The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 01

The Shaman of Karres

By Eric Flint and Dave Freer

To the world’s ambulance and paramedic volunteers.

True shamans.

Prelude

The Leewit was unsettled. She usually dealt with that by going up as high as possible and breaking things with supersonic whistles.

Tempting though it was, this time she knew that it wouldn’t help. That was enough to make her even more annoyed, which didn’t help either.

She really didn’t like changes. Not merely changing scenes — she’d seen enough of those on the Venture 7333. That was normal. That was fine. It was changes in people that were upsetting. Especially when that person was her.

Being responsible, as they all called it, was deeply annoying.

And the trouble was that there was no getting away from it once you started. She could runā€¦ But she already knew that it wouldn’t work.

***

Captain Pausert was watching the Leewit very carefully, out of the corner of his eye. She was stumping around the wintenberry vines, just off to the side of Threbus and Toll’s cottage on the planet of Karres, as he sat on the verandah with Threbus, drinking green Lepti liquor and talking.

He’d learned quite a lot about the wisdom of keeping a surreptitious eye on the littlest witch of Karres in the last few years.For some of that time she’d been in his careā€¦ In manner of speakingā€¦ As much as anyone ever really had any Karres child in their care. From time-to-time, ever since he’d rescued Maleen, Goth, and the blond scrap, the Leewit, from slavery on Polumma, he’d suspected that he was as much in their care as they were in his. Well, Maleen was happily married to Neldo now. But the Venture had still been home to Goth and the Leewit for a series of long missions for Karres.

They’d been on Karres itself for a while now. It was always hard to tell quite how long, in the magical timelessness of that place. There’d been a fair amount of learning to be done and a fair amount of debriefing too. And some welcome rest and recuperation to be enjoyed. Time spent getting to know his adopted people. Time spent probably annoying them with the klatha energies that seemed to cluster around him. But that was fair enough, since they’d made his life more than just difficult from time-to-time.

It was also time spent getting to know more of the witches than just Goth and her family. Time to adjust to the fact that the girl of his childhood dreams, Vala, was actually Goth, via some travel in time. After their adventures in dealing with the Melchin-mother-plant and the Megair cannibals, Pausert felt he needed a break, and to learn far more about how to use the klatha skills he had. Of course, that wasn’t likely to happen. The witches of Karres preferred you to learn on your feet, and as fast as possible. That wasn’t because they were cruel, but because it worked, and there was a dire need for that which worked.

Karres and her people were, in the vastness of galactic society, such a tiny group. Yes, a tiny group with powerful friends in Imperial circles, as the Empress Hailie gradually consolidated her power, bringing in new courtiers and nobles as the nannite-damaged court was quietly replaced. The Empire had no shortage of nobility who had not been in the court, had not been infected, but it all took time and care. Yet, for now great dangers had been averted.

But Karres seemed to attract trouble. For some reason, quite a bit of it had focused itself on Captain Pausert. Karres, its way of thinking, its people, and its entire existence were always under some degree of threat. If you were one of them, you dealt with it. And right now it seemed that there was another thing they needed him to deal with.

He’d been told this morning that Threbus wanted to have a chat about the Venture‘s next mission. The Karres prognosticators had apparently been busy.

Something was plainly upā€¦ again.

What, he didn’t know. But he did know the danger signs with the Leewit.

So he asked Threbus where he was going, this time.   

“Well, to Na’kalauf. Partly,” explained his Great Uncle Threbus, “to help the Leewit to finish her work with healing Ta’zara.”

“But of course it is never as simple as that,” said Pausert, prompting.

“Of course not. There is a little war we’d like you to deal with. But Ta’zara is important.” Threbus didn’t say whether that was to the war, or to the Leewit or to Karres. It could be any or all three, and, Pausert knew by now they’d tell him as little as possible. Prognostication worked better that way.

Ta’zara, the heavily swirl-tattooed warrior-bodyguard from the watery world of Na’kalauf, was, Captain Pausert knew, also watching the Leewit. He was almost invisible standing in the dappled shade, his bulky solid mass as still as any statue. The Megair cannibals had kept him alive, because he and his group were the toughest foe they’d ever encountered in hand-to-hand combat. He’d been the last survivorā€¦ and psychologically broken, until the Leewit had somehow reached into his mind and begun healing him.

That had given her a devoted body-guard, and led, ultimately, to getting rid of the Megair cannibals. But Ta’zara had expected to die in that effort. In a moment of insight, Pausert saw that Ta’zara had not just expected to die. Ta’zara had wanted to die then, and to die well, to atone for being alive when his comrades had died. Curing that would take a great deal more work.

Pausert had no idea where you even started with that sort of problem. The Leewit was a klatha shaman, a healer, able to reach inside people — and aliens — and fix things at a cellular level. She’d been able to do something for Ta’zara. She’d given him back his courage, and some of himself. But, obviously, there was more. “I’m glad the war is my share,” he said, not untruthfully. It was easier to deal with distant enemies than people you saw every day.

There was a wry understanding in Threbus’ face. “The war is fairly small as wars go. Not because both sides don’t want to kill every man, woman and child on the other side, but just because they’re fairly evenly matched, and neither side has the resources to make the fight much bigger. It’s in the state, right now, of no actual hostilities. But both sides are ready to get back to killing each other, at the drop of a hat.”

“So why do we need to do anything?” asked Pausert. “I meanā€¦ there are small wars all the time. They’re nasty, people get killed, but they happen. There are far too few of us. We can’t really stop all wars.”

“Or should we be doing so, you mean? And you’re right. Karres doesn’t, normally. Oh, maybe a nudge here and there, towards making things better and more stable, but we deal with existential threats to us, and to humankind, not social engineering. But our prognosticators say that what is little more than some border skirmishes now, is about to get much bigger. There’s some sort of development happening that will change the equation. And the winning sideā€¦ won’t stop winning.”