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The Wizard of Karres: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Monday, June 14, 2004 23:55 EDT



    “Well,” Dame Ethulassia said, archly, surveying Pausert and the rest of his crew. “I suppose you want to know why I asked you—here.”

    She waved her hand at the rows and rows of theater seats beyond the stage. At least, Pausert thought there were rows and rows of seats out there; he could only see the first few.

    Goth was paying no attention to the Dame at all. Instead, she was peering into the darkness. “Who’s that?” she suddenly demanded.

    “Richard Cravan,” replied a rich and powerful voice from the darkness. The voice seemed to echo, as if in a great cavern.

    “Sir Richard Cravan,” said Dame Ethulassia, “The founder and director of our theatrical company.”

    To the captain’s surprise, she dimpled. The smile made her seem a lot younger. A lot more attractive, too, than her earlier Great Vamp performance. For a moment, The Incredible Bosom even seemed to belong to a real woman.

    “Poor Himbie! He thinks I make all the decisions about casting! But if he knew it was Sir Richard, he’d never let us have half the resources he gives me.”

    “My dear Lassia,” chuckled The Voice, “You make as many decisions as I.”

    “But you are the heart and soul of the Company,” Dame Ethulassia replied. Pausert would have expected her to simper, but she simply seemed serious, almost reverent. And, blessedly, she had dropped the “Pausie” nonsense. “Miss Hulik, would you step to the front of the stage, please?”

    With a look of surprise, Hulik did so. As she did, Pausert saw words appearing in the air between them and the theater. “This is a love-speech, Miss Hulik,” said The Voice. “The lady in question is very young, and so is her lover. They just met this evening, and fell instantly in love, even though their families are involved in a deadly feud. He has come to see if she feels as strongly as he does—as you do, Miss Hulik. He stands below you, beneath your balcony. Let me hear you speak to him, please.”

    Hulik stepped forward—and to Pausert’s delight and surprise, seemed to shed years and become someone else altogether.

    He had known, of course, that the do Eldel was an agent of the Empress, and as such, was capable of many roles. What he had not really understood was that she could act. Hulik started reading her lines from the words projected in the air without seeming even to pause.

    “What man art thou,” she whispered, “that thus bescreen’d in night so stumblest on my counsel?”

    “By a name,” the Voice replied, sounding impossibly adolescent, breathless and excited all at once, “I know not how to tell thee who I am: My name, dear Saint, is hateful to my self, because it is an enemy to thee. Had I it written, I would tear the word!”

    Hulik clasped her hands before her, gasping with mingled consternation and delight. “My ears have yet not drunk a hundred words of thy tongue’s uttering, yet I know the sound. Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?”

    Pausert listened and watched, holding his breath, and he was not the only one. Goth and even The Leewit were doing the same; the grik-dog actually lay down and was gazing up at Hulik soulfully. And when he looked out of the corner of his eye at the Dame, expecting to see her eyeing Hulik with jealousy, he was shocked to see a tear trickling down her cheek and an odd little smile playing on her lips.

    Then Hulik finished a very long speech that ended: “And not impute this yielding to light love, which the dark night hath so discovered.”

    The Voice said, “Enough, Miss Hulik. Thank you. My dear Lassia? I believe you are correct. Historically, it should be the handsome young lady beside Captain Pausert, of course, but—no. There are some things it is better not to be accurate about, and allowing Juliet to be portrayed by a young adolescent is one of them.”

    “It’s been too long, dear Richard, since our little troupe has been able to stage Romeo and Juliet,” the Dame said, with a passion that surprised Pausert. “I am many things, and capable of many roles, but I will no longer attempt to play a fourteen-year-old girl. It would be foolish.”

    “And you are no fool. Captain Pausert?”

    “Sir?” Pausert stepped forward.

    “May I ask if you have ever handled a sword?”

    As it happened, he had. Fencing was one of the sports provided at school on Nikkeldepain, and he’d tried it out of curiosity. He’d kept it up in the Nikkeldepain Navy, since swordsmanship was something of a tradition there. “I fence a bit, sir,” he replied cautiously.

    “Well! You surprise me pleasantly! A captain who actually knows how to use a sword. I thought that was illegal, these days.”

    In fact, The Voice did sound extremely pleased. But given that whoever The Voice belonged to was obviously a consummate actor, Pausert didn’t know if he was or not.

    “Come, captain, step forward. You are Romeo’s best friend Mercutio—older, something of a bully-boy, and just a little mad. It was a favored role of mine, but alas! I have accumulated too many years for it. Now, our hero has not met his Juliet at this point—he believes himself in love with another girl, and his friend Mercutio is trying to jolly him out of his depression by coaxing him to go to a party.”

    The Voice changed, somehow sounding again like that younger self that had spoken with Hulik. “Give me a torch, I am not for this ambling. Being but heavy I will bear the light.”

    Pausert had been looking at the words in the air, and tried to put on a “jollying” tone. “Nay gentle Romeo, we must have you dance!”

    “Not I, believe me! You have dancing shoes with nimble soles, I have a soul of lead so stakes me to the ground, I cannot move.”

    Romeo sounded like a moping little teenaged fool. If I were his older friend, what would I sound like when he’s in a mood like this? Pausert wondered. He made himself sound impatient; more than a little tired of this theatrical depression. “You are a Lover, borrow Cupid’s wings, and soar with them above a common bound!”

    The Voice was finished with him much quicker than with Hulik. “Good, good, you’ll do. You’re no Barrymore, mind—but if you can handle a sword at all, you’re head and shoulders above anyone else we might use for the part. Now, Miss—Hantis, is it? Please step forward.”

    New words appeared in the air.

    “You are something very different, my dear. Your appearance suits you ideally for a creature known as Puck. He is not human, is in fact a sort of magical spirit. He’s also exceedingly mischievous. Begin, please?”

    Hantis threw herself into the part with more enthusiasm than Pausert had expected—more enthusiasm than talent, perhaps, but the Voice did not interrupt her too quickly. “Good, good, that will do. Your appearance is half the thing, and when I’ve explained what all that seeming nonsense you’ve been reciting actually means, I believe you’ll do very well. And the... grik-dog, I believe he is called? With jaws like that, it behooves me not to offend him.”

    “Pul,” growled Pul.

    “So it is. Pul, indeed. I mean to have you play one of Titania’s attendants, and perhaps, if you do well, a much larger role in another play later on. You might make an interesting Caliban.”

    Pausert hadn’t a clue what all that meant, but the Dame clapped her hands with glee. “Wonderful! And Miss Hantis for Ariel?”

    “That was my thought. Now, let me see what the others can do.”

    The Voice ran through the rest of them in fairly short order. Goth did not seem to be at all unhappy that she was dismissed with: “A Fairy, an attendant on Juliet, and some crowd scenes, I think.” But, then, she wouldn’t be. Goth took a sly pleasure in being overlooked by people, as long as the captain wasn’t one of them.

    The Leewit, of course, scowled when she wasn’t picked for a larger role, but she didn’t make any open protest. Her lips didn’t even start to purse for a whistle. Pausert would have been surprised, since the Leewit’s self-esteem normally fell in the Mistress of the Universe range. But there was something immensely authoritative about The Voice that even seemed to affect her.

    Vezzarn, however, completely declined to even audition, The Voice be damned. “Not me!” he declared, red-faced. “Couldn’t recite at school, won’t do it now.”

    Finally: “House Lights,” said The Voice. The lights came up beyond the stage, showing a tall, gray-haired man sitting in the fourth row back.

    As he stood, it was clear that he had a couple of inches on Pausert, and that he had the sort of face that people would remember.

    “Miss Hulik, I hope you understand just what Dame Ethulassia is sacrificing here,” he said gravely. “She is giving over the title role to you, a newcomer, not even a classically trained actress, when it is she who has been the leading lady of our company.”

    Pausert wondered if he had been the only one to hear the emphasis on the word “classically.” Clearly, Richard Cravan was well aware that Hulik was an actress, even if he wasn’t sure just what sort of actress she was.

    “Believe me, I’m grateful,” Hulik said, sounding as if she were.

    “Piff!” said Ethulassia, with an exaggerated wave of her hands. “I still have Titania, Lady Macbeth, and Portia! And Lady Capulet is not so bad a role, anyway.”

    The Great Vamp returned, alas, and The Incredible Bosom underwent another suprahuman transformation. Ethulassia eyed Pausert through lowered lashes. “I shall be able to play her with that hint of something going on between her and Tybalt that I’ve always wanted to do.”

    Cravan laughed. “And Tybalt shall oblige you, I imagine. Well, Captain, I believe that I can assure Himbo Petey that your crew is going to fully pay its way without anyone being relegated to roustabout or janitorial duty too frequently. Dame Ethulassia will see to it that you all have copies of the four plays we will be doing, with my explanations and annotations so that you can understand some of the archaic languages. There will be a prompter in your ear, and as you saw, we have LiteTitles to be sure that if you forget your lines, they will appear before you. They can be adjusted so the audience can’t see them. Our first rehearsal will be tomorrow morning.”

    That seemed to be a dismissal, and Pausert set at example by turning and exiting the stage. He was followed by Goth, and then, belatedly, by the others.

    “Commanding sort, isn’t he?” Pausert remarked.

    Goth wrinkled her nose. “He didn’t even consider that any of us might not want to be in his plays.”

    “Of course he didn’t,” said Hulik with a smile, coming up behind them. “I’ve seen his type before. Born actors, and he simply can’t even imagine that anyone in his right mind wouldn’t wish to be on the stage.”

    Goth didn’t seem put out, though. “As long as it means less sweeping, I’ll learn to like it well enough.”

    “If it means less playing the fool, I’ll definitely like it,” said Pausert.




    When the Petey B lifted off, Pausert scarcely noticed. He was used to the roar and acceleration of his own ship; but, of course, a delicate structure like the lattice ship could not take such stresses and so was using obsolete but still perfectly functional Orris-Jawl engines. The Petey B simply elevated, as gracefully and slowly as a puff-seed.

    Slowly was indeed the hallmark—no fast getaways here! They took hours to get into space, with the ground of Vaudevillia slowly growing further and further away. Pausert would have liked to watch, but he was too busy.

    When he wasn’t learning his parts for the plays or rehearsing them, he was practicing his escapism, or he was dragooned into any one of a number of odd jobs that called for strength. Over the course of the Petey B’s return to space, for instance, he could have been found moving and stowing cargo, bracing a ladder for one of the riggers in the “Big Top,” or helping that same rigger haul up the net for the aerialists.

    That experience was enough to convince him that “actor” was indeed the best job he could ask for on the ship. Truth to tell, he was hoping he wouldn’t even have to spend too much of his time on Sideshow Alley.

    So, he was pleased to discover that he had parts in all four of the new plays that Cravan’s company was going to perform: He was a character called “Bottom” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, a servant in Merchant of Venice called Launcelot, and King Duncan in Macbeth.

    Goth and the Leewit were particularly taken with Macbeth, for with some amusement, Sir Richard had cast them at their own request as two of the three Witches. He had no idea why they wanted to play Witches, until at the first rehearsal, Goth played more of her light-shifts and levitated the potion ingredients into the huge cauldron, adding a very interesting bit of “business” to the scene.

    Cravan said nothing more than “hm,” but he agreed that they could have the coveted roles, and added Hantis as the third Witch. Since this also meant that none of them would be doing as much mucking-out for the animal-trainers, they were delighted.

    Pul wasn’t delighted at all. True, no one expected him to do any mucking-out work. But he was beginning to darkly suspect that he’d soon be consigned to the mucking end of the business—locked in a stall himself, as if he were a mere animal! Fortunately for the limbs of all concerned, he stopped growling and baring his teeth after Sir Richard allowed that the Bard’s Sacred Work could be tweaked enough to permit one of the witches to have a familiar.

    Pausert was sorely puzzled by the Dame. She was almost two people: One, flamboyant and flirtatious—and still calling him “Pausie”—outside the theater; the other, when inside the theater, was serious, careful, and clever, treating everyone with respect and Sir Richard with near-veneration.

    He said as much to Goth and Hantis.

    “She’s an actress,” Hantis replied immediately, as if the answer was self-evident. “‘Actress’ with a capital ‘A’.”

    “Well yes, but—”

    “So, she doesn’t confine her acting to the stage.”

    He thought about it. “But which one is the act?”

    Hantis smiled but didn’t answer the question. Goth just sighed, shook her head, and started muttering. Pausert didn’t quite catch it all, but some of it sounded like: stupid useless klatha... oughta be a way to get older quicker... it’s not fair...

    The Leewit joined the clowns—or “joeys,” as they called themselves—fitting in as if she had been one all her life. A group of four, alike as clones, took her into their tumbling-act, making her into a kind of human ball that they tossed about. Oddly enough, the Leewit didn’t seem offended by the business. The captain was surprised. As a rule, he would have thought, the Mistress of the Universe does not take well to finding herself the Beach Ball of the Galaxy.

    Himbo Petey was certainly much happier about it. A little girl being tossed about he could understand; real witches he couldn’t.

    But however much Himbo was puzzled by Pausert and his companions, it soon became obvious to the captain that he didn’t understand the thespians at all. He truly didn’t understand the plays that Sir Richard was putting on, or what motivated them to do it.

    Pausert walked in on the tail end of one of his arguments—his, because it was entirely one-sided. Sir Richard might look as if the Showmaster was about to drive him mad, but he clearly wasn’t going to budge.

    “But the audiences won’t like it if the lovers are dead in the end!” Himbo protested unhappily. “They’ll walk out! Wait and see!”

    “By the time they walk out the play will be over, Himbo. So I hardly see where it matters.”

    “But why can’t you change the ending?”

    “Because then it wouldn’t be a tragedy, would it?” Cravan waved a playbill under Himbo Petey’s nose. “Look there—it’s in four colors and full process: The Great Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. I hardly think that the audience is going to arrive expecting jokes!”

    “And that’s another thing—you’ve got clowns in this play of yours, but they aren’t wearing—”

    “They’re only called ‘clowns,’ Himbo,” Cravan said, wearily. Pausert got the feeling this was something that Himbo Petey had been told many times before. “I’ve explained this to you in the past. They are not circus clowns. They do not wear paint, or clown-suits, or red noses, or big shoes. It is a term that means—”

    “Well, if it means dunces and fools, then why don’t you call them that?” Petey asked resentfully. “Oh, never mind. I still think you should rewrite the ending of that Julioff and Rominette thing. People aren’t going to like it, I tell you, and not even all those sword-fights are going to appease them!”

    After Himbo Petey Bounced off, indignation in every step, Cravan put his head in his hands. “One of the greatest classical tragedies of all time, and he wants me to rewrite the ending! Bad enough that I’ve changed the language to something less archaic, to satisfy him, now he wants me to rewrite a masterpiece!”

    Pausert felt he understood why Himbo Petey was so upset. It was clear enough the Showmaster really didn’t understand any plays, much less these. Petey couldn’t grasp why people would be willing to sit for hours and watch live actors on a stage, with limited effects and scenery, when they could see the same story on holo, replete with special effects—and with no human actors who might forget their lines.

    In truth, Pausert wasn’t sure he understood it either, no matter how many times Dame Ethulassia tried to explain it to him. Petey was certain that displaying something that was going to make people cry instead of laugh was a bad idea; and while Pausert didn’t agree with him entirely, he wondered just how many people would be willing to watch something so primitive, and so full of archaic language.

    He reminded himself that, fortunately, the Petey B didn’t often set down on sophisticated worlds where there were holo-theaters and threedee parlors, and a vidscreen for every room in your house. So maybe the audiences wouldn’t have any objections.

    Certainly the staged sword-fights were exciting things. Richard Cravan plotted every single one of the moves and had all of the participants learn them to background music, so that it was all like a complicated dance, with the music telling you what to do. And if something happened and you missed a move, you didn’t have to think about what was coming next; all you had to do was pick it up at the next beat.

    When he wasn’t worrying, Pausert was enjoying that part, far more than he’d expected to, but he was certain that his other act, the escapist act, wasn’t going to come up to Himbo Petey’s standards. He hadn’t relled vatch in days, and while he thought he’d probably be able to replicate what the vatch had done, with Goth’s help, he was afraid by this time that not relling vatch meant that the wretched little creature would turn up at the worst possible moment.

    He was worried about a lot of other things, too. The ISS, for one. This new Nanite plague that Hantis had told them about, for another. The pirates. Why Karres had disappeared again. If he was ever going to get the Venture back.

    Meanwhile, Hulik was also enjoying the situation—far more, in his personal opinion, than she should be. She had thrown herself into her four roles with astonishing enthusiasm, but it was the role of Juliet that she was really reveling in. She seemed to have forgotten all about their plight, the poor old Venture, and the urgent need to get to the Empress with whatever information that Hantis had.

    As for Hantis herself, well, Pausert never had been able to tell what the Sprite was thinking anyway. He hoped she was as worried as he was, because everyone else, even Goth and the Leewit, was acting as if they really were children who had run away to join the circus.

    Even Vezzarn! He didn’t have an act at all, and as a consequence, didn’t have much choice but to muck out animal cages to earn his way. But when Pausert asked him, in the middle of shoveling out several tons of fanderbag manure, if he wasn’t nearly dying with eagerness to get the Venture fueled and fixed and get gone, he looked up with astonishment.

    “What, Captain? And give up show business?”

    Pausert could only throw up his hands and walk away.



    Their first planetfall after Vaudevillia was a little agro-world called Hanson’s Reach. Pausert was a little astonished by the backwardness of the place. Once you got a few miles from the port, people actually used animals for transportation.

    Not farming, though. That was business, and animals couldn’t do the work that an all-purpose combine could do. But the precious and expensive fuel was saved for farm machines. No one wasted it on the unimportant matter of getting people from here to there.

    The Petey B set down just outside the port, landing as slowly as she’d taken off from Vaudevillia. Her descent was announced by a shower of bright-colored leaflets as they drifted over the landscape—or to be more precise, while the landscape drifted by underneath the Petey B. Using the lattice ship’s inertial drives meant that Hanson’s Reach rotated under them and they slowly matched up to the planetary rotation.

    The leaflet were vivid bits of butterfly-bright paper that were cut and shaped to fly like little wings in all directions, They spread the word that the Petey B, home of PETEY, BYRUM AND KEEP, THE GREATEST SHOW IN THE GALAXY, was beginning a limited engagement on Hanson’s Reach, setting down by special arrangement just outside the main center of population and commerce.

    “Limited?” Pausert asked, since he’d heard of no set departure date.

    Mannicholo shrugged. “Limited to as long as their money holds out.”

    The Petey B certainly provided a spectacle that was as good as a parade as they set down. And, once they were down, the set-up was a show in and of itself.

    If Pausert hadn’t been busy helping, he’d have wanted to watch. It looked as if every man, woman, and especially child that could possible get to the showboat was standing out there, gawking. Stages were deployed, the stays and struts that held up the synthasilk of the tents popped open, tents were hauled up, canopies unfolded, bleachers and benches arrayed, rigging rigged and ropes winched tight, bunting and flags strung out to flap and snap in the breeze, and lastly, the huge banners depicting all the delights to be found within were dropped down to hang from every vertical surface—and all it was down to a chant of “Push ‘em back! Haul ‘em back! Take ‘em back! Ho!”

    What that was supposed to mean, nobody seemed to know. But it was effective, because it wasn’t all autowinches and robot-pulleys that did the work, it was muscle and sweat of people and beasts. The huge fanderbags were hitched in teams to pull up the biggest tent-poles; grumbling and complaining, the humpities did the same for the smaller poles. And every hand that might be useful was put on a rope for the several hours it took to get the showboat up and running.

    And when they were all finished, the Petey B looked very like the Showboat of Pausert’s memories: all bright-colored flags and banners and synthasilk veiling the workaday exterior of the lattice ship, so that it hardly looked like a thing that could go to space at all. And for the first time since they’d hitched up with the Petey B, Pausert began to feel a tingling sensation of dread and fear and excitement that had nothing whatsoever to do with all of the predicaments that had brought them here.

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