Royal Palace of Fynn, Altair
Planet and Kingdom of Fynn, Sector X-13
21 February 3400
When Zara was conscious again she sat up. Daylight poured through the window; it was one of the guest rooms in the Palace. Wireless bioscan machines were showing her heart and brain function, beeping steadily and lowly to show everything was fine. Her robes were gone; Zara was wearing a gown instead, the front opened up to show the wound still on her that was now bandaged and healing.
She turned her head. Hilda smiled at her, holding Zara's right hand in her own hands, dried tears still around her eyes. "Hilda...?"
"Save your energy, Zara. It was a close thing yesterday," Hilda murmured. There was something different, Zara could see. Hilda's ponytail was gone; her hair was loose and cascaded around her shoulders in curls. She wasn't in her Order robes either; instead she had on a rich-looking blouse and dress, very formal looking...
"What happened?," Zara asked. She could remember the shot, throwing herself in front of Hilda as it came... but everything afterward was a blur.
It was a blur, at least, until her mind and Hilda's began to meld together. Hilda's thoughts filled her in on what happened, the assassination attempts... and their partial success. "I'm sorry for your loss, Hilda," Zara murmured. "Your father was a great person."
Thank you. Hilda put a hand on Zara's face. There's more though...
Yes. I... have to tell you about Druni...
Chapter Mattan, Outside Altair
Planet and Kingdom of Fynn, Sector X-13
There were only three cells in the entire Chapter, placed in the building's spacious basement levels. They amounted to a cot, a sink, and a closet with a commode in it, as well as a sitting mat and some books in English written by various old Masters of the Order. As of now, these three cells had one occupant.
Druni simply looked at the cell door. More than looked, she downright glared at it. The books were nothing interesting for her; all she had to do, really, was glare at things, even if there was nothing to glare back.
The cells were for girls who had misbehaved and had been told to go through a Rite of Contemplation. Everything in the Order was a 'Rite', Druni mused irritably. The traditions and ceremonies of the Order did much to shape and determine the lives of the women in it, her included.
In this case, however, she was not actually performing a Rite. Confinement was also maintained for Sisters who were to be given Judgement on more weighty matters. In her face, it would be for using fire and electricity with her Gift.
True, pyrokinesis and electrokinesis were very dangerous forms of ESP, but the Dorei had an especial dislike for them. Or rather, the nations of the Lushan and the Tryni and the others of the two main continents. They associated worship and veneration of fire as corruptive, something that heathen polytheist Sindai did. Sure, fire was a useful tool, but it was not deserving of veneration and was to be feared. This had spread to perceptions of the forms of ESP when the Gifted first started appearing in Dorei populations; throw in the fact that badly-controlled pyro and electro could cause damage and fatalties, and it was the perfect setup for the social pressure to not develop them as capabilities, at least outside of specialized groups.
There was movement at the door. It opened and Druni looked up to see Knight-Captain Bianca. She looked down at her with a gentle expression. Humans were not quite so disapproving, at least usually, but the Silver Moon was still a Dorei institution in tradition and ceremony. "Sister Zara is awake," Bianca informed her. "She wants to see you in the morning, when the doctors will permit it."
"To vent anger at me, I imagine," Druni answered. "I did what I had to. You know that, don't you? If I hadn't, we'd all be dead."
"I agree, to an extent," Bianca said. "But you would have never been in that position if you had not recklessly attacked them. You had other options; you gave in to blind anger and acted foolishly."
"Someone had to stop them!", Druni retorted. "They were getting away! I had no time!"
"You had no time to call for the city police? To follow them without attacking and lead the authorities back to them?" Bianca sighed and shook her head. "Remember that we operate, as we do, on the sufferance of governments. You cannot simply attack someone on your own without specific circumstances, instead you must cooperate with local authorities. You did not. We are all very fortunate that you did not cause any deaths." Bianca turned away. "I sense you're not really thinking about all this, though. You realize that you could be..."
"...removed from the Order? Yes, I do."
Bianca sensed her thoughts and sighed. "And I see there's a part of you who doesn't mind leaving, though you still loathe the thought of Ejection."
"I don't know. We'll see what happens," Druni answered quietly. "Will I get to leave this cell?"
"Not until your Judgement," Bianca answered. "That is the standing term of the Code."
"I see." Druni swallowed. "I'll see you in the morning then."
"Yes." Bianca left the cell and closed it behind her.
There was a part of Druni who thought of exploiting this tomorrow. Once in the Palace, she could renounce the Order and refuse to accept confinement. The laws of nations still applied, after all; a Sister allowed the Order to confine her, or punish her, a a condition of being part of it.
So you would be gone from the Order. What then?! This is why Zara is so angry with you now, you never think!, the calmer side of Druni's mind insisted. Just stay here for the night and meditate. You can talk with Zara about things tomorrow.
And so she did.
Caroline Palace, Cornelia
Kingdom of Cornelia, Arabica, Sector X-13
The Caroline Palace was named for the progenitor of the House of Cornell, Queen Caroline I. It was an ostentatious palace located adjacent to the defunct Assembly Building, where the suspended National Assembly and Chamber of Notables had once met. The city of Cornelia, the oldest human habitation on the planet Arabica, surrounded them. As the planet had required minimal terraforming upon settlement, it had been settled during the Diaspora in the 23rd Century, what little terraforming needed to sustain a Human-friendly biosphere and environment being completed during the following century. Other settlements had come since, of course, but the Kingdom of Cornelia had ruled the Cornell Continent since before the Feminist movement of the Valkyrates had even landed, and when the initial el-Janari settlement of Bhagra was capital of what was, at the time, a minor Sultanate. Through the Third Millennium the Cornelians had dominated the planet, ruling not just Cornell Continent but parts of the Janari Continent as well.
But years of decline had set in. Various parties had influenced events on Arabica, paving the way for the el-Janari to drive Cornelia off their continent. Settlements in the island-continents of New Denmark and Scythia had been lost to the Valkyrate. Even then, the Cornelians had enjoyed the upper hand, manipulating the traditionalist Velerian Muslims of el-Janari against the fairly misanthropic, feminist-ideologue Valkyr.
It had not lasted. The unpopularity of King Stephen I, the self-proclaimed "Stephen the Great", and his aggressive, dominating Government had inspired a Republican Revolution in the nation. A Civil War had erupted in the 3380s and the other states on the planet had gleefully aided the Republicans in laying low the proud House of Cornell. In the end, after a furious battle at Plattsburgh had broken the Royalist cause, the leaders of the Government had felt no choice but to accept the division of territory.
In one fell swoop, three quarters of Cornell was now under the Republic of Cornelia, as well as almost all of their off-world holdings (sans ten mining asteroids and planetoids). The Kingdom, it was feared, would never recover, and the King slid into madness. The economy began to crumble, even the most loyal Royalists came under Republican temptations...
Finally, the King, in a pique of maddened rage, had his entire Cabinet shot for incompetence and treachery. Officially he took direct control of the government; unofficially he delegated it to his daughter and heiress, Sara, to "teach her how to rule". In his mind, the best way to rule was to stamp out the slightest inkling of rebellion with overwhelming force, to wantonly execute men and women for the slightest perceived offense against the Royal Family, and to prepare for revenge and the restoration of the Kingdom to its former height (preferably with every single official fo the Republic shot in the process).
Fortunately, the "student" proved a wiser ruler than her "teacher".
That's not to say Princess Sara was a kind, loving woman who would be a gentle and benevolent Queen. She had the blood of a tyrant and she showed it. The difference was that where the King believed in applying brute force to problems, she believed in surgical precision. An execution here, an office-shuffle there, a whispered hint over here... The interesting thing was that it worked. As the de facto head of the Government, Princess Sara had actually begun an economic recovery for her struggling realm. In the process, she had settled herself into the reigns of power, such that her father was little more than a figurehead who blathered orders to servants and commanded the executions of people who would, quietly, be re-assigned to offices distant from the Palace (at least until Sara could convince her father to give a royal pardon).
Some might ask the Princess (well, if they were feeling suicidal) why she didn't just have her father declared mad, unfit to rule, and have herself made a full Regent (or better yet, Queen). The truth was that Sara found her father's continued seat on the throne Useful. He was the Sword of Damocles she could hang over intransigent heads in the countryside gentry or urban elite. If she left power, her father would re-assume it. And heads would roll... literally.
For what it was worth, Sara took a long-term view of the issue of the Republic of Cornelia. Namely, she wasn't convinced it would survive. The Republic was having severe teething issues as a young state. Regional differences that could once be balanced by the Crown now stayed out in the open, with the central government having difficulty balancing interests that could contradict one another easily. There were even rumblings in border provinces and coastal ones where economic links with the Kingdom were still strong that could see them vote to willingly rejoin the Kingdom (though for the moment it was clear they would demand the Assembly being called to session, and Sara wasn't looking to do that for some time). As such, why waste money on an unsustainable military buildup to try another war when she could wait them out and get the economy going?
So when her father asked, she gave lip service to military reconstruction, even as she arranged to keep it stood down to save money for more useful purposes, like rebuilding cities damaged in the war, giving subsidies to needed industries and agricultural producers to keep them viable, financing intelligence and counter-intelligence operations (As well as an internal security apparatus that, while nowhere near to the scale or scope of the IBGV, was still intrusive when it wanted to be), funding education...
And assassinations. Those too.
One thing that did hit Sara's button, so to speak, was failures due to incompetent mistakes. Honest mistakes, mistakes born of lack of critical information for the decision maker, were excusable. Incompetent mistakes because the decision-maker was too lazy to think about things or to follow through stoked her rage. And that, precisely, was the emotion she felt now.
Earl Hertham, the Secretary of Security, blanched openly as he was brought before the Princess. Hertham kept his dark brown hair short and immacutely combed, going well with a face that was decent enough in appearance and not easily caricatured. He was physically fit though now in what was now called the "Silver Century" - age 175-275, when the body entered and progressed through middle-age - and smartly dressed in gentleman's jacket and trousers. He was a fairly successful man in his own right, a loyal lieutenant of the King and owner of a successful group of farms and ranches in the vicinity of the town of Hertham (hence his title). Now he was standing before a girl less than a sixth his age and felt his knees shake.
Sara was beautiful, there was no denying that. Long, cascading red hair descended to her bare shoulders - Sara found a shoulderless gown to be comfortable in the summer months of Cornelia - and framed her face, which had a decent width to it (wide cheekbones were hereditary to the Cornells).. Her brown eyes looked plain, but she had a way of using them to drill into your very soul (and to spark terror in it if she was in a dark mood). A physical fitness regimen she stuck to kept her body toned, though she was more on the solid side than trim.
Of course, Sara was also dangerous. Growing up with a mad father, one who had already exiled or even ordered the assassination of other family members, had inculcated that in her. But instead of becoming mad it had honed her ability to make judgements and manipulate to a razor's edge. It had made her the power behind the throne. And it meant that when she was angry, you didn't want to be the target of that anger.
"What. Happened?" The words from the Princess were those of cold fury.
Hertham took a moment to find his voice. "We are endeavoring to find out, Your Highness. The orders I transmitted were very clear. Hilda was to be the primary target, not her father."
"But the damned assassins didn't see it that way, did they? Wasting a damned bullet on the King before verifying Hilda was hit?!" Sara stood and leaned over her desk at him. "I want an investigation, Hertham. Along your entire chain to the contact with the assassins."
"I will have Royal Security provide you with assistance in this," Sara continued. "In case there is any institutional... issues."
Hertham gulped. Though Secretary of Security, his portfolio in Cornelia was the foreign intelligence and security service as well as the gendarme. Royal Security, the Kingdom's internal security force, was under the direct control of the Head of the Government - Sara - through a Director of Royal Security, a fairly vicious man of the commoner urban elite named Jacob Green. They had their own Gendarme force, the Royal Cornelian Watch, and were responsible for dealing with internal dissension and disloyalty. Their power, in truth, superceded all others.
Without letting Hertham answer in the affirmative, Sara continued. "I'm sure your office will be cleared of any wrong-doing, Earl. Now please depart, I have other business to attend."
Hertham couldn't leave fast enough. As he passed the exit door, he saw a striking sight. A beautiful woman, with long brown hair and a pleasant face with exquisite, lovely curves, walked by him. She was wearing a tight leather suit that left little to the imagination of her figure, while on her waist was a single prod of some sort. For some reason, the woman gave Hertham a great deal of fright.
Once in Sara's office, the woman stated, "You asked for our services, Princess Sara?"
Sara appraised the woman closely. "Lady... Beatrice?"
"Lady Tabitha, Your Highness," the woman stated pleasantly. "Lady Beatrice has been sent on another assignment."
"I see." Sara felt the woman probing gently at her mind. She smirked. "Normally I would not call upon you for these kinds of things, you understand. I don't like having outsiders poking around my nation if it can be helped."
"If it gives you any comfort, my grandfather was Cornelian," Tabitha cooed. "Or, at least.... I was told he was," she added thoughtfully.
Sara ignored the forced wit. "I have a situation," she said. "My orders were altered in transit. It's not a communication error, it's too clean to be one."
"I'm guessing you were behind the assassination of King Charles of Fynn?", Tabitha asked pointedly. "You know you're going to have to tell me for me to do my job."
"Yes." Sara's response showed she didn't actually like this. "And you understand the pay being offered your organization is meant to buy the strictest silence?"
"Naturally. We take care of our clients," Tabitha cooed.
"Very well. Yes. I ordered an assassination of Crown Princess Hilda," Sara stated. "To prevent her marriage to the Grand Duchess of Tyconia."
Tabitha nodded. It did demonstrate Sara's analytical mind very well. Some who sought power were very short-sighted in it. "What benefits me now?" Sara had the vision to look to the future; a future with Tyconia and Fynn unified under a common dynasty was not one that fit with her interests. Tabitha, to continue the conversation as she desired, noted, "Your assassins shot the King instead."
"Oh, he was a secondary target. King Charles backed the Republican rebels, after all, and Fynn still sells surplus military equipment to them and advocates for them in Westminster," Sara continued bitterly. "But the Princess was to die. Instead she is Queen. The marriage is scheduled for later this year and both nations' security services are on guard. My opportunity is passed. Someone interfered with my plans, intentionally. I want to know who. I can't trust Hertham's investigations; his organization may very well be compromised. Royal Security can only do so much and I can't risk their being compromisd as well. I need an independent agent looking into this."
"Of course you do," Tabitha said. "And I shall be discreet. I imagine you will have relevant records made available to me?"
"Yes. I will." Sara reached into her desk and produced a data disc. "My original orders and the various links in the chain that were to get them to the contractors. I would like a... swift resolution to this, if it is possible. But above all else, I do not want any indications of my involvement to leak."
"Of course, Your Highness. We are known for our discretion in these things. By your leave?"
"You know how to reach me if you make progress. And yes, you may go."
Sara watched Lady Tabitha stroll out. She could feel the malevolent energies crackling off the woman. Working with her wasn't entirely what Sara liked, but if her security services were compromised she needed to know.
And when it came to getting information, there were few organizations as capable of getting it as the Ebon Blade.
McMeistervaterburg, The New Gayman Islands
United Enclaves of Gilead, Hobbs, Sector X-13
The city of McMeistervaterburg was the capital of the New Gayman Enclave in the Gilean nation, settled by gay men immigrants from Shroomania in the 28th Century when Hobbs' terraforming was completed sufficiently to permit an outdoors society - the city was named for the financier of the settlement, a former Shroomanian PM from a family with a long history of dedicated service to Shroomania. Soon the twenty northern-most islands of the New Gaymans chain were set aside for an Enclave of gay men while the twenty southern-most islands, as well as a coral reef, were set up as the Sapphos enclave (their dominant demographic being fairly obvious). The islands' economy, both enclaves, centered around tourism; single homosexuals from around the known galaxy coming, if they had the money at least, to enjoy life in a tropical paradise, surrounded by warm beaches and members of their fellow gender and preference (usually scantily-clad) in a society where laws were, suffice to say, quite open.
In the town square, not far from the airport - McMeistervaterburg lacked the space for its own spaceport, so it was connected to the main continent of Gilead by air and sea - the Lord Melchett Resort Hotel catered to the middle-class clientele visiting the city. Men of all ages and body sizes walked about, some alone and some holding hands with another, going about their business to enjoy a holiday, honeymoon, or whichever it was they were doing.
Nobody really paid much attention to the thin, wiry young man who went up to a room. He carried himself like a foreigner, but that didn't mean much; plenty of young gay men settled for a time in the Gaymans, if they had the cash (or were willing to work occupations to make the cash). That he was fairly well dressed, a bit overdressed in fact, stood out only a tiny bit. Some people were better adapted to warmth, after all, and he might be a new arrival who hadn't yet changed clothes.
The fellow entered a room. He set up his computer to the free hypercom connection available in the room. After which, he took his head... and pulled it open.
Well, it was more like moving the side away like a flap. Locks of hair, the ear, and flesh around it slid open like a door, revealing nanocircuitry bundles and a data port. The figure attached a direct line from his computer to the port. He stopped breathing since he never needed to in the first place and began to circulate through the Datanet.
The CompInt Blue 4 moved quickly to the isolated server space in the Datanet, within the jurisdiction of the United Equatoreal Federation (made up of the equatoreal islands of the planet). He enjoyed being free of the confines of the android body, though he would never let his peers see that. All must sacrifice for the Future, after all.
Blue 4 found Blue 2 waiting for him. Blue 2 was the lieutenant of his cell in the organization. He was a serious CompInt... well, 'calling Blue 2 a 'he' was a stretch, Blue 2 actively enjoyed switching genders when uploaded into android bodies. He felt it was limiting to CompInts to limit themselves by organic gender when they were, often enough, neither. Everything happened according to plan, Blue 2 noted. The marriage will go on regardless of the interference and, if it is discovered, the Cornelian Royalists will get the blame. The Organization's role remains quiet and the Future Plan remains intact.
Yes, Blue 4 agreed. Things went much better this time. No collateral damage.
Do not speak of that. We can't let word of our involvement in the Incident spread, Blue 2 reminded him directly. The Organization is keeping a lid on it lest the other Chroma find out. It would ruin morale.
We should have been more careful, Blue 4 lamented. Anyway, now that the deed is done, what does the Organization desire of me?
Nothing yet. Continue your cover by enjoying your vacation in that... place. We will expect you to return to New Hope for a direct conference at the end of next month.
Understood. Blue 4 carefully disconnected, making sure to leave the customary fake browser trails as he did so. When he was done, he disconnected his android brain from the computer and closed his skull. He looked Human again. It was time to ensure his cover was kept, so he began looking over the list of available escorts before deciding to cruise for a date the old-fashioned way. It was not his first time indulging in these organic things; he found them quite interesting, and even enjoyed interacting with the organics. Well, outside of the bedroom anyway; he thought of fluid exchange as a disgusting organic thing.
”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.
Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik