One my most favorite stories to reread… Captain Pausert was a contented man; he had a fiancée waiting for him, and a healthy profit on his last trading trip that was sure to impress his soon-to-be father-in-law. But a wrong turn in a dark alley on his way back to the spaceport found him defending a young girl being threatened by her owner. The altercation was either going to cost him three years in the local lock-up….or the unwanted ownership of said girl slave. And her owner seemed distinctly relieved to part with her. He was feeling pretty beneficent when he informed the young girl that he intended to return her to her family but was rocked when she burst into tears informing him that her two sisters were also enslaved in the same city! There was nothing to do but go find them and buy them back. But such peculiar children… When he first found Maleen, the oldest, her owner accused her of poisoning his customers at the bakery. When they found the youngest, the Leewit, she was idly destroying the shopkeeper’s inventory…by whistling. And when they finally located Goth, the middle child, her owner appeared to be almost insane and also quite willing to sell the girl at a pittance…just to get his mind back. Apparently, his stock of jewelry kept moving about the store making an accurate inventory quite impossible.
The purchases of the girls were making a dent in his profit margin but the Captain was more worried about anyone from his home world discovering he bought slaves; a very serious offense. But that was nothing compared to Goth making him a gift of several gems she lifted from her previous owner and then the local Imperial forces came after his ship, with guns blazing. No, actually that was nothing compared to what happened next…his ship was twisted about and when his stomach settled, they were two light-weeks away. The mysterious space drive called the Sheewash drive was something weird that came with orange fire and black wires and wore out the three girls operating it. And, apparently, it was only something that someone from Karres could operate.
The girls came from a mysterious planet called Karres, which wasn’t on any star chart. And that it wasn’t unusual for their children to take such jaunts; it was just bad luck that an Imperial slaver grabbed them. But it was no accident that Captain Pausert found Maleen first; after all, she premoted the event. Meeting the girls’ mother and spending time on Karres seemed to go by like a dream and then, just like that, he was back in space on his way home with a cargo hold full of prohibited items that he didn’t stand a chance in hell of legally selling. But that wasn’t the worst…yet. He was boarded by the police along with his secretly engaged fiancee and her father. He was accused of several robberies even though he had forced the girls to return everything they stole and accused of having illegally landed on a prohibited planet and had contraband in his hold. But when he was accused of having a secret powerful spacedrive and that his charges could be mitigated if he only cooperated…well that was a bit much for the good Captain. After forcing everyone but his beloved Illyla off the ship, the last surprise was that his beloved hadn’t waited long after his departure to marry. So off she went, as well. But the local authorities weren’t giving up on a chance to capture his new spacedrive and he was going to have quite a fight on his hands…until the Sheewash drive kicked in again.
Finding Goth in the cabin operating the Sheewash drive alone was somewhat unexpected. But learning that returning to Karres wasn’t possible…since the planet had moved…caused him no end of consternation. Alone in his cabin with the regulations about prohibited planets he learned that the inhabitants of Karres were known as witches and were to be avoided at all costs. That he understood.
With no particular goal in mind, he and Goth spent the next while in disguise as traders and getting to know each other. Goth assured him that as soon as Karres wanted her back, they’d know; in the meantime, she was there to help him discover his own witch nature. But they were not to have much quiet time as everyone in the known universe had heard about his fabulous spacedrive and everyone wanted it. But in the process of hiding and dodging they started hearing tales of something huge and malevolent way out in space, and it was heading towards the Empire. It wasn’t long after that that the Captain and Goth were in the thick of it and may be the only ones in the whole universe who could stop the extinction of all living things.
This was just all kinds of exciting fun. Do not expect great science fiction here; and try not to wince too much when the Captain uses “north” to describe a direction in space. But the characters are so fun and the dialogue amusing. The plot is interesting and well-constructed. I think what I enjoyed most were the tantalizing tidbits of things not fully explained with the implied promise that I’d be told soon enough. And plenty of mysteries were left unexplained; one imagines that Schmitz might have intended a sequel but he just never got to it. Fortunately, others picked up the challenge. Look for my other review of the long-awaited sequel “The Wizard of Karres.” ~~ Catherine Book
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