Madigan’s heart raced. There was no avoiding, no place to go. She moved to one side of the corridor, turning her back to the wall and standing still as Madame Aleski approached from the other direction. The Madame was moving quickly through the passage, her long, sure strides unwavering. Mr. Takaneo strode nearly soundless in her wake, nodding his acknowledgement of her statements, the only sound that of his wooden sandals on the metal grates of the floor.
“Governor Landon will be seated with the Klawsons,” the Madame said, barely turning her head, “and the Farrington delegation will…” her voice trailed off and she looked directly at Madigan, who felt that her lungs might burst suddenly from having held her breath for too long. “Cadet Williams,” she said, nodding slightly as she swept past. Her train of thought uninterrupted, she continued speaking to Mr. Takaneo, her personal drone hovering over her right shoulder, keeping pace and whirring softly.
“Madame,” Madigan managed, staying still a moment longer before she rushed down the hallway, anxious to breathe again, looking back for a last glimpse.
In the next bay, Madi leaned against the cold metal wall, closing her eyes and mentally painting everything onto a canvas in her brain. She had never seen Madame Aleski at close range before, and the thought that she had just had an encounter with the woman was enough to make her knees nearly buckle. The Madame was head of the entire Galactic Intelligence Community, responsible for the activities of tens of thousands of personnel, the security of countless diplomats and private citizens.
There were rumors she had an eidetic memory, able to recall everything she saw, heard, or read. Other rumors said that her memory was artificially enhanced, stored, backed up and cataloged by some system of software. Her pale skin was the result of never leaving the underground network of tunnels and transport, they said. Her white hair was the result of the close calls she had avoided, and that in her youth her hair black as a raven’s wing. They also said that she was over 90 years old, but as Madi had looked at her face, she couldn’t recall seeing a crow’s foot or even a wrinkle. The Madame’s legendary Caribbean blue eyes had been clear, bright and alert. Even her voice, authoritative and direct without being stern, was softer than imagined, as though she need not raise it to garner attention or get results. Her uniform was singular among the GIC; she wore a wool jacket (where had they even found a sheep?) with a tall belt around her waist, her unwrinkled skirt and heels Madi couldn’t imagine could be run in. Perhaps she had no reason to ever run. The gold brooch which marked her rank, with its black and white stones — “through the darkness and into light” like the agency motto — had been pinned to her lapel.
Mr. Takaneo was just as much an enigma. No one knew where he had come from. His pointed elven ears should have placed him among the Starburst city’s dwellers, but no one had been able to link him to that city. The rumors about him were just as outlandish. First, that he was the Madame’s consort, which, having seen him just now, made Madi think the Madame had impeccable taste in men. No one had ever heard him speak. He wore his own uniform of a bygone era, one bare, pale shoulder visible always. Madi remembered seeing the scar that arced across his left shoulder blade, said to be the claw mark of a Wildern he had fought and killed with a single blade.
Whatever their story was, the Madame and Mr. Takaneo were legends, and as Madi finally pushed herself off the wall, she realized that the Madame had called her by name. She wondered if it were possible she knew the names of all 812 cadets in the academy. Her thoughts reeling, Madi headed back to her room, sure that her best friend Thompson was going to love hearing this story.
Mr. Takaneo’s details: