New York City, Earth
United States of America
Universe Designate SE-1
18 June 2126 AST
The ferry pulled up to Liberty Island as it had for centuries, disembarking it's load of tourists and workers. Among the tourists were a happy couple, their arms around each other, and the mother's hand holding their little girl's hand as they led her along.
Eyes turned immediately to the little girl, as many people waved or smiled at her at the sight of such an adorable, happy child. She was in a light blue blouse with a flower design upon it and with a matching red and white striped skirt. Her skin was a pleasant tanned hue, a few shades lighter than her father's full mestizo bronze, with black hair that went down to her lower shoulders in a pony-tail. Her green eyes focused in on the Statue of Liberty, already clearly visible.
"Come on, Dani," Raphael Verdes said to his six year old daughter Danielle Bethania, lifting her into his arms and carrying her as he and his wife Agnes walked toward the majestic symbol. Dani settled her head against her father's shoulder, her eyes drooping as she was still very tired from the flight from Minnesota and the restless night beforehand.
She had dozed off and only awoke when they arrived at the top levels of the Statue, where they could look out and view New York City and the Jersey coastline. Dani dashed from one point to another as she could see the great landmarks. Her father pointed out Ellis Island to her, reminding her that ancestors once passed through the facility. Her eyes sparkled with delight as the New World Trade Center was pointed out to her next, and as she saw the tall and majestic spires, she asked, "How do they built big things like that, Daddy?"
"Oh, it takes years of hard work and planning, little Dani."
"I want to build things like that," she said, face beaming with happiness at the thought. "I want to build big things that reach into the sky!"
"Maybe you will, bright little angel, maybe you will. You can do anything."
Raphael watched Dani run to look out another window, this one toward Long Island, while he saw the look on Agnes' face. He knew her own ideas for what their girl should be when she grew up, and he knew it involved children, cooking, and cleaning. It was one of those quirky elements of their relationship, as even though he loved Agnes very much, he couldn't understand her devotion to the more conservative elements of society, and her idea that a good Catholic woman was essentially a homemaker who lived to raise children and keep her husband happy.
Raphael knew that Dani might very well grow up to be the same, but he only wanted that if it made her happy. If she would be happier doing something else, he wanted that for her instead. Because, for him, the most important thing was that his precious little girl was happy.
Sneaking up behind her as she gazed out at Manhattan again, Raphael grabbed Dani from the sides and began running his fingers over her hips, ribs, and belly, tickling her strongly. High-pitched squeals of laughter came from Dani as she laughed, squirming in her father's grip and crying out, "Daddy!"
"Attack of the Tickle Monster!" Raphael shouted with a wide grin on his face as he tickled his little girl remorselessly.
"Mommy, Daddy's tickling me again!" Dani cried out while Agnes, amused and smiling at the sight, pulled out the camera and snapped a picture of her smiling, giggling daughter trying unsuccessfully to worm her way out of her father's tickling hands.
Kingdom of the Devenshires
Universe Designate CON-5
2 April 2164 AST
A peal of laughter and giggling came from one of the many bedrooms in the Ducal Palace of Sara Proctor, Giles Township farmer's daughter-turned-Grand Duchess of Illustrious, one of the highest ranking nobles in all the Kingdom of the Devenshires.
Inside the room, Dani Verdes was sitting at the edge of her bed in a modest polyester sleeping gown, having gone from age forty-four to age six in the space of a few moments. She giggled almost maniacally, her body moving jerkishly as if she were being tickled.
Sitting in front of her was a woman about her age, her hands upon Dani's temples and a large grin on her face, laden with Oriental features. The woman's name was Alisa Beldon; she was a telepath of the Humans of Universe EM-5, dressed curiously in Minbari-styled robes.
Now her mind worked as a conduit for Dani's fragmented mind and memories, reaching in and pulling memories out and putting them back so that Dani's memory became yet more complete. Naturally this meanty she experienced the memories too, and the joy and happiness that Dani Verdes had known as a six year old on her first trip outside of her family home near Minneapolis. Alisa even felt some tingling at her hips and sides, echoes of the sense memory of the tickling Dani had received from her father in this specific memory. She shifted a bit in her seat, grinning but restraining the impulse to join Dani in happy laughter.
The day's work was now almost over. Much of Dani Verdes' remaining childhood memories, the ones that she had kept for years, were restored, and she had also remembered much as a matter of nature. Her brain was now as repaired as it would get, though the once beautiful head of black hair had been shaved bald for the purpose of the intensive brain surgeries she had undergone in the past year, dead tissue and cells removed and replaced by pieces of positronic technology and other cybernetic parts. Almost half of Dani's brain was now mechanical, not biological.
"Oh, I remember that day so much now. Mom just stood there and took pictures while Dad tickled me," Dani said, a grin on her face as she stopped laughing and squirming, their telepathic connection ended by Alisa.
"You're making wonderful progress, Danielle," Alisa said to her. "We may have your memory restored completely within six months at this rate."
"Are we done for today?"
"Almost. I want to do one more brief look." Alisa put her hands back to Dani's temples, mustering her strength for one last memory for the day. The process was taking it's own toll on Alisa, and her head hurt, but she was long accustomed to such pain and took it with stride.
She moved into Dani's mind, the cluttered and fractured pieces that had come apart when Dani's brain had been crippled by oxygen loss as she drowned in the Kalunda River that horrible day, and began to sift through them. Alisa had already been warned about some of the things to be found there, briefly brushing by a particularly erotic memory to a more mundane one involving her working in a powered down reactor core, and soon reached into a deeper recess, hoping perhaps to find another "central" memory that would allow for the natural rebuilding of other memories around it.
But what she found was horrifying. Alisa's body burned with pain from the image that came through her head, the helplessness of wrists and ankles held strongly by metal grips, a grim man looking at her, and a sensation of her back being ripped and cut that was so severe that Alisa cried out in agony, her nerves believing they were truly being lashed by a razor-tipped whip.
Alisa's cry was drowned out by the wail that came from Dani. She pulled away from Alisa and toward the bed, and when the contact of Alisa's hands to Dani's head was stopped, the pain in Alisa's body ended, the physical contact no longer augmenting the telepathic bond.
But Alisa could still see Dani's mind, and realized just what she had unlocked. She had, indeed, found a central memory, and around it Dani's mind began to recall the other things done to her in that dungeon, making her writhe around on the bed and scream and cry. As the images of cattle shock prods and hot irons moved through Dani's chaotic thoughts Alisa reached out with her mind and commanded "SLEEP". Dani's mind responded to the command and she fell fast asleep on the bed, still sprawled out from where she had been convulsing and tears still in her eyes.
Alisa had been briefed on the fact that while in the Norman city of Ar Dani had been captured and tortured for hours, but she had been unprepared for the particular severity of the memory. Dani had never had a chance to go through the natural mental trauma and recovery process usually accompanying such things, Alisa now remembered. She had remained in a high stress situation up until the day she drowned in the Kalunda River and was barely revived, causing the memory fragmenting that Alisa had been hired to repair and which made the mental anguish so fresh.
But there was something else. The image of a alien face had flashed through those memories, something that seemed to give them more weight. Alisa could only remember the eyes, the bulging fish-like eyes, and locks of pink hair, but the other details eluded her. She would have to call Sara Proctor later - given the time difference from Worcesterville to the Royal City on Devenshire, she was likely in a Council of Lords session at the moment - and find out who it might be, because it was clear to Alisa that this person was connected, perhaps in a non-negative way, with what happened, and those memories might be the key to hasten Dani's recovery.
Royal City, Devenshire
Kingdom of the Devenshires
The Devenshiran Council of Lords was the final step for legislature in the restored Devenshire. A body built to keep unwise legislation from coming into effect immediately, in light of the woeful education of much of the Kingdom's former slave population, it consisted of the twelve Grand Dukes and Duchesses of Devenshire, each ruling a province, and the Duke of Devenshire that represented the old core of the Republic of Devenshire before Terra's Fall, which was officially ruled by the Queen herself.
The chair rotated by session and was currently held by Grand Duke Robert Farmer of Earth Province, named for the obvious reason of containing the shattered copy of Earth in universe CON-5. Every seat was held save for the obvious absence; there was no ruler of Pranton, which rather was overseen by a Governor-General until such a time as a new family that was politically feasible in turbulent Pranton could be found.
Instead, Pranton was represented by the Senator of Pranton, Abdur Rahman, one of the older leaders on Pranton who had lived most of his life in exile after being smuggled out of Devenshire as a teenager. He held the floor of their small council chamber currently, while reporters and concerned members of the Assembly and the Senate looked on them from the galleries above.
"This offense against the innocent victims of umm-Karshash cannot go unanswered!" Rahman proclaimed. "It was bad enough that because of the actions of this devilish woman that the Impaler of al-Cowhar escaped justice, but that she added this crime with the murders of thousands of innocent Muslims is a disgrace and one that stabs at the heart of this Kingdom and the new spirit of religious harmony espoused by Her Majesty, may Allah bless her reign. Priscilla Laurentii must be brought to justice! She must pay for her crimes!"
"But instead of helping our people seek justice, the Imperial Taloran government has added the gravest of insults to the injury it has dealt her victims. Not only does it refuse to extradite her for trial, but now it has been confirmed that they have allowed her to style herself as Grand Duchess of Pranton! They have proclaimed her the rightful ruler of the people who's blood she shed, who suffered for centuries under the cruelty of the Laurentii bloodline!"
A roar came from the Prantonese gathered in the gallery, even filling the one with non-Prantonese where the Taloran consul shifted uncomfortably, and Grand Duke Farmer was forced to bang his gavel until the roaring ceased. "We shall have quiet or I will clear the gallery!" he shouted.
Continuing, Rahman said, "I would move that the Council of Lords endorse the decision, agreed upon by the Senate and Assembly alike, to resolve that the Kingdom of the Devenshires sever diplomatic relations with the Taloran Empire." He promptly sat down.
"Are there any seconds?" asked Farmer.
And, indeed, one woman stood. Grand Duchess Evelyn Chang, ruler of Ganzhou Province, was a former slave as well and, like Priscilla, of aristocratic origin in the old order, as her grandfather had been the second son of one of Ganzhou's Trevelayn Grand Dukes. She had suffered much, forced into concubinage at age 15 for a local count and eventually escaping into the Crossroads Confederation with the aid of the Underground Railroad, with whom she worked for decades. The older woman was well over a hundred now, with half her face present only due to reconstruction after an assassination bombing by Devenshiran secret services had killed her husband, two children, and burned half her body.
"It is clear to me that the Honorable Senator of Pranton is correct," Chang said, her voice slow and barely accented with Chinese tone. "The Kingdom of the Devenshires has been insulted by the Taloran Empire's thoughtless endorsement of a war criminal as a claimant to any title here, not to mention a Grand Ducal one. I would have my own head severed from my shoulders rather than accept Priscilla Laurentii into this Council." Applause broke out. "I second the Senator's proposal to the Council of Lords."
As the applause continued, Sara Proctor rose from her seat even as Chang settled into her's. "Your Highness in the Council Chair," she said, speaking to Farmer, "I would claim the right to speak before the formal vote called upon by the Honorable Senator and Her Highness of Ganzhou."
Rahman scowled, though Chang showed no emotion, and it was clear that both thought Proctor would deflate their momentum. "I object," Rahman called out, standing once more. "Her Highness should have spoken before the vote was called!"
"It is the rule of the Council of Lords that when a vote has been called one statement might be made by a person who did not call or second the call of a vote, and as I am the first to ask I seek that," Sara replied in defense.
"Her Highness of Illustrious is correct and is hereby recognized."
Rahman sat in disgust and the gallery quieted. Even those who were afraid that Sara might destroy the resolution's acceptance were fixed to their seats wondering what the great adventuress and heroine would say. "This is a great matter we discuss, one full of weight in the Kingdom's future." Sara spoke carefully, not daring to tell the whole truth she knew of the matter, but remembering what Priscilla Laurentii had told her so long ago. "We must not risk our future on so swift a vote."
"The vote has been swift because the case is clear!" Rahman thundered.
Applause came from some corners of the gallery, but a few calls for quiet were heard with equal volume until Farmer's gavel thumped again in his hand, even as Grand Duke Greg Rockwell of Firgrove bellowed a call to order against Rahman from his seat. "The Honorable Senator of Pranton is out of order," Farmer proclaimed.
"We are told the vote was swift, but is that because the case is clear, or because we have allowed our anger, our pain, to override our reason? We are not dealing with a minor state here, Your Highness," Sara continued, speaking formally to Farmer as was protocol. "The Taloran Star Empire is of supreme power and capability, every bit the equal of the Allied Nations. I have seen their armies in operation first hand and it is clear to me that when referring to our dealings with these people we must act soberly, not impassioned. I would move that instead of voting yes on this proposal, we lay it upon the table and arrange for a fact-finding delegation to travel to Talora and ascertain the truth of what has happened, if there is here the work of deliberate insult or the kind of mistake that two peoples, only so recently acquainted, might make in error."
"We have already moved to vote on the issue!" Rahman almost wailed. "Her Highness is stalling to prevent the..."
More applause and cries of "Order!" filled the room until Farmer's gavel-banging brought quiet back. "The Honorable Senator of Pranton is again out of order," he declared, looking rather irritated. "It is the right under our rules, or those of the other bodies of Devenshire's Parliament, that a vote might be forestalled by a motion to lay it upon the table. Her Highness of Illustrious has moved to lay the vote on the severance resolution upon the table, do any second?"
Grand Duke Rockwell stood and said, "Her Highness of Illustrious is right by my view, and I second the motion."
And that was that; you couldn't lay on the table a motion to lay a resolution on the table, not by Devenshire's parliamentary practice, and so the vote of the thirteen members of the Council of Lords would be held. It was closer than Sara would have liked - she and Farmer led eight votes to lay on the table while Rahman and Chang led five votes to not do so. Sara's motion was carried and, thus, the Council of Lords would not approve a resolution calling for the severance of diplomatic relations; the Senate and Assembly could overrule them, but only by a higher vote, one that would certainly not pass the Senate given it had voted for the resolution by only a 55% vote in favor of. Only in the next session of Parliament could the Senate and Assembly attempt to overrule the Council without a prohibitive requirement, and that would not convene for six more months.
Angry shouts and boos came down from the gallery when the voting was complete, and Rahman's face was livid. "I see that the Muslims of Devenshire have again been slighted," he grumbled.
As a tumult rose, a new accented voice challenged him, that of Grand Duke Mustafa Osmanli of New Anatolia (a distant descendant of the line that once ruled the Ottoman Empire, it was to be noted). "Not the Muslims of Devenshire, for I would be remiss in my duties to New Anatolia and its Muslims to endanger their future on such a reckless political act," Osmanli declared. "Allah's justice will always come, whether in this life or the next, and endangering our people to get vengeance...."
The cries of "Order!" finally reached a crescendo and Farmer quieted both. Sara sighed from where she sat, aware that the problems were only beginning, and she allowed Rockwell to make the motion to recommend the fact-finding delegation to Her Majesty's Government and send the resolution, if passed, to the Assembly and Senate; it did pass, by a vote of 11 to 2, with only Chang and Rahman dissenting in protest. The fight over Priscilla Laurentii had not yet ended, not by a longshot.
After a long bath and nap, Sara was awake to receive the call from home. Alisa Beldon answered, and the telepath informed her of what had happened that day. Sara sighed and listened intently. When Alisa was finished, Sara said, "You said this Taloran had pink hair?"
"She did, from what I can remember, though I wouldn't even know if it was a man or a woman if not for the impressions I picked up from Danielle's mind."
"Then it is probably Jhayka itl dhin Intuit," Sara explained. "Princess Jhayka, who rescued Danielle from those Normans."
"Well, that would explain why Danielle's mind went to her image as the memories returned. Thank you, Your Highness. I'll be sure to keep you further posted."
"One more thing, Miss Beldon," Sara remarked. She looked back to the printed message that had been waiting for her when she got out of the Council session. "I received a letter from Danielle's family. Her parents are coming to see her. They'll be arriving in a few days on a chartered spaceliner. I've already made the arrangements for them to use the private business airport at Stratland outside the city."
"I'll be ready for them, Highness. Please, get some rest, you look tired."
Sara nodded at that and cut the line, heading toward her bed and slipping into it beside Julio. He shifted, already asleep, and his arm went over her shoulder as Sara slowly drifted into sleep.
Kingdom of the Devenshires
Universe Designate CON-5
5 April 2164 AST
Dani was laying in a fetal position on her bed, crying softly, and Alisa couldn't blame her as she stood at the door, recovering from the mental feedback of touching that old, painful memory.
This time it wasn't torture at all, at least not the physical kind. It had been Dani's memory of her first night making love to another girl and of her mother walking in on them afterward, not to mention her reaction. The mental anguish Danielle had suffered as a result was so severe it had brought Alisa to wracking sobs.
Dani heard Alisa turn her attention to a servant, ignoring it and the pain in her head as her mind finished recollecting those thoughts. She felt confused and uncertain, recalling her mother's enraged insults and her own confused feelings that long-passed night. Was this what she truly felt, attraction to other women? Or was it something else? Had it been a teenage fling, a dare from the other girl? Curiosity at sex with another girl? What had it been?
"Danielle? Danielle, there's someone here to see you."
Alisa's voice made Dani turn away from the wall and look up. Her eyes widened a slight bit, and then a smile crossed her tear-stroked face as she leapt to her feet, squealing "Daddy!" happily.
Raphael Verdes, looking not much older than the day he had lovingly tickled his six year old daughter in the Statue of Liberty, embraced his daughter and found himself holding her up a bit. "Woh there, Dani, you okay?"
"It's... it's the surgery," Dani said, tapping her head. "I get dizzy if I stand up too fast. The doctors say it's lag between my software brain and my meatware body. Oh Dad...." She put her arms around him, causing her mother not more than a little jealousy, but then that had been the fate of their relationship since even before Agnes had caught Danielle in bed with another girl.
"Danielle, we want to introduce you to someone."
Agnes' voice made Dani turn away from her father and look toward her mother, plainly and modestly dressed as always. On her neck was her rosary, as always.
But a tiny tan-skinned hand now gripped it, pulling at it with interest, and Dani's eyes widened again as she looked into a pair of tiny brown eyes, the baby in her mother's arms cooing happily and then starting to squeal a little.
"Say hello to your baby brother, Dani," Raphael said, putting his hands on Dani's shoulders. "Dominic Williams."
Dani's eyes sparkled as she took her baby brother's hand. "Can I hold him?"
Agnes nodded and allowed for Dani to take Dominic into her hands. "Hello little Dominic. Oh, how I always wanted a baby brother or sister."
As Dani sat down, smiling at her little brother as he started to nod off into sleep in true infant form, Raphael and Agnes looked to Alisa. "Mrs. Proctor's last note said that Dani had amnesia, is she starting to remember things?"
"I wouldn't call it amnesia, Mister Verdes. Rather, the trauma to her brain and the process used to preserve and protect her surviving brain cells caused the fragmenting of her memory. Her mind needs to re-acces all of her memories, essentially, and my abilities help her with this."
"So how long until she recovers?" asked Raphael.
"That's up to Dani," Alisa replied. "It could be weeks, months, even years. It depends on which memories I find and which ones I'm able to bring her mind into. If we can find a number of key memories quickly, then she'll remember much faster." Being a telepath, Alisa could sense the thoughts that came from Raphael, and she quickly added, "Don't try to help her. At the moment, because of the shape her mind is in, Danielle is very fragile. You could end up kindling a contradiction between the thoughts in her memory and the thoughts you would give her, and that will only worsen the stress on her mind. Please, make sure I am present whenever you decide to speak to her."
As Alisa saw Raphael nod, she saw a look on Agnes' face as she looked toward Dani cuddling Dominic, and she didn't need a full scan to tell her what thought just went through Agnes' mind.
Nighttime had long fallen on the palace. The night security and maintainance people were present, as well as the small medical staff that remained present should any emergency concerning Danielle arise.
Shifting in her bed, Agnes slowly slipped out of Raphael's grip and left, certain from decades of marriage that he would not awaken from her absence. She looked at her sweet, innocent son sleeping in his crib, but did not touch him or move toward him lest he awaken and cry.
Agnes moved swiftly through the luxurious estate, most night security people assuming she was going to get a midnight snack. One even pointed her out to the restroom, and to keep up appearances Agnes smiled and turned directions, moving back toward the other bedroom only after the man had passed.
This clandestine manner only slightly slowed the otherwise-swift trip to the bedroom where Danielle was kept. Agnes looked at her daughter sleeping peacefully and, with great fright, moved toward her. The years had not been been kind to their relationship, but Agnes still loved Dani very, very much, and was determined to use this opportunity God had given her to save her daughter's soul.
A gentle press against the shoulder woke Dani up, as Agnes usually was able to do. Dani turned and looked at her with sleepy emerald eyes, mumbling, "Mom?"
"I wanted to come talk to you, Dani. I... I couldn't sleep, and I just managed to get Dominic to bed," Agnes lied, and making sure to note to confess that the next day. "We haven't been able to talk in so long, and I know it was my fault. I... I pushed you away in anger, not allowing myself to understand you."
Dani nodded. "I know you disapproved of me and Jenny. I know I made you angry, I'm... I'm sorry Mom. I... I couldn't resist.... I just felt attracted to..."
"Shhh...." Agnes put a finger on her daughter's mouth, not wanting her to raise her voice too much. "I know how hard it's been on you, Dani. You've struggled so much against these sinful impulses. And I remember the letters you used to write me before I pushed you away, begging forgiveness, asking for me to help you heal yourself. I... I was too prideful, too angry at you, to realize how much you struggled against these urges of your's."
"Urges?" Dani looked at Agnes blankly.
"The urges to... to take other women with you to bed," Agnes said delicately. Please forgive me, Dani, for these lies. But I'm going to save your soul she thought fervently, a tear in her eye as she took Dani's hand. "You tried to fight it so hard, I know, and my turning against you didn't make it any easier."
Looking confused, Dani looked at her mother intently and asked, "You... you mean I didn't want to be... a lesbian?"
"Oh, Heavens no, dear. You used to cry because you weren't able to look at pretty girls without feeling lustful. It hurt you so deeply..." Agnes noticed Dani's eyes close. Dani slumped back into the bed and Agnes leaned over her, terrified of what might have happened. "Dani?! Dani, wake up?! Tell me what's wrong!"
"She's fine," said Alisa Beldon.
Agnes turned to see the telepath standing in the doorway, looking rather severe. "What have you done?" Alisa said. "What have you done to your daughter?!"
"Wha.... what do you mean?" Agnes stammered.
"What. The. HELL. Were you trying to do?!" Alisa stormed up to her. "I told you not to confuse her! I told you it would hurt her! And you ignored me!"
"I'm... I'm trying to save my daughter's soul!" Agnes stood up and faced Alisa directly. "I'm trying to lead her away from sin!"
"So that's what this is? Forcing your daughter to conform to your religious beliefs?!" Alisa walked over to where Dani was laying asleep on her bed. "Do you realize the agony you would cause her?! The pain when her memories would return and her thoughts clash with the false memories you were trying to give her?!"
"Better that pain than what awaits her if she isn't led to the right path!" Agnes cried. "I have waited decades to save Danielle's soul from her own wicked lust! I have endured the pain of knowing my daughter was not right with God! I would do anything to stop that!"
"So you want Danielle to stop being a lesbian? This wouldn't work! Her memories would return and after a great deal of confusion and trauma she'd be able to assert which memories were truly her's. And you'd be back to square one, but in a lot more trouble with her."
Agnes didn't reply at first, but her desperate mind soon locked on another possibility. "You.... you can fix her. Use your telepathic powers, alter her mind so that she becomes straight!"
Jaw agape, Alisa almost gasped, "That... that is the most unethical use of power I have ever been asked to do. I'm just a borderline P10, Mrs. Verdes, and you'd need a P12 for something that big, and good luck finding one since something like that is just about the biggest breach of our ethics you can devise!"
"You debate ethics while Danielle's soul is going to burn?! I DEMAND that..."
There was movement at the door and a couple of men in the uniform of Sara's Illustrian Ducal Guard entered. "We heard shouting, ma'am."
"Sergeant, please escort Mrs. Verdes back to her room immediately," Alisa said harshly. "Put a twenty-four hour watch on Miss Verdes here and do not allow her mother to approach her without my approval and presence!"
"You can't do this to me!", Agnes shouted as the two men walked up beside her, looking very full of intent. "I'm Danielle's mother! I'm her mother!"
"Then you should act like it," Alisa snapped. For a moment she feared that Agnes would force the men to drag her back to her room, but Agnes relented at the last minute, her rage so great that Alisa forced herself to not get near Agnes' mind just to prevent it from overwhelming her. She allowed the guards to escort her back to her room, leaving Alisa to rub her aching head and wonder how to go about fixing the damage Agnes had just caused.
8 April 2164 AST
Sara stepped off the helicopter that brought her from the military spaceport 10 kilometers away at Lewisville and onto the tarmac of the private helipad on her Ducal Palace grounds. Aides were not following her, being driven back by military drivers on the longer route, and Julio had volunteered to stay behind and oversee the removal of their things from the cargo shuttle before it returned to the H.M.(D.)S. Rochester, the Hamilton-class cruiser that was assigned to ferry her home from the Council of Lords on Devenshire. Though Parliament would remain in session for another month, the Council of Lords tended to meet over hyperspace comms to debate more routine legislation, only meeting in person on Devenshire when summoned by the Queen to debate "important" legislation such as the (thankfully) defeated resolution to sever diplomatic relations with the Taloran Empire.
If Sara expected some rest upon her return, she was soon disabused of this notion when the first thing she heard was the palace chamberlain informing her that "Mister and Mrs. Verdes insist on seeing Your Highness immediately, it concerns their daughter".
And so Sara soon found herself in her office, Alisa Beldon on one side and Agnes Verdes on the other, having heard of the incident from earlier in the weak and a counter-accusation of Alisa having Agnes "accosted". "I cannot be bared from seeing my daughter!" shouted Agnes at Alisa again reiterating why she had banned Agnes from lone visits to Danielle. "It is immoral, it is improper!"
"Immoral and improper is trying to brainwash her," countered Alisa. "I am responsible for Dani's recovery, and that is my primary concern, not trying to 'fix' her of problems you say she has! So until I am convinced you no longer pose a threat to her recovery, I'll do what's needed!"
"You're not a doctor, you can't decide these things by law!"
"No, but she has Doctor Batar's full support," Sara chimed in. "And mine. Is this true, Mrs. Verdes? Did you indeed try to convince your daughter that she has loathed her sexual preference when all evidence points to her feeling otherwise?"
"I'm trying to take this opportunity to make Danielle better, Mrs. Proctor..."
"To you, ma'am, I am 'Your Highness', not Mrs. Proctor," Sara said harshly, correcting Agnes and feeling in no mood to let formality pass for her now.
"Your Highness, then," Agnes added bitterly, not appreciating having to kowtow. "Your Highness, I beg you, as Danielle's mother, do not let this opportunity pass us. If this woman won't fix my daughter, find another that will. Give Dani the chance to marry a good man and lead a Christian life."
"You want me to take this moment, when your daughter is at her most vulnerable, and alter her because you and I don't approve of how she lives?" Sara asked.
"Yes, Your Highness."
"Never," Sara responded. "I would never have Miss Beldon or any other telepathic do that to Dani. It is improper and immoral. If you want your daughter to change, you're going to have to convince her yourself when she's had her mind restored."
A look of despair on her face, Agnes wailed, "I have tried for decades and it won't work! Dani refuses to stop following her wicked lusts for other women! This is our one chance to save her soul!"
"Ma'am, I may not be Catholic, but I am very familiar with Catholic doctrines, and your daughter being a lesbian does not automatically damn her, and nor does her ceasing to be one guarantee her salvation" Sara replied. "I suspect that even if she suddenly wanted to become a heterosexual, she would still not seek Confirmation in the Church. Dani is simply not religious and you're going to have to accept that."
"I can't!" Agnes cried. "I can't accept that my daughter will burn in Hell!"
"Then you must convince her, and you must make her conversion sincere. I won't let you destroy her mind in a misguided and likely doomed effort to save her soul."
With tears flowing down her contorted face, Agnes opened her mouth to speak, but finally stepped away. "Raphael, I'm ready to go home. There's no point anymore, we've lost Dani."
Raphael opened his mouth to dissent, but Agnes stormed right past him and toward their room to get sleeping Dominic. He looked to Sara apologetically, telling Sara everything she needed to know about which parent was best, and left after his irate wife.
It also told her, sadly, that within hours Dani would again be an orphan.
"They're gone?" Dani asked Alisa, Sara standing at the door.
Alisa nodded sadly. "Yes. Your mother was angry that we wouldn't.... that we wouldn't persuade you to be different, and she caused them to leave."
"My.... I didn't get to hold my baby brother again," Dani whimpered, tears in her eyes. "He's so precious and sweet, I wanted to hold him again, hold him tight and tell him how much I loved him...."
"I know," Alisa said, holding Dani's hands. Sara watched with teary eyes, uncomfortably familiar with the sense of loneliness and seperation from family that she knew Dani was suffering from. And with her mind still so very confused and distorted, her emotions so fragile...
Dani broke out into sobs, crying hard as Alisa went to work trying to calm her down. "I want my Momma, I want my Dad, I want my brother," she muttered over and over again between sobs, her heart broken. "I'll be what Momma wants me to be if she'd come back, please tell her I'll do what she wants, I want to be with them...."
"Shh.... everything will be fine. We'll get your memories back and then you'll be ready to think about that," Alisa said, holding Dani strongly as she cried through the rest of the night.
Kingdom of the Devenshires
Universe Designate CON-5
17 May 2164 AST
Sara had mostly finished the day's government business early, planning on leaving soon for a short vacation with Julio. Only a few more papers required her signature as the personification of Illustrious Province's government and her work for the day would be done.
Her aide appeared at the door, announcing, "Your Highness, Miss Beldon is here to speak with you."
"Please, send her in."
The aide brought Alisa into the room and left, leaving the two alone. "How is your patient, Miss Beldon?"
"Recovering more memories every day. Some good, some bad, and some that.... well, let's just say I'm used to Minbari minds and that the Minbari are not nearly that creative in the bedroom," Alisa said sheepishly, causing Sara to grin in amusement. "The thing is, in a number of these memories, I'm seeing the Taloran's face again."
"If you say so. It's.. well, it's not making too much sense." Alisa frowned. "Unfortunately, since the incident with her mother and her family leaving her, Dani has been an emotional wreck. Wreck might not even do it justice; try complete devastation. And I frankly think she needs to do something."
"Anything. Something exhiliarating, something that will help her get her mind off of the jumble of memories she still has to deal with."
After a moment, Sara grinned widely. I think I have just the thing in mind."
Umatilla River, Illustrious
Kingdom of the Devenshires
Universe Designate CON-5
19 May 2164 AST
The Umatilla River flowed through the temperate climes north of Worcesterville, going west from the Worcester Mountains to an outlet in the Western Ocean 400 miles away. Along it were a number of major towns and communities, as well as the highway bridges. Upriver, however, not far from the system of mountain lakes from which the river flowed, there was no development and few homes. Here the land was still in natural Earth-like beauty, possessing some of the indigenious plants and wildlife as well as carefully-selected Earth transplants, creating a beautiful scenery, small thickets and forests of wood surrounding a broad river valley of green, shining grass with a cool and relaxing wind sweeping down from the mountains.
Along a particular stretch of the Umatilla, where her property stretched over both banks of the gentle upper portion of the river, Sara Proctor smiled happily and allowed her fast mustang Job to stay in the lead, ahead of the white stallion that her husband was riding, a Lippenzaner gifted to Julio by Kaiser Friedrich V of Imperial Germany AGC-1 after the siege of Kalunda; the Kaiser had even named the horse "Claude", the given name of the British minister who commanded the besieged legations of Beijing against the Boxers for the same number of days as Kalunda's own larger and bloodier siege.
Behind them, a three year old mare of brown, white, and a bit of light brown named Esther - the offspring of Job in actuality - carried Dani at a full sprint, the wind making her brilliant dark hair streak behind her head. The younger horse caught up to her parent easily, and Sara enjoyed the sight of a long-missing smile on Dani's face. "Julio, are we going to let her beat us like that?" she said mockingly to her husband.
The two, more experienced riders than Dani, prodded their horses to run after her, all three leaving poor Alisa Beldon in the dust astride one of the older and more stable horses.
They raced down the scenic valley, the tree-covered foothills of the western Worcesters surrounding them, the teal-colored grass crunching beneath them and cool fresh air striking them in the face as they raced against the wind coming down from the mountains. In the distance they could already see the highest floor of Sara's three-floored estate here in the headwaters of the Umatilla, though they weren't quite there yet, and would have to ford the river first.
They arrived at the ford and slowed down, prodding their mounts to go through the cool water which went up to right around their bellies. Dani was still in front, her feet and lower legs getting wet from the water where they had long dried from the last fording.
They were almost to the other side when Esther suddenly rose up on her high legs, giving a startled sound. The motion was so sudden that Dani lost her grip on the reins, and jerks around by the mare's sudden movement, she fell over and into the cold waters of the Umatilla. Splashing around, her head came back up from the clean water and looked to Sara and Julio, who were laughing heartily.
In front of Esther was a river dragon, a native aquatic reptile of Illustrious with four arms and a dragon-like snout. It hissed in annoyance at Esther before swimming on, having been the reason she'd spooked and thrown Dani off. "It's just a harmless lizard!" Dani shouted at Esther, pulling herself to her full height and now looking completely soaked, her white blouse actually becoming partially transparent and revealing her blue undergarments.
Esther looked at Dani and, after a moment, promptly began to lick her on the cheek. "Eww, horse slobber!"
"It means she's sorry," Sara said, her giggling not matching Julio's roaring laughter. "I think she likes you, Dani."
Dani looked in irritation at them, though even she was smiling a little. "So my being soaked to the bone in cold river water is funny?"
"Hilarious," Sara said in all honesty.
Having sloshed her way through the water to them, Dani said, "Well, then this should be a riot!" and grabbed Sara. Dani's body still had its issues from the surgery, but with just a bit of work and the aid of 29th Century medicine, her upper body was as strong as it'd been the day she nearly drowned in the Kalunda. Pulling hard, and taking advantage of the stunned Sara, she yanked the Grand Duchess off her horse and brought her down into the cool Umatilla with a great splash that made Julio pull an arm up to instinctively ward.
After gaining her footing in the water, Sara splashed her hand across the surface and sent a spray right into Dani's face. The two water-logged women exchanged splashes while Julio remained on his horse, laughing heartily, his laughter joined by the quiet smile of Alisa Beldon as she finally caught up to them.
The situation abruptly changed when Dani and Sara stopped splashing each other and reached for Julio, who couldn't fight the both of them and ended up falling into the water as well, the splash fight growing truly immense at that moment while the river flowed endlessly by. Alisa remained at the bank and watched, feeling the amusement and happiness coming from their minds, and most specifically Dani's; it was the first such "happy thoughts" she'd felt come from her patient in a long enough time.
Riverside Ducal Palace, Illustrious
Dry and rested from the day's events, Dani was relaxing upon a couch wearing a green silken nightrobe, her eyes drooping closed a little as she felt sleep begin to claim her. The lights of the holovid unit placed by the wall covered the room, showing a locally produced sitcom of some sort that Dani wasn't even following.
She didn't see Alisa sitting near her, watching the holovid and occasionally giggling, as she simply felt so tired from the thrill of the day's riding that her eyes soon closed and she began to fall asleep.
As her mind relaxed and the effects of sleep took hold, her thoughts about the experience of riding gently stirred within her memory, and as people often did, the new experience brought with it comparisons with past memories.
And, as sometimes happens in these cases, the experience did naturally what Alisa had been doing with her powers these past months. Dani found herself in a memory of old, almost dreaming it. The bed was soft, and she was half-dressed and exhausted. And a figure laid beside her, one she knew to be even more exhausted than she was.
She recalled thinking how the next day was Valentine's Day, and her plan to do something special for... Jhayka?
Yes. Jhayka was the name.
And the figure turned, half-dressed as she was. Her eyes bulged almost unnaturally, somewhat like a fish's eyes, and vibrant pink hair was chaotically arranged around her pillow by how she'd laid down. This slim, narrow, extraordinary tall figure was the farthest one could be from the human ideal of female beauty.
But she loved her. The intensity, the passion of that love overwhelmed all of the other restored memories of passion she had.
13 February 2163 AST
Despite her own fatigue, Dani shifted in the bed and cuddled beside Jhayka, kissing her on the cheek. "We've made it through another day."
"Haven't we?" Jhayka's answer gave no evidence of the shuddering inside of her, that she'd hidden well from her lover the whole time, the addictions that her intensity of movement demanded that she continue to sate, the five hours of sleep each night that she allowed herself to get.. Almost an indulgence for Danielle's sake. "Sometimes.. I dare, Danielle. I dare to dream about the future. Each day makes the dreams a little harder to resist.." The last comment was added with the faintest of smiles, in the scarcely-expressive Taloran way, while her ears shifted and brushed against the covers.
"I think about what it'll be like to visit your homeland, to see Talora Prime. I've never been on a non-Human homeworld before."
"More colourful," Jhayka answered. "Our hair is not anomalous amongst the flora and fauna of the planet. A field of purple-green khalsa grass rising out of the ground is a wonderful thing to ride across on fleet rostok, rustling and brushing against the flanks of the beast and parting before you."
Dani gently pulled herself a little closer. "I've never ridden any animal before. What's it like?"
"It's hard to explain," Jhayka answered sheepishly. "Everyone I've ever known has rode before. It's still a pretty universal skill among Talorans. At least something.. Though Ytalla don't really count, since you sit in the howdah, unless you're the driver, and that's a very rare skill. You get very comfortable with it, the rolling of the saddle. It's like being on the ocean. A bit jerkier. What's exhilerating, though, is when a rostok charges. Immense weight and power under your direction, merged with the animal in thought and purpose, hurtling along with lance couched. To me it very nearly exceeds hunting from the saddle, even though jousts... Are usually these days just for show."
"Jousting! Your people still do that?!" Dani giggled with tired delight. "That would be so cool to see. Or to do."
"We're taught how, at least," Jhayka answered with a distant timbre to her voice. "Occasionally a few people resort to it in duels, but that is very rare. Mostly it is just a hobby, a sport, these days. We kept our customs and our honour long enough to charge machine-guns, and do so effectively at first, but eventually technology swept aside the lancer even for us. Sometimes I wish the world was still that old, simple place... But then I would have never met you. So such thoughts have faded."
Dani smiled gently at her, sleep already tugging at her eyelids. "Will you teach me? To ride?"
"You have my promise, and my word, my lover... We'll ride the hunt together, after I've taught you to a-rostok, and shoot from the saddle. Nobody will take that from us."
There were no more words to be said from that, as both were too exhausted at this point to continue the conversation, though Dani went to sleep with images running through her mind of the two of them riding through tall purple-green grass, laughing merrily.
Riverside Ducal Palace, Illustrious
19 May 2164 AST
It was like the key piece in the puzzle being fitted in, and the rest falling into place. Dani's mind went from memory to memory, fitting the rest in by their common ground; how those memories existed concerning her romance with Jhayka. How she had compared them to what it was like to be with Jhayka. How Jhayka had fit into them.
There were a surprising amount there. A memory of being tied up and tickled by her lover Rana here, the final fight and seperation with Sandra there, and the pain of losing Sharon to her old lover from the camp paramount. Events in her career, fights with her parents, everything still missing wove together.
Then the bad came, rushing on like a title wave. The terror she'd felt hiding under the General Faeria, naked and alone, before Illavna found her, the agony and fear in the hot dungeon under Xueson's palace, the sensation of electricity coursing through her tortured body, and the thought "Jhayka will save me" coursing through her mind over and over.
The smoke of heated battle on the river, her sword in her hand, commanding the men and women of the Kalundan river fleet to die fighting against the enemy's river attack, and the feeling of a badly manufactured bullet striking her skull and knocking her unconscious, just a few degrees off from a strike that would have gone through her brain and killed her.
And that final, horrible sensation of shrapnel in her hip and backside, her body falling below the rippling surface of the Kalunda River as water filled her lungs, unwilling to abandon the likely-dead girl on her shoulder because she'd never be able to face Jhayka if she let go of the girl, and the thought in her mind.... "Please Jhayka, please forgive me. Please forgive me....", followed by the silence of drowning and coma.
It was startling, perhaps a little scary, just how much of Dani's life and memories were now influenced by her love of Jhayka. It was like her life had been a hollow construct, a shell with an empty inside, and Jhayka had moved into it and filled it. And now that her memories of Jhayka resurfaced, her memories of the rest of her life fell into place.
Danielle Bethania Verdes was again a whole human being.
Silent weeping woke Alisa up from where she had dozed off. She looked over to see Dani awake and crying. "Is something wrong?" she asked, standing up and going over to the couch.
A gentle mind probe told Alisa all she needed to know. The memories were there. All of them. Every fragment was in its place again. It was... astounding.
"Where's Jhayka?" Dani wept. "Where is she? Did.... did she...." Did she die in the siege? was the thought that went through her mind.
"No. No, I believe she's still alive." Alisa sat down beside Dani and put an arm around her shoulders to comfort her. "How? Dani, you remember everything now?"
"Yes." Dani looked at her with tear-stroked eyes. "Where is she? Can I reach her? I... I want to see her again.... please...."
"I'll take to Sara in the morning, we'll see what we can do...", Alisa whispered silently, holding Dani as she cried herself back to sleep.
H.M.(D.)S. Royal Sovereign, En Route to Devenshire
Kingdom of the Devenshires
5 August 2164 AST
"My dear love Danielle: I will always esteem you higher in my heart than any other. I pray that these words sometime touch your mind, with all that entails for your recovery. Go forth into the world and be happy again. As for me, I shall go forward to the fate my people have deigned appropriate for me...
All God's blessings upon you.
The note was in Dani's hand, written in a beautiful calligraphy that was purely Jhayka. Her tears flowed down her face from seeing it again, low sobs filling the stateroom she'd been assigned while accompanying Sara Proctor to Devenshire.
The day after her memories had come back, Sara had handed her the note with the explaination that nobody had expected her to recover this fast, if at all. She'd then left Dani to her grief and sadness, an emptiness returning to her that for nearly two months left her at the point of complete consumption of it.
Alisa had tried to stay, to help her cope, but Dani had no more need of it. She would work through it herself, living as a guest of Sara Proctor... and trying not to contemplate just how wealthy she had become.
Beside the letter was a statement from the Credit Suisse of Providence, measuring the amount of the trust fund set up to care for her medical expenses, money that by the rules of the fund, set up by Jhayka with the aid of the Gunter-Meinsdorf international legal firm with a mid-level partner named Roger MacCallister, were now completely her's. Dani couldn't believe the size of the account. Even after the millions of Alliance dollars in medical expenses, there was still an even $5 BILLION ADN in the bank, showing just how long Jhayka thought she would need to be provided for.
All of this money was her's now, and soon she would be on Devenshire, where Sara told her she would be introduced to Minerva and, if Sara had her way, offered a Countess title on the industrial world of Parsons about three light years from Illustrious.
And it all meant nothing. The feelings Dani had for Jhayka, the love and intent to live with her for the rest of her life, they were still in full force, and Dani could not accept that Jhayka had simply let her go like that. She wanted Jhayka back more than anything.
She had dispatched letters to Talora, but it took months for responses usually, especially as she'd found it literally impossible to open a communication to the Lesser Intuit. She'd give it a few more months, up to six, but she was already laying her plan; when the time came, she would head to Talora Prime herself. And at that time, nothing in the Multiverse would stop her from seeing Jhayka.