Chapter 7

Here in the Chaladoor, Captain Pausert was finding out the hard way just how intrinsic Goth had become to the running of the ship. Yes, there was still old Vezzarn. The old spacer was an experienced hand, and these days the captain felt that he could trust him. But he lacked Goth’s incisive decision-making. The experiences they’d been through had made Goth aware of what dangers actually were, and when it was wise to wake the captain. Vezzarn… the experiences seem to have made him timid instead! “There are too many strange things I really don’t understand, Captain,” he said. “I reckon that it’s best to leave that sort of deciding to you. Or to the little Wisdoms,” he said referring to the Karres witches by their Uldune honorific. “Only, well, better if it’s Missy Dani, uh Goth.”

That was all too true. The Leewit had grown a great deal since her sister had left her here on the Venture . But she still was some years younger. And, unlike Goth, the Leewit did not wake easily, or in a good temper! The end result was that the captain was getting very little sleep, and what he was getting was being interrupted all too often. Besides that, he just missed having Goth talk to. They’d been companions now for some time. To his shock Pausert realized that it was heading on for a good year or two since the incident on Porlumma — hard to say exactly!

He tried to quiz the Leewit on just where Goth had got to. But on that subject he might as well have tried to ask the bulkheads questions. The Leewit could stonewall with the very best. And she could fend off too much questioning with a threat of a few of her shattering whistles. That was enough to stop him asking.

Besides, he had a lot on his plate. The trip had had far more encounters than he expected, and something, he found, was bothering him. It felt as if they were being watched. Maybe even manipulated. He was tired, off-balance, stressed, and missing his familiar helper. But that did not stop the captain noticing that there was a certain pattern to the incidents. He talked about it with both the Leewit and Vezzarn, in one of the relatively rare times when all three of them were awake at the same time. One couldn’t just leave the ship running on automatic in the Chaladoor, as they might have in the empty areas of Imperial space, relying on the detectors and alarms — which meant watches.

“I’m beginning to feel as if something is trying to herd us,” he said tiredly. “We’ve just had to change course again. Not only is this adding quite a lot to our trip time but it is beginning to worry me. It’s almost as if these attacks are being orchestrated. But even sub-radio doesn’t work reliably here in the Chaladoor — not without repeaters. That means the best anyone trying to track us could do would be shorter range. And that implies a lot of co-ordination, and a lot of ships. Unless of course they have some kind of leech or tracker on us. And we made sure of that not being the case, after last time!”

“Or else we’ve some pretty fast enemies,” said the Leewit. “Maybe we should not run next time. Shoot them up and ask questions later.” The Leewit loved her work on the nova guns, even if they were erratic, old and rather dangerous — even after the very best of the Daal’s armorers had serviced and refurbished them.

It was a tempting idea, Captain Pausert had to admit.

Vezzarn shuddered. “In the Chaladoor it always feels like it is out to get you, Captain. But even the Agander would have struggled to organize something like this. I think this must be more witchy stuff, Captain. I reckon we better cut and run.”

“It would take us just as much time by now to go back as it would to go on,” Pausert pointed out. “But I don’t like playing their game for them. We might try a little extra speed.”

Vezzarn coughed. “Uh, I’m feeling really tired, Captain. I think I’ll go and take a sleep now.” Vezzarn strongly resisted seeing ‘witchy stuff’ in action. He really did not like to be around when they worked the Sheewash drive. It was quite an eerie thing to watch, Pausert had to admit. The more he thought about it, the more he decided it wasn’t a ‘drive’ at all. The Venture did not gain momentum in the process. It just traversed vast amounts of space. He wanted to understand how, but not right now. Right now, he needed to get away from the harassment and get some rest.

Soon, in the control room of the Venture , a cone of strangely twisted wires had a ball of orange energy dancing above it, as the captain and the Leewit worked the klatha pattern which produced the Sheewash drive. They did not keep it up for very long. Captain Pausert found that he did not mesh nearly as well with the Leewit on her own as he had with Goth and her sister. Besides, right now they had nothing to run from, except a feeling that the captain had that they ought to follow a course of their own choosing, rather than being steered down one. Using the Sheewash drive took it out of him. Captain Pausert was not particularly experienced at using it. And the Leewit was still quite young for doing so. They really couldn’t afford to push it too hard or far. For all they knew they might be needing it soon, in earnest.

“You’d better go and rest, brat,” said the captain afterwards, as the Leewit wolfed down a double batch of pancakes and Wintenberry jelly.

The Leewit nodded. “Need to bathe first,” she said.

The captain smiled to himself. She was growing up. Imagine her suggesting washing herself! Times changed. But what he said was: “See you wash behind your ears.” It was by now a traditional thing for him to say. He wasn’t prepared for the Leewit to hug him. “Miss Goth,” she said thickly, before hastily walking away towards her stateroom.

He went back to his chair in front of the control panels and viewscreens. Watching.

He didn’t have long to watch before trouble came looking for them.

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