MISSION TO MADNESS

By Gerald W. Page and Kenneth Pembrooke

Illustrations by Mark Fults, posed by Stephanie Walters


   

“Oh, would it now?” She capped the bottle again. “Well, now, you know I’ve traveled all over this nebula. I been on most of the worlds in it.”

“On R’lyeh?” he asked hopefully.

“Oh, no, never on R’lyeh. I always steer wide of R’lyeh, I do.”

M’lDeemer heaved a great sigh. His feet, dangling from the chair, swung back and forth. “I steer wide of it, too, though I do not want to.”

“Well, it might just get easier for the both of us, me to steer wide of the place, and you to go there. Because it might be that I intend to have a chart soon in my hands that shows exactly where R’lyeh is. What do you say to that, young Ipling?”

M’lDeemer’s whole attitude changed. He sat up, shoulders hunched, head craning forward, eyes narrowed. “I would say,” said he, “that I must ask a question. What do you want M’lDeemer to do for you, Pirate Sadie?”


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“Plenty, when the time comes,” she said. “As for now, this is just our little secret, yours and mine. But –”

There was a short buzz over the annunciator and then Curran’s voice. “Suggest you get up here, Sadie. You too, M’lDeemer. We’ve been hailed and not by any Wizard Lord.”

“Be right with you,” said Sadie.

“Pirates!” said M’lDeemer. “Action stations!” He slid from his chair and started for the door.

“Not so fast,” said Sadie. She stopped him by grabbing one of his handsome dorsal fins. He yelped and, rubbing his abused flank, stared at her with astonished eyes. “I don’t think it’s pirates so much as serpents, if you takes my drift,” said Sadie. “But since you’re working for me now, I got a special assignment for you, so to speak. Very special.”

4

Curran glared at the screen. It showed a ship, not two hundred meters from their own. Seen through the haze of the nebula it was indistinct but there

  was no mistaking the ensign of the black cross on that ship’s nose.

“I say we blow them to atoms,” Elge said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“They outgun us by a considerable margin,” Curran pointed out. “They’ve got shields. And detectors. If we started up the weapons generators, they’d detect the power increase and blow us up first.”

“Seems to me there’s a lot to be said for good, old-fashioned mechanical catapults,” she said.

“She’s got a point, skipper,” said Sadie coming onto the bridge and peering at the screens. “Uh oh,” she added.

A face flashed onto the communicator plate. It was set into a bullet-shaped head. There was no hair but the thin mustache that ran the length of the upper lip. The skin was mottled and the eyes were small and dark and mean. “Power down, Curran,” said the face. “You’re about to be boarded.”

“Well, well, well,” said Sadie. “If it isn’t the boss worm himself.”

Curran said, “What is it you want, Immis?”

“What I want, Curran, is what I see over your left shoulder there.”


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“He means me, I think,” said Sadie.

“Shall I toss her out a convenient airlock?” asked Curran.

“Hey!”

“No. I want that privilege for myself. I’m coming aboard.”

“I keep a clean ship,” said Curran. “I’d rather you stayed off her.”

"I can blow a hole in your hull or you can open an airlock. It’s your choice, Curran.”

The screen went dead. Curran said, “Isn’t anyone going to call me ‘Captain’ today?”

“If you let him board the ship, when he’s got what he wants he’ll toss us all out the old airlock,” said Sadie.

Sadie said, “You know when he gets here he’s going to gloat and walk around all puffed up like the adder he is and take what he wants and then kill us all. You got any contingency plan?”

“I’m working on it. But to tell you the truth it’s pretty hazy at this point.”

 

“Aside from which, how do you plan to keep that young she-cat over there from trying to assassinate that snake lord soon’s she within reach of him?”

“We have no choice. He can fire his weapons before I can fire mine.”

“He’s launching a boat,” said Elge.

Curran heard the tightness in her voice. He said, “You don’t plan on trying anything grand and foolish, now, do you?”

“You mean am I going to get us all killed, is that what you’re asking?” She sighed. “Not this time. I’ll be good, Papa.”

“I think he prefers Step Papa, dearie,” said Sadie.

“Actually, I prefer neither one,” Curran said.

“When things get hazy, I recommend crazy,” said Sadie. “Suppose you leave everything in the wily and capable hands of Sadie the Ladie.”

“You’ve got a plan?”


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“I wouldn’t call it that, exactly. More of a hope. But a sound one. I’d advise you to hang onto your sword if you can.”

The lifeboat docked at the main airlock and Curran and the others on the bridge watched the guages that showed the airlock cycling and, finally, the inner hatch coming open. The snake was on board.

Immis came onto the bridge and Curran felt Elge, close by him, grow tense with her hatred of the monster. He was accompanied by two guards, one of them so tall he had to stoop as he came through the door, the other one built for speed and, possibly climbing. Immis tried to smile and it came out a sneer.

“I don’t think this is how you people envisioned meeting me again, is it?” he said.

He was wearing the uniform of his legion with the emblem of the black cross and serpent. It was bedecked with ribbons and metals and other decorations, which was not common among the Fellowship, but that was the sort of person Immis was. At his side he wore a sword as long as the one Curran carried. “I have a man searching your ship,” he said. “And I would take it as a favor if you people would place your weapons on the charting table there.”

 

Curran unbuckled his belt with the gun and the sword and tossed it on the table. Sadie removed a small pistol from its concealment and laid it down carefully. Elge unfastened both her belts and handed over the guns, the knife, the ammunition. “All your weapons, please,” said Immis.

She bent down gracefully and removed a knife from her right boot, then one from her left. She placed them on the table.

Curran decided not to wait for Immis’s order and removed his own boot knife and added it to the pile.

“There,” he said. “Does that make you happy?”

“Quite happy,” said Immis.

“That might not last,” said Sadie. “You been watching the armillary by chance?”

“What are you raving about now, Sadie?”

“I guess you haven’t. Then take a look at your ship in the screen, there.”

Curran could see the screen. It showed the ship and nothing more. Immis laughed. “I see –”

The flare momentarily outlined the ship starkly in the haze.


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  Then the ship came apart and the parts flew every which way. “Oooh, there’s gonna be one hard rain in a few minutes,” Sadie said. “Shields up!” and she slapped the deflector button.

“What did you do to my ship!” screamed Immis. He would have torn his hair if he had any.

His guards responded in a more practical way. They leveled their weapons.

But both Elge and Curran were quicker. Curran scooped up one of the guns from the charting table and blasted the tall guard in the middle of the chest. Elge took the speed out of the other one with a blast to the stomach. Both dropped without firing any weapons.

Immis stood there between the smouldering corpses of his two guards and yanked his sword from its scabbard. But he did nothing else. There was a dazed look on his face and his mouth hung open and Elge and Curran held guns on him. There was a muffled thud as some bit of his ship hit the shields of the Black Swan and caromed off harmlessly into space.

“How did you – how did you,” was all Immis could manage to sputter.

“Well,” said Curran. “I’d love to tell you but I haven’t the foggiest notion of what happened.”

 

“Yep,” said Sadie. “With all due respect for Captain Curran’s legendary sneakiness, to say nothing of his truly magical skill with a raygun – him and the young she-cat – I really think the credit for all this should go to me."

“There’s another ship on the screen,” Elge said.

“That’s my ship,” Sadie said. “The Royal Pain, she’s known as and currently commanded by my first mate, a gentleman known to you as Obrupt.”

“Then he isn’t your agent,” said Curran.

“Not by the hair on my chinnie-chin-chin,” said Sadie. “I’m afraid you been had, skipper. It was all a plot to lure you in as a decoy.”

M’lDeemer peered into the room and looked around. He had two guns in his hands. “I hope nobody minds,” he said. “I saw this stranger searching your quarters, Captain Curran. I killed him.”

“That was good,” Curran said. Then to Sadie, “Decoy for what?”

“The snake,” she said, pointing her thumb at Immis. “You see, I took possession of a couple things from him a few weeks back and he’s sort of resented my initiative, if you know what I mean. He had this astrogation chip that shows where Minchmont is. I’m headed there and since I don’t know where the place is, I thought it would be a useful something to have


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  ownership of. The other thing was a sigil. The sigil was the big thing. It renders the person who’s carrying it immune from the magic of the Wizard Lords. That way I can sneak up on Casingrim because he can’t detect me coming.”

“That’s quite a sigil,” Elge said.

“Oh, I don’t think it would work on Mesrick Dwaln or Aelon, and maybe not on Cas Malygris. But on small fry like Casingrim? Dish of pudding.”

“And I take it,” Curran said, “That we’re nowhere close to Minchmont.

“Nope,” said Sadie. “I’m afraid the navigation chip I handed you was faked up by a close associate of mine. It said ‘Minchmont,’ but it showed the main base of the Fellowship of the Black Cross. Or at least Immis’s main base. I figured he’d recognize your ship and figure you were coming after him for what he did to the girl’s daddy. And he’d personally come out here for a look-see. You see, he was the fly in my ointment.”

She smiled smugly. “Owning the chart that showed Minchmont and the sigil that would protect me from Casingrim, I figured his treasures were just ripe for my taking. But there was Immis to think about. He knew enough of what I was planning to do to intercept me when I tried it. And he also knew what I had in my possession since I’d taken them from him. So I had to get him out of the way – which it seems I just have.”

 

“Not quite,” Curran said. “It seems to me there’s a hitch in your plan. You’re aboard my ship. Your crewmembers aren’t likely to blow this ship up with you aboard it. And we’re armed and you aren’t.”

“Oh, that. I took care of that part, too.”

M’lDeemer came all the way into the room. He walked straight up to Curran and pointed his two guns at Curran and Elge.

“Drop your gun, Captain Curran, sir,” said M’lDeemer.

“I sort of promised to make him one of me crew. I also promised to take him to R’lyeh. Or as close as I intend ever going to the place. I’ll give him the means of finding his own way from there.”

5

As she slipped through the airlock hatch on her way off the ship, Sadie the Ladie said, “Thanks for all the guns. I’m leaving you your swords so you and Immis can carve each other into giblets if you’re of a mind.” Then she closed the hatch and sealed it, leaving Curran, Elge and Immis to think their unflattering thoughts about her.

“She has a point,” said Immis. And lunged at Curran. Curran’s own sword seemed barely to move yet it caught Immis’s blade and deftly redirected it so that it went off to the side. Immis fell forward.


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Elge slammed something against Immis’s skull and Curran stepped aside just to let him drop unmolested to the floor.

“I thought they took all your weapons,” Curran said.

“They asked me to give over my knives and guns,” she said. “Nobody mentioned anything about blackjacks.”

She bent down, tossed Immis’s sword out of reach and then, using her knife, cut a strip out of his pantsleg to tie his hands with. “Where’ll we keep him?”

“They’ll be through with the airlock in a couple of minutes,” he said. “What are you talking about, keeping him? I thought you wanted him dead.”

“That was when he wasn’t useful. Now he’s the only one of us knows where Minchmont is.” She finished with the tying and despite her speed, it looked a pretty good knot to Curran. As she stood up again, she added, “Of course once we get there he won’t be useful any more.”

“I swear, child, you’re as blood thirsty as a tick.”

“Maybe that’s so about the blood thirsty part, Captain,” she said, looking him straight in the eye. “But I think it’s time you stopped calling me ‘child.’”

 

The remark caught him off-guard, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Not when he thought about it. He said, “That’s a good point. I’ll try not to do it again.”

When the airlock recycled, they threw open the hatch and dragged Immis into it. He was showing no sign of coming to. Curran didn’t think his skull was damaged much, but he didn’t go to the trouble of giving him a close examination because he really didn’t care.

They set the controls so the airlock couldn’t be opened from the inside without the default password and left Immis to his own company.

As a parting gift, Sadie had ordered M’lDeemer to render the ship inoperable and he had done his usual superb job. Even so, it took them close to an hour to put all the parts back where they belonged. After that they collected all the weapons M’lDeemer hadn’t known about. They put a third of them in Curran’s cabin, a third in Elge’s and the rest in the weapons locker the pirates had cleaned out. Elge suggested dumping the two dead Fellowship members in the ship’s recyclers, but Curran ordered them ejected through the garbage tubes.

Then they went back and opened the airlock.


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They found Immis standing up, hands still tied. He looked like a man who wasn’t very happy about the fact his skull had been cracked with a blackjack.

He said, “Are you going to toss me out the airlock now?”

“We wish,” said Curran. He sighed. “Actually, you are going to get out of this airlock, but you get to choose which door you go through.”

“That’s something.”

“You’ve got something we want, Immis. The location of Minchmont.”

Immis’s eyebrows arched upward. “Are you suggesting a truce?”

“It’s not like you have a crew to help you out any more. Or a ship.”

“I have an organization.”

“Somewhere you do. Not on this ship,” said Elge. “Besides, I may not know a lot about the Fellowship of the Black Cross,” said Curran. “But every military or quasi-military organization I do know about takes a really dim view of officers who lose their whole commands, not to mention expensive ships – and live to tell about it.”

 

Elge added, “The way I hear it the guys who run the Fellowship are real bastards, too.”

“Elge!”

“I meant to say ‘martinets.’”

“Tyrants would be a better word,” said Curran. “So. What do you say, Immis?”

“I say exactly what you would say in my shoes,” said Immis, though the mottled skin seemed somewhat more mottled than before. “A truce, then.”

“A truce,” said Curran. “Until we get our hands on Sadie.”

“I can’t wait,” said Elge. She wasn’t exactly staring at his throat and running her thumb along the edge of her knife’s blade, mind you. But there was a certain look in her eye.

Later, after Immis had helped them plot a course and they were safely on their way – Immis locked in a cabin for the time being – she said to Curran, “So we lost M’lDeemer and gained Immis to replace him. Did we trade up or down?”


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“I don’t know this M’lDeemer chap,” said a voice neither of them had ever heard before. “But I’m familiar with a man named Immis. If it’s the same one, I’m afraid you’ve gotten the bad part of that deal.”

They whirled in astonishment, the two of them, and there at the rear of the bridge they got their first sight of Casingrim.

Curran did not know for certain it was Casingrim, of course. For a moment he considered that somehow the pirates who had boarded the Black Swan under Sadie’s command had left someone behind. But a look told him this was no pirate. What told him it was Casingrim, he could not say.

Imposingly dressed the newcomer was, in brilliant red robes with blue and gold trim along the hem. The robe was open on a blue silk shirt that covered an impressive belly. The loose trousers were yellow and the pointed-toe slippers green.

His features were not much. He was human, probably Hyperborean from Pasquintain. Pale with limp, sparse hair cut short. It might be blonde, it might be gray – Curran thought gray the most likely. The pale brown eyes were vague and seemed unfocused; this Casingrim was not, apparently, one for nailing you with a burning gaze. His eyes roved and wandered, barely looking at the people in the room – after he had taken in Elge, of course. His nose was large, his chin receding like his hairline.

 

Curran thought it best to establish the newcomer’s identity for the record. In a tentative voice he said,

“Casingrim?”

“Who else?” the wizard said. He found a chair and sat down, leaning forward. “Now, what goes on here?”

“We’re just a peaceful –”

“Sir, you are voyaging toward the planet Minchmont, where I live. How is that peaceful?”

“It’s a sight-seeing trip,” said Curran. He found a chair and sat down facing Casingrim.

“We’re pursuing pirates,” Elge added.

“Pirates?”

“Sadie the Ladie,” Elge said. “They’re headed for Minchmont.”

“We think they plan to raid the place.”

“Think!” said Elge. “We know they plan it.”

“I detected you,” said Casingrim. “I didn’t detect any pirates.”

“They have a thing,” Elge said.


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“A sigil,” Curran explained. “It protects them from being detected by you.”

“The Sigil of Deserom?” said Casingrim. “Don’t be silly. Where’d a common pirate find a thing like the Sigil of Deserom? I’ve not seen one in years.” He paused, then added, “Of course, I can’t see the fool thing, that’s the magic of it.”

“She told us she stole it from Immis,” Curran said.

“Immis? How in blazes did he get the Sigil? Wait, don’t tell me. It makes sense now I think of it. About six years ago he raided a small town on Klystra where I was once told the Sigil had ended up. I never actually believed the story or checked up on it.” He looked up at Curran. “You don’t suppose there was any truth to it?”

“We know the pirates think there is,” Curran said.

“By the stars, this is bad,” said Casingrim, rubbing his weak chin. “I suppose that buys you some time. I mean I don't want to blow your ship to atoms until I've at least cleared up this sigil thing.”

“At the least we need to get to Minchmont,” said Curran. “We know they’re headed there. They have a few hours head start.”

“Head starts are not a problem,” Casingrim said vaguely, still rubbing his chin. “I can get us there in minutes. But the whole thing – I need to talk with this Immis.”

 

“I’ll go get him,” Elge said. She moved past the men and left the bridge.

“Remarkably charming girl,” said Casingrim, gazing after her as she bustled away from them. “Inspiringly healthy-looking.” He turned back toward Curran. “How did you become involved in all this if you aren’t one of the pirates?”

“Sadie hired us to take her to Minchmont. It was a ruse to lure Immis into a trap. She said she had a copy of The Book of Elders to sell to you.”

“The Book of Elders! Ah! I’d give anything to own it. Lor Fennel, bless him, has one. The only one of the Hideous Books he has that I don’t except all those Nova Text fragments, and I don’t collect those. They’re not really books, you know. Well, they are, but in a different way. He offered to copy The Book of Elders for me but you know, a copy just isn’t the same thing as owning one.”

From somewhere back in the ship came Elge’s voice. She was yelling very loudly and very profanely.

“My word,” said Casingrim. “Where does a young lady learn such language as that?”

But Curran had leapt from his chair and was out the door, already, sword in hand. He rushed back to the cabin Immis had been locked in.


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The door was wide open. He stepped into the room cautiously. There was no sign of Immis.

There was no sign of Elge, either.

6

He looked around the room. Something was scrawled on the walls – no, not scrawled; drawn neatly, in some sort of green ink. It hurt his eyes to look at the designs. He went closer for a better look.

“Be careful of that,” said Casingrim, in the doorway.

“Immis is gone. Either he took Elge or she went to get him back. We need to search the ship.”

“Oh, they’re off the ship by now.” Casingrim came into the room and examined the markings on the walls.

“Where the hell did that green ink come from?” Curran said.

“It’s not ink. It’s blood, Immis’s blood, and not even dry yet.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Witch space,” said Casingrim. “This Immis is more knowledgeable than I supposed. The Fellowship doesn’t go in for things like this.”

 

“Like what?”

“Witch space is used by some of the acolytes of the Great Old Ones. These designs set up a sort of geometric connection with certain dimensions. They permit travel through space and even time under certain conditions. Very popular with worshipers of Nyarlathotep and Azathoth.”

“Then Immis – and Elge – could be anywhere,” Curran said.

“Yes, that’s true, I suppose. But I think I know where Immis took her. Would you like to go after them?”

“Of course I would,” Curran said.

Casingrim grabbed him by the elbow. “Then let’s go. Oh. Try not to get sick. I just had these robes cleaned.”

Before he could agree – or protest, for that matter – Curran found himself dragged toward the corner of the room toward which the strange designs on the wall seemed to converge. His stomach was already doing flipflops and he was strangely disoriented but Casingrim seemed to be doing fine.

And then they were Elsewhere.

It made no sense, even less sense when you actually experienced the thing, but no longer were they on the ship. They


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  were in a sort of violet haze and there was a feeling of falling and rising at the same time; of moving in every direction at once. Curran felt as if things were staring at him, hungry dangerous things, waiting for the opportunity to pounce.

And then they were somewhere else and it was a ship. A starship.

But it was not the Black Swan.

“Royal Pain,” said Curran.

“Well, witch space is not a pleasant experience the first time you try it,” said Casingrim. “But I’m not sure I’d call it that.”

“No, no,” said Curran. “It’s the name of Sadie’s ship. I’ll bet we’re on the Royal Pain.”

“Oh.”

They were in a passageway. From somewhere up ahead Curran suddenly heard Elge’s voice. She was saying, “Keep your hands to yourself you lowlife son of a bitch!”

“There’s my girl,” said Curran. He started toward the sound.

 

He turned a corner and there they were. Elge’s hands were tied behind her back with what looked like the same strip of cloth she had cut from Immis’s pantslegs to tie him up with. He had her by the upper arm and was trying to drag her forward. Curran called his name.

Immis made a sound like a growl and shoved the girl hard against the wall. She yelped with pain and fell to the deck. Immis lunged at Curran with his sword.

“Those swords are too long to be practical on a spaceship, aren’t they?” Casingrim said.

“Shut up,” Curran said, and deftly parried Immis’s blade. Immis drew back and feinted. Curran let him. They stood facing each other, watching for an opportunity, neither moving unnecessarily. Immis said, “The girl won’t coldcock me from behind this time.”

“You should be grateful she did it before,” Curran said. “It’s all that kept you alive.”

He moved his blade quickly and Immis countered. There was the ring of steel on steel in the narrow passageway and then they were engaged. Immis pressed forward, forcing Curran to fall back two steps.

“My only regret,” said Immis, “is that your death will be so quick. I’d love to drag it out but there just isn’t time for that.”


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“What you should be regretting is that you haven’t had more practice and training,” Curran said. “You telegraph your moves.”

And with that he tapped Immis’s blade, parried a lunge, and drove his point into Immis’s chest.

Immis looked down in astonishment at the sword blade that was driven through him. Curran yanked the blade free and something green and not very pleasant looking spilled out across his uniform jersey. Immis sputtered and then fell dead to the floor.

“My word,” said Casingrim. “That was amazing. I always thought that for a narrow space like this, a cutlass was an advantage.”

“Skill is always the real advantage,” said Curran.

Elge was struggling to her feet. Curran exhibited yet another aspect of his skill by slicing the strip of cloth her hands were tied with. It fell away and she started to rub her wrists vigorously. “How did you guys get here?”

“Same way you did,” Curran said.

“What’s the ruckus back here?”

 

At the sound of the new voice, Curran turned and saw Sadie the Ladie coming from the forward part of the ship. “Oops!” she said. She started to turn and run back where she came from.

Elge picked up Immis’s sword and started after her.

“What’s happening?” Casingrim said. “What’s got the girl so excited.”

Curran followed after Elge and the fleeing pirate.

Sadie reached the end of the passage. The door was closed. She turned around and faced Elge, a look of real panic on her face. “Can’t we do a little negotiating here?” she said.

Elge pointed her sword at Sadie’s throat. “You seem to think a cutlass is a better weapon than a sword like this,” she said. “I’ll let you draw yours and we’ll see who bleeds more.”

“Now, lass, young Sadie’s not one for violence if she can avoid it.” She was speaking rapidly, a decidedly desperate edge to her voice. “She has a peace-loving heart, she does. You could learn a lot from her, you know. How to tone down the violence, love your fellow person and such like philosophies.”

“Draw your sword, Sadie.”


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Sadie just gulped.

Elge moved forward, the point of the blade flicked toward Sadie’s throat. But instead of drawing blood, it hooked on the chain of the sigil around the pirate’s neck and jerked it over her head. The sigil fell at Casingrim’s feet.

“Oh, my,” said the wizard. “It is the Sigil of Deserom. No wonder I couldn’t see her.”

“Well you can see me now,” said Sadie desperately. “And you see before you a peaceable and delicate flower of maidenhood, of whom no malice should be felt. A poor lost lamb, as it were.”

“Lamb to the slaughter, you mean,” said Elge.

The door behind Sadie opened. With obvious relief she jumped backwards through it.

Something came down hard on her head.

Sadie looked every bit as astonished for just the briefest moment as Immis had with the sword blade through him. Then she slumped to the floor and lay there, a peaceable and delicate flower, and a very unconscious one.

M’lDeemer was standing there with one of Elge’s blackjacks in his hand. He held it out to her. “I found this in your cabin, back on the Black Swan,” he said. “I thought you might like it back.”

 

"I’ve got others,” she said. “But thanks.”

They went into the bridge and M’lDeemer sat down in a chair, his short legs dangling and swinging above the deck.

Curran said, “Whose side are you on now?”

“Oh,” said the Ipling. “I was always on your side. I was just waiting for my opportunity to hit Lady Sadie over the head.”

“Where’s the rest of the crew?” Elge asked.

“There is no crew. Just Lady Sadie, myself and long-nosed Obrupt.”

“Then where’s Obrupt?” Curran asked.

“Oh, he’s back there somewhere,” M’lDeemer said, pointing vaguely toward the rest of the ship. He looked very innocent sitting there.

“Let’s go look for him,” said Curran. “You,” he told M’lDeemer. “Don’t you so much as get out of that chair.”

They went back and checked the ship but could find no sign of Obrupt. The aft lifeboat bay was secure and the boat locked down. It didn’t occur to them that the ship also had a forward lifeboat bay until they heard the unmistakable sounds of the boat launching.


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Curran led the way back to the bridge. Sadie was no longer lying in the floor. M’lDeemer, however, was peacefully seated, legs swinging back and forth, in the chair they had left him in.

“Where’s Sadie?” Curran snarled at the Ipling.

“Obrupt came and woke her up. They left.”

“Left! Where did they go? Why didn’t you stop them?”

“You told me to stay in this chair,” said M’lDeemer. “I think they went into the maintenance access well.”

“I suspect the forward lifeboat bay is reached through the maintenance well,” Curran said. He sat down heavily in the chair next to M’lDeemer.

“You seem to be taking this rather badly,” said Casingrim.

“I was hoping there was some sort of reward out for Sadie. I need the money. I’m broke. Right now I don’t have enough to pay the docking fees at any commercial spaceport even here in the Lantern.”

“Oh. But you have two spaceships, don’t you?” asked Casingrim. “I’m a witness that you captured this ship from a pirate who was in the process of using it to commit a raid on a planet.”

 

“I suppose so,” Curran said. “But that doesn’t help me. It’ll take months if not years for my claim to go through the courts and I can’t sell it until I have a clear title.”

Casingrim was rubbing his chin again. “Actually, we’re close enough to Minchmont that I suppose I’m the closest thing there is to a court. I say the ship is yours.”

“What?”

“Moreover, I want to buy it from you. And especially I want to buy the sigil and the navigational chip from you. If you hang onto them, scoundrels from all over the nebula will be trying to steal them. And if one of them is successful, I’ll have problems. It seems more practical for me to own them.” He reached into his robes and pulled out a pouch. “I think I can give you an adequate payment here and now.”

“Will you take M’lDeemer, too?” asked Elge.

“Him?” Casingrim looked at the young Ipling who was trying to appear even more innocent than before. “In that case, my price won’t be quite as high. But – will this be adequate?” He pulled an amount out of his wallet and placed it in Curran’s hand.


Planetary Stories
Mission to Madness
Page 15
 

Curran stared at it. Without even bothering to count it, he said, “That’s more than enough.”

“Fine,” said Casingrim. He got to his feet. “Come along, you two. I’ve got to get you back to your own ship.”

“Sir?” said M’lDeemer.

Casingrim stopped at the door and looked back at him. “I need you to watch my new ship,” he said. “If you need to, you can even get out of your chair.”

“Will you come back for me?” asked M’lDeemer. “I’d like that.”

"Oh, of course I will," said Casingrim, leaving the bridge. "I'm almost certain to remember a thing like that."

 


The End

Planetary Stories
Mission to Madness Part Two
Page 16

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