But Himbo Petey, it turned out, had moved even faster than she’d thought he would. When she got to the monorail’s final station, she realized that there was something missing from her view. The lattice-ship, with its bright silks and bunting, was gone. There was nothing but a big skytrail of rocket exhaust.

Himbo must have started breaking the circus down almost as soon as she’d left it. The mysterious map-box was still in its second props store, and had headed off to trundle between the stars, heaven knew where next, with the Greatest Show in the Galaxy.

Goth took a deep breath. She didn’t really know what to do about it. She’d have to think. She shook her head irritably. She really missed the captain, partly because he was turning into a clever planner, and partly… just because. And because chasing after the lattice ship in the Venture would have been relatively easy. Right now she needed to sort out so many things. School. Pausert’s inheritance. Those other kids. And if she could definitely stay in her kidnappers old lair. The map-box on the Petey B would just have to look after itself. After all, there was centuries of junk in that props-room. No one ever threw things out and no-one knew she’d left it there. She retraced her steps and caught up on the latest excitement about the Museum heist on the wall-holovid at the Monorail coffee-shop. It appeared the authorities had identified one of the off-world desperados as none other than the famous Sirian archeologist Mebeckey. The police had surrounded his spaceship at the Nikkeldepain space-port and could be seen trying to force entry to it. Revolt ships had been scrambled and circled overhead. Goth scowled. She should have thought of the ship and gone there straight away to search it for herself. In among Mebeckey’s possessions in the wallet was a key-card door-coder. It could easily be for the ship.

Goth took the monorail to the spaceport terminus and the crowded airbus from there. She might as well go and look. Everyone else on Nikkeldepain seemed to be.

The spaceport was probably busier and more crowded than it had been at any time in the last fifty years. The police had cordoned off the onlookers, and had started deploying a heavy duty ion-cannon to blast open the lock of the Kapurnia.

Goth decided that it was not the right time to try the key-card, and it probably never would be again.

It soon became apparent that, despite her rich man’s plaything appearances the Kapurnia had a military grade lock. The ion-cannon had to be recharged and fired at the lock again. And then again. On the fourth try it did finally give way. The military went in first: a small contingent of Nikkeldepain’s Space Marines. The little Republic might be stuffy and a bit backward in some respects, but that was not something Goth was prepared to say about those space marines. They were, in her opinion, as good as anything that the Empire or Daal of Uldune could field. She began to understand where the captain had learned some of the skills that made him such an asset to Karres.

No wonder the Empire had held back from gobbling up this little Republic. They were pretty good at making allies with those worlds that were going to cost more to take and hold them they were worth. A planet against an Empire had always seemed bad odds to Goth. But Captain Pausert had explained that any attack on a well defended position would be difficult and expensive. In the case of Nikkeldepain, Goth could believe it.

If there was going to be any resistance on board, Goth felt sorry for them. A few minutes later a Nikkeldepain Space Marine popped his head out of the blasted air-lock. “All clear,” he said to the commander of the police and customs officers waiting outside in the shelter of their armored vehicles. ” We’ve taken a couple of crewmen and the cook into custody. The ship should be safe to search now, sir.”

“No trouble?” asked the Commander.

“None sir. But the delay with the lock did give them time to shred some of what look like star-route maps.”

“Well, that won’t help them to claim to be innocent, will it?” said the Commander. “Thank you Lieutenant. If you can just bring the prisoners out, we’ll start our search.” Goth had used no-shape to cross the cordon, and then had joined the ranks of customs men waiting behind the armored cars. She joined them in marching into the Kapurnia, too.

It was, in many ways, internally, very much of a rich man’s racing space yacht. The engines were outsize and the tubes would have done for a space navy patrol cruiser of five times the size. But that of course was not necessarily abnormal for that kind of ship. Rich men liked expensive excess power.

The heavy weapons turret hidden behind slide-back bulkheads was enough to get the customs men very excitable. Mebeckey went from merely being a robber of museums to being a space pirate, or worse.

Goth was less sure. It was the kind of armament that you might want to have if you were on an archaeological expedition somewhere outside of the writ of the Empire and other safe, civilized worlds. The contents of the hold were more convincing evidence of a hardened criminal to the Nikkeldepain police and customs than it was to her. After all, an archaeologist might actually need to have rock drills and explosive, although she thought that they were supposed to do the excavation with trowels and great care. But maybe you had to get to the place to do that careful digging? Still, it, and the selection of personal weaponry, excited the locals a great deal. Goth found the large library more interesting, and more revealing too. It was indeed principally made up of archaeological books. But there was several on botany that just didn’t fit in with the rest.

Goth felt she’d had enough trouble with botany. These books looked old. They even felt really old. Perhaps Yarthe relics. Well, science had taken a back seat during the wars of expansion. They’d been pretty advanced back when humans lived on one world. Looking at the dense text and strange archaic words, Goth was glad she wouldn’t have to read those.

Of course the customs men were seizing all the paper and computer records. Goth didn’t get much of a look in there. But somehow she doubted that the crew would have destroyed star-maps and left much else that was incriminating intact. Forensics on Nikkeldepain were not likely to be up to much, she was sure. Goth left the Kapurnia carrying a box of papers to the customs air-truck, feeling that she might have dealt the threat to Pausert a blow. But she’d come no closer to discovering why the threat existed in the first place. It niggled at her. There was something she had to do about it, but she just wasn’t sure what.

The rest of Goth’s day was taken up with the dull practicalities of an ordinary life. They were more time-consuming than she’d realized. She spent time checking out the apartment’s rental, and was happy to discover that the criminals had cheerfully forged all the documentation the bureaucracy of Nikkeldepain required to keep itself busy with purposeless paperwork. She was quite grateful to Mebeckey and his criminal cohorts for shortcutting all the supposedly preventative paperwork.

Now: As long as she continued to pay the rent, she had a place to live. It was rather fun going shopping to make it into a home. To furnish it with the paraphernalia of parents who apparently lived there with her and paid the rent, by means of those convenient envelopes she could drop through the letter slot on the rental agency’s door. Nikkeldepain’s authorities would not take kindly to her living on her own.

By evening she had a new robo-butler, well stocked with food, fresh bed-clothes that had not been occupied by a louse like the thugs who had kidnapped her. She had doubts about how often Franco had bathed and just what kind of lice or bedbugs had shared the bed with that louse. She’d tossed out the burned wig, tidied the place out, and made it quite homely. She’d even put some effort into faking signs of a mother and father being there. She had to laugh thinking of what the authorities reaction would be if they found out that it was the infamous Threbus she was faking.

Goth was very proud of her new apartment. She even entertained thoughts of going across to Pausert’s long narrow home and bringing him here to see her new place, but she put that aside. She wondered how his day at the school had been, with the gang of boys. If they’d stayed frightened off? Pausert was a match for any one of them, she thought, stoutly. Only they didn’t hunt in ones. And that Rapport struck her as sneaky.