Chapter 12

The Central Museum of Historical Nikkeldepain housed a collection of artifacts from the first settlers. The room Goth chose had their Charter of Rights displayed, signed by the first councilors on display. And for good measure the Mayoral Chain of Nikkeldepain City too, a relic of old Yarthe itself, if the label was to be believed. It looked like a trumpery bit of stuff to Goth. She’d seen more real-looking fakes in Wansing the Jeweler’s shop. But it had an impressive high security glass case.

Goth slipped into no-shape and waited until the troop of bored schoolchildren were escorted out of that particular display room. Sure enough, she didn’t have long to wait. Mebeckey and his two confederates appeared. They’d apparently been watching the entrance. That particular display room had only one way in or out.

“She’s not here, Mirkon,” said Marshi. “Must have slipped out with the kids. That teacher looked a bit odd.” She moved toward the exit, drawing out a blaster.

Given what she’d seen of Marshi’s murderous temperament, Goth was afraid the woman would attack the children and their teacher. So she allowed herself to become briefly visible, huddling behind the display case of the charter.

“There she is!” Mebeckey snapped. “Don’t let her get away! We need that map.”

All of them had drawn weapons, now, even here in the museum. The one that could cause problems was a tangle-gun — which fired a spreading stream of thin, glutinous fibers. Goth supposed that she could get out of it, but a Goth-shaped tangle would give them a target.

Goth used one of the light-shift tricks she’d learned from the little vatch. It could create multiple images of itself, and she did the same. Suddenly there were four of her, one in each of the far corners of the big room.

Marshi immediately took a shot at one. Fortunately it was an illusory one, but Goth decided right then and there that Marshi was the first candidate for a shot from the transdermal syringe she’d taken from the glove compartment of Marshi’s vehicle. In no-shape she came up behind her and injected her broad behind. Then she darted away as the woman turned.

As he was armed with the tangler, Goth dealt with the cat-burglar Mirkon next, then with Mebeckey himself. It was all ludicrously easy.

And then Goth realized it hadn’t been. Mirkon had fallen over, Mebeckey had sat down, head lolling, but still trying to raise his weapon. Marshi hadn’t done either. It seemed the transdermal injection had had no effect on her. She was in the act of thumbing her blaster to rapid fire mode, searching the room for a target. From the expression on her face, Goth was pretty sure the woman had decided just to sweep the whole room with fire and never mind whatever damage might result.

Marshi’s heavy, powerful blaster was beyond Goth’s weight limit for outright teleportation. She didn’t have time to fiddle with some internal mechanism, either. But her ‘porting ability was great enough to allow her to force the weapon out of Marshi’s grip and fall on the floor. Then, with an effort, she was able to send it skidding across the smooth surface to come to rest again the pedestal holding up one of the exhibits.

Marshi went racing after the blaster. Goth snatched up the tangler that Mirkon had dropped. She fired just as Marshi was bending over to retrieve the gun. The woman’s own momentum sent her into a tangled sprawl. She was out of the action and would be for some time.

Not surprisingly, however, by then the ruckus had drawn one of the museum guards. He stopped, his mouth agape, and drew his own gun — which was a tangler, of course. Museums frowned on weapons being discharged on their premises that could destroy the exhibits, even in the hands of their own guards.

Marshi was still struggling in the tangle-net, which drew the guard’s attention. Cautiously, he moved toward her. Goth saw her chance. She still had one ampule left in the transdermal syringe. She dosed him just as he finished saying “All right, whoever you are, put up your hands!”

That made her feel a little better about the business. The guard was a completely innocent party, of course. But Goth figured anyone dumb enough to order someone in a tangler-net to raise their arms was barely conscious anyway.

After he collapsed, Goth ‘ported the charter in with Marshi. Then, as the alarms began ringing and security doors crashed closed, dropped the mayoral chain around the slumped Mebeckey’s neck. For good measure, Goth tangled-webbed both him and Mirkon. And then put the weapon in the unconscious guard’s hand, swapping it for his own. She wasn’t positive, but she thought criminal investigators could determine which specific tangler had figured which particular net. It wasn’t likely anyone would bother with such a detail, but why take the chance?

That left the one obvious drawback in her grand plan — she was stuck in the room with the three of them, with a tangler in her hand. But she was pretty sure she still had enough klatha energy left to stay out of sight in no-shape.

She didn’t have wait very long. The heavy steel security doors were cranked open and the guards scrambled under them, before they were halfway up. At which point there was enough confusion to tempt Goth into staying.

“Great Patham. The Charter is gone!”

“They’ve murdered the guard!”

“But that’s young Ziller with the tangler in his hand.”

“I think he’s still alive, too.”

“Do you think he was in with them?”

“Get the cops to set up roadblocks! Somebody might… well. Might have escaped. Who knows?”

Goth decided to intervene. Lightshifting in a back corner, she became yet another museum guard. That was a little tricky, because she had to combine a real tangler with the illusory guard holding it. But such complexity was more a matter of skill than available energy. She didn’t have much energy left, but she had a lot of skill.

She walked forward to the captive Mebeckey and pointed: “He’s wearing the chain.”

They all crowded in, exclaiming. Goth stood back. So she was the only one who saw Marshi — who must have been painstakingly sawing at her tangle-web — make a break for it. Goth saw her stagger to her feet, and start sidling toward the now open door.

“She’s getting away!” yelled Goth. Marshi was able to move, but not quickly. She leapt upon by several museum guards and wrestled to the floor.

“What’s happening?” demanded a panting guard captain who arrived at this point.

“Young Ziller caught them in the act,” Goth said immediately. “Have the entrances been sealed? They might have accomplices.”

She was quite proud of that story. The people of Nikkeldepain would believe what they wanted to believe. Better a hero museum guard than more mysterious happenings.

The guard captain looked startled. “Run. I’ll radio the office.”

So Goth ran. The Leewit would simply have come back, but Goth decided that it would be a good time to leave, even if it would have been fun to stay and watch. She’d have to follow the rest of the story in the newscasts. She even stopped to pass on the message about closing the main entrances. Of course, she made sure she got outside before they did that. Then she went off in search of a hyper-electronics dealer. She had Mebeckey’s wallet, and it seemed fair to spend some of his cash on a spy-ray shield, just in case there was someone still at large to follow her. It was quite a fat wallet. She’d sit and investigate it, when she’d spent a little more of the money on sugared pastries and a long cool bitter-sweet caram juice. Nikkeldepain had some things worth discovering.

Later, full of pastries and almost awash with caram-juice, she made her way to join the curious crowd peering at the windows of a holo-vid store. Nikkeldepain had seldom had such excitement, it seemed. A brave young museum guard had foiled the heist of the century, although he modestly said that he could remember almost nothing of doing so, Goth had to grin. The three criminals included a known felon who had escaped custody barely days before, and two suspicious off-worlders.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, the talking heads of the media, always in search of material to keep their prattle going, now began voicing dark suspicions about the presence of the lattice-ship carnival and the undesirable people who came with such entertainments.

Goth rolled her eyes. Ha! Still, she’d bet Himbo Petey had started the roustabouts working as soon as he heard the first suspicion uttered. She’d better go and recover that strange box. She went to the nearest monorail station and headed for the lattice ship, eavesdropping with quiet amusement to the lurid stories of museum derring-do.