The Imperial Guard had impressive armor, which they buffed to a fine shine. Ceremony aside, they shouldn’t have been wearing it in this day and age–it clanked and was useless for protection from bullets. Even my short little 9mm wheelgun could punch through it, and I’d be able to pump all six rounds into a Guardsman before he could even draw his sword.

I think they wore the ridiculous stuff because it looked impressive, and because it awed the little child in all of us who remembered seeing them in parades for the old Emperor, the one we actually respected, rather than his idiot son.

“Punctuality is a virtue lost on the common, it seems,” he said.

I took out my pocketwatch and flashed it. “Says I’m early,” I said. “Do me a favor and don’t try to intimidate me. I’ll extend you the same courtesy and we can get down to business without wasting any more time.”

The Guardsman nodded curtly. “Very well,” he said. “Do you have it?”

I produced the long, thin package, wrapped in brown paper, that I’d been hiding beneath my trenchcoat. “As promised,” I said.

Reaching into a deep crevasse in his gilded plates, the Guardsman produced a burlap sack and tossed it on the table. Gold crowns poured from it, bearing mostly the face of the old Emperor. “The agreed-upon price,” he said.

I set the package down. “Then let’s go our seperate ways,” I said. “I never saw this. You were never here. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” said the Guardsman. He took up the package and tore it open. “As promised. There is one additional matter that I am authorized to speak to you about.”

“Oh?” I said. “I’ll listen, though I’ve never seen or had any dealings with you before, stranger.”

The Guardsman might have smirked at that, or it could have been a trick of the light. “The person who acquired this photograph,” he said. “The person who took it. They must be found, and they must be eliminated.”

“I don’t do that sort of thing,” I said.

“Nor do we. But find them, see that they are found by us, and no one will do anything of that sort. The guilty will be eliminated, the Emperor protected, and your reward…tripled.”

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