I flew over Desolation toward the brilliant beacon of the Spire in the distance, surrounded by a glorious pink and gold cloud. Dark, menacing clouds roiled above me; malice burned in their depths. Wind slammed rain into my face, slathering hair over my eyes. I swept it away, only to see an M flying parallel with me.
The lightning illuminated her face.
Dazzle. A maniacal grin distorting her features. Her golden eyes like those of an eagle zeroing in on its prey.
She turned swiftly and flew toward me.
The wind blew me to a standstill; I tried not to fly backwards and be subsumed by the storm.
She flew up beside me, and her golden eyes pierced me into paralysis. I tried to fly, but I was frozen in midair.
Her hand slid toward me, glowing with lightning. "You're beautiful when you're trapped," she said, and her lightning shocked into me, and she laughed and drew closer.
A jolt of lightning stabbed through me and I screamed and screamed with the unbearable pain
A cold hand gripped my shoulder, and I tried to shake it off. But my wrist only met hard metal that shot pain up through my arm
And in front of me stood Lacy, her face stricken. "I'm sorry, your Highness! I called you, but you would not wake." She reached below her holoskin and pulled out a medpatch. She angled it toward my neck, but I slid away.
"No — I'm fine. It's just a small bruise probably." I clutched my arm, rubbing it up and down. The pain was already dissipating, almost as unreal as the pain of my dream.
Except that…still lingered in the back of my mind. I tried to shake it off, but it clung there like a shadow.
"Are you sure you're all right? For an M to hurt a prince — it's nearly unforgivable."
"It was an accident. My fault, really." I had just been fighting Dazzle off…. She's not here — she can't hurt me….
"Just so you're sure. You were crying out in your sleep. To react like that — it must've been quite a nightmare."
She was probably offering her counseling protocols. I wasn't about to take the bait. No — I needed to shut all thought of Dazzle out of my mind. It was just a dream.
So stupid I had to have a nightmare instead of a good dream…. Couldn't even escape in my sleep….
I wasn't about to go back to bed any time soon. Not like I really needed sleep, just escape.
I slid out of bed, feeling heavy. I was shaking. It hadn't even been that traumatic, just a kiss…a few shocks of lightning…threatening to possess me and make me a slave….
I shuddered. No. Not going there. It doesn't matter. Gotta distract myself… do something….
My com chimed on the sofa. I shambled over to get it.
"Hi," I said.
"Hello, Jet!" said an effervescent voice. My media manager, Jade. "How are you doing, cooped up up there?"
"Can't imagine it's fun. Especially for someone with your energy. I've got just the thing. A proposition, if you will. And guess what — your dad's even approved it! So it's all up to you if you want to get out of here."
"Get…out?" I could hardly believe my ears. Could she be saying what I thought?
"Yeah. Out of the Spire. No, your dad hasn't totally ended your punishment. You can get out — on the condition that you help us."
That wasn't much of a condition. Wasn't like I hadn't been longing to help all week. Except…I could mess it up. But it was worth it to just be free.
She laughed. "You better hear me out before you agree."
"Do I really have a choice?"
"Of course. But if you help us, you can have your wings a lot sooner."
My heart leaped. Dad had been going to hold onto my wings indefinitely….
"What is it I have to do?" I couldn't imagine they'd demand much of me. If I hadn't had much credibility before, I had none now, after my blunder. And with my media manager calling, it wasn't hard to guess what it related to.
"Well, at first we thought we'd just have you go down and calm them. You're the only March that's still popular in Q. But to have it obviously staged would associate it too much with officialdom — not something they like when they're at the verge of rebellion.
"Then I got this genius idea. You're the inspiration for it, Jet."
"Yeah. Specifically — your own rebellion."
"I don't get it."
"That's the whole point! It's not exactly obvious. At the same time, it's poetic in its symmetry — and we get to turn a disaster into something good. A redemption, if you will. That's one reason why we're using you, and not just an M.
"Here's what we'll have you do. Your motivation will be escaping punishment for a prank. To avoid getting your wings taken for a week, you'll fly over to Q to hide out for a while. You'll have a sensor block — at least, that's what we'll imply, though you won't really."
"Will I have my wings?" I hardly dared hope.
"No — sorry. That part'll be played by an M. Your dad was adamant you don't get your wings back yet. Then, like before, something will happen to your wings, and you'll be trapped on the ground in Q."
I was mystified as to what the point of such a charade could possibly be. But I wasn't complaining — even imprisonment on the ground in Quarantine was freedom compared to this.
"It'll be a catharsis. That's the heart of it. They'll reenact their rebellion — and their redemption — through you. They've always identified with you; that's part of your popularity. They'll see you as a hero, someone who rebels, just like them — and then they'll see there are consequences. You'll come back to the fold, and they will calm themselves. It's always better to make people active participants in changing their behavior. That way, it takes root deep in their psyche. Meanwhile, it'll be a pretty neat distraction."
I couldn't pretend to get all of where she was coming from. Such machinations were alien to me — tricking people, creating a façade. But it was better than a crackdown. To manipulate people, though…. It was a big part of keeping the peace, especially in Q, but it didn't sit easy with me.
"Won't they notice the same thing happened last week?"
She laughed. "The public is fickle; they forget what happens one week to the next. Besides, what happened was only witnessed by a few people. It created reverberations of a rumor, that's all."
"So…why do you even need me there, if an M is impersonating me?" I couldn't help but feel a sting of jealousy toward the flying M.
"Besides the fact you'll be participating in your own redemption — and it would cheapen it otherwise — you'll also be popping in and out among them. Sorta like last time — your holomask won't be working correctly. It'll go off at strategic times — and the people will see and go after you. Then you'll blend back into the crowd. It'll make it more authentic this way. If you do get caught, they'll know it's really you. If they thought at any time it was a deception — well, we'd be back at square one. And we really do need to wrap this up."
I wasn't exactly thrilled at the idea of the crowd going after me. I could still feel a phantom pain in my shoulder — which they'd relocated for me, but still. I'd thought they'd tear me apart….
"If they find you, they get a prize. It'll keep them guessing, searching, distracted. Don't worry — Ms will be with you at all times, just in case things get out of hand. If you appear, obviously Ms will see you — so the façade will stay in place.
"In addition, we might have a more substantial role for you to play. I wasn't too sure about it, but Violet suggested it. She said you already had some training in this area, and I had to agree. While you're under your holomask, you'll maneuver yourself toward anything that could hold a clue as to Dazzle's whereabouts. Just play it by ear. You're good at improv, anyway. So if you're Jet, there can't be any suspicion you could be anyone else. Q has more than its share of shrewd characters."
"That makes sense."
"Good! I'm glad you're on board. One more thing. We think it'd be more convenient and authentic for you to stay with someone down in Quarantine. Do you know of anyone?"
"Yes, I do."
Maybe this was the way I could help Sym! A half-formed idea slid into my mind…if I found Dazzle…I could give them the credit. And then — maybe they could get out of Q!
The only problem was…I'd have to not only not avoid her, but actively look for her.
A shiver raced through me. The thought of her touch — the snap of her lightning —
"What about Dazzle?"
"Well — that is the danger. But with the force field, she can't go anywhere, and with so many human and M agents…they'll have your back."
I wasn't exactly reassured, but at the same time — she was on the run. She was outnumbered. Even with the sensor block, what could she do?
I didn't want to ponder that question.