Wanda June’s journey from the castle down to the planet was an emotionally calamitous one, to say the least. The air, though breathable, felt heavy around her and filled her lungs so quickly that it became much harder to regulate her heartbeat. Especially now, as she plummeted toward the surface, a place that had never seemed more than a flimsy concept to her.
During her many decades ruling over Windfall City, Wanda June had done little outside of her home. She was a complete and utter shut in, save for her yearly visit to the lavish amphitheater at the top of the East Tower. The poor East Tower. It was always Wanda June’s favorite, and despite the fact that it was the only one she’d ever step foot on, she felt justified in her opinion. And why shouldn’t she? The people of this city had once worshiped her as both their Queen and their God. She wasn’t used to being told that she was anything but right.
That is until they showed up and ruined everything. Those other ones, with their vast warships, had reduced the East Tower to rubble, and for what? Just so that they could take control of her city and force its still-living inhabitants to rebuild once again? It was all so unfair. And the nasty things her people called her after it they’d shown up as if she was somehow responsible it all? Despicable.
She fell much slower than she had anticipated, though she assumed that was due in part to her environmental suit. In the instructional videos she’d watched exhaustively as a child, a descent was a much quicker affair. People like her would don one of these outfits, fly out from a hovering space ship, and collide with the surface of a planet at such a violent, exciting pace. Connecting with the ground from a great height had looked exhilarating, and she had forever longed to do so herself. But Tin-Man had warned that her fate outside the castle in the clouds remained uncertain. Had urged her to take solace in the locals’ reverence of her and remain within their shared, yes sometimes cramped quarters. A bubble in the shape of a floating fortress.
But, no, that fervent imagined pace she had dreamed of wasn’t what happened now. Now she fought her way through the thick neon clouds, surrounded by shards of what had been best stained-glass window. Wanda June reached out and tried to grab one of those shards, yelping as it broke her gloved skin. She brought her finger to her mouth, sucking on the cut, tasting the warm copper of her blood, and fumed even more about the unfairness of it all.
Tin-Man, her faithful robot caretaker, had taken to those others quickly. Much too quickly for her tastes. It was as if he’d been forever loyal to them, and not her as she’d been lead to believe. She wouldn’t forget the kindness he had shown her during their years together, but she’d never forgive his betrayal. His subservience to those others, the ones that looked like her with their blotchy pink skin and thread-like hair. Not only had they taken away that feeling of awe the locals had when they stood before her, but they’d stolen Tin-Man: her one true friend.
The loneliness was so unbearable that, gathering up all of her courage, she donned the suit, a fragment of her long-dead mother’s days of space exploration. She wasn’t quite sure what she’d do when she finally got that impact she so desired. But she couldn’t go to sleep at night knowing that her people detested her so. She needed to go to them. To show them that they were still in her favor, despite the heavy boots they now found upon their necks. To put things back to the way that they were before those others had ever shown up.
A week ago, Wanda June had overheard Captain Root of her once powerful Wolfpac, speaking to Tin-Man and Corporal Timms from those others about a resistance forming on the surface. Root was confident that he could get it under control if they’d only allow him to do it alone, but Timms, that bitch, said she’d be happy to exterminate the rebels at the press of a button. To eviscerate their home, if only their home weren’t the very sewer and tunnel system built on the foundation of Windfall’s three remaining towers. The conversation was heated and ended with a standstill, but the impending conflict was inevitable.
She must go to them, she told herself then and was still telling herself now as the uncertain pit in her stomach continued to grow. Ten stories from the ground, she remembered what the old equipment instructional videos had taught her. Built into her environmental suit were not only the anti-gravity emitters that slowed her descent but also magnetic boots that should cushion her landing. She only needed to find a way to fold herself and reach the buttons on the bottoms of her feet. She’d practiced this in her quarters, late at night for the past four, but hadn’t thought to factor in the difficulty of pulling it off midair. She depressed them seconds before it would have been too late, but it didn’t prevent her thunderous collision with the East Tower’s rubble.
Wanda, who’s breath was squarely outside herself now, took off the suit’s helmet and let her gray hair tumble out onto her shoulders. Her whole body heaved with sweat and she gasped for air but took a certain amount of solace in the fact that she’d survived the fall.
As if from nowhere, she was surrounded by a horde of rebels wielding an assortment of guns like she’d never seen before. Silently, she reached down to her pocket as the one closest cocked a rifle in her face, halting her movement.
“Not so fast, your highness,” spat the heavily tattooed young woman before her. She was wearing civilian’s clothes, but draped over her back was a makeshift cape made from the repurposed yellow of a Wolfpac guard’s robe.
“If you’d kindly just let me grab something,” whispered Wanda June, gesturing toward her pocket, “you’ll see that I’m here on a show of good faith.”
“String her up! Burn her like they’re burning the rest of us!” shouted someone outside the Queen’s sightline. She cringed at this obvious display of hatred but remained still.
“I may well yet,” promised the woman before her, bringing the muzzle of her rifle even closer to the Queen’s face.
“You know I’d shoot her in the head myself, Kendall, if I could, but we must think rationally here. We can’t kill her,” said their leader, a woman in her thirties with the violet skin of someone from the Western Reaches and tentacles that reached down past her shoulders.
“And why the hell not?” asked the ex-Wolf. Wanda June remembered her now, after hearing her name. The new recruit who’d only a month ago gutted the surface’s criminal syndicate from the inside out was now a hair-trigger away from murdering her.
“Think of the Queen as a bargaining chip,” said the one in the lead, “We’ll need her alive if we hope to have the upper hand.”
Kendall groaned as she shouldered her weapon, but not until she jabbed it into the Queen’s abdomen. Wanda June screamed out, seeing red. She’d never felt true pain in her life, before the second she landed, and here it was repeating itself all over again, only moments later.
“I promise, I’m not here for them,” whimpered Wanda June, as she pulled a white kerchief from her pocket, “I surrender, I relent, I’ll go with you willingly. I only ask for one thing...”
“And what is that, your highness?” asked Kendall sarcastically, staring death into the Queen’s eyes.
“Let me help you stop them,” she whined, spitting a little blood up onto her collar, “Let me help you make things right.”