Admiralty House sees its share of dignitaries, as you might expect. Prime Ministers, Emperors, planetary Presidents… all sorts have come through the doors of Defense Command’s Naval Headquarters, and just about all of those people have been greeted at the front counter by Gerald and Betty.
Remember, Gerald and Betty have been running that reception desk since the beginning of time. When the first mammals flopped out of the oceans onto the dry shores of land, they struggled their way up the beach and found themselves looking up at Gerald and Betty, sitting behind their counter and working away.
Obviously that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one – you ask any Naval officer who served since 2190 and they’ll probably remember these two. To call them fixtures of Admiralty House would be insufficient… I sort of think Admiralty House existed because they willed it.
They were pretty powerful people, and that makes what happened the morning before the Emperor’s convoy reached Earth all the more remarkable.
Betty was sitting in her chair behind the reception counter, and then a shadow filled the main entrance. She looked up to see who it was, looked down again, and then looked up, jaw dropping in surprise.
Gerald noticed the surprise and looked up as well, just in time to see the procession of demons walk into the lobby. Now calling them demons is also an exaggeration… apparently that’s my theme for the start of this chapter… but seven men in floor-length black robes, with heads shrouded by long hoods, certainly had a demony air about them.
They were either sent by the devil to harvest souls, or by that guy with the tower-mounted burning eye, to collect a piece of costume jewelry with writing on it.
Watching their entrance on the security feeds from that day, you’d swear you can hear a choir of Gregorian monks warbling in the background, maybe with some drums. And a screaming cat.
It was so genuinely spooky that the SF guards watching the lobby moved their hands to the mags on their hips, though no one drew – not yet anyway.
And it didn’t get any easier when the lead robe walked up to the counter, leaned over Betty, and then raspily said: “We must see the Second Lord, on a matter of the greatest urgency.”
Betty stared up into the shadows that covered the man’s face, then proved herself to be as commanding as the grim reapers: “Do you have an appointment?”
“We need no appointment.”
Cocking her eyebrow, Betty turned to Gerald, and the man narrowed his eyes. Neither of them liked the vibe these robed folks were giving off. They were probably wearing gauntlets, carrying cursed broadswords and riding things that looked like dragons.
All purchased at Wired and Woven, the store owned by former Ministry of Agriculture employee Keith Pine.
Anyway, Betty finally looked back to the robed man, then leaned forward and activated the comm to Daragh’s office, “Second Lord, there are seven men in black robes waiting in the lobby for you.”
There was a pause, and then Daragh’s voice came on the line, “Any of them carrying a sickle?”
Before Betty could answer, the looming man raised his hand in a sharp, overdramatic motion, then slammed a metal rod – more like a scepter, I suppose – down onto the counter.
Suddenly all the melodrama made sense, and Betty found herself urgently shaking her head, “No sir. The leader is carrying what appears to be a black rod.”
As she spoke, she eyed the end of the scepter-thing. Sure enough, there was a black sun on its bulbous end.
That’s right. Holy shit.
Daragh was carrying his shotgun as he arrived in the lobby, and it was full of blanks in case he needed to deal with grim reapers.
Of course, he had a feeling the robes that had arrived for him were more nefarious than reapers – they weren’t going to kill him, they were just going to destroy his life, his soul, and the principles that he’d long held.
And he couldn’t shoot a single one of them.
As soon as they realized that Daragh had arrived, six of the seven robes formed a line, standing with about a foot between each of their shoulders as they faced him across the lobby. The scepter-bearer then seemed to float across the floor past them, soundlessly approaching the Second Lord of the Admiralty with his black rod.
“You are summoned to the palace, Lord Ryan. You are summoned and you must attend.”
Daragh’s shotgun was leaning back against his shoulder, and as he heard the raspy words he let it fall forward until it pointed down at the ground. He hadn’t racked a shell into its chamber, but no one knew that, so as the growing audience – officers from Admiralty House who had been passing and couldn’t help but stop – watched him move, most of them expected a shot.
But none came. Even us pro-elected-government types had a hard time when it came to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. And if you’re not up on your obscure governmental appointments, suffice to say that this guy is sort of the Sheriff of the Lords. He’s the only one with the traditional authority to arrest someone like the Emperor… essentially, he’s the chief enforcer for the Peers.
Daragh was a Lord, and the fact that the Venusians had ordered the Black Rod to come to Admiralty House for him… well that was bad.
It meant he was in the worst kind of trouble, and as much as every officer watching hoped that he would just open fire, or call for Special Branch, or something, Daragh knew better. Because after all that had just happened, if he of all people was seen to be disrespecting the Black Rod, it would reduce the calm that had finally settled over the planet.
Instead, he waved to a nearby SF guard, handed that woman his shotgun, and approached the hooded man.
“Am I going to like how this ends?” the Irishman asked.
The Rod tipped his head, which meant his cloak bent in an unsettling manner. Then he leaned forward just enough for the bottom of his pale jaw to emerge from the shadow cast by his hood.
“You have made yourself a very public face of the disgrace of the Emperor,” he rasped, and Daragh sighed.
“No good deed…”
With that, the cloaks escorted Daragh out of Admiralty House. What divisions of blockheads hadn’t been able to do, seven melodramatic guys in medieval monk-wear managed without a single shot. The Second Lord had been taken… and it was only going to get worse.