The hills outside Saseko Madobe’s window were as green and vibrant as she’d always remembered, even after all these years.
How many times, now, had she looked out, to that blue sky and its eternally white clouds?
How many times had she wished she could just step outside and just bask in the sun, even if only for a few minutes?
How many times had she wished to feel the breeze in her hair once more?
How many times…
She coughed and wheezed violently into her respirator mask. She struggled to fill her lungs with air, closing her eyes as she took one deep breath, and then another…
Going outside wasn’t possible, of course. Not anymore.
The risk of infection was too great: there were simply too many new, deadly bugs and viruses out there for her to catch. She’d heard about a few of them from her sisters, even: nasty things that scrambled your brains and your insides, ones that blew through all of your body’s natural defenses like cardboard, escaped bioweapons from top secret labs, and so on.
There was even a criminal who used a stolen bioweapon to hold thousands of people for ransom. That one would have almost gotten her, too, if her doctors hadn’t pumped the last scrap of energy they could from the country’s Sharicite crystal.
From then on, she was on her own: the crystal could spare no more energy for its beloved former leader. The energy would now be fully diverted towards her sister Nanami, who had already stepped up to lead the Windows Queendom in her place, long ago.
And, with her job completed, Saseko would fade away quietly.
That was simply the way of things: she’d seen the exact same happen to her older sister, Hacchan, only a few short years after Saseko took the throne.
Her body wasn’t diseased, aging, or even withered, at least appearance-wise—none of them ever stopped looking like teenagers or young adults, even as the decades wore on—but the life force that the crystal granted them was finite. Once that ran out, the body could no longer sustain the processes needed for life and would shut down.
According to the doctors, her final moments would be quick and painless.
It would be like going to sleep, they said.
Saseko’s eyes wandered towards the glass window and the vista outside.
Her reign hadn’t been a perfect one, by any means.
Nor was it an easy one: ever since her first day as leader of the Windows Queendom, back when the dust was still settling from the end of the Computix World War, she’d been beset by criticism and conflicting demands from all sides.
Some wanted liberty, and an end to the wartime surveillance. Others wanted security, and were still scared of traitors and criminals. Still others simply wanted a roof to sleep under, or food to eat. Some parts of the country were still little more than rubble. And, past the divided Macintosh nations and the Apple Curtain, lay their new enemy: The Union of Open-Source Republics.
But despite this, she stood tall. She became a ray of light for her people.
And though many mocked her and criticized her grand, expensive visions for the country’s future; though many lambasted her for her idealism and naivete; and though her critics looked at her flashy new appearance, compared to her predecessors, and called her nothing more than shallow eye-candy…
…she held on.
And slowly, but surely, things got better.
Newer, more modern towns and cities were built atop the ashes and rubble of the old ones. The economy recovered, and a new generation sprang forth to seize the day. Under her care, the arts and sciences flourished once more, washing away the wartime dreariness pervading the cities. The vitality returned to the country.
It wasn’t all perfect, of course: many challenges, new and old, came up during her time as Queen. The UOSR never stopped being their national rival. She never quite got the hang of dealing with wide-scale virus epidemics. She made a handful of bad calls with her choices of ministers and bureaucrats.
But, even though these, she hung on and kept going.
And then, eventually, her beloved sisters came along.
Chiivis-tan was the first to arrive, formed from the Sharicite roughly half a decade after Saseko’s ascension to the throne. Though she was kindhearted and… energetic (as Saseko kindly put it), the prospect of leading a country never quite agreed with Chiivis-tan. Instead, she made her career as a famous actress and singer; the last Saseko had heard, Chiivis-tan was out in a far-off locale, cast in yet another film.
Nanami was “born” shortly after Chiivis-tan; unlike her, however, Nanami took to leadership like a fish to water. She began shadowing and following Saseko around immediately from the start, and absorbed everything she saw in stride. Soon enough, she came to replace Saseko as Queen, and her debut was met with almost universal acclaim.
Her younger sisters, Yuu and Ai, were twins, a rarity. Much like Saseko, they had grand ideas on where to take the country, and were more than determined to see those visions come to fruition. However, like Chiivis-tan, they decided that running the country was not for them: instead, they would dedicate their time to researching and to the development of their plans. From what Saseko had heard, they were currently breezing through their first year of high school, sharp and focused as ever.
And, last but not least, there came her youngest sister, Nonaka. Much unlike her sisters, Nonaka was quiet and reserved—sometimes to the point where her silence would lead Saseko to fret over her unnecessarily—and often seemed aimless. Nevertheless, she seemed open to the idea of leading the Windows Queendom after Nanami, and Saseko was sure she’d mature into another brilliant leader.
Saseko was so proud of each and every one of them…
…they were growing up to be such wonderful people…
…they were chasing their dreams…
…changing the world…
…and, now, it was time—
—there was someone at the door.
The door opened slightly, creaking softly, and through the crack there came a familiar voice.
“Um… Sis? Are you… are you still…?”
“I’m here, Nanami… you can come in.”
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t get here earlier—there was just so much I had to deal with because of the disarmament treaty negotiations and all of the new education bills so I nearly had to sneak out until the Prime Minister almost shouted at everyone to let me leave for here and then I tried arguing with the doctors but they would only let one family member in because of your immunodeficiency and--”
Saseko took Nanami’s hand in hers with a soft chuckle.
“Relax, Nanami. I know perfectly well that you’re always busy, whether you like it or not.
How are things going overall, though?”
Nanami looked down at her knees, as if trying to remember something.
“Umm… everything’s going okay, I guess? …I still don’t think I know what I’m doing sometimes, though, and sometimes like now it just gets so overwhelming and tiring, and I don’t know what to do!”
She looked up. Her pleading eyes, now on the verge of crying, met Saseko’s.
“Does... does it always feel this way? Like everything’s going too fast, and you wish the world could slow down, just for a moment?”
Wordlessly, Saseko pulled her closer, into an embrace, bringing Nanami’s face to her chest.
Soon enough, she could feel the front of her dress growing wet with tears.
“…please don’t leave, Sis. Please don’t leave me!”
Saseko could already feel her strength fading, and her vision growing darker.
But she held on, one last time.
“I’m… sorry, Nanami. But… there’s no way around it.
“It’s time for me to go, now.”
Saseko Madobe, sixth Queen of the Windows Queendom, passed away at 20:37 on April 8, 2014.
Windows XP reached official end-of-life on April 8, 2014, after more than 12 years of continuous service and support.