Chapter Two:

A good night's sleep worked wonders.

The next morning found Caterina at her desk, refreshed. And even more so with a glass of Kate's iced tea. Although the sky outside was dour and leaden, the duchess was feeling pretty sunny.

"You really should take better care of yourself," chided the holographic nun.

"I know." Caterina took a deep sip from her glass. "Working myself into a frazzle and being nasty to everyone doesn't help much, does it?" She sighed. "I know I shouldn't take on so much at a time. But I feel like if I don't keep on top of everything, things could . . . "

"Get bad again," Kate finished.

Caterina nodded slowly. "Things seem so fragile now, Kate. It's like the whole world could just spin off its axis if the wrong person sneezes in the wrong direction."

"But hasn't your brother grown up a bit?" Kate asked softly.

Caterina thought of her baby brother and smiled. Alec had evolved into a clear-faced, clear-voiced, and clear-intentioned pope. One who rolled his eyes every time Francesco went off on a tirade. Oh gawd. He's screaming like a little kid again.

Just a few months ago, Alec had announced that the Vatican needed to move forward. And, a peace treaty with the Empire was part of the plan. She didn't have to hide anything anymore. She could boldly contact anyone from the Empire without worrying about being executed. The thought of human and Methuselah coexistence was quickly becoming a popular idea. It was working out so well in Albion, after all.

It was working out so well, in fact, that is caught on in Germanicus. In France. In Hispania. In Bohemia. It was spreading like a benevolent wildfire.

She was winning her war. Her dream was coming true. She should by all means be happy, be relaxed. But she just couldn't. Not yet. Her joy would only come when that treaty was finally signed.

"And, stress does awful things to your health," Kate added.

"Yes," Caterina agreed. "Yes, it does. But I didn't cough at all yesterday. Not even once. Either I'm getting better, or I'm getting better at managing it."

The doors suddenly swung open. "Well, good morning, Gunslinger," Kate greeted. Caterina looked up to see the small android. Her bright mood dimmed a little.

With you, it's different.

Guilt squirmed inside her like an angry worm.

I'm so sick of you!

Poor Tres. He always got the worst of her. Poor dumb thing.

"Good morning, Sister Kate Scott," replied Tres. "May I please have an audience with the Duchess of Milan?"

"Well, I guess you can. She's right h-"

"In private?"

"Oh." Kate looked back at Caterina. Is that okay? Caterina nodded. It was. "Well then, I'll just step out and check on the others. Excuse me." She faded away, leaving the Duchess and her doll.

Tres stood in the doorway, staring at his mistress.

"If you want to talk to me, you'll have to come closer," Caterina invited. "We can't really have much of a conversation with you way over there."

Tres moved slowly into the room. He stopped a yard from the desk.

"Would you like to sit?" offered Caterina.

"Negative," Tres answered in a small voice. He looked like a kicked puppy. He wasn't looking at her, he was looking at his feet. Strange. He always strode into a room, posture perfect . His voice was always loud enough. And clear. He always made eye contact. Tres never acted like this before.

"What's on your mind?" Caterina asked. Something was definately up.

Tres looked up at her, then back at his feet. He grimaced, like he was poked with something hot and sharp.

"What's wrong?" Caterina put some kindness in her voice.

Tres just pressed his lips tightly together, as if the world would end if he spoke.

"Did something happen? Did somebody get hurt?"

Tres shook his head slowly, still not looking at her.

"Was it the Inquisition? Did they say something? Did Cardinal di Medici bother you?"

"Negative," Tres finally said, barely audible. He still wouldn't look at her.

"Are you damaged? Do you think you have a virus? Do you need William?" Caterina probed. She didn't have much luck.

"Negative."

"Tres," Caterina sighed. She got up from her desk and went to him. She placed her hands gently on his cheeks. "I can't read your processor. You have to tell me what the issue is."

Tres' lower lip trembled. He closed his eyes tightly and clenched his fists the same way. He looked like he was about to cry. Or explode. Or both. Dear Lord, this is the most emotion I've ever seen him show, Caterina thought.

Is it about last night? Are you upset about last night? The words waited behind Caterina's lips, but she swallowed them. She didn't want to wake up last night's drama.

Finally, Tres blurted, "I cannot betray a confidence."

The words came out too quickly and quietly for Caterina's ears. "Hm? Come again?"

"I . . . I cannot betray a confidence," Tres repeated.

"Betray a confidence?" Caterina raised an eyebrow.

"An . . . AX agent confided in me." Tres' words fell out unsteadily. "He-she was concerned."

"Concerned?"

"She . . . was concerned that . . . she was . . . not an agent . . . in good standing."

"Well, who is it? I'd like to know."

Tres shook his head violently. "I cannot betray a confidence!"

"I'm not going to bite her, or send her to bed without supper!" Caterina's hands slid from the android's cheeks to his shoulders. "No one's in trouble here. I just need to know who's having the problem, so we can fix it."

"Sister Kaya Syokka," Tres muttered.

"Who?" Caterina didn't quite catch it.

"Gypsy Queen," Tres said a little louder.

Caterina let her hands slip from Tres' shoulders. She scanned her memories for something, anything that would've caused Kaya to have any doubts. She could find none. And Kaya was always so confident. "Alright. I'll talk to her."

Tres just stood there, looking like he had just shot the Pope. His usual expression of sleepy indifference was gone from his face. In its place, was defeated shame.

"Tres, you really helped Kaya by telling me. " Caterina wanted to make Tres feel better. "I promise she won't know who told."

Tres opened his mouth to say something more, but he shut it quickly. Then he asked, "May I be excused?"

"Um . . . alright." Caterina knew that Tres wanted , really wanted to say something else. But he couldn't bring himself to say it. "Is there anyth-"

The android priest fled the room.

"What was that all about?" Caterina wondered aloud as the doors banged shut behind him. She stood wide-eyed and thunderstruck for a moment. Then, she went back to her desk. "Might have to ask William about that."

Kate came back voice first. "My goodness! He was in a hurry!"

"I guess he was." Caterina opened her laptop and turned it on. "Kate, do you remember if anything happened between me and Gypsy Queen? Have I ever said anything to her that would make her feel unwanted?"

"Nothing I can remember." Kate floated to the desk. "I always thought you had a good relationship with her. Why?"

"No reason. Just wondering." Caterina sifted through her messages. Suddenly, the room was filled with music-a swingy, jazzy rendition of Frosty the Snowman. And, Caterina's message screen was replaced by an ancient black-and-white cartoon. Six children, three boys, three girls, danced around a snowman. Then, the snowman was dancing, too. "What is this?!"

They watched the video in surprise. Once it ended, the message screen returned. Business as usual. For a moment, they were too shocked to speak. Then, Kate broke the silence, "Cute. But isn't it early for that sort of thing?"

Caterina quietly shut down the laptop and closed it. She rose from her chair, tucking it under her arm. "Kate, is the Professor is today?"

"He should be."

"Good." Caterina hurried to the doors. "I need to see him. Immediately."