The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 02
“And they’re the bad guys?” asked Pausert, glad to have that at least clear.
Threbus pulled a face. “Actually… no. The other side are probably what we’d consider ‘the bad guys’. The Karoda slavers are not popular with anyone, not even on their own world. But while the people of Karoda may not like them, they like Iradalia less. And a huge amount of money flows through them. That affects the whole economy of both worlds.”
Captain Pausert bit his top lip. Slavery was legal in the empire. Common on some planets, despised on others. He knew that the Empress Hailie wanted to get rid of it. But it had taken deep root in many societies after the collapse of the first empire, after humans had spread from old Yarthe to the stars. Nikkeldepain, where Captain Pausert had grown up, was one of the anti-slavery worlds. It was about all you could really say that was good about Nikkeldepain. Slavers weren’t popular there. And the Karoda slavers were the least popular. They were actually forbidden to land at all. “So what’s the problem with them losing?”
“I don’t think there is one, or at least not much of a problem. It’s the other side winning that’s the problem. Because the prognosticators say they won’t stop winning. They will take on more and more foes, and… bring them in. And that will lead to a war with the Empire, one it is not going to win. The new order, it seems, would be very bad for Karres and bad for humanity.”
The Empire… well, it wasn’t perfect, far from it. But Pausert had had enough history drummed into him at the Nikkeldepain Academy for the Sons and Daughters of Gentlemen and Officers to know that it was a lot better than what had existed before. Still, it was big, scattered and mostly too busy keeping itself together to expand into the border-worlds.
“So… you mean I have to see the Karoda slavers win?” Pausert, distastefully.
Threbus shook his head. “That, it seems, might be worse. But they do think you, and the Leewit, could solve it. Maybe.”
Pausert knew from experience that he wasn’t going to get a lot more information out of his great-uncle. But he had noticed one very unwelcome detail in what he had been told. There’d been no mention of Goth. The captain could barely imagine the Venture space-faring without her. So as soon as he could, he took his leave from Great-Uncle Threbus — and, if Goth had her way, his future father-in-law — and went in search of Goth.
He found her sitting on her favorite rock, looking out towards the forests where she liked to go hunting Black Belle’s. It only took one look to let him know he was right.
“They’re saying I have to let you go off without me,” she said gruffly.
Pausert had been around Goth for quite a while now, with her growing up, mostly on board the Venture 7333. He’d gotten quite good at reading her, despite the fact that she didn’t let much show. Goth was angry, upset. Quite possibly dangerous, but that went with being a klatha operative, and with being from Karres. The trick, he’d learned eventually, was not to say anything, because whatever you did say was going to be wrong. Not saying anything could be dangerous too, but less so.
She gotten up with that lithe ease that was so much a part of her, even more so now that her body was clearly that of a young woman rather than a girl — a change that Pausert found unsettling, to say the least. He was simultaneously skittish, anxious, confused, uncertain — the list went on and on, and buried somewhere within all the other terms was… excitement, maybe? Elation?
He wasn’t ready to deal with that. Yet. For the Karres witches, the marriageable age was sixteen, which Goth had recently surpassed. But the captain came from a stiffer culture and hadn’t shed all of his attitudes. Yet.
Goth didn’t say much. Just swallowed and hugged him, quickly. “I’m going to get my bow and go kill a bollem.”
“Want company?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Later.”
Pausert had to be content with that. Actually, he wouldn’t have minded killing something himself. Maybe the team of prognosticators who had foreseen all this. Instead he took himself back to the Venture 7333. Old Vezzarn was there. “I wondered when you were going to get here, Captain. They’ve been bringing the cargo aboard for the last couple of hours. I’m not too happy with the stowage.”
“Cargo?” Captain Pausert wondered, grumpily, why no-one ever told him anything.
Irritable, he avoided the hold and the cargo, and went down into the Venture‘s crawlway and checked component modules instead. He was, as he often did, following some inner sense, part of his own witchy klatha mastery, which he poorly understood. It made him, generally, a lucky gambler. This time it didn’t let him down either. He let his hands guide him to the units, pulled the ones he found them resting on, and examined them in the light of the crook-neck atomic lamp, and then dug out the hyper-electronic surge tester, and checked the readings.
Sure enough, there were tell-tale flat areas in the responses. He went back to get replacements, and found someone had been restocking the store-room. Every rack was full.
Karres was plainly doing their very best to prepare him for this mission. Somehow, that wasn’t comforting.
Goth moved as silently as she could through the deep woods of Karres. Concentrating on the hunt was easier than thinking about other things. There were other ways to bring food to the table, klatha means, artificial means, but Karres had learned: sometimes the best ways forward were back. And right now, Goth wanted to go back. Back to Nikkeldepain. Back to being Vala, back to Captain Pausert as a teenager, younger than herself. Well. She didn’t really want him younger than herself. Time travel was problematic. She quite understood, now, why age shifts were also problematic.
But that didn’t make sending the captain off on another dangerous adventure any easier. Not without her. And her biggest worry was not telling him where she’d be going, because he’d believe he had to come along. She knew him well enough to know he’d feel it was his responsibility. To feel that he’d be neglectful if he didn’t.
But that would apparently lead to disaster.
She was sick of precogs. Sick enough to want to prove them wrong…
…but experienced enough to know they couldn’t choose what they foresaw. They’d worked out good, systematic means of testing how probable an outcome was. This was apparently rock solid.
That didn’t mean she had to like it.