Luck of the Dragon: Hobson's Choice© 2008 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Shin slowed her pace and finally stopped as she heard the clang of metal against metal. “Wa ch-ao,” she muttered disgustedly.
Songmark’s gates had closed.
The red panda turned and retraced her steps as quietly as possible, heading back for the road that led to the airport. While her pass did allow for a little leeway in case she was late getting back from her job, she was reasonably certain (two to one, against) that the third years watching the gate would refuse to believe her, and refuse to let her in.
That left two options.
She could go home and spend the night with her husband, then report at the gate when it opened. The advantages were obvious and extremely appealing, but the one big disadvantage was that she might lose points. And so close to her term finals she didn’t want to risk that.
The second option was not so palatable, involving as it did her breaking into Songmark and somehow getting past the guards and the dogs before getting back into her dorm unobserved.
And she was certain that if she did get caught she (and Red Dorm, of course) would be penalized for it.
After thinking about it over dinner at Mahanish’s, she realized that the one advantage in the second option was probably that no one would expect her to try. The school’s security had a fearsome reputation.
It had been done before, of course, but that was usually a team effort.
The more Shin thought about it, the more the idea of trying the fence alone started to appeal to her.
Songmark’s fence was almost twelve feet high, topped with barbed wire that was strung on a Y-shaped frame to prevent anyone from getting out or getting in. There were no trees or bushes within fifty feet of the fence, and even though most of the lights were off, there was still enough illumination to enable a guard to spot an intruder. The guard dogs had free run of the grounds after the gate closed, and the two guards patrolled the perimeter as randomly as possible to prevent anyone from discerning a pattern.
From her vantage point high in a tree, Shin stretched out along a limb comfortably and watched.
The guards for the first night watch were Prudence and Ada, from that dorm. A mischievous part of her mind toyed with somehow talking all four of them into ‘performing’ for one of the little films now being made back home, but she squelched the idea.
There were other things to concern herself with now.
The two women, wielding stout wooden clubs, moved back and forth, crossing and re-crossing each others’ paths as the sun finished setting and darkness set in.
That left the fence, and she studied it from her perch carefully. She had looked at it from ground level and from her dorm window for the past two years, looking for any weakness or any vulnerable spot. Looking down at it from above, though, she was able to see that one corner might allow her to get over without entangling herself.
Well, Shin thought to herself, let’s just wait and see what develops.
She shifted into a more comfortable position on the tree limb and fell asleep.
The red panda drifted awake, then blinked sleep from her eyes as she lifted her head and squinted up through the tree branches at the night sky. From the stars she guessed it was maybe three o’clock in the morning, and she grinned.
Back on Krupmark, the Lucky Dragon had seen all sorts of customers, several being hitmen for the larger criminal enterprises. One had told her a bit of a trade secret: That the best time to kill was between three and five, since reflexes and reaction times were at their lowest point.
Time to test that secret.
She slipped out of the tree and crept to the edge of the underbrush, then crawled on her belly up to the corner of the fence. A close look to see if either of the guards or the dogs were within sight, and she got to her feet and started climbing.
Shin moved quickly, scaling the fence as fast as she could and slipping over the junction where the wire was weakest. She paused as her clothes snagged momentarily on the wire, but she patiently worked herself loose (losing a few hairs from her tail in the process) and climbing down.
Not jumping; that might make noise.
A quick look to orient herself and she crawled quickly into the shadows by one of the buildings. Sitting against one wall she sighed in relief.
One obstacle down.
Her ears stood straight up as a soft growl came from further back in the shadows.
It wasn’t just one guard dog.
It was all three.
She slumped back against the wall. “Okay,” she breathed, “what are you waiting for? Let them know I’m here.”
The dogs stared at her for a moment, then looked at each other. The two males then looked at the single female, who huffed through her nose and padded out to the limit of the shadows. She sat, looked back at the two males, then started peering around the corner.
Shin just blinked.
A lookout? What would they need –
A memory, a whispered rumor about the guard dogs, fitted together with things she had seen over the past two years to mesh with what she was seeing now.
She shook her head. “I’m not your type, boys,” she whispered. “May as well just raise the alarm.”
The two males looked at each other, then each stepped forward and gently took her by the sleeves of her jumpsuit, tugging her toward the darkest corner. She allowed herself to be dragged, then got to her feet and walked the rest of the way.
“Look, I told you – “ Shin paused as one of the dogs looked meaningfully at her, then moved in a circle as though chasing his tail and following it up with moving from side to side, his paws stepping in a pattern.
Okay, this is a dream. I’m going to wake up in a few hours, still up in that tree . . .
The other dog nudged her knee.
Nope, not a dream.
“I don’t know how to dance,” she said, leaving aside the fact she knew at least one hula step, “but how’s this?” Shin removed her boots and started to go through the tai chi forms, stepping through as she calmed herself enough to focus on the likelihood of escaping the dogs.
Both males watched raptly as she moved, then one whined softly and she stopped. “What?”
The male took her pants cuff in his jaws and tugged.
Shin’s ears and tail drooped.
Red Dorm had played a practical joke on her late in her first year, after she had put Liberty’s paw in a pan of warm water (of course, there had also been her less-than-polite comments on Tatiana’s snoring). The practical joke entailed depositing her, still sound asleep, on the ground under the dorm’s window.
So that the dogs could wake her up.
And she’d been sleeping in her fur at the time.
“This . . . is not going well,” she whispered to herself as she started to undress. She resumed her tai chi exercises.
The two male dogs seemed to be grinning, but it must have been a trick of the dim light.
The female guard dog just huffed another breath through her nose.
A paw reached up and grasped another hold as Shin scaled the wall of her dorm, headed for the half-open window. After her impromptu dance, the dogs hadn’t turned her in. In fact, they left the dark corner and shortly thereafter a series of barks could be heard at the other end of the compound.
One way or another, she reflected, she’d never try to break in again.
No telling what they might want in payment for looking the other way next time.
Her boots dangled around her neck, tied together by their laces. Once she reached the window she paused, suddenly uncertain.
After an intrusion through an open window earlier in the year, Red Dorm had rigged a trap. Nothing lethal, despite several excellent suggestions; just a trigger designed to let the window sash fall with almost bone-breaking force onto an intruder’s paws.
She’d helped set it up, but now she paused.
The trigger was designed to be set at either end of the frame, or exactly in the middle.
What side was it on now?
She raised a paw and started to probe as gingerly as possible, only to nearly leap straight out of her fur as her paw was grabbed by two others. She bit her tongue to stifle her cry of surprise.
“There ye are,” Brigit hissed. “Get in; we’ve been waitin’ fer ye,” and the window sash raised as the Irish girl pulled Shin into the room. “Get those clothes off ye and get ta bed, quick!”
“How’d you guess I’d try to break in?” Shin whispered.
“We didn’t,” Tatiana breathed from her bed, “but thought it was possibility.”
Shin knew that the bundle of dirty clothing (hers) occupying her bed probably wouldn’t fool the Tutors – it was, after all, the oldest trick in the book – but she got into bed and started feigning sleep.
Brigit paused in the act of brushing her teeth before breakfast. “Why what?” she asked, her mouth muffled by the toothpaste.
“Why help me in? Why even help?”
The Irish setter shrugged eloquently, then spat into the sink. “We’re Red Dorm, we are. If one fails, we all do.”
Shin had to concede the point as she started getting ready for the day.
At breakfast she went over in her mind what she planned to put in her report, carefully choosing to omit exactly how she had managed to elude the guard dogs.
The red panda looked up. “Yes, Miss Cardroy?”
“You were not signed in before the gates closed, yet here you are.”
“Yes, ma’am.” No use arguing that.
The feline nodded. “Bonus points for you and Red Dorm – after I read your report.” She walked off.
Shin’s smile was mirrored by three others.