cross bull-rushed his way into the conversation of a newborn fawn in an earthquake. “Megardia maintains a state run newspaper, news network and online presence. Entertainment is in the peoples’ hands, but facts cannot be trusted to their whimsy.”
“There’s Megardian entertainment? Like on television?” Link was feeling more and more like he needed a ‘Megardia on ten whatever-the-local-currency-was a day booklet to navigate the enormity of being King on a whole new country. Of course being King, he suspected, meant he wouldn’t have to pay for much at all.
“My parents made big steps in encouraging the arts. We actually have citizenship awards for advances in film, television, stage, dance, literature, music and visual arts now. Unfortunately, I suspect that most of the citizenry just steals satellite if they have any friends and neighbors in the Office of Communications.” Amanda gave Mr. Cross a sidelong glance. “Much like the palace, actually.”
To his credit, Mr. Cross didn’t flinch. “It is imperative that we be able to monitor international events with every approach we can muster, Your Majesty. It was also my estimation that allowing the palace’s residential staff the luxury would increase morale and foster creativity. I may note that thus far, my estimations have been correct: the residential staff including the kitchen workers, Royal Guard, and the palace maids all report increased job satisfaction and overall improvement in quality of life. Plus, their children on average do better in creativity intensive classes such as language arts.”
Amanda gave him a look as if wondering if he was being serious, then remembered that such questions were redundant in relation to Mr. Cross and just nodded. “Very good work, Mr. Cross. And back on subject, I would very much enjoy seeing Linda and her boyfriend. Clear them for entry and have the kitchen prepare a light afternoon tea—we’ll take it here.”
“Indeed, Your Majesty.” said Mr. Cross. “And one last matter: the Office of Energy wishes to inform you that the stockpiles of cameronium-233 have reached critical levels. If we do not replenish our stocks, the outlying villages will begin to experience rolling blackouts within three weeks, the sister cities within five, and Megardia City itself in two months’ time.”
Now she was fully Queen Mageddo again. Link watched it happen: the moment Mr. Cross mentioned a hardship facing Megardia, the fun loving, snarky, and talkative Amanda submerged and the all-business, stoic and cold Queen Mageddo surfaced. Did she even know she was doing it?
“Begin reconnaissance of all facilities we know to have suitable stores and send up probes to scout for new sources.” She pinched the bridge of her nose and rubbed the place where her glasses normally rested.
She hadn’t worn them since Link had been on Megardia; apparently the Queen preferred contacts. That bothered Link just a little, because he thought she looked nice in her glasses, but who was he to argue that small a point when she was sitting in front of him plotting to steal some rare and expensive element he’d never even heard of.
“And I’m tired of this being a constant hunt to scavenge enough material to keep the deep geothermal plants in spare parts—have the Office of Sciences increase their focus on researching alternatives to cameronium-233 or, failing that, have the Office of Intelligence locate someplace with the means to synthesize the molecule that we can steal the equipment from.”
Offering Link a wan smile that was halfway to apologizing to him for plotting major, international crime right in front of him, she settled back in her seat. “Have the Sovereign Elite on standby for deployment as soon as we have a good location.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.” said Cross, his fingers flying across the surface of his tablet to set her orders into motion.
Amanda nodded. “Is there anything on the day’s itinerary?”
“Spot inspections of several industrial centers in the city.” replied Cross. He gave Link the stink eye again, “But if you wish to dedicate the day with your family, a proxy can be arranged.”
“Excellent. I want to take the family shopping so everyone can settle in as comfortably as possible as soon as possible.” Amanda tapped her nails on the wood of the desk in front of her. “Compile a list of business owners here in Megardia City who have won citizenship awards; we should give them our business and the prestige of being the place where the Royal Family shops.”
After a moment of thought, she added, “Oh. And put surveillance on our home back in America. Extraordinary Response International Services probably has the place on lockdown, but if there’s an opening, I intend to go back for it.”
Link nearly spewed his coffee out of his nose. “Go back for it? You mean some of our irreplaceables, right?”
She shook her head as if the alternative was obvious. In hindsight, he guessed it was obvious to her. “No, I mean the house. I hardly think we can make a complete list of everything of sentimental value without missing something, and I do have equipment for stealing assembly lines and other large-scale factory equipment and…” Amanda trailed off as she noted the glazing of his eyes. “And I just strayed into weirdness territory again, didn’t I?”
“A little bit.” Link said, holding up a thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. Then, in the interest of being truthful to the woman he loved, raised his other hand and held it out as far away from the other as possible.
Amanda laughed, which made Mr. Cross fidget uncomfortably. “Sorry, I’m just used to taking the direct approach, especially when I’m wearing the armor. That’s a lot of what makes a ‘super villain’;” For that term, she used air quotes, “We always tend toward the direct approach. Little diplomacy, little misdirection usually; just shock, awe and brute force. You’d be surprised how effective it is: It’s easy for people to react to catching someone stealing a car, but a lot harder for their minds to wrap around it when you steal that car by ripping the whole dealership out of the ground and fly off with it.”
“Except for the little problem of attracting superheroes like flies to horse manure.” Link pointed out.
“There is that.” Amanda ducked her head in agreement. “But that’s just escalation. I’m not sure if there were heroes first or villains, but one side getting stronger meant the other had to as well, I think. Someone has to stop people from walking off with the car dealership, and since there will never not be crime, someone has to trump that guy too.
Link took a breath and turned his coffee cup around in his hands as he considered his next question and whether or not he knew the answer. After a minute he plunged ahead with it, because if he didn’t he would wonder forever.
“And where do yo fit in?”
Mr. Cross made a show of clearing his throat angrily. Link got the message behind that one: No one was supposed to question the Queen, not even the King, because no matter what the current monarch said, the old traditions that had stood for hundreds of years and were, in the end, the only things men like Mr. Cross respected, said that the ‘King’ was really just the Queen’s consort. And back when those traditions were being laid down, a ‘consort’ was just a fancy type of slave, or a hostage if the monarch had played their political cards right. Either way, just sleeping with the ruler didn’t entitle said consort to do silly things like speak their minds, especially not contrary to the thoughts of the monarch.
The joys of a nation that had heard of democracy, thanked it kindly for dropping by with all the slick, professional looking pamphlets, then politely, but firmly closed the door on its nose. Link, once more, ignored Mr. Cross and focused instead on Amanda.
She pushed her own coffee cup aside and laced her fingers together over the table. “I’m not about to put on a black hat and ride around town punching orphans and old folks; trust me, there are people like that, no matter how much people insist on the ‘no one is the villain of their on story’ thing; I’ve met them.”
For a moment, she sat in thought, then looked her husband directly in the eye. “It’s probably a cliché, but you know the old argument about stealing bread to feed your family?” Link nodded. “It’s true. It’s not an excuse, it’s just the truth. That’s where I stand: the macro scale version where I have a family of millions and they need energy to purify their water, cool their homes, cook their food—and that’s just the start. In the modern world, you need trade to survive and because my great-great-oh-so-great grandfathers refused to roll over for Alexander, of Genghis, or Mussolini, or any other would-be conquerors a long time ago and everyone wants to take us wholesale because of ancient grudges instead of trade fairly.”
She quickly grabbed up her cup and took a long drink to quench her suddenly parched throat. “So that’s where I am—where we are if you still decide not to take the kids and leave.” her voice was quiet, sad; unlike the Amanda he knew, or the Queen Mageddo he’d feared. “And I’ll admit I have done some unsavory things. I’ve killed people, hurt people, and there’s never a moment where I don’t try to go back and think of a way I could have prevented it. And then there were the Clarks; The Philanthropist’s parents; that was the worse thing I’ve done.”
“I must object, Your Majesty.” said. Mr. Cross. “There is no reason to doubt yourself in your actions. You do what must be done for the good of all Megardia and her people—your people. And there is no reason for His Excellence to make you feel guilty for that face.”
Amanda’s head snapped up in a dangerous, almost reptilian manner and she was once more all Queen Mageddo; cold, calm and in control. Only now she was also seething just beneath the surface. “Mr. Cross.” The words were leads slabs coming down on their side of him, pinning him in place. She took a deep breath ad collected herself, willing away the anger in her voice.
“I believe that the only matter that remains are our breakfast orders, yes?” She didn’t give him time to reply, and in any event, it hadn’t been a question. “The King—your King will have a steak and scrambled eggs arranged on a lightly toasted bagel with fried onions and a side of fried potatoes. And do please inform the cooks not to add onions to the potatoes.
“As for myself, I will have two pieces of toast, dark to the point of almost being carbonized, with blackberry jam; two fried eggs, three strips of bacon, cooked crisp but not hard, and a Belgian waffle using Mrs. Poultos’s recipe with maple syrup and butter.”
Mr. Cross didn’t write her order down and Link realized that this was because he knew it and usually didn’t need to be told. Amanda was dictating it to him now to show her displease; every instruction a blow landing on the man’s pride in punishment for his behavior.
Amanda continued, “As the Prince will complain regardless of what I order for him, have him make his own order—impress upon him that he can order anything, but that he must take the kitchen staff’s patience into account—never be unpleasant to those who handle your food. And the Princess will eat whatever cereal we have, but do not let her see the box. She is going through a phase where she believes that she only likes brand name products, so at home, we kept a box with a brand name and just filled it with store brand.”
With amusement and irony, Link realized that all those past few months of Chloe’s consumerist phase, they could have afforded brand names without a problem. He stopped being amused and fell in love with her all over again when her voice softened and she added:
“And tell her that I will be there shortly to watch cartoons with her.”
It was Mageddo’s voice and posture, but that was unmistakably Amanda, if only because she couldn’t really hide the inflection in her voice that she was a little bit excited to watch cartoons too. There had been an interesting period in their lives during the period where Nathan had declared himself too mature for cartoons, but Chloe was too young to understand.
She cleared her throat of the sentimentality and childish delight before taking another swipe at Mr. Cross. “And please do hurry. The King and I are quite famished.”
The expression that ghosted briefly over Cross’s face was uniquely doggy. It was the look a dog got on its face when it was being scolded for something it knew it did wrong. There was shame, but also doe-eyed disbelief and betrayal that they had actually been called out on it. But it only lasted a moment before he stood and bowed.
“Very well, Your Majesty.” And then he thought better of leaving it at than and bowed to Link as well, “Your Excellence. I will be on call as needed.” And then he glided out of the room.
When the doors closed, Link said “He really doesn’t like me.” at the same time Amanda said “He really doesn’t like you.” They broke into grins.
Link reached over and took her hand in his, drawing lazy circles on the back of her hand. “I think he might be kind of jealous.”
“Of what?” She actually snorted.
“Well,” he continued drawing circles, “Before we met, I had a girlfriend that had this cat. The big, gray bastard with like, battle scars all over him and a tail the was worn down to a stump. Anyway, he hissed and bit at me all the time, because she was his territory and I was another male moving in. Obviously being a cat, it wasn’t like ‘dude this is my woman’, but she was his food machine and petting distributor, so the result was the same.
“I figure Cross is used to being the only person you listened to seriously and part of why he dislikes me is that. That, and when you’re around me, you don’t always act like the magnificent bastardess he knows and loves.
Amanda shook her head at the idea of Mr. Cross being territorial. “Well,” she reversed her hand so she was holding his and lifted it to her lips to kiss it. “He’s just going to have to get used to it. Amanda Moss is Queen Mageddo, so he has to put up with both.”