The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 31
If he’d dropped a bomb on the court it might have had less effect. Eventually the judge had to order the court cleared, and a recess until after lunch. The prisoners were led out… and into a waiting transport. They were underground on a little carrier within minutes, being kitted up for outside — just in case.
“We’ve still got some distance to go. The rock has been hardened,” admitted the lead driller.
“Can you get us onto the surface?” asked Pausert.
“Already got an exit. But there is a guard on patrol up there. Me’a said we weren’t to kill anyone.” He sounded puzzled by that.
“I will deal,” said Ta’zara, calmly. “Can we get close to them?”
“Yeah, I’ll show yer. But they’re armed, and they got orders to shoot to kill. And there are lots of porpentiles out there. Y’ got to be careful.”
Ta’zara nodded. “I will deal.” He was — because he was officially in prison and unarmed. But it seemed like a man of Na’kalauf was never really unarmed. He selected two pieces of rock and waited for the patrol to come past the little gully they were hiding in. Pausert was ready to act, cocooning… but he never gotten the chance. The rock was a distraction and the two hired guards were not expecting trouble. Nor did they see it coming, or were likely to remember it. They were tied up and left in the gully, while Pausert and Ta’zara donned the guards’ jackets and walked out onto the exposed rock above the store-caves. There were other patrols in the distance, and in front of the cave doors, according to Me’a’s information, the main cavern which joined all the individual Consortium members’ caves came very close to the surface here.
Pausert cocooned a tube of rock with klatha force. He hoped that would be enough to break through, that he and Ta’zara could push it in.
He wasn’t prepared for Ta’zara to jerk him off his feet and haul him backwards as from the rocky ground came a whistling shriek and a wild dust-storm, full of sand and small rocks. As an attempt at “quiet” it was a complete failure.
He and Ta’zara retreated from the rock-and-sand gale as the normal human-space air and pressure escaped. It was a challenge — because they had to dodge a steady stream of porpentiles eagerly undulating towards the dust plume. Then, obviously, the entire tube of rock fell in and the atmosphere from the caves gushed out, some freezing into a white mist. A mist full of surging porpentiles.
“I think we’d better get out of here,” said Pausert through the breather mike. “Me’a is not going to be pleased.”
“Neither are the Consortium — those porpentiles are going into the store caves. They must be able to smell the granules or something. It’s going to be big cave-system full of little tumble-flowers by the time they open it.”
“They’ll start climbing out too, I should think. Remember, they have those sucker-feet.”
They made their way back to the others, who wanted to know what had happened. Pausert explained as they made their way back through the tunnel to the little tracked carrier, and back to their nice comfortable, safe holding-cell — where the Chief-Inspector was waiting to hear it all again and to tell them they had very little time before court resumed. Pausert was expecting Me’a to be rather unhappy about the way the break-in had occurred. He was sure the smuggler had planned to share the loot from inside the store caves with the porpentiles. But she hadn’t planned for an all for the porpentiles, none for her sharing, of that the captain was sure. She’d changed, but not that much.
The Chief-Inspector, however, was rubbing her hands in glee. “Best of all possible outcomes,” she said. “I’ve been getting reports in already. They haven’t quite worked out what happened. They think part of the roof collapsed. The entrance has an airlock door — and they sent their people in to secure the granules. Only when they opened the inner door, the airlock flooded with dust-bunny size tumble-flowers. They had to open the outer door to not be packed solid with them, and now they’re rolling out of the entrance — and the hole — like smoke. It couldn’t be a worse outcome for the Consortium… or for that smuggler-woman. The Consortium just went broke. And the insurers won’t pay Stratel, and I’ve got enough to arrest Bormgo. Now it’s time you got back in court. I’ve been feeding and housing a lot of witnesses to cancel out the two Stratel bribed to repeat his lie.”
The stories of the some of the other rescued slaves were not quite all the same, unlike the coached accusers had been. But they were believable and at times tearful. They would have given great entertainment to the court, if the gatherers and quite a lot of other people hadn’t been brought some whispered news and started leaving at almost a run.
“What is going on?” Judge Amorant asked eventually.
“I believe there’s been some kind of natural disaster at the granule store caves, Your Honor. I’ve had to deploy some of my people to keep order,” explained the Chief-Inspector.
“Hmm. Well, let us continue,” said the judge. So they did. But the prosecutor had given up even trying to cross-examine anyone.
At the end of the witnesses’ testimony he stood up and said: “Your Honor. I would like to move this case be dismissed.”
“You should have done so a while ago,” said the judge, dryly. “In fact, it should never been entered onto my rolls.”
The judge proceeded to be rather flattering about their rescue, Pausert thought. As he hadn’t ever had anything but trouble in his encounters with the officers of a court before, this was a welcome change.
The Leewit gave the prosecutor one last whistle, and one for Stratel as well. It honestly didn’t look as if it made any difference to him. He was looking sick and green.
“So,” said the captain to the Chief-Inspector once they were out of the court. “If you’re done with us, we’d like to get back to the spaceport. I’d rather not have to have another meeting with Me’a.”
The Chief-Inspector smiled. “I hope she is very angry with you, Captain. I still want to know why you were consorting with her, and why you have a very expensive bodyguard for your niece, and just how you got the caves open, as I know they had some serious armoring. But I think I owe you enough to forego getting those answers. I believe I have a few riots to deal with — the Consortium owe quite a lot of people money — and some arrests to go and effect. I neglected to tell you that Bormgo was charged with piracy this morning. We’re searching for him. Stratel is likely to face a few charges himself. But I think being bankrupted on a planet where he has made himself hated may be worse than anything I could do to him.”
However, any daydreams that the captain had of avoiding meeting Me’a again before they got away on the Venture were doomed to fail. She was sitting in the Venture‘s control room, waiting for them. “I do have some employees who are rather skilled at working out airlock opening codes,” she said, calmly. “But that proved unnecessary. Your ship was refitted in the shipyards on Uldune. As a precaution, the Daal’s instruction is that an over-ride code be fitted.”
“I see,” said the captain. He was coldly angry. “Do tell your master that I wonder how Hulik will find being married to Sedmon of the Five Lives. This is the second time the Daal of Uldune’s little tricks have given Karres trouble. I know the Hexaperson is a man of power, but this has to be stopped”.
Me’a grimaced. “I suspect the Daal would be just as angry and certainly a lot more dangerous to me if he knew that I had obtained and used that code. Judging by what he said about avoiding any conflict with you, and giving you my full cooperation, I suspect he did not know that you were one of the witches of Karres, when this was done. But I mean you no harm, and will leave if you order me to.”
She sounded quite apologetic. Pausert wasn’t that easily fooled. Neither was the Leewit, by her tone. “What do you want, Me’a?” she demanded.
“Passage home, for me and my bodyguards, as soon as possible.”
“We’re full,” said Pausert.
“Your hold, however, is not. I took the liberty of having loaded not one, but four portable suites, each with four bunks. They will provide considerably more comfort than you were able to offer your passengers. And I have a second air-recycler.”
“Just where is your home, Me’a?” asked the Leewit.
The smuggler boss sketched a slight smile. “I would have thought it was obvious, or that Ta’zara might have told you. Na’kalauf, of course.”
Pausert got his gambler’s klatha instinct about that statement. “Very well. Are the Imperials going to be chasing after you?”
“Your trial and the events with the store caves provided a unique opportunity for them to be too preoccupied to notice. They don’t know we are on board either. So I suggest we depart as soon as possible,” she said coolly.
The Leewit’s rochat stuck its angular head out of her shirt and hissed dismissively at her, and disappeared again.
They were able to clear the port quite soon after that. The passengers were all strapped in, and the captain made one his trademark take-offs, which might possibly have given Me’a second thoughts about travelling on the Venture.