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The Wizard of Karres: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Saturday, March 6, 2004 13:00 EST



    Pausert found himself blessing the Leewit. Her voice was very easy to follow—and the passages were dark. He also found himself cursing the loss of his boots. He’d been very proud of those boots. They’d come from the hands of Mister Hildo of Hildo and Naugaf, Nikkeldepain’s finest cobblers, back in the days when it had seemed he was going to be the first of Nikkeldepain’s miffel-fur millionaires. Right now what he missed most about them was the fact that they protected his feet. Not only was the concrete floor of the jail-block brutally cold, but he had stubbed his toes a couple of times already.

    Bare feet did make him walk a lot more quietly than the jailor who was also heading down the passage, which was still echoing with the Leewit’s voice. “If you don’t shut up, you’ll get no food in the morning!” threatened the jailor angrily. When he reached the Leewit’s cell, he rapped on the bars of the cell with his nightstick, as he shone his torch around the cell. “Some of us are trying to sleep!”

    The Leewit blew him a magnificent raspberry. The warder was lucky. At least she didn’t whistle at him. And she did shut up. Pausert knew the Leewit too well by now to believe that was likely to be without reason. So he shrank back into the shadows and waited for the warder to head back towards the desk he had been sleeping at.

    He was dead right. The man had hardly been gone a minute, when the captain heard a clink of keys and Goth’s whisper. “Here. You try. The door only unlocks from outside and your hands are smaller than mine. You’ll have to reach through the bars.”

    He walked quietly over to the cell door. “Let me help you. It’ll be easier from this side,” he whispered.

    “Captain!” both girls squeaked.

    “Hush. We don’t want the guard coming back here now that you have teleported his keys, do we?” Pausert took the key from the Leewit and opened the door.

    The girls piled out of the cell. “Knew you were coming,” said Goth, gruffly, squeezing his arm.

    “Do either of you have any idea of the time?”

    “No,” said Goth. “They took our watches before they put us in the cell. I thought it must be pretty late, so we got the Leewit to call the guard.”

    “They took mine too.” Pausert worried a little that he might have misestimated the time. “Did Hulik come to see you?”

    “Yeah. With that creep of a local ISS officer friend of hers. She’d better hope we never catch up with her,” said the Leewit nastily.

    “It’s not as simple as all that,” said the captain. “I’m not too sure what game she’s playing. She was supposed to come and let us out at midnight. The ISS have sent their agents from the capital of this mudball to come and fetch us. They should be here around about three in the morning.”

    “We’d better get out of here then, Captain,” said Goth decisively. “It’s got to be well after midnight by now.”

    “I suppose so. I’m inclined to trust her, myself, but… there are so many things that could have gone wrong. I reckon we should head for the old Venture. They’re planning to use her as a target hulk. Leaky airlock, low fuel or not, I think we’d better run. Are you two rested enough to do the Sheewash drive again?”

    “Yep. Count on us. It’s a pity you can’t help, Captain. You’re a hot witch.”

    “Believe me,” said Pausert, “you can’t want me to do it any more than I do. I feel as if I’m almost getting it.”

    “You can try too hard with klatha stuff,” said Goth sternly. “Sometimes it comes when you need it, rather than when you want it.”

    That sounded like her mother Toll’s pattern talking, rather than Goth herself. The young Karres-born witches had a guiding “pattern,” a nonmaterial partial replica of the personality of an adult similar in nature to help and steer them. The instructor resident in their minds took a hand when they were ready to learn new klatha skills. Captain Pausert wished that he also had one. But he simply had to muddle along on his own. And some of the klatha manipulation was dangerous, if you got it wrong. It could dismind you or burn you up. Make you burst into flames and combust yourself.

    “Do you have any idea what happened to Vezzarn?” asked the captain, changing the subject back to their immediate problem. “I think Hulik meant to bring him along with her. He could know more about what is going on.”

    “He got a twelve year sentence for aiding and abetting dangerous criminals,” said the Leewit, seeming to relish the words. “That’s us, you know. He was put into a cell about three down.”

    But when they got there, the cell was empty, the door just ajar. There was a pillow and a rolled-up blanket under the covers, roughly shaped like a man. But of the little old spacer there was no sign.

    “Well, I guess we’d better get going without him,” said Goth. “Who knows. He might be back on the Venture already.”

    “Or trying to spring us,” said Pausert.

    “Nope. He knew where we were, just as well as we knew where he was,” said the Leewit. “I guess he decided to rat.”

    Pausert couldn’t help thinking that when the Agandar and his Sheem war-robot had been hunting them, Vezzarn had decided to betray them. The little man had seemed genuinely remorseful and reformed afterward, but it did indicate the potential for that kind of behavior. “Maybe he did. Either way, we haven’t got the time to go and look for him. Let’s see if we can find our way out before the ISS agents arrive to find us gone.”

    Moving quietly through the corridors, they tried to find their way out, without awakening any warders. After a while they came to double metal swing-doors. In the dim light of various indicator globes, Pausert surveyed what could only be the prison kitchens—a gloomy hall of square-edged shadows and great cauldrons—smelling of grease and old boiled greens... and full of things that skittered and chittered from the dark corners. He began regretting that he hadn’t stuck to just eating Hulik’s piece of paper. “I suppose there might be a back door,” he whispered. He could just make out Goth’s nod.

    The first door proved merely to be a coldroom. But the next door they came to was invitingly ajar. A cool night breeze licked into the smelly kitchen. Pausert peeped around the door. It opened into a shadowy little courtyard full of garbage cans. That the air from out there could smell sweet, spoke ill of the prison kitchen. True, the courtyard would probably be locked. But with the girls’ klatha powers they should manage to get through them. Hopefully.

    They crept out, the captain waiting for a powerful searchlight and the howl of sirens with each wary step. It never came.

    And the heavily chained gate Someone had sheered the links of the chain. The cut links gleamed in the wan moonlight. Hulik must have prepared this...

    He swung the gate open just wide enough for them to slip out.

    Too late, Pausert smelled a huge rat, even above the garbage stench. But as he realized that something was wrong, the waiting men had already dropped a paralyzer web over them. Someone was also standing by with a hypodermic darter.

    The captain was just aware of being hastily loaded into a groundcar, like a sack of meal, before oblivion took him.



    Hulik do Eldel fumed. Her cover as a loyal ISS agent was blown now, and all for the want of a few minutes. She looked at the unconscious body of the ISS district officer. Well, she had had to do it. He’d have raised the alarm for certain. She’d better get down there, find Captain Pausert and get him, Vezzarn, Goth and the Leewit into the ISS van she planned to take them to the space-port in.

    She glanced up at the monitors from the spy-eyes... and realized that it wasn’t going to be quite that simple. The infrared showed the girls trying to unlock their cell. Hastily she turned the sound gain on that spy circuit back up. The Leewit’s shrieks had persuaded Officer Jayelo to turn the sound off, and stopped him noticing the captain’s breakout until it was too late. She was just in time to hear Captain Pausert say: “I’m not too sure what game she’s playing. She was supposed to come and let us out at midnight...”

    Hulik took a deep breath. It was still ten minutes short of that. She listened further. Well, she’d just have to find them at Vezzarn’s cell. Opening that would hold them up a bit.

    But when she got there, they’d already left. Hulik was left to play a silent kind of hide and go seek with them, trying to guess where they might have gone.

    She was dismayed to find the prison warders at the central desk...


    For a moment she was horrified that Pausert could have been so brutally efficient. It wasn’t as if the warders of this sleepy little prison, in this sleepy little town, on this sleepy little planet, had posed any real threat. Then she realized that someone had blasted the far door. The remains of it showed unmistakable blaster burns. A mark 20 cannon, to judge by the damage.

    Where would the captain have got a military grade blaster cannon from? Was this Karres witchcraft?

    Or was this something else? Or maybe... someone else. Not bothering about quietness now, Hulik ran down the passage, her own issue blaster in her hand.

    As she went into the kitchen she heard a strangled yell from outside. That was Goth’s voice...

    She was just in time to see a black groundcar speed away from the forced gates. She took aim, bracing her arm.

    “Don’t shoot!” hissed Vezzarn from the wall-top.

    She nearly shot him instead.

    He dropped down onto the dustbins, and into the courtyard. “Phew. That was close!”

    “I’d have stopped the vehicle at least, if you hadn’t interfered!” snapped Hulik. “How are we going to track them now? Great Patham! I had it all organized and then the captain broke out ten minutes early.”

    Vezzarn pointed. “There was a second vehicle in the alley. If you had fired, they’d have got you. This was very professional, Hulik. They’ve been monitoring the cells with a spy ray.”

    Hulik shook her head. “That was us, Vezzarn. The local ISS man and myself.”

    Vezzarn gave her a crooked little grin. “I took my tools in with me, Hulik. Imperial Security on these backwater planets is pretty sloppy. There was more than one spy-ray being worked. I mirrored it out of my cell, before I went to work on the lock, and then I was just doing a little pathfinding snoop when the guys with the heavy artillery broke in. I was really worried at first, until I overheard them saying that they needed all of them alive.”

    “Well, that’s a relief.”

    “Alive for now, anyway. Once they get what they want out of the captain there will be no point in keeping him. Or the little girls.”

    Hulik took a deep breath. “We’d better get hunting then, Vezzarn. If you’re coming?”

    The little wizened old man nodded. “I still owe the captain. Besides, we’re free for now, but this planet isn’t big enough for us to hide from the kind of trouble we’ve ended up in, Hulik. If these guys’ll break into the jail and kill warders, they’ll hunt us down and kill us sooner or later.”

    Hulik holstered the issue blaster. “And the ISS agents from Pidoon City will be here soon. They’ll make it even hotter.”

    Vezzarn stretched his short legs to match her stride. “Besides, ten to one the authorities will blame the captain—and us—for murdering the prison warders.”

    Hulik nodded. “I think you could bet on that at one hundred to one. So we should get off-world as fast as possible... which means we’ve got find where they’ve taken the captain, Goth, and the Leewit.”

    “I got a tracer on the spy ray. It was sending back between us and the space-port. About a mile off. I’ve been here before, remember. That’s Port-town. I’ve got a contact we can try.”



    Hulik do Eldel was expecting to be taken to a seedy bar, but Vezzarn’s smuggler contact was not the proprietor of some portside dive. She was the very high-nosed keeper of a little gift-shop, obviously aimed at propitiating the wives of long-absent spacers. Vezzarn must have given some special signal, because they were invited to look at “some special merchandise, for the discerning customer.”

    They stepped through the door into a second little room, with more expensive knick-knacks on the crowded shelves.

    “This place is about as well shielded as possible,” said the lady proprietor, looking worried. “What brings you here, Illa? We haven’t had any consignments moved through here for months. I haven’t seen you for years.” Hulik was not surprised at the assumed name Vezzarn was known by. She had several herself.

    Vezzarn shrugged. “I’m on another run these days, Thora. I just need some information in a hurry.”

    Thora raised an eyebrow. Hulik knew that they were on dangerous ground.

    “I just need to know who some people are and where to find them,” said Vezzarn reassuringly. “You know I’m trusted. I won’t bring any trouble to you. That would be more than my life’s worth.”

    “Ask, then,” the gift-shop proprietress said, guardedly.

    Vezzarn described the ground-cars that had taken part in the snatch of the captain, Goth and the Leewit.

    “Fullbricht,” she said. “The second vehicle is pretty distinctive. But you really don’t want to find him, Illa. He runs most of the crime in this town these days. He started off as an informer for someone, but he’s moved up. He’s got control over several of the other small towns. You really don’t want to cross him.”

    Vezzarn grimaced. “He’s bad news, huh?”

    The gift-shop-proprietress pulled a face. “No. It’s worse. He wants to be bad news. He’s a small-time operator who wants to be thought big. He’ll go too far one day, but at the moment he’s like a kill-mad miffel. His trademark is making statues.”

    Hulik blinked. “Statues?”

    Thora regarded her with a jaundiced eye. “That’s what they’re called around here. Statues... humans cast in ferroplast,” she said dryly. “Then they get dropped into the lake.”

    Hulik took a deep breath. “We need to find him anyway, Thora.”

    The woman looked at the two of them. “Well, the fake ISS uniform might help,” she conceded. “His headquarters are in the Myamosa building, but that’s just the front office. The place where they do most of their business is in an old hazardous materials warehouse off 13th street.”

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