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The Silver Millennium Ball
Talking Shop

by Jordan Screws (Age: 31)
copyright 09-14-2009

Age Rating: 10 +

Princess Pluto and I passed time talking about our respective professions. She was a planetary princess and guardian of the universe to boot. I was a handgun-packing mercenary protecting Prince Endymion of Earth. We had the same job but were worlds apart as far as personality and methods. Still, it was interesting to hear her take on things: she was a much more preferable companion than Princess Mars or Princess Venus.

"So... you carry about that ancient weapon?" Princess Pluto said about Paladin.

"It was an heirloom given to me long ago. I keep it about because it boasts considerable power AND not too many people carry them anymore." I replied.

"Because they are illegal?" She asked with a strangely curious look.

"Actually, it's because energy-based weapons are so prevalent. These old-fashioned lead shooters are looked on as more suitable to a museum than a battlefield." I said.

"Why do you still use it then?" Pluto asked. Her eyes were even more mesmerizing than they were at the start of the conversation.

"It's powerful, it's awe-inspiring, and it's an antique." I replied somewhat indignantly.

"So it is. Did your grandfather use it much?" she inquired.

"He did, in battles long before Prince Endymion's family brought peace to Earth. In that lawless time, he had to fight for everyday survival with this very weapon. Civil war wracked the earth and the region where he lived. It has spelled the end of many a person who threatened him or his family." I intoned like an ancient scholar reciting an official history.

"That was a savage time indeed. With Queen Serenity ruling the universe, violence like that is no more." Pluto similarly intoned.

"That may be so, but I am still ready to fight at any time with Paladin at my side." I retorted. Despite our cordial conversation, an undertone of right and wrong was implied in her words, like violence was something to be abhorred. A pause briefly filled the air before we both loosened our rigid postures.

"Where DID he live?" she inquired.

"In the American South. It was especially renowned for the viciousness of the fighting that took place there. I was caught up in the latter part after my home was leveled by an artillery shell and my family... well, gone. I fought through the war as a freelance fighter, then when peace came I couldn't get used to it..." I trailed off. My companion looked genuinely horrified.

"Ah, I'm used to it by now. I can never forget the sound of that artillery shell blasting it just as I rushed out of the house. I caught a splinter or two in my back and nearly lost a leg to a piece of flying door, but I couldn't feel it. After that, I hunted down the artillery crew responsible and killed them all. Ever since that time, I've found that peace doesn't work for me... it's fine in the short term, but after awhile I need action." I nonchalantly recounted.

"You are an interesting sort. Fighting for the highest bidder is the mark of a mercenary. But for all your bellicose talk, you do not act like the average hired gun." Pluto thoughtfully answered. She was a smooth talker as well as a classy dresser.

"You're so diplomatic, and I appreciate that. I've actually grown to like Prince Endymion... the work is challenging, I get to travel, and he is a reasonable guy to talk to. In fact, I gave up freelance work to work for him full-time about a week ago." I offered smoothly.

"A gunslinger with a sense of honor... you are a rare bird." She retorted almost playfully, but her stoic face betrayed no emotion.

"Yeah... I'm not a swaggering bully. I prefer the simple things in life. Good pay, travel, good conversation, female companionship, and the occasional shootout or military expedition." I growled mockingly in the tone of an old-fashioned drill sergeant.

"You could have fooled me." Princess Pluto jovially replied.

"I do that to the majority of people I meet. They think I'm a testosterone junkie who has an itchy trigger finger and no moral compass." I jokingly rambled.

"You are certainly better-behaved than some people I met from a mercenary organization called Xiphos Company..." she mused but stopped cold when she realized that I realized what she was talking about.

"Xiphos Company? I've had dealings with them in the past. They tried to recruit me after the civil war on Earth. I turned them down... they don't know the meaning of the phrase "collateral damage" during missions. They'll take on missions everyone else won't touch." I started off calmly but turned bitter in the end.

"You dealt with that undisciplined mob?" Pluto asked indignantly.

"I never joined them! I didn't even get past their sales pitch before turning them down. In fact, I conducted a bit of shotgun diplomacy with the recruiter and his goons when they tried to strong-arm me into their ranks. I got shot a couple of times from their G3 assault rifles, but nothing I couldn't handle." I sniffed mockingly with my hands raised in a "no way!" gesture.

"It is fortunate that you did not." came her laconic reply.

"Yeah, I was literally starving. They promised me the moon, the stars plus a king's ransom in pay, but when I saw them beat up a shopkeeper for asking them to pay for some bread and then try to coerce me into joining, I knew they weren't for me. I eventually got their G36s after Paladin convinced them to part with them and sold two for some money to buy food. I put a mark on my head with that incident, but I'd rather die than join that mob of goons." I gloated.

"Sounds like you will if you do not stay out of their way and keep a low profile." she replied flatly.

"I don't look for trouble. Trouble tends to find ME." I countered while jabbing my right thumb into my chest.

"You might also be interested to know that Xiphos Co. has been recruiting on my planet." a voice said from behind.

Spinning about and bringing Paladin to bear in one smooth motion, I noticed that I was pointing at Princess Mercury. She looked like a deer caught in someone's headlights as she raised her hands in surrender.

"Ahhh... sorry about that. I'm kind of jumpy right now." I apologized.

"Be more careful with that! Someone could get hurt!" Princess Venus chided.

"OH JOY..." I thought. The principal instrument of my pain and suffering was before me. Something about Venus was so irritating, but also charming. Despite her goofiness, she meant well.

"So, what's this about Xiphos Co. on Mercury?" I asked the titular princess as I put Paladin away.

"That band of goons has been recruiting on my planet. And getting a larger than expected number of people to join..." she added disconcertingly.

"Same here!" Princess Venus interjected.

"Wonder why that is?" I asked flatly. From what little I heard, the planets were supposed to be outposts of peace. What was Xiphos Co. doing there? Everyone seemed to ponder it for a moment before I added something in my infinite wisdom.

"Seems like they're up to something besides selling cookies." I answered my own question.

"That's not funny! There could be serious trouble!" Princess Mercury chastised. I only gave a guilty grin in reply.

"Do you think any of them are here?" Princess Venus asked nonchalantly.

"I have no reason to believe so. Why would they try and recruit on the moon, of all places?" Princess Mercury mused.

"Probably after the queen, the princess... or me." I flatly replied with a sigh. I then explained the story to Princess Mercury and Venus. It was a bit dull to repeat it all over again, but it was worthwhile. I especially liked telling the bit about shotgun diplomacy with the recruiter and his goons. Fun for all... until we heard screaming and saw people running from the castle!

"What the...?" Princess Venus asked.

A dull staccato of what seemed like rapid fire from weapons or a fast drumbeat filled the air. Something was definitely amiss.

"I'll go see what it is. Stay here!" I motioned with my left hand as I drew Paladin with my right.

"We will follow shortly. We will not accept no for an answer." Princess Pluto said sharply. Perhaps she had something up her sleeve that she was keeping hidden for times like this.

"Fine... just be careful about it." I said hurriedly as I rushed off to the castle. People were flooding past me and screaming incoherently. Then the rapid staccato sound repeated itself. It WAS gunfire!

"I bet it's Xiphos... they're the only ones I know with that sort of firepower!" I muttered to myself. Seeing a fellow step around a corner with a G36 assault rifle and black body armor with a white short sword emblazoned on the right corner confirmed my suspicion. It was Xiphos Co. behind the attack!

"Hey! What the-" was all he said before Paladin convinced him to keep quiet. After the dull ROAR subsided, blood spurted from his chest as I picked up his weapon and looted his body for ammo. Just like the old days of the Southern Civil War... kill off an enemy, then pause and search for ammo... being a gun for hire was a good gig because you could set your own hours, but scrounging for your own supplies was a logistical nightmare. I almost bought it from a claymore anti-personnel mine someone had ingeniously rigged in an ammo box: only slamming the lid closed saved me from the brunt of the blast.

Now was not the time to look through a war yearbook. The present crisis needed to be dealt with. Readying the weapon, I peered around the corner to see bodies lying everywhere. Judging from the numerous shell casings and the tattered conditions of the bodies, "ammo conservation" was a phrase foreign to their ears. But now was not the time to dwell on professional nuances.

A princess and a kingdom needed saving. And it was about to see the emergence of a gun-toting knight in blue armor.

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