Author Archive

Welcome to the November 2018 issue of my newsletter, “News from the Crypt,” and please visit Carter’s Crypt, devoted to my horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance work, especially focusing on vampires and shapeshifting beasties. If you have a particular fondness for vampires, check out the chronology of my series in the link labeled “Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe.” For my recommendations of “must read” classic and modern vampire fiction, explore the Realm of the Vampires:
Realm of the Vampires

Also, check out the multi-author Alien Romances Blog

The long-time distributor of THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT has closed its website. If you would like to read any issue of this fanzine, which contains fiction, interviews, and a detailed book review column, e-mail me to request the desired issue, and I’ll send you a free PDF of it. My e-mail address is at the end of this newsletter. Find information about the contents of each issue on this page of my website:

Vampire’s Crypt

A complete list of my available works, arranged roughly by genre, with purchase links (gradually being updated as the Amber Quill and Ellora’s Cave works are being republished):

Complete Works

This is my Facebook author page. Please visit!
Facebook

Here’s my page in Barnes and Noble’s Nook store. These items include some of the short stories that used to be on Fictionwise:
Barnes and Noble

Go here and scroll down to “Available Short Fiction” for a list of those stories with their Amazon links:
Kindle Works

Here’s the list of my Kindle books on Amazon. (The final page, however, includes some Ellora’s Cave anthologies in which I don’t have stories):
Carter Kindle Books

Here’s a shortcut URL to my author page on Amazon:
Amazon

Happy American Thanksgiving!

I have a light paranormal romance novella, “Yokai Magic,” inspired by Japanese folklore, coming out from the Wild Rose Press on January 7, 2019. I’ve posted the cover in the Photos section of the Yahoo group. The heroine, Val, inherits a magical Japanese scroll, which conjures up a cat yokai (spirit) who’s being hunted by a wolf demon. As Val’s house becomes infested by magic, she has to turn for help to her former high-school boyfriend, now an officer in the Navy.

My humorous ghost story “Haunted Book Nook” will appear in SWORD AND SORCERESS 33, release date November 2. It takes place in the rare books room of a magical university’s library, where books and other objects have been mysteriously vanishing. An excerpt appears below. (Fenice is the librarian, and Milo is her assistant.) You can find the Kindle edition of the anthology here. (There should be a trade paperback, too, but it doesn’t show on Amazon yet.):

Sword and Sorceress 33

Here’s a post where the editor of the anthology interviews me:

Sword and Sorceress Interview

The Romance Reviews website is having a huge giveaway promotion for the entire month of November. I’ll be giving away a PDF of my story collection DAME ONYX TREASURES. Check for my contest question on November 23:

The Romance Reviews

This month, I’m interviewing paranormal and SF romance author Mary Auclair.

*****

Interview with Mary Auclair:

What inspired you to begin writing?

Like most writers, I have written for as long as I remember. My mother kept some of my earlier writing from first grade, and it already showed how much I loved putting my internal world onto a page as a story. So I guess I just never stopped!
I have been working more seriously in the past 5 years, as I chose to take a break from my engineering career to focus on being a mother. I now write full time, and I would never go back!

What genres do you work in?

I love everything paranormal and science fiction, and I also like historical work, although I have mainly focused on paranormal and science fiction romance lately.

Do you outline, “wing it,” or something in between?

As an engineer, I’m a stickler for order and control. I outline generously and with lots of detail. Only then do I feel confident enough to start writing a novel.

What have been the major influences on your writing (favorite authors, life experiences, or whatever)?

As a reader, I’m fairly diverse in my taste. I do adore Stephen King and Nalini Singh, but I also revere the great classics like Alexandre Dumas and George Sand. My absolute favorite is Anne Hebert, a French Canadian poet and writer whom I have discovered in my late teens.

How has your mechanical engineering background affected your fiction (if it has)?

I guess it made my writing life more ordered than most artists. I create checklists and outlines for all my stories, from the general series arc to each novel inside it. I also create a calendar with predicted end date for each story, and I work very hard to stick to it.
As I’m not writing hard science fiction as of late, I don’t really apply my scientific knowledge to my work, but it’s certainly in the plans.

Do you maintain a systematic “bible” for each of your series?

I maintain a bible for each series, with a glossary and timeline. I’m a control freak!

How would you describe your dragon species?

I intended the Dawn of Dragon series as a breach between fantasy and science fiction. I am quite enamored of dragons, although I wanted to steer clear of the dragon-shifter, so I imagined a world where powerful aliens would maintain a symbiotic relationship with dragons.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book (or both)?

I am working on two series right now, alternating between them for release. I just released Venomous Hunger (Book 2 in the Eok warriors series) and I’m in the final stage of editing Caress of Fire (Dawn of Dragons, book 2).

What are you working on now?

I’m currently outlining Venomous Heart (Eok Warriors, book 3) and I am in the final stages of editing Caress of Fire (Dawn of Dragons, book 2).

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Keep writing, no matter how much you self doubt. Also, consume as much as you can on books about writing. And learn to outline, whether it’s scene by scene or in broad strokes is up to you. Experiment to see what works for you. There is no method out there that works for all of us, so you need to search for what works for you, then stick to it.
And above all, believe in yourself.

What’s the URL of your website? Your blog? Where else can we find you on the web?

I maintain my website fairly often, here at www.maryauclair.com, and I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I love Pinterest and maintain vision boards for all my novels!

Website: Mary Auclair
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Thank you for the chance at being featured in your newsletter!

Mary Auclair

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD, by Paul Tremblay. Even stranger than the author’s horror novels, A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS and DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK. Those two books employ familiar horror motifs, even though in unsettling and ultimately ambiguous ways. This latest book approaches the currently popular apocalyptic tropes from a microcosmic, personal angle in a unique scenario. Chinese-born Wen, almost eight years old, is vacationing with her two adoptive fathers, Eric and Andrew, in an isolated cabin deliberately chosen for its lack of wi-fi and cell phone reception. One day, a seemingly nice man named Leonard walks out of the woods and starts a conversation with her. When she becomes uneasy enough to run for the house and tell her dads about the stranger, two women and another man join Leonard and demand to be let in. They insist they mean no harm but have an urgent message for Eric and Andrew. Eventually, they manage to break in. With the tautly suspenseful action, the reader hardly notices that almost a third of the book has gone by before the intruders announce the revelation hinted at in the cover blurb. They claim to have separately received “messages” about the imminent end of the world (although it soon becomes clear that what they expect is the end of human civilization, not the literal destruction of Earth). They deliver the ultimatum that either Eric, Andrew, or Wen must die by the willing hand of one of the other two in order to forestall the apocalypse. They display sorrow over their mission and treat the captives kindly, aside from tying up the two men. Are they deranged killers? Sociopathic liars on a homophobic rampage (Andrew’s hypothesis)? Well-meaning but delusional fanatics? Or could their claim of having received a supernatural revelation be true? The cabin has cable TV, so Leonard and his companions can access news reports that seem to validate their “message.” Every bit of evidence in their favor can be explained away, though. They announce a deadline, exacerbating the relentless suspense. The immediacy of the timeline probably accounts for the author’s use of present-tense narrative (sigh). Scenes are told in third person from the viewpoints of various characters, mainly Wen and her fathers. The portrayal of the child’s thought processes struck me as convincing. Near the end of the book, perspective shifts to first-person singular and plural voices. Readers who hope for a conclusive resolution to the questions of truth and falsehood, not to mention the nature of a deity who would impose such a condition (if the intruders are telling the truth), will be disappointed. As in his other supernatural fantasies, Tremblay maintains ambiguity, leaving the reader to draw conclusions from the evidence provided. Also, if you can’t stand graphic violence, skip this novel. I didn’t care for the quantity and intensity of it, but I stuck with the book to find out how the sympathetically portrayed family survives (or not) their horrific plight.

THE ADVENTURE OF THE INCOGNITA COUNTESS, by Cynthia Ward. A short trade paperback novel (110 pages) in the publisher’s “Conversation Pieces” line, this quirky story takes place in an alternate history reminiscent of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. Like Newman, Ward populates historical events with fictional characters from a wide range of sources. Although her world doesn’t measure up to the complexity and depth of Newman’s (at least as apparent from this brief sample), it’s cleverly constructed and offers the fun of spotting the allusions. The narrator, Lucy Harker, dhampir daughter of Mina Harker and Dracula, serves as a secret agent for the British government. The head of her organization, M (of course), actually Mycroft Holmes, is also her stepfather, having married Mina after her divorce from Jonathan. Lucy’s step-uncle, the famous “consulting detective,” is mentioned several times. M assigns her to travel first class on a new transatlantic steamship leaving England in April 1912, in order to protect an American military officer carrying confidential documents about the reverse-engineering of the recently recovered submarine Nautilus. Thanks to technology derived from the failed Martian invasion in the late nineteenth century, the highly advanced ship is claimed to be unsinkable. The reader, naturally, knows we’re on the Titanic well before its name is mentioned. Lucy meets vampire Carmilla Karnstein, now using the name Clarimal. Other passengers include a pair of German agents and an English peer, Lord Greyborough, and his wife, Joanne (stand-ins for Lord Greystoke—Tarzan—and Jane). Lucy and Clarimal, drawn together by instant, ardent passion, become sexually intimate, even though Lucy considers it her duty to stake vampires on sight. Clarimal claims eagerness to be released from her cursed existence, but somehow they keep putting off the fatal deed night after night. Lucy doubts their mutual attachment because she has always believed vampires to be incapable of genuine emotion. The fast-paced plot culminates in the anticipated collision with the iceberg, and all Hell breaks loose. Thanks to Clarimal and Lord Greyborough, Lucy succeeds in foiling the Germans’ scheme, at least for the present. I enjoyed the story but didn’t feel a deep emotional connection to the characters. We don’t get to know Clarimal well enough for the growing love between her and Lucy to be, for me, fully convincing. Still, this quick, fun read would appeal to most fans of classic vampire fiction. There’s a sequel, THE ADVENTURE OF THE DUX BELLORUM, set during World War I.

THE BARTERED BRIDES, by Mercedes Lackey. Another fantasy novel with a Sherlock Holmes connection, this is the third in the Elemental Masters subseries featuring Holmes, John and Mary Watson (Elemental Mages), and medium Sarah and psychic Nan from the main series. A more suitable title, actually, for the sake of accuracy in addition to alliteration, would be “Beheaded Brides,” since the “bartering” isn’t that important a plot point; “Beheaded” might give away a bit too much at first glance, though. As the book opens, the public believes Sherlock Holmes plunged to his death along with Professor Moriarty. Wisely, the narrative doesn’t drag out artificial suspense on this point. Holmes reveals himself to the Watsons, Nan, and Sarah almost immediately, although his survival is to be kept a secret among his inner circle for the present. Moriarty, though dead, lingers as a ghost bound to a talisman prepared beforehand by a necromancer henchman of his. The beheaded corpses of young women, many of them mere girls, turn up dressed as brides. We get numerous scenes from the necromancer’s viewpoint, so we know what he’s up to long before the heroes do. By constructing a sort of “battery” of psychic energy from the girls’ bound spirits, he plans to transfer Moriarty’s spirit into a new body. For that purpose, the villain snares a disgruntled young would-be poet in opium addiction. The suspense arises from watching Nan, Sarah, and the Watsons pull together seemingly unrelated threads to discover that the various crimes and attacks plaguing them come from the same person. Their preternaturally intelligent birds, Grey and Neville, of course play vital roles in the investigation. So does the ghost of a young woman, Caro, prematurely dead after leading the sheltered life of an invalid, whom Sarah befriends. For a while toward the end of the book, the heroes engage in more waiting and watching, reactive rather than proactive, than is usual in a Lackey novel, but there is a certain amount of realism in recognizing that they’ve hit a dead end in their investigation. Good ultimately triumphs, of course, with a happy ending for everyone who deserves it, even Caro, except the murdered “brides” (unless one considers their escape into the peace of the afterlife as such). Unlike almost all the other Elemental Masters fantasies, this book doesn’t rework a fairy tale, aside from one scene’s allusion to the poisoned apple in “Snow White.”

*****

Excerpt from “Haunted Book Nook”:

That evening Fenice and Milo met in the deserted hall outside the Rare Books Archive. After unlocking the outer door to the suite, she cast invisibility spells on her assistant and herself. Milo’s clothes rustled as if he were flapping his arms. “Wow,” he whispered. “This feels weird.”

“You’ll get used to it.” She groped for the doorknob and let the two of them into the anteroom, then shut the door behind them. Although the lamps on the reading desks had been extinguished for the night, a smaller, dimmer version of the ceiling globe in the book vault allowed them to see their way to the inner portal. They stepped inside and closed that door, too. “Nobody here,” she said. “My first guess would be that somebody is filching objects by long-distance teleportation, but the wards should prevent that.”

Milo bumped into her and murmured an apology. “However they’re doing it, I wonder why they’re taking ink and stuff like that. Valuable books, I can understand.”

She felt around until she could clasp one of his hands, clammy to her touch. She guided him to the corner next to the oversized painting and pulled him down beside her. “We’ll be out of the way here in case a flesh-and-blood person shows up. We don’t want them to trip over us. Now we should stay quiet.”

A tedious stretch of time followed. In the windowless room, no sounds broke the stillness except the flutter of the pen in the drawer and the skittering of the glass cat’s paws. After a while, her legs and rear ached from sitting on the hardwood floor. She cautiously shifted position to ease cramps and heard muted scrapings and rustlings as her assistant probably did the same. Just when she wondered whether they’d waited long enough and ought to give up until the following night, a chill crept over her. The next moment, the temperature of the air fell from its usual dry coolness to the cold of a bleak autumn day.

Milo gasped. Fenice squeezed his hand to remind him of the need for silence. Directly across from them, several books in the center of a shelf halfway up began quivering. After a few seconds, one of them detached itself from its place and floated across the room toward the picture. About an arm’s length from the wall, the volume blinked out of existence, or so it appeared.

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Hard Shell Word Factory: Hard Shell
Whiskey Creek: Whiskey Creek

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

“Beast” wishes until next time—
Margaret L. Carter

[This story is a sequel to “Shadow Thief” but can be read on its own. The minor inconsistencies between the two works result from slightly revising Gwennis’s backstory to convey it more efficiently through dialogue in “Raider in the Snow.”]

Raider in the Snow
By Leslie Roy Carter and Margaret L. Carter

A summons from Legate Rystov ensured that David’s day would not be a pleasant one. A visit to the head office usually meant there was a strong chance of trouble brewing between the Terrans and the Darkovans—and David would have to fix it. Whatever it was, David had no clue. He had no reports of any kind from any source of trouble, which left political intrigue a definite possibility—the Legate’s favorite activity of late. David hated acting as a spy. Rystov’s receptionist waved him through to the Legate’s door.

“There you are, Captain. Just the man who I know can solve our little problem.”

Stopping right in front of Rystov’s impressive desk, David came to attention. “Reporting as ordered.”

“Take a seat. I just got a call from the manager of our ski lodge in the Nevarsin mountains. It seems someone, or something, has been harassing his guests. Thefts of food mostly, which led him to believe it was wild animals, but now the thieves have been stealing valuables from the cabins. The thefts always occur at night. One of the guests surprised the intruder and was mauled. The manager says that incident has unnerved his guests, and they are threatening to pack up and go off world.”

The unhappiness in Rystov’s voice let David know that the real problem was the loss of business in Terra’s only significant import to Cottman IV. Tourism was about the only business the Terrans had managed to establish on the resource-poor planet. The Darkovans were unwilling to import machinery to help modernize their industries, few that they had, and they had banned high-tech weapons.

“Sir, one of the stipulations in the agreement signed by the prior Legate and the Hastur which allowed our off-base presence in the Nevarsins—the establishment of the ski resort—is that the security of the facility will be handled by Darkovan personnel. Specifically, we weren’t allowed a Security Force detachment there to provide protection.”

“That’s correct, Captain. The Guardsman from Lord McAran, whose Domain the lodge resides in, provides the security—only they don’t seem to have a handle on the problem. And to further exacerbate the issue, McAran is dragging his feet because he wants a greater share of the rent we pay the Hastur.”

David looked at his boss with a slow nod. “So you want me to work my relationship with Captain Mikhail Leynier on the Thendara Guard to solve McAran’s Guard’s possible wildlife problem – which could in actuality be the work of McAran’s men.”

Beaming, Rystov said, “See, I told you that you were the man for the job.”

#
Eddard held open the door and bowed his superior officer through. The tavern was a favorite hangout for the Thendara City Guard older cadre. Only a few turned to watch the pair of them enter. The guardsmen lost interest on recognizing David and Eddard, since the two made regular visits. David made his way to their table in the corner near the fireplace, while Eddard walked to the bar and negotiated for their usual fare. Captain Mikhail Leynier stood to greet David.

“You’re not smiling, David. Is something wrong?”

“Scout Eddard thinks we might have an issue to discuss. I don’t suppose he has mentioned anything to you about the thefts at the Nevarsin Ski Lodge?”

Mikhail glanced toward the young scout, who approached balancing three drinks, and he shifted into the corner to clear room for Eddard, pulling David into a seat next to him against the back wall. “No, my cousin has not been speaking to me lately since you have captured his every hour of late. We haven’t seen each other since last month when you brought him here for our cultural rehabilitation session.”

David rescued a tottering, full mug from his assistant and sat down. He grinned at Mikhail, waving the mug at Eddard, and said, “We aren’t making much progress turning him away from your back-country way of thinking, but you are making some inroads with mine. Every time I come here, I learn something.”

“As do I, David. And yes, we have a problem at Nevarsin.”

#
David shifted in his seat. Eddard stared down at the table and frowned. “Our party will consist of myself, Scout Eddard, and Scout Gwennis.”

Glancing at his cousin, Mikhail asked David. “Who is this? Have you brought another Darkovan on board?”

“It’s been cleared by the Hastur.”

“Really? Special case?”

“We caught her stealing on base. She’s working off her debt under my supervision. We noticed she has six fingers like Eddard and red hair. Could she be a distant relative of yours?”

Mikhail snorted. “Six fingers are not prevalent in a lot of comyn families. You know I don’t have six fingers. What is her background?”

“She’s an orphan. Her mother made a meager living as a hedge witch here in Thendara. Gwennis never knew who her father was because her mother would not speak of him. Most likely she is a nedestra offspring of some minor lord. We’ll probably never know. A couple of years ago the mother passed, but not before she trained her daughter, gave Gwennis her starstone.”

Mikhail looked startled and asked Eddard in casta, “She possesses laran?”

The young scout glanced at his senior and replied in the same language. “She knows some tricks, Cousin. She is harmless. After examining her, the tower turned her out. Her ‘starstone’ was a fragment, normally used as a triggering mechanism in a tower-produced lock. It had no real power.”

“And you obviously don’t like her very much.”

David, listening, pretended to study his near-empty mug. Mikhail asked, “Why not?”

“I don’t trust her. She hates the comyn with a passion. She is a guttersnipe and a thief. The Terrans like her because she moves silently and hides exceedingly well. She is intensely loyal to Captain David.”

David allowed himself a hint of a smile. Mikhail switched to Terran. “This mission is going to be hard enough with Lord McAran’s Guard resenting my presence and the two of you bickering. We’ve got to present a united front. Isn’t that right, Captain Fairechild?”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself. I gathered you were discussing Eddard’s discomfiture with Gwennis. This is mostly your show. We are just ‘interested parties.’”

#
Standing just in front of the ski lodge, David concentrated on Mikhail’s animated argument with McAran’s head Guardsman, Captain Reidel. Eddard struggled to translate their conversation. David’s casta was only catching familiar phrases. Gwennis divided her attention between her superior’s actions and Eddard’s words. She apparently knew no casta. David would have to call a briefing among the members of their party to ensure all would have the same intelligence about what was occurring here.

The head Guardsman finally made a gesture of surrender and stalked off. Mikhail turned back toward them, stomping through the shin-high snow. He gestured to the ski lodge’s main hall, which they had just come from when called out to meet McAran’s Captain of the Guard—who refused to parley in front of off-worlders.

Once inside, David led them to a corner fireplace, away from the few curious skiers who had been watching the confrontation from the lodge’s front windows. He waved away the young female Darkovan attendant who had hurried over to see if they needed anything.

David asked Mikhail, “Did we learn anything useful besides that our presence on the mountain was not necessary?”

“Yours or mine? Reidel came prepared to smooth-talk his way around you by saying everything was perfectly normal. That the problem would resolve itself quickly when they had caught the thief, and they did not need any help from outsiders doing so.”

David consulted the palm reader he held low in his lap. “I got the impression that they had more information about the thieves than they were letting on. He kept referring to the Ishcarra, which does not translate in my reader.”

The young scouts exchanged glances, and Gwennis started to speak, but was cut off by Eddard. “Let Captain Mikhail explain that one.”

David stopped Mikhail with a raised hand. “Scout Eddard, let Gwennis have her say. She is a member of our team

“Sir…” Gwennis hesitantly said, ”… that term means …Oh! What is the Terran word – boogey person. Yep, a scary night thing. Adults used Ishcarra to scare their kids and keep them in their beds at night.”

Eddard groaned and held his head. Mikhail chuckled. “She is not wrong, Eddard. You have to admit that is the origin of the word.”

Gwennis smiled, slugging Eddard lightly on the arm.

“But it doesn’t tell our Captain what it means. The thieves are catmen, Captain! They are real!”

David lowered his hand. “Catmen? Really? Our files on your histories speak of them, but we have no evidence that they really exist. No pictures, bones, or preserved bodies. Nothing but legends, folklore. Our scans of your planet show human, Ya-men, kyrri, and bush men—no other humanoids. Other than your people, none of the other bipeds are of Terran descent, so they are most likely native to this planet. If that is so, either you have driven them into extinction, or they are very reclusive creatures—who up till now have managed to avoid all human contact. This leads me to wonder if you are blaming the problem on a member of another species to account for the crimes committed by one of your own.”

Shaking his head, Mikhail said, “I know it could look that way, David, but all you have named do exist. Unfortunately, the catmen have made themselves an enemy to my people, and we have waged unceasing warfare against them. Have we hunted them to extinction? Not deliberately. We value all life, but they have shown no such respect. We have taught them that if they leave us alone, we will leave them alone. Every people have deviants who refuse to follow the rules. We could be dealing with one such creature.”

Glancing around the room, David checked for anyone who might be showing too much interest in their conversation. Other than the servant girl waiting alertly for a signal, no one was watching them. He waved the girl over and ordered a round of jaco.

“So Reidel thinks he has the situation in hand and doesn’t need our help dealing with a person, or persons, who pose a source of trouble for your people. I would say that is reasonable and within treaty limits. The problem still remains—he is not getting anywhere. Did he offer any explanation for his lack of progress?”

“He said …” Mikhail stopped and waited for the servant girl to deliver the drinks to their table. Stirring his jaco, he continued, “… the thief is very elusive. There have been no sightings. He leaves very few tracks and makes no noise. Posting guards around all cabins will require more manpower than Reidel has on hand, and the patrols he is sending out are not finding anything.”

“And how is he going to fix this?”

“He has sent for help, David. They will be here in a ten-day if the weather holds.”

The Terran almost choked on his drink and slowly lowered the cup to the table. “A ten-day? That is unacceptable! Injuries have already occurred, and if this thief ends up killing one of the guests, I will have no good excuse to offer the Legate for wasting time like this.”

Mikhail shrugged an apology.

“And what do you mean, help? He just told us he doesn’t need any help from us or you!” The frustration in David’s voice was turning heads in the lodge.

“Sir …” Eddard cut in, “… Captain Reidel has asked his lord for a Renunciate expert tracker.”

“A tracker? Reidel says the catman doesn’t leave tracks. How is she going to help?” David frowned at Mikhail. “This is getting ridiculous, Captain. We have sensors that I could have brought that would solve this problem yesterday.”

“And your bringing in Terran technology would give the Council an excuse for breaking your lease. Look, David, I know your methods. Until the tracker arrives, we can pull the outlying guests into the main lodge and post the available guards around it. Then your team and I can pursue the thief without fear of Terrans being hurt.”

Swallowing the contents of his mug, David slowly nodded and smiled in agreement. Eddard met his gaze with a worried-looking frown. He must have guessed that was not all of the plan the Scout captain had agreed to.

#
The mountainsides blazed with lights that the manager insisted be kept on despite the total absence of skiers on the slopes. The bright lights exposed much of the snow-covered ski trails and open slopes, but they created more shadows to hide in than the spaces they lit up. No manner of argument David tried would convince the manager that the illumination hampered their search efforts.

Looking around him as they trudged up the trail to the last known position of the thief, David was discouraged by how much traffic had been allowed through the crime scene. He mentioned the fact to Mikhail. “Not much we’ll find here, I suspect.”

“The Guard responded en masse to the screams of the victim. I believe you call it ‘a knee-jerking response.’ They reacted before they thought how best to approach the scene. Afterwards their own tracks pretty much covered any traces that they could have hoped to find.”

David grimaced. “I saw most of that mad rush on the video cameras. It wasn’t pretty.”

Mikhail stopped and shook his head. “I thought the agreement limited your technology. We were not told of these security cameras. I know you have them all around your base, but this site is supposed to be ‘primitive.’”

David chuckled. “This site really is primitive compared to what off-worlders normally expect. Terrans seem to like wandering around experiencing nature in its rawness؅—but they want a record of their adventures. The cameras are much the same as these blasted lights—they make the skiers feel safe.”

“Is that all that you have here to make your people feel safer?”

David sighed. “Yes, Captain, it is. I would have insisted on a full spectrum of security sensors, including infrared. You remember what infrared means—the way those awful banshees hunt their prey. But we don’t have them here.”

“Banshees? Of course, there are banshees present in these mountains, David.”

“No, excuse me, I mean we don’t have infrared sensors here.”

Eddard pulled a device out of his pack. “That’s not quite true, sir.” The instrument was making a beeping noise.

Taking the viewer from his assistant, David instructed him. “This is a communication device, Scout Eddard. It has no IR sensory capability.” David glanced at Mikhail. “You’ve seen me use this several times. It’s what we used to make topo-maps when we searched for Eddard that time at Nevarsin.”

Mikhail nodded.

The screen flickered on, and David studied it for a few moments, frowning. He held it out for his two assistants to see. Gwennis glanced at it and said, “It’s a map, Captain. We’ve already got lots of those.”

With an impatient wave at the screen, Eddard said, “It’s more than a map, Scout Gwennis. This is an actual picture of us standing here. Those white globs are us.” He demonstrated by waving a free arm. One of the globs stuck an appendage out, following suit.

Gazing up at the night sky, Mikhail murmured, “Clever use of your space sensors, David. Nothing that violates the agreement—except the spirit of it.”

Taking the viewer from Eddard, Gwennis walked in an ever-widening circle around their party. She oriented her body toward several of the darkened cabins with the device close to her face and grumbled. “It doesn’t act like a camera, does it? It’s like looking down into a valley from the hills above.”

“You are,” Eddard said smugly. “That picture comes from thousands of feet up. It uses infrared—heat light.”

Glowering, Gwennis shoved the viewer into Eddard’s hand. “I know what heat light is, smart ass. In fact, I know a lot more about than you do.” Apparently realizing what she had just said, Gwennis ducked her head in David’s direction. “Ah, you already taught that stuff to us—both of us. I, um, know how it is used from my mother’s magic.”

David cast her a questioning look, then took the viewer from Eddard. The picture on the screen froze on the last image. “The low orbit satellite’s next pass overhead will come in twenty minutes. I don’t have enough pull to get Sensor Command to position a sensor in stationary orbit. That means we will not have constant surveillance. Still, it’s better than nothing. We need to get to the last crime scene, and I’ll review this data while you all look around and prep the area. Scout Eddard knows where I want the trap set.”

#
The predicted snowfall begin midway through the night. Heavy enough to cut visibility to a hundred paces, it reduced the trail lighting to muted white globes hovering twenty feet above the ground. The hunter’s tracks that they had been examining quickly filled up. The team retreated to the shelter of the nearby cabin.

“There doesn’t seem to be much wildlife in this valley,” David said. “The IR traces from the Guards outside show they’re located where Reidel placed them, but I don’t get any other traces showing up. I would say this valley and the surrounding mountains have been hunted clean. I don’t think there are even any of my friends the banshees.”

Mikhail accepted a cup of jaco from Gwennis. She was pouring the hot drinks from a metal jug she carried in her pack. “Lord McAran has not authorized any hunting by off-worlders on the land surrounding this lodge,” he said. “I am as surprised as you about the lack of game. Maybe that explains why our thieves initially took only food.”

Nodding agreement, David put his cup down to answer the bleep from the viewer. “Another pass coming in.” Studying the glowing screen, he pushed a series of buttons that caused the screen to shift a pattern of red images up above the white blobs. “No movement at all. Nothing has changed.”

“That’s good, isn’t it, sir?” Gwennis chirped.

An anguished scream from outside answered her. The team bolted to the door, led by the drawn swords of Mikhail and Eddard, followed close behind by stunner batons held by David and Gwennis.

They bunny-hopped through the thickening snow toward the high-pitched sound coming from the back of the cabin. Snow was spraying up from the ground in gusts as if something was shoveling it away. The screaming stopped, and Mikhail got hit by a face full of snow. He swung wildly in response. Eddard barely avoided the swing, moving quickly to flank the Guard officer and confront Mikhail’s opponent, and found nothing.

David pulled up on the other side of Mikhail from Eddard with his baton at the ready. He barely had time to look up when the snow on the roof of the cabin billowed out and covered them in a cloud of white.

“Where is it?” Mikhail yelled.

David pointed up. “It’s on the roof—or was!”

The three men scanned the encounter area quickly, but no one spotted the creature. Gwennis stood staring off to the right, her left hand clutching at her chest. With her right hand, she pointed in the direction she was looking toward. “He’s there, there! Crap, he’s fast. Oh wait! He’s gotten away.”

David pulled out the viewer and increased the screen range to show the area within a mile of their location. “Nothing can move that fast, Scout! I don’t see anything moving out there, except…” Looking over his shoulder, he pointed toward the main lodge through the falling snow at the advancing glow of torches. “… for our reaction force.”

Eddard stalked over to the disturbed place in the snow where he had left the bait. He looked over at his Captain and scout-signed that the jewelry was gone. David put away the viewer and asked Gwennis, “Where was he when you last saw him? Maybe he left some tracks this time.”

#
Back in the bar’s only private dining area, the Terran Scout Captain held council with his team. Several pitchers of beer sat upon the table.

Eddard put his mug down with a shake of his head. “Sir, that brooch had a stun trap attached which would take down the biggest trooper in our detachment, and I mean down and out! It didn’t seem to do anything to that creature but provoke it—or should I say, him. If we are to believe Gwennis, who was the only one to see him, or it.”

“I saw a catman, who was obviously male. He looked kinda like you, in a way—same equipment. Same size.” Gwennis giggled, taking a swig of her beer.

Eddard started to retort when David cut him off. “All right, enough of that. Assuming the trap actually went off, we are dealing with an exceptional creature. It may have a different nervous system from ours, since they probably are native to Cottman IV, but our stun weapons work on most of the species we’ve encountered. It may be exceptionally strong. Look at the leaps it made to get away. And it is fast. What worries me most is we now know IR won’t track it, and it appears to be invisible—to almost everyone.” David glanced at Gwennis, who took the moment to hide behind her raised mug. “And they are impossible to track, at least by us. I doubt if the Renunciate tracker we’re waiting for is going to do any good.”

Mikhail slowly pushed his mug around in a circle. He grimaced. “What has our plan to date done for us? There are a few questions we must ask ourselves. Our trap didn’t work, and now the catman has been wounded and angered—at least the scream we heard would indicate that. Maybe it will scare the catman away for good. Or maybe it will make the creature seek help from its tribe and wreak revenge on your ski lodge. Or maybe it could raise all the catmen in this domain and start a war with Lord McAran. Or maybe the Council will cite this as interference in our world and demand the Terrans leave. Where do we go from here?”

“What has our plan done for us? If the creature is truly scared off, the immediate problem is solved. We go home. Is he really scared off, or is he biding time to take any or all the options you listed as ‘maybes’? Terrans have a saying, ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’” David signaled for another round. “Ifs or maybes are all the same. We have started something here, but we can’t wait to see if there are consequences. We must find the catman and capture, or kill, him.”

Mikhail nodded, and they both looked at Gwennis reaching for her newly arrived beer. David spoke. “Tell your fellow Darkovans—Captain Mikhail and his cousin Eddard—what you told me when I asked you to join the Scouts.”

Taking a quick drink from her mug, Gwennis glanced fearfully at the Guard captain. “I told him that was not sorry I had stolen from the outworlders because I was starving and needed to survive. I was sorry that I got caught because I let my guard down. Otherwise he would have never got me. This proved that he needed my special skills.”

Glaring at her, Eddard cut in. “You lied to him! You told him you had laran.”

“I do, you comyn snob. Just because you don’t, doesn’t mean I can’t have it.”

“The Keeper of Thendara tower says you’re latent only. There was little to develop in you. Nothing to train. You, you …”

David grabbed Eddard’s raised arm. “Just show them, Gwennis.”

The scowling girl rested her hand on the valley between her breasts and took several deep, calming breaths—then disappeared.

Visibly shaken, Mikhail whispered, “Aldones, how did she do that?”

Eddard stretched out a hand to where Gwennis had been a moment before and received a slap, painfully knocking it aside. The chair she had been sitting in scraped back, and they felt the breeze of someone’s passage.

David smiled at Mikhail. “I caught her stealing from our base exchange a year ago. Used the same trap we tried today, except it worked on her. I thought she was just a stealthy kid good at hiding. Maybe she had psionics and used mind control to make people not see what they were actually seeing. Didn’t know, thought it might be your laran. I turned her over to a rep from Thendara tower, who told us what Eddard just reported. They sent her back. Gwennis apparently fooled their examiner.”

“They don’t have open minds,” Gwennis said, appearing behind Mikhail. “Captain David tells us you have to think out of the box sometimes- they don’t. I do. Simple.”

Mikhail rubbed his face wearily. “I may be guilty of close-mindedness as well, but I won’t try to deny what just happened. How do your ‘special skills’ apply to the catman?”

Gwennis eased around into her chair and picked up her mug, grinning slyly at Eddard. “He’s hiding himself like I do. If I look at him—sorta not focus—I can see him. Can’t do it for long. I get real tired and my mind gets all foggy like if I don’t draw from my stone.”

Eddard guffawed. “That chip! You don’t have a real starstone.”

“Didn’t when you first saw me. Do now. Lot of stones lying around in that tower. I borrowed one.”

Sputtering, Eddard looked at Mikhail. “That’s impossible, sir. You can’t just run off with a starstone…” The Guard captain raised a hand to quiet his comyn cousin. “I know, I know. I should let her talk.”

Gwennis glanced over at David, apparently to see if she had his approval to continue. He nodded. “I’m guessing that the catman gets as tired of holding invisibility without help as I do. So I think he must have a camp someplace where he has a stone he can draw on.” Gwennis looked back and forth at their faces, obviously checking whether her teammates agreed with her thinking.

“I agree.” Mikhail nodded toward David. “It is just as likely that he could be shielded by a shaman if the catman is from a tribe. That might explain why your ‘viewer’ doesn’t pickup his movement in this valley.”

David glanced at Gwennis. “Can you find the catman’s camp? It sounds like an awful lot of work for your ‘foggy brain’ to handle.”

“I can only try, sir!”

#
Using his compass, David sighted along the trail in the snow that they had made earlier to the thief’s last position the night before. He entered the reading into his viewer and extended a line on the map from their present position to the edge of the valley. He recalled the last pass of the satellite and studied the display data. There no strong IR traces along the line. Since the IR scanner didn’t seem to pick up the catman, he had not expected any, but he hoped that if there was a camp ahead, there could be a heat source.

“Nothing.” He showed the viewer to Mikhail.

The Guard captain nodded and said,” If the catman still believes we can’t see him, it is reasonable that he would have fled straight to the safety of his camp. Let’s hope our squinting Gwennis finds something.”

David glanced at his scout. She was indeed staring along the invisible trail with her face scrunched up in concentration. He waved Eddard to a position on her right flank and assumed one on her left. Mikhail trailed behind, turning his head to listen and check their rear. The one thing they were now sure of was that the cartman’s shield did not stop noise. “All right, Scout Gwennis, let’s move out.”

They had slow going in the woods, mainly due to knee-high, unbroken snow impeding them. Last night’s snow had not added much to the accumulated layer, and the accompanying winds had blown much of it off the slopes, where they made better time. It took several hours before they started up a hill rising to a ridge. When Gwennis complained of breathlessness, they paused to rest. David checked the viewer. Still nothing.

“You all right, Gwennis?”

“Yes, sir. Being a townie, I am not as hardy as a country girl.”

Eddard snickered, “You always have an excuse for avoiding field exercises. The only sweating I’ve seen you do is during required PT sessions.”

Gwennis sniffed. “I was hired to be a scout, not a trooper. I’ll leave the combat to you strong male types. I much prefer to observe from the aircar, which by the way, would have made all this effort a lot easier. I… what was that?”

Gwennis cast a sharp glance at the ridge line towering above them. David scanned the area quickly, not expecting to see anything but hoping his ears might pick up something. “Report, scout!”

Gwennis clapped her hands to her head and covered her ears, which seemed irrational, because hearing was the only reliable sense they all possessed. She moaned. David pulled her hands down and shook the girl. Her eyes, unfocused, stared wide-eyed at nothing. “Gwennis, snap out of it!” David shook her again.

The scout’s eyes swiveled to meet David’s gaze and narrowed. “It’s all right, sir. I’m back. Something up there ‘shouted’ and tried to blind me. It knows we’re out here but can’t see us. Sir, I think we’re in big trouble.”

David let go of the frightened woman and sat on a nearby boulder. He checked the viewer, recalled the last minute of data, and grunted at what he saw there. Pointing to the fading glob of light of the screen, David said to Mikhail, “We’ve just been jammed by the catman. I know, you don’t know what that means, but I’ll try to explain. To defeat an enemy you have to apply whatever force you have available to where he is and damage his capability to respond in kind. If he can’t hurt you back, his best option is normally to surrender before you hit him again. Most of the real work in a battle consists of knowing where he is. If he can prevent you from finding him, he’s won his side of the battle.”

Eddard sighed. “I know from reading about radar that there are ways of fooling the sensor and make its reading wrong. If you can’t do that, you can send so much energy back at the radar that its receiver is blinded. That is what you mean by jamming, isn’t it, sir?”

“Correct. The catman is jamming Gwennis, but in doing so he is blinding himself as well. It takes a lot of power to broadcast like he did. Since he stopped, maybe he drained himself.” David stood up and pulled his stunner, allowed only because it was non-lethal, from its holster. “These are not much stronger than the trap’s charge, so at most I can distract him. This is going to be a fight between sword and claw. Gwennis, you stand a good chance of him jamming you and taking you out of fight—as he just demonstrated.”

Mikhail stood also and shifted his sword belt into fighting position. “We don’t have to kill the catman to win this battle, David. He could surrender.”

“Yes, that is true. Remember I said that is usually his best option—if he can’t hurt you back. This one will be more than capable of doing so.”

#
Gwennis clutched the warm stone between her breasts and followed ten feet behind the three men in formation ahead. Captain David had ordered her to go invisible when they entered the gully that led to the opening in the ridge ahead. The team was slowly maneuvering up the path to the mouth of the cave. Through her slightly blurred vision she followed their crouching approach. Heads on the swivel, none of them watching in any one direction simultaneously, weapons at the ready. Mikhail held the center position. Eddard stalked on his cousin’s left flank, careful to stay at least four feet away and at least a foot behind the Guard captain’s advance. David mirrored his scout’s position on the right of Mikhail.

No wind blew on the ridge, and the snow dampened almost all the echoes their movement stirred. David hand-signaled his intent to approach the right side of the entrance and told Eddard to go to the left. Mikhail signed he was ready to enter the six-foot hole. At that signal, David switched on the battle lantern he carried aloft in his left hand, and the three rapidly advanced. Gwennis ran forward to position herself immediately behind David.

The narrow mouth of the cave allowed only one person to enter easily, but it shortly opened into a space at least twenty feet wide and fifty high. The light from David’s lantern seemed soaked up by the black depths of the cave, but some reflected off an assortment of crude furnishings—a stone table and several fur-covered beds. In the rear of the room an opening led farther into the mountain.

Movement on one of the beds drew her eyes. She glimpsed a shape under the fur, centered around a glow she recognized. Before she could shout a warning, her intaken breath caught in panic when a catman stepped from the rear opening. Reacting instinctually, with her mind she reached out for the claw-shaped dagger in the belt around the catman’s middle and willed it to her hand. It flew across the room, leaving a very startled boy gaping at her. Then her mind blanked, and she went blind again.

#
David heard a scream and turned to see Gwennis drop to the ground, clasping a wicked-looking knife to her chest. A flicker out of the corner of his right eye diverted his attention to a catman standing in the opening ahead of him, his arms outstretched as if he had cast something. David started to rush forward when Mikhail, who was still ahead of him, leaped at the catman, swinging his sword. The weapon hit the catman’s head with a solid crunch, and the assailant collapsed to one side.

Eddard lunged forward to finish the catman, but his cousin stopped him. “Enough, Eddard! He’s unarmed.”

“He’s killed Gwennis. I demand revenge!”

“Stand down, scout. He’s done no such thing,” David ordered, holding up the claw-shaped dagger he had just taken from the dazed woman slowly sitting up by his side.

Eddard turned and rushed to help Gwennis to her feet. “But you screamed,” he said.

Pushing his supporting arms away, Gwennis stepped back and pointed at the figure on the bed. “That person ‘jammed’ me again. You’d better check them out before they do it another time! I’m getting awfully tired of that.”

Mikhail glanced up from shackling the unconscious catman and nodded at the bed. “Cousin, I’m rather busy. Please check under the covers.”

Eddard hurried to the bed and yanked back the furs. A white-furred old man stared up at him.

“We surrender,” the old catman whispered in Terran.

#
The three captains watched the aircar’s flight until it disappeared across the valley’s surrounding mountain ridge.

Radiating barely suppressed anger, Captain Reidel said in cahuenga, “Lord McAran is not happy with you taking away his prisoners.”

Speaking in Terran, David turned to Mikhail. “Please explain to the good captain that their crimes were perpetrated on Terran subjects. By an agreement we have signed with the Darkovan Council, we have the right to prosecute Darkovan subjects who commit crimes against our people on our base. Lord McAran has leased this ski lodge to us under that said agreement.” David watched Reidel’s face turn redder as Mikhail translated.

Sputtering in gutter Terran, Reidel faced David. “They are not ‘subjects’ of our lord. They are animals. No rights!”

Replying in casta, David shrugged and said, “We have hunting rights for game taken at the ski lodge. The catmen are ours as trophies, then. Either way, it is a matter for the Council to decide. We have received your complaint.”

Reidel wheeled around and stomped away. Mikhail watched him awhile, then turned to David. “I hope that is the guidance your Legate communicated to you. This does not bode well.”

David put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “This whole problem was caused by McAran. He knew this valley was catman land. He didn’t explain to us what leasing this valley would do to what he considered a bunch of animals. The local tribe lost their food source and, faced with slow starvation, they chose to move. That ancient shaman was too stubborn and ornery to leave his valley, and his grandson refused to leave him when the rest of the tribe migrated. Now I know we are as much at fault as McAran. We accept that and will take care of the old man and his grandson. We’ll get them healthy again, and when they are recovered, my people will relocate them with whoever you choose.”

#
Eddard looked out the window of the ski lodge’s tavern and toyed with his jaco. He saw the captains break up and head back to the ski lodge. Turning, he said to Gwennis, “You really came through for us out there. Those skills of yours probably saved our lives. The way you disarmed that catman was really exceptional. Not a bad day for a lowly guttersnipe.”

Gwennis blushed. “Nah, I coulda got us killed cause I got knocked out. You and your cousin saved the day.” She punched him on the arm. “Not a bad day for a comyn snob.”

[This story is a sequel to “A Walk in the Mountains” in REALMS OF DARKOVER and “Believing” in MASQUES OF DARKOVER. “Shadow Thief,” however, can be read on its own.]

Shadow Thief
by Leslie Roy Carter and Margaret L. Carter

Eddard held open the door and bowed his superior officer through. The tavern was a favorite hangout for the Thendara City Guard older cadre. Only a few turned to watch the pair of them enter. The guardsmen lost interest on recognizing David and Eddard, since the two dropped in regularly. David made his way to their table in the corner near the fireplace, while Eddard walked to the bar and negotiated for their usual fare. Captain Mikhail Leynier stood to greet David.

“You’re not smiling, David. Is something wrong?”

“I’m not sure if we have a problem or not. Scout Eddard thinks we might have an issue to discuss. I don’t suppose he has mentioned anything to you about the thefts on the base?”

Mikhail looked toward the young scout, who approached balancing three drinks. Mikhail shifted into the corner to clear room for Eddard, pulling David into a seat next to him against the back wall. “No, my cousin twice removed has not been speaking to me recently since you have captured his every hour of late. We haven’t seen each other since last month when you brought him here for our cultural rehabilitation session.”

David rescued a tottering, full mug from his assistant and sat down. He grinned at Mikhail, waving the mug at Eddard, and said, “We aren’t making much progress turning him away from your back-country way of thinking, but you are making some inroads with mine. Every time I come here I learn something.”

“As do I, David. Congratulations on your promotion to Captain. What did you do to earn it?”

David delayed his answer while taking a long pull from his beer. Setting the near-empty mug down, he motioned Eddard to return to the crowded bar for a refill. Watching him dash away, David said, “Umm, can’t talk about it. Let’s say my superiors were quite pleased with my efforts of late. Eddard was a real help to me, but that is a story to be told later.”

The Guard Captain chugged his beer and pushed the mug aside next to David’s empty one. “Plying me with drink is not your usual style, David. Has our meeting turned from one among friends to one of interplanetary diplomacy? I would guess not, because I’m in uniform – you and my cousin are not.”

“No, no – it’s all off the record. I admit that it is a matter that could become an issue between our security people and your Guard, but I don’t want to drag any of our bosses into this just yet. I am seeking information that I can’t get from a data bank.”

“Ah, the type of knowledge that is gleaned from old wives’ tales, stories around the campfire, rumors, or snitches? I would think you thought better of me than that.”

“I know you well enough to say you are a straight shooter, well grounded in the scientific mind-set, and not one to glibly pass on explanations of things beyond your ken.” David took a shallow sip of his beer, watching Mikhail’s eyes narrowing. “Not exactly activity in the real world that cannot be explained by fact or proven by scientific theory.”

Mikhail looked over at Eddard, who was absorbed with gauging the level of the drink left in his glass, avoiding eye contact with the two of them. “Cousin, you studied at Nevarsin; what is he going to ask me?”

“Sir,” Eddard replied in casta, putting his drink down nervously, “he is getting reports of strange things happening in the bazaar on base, the one the Council has allowed to operate based on our agreement.”

“The one where they control the pricing on Darkovan products, using Darkovan contract employees to service customers without the option of making a profit on the exchange.”

“Yes, sir. They call it Exchange,” Eddard answered with a lopsided grin. “It is available only to service personnel attached to the base. The tourists have to shop off base.”

Mikhail frowned. “Do you use it, Cousin?”

Eddard looked over at his Terran supervisor before answering. Lowering his voice, he said, “No, sir! Their prices are nearly twice what I pay at home.” The Scout captain pretended he hadn’t heard, taking a long swig from his mug. David’s understanding of the Darkovan aristocrats’ language had much improved since his first arrival.

Switching back to standard, Mikhail turned to David and asked, “So, events of abnormal activity are occurring at your ‘Exchange.’ Why would the Guard become involved if these activities are not connected with any Darkovans – other than the contract employees you have hired?”

David glanced around to see if anyone might be showing too much interest in their conversation. “The Exchange is in our main administration complex, which keeps tight control over personnel going in or out. Internal Security is responsible for safeguarding these areas – they are a different organization from the one I work for.”

“I know, your section is responsible for protecting your people from my people. They also protect your leaders from people like you who might get a notion of taking control. It is not unheard of from the facts we know of Terran history – facts you yourself have told us.”

David grimaced. “I know I once told you why the Marines were put on our planet-based ships to prevent mutinies, but that doesn’t quite apply to our present situation. Look, Internal Security asked External Security for help because they believe what is behind these strange activities might be related to something outside our knowledge base.”

“Really, David! Are you talking things paranormal, like ghosts?”

“Come to my office tomorrow. I’ll show you the ghost we caught on video.”

#
Mikhail had visited David’s office only a few times over the years he had known him. It was located in the barracks adjacent to the flyer airfield and surrounded by support facilities for keeping the array of ground craft and air vehicles in operation. The Terrans respected the Contract with the Darkovans and stationed very few flyers at Thendara base. Mikhail knew the Terrans kept a much larger force on one of the four moons that orbited Cottman IV. Their purpose was never openly mentioned beyond the Council walls. On the other hand, the ones located on the base were for emergency response, i.e., Search and Rescue. Mikhail had ridden a flyer only once, when they had rescued Eddard from the blizzard near Nevarsin. There were none outside their hangars and very few personnel presently walking around. Mikhail followed David into the two-storied building that held the Captain’s quarters.

David walked over to the desk console and touched a button. On the wall above the desk an image appeared. It displayed a picture of a room with counters laid out either side of a center aisle with a woman standing behind one counter, reaching into the back of the display glass as if pulling something out. The person, dressed in Darkovan clothing, had a puzzled smile on her face. Mikhail took a moment to adjust his eyes to the scene in front of him. “I never can get used to these images. They are so lifelike, as if I was actually standing in that room with her. Everything is, how does one say it? Clear, exact, focused – not like a painting at all.”

“It is not a painting, Mikhail. I will set it in motion momentarily, but I want you to see if anything in this picture seems – wrong.”

Mikhail studied the image. The room displayed was foreign to him and all wrong, but that was to be expected. Terran architecture was not made to please the eye. The space was too orderly, rigid in its angles, too efficient. It did not look “lived in,” did not invite you to see anything but the merchandise on display. The room did not welcome you the way a Darkovan shop would. The lighting was too harsh, not natural for his eyes, used to the red sun of his world. Too white. He squinted a little and tried to ignore the strangeness and see the “something” David wanted him to see. “No. Nothing unusual, David, except the woman looks like she was reaching for something and there is nothing there.”

“Good catch, Captain. She was, and it isn’t.” David pointed at the woman’s hand. “She was going to pick up a copper bowl to polish it – notice the cloth in her other hand.”

“Yes, I see it now. She is leaning on the counter top, and the cloth is protecting the glass from her leaving fingerprints.”

David manipulated the control on the keyboard, and the picture began to move. “This is in slow motion, Mikhail. Watch carefully.”

The woman withdrew her hand from under the glass counter and turned it toward her face. Mikhail saw her mouth something in alarm. A shadow blurred away from the counter top and streaked to the far corner of the room. Mikhail’s eyes followed its passage and saw it contract into an outline that appeared for a moment like a small human form. The shape misted into nothingness for a second, then flickered into a figure crouching down toward the floor, before being lost from view entirely.

“There is our ghost! Did you see it?” David pointed at the blank corner. Before Mikhail could answer, the image before him repeated itself, over and over again.

“I saw something flash across your screen, and I thought I saw it disappear, but I can’t be sure where it went. Can you slow the image down more, David? It all happened too fast.”

“I tried, but no. Not even our techs could do any better. Our camera at least caught an image; the attendant didn’t see or hear anything. Watch her hand.”

The woman flexed her fingers, then reached back into the display case to grope around the area where the bowl had lain. Her pointer finger rested on the cloth the bowl had been lying on, then moved over to another bowl sitting next to the cloth. She picked up that bowl and brought it out to be polished, shaking her head in wonder.

David stopped the moving image at that point. “She went on with her polishing. At the end of the day, when she was off shift, an inventory of the bowls on display found one missing. Of course, it was reported. A search was made, but it was not found. There is no way she could have removed it from the Exchange. The metal detectors would have picked it up immediately. She is quite distraught that she could be blamed for the theft. Maria is one of our oldest and most trustworthy employees. She insists that the bowl was found missing after her shift was over.”

“I assume you have ‘examined’ her with your machines to see if she is telling the truth.”

“Umm, her reaction to the questioning left no doubt as to her innocence. The bowl was of significant value to one of us, based on the artistic etchings in the metal, but the fact that it was pure copper made it by weight almost invaluable to a Darkovan. We watch these things very carefully. Maria knows this, having worked here for many years. She acknowledged the lapse in memory but thought it was because of her being distracted by the noise at the entrance of the store.”

“What noise?” Mikhail asked.

“A customer tripped and almost fell coming through the front entrance. The man yelled something like ‘Hey, watch it. Don’t push,’ then looked around in confusion as nobody was behind him.”

The Guard captain rubbed his jaw. “Your ghost must have entered at that moment, but why didn’t the customer see it? That thief is awfully fast, and apparent small in stature, but I would have bet the man should have seen something.”

David shook his head. “I questioned him later. He swore that he hadn’t seen anybody. In fact, he claimed he had not yelled anything but a surprised yelp at his own clumsiness.”

“Is this all of the moving images you have of your ghost?” Mikhail asked.

“Yes. We have had several more reported incidents of personnel ‘missing’ things but have had no luck proving a theft had occurred. Most of the disappearing objects have been ordinary tools gone from tool cribs or left unattended for extended periods of time and not where the user expected to find them.”

Mikhail looked over at his young cousin. “Most of these objects are metal?”

Eddard nodded. “And they are easily concealed, but big enough for our metal detectors anywhere on base to set off an alarm – hasn’t happened anywhere on base. I’m wondering, sir, could this be the work of a kyrri?”

Frowning, Mikhail looked at David to see if the Darkover species drew any sign of recognition from him. The expression on David’s face proved that it had. It would have been surprising if David, as the officer-in-charge of Terra’s Search and Rescue department, had not studied Cottman IV’s life forms. Mikhail asked David. “What do you know of kyrri?”

“A humanoid species that appears to be indigenous to this planet, with a sub-human culture that has evolved beyond simple tool usage. Until recently Terrans thought them speechless – we now know they have a form of psionic communication. That’s how your people learned the kyrri were intelligent enough to be trained in simple tasks. They use them as servants in your ‘Towers.’”

“Not quite an accurate description of the kyrri, but as I suspect, David, it is how you Terrans think of them. I’m curious. You just said, ‘…until recently.’ When have you been to a tower and seen a kyrri?”

David ran a hand through his brush cut and shrugged. “That’s part of the long story to be told later. We observed one in the wild. He led us to a village that helped us a lot. They are more intelligent than we thought.”

“And this observed behavior convinced you that one of the People could be your ghost?” Mikhail directed the question to David but watched his cousin’s face for a reaction to the answer. Eddard looked at the floor.

David hemmed and hawed. “Well, you know. It seems like, how did you call them, the ‘People’ – yes, that’s it – the ‘People’ used laran to talk, and so it follows, they could use psionics like your tower-people…”

“Stop right there, Captain! The kyrri cannot use laran. If someone told you they can, they have fed you misinformation.” Mikhail watched Eddard shaking his head. “Is it in your ‘databanks’ that they can do this?”

David shook his head, too.

“Then the answer is, no. A kyrri is not your ghost. You cannot blame this on a simple animal like one of your Terran ‘raccoons’ that pilfers shiny things to take home to his nest.”

Looking decidedly unhappy, David said, “Which then leads me to conclude it must be a tower-dweller that is doing these thefts.”

“Zandru’s hell, that is even more ridiculous,” the guard Captain exclaimed. “It goes against everything our leroni believe in. No tower-trained sorcerer could ever hope to conceal such a theft from a keeper, let along from a fellow leronis. No knowledge can be gained from stealing trinkets and tools from you Terrans, certainly no monetary reward. It is beyond …”

“You said, ‘tower-trained sorcerer,’ Mikhail. Are there no Darkovans with laran running around loose? Scout Eddard said something about being tested for it – couldn’t someone have slipped through untested?”
Stricken at having his name brought into the conversation by his superior, Eddard blurted out, “Cousin, we have our own tales of rogue leroni…”

Putting a hand on his cousin’s arm, Mikhail stopped the outburst. “I’m sure there are a lot of tales of heroic, and non-heroic, exploits of leroni who have left the cloistered confines of a tower to seek adventure and fame. But there are many, many more tales of Darkovans who died of threshold sickness. We test for laran because without training it may kill those who show signs of its development.” Looking at David, he continued. “An untrained telepath is a danger to himself and to others. Could one have escaped notice? Not likely, but for the sake of your argument, say it is true. What do you want from us?”

“A leronis to catch a thief,” David answered grimly.

#
Istvanna stared down at the small boy dressed in Darkovan street urchin clothing splayed face up on the stretcher in David’s office. “Is he dead?” She glared at the Guard Captain. “You asked for my help to identify a corpse? Really, Mikhail, this is beneath you.”

David stepped between his friend and the middle-aged women dressed head-to-toe in the red robes of a leronis. “He is not dead, Maestra, just stunned.”

The two Darkovan nobles simultaneously gasped out, “Stunned?”

Raising his hands in a placating gesture, David backed to the stretcher lying across his working desk. “We had no choice. This kid has some form of mind control psionics. He makes people forget seeing him. We set a trap for him in the Exchange shopping area – a stun mine set to detect the movement of metal. It was our only hope of catching the thief.”

Istvanna, fuming, said, “The use of such a weapon is forbidden on Darkover. This is unforgivable! Cousin, you must report this to the Council immediately.”

Mikhail looked at David, then back to Istvanna. “Domna, I didn’t know this was Captain Fairechild’s plan to capture the thief. If I had known, I would have counseled him to find another way, but the use of Terranan weapons on their own base is allowed.”

“Not against our people!”

“Couldn’t be helped,” David interjected. “The mine dropped two of our own who were shopping at the time. Would have taken out the Darkovan contract employee, but we replaced her with a security guard undercover.” Appealing to the leronis, he said, “Ma’am, this kid is dangerous. Mikhail told me an untrained telepath…”

“… is a danger to himself and to others. Yes, I am well aware of what my cousin told you. I see the child is breathing. I shall start my examination now.”

Istvanna approached the stretcher and extended her hands over the body, moving them over the surface and stopping briefly over the boy’s chest. Reaching past the neck opening, she pulled out a necklace thong, followed by a small, felt pouch. She dropped it into a pocket at her waist and continued her search. David motioned to Mikhail, and the two captains withdrew to the other side of the office.

“What did she find?” David asked.

“From the way Istvanna is frowning, I’m suspect it is a starstone. This could take a while, maybe …”

Istvanna turned from the unconscious body and declared, “I cannot continue my examination under these conditions. I want her removed to the Citadel immediately, but first you must nullify the sedation that is keeping her unconscious.”

David said with surprise, “Her? Wait, but… If he, she gains consciousness…”

“The threat is past. Captain Mikhail, you will take custody of our injured subject. If you encounter any opposition from the Terranan authorities I will ensure the Regent files a grievance personally with the Legate’s superiors. Am I clear on what I am asking for, Captains?”

Mikhail stiffened at her order and turned to David, an apologetic set to his face. “David, you know the agreement between our worlds gives me the power to do what she is demanding. I accept full responsibility for everyone’s safety. Please help me get the prisoner off your base and give me the drug. I won’t administer it until she is safely away from all Terrans.”

“Damn it, Mikhail, before I can do that, the Legate will have to approve the prisoner’s release, and he won’t like being threatened. This will get out of hand real fast!”

Eddard approached his arguing superiors and politely interrupted them, with a worried glance at the leronis. “Excuse me, sirs, but the only Terran who heard the domna’s ‘threat’ was Captain Fairechild. I think he misinterpreted what she said.”

Puzzled, David said, “She spoke Terran standard, how…”

“Sirs. Remember that we asked for a Darkovan healer to examine our prisoner’s condition, as he/she was not responding to being stunned as we expected. The healer told us our prisoner needed to be placed under the immediate care of Darkovan psionics experts only available at one of their towers. Captain Fairechild agreed to move the prisoner as long as he accompanied him/her to retain custody until formal turnover procedures could be worked out. That is what I think I heard.”

Mikhail and David nodded. The Scout Captain said to Eddard, “Thanks for clearing that up. Now, let’s get our prisoner the help she needs.”

#
The three men watched while the young Darkovan woman, now dressed in a plain white robe, was escorted, fuming, to the waiting carriage and handed up to disappear inside. She was followed closely by Istvanna. The carriage quickly drove out the citadel’s courtyard gate escorted by a troop of Guard cavalry and disappeared down the busy main street of the town.

The Terran Scout Captain turned to the Guard officer beside him and said, “She doesn’t look too happy about being sent to the tower here in Thendara. I thought it was a great honor to be selected to work in a tower?”

Mikhail sighed. “It is and she isn’t – working, that is. The tower is where she can be isolated from others until she learns to behave herself.”

“Sounds like our definition of a prison. We at least have a trial before we convict our citizens. Granted she is not a Terran, but …”

Mikhail cut him off. “By the treaty agreement between our worlds, we take care of our own – whether they be a drunk tourist or a vicious murderer. Your Legate accepted this punishment, and a rather large compensation for such a petty crime as it was.”

“Justice is in the eye of the beholder. I want to know why she did what she did,” David said. And how she did it. “What did you learn from interrogating her?”

“It wasn’t an interrogation, David. She was brought here to be examined by Istvanna, who happens to be the king’s house leronis. Istvanna is a distant cousin from my father’s side of the family; that is why I asked for her help.”

David looked at Eddard. “Any relation to you? Don’t answer, you’ll just confuse me.” Turning back to Mikhail, he asked. “So – what’s her story?”

“Her name is Gwennis. Her mother made a meager living as a hedge witch here in our poorest side of town. A couple of years ago the mother passed, but not before she gave the daughter the starstone. Gwennis never knew who her father was because her mother would not speak of him.”

David pointed to the young scout standing next to him. “She has six fingers like Eddard. Is she a distant relative of yours?”

Mikhail snorted. “Six fingers are not prevalent in a lot of comyn families. You know I don’t have six fingers. Most likely she is a nedestra offspring of some minor lord. We’ll probably never know.”
David shrugged. “But she does possess laran.”

“She does. Istvanna says Gwennis is as hard to handle as a feral cat. She has been told that if she shows herself willing to behave and learn at the tower, she’ll get her stone back.”

David frowned. “I don’t think we have heard the last of this story.”

#
The door to his officer whooshed open, and David looked up to find a disheveled woman dressed in a dirty, white robe staring at him with her knotted hands planted firmly on her hips. It had been over a month since he had seen her last.

“Gwennis? How…”

“You have to help me. I can’t stand to be locked up in that tower anymore.” Gwennis threw up her arms and started pacing before his desk. “They took my stone away and wouldn’t give it back unless I showed a willingness to follow their rules. When I resisted, they threatened to touch it. Do you know what that does an empath? It was horrible. It scared me to death.”

“No, no, I don’t know anything about starstones. The Darkovans haven’t let our scientists examine them, but I doubt if your healers would harm anyone with torture. Perhaps it was done as part of your training. Istvanna said that she would make sure you got the stone back when you could be trusted with it.” David slowly stood and gestured to the chair next to his desk. “You need to calm down, young lady. Sit!”

Gwennis glared at him. She doesn’t like taking orders, David thought. Maybe I’m pushing her too hard. What if she…

The agitated girl took a deep breath and calmed herself, then sat. She looked at him as if she had heard his thoughts. David knew from the literature that psionics supposedly had that skill.

“I’m calm as you asked, and sitting. You need not fear me – I promise not to hurt you. I didn’t like being stunned.”

“I’m sorry you had to go through that. You were sent to a tower because you needed training. It’s been over a month, and we haven’t heard anything from the Darkovans about your progress.”

Gwennis brushed a strand of reddish-blonde hair from her face. “After the demonstration of their power over me, I pretended to be the docile little girl they thought I should be. It wasn’t that hard. Those tower leroni think anybody in her right mind would want to become like them. Since I needed the stone to go through their training, they gave it back to me. So, I left.”

The frankness of her story worried David. It was so – well, emotionless. “How did you get past the guards and that force field that I’ve heard they have at the entrance of the tower? More importantly, how did you get past our sentries?”

Gwennis made a disdainful moue. “I didn’t bother. I climbed out my bedroom window and down the wall. They never would have thought of something that simple. As for your guards, the same way I did before. You Terrans really do believe in ghosts.”

“There’s the problem, Gwennis.” David walked back to his chair and sat. “You think only of yourself.”

Looking down at her hands, the young woman let the defiant pout slip from her face and said, “I am just trying to survive the best way I’ve been taught. I never tried to hurt anyone. My mother took away people’s memories to relieve them of the pain they were feeling – she used her power to ease suffering, not to make money.”

David felt sorry for the kid. Now he realized why the thefts were always small. With her talents, she could have made a much larger killing, but it would have brought a lot more attention to her activity. That would have led her to defend herself, and loss of life would follow close behind. “Stealing relieves nobody of anything but their money and only adds to their suffering. Locks are not made to keep thieves out, but to keep honest people honest. I am the Terran equivalent of a Guardsman, like Captain Mikhail. What do you want from me, Gwennis?”

Sitting erect in her chair, Gwennis stated forthrightly, “That Eddard boy is a Darkovan, isn’t he? He works for you. Why can’t I? There must be some use you could make of my, ahh, skills.”

David pondered. The fact that she evaded surveillance on my high security base, slipped easily through psionic barriers from her own people, and had the physical skills to climb sheer walls – yeah, I could find work for her. “Scout Eddard does not have psionic skill – the thing you call laran.”

A slight smile appeared on Gwennis’ lips. “I know.”

“That is also why I might not want you. You will have to make an attitude adjustment before I trust you not to read my mind – if you can do such a thing.”

The smile disappeared from her lips.

“Good. I just might be able to arrange something.”

#
The carriage waited near the front gate of the Terran base, its door open. Two uniformed scout security personnel marched through the gate and approached three Darkovans standing alongside the carriage.

“You understand there is no formal agreement on what you have proposed, David.”

“True, if you mean there is nothing in writing or recorded orally that constitutes a legal compact between our governments. As in the case of Eddard, the services to be rendered by Gwennis fall into that same category – paid employee with restrictions on off-world deployment. Yes, Mikhail, I’m aware all of this is dependent on a gentlemen’s agreement among all participants.”

Gwennis said barely under her breath, “I’m not one of the gentle people.”

David addressed her remark. “Not yet, you are a proven thief and a breaker-of-laws. You will have to swear under a truth spell – I believe that is the correct terminology Darkovans use – that you will not steal anymore. And you will commit yourself to getting basic training at the tower before you start your employment with us. One step away from your agreement, and you’ve lost your chance with us.”

“I will not be used by the tower people …”

Istvanna cut her off. “This Terranan is willing to have you work for him. Why? I don’t know. Probably to train you as a spy – not that it would ever work with you being watched constantly by leroni.”

Shaking his head, David said to the glowering woman, “No more than Eddard is a spy for us. You have told us that an untrained psionic is a danger to all. All we are asking is that Gwennis receive enough training to make her an acceptable member of both our communities. She has the right to refuse her services to you, as she has so stated. She can also refuse the services of her skills to us – whatever those skills are.”

Mikhail turned to Gwennis. “This agreement is based entirely on trust. I trust David to keep his word because I have worked with him and respect what he has done for Darkover. You will earn my trust if you fulfill your agreement with David on the conditions of your employment. The choice is yours, damisela.”

Gwennis nodded and stepped into the waiting carriage.