Chapter 14

“Your daughter Vala has a very impressive scholastic record, Lotl,” said the Chief Administrator of the Nikkeldepain Academy for the Sons and Daughters of Gentlemen and Officers. His tone was doubtful.

Goth, lightshifted to appear like her mother Toll, tried not to look affronted at the tone. She’d put a great deal of effort into faking those results. It had meant a late night visit to this very office, and a painstaking and confusing dig through the papers in the filing system. And she wasn’t claiming any abilities she didn’t have. True, her math was skewed toward astrogation, and she was a little wary about the essay-writing, but…

“What is the problem, then?” she asked.

“It’s the subject choices she wishes to register for here.” He must have read the militant look in Goth’s eye. “I see she’s done them before! It’s just that she’ll be the only girl in several of those classes. And some of the teachers have complained that she’ll be a distraction to the boys.”

“Oh.” That idea was so alien to Goth that she literally had no idea what to say.

“So… if you could prevail on her to do Housecraft instead of Advanced Mathematics…?”

“I really don’t think so,” said Goth. She hadn’t known before that frost could actually form on words.

The administrator tried one more time. Nikkeldepain’s parents must be a browbeaten lot. “It’s not going to be pleasant for her, you know.”

Goth raised her eyebrows “Really?”

“Well, she’ll have to keep up or we’ll transfer her out,” said the administrator, irritably. “Now, about tuition and fees…”

By the time she walked out of the office, Goth knew two things. First, she needed to make sure that her math was as good or, preferably, better than the class, and secondly, she was going to need quite a lot of money soon. The stock of cash from Mebeckey’s wallet was running out.

Goth started to cast her mind around, looking for ways of making sufficient money to fund an education that was beginning to look more like a war zone. The obvious and simple answer was to loot the law-abiding citizens of stuffy Nikkeldepain. But she knew that the captain would not approve, no matter how deserving some of the local citizenry were of being looted. So she’d have to turn to money that actually belonged to her. Well, money that belonged to her father. She was going to have to take steps.

Yes, it would mean that Pausert’s mother got a little less. But at the rate she was going, she’d be glad to get anything at all. And the captain was going to need that money to get some pilot training and a bit more food and some new clothes.

But that would take a little time. Walking past the windows of the expensive furriers on the high Street, Goth had seen the prices of the miffel fur coats displayed there. Of course, to a citizen of Karres, a miffel fur coat was hardly worth owning. Tozzami and gold-tipped lelaundel were much finer quality. The miffel coat that Goth was wearing when she came down the Egger route had been chosen for practicality, and Goth had been quite cheerful about the idea that it might get scratched or damaged. It had a rather fine gold-tipped lelaundel collar.

She would have to go and fetch it from the botanical Institute. She could find somewhere to sell it, but she hardly knew where to start. The logical place seemed to be with young Pausert.

But when she found him it appeared that it would not be quite so simple. “You’re coming to join our class!” said Pausert. “It’s almost causing a riot. Half the boys said they shouldn’t let a girl join the math class.” He was grinning from ear to ear. “Rapport was really quiet, though. His face is still purple.”

“They’ll get used to it,” said Goth. “Or I will make them used to it. Huh. Look, I need to go and collect that coat of mine. ”

His face fell. “That could be difficult. They’ve upped security a lot since then.”


He nodded. “My mother told me. I think she suspects I may have had something to do with last time. It was a sort of warning, I guess. She took the key.”

Her face betrayed her. He smiled. “We’ll just have to take a chance, I guess. Get in somehow, although I just can’t think how.”

“Tell me about it. Maybe we can work something out.”

He did. It wasn’t very high tech. New patrols, and some infrared sensors. Still, she had fairly limited resources. She could bend light. She could even go in no-shape. But they’d still show up on infrared. She hadn’t figured out heat yet. Of course, to bust up the machinery by teleporting bits out of it or into it, was doable. But that didn’t seem fair. The Institute was her father’s legacy too, in a way, and Pausert’s mother’s job. Goth didn’t want him caught there.

In extremis she turned to every young Karres witch’s first resort: go up. “What about the roof?” she asked.

“The roof?” Pausert looked puzzled. “It is quite high. I don’t think you can get onto it.”

But after they’d been to look at it, Goth realized that he just didn’t think of heights the way she did. “I need that coat back,” she said firmly. “I can go up that pipe. Then there are those skylights. I’ll get me some rope.”

“But that’s burglary,” said Pausert, shocked. “I don’t think we can do that.”

“It’s my coat. I’m not stealing anything. And your great uncle left the key. Therefore he must have meant that you could go inside.” Goth was already rather fancying the idea. She’d always liked the excitement of the hunt, and this was similar.

Pausert was less morally certain than he had been as an older man. “Are you sure? I mean, it seems wrong.”

“There’s a don’t walk on the grass sign. There’s no don’t climb onto the roof sign.”

“That’s because nobody would,” he said grinning. “Anyway, I am not sure I can climb a rope.”

“I can. You’re not coming with me. You could get into trouble.”

“Ha, and you? Anyway. I am not letting you do it alone,” he said determinedly.

In some ways, he was already just like he grew up to be. Knowing the captain’s obstinacy about these sort of things, Goth didn’t even try. She let him show her where to buy rope. She was pretty sure the local police would take a dim view of it all if they were caught. She took extra care, therefore. She made sure to leave him outside and the person who bought that rope looked nothing at all like the young woman who had just been enrolled at the local Academy.

They found a tree with a convenient branch. Rope climbing lessons followed. And very shortly after those had not succeeded, rope knotting. That did make it easier. By now, Pausert was entirely carried away by the excitement of it all, and Goth was feeling guilty. She tried to call it off, planning to come back quietly that night. But Pausert read her too well. “You’re not going without me,” he said.