Chapter 15

“Captain, he’s been sneaking around the ship. Trying his hand at lock-tickling,” said Vezzarn, disdainfully. “Even Missy Goth is better than he is.”

Pausert raised his eyebrows. “What? Have you been teaching Goth your tricks?”

“She asked me to,” said the old Spacer. “And you know, Captain, their little Wisdoms are hard to refuse.”

“I suppose this means that you are teaching the Leewit too,” said Pausert dangerously. “Now look here, Vezzarn, I gave you another chance…”

“I explained how you’d feel about it, Captain. They said they wouldn’t steal anything. They just thought… in their line of work, well, it might be useful,” said Vezzarn, looking as if he might turn and run at any moment.

On the ship, of course there was nowhere to run to, and that probably was all that was holding him back. Captain Pausert got himself under control with a deliberate effort of will. When he’d first met the three witches of Karres they’d seemed to have no more morals than a jungle-cat. He’d thought that had improved a bit, but he felt responsible for them. He knew, now, that that was why Toll and Threbus were happy enough having him ride herd on them. The girls didn’t seem to have much respect for property, but they didn’t lie. Not to him, or, as far as he’d been able to establish, to anyone else. The work of Karres could indeed lead to lock-picking being an important life-skill.

“Well, you’d better teach me too, then,” he said, trying to keep his tone even. “I can’t have them knowing things that I don’t. Anyway, what do you mean? Mebeckey the castaway has been picking locks. How do you know? Been using spiderwebs?”

Vezzarn shrugged. “I’m good at it, Captain. He’s not. He leaves little clues for someone like me. Scratches on the surface of the lock. Locks with the tumblers half-turned. That kind of thing. Amateurish. But you need to watch him, Captain. He tried the armament’s cupboard last night.”

“But didn’t succeed, I assume.”

“He got in all right, but I think he was disappointed. He didn’t find anything,” said Vezzarn. “I thought something was going on, so I moved the blasters to my cabin. I’ve got a lock-up there that would fool anyone but two or three of Uldune’s best.”

“And fool me, or even the Leewit, if I need them,” said Pausert. “Did that occur to you, Vezzarn?”

“I reckon her little wisdom would just bust it with one of her whistles,” said Vezzarn, grinning. “I set her too hard a lock, to give her a bit of a lesson, and she did that. Gave me a bit of a lesson instead.”

“So what are we going to do about him, Vezzarn,” asked Pausert, getting to his feet. “Locking him in to his cabin, without a guard, seems futile. We don’t have the manpower to guard him. I presume he can pick the stateroom door locks easily enough?”

Vezzarn nodded. “Yes, Captain. They’re not a big challenge, you know.”

“I think, when we get though to Uldune,” said the captain with a scowl, “that I must get this ship fitted with a brig. I could use it for you, and the Leewit, not to mention any other people we might pick up in the middle of nowhere, or take as paying passengers. I wish Hulik do Eldel was here.”

“She’d be all for just shooting him now,” said Vezzarn. “She was pretty harsh, was Hulik.”

“Considering who she’s ended up with, she’ll have to be,” said Pausert, rubbing his jaw wearily. “Look, I am not prepared to just shoot him out of hand. He seemed a genuine enough castaway, though I’d like to know what he was doing there. He’s not explained that very well. And this does rather throw doubt onto his story of being a rich archeologist. Why would a rich archeologist be a proficient lock-tickler?”

“He’s not. Not proficient, I mean,” said Vezzarn. “But it is all very suspicious, Captain. I think we need to be more careful, at least. Maybe we need to ask him what his game is? Or drop him on another world?”

Pausert knew that was probably the right thing to do, that or Hulik’s response. But he also knew he could not actually bring himself to do either. “Let’s talk to the Leewit,” he said. “Then we’ll go and ask him a few pointed questions and decide just what steps to take next. If he turns nasty, the Leewit can always whistle at him. Serve him right.”

The Leewit was about due to get up for her watch, so the captain made a mug of coffee and took it to her stateroom. She was not asleep, though. Actually, she and the little vatch were playing something that could be called tag — if the captain could figure quite how you touched an immaterial being, and how it touched you. The game seemed to involve a fair amount of acrobatics and giggling.

They also seemed to think that he and the cup of coffee would be a good addition to the game. It took him some time, and spilled coffee, to persuade them that this was not the case. But as he was persistent and quite used to dealing with the Leewit, he did succeed, and explained what Vezzarn had told him and what he planned to do about it.

“Don’t like him much,” said the Leewit. “He’s a bit slimy. What do you think, Little-bit?”

The silvery-eyed peck of whirling nothingness seemed to briefly pause. Doesn’t taste nice, it projected.

Pausert wondered quite what that meant. He also wondered if he, Vezzarn and Leewit had a “flavor” too. It could explain what drew vatches to certain people.

“I don’t think he has any weapons. But we neglected to search him when he came on-board,” admitted the captain. “We should have done that, but it is too late now. So I want you to stay back just at the door — maybe even around the corner. You can give him one of your whistles if he gives me any trouble.”

“Coo. I hope he does,” said the Leewit, militantly. She was destined to be a healer, one day. But she was still very fond of breaking things and causing chaos. Actually, that was one of the oddest things about having Goth away. The Leewit was being much more Gothlike — at least, when she remembered. The mask did slip every now and again.

The captain hoped Mebeckey did co-operate. The Leewit’s whistles were quite devastating, even if you were not their target. The captain collected a blaster from Vezzarn, and quickly field-stripped it, re-assembled it, and made very sure the charges were intact and full. The Leewit’s eyes got quite wide at this.

They went along to knock at Mebeckey’s door. He took a long time about answering it — to the point where the captain was considering shooting out the lock with his blaster — but Mebeckey did open it, eventually, looking a little guilty, the captain decided.

“You’ve got some explaining to do, Sir,” said Pausert grimly, still with the blaster in his hand. “I want some straight answers or I am going to have to choose between shooting you or putting you off my ship.”

“But I haven’t done anything!” protested Mebeckey. “My hands are clean. You can trust me. Really. I’m just an archeologist, worth much more to you alive than dead.”