A/N: Well, this little piece of insanity has been knocking around in my head since Pride and Prejudice in Space. It exists in the same universe as that one (though you don't need to have read Pride and Prejudice in Space – basically all that means is that were in the future and somewhere in the galaxy Will Darcy is president). Figured I'd give it a go and see if I get much of a response from anyone. If not, oh well. So review if you want me to continue.
Girls Are Always Waiting
1. The Orphans of the Revolution
It was Fanny who broke the news.
"He's dead," she said without ceremony, as soon as she'd shut the cellar door behind her. It wasn't exactly a surprise to the three girls waiting down there, and their reactions were predictable. Marianne's face crumpled into soft tears. Margaret crossed her arms sullenly and said, "Good."
And Elle was already thinking: what next? She wasn't heartless. Later, maybe later, there would be time for her to lay out all of her feelings about her father's death and sort through them. There just wasn't time now. These were desperate days, and if she didn't figure out what they were going to do she knew what would be next. They would be next.
John was close on the heels of Fanny, his wife. With one look at Marianne, he knew that Fanny had already told them. But still he turned to Elle and said, "Have you heard?"
"Just," she said, with more sarcasm then she intended. She had to remind herself to be kind to John. This was, after all, his cellar, and he was concealing them at great risk to himself. John was their bastard brother, which nobody—nobody—on the planet knew but them and him. It was an old state secret. They were safe hidden here as long as no one knew, but what if someone found out? What if someone were to trace the relation?
"Fanny, let's leave them alone," John said. He had gently taken his wife's arm, who nevertheless looked annoyed and shook him off. But even Fanny couldn't argue with so reasonable a suggestion, and she reluctantly followed her husband back up the cellar stairs. Elle shot John a thankful look. He may not have caught it. She could hear Fanny hissing at him as they went up, "John, they can't stay here forever. It's not safe for us. They aren't even your real sisters. I'm your real wife."
Elle waited until she heard the door shut.
Then she said, "We have to get off planet."
Marianne looked up at her sharply. The middle child, she was also the prettiest, with thick dark hair and blue eyes and pouty lips and a figure with exactly the right curves. All of her parts might have screamed sex if she had been intentional with them at all, but she wasn't. She never tried to use her looks to her advantage. She barely seemed to notice them. But even when she was crying she was more beautiful than Elle was on a good day.
For now, Marianne's tears had stopped. There was something akin to anger flashing behind those drippy eyes. She said, "We just found out that our father is dead, and all you have to say is that we have to get of planet? God, Elle!"
Elle didn't take it personally. These were their rolls and they played them well. Marianne was feeler; Elle was the thinker. And Margaret…
Margaret said to Marianne, "He was a thug. A war lord. A common criminal. He deserved what he got."
That started a one sided argument, where Marianne ranted as Margaret sat placidly and listened, her stony expression much too hard for a girl of only fifteen. Elle sighed. She wasn't going to get involved. All three of the sisters had always had ambiguous feelings about their father. He was all of the things Marianne said. And worse things. But he was their father, and he was dead. Margaret's vehemence against him had developed recently, as she'd hit her teenage years. It was frankly a little troubling, as were the other changes in Margaret. She had dyed her sandy hair black and started penciling thick lines around her eyes. And she didn't talk much anymore. She just looked at you with those angry green eyes.
But there were more immediate problems than Margaret. Elle started to list them in her head. Their father, Czar Dashwood—thug, war lord, criminal, despot—was dead. They had no friends an infinite amount of enemies. They were living in a cellar, Fanny hated them, and worst of all Fanny happened to be the sister of Edward Ferris. Ferris was a famous revolutionary, a man of both action and dazzling rhetoric, who had helped lead The Undergrounds in a rebellion that had overthrown her father's planet-wide regime. He was one of those same revolutionaries who would now be gunning for the Dashwood daughters.
All in all, their position was precarious. They had to get out of this cellar. They had to get off planet, that was clear. But where would they go? The universe was big place, and yet Elle had no idea.
Edward Ferris was in a room with Lucy Steele when his phone rang. It was his sister, and he answered it. Then she started telling him incredible things. He wanted to leave the room, but he knew that Lucy Steele was paying attention to his side of the conversation, and the last thing he wanted was to arouse her suspicion. It wasn't that he didn't trust Lucy but…okay, he didn't trust her.
So he was being very careful about what he said.
They were in the former palace of Czar Dashwood, now occupied by The Undergrounds, and Lucy Steele had sat herself irreverently on former czar's thrown. Wasn't that just the picture? Edward wondered how the reporters, ferreted around by Undergrounds eager for good press, had managed to miss this photo op. Lucy Steele—already a folk hero, the girl who's bullet had finally taken down the war lord Dashwood—sprawled in his throne in her fierce leather combat wear, eating an apple with a knife.
And watching him like a hawk.
As Fanny talked excitedly, Edward began to pace the room. "Why are you telling me this, Fan? What is it you want me to do?" he asked. He glanced at Lucy, and replied to his sister, "Okay, listen. Just leave it alone. I'll stop by in a few hours to take a look at the problem for you." He hung up the phone.
He glanced at Lucy.
She raised her eyebrows, an expression that said, Well? Then she cut another piece from her apple and used the knife to gingerly place it between her sharp, white teeth. She was both startlingly beautiful and frightening. She had deep, suspicious eyes and the darkest hair, cut boy-short—probably with that same knife.
But Edward had helped lead a revolution, and he certainly knew how to keep his cool. He said, striking the right note of mild exasperation, "My sister. Apparently her basement's flooding, which isn't something her useless husband's going to be any good for."
Lucy stretched her legs out, then draped them over the side of thrown. Edward wasn't sure, but he felt like she wanted him to notice them. He felt confused. Then he chided himself. Lucy Steele was a mercenary. A soldier. And just because she was also a girl didn't mean she was trying to seduce him. After all, it wasn't as though she had suddenly pulled off her shirt to show him her breasts. She had only shifted positions in a chair.
"How domestic," Lucy said, sounding bored.
Under the circumstances, a crises as everyday as a flooded basement did seem rather passé. They had overthrown a war lord dictator with a planet-wide regime of terror. They were occupying the capital building. They had many, many things to do—a whole new government to arrange, and there were pockets all over the planets where the revolutionary forces were still fighting well-equipped bands of Dashwood loyalists.
Which was precisely why Edward had invented the flooded basement. He knew that Lucy would take no interest in it whatsoever.
"I know, my sister," he said, faking annoyance. "And trust me, if I don't go help her out tonight she will not give me a moment's rest until I do."
"Such a good brother," Lucy said.
He felt confused again. He did not know Lucy well. She wasn't one of the original Underground, the people he had worked alongside of for years to overthrow Czar Dashwood's reign of tower. She had shown up at the last minute right before the fighting really started, out of nowhere. There were rumors she wasn't even from the planet, that she was some kind of paid mercenary.
"Right, well," he said. "I suppose I'd better—"
He trailed off, but it was just as well, for she had continued talking where she'd left off. "Good soldier, good leader, good orator. What other things are you good at, Edward Ferris?" Her hawk-eyes held his gaze for a moment, and then she let them drift suggestively down his body. No, he was not making that up. That had definitely just happened.
"Gardening," he said, in answer to her question.
She smiled slightly, coyly. "Hurry back," she said. And Edward Ferris hurried away.
Elle had heard Fanny on the phone. She had gone upstairs, out of the cellar, to find John and talk to him about getting off planet, and that was how it had happened. When she'd heard Fanny talking in the next room, she had stopped short on the other side of the doorway and listened. She wasn't sure what had made her do it, but her instincts had been right. Fanny was telling someone about them.
Elle turned around and went straight back down the stairs. Margaret was in a corner with her headphones on, as usual. So Elle had only told Marianne what she'd overheard. This might have been a mistake, because now Marianne was loading a gun.
"We could leave now, before anyone has time to get here," Elle suggested.
"And go where?" Marianne asked.
It was a good point, Elle had to admit.
"The way I see," Marianne continued, "we're either going to get shot in the street or shot in the cellar. Unless I shoot them first."
It took Edward forty-five minutes to get to Fanny's house from the old palace where he had been with Lucy Steele. She met him at the door and ushered him inside.
"What took you so long?" she hissed.
Edward was the middle of three children, and the odd one out. While he'd always been an idealist, which had eventually led him down his revolutionary path, both his older sister and younger brother were starch pragmatists. He loved them. He tried to love them, at least—they were his siblings. But he had never gotten along with them.
Instead of answering her questions, Edward started asking his own. "Are they actually here? And John's their brother?"
"Half-brother," Fanny said, with so much vehemence that Edward almost felt bitten by the words. "And yes, they're in the cellar, like I told you."
"What exactly do you want me to do?" he asked again, because she hadn't really answered him over the phone.
"Take them away," Fanny said, without hesitation. "Do whatever it is you all want to do with them. They can't stay here. Someone will find out. Eventually someone will. And John thinks he's being kind but he doesn't realize what's at stake. His career. Our lives! They just can't stay here."
Fanny's coldness always rubbed him the wrong way. She was so willing to give the Dashwood sisters up for dead, when even Edward wasn't sure how he felt about them. Yes, they were the dead Czar's daughters, but how culpable did that make them? Most of The Underground wanted their lives next. They were convinced the daughters would try to avenge their father's death, to take control of the remaining Dashwood loyalists and extend the bloody war that had already been raging for years.
But Edward wasn't so sure. What if they didn't want to fight their father's battle? What if they just wanted out?
He also wasn't sure he believed they were in Fanny's cellar, but now the moment of truth had arrived. "You stay here," he told Fanny, as he carefully opened the cellar door. He stepped down through the opening onto the stairs. For some reason, Fanny closed the door behind him. He had to pause a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the light.
Then he began climbing down the stairs. And when he got to the bottom, there they were. He recognized them immediately. All three Dashwood girls, standing in a row, in his sister's basement.
And one of them was pointing a gun at him.