Jane mentally reviewed her briefing for today’s mission. It was a simple one, just transport this briefcase from Site 24 to HQ and guard it with her life on the way there. At best it would be a peaceful train ride through the countryside, at worst she’d quickly dispatch any would-be thieves with her combat training. She usually favored missions with a little more action, but she was the best of the best, and whatever was in this briefcase, it was important enough that the Agency had decided her skills were needed. Rule One, never question the Agency.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the train compartment door sliding open, and another passenger entering. A woman, mid-forties, wearing a tweed jacket and a long plaid skirt. She didn’t move like a soldier or an assassin, and Jane couldn’t spot any sign of a weapon on her. Probably just a regular traveler, but her eyes had an odd sense of depth that Jane couldn’t dismiss. Rule Four, never let your guard down.

The woman was carrying a large duffel, and struggled to lift it up into the luggage rack. Jane stood up to help her, and to get a sense of the heft of the bag and what the newcomer might be carrying. It seemed to be just clothes, books, odds and ends. Jane carefully watched the woman’s hands, the briefcase, and the door as the two of them shifted the bag into place on the rack.

“Thank you so much for the help, miss, I really appreciate it,” the woman smiled.

“Oh, don’t mention it,” Jane replied warmly. Appearing closed-off or hostile would make her stand out, create suspicion. Rule Seven, don’t attract attention.

“Honestly, I don’t know why I always overpack so much,” the woman said, reaching into her pocket. Jane tensed slightly, her vision laser-focused on whatever it was the woman was reaching for, and her hand moved casually into position to draw her concealed handgun from her boot holster. Rule Six, you won’t get a chance to shoot second. As Jane watched intently, the woman fished out a chain connected to an ornate well-polished pocketwatch, a bit odd but in keeping with her old-fashioned clothes. “I just keep adding a few more things I think I might need, and before I know it, I’ve got a huge bulky bag I can barely lift off the ground.” The pocketwatch swung back and forth as Jane relaxed imperceptibly, and the woman took hold of it with her other hand to check the time.

“That’s a beautiful watch,” Jane said. “Have you had it long?”

“Oh, I guess you could say it’s a family heirloom. I got it from my father — a stage magician, you know. He taught me all kinds of tricks of the trade.” The woman dangled the watch in front of Jane’s face to give her a closer look. “Now, there was a man who always carried too much. Big bulky suitcases full of props and tricks, and he’d carry them all himself to save money on assistants. Mother would always tell him, you need to let yourself relax more, let down some of that weight, take a break from working all the time.” The watch swayed rhythmically as she spoke, and Jane’s eyes followed it. “Relaxing is so important, don’t you agree?”

Jane nodded. Relaxing was important. Rule, uh, wait, was there a rule about that?

“See, you understand, you’re a smart girl. Take that case you’ve got there. You wanted to pack light, have a nice relaxing trip, but by the time you were ready to go, it got so bulky, didn’t it? I bet you can’t even lift the thing, it’s so heavy. Go on, give it a try, see what I mean.”

Jane reached down to lift the briefcase, but found that she couldn’t. It was just so heavy, she felt her arm muscles tensing and straining to pick it up.

“You helped me with my bag earlier, so it’s only fair that I help you out with yours. Why don’t you just let me hold onto it for a bit, don’t try to carry all that weight by yourself. Just relax, and take it easy…” The woman reached out a hand to take the briefcase, and Jane didn’t move to stop her. It was easier to just relax.

“There’s a good girl. Now,” the woman checked the watch again before dropping it and letting it resume swaying, “we’ve got a few hours left until this train arrives. Those clothes you’re wearing are also feeling pretty bulky, aren’t they?”