Saturday, February 10, 2024

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Sixteen


Chapter Sixteen: My First Argument with Diego

From behind Diego, his cat-faced comrade let out a percussive snicker.

“Excuse me?”  I said, recoiling, my face flushing red with an admixture of anger, shock, and embarrassment.

“You heard me.  What.  The Serious XXXX.  Do You Think.  You’re Doing?”

I was, of course, utterly mortified at the foulness of his speech, and at this appalling breach of basic human decency.  “I am attempting to thank you for effectuating my rescue, and would have assumed that this would be blindingly obvious to even the most…”

“No no no no,” he interrupted, his voice rising in timbre.  “Not that.  Nope.  You don’t understand.  I mean, no xxxx,, of course we saved you, you’re xxxxing welcome, but who the xxxx cares about that now?  We did what we did, you and your bot are here, alive, yay, all that xxxx.  I’m not talking about us kicking some Hammer xxx, either, ‘cause we do that on the regular.  I’m talking about this whole totally bullxxxx thing you’re doing right now.”

I was, in this moment, genuinely at a loss for words, as I felt with certainty that I had never been quite so grievously insulted in all of my life.

“I’m afraid I’m not sure I know of what you speak, sir.  I cannot imagine what I might have done to stir such a cruel reproach upon what is but our second meeting, but I must tell you that I am sorely wounded at your sudden choice to…”

“That,” he said, interrupting again, “that is exactly what I mean.”  He waved his hands in the direction of the air in front of my face.  “The way you talk.  Who xxxxing talks like that?  I honestly don’t know if anyone in all of human history ever actually talked like that.  Is it Edwardian?  Is it Victorian?  Who the xxxx even knows!”  He then glared at Mother’s dress and gesticulated at it in a wild manner.  “And the way you dress!  Is this some psychotic post-collapse Jane Austin cosplay?  Is that a bustle?  Are you wearing a corset?   Here you are floating through a war zone dressed like a xxxxing fairy princess or Mary xxxxing Poppins.  Why?  I mean, you do know it’s not God-xxxxed eighteen ninety seven, and this isn’t England, right?  And then you add in endless xxxxing robots, and bluesky tech…and…and Jesus, what the xxx.  None of us have even the faintest clue why you people even exist, but every day, there you are, floating through the sky like xxxxing aliens or some such xxxx.  I just can’t even…I mean, xxxx.  What the xxxx are you?” 

As his wild, vulgar ranting subsided slightly, I experienced a sudden epiphany.   Diego was quite confused, and that what I had taken at first for a vile and profane insult to my person was nothing more than a wholly comprehensible failure to understand the intricacies of the Peerage, our Society, and the nature of the Crown.  With my own righteous anger diminished at that knowledge, the appropriate diplomatic course of action presented itself: he had asked questions, and it was now my duty as a Lady and a representative of Her Majesty to answer them.

“Very well, Mr. Cruz Campo,” I said, in the tone one might take with a disconsolate and frightened child, “I think I grasp your difficulty, for I can appreciate why you might find our Society and my own presence somewhat unsettling, and furthermore, why the particulars of our distinctive way of life might be so alien to your understanding as to cause such heartfelt and voluble perplexity.  Despite your profane outburst, I shall honour your questions with replies, each in the order in which they were posed; if that is quite alright with you, of course.”

He took a step back, and with a sweeping gesture of sardonic welcome, invited my reply.  “Sure.  Bring it.” he said, as if casting down a gauntlet.

I took a breath, then began.

“Again, in sequence, let me begin.  Question the first: Who talks like this?  I do, and all those around me do, for three reasons:  Question One, Rationale One, it is this manner of speech that shapes our social order, one that centers decorum, robustness of social structure, and a life grounded in tradition; Question One, Rationale Two, this choice of language is both inculcated and chosen, as all who are part of our Society embrace and understand, both implicitly and explicitly, the necessity of carefully considered eloquence, which is of inestimable help in creating a well-formed and nimble mind, and; Question One, Rationale Three, it gives me pleasure to speak thusly, in the same way that one might enjoy performing complex music or a dance of sublime elaborateness.  In sum, it is our culture, it is our choice, and it is our pleasure.”

Diego’s eyes furrowed, which I took to mean he was endeavouring to turn his sharp but ill-shaped wit to the unravelling of my explanation; I graciously gave him a moment, and then proceeded.

“Question the second, is this a Jane Austen cosplay?  No, even if the works Miss Austen are simply lovely, for our choice of attire is not something reflective of an effort to distract ourselves from reality, as in late-pre-collapse decadence, but rather an intentional, sustained, and material reinforcement of a particular set of cultural norms and expectations, all of which reinforce the vigour and stability of our social order.   Question the third, no, I am not wearing a bustle, although that is within the realm of sartorial acceptability in our polite society.  Question the…”

Diego grunted in a most harsh and dismissive way.  “Alright.  OK.  Just stop.  I wasn’t asking you to literally answer every xxxxing question.  You…”

“Christ, stop bullying and let her answer, Diego.”  It was the person of indeterminate gender who interrupted him, their husky alto chiding.  “I know you’re xxxxed off, but you’re always going on about how little we know about The Beautiful Ones, so just shut up already and let her talk.  Don’t be such an xxxhole.”

“Shain’s right,” purred the one who reminded me of Puss in Boots.  “We love ya, man, but you’re being a xxxx.”

Diego raised the dun steel of his alloy hand to his brow, massaging what was evidently a growing headache, as he let out a frustrated sigh.  Then, in a surprisingly chastened tone, he yielded.  “OK.  Point well taken, Raj.  I hear you, Shain.”  He looked at me, a forced smile upon his perfect lips.  

“Rebecca.  Sorry.  Please…continue.”

Acknowledging his repentant acquiescence and the kindly intervention of his comrades with a polite nod, I set about completing my reply.

 “Question the fourth, yes, I am wearing corsetry, although it is of a design and purpose that significantly varies from the purely cosmetic intent of classical Edwardian-era support garments.  Question the fifth, of course I am aware of the current date as defined by the Gregorian calendar, and of the rough latitude and longitude of our physical location in the Mid Atlantic.  Question the sixth is implied in your last several questions, and is of a rather more subtle, qualitative, and subjective character, which I would summarise thusly: why do I and my Society exist?  Why, one might ask, do any of us exist, and were I to have a definitive answer to such a profound and unsearchable mystery, I should most certainly be obligated to share it with one and all.  In the narrower, contingent sense mediated by my own self-understanding and that of our Peerage, I might concisely express a response in this way:  We exist to serve the will of Her Majesty the Queen, and to live in a manner that brings honour to Her Reign.”

At the completion of my response, the one whose name was evidently Raj began to clap slowly, a Cheshire grin brightening his countenance.

“That was, unironically, a great xxxxing answer.  Dude.”

Diego glared at Raj, at which Raj’s smile only brightened saucily.

“Fine,” Diego said, tersely.  “I’ve got other questions for another time.  Right now, though, we need to know other things.  Like what the xxxx got you shot down, and what you think is going on.  Meaning, exactly.”  Diego paused for a moment, his eyes distant, as if coming to some significant internal determination, and then looked at me most directly.  “Look.  I’m going to tell you what we know, all of it, and then you’re going to tell me what you know.  Everything on the table.  Yes?”

“That is acceptable to me.”    

“Good.  Last month or so, as I’m sure you know, the Hammer has been on the move.  We’re getting hit harder, everywhere.  They took down the Staunton commune, meaning, total slaughter, had to be, we get one panicked broadcast, then the whole place goes dark.  We tried to get intel, but they’re suddenly able to bring down our drone recon.  An entire motorized platoon of volunteers from the Fourth Republican just xxxxing vanished when the RCC sent them to do a recon in force.  Then today…”

I raised my begloved hand, as I’d briefly witnessed such a gesture being used in the debate over the disposition of the trucks.


“I’m afraid I am unaware of the meaning of the acronym R.C.C..  Might you please clarify?”

“Sure.  It’s Regional Coordinating Committee.  How we do intercommunity action.  Harvest distribution.  Joint defence and security.  That sort of thing.”

“Ah.  Thank you.  Please do continue.”

“Then today, your robot friend here shows up, tells us they’re xxxxing with you people, asks for help, which was a thing that just doesn’t happen.   Up ‘till now, that was the one can of whup ass that even Caddigan didn’t want opened up.  No one  xxxxs with the Beautiful Ones, not if they want to live to see the end of the day.  It’s a godxxxx rule out here.  I have no idea what it was they did to bring your airship down, but I’ve never seen the Hammer do that before, not ever.  It’s some bad juju, and it scares the xxxx out of us.  So. That’s what we know.  Rebecca.  What can you tell us?”  

Here, of course, I faced a decision of some consequence, for I was in possession of information that gave insight into Our purposes, insight that might in untrustworthy hands prove most disastrous to us.   As a representative of the Crown, and as a member of the Peerage, I must…as dear Stewart had at my importunate questioning…determine what could be shared, and also that which must at all costs be held in the strictest of confidence.

While under most circumstances I would have been reticent to offer up even the most spare account, I was convinced that the threat to Her Majesty here was grave, and the creation of an alliance of goodwill with these peculiar souls was most essential.  I was, as ever, duty bound to take the best possible choice towards the most desirable future.

It was at that point, dear reader, that I presented in detail all of the evidences that had come before me in conversations with both Father and Stewart; these are conversations to which you have already been privy, and which I therefore shall not again present in detail.  Encapsulated, my disclosure included the following: the increase in Caddiganite attacks on the Her Majesty’s servants; Father’s insights into the evident purpose of said attacks; the implicit attempt to purloin the advances of the Royal Society; the mysterious cargo carried within Her Majesty’s Ship the Firedrake; and my personal fears that with the felling of that noble vessel, said cargo might pose an unspeakable danger should it be discovered and turned to Caddiganite purposes.

Upon the completion of my sharing, the room was oddly silent for a moment.

Diego’s expression had changed most profoundly, and the umbrage that had to this point seemed his default state of being was no longer in evidence.  His golden eyes were now honeyed with a fathomless pathos, his brow furrowed not in consternation or annoyance, but something quite the opposite.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice huskier, heavier.  “That was…thorough.  I…” 

Here he paused, regarding me with a sympathy which I had heretofore not seen upon his visage.  

“Rebecca.  Your…father…was on that airship?”


He turned and looked at his comrades, and then back to me.

“You watched…your father…die today.”  

It was not a question, but a statement of the most terrible fact, one that had unexpectedly cut him to the very quick, his voice thickened as some deep hurt of his own rose upon the wings of compassion; it stirred in me a great upwelling of well nigh unbearable grief.  I felt myself on the verge of collapse, most literally; my legs weakened beneath me, and it was as if my entire person, body and soul, was on the precipice of an implosion.  

I could not let that be, not now, not here; though my face tightened and trembled with the effort, my eyes welling such that a single tear escaped and tracked its course of sorrow down my powdered cheek, I was able to say, simply:


xxxx.  I had…no idea.”

Having spoken his profane but genuine condolence, it was clear he had no idea what to do next, nor did I; we stood together, in the deep pall of an awkward silence, for a time that felt like forever.