The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 08

“We’ll try that, then,” decided Pausert.

So they did, with Vezzarn standing by to fire the laterals and muttering about witchy stuff.

It worked. They and the wrecked hulk parted company in a last ghostly puff of departing air.

“I’ll set a course for Cinderby’s World, and then I’ll go and talk to these passengers we’ve found ourselves with,” said the captain. “And any of them that don’t like it, can get out and walk!”

It took some care, as this was quite a dirty part of space, now, but eventually the Venture was on her way to Cinderby’s World. And then Captain Edon of the ship Farflight  from Leris star-cluster — seeing as the Infamous Captain Pausert was known in Imperial Security circles for being associated with the witches of Karres, went down to see their ‘passengers’.

There was an odd, dangerous mood in the hold… for people who had just been rescued from slavery.

“Captain. Why are you keeping me in here for? We’re not animals!” demanded one, a gangling fellow with a fashionable hair-crop that ill matched his torn clothes. They had been very fine clothes once. There was a dangerous edge to the voice, and despite the fact that Pausert had a blaster on his hip, and Ta’zara at his side, and an open door behind him, there were still more than seventy people there. And the noise response — half fear and half anger — was nearly overwhelming.

Pausert tried to shout over it. The Leewit took a more direct approach. She used one of her shrill directional whistles at them. They were crowded into the space between the strapped pallets of crates and boxes, and had nowhere to go. But they were keen to try. Most of them clutched their ears, and backed off. Pausert almost felt sorry for them — he’d been on the receiving end of that whistle.

“I can’t listen to all of you at once,” he informed them, sternly. “You will take it in turns. And if you interrupt, my niece will whistle at you again. Now, we have just rescued you from certain death on that pirate vessel. You’re a huge strain on my small ship. We’re making as good a speed as possible to take you to an Imperial world, where we’ll set you down. I would say we’re less than three ship days travel to it. We’ve done our best for you, but if you cause me any more trouble I’ll just back out of this door and leave you here until we land. Now, have you got any questions?”

“We’re not just going to be sold as slaves, are we?” asked a young woman querulously.

“No. Whatever gave you that idea?” asked the captain.

“Well,” said an academic-looking man, whose thin, planar face looked more like he belonged in a seminary, in a curiously deep voice, “We’re still prisoners. Still in leg-shackles. And you have crates of force-cuffs. And we are trapped here in the hold. When we tried to leave we were met by force. We are still very grateful for being rescued from asphyxiation. We owe you our lives.”

Those dratted force-cuffs! “We’re a small freighter, my friend,” said Captain Pausert. “We carry cargo for our own trading and for anyone who contracts us, to smaller and less travelled ports. The force-cuffs were not for us to use — how would a little freighter ever use that many, even if we were a slaver? We were attacked by your pirate-captors and got lucky with our guns. We’re armed, because we trade out here. We have a small crew, and very little cabin space, so, except for the corridors, there is nowhere else for you to be, except here. And, honestly, we rescued you, but we have no idea who you are. You were captives, but could be pirates yourselves, or mercenaries, or preachers for all we know. As for your shackles… well, I’ll take two of you out of here at a time, and have one of my spacemen work on freeing you. I don’t have keys or codes for them.”

“That seems very reasonable, Captain,” said the deep-voiced man. “And I really am grateful for the medical help your niece has been administering. But if I may ask, why have your crew refused to let us see you?”

“The captain was in a forced sleep,” said the Leewit tersely. “I put him into it. He nearly killed himself rescuing you. If it was up to me, I’d make you ungrateful lot get out and walk.”

There was a silence.

Then the deep-voiced man said: “I’d like to be the first to say I owe you an apology, Captain. I knew of the evils of slavery, but I had not understood the fear or the brutality first hand. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Others joined in. Eventually Pausert held his hands up. “Enough, good people, enough. We did what spacemen do. Now, do you have any other questions? I have a ship to run.”

“Where are we going?” asked one of the freed slaves.

“Cinderby’s World,” said Captain Pausert.

There was a moment’s silence. “Why there?” asked someone with palpable nervousness.

“It’s about all we have sufficient air to reach. You’re way over our recycler’s capacity,” explained Pausert.

“But I paid my passage to Marbelly,” said the pretty woman, plaintively. “What am I going to do?”

“Be free and alive,” said the man with the deep voice. People laughed, but Pausert realized by the surprise on his face at their reaction, that he’d been dead serious.

“Captain, I need to talk to you about my property,” said the fellow with the fashionable hairstyle. He wasn’t looking in the least grateful. “Also, I can’t stay in here!”

“It’s clumping well here, or outside,” said the Leewit coldly. “Captain, that’s the one I told you about, who claimed you were looting his possessions! And then he wanted us to take him out there to collect them.”

“Great Patham!” said Pausert. He shook his head. “Firstly, we didn’t have any time for looting, and secondly, anything you lost to the pirates, you lost. If you want to go and search what’s left of their ship, you can charter a vessel and go looking for it. I’ll give you the coordinates. You can come back with another vessel, not mine. Anyway, what you lost to pirates is not my problem. If we had salvaged it, it would make no difference to you. Now. You and you.” He pointed to two of the people in front. “Come along and we’ll see if my spaceman can get your manacles off. The next two can go when they come back. We’ll work our way through you.”

Back in the command chair, getting the wires ready for the Sheewash drive, Pausert said to the Leewit, “Good thing that fellow with the deep voice was there. He seemed sensible enough to make up for some of the others.”

“Farnal. He’s from Iradalia. He is sensible now, Captain. He wasn’t at first. He had a broken arm and a knock on the head, and was talking pretty wild. You know, Captain, I’m going to have to get some bottles and food coloring and stuff. Maybe a few transdermic syringes…”

“Why?” Pausert had had experience of the Leewit’s odd ideas of food jokes, of salt when he’d thought he was having sugar, and mud cakes… but he didn’t see what this had to do the fellow with the broken arm and a knock on the head.

“Props. Like when we were with the circus.” She sighed. “That was fun. More fun than being responsible.” She almost spat the last word out. “For healing. They need medicines and bandages and stuff, so they don’t know what I’m actually doing. And that man… he has something strange inside him. A machine of some kind.”

“Like an artificial organ or something? They do heart-pacemakers in the inner worlds.”

She frowned. “No. It was poisoning him a little bit. And anyway, he comes from Iradalia. He told me. That’s right out on the edges somewhere.”

“Indeed it is,” said Pausert, surprised. “It’s Karoda’s binary planet’s name. The system is divided between them. The war we’re supposed to deal with is between Iradalia and Karoda. That’s a bit too much of a fluke just to be a chance-rescue, I think. Is this another vatch-game?”

“Could be. Little-bit’s vanished again. I don’t think they feel time quite like we do. Now, are we gonna do the Sheewash?”

He sighed. “I guess. It is harder with just the two of us. I don’t understand why Goth just left. I mean, without even saying goodbye or anything.” 

“Guess I do, Captain,” said the Leewit, tersely, sounding just like her older sister. “I reckon she was scared.”

“Goth’s never been scared of anything in her life,” said Pausert stoutly.

The Leewit was silent for a bit. Then she scowled. “Scared she wouldn’t manage to let go of you. Getting soppy like Maleen.”

“Oh.” That Captain Pausert could understand.

It didn’t make being on the Venture without her any easier, but it did make it a lot better. He found the ship without her an empty place, even if there were more than seventy people on board. But they had to get these other people to air, and that meant the Sheewash drive.

 So they did it, and the inner fire burned in that twisted arrangement of wires directing the klatha energy. It appreciably shortened their journey.