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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2006 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Shin glanced back at the man who had groped her, and her lips curled back from her teeth as he leered drunkenly. He was feline, and despite the whisky in her system she realized that she had to do something about his behavior. She leaned over to Liberty and said, “I’ll - be jusht a moment.” She tried hard to keep her voice from slurring.
The half-coyote said in a strangely affable tone, “Okay,” and took a half-step back. She blinked, apparently having trouble focusing.
The red panda waved at the bartender and asked the huge boar, “What time is it?”
He squinted at the clock and replied, “Almost half-past five.”
“Thanks.” She turned on her quarry, cocked a fist, and struck him hard in the nose just as the clock chimed the half-hour. As he reeled back, his friends started toward her, and the harsh tinkle of a bottle being broken caused the crowd to go quiet.
Shin dodged the thrust by the fur with the broken bottle, taking it from his paw and breaking his wrist in the process, then kneeing another in the groin. She sidestepped a thrown chair and grabbed the man who threw it, a short-haired terrier who barely came up to her chin. “Run along and play,” she urged, throwing him over a nearby table as she concentrated on parrying blows aimed at her from the other denizens of the bar.
Liberty stood apart from the fight, arms casually folded across her chest. Shin saw her and yelled, “What the hell are you doing, Liberty, marking your territory or something?”
“Hey, you started this fight,” the New Havenite pointed out. When a burly elk rushed past her, Liberty merely nodded at him.
As she watched, the number of people still standing and fighting Shin grew, until she was being pressed back against the bar. The half-coyote flicked an ear when one fur drew a knife.
Liberty came to a decision, nodded to herself and picked up a chair.
“Long live the Revolution!” she shouted at the top of her lungs and slammed the chair into the back of the fur’s head, laying him out cold and shattering the piece of furniture. She grabbed the stoutest remaining piece of wood and started to fight her way through the crowd toward Shin.
The two Songmark girls ended up back to back, fighting hard. Shin spotted a quartet of Naval Syndicate officers who looked as if they were about to sneak out of the bar and guessed that the police would be along shortly. To Liberty she panted, “What kept you?”
“Just watching to see if you’d gotten out of shape,” Liberty replied as she grabbed the short Jack Russell terrier who had earlier tried to hit Shin with a chair and threw him over the bar and into the bartender’s face. The boar roared and grabbed at the thirty-pound sledgehammer hanging over the bar.
“Our cue to leave?” Liberty asked.
Shin replied, “Looks like it.” They grabbed up the rucksacks containing their books and supplies and fought their way to the door, leaving injured and unconscious furs in their wake. The red panda paused at the door, blew a kiss and ran after the half-coyote.
Moments later, they were on one of the last buses running between the base and Seathl, and Shin finally breathed out a long sigh and winced as she kneaded the side of her face with a paw. “I guess I should have ducked instead of trying to slip that last punch,” she remarked.
“Here, let me see,” Liberty offered, and studied the panda for a moment. “Doesn’t look like anything’s broken, but you might have a black eye.” She abruptly chuckled. “And to think – I didn’t give it to you.”
“How many were fighting me?”
“Hmm. Between six and eight. A few managed to get back up after you knocked them down.”
“You might have decided to join in a little sooner, you know,” Shin said tartly. “What made you join in?”
“One guy pulled a knife. And like I said, you started it,” Liberty shot back, “but we finished it.” She seemed quite pleased with that. “Besides, now that I’ve seen you fight people who aren’t students, you do pretty well, for a bourgeois criminal.” She grinned.
Shin’s ears dipped. “Well, if you put it that way, you fight pretty well for a flaming Red.”
The two of them looked at each other for a moment, then started laughing. Shin sat back and commented, “We’ll probably have to get out of here fast, before the police track us down. It wouldn’t do at all to come back to Songmark with a criminal record.” She gingerly pressed a paw to the side of her face.
“Never seemed to stop Beryl or Molly,” Liberty pointed out.
“True, but I’m better than them, and so are you,” the red panda said. “When does your ship leave?”
“In two days.”
“We can’t wait that long,” Shin grumbled, and Liberty’s ears perked at the pronoun. “Are you sure you wouldn’t mind traveling with a bourgeois criminal?”
Liberty paused, her ears dipping as she glanced out the darkened window. Up ahead, the lights of Seathl could be seen. “No, I won’t be seen traveling with a bourgeois, but I will be seen traveling with you.” She smiled at Shin’s surprised look.
“I’m flattered – I think,” Shin said. “Why the change of heart?”
“I realized that we – all of us, even Tatiana – are stronger together than we are apart,” the half-coyote said slowly, as if she had trouble believing that she was saying the words.
“Friends?” Shin asked.
Liberty shot her a sharp look, then grimaced as her ears laid back. “I’m not sure.”
“Well, if we’re stronger together than apart, I suppose that makes us friends – of a sort,” Shin said quietly. She stuck out a paw. “Wo Shin,” she said. “Pleased to meet you.”
Liberty looked at the paw, then took it as she said, “Liberty Morgenstern. Pleased to meet you.”
The two started laughing almost immediately as the bus came to a halt at the city’s main bus station.
“You have done well, Comrade Bryzova,” the tall, thin borzoi said in a clipped tone. He said it as if the idea that she might fail was a patent absurdity. “Your pilot’s certificate will be forwarded to Spontoon from Moskva.”
“Thank you, Comrade,” the sable replied. She smiled proudly. “Ya sluzhityu Sovyetskogo Soyuz.”
The major nodded approvingly, and reached for a fat envelope. He paused before giving it to her and said, “Your last report to our Embassy had an interesting statement in it. Specifically, your assessment that the reason Spontoon is not yet a socialist republic is that the population is composed of kulaki. Is that not so?”
“Yes, it is, Comrade.” If she hadn’t meant to use the word, it would have been left unsaid.
The officer considered briefly, then said, “That is also the assessment of some of our observers at the Embassy. Your next assignment will be to determine if these Spontoonies can be educated to embrace the socialist ideal as determined by Comrade Starling.” He held out the envelope to her. “Here are your travel papers and your cover identity,” he said. “Read the pertinent documents, commit them to memory and return them to me.”
“Yes. Comrade.” Tatiana opened the envelope and started reading, occasionally glancing at the appropriately weathered passport. She blinked at the picture, and realized she’d need quite a bit of dye (and maybe some fur trimming) in order to resemble the weasel pictured on the document. She glanced at the major. “A typist, comrade?”
“Not the most original cover, true, Comrade,” the older fur replied, “but very useful. Our Embassy on Spontoon had a few clerks rotate home, and you will be traveling with their replacements.”
“I understand, Comrade,” Tatiana said. She smiled and passed the dossier back to him. “I’d better get ‘Comrade Ivanova’ ready to head for Spontoon.”
The other Songmark girls who had had to visit New Penzance for their pilot’s exams couldn’t believe their eyes. Brigit Mulvaney had somehow managed to last the entire three days of her stay without suddenly breaking into the armory, supplying herself with grenades and committing mayhem on the Royal Air Force officer’s mess. Although the Irish setter would seethe to herself at times, she was apparently determined to be on her best behavior. Some bets were still being taken on whether she would lose her temper, however – and what might happen when she did.
But after receiving word that she had passed and would be receiving her certificate in the mail, she amazed the others by actually thanking the flight captain who had been their chief proctor. She even shook paws with the man, while visibly resisting the urge to break his arm.
The Irish girl had then packed up her small suitcase and started walking toward the town. When one of the other second-years asked her where she was going, Brigit replied, “I’m findin’ m’ride an’ getting’ out o’ here fast – before these . . . “ She followed up with a long series of maledictions and descriptive epithets in Gaelic as she headed down the road.
The weather was scorchingly hot, with no wind, few clouds and the equatorial sun bearing down on her as she walked. Her tongue was almost hanging out by the time she reached the town, and she stopped at a small bar for a drink. She recalled the pineapple liquor she’d sampled in Hawai’i the previous summer, and hoped that these islands were keeping up the tradition.
She had to stifle another bout of swearing when she discovered, to her horror, that there wasn’t a drop of alcohol to be had. Forced to settle for a cold glass of fruit juice, she dug into a pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. The slip bore the address of the hotel where Hao was staying, in both English and Chinese. He had assured her that the Chinese writing wasn’t a set of instructions on how to kidnap her.
But he had smiled when he’d said it.
After getting directions from a passing native, she set off for the Chinese quarter, alert for any trouble.
The place wasn’t a quarter – more like a shilling, Brigit thought as she waded through the press of people. Virtually no one there, it seemed, spoke English, but one or two furs pointed her in the right direction after glancing at her note. The heat was stifling and the mixture of scents and smells almost had her head swimming by the time she reached the Lucky Number Hotel, a dilapidated-looking two story structure.
Brigit stepped into the building and stopped as several furs, Chinese and Malays, turned to stare at her. The lobby was huge and an open balcony ran right around the perimeter of it, so that customers on the second floor could watch the activities below. Resisting the urge to let her tail droop under that regard, she made her way to the bar and waved to get the bartender’s attention.
The fur behind the bar, a grinning feline wearing a native lava-lava and a spotless white cotton shirt, listened to her attentively as she tried to make herself heard above the crowd noise. “I’m looking for Ni Hao,” she said loudly.
The feline nodded and said cheerfully, “Ni hao-may.”
“Ni Hao may what?” she repeated, confused.
After several minutes of this conversation, she finally made herself sufficiently understood and he nodded enthusiastically. “Eeeh, Ni Hao, missy? Ahh, moment, never mind.” He raised his voice and started haranguing a waiter in voluble Chinese. The waiter passed the word along and finally someone on the balcony shouted Hao’s name.
Brigit looked up as a door banged open and the young red panda stepped out, wearing boxer shorts, an undershirt and a shoulder holster that bore a large automatic pistol. His fur looked recently brushed, but not so well-brushed as to hide the scars that showed through the dark fur on his arms.
She thought the scars made him look more mature, and she felt her tail wag.
The Irish girl started to wave to him, but hesitated as she saw a feline seemingly barely as old as herself and clad in a thin silk nightgown step out of the room and lay her paws on Hao’s shoulders.
“What the hell’s the trouble, Jin? Can’t a guy – oh! Hi, Brigit!” the red panda called out, switching from Chinese to English and waving at the red-furred setter.
Brigit cocked an eyebrow and planted her paws on her hips. Others in the crowd saw her, saw who she was looking at, and stopped what they were doing in order to watch what transpired. “An’ a good day ta ye, Ni Hao,” Brigit said loudly. “Pardon me fer askin,’ but who’s that behind ye?”