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By David Ronayne

Paris 1881

The medal lay quietly on the ball dress on the bed, next to the note she had just picked up. ‘In remembrance of friends and times past.’ She cursed in an obscure alien tongue, a memento from a more turgid part of her history. She sat on the bed and felt the fine lace and silk of the gown before mellowing. Perhaps one more game for old times sake.

Things past. Talons and claws twisting by at a frightening speed, as she ran, screaming with the woman and child. Running from the fear and death, and the rancid smell of rotting flesh and brine. Desperate actions, desperate moves in a game to complex to be analysed, even in the cold hard light of hindsight. Her love had fought there, and he had died there, in that time of futures past, and although age had tempered her remorse, she still kept the badge he gave her. A small token of their brief meeting.

They were dancers now, she thought as she stepped through the swirling throng as a tide of people waltzed by. Perhaps more human, less surreal than the realities of her past, and yet still full of fears and needs. Power struggles happened here, perhaps a little more mundane than in her own series of times, full centuries into the future, but still they happened. Perhaps more human, perhaps. Above, on the balcony she could see him looking down, lording over the dancers like some dark guardian, orchestrating events and moving the pieces. She smiled, wondering if he knew she had learnt a few moves of her own.

There was no mistaking the young man when he arrived, the family resemblance was quite uncanny. The same noble face and the authoritative manner, darker, greying hair, but still the same close cropped military style. He stood at the edge of the crowd a minor delegate apparently overcome by the splendour of the embassy. She walked over in his general direction, ‘innocently’ trying to catch his eye. He hesitated, seeming unsure of his surroundings and the protocol of such events, before striding towards her. He bowed and enquired about her medal, a similar honour to the one he sported on his own chest. She smiled genteelly, accrediting the Tsar's award to a kindly uncle. There was a quiet witticism from one of his companions, and they both laughed embarrassedly before moving out to join the other dancers, caught up in the rhythm, and soon lost in the sea of revelling faces.

Up on the balcony the watcher smiled in humble satisfaction, and turning to leave, pocketed the small metal badge he'd taken her jewellery box earlier that evening.

The captain fidgeted nervously in his seat as his superior flicked through his file. Should he tell them she had refused to see him soon after he was born, or the promise he swore to her that he would never join the Red Army. He shrugged uncomfortably at the memory of his final betrayal, and consoled himself in the inevitable excuse of the hardships of war. He steadied himself as the Commandant addressed him from the desk. ‘So comrade Captain, have you any extra qualifications which would help you in leading this English operation?’ The young man fingered the badge on his cap, reassured by the familiar shape of the hammer and sickle.

‘Well comrade Commander, my grandmother was English...’

This item appeared in TSV 36 (November 1993).

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