Chapter 18

Goth found herself negotiating several morasses. Firstly, there was the morass of high school politics. Yes, she could physically and mentally dominate almost any individual there. But as a group, as a system… well, it was like wading through thigh-deep sticky mud.

The same could be said of her attempts to make head or tail of the bureaucracy that had enmeshed her father’s estate. The locals seemed to delight in paperwork for paperwork’s sake. It took her a full week of early morning prowling to find the right file. She found that in between keeping house for herself, and seeing to the demands of schoolwork, she had a limited amount of time that could be spared to peruse the files through the jungle of the Nikkeldepain Central Records Office. Gaining entrance to that had been easy enough. She’d let them lock her inside in no-shape one evening, and had then arranged to be able to get back in via the fire-escape door whenever she wanted to. The next difficulty had been that she did not want to switch on lights and call attention to herself — and a paper chase in a huge dark building was impossible. So she’d had to settle for the early mornings, before the office opened, and before she had to go to school. There was a strong temptation to simply set fire to the entire place, except she suspected that would just make for more complications.

Eventually she tracked the file down. It was a very thick folder. Marked ‘confidential’. She decided that she could trust herself.

She soon discovered, as she dug through it, that the paper-chase society gathered everything, even though it now had computerized records. It had copies of the logs of various expeditionary voyages. It was surprising how far afield he had roamed — even, from what she could work out, into the Chaladoor — before escaping worm weather there. There were reports of various ‘misdemeanors’. To Goth they were obvious klatha flares. There were tax returns. Medical details. And a final report on the last voyage. Which went nowhere near the Iverdahl System. Or the Talsoe Twins. An addendum appended to that log did however give Goth pause. It bore the crest of the Imperial Security Service, and took the form of a query about one Captain Threbus. And it related to two things: the prohibited planet of Karres — it appeared Threbus had been seen in the company of a suspected Karres witch, in the Regency of Hailie — where there was no record of his ever having been. The second query in the letter related to the missing Lieutenant-Commander Kaen, a distinguished young officer in the Imperial Space navy married to Pausert’s mother. It appeared that he had vanished at much the same time as Captain Threbus. The log data put Threbus’s last entry to within a few light-weeks of where Kaen was last known to have been.

Goth slapped her head in irritation. The log was a forgery, put together, as she happened to know, to lead away from Karres. To lead as far away as possible. The fact that it placed the Venture on the rather troubled and unstable border that Lieutenant-Commander Kaen had been assigned to was pure happenstance. At least, she assumed so. With Karres and klatha sometimes co-incidence wasn’t. But no wonder they were suspicious about declaring Threbus dead. Karres was going to have to do something about the ISS, now that it could. And in the meantime, she’d clear out these inconvenient records.

Or would she? Given the fact that Pausert’s mother — and the various lawyers she’d hired, had caused this file to dug up rather often, and that Threbus was well-known and remembered, it could just make things worse. She needed to be a bit more subtle.

Like coping with high-school’s hidden mud-holes, she might get further by not just blundering in. Next big step was going to have to be the Imperial Embassy. If they could add to suspicion Threbus was alive — they could certainly provide confirmation that he wasn’t. She just wished that she had the Daal of Uldune’s skilled forgers to do it for her, instead of having to try to do it herself. In the meantime there were short-term measures. She’d looked up the Threbus Institute’s records while she was at it. She wondered if it had ever occurred to Pausert’s mother that she was, in a technical sense, employing herself. Threbus still was the majority owner of the unit. It didn’t make a fortune, but it could afford to give her a raise.

She’d ghosted around in no-shape often enough following the captain with that Sunnat, and kept an eye on him. So figuring out who the Director of the Threbus Institute was, and how their system worked was relatively easy. She helped herself to a staff evaluation form and a recommendation form as a model and soon had a neatly printed instruction awaiting signature in his in-tray. Doing lightshifts on entire documents was difficult, required a lot of concentration. But a name and percentage, those were easy.


Pausert was finding this term at school far more pleasant than any other had ever been. For a start, Rapport and his cronies had backed off. Yes, Pausert was sure they were just waiting for a time and place of their choosing. But before this it had been anytime, anyplace. This state of affairs was a distinct improvement. And for a second thing, his luck seemed to changed since the lattice ship arrived. First off, Vala had joined the class. She hadn’t done anything hugely obvious. Just smiled at him. But it had resulted in a subtle shift of the power-politics in the class. She was a pretty girl… and the other guys had noticed. He walked a bit taller just thinking about that. He wondered if he should tell them that they often did homework together. But she hadn’t, so he didn’t. She was smarter than she let on. Smarter than he was and he was smarter at math than the rest of the boys.

Secondly, mother had got a pay increase! The first in all the years she been there. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something extra. And Pausert had the feeling it wasn’t just the money. It was the gesture. “They didn’t even tell me about it. I had to go and query my payslip. But the increase is there on my file with the director’s signature on it! I thought he was such an old skinflint.”

Pausert still thought so. But it did make the world seem just a little less crushing.