The nurse led Lady Dominique, Lady Kristen, and Lady Méline into a monitoring room. Lady Harmony lay as still as a statue behind a pane of glass, her sheets barely disturbed by the gentle up and down motion of her chest as she breathed. Her forehead was stuck with sensors attached to wires, which fed into a computer that sat on an adjacent nightstand. The monitors in front of them, away from Lady Harmony’s contaminated room, showed her status. Sweat beaded at Dominique’s hairline. With all the machines in the room, it was almost hotter than the time she’d taken that cruise to Mercury.
“La Belle au bois dormant,” Lady Méline whispered.
Sleeping Beauty. Dominique’s lips twisted. She remembered the two of them sharing a vanity once at the Lady’s Academy on Earth. Everyone wanted to be next to Lady Harmony, but somehow, Dominique was the lucky one to always grace her presence. With Harmony’s long, unnaturally red hair and sparkling emerald eyes, she stood out in a crowd in ways that Dominique never would. She resented that. When she was First Lady, though, that would change.
“She looks…normal,” Lady Kristen said, moving closer to the monitors.
“Yes, well, looks can be deceiving. Don’t get too close,” the nurse warned. “This area has been sanitized and is under surveillance, but technically you’re not even supposed to be in here, and–”
“We appreciate the risk you have taken,” Dominique interrupted kindly, forcing another smile.
The beeper on the nurse’s waist went off. Primitive technology, but sometimes that was all Earth could afford to send them. She silenced it with a switch and then read its tiny, pixelated screen.
“Doctor Leeland needs me,” she muttered. Her eyes flickered to Dominique. “I’ve got to go. That means we’ve all got to go, before Doctor Leeland–”
“But we’ve just got here!” Lady Kristen whined.
“And the longer we stay, the longer I could get into trouble, and lose my job,” the nurse replied.
Her beeper went off again, more urgently this time. Frustrated, she detached it from her waist and gripped it so tightly that it looked like she was going to slam it into the wall.
“Impatient old…” she muttered expletives about Doctor Leeland under her breath and stormed towards the exit. “Look, I’ve got to go. You can show yourselves out by using the default override on the keypad system—just key in zero-zero-eight-one when it prompts you for the card, okay?”
“Of course. Thank you,” Dominique said.
She slammed the door shut, rattling the monitors slightly.
Lady Kristen’s eyes bugged out. “She really didn’t want us in here.”
“Yes, well, the hospital is really no place for Ladies. We would not want nurses and doctors swarming around the Ladies’ Quarters.”
“Unless dere is maladie,” Lady Méline said timidly, still staring at Lady Harmony’s peaceful form.
“She doesn’t even look sick at all. Look at this. It says her vitals are stable.” Lady Kristen pointed to one of the bigger monitors attached to the desk. The screen had three green lines that wavered and blipped intermittently.
Dominique gritted her teeth. “And since when have you become a nurse, Lady Kristen?”
The junior lady’s eyes lit up. “My mother was a doctor back on Earth, Lady Dominique! She used to let me come into the patients rooms sometimes, and she taught me how to read the screens, and this one time–”
“I only asked you one question, I don’t need you to tell me your life story, thank you.”
“Yes, Lady Dominique.” Her demeanor dimmed, but otherwise she was not perturbed. Dominique wondered if it was time to try a different angle of discipline with her. When she herself was a junior lady, it was easy to become used to the senior ladies and learn ways to deflect their commands. Being unreadable and unpredictable with reprimands and punishments was the only way to keep the junior ladies afraid and in line.
Lady Kristen squinted as her gaze flickered between the looking glass and the vitals monitor. “Seriously. I mean, I know I’m not an expert, but all this is telling me is that she’s asleep.”
She headed for the door that led to Lady Harmony’s room.
“Kristen! What are you doing?” Lady Méline hissed.
But Lady Kristen was already in the room. Dominique was surprised that the door wasn’t locked, but the security around the room otherwise had been tight—this was a serious security breach.
“Get back in here, Lady Kristen, before I write you up!” Dominique commanded.
She was afraid to raise her voice; the room was probably under surveillance. Dominique didn’t care either way if the young nurse got in trouble for leaving them unattended, but she did care if she was held responsible for spreading whatever it was that Lady Harmony had contracted. Lady Méline stiffened and cowered by the exit, muttering in French how Lady Kristen was going to get them all killed.
Lady Kristen crept towards Lady Harmony’s comatose form. The closer she got, the more likely she would catch the Moon Flash Virus. Queen Skyla might be certain that it wasn’t that, but Dominique wasn’t stupid enough to fear a plague that had wiped out the Dome’s population decades ago—it had killed several good Ladies.
Her body temperature must have dropped twenty degrees as Dominique rushed into Harmony’s containment room after Lady Kristen. Before she could take another step, Dominique grabbed the errant Lady by the arm and twisted until she yelped. “Do you realize what you’ve done? We could be exposed to the Moon Flash Virus, or whatever dreadful thing she’s got! Do you want to go back home to your mother in a coffin?”
Lady Kristen whimpered. “Stop! You’re hurting me…”
“Pain is a lesson in obedience. Rule 2,” Dominique said. Her nails dug into Lady Kristen’s skin. “Now get back in there, so we can–”
Something moved to her left; Harmony’s foot stirred beneath the sheets. Startled, Dominique immediately released Lady Kristen, who ran promptly back into the monitor room. The First Lady’s long, red locks fell from her shoulder and hung over the side of the bed as if her head had been gutted and left to die. Regular beeps from the monitor became more urgent.
Like she was waking up.
Dominique rushed to Harmony’s side. She was already in the room—if she had caught something, staying for Harmony’s awakening wouldn’t make her any less sick.
She grasped her hand and squeezed. “Lady Harmony. I’m so pleased that you’re–”
Harmony’s eyes flickered open, revealing empty blackness, and Dominique’s last thought before becoming consumed was: this is not Lady Harmony.