"Shut the screen, I don't want to see any news programs." lamented the young patient resting on a hospital bed.
The madame took enormous pleasure in teasing her niece while gently braiding her blonde hair.
"This last stunt really did a number on you, eh?" the matronly woman asked in a merry voice while polishing a red apple that had the same color as her hair. The image of the elegant woman slowly peeling the fruit reflected on its shiny surface.
"I'd be grateful if you didn't mention it ever again. I was a failure yesterday..." Ereya lifted a hand over her eyes to hide her tears but the trembling of the lips gave it away.
"I'd have to disagree. You're too hard on yourself. You saved all those people. Without you, most would have died by the time the reinforcements came." she stopped her knife midway, curly red ribbons falling on the floor. The noblewoman touched her niece's face, tracking across the old scar on Ereya's left eye. The young soldier shivered slightly under her touch. Ereya couldn't contain her emotions anymore so she just let them burst out.
"But! Still...So many are badly injured, some might not make it !" She clenched her fists causing the cannula from the IV to leap out of her vein.
"Look what you've done, you naughty girl, now I have to call the nurse. Tch, tch!" A blocky white robot wearing a pink nurse cap came in the room to adjust the cannula but not without showing a digitized angry sign.
"Just leave it like this, I was going to get it removed when I got discharged anyway." A small needle flying from her vein had nothing on her fractured arms and broken ribs. Her eyes didn't fare too well either being affected by the blinding grenade.
A doctor came in the room, he was a gazelle chimera. He must have been in the first generation of emancipated chimeras.
"We took bone samples from your humerus as well as fibrous connective tissue from your ligaments and used our printers to replace and mend your broken bones as well as heal scar tissue. I'd advise you to stay more in the hospital to rest and run more tests on you but since tomorrow is Your Highness' Inauguration Day ... We had to make an exception." The doctor adjusted his glasses with a slight tremble and avoided looking Ereya in the eye.
"Of course, my grandfather would expect no less," said Ereya with a blank, thousand-yard stare. It was as if all joy was drained from her and she became an empty shell.
Seeing Ereya in a state like that startled the mature, crimson-haired woman. "Dr. Irvak, as her aunt and a fellow member of House Dorrean, I have to object to this rushed Inauguration Ceremony. She has to focus on healing first before she does anything else. I suspect uncle spearheaded this as a jab at the other Houses---"
"Melissa, that's enough! I can manage... This isn't even the worst injury I've ever had."
"This has nothing to do with a complete recovery based on scientific evidence, and more to do with bribery, am I wrong?" asked her aunt pointing her fan at the doctor.
"Duchess, please, try to understand I couldn't refuse the high duke..." the gazelle would have sweated profusely by now if he didn't have fur.
Ereya tugged at Melissa's red dress. "We haven't seen each other in so long. You wanted to visit the market, right? You were so excited to see how things have changed." Ereya forced a smile.
"Hmmm...True. So you've learned the art of bribery I see... Very well. I'll bite." Ereya let out a sigh of relief.
"While we go to the market you have to help me choose a gift for someone." Her kin showed a true smile, a first in a very long time.
"To whom do you bestow such honor, niece? You rarely, if ever, buy gifts for someone. Maybe your new boyfriend I heard so much about?"
That night, like every other night, Ereya broke out in a cold sweat. She could never forget that period of her life, the kidnappers, the jungle, the heat, the starvation, the weakness, the pain...
Ereya woke up in a pool of her own sweat staining the hospital sheets. Her back was drenched. She took off her top, revealing old scars on her nape, back, and legs. The number of injuries was disturbing for any person to see but Ereya got used to it. This was her skin now. It was a part of her.
The first rays of light shined on her skin. It was a pleasant, soothing feeling, she could feel a slight warmth. Ereya raised her hand blocking the timid sunlight, her fingers playing with light and shadow.
"Nothing like the scorching sun in the jungle." Ereya smiled to herself.
The following morning Melissa came to pick up the discharged patient. Ereya couldn't help but notice her aunt dressed differently that day. She had never seen Melissa wearing pants or any civilian clothing for that matter. This was clearly a disguise, the duchess even wore sunglasses for good measure.
“It's adorable. Melissa is trying so hard to disguise herself." Ereya chuckled to herself.”"I heard of her clandestine travels. They say that in her dukedom, Melissa often wears disguises to blend in with her subjects. So it wasn't a rumor after all." Ereya thought to herself.
Ereya never had trouble blending in the crowd, she didn't participate in official tours or gave interviews. Ereya was one of the most enigmatic members of House Dorrean and she wanted to keep it that way. That was one of the reasons she didn't feel comfortable prancing around in royal dresses like her aunt did. She rarely wore dresses when she went outside, in the last years she only wore tomboy street clothing."I’m more comfortable wearing this now. A huge difference from when I was a kid. Back then I didn't mind looking feminine and I loved dresses...."
"Ah, I guess after that incident...I just didn't care for it anymore. I stopped caring about a lot of things." Ereya came to this realization for some time now.
"So are you ready to have fun today?" Melissa smiled playfully, pressing a button on her car key opening the door to her flying car.
"Hope you won't disappont." Ereya giggled, entering the hovering car.
"Aye, aye. I'm confident in this."
"By the way, leave your car at the train station. We don't want be seen outside the city center with our flying car, unless you want be found out."
"Oh, it was that obvious, eh? I guess I'll leave it at the train station then..." Melissa pouted cutely.Melissa always had this habit of playing dumb and innocent even if she was the most knowledgeable person in the room.
"I know she does it to make people lower their guards but it doesn't work on me." Ereya was confident about that.
"The day before my ceremony. I wonder how it'll go..."