Chapter 1

Nefertiti I

Heir to the Throne of UPAE

Columbian Complex


"Mother, may I ask you something?" said a voice like wind against leaves in spring.

"That depends on the question," replied the woman in a voice with the exact same intonation, maybe just a pitch or two lower.

"It always does, does it not?" said the girl, black eyes flashing with the depths of her wisdom, rare for someone pushing twelve. A light laugh with no humor was the only response, bouncing off the marble pillars and returning to the sender in eerie bursts of twisted echo. "Well?" asked the girl, still waiting for a response. She folded neatly into the stone chair beside her mothers, extensive robes rustling with the movement and fan-stimulated breeze.

"If you must, Nefertiti" replied her mother, waving a ringed finger languidly. The girl sighed, fidgeted with her necklace, which was too heavy and really unnecessary. They were just meeting a captured Provincial Governor from the Republic of Antarctica, nothing special. Yet they had to dress in full regalia, Egyptian robes sashed at the waist with plated gold chains and cloaks of fines indigo. The jewelry is what really weighed her down, pinching the back of her neck and staunching the flow of blood to her fingers. Thank goodness she just had to wear her hair in thousands of tiny braids, she'd never be able to take the weight of her mother's headdress, nor would she have the patience to walk slowly so it wouldn't slip from her skull.

"Mother," she stalled, wishing with all her heart she could have resisted the need to ask this question. It was something that had been pestering her like wasps for years, and finally she had the courage to ask. She still did not have the guts to look her mother in the eye when she did, so instead she watched the emerald eyes of the lion that's maw wrapped around her mother's head, fur smoothed gold and mane expensive beads. "Of your six consorts, The Bold, The Honest, The Beauty, The Intellect, The Lover, The Humorous and The Fighter, who was my father?" Nefertiti watches with sadness as the shutters close behind her mother's black irises, and her voice drops fifty degrees.

"Heir, only two people on this Earth know the answer to that question, and neither of them are ever telling." With the use of her formal title, she snaps Nefertiti back, away from her secrets and back to the throne room where she belongs. One of those people is her of course, and Nefertiti herself is never allowed to speak with those who might be her father, and rarely do they visit anymore. She can no longer gaze out her window at night as the cars pull in, or occasionally the horses after a bad solar black out, and try to catch a glimpse of a face, catch a word or maybe even a few notes of a laugh. "We will discuss the punishment for your insolence after our guests have come and gone," swords slide from their sheaths on her s-es and Nefertiti backs off.

"Yes leader, Cleopatra the Sixth." Her voice is not meek, but it has lost what little emotion it held before. She doesn't glare at her mother, as she probably should, instead she finds herself wondering what lovely concoction of punishment her mother has come up with for her latest offense. Maybe she'll burn another one of her favorite books, or pull seventy hairs from her scalp, maybe force her to bow and kiss the soles of her feet.

"Now entering, Provincial Governor Kitterage and his heir," crackled the loud speaker and in walked two men, well one was more of a boy. Each held their backs ram rod straight; their irises flickered from side to side like caged animals. Nefertiti smiled at them, drawing her lips back just far enough to reveal the two rubies imbedded in each canine tooth. The heir's azure eyes flitted in nervousness at the display.

"We give our humble thanks to UPAE and their generosity in housing us during negotiations over Colombador," he says with a small bow and a ridiculously fake smile. She has to hold in a snort at the formality no one practices anymore, well, except when in enemy territory with your son standing right next to you and snipers hidden behind every paper thin wall.

"You are welcome. Have you enjoyed your stay?" Mother asks belligerently smiling quite kindly. Nefertiti resists the urge to snort at that too. Kitterage's neck muscles relax and his eyebrows droop a little.

"Very much so you're eloquency," she waves her hand and laughs blithely.

"No need for such formalities here! Simply call me Cleopatra," Kitterage's lip twitches sideways but he responds easily.

"Of course," he pauses. "Cleopatra." Mother leaves him to take in this new change for a moment and turns to his son, who could only be four or five years older than Nefertiti.

"Now aren't you handsome, what's your name darling?" faint red washes over his cheeks. Mother was right, he was quite handsome with the fair complexion and flaxen hair that had become a staple of those from TROA.

"Count Benevolence m- Cleopatra," his voice does not quiver, though his fingers pick at the edge of his jacket.

"Have you seen the gardens yet Ben?" she questions, sipping gently from the lemonade that rests on the arm of her chair.

"No Cleopatra," he replies, and for the first time he meets Nefertiti's eyes. She blinks once, trying to appear like an air brain that men from TROA think all women are. She knows what's coming and needs to sell the part.

"Why don't you take a tour then?" His father stiffens up again and his mouth opens to protest. He'd rather have his son right beside him in enemy territory, and who wouldn't? Nefertiti just wished he close off his emotions a little better, he was making it too easy for Mother. "Heir Nefertiti, would you be so kind to take him?" She nods and stands, winking at Kitterage whose muscles have gone lax again. Had his son been carted off by a burly guard he would have known he was in danger. What could a girl do to his son? Nefertiti grinned and descended the steps, skirts rustling behind her.

Ben would have been safer with the burly guard.

She wrapped her hand around his arm and swept him down the turquoise carpet, prattling about roses and fountains and baby birds and a whole set of other things that made her vomit on occasion. They were hit by the sun like a monorail and she nearly tumbled down the steps. Ben was in the same predicament from the sudden tightness on her arm.

Hot air tinkled her braids as it rushed past the closing golden doors, and once they shut with a bong they were "alone". Still practically dragging him they walked down paths filled with cactuses and giant palm trees, along with giant firs and tropical flowers. A show of power simply through foliage. Genius really, and they had Cleopatra the second to thank for that.

"Over there, see, beside the statue of Venus?" Nefertiti made sure to keep her voice high and obnoxious. She turned to look into two massive blue eyes that blinked a yes. He had not said a word since they left the throne room, but as they walked he had placed his feet with a diligent arrogance, and the fury in the set of his mouth had grown the farther they traveled. "Yes there is a flower that can-"

"Will you just shut up!" he screamed like the shattering of a baseball through a window. "Just shut up! You stand here, blathering away about roses and rainbows when you've captured us and killed off our families. Yet you pretend like we're old acquaintances! What's your card? What do you want from us? What, do, you, want, from, me!" at his last word three birds flapped from their hiding place in the very rose bush he was so furious at.

"Finally," Nefertiti said rolling her eyes and plonking down on the 'stone' bench that presented itself comfortably. "I thought I was going to have to pretend to be and air brain forever." Ben looked a little bit like a kitten that's tail had just been stepped on.

"What?" his voice cracked.

"Is that your favorite word? I'll tell you what. I am Heir Nefertiti to Leader Cleopatra the sixth. I am not stupid, I loathe rainbows, and you were correct in the assumption that I want you for something. That something is using you as a bargaining chip against your father. As far as he knows, You're locked up in the dungeon getting your fingers cut off one by one," Ben's eyes widened in surprise and he went to run. Nefertiti actually laughed, not moving from her bench. "You can try to leave, and be captured, and then actually get your fingers cut off one by one, though not necessarily in the dungeon because despite my imploring Mother hasn't put one in yet. Or," she pated the plastic seat next to her own. "You can stay here and tell me how pretty you think I am."

Ben's lips parted into a plush pink "O" before he closed his mouth again. Nefertiti observed the shifting tendons in his neck as he swallowed, and then wiped the sweat from his forehead. He sat beside her after a moment or two of dancing on his feet.

"You could be bluffing," he said halfheartedly, picking up some gravel from the path and rotating the smooth stones on his palm.

"I could be," she says with a girlish smile and looks at him from under her lashes. She clutches at the gun hidden under her skirt but does not reveal it yet. She weaves steel into her next statement. "Or not." They sit in uncomfortable silence for a long time, and Ben begins throwing small stones into the fountain. It burbles in protest but Nefertiti lets him have one comfort. Finally, the oblivion is broken by a faint beep from the com in her ear.

"Excuse me," she says with grace and lifts from the seat. Ben does not respond to the frivolity, she would have left even if he objected. Once out of ear shot she answers the call.

"Nefertiti here," her voice is clipped and professional.

"Hi honey," it is her mother, pretending to be all lovey again. Glory she hates it when she calls her honey.

"Hello mother."

"Why, I'm calling because a certain provincial governor is being uncooperative. Why don't you help me in making him collaborate? I'm putting you on speaker now." Her voice was deceptively cloying.

"Hello Kitterage," She said with a smile as she turned back to Ben whose eyes have gone giant, which makes him look like a little blue eyed angel. She sits beside him and wraps an arm around his shoulders. Then she presses her gun into his side. "Say hi to Daddy Ben," her voice is sticky sweet.

"Ben? Ben what's going on?"

"Dad?" his voice shook. "Dad she's got a gun on me."

"Be-" he was cut off by Mother.

"Honey, would you be so kind as to persuade him to hand over his lands to us?" Nefertiti really didn't want to do this. She liked Ben enough that stabbing him seemed a little harsh. However, there was no arguing with Mother.

Quicker than the beat of butterfly's wings her knife flitted down over Ben's face, a slim cut across his brow bone that bled like the devil. He cried out and clutched his face, and tears mingled with the blood. He didn't even try to move away, just sat there and took the second cut, creating an X. Both were extremely shallow and scars were not likely, but they hurt. She had gotten them herself. Kitterage was blubbering,

"Anything, I'll give you anything! Just stop hurting my son!"

"Stop," and her mother's voice was cold. Nefertiti jumped away, tossing the knife at Ben's feet in disgust.

"I apologize for my crude actions. Medical staff are on their way presently," and she tapped off, stiff slippers clipping the gravel. Ben just watched her go through blurred eyes, lips twisted in loathing.

"You wished to see me, Mother," Nefertiti barely entered her mother's private chambers, bare feet splayed on the cold tiles just inside the room, the rest of her body leaning away. It was late, later than her mother usually called these meetings. Stars glittered through the open balcony. Matching sets of curtains billowed in the soft wind, their color so bright it was almost like sunlight was streaming in through the two story windows.

"Enter," winter echoed off the columns.

Toes padded silently until Nefertiti stood merely ten feet from the flames that sputtered in the cavern her mother called a fireplace. The plush couches sat like teeth in the twilight room, a solar blackout had knocked out power just at sun set and it had yet to re-activate. Her mother had opted for the aids not to light the torches; she had just been leaving when she heard the order.

"Nefertiti, what have you done wrong?" Right to the point then. No dancing around her punishment tonight.

"I have asked a question out of turn." Nefertiti lowers her head in humility, watching as fingers that don't seem to be her own twist a silver band around and around. Fidgeting was not becoming of the heir to an empire. She stopped.

"Yes, and what else?" Her mother does not move, still staring at the remains of the fire, hands clasped firmly behind her back.

"Leader? I beg a pardon but I do not recall anything else," Nefertiti's voice was steady, a show of her will power.

Cleopatra the sixth span on her heel, dress billowing like the wings of some terrorizing angel, her glossed nails digging into lotioned palms that always smelled faintly of cucumber. Within her black eyes still blazed the remnants of the fire and she seemed to fill the entire room with her presence, her power crushing Nefertiti back against the wall even though she was still ten feet away.

"You apologized, Nefertiti. We do not apologize. Especially to lowly heirs of useless provinces now under our control," her voice parted the air like a finely honed blade. She flicked her dress and span forward again, reaching for something beside the fire place Nefertiti did not want to see. "What punishment do you feel is worthy for your two misdemeanors today?"

"I-I don't know," she stuttered all composure lost as she desperately tried to back up.

"Then I have made my decision," and out from their places in the pillars strode two of Mother's personal guard, black suits melting from the shadows. They each took one of her arms in grips like titanium clamps.

The leader of UPAE spun once more, this time her finally manicured hands gripped a brand. A glowing leopard spot graced the end. Nefertiti gasped and struggled in her human bindings, primal instincts over riding all other functions.

"You will be branded in reminder of your weakness. Never again will you show it, to anyone. Not even yourself." The leader pressed forward and touching the molten metal to the skin on Nefertiti's stomach.

Her screams waft through the air like the scent of burning flesh.

Things get much hotter next chapter.