HEARTH #27

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“Do you have anything to say to me that isn’t an insult?” Henrietta demanded. “Because I may just go home if not.”

“Ah… I guess there is something beneath the skin.” Enron’s eyes twinkled. “You meant both those threats, at least in the moment you delivered them. But you won’t walk away. You’re too interested- and you can’t possibly leave alone something that interests you. You either probe it and explore it until it breaks, or until it rears up and bites you back. Do you know why I interest you, soldier girl?”

Henrietta just glowered. Once again, Enron read her like a book: she couldn’t just walk away, she didn’t even want to. She wanted to find the magical combination of words to wipe that grin off Enron’s face, but they weren’t coming.

“I interest you because we are exactly the same, plus or minus some years,” crowed Enron. “Grace, she’s a sneaky old bird. She knows she can’t beat me, so she got her own version of me instead.”

“You keep her name out of your mouth,” Henrietta hissed.

Enron continued as though she hadn’t spoke. “And that’s why I’m interested in you back. Because I look at you and I see myself. And I’m very fond of myself. But you’re not quite there yet, are you? Just an overpraised and overpromoted thug, at least for now.” Enron shook her head. “It can’t be forced, y’know. I didn’t become this way overnight. It was years and years of hard work- but even more pain. That’s one thing your Mater and I agree on: people are nothing until they suffer, no more than a lump of metal is anything until it’s heated and beaten.”

Henrietta didn’t want to listen. She wanted to go home. And yet, her legs moved mechanically to keep pace with Enron’s massive strides. “Jokes on you. I’ll never be anything like you,” she said with a nasty smile of her own. “I’m going to be like Grace- just like her. Even if you manage to beat her, you’ll never be rid of her, Enron. I’ll carry my Mater’s legacy a thousand years into the future if I have to, just to make sure your vision never becomes a reality.”

Enron clapped a few times, although it didn’t seem sarcastic. She seemed… genuinely pleased. “Perfect! Now you’re starting to sound like a real Chantican! Soldier girl, let me ask you something. You know you don’t know much about politics or history or… really any of the things you should know about for your job. All you really know is what you’ve been told by others in BEACON, and I’ll bet they’re all the same in the way they think. So how do you know your cause is just?”

There was something about the way Enron talked. Her voice was so strong, each word hit like an uppercut. Ordinarily Henrietta would have just ignored her, but… maybe she had a point. “I’m not a scholar,” she said after a few moments of contemplation. “But I’ve read the founding charter of BEACON. I believe in those words. ‘We fight to deliver light to a universe swallowed by darkness. We shall kindle a series of beacons from Earth to the distant stars, in every clime a shining signal. We bloody our hands so others have the luxury not to.'” She glared at Enron. “Somehow I don’t think they had you in mind when they wrote that.”

“Ha! Recited like a good trooper.” Enron broke into a mock military march. “Come ooon. You’re not stupid. You know that you’re out of your depth here.”

“Gonna assign me a reading list?” Henrietta asked dryly.

“I don’t read- I don’t have time.” How was she this chipper and energetic at this awful hour? Nobody should be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before sunrise. “I’m going to tell you a story instead.”

Great.”

“It’s a good one- it’s the story of the Scourging of Gabros-1.” The cheeky smile left Enron’s face, and her eyes glittered with something dark. “You’re familiar with it?’

“Everyone in BEACON knows about it.”

“Edify me then. What do they teach soldier girls?”

Henrietta hesitated. She didn’t want to get any of the details wrong, but it had been years since she had read about the infamous campaign. “Ermm. Gabros-1 was a populated planet, medieval tech level, most of the locals were tribal. Friendly enough, until a radical killed… some Mater.”

“Medici,” said Enron immediately, her voice soft and wistful. “The Mater Auri. Founder of SPRING. My mother.”

“…Yeah, her.” Henrietta hadn’t even been alive during the Scourging. She knew next to nothing about Medici. “A xeno killed her. And that triggered an, umm, response. All of TORCH‘s might bore down on Gabros-1 to send a message to all alien races, now and forever: fuck with a Mater and we fuck with you back- and we fuck harder than anyone else.”

This next part was the one she knew the most about. “We didn’t just defeat them, we eradicated them. With methodical precision, we turned their cities to glass and their peoples to ash. After the fleet was done pounding them, the legions came in to finish the job. We killed and we killed and we killed until we couldn’t find anyone else to kill, and then we irradiated the planet for good measure. We’ve never done that before or since, but we had to because …  they killed a Mater. Her life was worth more than a hundred billion xeno scum. Now the broken ruins of civilization on Gabros serve as her tombstone.”

“Nice flourish on the end there,” Enron said appreciatively. “That’s a good story. What a pity it’s all lies.”

“What?”

“Medici wasn’t murdered by xenos. She was murdered by Grace Diakon.” The murky darkness in Enron’s eyes finally condensed into something cogent: hatred. “Grace fed Medici false info to lure her to her death. Then she destroyed the evidence, and the rest of the planet while she was at it.”

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