Deserted Mansion, Overgrown Grounds
“Well, now; as I live and breathe. Dear Martin it is, and no mistake! And how are you this fine evening?”
Queen Molly in person. That was all I needed. No, seriously; it was: If she had been late, or if my note to her hadn’t arrived, it would have screwed up my plan. Not badly, but enough.
I put on a winning smile and made my best leg. “Milady Queen! Delightful to see you, as always — truly delightful! I do hope you’ve brought some friends with nice strong backs?” I could just see them moving behind her in the murky night. “Excellent. Do come this way.”
As I reopened the catch on the plywood, I cautioned them: “Watch this wire. Brush it, even lightly, and the alarm will trigger. The same will happen if you pass any other door or window in the house. Now,” I went on, lighting an oil lamp on the mantel, “this should give you light to work by. You’ve got twenty minutes; I’ve arranged for the local guards to be kept occupied. And part of the proceeds should go to the young ladies, I hope. That should be everything… except, of course the slight matter of my fee?”
Queen Molly smiled at me, silver eye gleaming. She was quite a sight tonight; her matted hair was piled high with glittering gems, and she was dressed head to toe in mixed bits of soiled finery — torn lace, matted velvet, scraps of particolored silk, all bedecked with a hundred bits and bobs of costume jewelry. Topping it off was a ludicrously broad-brimmed hat pinned to the back of her head. The general effect was powerful, only accentuated by the thick layers of grime on her face and an odd twitch in her cheek.
“Oh, yes, dear Martin; can’t forget your fee. You should get what’s coming to you, after all.” Her smile was suddenly wicked as she held out her hand to one of her lackeys. He gave her a small sack, which she then passed to me. My stomach sank; this wasn’t going to be good. I didn’t like that bit about what’s coming to me, not at all. Time to go.
“I’ll leave you to get on with it, then,” I said briskly, stepping to the door. My path was blocked by one of her men — wearing a fresh cast, I noticed.
“Not even going to count your fee, dear one? How very trusting of you. Sets a very poor example for my boys.” She moved up beside me as one of them seized my shoulders and another relieved me of my satchel and wallet. The joke was on them; the wallet was empty — I’d handed the last scraps of my expense money to Carmody ten minutes ago, remember. But I needed what was in that satchel.
“You really don’t have time for this,” I said. “Twenty minutes is all I bought you. Whatever your beef with me is, can it possibly be worth the loot you’re gonna lose out on?”
I’d lost her attention; she was happily rummaging in my bag. I turned to the guy with the cast. “Sorry about the hand,” I said.
“My own fault,” he said. “I ain’t sore.” But he showed no sign of letting me pass, so I guess he didn’t like me all that much.
Queen Molly let out a crow of triumph as she found my assault blaster. “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” she squealed, stuffing the uniform back in. Then she leveled it at me. “I seem to remember the correct word here is, ‘March.’ So, march.”
As I passed through the door, I said to the guy in the cast, “Twenty minutes, remember. Less by now. Better get cracking.” Molly nodded to him, then gestured me forward. Just her and me, now; things were looking up. Maybe…
“Look, if we’re gonna talk, I could use a snack. Kitchen’s back here.” And I started off into the gloom. After a second, a pocket flash came on behind me lighting the passage. I took that as permission and kept moving.
After a moment Molly spoke. “What makes you think I have any interest in talking, dearest Martin? Perhaps I’m just looking for a quiet place to kill you.”
“Then the pantry will do just fine, and I can die with a full stomach. Heh. In the old days, that’s all I ever wanted out of life. Today it seems that might be all I get. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?” I’d made it to the pantry, reached up for a box of stale crackers and a jar of what looked like caviar. Only then did I turn back toward her. She had the blaster pointed right at me, and the bore looked a mile wide. At least she’d come without her pets.
I made myself look away, set the food on the counter, and went in search of plates and a knife. “So. It’s not about what happened to those poor ladies who are out of a job, and I know you can’t hate me for my winning personality and charming manners.” I placed the plates deliberately, then opened the box. “I do some work for Intelligence now and then, but I’m also a smuggler and an operative for hire, so that can’t be it; I’m at least as much against the State as I am for it. So,” I finished, spreading caviar on crackers for both of us, “I’m at a loss. What ever did I do to you, that you’d want me dead?”
“You truly have no idea, do you?” she said, wonderingly. The steel came back in her voice as she went on. “It’s who you are — one of them — a damned Fascist!” she spat. “You came, and conquered my people, and moved in with never a thought of leaving. You were one of them that landed, and conquered, and broke our resistance. Millions died! Millions…” Her eyes glazed as she stared off into space, into the past. Both eyes were twitching in time with the muscle in her cheek now. She was well and truly losing it.
I hated to interrupt her, but time was getting short. “That’s why I left the Militia. Not my sort of work at all. But leaving the military and leaving the planet entirely — two very different things. Under this government… well. We go where we’re told, and if we’re not told, we stay. Nobody has a choice — not you, and not me.”
She focused again, and glared as I took another bite. “Oh, you had a choice all right, Martin. You should have moved on.”
I chuckled grimly. “We get the firing squad for that and you know it — they call it desertion. Barring Imperial instructions, I’m here until I die.”
At that she smiled, and it was lovely. “I’d be only too pleased to help you with that, Martin… dearest Martin,” she said… and pulled the trigger.
Even our hero can’t survive an assault blaster bolt — or can he? Tune in next time to find out!
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