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The Sorceress of Karres: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Friday, October 23, 2009 19:12 EDT



    Goth had always been around while the captain was organizing things, but until now she hadn’t realized just how useful the experience would be. At least she had some idea of the actual mechanisms of renting a house, which was not a custom on Karres. She decided that it would be easier than trying to find a safe spot in the circus lattice ship –which would be leaving anyway, pretty soon.

    On the other hand, she also began to appreciate Karres’s habit of simply ignoring bureaucracy when you could. The Karres people never made waves deliberately among societies of the Empire and the other worlds they visited. Their work was far too important to waste time causing trouble for mere entertainment. But fussy, meticulous bureaucracies that seem to like paperwork for its own sake were a real temptation, Goth had to admit.

    Before you could rent a house on Nikkeldepain you had to provide a whole lot of paperwork, most of which would be easy for a criminal to fake, but was guaranteed to cause maximum inconvenience for an honest citizen. And, unfortunately, documents posed a problem for her. Goth could very easily appear to be an adult. Light shifts could provide the appearance of most things — but every use of klatha drained some energy that could only be restored by sleep and food. If she pushed herself too much in any one day, she ran the risk of being exposed or having something else go wrong. Multiple klatha tasks were especially draining, such as documents which had to feel right in someone’s hand as well as look right.

    And it appeared that she would need an amazing number of documents in order to rent a house legally. Bank statements, previous utility payments — the list went on and on. It was truly amazing — and that was before the estate agent discovered that the smartly dressed woman in front of her was a foreigner, from off-world. Oh, they were very keen on off-world investment here on Nikkeldepain. They never lost the chance to tell foreigners so. But that didn’t mean doing something ridiculous like making life easier for them!

    The experience started to give her a real idea of the minefield that Pausert’s mother had to cope with. She smiled politely at the estate agent. “I think I will just stay in the hotel that you recommended in the port area.”

    The woman allowed herself a relieved smile. “You wouldn’t believe the paperwork it will save me.”

    Goth was tempted to make a very sarcastic comment. Or several comments. But she just nodded, and took her leave.

    She had to face up to the fact that this was all going to be more complicated than merely coping with the Egger route had been. She still hadn’t worked out why someone was trying to kidnap Pausert. She knew that she would be here for six months. That was considerably longer than any jaunt that she’d ever undertaken as a young Karres witch to the various planets in the neighborhood of Karres. Karres approved of their youngsters going out and learning about how life was away from home. But, generally speaking, they went in twos or threes. There was nothing much that two or three Karres witches couldn’t deal with! But, as the second-in-age sister, Goth had left quite a lot of organization to Maleen.

    Now, she found that she had to deal with issues like money. It was easy enough to ‘port it, of course. However, living with Captain Pausert had left her feeling guilty about doing that. Anyway, to live for six months she was going to need quite a lot of money. It wasn’t like she didn’t have it. The Venture ’s account was nicely into the black. Goth had found a lot of satisfaction in managing the captain’s money for him. He probably hadn’t even realized she was doing it. But there was one small problem to spending any of that money: it was all safely in the Daal’s bank some years into the future.

    She was so busy thinking about all of this, and how to deal with it, that she did not notice a nondescript vehicle shadowing her. In fact, the first thing that she knew about it, was that somebody had pressed something over her mouth and she felt the sudden brief sting of a transdermic injection.



    She awoke somewhat later, feeling groggy and sick, and lying tied up on a narrow bed in a dim room. Two people were talking in the next room. They were plainly quite upset with each other. Goth recognized the toneless voice of one of them. It was the woman with the cone hairdo, which had turned out to be a wig.

    “– should have come to a while ago,” said the male voice. “She was smaller than we guessed.”

    “You’re hired to know that kind of thing, Franco,” said the woman.

    “Listen, we found her for you. And I still think you’re taking a chance. She’s been seen with two of the agents of the police force.”

    “Yes,” said the woman. “When Mirkon got himself arrested by the local dogcatcher.”

    “He may not really have been a dogcatcher.”

    “Which is why he was shown in the newscasts as one for his heroic capture. To cover his secret agent tracks,” she said. “Anyway, we’ve got Mirkon back in the ship. They assume that he’s escaped off-world. That just leaves us a bit shorthanded for this. Let’s go and see if the girl is awake yet.”

    The lights came on. Goth immediately closed her eyes and slumped in the bed. The woman poked her in the ribs. “Wake up, sleepy-head. We need you awake to call that little boyfriend of yours.”

    Goth groaned, and kept her eyes shut. She needed time to think about this. Huh! Boyfriend, was it? He was going to marry her, he just didn’t know it yet. Even though she had told him so. In the meanwhile she really needed to think, and also to drink some water. And somebody was going to learn a lesson about catching and drugging a Karres witch. She had every intention of making it a very memorable lesson, but now that her mind was beginning to clear a bit, this might be the perfect opportunity to find out why they wanted Pausert.

    The woman slapped her face. “Wake up! Come on, girly, wake up. We’ve got some work for you.”

    Goth decided that it was time to stop pretending to be unconscious when the man emptied a glass of water onto her face. She spluttered and immediately regretted doing so. That was a waste of water that she really needed right now.

    “Ah, sleeping beauty has decided to join us after all,” said the woman, now wearing a curly coppery head of hair. “Now listen to me very carefully, little girl. Do exactly what I tell you and you’re not going to get hurt. Don’t even think of trying anything clever. Do you understand me?”

    Goth wondered just how stupid they thought she was. They were making no attempt to hide their faces. She’d bet that either they did not plan to leave her alive, or they were going to get off world very quickly. The man had a Nikkeldepain accent, so it seemed unlikely that he was going anywhere. Goth was sure that kidnapping, in a society like this, was not going to be looked on as a minor crime. The local authorities on Nikkeldepain got very serious about such offences as walking on the grass and spitting on the sidewalk. But all she did was nod.

    “Good. Now Franco here is going to give you a caller unit. You’re going to tell that Pausert boy to bring us the Illtraming map.”

    “The what?” asked Goth, doing her best to memorize the word.

    “The Illtraming map,” she repeated.

    “What’s that?”

    The weasel-faced Franco fiddled with the handle of his blaster, which was protruding from a hip pocket. “You don’t need to know. He’s just got to bring it to us and we’ll let you go.”

    “Well, what does it look like? I need to tell him what to look for. Does he know where to find it?” She tried to sound frightened rather than angry.

    “He’d better. Seeing as we couldn’t,” said the man.

    “Shut up, Franco. It’s in among his great-uncle’s things. A sheet of metal about as high as a door. It must be hidden somewhere in the house.”

    “What is it for? I mean where is it a map to?”

    The woman’s eyes narrowed. “You ask too many questions. Franco, bring her that caller.”

    “You promise you won’t hurt him?”

    The woman snorted. “We just want the map. We’ll arrange a pick up point. He won’t even need to see us and you’ll be as free as a bird.”

    She was busy talking and so did not notice that a piece of paper which had been lying on the table under a brass paperweight a few moments before was now in close proximity to the gas flame of the heater. She did notice, however, when it set fire to her wig. The fake hair was apparently made of something quite flammable. That struck Goth as being very poor design, but she wasn’t about to complain.

    The woman’s companion was unable to assist her. As he’d bent over to pick up the caller, the brass paperweight had dropped on him from the ceiling, where Goth had ‘ported it. The paperweight fell a lot harder than the piece of rope that she had chosen to teleport out of the entirety of her bindings.

    As the woman danced up and down on her wig. Goth slipped away into the security of no-shape. Fortunately, the blaster in Franco’s hip pocket was a small one apparently designed for concealment, not the much heavier variety that were normally used by law enforcement or military personnel. So it was — just barely — within the limits of Goth’s teleporting ability.

    After ‘porting the blaster from Franco’s hip pocket, Goth quietly flicked the light switch off, and stepped back into the corner to see what happened. The handle of Franco’s weapon felt very comforting in her hand.

    The light came on again.

    “Where in Patham’s seven Hells has she got to?” groaned Franco, who had staggered up to turn the light on.



    The now wig-less woman, whose hands had suddenly filled themselves with a pair of Blythe pistols, nearly shot him. “After her! She can’t get far, the outside door is locked!”

    Goth had always been good at teleporting, and by now her klatha skills in that area were as good as those of any Karres witch. Part of those skills was the ability to visualize — by what amounted to a sort of mental “feel” — the inner workings of any reasonably small object. She didn’t quite know exactly how Blythe guns worked, although she understood the basic principles of the weapons. But it seemed only logical to her that removing that particular part from both guns would make them inoperable. She was pretty sure they were the power units without which the guns were just awkwardly shaped bludgeons.

    The pair of hoodlums rushed through the door together. Goth followed at her leisure. The two frantically looked around the next room, and then charged off down the hallway. Goth sat down on top of the desk and had a good look at the books and papers there. Oddly, two of the books were xeno-archaeology tomes.

    There were several other useful bits of paper for Nikkeldepain’s paper-obsessed bureaucracy. Goth doubted the authenticity of any of them but folded them up and put them into her pocket anyway. The two kidnappers returned, considerably more warily now. Franco had plainly discovered his missing blaster, and was now armed with one of the Blythe guns. They searched cautiously in the cupboard, and under the desk, and behind the door. And then went back into the room where she’d been held captive. “She’s got to be here somewhere!” said Franco, his voice fearful. “We can’t afford to let her get away! They’ll put me away for fifty years for kidnapping.”

    “Stop whining!” said the now wig-less woman. “We caught her once. We’ll catch her again.”

    “It’s you who don’t understand, Marshi. I should have guessed when we couldn’t find any record of her in the Nikkeldepain database. She’s some kind of special agent! That Threbus had something to do with them. There are lots of stories…”

    “She’s a kid. We took her easily.” Marshi peered behind the door again.

    “She’s no kid and she’s got my blaster,” said Franco nervously. “I think we’d better cut and run. I’ll take the rest of the money you promised me right now. You go your way and I’ll go mine. Wha… what are you doing?”

    What she was doing was pressing her Blythe gun against the base of his skull. “Drop it,” she said.

    He did. “Look, I’ve got friends.”

    “Not many,” she said sardonically. “So long, Franco.” She pulled the trigger.

    However, instead of his skull exploding in a shower of bone and Blythe needles, nothing happened. She tried again. Franco was not the quickest thug on the uptake, but two attempts were enough for him to get the idea. He dropped, snatched his fallen weapon and tried to shoot her.

    The expression on his face, when nothing happened, was so comical that Goth had to push her sleeve into her mouth to stop from laughing. The two of them, both wild eyed, stood there squeezing the triggers of their useless weapons at each other.

    Franco was the first to realize that nothing was going to happen, no matter how hard he squeezed the trigger. He flung the weapon at Marshi and ran off down the hall. Meanwhile, Marshi had staggered back and opened up her Blythe gun, and was staring incredulously at the empty space that Goth thought was the charge-socket.

    Seconds later, she too was heading down the passage. Goth followed. Outside, she recognized the area. They were in a side street barely a block from Pausert’s home.

    The woman rushed up to a red people-carrier with an enclosed back. She fumbled out an electronic key and scrambled into it. Coming just behind her, Goth popped the hatch and climbed into the back as Marshi pulled away. Then Marshi skidded to a halt, jumped out, and peered cautiously into the open back. She slammed it closed, and soon they were off again.

    Goth wondered where they were going. Sitting in the back-hatch, she had time to examine the various packing crates sharing the space with her. It would appear that her would-be kidnapper was in some way involved in mining. The crates claimed to hold heavy-duty rock drills, but Goth had no way of making sure that they actually held what they claimed.

    They came to a halt at a customs barrier at Nikkeldepain city port. The official who peered into the back insisted on opening one of the crates, after examining the papers. Goth had time to get herself out of the way, although she had to move slowly and carefully. No-shape was not the same thing as no-sound — and for whatever odd reason, Goth had always found no-sound to be a lot more difficult than no-shape. She found it impossible to do both at the same time. Klatha could be tricky, that way.

    The crate did indeed contain large heavy-duty mining rock drills.

    “For which ship is this cargo destined?”

    “The Kapurnia. Registered in Lepper.”

    “You don’t look much like a Syrian,” said the official. “Passport.”

    This was duly presented, and examined. “What happened to your hair?”

    “Accident,” said the woman, in her curiously flat voice.

    “Well, I hope it grows back,” he said, in a tone that exuded indifference. In the same tone he added: “Thank you visiting Nikkeldepain.”

    “I’m not leaving yet. Just delivering this cargo.”

    So! thought Goth. The game was still afoot. She pieced together what she knew so far. They were looking for some large metal map, which was hidden among her father’s things in Pausert’s house. They’d plainly broken in and searched for it, before deciding on kidnap and force. They had books on xeno-archeology and they had rock-drills. And they were quite prepared to kill people.

    Goth did not know quite what to expect of the Syrian-registered Kapurnia. She didn’t, however, expect what she was driven to, which was not a grubby battered freighter or a miner-ship. It was a gleaming, state-of-the-art space-yacht. A rich man’s toy.

    Goth slipped into the front of the vehicle — and realized that the doors were electronically locked. It took her precious seconds to open a window, and to jump out of it and run to the ramp. The lock was just closing.

    Goth stuck her foot in — and then pulled it out hastily. The lock wouldn’t seal with her foot there, true. But it would also crush her foot first. She watched in impotent fury as the door closed. She was a skilled klatha operative, for her age. She expected to get a lot better. She could teleport and bend light. She could power a spacecraft to travel faster than any conventional set of tubes. She could even swim through space-time by the Egger route, albeit with great discomfort.

    She still couldn’t do much — anything, really — to hull-metal. She resisted the temptation to thump on the door.

    Instead she walked back down the ramp, leaned on the car and studied the ship. It was sleek and lean, with a bulbous but opaqued viewpod. Grudgingly, Goth had to admit that she wouldn’t mind owning it, even if it was not a patch on the Venture for real work.

    Well, sooner or later they would come and fetch the rock-drills. In the meantime, Goth could attend to the sort of pressing personal needs that somehow never got included in adventure stories.

    She walked across to the spaceport control buildings. There, thankfully, she found a bathroom and put it to quick use. As an extra bonus, there was a water-cooler just outside the bathroom which supplied the drink of water she’d been longing for also.

    That done, she found her way into an office, not occupied at the moment, with computer access to ship registry listings. She looked up the Kapurnia. The owner was apparently somebody named Mebeckey, of Arc’s World in the Republic of Sirius. She had a good view from here. Nobody had yet come out of the Kapurnia. Goth decided to make use of her access to the data-net, and searched for information on Mebeckey.

    She didn’t really expect to find anything. But, there he was. Rich. Famous. And, if you read the sub-text, ruthless in getting the prizes he sought in the world of xeno-archaeology. He’d made some extraordinary and valuable finds, by all accounts. But it was still obvious that he was not very highly regarded in academic circles, by what was not said. There was one story about some very valuable pieces fetching up in a private collectors horde, valuable pieces associated with a dig that Mebeckey had conducted.

    It was all beginning to fit together now. Somehow her father had brought back a map of some sort that this Mebeckey wanted. Goth couldn’t help wondering just what it was a map of, and why they hadn’t been able to find it when they’d burgled the house. There weren’t that many possible hiding places for something that size. How did they know what they were looking for? And surely this was all a bit much for a map? Pausert’s mother was poor. She’d probably happily have sold it to them. But they might not have wanted to let on that there was something of value in Threbus’s bric-a-brac.

    Besides, it wasn’t Pausert’s mother’s to sell yet, strictly speaking. She might very well have gotten stiff about it. That was the sort of honesty — stubborn to the point of crankiness — that the captain would have displayed.

    Goth knew that she was really going to have to sort out the mess. She scowled at the sleek space yacht. And teach this fellow and his lackeys a painful lesson!

    She went back to the Kapurnia’s registry record and added to the custom notes: Possible smuggler. Search and check identities of all passengers before allowing take off clearance. If something went wrong, that should give her a little extra time. And she might also get some of the gang punished for planning to kidnap Pausert. They might sing about their friends. You never knew.

    She walked back down, pausing only to do a little teleporting on a sandwich vending machine in the lobby, and went back to watch the ship. It was like hunting wild black bollems. Sometimes you could track them and stalk them. Sometimes you just had to wait.

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