The moon above shone down on me like a brilliant blue spotlight. Tenderly, I picked a bright white dandelion from the hill and held it out to the moon. The wind ruffled it, teasing the fluffy white seeds with the promise of life and a journey, but none flew off.

I puckered my lips and blew softly, the seeds shaking violently before flying off, scattering with the light midnight breeze. The man in the moon looked down at me, his large lips pursed and his gaze solemn.

“Why?” I asked. “Why did you stop smiling? Did you know?”

The man in the moon stared emptily into space, and with a sigh, I dropped the empty dandelion stem.

 

Once inside my ship, I was greeted with cheers and salutes. Soldiers shouting my name, “Princesa! Que viva Princesa Valentina! Viva! Viva!” A cacophony of celebration exploded in my ears, and large smiles and shining faces assaulted my eyes. In the front hall leading to the pilot’s cabin, Rodolfo stood tall and stoic, but even he couldn’t hide the pride in his face. He held his right hand out and gave me a thumbs-up.

I could feel the happiness and the triumph in the room, I could feel the trust and faith in me, but slowly, everything slid out of focus. The soldiers became blurry figures, and then flesh-colored blobs with splotches for their clothes. Their screams and shouts stopped making sense and slowly transformed into a dull roar, like the sound of a wave crashing, or a large engine starting.

Rodolfo quickly stepped aside to let me pass, and I opened the door to the pilot’s cabin. The pilot stood at attention, “Princesa! Guide mis mani! Where do we go now?” I stood very still and pointed out the window. “Straight ahead? Claro! Whatever you say princesa!” He sat back down in his chair, and in a few short moments, the ship buzzed back to life and shot out into space.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in my bed, the pink lampshade giving my room a beautiful blush. Rodolfo was sitting next to me. I numbly thought that the bed was going to have a Rodolfo butt shape indentation from how much he sat there. Maybe I should get him his own chair.

He was talking to me, his deep voice droning on and on about something. Probably something that would make me feel better if I listened, but I sat looking straight ahead. The man in the moon used to smile. I know he did, I saw him multiple times as a child. Then one day, when I got older, he stopped smiling. His face was grave and serious as if he was contemplating something reprehensible.

Did he know?

My heart beat wildly inside my chest. Rodolfo’s talking sped up, everything sped up. My room swirled before me and the pink stopped being a cute blush and was now the color of gutted intestines. My small hand clenched into a fist until I felt blood streaming out from where my nails were cutting my skin.

I pressed my palms against my bedding and felt everything inside me go freezing cold. I was losing it. This was exactly like when I wandered out into space without my suit and Rodolfo had to pull me back in before I asphyxiated, only now, I actually had a reason to try and commit suicide.

I had stolen a government ship, betrayed someone who I couldn’t bring myself to sort out my feelings on, committed a thousand petty crimes and more, all on the rug of moral superiority. I was doing all this to overthrow the Meridian government, whose crown had been wrongfully stolen from me by my uncle; a man who stole it on a platform of conquest, on crushing enemies and those who resist you, and on strength through violence. All my petty crimes were worth committing if it meant putting me in charge instead of that power-hungry tyrant.

But now the country of Sislamesh lay in absolute ruins and it was all my fault. Yes Rodolfo advised me to do it, yes I was thinking about what Johann would do, yes, all of that. And yes, ultimately I made the decision to obliterate it from the map.

They had to pay! They weren’t listening to me, the planet’s government wasn’t offering its assistance to my cause! I had to, I had to make an example of them, to show that I will conquer, I will crush my enemies and all who resist me, and I will show my strength through violence.

The rug had been pulled out savagely from under me, and as I fell, I had a good look at the moon. The happy curve of its mouth had fallen, his eyes were solemn. I lay naked before him, everything I had ever done and would do laid bare for him to see.

He had stopped smiling. He knew.

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