The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 06

Chapter 2

Touching the captain, when he slumped like that, barely able to drink the energy-brew she’d gotten out of the robochef, frightened the Leewit badly. She had allowed herself to do what the Toll pattern in her mind said was an absolute no-go for a klatha-healer — reading without preparing barriers within herself, without creating a distance between healer and patient. Her Toll pattern was a klatha learning device, a partial replica of the personality of an adult witch whose basic individuality was similar to that of the witch child using it. She usually followed its advice, but in this case…

He’d pushed too far, and too hard again! Goth would never forgive her if she let him die. But, just before reaching into herself to pour some of her energy into the captain… the Toll pattern in her mind was insistent. Check first. Assess. Assess and then treat calmly and sensibly, as if it wasn’t someone she cared a lot about. Stupid and panic would help no-one and could kill both of them.

So she did. His vital signs were serious, but there was nothing actually wrong with him besides literally being out of energy at the cellular level. It had been strange at first to have the klatha sense of being able to feel the body from the inside. Overwhelming and more than a little scary. It was why one had to be buffered. But there was improvement, even as she worked, checking him out. She could boost those…

The Toll-pattern supplied mitochondria. But no. He’d get better without that. And much as though she wanted the security of the captain making decisions, letting him recover slowly was better for him. And she could cope. She had to: she was the remaining Karres witch on the ship. He would not survive the Egger route like that. She could only hope he hadn’t burned out his ability to be a klatha witch. That happened too, sometimes.

And there was not a bit of use in climbing anything, or whistling at it, either.

Once the captain was in his cabin, being put into his bunk by Ta’zara, she went back to the flight deck, where Vezzarn was sitting in the captain’s chair, warily watching instruments. “Is the captain all right, Your Wisdom?” he asked with the nervous respect of Karres and klatha that Uldune’s people had — for good historical reason, the Leewit knew. Vezzarn was always respectful, but this was… different, somehow? And then she realized what it was and scowled fiercely at him for reminding her. She was in charge now. No Goth, no Maleen, no Toll, no Threbus. Just nobody. “Yeah. Leave him alone. Anything you need to do, you do. Don’t you dare wake the Captain. Call me, not him. So: are we clear of the asteroids?”

“There is nothing of a size that needs worrying about close, Your Wisdom. Except for that piece of hulk. It’s still stuck up against us. We can’t really boost with it there. It’d mess with the center of mass, and I’m just a spaceman, not up the captain’s level of piloting. Can you undo that?”

“No. The captain has to. We will worry about it if it becomes a problem.”

Then there was the issue of what to do about the rescued people. She met Ta’zara in the companionway, just outside the captain’s cabin. “He’s asleep… or in a coma,” he said. “He didn’t even know I took his suit off.” Ta’zara had removed his space-suit, but not, the Leewit noticed, the blaster. And he too turned to her for orders… well, in a way he always did, but not about running the ship. “What do wish to do about the people we rescued, Mistress?”

“What do you think?” she asked.

He rubbed his jaw. “I cannot watch all of them. There are too many for this ship, I think. They need to be put off on some hospitable world, as soon as possible.”

“We can’t really head for one until the captain wakes up. Which he will.” She said that with all the confidence she could muster.

He nodded. “Then I think leave them in the hold, and we will provide what we can. Food. Water.”

“And treatment for the badly injured.”

He looked at her with concern. “You must not do to yourself what the captain has done, Mistress. I know your power, but I know it is not without its cost.”

“Yeah. I know. Come on, let’s get to the robochef and see what we can do to feed them.”

None of it proved quite as simple as the Leewit had hoped. The robochef didn’t have any programs for lots and lots of quick food, all at once. It was designed to cater for ten people at the outside, and not to provide drinks for seventy or more. Vezzarn got her a water refill carboy from the storage locker to start with. Food could wait, she decided. She and Ta’zara went down to the hold. Even from outside one could hear the racket and the banging.

“Great Patham’s toenails. They better not be damaging the cargo!” she said furiously. Goth had been the one who had worked on making the Venture 7333 profitable, but now she wasn’t here. The captain relied too much on his luck. The Leewit pulled open the hold door — and had to hastily sidestep to avoid the three men and the small crate they’d been using as a makeshift — and hopeless — ram, falling through.

There was no place to go up, so she whistled at them. It was an odd talent, but one that could be deadly. This wasn’t intended to kill, just to hurt the ears, and by the way they clutched those ears, it did work. “What do you clumping dopes think you’re doing?” she demanded. “Who said you could bash our cargo and doors around?”

There was a stunned silence and then they all started yelling at once and a bunch tried to come shoving forward. Ta’zara dealt with them by picking up two of the makeshift ram carriers and throwing them back in the crowd. He grabbed the fallen crate and used it as battering ram — not on the open door, but the mass of people. “Back, Mistress!”

The Leewit did nothing of the kind. She leaned past him and whistled instead. This time it was a real buster of a whistle. She hoped the cargo would be all right. A lot of the people weren’t. Quite a few fell over, and all of them tried to cover their ears, and retreat. She realized that Ta’zara had drawn his blaster. “I shoot the first of you to advance. Back. Now!”

There was no doubting Ta’zara’s tone. They backed up.

“What’s wrong with you dopes?” said the Leewit crossly. “We’ve clumping well rescued you. I’ve just brought you water. We’ll bring food soon. But not if you’re behave like drunken bollems. You can starve.”

“I’m Counsellor Stratel…” began one fellow with a fancy-pants hair-style that had survived being chained up and even being rescued. His clothes hadn’t done as well.

“Bully for you,” said the Leewit, taking an instant dislike to him. “Now shut up, you clumping nitwit. If I need to know who you are, I’ll ask.”

He plainly wasn’t used to being treated like that. His mouth opened and shut, but no sound came out. That was an improvement.

“Slavery is a vile abuse…” began one of the men Ta’zara had flung back, one of the ram-holders. He was a tall, skinny serious-looking fellow, who looked like he’d never heard a joke he understood.

“You’re not clumping slaves, you idiot. We just rescued you,” said the Leewit, but the fellow was in full flow, waving his one arm about.

“It’s against the basic rights of man!” he bellowed, his face flushed and eyes wild, as he pushed his way forward, and then… fell over.

The Leewit looked at him, startled. That arm was at an odd angle. “Ta’zara,” she said. “Give them the water. And then can you carry this fellow up to the spare state-room. There is something not right with him.”

“You have to let me out of here, I’m Counsellor Stratel, and you must recover my possessions!” said the annoying man.

“Shut your cake-hole, you clumping idiot!” said the Leewit. “Look, I’ll be back with food. Sort out who is worst hurt so can we see what we can do.”

“I demand to see the captain!” said Stratel.

So she told him to shut up, using some of her best words, before shutting them in the hold again. That was at least a little fun.

Using her klatha senses she examined the unconscious man.

His shoulder was dislocated. She said as much to Ta’zara. “It could have happened when I threw him back into the hold. I can try and pull that.”  So he did. The Leewit was still rather wary about her klatha healer skills. It were tiring and sometimes uncomfortable, getting inside the patterns that were people. But she felt the joint slip into place and the changes that caused. She felt like throwing up. Buffering herself from the pain had been among the first lessons she’d had to learn.

But there was more than just pain going on here. The man was fevered and… something else was wrong with him. It took her a little time to track it down. He was suffering from poisoning, that she got quickly enough. His liver was enflamed and the toxic metal that was affecting him was being concentrated there. That she could, and did move. She traced the source, down the blood vessels and came to something that her healer sense had no control over — a foreign body, resting under his rib cage. She had no idea what it was, but it was going to kill him.