Kellyanne Conway. Ooof. If there’s any justice (and there probably isn’t), 20 years from now we’ll all use her name to signify anything or anyone that’s terrible just for the sake of being terrible.

Dr. Sheila Sherman took a deep breath, opened the patient’s door and crossed the threshold into Lanella Banes’ world.

The world itself was, measurably, small; about the same size and laid out similarly to a good-sized efficiency. Its two rooms, a bathroom and a bed/living room, occupied just a small part of the High Palisades, about midway up the third tower.

Psychically though, Lanella Banes’ world was vast. By the Regent’s own order no one was allowed to restrain, or even disagree with the patient. Sheila Sherman was a good soldier, 20 years in the corp before being discharged, and wasn’t about to disobey an order, even if she felt like the Regent was treating his former advisor like a pet now more than a person.

“How are we doing today, Ms. Banes?

“I can’t hear the crowd. The throng is still there, yes? The Regent is still loved?”

Sherman walked towards the large and only window, blocking her body so that she could look outside and still keep Banes in her sight. The idea that Lanella Banes, one leg lost just above the knee, one arm withered and useless, three large, glaring dents in her skull only half-hidden by the few wisps of hair that would still sprout from her scalp, was dangerous was, Sherman admitted, far-fetched. But she got those injuries in a four-on-one fight and came out of it alive. Which is more than two of her assailants could say. Sure, she was fighting against soft, doughy members of the not-accurately-titled Loyalist party in an attempted insurrection. But still. Damn. Sherman had done a tour in Sinel, that hellhole where the whole of the corp learned never to underestimate anyone.

Outside the window was a smaller than normal crowd of protestors, signs and effigies and bandanas present. “Oh, Ms. Banes, his admirers are still there. And they’re still calling his name and for his blessings. You must not be able to hear them because the wind is blowing their words away from us.”

“Good, as it should. Open the windows, even if we won’t hear them, some fresh air would be nice.”

Dr. Sherman paused and pursed her lips. The window must not be opened and, in fact, could not be opened. The Regent had also given orders that not even the barest hint of Lanella Banes’ continued existence was to even be given the chance of escape. The public must believe that she died as a result of the cowardly Loyalist attack. Sherman had only been given the job as Banes’ personal physician after extensive, intrusive, vetting. Although it had never been confirmed, she believed what cinched the job for her was the fact that, unlike so many other women in the armed forces, she never once publicly complained when the Regent bared females from serving.

Sherman could feel Banes eyes, one cloudy, dead and white, the other still the piercing, frosted blue that it always had been, fix on her, impatient for her will to be done. Even after almost a year Sherman was uncertain of how aware Banes really was, but she definitely intuited the rules of her two room world. Sherman noisily drew air in through her nose to buy time, but a sharp, ammonia odor forced her to stop. “Ms Banes, did you not make it to the bathroom in time this morning?”

“I did,” the broken doll of a woman said, with no evident shame or hesitation. “But there are secrets in my bathing chamber. Secrets that must not be allowed out. Secrets that can topple the nation.”

Lanella Banes was a lot of things, but outright delusional was not one of them. Careful of the rules, Dr. Sherman said nothing but crossed over to the bathroom and opened the door.

Banes was right, after a sort. There was a large secret behind the door. A bomb. A big, big bomb. It had been a while since Dr. Sherman had seen anything like it, but she had had enough experience with bombs before to know this one was not some slap-dash, built in someone’s basement affair. No one from the outside could have snuck something like this in. It was an inside job. Her stomach flipped over.

A good soldier knew the chain of command. A good soldier knew who to alert in high-pressure, emergency situations like this. Dr. Sherman pulled out her phone, an old, relic style phone with no camera, and dialed quickly as she walked back to the window.

“Hi, Mom? What’s going on?”

“Nothing, Kyle. I just wanted to tell you that I love you very much.”

Outside the crowd, Dr. Sherman realized too late, was not smaller than usual. It was just pulled backed further away from the perimeter than usual, almost as if it were waiting, just waiting for a chance to swarm forward.


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