Is there really honour among thieves after all? Not in this part of the galaxy! Nice build-up and a nice twist!
“The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” said Halton, gazing through the viewing window at the row of spinning rocks. “The perfect place for a secret meeting.”
“It's also the perfect place for an ambush,” muttered Estelle, her chief security officer.
“You don't suspect treachery, surely?”
“Of course I do. I suspect everyone at this 'conference'. And if they have any sense, they'll suspect us just as much. I always thought it was madness to bring all of the biggest crime lords – and ladies – in the galaxy into one place.”
“As you have reminded me on a hourly basis since I accepted the invitation,” Halton smiled. “Your concern is duly noted. Now, please the shuttle is ready to take us to Snow White or Rapunzel or which ever Princess we're landing on.”
“Cinderella, ma'am. I'll go and check everything's in order.”
Halton remained where she was, watching the movement of the Princesses. They were one of the mysteries of the galaxy; twelve chunks of rock, probably the remains of a planet, each spinning on its own axis but also spinning in and out of the line and around the others. Cinderella, the largest, had a thin atmosphere, making it the most suitable for the meeting. A protective dome had been constructed to provide Earth-standard air and pressure. The attendees were of different species but could all cope with such conditions.
Estelle had favoured hiding the ship in orbit around one of the other Princesses but it was risky. The 'dance' of the Princesses was unpredictable; there was no way of knowing when two of them might collide until the ship was a pile of space dust. She appreciated the concern; out here, the ship was exposed – but then so were all the others.
Her chief security officer reappeared and informed her that everything was ready and Halton followed her through the ship to the shuttle bay. The two of them settled into their seats and Estelle began the start-up sequence as the hangar doors opened. She flew the shuttle smoothly out of the ship and towards the planetoid.
“What brought you out into space?” Halton asked.
The other woman was clearly startled by the question but she turned to her employer and replied, “I wanted adventure, ma'am.”
She grinned. “Well, I've given you plenty of that, haven't I?”
“Indeed you have,” she said with an answering grin.
The journey lasted about fifteen minutes and passed almost in silence before the shuttle touched down on Cinderella's surface. Outside, the wind was howling and they wrapped up in protective suits that covered them from head to foot; respirators were built in to the hoods to help them to cope with the thin atmosphere on their short journey to the dome.
As they reached the outer hatch, it was opened from the inside and they were showed where they could leave their suits before heading inside the dome proper. All of the other attendees were already gathered around a table and Halton took the only empty chair. Petrov, the security officer of their host, Shelton, handed round goblets of champagne.
Shelton stood and the guests followed suit, holding their glasses in hands, claws or tentacles as appropriate. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this significant meeting. I propose a toast, to a profitable future!”
“A profitable future,” they chorused and drained their glasses.
There was a faint tinkling of broken glass as the extra fast acting poison took effect and they collapsed in untidy heaps around the table. All of them had been warned by their security experts of possible treachery and all had ignored that advice. Meeting together in a single location was just asking for trouble. And here was the proof; the crime lords and ladies of the galaxy lay dead and their security officers were very much alive.
“And that is that!” smiled Petrov. “I feel a power vacuum developing, ladies and gentlemen, but I am sure that none of these shoes will be too big to fill.”
Estelle nodded in agreement and looked around at her fellow conspirators, the security chiefs of each of the guests. “To a profitable future, my friends.”