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The Shaman of Karres: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Friday, April 24, 2020 07:02 EDT

 


 

        Sitting back in the Venture, all together again, just the four of them, was a pleasant respite, even if the trial was still coming. Late that night, long after the Leewit had gone to bed, Pausert was sitting in the command chair, thinking. It was a comfortable and familiar spot, and, Pausert had to admit to himself, one he kept hoping Goth would suddenly appear next to. But instead it was the Leewit, in her nightclothes, who did. “Can’t sleep,” she said tersely.

        That was the Leewit’s way of saying she was upset about something. So Pausert got two hot drinks and sat down to listen. They talked of all sorts of things, of places they’d been, and people they knew. Pausert just let the conversation take its own course. He’d learned from Goth and the Leewit:  they’d tell him sooner or later. If you asked directly, they wouldn’t answer. The conversation soon drifted to talking about Me’a and the plans to get into the store-chambers. The captain observed: “It’s like we’re dealing with a different person.”

        There was a long silence from the Leewit. And then she said: “We are. The disease — well, the effects of it — changed the way her brain worked. It⦠she was pretty horrible under it. It made her⦠what’s the word⦠obsessive. That’s gone. It’s kind of not her anymore.”

        Pausert had learned to read some of Leewit’s tones and mannerisms. She wasn’t finished. So he waited.

        Eventually she said. “It was killing her. But in a way I’ve also killed her. I could do the same to Ta’zara, cure him. Take away his ability to remember what happened on the Iltraming World with the Megair cannibals. But⦠I don’t think I can do that. I feel bad because I don’t, because⦠the other Na’kalauf guard said Ta’zara’s name means ‘the laughing man’. I knew that, because I can translate his language, but I’ve never heard him laugh.”

        Sometimes, Pausert realized, you had to get a grip on the fact that the Leewit was still very young, and having to deal with matters that adults struggled with. “Then don’t.” he said calmly. “We’re Karres people. We do what needs doing. Sometimes that means doing nothing, or finding another way to skin a miffel.”

         “Huh,” said the Leewit. It was a thoughtful huh, but the captain was still wary. The Leewit’s fuse had gotten longer as she grew, but it hadn’t made her less explosive. And he felt they were heading for an explosion somewhere down the track. But she uncurled herself from the seat, stood up and gave him a hug and headed back to her cabin, leaving Pausert to wonder what was coming. It wasn’t that long in getting there — Ta’zara slipped into the command room. The broad man could be remarkably silent for someone so large. “She is asleep,” he said. “I just stayed long enough to make sure.”

        “You were listening?” asked Pausert.

        “I am her La’gaiff. Her bodyguard. I need to watch over her. But she plainly wished to be alone with you, Captain,” explained Ta’zara. “You are quite right. It is⦠needful that I remember my brothers, my clansmen. Our people require it. Please do not let her take it away from me.”

        And then he too left.

         


 

        The courthouse was packed. If it had to get any fuller it would have needed a second layer of people. “They must be expecting to hang us,” said the captain, darkly.

        “It’s free entertainment,” said Inspector Detective Salman. “Nothing much else is free here.”

        “Not even us,” said Pausert, wryly.

        The case began with all the usual formalities, and soon the captain was learning how wicked a fellow he was. He felt quite proud of his antics as a star-marauding pirate. How he’d disabled the helpless passenger-liner with vicious green blasts of his ship’s guns, before his men had captured the passengers and consigned them in manacles to the hold as slaves.

        The prosecution had two of the rescued prisoners and Councilor Stratel as witnesses, telling a curiously identical story, down to all the fine details. The captain held off cross-examination until Stratel had been called. “So you saw this happen with your own eyes did you, Councilor?”

        The man looked disdainfully at him. “Yes, as I said, we were in the main observation deck of the Moria when your ship attacked us.”

        “And you saw me leading the pirate boarding party?”

        “Yes, I recognize you clearly.”

        “You saw the atomic blasts of our fire?”

         “Yes. It hit our ship’s control room, murdering innocent spacemen!” said Stratel, wiping away an imaginary tear.

        “Ah. You saw that, did you?”

        “Yes, a terrible, unprovoked attack on an unarmed peaceful passenger-liner.”

        “Very interesting,” said Pausert. “I looked up the Moria in the Imperial Ship Registry. Firstly, she was armed. Secondly, she was built on a class G Starchaser framework, on Camberwall. The observation deck is 180 degrees from the control room. You can’t see one from the other.”

        “Well, I didn’t actually see the shot hit,” admitted Stratel. “But it was obvious where it was going to hit.”

         “So you lied under oath,” said Pausert pleasantly. “You do know that our ship has been examined by the planetary police. They have seen all our armament and can attest that we have rather old nova guns. They’re out of fashion because they’re rather hard to aim and are unreliable. But they’re what we’ve got. I don’t know what you saw out there Sir, but it wasn’t our ship. Now the common atomic blast-cannons do produce a green ionized blast, but nova gun fire looks purple.”

        “I misremember the color. It’s not relevant,” said Stratel, crossly.

        “All of you misremembered the color. All of you remember the same place on the ship being struck.”

        “Well, that was what you vile pirates hit,” said Stratel.

        “Liar, liar, your pants are on fire!” said the Leewit loudly, and had to be hushed. So did the laughing crowd.

        After that, they adjourned before the captain, the crew of the Venture, and their witnesses were to address the court. A message came to the captain and his crew. “Me’a says that you’re drag it out a bit. The rock is harder than they thought. They don’t want to use explosives but may have to.”

        “The court recesses for lunch,” said Pausert. “Tell Me’a that if she can get me out there, I can deal with it. She can arrange it with the Chief-Inspector.”

        It wasn’t that hard to drag things on — the process was slow — with each of the Venture‘s crew making their statements. The prosecutor tried to trip the captain up and failed. But he thought he would have it easy when the Leewit stepped up to the stand — and had to be provided with a stool to stand on so she could be seen. You could hear that by his tone as he said, condescendingly: “Now, little girl, of course you don’t understand⦔

        “Why did that man” — the Leewit pointed at Stratel — “give you all that money? Mr. Judge, is he supposed to be giving that man money?”

        And while everyone else was staring at the prosecutor, the captain, who knew the Leewit too well, saw her purse her lips, but this directional whistle was not one human ears were meant to hear. The Leewit had come a long way from just breaking eardrums and shattering fragile things with her whistles. She’d been working on new types and effects. Sound could do strange things to the human mind⦠and in this case the human sweat glands and tear ducts⦠it could even frighten one quite badly.

        The judge eventually managed to get the crowd to quiet down, giving the prosecutor time to compose himself. That didn’t help him very much, though, as the Leewit managed to ask him far more pointed questions than he asked her, trading shamelessly on being a little girl who didn’t understand anything, when she was told that she was there to answer questions, not ask them. Her questions always seemed to reduce him to a stuttering panic. He gave up very quickly. His questioning of Vezzarn, after that, was hasty and not very effective. By the time he got to Ta’zara, he’d gotten his wind again. And he might as well not have had it. Questioning Ta’zara and hoping to trap him was a waste of effort. The bodyguard had very precise recall, and wasn’t afraid of anything, let alone some windbag.

        Then things took a turn for the worse for the prosecutor⦠and for Stratel. That wasn’t surprising seeing as the Daal’s Bank on Uldune were the insurers. The insurance assessor had actually taken a fast ship to look for the wreck of the Moria — and to the co-ordinates Pausert had supplied for the hulk of the pirate ship.

        “We wished to recover the cargo if possible,” he said, primly. “The vessel Moria on which Councilor Stratel travelled was disabled by having her stern tubes shot out. The damage was consistent with an atomic Mark 17 ship atomic cannon. This was the type of weaponry found on the wreck of the pirate vessel, which was struck amidships, causing the munitions pod for class ADE ship-ship missiles to self-destruct. The damage to surrounding areas was consistent with a single nova gun discharge. An extensive search of both vessels failed to find the goods we had insured. However we were able to find the serial number on the pirate vessel, and to track it back to the original manufacturers. We obtained the identifying serial numbers of the lifeboat, which was missing.”

        “Objection, Your Honor,” protested the prosecutor. “This is irrelevant.”

        “It does not seem so to me,” said Judge Amorant. “Please continue.”

        “The lifeboat was tracked to the Port Records of Cinderby’s World. A business associate of the insured was listed as on board. We are thus declining payment on the basis of probable fraud. That is all, Your Honor.”

 



 

        If he’d dropped a bomb on the court it might have had less effect. Eventually the judge had to order the court cleared, and a recess until after lunch. The prisoners were led out⦠and into a waiting transport. They were underground on a little carrier within minutes, being kitted up for outside — just in case.

        “We’ve still got some distance to go. The rock has been hardened,” admitted the lead driller.

        “Can you get us onto the surface?” asked Pausert.

        “Already got an exit. But there is a guard on patrol up there. Me’a said we weren’t to kill anyone.” He sounded puzzled by that.

        “I will deal,” said Ta’zara, calmly. “Can we get close to them?”

        “Yeah, I’ll show yer. But they’re armed, and they got orders to shoot to kill. And there are lots of porpentiles out there. Y’ got to be careful.”

        Ta’zara nodded. “I will deal.” He was — because he was officially in prison and unarmed. But it seemed like a man of Na’kalauf was never really unarmed. He selected two pieces of rock and waited for the patrol to come past the little gully they were hiding in. Pausert was ready to act, cocooning⦠but he never gotten the chance. The rock was a distraction and the two hired guards were not expecting trouble. Nor did they see it coming, or were likely to remember it. They were tied up and left in the gully, while Pausert and Ta’zara donned the guards’ jackets and walked out onto the exposed rock above the store-caves. There were other patrols in the distance, and in front of the cave doors, according to Me’a’s information, the main cavern which joined all the individual Consortium members’ caves came very close to the surface here.

        Pausert cocooned a tube of rock with klatha force. He hoped that would be enough to break through, that he and Ta’zara could push it in.

        He wasn’t prepared for Ta’zara to jerk him off his feet and haul him backwards as from the rocky ground came a whistling shriek and a wild dust-storm, full of sand and small rocks. As an attempt at “quiet” it was a complete failure.

        He and Ta’zara retreated from the rock-and-sand gale as the normal human-space air and pressure escaped. It was a challenge — because they had to dodge a steady stream of porpentiles eagerly undulating towards the dust plume. Then, obviously, the entire tube of rock fell in and the atmosphere from the caves gushed out, some freezing into a white mist. A mist full of surging porpentiles.

        “I think we’d better get out of here,” said Pausert through the breather mike. “Me’a is not going to be pleased.”

        “Neither are the Consortium — those porpentiles are going into the store caves. They must be able to smell the granules or something. It’s going to be big cave-system full of little tumble-flowers by the time they open it.”

        “They’ll start climbing out too, I should think. Remember, they have those sucker-feet.”

        They made their way back to the others, who wanted to know what had happened. Pausert explained as they made their way back through the tunnel to the little tracked carrier, and back to their nice comfortable, safe holding-cell — where the Chief-Inspector was waiting to hear it all again and to tell them they had very little time before court resumed. Pausert was expecting Me’a to be rather unhappy about the way the break-in had occurred. He was sure the smuggler had planned to share the loot from inside the store caves with the porpentiles. But she hadn’t planned for an all for the porpentiles, none for her sharing, of that the captain was sure. She’d changed, but not that much.

        The Chief-Inspector, however, was rubbing her hands in glee. “Best of all possible outcomes,” she said. “I’ve been getting reports in already. They haven’t quite worked out what happened. They think part of the roof collapsed. The entrance has an airlock door — and they sent their people in to secure the granules. Only when they opened the inner door, the airlock flooded with dust-bunny size tumble-flowers. They had to open the outer door to not be packed solid with them, and now they’re rolling out of the entrance — and the hole — like smoke. It couldn’t be a worse outcome for the Consortium⦠or for that smuggler-woman. The Consortium just went broke. And the insurers won’t pay Stratel, and I’ve got enough to arrest Bormgo. Now it’s time you got back in court. I’ve been feeding and housing a lot of witnesses to cancel out the two Stratel bribed to repeat his lie.”

         


 

        The stories of the some of the other rescued slaves were not quite all the same, unlike the coached accusers had been. But they were believable and at times tearful. They would have given great entertainment to the court, if the gatherers and quite a lot of other people hadn’t been brought some whispered news and started leaving at almost a run.

        “What is going on?” Judge Amorant asked eventually.

        “I believe there’s been some kind of natural disaster at the granule store caves, Your Honor. I’ve had to deploy some of my people to keep order,” explained the Chief-Inspector.

        “Hmm. Well, let us continue,” said the judge. So they did. But the prosecutor had given up even trying to cross-examine anyone.

        At the end of the witnesses’ testimony he stood up and said: “Your Honor. I would like to move this case be dismissed.”

        “You should have done so a while ago,” said the judge, dryly. “In fact, it should never been entered onto my rolls.”

        The judge proceeded to be rather flattering about their rescue, Pausert thought. As he hadn’t ever had anything but trouble in his encounters with the officers of a court before, this was a welcome change.

         The Leewit gave the prosecutor one last whistle, and one for Stratel as well. It honestly didn’t look as if it made any difference to him. He was looking sick and green.

        “So,” said the captain to the Chief-Inspector once they were out of the court. “If you’re done with us, we’d like to get back to the spaceport. I’d rather not have to have another meeting with Me’a.”

        The Chief-Inspector smiled. “I hope she is very angry with you, Captain. I still want to know why you were consorting with her, and why you have a very expensive bodyguard for your niece, and just how you got the caves open, as I know they had some serious armoring. But I think I owe you enough to forego getting those answers. I believe I have a few riots to deal with — the Consortium owe quite a lot of people money — and some arrests to go and effect. I neglected to tell you that Bormgo was charged with piracy this morning. We’re searching for him. Stratel is likely to face a few charges himself. But I think being bankrupted on a planet where he has made himself hated may be worse than anything I could do to him.”

        However, any daydreams that the captain had of avoiding meeting Me’a again before they got away on the Venture were doomed to fail. She was sitting in the Venture‘s control room, waiting for them. “I do have some employees who are rather skilled at working out airlock opening codes,” she said, calmly. “But that proved unnecessary. Your ship was refitted in the shipyards on Uldune. As a precaution, the Daal’s instruction is that an over-ride code be fitted.”

        “I see,” said the captain. He was coldly angry. “Do tell your master that I wonder how Hulik will find being married to Sedmon of the Five Lives. This is the second time the Daal of Uldune’s little tricks have given Karres trouble. I know the Hexaperson is a man of power, but this has to be stopped”.

        Me’a grimaced. “I suspect the Daal would be just as angry and certainly a lot more dangerous to me if he knew that I had obtained and used that code. Judging by what he said about avoiding any conflict with you, and giving you my full cooperation, I suspect he did not know that you were one of the witches of Karres, when this was done. But I mean you no harm, and will leave if you order me to.”

        She sounded quite apologetic. Pausert wasn’t that easily fooled. Neither was the Leewit, by her tone. “What do you want, Me’a?” she demanded.

        “Passage home, for me and my bodyguards, as soon as possible.”

        “We’re full,” said Pausert.

        “Your hold, however, is not. I took the liberty of having loaded not one, but four portable suites, each with four bunks. They will provide considerably more comfort than you were able to offer your passengers. And I have a second air-recycler.”

        “Just where is your home, Me’a?” asked the Leewit.

        The smuggler boss sketched a slight smile. “I would have thought it was obvious, or that Ta’zara might have told you. Na’kalauf, of course.”

        Pausert got his gambler’s klatha instinct about that statement. “Very well. Are the Imperials going to be chasing after you?”

        “Your trial and the events with the store caves provided a unique opportunity for them to be too preoccupied to notice. They don’t know we are on board either. So I suggest we depart as soon as possible,” she said coolly.

        The Leewit’s rochat stuck its angular head out of her shirt and hissed dismissively at her, and disappeared again.

        They were able to clear the port quite soon after that. The passengers were all strapped in, and the captain made one his trademark take-offs, which might possibly have given Me’a second thoughts about travelling on the Venture.


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