The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 35

Once the trolley was piled high with boxes and crates, coils of wire, steel beams of various shapes and sizes, the spacemen chased the little humanoids — on average half their size — to leashes on the draw-bar. With the little humanoids chanting rhythmically again, they hauled the load towards the gate. Goth walked along in the shade, wishing she had the hat and sun-glasses from Parisienne. They were still with her luggage on the ship.

They dragged the trolley through the gate and to the compound beyond, which boasted a palace-like building and primitive looking factories and warehouses beyond that, and, behind yet another layer of wire, scruffy looking huts. The trolley-loads of goods were being taken to one of the warehouses, where they were offloaded and packed away. There were several shiny new ground trucks in the building that certainly could have done the job, Goth noted, before they locked the place up again.

The little humanoids were marched to the huts behind the next wire barrier. There was no obvious sense in following them so Goth took her sunburn along behind the guards, heading for the big house. She’d met some rough types over the years, travelling around in the Venture and with the circus. These men, listening to their talk, made Lesithanian fishermen look polite and nice. They smelled about as bad too, even in the sulfurous air. They were plainly in a hurry to get indoors, and about that, at least Goth could agree. The palace-like building was air-conditioned, which was welcome.

It took Goth a while to get her bearings inside, raid the kitchen, and find a quiet spot to eat. It was going to take her time to explore, and she’d have no choice but to use up some energy staying in no-shape. So far she’d found that some of the place was given over to dormitory-like rooms as well as a communal hall, where the crew of the Bolivar were doing some catching up on meals that didn’t look very appetizing. Goth was tempted to help their ill-luck along, but instead concentrated on eavesdropping for clues. It wasn’t particularly productive. Most of what they were talking about she’d heard before back on the ship. And all the others could talk about was “the Gaks.”

It seemed the Gaks were the little humanoids. They’d apparently burned out several fields a few days back. They were arguing about the best response. Goth went on her way, exploring. Warily, she tried touching walls and objects to “read” them. It was a dangerous thing to do because if she got drawn in, she could well fall into a trance — which would stop her being light-shifted into no-shape.

Mostly, though, it turned out to be quite safe. There were few strong emotions and deep thoughts to leave traces. Every old place had them, but this building was quite new, and not, as it were, full of the past. She went on searching, and eventually came to the prisoners at the back. They were locked into a separate section, which Goth got access to by following someone carrying buckets of food… food that reeked of paratha. It didn’t look appetizing, but Goth realized it didn’t have to.

This section of the building consisted of a series of small metal rooms, with barred doors and a caged walkway, that she found led to the factory plant. Here the walls told a different story. Here she really had to be careful. But the despair and anger were not just in the walls. They were in the people still trapped in the little hot rooms. The air-conditioning was not for prisoners.

Neither Pausert’s mother nor his father were among the handful of prisoners. That was worrying. Goth followed the person delivering plates of paratha-laced slops, which they slid into a grid on the bottom of each door.

No one said much. They just eagerly took their plates. This was one prison where the prisoners thought the food was great, at least. The food deliverer left them to it, and walked out. Goth wasn’t quite quick enough to follow her, but she could always get out some other way. There were several empty cells, so Goth took herself into the farthest one, to have a rest from no-shape and read the walls.

It was a grim experience, and a grim story. The last prisoner had been a guard who had stolen something from the boss. That told her about the people she was dealing with, but not the reason she’d come here.

The next cell, however, was the jackpot. Goth learned a great deal about Lieutenant-Commander Kaen, Pausert’s father. He’d been quite badly injured and in a lot of pain when they had brought him here. But he had recovered and there was something of an imprint of his memory of the place, machinery he had worked on, and the little humanoids.

The oddest thing was there was no memory of fences. This was a man she’d never met, who had left the traces of his determination, anger and pain for her to read — but he reminded her a lot of Pausert, which made her quite snuffly. There were no other empty cells. A couple of the other prisoners were talking in a despondent fashion about the problems they had with one of the machines.

Goth figured she’d regained enough energy and slipped back into no-shape; then, went down the caged walkway to the factory. The harsh sun was down, but there was some light from a pair of moonlets on the horizon. Goth could see it was a simple bottling plant with what, on examination, proved to be a big drying room for huge leaves, and a crushing plant for the same. The whole place reeked of paratha. The building was not particularly secure, and it was easy enough to get out of. In this it was unlike the main building, which did not look easy to get in. That was solidly built and had a guard house on the doors, and pill-boxes on the corners.

Goth decided to go back to the Bolivar and collect her bag. There was cargo-hold door that should be accessible. After the terrible heat of the day, it was already cool and Goth could bet it would be freezing by dawn. The first of the moons was below the horizon, and the second was touching it. It’d be pitch dark soon. There was wire in the way, but she could deal with that. Teleporting a piece out of it worked. She’d walk across in no-shape, get a good meal from the robobutler, a shower and maybe sleep there. And she could bring the sun-shades and hat with her, as well as some clothes for cool nights.

The idea had seemed good, but nearly got her killed. She made her hole, making sure she was well clear of the electrified wires, and started walking fast, as she wanted enough light to at least find the cargo door.

And then suddenly there was far too much light. Searchlights sprang to life on the watch-towers, an alarm shrieked. Goth froze for a moment, crimping her eyes against the glare. She was in no-shape and quite safe, but some instinct made her run, anyway, which was just as well as blaster bolts seared the place she’d been standing. She took off at a zig-zag run, back towards the fence, with them firing at her from the watchtowers, just as if they could see her.