Sierra returned to the lobby a while later. Amelie came downstairs to meet her.
“I smell crepes,” Amelie grinned.
“Here you are, Ms. Amelie. And one for Ms. Morgan too.” As if being summoned, Morgan appeared leaning over the second level railing, beaming.
“Oh my Goddess, thank you so much!”
“Thanks,” Amelie said. “I’ll munch on this while I work, whatever that amounts to, these days.” She paused for a moment. “I’m not sure what they want you to do, today. Come and get me if Chloe here starts doing or saying things she shouldn’t, ok? Or we can switch places if she gets on your nerves.” Amelie shot the newcomer a glance. Chloe looked away.
“I almost forgot. My apologies, Ms. Chloe, here is your crepe as well. I was forced to approximate your tastes, so it is something of a basic recipe.”
“I thought you two were together in this noble endeavor,” Amelie said. The two maids looked at eachother. Sierra could tell them now, if she chose. Any longer and there would be questions of why she waited. It was likely that they would believe her over Chloe, and Chloe might admit to it anyway.
She should tell Amelie what happened. It only made sense. Sierra glanced at the guilty party, then at Amelie, and at Morgan. Chloe would likely never see the light of day again, up until the blast took them all. Sierra sighed.
“She’s absolutely hopeless in the kitchen, I’m afraid,” Sierra said. She managed a chuckle. Chloe gave her a wide-eyed look, before casting her gaze downwards once more. “I will later go over some simpler recipes with her, but for now…” Sierra shook her head and smirked. “Please leave the cooking to me, Ms. Amelie, Ms. Morgan.”
“You that terrible at cooking, huh, *Maid* Chloe?” Amelie asked, staring through her.
“Y-yeah…” Chloe whispered.
‘Is she, like, crying?” Morgan asked, puzzled.
“I can only guess what she did in that kitchen that was so horrible,” Amelie laughed.
“Do not worry,” Sierra said quickly. “We, uh, cleaned it up.”
“Well, I guess I better get back to that mysterious occupation of mine. If I get fired, I want it to be for something dramatic,” Amelie giggled. “Play nice you two. Especially you, redhead. Sierra’s girlfriend is going to drop by, since any veneer of professionalism we maintained here vanished a long time ago. You do not want to piss her off.” She winked, before making her way upstairs.
“How does this place work, anyway?” Chloe wondered aloud. “Why do they attempt to merge a place of vocation and a place of residence?”
“Ms. Capet told me one day,” Sierra replied. “Officials from other prefectures and states will spend time in the Customs and Hospitality division if they or their bosses, as she put it, ‘do not feel inclined to shell out money for a hotel’. I ended up staying a little longer than is normal, I suppose.” Sierra took a bite of her crepe. Chloe stared at her for several moments before starting on her own.
“Why?” Chloe asked. “You would have never had to see me again. I would not have denied the truth. There’s no point anymore. This was my prison anyway, as deemed by the Talerian High Command…”
“I threatened the life of someone too, in my last moments of, well, resistance. I was given a second chance anyway. I was probably foolish. I’ve given you the opportunity to finish the job. Now, anytime I sleep, I risk my own demise, should you choose to kill me. Do you still wish to kill me?” Sierra braced herself. If the newcomer’s conditioning was effective, then her answer would determine Sierra’s next move.
“I no longer see the point…” Chloe shook her head. “But I do not understand it. My captors made such a big deal of the sin I committed. What I said to you has colored everyone’s perception of me. But not yours. Why do you, of all people, choose to forgive me?”
“Admittedly, Ms. Chloe, I’m not sure if I forgive you yet. There was more at play there than you or I. And...I don’t forgive you yet for your...knife incident, either. Additionally, however...I’ve done far worse in my lifetime than say a few harmful words.”
“I devoted my life in service to a corrupt administration…” Chloe’s eyes widened. “Who have married their goals with that of the Federation...g-genocide...just because of a gilded sigil…”
“You landed here piloting your own ship, if I recall. Would you use it in the service of our world, if you were given the chance?”
“No. Maybe. I...cannot say. I don’t think I can ally myself with any sort of higher organization, so soon...so soon, after the revelations I have had regarding my old one. I just...want to see my friends again...but they would never recognize me...at this point I wouldn’t recognize my old self…” Chloe exhaled. It made a sound like a hollow whistle. “We are to die here?”
“I want to keep hoping for a proper solution. It’s out of my hands,” Sierra said.
“In a way, I can try to understand how my people would justify themselves,” Chloe muttered. “When I was briefed on your planet, what you were, I was disgusted. It was presented as a completely depraved corruption of humanity. Policymakers were doing little to hide their initial feelings on the subject. Even so…”
“Hey.” Amelie reappeared over the railing. Her expression was severe. “It just went public. Turn on the news.”
The news was grim.The headline Sierra watched read:
BREAKING: FEDERATION OF 48 PLANETS REVEALED TO HAVE HELD SECRET VOTE REGARDING ESCALATION OF HOSTILITIES TOWARDS EARTH: 30-19 IN FAVOR
“No,” Sierra whispered. She didn’t know why she was surprised. She’d already known this.
Or rather, she’d known this but hadn’t accepted it. She could have passed off the Shanghai trip as a bizarre nightmare, if prompted. But seeing on the news gave the situation a weight she hadn’t yet completely grasped. A subtitle read:
President Utomo Expected to Give Address at 1600 Hours, CET
Sierra’s holo pinged as well:
EC: saw the news. Coming over right now.
Sierra could only watch as the apocalypse began. An anxious newscaster recounted.
“A meeting between President Utomo and the Federation’s Council of the 48 was made public today. The contents of the meeting have some...unsettling truths regarding our...future…”
The newscast cut to snippets of the meeting. Sierra had been there as it happened, but...nothing felt real. Part of her still refused to believe. The feed cut to a different newscaster.
“It is understood that this symbolizes a new policy of the Federation, but it is not yet known what form that will take. Negotiations and deliberations continue along private channels, between the councilors of the Federation and the executive and diplomatic aspects of Earth’s world government.”
They were careful, Sierra noted, to avoid the specifics of the Federation’s intentions. No one was calling the circumstances a crisis, yet.
It was only a matter of time.
“There you are, Sierra,” Amelie said humorlessly.
“The maid Sierra Stinson, who made waves earlier in the leaked meeting with an official from distant Taleria, spoke before the Fed48 Council. Stinson, who has been a person of interest to the Federation since she came to Earth from unknown reaches of space, spoke against the possibility of increased belligerence from the Federation.”
It cut to the meeting again, showing the speech she’d given.
“Y’know, you’re really not a bad public speaker,” Amelie said. They heard the elevator open, and briefly the news played from two different sources.
“Sierra!” Elaine rushed into the lobby, cutting her holo’s feed when she saw the display the rest of them were watching.
“Ms. Elaine…” Sierra shot up from her seat, and hurried to meet her lover in an embrace. “I couldn’t save us, Ms. Elaine…”
“Shhhh. Nothing’s gonna happen until I, grandmaster of the universe, say it does.”
“Ms. Elaine! How c-can you joke!”
“No need to shout, I’m right here. Just listen up, sweetie, maybe the world ends, but we’ll be together…” Elaine pulled her tighter, not bothering to say anymore. She ran her hand through Sierra’s golden locks, as the maid quietly shuddered. For a moment, the world fell away.
“I...love you so much, Ms. Elaine…”
Morgan and Amelie watched from the second level walkway, while Chloe divided her attention between the apocalyptic newscast and the lovers’ embrace. Eventually, she settled on the news.
“I’m kind of jealous…” Amelie murmured. Sierra remained in Elaine’s arms, where the kill satellites couldn’t get her.
“There you are on the TV again, Sierra…” Elaine said. “You did a great job. That’s what they’re saying, you did a great job…” Elaine’s breath passing over Sierra’s ear set her senses alight.
“Are you watching the news, Elaine…?” Sierra whispered into her lover’s heartbeat.
“Kinda yes, kinda no. Just seeing what they say about you. Heh, sorry...guess I should be focusing on what matters. You’re so fucking amazing, Sierra...my little diplomat…”
“I’m alive...because of you, Ms. Elaine…” Sierra murmured. Elaine pulled back just far enough to look her in the eye.
“What the heck am I supposed to say to that? You scared the hell outta me…”
“I’m very sorry…”
“Eh. It’s in the past now. Let’s keep it there…” Elaine broke off and surveyed the room. She gave short waves to Amelie and Morgan, who were still on the balcony.
“‘Sup, cops.” She continued her observation, until her eyes landed on Chloe, who looked meekly back at her. “So who is this? You people brought on another maid?”
“She’s a transfer from Paris. Staying with us for an indefinite period of time.” Sierra didn’t feel the need to add anything.
“I am...Maid Chloe, ma’am,” Maid Chloe said. Sierra waited with apprehension as Elaine silently evaluated the newcomer.
“Strange accent. Can’t place it, ‘cause it’s barely there...but...eh. Doesn’t matter that much, I guess. I’m Elaine. Aforementioned Grandmaster of the Universe, and Sierra’s girlfriend. We’re girlfriends, right Sierra?”
“I would say so, Ms. Elaine.”
“Well, that’s good. Things make more sense if we are,” Elaine pondered. Sierra giggled. “Now...with introductions out of the way, you may have noticed I...got out of work early, let’s say. Whatcha want to do?”
Sierra was starting to develop a hobby out of staring out of windows in high places. The sun was high in the sky over Neue Aachen. She could see the transit hub, theaters, a cathedral...
“You’re looking down, again. End of the world on your mind? I’m sure there’s worse things out there that could happen to us,” Elaine shrugged.
“All of this could be gone in an instant. I’ve come to quite like this city…”
“Then we can be together in Heaven. Or party in Hell. Shit...hope we don’t end up in different afterlifes…”
“I’m focused on my current life, Ms. Elaine.”
“Sheesh. You’re always so intense, Sierra. So serious. You don’t even know if we’ll lose in this little exchange of arms they’re teasing at.”
“I have witnessed the Federation destroy before, Ms. Elaine. It might take a while to ruin an entire planet, but that...might just make it worse...watching the suffering in real time.”
“Fuck, Sierra, lighten up! Live in the moment. The future is someone else’s problem. Hey, do you remember what I told you when we first met? You were worried about the Feds then, too…”
“I suppose I should be happy for the time we have…”
“The Councilor is ready for you, Madam President,” an attendant said. President Utomo turned to face her in her Shanghai office.
“Splendid. Put her on. Right here should do.”
“Of course.” The attendant located a panel on the far wall. Soon, a photorealistic hologram of one of the Federation’s 48 greeted them.
“Councilor Balkhi, of Earth 129. Representative of the Sol Directorate within the Federation. It’s a pleasure.” The president gave a short bow, which the hologram returned.
“I wish we could have met under better circumstances, Madam President. Time grows short, so let’s skip the formalities. Earth 721 is a prime candidate to be a protectorate, not the target of the atrocities my colleagues wish to commit…”
“Ah?” Elaine looked at Sierra, who had just remembered something.
“I made breakfast earlier. There is a crepe for you if you should fancy it, Ms. Elaine.”
“That...sounds like something I could go for right now,” Elaine said. Sierra started towards the cafeteria.
“I kept it warmed for you. It should taste just as fresh as it was this morning, but if not, I can make more.”
“I’m sure it’ll taste amazing,” Elaine replied. Chloe was wiping surfaces down when they arrived.
“Don’t mind us, new girl. I’m allowed to be here, probably…” Elaine said.
Sierra brought Elaine’s meal to her, as the latter found a table.
“Never understood this whole building. Does every floor just have room and board for the hell of it? Do the government drones just never leave?”
“No,” Sierra started. “Just me, I suppose.” She gazed at the window with some longing. Whether they lived or not, she was probably destined to become a household name at this point. But people had more important things to worry about, didn’t they?
“Don’t let them keep you from living your life. Maybe we move to a new city after all this, huh? A girl can dream.” Elaine took a bite of the crepe, rolled up and filled with savory ingredients. “Damn, this is good.”
“I simply wish I could live in some degree of anonymity,” Sierra moaned. “There was a time I harbored delusions of grandeur, but…” She took a quick glance at her holo. Within the news database, it took a stunningly short time to find a headline with her name in it. Most, however, were preoccupied with much darker news forecasts.
“Put that thing away, Sierra. Let’s not give the doomsayers our time.”
“At least society hasn’t collapsed, yet…”
“Eh. This scenario has always been on people’s minds. There’s a whole song and dance we’ll do, once the end comes. We’ll all go underground, passively waiting to die. There will be some panic, of course, but all this was planned for, in a way.” The serpent gave a cynical shrug.
“Do you plan on watching the address, Ms. Elaine?”
‘Eh, probably. They’ve got a weird way of setting it up. Before ours, she’s gonna do it in Chinese, so we’ll start getting leaks from that direction before it lands on us. Then she’ll do it all again in English for us westerners. Can’t remember which channel will have the German translation, but my English is...not terri-bluh.”
“It’s not bad at all, Ms. Elaine.”
Elaine strolled into the lobby, with Sierra in tow. Amelie and Morgan were already there, planted on a couch in front of the largest display. Chloe stood behind them, silent.
“Anyone got leaks?” Elaine asked.
“I don’t. I just waited for this one. We doing German or English?” Amelie asked.
“French!” Morgan said.
“Overruled. The English one is gonna be subtitled anyway, so I figure we’ll just do that.” Amelie expanded the channel list, trimmed it down to just news sources, and found the live feed.
“Whatever you say,” Elaine said. “Sierra doesn’t like it when I pick fights, I guess.” Elaine coiled herself to the side of the couch. She looked at Sierra, and said, “room for you on the queen’s throne if you want it.”
“I would be honored, your majesty.” Sierra planted herself on the makeshift seat Elaine offered amongst her own length. “Shall we see what Madam President has to say?” The countdown finally expired, and the feed cut to a stand which was emblazoned with the presidential seal. The woman herself walked onstage shortly afterwards.
“I’m coming at you live from Shanghai, or right in front of you, depending on where you are. Ahem. I am President Aminah Utomo, your president -- ah crap, this didn’t happen in the Chinese one...anyway.” The president cleared her throat, and took off her glasses. She began again, this time in a much more authoritative tone.
“My people! Citizens of our World Government, populace of Earth! We stand, it would seem, at a crossroads. I will not attempt to hide the truth from you, my people. For I am blessed with such a clever and well informed populace that such deception would be lost. But, allow me to begin.” She took a sip from a glass of water on a nearby table.
“The 48 Planet Federation! A cruel fact of our existence. They’ve been an existential threat since we first broke the barrier of first contact. A moment which was to be our greatest triumph, bound us forever more. But due to the Federation’s own belligerence, the rules may be shifting again. I can’t disguise the facts. A majority within their highest governing body...well, they want us dead. It’s cruel, and it is unjust. But, my people, we will prevail. The era of fear which governed our existence for so long, it is at an end! Because, despite what they might try, and despite casualties they might successfully incur, we...shall prevail. We have faced the most dire of circumstances before; that campaign of misery everyone of you has learned about in school, that underlying fact of our existence.” She took a deep breath, and another drink.
“Yes! The War that ravaged our world over a century and a half ago! Again, aggressors would think us easy to dispatch. Yet, we do not seek the destruction of the Federation. We will not grind ourselves to dust in some vainglorious crusade. No! What we seek is to stand among the interstellar community as equals! And we will seek out the voices among the stars that share our understanding! Once we end, once and for all, the threat to our existence, we’ll enjoy a prosperity our people have never before enjoyed!” The president stretched in place, and took a long drink.
“How fiercely we must fight back, depends on the Federation. We do not wish to spread our gift to those that do not want it, but it will inevitably be shared with those who do not back down. Unfortunately, the worst among them care little for the consequences of their actions. Every day from today onwards I will spend reaching out to the more reasonable voices among them, seeking a peaceful alternative. But in all likelihood, the events of the future will alter our positions in the universe quite dramatically. I, as well as everyone else, will work to make that change a positive one!”
Amelie broke the silence among the viewers in the lobby.
“A good rousing speech, I suppose. But I don’t like how vague she’s being. That’s the thing that worries me.”
“Cuz the Feds are watching, duh!” Morgan said. “She can’t, like, say ‘oh we’re gonna kill them’ cuz she wants to find common ground among their oppos..oppo...opposition! And she can’t say what we’d do to them, cuz, it could be a war or something!”
“Well, I mean, yeah, naturally,” Amelie said. “I, um, knew that…”
It was a couple of days later that evidence of the president’s plan began to fall into place.
“Hey,” Elaine said. She gave Sierra a quick kiss before they both turned to the display, where Amelie was excitedly pointing.
“FedNews has got something spicy,” she said, breathless. Sure enough, the headline did not disappoint.
MEMBER STATE SOL DIRECTORATE ANNOUNCES INTENT TO LEAVE THE FEDERATION AFTER CONFLICT WITHIN THE COUNCIL
“What the fuck?” Elaine asked. “Fed47, all of a sudden?”
A male newscaster provided some context.
“It began with an allegation of the member government of the Sol Directorate spreading misinformation among its people,” he started. “Councilor Balkhi later announced that in apparent coordination with the government she represented, the Sol Directorate would be ceasing cooperation with the Federation Council until ‘the Earth 721 incident’ was ‘resolved peacefully’. The Speaker of the Council is expected to address this breach of Federation authority within the next day.”
“Oh my Goddess,” Elaine murmured. “Is this real? Is that a Fed bigshot...sticking up for us?”
“I’m really trying not to get my hopes up,” Amelie stammered. “It’s just, well, it’s just one voice among 48, what difference will that make, right?” But the news seemed to have had an effect on her, as she rocked back and forth in her seat. “Goddess...do they have ships in orbit? Will they be pulling out?”
“Yo,” Elaine said, swiping at her holo. “They’ve got this lady speaking on a local channel. Go to that.”
“Uh! Yeah, ok!” Amelie zoomed out and homed in on another news page, where Councilor Balkhi was giving a joint conference speech with a man Sierra didn’t recognize.
“...and that’s why Director Bayo and I feel we must do the unthinkable. Pan-human commonwealth has always been the primary interest of the Sol Directorate, and until recently, participation with the 48 Planet Federation seemed consistent with that.”
The man, apparently the director, began speaking.
“We have long refused to peddle the Federation-provided propaganda on the people of Earth 721, for we recognize them as human, despite their alterations. We have no interest in spreading their disease, but we recognize the inherent worth in their existence. We of the Sol Directorate would take on the task ourselves, of helping them to prosper in isolation, had we the clout. But for now, we must take a stand any way we can, and until the Council reverses their needlessly cruel policy, we invite other dissenters to join us in the chant of ‘Not. Like. This.’”
“My goddess, they’re going to die!” Amelie said. “What could they possibly have planned?”
They collectively heard an elevator door open behind them.
“You should return to what you were doing, Ms. Rose, Ms. deGaine. Our work does not stop simply due to changes in orbit.”
“Good morning to you too, Ms. Luxe,” Amelie said, rolling her eyes.
“I know we took the day off just recently,” Ms. Capet said, “but Natalie is right. And yes, we have been following the news. How has Chloe been doing?”
“She hasn’t killed anyone,” Amelie said. It was true. Sierra hadn’t yet let her guard down, but Chloe seemed eager to move past the events of a couple days prior. The two of them enjoyed an uneasy peace, and Elaine had, luckily, remained unaware of the nexcomer’s true identity.
“Is she doing the tasks she was assigned?” Ms. Luxe inquired.
“Yeah.” Amelie gestured at the maids, who had assembled to greet them. “Sierra’s been showing her the ropes.”
“They’ve been getting along then? That’s a relief, considering…” Ms. Luxe’s eyes narrowed when she saw Elaine in attendance. “Hello, Ms. Claire. I trust you’ve been staying out of trouble?”
“Yeah. Only ‘cuz Sierra makes me,” Elaine deadpanned. “I’ve been here for at least a little while every day, so you would’ve known.”
“You’ll lose your visitor’s privileges with one false move. Do remember that.”
“I’d rather not give you the pleasure,” Elaine said. “Anyway, what were you saying about the new girl?”
“Nothing you need to worry about, Ms. Claire. Now, if you’ll excuse us, some of us work for a living.”
The group gradually dispersed, leaving Sierra, Elaine, and Chloe.
“You’re hiiiiding something…” Elaine said in a stage whisper, circling around the disguised Talerian.
“Please refrain from tormenting her, Ms. Elaine,” Sierra begged.
“Fine. Just one thing, though. You wouldn’t keep a secret from little old me, would you, Chloe?”
Sierra uselessly tugged on Elaine’s skirt, trying to halt the inevitable.
“Don’t worry, Sierra. I just have a question. I don’t mean any harm, I’m just curious.” She turned again towards Chloe, who straightened her posture. “Why did our lovely Ms. Luxe seem so nervous about the two of you getting along, hmmm?”
“I was the diplomat who served Taleria in the meeting with Ms. Sierra,” Chloe said. Sierra herself deflated when she said that. “I was banished here for my improper etiquette.”
“Oh.” Elaine reared back slightly, with an impassive look on her face. “You told Sierra to kill herself.”
“Y-yes, ma’am. I’m deeply ashamed...of my words…”
“And you’re receiving the same treatment as Sierra here, even though you broke one of our laws. Yeah. That’s cool.” Elaine meandered over to the nearest wall, humming tunelessly. She then, suddenly, threw her fist into the wall, which made a dull thud. “Fucking Cool!”
“Ms. Elaine,” Sierra managed to gasp. She ran over to her, to prevent further violence if necessary.
“Yeah. Don’t worry. I punched the wall instead of her. That’s right! I’m behaving myself! Even if...I...really shouldn’t be! Do you get your own room? Huh? Get to live rent free? Is that part of your...punishment?” She practically spat the last word. Sierra decided it best to stand between the two of them. Elaine sighed. “Yeah. I’m freaking out, I know. And you feel the need to defend her, because of course you do.”
“We have not received the same treatment, Ms. Elaine.” Sierra spoke firmly. “Becoming a maid was, for me, a natural change. Hers’ was engineered, however.” Chloe nodded, silently. “Were it not for my unfortunate tendency to become famous, I would enjoy autonomy that she does not. I simply remain here because...I fear the image...I’ve created of myself…”
“Oh sweetie…” Elaine gave Sierra a sad smile. “You know what then? Let’s go out. I won’t let them touch you. I’m taking you home, and anyone that interferes will wish they hadn’t.” She put her arms on Sierra’s shoulders. “So can we just leave, or?”
“A-allow me, Ms. Elaine.” Sierra went upstairs. She nearly choked as she came to Ms. Luxe’s door. This was the room where she’d turned a gun on someone...twice…
Sierra shook her head. Elaine was waiting for her. She knocked.
“Come in. And knock louder next time. It’s not something you can do daintily...hello, Sierra. Is there a problem?”
“I would like permission, ma’am, to leave the building.”
Ms. Luxe considered, for a moment.
“You’re still on a lot of people’s lips. Though I think the recent news from the Feds has reduced that somewhat. Where do you intend to go?
“Ms. Elaine’s home, ma’am.” Sierra waited anxiously for a response. Ms. Luxe’s features softened somewhat.
“I guess...she really came through for you, huh...I suppose I can see why you’d want to be together.” She motioned at a desk-mounted display. “Very well. Ms. Rose will escort you. Please report your whereabouts by 2200 hours, or...we will, for you. You are permitted to enjoy yourself.”
“T-thank you...so much, Ms. Luxe!”
“You’d better get going, Maid Sierra.”
She returned to the lobby, where Elaine and Amelie awaited her.
“Amelie Rose’s Maid Delivery Service!” Amelie said, saluting. “At your...service!”
“She gave you the go ahead, then?” Elaine asked.
“Yes, Ms. Elaine. We can go...whenever you wish.”
“Let’s fucking do this! Oh, and I guess Amelie has to make sure we get there. So she’s coming too, at least until you and I get inside.”
They proceeded into the elevator, and Sierra once again mentally prepped herself for the inevitable cloud of newswomen that would greet her.
“Ah...you’re shaking,” Elaine said. “Have some faith in your bodyguards, princess.”
“Ms. Elaaaaaiine, don’t call me princess if you insist on being the queen…”
Elaine laughed, a sound which filled the lift immediately.
“Ohmygoddess, don’t even go there!” She continued to giggle at the taboo.
“You started it,” Amelie smirked.
The elevator door opened onto the ground floor, and the three entered the grandiose lobby.
“Just gotta make it to the metro,” Elaine muttered. “Still got your metropass, Sierra?”
“Yes, Ms. Elaine!”
They descended into the mass of reporters, who began with their questions.
“How long have you known the president?”
“Do you believe we are worth saving?”
“Anything you wish to say about the Council, Maid Sierra?”
“She is not allowed to answer those,” Amelie said, authoritatively. They passed through the crowd. Suddenly, Sierra turned, and made ready to speak. A hush fell over the reporters.
“I would like to say that I do think we are worth saving.” Sierra gave a curtsy for added effect. Then, she turned back around, and hurried away, with Amelie beckoning.
“You didn’t have to do that,” she said, among the cheers.
“I admit that I’m not entirely sure why I did,” Sierra said. “I suppose that question in particular...affected me.” She shook her head. “I am truly a fool, giving the news cycles more to say about me. I can only hope they settle on more interesting topics, soon…”
“Let’s just go,” Elaine said, pointing towards a hallway leading underground. “I wish escalators were a little less uncomfortable,” she laughed. Sierra tried her best, once again, to avoid the looks. Amelie was armed, which kept some gazes averted. Elaine brought Sierra in close, with a protective arm wrapped around her. “Just a midday stroll with your girl, nothing strange about it. You’re practically invisible…”
They took their seats on the first train. Sierra was relatively anonymous with Amelie on one side, and Elaine taking up three seats of her own on the other.
“Definitely couldn’t get away with this during rush hour,” she chuckled. “Not that it’s ever stopped me from trying. How many people do you think took pictures of me flipping them off?”
“I don’t think that’s why they were taking pictures, Ms. Elaine,” Sierra said. They overheard the voices of two travelers in the next seats over.
“That voice! I recognize it…” one hushed commuter said. “The girl the president had with her.”
“Pretty sure all maids sound like that, but ok,” her companion said. “Try and get her autograph if you’re so certain.”
“Ah…” the first voice whispered. “Nah, I’m good…”
“It could be her. I read somewhere that she lives in this city.”
“Yeah, but...if maids are a war project or whatever like they said, I probably shouldn’t piss her off…”
“She can hear everything you two are saying, by the way. And others talking about her tends to make her pretty uncomfortable, FYI,” Amelie said, with a smirk.
“I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me!”
“Seriously? She’s not a weapon,” Amelie said.
“But…” one of the girls said. “Is she the one who was with the president?”
“I was,” Sierra nodded.
“I...um...liked your speech,” the girl said. “Do...you think they...the Feds...will try to kill us?”
“Lay off the poor girl,” her friend said. “She did what she could.”
Elaine leaned in towards Sierra’s ear.
“Want me to say something?” she whispered.
“You don’t have to, Ms. Elaine,'' Sierra whispered back.
“What’s the...um...president like?”
“I was going to ask the same thing, at some point,” Elaine mused.
“She seems very capable,” Sierra said. “I know little of her policy, but I don’t think she’s a bad person by any means. She could have, at any point, looked down on me and my station, but she did not. I have...considerable respect for her.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Elaine said. “I was scared you’d say she was an asshole,” she chuckled. “She is a politician, after all.”
“I, um, respect her too,” the first traveller said.
“I still say she’s too easy on the Feds. We coulda turned them a long time ago,” her friend added.
“Oh, don’t start this now!”
“Why? They’d thank us in the end. I’m telling you it’s a mistake that we didn’t make the first move as soon as that vote passed. People are gonna die because we were too slow!”
“Let’s leave these two to their discussion,” Amelie chuckled. “Seems we’ve caused a pretty heated debate.”
“Councilor Whateley is ready for you, Madam President.”
“Good, good. Let’s put him on.” President Utomo straightened her tie as a hologram emerged before her. “Good evening, councilor, or whatever time it may be where you are. Have you given my proposal any consideration?”
“Hm...yes,” Councilor Whateley said. “Is this entire system infected, like you say?”
“That’s a complicated question, I must admit. It’s true that we could infect every ship in orbit at once if we wanted to. But in the interest of our neighbors,” the president winked, “we’d really rather not.”
“And you say that the Three Stars Republic ships can be spared, if we don’t participate in the bombardment?”
“That’s correct. And I must reiterate that I don’t like hiding behind a virus to protect my people. The majority in the Council wouldn’t even listen if I told them how the virus could be controlled.”
“Can it be controlled?”
“It’s a work in progress, I’m afraid. But research has progressed. But all that falls by the wayside if the pro-bombardment faction has their way.” The president gave him a sad smile. “Such desperate times are these, Councilor.”
“What can we do?”
“Yo! Kat! We’ve got a guest!” Elaine threw the door open, leading Kiku the cat to scramble from her resting position. “Don’t tell me you’ve got the same paper and you need complete silence…”
“Different paper,” Katrin said, as she emerged from one of the back rooms. “Still need quiet.”
“Even though we might all die?” Elaine asked, though her tone was lighthearted. Katrin ignored her.
“Hey, um….Sierra, right?” She gave the maid a look. “You’ve been making waves.”
“I’m afraid so, Ms. Katrin.”
“And yet you stuck with Laine here, huh?” Katrin sounded perpetually sleep deprived. Sure enough, the fox woman walked over to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee.
“We’re kind of a thing by now, if my rambling hasn’t given it away,” Elaine said.
“You’re making a mistake…” Katrin said, looking at Sierra. “But I’m not your mom, I guess. Now I take it you love birds need me out of the house?”
“If it is not too much of an inconvenience, Ms. Katrin,” Sierra said, a little quickly. Elaine giggled.
“Listen to you!”
“Oh, please stop that, Ms. Elaine. It’s been...a long couple of days.”
“Just clean up when you’re done,” Katrin said. She grabbed a bag, and finished her cup of coffee. “I’ll be going now…”
“Now what did you have in mind, you...ever-so-surprising girl,” Elaine grinned.
“You seem to forget I have feelings for you, Ms. Elaine. And I've had a few days to consider the future. You are right that we should enjoy the time we have. I’m happy to wait, if you are not interested right now.”
“Well,” Elaine said, breathlessly. “Kat won’t be gone forever. Heh...last time was so...planned, but this, Goddess, Sierra, I love your spontaneity!”
“I will allow you to take the lead, Ms. Elaine.” The serpent gave her a wicked grin.
“Like that was ever an option...um.” Elaine looked around, like she’d just remembered something. “W-wait right here, okay? I just...gotta make sure everything’s ready…” Elaine zipped over to what was presumably her room. Sierra waited out the increasingly loud crashing noises as the frenzied snake went to work.
“I will wash up while you are busy, Ms. Elaine!” Sierra heard a grunt, followed by a quiet thud.
Sierra found the bathroom, which was dominated by a large, circular tub with a freely maneuverable showerhead. A nearby trash can was filled with ruddy fur, and the occasional scale. Sierra busied herself with clearing the area of loose articles of clothing, opting to make a neat pile for them. Then she needed only to figure out how the shower worked…
Sierra stood outside Elaine’s door, awaiting an invitation. She had, once again, strategically discarded her underthings for the time being.
“Come -- Ahh! --Uh, come in!”
“Right away, mistress Elaine,” Sierra affirmed, grinning to herself. She opened the door and poked her head in, to find Elaine waiting for her. She had on some assembly of lingerie, the centerpiece of which was a translucent lilac skirt.
“Bit drafty in here, huh,” Elaine said. Sierra briefly surveyed the hastily-cleaned room, which had a strange round divot in the floor. Further inspection suggested that it was her bed, and likely, where any number of acts would be undertaken.
“I would be inclined to agree, Ms. Elaine,” Sierra said, tugging on her own skirt. She moved in closer to the scantily clad snake, and put a hand on hers. Sierra smiled at her lover, as she brought Elaine’s hand down to a very specific location.
“I can tell that you’re ready for anything,” Elaine said, feeling around. “And...oh my, you shaved for me…”
“To better provide service, Ms. Elaine,” Sierra winked, and curtsied. It was an exaggerated enough motion that it gave Elaine a chance to see what lay under the frills. Suddenly, Sierra was swept up into Elaine’s arms. At some point, her feet had left the floor.
“C’mere already, you…” Elaine moaned, as they joined in a kiss. Sierra’s hands migrated upwards, landing on Elaine’s shoulder blades, before heading back down. Her lover was doing some exploring of her own, wriggly fingers landing on parts of Sierra’s body as they kissed. Sierra found herself ensnared in her lover’s coils.
There was nowhere she’d rather be.
“We have Councilor Dmitry ready for you, Madam President.”
President Utomo leaned back behind her desk, looking briefly at the ceiling, before donning her glasses.
“Hope to the Goddess this one knows how to listen,” she groaned. “The last one...sheesh. Could’ve just said ‘no’ to start with.” It wasn’t too long before her aide dimmed the lights once more, in preparation for the body that rose from the floor. A hologram of Councilor Dmitry gave her a nod.
“Madam President,” he began. “You oversee such a fascinating civilization.”
“I thank you...I think. Shall we begin our talks, Councilor?”
“Very well. Let me preface by saying the bombardment faction are a group of fools. I’m saddened that it is they who oversee our rare union of planets, but I have little sway over the voters outside my own constituency.”
“Please, Councilor. Continue to tell me your thoughts on the matter.” The president clasped her hands together, as she awaited his response.
“My interests are scientific, you’ll find. It seems a remarkable waste to destroy such...fascinating specimens.”
“Do you find yourself wishing to follow the path of the Sol Directorate, Councilor?”
“That is what gives me pause, you must understand. The Federation is, in most ways, a very good thing for scientific progress. And yet, I simply can’t stomach the possibility of your culture’s stunning possibilities being so casually discarded…”
Sierra came to, in her lover’s arms. She blinked twice, and realized she was thoroughly encased in Elaine’s coils. That brought a smile to her lips, as her eyes drifted closed once more.
“You’re awake,” Elaine murmured. “You were just completely blissed out, for a moment there.”
“How careless of me,” Sierra giggled. “I drifted off…”
“And yet, you’re still here, so I must’ve done something right.”
“You did everything right from what I can tell, Ms. Elaine...you are amazing…” Sierra looked at her lover with some apprehension. “Was I...satisfactory?”
“‘Was I satisfactory’, she asks,” Elaine chuckled. “You were perfect.” She brought Sierra in closer, and the maid was once again surrounded by Elaine’s warmth, and cradled by her heartbeat.
“You’re getting up?” Elaine looked groggily at the maid struggling weakly against her coils.
“I would love to stay here forever, Ms. Elaine, truly,” Sierra said. “But I must get cleaned up.” Elaine released her. Standing up, she took a brief look around. Elaine’s room wasn’t anything spectacular, but it smelled like her, which was a comfort. She had a waist height dresser along a window with drawn blinds. On the dresser was an object of curiosity; an old two-way radio. Elaine took notice of her gaze.
“Oh, that old thing? Just an interest of mine. I had dreams of running a pirate radio station for a short time, but that took a lot more equipment than I had the patience or funds to gather. Thinking one of these days I’ll get an amateur’s license so I can bother strangers.”
“That’s fascinating, Ms. Elaine. I’ll be just a moment.” Sierra reached for her outfit, but Elaine was quicker on the draw. Increasing her height, the snake girl held the articles in both hands, just out of reach. She gave Sierra a playful grin.
“You’ll get theeeese back once you return~”
“I can only surmise what sort of evil plans you have conceived, Ms. Elaine.” The naked maid slowly opened the door, peaking out, before scampering to the bathroom.
Sierra returned, clad only in her underthings, a black and white two piece. It was better than being nude, but that didn’t stop Elaine’s indulgent gaze.
“You really are beautiful,” she sighed.
“May I have my clothes back, Ms. Elaine?”
“So I’ll be honest, there was something I wanted to see.” She gave Sierra a sly smile. There was an article of clothing in her hands that Sierra didn’t recognize.
“I’m pretty sure you’ve seen as much of me as you can,” Sierra shrugged.
“It’s gonna sound silly, but, well…” Elaine tossed Sierra the article of clothing, which was little more than a plaid smock. “You only ever see maids in their special outfits, right? And I get that the implication is that anything different they put on will conform to the dress code. And the Changes do some weird stuff, so that’s not an outrageous belief.”
“You would like me to put this on to demonstrate the change, Ms. Elaine?”
“Yes, exactly. Show me that ‘maid magic’, as it were.” Elaine chuckled self-consciously. “I guess it seems like a pretty absurd request, huh?”
“I can do this for you, Ms. Elaine. It is no trouble. I will do my best to explain how it works, but all I know is what Dr. Hoffman told me.” She put on the smock, being forced to assume Elaine didn’t care about it all that much. The serpent watched, rapt, as the fabric recolored and folded itself into the creases and frills that almost always adorned her lover. But once the transformation was complete, the dress was a rather basic one. Still identifiably a maid’s outfit, the fabric seemed dull, but functional.
“So that’s it, huh? Could we make a killing by selling maid dresses from ordinary and cheap clothes you put on?” Elaine seemed amused at her own idea.
“It’s a little more complex than that, I’m afraid. For one thing, it seems that the intricacy of the original outfit has an effect on the resulting uniform. For another…” Sierra began removing her newly crafted dress, starting with untying a sash around her waist. Once it was fully removed, Sierra neatly folded the outfit and handed it back to Elaine.
“What the hell...it’s changing back?” Elaine watched, spellbound, as the dress returned to its earlier form. Soon, the plaid smock they had started with was all that remained. Sierra shrugged and cocked a grin.
“It seems my magic powers only extend so far.”
“There goes my money making scheme,” Elaine sighed. “I guess there’s always the idea I had of selling my shed skin to be made into handbags.” She returned Sierra’s original clothes to her, briefly wondering why her touch hadn’t altered them.
“Those were always what they are now,” Sierra explained, as she began to work her way back into them. “Some maid dresses are just that.” In a short time, she was fully dressed.
“You’ve got a pretty killer party trick, at any rate.”
“Assuming I’m willing to strip down beforehand,” Sierra said.
“I mean...yeah,” Elaine giggled. “You got me there. Make you something to eat?”
“Would you accept...assistance, Ms. Elaine?”
“Turn that stuff off, it’s self harm,” Elaine said, from the kitchen. Sierra was watching herself addressing the crowd of reporters, the same instance as when they had departed the Bundeshalle, as it was playing on the display. “Maybe not that specifically, I guess. Thank the fucking Goddess they moved on from that...other...thing.” Sierra was trying to restrain herself from interfering with Elaine’s cooking. As destructive as her presence in the kitchen was, the girl was determined to make them a proper meal. “I can’t fucking believe! They made you come face to face with that bitch again!”
“I mean sure, she looks different now. And they….maided her or whatever, cause I guess that’s a fucking thing. But she’ll always be that bitch Harlow. She shouldn’t have fucked with my girlfriend!” Elaine was incensed, and Sierra had to acknowledge that it had only been a matter of time.
She had to admit to herself that coming here had at least partially been a ploy to separate Elaine and Chloe. And Elaine’s anger was valid...Sierra shuddered at the incident with the knife. She had the power to erase Chloe from existence, if she revealed that event to the right people. Such as the person wrestling with a package of pasta in the kitchen. Elaine said something which served to solidify her fears.
“If she...ever...hurts you,” she gritted, “well...I’ll probably go to prison.”
“I don’t believe she would do that as she is now, Ms. Elaine. I request your faith in my judgment.” Sierra hoped her words weren’t completely transparent.
Elaine’s shoulders dropped as she grasped a ladle.
“Yeah, I know,” she sighed. ‘You’re right, and we’ve been over this. I can chant ‘maid rights’ ‘till the end of time, but I’d be a pretty massive hypocrite if I robbed you of your agency.”
“Your instincts aren’t completely wrong, however. I’ve placed my faith in some people that I shouldn’t have…” Sierra acknowledged.
“Fuckin’ Bird Bitch!”
“Indeed, Ms. Elaine.” Sierra decided to change the subject. “What’s on the menu?”
“Oh! Uh...spaghetti. With either store-bought meat sauce or store-bought alfredo sauce. Nothing but the finest ingredients at Bistro d’Elaine,” she said, with an eyebrow wiggle.
“That sounds lovely,” Sierra said, sincerely. The attempt meant more than anything else.
“Thanks for, uh, letting me do this. You’re a much better cook than me, but I gotta pick up the slack once in a while, y’know?”
“I understand. It’s sweet.”
Sierra dug into what ended up being some very passable spaghetti when Katrin returned from wherever she went.
“Oh Goddess, why did Elaine cook?” She moaned, after casting a glance at the kitchen. “Why would you let her cook?” She said, targeting Sierra with that question, specifically.
“She wanted to, Ms. Katrin. And I think she did a fine job. Would you like some spaghetti?”
“I just don’t understand it,” Katrin said, as she begrudgingly moved towards the kitchen. “A maid of all people should be able to keep Elaine out of the kitchen.”
“Talk like that and you might start pissing me off,” Elaine said, with a bite to her words. “Have some pasta.” Katrin gingerly approached the pot which held the serpent’s fiendish concoction. She gave it a look.
“Well, I am hungry…”
“The call of spaghetti sinks into your skin and does not release you until it is sated,” Elaine chuckled malevolently. She made Katrin a bowl, and held it out. “Sauce over there if you want it.”
Elaine took a bowl of her own, and collapsed on the couch in one spectacular motion.
“You coming, Sierra? Brawl Queen’s on, or it’s gonna be in a moment.”
“Trash-tier anime,” Katrin muttered. Elaine gave her a very strange look.
“I will eat over here at the table, Ms. Elaine. I would hate to make a mess.” Sierra cradled her own bowl for a moment, holding it up. Elaine, undeterred by her roommate’s comments, puzzled over the video library.
“What episode did we leave off on,” she mused. “It was somewhere around here...did we get to the tournament arc yet, Sierra?”
“That whole show’s a tournament arc,” Katrin maligned.
“I believe both maids fought each other, before we stopped watching,” Sierra guessed.
‘That fight’s a classic,” Elaine grinned. “Here we go…”
“Shouldn’t you wait for Sierra here to finish eating?” Katrin motioned a furry hand at Sierra, who was finishing up. Elaine chuckled sheepishly.
“Uh, well, yeah,” Elaine said, blushing.
“I can see it from here, if you’d like to begin,” Sierra said. As she spoke, however, she gathered the last of the noodles onto her fork, and delivered the decisive blow. She carried her dish to the kitchen, where she began cleaning it out.
“You don’t need to do that,” Elaine said. “I’ve got it.” To put weight behind her words, she rose from the couch, and soon her arms appeared on either side of the maid, to take over the cleaning duties. “Just put it in here, and you’re done,” she said. On cue, a dishwasher opened to Sierra’s right.
“I admit I wasn’t certain,” Sierra said. “The one on the Customs and Hospitality floor does not work very well, and manually cleaning dishes isn’t that bad, regardless.” Elaine adopted another one of her voices.
“You no clean in my house. Me Host. Me clean.”
Sierra sighed, but acquiesced.
“Very well, Ms. Elaine. Thank you for the meal. It was wonderful.”
“Wait, really?” Elaine asked, in a normal voice.
“Truly, Ms. Elaine.”
Now you’ve done it,” Katrin said with a smirk. “The praise will go…” she made a whooshing sound. “...Straight to her head.”
“That doesn’t bother me,” Sierra said.