Goth waited for her to drive off, but the woman stayed there, continuing her conversation. Only now Goth could hear neither side of it. Goth pondered her next step. It would be fairly easy to deal with this woman. But that was just the surface of the plot. It seemed that they planned no further action that evening, and she couldn’t follow Pausert everywhere in no-shape forever. She was already pushing her energy reserves too far.

In fact, Goth found herself nearly swaying with exhaustion. Traveling back here by the Egger route, not to mention everything else she’d done since arriving on Nikkeldepain, sure took it out of you. She needed a safe place to lie up for the night. In the morning, she’d find out just why they were after the captain, and just who they were. She had a feeling that could be vital information. But now, she had to rest. And burgling Pausert’s home seemed just too hard.

The Petey B was close enough. She knew where to find a quiet spot in the props store for a bit of sleep, and there were always cushions and some fabric for a bed there. The “props” had been a veritable treasure house as well as the perfect hideout for her and the Leewit, when they’d traveled with the lattice-ship circus. So she walked towards its lights, trying not to think just about how tired her feet were.

The ship was secured and guarded, of course. The Petey B did not want stowaways or petty thieves. Well… it would take stowaways, sometimes. But Himbo Petey was a man with a conscience and Goth didn’t plan to test it. She knew how the security system worked, and she still had enough energy left to use no-shape in a pinch.

As it turned out, she made it to the old hulk that was the second props store with no problems or incidents. Despite the fact that she was a decade and a few years early, the setting was so familiar, so comforting, that she might have indulged in a happy snuffle or so when she reached its sanctuary.

It was dark and warm and comfortable in the bed she’d made for herself. It easy to sleep here.

Too easy.

When she awoke it wasn’t dark any more. And the crimson-faced man staring down at her was not pleased to see her.


The thermosensitive crystals tattooed into the man’s dermis shifted color slightly, in a wave of cooler purple across the red visage. The reaching hand stopped. “What did you call me?”

Goth, still only half awake, struggled for an answer. “Uh. Manicholo. Isn’t that your name?”

The plump sideshow entertainer scratched his head. “Weird,” he said. “I’ve been considering it but I’ll swear I haven’t told a soul, yet. Look, kid. I’ll have to see you off the premises. The local authorities would love something to bust us for, and although I understand your wanting to get off this dump, I don’t want Himbo ornamenting their jail for juvie kidnap. This isn’t the Empire and they have laws about kids here. Personally, I’d like to get off Nikkeldepain altogether, but the marks are still cranking through the turnstiles.”

Goth nodded. “It’s okay. I understand. I’m not from here, but I met the local flatfeet yesterday. They aren’t the sharpest scribers in the box. I just needed a place to sleep, that’s all. Don’t worry, I’ll go quietly.”

Manicholo-to-be looked at her thoughtfully. “How did you find the store? How did you get in?”

You showed it to me somewhere in the future. I should have guessed it was a favorite spot of yours. But that was not an answer that she could give. “Luck, I suppose.”

“Exceptional luck,” said the chameleon-man dryly.

“Um. I’ve been on a lattice ship before,” admitted Goth. “So I knew what it was that I was looking for, and how to sneak in. Promise I will go now and not bring back any trouble for Himbo Petey. He’s a decent old dope.”

Manicholo had a disconcerting habit of noticing just what you didn’t want him to. “He’s not that old. And just how did you get past the perimeter?”

Himbo wouldn’t be that old… Goth found herself very curious. How big was his moustache? And “Is dame Ethy with the Show…?”

Her captor shook his head. “That does it. You’re coming with me to talk to Himbo Petey, young lady.”

Goth ported a glass lamp-stand five feet above a display of Medoirian armor and let it fall. Then, slipped away into no-shape as Manicholo turned to see what had happened.

“Wha… where…?” Manicholo wasted precious seconds looking for her instead of closing the outer lock to the hulk that served as the second props store. By then Goth was outside. It was already quite bright out. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was busy with its familiar morning chores, mucking out, cleaning up, preparing for the return of the crowds.

Pausert was probably already at school. She hadn’t meant to sleep that long. Klatha. It took it out of you! She needed breakfast and to get back to her task — and not necessarily in that order either.

But on a whim, she followed Manicholo as he hurried along to the main part of the lattice, where the circus offices were. It wouldn’t take her much out of her way — well, not more than it took to skirt the Fanderbags’ tail ends carefully. No-shape bent light around her, not more solid things. Sure enough, Manicholo had stopped by to see a younger Himbo Petey. He was working on the mustachios, but he had a few years to go. They looked faintly ridiculous on his younger face, and Goth had to stifle a giggle.

“…intruder of some sort. A young girl. She seemed to know a great deal about the circus.”

Himbo twirled his mustachios. “They do, you know. They find out as much as they can. So where did you find her, and how did she get away? We’ve got to be careful here, Fenn. The local authorities are ready to jump on us for anything.”

Manicholo nodded. “I know. She was in the Props store. No. 2. Distracted me and ran, I think. Means she’s probably hiding out somewhere.”

Himbo sighed irritably. “We’ll do a search. And contact that local councilor fellow, Onswud, and ask if they have any missing persons. Give me a description so that we can say we saw her. That way if it goes pear-shaped, we’re on record as having tried and having reported the incident to them. I’ll have a word with security. And you’d better make sure that she’s not still in that rat-warren of a store, and see that it is locked.”

Goth slipped off before he did all of that. She was right in her earlier judgment — Nikkeldepain City was already at work. She could just hope that young Pausert was safely in his school as she made her way along the street to his home.

“Why aren’t you in class?” asked a sharp-eyed fellow in gray coveralls. He radiated self-important minor government official without having to say so.

“Great Patham! Look at that!” said Goth, pointing. He looked and she did a subtle light-shift on herself, making herself look a little more like her mother.

“What?” The minor official turned back. “What are you pointing at?”

“You should have looked faster,” said Goth shifting her voice too. “It’s gone now. Some kind of animal.”

The official peered again. “What color? I’m here to catch strays,” he said proudly. “Sorry, I thought you were a lot younger.”

He went on his way, followed by hard thoughts from Goth. The man’s petty officiousness had required her to use a fair amount of her klatha energy for no good reason. The last night’s sleep had restored some of that energy, true, and a good meal would restore still more. Still, she’d have to be careful.

Goth noticed that a vehicle sitting in the leafy street close to Pausert’s home had an occupant, who was staring at her. She could only hope that they hadn’t seen the subtle shift in age. She recognized the fellow as the man from the back of the airtruck yesterday.

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