As almost all trips about the palace, Link and the newly appointed King’s Guard needed to use an elevator to reach the war room. The one they were currently climbing out of had been down a hall which itself had been hidden by a tapestry. It also went down a rather long way by Link’s reckoning.
The doors opened onto an imposing hallway with black marble tiles and pillars along its length. There was one guard standing by each pillar, each wielding a nasty looking assault rifle—or some high-tech equivalent; Link didn’t have an eye for weaponry. At the opposite end of the hallway was a metal security door flanked by a pair of soldiers in powered armor decked out with heavy weapons that looked like they could obliterate the hall if need be.
By then, the conversation had progressed between Link and Nadine with Ilia, who had no children or plans for any, keeping quite pace alongside them.
“The greatest thing I fear is when he is old enough to understand and happens upon what the rest of the world thinks of our nation on the internet. As I am sure you have already seen, Your Excellence, the truth about Megardia is far from what the rest of the world believes.”
Link nodded. Back home, the perception of Megardia was a country of drones, slavishly devoted to their Queen and serving as an infinite supply of henchmen to do her bidding. If anything was discussed at all, it was the latest superweapon being constructed there, or about it resorting to theft and ransom in place of international trade.
He wasn’t fully convinced that all of Megardia and, by extension, Amanda’s villainy were the result of the greed and grudges of the rest of the world. Just as his perceptions of Megardia had been wrong, so to were the perceptions of the Megardians likely to be similarly clouded.
How much ERIS had to do with that on both ends was something he would have to get to the bottom of.
“I can attest to that, yes.” Link said diplomatically. He was starting to like Nadine and didn’t want to offend her, bodyguard or not. “But maybe I can think of something to change that. I am after all, the first King in probably a very long time to have been born on the other side of that coin. Maybe a fresh perspective can come up with ways to change that.”
Nadine’s eyes darted to the side. “We can only hope Your Excellence.”
It was hard to fault her for doubting him. Hell, if he was being honest, he doubted him. Link merely nodded and turned his attention forward. They were close to the heavy guards and the doors now, so he raised a hand in greeting.
The response was so automatic, it was unnerving. Both men executed the standard Megardian salute as if they practiced doing so in synch for hours each day. For all Link knew, they may have. Immediately after, they both stood aside, clearing the way to the door.
Before Link could ask how he was supposed to open the security door, which appeared to lack both knob and handle, a panel above it slid open and a red-glowing dome emerged from it. A cone of almost tangible, red light engulfed Link, setting his body tingling.
It lasted only a moment before the light winked out and a voice that sounded very much like a younger and tinnily digitized Amanda announced, “Identified: His Excellence, King T Lincoln Moss of Megardia, and the King’s Guard. Security Status: Alpha-Zero-Two. Welcome, Your Excellence.”
A chunk sound announced a magnetic seal inside the door disengaging just before it swung open. Link was still mulling over why the king didn’t have the highest level clearance (that it was level A-02 implied to him that there was an A-01 somewhere) when Ilia and Nadine looked to him, apparently waiting for him to go first for once.
He strode forward, unsure of what he would see in Megardia’s war room. A lifetime of movies and television had left him with certain expectations. A giant screen for video conferences with heroes and/or the UN, computer banks larger than most homes, and a big, circular table came to mind.
The real war room of Megardia murdered those expectations, dumped them in a shallow grave and then dropped a nuclear weapon on those graves for good measure. The only similarity was that the room was, in fact, round.
Round in multiple dimensions, even. It was a sphere the size of a high school gym. The security door (one, it seemed, of three providing entrance to the space) opened onto a gantry that ringed the circumference of the room with platforms jutting out into the open space. The largest of those was a circular dais the extended out into the center of the room. There were a few people who looked to be technicians moving about the gantry and platforms, but the real work was happening above and below.
There were circular desks replete with holographic screens that ringed the entire workspace. And they were levitating throughout the room, sometimes moving in clusters as groups worked together, sometimes breaking off to land on a platform as one or more person using it left the room or returned. Most were single-person affairs, but as Link took in the sight, he spotted two-, three-, and five-person models hovering about. Even smaller skiffs, large enough for a few people to simply stand on, swooped between the desks on errands Link could only guess at.
A low buzz of quiet conversation was amplified to a drone by the cavernous room such that nothing Link could do let him pick out any one conversation from among the others.
“Her Majesty’s work station is there, Your Excellence.” Ilia said, pointing to draw Link’s attention to one desk that seemed to be the center of a small constellation of others. It was, of course, larger than any of the other single-person units and when Link looked closer, he picked out Dekembe and Ari standing on a pair of the smaller skiffs, positioned above Amanda’s.
He must have looked confused as well as awestruck because Nadine stepped in with an explanation. “Her Majesty’s parents had it designed. The war room is the nerve center of all Megardian security and foreign operations. For this reason, they decided on a highly modular office environment where meetings of necessary personnel can be called immediately without anyone needing to cease monitoring their situations to travel to attend. The workstations can connect to one another, rise an fall to accommodate different configurations, and absolutely no one is outside of the watchful eyes of the security team while handling sensitive information. The only time such information leaves here is with Her Majesty.”
As she was explaining this, Link watched as one desk approached another. Both split open to interlock and become a two-person design that then rose up into a more private (though still in view of the dozens—maybe hundreds of dome cameras covering the interior surface of the dome.
A little spark of inspiration hit and in the back of his mind, he was already redesigning the space for more comfort and security. On the outside, he merely blinked. “Er… nice set-up. How do we get up there? I need to speak wth her.”
‘Her’ seemed better than the alternatives. He wanted to say ‘Amanda’, but that seemed improper whne speaking with Royal Guards.
“This way, Your Excellence.” said Ilia, heading for the closest platform. As she stepped onto it, she declared, “Request: three sentry platforms.”
Something in the platform warbled and from below rose a trio of the smaller skiffs. They discs of white plastic and some sort of ceramic housing, the former od which glowed faintly with an inner light. A circular metal railing rose up from the perimeter of each disc, providing a modicum of safety and a place to mount a touchpad that Link assumed to be the controls of the device.
As soon as they landed on the platform, a section of railing on each retracted one them, offering ingress.
Part of Link wanted to be cautious; to ask plenty of questions of his guards so that he could be compeltely certain that he knew how to pilot such a strange device. Another part of him had been a ten-year-old geek who watched too much science fiction. That part was too overjoyed to have his own, personal hover-scooter to brook any arguments from the rest of him.
Before he knew it, he had stepped up onto the disc and was leaning over the touchpad. The controls looked so simple, he was sure there was a catch: an arrow pad straight out of a videogame to control forward, backward, left and right, a circular track one swept their finger around to rotate the craft, and an up/down slider to determine elevation.
More than one video game, both during his college days and during bonding time with Nathan, had surprised him with disastrously poor (or worse, inverted) control schemes, so Link’s more reserved side did managed to keep him from attacking the controls with youthful abandon. To start with, he incremented the elevation slider a notch and was pleased to feel the disc gently rise beneath him.
Both Ilia and Nadine did an impressive job wiping the stunned looks of their faces as he eased the craft higher and did a quick rotation in the air without incident. “You… do not require instruction, Your Excellence?” Ilia asked, trying to keep her tone even.
Link smiled and looked back up at Amanda’s workstation above him. “For once, I think I’ve found something around here that I understand right off the bat.” He waited politely for them to get into the air before maneuvering up to his wife.
The effect of his arrival was immediate. The clusters of floating workstations ringing Amanda’s edged away lazily on automatic as whatever system governed them ordered them to make way for a skiff, but as more and more of the people at said work stations saw that it was, in fact, the King coming to see his Queen, many of them broke ff from their clusters entirely. Link could guess of a number of reasons for that, but if they had important reasons to be where they had been, he intended to make sure they stopped fleeing whenever he arrived in the future.
Amanda herself had all of the holographic displays on her workstation on and working, which from the other side made it look like she was trapped in a ring of glowing, blue plexiglass. Coming closer, Link noticed that she wasn’t alone in the workstation: Chloe was sitting on her lap, watching whatever was on the forward screen with rapt attention.
So much attention that neither she nor Amanda noticed his arrival at first. Dekembe caught Link’s eye and gave a subtle nod. “Your Majesty, His Excellence has arrived.”
That finally got Amanda to look up, though Link had to wonder how she saw through the screen in front of her. Nonetheless, a warm smile spread across her face. “Oh Honey, you’re finally up.”
One of the screens to her right shifted upward and the solid part of the desk folded into itself, leaving an opening in the station’s ring big enough for Link to pilot the disc into the space.
Now inside with her and Chloe, Link could see that Amanda was wearing her Queen Mageddo armor, though it looked almost as if it were made of spandex instead of armor sections now—any it probably was, right up until it needed to be otherwise. The command chair she occupied was the kind of thing Link always wanted in the den but they could never afford: huge, leather, extremely comfortable looking, hosting a touchscreen control panel in one arm, and apparently capable of hovering some five stories off the ground.
“You know, all things considered, I was expecting a different pet name. Lover, maybe. Or something foreign.”
“Daddy!” Chloe’s eyes left the screen upon hearing his voice. She started to squirm in Amanda’s lap, but didn’t get very far thinks to a safety line that attached to the sash of princess dress and clipped onto Amanda’s belt. Link already foresaw that getting Chloe to wear anything but that dress in the next few weeks would be a Herculean task even for The Philanthropist.
Being unable to leap over and hug him, however, did nothing to keep Chloe from talking after a moment spent pouting at her apparent lack of freedom. “Daddy, where were you? Me and Mommy and Nathan had breakfast with some of the nice ladies from last night and some soldier people. I got to have waffles because their pancakes aren’t like your special dinosaur pancakes, so I didn’t want those. Then I got to watch the Smile Kitty Fun-time Hour with the nice maid ladies, and now I get to help get our house back.”
Unraveling the avalanche of words Chloe was capable of was chore enough without that last curveball. Seeing as his life was nothing but curveballs lately, Link tried to take it in stride, especially since there was little to no way Chloe understood how strange anything going on ought to be.
“Oh?” She asked as if he understood the last part. Some careful jockeying of the disc bought him close enough to Amanda’s chair that when he opened the safety railing, he was flush with them and able to reach down and ruffle Chloe’s hair. Thankfully today she was just wearing the dress, not the jewelry or hat. “Well that sounds like a big job. Are you sure you can handle it?” Over her head, he gave Amanda a questioning look.
Chloe nodded vigorously. “Uh-huh! All we have to do is calcifate where to put the telepordo pythons and Mommy has to tell some other men where to go get some rods of…” Her face screwed up as she encountered a word that she couldn’t even attempt.”
Amanda chuckled an kissed the top of her head. “And I think we’re just about done here, sweetie. How about Octavia takes you back to your new room? I promise that after lunch, we’ll got to see the zeppelins, won’t that be fun?”
“The big balloons?” Chloe asked, eye brightening. “Can we really ride in them?”
“Of course we can.” Amanda laughed, stroking the little girl’s hair.
Almost soundlessly, Octavia, the eldest member of the Princess’s guard, descended from above to hover on Amanda’s other side. She had a safety clip on her belt similar to Amanda’s, and once the Queen nodded her permission, went about attaching hers and detaching the other from Chloe’s sash.
For her part, Chloe noticed Octavia and even smiled at her, but her mind was already aboard a giant balloon that likely was a far from a zeppelin as a turtle was from a dove. “Yay! Are you going to come with us, Daddy? You and Nathan and me and Mommy, we should all fly around on a big balloon and eat cookies!”
“That sounds like the perfect afternoon, sweetie.” Once he was sure he line was secured to Octavia’s belt, he bent down and lifted his daughter into a hug. “And tomorrow morning, I am going to make you dinosaur pancakes. How about that?”
If Chloe’s eyes glowed with any more delight, she could have lit the entire room. “This is the best trip ever! I find out I’m a real princess, and meet a lot of nice people and get to ride on a balloon and noe dinosaur pancakes!” She twisted around to look at Amanda. “We don’t have to go home any time real soon, right Mommy?”
Link caught a flicker in Amanda’s eyes. It was clear she’d tried to explain things to Chloe, but the girl’s mind was like a steel trap: it was hard to get things in or out once it clamped down on something else. “Er… no, sweetheart. Not any time soon at all. Now be good for Octavia, okay?”
“Okay.” Chloe said with a bright smile as Link semi-reluctantly handed her off to the guard. “Bye Mommy! Bye Daddy!”
Both of her parents waved as Octavia and a second member of the Princess’s Guard Link didn’t know floated down toward the gantry below.
Amanda gave him a shamefaced look. “She might have sneaked a little bit more syrup than we’d normally give her at breakfast this morning, so… yeah… a little bit hyper.”
A snort of laughter escaped Link .”How come you didn’t wake me? I had to get up to the tender, bitter ministrations of Mr. Cross.”
If Link didn’t know any better, he might have thought a blush had darkened his bride’s olive complexion. But he did know better, so he knew it was a blush, no ‘thinking’ about it. “Well… a couple of reasons, not the least of which being that last night was our first… you know… night where I could use my full strength and flexibility. I thought you might be tuckered out.”
Now a blush was burning his own face. There they were, floating in the middle of a sci-fi war room, surrounded by advisers and technicians, and they were blushing over their sex lives like they were in high school again. He coughed and looked around to see if anyone heard that. No one seemed to. “Ahem… yes, well I like to think I was able to keep up.”
“Oh, you were indeed.” Amanda purred. She caught herself immediately. “Anyway… I also wanted to take the opportunity to spend a little bit of one-on-one time with the kids. I didn’t get many chances to do that before and now I want to make up for lost time.”
“So that’s why you took your daughter to work today?” Link asked with a faint smirk.
Amanda shrugged weakly, looking un characteristically insecure in her Queen Mageddo armor. “She was talking about home quite a bit at breakfast and when I talked to Nathan… You know teenagers, he wanted to know what was going to happen to all his stuff.”
“I get that.” Link nodded slowly, “Did you tell him about your plan to steal the entire house back?”
He’d been in denial about that after hearing it the first time, but now that he was actively trying to be more serious about Megardia and Amanda’s vocation, he couldn’t help but feel the ten-year-old boy side of him getting a little giddy at how cool the concept sounded.
“After last night? I don’t think he’s ready to hear about me perpetrating larceny on a ‘real estate’ scale.” said Amanda with a sigh. “I’ll just hope he’s somewhat appreciative when the house arrives.” Then she looked up at him with a crooked smile. “So I’m preparing that mission and another to procure some cameronium-233. But enough about me, how was you day?”