Sabledrake Magazine

November, 2004

 

 

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     Dead Wizard

     Unexpected Diversions

     Dragon Heart

     From the Pits of Hell

     Honor by Numbers

     CTF 2187: End of an Era

     Ascension

     Ranala

 

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CTF 2187: End of an Era

Copyright © 2004 Shannon Muir


ABOUT THE GAME: CTF2187 from Advanced Gaming Enterprises features teams of Battle Bots pitted against each other in Arenas. Two or four sided contests are possible, as well as a yearly Free-For-All contest where groups of Bots fight to see who's "the Best in the Arenas". Some players act as Independents, allowing the GMs to put them with anyone. Others organize themselves into teams, either official (on record with AGE) or unofficial. This story centers around actual Pilot characters in CTF2187, with moderate basis in game play; mainly it captures the historical and political climate in which the ‘backstory’ of the game is based. The framing events come not much long after "Chances," previously published by Sabledrake Magazine in August 2004. Some material contained within is copyrighted by Advanced Gaming Enterprises and used by permission. I’ve been playing the game for over ten years, but that’s my only association with the company. For more information, write Advanced Gaming Enterprises, Post Office Box 214949, Sacramento, CA 95821-0949 or see their website at http://www.ageforfun.com.

 

In an interview previously published in Sabledrake (February 2004 issue) I mentioned that I had an ending planned for the CTF2187 story arc. With the indefinite hiatus of Sabledrake magazine, and no real regular outlets for continuing the stories of Femme Fatale and the others, I have chosen to write my final planned story, though admittedly having to compress some of the arcs involved. This is not to say if circumstances changed, the story could not pick up again in the future, as this ending does leave a sense of future; I feel that unlike my abrupt end with Paper Mayhem, those who have chosen to follow the story deserve a conclusion should the stories end here.

Once again, I must thank Christine and Tim Morgan for allowing me the chance to live vicariously through these characters and bring the stories I began to a more developed level. Many many thanks go out to Duane Wilcoxson and Debbie Leonard of Advanced Gaming Enterprises, for allowing me to write the stories to begin with and the liberties they have allowed me in their universe. Elaine Webber and her late husband David Webber I need to recognize for providing that first outlet in Paper Mayhem to publish these tales. To all the other players I have played with and against, without you there would be no stories. And to those of you who have followed these adventures, thank you for caring.

Finally, eternal gratitude to the love of my life Kevin Paul Shaw Broden, my sister Lesley, and my Dad, John C. Muir – because gaming is never more fun than when you can do it with family.

 

+++

 

Femme Fatale, her husband Racubus Sterling, her mother Aria Forsythe, and a visibly pregnant Wyndi Blaze walked out of an examination room. All were relieved that Wyndi carrying the couple’s twins was going well, especially given Wyndi’s age. But Femme and Rus couldn’t imagine anyone else doing this for them, not after doctors told Femme that despite having healed relatively well from injuries in Arena 218, the injuries were enough that she’d never bear children on her own.

As they were walking out, they caught the latest news on the waiting room vidscreen, covering the retirement ceremony in Capitol City for Ambassador-Brigadier General Martin Kraemer, one of the longstanding council members. At the same ceremony, Martin’s son, General Nicholas Kraemer, would later be installed into his father’s post, having earned his way through the training school ranks much as David Blaze had done before him.

“It’s hard to believe all those years ago he fought alongside Frank and David as a member of Forsythe’s Falcons,” Wyndi said, her gaze not leaving the monitor. “It feels like yesterday.”

“Probably because the controversy with my father only was recently resolved,” Femme said.

“I would agree wholeheartedly,” Aria reinforced her daughter’s comment.

Just then a scroll ran at the bottom of the ceremony, enough to convey the news but not interrupt the historic moment.

“BREAKING NEWS… ORPHANS OF WAR ARRESTED AT PROTEST SPONSORED BY PEACE MOVEMENT… IONA QUESTA TESTA, DAUGHTER OF DECEASED PILOT ROARSHOCK TEST, REPORTED TO BE PROMIENTLY INVOLVED…”

Femme shook her head.

“Here we are trying to start a family, and our own children could be in those very shoes someday. Maybe we’re not doing the right thing by them.”

Rus gave his wife a hug.

“And many children of the service turn out fine. Me, H.A.L., Wyndi’s daughter Indigo. Even with your struggles, you’re a prime example! It’ll be all right.”

 

+++

 

Femme, Rus, Derrick and H.A.L. accompanied Aria Forsythe back to her humble abode. There, she laid out for them holo-diaries, jewelry, and other family souvenirs of Frank’s.

“Honestly, it took me forever to remember how to open the combination where I had these. Like I didn’t want to remember. Or maybe I could keep a part of Frank safe forever,” Aria confided. “I don’t know.”

“Where did you say the Forsythe family was from?” Derrick asked again while examining a lapel pin that appeared to bear a family crest.

“Contesta.”

“Huh,” Rus commented. “That’s a bit of a haul from here. Like nearly a day’s commute.”

“It was Frank’s increased status as leader of Forsythe’s Falcons that brought us to Gamestown. I think one of these holo-books has pictures from our farewell party. Fran wasn’t very old then.”

After going through several holo-books that yielded nothing, the pictures of the farewell party were located. Frank appeared with his younger brother Edmund, his parents, Aria, and Femme Fatale as a toddler. Femme came across a holo-photo of her father standing back to back with a heavyset Black man at the party, both smiling with a glint of mischief in their eyes.

“Who is this, Mom?”

“That’s Martin. He was your father’s best friend growing up, much like you and Rus. David Blaze was a friend, sure, but David and your Dad didn’t meet until their Arena careers. Martin was a help to us soon after your father died, for as long as he could be politically. But soon he had to make a painful choice, his career or standing by his dead friend’s wife. I told him to choose his career, Frank would have wanted that.”

Everyone noticed Derrick staring intently at the holo-photo.

“Aunt Aria,” he said, addressing Femme’s mother by his biological relationship to her, “is this Ambassador-Brigadier General Martin Kraemer, who just retired from the Council?”

“Very observant, Derrick. Yes, it is.”

“Interesting indeed,” Derrick responded. And left it at that.

“There’s something that I can’t figure out,” H.A.L. piped up. “Unless I’ve got stuff out of order, from watching how old Fran is in these holo-photos, it sure seems like Edma gained a lot of weight quickly. Was she ill?”

Aria rubbed her chin, contemplating.

“Not that I know of. But I never stopped to think of it at the time.”

“ Derrick, any chance what we’ve found out is enough to go digging with to find out what happened to the Forsythes?” asked Femme.

“It should be pretty simple. I still have a good network of contacts.”

H.A.L. looked at her husband disappointed. “I thought you gave up all that.”

“I never said I gave it up, Helen. I just watch how I use it.”

Everyone watched H.A.L. turned away, not knowing what to think, her doubt apparent on her face.

 

+++

 

Femme decided to hold a going-away party at Lazer’s for the group going into the Fast 4x4, now officially known as Arena 383. The 4x4 format was pretty new, compared to the traditional 3 bots per side in a 4-sided game, so any time groups were involved in the 4x4s it made news. Femme made sure to invite the press to this party to field the questions she knew they would have plus continue to get publicity for the team. Not to mention it would help the team relax. To help contribute to the mood, Allison Chaynes, Ann Thrax, ‘Guns’ Anne Rosas, Metal Lica, and the Angel of Death of the Ladies of Metal decided to get a little musical and perform girl-group karaoke renditions of 20th century classic metal rock hits in blocks throughout the evening.

The party also served as a return celebration for Cadet – now applying to become Lieutenant – Soulshaker, literally fresh from the latest Championship Tournament in Arena 381. While Soulshaker completed the contest with the lowest victory rating, she’d at least walked away with her life, given only one engine stood between her and death. Femme felt that Soulshaker’s life was worth equal billing and celebration, and felt relieved to see that she enjoyed the dance floor with Richard Shadowhand as a dance partner; in fact, they seemed to be in a friendly dance competition with the newly-engaged Damian Blackheart and Lauraic Vileslayer. A generation back, Soulshaker and Richard’s parents proved bitter enemies, and now they were bonding. Femme hoped that Richard would help Soulshaker find the stability in her life while helping his heart heal from the romance-that-never-bloomed with Kibitz.

“Scoping out my competition?”

Femme nearly jumped as Rus slid in next to her; she hadn’t even noticed his presence.

“Nothing like that,” she told him confidently. “I’m just trying to see how everyone is in this one moment of calmness before the storm that seems inevitable.”

“In that case, hope you’ll excuse me as I go stop this little competition Tatiana Romanov and Red Hot Lover have going to see who can pick Miles Zillio up first.”

“You’d make better use of your time getting Datameister and I.B. Tryon away from that holo-chessboard they brought and instruct them what a real party is all about,” Femme responded with a smile and a wink.

“Ha, ha, ha,” Rus played along with the fun. “Seriously, Miles won’t survive being pinned between the two of them if I don’t do something. Happy people-watching.”

Rus disappeared into the crowd again, which sent Femme looking past Shield Maiden and Starstruck Rose sharing a table, towards the entry door. At that moment, all hope of relaxation seemed dashed, when John Blaze and Kristi ‘Speedy’ Wright of the Lion’s Maw enter arm in arm. Femme watched Indigo Girl storm over to her younger brother, prepared to tell him off. She overheard a conversation the parties didn’t even attempt to mask.

”Excuse me, little brother,” Indigo loudly and indignantly told her brother. “But I don’t seem to recall inviting you.”

Kristi grabbed John’s arm. “I’m invited,” she said nervously, “and he’s my date.”

Sensing potential problems, bouncers of the evening Lela and Buffy Skaarbut stepped in. Lela, borrowing from her police officer father’s training, took charge. “Everyone, stay calm until we sort this out,” she said, grabbing Indigo Girl’s wrist. “No need to make a scene, and we all know the two of you can do that quite well.”

“I don’t know what Femme was thinking, inviting you two in here, after what you’ve done,” Indigo muttered as Lela led her away. Femme decided to go over and speak to the couple.

“Kristi, John, I’m so glad you came. Though I do wish you’d told me that John would come with you, so I could have been prepared for that.”

“Talked Kristi out of it, you mean,” John said skeptically.

“Not in the least. After what she’d been through, I wanted Kristi to feel that she could come spend time with us . I didn’t invite you directly only because I honestly didn’t think you’d be interested, John.”

“Thank you all the same,” Kristi told her. “And I hope I’ll be welcome for more than just tonight.”

“Oh?” Femme and John said in unison.

“Yeah. For the last several phases of my recovery, I worked as a tour guide at the museum. And it let me do a lot of thinking. I want to stay in the Arenas, but not with the Lion’s Maw. Mom and Dad think very highly of you, and I’m sorry I was ever jealous. I was hoping maybe there might be room in the Sisters for me.”

“Petruchio will have your hide,” whispered John nervously. “He’ll come after you, no holds barred.”

“I think you’re overreacting,” Kristi responded.

“Regardless, though frankly I think John’s concern is valid, there is most definitely a place in the Sisters for you,” Femme confirmed. “Have you spoken to your parents yet?”

Kristi shook her head.

“Didn’t want to get their hopes up without us talking first.”

“Well, then,” Femme motioned for the two to follow. “I see your Mom across the room. What do you say we break the news together?”

 

+++

 

It wouldn’t be all that much later before Femme, Rus, H.A.L. and Derrick would be gathered watching Indigo Girl and three other Sisters members play out their opening turn in Arena 383. Derrick’s computer was busy running searches across the world’s computer networks for any information on the scant clues Aria provided them, and projecting possible scenarios based on those clues. In the meantime, Derrick preferred to spend his time with human company.

The commscreen beeped, and H.A.L. got up to answer the call. Soon, she returned with shoulders slumped and looking down.

“What is it?” asked her husband, Derrick, concerned.

“Remember when we promised to team up with The Line to give our teams a little more exposure, and I offered to participate as the first female General of the Arenas? Well, that was the call. Arena 385 starts soon. Suppose I better pack.”

“Wait,” Femme said, grabbing H.A.L.’s hand before she could walk away. “I thought you really wanted to go back out there.”

“It’s just been quiet for so long, and now it’s all happening so fast,” H.A.L. lamented. “Derrick and I were talking about maybe trying to adopt a child; I just can’t see myself doing the whole pregnancy thing, but I want to make someone’s life better. We started to forget that there were outstanding obligations like this as we got a taste of something more. But in the end, it all comes back to the fighting.”

“H.A.L. – Helen – look at Rus and me. We had a lot of things get in our way, but now we’ve found a way to try and balance the Arenas and family. If that’s really what you want, have Derrick try and get the ball rolling while you’re gone. It’s not impossible.”

H.A.L. looked over at Derrick and smiled weakly.

“What do you think, love? Can we do this?”

Derrick nodded sympathetically.

“Think of it as something good to come home to.”

 

+++

 

Later, with two Arenas in progress, Femme and Rus tried to change locales and move forward with daily business while keeping an eye on their friends, and wondering about the final analysis Derrick would find about Femme’s family. With them occurring so close together, it was hard to get sleep. Right now they watched Arena 385 intently on the vidscreen in Femme’s office. Things were not in the combined Sisters/Line team’s favor. Both their highest ranking Pilots, H.A.L. and Richard, came in at Heavy Damage and Critical Heat. Now just after Turn 4, H.A.L.’s Heavy Athena already had been worn down to nine engines – the threshold to activate an Eject sequence – plus she’d just taken some personal injury due to excessive heat. Femme prayed H.A.L. would keep her pride in check and Eject.

Just then, the buzzer at the front door rang. Femme answered the door to find Derrick there, drenched in rain.

“I couldn’t trust this through commscreen calls,” Derrick said, trying to dry himself off before stepping in. “Though it was even a risk to bring it here on a vidrecording. But even calling you to come might have tipped someone off.”

“You couldn’t even wait for the rain to stop?” Rus quipped. “Or, more importantly, for this Arena to end to see if your wife gets out in one piece?”

“Helen can take care of herself. Why do you think I fell in love with her?”

Derrick made his way to the vidscreen console and plugged in a data crystal. On the vidscreen, Derrick called up pages of text data that scrolled by at a rapid pace.

“What is all that?” Femme asked. “And how do you expect me to read it?”

“Just scrolling to the significant part of the summaries. Your grandfather, Francis Forsythe Sr., died right after hearing about Frank; they say his heart couldn’t take it.”

“And what about Dad’s brother Edmund, and Grandma Forsythe?”

The scrolling on the screen slowed down. Derrick pointed to a paragraph on the screen, and Femme started to read aloud.

“Forsythe, Edma. Died during childbirth while delivering a daughter. Stress of family situation believed to be overwhelming, combined with a later-in-life pregnancy.”

Femme looked at her brother Derrick with a puzzled expression.

“That’s it? No mention of the daughter’s name? Did she even survive?”

Derrick went back to scrolling through the information and stopped on several entries, which again he pointed out. Femme started to read it out aloud, and suddenly stopped before uttering a syllable. Rus crowded around his wife to find out what moved her to silence.

“Oh my—“

Derrick turned back to the screen and began to read to them both what it had taken him a long time to absorb.

“Frances, Edmund. Born Edmund Forsythe, second son of Edma Forsythe and Francis Forsythe Sr. He resigned from his military career and legally changed his name following the death of his brother Francis (Frank) Forsythe Jr. and relocated to Capitol City. Adoptive father of Hope Frances, who is biologically his sister.

“Frances, Hope. Adopted daughter of Edmund Frances. Biological parents of record are Edma Forsythe and Francis Forsythe Sr. Mother of Faith Frances.

“Frances, Faith. Daughter of Hope Frances. Father is Ambassador-General Nicholas Kraemer, recently appointed to the Council of Nations following the retirement of his father, Ambassador-Brigadier General Martin Kraemer.”

Rus scratched his head.

“Ok, help me figure this out. Why hasn’t the press had a field day with this, if Hope’s past is that easy to trace? The press loves stuff like that.”

“The answer’s right in front of us,” Femme said as she pointed to Faith Frances’ entry. “Nicholas probably is pulling all the right strings for his daughter’s future, including keeping her out of the press, and who knows if his father Martin is in on it too. Like Mom said, the Forsythes and Kraemers have been friends for a long time, but still why would Hope have hooked up with Nicholas given his military leanings?”

“For a movement to get as powerful as this peace movement did so fast, it would take financial power and societal influence. Neither which Hope could get on her own,” suggested Derrick.

“But then why is Nicholas supporting the peace movement when he just became part of the Council of Nations?” Rus volunteered. “I am still so confused!”

“There’s only one way to make sense of any of this. I’ll have to meet Hope Frances.”

Both Rus and Derrick looked at Femme with concern.

“Are you sure?” Rus asked.

“The press won’t back off if you get involved. They could tear everything apart, for you and the Sisters,” Derrick pointed out. “But if you are sure, I can help make it happen.”

Femme swallowed hard.

“There’s too many unanswered questions. I have to do this. I just have to.”

“Then you’re not going alone,” Derrick demanded. “Hope may lead the peace movement, but we don’t know what she’s capable of.”

“Make that the three of us,” Rus added. “We’ll make sure to hide well in case anything happens.”

“But where should I meet her?” Femme asked.

“Easy,” Derrick replied. “At your father’s memorial site in the Hall of Fallen Heroes.”

 

+++

 

“I’m sorry, but I can’t ask Ms. Frances to meet with you,” Dayndi Blaze coldly told Femme through the commscreen.

“Look, Dayndi, you’re my only hope. No one will let me get near the peace movement headquarters that I’m sure of. And I have to speak to Hope Frances. It’s personal.”

“I’m sure fighting is personal to you,” Dayndi said through smacks of chewing gum. “Just like peace is personal to us.”

Femme clenched her fist in frustration.

“Dayndi, my family and yours go back for years. I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t important. I’m not out to ambush and destroy Hope Frances. I just want to see things her way.”

Dayndi stopped smacking the gum instantly, and it looked to Femme as if the shocked girl nearly swallowed it.

“You? Want to find out more about the peace movement?”

Femme nodded.

“From the horse’s mouth, as that old expression goes. I’d like to arrange to meet her right after closing at my father’s monument at the Hall of Fallen Heroes, tonight. This should reduce public visibility but have the facility still be busy enough so not as to arouse suspicion.”

Dayndi thought about this for a long moment, and Femme started playing with her hair in order to do something with her pent-up, nervous energy. Finally, Dayndi spoke.

“I’ll pass on your message. Go to the Hall and wait there. If Hope chooses to come, she will. If not, can’t do a thing about it. But I will tell her, I promise.”

“That’s all I can ask, Dayndi.”

 

+++

 

Femme waited nervously by a holo-photo of Frank Forsythe's face inside a special case, mounted next to a large-print dedication etched in stone, chronicling his Arena career and the deceit that nearly destroyed all it stood for. A gesture years late to repair the damage caused to an Arena system that allowed one of its own to be betrayed, as well as Frank’s struggling family.

A family possibly still in need of mending. Femme began to fear that Hope might fail her.

“Took a lot of guts to ask me to come here,” Femme heard the room reverberate as Hope Frances strode towards the exhibit, continuing, “and it had better be worth it.”

“And what would be 'worth it' to you?”

“Having one of the Arena's foremost leaders give up her career as a statement for the cause.”

“I have no intention of doing so, Hope. It would have go against what I believe, that only by being in and improving the Arena system can change come. Everyone just stopping at once would bring chaos. My father, your brother, Frank was totally convinced of that. How are you and Nicholas trying to do accomplish the same? I have to understand. ”

“Nicholas doesn’t really believe in the military. He did it because everyone expected it of him, and sees a way we can get in and destroy the system. There’s no way you can fight for peace through the arenas. It makes no sense that anyone would believe that.”

“Maybe this might help it make sense,” suggested Femme, pulling out the holo-locket given to her years ago by her father.

Hope swatted the locket out of Femme’s hands and it spun around onto the floor. The force of the impact forced the hinges of the locket open. Both women turned, stunned, as the holo-recording made by Frank Forsythe began to play.

"Fran, I wish there was something I could say to make things easier, but I know that's just not possible. Right now, it may be hard for you to understand why this has happened. I'm not sure if I ever could. The only thing I'm sure of is that I am in the service to fight toward eventual peace through the system. Maybe someday, if we all work hard and long enough, these mercenary wars will end, and then it will be possible. Forgive me, sweetheart, and know that I'll always love you."

“It’s a lie,” Femme heard Hope say in an agonized whisper. “A trick. It has to be. I was always told my brother Frank hated the military. That you twisted the truth in your press conferences when you spoke about him.”

“No, Hope. It’s the truth. My father Frank loved the service and wanted to make it work. Your peace movement is what’s founded on falsehood.”

“As far as the world is concerned, no one wants to forget what happened. And as long as they keep remembering, I’ll never really be free.”

“I said something like that once, Hope. But back then no one knew the truth. Now that it’s all out in the open, they’re remembering so that it never happens again. Don’t you understand?”

Hope shook her head violently, choking back tears.

“You don’t know what it was like. Living in a family that suffered to stay true to the service despite such a black mark of shame. Being alone because no one wanted to be friends with the sister of a traitor.”

“You’re wrong,” Femme replied. “I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up either, just Rus and Helen. But we knew each other since before it happened. I didn’t get any friends afterwards, not until his name was cleared. Who can trust a traitor’s daughter?”

Hope covered her mouth, stunned.

“And that’s the thing, Hope. What’s made you press on with this, if it’s all about justice? Frank’s name is clear, has been for the last several years. But the peace movement only gained steam recently. It doesn’t make sense.”

Tears started to fall from Hope’s eyes; she moved her hand to try and wipe them away.

“I didn’t want anyone else to suffer. The pain has to end.”

Femme started to reach out and comfort Hope.

“It can end, Hope. I’ll help you.”

Just then, someone jumped out of the shadows and grabbed Hope in a chokehold! Femme looked up in surprise to see that the assailant was none other than Ssella Doomstalker.

“I’m getting tired of the mushy stuff,” Ssella hissed. “Time to crank it up a notch.”

“Ssella! As your commanding officer, I order you to unhand her!”

“Poor pitiful naïve Femme Fatale. You really believed I forgave your team for killing my precious sister and let me in to infiltrate your ranks. I’ve been looking for the perfect path of revenge. But your husband and brother would be too obvious.”

Femme felt frozen. She wanted to leap at Ssella, make her set Hope free. But if she did so, Ssella might act before she could get there.

“Now the aunt you never got to know, that would leave some real loss and regret. Not to mention throw your world into scandal and disarray as the world tries to figure out the relationship between the most prominent female military team commander and the leader of the peace movement.”

Ssella squeezed Hope’s neck tighter, and the peace fighter struggled so that it took Ssella a bit by surprise.

“You barely got to say hello, now get ready to say goodbye!”

Out of the shadows, Ssella felt hard grabs on her arms and let Hope go in shock and surprise as she tried to struggle. Ssella looked over her shoulder to stare into the anger-filled eyes of Derrick Deathex. Quickly, she turned her head the other direction to find Racubus Sterling holding her other arm.

Hope ran over and picked up the holo-locket from where it had fallen, but instead of returning it to Femme, raced from the room. Femme wanted to run after Hope, but right now one of her own – for the fact still remained that Ssella belonged to the Sisters of Silicon – needed to be brought to justice.

“Cadet Ssella Doomstalker, as your commanding officer I order you to explain to me how you found your way here.”

“I want my lawyer,” Ssella spat back. “I’m not telling you anything.”

“Don’t mess with us, Doomstalker,” Derrick hissed, the light illuminating the he ran a “S”-shaped scar on his cheek, “or you might just awaken the demons of the time I was trained to be a little less diplomatic with the sparing of life.”

“Are you threatening me?”

Derrick eased off.

“Get security, dear sister. Ssella here has some explaining to do.”

 

+++

 

Femme, Rus, and Derrick returned to Femme and Rus’ place, emotionally drained.

“All that and she still won’t give up who gave her the ability to bug the base,” sighed Femme.

“At least she shared that much info,” Derrick replied. “I can work on sweeping the place ASAP. Kicking myself not to have checked it more regularly for you. Some brother I am.”

As they approached the doorstep, they heard a familiar female voice: “Where have you all been? I’ve been looking for you for hours.”

The three of them looked up to find H.A.L. standing at the front door.

“Helen?” Femme called out. “Is the game over?”

H.A.L. shook her head.

“Nope, but I know how much loss you’ve suffered lately. Didn’t want to add myself to the casualty list. Too much drama in your life as it is.”

Femme leaped over and gave Helen a large hug, much to her surprise, as well as Derrick and Rus’.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Femme told her half-muffled, her face still buried against H.A.L.’s shoulder.

“Let’s go in and talk about it,” H.A.L. said. Then she held up a vidrecording.

“And talk about this information from the adoption agency. Apparently there’s a little girl named Alix who might be a good fit for us.”

 

+++

 

A weary Ragin’ John Blaze walked out of the Post-Game area to find Femme Fatale and his older sister, Indigo, waiting for him.

“Are you nuts?” he whispered at them tensely. “If Petruchio sees you, he’ll make my life miserable.”

“John,” Femme replied firmly. “This is your sister. You should be happy both of you made it out of your Arenas alive, and you’re still together.”

“Still, you didn’t have to come.”

“Actually, Indigo came to support me. I need to ask if you know anything about Ssella Doomstalker. Anything at all.”

“Hey I wasn’t part of her and Petruchio’s mess!” John said defensively, without so much as a second thought. “I’ve stayed in to figure out how to take them down.”

Immediately, John covered up his mouth in embarrassment and shock, wishing he could take those words back.

“Petruchio? The leader of the Lion’s Maw is in on this?” Femme said, taken aback.

“Well, yeah, but why are you advertising it so loud? You’ll get us all killed!”

“Ssella’s been arrested, John. The world will know soon.”

John’s shoulders sagged, as if a heavy weight had just then been placed on his shoulders.

“We were all fodder for publicity, in the beginning. He really hoped one of us would die just to get him headlines. E.C. gave him his wish. She didn’t mean to but she did. She left me her holo-diaries, I know how much she wanted to build her life for herself, no idea that all Petruchio hoped for was her death. I’ve just stayed in this to find out how to make that monster pay—“

John bit his tongue before he could say more, and his sister held him comfortingly, Femme looking on.

“It’s all right, John. It’s all right.”

 

+++

 

“Looks like we’ve got two healthy ones there. A boy and a girl.”

The radiologist continued to move the scanner over Wyndi’s belly as the doctor looked on. They’d been fortunate to get a doctor at the scan versus waiting for results later; the doctor had introduced himself as a friend of Dr. Lawrence Wright, which took Rus more by surprise than it did Femme.

“So, what names are you thinking for these little ones? You must have been thinking of top choices for each. Now you get to use them both.”

“We hadn’t really thought that far yet—“ Femme started to say.

“Frank Forsythe-Sterling,” Rus blurted out. Femme looked over at him.

“You sure?” she asked hesitantly. “Don’t feel pressured just because—“

“Positive,” Rus said back firmly. “Any special name you were hoping for?”

Femme nodded. “Callie. Callie Forsythe-Sterling. That’s a shortened form of Callenda, my adoptive mother’s name.”

“Who is your own birth mother,” Rus added as he hugged Femme with one arm. “I’m sure Aria will approve.”

As they walked back into the waiting room while Wyndi made her next appointment, they immediately noticed everyone transfixed on the broadcast on the central television.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to talk to you all about the great cause for which we have been speaking out.”

They watched Hope swallow hard before continuing.

“You must remember, at the heart of what we have done is love. It is always about love. Love of our communities and our, yes most definitely, our families. Sometimes out of love we make hard choices. I made such a difficult decision when I chose to meet Femme Fatale of the Sisters of Silicon, but instead found myself attacked by one of her own.”

Femme buried her face in Rus' chest. She didn't want to deal with more bad exposure right now, but continued to listen as Hope pressed on. Surprisingly, the crowd stayed totally silent.

“It turned out that this person was not simply attacking me, but betrayed Femme Fatale as well. Fortunately, there was intervention, though possibly intended for a different kind of ambush. I never got the chance to discover the truth, as I fled for my life.

“Now word comes to me that my attacker, Ssella Doomstalker, has walked out of police custody because they cannot ever prove I was there since I had already gone into hiding before they arrived. The Lion’s Maw, whom she served as a spy, now protects her. So I officially declare, on this matter, Hope Frances and Femme Fatale see eye to eye – Ssella Doomstalker must be brought to justice. More importantly, make note that the two of us have an understanding on one thing – though our methods differ, only through perseverance can we find peace. Thank you!”

Femme and Rus looked at one another in disbelief, as the crowd watching the press conference responded with equal silence. Perhaps, slowly, positive change would come to the world. The future remained full of possibilities.

 

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