The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 20
Goth needed to think it through, to come up with a plan. In the meanwhile, she had the inconvenience of force-cuffs, and of having to stay hidden in no-shape. First things first. She wanted their knockout drops, and preferably all their weapons. It was easy to ‘port things she could see, and small, light things were the least effort, but even the klatha use that she’d made so far had left her hungry. She raided their little chill unit — but other than drinks she wasn’t touching, the only thing of interest was a jar with a measuring vial in the lid. Goth muttered to herself about the lack of sensible pockets in fashionable clothing. Then she had a bright idea: She knew the size and shape, precisely, of the bag they’d stolen from her. She ‘ported it back, slipped the vial in there, and was in time to follow the steward and purser out of the door.
No-shape was a little more tiring than altering her appearance, and it was hard to walk quietly in the corridors, so she dropped back and became, in appearance, the elderly neighbor she’d had while in the apartment on Nikkeldepain. She wanted to keep up with the steward and purser but they moved a little fast for a gaunt old man. So, making sure there was no-one around, she became Hulik do Eldel. She’d spent quite a lot of time studying Hulik, back when she was watching that the Imperial agent didn’t get too close to Captain Pausert. It was useful. No-one would ever ask why Hulik moved fast.
She caught up with the steward and purser, in worried conversation. All she caught of what they said was “captain” and “after dinner.”
Well, that suited her. She wanted that dinner. Of course, someone who looked like Hulik do Eldel wasn’t going to just be left to do so. A steward approached her just after she sat down and said: “Captain’s compliments, Ma’am. Would you like to join him at the captain’s table?”
Goth’s first instinct was to refuse. It was hard enough to do a light-shift to hide the fact that she had force-cuffs on, and had to lift both hands to put food in her mouth. But… she might need to know more about the man.
Within a few minutes she’d decided she really didn’t need to. She’d modelled what she expected of a ship’s captain on Pausert. He was, after all, the captain she’d spend the most time with. This one was a bossy little blowhard, who seemed to think that bullying the stewards and belittling his officers would impress her. She felt like telling him it wasn’t working, but settled for a cool Hulik smile and concentrated on the food… and ‘porting his dessert to Mindi as he lectured one of his lieutenants. She ‘ported an emptied bowl in front of him, and enjoyed hers even more. Her demure “but I saw you eat it, Captain” made it even sweeter.
She excused herself, left the mess, and stepped into the bathroom. There, she returned to no-shape, feeling much better about it now that she’d eaten. The ship had nice clear labels about where passengers were allowed, so it was not that hard to work her way up to the captain’s cabin. Hopefully she’d beaten him and the steward there.
She sat down on the floor in the passage and waited, passing the time taking out the Clipe pistol and putting the power unit back into it. She was just getting to the point of giving up when the captain came along. He went in, and she followed hard on his heels, just slipping through the door before he closed it. That was a little tricky because no-shape didn’t hide whatever sounds she might make. But the captain seemed oblivious. He immediately poured himself a drink, sat down at his desk and activated a terminal. Goth peered over his shoulder. He had called up a list. A passenger list. There she was, on it, along with her travel ID picture — but he wasn’t looking at or for her. She saw Mindi on his scan through. The sheen clipper only carried ninety passengers…
And someone with Hulik do Eldel’s face would stand out. The grumpy little old man would have been a better choice. There was a knock at the door. “Who is it?” demanded the captain tersely.
It was the purser. “I was about to send for you,” said the captain.
“Uh. Yes, sir. We have a problem,” said the woman, beads of sweat on her forehead.
“So you know about the woman who had dinner at my table? Who is she? And how did she get on the ship?”
The purser stared at him blankly. “What? No, we’ve got a problem with the slaves.”
“I’ve told you before. I don’t want to know. You deal with them, just no fuss and I get my money.” He’d set down his drink while he spoke with the purser. Goth decided that the time had come to try the dope from the kidnappers on this particular dope. She added a dose to his drink. He took a good mouthful of it.
“Yes, but…” said the purser, sticking a finger in her collar.
“But me no buts. I want to know where that woman came from. She must be a stowaway. She’ll be a valuable addition to your livestock.” He took another mouthful of his drink. He blinked at it. “I don’ feel too well…”
Goth quietly locked the door as the purser tried to catch the toppling captain.
Before the purser had a chance to work out what was going on Goth had her arms around her neck, the Clipe pistol pressed against the woman’s cheek. “Don’t do anything that will give me a reason to shoot you. And I don’t need a lot of reasons right now,” she said quietly. The Clipe pistol was awkward in her force-cuffed hands, in that position, and probably wouldn’t do more than inflict a flesh wound. But she guessed that the purser wasn’t the sort to take the risk.
“Who… who are you? What are you doing here?” asked the purser, fear in her voice.
It occurred to Goth that there was no harm in suggesting that she wasn’t alone and finding out a bit more about whole operation. “I don’t have instructions to tell you. Let’s put it this way. You kidnapped someone that my organization is very upset about being missing. Now, I need these force-cuffs off. You enter the code, incorrectly, I lose my hands, and you lose your head. Do it right and you get to live.” Goth hoped she sounded menacing enough. In her head the teaching pattern started to prepare the patterns of the Egger route. Would she survive it, in shock, agony, bleeding out and handless?
She knew the answer was probably no even if the Egger route took her through space to Captain Pausert on the Venture 7333 and her little healer sister.
“Uh…” the purser hesitated.
The thought of the Venture, the captain, and her own fear, made Goth growl. “Do it or I’ll kill you!”
Her tone was obviously enough to convince the woman. “I don’t have the code,” she gasped. “Only Jaccy has that. And Yelissa. Please don’t kill me!”
“It’s tempting. So: tell me about your operation. Tell me enough and you’ll live,” said Goth.
So the purser did. People in a hurry took passages on sheen clippers. They were travelling fast and far — and sometimes alone. The kidnappers, who were a gambling syndicate who worked the route, kept it simple, capturing high-value solitary victims as a source of extra cash. The ship would offload sheen at Tardelote, for trans-shipment to smaller markets — and in among the bales would be doped prisoners for Karoda. The steward and the purser were in charge of loading the sheen into its drop-capsule. Sheen didn’t do well in a vacuum or if it gotten too cold, so the prisoners would survive.
“I think it’s time you took a little drink,” said Goth, when she’d done. “Reach out, very slowly, take the glass your captain was drinking from, and finish it.”
“It’s that or I’ll shoot you,” explained Goth.
Once she’d slumped to the floor, Goth did a hasty search of the cabin, and, failing to find anything obvious to tie them up with, settled for cutting the sheets off the captain’s bed in strips and tying and gagging them. It was awkward, with her hands cuffed, but she wasn’t going to have them wake up and be on the loose. There was a small bathroom and she dragged them in there. It would have been nicer, she thought, to have her hands not cuffed together to do it. It would also be nice if all the villains could be lighter — or came with wheels.
The wheels arrived at the door, in the shape of the steward and a trolley, knocking. Goth didn’t trust her ability to speak much like the ship’s captain, but the appearance was easy. She thought the captain’s appearance, and a curt gruff “go away” would do — but then she saw what — and who — was outside the door.
“In,” she snapped.
He pushed his trolley in. “I’m looking for the purser, sir. We’ve… we’ve got a problem.”
Huh, thought Goth. You think you’ve got problems. The man was too distracted to notice she was pointing the Clipe pistol at him. “The slaves — the new ones, they’re beating on the wall and the pipes with something. The soundproofing is fine for yelling and screaming, but the vibration carries. There have been complaints from the passengers…”
He finally noticed the gun. Gasped. “Don’t kill me, sir! It’s not my fault!”
“Shut up,” said Goth tersely.
“You… you don’t sound right.” He started backing away.
Goth realized he might run. She didn’t want to have shoot him, especially in the passage. “Look in the bathroom!”
He did as she said, and she was able to close the door — which he realized as he turned in horror from what he saw in there.
She made him take a drink, too. Soon he joined the other two. That was reducing the number of her foes, if nothing else. It didn’t really reduce the problem much, though. She was still force-cuffed, and still had the problem of Mindi.
But there was no point in waiting for a solution to come to her, so she helped herself to the steward’s jacket and trousers — and discovered a small Blythe pistol in the pocket. So she searched the others, and when she found both a knife and another Clipe pistol, she was glad to have done so.
The trolley proved to be full of various liquors, so she took it down to the stateroom she’d escaped. And even out in the passage, she could hear the steady thumping of something being banged against the wall.