“Later,” said Goth. “I have to go now. You behave yourself.”


“Open the door, please.”

And they were out in the dingy street, walking away.

“Quite soon,” said Goth quietly, “we’re going to run. ‘Kay?”

Pausert nodded. “What was that all about?”

“I’ll explain sometime.”

“He gave you really good price,” said Pausert, plainly surprised.

“He’ll do that for you in future too. His conscience just started working.”

Goth didn’t mention that she was Franco’s new conscience. And that she’d being going back, later. She just said: “Let’s do some running.” So they did. Whether it was necessary or not, Goth actually enjoyed the exercise. She was going to have to see Pausert got more of it by the way he was panting. He was walking fit, but he needed more running! And he needed get more to eat. She began to vaguely understand how her mother felt!

Once they got back towards the better part of Nikkeldepain city Goth called a halt. Panting they stopped. Pausert fished out the bundle of money and handed it to her. Goth immediately toyed with the idea of giving half of it back to him. Regretfully she had to shelve that idea. Firstly getting him to take it would be an enormous effort. Secondly he’d probably give it to his mother. And that would make a whole new layer of explanations that Goth did not want to deal with. She’d have to do it more indirectly. “I need a drink, and something to eat. And before you say anything, it’s my treat — you’ve earned it. Commission. That’s business, see. You took me to a place which I would never have found on my own and got me a fair price for the coat.”

“I am worried about that,” said Pausert. “He’s not usually very generous, you know, but at least he pays. Some others didn’t. Took us a while to find out about him.”

Goth resolved to quietly find out about those who had plainly taken Pausert’s mother to the cleaners. She wasn’t into general retribution, but this… this was family. “That was a good price, more than Thr — my father paid for it new, but this is a different planet, I guess. Now, let’s get some food.”

Pausert looked around. Looked up at the building they were standing in front of. His face twisted with fury. “Not here. Unless you want to eat paper and excuses.” That was not an expression Goth had seen on his face before. Also she could feel the rising klatha energy, that he certainly didn’t know he was putting out. She noted the name of the building, something called the Nikkeldepain Central Records office. She’s better get him out of the area, before he, or it, caught fire. “Let’s run a bit more,” she said.

“Yeah. I got the energy for it now,” he said, tersely.

So they did. A little further on they came to a small deli, out of sight of the building. Goth had it figured now. The records office that refused to declare her father dead. A little spurt of laughter nearly made her choke on her pastry. They didn’t know how right they were.


Later, back in the apartment, preparing supper and with her homework behind her, Goth got back to thinking about just how she would straighten up Pausert’s money problems. And quite what to do about Franco. Once she’d eaten, she decided, she’d go back there. In no-shape.

It was twilight and the narrow streets of old Nikkeldepain were beginning to come to life. Goth was glad to be invisible. Compared to some of the places she’d been it was very mild. But she’d been to them with the captain or with her sisters. She waited until a ‘customer’ knocked at Franco’s door, and slipped in through the door behind him.

The fence had added a bodyguard to his room furnishings. He was also nervously holding a blaster just out of sight, below the edge of his desk. Goth ‘ported away the charges out of both it and the blaster of the low-browed heavy he had watching over him. Then she had a quiet snoop around. The interior of this room merely held what any small dealer in second-hand goods might possibly have in their possession. Goth waited. She’d had to wait a while for the ‘customer’. Business for a fence on Nikkeldepain was not brisk, it seemed. The small packet of jewelry of dubious provenance was dealt with, then the bodyguard saw the man out. Goth waited. The bodyguard came back, and the still nervous Franco took the packet through into the next room. It was a storeroom, to all appearances. But Franco carefully locked the heavy door behind him, pushed his handkerchief into the key-hole and moved to the fireplace. The mantel-shelf held a clock. The fence adjusted the time and a piece of wall slid away. Inside was yet another door, which the fence unlocked to give access to his stash-hole. He put the packet into it, and locked it again.

Goth considered her options. The hidden safe was easy enough for her to access. Yet she’d bet that the fence would get really nasty about defending it. No point in that. She wanted answers, not his loot. So she let him leave again, locking her in there. Then she investigated the locked room. It had a bathroom, which was in the sort of state she should have expected from Franco. But that had once had a window, and that window had been welded shut with a steel plate and some bars.

Goth quietly ‘ported bits of the weld elsewhere. It fell away with a clang that Goth just had to hope wouldn’t be noticed. It did let some welcome fresh air into the place. Then she sat down on one of the second-hand chairs Franco claimed to deal in, and took a school set-work out of her pocket and did some studying while she waited.

Franco did eventually return. Goth was actually quite relieved. Why didn’t they choose books that anyone might wish to read for set-works? He went through his process of locking himself in and poking his dirty handkerchief into the keyhole before Goth interrupted him.

“A decent spy ray could work out what you’re up to anyway.”

He started like a frightened bollem and nearly knocked himself out trying to run through the sturdy closed and locked door, and then fumbled for his weapon.

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Goth. “I’d hate to have to shoot you, even if you were planning to shoot me.” Goth held his blaster — the one he’d lost back in the apartment — pointed steadily at him.

“That… that was her. It was her idea, I swear.”

Goth shrugged. “You were part of it.”

“She’d have killed me otherwise. She tried.”

“I’m not really interested in your excuses. Or even in you,” said Goth. “I just want some answers. If you co-operate I’ll let you live. And unlike you, I have nothing to lose by doing so.”

“You’re not really a young girl… are you?”

“What do you think?” asked Goth, her tone chillier than the methane glaciers of Metrone III.

“I mean… you can’t be. How did you get in here?”

“That’s for me to know. I’m here to ask the questions, not you. Now start by telling me all that you know about Marshi and Mebeckey.”