Last time on Ace Archer: Caryn told Ace about the paintings in Lara Termigant’s orrery and he determined to meet the artist one way or the other. Meanwhile, Caryn left for her date with Jeremy, not knowing that he is really the head of Project Saggittarius, the group behind Ace’s imprisonment in the hospital!
Caryn had chocolate ice cream on her chin, but it wouldn’t have bothered her if she had known. She was having too much fun.
She sat across from Jeremy at the Baskin-Robbins on 53rd street at a round white metal table that was too small for the average adult couple. Fortunately Caryn was tiny and Jeremy slim. He had gone conservatively and ordered a vanilla milkshake, which he sipped at while she talked. She had gotten a large cup of German Chocolate Cake which, as mentioned, she had a line of running down her chin. That is what comes of talking while eating ice cream.
“Anyway,” Caryn continued, “Lizbeth had gone and reorganized every book in the sorority house to match the Dewey Decimal system and stored them in the corresponding room, so my shelves consisted of nothing but books about labor economics!”
“Sooo,” her date Jeremy said, “that’s a ‘yes’ to the question ‘do you enjoy your work?'”
“I’ve… been known to digress,” Caryn admitted. “How about you?” Caryn finally asked. “I’ve been going on so much, I haven’t asked what you do.”
“I’m a project coordinator for a security firm,” Jeremy said with a rehearsed vagueness so smooth Caryn almost accepted it at face value.
“What sort of projects?” she asked.
“Well, while most of our work is fairly standard bodyguard work, systems installation, stuff like that… occasionally clients come to us with particular events or problem categories that we need to design custom security protocols for. I head up the department that puts together special projects like that.” Jeremy shrugged as if to emphasize how boring what he just said was and took a long sip of his vanilla milkshake.
“So if I wanted to break someone out of a secure hospital wing, you’d be the guy to ask!” Caryn said lightheartedly.
Jeremy almost snorted his milkshake out his nose.
“W-what?” he asked. There was no possible way she knew that he was the man in charge of keeping Ace Archer secure. Was there?
Caryn looked guileless and cute.
“Nothing, just something for a novel I have an idea about.” It was Caryn’s easiest lie. No one suspected your questions had an ulterior motive if you said they were research for a novel.
“Most hospitals don’t have security for keeping people in,” Jeremy said. “I guess mental hospitals, but they’re usually separate facilities.”
“Oh,” Caryn said, obviously disappointed.
“I mean, there are quarantine areas for dangerously contagious patients… but I’ve never done any work for something like that.” Jeremy was honestly surprised that he was actually eager to give Caryn something useful. Fortunately he was smarter in his head than he was in his heart. “Usually if someone’s being kept in a hospital against their will, there’s a good reason for it.”
Ace Archer dreamed.
This time, however, the dream wasn’t a memory or a flashback. Something about seeing Lara Termigant’s orrery had opened him up to more than just bitter reminiscence.
He was in a palace, an opulent structure of pearl curves and serifs. There were more shades of white making up the architecture than he had seen in the last fifty years. Bounding arcs of light flowed like one of those fancy fountains. Ace Archer knew where he was; he had been here before.
This was the royal palace on Adastra, the home of Princess Cymbeline.
Ace stepped forward to follow one of the lightflows in the direction he recalled the throne room to be… and he saw as soon as he moved that he was still old. His hands, while free of their usual IV and bandaged blood-draw bruises, were wrinkled and mottled with liver spots. He was wearing his old jetsuit, but the sleeves hung loose and open around his bony wrists.
Not a memory, not a flashback, not an imaginary tale, he thought. This is… well, “real” may or may not be the right word… but it was more than just a dilaudid-induced vision of his past.
Walking forward, he noticed that the usual flitting courtiers and royal guards weren’t around. Adastra was always a busy place, even during the Regency War. Now the palace seemed empty. Ace picked up his pace, and even in whatever unreality this was, he realized how nice it felt to move free of medical fetter or aid.
The archway to the throne room was as impressive as he remembered it. Whorls and loops interlocked within the ambit of the half-moon structure. Each piece was mortised so that at the command of the royal throne the room could be secured from attack. Even the defenses of castle Adastra were a thing of beauty… but they were inactive, the arch open.
That normally wouldn’t have shocked Ace, but there, upon the seashell throne, atop the dais of gold and alabaster, sat the body of Princess Cymbeline.
A long silver blade pinned her corpse to the seat of sovereignty. The bloodstains running down her achromic gown were black and long dry. Whatever had happened here–if this vision was even real–had happened some time ago.
Despite the age in his shaking hands, Ace tightened them into fists.
This would not stand.
Upstairs, in the offices of Project Sagittarius, Vera looked at the small red light on the monitor console that never lit.
It was on.
To be continued…
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.