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A Warrior's Family (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 26[]

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A Warrior's Family[]

Message to Mother[]

October 3029

Joker and Mags quarreled most of the walk to the cab. Hap wasn't sure if Mags had ever had to listen to Joker's tirade on why John Stallion was the greatest actor of any age. Eventually Hap suggested a movie marathon to prove which actor made better movies. They liked the idea so much they even agreed to let Anastasia pick a movie, if she paid for the pizzas.

In the cab, Joker Mags and Anastasia worked on their list of movies and Hap found himself just enjoying the moment. He liked being surrounded by lancemates, they were his family within the family. He realized he had been so preoccupied with his relationship with Anastasia he had missed some of the growth of them coming together as a team.

Mags had really come around. When Hap first met Mags, he assumed he would have to put up with her tough girl act, just like Joker's annoying sense of humor. Instead she slowly warmed up to the lance during the trip to Monhegan. Hap felt guilty he hadn't noticed the subtle changes that happened as they worked together in the simulators. Hap was certain Anastasia fixing Mag's holoviewer is what brought Mags out of her shell, but it probably wasn't just one act, again, it was time. Based on yesterday's patrol she now seemed trainable and like she wanted to learn.

Hap also recognized that Mags was very competitive. When they were doing drills in the simulator Mags tended to try and outdo Joker. Hap had originally thought she had decided not to compete with Anastasia because Anastasia usually got perfect marks on her gunnery. It was clear Anastasia's hard work, extensive training at NAIS, and a private tutoring made her an exceptional Mechwarrior. Even Hap, with all his training and combat experience, had to work to keep up with Anastasia.

Hap thought back to Joker's comment about the posters in Mag's locker. Anastasia had mentioned Mags put those up after Joker had put his own posters of naked women in his wall locker back on the Tir na nOg. When Hap first saw all this, he had figured Mags had her posters and Anastasia had her books. Now Hap wondered if Mags was competing with Joker on a different level or trying to tell him something.

Anastasia shifted in her seat and accidentally hit Hap's side. Hap nudged her back, and she smiled as she playfully returned the gesture. Hap's thoughts turned to their relationship, as she pressed herself into his side while happily discussing movies with Joker and Mags. He had spent weeks trying to make sure she was in love with him, and not infatuated with her idealized 'white knight' from Klathandu. After nearly two months, they had gotten to know each other and she had seen he was far from a white knight, but she still joked about being his "better wife."

Hap put his arm over her shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze, and she smiled as she reached for his hand. For all the things she did that annoyed him, Hap loved her. He loved that she was a problem solver, and found satisfaction in fixing things. He loved that cool voice on his comms channel that gave him important information he didn't notice or didn't have on his tactical display. As much as it sometimes irritated him, he also liked how she challenged him and pushed him to be better.

The cab stopped in front of the grandiose ComStar office for Monhegan. It was a tall and imposing square concrete building with a large dome roof. It was in the middle of the Starport, surrounded by other buildings, but there was over twenty meters of steep marble and granite stairs leading up to it. Hap knew little about architecture, but he always felt that ComStar used a style designed to make a person feel insignificant. Inside the effect was amplified. To Hap it felt like a mix of a bank and a church.

The main gallery was a large room with more granite and marble. It had a lofted ceiling going up to the dome. In the back was a large stained glass window with the ComStar symbol, and around the sides of the building were more stained glass windows with images of various ComStar leaders and other arcane symbols or iconography. Along the sides were small rooms and booths. Along the back wall were two staircases leading to the lower levels.

There were neat rows with terminals surrounded by chairs that, if it were a bank, Hap would have thought would be where you'd discuss a loan, however here it was where you discussed what you wanted to send by ComStar's HPG network. Cloaked and hooded members of ComStar performed their duties, helped customers, or came and went to the lower levels. The Coyotes got into the main que behind a few other people and waited for their turn, but no one talked as they waited.

When Harold and Anastasia got to the front of the line a hooded figure standing in the center of the room motioned for them to approach. "What may the blessed order do for you, my children?" He asked.

"I would like to send a video and a note to Hazelhurst." Anastasia said

The hooded man nodded, and with the subtlest of gestures motioned to another ComStar member, "Brother Hyek will assist you, please follow him." Quickly, but silently, Brother Hyek came to them and wordlessly gestured for them to follow him. He was wearing a white hooded robe and looked young.

He led them to one of the desks and sat on one side while Hap and Anastasia sat on the other. Anastasia pulled sheets of paper from her purse, and laid them on the desk, "I need these sent to Hazelhurst for the Countess Valois, and I also require a video booth to record a short message for the Countess."

Hyek adjusted the monitor on the desk and began to type. "This day, at this time, in the great celestial network of our blessed order, by Blake's wisdom, we find that a message from Monehagan will take five to eleven days to reach Hazlehurst. But, the great Jerome Blake had foreseen, in his wisdom, a way that a message could be sent in five days or less. It will, however, require a greater contribution to our holy order and our sacred work to maintain the vast systems that unites mankind through communication."

"The five to eleven days is fine." Anastasia said dismissively, rejecting his attempt to up sell.

Brother Hyek looked disappointed, "Very well." He picked up the sheets of paper and fed them, one at a time, into a slot built in the desk. After they were scanned he passed the sheets back to Anastasia. "I shall now take you to the place where you may record a message that will then be sent, through the stars, by our blessed order, using the methods and technology that the great Jerome Blake, in his wisdom, has built to unite mankind, so that one day we may once more have peace in unity."

Brother Hyek stood, and motioned to one of the rooms along the side. Anastasia and Hap followed him into a small video studio. He motioned to chairs that were strategically placed in front of a large metallic engraved Comstar symbol hanging from the wall bordered by the Monehegan and Federated Suns flags. As Hap and Anastasia got comfortable Brother Hyek adjusted the camera and gave them lapel mics.

Hap watched Brother Hyek do strange hand motions over the camera and the systems it was plugged into. Anastasia pulled another sheet of paper from her purse. She smoothed out the paper on her knee and said to Hap, "I need you to tell me when I've talked for 90 seconds. I'll introduce you, you'll say hello, then I'll sign off. You'll have twenty seconds."

"I have twenty seconds? It would have been nice if you had told me that before now." Hap said

"You work best under pressure, mon amour." Anastasia said with a wolfish grin.

"What?" Hap said.

"Just practicing my French, Harold."

"Why are you practicing French?" Hap asked

Brother Hyek cleared his throat, "The equipment is prepared and the rituals are complete. When you are ready we can began recording-"

"I'm ready now." Anastasia said

Brother Hyek politely nodded, counted down from three to one, and then pushed a button on the camera. A red light on the camera blinked, and Anastasia began speaking in fluent French. Hap glanced down at his watch, then over to her notes. They were also all in French. He tried not to look annoyed or confused as she spoke in a language he couldn't understand.

Hap watched the second hand swiftly move. He had about sixty seconds now. He had no idea what to say, he also was trying to remember back to his "charm school class" on military and noble etiquette. Should he call her "Countess Valois", or was it "My Lady", or "Lady Hazelhurst." Hap didn't even know if she had an official title that went with Countess. Anastasia always referred to her as "mother." If this relationship didn't work out, Hap promised himself he'd never get involved with a noble again.

Thirty seconds. He had no idea how to greet the woman, nor did he know what he was going to say. He hadn't worked out a way to signal Anastasia when her 90 seconds was up. He glanced sideways. She was happily saying, god knew what, to her mother. Hap swallowed hard, ten seconds. He took a deep breath, and put his arm across her back and gently squeezed her shoulder.

Anastasia glanced down at his watch, then held up a hand to let him know to wait, she finished her sentence then motioned to him, "Mon Cher 'Arold Cala'ad."

Hap looked at the camera, "Hello Ma'am, I'm Harold Calahad." He glanced over at her, "It's been a pleasure to work with Anastasia, and get to know her."

Anastasia gave Hap a look that wordlessly communicated "And?"

"and? I" Hap looked back at the camera, "I'm quite fond of your daughter."

Anastasia shook her head and laughed as she said, "Il est timide et ne peut pas dire que je t'aime". Anastasia said a few more things in French, then looked past the camera to brother Hyek. She pointed to him and nodded as he hit the camera's off button.

Brother Hyek opened the door and motioned to the desk, "If you would like to wait out there I will perform the sacred shutdown ritual and prepare your video for its great and wonderful cosmic journey."

As they walked Hap said, "I felt very unprepared for that. I wish we could have rehearsed, or that you would have warned me that you were going to be speaking French."

"I told you French was the official language of the Valois household." Anastasia shrugged.

"Telling me that, doesn't translate to, 'if we send a video to Mother, I'll be speaking exclusively French'."

Anastasia smiled coyly, "You're calling her Mother now, Mr. 'Fond of your daughter'?"

"I'm quoting you, and I'm a little annoyed. I feel like you really put me on the spot." Hap told her.

Anastasia sensed she had gone too far, "I'm sorry. You were fine, and Mother will enjoy that, and I thought you would prefer to just 'improvise'. Can I make it up to you with lunch? You choose, I'll treat."

"Some of this is my fault. I should have asked what your plan was when you said 'we' would be sending a message to your Mother." Hap realized he was 'feeling annoyed' a lot lately, and it was usually over something he had told Anastasia she could do. He needed to figure out why that kept happening.

Brother Hyek returned to the desk and sat down. "Before the message can be sent using the gifts wrought by Blake's wisdom, I must ask how you intend to offer your contribution to our blessed order."

Anastasia pulled out her ID chain. "I'll be using Lady Valois, Countess of Hazelhurst's diplomatic account. As her daughter I have been granted access." She offered Brother Hyek her blood chit.

He inserted the blood chit into a slot on his terminal and looked shocked. He glanced at Anastasia then back at his terminal. Brother Hyek stood up, "I gotta get the Precentor." He took a few steps came back, locked his terminal, and started running toward the stairs in the back.

Hap suddenly felt concerned. "Maybe we should go before the Precentor gets here."

"Harold, this is normal. With a diplomatic account we could record hours of video and have it sent across the Federation overnight. The Precentor likely has to confirm my use of the account, even if the charges are modest." Anastasia dug into her purse, "He'll want to see a second form of identification."

"Are you sure? Brother Hyek's look didn't seem like a 'ask your boss to confirm' look." Hap said.

"Brother Hyek is probably new. That's why he keeps saying 'the blessed order' or 'wisdom of Blake'. It was nice to see him drop the act for a moment. I prefer to have the old bitter 'brother' or 'sister' that skips all the 'Holy Order' talk or says it sarcastically. It's almost entertaining."

Hap suppressed a laugh imagining a sarcastic and bitter older Brother Hyek. "So if we have access to the diplomatic account, why aren't you sending the message to your mother overnight?"

"It's prohibitively expensive", she said shaking her head. "Mother and I both have an obligation to be responsible stewards of the people's money. She hasn't heard from me in weeks, and one more will not likely make a difference. Part of being a 'good' noble is remembering that you are first and foremost a servant of the people." She continued to dig in her purse, "Although, I've been worried sick about her, so maybe I should send it priority."

A short man wearing a red cloak was nearly jogging as he approached Hap and Anastasia. His cloak had extravagant embroidery on his hood and stole. He was moving so quickly his hood was half down revealing silver hair that was combed straight back betraying a high widow's peak. Beside him was a short stocky man wearing a simple unadorned black cloak. The man in black had a neatly trimmed black mustache and goatee. There was a slender woman, also with a simple black robe, following closely behind the man in black. All three had their eyes fixed on Anastasia. Brother Hyek was a few steps behind the trio trying to keep up. A chill went down Hap's back and his mouth went dry as they approached. Hap instantly knew they should have ran when they had the chance.

The Precentor stopped abruptly in front of the desk. Hap impulsively stood up, and put his hand under Anastasia's elbow to gently pull her to her feet as she continued to look through her purse. He glanced over at Anastasia. Her head was down and she was still rummaging through her purse.

The man in black had the build of a powerlifter and the marks of countless fights. His nose had been flattened, broken, and set a few times. His left ear had been cropped and there were several scars on his face and hands. Hap noticed the tell-tale boxer's knuckle injuries in his balled fist. Hap glanced up to meet his eyes, and knew instantly this man would kill him in a fight, and he would do it quickly and without hesitation. If he wasn't the head of security, he must have moonlighted as a prize fighter.

"Show me" the man in red said quietly, almost threateningly to Brother Hyek. The man in the red cloak had to be the Precentor, based on the decorations of his robe, and the way he conveyed authority. The man in black exuded raw savage power, but the Precentor had an air that demanded obedience. Hap knew with the simplest of gestures the Precentor could have Anastasia and him murdered on the spot.

Brother Hyek sat back down nervously and unlocked the terminal. The Precentor raised an eyebrow as he read. The man in black broke eye contact with Hap to look at the terminal, then looked back at him.

Anastasia offered the Precentor her passport. "I'm Anastasia Valois. Here's my passport to confirm my identity. If your system states I'm dead, or MIA, I can explain. I was rescued from Kathandu, but I was…" Anastasia looked the three cloaked figures staring at her in confusion, "What's wrong?"

The Precentor took a deep breath and looked around the room. He smiled grandly and fixed his hood, "Forgive us, Lady Valois. Our system does not list you as dead, exactly, rather it reported you were…" He looked around again, "Andrea Marteen, the fourth Primus of our blessed order." He gestured toward a stained glass window of a plump woman with short blonde hair. He laughed like it was an amusing joke.

The Precentor shrugged good-naturedly when no one laughed, "These things sometimes occur. Some, like brother Hyek, believe this is a sign that may foretell something of your destiny. Others, like Sister Fjaldr would explain that this is a database error that she will now rectify. I apologize if we appear to be overreacting. I was hesitant to disregard a potential miracle, such as the dead walking among us."

Brother Hyek shook his head, and opened his mouth to say something when the man in black put his hand on his shoulder and nearly pulled him out of his chair, "It's time for to take a break, Acolyte."

The woman in black slipped into Brother Hyek's seat as he nervously slinked away. Hap watched as she typed furiously. She looked almost like a holo star actress. She sat tall and straight and her makeup was done impeccably, and her jet black hair was perfectly styled. Hap thought for a moment she looked like the cliché love interest from a spy movie, or a counter agent that would try to seduce the hero. She typed fast and flawlessly, but looked annoyed with whatever the terminal was displaying.

The Precentor once more smiled magnanimously. "I humbly apologize for this misunderstanding. Please allow me to demonstrate the grace of Blake and prioritize your message at no additional cost. We will, of course, extend the Countess the same courtesy in her response to you."

"Thank you Precentor, this is truly gracious of you, and your blessed order." Anastasia told him politely. She gave Hap a very subtle but nervous glance.

He nodded kindly and smiled, "It's the least we can do, and we anticipate seeing you again soon."

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