They went down a corridor between the huge beds of vegetation from various alien worlds. Squat little robot tenders trundled around constantly. A taller, stilted robot was trimming a tree with heavy basket-ball sized fruits

“It’s all automated. That’s why the place is still running, I guess,” said Pausert, when she asked if there were any human gardeners. “The robotics must have cost a fortune, my mother says. It’s a pity uncle Threbus didn’t leave us the fortune instead.”

“There’s some pretty valuable stuff here,” said Goth, looking at the tillipwood tree, and the berry-hung bushes that she was sure came from Margoli.

Pausert shrugged. “I suppose so. But it all goes into the laboratories. My mother works in one of them. There’s not much new stuff coming in, but there’s years of work still, mother says.”

They had arrived at a small doorway. Pausert produced an elderly looking key, and unlocked it.

Several boys came bundling in through the doorway. “I told you we just had to wait for him!” shouted one of them..

They were all quite a bit bigger than the scrawny Pausert. Goth wasted no time. She head-butted the first one in the stomach, kicked the next one. Pausert was already fighting, but they had plainly not expected him to have any help. She ‘ported a small object inside the shirt of the boy Pausert was wrestling with. It was a fleshy and very thorny leaf from a nearby cactus. He yowled most satisfactorily.

“Quick!” she shouted, pulling at Pausert’s sleeve, seeing there were at least another four of the gang, still pushing their way in through the door. “There are too many of them. We’d better run.”

So they did, dodging the little maintenance robots, sprinting along the corridors between the raised beds, as the boys chased them. Goth spotted the tree she had been looking for, with its spreading branches and large basketball sized spiky fruits. “Up there,” she panted. Toll had taught all her children: if you’re in trouble, go up until you’re above it. It was always easier to deal with it from up there. And if she had recognized the tree correctly dealing with it could be a lot of fun.

They climbed into the growing-bed and then up into the tree. Doing this had set off some kind of alarm — but that didn’t seem to worry the seven boys. They were into the growing-bed and starting to climb the tree too… when Goth ported one of the fruits down on their leader. It was near the limits of the weight she could manage, but the effect was well worth the effort. The Leewit would have just loved it. The fruit exploded in a shower of thick glutinous mauve juice full of tiny seeds. The boy fell out of the tree knocking the boy behind him down too.

By this time the two of them were out near the end of the branch in the foliage, and among the fruit. The young Pausert was no dope when it came to getting the idea. He picked and flung one of the Tyrian fruits at the crowd helping their leader to his feet. It hit the tree trunk and showered them all in its jellylike juice. The boys scattered like a picnic that has just discovered a zark-scorpion on top of the potato salad. Goth and Pausert sent a few more of the fruit hurtling down at them, sending them running for cover.

Pausert yelled in delight, beaming from ear to ear. Goth thought that it was no wonder he and the Leewit got on so well. They must have been very alike, once. “Well I’m sorry I have got you into such trouble,” he said, apologetically. “But it was worth it.”

“Why are we going to be in trouble?” asked Goth.

“The alarm. Someone will come to see what the problem is. They’ll be able to run away, probably. We are not supposed to be in here.”

“Uh huh.” Goth looked around for a way out. “Suppose we climbed down the tree a bit and out onto that branch there, and out along it. Might be able to get down and to the door first.”

Pausert shrugged. “Maybe, but we shouldn’t be here. It would only be right to stay and take our punishment.”

He hadn’t changed that much, thought Goth. “You are allowed to be here,” she said. “I mean you have a key. They don’t. And I’ll bet they would say it was all your fault they are here.”

He nodded, “Likely. Rapport and his friends are always pretty good at saying it was all my fault,” he admitted, with a rueful grin.

Goth smiled nastily. “So follow me along the branch.”

Goth hoped that he would not wonder too much about the fact that Tyrian fruit kept flying down at the little gang hiding behind a nearby stone-palmettos, even after they’d left. And that the gang could run, but they weren’t getting out, because she had the key safely ported into her pocket.

They shimmied down the branch and dropped into the pipe-like thicket of bright yellow-stemmed plants. With an awkward slither Goth descended into their midst. They creaked but did not break. She celebrated by ‘porting another couple of Tyrian fruit down on the boys who had been persecuting Pausert. It was a very good and almost indelible dye, as she remembered. Quite expensive too.

Pausert followed her lead. Only he must have weighed a little more than she did, and the yellow stems gave way. He landed with a lot more of a crash, on top of her. Hastily she ported a couple more fruit down at the gang just in case they had heard the commotion. But by the sounds of it there was another kind of commotion coming.

“You lot! Just what do you think you are doing here?” yelled an angry-sounding adult voice. “Stop! Come back here! You can’t get away! We’ll catch you!”

Goth took advantage of the fact that Pausert was winded, and a little stunned, to hide both of them with a light shift, as the purple spattered group of boys ran for the small door they had come in through, hotly pursued by a couple of uniformed men. She listened in satisfaction as someone yelled, “It’s locked!” They sounded suitably horrified.

Soon they came running past again. “Time for us to go, I guess, Captain.”


“Uh. I mean, Pausert. You just reminded me of someone that I call Captain.”

“You don’t think that we should go and turn ourselves in to security?”

He really hadn’t changed! “No,” said Goth. “Then I’d be in a lot of trouble too.”

That worked. “I’ll get you out,” he said.

“Good. Because I’m still hungry. Come on let’s go. Just keep calm and keep walking. Pretend we belong here. I’ll be right behind you.”

With any luck he wouldn’t realize that what was walking behind him look very like one of the little maintenance robots. Actually, hopefully he wouldn’t realize that he looked like a security officer. She hoped she’d got it right. She hadn’t managed to get a very good look at them. She snickered. She had done exactly what he suggested: turned him into Security. And herself as a maintenance robot – that was appropriate too.

They walked on. A security officer ran past in a cross corridor, and one of the purple boys ran down towards them, saw them and fled. “They didn’t realize who we were,” crowed Pausert.

“Shut up and keep walking,” hissed Goth.

They got to the little door… “It is shut! The key is gone.”

“No further than my pocket,” said Goth. “Now let’s get out here before they come back.”

So they did, carefully locking the door behind them. “Maybe we should leave it open. Give the others a chance,” said Pausert.

“Just like they were giving you one,” said Goth. “Come on. I am ravening. It’ll serve them right.”

“Rapport’s father will get them off anyway,” said Pausert. “He’s a big cheese with the council.”

“Smelly, is he?” said Goth.

That reduced the youthful Pausert to laughter. “Vala! You’re amazing.”

“Yeah,” said Goth. “And hungry, too. Come on. Let’s go and eat.”