Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

The Wizard of Karres: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 00:05 EDT



    Vezzarn stayed to man the guns. Mere fabric and I-beams would be a poor defense against the unpredictable might of the nova guns. Yes, they could be taken hostage, but the captain had made sure he’d said loudly, in earshot of their two escorts: “Vezzarn, if they try to take us captive just blow the lattice apart until they let us free. They’re in a weaker position than we are.”

    “We’ve got guns on Petey B too, you know,” snapped Timblay. “More than a match for those antiquated novas.”

    Pausert snorted. “At this range? Vezzarn’s only got hit a couple of I-beams and the whole thing would fall over. And we’re not threatening, it’s just better being careful, eh?” Mannicholo definitely gave him a wink and a glance of amusement at Timblay.

    They formed a very small procession coming in, out of the rain, into the great cavernous interior. “Where are all the levels? Where are all the stalls?” demanded the Leewit.

    “Don’t put them up here on Vaudevillia, little ‘un,” said Mannicholo, with a wry grin. “The stages “—he pointed to several stages hung on girders higher up in the structure—”are there for rehearsals and practices. But what’s the use in setting out the bleachers for no one to sit on?”

    “But... “ The Leewit blinked a tear away, showing she was not as old, or as tough, as she pretended to be. “I thought it would be like... like I’d seen it. Oh, look!” She pointed. Across the space, various of the show’s animals were being exercised. “Telebars! Cute!”

    Mannicholo chuckled. “You should try mucking out their cages!”

    “They’ll probably get a chance to,” said Timblay sourly, and strode off ahead.

    The rotund, color-shifting man spat. “Never mind him, he’s just sour because he never suckered you. Miserable fellow. He’s an ‘artiste,’” he said sarcastically. “Doesn’t like working with mere freak show folk like me. You’ll be all right dealing with Himbo Petey. He’s mean but fair. Timblay would have tied you into a manual labor contract for the circus section if he could. That’s the hardest work. Any of you have an act? That’s best money.”

    “We weren’t planning on joining the show. We just wanted a lift off-world,” said Hulik.

    Mannicholo grinned, making colors dance and sparkle across his cheeks. “That’s the only way off Vaudevillia, honey. And Himbo will never agree to a one-stop hitch.”



    The showboat boss was a small, dapper man with a little goatee and a pair of elegantly curled mustachios that Pausert secretly envied. He plainly loved his own appearance, and had several full length mirrors in his office. He paced as he spoke, and paused occasionally to admire himself, especially when he made dramatic gestures.

    “But no one,” he said calmly, “is a passenger on the Greatest Show in the Galaxy. In fact no one does just one job. I myself am ringmaster, I do a magic show in the sideshows, I am the accountant and chief navigator, and I play certain roles in the thespian section. I also stand in on the harpsicordium from time-to-time. Even our leading lady—and Dame Ethulassia is an exacting woman—controls the costumery. We simply can’t afford passengers. We’ll take your ship along, but she’ll also have to work her passage. Props is in desperate need of more storage space. You can have her back when your contracts expire—provided you replace her with a space-tight hulk of similar size. But if you want off Vaudevillia, it’s as part of the troupe or not at all.”

    Pausert shrugged, hiding his thoughts. A space-tight vessel... Even a derelict from a scrap merchant was going to cost at least a hundred thousand maels. They could manage that, easily enough, if they could draw on their funds; but, as the experience on Pidoon had revealed, right now they couldn’t. That was a lot of money to try and earn, otherwise.

    And then they’d still have to refuel and to repair the Venture. They’d have to earn as much as they possibly could. “We’re multi-skilled too. For instance my niece Dani here does great stage magic, and is a skilled negotiator, Master Petey. She’ll dicker with you about our worth and how long we’ll travel with you and at what rate.”

    Himbo Petey was plainly amused. “Amateur stage magic isn’t good enough for the Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Captain Aron. I dare say the thespians will want you for crowd scenes and the animal trainers will want you for grooming and mucking out. The lady with the pointed ears and the doggie”—Pul growled—”aren’t even weird enough for the freak-show.”

    Goth sat down cross-legged on the office floor, clapping her hands. A ball of flames suddenly balanced on the upstretched finger-tips of each hand. She flicked them and they leapt from hand to hand. Captain Pausert knew that it was just a light-shift, but it certainly was very impressive. Then she clapped her hands again. The balls disappeared in mid-air. On her palms rested a paperweight from the showboat boss’ desk.

    Himbo Petey grinned. “I take it back! That’s very good. The flame-balls are a neat one. Great distraction! I almost didn’t see you slip my paperweight from your sleeve, and I am a professional. Can you juggle more than two flame-balls? How do you get them to go out when you clap?”

    Goth shook her head. “Trade secret. But timing is pretty important.”

    “Ah!” Himbo nodded. “Misdirection! Excellent! We’ll get you a stall of your own or include you into one of the bigger shows. Do any of the rest of you have acts?”

    “He called me a doggie. Can I bite him, Hantis? Just once?”

    “Ha! A ventriloquist! A good one too. We don’t have a talking dog act at the moment. Any more talents?”

    Pul stalked forward. “You’re a dead man, churl.”

    “Now, Pul,” said Hantis. “He’s never met a grik-dog before.” She gave the showboat boss an enigmatic smile. “I believe we are strange enough for your so-called freak-show after all.”

    At this point the door was flung open. A woman with a vast, upstanding coif of brassy hair paused in the doorway, making a grand entrance. It was plainly something she did often and well. “Himbo!” Her voice was a rich contralto, so strong it seemed to make the walls vibrate.

    He sighed. “Yes, Ethulassia. You’ll get some of them. You’ve told me you need them, oh, several hundred times already. You’ll get even more staff, though the thespian section gets far more resources than its financial contribution justifies.”

    It was plainly a well-rehearsed argument. And by the way she was drawing breath, about to become a loud one.

    Pausert began to rell vatch. Things could get worse, after all. The witches all stiffened. Hello, Big Dream Thing! This is a fun place, this!

    He hardly heard Dame Ethulassia’s salvo. Something about adding quality and real worth to a tawdry show, and drawing punters to the stalls that they would never visit otherwise.

    He cleared his throat as Himbo puffed himself up for the return volley, and stepped between them. “I, um, have an act too. When we came to Vaudevillia we thought we might join one of the shows.”

    He sent a quick thought at the little silver-eyed vatch. This will be far more fun if you actually help me.

    All right, Big Dream Thing.

    Both the Showmaster and the Leading Lady stopped, perhaps surprised that anyone would dare to interrupt them. But with that little mischievous destructive vatch around... it was a case of ride the Dire-beast or be devoured by it. In a moment of madness, Pausert had chosen to ride the thing. Now, as the two most powerful figures on the showboat stared at him, he wondered if he might not have been better off letting the vatchlet just do its worst.

    Dame Ethulassia surveyed him rather like a housewife choosing a piece of meat from a butcher’s counter. She looked him up and down very slowly. Pausert felt himself blushing. She raised a perfectly curved eyebrow.

    Then, her expression seemed to soften considerably. “And just who are you, Sweetie?” she purred, giving him the benefit of the full out-thrust expansion of her frontage.

    Pausert felt himself blush some more. “Captain Pausert, at your service.” No sooner had he said this than Pausert wished he’d chosen some other phrase.

    “‘Service, is it? That sounds intriguing. Mind if I call you Pausie, Darling? You’ve got talent, I can see. You’ve felt the Call of the Stage, haven’t you?” She had very red lips. And long nails that matched.

    Pausert minded very much being called “Pausie.” By the look on her face, Goth didn’t think much of the idea either—or of Dame Ethulassia, for that matter.

    That could get even worse than the little vatch on the rampage. “Yes, I’m afraid I do mind. It’s... “ How best not to give offence? “The term is an insult on my homeworld. And yes, I have often wanted to be on the stage, but my real skills are in, in escapology.”

    At the moment, he wished he could escape from here. Ethulassia seemed be some sort of magician, herself—The Incredible Expanding Bosom—and Goth’s expression had gone from sour to that blank-faced look which meant she was already plotting and scheming in ways that Pausert really didn’t want to think about.

    “I do some stage magic too,” Pausert said hurriedly. He pointed at the two girls. “With my nieces as assistants.”

    The Leewit stuck her tongue out at him. “I’m a clown. I don’t assist.”

    The showboat boss had plainly recognized Pausert’s intervention for what it was, even if he thought Pausert was saving him from the leading lady and not vatch-trouble. After all, as a stage-magician himself, Himbo knew the importance of distraction. He shifted his cigar. “Well, show us something, then.”

    “Er. I’ll need some props...”




    Himbo stepped across and opened a locker. It was a large walk-in locker, meticulously arrayed with everything a conjurer might desire. “What can I offer you? Force-cuffs? Strong rope? Chains? A lockable chest?

    “I... I’ll skip the chest. I’ll take the ropes, force-cuffs and chains. You, Sir, and the good Lady, would you be good enough to tie my hands and feet—attach the cuffs as well—and then wrap the chains around me and padlock them? And then put the keys in your pocket.”

    He sat down on the office floor and offered his hands and feet. Himbo and Ethulassia tied and chained Captain Pausert up, with considerable showmanship—and a speculative gleam in the Leading Lady’s eyes which made him still more uneasy. Goth’s face now had that utterly-blank expression which meant the little witch’s brain had gone into overdrive. It was a pretty fiendish brain, when it wanted to be.

    Himbo displayed the ten feet of rope carefully, engaging in a little tug of war with the Leading Lady. Ethulassia clicked the locks closed and then challenged Hantis to open them, displaying that they were indeed locked as they appeared to be. And Himbo insisted on tying his hands behind him. “There is no science to escaping if they’re in front of you,” he said cheerfully. Then he wrapped rope around Pausert’s chest in some seven or eight turns.

    Captain Pausert thought having his hands behind him was a poor idea. But he couldn’t exactly say so and he wasn’t too concerned about it, anyway. The little vatch had proved able to undo force-cuffs and locks before.

    “Now... if you could just drape two of those allweather cloaks over me, Dani.”

    He was covered from head to toe in voluminous allweather cloaks. And, sure enough, the keys for the locks and the force-cuffs were in his hands a moment later, thanks to Goth’s teleportation skills...

    The little vatch was giggling furiously. And so, Pausert realized, was everyone else. Well, he’d show them. Even if the vatch was not going to co-operate he had the keys. Now...

    Pausert began realizing that having the key in your hand was not the same as actually being able to get it into the lock of a force-cuff behind your back. Especially when your hands were tied. He strained. And twisted his hands... And finally got the key to the keyhole...

    It didn’t fit. It must fit the one on his feet. With difficulty he managed to exchange keys. He was concentrating fiercely by this time, and was hardly aware of the laughter. It was only when he’d just managed to reach the lock the second time—and the key somehow twitched out of his fingers with more vatchy laughter—that he realized that while the rest of him was stifling and hot, his back and hands were cold. By the breeze blowing on their sweatiness, they weren’t covered up!

    No wonder everyone was laughing. Cringing with embarrassment, with no thought except to get out of there, Captain Pausert stood up, clumsily, as a man whose hands are manacled behind his back will, the hot allweather cloaks falling away. It was only when he was on his feet, that Captain Pausert realized that his feet were no longer manacled. Or tied. Or even chained.

    “Brilliant misdirection, boy! Brilliant! I didn’t even notice you doing the legs.”

    Pausert blushed. This had gone so wrong. He brought his hands up to hide his face.

    It was only when the length of chain still on his wrist hit him on the head that he realized that his hands were free too. All that remained of his bonds were the loops around his chest. He realized that the little vatch had kept its promise after all. He was free!

    Well, almost. There were just the loops of rope around his chest. If he could pretend it was all planned... He sent begging thoughts at the little vatch. All he got was the tinkle of laughter. He strained desperately at the rope. Strained and strained. He felt the veins stand out on his forehead.

    The ropes stayed as tight as ever. Pausert wilted. “I’m afraid... Something has gone wrong with this stage. I’ll have to ask you to undo the knot. Or cut it,” he said lamely.

    Himbo got up from his perch on the edge of his desk and walked across. “Never mind. A fine performance anyway. As good as any I’ve seen. You’ll just have to practice that part. And we’ll need to find something better in the way of a cloak that those silly things. Turn around.” A moment later: “Ho ho! Very clever. Very good indeed!”

    Pausert wished that he knew just what piece of naughty-minded witchery had again sent everyone, from that pestilential little vatch to Dame Ethulassia, into gales of laughter. Of course, he couldn’t see it. With a sinking heart, Pausert knew that just as Pul and Hantis had to sacrifice their dignity to being part of the “freak” show, he would have to make a fool of himself in front of audiences across the empire. Well. At least they probably wouldn’t be going to Nikkeldepain.

    He was too gloomy at the thought to pay any real attention to the rope falling around his ankles. Or the little twist of flowers where the knot had been.



    Pausert sat in the control room talking to Goth. The Venture was safely snugged into the lattice-work on the second tier. Her hold was now full of an assortment of ropes, screens, fake treasure chests, feather-light swords, and an eclectic collection of bric-a-brac furniture ranging from ornate ancient chairs to stools some showperson might just have stolen from an ultra modern bar somewhere.

    “You got us a good deal,” said Goth, hugging her knees and grinning. “You’re a hot witch, Captain. I wouldn’t have thought of that trick with the flowers. And I nearly died when the back of the allweather cloak lifted up so that we could see you and the keys. “ She started laughing again. “It was so neat! You had them all fooled.”

    “Actually, Goth, I didn’t plan any of that. It was that dratted little vatch. It was playing its tricks on me. We were just lucky, I guess.”

    “Luck’s a klatha thing too, Captain.”

    Pausert sighed. “We’re going to need it, Goth. Everything has gone haywire on this trip. We expected an easy voyage... and look at it. We’ve lost our money, we’ve nearly lost our ship. I’ve even lost my best boots. I’m getting used to these new ones now, but they’re not the same.”

    Goth examined the boots. “They’re pretty spiffy ones, Captain. Looks like Lambidian iguana leather.”

    The captain looked at the boots in question. They were smarter looking than he remembered. “They’re a spare pair I’ve had for years. I certainly never had the money for Lambidian iguana. Even my best pair were just tanned miffel-hide, but made to measure. Anyway, I think boots are going be the least of my problems. I’ll have to try and get that bit of vatch-stuff I gave to the little one back. I might be able to rely on that. I can’t rely on the little vatch. I’ll be all chained up on stage and it’ll think it a capital joke to disappear.”

    “I wonder if I can talk Dame Ethulassia into being chained up in one of your performances?” asked Goth, innocently.

    “You stay away from her,” Pausert said sternly.

    “You do the same, then,” Goth growled. “Even if I’m not marriageable age yet, I don’t want you fooling around with anybody else.”

    The captain rolled his eyes. “Great. Not only does it seem I’ve gotten myself a pint-sized fiancée—and how did that happen, exactly? I don’t remember anybody asking me—but she’s jealous as Medea to boot.”

    “Don’t need to ask, not on Karres,” Goth replied firmly. “What’s bound to happen is bound to happen. Besides, fair’s fair. I’m not fooling around with anybody else either.”

    “Of course you’re not. You’re only twelve years old!”

    “Still. Fair’s fair.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image