This is the final snippet.


Sometimes making sense out of what the little vatch was saying was quite a challenge, thought Pausert. Cracked space, half-in/half-out dimensional ships. The ship’s dreamstuff made of happy… about the only thing that made sense was the part about nasty stuff happening out there. And ten to one they weren’t talking about the same nasty stuff.

“Well, can you keep the locals away? We want to leave, but we need to fix some things first. We need to go and get some spare parts.”


“You can have fun with them if they come,” said the Leewit generously. “Not like the captain, where I told you to leave off.”

Pausert made a mental note of the fact that the Leewit seemed to have gained a very high level of co-operation from this vatch. The little creature could easily stop quite a force if it wanted to. More than a mere locked airlock.

So they went.

It was almost completely dark now, and they did not encounter one Megair Cannibal in their stumbling wet progress to the junkyard of ships. Once there, it was a case of picking the best possible. The captain chose a Tullurian freighter — quite an old ship by the looks of her. She was, of course gutted. But the Megair Cannibals hadn’t ripped out her drives. It seemed they preferred their own. And her multiplier link was there. The jacks were a bit different, and the serial bus, but he could hotwire those, given a few minutes.

Down in the empty hold he found the other thing he’d been hoping for, still bolted to the little cargo-crane — a small grav-tractor, for loading. He sent Goth and the Leewit back with the multiplier link module and had the grav tractor out by the time they got back. Walking back to the Venture — well, staggering back — the captain wished there really were twelve of them to carry it.

“What do you want it for?” asked Goth.

“I hope it’ll work on the Phantoms,” panted Pausert. “They’re not keen on gravity wells. I have a feeling they won’t like this either.”

“If you say so, Captain. So what next? I reckon the prisoners.”

“You’re right, I think,” he said struggling to breathe and talk. “If we just, huh, let me get this in, and, huh, do a quick bit of wiring…. tell me about the inside… How best to get a safe boost out of here… short of the Egger route.”

“Well, Sheewash off the ground is always tricky. You’re supposed to be a ten year adept before you try it.” He saw flash of teeth. “Might be safer than your launches, though, Captain! I figured, we go fetch the prisoners. March them over here, like they’re dinner. And put them into the Venture. Locked up, after Mebeckey’s last little act — I don’t want them deciding to take Venture without us or something. And then the Leewit and me go into that mound. Let the Leewit whistle at their fire-control. Maybe at their communications center too. You have the Venture all warmed up. Then we scarper as fast as we can, try a low launch trajectory and hit the Sheewash as soon as we’re reasonably well clear of the ground.”

They’d reached the Venture ‘s ramp and the captain had no breath to spare while he carried the heavy grav-tractor unit into the Venture . But when he’d set it down and panted for a while, safe in the dry, lit interior of the Venture , he nodded. “It sounds good. Except that I think we might as well go together. We’ve all got klatha skills that compliment the others. And Vezzarn can run pre-ignition for me.” He looked at the old spacer. “Leave without us and you’ve got no fast way to get past the Phantoms. So keep your nerve.”

The old spacer nodded. “You came back for me, and I learned one thing for sure, Captain. You don’t mess with Their Wisdoms. I guess the Megair Cannibals are going to learn that the hard way.”

“I should have told them that you don’t mess around with the Leewit’s stuff,” said Pausert wryly. “She’s gone quiet and has blood her in eye. She’s safer to be around when she’s just her usual noisy self.”

Vezzarn nodded. “The ship itself and the engines seem okay, captain. But they took your Pantara detector unit. And they broke open the armory cupboard.”

“Now I’ve got blood in my eye too,” said Pausert crossly.

“It’s all right, captain. They didn’t even find my lockup,” said Vezzarn. “And the guns are in that.”

“Ah! Well that’s good news. I think we’d better take a blaster apiece. How are you at hot-wiring this bit of circuitry? I could try doing myself if…”

Vezzarn looked pained. “Skipper, most of the locks I deal with these days have hyperelectronic parts. It’d take me less time than you. I’m not much good at space navigation or handling take-offs and landings, but I can do the rest.”

“Good man!”

“Well, begging your pardon, Captain, I’m not. But I’m a live man on account of you and the little Wisdoms. And to tell you the truth, the Daal promised me a bonus to see you stayed that way too. The Daal is chary with money, but he pays. Hulik promised I’d see it. And besides, there is also the matter of the little Wisdoms’ parents. I’m not even thinking about going back without them!” said the former thief and agent, cheerfully, taking the looted part. “Let’s get those guns.”

“The part I am not looking forward to is that we’ve got to go out there again. I just got warm carrying that grav-tractor. You want to see if you can bolt that down and wire it up too, while we’re out. ”

“Sure, Captain. Down in the hold?

“No, in the hold airlock.”

Vezzarn blinked at him. “What?

Pausert nodded. “Going to use it in space, if we use it at all. I’ll give you a hand to carry it down. It’s as heavy as lead.”


A few minutes later the three set out again. They held hands, as it was as black as the inside of a jungle cat out there. And, although Goth maintained their appearance as a group of Megair Cannibals, she also managed to hide their heat emissions. Unless they made too much noise, they were effectively undetectable.

“Hide our heat?” said the Leewit, shivering up against him. “I haven’t got any to spare. ”

The prisoner compound had only one guard again. Pausert punched him on point of his receding chin, as the Leewit struggled for a whistle. “T…t…t…too cold,” she stuttered out between chattering teeth. “Sorry, Captain.”

It wasn’t freezing, but the wind and the wet combined unpleasantly. Goth had to ‘port a piece out of the gate, before they could get in. And when they did, it was almost tempting to stay. There was no wind and they were out of the rain. And the prisoners had a tiny fire.

There was also one less prisoner than they were expecting.

The three cowered back against the wall. “Where’s the tattooed fellow from Na’kalauf?” asked Pausert, forgetting they were light-shifted to look like Megair Cannibals themselves.

But it was clear that the prisoners were not expecting anything but Megair Cannibals, and that those did sometimes speak some Imperial Universum.

“You took him, masters,” said Mebeckey — rather indistinctly, because his mouth was half full of the fleshy leaves from the trough. He swallowed and looked nervous.

The Leewit was busy huddling in front of their small fire. Well, thought Pausert, their day was not over yet. And he was still angry with Mebeckey. The fellow had proved his instincts true.

“Take off that cloak,” he ordered. Mebeckey hesitated briefly. Some instinct made the captain produce his blaster — which Goth considerately light-shifted into one of the odd, ball-barreled weapons. The other two had backed off. Mebeckey lifted the cloak very slowly, to reveal a small arsenal. A heavy-duty blaster. A UW. A butcher’s knife — none of which came from the Venture . He must have had them hidden in his room. Pausert remembered the delay when they demanded entry. He looked at the weapons grimly, furious they’d not thought to search the room. “Drop those.”

“Better do it,” said one of the scrawny prisoners. “The pain is terrible from that nerve-jangler.”

So Mebeckey did. Pausert suspected that there would be more weapons hidden on him. Captain Pausert didn’t have a problem with him carrying weapons here. He just worried about the fact that Mebeckey had been trying to get into their arms supply. Wanting a weapon to defend himself against possible pirates was one thing. Disarming his rescuers, another entirely.

“Face the wall, all of you,” said Pausert, roughly, still upset by the discovery. “Cover,” he said to Goth, picking up and handing the allweather cloak to the Leewit. He patted them down quickly and found another small blaster on Mebeckey — a Glassite 300, a rich man’s toy. The other two had no weapons. “Right. March. We are taking you to a new prison.”

They walked them in the rain back to the Venture. The captain was amazed that they didn’t get lost, actually. As arranged, Vezzarn cracked the hold loading bay, and let the prisoners into it. When it was closed again, the three witches set off for the mound.