The beverage was bright and amber-colored, but it did not have the heart of the pale vintages back home. Sometimes she missed the tang of Nye’s famous wheat-drink, but not enough to go back; Alexa had brought her into this new life and died in it, and her first mate would be damned if she didn’t do the same. They usually had the same sort of beer rolling around in the Titania’s hull. It was cheap and it was easy on the tongue. If you drank enough of it then it started to taste just like water, and that was exactly what Regina Shrike was hoping to do.
Because for just a moment, she had been a captain. A captain without a crew, sure, but she had bought herself a boat. She had spent years of savings on it, making certain that it would run at least to Mourier where she could find a respectable lot of scholars and adventurers to run it right. She had decided on a name for it, and had even unpacked her trunk in the captain’s quarters. But she should have expected that not all was as it seemed.
“Papers,” the man with the badge demanded, looking down his nose at the bare, rusty deck.
She had them ready. The blaring voice and its chorus of sirens had demanded as much, over and over, as she pulled into neutral airspace and set her engines to hover. She had sworn to herself that she would start clean. Shrike would let none of Schaeffer’s contempt survive her.
He snatched them from her and she waited for a few moments, then a few more, until finally she gave a little laugh and said, “Is there a problem, sir?”
“This craft is not authorized to fly in Laurean air or its vicinity. An officer will direct you to an impound lot and then you will be escorted to headquarters for questioning.”
In hindsight, perhaps her chuckle sounded too much like a scoff. “What? Why?”
He did not look her in the eye. She couldn’t even tell if he’d blinked. “This vehicle was reported as stolen on September third. You will be under close supervision until the matter is sorted and the vehicle’s true owner is in possession of their property.”
“But I didn’t—my papers, you can see that I paid—”
“Return to your controls, ma’am. Follow the lawboats closely or risk adding contempt to your criminal record.”
She had been arrested, harassed, patronized, but eventually she had managed to tell them that she had nothing to do with the theft. In the process she had been forced to share her real name, and left to sort out her own guilt at using her family’s rank to get off easy. It solved the problem of her criminal record, but they still had the Auberon.
By the time she had walked into the Brass Bean Pub, wrapped in the same clothes she had been wearing for three days, Regina had barely a penny to her name. She wasn’t even certain whether she had enough money in her pocket to pay for the drink, but luckily the barkeep seemed to detect her hopelessness and had opted to wait until she was a little cheerier to ask for payment. She cradled the drink between her palms like a woman who did not know when her next meal would be. Then she took a long gulp and decided she needed a better distraction.
The nearest person was a young man, mostly indistinguishable from the rest of the tavern’s lonely, thoughtful patrons, except for the unique emblem on the breast of his jacket. She caught his eye, then dipped her gaze down at his wardrobe. The edge of an idea scratched at the back of her brain, but she could not quite recognize it, yet.
“Hawkins, huh?” She struck, referring to Mourier’s one and only piloting academy. She might have been around there now, if she had not been stupid enough to buy a stolen ship. “My father went to Hawkins. Good school.”