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The Queen of Spades

Sarah Tintagyl

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The Production of Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades was the premiere opera being hosted at the Sydney Opera House in New South Wales, the city's entire elite had gathered around in their best to see the production begin. Men wore tuxedos and high top hats, it would be a sin to be seen without a golden pocket watch and a narrow collar, while their female escorts wore long gowns of white, blue, yellow, purple, and black that sparkled in the lights of the Opera House's foyer. Crystal chandeliers hung above them as they talked about every subject under the sun, politics, the war across the Pacific, city life and what was expected for this particular production. But for most of them, the worries and troubles of everyday life was left on the other side of the Opera House's doors. Here in this palace of art and culture, one was supposed to focus on anything but the gaiety of the evening and the calming music that was supposed to transport them to another world. With that mindset, the woman in black would fit right in. No one would notice her, she wore a wide brimmed black hat with a long black veil that covered her face, her dress was form fitting, a black gown with white sparkles that danced in the light, she had long black gloves, and high black heels, and if one could somehow see under the veil, her eyes were a sharp blue, bathed in rose water and the scent of lilacs surrounded her as she walked over to the usher at the front door and bowed, reaching into a small black purse and pulling out a ticket.

"Darling I hate to disturb you. But if you would so kind as to take me to my booth, I have a private place to watch the production."

The usher looked at the black apparition curiously, he dealt with eccentric aristocrats all day, but none who were so withdrawn as the woman in front of him. Taking the ticket, his eyes widened a moment and things began to make sense, foreign aristocrats with tons of money. Now it made sense and maybe there was a large tip in it for him as well. "Of course Countess. It must have been an awfully long trip from France to South Wales, I hope you found the city relaxing."

"Quite, it almost feels like back home."

"Oh." He narrowed his eyes. "I never knew France and South Wales had much in common, but I guess I learn new things everyday." He stepped aside and turned towards the stairs leading towards the upper levels. "If you would follow me Your Grace, your private booth is right this way." The usher led the Countess up the flights of marble stairs until they came to a wooden door, protected by two large men in black on both sides. In the booth, on the right of the stage, there was a couch, covered in velvet, a bucket of ice and a bottle of Pinot Noir and two glasses, along with a pair of opera glasses for the Countess' viewing pleasure. "I assume." The usher started as the Countess took her seat on the couch, "that you have a guest coming."

"Yes." She said, not turning back once on the couch. "Brigadier Raglan, when he comes, if you could please direct him up to the booth. He should have his ticket. Oh..." She opened her purse and handed the usher a 100 $ASD Bill. "I apologize that its not your currency, but that should be a sufficient statement of my thanks."

The usher nodded speechless. "Quite...quite so Your Grace have a pleasant evening."

"I will thank you." She lifted up the glassed and leaned back, folding her scarf over her lap and leaning back, her blonde hair cascading over the back of the couch.


Meanwhile, earlier that day, Gareth Raglan had received a mysterious letter in his mail. It was simple and too the point, he was invited to spend the evening at the Sydney Opera House, for the production of Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, in the company of the Countess de Saint-Germain. The details of the letter, that included his ticket to the production, was to discuss matters that were of dire importance to the world, Australia, and to him specifically. It was cryptic to be sure, but that's how she worked and she knew that Raglan's curiosity would bring him to that private booth. Where she would be waiting, her silhouette illuminated against the darkness of the opera house, only her hair betraying the only sense of light.

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It wasn't every day one received an invitation to the opera, Raglan thought as he straightened his jacket on his shoulders, especially from a Countess whom it appeared had flown half way around the world just to meet him. He was a curious man to be sure, but he was also naturally a suspicious man, which was a good thing, since without his suspicion, his curiosity would have killed him a long time ago. He gave up on his jacket. The decorative dress medals on his jacket were irreparably affecting how it sat on his broad shoulders. Instead, he checked the small of his back, and was relieved that the compact sidearm was still sitting comfortably in place. As he looked himself up and down in the mirror, he realised the last time he had worn his Class 1 dress had been at the ball, nigh on a year ago. His mind briefly rested on Ana. He never had got in touch again, and every once in a while he regretted it. He placed his high peaked cap on his head, patted down his pocket to confirm the presence of his ticket, then stepped out the door. His driver, a young Captain, already had the door open for him.

"Sir, we really must hurry, else we'll be late."
"Yes John, of course. I'm sure you can make up for my tardiness by being a little inventive with your driving?" Raglan cocked his head slightly. Captain John Baker was a smart man, but also a little reckless. He wouldn't pass up a chance to drive like a maniac, not when it was sanctioned by a senior officer.

A few scant seconds later, the black sedan took off down the street. Inside, Raglan was surprised that anyone could accelerate so quickly, yet still keep the ride so smooth. John had a bright future, that much Raglan could see. Unless he got himself killed first.

They arrived at the opera house with only a few minutes to spare, but Raglan refused point blank to be rushed into anything. He unfolded himself from the back of the car with uncharacteristic grace. He was halfway to the doors when Captain Baker called after him.
"You need me sir, I'll be right here waiting."
Gareth smiled, but didn't turn back. A very good man.

His next encounter was with a panicky young usher. He approached from the reception desk, virtually pushing the other ushers aside to get to Raglan first.
"Brigadier Raglan I presume?" He appeared to have a lot on his mind.
"That's right, I believe someone is expecting my company."
"Yes sir, if you'll follow me please, I will show you to the Countesses booth."

It was a long way up to the booths. Raglan actually lost count of how many flights of stairs he ascended, but then, his mind was working overtime now. Who was this Countess de Saint-Germain, and why was she interested in him? The first act had already begun when he finally reached the booth. It took his eyes some time to adjust to the darkness after the bright lights in the corridor, but the first thing that caught his eye was a curtain of blonde hair draped over the chairs. He turned as he felt a slight breeze from behind, and found the usher, still holding the door open, waiting to be dismissed. He sighed inwardly, and pulled his wallet from inside his jacket. He counted out a number of fifties, and slapped them into the ushers hand.
"Make certain we are not disturbed. Understand?"

The usher nodded, and left the booth as swiftly as his legs would allow. The door closed itself as Raglan took the other available seat. He eyed up the wine, the glasses, the bucket, before finally studying the Countess herself. She seemed vaguely familiar, but he couldn't peg down where from.

"So, Countess, to what do I owe the pleasure of your invitation this evening?"

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[i]"So, Countess, to what do I owe the pleasure of your invitation this evening?"[/i]

"Ah Mr. Raglan." The Countess said without turning her head still drawn to the first act of the opera, I've been expecting you for a good thirty minutes now. You certainly know how to leave a lady waiting." She chuckled and crossed her legs as she tapped on the cushion of the seat for him to sit next to her. "Well you owe the pleasure of my company given just how much I know of your dedication of service to the people of New South Wales and to the world in general. Your exploits do not go unnoticed I should tell you that, you are quite the brave individual and from what I have heard the apple of a young Prime Minister's eye." The dark lady reached forward and took one of the glasses of wine handing it to him, her face still hidden underneath her veil.

"But besides your exploits, I am in the business of gathering those few individuals left on this Earth who still have a decency to the innocence of humanity and who know full well the consequences that have occurred on Earth up to this point must stop. Gareth, the world is changing and I fear that the people of Planet Earth may not be ready for such a change. There is a time hopefully coming where people will not be subject to the foolish commands of inferior governments. Look at the state the world is in right now, poverty, war, anarchy occurring constantly. It is something that must be stopped at all costs. My organization seeks to do that, to protect the innocent of Earth and to deter aggression by those who would seek to conquer or maim the innocent. It would also be used to protect the innocent from their own inferior governments. Naturally the end result would hopefully be the destruction of the modern state as we know it and the evolution into a global society that doesn't rely on power to voice their concerns and desires. But voice and reason. I'm an idealist, but someone has to have some hope for this world of ours. Don't you think Gareth?"

She sipped from her glass and took a deep breath. "Quite good, that is one of my finer vintages. So Mr. Raglan, are you a man of change and you wish to see the world reborn? Or would do you hear nothing but the ravings of a madwoman?"

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Raglan was silent for quite some time as he let the story consume him. By the end of the first act, he was almost laughing at the absurdity of it all. It was either a bad joke or a horrible coincidence that the Countess de Saint-Germain was asking him this question at this particular Opera. His mind was sorting through what little information he had, trying to reach a conclusion, all the while sipping at his wine. As the second act opened, he turned back to the Countess.

"I am indeed a man of change, and in principal I agree with what you are proposing. But before I get myself involved in some kind of Byzantine power game, I need to know more. I need to know what would be required of me. Would I have to retire? Would I be required to flee this nation I have devoted my life to. I have bled to protect this nation, and others, and you are wrong to say I am brave. I am a fool. A lucky fool perhaps, but a fool doing a fools duty all the same. And before this fool goes any further down this rabbit hole, he would look upon the face of she who leads the way."

It was a brazen challenge, and he knew that she could just as easily walk out right now as comply with his request. But if this [i]Countess[/i] really knew him, then she would understand his position. Of that, he was certain.

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"Flee the nation?" She sipped the wine. "There are no nations Gareth, only images of nations, fake borders drawn on a map where Kings, Queens, and Dictators can say what land of this dead Earth they can lay claim too. Its kind foolish. I used to do the same thing, empire building, believing that the more color I had on my map contributed to my success." The Countess shook her head. "No my success was measured in other ways and will still be measured in other ways. As to what would be required of you, that is beyond my sight at the moment, my organization is not even created, however it will involve the attack on the established world whether politically, militaristic, or other ways, people will die and this will be a war, but my hopes are only the people that have no shreds of innocence left will be the ones hurt."

Turning her head, he came to look directly at the veil. "I would never tell you to abandon your nation, but perhaps there is a greater service to your nation then commanding its military. However, given that this is a paramilitary,parapolitical operation, if you can juggle two lives, yes, you could continue to serve New South Wales. As to this rabbit hole." The Countess chuckled. "You know who I am, if it weren't for you, I might not even be alive, I would still be some stupid little girl in Finland clawing for air and life. You gave me life, when they wanted to take it way from me. I want you to help me rebirth it."

The Countess took off her veil as the youthful face of Sarah Tintagyl stared back at him. She reached up and touched his face. "Its been too long Major Raglan. My greatest protector."

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By the time she got around to lifting her veil, Raglan had already heard everything he needed to identify the Countess. So his face gave away not even the slightest glimmer of surprise.
"Lady Tintagyl, it's a pleasure to see you once again. I trust you are well?"
This revelation had already made the decision for him. He could retire now with a comfortable pension, not to mention the unspent pay that had piled up over the years. Admittedly, he would miss his job, but surely this was more important. His military could do without him now. He had succesfully made himself redundant by doing his job too well. The systems he had managed to get implemented now meant that younger and fitter men than he were out doing the important work, while he was stuck pushing papers around his desk.

He tapped his fingers on the table as she replied, taking a long draught from his glass.

"You know, I think I could do with a change of scenery, milady. My office just isn't as exciting as it once was. Maybe I [i]shall[/i] retire."

He winked at Sarah, and raised his glass in a mock salute. The deal was far from done, but it was a start.

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She smiled and leaned back on the sofa. "As well as any women who's been through what I've had to go threat can be. But yes, I look at it as if I'm still alive, I'm still doing good for myself. But as you to agreeing with me, I'm happy to hear that Gareth. To be honest, I would have been quite upset and heartbroken if you would have turned me away. Though at the same time, I realize that hearing the...what was the name again...oh yes, the Valkyrie of Peace talk about a world revolution to anarchism, might seem a bit strange. But I think it is the most necessary thing that this world needs. That is what you are part of, a revolutionary movement that will change the face of the world as we know it. A manageable world and a world according to the dream I have always had for it. The true meaning of Tintagylism, if you will, though I hate using my own name to describe anything at all."

Sarah sighed and clinked her glass with Raglans. "I've been hearing more and more about this war in North America, Australians giving their lives for, what seems like nothing, only bridaled imperialism on another continent. Though I don't know much more than that. I had talked to Anthony about it and at first I didn't really care that much, I didn't think a war would actually last. But the more that I hear about it on the news, the more disdainful I get." She shook her head. "This is what happens when I leave Australia? Last time the Americans invaded us, now we are invading Americans? The whole process is damning. That is precisely the behavior of nations that I want to see stopped. It is a growing disappointment I have in Hannah, in Anthony, even in..." She looked at him curiously, her sapphire eyes on fire as the Countess scooted over closer to where Raglan sat.

"...Ana. Though, to be honest, I have not seen the dear Prime Minister in some time. I have see Hannah and Anthony both giving speeches on the war and then getting attacked by the Italians for it. But I have not seen Miss Eliso in some time. Though, if I recall, you and her were quite the couple at the ball hosted in honor of my retirement." Sarah chuckled. "My second or third retirement that is. Tell me Gareth, do you still think about her?"

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For the first time that evening, Raglan was truly disarmed. He didn't know, and nor was it prudent to ask, what sources Sarah had for this information. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised. All the big-wigs in Australia were at that ball, and it was only natural that they would gossip about all and sundry. He attempted, poorly, to mask his shock with laughter.

"One hell of a grapevine we have isn't it? I'll admit, I do think about her from time to time. I honestly regret that I never made the effort to contact her since then. Things got in the way, though I know that's no excuse." He lowered his eyes to the floor.

"Sarah. It feels wrong to admit this," Raglan hastily changed the subject, "but I too have been growing disillusioned with the governance of the Queendom. I know that Hannah Asgeirsson is a good friend of yours, but it's as if a screw has come loose in the collective brain of that nation. I speak only for myself, you understand, but it worries me. Even the growing influence of this 'Faith of Dreams' seems to be getting out of hand. And I am sitting in my office, shuffling paper, and watching while younger men than I destroy something I helped build. How many years has it been now, since I guided you onto that plane in Finland. It seems like the world has come full circle since then, like I am reliving the same errors, the same futile wars, and I ask myself what I achieved. And I cannot provide a satisfactory answer. The single most important event in my life was to give you the opportunity to start afresh. I vaguely remember taking a few bullets for you at one point," Raglan grinned at that, "but that situation should never has arisen in the first place. Security should have been tighter. What I am saying, or, at least trying to say, is that I would follow your vision to the ends of the earth. As it is, it seems you are the only person left who has a vision at all."

He let his words hang in the air, and he stared back at Sarah, his cold grey eyes piercing the darkness between them like daggers.

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Sarah closed her eyes as the music from the stage over took her for a moment. "No." She smiled and turned to Raglan. "You think I would miss my own party? I just hate the publicity of being the Lady Protector, hell Gareth, I'm more of a soldier now than I am a politician." The Countess reached into her purse and pulled out a small derringer. "You see, I'm always packin', no matter where I go, its something that I've been doing since I left Brisbane for the first time. But yes, you two reminded me of the first time I met Larsa in Helsinki and I remember how we danced at one of my balls, it reminded me so much of Finland I almost cried seeing you two." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before continuing, for a minute, her eyes did well up with tears.

"As...as to Australia and New South Wales. I will be speaking with Hannah and Anthony again myself, what has been done goes against every essence of my dream and yes, I know about the 'Faith of Dreams' and I know of the influence they have in the country now. Hannah just, I don't know, she is ruling how she thinks the country ought to be ruled, maybe its just me yearning for power again, thinking I could do things differently and maybe the wars wouldn't have happened. All I can think of is that this is a puppeteering movement from the Groenlanders and the Pacificans, nothing more. Our men die so that a new America can be born, an America that our nations will not be part of. Surely you can see the stupidity in that. No, I see this as personal ambitions that Hannah never even had, something, something is seriously amiss in Darwin and I will be going to find out."

"But the world Gareth. Christ, there isn't much hope for it anymore. I look around and all I see are pathetic leaders making mistakes left and right. The world is always held between existence and oblivion and..." She looked down and clenched her fists. "When you're the only woman on Earth left...the only person on Earth left that might be able to save it from oblivion. You tend to get lonely, I have a black heart now Gareth, which is why I've dedicated myself to this vision. I will not rest until the world is stateless, until there is eternal peace, whether forced or implied and I do it for people like you and Ana. People like you two are the future of this planet, love is the future of this planet. I came to recruit you and I also came to ask for you to help me and recruit her. I have a team assembling, scientists, adventurers, many more people. If you would help me make this a reality Gareth, you and Ana both. Maybe we can stop what is happening now, from cycling again. You are one of my most loyal soldiers, you nearly gave your life for me and Ana has been devoted to my vision since she was little in Drakoria. I would ask nothing more then for you to serve me, my vision again." She kissed him on the cheek as the curtains closed. "Thank you..."

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"You're no black heart, Sarah, if a little thing like me dancing with a lady can prompt such a reaction in you. Au[i] contraire[/i], it suggests that you have simply put up a wall. You have shielded the very best part of yourself from the evils of the world with a little evil of your own. But ultimately, the innocent young girl I met in Helsinki is still there inside you, and it is for that reason alone that I even considered helping you. You are still, and will always be, a good person, and sometime, the end does justify the means."
He looked back towards the stage, weighing his next words carefully even as the crowd began filing out beneath them.

"As for helping you contact Ana, I really don't know how much help I would be after all this time. She probably hates me for not contacting her, and I wouldn't blame her. But if you want me to, I will. As it stands, I should ask how you intend to execute your plans. If you intend a military action, then I know some people who can help get us the material we need. I even know a few men within my military who are loyal to me, whom I trained them myself. As long as I didn't ask them to commit treason, they would follow me to the ends of the earth if I asked it of them." The gallery was now almost completely deserted. "Well my lady, unless we have something more to discuss, would you care for an escort back to your lodgings?" He winked at Sarah, holding out his hand, in which he had clasped a small piece of card with his secure landline printed upon it. "So you can reach me when needed." He whispered.

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"Well thank you Gareth, I'm glad to know someone still has a sliver of hope for me as an individual and if you can still see that girl from Helsinki." Sarah chuckled. "Perhaps you have a greater cognition than I, she seems like such a stranger to me, but that is not to say I can't reintroduce myself again."

As the gallery below began to fill out, Sarah listen to his troubles with the young Eliso and then his question of what he was going to be doing as part of her organization. "If you don't want to contact her Gareth, I will be contacting her myself and if I have to do that, I will be sure to NOT mention your name if you cannot do this for yourself. I can tell she has been on your mind so I would suggest not letting this opportunity slip through your hands. Love with one single person is a real gift and I'm telling you right now, do not end up like me with every man you pass crawling up your dress. If you have something special with Ana then pursue it, or it will be lost."

"On the subject of your actual service to me." Sarah stood and let him take her hand. "As I said, this is a paramilitary operation and I'm sure for the more 'cultured' nations on Earth." She sneered as she said the word 'cultured', "this would seem more like a terrorist organization or some pathway to a worldwide revolution in thought. Though to be honest, the thought of that doesn't bother me as much as one would think. Essentially what will be done is to first prevent the amplification of aggressive war and punish those nations guilty of such movements, once the world is in an uneasy peace, then our revolution will begin to wipe the slate of the Earth clean and create a society that does not revolve around war and death. Breed a culture of life and there is no sacrifice too great to see this done." The Countess sighed. "I know that a great many people are going to die, but hopefully out of their deaths a more educated population will arise. What I need from you and you soldiers are essentially a ground force, if possible an elite ground force. We will be assaulting military instillation, power supplies, and so forth in the future to remove nations abilities to fight. As to treason, I believe I can handle the governments of Australia myself to cease later aggression and turn a page to return to the dream that I put in place so many years ago. Therefore I don't believe that treason should be a problem for you my dear. But you will getting more specific orders later, once I have my command set up."

They turned and stepped back into the brightened corridors of the opera house, Sarah put back on the long black veil and the hat as she walked with Gareth linked to her. "I would love an escort back to the hotel Brigadier." She also took the card and placed it in her purse. "And I will be sure to keep in touch, however I would suggest contacting dear Ana before I do, and I appreciate you riding me back. I always enjoy company."

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"Of course, Your Grace. Your wisdom does you credit. I will get in contact with Ana within the week, and arrange a meeting. If you feel it is prudent to make an appearance yourself at that time, then I shall trust your judgement." They paced down the stairs towards the lobby, arms linked. "As for my mission, I understand that it will be on the basis of need. As long as I have a reasonable amount of autonomy in command, that shouldn't be a problem. I trained these men to be the best. Like all special operations men, they can do everything, but I have taken those skills, and honed them. Every one of them is equal parts officer, soldier, medic and engineer, highly skilled in all trades and all forms of insertion. Give them a task, and they will complete it." Gareth briskly changed the tack of the conversation as they entered the crowded lobby. As they pushed their way through the doors, they found Baker was as good as his word, waiting out front for the Brigadiers return

"Baker, bring the car around, we are giving this fine lady a ride back to her hotel."

Scarcely a minute later, the black sedan was back, and Raglan opened the door for the countess before getting in himself on the opposite side. The ride back was silent. Everything that needed to be said had been said. It was only when the car pulled over outside the hotel, and Sarah moved to extract herself that Raglan spoke again.

"I won't let you down, Lady Tintagyl, I promise you."

The sedan drove off into the night, and Gareth didn't look back.

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