Founder’s Landing, Day Zero, 2200.

Dark Night, Not Stormy. Yet.

It was a dark night in Founder’s Landing, capital city of the Republic back in the olden days when there actually was a Republic. Now it was just another population center, the hulks of decaying and long-unused civic architecture bulking vaguely in the gloom.

At night it was always dark, here on the edge of the nebula known as the Lesser Ephebian Cloud. Only four stars near enough to be visible in the galactic murk and no moon to speak of, just a space station. Most people didn’t care, though; what with the curfew in place, no respectable Citizen would be out on the streets at this hour anyway. Not that I was all that respectable, but with my hat on I could pass — in a dim light.

Convenient, that.

There’s a trick to not getting picked up as a curfew violator. Most of them go about their nefarious business skulking in back alleys and sticking to the shadows. That’s a dead giveaway right there. Me, I walk down the middle of the sidewalk like I own the place and people just assume I belong.

“Hey, you! You in the hat! Papers!”

Oh, well. It works most of the time. For the rest… well, I never said I only had one trick, now did I?

I flashed the redcap my Militia badge and growled at him, not slowing. That’s the second trick: no mere patrolman is gonna mess with an officer who’s obviously got something on his mind.

“Sir! Sir, I really need you to stop, sir!”

Ah. Except for a freshly minted cadet. Still new, still terrified of getting it wrong. You could almost taste the stutter. Time for trick number three. I spun around and flicked on my light. Flashed it right in his eyes for half a second to kill his night vision, then down to his shoes. In a city this badly lit, nobody’s got clean shoes.

“What the hell do you call this? Is this “proper attention to uniform cleanliness”? Is this “care to insure a proper polish”? What’s that on your cuffs, cadet — is that dog shit I smell?! Stand up straight when I’m talking to you!

The voice of authority; that’s what’s key. It was etched in my memory from my own Citizen’s Service; you never forget your first sergeant. I dressed that boy down something fierce; ticked him off for an improper trouser crease and bad stitching on his shoulder pip — it really was dreadful — and sent him straight back to the station to clean up. Almost as if it were an afterthought I got his name.

“Greene, sir!”

“Greene. Right. I’ll be checking up on you; don’t think I won’t. Dismissed!

You can’t blame the kid too much. In the dark, all overcoats look alike, and I’d chosen mine specifically for its resemblance to that of a Militia officer. And the boots are the real thing; they’ve got a distinctive sound all their own. March long enough and you can tell instantly.

Besides — they don’t train cadets in initiative. I was home free.

I turned at the next corner, not looking back. It’s important not to push your luck too much. I’d have to remember not to come back this way, but—

“Clever how you handled that redcap, shamus. Nearly fooled me with that chauffeur’s cap. Or are you back in the Militia now?”

Ahhh, Hell.

The jig is up! Or is it? Can our clever hero talk his way out of this one? Find out next time!

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