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Round One

"I assume," Mary says, in her most scathing tone, "that there is a good explanation for this." But she's known, from the minute she hears the lock click in the door, that a good explanation is unlikely. Not impossible, though; luring her into a room with no patient in it might, after all, be a silly prank. Jans has not proved himself to be a particularly un-silly person.

And he is not winning any prizes today, because what he does, the very first thing after locking her in a room, is come forward and take her hands. Mary snatches them away and folds her arms protectively in front of her, but does not take a step backward, refusing to cede her ground, which leaves her in the uncomfortable position of being nearly nose-to-nose with him.

"I hope you'll think so," says Jans, earnestly. "I know this may seem sudden, us knowing each other only those few weeks -"

Mary stares at him out of cold blue eyes, keeping her face at its most utterly blank - which is to say, haughty and old-womanish, this being her default expression. Jans falters a little in his speech, but presses on.

"- but I had to get you alone and I didn't want us to be disturbed. See, Miss Lennox -- Mary -- I can call you Mary, can't I?"

"No," says Mary.

"-- Mary," breathes Jans, ignoring her, "the plain truth is, I've fallen in love with you and I can't live a moment further without you. Won't you be my wife?"

There is a moment's pause, while Mary's blank face looks blanker than ever. Taking this as a hopeful sign, Jans reaches out, his hands to her arms, and bends his head towards her.

Crunch! goes Mary's head, into his nose, and she wrenches him aside, burning with rage as she strides for the door. What a fool he is, and what a fool she! To distract her away from her shift, and make her look an idiot -- she has no doubt that some of those stupid children put him up to this. "I am on duty!" she snaps, as she reaches out her hand for the lock --

-- and then Jans' hand grabs her arm and she's thrown away, back into the room. There's blood on the floor from Jans' nose; he hasn't bothered grabbing at it, too busy slipping out the door before she can get back at it. "I know this comes as a surprise!" he shouts, through an intercom, "but once you see I'm serious you'll come around!"

"You shall let me out this instant!" Mary shouts back, but her voice sounds hollow to her own ears.

Her first impulses had been right. This isn't a prank of any kind, after all.

Round Four

". . . . and a more unromantical person I've never met," sulks Jans, guarding the door.

"Well, you can see," says Jones, kindly, across - she can only think of it as the negotiating table, though it's just the one cot they've provided her with - "we tried to do this the pleasant way."

"I can see," snaps Mary, "that you must think I've exactly two brain cells to rub together, which makes for a very believable proposal, I must say. Marriage! I do not intend to marry, I have no wish to marry, and I am not nearly so foolish as to believe that anyone should wish to marry me for any personal qualities I may possess."

"You got that right!"

"Jans!" Jones sighs, the sigh of a reasonable but put-upon man faced with an unwontedly stressful situation. "Well, it sounds like you and Jans here want the same thing. Neither of you wants to be stuck with each other any longer than necessary -- but the fact is we've invested too much in this operation not to see some profit off it, and it'd be a lot simpler and less painful for all of you if you'd just go through with it. I can marry you right here and now, and once Jan's got that claim to your assets, we can easily drop you off on Whittier to get a nice friendly divorce, and you can forget you ever was married at all. Hardly any trouble to anyone! And think how it'll sharpen your professional edge, not to have that nice money cushion."

"I would rather," says Mary, enunciating her syllables very precisely, "die and be eaten by pigs than do anything you ask me."

Jones is very sincere, as he says, "Miss Lennox, I promise you, we will not let you die. You may, I regret to inform you, suffer some unfortunate physical distress if you keep on rejecting our kind proposal. We're running a little low on funds, and we may not have enough left over to feed you proper. We're running a little low on patience, too, and -- well, you can imagine what'll happen when that runs out. All we really need from you is your hands for signing things." He's looming over the cot now, in what is not exactly a subtle attempt at intimidation. Mary could laugh, if she wasn't so angry.

"I am very reliably informed," she tells him, "that I have no imagination whatever," and launches herself across the table in an attempt to stab him in the eye with a hairpin.

Unfortunately, it's her last one -- all the others having been confiscated after various other unsuccessful attempts -- and the shortest one too, so it doesn't do much good, and gets her a wrenched elbow and a black eye as a reward. But it makes her feel better, all the same.

Round Eight

"I keep telling you, you are wasting your time," Mary says, through gritted teeth, for what feels like the hundredth time. She is very hungry, which is not helping her temper; nor are her swelling eyes. "I have no fortune on this planet, or any other in the 'verse!" And it's not a lie, either; whatever fortune she has inherited from her long-dead parents (and she honestly hasn't inquired into the amount of it) is far away, on another dimension. "Even if I were to marry one of you -- you sons of asses, it would give you no claim to anything at all!"

"But isn't that just what you would say, Miss Lennox?" answers Jones, and sighs gently. She loathes that sigh more than anything. "If you're going to keep being stubborn, though, we are going to have to start pursuing some other options. You've got friends in high places, Miss Lennox -- oh, it's not so secret, you know, we've got our ways -- and though we usually like to involve as few people as possible, we're not averse to pinching them up the nose, if it'll make this trip worthwhile. I should warn you it's a less pleasant process for you, though. A heart-breaking picture generally makes them fold right up."

Mary's spine snaps up straight at that, her eyes widening in dismay for the first time in this discussion, and Jones smirks a little across the table to see it.

A ransom letter sent to Mr. Tam! No, no -- unacceptable. She refuses to a.) worry her friends and (perhaps more pressingly), b.) allow this hideously embarrassing situation to be known to anyone else.

She'll simply have to stall for time until she figures out a suitable escape plan, that's all.

"Well," she says, after a long, long pause, "perhaps I could be induced to -- to consider your earlier plan. But I could not possibly be induced to marry without --" She taps her fingers together, and then announces, "Without council from an Anglican priest!"

There. Let them try and fake that.

She refuses to say any more for the rest of the meeting, and eventually Jones gets up and leaves, looking halfway between pleased and irritated. More threats will probably come next, but she judges they won't involve Mr. Tam if there's a hope of convincing her; the risks are too high. And meanwhile, she must, she must come up with a plan!
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January 2012

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