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The Shaman of Karres: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Wednesday, April 1, 2020 16:35 EDT

 


 

        Goth needed to think it through, to come up with a plan. In the meanwhile, she had the inconvenience of force-cuffs, and of having to stay hidden in no-shape. First things first. She wanted their knockout drops, and preferably all their weapons. It was easy to ‘port things she could see, and small, light things were the least effort, but even the klatha use that she’d made so far had left her hungry. She raided their little chill unit — but other than drinks she wasn’t touching, the only thing of interest was a jar with a measuring vial in the lid. Goth muttered to herself about the lack of sensible pockets in fashionable clothing. Then she had a bright idea: She knew the size and shape, precisely, of the bag they’d stolen from her. She ‘ported it back, slipped the vial in there, and was in time to follow the steward and purser out of the door.

        No-shape was a little more tiring than altering her appearance, and it was hard to walk quietly in the corridors, so she dropped back and became, in appearance, the elderly neighbor she’d had while in the apartment on Nikkeldepain. She wanted to keep up with the steward and purser but they moved a little fast for a gaunt old man. So, making sure there was no-one around, she became Hulik do Eldel. She’d spent quite a lot of time studying Hulik, back when she was watching that the Imperial agent didn’t get too close to Captain Pausert. It was useful. No-one would ever ask why Hulik moved fast.

        She caught up with the steward and purser, in worried conversation. All she caught of what they said was “captain” and “after dinner.”

        Well, that suited her. She wanted that dinner. Of course, someone who looked like Hulik do Eldel wasn’t going to just be left to do so. A steward approached her just after she sat down and said: “Captain’s compliments, Ma’am. Would you like to join him at the captain’s table?”

        Goth’s first instinct was to refuse. It was hard enough to do a light-shift to hide the fact that she had force-cuffs on, and had to lift both hands to put food in her mouth. But⦠she might need to know more about the man.

        Within a few minutes she’d decided she really didn’t need to. She’d modelled what she expected of a ship’s captain on Pausert. He was, after all, the captain she’d spend the most time with. This one was a bossy little blowhard, who seemed to think that bullying the stewards and belittling his officers would impress her. She felt like telling him it wasn’t working, but settled for a cool Hulik smile and concentrated on the food⦠and ‘porting his dessert to Mindi as he lectured one of his lieutenants. She ‘ported an emptied bowl in front of him, and enjoyed hers even more. Her demure “but I saw you eat it, Captain” made it even sweeter.

        She excused herself, left the mess, and stepped into the bathroom. There, she returned to no-shape, feeling much better about it now that she’d eaten. The ship had nice clear labels about where passengers were allowed, so it was not that hard to work her way up to the captain’s cabin. Hopefully she’d beaten him and the steward there.

        She sat down on the floor in the passage and waited, passing the time taking out the Clipe pistol and putting the power unit back into it. She was just getting to the point of giving up when the captain came along. He went in, and she followed hard on his heels, just slipping through the door before he closed it. That was a little tricky because no-shape didn’t hide whatever sounds she might make. But the captain seemed oblivious. He immediately poured himself a drink, sat down at his desk and activated a terminal. Goth peered over his shoulder. He had called up a list. A passenger list. There she was, on it, along with her travel ID picture — but he wasn’t looking at or for her. She saw Mindi on his scan through. The sheen clipper only carried ninety passengersâ¦

        And someone with Hulik do Eldel’s face would stand out. The grumpy little old man would have been a better choice. There was a knock at the door. “Who is it?” demanded the captain tersely.

        It was the purser. “I was about to send for you,” said the captain.

        “Uh. Yes, sir. We have a problem,” said the woman, beads of sweat on her forehead.

        “So you know about the woman who had dinner at my table? Who is she? And how did she get on the ship?”

        The purser stared at him blankly. “What? No, we’ve got a problem with the slaves.”

        “I’ve told you before. I don’t want to know. You deal with them, just no fuss and I get my money.” He’d set down his drink while he spoke with the purser. Goth decided that the time had come to try the dope from the kidnappers on this particular dope. She added a dose to his drink. He took a good mouthful of it.

        “Yes, but⦔ said the purser, sticking a finger in her collar.

        “But me no buts. I want to know where that woman came from. She must be a stowaway. She’ll be a valuable addition to your livestock.” He took another mouthful of his drink. He blinked at it. “I don’ feel too well⦔

        Goth quietly locked the door as the purser tried to catch the toppling captain.

        Before the purser had a chance to work out what was going on Goth had her arms around her neck, the Clipe pistol pressed against the woman’s cheek. “Don’t do anything that will give me a reason to shoot you. And I don’t need a lot of reasons right now,” she said quietly. The Clipe pistol was awkward in her force-cuffed hands, in that position, and probably wouldn’t do more than inflict a flesh wound. But she guessed that the purser wasn’t the sort to take the risk.

        “Who⦠who are you? What are you doing here?” asked the purser, fear in her voice.

        It occurred to Goth that there was no harm in suggesting that she wasn’t alone and finding out a bit more about whole operation. “I don’t have instructions to tell you. Let’s put it this way. You kidnapped someone that my organization is very upset about being missing. Now, I need these force-cuffs off. You enter the code, incorrectly, I lose my hands, and you lose your head. Do it right and you get to live.” Goth hoped she sounded menacing enough. In her head the teaching pattern started to prepare the patterns of the Egger route. Would she survive it, in shock, agony, bleeding out and handless? 

        She knew the answer was probably no even if the Egger route took her through space to Captain Pausert on the Venture 7333 and her little healer sister.

        “Uh⦔ the purser hesitated.

        The thought of the Venture, the captain, and her own fear, made Goth growl. “Do it or I’ll kill you!”

        Her tone was obviously enough to convince the woman. “I don’t have the code,” she gasped. “Only Jaccy has that. And Yelissa. Please don’t kill me!”

        “It’s tempting. So: tell me about your operation. Tell me enough and you’ll live,” said Goth.

        So the purser did. People in a hurry took passages on sheen clippers. They were travelling fast and far — and sometimes alone. The kidnappers, who were a gambling syndicate who worked the route, kept it simple, capturing high-value solitary victims as a source of extra cash. The ship would offload sheen at Tardelote, for trans-shipment to smaller markets — and in among the bales would be doped prisoners for Karoda. The steward and the purser were in charge of loading the sheen into its drop-capsule. Sheen didn’t do well in a vacuum or if it gotten too cold, so the prisoners would survive.

        “I think it’s time you took a little drink,” said Goth, when she’d done. “Reach out, very slowly, take the glass your captain was drinking from, and finish it.”

        “But⦔

        “It’s that or I’ll shoot you,” explained Goth.

        She drank.

        Once she’d slumped to the floor, Goth did a hasty search of the cabin, and, failing to find anything obvious to tie them up with, settled for cutting the sheets off the captain’s bed in strips and tying and gagging them. It was awkward, with her hands cuffed, but she wasn’t going to have them wake up and be on the loose. There was a small bathroom and she dragged them in there. It would have been nicer, she thought, to have her hands not cuffed together to do it. It would also be nice if all the villains could be lighter — or came with wheels.

        The wheels arrived at the door, in the shape of the steward and a trolley, knocking. Goth didn’t trust her ability to speak much like the ship’s captain, but the appearance was easy. She thought the captain’s appearance, and a curt gruff “go away” would do — but then she saw what — and who — was outside the door.

        “In,” she snapped.

        He pushed his trolley in. “I’m looking for the purser, sir. We’ve⦠we’ve got a problem.”

        Huh, thought Goth. You think you’ve got problems. The man was too distracted to notice she was pointing the Clipe pistol at him. “The slaves — the new ones, they’re beating on the wall and the pipes with something. The soundproofing is fine for yelling and screaming, but the vibration carries. There have been complaints from the passengers⦔

        He finally noticed the gun. Gasped. “Don’t kill me, sir! It’s not my fault!”

        “Shut up,” said Goth tersely.

        “You⦠you don’t sound right.” He started backing away.

        Goth realized he might run. She didn’t want to have shoot him, especially in the passage. “Look in the bathroom!”

        He did as she said, and she was able to close the door — which he realized as he turned in horror from what he saw in there.

        She made him take a drink, too. Soon he joined the other two. That was reducing the number of her foes, if nothing else. It didn’t really reduce the problem much, though. She was still force-cuffed, and still had the problem of Mindi.

        But there was no point in waiting for a solution to come to her, so she helped herself to the steward’s jacket and trousers — and discovered a small Blythe pistol in the pocket. So she searched the others, and when she found both a knife and another Clipe pistol, she was glad to have done so.

        The trolley proved to be full of various liquors, so she took it down to the stateroom she’d escaped. And even out in the passage, she could hear the steady thumping of something being banged against the wall.

 



 

        The steward’s jacket had a pen in the pocket, so Goth wrote on one of the napkins from the drawer of the trolley. Stop banging. I’m coming to get you out, she wrote. She almost signed it Goth but remembered in time to write Leinna. She ported it into the cabin⦠and was rewarded a few moments later by silence.

        Goth tapped on the door, and was answered by Yelissa. “Who is it?”

        “The purser sent me down with the drinks from the captain.”

        Yelissa opened the door slightly, saw the drinks trolley and Goth’s light-shifted face, and let her in.

        “Patham knows, I could use a drink after that noise!” said Jaccy, helping himself to a glass and a bottle. “But is this the best the captain could think of?”

        “It seems to have worked,” said Mogon, doing the same, as the next of them took a drink too. Excellent, thought Goth, who had doped all of the bottles on the top rack. That just left Yelissa — and she would do well to undo the force-cuffs.

        Jaccy blinked owlishly, and stared at her⦠“Who’re ‘ou?” he slurred, screwing up his eyes and trying to focus them.

        Yelissa turned to him, her face instantly anxious. “Are you all right, dearest master?”

        Dearest master. Goth could barely contain her snort, as she produced the Clipe pistol. She wasn’t going to need it for Mogon. He’d slumped down. The other man was clumsily feeling for something — possibly a gun, but he was plainly having trouble controlling his hand. Jaccy slid to the floor, and Yelissa rushed to cradle his head, before it hit the deck.

        “Finish your drink,” said Goth, to the still standing man who was fumbling for a weapon. “And don’t try any funny stuff.”

        He didn’t — either finish his drink or try any funny stuff — but Jaccy, his head lolling, managed to say: “Get ‘er.” Yelissa flew up from the floor like an enraged miffel to attack Goth, not in the least worried by the gun.

        It was not quite what she’d expected from the fragile blonde. She’d had her attention on the still standing man — to find herself attacked by a frantically clawing Yelissa.

        Only two things saved her — the first being that Yelissa seemed to have no interest — or fear — of the gun, and made no attempt to get at the weapon. And the second was that there simply wasn’t much to Yelissa. Goth had hunted bollems on foot with a bow. She had muscles, even if she had force-cuffs on. Yelissa just had frantic flailing, kicking scratching and biting.

        The swaying man tried to take a hand too, managing to get his weapon out. The shriek of a Clipe needle shattering his Mark III glassite and his trigger-finger stopped him. He grabbed his maimed hand and cried out in pain.

        His life had been saved by Goth’s struggle, but she ended that struggle by thrusting Yelissa away, and then kicking her in the stomach, so that she went down with an explosive whuff of breath.

        That quieted her down — which was more than she could say about the screaming man with the bleeding hand. Goth grabbed a handful of the napkins. “Push that onto it. And shut up or I’ll have to kill you.”

        Yelissa tried to get up again. Because she was still in force-cuffs, Goth swung the Clipe over to point at her, traversing Jaccy’s body. Goth noticed how Yelissa froze as she did that. “Stay down or I’ll shoot him,” she said.

        Yelissa looked terrified, and stayed down and silent. Someone knocked at the door. “Do you need help in there? Shall I call one of the crew?” asked a querulous female voice.

        Goth motioned at the two who were still conscious to shut up by the simple method of waving the Clipe at them, before setting it down on the trolley and opening the door slightly and looking around it. “Thank you, but I’m actually one of the stewards, just treating an injury here. We’re fixing that banging noise — sorry, I need to keep this closed while the engineers open the sewer line. It’s a bit smelly.”

        She closed the door firmly, picked up the Clipe pistol again, and waited. When she was sure the quizzy passenger had gone, Goth said to Yelissa: “Give him the rest of that drink, and dress his hand. And don’t try anything or I’ll put Clipe needles in your precious man.

        Yelissa did as she was told.

        “Now. I need these force cuffs off. Come here. I am going to put my arms around your neck. If you do it wrong your head will get blown off.”

        Something about the eagerness in the way the woman stood up and the expression on her face made Goth pull her hands back. “Back off. I’ve changed my mind. I’ll put my arms around his neck.” She pointed the Clipe pistol at the unconscious Jaccy. That produced a look of horror and chagrin, and very reluctant but careful cooperation.

        Her hands free at last, Goth stood up, enjoying the movement.

        “I would have died for him,” said Yelissa sullenly.

        “I figured. But why?” asked Goth.

        “Because it would have killed you and he would be safe,” answered Yelissa reverently. “I would have been happy to do that.”

        “You’re a dope, and he’s not worth it. But if you want to keep him safe you’ll behave yourself,” warned Goth.

        “You won’t take him away from me?” Yelissa pleaded.

        “Great Patham, no. You can keep him.” Goth saw the expression on Yelissa’s face and actually felt a little sorry for her. “As long as you behave yourself. Now I need to tie you up before I can get Mindi free.”

        Searching around, Goth had no luck finding rope or cord — but she did find the kidnappers’ supply of force-cuffs. They were the programmable kind that she could enter her own code into, so Goth cuffed the doped men and Yelissa. Then she went down the short corridor to the room into which they’d locked her and Mindi. She knocked. Then knocked louder. “It’s me. Leinna. You’re free. Unlock the door.”

        There was silence. Then a muffled voice said. “I’m going to open the door. I’ll shoot if it’s not Leinna on her own.”

        Goth decided on a little light-shift, just in case.

         The door opened a crack, with the spiky nozzle of slightly wavering Clipe pistol emerging first. Then the door pushed slightly wider and the red-head looked out of the darkness around it. “Oh! Leinna! Oh I was so afraid for you. Where are they?”

        “Unconscious and force-cuffed, except for Yelissa. She’s just force-cuffed.”

        Mindi said something that would even have impressed the Leewit about what she wanted to do to Yelissa.

        “Yeah, well. Just hold off a bit so she can undo your force-cuffs,” said Goth.

        “That — she kept telling me I’d be happy!”

        “She’s crazy,” said Goth. “Come on. Let’s get you free. Then you can help me drag them in here and lock them in. I wish the bad guys came in lighter models.”

        Goth had learned from her previous experience, and did some searching for weapons. That produced quite a collection, and rather a lot of cash. They even had Yelissa help carry them back to the room — and put them in there with several of the drinks bottles — all but for her precious Jaccy. “But you can’t separate us,” she said, her voice edging on hysteria.

        “You keep them doped, and we’ll look after him, and I’ll see you get to go with him,” promised Goth.

        “But⦔

        “Otherwise, no.” The woman went, tears welling in her eyes.

        Goth just had to wonder what she saw in a dope like Jaccy. It wasn’t like he treated her well, or even showed he cared about her, but in the meanwhile she had to stop Mindi from having one of the drugged drinks. “They’re full of their knock-out drops. I’ll get something else.”

        “And some food please. I haven’t had anything since you got out.

        Goth felt a little guilty and hungry too. “But I sent you the captain’s dessert.”

        “Oh. I thought⦠I thought somehow they’d gotten that in there. I thought it must be drugged and I used the plate to bang on the pipes.”

        Goth grinned. That was one mystery solved. “I’ll get us some food and drink.”

        “Please don’t leave me here with him.” There was real fear, edging on panic, in Mindi’s voice.

        “I guess we could lock him up. Tie him down, in case he wakes up,” offered Goth.

        Mindi shook her head violently. “No. I’m still not staying in here.”

        “Well, fine. We’ll gag him, and use another pair of force-cuffs to attach him to the bar and leave him in here.”

        Goth took Mindi back to her own cabin. She wasn’t surprised to find that it had been rifled through, but as she had very little for them to search, it wasn’t in too much of a mess. She left Mindi there and went to the galley, where she found a robobutler and ordered three meals. She figured Mindi could eat two and she wasn’t wrong.

        After they’d eaten they got into a serious discussion about what steps to take next.

        “What now?” asked Mindi. She was a good few years older than Goth, but turned to Goth for answers. “Do we turn them over to the captain?”

        “Nope. The captain is one of them. He’s in on it,” said Goth.

        “But what can we do, then?” asked Mindi, wringing her hands. She plainly regarded captains as one step down from Patham. And out here, in deep space, that wasn’t far wrong.

        “I figured we’d send them off in our place. Seems about fair,” said Goth. “And honestly, if we leave them, they’ll either starve, or get out and start doing it again. And if they get out, they might come after us.”

        The last part seemed to act as a powerful argument to Mindi. So then it was just up to Goth to organize the practical details. Fortunately it wasn’t that hard, merely a case of ferrying the drugged prisoners into the drop capsule, along with bales of sheen marked Tardelote, transshipment. Yelissa was willing enough to be drugged too, as long as they force-cuffed her to Jaccy.

        Then it was a quiet trip to Morteen, with no more excitement than someone trying to cheat in a game of cards, and the fact the Mindi would not let her out of sight, and the crew were covering up the sudden disappearance of their captain, purser, a steward, and some of the longer-term passengers. The crew did break into the stateroom Jaccy and his associates had used, but as Goth and Mindi had removed themselves and all traces of themselves from there, that didn’t help them much.


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