The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 22
The Leewit nodded knowingly, after listening to what had happened. “See, Captain, people say things to kids that they wouldn’t give away to adults. That copper said more than he realized, answering my questions. I kept on the ‘Whys’, ’cause I figured it would be a good thing if I made him tired of being asked questions all the time. Grown-ups can be pushed like that. The Imperials are worried, because they think the cartel — this Stratel, Bormgo and whatever — are holding back supply. But the policeman — he was an all right old dope, even if he can’t play cards — he doesn’t think that’s true. He thinks that if Stratel and his friends were cutting the supply to push up the price, the smuggling would step up instead. It hasn’t. He thinks there really just isn’t the catalyst to be had.”
“And he’s right. That’s what the smuggler-boss says,” agreed Pausert.
“An’ what we gatherers say, but the Consortium thinks we’re holding out on ’em. Selling to Me’a,” said Nady.
“Why would you be selling to yourself?” the Leewit asked.
“Not himself. Me’a — that’s what the smuggler boss calls herself.”
“That’s neat!” said the Leewit, proving it wasn’t just something that had appealed to one young girl, once. “But Captain… what happens if the stuff really is running out?”
Pausert shrugged. “Nothing and everything. Well, nothing immediately. Space travel gets slowly more expensive. They used to travel in space before air-recyclers… It’s just the slow end of small ships. The catalysts don’t wear out. There just won’t be any new ones. Ships wreck, are lost, get blown up by pirates.”
“That’s sort of what I figured,” said the Leewit. “So we can’t exactly cut and run, Captain. It needs fixing.”
That was Karres for you, thought Pausert. It borrowed you a fair bit of trouble, but it was what they were. “No. I was wondering if something had changed. Something that could be reversed. Or if there was a disease or something.” That, after all, was what the Leewit’s core klatha skill was. She was a healer.
“They’ve been gathering for thousands of years,” said Nady. “This place got found not long after they left old Yarthe, they say. An’ might have bin used before that even. I seen some old laser-cut stone walls with doors too small for people, over North Pass way.”
“So what’s changed?”
He shrugged, rubbed his head. “Nothin’. Gatherers goin’ further out, mebbe? There’s more porpentiles than there use to be, I’d say.”
“Porpentiles?” asked the Leewit.
So they had to explain porpentiles.
“Could they be eating the tumbleflowers?” she asked.
“Nah. They let them roll past. Even roll over them. Seen it meself often. Porpentiles don’t do nothing but lie in the sun.”
“And smother gatherers,” pointed out Pausert.
“Yeah. But not always. I seen a new boy, not an hour into workin’ his bond, and he walks right past one. Big ‘un. Next day he walks past it again… and it’s fine. A week later it’s still there… and he’s just found his first granules, he’s full of himself… and it kills him. But nobody never seen them do anything to a tumble-flower.”
“Any chance I could get to see one of these tumbleflowers, Captain,” asked the Leewit. “Can you touch them?” she asked Nady.
“Oh, yeah. If they’re not movin’ you can touch them all over. Gatherers have tried poking ’em, patting ’em, stroking ’em to see if they’d drop their crystals. It don’t hurt, but it also don’t help,” said Nady.
“And there was one in the gorge — not more than twenty minutes away,” said Pausert. “I think if we took a rope you could get to it. You could see if it was sick, maybe? Can you work on alien creatures?”
“I reckon,” said the Leewit. “I fixed the nurse-beast, didn’t I?”
They left Vezzarn, so that the Leewit could use his re-breather, slipped out of the Venture again and went back to the gorge. The tumbleflower hadn’t completed its climb out yet. Looking down the steep cliff, Pausert unhitched the length of rope “Tie onto the end of rope, Leewit. Three of us should be able to pull you up, even after all those pancakes.”
Ta’zara neatly snagged the end of the rope and looped it around his own waist. “I will go down first.”
“You weigh a lot more than the Leewit,” grumbled Pausert.
“Yes, but if you put the rope around that spike of rock, I can lower myself. You will not have to take my full weight.”
The captain knew by now that it was useless to argue with Ta’zara about the decisions he’d made concerning the Leewit’s safety, so they went along with his plan. Then they let the Leewit down to a ledge next to the creature, which had ignored Ta’zara, even when he touched it.
The Leewit had bought a headlight from the Venture, and in its light the captain saw her put her small hands onto the long spokes of the tumbleflower, and hold them. The plant-creature just went on slowly hauling its way up the cliff. She pulled her hands back. “You can pull us up, Captain.”
On the lip of the gorge, Pausert asked: “So was it sick?”
“Nope,” said the Leewit, shaking her head. “Just old.”
So they retreated to the Venture again. Once they were safely back inside, the captain asked her about it. She shrugged. “I can feel what’s going on inside. Feel broken bone, feel blood-vessels and where they should go. Feel nerves and follow their patterns and read something about what they feel. The tumbleflower is different from what humans — or even the nurse-beast — felt like, but I… there is no other word for it, I understand how it works, and what’s broken. And there is nothing much broken in the tumbleflower. It’s just old and tired of rolling. It’s not like there’s a brain really for it to think.”
“I ain’t sure wasn’t me you was reading,” said Nady. “Old and tired o’ rolling. An’ not much brain to think.”
The sleek little head popped out of Nady’s collar, eyed them all, and yawned. And then it turned back and stared unblinking and utterly motionless, at the Leewit.
“Clumping demorgop!” exclaimed the Leewit, pointing “What’s that?”
It gave her a peculiar hissy-growl in reply.
“Rochat,” said Ta’zara disapprovingly. “Smelly beasts. Take a lot of time and effort and do nothing useful.”
“Ain’t true. Why, Kiki here she’s no trouble an’ she keeps me comp’ny. She’s real affectionate and friendly.” Nady stroked the creature under the chin. It bit him, and disappeared back into his shirt. “Um. When she feels like it,” he added.
“So… what are they, actually?” asked the Leewit. “Can I have another look?”
“Nope,” said Nady. “She comes out when she feels like it.”
“People keep them as pets,” said Ta’zara. “They’re some kind of alien beast that seems to like hanging around people. They’re not very bright and you can’t train them. There are some on Na’kalauf — brought back from contracts. But they won’t breed there”.
“Breed here, but it’s too cold for ’em. Most of the miners have one,” said Nady.
“Or are had by one,” said Ta’zara. “My sister’s mother has one. She spends half her share-money on spoiling it.”
“The question is, what do we do about the situation here,” said Pausert, hastily, seeing Nady open his mouth. “Look, besides us being arrested and having to go to court… we could warm the tubes and blast out of here right now, but there’s a long term situation here, which affects K… all of us. The sooner dealt with the better, and it is something the various parties — the government and the Consortium can’t see because they’re all part of it. They all believe the others are to blame.”