"Hollow Life" - Followup to "55 Days in Kalun

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Steve
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"Hollow Life" - Followup to "55 Days in Kalun

Post by Steve » 2007-07-01 10:45am

This is the "bridge" story linking "55 Days" to it's upcoming sequel, which I will be posting the beginning of shortly.

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.


Worcesterville, Illustrious
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.


Worcesterville, Illustrious
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."
"Yes ma'am."
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.


Worcesterville, Illustrious
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."
"Jhayka?"
"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."
"What?"
"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.
"Heavens no!"
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.


Kalunda, Gilead
13 February 2163 AST

(DAY 38)


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.

Jhayka."

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.
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Post by Steve » 2007-07-01 10:46am

Royal City, Devenshire
Kingdom of the Devenshires
7 August 2164 AST



The return of the fact-finding delegation to Talora Prime had prompted Alexandra Driscova, Prime Minister of the Kingdom, to get the Queen to convene Parliament early for the next session, starting with a joint session of Parliament to hear the delegation's findings.
The Parliament Building was in the middle of Royal City, refurbished after the Restoration by the Treaty of Westminster. The largest chamber, which was more like a small stadium, seated the 21,492 members of the Assembly. The Senate was a small portionof that size, meeting in a smaller structure accomodating the 510 Senators from each district of the provinces. The Council of Lords, of course, consisted only of thirteen people, and therefore met in what was essentially a boardroom with a series fo viewing galleries.
Such a legislature defied order with it's sheer size, so these structures for the Senate and Assembly were only used for those rare occasions when the entirety of one house or the other was to meet. When both met, dividers between the two structures were removed and revealed not only a table and chairs where the Council of Lords could sit, but a raised balcony from which the Prime Minister or Queen could address all of Parliament.

The Queen was present, but seated at the balcony with Prime Minister Driscova and the five memebrs of the delegation sent to investigate the Laurentii matter in the Taloran Empire. By compromise the leader of the delegation was a Prantonese Crown Conservative, Abdul-aziz Rahman (no relation to the Senator). The thin man, of Arabic and Caucasian blood, stood in a business suit at the podium overlooking the 22,000 legislators before him and spoke in a loud voice.
The report he laid out was not what his namesake Senator wanted to hear. After an "extensive investigation", they had determined that Talorans had not recorded the title of Priscilla Laurentii as "Grand Duchess of Pranton", but rather their government had simply listed her as "Ducal Pretender of Pranton". "It is the determination of this delegation," Abdul-aziz said over the angry remarks from a few Prantonese Assemblymen too uncouth and uncaring about the protocol to maintain the required silence, "that the Taloran Empire has done nothing more than recognize that Priscilla Laurentii was born of Laurentii blood and that by virtue of this, under standard laws of inheritance even under Devenshire, she has a claim to the title of Grand Duchess."
The same men began howling while the Speaker of the Assembly called for order, two even outright proclaiming Abdul-aziz a "traitor" and "apostate". When the ruckus died down after threats of expulsion, Abdul-aziz was thanked for his report by the Prime Minister, who, now serving as Chair for the combined session of Parliament, asked the houses to vote on whether to re-admit the prior resolution of severing diplomatic relations or not.

Such a move could be dangerous - the issue of Priscilla Laurentii was passionate and the Assembly had proven that even people from the other side of Devenshire wanted her head - but Alexandra Driscova was no fool, and she had sent feelers out already to gauge the intentions of the party whigs and of key regional leaders. The coalition of parties that formed her Government, made up of the Crown-Conservatives, the Devenshire Loyalists, the Christian Liberals, the right-wing portion of the fracturing Liberal Democrats (and a couple small right-centrist regional parties that tacked themselves onto the ruling coalition and made it impervious to one splintering party taking down the entire Government), had already taken internal caucauses and was relatively certain that with only a handful of defections (mostly by Prantonese members, who could note vote against the others and win re-election), they could control a razor-thin majority of the Assembly and about a 57% majority in the Senate to ensure that even if re-admitted the proposal would be defeated.
Of course, even this was ornerous to them, and the Prantonese and other pro-severence politicians decided they did not want to face the humiliation of the Parliament outright rejecting their resolution. So, called to vote first by Driscova's design (as she had anticipated such an attitude), they voted to keep the resolutions "on the table", and most of the politicians gladly agreed to not bring the subject back up. The only politician to defiantly vote "Aye" in bringing the resolution back up was the ultra-nationalist Frederick Markham and his Cereberus-based "Victory for Devenshire" Party, which had been among the most heated advocates of severing diplomatic relations.
From where she was sitting in the gallery, Dani watched the display of parliamentary procedure with some interest, seeing that Sara was clearly bored from her seat among the Council of Lords -she had quite obviously been involved in Driscova's maneuvers.
And so, for the moment, the matter was settled. Devenshire-Taloran relations, though injured, would remain intact.


That night Queen Minerva held a function at the palace to celebrate the end to the current phrase of the Laurentii scandal. Senator Rahman did not attend, as was to be expected, though Grand Duchess Chang showed up and was busy chatting with one of the generals of the divisions assigned planetside.
For the occasion Danielle had chosen a modest purple dress that looked more like a robe than a dress and which did much to hide her attractive figure. Sara was dressed more flatteringly, in low-cut dress of light purple and blue and red, with her husband Julio at her arm wearing the uniform of his ceremonial military position of Marshal of the Illustrian Hussars as well as the rank insignia of the King of Kalunda.

At the beginning of the night, Sara had introduced Dani to the Queen. Dani had curtsied formally and drawn a bit of laughter from Minerva, who informed her that outside of the diplomatic corps no woman from the Alliance had ever managed to be that good at the posture than Dani, at least in her presence. Her partial German accent was a bit of a surprise, as Dani had expected the formal English accent she'd heard from other Devenshirans, forgetting that Minerva had grown up on New Austria with her family as guests of Karl IV von Habsburg-Wittelsbach, the older brother of Minerva's husband.
Minerva was exquisitely beautiful, if somewhat modestly dressed, her tanned complexion a few shades lighter than Dani's with rich blond hair and a nice body figure, like that of a swimsuit model who had been inactive enough to put on the slightest bit of weight. Her husband held her arm all the while, doting on her and looking very much in love, and Dani could sense that their match was truly a romantic one, leaving her, admittedly, a little envious. It made her think of Jhayka (but what didn't these days) doomed to be alone in a society that would never permit them to be more than illicit lovers.

Now Dani stood alone, a glass of champagne mostly unfinished in her hand. Her head hurt a little, and the doctors said she might always have headaches when the cybernetic parts of her brain were in full operation, as they were for keeping her standing and helping her walk.
"Miss Verdes?"
The voice made her turn. The woman before her was light-skinned, about as light in complexion as a Human could get, with a freckled face and brown eyes with chestnut hair. Her figure was slim and athletic, though not entirely unattractive, and her dress did hint at slight curves on her figure, as well as showing the golden crucifix hanging around her neck, an outward display of religiousity that was common among Devenshiran middle class and upper class people. She spoke with a slight Irish lilt, and Dani soon recognized her as a member of the delegation that went to Talora. "Yes?"
"I'm Mary Laughlin. Glad to make your acquaitance." She smiled softly at Dani and tinkered with her necklace a minute, and it was then that Dani noticed that carefully concealed by the crucifix was a smaller necklace were two Venus symbols. Which was all that she really needed to know. "We have to be a bit more careful in Devenshiran high society, Miss Verdes," Mary confessed apologetically. "Devenshire is quite conservative in many places, far more than your Alliance is. Not that most of us aren't already known, and you certainly are."

"Well, Miss Laughlin, thank you for the warning," Dani said, not entirely sure of where the conversation is going.
"I wanted to offer you to come by a function we're arranging tomorrow evening," Mary said. "I figure you might enjoy the support."
"The support? Mi.... Mary, thank you for the offer, but I intend to leave for Talora Prime soon enough as it is."
A look came over Mary's face. "Oh dear, they... they didn't tell you? Maybe they didn't know..."
Dani's heart grew cold and her mind raced, considering all of the terrible possibilities inherent to those words.

And then Mary put the dagger in her heart.
"Princess Jhayka has been married," Mary said.
A sharp breath entered Dani's lungs. She just stood still for a moment, unable to even think, unable to understand. "What...?"
"Oh, there's a lot of gossip on it. The daughter of one of her strongest supporters in their Convocate. The way that one of the Talorans, the Countess of such and such, I forget, put it was, 'Her Highness was tried and sentenced to be married to a respectable woman for her own good'."
A sick feeling grabbed Dani's stomach and refused to let go. Tears were already pouring from her eyes and her free hand went up to her mouth as she came on the verge of sobbing. "I.... I have to go," she said, dismissing herself and moving to the ladies' bathroom set aside in the ballroom area.

Once inside she broke out crying, sobbing hysterically, and went into one of the stalls, getting to the toilet just in time to throw up from how sick the feelings she had were making her. After vomiting she continued to cry.
She was angry at Jhayka, at first, at why she had abandoned her. Oh, she had made Dani a billionaire, but the future she promised for them? She had tossed it aside, and Dani could not understand way.
The anger soon grew to engulf the society that had given birth to her. As Mary had said, they had forced the marriage on her. Her anger at Jhayka turned to horror and pity, the thought of her beloved forced to be with a wife that treated her ill and didn't love her at all making Dani's pain all the greater.

Many minutes went by in which Dani wept to herself. She heard footsteps behind her and found herself looking up at Sara, who extended a hand. "They told you?" she asked.
"Did you know?"
"I was hop...."
"DID YOU KNOW?!?!?!", Dani screamed in anger.
After a moment, Sara shrugged. "I found out after the Parliament meeting. Mister Rahman, Abdul-aziz Rahman, told me about it on Miss Laughlin's behalf. I was going to tell you tonight after the reception. I was afraid..." Sara sighed, getting on her knees beside Dani. "I was afraid your reaction would be too public, and would destroy your chance of getting the title I'm working on for you. Minerva is somewhat tolerant herself, but the aristocracy of Devenshire is very, funny for me to say, 'Puritanistic'. If we made it too public that you were in love with an alien princess, there's no way the nobles would accept you."
"To hell with them!" Dani shouted. "I don't want one of their damned titles!"
"I... I was going to get you the title so you could be of high enough rank to legitimately marry Jhayka," Sara professed. "I was even exchanging messages with the Taloran consul, Mister Trisambuhl, to make sure I got it right. I didn't know, but even then, this could do you good, Dani..."
"Go away," Dani wailed. "Just go away."
Seeing that nothing she'd do for the moment would change the hurt woman's mind, Sara stepped back and left her, going straight to a guard to escort Dani back to her room in the palace and then, from there, back to the function.


The burly guard, in his resplendent uniform with sidearm dangling at his waist, paid Dani little mind as he led her to her room. He had offered, politely, to help carry her, perhaps assuming she was drunk, but Dani had refused (even as she wished she were only drunk).
At this point she just wanted to go to bed, and hope that this aching gulf in her heart went away. She had lost everything in her life now. Her mother had barred her family from her, Jhayka was married now, Fayza was far away and probably living a new life now... what was left for her but that empty life she had tried to escape?
In the past alcohol and sex might have drowned out the sorrow, but she had moved beyond that now; they held no balm, even temporary, for her. Nothing would heal her. Dani was wishing she'd never woken up, or that she'd drowned in the river after all.

There was a sound behind her, a very faint one, and an accompanying thump. Dani turned to see what it was.... and saw the business end of a silenced pistol facing her.
The guard was on the ground, presumably dead, and behind him was a tan-skinned man in the uniform of one of the catering companies for the night's dinner, somewhat on the lanky side, but looking very calm and assured. "Stay silent," he ordered, his English betraying an accent that Dani thought was Arabic, "and keep walking like nothing happened. Now, before I shoot you."
The distance was too great for Dani to go for the gun with her training, and even then she wasn't in the right frame of mind. At this point, she had no will for fighting anyway. "What do you want?" she asked as they walked on.
"We're going to the east loading dock. If you flinch, if you stop, if you do anything but walk straight there, I will shoot you, do you understand?"
Dani nodded.



Sara had been unable to enjoy the function after seeing the depths of Dani's depression, so she soon after excused herself and went toward the rooms that her entourage had been assigned to find her and give her someone to talk to.
The palace was of the best in classical arhictecture, with resplendent arches in the hallways and pieces of art to be found everywhere, though most of the paintings had been changed out or removed completely since Minerva's coronation. The atmosphere was even kept with imitation gas lights instead of conventional lighting. It was, to a degree, like stepping back into the 19th century.

She was almost at her destination, moving past one of the entrances to the kitchen area, when she saw a figure on the floor. She recognized it as the guard that she had sent to escort Dani back to their rooms, and out of concern kneeled over and moved him. She had seen enough in her life to know the man was dead, a single gunshot wound on his chest over the heart. She reached for his belt and picked up his radio unit. "Palace Security, this is an emergency, Sergeant Hamilton is dead and the person he was escorting missing. Proceed to lockdown immediately and organize extra detachments to guard the guests, authorization Illustrious Gamma Delta Zero Five Echo."
"Immediately, Your Highness," a voice replied.
Sara reached into the dead man's holster and pulled out his sidearm, holding it calmly and professionally as she set out for the eastern loading docks, the most likely place to look.


The eastern loading dock was not too different from that of a retail store. Trucks were still at their bays, full of goods or things from palace guests about to leave or simply replacements for the palace's immense stores of goods.
Dani emerged from one door and found the guards there dead as well. One truck had pulled up with a couple armed men around it, assault rifles slung over their shoulders. "What's going on?"
A hand smacked Dani on the back of the head. "Shut up and get in the truck," her captored demanded, and Dani slowly stepped toward it. Even as she did so, though, they were all startled by the distinctive rapid "thu" sound of particle rifles.

Palace Security was moving in from the sides of the dock, and their first shots took out the tires of the escape vehicle. The two armed men, and a couple others who had been in the truck, emerged and took defensive positions to fight back.
At that moment, Dani resolved to fight back. It was part instinct, of course, but she did ultimately still have a bit of a will to live. Using her immediate captor's momentary confusion, Dani threw her elbow back just about the time he was about to grab her and knocked the gun out of his hand. She turned quickly, pivoting on one foot, and took him by surprise with a second quick punch to his belly. He doubled over and opened himself up to a knee in the head which sent him sprawling.
As Dani kept up with him, trying to keep him away from the gun, the door they had come through opened again. Crouched low, Sara leaned out of it and lifted the sidearm she'd taken from the dead guard, aiming it at one of the men with assault rifles. She pulled the trigger and, with the kind of luck and skill that had kept her alive for forty years, her shot was right on target, a bullet going through the back of the man's brain.
His partner saw him fall and turned toward Sara, who moved her arms and fired again. This time her aim wasn't quite so accurate, and she hit him in the shoulder. This slowed him enough that Sara had time to slip back behind the door and take cover from a barrage of bullets that came her way.


Dani's foot crashed into her captor's jaw, sending him sprawling. A contorted expression of rage was on her face and she screamed, "Why are you after me?!" at him.
In truth, thogh, Dani was not beating this man. He was a convenient avatar for the Talorans, the people who were keeping her away from her beloved. Full of rage and pain, Dani kept up her assault with punches and kicks that were the attributes of brawling than of disciplined martial arts.
And then it came; horrible, crippling pain. Her brain felt like it was on fire, and as the pain held back her rage Dani realized that she had pushed things too far. The doctors and surgeons had warned Sara and then warned her that the artificial pieces of her brain would take time to properly sychronize with the natural parts remaining, and that pushing things too quickly would lead to this.
Dani collapsed, hands on her head and tears of pain in her eyes, rolling until she was flat on her back and sprawled out, spasming in a couple spots. This left her attacker free to reclaim his gun. He returned to her and stood over her, planting his show on her throat and pressing until Dani began to choke, her hands grabbing his feet but the pain in her head too much to apply any strength to the grip. He pointed the gun at her. "Since we can't use you to make your Taloran cunt-licker give up the Butcher, I have no use for you. But you'll be meeting your alien bitch in Hell soon enough, whore." Dani was able to look right down the barrel of the gun, not closing her eyes as the final seconds of her life ticked away.

CRACK

The gun that went off wasn't the one in the man's hand, and a streak of red erupted from the right side of his head where a bullet had passed through. The gunshot transferred enough force to his body to make him topple in that direction, the gun moving to Dani's right enough that when his nerve impulse tensed his finger on the trigger, the bullet ricocheted off the concrete and in a harmless direction.
Dani twisted her head, which was still full of pain, to see Sara standing just outside the door, amoke coming from the barrel of the gun in her hands. She looked around, and Dani realized that the gunfire had ended. She looked to Sara and put a hand on her head, a pained expression on her face. As Dani tried to sit up, Sara went up to her. "Are you okay?!"
"I moved too fast," Dani moaned. "My head feels like it's on fire."
"Let me help you get up," Sara said, kneeling over and putting her shoulder under Dani's. "I'll go get you a doctor."


Dani woke up the next morning in her palace bed, the monitoring equipment around her chirping silently. The doctor was present when she woke up, and Dani was actually rather taken with how beautiful the Nepalese woman was, in contrast to the gruff doctor on Illustrious. In a clear but understandable accent, she explained to Dani that her implants had been overtaxed by her exertion, but no permanent damage had happened. The bruises on her hands from the fighting would heal up soon enough, and there was little to worry about.
The door opened and Sara walked in, clothing a bit less formal now. She smiled at seeing Dani awake and said, "So, how's it feel?"
"Like some pyromaniac set my brain on fire," Dani muttered. "Thanks for saving my life."
"I promised Jhayka I'd take care of you, wouldn't want to let her down on that," Sara said. As she spoke and came nearer, Dani could tell something was wrong. "I'm just glad your implants are still intact."
"Yeah, that's good." Dani looked at Sara intently. "So, what's wrong? What happened?"
"They're called the Prantonese Peoples' Liberation Front," Sara remarked melodramatically. "Secular terrorists who want to turn Pranton into a socialist republic, as opposed to the Wahhabists who want to restore the old Islamic Caliphate on Pranton. The security forces found their safehouse and raided it. Two dozen fanatics, here on various cover jobs, all dedicated to taking you prisoner and threatening to murder you if Princess Jhayka didn't revoke her protection of Priscilla Laurentii."

Dani shook her head. She'd been surprised to find out that Arshon, who had been a decent and caring person, was wanted for war crimes in Devenshire. She'd always suspected there was something.... "And what else? For you to be looking like that?"
"The Government is concerned about you, Dani. That having you around will cause something like this to happen again." Sara took a seat and sighed. "And I've been bluntly told that the title you don't want is politically impossible now anyway. To give you a title, with your public connection to Jhayka so well known.... certain people in the government are afraid that it would lead Pranton on the road to violence."
"So, what do you mean by that?"
Sara lowered her head. "Against my suggestion and desire.... Her Majesty's Government wants you to leave Devenshire."
"And go back to Illustrious?"
"No. To leave the Kingdom entirely, and not come back."
Dani's jaw lowered a little. "But.... but.... I don't... don't have anywhere...."
"Julio's already making arrangements for you in Kalunda. He's been looking forward to granting you titles anyway. And you'll be given a home near Kalunda, anywhere really, though I understand if you don't take any of the estates still vacant in the former Norman territories." Sara reached into her pocket. "I also... having something. Consul Trisambuhl found it for me by accessing some media database in the Taloran colonies in this universe." She handed Dani a data disc. "When you're ready... if you ever want to see... it's Jhayka's wedding."

Dani didn't accept the disc, at all, staring at it as if she might break it in half. Sara saw that look and put it back in her pocket. "I'll see that it gets put into your things. Now, get some rest for your trip. It'll be almost a couple of weeks before we get to Gilead, and I want to make sure you're up for it."
When Sara left, Dani rolled on her side in the bed and began sobbing. She found herself wishing that kidnapper had succeeded in killing her after all. And so, with these thoughts in her mind, Dani cried herself to sleep.


Kalunda, Gilead
Gilean Commonwealth
12 September 2164 AST



Dani looked into the mirror and was gratified to see that the dress wasn't as immodest as she'd feared it would be. The blue and red dress, the royal colors of Kalunda, was cut low on her, and was immodest in that it revealed the shape of her curved, attractive breasts, baring the cleavage part way, but that was to be expected from a Kalundan dress; though they were recovering from the war and all the pain of it, as well as the mass influx of outsiders serving the new Gilean government and of the massive expansion of missions and churches from all the religious groups competing for converts, many Kalundans still clung defiantly to their mores. You could still walk the streets of Kalunda and see, just down the street from a new Catholic mission, Kalundan women embracing and kissing warmly, or a Kalundan bath-house operating on the river front not far from the Holy Roman Empire's consulate.
Aside from the "boobage", as Dani had called it when speaking to her Kalundan seamstress, the dress was at least not gaudy. The blues and reds were rich in color, with a belt around her waist (which, to her distress, was a couple of sizes larger than she remembered), and bared her arms gracefully, covering her shoulders and belly (unlike the original design, which had been a tube top and even more immodest). The red shimmed down to her ankles, covering her shapely, strong legs well.
"Are you sure about this?" Dani asked Sara as she looked into the mirror. Sara Proctor was living up to her own heritage, after all, with a dress of similar color but far more modest and full. "I think I should have her seal up the cleavage."
"If you want, but we do only have about ten minutes," Sara replied. Walking up, she smirked at Dani. "I'm the Puritan, Dani, and even I think you should leave it as is."
"But the clea..."
"...is fine. They wear tackier, more immodest things at the court functions sometimes, Dani, Christ." Sara shook her head. "You're overdoing it, you know."
"Overdoing what?"
"Your image. Trying to overcome your past licentiousness. I bet being in Kalunda isn't easy, either, if it makes you think about old days."
"Oh God, Sara..." Dani smiled despite mortification. "If I had come here twenty years ago, I'd, well, let's just say I'd have fit right in."
"It's okay to say, Dani. And you don't need to become too modest to make up for it." Sara walked up and smoothed out Dani's dress. "I say you go in there just like this."
"Where half the planet can see my nipples? I mean, this thing is...."
"Nobody can see, Dani, listen, it's not that tight. Make it any looser and you're going to have it fall off, and if you're worried about cleavage ruining things how do you think showing off your whole chest will go?"

Dani's cheeks blushed, and both women laughed at the thought. "Seriously, you look good, now don't worry and go out there."
With Sara's help Dani was ready within a minute. While Dani finished a few things on her own, Sara saw the table by Dani's holoviewer and went over to it. She noticed that the empty case there was the one she'd given Dani a month prior, of Jhayka's wedding. "I see you finally watched it," Sara said out loud.
Dani emerged about twenty seconds later, fully ready. "Yes," she confessed. "I did."
"And?"
"And it makes me want to find the person who did that to her and beat the crap out of them," Dani said, angrily, causing Sara to nod slightly. "Her eyes might be gone, Sara, but I know Jhayka. I can read her. She was not happy there, she was doing it for the sake of form, but there's no way she was happy. The other woman didn't look too bad, and I could tell she meant well, but...." Dani wiped the tears from her eyes and asked, "Sara, please, not here, not now, okay? I want to be as dry-eyed as possible for this ceremony."
"Okay, agreed," Sara said. "But I'd like to make sure you're okay before I leave for Illustrious tomorrow. Can we talk at breakfast?"
"Of course," Dani replied. "Of course we can."


The throne room of the Kingdom of Gilead, the central body of the Gilean Commonwealth of Nations, was filled with a number of delegates, diplomatic personnel, and a whole host of Kalundan veterans of the River Fleet during the siege. Sara Proctor sat with her husband, still the King of Kalunda for a bit longer, while her granddaughter took her formal place at the throne, wearing her crown and covered in regalia.
At the appropriate moment the doors opened and Danielle Verdes entered, wearing her Kalundan-designed dress of blue and red, and few cared for the view of her cleavage given by the dress as she had feared would happen. With slow, deliberate steps trained into her recently by Sara, Danielle walked with determination to the throne where Queen Sara-Marie sat, a teenage girl acting like she was twice Dani's age. The girl studied her intently as Dani kneeled before her carefully, already wearing on her dress belt the sword she had held on the day she had defeated the Norman river fleet, with it bearing a title and rank as Knight-Commander of the Kalundan Crimson Guard. "Danielle Verdes, Knight-Commander of the Crimson Guard of Kalunda, Knight of the Order of Saint Magdalena the Blessed Martyr of Gilead, you have been brought before Us this day to be rewarded for your service to the peoples of Gilead in the War. We would now hear the oath you would pledge to Us."

Dani, swallowing, replied, "I pledge to you, Your Majesty, my oath of fealty and the fealty of my descendants, in the holy name of Farzbardor the Lord of Justice," - tumult almost gripped the audience at this, since none had yet seen a Human profess the alien faith of Farzianism - "may He do justice to me; may he reward me for my loyalty to this oath, and may he curse me if I break it. I swear this on my name and upon my family name, until the Day of the Victory of Righteousness."
Even Sara had to admit she had not seen this coming. Illavna Lashila had left the Farzian holy writings, with an English translation, for Dani should she ever wake up, and Sara knew she'd been studying them, but.... to actually convert? She had figured that Dani would default to her childhood religion and swear the oath as a Christian, if not necessarily as a Catholic.
If Sara-Marie was startled by this, she did not show it, hiding it under a mask that was partially from her own somber consideration that Dani had turned her back on Christ and to an alien religion that Sara-Marie believed false. Even though she was a Christian monarch, under the laws of Gilead - laws she believed proper - nobility did not need to be Christian, and this was perfectly legal. Therefore, she did as the protocol instructed, placing her scepter on one of Dani's shoulders and then the other. "Then, in the name of the One True God, the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Eibermon and Valera, the Heavenly Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, We proclaim you and your line to be Duchess of Henley."
There were applause in the form of clapping hands - even if traditionalist monarchies frowned on this, Sara-Marie saw no reason to deny accolades of respectful nature in ceremony - and Dani rose to her feet, bowing her head one more time respectfully to Sara-Marie. Magdalena, the slave-girl of the Normans that Sara Proctor had pulled down from a cross during the conquest of the city of Thentis, stepped forward and bowed, presenting a second sword to Dani with green and purple jewels set into the hilt and pommel. She accepted it, with the new family crest already stamped in gold and latinum upon the scabbard, an American eagle bearing an engineer's hammer in one claw and a naval cannon in the other, the border of the crest bearing the inscription Justum et tenacem propositi familia: "A family just and tenacious in purpose".

As the applause quieted and Magdalena, smiling, helped Dani fix the sword onto her belt on the other hip, her mind started moving away just a bit now that the ceremony was over. She briefly looked at Sara, who was smiling - this had been her plan for months, a fallback when she realized that it would be nigh-impossible to get Dani the rank needed to marry Jhayka from Devenshire - and thought of Jhayka, poor Jhayka, married unhappily and no doubt feeling very alone. Though she had duties now - she would be attending her first session of the Gilean House of Lords in just a few days, and Henley, consisting of the former Norman Empire, Amazonian Confederacy, and other bordering lands, needed leadership - she would not have to wait for long, and then she would be going to Talora Prime to see Jhayka again. She didn't know when, and she didn't know what would happen, but she knew she would.
If I have to wait until I am old and gray, Jhayka, I will. But we will have that happy future we talked about, we will, with God as my witness to that.


FINIS

But only for now....
”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.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

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