The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 18

Chapter 6

Goth embarked on the sheen clipper Sheridan. It was racing to get its cargo of fresh sheen to Morteen, the provincial capital of the Empire’s southwestern sector. Morteen, when she looked it up was described as tropical to hyper-tropical, and conveniently situated to… a list of other worlds, some of which Goth had even heard of. On the hubward fringe of human space, it was a space navy base, with valuable minerals, large flying bugs, lots of money and lots of heat.

A great place to sell sheen, in other words, and a good place for Goth to find another ship to take her further toward or across the border. Sheen clippers were fast and quite luxurious. They were also harder to stay unnoticed in than Goth liked, but then, as far as she knew, no-one was looking for her anyway. She had a good cover-story, the best fake papers Karres could provide, and plenty of money.

All she was missing was the captain, and the Leewit, of course. But the Leewit was getting toward that age where she’d go off adventuring, either with a couple of other Karres witches or maybe even on her own. That would just leave the captain and Goth.

Right now, that seemed like a really good idea. Maybe they could go to Parisienne, stay as far from the barges as possible, and dive. She’d never gotten to trying diving, and by the pictures the spear-fishing might be as good as hunting bollems with a bow. Not likely, but she’d like to try it with the captain. She was so taken up with this thought as she made her way down the corridor to the officers’ mess — where passengers also ate — that she didn’t see a woman in excessively high heels coming the other way, and neatly knocked her off her feet, sending the glass in her hand flying.

The woman in the heels didn’t seem too upset about, though, as Goth apologized and steadied her.

“Not to worry, dear,” said the woman, smiling. “It happens. I’ll just get another drink for Jaccy. He’s winning at the moment.”

“Let me,” said Goth. “I wasn’t paying attention. I’m sorry.”

So she bought the woman, who introduced herself as Yelissa, a replacement cocktail at the bar, and did her best at the kind of small talk the captain always managed so easily. It wasn’t hard to work out there was a little fishing going on. Of course there was no way of telling who was fishing or why. The woman could just be curious, or she could be anything from Imperial Security to a criminal.

“Yes,” said Goth. “Parisienne was lovely. I had a wonderful dive at Ankawayhat.” The name came from a glossy brochure of a very expensive resort she had collected while in the spaceport.

“How delightful. And now?” asked Yelissa.

“I’m off to Morteen.”

“Also delightful. To the Cascades or for some other reason?”

“Just the Cascades,” answered Goth, thinking that had to be safe. Pretty waterfalls for the tourist trade or something. She really had to do her research better! But she hadn’t planned on spending any real time there. She had seen mention of “the Cascades,” but not really paid attention to it. Her focus was more to the spaceports and likely outbound traffic beyond the Empire’s borders. That was where the prognosticators said she was going.

“Well, then you must join us later for a little game! These sheen clippers are fast, but rather dull compared to the passenger liners. Still, there are usually a few handsome young men on these trip,” she said archly.

Goth had no interest in meeting handsome young men, but didn’t say so. This led on to more questions, about her home and attachments. It was something she should have prepared better, Goth thought, keeping her answers vague. She didn’t want to tell this quizzical woman that home was the Venture 7333, and that Captain Pausert wasn’t attached yet but would be before much longer — to her.

That just made her miss him and the Venture more, and so she let herself get talked into joining Yelissa.

A little later Goth figured out that the Cascades was actually the name of a vast and glitzy gambling casino — one of Morteen’s few draw-cards. It did have waterfalls in the central foyer, which were something of a local attraction because most of Morteen was as flat as a pancake.

Still, that was pretty unimportant. What was a little more difficult was that old Vezzarn’s brand of poker was really all the experience she had of games of chance. Well, they were supposed to be chance. She was being expected to know how to play their variety of poker, and believe that it involved chance. The cozy little group of gamblers in one of the staterooms did know how to play well.

Goth knew enough to know that she should have been losing. She wasn’t, and that made her very wary. Wary enough not to bet too high. Wary enough to quietly ‘port most of the drink she was given into a nearby ornamental display.

Unwary enough to take a small mouthful of the dregs of the second one Yelissa had brought to her. It wasn’t long after that reached her stomach that Goth knew that had been a mistake. She swayed and felt herself slump forward onto the table, her head whirling.

“She must have the hardest head in the galaxy,” said Jaccy, the man for whom Yelissa had been fetching the drink. “She didn’t even notice the first lot. There was enough knockout in the second one to drop a fanderbag. I was beginning to wonder if the stuff wasn’t working anymore.”

He was plainly unaware that Goth was still awake and listening, even if she was feeling giddy and had closed her eyes. She felt hands pull her bag away from her.

“Great Patham!” exclaimed the gambler, obviously opening the bag. “She’s carrying a small fortune!”

Goth, struggling with the drug they’d given her, tried to decide what to do. The trouble with klatha was that it really took a clear head. They plainly weren’t planning to kill her… yet. They could have shot her or tried to hit her over the head if that was their plan. Yelissa’s fishing about who was meeting her, and her family… Goth wished she’d said something else.

“Do you think she’s a courier?” asked one of the other men, worriedly.

“If she was, she wouldn’t bet their money, or be stupid enough to have it here with her. We’d better check her cabin and papers though. Are you sure she’s alone, Yelissa?”

“She said so, Jaccy,” said the woman, eagerly. She sounded, thought the part of Goth’s head that wasn’t really with her, like a pet hoping for a pat. “I’m guessing she had had a messy breakup or something, more by what she wasn’t saying and how she was answering.”

“Could be, I suppose. A trip to get over it,” he sounded amused. “Well, she will.”

“Oh, yes. She’ll be so happy,” said Yelissa. She sounded like she really meant it… which was odd.

“It’s a little worrying,” said one of the others. “That’s the first time we’ve gotten one with that much money. People with money tend to have families and friends who want to know where the money went to, even if not where the missing person went.”

“We’ll ask questions when she comes to. It’s not like she’ll be telling anyone, Paneha. She just won’t arrive on Morteen.”

Well, obviously they were planning on letting the drug wear off. What they planned to happen after that didn’t sound so good. But what Goth planned to do to them wasn’t going to be either. So she let herself slump and be carried to a bunk in a separate cabin. Let them take her cabin-key from her pocket, and waited for the drug to wear off.

It did, leaving her with a headache, and a terrible thirst. “Someone is going to regret this,” muttered Goth, crossly. She tried to sit, still feeling a little unsteady, to see if there was water in her prison.

It wasn’t just being drugged that made her struggle to sit up, it was also the hyper-electronic force-cuffs on her wrists.

“Don’t scream. It doesn’t help, and they’ll just come and beat you,” said someone in a weak, defeated voice. Goth turned to look. It was what once would have been a pretty red-headed woman, if she weren’t so pale and miserable-looking and tear-streaked, who was leaning down from the bunk above.

“I wasn’t going to scream,” said Goth. “I wanted a drink. What’s going on? What are you doing here?”

In reply, the red-head burst into tears, and hastily muffled her sobbing into her pillow. Goth managed to get up, and found a door that led to a tiny ship-bathroom with a basin and a faucet. The water helped clear her head and ease her headache. She went back and the red-head had stopped crying enough to give her some answers, in between sobs.

It seemed that Mindi — the red-head — had fallen into the same trap that Goth had. The sheen clippers were quite a popular way for people to travel fast and alone — and easy pickings for the gang, who kidnapped and sold those who they thought could disappear. It was easy enough: the only law on a space-ship was the captain’s law, and the passengers who vanished were chosen for no-one knowing quite where they were.

“And that horrible Yelissa keeps telling me I’ll be happy soon,” said Mindi bitterly. “I thought I was going somewhere better when I got on this terrible ship. Now I’m going to be a slave.”

“Have you tried to escape?” asked Goth, examining the door.

“You can’t. There’s always two of them. And they have nerve-whips and guns.”

“Well, there’s two of us now,” said Goth. But it was true enough that the slight Mindi did not look like she could knock down a guard, not to save her life. Goth had other ideas, but there was no point in telling the woman that. She’d probably start crying again.