The next day, Ms. Capet pulled Sierra aside and took her into a small meeting room. Ms. Luxe was already at the table. The goblin started.
“Amelie said you turned in early last night. Did you see the news?”
Sierra gulped, and nodded.
“Good, good. That saves us some explanation. We down here on Earth have abolished the death penalty long ago, and we how no desire to give in to external pressure and restore it now. But the Talerians cry for justice, or their own skewed vision of it. They want you dead, Ms. Sierra.”
She didn’t pull any punches, did she? The maid kept her head downcast.
“Now you should know that Sophie and I have formulated a plan, along with members of the WG diplomatic corps. We won’t kill you. We don’t even plan on jailing you. Sophie, please tell Ms. Sierra the plan.”
Sierra looked up slightly, but shame still burned, as the silver fox woman started.
“Now you’ve already suffered a partial identity death. It’s unfortunately par for the course as maid transformations go. But we, with your assistance, would like to present this to the Talerians as a complete death of self. It is unfortunate, Ms. Sierra, but you must present yourself to the media as an empty shell, with no identifiable remnant of your old life or career. For all intents and purposes, you must be a completely new person in the eyes of the world. Now, I trust no one outside of this floor knows of your old life?"
Sierra’s eyes widened. Noooo...no no no…
“I did tell one person, ma’am. Yesterday when I was in the city. Her name is Elaine. She is a tan skinned girl with straight black hair, and she had the lower body of a snake.”
“Ahhh, a snake-girl. That will narrow it down, at least. Get yourself ready to go out, Sierra. You’re going to help us find this Elaine (hopefully) before she spills the beans to anyone else.”
“Y-yes ma’am. Sorry ma’am.”
As soon as the three stepped outside, they stumbled into a cloud of reporters who started barking questions.
“Not our department,” Natalie lied, addressing the crowd. “Please let us through.” The small woman managed to clear a path. Once the group was somewhere quieter, Ms. Luxe and Ms. Capet turned towards Sierra.
Sierra could only wait for one of them to start speaking. That ended up being Ms. Capet.
“Ah...yes. Sorry. You’re our only lead for finding this girl, Ms. Sierra. Do you have any ideas of where to start looking?”
“Ms. Elaine showed me where she worked. I believe that would be a sensible place to start. Please follow me, I believe it’s this way.”
“Lead on, Ms. Sierra,” the white-haired woman commanded.
Sierra led on, and soon they’d reached their destination.
“A sandwich shop?” Ms. Luxe began.
“Yes ma’am. With luck, she will be here. I recall her telling me she worked today.” Sierra walked through the holoboard advertising daily specials, and into the restaurant.
“Welcome to Wonderkebab...Oh, it’s you,” Elaine looked severely at the maid before her stony expression broke into a grin. “What can I do for you, *Maid Sierra*?”
“We’re just here on business, I’m afraid,” Ms. Luxe had materialized next to Sierra, and addressed the serpentine cashier. “We’d like to borrow you for the rest of the day, if that’s possible. Please come with us back to the Bundeshalle.”
“Oh come ooon, I did my taxes this year, I swear.” Turning around, Elaine called out, “Hey boss! Some people from the government say they need me for something!”
A goblin strolled out from the back.
“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, partially at Elaine, and partially at Ms. Luxe. “I need Ms. Claire on register! How can I run a business if the government abducts my employees?”
“I apologize for the inconvenience, ma’am. We just need her for today.”
“Fine,” the boss goblin huffed. Turning to Elaine, she added, “But you need to come in an hour early tomorrow! We won’t be finishing inventory today. Go ahead, clock out.”
“Alrighty then.” Elaine whistled a jaunty tune as she tapped some things on the cash register’s display.
Outside of the store, Elaine pumped her fist in the air.
“Suhweeeet! Work ends early too-day! But, um, what’s the occasion?”
“Please ma’am, follow us back and we’ll be happy to give you the details,” Sierra said. “It involves some things I told you yesterday.”
“I’ll be honest, I was hoping this was just a government intervention to get me out of work early so I could go home, but uh, oh well I guess.”
Sierra snickered at that.
Back on their floor, someone Sierra didn’t recognize was waiting for them. Ms. Capet provided an explanation.
“This is Ms. Mueller, a senior diplomat that the WG is loaning us. Please treat Ms. Mueller with the respect that someone of her stature deserves.” Ms. Mueller waved with a feathered arm. Parts of her were covered in exotic plumage, the result of a change inspired by birds.
Sierra curtsied, while Elaine gave a short wave of her own.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, ma’am,” Sierra added.
The diplomat started.
“It’s a delicate situation we find ourselves in, and you’re at the center of it, lovely,” the avian ambassador said to Sierra.
The maid nodded, while Ms. Mueller turned to Elaine.
“Ms. Claire, did you happen to watch the news last night?” The diplomat spoke with a careful precision. Her speech felt....weighty.
“Well I mean sure, I had the radio on while I had dinner. I was...wait.” Elaine’s eyes widened as she slowly turned towards Sierra. The maid could practically see the gears turning faster and faster behind the snake girl’s eyes.
“Holyholy fuck...Was that *you* they were talking about on the news? Shit...it had to have been…”
“Exactly right!” Ms. Mueller confirmed. “You’re here, Ms. Claire, because Ms. Stinson here confided in you. You know her little secret, as it were.”
It was strange to hear her surname spoken like that, Sierra decided.
“Now, my next question is of critical importance. It means everything for Ms. Stinson’s wellbeing, that you. Answer. This. Truthfully. Did you tell anyone else what she told you? About her coming from space, on the run?”
Elaine shifted on the makeshift chair she’d made of her coils. She propped her head on her hand, resting an arm on the scaled length. It was as if to signify she was deep in thought.
“When I went home...my roommate was out at the time. I made dinner for myself and ate it. Afterwards I laid on the floor for a while and did nothing, one of my favorite pastimes. I gamed for a while...but...no. I wasn’t in any contact with anyone that night.”
“What about today? At work?”
“Dude, I really don’t talk to my fucking coworkers.” Elaine frowned, before continuing. “Sierra. Please, don’t worry. Your secret's safe with me. But why is it so important that it remains secret?”
“Because, if you’ve heard the news, then you know Sierra’s pursuers are out for blood,” Ms. Luxe interjected. “They’re screeching for their own demented version of justice. Their vision is poor Sierra here being publicly executed.”
Silence fell on the room for several moments.
“Ugh, Men…” Ms. Capet sighed. Elaine snorted, Sierra and Ms. Luxe giggled. Ms. Mueller seemed unaffected. The diplomat then continued.
“Killing Sierra is not ideal, not for a variety of reasons. You don’t want to die, right, Sierra? We want to deceive them by showing a girl with nothing of the old smuggler left. Make the Talerians believe that we punished Ms. Stinson in our own way -- by pretending we completely erased her identity.”
“I believe, ma’am, the best option is the one that preserves peace. If….if I have to...d-die, so the T-talerians leave us alone, then.” Sierra inhaled, tried to shake off the jitters. “Then that’s ok with me.”
“Fuck, Sierra…is this a maid thing? Cut the selfless crap, ok? I’d really rather you didn’t die, y’know?”
“Please lower your voice, Ms. Claire,” Ms. Luxe commanded. “We’ve already said we won’t let it happen. Just what investment do you have in Ms. Stinson, anyway?” Elaine bristled.
“She...trusted me. I didn’t know that was a big deal, yesterday. And it seems the only others who know who she is either want her to die or want to play fucking mindgames with her. So it becomes up to some nobody like me to advocate for her to be treated like a person. Why the fuck do you government drones care? Doesn’t affect you assholes if she lives or dies!”
“BECAUSE, Ms. Claire, how do you think the people in orbit would react to a foreigner being executed by our government? The pro-bombardment faction would have an utter FIELD DAY with this ‘heinous act’ committed by those ‘heartless barbarians down on the surface’. Did you consider That, Ms. Claire? Or are you too set on being the noble saviour and feeding your own ego?”
“You mean. To fucking tell me, that the WG killing one person, would convince the Feds that we are utterly irredeemable, and lead them to kill...hmm, let’s see here...A LOT FUCKING MORE than one person? Can you believe this shit, Sierra?”
“P-please stop,” the maid sobbed.
“You, civilian,” Ms. Luxe continued at Elaine, “don’t understand the song and dance of not getting shot when there’s a damn gun pointed at you! If we aren’t constant...saints...in everything we DO, then the Fed48 will wash their damn hands of us! I don’t know what the hell YOU want, but WE want Sierra to live!”
Elaine rotated away, and stared at the floor.
“I don’t want Sierra to die…” she said, shoulders drooping. “I just met her, but she’s...easy to talk to…”
“Y-yes, Ms. Capet? Ma’am?”
“Do you trust Ms. Claire?”
“Please escort her home. Make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid, and that she understands the plan -- that Soren Stinson is dead, and that Sierra Stinson is the persona we made to replace...him. The rest of the day is yours. Return and report here or call for a ride before 2200. We can do the tests tomorrow.”
“Very well, ma’am!” That command excited her, for reasons she couldn’t really place. Sierra drifted back to that offhand comment Elaine made the day before. The one about dating.
“C’mon Sierra, let’s get out of here.”
“Officer Sophie, the court marshal hereby finds you guilty of being a hopeless romantic.”
“It seems you’ve caught me, Officer Natalie. I will submit for my punishment~”
“Alright, Sierra, now listen up.” Elaine held out her palm display, in which she had a map pulled up. “Now if I live here...what’s the best way to get there?”
“The Blue Line!”
“Attagirl. I see you’ve done your homework. And, I can’t help but notice the Bundeshalle has a station right in front of it. Now ain’t that convenient? Almost as if you can easily see what parts of the city they care about!”
“We’ll be at your house in no time, ma’am!”
“Eh. The metro’s not that great. But I appreciate your enthusiasm.”
“And here we are, Sierra,” Elaine said, before lifting both arms to the sky. “The Grand Palace of the Serpent Queeeeeen!” The two faced a modestly sized house in a quiet neighborhood.
“Your castle inspires awe in your loyal subject, your majesty!” Elaine fumbled with her keys, and then gestured at Sierra to go inside.
“It better inspire awe, my humble courtier. For if it doesn’t, then I shall have you thrown to the lion!” Elaine waved dramatically at a cat that was asleep on a crowded table. The cat yawned and blinked at her.
“Ok, I guess the lion’s not hungry right now. You have lucked out this time….um...Sierra...what are you doing.” Elaine soundlessly slithered up to Sierra who had found herself in the kitchen.
“Stop. Cleaning! My house!”
“But so much needs to be done, your majesty.”
“Nonono Sierra, I’m not playing here. You’re my guest. It’s my mission to make sure you don’t lift a finger. Also, listen to you! Calling my house dirty like that. I’m shocked. Shocked!”
“My apologies for my rudeness --”
“Shut up and learn to take a joke. Please?”
“Who’s this girl you’re tormenting Laine...oh. Did you hire a cleaner?”
“Ah, Sierra, meet my roommate Katrin. Yeah, I have a roommate. You didn’t think I was rich or something, did you?” Katrin was a foxgirl. But unlike Sophie Capet who had fox ears atop her head but human features otherwise, Katrin had a fuzzy snout, a gloriously bushy tail, and reddish fur covering her whole body. Her clothing was surprisingly normal, by Sierra’s ancient standards -- a blouse stretched over her assets, while furry legs extended below a pleated miniskirt. “For your information, Katrin, she’s not my cleaner. Rather, she’s an honored guest,” Elaine harrumphed.
“Ah. Guess I’m sexiled then. Whatever, I was leaving anyway. Put a sock on the doorknob in case you two are still at it when I get back. See you around…”
“Feel free to crash on the couch, I’ll just see if I can find something edible.” Sierra tried to take up as little space on the couch as possible as she watched a masterclass demonstration of how Elaine’s kitchen had looked so destroyed in the first place.
“I’ve got some clean utensils in one of these drawers…or maybe not! Hey Sierra, do you like...um...oven pizza?”
“That sounds lovely.”
“If you say so.”
The two ate in silence for a few minutes. Elaine colonized the majority of the couch while Sierra, meanwhile, insisted on eating at the table.
“Goddess, I couldn’t believe the nerve of that bitch.”
“Nah. Kat’s a grump but otherwise inoffensive. I’m talking about that goblin lady.”
Elaine turned and scoffed.
“Dammit, Sierra, stop being intentionally dense. I’m talking about that Ms. Lust or Luxe or whatever. Fucker made it sound like the ships in orbit were the only thing keeping the government honest! That we’d just be more of a fuckin’ police state if they were gone.”
“Hmmm,” Sierra intoned, neutrally.
“Goddess...DAMMIT! Sierra! Have a fucking opinion on SOMETHING! Having your mind rejiggered for subservience doesn’t fucking mean you need to be a piece of cardboard with tits!” Elaine stared directly into the maid’s eyes. “Tell me. Fucking tell me I’m wrong.”
“You’re wrong, ma’am.”
“And now you’re just telling me what you think I want to hear!” And quit fucking calling me ma’am like I’m your owner or something! I’m. Not!” Silence filled the room as Sierra stared at the ground, avoiding Elaine’s piercing gaze. “Tell me why I’m wrong then, Sierra.”
“Ms. Elaine. Ms. Natalie Luxe showed me great kindness at a critical moment. Madame Luxe provided me with my own living space. She didn’t have to. She granted me some degree of autonomy, which is why I was able to meet you. She didn’t have to do that either, but I’m grateful she did. Finally, she treated me with compassion, even when I….pointed a...g-gun at her.”
“I still think she’s just using you to play politics. But Sierra...thanks. I know it’s not easy for your kind to express any sort of disagreement. And I’m sorry I made you relive some...unpleasant memories.”
“I accept your apology, ma -- Ms. Elaine. But I feel I must correct you on one detail,” Sierra grinned, continuing “pieces of cardboard don’t cry as nearly as much as I do.” Elaine snorted and bellowed out laughter.
“Ok Sierra...that got me good. I can’t. You’re too fucking precious.” Sierra’s expression suddenly turned grim.
“Despite what you said, Ms. Elaine, I’m going to have to act mindlessly obedient for Ms. Luxe and Ms. Capet’s plan to work. If the Talerian emissaries see me as little more than a submissive slave, they may be more lenient. Not only to me, but to those who’ve sheltered me. I confess, though, that I’m...quite...worried. I am regrettably underskilled when it comes to matters of...deception.”
“Need to learn how to lie, do you?” Elaine made herself taller and gave a proud look. “Not everyone can learn to stretch the truth from a literal snake.” Sierra giggled at that.
“Lesson one of being a bastard.” Elaine lazily waved her arm upwards at the far wall, causing a holodisplay to emerge from the ground. “Play some games ‘cuz I am fuckin’ tired of thinking about the future for right now.” Elaine grinned at Sierra, who was examining some sort of remote. “I’m sure Kat will be fine with you using her controller. Now, how does Brawl Queen XXI sound?”
“That sounds like the title of a video game, Ms. Elaine!”
“You continue to be very perceptive,” Elaine chuckled. A title screen played across the display, showing characters making fluid, martial motions. Elaine summoned a menu and selected the “2 players” option. Sierra privately wondered how the “omniplayer” option worked. The girls were treated to a character select screen. Elaine had first dibs (host’s privilege, she called it) and chose a girl with lizard-like features and a giant hammer.
“Your turn. Choose someone good, ‘cuz you’ll need all the help you can get,” Elaine grinned with malicious intent. Sierra panned over the characters, marvelling at all the different outfits, weapons, and fighting styles.
“Madeleine the Battle Maid? Not a bad character for beginners, I guess. But you do realize part of the joy of video games is that you can play as any type of character you want to.”
“You say that, Ms. Elaine, despite the fact you chose the only character with reptilian traits.”
“I know, we need better representation in video -- wait a minute. Are you throwing SHADE at me? You’d better kiss your ass goodbye, sweetheart. You’re going down~”
The scene opened on what seemed to be a platform in space. Elaine’s character emerged first, flourishing her hammer and hissing. Madeleine marched out as well, bowing at her opponent before drawing a deadly-looking naginata.
Elaine’s character bested the maid easily.
“You play pretty well for a sleeping person.”
“You have bested me in combat,” Sierra gave an exaggerated bow like her character in the opening cutscene.
“Wanna go again?” Elaine asked, to which Sierra nodded enthusiastically. They played about a dozen matches. Sierra chose Madeleine every time, and every time, Elaine used a different character to use to wipe the floor with Sierra.
“You’re not -- you’re not LETTING me win, are you?”
Sierra grinned evilly at that.
“Not anymore, Ms. Elaine.” Sierra stuck with her same character, while Elaine chose a normal-looking human woman with hook blades.
“Damn, Sierra. I couldn’t even touch you.” The two watched as Madeleine twirled her polearm in triumph, before giving another demure bow.
“Alrighty then. Let’s see you best me when I’m using my own main!” Elaine chose the lizard with the hammer she had started with, while Sierra chose the same character she’d been using the whole time. The next battle was much closer, but Sierra still came out on top.
“Rrrr...you got lucky,” Elaine grumbled indignantly.
“I feel like I have mastered Madeleine’s moveset. She seems to have some reliable kill combos.”
“I mean sure, if that’s what you call mashing the same button over and over. Guess that means you’re ready to choose a new character, huh?”
“I will comply in order to give you a fighting chance, Ms. Elaine.” Sierra poured over the character list one more time, before making her choice.
“Mathilde the Combat Maid. How original,” Elaine rolled her eyes at the maid’s decision. “Just so long as you understand that she has a completely different moveset, even if she’s a reskin. I won’t use my main this time...fair is fair.”
“I agree, Ms. Elaine.” One match later, Elaine’s character celebrated on screen.
“Ahhh, order is restored!” Elaine pumped her fist in triumph. “Just an FYI, you’re using Mathilde wrong. She’s a much more defensive playstyle. You’ll have to learn counters if you want to win with her.”
“I will keep your advice in mind, honorable opponent.” The two heard the door open as Katrin returned from wherever she had gone.
“Have you two just been doing this the whole time?”
“Sure have!” Elaine grinned. “And color me surprised when I learned that Sierra here is pretty good at it!” Sierra gave a polite nod at that.
“Well, bad news for you two is that I’m home for the night, so it looks like you missed your chance.”
“Ehh, there’s always next time.” Sierra made a surprised squeak as Elaine gave her butt a light squeeze. “Ah, sorry if I startled you there, Sierra.”
“You’re fine, Ms. Elaine.” It gave Sierra an idea.
“So...what now?” The snake taking up 90% of the couch asked.
“I’ve got a paper due, so keep it down whatever it is,” Katrin said, before disappearing into the door at the end of the hall.
“Have fuuun, neeeeerd~” Elaine shifted, before turning in the direction of Sierra. “You got any ideas?”
“We could simply remain like this for a few moments, Ms. Elaine.” The Lamia, sprawled as she was, felt her cheeks burn as she realized that Sierra had nestled under her outstretched arm. She looked up at the serpent, smiling warmly.
“Uh….yeah. I...good idea. Sierra.” Elaine lowered her arm down to cradle the maid’s narrow shoulders. “Oh yeah. The cat who’s shedding all over your skirt is named Kiku. That’s because my roommate in there is just...a liiiittle bit of a…” Elaine inhaled before continuing. “...WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEB!”
“What the absolute fuck, Laine?!” a muffled voice called out in protest.
“Thank you, Ms. Elaine. I was in danger of drifting off there, and that would have not been good for my circadian rhythm,” Elaine’s armpit said.
“Oh. Whoops. Sorry about that.”
“Losing my hearing would not be the end of the world, Ms. Elaine. Please don’t let that risk distract you from your own enjoyment.”
“Rescinding my apology, smartass,” Elaine retorted. Sierra giggled. Elaine patted the maid’s head. “Dammit Sierra, your laugh is too cute to be legal.”
Sierra rose from the couch, and wandered into the kitchen.
“What? Oh shit...Sierra, what time is it?”
“It is 6:30 in the evening, Ms. Elaine. I would like to cook dinner, with your permission.”
“Sure, yeah, go ahead. Use whatever you want that’s in the kitchen.” Sierra’s eyes lit up as Elaine gave her the go-ahead.
First, she would have to take care of the dishes…
“Sierra. What did I tell you about cleaning the kitchen.”
“It is a necessary factor in meal prep, Ms. Elaine. And I recall you saying I could use what I wanted in the kitchen. It seems I want to use this sink, this soap, and this rag. I have outsmarted you, Ms. Elaine.”
“You’re a real piece of work,” The snake woman deadpanned. Sierra was on cloud nine as she flitted back and forth in the kitchen. The maid helped herself to fresh ingredients, while thumbing through the only recipe book she could find. It was so much nicer to cook in Elaine’s kitchen than what Sierra had become used to on her ship -- her old all-in-one food processor seemed...soulless, by comparison. Sierra reached for a skillet, her chosen reagents arranged neatly beside the stove.
“Holy fuck, that smells...a hell of a lot better than oven pizza.”
“You just made my day, Ms. Elaine,” Sierra intoned, completely sincerely. “I remain a novice in the field of cooking in the old style, but I find it far more fulfilling.”
“As long as you’re enjoying yourself. Hey, uh, so what’s on the menu?”
“Black pudding with mashed potatoes, and grilled onions. I believe you may enjoy the black pudding more if you don’t know the exact process used to make it.”
“Himmel und Erde…” Katrin had emerged from the back room at some point, and was marvelling at Sierra’s prepared dish.
“I’m glad you could join us, Ms. Katrin. Please consider this an apology for Ms. Elaine’s rude behavior.”
“Heh. I like your friend,” The foxgirl said to her roommate.
“This is discrimination. I’m being discriminated against,” Elaine sighed. “The two-leggers are ganging up on me.” Sierra brought the food over to the table, which she’d already cleared. Elaine meandered over to the kitchen.
“I’m getting a beer. Get you a beer, Sierra? Kat?”
“Don’t you work tomorrow?”
“I will pass, though I appreciate the offer.”
“I can’t help but notice you’ve failed to answer the question, Kat,” Elaine said, deflecting Katrin’s question.
“Ehh. Sure, whatever. I only have afternoon classes tomorrow.”
The three dug in.
“Y’know Sierra, I looked up black pudding just like you told me not to. If you thought I’d be grossed out by that, then you obviously have never had Wonderkebab.”
“My mom used to make this for me all the time. Your take on it is very good, Sierra.”
“I’m with Kat on this one. This is probably 5,000 times better than oven pizza.”
“It brings me great joy that you enjoy my cooking, Ms. Elaine, Ms. Katrin.” Sierra couldn’t help the silly grin that was spreading across her face. She didn’t want the moment to end. A covert glance at the clock, however, showed that it was after eight. The maid rose, and returned to the kitchen.
“Sierra...wait. Let me help. I’ve been a terrible host, and I’m sorry.”
“I’m more than happy to clean up the mess from my cooking, Ms. Elaine.”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever. I don’t care. I’ll get dishes.”
“Thank you, Ms. Elaine. I fear I must be going soon, if I’m to make my 10:00 curfew.”
Sierra began clearing the table, as Elaine started cleaning gathered plates.
“I’ll get these bottles in the recycling,” Katrin added. “And these ones, and ah, looks like those have been there for about a month…”
“Hey, I worked hard on my collection.”
“You’ll just have to start over, Laine,” Katrin sighed.
Once cleanup was finished (or once Elaine insisted it was, at least), Sierra waited patiently by the front door.
“I’m really glad we could have you,” Elaine said, patting the maid on the head.
“Thank you so much for having me. You have a wonderful home, Ms. Katrin, Ms Elaine. Ah, and you as well, Ms. Kiku.” Sierra bowed at the cat that was claiming last-minute ownership of her ankles.
“Hey, I’ll see you around. Might drop by tomorrow after work, if they let me in. That’s a big if, though.
“Please don’t get into trouble on my behalf, Ms. Elaine.”
“You already know I can make no promises there,” Elaine replied. Sierra smiled at her and curtsied, before she headed outside. The Bundeshalle looks really small from here, Sierra mused. What would tomorrow hold? She recalled the mention of tests, but she was sure those wouldn’t be any sort of problem. Sierra began her trip back.
“Maid Sierra, reporting home for the night.” The display presented its thanks, and the time of her arrival -- 2120.
“You’re covered in cat fur,” a voice called from behind her.
“Hello, Ms. Luxe, ma’am. Ms. Elaine was generous enough to honor me as her guest.”
“Look, Sierra. I know you like her, and that’s great. But don’t let her distract you from what you need to do. Your role is, remember, critically important in the events to come.”
Sierra sat at her desk. She took the rose out of the vase, twirling it around in her hand a bit. She’d never understood the point of the thorns. What did a flower need to defend itself from?
A bored maid in an empty room, perhaps. Sierra put the rose back. It hadn’t done anything wrong. Turning to the dresser, Sierra was mildly apprehensive of what she might find in her old belongings. Was she ready to see pictures? Of old friends she’d never see again? Of...Sierra herself, before she’d become...herself? Sierra cautiously opened the bottom drawer.
She was almost disappointed. No pictures, no memories. Just...pointless knicknacks. Souvenirs, likely acquired in less than legal ways. She wanted to return them to their rightful owners...but...no. That was in the past. She was sure that whoever she’d taken these things from had long moved on by now. It was time...she did, as well. These were objects that the old her...this “Soren”, had likely held some attachment to.
Sierra no longer felt this attachment. She’d gained an appreciation for other things, over a short period of time. A warm spring day. A good meal. The happiness of those around her. There was a word for that, Sierra thought. Empathy. Something “Soren” was capable of feeling, but had always kept locked away for their own safety. “Soren” would have hated what he’d become, Sierra realized. Looking at Sierra, he -- Was Soren a He? -- would see little more than a mewling weakling who’d disintegrate in a stiff breeze.
Sierra pondered that for a moment. She couldn’t really disagree with being called a mewling weakling. But she was still remarkably resilient. The girl had to give herself some credit -- she’d weathered some pretty severe changes! Which, yes, Soren, were even difficult for you. Sierra had been remodeled into a font of femininity. No -- she’d molded herself into this, for both her survival and satisfaction. And she had nothing to be ashamed of. There was nothing wrong with what she was.
Sierra went to bed, feeling like nothing could bring her down.