Pausert had been rather disappointed when Vala had had to go. She’d been, well, quite unlike any other girl he’d ever met. The affair with the airtruck and police were just the way things happened in his life. But Vala… wasn’t. He indulged in a little daydreaming about her.

His mother sighed and tugged his ear. “I suppose that was a no.”

“Huh? What, sorry… I… ah, was just thinking about something.”

“Never mind. It’s been quite a day,” she said tiredly. “We had an incident at the Institute today. That horrible Rapport boy and some of his friends broke in and were vandalizing the gardens. You should have seen the mess that they got themselves into. I’m glad you have better taste in friends.”

Pausert wanted to say he just didn’t have any friends, but that would have upset her, so he held his tongue and thought about Vala and the fight. And the sausages. He seemed to be hungry all of the time at the moment. It wasn’t easy, growing up and being saddled with Great Uncle Threbus’s debts. It didn’t seem fair.

“So how was school?”

That was not a question Pausert really wanted to answer. So he tried a well known diversion tactic. “The lawyers haven’t got back to you yet about Great Uncle’s will?”

She rubbed her eyes. “No. I’ll have to go in and see them again tomorrow.” She’d been trying, determinedly, for the last three years. She was nothing if not stubborn, his mother. But lawyers were a money pit. “So what happened about Rapport and his gang?” Pausert asked.

“Oh, security were all for throwing the book at them. But he howled for his daddy and eventually they were let off with a caution and a very large bill for damages.”

Pausert took a deep breath. That wouldn’t make life easy. But then, life wasn’t easy. The sheer joy of seeing his enemy splattered in Tyrian fruit juice was worth it. And although his mother had seen the tear and the black eye, apparently she’d decided not to say anything. Maybe she thought the police had done it. How could he tell her the truth, without giving away Vala’s part in all of this? Anyway, there was no harm done, was there?

The next day when he saw Rapport and a few of his little friends he realized that it wasn’t that simple. The Tyrian fruit dye didn’t come off easily. It didn’t even scrub off that easily, judging from the red, raw skin. And it was apparent that the experience had some of the boys looking for new company — probably warned off by their parents — but the three who were the core of Rapport’s crew were hoping for a rematch. He’d take on any one of them. He’d take any two of them. But four…

They let him know that they’d be waiting, after school. And this time he wasn’t going to get away.


He couldn’t walk any slower. And he couldn’t find any more reason to delay. He took a deep breath and walked out through the gates of the Nikkeldepain Academy for the Sons and Daughters of Gentlemen and Officers. That was why they always had had it in for him. Because he really didn’t belong here. He was a Scholarship boy. And worse than that, they said that he hadn’t got the scholarship fairly. That it had just been given to him because his Great Uncle had endowed the school with it. They could hardly have given it to someone who really deserved it, when Pausert had applied, could they? Huh. He’d won it fair and square. But it wasn’t something that he could tell people that had already made up their minds.

“You took your time getting here,” said Vala, leaning on the gatepost. “I explained to a couple of purple splattered boys that were hanging around that they needed to get along home to mummy.”

Pausert gaped. “You… you did what?” he finally got out.


Goth was quite proud of herself. Not only had she dealt with one of the watchers, but she’d had breakfast, and had also had her morning ablutions. She’d decided that the captain was pretty much family, and, if she’d asked him, that he’d have had no problems with her climbing in through a second floor bathroom window and making use of the facilities. While she was at it she had a snoop around the family home. She felt a bit guilty about that, but, well, the captain really wouldn’t mind. The younger Pausert might, but she wasn’t planning to tell him until he was much older.

The home was clean, just like the captain always kept the Venture . The signs of scraping by on a limited income showed. There wasn’t much in the way of food, or spare clothing. But there were a lot of signs of travels to exotic places. Bangras from Gilars World hung on the wall. There were other items she didn’t recognize. The walls were studded with pictures of various strange animals and plants. There were a number of excellent space-shots. And a photograph of an Imperial officer in pride of place, in the small lounge.

There was a report card from a school, too, which Goth found rather fascinating. She’d never been to a formal school of that sort. Karres did not teach it’s children like that. She studied his grades proprietorially. He was good at Math. Nikkeldepain Academy — she noted the name, and worked out just how she could use her ‘porting skills to get the key for the back door if she needed it again, before setting off to the school.

They’d been easy to spot hanging about just outside the school’s gates. The purple blotched red faces did make them rather obvious, even if their behavior hadn’t done so.