by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, January 2018
Sloanee’s slick, sticky amphibioid fingers wrapped around one of Queen Doripauli’s slender twigs. The queen’s sea-green fronds uncurled, caressing the richer green skin of her amphibioid lover. Doripauli’s yellow daisy-like petals brushed ever-so-lightly against Sloanee’s face, and the froggy alien’s bulbous eyes closed blissfully.
How could Sloanee give this up? She had loved Queen Doripauli since she’d first set eyes on the photosynthetic floral alien. Her eyes were pink roses; her mouths were blue irises; she was a living bouquet — color and splendor and everything that was right with a universe filled with infinite diversity.
And wonder of wonders, Doripauli loved Sloanee back. Perhaps… Perhaps Doripauli would forgive her.
The queen rose from her repose in the glistening green arms of her beloved. Doripauli’s root-like appendages stretched out from her core, carrying her in a rolling gait like a tumbleweed to the computer console at the helm of her royal space cruiser.
“Come back to bed,” Sloanee chirruped, hoping to forestall the inevitable conflict. But she knew Queen Doripauli had already made her choices — her plans were in action. Sloanee had no choice but to live with it or follow her conscience.
Sloanee hated her conscience for this.
“It’s time to light the fire.” Doripauli’s voice twinkled like a hundred bells as she spoke from all her blue flowers. “Nothing you need worry about. I’ll come back soon.”
The queen believed Sloanee didn’t care about her political affairs. Sloanee was an alien, an outsider, a safe haven for the queen to escape the pressures of ruling an entire solar system. And at first, that had been true.
What did an amphibioid care for the political concerns of sentient flowers? But Queen Doripauli was about to cross a line that Sloanee could not stand by and watch without action: she was going to set the firelands alight, burning an entire generation of sproutlings.
Sloanee’s own people were not overly sentimental about their own young during their early phases of life. Until they’d passed through the taddywog and polipolly stages, their amphibioid brains were rudimentary, barely capable of avoiding pain and seeking food. But once they reached sentience? Sentience must bthrowe respected.
Sloanee rose from the bed as well, pulled on her clothes, and removed the metal wand hidden in her pocket. She’d refused the wand the first several times Doripauli’s viceroy had pressed it on her. If only she’d turned the viceroy in as a traitor and member of the rebellion that very first time, Sloanee wouldn’t be in this situation now… But she had tried so hard to stay uninvolved. So hard. And then Doripauli had brought her for a stroll in one of the nursery green houses…
The amphibioid and floral alien had rambled, side by side, brushing against each other, lost in the romance of each other’s company. The very air had sung in praise of their love — at least, that’s how it had felt, until Sloanee had realized the twinkling chorus of bells was singing words — she could only make out a few: “Our Queen”, “our love”, “your royal consort.”
It hadn’t been romance in the air at all; it had been the sessile plants, growing, rooted in the ground, in rows around them. The sproutlings were sentient, before they ever pulled their roots from the ground.
It was unconscionable to burn down whole fields of them, simply because they’d grown from wild seeds, lost on the wind and settled in the rich soil of the firelands.
Sloanee pressed the red trigger on the metal wand, and a bubble of shimmery force field engulfed Queen Doripauli.
“I can’t let you burn the sproutlings,” Sloanee croaked. “Give them this continent and let them be.”
Queen Doripauli’s pink-petaled eyes blinked in surprise, and her sea-green fronds vibrated, singing like outraged violins, “Let me!? This is not your concern. Put down that wand and release me.”
“Will you let the sproutlings live?”
“We need the firelands on this planet; Prime World is overcrowded.” Doripauli’s leaves and fronds shivered and shook with anger. “How dare you make me explain this to you!”
“How dare I confront you?” Sloanee croaked. “How dare I have an opinion?”
“How dare you entrap me!” Doripauli’s vines and branches stretched and pressed against the shimmery surface of the force field, but her delicate appendages were no match for quantum space folding.
“Do you love me?” Sloanee asked. A tear formed in the corner of her bulging eyes. “Promise me only that you’ll talk to me; let me explain why you can’t do this.”
“‘Can’t’ is not a word you say to a queen.” Doripauli turned her pink-petaled eyes, each and every one of them, away from Sloanee. She refused to even look at the amphibioid alien now that Sloanee had crossed her.
While they argued, Sloanee knew the rebellion, led by the viceroy, was uprooting the sessile sproutlings early, arming them, and expanding the rebellion’s numbers. By the time this was over, Queen Doripauli’s domain, her entire solar system, would be deep in the throes of a civil war.
It was not Sloanee’s war. Sloanee had only one reason to be here. Or maybe… none at all.
“Do you love me?” Sloanee croaked.
“Free me!” Queen Doripauli commanded. Her anger shook her branches so badly, leaves fell from her and cluttered the bottom of the force bubble in a pile.
She was no longer a lover. Only a queen.
The heartbroken amphibioid lowered the metal wand, but she left the queen in her force bubble. The viceroy had promised Sloanee a one-man shuttle and enough time to escape the solar system in return for her cooperation. Even in the middle of a civil war, Sloanee didn’t think the queen would make her escape easy. Sloanee would be on the run for a long time.
She would be broken hearted even longer.