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       Captain Serrano 2 - Sporting Chance, p.1

           Moon, Elizabeth
 
Captain Serrano 2 - Sporting Chance


  Heris Serrano

  by Elizabeth Moon

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

  Copyright 2002 by Elizabeth Moon. Hunting Party copyright 1993, Sporting Chance copyright 1994, Winning Colors copyright 1995, all by Elizabeth Moon.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

  A Baen Books Original Omnibus

  Baen Publishing Enterprises

  P.O. Box 1403

  Riverdale, NY 10471

  www.baen.com

  ISBN: 0-7434-3552-4

  Cover art by Gary Ruddell

  First printing, August 2002

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Moon, Elizabeth.

  Heris Serrano / by Elizabeth Moon.

  p. cm.

  "Heris Serrano has been previously published in parts as Hunting party,

  Sporting chance and Winning colors."

  ISBN 0-7434-3552-4 (pbk)

  1. Science fiction, American. 2. Serrano, Heris (Ficticious character)Fiction. 3. Women in astronauticsFiction. 4. Life on other planetsFiction.

  5. Interstellar travelFiction. 6. Space shipsFiction. I. Title.

  PS3563.O557 H47 2002

  813'.54dc21 2002023203

  Distributed by Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH

  Printed in the United States of America

  BEWARE

  THEY'RE SENDING IN THE AUNTS!

  "I found Brun and Sirkin," Cecelia informed Heris. "We're all safe." The following pause was eloquent; even over an audio-only link Cecelia could easily imagine Heris searching for a telling phrase.

  "You're not safe," Heris said finally. "You're square in the midst of a military action. This system is under attack by the Benignity; their ships are in the outer system now, and I need that yacht and its weapons . . . not three useless civilians who were supposed to be down on the surface digging in."

  Anger flared. "Civilians aren't always useless. If you can remember that far back, one of them saved your life on Sirialis."

  "True. I'm sorry. It just . . . the question is, what now? I can't get you to safety onplanet . . . if that's safe."

  "So quit worrying about it. Do you think I'm worried about dying?"

  "I . . . you just got rejuved."

  "So I did. It didn't eliminate my eighty-odd years of experience, or make me timid. If I die, I die . . . but in the meantime, why not let me help?"

  A chuckle. She could imagine Heris's face. "Lady Cecelia, you are inimitable. Get yourself up to the bridge; someone will find you a place. I'll let the commander know you're coming."

  "Good hunting, Heris," Cecelia said. She felt a pleasant tingle of anticipation.

  Baen Books by Elizabeth Moon

  Sheepfarmer's Daughter

  Divided Allegiance

  Oath of Gold

  The Deed of Paksenarrion

  Liar's Oath

  The Legacy of Gird

  Hunting Party

  Sporting Chance

  Winning Colors

  Once a Hero

  Rules of Engagement

  Change of Command

  Against the Odds

  Remnant Population

  Sassinak

  (with Anne McCaffrey)

  Generation Warriors

  (with Anne McCaffrey)

  The Planet Pirates

  (with Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye)

  Phases

  Sporting Chance

  Chapter One

  "Of course there is a minor problem," Lady Cecelia said, as she turned to allow her maid to take her stole. A brisk wind tossed cold rain at the windows; it hissed and rattled alternately.

  "Yes?" Heris Serrano eyed her employer with some suspicion. The words "minor problem" had become an all too frequent catch-phrase between them. She resented the niggling delays that prevented their departure; they should have been in space already, two days out on the voyage back to Rockhouse Major. She had begun to long for the ship, and space. Besides, the sooner they got to Rockhouse, the sooner that young troublemaker, the prince, would be off her hands, someone else's responsibility.

  "It's our numbers again." Lady Cecelia waved her maid away, and settled herself into a comfortable chair drawn up before a fireplace. A small fire of real wood crackled on the hearth behind an ornate fire screen. Heris settled in the chair opposite and raised her brows. "I thought we'd be fine," Lady Cecelia went on, "since Bunny's children wouldn't be coming, nor Buttons's fiance. George is still in the hospital, mostly for legal reasons, and I thought I could leave Raffaele and Ronnie here for the rest of the season, under the circumstances." Heris said nothing; her mind busily subtracted the volume and resources needed for those six young people and their servants, and the crew and staff she knew were quitting, and added the same for new crew and the one passenger she knew of. "But that won't work," Lady Cecelia said. She ran one long hand through her short hair, and left it standing up in peaks.

  "Why not?" asked Heris, since it seemed called for.

  "Reasons of State, so I was told. I nearly cancelled my invitation, but that might be embarrassing too, so . . . the Crown Minister insists that if I have the younger闗Mr. Smith aboard, I must have an adequate bodyguard, a cabinet-level minister, and of course the servants. And . . . Ronnie."

  "Ronnie! Why?" Someone had made a serious mistake. She wondered how that had happened. The whole point of bringing Cecelia's nephew Ronnie here in the first place had been to keep him away from the prince.

  "I'm not sure, but it was one of the points made, very firmly. When I added the numbers, it came to fifty-six. That's over our limit, right?"

  "Yesbut how many 'bodyguards' are we supposed to have, and who are they?"

  "They want to send Royal Security"

  "Blast." Heris suppressed the expletives she'd have liked to use.

  "And they want us to wait until they get here. On the ship, with the prince." That went without saying, since he could not be trusted to stay out of trouble anywhere else.

  "And you planned to go where?"

  "Well . . . we have to go back to Rockhouse, to take him home, but after that I'd planned on Zenebra. The Wherrin Horse Trials"

  By now Heris knew enough to recognize that name. Of course her horse-crazy employer would want to be there; she had won Wherrin more times than anyone else. "Umm. And waiting for the Royal Security bodyguard would make us late for that, I'll bet. Silly. We've got former Regular Space Service combat troops, and suitable arms now: we can take care of him."

  "Are you sure?"

  "With Petris and Oblo? We could keep him safe in a small war."

  Cecelia shivered. "Don't say that. It's like saying your horse can't possibly miss a fence."

  "Still. We'd be safer to leave now. I haven't forgotten that smugglers were using your ship. Somewhere there's a very unhappy criminal waiting for delivery of whatever was in the scrubber. And I'd expect the smugglers to come looking for us, eventually. It's not as if we'd be hard to find; everyone knew where you were going from Takomin Roads, and we've filed the trip to Rockhouse in Bunny's computerand with the Crown Minister."

  "Good point. I'll mention that to the Crown Minister, and of course he already has the names of your crew. I assume that until the courts-martial, they were all considered loyal servants of the Crown?"

  "As far as I know. If they weren't, they could have lost us some battles."

&n
bsp; "Fine, then. You set up our departure as you wish; I'll deal with the political end later."

  Heris looked after her employer and shook her head. She had not expected Ceceliawho had seemed to have a one-track mind firmly aimed at horsesto be so effective politically. Of course, she came from a political family, but every family had its black sheep. Heris shivered suddenly. She was, in her own way, the black sheep of her family. Two black sheep don't make a white, she thought, and shivered again.

  In the flurry of preparation, it was hard to remember the last few days with Petris. He was now aboard, supervising the resupply, and (at Heris's suggestion) tucking away the new weaponry before Cecelia decided they didn't need it.

  "Nothing for the ship, I notice," he'd said to her over a secure comlink.

  "No. Not stocked locally. I know; I've already talked to Lady Cecelia about it."

  "Um. Crew rotations?"

  "Well . . . you'll all be on your secondary specialties. We'll have to reorganize quite a bit. Civilian regulations divide the responsibilities a bit differently. There's a manual on it"

  "I found that one," Petris said. She wished she could see him face-to-face, but she needed to be downside just a few hours longer. "But I haven't had the returning crew list from Hospitality Bay yet. Sirkin's the only one staying from the shift up here. You were right, by the way; she's a nice girl and very competent."

  "Glad you agree," said Heris. "About that crew listit was supposed to have been there yesterday. I wonder what's going on? I'll find out."

  When she tried calling the crew hostel at Hospitality Bay, none of her crew answered. That seemed odd; she had sent word several days before that they would be leaving Sirialis shortly. Someone should have been there, ready to take any messages from her. She wished she could dump the whole lot of them and replace them with qualified people. She left an urgent message, and asked the hostel clerk when they were expected back.

  "Sometime tonight, I 'spect, ma'am," the clerk said. "They rented a cat and took it out to Shell Island."

  "Without a comunit aboard?" Heris asked.

  "Well, there is one, but the charge to relay is pretty high. That Mr. Gavin said you might call, and to say they'd be back tonight." Heris grimaced, but it wouldn't help to yell at the hostel clerk.

  "Tell Mr. Gavin to call here at once when he gets in, whatever the hour," she said. Should she threaten? No. Wait and see what was really going on, she reminded herself.

  Gavin's call, relayed to her in the drawing room the green hunt favored, revealed a plot as spiritless as he himself. On the tiny screen of the drawing-room communications niche, he looked sunburnt and nervous.

  "I'm not coming back, Captain," he said. "You'll have to find another chief engineer." It sounded almost smug, but she ignored that. She didn't need him.

  "And the others?" she asked.

  "They don't want to . . . they're not coming either. Not without Lady Cecelia changing . . . I mean, they're not coming." Now his expression was defiant. Heris took a long breath, conscious of the need to control her expression in a roomful of curious and intelligent observers. They couldn't hear what was said, but they could certainly see her reactions.

  "Would you care to explain, Mr. Gavin?" she asked. The edge of steel in her voice cut through his flabby resistance.

  "Well, it's just . . . we . . . they . . . we don't want you for our captain." That last phrase came out all in a rush. "We're not coming back. You don't have a crew. We want to talk to Lady Cecelia. She has to find someone else, or we won't come back to her." When Heris said nothing, momentarily silenced by fury, he blundered on. "It'syou're not fair, that's what it is. You got poor Iklind killed, and you're so rigid and all you do is criticize and you don'tyou don't respect us." It was so outrageous, so ridiculous, that Heris found herself fighting back a sudden incongruous laugh as well as a tirade. The unborn laugh moderated her tone.

  "I see you don't know the situation," she said without even a hint of anger. That seemed to make Gavin even more nervous.

  "I don't It doesn't matter," he said, almost stammering. "It doesn't matter what happenedwhat you say; we're not coming back as long as you're the captain."

  "I see," Heris said. "Perhaps I'd better let you speak to Lady Cecelia." She waved her employer over, and stepped away from the comunit, out of its pickup range, for a moment. In brief phrases, she explained Gavin's message, and watched almost amused as Lady Cecelia went white with fury and then red.

  "Damn them!"

  "No . . . think a moment. They're incompetent, lazy, and we wanted to get rid of them anyway. Now they're also in legal jeopardyand you have the reins. They don't know what's happened over herenone of it. They don't know you have a crew already. Have fun, milady!" Heris grinned, and after a last glower, Lady Cecelia grinned, too. She beckoned Heris to join her at the comunit niche.

  Gavin's self-pitying whine had scarcely begun when Lady Cecelia cut him off with a terse and almost certainly inaccurate description of his ancestry, his progeny, his intellect, and his probable destination. Heris decided that foxhunting offered unique opportunities for invective, and found her own anger draining away as Cecelia continued her tirade.

  "And I shall certainly file suits for breach of contract," she wound down, "and I daresay Lord Thornbuckle will be investigating you to see if you're involved in this other affair."

  "But Lady Cecelia," whined Gavin. "What other affair? And whyI mean, we've served you" She cut him off, and turned to face Heris, breathing heavily.

  "How was that?"

  "Fine. And since we know you had one smuggler in the group, I would carry through on that threat to have them investigated."

  "I certainly will," Cecelia said. She stalked off, her tall angularity expressing indignation with every twitch of her formal skirt. Heris excused herself early and went upstairs to contact Petris again.

  "So we're going out short-crewed," Heris said. She was not unhappy about it. "By civilian standards, that is. And over-crewed on the house-staff side, considering Lady Cecelia's guests this round." The prince had his own set of servants, and Cecelia insisted on adding another cook.

  "Looks adequate to me, Captain," Petris said. He had worked up a crew rotation. "We could use two or three more, but"

  "But you're right, this is adequate. If we don't run into trouble, and if everyone works at Fleet efficiency. Which I expect you will. Something to consider is that we can hire replacements to fill out the list at Rockhouse Major. And we might think of hiring ex-Fleet personnel, while we're about it."

  "Are you looking for trouble, Captain?" Petris's dark eyes twinkled.

  "No. But I expect it anyway." A tap at her door interrupted. "Ohthat'll be Bunny's daughter Bubbles, I expect." She had forgotten, thanks to Gavin, that she'd agreed to talk to Bubbles after she went up to her room. "She's insisted on talking to me." Petris grinned at her expression.

  "Whatdo you think she wants to come along?"

  "Yes, and I can't let her. And I don't like the role she's casting me in."

  "You'll do her no harm," Petris said.

  "That's what her father told me," Heris said, shaking her head. "I'll get back to you shortly." She closed the uplink, and turned to the door of her suite. The blonde girl she'd first seen passed out drunk on a couch in the yacht had changed beyond recognition, and although being in mortal danger changed most people, this was exceptional.

  "Captain Serrano," the young woman said. She stood stiffly, as if in a parody of military formality.

  "Yesdo come in. We had a small crisis aboard, and I was just dealing with it."

  "Iif this is a bad time" She had flushed, which made her look younger.

  "Not at all. Between crises is an excellent time." Heris led the way to a pair of overstuffed chairs beneath the long windows, and gestured as she sat in one of them. "Have a seat."

  The girl sat bolt upright, not her usual posture, and looked like a young officer at a first formal dinner. Heris wondered again what this was about
. Her father had refused to give any hints; Heris's own experience was that when young people preferred to talk to a relative stranger, the topic was usually embarrassingat least for the youngster. But she didn't know what, in the current state of the aristocracy, would be likely to provoke embarrassment. What "rules" could such a girl have brokenor be planning to breakwhen most of society's rules didn't affect her at all?

  "I want to change my name," the girl said, all in a rush, as if it were a great confession. Heris blinked. She would never have allowed herself to be called Bubbles in the first place, and she could understand why the girl would want to change . . . but not why anyone would object. Was this the big problem? Surely there was more.

  "Bubbles doesn't really fit you," she said cautiously.

  "No, not now." The girl waved that off as if it were trivialwhich is what Heris thought it. "My full name's Brunnhilde Charlotte, and Raffa and I thought Brun would be a good version. But that's not the whole problem."

  "Oh?"

  "Nomy parents are willing to give up Bubbles, though Mother would prefer some other variation, but it's the other part . . ."

  The other part meaning what, Heris wondered. She sat and waited; youngsters usually told you more if you did.

  "It's . . . the family name." Aha. That would cause a row, she could see. "I haven't told them yet, but I know they won't like it." They would more than "not like it" if she wanted to give up her family name; they would, Heris suspected, be furious and hurt. The girlBrun, she tried to think of her nowwent on. "It's just that I've always been Bubbles, Bunny's daughterLord Thornbuckle's daughterand not myself. I feeldifferent now. When we were in the cave" Ah, thought Heris. The rapid personal maturation by danger has left behind the social immaturity. "I realized I didn't feel like who I was. I mean, I felt different, and it didn't match." She took a deep breath and rushed through the rest. "I want to change my name and go into the Regular Space Service and learn how to really do things and find out who I am."

 
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