<== ==>


“Did you choose a new name?” Manna asked.

“Oh, yeah. Henrietta St. Thomas. St. Thomas like Tomasa. Henrietta seemed fitting.”

“Why’s that?”

“Henrietta means ruler, so bow to the new king. None betta, can’t fool her, so just kiss the ring.” Henrietta grinned. “I’m not stupid, Manna. The Mater Protectoris doesn’t take daughters. I’m the first ever. That means she’s grooming me for command, doesn’t it? So if Henrietta is my name, then one day I’m gonna run this shit like Grace does. Meteoric rise to eminence, right? I say it’s time for a repeat performance.”

Manna didn’t say anything, she only smiled blankly. She led Henrietta into Sorority Hall and down the hallway. “That room over there is BEACON’s chambers, where our legislation is drafted and voted on,” she pointed. “Down the hall and to the left is the washroom. The room with the ornate doors is the grand hall.”

The chamber was already half-full, and the section with the pink-and-blue BEACON banner was three-quarters stuffed. 9 AM was the time of convening but most girls got here much earlier than that. Grace was already here, surrounded by three other women who Henrietta recognized to be Matres. “How many BEACON Matres actually use their seats?” she asked Manna.

“Depends on the session. For this one, it seems we’ll have eight regulars, with three or four others who may stop in later.” While every Mater was guaranteed a lifetime seat on the Sorority, less than half of them actually exercised that right. They had to show up in person for the votes and serve as a full-time legislator. Most gave up their voting privileges to pursue personal projects.

The ninety Matres had controlled TORCH since the birth of the organization. Henrietta didn’t know how to feel about that. If they were all like Grace, so powerful and wise, then maybe it’d be okay- but not every Mater could be Grace’s equal. Maybe none of them were.

Manna went off to address her Mater while Henrietta went to take her assigned seat in the back of the BEACON section. Just about every single BEACON sister looked to be her senior in both age and rank. A few were even famous enough for Henrietta to recognize, although none of them had received as much media attention as Henrietta had after she saved Grace’s life.

To her left was Jane, a bouncy and enthusiastic young woman with lime green hair. She was much older than Henrietta, and had led the distinguished 205th “Bloody Fists” Legion for decades. She had gone into politics rather than take a promotion to Princepa Third Class and command five legions. They exchanged pleasantries and talked shop- as the old adage went, any two legionnaires could enjoy one another’s company for centuries so long as the topic of conversation was professional murder.

The seat to her right was empty, and Henrietta soon figured out why when a woman stumbled into the room. She was… not in the best condition. Both of her legs were gone, as was her right arm, all replaced instead with mechanical components. Her left eye was an unnerving red bionic that gave off a faint bloody glow. Her face might have been beautiful once, but the flesh had been melted and fused. She wore a headscarf, and Henrietta suspected that it was less a fashion choice and more a necessity to hide burn scars. Her movements were sloppy and sluggish, she clearly didn’t have full control of the bionic limbs.

Henrietta got up and walked over to the woman, who most were doing their best to ignore. She stopped in front of her and saluted. “Colonel Henrietta St. Thomas,” she said to introduce herself. “Formerly of the 14th ‘Butterfly’ Legion, BEACON_Elite. May I assist you in finding your seat, ma’am?”

The disfigured woman paused, then grunted and moved to shove past. The sudden movement sent her careening to the floor-

But Henrietta moved fast and caught her by the shoulders. “…God damn it,” the woman muttered. “Fine.”

Henrietta tried to give her as little assistance as possible, just a stabilizing hand on her back. “You’re pretty strong, kid,” the woman said. “Guess Star is feeding them well these days.”

“Oh! You know the legata?” Henrietta’s old CO was Legata Ashtaroth, or ‘Star’ as her friends called her. They hadn’t really gotten along on a personal level, but Star had taught her tons about everything worth knowing.

“Haven’t seen her in a long time, but yeah. Served with her when we were kids.” The woman glanced back at Henrietta. “Name’s Catherine, by the way. Friends call me Cat. Formerly of the 7th ‘River’ Legion, then a desk-jockeying princepa third class, now the seared shell of a woman you see before you. You don’t have to hide your disgust.”

“Disgust?” Henrietta asked confusedly. “What disgust? I see nothing but a woman of immense courage- not just to take those wounds, but to wear them with pride. Scars like that are worth more than any medal, ma’am.”

<== ==>

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