Chapter 8

Goth had always been around while the captain was organizing things, but until now she hadn’t realized just how useful the experience would be. At least she had some idea of the actual mechanisms of renting a house, which was not a custom on Karres. She decided that it would be easier than trying to find a safe spot in the circus lattice ship –which would be leaving anyway, pretty soon.

On the other hand, she also began to appreciate Karres’s habit of simply ignoring bureaucracy when you could. The Karres people never made waves deliberately among societies of the Empire and the other worlds they visited. Their work was far too important to waste time causing trouble for mere entertainment. But fussy, meticulous bureaucracies that seem to like paperwork for its own sake were a real temptation, Goth had to admit.

Before you could rent a house on Nikkeldepain you had to provide a whole lot of paperwork, most of which would be easy for a criminal to fake, but was guaranteed to cause maximum inconvenience for an honest citizen. And, unfortunately, documents posed a problem for her. Goth could very easily appear to be an adult. Light shifts could provide the appearance of most things — but every use of klatha drained some energy that could only be restored by sleep and food. If she pushed herself too much in any one day, she ran the risk of being exposed or having something else go wrong. Multiple klatha tasks were especially draining, such as documents which had to feel right in someone’s hand as well as look right.

And it appeared that she would need an amazing number of documents in order to rent a house legally. Bank statements, previous utility payments — the list went on and on. It was truly amazing — and that was before the estate agent discovered that the smartly dressed woman in front of her was a foreigner, from off-world. Oh, they were very keen on off-world investment here on Nikkeldepain. They never lost the chance to tell foreigners so. But that didn’t mean doing something ridiculous like making life easier for them!

The experience started to give her a real idea of the minefield that Pausert’s mother had to cope with. She smiled politely at the estate agent. “I think I will just stay in the hotel that you recommended in the port area.”

The woman allowed herself a relieved smile. “You wouldn’t believe the paperwork it will save me.”

Goth was tempted to make a very sarcastic comment. Or several comments. But she just nodded, and took her leave.

She had to face up to the fact that this was all going to be more complicated than merely coping with the Egger route had been. She still hadn’t worked out why someone was trying to kidnap Pausert. She knew that she would be here for six months. That was considerably longer than any jaunt that she’d ever undertaken as a young Karres witch to the various planets in the neighborhood of Karres. Karres approved of their youngsters going out and learning about how life was away from home. But, generally speaking, they went in twos or threes. There was nothing much that two or three Karres witches couldn’t deal with! But, as the second-in-age sister, Goth had left quite a lot of organization to Maleen.

Now, she found that she had to deal with issues like money. It was easy enough to ‘port it, of course. However, living with Captain Pausert had left her feeling guilty about doing that. Anyway, to live for six months she was going to need quite a lot of money. It wasn’t like she didn’t have it. The Venture ‘s account was nicely into the black. Goth had found a lot of satisfaction in managing the captain’s money for him. He probably hadn’t even realized she was doing it. But there was one small problem to spending any of that money: it was all safely in the Daal’s bank some years into the future.

She was so busy thinking about all of this, and how to deal with it, that she did not notice a nondescript vehicle shadowing her. In fact, the first thing that she knew about it, was that somebody had pressed something over her mouth and she felt the sudden brief sting of a transdermic injection.


She awoke somewhat later, feeling groggy and sick, and lying tied up on a narrow bed in a dim room. Two people were talking in the next room. They were plainly quite upset with each other. Goth recognized the toneless voice of one of them. It was the woman with the cone hairdo, which had turned out to be a wig.

“– should have come to a while ago,” said the male voice. “She was smaller than we guessed.”

“You’re hired to know that kind of thing, Franco,” said the woman.

“Listen, we found her for you. And I still think you’re taking a chance. She’s been seen with two of the agents of the police force.”

“Yes,” said the woman. “When Mirkon got himself arrested by the local dogcatcher.”

“He may not really have been a dogcatcher.”

“Which is why he was shown in the newscasts as one for his heroic capture. To cover his secret agent tracks,” she said. “Anyway, we’ve got Mirkon back in the ship. They assume that he’s escaped off-world. That just leaves us a bit shorthanded for this. Let’s go and see if the girl is awake yet.”

The lights came on. Goth immediately closed her eyes and slumped in the bed. The woman poked her in the ribs. “Wake up, sleepy-head. We need you awake to call that little boyfriend of yours.”

Goth groaned, and kept her eyes shut. She needed time to think about this. Huh! Boyfriend, was it? He was going to marry her, he just didn’t know it yet. Even though she had told him so. In the meanwhile she really needed to think, and also to drink some water. And somebody was going to learn a lesson about catching and drugging a Karres witch. She had every intention of making it a very memorable lesson, but now that her mind was beginning to clear a bit, this might be the perfect opportunity to find out why they wanted Pausert.

The woman slapped her face. “Wake up! Come on, girly, wake up. We’ve got some work for you.”

Goth decided that it was time to stop pretending to be unconscious when the man emptied a glass of water onto her face. She spluttered and immediately regretted doing so. That was a waste of water that she really needed right now.

“Ah, sleeping beauty has decided to join us after all,” said the woman, now wearing a curly coppery head of hair. “Now listen to me very carefully, little girl. Do exactly what I tell you and you’re not going to get hurt. Don’t even think of trying anything clever. Do you understand me?”

Goth wondered just how stupid they thought she was. They were making no attempt to hide their faces. She’d bet that either they did not plan to leave her alive, or they were going to get off world very quickly. The man had a Nikkeldepain accent, so it seemed unlikely that he was going anywhere. Goth was sure that kidnapping, in a society like this, was not going to be looked on as a minor crime. The local authorities on Nikkeldepain got very serious about such offences as walking on the grass and spitting on the sidewalk. But all she did was nod.

“Good. Now Franco here is going to give you a caller unit. You’re going to tell that Pausert boy to bring us the Illtraming map.”

“The what?” asked Goth, doing her best to memorize the word.

“The Illtraming map,” she repeated.

“What’s that?”

The weasel-faced Franco fiddled with the handle of his blaster, which was protruding from a hip pocket. “You don’t need to know. He’s just got to bring it to us and we’ll let you go.”

“Well, what does it look like? I need to tell him what to look for. Does he know where to find it?” She tried to sound frightened rather than angry.

“He’d better. Seeing as we couldn’t,” said the man.

“Shut up, Franco. It’s in among his great-uncle’s things. A sheet of metal about as high as a door. It must be hidden somewhere in the house.”

“What is it for? I mean where is it a map to?”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. “You ask too many questions. Franco, bring her that caller.”

“You promise you won’t hurt him?”

The woman snorted. “We just want the map. We’ll arrange a pick up point. He won’t even need to see us and you’ll be as free as a bird.”

She was busy talking and so did not notice that a piece of paper which had been lying on the table under a brass paperweight a few moments before was now in close proximity to the gas flame of the heater. She did notice, however, when it set fire to her wig. The fake hair was apparently made of something quite flammable. That struck Goth as being very poor design, but she wasn’t about to complain.

The woman’s companion was unable to assist her. As he’d bent over to pick up the caller, the brass paperweight had dropped on him from the ceiling, where Goth had ‘ported it. The paperweight fell a lot harder than the piece of rope that she had chosen to teleport out of the entirety of her bindings.

As the woman danced up and down on her wig. Goth slipped away into the security of no-shape. Fortunately, the blaster in Franco’s hip pocket was a small one apparently designed for concealment, not the much heavier variety that were normally used by law enforcement or military personnel. So it was — just barely — within the limits of Goth’s teleporting ability.

After ‘porting the blaster from Franco’s hip pocket, Goth quietly flicked the light switch off, and stepped back into the corner to see what happened. The handle of Franco’s weapon felt very comforting in her hand.

The light came on again.

“Where in Patham’s seven Hells has she got to?” groaned Franco, who had staggered up to turn the light on.