Chapter 2

“I didn’t know that it was possible to teleport that sort of mass,” said Captain Pausert, impressed.

Goth squeezed her father’s hand. “Oh, yes. So long as you’ve got a hot witch doing it, it works pretty well.”

Threbus wiped his brow. “If the range is not particularly great, I can manage large amounts of mass. But I’m pretty well limited to a few hundred yards. A group of us can manage a few miles.”

“Still a pretty hot witch,” said Goth. “I can only do a couple of pounds.”

Threbus smiled. “You’ve got the range on me though. And you’re young yet. When I was your age I had just started to discover a few klatha powers but they were so slight that I didn’t actually believe they were real.”

“That must have been just as well on Nikkeldepain,” said Captain Pausert, thinking of his home planet. It was a very conservative and traditional place. Quite stuffy in a lot of ways. Karres witch tricks would not be happily received there.

The thought made him chuckle a little. Most of the people of Nikkeldepain would be horrified by the company he was now keeping. It had not been the easiest place to grow up in, in some ways. Not if one was just a little bit out of the ordinary. Captain Pausert could see now that might easily have been the start of his own klatha manifestations. But it had given him enough trouble at school, and later in the Nikkeldepain space navy.

That, and the infamy of his great-uncle Threbus, the very man who had just teleported them. It had been difficult growing up in the shadow of the stories about great-uncle Threbus. Harder because he’d never known quite where to stand on it all. His mother had always stood up for her strange uncle, in spite of what people said. Pausert had had a few bitter fights about it at school. He’d always held out that the stories had to be exaggerated. Now he had to wonder whether it had not been Nikkeldepain that had been the victim, not his eccentric great-uncle.

They were joined by Maleen, who was with a young man Pausert didn’t know. Pausert hadn’t seen much of Maleen since the day that he had left the three witches of Karres back on their home planet after rescuing them from slavery on the Empire world of Porlumma. He’d always been a little suspicious about that. The witches were certainly capable of rescuing themselves from most situations. Maleen was a precognitive Karres witch — which gave him enough ground for extreme suspicion.

Precog was not an exact science. But it was good enough for her to have prepared a tray of drinks for them. Tall green Lepti liquor for Captain Pausert and her father, and a pale frothy brew for her two sisters. When Pausert had last seen her, Maleen had been a pretty blonde teenage girl. It made him sharply aware of the passage of years to see that she was now definitely a young woman.

“Captain,” she said proudly, taking the young man’s hand possessively, “this is Neldo. My husband.”

Pausert extended his hand. “Pleased to meet you.” Well, she had said that she would be of marriageable age in two years, Karres time. Pausert was still not too sure just how long a Karres month was. But he, together with Goth and her little sister, the Leewit, had been on quite a number of adventures since then. Come to think of it, he wasn’t entirely sure how many months it had all taken.

Neldo shook his hand warmly. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” Then he turned to his father-in-law. “Maleen has got some great news.”

“We’re going to have a baby!” said Maleen excitedly.

Threbus beamed and hugged both of them. “Would it be too much to expect for a precog to have some idea what sex it’s going to be?”

Maleen blushed. “You know we’re not supposed to do that kind of thing.”

“So you got Kerris, or one of the others, to do it for you,” said Goth, grinning.

Maleen and Neldo smiled at each other. “You might be right. We might even know what we’ve decided to call her.”

The Leewit stood in front of them, her arms folded. “There is only one ‘the Leewit.’”

Maleen laughed. “We know that. And it still didn’t put us off having children. Her name will be Vala.”

“Why?” asked Goth.

“We don’t know,” answered Maleen. “It’s not a name that either of us had ever heard before.”

Captain Pausert was a little taken aback by the name. It brought back a flood of memories which he had thought were gone for ever. “I knew a Vala once, back on Nikkeldepain.”

Goth looked suspiciously at him. “You said that… sort of funny. Who was this Vala?”

“Just a girl I knew when I was growing up.” Pausert had a bad feeling his ears were starting to grow slightly red.

“I bet she was your sweetheart, Captain,” Maleen sniggered. “Hope she was better than that insipid girl, what was her name, Illyla.”

“She wasn’t a bit like Illyla,” said Captain Pausert reminiscently. “Actually, if anything she was more like Goth. Except that she had red hair and was a bit older. She got me into a fair amount of trouble, but I don’t remember that I minded too much. Like the lattice ship that came to Nikkeldepain at about that time. She was one of those people that you never really forget. Oh well, it was long ago. It’s a beautiful name. I’m glad you chose it.”

“Huh!” said Goth, looking at Pausert from under her dark brows. “Anyway, I’ve never had much time for babies, not until they grow up a bit.”

Toll came in. “And then they turn into something like the Leewit,” she said, looking at her youngest daughter and smiling.

The Leewit shrugged. “Babies are no fun anyway. I have decided that I’m going to stay with the captain for the next while. Things happen around him. And he takes pretty good care of us. Makes us wash behind our ears even.”

That last was plainly something that she felt was a little unnatural. Pausert had to smile to himself. The Leewit was a handful to deal with, but at least he felt that he was dealing with a child, even if he knew very little about how to do so. With Goth he was less certain. She was growing up. Fast.

According to the Karres precogs this was going to be a very important year for Goth. The year had started with their departure from the Governor’s palace on Green Galaine, on a life or death mission to escort the Nartheby Sprite Hantis and her Grik-dog Pul to the Imperial Palace. Of course no one had seen fit to tell him that the trip was going to be quite as risky as it had turned out to be. It had been a period during which the captain’s own klatha skills had grown immeasurably. But although Goth had matured, he could honestly not say that it had been that much of an important year for her development. Except…. they still had a couple of months to go. Pausert could not help but be a bit nervous as to what they might bring her.