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The Shaman of Karres: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Sunday, March 15, 2020 12:16 EDT

 


 

Touching the captain, when he slumped like that, barely able to drink the energy-brew she’d gotten out of the robochef, frightened the Leewit badly. She had allowed herself to do what the Toll pattern in her mind said was an absolute no-go for a klatha-healer — reading without preparing barriers within herself, without creating a distance between healer and patient. Her Toll pattern was a klatha learning device, a partial replica of the personality of an adult witch whose basic individuality was similar to that of the witch child using it. She usually followed its advice, but in this caseâ¦

He’d pushed too far, and too hard again! Goth would never forgive her if she let him die. But, just before reaching into herself to pour some of her energy into the captain⦠the Toll pattern in her mind was insistent. Check first. Assess. Assess and then treat calmly and sensibly, as if it wasn’t someone she cared a lot about. Stupid and panic would help no-one and could kill both of them.

So she did. His vital signs were serious, but there was nothing actually wrong with him besides literally being out of energy at the cellular level. It had been strange at first to have the klatha sense of being able to feel the body from the inside. Overwhelming and more than a little scary. It was why one had to be buffered. But there was improvement, even as she worked, checking him out. She could boost thoseâ¦

The Toll-pattern supplied mitochondria. But no. He’d get better without that. And much as though she wanted the security of the captain making decisions, letting him recover slowly was better for him. And she could cope. She had to: she was the remaining Karres witch on the ship. He would not survive the Egger route like that. She could only hope he hadn’t burned out his ability to be a klatha witch. That happened too, sometimes.

And there was not a bit of use in climbing anything, or whistling at it, either.

Once the captain was in his cabin, being put into his bunk by Ta’zara, she went back to the flight deck, where Vezzarn was sitting in the captain’s chair, warily watching instruments. “Is the captain all right, Your Wisdom?” he asked with the nervous respect of Karres and klatha that Uldune’s people had — for good historical reason, the Leewit knew. Vezzarn was always respectful, but this was⦠different, somehow? And then she realized what it was and scowled fiercely at him for reminding her. She was in charge now. No Goth, no Maleen, no Toll, no Threbus. Just nobody. “Yeah. Leave him alone. Anything you need to do, you do. Don’t you dare wake the Captain. Call me, not him. So: are we clear of the asteroids?”

“There is nothing of a size that needs worrying about close, Your Wisdom. Except for that piece of hulk. It’s still stuck up against us. We can’t really boost with it there. It’d mess with the center of mass, and I’m just a spaceman, not up the captain’s level of piloting. Can you undo that?”

“No. The captain has to. We will worry about it if it becomes a problem.”

Then there was the issue of what to do about the rescued people. She met Ta’zara in the companionway, just outside the captain’s cabin. “He’s asleep⦠or in a coma,” he said. “He didn’t even know I took his suit off.” Ta’zara had removed his space-suit, but not, the Leewit noticed, the blaster. And he too turned to her for orders⦠well, in a way he always did, but not about running the ship. “What do wish to do about the people we rescued, Mistress?”

“What do you think?” she asked.

He rubbed his jaw. “I cannot watch all of them. There are too many for this ship, I think. They need to be put off on some hospitable world, as soon as possible.”

“We can’t really head for one until the captain wakes up. Which he will.” She said that with all the confidence she could muster.

He nodded. “Then I think leave them in the hold, and we will provide what we can. Food. Water.”

“And treatment for the badly injured.”

He looked at her with concern. “You must not do to yourself what the captain has done, Mistress. I know your power, but I know it is not without its cost.”

“Yeah. I know. Come on, let’s get to the robochef and see what we can do to feed them.”

None of it proved quite as simple as the Leewit had hoped. The robochef didn’t have any programs for lots and lots of quick food, all at once. It was designed to cater for ten people at the outside, and not to provide drinks for seventy or more. Vezzarn got her a water refill carboy from the storage locker to start with. Food could wait, she decided. She and Ta’zara went down to the hold. Even from outside one could hear the racket and the banging.

“Great Patham’s toenails. They better not be damaging the cargo!” she said furiously. Goth had been the one who had worked on making the Venture 7333 profitable, but now she wasn’t here. The captain relied too much on his luck. The Leewit pulled open the hold door — and had to hastily sidestep to avoid the three men and the small crate they’d been using as a makeshift — and hopeless — ram, falling through.

There was no place to go up, so she whistled at them. It was an odd talent, but one that could be deadly. This wasn’t intended to kill, just to hurt the ears, and by the way they clutched those ears, it did work. “What do you clumping dopes think you’re doing?” she demanded. “Who said you could bash our cargo and doors around?”

There was a stunned silence and then they all started yelling at once and a bunch tried to come shoving forward. Ta’zara dealt with them by picking up two of the makeshift ram carriers and throwing them back in the crowd. He grabbed the fallen crate and used it as battering ram — not on the open door, but the mass of people. “Back, Mistress!”

The Leewit did nothing of the kind. She leaned past him and whistled instead. This time it was a real buster of a whistle. She hoped the cargo would be all right. A lot of the people weren’t. Quite a few fell over, and all of them tried to cover their ears, and retreat. She realized that Ta’zara had drawn his blaster. “I shoot the first of you to advance. Back. Now!”

There was no doubting Ta’zara’s tone. They backed up.

“What’s wrong with you dopes?” said the Leewit crossly. “We’ve clumping well rescued you. I’ve just brought you water. We’ll bring food soon. But not if you’re behave like drunken bollems. You can starve.”

“I’m Counsellor Stratel⦔ began one fellow with a fancy-pants hair-style that had survived being chained up and even being rescued. His clothes hadn’t done as well.

“Bully for you,” said the Leewit, taking an instant dislike to him. “Now shut up, you clumping nitwit. If I need to know who you are, I’ll ask.”

He plainly wasn’t used to being treated like that. His mouth opened and shut, but no sound came out. That was an improvement.

“Slavery is a vile abuse⦔ began one of the men Ta’zara had flung back, one of the ram-holders. He was a tall, skinny serious-looking fellow, who looked like he’d never heard a joke he understood.

“You’re not clumping slaves, you idiot. We just rescued you,” said the Leewit, but the fellow was in full flow, waving his one arm about.

“It’s against the basic rights of man!” he bellowed, his face flushed and eyes wild, as he pushed his way forward, and then⦠fell over.

The Leewit looked at him, startled. That arm was at an odd angle. “Ta’zara,” she said. “Give them the water. And then can you carry this fellow up to the spare state-room. There is something not right with him.”

“You have to let me out of here, I’m Counsellor Stratel, and you must recover my possessions!” said the annoying man.

“Shut your cake-hole, you clumping idiot!” said the Leewit. “Look, I’ll be back with food. Sort out who is worst hurt so can we see what we can do.”

“I demand to see the captain!” said Stratel.

So she told him to shut up, using some of her best words, before shutting them in the hold again. That was at least a little fun.

Using her klatha senses she examined the unconscious man.

His shoulder was dislocated. She said as much to Ta’zara. “It could have happened when I threw him back into the hold. I can try and pull that.”  So he did. The Leewit was still rather wary about her klatha healer skills. It were tiring and sometimes uncomfortable, getting inside the patterns that were people. But she felt the joint slip into place and the changes that caused. She felt like throwing up. Buffering herself from the pain had been among the first lessons she’d had to learn.

But there was more than just pain going on here. The man was fevered and⦠something else was wrong with him. It took her a little time to track it down. He was suffering from poisoning, that she got quickly enough. His liver was enflamed and the toxic metal that was affecting him was being concentrated there. That she could, and did move. She traced the source, down the blood vessels and came to something that her healer sense had no control over — a foreign body, resting under his rib cage. She had no idea what it was, but it was going to kill him.

 



 

Goth could have teleported the object out of the body, but short of cutting him open and healing him up after, the Leewit could see no way of getting it out. Cutting was indeed an option, she knew. It was one other healers took, when necessary. But she was a little scared of trying it on her own. He wasn’t going to die, if she isolated it. The toxin was leaking out of one point, and that she could seal. She used his blood to bring calcium and various other compounds from his system and sealed the hole in the object as if healing a tooth. To be safe she put a block and built a lattice around it and then filled with an impermeable membrane. He woke up as she was finishing. Blinked. Looked around.

“Lie still,” said the Leewit. “I’m not quite finished.”

“What happened?” he asked in his deep voice.

“You dislocated your shoulder. And you had a fever.” The Leewit decided not to mention the poison. “You should start feeling better soon.”

“I⦠I do,” he said, sounding puzzled by this.

“Right. Ta’zara can take you back to your clumping idiot friends.” She was tired from the klatha use and hungry from it, too. She had to eat, pace herself, and be calm. There wasn’t anyone else, right now. “I’m going to get food. I’ll bring it down.”

He sat up gingerly. “I must admit it is some time since I last ate. Since any of us ate. Our captors gave us ration bars and water.”

“You need to drink more. Your kidneys are in a mess. So is your liver.” She cracked an enormous yawn. “Now go with Ta’zara. You’re all right now, and there are more hurt people.”

“Thank you,” he said. “The leg-chains?”

“I got other problems,” said the Leewit crossly, just wanting to get to food. “You can manage to walk in ’em.”

She did indeed have other problems, the first being that the rescued had not been very good at organizing. So she and Ta’zara had to do that for them, and find them a slop bucket, and take the worst injured up to the spare staterooms. It took time, effort and worry, and fixing some of them would take all she had. The best she could do was keep them alive for now. Time also fixed things, if she could let them have that time.

She wanted the captain awake and on hand. She wanted Goth. She wanted a good tree to climb or space-guns to aim, and blow the sterns and bows off pirates.

But right now all she had was pancakes and wintenberry jelly, and a ship to keep going. She wished she knew how long the captain would sleep for⦠or if he’d pushed his klatha power too far.

****

Pausert awoke, driven by enormous post-klatha use hunger. Someone had gotten him out of the space-suit, at least. He still felt as weak as a newborn carteen. He struggled his way into some clothes and made his way to the control room and the robochef.  Vezzarn was still at the controls, and looked up as Pausert dialed up the largest portion of wintenberry jelly pancakes the machine could provide. “Captain! Glad to see you! We’re still dragging that chunk of pirate hulk⦠and there are few other things⦔

“Can any of them not wait until I get some food in me?” asked Pausert, shoveling a huge fork-full into his mouth as soon as he’d finished speaking. Death or disaster, he had to have some food, now.

The little old spacer smiled. “At the rate you’re eating, I reckon we’ll be all right.”

By the time the fourth forkful hit his stomach Pausert paused for long enough to ask: “Where are the Leewit and Ta’zara?”

“The little Wisdom is dealing with the injured. Ta’zara is along with her to provide muscle, in case she has trouble.”

Pausert nodded and chewed. This was a step forward on the first few mouthfuls. He’d just swallowed those. That was the downside of klatha use. Those who knew nothing about it thought it made things easy — but it was all too easy for the user to do themselves major damage — dismind themselves, or actually burn up. Some things took far more energy and mental toll than others. Goth could do tricks with light with very real effort. Teleportation didn’t require much more. But the Sheewash drive and travel by the Egger route were hard on her.

Just thinking about Goth made him worry. Made him miss her, too, and wish that she was here. The Leewit was a long way from the blond scrap she’d been when they’d first met on Porlumma, years back. But she wasn’t Goth.

“Tell me about the problems while I eat,” he said. He was feeling a little better for the food already.

“Well, Captain, we’ve got seventy-eight extra passengers. Six are in a bad way, and another twenty or so have injuries. But we don’t really have the air or the even the supplies for them. And some are very grateful, but a few are pretty difficult,” said Vezzarn.

“Difficult?” asked Pausert, temporarily halting a mouthful.

“Yes,” explained Vezzarn. “Not all of the injuries happened in getting them free, or before. A couple of them tried to give the Little Wisdom trouble. They wanted their stuff⦠things the pirates stole from them. They’re convinced that we looted them from the wreck. And then there was the story that we’re keeping them in the hold because we plan to sell them as slaves.”

“How long have I been asleep for?” Pausert asked.

The little spacer grinned. “’bout sixteen hours. The Little Wisdom said we wasn’t to disturb you, unless she said so, even if it was life and death. She said some words you would have washed her mouth out with soap for, about what you did with the, you know, witchy stuff. “

“I presume you tried to drop the hulk?”

“It’s not falling away, Captain,” said Vezzarn. And I was too scared just to fire the main tubes. If it stayed on our center of mass would be upset⦔

“And falling away it could also be collide with us. You’ve tried laterals?”

“Didn’t make any difference,” said Vezzarn.

“I thought I said he was to be left sleeping!” snapped the Leewit from the doorway.

“I woke up all by myself,” said Pausert. “My stomach thought my throat had been cut.”

“You pushed it too hard, Captain. You got to learn⦔ said the Leewit sternly, and then ran forward and hugged him.

“I know. I also knew they were going to die.”

She sniffed and scowled. “Couple of the clumping idiots it would have been a good thing to leave behind. Not really, but they’re a pain.”

“Some in pain,” said Ta’zara with a smile from behind her. “Good to see you, Captain. Some of our new passengers keep demanding the pleasure of speaking to you.”

“I hope you knocked their heads together!” said Pausert, irritably.

Ta’zara looked at the Leewit. She giggled. “Something like that.”

“Well, I will talk to all of them, just as soon as I deal with undoing the connection to the pirate hulk. I’d blow it apart with the nova guns if it wasn’t quite that close that it might damage us. Undoing will probably be as tiring as doing, so we’d better plan ahead. We need to make for the nearest habitable world and off-load these people. I’m sure you worked that out. Have you got a target and route planned?”

“We’re sort of on the edge of Imperial space here. The charts show Cinderby’s World to be the closest. Four ship days, more or less. It’ll not be good on the air-recycler, Captain,” said Vezzarn.

Pausert caught the look from the Leewit. Using the Sheewash drive could cut that⦠but it took klatha skill and energy. The Leewit could do it briefly on her own, but it had usually been something that two or three Karres witches combined to do. In learning the skill the captain had nearly killed them all, but now he was very good at it. Still, it took it out of the klatha user. But he thought he could manage if it had to be done. He was feeling much better for the food already.

“I wonder what is actually holding the ships together?” he said, chewing his lip.

“It could just be how close the contact is with that bridge you created, Captain, or just the attraction of the two masses,” said Vezzarn

“It’s not quite like the cocoon — that was just⦠there. I saw you building this up, Captain,” said the Leewit. “Kinda layers. I knew you must be burning tons of energy, even if you are a hot witch. I was watching from the gun-turret.”

Pausert didn’t have to ask what she’d been doing there. “Yes. It’s not quite the same. More like fifty of the same thing.” He grimaced. “No wonder I was tired.”

“I was thinking, Captain, you don’t have to undo the whole thing. Maybe⦠just the first layer.”

He looked thoughtful. “Yes. And then try the laterals. I wouldn’t be so exhausted and we could use the Sheewash drive. Get there a lot faster. It’ll take us out of our way, though.”

“Be a good thing, Captain,” said the Leewit. “A couple of the captives⦠patients⦠aren’t in the best shape. I’ve done my best for them, but they’ve got such general damage to their lungs it’s like fixing a leak in a sponge.”

 



 

“We’ll try that, then,” decided Pausert.

So they did, with Vezzarn standing by to fire the laterals and muttering about witchy stuff.

It worked. They and the wrecked hulk parted company in a last ghostly puff of departing air.

“I’ll set a course for Cinderby’s World, and then I’ll go and talk to these passengers we’ve found ourselves with,” said the captain. “And any of them that don’t like it, can get out and walk!”

It took some care, as this was quite a dirty part of space, now, but eventually the Venture was on her way to Cinderby’s World. And then Captain Edon of the ship Farflight  from Leris star-cluster — seeing as the Infamous Captain Pausert was known in Imperial Security circles for being associated with the witches of Karres, went down to see their ‘passengers’.

There was an odd, dangerous mood in the hold⦠for people who had just been rescued from slavery.

“Captain. Why are you keeping me in here for? We’re not animals!” demanded one, a gangling fellow with a fashionable hair-crop that ill matched his torn clothes. They had been very fine clothes once. There was a dangerous edge to the voice, and despite the fact that Pausert had a blaster on his hip, and Ta’zara at his side, and an open door behind him, there were still more than seventy people there. And the noise response — half fear and half anger — was nearly overwhelming.

Pausert tried to shout over it. The Leewit took a more direct approach. She used one of her shrill directional whistles at them. They were crowded into the space between the strapped pallets of crates and boxes, and had nowhere to go. But they were keen to try. Most of them clutched their ears, and backed off. Pausert almost felt sorry for them — he’d been on the receiving end of that whistle.

“I can’t listen to all of you at once,” he informed them, sternly. “You will take it in turns. And if you interrupt, my niece will whistle at you again. Now, we have just rescued you from certain death on that pirate vessel. You’re a huge strain on my small ship. We’re making as good a speed as possible to take you to an Imperial world, where we’ll set you down. I would say we’re less than three ship days travel to it. We’ve done our best for you, but if you cause me any more trouble I’ll just back out of this door and leave you here until we land. Now, have you got any questions?”

“We’re not just going to be sold as slaves, are we?” asked a young woman querulously.

“No. Whatever gave you that idea?” asked the captain.

“Well,” said an academic-looking man, whose thin, planar face looked more like he belonged in a seminary, in a curiously deep voice, “We’re still prisoners. Still in leg-shackles. And you have crates of force-cuffs. And we are trapped here in the hold. When we tried to leave we were met by force. We are still very grateful for being rescued from asphyxiation. We owe you our lives.”

Those dratted force-cuffs! “We’re a small freighter, my friend,” said Captain Pausert. “We carry cargo for our own trading and for anyone who contracts us, to smaller and less travelled ports. The force-cuffs were not for us to use — how would a little freighter ever use that many, even if we were a slaver? We were attacked by your pirate-captors and got lucky with our guns. We’re armed, because we trade out here. We have a small crew, and very little cabin space, so, except for the corridors, there is nowhere else for you to be, except here. And, honestly, we rescued you, but we have no idea who you are. You were captives, but could be pirates yourselves, or mercenaries, or preachers for all we know. As for your shackles⦠well, I’ll take two of you out of here at a time, and have one of my spacemen work on freeing you. I don’t have keys or codes for them.”

“That seems very reasonable, Captain,” said the deep-voiced man. “And I really am grateful for the medical help your niece has been administering. But if I may ask, why have your crew refused to let us see you?”

“The captain was in a forced sleep,” said the Leewit tersely. “I put him into it. He nearly killed himself rescuing you. If it was up to me, I’d make you ungrateful lot get out and walk.”

There was a silence.

Then the deep-voiced man said: “I’d like to be the first to say I owe you an apology, Captain. I knew of the evils of slavery, but I had not understood the fear or the brutality first hand. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Others joined in. Eventually Pausert held his hands up. “Enough, good people, enough. We did what spacemen do. Now, do you have any other questions? I have a ship to run.”

“Where are we going?” asked one of the freed slaves.

“Cinderby’s World,” said Captain Pausert.

There was a moment’s silence. “Why there?” asked someone with palpable nervousness.

“It’s about all we have sufficient air to reach. You’re way over our recycler’s capacity,” explained Pausert.

“But I paid my passage to Marbelly,” said the pretty woman, plaintively. “What am I going to do?”

“Be free and alive,” said the man with the deep voice. People laughed, but Pausert realized by the surprise on his face at their reaction, that he’d been dead serious.

“Captain, I need to talk to you about my property,” said the fellow with the fashionable hairstyle. He wasn’t looking in the least grateful. “Also, I can’t stay in here!”

“It’s clumping well here, or outside,” said the Leewit coldly. “Captain, that’s the one I told you about, who claimed you were looting his possessions! And then he wanted us to take him out there to collect them.”

“Great Patham!” said Pausert. He shook his head. “Firstly, we didn’t have any time for looting, and secondly, anything you lost to the pirates, you lost. If you want to go and search what’s left of their ship, you can charter a vessel and go looking for it. I’ll give you the coordinates. You can come back with another vessel, not mine. Anyway, what you lost to pirates is not my problem. If we had salvaged it, it would make no difference to you. Now. You and you.” He pointed to two of the people in front. “Come along and we’ll see if my spaceman can get your manacles off. The next two can go when they come back. We’ll work our way through you.”

Back in the command chair, getting the wires ready for the Sheewash drive, Pausert said to the Leewit, “Good thing that fellow with the deep voice was there. He seemed sensible enough to make up for some of the others.”

“Farnal. He’s from Iradalia. He is sensible now, Captain. He wasn’t at first. He had a broken arm and a knock on the head, and was talking pretty wild. You know, Captain, I’m going to have to get some bottles and food coloring and stuff. Maybe a few transdermic syringes⦔

“Why?” Pausert had had experience of the Leewit’s odd ideas of food jokes, of salt when he’d thought he was having sugar, and mud cakes⦠but he didn’t see what this had to do the fellow with the broken arm and a knock on the head.

“Props. Like when we were with the circus.” She sighed. “That was fun. More fun than being responsible.” She almost spat the last word out. “For healing. They need medicines and bandages and stuff, so they don’t know what I’m actually doing. And that man⦠he has something strange inside him. A machine of some kind.”

“Like an artificial organ or something? They do heart-pacemakers in the inner worlds.”

She frowned. “No. It was poisoning him a little bit. And anyway, he comes from Iradalia. He told me. That’s right out on the edges somewhere.”

“Indeed it is,” said Pausert, surprised. “It’s Karoda’s binary planet’s name. The system is divided between them. The war we’re supposed to deal with is between Iradalia and Karoda. That’s a bit too much of a fluke just to be a chance-rescue, I think. Is this another vatch-game?”

“Could be. Little-bit’s vanished again. I don’t think they feel time quite like we do. Now, are we gonna do the Sheewash?”

He sighed. “I guess. It is harder with just the two of us. I don’t understand why Goth just left. I mean, without even saying goodbye or anything.” 

“Guess I do, Captain,” said the Leewit, tersely, sounding just like her older sister. “I reckon she was scared.”

“Goth’s never been scared of anything in her life,” said Pausert stoutly.

The Leewit was silent for a bit. Then she scowled. “Scared she wouldn’t manage to let go of you. Getting soppy like Maleen.”

“Oh.” That Captain Pausert could understand.

It didn’t make being on the Venture without her any easier, but it did make it a lot better. He found the ship without her an empty place, even if there were more than seventy people on board. But they had to get these other people to air, and that meant the Sheewash drive.

 So they did it, and the inner fire burned in that twisted arrangement of wires directing the klatha energy. It appreciably shortened their journey.


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