“Were you ever bedridden? Without entertainment or work to distract yourself? After a while, you realize that all that's left to do is to think and dream.”
I lie in my bed, staring at the ceiling. The room is small and completely white. Annoyingly, the bedroom is the same one in which my father was when I visited him at the hospital, a public institution which is paid for by Joyce. I was a little surprised when I learned about this noble gesture from a person like her. It violates my impressions of her.
When Father visited me yesterday, he didn't fail to point out that our roles are now reversed. With me being bedridden because of my failures.
It's been a day since I was betrayed by Carmen and used by Joyce, something I'm still very unhappy about. My initial reaction was a little over the top, most likely because of the drugs. Now that I had the chance to cool down, I see her actions in a different light.
Which still doesn't mean that I like being used like that!
I hope that I am not down for too long. The healers have yet to come up with a proper way to compensate for blood loss. In the military, in extreme cases, the healers would risk a transfusion. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, with severe, negative effects in the latter case. Everybody knows that it has something to with the degree of relationship since it's more likely to work for family members. Yet, nobody found a way to test the blood for compatibility.
Dad wasn't happy when he paid me a visit. I didn't bother to complain about my father's fury for allowing myself to be stabbed in the back. Had I paid attention, someone like Carmen wouldn't have been able to sneak up on me like that. I have to admit that he is right.
On the other hand, he also didn't suspect Carmen's betrayal. My family was at least as blind to the situation as I was. The only one who warned me about Carmen's suspicious actions was Joyce. Then she went and used me in a manner which she deemed beneficial to her cause. Whatever that is.
She showed no remorse or hesitation and simply assumed that I would act accordingly to her predictions. Which I did. At least to a certain degree.
I close my eyes and try to remember my mother's visit. At least it wasn't as bad as my father's self-righteousness. She even apologized for not thinking of Carmen's motives. I sigh and try not to think of her mournful expression when she mentioned that we would probably never regain our lands in the human kingdom. She gave up on our estate.
Clenching the bedsheets tight between my fingers, I try not to interpret too much into her cautious questions about my relationship with Joyce. I was very careful about my answers, knowing perfectly well how my mother's mind works. She would've come to the conclusion that Joyce has the hots for me, which is probably true... though... only in a purely physical sense.
Following her logic, Mother would have assumed that Joyce saw Carmen as competition and removed her. Which would clear the way for a relationship between me and her? Without a doubt, mother's next action would've been to encourage a relationship between me and Joyce.
While Mother is very smart, I doubt that she would've been right in this case. Joyce is very different from other women. Oh, I've seen many independent and harsh women, but few have this certain ruthlessness to them.
Oh, by the gods. How did I get into this mess? I guess that I have nobody but myself to blame. I always prided myself on my logical thinking and my ability to analyse each step of my enemies. It's what gave me the ability to keep my family safe.
Opening my eyes, I bite my lower lip. Everything changed with Joyce's appearance. The game changed and I somehow missed the point at which we had to change our strategy. Or did the game really change? It was more like I was drawn into a much larger game than the one I was playing. I had my eyes on a single country, while Joyce's plans concern the whole continent.
The door opens and Fae enters the room. She smiles and raises a hand to greet me. “Hi! We were wondering how long your recovery will take? The rest of the command staff is worried about the newcomers.”
I raise an eyebrow and turn my attention to the elf. “Worried?”
“Yes, you know, being a victim of our supreme ruler's machinations. We always wondered what would happen if someone is unlucky enough to catch her attention. I think that you already talked with Kiara about that?” Fae steps into the room and closes the door behind her. “Anyway, we think that her actions towards you weren't justified, so I decided to pay you a visit.”
I cough and glare at the elf. “I am glad that I am such an interesting topic for the rest of you.”
She takes the visitor's chair from next to the entrance and carries it over to me, placing it next to my bed. Then she sits down, facing me. “I am sorry. Joyce is just... she is...” She purses her lips and her face distorts, showing visible effort to find the right words to describe her 'supreme ruler'.
After a few moments, she gives up and smiles. “She is Joyce. I am sure that she didn't mean you ill when she used you. Joyce may be many things, but she isn't cruel. At least not to those who don't deserve it. You don't deserve it, according to everything I've heard about your family. Sorry for having researched you guys. Joyce used you, but I am sure that it was the way with the least chance to cause harm to the innocents on Illum.”
I return my attention to the ceiling. “What makes you say that? Do you know her motivations or her goals?”
Fae raises her hands. “Nobody knows her ultimate goal, but I think that I know her priorities well enough to think of her as an acceptable person. Joyce simply isn't the type to trust others. That's why she simply took action and used you. She may have secrets, but she isn't the worst ruler.”
“Like the human or the elven king? I admit that both don't deserve my loyalty, but 'trust' is important. Joyce hasn't exactly encouraged me to trust her.” I growl, remembering how she used me. “Explain your thoughts about Joyce to me. I thought that I could judge her future actions, but I was wrong.”
Fae shrugs and tells me everything she knows. How she and her party met the strange woman who was wandering the wilderness in torn rags. Then their travel through the dangerous Marshwoods, where Joyce demonstrated her heroism, which ended up saving the caravan. Them parting ways and Joyce's sudden reappearance at the old ruins, where she demonstrated a weakness towards aggressive men.
I find myself reminded of the scene in Laos. Has Joyce some sort of trauma? She tried to be patient and reasonable until that idiot showed her the slave collar.
Finally, she talks about the creation of Illum.
At the end of the story, I straighten out the bedsheets in order to gain a little more time to think of an answer. “Joyce is obviously operating according to a very strange moral code. She is clearly capable of violence, but won't harm innocents who haven't infringed upon her opinion of justice. When citizens of Illum violate her rules of behaviour, she has no qualms about executing them.” I raise a hand to stop Fae. “I know that you want to argue the point, but exiling that man to the dead mine was a death sentence.”
Joyce bent the law by more than ninety degrees when she threw that rapist off of her island. Not that it matters now.
I sigh. “And let's not forget the destruction of Laos. Fae, you are smart, but you forgot to ask yourself a very important question. Why?”
The elf looks confused. “Why?”
“Why does Joyce do the things she does? Look around you! I was wondering, but your story confirmed it. Illum's magic, its capabilities, all of it was created by Joyce. The people are nothing more than an extra. Oh, they do some of the interior polishing, but that's it. Why does she even need the people? Joyce could've chosen to be a lonely genius on her flying island. Would Illum be a little smaller and faster, nobody would be able to touch her. Have you seen the speed of those 'fighter jets'?”
Fae pouts and crosses her arms in front of her chest. “Maybe she is lonely? I think that her interest in you is an expression of that. Just look at how protective she is of that little kitten. She takes it everywhere, like a mother hen.”
I shrug. “Do you really think that Joyce is the type who is desperate for relationships? You said yourself, she dumped you right after you left the Marshwoods. Joyce is a person with goals and she doesn't care who she has to leave behind or to walk over, in order to achieve her objectives. One of her goals was to create Illum and to present herself as an independent power. If we know her goals for Illum, we can hope to understand her.”
Fae huffs. “Okay. What do you propose?”
Placing both hands on my chest, I interlace my fingers with each other. Then I allow my thoughts to flow out of my mouths. “A former slave who stayed reasonably sane, even after decades of abuse. I killed my master and escaped. What would I want more than my own life and freedom? What would drive me? What would I feel?”
Fae presses her lips together and concentrates on the wall. “I would feel fear, anger, maybe hatred. I would want to kill the ones who did this to me. Though, Joyce already killed her master. She said so herself. She already had her revenge.”
“Only in part.” I look at Fae. “Her revenge is incomplete. Haven't we just learned from Janice that Joyce has another identity as Nova Mirai? They took a whole life from her. With that connection, we know that there must be a few more people behind Joyce's fate. Not only her direct handler. Maybe she intended to get them all, even before she learned about her heritage.”
“Them all?” Fae's eyes widen. “But... how... How would someone accomplish such a goal? To defeat the Empire...”
I interrupt her. “Obviously not just the Empire. Joyce wants everyone who practises slavery.” Before Fae can ask more questions, I shake my head in order to stop her. “I need time to think about it. Think outside the box, research recent events throughout the world. One doesn't simply build an army and defeat the Empire.”
Fae looks towards the door. “What do you mean?”
I gesture with my hand. “As an officer, I had the doubtful honour of being a spy in the Empire. That's how I managed to climb the ranks so quickly and to be employed on an airship. The Empire practices slavery not only for economical reasons. It's way of life for them and deeply rooted in their social structure. The Alliance never dared to risk all out war for that very reason.”
“I am afraid that I still don't understand. Isn't the Sociocrathy also using slaves? Why are you so hung up on the Empire?”
Turning, I face her. “Because to end slavery in the Empire, would require to wipe them out as a people. In the Sociocrathy, you would probably get away with a revolution and some strict laws.” I harrumph. “Very much like what's happening right now.”
Fae opens her mouth and closes it again. “We are entering dangerous territory. All of this is just speculation. It's a big leap of logic to assume that Joyce is behind the revolution.”
I laugh and nod. “You are right. And that's why we won't talk about it. Yet, you wondered about her slave collar.”
That's why I'll have a very close eye on Joyce. She already used me twice as if I am nothing more than a convenient tool. Once at the birthday party and once here on Illum. I won't allow it to happen a third time. This is my final oath. I'll show her that I can stand up to her.