Second Chances

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Paltronis paced the narrow cell. The old-fashioned bars mocked her, closing her off from her dreams. The whole fight was stupid, she could admit that, but the satisfaction of beating the smirk from the faces of Jevis and his friends almost made it worthwhile. Almost, if Commander Haywarth didn't kick her out of the Academy. She rubbed the sleeves of her cadet uniform. The fight with Jevis was her fifth in the last two months, enough to land her behind bars. Or maybe it was the number of broken bones she'd left behind this time.

Paltronis kicked the bars in frustration. The resulting pain only soured her mood further.

The outer door clanked open. The warden stepped in, giving her a cold stare. "You have a visitor. Be civil, if you have any sense at all." He moved aside, letting the visitor pass. "Last warning," he said as he left the cell block.

The man stopped just outside the bars of her cell, studying her with dark eyes. His face was a mask, giving nothing away.

She planted her feet, crossing her arms over her chest. She couldn't help the belligerent set of her chin. The man's black uniform and insignia scared her. An officer of the Enforcers meant she was fast descending into dangerous territory involving criminal charges, not just expulsion.

He stood motionless, just watching.

Paltronis fidgeted, waiting for him to speak. Nervous twitches crawled across her skin. The man was tall, looming over her short, stocky frame without even trying. She looked away, unable to hold his stare.

"Did they send you to press charges or just to scare me?" His face could have been used for recruitment posters, except it was too cold, like stone. "I know the Commander won't believe me, but Jevis had it coming. He and his friends are running a gambling ring and stealing from the other cadets."

His impassive expression didn't change.

"What do you want me to say? I'm sorry? Because I'm not."

The man's lip twitched.

"And the other fights? They had it coming, too." She shifted her weight. "Well? Just tell me how much trouble I'm in."

His relaxed stance didn't mesh. Maybe he wasn't there to punish her. And maybe space was full of happy little fishies singing happy little songs. She studied him through the bars, trying to guess his motives.

Silence stretched in the cell block. Paltronis fidgeted with her sleeves, wishing he'd say something. He wasn't much older than she was, much too young to be an officer, which meant he either came from lots of old money or he was very, very good. She couldn't guess which. He was impossible to read.

He extracted a mem sheet from his pocket, passing it through the bars.

Paltronis pinched the lower corner to activate it. She frowned, expecting legal documents. She stared at the page in confusion. "Floor plans?"

"If you were to assassinate someone in that building, how would you do it?" His voice was deep, smooth and as emotionless as his face.

"I'm not an assassin." She snapped the mem sheet closed, shoving it back through the bars.

"You scored very high in tactics. Prove it." He didn't take the mem sheet.

She watched his face as she opened the paper again. "You're trying to prevent the attack."

He nodded.

She scrolled through the images.

"She's speaking in the main hall, then hosting a reception in the gallery on the second floor."

"The target's a woman?" Paltronis glanced up. "Do they want her to die publicly? Do they care about collateral damage? Messy or clean? What motivation do they have to kill her?"

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