<== ==> 

There was a sleepy vibe in the chamber after lunch, as though the girls wanted to nap rather than continue to make decisions that affected the lives of millions of TORCH agents. Henrietta was the opposite: she was raring to go, to do something useful and important, and yet she was asked to sit down and shut up.

Traditionally speaking, the leader of each delegation made a short speech about her legislative goals at the beginning of a new session. They switched off between alphabetical and reverse alphabetical, and it was the latter this session.

Director Belladonna, the beautiful Mater Mysteria of UMBRA went first. She came off as perfectly professional, and spoke for several minutes about the need for additional funding towards UMBRA’s intelligence operations in a period of uncertainty. It was a wonky, dry speech from someone with such a fearsome reputation- and yet for some reason, the UMBRA spies could barely hold in their laughter, like there was some joke that only they got.

CEO Enron of SPRING went next and briefly discussed her intentions to increase the ease of doing business, and remove “wasteful and outdated regulations.” Nothing specific, but it sounded great.

Polymath Paradox, the PLUTO head and Mater Matematica didn’t say much, just talked about Hausdorff Space and some other stuff Henrietta didn’t follow. From the looks of the rest of the room, most of the sisters were equally lost.

OPTICA’s Commissioner Snow, the Mater Custodes, argued for more funding, more policewomen, and more respect. It was poorly-delivered and argued and reeked of insecurity… why was she even in charge?

The Mater Medica, Chief Panacea of MIRROR, called for friendship and cooperation between branches. It sounded very nice. Henrietta forgot the entire speech as soon as it was over.

Hyperion, the Chancellor of LUX, had the shortest and most cryptic speech: “Each of you is cognizant of what I want. If you’ve somehow forgotten, then don’t be perturbed. You’ll receive a reminder soon enough.”

Speaker Theodora of HEARTH spoke of peace with alien races, and the importance of providing ample support to diplomatic missions along the frontier after some HEARTH agents were killed at an embassy on Tristala. The xenos out there were too distant to be threatening today, but perhaps in the future they could be needed allies or dangerous enemies.

Necessity of FORGE was absent- from the first day of the new session! FORGE had no speech as a result.

Finally it was Grace’s turn. Henrietta had monitored the Mater throughout the other speeches but Grace had barely reacted to any of it. Her face remained cool and impassive, betraying no emotion but attentiveness. She stood and walked to the podium for the second time in the day.

“Inwem. Haeton. Theia. Tristala. Vulca. Ambys. And most recently, Nemesis.” Grace’s voice was cool and somber, like she was delivering a eulogy. “A pall has fallen over our protectorate. Planet after planet is struck by a menace that festers in the shadows while we wring our hands helplessly. I speak of course of the rash of terrorist attacks that have struck these worlds, all in quick succession, since our Sorority last convened.”

Grace looked down, her eyes glassy. “I don’t know who is behind these attacks. I don’t know who’s organizing them- I can’t even say for certain that they were a coordinated strike. But I do know this: life is not meant to be lived in fear. TORCH agents deserve to feel safe, deserve to be able to go to work in the morning without wondering if they’ll come back that night. These cowardly attacks do not target armed, combat-ready women. They target businesswomen, office workers, administrators. All of TORCH cries out in one voice: ‘when will we be free of fear?’”

She leaned forward against the dais, that much closer to her audience- both in the room and on TV too. “I answer you: we can overcome this. But if we are to do so, we must do it in one voice- for when we break into a thousand petty squabbles, we lose the ability to protect ourselves from those who would do us harm. The rivalries between our investigative and security agencies limit cooperation between them. I will not sit back and watch as my sisterhood is chipped away at by an enemy who takes advantage of our bickering.”

Grace did not glare at anyone when she said that, not even Enron. She just spoke in that clear, sad voice, and her regularity lent her strength. “BEACON legislators are in the midst of drafting a new set of emergency security measures. We will pull out these terrorists by the root and ensure they never again find fertile ground to plant themselves. I ask my sisters in the other eight branches to lend their wisdom and expertise to this bill, and I ask my sisters in BEACON to prepare themselves for a fight against a new adversary. And I ask you, and myself, to find the strength necessary to protect what we love. Thank you.”

Grace stepped down, and the instant she was finished the room erupted into rancor. Everyone seemed to be yelling at everyone else. The BEACON girls circled up around Grace, swallowing her into the mass. “Great speech,” one told her. “I’m with you, Mater,” said another.

Henrietta met Grace’s eyes and they exchanged a nod. Henrietta was starting to understand why she had been brought to Chantico.

<== ==> 

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