The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 12

“I see. But what has this got to do with me? Or your reaction to the lifecraft?” asked Pausert.

“On board that life-craft was another powerful and wealthy man. Also a Counsellor. Counsellor Bormgo,” explained the policewoman.

“The lucky escape he had from space-pirates was all over the newscasts this morning,” said the other representative of the police, pulling a wry face. “He was transporting a valuable cargo — a packet of catalyst. The fluoro-flower granules he had remain the property of the concession holders until sold. So they’re very glad,”

“Ah. But they’re actually Stratel’s granules?” asked the captain.

The policeman nodded. “Or rather, the concession holders who had entrusted Stratel. He’s in big trouble with them, and was trying to make you the scapegoat.”

“And this… Bormgo knew exactly when he was travelling and with what — so he could steal one load and sell the other,” said the Leewit. The captain knew her too well. That was almost admiration in her voice. The Leewit was something of a rogue at times. Well. At most times.

“Yes, I suspect that would be what they were up to, but proving it might be more difficult,” said the Chief-Inspector, running her hand through her hair. “I tell you, Captain Edom, you’ve brought us a right Imperial mess. And, yes, I can see that you were just doing your best. Not that the prisoners might not have been better off to die in space than be here!”

“To give in to death without a fight is almost always the weakling’s choice,” said Ta’zara. “Here they have a choice, I think?”

“A choice between being a gatherer, or not breathing. It’s hard to get a free man to do this kind of work,” said the senior detective grimly. “But unless they’re wealthy people with access to funds, they haven’t got a lot of choices here. It’s a company town, in a manner of speaking. There’s us, the port control people and Judge Amorant — we’ve been seconded here by the sector governor of the Duchy of Camberwell — and that’s about it. All the rest are tied up in the granule business. They charge for everything, even the air the poor devils breathe.”

“Ouch. I still think most of them would choose breathing over not breathing. Anyway, now that we’ve solved your mystery, can we leave?” asked the captain. “I think you can see that neither the piracy nor the theft charges stand up.”

The two policemen looked at each other. The Chief-Inspector grimaced and shook her head. “It’s a legal process, Captain Edom. Stratel hasn’t gotten a case, but he’s brought one against you. It will have to go to court for the Judge to dismiss. One thing at least, Judge Amorant is strict and fair. Between you and us and your ship’s hull, he and my force were sent here to try and clean the place up a bit. The spaceport staff petitioned the governor to do something about the situation, and Viscount Camberwell, well, he’s a reformer.”

“Cinderby’s World Spaceport is an obvious pirate raid target,” the senior detective said. “It’s hardened against spaceguns, and has endless airlocks. You’re a danger to a small part of the spaceport, not the settlement itself. You might as well deflect your guns.”

“They make us feel a bit more comfortable,” said Pausert, shaking his head. “So what happens now, Chief-Inspector?”

“I’m supposed to charge you, take you to the cells, search you and your spaceship, and then have you in front of Judge Amorant for a bail hearing,” she answered apologetic, but firm.

“I see. Of course, the tubes are warm, the airlocks are closed, and we could just take off right now,” said Pausert, equally firm.

“Believe me, Captain. I did think of that. That’s why we came aboard, to show our good intentions. Otherwise I could have insisted you come out or be fired on. Look, I’ve been in policing long enough to realize a pirate is not going to discharge, free and yelling blue murder, a valuable man for ransom, let alone a cargo of people he could sell for slaves. We… well, we thought this was a trick to smuggle pirates into the Port. So we mobilized our defense unit. And then they turned out to be rather battered unarmed people — and a prominent citizen of Cinderby’s World, accusing you of piracy and theft. I realized we were dealing with a genuine rescue. Those people could have been unloaded as slaves here for five hundred maels a piece. I know you’re not guilty, that you put your ship and selves at risk to help. But the law is the law. And that is what I do. I uphold the law.”

“You’re not going to put a little girl in jail, are you?” asked the Leewit, doing her best to look like a little girl, sweet and harmless… in a way that would have frightened Pausert into blocking his ears. But then, he knew her. And could guess what she was up to. “I am scared of jails,” she said innocently.

“Er.” The Chief-Inspector plainly didn’t have children.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Pausert, stepping into the breach the Leewit had created. “You leave your Senior Detective here with my niece. I’ll go along with you. You’re not planning on charging her, are you? And your Senior Detective can search the ship, under her guidance.” He turned to the Leewit. “If I’m not home in time for supper, you can whistle up something, uh, from the Robobutler, and have something nice and eat. Have an Egger or something.” Pausert hoped he didn’t have to use the Egger route back to the Venture 7333. He wasn’t that confident of doing it on his own.

“That seems reasonable. I think the judge would be fine with that. I mean it’s not like she could fly off on her own. Or do anyone any harm,” said the Chief-Inspector.

Captain Pausert did manage to keep a straight face as he agreed with her. The Leewit had quite a convincing coughing fit.

If the two planetary police officers were not fooled, they were better at hiding it than either Pausert or the Leewit. “We’d have to take the adult members of the crew,” said the Chief-Inspector.

“I cannot leave my Mistress unguarded,” said Ta’zara, folding his arms with a calm finality.

“Yes, you can,” said the Leewit, equally firmly. “I order you to.”

He shook his head.

“Me being safe depends on the captain being here to fly the ship, Ta’zara. So don’t be a clumping dope. I’ll whistle if need help.”

“I’d have to lock the nova guns on their target. They’re touchy, and old. Anything disturbing the ship might well set them off,” said Pausert. “So I am afraid you’d be stuck inside it, Senior-Detective, until we come back. If you tried anything… well, you’d still be here.”

“I’m due some time off,” said the officer, managing a smile. “Happy to spend some of it here.”

Pausert managed not to smile back. But Ta’zara stepped forward. “I am her sworn defender. Her La’gaiff. Do you understand what that means, policeman?”

The policeman nodded. He could scarcely be unaware of the Na’kalauf tattoos on Ta’zara’s broad face, or have been a police-officer without knowing. “She’ll be as safe as if you were watching her. I won’t allow anyone else on the ship.” He said, nodding, slightly wide-eyed.

“You won’t be able to. Because we’re not going to give you access codes, and that means you’re stuck here,” said Pausert, “until we come back. Now, I’m wasting fuel on my tubes and they’ll overheat, so if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go and shut down the warm-up cycle, before we go.”

So he did that, and a little later, he, Ta’zara, and Vezzarn set out with the Chief-Inspector for the spaceport. They were ushered through customs — and past an obvious barricade set up to allow the soldiers, now packing their gear, to fire from behind. There were two little groundcars with drivers waiting, and Pausert and the Chief-Inspector got into one, and the other two into the other. “I have to ask, because asking awkward questions is my job,” said the Chief-Inspector, “How come your niece has a Na’kalauf bodyguard, and one sworn by their highest oath to defend her?”

Fortunately, Pausert had seen this one coming. “It’s a debt of honor. Her father is quite an important man.” Both of these things were true, they just had nothing to do with each other.

“I wondered. Normally they only sell their services to the La’tienn level.”

“I don’t even know the difference,” admitted Pausert.

“La’tienn is defense, unarmed, and not in breach of the local law, for a defined period of time. The Empire doesn’t have a problem with that. La’gaiff… well, there are no limits, and the guardian’s clan will intervene or avenge, if harm comes to the one guarded, and the bodyguard is killed.”