“Fame hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Medea neared the blue glow being emitted from the Imocs. She sat down and cuddled next to Proxima, her nose still bright red and her eyes still spilling fresh tears. For a moment none of the team and none The Twelve spoke.
Then Sheldon burst out: “Oh, why do you all always have to look so glum, hmm?” he said with a huge smile, “We heard of your Escarr Square assassination! I know you didn’t send us word of it, Proxima, but the news was so big – it travelled here very fast!”
“So it seems,” Proxima mumbled monotonously.
“Is that sarcasm I hear?” said Sheldon, “Because you do remember the terms we’ve set in our last… discussion.”
“No-one said anything about sarcasm,” said Proxima.
“Well, it’s banned from now on, understand?”
“Sheldon, do you really have to rub it in?” said Proxima softly, “Isn’t it enough that we’re freezing cold, the whole of Methum is trying to hunt us down and we’ve lost a comrade? Isn’t it enough?”
“It’s Dr. Holmes to you from now on also,” sniffed Sheldon.
“Cato always said doctors were lousy push-overs.”
“He did, did he? Well, he’s in a doctor’s hands now, and a very impatient doctor at that.”
“He also said I could trust you, even if you are unbearably brain-dead,” Proxima paused, “I’m starting to wonder why he’d said that. I wouldn’t trust my shoelaces with a nut-case like you.”
“Why, you little –”
Legate Cornelius raised a hand, “That’s enough. There’s no restriction on sarcasm. And Dr. Holmes may be called by his pseudonym ‘Sheldon’, also.”
“But –” interjected Sheldon.
“No ‘but’s. These are my terms. End of story,” the Legate leaned forward in his seat, “Anyway, congratulations on your second success. You’re a good soldier, Proxima. Keep going and you’ll be out of there in no time and you’ll get your guardian back.”
“Federico’s been taken,” Medea blurted out.
“Ah…” the Legate looked from one Half-Caste to the other nervously, “We’ve heard of that also. I am afraid we cannot do anything for M.O. Federico at the present.”
“You’re just going to let him die?!”
“Dear, young Medea, please try and see it from our perspective –”
“No!” Medea stood up and clawed at the hologram, “You bunch of MURDERERS! Do something! Get him out! PLEASE!” she began to cry again, “Please…”
Proxima stood up, and got Medea to hush and sit.
The Legate continued, “He is not dead, as of yet. He’s being held in prison.”
“Where?” asked Proxima.
“I’m not authorized to give you that information.”
“Of course not,” muttered Roderigo, “Our asses are on the line and we ain’t ‘authorized’ to know nothing.”
“Besides,” said Cornelius, ignoring Roderigo’s remark, “you must be focused on the assassination of your next target.”
Proxima looked at Roderigo. He shrugged and turned his back to the projection. Proxima kept a somber expression.
Senator Flavius spoke: “You know who this target is.”
“And how do you know what I know?” asked Proxima tersely.
Flavius growled, “Do you want our help or not?”
Proxima yawned, and then sighed, “Rhetoric is so over-rated,” she said, “If I had the option of telling you ‘no’, then I’d say no. But unfortunately I don’t have the liberty to do that, which makes your question – though pumped seething with a politically-correct amount of anger – utterly and completely redundant.”
The Legate chuckled, and Proxima noticed the Tribunes snickering also, “She learns quickly, that one,” Septimus commented.
“What do I learn quickly, Tribune?” asked Proxima.
Septimus furrowed his brows, “You heard me?”
“I heard you. I can hear everything, even if the lot of you were playing Chinese Whispers, and then that would be another thing made redundant.”
The Tribune frowned, “We should put a ban on sarcasm,” he told the Legate.
“We should put a ban on rhetoric. And Chinese Whispers. They’re both useless. What have you got against sarcasm? All of you? It does its job better than any other form of speech could.”
“Proxima, enough,” said the Legate.
Proxima sat forward and didn’t reply.
“As I have told you before, your third Target would be present along with the second in the Escarr Square.”
“Finally, a piece of useful information, rather than useless nonsense,” said Proxima, and she heard Roderigo snort at the remark.
“You’re rufflin’ all their feathers, you are,” he whispered, turning slightly to see the look on the faces of Flavius and Septimus, “Look at ‘em! Poor miserable bastards.”
“That’s enough!” said Flavius.
“Enough is Cornelius’s word,” remarked Proxima.
“Senior M.O., I do believe that –”
Sheldon stood up, “Order, please. Let us say what we have to say, dearest Proxima, and we will leave you all alone sooner.”
“I’m afraid your rhetoric and your political bullcrap is getting in the way of it all, Sheldon,” said Proxima, “And my sarcasm, of course.”
“Proxima,” said Cornelius, “Ignoring everything else that was said, besides my words, do you have any idea who I’m talking about?”
Proxima nodded, “Federico tried to kill him with a revolver from a 20 story building; of course I know who you’re talking about.”
“Care to share?” said Senator Gracus.
“Do I need to? You seem to know, but you’ve all been playing Target Keep-Away with me, save Legate Cornelius – who has the decency to say things upfront, rather than speak a length of words and say nothing of importance at the same time.”
The Legate laughed out loud at that, “Flattery will get you everywhere, Proxima. But yes, your third Target is indeed Ambassador Mose Ruict, a former legionary of the Empire.”
Proxima let the name sink in. She’d been expecting the name, but hearing come from the contractors’ lips made it official. In the same way Moses broke the Tablet when he found the Hebrews worshiping the Golden Calf, Proxima suddenly lost her voice.
Target III: Ambassador Mose Ruict.
“He’s one of us,” she said.
“Tongue-tied, Ms Senior M.O.?” said Flavius.
“I don’t need your condescendence, Senator Big Mouth,” Proxima snapped.
“Ruict is,” interrupted the Legate, “indeed one of you. But he has been a thorn in our side.”
“A blanch on your reputation, you mean.”
“Oh, sorry, the Empire’s reputation,” sniffed Proxima, “Please. Continue.”
Senator Julia sighed, and rasped, “He is a blanch, Proxima, there’s no avoiding that. But there’s no need to be defensive of him. He needs to be removed. Permanently. He’s more than just a smear on our amazing Empire. He is one of the most powerful men in Methum and he is a stumbling block on our path to conquering it.”
“You’re going to make me kill one of my own? It’s like asking me to kill my own grandpa,” said Proxima, “As it is, I’ve killed my own father.”
“There is no proof to say –”
“Fine, somebody’s father. In any case, you’d better have good advice and a decent bit of information on this one.”
“Do you mean to say that you’ll kill him? You’ll kill Ruict?”
“Oh! Rhetoric all round! Cato’s in coma. You’re going to kill him, if I don’t kill seven people. You all want me to obey your communication terms because you’re all a bunch of stupid loungers. Or you’ll kill him. You mock my sarcasm – so ironic, now that I think on it – and soon you’re going to ban that too. Or else you’ll kill him. I hate looking at the lot of you, let alone talking to you. Why? Because I make one wrong step, say one wrong word and you’ll kill Cato. Honestly, Senator Julia, what choice do I have? You really think I can say ‘no, I’m not going to kill my grandpa’? Hell, what do I know, eh? You’re probably going to kill Cato for this anyway, aren’t you? And you’re going to give him some stupid static-filled excuse like ‘Proxima was mean to us, so you have to die. Sorry, you idiot, but that’s how it works around here. Sarcasm is the height of all indecency and you’re going to die because Proxima uses too much sarcasm, and we’re so slim-skinned, that we can’t take any of that. Rhetoric for the win, man. Good-bye, see you in the after-life’!”
“Well?” said Proxima, angry tears running down her face.
“Uh…” said Senator Flavius, “Um… that was a little over-dramatic, don’t you think?”
“OH, WAS IT?!” screamed Proxima, “WELL, THEN YOU CAN TELL CATO THAT TOO, WHEN YOU PULL THE PLUG ON HIM. THE INNOCENT MAN WHO ONLY WANTED TO HELP ME! PROXIMA IS OVER-DRAMATIC. GO ON! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WAITING FOR? A SERVANT? A WHEEL-CHAIR TO TAKE YOU THERE?”
Legate slammed his fists down on the table, and stood up. His face was sweating profusely, “Not. Another. Word,” he said, through clenched teeth, “From either of you.”
Proxima’s face blanched immediately and Flavius sat rigidly in his seat. Proxima saw Sheldon fix the pile of papers in front of him nervously, and the note-taking optio looked up in fright for a split-second and then began writing again.
Cornelius let out a loud, angry sigh and then composed himself, “The ambassador will be holding a get-together soon,” he said, sitting in his seat, calm once more, “It may be delayed for some time, since the open assassination of Target II, but it will happen very soon. He’s known for his parties, and he doesn’t let anyone down. Ruict’s an amazing song-writer and a little bit of a stand-up comedian when he’s not doing any official business. He won’t take down the party, and it’ll be held at his mansion – the Palazzo Tigris. Ask for directions in the other cities, but avoid Escarr for as long as you can. Everyone from all over Methum would have heard of this party, and a bunch of people are going to be invited – though, with Ruict, an invitation is quite frankly not necessary. He’s a people’s person. If there’s space, he’ll let you in.”
Proxima noticed that Cornelius was tense.
He was holding something back.
“What kind of… party, Legate?” she asked, slowly.
The Legate looked away, his face dark, and then Tribune Paolo spoke, “An orgy.”
Proxima frowned, “So what you meant to say is that I’ll be let in?”
The Legate sighed, “Indeed.”
Proxima raised her brows, unable to speak for a while. Medea was looking at Proxima’s face and then Roderigo’s; itching to ask what an ‘orgy’ is, but didn’t because she didn’t want to sound silly.
Proxima remembered what Roderigo had told her: “You may not be a whore now, but – believe me – if you’ve learnt anything about those fools sitting in the Decagon, they gonna make you one soon.”
Proxima licked her lips, her mouth completely dry, and then said, “What else do I need to know?”
Sheldon said, “It will have to be a lone mission. You’ll attract too much attention, if all of you go. And you, Proxima, will be attracting enough attention anyway,” Sheldon laughed at the joke, “You do realize what this all implies?”
“Shut up,” said Proxima.
Sheldon ignored her, and continued, “To uproot a weed, we require a hoe.”