Captain serrano 3 winn.., p.1
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       Captain Serrano 3 - Winning Colors, p.1

           Moon, Elizabeth
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Captain Serrano 3 - Winning Colors


  Winning Colors

  Dedication

  This one's for Mary Morell, who introduced me to science fiction in the ninth grade, and then insisted the wonderful (!) stories I wrote in high school were lousy. (She was right.) And for Ellen McLean, who refused to be my friend in the first grade, only to be a better friend later than anyone could ask. And for all the horses, from the horse next door to the little bay mare who presently has her nose in my feed bucket, who enriched my life with everything from (a few) broken bones to the feel of going at speed across country.

  Chapter One

  Twoville, Sublevel 3, on the planet Patchcock,

  in the Familias Regnant

  Conspirators come in two basic flavors, Ottala thought. The bland vanillas, usually wealthy, who meet in comfortably appointed boardrooms or dining rooms, scenting the air with expensive perfumes, liqueurs, and good food. The more complex chocolates, usually impoverished, who meet in dingy back rooms of failing businesses or scruffy warehouses, where the musty air stinks of dangerous chemicals and unwashed bodies. The vanillas, when they cursed, did so with a sense of risk taken, as if the expletives might pop in their mouths like flimsy balloons and sting their tongues. The chocolates cursed without noticing, the familiar phrases embedded in their speech like nuts in candy, lending texture. The vanillas claimed to loathe violence, resorting to it with reluctance, under the lash of stern morality. The chocolates embraced violence and its tools as familiar and comforting rituals. No wonder, since when the vanillas chose violence, they employed chocolates for it.

  Ottala much preferred luxury herself; she considered that a long leisurely soak in perfumed water was the only civilized way to begin the day. She too felt the little shock of surprise when she heard the expletives come out of her own mouth with no immediate punishment. Her skin preferred the sensuous touch of silk; her taste buds rejoiced during elaborate dinners created by talented cooks. But she could not confine her sensuality to the bland end of the spectrum. Vanilla was not enough. In her own mind, she considered her taste for chocolate an expression of unusual sensitivity.

  What she tasted at the moment was the sour underbite of processed protein extruded into pseudo-sausages nested in pickled neo-cabbage. She sat on a hard bench, elbow-to-elbow with the rest of Cell 571, munching the supper that preceded the evening's entertainment. Or so she called it; she was aware that her fellow conspirators considered it more important than anything else they did with their lives.

  Her friends would not have recognized her. Her normally bronze skin had the pallor associated with the underbellies of cave-dwelling amphibians; her dark eyes were masked with blue contact lenses, which also gave her red-rimmed lids, the better to fit in with the locals. She wore the same dark, ill-cut coveralls and had the same fingertip calluses as the others; she had held a real job on the assembly line—with faked papers, which wasn't that unusual—for the past two months.

  It was all a great adventure. She knew things about her family's company that she had never imagined; she would have incomparable tales to tell when she went back topside. Meanwhile, she could eat sour pseudo-sausage, drink cheap wine, use words her parents didn't even know, and find out for herself if the reputation of Finnvardian men was deserved. So far she wasn't sure. . . . Enar had ranked only average on her personal scale, but if Sikar would only look at her . . .

  She finished her supper, as the others finished theirs. Odd, how the same custom held at tables high and low—everyone tried to finish at the same time. Across the room, Sikar stood, and silence spread around him. He was the contact from higher up, the man whose respect they all wanted. Even in the baggy dark clothing, he had presence. Ottala couldn't analyze it; she only knew that she felt his intensity as a pressure under her rib cage. She wanted that pressure elsewhere.

  As usual, Sikar began speaking without preamble. "We, the young, serve the old," he said. "And the old can live forever now, and they expect us to serve forever. We will grow old and die, but they will not. Is this right?"

  "NO!" the room vibrated to that angry response.

  "No. It was bad before, when the old rich first set their hands against the gate of death, but a hundred fifty years is not forever. That is why our fathers and grandfathers submitted; they hoped to afford that process for themselves, and it was limited. But now—"

  "They live forever," a woman's voice interrupted from behind Sikar. "And we work forever, and our children—"

  "Forever." Sikar made the word obscene. "Their children will live forever too; our children will DIE forever." An angry rumble, indistinct, shook the room again. "But there is a chance. Now, while the government is shaken by the king's departure." They had discussed this, night after night, what it meant that the king had resigned. Would it help the cause, or hurt it? Rejuvenants littered both sides of the political scene; almost everyone rich and powerful enough to be a force in the government had been rejuvenated at least once. Apparently the hierarchy had decided: it was a good thing, and now they could act. Ottala pulled her mind back from its contemplation of the aesthetics of Sikar's striking coloring—those fire-blue eyes, the pale skin, the black hair with the silver streak—to listen to his speech.

  "But before we act," Sikar said, "we must purify ourselves. We must not allow any taint of the Rejuvenant to corrupt our purpose. Are you sure—sure—that none among you harbors a sneaking sympathy with those old leeches?"

  "No!" growled the crowd, Ottala among them. Her parents weren't old leeches; they were merely idiot fools. When she had to say these things, she always thought of people she didn't like.

  "Are you sure?" Sikar asked again. "Because I am not. In other cells, we've found those pretending to be with us, and secretly spying on us for the Rejuvenants—"

  "Secretly spying" was exactly the kind of rhetoric that Ottala enjoyed. She curled her tongue around it in her mouth, not realizing until Sikar stood in front of her table what he was leading up to. The tool in his hands, though, clenched the breath in her chest. She recognized it; everyone did, who had ever changed fertility implants. It would locate even unexpired implants, and could be used to remove them. But—no one here had implants. She did.

  "Put out your arms, brothers and sisters," Sikar said. "For this is how we found the traitors before—they had implants."

  She couldn't move. She wanted to jump and run; she wanted to scream, "You don't understand," and she knew that wouldn't work. Sikar smiled directly into her eyes, just as she'd wanted since she'd first seen him, and the people on either side of her forced her arms out flat on the table. The tool hummed; even though she knew she could not really feel anything, she was sure her implant itched. The skin above it fluoresced, a brilliant blue.

  "Perhaps she was a manager's favorite—" said Irena, down the table. She had liked Irena.

  "Perhaps she's an owner's daughter," said Sikar. "We'll see." He pressed the tool to her arm; she had no doubt of the next sensation. No anesthetic spray, no numbing at all—the tool's logic ignored her pain and sliced into her arm, retrieving the implant, and pressed the incision closed with biological glue. Her arm throbbed; she was surprised that she hadn't screamed, but she was still too scared. Those holding her tightened their grips. Sikar held up the implant. "You see? And this tool will tell us whose it is."

  She had forgotten that, if she'd ever known. Implants carried the original prescription codes; that had something to do with proving malpractice. Sikar touched the implant to a flat plate on the tool's side, and laughed harshly.

  "As we suspected. This is no Finnvardian assembly worker. This is a Rejuvenant, child of Rejuvenants, our mortal enemies. This is one who would enslave our children to her pleasure, for all time
."

  "No—" She got that out in a miserable squeak before Sikar slapped her. It hurt more than she had imagined.

  "I hate you!" That was Irena, who had come up behind her and now clouted her head. "You lied to me—you were never my friend—"

  "I was—" But no one was listening. Shouts, growls, curses, those hands tight on her arms, and Sikar staring at her with utter contempt.

  "Rich girl," he said. "This is not a game."

  Before she died, she wanted to revise her earlier opinion, and say that some conspirators tasted of neither vanilla nor chocolate, but of blood. But she could not speak, and no one would have listened if she had.

  Castle Rock: the former king's offices

  Midafternoon already, and they'd hardly made a dent in the day's work. Lord Thornbuckle leaned back in his chair and stretched. "I could be angry with Kemtre about this, too: because he was an idiot, I have to sit here doing his work."

  "You wanted the job." Kevil Mahoney, formerly an independent and successful attorney, had agreed to help his friend in the political crisis left by the king's resignation. "Am I supposed to sympathize? I could be in court, showing off—"

  "As if you'd miss it. No, we're doing the right thing, if we can pull it off."

  "If? The eminent Lord Thornbuckle has doubts?"

  "Your old friend Bunny has doubts. Nothing makes a rabbit nervous like the predator who pretends not to see him. We haven't heard anything from the Benignity; by now, I expected at least one raid."

  "Don't stare at that fox too long, my friend: there are wolves in the world too."

  "As if I didn't—" He paused, as his deskcomp chimed, and flicked the controls. "Yes?"

  "Sorry, milord. An urgent signal from Patchcock. Shall I transfer, or bring it in?"

  "Bring it," Bunny said. "And the coffee, if it's ready." He would have that, at least, no matter what the trouble was.

  One of the senior clerks—Poisson, he thought the name was—came in with a cube, followed by two juniors with a trolley. Poisson waited until they had left before handing over the cube.

  "It's partly encrypted, milord, but I read the part that wasn't. It's the same region on Patchcock where the troubles were before, and apparently a Family heir has gone missing."

  Family. Bunny could hear the capital letter that elevated mere genetic relationship to political power—not just a family, but a Family, one of the Chairholding Families.

  "Ottala Morreline, the second oldest but designated heir of—"

  "Oscar and Vitille Morreline, Vorey sept of the Consellines. Right." One of his own daughter's schoolmates. He remembered Bubbles—no, she was calling herself Brun now—talking about her. Brun hadn't liked her; he remembered that much, though he didn't remember why. The Consellines . . . that extended family had over a dozen Chairs in Council; the Vorey sept, though the minor branch, had five. The Morrelines held four of them. "Kidnapped?" he asked.

  "Ah . . . no. It seems she had disguised herself as a Finnvardian and infiltrated a workers' group—"

  "A Morreline?" The Morrelines had, for the past two centuries at least, chosen to emphasize their darker ancestry. And the video of Ottala that came up when he inserted the cube showed a dark-skinned, dark-haired young woman. A beauty, Bunny noted, remembering now that he had seen her at some social function a year or so before. She had matured, as Brun had, showing more bone structure. But how had this girl imitated a pale, blue-eyed Finnvardian?

  "The family located the skinsculptor. She bought a four hundred day depigmentation package, bleached her hair, wore blue contact lenses—"

  "Why didn't she get an eye job while she was at it? What if she'd dropped a lens?" That was Kevil Mahoney, cross-examining as usual.

  Poisson shrugged. "I couldn't say, sir. When she didn't turn up for her younger brother's seegrin, the family popped her emergency cache, and found her last report. She included a vid of herself after she adopted the disguise, and said she planned to involve herself in a workers' organization to see what it felt like."

  "Ummm." Bunny watched the cube readout. Ottala's disguised self looked very different, he had to admit—if not quite Finnvardian, at least nothing like the Morreline heir. He wondered if she'd had a temporary bone job too—her face seemed to have changed shape as well as color. According to the readout, she had had no trouble buying false IDs, and getting a job in an assembly factory on Patchcock. But she'd dropped out of sight, without notice to her work supervisor or anyone else, some forty days before her family came looking.

  "The problem is, milord, that it's Patchcock. . . ." Bunny looked up.

  "Yes?"

  "I don't know if you knew . . . all about Patchcock."

  "Not really. It was a nasty situation, is all I know, and someone in the Regular Space Service messed up in a major way."

  "I think perhaps you need to read the background briefs." That was far more assertive than Poisson's usual approach, and Bunny stared.

  "Very well. If you'll—"

  "Here they are." A stack of cubes it would take him hours to wade through, all marked with the security code that meant they were encrypted and could be read only with all the room's security systems engaged. Bunny glanced at Kevil, and sighed.

  "Don't remind me that I volunteered for this job. I could cheerfully strangle his late majesty." Poisson, he noticed, had the look he had always imagined concealed satisfaction at landing responsibility on someone else.

  The Patchcock affair, when they finally got it straight late that night, explained a lot of things . . . many more than were explicated in the cubes, revealing as those were.

  "That had to be the stupidest thing Ottala could have done," Kevil said, summing up the latest chapter in the story. "Going undercover in a workers' organization would be risky enough right here in Castle Rock—but on Patchcock! Didn't she know any history?"

  "We didn't," Bunny pointed out. "If she thought it was just a military blunder, if she didn't know how her family came to gain control of the investments there—"

  "She must be dead, you know," Kevil said. "If she were alive, she'd have refreshed her emergency cache."

  "Captive? Held for ransom?"

  "No. My criminal experience tells me she's dead. They found her out somehow, stripped her of any information they could pry out, and killed her. Eventually the Morrelines will figure that out too, and then—then we'll have real trouble."

  "Yes." Bunny thought about the Morrelines: he knew them in the casual way that all the Chairholders knew each other, but they were not really in his set. They didn't hunt, for one thing. But he had dealt with them more than once in business, and in the Council—they were tough, aggressive, and very sore losers. That this could be a self-description he recognized, but that didn't make the prospect of angry Morrelines any more appealing.

  "If we send Fleet back in there, it will only make things worse—"

  "If she's dead already—" If she was dead already, why bother? But he had to know what Ottala Morreline had found, even if he couldn't bring her back. He sighed, and stretched his back out. The whole situation he'd inherited—jumped into, he reminded himself—felt dangerously mushy. Too many things he didn't know, past and present. Too many ways to make mistakes even if he did know everything. And the image of his daughter Brun intruded—Brun had already involved herself in wild adventures, working her way across Familias space as an ordinary spacer. If Brun heard about this, she would insist on going herself to find out about Ottala. Where could he park her safely?

  "At least," Kevil said, stretching in turn, "it'll be a change from this stupid bickering about rejuvenation. Those poor bastards in the mines and factories on Patchcock have more substantial concerns."

  Bunny nodded, but his thoughts kept running to Brun. Finally he thought of the one thing he might be able to do; in the morning he would place a call to Heris Serrano.

  "I must thank you again, for whatever you said to my daughter," Lord Thornbuckle said. He didn't look much like Bunny in his
dark formal suit, in the paneled office. He didn't intend to. "She was, I'm sure, about to do something rash. What she told me afterwards was that she'd planned to run away and join the Regular Space Service anonymously—but I expect it was worse than that."

  "No—or at least, that's what she told me." Heris Serrano had been aboard the yacht, supervising the last of its refitting. Her office aboard looked nothing like his; on the wall behind her were only a military-grade chronometer and the framed certificates of her rating. She had a new uniform, not the loud purple Lady Cecelia had once used, but the same competent expression, the same intelligent dark eyes. She paused a moment, but he said nothing. "She outgrew herself in a hurry, on the island."

  "I know. And she seems to have inherited ancestral temptations to adventure. You know how she got to Rockhouse Major from Rotterdam?" Heris nodded. "Even the unpleasantness she got into didn't dissuade her. And now she wants to use some of her inheritance to finance a small expedition—a small ship, rather, on which she intends to wander around looking for excitement. Responsibly, she assures me. Nothing wild of the sort she did in her youth." Lord Thornbuckle snorted. "Youth. The girl's barely old enough to consider a Seat in Council, and you'd think she was fifty."

  "She did come through safely, sir," Heris ventured. He could tell she was being tactful, wondering if he would understand how important that was. Some people, following every rule of prudence, could hardly travel to the corner and back without breaking an ankle. Brun's luck had to be more than luck, perhaps that unconscious intuitive grasp of situation and character which was more valuable than all the education in the world. But not only the military recognized and used that quality.

  "Yes, I know, and I know it means she's inherited—no doubt from the same ancestors—the ability to survive adventure. But I'm not sure I can survive her acquisition of the necessary experience. Not without knowing there's someone with more expertise and more . . . er . . . maturity to help her out of the tight spots she's so determined to get into. Even Thornbuckles have limits to their luck; get Cece to tell you about my great-uncle Virgil."

 

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