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The Witches of Karres: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Friday, February 20, 2004 23:11 EST



    "Witch friend," Cheel's thought told the captain, "you and your associates have served your purpose... and now you will never leave in life the medium which has enclosed you. The synergizer is restored to its place, and its controls reach wherever Moander's did. Our Nuris are again ours, and Manaret is again a ship -- a ship of conquest. It has weapons such as your universe has never seen. Their existence was concealed from Moander, and it could not have used them if it had known of them. But the synergizer can use them, and shall!

    "Witch friend, we are not allowing Manaret to be restored to our native dimensional pattern. We are the Great People. Conquest is our destiny and we have adopted Moander's basic plan of conquest against your kind. At the moment our Nuris are hard pressed by your world of Karres and have been forced back among the cold suns. But Manaret is moving out to gather the globes about it again and destroy Karres. Then--"

    It wasn't so much a thought as the briefest impulse. A lock took shape and closed in the same beat of time, and the connection to Cheel's mind was abruptly sliced off. What Cheel still had to say could be of no importance. What he already had said was abominable, but no great surprise. There'd simply been no way to determine in advance how trustworthy the Lyrd-Hyrier would be after they were relieved of their mutinous robot director. Since that must have been considered on Karres, too, it might be Cheel would not find Karres as easy to destroy now as he believed....

    But one couldn't count on that. And in any case, something would have to be done quickly. That there was death of some kind in this paralyzing heaviness which had closed down on him and his witches, the captain didn't doubt. He didn't know what it would be, but he could sense it being prepared.

    And that made it a very bad moment. Because he was not at all sure that what could be done on a small scale, and experimentally, might also be done on an enormously larger scale under the pressures of emergency. Or that he was the one to do it. But there wasn't much choice--


    Carefully, the captain shaped up a mind-image of the grid of a starmap. And perhaps -- perhaps -- it was a klatha sort of starmap, and that tiny dot on it was then not simply a dot but in real truth the living world of Emris, north of the Chaladoor, goal of the Venture’s voyage. Now another dot on it which should be in empty space some two hours' flight from Emris -- yes, there!

    Then a mental view, a memory composite, of the Venture herself, combined with one of the Venture’s control cabin. That part was easy.

    And a third view of Goth and the Leewit, as they stood beside him unmoving in the death-loaded, transparent heaviness still settling silently on them all from above.... Easier still.

    He couldn't move his head now; but physical motion wasn't needed to look up at the shifting, unstable mountain of vatch-blackness only he saw here, the monstrous torrents of black energy rushing, turning and coiling in endlessly changing patterns. Slitted green vatch-eyes stared at him from the blackness; vatch-laughter thundered:


    What manner of klatha hooks, the captain thought carefully, were needed to nail down a giant-vatch?

    Flash of heat like the lick of a sun... The vatch-voice howled in shock. The blackness churned in tornado convulsions--

    Not one hook, or three or four, the captain thought. Something like fifty! Great rigid lines of force, clamped on every section of the blackness, tight and unyielding! Big Windy, for all the stupendous racket he was producing, had been nailed down.

    The captain glanced at his three prepared mind-pictures, looked into the seething vatch-blackness. As much as we need for this! Put them together!


    A swirling thundercloud of black energy shot from the vatch's mass, hung spinning beside it an instant, was gone. Gone, too, in that instant were the two small witch figures who'd stood at the captain's right.

    And now Manaret, that great evil ship--

    We don't want it here....

    Black thunderbolts pouring from the vatch-mass, crashing throughout Manaret. Horrified shrieks from the vatch. The ship-planet shuddered and shook. Then it seemed to go spinning and blurring away from the captain, sliding gradually off into something for which he would never find a suitable description -- except that the brief, partial glimpse he got of it was hideously confusing. But he remembered the impression he'd received from Cheel of the whirling chaos which raged between the dimension patterns, and knew the synergizer was taking the only course left open to save Manaret from being pounded apart internally by the detached sections of vatch energy released in it. And in another instant the Worm World had plunged back into the chaos out of which it had emerged centuries before and was gone.

    As for the captain, he found himself floating again in the formless grayness which presumably was a special vatch medium, and which by now was beginning to seem almost a natural place for him to be from time to time. The vatch was there, not because it wanted to be there, but because he was still firmly tacked to it by the klatha hooks. It was a much reduced vatch. Over half its substance was gone -- most of it dispersed in the process of demolishing Manaret, with which it had disappeared. The captain became aware of slitted green eyes peering at him fearfully from the diminished mass.


    "One more job," the captain told it. "Then you can go -- and you might be able to pick up a piece of what you've lost while you're doing the job."


    "Return me to my ship...."

    He was plopped down with a solid thump on the center of the Venture’s control room floor almost before he completed the order. The walls of the room swirled giddily around him--

    "Captain!" Goth's voice was yelling from somewhere in the room. Then: "He's here!"

    There was an excited squeal from the Leewit a little farther off; a sound of hurrying footsteps. And a wind-voice wailing, DREAM MONSTER... YOUR PROMISE!

    Struggling up to a sitting position as the control room began to steady, the captain released the klatha hooks. He had a momentary impression of a wild, rising moan outside the ship which seemed to move off swiftly and fade in an instant into unimaginable distance.



    As he came to his feet, helped up part way by Goth tugging with both hands at his arm, the Leewit arrived. Hulik do Eldel and Vezzarn appeared in the doorway behind her, stopped and stood staring at him. By then the walls of the room were back where they belonged. The feeling of giddiness was gone.

    "All right, folks!" the captain said quickly and heartily, to get in ahead of questions he didn't want to answer just yet. "This has been rough, but I think we can relax...." The viewscreens were a dark blur, which indicated the Venture was in space as she should be, while the screens were still set for close-up planetary scanning. The ship engines were silent. "Let's find out where we are. It should be north of the Chaladoor--"

    "North of the Chaladoor--!" Vezzarn and Hulik chorused hoarsely.

    "--around two hours from Emris." The captain slid into the control chair, flicked the screen settings to normal space-view. Stars appeared near and far. He turned up the detectors, got an immediate splattering of ship blips from medium to extreme range -- a civilized area! "Vezzarn, pick me up some beacons here! I want a location check fastest!"

    The spacer hurried towards the communicators, Hulik following. The captain cut in the main drive engines. They responded with a long, smooth roar and the Venture surged into flight. Before departing, the vatch appeared to have thriftily reabsorbed the speck of vatch-stuff it had left in the engine room to nullify drive energies....

    "Worm World?" Goth's urgent whisper demanded. The Leewit was pressed next to her against the chair, both staring intently at him.

    "Went pffttt!" the captain muttered from the side of his mouth. "Tell you later--"

    They gasped. "You better!" hissed the Leewit, gray eyes shining with a light of full approval the captain rarely had detected in them before. "What you do? That was the scaredest vatch I ever relled!"

    "Emris beacons all around, skipper!" Vezzarn announced, voice quavvering with what might have been excitement or relief. "Have your location in a moment--"

    The captain glanced at the witches. "Got a number we can call on Emris, to get in contact?" he asked quietly.

    They nodded. "Sure do!" said Goth.

    "We should be in range. Give it a try as soon as we have our course...."

    It seemed almost odd, a couple of minutes later, to be speaking to Toll by a method as unwitchy as ship-to-planet communicator contact. Hulik and Vezzarn had retired to the passenger section again when the captain told them there'd be Karres business coming up. The talk was brief. Toll had sheewashed to Emris from the Dead Suns Cluster just before their call came in, because someone she referred to as a probability calculator had decided the Venture and her crew should be showing up around there by about this time. Karres was still battling Nuri globes but winning handily in that conflict; and they'd realized something had happened to Manaret, but not what.

    The captain explained as well as he could. Toll's eyes were shining much as the Leewit's as she blew him a kiss. "Now listen," she said, "all three of you. There's been more klatha simmering around the Venture lately than you'd normally find around Karres. Better let it cool off! We want to see you soonest but don't use the Drive to get here. Don't do anything but stay on course.... Captain, a couple of escort ships will meet you in about an hour to pilot you in. Children, we'll see you at the governor's spacefield in Green Galaine -- oh, yes, and tell the captain what the arrangement is on Emris.... Now let's cut this line before someone taps it who shouldn't!"

    "I just thought," the captain said to Goth and the Leewit as he switched off the communicator, "we'd better go make sure Olimy's all right! Come on... I'd like to hear about that Emris business then."

    Olimy, unsurprisingly, was still in his stateroom, aloof and unaffected by the events which had thundered about him. On the way back they stopped to tell Hulik and Vezzarn they'd be making landfall on Emris in a couple of hours, and to find out what the experience of the two had been when they found themselves alone on the Venture. "There was this noise--" Hulik said. She and Vezzarn agreed it was an indescribable noise, though not a very loud one. "It was alarming!" said Hulik. It had come from the control section. They hadn't tried to investigate immediately, thinking it was some witch matter they shouldn't be prying into; but when the noise was followed by a complete silence from the forward part of the ship, they'd first tried to get a response from the control section by intercom, and when that failed they'd gone up front together. Except for the fact that there was no one present nothing had changed... the viewscreens showed the familiar rocky slope about them and the rain still pelting down steadily on the Venture. Not knowing what else to do, they'd sat down in the control section to wait... and they hadn't really known what they were waiting for.

    "If you'll excuse me for saying so, skipper," said Vezzarn, "I wasn't so sure you three hadn't just gone off and left us for good! Miss do Eldel, she said, 'No, they'll be back.' But I wasn't so sure." He shook his grizzled head. "That part was bad!"

    The captain explained there'd been no chance to warn them -- didn't add there'd been a rather good chance, in fact, that no one ever would come back to the Venture again.

    "Then the strongbox went!" reported Hulik. "I was looking at it, wondering what you had inside -- and there was a puff of darkness about it, and that cleared, and the box was gone. Vezzarn hadn't seen it and didn't notice it, and I didn't tell him."

    "If she'd told me, I'd've fainted dead!" Vezzarn muttered earnestly.

    Then the blackness had come... Blackness about the ship and inside it and around them, lasting for perhaps a minute. When it cleared away suddenly, Goth and the Leewit were standing in the control room with them. Everyone had started looking around for the captain then until Goth suddenly announced his arrival from the control room a couple of minutes later....

    "Well, I'm sorry you were put through all that," the captain told the two. "It couldn't be helped. But you'll be safe down on Emris within another two hours.... Happen to remember just when it was you heard that strange noise?"

    The do Eldel checked her timepiece. "It seems like several lifetimes," she said. "But as a matter of fact, it was an hour and fifteen minutes ago."

    Which, the captain calculated on the way back to the control section, left about forty minutes as the period within which Moander had been buried under his mighty citadel, the Worm World pitched into chaos, and a giant-vatch taught an overdue and lasting lesson in manners. A rather good job, he couldn't help feeling, for that short a time!

    The escort ships which hailed them something less than an hour later were patrol boats of the Emris navy. The purpose of the escort evidently was to whisk the Venture unchecked through the customary prelanding procedures here and guide her down directly to the private landing field of the governor of Green Galaine, one of the four major administrative provinces of Emris.

    The captain wasn't surprised. From what Goth and the Leewit had told him, the Karres witches were on excellent terms with the authorities of this world; and the governor of Green Galaine was an old friend of their parents. The patrol boats guided them in at a fast clip until they began to hit atmosphere, then braked. A great city, rolling up and down wooded hills, rose below; and he leveled the Venture out behind the naval vessels towards a small port lying within a magnificent cream-and-ivory building complex.

    "Know this place?" he asked the Leewit, nodding at the semicircle of beautiful buildings.

    "Governor's palace," she said. "Where we'll stay...."

    "Oh?" The captain studied the palace again. "Guess he's got room enough for guests, at that!" he remarked.

    "Sure -- lots!" said the Leewit.



This is the end of the novel. I hope you enjoyed it. For those of you following the snippets of WIZARD OF KARRES, you'll now be able to see that our sequel begins immediately after the end of this book. As in...

    One minute later. :)



    THE WITCHES OF KARRES – snippet 34:

    "The tests," Threbus said, "show about what we expected. Of course, as I told you, these results reflect only your present extent of klatha control. They don't indicate in any way what you may be doing six months or a year from now."

    "Yes, I understand that," the captain said.

    "Let me look this over once more, Pausert, to make sure I haven't missed anything. Then I'll sum it up for you."

    Threbus began to busy himself again with the notes he'd made on the klatha checks he'd been running the captain through, and the captain watched his great uncle silently. Threbus must be somewhere in his sixties if the captain's recollection of family records was correct, but he looked like a man of around forty and in fine shape for his age. Klatha presumably had something to do with that. During the captain's visit at Toll's house on Karres, he'd encountered Threbus a few times in the area and chatted with him, unaware that this affable witch was the father of Goth and her sisters or his own long-vanished kinsman. At the time Threbus had worn a beard, which he'd since removed. The captain could see that, without the beard and allowing for the difference in age, there was, as Goth had told him, considerable similarity between the two of them.

    This was the morning of the third day since the Venture had landed on Emris. The night before, Threbus had suggested that he and the captain go for an off-planet run today to see how the captain would make out on the sort of standard klatha tests given witches at various stages of development. Off-planet, because they already knew he still had a decidedly disturbing effect on the klatha activities of most adult witches, simply by being anywhere near them; and it could be expected the effect would be considerably more pronounced when he was deliberately attempting to manipulate klatha energies.

    Threbus folded his notes together, dropped them into the disposal box of the little ship which had brought the two of them out from Emris, and adjusted the automatic controls. He then leaned back in his chair.

    "There are several positive indications," he said. "But they tell us little we didn't already know. You're very good on klatha locks. A valuable quality in many circumstances. Theoretically, you should be able to block out any type of mind reader I've encountered or heard about, assuming you become aware of his, her, or its intentions. You have very little left to learn in that area. It's largely a natural talent.

    "Then, of course, you're a vatch-handler. A natural quality again, though a quite unusual one. Under the emergency conditions you encountered, you seem to have developed it close to its possible peak in a remarkably short time. A genuine klatha achievement, my friend, for which we can all be thankful!

    "However, vatch-handling remains a talent with limited usefulness, particularly because it's practiced always at the risk of encountering the occasional vatch which cannot be handled. There is no way of distinguishing such entities from other vatches until the attempt to manipulate them is made -- and when the attempt fails, the vatch will almost always destroy the unfortunate handler. So this ability is best kept in reserve, strictly as an emergency measure."

    "Frankly," remarked the captain, "I'll be happiest if I never have to have anything to do with another vatch!"

    "I can hardly blame you. And the chances are good -- under ordinary conditions that it will be a long time before you have more than passing contacts with another one. You're sensitized now, of course, so you'll be aware of the occasional presence of a vatch as you couldn't have been formerly. But they rarely make more than a minor nuisance of themselves.

    "Now I noticed various indications here that you tend to be a lucky gambler...."

    The captain nodded. "I usually win a bet," he said. "That comes natural, too, I suppose?"

    "Yes, in this case. Quite generally, in fact, you have a good natural predisposition for klatha manipulation. And you are, as we already know, an exceptionally strong conductor of the energies. But aside from the two categories we've mentioned, you have as yet no significant conscious control of them. That's about the size of it at present...."

    The captain acknowledged it was also about what he'd expected. He had felt a minor isolated quiver or two of what might have been klatha force during the check run, but that was all.

    Threbus nodded, cut out the auto controls, swung the little ship around towards Emris. "We might as well be getting back down," he said. "I understand from Goth, incidentally, that the two of you haven't yet made any definite arrangements for the Venture’s next enterprise."

    The captain glanced quickly over at him. This was the first indication either of Goth's parents had given that they still had no objection to letting her travel about with him.

    "No," he said. "The Chaladoor run set us up well enough -- we can look around for the job we like best now." He cleared his throat. "I've been wondering though how you and Toll really felt about Goth's deciding to stay on the Venture with me."

    "We're not opposing it," Goth's father told him, "for at least two very good reasons, aside from the opinion we have of you as a person. One of the reasons is that, even now, it would be extremely difficult to keep Goth from doing whatever she really wanted to do."

    "Yes," nodded the captain. "I see that. But--"

    "The other reason," continued Threbus, "is one Goth doesn't know about and shouldn't know about. Several of our most capable predictors agree she could have selected no more favorable course for herself than to remain in your company at present."

    "At present?" asked the captain.

    Threbus shrugged. "Let's say for approximately a year. Beyond that we don't know. It's very difficult for a predictor to be specific about individual destinies over a greater span of time -- particularly when the individual in question is involved with klatha."

    "I see," said the captain.

    "No, not entirely, Pausert. Let me be frank about this. Goth's interest in you is a good thing for her. We know that, though we don't know precisely what part it is having in her development, in what way it will affect her future. However, you would find no probability calculator prepared to say it is a good thing for you. Your future -- even of the next few months -- is obscured by factors which cannot be understood. I'm not saying this means that Goth will bring you bad luck. But it might mean that. And it might be very bad luck."

    "Well, I'll take a chance on it!" said the captain, relievedly. "The fact is I'd have missed Goth very much if she weren't going to be around the ship any more." He chuckled. "Of course I'm not taking her idea of getting married to me when she grows up too seriously!"

    "Of course not," said Threbus. "No more, my purblind great-nephew, than I took Toll's ideas along those lines too seriously. Now, getting back to my original query about your plans--"

    * * *

    "Uh, yes..." The captain hesitated. "Well, we cleared up the disposition of the last of the Uldune cargo yesterday, and the interior repairs on the Venture should be finished in another four days. Since I'm being a problem to you people in Green Galaine, I thought we might move the ship then to some other civilized world where we can make arrangements for new commercial runs. Until I can stop being a problem, it looks as if I'll simply have to keep away from Karres -- or any place where witches are operating."

    Threbus rubbed his chin. "There's a world named Karres," he remarked, "but Karres isn't that world. Neither is it an organization of witches. You might say it comes closest to being a set of attitudes, a frame of mind."

    The captain looked at him. "I don't think I--"

    "On Uldune," continued Threbus, "you discovered a bad and very dangerous situation. It was none of your business. Involving yourself in it would mean assuming the gravest sort of responsibility. It would also mean exposing yourself and Goth to the horrendous threat of the Nuris--"

    "Well, yes," acknowledged the captain. "But we knew there was no one else around who could do it."

    "No, there wasn't," Threbus agreed. "Now, in making the decision you did, you revealed yourself to be a member in good standing of the community of Karres, whether you were aware of the fact or not. It isn't a question of witchcraft. Witchcraft is a tool. There are other tools. And keeping away from a world of that name does not mean dissociating yourself from Karres. Whether you do dissociate yourself or not will again be your decision."

    The captain considered him for some seconds. "What do you want me to do?" he asked.

    "As I've indicated, it's a question of what you'll want to do," Threbus told him. "However, I might suggest various possibilities. I've admired your ship. It has speed, range, capacity, adequate armament. An almost perfect trader, freight and passenger carrier. You could turn it to nearly any purpose you chose."

    The captain nodded. "That was the idea."

    "Such a ship is a valuable tool," Threbus observed. "Particularly in combination with a skipper like yourself and the touch of audacious magic which is my daughter Goth. If you were operating in the Regency of Hailie, as a start, you would find profitable standard consignments coming your way almost automatically. Along with them would come nonstandard items, which must be taken from one place to another without attracting attention or at least without being intercepted. Sometimes these would be persons, sometimes documents or other materials."

    "The Venture would be working on Karres business?" asked the captain.

    "On the business of the Empress Hailie, which is also the business of Karres. You'd be a special courier, carrying the Seal of Hailie. Of course the Empire's internal politics is a game that's being played with considerable ferocity... you couldn't afford to get careless."

    "No, I can see that. As a matter of fact," remarked the captain, "I'd intended avoiding the Empire for a while. Apparently a good many people are aware by now that the Venture has a special drive on board they feel would be worth acquiring. Changing her name and ours doesn't seem to have fooled them much."

    "That part of it shouldn't be a problem much longer, Pausert. We're letting it become known that Karres has the Sheewash Drive and what it is. Simultaneously the word is spreading that Karres has destroyed the Worm World. We're borrowing your glory for a good purpose. The net effect will be that people informed enough to suspect the Venture possesses the Sheewash Drive will also be informed enough to feel no one in their senses would meddle with such a ship.... Well, great-nephew, what do you think?"

    "I think, great-uncle," said the captain, "that the Empress has acquired a new special courier."

    * * *

    There had been a question of what should be done about the Nuri globes left behind after Manaret vanished from the universe. Many of the swarms which engaged Karres in the Tark Nembi cluster had been destroyed; but others slipped away into the Chaladoor, and the number of globes scattered about the galactic sector which had not been involved in the conflict was difficult to estimate. However, evidence came in within a few days that the problem was resolving itself in unexpected fashion. Globes had been observed here and there; and all drifted aimlessly through space, apparently in a process of rapid dissolution. In what manner they had drawn on the Worm World's energies to sustain them wherever they went never became known. But with Manaret gone the Nuri remnants died quickly. They might remain a frightful legend for centuries to come, but the last actual sighting of a globe was recorded a scant four days after the Venture’s landing on Emris. It was a darkened, feebly flickering thing then, barely recognizable.

    Satisfactory progress was being made, the captain heard, in establishing contact with Olimy in his disminded condition, though the Karres experts in such matters felt it still would be a lengthy, painstaking procedure to restore him fully to the here-and-now. Meanwhile, with the Venture’s future role settled, and an early departure date indicated to get him out of the hair of his politely patient witch friends here, the captain had his time fully taken up with consultations, appointments, and supervision of assorted preparations involved with the lift-off. One day, coming through the lobby of a hotel off the province's main port, to which the Venture had been transferred after completion of the internal repair work, he found himself walking towards the slender elegance of Hulik do Eldel. They had a drink together for old times' sake, and Hulik told him she hadn't decided yet what her next move would be. Presently she inquired about Vezzarn. The captain said he'd paid off the old spacer, adding a bonus to the risk run money, and that Vezzarn had seemed reluctant to leave the Venture, which surprised the captain, considering the kind of trip they'd had.

    "It was an unusual one," Hulik agreed. "But you brought us through in the end. How I'll never understand." She looked at him a moment. "And you told me you weren't a witch!"

    "I'm not really," said the captain.

    "Well, perhaps not. But Vezzarn may feel now you're a skipper the crew can depend on in any circumstances. For that matter, if you plan any more risk runs in a direction I might be interested in, be sure to let me know!"

    The captain thanked her, said he wasn't planning any at present, and they parted pleasantly. He had another encounter, a rather curious one, some hours later. He was hurrying along one of the upper halls of the governor's palace, looking for an office Threbus maintained there. When the Venture left, two days from now, she would have two unlisted passengers on board to be carried secretly to the Regency of Hailie; and he was to be introduced to them in the office in a few minutes. So far he'd been unable to locate it. Deciding finally that he must have passed it in the maze of spacious hallways which made up the business section of the palace, he turned to retrace his steps. Coming up to a comer, he moved aside to let a small, slender lady wearing a huge hat and a lustrous fur jacket walk past, trailed by a stocky dog. The captain went on around the comer, then checked abruptly and came back to stare after the two.

    What had caught his notice first was that the lady's jacket was made up of the fabulously expensive tozzami furs of Karres, of which he'd sold a hundred and twenty-five on Uldune. Then there'd been something familiar about that chunky, yellow, sour-faced dog--

    Yes, of course! He hurried after them, grinning. "Just a moment!" he said as he came up.

    They turned to look at him. The lady's face was concealed by a dark veil which hung from the brim of the hat, but the dog was giving him a cold, gray-eyed stare -- and that, too, was familiar enough! The captain chuckled, reached out, took the tip of the big hat between thumb and finger and lifted it gently. Beneath it appeared the delicate nonhuman face, the grass-green eyes, the tousled red mane and pointed ears of the Nartheby Sprite image Goth had assumed in Moander's stronghold.

    "Knew it!" he laughed. "Thought you could fool me with that silly hat, eh? What are you two up to now?"

    The Sprite face smiled politely. But a deep, gravelly voice inquired from behind the captain's ankles, "Shall I mangle this churl's leg, Hantis?" and a large mouth with sharp teeth in it closed on his calf, though the teeth didn't dig in immediately.

    Mouth and teeth! he thought, startled. Tactile impressions were no part of the shape-changing process! Why, then--

    "No, Pul," the Sprite said. "Let go his leg! This must be Captain Pausert...." It giggled suddenly. "Goth showed me the imitation she can do of me, Captain. It's a very good one... May I have my hat back again?"

    So that was how he learned that Nartheby Sprites and grik-dogs really existed, that Goth had hastily copied the images of two old friends to produce fake shapes for the Leewit and herself when they were transported into Moander's citadel, and that Hantis and Pul were the passengers they were to smuggle past the Imperial intelligence agents on the lookout for them to the Empress Hailie....

    * * *

    The Venture took off on schedule. The first six hours of the trip were uneventful--

    "Somebody to see you, Captain," Goth's voice announced laconically over the intercom. "I'll send 'em forward!"

    "All right... HUH?"

    But the intercom had clicked off. He swung up from the control chair, came out of the room as Vezzarn and Hulik do Eldel walked into the control section from the passage. They smiled warily. The captain put his hands on his hips.

    "What-are-you-two-doing-on-this-ship?" he inquired between his teeth.

    "Blood in his eye!" Vezzarn muttered uneasily. He glanced at Hulik. "You do the talking!"

    "May I explain, Captain?" Hulik asked.

    "Yes!" said the captain.

    Both she and Vezzarn, the do Eldel said, had discovered they were in a somewhat precarious situation after the Venture landed on Emris. Somebody was keeping them under surveillance.

    "Oh!" the captain said. He shook his head. "Sit down, Miss do Eldel. You, too, Vezzarn. Yes, of course you were being watched. For your own protection, among other reasons--"

    The disappearance of Yango and his Sheem Robot, while en route through the Chaladoor on the Venture, had not required explanation to authorities anywhere. Pirate organizations did not complain to the authorities when one of their members disappeared in attempting an act of piracy. Nevertheless, the authorities of Green Galaine were informed that a man, who represented himself as the Agandar and very probably was that notorious pirate chieftain, had tried to take over the Venture and was now dead. It was valuable information. With the menace of Manaret removed, civilized worlds in the area could give primary consideration to removing the lesser but still serious menace of the Agandar's pirates. When his organization learned the Venture had landed safely on Emris and that no one answering Yango's description had come off it, they'd wanted to know what had happened.

    " we've all been under surveillance," the captain concluded. "So was the ship until we took off. If pirate operators had started prowling around you or myself, they might have given Emris intelligence a definite lead to the organization."

    Hulik shook her head. "We realized that, of course," she said. "But it wasn't only Emris intelligence who had us under surveillance. Those pirate operators have been prowling around. So far they've been a bit too clever to provide the intelligence people with leads."

    "How do you know?" the captain asked.

    She hesitated, said, "An attempt was made to pick me up the night after I disembarked from the ship. It was unsuccessful. But I knew then it would be only a matter of time before they'd be questioning me about Yango. I don't have as much trust as you do in the authorities, Captain Pausert. So I got together with Vezzarn who was in the same spot."

    "Nobody's been bothering me," the captain said.

    "Of course nobody's bothered you," said Hulik. "That's why we're here."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Captain, whether you're a Karres witch or not, you were suspected of being one. Now that the Agandar has disappeared while trying to take your superdrive from you, there'll be very little doubt left that you are, in fact, the kind of witch it's best not to challenge. The Venture is at present the safest place for Vezzarn and myself to be. While we're with you, the Agandar's outfit won't bother us either."

    "I see," the captain said after a moment. He considered again. "Well, under the circumstances I can't blame you for stowing away on the ship. So you'll get a ride to the Empire and we'll let you off somewhere there. You'll be far enough away from the Agandar's pirates then."

    "Perhaps," said the do Eldel. "However, we have what we feel is a better idea."

    "What's that?"

    "We're experienced agents. We've been doing some investigating, And we've concluded that the business which is taking you into the Empire is a kind that might make it very useful for you to have two experienced agents on hand. Meanwhile we could also be of general service around the ship."

    "You want me to hire you on the Venture?" said the captain, surprised.

    "That," Hulik acknowledged, "was our idea."

    The captain told her he'd give it thought, reflectively watched the two retire from the section. "Goth?" he said, when he'd heard the compartment door close.

    Goth appeared out of no-shape invisibility on the couch. "They're in a spot," the captain said. "And experience is what we're short on, at that. What do you think?"

    "Ought to be all right," Goth said. "They'll go all out for you if you let 'em stay. You kind of got Vezzarn reformed." She rubbed her nose tip pensively. "And besides..."

    "Besides what?"

    "Had a talk with Maleen and a predictor she works with just before we left," Goth told him.


    "They can't figure you too far. But they got it worked out you're getting set to do something -- and it could get sort of risky."

    "Well," said the captain helplessly, "somehow we do always seem to be doing something that turns out sort of risky."

    "Uh-huh. Wouldn't worry too much, though. We come out all right.... Before you start to do that, they said, you're going to get together a gang to do it with."

    "A gang?"

    "Whoever you need. And that was to happen pretty soon!"

    The captain reflected, startled. "You mean that in some way I might have got Hulik and Vezzarn to stow away on the ship?"

    "Could be," Goth nodded.

    He shook his head. "Well, I just can't see -- What's that?"

    But he knew as he asked.... A distant, heavy, droning sound, approaching with incredible rapidity. Goth licked her lips quickly. "Egger Route!" she murmured. "Wonder who..."

    The droning swelled, crashed in on them, ended abruptly.

    The Leewit lay curled up on her side on the floor, eyes shut.

    The captain scooped her up, was looking around for something to bundle her up in again when Goth said sharply, "She's waking up! Just hang on hard! This one won't be too bad--"

    He hung on hard... and comparatively speaking, it wasn't too bad. For about ten seconds he had the feeling of clutching a small runaway engine to him, with many pistons banging him simultaneously. There was also a great deal of noise. Then it was over.

    The Leewit twisted her head around to see who was holding her.

    "You!" she snarled. "What you do?"

    "It wasn't me!" the captain told her breathlessly. He put her down on her feet. "We don't--"

    The communicator signaled from the inner room.

    "That'll be Toll!" Goth said, and ran to switch it on.

    It was Toll.

    * * *

    Half an hour later, the captain sat alone in the control chair again, absently knuckling his chin.

    The Leewit was staying. No one had sent her deliberately along the Egger Route to the Venture this time; so the witches felt it was something he and the Leewit had done between them. Some affinity bond had been established; some purpose was being worked out. It would be best not to interfere with this until it could be clarified.

    He and the Leewit were about equally dumbfounded at the idea of an affinity bond between them, though the captain did his best to conceal his surprise. The smallest witch had accepted the situation, rather grudgingly.

    Well, strange things simply kept happening when one started going around with witches, he thought.... Then he suddenly stiffened, sat up straight, hair bristling.

    Like hearing a whiff of perfume, like seeing the tinkle of a bell -- vatches came in all sizes; and this one was no giant. He could make it out now, flicking about him to left and right. A speck of blackness which seemed no bigger than his thumb. It might be as small as a vatch could get -- but it was a vatch!

    It came to a pause above the control desk before him. A pair of tiny silver eye slits regarded him merrily.

    "Don't you start making trouble now!" the captain warned it.

    "Goodness, no!" giggled the vatch. "I wouldn't think of making trouble, big dream thing!" It swirled up and away and about the control room and was gone.

    Gone where, he wondered. He couldn't rell it any more. He got out of the chair, paused undecidedly. Then from the passage leading to the passenger section came sudden sounds -- a yelp of alarm from Vezzarn, a shriek of pure rage from the Leewit.

    The intercom clicked on.

    "Captain," Goth's voice told him, "better get down here!" She was choking with laughter.

    "What's happening?" the captain asked, relaxing a little.

    "Having a little trouble with a baby vatch... oh, my! Better come handle it!" The intercom went off.

    "Well," the captain muttered, heading hurriedly across the outer room towards the passage, "here we go again!"






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