“Impossible. Mentiol refuses to render to a wine!”
Theresa laughed. “New eyes see an old problem new ways. I’ve been experimenting and, as if happens, just today I saw that I’d succeeded.”
Ranualt assumed formal posture and stared at her silently for several heart beats. “Is it my understanding that you were responsible for the theft of unseasoned wine from the secure cellar?”
Theresa started to answer, remembering that viciously stormy night. She hadn’t heard any outcry after Cal’s raid and had assumed no one had noticed the missing bottles. Obviously she was mistaken, but she could not permit Cal to take the fall. His cover had to be maintained.
“Yes. It was a wet night,” she said, finally, “I made a few trips. No one saw me.”
She placed the small bottle of wine on the table and collected clean cups from the tea tray.
Ranualt moved only enough to track her movements.
“You were barely able to walk across the room unaided . . you are telling me you walked . . .in a storm . . for over a mile. . .more than once.”
Ranualt’s voice was sinking dangerously. Theresa suppressed a shudder, she knew from bitter experience the calmer he got, the worse his temper . . . and the forfeit.
“Yes.” Theresa met his eye’s carefully. “That is the only way I could think of to get what I needed. You had indicated an unwillingness for me to be involved in solving the problem, so I took action on my own.” She smiled, “Why are you surprised at my initiative. You have had experience with my . . .independence of thought.”
Ranualt laughed, but as soon as the sound passed his lips, his face became stern again. “You were not as injured, or weak as you claimed to have done so much.”
“Of course I was. I was as weak as a kitten afterwards, and the scabs on my back broke.” Theresa poured a little wine into cup, careful not to disturb the liquid too much. “You know me well enough to know I will try, and keep on trying, until I fall flat on my face, if it’s something I want to do.”
Ranualt seemed to catch her reference to pit fighting and relaxed, leaving Theresa to wonder what he had been so disturbed about.
“I have worked the problem, but as I do not drink wine, cannot say whether or not I have been successful,” she lifted the glass to offer it to him. “Would you do me the honor of offering an opinion?”
Ranualt ignored the offered glass, instead lifted the bottle to study the clarity, the precipitate, the color. “I do not understand this, Theresa. What are you doing making wine? You despise wine.”
Now Theresa laughed hard.
“Oh, it’s a long story,” she waved a careless hand at Anhall Cal, suddenly remembering that Cal was not supposed to be able to understand what was going on, and currently pretending to suffer in confused silence. To cover her mistake she said quickly, “Would you be so kind as to translate for my teacher?”
“I will,” said Ranualt, his voice harsh, “if the explanation pleases me. What were you doing with wine?”
“Well,” Theresa settled on her soft chair, “it has to do with Officer Training School. In our third year of study we have to do a course of independent work. We have to identify something we really, truly hate, and we have to study it until we completely understand it. Most kids pick subjects like quantum physics, or navigational anomalies, or even the Korum. . . that’s a popular subject.” She smiled at his slight nod of acknowledgement. “Me, I picked Alcohol, because I really, really hate alcohol abuse. I had a relative that I spent years living with since my mother and father were off. . .well, they were away. She drank, too much and when she drank she was vicious. So when I got given this assignment I studied alcohol mostly to try and prove to my classmates that they should stay away from it. Trouble is, at the same time as looking at the disadvantages of alcohol the assignment taught me, as it was supposed to, that there was so virtue in what I hated. Part of the assignment was to do something practical, so I invented a beer.”
“Beer is not the same as wine.”
“No, it’s not.”
“So, with no family history as a bewer, as a school task, you made a beer.”
Theresa had never seen Ranualt so shocked.
“There’s this colony on Ricker’s planet. One of the colonist’s kids was in my class and was always complaining that, no matter how hard the colonists tried, they couldn’t make any decent alcoholic drinks from the native plants. He had his family send me samples of the native fruits and grains, and I made this really potent beer. I mean, we are talking fire-water. When I went to do my presentation, I served this beer that I had been brewing secretly under my bed for about six months. That was the first time I was in real trouble in Star Command. I broke a lot of regulations doing that. There are some very strict rules about alcohol on board Command vessels and that includes the school. It was eventually accepted that I was within the guidelines of the project, and my presentation and the work with the beer earned me a honorary Masters Brewer’s license.” She paused. "And one hundred demerits. I wasn't allowed shore leave for a standard year."
“I am impressed. The Ricker’s planet people, they bought the recipe from you?”
“I was required to give it as a gift. The colonists were so pleased when I gave them the recipe they gave the beer the brand name. . ‘Cadet Beer’.”
Ranualt lifted the cup from the table. “You are truly a woman of great depths, beautiful Theresa. I knew from the moment I saw you that you were my own,”he paused before sipping. “Was that beer served on Station 5? I remember seeing Star Command staff at a table, drinking. They would stand and shout, “In Honor of the Cadet,” and then drink.”
Theresa covered her face with both hands. “Oh dear. I get in so much trouble over this still. But, yes, they were drinking my beer. It became a sort of . . .well. . .war cry. . . whenever low ranks, or junior officers, were planning mischief.”
“But, as I said, beer is not wine.”
“I did a little work with wine and mead as well, just to drive Command crazy. Any ship or satellite I was stationed on for more than a few weeks I’d arrange to have something brewing.” She smiled. "Which was, as you can assume, very much against the rules."
“Then you have had practice, but do you have the talent to challenge Mentiol?”
Ranualt inhaled gently over the cup, took a cautious sip and another, all without the slightest change in expression. Then, without a word to Theresa, began speaking rapidly to the patient Anhall Cal. Theresa could not keep up with the Korum parts of the explanation, but heard the words ‘Riker’s’ and ‘Cadet’, and smiled.