Luck of the Dragon: Hobson's Choice© 2007 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“Will we get passes this weekend, d’ye think?” Brigit asked as the sun started to come up that Saturday morning. “Or d’ye think yer little stunt queered th’ pitch fer us?”
“I hope not,” Shin replied as Liberty stepped away from the mirror and she started brushing her headfur. “It’d be bad enough to get shot at, but to lose points and a weekend pass at the same time? Only certain people should have that kind of luck.”
Tatiana looked up from tying her boots and glowered, an expression almost as dour as Liberty’s. “I would not like that.”
“And you think I would?” The red panda raked her brush through her tailfur one last time, and the quartet went downstairs for breakfast.
Over the somewhat bland but filling meal, Shin started thinking about her plans for the future. The first priority was to discover if her family was safe, but if she had the opportunity over the weekend she would set certain things in motion.
Provided, of course, that she could get a pass for the weekend. Since nearly everyone expected her to try to get out clandestinely, she was more determined than ever to confuse and anger them by staying completely innocent.
“Red Dorm,” and the four young women looked up as Miss Blande stopped in front of their table.
“Yes, ma’am?” Brigit said. Beside her, Tatiana frowned.
Without a word, the older woman gave the Irish setter a buff envelope and walked away.
Brigit sat looking at the envelope until Liberty hissed, “Are you going to open it, or stare at it?”
The two canines glared at each other, each chalking up another grievance to settle when the term was over. Brigit opened the envelope and looked inside. Her eyes widened and her tongue started to loll happily.
“Passes?” Shin ventured.
“Aye.” She passed the papers out to the others, and eyebrows rose.
Each one bore the title Genuine Passes.
As soon as she was able Shin boarded a water taxi bound for South Island. She had to see if Stagg had lied to her about her family being safe.
She was half afraid that he had been telling her the truth.
“Is Wo Fang here?” she asked the fur at the front desk the instant she walked into the lobby of the Maha Kahuna.
The thin canine smiled, recognizing her. “Sure he’s here, ma’am. He’s out at Number Four, and he told me to tell you if you showed up.”
But he said it to her tailfur as she turned and ran out of the building.
The Maha Kahuna was an older resort, converted from an old plantation. The central building contained the kitchen and dining room, several rooms and the office; higher-priced rooms were available in the form of six small bungalows arranged around the main hotel. A seventh bungalow served as the Wo’s home.
She saw him first, coming around a curve in the winding sidewalk. High hedges of carefully-trimmed tropical plants helped keep each bungalow sequestered from the others, giving the customers a degree of privacy and adding to the place’s ambience. She whispered, “Fang,” and his ears perked.
He grinned and held out his arms to her, catching her as she leaped at him. He swung her around once before gathering her close to hug her. When she stopped kissing him and whispering endearments in Chinese he laughed and said, “I missed you too, Shin, but come on. It’s only been a week – “
“Huh?” She stared at him incredulously. “What? You haven’t heard? Weren’t – didn’t someone from Jade Phoenix - ?”
The Manchurian tiger smiled. “I did have some little rat with their sign show up here,” he said. “I think he expected another red panda like yourself.” He extended a paw full of claws and chuckled. “Haven’t seen him since.”
“You didn’t hear I got shot at?”
Fang’s eyes grew wide. “Shot at? I think,” he said as he carried her, “you’d better tell me everything,” and he headed toward their own cottage.
“I’ll tell you what I know, which isn’t much,” Shin said, and related the story to him. She followed up by adding what Stagg had told her, as she sat down at their kitchen table and Fang opened two bottles of Union Maid beer. “I hate having to rely on the police to tell me things,” she concluded. “But I am glad that you’re safe, Fang.”
Fang scowled. “I’m not surprised no one told me about your trouble – I’d’ve gone straight out there.”
“I wish you’d had. I missed you.” She smiled at her husband as she took another swallow of her beer.
He winked at her, and they both started to laugh. “I can guess that you’re going to ask around and find out what happened,” he said.
Shin nodded. “I plan on talking to Lu Ting, or maybe Peng-wum – I’m sure he’s got that new office open by now. Then I’m going over to the Pilot’s Union Hall.”
“Yeah. I’ve got a pilot’s license now, and Songmark expects me to use it.”
“I’m sure Hei would hire you.”
She shook her head. “Too easy. I have to do this myself.” She saw him eyeing her speculatively and demanded, “What?”
“That school’s changed you a lot, my ringtailed beauty. You would never have turned down Hei’s offer of a plane otherwise.”
She paused in thought for a long moment, then shrugged. “I suppose you’re right.” A twinkle came to her eyes as she added, “Brace yourself for a shock – I’m actually learning things from the others in my dorm.”
That drew a laugh from the tiger. “Yeah, that is surprising. Will you be back here after you get everything done?”
“You know I will be, widdle kitty.”
Three quiet conversations later and she knew the truth about it all; the misunderstanding caused by the death of Lee Lo-sung, the attacks on her and her family, and the agreement that essentially locked Hao into marrying Hu Xiu in order to smooth things over.
Shin giggled at hearing that last point, certain that it hadn’t gone down well with her younger brother.
But the realization that Stagg had, in fact, told her the truth made her stop at a bar and toss back a shot of Scotch to steady her nerves.
It wasn’t every day that one of a fur’s underlying assumptions about the universe got shaken so badly.
The Pilot’s Hall was just opening when the red panda arrived. She walked in, put her paws on her hips and demanded, “Do I talk in my sleep or something?”
Brigit turned and laughed. “Aye, but only in Chinese. Makes it hard ta figger what ye’re sayin.’” She brandished her license. “But seems like great minds think th’ same, so here we are,” she added with a grin.
“But aren’t you already on the rolls here?”
“Aye, from tha’ trip I took last summer. But that was as supercargo – I never had th’ controls o’ th’ plane,” the canine explained. “Now I’ve a proper license, so it’s time ta raise a bit o’ money.”
“Same here, and get more hours into my logbook,” Shin agreed.
The process was reasonably simple; filling out some forms and agreeing to kick a small percentage of her pay back to the union as dues.
“Okay, kid,” the taciturn rat behind the table said, “here’s yer membership card an’ yer copy of da rules. Either we call youse, or ya stop by ta see if there’s any openin’s. Savvy?”
“Sure,” Shin replied, pocketing the paperwork. She stepped out in time to see a cargo plane roar overhead, and she watched it take off with a wistful sigh.
She had to get her own plane, or a plane she could fly under contract to another.
The New Haven Embassy was a small house down a side street on Meeting Island. The paint was starting to peel and the spot where the seal of the old Republic had been ripped down was still visible. Apart from the loudspeaker-borne harangues by the envoy and his staff the previous week, things were usually quite quiet.
A week after May Day, however, red flags and banners were being put back out on the porch of the building and hung from the windows.
Inside, the envoy of the People’s Republic to the Spontoon Independencies, Comrade Wakefield, smiled through the bandages that still covered his nose. The previous week someone had assaulted him in the dark, and it had been terribly unfair to use the white stripes on his muzzle to direct the fist to its target. “This is a great day, Comrades,” the badger said in a very nasal tone as he raised a glass of beer. “Comrade Morgenstern?”
Liberty smiled and turned to the assembled workers, raising her own glass. “Long live Comrade Trotsky, and the triumph of the Fourth International!” she shouted.
The others cheered and drank to the health of the philosophical leader of the Red Fist and to the movement the equine had founded to correct the errors perpetrated by the turncoat Iosif Starling. As the group broke up and the others returned to their work, Wakefield said to Liberty, “It was great news. I just wish it had gotten here sooner.” News traveled into New Haven very slowly, and getting news out to the few embassies it still maintained was slower still. The news they had just drunk to had taken two months to reach Spontoon.
“If wishes were horses, Comrade,” Liberty reminded him. “We have to work harder to achieve self-sufficiency, that’s all. How is your nose?”
He seemed happy to change the subject. “It’s healing well. I can almost start breathing through it. It’ll be a joy to smell my food again – everything tastes so bland.”
“I can imagine. Have the authorities apprehended the fur who hit you?”
“Do you expect them to, Comrade? Spontoon may be fairly close to us ideologically, but they still worship money. With the constant coming and going of soft bourgeois tourists, it’s a wonder their constables can find their tails with both paws and a flashlight.”
The half-coyote and the badger laughed. Wakefield had found it hard not to defer to this self-possessed and dedicated young woman when she first arrived on Spontoon two years earlier. Her last name gave him a reason to feel some awe – Arthur and Luisa Morgenstern’s only daughter – and his orders from the Nine had been explicit.
See to it that no harm comes to her.
So far, so good. She only had one year of training to undergo, and she would be going back to New Haven. Luckily she was determined not to use her name for any sort of preferential treatment, and spent part of her free weekends working at the Embassy.
Still, he would be (very privately) pleased to see her go.
Just before noon Liberty left the building, looking for Tatiana.
Breaking the news to the sable would be great fun.
She rounded a corner just as church bells sounded and her ears went flat against her skull.
The small Catholic church was the source of the noise, and as she watched a group of furs emerged from the building and cheered as two more furs, a woman dressed in white and a man in some sort of black suit, came out the door to receive their applause.
Liberty ground her teeth and bit back a few of the choicer epithets she’d learned from Brigit. Finally she said, “I wish those damned bells would stop.”
An elderly woman passing by heard her and said, “Oh, it’s quite nice, dear. It’s a wedding, at the church – “
“But what about us atheists? Why do we have to listen to that sectarian turmoil?” and the half-coyote turned on one heel and stamped off muttering about lodging a protest against that “religious racket” as soon as she won her badge from New Haven’s League of Agnostics.