The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 16

“Sub-radio, a coded narrow-beam. When your ship landed and I obtained a picture of her, details of the crew and vid image of you and Ta’zara. I sent the details through to my employer, Sedmon of the Six Lives. He guessed Karres would become involved, and he warned me to give you my fullest cooperation.”

“Oh.” That made a kind of sense. Uldune was still heavily involved in smuggling, even if it had — at least for now — withdrawn from piracy. And it seemed this was a very lucrative trade. “You may not believe this, but we really are here by the purest accident.”

“You are quite correct,” said the woman. “I would not believe you. But you may tell me anyway. Let me have drinks brought. Sit down, make yourselves comfortable.” She looked at Nady. “I think you can remain too. You may be needed, and you know the consequences of not keeping your mouth shut.”

So the captain and Vezzarn sat down on the comfortable chairs. Nady perched uneasily on the edge of another. Ta’zara remained standing — as did her bodyguard, impassive, aloof… and watching. Pausert noticed her flickering glance at her own guard, and the tiniest shake of his head. A side door opened and a servitor brought Lepti liquor for Pausert, a fruit drink that Pausert had seen the Na’kalauf bodyguard drink before, as well as something that plainly pleased Nady. A platter of various nuts and small salted biscuits was set on the table. Lepti… which was his favorite liquor. They were all too well informed, thought Pausert. But at least it was very unlikely that Sedmon of the Six Lives would move against Karres. The witches disquieted the hexaperson into a degree of good behavior.

A strange lithe little head popped out of Nady’s collar. It made a curious growling chirrup.

The woman sighed, pursed her lips and shook her head. “You have one of those too, do you? Get it some Tar-fish, Palank.” The servitor nodded and returned in a few minutes with some little cubes of fishy smelling something. The creature appeared again and almost seemed to flow out of the top of Nady’s shirt. He stroked its mauve fur as it moved. At first Pausert assumed it didn’t have legs — but something was definitely moving under the fur. It moved as if it were gliding just above the ground, across to the platter, snatched up two pieces of the fish in its beakish maw and returned equally silently to Nady’s shirt collar, to disappear again. Nobody else seemed to find that unusual. The servitor took the rest of the cubes away, which was a good thing, because they were more than just a little smelly.

“So,” said Me’a. “Tell me what brings you to Cinderby’s World?

So Pausert did, minus one or two details about the klatha use. She noticed, he’d bet.

At the end of it all, she nodded slowly. “So: petty vengeance for not treating him like nobility. And taking it out on an available target, even though you weren’t the one who did it to him. That’s Stratel all over. And insurance fraud. Well, well, well. The Daal will be pleased about that. We had not successfully re-insured those cargos.”

“Uldune insures them?” asked the captain, faintly surprised.

She gave a small snort. “Of course. Banking is not the only form of robbery. And who better? We can often recover the goods, at a fraction of the cost of replacement. I think we will shortly be talking with some of Bormgo’s employees. I suppose the crisis has forced his hand into piracy.”

“What crisis?” There was that prickle again. Something important had just been said.

“The shortage of catalyst granules. The Imperials think that the Consortium — Stratel, Bormgo Wenerside and Ratneurt — are hoarding to control the price. They have done in the past. That is why they’ve sent some of their top enforcement officials here.”

“But there just ain’t much out there,” said Nady. “They don’t believe it, but it’s true. They ain’t producing. Used ter be you could follow a tumble-flower for a week and so long as the porpentiles didn’t get you, you had a pouch-full. Now it could take you a month. Every now and again yer get a good one, but it just ain’t like it uster be.”

“The records we’ve been able to steal show the industry has been in a slow decline for centuries — but it’s only been in the last twenty years that it has really gone down fast, and the price of catalyst granules up through the roof. The gatherers used to work within sight of the spaceport. Now they’re going more than fifty times that distance, to the end of the Mount Lofty range and further.”

“And there ain’t nothing out there. Just a chance to get onto the tumbleflowers coming in first,” said Nady.

“So these tumbleflowers, don’t you get them in other places?”

“Oh, yes. Planetary surveys show them as occurring just about anywhere. They’re very scattered, though. They tend to concentrate here because the mountains make an enormous wind-funnel. Early records of the spaceport record them piling in the thousands against the dome. Of course when the wind drops they walk away.”

“I see,” said the captain, who really didn’t. “Anyway. Can you help us get back to our ship? I really need to talk to… ah, someone on board.”

“Goth, or someone referred to as ‘the Leewit’,” said Me’a, knowledgably.

Pausert scowled at her. He really could use Goth here. “Yes. The Leewit.”

“Respect will be given,” rumbled Ta’zara.

“I wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise to one of the Wisdoms,” replied Me’a, using the Uldune term for the witches of Karres. “If you think you can get into the ship by going outside the dome, I am very pleased to help. I’ll have rebreathers found for you. Nady here will be your guide. I will send one of my men.”

“Strictly speaking,” said Vezzarn, “we work for the same boss. I used to work on the Jalreen jewel route. So the Daal has someone along, anyway. You see to that Bormgo’s goons. They already tried to track us.”

“They did?” said Me’a, her chin rising, eyes narrowing.

“Ta’zara dealt with them in one of your side streets,” said Vezzarn.

“27th walkway,” supplied Nady.

“I shall follow that up.” She pushed her chair away from the desk, and, as the bodyguard stepped forward to open the door for her, Pausert realized it was a wheeled chair, and she needed it because she had no legs. “I will take myself, Pa’leto,” she said. “I know you would like to speak with your kinsman.”

The bodyguard nodded. “Yes, my lady. But first I will see you safe, check the office and then return.”

She sighed. “Bodyguards. I used to believe I that gave the orders.”

A little later he returned with two other men, who wore the signs of the savage outside weather, carrying a crate. “Rebreathers, goggles, nose-plugs and cold-weather gear,” he said. “The boys will fit you out.” Then he bowed to Ta’zara, held out his hands flat palms out. Ta’zara bowed back and pressed his palms against his. “Kinsman,” he said. It was always hard to tell with Ta’zara, but his voice sounded thickened, gruff.

They spoke in their own language. Pausert hadn’t picked up more than about three words. But he did get the “La’gaiff” part, and the fact that big tears were flowing down both men’s faces, as he got kitted out for the harsh outside world. Then Me’a’s bodyguard left, and Ta’zara silently let the locals fit him out as well.

Dressed up, Pausert was sweating. And they would still have to go down all those stairs to get to the street to walk to an airlock, he thought. That, however, was where he was wrong. They actually went up one more flight of stairs and onto the roof, almost flush with the dome… and there was an airlock. It was already night, and, barring a little starlight — there was no moon — outside the dome it was pitch black. The airlock was open and there were large coils of rope inside. Obviously the smugglers didn’t bother with hiding their cargo into and out of the domes. Pausert said so. Nady shook his head. “Not all of it. Got to keep the airlock cops busy.”

One by one they were lowered down into the reaching darkness, the wind plucking at them. Soon they were out on the surface of Cinderby’s World. Pausert no longer thought he was in danger of being too hot. He wished for an extra layer, already. As soon as they were all on the ground, the ropes were hauled up, and they were alone out there in the night. Nady tied a rope between them and they set off, stumbling through the dark, upward, the only sound, their rebreathers. Pausert stopped being cold.