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Cadet Cruise by David Drake - Baen Books


Cadet Cruise

David Drake


Pennyroyal knew that Cadet Leary was supposed to have remained aboard the Swiftsure until 1700 hours with the rest of the Starboard Watch. That said, she'd gotten to know Daniel Leary pretty well during their three years at the Academy. When she couldn't locate him in their accommodation block or the cable tier where he was supposed to be on duty until 1630, she suspected that Leary had managed to slip ashore with the Port Watch.

It was more out of whim than from any real expectation of finding the other cadet that Pennyroyal went out on the hull through a forward airlock. The Dorsal A antenna was raised while the Swiftsure was docked in Broceliande Harbor. Daniel was sliding down a forestay, his rigging gauntlets sparking against the steel wire. A bosun's mate named Janofsky was following him down.

"You're supposed to be inspecting cable, Leary," Pennyroyal called, amazed and a little exasperated at what her friend got up to. "If an officer catches you fooling around in the sunshine, you'll lose your liberty. At least your liberty."

Daniel Leary wasn't any more interested in astrogation theory than Pennyroyal herself was, but he had an obvious gift for astrogation. He could be a valuable officer of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy—if he weren't booted out of the Academy before he graduated. Leary treated discipline the way he did religion: it was all very well for others, if they really wanted to go in for it.

"Pardon, ma'am, but that's just what we're doing," said Janofsky, touching his cap. "I directed Cadet Leary to inspect the standing rigging of Dorsal A under my supervision."

In theory the cadets were classed as landsmen: they were junior to able spacers, let alone to a warrant officer like Janofsky. In practice, outside of actual training many of the Swiftsure's cadre treated cadets like the officers they would become when they graduated.

Now with the Republic of Cinnabar and the Alliance of Free Stars in an all-out war, spacers were valuable commodities. It was necessary to provide cadets with practical experience before they were commissioned, but a training ship's complement tended to be made up of personnel who for one reason or another could be spared from front-line combat vessels.

Some of the Swiftsure's cadre had persistent coughs, stiff limbs, or were simply old: Janofsky probably wouldn't see seventy again. Others drank or drugged or were a little funny in the head.

But no few were ring-tailed bastards who were doubly hard on cadets. Cadets had the chance of bright futures, which none of those in a training ship's cadre could imagine would dawn for them.

"Ah," said Pennyroyal. She didn't believe the story, but it couldn't be disproved if Janofsky was willing to swear to it. Captain Landrieu herself couldn't punish Cadet Leary, and a veteran spacer like Janofsky knew that he was effectively beyond discipline. Old though he was, the bosun's mate carried out his duties—both working ship and training—with a skill that set him above most of the cadre.

"Come to that, Penny," Leary said, "you knocked off early yourself, not so?"

"I was on galley duty," Pennyroyal said. "With three quarters of the crew ashore, there was bugger all to do by mid shift. Cookie excused me and the other cadets. I wanted to find you."

Janofsky had gone below, leaving the two of them alone on the ship's spine. Though the Swiftsure was nearly sixty years old, she was still a battleship. She loomed over not only the rest of the harbor traffic but the buildings of Broceliande, none of which were over six stories high.

Foret was subject to the Cinnabar Empire—a Friend of Cinnabar if you wanted to be mealy-mouthed. It was a pleasant enough planet but of no real importance in galactic politics, making it a natural port call for an RCN training vessel. Part of what an RCN officer needed to know was how to behave on worlds which had their own cultures. Foret provided that, and the trouble you could get into on Broceliande stopped short of being eaten by the locals. There were ports where that wasn't true.

'I didn't mean to seem mysterious, Penny," Daniel said after glancing around. "Janofsky was doing a favor for me and I didn't want to embarrass him in front of a stranger. Which you pretty much are to him."

"And you're not?" said Pennyroyal. The sun, setting beyond the harbor mouth, stained pink the white-washed facades of buildings. The landscape beyond the city was heavily wooded. The ordinarily dark-green native foliage had a purplish cast in slanting light.

"I met Janofsky when I was six, in my Uncle Stacey's shipyard," Daniel said. "I didn't remember that—remember Janofsky, I mean. There must've been hundreds of spacers dropping by to give their regards to their old captain. Janofsky had been a young rigger on the Granite, the dedicated exploration vessel that Uncle Stacey made his Long Voyage in."

"When they discovered twenty-seven worlds that'd been lost to civilization for two thousand years?" Pennyroyal said. She had known that Daniel's "Uncle Stacey" had been in the RCN, but until now she hadn't connected the name with Commander Stacey Bergen, the most famous explorer in Cinnabar history. "No wonder you're such an astrogator!"

"I had a leg up," Daniel agreed with a slight smile. "Uncle Stacey never got rich, but the spacers who served under him say he was the greatest man who ever lived. The greatest captain, anyway. Janofsky asked about Uncle Stacey when I came aboard the Swiftsure, and I asked him to make some contacts for me in the shore establishment here when he went on liberty yesterday."

"Well, as a matter of fact," Pennyroyal said, "it was about liberty that I wanted to talk to you. You remember that story Vondrian and Ames told, about going on liberty on Broceliande with a ship's corporal?"

"Yes, I certainly do," Daniel said, his expression suddenly guarded. The corporals were the assistants to the Master at Arms, the ship's policemen. "They went to a gambling house that was raided by the police. One of the guards started shooting. If Vondrian hadn't been able to bribe the police to release him and the other cadets, they'd have been jailed for conspiracy to murder."

"Well, I always suspected that was a set-up," Pennyroyal said. "Today I heard that one of the ship's corporals, Platt, had offered to guide a group of cadets to a place at a distance from the harbor where the drinks were higher class. I remembered Vondrian's story and thought we ought to warn the others."

Pennyroyal could have done that herself, but she knew that if the story came from Leary it would be believed. If she told people what she'd heard during a night of drinking with two friends from an earlier class at the Academy, she'd be mocked as faint-hearted. An RCN officer with a reputation for cowardice wouldn't stay an RCN officer long.

There were plenty of people, instructors as well as cadets, who thought Daniel Leary was bumptious, a fool, and even certifiably mad. The rumor about him pleasuring the commandant's daughter in the Academy chapel justified any of those descriptions—and Pennyroyal, who had been on watch in the choir loft, knew the story was true.

Nobody thought Leary was a coward.

"Well, as it chances . . . ," Daniel said carefully. "I had heard about the expedition and thought I'd join it. I'm not fancy about what I drink, but Platt says the women are higher class too. They do interest me."

"Are you joking?" said Pennyroyal, but he clearly wasn't. There had to be something behind Leary's bland smile, though.

Another thought struck her. "Say!" she said. "Is your man Hogg going along? I don't doubt he's a real bruiser even if he does look like a hayseed with maybe two brain cells to rub together, but you can't muscle your way through a dozen cops!"

"Umm, Steward's Mate Hogg has business of his own to attend to tonight, he told me," Daniel said. "He's not really my man, you know. He insisted on following me from the Bantry estate when I broke with my father and entered the Academy, but I can't afford to keep him. He's living on his pay and whatever he might add to that by playing cards."

Hogg's winnings were greater than his RCN pay, from what Pennyroyal had seen in the galley; but however the former Leary tenant made his living, he continued to refer to Daniel as "the young master." Still, Hogg doubtless had a life beyond service to Cadet Leary.

Pennyroyal stared at her friend. "What are you planning, Leary?" she said. "You've got something on."

Daniel shrugged. "I plan to go to a high-class entertainment establishment . . . ," he said. "And have a good time. That's all."

"If you're going, then I'm going along," Pennyroyal said. "That's flat. Understood?"

This time Daniel grinned. "You know I'm always glad to have you beside me, Penny," he said. "But don't act surprised at anything you may hear, all right?"

"All right," said Pennyroyal, grinning back. ""It's about time we change to go on liberty, then."

She wasn't sure it would be a night she'd remember as "a good time," but she knew it would be interesting.

***

Pennyroyal and Leary had bunks near one another in the stern. The accommodations block already swarmed with cadets changing into the clothes they would wear on liberty. A few cadets had sprung for gray 2nd class dress uniforms. Though only commissioned or warrant officers had a right to wear Grays, senior cadets were customarily allowed the privilege.

That wasn't an issue with Pennyroyal: she couldn't afford to buy anything unnecessary until she graduated and was commissioned as a midshipman. Midshipman's pay wasn't much, but it was something.

"Leary, where did you get those!" Pennyroyal said as she finished pulling on the clean utilities she would be wearing and got a good look at her friend—wearing Grays.

"Umm, they're from a hock shop on the Strip," Daniel said, touching his left lapel with two fingers. There was barely visible fading where rank tabs had been removed. "A mate of Janofsky's tailored them for me. Some of these senior spacers do better work than you could get on the ground."

"Right, but you were broke!" Pennyroyal said. "Where did you find the money?"

"I was broke," Daniel said. "But I found the money. I'll explain it later, but for now I want to catch Platt before he leaves his cabin."

Pennyroyal fell in beside Leary, though he was walking toward the pair of aft companionways instead of the set amidships with the rest of the cadets. She said, "But we're supposed to gather in the main boarding hold at 1730. At least that's what I heard."

"I had a different idea," Daniel said. "Don't worry, we'll get there."

They skipped up the companionway in a shuffle of echoes. Even with only two of them in the steel tube, their boot soles on the nonskid treads were multiplied into a whispering chorus as overwhelming as surf in a storm.

Most warrant officers bunked in curtained cabins ahead of the racks of the common spacers. The master at arms and his—hers, on the Swiftsure—four corporals were a deck above for their own safety and comfort.

The ship's police were responsible for enforcing the ship's discipline. Even the best masters at arms were corrupt to a degree: there would be gambling during a long voyage despite regulations; limiting it to a few rings which paid for the privilege was better for discipline that a rigid ban.

The Swiftsure's police were at the far wrong end of the corruption scale, however. What Pennyroyal had seen since she and the rest of the cadets boarded made her even more sure that Vondrian, known to be wealthy, had been set up by the ship's corporals in collusion with locals.

She and Leary left the companionway and almost collided with a lieutenant whom Pennyroyal didn't know by name. She jumped to the side of the narrow corridor and snapped a rather better salute than Leary, ahead of her, managed.

"What in blazes are you two doing on this level?" the lieutenant demanded. His words weren't slurred, but the odor of gin enveloped them.

"Sir!" said Daniel, holding his salute. "Corporal Platt ordered us to attend him in his quarters, sir!"

"Platt?" the lieutenant said with a grimace. "Bloody hell."

He pushed past and into the companionway. He had not returned the salutes.

Leary apparently knew exactly where he was going. They were nearly at the sternward end of the corridor when he stopped at a door, not a curtain, and knocked on the panel.

"Cadets Leary and Pennyroyal reporting, Corporal," he called toward the ventilator.

For a moment there was no response; then Platt jerked the light steel panel open. He held a communicator attached by flex to the flat-plate display against the outer bulkhead. There was a scrambler box in the line.

Platt's scowl turned into a false smile. He took off his headphones and said, "I was on my way down in a few minutes, Leary. I just needed to take care of a few things for tonight."

"We came about tonight, Corporal," Daniel said. "Pennyroyal and I had the notion of just the two of us going with you. Instead of thirty or forty cadets chipping in for a cattle car or whatever you've got laid on, I thought I could spring for a taxi. All right?"

"Umm . . . ?" said Platt. He hung the handset and earphones back beneath the display. He was a middle-aged man, balding from the forehead; not fat but soft looking. "Well, if you're willing to pay . . ."

"I don't mind spending my father's money on giving myself a good time," Daniel said. "There was no bloody point in sucking up to the Speaker if I wasn't going to get something out of it."

Pennyroyal felt her face stiffen. In the past Leary had spoken of his politically powerful father only when he was drunk and someone asked him a direct question. His answers then had been uniformly curt and hostile; she would have said that Daniel was more likely to become a priest than ever to make up with his father.

As for money, Daniel had seemed interested in it only when he wanted to buy a round of drinks for the table but didn't have it to spend. The notion that Daniel Leary would patch up a bitter quarrel in order to afford taxi fare was ludicrous—except that was clearly what he had just implied.

"All right, Leary," Platt said. He stepped into the corridor and latched the door behind him. "I'd heard your Hogg saying something like that. Your Old Man's pretty well heeled, ain't he?"

"I'll say he's well heeled," Daniel muttered as Platt led them along the corridor toward the down companionway. "Anyway, it's just too much money to walk away from."

Platt glanced at the cadets; glanced at Leary, anyway. "I'll tell you what we'll do then," the corporal said. "We'll go out through the forward hatch. That's for officers' use, but I can square it. That way we won't run into the rest of your cadets in the main hold, and there's a better class of hire cars waiting."

"Sounds great!" said Daniel. He pulled a hundred-florin coin out of his belt purse. That was even more of a surprise to Pennyroyal than seeing her friend in Grays. "Say, are they all right with Cinnabar money at this club you're taking us to?"

"They're all right with any kind of money at the Café Claudel," said Platt. "And the more, the merrier."

From the purr in the corporal's voice, the same was true of him.

***

"What's the fare in Cinnabar florins, my good man?" Leary asked in an upper class drawl as they pulled up under the porte-cochere.

The hire car was a limousine with room for eight in the cabin, though there were signs of age and wear. The leather upholstery was cracked, much of the gilt was gone from the brightwork, and the soft interior lighting was further dimmed by burned-out glowstrips.

Even so, it was the most impressive private vehicle Pennyroyal had ever ridden in. She wasn't sure that she could have found its equal on her homeworld of Touraine. If she had, it still wouldn't have been carrying the orphan daughter of a parish priest.

"Thirty Cinnabar florins, master!" chirped the driver through the sliding window into the cab.

"Bloody hell, Leary!" Pennyroyal said. "Ten'd be high! It's not but three miles from the harborfront!"

A pair of husky servants in white tunics and gold braid opened the car's double doors. They weren't carrying weapons.

"Here you go," Daniel said, handing a fifty-florin coin through the window. "If you're still around when I'm ready to leave, there may be another one for you—but I'm on a twenty-four hour liberty and I don't expect to end it early."

Platt had gotten out of the vehicle and was waiting beside the house attendants. Pennyroyal got out with Daniel following her. The driver called, "I'll be right here in the VIP lot, master. You can count on me!"

"I dare say we can, for that kind of money," Pennyroyal muttered.

"My father always said 'Spend money to make money,'" Daniel said cheerfully. "Well, that was one of the things he said. Regardless, Corder Leary certainly made money."

Café Claudel must have originally been a country house, though Pennyroyal had gotten only a glimpse of the building as the limousine approached by a curving drive. The gardens facing the house seemed overgrown, though the late evening light wasn't good enough for certainty.

Platt led the cadets up steps to the doorway where an attractive blond woman wearing a morning coat and striped trousers waited. "Say, Dolly?" Platt said as they approached. "These two are with me. See that they're treated right, okay?"

"The Claudel treats all of its guests properly, Master Platt," the woman said with a professional smile. She was older than Pennyroyal had thought from a distance.

"I need to talk to Kravitz," Platt said. "Is he—there he is."

He turned and said, "I need to chat with the manager, Leary. You two come in and have a good time, okay?"

A trim little man with a goatee had just entered the anteroom from the lobby. The corporal went off with him. The doorkeeper's eyes followed them, then returned to Pennyroyal and Leary.

"You'll find a bar to the left within," the blond said. "There's gaming off the lobby to the right. Upstairs, if you're interested in no limit games . . . ?"

She raised an eyebrow.

"No!" said Pennyroyal, more fiercely than she had intended.

"I might be later," Daniel said, "but just for now I'm hoping to find a drink."

"The Claudel's cellar is famous," the doorkeeper said, "and we have a wide range of off-planet spirits also. If your particular preference isn't available, our bartenders can suggest a near approximation, I'm sure."

Pennyroyal wondered what the staff would suggest if she asked for industrial ethanol, the working fluid used in the Power Room, cut with fruit juice. They could probably find a high-proof vodka with a similar kick—though at much higher price. But that was another matter . . .

"And perhaps . . . " Daniel added, "a friend or two to show me the establishment's sights. Eh?"

The doorkeeper's smile was minuscule but real. "I think you'll be able to meet someone congenial in the lobby, sir," she said. "If not, a word to any staff member will bring a further selection. And there are rooms upstairs for whatever sort of discussions you'd like to have."

A group—two older men and a woman of their age, accompanied by three much younger women—arrived. Daniel and Pennyroyal stepped into the lobby to clear the anteroom.

Pennyroyal whispered to Daniel, "This place is way beyond my budget, Leary. Even if the drinks are cheap. Look at the clothes these people are wearing!"

"Give me your hand, Penny," Daniel said. "I'm pretty sure they aren't going to throw you out for hunching over a beer and looking miserable, but right now you're part of my protective coloration."

"Pardon?" said Pennyroyal. When she didn't move, Daniel took her right wrist in his left hand and pulled it toward him, then gripped her right hand with his own. There were two large coins in his palm.

"Leary, I can't take this!" she whispered, closing her fingers over the coins. They were hundreds from the size.

"I'll get it back, Penny," Daniel said cheerfully. "Trust me on that."

Grimacing, Pennyroyal transferred the money—two gold-rimmed hundred-florin pieces, all right—to her purse. What in blazes is going on?

The lobby was a high room with a railed mezzanine; the three tall windows at the back were capped with arched fanlights. The zebra-striped bar, running the full depth of the room, was staffed by three female bartenders. Daniel walked up to the youngest-looking and took out another hundred-florin coin.

"Can you break this for me, my dear?" he said, holding it up between thumb and forefinger.

"Certainly sir," the woman—close up, she was over thirty—said. "Do you care what form the change is in?"

"So long as I can spend it here, it doesn't matter," Daniel said with a laugh. "I don't expect to have any left when I leave."

Pennyroyal assumed the bar was made of extruded material. Daniel rapped it with his knuckles and said, "Natural wood, by the gods! Is it native to Foret, my dear?"

"I believe it is, sir," the bartender said, her eyes on the small stacks of coins and scrip she was arraying on the bar in front of herself. "But from the southern continent. Master Kravitz may have more details."

"Ale for my friend and myself just now," Daniel said, who had been sweeping his eyes around the room. There were forty-odd people in the lobby, half of them at the bar. He glanced at the price list on the back wall between a pair of paintings—mythological, presumably, since the men and women had feathered wings. He slid a local note back to the bartender. As she turned to draw the beers, Daniel stuffed a similar note into the brandy snifter of tips for her station.

"Let's circulate, shall we, Penny?" Daniel said as they turned away. On the couches between the windows and to either side of the anteroom sat attractive women and men, not couples though mostly in pairs. He sipped his beer and added, "Not bad at all."

Without changing his mild expression, Daniel said, "I'm not one to preach, Penny, but we might decide to leave here rather suddenly. I'll probably be nursing this—"

He tapped the rim of his earthenware stein with a fingernail; it rang softly.

"—a lot longer than you're used to seeing me do."

Pennyroyal grinned. "Well, don't do anything I wouldn't do, Leary," she said. "Unless it involves those women, in which case feel free."

Pennyroyal walked toward the gaming room. She didn't like beer well enough to have an opinion as to whether this was a good brew, but she hadn't needed Leary's warning to decide that she wasn't going to get drunk tonight.

She didn't have any idea what Leary was planning, but she was rather looking forward to it. And that meant being fully ready for action when the time came.

RCN forever!

***

The gaming room was large enough not to be crowded by what Pennyroyal estimated as over two hundred people. The roulette table near the door was getting the most attention, but it held no interest for her. She kept moving toward the windows at the back, checking each table as she passed.

Everyone, even among the attendants, was better dressed than Pennyroyal. Nobody seemed to care, though. And at least her utilities were brand new, though after tonight they would be going into the regular rotation with her other two sets.

On a two-step dais in a back corner, a young man with a faraway expression plucked a harp. In the corner across from him was a 21 table with modest amounts showing and two empty chairs. The pair of windows reached down to the floor; they could be swung open.

Pennyroyal took a chair and turned one of Leary's hundreds into chips. The table limit turned out to be the equivalent of seven florins. She stayed at five, playing carefully but not cautiously. She was a moderately skillful player—astrogation was a great deal more complex that keeping track of the cards already showing on the table—and she was perfectly willing to lose the whole two hundred florins plus her own eighty-five while she waited for something to happen.

The others around the arc of the table were locals; their garments, viewed closely, showed signs of wear. Their haunted expressions were an even clearer hint that they were on the downslope of life. The dealer was young and sometimes fumbled when she took a card from the shoe; occasionally Pennyroyal caught a flash of contempt on her face.

At least in part because Pennyroyal was alert but unconcerned about the results, she began to win. She stuck to her limit so that the results came in five-florin increments, but by the time she'd taken her third beer from a server she had more than doubled her stacks of chips.

The only other thing of interest that happened was that the harpist picked out a song Pennyroyal recognized as "Sergeant Flynn," about an ancient military disaster. Her father had been a trooper with the Land Forces of the Republic before he returned home and joined the Church.

Parson Pennyroyal didn't drink often, but when he did he was apt to sing that one: "Your head is scalped and battered, and your men are dead and scattered, Sergeant Flynn. . . ."

Pennyroyal didn't touch her beer after that played. She'd known from earliest childhood what it meant to go into action. Tonight she was going into action.

She kept an eye open for anything of interest in the room. Daniel passed through once with a pair of redheads: one plump, the other willowy. Pennyroyal nodded to her fellow cadet, then smiled faintly and returned to her cards. Daniel was a bright, personable fellow, but the women he chose were as dim as they were lovely.

She didn't see Platt until shortly after she'd taken her third beer. The ship's corporal came from behind the dais where a wall concealed a passageway. Pennyroyal had noticed members of the house staff passing to and fro that way during the evening, so presumably it was the office.

The rest rooms were on either side of the doorway to the lobby and bar. That had surprised Pennyroyal initially; then she realized that the location encouraged those who had entered the gaming room to remain here rather than to leave for any reason.

There was even a small bar between the back windows. Servers shuttled between it and the players, sometimes without being summoned. Regardless of its other virtues, the Café Claudel appeared to be skillfully run.

Daniel returned with a different pair of women—girls, rather; this time they were brunette and both petite. Platt was standing near a poker table, but he showed no sign of wanting to sit at one of the empty chairs.

A man came in from the lobby, heading straight for Platt. Though he was in a business suit, Pennyroyal recognized  Riddle, another ship's corporal from the Swiftsure. He rushed past Daniel as though he hadn't noticed the cadet. Pennyroyal had seen that when Riddle had scanned the room on entry, his eyes had paused briefly on Daniel.

The two corporals spoke. Riddle waved his arms in apparent agitation. Pennyroyal scooped her chips together and dumped them into the right bellows pocket of her trousers. That was a big advantage of wearing utilities instead of more stylish clothing.

The other players looked at her in various mixtures of concern and puzzlement. The dealer paused with a faint frown and said, "Mistress?"

Platt and Riddle were heading for Leary. Pennyroyal rose from her seat and reached her fellow cadet just as the corporals did.

"Tim says there's about to be a raid!" Platt said. "We've gotta get you two out of here through the manager's office. It turns out the place is over the line and your liberty is only good for Broceliande!"

"Hell and damnation!" Leary said. "If my father hears I've been arrested, I'll be back out in the wilderness!"

That didn't match with what Pennyroyal had heard of Corder Leary's hard-charging personality, but a great deal of what she had seen this night was contrary to what she had thought she knew. She didn't speak.

"This way," said Platt, leading them toward the passage concealed behind the harpist. "There's a tunnel from the office over to the next street."

The floor-length windows on either side of the bar swung inward. People in rust-red uniforms stepped in, carrying batons or in a few cases carbines. Their shoulder flashes read Broceliande Police. More police appeared in the doorway to the lobby and on the mezzanine railing above the gaming room.

"Too late!" said Platt. "I'm afraid you cadets are for it now. Riddle and me are okay because we've got jurisdiction anywhere on the planet, but you two have broken bounds for liberty."

"But you brought us here, Corporal!" Leary said. He sounded desperate. "Surely there's something you can do?"

Pennyroyal felt her lips tighten. Listening to Leary beg disgusted her as well as being a surprise. Leary had broken more than his share of rules—and had several times been caught. In the past he'd always taken his punishment like an RCN officer.

"Riddle, you know the local cops," Platt said. "Can you do something for the kids?"

"Well, that's Commissioner Milhaud," Riddle said, nodding to the man who had just waddled in from the lobby. The police official's uniform showed almost more gold braid than there was russet fabric visible. "But a quick warning, that's one thing. To get them—" he looked at Daniel "—out now is going to cost a bundle. Five grand in florins, at least."

"Can either of you raise that kind of money?" Platt said. Despite his "either of you," he was looking straight at Daniel when he spoke.

"Well, I can," said Daniel. He reached into his purse and brought out a credit chip. Holding it between his left thumb and forefinger, he said, "This is a letter of credit good for up to twenty, if I can get to a real banking terminal."

This is a scam! Pennyroyal thought. What are you doing, Leary?

The words didn't come out of her mouth. Leary had warned her not to show surprise.

"All right, we're in business!" Platt said. "Riddle, you go talk to your buddy. I know Kravits has a terminal in his office. I'll be out with the money in no time at all, and the cadets'll just leave through the tunnel like they was never here."

The crack from outside could have been lightning rather than an electromotive carbine. The lighter crackcrackcrack an instant later was certainly from a sub-machine gun. A slug ricocheted from stone with a high-pitched howl.

Pennyroyal remembered that when Vondrian had been shaken down two years earlier, a guard was supposed to have shot a policeman. There wasn't any need for that charade tonight, though.

The nearest police turned toward the windows they'd just entered by. Dozens of helmeted figures approached across the grounds beyond; they wore dark blue and carried sub-machine guns.

The initial raid had caused only grumbling reaction among the players; Pennyroyal was pretty sure that she'd heard the raddled blond at her table mutter, "Oh, not again!" as police clambered in through the windows.

This was different, and the loudest reactions were from the municipal police. One whispered a prayer and flung down his carbine as though it had been burning his hands.

Riddle had almost reached the gilded Commissioner Milhaud. A squad in blue entered the gaming room and surrounded them. The newcomers' helmets were stencilled Federal Police in black, and their shoulder patches were low visibility.

One spoke, his voice booming through the public address system: "I'm Major Picard of the Federal Police. Those of you who are here for recreation have nothing to fear. We're arresting corrupt members of the Broceliande police force and their civilian accomplices."

Platt snarled a curse and sidled into the passage to the manager's office. Daniel was with him. Pennyroyal followed only a half-step beyond, though she wondered if the Federals now entering the room would have something to say about it. They didn't, but Pennyroyal sneezed from the ozone still clinging to the muzzle of a recently fired weapon.

The door to the right at the end of the short passage was marked Manager/Private. Platt pushed it open and stepped in.

"Why's the lights out!" he shouted. He found the switch plate; his hand was at it when the lights came on an instant later.

A small door in the room's back wall was open. Pennyroyal recognized the man on his back as Kravitz, the manager. The other man was sprawled face-down; his right hand had brought a gun halfway out of his pocket before he dropped. Two more men wearing distorting masks hunched before a banking terminal.

Platt turned to run. Leary grabbed him by the left arm. Platt's sleeve broke away and his right hand came up wearing a knuckleduster.

Pennyroyal caught the corporal's right wrist and was twisting it backward when Leary slammed Platt's head into the doorjamb. Platt slumped limply. The weapon clanged when Pennyroyal let go of his arm.

The kneeling men pulled off their masks. "I think that's got it," said Janofsky, the bosun's mate.

"Lock the door, will you, ma'am?" said Hogg, the other burglar. "Nobody's supposed to be coming in after you lot, but there's no point in taking chances."

Pennyroyal was trembling as she shot the two heavy bolts. The action had been too brief to burn up the adrenaline which was flooding her system.

Platt sounded as though he were snoring. He'd need medical help, and soon. Pennyroyal felt a twinge of concern, but not serious enough to say something on the subject.

Hogg drew his mask, a stocking of some shiny fabric, over Platt's head. "Thieves fall out, don't you think?" he said. "Pop it, Janofsky, and see how well we planned this."

"It'll work," said the bosun's mate. He touched a small control device. Six puffs of smoke spurted, three each from left and right of the terminal. The explosions sounded like a single sharp crackle.

There were tools on the floor. Janofsky put a drill stencilled Swiftsure/RCN in a bellows pocket of his tunic. He and Hogg wore ordinary spacer's slops.

"What—" said Pennyroyal.

The terminal's faceplate dropped two inches with a clang, then toppled forward. The manager's outflung hand muffled the second impact. Coins of many kinds spilled from broken chutes.

Hogg tossed an empty sack to Pennyroyal and handed another to Daniel. "You two pick up the spillage," he said, "and I'll open the storage cans."

The cadets began scooping handfuls of coins into their sacks. Janofsky was putting another tool in his left pocket, an imaging sensor like those Pennyroyal had seen being used to check welds.

Hogg had filled a bag from the containers at the back of the terminal. It was mostly scrip, but there were also rolls of coins. Pennyroyal had seen at least one bundle of Cinnabar hundreds.

"Time to go," Hogg said as he rose. Janofsky had already started out the door in the back.

Daniel waved Pennyroyal ahead with a grin. She wondered what happened next, but simply doing as directed had worked fine so far tonight.

Why change a winning plan?

***

The tunnel was lighted by glowstrips in the ceiling at long intervals. All they did was show direction: the tunnel kinked twice in what Pennyroyal estimated at 200 yards. There was nothing in the passage except for a central drain, and even that was superfluous at present: the concrete walls were dry to a finger's touch.

There was suction as the door at the far end opened. A pair of Federal police waited outside the exit.

Janofsky passed through. Hogg stopped and set down his bag of loot; Pennyroyal jerked to a halt to keep from running into Daniel's servant.

Hogg fished scrip out of a tunic pocket. "I know you boys 'll be taken care of in the share-out," he said, "but this is a little something from me personally. I appreciate it, right?"

He handed money to each policeman, then picked up his bag and strode on. "Come back any time," a cop called after him. They grinned at Pennyroyal as she passed.

Janofsky was climbing into the back of high-roofed blue van stencilled Federal Police in the same style of black lettering as the police helmets. It's a riot wagon! Pennyroyal thought.

And so it was; but on the bench to the right sat a man whose blue uniform was of higher quality than those of the Federal assault force. Pennyroyal wasn't up on Foret's police insignia, but she was pretty sure that the horsehead on his lapel made him a colonel. The woman beside him wore RCN utilities with Shore Police brassards. Her subdued commander's pips implied that she was in charge of the whole contingent on Foret.

Two clerks sat on the opposite bench, each with a thick tray on his lap. One was dumping the contents of Hogg's bag carefully onto his tray.

"I'll take that," the other clerk said to Pennyroyal—and did so. The trays made small sounds as they sucked in coins and bills, counted them, and dropped them into storage compartments.

Leary closed the door behind him and passed his bag to the nearer clerk. His fellow said, "We may need those extra bins after all." He was breaking rolls and bundles of money so that they could feed individually.

The clerks didn't pay any attention to the cadets except to take their bags. The sorting trays whirred, clicked and occasionally pinged.

The van drove off sedately. Hogg and Janofsky seated themselves below the clerks, so Pennyroyal took the place beside the RCN commander. That officer grinned at her and said, "Impressive work, Cadet."

Pennyroyal swallowed. "Thank you, ma'am," she said. "Ah, ma'am? If I can ask . . .  What's going to happen to us now?"

The commander smiled more broadly. "I suppose you'll report back aboard the Swiftsure at the end of your liberty," she said. "We'll let you out at the edge of the Strip; then you're on your own."

Pennyroyal swallowed. She said, "Thank you, ma'am."

The commander leaned forward to look past Pennyroyal. "You're Leary?" she said. "You planned this?"

"Ma'am, it was my idea," Daniel said, "but the details and the grunt work was all handled by other people. Including yourself, ma'am, and Colonel Lebel."

The commander chuckled and said, "You'll go far, Leary. If you're not hanged first."

The Federal colonel said something from her other side. The officers talked between themselves too quietly for Pennyroyal to overhear without making it obvious.

Turning to Leary on her other side, Pennyroyal said, "Daniel, how long have you been planning this?"

"Since Vondrian told us how he'd been robbed," Leary said. He grinned at the memory. "I didn't know quite how we were going to work it till I met Janofsky when we reported aboard. There's a lot of the Swiftsure's cadre who've been spoiling for a chance to get back at Platt and Riddle. Hogg—"

He nodded toward his servant, who was talking with Janofsky.

"—was talking to people in Harbor Three and elsewhere on Cinnabar. He got names and introductions to members of the Shore Establishment here on Foret. They've been pissed about the games the ship's police have been playing, but they couldn't touch the crooks without help. I said we'd give them help."

Pennyroyal felt herself grinning. "Now I see why you made up with your father, Leary," she said. "That was, well, a surprise."

Daniel's answering smile was hard. "This chip was blank," he said, holding up what he'd claimed was a twenty-thousand florin credit. "I haven't had any contact with Corder Leary since the afternoon I enrolled in the RCN Academy. Saying that I did was just to explain why I suddenly had money. The ship's warrant officers, the good ones, clubbed together and came up with enough florins to make a splash. They'll get a third of the take."

"A third," Pennyroyal repeated.

She hadn't added a follow-up question, but Leary answered without it. "The Federal police get a third. They've been looking for a way to clean up the Broceliande force anyway. And the rest goes to Commander Kilmartin there for her people."

"But you?" Pennyroyal said.

Leary laughed. "I did it for Vondrian and for the RCN," he said. "Getting scum like Platt and Riddle out is worth more than money. I suspect they'll both go down for the burglary—somebody's got to be blamed. At any rate, Kilmartin'll make sure they're off the Swiftsure and out of the RCN."

Pennyroyal brought the remaining hundred out of her purse. "I've still got this," she said. "And a pocket full of chips that probably aren't worth anything. I don't guess the Café Claudel will reopen any time soon."

"Keep it," said Daniel. "Or better, the four of us can tie one on properly on the Strip before our liberty's over!"

Hogg, from the other side of the van, must have been listening. "Bloody good idea!" he said.

"I couldn't agree more," Pennyroyal said. She stretched, feeling relaxed for the first time since the evening had begun.


Copyright © 2016 David Drake


David Drake was attending Duke University Law School when he was drafted. He served the next two years in the Army, spending 1970 as an enlisted interrogator with the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam and Cambodia. Upon return he completed his law degree at Duke and was for eight years Assistant Town Attorney for Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He has been a full-time freelance writer since 1981. His books include the genre-defining and bestselling Hammer’s Slammers series, the nationally best-selling RCN series (within which this story is set) including In the Stormy Red Sky, The Road of Danger, The Sea without a Shore, and latest entry Death’s Bright Day.


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