By PsiDraconis

Chapter 12

“You're loud tonight, Evy,” Ally said, looking down the length of the couch at the woman in whose lap her feet were resting. “Not talking, but... up here.” She tapped her head.

“Sorry, love.” Inside, Evelynne thought wryly that having intimate knowledge of what your partner was truly feeling added a whole new dynamic to a relationship. Fake smiles simply didn't work.

“Was it something your father said? You were talking to him for quite a while.”

Evelynne couldn't control the surge of anxiety and knew Ally had felt it when her fiancée frowned. “It's...”

When Evelynne didn't continued, Ally put aside her book and scooted closer, concerned. “Evy, are you okay?”

The other woman smiled shakily. “Define 'okay',” she said, deliberately using one of Ally's own phrases. She took a deep breath. “I'm—I should have talked to you about it right afterwards, but I really needed time to get my head around it.”

“So that's what that was,” Ally replied with somewhat forced humour. “I thought you might be solving economics equations, your mind was so busy.”

“I wish,” Evelynne said, looking down.

“Hey,” Ally said, tipping up her partner's chin before kissing her lightly. “What's wrong?”

“It was—Za and the Dukes have come up with a possible solution to the whole question of continuing the Dynasty.” The princess heard her fiancée's sudden intake of breath and felt the answering surge of fear and uncertainty over their Link.

“Oh,” Ally said, her voice strained. “Do they want you to...”

“No,” Evelynne said firmly. “I will flatly refuse to marry anyone else, and they know that. And za and Aunt Cleo would veto that idea in any case. They like you, love.” Ally's answering smile was warm but slightly shaky. “No, it wasn't that. It has to do with... children.”

“They want you to have a baby?” Ally asked, half-incredulous. “Now?”

“No, no, no,” Evelynne hurried to deny. “It's more...” She firmly took the bull by the horns. “They want to have a new Heir ready just in case something happens to us. To me.”

“I don't understand.”

“What they want to do is have some of your ova extracted and preserved, along with Patrick's sperm, in order to create an Heir of Royal blood if the need should arise.”


Evelynne shook her head, knowing that Ally really had heard and understood. “The Dukes are prepared to unanimously support a Royal decree stating that such an child exists in potentia as the legitimate Heir to the Thrones in this instance only. They don't want this to become a precedent for future generations. It's breaking about a dozen rules of Succession as it is.”

“The Dukes of Atlantl—and let's not forget the King and Queen—want me to submit to an invasive and intimate procedure in order to have insurance against the possibility that you and I, and Patrick, and your father, are all going to die without someone to sit in the Big Chair?” Ally's voice was flat and painfully controlled. “And they were planning on asking my opinion on this stellar plan... when? Or do I have a choice in the matter? Am I going to wake up one day with a couple of holes in my stomach?”

No!” Evelynne said emphatically, reaching out for her lover, but Ally pulled away and paced stiffly to the large glass doors leading outside. “You know that if they ever tried to do anything like that I would fight them with everything at my disposal, including teeth and nails. You do know that, don't you?”

Ally sighed, leaning her head forward onto the cold glass. “Yes.” Her answer was more felt than heard.

“Good. Ally, love, nobody is going to force you to agree to anything. If you—If we say no, we'll come up with something else.”

“Like what? The only clear bloodline is through you, Patrick, or your father. I don't think za and Meghan are going to be having any children any time soon, and I'd say the chances of Patrick donating to anyone other than me are slim to none. That leaves you, and if I don't do it, I really don't want the same thing happening to you.” Ally shook her head. “It wasn't supposed to be like this,” she whispered.

“I know, love,” Eveynne said, padding up behind her lover and wrapping warm arms around her. “And it might all be unnecessary.”

“Do you think I should do it?” Ally's tone made it clear that she was asking for an honest response.

“Do I want you to have to do it?” Evelynne asked. “No. Do I think it's a legitimate option?” She sighed, burying her face in Ally's back. “Yes. It's my duty to protect the Realm, and I know how much strife would come from an unclear Succession. We must have an Heir.” Her next words were quiet. “I also like the idea that if... something were to happen to you, some part of you would still be around.”

Ally obviously felt the guilt in the quiet admission, because she turned around at last and drew Evelynne into a deep, reaffirming kiss. When she finally pulled back, she rested her forehead on her partner's. “I need to go... out for a while.”

Evelynne nodded in understanding. “Alright.” She kissed her lover once more. “Be safe.”

“I will,” Ally said, moving towards the bedroom and her new Suit. She paused at the doorway. “And Evy?” She looked back. “Wait for me?”


“They did what?!”

Queen Cleo's exclamation was all the more shocking because she was normally so calm and controlled.

“I said that the DEA and US Army hit the AFB base in New Mexico,” Colonel Dame Grace Al'Tryg began, but her Queen's impatiently waved hand cut her off.

“I know what you said,” the Queen told her Intelligence Advisor with some irritation—at herself, most likely, for reacting with such incredulity. “I just can't believe they finally did something.”

“Oh, it certainly seems like they did something, Madam,” Al'Tryg confirmed. “At the moment the only solid data we have is coming from media sources, but I have all the broadcasts we could find right here for you.” She held out a sealed DVD, which Queen Cleo leaned across her desk to take automatically. “We're working our sources for more detailed information, but we have not received much as of yet.” The Advisor frowned. “What we are picking up is... troubling, however.”

“Troubling? We've been on the damned Americans for months to do something about the terrorist bases on their soil, and they finally do something? 'Troubling' isn't the word I would have chosen.”

“I would agree with you, Madam, but surely we would have caught a hint of their intentions before this if they had finally chosen to act.” Al'Tryg shook her head. “This comes as a total reversal of their policy up to this point. Ambassador Wilkins is pulling in every political contact he has, but there's not much he's coming up with.”

“That's true. It's why I was so shocked.” The Queen's brows contracted, her mind racing. “Are you thinking what I'm thinking?”

“If you're considering that this sounds like a total senek'et-fest on someone's part, then yes, Madam.”

“Oh true, someone could have fucked up, but I can't believe that so many coincidences were all, well, coincidental. You said Drug Enforcement Agency and US Army?” Al'Tryg nodded. “That kind of confluence doesn't happen by accident. No, somebody's been pulling strings. The question is who.”

“I considered that, Madam. So far my analysts have decided that if it goes very high it can't be very wide at the top. We think the highest ranking official is no more than the Governor, or possibly a Senator or two. Anything larger would have leaked by now. Even that is mere speculation. If the entire operation was deliberately planned, the local DEA and someone pretty high up at the Army base have to be in on it.”

The Queen looked at her quizzically. “You don't think this was an official operation?” Her tone suggested she already knew the answer.

“Not likely. It is quite possible that the official agencies could have planned and executed it without us knowing about it, but there's been too long a delay between the events themselves and the official government's response. They're passing it off as the end result of a long-term plan to curtail trafficking through the state, by the way. One way or another, they should have been milking this for all they've got the instant the story broke. The fact that they have not tells me that they were taken by surprise as much as we were.”

“I agree. Well, I know I don't need to tell you, but do everything you can to identify those responsible. As much as American policy frustrates the hell out of me, I don't like the idea of any sort of... shadow organisation at the helm of a nation that powerful.” Sighing, the Queen leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eyes. “In any case, this was the AFB compound we were looking at as a financial nexus for the Invaders.”

“That is a windfall,” the Advisor admitted. “From what we can tell, the fighting still left all their records almost completely intact. You can rest assured that we'll be sparing no effort to obtain copies of all those records.”

“Good.” Queen Cleo shook her head, this time in near-wonderment. “Osiris and Set, the chance to finally find a solid link between the Invaders' funding and whoever was providing that funding. There's no way it'll be a direct connection, of course, but it will be another piece in the puzzle.” After a final sigh, she sat up briskly. “Well, I won't keep you any longer, Grace. You have a lot to do, and I don't envy you any of it. And I have a feeling I'm going to be spending several long hours with the American Ambassador later today. Although it might actually be more useful if they sent Deputy Ambassador Weintraub instead.”

It was a very carefully concealed secret that the Deputy Ambassador had actually been working for Guard Intelligence for over a year and a half.

“That would be nice, Madam.”

“How did she take it?” King Jad was sitting in his private office in Jamaz, watching through a video link as his daughter paced angrily back and forth in her own office and the Winter House.

Evelynne turned on him, eyes flashing. “How do you think she took it?” she spat. “Godsdamnit, za, she's freaked out, confused, mortified, and terrified, all at the same time. Right now she's probably over the ocean somewhere, making big splashes, and I wasn't about to stop her. And thank you so very much for letting me be the one to tell her this absolutely amazing plan you have.”

“Evy, I knew you were the best person to break it to her. Do you really think it would have been better for me to explain?” Jad shook his head. “No, you were the only person who could ask Alleandre to consider something this radical.”

Evelynne glared at him as though she really wanted to argue, but knew he was correct. Sagging abruptly, she flopped ungracefully into her desk chair, and the smart software driving the camera that tracked her face almost sighed in relief.

“No, I would want to be the only one to tell her. But... Osiris Damn it to the Duat, za, she's hurt, and scared, and angry... and, quite frankly, so am I.”

“The alternative--”

“No! Not even for Atlantl. I am not sleeping with anyone else, even by proxy.” She sighed, looking defeated, and rubbed her eyes. “No, you're right. This is the best of a lot of bad choices we could have right now. At least it's something we were sort of planning, anyway.” Another sigh. “Just how safe is it?”

Even though he had told her at least four times already, and Evelynne had carefully read the full report on the medical aspects of the proposal, the King had no qualms about reassuring her once more. “Alleandre will have to take a number of drugs which are a cocktail of various hormones and other compounds to induce ova production. We will be putting the best doctors in the country on determining and monitoring the dosages and her ongoing condition.”

“Wonderful; she'll love more doctors,” Evelynne muttered.

The King decided not to hear the comment, since there was nothing he could say that would make it any better. “Once they determine the optimal time,”he continued, “a long probe will be inserted in order to extract several of Alleandre's ova.” He smiled sadly in sympathy for his daughter's wince. “The eggs will then be cryogenically stored, along with Patrick's... contribution, until such time as they are required. Which we hope is not until it becomes a matter of choice, rather than necessity.”

“So even if we both die, or at least if I do, the damned Dynasty will continue,” Evelynne said, but her voice had lost much of its heat, turning dull and resigned. “This absolutely sucks, za.” Jad's brows rose, but he was becoming used to a few of Evelynne's new Americanisms. “We've talked about when we have children. A long time from now. When we feel it's the right time, we were going to choose to do it. We've even been arguing about names already.” Brief humour flashed across her face. “What's wrong with Olgarina, anyway? She's going to be a great mother, you know. You've seen how she is around little kids.” The King nodded. Ally always wore an expression of unsurpassed terrified fascination around children under three years of age.

Evelynne sighed again. “But this... Now you're—we're taking away all of that choice. Damnit, za, we've already taken away her home, her privacy... She nearly died when she jumped in front of a bullet. We've very nearly taken away her mother's life. And for what? A very public marriage and a possible Kingship she will absolutely loathe?”

“She loves you, Evy.”

“I know. I just sometimes wonder if I'm worth it.”

“She doesn't.”

Lieutenant George Jaqamel—although for the last few months his rank, not to mention his legal status, had existed in some kind of limbo—stared at the wall of his cell and tried to convince himself, for the hundredth time that day and the two thousandth time that month, that he was calm, relaxed, and prepared to face whatever his fate was ultimately decided to be. That fate was entirely out of his hands, resting instead, most probably, in the large, capable, but not particularly merciful hands of his liege Lord, King Jad Richard ibn Jad DeMolay.

In reality, he was about a third accurate in his mantra; calmness and relaxation were completely out of his possible mental grasp, but he was truly willing to face any consequences for his actions, and those of his team. The Lieutenant had made that point quite emphatically to every investigator with whom he had spoken. As squad commander, the actions of the soldiers under his command were entirely his responsibility, and he had been the one who had given the final order to fire on the “target ship” that had, in reality, been carrying the mother of Lady Alleandre, and her entire research team. Corporal Murthi may have actually pulled the trigger, but only on his final instructions.

That morning, Jaqamel's mess dress uniform had been delivered to his cell—his “secure accomodations” within the Senet Military base—with the terse order to have himself ready by 1100 hours. Since more questions would not have merited a formal uniform, that could only mean one thing: Judgement Day. To say that the Lieutenant was existing in a mix of relief and dread would be an understatement.

The click of the door opening was very loud in the room and Jaqamel surged to his feet, coming to parade rest beside his bunk. The Sergeant waiting for him saluted briskly. “Lieutenant? If you could come with me, please, Sir?”

“Of course, Sergeant,” the Lieutenant replied, nodding with equal formality.

On stepping out into the hall, he found another soldier waiting to escort him, an honour guard which underscored his suspect circumstances. Of course, if he had really been charged with a crime, shackles would have been waiting as well, so their absence was a relief.

The march through the corridors was silent except for the clicking of their boots, their progress unremarked until they came to an anteroom before one of the facility's meeting rooms. It was one which was commonly used as a courtroom, confirming to Jaqamel that some kind of judgement would be forthcoming. The fact that every other member of his erstwhile team were also present only underscored it.

Jaqamel had not been given permission to speak with his people, so he remained silent, saluting each of them in turn. They remained equally taciturn, returning his salute. Thankfully, they didn't have to wait long before the door to the courtroom opened, and Jaqamel and his team saluted once more to the Colonel who appeared.

The Colonel nodded, waving them through the open doorway. “Lieutenant.”

Inside, two long tables had been set before the judges' bench, enough for his whole team to sit. They waited, however, and a few minutes later those officiating entered. He knew two of them personally. General Mia Harrison, second-in-command of the Military Investigations Division, had been heading the inquiry. And given those involved, it was no surprise that Colonel Theodora Nixon had been deeply involved as well, given her position as the Master of the Consort's Guard. The Lieutenant had been interviewed by the Colonel twice, and neither experience had been particularly pleasant.

The third person was in a wheelchair, and it took a moment for the lightning bolt of recognition to set in. When it did, the Lieutenant pulled himself up even further to attention.

“Squad!” he barked. “Full honours! Salute!”

Despite their own sure shock, the entire team pulled off a simultaneous salute that set new standards for preciseness and vigour. Six arms were held vertically utterly unmoving before six soldiers, who stood to attention with almost painful stiffness. It was only when Catherine Tretiak had been installed respectfully at the bench and the General spoke that they relaxed in the slightest.

“Please be seated,” General Harrison said, and Jaqamel and his team did so. The General, unmistakeably a bureaucrat, engaged in the obligatory shuffling of files and papers, while Colonel Nixon looked on with the faintest hint of amusement. However, any urge Jaqamel may have felt to laugh was instantly quelled when Harrison spoke again.

“This inquiry is now in closed session. Lieutenant, please sound off your squad for the record.”

“Yes, Ma'am. George Jaqamel, Lieutenant, Royal Atlantlan Army.”

On cue, his second picked up. “Eileen Hansen, Lieutenant, Royal Atlantlan Army.”

“Fariq Chaisson, Sergeant, Royal Atlantlan Army.”

“Hamal al-Terriq, Sergeant, Royal Atlantlan Army.”

“Holland Llammados, Sergeant, Royal Atlantlan Army.”

“Monika Murthi, Corporal, Royal Atlantlan Army.”

Harrison nodded. “You are all here because a finding has been made on the inquiry into the incident which took place on or about November 19th of last year.”

Somehow, Jaqamel sat up even straighter, and felt his squad do the same.

“It is the finding of the inquiry that you did receive training orders which you felt were legitimate, and were acting to carry out those orders. Therefore, you are cleared of suspicion of intent to harm others. However,” the General went on just as the Lieutenant felt himself relaxing slightly, “it is also the finding of the inquiry that you acted with gross negligence in failing to conclusively determine that your supposed target was free of other civilian and/or military personnel. This applies most directly to you, Lieutenant Jaqamel, and to a lesser extent to Corporal Murthi. It was your responsibility to ensure that your target was fully green, and you failed to do so.” Harrison frowned. “You did come forth about your error at the earliest possible circumstance and accepted full responsibility. This is admirable, and has been taken into consideration.”

Jaqamel couldn't help but swallow, and out of the corner of his eye he saw that Murthi was practically grey.

“It was therefore the position of the inquiry to recommend that you, Lieutenant Jaqamel, and you, Lieutenant Murthi, be prosecuted for dereliction of duty, gross negligence causing death, gross negligence causing grievous bodily harm, and failure to follow regulations concerning Class Two training missions. Lieutenant Hansen and Sergeants al-Terriq, Chaisson, and Llammalos were recommended to be cleared on all counts.” Harrison took a breath, while Jaqamel wondered if he'd even breath again. While it was a relief to know that four of his squad were off the hook, he also knew that a conviction of gross negligence causing death could draw him twenty years hard labour, even without the other charges.

“However, this recommendation has been conditionally suspended at the request of Nebet Catherine Tretiak, as well as the families of those who died in the incident.” The General glanced at the small woman in the wheelchair, whose eyepatch seemed to glare at Jaqamel accusingly, even though her good eye was shockingly free of condemnation, just as he could swear he could see the stump of her leg even behind the concealment of the bench. General Harrison smiled thinly and without humour. “Nebet Tretiak and her family have chosen to give you a chance to redeem yourselves, Lieutenant, Corporal.” She turned her head and nodded respectfully to Catherine Tretiak.

Nebet Tretiak looked at each of them in turn for a moment, and in that instant Jaqamel knew where her daughter had acquired her incredibly penetrating gaze. It was as though every one of his motives was effortlessly stripped and dissected, all in the space of an eyeblink.

“Lieutenant, Corporal,” she said, and Jaqamel almost blinked at the calmness in her tone. “I wanted to meet with you, considering the circumstances.” The slightest crack appeared in her façade. “I'm sure you'll understand that this is a little hard for me.”

“Yes, Ma'am,” Jaqamel said, though without the crispness he might have used in replying to a senior officer. Somehow he couldn't bring himself to use such harsh forcefulness to this small woman.

“I wish I could say I totally forgive you for what you did, but I'm afraid human emotions are not that easy to control. This applies even more to the families of those who were killed in... on that night.” Mrs Tretiak took a deep breath. “However, my daughter and husband have convinced me, and the rest of the families, to give all of you the chance to earn that forgiveness. We've seen your records, at least the parts that aren't classified, and while I admit there was a lot I didn't understand, I've been assured that it's all very impressive. You can also thank my daughter; she has a knack for seeing the potential in people. And that potential will not be fulfilled in a prison labour camp.” Her eyes sharpened, sweeping across all of them. “So here's what you're going to do, Mr Jaqamel and Ms Murthi: you're going to serve by giving your lives to Alleandre. You're going to join her Guard detail, and, if the time ever comes, you are going to give your lives for hers.” Jaqamel gaped. “My daughter suggested that you join my own Guard, but I can't work with you. Not yet.” Catherine Tretiak shook her head. “That is the price of our forgiveness.” She looked over to Colonel Nixon. “Theodora has the details.”

The sharp-faced Guard Colonel was impassive. “In exchange for this leniency, you will transfer services to the Atlantlan Guard, where you will undergo training sufficient to assume roles as members of the Personal Guard assigned to the Heir Consort. As payment for nearly ending her mother's life, you will be tasked with defending hers, even at the possible expense of your own.”

Jaqamel couldn't believe his ears, and judging by the expressions on the faces of his squad, neither could they. After a screw-up as massive as his, they were going to transfer him and Murthi to the Guard?! The Personal Guard of the Heir consort, no less?! Nebet Tretiak was either insane or a saint, and the Lieutenant very nearly said so out loud.

Thankfully, he didn't as Colonel Nixon continued. “In addition, you, Lieutenant Jaqamel, and you, Corporal Murthi, will both be stripped of one grade in rank. You will also be docked half your salary for a period of not less than ten years, those funds going instead to support those who were injured by your actions, and the families of those who were killed. However, this demotion is without prejudice, and you will be eligible for regular promotion and advancement for the duration of your service.” The Colonel looked at the other members of the team. “These are the terms of this agreement, and they are wholly non-negotiable for Lieutenant Jaqamel and Corporal Murthi. Should you refuse, you will be charged as recommended by the inquiry. For the rest of you, you are given the opportunity to transfer to the Guard as well, for consideration to postings yet to be determined. Well, Lieutenant? What do you choose?”

Was the Colonel insane? “I cannot speak for Corporal Murthi, Ma'am, but for myself I would like to take the opportunity to redeem my errors in the service of Lady Alleandre.” What else could he say?


“Uhhh... Yes, Ma'am,” Murthi stammered, obviously just as shell-shocked. “That is, I would choose to serve as well, Ma'am.”

“Good,” Colonel Nixon said, and then her smile was feral. “No matter how good you think you are, at times you will wish you had taken the other option during your Guard training.” Her teeth glinted. “I plan to see to it personally.”

“Are you well, Catherine?” Colonel Nixon asked with a softness that would have shocked many who knew her.

Catherine Tretiak sat for a moment lost in thought. The two of them were in a comfortable waiting room, awaiting General Harrison to return from other duties. “Pardon? Oh, yes, I'm fine.” She raised a hand to massage her forehead, seemingly surprised when it shook visibly. “Perhaps some water?”

“Of course.” Nixon hurried to the sideboard, where a carafe and glasses had been provided. “Here you go.”

Catherine drank thirstily. “Thank you, Dora.”

Nixon rolled her eyes, and Catherine grinned with more vigour. Nobody had dared to call the Colonel by that diminutive since her grandmother, but Catherine had appropriated the shortening of her name without a qualm, flatly refusing to call her by her more common nickname of “Dicky.”

“You're welcome... Cat,” the Colonel replied, smiling at Catherine's eyeroll. Nobody had been more surprised than her that she and Lady Alleandre's mother had actually become friends since the “incident.”

“How do you feel now that you've met Jaqamel and Murthi?”

That is a bit more tricky,” Catherine said wryly. She shook her head. “There's still a part of me that wants to see them in prison, but...” She shook her head. “They're both punishing themselves more than enough with the amount of guilt running through them.”

Colonel Nixon just nodded, unsurprised. Only a few people knew that Lady Alleandre's mother was also an empath. She had nowhere near the power or skill of her daughter, but it was still well in the paranormal realm.

“Still, somehow I'm glad that Ally convinced me to give them that chance. Ally really does see potential in them both, you know. Especially Jaqamel.”

“Oh?” Nixon asked. “Psychogenic potential?” It was a question that would never even have crossed her mind a year before. That had been before she had been personally pinned to the wall with psychokinetic force.

Catherine shook her said. “I don't think even she knows. It could just be that spark that can turn 'good' into 'great.'”

“Well, if anyone can bring out that potential, whatever it is, your daughter can,” Nixon mused. “Have I told you just how impressed I am with how well she's been handling her 'team?'”

Catherine smiled. “Arthur was saying the same thing.”

“It's true. She's been breaking just about every 'rule' of investigation there is, and she's already beginning to pull ahead of the Guard agencies. She's totally squashed any power struggles and rivalries on her team, as well.”

“I know.” Catherine sighed. “I just wish she didn't have to do it, though. She would much rather be using the same team and same resources to be doing something more... positive. Discovering cold fusion, or some such thing.”

Nixon laughed. “I don't doubt that she will one day. Her intelligence is... beyond impressive. You know, I had an analysis done on her. Purely for my own interest,” she hurried to add. “And nothing official. I know a psychological analyst in the Guard who owed me a favour, and he looked over some of the more... open parts of her file. He said he wouldn't be surprised if her I.Q. measured at least 200.”

“It's a good thing Evelynne's no slouch when it comes to intelligence, either. In fact, I think Ally's rubbing off on her somehow. And vice versa.”

“I wouldn't be at all surprised. And Her Highness is 'rubbing off,' as you say, on Alleandre as well. She is no longer quite so... introverted as she once was.”

“Mmm.” There was silence for a moment. “Dora, how is Ally really doing? I worry about her, and you actually see her so much more than I do.”

Nixon hesitated, torn. On the one hand, Alleandre was her charge, and there were strict regulations concerning privacy and disclosure. On the other, this was a mother worried about her child.

“She's... tired, Catherine. She's thrown herself into this job and this investigation with so much energy, and she is, as we've said, very good at it. But it isn't what she wants to be doing, and it's beginning to show. She's nowhere near 'burning out,' as I think you put it, but she's tiring.”

“And Evelynne?”

“I believe Evelynne is much the same, although she has a lifetime of training in her duties to draw from. More than once I've actually overheard them talking about the 'good old days' when they were away. Always as a jest, but there's an undercurrent of seriousness to it.” Nixon smiled wryly. “I am actually quite grateful for the presence of Claire Jones. She is a very good stabilising influence.”

“That's good,” Catherine said, smiling. “I like her.” She paused. “I don't want to stick my nose in, but... hell, that's what mothers do. Do you know anything about the... personal relationship the three of them have?”

Nixon hesitated again. “What do you mean?” she asked carefully.

“I've seen how Claire looks at both Ally and Evelynne, and I know you have, too. And I do know that Ally, at least, is far more affectionate towards her than she's ever been towards other friends. I just want to know that nobody's going to get hurt, including Claire.”

“I'm quite sure there's nothing... intimate going on,” the Colonel said slowly. “I would imagine that the closeness they share is more due to their shared experiences in America and Canada. From what I understand, they all bonded quite strongly. And if you'll pardon my frankness, with the... abilities each of them possesses, that bonding takes on a far deeper possibility.”

“That's true. I know that Ally and Evy are linked, so I suppose it's not out of the question that some other kind of bond could have formed. Especially after...” Catherine trailed off and when she spoke again she was very quiet. “Does Ally ever mention... that night. At that bar?”

Nixon shook her head. She had been given a very basic description of the events which had nearly shattered her ward's psyche, and the knowledge of it still filled her with rage and professional guilt. Even though Alleandre had been technically out of her jurisdiction at the time, the Colonel still harboured a Guardsman's typical fury when her charge was threatened or harmed.

“Not in my hearing. She has... changed, however, as I'm sure you've seen. Her abstinence from alcohol is only the most visible indicator. She is also very wary of being alone with anyone but Her Highness, Claire, and Chorus Tladi.” Nixon paused. “I did a little... investigation, and found out the condition of the woman who... assaulted Alleandre.”


“Eileen Swanson pleaded guilty to charges of manufacturing and trafficking in an illegal substance, and of reckless endangerment through her actions in 'testing' new product on unsuspecting individuals. She received eight years in prison, and is also helping police investigate other manufacturers and distributors in the area. She is also taking part in a state-wide anti-drug campaign from her prison cell. Apparently she'll even be in a public service commercial in several months.” Nixon looked vaguely appeased. “I'm still not sure what Alleandre did to her, but it was certainly effective.”

“It wasn't Ally,” Catherine murmured. “It was Evelynne. She made the woman feel everything Ally was going through.”

“Really?” Nixon asked, surprised. “That is a rather pure form of justice, isn't it?”

“Yes. I just wish it hadn't been necessary.”


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