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The Queen tapped her foot impatiently. The moments between waiting for the elevator’s doors to burst open to her imperial palace had been fraught with anxiety, even in her days as princess. She had long been consumed with thoughts of carrying herself in front of the royal court, the gentry and the peasants—but now—tempered by years of rule, her anxieties were consumed by the things she most needed in the in-betweens of rulership. The Queen subdued her fretting as the elevator doors sprung open to the Martian Capital’s Royal Palace.

The Queen stared up at her childhood home, the faint sun falling gently on her youthful face through the clouded Martian atmosphere. The constant bombardment during the War for Independence from the Allied countries back on Earth had turned the palace into a ghostly shell and an eternal memorial of the sacrifice the Crown endured with its people. The Queen barely even remembered her time there. As princess she had entered the war days after her 19th birthday, working her way up from deck hand to combat pilot in the Martian ARIES military. She grew up dreaming of taking to the skies and one day seeing Earth, but the drones and pilots of Earth that had labored to kill her in orbit around Mars had deadened her heart to any prospect of stepping foot on humanity’s homeworld, long a physical impossibility due to the disparate gravities of the two worlds.

That was the public biography that everyone knew about HRM Imperial Queen Quinn Nova Allamandola. Many fewer knew about Quinn’s torment she suffered from the memory of friends lost in the war, her hatred of departing the military to ascend to rule after her Mother was killed in the bombardment of the royal palace nor did many know of her hatred of her mother that was hidden so well at the Royal Funeral procession. But perhaps most of all, people were most unfamiliar with her need for nicotine.

The substance was one of the legacies of Earthen colonization and had been pilloried for the last century, though attempts at the elimination of it from Martian life had fallen flat. The rebellious nature of the Martian youth she associated with and the devil-may-care attitude embraced by the ARIES military meant that Quinn had been vaping for as long as she could recall. However, one of her great prides was that she had managed to successfully hide it from a judgmental public for the entirety of her hundred-year rule.

Her love of vapor however had always been a central contradiction she both loathed and found amusing. She oversaw the Imperialization of the Martian government, with the military as its central governing authority. Her signature issue for decades had been to cleanse Mars of all memories and dependencies of the Earthen enemy. Whether it was culture, import or relationship – Earth itself was persona non grata in the sphere of an Independent Royal Mars. All of this made it a necessity for Quinn to meet with her supplier at the now-forbidden grounds of the Royal Palace.

Quinn ran her hand along the parapets as she entered the castle, a habit for which she was viciously beaten by her mother. A smile crept across the Queen’s face as she remembered the lone time she resisted crying from her mother’s assaults and had succeeded in frustrating her Mother to the point of tears. Quinn climbed the stairs to the Queen’s chambers, a place she had always feared as a child, now reclaimed as the hideaway where she could vape in peace, safe from the judgements and scandals of the court and the media.

An old dress fitted to a mannequin standing in the corner of her mother’s room rustled, startling the Queen. She stared at its fluttering form, her blood running cold. She drew close to it, inch by inch. The rustling came to a still. Suddenly, the dress lurched forward causing Quinn to scream. From behind the dress stumbled an old man. Quinn ran over and kicked him, “Liam, you absolute asshole!” Liam winced as he began to burst with laughter and roared out with a thick London accent, “You should have seen the look on your face!” Quinn composed herself and walked across the room, “Do you have it?” Liam picked himself up off the floor,” Right down to business already? I travel millions of miles for you on these trips and not even a ‘Hello Liam, thank you for getting my hypocrisy juice!’” The Queen deadeyes Liam, “Thank you Liam, now would you kindly give me my fucking juice?”

Liam bounded over to the queen, “Of course your majesty, but I have not just any juice, but in fact something you’ve been asking me to get for a very long time.” The Queen’s ears perked up, “You didn’t…” Liam smiled as he produced a bottle, “Oh I very did.” The Queen let out a giddy squeal as she reached out for the bottle, only to have Liam quickly retract it, “Uh uh uh, I had to have this custom made, and do you know how few people still know what tobacco tastes like enough to make this flavor?” The Queen’s visage fell, “And what does some third-rate smuggler want from his Queen?”

Liam traipsed over to the dress and began fiddling with it, “I would very much like it if you would intercede on a matter on my behalf.” The Queen stifled an eye roll, “Jesus Liam, out with it.” Liam straightened himself, “My son is stuck back on Earth with his mother. I would like to bring them here to live with me, permanently.” Quinn winced, “You know that’s politically impossible right now.” “If it’s about the juice, I can still smuggle, I just want them to be here.” Quinn walked toward the window that overlooked the hollowed-out palace garden, “Why in the name of Red Earth aren’t you able to smuggle them here yourself?” A crack broke in Liam’s voice, “They wouldn’t be legal, you saw to that after all.” Liam walked toward the Queen as he continued, “Asking them to live a life in the shadows, risking prison or execution, that’s not something I can put them through just for my heartache.” Liam placed his hand on the Queen’s shoulder, “Quinn, please, I’m beggin’ ya’ here.”

Quinn swatted his hand away. She looked at her mother’s dress, recalling that gown that adorned her mother’s form as she beat the young Quinn. Her memories wafting over the room, taking her back to those dark moments. She was transported back to her childhood room, a crying, heaving mess. A tap against her window broke her from her fit. Outside the window stood a young Liam, barely 8 years old. Quinn threw open the window was Liam showed her the rope he had rigged for her.

The two climbed down and escaped into the palace garden, where they slipped past the guards of the palace grounds. They ran through the streams to hide their trails as they played together in the wood outside the palace. The two barely looked like joy could be contained in their moments together. An explosion rocked the dome above them as Earthen ships flew overhead. Quinn hugged Liam as she ran back to the palace, waving goodbye.

The Queen snapped out of her reminiscence. Liam hung his head, “I get it Quinn… I’m sorry I asked.” He placed the bottle on the vanity that belonged to Quinn’s mother. The Queen quickly turned and picked up the bottle, “This better be the best goddamned tobacco in the system.” Liam spun around, “You mean?” Quinn started emptying the juice into her vaporizer, “Yes, I’ll get them here and I’ll get them naturalization papers, but I hope you know I’m going to get crucified by the Media and the High Court for this shit.” Liam wrapped Quinn in a hug, exposing a tattoo on his neck that read ARIES 301st, “I’ll never be able to thank you enough for this Quinny.” Quinn took a puff from her vaporizer as the earthy, sweet aroma enveloped her senses. Quinn broke the hug as she exhaled, “Holy shit, you can thank me by telling me what this flavor is called.” Liam smiled coyly, “Doesn’t have a name yet, brand new concoction.” Quinn took another puff as she exclaimed, “Damn, well it needs something good.” Liam began to walk out of the room before stopping then turning back to Quinn, “You know, I was thinking… Mother of Mars.” The two exchanged one final smile before Liam departed into the shadows of the palace and Quinn stared through her mother’s old bedroom window at the Martian civilization she ruled beneath.

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