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The Shaman of Karres: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Wednesday, May 6, 2020 07:49 EDT



        Sitting in the cleared cabin, Goth thought about her situation. They had brought her bag from the hotel, hastily and badly packed. She could wait until they decided to take steps to make her a slave or toss her off the ship into space. She could do her best to see that went badly wrong for them. Orâ¦

        Or she could take steps before they even tried. The best and simplest step, now that she’d established that this was definitely the ship she needed to be on, was not to be there when they came hunting for her. So she stepped into no-shape, and took herself into the gangway — just in time, as the mate came along and locked her cabin door. But she was no longer inside it.

        Goth set off to explore the ship. It was plain to her that it was a space-travelling garbage dump. The crew obviously had no love for it. There were quite a lot of cabins they could have put her in, it turned out, even a long-unoccupied stateroom of dusty splendor, and very little clutter. It even had its own robobutler — in need of restocking, but that she could do, and did, from their stores. The luxurious room would do for a base, and had, in addition to the standard lock, a plain old-fashioned sturdy bolt. Even in a time of hyperelectronic locks, that was hard to beat.

        The ship had a lower crew number than it was built to carry — seven that she’d been able to count. Goth decided they were as dodgy a lot as she’d ever encountered. She checked out the ship’s guns and its missile pods, and found them to be in good order. They plainly expected trouble. She checked out the hold, expecting to find trading goods of some kind, even if it was as useless as a tinklewood fishing-rod. But most of it seemed given over to food, drink, building materials and agricultural tools — and weapons. Military grade blasters in one crate, and two crates of power units for various caliber blasters. Any customs inspector might have had a few questions about those, but it was plain this ship had few troubles in that respect.

        Goth spent a happy hour re-organizing the consignment labels. The blasters became canned soup, and the power units became toilet paper. The toilet paper became nails⦠and so on. There’d be no way of telling what was in the crates without opening the lot. And if they needed power-units in a hurry, they were in for a nasty shock.

        No-shape wasn’t as tiring as some kinds of klatha. But Goth was still glad to return to the abandoned stateroom and use the robobutler, which was an excellent, top-of-the-range product. She laid down to sleep on the dusty bed, which made her sneeze a bit, but it was still more comfortable than the cubby-hole they’d put her in would have been.

        She awoke to the sounds of take-off, and hastily got herself strapped in. Not long afterward, that she heard the sound of doors being crashed open down the passage. Some yelling. It seemed like they’d discovered she wasn’t locked up in the cabin they’d put her in. How the Leewit would have enjoyed that!

         Then she heard someone trying the door of the stateroom. It was bolted. “She must be in here!” said a female voice.

        “But⦠but it’s the boss’s cabin!” said another, shocked voice.

        “Where else could she be?”

        “Lots of places,” said the other voice, plainly uneasy.

        “But this door is locked.”

        “Forz might have locked it. Or the Skipper.”

        “Yeah? Well you go and check. I’ll stay here.”

        Goth could have kicked herself for not thinking this through. As quietly as possible she slid the bolt open, unlocked the door and turned the lights out. She just had time to do that when the sound of several people outside alerted her to their return.

        “It’s a re-enforced door,” said a voice she recognized as the mate. “If she’s locked herself in, we’ll have to wait until we get to Lumajo to get a cutting torch.”

         Someone then tried the door. “Great Patham, Felap! What an idiot you are. It’s open.”  The door swung open.

        “Ought we to go in, Forz? It’s the boss’ cabin,” said the same nervous voice.

        “If you don’t tell him, I won’t,” said Forz.

        “Yeah. But he might find out⦔ the whiney-voice sounded like that might be a really bad idea.

        “Skaz, shut up. Get in and search”

        Someone flipped the light on. Goth was safe in no-shape. Then she realized that she should have stayed lying on the bed, because the dust betrayed her. And by the drawn weapons they were planning on tossing her out of that airlock, dead. “Someone’s been here! Jines, you and Felap search the bathroom.”

        They did while the others peered in cupboards and corners and under the bed. Which was quite fun, except for the dust. Goth felt that sneeze building, and building. You can’t stop a sneeze.

        She hastily ‘ported a glass into the bathroom and dropped it. And muffled her sneeze as best as possible. Luckily, the breaking glass had had enough effect to make the sneeze irrelevant. “You broke one of the boss’s glasses!” yelled one of the searchers, with the meaty sound of blow.

        “Ow! I didn’t! Jines, you must have done it. You always blame me! Stop hitting me. I’ve cut myself.” Whiny Felap fled the bathroom, clutching a bleeding hand. “Forz. It wasn’t me. Stop her.”

        “Don’t you drip blood on the carpet! Get out, you fool. Come on, all of you out. She’s not here. I’ll lock it up as soon as you’re out. I’ll bring you back to clean up the glass later, Felap.”

        Goth got out too. That was a little tricky because you could still be bumped into, in no-shape. And you could have someone stand on your foot in their space-boots, and not be able to yell. Goth did shove the woman really hard, so she fell and nearly shot the mate, Forz.

        It was all Goth could do, watching the fight, to not betray herself by laughing. She had to bite her sleeve, and retreat a bit, in case they heard her snorting, trying to breathe, not sneeze again, and stop laughing. They’d been all for killing her and dumping her out of an airlock, and had had something to do with the disappearance of Pausert’s mother, at least. They were in for a rough trip, she decided. Besides, they ought to keep their ship cleaner.

        Goth soon had a fairly firm understanding of the crew and the workings of the Bolivar. Getting to know them didn’t help Goth like them one bit more. They had two theories on what had happened to her. The one was that she’d fled the ship before take-off, which was possible. Their watch was not very good, they even admitted that themselves. That worried them a lot. They really didn’t want anyone disturbing their very profitable business. The second idea was that she was still on board, hiding. And, as Forz held by that theory, they searched. And searched. Goth could have followed them around. But it was easier to sit in Forz’s cabin and wait. It was boring, so she whiled away her time making holes in his socks, cutting the stitching on the back of his trousers so they would rip suddenly and soon. It wasn’t a very grown-up thing to do, Goth admitted. But who wanted to be grown-up all the time? She’d had to be, and pretend to look that way, for too much time on this trip. She just wanted to go back to the Venture and back to being herself. And back to the captain. That couldn’t happen, yet. So instead she unpicked stitches.



        When they were done searching, Goth collected her bag from the junk they’d just piled back into the little cabin they’d tried to lock her into⦠And then had second thoughts. She took her clothes out of that bag, put them into Pausert’s mother’s ship-bag and filled hers with some of the stuff lying around. Then she went back to cabin belonging to “the Boss,” whoever he was.

        As Forz had made Felap clean it generally, as well as just clean up the glass, the stateroom was now less dusty and more pleasant. Goth soon found that “the Boss” had a comms link to the bridge and the mess, with a one-way vision set. She could watch and listen to them, without leaving the comfortable cabin. It was locked, now. But, as Goth had the key-bar, that wasn’t a problem for her.

        One of the first things she learned, sitting and listening to them, was just how they passed across the frontier. It was a huge area of space, and a clever — or lucky — skipper could avoid coming in detection range of Imperial Space Navy ships. There were patrols, and their routes were randomized and secret. The sector was renowned for several invading raider fleets having attacked worlds of the Duchy of Galm, as well as considerable smuggling, and was thus heavily patrolled.

        Apparently that secret could be bought, and had been. The Bolivar dropped into orbit around a dead sun and waited among the frozen worldlets for a patrol to pass — a patrol they knew was coming, and where it was going to. There was no need to dodge the watchmen, when all they had to do was corrupt someone who knew what the patrol routes and times would be. Thus the Bolivar passed across that poorly defined bit of space that divided the Empire from the star-swirl toward the galactic center, into an area of dead worlds, blasted ruins, and poorly mapped stars.

        The ship was doubtless heading for one of them. It was, judging by the crew’s wary behavior and the readiness of the ship’s guns and missile pods, plainly somewhere they thought was dangerous. That might be wise, but Goth decided to help them hurry up. Power to the air-recycler was controlled by a simple cut-off switch, to allow it to be removed or worked on. It was up in the power conduit access near the engine-room. Goth could have built one, but she settled for simply switching the circuit to the indicator light that showed it had power. Normally it glowed when it had power. Now, it glowed when it didn’t.

        That of course did not apply to the ship’s own air monitoring system, which started flashing warnings. “Captain, we’re getting air-quality warnings,” said the nervous crewman on watch, waking the sleeping captain with a call to his cabin on comms. Goth couldn’t hear his reply, but it was enough to have him calling various other crewmen from their beds, including a rumpled Forz and Felap. The two of them and the ship’s second engineer started checking. They soon found that the air recycler was without power.

        “Oh. Well. That’s simple then. We’ll just give it an alternate power source,” said Felap. He sounded quite relieved.

        That got him slapped on the ear from the second engineer. “You’re as dumb as a dung-grubber, Felap. Do you know how much power that takes to run?”

        “Uh. No.”

        “Well, I do. We’ll have open the conduit hatch,” said the engineer, hastening in that direction

        So they did, as Goth watched from no-shape. “Well, that’s got power,” said the engineer, looking at the happily glowing tell-tale light. “We’ll have to open the conduit. There must be break somewhere.” He was grumpy and worried at the same time, as well he might be. It was a horrible, awkward job, as Goth knew from helping Captain Pausert, but the ship couldn’t run long without recycled air.

        As soon as they got started on that, Goth flipped her switch. It would take a little while before the air quality was back to normal, and the air quality warning stopped. None of the three working on undoing the bolts and moving the panels and testing the current induction went to check the recycler again.

        Goth ‘ported the power-wrench when Forz put it down, and changed its direction setting and torque so it tightened instead of loosened. So the next bolt he put it on tightened and snapped with a scream of metal — and a scream of rage from the engineer. “You idiot! Now we’ll have to drill that one out and we don’t have time on our side!”

        He hit Forz, and Forz hit him with the power wrench. And Goth got knocked into the wall by the captain coming down the gangway at a run — and hitting both of them. And kicking Felap for good measure. Goth took her bruises away and left them to it.

        She was listening on comms when Forz — with a swelling black eye — reported to the captain on the bridge. “I don’t know what we did. We opened the conduit up, and by the time we got to the recycler room, it was working again.”

         “I was about to call you. The air quality warning lights has been flicking out. So it’s getting back to normal.”

        “There must be a short or a break somewhere that we fixed accidentally. It’s worrying, Captain,” said Forz, sounding scared enough for Goth to almost feel sorry for him.

        But not sorry enough not to wait until he was fast asleep, when she disconnected the monitoring system input. All the ship-repair she’d learned from Captain Pausert and Vezzarn was proving useful. As she knew it would, that had the control panel flashing dire warnings and sounding an alarm, because as far as it was concerned the ship was becoming an airless vacuum.

        The crew all went running for the airlocks, for the space-suits. The ship’s automatic doors hissed closed, sealing Goth off on the bridge. The yelling and panic were pretty noisy even by the Leewit’s standards, Goth thought. The Leewit would have been impressed by the swearing, too, when Forz couldn’t remember the access code to open the bulkhead doors. The captain had to put in the over-ride from the bridge, and Goth learned that code too.

        The engineer, seeing the recycler power light off, had promptly flipped the switch, cutting power to the recycler. Goth plugged the air quality monitor back in — which, seeing as the recycler only been off for moments promptly stopped the alarm. Skaz and Jines in the meanwhile, in total panic, had climbed into the airlock, ready to abandon ship⦠out into the airless vacuum of space. Fortunately for them, they couldn’t remember the outer airlock code and had demanded it over the intercom — and were getting a bawling out by the captain instead.

        The bulkhead door opened and Goth walked down to where the engineer, his second and Felap â“who was more hindrance than help, as usual, were frantically opening the conduit covers again, as the air-recycler wasn’t running because it had no power. Goth let them get all of it opened up, before flipping the switch again.



        The engineer was slightly more thorough than his junior officer, and came back to check the switch. He swore and promptly flipped it off again, and ran to check the recycler. Goth had to work pretty quickly to get the original switch in place before he came back. It took him several frantic runs to get Felap to stay and flip the switch and have him satisfied that it was working properly.

        But neither he nor the crew were a happy bunch of spacers. Being out here with a faulty air-recycler was more terrifying than having to fight raiders or pirates or inimical aliens. “We can’t slow down and probe, Captain. We’ve got to get to a safe world with breathable air and then I can take the whole thing apart,” said the engineer. “And that’s Lumajo. I never thought I’d be glad to breathe its stinking air and even see those little furry apes again⦠but it will be air.”

        Goth had decided to fish for information too. As well as hiding herself in no-shape, she could also bend light into other images — and project them onto the air. She could make them good enough to fool most people, but for this use⦠a little wavy faintness and transparency were more useful. She used Lina’s image⦠in gangways when a crew member was alone, and near the tail-end of the alter-watch. She hoped it would spook them into talking.

        It spooked them, all right. But not into telling her anything she didn’t know. “We didn’t do anything to her!” was the most she got out of that. But their nerves soon had them believing in phantoms, phantoms beyond her deliberate creation. “We should turn back,” moaned Skaz, her voice shaking in conversation with the crew in the mess. “It’s not safe. And there’s creepy stuff going on. I heard footsteps behind me last watch, but there was no-one there.”

        There was a murmur of uneasy assent, rapidly quashed by the captain and the Mate. “We’re more than two thirds of the way to Lumajo,” said Forz.

        “And there’s an Imperial Space Navy exercise between us and Morteen,” said the captain. “We’ll push on as fast as possible.”

        That suited Goth. So she held off from harassing them with any more recycler issues, and settled for just making their lives miserable by sabotaging the robobutler in the mess so it would only produce Sargothian seaweed stew and sickly sweet drinks. She had a perfectly working robobutler in the comfortable cabin — but it was a measure of how much they all feared whoever this absent “Boss” was, that they were too much afraid of him to suggest using it.

        The Bolivar raced on towards its destination, its crew complaining this was the worst trip they’d ever had. That also suited Goth. They’d been all set to give her the worst trip of her life — and the last. She spent the rest of the trip removing power units from as many weapons as possible. There was a box marked floor-cleaning liquid in the store, and that seemed a good safe place to store them.

        They were all plainly relieved to swing into orbit around a planet — Goth could see it on the vid on the comms link. Not as clearly as she’d like, but enough to see that it bore what looked like the scars of interstellar war. Parts were dense green, other areas stark and white with black streaks. Even from this great height, she could see octagonal structures down there. They must be huge. Like any world, Goth knew that it was a big, varied and complex place, but it plainly wore the marks of having been densely settled.

        The Bolivar wasted no time on contacting planetary authorities or requesting landing permission. She just began to drop in on the planet they called Lumajo, targeting a site somewhere between a huge octagon and a far smaller one, which as they approached revealed itself as a cleared area of jungle.

        Goth had very little idea what she was coming to. Other than mentions of stink, the hairy little apes, and the fact that the place was source of a banned substance, she hadn’t gleaned much from the conversation of the crew. Mostly they talked about what they’d do back on Morteen, if they talked about planets at all. She had no idea how she’d even start to find Lina, how many people there were here, or quite what her plan was. But she’d eaten well and slept as much as possible. That would have to do for preparation.

        The landing jarred her to the back teeth. Captain Pausert was good at putting a ship down as lightly as a feather, no matter what you thought of his take-offs. The Bolivar‘s captain wasn’t — but they were down in one piece. Now to get out and get searching…

        The crew had been in a hurry to get off the ship. That was understandable, but did leave Goth with the main airlock closed, and the ramp up. She had all the codes to the airlocks and could open it and put the ramp down, easily enough, but that would be rather obvious to any watcher. By the noise, they were offloading cargo.

        Invisible in no-shape, she went down to the cargo hold, where the sulfurous air of outside hit her, along with the smell of the hairy little ⦠men. Well, they were sort of humanoid anyway. They looked less like humans than the Nartheby Sprites. They were offloading, and jabbering away in a sing-song foreign tongue — which might actually have been a kind of singing. The words weren’t universal galactic, anyway. One phrase seemed to recur — “blong khagoh.”

        They were watched by a couple of rough-looking spacers with blast-rifles and jangler-whips. Goth walked quietly down the ramp and onto Lumajo, where the gravel of the spaceship’s landing area shivered with heat, beneath a distant white sun. The sky was an odd dirty yellow color, and the air didn’t smell much better away from the chanting little locals. Exploring the rest of the place would involve getting over some high, double fences that looked electrified. There were guard-towers, too. It looked more like a military camp or a prison than anything else.

        Goth figured it was likely that, if either were still alive, Pausert’s mother and even his father would most likely be inside the wire. She waited a while at the gate, and then walked back to the ship for a bit of shade. The sun might be a small point in the sky but it was hot and vicious. She could feel it burning her.

        The hairy locals were loading the boxes and crates onto a large wooden trolley, with rough wheels made from cross-sections of tree-trunk. Sitting in the shade of the ship, Goth had time to study them. They were as hairy as a lelundel, and had little tails. They were shorter than the Leewit, but a little broader. How they saw anything was a mystery, because their faces too were hidden in their hair.



        Once the trolley was piled high with boxes and crates, coils of wire, steel beams of various shapes and sizes, the spacemen chased the little humanoids — on average half their size — to leashes on the draw-bar. With the little humanoids chanting rhythmically again, they hauled the load towards the gate. Goth walked along in the shade, wishing she had the hat and sun-glasses from Parisienne. They were still with her luggage on the ship.

        They dragged the trolley through the gate and to the compound beyond, which boasted a palace-like building and primitive looking factories and warehouses beyond that, and, behind yet another layer of wire, scruffy looking huts. The trolley-loads of goods were being taken to one of the warehouses, where they were offloaded and packed away. There were several shiny new ground trucks in the building that certainly could have done the job, Goth noted, before they locked the place up again.

        The little humanoids were marched to the huts behind the next wire barrier. There was no obvious sense in following them so Goth took her sunburn along behind the guards, heading for the big house. She’d met some rough types over the years, travelling around in the Venture and with the circus. These men, listening to their talk, made Lesithanian fishermen look polite and nice. They smelled about as bad too, even in the sulfurous air. They were plainly in a hurry to get indoors, and about that, at least Goth could agree. The palace-like building was air-conditioned, which was welcome.

        It took Goth a while to get her bearings inside, raid the kitchen, and find a quiet spot to eat. It was going to take her time to explore, and she’d have no choice but to use up some energy staying in no-shape. So far she’d found that some of the place was given over to dormitory-like rooms as well as a communal hall, where the crew of the Bolivar were doing some catching up on meals that didn’t look very appetizing. Goth was tempted to help their ill-luck along, but instead concentrated on eavesdropping for clues. It wasn’t particularly productive. Most of what they were talking about she’d heard before back on the ship. And all the others could talk about was “the Gaks.”

        It seemed the Gaks were the little humanoids. They’d apparently burned out several fields a few days back. They were arguing about the best response. Goth went on her way, exploring. Warily, she tried touching walls and objects to “read” them. It was a dangerous thing to do because if she got drawn in, she could well fall into a trance — which would stop her being light-shifted into no-shape.

        Mostly, though, it turned out to be quite safe. There were few strong emotions and deep thoughts to leave traces. Every old place had them, but this building was quite new, and not, as it were, full of the past. She went on searching, and eventually came to the prisoners at the back. They were locked into a separate section, which Goth got access to by following someone carrying buckets of food⦠food that reeked of paratha. It didn’t look appetizing, but Goth realized it didn’t have to.

        This section of the building consisted of a series of small metal rooms, with barred doors and a caged walkway, that she found led to the factory plant. Here the walls told a different story. Here she really had to be careful. But the despair and anger were not just in the walls. They were in the people still trapped in the little hot rooms. The air-conditioning was not for prisoners.

        Neither Pausert’s mother nor his father were among the handful of prisoners. That was worrying. Goth followed the person delivering plates of paratha-laced slops, which they slid into a grid on the bottom of each door.

        No one said much. They just eagerly took their plates. This was one prison where the prisoners thought the food was great, at least. The food deliverer left them to it, and walked out. Goth wasn’t quite quick enough to follow her, but she could always get out some other way. There were several empty cells, so Goth took herself into the farthest one, to have a rest from no-shape and read the walls.

        It was a grim experience, and a grim story. The last prisoner had been a guard who had stolen something from the boss. That told her about the people she was dealing with, but not the reason she’d come here.

        The next cell, however, was the jackpot. Goth learned a great deal about Lieutenant-Commander Kaen, Pausert’s father. He’d been quite badly injured and in a lot of pain when they had brought him here. But he had recovered and there was something of an imprint of his memory of the place, machinery he had worked on, and the little humanoids.

        The oddest thing was there was no memory of fences. This was a man she’d never met, who had left the traces of his determination, anger and pain for her to read — but he reminded her a lot of Pausert, which made her quite snuffly. There were no other empty cells. A couple of the other prisoners were talking in a despondent fashion about the problems they had with one of the machines.

        Goth figured she’d regained enough energy and slipped back into no-shape; then, went down the caged walkway to the factory. The harsh sun was down, but there was some light from a pair of moonlets on the horizon. Goth could see it was a simple bottling plant with what, on examination, proved to be a big drying room for huge leaves, and a crushing plant for the same. The whole place reeked of paratha. The building was not particularly secure, and it was easy enough to get out of. In this it was unlike the main building, which did not look easy to get in. That was solidly built and had a guard house on the doors, and pill-boxes on the corners.

        Goth decided to go back to the Bolivar and collect her bag. There was cargo-hold door that should be accessible. After the terrible heat of the day, it was already cool and Goth could bet it would be freezing by dawn. The first of the moons was below the horizon, and the second was touching it. It’d be pitch dark soon. There was wire in the way, but she could deal with that. Teleporting a piece out of it worked. She’d walk across in no-shape, get a good meal from the robobutler, a shower and maybe sleep there. And she could bring the sun-shades and hat with her, as well as some clothes for cool nights.

        The idea had seemed good, but nearly got her killed. She made her hole, making sure she was well clear of the electrified wires, and started walking fast, as she wanted enough light to at least find the cargo door.

        And then suddenly there was far too much light. Searchlights sprang to life on the watch-towers, an alarm shrieked. Goth froze for a moment, crimping her eyes against the glare. She was in no-shape and quite safe, but some instinct made her run, anyway, which was just as well as blaster bolts seared the place she’d been standing. She took off at a zig-zag run, back towards the fence, with them firing at her from the watchtowers, just as if they could see her.



        She realized that they could. They must have some kind of infra-red detector. The Toll-teaching pattern said she could no-shape infra-red too. It wasn’t easy to learn while you were running, but she did it. And kept running for a bit for good measure.

        The shooting stopped. But that was definitely a bit of an ionization burn on her shoulder. Did she need the Egger routeâ¦?

        Not quite yet, she decided. She was too close now. But the wound hurt and she was fairly mad about it — partly at herself for being caught like that. Well, if they wanted to shoot at infrared images she’d give them some to shoot at. She could split light images — and infrared was still light. There were four targets for them, moving ones, ones that they could shoot at to their hearts’ content. She pushed the split light images toward the watchtowers. Sore or not, she had to suppress a giggle at them shooting at the bases of each other’s towers. Someone was going to fall, hard, when those came down.

        Unfortunately, someone must have realized that could happen. They stopped shooting — and plainly were calling for reinforcements. The occupants of the palatial building came, armed, scared — and opened the gate. Goth decided that going to the ship would just have to wait. She went back out of the spaceship compound, where someone had just found her cut wire.

        Goth knew that sooner or later they’d figure out she had to have come from the building compound. And then they’d search that, in earnest. Wincing a little at the pain from the burn on her shoulder, Goth decided it would be sensible enough to make them assume she’d come from outside — and hopefully left that way. So she took a piece out of the outer wire⦠which caused sirens and alarms, not exactly what she’d had in mind. Obviously the outside perimeter had some sort of detector, to make sure it wasn’t broken.

        What was out there that they were so scared of? These people were not exactly soft inner planet dwellers, terrified of the wild. Listening to them, it was all about the Gaks. “There’s bound to be a charge soon!” said someone, warily looking at the dark jungle beyond the cleared area around the fence.

        Those funny little hairy humanoids?  Goth couldn’t see it. And her shoulder was sore. So she went back to the palatial building in search of some burn ointment and a dressing. That proved harder than she thought it would be. Even in no-shape, you had to dodge being bumped into and also go through doors before they closed. Someone running nearly sent her flying, and really hurt her sore shoulder. And then they slammed a door in her face.

        She recognized the next two coming out — the whiny useless Felap and the Bolivar‘s mate, Forz. “Why can’t we get the Gaks to do it? Or some of the boss’ guards? Those crates are heavy.”

        “Because when the Gaks come they want to be able to shoot anything that looks like one, not worry about if these are tame ones or not, you idiot. And we’ll take a ground truck. If there’s a big rush they’ll need extra blaster-charges. Now get a move on.”

        “I still don’t see why I have to do it. Ow. You didn’t have to hit me,” complained Felap.

        “I don’t have to but I’m going to,” said Forz. “Come on.”

        Goth followed the complaining Felap around to the factory, scrambled onto the back of the ground-truck before it rose on its repulsors, and enjoyed a ride out to the Bolivar. She was feeling a little faint by now. Inside the ship she could take a rest and have a good look at her injury. Part way across it occurred to her that their supply of blaster power units was now in a crate labelled toilet paper and if the Gaks did attack they’d have to throw nails at them. Even feeling sore, that made her smile.

        Once inside the Bolivar, the two went looking. “Manifest says it should be packed here,” said Forz.

        “Well, it’s not,” said Felap, looking at the space-crate label. “Says toilet paper.”

        “Patham’s seven steaming hells! Those idiots offloading must have shuffled things about. Look for it.”

        They both did and soon found the suitably labelled crates. Felap whined about how heavy they were.

        “You’d moan more if we didn’t have them,” said Forz, lifting the other. “They say the last time the Gaks massed an attack there must have been ten thousand of them.”

        “Why don’t we just stay on board, then? Just in case.”

        “You’re a little worm, Felap. Anyway, Pnaden said that we’re to get the ship off-loaded and ready tomorrow. They’ll be bringing the cargo. He wants a quick turn-around.”

        That really didn’t suit Goth. She could cope with the Egger route and one person⦠but there was a chance of it being two. For that she’d want a spaceship. So once they’d gone, she’d have to wait for their return. Or take steps to see that they couldn’t leave.

         First, though, was food and a clean-up of the nasty burn on her shoulder. Then⦠well, she had the ship’s codes. Part of her wondered if she should just seal the ship, take off, and put it down somewhere else. That was something she could probably manage. Pausert handled take-offs and landings with the Venture, but both she and the Leewit had been taught how to do it. He’d even taught them how you ought to do it, instead of his way. But that wasn’t quite the same as actually doing the job. 

        Once she’d eaten, and had a wash, she was yawningly tired. But there was no telling when they might discover that they’d taken two crates of nails, not blaster power units. So she set about making sure that they didn’t find them. Engineering had a store for lubricants and cleaning material so she put the boxes in there. That involved quite a lot of the heavy lifting and carrying that Felap had moaned about, and hurt her shoulder. Then to make sure that they didn’t leave, she removed two electronic units from the tube-warm up mechanism. They might be able to find them, or replace them — she really wasn’t sure how well equipped their spares were. But, from her experience with the Venture‘s disaster on the world the Megair Cannibals had claimed for their own, she knew that they weren’t going to have a spare multiplier link from the main sequencer. So she took that out too. By this time she was exhausted. She just had to rest, to sleep, somehow, somewhere.

        But some instinct said that using the boss’ cabin was probably not a great idea. So she moved her bag out, and took herself to the tip-of-a-broom-cupboard they had given her for a cabin. She cleared enough flat space to lie down on, curled up, and slept.

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