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The Sorceress of Karres: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Monday, September 28, 2009 19:00 EDT



    When Goth recovered from the stresses of the Egger Route, she tried to take in her surroundings. She was sitting on some turquoise mossy stuff, overhung by long fronded purple leaves, that she didn’t recognize at all. But just over there was what she was sure was a tumtum tree from her native Karres.

    A scrawny, fresh-faced boy was standing just a few feet away, staring at her wide-eyed.

    “What is this place?” she asked.

    “The Nikkeldepain Xenobiology Botanical Garden. It’s part of the Threbus Institute of Xenobiology.”

    He sounded rather proud as he said that. But within seconds his wide-eyed stare was back. “You were having some kind of a terrible fit,” he said. “Shaking and banging yourself around.”

    With a sudden shock, Goth realized that she recognized his face. She actually knew it very well. She’d just seen a picture of Pausert as a teenager.

    “I’m all right now,” she said shakily.

    He was plainly worried by the whole experience. “I think I could carry you,” he said. “I’ll get you to a healer.”

    He possibly could carry her, Goth thought. He was a rather skinny boy, with a rapidly swelling black eye.

    “Did I do that to you? Punch you in the eye?” she asked, feeling more than a little guilty.

    He grinned. “No. You should see the other guy. He started it. But I’m going to catch it for it.” He seemed quite accepting about that. “Look, I need to get you to some kind of medical help. That was really scary.”

    “Don’t worry,” said Goth. “It’s over. It won’t happen again.” She thought hastily. “I just got the times wrong. I should have been home already. It’s a side effect from the medicine I had to have for Munki fever.”

    “I’ve never heard of that. It must be pretty bad,” said the young Pausert, plainly impressed. “So who are you, and what are you doing here? I thought I was the only person who ever came here. How did you get in?”


    What was she going to say? She hadn’t actually expected to meet him. Just to slip around in no shape invisibility, find out who was trying to kill him, and deal with them. She couldn’t exactly say that she was Goth from his future. He might remember and he’d never mentioned it. Surely he would have? She snatched on the first name that came to mind.

    “I’m Vala,” she said. And then suddenly realized that Captain Pausert might never have mentioned meeting anyone called Goth, who had apparently been having an epileptic fit when he came across them… but he had definitely known someone called Vala. He’d even said that she’d looked a bit like Goth! Except a little older… well, she remembered just how old and large someone of fifteen had seemed when she was twelve. It made her want to break out into a fit of the Leewit-type giggles.

    What else had he said? Oh yes, Vala had had curly red hair. Her hair was hidden inside the padded hood she’d chosen to protect her on this end of the Egger journey.

    She just had to remember to do a light shift, when she took it off — which had better be quite soon. She might have survived the Egger route, but she was going to boil in this outfit.

    “Well, Vala,” said the boy, “my name’s Pausert.”

    She noticed that he was rather watchful as he said it. “That’s a nice name,” she said, smiling at him.

    He looked at her rather like a spooked mountain bollem, one of the wild ones. One that could either run away or charge at you. “You don’t come from around here, do you?”

    That was for sure! She thought. But what she said was: “Nope. And you?”

    He nodded. “Worse luck, yes I do. I’ve lived here for years.”

    Goth unfastened her bulky hooded over-jacket. And then took off the miffel fur coat. Pausert stared at her, wide-eyed. “It’s not that cold, you know! Actually, it’s a pretty warm day for this time of year.”

    “I’m not used to this place,” Goth improvised hastily. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

    “Nikkeldepain only gets snow a little later. And besides you never get it in here.” He looked a little wary. “Just how did you get in here? Where are you from?”



    As Goth had no idea just where she was, that was a question she preferred to avoid answering. And she hadn’t exactly expected to have to immediately come up with a good story as to where she came from either. Fortunately, he answered for her. “You’re from the lattice ship, aren’t you?”

    At least she knew something about lattice ships thanks to their time on the Petey B. But it was best to be a little cagey. She looked up at the glassed roof, and did her best to make her face into the very picture of innocence. “I really don’t think I should say.”

    He grinned. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t tell anyone. I want to get out of Nikkeldepain myself. Do they take on apprentices? I’ll do anything. Clean out cages. Get custard pies in my face. I don’t mind.”

    Goth resolved to remind him of that one day. But she also had a duty to see that she didn’t mess up her own history and timeline. The captain had stayed on Nikkeldepain until his trading mission with the Venture 7333 when he had rescued her, Maleen and the Leewit from slavery on Porlumma. “No,” she lied valiantly. “And don’t try and stow away either. Promise you, it’s not worth it. They’ll just catch you. Kids try it at every stop.”

    He looked terribly disappointed. It had obviously been on his mind.

    “Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll get out of here soon enough, I reckon.”

    He shrugged. “I don’t really see how. Ma hasn’t got the money to send me to the space naval academy. I guess I could sign on as a crewman one day. But not a lot of ships come to Nikkeldepain these days. It’s a pretty dead-end place I suppose.”

    He studied her for a moment, a bit squinty-eyed and looking much more curious than Goth was comfortable with. “Don’t you remember how you got here?” he asked.

    “Uh. No it’s rather vague. One of the other side effects of the medication I’ve had to take.” She took off the miffel fur coat, and then pulled off the thick sweater beneath.

    “Oh,” said Pausert. “I just wondered how you’d got in. It’s supposed to be securely locked, to prevent any chance of cross-contamination, see.”

    She had to wonder just how the captain-to-be had got himself in here then? He was always so strictly law-abiding. She had to admit that it was something that she admired about him. The Pausert that she knew would not have voluntarily broken any law. He was scrupulously honest.

    “So how did you get in then?” she countered.

    He scowled. “I’ve got a key. My great uncle built this place. In spite of all the other trouble he caused, nobody’s ever asked for the key back. I’ve got a sort of right to be here. I come in here to hide out,” he admitted. “I had a fight, and now some of them are looking for me. They plan to give me a beating.”

    Goth felt her fists ball. “Just let them try!” she said fiercely. “They’ve got two of us to take on.”

    It occurred to her then, that the great-uncle he was referring to was probably her father Threbus. Well, he was supposed to have caused a fair amount of trouble here, before moving to Karres.

    Pausert grinned at her, looking terribly young and vulnerable. “I wouldn’t do that. They don’t like strangers around here. Nikkeldepain is pretty conservative. I’m surprised that they even let that lattice ship land.”

    “Huh,” said Goth, wishing that she knew just which lattice ship it was. But most of the traveling circus ships had dealt with hostile local governments before. She hoped that this lot took the officials of Nikkeldepain for every penny they could!

    As usual, the journey down the Egger route had left her ravenous. “So where do we get something to eat?” she asked. “And if anyone out there tries to pick a fight with us, we’ll sort them out,” she added militantly.

    “It’s been a while,” said Pausert. “They’ve probably moved on and gone to look somewhere else by now. But I’m afraid I don’t have any money right now.”

    Looking at his clothes Goth could see that penury probably did not apply to just right this moment. He was a little too large for what he was wearing, and his clothes looked elderly and threadbare. There was a patch on the one elbow of his shirt and a fresh-looking tear on the opposite shoulder.

    He must have noticed her looking, because he grimaced and touch the tear. “Ma is not going to be very pleased with me. She keeps telling me to stay out of fights. It’s just not that easy.”

    “I know,” said Goth. “Look, I’ve got some money. Let’s go and get something to eat before I start on these plants. Is there any place I can stash this coat and stuff?” The part about having some money was not strictly true. She actually did have a few Imperial Maels… but they would not have been printed yet. That could be a little tricky if someone looked too closely. But Goth figured that she could do something about it. The captain’s honesty had had some effect on the way that she saw the universe, but as far as she could work out there were a lot of people on Nikkeldepain who owed him. She could ‘port some repayment. He was always very careful to pay exactly what he owed. Goth was not naïve enough to believe that others always treated him as fairly. He’d taught her to behave just as honorably as he did. And she would, for herself. But she might just right the balance as far as he was concerned. Just as soon as she had managed to get something to eat.

    “I can show you where to go,” he said. “But I can’t let you pay for me. We don’t need charity,” he said stiffly.

    Looking at him in his old, patched clothes, Goth reckoned that he probably did. He also looked like he could use a few more meals. But she was experienced enough with people from other places besides Karres to recognize the last phrase as a direct quote. Suddenly she was very glad that she’d taken the Egger route back to Captain Pausert’s childhood. She had needed him a good few times during their adventures. And it looked like he really needed her now. Besides… he was rather cute. She could see that she was going to be a very busy young Karres witch for the next while, besides fulfilling her mission to prevent Captain Pausert’s untimely demise.

    And then she had to stifle a chuckle that he probably would have taken the wrong way. To think that she’d been… yes, jealous of Vala!

    He saw her smile anyway, and smiled back. That did odd things to her. Whoever gave him that black eye was going to suffer!

    “And this kit?” was all she said, though.

    “Oh. There are lockers under the plant-beds. Most of them are empty. Here. This one will do.”

    He pulled it open, reading from the label. “You just have to remember which plant. This one’s Mularina tremblence from Coolumn’s world. Big maroon leaves. Easy to find.”

    He seemed totally uncurious as to why she would have a full-length miffel-fur coat. He simply helped her to push it in, along with the bulky sweater, and closed the locker.



    They went down a corridor between the huge beds of vegetation from various alien worlds. Squat little robot tenders trundled around constantly. A taller, stilted robot was trimming a tree with heavy basket-ball sized fruits

    “It’s all automated. That’s why the place is still running, I guess,” said Pausert, when she asked if there were any human gardeners. “The robotics must have cost a fortune, my mother says. It’s a pity uncle Threbus didn’t leave us the fortune instead.”

    “There’s some pretty valuable stuff here,” said Goth, looking at the tillipwood tree, and the berry-hung bushes that she was sure came from Margoli.

    Pausert shrugged. “I suppose so. But it all goes into the laboratories. My mother works in one of them. There’s not much new stuff coming in, but there’s years of work still, mother says.”

    They had arrived at a small doorway. Pausert produced an elderly looking key, and unlocked it.

    Several boys came bundling in through the doorway. “I told you we just had to wait for him!” shouted one of them..

    They were all quite a bit bigger than the scrawny Pausert. Goth wasted no time. She head-butted the first one in the stomach, kicked the next one. Pausert was already fighting, but they had plainly not expected him to have any help. She ‘ported a small object inside the shirt of the boy Pausert was wrestling with. It was a fleshy and very thorny leaf from a nearby cactus. He yowled most satisfactorily.

    “Quick!” she shouted, pulling at Pausert’s sleeve, seeing there were at least another four of the gang, still pushing their way in through the door. “There are too many of them. We’d better run.”

    So they did, dodging the little maintenance robots, sprinting along the corridors between the raised beds, as the boys chased them. Goth spotted the tree she had been looking for, with its spreading branches and large basketball sized spiky fruits. “Up there,” she panted. Toll had taught all her children: if you’re in trouble, go up until you’re above it. It was always easier to deal with it from up there. And if she had recognized the tree correctly dealing with it could be a lot of fun.

    They climbed into the growing-bed and then up into the tree. Doing this had set off some kind of alarm — but that didn’t seem to worry the seven boys. They were into the growing-bed and starting to climb the tree too… when Goth ported one of the fruits down on their leader. It was near the limits of the weight she could manage, but the effect was well worth the effort. The Leewit would have just loved it. The fruit exploded in a shower of thick glutinous mauve juice full of tiny seeds. The boy fell out of the tree knocking the boy behind him down too.

    By this time the two of them were out near the end of the branch in the foliage, and among the fruit. The young Pausert was no dope when it came to getting the idea. He picked and flung one of the Tyrian fruits at the crowd helping their leader to his feet. It hit the tree trunk and showered them all in its jellylike juice. The boys scattered like a picnic that has just discovered a zark-scorpion on top of the potato salad. Goth and Pausert sent a few more of the fruit hurtling down at them, sending them running for cover.

    Pausert yelled in delight, beaming from ear to ear. Goth thought that it was no wonder he and the Leewit got on so well. They must have been very alike, once. “Well I’m sorry I have got you into such trouble,” he said, apologetically. “But it was worth it.”

    “Why are we going to be in trouble?” asked Goth.

    “The alarm. Someone will come to see what the problem is. They’ll be able to run away, probably. We are not supposed to be in here.”

    “Uh huh.” Goth looked around for a way out. “Suppose we climbed down the tree a bit and out onto that branch there, and out along it. Might be able to get down and to the door first.”

    Pausert shrugged. “Maybe, but we shouldn’t be here. It would only be right to stay and take our punishment.”

    He hadn’t changed that much, thought Goth. “You are allowed to be here,” she said. “I mean you have a key. They don’t. And I’ll bet they would say it was all your fault they are here.”

    He nodded, “Likely. Rapport and his friends are always pretty good at saying it was all my fault,” he admitted, with a rueful grin.

    Goth smiled nastily. “So follow me along the branch.”

    Goth hoped that he would not wonder too much about the fact that Tyrian fruit kept flying down at the little gang hiding behind a nearby stone-palmettos, even after they’d left. And that the gang could run, but they weren’t getting out, because she had the key safely ported into her pocket.

    They shimmied down the branch and dropped into the pipe-like thicket of bright yellow-stemmed plants. With an awkward slither Goth descended into their midst. They creaked but did not break. She celebrated by ‘porting another couple of Tyrian fruit down on the boys who had been persecuting Pausert. It was a very good and almost indelible dye, as she remembered. Quite expensive too.

    Pausert followed her lead. Only he must have weighed a little more than she did, and the yellow stems gave way. He landed with a lot more of a crash, on top of her. Hastily she ported a couple more fruit down at the gang just in case they had heard the commotion. But by the sounds of it there was another kind of commotion coming.

    “You lot! Just what do you think you are doing here?” yelled an angry-sounding adult voice. “Stop! Come back here! You can’t get away! We’ll catch you!”

    Goth took advantage of the fact that Pausert was winded, and a little stunned, to hide both of them with a light shift, as the purple spattered group of boys ran for the small door they had come in through, hotly pursued by a couple of uniformed men. She listened in satisfaction as someone yelled, “It’s locked!” They sounded suitably horrified.

    Soon they came running past again. “Time for us to go, I guess, Captain.”


    “Uh. I mean, Pausert. You just reminded me of someone that I call Captain.”

    “You don’t think that we should go and turn ourselves in to security?”

    He really hadn’t changed! “No,” said Goth. “Then I’d be in a lot of trouble too.”

    That worked. “I’ll get you out,” he said.

    “Good. Because I’m still hungry. Come on let’s go. Just keep calm and keep walking. Pretend we belong here. I’ll be right behind you.”

    With any luck he wouldn’t realize that what was walking behind him look very like one of the little maintenance robots. Actually, hopefully he wouldn’t realize that he looked like a security officer. She hoped she’d got it right. She hadn’t managed to get a very good look at them. She snickered. She had done exactly what he suggested: turned him into Security. And herself as a maintenance robot - that was appropriate too.

    They walked on. A security officer ran past in a cross corridor, and one of the purple boys ran down towards them, saw them and fled. “They didn’t realize who we were,” crowed Pausert.

    “Shut up and keep walking,” hissed Goth.

    They got to the little door… “It is shut! The key is gone.”

    “No further than my pocket,” said Goth. “Now let’s get out here before they come back.”

    So they did, carefully locking the door behind them. “Maybe we should leave it open. Give the others a chance,” said Pausert.

    “Just like they were giving you one,” said Goth. “Come on. I am ravening. It’ll serve them right.”

    “Rapport’s father will get them off anyway,” said Pausert. “He’s a big cheese with the council.”

    “Smelly, is he?” said Goth.

    That reduced the youthful Pausert to laughter. “Vala! You’re amazing.”

    “Yeah,” said Goth. “And hungry, too. Come on. Let’s go and eat.”

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