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The Shaman of Karres: Chapter Three

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

 


 

Goth had left Karres before the captain. Without saying proper goodbyes, which she was still kicking herself about, butâ¦

She shook herself vigorously. No use being melancholy and miserable about it, even if she was both of those. She’d been taken in one of Karres’ fast two-man ships as far as Parisienne — a world undistinguished for anything much except being inside the Empire, a place of gentle and beautiful warm oceans, and the major producer of sheen fabric. Sheen was harvested from the cocoons of a local sea creature, the squill, which had failed to thrive anywhere else. It was pretty, shimmery, strong and soft. There were plenty of fabrics that filled that brief, but sheen had one other desirable property — it wicked moisture away very effectively. You were never sweaty in sheen. It was very popular on hot worlds. It did have one other, much less popular feature. It didn’t last. The cocoons broke down to release the sea-squill young three hundred and seventeen Parisienne days after it had been secreted. The fabric, even spun, did the same. Every year there was a rush to get the new sheen garments to the markets as fast as possible. Customers liked their cloth as quickly as possible, and prices were determined by the time since harvest. As a result, Parisienne saw a great deal more fast ships than most worlds, so it was a good spot to blend into the traffic to her next destination.

Her pilot was none other than Olimy, who they had rescued what seemed like forever-ago back on Uldune. He set her down on a small island.

There was literally not another person there — which made it a perfect landing-spot for a small spacecraft of extremely advanced design that Karres did not wish to advertise. All the stealthing and cloaking gear in the galaxy couldn’t stop an accidental sighting — but darkness and twenty miles of surrounding ocean did.

“Your mother put together some tourist gear for you,” he said, handing her a small bag. “There will be several dive boats along during the day. They always land the passengers here to have a little shore time — you just join them when they leave.”

“Where is the nearest spaceport?” she asked.

“Pagette. The boats all come from Moonah-town. It’s a small port, not one of the big centers, but it’s got a hover-rail link to Pagette. It takes about three hours, so the dive trips are cheaper than the nearer places. There are enough people, not too obvious. I’ve used the route a few times now. It’s easy and safe enough, and with the tourists, simple not to be noticed.”

“No one told me anyone was looking for me,” said Goth. “Anything else I’m not being told, Olimy?”

“We don’t know if anyone is looking for you. We do know someone was tracking Captain Pausert’s cargo, for some reason, but we dealt with that. We’re just not taking chances with you. The prognosticators thought this would be a good place to land you, so here you are,” he said cheerfully. “You’d better look at the papers that are in the bag with your money. You’ll want to adjust your appearance.”

He climbed back into the ship, and Goth was left to watch the small craft rise and vanish in a way that the Empire and many others would love to know more about. And then she was alone on the beach, listening to the lapping waves as the sky began to lighten with the dawn. It was quite cool at this time of day, so Goth looked in the bag, thinking she’d add a few layers.

That, she realized rapidly, wasn’t going to happen. The bag had a towel and a skimpy swimsuit, jeweled sandals, and a twisted object that folded out into a broad-brimmed hat, and some fashionable eye-shades — and that was it, besides a sequined purse.

The purse, which she examined in the light of Parisienne’s slightly mauve new-risen sun, had a cool quarter of a million Imperial maels in it, an Imperial passport in the name of Leinna Dol Armoth and some sun-screen and hair-ties. She sighed. Hair ties. Essential survival equipment, when you are cast away on a desert island, with no breakfast. Almost less useful than all the money — which was a lot, even for Karres.

So, hungry and a little irritable, Goth sat down to wait. She could have tried to catch some fish or eat the local shellfish, she supposed, but she had no idea if anything was edible, or tasty, and it wasn’t worth experimenting for the short time she expected to be here. She sat in the sun, and then when that gotten too hot, moved into the shade. Out on the purplish-blue water she could see other islands and what could be a boat in the distance. She got herself changed, and wrapped herself in the towel — it was still cool enough to make that a good thing. She thought about burying her clothes, but as everything that wasn’t beach on the island was cloaked in low green vegetation, out of which various odd-shaped trees grew, she settled for ‘porting them into a hole in a tree trunk, a long way up one of the trees.

A startled-looking, long-beaked emerald-and-ruby shimmery bird emerged from the hole seconds later, and flew off squawking indignantly. That made Goth jump — and then laugh. She hadn’t laughed since they told her what she was going to have to do, all on her own.

It wasn’t as good as breakfast and a drink, but it did make her feel much better. So she found a patch of sun behind some trees, and went to sleep. She awoke much later, hot, to the sound of voices and laughter. It was apparent that the tourists had arrived on the island. She went out to join them. There were several boats at anchor along the jetty that jutted out into the bay in front of the island. Her clothing was a close match for what most of the people playing in the shallow water or sitting or lying on the sand were wearing. Goth sat down among them and applied sun-screen, and looked about for something to eat⦠which she failed to see.

 



 

So when a man in a bright orange hat and vest started ringing a bell and shouting “Calpurnia passengers, Calpurnia passengers! Please embark, luncheon is about to be served,” Goth didn’t hesitate, She joined the throng of people heading toward the biggest vessel. This was ideal, she thought. Bigger means more people, and less chance of noticing one extra. And there would be food.

Food was a distraction that stopped her noticing that she was one of the youngest in the crowd heading onto the vessel for the buffet. By the time she noticed, it was too late. The vessel was already heading out to sea. It was a hover-jet boat, so they moved both quickly and smoothly away from the island. It took Goth very little time to realize that these were sight-seers, not people who had come to snorkel or gill-breathe in the clear water. She used a light-shift to alter her appearance subtly, with just a little regret that she would not get to try the diving. Well, perhaps one day, with the captain⦠that made her sniff and swallow, and pay attention to the tour guide, rather than thinking about it.

The guide had that sort of sing-song quality to his voice that goes with having said the same thing too often, to too many people, who weren’t really listening.

“⦠the Mantro barges follow the migrating sea-squill, collecting the cocoons. Of course there are government inspectors on each barge to make sure enough larval squill remain to keep the fishery healthy. There are also quarterly surveys⦔ he droned on about the squills, their diet, and how dangerous the migrations were, and how secret the Mantro people kept the process of making sheen. Goth listened and ate. It beat thinking too much.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, if you could insert your nose smell-filters, we’re approaching the Mantro barge, the Queen Abelard, and you want to have them comfortable before you get there. We will have souvenir packs of fresh sheen for saleâ¦.”

Goth noticed that all around her the passengers were digging in their bags and putting on what was plainly a cruise issued disposable scent filter unit. And of course, she didn’t have one. Well, there was always a light shift. They weren’t toxin filters⦠and how bad could a smell be? She’d smelled a few revolting things in her time around the worlds of the Empire and its borders. She could see those around her, and could match the shape of the device well.

They came up to the barge, rapidly. On the high bridge above the wide deck Goth could see a tall, dark-skinned figure — in a rebreather mask, with a long spiky head-dress.

“Ah⦠they have just made a catch. That is the captain himself on the bridge seeing to the winches,” the guide informed them. “The hereditary captain always directs the winching of the nets. To his left is the official government observer.”

The observer was a squat little man in a grey and orange uniform, also with a rebreather mask. Everyone else visible on the boat was near naked, so it did make him stand out. 

The huge otter-dredge was being emptied into a broad metal hopper, and men in thigh-boots were wading through the shimmering catch, kicking and sorting squill with shovels onto the conveyors. On the deck, men and women worked shoulder to shoulder at the stainless steel tables, knives flashing. Goth noticed they weren’t wearing expensive re-breathers or even nose filters. They appeared to come from every race in the Empire, some short, some tall, wearing little more than hats and leather aprons.

Slaves? Goth wondered. Yet they all seemed to be happy, smiling and working frantically. It must be very well paid because many of them didn’t look in the first flush of youth or beauty⦠she was still wondering about that when the smell from the barge hit her. She wished she hadn’t eaten, and then, she had to be sick.

She wasn’t alone. There were a two or three others, also escorted by the crew to the stern, and given rebreather masks so that they didn’t inhale the vilest smell ever.

That stopped her thinking about anything much until the tourist cruise had moved on. The vomiting and the dry retching left her exhausted, and happy to rest on a recliner while the rest of the tourists went on being shown the wonders of Parisienne.

It was only later in the hover-rail car heading to the city of Pagette, when Goth got to thinking: how did those workers on the barge live and work with the smell? The guide had said something about the scent being a defensive weapon the sea-squill larvae used to protect their cocoons, but Goth had been feeling too wretched to care. So how did the workers manage? There was something about it that niggled at Goth, but she had to deal with buying clothes, luggage and passage off-world for “Leinna” on a sheen clipper, heading for Morteen, a world in the Duchy of Galm on the southwestern border zone.

That was the sector in which Captain Pausert’s father, Lieutenant-Commander Kaen, had vanished. The planet his garrison had been on, where his mother, Lina, had gone on her search to find out what had happened to him. That was the last trace Imperial Security had of her, and, likewise, the last trace that Karres had been able to find. She’d gone over the border, into the uncharted and unpoliced star systems and the worlds beyond. Still: stars were scattered and thin out that way. There had to be some kind of trace. And there were always people who traded across borders, who were often quite good at evading Imperial security’s watch. All she had to do was find them. And that, in turn, was something Karres’s people were quite good at doing. They had had lots of experience.


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