“There you are!” shouted Citra and Silver in unison. They stood in the doorway of Beetrice’s queenly suite. I had managed to crawl out of bed and a few feet to the door, but it was tough going.
“Help,” I called. “I can’t hardly walk.”
Citra folded her arms and huffed, but Silver stepped over and easily picked me up in a princess carry. “Did she break your hips?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so, but it’s too close to tell. I need fluids. Lots of electrolytes. And I can’t feel Lefty.”
“Lefty?” asked Citra.
I pointed at my crotch. “She just kept on and on. Eventually, I was running out completely. It was like a straw sucking away at nothing and closing in on itself. First it hurt, then it just went numb. Either I literally busted a nut, or it ran away. Here boy! Here Lefty!”
“Happy Independence Day to your balls,” said Silver Shark with a grin.
“Hurry before she comes back. Has the armistice lasted?” I asked.
Citra spoke up. “No one is fighting anymore. The details are being negotiated, but they don’t let us in that. My father is doing most of the work.”
I lolled my head over. “You father? Which one is he?”
She lowered her head. “Mother never wanted me to admit it, but the world has changed. The Majordomo.”
“I wish we had someone else than him,” I said. “I’m not the finest diplomat on all the details. I don’t even know all the details. The whens and wheres and what compositions. And so many of the lesser bureaucrats never dealt with anything quite this big before. Consolidation of power is a bitch when the ruler dies.”
“Is that guy treating you any different now you’re open about who you are?” asked Silver.
Citra frowned. “He never said anything before but he was critical of me. He watched me. Now, he does not react to me at all. I am just another servant to him.”
“Hey,” I chimed in. “Don’t be a servant. Things are changed, he left you behind, and he’s not paying you enough for all this shit.”
“We worked for room and board,” she said.
I pointed between the two of us, moving my hand back and forth. “Well, your mother traded you to me as a wife, so you’re not a servant anymore. Tell them to go fuck themselves if they ask you for stuff. But, uh, I’m not necessarily going to own you and make you be my wife and fuck me. For starters, I’m bone dry. Geez, there’s so much to work out now. Say, how do you react to being abandoned?”
Silver slapped me across the face. “Don’t do that.”
“Ow… where’s my armor?” I asked, wondering about returning the favor. That, and walking. That thing would go a long way towards making me mobile again.
“Mother was overseeing the washing because no one else wanted to touch it. They were worried you left traps in there. They thought they smelled the chemical gas.”
“That’s just rude. We should go slap them. And someone needs to fetch me my daughter.”
“She’s already here,” Silver said. I heard a child’s giggling, but didn’t see her anywhere. She crawled up onto Silver’s shoulder and looked down at me.
“Hi daddy!” She hopped down onto me, knocking some of the air out of me and nearly poking me with the knife she carried. “I was practicing sneaking, just like you taught me.”
I hugged her as best as I could without getting stabbed. “You were very good at it. A lot of people would be creeped out by the laughing, too.”
We cuddled for a bit before I had Silver Shark set us down. I really could walk, but it was still nice to have someone carry me well away from Beetrice’s chambers. The bee queen had a forceful and enthusiastic personality and had absconded with me to her chambers to attempt to kill me by dehydration. It wasn’t easy to eat like that, either. She kept insisting on feeding me certain foods, like bananas and hot dogs. A sub sandwich. On the other hand, the middle of sex is no time for soup.
People dream about these kinds of relationships. I suppose they’d be nice, but I have other things to deal with besides having even more people foisted on me as responsibilities. And as I’ve bitched and moaned about before, it tends to make me wonder when someone likes me enough to put my dick in ’em.
Chief among those suspicious individuals is Technolutionary. “Any word on Technolutionary?” I asked Citra as I walked hand in hand with Qiang.
“I don’t know. I could go find out,” she responded.
“Go do that for me,” I said. She turned to head down a different corridor when I put a hand on her shoulder. “Wait, wait, you were supposed to tell me to go fuck myself.”
She froze, then started to say, “Go fu-.”
I cut her off again. “Too late. Now if you say it, you’ll be saying I because I told you to, and I told you not to do what someone tells you to do.”
She waited there, unsure what to do, then finally said, “I’m going to find out about Technolutionary,” and scampered off. It’s a step. She’s learning. It’s like one of those koan things.
Silver started coughing before we even reached the room. “All the chemicals they’ve been using irritates my nose.”
When we opened the door to where my armor should be, it lay on the floor underneath the blunt hooks that the men in hazmat suits set it on when I first left it with them. One of these now held Wangi right through her middle, just below the ribs. I checked around the room quickly before heading after her. From behind me, Silver called out, “I’ll get help!” That left Qiang at the doorway. I turned and glimpsed her face scrunching and tearing up. Crying, not ripping. Considering the wounds on Wangi, it seemed a necessary thing to point out.
She had several slices taken out of her. There were three parallel marks in each group. Then she’d been tossed on a hook. But she wasn’t quite dead yet. Close. I checked on my armor and around the room for any nanites like those I’d bottled up. I did find a medical kit thrown off into the corner, but the nanite gel was missing and I don’t think a bandaid was going to fix this one. I turned to Qiang. “Go find another one of these, ok?” She stood there in the doorway for awhile before I clapped my hands. Then she ran off. Hopefully she did what I said, but I also didn’t want her getting too close a view of all this. A guy can hold out some hope for a kid having a better childhood than he had.
I walked over and slapped Wangi’s face. “Wakey wakey!”
She gasped, opening her eyes.
Wangi’s eyes blazed with intelligence even in the middle of all the shock and mortal injuries. I put my hands on the side of her head. “I think we both know what’s going on here, but I have people trying to bring help nonetheless. What happened?”
She tried to take a deep breath, but that proved a little difficult with the hook’s positioning. I looked her in her eyes and tried to feign sympathy. It’s so hard when you have to think about it, like a millipede trying to watch its step.
“Lu didn’t know. Her or me,” she finally forced out.
“He did this to you?” I asked.
“No. He isn’t Lu.” She began to cry. “Please. Look after her.” I held her, trying to keep from adding to her pain. My mind wandered, though. Not to Citra and any thoughts of taking care of her. More to Lu. As if sensing my thoughts, Wangi told me. “His hand changed. He isn’t Lu.”
I just held her. It wasn the only thing to do, especially when Qiang came back, crying and shaking her head. Silver Shark returned soon afterward with a medical kit of her own, but she tossed it away in frustration after opening it. “All of the gel is gone,” she growled. “I called the doctors. The emergency team is on their way.”
They didn’t get there in time. Citra’s arrival on the scene then caused my ears to automatically sensor out the damaging high pitch of her screams. I left her to it, except I made sure to tell the doctors not to leave her alone at all on pain of not-death. I like a chance to be creative with someone’s punishment in such a way that they live a nice, long time with it.
I didn’t let Qiang or Shark go anywhere either. I huddled us out well away from the bawling and crying, only to be hug-tackled a weepy Beetrice. All of her arms, including the middle pair, wrapped their fuzzy selves around me and she lifted me up off the floor. “I heard someone was killed. Are you ok?!”
I patted her, keeping my face well clear of her unusual mouth parts. Bee mouths have, like, their own legs and stuff. “Put me down,” I ordered. She must have figured out a difference in my demeanor, because she did as commanded. “I am unhurt, obviously. The Claw has been masquerading as Lu. He murdered Wangi when she realized he wasn’t really the Majordomo. Have Lu found and arrested, if possible. With all this out in the open, we can’t hide that we know. Wait, we kinda can. Have them look for an assassin who may or may not have Lu or have killed Lu. They likely can’t kill him on their own anyway if they tried, so maybe he’ll play along and let himself be arrested.”
The Buzzkills swept the palace for an assassin. Telling everyone their Emperor was still alive would be counterproductive, and I preferred them over possible loyalist Riccan elements. Odd that he didn’t want anyone knowing he was alive too, but it confirmed my suspicions over Lu’s changed demeanor. Where I thought he’d gotten all sycophantic toward me just because he was in charge, it turned out Claw was telling me what I wanted to hear to reduce suspicion. So I was right, but for the wrong reason. I’d have rather been wrong for the right one, since I’d fallen for his trick in the first place. The Claw was more than a man in a mask, after all. He’s controlled all the information surrounding him for so long, he played me.
Even after they found a dead body, I had the Buzzkills continue on into Pyongyang. They were more than happy to take up policing duties and increase the guard at the palace because it made their queen happy. There might be some genetic obedience thing mixed in too, but I’d have to study up more on bees. You know, because that’s obviously going to tell me everything I need to know about a race of bee humanoids.
I examined the body they found myself. Face missing, hands missing. He could be DNA tested, but that’s worthless without a database to compare it to. He was dressed in Lu’s robes, but he was way too fresh to be the original dead body. Claw killed this guy, stole his clothes, and replaced him.
It went without saying I slept with one eye open. What required saying is I slept with both of them open. Even with Qiang in bed with me, I made sure to pop my eyes out so they could cover two different directions and alert me if anything moved.
And, making all this worse, I’m now saddled with seeing to the delegation that’s about to arrive to hash out all the final peace stuff. I guess we’ll see if Claw objected to Emperor Gecko being cut up and stuffed into enough baggies that every hostile nation on the planet could have a piece.
It feels a lot less peaceful around here, and despite me no longer being tied to Beetrice’s bed, I feel more fucked than ever.