Yellow mist swirled around Skyla and once again, her head rested on the wooden chopping block.
I am dreaming, she thought, but the man who lorded over her grabbed her hair and pressed her cheek against the splintery wood—and that felt real. Perhaps being a queen was the dream, and the ax blade that glinted and cut thin trails through the mist was part of her true life.
The ax swung.
Skyla bolted up, her blankets a tangled mess around her legs. She was still in her dress clothes, and now they were wrinkled. The stimulant she’d taken had worn off hours ago, but she still felt foolish for allowing herself to slip into sleep before 01800 hours.
She thought about changing her clothes when the intruding sound of an incoming transmission on the com drilled through the air.
Maybe it would go away.
But no, it persisted. She would have to face the world sometime.
Padding across the room and brushing a stray hair from her eyes, she tapped the enter key to receive the transmission. “This is Queen Skyla.”
The monitor flickered and Ambassador Conrod’s face appeared on the screen. “Greetings, Queen Skyla.”
“You’ll forgive me if I’m audio only, Ambassador,” Skyla said, stifling a yawn. “I’m not looking my best at the moment.”
A note of concern crossed his face. “Have you ordered a station-wide check for the Virus, your highness?”
“No. It’s not–” She stopped herself, breathing deeply to calm her rage. “I was trying to catch up on my sleep.”
“Ah. I see. So your First Lady being incapacitated by a known contagious virus doesn’t concern you, then?
“Of course it concerns me. But there is no clear evidence that points to the Moon Flash Virus as the cause of Lady Harmony’s coma.”
“It’s being touted in the Lunar Herald and the Daily Dome as the most likely cause.”
“Hype sells more copies, Ambassador.”
“Is you fainting under the pressure of the situation hype, your highness?”
Skyla inhaled sharply through her teeth.
“We got special editions of both newspapers piped down here,” Conrod continued, gesturing off-screen. “They say that after you cut communication with Earth, you almost collapsed in front of nearly five hundred people. If this situation is too stressful for you, then perhaps the Dome would benefit under different leadership.”
Skyla slammed her hand down on the desk, rattling the monitor. “I am NOT–”
The door to her chambers flew open and Skyla couldn’t have been happier to see Darian bursting into her room. Her relief and surprise faded as she saw the alarm painted on his face and radio in one hand. One of his lieutenants shouting inaudible panicked orders on the other end.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“The hospital. Lady Harmony’s awake. There were Ladies there, visiting, and there’s been…”
He trailed off as his eyes flickered to the screen. “Ambassador.”
“There’s been an outbreak? Others have been infect–”
The monitor went dead when Skyla flipped the power switch on the side of her computer. She’d have more to explain later but if there was another incident, then Conrod’s opinion of her was the least of her worries.
“Take me there,” she commanded.
“Your highness, I don’t think–”
“Darian.” She went to grasp him, to shake sense into him, but instead her fingers rolled into fists, as if her body had suddenly become the rational voice that forbade her from crossing the line. “Take me to the medical bay.”
Darian hesitated, and then nodded. He brought the radio to his lips and barked orders to the men under his command to secure the perimeter. Whatever had happened to Lady Harmony and her visitors, Skyla would prove that she was the rightful, elected ruler of the Dome, both to Conrod, to Darian, to herself…and to Sebastian’s memory.