Chapter 16

One of the nicest things about Pausert as younger man. Goth decided, was that he looked to her for leadership. Not that she wanted him to all the time, but she could see how their roles would change as they grew older. Now, he was very trusting of her. If she’d said to almost any other person, “‘I need to sell this miffel-fur coat,” they would have wanted to know why, and formed opinions about her because of that. Pausert had just smiled and said that there really was only one place to sell that kind of thing, and that he’d show her the way straight after school. Now she just had to survive school.

The new uniform prickled and scratched, especially on her Makemake stung parts. The boys and the girls stared. And talked. Taking Pausert’s mother’s advice, she did not punch them for doing so. She just smiled politely. She did, during the recess on the large quadrangle, ‘port a frog from the biology dissections in among a gossiping bunch of them who had been studiously ignoring her. It was foolish of them to assume that she couldn’t hear them or it didn’t matter if she did. She was able to sit, demurely, hands together on her lap, through the screaming and subsequent fight with the boys they thought responsible.

She went to ad.math class and carefully made two mistakes, just enough to be good but not as good as some of the boys. There’d be time to move soon. Once again Pausert’s mother’s survival course on ‘how to be a social chameleon at school’ made that rite of passage possible. Only Pausert seemed in the slightest suspicious — possibly because she’d done one of those problems with him yesterday. Or possibly because he knew his mother. The teacher put her to sit beside him, plainly intended as a punishment, a social solescism. It was the sort of punishment she was happy to endure. He didn’t seem too put out by it either.

They left the class with a sea of homework… and smiles on their faces. Goth was aware of the reaction from the other children. The looks. It was a steep learning curve, this. She’d followed the captain, and observed Hulik do Eldel and Sunnat with the captain. She’d of course seen other Karres teens, and the interactions between them. But in a society of klatha-users, with adult teaching patterns resident in their heads, interactions were more restrained and yet more advanced and mature. This was different. She was indeed learning a great deal on her ‘very important year’. She hadn’t anticipated learning it from ordinary school-children, but from deadly dangers and the defense of Karres and all it held dear.

That would have been easier, really.

Later, with the miffel-fur coat, Goth and Pausert set out for the narrow streets of a poorer part of town. This was plainly one of the first areas settled here on prosperous little Nikkeldepain — back when there had been neither prosperity nor much in the way of building materials. Grik-dogs had bigger kennels. It was the kind of area that spacers avoided, unless they were looking to sell something they shouldn’t have or, equally, to buy something stolen or illegal. Goth had to wonder just how come a boy like Pausert knew his way down here. She asked. He shrugged. “We have had to sell a few things. Some of Great Uncle’s souvenirs. We’re not supposed to do that until the will is finalized, even though all of it has been left to my mother, and they’re things he left sitting in Ma’s house for her. So we had to sell it down here. And, well, this is Nikkeldepain. You won’t get kidnapped or anything.”

Goth wondered if she should tell him how wrong he was, but decided it wisest to keep that part of the story to herself, for the next few years. They arrived at an unremarkable doorway — unremarkable except that it had a small surveillance camera hidden in the archway. Goth, well trained by both Hulik and Vezzarn, professional spies, spotted it at once. Seeing as Pausert was knocking and absorbed in this task, Goth did a little light-shift on both of them. One never knew just who was watching.

The door, obviously controlled by some kind of remote locking device, creaked open. They went inside, up a flight of stairs into what, unless Goth was very much mistaken, was a room that would make the the local flatfeet almost ectatic to find — if they were not fooled by the appearance of a small second-hand junk-store. They might be pleased to find the proprietor too. Franco was a lot less pleased to find Goth staring at him. His mouth fell open, and the second or two’s shock gave Goth the opportunity to reach over his desk and slam his fingers in the drawer.

Franco clutched his hand and stared at her in naked terror. “How… did you find me?”

“Followed my nose,” said Goth. “You should bathe more often.”

“She made me do it,” protested Franco weakly. He wasn’t, sadly, referring to the bathing.

Goth nodded. She’d already got her own back on him, her Toll-pattern said. He could be useful. But she needed him scared. “I think you know who I am,” she said in a steely voice. “So don’t make me angry. Or you’ll suffer the consequences.”

“Uh. Wouldn’t dream of it,” said Franco, wringing his fingers. But Goth noticed his eyes flicker towards the far door.

Escape? Or backup? “Unlike you, I really have got friends,” she said as Pausert looked on in puzzlement. “A friend who knows exactly where I am, and who I am with.” Goth neglected to mention that he was also standing next to her, but under the circumstances not even the captain could have felt that was dishonest.

“Uh…” He suddenly must have realized that Goth must have at least heard Marshi deciding to kill him. “What can I do for you?”

Pausert provided him with a wobbly smile, trying to smooth over whatever the hidden undercurrent was. “We’ve brought in this coat to sell.”

Goth could literally see Franco’s mind jumping to the wrong conclusions, as he looked at a previous seller. He thought Pausert was selling it, not her. That she was accompanying him, not the other way around. “From your mother,” he said, attempting a false smile too.

“That’s for him to know. Not you,” said Goth sternly. “It’s not hot property. That’s all you have to know.”

“As if I would touch stolen property…” He withered under Goth’s gaze. “It’s not new…”

“It’s in good condition and it has a collar of gold-tipped lelaundel. The collar alone is worth as much as the coat. I put that at about four thousand Maels.”

“You must be jo… uh, yes. A very fine coat. But not new.”

“New would be twice that. Or more.”

The fence swallowed. “It’s a lot of money.”

Goth just stared coldly at him.

He sighed. “Four thousand it is, then. And, uh, no… no comebacks?”

Goth smiled her nastiest smile. “Not about the coat. Give him the money, Franco.”

So the fence did. Pausert of course tried to pass it to her. “Hang on to it,” said Goth. “I might need a free hand or something. I’ll be seeing you, Franco. Don’t go anywhere.”

The fence’s imagination was obviously a vivid one. He started to sweat. “Look…”