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It didn't feel good enough. Her mind raced back and forth over that minute or
so the fight lasted, playing back minute fragments very slowly, looking for
something she couldn't yet guess. Where had it started?
Who? She had been carrying the drinks: Abe's square, squatty bottle of
Priun brandy, and the footed glass for it, and a special treat for herself:
Caprian liqueur. She'd been afraid the tiny cup of silver-washed crystal -
the only proper receptacle for Caprian liqueur - would bounce off the tray if
someone bumped her, so she hadn't been looking more than one body ahead when
the fight started. She'd looked up when . . . was it a sound, or had she seen
something, without really recognizing it? She couldn't place it, and went on.
She'd dropped the tray, and in her mind it fell in slow-motion, emptying its
contents over the shoulders of someone in spacer gray at the table she'd been
Suddenly she had something, or a hint of it. In the midst of that fight,
someone to her right had blocked a kick with a move that had to come from
Academy training ... a move that almost had to be learned in low-
grav tumbling, although you could use it in normal G. Only it hadn't been one
of the graduates, nor . . . her mind focussed on the anomaly . . . nor one of
the spacers. It had been someone in purple and orange, with blue sleeves ... a
gang jacket. She'd tried to take a fast look, but like all the second gang,
the fighter's face had been painted in geometric patterns that made
identification nearly impossible. Eyes . . . darkish. Skin color . .
. from the way it took the paint, neither very light nor very dark.
"Ensign." Sass looked up, ready to curse at the interruption until she saw the
rank insignia. Not local police; Fleet. And not just any Fleet, but the
Academy Vice-Commandant, Commander Derran.
"Sir." She stood, and wished she'd had time to change uniforms. But they
hadn't run the scan over all the spots yet, and they'd told her to wait.
"I'm sorry. Ensign," the Commander was saying, "He was a good man.
Fleet to the core. And on your graduation night, too."
"Thank you, sir." That much was correct; she couldn't manage much more through
a tight throat.
"You're his only listed kin," Derran went on. "I assume you'll want a military
funeral?" Sass nodded. "Burial in the Academy grounds, or - "
She had only half-listened when he'd told her, years ago, how he wanted it. "I
don't hold with spending Fleet money to send scrap into a star," he'd said.
"Space burial's for those who die there. They've earned it. But I'm no
landsman, either, to be stuck under a bit of marble on a hillside; I hold by
the old code. My life was with Fleet, I had no homeland. Burial at sea, if you
can manage it, Sass. The Fleet does it the right way."
"At sea," she said now. "He wanted it that way."
"Ashes, or - ?"
"Burial, sir, he said, if it was possible."
"Very well. The Superintendent's told me they'll release the body tomorrow;
we'll schedule it for - " He pulled out his handcomp and studied the display.
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'Two days ... is that satisfactory? Takes that long to get the arrangements
"Yes, sir." She felt stupid, stiff, frozen. This could not be Abe's funeral
they discussed: time had to stop, and let her sort things out. But time did
not stop. The Commander spoke to the police officer behind the desk, and
suddenly they were ready for her in the lab. A long-snouted machine took
samples from every stain on her uniform; the technician explained about the
analysis of blood and fiber and skin cells to identify those she'd fought.
When she came out of the lab, she found a Lt. Commander
Barrin waiting for her, with a change of clothes brought from her quarters,
and the same officer escorted her back to Abe's apartment.
There, another Fleet officer had already opened the apartment, set up a file
to receive and organize visits and notes that required acknowledgment. Already
dozens of notes were racked for her notice, and two of her class waited to see
her before leaving for their new assignments.
Sass began to realize what kind of support she could draw on. They knew what
papers she needed to find, recognized them in Abe's files when she opened the
case. They knew what she should pack, and what formalities would face her in
the morning and after. Would he be buried from the Academy, or the nearby
Fleet base? Would the circumstances qualify him for a formal military service,
or some variant? Sass found one or the other knowledgable about every question
that came up. Someone provided meals, sat her in front of a filled plate at
intervals, and saw to it that she ate. Someone answered the door, the comm,
weeded out those she didn't want to see, and made sure she had a few minutes
alone with special friends. Someone reminded her to apply for a short delay in
joining her new assignment: she would have to stay on Regg for another week or
so of investigation. Her rumpled, stained uniform disappeared, returned
spotless and mended. Someone forwarded all required uniforms to her
assignment, leaving her only a small bit of packing to do.
And all this was handled smoothly, calmly, as if she were someone of infinite
importance, not a mere ensign just out of school.
She could never be alone without help, as long as she had Fleet: Abe had said
that, drummed it into her, and she'd seen Fleet's help. But now it all came [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]