<== ==>

Grace bumped her head against the statue of the dead Mater called Zimri. “It didn’t work, it seems,” she sighed. “Ninety of the hundred Matres remain, but we’re like relics. My notions are the creaky ramblings of a stupid old woman. Even you feel that way, Retta.”

“I don’t-” Henrietta stopped herself. What was the point of denying it, when she had told Grace so much a few hours prior? “Well, I… I do believe in you, Grace. It’s just that I don’t know exactly what I believe.”

“Hmm.” Grace studied Henrietta intently for a moment, before turning back to the statue of Zimri. “Each of these statues has a story behind it, one worth knowing. I’d hope, in time, you would learn them all. But I want you to start with the seven Matres who had their statues turned towards the Astralon, and the three who had their statues removed.”

They kept walking before stopping in front of a statue of a thoughtful beauty with aquiline, noble features. “You know who this is, right?” Grace asked.

Henrietta did. “Augusta. The Mater Politico. She used to lead HEARTH, until the Volcanis Incident. She was… egh… incinerated.”

Grace nodded. “Augusta and I agreed on nothing. She hated the title of Mater, while I thought it crucial to retain the spirit of TORCH. She loved it here in Chantico, while I find it a miserable place. She was a pacifist who thought a small military should be maintained for defensive purposes only. She also didn’t care for the smoking.”

Grace took a long drag. “And yet she and I were great friends. Why? Because although we had such drastic views of how to get there, we wanted the exact same thing. A healthy TORCH that focuses on fulfilling its prime goals: to defend Earth from threats and ready the galaxy for human colonization.”

“What was she actually like?”

“Augusta? Melancholy. Deliberate, more shy than you’d expect- but she held her principles and never compromised. Gentle, professional, calm. We called her Marblehead because she always had that cool look on her face, like a marble statue.” Grace chuckled ruefully.

“And then she died,” Henrietta said softly. Manna looked at the floor.

“And then she died.” Grace’s posture went rigid and her voice grew crisp. “Then the vultures descended. Enron. Necessity. Snow. Women who have no vision of a greater TORCH, whose sole concerns are with their little fiefdoms within it- or worse. Some care only about themselves, or about avenging past slights. And here we are, four years later, and each passing day makes TORCH less like one organization of nine branches and more like nine organizations under one banner.”

Grace threw the butt to the ground and stamped it out with her heel. “This is not what I wanted,” she said lowly. “And if it continues as it has, we will cease to exist.”

Henrietta could only nod. She had heard similar things from some of the older legionnaires, and had read much the same in BEACON-friendly outlets. But to have it stated so plainly, with such steely conviction… it was different.

Grace kept walking. Henrietta followed. They made their way away from the HEARTH Matres and towards the LUX ones. There was something odd… a pedestal, but no statue atop of it. A blank spot between Diana, the Mater Caelum, and Hemera, the Mater Apricum. “Who was here?” Grace asked Henrietta.

The answer was obvious. “Eve. Mater Volcanis. I… you don’t need to tell me about her, I know the story. Everyone does.” Henrietta’s throat became dry just thinking about the security footage of the Volcanis Incident. They played it a million times in the newsphere, it was impossible to avoid.

Henrietta was a soldier. She had seen- and done- some pretty horrible things. But she doubted she’d ever see anything so disturbing as Eve Volcanis’ rampage through the very Sorority Hall that Henrietta now worked in.

<== ==>

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