The sun was drifting off to sleep, blanketing the shimmering towers in red rainbows. Little white snowflakes swirled in the air, propelled by the soft breeze, casting a cold beauty of the capital city. People bustled home in their vehicles or ran to keep warm. From her perch, she could not hear the shouts, horns or shrieks that ruined the picture, but knew they were there.
Cara Merina watched it all from her glass covered balcony, looking like an empress over her subjects. Her dark eyes taking it all in, but never saying anything.
She was dressed as an empress in a perfect black, velvet top detailed with shiny black beads and her long, flowing grey skirt. Her dark curls had been let down from their severe style, but the beaded headpiece remained. She was an image of the modern empress in her finest.
"Supreme Minister, have you heard a word I've been saying?"
Her observant, dark eyes snapped to the tanned, weather worn face of her Senior Advisor, Julian Gross. She looked at him with the helpless look a child might give a father. His angry features softened at once.
"I'm trying," her voice was an airy one, but worn with fatigue.
"They look up to you," Julian motioned toward the crowded streets two hundred stories below them. "I need you here and focused."
Cara looked away from him and walked a little ways down the balcony in a rustle of fabric. She stopped, letting the enormity of what he said hit her. Then she turned and looked at him. "I know. It is a heavy weight to bare, Mr. Gross."
Julian did not go to her, but remained in his spot, several paces off. "You bare it gracefully, Mistress."
A small smirk trickled through her lips. "Flattery? Mr. Gross, I don't need flattery. I need the out-lying planets to come to their senses and stop this foolish resistance."
"Negotiations have gone well. It is near the end." Julian assured her.
"The Negotiations will be fruitless." Cara turned away from him. "The representatives have demanded far too much. We should be treating them as friends who need reassurance, not enemies. We are in the wrong here, Mr. Gross, not them." She was silent for a moment.
"If a treaty is not reached soon, I will intervene. I must, for the good of the Alliance."
Julian struggled to keep the smile off his face. He regained his composure and squared off to her. "The representatives will not like it. They will claim you have overstepped your boundaries."
Cara turned her eyes on him. "Law states that I may intervene in a treaty, evoking executive powers for the good of the Alliance. We cannot let them chase off the out-lying planets. With their greed and stubborn heads."
"You will loose support."
"But the Alliance will be strong. We don't need those planets as enemies. I feel strongly about this, Mr. Gross. I will not budge." Cara walked back over to him.
Julian fought a pleased smile. "If you must."
Cara nearly rolled her eyes. "Please. You have been pushing this for months. Wipe the pleased look off your face." She brushed passed him into her study.
Several guards in white turned and closed off the balcony as Julian followed. Inside, on a sofa, Terrance Holding, her Minister of Security, sat with a cup of warm cider in his hand. He stood as Cara entered and offered a warm cup to her.
She smiled at the young man. "Thank you, commander."
"Of course, Mistress," he swept her a comically dramatic bow, his blonde hair falling loose from his ponytail at his neck.
Cara waved his off with a smile. "You must stop that, commander. It makes me blush."
"And you are both horrible flirts." Julian scowled at the young people.
"You judge how? I've not seen you flirt." Cara watched him over the top of her cup as she sipped at it.
"Not in your presence, Mistress." Julian grumbled.
"Or out of it, I imagine," Emily Opal, Cara's dearest friend, strode in and shut the door.
Cara laughed slightly, though the worry of the conflicts never left her eyes. "You should marry. It would be good for you. Emily is an excellent matchmaker." Emily waggled her eyebrows at him.
Julian tossed her a hard look and turned to his mistress, seriously. "I serve you, Supreme Minister. My duty is first to you and the well being of the Alliance."
The smile left the young woman's lips. "Never forget the later. I presides above me."
"Of course, Mistress." Julian responded automatically.
Cara watched him, gauging him, unsure of whether to believe Julian's loyalty to the Alliance. "Good."
Emily exchanged glance with Terrance before smiling at Cara and setting her cup down. "We should leave our mistress to rest. Tomorrow will be long."
Cara set her cup aside as they all made to leave and sighed quickly to herself. Cara was always Supreme Minister first and a young woman second, as it should.
She stood. "Go. Sleep. We will all need it for the dinner this week." They left her in her study. She was never truly alone, but it always felt like it.
The week was coming to an end with the usual state dinner that the leaders of the United Planetary Alliance always held so that the public could see their Supreme Minister, the youngest ever to hold the office. Outside, the light was falling below the horizon, coloring the sky a rainbow of orange, red and pink. The colors reflected off the slick glass of the buildings littering the capital city of Mark and much of the whole planet of Laurin. The scene was worthy of a painting that Cara could hang in her private quarters.
Her advisors sat around her at the U shaped table. Each one would glance back at her, watching her as she ate and talked and whom she talked to during the dinner. If Cara had not studied her ancient history so well, she would never have compared this picture to that of the Kings and Queens of Tudor England but she had and she did. They were like courtiers waiting for her favor. Julian did little to stem that comparison. She hated that fact, but she didn't know how to dissuade it.
Instead, Cara kept Emily on her right side. The young woman, nearly her match in everything but her blonde hair and her blue eyes, could always be trusted to tell her the truth and to keep her head level. A girl always needed a friend to talk to and gossip with just as if she were a normal girl.
On her left, she kept visiting Ministers from the hundred or more planets that were joined in the Alliance. Tonight, that seat was empty. With the border conflict, most of the Ministers could only visit for a day or more before they had to return home and most could not be seen to waste money on the frivolity of the state dinners. Cara wouldn't be there if Julian had not insisted that she needed to be seen at them.
It was becoming a harder day the longer the dinner wore on. She could feel her health weakening by the moment and her strength escape with each blink of her eyes. Cara's secret was wearing her down.
"Mistress," Emily leaned closer to her dark haired friend, "are you well?"
Cara looked over at her. "You know very well that I am not. My patience is thin and I need to retire."
Emily rose from her seat, drawing the rest of the eyes toward them. "Then retire. Who are they to question you?"
Cara raised her gaze to her friend and then lowered it back to her half eaten meal. "You go. If I don't finish this meal, it is an insult to the hungry."
"Cara," Emily warned, but stopped when the older girl shot her a look. "Very well. I bid you all good night." She left with a concerned look at the Supreme Minister's Senior Advisor, but said nothing more.
Sighing heavily, Cara raised her head determinedly and looked to Paul Montgomery, her Minister of Interplanetary Relations. "How goes the negotiations? It has been a few days since my last briefing." For a moment, she looked pointedly at Julian.
Paul Montgomery, a balding man, had attended the very best of schools in the Alliance. Cara trusted his knowledge and judgment, almost as much as Julian's. He never spared her feelings in any matter.
"It is looking just as it has a few days ago, Mistress. Worse, even, if I may be so bold." Paul rose in his seat.
"You may. What have the representatives demanded of them now?" Cara was so weary of the Representative Chambers. Corrupt politicians were just a step away from controlling the Alliance and doing whatever they wished, politicians like General Mart Gresham, her Minister of Military.
Paul looked uncomfortable. "Compensation, Mistress."
Cara leaned forward in her chair, not believing her ears. "More compensation? For what? The planets are all but dry now."
"They feel that the planets should pay for the income from trade that they have lost over this conflict. Never mind what the conflict has cost the out-lying planets themselves." Paul replied, un-intimidated by her growing anger.
"Those selfish, little…" She trailed off, catching herself before she said anything. Several members of the Chambers sat around the table tonight. "The planets are all but in depression, losing all their income to pay for damage that other planets have created themselves. These planets need help, not bills to pay."
"Of course, Mistress. The representatives feel that the out-lying planets caused their suffering on themselves. That they are making a bigger deal out of this conflict than is necessary." The Minister of Interplanetary Relations told her smoothly.
Cara had to bit her tongue to keep her thoughts from becoming spoken words. Instead, she glanced over at Julian and then stood, warily. She was far too tired to deal with all this in one night.
The entire table stood with her, a polite gesture that made her sigh. For once, she wished they would just do away with all this ceremony and get right down to helping the people.
"Good night." She told them shortly, her patience wearing thin already.
She turned on her heel, adjusting her skirts as she walking, trying to portray the image of strength when in truth, she simply wanted to crumble to the floor.
In the hall, she was left alone, or as alone as she could get. She ran her fingers along the steel walls of the hallway, using them for balance. Under her, she felt her legs quivering and though she wanted to hurry to her quarters, if she hurried, Cara was pretty sure she would end up on the ground in no time.
Tears brimmed her eyes at her own weakness. Cara could never been seen to cry, to be weak, or to falter, not in the eyes of the public or those who mattered. It was what came with her position, she would never trade it.
She felt her legs give out under her and she was powerless to stop it. All she could do was brace herself when she hit the floor. Cara sat there for several minutes before Terrance, following at a distance caught up to her and came to her side.
"Mistress!" He exclaimed as he gently lifted her to her feet. "What happened? Are you alright?"
Cara fought back her tears as she rested against her commander of security. "Light headed is all. Take me to my quarters, please."
"Of course, Mistress." Terrance stumbled at little at her dead weight before lifting her and carrying her like a bride, swept off her feet.
"Send for Julian, please." Cara was close to begging.
"I will, once you are safe and tucked into bed." Terrance told her firmly.
He carried her into her quarters, disrupting the few guards that stood watch. He sent them off to fetch Julian as she asked and gently set her on her bed, pulling a blanket around her.
Cara leaned back into her pillows, not caring that her hair was still up in an ornate design and that she may be wrinkling her expensive gown. All she wanted was to close her eyes and have Julian sit at the edge of her bed, like he had done all her childhood when her father was not home. She struggled back her tears, hoping her dark lashes would hold the flood back. Terrance didn't need to see her like this; no one needed to see her.
"Mistress," Julian pushed her commander of security aside. "Are you alright?" Then he turned to everyone in the room, the crowd having grown to many of her advisors and guards. "Everyone out, everyone! You too, Terrance."
Cara only opened her eyes when she heard the door close behind all of those looking in on her. The tears ran streaks down her cheeks. "It's so hard."
Julian patted her hand warmly. "I know, just rest."
"Where are you going?" She clung to his hand as he moved away from her.
"Just rest. I'm getting the medicine." He told her gently.
While he was gone, she tried to calm herself. The medicine would help, make it all bearable. But there was no cure; there never would be a cure. She would either learn to live with it or it would kill her.
Fighting her own weakness, she pulled herself so that she could let her hair down. She had to stop and rest several times before she got all the pins and clips from her hair onto her nightstand. Really, she would have to more firmly insist that her hair be more natural.
"Here we are." Julian came back with a syringe and a bottle of clear fluid. He filled the needle and gently took her arm. She closed her eyes and looked away. She hated this, more than anything in the Alliance.
"There," he patted her arm. "All finished."
"Good," her breathe was just above a whisper.
"Sleep. Tomorrow we'll set off from the out-lying lands. I thought you could make your speech there. The Chambers can't stop you out there." Julian smiled, hoping to cheer her.
It did the trick, at least a little. "Good. You will have the necessary papers on my desk in the morning, I trust."
"Of course, Mistress. The morning will be better." Julian smoothed her hair away from her forehead.
"I know. I just need to sleep this off." Cara turned her head away, unwilling for even him to see her so vulnerable.
"The people better know how lucky they are to have you." He whispered as he left her in peace.