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The Shaman of Karres: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Saturday, March 28, 2020 05:41 EDT



        Goth embarked on the sheen clipper Sheridan. It was racing to get its cargo of fresh sheen to Morteen, the provincial capital of the Empire’s southwestern sector. Morteen, when she looked it up was described as tropical to hyper-tropical, and conveniently situated to⦠a list of other worlds, some of which Goth had even heard of. On the hubward fringe of human space, it was a space navy base, with valuable minerals, large flying bugs, lots of money and lots of heat.

        A great place to sell sheen, in other words, and a good place for Goth to find another ship to take her further toward or across the border. Sheen clippers were fast and quite luxurious. They were also harder to stay unnoticed in than Goth liked, but then, as far as she knew, no-one was looking for her anyway. She had a good cover-story, the best fake papers Karres could provide, and plenty of money.

        All she was missing was the captain, and the Leewit, of course. But the Leewit was getting toward that age where she’d go off adventuring, either with a couple of other Karres witches or maybe even on her own. That would just leave the captain and Goth.

        Right now, that seemed like a really good idea. Maybe they could go to Parisienne, stay as far from the barges as possible, and dive. She’d never gotten to trying diving, and by the pictures the spear-fishing might be as good as hunting bollems with a bow. Not likely, but she’d like to try it with the captain. She was so taken up with this thought as she made her way down the corridor to the officers’ mess — where passengers also ate — that she didn’t see a woman in excessively high heels coming the other way, and neatly knocked her off her feet, sending the glass in her hand flying.

        The woman in the heels didn’t seem too upset about, though, as Goth apologized and steadied her.

        “Not to worry, dear,” said the woman, smiling. “It happens. I’ll just get another drink for Jaccy. He’s winning at the moment.”

        “Let me,” said Goth. “I wasn’t paying attention. I’m sorry.”

        So she bought the woman, who introduced herself as Yelissa, a replacement cocktail at the bar, and did her best at the kind of small talk the captain always managed so easily. It wasn’t hard to work out there was a little fishing going on. Of course there was no way of telling who was fishing or why. The woman could just be curious, or she could be anything from Imperial Security to a criminal.

        “Yes,” said Goth. “Parisienne was lovely. I had a wonderful dive at Ankawayhat.” The name came from a glossy brochure of a very expensive resort she had collected while in the spaceport.

        “How delightful. And now?” asked Yelissa.

        “I’m off to Morteen.”

        “Also delightful. To the Cascades or for some other reason?”

        “Just the Cascades,” answered Goth, thinking that had to be safe. Pretty waterfalls for the tourist trade or something. She really had to do her research better! But she hadn’t planned on spending any real time there. She had seen mention of “the Cascades,” but not really paid attention to it. Her focus was more to the spaceports and likely outbound traffic beyond the Empire’s borders. That was where the prognosticators said she was going.

        “Well, then you must join us later for a little game! These sheen clippers are fast, but rather dull compared to the passenger liners. Still, there are usually a few handsome young men on these trip,” she said archly.

        Goth had no interest in meeting handsome young men, but didn’t say so. This led on to more questions, about her home and attachments. It was something she should have prepared better, Goth thought, keeping her answers vague. She didn’t want to tell this quizzical woman that home was the Venture 7333, and that Captain Pausert wasn’t attached yet but would be before much longer — to her.

        That just made her miss him and the Venture more, and so she let herself get talked into joining Yelissa.

        A little later Goth figured out that the Cascades was actually the name of a vast and glitzy gambling casino — one of Morteen’s few draw-cards. It did have waterfalls in the central foyer, which were something of a local attraction because most of Morteen was as flat as a pancake.

        Still, that was pretty unimportant. What was a little more difficult was that old Vezzarn’s brand of poker was really all the experience she had of games of chance. Well, they were supposed to be chance. She was being expected to know how to play their variety of poker, and believe that it involved chance. The cozy little group of gamblers in one of the staterooms did know how to play well.

        Goth knew enough to know that she should have been losing. She wasn’t, and that made her very wary. Wary enough not to bet too high. Wary enough to quietly ‘port most of the drink she was given into a nearby ornamental display.

        Unwary enough to take a small mouthful of the dregs of the second one Yelissa had brought to her. It wasn’t long after that reached her stomach that Goth knew that had been a mistake. She swayed and felt herself slump forward onto the table, her head whirling.

        “She must have the hardest head in the galaxy,” said Jaccy, the man for whom Yelissa had been fetching the drink. “She didn’t even notice the first lot. There was enough knockout in the second one to drop a fanderbag. I was beginning to wonder if the stuff wasn’t working anymore.”

        He was plainly unaware that Goth was still awake and listening, even if she was feeling giddy and had closed her eyes. She felt hands pull her bag away from her.

        “Great Patham!” exclaimed the gambler, obviously opening the bag. “She’s carrying a small fortune!”

        Goth, struggling with the drug they’d given her, tried to decide what to do. The trouble with klatha was that it really took a clear head. They plainly weren’t planning to kill her⦠yet. They could have shot her or tried to hit her over the head if that was their plan. Yelissa’s fishing about who was meeting her, and her family⦠Goth wished she’d said something else.

        “Do you think she’s a courier?” asked one of the other men, worriedly.

        “If she was, she wouldn’t bet their money, or be stupid enough to have it here with her. We’d better check her cabin and papers though. Are you sure she’s alone, Yelissa?”

        “She said so, Jaccy,” said the woman, eagerly. She sounded, thought the part of Goth’s head that wasn’t really with her, like a pet hoping for a pat. “I’m guessing she had had a messy breakup or something, more by what she wasn’t saying and how she was answering.”

        “Could be, I suppose. A trip to get over it,” he sounded amused. “Well, she will.”

        “Oh, yes. She’ll be so happy,” said Yelissa. She sounded like she really meant it⦠which was odd.

        “It’s a little worrying,” said one of the others. “That’s the first time we’ve gotten one with that much money. People with money tend to have families and friends who want to know where the money went to, even if not where the missing person went.”

        “We’ll ask questions when she comes to. It’s not like she’ll be telling anyone, Paneha. She just won’t arrive on Morteen.”

        Well, obviously they were planning on letting the drug wear off. What they planned to happen after that didn’t sound so good. But what Goth planned to do to them wasn’t going to be either. So she let herself slump and be carried to a bunk in a separate cabin. Let them take her cabin-key from her pocket, and waited for the drug to wear off.

        It did, leaving her with a headache, and a terrible thirst. “Someone is going to regret this,” muttered Goth, crossly. She tried to sit, still feeling a little unsteady, to see if there was water in her prison.

        It wasn’t just being drugged that made her struggle to sit up, it was also the hyper-electronic force-cuffs on her wrists.

        “Don’t scream. It doesn’t help, and they’ll just come and beat you,” said someone in a weak, defeated voice. Goth turned to look. It was what once would have been a pretty red-headed woman, if she weren’t so pale and miserable-looking and tear-streaked, who was leaning down from the bunk above.

        “I wasn’t going to scream,” said Goth. “I wanted a drink. What’s going on? What are you doing here?”

        In reply, the red-head burst into tears, and hastily muffled her sobbing into her pillow. Goth managed to get up, and found a door that led to a tiny ship-bathroom with a basin and a faucet. The water helped clear her head and ease her headache. She went back and the red-head had stopped crying enough to give her some answers, in between sobs.

        It seemed that Mindi — the red-head — had fallen into the same trap that Goth had. The sheen clippers were quite a popular way for people to travel fast and alone — and easy pickings for the gang, who kidnapped and sold those who they thought could disappear. It was easy enough: the only law on a space-ship was the captain’s law, and the passengers who vanished were chosen for no-one knowing quite where they were.

        “And that horrible Yelissa keeps telling me I’ll be happy soon,” said Mindi bitterly. “I thought I was going somewhere better when I got on this terrible ship. Now I’m going to be a slave.”

        “Have you tried to escape?” asked Goth, examining the door.

        “You can’t. There’s always two of them. And they have nerve-whips and guns.”

        “Well, there’s two of us now,” said Goth. But it was true enough that the slight Mindi did not look like she could knock down a guard, not to save her life. Goth had other ideas, but there was no point in telling the woman that. She’d probably start crying again.



        Goth could see that it was more than just a question of getting out of the cabin. They could hardly run this rig without at least some of the crew of the ship, if not the captain, being in the know. And in space⦠well, the captain was the law, the judge, the jury and even the executioner if need be. Goth could take the Egger route out of here, or could simply vanish with a light-shift. But that wouldn’t exactly help Mindi. The kidnap gang could easily kill her to do away with a witness, and dump her out of an airlock. They probably would, if Goth just left her there.

        It was just as well that Pausert wasn’t here, because he’d have broken out and be knocking heads together already, Goth thought. Goth planned on doing the same, but she wasn’t going to miss any heads that should get knocked. They were going to regret kidnapping a Karres witch. Of that she planned to make absolutely certain.

        It might be just as well the captain wasn’t there, but thinking about what he might do to them made her smile.

        The hyper-electronic force-cuffs were a problem. The force-field they generated between them was not something she could ‘port away. She could port the solid part of the mechanism — or bits out of it away, but that risked either a rapidly contracting or expanding forcefield. Ai best that could cut her hands off, at worst expand and kill her. It was why police forces across space used them. They couldn’t be cut or broken off. Without the correct unlocking code the prisoner was in for a worse fate, trying to escape them. Of course, there were ways of dealing with even that problem — a lock was still a lock, and experts like Vezzarn could deal with them, easily, especially on the cheaper ones.  Captain Pausert’s klatha skills with cocoons would work. The Daal of Uldune would have something in his laboratories too.

        There was just one problem. They weren’t here, and she was. All she had was the ability to teleport, to shift light around and the ability to read from contact the histories of places. Strong emotions left imprints. Thinking of that she turned to touch the wall⦠and wished she hadn’t.

        She and Mindi were far from the first victims to be kidnapped and held here. Fear and hurt were in these walls — not in her bunk. The reason, when she looked carefully was possible to see. It was new. There were scars where the old one had been torn out⦠the walls carried hope, despair and a ram. Not everyone who had been in here had been ready to give up.

        But, by the fact that it was still ongoing, that she and Mindi were prisoners now, they probably hadn’t succeeded in their brave effort.

        When two of their captors came to check, feed, and, it seemed, to question her, Goth was ready for action. It was Jaccy, who, it seemed was the leader of the kidnappers with one of his henchmen. They had Clipe needlers, and nerve-jangler whips at their belts, or, in Jaccy’s case, his hand. He wasted no time in using it either, swinging it at Goth’s face. She ducked, only getting a few of the tendrils across her scalp.

        It was enough to make her yell. And to ‘port the charge unit out of it as he raised it to hit her again. The whip itself had soft, spongy tendrils, intended to cling and transmit. Without the charge unit it was a bit like being hit by a dust-cloth. But Goth did her best to yell the walls down. The Leewit would have been proud of her. It made the unpleasant Jaccy smile and tell her to shut up, and if she yelled again, he’d hit her again. “And it won’t help you to scream, anyway. The cabin is soundproofed. Now I want some answers. You make them good or I’ll hit you again. Where did all the money in your purse come from?”

        Goth had had time to think about this. If they gotten the idea that she had family or friends who might look for her, they might just try to kill her. Most likely they would kill Mindi as well. “I stole it,” she said, sullenly. She took the opportunity to ‘port the power unit out of the Clipe needlers. No sense in making it easy for them, should they decided to kill the two of them anyway.

        That was enough to make the thugs pay attention. “What? Where from?” demanded Jaccy.

        “Gambling syndicate, back on Merega V. Illegal, so they couldn’t set the cops on me. I still wanted to get a long way away. So I took this ship, because she’s fast. I reckoned on Morteen I could get some fake documents, and make my way to somewhere out of reach.”

        Jaccy actually laughed at that. “You’re gonna be out of reach, all right, once you get to Karoda.”  He raised the whip again. “Now, I’m gonna teach you a little lesson⦔

        “Don’t! Please don’t!” begged Mindi. “She’s⦠she young.”

        “Aw shut up,” said Jaccy and turned to swing the whip at her.

        Goth realized that the red-head probably wouldn’t figure out that she should act as if it hurt. She had to work fast. She’d figured out exactly what was needed to make the light switch work, and ‘ported part of that out. The little cabin plunged into darkness, as the butt of the second thug’s jangler was ported into her hand. It still had its charge unit, unlike Jaccy’s. The force-cuffs stopped Goth getting the sort of swing in that she’d have liked, but the yells and screams said she’d gotten a good few tendrils on both of them. She kept it up, until she had the door open. Then it was time for a good strike with the whip at Jaccy’s throat, jam the switch on her whip, and to assume no-shape.

        Jaccy was screaming at his henchman to get it off him. To kill her. Goth took the opportunity to relieve both of them of their Clipe pistols.

        “My gun! It’s gone! She’s gotten my gun!” yelled the second thug. They both bundled out of the door, slammed it, and bolted it behind them. That was fine from Goth’s point of view, because she was already out of the cabin. They couldn’t lock it because Goth had the key — which she ‘ported into the bathroom. Mindi would be safer in for now — if Goth could keep them out — or if she had the brains to lock the door. For good measure Goth ported a Clipe pistol and its power unit back into the prison-cabin too.

        The cabin was down a little passage from the stateroom she’d been kidnapped from, presumably some kind of servant’s room. Now free of the jangler, Jaccy and his henchman staggered in, unaware that Goth was in there with them. It took a while for Jaccy to stop swearing, and a terribly upset Yelissa to stop fussing and crying over him, and the henchman to stop apologizing. “I’m sorry, boss. I don’t how she got my gun.”

        “Patham’s seventh Hell! You’re an idiot, Mogon!” snarled Jaccy, unaware that his gun too was missing. “Now just what the hell are we going to do? She’s got the key and your gun.”

        Goth was rather interested in finding out herself. So she waited. It seemed that none of them really knew either, and the best answer they could come up with was to call in the rest of their crew.

        That was useful too, and revealed that Goth had been completely right — some part of the ship’s crew had to be involved. In all, there were six of them. A steward, the ship’s purser, and Jacci, Mogon, Yelissa and the other gamblers. “We’ll have to tell the Old Man,” said the purser, worriedly. “He’s not going to be pleased.”

        “He’s made enough money off us,” snapped Jaccy. “First time he’s had to lift a finger.”

        “He was angry when he had to replace that bunk,” said the purser, wringing her hands.

        “We paid for it. And we got a good haul out of that Leinna’s purse. I say we just kill them and move on.”

        “How? I mean she’s gotten the key, and a gun. If she hasn’t locked the door we could rush her, maybe surprise her. But if we have to batter it open, she’ll have plenty of time to be ready to shoot us.”

        “Starve her out,” said Mogon. “She’s a madwoman.”

        “She’s a tough one. Must be a high gravity and high toxin world she comes from. She took a lot of knock-out, and she took on two of us, with force-cuffs on. I don’t know how long she can go without food. Can we cut her water off?” Jaccy asked the crew-members.

        “Not easy. That’s engineering’s area. And you know the Chief Engineer⦠well, he’s not going to just do it,” said the purser, looking at the steward. “Not without coming to look at the problem. From inside the cabin.”

        “If the captain told him to?” asked Jaccy.

        “Not if Patham himself told him to,” said the steward. “He’s a tough old bird, and his engineers listen to him, no one else. It’s always just about open war between engineering and the topside crew. He’s the best, the sheen-trade needs the best, and he knows it.”

        “We could negotiate. Lure the two of them out, promise to let them go, and then deal with them,” said Yelissa. “They’d be so much happier if they cooperated. That poor Mindi has been so sad.”

        “Oh shut up, woman,” said Jaccy. “Mind you, you might have a point. Let the two of them go hungry a day or two. And then we’ll negotiate. We can yell through the door, she should hear it. We’ve got a few days until we reach Tardelote. And when they’re good and hungry we can dope the food we send in.”

        That was enough to give Goth ideas. They must have a stock of that knock-out drug and at least she knew who the enemy were, and that the Chief Engineer was probably someone who would help, and the captain, wasn’t. And for now, Mindi was safe enough. Goth hoped she had the sense to use the bathroom light, because the cabin light wasn’t ever going to work again.

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