Chapter 3

Pausert was not prepared for Goth to sniff loudly and retreat, when he made a joke about his lousy take-off, instead of teasing him. The captain was almost sure she was in tears. But he couldn’t leave the navigation controls just then to follow her and find out what was wrong. When she came back, her face looking recently washed, he started to ask. But she waved the question away.

She remained taciturn for the rest of the day — and all of the next, and the next. By then, Pausert was really starting to worry.

He tried to pry the Leewit, to see if she knew anything. But the little witch seemed to be in one of her non-cooperative moods.

By then, they were approaching the Chaladoor, and Pausert had something else to worry about.


Neldo stopped vibrating after a while, and started breathing. “Touch-talk,” he gasped, just as soon he had enough breath. “The things I do for love. Maleen couldn’t come because of the baby. And I’ve had a team of witches damping the klatha output. We hope that Pausert is unaware of this, but I need to be quick.”

Goth put her hands against him, and made contact with Maleen. “What have you got for me?” she demanded.

“Quite a lot. We tracked back the date a lattice ship last landed on Nikkeldepain. And discovered that a girl called Vala, the daughter of Sutherb and Lotl, was a student at the Nikkeldepain Academy for the Sons and Daughters of Gentlemen and Officers, for six months in the same year. Got a picture of her from a yearbook. It’s you, all right. But your hair is curled and red. I’ve sent curling tongs and the dye that mother thought best match, with Neldo. You’ll have to light-shift it a bit longer at first, but long term it’s easier not to have to do light shift all the time. Oh, and here’s a safe set of co-ordinates for you to go to — an impression of a place on Nikkeldepain. Father supplied that.”

The image flooded into her mind. “Suberth and…?”

“Mother and father, you dope,” said the Leewit. Complex codes were obvious to her. Mere anagrams were a joke.

“Oh. Yeah.”

“The Leewit. You need to know seeing as Goth isn’t going to be here. Someone is spending huge amounts of money on finding the Venture 7333. Offering a small fortune for her flight times and schedules. Whatever is happening in Chaladoor has fingers in crime in the rest of the Empire. We’re digging for whoever has put up the money. But, even by Karres standards, they’ve been spending it like water. And the odd thing is they have a description of someone who looks a lot like mother, that they’re also looking for.”

“What’s so odd about that?”

“The person has wavy red hair, and her name is Vala.”


Goth put on as many layers as she could. The Egger route was tough on the body. The captain thought that he had some way to stop the vibration, but she couldn’t ask him about it now. Anyway, his klatha skills were very powerful… and a bit scary and off the wall.

The Leewit was oddly silent during the whole process. A little wide-eyed and apprehensive. The Leewit really did not like the Egger route. Actually, Goth didn’t like it much herself.

“Well,” she said, taking a deep breath and fixing the touch-talk mental co-ordinates in her mind, “Here goes. Look after the captain for me, Leewit. And don’t forget to wash behind your ears.”

“I won’t,” said the Leewit, not arguing for once in her life, her voice a little small.

Chapter 4

When Goth recovered from the stresses of the Egger Route, she tried to take in her surroundings. She was sitting on some turquoise mossy stuff, overhung by long fronded purple leaves, that she didn’t recognize at all. But just over there was what she was sure was a tumtum tree from her native Karres.

A scrawny, fresh-faced boy was standing just a few feet away, staring at her wide-eyed.

“What is this place?” she asked.

“The Nikkeldepain Xenobiology Botanical Garden. It’s part of the Threbus Institute of Xenobiology.”

He sounded rather proud as he said that. But within seconds his wide-eyed stare was back. “You were having some kind of a terrible fit,” he said. “Shaking and banging yourself around.”

With a sudden shock, Goth realized that she recognized his face. She actually knew it very well. She’d just seen a picture of Pausert as a teenager.

“I’m all right now,” she said shakily.

He was plainly worried by the whole experience. “I think I could carry you,” he said. “I’ll get you to a healer.”

He possibly could carry her, Goth thought. He was a rather skinny boy, with a rapidly swelling black eye.

“Did I do that to you? Punch you in the eye?” she asked, feeling more than a little guilty.

He grinned. “No. You should see the other guy. He started it. But I’m going to catch it for it.” He seemed quite accepting about that. “Look, I need to get you to some kind of medical help. That was really scary.”

“Don’t worry,” said Goth. “It’s over. It won’t happen again.” She thought hastily. “I just got the times wrong. I should have been home already. It’s a side effect from the medicine I had to have for Munki fever.”

“I’ve never heard of that. It must be pretty bad,” said the young Pausert, plainly impressed. “So who are you, and what are you doing here? I thought I was the only person who ever came here. How did you get in?”


What was she going to say? She hadn’t actually expected to meet him. Just to slip around in no shape invisibility, find out who was trying to kill him, and deal with them. She couldn’t exactly say that she was Goth from his future. He might remember and he’d never mentioned it. Surely he would have? She snatched on the first name that came to mind.

“I’m Vala,” she said. And then suddenly realized that Captain Pausert might never have mentioned meeting anyone called Goth, who had apparently been having an epileptic fit when he came across them… but he had definitely known someone called Vala. He’d even said that she’d looked a bit like Goth! Except a little older… well, she remembered just how old and large someone of fifteen had seemed when she was twelve. It made her want to break out into a fit of the Leewit-type giggles.

What else had he said? Oh yes, Vala had had curly red hair. Her hair was hidden inside the padded hood she’d chosen to protect her on this end of the Egger journey.

She just had to remember to do a light shift, when she took it off — which had better be quite soon. She might have survived the Egger route, but she was going to boil in this outfit.

“Well, Vala,” said the boy, “my name’s Pausert.”

She noticed that he was rather watchful as he said it. “That’s a nice name,” she said, smiling at him.

He looked at her rather like a spooked mountain bollem, one of the wild ones. One that could either run away or charge at you. “You don’t come from around here, do you?”

That was for sure! She thought. But what she said was: “Nope. And you?”

He nodded. “Worse luck, yes I do. I’ve lived here for years.”

Goth unfastened her bulky hooded over-jacket. And then took off the miffel fur coat. Pausert stared at her, wide-eyed. “It’s not that cold, you know! Actually, it’s a pretty warm day for this time of year.”

“I’m not used to this place,” Goth improvised hastily. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

“Nikkeldepain only gets snow a little later. And besides you never get it in here.” He looked a little wary. “Just how did you get in here? Where are you from?”