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A Warrior's Family (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 39[]

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A Warrior's Family[]

To the Bar and Trouble[]

October 3029

Hap stepped in first, and found a neatly appointed viewing room. It had a couch, a few end tables, and a holo table. Hap looked around anxiously, but everything seemed normal. He could see Anastasia was also concerned. The acolyte cleared his throat. "Is everything in order?"

Hap nodded and tried to relax. Everything was so strange. Everything around him seemed normal, but in the back of his mind he felt on edge. He felt like he was waiting for someone to play a terrible joke on him. He sat down on the couch and tried to act normal. Anastasia sat next to him. Hap could sense that she was equally uneasy, but outwardly she appeared fine.

As Hap calmed himself the Acolyte setup the holoviewer. "Before I replay the Countess's holo, she also sent several pages of text. With your permission, and by Blake's will, I will go print them as you watch."

"Thank you." Anastasia said as the Acolyte hit play and left the room.

The lights dimmed and a holographic projection of the head and shoulders of woman appeared. It was perfectly adjusted to make it feel like she was in the room with them. She looked very similar to Anastasia. Unlike her daughter she wore cat eye glasses. Her long reddish chestnut hair was in a similar braid and wrap, like Anastasia favored, but she had a shock of silver hair, and her jaw was slightly squarer compared to Anastasia. Hap knew she had to be Anastasia's mother.

She smiled warmly and began speaking in French. Hap had no idea what she was saying but she was so charming he could've watched her all day. His fears of ComStar assassins were all but forgotten. The woman's mannerisms were almost identical to Anastasia. A few times he saw her reach up to her shoulder to play with a braid of hair that wasn't there, just like her daughter would. Hap glanced over at Anastasia. Her head was cocked to the side and she was smiling as she played with the braid of her she had draped over her shoulder.

After a few minutes the Countess paused and said, <<"'Arold,">> She smiled demurely, <<"s'il vous plait excuse me, Harold." As she spoke she switched from French to the flawless clipped English accent like Anastasia, "When I sent Annie to the Academy she would write me letters weekly.">>

"Annie?" Hap whispered

"Pay attention, a Countess is personally addressing you." Anastasia said without looking at him.

The countess showed several neatly folded papers, <<"These letters would say things like, 'Dear mother I am learning to make the galaxy a better place with math and science'.">> She set the letter to the side and held up another folded sheet, <<"or 'Dear mother I took the class in common law as you insisted, I find many of these concepts to be very inefficient'.">> She rolled her eyes, pursed her lips, and shook her head.

She gently set down the letter and held up several unfolded sheets. <<"Then there was her latest correspondence. 'Dear mama'.">> She looked up, "We should note, dear Harold, this child almost exclusively refers to me as Mother.">> She adjusted her glasses, <<"Dear Mama, I have found the most wonderful man.">>

The countess lowered the papers, <<"When Annie was at the academy I had hoped I would receive letters about times with friends, going to sporting events, or having adventures, but most of what I received was as I read, her opinions on classes, things she learned, or discussing military drills. I received nothing of extracurricular events or even romantic infatuations. I knew my bébé well enough to know that she would pursue her academics and neglect a social life, but a mother can dream.">> The countess sighed.

<<"I tell you all this, my dear Harold, because when I read she had found a man, who,">> She glanced down at the paper, <<"made her feel special and loved.' I was a little taken aback. How would my dear child who can rarely be bothered to look up from her books, happen to find such a man? In a war zone no less?">>

<<"Of course I could see, by your own admittance, you're 'fond' of her.">> The countess paused and gave them a sardonic look, <<"I could tell you are more than just fond of her. By your honor as an officer, I need your word that you will bring her back to me. She may play your soldier games for a season, but you will watch over her, and you are responsible for her safety. Your next leave will be on Hazelhurst. I assure you I will personally make certain you have a relaxing stay. In the meantime, my dear Harold, be safe and ensure my daughter does the same. Finally, I would love a bit of correspondence from you.">>

The countess smiled for a moment then resumed speaking in French. This time it was more emotional as the countess closed her message to her daughter. Hap wanted to give her a hug and assure her he would personally try to solve her problem, whatever it was. The countess dabbed the corner of her eye with a lace trimmed kerchief. Then blew a kiss to them and the camera faded to black.

Hap glanced over to see Anastasia dab her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. Hap gave her a moment, "That's odd, she still seems to think I'm a commissioned officer. I think she also just ordered us to report to her, as soon as possible."

"First, she doesn't make mistakes." Anastasia answered, as she pulled out a few sheets of paper from the end table, "and second we need to go and tell Rowyena that my Mother's lawyer is about to contact her. It should all be good news, but I'd prefer we at least give her the context."

"And what is the context?" Hap asked as he accepted the paper and pen Anastasia gave him.

"I'll tell you after we write letters to Mother. She asked us each for letters, and now I see she keeps each of them, either for reference or as mementos, or likely both, so write with care."

Hap sighed. He glanced down at the paper, and looked back to Anastasia, "What is your Mother's complete title?"

"High Lady and Protector of Hazelhurst, Countess of Calais Parmi Les Étoiles." Anastasia said.

Hap wrote down the Countess's title and started the letter, "Ma'am, Greetings." He paused, that look stupid. Anastasia leaned over his shoulder, "Is that how you're starting your letter to Mother?"

"How are you starting your letter?"

"Well it's in French, and she's my mother, so-"

Hap playfully pushed her and went back to his letter. He tried to think what he would ask the countess or talk to her about if she were here. It would probably be easier if he was writing her father. Hap glanced over at Anastasia. She was sitting cross legged and rapidly writing. Hap was always amused by how serious she took things like this. Hap was also amused at how much Anastasia was like her mother. He had envisioned the Countess would be a stern and serious woman and somehow finding her to be a very charming and older version of Anastasia just made him love both of them more.

Hap started writing again, "as you figured out I am more than fond-"

"I would say she 'deduced' or 'inferred' that your feelings were greater than fondness." Anastasia said.

"Write your own letter."

"I'm nearly done, and you've hardly started. Also, I'm starting to suspect you're not much of a writer and probably need my assistance."

Hap shook his head and went back to the letter, "of Anastasia. As I suspect you know I'm in love with her. Before I ask her hand in marriage I would like your blessing. I know you've only seen me once in a video, and I have no idea what Anastasia wrote about me, but things are moving quickly with us, and I thought I should seek your blessing before I propose to her."

"Oh Harold, I don't know where to start, with the content or your grammar."

"We are never writing letters like this again." Harold wasn't sure if Anastasia was trying to frustrate him.

"I think that's for the best. In the future you just tell me what you want to say, and I'll write it for you. For now though, let's work on your grammar. That is quite a run-on sentence. I would suggest making it several sentences. You should probably start over again. Let me get you a clean sheet."

"You're not going to comment on me asking you mother for her blessing before we've really talked about marriage?"

"We talked about marriage, I told you I'd be a better wife than your previous. I recognize that is a low standard, but you've never disagreed. We just have to sort out the minutia." Anastasia shrugged. "The concern I have is that once you tell her that she'll insist that the actual wedding be on Hazelhurst."

"Do you have a better suggestion? Should I not ask for her blessing? Is it bad form to do this in a letter?"

"Oh no. She'll be delighted, and writing is probably the best way to ask. Given the time and distance of the Galaxy it's probably the only way. This is likely the sort of memento she would want."

The door opened and the Acolyte returned. Hap immediately remembered where he was and was suddenly overcome with a vague sense of dread.

"I apologize, I had trouble printing." The acolyte explained as he stepped into the room. "Was everything acceptable with the Countess's video?"

"Yes. Thank you." Anastasia answered.

"Then all is in accordance with Blake's will." The acolyte handed Anastasia an envelope.

As Anastasia explained that she needed to send additional notes to Hazelhurst, Hap quickly wrote, "I do hope this letter finds you well, and you approve of my marriage to your daughter and give your blessing. I acknowledge I will keep Annie safe, and we will visit you as soon as we can. Very Respectfully, Harold Calahad." Hap handed his sheet of paper to the Acolyte as he led Anastasia and Hap out of the suite.

"Mother will appreciate your note." Anastasia said quietly. Hap sensed she had more to say, but she stopped talking as they re-entered the main room. The sun shined in through the windows and people went about their business. Everything was normal and ordinary, but it somehow felt malevolent.

Hap glanced around expecting to see the "boxer" glowering at them from some vantage point, or the Precentor, flanked by armed guards, preparing to stop them, but everything about the ComStar offices seemed benign and routine. Hap saw Brother Hyek. He locked eyes with him for a moment, but Brother Hyek looked surprised to see them. He immediately looked down and busied himself at the desk.

Hap was tempted to approach Brother Hyek, but the Acolyte that had assisted him and Anastasia was leading them to the exit. The Acolyte assured them he would send their letters, and get them to Hazelhurst as quickly as, "Blake's good will would allow". As Hap and Anastasia climbed down the stairs and walked away the sense of impending doom changed from relief, and then to elation.

They walked a few blocks away before looking at each other. When they looked at each other they both burst out laughing. When Hap could compose himself he asked, "Is it possible we've imagined ComStar to be something more than it is? Nothing against Cody, but maybe they only killed his dad because he was a renegade adept or something like that."

Anastasia shook her head and shrugged, "Perhaps. If Cody was right though, we are safe for today, but I must admit, it feels like we cheated death. I feel like I could do something impossible now. I'm glad Joker isn't here right now. He'd either kill this mood or possibly convince me to participate in some grand and regrettable foolishness."

Hap nodded, that was how he felt too, "Yeah, there's so many mistakes we could make together right now, like getting tattoos or eloping."

Anastasia gave Hap a shrewd look, "Yes…" she said slowly, "those would be mistakes. To be clear we are going to have a large extravagant wedding and if you think I'd settle for anything less you are mistaken."

"What about the matching tattoos?" Hap teased

"Look, a food store let's see what they have in here." Anastasia said, ignoring his comment, and playfully pushing him into the store.

Hap was puzzled as he looked around. When Anastasia said "food store" he imagined a grocery store. Half the store was actually a very elegant looking café with a "U" shaped lunch counter surrounding a cooking range, and several smaller tables placed around the counter. The store had short shelves arranged almost randomly for ambient foods, and a large quantity of refrigerated shelves for everything else. The store had a very open and sophisticated sensibility.

The back wall had a large display of bright stemless flowers in glassed refrigeration units. Hap was drawn toward them. He saw the description was "edible flowers" and the price was more than he would pay for an entire salad, let alone one ingredient. He glanced around and saw truffles, Greyel wings, meat lettuces, caviar, binsby berries, foie gras, and foods he had never heard of, let alone tasted. He realized this was a gourmet food store, and not a grocery store like the one his mother had cashiered at.

Anastasia looked around searching for a particular item as she walked the refrigerator area.

There was a middle-aged store clerk discussing mushrooms with another patron. She glanced over at Anastasia and smiled, "I'll be with you in a moment." She made another suggestion and pointed her customer toward a climate controlled room in the corner.

"May I help you, Ma'am?" The clerk said to Anastasia.

I was looking for Kincha." Anastasia said.

The woman looked apologetic, "It's out of season, and a rarity for us, but we do have some wines that are blended with Kincha juice." The woman led her toward a wall that was floor to ceiling wine racks.

"Harold, could you get us a table at the café?" Anastasia called over her shoulder as she followed the clerk.

Harold walked up to the lunch counter and examined the chalkboard menu. The items were in a flowery cursive script that he had a hard time reading. He saw steak tartare, a chowder with an ingredient he didn't quite recognize. As he puzzled over the menu he glanced down at the other patrons, and noticed a young woman sitting across the counter for him. Their eyes met for a moment.

She looked familiar. Her makeup was impeccable, and her jet black hair was styled perfectly. She was wearing a long black jacket. Under it she had a white blouse, and wore a silver necklace made of interlocking hoops. Hap looked at her for a long moment. He knew her, but he didn't know from where.

"Hey. Do I know-", Hap walked around the counter, but he stopped suddenly as he realized she was the woman from the ComStar office from weeks ago.

She shook her head at him and then leaned so she could look beyond his shoulder. She nodded to someone behind Hap.

Hap spun around quickly ready to defend himself. No one was behind him and he could see Anastasia and the clerk talking. There was also a young man with a ladder trying to reach a particular wine bottle that the clerk was pointing too. The scene was almost comical. The young man was trying to impress Anastasia, the clerk was trying to make a sale, and Anastasia was being herself, trying to get the best wine for her and Hap, and almost oblivious to the other two's ambitions.

Hap remembered the ComStar agent, and turned around quickly. When he looked back she was gone. The only indication that she had been there at all was a half drunk cocktail. Hap walked around to the side of the lunch counter just to make sure she wasn't crouching down and hiding.

Hap felt foolish for falling for an unspoken, "what's that behind you" trick. He also was mortified that he had almost believed the threat from ComStar was nonexistent. He stepped around the counter to find the agent gone, but she had left a large woman's handbag.

The bartender raised a questioning eyebrow as Hap grabbed the bag and dropped it on the counter. Hap opened it to find a mini stun stick, a camera with a long telephoto lens, and a notebook. There was no wallet, but there was a roll of c- bills in a side pocket. He also felt a knife in sewn-in-sheath.

"Pardon me, sir, that woman followed you, and has been watching you the whole time. She left shortly after you saw her. Do you and her have a problem? Is she your ex?"

Hap dug through the bag not sure what he hoped to find, "Something like that. She, uh, stole my car when she left. I was hoping she left the keys in here." Hap picked up the camera and looked under it.

The bartender took the bag, "Perhaps I should hold onto this."

Hap nodded, "Sure, my keys aren't there anyway, she'll want her purse." As he spoke he held the camera below the counter and ejected the camera's memory card and palmed it. "She'll probably want her life back, I know I do." Hap said as he passed the camera to the bartender.

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