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The Sorceress of Karres: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Monday, November 2, 2009 01:13 EST



    Goth found the waiting tedious. She whiled away the time by climbing back into the car and checking out the contents of the glove compartment. Those would have given the customs official more pause than the rock-drills had.

    For starters, there were a pair of gloves. Quite a normal thing for a glove compartment — except these had artificial fingerprints embossed onto them. Then there was a transdermal syringe and a set of ampules, one of which was empty. Goth was willing to bet that that was what she had been dosed with.

    She pocketed the syringe and ampules, and then carefully damaged the embossed fingerprints on the gloves. That took a further five minutes. Then she sat and thought about their adventures on the Venture and about Petey, Byrum and Keep and the lattice ship. Sat and thought about the nannite plague. Just sat.

    Eventually, she got bored and searched around the car for more entertainment. She found a book under the seat on xeno-archaeology. Specifically, the book was about the Melchin culture, the ruins from which had been found on several worlds on the fringes of the Chaladoor relatively near to Uldune. It was not the most interesting thing that she had ever read, but it was what she had, and it was better than just sitting. The pictures of the Melchin spacecraft — alien, spiky-looking sleek things — were some of the more fascinating parts of it.

    Eventually she started to get hungry and thirsty again. By the looks of the light, it was getting on for late afternoon. Was she going to have to spend the night here? She couldn’t keep up a light shift indefinitely.

    Hunger and impatience finally got the better of her. She left the book. Confiscating the syringe was one thing, taking someone’s book another entirely.

    There was an airbus service into Nikkeldepain city. After someone nearly sat on her, Goth realized another one of the less obvious disadvantages of being able to hide in no-shape.

    She was beginning to think that the reason that the precogs had seen her traveling back in time to Pausert’s youth might be a bit more complex than just to save Captain Pausert, as she’d originally assumed. Marshi had been callously unconcerned about killing her criminal associate. Yet they were steering clear of obvious clashes with the law. It could be that if they could have found this map that they were looking for, they would just have quietly gone away. Goth wondered briefly if she should find it and give it to them. But the thought was dismissed: even if they were mere treasure hunters, if anyone had a claim to the map or whatever treasure they could find using it, it was Pausert, or her father, or, for that matter, herself.

    She’d deal with them in her own way, once she’d dealt with issues like supper and where she was going to sleep tonight. After some thought, she took herself back to the apartment where her kidnappers had held her. The door was still open, with a key inside the lock. There were also a pair of good solid old-fashioned bolts. Goth had no faith that someone like Franco — or his friends, if he had any — could not pick a lock, if he decided to return. But bolts were a tougher proposition. She knew that much from old Vezzarn. He’d been, under some protest, quietly teaching her his lock-picking skills. The poor old fellow was nervous of what the captain might do to him if he ever found out!

    When you weren’t being held captive there, or dodging searchers, it was actually quite a pleasant apartment. The most serious fault Goth could find with it was that there was very little food in the cupboards or the fridge. A meal of crisps, some cookies and water was not at all satisfactory.

    Mostly, though, she was very tired. Using klatha so constantly would do that to you, even klatha that you were especially good at. Goth found that she had a good view of Pausert’s home from the third room, which also had two unmade beds in it. She was tempted for a moment — she was really tired, now — but Goth decided that while she didn’t mind sleeping in a props store, sharing Franco’s bugs was a different matter. She found a spare blanket, still in its store wrapping, and a sofa, and slept the sleep of the very tired. The sleep of the just would have to wait until she caught up with the perps.



    The next morning she locked up the place. She’d have to get fresh bedding and some food. She was already considering it her apartment, she thought with some amusement. Well, maybe the criminals had done the bureaucratic work for her. She’d just have to check it out.

    The question was: where to next? Did she go and lay siege to the Kapurnia? In the end, she decided to go and have a look through her father’s things in Pausert’s house. That probably wasn’t the right decision, she knew. But she was very curious about this map. En route she stopped at a money dispenser and, using her teleporting ability, swapping the maels she had for ones that were currently dated. Since it was an even swap, she figured it didn’t count as stealing. After that she bought herself some breakfast, which consisted of a curious bun-like pastry with seeds and cheese in a neat little cardboard box.

    She let herself in to Pausert’s home, and began to look in the obvious places — and then decided that was probably a complete waste of time. Franco and his friends would have done that, anyway, and done it better than she could.

    She could always pump Pausert for clues, but instinct said that would be a mistake. She felt that quite strongly, and one of the side effects of being klatha-operative was that sometimes those feelings were in themselves klatha side-effects. Perhaps what she needed to do was to tap into those feelings.

    She wandered around the house looking at the souvenirs of fifty worlds. They were interesting but she felt no draw towards any of them. She wandered into the kitchen, and then the bathroom, feeling like a bit of an invader. From there she peered into the bedrooms, feeling even more uncomfortable. She walked back downstairs.

    Her attention was suddenly caught by a piece of patterned cloth on which the communicator rested, on some kind of wall bracket. She touched the cloth, which was plainly some kind of hand-woven material, pretty enough in a primitive sort of way. The cloth didn’t feel special, just reminiscent of a hot place of tall fronded trees—but it was covering a small metal box that stood on the shelf. The cord of the communicator would be too short otherwise.

    Goth touched it, then pulled her hand back abruptly. The metal was oddly cold and felt repulsive, almost slimy. Carefully, Goth pulled the cloth aside and peered at the box.

    It looked disappointingly like a box, although there was some patterning etched into the metal. Goth carefully took it off the shelf, balancing the communicator against wall. She didn’t really like touching the thing. It reminded her, in a way, of the synergizer from the Lyrd Hyrier ship, except that it felt old.

    She felt a flood of strange, unpleasant images coming into her mind, and put the box down hastily on a small table. It still just looked like a box. She could see a thin line where the lid fitted onto the lower section. There were neat little hinges at the back. There was no sign of a lock or any way to open it.

    Braving touching the box again, she shook it. There was a faint sound, too dull to be a rattle — as if whatever was inside was heavy and fairly soft. She put it down again. The box did odd things to her head. Images. Strange images. Enormous trees spanning whole continents, and little animals dying.

    Goth couldn’t be sure quite what was in the box, but she was willing to bet that this was the ‘map’ they were looking for. It would seem that they were wrong about the size. Or perhaps this was a sheet of metal that could be folded. The question was: what was she going to do with it now that she had found it?



    She was quite reluctant to even touch the box again. On the other hand, she was now very sure that she shouldn’t let it fall into the hands of Mebeckey and his cohorts. If she left the box here they might come back and find it. But she couldn’t just take it, since that would be rather obvious. Looking at the wall and the faint line where someone had obviously dusted often, the box had been lying on that shelf for many years. The box, however, was almost the same size and shape as the box her breakfast had come in. That was now in the previously empty trash-can attached to a post just down the road.

    Goth went and fetched it, and put it under the cloth. It was much the same height, and nearly as wide. Unless they looked closely no one would never know that a substitution had been made.

    She couldn’t cope with actually touching the box for more than a few seconds. But with a little experimentation, she discovered that a bit of cloth — anything — between her and it, and she felt fine. She settled for taking two squares of kitchen towel and wrapping it in that and putting it in a carrier bag. It wasn’t a very large box. She’d have to get something else to put it in once she got back to what she had decided would be “her” apartment.



    Perhaps it was having been taken by surprise once before that made Goth more wary. This time she actually spotted her assailants before they got to her, although they were well hidden. She didn’t have time for any fancy maneuvers. She just ducked under the reaching hands and ran.

    There were three of them: the woman Marshi, a tall balding man with a few grizzled whiskers and an aquiline nose, and, although wearing a hooded top and sunglasses, the fellow from the van who Goth had had arrested, ran after her. They came after her.

    As she dived over a fence, Goth cursed her ill luck. They must have been watching Pausert’s home.

    Then she realized that she had a more immediate problem. The garden she had jumped into had a squat but vicious looking dren-hound, still blinking itself awake from where it had slept in the morning sun. The beast was looking at her incredulously, as if to say “you dared jump into my garden?”

    Goth knew that the one thing she dared not do was to run — and even no-shape wouldn’t help. The dog could certainly smell her, and she really hadn’t completely mastered no-scent yet. Not well enough to fool a dren-hound, for sure.

    Here pursuers appeared. One of them, the woman, had a small clype gun in hand. Goth ducked behind the dren-hound’s kennel. A clype needle screamed off the roof. That distracted the dren-hound. He noticed strangers leaning over his gate. The toothy animal plainly wasn’t too bright. It barked and rushed at them,

    The laughter of the tall bewhiskered man and his companion stopped abruptly as the dren-hound jumped up at the gate, that was swinging open under their weight. Goth ran, jumping the fence into the next yard, ignoring the noises behind her. Someone yelled at her, but Goth just kept right on running, until she got behind a small greenhouse. There she took refuge in no-shape. That still left a locked gate and an angry householder between her and getting away. But a little patience and she was able to go on her way, as the irate woman told the local policeman all about the disturbance.

    “Some people chasing a young girl. About fourteen years old, I’d guess she was. They ran off when I came out. Lucky for them my neighbor’s dren-hound is a soppy old thing. Doesn’t bite.”

    Goth slipped away, grinning. It was a pity the dren-hound wasn’t a biter. She’d take the long way back to the apartment and to make absolutely sure she wasn’t being seen, and go in no-shape.

    Within a hundred yards it became obvious that no-shape wasn’t going to be enough. The three in the red people carrier were very slowly cruising towards her. The hooded fellow was driving. The man with the grizzled whiskers was reading out co-ordinates from a wrist communicator.

    They must have a tracking spy lock on her. Just as they had followed Pausert, they could follow her, even if they could not see her. Then, belatedly, it occurred to her — they had probably been using a spy ray to watch Pausert’s home. And what had she done? Walked in and shown them where to find the map! And now they knew what they were looking for, and knew how to find her, too. Being in no-shape wouldn’t protect her from projectiles or blaster-fire, or even just being grabbed.

    A short way down the road was a stop for the monorail system. Goth could see a monorail car arriving, and took off for it at a sprint. She vaulted the automatic ticket gate and then hastened to find a place to change via light shift into someone unobtrusive. No-shape on crowded public transport really didn’t work.

    A frumpish old lady appeared on the platform — who looked rather like the woman who had called the police earlier. Goth needed models to get the light shift right and she figured this one would do fine. She started to run, and then slowed to a hasty shuffle when she realized that frumpish old ladies usually didn’t run as if an enraged bull-bollem was after them.

    She bordered the monorail car. It was fairly full, but Nikkeldepain folk were generous about letting an old lady past, or even offering her a seat. She politely decline the offers and made her way to the back door, which was intended as an exit. In typically orderly Nikkeldepain fashion all the cars had a forward entry door and a rear exit. And people were of course scrupulous about using them as intended.

    Nikkeldepain had some good points, if you liked everything done just so. Goth had often wondered what made the captain, and indeed, to a lesser extent her father, behave as they did. The answer was obviously growing up on Nikkeldepain. Whatever else she achieved back in time, Goth realized that she was learning a lot about what motivated Captain Pausert. That was probably a good thing, she supposed, given that she was going to marry him.

    The car jolted, and, just before it took off, three panting red-faced passengers forced their way into the crowded monorail car. They were looking around, and looking puzzled.

    Grizzled-whiskers was talking into his wrist communicator. There were various shields available that could scramble the satellite-tracking. Goth wished she’d thought of getting herself one. She could ‘port the communicator elsewhere. But that would be quickly replaced, and Goth didn’t want to advertise her klatha powers further than she had to.

    Her pursuers began making their way down the car towards her as the car sped on toward its next stop. The Nikkeldepain citizenry were much less polite to the three now pushing their way through the crowd. They weren’t old or infirm, and they were lacking in manners, as far as the locals were concerned.

    The car slowed and stopped at the next station. Goth stood up and got off along with five or six others, as the pursuit pushed their way through. The automatic door mechanism wasn’t a complicated one, and Goth had had a few minutes to study it. She ‘ported the person detector away, and joined the group walking off, as behind them the three struggled with the door. The car began to move again. The door was closed and the car’s safety system said that it could.

    When they were out of sight, Goth turned back and waited for the next monorail car. Given the way the system worked they’d be getting off at next station to come back at the same time that she got on at this one — unless they were sharp-witted enough to wait for her, or to split up, of course. She’d deal with that if they were.

    The car rolled and swung on, on a rail to somewhere. Goth had no idea where it was going, or what she would do when she got there. She was also not at all sure about the strange box in the carrier-bag. Was it their “map”? And, if so, where was it a map to?



    The monorail car slowed to a halt again. Goth looked warily up from her reverie and saw a familiar, heart-warming sight. The lattice ship, its gaudy syntha-silk covering bright in the morning sun, decked out with bunting and flags. She nodded to herself. Spy-lock or no spy-lock, let them try following her around the lattice-ship. Here on Nikkeldepain she was the one who didn’t know where she was going. And security on the lattice ship was fairly tight for areas that were off-limits to the paying public.

    She set off with the crowd who were obviously heading for the morning show. No-shape wasn’t really an option right now, so she settled for buying a stalls ticket and a box of carni-pops. There was no food value in them, but if she couldn’t enjoy some artificial flavorants for old-times sake, then what could she enjoy? She went with the flow, past the side-stalls and on into the main stages. They were doing the Scottish play again, she noticed. Out of pure nostalgia, Goth went in.

    And discovered that live theater still had the same mesmerizing magic for her. Seeing Dame Euthelassia playing the third witch was different, though. Distracting. She almost didn’t see her three pursuers sneaking in. She actually might not have seen them, if it had not been for the “hush” and “sit down” from others in the audience.

    Huh. When shall we three meet again? She was meeting those three all too soon!

    She slipped under her seat, down into the scaffolding that held the bleachers up, then swung down to the lattice tier. Once there, she moved along one of the beams toward the animal enclosures.

    The carrier bag on her arm was a nuisance for this sort of work. It was heavy and awkward. And just there was the props store. There was junk in there from a hundred productions.

    Goth dropped onto the beam, next to it. The door was locked. No matter. She knew the lock-keypad sequence backwards.

    It took just a few seconds to bury the map-box in her old lair and get out of there, locking the door behind her. And there the three were, after her. She stepped behind a stanchion and assumed no-shape again. There was a choice of three directions in which to run from here — so instead Goth went up. That was always her first instinct.

    Once she was a comfortable three body-lengths above the beam, at a convenient cross-rail, she stopped and listened.

    “Where has the little witch got to this time!” snarled Marshi. “I’m going to kill her when I catch her. See what I mean, Mirkon. She just disappears.”

    “We need answers out of her. The readouts say that she’s right here,” said grizzled whiskers.

    “Could be up or down, boss,” said Mirkon.

    “True. It’s got an altitude reading.” Goth didn’t stick around. She climbed and railed along, and then dropped down to the fanderbag section. Fanderbags were loveable and huge. Especially huge. And Ketering, their keeper, even slept in there with his big children. He never left them alone.

    He was with the gentle behemoths now, washing and scrubbing them. Goth balanced her way to the top of their sleeping-house. The fanderbags twitched their big noses at her, plainly smelling her. But this was scrubbing time, a treat not to be missed.

    Onto the scene burst her two of her three pursuers.

    “Oi. What are you doing here? This is off-limits to the public,” said Ketering.

    “We’re from the Nikkeldepain police,” said Mebeckey, flashing a card. “Looking for a dangerous fugitive. We believe that you have her hidden in that structure. Now, just bring her out for us and we’ll say no more about aiding and abetting criminals. We don’t want any trouble, do we?”

    “You think someone is in my fanderbag house?” said Ketering. “They have babies in there. No-one is in there. But here, Nellie. Take him and show him the babies. Show babies. Go girl.”

    The startled Mebeckey was whisked off his feet by the long prehensile tusks and transported over to the fanderbag house. “See?” said Ketering. “Babies. No criminals. Now get out of here, see. They don’t like their babies being disturbed. Gowan!”

    Goth kept still, watching. Any sign of weapons and there was going to be some serious ‘porting — and shooting back. She liked the fanderbags and Ketering.

    Mebeckey was plainly not used to being manhandled by a three ton animal — gently manhandled, but it had still demonstrated just how light the fanderbag found him. Mebeckey carried himself with that arrogant assurance of those accustomed to getting their own way. Right now that assurance was badly rattled. “Er…”

    The closer fanderbag snorted at him, leaning forward. Goth had seen Ketering’s prompting hand, and she’d fed and petted the big animals often enough to know that they were utterly harmless. Mebeckey and the woman didn’t know that. Where was the third man, though? “Thank for your co-operation,” said Mebeckey meekly and retreated back the way he had come.

    “You can come out now,” said Ketering, a few moments later. “The fanderbags know that you’re there.”

    Goth slipped down the side of the house and back into visibility.

    “Thanks,” she said. “They’re not cops.” Instinctively she was petting and caressing the sensitive, curious noses that snuffled at her, just as he’d showed her how to do, years ahead of now.

    He raised his eyebrows. “You know fanderbags.” His tone, a little sharp earlier, was now much gentler.

    “Adore them. And I’m not leaving before I see the babies. Then I’ll be gone. No trouble for you or Himbo, I promise.”

    A smile spread across his face. “They like you too. Come and have a look.”

    The two baby behemoths were miniature quarter-ton versions of their parents. Goth thought that it was just as well the Leewit wasn’t here. There really wasn’t room for a baby fanderbag on the Venture !

    Ketering watched her pet them. He sucked his teeth. “Look, kid, you know young Himbo, it seems. You hide on the ship now, and they find you, and we could be in all kinds of trouble. You want to get here about an hour before we lift. I’ll give you a pass.”

    She hugged him, even if he smelled of fanderbag. “Can’t,” she said gruffly. “Got stuff to do here. But you tell Himbo those are not cops. One of them is a wanted escaped felon.”

    He bit his lip. “By the way the Fandy’s are sniffing, they haven’t gone far. You’re in some kind of deep water, kid. Do you need help?” He patted a prehensile tusk. “I’ve got some big friends.”

    “Who wouldn’t hurt a fly,” she said, smiling. “I’ll be fine. Just tell Himbo he’s got some bad guys — three of them, backstage where they shouldn’t be. I’ll lead them off now. Head for the sideshows. A few roustabouts around there would help.”



    “You know lattice ships?” he asked.

    She nodded. “Yeah. And I know what I’m doing. Take care of those little ones.”

    She was reluctant to leave, Goth discovered. She had never thought that she’d appreciate a champion. That was not the kind of thing Karres witches found necessary too often. Mind you, they’d let Pausert be one. It had seemed right. But the lattice ship would leave Nikkeldepain soon, and she still had the better part of six months to spend here.

    She clambered up the beam like a monkey, and was not that surprised to see the third member of the chase-pack waiting up there in the high shadows. And he’d seen her, too. Well, he was probably their cat-burglar. She should have realized that they’d have hired one for the break-ins. She’d just have to hope that she could climb quicker, and that he wasn’t going to start shooting.

    The light up in the beams and rafters of the lattice-ship was not that good. It made moving fast risky. Goth just hoped it made shooting riskier. He was climbing about as fast as she was. She was tempted to ‘port a small bird perched on a nearby rafter into the folds of her pursuer’s coveralls, to distract and delay him. But she knew she didn’t have much klatha energy left and figured she’d be smarter to save it for later.

    She swung down to the aisle behind the sideshow stalls where she and the Leewit had had their act. It was quicker to run than it was to climb, so, no surprise, Mebeckey and Marshi were very close. She dropped into the gap next to Timblay the folding man’s stall — he was bad-tempered at the best of times — and slipped out of the narrow passage that led to his boxes and paraphernalia as quickly as possible. Within seconds, she was back onto the main aisle.

    They’d seen her drop into the gap and ran there.

    So did several other people, some of them of considerable size and bulk. Goth had to dodge sideways to avoid being flattened.

    “What are you doing here?” demanded one of the large men who had now cornered the two perps in the narrow passage.

    Once more, Mebeckey attempted to use his false identification. “Special Investigations, Nikkeldepain Police. We believe you’re harboring a fugitive,” he said, flashing the card.

    “Yeah? Let’s see that card again.”

    “You’re obstructing police investigation. We’re in hot pursuit –”

    “Let’s see the card again, mister,” said the big roustabout, his arms folded.

    “I will warn you just once more. You’re obstructing the course of justice!” Mebeckey reached into his jacket. It was going to be a gun that came out this time, Goth suspected, and readied herself to act.

    A shriek, a crash and the tearing of synthasilk turned heads. It was the third member of the group, who’d apparently tried to climb faster than he could really handle. He fell right through a sideshow awning, which probably saved his life. But landing in the same environment as Merisco and his dancing jungle-cats nearly lost it for him again. He did, however, cause enough of a distraction for Mebeckey and Marshi to flee.

    Goth stood quietly in the shadows and watched as the cat-burglar was very ungently evicted from the premises of the circus. The images of Mebeckey and Marshi had also been captured, even if they hadn’t. They had been chased. The ticket office was informed, and given pictures of the three. Goth wished that they’d caught them and turned them over to the local police, but that wasn’t the circus way, unless the crime involved was something like murder or kidnapping. It wasn’t worth getting bogged down with local law enforcement.

    Goth couldn’t be too sure they wouldn’t be back. She couldn’t spend too long in the circus, either. The security systems were on full alert now, and there were some fairly sophisticated gadgets and some very-far-from-stupid people here. They were plainly still looking for her, or anything odd. She figured it would be best to get out while the getting was good. The map could wait for a day or two until she could collect it.

    So Goth left, quietly, into an open field on the far side of the lattice ship. Walking along toward the monorail she spotted the red people-carrier bumping its way towards her. She was getting powerfully tired of them by now! At least the vehicle had the advantage of being very recognizable.

    Reluctantly, she decided she had no choice but to use some more klatha. The limit on her ‘porting was a few pounds and had slowly increased with age. There were a few rocks of the right size in the field. She ‘ported one into the motor of the red vehicle. She had the satisfaction of seeing it come to an abrupt halt, and the three climb out and open the hood. They’d not fix that in a hurry!

    For good measure she also ‘ported Mebeckey’s wallet—she’d seen it twice and that was enough — into her hand. That would cut, temporarily, his access to cash for things like replacement vehicles, although the others would probably have at least mono-rail fares. A pity, but she couldn’t see any easy way of dealing with that. So she left them trying to fix the vehicle and boarded the monorail car.

    She soon realized that she’d underestimated Mebeckey and his cohorts. The woman, still panting, boarded the monorail just before it left the station. She looked around and sat down, making no attempt to get closer to Goth. But she had her wrist-communicator. Goth wondered why the desperate need to keep her in sight. They could track her anyway.

    Then it occurred to her. The map-box! They were worried she might stash it or pass it on to someone. Ha. A lightshift image of a carrier bag was not a hard task, even as klatha-depleted as she was.

    So, just as the monorail was about to leave the next station, she jumped up, raced to a door, and appeared to throw a carrier bag onto the dock. Then, made as if she was going to follow the bag onto the dock.

    That last little subterfuge probably wasn’t necessary, though. Marshi wasn’t even looking her way any more. The woman was frantically pushing back the closing door in her part of the car. She managed to leap onto the dock just as the monorail took off again.

    Goth kept the image of the carrier bag intact until the very moment when Marshi, with a triumphant little yell, bent over to snatch it up. The look on the woman’s face when the bag just vanished was priceless.

    The monorail was much too far away by now for Marshi to continue her pursuit. Goth leaned back in her seat and considered her situation. First and foremost, it was by now obvious that she had to lose the spy lock and put these three out of commission for a long time. That was easier said than done, of course. It was at times like this that she would have appreciated getting back onto the Venture and getting as far away as the ship could take her — and Pausert — away from here. Or even, as awful as it was, the Egger route. But there were things that had to be sorted out here. And she knew that she would be here for another six months.

    The monorail took her back to the center of Nikkeldepain city, with the car getting fuller and fuller. Goth was grateful now for the tour that Pausert had given her. The Central Museum of Historical Nikkeldepain seemed like a place that would upset the locals sufficiently.

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