|Galactic Chronicles Book X|
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The men were heavily armed with weapons I could not identify. One of the armed men brushed the face plate of his tight fitting helmet up and revealed, to my great dismay, the light blue face of a Thauran and he said: "You are all under arrest for conspiracy and for aiding and hiding known terrorists."
He motioned us to get up and now we could see two modern armed flyers hovering back near the tavern. We could also see more heavily armed troops as they were herding out the other pirates.
The Red Dragon complained. "What is this all about? None of us have broken any local laws. We are nothing but Freelancing merchants."
The Thauran laughed. "I know what you are. You are the worst pirate scum. We followed two leaders of the local rebels to that tavern and lord and behold what do we find there? A real convention of the most wanted space raiders this side of Sagittarius."
The one who was still pressing his weapon against the Red Dragon's temple said." What is your business with the Rebels? Trying to sell weapons or drugs perhaps?"
The Red Dragon did not move as he still had an alien and dangerous looking weapon aimed at him. "I am a personal friend of the First Hull Builder and closely associated with the Hull Maker Guild. You must stand down and let us conduct whatever business we decide to engage in. I doubt the local magistrate wants Kartanian difficulties."
Har-Hi gave me a barely noticeable nod and I knew he was ready to take the two on his side.
I said. "I am not in a very good mood Thauran, and you being Thauran isn't helping. So get your goons of our backs and go back from wherever you came from."
He looked me up and down. "I think you're the infamous Black Velvet, are you not? Even if you have nothing to do with the rebels, the bounty I get for…" Just then a small official looking air speeder arrived, with two humanoid shaped beings sitting in the open passenger compartment.
I decided to wait with any action and gave Har-Hi a wink. He nodded barely and only noticeably by me, that he understood. Har-Hi was not telepathically linked with me as was Narth, but we had become a very good team and able to read each other very well. I was almost certain the newcomers had more answers and I wanted to hear what they had to say.
The speeder landed only a few meters away and the two beings riding it stepped out and joined this strange meeting of ours in the middle of the night on a field of dry, chest high Ithe Grass. Both of them wore military style uniforms consisting of long, leather like grey coats, adorned with gold and brass insignia. During my briefing with Sobody, I knew these were Ithe, the local authority.
Both of them were about the same size and I estimated them to be not more than maybe 170 centimeters tall. More or less humanoid proportioned, bipedal, two arms with two stubby fingers and an opposing thumb on each hand. Their heads had the shape of a Terran pear fruit with the thinner part on top. The Ithe's most striking feature was a set of stalk eyes, one laterally protruding from each side of their head. The lower part of the head featured a wide, toothless maw.
The one to the left had only one single but very large golden medal on his chest while the other featured a jingling array of at least two dozen smaller ones.
It was the one with the large single medal who spoke first saying, "I do not see the Ninety or the Galvanizer, instead I am seeing Off-World business people. Why are you harassing them? Have you not promised me the heads of these Instigators tonight? Where are they?"
The Thauran lost some of his arrogance at this harangue address of what must have been the local authority. He made a sweeping gesture towards us. "We followed the rebellion leaders to that tavern and found a regular 'whose who' of the worst space scum instead. These are the most wanted pirates in the known Galaxy, your Excellency. Sending them in chains to Union Authorities would not only immensely improve relations but fill your state coffers with lots of Union credits. "
The Ithe lowered his voice and said. "We have retained your services as you claimed you and your Mercenary outfit could solve the rebel and terrorist problem for us. These are not Terrorists and, unlike the Rebels, we do not care for Union relations, we are independent friends of the Kartanian Conglomerate. Release these business people at once!"
The mercenaries slowly lowered their weapons and the Red Dragon said. "This is not enough, your Excellency, you can be certain the Hull Maker Guild will hear of this."
The Ithe leader said. “Is it not enough that I myself come out here in the middle of the night to make sure… Something very fast was streaking through the cold night air and a thing that looked like a grey jelly fish with bat wings smacked into the face of the Thauran, making a wet sound.
Someone yelled. "Megdohrs! They are using Megdohrs, run!"
More of these flying creatures attacked the same way, by shooting through the air and attaching themselves to the heads of their victims.
Har-Hi probably saved my life as he, with incredible speed and skill, drew his swords and cut one of these creatures in half just before it reached me.
One of the things collided with the Ithe, the one who had not spoken so far, and the stalk eyed alien dropped to the ground; the flying animal covering much of his head making sucking noises. Only now I drew my blaster, cursing my own slowness and burned several of the flying creatures to atomic ashes.
Before I could really find my bearings and make a decision not based on pure reflexes, I saw black plum sized bugs crawling all over the ground and now I noticed least a dozen of them were already crawling up my legs. The Seth gloves I wore proved to be the best defense against those crawling pests because as soon as I touched the insects they crumbled to dust. Everyone was stomping and trying to brush off the bugs. One of the mercenaries managed to activate his force field, it was too late as several bugs were already inside his field and one of them drew blood as it sunk its finger-long pincers into the flesh of the mercenary's face.
I started to brush off the bugs that crawled on Har-Hi, but there were so many. Har-Hi yelped in pain as he pulled one of the insects from his face, ripping a sizable piece of skin with it. I too could feel their thin legs all over my back. I could not risk using the Seth gloves on Har-Hi higher up or on myself. I still didn’t know exactly how the gloves killed and the black mist they emitted was not controllable and would certainly kill him or me if it made contact with our skin. My mind was racing while I kept brushing more bugs off me.
A voice in the distance yelled with magnified volume, "Freedom for Ithe and death to the Oppressors and lackeys of the Kartanians!"
The voice came from somewhere outside this mad circle hidden in the tall grass.
As I looked around I saw someone's head just above the tall grass against the darker back ground and I was almost certain this being was the source of the attack. I took a whole second to aim, disregarding the crawling sensation of dozens of bugs all over me and fired.
The black bugs lost their determined aggressive behavior at the same moment. Whoever I shot had somehow controlled these insects. Only Har-Hi and I, one mercenary, the Red Dragon and one of the Ithe remained alive.
Har-Hi was bleeding from dozens of small wounds in his face as he pulled the last bug from his face, and I noticed the thin leather of my suit was shredded in many places, revealing the fine Ultronit mesh underneath. The bugs were no longer crawling with determination to attack; they had quite clearly lost whatever controlled them before, and now it was easy to use the blasters to burn a wide section around us. It all had only lasted perhaps two or three minutes at the most but I had to admit the sudden attack had been overwhelming and confusing. I took a deep breath.
The remaining Ithe, the one with the big medal, said, "That was the work of the Instigators. They use all kinds of modified and genetic altered alien horrors, like the Megdohrs, able to scramble and confuse their prey with a complex chemical gas, or that new black crawling bug horror, most likely found in the scrap ships. You have saved my life." He turned without waiting for any response from me and said to the remaining mercenary. "You and your outfit however proved more of a nuisance than a help." He raised his weapon and shot the man point blank in the head!
We needed to get out of here and I said to Har-Hi. "Let us go back to the shuttle so we can get you to sickbay." Har-Hi did not have to be told twice, he started walking immediately.
The Red Dragon's outer garments were as shredded as mine. It was apparent that the bugs were unable to penetrate the tough material of the Seenian suit he was wearing underneath. He was catching up to us as we stepped back on the street before the tavern and he said. "I am going back inside the Tavern to check on the others. I’ll call you tomorrow and give you an update."
As I watched him go inside while we walked towards our shuttle parked nearby, I had to admit I was too uninformed and ignorant about the local conditions and I scolded myself for not doing more research before coming here. I came here thinking Ithe was a solid and stable environment that was basically an outpost of the Kartanian. From what Har-Hi and I experienced it was anything but stable and there was much going on. I promised myself never to set foot on a planet again before preparing myself with the necessary knowledge.
Before we could reach our shuttle, we were intercepted by two Ithe soldiers or policemen who stepped in our way and one of them said. "The High Magistrate wishes that you remain for a few moments longer to witness what happens to those who aide and support terrorists." They were very polite, but their stance and the way they held their weapons made it clear that this was more than a request.
I was more than just annoyed and on the verge of wrapping those blasters around the short necks of these potato faced natives and telling them just how much I appreciated the local conditions, but I tempered myself and my own impulsive behavior, knowing full well that this was the real reason we were still here and in this situation in the first place.
Har-Hi and I watched as heavy armored troop transporters rolled in on the road coming from the nearby city; unloading several platoons of armed soldiers. Hovering flyers bathed the area with glaring search and flood lights. The local troops broke into nearby houses and dragged civilians out into the street at gun point.
The Ithe with the big medal appeared, now standing on a hover platform, and addressed the gaggle of frightened and dazed looking civilians, most of them in their sleep wear, with a stern and accusatory tone through a volume amplifier. He said, looking into a hovering camera bot before him. "Citizens of Itheamh, you all know about the terrible crimes committed by Instigators and you know how many innocent workers died in their cowardly attacks!”
He made an artful pause and then leaned forward saying. ”Harboring, aiding and hiding terrorists is as much a crime as joining them.” He made a gesture towards a small group of Ithe locals. I noticed the Tavern owner among them and the High Magistrate said. “Thanks to the quick calls of outstanding citizens and the help of our brave security soldiers we were almost successful in capturing some of the most wanted terrorists. I, your chosen leader, am out here in the middle of the night to fight for your safety and it was during my tireless pursuit of peace and security when an attempt on my life was made.”
He raised his arms. “Thanks to my heroic struggle and the interference of Off-World Visitors the foul attempt was thwarted. Several terrorist could be neutralized.” Now he pointed his finger towards the small crowd of locals that had been driven out of their homes. “I was chosen by you to lead our civilization and to guard it against all external and internal threats. Therefore I must make hard decisions to defend our way of life and make sure our Kartanian friends who are so close, know they can depend on us.
“These criminals you see before me have been found guilty of collaborating with the terrorists. What will transpire next must serve as a warning to all those who think about collaborating with the terrorists." I knew something bad would happen, and I prepared myself. My stomach cramped to tight knot as I saw the soldiers lining up women and children and after receiving a hand sign of the Magistrate shooting the helpless with their blasters. I saw women trying to shelter their children from the crackling energy blasts; heard the pleas for mercy and could smell the burned flesh as the smoke wafted into our direction moments later. I felt dirty and as guilty as that murdering coward on that hover platform. I was there and I did do nothing to prevent the slaughter.
They had spared the lives of the men and even their faces were alien to me. They showed incomprehensible agony as they had to witness their wives and children executed in such open brutality. I recognized that pain and helpless rage. I had felt it the night my father killed my mother. The men were shackled and herded to a waiting transport. There were two Kartanians by the transport and with them was the Red Dragon. I was certain I knew where these men would go, to the Smelter Moons.
The Magistrate was still spewing propaganda from his hover platform and into the optics of the hover cam. The old Eric Olafson would not have let this happen, he would have pulled that magistrate off his platform and tried to prevent the slaughter. It was very likely the old Eric would have been shot, herded along with the other men to the smelter moons and most certainly compromised his mission. Now I stood there doing nothing, I wondered if my old ways weren’t preferable. They certainly would not make me feel as guilty as I felt now.
As I was thinking earlier, Har-Hi had no telepathic abilities but he was very intuitive as he said, “You haven’t changed all that much, we are here because a certain friend of mine had to run after some shadowy figures.”
“How could you know what I was thinking? I wear a mask and you can’t read minds.” I said to him.
“I can read your body language and I think I know you pretty well Captain.”
“You most certainly do.”
The soldiers that blocked our way to our shuttle stepped aside and one of them said. "It is nice to see Ithe justice done, is it not? That will teach those criminals a lesson!" It was only because Har-Hi actually held me by the shoulder and used his Dai strength to pull me back, that I didn't kill that soldier right there and then.
Even though I was wearing a mask, the solider must have seen my feelings in my eyes and he backed up even further saying, "We don't like off-worlders making trouble or collaborating with the terrorists, this was meant as a warning!"
Har-Hi said, "Captain we need to go! This has nothing to do with us and is a local affair. We are needed on the ship right now."
He was right of course and I said. "Yes, you are right of course. I had seen all I want to see of this miserable place."
While I followed Har-Hi to our shuttle, I wondered if there was any nice, normal planet outside of the Union at all. So far every place I visited outside Union space was severely flawed and I was not thinking about the environment.
Har-Hi pulled me back to reality as he opened the air lock to the shuttle and whispered to me. "There is someone or something hiding underneath the shuttle. It moved as we approached."
All I could think off was that someone was attaching something nasty to the shuttle hull. I dropped to my knees drawing my weapon at the same time. There between the landing gear of the shuttle huddled an Ithe female with two children. Even though they had non-human faces, I could clearly see their fear.
At the same time I heard the crunching sound of soldier’s boots coming closer. There was no way I would let them be captured and shot, even if it meant to risk the mission, my career or my life. I got up and turned toward the soldiers approaching with their weapons ready and I was ready to kill them when Har-Hi said to me: "Did you find that Polo coin you dropped?"
I relaxed my stance and acted as if I had something in my hand and said. "Yes, and it was a Full weight too."
This again showed just how well Har-Hi knew me. The Soldiers lowered their guns and one of them said. "A Full weight is a Full weight and worth picking up." His partner nodded and they went on walking past us.
I said to Har-Hi quietly. "There is a mother and her kids hiding."
Har-Hi pushed the contact to lower the short access ramp and said. "How do we get them in the shuttle without anyone seeing them? There are still lots of soldiers around."
Looking around I said, "We need some sort of diversion."
He smiled. "I think I can manage that." My Dai friend raised his arm and a short barrel popped up from his wrist gauntlets. A sharp plopping sound was heard and the Arti-Grav of a security skimmer about 200 meters away exploded, sending the skimmer crashing to the ground. The soldiers and pretty much everyone else was looking or running towards the burning wreck. I dropped to my knees and said. "Woman, take your kids and enter the shuttle as fast as you can. Don't hesitate and don't ask questions if you want your kids to live."
I don't know if she understood what I said, but she crawled from underneath the shuttle and, after a second of hesitation, she rushed inside, dragging her kids along.
Har-Hi and I were right behind her, I yelled. "Get us out of here as fast as you can, Har-Hi."
My friend started the engines and flooded the Arti-Grav cushion before he was even completely seated.
One of the soldiers had turned and I was certain he had seen the woman getting in as he raised his weapon. I fired and my blast nailed him right between the eyes.
Seconds later Har-Hi pulled the shuttle into a steep climb into the sky. I was holding onto the frame of the still open air lock, having my blaster in the other hand ready to fire at anyone else trying to prevent us from leaving.
The climb was sudden and steep, the woman must have lost hold of one of her kids as it tumbled past me. I already saw it falling to his death. I was unable to prevent the fall, but I could not let that happen and then suddenly I could feel the small body of the child as if I was holding it, yet I was not touching the child. Whatever it was, the child stopped moving right at the very edge of the boarding ramp.
I dropped the gun and activated the closing mechanism. The ramp came up and I lurched forward to grab the child. Holding the little being with one hand, I held on to the edge of the ramp with all the strength I could muster, both the acceleration and the gale force wind tried to brush me off.
Only moments after the ramp finally sealed with the hull of the shuttle did I let go. I leaned against the ramp and took a deep breath. The woman was on her knees, holding her second child with one arm. Her alien eyes were wide open her other arm still stretched out for the other child.
I got up and handed her the sobbing infant. She embraced it and buried her face in the bundle crying and sobbing hysterically. All I could think of doing was putting my hand on her shoulders.
My CMO had a reputation of being unable to show positive emotions and many considered her arrogant and cold. I knew she could have that effect, especially since she considered almost everyone primitive and far below Seenian development. Once I got to know her better, I knew much of her Seenian arrogance was gone, but she kept a small remnant of it to remind her of her own long lost civilization and perhaps as a shield to not let anyone get too close to the vulnerable woman she was underneath it all.
She was an excellent physician, trained and educated by the Seenian Civilization, and everyone aboard respected her deeply but she rarely smiled. To see her stern features transformed like that was a little side note in the current events but I found it noteworthy nevertheless.
She turned to me and said, "Physically there is nothing wrong with them, save for a few scrapes, small cuts and superficial bruises. Generally speaking they are all a little undernourished and suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I cured a range of allergies and hypersensitivities in all three of them, but emotionally and psychologically they are in shock; their world as they knew it is gone. They had been simple workers till yesterday and now they are homeless and state enemies. As they are supposed to be dead, they can't go back to their homes. At least in the case of the female I would suggest some psycho surgery, but of course I can’t do that on Non Union citizens and without their consent."
The white furred Togar female, another one of those we collected along the way fussed over Har-Hi, tending to the many little cuts he had received. Cateria noticed my glance and her lips curled to a faint smile. “Jolaj learns very fast and she is working full shifts. Our Togar Snowball is very popular especially among the human male portion of our crew for some reason, but she has only eyes for our XO.”
“I guess we need to make her an official member after all, send me your recommendations.”
It was only about 30 minutes since we had returned to the Tigershark. Cateria insisted on scanning and examining me too, especially after it turned out that the biting bugs had done more than just bite, but also deposited eggs into the wounds they caused. Har-Hi was his stoic self as the beautiful Togar told him he had hundreds of alien bug larvae inside him, but I too knew him well enough to see the disgust in his eyes.
The Ithe woman had so far not spoken a single word and only after several assurances by Cateria that she would not harm her children, did she let go of the small one so my CMO could examine the infant. While I knew next to nothing about the Ithe, I estimated the bigger child to be around four or five years old and male.
He stood next to his mother while a Med bot hovered overhead weaving a new layer of skin over a cut on his mother's arm. His eyes on short stalks moved independently. As alien as his face and appearance was, I could no longer see him as an alien as I noticed him clutching a little stuffed animal.
Cateria pushed the med scanner up and said. "There is nothing wrong with you, Captain. The Micromesh prevented the bugs from hurting you. I still suggest a hot shower and a change of clothing. There are hundreds of dead larvae sticking all over your suit. There is an auto dresser in my office you can use." She did not have to ask me twice.
After a refreshing shower and getting a new suit I returned to the treatment room. Cateria was checking on the infant while she was closely observed by the Ithe women. Her little boy stood forlorn in the middle of the room.
I went over to him and he backed off hugging his stuffed animal even tighter. So I went to my knees and said as soft and friendly as I could. "What is the name of your friend there?"
His stalk eyes focused on me and he said with a weak voice, "Crancy."
"Do you have a name too?"
"Crancy is very afraid and I am Drenc."
"I don't think Crancy needs to be afraid, he is safe here."
He looked around. "Is this where you have taken Daddy too? Can I see him?"
"No your daddy is not here, but we will look for him."
The mother finally spoke. "You are from the Union are you not?"
I got up and said to her, "Yes we are."
She too looked around, moving her eyes without moving her head, and said, "It is all so bright and clean. You help me but why don't you help us? Why don't you do something for all of us?" She spread her arms. "We are simple people. I am just a Seamstress working on sewing machine 3454 in factory 865. My life partner was a pattern cutter in the same factory. We know nothing of galactic politics. It is forbidden to know anything about other worlds. It is forbidden to ask questions."
I sighed. "Lady, I know very little about the conditions on your world. We are quite distant from any Union Outpost or planet. What are we are supposed to do?”
She cried while she pointed her finger at me. "It is all true, what the Instigators say. The Union is clean and mighty and powerful and cares little about others. Do you know how many Ithe died or disappeared just because they listened to the Instigators and their dream to join your shiny Union?" She sobbed and looked at her children. "Now my partner is on his way to slowly die as a slave on the Smelter Moons on drummed-up charges to appease our cruel true masters, the lords of Kartania.”
She gestured over her children. "What will become of them?" She put her hands over her stalk eyes and whispered, "What will become of me?”
I asked her, "Is there a place you can go?"
I said, "Okay then that is where we will take you as soon as possible."
She looked at me. "Rench, my partner, said there is a secret community of the Instigators and those who want to fight against the Kartanian oppressors and their puppets are welcome there." Her tone of voice changed and there was an edge. "I never wanted to have anything to do with them, but now I want to fight. Make them pay for what they did to us, but if I fight what will become of my children?"
The little boy held out his Stuffed animal and said to me. "Crancy is hurt too; can you make Crancy well too? Daddy said I must take very good care of Crancy."
I smiled and took the stuffed animal. "I am sure we can."
I put the bear-like thing on the diagnostic station and Cateria pulled down the diagnostic scanner with a sigh. "I knew I would get some strange cases, being your CMO, but I never dreamed to perform surgery on a stuffed toy animal." She then glanced at the boy and changed her tone and said. "Let's see what is wrong with Crancy."
The young Ithe boy looked in awe as his stuffed animal appeared as a large three dimensional scan image on the field screens. There was an obvious tear in the fluffy fabric and some of the white stuffing was coming out.
One of the scan images showed the interior of the animal. It had some sort of mechanical or electronic component inside. She glanced at me then she said looking to the ceiling. "Ship can you call an engineer up to Sickbay we have a special patient here."
Ship responded. "Circuit is on his way."
I smiled at the boy. "Crancy will be good as new I am sure of it." To his mother I said, "I suggest you find some rest and then we figure out how to get you to your grandparents without being seen."
She nodded and I left sick bay to check on the bridge and the ship's status.
Outside I almost ran into Narth who just popped out of thin air. He said. "The Ithe woman is not as innocent as she says she is. She belongs to the rebels of that society."
I looked over my shoulder towards sick bay and said. "I had a feeling she was. On the one hand she claims to be just a factory worker but with the same breath she accused us of not helping. I still sympathize with her. Maybe the civilians weren't as innocent as I assumed they were, but shooting women and children after dragging them out of their homes is still more than wrong."
He nodded. "It is and from what I can gather, they do fight for liberties and freedom and those are very strong concepts I can understand."
"Anything happen while we were gone?"
"Of course many thousands of events happened while you were gone, but none of any significance to ship, mission or crew."
"I thought you are getting used to human expressions by now."
"Getting used to them is not the same as understanding them. Do you have any idea how many such expressions you corporal beings use every day? It takes a significant portion of my intellect and several thought levels at once to constantly analyze and reference them."
"Well I am glad you found something to do with that superior intellect and all those thought levels of yours, it would be a waste to have them do nothing."
"Do you want to talk about your first use of Telekinetics?"
I stared at him. "My what?"
He said. "You saved that child from falling, by reaching out with your Psionic abilities."
I wanted to argue with him that I had no Psionic abilities, but it was a lie I told myself. What has become of the Neo Viking that left Nilfeheim not so long ago? Not only my outside had changed and it was not simply growing up. I evolved and mutated into something else.
I looked at my mysterious friend and sighed. "What am I?"
Narth put his hand on my shoulder and said. "The sum of all that is Narth would fail to predict what you are going to be, but I for the moment, I would say you are a very stubborn Neo Viking refusing to accept the facts and you should really begin to practice the exercises I have asked you to do.”
"Narth deep down, I am still a simple boy from Nilfeheim. I never understood my own desires and I prefer a sword of cold steel over blasters and Psionics." Then I added quietly. "I am more afraid of the unknown thing inside me than I am of anything else. Despite the efforts of the Narth Supreme to erase or bury memories of recent events, I can feel it stir. I can feel someone, something, move in the deepest regions of myself."
He said. "I know, I can feel it too, but you are not alone. The exercises are very important though. You know how dangerous it was for Alice.”
“She is very powerful as you said. Moving a child and pounding a Landing tank to scrap is a different story. How is she anyway?”
We were interrupted by Circuit who came out of Sickbay and said. "The toy is as good as new and does all the things it supposed to do."
I smiled at him. "I didn't think a toy would pose a serious challenge to my Chief Engineer."
He held up a tiny black wafer thin square shaped thing. "This however was not part of the original design of the toy."
I looked at it. "What is it?"
Circuit held it higher. "It is a truly ancient program chip. It is some sort of activation key for something like a Computronic."
I shrugged. "Could it not be part of the toys program, or from some other electronic toy?"
"Captain, that chip is at least 500 years old and it is Kartanian. It is way beyond Kartanian technology of today and certainly beyond anything the Ithe could produce."
To me it looked just like a little bit of plastic and I said. "Can you and Shea try to figure out what it exactly is?"
He palmed the thing and said. "That is where I was going, as soon as Shea's bridge shift ends."
"Alright keep me posted."
I went to the bridge myself and found Shea sitting in the Command chair. She smiled at me and her eyes told me she was very glad I was back. Aloud she gave me a situation report and then Elfi said. "The Red Dragon called and left a message. He said that we should meet him as discussed in nine days on the second planet. He also wanted you to know that all associated with the quest were able to leave with all their possessions."
I said. "It looks you got things well in hand here. I need to return to Itheamh once more to make sure our guests get to a safe place."
Shea said. "I heard you rescued a woman and her children. We saw the execution, as it was broadcast. Heavily edited of course but it was still horrible."
"Yes it was. I was under the impression Itheamh was a lawful, normal world, but it is anything but."
From the visitors chair Sobody got up and said, "It is, Captain. It is just not Union laws they are enforcing. The Ithe have a long and violent history. This world is not their real home world after all. It is the second one, the first one had been made barren and inhabitable by a nuclear war. The Ithe society here grew out of a former colony."
He walked towards the main screen that showed the planet below from a visual feed of the dock the Tigershark was still in. He pointed at the world below. "This world is barely able to sustain life. It is a very dry world with very little water. The colonists needed help to survive and help they got from the nearby Kartanian. The help they received was not free; they paid and are still paying for it after over 500 years."
He sighed. "The Kartanian are not like the Union who would help without asking for anything in return."
I also looked at the ash colored planet slowly turning below and said. "Why haven't they simply taken over then?"
Sobody explained. "The Kartanian are extreme xenophobes. They do not like other beings sharing their worlds with them. Yet they want to do business with the rest of the galaxy, so Itheamh and a few other worlds like this are used by them like store fronts. You can buy Kartanian tech and ships here, have ships repaired in docks like this that are in orbit. Most of them are as you know controlled by the Kartanian guilds."
Shea looked at her PDD. "Since there was not much to do, I analyzed their political situation. From what I could gather from their broadcasts, it is the Kartanian who cleverly keep the division between the Ithe alive. The old reasons that drove them to war on their old world are kept alive here. One part of the population is in power, even though they are nothing but puppets, while the other is kept just above poverty and does all the manual labor. The ones in power have to keep their masters happy, provide the Kartanian with cheap labor and maintain their status of power over the rest. There is a group calling themselves the Instigators, who want to break free from these conditions and unite all Ithe. While the Instigators have a broad base of sympathizers in the general population, they are split among themselves. There are the purists who want to brush all alien influence away and decide on Itheamh's future alone. Then there are those who believe they have no chance doing that just on their own. They hope for Union interference and finally Union membership. This group believes that the Union would protect them from Kartanian reprisals."
I said. "Would that not be the best solution for them? Maybe we can do something in that regard."
Sobody glanced at Shea's PDD and spread his arms as he said. "I have assisted Lt. Schwartz in that analysis and we have found out that an Official Union Delegation had been here about a year ago, following an invitation of the Instigators, but they left without taking the application to Pluribus because, it could only be considered if all of Itheamh applies for Union membership. The Magistrate of Ithe is still the official government and the Instigators could not even claim to have a large majority behind them openly wishing for membership."
Har-Hi had silently stepped onto the bridge. "I have seen the execution too, Captain and I would love to do something about that, but nation building and interfering with local politics so it changes takes much work and lots of time. They have been at each other's throats for over 500 years. If we remove the evil that controls them, there is a good chance they’ll use their new found freedom to do what they had done before the Kartanian helped them."
I knew he was right. What he said made much sense and again he showed how well he knew me. He knew that I wanted to do something for the children. Find their father if possible or at least get something in motion that would provide them with a better future. Not that I had any idea how I would even get started doing that and still follow the red Dragon on his quest in nine days. I said. "Let us get our guests into the mountains to safety and forget about Itheamh."
We decided to use one of our camouflaged landing tanks. These marvels of Union technology that could cloak. Not that the Ithe maintained planet wide scans in the first place, but I wanted to make sure we could drop the woman and her children unnoticed by anyone.
Mr. Eeeryt, our chef, came almost running, carrying a big package. "We can't have them leave without some provisions!"
I smiled at him and said, "I guess the whole ship knows about our guests?"
The Elly wiggled his short trunk like snout and said, "It was you who allow everyone to listen to what is going on. We are all very proud of you, Captain."
I blinked and said. "What for?"
The cook pointed at the Ithe family standing next to the landing tank, the mother, holding her children close to her while she was talking to Har-Hi and looking on a PDD, and he said. "Saving them, Captain, isn't that the real reason we are out here? Making a difference to those who can't do it for themselves, that is what we are really about. It's not the ships and the tech that makes our Union stronger and better, but that we don't turn away from those who need help."
I sighed and said. "I wish I could do more for them, but the situation is complicated."
"We know Captain, we heard the XO. Still we know you’ll find a solution to all this."
He said that with such conviction that I did not contradict him. I said, “I try my best, Mr. Eeeryt.”
Har-Hi walked over and said. "It wasn't easy, but she finally recognized the village she needs to go to. She has virtually no geographical knowledge of her own continent and there are quite a few mountain villages."
"Well let's get this over with."
Har-Hi raised one eyebrow and said. "Captain, there is really no need for you to come along. We drop them at the bottom of the path and all they have to do is walk two kilometers and they are safe."
"I promised the boy he will be safe and I want to see that through."
Har-Hi piloted the landing tank with Narth sitting behind the mission control station checking sensors.
The Ithe woman held her infant and was very quiet. The boy, however, had lost some of his fear and shyness and first looked at Narth, then Har-Hi, before he focused both his stalk eyes on me. He said to me. "Will you find my daddy?"
I didn't want to lie to the child but I also did not want him to lose hope so I said. "If we find him we will bring him to you."
The woman turned her eyes to me and said, "They will drop us off at Nunu and Taru and then we will never see them again."
There was bitterness in her voice.
What was there that I could say? She was right, but I wished she had not said it that way before the little boy.
He clutched his animal close and his stalk eyes sank in a heart breaking sad manner.
Har-Hi said, "We are almost there, I am taking us down."
Narth checked his scanners and said, "There are no significant energy sources nearby."
We debarked and stood before a steep mountain path. I could smell the smoke of a distant fire. It was just before dawn and the local sun was about to come over the horizon. The wind was very cold and dry and it tugged on the simple dress of the woman.
She pointed up the path and said, "Up there is the village of my grand-parents. I haven't been here since I was a little girl; ever since they restricted travel, coming here is impossible."
I shouldered the food pack our cook had given us and said to her, "Lead the way then, I am going to accompany you to the edge of the village so I can make sure the village and your grandparents are still there and you’ll find shelter."
For the first time she smiled and said to me, "Underneath all that black leather and those weapons you do have a good heart, Captain Velvet."
Har-Hi grunted something, sealed the tank, activated the cloak and then followed us, too, as I began to walk behind the woman. The path was steep and the gravel crunched under our boots. He, too, had a soft heart as he scooped the boy off his feet and put him on his shoulders.
We had walked about a mile when Narth who floated effortless next to me said, "We are not alone!"
The next thing I heard was a sharp whistling sound and a ragged rock hit my friend with force against his hooded head, a second rock hit Har-Hi at the very same time. A third rock grazed my temple, and made me see stars. I saw both of my friends falling to the ground, just as I went to my knees myself! The boy cried and the woman screamed. "Stop, don't hurt them!"
Following her yelling, coming out from behind boulders and rocks, appeared Ithe men wearing furs and swinging some sort of loop like slings. Out of the painful daze I counted seven of them. I recognized the weapons they used as sling shots, very primitive missile weapons our instructor at the academy had shown us once. Through all that, I wondered why Narth had not detected them earlier.
The woman was almost hit by a rock as well and again she yelled something in a language I did not understand.
The men were armed with big sword like weapons and those slingshots and they scrambled down the ravine and came closer with caution.
The woman spoke again, this time she used Squawk. "I am Narmoa, grand-daughter of Nunuat and Tarnua. The Draak-Ithe have killed many and we had to flee. These are strangers of other worlds who helped us."
One of them said. "Tarnua and Nunuat are dead for seven wind times already, but we remember them."
Another said. "The Draak-Ithe has patrols in the mountain paths and we thought you were of the Draak."
The tallest of them said. "We must hurry; a Shogotrz is on the hunt in this valley. Only Fire Beamers can kill a Shogotrz and if one is used the Draak can find us. Let us take them all to the village and Claramoa will decide what to do with them."
I stumbled back on my feet, my hand on the blaster, the men drew their swords, from somewhere from behind another rock was hurled hitting me on the elbow and I dropped the weapon. Three trained Union Officers, one of them a Narth outclassed and outfought by a bunch of primitives and we were in this situation because I wanted to help. The seven were not alone, there were more!
One of them came closer and kicked my blaster out of reach while there where others with whirling sling shots. I was certain their swords could not cut through the micro mesh of my suit, but the blunt force trauma was just as effective as a cut.
While I was sure Narth was not dead, I could not reach his mind. I hoped for their sake, Har-Hi was alive.
The woman screamed and then the men looked at something behind me and yelled. "The Shogotrz!"
I managed to turn and saw a big, scaled monstrosity that somewhat reminded me of the snapper crabs of Nilfeheim. It stalked on eight spidery legs and had four long appendixes armed with sharp looking claws. I estimated it to be at least seven meters wide and three meters tall.
The locals pelted the thing with their rocks, but they bounced of the tough, shell like armor of the beast. I could see the power of the claws as it grabbed and crushed a man sized boulder to rubble. The alien creature made a metallic hissing sound and I could see it, too, had stalk eyes, six of them, and a mass of whip like tentacles around a small mouth. It blocked the way down the hill, and my chances to reach the landing tank were nil. As I turned, I saw the locals had already scrambled a good distance away; one of them had dropped his sword. I cursed them and promised myself if I would somehow survive this, I would kill each and every one of those cowards.
I took the sword and backed further away from that monster, while I drew the 45 and fired. My aim was good and three slugs found their mark right into that open maw and a fourth shattered one of the stalk eyes, the last three bullets careened off the top armor of the beast.
None of my shots had done anything to slow down the beast, or hurt it in a significant way.
After getting the empty 45 back in its holster, I grabbed the alien blade that was somewhere between a broad sword and a scimitar with both fists and jumped out of the way of a snapping claw arm.
The blade was heavy and looked sharp and it rang with a bright note of vibrating steel as I hammered it against the other claw that was about to decapitate me.
The arms and legs of that monster were covered with the same tough armor as its upper body. But then the sword bit deep into a leg joint, there, where the arms and legs were articulated, was a small area without any armor.
While my head was still ringing like the brass bells of the Thing stead Round House from the rock that had grazed my temple, I danced and jumped between the legs and claws of the monster, knowing even the slightest oversight would be my end.
Another sword blow against the joint right behind the claw showered me with a spray of dark green ichor and rewarded me with the painful, high pitched scream of the monster.
That claw dangled useless from its arm and this success made me careless and another claw almost caught my left leg, its saw like edges scraped painfully across my shin bone.
I clenched my teeth, ignored the pain and cut off two of the mouth tentacles.
The fight went on and, while I had no way of telling how long I was hacking and jumping, I noticed my own energies fading. I would not last much longer.
My monstrous opponent was no longer as fresh as it was before, missing two of his claw arms, two legs, and most of its mouth tentacles, but so far I had hit nothing vital and so far I had not seen any place or mark where I could sink the blade and end the bout.
I wished I had an arsenal like Har-Hi; one of his anti-matter pellet grenades would do the trick.
Here I was fighting for my life and that of my two best friends, against the toughest life form I had faced so far and I was in this situation not because of the Kermac or someone else's fault but because of my own doing.
Yet I could not, I must not fail. My own life was not important but both Har-Hi and Narth lay on the ground not far behind me and for their sake I had to prevail. In all this I tried to keep a cool head, to keep my anger down. I knew my rage was a gateway for whatever was inside me and I told Narth the truth. I feared that even more than the Shogotrz before me.
Then I slipped on a smooth rock, stumbled and as I tried to regain my footing one of the remaining claws of the beast snapped around my left ankle.
It felt as if the beast had clipped my foot right off as it pulled me with irresistible force towards the remaining tentacles.
I successfully cut one more of these arm thick leathery tentacles before another one sneaked around my neck. I could see the small feeler like things inside the creature's maw reaching out like a hand. I could not fail! My life meant little, but Narth and Har-Hi were helpless and would be the next victims. I chocked as I had hard time getting air. As I was struggling I could feel something growing inside myself, I knew it was my true self, but it was dark and felt so utterly cold. "Nay I say! I shall not be slain by a mindless foul creature! What Gods and the Elders of the Universe could not accomplish shall not be thy triumph.
BEREAVER TO ME!"