Stakes and Tea and Cookies
I already said I don't own either of these settings. See Chapter one....
Helen didn’t actually recall getting out of her seat. It was as if her body had reacted without any impulse from her brain, or at least from the ‘higher’ functions. As the glass started flying, before she could possibly have seen what was coming in its wake she was up and in a fighting stance covering her Uncle from the…. From the…. From the whatever it was she could feel coming towards her. And she knew somehow it was intended for her and her alone in the restaurant. And her… her job to face it and stop it.
The three… men turned as one and looked at her. The one in the uniform seemed to be in charge. He smiled: it was the smile of something terrible, something worse than the man with other hidden behind his face she’d struck before. There was nothing hidden here: the malice, the open evil was clear on the surface. And they were staring directly at her!
“Ah, there you are!”
He spoke and then his face got even worse. All their faces changed, sort of rippling
into a horrid, animal like mask, with teeth like knives. Behind her she could hear gasps of horror and people scrambling to leave.
But inside her there was a great calm. It was as if none of this was a surprise, as if she had been expecting this for a while even though she’d never anticipated it for a moment or thought of this as a possibility. Inside her mind the two voices, the golden girl and the dark girl had fused into one, with the echo of many more behind it. ‘Good girl. Keep calm. Keep your back to the wall, keep them away from the civilians and find yourself a weapon from somewhere. These are newborns, easy meat, just scouts. Take them down. You know how.’
The sergeant lunged forward at her. He’d had some training, she could see, but probably no more than Service Basic. She blocked his attack and struck him, one, two, causing him to stagger back across the broken glass.
Then the other two, trying to grab her from either side and just getting entangled in each other as she ducked and dived. Dammit,
thought Helen, those tourists are still here. Don’t they know enough to run away and call the police on Earth?
From behind her and over her left shoulder came the sound of needle fire. Uncle Ivan had got his weapon out and was firing at the sergeant. A full magazine went into the figure on the floor causing it to jerk and twitch and finally lie still. Calmly, the Commodore popped another magazine into his weapon.
“All right you two. Hands in the air or you’ll get what your friend did.”
The two animal-faced thugs looked at each other, shrugged and started to raise their hands. And then burst into laughter showing even more of their teeth.
“What the… All right then if you think I’m bluffing…”
And then the man on the floor, with enough needle fire in him to fell an elephant, shook himself and got up.
“Bugger! That stings! Fucking officers!” And he started to move towards Uncle Ivan.
She was in front of him before she knew she meant to. Striking and kicking and blocking the soldier’s punches. No matter how hard she struck he didn’t go down. He did stagger back though into the arms of his two friends. A weapon! She needed a weapon! Never again was she going out without a VorFemme knife in her boot! Old-fashioned be damned!
”Boys, it’s time to finish off what we came for! Altogether now….”
And the younger of the two tourist women stepped calmly forwards and said, “Three to one. That’s hardly fair.”
The three men turned to her, snarling. And she calmly stuck something into the chest of the one nearest her. At which point he vanished, crumbling into dust. The other two just stood there for a moment as she smiled and said, “There that’s better.”
She kicked out at the sergeant, striking him right in the stomach and making him stagger towards Helen. Then she tossed the thing she was holding to the Vorkosigan girl. “Here you go.”
And Helen plucked out of the air a simple stick of wood. Sharpened at one end, the other a rough handle. The whole was smooth and felt almost varnished, the wood darkened at one end by the sweat from hundreds of hands and stained with still darker liquids at the other.
The twin voices inside her laughed with glee. ‘Mister Pointy! Way to go girl!’
(What did that
mean?) ‘You’ve got your weapon! You know what to do!’
And the appalling thing, the truly frightening thing was, she did. Turn the soldier around, smash him once across the face to stun him and then thrust up, from beneath the rib cage and into the heart and…
The look of shock in his face as his body crumpled into ashes was terrible to behold and horribly familiar. And it was at that point that she fainted.
Helen came round to the sound of lying.
Quite convincing and fluent lying in an Earth accent.
“…no, I’m afraid Constable… Oh, Guardsman is it? Silly me… No I’m afraid I didn’t see which way they went. When the military gentleman got his weapon out the three of them just turned and ran! Horrid creatures… But they had no stomach for a real fight…”
She was lying on her back and a paramedic was taking her blood pressure and other measurements with a hand scanner.
“Don’t try to get up, Miss! You’re quite safe now. Just lie back and let us check you out. Now any sign of a headache!”
”Helen!” Ivan Vorpatril knelt down at her side brushing the poor medi-tech out of the way by sheer force of rank and age. “Are you all right?”
”Fine! I don’t know what… Are they all…gone?”
Uncle Ivan’s eyes flicked across at the group of three tourists giving their statements to the Guard. “Ah, yeees. The last of them… left just after you…”
”Fainted. Ummm. I fainted, didn’t I?”
He nodded and let the paramedic get on with her tests. Helen knew that the worried expression in his eyes was mirrored in hers.
”Uncle, did you see….”
, Helen dear. Not just now.”
Again his eyes flickered across to the tourists. Tightly Helen nodded. Need to gather more intelligence before we commit ourselves.
This time the voice in her head sounded like her father’s. The blonde and the brunette seemed to have vanished from her mind for the moment.
All Guard calls are routinely monitored by ImpSec and filtered through computers to find references to specific words and phrases. The names of the nobility are routinely red flagged but almost none have more urgency than the name Vorkosigan. The duty officer at New Cockroach Central, the ten year old headquarters of ImpSec sent out a series of messages as soon as Helen’s name crossed his comconsole screen.
A short while later, after an elaborate dance around the Guard Officers and much silent signalling with eyes and expressions, Ivan, Helen and the three ‘tourists’ were disgorged by a cab at the Commodore’s bachelor apartments.
Ivan firmly shut the door, clicked the controls that raised the lighting and shut the blinds and then said:
”Right will you people kindly explain just what….”
“What happened to the third one?”
Uncle Ivan glared at her, but she ignored it, concentrating on keeping her own racing emotions under control and her attention focused on the strangers.
The younger of the women answered her. “He’s dust, dear. Just like the other two.”
”Dust. That’s right… How did you…”
”The same way you did. With this.”
And then the wooden stick was in her hand, coming from God knows where and suddenly being there.
“Up, into the heart and they were dusted. Just as easy as anything.”
The other two strangers blinked at that but the girl holding the stick just grinned.
“Yes, Helen: Mister Pointy. The dreams have been strong in you, haven’t they?”
”Dreams? What the devil? Is this about….” Helen cut over Uncle Ivan’s bluster. She had to know.
”Yes, and tonight…. I wasn’t asleep but I heard them…. Felt them with me as I fought… They knew…. Are you the one’s who explain it to me? Are you the one’s that tell me what the hell
is going on!”
“Ah,” said the man. “That would be my job. Commodore, Helen, I think it would be best if we sit down and if you have some tea, Commodore, I’m sure Martha would be glad to make us all a pot. We find coffee isn’t right for these occasions. There’s already enough alertness and tension involved. Good, then let’s sit. My name is Reginald Corcoran, Doctor
Corcoran. This lady is Sarah Stone and that is Martha Goodenough. We’ve come to tell Helen some things she needs to know and since you are family, Commodore, and are already involved in this, you had better hear them too.”
“Congratulations, Commodore,” came a cheerful voice from the kitchen, where Martha was already pottering about. ”You’re a Scooby!”
“I’m a what
? Now look here, young lady…”
”Oh, how kind! No one’s called me that for twenty years at least!”
“Martha! If you could both just listen to me for a while. I’ll get through this as fast as I can. It starts many thousands of years ago on Earth. With a village that was living in fear and a girl who had lost her family to the darkness that caused the fear. And three men who came to the village….”
End of Chapter Two