Star thought, as surreal as the situation was, being in a carriage on a city street was a vast improvement over the white walls, floors and ceilings she had been staring at for the last however-long-it-had-been.
Once the sun dazzle had faded from her eyes (had it been so dark where she was?) she’d all-but pressed her nose against the glass, watching the busy streets roll past. And they were busy: people and horses and clockworks and things she couldn’t even have named seemed to be darting every direction. She scanned the buildings and monuments hoping that something would seem familiar and tried not to feel disappointed when she didn’t recognize anything. Still, she did note the occasional small, dirty figure amid the hoards of well-dressed citizens and that gave her some hope.
Finally Star turned to the guards who sat facing her on the opposite bench: three of them, which struck her as a little excessive.
“Could you tell me where we are going?” Her voice cracked with disuse.
“Sorry, M’am, not supposed to talk to you.” One guard replied, the other two remained stony-faced.
She sighed and turned back to the window.
It figures, I finally want to ask something and they aren’t feeling chatty.
The carriage passed through a pair of large metal gates and into a privet drive. They came to a shaky stop in front of a house that was, even by Star’s standards, magnificent. The three guards hopped out first, then two lifted her down and frog-marched her through the front doors to drop her in a plush chair.
Silk cushions, plush carpet, an abundance of chairs, paintings on the walls: It was enough to cause her to feel panic stir in her stomach, whatever this was it felt wrong. It was too much of a jaring contrast to the days before. She thought she might be more comfortable back in the metal chairs of those bright interrogation rooms.
But then, maybe that’s the point. C’mon Star, keep your wits.
A tall, smiling man walked into the room, “Ah, Captain, so glad you could join us.” The guards around her snapped to attention and bowed in unison. Star, figuring better safe than sorry, bowed awkwardly from her chair. He chuckled and waved a dismissive hand at her, “Gentleman, you may remove yourselves from the room.”
“Captain, or should I say, Miss?, Macbain. Welcome to my home.” The gentleman took a seat in a chair across from her, “Are you hungry? I could have something brought up.”
Star stared at him, looked around the room, her eyebrows beetled together and for the life of her could not think of anything to say except the polite thing, “Ms., Actually, and yes, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I should very much appreciate a bite to eat.”
“Ms.? I’m sorry for your loss,” He lifted a little box from a side table and pressed a button on it.
“It was some time ago…I, Forgive me. Are you the Emperor?”
He laughed, “Ahh, the final bit of proof. Honestly, seeing you, I was beginning to have my doubts. Do you know, Ms. Macbain, that there is not a person in the whole of the Empire who doesn’t know what the Emperor looks like? It’s said even those few who do not claim citizenship still know his face, since one day they will be subject as well. And no, I am not the Emperor, merely an advisor. My name is Ward.”
A woman in uniform pushed a well-provisioned tea tray into the room. It was all Star could do not to leap upon it. Between her hunger, the fine room and her own growing realization as to how long it had been since she’d been allowed to bathe, she felt like a street-urchin.
Star forced herself to eat the sandwiches presented slowly, though she was certain Mr. Ward wasn’t fooled in the least and waited for him to continue the conversation.
“You’ll have to forgive our treatment of you, but we weren’t quite sure what you were until yesterday. It took time to review the logs form the expedition party. I’m afraid we’ve absconded with you from, if our data is correct, another world?” He smiled almost apologetically.
Star set her plate aside and folded her hands in her lap to hide their shaking, they knew! “That does seem to be the case, Mr. Ward.”
“A dreadful mistake, I’m afraid. You see, you look exactly like, well, like yourself. I will not go into the particulars, needless to say if you had not looked as you do, you likely would never have been taken aboard and brought here.” He sipped his tea.
Star felt like she’d gotten all her Christmases at once, she actually grinned, “Then, then you’ll send me home?”
“Oh no, Ms. Macbain. I’m afraid we cannot allow that to happen. I’m terribly sorry.”
He didn’t look sorry in the least.