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The Hour House

One
The Courtyard


The roar outside the palace was deafening. Inside the once still air vibrated with noise like water. Though Madgelie was deep inside the palace walls the trembling air only seemed to make her insides quiver in a similar fashion. She had always known the gravity of her choice, but until that moment it never weighed on her so profoundly. Outside there were people who had been briefly liberated by an idea of hope her father had given them. His reign as Emperor had been but a short three year affair. This seemed to be merely a moment in time compared to the lengthy period of war and unrest her uncle had churned along.

How could she make the citizens outside understand that those dark days were not returning? Despite their enthusiasm they had to be a bit worried about what she would tell them. She felt something snaking around in her stomach, threatening to rise to her throat and out through her mouth. Madgelie ran for the garden. She was losing confidence, she had to regain it—too late, she was already retching into a rosebush. She started to right herself again, thinking the worst had passed, but she was hit with another bought of nausea and she vomited again.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw him coming. She hastily tried to wipe her mouth but he had seen. He offered her a handkerchief and she took it and wiped the remains of the vomit from her face.

“Thank you, Al,” she said.

“I was going to hold back your hair, but you have it in such a tight ponytail, I didn’t think my assistance was needed,” Alfred replied. She took out her compact mirror from her jacket pocket, fixed her red lipstick and adjusted her military cap.

“Is my uniform okay?” she asked.

“Don’t be so nervous. Everything will be fine, I promise you. We all worked hard on this.”

“Alfred, will it be enough? Is what I’m doing really enough?”

He smiled and put a hand on her shoulder, “You’re giving an entire nation of people hope all over again.”

Madgelie gazed at her friend in his Military Science Army uniform. A hazy memory of the disheveled young man he had once been upon their first meeting flashed across her mind and she smiled despite herself. If she had learned anything from being friends with Alfred, it was that respect had to be earned. When they met and she gave her name and rank, her high sounding title only made him suspicious of her. Madgelie decided that day that she would eventually earn Alfred’s trust. Years later he was still working with her, a testament to how their friendship grew in adversity.

“I won’t let you down,” he said, running his thumb just under her right eye. Her eyes were her most distinctive feature on her face: her left was brown, her right was a milky yellow green. She pushed his hand away.

“I know you won’t. I hope I don’t disappoint you,” she replied.

“Just give your speech, I’ll take care of the rest.”

Madgelie breathed deeply and gripped his shoulders before they went back into the palace. They walked together for a while and lingered in the main hall. She looked at him and closed her left eye so only her right was showing.

“I’ll watch for you with my good eye,” she said. “Do you remember the phrase you’re waiting for?”

“I know, I got it. Now get out there. Your people await,” he said. Madgelie squared her shoulders, straightened up her uniform and went to the front doors of the palace. She tugged on her blonde ponytail, tapped her booted foot on the marble floor, took a deep breath and signaled for the doors to be opened. She was almost knocked back by the sheer force of the cheering. Her red lips curled into a smile. She walked up to the podium just in front of her and held up her arms to try and silence the crowd. They only got louder.

“My people!” she began. After some time, they got quieter. She rested her hands on podium.

“My people! My father’s passing was untimely and unfortunate. I regret to say, he was yet another casualty of the complications of war. As most of you know, life under harsh conditions will take a toll on your health.”

She paused as the crowd became uncomfortably silent.

“Years of being on the run from all sorts of people has taught me that a war claimed to be fought for the glory of our nation must actually benefit the nation. I told myself over and over when I was walking from farm to farm looking for food that I could bear all this if only I knew that back at home everyone was safe. I knew that many were suffering, and it made my heart ache even more. During that war, we never achieved glory. Instead of fame, we gained infamy. Power? What power? Even my father’s best efforts have done little to restore us to what we were before this conflict began. All the benefits we were promised never came.”

The silence was telling.

“That is why, as long as there is no imminent threat to our nation, I will not return to the ways of war.”

She could barely finish her sentence, the crowd cheered louder than before. Madgelie held on to her cap, as though the sound was strong enough to knock it off her head.

“Instead, I say we better our nation and give it an edge unlike any other. Instead of developing military weapons, I say we develop ourselves on the home front, restoring schools…”
The people started screaming for joy again. She held up her hand.

“I will continue to provide aid for the returned soldiers, and there will be added developments in scientific research. Particularly the development of Temporal Sciences. Imagine, our country having the ability to bend time and space itself to our will!”

The cheers died. She lowered her chin. It was a farfetched statement, she knew this would happen.

“This sounds like insanity. But I would not make a claim if I could not back it up. Already, we have made great strides in this research. In fact, I will give you a taste of it today.”

She glanced to her right, Alfred was in the tower, arms strapped to a large machine. She smiled and gripped the podium tightly.

“This courtyard was transformed into a giant teleportation pad. Remain calm and still, we shall go on a little trip to the largest coliseum in the country where the second pad has been set up.”

Madgelie heard the hum of the machine and her heart raced. They had teleported many people before, but never this many. There had to be at least eight thousand people in the area. She chewed the inside of her cheek and stared straight ahead. Her confidence soared as they became enveloped in blue light. She closed her eyes and when she opened them, they were in the coliseum. People were exclaiming in disbelief and wonder and she called them to attention.

“Many of the complexities of Temporal Science have been explored by our top researchers. On the wings of this new research, I will push to bring our country to the future! Now let’s bring ourselves back home.”

The machine hummed the coliseum became flooded with light. Upon their return, Madgelie barely heard or remembered what she said. All she saw out of the corner of her eye was Alfred releasing his grip on the machine and collapsing. She finished up quickly yet calmly and graciously bowed out to the cheering and the chanting that had started.

The doors closed behind her and as soon as she was certain that she was out of view from people, cameras and flashing bulbs, she took off running down the hall toward the tower. As she made it to the wing of the castle, she saw her friend being placed on a stretcher, one man pressing down on his chest frantically, the other placing a face mask over Alfred’s mouth and pumping a clear rubber orb.

“What’s wrong? What’s happened to him?” she asked hurrying after them.

“No time, Your Excellency, he’s stopped breathing,” one doctor called over his shoulder. She stopped dead in her tracks. If he had taken a brick and tossed it at her stomach she wouldn’t have been affected any differently. Madgelie breathed in slowly, almost cautiously. The teleportation machine had always taken a decent amount of human energy to charge, but never that much.

She placed two fingers on her chin as her mouth hung slightly agape, “Alfred, what have I done?”
She stared after him, the crowd chanting her name outside, but inside her heart pounded, and every beat called for him.

***

Gilbert sat outside his brother Alfred’s hospital room with Empress Madgelie. She wouldn’t stop pacing and this annoyed him to no end.

“My brother won’t die. He’s stronger than that and you know it,” he said. Madgelie stopped, looked at him blankly and sighed. She sat down next to him and folded her hands carefully.

“I just…he had to have known this would happen. So why would he do this?” she asked. Gilbert shrugged.

“In the name of science, I suppose,” Gilbert replied. “I’d do the same thing. Now we know that we can teleport eight thousand people with one giant teleporting pad. I’m so glad all our efforts weren’t for nothing. It took months to get that set up.”

“At the price of Alfred’s life,” Madgelie said.

“Alfred is not dead. He won’t die,” he said. His brother was not some pale lab coat. He was a true man of science; living it as opposed to just observing and studying it. That was why, at the age of thirteen, Gilbert was enrolled in the Military Science Academy as a Junior Cadet in the Alpha Division specializing in research and development. He worked directly under his brother, and ––in Gilbert’s somewhat self-absorbed opinion––he was making great progress toward becoming a full-fledged Cadet.

A doctor finally exited the room and grinned. Madgelie stood up, Gilbert smiled half-heartedly.

“Alfred is going to be fine. He regained consciousness just a few minutes ago,” the doctor said. Madgelie breathed in relief. Gilbert pushed past both of them to see his brother. Alfred was reclining against a few pillows, and grinned upon seeing his brother.

“Gil, I’m surprised you stayed,” he said. Gilbert furrowed his brow and thumbed his nose.

“Don’t call me stupid kid names,” he said.

“Psh, you act as though I haven’t heard that name before, Gil,” Madgelie said, nudging him in the ribs. Gilbert grumbled and sat on a chair beside his brother. He wasn’t much younger than most Junior Cadets, but he sure felt younger whenever someone used his nickname. Madgelie sat on the bed and took Alfred’s hand in hers.

“How are you feeling?” she asked. Alfred smiled weakly and squeezed her hand.

“I’m fine, Madge. Everything went perfectly,” he said. Madgelie shook her head. Gilbert pressed his lips together into a very thin line.

“You passed out and stopped breathing! The doctor told me your heart stopped and they had to resuscitate you! That many people takes far too much energy to teleport,” she said. Alfred’s eyes sparkled with childish accomplishment, one that Gilbert knew he also sported on a regular basis.

“Yes, but now we know we can do it. With teleportation in such rudimentary stages, this is phenomenal! Imagine what we can do if we develop the technology more! We can teleport whole buildings!” Alfred said. Madge grimaced and snorted in disbelief.

“You always were about progress. It didn’t matter what the cost was,” she said. Alfred reached for Madgelie’s face. Gilbert looked away and glared at the tiled floor. He hated whenever they’d forget he was in the room and get all mushy about each other.

“I like to think I’m a bit more cautious as to what I stake on an experiment. This demonstration was more than for just advancement,” he said. Gilbert felt his jaw clench. If it wasn’t for advancement then what was it for? Sentimentality never got anyone anywhere productive.

“What happened to my eye was not your fault. That was a miscalculation I made years ago,” she said. Gilbert breathed in exasperation. When they talked about their days under Professor Coolidge, things always would get very odd between Madgelie and his brother.

“No, no… I should have checked the readouts more closely, then the machine wouldn’t have overloaded,” Alfred said.

“How could you have known that the temporal lights would have done this to my eye? Aside from the Professor, no one else had done those experiments before.”

“Spatial manipulation is always quite dangerous, I should have been more careful.”

Gilbert didn’t want this to continue for hours like it usually did. He cast a cold glance in their direction.

“Madgelie can still see, right?” he said.

“I can,” Madgelie replied.

“But she can’t see out of—” Alfred said.

“Does it matter what happened back then if she’s fine now?”

Alfred breathed sharply, “I thought I’d lost Madge. Every time we do an experiment, I work so hard just to make sure I never feel like that again.”

“How do you think I felt when I saw you collapse?” Madgelie said softly.

Gilbert pressed his upper lip against his bottom row of teeth and breathed through them, the air making a strange sputtering sound. It was a pointless action, almost as pointless as trying to get Madgelie and Alfred to focus on what was happening right then. Gilbert couldn’t pretend to understand the emotional hang-ups that Madgelie and Alfred seemed to have. Between the two of them, they’d be so busy tiptoeing around each other’s lives nothing will ever get done.
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