Below is the next bit of my novella, Dropping Slow, which I am posting serially during the month of June, as part of the Every Single Day Challenge to raise money for Sharon the Light. If you’re enjoying the story, please feel free to donate via my Crowdrise page ($10 minimum donation) or directly, at this link (no minimum donation). Everyone who donates will receive an ebook copy of Dropping Slow, once it’s all posted (if you donate directly, please leave a comment to let me know!).
“Wait, they want you to what?”
Tace sighs, speaks slowly so she won’t lose her words. “My parents. My father, mostly. I think. They want me to challenge my sister for the throne. They think that, as a veteran, I would win if the people voted.”
“You do have high likeability,” Lin says. Javi stares at Lin, incredulous. Looking angry.
“I also have holes in my brain,” Tace points out. Nobody seems to be taking this into account.
Lin waves a hand. “That’s actually getting a lot better. If they don’t surprise you, you do really well. The processing is still slower than it used to be, but–”
“Are you saying she should?” Javi asks.
“What? No! Is that–I didn’t mean it to sound that way,” Lin backtracks, confused. “Just, she is getting better–you are–”
“They’re not looking for her to be better,” Javi says, his voice very calm. “They want her to be messed up and scared and silent so they can talk for her, and use her just like they’ve used her before.”
“How did they … use me before?” Tace asks, her words caught in her teeth.
“You’re a veteran because they shipped you off to war! You’re hurt because they sent you off, and now they’re going to use that to … to keep power they’re supposed to be fucking well done with!”
“I’m not going to do it,” Tace says; that much comes easily. There are other things swirling around in her head, but she knows she needs to tell them both that. “Trini is Cisara. My loyalty lies with her. My father was not pleased when I told him … that was my response as a soldier.” She smiles, weakly, remembering his face and the ten years that seemed to drop into it all at once.
“Why are you smiling?” Javi’s voice is loud enough that Tace jumps and Lin sits up to put a hand on his shoulder. He shakes it off and stands, still furious, runs a hand through his hair. “People keep fucking you over and you don’t care! Aren’t you mad about any of it?” Javi doesn’t yell, that’s not, she doesn’t think he usually–the fact of it is an electric sort of shock. Her words vanish again, leaving behind pink orange red brown swirls. His hair is now sticking up in corkscrew clumps all over his head; she can see the glint of his ports through it as he looks at her, finally. Sees her face.
He runs his hands through his hair again, breathes at the ceiling. “It’s okay. I can wait,” he says. “Take your time.”
And he waits. In the chair next to the vid screen, which is not very cleverly disguised as a fireplace. Linea glances between the two of them, then picks up her handheld and slips out of the room to let them work it out. Tace sits in the chair she thinks of as Trini’s. Javi says nothing, but his silence doesn’t press at her as she lets her head clear. It takes time. Javi leaves to use the bathroom, then comes back.
When the colors are gone and there are some words she can access, she says, “I’m a soldier, Javi.”
He blinks up at her, surprised like he’d been thinking hard. “Not anymore,” he says.
“No, I still am. Since I was born–”
His voice is urgent. “You’re not, you’re–”
“Stop,” she snaps. “Don’t drown my words.”
“Sorry,” he says, but she waves him off because that’s not the important thing now–maybe something to talk about later, with Lin; she thinks Lin might get it better and be able to explain it. The answer to his question, his original question, is floating just past her reach, like debris, and if she can put the words down, one after the other, she might be able to catch it–but she has to be able to find them.
She gropes. “Flogystons know their duty. The Second Ardriyne is always a soldier,” she says. “I was a soldier when I was home before with you and Lin because that was always my duty.” There. There they are. “Soldiers get wounded,” she tells him. “We get hurt.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t get mad–we shouldn’t even be in that stupid war–”
Tace knows in her bones that whether or not they should be in the war doesn’t matter, really; not to her, not to her duty. She did what they told her and was excellent at it, but there’s something else she wants to say, so she holds up a hand and Javi stops talking.
She loves him so ridiculously much.
“It’s okay that you’re mad, Yavee,” she says; she realizes she used the nickname when he smiles at her like maybe she broke him. “But–it’s not like. You and me, we’re not–you weren’t a soldier. I was. I knew forever what I would do, I wasn’t sold–” She stops, thinks hard. When she looks up, his face is softer and looks desperate to understand what she’s saying. “I have feelings. About all of it. Okay? Don’t be mad at me because they’re not the same as yours?”
There’s a long pause.
“Can I hug you?” he asks. She nods, and he wraps her up in his arms. “I just … I love you exactly like you are, okay? None of it makes me love you less. It’s just that you were hurt, and … nobody should hurt you, Tace. Nobody should use that hurt. I just …”
There’s nothing she can say, because she doesn’t understand, or know. Not all of it, anyway. And she can’t apologize, either, for not feeling something. So she leans into him, tightens her arms, and lets the warmth of him sink into her, lets the cool of her soothe him.
Trini has her head on her desk, her hands in her lap, limp; the aides and assistants have been sent away, dinner has been cancelled and sent to rooms, and Tace lies on the floor of the Cisara’s office with a throbbing headache that she hopes will not turn into a migraine. It’s been a very long day.
“I could have them both executed,” Trini says without lifting her head. “It’s treason. Not even, like, technically treason. The fact that they met with you in secret about challenging my rule counts as treason.”
Tace rubs her head with her fingers. There’s been too much talking and thinking today. “Don’t execute our parents,” she says. “We’re not–” She frowns, the name slipping away. “You know, the one who killed his parents and both his siblings and then the Plenum put the bastard on the throne. We’re not him. We’re civilized.”
“I ought to execute our father for wanting to use you as a puppet,” Trini says grimly, propping her head up on her hands. “How surprised was he when you declared your loyalty to me?”
“More than he should have been,” Tace says, matching her tone. “More than he would have been if he paid attention.”
“They kept us apart so much when we were children,” Trini says, thoughtful. “I wonder if that was always the backup plan.”
“How did you end up such a great disappointment?” Tace asks. “How did you get so free-thinking and rebellious?”
Trini snorts. “Aunt Marella. Uncle Tophin. There’s reasons they never let the two of them near you for any length of time. And they ought never to have taught me to read.” Then she grins. “They did a terrible job with the both of us, raising a free-thinking asexual and a poly loyalist. All right, what d’you think the odds are of Dad raising an army and coming after me if I exile the both of them to Nartherton? I mean, I’d frame it as ‘retirement,’ but still.”
Tace’s head is not cooperating with her hopes, and she says, “I don’t know. From what I’ve. Gathered, Uncle Tophin might rebel if you do. But ask Lin, she pays attention to those sorts of things … polls and trends and … whatnot.”
Trini gets up and comes around the desk to kneel next to Tace. She runs her finger down Tace’s nose. “You’re really hurting, aren’t you?” she asks, concerned.
“In every way possible,” Tace says, and it’s true. Her head hurts from words; her shoulders ache with betrayal; her back aches from slipping into and out of costumes all day.
“All right, then let’s get you a bath, and a bed, and your loves for your comfort.”
“Painkillers,” Tace adds as Trini slips a hand under her shoulder to help her up.
“Oh, gods yes, painkillers. The finest in the land, and all for you!” Trini grunts as Tace leans on her to get up; her knee hurts just for conformity’s sake. “Everything else aside, you’ve put on weight, finally.”
“Weight and malice. Help me to my rooms, your grace.”
Trini’s laugh makes her head hurt, but takes some of the ache out of her shoulders.
Copyright 2017 by Laura E. Price. Feel free to link to this story–signal boosting is welcome!–but please don’t reproduce it without permission.