Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Liberty would later claim that she heard it first, even though she and Shin were farthest from the window of their dorm. There was a drone of two aircraft engines – inline, not radials – throttling up as a plane took off from the nearby airport. The pitch of the engines suddenly faltered, and there was a dull crump in the distance.
Shin and the others were up and out of their beds in an instant, crowding around the window in an effort to see what had happened. Tatiana ducked the red panda’s blocking elbow – a sable has definite advantages in flexibility – and pointed at a reddish glow through the trees.
At that moment, the outside lights came on.
“Fire detail, d’ye think?”
“Looks that way.”
By the time a third year student looked in on them, all four were fully dressed. At her nod, the members of Red Dorm headed downstairs to join the rest of the second year students. One dorm was still getting dressed, two of its members hopping slightly as they tied their boots.
Miss Blande was standing at the gate, her fists set on her hips. If she had been awakened by the crash, she certainly didn’t show it, or any other sign of fatigue. “Plane crash,” she snapped. “In the trees, northeast. Standard procedure. Go.” The entire group broke into a run even as sirens split the night.
Two-thirds of the students headed for the equipment shed at one end of the airstrip to collect shovels and buckets while the rest ran to where flames could be seen licking up as spilled aviation fuel ignited still-dry grasses and underbrush.
The plane looked as if it had been of French manufacture, but it was a jumbled pile of wreckage as the Songmark students joined the airport’s fire brigade. The girls with shovels and buckets arrived and for over an hour there was a coordinated effort as water was sprayed on the plane while sand was thrown onto burning brush and puddles of fuel to smother the flames.
After a frantic two hours the fire was completely out.
Shin leaned on her shovel and coughed, then spat as she looked at the remains of the plane. From what was left of the cargo, it would have been valuable.
“Smugglers, do you think?” Liberty asked as she upended her bucket and sat on it.
“Taking off from Eastern Island?” Shin started to laugh. “Either they had all the money in the world – you can’t buy off the airport staff, it’s impossible – or they were the stupidest amateurs I’ve ever heard of.”
“Pity we’ll not find out,” Brigit said, crossing herself as she glanced back at three sheet-enshrouded forms a short distance away from the wreck.
“Skolka vremenny?” Tatiana asked, then yawned. “Sorry. Time?”
Brigit squinted up at the stars. “Mebbe two, I’m thinkin.’”
Shin brushed a paw against her face fur irritably. “I’m going to be brushing soot out of my ears for a week.”
“We all will be,” Liberty said.
“The fur in your ears isn’t white.”
All four of them stood up as Miss Blande approached, and at her gesture the others gathered around. “The chief has asked me to express his thanks to all of you for the quick response,” the feline said. “Now, put the equipment away, head back to the school and get cleaned up. We have a busy day tomorrow.”
They all knew better than to groan at that news.
All of the students knew that the tutors would demand written reports from them immediately after breakfast – the staff never passed up an opportunity to use every event as a teaching tool. The reports were expected to include the student’s personal theory of why and how the plane had crashed, as well as what steps the crew could have taken to come out of the wreck alive.
It was lunchtime before the four young women had a moment to talk.
“Did you get a look at the gate log, Tatiana?” Shin asked.
The sable nodded happily. She had found that she was looking forward to spending a weekend with her wife. “Da,” she replied, “I saw all the open numbers while Brigit was chasing me, and set our names down.” She smiled and gave the Irish setter her crucifix. “No hard feelings, Brigit?”
“None a’tall,” Brigit said after kissing the silver effigy and putting it back in her uniform pocket. “Next time, though, ‘twill be me swipin’ yer Komsomol badge.”
Shin nodded. Until the operation was over, the others had decided to forego their usual rotating leadership scheme. “Okay. Brigit, you can get started on the number stamp. Liberty, any ideas on how you can get them typed up?”
The half-coyote nodded. She’d been wanting to do this for a long time.
Perhaps an hour later one of the third-year students paused near the open door to the school’s library, ears flicking toward the sound of someone using the typewriter. The Mixtecan anteater poked her almost comically long nose into the room and she blinked as she saw Liberty sitting alone in the room, typing furiously.
“Buenas dias, Carmen,” the New Havenite said as she pulled the finished sheet from the writer. Her Spanish was marred by her flat, slightly nasal New Haven accent. Although her back was to the door, there was a high probability that Liberty had recognized her by scent or the sound of her footsteps. “Anything wrong?”
“No no, nothing is wrong,” the anteater said. “If I may, what is it you are doing?”
The canine smiled. “I’m typing an essay,” she explained. “My position is that air travel, particularly coming advances in the size and range of transoceanic planes, will do more to facilitate the spread of Comrade Trotsky’s heroic vision of Worldwide Revolution to the masses than all the propaganda spewed out by that revisionist Starling. You see, the dialectic is extremely simple – once the masses learn to enjoy flying and see that there are really few or no differences between the proletariat of one country and another, then all will become more receptive to the ideals set down in the Fourth International to overthrow the capitalist system.”
The half-coyote’s eyes started to gleam with what Carmen thought was a rather unhealthy glow as she warmed to her subject. The anteater knew through the school grapevine that Liberty was presumably part Mixtecan, and she’d seen this level of fanaticism before. Santa Maria, protect me from all brujas, Carmen thought to herself.
Liberty grinned. “Would you like to read it?” she asked, holding up the thick sheaf of paper.
“Um, no, gracias Liberty,” and Carmen left the room.
Liberty Morgenstern waited until the older girl had walked away, then chuckled. Typing up her essay was the perfect cover for writing the forged passes. Few here were interested in her political philosophy (except to make fun of it occasionally, she was forced to objectively admit to herself) which made the cover doubly effective.
Of course, she still planned to submit the essay.
The next Saturday morning saw all four members of Red Dorm, passes in paw, step out into the bright sunshine of May Day and stop dead in their tracks.
Liberty’s hackles stood straight up.
Brigit started muttering in Gaelic.
Tatiana merely glowered.
Standing at the open gate and barring their path were four first-year students, one of them a yellow-furred squirrel. Two third years, nominally the ones who should have been on guard, lounged by the gatehouse. One of them smirked and waved the quartet forward.
“Let’s go,” Shin hissed, and the others fell in behind her as she marched up to Crusader Dorm. The red panda broke into a sunny smile as she stopped and said, “Good morning, Rote. Gathering nuts in May?”
“And where do you think you four are going?” Nancy Rote demanded, giving Shin’s question – and greeting – a contemptuous flick of her blonde headfur. The red panda noted with some satisfaction that the squirrel’s fur was growing back nicely after the practical joke played on her last year.
“As if you had any right to know.” Shin gestured with her folded pass to the third year closest to the gate. The older student shook her head and pointed at Rote.
“That’s right, Wo Shin,” Rote said as the red panda faced her again, “the staff put us out here on gate duty today as a sign that we’re the best dorm in this academy.”
Shin glanced over the American squirrel’s shoulder to see the senior student rolling her eyes.
The tutors never did anything of the sort – especially with the first years.
“Then,” the Chinese girl said, “look over our passes and let us go and enjoy this nice weather.” She and the others held out their passes.
“Where are you going?” Svetlana asked, eyeing Tatiana with thinly veiled distaste.
“Oh, here and there,” Shin said with an airy flick of her tail. “Maybe we’ll plan another coup – of course, you’re invited, Rote,” and the two third years snickered at the memory of the practical joke.
The squirrel actually growled as she and her dorm-mates huddled around, comparing the typefaces, signatures and log stamps on the documents. After several moments Rote asked, “Did you think to get past me with such clumsy forgeries?”
Shin laughed. “They looked genuine enough when Miss Devinski signed them.”
The squirrel showed the four letters to the third years, who read them over. One checked them against the gatehouse’s logbook and nodded.
Rote whirled back to Shin, and the palpable hatred in the squirrel’s eyes made the red panda’s heart swell with pride. “Here,” she said gruffly as she pressed the papers back into Shin’s paw. “And don’t come back.”
“Aww,” Shin said, her voice falling into a childish singsong, “diddums not get your way?” She smirked and using her real voice said, “Tell you what, Rote – I’ll make it up to you. Want me to buy you and Alpha a little something? Maybe from the Double Lotus?” She grinned even as the squirrel bristled.
“Very neatly done.” A one-shell note appeared on the desk and was whisked away.
“I saw. We’ll have to remember to have those forgeries collected.”
Brigit had gone to Casino Island, while Tatiana had headed to the small home she shared with her wife. Liberty went with the sable to Meeting Island, but only to join her compatriots at the New Haven Embassy for May Day celebrations.
“Fang!” At his name the big Manchurian tiger looked up from the hotel’s registration desk to grin at his wife as she walked into the Maha Kahuna several minutes later. “How are you, widdle kitty?” she teased, stretching up on tiptoe to kiss him.
Her husband growled and reached, grabbing her by the waist as they kissed and pulling her easily over the desk and into his embrace. Breaking the kiss momentarily he said, “I’m just fine, little girl.”
She grinned, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing. “Mmm, you certainly are,” she sighed happily. She looked up at him. “Do you know if Father’s still on Spontoon?”
Fang nodded. “He’s staying at the Grand, according to what Hao told me. Your brother also said that if you should bust out of jail” – they both laughed – “we’re both expected for lunch there.”
“Great. That gives me time to change out of my uniform, and . . . “ she looked at her husband speculatively.
He grinned, and put up a small sign that read Gone On Break – Back In One Hour.
He then rang for the bellfur.