Published on 2012/05/27

A Cat May Look at a Queen

Michelle Ann King

I struggled in my bonds, but only for appearance’s sake. Any one of the guards could crush me in a heartbeat. The crowd in the council chamber seemed to appreciate the effort, though. They liked a little life in their condemned men.

I cleared my throat. “If you’ll just give me a chance, I can explain.”

Brod, the Queen’s Enforcer, raised his eyebrows. The look told everyone exactly what he thought of my chances, but he nodded, and the two brutes holding my arms stopped trying to pull them from their sockets and let me stand up straight. I brushed my tunic down and faced front.

The spectators all fell silent, leaning forward in their seats. A trial like this was a treat; lawbreakers are a very rare breed in our society. The level of your powers determined your status, and your status determined -- well, just about everything else. I was a level 3,362, which meant I could just about turn the pages of a book without touching them. Useful for reading in the bath, but it didn’t make me much of a catch. Especially not once the humans invented Kindles.

Queen Vyera looked down at me. She was level 1 -- the only level 1, which was why she was Queen. She could rock the planet in its orbit with a snap of her fingers, if she wanted to. In a lot of respects, what we had was a good system: a meritocracy was a lot less open to abuse than some of the alternatives -- you just had to look at human societies to see that. But it was rigid. So very rigid.

Brod watched me, arms folded. His robe swept to the floor, but I could imagine his foot tapping underneath it. “Well, Cabbon?” he said. “You were going to explain how you’re an innocent man and this is all just a horrible mistake?”

“Yes.” I took a deep breath. “Well, actually, no. It’s not.”

Brod flashed the crowd a vicious smile. “Then you admit your guilt. You confess to a forbidden relationship. Outside your level.”

I lifted my head. “Yes. Your informants do you proud, Brod. I confess it. But I have to say, I don’t regret it.”

Another susurration ran through the crowd. An unrepentant lawbreaker was an extremely rare treat indeed.

Brod turned away, as if he could no longer bear to look at me. He faced Vyera. “The facts are clear, by the miscreant’s own words. We await your judgment, my Queen.”

Everyone fell silent again. “Cabbon,” she said,” you will be stripped of your powers.” The muttering started up again. “Then you will be exiled. You will leave here, and live among the humans. You will live as a human.” The noise got louder. It was harsh punishment. But I wasn’t going to object.

“Hold him,” Brod said. “We’re not done. You have more to confess, Cabbon.”

I waited. “The woman,” he said. “Give us her name. She must be punished, too.”

I looked at the Queen. She nodded. “Very well,” I said. “Her name is Vyera.”

There was a long moment of silence as every pair of eyes in the room turned slowly to look at the Queen. She stood up, regal and beautiful. “If you’ll just give me a chance, I can explain.” She smiled at me. “Oh, no, wait...”

Brod gaped at her as she took off her crown and slipped the robe off her shoulders. “The precedent has been set,” she said. “The punishment is clear. Loss of power. Exile.”

I pulled my arms free of the guards. They seemed too stunned to even notice. I jumped down from the dock and held out my hand to her. She took it and nodded towards the door. “Shall we?”

“Delighted, Your Highness.”

“Vyera,” she said. “Just Vyera, now.”

We ran through the door and out of the chamber. From the other side she extended her hand, fingers splayed, and spoke the words of power. The door stayed resolutely still. She smiled again, raised one booted foot and kicked it shut behind us.

Michelle Ann King lives with her husband and stuffed penguin in Essex, England. Her work has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, The Molotov Cocktail and others. Links to her stories can be found at