The Afflicted Ch. 13byChiShyGuy©
Claude, Abby, Aimée, and Jacob were led into the hearing room and cuffed to a chair. Each of them was collared. It was an unusual move, especially since three out of the four could be confined with simple shackles -- but this was an unusual situation. Still, to see the four young people chained to chairs and also green from nausea from the dampeners was a disheartening sight.
Palo and Frederique sat at a table near the edge of the room, having a very animated discussion.
"I can argue for them," insisted Palo.
"No, you can't," whispered Frederique.
"I have studied law all my life and practiced it for a decade before we met.
"Palo," hissed Frederique, "we are dealing with our children's lives here. If you could step into a mortal courtroom, I would wager you could win any case put before you. You probably could have gotten Napoleon acquitted. But this is an Afflicted hearing. If we are to hope for the best outcome we need someone with centuries of experience -- and here she comes."
A stately woman with an elegant bearing entered the room. She did not try to make a grand entrance, in fact her head was down and she scarcely paid notice to anyone in the room as she crossed to their table. Yet everyone noticed her and the room grew quiet as every head turned in her direction.
She placed a stack of books and notes on the table and then turned to smile at Frederique.
"Hello dear," she said. "It has been too long."
"Hypatia!" said Frederique. "I am honored that you would offer your assistance."
"Oh my dear, I was one of thirty Advocates who was ready to help you," said the woman.
"Hypatia, I want you to meet my new mate, Palo."
"Pleasure to meet you," said Palo. "You were named for a great scholar."
"Oh, he is new," said Hypatia with an amused smile.
"Palo," said Frederique. "This is the Hypatia, the scholar of Alexandria."
"Imposssible," said Palo -- though he didn't seem terribly sure of himself. "Hypatia was killed by an angry mob in the year 397."
"Yes, I was," said Hypatia. "And that was a devilishly hard thing to stage."
Before Paulo could say any more, Hypatia turned to notice the four youths and the room suddenly shook with her angry yell.
"No!" she cried. "Who the hell ordered that these children be collared?"
The head guard crossed over to Hypatia apologetically, speaking in hushed tones.
"Honorable Hypatia, it was the Council's orders that they..."
"It was not the Council' orders that they be publicly tortured and humiliated. This is a mate hearing, not a fucking trial."
"You will unlock those collars on each of the three," she commanded.
"You will remove the dampeners," she said in a tone that was not to be ignored. "Further, you will escort them out to a private room until the Council is here. You will also find a better arrangement for the empath."
"There isn't one."
"Oh no? There's Franz. Come here Franz!" she called.
The inventor came scurrying over to Hypatia and kissed her hand affectionately.
"Franz," she said. "Can you rig up a field here? One you suspend above her so she can hear and speak without being nauseous, but she cannot influence anyone else in the room?"
"Yes, I believe I could," said Franz.
"Good, do that."
Franz hurried off for his equipment, but the head guard remained standing where he was -- paralyzed by indecision.
"Well?" she said to him.
"Great lady, we have very specific orders, and..."
"Listen to me," she said in a tone that was dripping with venom. "This is the most important day of their lives. Decisions surrounding their very fate will be made. They will not have those decisions made under barbaric duress. They will not be subjected to answering questions with their stomachs turning and their senses addled. If they are, I will see to it there is a trial and you will be the first person prosecuted. Now go!"
The guard hurried to follow her orders, taking the four out of the room once again. Hypatia sat back down and began reviewing her notes.
"Do you still want the job?" whispered Frederique to Palo.
He held up his hands in a no-way' sort of gesture and they both waited silently as Hypatia looked over documents and took notes as she read. Once she was finished, she picked up her notepad and a sheaf of papers. With a nod of her head, she gestured for Palo and Frederique to follow her. She led them to an antechamber, looked about to be sure they were alone.
"Here is the good news," she said. "You've drawn a good trio for the panel."
"Who are they?" asked Frederique.
"Angelina di Bicci," said Hypatia.
"I don't know her," said Frederique.
"She's part of the Medici clan," said the ancient scholar. "Like any of them that we've recruited, she has a great ability to be impartial but fair. I've met her a few times and I certainly don't mind having her here. Next we have Peregrine O'Duignan."
"Damn," hissed Frederique. She explained to Palo. "He is an Irish scholar, but he was also on Christophe's trial. He was the deciding factor in saving Christophe when they discovered how powerful he was. That's not a good thing. He most likely still holds himself partially responsible."
"Yes," said Hypatia. "He will definitely be our glass-half-full representative."
"Why isn't it the whole council?" asked Palo. "Why only three of them?"
"To avoid games," explained Hypatia. "In the seventh and eighth centuries the entire Council of Twelve was brought into all major decisions regarding mates. Suddenly it became the College of Cardinals selecting a Pope. Back then, with every mate selection everyone was maneuvering, trying to align families for more wealth or power. Now it is just three. They aren't selected until day of the event, and they are forbidden from speaking with any other members of the Council until the selection."
"Who is the third?" asked Frederique.
"Patroclus," said Hypatia.
The name carried great weight with Frederique.
"He's back on the Council?" she asked in wonder.
"Yes, he found a new mate four decades ago and seems greatly revitalized."
"Who is Patroclus?" asked Palo.
"He is among the first-bitten," said Frederique. "Along with Galen, Patroclus is widely credited to be the reason we are still here. It was his wisdom and leadership that saw us through some of our darkest times. He is wise and just, but he can also be ruthless. With almost two thousand years on this earth, he makes his decisions for our overall good... and bases them on nothing else."
"How will he lean?" asked Palo.
"You can never tell with Patroclus," said Hypatia. "He was almost my first mate, so that gives you an idea of how long I've known him. Yet, I still can't second-guess him. That said, if I was going to guess where these three will go, here are my thoughts:"
"I suspect that Galen will recommend that the siblings cross families and mate with each other. Claude with Abby, Jacob with Aimée. I've seen his preliminary reports and he feels they will be a strong match Affliction-wise. I'm giving Galen's recommendation a forty percent chance. "
"Next is the possibility of the siblings blooding each other. Galen did not dismiss it, but obviously spoke against them having children. Such a thing is not unheard of. I can list twenty sibling pairs off the top of my head. I would give Claude being mated with Aimée, and Jacob with Abby a thirty a thirty percent chance."
"Next possibility is that the Council simply chooses among the many other candidates that Galen, Villepreux-Power, and Pasteur have cleared. That could easily happen and I would put that at a twenty-five percent possibility."
"That leaves five," said Palo.
"Yes, five percent -- unknown," said Hypatia. And it is just that, unknown. "
They sat in silence for the next several minutes. A great deal more noise could be heard in the assembly hall and they glanced out to see quite a throng beginning to form.
"Hypatia," said Frederique, "one more thing. Is there a sealed sheet?"
Her silence was the only answer Frederique needed.
"I've read of it," said Palo. "But what exactly is a sealed sheet?"
"It is a potential time-bomb," said Frederique. "If Galen finds something that he deems a significant risk with an unmated youth, he writes a report and makes four copies. One for himself, and one for each of the three."
Hypatia picked up the thought. "Now, it isn't something blatant like young Abby's power. That is a known risk. A sealed sheet is a potential risk. It is up to the three to decide on whether it is worthy of debate. If they view it as unimportant, the sheets are destroyed, all of them. If and when the candidate takes another mate, Galen, or whoever is screening at that time, may choose to re-enter the criteria.
"What could he have found?" asked Palo. "Frederique, you were with him this past week. Did you ask?"
"Oh no, Palo," said Frederique. "There is an expression among our kind -- 'safer than Galen's secrets'. When it comes to matters of bloodmates, there is nothing more sacred to him."
Soon it was time. They entered the room and another hush fell. Partially, because it was the first time many of those gathered had seen the legendary Frederique. With a mere glance, she was able to communicate to the crowd that this wasn't about her, and she would brook no applause.
Five minutes later, a whistled sounded. Abby, Aimée, Claude, and Jacob were lead into to the assembly hall. Frederique was pleased to see several younger people giving them signs of encouragement from the separate Cadet section. Surely these were her children's friends. She had not had the opportunity to speak enough with Claude and Aimée to know it was Oppo and Jackie leading the student delegation of support.
Frederique looked around and saw many, many old friends. She dearly wished to reunite with all of them, but another whistle sounded and the entire room stood.
The seats for the three were at the terminus of three separate parallel hallways. The rules were so strict that the three Council members weren't even allowed to see each other during the hearing. Each dais where they sat was set back into each hallway. Behind each Council member was a deplaceur ready to pop the Council member out in case of any emergency. Brolly stood behind Patroclus, Bullet behind Angelina, and Leonora, the beautiful brunette, stood behind Peregrine.
Patroclus was seated in the center dais. He rapped a gavel and called the event to order.
"Very well then," he said. "Today we meet to discuss the mate selection of Jacob and Abby Lamont, two of the strongest gifted Cadets we have ever seen, as well as Claude and Aimée Dujobe, children of Palo Dujobe and our beloved Frederique who has rejoined our ranks.
The murmurs raced through the room and Patroclus allowed it patiently before rapping his gavel again.
"There you go," he said. "Get it out of your systems, because if I hear another word I will clear the hall and have any talkative offenders arrested, maybe even sent out in the sun for a little while."
There was a bit of nervous laughter, no one being sure exactly how serious Patroclus was with his threat.
"For those unfamiliar with hearings surrounding a mate selection, and also for our four young people here" said Patroclus, "We will give a brief outline of the reasoning behind this event."
"In the early days, our numbers grew rapidly. However, after even a century, we realized the implications of long life, unusual powers, and an aversion to daylight meant we needed to be selective with our members and their mates."
"With the assistance of Galen," continued Angelina, "we have evolved the process down to a very reliable science. The one thing I want to point out, however, is this is a sacred and beloved time. It is our deepest regret that due to the extraordinary nature of your gifts and your unusual sibling circumstance, that this resembles a trial. More often, the mate selection takes place in more comfortable surroundings."
"I will add," said Peregrine, picking up the narrative, "that it is your own actions that have necessitated the security around this event. Lastly, mate selection is always public. In the huge mass of humanity, we are a tiny and distinct populace. As you step into becoming a full member of the community, you must understand that you will be with us for a very long time. We welcome you to our family, but we also wish to make sure you are set down the correct path with the proper mate."
"So, we begin," said Patroclus, simply. "Galen, we were given your report this morning. We would like to hear from you directly."
Galen stood and the gathered crowd room grew even more silent, if that was possible. Galen was taking this very seriously. There was clearly a weight on his shoulders from the burden.
"These are strong candidates," he said. "Good lineage and exceptional gifts. I will add that the addition of Palo to our kind, though he was not my selection, was an excellent choice. His body and mind are strong and promising, and he has taken to the Affliction well. As such, the children of Palo and the Frederique are fine specimens. As for Jacob and Abby, we all miss their parents deeply. They were two quiet, but radiant stars of our kind. We can only give thanks that Jacob was not also taken from us by Arnet, son of Jacinto, who we now know to be their leader."
"Theirs is a complicated case, however," explained Galen. "It was complicated by the unusual and tragic situation that led to Abby and Jacob's isolation. It was also complicated by the horrible choice of the Council to transport the Dujobes by sea when Claude and Aimée were so close to awakening. I can't remember many decisions as poor as that one, and I have been around long enough to see many poor decisions."
"We thank you, Galen," said Peregrine. "Consider us formally chastised, and please do accept our apologies."
Galen gave a wry smile and continued.
"I must say that the intimacy among the children greatly complicated my analysis. It complicated things because of the startling resonance they all established. This made it dreadfully hard to remain objective. My first instinct, of course, was to negate them all as candidates for each other. However, once I stepped back, I saw many strong arguments for them becoming mates. You see, when I select a mate I must evaluate what traits will be reinforced by each other's Affliction."
"To illustrate, years ago there was an Afflicted girl who was current-adept. Much in the manner of certain aquatic animals like the electric eel, she could generate a significant shock. The council thought, and without my objection mind you, that she would be well-mated with a young man who was a conductor. He had been struck by lightning several times and could let it pass through his body easily. Together, they made a remarkable team in battle. However, we did not anticipate the activities of the cells they exchanged. What happened was a slow build up resistance and those cells began to do battle in their nervous systems, the girl especially. In hindsight, I should have seen it, but it was too late. I was able to minimize the effect, but the girl lived a mere one hundred and fifty years, wasting slowly away as her nerves degraded from the build-up of current. This is the sort of thing we must anticipate and avoid."
"That said, I can see nothing in these young people that represents a threat to each other. As you will see in my report, I recommend that they marry opposite, Claude with Abby and Aimée with Jacob. Their systems will mesh well, and should they opt for children in a century or two, I think their offspring would be both gifted and balanced in their powers."
"I also think, emotionally, that their personalities would benefit. Claude is a solid type and his essence would give Abby a dose of impartiality that would help to temper the unusual burden she bears from feeling the emotions of everyone around her. Aimée and Jacob are also a good match. I know this might sound odd, but they are both more impetuous in their makeup. I have found, time and again, that two such personalities will usually be calmer after the blood ritual."
"That is all good to hear," said Peregrine. "We are pleased to hear that their union would not be detrimental to themselves. But what of the Afflicted? Could we expect an even greater threat from Abby, the empath, after she mates with young Claude here and her gifts invariably strengthen even more?"
Galen contemplated this and gathered himself. "As you will find in my notes, I do not feel Abby is a threat. By her very empathy, she would be averse to committing harm because she would feel that pain as well..."
"But..." said Peregrine trying to interrupt.
"I will finish," said Galen, raising a hand. "I am not interested in the argument of how someone might be used as a weapon should they be taken by Arnet. My argument, even in this specific instance, is that we might well have people who are under Arnet's influence in this every room. Abby is the only one of our kind who might easily detect their presence, so the blade cuts both ways. As to what Abby might gain from Claude, it could possibly be flight -- but my experience says it would more likely be an ability to extend her gift the way a flier might. She might be able to touch a companion and allow them a limited ability to connect with others on an emotional level. Claude would likely become an unstoppable fighter in the air, able to anticipate his opponents every move much like Abby does on the ground. In short, I find the logic of the council fallible at best when arguing what might happen with someone as strong as Abby. I would remind you that the failure of Christophe in the last great conflict was not his failure, but a result of the failure of a deplaceur who failed to follow orders."
A murmur surged through the room at that and Patroclus allowed it. There were few who could chastise the Council so blatantly, but if Galen did so, he had good reason and his reputation was unassailable.
"Duly noted," said Patroclus. "Now, what of the other two?"
"Invisibility is tricky," said Galen. "I do not see the ability being passed to Aimée if she were Jacob's mate. I would suspect she might gain the ability to be a bit more quiet in her jumps -- which Bullet informs me is still an obstacle. She might gain a good bit of stealth, as well. For Jacob, I am fairly certain he would gain the ability to teleport objects -- though not people -- over short distances."
Through all of this, the four had been struggling to be silent. When they had heard Galen open with the argument that they should be mates, it had been a good thing they were restrained, or else they might have leapt up in joy. Hypatia, however, had sent them a note that they were to show their best decorum in the hearing.
It did not stop them from exchanging glances, however, and Aimée couldn't help but give a blushing look to Jacob. It was surreal, yet wonderful for her to contemplate that this handsome young man would be her life mate sometime soon. Claude, too, found himself looking at Abby in an entirely different light. Abby personally was struggling, wishing she could reach out to communicate her joy to Claude at the prospect of taking the ultimate step with him.
The proceedings began to go surprisingly smoothly. The air of the room became suddenly relaxed. The three asked questions of the four, marveling at the tales they had heard, and teasing them about their amorous adventures.
"There is an ancient tale," said Patroclus. "In the story, an overprotective king locks his virginal daughter in a tower. A young man finds a magic ring that transports him there every night, where things go... very well. Leave it to two Afflicted women to bring such a fairy tale to life. I would challenge anyone here to tell me they wouldn't have done the same when they were young and newly awakened, if they had access to such powers. Now, turn off the dampener and set these four at ease."