Chapter 10

Goth found the waiting tedious. She whiled away the time by climbing back into the car and checking out the contents of the glove compartment. Those would have given the customs official more pause than the rock-drills had.

For starters, there were a pair of gloves. Quite a normal thing for a glove compartment — except these had artificial fingerprints embossed onto them. Then there was a transdermal syringe and a set of ampules, one of which was empty. Goth was willing to bet that that was what she had been dosed with.

She pocketed the syringe and ampules, and then carefully damaged the embossed fingerprints on the gloves. That took a further five minutes. Then she sat and thought about their adventures on the Venture and about Petey, Byrum and Keep and the lattice ship. Sat and thought about the nannite plague. Just sat.

Eventually, she got bored and searched around the car for more entertainment. She found a book under the seat on xeno-archaeology. Specifically, the book was about the Melchin culture, the ruins from which had been found on several worlds on the fringes of the Chaladoor relatively near to Uldune. It was not the most interesting thing that she had ever read, but it was what she had, and it was better than just sitting. The pictures of the Melchin spacecraft — alien, spiky-looking sleek things — were some of the more fascinating parts of it.

Eventually she started to get hungry and thirsty again. By the looks of the light, it was getting on for late afternoon. Was she going to have to spend the night here? She couldn’t keep up a light shift indefinitely.

Hunger and impatience finally got the better of her. She left the book. Confiscating the syringe was one thing, taking someone’s book another entirely.

There was an airbus service into Nikkeldepain city. After someone nearly sat on her, Goth realized another one of the less obvious disadvantages of being able to hide in no-shape.

She was beginning to think that the reason that the precogs had seen her traveling back in time to Pausert’s youth might be a bit more complex than just to save Captain Pausert, as she’d originally assumed. Marshi had been callously unconcerned about killing her criminal associate. Yet they were steering clear of obvious clashes with the law. It could be that if they could have found this map that they were looking for, they would just have quietly gone away. Goth wondered briefly if she should find it and give it to them. But the thought was dismissed: even if they were mere treasure hunters, if anyone had a claim to the map or whatever treasure they could find using it, it was Pausert, or her father, or, for that matter, herself.

She’d deal with them in her own way, once she’d dealt with issues like supper and where she was going to sleep tonight. After some thought, she took herself back to the apartment where her kidnappers had held her. The door was still open, with a key inside the lock. There were also a pair of good solid old-fashioned bolts. Goth had no faith that someone like Franco — or his friends, if he had any — could not pick a lock, if he decided to return. But bolts were a tougher proposition. She knew that much from old Vezzarn. He’d been, under some protest, quietly teaching her his lock-picking skills. The poor old fellow was nervous of what the captain might do to him if he ever found out!

When you weren’t being held captive there, or dodging searchers, it was actually quite a pleasant apartment. The most serious fault Goth could find with it was that there was very little food in the cupboards or the fridge. A meal of crisps, some cookies and water was not at all satisfactory.

Mostly, though, she was very tired. Using klatha so constantly would do that to you, even klatha that you were especially good at. Goth found that she had a good view of Pausert’s home from the third room, which also had two unmade beds in it. She was tempted for a moment — she was really tired, now — but Goth decided that while she didn’t mind sleeping in a props store, sharing Franco’s bugs was a different matter. She found a spare blanket, still in its store wrapping, and a sofa, and slept the sleep of the very tired. The sleep of the just would have to wait until she caught up with the perps.


The next morning she locked up the place. She’d have to get fresh bedding and some food. She was already considering it her apartment, she thought with some amusement. Well, maybe the criminals had done the bureaucratic work for her. She’d just have to check it out.

The question was: where to next? Did she go and lay siege to the Kapurnia? In the end, she decided to go and have a look through her father’s things in Pausert’s house. That probably wasn’t the right decision, she knew. But she was very curious about this map. En route she stopped at a money dispenser and, using her teleporting ability, swapping the maels she had for ones that were currently dated. Since it was an even swap, she figured it didn’t count as stealing. After that she bought herself some breakfast, which consisted of a curious bun-like pastry with seeds and cheese in a neat little cardboard box.

She let herself in to Pausert’s home, and began to look in the obvious places — and then decided that was probably a complete waste of time. Franco and his friends would have done that, anyway, and done it better than she could.

She could always pump Pausert for clues, but instinct said that would be a mistake. She felt that quite strongly, and one of the side effects of being klatha-operative was that sometimes those feelings were in themselves klatha side-effects. Perhaps what she needed to do was to tap into those feelings.

She wandered around the house looking at the souvenirs of fifty worlds. They were interesting but she felt no draw towards any of them. She wandered into the kitchen, and then the bathroom, feeling like a bit of an invader. From there she peered into the bedrooms, feeling even more uncomfortable. She walked back downstairs.

Her attention was suddenly caught by a piece of patterned cloth on which the communicator rested, on some kind of wall bracket. She touched the cloth, which was plainly some kind of hand-woven material, pretty enough in a primitive sort of way. The cloth didn’t feel special, just reminiscent of a hot place of tall fronded trees—but it was covering a small metal box that stood on the shelf. The cord of the communicator would be too short otherwise.

Goth touched it, then pulled her hand back abruptly. The metal was oddly cold and felt repulsive, almost slimy. Carefully, Goth pulled the cloth aside and peered at the box.

It looked disappointingly like a box, although there was some patterning etched into the metal. Goth carefully took it off the shelf, balancing the communicator against wall. She didn’t really like touching the thing. It reminded her, in a way, of the synergizer from the Lyrd Hyrier ship, except that it felt old.

She felt a flood of strange, unpleasant images coming into her mind, and put the box down hastily on a small table. It still just looked like a box. She could see a thin line where the lid fitted onto the lower section. There were neat little hinges at the back. There was no sign of a lock or any way to open it.

Braving touching the box again, she shook it. There was a faint sound, too dull to be a rattle — as if whatever was inside was heavy and fairly soft. She put it down again. The box did odd things to her head. Images. Strange images. Enormous trees spanning whole continents, and little animals dying.

Goth couldn’t be sure quite what was in the box, but she was willing to bet that this was the ‘map’ they were looking for. It would seem that they were wrong about the size. Or perhaps this was a sheet of metal that could be folded. The question was: what was she going to do with it now that she had found it?