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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 2[]

State of the Union[]

St Marinus House, Zaniah III
Skye Province, Lyran Alliance
7 December 3062


The next day, Peter was in the Abbot's office. They'd been politely asked to take their conversation out of the infirmary by Brother Antony, the nearest thing they had to an on-site physician and by mutual agreement had deferred further conversation on the new arrival for prayers, supper and a good night's sleep.

Well, Peter hoped it had been a good night for Giles. The old man needed his rest. Peter, for his part, had laid on the narrow cot of his cubicle - the traditional term of cell hadn't survived the centuries - with his mind working too hard trying to come up with scenarios that left Katherine walking through the desert to Saint Marinus. He'd eventually managed to snatch a few hours of sleep that didn't feel at all satisfying.

"It seems rather unlikely that she's actually your sister," Giles pointed out. "The Archon is supposed to be on New Avalon, which is... sixteen jumps away, give or take. Granted she might have a command circuit but even that would mean days without any public appearances."

"Holo and video appearances can be pre-recorded." Peter leant forwards. "Or she might have a body double - my mother had one when she was in her late teens."

"Possible, although in that case how can we tell if this is such a double." The old man sighed. "And surely she'd have more resources than to be left wandering the desert looking for us? We don't advertise our location but I'd assume LIC has a file."

"I know. We'll have to save questions for when she wakes up." Peter rubbed his chin. "Can I check her personal effects?"

"I don't see why not. Hopefully we can wrap this up without disrupting our community here, too badly."

Peter nodded and automatically offered a hand to Giles as the older man rose to his feet. They walked in silence down to the infirmary, the abbot returning the shallow bows from his brethren that they passed, and Brother Antony willingly handed over a basket containing the clothes that Katherine - or so Peter assumed - had been wearing.

"This isn't exactly the fashion I'd envisaged the Archon would wear." Giles held up a bulky black overcoat and indicated the metal snaps. "This is a man's jacket."

Peter noted which way it buttoned and shrugged. "Could be. Or from a world where they customarily button the other way around. I don't think it would fit her though."

"Possibly a donation from someone." The abbot handed a wallet over. "No identification."

"No, and these aren't kroner." Peter pulled out some coins and then a bank note. "Actually, I have no idea what these are. They don't look like any currency I've seen."

"Hmm. Not much more than ink on some sort of polymer," agreed Giles, taking the bank note. "It says pounds, what should there be on a Davion ten pound note?"

"The Federated Suns treasury doesn't issue ten pound notes. Or any pound notes since 3045."

Giles frowned. "I could have sworn they started issuing bank notes again. But... hmm. My eyes aren't the best anymore. Bank of England?"

"It doesn't ring a bell," Peter admitted. "I'd think it would be some kind of toy money - from a board game or the like - but why keep that in a wallet?"

"Indeed."

The other clothes were fairly plain - worn jeans and work boots, a polo-shirt and a sweater with a torn collar. All men's cut and too large for the woman in the infirmary.
"I don't see why any woman would be walking around wearing this, whether she's your sister or not," the Abbot admitted. "The keys are no use without any guide to where the doors they belong to are and the personal comm isn't working."

"Looks like a cheap disposable. I suppose she could have had to replace her clothes if her own were damaged, but did she have any other injuries?"

"Nothing Antony mentioned and..."

As if summoned, the infirmarian opened the door to the sideroom where they'd been examining the clothes. "Brother Giles, Peter." He dipped his head. "Our guest is awake now."

"Then we can hope for answers," Peter declared and burst to his feet, striding through the door with barely a pause for Brother Antony to let him pass.

The mystery woman still had the IV in one arm but her eyes were open and they snapped to Peter as he came around the curtain. "Why a JagerMech, for god's sake?" she asked him.

"What?"

She blinked. "Peter, I'm sorry about your son."

"My what!?" He didn't have a son! Did he?

The woman's face showed nothing but sympathy. "I'm sure Adam will care for him."

"Who is Adam?" asked Brother Giles curiously.

"You shaved your head!" she exclaimed

The abbot ran one hand self-consciously over his head. "No..."

Peter cleared his throat. "Who are you?"

"A cat," she said confidently and then studied her hands. "No, then I'd have paws... There's something..." Another blink. "Peter, where are we? Why are you wearing a dress?"

"It's not a dress, it's a habit."

"You should probably get out of it. No, not undressed." She frowned. "There's something wrong."

He moved to the bed and took her arm. "Stop this. Are you my sister? Are you Katherine?"

"Not Katrina!" she snapped, eyes furious. "Not crazy."

"No, of course you're not." The Abbot took Peter's hand and started prying his fingers open. "Calm down, Peter."


"Peter, peter, peter, peter..." the woman sing-sanged. "I have a... what's it called...!" she broke off in frustration.

"I think you'd better leave her alone." Antony counselled firmly. He went to the IV stand and made an adjustment. "Now, young lady, please lie down. You're a long way from being recovered."

She stared at him in confusion and then slowly laid back, raising her free hand to scrape off a sample of the salve. Gazing at it, her brow furrowed. "What is this."

"Your face was abraded by sand," the brother told her matter-of-factly. "This should take care of any infection or scarring."

"My face is my fortune," she said solemnly. "Or... no... why is this..."

Then her eyes went wide. "Arthur! The war! Peter, you have to save Arthur."

Peter blinked. "Arthur? My brother?"

"Yes, he's going to die."

"Uh, don't worry, I'll take care of it." he promised uneasily. What was wrong with her?

"No." Tears began to trickle from the corners of her eyes. "You're too late. New Avalon is burning, the reactor in Tharkad City -"

"That's enough!" Antony barked. "Give her room, both of you!"

"Jihad," the woman rambled, eyes flicking back and forth from sights that clearly only she knew. "Galedon gone, HPG's silent. Stone is an idiot and the dark age is... dark."

She was slumping back towards the pillows again, Antony supporting her. Peter guessed that he must have added a sedative to the IV a moment before. "It'll be alright," the monk assured her. "Just sleep and let us take care of it."

"There will be no victory for Victor. The eagle will fall. The gardener, tell him about the..."

The woman's eyes closed and her breath began to steady. No more words escaped her lips.

In the silence, the three men looked at each other. Giles shook his head slightly. "Well, clearly she's in no condition to answer our questions, the poor child."

"She spoke like Katherine," Peter said slowly.

"Really."

"The tone of voice, more than what she was saying. And she was trying to tell me something." Peter took her free hand and tucked it gently back under the blankets. "It's her. I'm sure of it."

"I realize it's not entirely fitting to my office, but to play devil's advocate she might be acting." the abbot cautioned him.

"I doubt that," Antony disagreed. "She was driving herself into a panic attack. That's hard to fake. I've seen a few."

Giles seemed about to comment but bit the words back. Peter glanced at him and then nodded in concession. Intelligence agents were trained to the point that it was possible. He didn't see what the point was in this case but even so, he shouldn't rule it out. "I can't just leave it at that."

"Perhaps we should involve the authorities," Antony suggested reasonably. "If she needs long term care this probably isn't the best place for her."

"I was under the impression Saint Marinus was a sanctuary. Open to those who sought it."

"That is so, but we're not really equipped for long term mental care." Giles said thoughtfully. "I suppose we should consult the authorities in case someone is looking for her."

"I'd rather you didn't do that, not just yet." Peter said automatically.

The old man sighed. "If she is, for the sake of argument, your sister, are you in a position to take care of her?"

"If you had a brother or sister coming to for you for help, what would you do?" asked Peter

"Given the political implications of your family," the abbot said drily. "I think I'd be tempted to retire to a life of contemplation. But since you're already there, what do you have in mind."

Peter rubbed his chin. "A moment to think, please."

"Of course."

He paced back and forth, mind whirling. Was he right about who she was? Was she right about Arthur, about everything else? Victor had left the Federated Commonwealth broken and he'd assumed that Katherine taking power on New Avalon as well as Tharkad was the beginning of rebuilding their parents' empire... but where Arthur and Yvonne fell in that he had no idea anymore.

"Firstly, I need to clear up her identity," he decided. "Could I have a blood sample from her and loan of an aircar."

"You want to have someone do a comparison?"

"Yes, there should be clinics in Starboro that can take care of that."

"I would think so," Giles admitted and glanced at Brother Antony, giving him a nod. "Such places are discreet given they usually handle paternity tests and the like. Not particularly cheap though."

"There are accounts I can access." Assuming they haven't been emptied somehow, but he didn't particularly expect that. Discreet accounts with ComStar banks as well as various smaller establishments were an obvious emergency fallback for any House whose members might need a sudden ticket for interstellar travel or some other emergency. There would be no reason for Katherine to have cleared out the accounts Peter had access to - in fact she might not even know of all of them.

The abbot shrugged his stooped shoulders. "Very well, I suppose we can defer any formal reports until we know if we're actually dealing with a missing princess. Do you know how long tests like this generally take, Antony?"

"A decent lab could rush it through in a few hours. Expect to pay for that, though."

"I'll give you a shopping list then, Peter. Brother Morgan was to take our aircar to Starboro in a few days for supplies we can't get anywhere nearer. I'm sure he won't mind leaving a little early and having a companion."


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