Chapter 13: The Great Thaw
It hurt to breathe. She had to breathe, the dead didn’t breathe. As long as she kept breathing, she wasn’t dead. Being not dead hurt, but the alternative was worse. She tried opening her eyes. The lights were down low. She tried to say something, managed a grunt. “Anna?”
She’d heard that voice before. A face hovered into view in front of her, a familiar face, pale, with platinum white hair and pale blue eyes. A beautiful face, one that made her chest feel warm and strange and congested. Maybe that was just the hospital equipment she heard hissing and beeping around her. “Are you… “
Oh. Elsa. She looked up, but Elsa looked odd. Fuzzier than she should have. The odd look on Elsa’s shoulders resolved into a beautiful, white-furred treecat. Olaf. Oh, Olaf! Olaf was riding on Elsa’s shoulders. Olaf was either being very careful, or Elsa had gotten reinforced armored jackets like her own. It was all right if Olaf was with Elsa. That was good. Something told her that was as it should be. “Elsa,” Anna whispered.
“You must have a very good tailor.”
Elsa made a sound, half-sob, half-laugh. “Oh, Anna.” She reached down. Anna felt Elsa’s cool, dry fingers touch her forehead gently. “The doctors said you weren’t supposed to wake up yet.”
Anna agreed with the doctors. She thought she shouldn’t have been awake yet either. “Elsa… Queen....” She tried to reach up with one hand, but it fell back to the bed with a thump. Elsa was fading away. There was something new about Elsa. A scar, on her cheek, bright white and fresh. She tried to form a thought about it. Exhaustion pulled her down again. “Wait,” Anna sighed.
“What?” Elsa said, but then she was gone.
When she awoke a second time, the lights were brighter and the face hovering before her head was that of Flynn Fitzhubert. She was in a sitting position and breathing felt easier than… than when? “Hey, you’re awake. Captain? Can you hear me?”
She managed a groan. “Flynn. Where are we?”
“I’m afraid you’re in The Royal Hospital of Arendelle. It’s a pretty nice place, all things considered. Better than jail.” She looked up at the ceiling, then to the space around Flynn. The room was big compared to a naval bed, painted calming beige and blue. It looked more like a luxury hotel room. Only the beeping devices overhead and three trolley stations for diagnosis and treatment gave away its true purpose.
“You didn’t take me back to the ship?” she asked. Part of her was horrified at the breach of protocol, but the secret part of her was glad she hadn’t left Arendelle. She might get to see Elsa again.
“We couldn’t. Your injuries were so severe, the Arendelle medical corp put you into cryo. We didn’t have the equipment to deal with your body in that state, so… ” He shrugged. “Kristoff was livid, let me tell you, but the Queen assured him everything would be done to restore you. Given the nature of your injury, there wasn’t anything else he could do.”
A new voice said, “Your ship is in orbit, Captain, waiting to take you home.”
Anna tried to sit up, but pains shot through her back when she tried to make herself move. She managed to turn her head instead and took in the tall, thin figure of Admiral Pyre Becker, her fleet officer. If he was here then either the rescue ship had found them, or she’d been out for a lot longer than she thought. “Sorry, sir. Excuse me for not rising and saluting.”
“Forgiven, of course.” He looked grave, but there was a twinkle in his eye, as if he were secretly very pleased with his errant captain. Next to him Kristoff stood, Sven on his shoulder, both of them looking equally relieved. “It’s understandable, given the extent of your injuries, although Doctor Whelan assures me you’ll be able to get out of bed soon.”
“Oh,” Anna said. She felt strangely empty and hollow. “Izik’s with you? Good. How bad was it?”
Flynn answered. “As bad as it could possibly have been. Their weapons were modern and meant to handle light-armored targets. The bullet bruised your spine and tore completely through your heart. Arendelle has the most amazing tissue typing technology. It’s beyond anything we have on Manticore. They have an entire catalog of body parts in low-cryogenic suspension, and a fascinating mechanism for growing new parts as needed. They found a heart that closely matched yours for tissue typing, tuned it with a retrovirus to prevent rejection, and implanted it into you. I watched the surgery. The Queen’s official surgeon, Doctor Perkhurei, is one of the most professional women I’ve ever met.”
Panic gripped her, but she was able to wiggle her toes and move her knees. “So I should be completely healed eventually, right?”
“That’s what Doc Perkhurei said. Even if the Arendelle’s couldn’t do it, Manticore could fix you right up. Arendelle’s technique is faster and more precise, but it took some invasive surgery to get the repair framework into place.”
“Sir,” she said to Admiral Becker, “What happened?”
“I wasn’t there. Doctor Fitzhubert was a better witness.”
“You saw?” Anna said, turning to Flynn.
“Everything,” Flynn said. “It was bloody. Everywhere.”
“Everywhere?” Anna said.
“You don’t know?”
“Flynn, this is my first moment of consciousness since the fight.” She had a distant dream, just on the edge of memory, of another moment, but she couldn’t recall it.
Flynn nodded. “Well, Captain, the bullet that killed you made a hole as big as my fist. Your treecat tore the hell out of the attackers, and most of them were still alive. Then Olaf was standing on top of you, keening in a really strange way…” Anna nodded. “But then Queen Elsa grabbed him and hauled him away, and he was fighting and scratching her. I don’t think he wanted to hurt her but he didn’t want to leave you. She was shouting at him that you’d be saved, you’d be rescued, and the palace medicals were going to do everything they could to save her, right?” He raised his voice to emphasize the quote. “Olaf scratched her up pretty badly, too, and then there was that crazy guardswoman who was approaching Olaf with a big knife, and the Queen pointed a huge gun at her, and everyone’s eyes were big and scary. I have no idea where the gun came from.
“Gotta say this for the medicals, they didn’t even notice.” Flynn made a chopping motion. He liked to use his hands for emphasis. “I’ve never seen a rescue procedure like that! They cut open your neck and attached hoses to the veins and arteries and pumped you full of cryofluid so fast there wasn’t time for brain damage, then tubed you and had you frozen solid and hustled you out of there and I didn’t even have time to register it all.” He was breathing hard and talking rapidly.
Anna blanched, putting her hand to her throat. She hadn’t even noticed the scars there, so small and inconsequential compared to the surgical marks all over her chest, but she felt them now. Flynn briefly mimicked her gesture, his own hand to his throat for a moment. “Oh. Sorry, Anna.”
“I’m an officer of Her Majesty’s Navy,” Anna said. “I think I can take a little gore. Even my own. Where is Olaf?”
“That’s the other thing,” Kristoff said, his voice going deep and quiet. “We don’t know.”
“You don’t know? Was he hurt? Oh, my god, Kristoff, he can’t be, I mean, I just saw him, I know he’s still there, I know he is, Kristoff…”
“Calm down, Anna. He’s alive. We think. Anna, the battle was over two months ago. Elsa had a bullet wound in her arm, and Olaf scratched her pretty badly before she got through to him and broke his hysterics. I read Fitzhubert’s report, the battle was a real mess. After she got patched up Elsa disappeared and Olaf went with her. Nobody knows where Olaf is. Or the Queen.”
“Then who’s running Arendelle?”
Admiral Becker said, “Prime Minister Dellaroy still has the authority to run the day-to-day business of Arendelle. There’s no order of succession, and Elsa doesn’t have any other relatives here on Arendelle that are as close as her second cousin on Corona. But Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s directives on the matter of naval treecats is also clear: we are not leaving Arendelle until we locate treecat Olaf DuVar.”
“Olaf…” Anna groaned. She didn’t know how, but she knew he was alive. He was still here, on Arendelle, on the planet, and alive and healthy. She sagged against the bed. “What’s the status of the Vessel?”
“Captain, you may not be aware of this, but it has been two months since your injury. Arendelle repaired Winterkiss– and that was an amazing piece of work all by itself– and sent her home. Manticore has officially arrived in force. We have entered into a short-term mutual defense pact with Arendelle to help her assess her military position within her own solar system. After Commander Bjorgman’s debriefing and a review of the expedition, we have brought several civilian ship construction rigs from Grayson, as well as our own force of two battlecruisers and screening elements. We have some indication that Dellaroy is in contact with the Queen, as he has requested that we are not to contact Corona until several matters are resolved. I have to say that when I sent your ship and all my boffins down an uncharted wormhole, I didn’t expect you to find a fairy-tale kingdom thousands of light years from all known civilization at the other end.
“In the meantime, the Vessel remains in orbit. It is an Arendelle matter. Their major weapons platforms are now either destroyed or in Arendelle’s hands, and we have been providing security updates to Arendelle as fast as we can.
“The bigger problems remains the local unrest. The arrival of Manticore, the the interference of the Vessel, rumors of outsider influence, and of course the destruction of the laser platforms and the space elevator have driven deep into Arendelle’s psyche and morale. Chantel and its immediate neighboring duchies are loyal, but several further on are much less so. The most daring is the Duchy of Mestalt. Duke Herbert Sezima, Duke of Mestalt, is openly refusing to pay his election, arguing that with the coming of Manticore the Royal Family of Anton and its monopoly on space will soon end, and with it any need for the Crown. Needless to say, the Foreign Office, in the guise of Ambassador Hellenola, has countered with a sanction to any Manticoran trader who buys or sells with Mestalt until the duke recognizes a central, planetary authority, and Manticore is choosing the Keys.
“The Keys?” Anna said.
“The local equivalent of The Crown.”
“Which you can’t find.”
“Which we can’t find.” Admiral Becker took a deep breath. “There have been attacks on royal facilities, and counter attacks on those of the more rebellious duchies. The crime rate is higher, and there have been cases of hoarding. Totally unnecessary; Arendelle was over-producing when you arrived, and they will get through this, although it’ll be at least a decade until the weather pattern returns to something normal. In the meantime, people are panicking.”
Anna snorted. “That’s not very rational.”
Kristoff said, “Nobody is rational, Anna. If we were all rational, you and I would be out of a job.”
Anna grinned. “That wouldn’t be so rough now, would it?”
Becker cleared his throat and said, “Captain, I’m afraid Intelligence still has to debrief you about your actions, as well as the other officers left behind to care for you. However, you are still the listed commander of the Winterkiss, and will be for the foreseeable future, and Her Majesty’s Navy will be grateful when you finally get this mess sorted out.”
“Thank you, sir. Do we know who shot me?”
“You would hope it would be something dramatic, a Duke’s crack assault team, or maybe coordination from whoever’s controlling the Vessel. No, it was a domestic anti-monarchist group. There’s some evidence that they got access to the castle through keycodes and hardware passed to them by someone on Vesselton, but it’s not beyond the shadow of doubt.” Anna nodded.
Flynn said, “As for the how, they had two tricks. The first was a hand-held key emitter that let them through most of the security doors in the palace. The second was this.” He reached into one of the many oversized pockets on his vest and pulled out a cylinder similar to the one Anna had seen one of the attackers throw. “Oh, don’t worry, this one’s deactivated. I took it up to the ship to have it analyzed. It’s an EMP grenade. Zaps everything in about 20 meters. It’s really a good thing one didn’t go off anywhere near me.” Anna raised an inquiring eyebrow. He thumped his chest. “Artificial heart. The one I was born with wasn’t very effective. And I don’t regen very effectively either, so it’s myomer and metal for me.” He tossed the object idly in his hand. “Which is why I’m very sure this one is deactivated. I just brought it for show and tell.”
“Oh,” Anna said.
“Captain, you have to rest,” Admiral Becker said. “Doctor Whelan has recommended bedrest followed by mild rehabilitation. He says you can do the latter on the ship. But for now, you’re to stay dirtside. I have as much faith as you that Commander Bjorgmann can handle matters until you’re well.”
“And I’ll bring you all the paperwork you can handle,” Kristoff said.
Anna stuck her tongue out at him, then yawned. “Yeah. Rest. Probably a good idea.”
“We’ll leave you to it,” Becker said.