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The Sorceress of Karres: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Monday, November 9, 2009 08:44 EST



    The Central Museum of Historical Nikkeldepain housed a collection of artifacts from the first settlers. The room Goth chose had their Charter of Rights displayed, signed by the first councilors on display. And for good measure the Mayoral Chain of Nikkeldepain City too, a relic of old Yarthe itself, if the label was to be believed. It looked like a trumpery bit of stuff to Goth. She’d seen more real-looking fakes in Wansing the Jeweler’s shop. But it had an impressive high security glass case.

    Goth slipped into no-shape and waited until the troop of bored schoolchildren were escorted out of that particular display room. Sure enough, she didn’t have long to wait. Mebeckey and his two confederates appeared. They’d apparently been watching the entrance. That particular display room had only one way in or out.

    “She’s not here, Mirkon,” said Marshi. “Must have slipped out with the kids. That teacher looked a bit odd.” She moved toward the exit, drawing out a blaster.

    Given what she’d seen of Marshi’s murderous temperament, Goth was afraid the woman would attack the children and their teacher. So she allowed herself to become briefly visible, huddling behind the display case of the charter.

    “There she is!” Mebeckey snapped. “Don’t let her get away! We need that map.”

    All of them had drawn weapons, now, even here in the museum. The one that could cause problems was a tangle-gun — which fired a spreading stream of thin, glutinous fibers. Goth supposed that she could get out of it, but a Goth-shaped tangle would give them a target.

    Goth used one of the light-shift tricks she’d learned from the little vatch. It could create multiple images of itself, and she did the same. Suddenly there were four of her, one in each of the far corners of the big room.

    Marshi immediately took a shot at one. Fortunately it was an illusory one, but Goth decided right then and there that Marshi was the first candidate for a shot from the transdermal syringe she’d taken from the glove compartment of Marshi’s vehicle. In no-shape she came up behind her and injected her broad behind. Then she darted away as the woman turned.

    As he was armed with the tangler, Goth dealt with the cat-burglar Mirkon next, then with Mebeckey himself. It was all ludicrously easy.

    And then Goth realized it hadn’t been. Mirkon had fallen over, Mebeckey had sat down, head lolling, but still trying to raise his weapon. Marshi hadn’t done either. It seemed the transdermal injection had had no effect on her. She was in the act of thumbing her blaster to rapid fire mode, searching the room for a target. From the expression on her face, Goth was pretty sure the woman had decided just to sweep the whole room with fire and never mind whatever damage might result.

    Marshi’s heavy, powerful blaster was beyond Goth’s weight limit for outright teleportation. She didn’t have time to fiddle with some internal mechanism, either. But her ‘porting ability was great enough to allow her to force the weapon out of Marshi’s grip and fall on the floor. Then, with an effort, she was able to send it skidding across the smooth surface to come to rest again the pedestal holding up one of the exhibits.

    Marshi went racing after the blaster. Goth snatched up the tangler that Mirkon had dropped. She fired just as Marshi was bending over to retrieve the gun. The woman’s own momentum sent her into a tangled sprawl. She was out of the action and would be for some time.

    Not surprisingly, however, by then the ruckus had drawn one of the museum guards. He stopped, his mouth agape, and drew his own gun — which was a tangler, of course. Museums frowned on weapons being discharged on their premises that could destroy the exhibits, even in the hands of their own guards.

    Marshi was still struggling in the tangle-net, which drew the guard’s attention. Cautiously, he moved toward her. Goth saw her chance. She still had one ampule left in the transdermal syringe. She dosed him just as he finished saying “All right, whoever you are, put up your hands!”

    That made her feel a little better about the business. The guard was a completely innocent party, of course. But Goth figured anyone dumb enough to order someone in a tangler-net to raise their arms was barely conscious anyway.

    After he collapsed, Goth ‘ported the charter in with Marshi. Then, as the alarms began ringing and security doors crashed closed, dropped the mayoral chain around the slumped Mebeckey’s neck. For good measure, Goth tangled-webbed both him and Mirkon. And then put the weapon in the unconscious guard’s hand, swapping it for his own. She wasn’t positive, but she thought criminal investigators could determine which specific tangler had figured which particular net. It wasn’t likely anyone would bother with such a detail, but why take the chance?

    That left the one obvious drawback in her grand plan — she was stuck in the room with the three of them, with a tangler in her hand. But she was pretty sure she still had enough klatha energy left to stay out of sight in no-shape.

    She didn’t have wait very long. The heavy steel security doors were cranked open and the guards scrambled under them, before they were halfway up. At which point there was enough confusion to tempt Goth into staying.

    “Great Patham. The Charter is gone!”

    “They’ve murdered the guard!”

    “But that’s young Ziller with the tangler in his hand.”

    “I think he’s still alive, too.”

    “Do you think he was in with them?”

    “Get the cops to set up roadblocks! Somebody might… well. Might have escaped. Who knows?”

    Goth decided to intervene. Lightshifting in a back corner, she became yet another museum guard. That was a little tricky, because she had to combine a real tangler with the illusory guard holding it. But such complexity was more a matter of skill than available energy. She didn’t have much energy left, but she had a lot of skill.

    She walked forward to the captive Mebeckey and pointed: “He’s wearing the chain.”

    They all crowded in, exclaiming. Goth stood back. So she was the only one who saw Marshi — who must have been painstakingly sawing at her tangle-web — make a break for it. Goth saw her stagger to her feet, and start sidling toward the now open door.

    “She’s getting away!” yelled Goth. Marshi was able to move, but not quickly. She leapt upon by several museum guards and wrestled to the floor.

    “What’s happening?” demanded a panting guard captain who arrived at this point.

    “Young Ziller caught them in the act,” Goth said immediately. “Have the entrances been sealed? They might have accomplices.”

    She was quite proud of that story. The people of Nikkeldepain would believe what they wanted to believe. Better a hero museum guard than more mysterious happenings.

    The guard captain looked startled. “Run. I’ll radio the office.”

    So Goth ran. The Leewit would simply have come back, but Goth decided that it would be a good time to leave, even if it would have been fun to stay and watch. She’d have to follow the rest of the story in the newscasts. She even stopped to pass on the message about closing the main entrances. Of course, she made sure she got outside before they did that. Then she went off in search of a hyper-electronics dealer. She had Mebeckey’s wallet, and it seemed fair to spend some of his cash on a spy-ray shield, just in case there was someone still at large to follow her. It was quite a fat wallet. She’d sit and investigate it, when she’d spent a little more of the money on sugared pastries and a long cool bitter-sweet caram juice. Nikkeldepain had some things worth discovering.

    Later, full of pastries and almost awash with caram-juice, she made her way to join the curious crowd peering at the windows of a holo-vid store. Nikkeldepain had seldom had such excitement, it seemed. A brave young museum guard had foiled the heist of the century, although he modestly said that he could remember almost nothing of doing so, Goth had to grin. The three criminals included a known felon who had escaped custody barely days before, and two suspicious off-worlders.

    So far, so good. Unfortunately, the talking heads of the media, always in search of material to keep their prattle going, now began voicing dark suspicions about the presence of the lattice-ship carnival and the undesirable people who came with such entertainments.

    Goth rolled her eyes. Ha! Still, she’d bet Himbo Petey had started the roustabouts working as soon as he heard the first suspicion uttered. She’d better go and recover that strange box. She went to the nearest monorail station and headed for the lattice ship, eavesdropping with quiet amusement to the lurid stories of museum derring-do.



    But Himbo Petey, it turned out, had moved even faster than she’d thought he would. When she got to the monorail’s final station, she realized that there was something missing from her view. The lattice-ship, with its bright silks and bunting, was gone. There was nothing but a big skytrail of rocket exhaust.

    Himbo must have started breaking the circus down almost as soon as she’d left it. The mysterious map-box was still in its second props store, and had headed off to trundle between the stars, heaven knew where next, with the Greatest Show in the Galaxy.

    Goth took a deep breath. She didn’t really know what to do about it. She’d have to think. She shook her head irritably. She really missed the captain, partly because he was turning into a clever planner, and partly… just because. And because chasing after the lattice ship in the Venture would have been relatively easy. Right now she needed to sort out so many things. School. Pausert’s inheritance. Those other kids. And if she could definitely stay in her kidnappers old lair. The map-box on the Petey B would just have to look after itself. After all, there was centuries of junk in that props-room. No one ever threw things out and no-one knew she’d left it there. She retraced her steps and caught up on the latest excitement about the Museum heist on the wall-holovid at the Monorail coffee-shop. It appeared the authorities had identified one of the off-world desperados as none other than the famous Sirian archeologist Mebeckey. The police had surrounded his spaceship at the Nikkeldepain space-port and could be seen trying to force entry to it. Revolt ships had been scrambled and circled overhead. Goth scowled. She should have thought of the ship and gone there straight away to search it for herself. In among Mebeckey’s possessions in the wallet was a key-card door-coder. It could easily be for the ship.

    Goth took the monorail to the spaceport terminus and the crowded airbus from there. She might as well go and look. Everyone else on Nikkeldepain seemed to be.

    The spaceport was probably busier and more crowded than it had been at any time in the last fifty years. The police had cordoned off the onlookers, and had started deploying a heavy duty ion-cannon to blast open the lock of the Kapurnia.

    Goth decided that it was not the right time to try the key-card, and it probably never would be again.

    It soon became apparent that, despite her rich man’s plaything appearances the Kapurnia had a military grade lock. The ion-cannon had to be recharged and fired at the lock again. And then again. On the fourth try it did finally give way. The military went in first: a small contingent of Nikkeldepain’s Space Marines. The little Republic might be stuffy and a bit backward in some respects, but that was not something Goth was prepared to say about those space marines. They were, in her opinion, as good as anything that the Empire or Daal of Uldune could field. She began to understand where the captain had learned some of the skills that made him such an asset to Karres.

    No wonder the Empire had held back from gobbling up this little Republic. They were pretty good at making allies with those worlds that were going to cost more to take and hold them they were worth. A planet against an Empire had always seemed bad odds to Goth. But Captain Pausert had explained that any attack on a well defended position would be difficult and expensive. In the case of Nikkeldepain, Goth could believe it.

    If there was going to be any resistance on board, Goth felt sorry for them. A few minutes later a Nikkeldepain Space Marine popped his head out of the blasted air-lock. “All clear,” he said to the commander of the police and customs officers waiting outside in the shelter of their armored vehicles. ” We’ve taken a couple of crewmen and the cook into custody. The ship should be safe to search now, sir.”

    “No trouble?” asked the Commander.

    “None sir. But the delay with the lock did give them time to shred some of what look like star-route maps.”

    “Well, that won’t help them to claim to be innocent, will it?” said the Commander. “Thank you Lieutenant. If you can just bring the prisoners out, we’ll start our search.” Goth had used no-shape to cross the cordon, and then had joined the ranks of customs men waiting behind the armored cars. She joined them in marching into the Kapurnia, too.

    It was, in many ways, internally, very much of a rich man’s racing space yacht. The engines were outsize and the tubes would have done for a space navy patrol cruiser of five times the size. But that of course was not necessarily abnormal for that kind of ship. Rich men liked expensive excess power.

    The heavy weapons turret hidden behind slide-back bulkheads was enough to get the customs men very excitable. Mebeckey went from merely being a robber of museums to being a space pirate, or worse.

    Goth was less sure. It was the kind of armament that you might want to have if you were on an archaeological expedition somewhere outside of the writ of the Empire and other safe, civilized worlds. The contents of the hold were more convincing evidence of a hardened criminal to the Nikkeldepain police and customs than it was to her. After all, an archaeologist might actually need to have rock drills and explosive, although she thought that they were supposed to do the excavation with trowels and great care. But maybe you had to get to the place to do that careful digging? Still, it, and the selection of personal weaponry, excited the locals a great deal. Goth found the large library more interesting, and more revealing too. It was indeed principally made up of archaeological books. But there was several on botany that just didn’t fit in with the rest.

    Goth felt she’d had enough trouble with botany. These books looked old. They even felt really old. Perhaps Yarthe relics. Well, science had taken a back seat during the wars of expansion. They’d been pretty advanced back when humans lived on one world. Looking at the dense text and strange archaic words, Goth was glad she wouldn’t have to read those.

    Of course the customs men were seizing all the paper and computer records. Goth didn’t get much of a look in there. But somehow she doubted that the crew would have destroyed star-maps and left much else that was incriminating intact. Forensics on Nikkeldepain were not likely to be up to much, she was sure. Goth left the Kapurnia carrying a box of papers to the customs air-truck, feeling that she might have dealt the threat to Pausert a blow. But she’d come no closer to discovering why the threat existed in the first place. It niggled at her. There was something she had to do about it, but she just wasn’t sure what.

    The rest of Goth’s day was taken up with the dull practicalities of an ordinary life. They were more time-consuming than she’d realized. She spent time checking out the apartment’s rental, and was happy to discover that the criminals had cheerfully forged all the documentation the bureaucracy of Nikkeldepain required to keep itself busy with purposeless paperwork. She was quite grateful to Mebeckey and his criminal cohorts for shortcutting all the supposedly preventative paperwork.

    Now: As long as she continued to pay the rent, she had a place to live. It was rather fun going shopping to make it into a home. To furnish it with the paraphernalia of parents who apparently lived there with her and paid the rent, by means of those convenient envelopes she could drop through the letter slot on the rental agency’s door. Nikkeldepain’s authorities would not take kindly to her living on her own.

    By evening she had a new robo-butler, well stocked with food, fresh bed-clothes that had not been occupied by a louse like the thugs who had kidnapped her. She had doubts about how often Franco had bathed and just what kind of lice or bedbugs had shared the bed with that louse. She’d tossed out the burned wig, tidied the place out, and made it quite homely. She’d even put some effort into faking signs of a mother and father being there. She had to laugh thinking of what the authorities reaction would be if they found out that it was the infamous Threbus she was faking.

    Goth was very proud of her new apartment. She even entertained thoughts of going across to Pausert’s long narrow home and bringing him here to see her new place, but she put that aside. She wondered how his day at the school had been, with the gang of boys. If they’d stayed frightened off? Pausert was a match for any one of them, she thought, stoutly. Only they didn’t hunt in ones. And that Rapport struck her as sneaky.

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