Inside the palace, Cillian was hard at work buffing, polishing, and cleaning. The palace had a rotating schedule of areas that were closed for maintenance. It took him a month to figure out which shift he needed to be on to get into the chamber where the Heart of Truth was kept. It was imperative that he adhere to the schedule, which would put him in the chamber very close to sundown. For now, he had to be patient. Once or twice he saw a soldier walk by the end of a hall. He had directed one lost dignitary, a handsome young Asian man, to the restroom and lamented that he was on the job, but for the most part he was a non-entity in the palace and Cillian liked it that way.
Later, as he drew near the chamber, he could see the lights of the city beginning to flicker into being through the walls. He looked up at the arched doorway with its intricately carved designs depicting the rise of the empire. He ran his thin fingers over the surface of what appeared to be a dragon, feeling its tiny scales and realized that the walls were warm. Cillian moved into the chamber, noting where each camera was mounted. Luckily nothing in the palace was hard wired. The architect demanded that no wires should mar his beautiful walls. Cillian was wearing what appeared to be a personal aural entertainment device but was actually a three dimensional imager and transmitter. As he buffed, the imager recorded everything in the room, including Cillian behind the buffer. Cillian waited for the evening shift change and pressed the button that would transmit his image to the cameras. Quickly he moved to the case containing the Heart of Truth. A hand scanner would lift the glass container and he had to quickly replace the Heart with a replica of the same height and weight, which he retrieved from a hidden compartment on the buffer. Traminians had the unique ability to control aspects of their appearance, shape shifting to an extent. Cillian placed his hand on the scanner’s red glow. He had watched vid footage of the emperor at the last Day of Truth parade, searching for a proper shot of the emperor’s palm as he waved to the crowd. Cillian studied an enhanced version of that screen shot for weeks on end until he was sure he knew every whorl and ridge of the emperor’s hand better than he knew his own. He brought that picture to mind now, focused it onto his palm and listened to the servo-motors of the scanning mechanism passing back and forth over his palm. There was a soft, wonderful beep. The scanner changed to green. Cillian pressed the “UP” button and the glass retracted on its pistons. Cillian reached in and touched the warm gem. He had mere seconds left before the image of him still buffing ran its course. He held the cold, fake gem in his other hand. With one deft motion, he swept up the Heart, depositing the fake instantly. He pressed the “DOWN” button, pocketed the Heart and returned to the buffer just as his imager completed its transmission.
The Heart felt warm in his pocket and he realized his mistake as the alarms began to blare. The Heart was warm, his gem cold. Cillian could not have known that just last week the Ministry of Security had installed a gauge that measured the gem’s temperature at all times.
The palace thundered with footsteps as soldiers made their ways to the Heart’s chamber. Cillian could see vague shapes through the floor and ceiling, and realized there was nothing for it now but to run. He pulled off his cap so the cameras could get a good shot of his features, which he had shifted just enough to throw them off. His hair, usually worn long, was cropped very close to his head. He dashed through corridors, and down stairs, careful not to use the lifts. He had been lucky so far, but what he needed now was a place to change, not just his clothes but his appearance too. The floor he was on looked as though it might contain living quarters. He pressed the transmission button on his imager, and began trying door after door. At last he found one unlocked and slipped inside.
* * * *
Than and Mansard pulled up the long driveway to the Rubbish Bay of the palace. Through the jeweled walls they could see some sort of commotion. Mansard glanced at Than. “Oh, I say,” he muttered and eased the battered transport up to the gate. Normally where two guards stood, today there was only one. “What the deuce is going on in there?”
“Not sure. Maybe some kid messing with the Heart of Truth. There was an alarm a couple a minutes ago,” the guard said, shrugging.
“Wow.” Than looked up at the palace. “Someone’s trying to steal the Heart of Truth,” he said reverently to himself. Mansard shot him a sideways glance. There was envy on Thaniel’s face. No doubt about it.
“Now let’s not jump to conclusions, Than. There’s been no official word,” the guard said nervously.
“Yeah. But that takes some serious balls,” Than said, ignoring the guard’s admonishment.
“Than!” Than looked at the guard. “There is no official word. It wouldn’t be smart to start spreading rumors. Especially for someone in your unique position. Got it?”
“He’s got it. Calm yourself, Pede,” Mansard said soothingly.
“I do,” Than agreed. “I got it, Pede. No worries. My lips are sealed.” The soldier seemed to relax.
“Okay. Go on, get the garbage and get outta here.” Pede slid the gate back so Mansard could bring the transport in.