The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 30
Sitting back in the Venture, all together again, just the four of them, was a pleasant respite, even if the trial was still coming. Late that night, long after the Leewit had gone to bed, Pausert was sitting in the command chair, thinking. It was a comfortable and familiar spot, and, Pausert had to admit to himself, one he kept hoping Goth would suddenly appear next to. But instead it was the Leewit, in her nightclothes, who did. “Can’t sleep,” she said tersely.
That was the Leewit’s way of saying she was upset about something. So Pausert got two hot drinks and sat down to listen. They talked of all sorts of things, of places they’d been, and people they knew. Pausert just let the conversation take its own course. He’d learned from Goth and the Leewit: they’d tell him sooner or later. If you asked directly, they wouldn’t answer. The conversation soon drifted to talking about Me’a and the plans to get into the store-chambers. The captain observed: “It’s like we’re dealing with a different person.”
There was a long silence from the Leewit. And then she said: “We are. The disease — well, the effects of it — changed the way her brain worked. It… she was pretty horrible under it. It made her… what’s the word… obsessive. That’s gone. It’s kind of not her anymore.”
Pausert had learned to read some of Leewit’s tones and mannerisms. She wasn’t finished. So he waited.
Eventually she said. “It was killing her. But in a way I’ve also killed her. I could do the same to Ta’zara, cure him. Take away his ability to remember what happened on the Iltraming World with the Megair cannibals. But… I don’t think I can do that. I feel bad because I don’t, because… the other Na’kalauf guard said Ta’zara’s name means ‘the laughing man’. I knew that, because I can translate his language, but I’ve never heard him laugh.”
Sometimes, Pausert realized, you had to get a grip on the fact that the Leewit was still very young, and having to deal with matters that adults struggled with. “Then don’t.” he said calmly. “We’re Karres people. We do what needs doing. Sometimes that means doing nothing, or finding another way to skin a miffel.”
“Huh,” said the Leewit. It was a thoughtful huh, but the captain was still wary. The Leewit’s fuse had gotten longer as she grew, but it hadn’t made her less explosive. And he felt they were heading for an explosion somewhere down the track. But she uncurled herself from the seat, stood up and gave him a hug and headed back to her cabin, leaving Pausert to wonder what was coming. It wasn’t that long in getting there — Ta’zara slipped into the command room. The broad man could be remarkably silent for someone so large. “She is asleep,” he said. “I just stayed long enough to make sure.”
“You were listening?” asked Pausert.
“I am her La’gaiff. Her bodyguard. I need to watch over her. But she plainly wished to be alone with you, Captain,” explained Ta’zara. “You are quite right. It is… needful that I remember my brothers, my clansmen. Our people require it. Please do not let her take it away from me.”
And then he too left.
The courthouse was packed. If it had to get any fuller it would have needed a second layer of people. “They must be expecting to hang us,” said the captain, darkly.
“It’s free entertainment,” said Inspector Detective Salman. “Nothing much else is free here.”
“Not even us,” said Pausert, wryly.
The case began with all the usual formalities, and soon the captain was learning how wicked a fellow he was. He felt quite proud of his antics as a star-marauding pirate. How he’d disabled the helpless passenger-liner with vicious green blasts of his ship’s guns, before his men had captured the passengers and consigned them in manacles to the hold as slaves.
The prosecution had two of the rescued prisoners and Councilor Stratel as witnesses, telling a curiously identical story, down to all the fine details. The captain held off cross-examination until Stratel had been called. “So you saw this happen with your own eyes did you, Councilor?”
The man looked disdainfully at him. “Yes, as I said, we were in the main observation deck of the Moria when your ship attacked us.”
“And you saw me leading the pirate boarding party?”
“Yes, I recognize you clearly.”
“You saw the atomic blasts of our fire?”
“Yes. It hit our ship’s control room, murdering innocent spacemen!” said Stratel, wiping away an imaginary tear.
“Ah. You saw that, did you?”
“Yes, a terrible, unprovoked attack on an unarmed peaceful passenger-liner.”
“Very interesting,” said Pausert. “I looked up the Moria in the Imperial Ship Registry. Firstly, she was armed. Secondly, she was built on a class G Starchaser framework, on Camberwall. The observation deck is 180 degrees from the control room. You can’t see one from the other.”
“Well, I didn’t actually see the shot hit,” admitted Stratel. “But it was obvious where it was going to hit.”
“So you lied under oath,” said Pausert pleasantly. “You do know that our ship has been examined by the planetary police. They have seen all our armament and can attest that we have rather old nova guns. They’re out of fashion because they’re rather hard to aim and are unreliable. But they’re what we’ve got. I don’t know what you saw out there Sir, but it wasn’t our ship. Now the common atomic blast-cannons do produce a green ionized blast, but nova gun fire looks purple.”
“I misremember the color. It’s not relevant,” said Stratel, crossly.
“All of you misremembered the color. All of you remember the same place on the ship being struck.”
“Well, that was what you vile pirates hit,” said Stratel.
“Liar, liar, your pants are on fire!” said the Leewit loudly, and had to be hushed. So did the laughing crowd.
After that, they adjourned before the captain, the crew of the Venture, and their witnesses were to address the court. A message came to the captain and his crew. “Me’a says that you’re drag it out a bit. The rock is harder than they thought. They don’t want to use explosives but may have to.”
“The court recesses for lunch,” said Pausert. “Tell Me’a that if she can get me out there, I can deal with it. She can arrange it with the Chief-Inspector.”
It wasn’t that hard to drag things on — the process was slow — with each of the Venture‘s crew making their statements. The prosecutor tried to trip the captain up and failed. But he thought he would have it easy when the Leewit stepped up to the stand — and had to be provided with a stool to stand on so she could be seen. You could hear that by his tone as he said, condescendingly: “Now, little girl, of course you don’t understand…”
“Why did that man” — the Leewit pointed at Stratel — “give you all that money? Mr. Judge, is he supposed to be giving that man money?”
And while everyone else was staring at the prosecutor, the captain, who knew the Leewit too well, saw her purse her lips, but this directional whistle was not one human ears were meant to hear. The Leewit had come a long way from just breaking eardrums and shattering fragile things with her whistles. She’d been working on new types and effects. Sound could do strange things to the human mind… and in this case the human sweat glands and tear ducts… it could even frighten one quite badly.
The judge eventually managed to get the crowd to quiet down, giving the prosecutor time to compose himself. That didn’t help him very much, though, as the Leewit managed to ask him far more pointed questions than he asked her, trading shamelessly on being a little girl who didn’t understand anything, when she was told that she was there to answer questions, not ask them. Her questions always seemed to reduce him to a stuttering panic. He gave up very quickly. His questioning of Vezzarn, after that, was hasty and not very effective. By the time he got to Ta’zara, he’d gotten his wind again. And he might as well not have had it. Questioning Ta’zara and hoping to trap him was a waste of effort. The bodyguard had very precise recall, and wasn’t afraid of anything, let alone some windbag.
Then things took a turn for the worse for the prosecutor… and for Stratel. That wasn’t surprising seeing as the Daal’s Bank on Uldune were the insurers. The insurance assessor had actually taken a fast ship to look for the wreck of the Moria — and to the co-ordinates Pausert had supplied for the hulk of the pirate ship.
“We wished to recover the cargo if possible,” he said, primly. “The vessel Moria on which Councilor Stratel travelled was disabled by having her stern tubes shot out. The damage was consistent with an atomic Mark 17 ship atomic cannon. This was the type of weaponry found on the wreck of the pirate vessel, which was struck amidships, causing the munitions pod for class ADE ship-ship missiles to self-destruct. The damage to surrounding areas was consistent with a single nova gun discharge. An extensive search of both vessels failed to find the goods we had insured. However we were able to find the serial number on the pirate vessel, and to track it back to the original manufacturers. We obtained the identifying serial numbers of the lifeboat, which was missing.”
“Objection, Your Honor,” protested the prosecutor. “This is irrelevant.”
“It does not seem so to me,” said Judge Amorant. “Please continue.”
“The lifeboat was tracked to the Port Records of Cinderby’s World. A business associate of the insured was listed as on board. We are thus declining payment on the basis of probable fraud. That is all, Your Honor.”