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The Wizard of Karres: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Monday, April 26, 2004 23:56 EDT



    When he awoke, with a start, the captain found that someone had covered him up with a blanket. He was still sitting in the command chair in the Venture’s control room. Looking out of the forward viewscreens showed nothing but an emptiness of space.

    So they’d gotten away. Away in a leaking-hulled vessel with absolutely no fuel. There might be a drop or two in the lateral rocket tanks but other than for docking, those were next to useless. He looked sideways. Goth was still lying above the acceleration couch, surrounded by a layer of nothingness.

    “I see you are awake, Captain,” said Hantis. “Good. We must try to undo this shield you have put around Goth and the Leewit.” She looked curiously at him. “I was not told that you were such a powerful klatha operative.”

    “I’m not. I seem to learn how to do things by accident,” admitted Pausert. “I don’t know what I’ve done, or how to undo it.” He looked at the Nartheby Sprite. “Goth said you were klatha-skilled too, Hantis. Can you get her out of there?”

    Hantis shook her mane of foxy hair. “No. It is very difficult for one klatha operative to undo the work of another. Each person’s skills seem to be unique, even if they sometimes achieve the same thing. My skills, anyway, lie with levitation, truth hearing and music. They would be of little help to you. But perhaps Goth herself can help.”

    Pausert sat up hastily and looked at Goth. “But how? I mean...”

    “The same way she got the wires necessary to run the Sheewash drive. She teleported them across the barrier. She can do that with notes even if she can’t talk to you.”

    “And the Leewit?” asked Pausert.

    Hantis smiled impishly. “Has been awake, and, by her expressions, whistling and screaming. We can’t hear her, of course. Oh, and she’s been showing you a number of rude signs. Your little vatch came earlier too. Even it can’t get into the shield. Anyway, the Leewit is asleep again.”

    Pausert blinked. “Again? Have I been asleep long?

    “About fifteen hours,” Hantis said. “Most klatha-use is demanding on the user’s energy. It looks like you came pretty close to burning yourself out, Captain Pausert. Sometimes new klatha users die like that. You must be careful.”

    “I only did it because there seemed no alternative. I feel as if I haven’t eaten for a week, never mind slept for fifteen hours. I’ll just see to Goth and then it’s food!”

    Goth smiled up at him from her shield cocoon. She held up a sheet of paper she’d prepared. It read: Hello, Captain.

    Pausert started to reply, realized what he was doing, and looked for writing materials. They were sitting ready on the consol next to Goth. Painstakingly he wrote down what he had done and asked for advice.

    He waited. Goth was plainly consulting with her inner “teacher,” the pattern of her mother Toll.

    She wrote: You could try doing it backwards, Captain. See the pattern and then trace it backwards.

    He nodded, and took a deep breath. She scrawled something hastily. Eat first. Then, when he’d seen that, she scrawled: Dangerous.

    Pausert realized she was right. Using klatha in ways that you weren’t sure about could be very dangerous—and it certainly wasn’t something he should try when lack of food made him feel quite light-headed. Besides, he just couldn’t visualize the pattern.

    So he ate. He also took a quick shower and changed into fresh clothes. He cursed the loss of his best boots, and dug a spare pair out of his locker. They didn’t fit as well as the his old ones, but he supposed he’d just have to live with it. He wasn’t going to get back to Nikkeldepain and Hildo & Naugaf for another pair, ever. Not while his erstwhile about-to-be father-in-law lived, anyway.

    On the positive side, he consoled himself, ill-fitting boots were more comfortable than life with Illyla would have been. Pausert still wasn’t taking seriously Goth’s placid assumption that they’d eventually get married once she was old enough—well, not very seriously, anyway—but the time he’d spent in the girl’s company had made clear to him just how utterly unsuitable a wife Illyla would have made for him. Illyla was ultimately just plain boring—something that could never be said about Goth.

    Pausert could see that now. A bit of distance lent clarity...

    And maybe that would work here too, he thought. The captain forced himself to try and visualize, not the details of the klatha pattern, but the whole thing.

    All of a sudden, it burned clearly in his mind’s eye. So, walking back to the control room by habit and feel, he concentrated on it until he got back to Goth.

    Now... he traced it backwards... erasing it. Carefully. Precisely.

    Goth fell to the couch. The cocoon of force around her was gone. She scrambled to her feet and hugged Pausert fiercely. “You’re a hot witch, Captain. That’s powerful klatha, that.”

    Pausert blushed. That was not from modesty so much as his recent thoughts contrasting Goth to Illyla. The girl was still much too young for him to be thinking about such things as how she might compare to anyone as a wife. On occasion, though, that was hard not to do. And he suddenly realized, uneasily, that the occasions seemed to be coming more often of late.

    He shook his head forcefully. “I didn’t know what I was doing and I nearly got us all killed because of it. Thank goodness you thought of teleporting the wires for the Sheewash drive. That was smart, Goth.”

    She gave him that sly little Goth-smile that he had come to know so well. “Neat trick, huh? It worked too. At first, there was that drag we’ve been getting with the Sheewash drive. And then... it was back to normal.” She suddenly started giggling. “Look, the Leewit is awake. And she’s mad. Yelling her head off by the looks of it. Shall we pretend we haven’t noticed?”

    “I’m tempted. But I guess we’d better let her out.” Pausert concentrated.

    A few moments later the Leewit fell to the couch. Still yelling. She jumped up, waving a small finger threateningly under the captain’s nose. “What you do? Clumping idiot! What did you do to us?!”

    “Only saved your life,” said Hulik, who had come into the control room. “That shield of the captain’s stopped a Mark 20 blaster bolt. You were lucky he did it, and he only did it in the first place to stop your face getting sliced up with a vibro-knife.”

    The Leewit had the grace to look embarrassed. “Well. I didn’t know. I just woke up trapped in that, that stupid cocoon.”

    Hulik smiled coolly at her. “You can hear about it later, but right now we have other problems.” She turned back to Pausert. “I’m glad you’re up and have the little Wisdoms out, Captain. Hantis had Pul on guard at the door. We weren’t allowed to wake you. She reckoned if you didn’t rest you might not wake up at all, and that only you could ever get Goth and the Leewit out. But the doorseal is still leaking. We’re going to have to go somewhere with an atmosphere pretty quick. And we’ve no fuel.”

    Goth made a face. “We got a real problem, Captain. Maleen was the only one of us who could handle the Sheewash Drive for landings. It takes really fine control. The Sheewash drive is just too powerful and fast. We need fuel to land.”

    Pausert scratched his chin; which reminded him that he needed a shave. “I guess we’ll just have to get around it. How much fuel have we got, Hulik?”

    “In the main drive tank, Captain? Maybe a few seconds worth, that’s all. The tank for the lateral rockets is about half full. We could pipe it to the main tank, but that still won’t give us very much. Not enough to land on, that’s for sure.”

    “Then we either take to piracy, find a space refueling point or... if worse comes to worst, hitch a ride.”

    Hulik wrinkled her forehead. “Hitch a ride? What do you mean, Captain?”

    Pausert stood up. “I don’t much like the idea of piracy, unless we find the Agandar’s fleet and cut a ship out of that, and space refueling is pretty rare in the Empire. Most inhabited worlds outlaw it, because if ships can bypass landing it cuts down on trade. That leaves hitching a ride... so you’ll have a chance to find out first hand, Hulik.”

    He clapped Goth and the Leewit on the shoulders. “We need the Sheewash drive to take us to Vaudevillia. We’re going to join a circus, if we can find one coming in to land.”

    The idea so distracted the Leewit that she entirely forgot that she was mad with him. They got the charts up on the display consol and worked out where they were, and where they needed to go.




    “We’ve lost them,” said Sedmon, to his selves. “Not so much as a blip since the ship left Pidoon.” There was no hiding the anxiety in his voice. The others understood only too well, anyway.

    “They could be using the secret drive.”

    “They have done so before. We’ve always picked them up on the detectors within a few hours.”

    No one said what they all feared: that one of the other parts of the pursuit might have caught up with the Venture first.

    “It wouldn’t be easy for anyone to catch them,” said one of the selves, doubtfully. “We all know just how fast the Venture can be, with its secret drive.”

    “We’d better land on Pidoon and see what we can find out. Vezzarn is likely to send them to the port at Gerota Town. Remember that one of the smuggling networks we have taken over goes through there.”

    “At least we have contacts.”

    Between the selves they knew exactly who was involved in the gemstone smuggling ring Vezzarn had so painstakingly investigated for them. It was now quite a profitable sideline for Uldune.



    Even after the unrewarding search in the Alpha Dendi cluster, they were catching up on the Venture. The two Sedmons on the ship had been sure they’d finally reach Pausert and his companions on Pidoon. Especially after they received word from their selves back on Uldune that a query on the Venture’s credit status had been made by Pidoon Fuels and Lubricants. They’d thought that there would be a day or two of subradio queries and negotiations before the Daal’s bank would allow the account to be accessed. But it appeared that Pausert must have had other funds. The Venture had been tracked leaving Pidoon.

    Since then, nothing. They decided to set the ship down in Gerota Town.

    Into a hornet’s nest.

    In the typical fashion of officialdom the galaxy over, the customs officers and the police of Gerota Town were now on high alert. Well after the fact, of course, but no one wanted to look as if they could have been the slackers and sluggards who had allowed such a notorious criminal as the infamous Captain Pausert to escape.

    “My papers are in perfect order,” said the Sedmon who was on public duty.

    Which, of course, they were. The very best members in the Daal’s extensive staff of forgers on Uldune had worked on those papers. As for finding the secret compartment in which the second Sedmon sat, patiently... that was unlikely. One of the side effects of running an extensive smuggling ring into the Empire as a state enterprise, was that the Empire’s customs techniques and equipment were well known to the Sedmons. And well countered. The vibro-sensors Captain Pausert had feared would certainly not reveal the second Sedmon’s chambers.

    The search was still exhaustive.

    And still found nothing, although while Sedmon stood patiently watching, the chief customs officer called the ISS offices in Pidoon City to inform them how suspiciously heavily armed and cargo-less the Thunderbird was.

    The Sedmons didn’t much care. They intended a very brief stop, anyway. While the one in hiding monitored the detectors, still searching for the signal-trace from the Venture, the other would make an unobtrusive visit on foot to a near-port gift shop.

    Unfortunately, he made a simple error. The Sedmons had all walked, lightly disguised, around the environs of Zergandol. But they knew Zergandol; knew what the streets looked like, knew where they were going. The Sedmon wandering around the seedier parts of Gerota Town’s port area got lost.

    The Sedmon then got a firsthand experience of the difference between being the all-powerful and slightly sinister Daal of Uldune, where his word was life or death and his spies and secret police were remarkably efficient, and being an arbitrary spaceman in a foreign port.

    There were certain elements in common. Any of the Sedmons going out incognito on the winding hilly streets of Zergandol had a number of the Daal’s secret police watching. Here, too, the Sedmon was being watched by the secret police. However, there the similarity ended. The Daal’s agents—the Sedmon was quite sure of it—were never as clumsy and obvious as this idiot. And he had never been shadowed by just one man.

    The Sedmon stepped around a corner and slid into a convenient alleyway, toggling a button on his collar. The pale blue suit he was wearing became a strident green, and he raised himself up a further two inches with platform soles. His dark complexion he could not alter as easily, but with the addition of a curling beard and moustache he had become a different person.

    None of which helped him at all. He hadn’t walked more than twenty feet farther down the alley before someone hit him very expertly across the base of the skull.



    When the Sedmon awoke, he was aware that the other hexaperson on the ship was already locking certain key aspects on the Thunderbird and coming to his assistance. He also realized that his wallet, ship-key and chronometer were all missing. Being, as it were, one with the Sedmon who was leaving the Thunderbird, he discovered he was in something of a predicament there too. The ship must have been under close observation because he hadn’t even crossed the tarmac when a groundcar with five heavily armed ISS agents screeched to a halt in front of him. The five heavily armed agents grabbed and forcecuffed the Sedmon.

    “What’s this all about?” demanded the Sedmon, who had just emerged from the ship.

    “Shut up,” said the ISS officer. He held the Sedmon at blaster-point, as two others systematically searched and removed various items from his person that the customs officials had not discovered in their search.

    The part of the hexaperson who was attempting to get up in the alley borrowed from his other selves to control his feet. Back on Uldune in the House of Thunders, the Daal got up abruptly from where he had been presiding over a court hearing in the Little Court. He went hastily to join his brothers in the tower. At times like this, physical closeness was comforting if not necessary.

    In the office in the port building that the ISS had appropriated for their own use, one of the hexaperson was being strapped into a chair equipped with electrodes. The Daal had such a chair, too. The hexaperson had never anticipated being strapped into it, however. It administered shocks when the instrumentation detected the tell-tale signs of a lie. It was a very effective way of getting the truth out of a suspect.

    “We want to know just how you managed to get back to your ship after you had evaded our agent,” stated the ISS interrogator. “If you lie, this is what will happen.”

    Agony washed through all six of the Sedmons.

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