America breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief as they left the final store. He slipped his purchase unobtrusively into his pocket and stood aside as the three Knights, bowed under their loads, staggered from the emporium. Canada had blown a quarter of a million in that store alone, but it was finally, gloriously over.

Lilith had been reduced to a quivering wreck some time ago and was recuperating in the limousine's capacious interior.

America felt it to be a fitting punishment. It would also, in all probability, ensure that she'd never do something like that again.

The Silver Knights were already a line in the middle distance, gloriously limned in the dying sun's fire, bloodred against the crimson sky.

Overhead, the trees waved in the stillness, black silhouettes in the rising glory of light.

It was still, on this quiet, exclusive street; the cars had gone, the horns fallen silent, the buildings and trees screening out the sounds of the city.

The clouds were pools of crimson flame in the sky, incandescent beauty, timelessly ephemeral, fleeting.


America and Canada walked, together, down the silent street, their feet ringing on the cracked flags.

"Whatever else they say about pollution," murmured Canada, his lips brushing America's ear. "It doesn't half make for fucking beautiful sunsets."

"Language, Canada," sighed America, and then laughed, and the rich, deep sound, full of genuine joy, not the high, cold, mirthless laugh he usually favoured, rang back from the buildings in an imperious note.

This was the laughter of a king, and Canada's own, sweeter, lighter voice joined it in high harmony.

And two great powers walked, arms linked, down the wide boulevard, one limned in fire rose-red, the other drinking the light and returning almost nothing, save a halo of azure light.


America awoke to the dim, crepuscular light that comes just before dawn and outlines everything – the not-quite-silhouettes of buildings and trees and forming clouds – with a wavering grey nimbus of not-quite-light.

Through a crack in the heavy curtains, it slips, and paints Canada and America entwined, glowing on Canada's naked form and striking silver fire from America's sleeping top.

Glacial blue eyes, softened with half-awareness, gaze down on the flawless face of Lord Canada, and long, elegantly manicured hands gently brush aside a stray lock of blonde hair.

It's a sight to warm anyone's heart; the vulnerable, defenceless boy sleeping peacefully, arms wrapped around the cold lord, whose eyes have melted and whose very body glows with simple joy as the dawning light rises outside, painting a white-marble colossus with its lemony radiance.

As the first splashes of yellow light enter America's sumptuous bedroom, emerald eyes crack open, slowly.



Canada's sleepy fingers plucked at the silver silk shirt.

"Why d'you wear that?"

America blinked. "This?"


"It's cold."

"Your bed is possibly the warmest and comfiest place on the planet, America. How can you possibly be cold?"

"I just am."

Canada snuggled into America's warmth, content and sleepy.

"Canada," murmured America.

"Wake up!"

"'M sleepy," protested Canada.

America turfed Canada onto the floor, with an explosion of swearwords really quite sulphurous.


America swept out of the room, regally, and Canada crawled after him, three-quarters-asleep and rather confused.

America stepped out into the cool, dawning light – a balcony, high and hidden amongst the cupolas and colonnades that made up the vast Capitol building.

The lemon-yellow rays of the rising sun tinted marble with butter, and sent fresh, clean light sleeting through the gaps with a crackling, almost tangible vitality

Caprica was limned in the blazing light, the pure wintry day only enhancing its fragile power. The air was clear; one could see all the gleaming spires of glittering Caprica, fiery yellow in the morning light. The atmosphere was clear – the nightly storms took care of the powerspark clouds that usually plumed up over major cities, and everyone who was in the city, awake, had a purpose, unlike the unnecessary millions who trailed in after eight o'clock.

Caprica thrummed with purpose; the engines of industry financial waited for no man, hidden as they were, and already the stock exchange was lighting up, the terabytes streaming across the aether, green and sparkling, glacial blue.

Rothschild breakers were set all along the data lines, siphoning them off before they reached the exchange. Automated programmes, the very instant the data hit the trading floor, began to sell and buy.

The Rothschild Benchmark was seemingly immune from all market fluctuations; it was the immovable base against which all else was measured, birthed by the gargantuan, monolithic Rothschild Banner Corporation, that grand bastion of matters legal and financial, one of the cornerstones of the Empire and the foundation upon which the World Bank had been built.

Rothschild ruled the world.

And Viscount America ruled Rothschild, with a rod of gold in a hand of words. And eyes as blue and pitiless as glaciers.


Reports were America's friend. They told him many things about his world, they could influence said world with a few penstrokes from him far more efficiently and effectively than, say, some provincial warlord.

Indeed, reports had been vital in putting down a minor insurrection several summers back, when a certain enterprising Hand had decided to strike out on his own.

Needless to say, he was soon brought to heel, encased in glass, and put on display in the Hall of Mirrors in the Capitol.

Interestingly, not many people had remarked on the resemblance of the new statue.

There was a muffled roar from below – America started at the sound, and his pen scored a vicious line of black ink over the close-packed text of a report.

He rose, irritated, and crossed to the broad windows that looked out at the teeming metropolis of Caprica and the arterial highway, thronged with traffic, that pointed straight as an arrow towards the gardens and the Capitol.

A road that should have been full of cars, and was instead full of military personnel, heavy tanks, support crews, artillery.

America snatched up a telephone. "Get me Lord Shelby," he barked.

"Shelby, why in God's name is what seems like half the Army – in full gear, no less – advancing on the Capitol? Is there some emergency I don't know about?"

The answer, when it came, was staticky and indistinct. "Defend yourself, America! Sealed…from Queen…Army to…half…General Staff…disarray…" The line crackled and went dead.

America hurled the receiver back to its cradle and reached into his desk. His hands came out bearing twin Remington quintuple-barrel shotguns, sleek blue death in shimmering steel.

He rang the golden bell that stood on his desk – the special bell. Seconds later, Lilith and a march of Silver Knights thundered into the room, and took up guarding positions.

The room grew almost unbearably bright from the reflection of light.

"What's wrong, my lord?" asked Lilith, keeping her eyes and gun trained on the doors.

"Half the Army's charging in here in full gear, Lilith. Shelby thinks it's bad news, and I trust his judgement."

Lilith looked worried. "We should get you out of here, sir. I'll face them in your place. Take the elevator down."

America waved a hand. "Don't bother. I'm sure they've secured all the floors – I heard the main doors go – but I haven't heard any gunfire. We shall be civilised about this. At least, for a while."

The doors slammed into the opal, the handles making white stars on the stone. "I'll charge you for that," muttered America, frowning, as soldiery poured in and stopped dead when they saw the six Silver Knights arrayed behind America, the twin shotguns he held in his hands and Lilith's pepper-pot revolvers, all trained unerringly on the area they occupied.

In the aisle they formed, a General from the British Army strode, resplendent in red and white and gold.

He saluted in front of America's desk, unfazed by the weapons trained at him. "Good day, Viscount America. We are to escort you and Lord Canada immediately to Her Majesty's presence."

America raised an eyebrow. "You know, if the Queen wants to see us, she could just send a note."

The man held forth a sealed envelope in one white-gloved hand. America took it and slit it open, his eyes rapidly scanning the text. "Oh. She did. How nice."

He turned to Lilith. "Prepare a cavalcade of cars, would you, dear, and send a message to Lord Canada to meet us in the garage. We're going to England." His eyes flicked to the soldiers and the stoic General. "Or else."


"Do you have any idea how many agreements you're breaking?" hissed America at the stoic General. He'd long since passed the shouting stage of anger and was now sailing in the calm waters of utter, visceral fury. "Not only have you barged in here, taken control of my army and led them openly through the streets of Caprica – and let me tell you I fully intend to receive compensation for all the damage – but now you are attempting to force me onto a plane in defiance of treaty! I demand that, at the very least, we take a ship!"

"Awfully sorry, sir, can't do that, sir. I have my orders. Plus, we wouldn't be in London in time if we took a ship."

"I. Don't. Care!" yelled America. "I will not go in a plane!"

Canada placed a calming hand on the irate lord's arm. "America, calm down."

"You do realise that the Viscount is right, do you not, General? It's been written into law that the nobles of the realm may choose how they come and go throughout said realm, under whatever circumstances they find themselves even to the extent of a royal command."

"Wouldn't know anything about that, sir. I have my orders, and I intend to carry them out. There are transports waiting."

"At Caprica airport?"

"Yes," replied the General, suspiciously, suspecting something.

"Then you won't mind if Viscount America and I take the Canada One for the crossing, will you? No, thought not. Come on, America."

Canada sailed out, drawing America and his guards behind him, and leaving the General and his soldiers to flounder in their wake.

Canada One shone all the colours of fire; rose-red outriggers, burnished copper and gold flames, the blazing white heart of a blaze, others. Canada's green, green eyes sparkled in the luxurious aircraft as he threw himself down on a decadent divan of white shot-silk The guards and the General looked ill at ease in the sumptuous cabin. America looked around, and sighed.

"This is so your taste, Canada. I hate it."

"You would. But this is my plane, and I can decorate however I want. Plus, this is far more luxurious than an ordinary aeroplanes, and faster."

America raised an eyebrow. "Really?" his tone suggested he didn't believe it.

Canada bridled. "Eight Rolls-Royce-Daimler Thunderbolt-class aero-engines, a meta-ceramic slipstream-guided hull, auto-adjusting wings to reduce drag and increase aerodynamic stability, and a total of seven Skyward Corporation maximum-size aeroene reactors in the rear compartments."

America flapped a hand to forestall further elaborations and hyphenated words. "All right, Canada. I get the picture. So, what do I do?" Only America's barely-perceptible shaking hand – encased, as ever, in a black glove – paid testimony to his worry. Not that Canada noticed.

Canada shrugged. "Lie down here."


"Lying down is the best way to stand the takeoff. Come on, these were designed for two."

America rolled his eyes. "Typical."

"And all the covers are replaced after every flight," Canada added, grinning.

"Canada," warned America. "That's not what I want to hear."

America sighed and lay himself flat next to Canada's warm, breathing form. "I hate you," he informed the youthful lord.

"What about us?" asked the General, suddenly, his face stiff with displeasure.

Canada tapped his mouth and shrugged. "Well, you've brought too many to fit on the couches. I guess you'll just have to stand. You might get a few broken bones, and bleed from the ears a bit, but you won't die. Probably."

"What do you mean, probably?"

Canada shrugged. "Well, it's never been tested. This is my private plane – for use by about six people, maximum. You've loaded us down with ten. Four will have to stand."

"That's four of my best men who might die?"


Canada reached up to adjust the light, which seemed to further infuriate the General.


"And what?"

"Don't you value their lives?"

"General, I couldn't give a flying fuck about whether any of your little soldiers lives or dies – save for the cost of redecoration. I didn't ask you to come on this flight, America didn't ask you to escort him to the capital and the New World sure as hell didn't ask for you to invade our waters on some nebulous mission! So you'll forgive me if I'm not overly concerned about your little men."

"Language, Canada," murmured America, like a mantra.

One of the soldiers started to draw his gun.

"I wouldn't do that, if I was you," said Canada, calmly. A word from me and my couch is sealed off and the room fills with fire. You'll be turned to ash in an instant. So don't do anything rash."

There was a change in the sound made by the engines.

"Oh? We're getting ready to take off. Gentlemen, stand by a wall! The webbing will hold you."

"What-" began the General, as tough, durable acceleration webbing snared him and held him fast to a wall. "You left standing, get into a couch!" yelled Canada, over the rising roar.

The soldiers scrambled to obey.

America's hand clenched the side of the divan, through the webbing, as the plane began to taxi, his fingers white even against the cover.

The engine noise rose to a shrieking roar, and the plane began to thunder down the runway.

A…noise escaped America's pressed-together lips, quickly stifled.

Canada turned in the webbing, surprised.

"You're actually afraid, aren't you?" he murmured, low enough so as not to be heard by anyone else.

America didn't answer, his face a pale, strained mask.

Canada's hand wormed away under the webbing until it found America's own. The hawk-eyed General saw it, and his lips thinned further in displeasure. Everything that he'd been briefed on so far seemed correct. It was disgusting, it really was.

"It'll be over soon," whispered Canada, comfortingly.

"It'll be over soon," he whispered.

America's hand slowly loosened its vice-like grip on Canada's as the plane began to flatten out and the acceleration webbing retracted back into the walls and floor of the plane.

One or two of the soldiers dabbed their ears, wincing, the General, older than the rest, included.

Canada rolled over and pillowed his head on America's chest. "A nice easy flight over the Atlantic," he announced. "The weather's good, shouldn't be too much turbulence, as long as we avoid seventeen by six by fifty."


"America's doing nuclear tests on the wreck of some pirates in that section. I have no desire to be irradiated, thank you very much, and the thermal updraughts are deadly to planes."


Cecilie was weak with laughter, and it hung in the balmy, dusk-drenched evening air, beneath the waving palms and the rising moon.

Honolulu town, behind and below them, glittered, picture-postcard perfect, each window a square of yellow light in the solid, old buildings, the harbour a blaze of creamy light that danced on the water, the dolphins of light at play with water.

Behind the town, rose the mountains, thickly forested, a brilliant green, dotted with cream blazes – smaller villages in the beautiful jungle, while Oahu's fire-mountain towered over it all, quiescent for now.

Overhead, the starfield glittered, wondrously clear, this far from the town.

Cecilie and Massey were standing in the ruins of an ancient amphitheatre, the marble stone glowing palely in the faint light, wound about with lianas that pulsed with peaceful, vegetable life.

The columns were mostly toppled, the stones scattered over the cracked flags of the floor, the steps buckled apart by the sheer force of the plants that were digging their claws back into the land and the arches piles of collapsed rubble leading back into the jungle, but it seemed eternal and timeless at night.

By day, it was a crumbling ruin; at night a beautiful amphitheatre of creamy stone and green leaves; nature and man in perfect synchrony. Of course, Nature would win in the end – in a handful of years the forest would have reclaimed the site, the stones buried beneath trees and soil and creeping plants, the last column toppled, the last row broken-backed, the last arch collapsed, but for now it was perfect.

Cecilie's eyes gleamed, huge in the dim light of the stars and the waxing moon.

"I never knew such perfect places existed," she breathed.

"Few people do. After all, this is out in the sticks, or so the Society ladies would say."

"But it's so…so…"

"I know," said Massey quietly. "It's like when people came to Massefold – creditors, mostly, and every damn time they'd bring up the lack of society fun in the town. There was so much beauty, if only they'd see it."

"What do you mean?"

"There are mines, scores of miles long and three miles deep. Most of them aren't used much any more, but still…There's a cave a half-mile across, acoustics more perfect than the Albert Hall. A single drop of water can sound like a cannon shot. The slate makes such wonderful patterns on the walls and ceiling and floor, on the benches and steps, on the statues the miners carved...There's a cave, Cecilie, where a vein of crystal takes the sunlight down and plays it over a perfect pool, and the walls glow all the colours of the rainbow. There's artistry down there such as you wouldn't believe – the miners haven't ever had a degree, they haven't taken art courses, or sculpture, but there's a fountain three times the height of a man, a flight of birds leaving a cage – they seem to fly on the water. There's a cave that's a huge garden, trees and plants and flowers, fed by streams, with its own weather. Such wonders, all hidden away out in the sticks of England." Sir Massey shrugged. "I suppose no-one will ever see them until we're all long dead, and our descendants find those caves and wonder, and wonder, and never truly understand."

Cecilie patted his arm. "I'll come and see it," she said softly. "This is better than Almack's and Society balls and hunts and shoots. I'm sure the caves are better, too."


She nodded. "Really." She leaned forward and whispered in his ear, her lips just brushing it, "Mama's kept it secret from everyone, but I like to be out in the country more than the city."

"That's-" Massey didn't get any further. Cecilie's warm, pale finger against his lips stopped him.

"Let's just enjoy it now, shall we? Time for talk in the morning."

He grinned. "All the time in the world. Iolani Palace."

"Empire Hotel."

They laughed, and gazed up at the moon.


"Going down!" announced Canada cheerfully, two and a half hours later. America paled again as his book was removed and the acceleration webbing snapped back around them.


"America dear, we're thirty-five thousand feet up. The airport is at what is technically known as sea level. So, to get from up here to down there, we have to descend, lose height, plummet, fall, or in other words go down. Comprende?"

"Comprend," he murmured.

The aircraft tilted, and gave them the breathtaking cloudscape far below.

The plane's engines roared, aiding gravity in sending it hurtling down to earth.

A thin, high squeal ripped its way from America's lips as they plummeted, his face as white as a sheet.

America's eyes rolled back into his head and his body went slack.

The aeroplane thundered down through the air, lights blazing on the runway below in the pitch-dark, rain-lashed night.

The tyres met the runway with a squeal of rubber and the engines roared in reverse, slowing the behemoth to a gentle stop.

Acceleration webbing snapped back into its recesses, and Canada slid off the divan as the soldiers shook themselves, wincing.

America remained supine. Canada looked back, surprised. "My, my," he sighed, and opened a cabinet.

He waved the little vial under America's nose.

The man's eyes slammed open and he coughed. "My god," he gasped. "That stuff is foul."

"Wakeflower," replied Canada, shortly. "Though I didn't have you pegged for a fainting violet."

"I hate flying," snapped America. "And that monster of yours is the worst thing in the world to fly in."

Canada tapped his lips. "Actually, you'll probably find any De Havilland sixteen-seater worse. They bounce."

America shivered. The General coughed. "Can we get on?"

America raised a finger. "Just a second, General. I have to get my bearings back. Oh, Canada, there's a phone in my back pocket. I'd get it myself, but-"

"Yes, wakeflower's a mild paralytic, too. I know."

Canada gave America the slim, silvery phone without comment, though his fingers did tighten on the shapely globes of America's rear.

"Duke Gara? Ah, good. Now, I want the Laplace down at London Docks with a full escort, sea and air, understood?"

America listened for a second. "Yes, London. Yes, as soon as possible. Have a detachment of marines and three marches of Silver Knights aboard, too."

"Yes, Gara. Yes, that'll be fine."

"Now that you mention it, yes. Bring the Navy up to full readiness, and send a message to West Point – tell them I'm coming for an official visit to change the course programme."

"No, nothing else. Good day, Duke Gara. Don't let me keep you."

America flipped the phone shut and raised himself up on his arms.

He frowned momentarily, and then tapped a section of the wall.

His hand moved like a striking snake and caught the rosewood cane as it shot out.

"Not really to my taste," he observed. "But it will do."

"How did-"

"I know you, Canada. You're predictable."

Canada sighed. "Never mind."

With the royal guards drawn up around them in grand array, with America leaning heavily on his cane but still looking haughty and proud and with Canada upright and slender, eyes burning, they stepped out into the bustle of the airport.


America growled in frustration. A cavalcade of cars had transported them from the airport to Rossendale House, under the watchful eyes of the guards, but he was now a virtual prisoner in his own home. Guardsmen were roaming throughout the house, spot-checks, random sweeps, the works. Further soldiery were busy fortifying themselves in the gardens – America was sure his roses would never be the same again – and the gates were now being manned by four guardsmen of the Royal Colour.

He was slumped moodily in a high-backed chair in the library, sipping despondently at a cup of tea. Here, at least, there were few guards; they got nervous in the presence of education and too many words.

The butler, Jones, who'd taken flight after the Canada One scant minutes after his employer, appeared behind him, and coughed politely.

"Oh, yes, Jones?"

He bent into a bow. "Good day, sir. I trust the crossing was not too inimical to your body, sir?"

America grunted. "I see, sir. However, there is a matter I wish to raise with you."

"Raise away, Jones, old chap. Raise away. Er, so long as it's not money. My budget's a little tight this year."

"You remunerate me handsomely, sir. The Guardsmen are making enquiries of the staff, sir."

"About what?"

"Two things, sir – one is appertaining to your relationship with Lord Canada, sir, and the other is regrettably to do with the availability of the female members of our staff, your widely-known aversion to this notwithstanding."

"Has anything happened?" asked America, sharply.

"Fortunately not, sir. Chef was on hand to deal with the minor disturbance. He threatened to use a culinary implement called a flensing knife in most ingenious ways should they harass his sous-chefs any more."

"Good. Tell the general he has an appointment to see me – immediately. As to the other matter – are you sure we can speak here?"

"Yes, sir. I took the liberty of asking the clerks to speak and go about their business in here more loudly than usual. Our conversation is masked, sir."

"Good, good. As to the other matter, instruct the staff to tell the soldiers that Lord Canada and I are just close friends. Feel free to have them reference the rare times I have had to reproach Canada's conduct when in my presence, or something, but please refrain from mentioning the whole bedroom incident."

"Very good, sir. And how long will you be staying here, sir? And what shall I tell CNN?"

"One, I have no clue, and two, just tell CNN I have been summoned by the Queen to discuss matters of state. I'll record something later on that's the truth for you to broadcast in the event that I go missing."

"Very good, sir. The staff and I shall prepare the house without the guards noticing. I shall go and fetch the General."


The doors slammed open. "What is the meaning of this?" raged the General, his face almost matching the crimson colour of his uniform.

America turned. "Is there a problem, General?"

The man stamped across the drawing-room floor, making the wood creak and boom. "You have no authority over me, Viscount America! How dare you order me!"

"However, I see you're still here. Now, attend," said America coolly. The man went even redder.

"No, do stop shouting. The acoustics in this room are very good, and you're making my ears ring. Now, listen."

"You are guests in my home, General, you and your soldiers, and guests in my house are expected to maintain a modicum of decorum. In addition to the usual rules, there is one extra that I enforce. You do not touch my staff, is that understood? Regrettably, several of your subordinates have not heeded this. Fortunately, since there was no lasting damage, I will let it go. This time. But, General, if this happens again I will have absolutely no hesitation in retaliating. I'm sure you know what happened to Earl Hartington. Have I made myself clear?"

"As crystal," snarled the General, and turned to go.

"One more thing, General – if Her Majesty felt that the summons were so urgent I needed an armed guard, why exactly am I cooling my heels here?"

"I really couldn't say, sir America. I haven't received orders to convey you to the Palace yet. Good day, sir America." The man left.

America turned to the ever-present butler and snarled, "Get me Lord Canada!"

Lord Canada was also being held in Rossendale House, in one of the almost-untouched guest rooms on the far side of the Long Gallery that ran, like an art-laden spine, through the centre of the house.

As such, it took him some time to arrive.

By then, it was early evening, and orange light lanced in through the windows.

Canada poked his head around the library door, squinting against the blaze of light from the chandelier's crystals. "You asked to see me, America?"

"Yes," he snapped, grumpily. "We're stuck here for an indefinite period, apparently until her majesty decides to see us."

Canada smiled. "Oh, goodie."


"We can go to Almack's now!" Canada's eyes were sparkling.

America's head snapped up. "No, you can go to Almack's. I will stay here. Someone has to watch the soldiers."

"No, America," said Canada, gently. "You're coming with me. You'll yell and scream and shout at me for a bit, but you'll come."

"Or else what?" said America, belligerently.

"Or else I'll fire your art collection."

"You wouldn't!" America gasped, his face paling.

"Look into my eyes and tell me that." Fire danced and leapt in the green, green depths of Canada's eyes.

"You would," said America in a defeated tone of voice. "All right, Lord Canada, you win. What should I wear?"

"Your black-and-silver dragon waistcoat – I've always thought that looked gorgeous on you, a shot-silver cravat – you don't have any pins, do you – never mind, I'll have someone go and pick one of mine up – you'd better wear that dragon-jacket that Yves St. Laurent knocked up for you, for heaven's sake comb your hair and put those silver ties in it, dress shoes and trousers, of course, and your jet cufflinks, I think."

"Yes, dear," sighed America.


Cecilie was weak with laughter, and the drawing room of Iolani Palace rang with it. She was wearing a shorter version of the virginal white dress she'd worn at Almack's, far more practical in the tropical heat. In one elegant hand she held a flute of champagne.

"Oh my," she gasped, fighting the giggles down.

"But, I note that Hawaii's government seems to be getting back on its feet very quickly."

Massey nodded. "My secrets have come in useful once again, and I borrowed a brace of America's auditors. Those people are scary."


"Information gathering, really. I'm very, very good at it."

"You? Why?"

Massey laughed, rather bitterly. "You didn't think I got rid of my papa's creditors with sunshine and flowers, did you, Cecilie?"

"Well, no, but…at Almack's-"

"The Masque of Innocence," said Massey. "The last remnant of my childhood, from when I believed all was good and sweet, before my father started screaming at things only he saw and my brother began bringing home the women of the night and before all the books began to vanish from the library shelves." He paused, his face half in shadow. "It's a useful part of me, and one rather dear to my heart, even now. I rather wish I was still that boy."

"You poor boy," said Cecilie, taking his hand. "I have to ask, though - the large-scale evidence of embezzling, breach of trust, corporate murder and so on of many of the high-ranking ministers, was that all your doing?"

"Good heavens, no. Admittedly, I did collect rather a lot of it – all true, by the way – but I had America's head of covert intelligence send me some informants. Most valuable. I'm trying to tempt them away from the American Espionage Service now."

"Good luck with that," she laughed. "I hear sir America pays them the most, and so they're fanatically loyal to him."

Massey shrugged. "It keeps me amused," he said lightly, all traces of his melancholy gone. "And in the middle of all this heavy government work-" he waved a hand to encompass the piles of paper encroaching from all sides on the rapidly diminishing circle of clear floor "-I need whatever fun I can get."

"I never had much patience with social intricacies," mused Cecilie. "I imagine you feel the same way about this stuff."

"Don't get me wrong, I don't mind doing it, but there's so much of it. Truth be told, this place needs a platoon of governors, not just one. I have no clue how America manages."

"I think he delegates. Hasn't he delegated to you?"

Massey sighed. "Yes, I suppose he has, at that. But most of his Hands get at least a marginally functional government to play around with! What do I get? Something that needs a breath of air to topple it. I've been had."

"You say that a lot, Roderick."

"Well, it's true. America knows how to recoup investments, all right."

"What do you mean?"

"He crushed his hand, I helped your mother and Countess Hartford to care for him, in return I get half a billion and the governorship of this place. And if I turn this around with my own blood, sweat and tears, sir America will shortly recoup that little investment of his."

"Half a billion is not a small amount," observed Cecilie.

"When you're talking America, oh yes it is. Federal revenue is around four trillion pounds. America's running costs are far less than that. Essentially, Viscount America has unlimited funds at his disposal. He's possibly the richest person on the planet."

"What about the Queen?"

"Technically, her wealth belongs to the Empire. Look, the only reason America was made a member of the peerage was so he didn't just declare himself a king in his own right, which he would certainly have been able to do, given that he actually owns all the Americas. And let's not forget the Rothschild Banner – if that ever went down the world would follow, make no mistake. He is the most powerful and the most dangerous man on the planet. And the most irritating."

"I always thought Lord Canada was a more irritating man."

"He can be quite charming when he wants to be. But America's irritating all the time. He wins, hands down."

"Point taken," she giggled, sipping the champagne. "I say, this is rather good."

"Whoever last lived in Iolani Palace liked their alcohol. I had it brought up from the cellars."

"I gather you aren't fond of drink?"

"It's what wasted two thirds of our fortune and turned my father into a gibbering wreck, screaming at things that only existed in his head. I take a glass or two of champagne or wine, when situations call for it, but aside from that, I try not to touch the stuff."

"I see. Sorry about that. I'm not very tactful, am I?"

Massey smiled. "Not really."

"Sir Massey!" she gasped, shocked. "You should tell me I'm the very paragon of tactfulness."

"That, my dear, much as I might wish it to be so, would be lying. Would you like me to lie to you?"

She looked away. "Not really, no."

They both sat in silence for a while.

"So, oh great governor of the Sandwich Isles – stupid name, by the way – what is there to do here?"

Massey raised an eyebrow. "You're the one who came here on holiday," he reminded her.

"Well, yes, but I was a little tipsy at the time and stuck a pin in the list and decided to go wherever it landed. Which was here."

"I see. Why're you taking a holiday now, of all times? It's past peak season."

Cecilie shrugged. "That was my second Season. One more, and then after that I'm a failure. Plus, I wanted to get away from my mother's griping about how I didn't accept anyone, and I need to really fortify myself against the Christmas reprise of which of my many relations got married and who now is next in line for the Whitemore estate."

"It's Ashby, isn't it?" asked Massey, thoughtfully. "I think I visited it once or twice. With the odd belltower on the southeast corner?"

"My childhood hideaway," smiled Cecilie.

Massey gave a strange, lopsided grin. "Not just your hideaway, my dear," he said gently. "Out of interest, who is now in line for the estate?"

"That would be my cousin. Dorian Whitemore." Cecilie's voice oozed disdain.

"Tall man, handsome? Shoulder-length hair? Silver hair ties, like Viscount America?"

"That's him. How do you know him?"

"Oh, I chanced upon him, once. Very entertaining it was, too. I wonder if his wife knew about it."

"He didn't!" Cecilie gasped, her cheeks very red.

"I did say that belltower wasn't just your hiding place. Your cousin was using it for one of his trysts when I last visited. Quite entertaining viewing, I must say, though his squeals are rather unpalatable."

"You have a recording?"

Massey shrugged. "I might have."

"You're a despicable man," she accused.

"Bang on the money, my dear," he replied. "How else did you think I got so many of my family's creditors off my back? It certainly wasn't through the estate's income. I only did it because I disliked your cousin, anyway. He would not be good for Ashby."


"Oh, sir America! We didn't expect you back so soon. I take it this has something to do with the Royal Colour now on guard outside Rossendale House?"

That was the Marchioness of Londonderry, traditionally the head Patroness of Almack's.

"Incidentally, I'm glad to see you making more of an effort with your appearance. Your outfit most becomes you. I take it we have Lord Canada to thank for that?"

"Yes. You do."

"I must thank him immediately," she observed, her sharp agate eyes taking in every detail. "I shall put him up for a medal, I think. He most definitely deserves one." She turned to go, her magnificent gown brushing the floor.

"Do be careful on the dancefloor, will you? You're likely to start a riot," she added over her shoulder.

"What do you mean by that?"

"You're handsome, Viscount America. Your outfit finally flatters you. You'll draw more than the money-hungry now. Well, I have to go and have a word with Lord Canada. Good evening to you, sir America. Perhaps later on you could tell me more about the Royal Colour? It sounds fascinating."

She swept off into the crowd that respectfully opened up an aisle for her.

Canada appeared beside America, in blazing reds and oranges, not the green he usually favoured. "Smile, America. And go and talk to people. If you need me, I'll be in the card room."

"As usual."

"Well, what did you expect? It's got the most people in it."

"I think you'll find the dancefloor has."

"The dancefloor has, in your words, larvae and simpering bubbleheads. Not people. See you around."

"You're not leaving me are you, Canada?"

"I couldn't ever do that, America. I'm just popping into the card room for a bit. To see, be seen, that sort of thing."

"Leaving me."

Canada screwed up his face. "All right, America. You've twisted my arm. Again. I'll accompany you."

America bestowed a blazing smile. "Good."

And together the two of them became the belles of the Almack's ball. America was gracious, Canada was charming. America's black good looks and tasteful style made him stand out in the ballroom crowd, and Canada's formidable charisma and beautiful face brought the ladies and gentlemen flocking.

Their intelligence and sparkling wit drew the debutantes – who liked anything shiny – and their practically bottomless reserves of cash pulled in everyone else.

America bestowed his serene smiles and calming words, Canada sparkled and flickered and danced and conquered all like fire.

They talked and gossiped and flirted and danced through all Society, right up to the Patronesses themselves – the Marchioness of Londonderry, the Duchess of Pelidne, the Countess St. Clair and the others.

America took a turn with Lady Londonderry while Canada stood up with St. Clair.

"So," she said, as they began the elaborate, formal dance. "Will you not now tell me about the Royal Colour?"

"Anything for the glittering lady of Londonderry," he said. "I wouldn't want to lose my Almack's ticket, now would I?"

"I thought you disliked this place."

"Canada would turn his eyes on me. I'd never hear the end of it. So, in answer to your question-" He stopped for a while as they went through a particularly difficult stretch – America was a flawless dancer, but the quicktime elaborate steps and swirling, spiralling turns required concentration – "Her Majesty recalled me to England. She seemed to feel that the matter – whatever it is – was urgent enough for me to require an armed escort and to have my house defended by the imperial guards."

"Whatever it is? You mean you haven't had an audience yet?"

America scowled and gave his glacial glare. "No, I haven't. And I'm starting to get very annoyed with Her Majesty."

The Marchioness took a look at America's face. "Don't blow up Buckingham Palace, would you? Most of the things in it are quite, quite irreplaceable."

"All right. But only because it was you asking. Oh, and when you consider the next Patronesses, I'd be indebted to you if you'd look at Countess Hartford and Lady Whitemore."

"In exchange for not blowing up Buckingham Palace? There's a word for people like you, you know."

"Yes," replied America, grinning. "I believe it's 'enterprising.'"

Heads turned at the Marchioness' burst of laughter.


"What a very productive evening," sighed Canada, happily, as they swished through the London night.

"What do you mean?" asked America. "All we've done is talk to people, most of whom I couldn't give a damn about."

"You seemed to get along with the Marchioness of Londonderry and St. Clair quite well."

"They have intelligence and wit and are valuable sources of information. Most of the others can't compare."

Canada shrugged. "You diddle them out of preposterous sums of money on a regular basis, America. Be at least a little more polite about the major clients of the Rothschild Banner."

America huffed. "Why should I? It's not as if-" He fell into a shocked silence as Canada's finger touched his lips. It was very warm.

"That acid tongue, unless you sweeten it, will get you into a great deal of trouble one day," warned Canada, softly. "You'll drive everyone away until only your enemies are left, you know."

America shrugged again, lazily. "I don't have any enemies. Hey, don't you think they should serve better food at Almack's. I think there was something wrong with the bread."

"They always serve stale bread, America. You're not at Almack's to eat, you're there to be Seen. And to find a wife, of course, if you're like you."

"What makes you think I want a wife, Canada?"

"Well-" Canada floundered.

"There you are, then. Don't make uninformed judgements, Canada. You only look like a fool."

"Acid tongue, America. Curb your bitchiness for once."

"Language, Canada."

They burst out laughing.

For the rest of the week, Lord Canada and Viscount America went to every ball and social event. Each night they were to be seen at Almack's, always at the centre of it all, the life and soul of the gathering.


"This is the last straw!" raged America, standing up from where he had been breakfasting with Canada.

He stomped over to the bellpull and gave it a vicious tug, almost ripping it from its mounting.

"Yes, sir?" said the butler, who had just ghosted into the room.

"Order round my car," snarled America. "The armour-plated Rolls, if you please. Lord Canada and I are going to the palace, whether the Queen is ready for us or not."

"And the General?"

"Tell him oh, fifteen minutes after we go. Have Uchida subvert the gate routines so we can get out of the Colour cordon, and then fry the gates closed. That might slow them up a bit."

"Very good, sir."

"Hang on, America," objected Canada, from the divan. "What if HM won't see us?"

America smiled an utterly mirthless smile. "I'll make her see us. Have the marches join us in the car, Jones."

"Oh, you're not going to-"

"By any means necessary, Lord Canada. Come on."

The Rolls-Royce, a black and silver dream, shot out of the garage and onto the driveway of Rossendale House.

The soldiery fortified in the grounds started, and then turned their guns on the speeding car.

The air was filled with the full-throated roar of gunfire and the ping of ricochets as they bounced from the armoured body of the car and the diamond glass.

As the car neared the gates, America raised the radio. "Now, Uchi, now!"

The gates swung open, and the behemoth roared onto the road, rapidly rising up away from the house.

The guardsmen at the gate stared, and then feverishly began working their guns.

The heavy cannon roared and thumped; the Rolls leapt into the air.

Inside, America and Canada laughed with abandon, adrenaline coursing through their veins.

"It'll take more than that to dent this baby!" grinned America. "You wouldn't get that kind of performance out of one of those modern cars they keep turning out. Onward!"

The great car swept along the road, police cars and press vehicles howling after it.

"Do you-" the car leapt again "-have any idea how much trouble you're going to be in?"

America wasn't listening. "Turbocharger, turbocharger, if I were a turbocharger, which button would I be?"

"That one?" asked Canada, pointing to a stylized rocket.

"Worth a shot," said America, and pressed it.

The rear of the car opened out.

Twin gargantuan exhausts glittered.

America and Canada were forced backwards from the acceleration, fire blasting out from the back of the vintage machine.

"Buckingham Palace, here we come!"