- 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
“You have to try the tea. It’s really very good.” said Chloe, who had no idea what made tea good, but did know what sort of things should be said at a proper tea party. She spoke with the affected prim and proper enunciation common to children trying to imitate fake rich people on television.
“Oh is it?” Amanda copied the affectation perfectly, having had plenty of practice raising both her children, “Well if it’s that good, I simply must.” She took a dramatic sip from Chloe’s cup, her pinkie finger carefully raised and widened her eyes with equal hamminess. “Oh my, it is simply delightful dear, thank you.”
The maid nearest to where Amanda was kneeling, snapped out of her reverent awe at seeing her proud and fierce Queen making a jester of herself for her daughter and rung her hands nervously. She was in her thirties and pale, with a wall of black hair that wasn’t so much tamed as contained by a black Alice band. She also had possibly the first actual example of a ‘button’ nose Link had ever seen.
“Pardon, your Majesty, but it’s honestly just the tea we have for our breaks in the second pantry.” Link was surprised to hear a German accent out of the woman. Megardia seemed very cosmopolitan in its hiring practices.
Amanda looked up at the maid with a thoughtful set to her jaw. “Hmm. Then I believe next time we must find something more appropriate for the Princess’s tea.” Her tone made it clear to all present that she sincerely hoped that the maids enjoyed taking tea with the Princess, because they were now obliged to repeat it whenever Chloe wanted.
She then looked to Chloe and kissed her on the top of the head. “But for now, we have to be going sweetie. We have to get your brother. Say thank you to the maids for playing with you.”
Chloe wrinkled her nose. “But I haven’t had me pet…petty…”
“Petit fours.” Another maid, a matronly woman in her late fifties or early sixties, said. Her gray hair was tied up and back in a bun so tight and dense that it could probably have doubled as a blackjack. Having corrected the Princess, she inclined her head to the Queen for pardon, which she received in the form of an approving nod.
“Petty floors yet!” The lesson, however, was lost on Chloe, who looked soulfully at the tea pastries.
Amanda lifted her up easily, balancing on her hip. “We’ll take them with you.” At the utterance of that promise, the one of the maids was quick to whip out a clean handkerchief, load it up with the treats, and tie the corners up neatly. With hardly a look, as if she’d expected it, Amanda accepted the bundle in her free hand. “Thank you. Danika.”
She bounced Chloe on her hip, then turned to Link. “And did you see that Daddy’s here?”
As much as Chloe’s eyes lit up, Link was taken off guard by the maids’ reaction. To a woman, they pivoted as if there were gears set into the floor, connected to their feet. Their eyes drilled into him, sizing him up for later, possibly seditious gossip, no doubt. And after a calculated moment of weighting and measuring him with their eyes, they all slammed a fist to their left breast and dipped their heads, saying in near perfect synch, “Your Excellence.”
Link stared at them for what felt like too long a time to really be polite, then turned his attention to Chloe. “Hi there, honey. Were you having fun?”
“Uh-huh.” Chloe let go of Amanda and held her arms out for him to carry her, somehow sensing that he was particularly amenable to it after the day he’d had. He took her in his arms with a small grunt of effort—she was getting heavy—and held her tight. “We had tea—real tea, and before that, I taught everyone to sing the Smile Kitty Fun-time song, and we did finger-painting—and Daddy, did you know I’m a real Princess?”
“That’s what I hear.” He couldn’t help but smile because she always had been one in his mind, just like Amanda had always been his Queen, and Nathan, the heir to his legacy. Well, now he was more the heir to Amanda’s, he supposed.
He took a moment to take in the ‘Princess dress’ Chloe had asked for. For starters it was pink. Of course it was pink; there was statistically no other color it could have been besides pink, because a little girl who was far too ensconced in pop culture, just like her old man, was the one who requested it. Similarly, it was about eighty percent ruffles, from the wide, bell-like skirt to the poofy sleeves.
Someone had given her a string of pearls to wear that was far too big for her. Link had no doubt that every pearl was both flawless and real. They had also given her a silver cuff-style bracelet stamped with the Royal ‘M’ Crest that was so comically large on her that it was actually held on her slim arm by craft wire.
And last, but not least, was the hat. Again, in keeping with being a cartoon inspired daydream made real, it was a tall, conical (and yes, pink) thing secured to her head by a white satin ribbon. A translucent, pink veil flipped over the top of it to complete the look, which was clearly ‘early twenty-first century Halloween costume’.
It was, by any rubric, ridiculous, but Chloe was so clearly proud of it and happy to be wearing it that it didn’t matter.
“And what a beautiful Princess you are too, honey.” He said and touched his forehead to hers before kissing her on the nose.
She giggled and hugged him. “The most beautiful Princess, Daddy?”
“In the whole world.” He confirmed.
Amanda, who was watching them with stars in her eyes the whole time, finally remembered herself, or at least the self she was supposed to be for the maids, and spoke up. “Ladies, you have the most sincere thanks of the Royal Family for the initiative you’ve shown in pleasing the Princess. You will all be handsomely rewarded. But for the moment, please resume your normal duties. We will be out in the capital for the remainder of the day.”
As the maids broke onto a scramble, working double time to clean up the tea party, she went over to pick up the hippo. Link saw her give it a long, soulful look, the same look Chloe had given the pastries, and gave the soft toy a quick hug that was highly incongruous given that she was dressed in powered armor.
“Don’t forget your hippo.” She said softly to Chloe as she tucked it softly into the girl’s arms. Chloe accepted it with a big, one armed hug of her own, as her other arm occupied holding on to Link.
Chloe let out a yawn, her big day of fun starting to catch up to her now that the sugar had run out. But there was one thing she refused to let go by before taking a nap in her father’s arms. “His name is Mortimer.”
“Of course it is.” said Link, shooting a crooked grin over her shoulder at Amanda. “Amanda, how could you forget something like that?”
She returned the expression and rolled her eyes playfully. “I can’t imagine.” She watched as Chloe, now satisfied that her hippo’s current name was known so she could change it on them later, slipped into dreamland. “You know, we can have a maid watch her while she naps if you don’t want to carry her around the city.”
Link shook his head. “Are you kidding? After worrying so much about them, I’m not letting her go for a good, long while. Now let’s go find Nate.”
“He’s in the room across the hall, Your Excellence.” said Mr. Cross, appearing that the door. Neither he, nor either of the Queen’s Guards seemed touched in any way by the familial moment. Link expected it of the fighting men; even if they did feel something, they wouldn’t show it. Mr. Cross, however might well have just been grown in a pod.
Fighting back the urge to say as much, Link just nodded and headed across the hall to Nathan’s room.
“How come there’s no guard on his door?” he asked, noticing that the two female guards assigned to Chloe’s room were now part of the retinue, presumably because they were the members Princess’ Guard or something.
For once, Mr. Cross showed a bit of emotion, if only the emotion of wanting to skirt the subject without providing any useful information. He cleared his throat and put his hand on the door knob. “The Prince is being guarded from inside his chamber.”
As if to deflect any further questions, he pushed the door open and allowed first the Queen’s Guard, then the King and Queen in.
Nathan’s room wasn’t that different from Chloe’s, except there had been some hasty rearrangement of furniture so that the large plasma screen was on a different wall, facing a couch and coffee table that had also been rearranged to provide a comfortable gaming den.
A brand new Maru Gamelauncher console sat on a hastily constructed set of metal shelves below the television, and the two wireless controllers were both in use, directing the action on screen as the two players slogged their way through dense jungle in a digital representation of Vietnam.
At the sound of the door opening, however, one of the players was already rising to their feet, imposing themselves between Nathan and whatever intruders had fought their way through the entire palace’s no doubt formidable defenses to reach the Royal suites. The rifle that had been sitting at ease by their side was up and its barrel was aglow with blue light.
Dekembe nodded sharp approval at the young soldier who had just leapt to give their life for the Prince. “At ease.” His voice was deep and resonant without a hint of gravel.
The soldier was, in fact, a young woman, no older than Nathan himself. Her chocolate colored hair was pulled back and braided tightly, and her skin was a few shades darker than Amanda’s. She was in a military dress uniform, but a different one than the Royal Guards Link had seen. Hers was white with yellow piping and an orange sash across her chest that bore her metals. She had no beret, but in its place was a black neckerchief.
When she realized who was there, she let her rifle fall, held to her shoulder by a strap, and slammed home a perfect salute with enough force against her chest to make Link worry that she might damage herself in the doing. “You Majesty.”
And just like that, her voice fit a place in Link’s mind like a key. He’d heard her say those words before; he’d seen her take that stance before. And from how her gaze fell on him, she recognized him too. His mouth went dry and logic abandoned him.
Still holding onto Chloe, he took a small step forward. “and My Excellence.”
“’My’ Excellence?” Amanda asked.
Link spared her a look and tried to shrug with Chloe’s head on his shoulder before returning his attention to the soldier. “What are you doing in my son’s room?”
From behind the young woman, Nathan, still on the couch, leaned over to look past her. “Dad? Before you get mad at me over this, you can’t blame me for this. The guy with the glasses brought her in here.”
Both Amanda and Link looked at Mr. Cross, who weathered the twin glares of parental ire without seeming to notice that he should have burst into flames.
“Indeed.” He said, looking Amanda, then Link right in the eyes. “The Prince put a request to me for someone to play his videogames with, as his console is not yet set up for online play. I handpicked Arisa of the Sovereign Elite for the task, as they are of an age. Arisa lists gaming as one of her hobbies on her annual personality evaluation, and,” He gave Amanda a meaningful look, “She is not only in the top percentile of her class, but certified by the Creche.”
Unbecoming of a Queen, Amanda nearly choked, winding up coughing and sputtering for several seconds before saying, “I believe it’s a bit early to consider Creche accreditation, Mr. Cross.”
Undaunted, Mr. Cross frowned. “I must respectfully disagree, Your Majesty. The Prince will soon enter the age of majority and—“
Link spoke up, trying not to wake Chloe with his voice. “Am I reading this right in thinking that you just set my boy up on a date with that girl?”
“He did?” Nathan asked, looking Arisa up and down. “Score.”
Mr. Cross looked to Amanda as if he was going to get support from her on the subject. “But Your Majesty; as His Excellence was not Creche certified, it is vital to the bloodline that—“
“Okay, hold on.” said Link. “First of all—and I’m going to ignore the fact that you’re making this sound like animal husbandry for the moment, but first of all, I’m not letting my boy date a murderer. That girl there shot a woman right in the god…” He remembered Chloe, “…forsaken eye right in front of me.”
Nathan laughed mockingly. “Come on Dad. After the past couple days, I don’t think you have a leg to stand on in the ‘no dating murderers’ department.”
A terrible feeling crept its way up Link’s spine; a cold and foreboding sensation that threw his worldview into doubt. It was the feeling of knowing that his teenaged son had a point. He shook that off because no parent ever should admit that. Because once that ground was lost, it would never be regained.
“Your mother’s situation is complicated.” he said and Amanda softly lowered her face into her palm, shaking her head the whole time.
“And my room service girlfriend works for mom, so if anything, her situation is even more complicated.”
And there was the feeling again. Link wondered if that’s what it felt like when those folks in movies aged a thousand years inside a few seconds.
Lucky for him, help arrived from the very person he’d been railing against. Arisa ducked her head in the direction of Mr. Cross. “With respect, sir; I was not informed that my duty was to do anything more than guard and play a video game with the Prince.”
“Then that’s settled.” Amanda said, putting the full weight of the Queen’s own word behind the proclamation to lend a sense of finality to the discussion. “Mr. Cross, with respect to your diligent and loyal attempt to remain true to the traditions of the Royal House of Megardia, I myself have already broken that particular tradition by marrying and bearing children by the King, who was not only not certified by the Creche, but is not even a natural born citizen of Megardia. You may cease and desist any attempts at finding him a wife; I am certain that he is capable of doing that himself.”
Nathan put down his controller, ignoring that his character being taken out by a sniper on the television, and folded his arms. “I’m not above getting some help, you know.”
“Yes, but none of that help is going to be based on being the Prince.” said Amanda sagely. “Trust me; you don’t want the kind of people who would be with you just because of who your parents are. Speaking of which…”
She looked Arisa up and down. The girl was still standing at stark attention, a consummate professional even in the intensely awkward situation Mr. Cross had thrown her into. “Arisa Stephanos, Junior officer first class of the Sovereign Guard, yes?”
“Yes, Majesty.” said Arisa and she saluted again.
“I’ve heard of you before today. You’re one of the best of the rising class. I’m impressed. But what impresses me more is that you didn’t use the opportunity clearly presented to you by Mr. Cross to attempt to raise your status trying to seduce my son.”
Nathan made a disappointed noise. As a teenaged boy that liked teenaged girls, one of his heart’s desires was having one trying to seduce him. “It would have been nice.” He muttered, but shut up quickly because his mother was giving him the look. It was that look hidden in the arsenal of all maternal figures and some girlfriends that could conjure in the mind of a person fleeing images of four horsemen riding out ahead of the apocalypse and then something worse than that coming from said woman’s wrath. Also, this particular woman was currently wearing a suit of powered armor, and had once broken The Invincible Titan’s jaw with one punch.
Once she was sure her son was sufficiently cowed, Amanda returned her attention to Arisa. “You are hereby promoted to the Royal Guard as a junior officer and Captain of the Prince’s Guard. You will choose three of your classmates who you believe to be both skilled and disciplined to fill out the detail.”
Arisa lowered her head. “Thank you, Majesty. I will do everything in my power, even give my life not to disappoint you.”
“Wait.” Link goggled at what just happened. “What?! Didn’t you hear what I said? She killed that woman. I’m.. I’m not comfortable with this, Amanda.”
“I know, Link,” Amanda looked at him with soft, understanding eyes. It was the same expression she wore when arguing her point in their disagreements on other parenting issues like if Nathan should be allowed his henna tattoos, or when Chloe’s bedtime should be.
“But follow my logic: First of all, she killed Moccasin in the process of rescuing you on a mission where two of her colleagues ended up in the infirmary. Unsurprisingly, I feel some gratitude to her for that. Second, as I said, Moccasin doesn’t count because she’ll be back. And third, Nathan will have to start school here eventually and it will be easier for him to be guarded by people his own age instead of older soldiers. And if we’re going to use the junior officers, why not use one of our best junior officers?”
Link shifted Chloe’s sleeping weight to his other shoulder and gnawed on his lip. Even though he wasn’t so sure that the Extraordinary Response International Services agent called Moccasin really would come back from being shot in the face from a few feet away, the rest did have some logic. And his car back home—or what used to be home—had a ‘Support the Troops’ magnetic ribbon on it, and part of the definition of ‘troops’ was having to kill people for their nation, and Arisa was a ‘troop’ of Megardia so…
He didn’t fully buy that logic either, but lately his world was a river with a strong current, dragging him along, so he relented. “Fine. We’ll give her a probationary trial period. Let’s see how well she guards Nate on our tour.”