Members of the court, certain privileged soldiers, interested citizens and members of the media gathered in the Throne Room like a swarm of ants waiting to devour a picnic. Skyla stood poised at the large red armchair at the front of the room. The throne was mostly ceremonial and Skyla barely had time to sit in it, but on the occasions that she had she had found it uncomfortable. That was why she preferred to stand.
The chair sat on platform that rose a few inches off the ground. Darian stood beside the platform, so that for once Skyla was taller than him. His breathing was controlled and robotic; she counted as he breathed in (one…two…three…four…) and breathed out (…five…six…seven…eight). It calmed her fluttering nerves.
Two guards stood at the entrance outside, ensuring that anyone who wanted to could attend the press conference. By Dome law, they were open to the public and broadcasted on television for the Earthlings to see. The doors parted and two Ladies made their way inside. Lady Dominique, looking like a doll with her blonde curls and dress, instantly attracted the attention of a movie star. The other lady, a junior, hid behind her as the media swarmed her with questions about Lady Harmony. Skyla thought about interceding, but instead of shying away, Dominique blossomed in the spotlight. Skyla couldn’t hear everything Dominique said, but everything was said with a smile accompanied by an innocent laugh. Cameras flashed. When it was done, Dominique gestured to the junior Lady and they made their way to the front of the throne room, towards Skyla.
“Permission to speak with you,” Lady Dominique said. Her voice was deep and melodious. She curtsied deeply. One of the photographers took another picture.
“I am about to start the conference,” Skyla replied. “What is it?”
“I simply wanted to extend my condolences, your majesty,” Dominique said. “It must be difficult to deal with such a terrible crisis so early in your reign.”
So she was trying to gain her favour. “My Lady training has prepared me for this,” Skyla said simply. “As yours soon will.”
“I shall hold your example in the highest regard,” Dominique purred.
With that, she bowed once more. The junior Lady behind her did a quick, bouncy curtsy on her uncertain feet and turned to follow Lady Dominique. They joined the rest of the Ladies, who stood like a choir off to Skyla’s right. The junior Ladies, wearing a variety of pink and light purple dresses, chatted excitedly, while the majority of the senior Ladies eyed the media with the look of an attention starved child.
“Your highness,” Darian said softly. “Should I bring the screens down?”
Darian issued an order on his radio. A few moments later, two large screens descended from the ceiling and hung several feet above the crowd. The screens were at least twenty feet wide and fourteen feet tall. People craned their necks to look up at them as white static blazed, and slowly faded to Ambassador Conrod’s face.
Ambassador Conrod was the appointed manager of Luna-Earth relations. He spent half of his time promoting Dome tourism on Earth, and the other half managing political squabbles that arose between the two planetary bodies. He had a round face with a pointed, severe chin. His head was completely bald, probably not from age but from laser hair removal. His beady eyes seemed to hide behind his high cheekbones and pig-like nose. Skyla tried to pretend she was a mannequin with no facial expressions to hide her fear.
“Greetings, Queen Skyla Larosa, High Ruler of the First Luna Dome, from the people of Earth,” Conrod said. His voice was low and gruff.
“Greetings, Ambassador, from the people of the First Luna Dome,” Skyla replied. She moved her eyes away from him and focused on the crowd in front of her. She had to ensure that she divided her attentions between the screens and the Dome citizens; tiny cameras positioned on top of the screens broadcasted her speech to Earth, and she wanted to ensure that the Earth Leaders watching felt like she was talking to them, and not just those present on the Moon.
She drew in a deep breath and addressed the crowd. “As you are all probably aware, there was an incident early this morning involving Lady Harmony, the First Lady of the Dome. She was found unconscious here in the Throne Room after wandering around the Dome in the middle of the night. Captain Flaherty woke me and, along with other soldiers and Dr. Leeland, we came to her aid. She is now in the hospital, still unconscious.
“I am here to assure you that Lady Harmony was in excellent health prior to this incident. She exhibited no signs of delirium or other mental diseases. We believe that this is an isolated incident brought on by work-related stress.
“I will take any questions you have.”
Skyla wished she had had more time to prepare the address, but it was the best she could do with little sleep. Her hands shook from taking the anti-sleeping pills; she balled them into a fist.
“Your highness,” Conrod said. “What was Dr. Leeland’s medical evaluation of Lady Harmony’s condition?”
“He found an unknown mineral in her bloodstream. He’s working right now on discovering what that is,” Skyla replied. “There was no sign of any sort of needle puncture, or any sign that she had ingested anything within a few hours of the incident.”
Because there was a few seconds delay on the broadcasting signal, it looked like Conrod hesitated before his next question. “Lady Harmony had her shot, I assume?”
Skyla gritted her teeth and pursed her lips. She counted to three in her head, and resumed control of her face. “Yes, like everyone else, she had her shot for the Moon Flash disease at birth.”
“Your majesty!” A young reporter in the crowd shot up his hand. He had large plastic glasses—almost a rarity for young people, now that most opted for eye surgery—and spiked hair with a blue streaks running through it. “Mac Jaclow, with the Daily Dome. Isn’t it true that your fiancé died of the Moon Flash Disease?”