The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 04

Pausert looked anxiously at his instruments, but except for the fleeing life-craft, they showed nothing.

The other dream things. In that piece of the ship

“Pirates left their friends, did they?” said the Leewit. “Just like you left me.”

But you are not tied to a pole. They make almost as much air-vibration as you, but there are lots of them.

Captain Pausert had had enough experience of the Leewit’s “air-vibration” to work it out. There were prisoners on the pirate ship, screaming. “Which half of the ship?” he asked, pointing at the screens. That one? Or that one?”  As he said that, the front section spun off with another small explosion.

The first one, said the vatch voice in his head.

That was the larger aft section, still mostly intact. The ship had plainly been an old obsolete Empire C-class merchanter. The cargo holds were just above the tubes — rather like the Venture‘s own structure. Pausert had heard that some of the merchanters had been modified, using some of that space for extra engine capacity. It made them less commercially viable — and they’d already been outclassed, but a lot faster. Ideal for little, except piracy. And that hold, or what was left of it, could well be full of prisoners. “I’ll start matching trajectory,” said the captain. “Ta’zara. You need to suit up and the Leewit can get old Vezzarn down here, so I can suit up too.”

“I should go with you!” protested the Leewit, her lips beginning to purse.

Fortunately, the captain had thought that through in advance. “If there is anyone alive there we’ll likely need to carry them. We have one shuttle-bag, we could cram two people in with a suit pony-tank. And if we need… special help on either ship, best there is one klatha operative on each. Besides, if something goes wrong, I want someone who can do astrogation here, in charge. And that’s you. Between you and Vezzarn you can fly the ship. If I took Vezzarn, you and Ta’zara can’t. If I took you, they certainly can’t Sheewash. Besides, it’s the captain’s decision. Get on with it. I need you here.”

 She sighed. “Right, Captain.” 

“And we’ll all need blasters from the arms-cabinet. Get them and check charges. There might be prisoners there. There might also be trouble.” The Leewit didn’t answer. Just nodded and ran off, and left the captain to the difficult task of getting the Venture into close proximity of the slowly tumbling hulk of the stern end of the wrecked pirate. Captain Pausert could only be grateful that her rocket tubes had also stopped firing with the Leewit’s lucky shot or it might have been worse.

The Leewit came back with Vezzarn, and handed the captain a blaster. Captain Pausert noticed the old spacer had strapped one on himself, even if he wasn’t going across to the other ship. “Risky business, Captain,” he said looking at the screens. “A bit above my pay-grade, this sort of piloting.”

“Just let me suit up and I’ll finish the closing manoeuvers. All you’ll have to do is hold her there and deal with any problems.”

“It’s the problems you and the little Wisdom seem to find that worry me,” said Vezzarn with a crooked smile, settling into the command chair. “You always get me into jams, Captain, but you always get me out of them, too. I don’t forget that.”

Pausert suited up and checked his equipment, then checked Ta’zara’s  and let him run a seal check on his, before taking the Venture in on the nerve-jangling final lock-on, with the electromagnetic grapples. He and Ta’zara exited through the airlock, and then, one at a time, roped together, made the jump across to the pirate hulk with their reaction pistols. That was easy enough.

The question now was how to get in. The hold doors didn’t have airlocks. If there was anyone alive in there, opening the doors would kill them. The only possible way was through the torn metal of the massive explosion. That was too dangerous to hurry through — suit fabric was super-tough but it still could be damaged. Besides, it was a mess, a tangle of twisted I-beams and hull-metal, and all sorts of drifting debris in the stark dark shadow and silver glare of new-sheared metal. Their headlights on, Pausert let his instincts lead him into the explosion-hole. He found a passage which led to a door crusted with ice-crystals from air bleeding though the seals. The ice did a fair job of jamming it up, and not all the pulling and thrusting could open it. The door opened towards them, but despite the fact that the air-pressure inside was also pushing, it wouldn’t budge.

“If I was there I could whistle and shatter it, Captain,” said the Leewit, on the radio, with a cross edge in her voice.

“And probably break your helmet, if not your ears,” replied Pausert. “Let’s get a lever, and have another try, Ta’zara. I don’t want to use the blaster.”

They found a section of beam, and, with Ta’zara’s considerable strength added to Pausert’s, they cracked the ice. What was left of the air within wasn’t enough to have much effect, puffing out. They went in and closed the door again. It was as scary thing to do, considering how hard it had been to open. But if they were to open any other safety doors, every bit of pressure counted. They kept up the radio-chatter to the Leewit so she at least knew they were alive and roughly where they were. The captain wasn’t sure what she could do about it, though, if something went wrong.

The first thing Pausert noticed was that the crystal emergency lights on the floor still glowed. Touching the wall, there was a vague vibrating hum of machinery. Some of the ship’s system was still alive — and there was mist forming around an air duct. Most of it was iced over, but plainly something was still leaking in. The two of them advanced cautiously, blasters ready. If they met anyone here, common sense might be for a pirate to surrender, but sometimes common sense was scarce in a disaster. Besides, if a pirate had been stalking the corridors of a dead ship in their place he’d be looking for loot, and would try to kill them.

The next door was easier, and the third definitely had air pressure — and a dead man. The fourth had lights. Weak, flickering, but lights. There was air, but it was thin, probably not enough to breathe. The only remaining door was the door into the tube shaft, engine room, by the door symbols, and into the hold. They cracked that one and went through into the darkness there, the suit-lights again providing all the light there was.

See. I told you, said the tinkling little vatch voice.

They weren’t screaming, or not anymore, but indeed there were people, leg-shackled to a long pole. Some of them were definitely alive and gasping for breath. Looking at them, Pausert realized he hadn’t thought this through very well. There were a lot of people trapped there! Even if they went back to the Venture and fetched the Leewit and Vezzarn’s suit and the four spares from the suit locker, that would take at least ten trips or more. Pausert wasn’t sure these people would last very much longer — let alone dealing with cutting them loose. Once one end of the pole was cut, they’d have a lot of panicked and terrified people, not inclined to take things in due turn and with the calmness it would take to get them suited up and ferried out along the corridors, losing more air every time, through the dark and chaos and sharp metal. Even with Ta’zara at his side that could be tough.

He couldn’t see how he could do it.

Yet the alternative was to leave them here to die. He couldn’t see how he could do that either. It was unlikely the pirate ship had had sufficient suits for all these people.

“What are you going to do, Captain?” asked the Leewit. “They’re dying. I can feel it.”

She probably could. The Leewit was a shaman, a healer with klatha powers.

The problem was he just could see no way of dealing with this number of captives.

“We could use the Sheewash drive to get the hulk into an atmosphere. Use the Venture for braking and steering, and hope the grapples hold,” she suggested.

The captain shook his head. “They haven’t got the time, even if we can make it work. But I might be able to do it with klatha. Can you and Vezzarn line the Venture‘s hold door up, as precisely as possible, with this hulk? If I remember right, the merchanter class hold door is the standard Imperial, same as the Venture‘s.”

“What are you going to do, Captain?” repeated the Leewit, an edge of wariness in her young voice.