Template:Post After many jumps, heading towards the planet Tangris, CatH Post 32 sees a weary Clear speaking to Sue'san Dienhand. After each jump they have a conversation, which costs Clear mentally but she wants to try to learn more about this woman and her relentless pursuit of The Hopeful. Ffion Heul interupts the conversation and Clear goes to the Medical Bay to see how Princess Aurora is faring. Aurora is desperate and doesn't want to die yet, the dart fired at her by the assassin in CatH Post 30 has sped up the ALS disease so that she may die in a matter of weeks instead of years. They are confused by someone would want to kill Aurora this way instead of just shooting her. Lymn and Heul decide that the Æon Lords may be able to slow the process down while they find a way of reversing the advancement of the disease. Clear suspects that Dienhand must know something.
A Slow Death
Dienhand: "You cannot escape, Captain. We can play this game of cat and mouse for as long as you like."
The majority of Dienhand's fleet had broken away and returned to their territory to defend against the Alliance. The Excellence itself, however, maintained pursuit. Every jump, the cheese wedges would arrive moments later and Dienhand would send a communication. Clear's morale has gradually been leached with each jump. However she keeps her spirits as Tangris ought to be a safe haven for her and The Hopeless. Being a neutral area of space and capable of defending itself, the Excellence wouldn't risk igniting confrontation by entering orbit around the planet.
Dienhand: "You think I didn't see through your ploy? I don't care about bombing irrelevant alien scum. Hunting you down is my priority. If that means abandoning the bombardment of cretins, so be it. They will be dealt with in time."
Clear: "And what did it cost you? What did the Rebel fleet take from you?"
Dienhand: "I allowed them to capture a pointless planet of little strategic value. I had all forces removed and released false information to rebel spies that the world was undermanned, though not completely abandoned. I made sure there were a lot of mines planted though. I'm sure they're still losing soldiers to this day, trying to secure the structures."
Clear: "You're a cruel woman. Even Strang had some sense of decency to him."
Dienhand: "And that was his failing. Allowing alien wretches like you to mingle with our faction was humiliating. His affection for you doubly so. I don't care how human-like you are."
Clear wonders what the aliens in the faction have gone through since Dienhand seized power. She guesses many would run for the Alliance for safety.
Clear: "You seem like such a people-person. No wonder you became warlord after Strang..."
Dienhand: "Your idiotic sarcasm serves no purpose. I am not cruel for the sake of cruelty. I am merely practical. Let aliens in and Strang paid the price for that. The more rabble with alien sympathies amongst us the weaker we are."
Clear: "Kiron Nightstrider is human."
Heul: "Speaking of which, she's awake."
Clear turns to see Ffion Heul enter the Command Centre. Clear nods to her and turns back to Dienhand on the display.
Dienhand: "Run along. I do hope your princess isn't in any danger..."
Clear rolls her eyes and turns off the comm. Their little 'chats' are growing ever more tedious and Clear wonders why she actually engages in them. She supposes she wants to know her enemy, possibly find some weakness or even a common ground that they could barter over and come out of this situation without incident.
Heul: "Are you okay, Clear?"
Clear: "I'm just worn out. The more craziness that happens, the more I think of simpler days. It must be the same for you since you lost your teacher?"
Ffion nods slowly.
Clear: "You're right, of course. It's just hard to see a bright future when so much calamity surrounds us."
Heul: "It's there, Clear. When the universe conspires against us, we have to work all the harder for that future. But right now, we should check on Princess Foul-mouth."
Clear: "Foul-mouth? Is she swearing again?"
Heul: "She makes pirates seem like monks."
They enter the medbay where Princess Aurora is still lying in her bed, though now awake. Also in the room is Green and Kokoro Lymn. Thrain is also there, looking at charts and scans. When Clear enters Thrain opens her mouth to speak but Aurora blasts out first.
Princess Aurora: "Clear! Thank fuk you're here!"
Clear walks to Aurora's bed.
Clear: "Are you alright?"
Princess Aurora: "Am I fuk alright! The basterds got me! They killed me, Clear!"
Thrain: "The dart contained a biological strain of a bacteria that quickly spread through her body. I was able to flush it out of her easily enough, but it wasn't the problem. The bacteria was designed with one very specific task in mind. To speed up the symptoms of ALS[Ext 1]. The bacteria went straight to the brain and, through a process I'm still trying to figure out, kicked the disease into overdrive."
Clear: "Oh no..."
Princess Aurora: "I don't want to die, Clear. Not yet! Not now! I still had so much more to do!"
Clear: "Surely it's not that fast!? Alexis?"
Thrain: "Don't call me Alexis when I'm working, please?"
Clear: "... you know there's only a handful of people on this ship, right? I think formality can be set aside..."
Thrain: "Tsk. I don't know how long she has. A year at most. Probably much less. Weeks maybe? She'll go through the process of losing motor function rapidly. Until eventually she'll... we'll have to feed her through tubes because her throat won't work anymore. That's usually the point at which... everything shuts down."
Clear: "This is insane! There must be something you can do, Alexis!?"
Thrain: "Thrain. And I'm working on it, but I'm no genetic engineer. I'm just a doctor. A great one but a doctor nonetheless. I can take all the usual steps to slow it down, but really we need a proper bioengineer to reverse this."
Clear: " I think Dienhand had something to do with it. Her words just now as we disconnected the communication... sounded like she knew something was wrong."
Thrain: "You think you can negotiate the cure out of her? What will be the cost though."
Clear: "The cost is easy. She wants Kiron".
Princess Aurora: "There's no way I'll let him die for my sake. I'm scared but I'm not a monster."
Clear: "I know."
Princess Aurora: "And don't tell him! Promise me! You won't tell him about this? He'll fly himself over there if he finds out. You've seen how he is!"
Heul: "He's going to find out sooner or later anyway."
Clear: "Isn't there something your people can do, Ffion?"
Heul: "Maybe. I think they could also slow it down, at least. We'd have to see an Æon Lord about it. Healing is really... not like your medicine."
Lymn: "But it's better than doing nothing. I'm sure there's something we can do to help."
Thrain: "Fine. We have their magic--"
Lymn: "It's not magic."
Thrain: "--Clear can try to get information out of a psychopath and I'll scour the Imperial database for information that might help."
Green: "Is there anything I can do?"
Thrain: "Just don't get in my way. That's the best thing you can do."
Clear: "Don't listen to her Green. Maybe you can keep Aurora company?"
Thrain: "That's in my way."
Clear: "No it's not. Aurora needs someone to help calm her down."
Aurora suddenly reaches out and grabs Clear's hand.
Princess Aurora: "Please help me, Clear. I know you can help me."
Clear: "I'll do my best, Aurora. If there's a way, we'll find it. The only thing I don't understand though... why bother doing this at all?"
Princess Aurora: "What do you mean?"
Clear: "Why not just shoot you with a laser? You'd have been dead already."
Princess Aurora: "To make me suffer?"
Clear: "I don't think that sounds right..."
Heul: "It is weird. Why didn't they just destroy the building you were in?"
Lymn: "That part's easy to explain. Blowing up the whole building doesn't guarantee the kill."
Heul: "I guess. But then why this? Why a prolonged death this way?"
Clear: "Maybe Dienhand has the answers. Take it easy, Aurora. We'll figure this out..."