The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 34
The engineer was slightly more thorough than his junior officer, and came back to check the switch. He swore and promptly flipped it off again, and ran to check the recycler. Goth had to work pretty quickly to get the original switch in place before he came back. It took him several frantic runs to get Felap to stay and flip the switch and have him satisfied that it was working properly.
But neither he nor the crew were a happy bunch of spacers. Being out here with a faulty air-recycler was more terrifying than having to fight raiders or pirates or inimical aliens. “We can’t slow down and probe, Captain. We’ve got to get to a safe world with breathable air and then I can take the whole thing apart,” said the engineer. “And that’s Lumajo. I never thought I’d be glad to breathe its stinking air and even see those little furry apes again… but it will be air.”
Goth had decided to fish for information too. As well as hiding herself in no-shape, she could also bend light into other images — and project them onto the air. She could make them good enough to fool most people, but for this use… a little wavy faintness and transparency were more useful. She used Lina’s image… in gangways when a crew member was alone, and near the tail-end of the alter-watch. She hoped it would spook them into talking.
It spooked them, all right. But not into telling her anything she didn’t know. “We didn’t do anything to her!” was the most she got out of that. But their nerves soon had them believing in phantoms, phantoms beyond her deliberate creation. “We should turn back,” moaned Skaz, her voice shaking in conversation with the crew in the mess. “It’s not safe. And there’s creepy stuff going on. I heard footsteps behind me last watch, but there was no-one there.”
There was a murmur of uneasy assent, rapidly quashed by the captain and the Mate. “We’re more than two thirds of the way to Lumajo,” said Forz.
“And there’s an Imperial Space Navy exercise between us and Morteen,” said the captain. “We’ll push on as fast as possible.”
That suited Goth. So she held off from harassing them with any more recycler issues, and settled for just making their lives miserable by sabotaging the robobutler in the mess so it would only produce Sargothian seaweed stew and sickly sweet drinks. She had a perfectly working robobutler in the comfortable cabin — but it was a measure of how much they all feared whoever this absent “Boss” was, that they were too much afraid of him to suggest using it.
The Bolivar raced on towards its destination, its crew complaining this was the worst trip they’d ever had. That also suited Goth. They’d been all set to give her the worst trip of her life — and the last. She spent the rest of the trip removing power units from as many weapons as possible. There was a box marked floor-cleaning liquid in the store, and that seemed a good safe place to store them.
They were all plainly relieved to swing into orbit around a planet — Goth could see it on the vid on the comms link. Not as clearly as she’d like, but enough to see that it bore what looked like the scars of interstellar war. Parts were dense green, other areas stark and white with black streaks. Even from this great height, she could see octagonal structures down there. They must be huge. Like any world, Goth knew that it was a big, varied and complex place, but it plainly wore the marks of having been densely settled.
The Bolivar wasted no time on contacting planetary authorities or requesting landing permission. She just began to drop in on the planet they called Lumajo, targeting a site somewhere between a huge octagon and a far smaller one, which as they approached revealed itself as a cleared area of jungle.
Goth had very little idea what she was coming to. Other than mentions of stink, the hairy little apes, and the fact that the place was source of a banned substance, she hadn’t gleaned much from the conversation of the crew. Mostly they talked about what they’d do back on Morteen, if they talked about planets at all. She had no idea how she’d even start to find Lina, how many people there were here, or quite what her plan was. But she’d eaten well and slept as much as possible. That would have to do for preparation.
The landing jarred her to the back teeth. Captain Pausert was good at putting a ship down as lightly as a feather, no matter what you thought of his take-offs. The Bolivar‘s captain wasn’t — but they were down in one piece. Now to get out and get searching…
The crew had been in a hurry to get off the ship. That was understandable, but did leave Goth with the main airlock closed, and the ramp up. She had all the codes to the airlocks and could open it and put the ramp down, easily enough, but that would be rather obvious to any watcher. By the noise, they were offloading cargo.
Invisible in no-shape, she went down to the cargo hold, where the sulfurous air of outside hit her, along with the smell of the hairy little … men. Well, they were sort of humanoid anyway. They looked less like humans than the Nartheby Sprites. They were offloading, and jabbering away in a sing-song foreign tongue — which might actually have been a kind of singing. The words weren’t universal galactic, anyway. One phrase seemed to recur — “blong khagoh.”
They were watched by a couple of rough-looking spacers with blast-rifles and jangler-whips. Goth walked quietly down the ramp and onto Lumajo, where the gravel of the spaceship’s landing area shivered with heat, beneath a distant white sun. The sky was an odd dirty yellow color, and the air didn’t smell much better away from the chanting little locals. Exploring the rest of the place would involve getting over some high, double fences that looked electrified. There were guard-towers, too. It looked more like a military camp or a prison than anything else.
Goth figured it was likely that, if either were still alive, Pausert’s mother and even his father would most likely be inside the wire. She waited a while at the gate, and then walked back to the ship for a bit of shade. The sun might be a small point in the sky but it was hot and vicious. She could feel it burning her.
The hairy locals were loading the boxes and crates onto a large wooden trolley, with rough wheels made from cross-sections of tree-trunk. Sitting in the shade of the ship, Goth had time to study them. They were as hairy as a lelundel, and had little tails. They were shorter than the Leewit, but a little broader. How they saw anything was a mystery, because their faces too were hidden in their hair.