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The Sorceress of Karres: Chapter Eighteen
Last updated: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 19:19 EST
Goth found herself negotiating several morasses. Firstly, there was the morass of high school politics. Yes, she could physically and mentally dominate almost any individual there. But as a group, as a system… well, it was like wading through thigh-deep sticky mud.
The same could be said of her attempts to make head or tail of the bureaucracy that had enmeshed her father’s estate. The locals seemed to delight in paperwork for paperwork’s sake. It took her a full week of early morning prowling to find the right file. She found that in between keeping house for herself, and seeing to the demands of schoolwork, she had a limited amount of time that could be spared to peruse the files through the jungle of the Nikkeldepain Central Records Office. Gaining entrance to that had been easy enough. She’d let them lock her inside in no-shape one evening, and had then arranged to be able to get back in via the fire-escape door whenever she wanted to. The next difficulty had been that she did not want to switch on lights and call attention to herself — and a paper chase in a huge dark building was impossible. So she’d had to settle for the early mornings, before the office opened, and before she had to go to school. There was a strong temptation to simply set fire to the entire place, except she suspected that would just make for more complications.
Eventually she tracked the file down. It was a very thick folder. Marked ‘confidential’. She decided that she could trust herself.
She soon discovered, as she dug through it, that the paper-chase society gathered everything, even though it now had computerized records. It had copies of the logs of various expeditionary voyages. It was surprising how far afield he had roamed — even, from what she could work out, into the Chaladoor — before escaping worm weather there. There were reports of various ‘misdemeanors’. To Goth they were obvious klatha flares. There were tax returns. Medical details. And a final report on the last voyage. Which went nowhere near the Iverdahl System. Or the Talsoe Twins. An addendum appended to that log did however give Goth pause. It bore the crest of the Imperial Security Service, and took the form of a query about one Captain Threbus. And it related to two things: the prohibited planet of Karres — it appeared Threbus had been seen in the company of a suspected Karres witch, in the Regency of Hailie — where there was no record of his ever having been. The second query in the letter related to the missing Lieutenant-Commander Kaen, a distinguished young officer in the Imperial Space navy married to Pausert’s mother. It appeared that he had vanished at much the same time as Captain Threbus. The log data put Threbus’s last entry to within a few light-weeks of where Kaen was last known to have been.
Goth slapped her head in irritation. The log was a forgery, put together, as she happened to know, to lead away from Karres. To lead as far away as possible. The fact that it placed the Venture on the rather troubled and unstable border that Lieutenant-Commander Kaen had been assigned to was pure happenstance. At least, she assumed so. With Karres and klatha sometimes co-incidence wasn’t. But no wonder they were suspicious about declaring Threbus dead. Karres was going to have to do something about the ISS, now that it could. And in the meantime, she’d clear out these inconvenient records.
Or would she? Given the fact that Pausert’s mother — and the various lawyers she’d hired, had caused this file to dug up rather often, and that Threbus was well-known and remembered, it could just make things worse. She needed to be a bit more subtle.
Like coping with high-school’s hidden mud-holes, she might get further by not just blundering in. Next big step was going to have to be the Imperial Embassy. If they could add to suspicion Threbus was alive — they could certainly provide confirmation that he wasn’t. She just wished that she had the Daal of Uldune’s skilled forgers to do it for her, instead of having to try to do it herself. In the meantime there were short-term measures. She’d looked up the Threbus Institute’s records while she was at it. She wondered if it had ever occurred to Pausert’s mother that she was, in a technical sense, employing herself. Threbus still was the majority owner of the unit. It didn’t make a fortune, but it could afford to give her a raise.
She’d ghosted around in no-shape often enough following the captain with that Sunnat, and kept an eye on him. So figuring out who the Director of the Threbus Institute was, and how their system worked was relatively easy. She helped herself to a staff evaluation form and a recommendation form as a model and soon had a neatly printed instruction awaiting signature in his in-tray. Doing lightshifts on entire documents was difficult, required a lot of concentration. But a name and percentage, those were easy.
Pausert was finding this term at school far more pleasant than any other had ever been. For a start, Rapport and his cronies had backed off. Yes, Pausert was sure they were just waiting for a time and place of their choosing. But before this it had been anytime, anyplace. This state of affairs was a distinct improvement. And for a second thing, his luck seemed to changed since the lattice ship arrived. First off, Vala had joined the class. She hadn’t done anything hugely obvious. Just smiled at him. But it had resulted in a subtle shift of the power-politics in the class. She was a pretty girl… and the other guys had noticed. He walked a bit taller just thinking about that. He wondered if he should tell them that they often did homework together. But she hadn’t, so he didn’t. She was smarter than she let on. Smarter than he was and he was smarter at math than the rest of the boys.
Secondly, mother had got a pay increase! The first in all the years she been there. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something extra. And Pausert had the feeling it wasn’t just the money. It was the gesture. “They didn’t even tell me about it. I had to go and query my payslip. But the increase is there on my file with the director’s signature on it! I thought he was such an old skinflint.”
Pausert still thought so. But it did make the world seem just a little less crushing.
She should have actually have used logic and worked out it properly earlier, thought Goth angry with herself now, as she dodged back out onto the street, away from the alarms. It was obvious that the Imperial Embassy would have complex alarm systems. No-shape was not going to be enough.
She went back in daylight, two days later during her half-term holiday, light-shifted into the grumpy Nikkeldepain housewife but carefully not carrying weaponry or anything to worry their security systems. The visa section of the embassy had, inevitably, long queues. And of course, a bathroom. Goth was horrified to find that it also had a hidden monitoring camera. Probably spy-rays too. Had they no sense of privacy? She thought crossly, before admitting to herself that, realistically, she’d been about to use that privacy to fool them. So she had to evolve another plan.
Goth visited the Embassy in the Ambassador’s aircar. It developed sudden severe vision problems just outside the Embassy gate. A problem that could relate to a light-shift of the air, if anyone understood that. The driver set it down in haste. He got out of his door — and Goth, having studied door mechanisms carefully a little earlier, ‘ported a piece of it into her pocket. The driver’s door would not close.
That was enough to cause the ambassador’s security detail to hustle him out of the car, quickly, and into the Embassy. So quickly that they didn’t even worry about closing the door behind them. It wasn’t quite what Goth had planned, but she slipped in through the open door and sat down, and ‘ported the piece of the driver’s door-mechanism back into place. The driver, left with a door that suddenly worked perfectly on his eighth try, scratched his head, wiped the windscreen, and then walked around the car, closed the Ambassador’s door, walked back, got in, and drove to motor-gate, and in through the compound to the garages. He got out, carefully locked the ambassadorial vehicle, put the lockbar in his pocket, and walked to the security card reader, and went up into the embassy.
Goth waited a few moments, and then ported the lockbar and his security card back to her. She returned them to him a few minutes later, as she made her way to the ISS office. It was an excellent place to see how the security worked around here, and how to organize a suitable proof of Threbus’s death from the very people who had caused the problems in the first place. Besides, she got to watch how several very neat spy-devices worked. She’d heard about some of them Hulik, but it was interesting to see them firsthand. It might be useful too, one day.
Next step, now that she knew how to avoid detection, was to find out when and where the diplomatic bags came in. The bag itself was a ratty old green thing with the imperial crest almost worn off. Goth picked it up, and dropped it again. Shook herself, nearly losing no-shape. It had been around, that bag. Been in places a lot more alarming that Nikkeldepain. Something involving klatha force was going on, and she wasn’t quite sure what it was yet.
Nikkeldepain was far enough out of the way to only get two imperial deliveries a week, and to have a very bored clerk go through them and assign them. It was interesting to see, subradio or no, that requests for information were still passed through to the Nikkeldepain Central Records Office in writing. Identity was the subject of two of those. The clerk sent them back to the ISS office. And the ISS sent a junior duty officer to Goth’s favorite building — The Central Records Office. Goth followed, grateful that the ISS woman had decided to walk.
Goth relieved the ISS of some stationary. She could have inserted the letter into the diplomatic bag, but it seemed a lot harder way of doing it than merely becoming an ISS officer. She’d seen Hulik in full uniform. Even practiced it.
She waited a week, and then timed her visit for just after the officer had been to check on the identity of someone who claimed to come from Nikkeldepain. A few minutes later Goth went in, instead. In appearance she was the duty officer. She even wore the same perfume. She carried an official request to match the DNA record and dental record of a corpse, which had been carrying the documents that identified him as one Captain Threbus, of the Republic of Nikkeldepain.
The clerk greeted her perfunctorily. “Back again?”
Goth nodded. “Yeah. This one got to me via the Ambassador’s office instead of via the sorting clerk. ”
“What is it? Another smuggler or pirate claiming citizenship.”
Goth handed over the request. “Body that was found in a military area. A couple of soldiers stumbled on the remains during an exercise. It was an old corpse but we got DNA off the bones. The documents found with it say it’s one of your citizens. A Captain Threbus. Do you mind checking for me?”
The clerk nodded. “Sure. I’ll have it for you next week.”
“The ambassador asked if you could expedite it.” Goth was very proud of that word. “He was going to call someone.”
The clerk sighed. “Let me ask my supervisor.”
So he did. And a little while later the clerk brought the news that the DNA match was perfect with the record.
It should be. That was where it had come from.
Goth thanked them politely and left.
The next task was considerably harder. The starting point consisted of finding out just how Pausert’s mother was pursuing the matter of Threbus’s will. And that was near impossible. Over the months Goth had come to know Pausert’s mother Lina relatively well — as well as any young teenager gets to know the mother of one of her friends. But Lina was very good at separating the private from the social. She didn’t talk about it, and was very skilled at not saying anything — but getting others to talk. Goth had to watch her tongue. And still was no further along with finding out details. Eventually, she resorted to pretending her parents needed to consult a lawyer, and, as foreigners, didn’t know who to start with.
Lina gave her a long list of whom to avoid, including her current expensive and ineffectual practitioner.
Goth went off to investigate him.
It didn’t take long to discover that he had a lot in common with Franco. For a start he had a secret wall safe. And for a second he was a slimeball. Goth ‘ported all the documents out of the secret safe and spent a good many hours working out what he was up to. Some of it was beyond her. But some plainly involved trust-funds and money. None of it appeared to concern Threbus, which at least removed that complication.
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