The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 27

“You have before,” she said.

He looked at her in surprise. “How did you know?”

Goth did not say because the desperation, and hope of that passenger left a trace, a memory imprinted in this greasy ferrostone counter-top. Instead she said: “I got a message from her.”

The man actually looked relieved — and his response was not quite what Goth had expected. She’d meant a message before Pausert’s mother Lina had left Morteen. He didn’t read it that way. “Oh, good. She got there and back, then. I was worried. But she insisted.”

That was a fair thing to worry about, really. From the start of this mission it had been obvious to Goth and to the Karres witches that the odds against Pausert’s father being anything other than dead, had to be high. The imprint of his name proved that hadn’t been true.

She’d also given him quite a lot of money, Goth read. But he didn’t mention that.

“I am prepared to pay you handsomely for the passage,” said Goth.

The man sighed. “Look, young woman, it’s dangerous. You know… at least I think you do, that they don’t go where the schedule says they do. No one from here really wants to go to Iradalia. It’s just that they are a world that doesn’t share their landing records with the Imperial landings record register. And they’re far enough away to justify the time.”

Goth hadn’t known, but she did now. Not that it made any difference — except… given the ship’s speed, and the time that it would take to get to Iradalia, she could narrow down the possible destinations outside the Imperial border. That information, she could — and would — send back to Karres. Just in case.

“I’m prepared to pay for a passage. Regardless.”

“I’ll ask the captain,” said the agent. “He may not agree. They ship out tomorrow.”

“Give him a call,” she said, pointing at the communicator.

The agent shook his head. “I’ll talk to him when he comes in. Come back in about an hour.”

Goth nodded, walked out, and quietly slipped herself into no-shape. But she was getting tired now from her too-frequent use of no-shape, and shifted a bit too slowly. The agent had followed her to the door and locked it. So she had to ‘port the key from his pocket, and let herself in — by which stage he was already in his office and on the communicator, talking to someone.

“… says she got a message from her.”  Goth could only hear one side of the conversation, but the other person had obviously replied.

 “I thought so. It’s odd. We should be careful,” answered the agent.

The person he’d called replied again, and the agent supplied: “She’s coming back in an hour.”

Even standing too close for comfort, Goth couldn’t hear the reply, just the burr of a gravelly voice. The agent answered: “To Iradalia? All right. But –” He was plainly interrupted at this point. He sighed and shook his head. “Look. You deal with it. Off-planet. And you’d better send someone. I want no part of this.”

He put the communicator back down, went to open his door, and failed to find his key in his pocket. Goth took advantage of that time to go through his desk drawers and steal his blaster from them — and, when he came back, she let herself out. When he came to the door again, feeling in his pockets, and looking around his grubby floor, she ‘ported the key back on his desk. Then she went out quietly and walked over to the port buildings where she sent an expensive sub-radio message, before returning to the agent’s office. She was just in time to see two spacemen enter. She followed them in, again in no-shape. She was getting even more tired, but she thought she could maintain no-shape for a while yet.

“It has to be a trap of some sort. Merko. There’s no way she got back to Imperial space. She must have meant she sent a message before she left.”

“The question is just who is behind this search. Can we afford to just make her disappear?” asked the agent, worriedly.

The smaller spaceman shrugged. “Can we afford not to?”

“Look,” said the agent. “She’s just a very young woman. If there was any real muscle behind her, they’d have sent them. Odds are she’s some kind of relative. It must be a wealthy family, to spend that kind of money. But it’s been a good few years.”

 “Then make the deal, but get her on board now. Make sure there’s no record that she did,” said the larger of the two spacemen.

“I don’t like it. This is not what I agreed to…” the agent protested weakly.

“You’ll do what we want, Tobi. Or else.”

The agent glowered sullenly back at them.

 Goth took the opportunity to slip out, and then come back to the doors, rattle them, and knock loudly.

The three within looked at each other and at her, as Goth walked in. “I’ve thought about it,” she said, ignoring the two spacers and just addressing the agent. “I need a few more hours to consult with… well, other people. I’m not too comfortable with what you told me.”

The agent looked the other two again and said gruffly. “It’s go now, or not at all. This is the captain and first mate. They just came to tell me their departure has been set forward. And it’ll cost you twenty thousand maels.”

That was a huge amount just for a passage, but Goth paid it over without a blink.

“You must be quite wealthy,” said one of the spacemen.

“It’s money my Aunt Lina left me,” said Goth. As soon as the money was put away, she calmly ‘ported it right back into her purse.

“Well, we’ll take you across to the ship then,” said the other. “Not long until take-off.”

“Oh. I was hoping to send a message…” said Goth.

“Give it to me, I’ll see it is sent,” said the agent.

Goth shook her head. “It’ll wait.”

“I can have your luggage fetched for you.”

“That would be useful,” Goth said, smiling innocently. She gave him her hotel name and room number. “But I had better go with these gentlemen now.”

So she went along with them, to the Bolivar. It was much larger than the Venture, and plainly armed. Pausert would have had a fit if the Venture 7333 ever looked that dirty. The Bolivar‘s captain and first mate didn’t seem to care or notice. The little cubby-hole they told her was to be her cabin had to be emptied of junk first. “I’ll get someone to clean it out. We weren’t expecting a passenger,” said the Bolivar‘s captain. “Have you been on a working ship before, Miss?”

“Oh, yes,” said Goth sweetly. “I was on one, once.” She left out the many ensuing times. It was a dull ache thinking of the Venture.

“Well, the heads are down there, the mess is up the stair. Stay out of my command deck,” he said, tersely.

“I am sure I’ll be fine, Captain,” said Goth, not promising anything. “And I may as well clear this stuff out of the cabin. That’ll save some of your hard-working crew some effort.”

He nodded. “Just put it in the passage.”

Goth did manage to close the door on the clutter, before stalking after them in no-shape, in time to hear the Mate say: “…space her?”

“It’s that or sell her to Karoda,” said the captain, grimly, “but you can still sometimes get answers out of the slaves they condition. This is too sweet a business to take a chance on.”

Talk drifted away from her onto loading, and Goth slipped back to her little cabin. She was now very tired from her too-frequent use of no-shape — quite hungry, too — but was set on clearing the place out by just tossing everything, Then it occurred to her that she had time… and this might well be where they’d put Pausert’s mother for the trip. And, on touching each item, and reading the story behind it — another tiring, hungry-making process — she found that to be true. Some of it didn’t even take klatha skills: an old space-navy ship-bag at the back of pile of boxes of spare parts, had women’s clothing in it, and her name. Now, if she could just avoid being tossed into space or sold into slavery, she could find out just what had happened to Pausert’s mother. At least, where this link of the chain led.

She could only hope that it was a short chain.

And she really wished she had something to eat.