As Goth had no idea just where she was, that was a question she preferred to avoid answering. And she hadn’t exactly expected to have to immediately come up with a good story as to where she came from either. Fortunately, he answered for her. “You’re from the lattice ship, aren’t you?”

At least she knew something about lattice ships thanks to their time on the Petey B. But it was best to be a little cagey. She looked up at the glassed roof, and did her best to make her face into the very picture of innocence. “I really don’t think I should say.”

He grinned. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t tell anyone. I want to get out of Nikkeldepain myself. Do they take on apprentices? I’ll do anything. Clean out cages. Get custard pies in my face. I don’t mind.”

Goth resolved to remind him of that one day. But she also had a duty to see that she didn’t mess up her own history and timeline. The captain had stayed on Nikkeldepain until his trading mission with the Venture 7333 when he had rescued her, Maleen and the Leewit from slavery on Porlumma. “No,” she lied valiantly. “And don’t try and stow away either. Promise you, it’s not worth it. They’ll just catch you. Kids try it at every stop.”

He looked terribly disappointed. It had obviously been on his mind.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll get out of here soon enough, I reckon.”

He shrugged. “I don’t really see how. Ma hasn’t got the money to send me to the space naval academy. I guess I could sign on as a crewman one day. But not a lot of ships come to Nikkeldepain these days. It’s a pretty dead-end place I suppose.”

He studied her for a moment, a bit squinty-eyed and looking much more curious than Goth was comfortable with. “Don’t you remember how you got here?” he asked.

“Uh. No it’s rather vague. One of the other side effects of the medication I’ve had to take.” She took off the miffel fur coat, and then pulled off the thick sweater beneath.

“Oh,” said Pausert. “I just wondered how you’d got in. It’s supposed to be securely locked, to prevent any chance of cross-contamination, see.”

She had to wonder just how the captain-to-be had got himself in here then? He was always so strictly law-abiding. She had to admit that it was something that she admired about him. The Pausert that she knew would not have voluntarily broken any law. He was scrupulously honest.

“So how did you get in then?” she countered.

He scowled. “I’ve got a key. My great uncle built this place. In spite of all the other trouble he caused, nobody’s ever asked for the key back. I’ve got a sort of right to be here. I come in here to hide out,” he admitted. “I had a fight, and now some of them are looking for me. They plan to give me a beating.”

Goth felt her fists ball. “Just let them try!” she said fiercely. “They’ve got two of us to take on.”

It occurred to her then, that the great-uncle he was referring to was probably her father Threbus. Well, he was supposed to have caused a fair amount of trouble here, before moving to Karres.

Pausert grinned at her, looking terribly young and vulnerable. “I wouldn’t do that. They don’t like strangers around here. Nikkeldepain is pretty conservative. I’m surprised that they even let that lattice ship land.”

“Huh,” said Goth, wishing that she knew just which lattice ship it was. But most of the traveling circus ships had dealt with hostile local governments before. She hoped that this lot took the officials of Nikkeldepain for every penny they could!

As usual, the journey down the Egger route had left her ravenous. “So where do we get something to eat?” she asked. “And if anyone out there tries to pick a fight with us, we’ll sort them out,” she added militantly.

“It’s been a while,” said Pausert. “They’ve probably moved on and gone to look somewhere else by now. But I’m afraid I don’t have any money right now.”

Looking at his clothes Goth could see that penury probably did not apply to just right this moment. He was a little too large for what he was wearing, and his clothes looked elderly and threadbare. There was a patch on the one elbow of his shirt and a fresh-looking tear on the opposite shoulder.

He must have noticed her looking, because he grimaced and touch the tear. “Ma is not going to be very pleased with me. She keeps telling me to stay out of fights. It’s just not that easy.”

“I know,” said Goth. “Look, I’ve got some money. Let’s go and get something to eat before I start on these plants. Is there any place I can stash this coat and stuff?” The part about having some money was not strictly true. She actually did have a few Imperial Maels… but they would not have been printed yet. That could be a little tricky if someone looked too closely. But Goth figured that she could do something about it. The captain’s honesty had had some effect on the way that she saw the universe, but as far as she could work out there were a lot of people on Nikkeldepain who owed him. She could ‘port some repayment. He was always very careful to pay exactly what he owed. Goth was not naïve enough to believe that others always treated him as fairly. He’d taught her to behave just as honorably as he did. And she would, for herself. But she might just right the balance as far as he was concerned. Just as soon as she had managed to get something to eat.

“I can show you where to go,” he said. “But I can’t let you pay for me. We don’t need charity,” he said stiffly.

Looking at him in his old, patched clothes, Goth reckoned that he probably did. He also looked like he could use a few more meals. But she was experienced enough with people from other places besides Karres to recognize the last phrase as a direct quote. Suddenly she was very glad that she’d taken the Egger route back to Captain Pausert’s childhood. She had needed him a good few times during their adventures. And it looked like he really needed her now. Besides… he was rather cute. She could see that she was going to be a very busy young Karres witch for the next while, besides fulfilling her mission to prevent Captain Pausert’s untimely demise.

And then she had to stifle a chuckle that he probably would have taken the wrong way. To think that she’d been… yes, jealous of Vala!

He saw her smile anyway, and smiled back. That did odd things to her. Whoever gave him that black eye was going to suffer!

“And this kit?” was all she said, though.

“Oh. There are lockers under the plant-beds. Most of them are empty. Here. This one will do.”

He pulled it open, reading from the label. “You just have to remember which plant. This one’s Mularina tremblence from Coolumn’s world. Big maroon leaves. Easy to find.”

He seemed totally uncurious as to why she would have a full-length miffel-fur coat. He simply helped her to push it in, along with the bulky sweater, and closed the locker.