Chapter Sunelis, Lochley Landing
Lochley's Retreat, The Outback
Sara stood at the railing for the upper level of the Sisters' training center. Her eyes were focused intently on Rana; clad in a sports bra and shorts, Rana was dueling with a Dorei girl of light teal complexion and bright blue hair wearing what seemed to be a tube top and a thigh-length tight skirt. Her underdeveloped ESP talents could sense the struggle of minds as well as bodies as the two fought; she found herself rooting for Rana, though she didn't say so aloud, and admired the graceful flesibility of Rana whom she, admittedly, found fairly beautiful.
A hand touched her shoulder. She looked back to see a particularly unique Sister among the Human ones present, with green hair and blue eyes and dressed in the casual robes of a Sentinel Sister. "Sister Rydia?" Sara thought she remembered the name.
"Knight-Captain Syrandi wishes to see you," she informed Sara. "Please, follow me."
Rydia didn't lead her to Syrandi's office, which Sara was familiar with. Instead it was back into the residential quarter and to the largest quarters in the Chapel. That said, Syrandi's personal living space was not practically larger than her subordinates', for her extra volume of room was taken up by materials related to her work, the kind she needed for her duties as the head of the Chapter. Syrandi herself was standing half-dressed, her purple-complexioned Apprentice Trinande Nesay fitting her into a top that resembled a corset. Rydia gave a respectful bow upon being noticed and backed out.
"Sister Syrandi, you wished to see me?", Sara asked.
Syrandi nodded. "I may have found you passage to Pendleton," she answered. "Though I am very dubious as to you going. You should let me dispatch Sisters to investigate."
"I could not ask you do waste time on such a personal request," Sara insisted.
"You do not yet fully understand us, Sara," Syrandi replied. "The Goddess speaks that there is no such thing as a personal request too small, too insignificant, for a person to heed. You seek your family to be reunited with them and to bring them into freedom; such is what our Order was founded to do, it is the work we are all committed to, even if it means our deaths. Besides... I have already secured the passage, and have given leave for them to scavenge parts from an Order ship to ensure they can make the journey. You will meet them later tonight, or perhaps tomorrow, because we have elsewhere to be."
"We do?", Sara asked.
"Lord Fisher has requested you attend this evening's reception in the Naval Station for the new Governor-General," Syrandi explained. "I will be going as well, for I must strike a good rapport with His Excellency to ensure the Order's good works are not placed in conflict with the Anglian administration."
"Ah... Well... I believe I still have that dress he purchased for me for the Coronation Dinner." She remembered that night fairly well. Lord Fisher had treated the Dinner, the celebration of King Edward XVI's formal coronation in September, as her "social debut", since she was technically a socially educated young lady whom, under his charge, was due for such an introduction. She had worn a formal ball dress of beige color, shoulder-cut with long white gloves for her arms, and a full billowing dress of lavish material. It had taken her twenty minutes to get into with the help of the daughter of Fisher's maid and she had looked absolutely gorgeous in it. "It was in my possessions when brought here."
"Then you should get into it, the reception is in four hours," Syrandi stated.
"Sister, Syrandi... if I may... might I bring someone with me? To accompany me?"
Syrandi looked at her quizzically. Trinande stepped away at this point, having fit Syrandi's top onto her successfully. "Who did you have in mind?"
"Yes, I sense you have a growing attachment to her. But Rana is yet young, and her training to be in high soci..." Syrandi's voice trailed off as she felt disappointment in Sara, from a feeling of impending rejetion. "You may go and offer it, though you should find her something to wear. I am wearing formal robes due to my presence being official; she would be your escort and, frankly, she has no clothes to wear for such a thing."
"Oh, not to worry. I remember where Lord Fisher took me, I shall take her to buy some," Sara stated eagerly. "By your leave."
Syrandi nodded and directed her to go. She turned to where Trinande, who was grinning ever so slightly, was getting her upper robes. "And this amuses you, my Apprentice?"
Caught red-handed with her thoughts, Trinande gave a nod. "Master Syrandi, when Rana was a fellow Apprentice she and I talked regularly. I am happy to see Sara appreciates her so greatly. Rana deserves a little happiness, and may the Goddess bring them closer if it is Her will."
"Indeed," Syrandi said in plain reply. "Now, come along and finish this, Trinande, for your dress comes next..."
At the spaceport, The Goddess' Light was in an open berth for now to save funds for the Order of the Silver Moon (which, despite receiving a fair amount of donations from various sources, still had to be careful with its funds). The ship had been dormant for a time, unneeded in the last pair of months, but now it was being crawled through by Kaylee, Quinn, and Vanrya. Balthier came in soon enough, flanked by Sentinel Divija Kirmani. The New Bangladeshi woman was watching them carefully and looked rather perturbed to see Kaylee having pulled the hyperdrive apart. "Did you really have to do that?", she asked. "I thought you only needed a new phase regulator?"
"To make her fly, sure," Kaylee answered, seeming fairly irritated. "But the coils are showing heat stress, the..." She mentioned a couple other technical aspects.
"But if your relay buffers are off like that, why not adjust the coil outpout?" Divija's question prompted a surprised, if slightly pleased, look from Kaylee. Balthier allowed himself a smirk; he would have expected Syrandi to ensure a knowledgeable Sister was present. He listened to the two young women exchange remarks, Kaylee trying to be careful about mentioning the custom alterations she had made to the Strahl but, unfortunately, clearly showing their ship no longer had the standard 4700-series hyperdrives.
As they talked, though, it was clear that not everything Balthier needed could come from Goddess' Light. And he pondered that there had to be a better way to find what he needed than to force Syrandi to strip such a fine ship. "Get what you can that will work, Kaylee," he told her. "Quinn will stay and aid you." He moved down through the ship, looking to find Vanrya and bring her along to make some... inquiries.
Sara couldn't help but giggle as Rana looked around, fairly bewildered, in the dressing room of the clothing store. It was the priciest one in Lochley Landing and the only one selling formal ball gowns. It would cost Sara a fair bit - the dress they were looking at, the cheapest by Rana's insistence, was still almost £800 in cost - but the part of Fisher's prize money he had given her could afford a hundred such dresses if absolutely necessary. "I still think you should have taken the red and blue one," Sara said to Rana, "and it was only a thousand pounds."
"This is your money, Sara, and I will not waste more than I must..." Rana looked back to the mirrors with some discomfort. The dress, of violet color, made her look gorgeous. It was shoulder-less and strapless, with a bustier undergarment for support, though with less materal used it wasn't quite as billowy as the one Sara had to wear. "The reception is soon, will we have time..."
"Don't worry, Rana, I can pay for it while you wear it. Then you only need to help me get into mine back at the Chapter," Sara explained. "So, what do you think?"
"I think, Sara, that I am a Sister of the Silver Moon and, Goddess preserve me, this dress and these abominable shoes are far more than I should ever wear," was Rana's mortified reply. And it was no surprise she disliked the high-heels. "I can only ask the Goddess that Yuna and Ashe, nor my teacher Shayera, never see me dressed in this."
That made Sara giggle happily. "Oh, come on Rana, you look beautiful in it. We will have to fend off the bachelors with your beamsaber, you know." She offered her hand. "Now let's go pay for it and get back. I am sure Lord Fisher would become cross with me if I were late."
Blushing deeply, Rana allowed Sara to lead her away.
The vehicle that brought them into the base was a rented one, driven by one Sentinel Maria. Syrandi was in the front seat with Maria; her apprentice Trinande had taken the rear seats with Rana and Sara. At the gate they were waved through, all approved for entry into the base.
As they passed through, Sara and Rana seemed to be unable to take their eyes off one another. And each knew why; they could feel the mutual attraction at how the dresses flattered their figures, the way Sara's golden hair flowed in tresses down over her bare shoulders or how Rana's dress revealed her splendid figure, the full curves of her body. And everyone else in the vehicle felt this mutual attraction as well; as ESPers they couldn't help it.
And then suddenly this sensation stopped. In an instant it seemed like all five women had gone "blind", at least in their minds. The extra senses they had known for so long went dead, unable to feel or hear anything. "A null field," Rana whispered. From the feel of it the field was a passive one, meant to prevent ESP capabilities from working unless a powerful enough ESPer attempted to overwhelm the field and succeeded (or passed out in the attempt). "This feels... terrible..."
"But it is the price we must pay for interacting with the unGifted," Syrandi reminded her. "Pull us up to the Administrative Building, Sister Maria, and we will proceed from there ourselves. You may park outside the field and await our return."
"Yes Sister Syrandi."
Some distance away, Kara of the Ebon Blade glowered as she stuffed Jason Paddington's dead body into a trunk. She had not expected the anti-ESPer field to be so wide-spread, only to find one in the brig itself. Paddington had almost immediately noticed her loss of power and had, bravely, tried to take advantage of it. Unfortunately for him, Kara was trained to operate even without her powers, and she had quickly shot him dead in the driver's seat
The reception was starting soon, giving her the perfect cover. She brought up a burst transmission radio. "Are you ready?"
One of Springer's men replied immediately. "We are."
That was good. It meant that the defensive barrier facing the spaceport would be down, and she could escape quickly with her prize. She slammed the trunk of Paddington's vehicle closed and made sure her uniform looked right. This was when things got complicated.
Classical music filled the air. The attendees were orientated primarily toward naval officers, male and female, wearing full formal dress uniform. Spouses of long-term officers, as well as civil servants, were present in full formal dress, while here and there soldiers of the Royal Marines stood in their powered armor to provide security.
Syrandi got a fair amount of looks. Her formal robes of rich purple bore the insignia marking her as a Knight-Master; they were loose enough, though, to show some of her rich purple skin between her neck and where her corset-like garment began. Trinande was similarly dressed, beside her Master always, and trying not to show her anxiety at the gathering.
Rana was literally a fish out of water, looking very warily around and still getting the hang of her high heels. Sara was more familiar with high society, more as a servant-slave than as a participant though, and blended in together, accepting the offers of junior, unmarried officers to kiss her hands. It was an interesting sight to see; Rana, while not outspoken, was typically more assertive than she was now, while Sara showed a confidence rarely seen given her meek demeanor. The would-be suitors were dealt with politely but firmly, Sara making sure to be protective of her chaperone who, clearly, needed the help.
"Sara, please come here," a male voice boomed. Sara followed it to its source, the towering Lord Fisher, standing beside Syrandi, Trinande, and a lanky and well-dressed uniform who could only be Governor-General Tarkington. She and Rana bowed respectfully while Tarkington accepted Sara's hand to give it a greeting kiss on the knuckles. Fisher did the same tooward Rana. "Your Excellency, may I present Ms. Sara Pontcaire," Fisher said during the introduction. "And...?"
"Rana Shaheen, Sentinel of the Silver Moon, Your Lordship, Your Excellency," Rana finished for him. "Sara honored me by asking me to escort her tonight."
"So I see. Sara, you are enjoying the hospitality of the Order?", Fisher asked.
"I am, Your Lordship," Sara answered. "They are very generous people."
She went on, explaining what she had seen while living with them. Syrandi pondered if this was a calculated move on Fisher's part, to give Tarkington a view of what her Order was like. Though Fisher was occasionally argumentative about their activites, he had made it clear he believed the Order of the Silver Moon as a "positive good" in the Outback. Tarkington, on the other hand, did not seem convinced of that.
The subject of Sara's family came up. "You have my assurances, young lady, that the Empire shall do everything in its power to secure the freedom of your loved ones," Tarkington proclaimed. "Our mistake of the prior centuries is over. Pendleton shall be dealt with directly and placed under His Majesty's rule, for clearly they are not capable of appropriately ruling themselves."
Rana spoke up at this juncture. "Your Excellency, please forgive me for any issues I am ignorant of, but as the Star Kingdom is accepting friends and allies in the suppression, do you not think they should get a voice in the disposition of Pendleton?"
"Why would they need such? The Anglian Empire's reputation for creating order and remaining suitably impartial is well-known," Tarkington answered. "Their support in us is a trust that we will honor appropriately by ruling Pendleton with justice. It shall be a stern justice, undoubtedly, but it will be fair."
"That is all I can ask for, Your Excellency," Sara responded politely.
Syrandi moved into the conversation. "The Order would be most willing, Your Excellency, to aid you. We could go in first and give final confirmation of Pendletonian defenses, or assist in locating the innocent enslaved..."
"Your offers are welcome, Dame Syrandi, but not necessary. The authorities will handle everything." Tarkington gave her a reassuring nod. "So, you are Sindai? Which Kingdom?"
"Hargano," Syrandi answered.
"Ah, Hargano. I once went on a royal safari with Faron XXV, God rest his soul. He was a good King and a loyal member of the Empire. We...."
Slipping in had been hard on Kara. The nullifier field had effectively locked her powers down and was far too strong for her to overwhelm. Getting into the brig would be impossible this way, then, with Paddington dead and her own ID being insufficient to gain entry past the security measures.
Instead she was off to a wing of the Administrative Building. It was easier to get into with her fake ID and uniform, and security was focused on the reception as it was. She slipped easily through until she got to offices tied into the central computer.
Unlike many Ebon Bladers, Kara had an unseen partner, someone who owed her everything. She brought that partner into play now by pulling out a data drive and pressing it into one of the open ports, as if it were an old USB flashdrive in the early 21st Century. She watched as the terminal she was at blinked and created the representation of a fairly non-descript female face with short blond hair and brown eyes. "Hello Kara. Hmm.... rather roomy in here."
"No time for small talk, Nik," she said irritably. "You've got..."
"....twenty seconds before the security AIs detect me in the terminal," was the AI's answer. A second later she added, "Not to worry about that now. I'll have them chasing some program ghosts for the next hour. So, what shall we do?"
"Prepare the brig systems for my entry," Kara answered, "and plant a bug that'll take down that Altacaran null field by the time I get there."
"Doing so now."
"Okay, back in your drive," Kara said. "I'll unload you again when we get there."
"Oh, must you? It's rather... aw never mind, looks like one of those AIs is getting curious. One moment, covering my tracks." The terminal switched off. A few moments later the monitor blipped off and back on, the signal from Nikki that she was ready to be removed.
Kara smirked and removed her AI accomplice's drive, returning it to her pocket. She then took off, double-time, toward the brig.
The reception had gone on for a bit and Sara and Rana had slipped away from Fisher and Tarkington, finally. They found a secluded corner in which they could speak privately, some of the wine serving to put them at ease. "Rana, you are doing fairly well for your official social debut," Sara pointed out.
"How did you put up with these things?", Rana asked irritably.
"I didn't, I just survived them," Sara answesred, "but of course for most of them I was just Katherine's personal servant, not a lady in my own right."
"But there are no personal servants here..."
"Pendletonian high society is different. You bring a personal servant to show your full social rank. You must have one to be considered a proper Lady in society, you see." Sara took Rana's hand in her's. "But I much prefer how it is here. No servants, you come only with those who mean something to you."
"But, we just met," Rana answered. "How can we mean something to each other? I mean, I like you, I'm becoming your friend, but...."
'I don't know," Sara admitted, somewhat wistfully. "Maybe some of us find someone who just... fits with us. Who fills in the little gaps in our hearts, and we do the same for them. Like a key entering a lock, everything lining up together."
"Two people meant for one another... a pity it doesn't always happen that way in real life." She remembered the story she'd been told as she awaited her Sentinal trials, of her master's relationship as a young woman that ended up not lasting no matter how strongly she had felt on it.
"Still, it is no reason not to try..." Sara took Rana's arm. "And though we just met, you already mean..."
She stopped. Rana didn't ask why as she felt it too.
About twenty feet away, Syrandi and Fisher each had a look of surprise on their faces. Tarkington asked, "Is something the matter?", at seeing them so bewildered.
"Your Excellency, please excuse me," Fisher stated. "But we have a problem that must be attended to immediately."
"What is the matter?"
"Your ESP Null Field," Syrandi answered for him as Fisher immediately brought out a base commphone. "Someone has shut it down."
Kara's sabotage of the field returned her full range of abilities to her. Just in time, too, as she was coming up to the two-door entry to the brig. Two guards with automatic weapons were present, though they thankfully lacked power armor. Seeing her approach they raised their weapons and issued a challenge.
Kara raised her own hand and tugged with her mind. One guard lost his grip on his gun completely, the other got pulled to the floor by it by the force of her mind. Her own sidearm came up and with a pair of quick shots both men were dead.
At their terminal, Kara released Nikki again. The AI entered the isolated brig control systems and began opening them up, including shutting down the ESP suppression field dedicated to the brig. The doors ahead of Kara slid open. When the terminal monitor blipped on and off, she removed Nikki's storage drive and moved on.
There were assorted persons in the brig. Anglian personnel, mostly military, accused of one petty crime or another. She ignored them; her target was ahead, in the higher security areas under watch. Her mind sensed the coming of other guards and permitted her to lie in wait. She caught the first pair at the north wing, shooting them as they rounded the corner. The second group was as she got to the block she sought; these she took in hand to hand, snapping one neck and using her beamsaber, of pure black color, to cleave through the other's shoulder and neck.
When she got to the cell she wanted, she saw her target inside. A beautiful young woman, with flowing golden-blond hair, wearing a prisoner's jumpsuit she obviously disliked. "Katherine de la Poer?", Kara inquired openly.
The woman looked at her intently. Kara could feel her mind being probed at, the kind an ESPer attempted by habit. She quite easily deflected this habitory act. "I've come to get you out," she said simply.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia
American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.
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