Through the looking glass, Lady Dowager Xenia sees the sanguine orb rise from the eastern horizon once again to shine upon her sphere of influence and to shine upon her regime. She sees her crimson lips curl into a cruel grin on her faint reflection in the transparent wall. Her pale hand moves up, and her slender fingers with its long claw-like nails caress her mirrored cheek. The mirror lady does the exact same thing, and Xenia’s hand slides to move over her reflected palm that seems to reach out to her. She is still so young-looking, despite her five decades of life.
From the corner of her eyes, she sees her lady-in-waiting with her head slightly bowed.
“What is it, Lucy?” Her voice carries a subtle hint of ire. Xenia does not like it―hates, loathes, despises―when something interrupts her tranquil morning routine, but she knows she cannot blame Lucy. It is how her handmaiden was programmed, after all, to warn her mistress of any coming visitors.
“Lady General Faye is on the premises.”
“This early?” Her eyebrow rises. Now what would her top soldier be here for? And at this hour? She has a suspicion, though, but she is not worried in the least.
“It appears as though she does not want her presence to be acknowledged.” This is Lucy’s way of saying that Faye was sneaking around, Xenia knows. “Shall I escort her in?”
It takes a moment for Xenia to decide whether or not to let the general know that she had been discovered. She wonders how her friend―was friend the correct word? Perhaps companion was better―would react. “Do so, won’t you?”
And Lucy was gone after a swift bow.
It almost scares Xenia how quick Lucy was, but Xenia knows she has nothing to fear. Despite her humanoid figure, Lucy is an android, an artificial life form. And in the end, all the androids are under the Lady Dowager’s command. Just as are the rest of her human race who could only live so long as they were supplied the elixir of life which Xenia had created. There is nothing to fear, Xenia reminds herself once more. Whoever controlled the doorway between life and death controlled the world, and that is her iron fist as the sole ruler of Earth with nobody but her soldiers by her side.
“Lady Dowager.” Lucy is back before she knows it.
“Milady.” And with their guest.
“At ease…” Xenia watches as Faye slowly straightens herself from her bend, but she drops her gaze after a second or so. There is no point in waiting for Faye to give herself away. If Faye were really that sloppy then she would not have been in the position she is in today. “How is the army?” Instead, Xenia brings out a topic that she knows they both enjoy.
“Well and disciplined as always,” Faye responds, her monotonously and passive voice sounding as always. “No one steps out of line, and there is no trouble. The women are all ready to move at your command.”
“Is that so?” Xenia inquiries. She also keeps her voice leveled before turning towards a touchy subject. “Then explain how, in the last upheaval, that there were some casualties.”
Faye is on her knees, her right hand wrapped around her left fist and her head bowed. “It was a mistake on my part, Milady,” she apologizes.
“A mistake, you say?” There is no doubt about the disbelief that colors Xenia’s shrill accusation. “I suspect something else. Is there not a weasel in your troop?”
“If someone did indeed leak information, I will personally deal with them myself,” Faye tells her, her heterochromatic eyes aimed at the floor. “But I assure you, Milady, I only underestimated the troublemakers. Please forgive me. It won’t happen again.”
Had Xenia been the same naïve child she was when she first came into the world then perhaps this would have been the right time for her to roll her eyes. But she is not a mere girl anymore. She is more experienced and practiced, and so her amethyst eyes are steady and unwavering.
She lets out a wry chuckle. “You make it sound as though I’m difficult. Are you afraid that I’d punish you, Faye?”
That did the trick. The Lady General is silent, her teeth grinding against her bottom lip. She does not know what to say. Both answers, yes and no, were offensive in this situation. And yet, Faye regains herself within the minute, and her composure is flawless. “It was my mistake,” she repeats. “If you, the Lady Dowager, sees me in err then I will take whatever punishment comes my way.”
Xenia allows herself a smirk. It would be a shame to be rid of such an asset, but there are many more to take her place. It would not be a total loss.
The blonde stands, and she makes another miscalculation. She does not realize that Xenia has seen her hand reaching into her pocket.
“Lucy,” the dictator addresses the presence in the room she has almost forgotten about. “Bring up the cookies and tea, won’t you? I’m famished.”
Before the android bows, she gives a stiff nod only once, indicating she understood her mistress perfectly. Lucy is out the door by the time Xenia begins the conversation.
“Is it not the most beautiful picture?” The Lady Dowager gestures to the scene from her window to the city below. “A quiet and serene illusion amidst the sharp dangers of the Old World… Have I told you the story of my rise to power?”
Though Faye does not reply, Xenia knows the answer. She has repeated the anecdote many times before to ingrain a life lesson into her second-in-command’s mind. And again, she retells the tale.
“It was many years ago, almost six lustrums ago. I was fifteen, and the world was a much different place. So much more different than it is now…” Her hand touches the glass and, as her nails slide down, a high-pitched screech echoes through Xenia’s bedroom. “Back then, I was only the fourth wife of the brute who controlled half the continent. He was three decades older then I, but it mattered little to me. He was my ticket to ascension. Unlike his other wives, I was the perfect toy… Cute, charming, and cuddling…” She shudders, shivers going down her spine. “I hated him. He, who made me lose my innocence. He, who brought me into the world of his bogus political affairs. He, whose wives plotted my very downfall. I had to get out. I had no other choice.” Her gaze lowers, and her other hand rubs her stomach. “My son was the key.” Her miscarried son is the only thought that can bring tears to her eyes now. “I mourned his death, but that man never trusted his other wives ever again, and they fell into oblivion. It was his turn next, and he never suspected a thing. Even when he did realize his coming doom, he couldn’t even pull the trigger. He loved me, he said. He couldn’t hurt me, the way I was going to hurt him, and that . . . that was his weakness. That pitiful fool…” Xenia slams her fist into the glass, and a web-like design is etched into the translucent material. “I hated him to the end, and I regret not even his death as his lifeless eyes stared at me, accusing me of treason.” She turns back to the Lady General, waiting for an answer. “And the moral is…?”
And Faye does not disappoint. “Emotions are a human’s weaknesses, and weakness is never to be shown.”
And it is a shame that you do not follow it, Xenia muses.
“But, Milady…” Faye is hesitant, and Xenia knows this as she watches Faye’s hand slightly shake as it lies on the very weapon that could save the Lady General’s life at any moment. “Do you really not regret any of your acts?”
Xenia is back to facing the morning sky through the cracked glass. “I lament nothing, and I rejoice not. My son’s death was necessary, my co-wives’ deaths were necessary, and so was that man’s. Regret and joy . . . are like the rest… Only a delusion, a fantasy dreamt up by man. And I am done dreaming.”
A thundering noise ricochets from behind her, and she turns around and glares at the body on the floor, now staining the marble with blood.
“You would have done well,” Xenia continues as she kneels in front of the corpse, careful of her silk robe, “if you had followed my teachings and dropped your affair with that rebel. I would have forgiven you if you had, for all humans lust at least once in their lifetime. Instead, you allowed your feelings to get in the way. You stayed with him and plotted against me like my late husband’s other wives. And when the time came to, you hesitated at the last moment, unable to kill me like I’ve done to you. Perhaps if you were not like the original then you would not have asked me to atone for my past sins. If you hadn’t then perhaps you would be the one still standing here.”
Her gaze follows the trail the bullet had taken and she sees, besides her android, the woman responsible for the death of her Lady General. The woman’s hair color is radiant enough to be silver, and her blue and green eyes accent her oval face. The similarity does not spook Xenia. Instead, the Lady Dowager is pleased with the result.
“Lady Dowager, I have brought FAYE13,” Lucy announces. The cadaver does not receive a feedback from her because the android knows nothing but her mistress’s wellbeing.
Xenia mentally applauds her lady-in-waiting for her spectacular timing and stands. “The experiment is a success,” she congratulates the android. “The cybernetic organism bares no difference to this clone or the original. She’s also a much better shot. She will do well as our spy. You have outdone yourself, Lucy.”
The ebony-haired android does not utter a sound but bows in gratitude for the praise.
The cyborg next to her, however, lets the gun fall from her hand as she stares at the carcass.
Xenia scowls. “Perhaps excelling not as much as I’d like,” she is still speaking to her handmaiden. “Its human side seems to dominate its robotic mainframe.”
But the cyborg argues. “My only goal is to serve you, Milady. I was only watching to see if that letdown was really dead.”
Xenia does not return to euphoria. She steps on the corpse as she made her way to the door. “Lucy, make sure that’s cleaned up before I return this evening.”
“As you wish.”
“Oh, and Faye, if you value your life then you’d be wise as to not follow in your predecessors’ footprints.”