Chapter 5

The incident happened in a little side street, and it was done so slickly that, even forewarned, Goth was nearly taken by surprise.

A grubby little white air-truck slid past young Pausert and slowed to a crawl. The back door opened and a man beckoned to Pausert, who smiled and walked forward to speak to him. It was tan shoes, the follower from earlier — “Mirkon,” presumably. And cone-hairdo was closing in, fast, from behind, a transdermic syringe in her hand.

Goth had to take action herself, just as fast. This was no time for finesse. She was between the woman and Pausert. She ‘ported the syringe into Mirkon’s hand — the wrong way around. He instinctively squeezed the sudden apparition that smacked into his palm. Goth didn’t wait to see what effect it had. She was too busy head-butting Cone Hairdo in the stomach. And as the fast-striding woman staggered back, she kicked her. It wasn’t exactly great fighting, Goth knew, but her victim didn’t know what had hit her. Cone Hairdo tripped over the curb and landed hard on her back. The cone-shaped hairdo turned out to be a wig, which went flying.

Pausert had heard her explosion of departing breath after the head butt, and turned to see her inelegant crash-landing on the sidewalk. Being Pausert, he turned to help her up. He retrieved her wig, unaware that the man he’d been about to speak to had keeled over sideways in the back of the air-truck.

“Are you all right, Ma’am?” he asked politely, handing her back her wig.

Goth decided that as the driver too must be an accomplice, it was time to get rid of him and the vehicle. The throttle was controlled by a small foot-pedal, just like most of the aircars in the Empire. The driver couldn’t see her because he was looking backwards, his hand on the door handle. Peering past him, Goth happily saw that it was the kind of pedal that had a spring to keep the cable taut and off the floor. A cheap model! She knew from experience that the throttle stuck full if the spring broke… so she ‘ported the spring elsewhere.

The airtruck, its door now half open, suddenly roared to full throttle and accelerated down the narrow side street, swaying wildly with the brakes squealing as the driver-accomplice tried to control it. He should have paid more attention to his steering, as he hit a lamp-post, ramped the curb and crashed into the corner.

Goth hadn’t intended his departure to be quite that spectacular. Luckily, no bystanders were hurt. The driver leapt out and ran away.

The woman had obviously realized that this was no time to be present, either. She snatched her wig and ran away from the open-mouthed Pausert.

Of course, at this point, the local flat-feet turned up. “And what is going on here?” demanded the policeman of the one person he could see on the scene: young Pausert.

“I really don’t know,” said Pausert. “The lady fell over. I was helping her up. Then… Where has she gone?”

The woman and her wig had disappeared.

More policemen arrived, one on a hover cycle, siren howling. He had the sense to check the airtruck, find the unconscious man in the back, and call for an ambulance. In the meanwhile one of the policemen was staring inquisitorially at Pausert. “You’re related to that Captain Threbus aren’t you?”

Pausert, incurably truthful and with a strong familial resemblance, nodded. “He was my great uncle.”

“Hmm. Well, you’d better come along with us then,” said the officer sourly.

“But I had nothing to do with it!” protested Pausert. “The driver ran away.”

“We’ll check on that.”

So Goth had to follow as the young Pausert was led off towards the police station, and the unconscious Mirkon was driven away in an ambulance. It would seem that her father had had quite a reputation here on Nikkeldepain. On the positive side, if the enemy had been trying to capture or harm him out of sight of any witnesses — Pausert was surrounded by witnesses now. A horrible thought occurred to her… unless they too were villains. She walked a little closer. No-shape — bending light around herself — was not something she had to consciously exert her mind to do. But it took energy. She was already tired and hungry again.

And then came the next problem. Someone had plainly called for a patrol-car. Goth realized that there was no way that she could fit into it, along with the three bulky policeman who seemed to believe that they’d gotten their man. She had to do something quickly. She had no idea where the local police station was and she had no intention of letting Pausert out her sight. She settled for the advantages of no shape to reach in and remove the starter-bar from the vehicle’s ignition, and dropped it down the grate of a nearby drain. It landed with quite an audible plop, but fortunately the policemen were too busy telling their comrade to radio for a tow for the crashed air-truck.

“You can do it when we’re back at the station,” said the driver irritably. “I don’t know why you couldn’t have walked anyway. I was just on my break.”

“You’re always just on your break,” said one of the other officers, pushing his way in. “Come on, Hasbol. Get the kid inside, and let’s get down to the station.”

So they did. The door was closed. Goth waited and watched the searching and commotion. The door was opened again, and Pausert and the officers got out again. “So how do you think I got here?” yelled the driver irritably. “One of you must have taken it. Or him. You’d better search the kid.”

They emptied out Pausert’s pockets, which had all the useful things a fourteen year old boy might have in them — string, some odd bits of scrap metal, a bottle cap, a broken pen-knife, but no starter-bar. They patted him down but still did not find the missing starter-bar.

“We may as well walk back to the station,” said one of the men eventually. “And you’d better call in, Bryton. There’s something very fishy about all of this.”

So they marched off together, escorting Pausert — who was struggling to hide a grin at their misfortunes. The captain that Goth knew would have been better at keeping a straight face. Goth was able to walk along behind them, having taken the step of light shifting to the shape of one of the local constabulary. It was less effort than staying in no shape indefinitely.

It was a mere two blocks away and round one corner, so, other than to protect the way their uniforms bulged over their belts, there’d really been no reason to call a patrol car out. Still, from what she could gather, Nikkeldepain City did not have much crime to entertain them. They were grumbling about the extra duties that the presence of the showboat lattice ship had put onto their poor overworked selves, and, so far, they’d been unable to arrest anyone for their troubles.

“That Circus master — Petey. He’ll be behind all this. Mark my words. I don’t trust him.”

Goth’s heart leapt. Himbo Petey? Here? Then the lattice ship must be the Petey Byrum and Keep, the Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Her friends here to help! And then she realized…

They weren’t yet her friends.

It was still comforting to think of them being here. Of course over the years, lattice ships did visit nearly every inhabited planet. Quite a co-incidence… but one of the things that the people of Karres had learned about klatha force is that there really were no co-incidences. Just patterns, some of them too enormous to ever see.