THE SORCERESS OF KARRES — Snippet 09:
It took her a little while to realize that they were being followed. And whoever was doing the organizing was good at it. If Nikkeldepain’s memorials and prominent sights had been a little more popular with visitors, she would not have noticed. But it was so improbable that the same man with tan shoes and blue trousers would be visiting the corn exchange, the statue of Nikkerliss, and the old fortification, at exactly the same time as them.
Goth could not really see any reason for ever visiting any of them at all. It was obvious Pausert couldn’t either, but he was doing his best to earn his meal. They’d seen nearly everything except the Central Museum of Historical Nikkeldepain — which not only charged entry, but her guide said had nothing but moldy old rubbish that they took school groups to see. Goth wouldn’t have minded taking the monorail to several of the spots, but Pausert plainly never considered taking it. He walked with a long-legged easy stride, and kept forgetting to walk at her pace and then guiltily slowing down. Goth had always considered herself a good bollem hunter, happy to walk and track, but Pausert had plainly got himself very fit legging it about the streets of Nikkeldepain.
At the next sight, a grain mill, the follower had changed. Now it was a woman with a cone hairdo. But now that Goth was aware of them, the information she’d absorbed talking to Hulik do Eldel, who had been a top imperial agent, made them easy to spot.
It occurred to her that if they were being tailed — and she assumed it was Pausert they were tailing, not her — they were probably using a spy ray to listen in to their conversation too. That made her blush slightly, and also made her angry. There were going to be some painful lessons learned around here.
“I have a challenge for you, Pausert,” she said cheerfully, just short of a street corner. “You close your eyes and I’ll lead you. I’ll take you somewhere. Then you tell me which of Nikkeldepain’s sights it is!”
“Sure,” he said, and obediently closed his eyes. She took him by the elbow, and they stepped around the corner… and into no-shape. She just hoped no one noticed them disappear. But they’d probably just not believe their own eyes. She turned him around and set off the way they’d come…
To nearly get run down by a hurrying woman with a cone hairdo, speaking into a wrist communicator. Goth hurriedly led Pausert away in the other direction. They got to a particularly ugly building with a nice bench and she said “open them.”
“The old power station,” he said, grinning. “It’s harder to walk with your eyes shut than I thought!”
And easier to lose a tail, thought Goth. And then she got a horrid surprise. The man with the tan shoes was idling along the pavement, reading what appeared to be a guide book. And yes. Over there… that had to be the woman with the cone hairdo.
They weren’t tracking him by sight.
There was no way they could have found them so quickly, if they were. She felt terribly alone and vulnerable. The little witches of Karres traveled around the galaxy perfectly cheerfully, exploring and learning. But they never went alone. She wasn’t quite alone this time, either. She was in the company of one of the most powerful klatha operatives that Karres had ever encountered. A real Wizard of Karres. The only trouble was that Pausert wouldn’t develop into one for quite a few years. Right now he was just a poor boy from Nikkeldepain with a black eye. A rather nice poor boy, but nothing more.
She gave him her best smile. “I have to get back. But you have been a great guide.”
He bowed and blushed. “A pleasure. So, um, are you going to be around?”
Very definitely! thought Goth, and for a lot longer than you realize. But all she said was “Maybe. You take care, huh.”
“I can’t walk you back to the lattice ship?”
“Nope. I’d get into trouble. See you. Maybe.” And she got up and walked off. She could see his reflection in the plate glass of the nearby shop window. He really looked quite tragic.
But cone-hairdo was watching her. So she walked on, and into the shop. It was a fairly busy lady’s dress shop. Goth went into a fitting room and emerged in no-shape, bending light around her, moments later. She found cone-hairdo reporting on her wrist communicator. She had an oddly flat voice.
“Yes, he’s alone at last, Franco. We should be able to make the snatch soon…”
Goth could only hear one side of the conversation. “Well, it’s not our fault,” said the woman. “That bunch of kids were following him around like glue. And you said we were to avoid witnesses. Then he acquired a girl with red hair. You’ve got the stills pictures of her that Mirkon took. And a name from the spyray. Track her down in planetary records. They’re obsessed with records in this place.”
In the meantime Pausert, now bored, had got up and begun to saunter his way down the street, whistling. Goth was surprised. He still whistled the same tune, years later.
“He’s moving off. Got to follow him,” said the woman. “Mirkon has just gone to collect the van. Keep him on the trackerscope. Out.”
Goth followed quietly behind her, her mind seething. Someone was putting a lot of effort into this, but why? And something about Pausert’s circumstances stank. She knew, from casual comments over meals and in conversation, that her father had left behind a small commercial empire on Nikkeldepain, the results of several lucrative discoveries, when his last expedition had stumbled on Karres. She also knew that he had been declared legally dead there — which was a source of some amusement to the family. He’d gone to some lengths to protect Karres and to provide the Nikkeldepain authorities with this conclusion, even sending back an empty ship — the Venture 7333 — and a log that pointed at disaster in a different quarter of space.
Pausert’s mother was his only heir on Nikkeldepain. He’d thought well of her, and said that it wasn’t surprising that the captain had come out so well. So where was the money?