Fran and Madeleine in Ramstov

We boarded the plane and flew to London where we parted from the Agent and slipped officially into our new roles. We boarded a plane there. Our seats were first class, but it still felt constricting. We were used to the Quantumplane. The plane was mostly empty. Not many people flew to Ramstov. Not many people flew out of it either. They weren’t allowed.

When we arrived at Zlodeyskiygrad, we were met by men in uniform. “Ambassador Stone?”

I froze up. Who were these men? Why were they there? Was the jig up already? “Yes?”

“Welcome to Ramstov. We are here to escort you to the palace. Rooms have been prepared.”

Rooms? I wondered. Was this a trap? Was this danger? Or was this just usual ambassador-type treatment? “Of course,” I said. “Thank you.”

As we were led out to the car, I saw many armed soldiers standing about. There were more soldiers at the airport than travelers. Waiting by the limo was a woman in a severe haircut. “Hello, Ambassador Stone. My name is Hera. I will be your liaison for your visit.”

“Hello, Hera,” I smile, trying to hide my suspicion. “Please call me…Fran.” I gestured to Tilly. “This is…my daughter. Lina.”

The woman frowned at Tilly’s unexpected nickname. It was the only name Tilly would agree to. “Hi,” Tilly said, convincingly looking happy.

Hera shook her hand. “Hello…Lina.” She opened the limo door. “Please, come inside. And we’ll take you to the palace.” As we drove off, Hera continued talking. “The General’s son’s birthday will begin around one. I will be there at your room at quarter to one to escort you. Be ready in formal wear. I assume you have everything, but if you need anything you may call my number.” Hera handed over a card which I accepted. “Mayhew will be happy to see you there. I think he is quite excited to meet you.”

Tilly was confused. “To meet me?”

“Oh, yes. He’s quite excited. There won’t be many young women coming to the party. In fact, there won’t be many young people at all.”

“Why not?”

“The International Community frowns on the General. Not everyone wants their child here. Of course, there are more enlightened people, like yourselves. You will see the General is a great man, as is his son. You will have fun. Most of the children will be younger than you, Lina, but Mayhew will enjoy your presence and you will enjoy his. We are very happy you are here.”

“Yeah,” Tilly replied. “I’m happy to be here. I’m sure it will be a lot of fun.”

“It will be,” Hera assured her. “There will be much fun.”

The windows were blacked out so we couldn’t see the city, but when we arrived the palace was quite an amazing sight. The inside was just as amazing as it was outside. I was quick to remind myself that the state of the rest of the country was not nearly as nice. In fact, I was sure that it was quite horrific which was why we weren’t allowed to see any of it.

Hera ushered us through the grand hall to the elevators. We went up nearly a dozen floors to get to our rooms. It was a large suite nicer than the most expensive hotels. “I’m sure you’re both very tired from your travels. If you need anything, just pick up the phone and ask. We will be happy to provide it.”

After Hera left, I said, “It’s nice.”

Tilly shrugged. “I’ve seen better.”

I glared at her. “Lina. Dear?” She gave me a look that said, “Still?”

“Yes, mumsy?”

“Remember, we are guests in this palace and we must behave at ALL times.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course, Mother-dear.” Tilly fiddled with her sleeve. “There,” she said. “That takes care of their surveillance.”

“What?” I asked. “What did you do?”

“I hijacked all the equipment,” she said nonchalantly.

“All?”

She laughed. “Come on, Frank. I’m using my mother’s equipment. Trust me, Ramstov has nothing that can compare. Not by a trillion miles. And don’t worry, it’s not looped or anything stupid like that. I’m running a complex simulation of you and me, doing whatever it is people do. They’ll have no idea what we’ll really be doing.”

“And what do you think we’ll really be doing?” I asked her.

She chuckled. “Snooping around. What else?”

“Snooping around? We can’t snoop around. We’ll be seen. We can’t start trouble.”

“You might be seen, but I won’t.” She smiled at me as she phased right through the floor.

“Tilly!” I yelled. “Get back here! Tilly!” But she didn’t listen. I ran over to her, but she was gone before I got there. “Oh, just great.”

to be continued…

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