Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Las Vegas Nevada
Current Game: Dungeonseige series
A song of two wounded hearts
For those to have read the series, this is AU. What might have happened if the Republic President had gained a treecat
A Song of Two Wounded Hearts
taking her home to Haven in time to learn of Giscard's death. Her own grief links her to the cat. They later meet Honor and Nimitz.
Lieutenant Royce Halstead ruffled the fur of Jasmine, his treecat. She purred, claws trying to catch his hands as he played with her. "You have to go in the can, my sweet." He said. She rolled up as if horrified, and he chuckled. "You know it's for your protection."
She unrolled,rubbing against his chest as he opened the survival capsule. Ever since the first treecat had 'adopted' a human in the Navy, the RMN had spent a lot of time thinking of what to do about it. Back in Queen Adrienne's time, only a few senior admirals had been stupid enough to try to get them considered as mere pets.
During her reign She dealt with such detractors in a way only beheading would have exceeded. One of her Space Lords had been foolish enough to say it where she could hear it and lost his job over it.
Other attempts to curtail the careers of officers who had been so adopted also fell flat. An admiral had protested to the Queen herself that his grand niece (Then an ensign) was being denied a tactical posting not because she was incompetent but rather because of her recent adoption and the hammer came down yet again.
The attempts died a rather hurried death after that. It is one thing to stand stubbornly by a prejudice, but there comes a time when even an idiot could smell the coffee.
It has been bandied about that the Crown ruled at the behest of the cats, and it hadn't changed a lot in the intervening century and a half.
After all, her treecat Dianect went everywhere with her.
Halstead slipped his helmet under his arm as he jogged down the passageway of HMS Racer. She was an older destroyer built in the first years of the last war, but she was modernized since, and could still hold her own in stealth, even if underarmed for a modern day threat environment. He took his seat in Damage control central as the loudspeaker clicked.
"All hands this is the captain." lieutenant commander Darla Murray spoke gently. "Coming up on translation in thirty seconds. Engineering be ready to go to full stealth as rapidly as possible. We want to be ready to drive the Peeps batty, people."
Halstead grinned. The crew was used to this, jumping into a Republic system, sliding around like a Manticore razorfish, unseen, until the captain opened her sealed orders telling them that this time they were just bait to attract the enemy away from their center; to pull out and head home. Or that this time 8th fleet would be coming to visit.
So far Racer had been part of only one raid at the start of Cutworm. But that luck couldn't hold, could it?
The one thing Eloise Pritchart loathed about her office was the adulation. She was the President, and as much as she wanted to be in her office struggling with the real work, she had to take time to be seen, especially with her political allies.
At least this time it had coincided with Javier being out of the system. His units had been dispatched to the Lovat system three days ago. Duchess Harrington's destroyers were there scouting, and Lovat was a system ONI had tagged as a potential target. Within the next couple of days they might be striking there.
She wanted it to be over. The war was wearing on her spirit every day. The hopes of the summit dashed because of the accusations. Why in the name of God would she try to murder a young girl who just happened to be both queen of Torch, and daughter to of all people Anton ZIlwicki? Not to mention the same attack would have killed Princess Ruth, the niece of Queen Elizabeth of Manticore!*
She wished she could just climb into a dispatch ship, sail it to Trevor's star, storm off into Mount Royal Palace and shake Elizabeth the Third like a rag doll. She had wanted it over, wanted the dying and waste to end. Instead she was accused of poisoning her own well to keep it going!
So here she was in the Tambourin system, standing on a podium thanking the people of this world for their support of the war, praising the local navy vessels and their proud crews. Asking them to go on in a war more useless with every month.
Her chief of security, Sheila touched her arm, gently drawing Pritchart aside. "Madam President, Manty destroyers just came over the hyper wall."
"Here?" She wished she hadn't asked the blatantly stupid question. "What has the navy reported?"
The bodyguard grinned a smile only*a predator would have enjoyed seeing.
A spacecraft, even the size of a super dreadnought is a tiny thing in comparison to the vast expanse of a solar system. What is a few kilometers in length to a distance measured not in kilometers but in the time it takes light to travel in a second?
So the odds of ramming someone accidentally are right up there with anything someone wants to say is impossible.
Of course, people win multi-million dollar lotteries all the time...
The first Royce knew they were in trouble was when the smooth progress of a ship coming out of hyper turned into what felt like a ship running aground. The lights flared, and he instinctively slammed his helmet on his head. His board had gone insane, and he tapped the compartment icons that flashed a lurid red. "Damage control party four!" No reply. He called again, bringing up party two, that should be near the chase armament.
The captain should have been calling down, demanding a report. Unfortunately she was busy.
"Tubes one and Two, grazer 1, forward impeller room, gone!" Tactical reported.
"LACs, captain, everywhere!" sensors reported.
Murray's repeater came up, and she stared in amazement. A mass of LACs surrounded her wounded ship. Ahead, the debris of maybe three of them were falling past as the wounded ship still surged forward at the 4 kilometers per second they had carried over the alpha wall. The Republic had been running maneuvers in the one section of the system they had chosen for the insertion, and her own ship must have left hyper ramming through the massed light craft like a shark plowing through a school of fish. The impeller wedges of the smaller ships had caused them to literally explode, but in doing so they had lamed her command.
Her officers, right down to the NCOs on the mounts didn't need orders in this case. The enemy was not only there, in a lot of cases, they were within visual range.
Frantic people on both sides were running their software, trying to get a lock, and ten score fingers slammed the buttons flat in less than a second.
At the range they were at, even the furthest LAC was only 30,000 kilometers away. Point defense lasers shattered dozens of the LACs, point defense missiles on automatic barely had time to clear their tubes before slamming into those further away. Broadside laser armament shattered ten more.
And that was just the destroyer firing.
In return almost 150 broadside lasers ripped into the fragile hull.* It was two men armed with grenades at bare knuckle range. The fight was over almost before anyone realized it had begun.
Everything fired by either side hit.
Jasmine, or Shy Voice as she was known to her people knew something was wrong. Her human's mind had spiked in panic, then in resignation.
Then hell reigned.
Something shattered the ten centimeter thick hull in the room her human lived in. In the same instant other horrible fangs ripped through all around her. She cowered down as the support module lurched, then began to fall. But not toward the deck. Instead the screaming vortex of atmosphere threw her into space. She saw the universe she had been part of shattered, and wailed in agony as his mind glow just vanished. Not even time for him to feel pain.
LAC 14-021, named Gladys after the commander's wife drifted in the debris. Lieutenant Rauclair gasped, looking at the shattered debris, and wondered how his crew had survived. Gladys had been running on the left flank of the wing's formation when the destroyer had just been there in the middle of it, her Warshawski sails interfering with maybe a dozen impeller wedges. "Report." He rasped.
"We're alive." Chief Mendoza whispered. His captain chuckled.
"I am glad someone verified that, chief." Damage?"
"Some hull damage from debris. Nothing serious, sir."
"Any news from command?"
"I think Remora was caught near the middle." The chief ran his screen back, the formation reforming as if it had not happened. One of the ships flashed red. "Yep, Remora was caught within 200 kilometers of the Manty. Nothing survived inside that. We should be thankful no one got a broadside missile off or we wouldn't even have debris to examine."
"And the Manty?"
"Skipper everyone near enough to have a laser tube on her fired. She's swiss cheese. I'm surprised her fusion bottle didn't blow. As it is she took almost a third of the wing with her." Mendoza stiffened, “we have suit transponders out there."
"Call the others, we have some SAR to do here, Chief."
The next hours were tedious and sometimes heartbreaking. About fifty suit transponders had activated, but that didn't mean the person wearing it had survived. Mendoza in the minuscule cutter a Republic of Haven LAC carried almost wept in fury when half a dozen suits together turned out to be Republican suits that hadn't been in use when the devastation hit.
Of the transponders so far recovered, seven had been men or women still alive, four of them Manticoran. The rest were people killed by shrapnel, or in one case, eviscerated by a laser There were only three remaining, only one within Mendoza's area. They heard the news as the other two suits turned out to have only bodies in them.
He wearily scanned ahead. The transponder should be right there, but all he saw was what looked like parts storage blown out of the Manty ship. "Heffner, Stoltz, the body must be in the jetsam ahead. You'll have to go in on suit jets."
"Right, chief.” The two suited people moved forward as the cuter slowed.
Shana Heffner slowed, checking the crate that she almost flew into. Her suit read the transponder, but not that close. Over... there. She jetted to another crate. This one looked odd, One side was armorplast, a complex module had been bolted to it, and she could see what looked like life support readouts on the opposite edge. It was about a meter wide, and she turned it slowly, her eyes widening as she saw a furred form curled up in a sorrowful ball floating in the air.
"It's some kind of animal, Chief. One of those, what are they called... Treecats?"
"Get it aboard. They have a full up medical ship en route."
She was one of their R class destroyers, built about a year after the last war started." Captain Duval her local naval escort reported. "The class was manpower intensive, as all the older ships are. 429 crew."
"And only four survived?" Pritchart had know that naval war was brutal, but to lose that many people in an instant?
"Three. One succumbed to wounds. Oh, and the treecat."
"Treecat?" Pritchart looked at the hospital ward. There were so few beds filled from this latest battle, six, evenly divided between the Manticoran and Republican.
"The Chief of services put it in the restricted ward."
The president's head turned, oh so slowly, like the first pebbles of an avalanche that would devastate the entire slope of the mountain.* "He did what?"
Eloise was horrified to find the treecat muzzled and trussed up like a rabid animal, left laying on a cold metal lab table rather than on a cushioned surface. She wasn't struggling against her bonds, rather she lay there as if her misery could not be worse.
Tom Thiessman had told her about Nimitz, the companion of Duchess Harrington. How rich that bond had seemed. While she has spoken rarely with Lester Tourbridge had yet to meet Admiral Shannon Foraker, what she had heard was of a lively and amusing creature, nothing like the sad creature before her.
Thiessman had told her of how both Harrington and Nimitz had been affected by the clubbing of Nimitz. This was probably the reaction to her human's death
As far as she knew ONI had begun investigating more, but she was not fully conversant. She stroked her hand down the cat's side. She didn't attack, purr or flinch, she merely lay there as if there was no hope.
"Captain Duval, I wish to see this doctor. Now."
The sparrow like little man came walking in as if he owned the hospital, hand outstretched. "Doctor Pierre Baptiste." He introduced himself.
Pritchart look at the hand as if it were covered in muck. "Doctor, why are you mistreating one of your patients?"
"Mistreating?" He looked shocked. "None of the POWs are being mistreated."
"And what of her?" Pritchart motioned toward the cat.
"That animal could easily kill a man, I've seen HD footage of one of them doing exactly that."
She sighed, she remembered the footage herself, Nimitz attacking the attempted assassination of Protector Benjamin of Grayson.
"Doctor, the Manticorans have been doing studies that suggest that treecats are as intelligent as humans. They are empathic and bond literally to their humans in a partnership, not a pet-owner manner. This patient has lost her human when the ship was destroyed. She has suffered a loss as great as losing a spouse, and you muzzle her and tie her up as if she is diseased. You call yourself a doctor?"
"I am a doctor, Madam President. Not a veterinarian!"
Duval who had come in after the surgeon stepped back.*
She crossed her arms, topaz eyes flaming."Then by all means, be a doctor somewhere else. I will see you discharged as unfit to wear the uniform. To treat a patient any patient like this is abominable." She turned, gently cradling the mourning cat to her breast. "Let's go, Captain Duval."
"But Madam President-"
"What?" She snarled. "It is unfair? You didn't think of her feelings? I can't do it?" He merely gaped like a fish as she stalked from the room.
She almost relented when they got back to the limo, but one look at that distraught figure was enough. "Captain Duval, request all the data we have on treecats to be transmitted to my offices. Anything here I will take with me.
"I also need a medical technician to assist. I don't think this poor girl has eaten or drunk anything since she was found."
Life was a blur of pain and loss. Shy Voice was the youngest daughter of one of the most revered memory singers of her world. A cat with such a compelling voice that she had been terrified to even aspire to such a height. While other young memory singers would come to learn, to see how far they could go, Shy Voice would vacate herself rather than even try.
Her name was her mother's chiding reminder that if she would not use it, she would never grow as an individual.
Unlike the average cat who adopted a human, she was barely older than the one she bonded with. Less than two T years as she understood their usage. Bright Mind had sung to her when she saw him, a boy soon to go to the Saganami Island, to be embroiled in the war that raged across the stars.
They had been in battles terrifying to him and her, and the boy had become a warrior. Always she was there to sooth his pains, to give him unconditional love. In her mind she had wished for the voice of her mother, to weave those memories into the tapestry of the cat's society, make him immortal in memory.
There had been the few intervening years, when the war had stopped. He now faced pirates, then in Marsh, the resurgent Republic. Now a senior lieutenant, he was reassigned to the 8th fleet under the same commander, and they had become sneaks, ferreting out the information needed for that fleet to score victory after victory.
Her spirit plummeted as she remembered that bright mind glow was no more. She felt the human hand gently stroke her back, and wished the human would just leave her to her misery. She understood that the human did not fully understand why she was bereft, and only that stopped her from sinking her claws into that hand.
Never mind, she mourned. I will be with him again soon.
It was two days back to Haven and Pritchart had a lot to do, but she spent what time she could with the cat. She would drink, but had refused food. She had not resisted when the medical technician, actually a xenobiology student who had studied the treecats from afar inserted an IV in her rear leg.
Like Eloise, Norman Saint Sauvage spoke gently to his charge, using the smallest gauge needle he could. Still he despaired. There was no way he could replace the nutrients lost by her refusal to eat. Like someone in a coma, she would lose weight, become a husk, then finally reach an equilibrium, a place between life and death.
"There's nothing I can do beyond this, Madam president." He admitted. "She seems to have lost the will to live. That must come from within."
"I will see about having her returned to her home world." Pritchart said. "If she wishes to die, I think she would prefer it among her own kind." She went back to work, mentally running through who in the diplomatic community she could contact. Thanks to the incident in Talbot, the Solarians were out. Neither the Andermani nor Manticorans were here any more. Perhaps the Erewhonese? They had left the Alliance, but at the same time they weren't active belligerents.
She was still busy as the Presidential Yacht, the battlecruiser Republic dropped out of hyper in the Haven system. There were messages, of course there were messages. Most handled by her staff, Some were delivered from the ship's Communications officer in a sealed box, and she sighed.
As she went through, she made her decisions. Only one left her curious. It was marked from the Secretary of War, but merely said he would meet her in her office when she arrived on the planet. Why that should be a secret was a mystery. She hoped Javiar would return soon. They had to plan on the mission to end this war.
She stood as the office door opened, nodding at Tom Thiessmann as she came forward to take his hand. "How are things here, Tom?"
"He took her hand, eyes worried. "Madam President... Eloise?"
She stopped, confused, formal to suddenly very private, she felt herself drawn to the conference pit to one side of the office. Without asking he went to the bar, pouring a stiff brandy, then walked back, setting it to her side.
"The first news is back from Lovat, and it's bad." He said heavily. "Javiar mousetrapped Harrington's force, four podnaughts with screen. As they closed in Javiar was suddenly moustrapped himself. They used some kind of new missile guidance system with realtime control all the way to their targets.”
“Two pincers of the attack were destroyed before the dispatch boat got out, 32 podnaughts, and 8 CLACs." He wanted to snap to attention, report it as an Admiral to his President, but he knew Javiar, knew the suddenly pale woman before him not as people, but as among some of his best friends. Her head was shaking a mute no even as he took her hand.
"Eloise, his ship was one of the first destroyed. There were no survivors."
Eloise walked into her Presidential palace, walking silently up the starcase to her quarters, and closed the door. It had been a week, a week since her life had ended, her love destroyed. She had regretted starting the war again, regretted the lives on both side lost, but until that moment she had to admit it was an abstract, X numbers of ships crewed by Y number of men and women destroyed in Z system, whatever system it happened to be.
She sank into a chair, staring through a veil of tears at the wall. She had joined so many families in her nation and that of her enemy. She had lost someone near to her, and the platitudes, the words of bravery meant nothing, they were just wind, and the wind gives and profits nothing, and cares not at all.
She understood now why the Natives of the Pacific Northwest of Terra back four millennia ago had created a game called potlach. Throw something of value into the fire, to prove their worth, your opponent had to match or go further, destroying his own possessions until one would refuse. The only bloodless form of war in history.
She had to admit her decision to authorize operation Beatrice had come from that pain. In her heart she was bleeding and wounded and she wanted to strike back, to hurt those that had hurt her. If Harrington had been standing there in that first moment she would have killed the woman with her bare hands and danced on the body.
There was a tentative knock, and she looked up. "Yes." Her voice was soft, in control, and she scrubbed her face with her hands to rid herself of the ravages of her pain.
Sheila stuck her head in, “sorry to bother you, Madam President, but that medical technician St Sauvage is outside, wanting to speak to you."
She had to concentrate, So much had happened, "Yes, the treecat. Send him in." The young man's hands were writhing as if he were washing them. Eloise concentrated on trying to make him a bit calmer. "Norman?"
"I contacted the Erewohnese Legation as you requested, Madam President. There isn't a dispatch boat here at the moment, but he expects it within the next two days. He offered himself to transport her to Trevor's Star."
"How is she?"
The man shook his head. "No better. She still won't eat. During the last couple of days she has taken to removing her IV if not watched, and hiding in the room. Lucky for us there isn't a window or floor vent, or she would have escaped and let herself die days ago."
Suddenly her own pain felt lessened. She should have been worried before about the little cat, and here she was wallowing in her own pain instead. "I'm going to see her."
Shy Voice moved to the closet again, this time stacking the boxes that rested on the floor around her. She knew they meant well, but her pain called to her, and they were holding her back with gentle hands that would not let go.
She curled up, nose to tail, and went back to it. What had he been doing in those last seconds? Had he recognized that he would die? Why had she been so far away, unable to touch him, or if it had been by one of those great light weapons, have their atoms mixed into the plasma of his disolution.
She understood the concept of being alone. Even in an empathic species, if you moved far enough away from others, there was a time when all you had was the hush and bustle of nature itself. There were also times when you might not want to join in, and others would wall you in silence so you could do what you wished, though they were always there to hear if you called.
But she had never understood the sheer horror of the feeling. Even if she were home, surrounded by her own clan, without him she would forever be alone.
The door into the hall opened, and she flinched. They would come again, put her back in the soft nest, maybe put in the thorn that hurt. She did not want to deal with that again.
But this was different, there was a dark cloud of emotion out there. It felt vaguely familiar, as if she had touched his mind, and she examined it.
Yes, it was the one with soft hands, the gentle voice that had removed the restraints. That had brought her from there to here. Yet it was different, it was jagged with pain and loss, holding together by strength of will alone against something so painful and so recent that no one should have to endure it. It felt so much like her own feelings that it seemed to hetrodyne.
Shy Voice slipped to her feet, shoving the box she had slid over the top out of the way just as the door opened. With a cry of joy the cat leaped forward.
Sheila spun at the loud 'Bleek', grabbing her sidearm out to aim at the cat leaping at the President's chest. Then she snapped it up out of battery as Pritchart caught the animal, staggering back a pace, then merely stood holding the purring bundle.
She couldn't explain it. The anguish she had felt at Javiar's death seemed to siphon away, caught in a black hold that gently moved it into nothingness. As it did, she felt a cooresponding agony in the cat fade not into nonhingness, but like hers to the point where it was there in the distance, weeks of emotional wellbeing being done in whatever time occured in that embrace.
The war would continue, Maybe Beatrice would end it, maybe not, but soon, some day this horrible conflict would end.
The treecats all sat on the end of the table, each receding from the powerful memory, and looked at the youngest with respect. She ducked her head in embarrasment, and there was bleeking laughter.
<Such emotion and control, my sister.> Golden Voice replied. <You have learned what your mother wished, to use your voice to heal and speak.>
<Yes.> Once Shy Voice, the newly renamed Voice of the Heart replied. <I found that only those who have suffered understand others who have. Wounded Heart healed me as I healed her.>
<As we heal them all.> Leaf Catcher commented drily. The eldest of the cats, he looked at his own human, Soul of Steel. The woman was sitting there, trying to hold onto her fury, but Wounded Heart spoke, and her words lessened that fury. Zilwicki and Cachet had delivered their reports to their respective governments, and they knew who their true enemy was at last. This first meeting had been at the behest of the one called Dances on Clouds, who sat there in her uniform beside her mate Strikes Forward. She turned, and they felt her amusement at the side conversation.
<Their war will continue, with the true enemy revealed.> Voice of the Heart replied. <Suffering we cannot begin to imagine awaits them.>
<Yet our hearts will hold them close.> Golden Voice said sadly. <And when they pass on, our people will remember them when the sun grows cold.>