The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 11

Chapter 4

The air on the Venture 7333 wasn’t unbreathable. It was just… well, smelly, by the time they were able to send out a call to the port authorities on the sub-radio. “This is Captain Edom of the ship Farflight, registered in the Leris Star-Cluster,” said Pausert, giving their current nom-de-plumes. “Request landing co-ordinates. Request permission for the earliest possible landing slot” said Pausert, tiredly. “We’ve got seventy-eight space rescued people aboard, and we’re running low on air.”

There was a moment’s silence. “You’re short on air and are coming here?” said a surprised voice.

“You are the nearest Imperial world. According to Imperial Space Regulation three-two-three section B, landing clearance or relief must be granted to Imperial citizens in distress. We’re happy to trans-ship them, if there’s a vessel that could take them,” said Pausert.

“No… you’re cleared for immediate landing,” said Port Control. “Here are your co-ordinates.”   

While they were descending, Captain Pausert did spare a few moments thought for the reaction from Port Control, but he was tired and it was not an easy descent, with buffeting winds and — as he looked through the ship-scope — plenty of geography to avoid. Cinderby’s World certainly boasted some high mountains. The atmosphere must be pretty thin up there, thought the captain as they dropped into a narrow deep valley.

When the ship came to a rest, and the captain looked out at the port, he realized that the atmosphere must be pretty thin generally, let alone up in the mountains they’d come to rest between. The port buildings were in a dome, linked to several more domes by covered passages. Looking at his instruments, Pausert saw that besides enormous volcanic mountains, Cinderby’s Word had an atmosphere which had one thing going for it — there wasn’t a lot of it. Because what there was, was rather toxic.

Two men in respirator suits — lighter than space-suits, but airtight, none-the-less — dragged an access tube toward the Venture with a grav-sled. What brought men to live on such an inhospitable world? It had to have some draw, since there were thousands of other worlds with breathable atmospheres out there. Still, Pausert didn’t really care too much. As soon as he had his cargo of involuntary passengers off the Venture, they’d be on their way. They didn’t need to refuel yet, and without the extra load, the air-recycler would gradually improve their air-quality.

Like most plans, this one went awry, and did so quite quickly after the rescued would-be slaves had walked off down the access tube and into the dome, carrying their injured and thanking him. “Port Control. Request you remove the access tube, as we’d like to lift as soon as possible,” said the captain into the radio.

There was a pause. “Sorry, Captain. Permission to lift off has been officially withheld. The Planetary Police want to talk to you. And you’re under the port guns, which are locked onto your ship.”

“Great Patham’s seventh steaming hell! What for?” Pausert was confident that the papers his ship now had, and the identity he now had, would pass any muster. Besides, at least in theory, Karres operatives seeing to the clean-up of the Imperial Security Service after it had been taken over by the nannite plague had scrubbed any reference to Captain Pausert of Nikkeldepain, the Venture 7333, as well as Captain Aron of Mulm and the ship Evening Bird. In backwaters like this, of course, records could still persist, and affect things.

“Charges of piracy and theft have been laid against you,” said Port Control. “Officers of the Planetary Police force are on their way over to your ship.”

Pausert snapped the communicator off.

“How long to warm the tubes, Captain?” asked the Leewit, almost as if she’d read his mind.

“Couple of minutes.” He flipped the switches. “The nova turrets are now free. You take the forward one and get a bead on the port guns. They want to play rough with us, they can taste some of their own medicine. Vezzarn, have you sorted that aft gun?”

“No, Captain. But they won’t know that. And they won’t like the idea of their dome getting holed. Not in this atmosphere.”

“Well, I’d rather not hole it either. But all of you strap in. It’s likely to be a rough launch.” He started the tube warming ignition sequence, and when he’d done that, snapped open the communicator channel again.

Needless to say, Port Control was having fits. Pausert interrupted them. “You deflect your guns and we’ll deflect ours. Otherwise we keep them locked onto you, until we lift. When we lift, if you attempt to fire on us, we’ll return fire. Your charges make no sense, and we’re out of here.”

“Captain Edom. The police merely want to talk to you,” said Port Control.

Pausert had heard that one before. But he still said: “Well, let them talk. I’ll listen.”

“They’re on their way across to your airlock,” he was informed.

“Tell them to leave any weapons outside. I’m not having them trying to get smart and damaging my ship.” If need be he could take off with them on board. Their gunners could decide if they wanted to shoot at their own police or not.

So a little later two members of Cinderby’s World’s finest were permitted to board the Venture 7333. Unarmed.

They were enough to ease Captain Pausert’s mind a little, being, neither of them, typical flatfeet. “I apologize for this,” said the plump woman who introduced herself as Chief-Inspector Salaman. “It’s just that Counsellor Stratel insisted on pressing charges. He’s a big cheese on Cinderby’s World.”

“Stinky cheese,” said the Leewit. “He was the one with the fancy hairstyle, Captain.”

“The one who was so convinced we’d looted the wreck of the ship and had his property!” exclaimed Pausert. “He’s an idiot. We barely got them off alive.”

“Off the record, sir, I agree with you,” said the female police-officer. “But he’s wealthy and powerful, and got in touch with the president as soon as he got into the spaceport, insisting we act.”

“We’d hardly have saved their lives and set them free if we were pirates, Chief-Inspector,” said Pausert, trying to keep his temper. “We’d have either killed them or sold them as slaves. Or ransomed your big cheese. As for piracy — they knew all about that. They were captives of real pirates who tried to take us too. We got lucky and scored a hit on their munitions-store, and broke up their ship. Ask the others: they were all chained up in the hold, so we got them across into our ship. His ‘property’ whatever it is, is either still among the ship’s wreckage or on the life-craft that escaped.”

“A life-craft!” A pregnant look passed between the two policemen. “You interest me extremely, Captain Edom!” said the Chief-Inspector, looking for all the world like a Grik-dog that had suddenly gotten a scent. “Adding up for you, Senior Detective?”

The other policeman, a mild, very ordinary looking man who would pass, un-noticed, in a group of three, nodded slowly. “Oh yes, indeed. The trick is going to be tying it up, Sal.”

Pausert looked inquiringly at them. “What is this all about?”

“A life-craft made a landing about four hours before your ship,” said the Chief-Inspector.

“Well,” said Pausert. “There are your pirates. And possibly that idiot Stratel’s goods, whatever they are.” It did fit. This was the nearest Empire world, and with the time that he’d been passed out, and then gained by using the Sheewash drive… well, that would be about right.

“Whatever they are!” The Senior Detective face cracked into a smile. “Let me guess, Captain Edom. You don’t know much about Cinderby’s World do you?”

“Nothing at all,” admitted Pausert. “I can’t say it looks a great place to settle, so there must be something here that’s worth a fair bit of money. It’d be a mining world, I suppose.”

“If anything was going to convince me of your innocence that answer just did,” said the policeman. “Actually, we make our money out of flowers… you might say.” And they both laughed.

“Perfume?” asked Pausert.

“No, Captain. They just look like flowers, and it’s not the flowers themselves, but their droppings, you might say. You’ve got a little bit of it here on your ship. We produce the catalyst for your air-recycler. It’s a natural organofluorate, something between a plant and an animal produces, that drops a trail of little greenish granules as a waste product. The gatherers follow after them and collect them. The flowers roll with the wind, or can actually creep along. Out here their droppings break down in a few days, but away from the atmosphere of Cinderby’s World, it is stable. It’s worth many times its weight in gold, and that’s what Stratel was couriering to a manufacturer. He’s one of the major associates in the company that ships the stuff for the gatherers. Stratel, Bormgo, Wenerside and Ratneurt. They used to be competitors, but they got together a few years ago, and have a monopoly on the export.” The Chief-Inspector grimaced. “Smuggling is a big issue, because the companies who own the concessions to harvest it, pay the gatherers as little as they can get away with. So, that is principally my job.”