The monorail car slowed to a halt again. Goth looked warily up from her reverie and saw a familiar, heart-warming sight. The lattice ship, its gaudy syntha-silk covering bright in the morning sun, decked out with bunting and flags. She nodded to herself. Spy-lock or no spy-lock, let them try following her around the lattice-ship. Here on Nikkeldepain she was the one who didn’t know where she was going. And security on the lattice ship was fairly tight for areas that were off-limits to the paying public.

She set off with the crowd who were obviously heading for the morning show. No-shape wasn’t really an option right now, so she settled for buying a stalls ticket and a box of carni-pops. There was no food value in them, but if she couldn’t enjoy some artificial flavorants for old-times sake, then what could she enjoy? She went with the flow, past the side-stalls and on into the main stages. They were doing the Scottish play again, she noticed. Out of pure nostalgia, Goth went in.

And discovered that live theater still had the same mesmerizing magic for her. Seeing Dame Euthelassia playing the third witch was different, though. Distracting. She almost didn’t see her three pursuers sneaking in. She actually might not have seen them, if it had not been for the “hush” and “sit down” from others in the audience.

Huh. When shall we three meet again? She was meeting those three all too soon!

She slipped under her seat, down into the scaffolding that held the bleachers up, then swung down to the lattice tier. Once there, she moved along one of the beams toward the animal enclosures.

The carrier bag on her arm was a nuisance for this sort of work. It was heavy and awkward. And just there was the props store. There was junk in there from a hundred productions.

Goth dropped onto the beam, next to it. The door was locked. No matter. She knew the lock-keypad sequence backwards.

It took just a few seconds to bury the map-box in her old lair and get out of there, locking the door behind her. And there the three were, after her. She stepped behind a stanchion and assumed no-shape again. There was a choice of three directions in which to run from here — so instead Goth went up. That was always her first instinct.

Once she was a comfortable three body-lengths above the beam, at a convenient cross-rail, she stopped and listened.

“Where has the little witch got to this time!” snarled Marshi. “I’m going to kill her when I catch her. See what I mean, Mirkon. She just disappears.”

“We need answers out of her. The readouts say that she’s right here,” said grizzled whiskers.

“Could be up or down, boss,” said Mirkon.

“True. It’s got an altitude reading.” Goth didn’t stick around. She climbed and railed along, and then dropped down to the fanderbag section. Fanderbags were loveable and huge. Especially huge. And Ketering, their keeper, even slept in there with his big children. He never left them alone.

He was with the gentle behemoths now, washing and scrubbing them. Goth balanced her way to the top of their sleeping-house. The fanderbags twitched their big noses at her, plainly smelling her. But this was scrubbing time, a treat not to be missed.

Onto the scene burst her two of her three pursuers.

“Oi. What are you doing here? This is off-limits to the public,” said Ketering.

“We’re from the Nikkeldepain police,” said Mebeckey, flashing a card. “Looking for a dangerous fugitive. We believe that you have her hidden in that structure. Now, just bring her out for us and we’ll say no more about aiding and abetting criminals. We don’t want any trouble, do we?”

“You think someone is in my fanderbag house?” said Ketering. “They have babies in there. No-one is in there. But here, Nellie. Take him and show him the babies. Show babies. Go girl.”

The startled Mebeckey was whisked off his feet by the long prehensile tusks and transported over to the fanderbag house. “See?” said Ketering. “Babies. No criminals. Now get out of here, see. They don’t like their babies being disturbed. Gowan!”

Goth kept still, watching. Any sign of weapons and there was going to be some serious ‘porting — and shooting back. She liked the fanderbags and Ketering.

Mebeckey was plainly not used to being manhandled by a three ton animal — gently manhandled, but it had still demonstrated just how light the fanderbag found him. Mebeckey carried himself with that arrogant assurance of those accustomed to getting their own way. Right now that assurance was badly rattled. “Er…”

The closer fanderbag snorted at him, leaning forward. Goth had seen Ketering’s prompting hand, and she’d fed and petted the big animals often enough to know that they were utterly harmless. Mebeckey and the woman didn’t know that. Where was the third man, though? “Thank for your co-operation,” said Mebeckey meekly and retreated back the way he had come.

“You can come out now,” said Ketering, a few moments later. “The fanderbags know that you’re there.”

Goth slipped down the side of the house and back into visibility.

“Thanks,” she said. “They’re not cops.” Instinctively she was petting and caressing the sensitive, curious noses that snuffled at her, just as he’d showed her how to do, years ahead of now.

He raised his eyebrows. “You know fanderbags.” His tone, a little sharp earlier, was now much gentler.

“Adore them. And I’m not leaving before I see the babies. Then I’ll be gone. No trouble for you or Himbo, I promise.”

A smile spread across his face. “They like you too. Come and have a look.”

The two baby behemoths were miniature quarter-ton versions of their parents. Goth thought that it was just as well the Leewit wasn’t here. There really wasn’t room for a baby fanderbag on the Venture !

Ketering watched her pet them. He sucked his teeth. “Look, kid, you know young Himbo, it seems. You hide on the ship now, and they find you, and we could be in all kinds of trouble. You want to get here about an hour before we lift. I’ll give you a pass.”

She hugged him, even if he smelled of fanderbag. “Can’t,” she said gruffly. “Got stuff to do here. But you tell Himbo those are not cops. One of them is a wanted escaped felon.”

He bit his lip. “By the way the Fandy’s are sniffing, they haven’t gone far. You’re in some kind of deep water, kid. Do you need help?” He patted a prehensile tusk. “I’ve got some big friends.”

“Who wouldn’t hurt a fly,” she said, smiling. “I’ll be fine. Just tell Himbo he’s got some bad guys — three of them, backstage where they shouldn’t be. I’ll lead them off now. Head for the sideshows. A few roustabouts around there would help.”

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