The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 13
“And do the Empire’s police do have a problem with that?” asked Pausert, reading her tone. “She’s a little girl, Chief-Inspector. Not a drug lord or a pirate captain.”
“It does make me wish to know who her father is — and why she’s on your ship. But that is my job. To notice odd things and to find out answers.”
Pausert wondered if he hadn’t been too clever himself, again. But that was part of being a Karres operative — trying to out-think your foes, and finding out that what you were really good at was out-thinking yourself. Keeping his mouth shut seemed a good idea. So instead he looked out of the window and took in the wonders of Cinderby’s World’s settlement. That didn’t take long. There weren’t any. It was a typical dome-town — with space at a premium and buildings occupying most of it. The buildings were pre-fabricated ferrocrete slabs, built to the roof. So there wasn’t a view, either. “Cheerful place,” he said, as they headed through yet another airlock.
That got a snort of laughter from his escort. “It should be. A lot of money comes into it. But the prices are high. Rents are sky high.”
The wealth wasn’t that obvious at the jail. It didn’t have rats, probably because they couldn’t afford the rent. It was rather small, and the three of them had to share one cell. There were other cells, but they were full.
“You’re pretty popular,” said Vezzarn, taking in the full cells in the corridor.
“Yes,” said the Chief-Inspector. “It’s cheaper to get locked up than to find a bed. The gatherers come in, get paid, get drunk and commit a suitably minor offense in front of one of my police officers and get locked up for the night. You’re unpopular because your ship had most of the police force at the port-dome. Hopefully I can arrange a hearing for you soon so I can free up this cell.”
She wasn’t joking, either. A few minutes later another policeman came down the passage with a ragged scarecrow of a man, wearing many layers of tattered clothes. The policeman looked around the cells, sighed. “Look, can I put him in with you three? All the other cells are six deep by now. And you won’t be here much longer.”
Pausert could only hope so. And it did seem a little odd for prisoners to be asked. By the smell of the man, he wished he’d said no. Their new cell-mate was in the final garrulous stage of having drunk or drugged himself to the edge of insensibility. “I’ve been a bold gatherer for many’s a year…” He sang tunelessly, before noticing them, and beaming aimlessly at them, and then blinking and screwing up his bleary eyes to try and focus them. “You!” He announced, definitively, and pointing a waving finger. “You ain’t gatherers. What they put me here wi’ you for?” He sounded quite disgusted about it, which, considering how he smelled, was something of an insult.
Pausert had been through enough port bars to know how to handle this, to avoid the fight. First you tried to distract them. “We just got in off a ship today,”
That was, by luck, the right thing to say. “Great Patham! You poor devils. Yer gotta get more clothes. Them breather’s won’t keep yer warm out there. You try shonky Jok’s near the east gate. He’s a thief, but they all are, and he ain’t as bad as some. Who got yer contract? Don’ tell me’s that kranslit Ratneurt?”
“No. Stratel,” said the captain, fishing for information.
That got a snort of distain. “He thinks he’s a kranslit too. I uster be bonded to him before he sold me bond to Ratneurt.”
Pausert was glad that the Leewit wasn’t here to translate “Kranslit,” or to hear it for that matter. She collected bad words with great relish.
The gatherer went on. “Reckon they’ll put you on the north pass. That’s where he’s gotten his stash caves and they allus put the new ones there. You watch out for them porpentiles. There’s a lot around them parts.”
“What’s a porpentile?” asked the captain, and soon wished he hadn’t. Part of that was because the gatherer decided to demonstrate how porpentiles killed gatherers, which involved smothering them. Ta’zara had to haul the scrawny fellow off, before his smell killed the captain.
“I was just showin’ him,” protested the gatherer. “Let go o’ me.”
Ta’zara showed no sign of doing so — and then suddenly did, because something had poked its head out of the man’s collar and bit Ta’zara on the thumb, before vanishing again. It was so fast Pausert barely had time to see the sleek little head and fiery slit eyes. It was the prickle of klatha again, rather like letting his hands find components that might be malfunctioning, and often were. There was something useful here. Something wrong. “Let’s listen to him, Ta’zara.”
“His talk comes from a grog-bottle, Captain. And something bit me,” growled Ta’zara, but he put him down.
The gatherer pulled his layers of clothing clear of his throat. “Y’didn’t have to be so rough. I was just warning you about the porpentiles at the store-caves.”
There was that feeling again. But what was it from? Porpentiles? Or the store caves? Pausert couldn’t tell, and went back to fishing, leading the man on. But before they got anywhere, a sturdy policeman came and unlocked the door. “Follow me. Judge Amorant will see you now.”
The Leewit realized she was looking as cross as a cornered Tozzimi, when they left. The truth of it all was that she’d given the police inspector a break… and the captain a break, but she was actually wanting a break herself. A break from people. Being a healer was hard in ways she’d never thought about. Even buffered, she could feel their pain, and there was nothing that could stop her seeing their fear.
She really wanted a particularly tall Marachini-fruit tree, that she could disappear to the top of, and spit pips at anyone who came too close. Failing that, the Venture would have to do. She hadn’t anticipated them leaving someone behind. And now she was stuck with the clumping idiot. She considered whistling him to sleep, or at least unconscious, and grumpily decided against it. She tried her best little girl smile instead. It wouldn’t have fooled Goth or the captain, but the policeman was a dope.
Except, he wasn’t quite such a dope when it came to searching. The Leewit followed him around, watching every move. She reckoned it made him a bit uncomfortable, which was good. She also learned a whole bunch of neat new possible hiding places that she hadn’t even thought of. That was also probably good, even if it meant someone else had thought of them already. She also talked to him, getting him to answer all sorts of questions. He wasn’t a bad old dope really, and he answered what he considered quizzy little girl questions politely. She kept asking. She figured it wore people down. He was probably telling her a lot of stuff he wouldn’t have told the captain — or anyone else.
He explained, patiently, how his wand worked. “The granules have a scent. The wand’s sensors pick that up at less than two parts per million.”
Among the things she asked was why he was so good at searching, and he said something that the Leewit figured was both serious and odd. “There’s a lot of money to be made out of smuggling the catalyst granules. The supply has dropped off a great deal, and that’s pushed the price up.”
“Why has the supply dropped off?”
“I don’t know. The duke’s advisors think it’s that the cartel — Stratel and his business partners — are holding back supply. They have a history of doing it.”
She read doubt in his tone of voice “But you don’t think so, do you?”
“Well, we’re seeing a drop off in the volume smuggled. That could just be that the smugglers have figured a better way.” By the way he said it, he badly wanted to believe it.
The Leewit wasn’t too sure what it all meant. But the granules were the heart of the air recyclers. And that was something everybody needed in space.
It took up so much of her thinking that she couldn’t even play poker well, later, when he finished his search. Well enough to clean out the copper’s pockets, but not well. She was a bit disgusted with herself about that.