THE SORCERESS OF KARRES — Snippet 18

THE SORCERESS OF KARRES — Snippet 18

Chapter 9

Three ships, needle-like and of some alien design, came hurtling out of cover from where they must have hung, hidden from instrument detection, close to the radiation of a giant blue-white star. Pausert hit the laterals, sending the Venture into a steep curve away. What sort of shielding must they have on those ships? He would never dare to take the Venture that close to a B-class supergiant.

And yet it seemed they were content with just that — a chase and seeing the Venture off. That was not, he would have thought, what hunter-ships in Chaladoor should be prepared to do. This was a place of aggression and predation, not defense.

The captain began to setting the course to take them back toward their original route — and within an hour the ships were back. Either they were much faster than the Venture or there were a lot of them.

The Leewit had woken up again and was looking over his shoulder. “They look the same as the ones from two watches ago, Captain. Do you think someone is taking over the Chaladoor?”

“Let’s try hailing them. If they don’t want to fight, they’re welcome to it. We’re just passing through. We don’t need trouble.”

The Leewit nodded, looking just a little disappointed. She loved those nova guns. But not having her sisters around was forcing her into a different role, making her just a little less of a wild-child, showing that she could act with sense and maturity when she had to. Pausert thought Toll and Threbus might appreciate the change.

She’d seated herself and was working the communicator, scanning likely calling frequencies, sending out standard Empire hailing pulses. If she got a reply of any sort her linguistic klatha skill would allow her to translate it.

The communicator howled like a banshee. The pitch was sharp and eerie enough to make Captain Pausert’s hair stand on end. The Leewit snapped it off, mid-caterwaul.

“What was that? What did they say?”

“Nothing,” said the Leewit, her voice unusually quiet. She got up and came and leaned against his shoulder, a totally uncharacteristic thing for her to do.

Pausert put his arm around the littlest witch.

“It was just… hate. And almost a kind of hunger. And fury.”

“We’ll deal with the ships if they try anything.”

“It wasn’t the ships sending it. It came from that star.”

“What?”

The Leewit shrugged. “They hate us. And they’re trying to do something to us. That’s all I got. But it’s not the ships. They didn’t answer.”

As she said that, the lead ship fired on them. A torpedo of some sort, according to the detector board. The captain glanced at the readouts. The torpedo was not going to intersect their course, unless it changed vector. But the mere act of firing it showed intent.

The Leewit saw that too. “They mean business, Captain.”

He nodded, hands moving over the controls, increasing thrust and pushing the ship onto a slightly different trajectory. “Get Vezzarn up.”

“I’m here, skipper,” said the grizzled old spacer.

“Unlock the nova gun-turrets. Vezzarn, stern turret. The Leewit, take the other. See if you can deal with that torpedo.”

It would not be an easy target. But the Leewit’s ability with those guns verged on the uncanny.

And once again, she proved it so. The torpedo exploded into a vortex of amber incandescence, far enough away to be harmless, although close enough to set the Venture ‘s radiation detectors squawking.

“Nasty stuff,” said the Leewit. “The lead ship is coming into range, I reckon, Captain.”

As she said that, the mysterious ship fired two more space-torpedoes. That seemed to be its chief armament.

“Let them have it,” said Pausert. “They asked for it. We’ll run if need be, after that.”

The captain readied the wires for the Sheewash drive. He was sure he could do that on his own, if need be, even if he never had before.

The Leewit took out the torpedoes, and then launched a volley of purple nova gun fire across space.

She did not miss. But for all the effect that she had on the attacking ship, she might as well have.

“Give them some more,” said Pausert tersely.

It was almost as if the nova bolts were just going through the ship. Pausert checked his instruments. There was something very wrong here. The visual and radiation detectors were giving readings — but the mass-detector wasn’t. The attacking ships were pushing out power, and they could be seen… but they were as insubstantial as snow-flakes, mass-wise. He commented on it, as The Leewit continued to fire.

“It’s Chaladoor Phantoms, Captain,” quavered Vezzarn’s voice over the intercom.

“What are they?” asked Pausert.

“Stuff of legends of the spaceways of long ago, Captain. But you can’t escape them, apparently. And you can’t kill them, either. You can drive a ship right through them, and it has no effect. But they sure can kill you.”

“Huh! Those torpedoes sure got hit,” said the Leewit. “Anyway how did any legend start if no-one gets away, Vezzarn?”

“Well, we’re going to get away,” said Captain Pausert. “Seal those guns and let’s do some special running.”

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