Galactic Chronicles Book X
Chapter number 14
Previous CHAPTER 13: Shogotrz (GC Book X)
Current Ambush
Next Chapter 15: Prelude to Battle (GC X)

I could not tell or recall what had happened as I found myself standing between the rubble and the smoking ruins of what once had to be some sort of mountain village. Most of the houses were utterly destroyed, nothing left but the foundation walls. The debris of heavy rocks, busted wood and household implements were strewn over the steep mountain meadows behind, as if a wind of tremendous gale force had blown the sturdy stone houses apart. It was eerily quiet, except for the crackling of a fire nearby consuming wooden beams. There were dead Ithe everywhere. Horribly dismembered, hacked and torn to pieces. The fine Ultronit mesh of my suit was torn to shreds, yet I felt no pain or injury, even though I remembered the monster grabbing my leg.

My Wrist com was gone and so were the mono whip and the belt I had worn. One boot was completely gone and from the other only the shaft remained. The only things that survived whatever ordeal I went through were my trusty old fighting knife, the empty 45 and a mini first aid kid in my left leg pocket. The right one was gone.

Before I could really collect my thoughts and search for Har-Hi and Narth, a thermo blast peppered the ground before my feet and a dark green open top flyer came into view. I counted six Ithe soldiers all aiming their weapons at me. An amplified voice echoed over the destroyed village. “No sudden moves, alien and drop that axe.”

Only now I noticed that I was holding that ancient battle ax that I had last seen hanging on the wall in my private quarters. I had no choice but to obey, they were too far away and too many. I had an obligation to stay alive and find my friends.

Two of them jumped over the sides and stomped towards me, while the other held some sort of scanning device and said. “I cannot detect any radiation or residual energies, yet this is the epicenter of the tremors we detected.”

The other kept his gun trained at me and said. “You, Alien Human female, don’t try anything or we shoot you on the spot. Now tell us what happened!”

I heard the soldier but I did not care what he said. I felt as if I had a terrible night mare. All this destruction, the torn bodies all around, my right arm was encrusted with purplish blood and so was the axe. I noticed the shape of a child half buried beneath heavy rocks from a collapsed house wall and my throat went dry. Was this the little Ithe boy? The last thing I could recall was my fight against the monster and I clearly remembered that I was about to lose the fight. I could remember my anger at the cowardly village men. Then there was nothing, just hazy, out of focus images and yet somehow I knew whatever happened to this village had somehow happened because of me. Yet the carnage and destruction around me could not have been done by a human being armed with an axe. What force could shatter solid stone houses like that?

The Soldier spoke louder and this time he did not speak Squawk but addressed me in Standard Union, his accent was heavy. “You, Alien woman, drop that axe. We are taking you in for questioning.”

I turned and looked at him and said. “Do you know what happened here?”

He looked around. “Probably a blast from the ancient Kartanian Orbital Punishers, it is a miracle you are still alive. Now I won’t say it again, woman, drop that weapon

Something heavy rushed through the air, a gray tank sized boulder dropped on the soldier’s flyer and crushed it like a nutshell, and both soldiers were pelted by a hail of sling shot rocks.

The Ithe suddenly appeared from behind the boulders and rocks of this strange mountain. To my surprise they were led by a huge brown furred Togar and a Dai warrior!

The Soldier with the hand held scanner went down with a smashed-in face. The other however managed to activate his suits shields. From the shimmering whitish color and the crackling energies I deducted it was a crude and quite primitive three dimensional force field. Still more than enough to deflect rocks, he fired his blaster and vaporized two of the mountain men.

The Togar cat yelled in Union standard. “Alien Woman run and follow us, if you do not want to go to the Smelter Moons.”

More out of instinct than anything else, I threw my axe and it whirled through the air, slicing through the force field as if it wasn’t there and split the soldiers head, helmet and all down to its shoulders. The energy field collapsed with a loud crackle.

I sank to my knees. What was I doing here, what had happened? Did I do all this? My friends were gone! Har-Hi and Narth they were here with me. As formidable as Narth was, he could be hurt. He had been hurt before and almost died. Har-Hi was a Dai, a fighter to the last fiber of his body but he too could be overwhelmed. They both followed me into this trap; they both were hurt or worse because of me. Yet there was still a mission and still my ship, but without Narth and without my equipment the ship was unreachable. The landing tank was cloaked and it was Har-Hi who cloaked the machine. Even if I could find it, it would not open or uncloak for me. The tank was not Ship who would recognize me.

Kneeling there in the middle of the destroyed village, I felt helpless and frightened, not because of my situation but because there was the possibility my friends both were dead.

I pulled myself together and got up. I was still the Captain and my responsibility was to the ship and the rest of my crew.

The Togar warrior flanked by the Dai came closer with the mountain folks a few steps behind. The Togar said. ”Female, I am Ninety. We must leave this place before the Draak coats come with more men.

I said to him. “I can’t leave. I must look for my friends.”

“The Dai and the hooded human?”

I whirled around and almost yelled. “Yes, where are they?”

“I am sure they are at the District Command Center by now. They will be interrogated and most likely sent to the Capital after that by the next transport to the Smelter Moons.”

They are alive?”

“We saw them move on their own as the Draak arrested them.”

A rock as big as Nilfeheim rolled of my heart, I gathered the Axe from the grizzly wound.

The Dai Warrior wore bits and pieces of various armor suits, but nothing was Dai. He did, however, wear an obviously hand-made circular brass chest piece with a Clan Glyph. I looked at it and said. “You are a warrior of the For-Ka-Ti Clan. Is it not a clan that took the long way?”

He spoke to me in Squawk. “I do not speak the language of my kind very well. You are the first who knows things about my clan.”

The Togar gestured with urgency. “We must go fast! If they think we are to strong here they’ll loose another sky bolt from the Orbital Punishers. There is no escaping them if the sky eye can see you.”

I noticed a primitive contraption and identified the thing as a trebuchet. It was this ancient siege machine they had used to defeat the modern flyer. I remembered our class on pre-industrial siege machines during my first academy year. I could almost hear Cadet Applegate’s voice complaining why we would need to know about such primitive things and I saw the face of Lieutenant Aurelius before my inner eyes, patiently explaining why the fleet found it necessary to teach these things. In situations like this I realized how well the Academy prepared Cadets.

I followed the men, down the mountain path and we passed the carcass of the Shogotrz. The beast was hacked to pieces. The Togar was running next to me and said. “Naroma told us you attacked and killed the Shogotrz with nothing but a Mountain sword.”

“I don’t remember killing it!”

While I found the boots of my costume somewhat impractical at times, running bare feet over a rugged mountain path was even worse. How did I always end up in situations like that? I doubted Captain Harris ever had to run around bare foot on an away mission. I was certain Admiral Stahl would have sorted it all out by now, found the secret Seenian base and be on his way to the next problem. Maybe I had chosen the wrong path after all. If I had stayed on Nilfeheim to become a clan leader, I certainly would not be in this mess. Only now, as the mountain men turned to the left, I noticed a barely visible path that forked off the main route, snaking between boulders. I had completely overlooked it coming up.

“Where are we going? All I need is some sort of communication device to access my landing craft.”

“We are taking the high pass, where we have left the Grythers behind. Whatever craft you have, it will be useless and destroyed by the sky bolts, I am sure the Draak Sky lords are watching this area very closely right now.”

I didn’t want to argue with him, that there wasn’t anything the Kartanians could build to stop a Union Landing Tank under full shields or find it if it was cloaked. However without a signal device to uncloak, un-shield and access it, the tank might as well be on the other side of the world.

Staying with the locals was maybe my best chance to find the place where they kept Narth and Har-Hi. What I could not understand is how they managed to keep my friends. To restrain and imprison a Dai was hard enough, but to do that to a Narth was an entirely different thing. The path was narrow and allowed only single file movement. It kept winding between sheer rock walls, overhanging boulders and small meadows of the same coarse grass we had encountered before. This kind however was somewhat shorter and green.

One of the Ithe mountain men behind me must have noticed me looking at the grass and said. “This is the reason anyone lives in the mountains, Gathr grass and water. It grows everywhere but only up here where there is water from the mountain springs. It grows fast and becomes green. The Nuktur thrive on it and produce good Nuktur nectar and meat.”

One further behind him said. “It is the Draak who benefit from our hardship and labor. They take what they want.”

The Togar before me said. “You are very tough for a human woman, what makes you immune to the Depro-Waves?”

While I silently cursed as another stone cut into my bare feet, I growled at him. “I am too angry and too confused to feel much of anything. What do you mean, immune to Depro-Waves? What are those?”

He pointed first at the leather like skull cap he and everyone else was wearing and then he pointed sky wards. “Another one of the wonderful benefits the Kartanians have bestowed upon this culture. Modulated Theta Wave Patterns beamed down from the Sky punishers, affecting your psyche making you depressed and feeling hopeless. The only cure is to watch the official propaganda broadcasts of the Draak; it is their way of controlling the masses.”

While I was walking behind him, trying to avoid the sharper looking rocks, I said. “I should be immune to most Psionics.”

He made a growling sound that was the Togar form of laughter and he said. “I get it; you are Union, perhaps even fleet, psionic conditioned and all. No, human female, the Kartanians are not as advanced as the Union or the Kermac. To us and them, Psionics are more magic than anything and certainly not technologically controllable.”

The Ithe behind me added to the explanation saying. “That does not man the Kartanian are primitive. They have developed very effective means to control their puppet civilizations. Theta waves have physical effects on the neurophysiological make up of most carbon based life forms. These Theta waves affect even the best shielded Kermac agents, and I heard it affects the abilities of Psionic gifted beings if they do not know about the waves. I should know I dedicated my life working on ways to neutralize them.”

The Ithe behind me pushed something in my hands and said. “Put this on your head. Those skull caps generate white waves, neutralizing the Theta waves. Getting parts and batteries to make them is not easy.”

The leathery skull cap had a cable and a battery pack attached to it and there was a little switch at the bottom of the battery pack as well.

I put the cap on my head and switched it on.

The depressing, lethargic feeling I had was leaving me as if a veil was pulled from my mind. It wasn’t me who destroyed the mountain village, what a ridiculous idea in the first place. Only a marine in a destroyer suit could have done such carnage and destruction, not a half-naked woman with an axe. The Theta waves explained my friend’s condition and Narth’s inability to defend him. They were alive and I was on my way to make sure those who captured and injured my friends would see the errors of their ways. I was cold and miserable and someone had to pay for that too! To Heel’s deepest pits with my own fears and me trying to curb my anger. There was another time to contemplate my future and what I might turn into. Right now I was Erica Olafson, Captain of the USS Tigershark.

The Togar warrior laughed his rough growling laugh as I noticed I was passing him, he said. “It appears you weren’t immune to the effects of the waves after all.”

“No Togar, I was not. I can think much clearer now. I wasted too much time already on brooding and thinking. It is time for some action.”

As I said that, the path widened into a small mountain plateau and on it, at least fifty large creatures that somewhat looked like falcons crossed with dragons. I had seen images of both creatures in the heraldic symbols of my home world.

The Togar laughed again and said. “I hope you are not afraid of heights, Union Woman. These are not Arti-Grav flyers but they will carry us to our hideout.”

“I need to get to this regional head quarters. I must free my friends before they are shipped off.”

He stopped and his feline face showed amusement and respect. “I would say that is almost impossible. The compound is heavily guarded but then for someone who slays a Shogotrz with a sword the word impossible might not have the same meaning. Your friends won’t be shipped to the city until morning. In our hide out you will be able to get clothing and weapons and perhaps you will find us willing companions in your endeavor.”

The Dai said. “You call a Dai your friend and you are willing to risk your life to free him. Let me risk mine to help you doing that!”

I approached the first bird like creature, it was big and the only all black animal and without hesitation I swung myself onto the leather saddle contraption right behind its neck and raised my axe. “Then let’s ride and show these Draak what it means to make me angry and take my friends!” -- It was very much like when I rode the Ammutherathi on Pluribus, these Grythers weren’t as big as the Saran Beast, but they were still big, fast and wild. I held on to the reins as the ice cold wind brushed across my exposed skin and made my long hair fly. Despite my new form I was still a child of Nilfeheim and used to the cold depths of our oceans. These temperatures would be considered a mild breeze back home.

Any conversation with the other riders was impossible, as we flew under a fast moving cloud cover into the last rays of the local sun. The landscape was rugged and harsh below us as we rode down from the mountain range and flew over what appeared to be an endless plain.

The landscape did change, the grass of the plain below grew taller and the stems became bigger, forming a dense thick forest. I noticed the hulls and bodies of alien looking ship wrecks strewn about, some of them overgrown with grass.

The Togar warrior who had taken the lead was circling down and we followed him as he steered his bird between the tree sized stems. His animal touched the ground, ran a short distance on its clawed legs, while it tilted its wings to aide its rapid slow down.

My Gryther reacted to the slightest tug on the reins and landed right behind.

The Dai who was right behind me on the ground said. “Galactic spirit, you ride the wildest Gryther as if you were born on its back.”

The Togar who called himself Ninety said. “I am almost certain she is a Union Officer, their academy training is second to none in the universe.”

It was almost dark now and there was little light left here between the thirty or forty meter tall grass trees, but I could clearly see the a tunnel like entrance to an overgrown hull of a wrecked alien freighter ship. The men guided their animals inside and I did the same.

After the last one was in they closed the entrance with hinged doors. It was completely dark for a moment and then lumi-plates came on and illuminated the place in a weak yellowish light. The Gryther, I had guided behind me parted his huge needle sharp beaks and licked me across the arm. There was little talk. The men removed the saddles off the animals and guided them to individual boxes. I simply watched what they did and followed suit.

One of the Ithe pointed at an empty box and said. “That is where Thaah Gryther goes. It used to be Jerk’s Gryther; he was the one who got shot.”

“I did not do something wrong, did I?”

He moved his stalk eyes so both were looking at me and he said. “No, not at all, I am amazed the Thaah let you ride it. Black ones are very temperamental and hard to tame. Have you been here on Itheamh before?”

“No I have not.”

The Togar waved me towards a stair case and said. “Come, Human female, let us provide you with garments and weapons, with water for bathing, and food for sustenance. Then we will talk about how we will go about freeing your friends, sending as many Draaks to the lowest Circles of Roguth where Rogramm the Devourer may punish them forever.” -- They showed me to a spacious room that once might have been the equipment storage of this alien ship wreck. Since the ship was lying on its side, everything inside was strangely out of proportion. The corridors were wider than tall, as well as the doors were sideways and to high up for simple access. So they had built make shift ramps to access the rooms and chambers.

The Togar pointed at a Fuel bulb that was cut in half and filled with water. “Water is precious on Itheamh and even more precious out here on the plains, where it has to be carried from the mountains.” He took a big ladle from a hook and dipped it into the water and said. “Please do not use more than twenty ladles. There is the wash cloth and soap. I will send someone to get you garments to wear.”

“I understand.”

After he had climbed back to the door and left. I stripped out of the remnants of my heavily torn suit and I blushed as I realized much of my lower back side had been exposed the entire time. My mask was completely gone. Even though the effects of those mood affecting waves were no longer influencing me, I still wondered what happened. If they fired some kind of weapon from the sky, did it knock me out? But why did I have the axe and why was I not wounded? I was so certain the monster had crushed my lower leg. What power could rip Ultronit micro mesh and not injure the person wearing it?

Right now was not the time to ponder all this, but I had to find answers to this fast. I had to be accountable for everything I did. As a Captain I could not have black outs and do things I could not remember. I needed to talk to Cateria to check me out as soon as possible. Or better yet, I needed to find a way to talk to Narth Supreme again. He would know what I needed to do.

After I had used as little water as possible to wash away dried blood and grime, I was very glad that one of my remaining things was the small first aid kit. The soles of my feet had quite a few cuts.

Now I had the time to switch the empty magazine on my 45 with one of the two spare ones I carried in a pouch on the leather holster. I almost lovingly patted the ancient gun; it had become such a part of me that I never wanted to lose it. In my imagination it also carried some of the unexplainable strength of Admiral Stahl and reminded me of him.

Even, or perhaps especially in a strange situation like this, it was good to be reminded of the Eternal Soldier. I would do my best to make him proud.

A sound from the door made me whirl around, rack the slide of the Colt 45 and aim it. There at the top of the door ramp stood an Ithe woman and a human male, not much older than maybe sixteen or eighteen. He stared at me with wide open eyes and I realized that I was female now and completely nude. I felt exposed and angry at the same time and pulled the hammer of the gun. “Turn around or I’ll put a bullet right between those lusting eyes of yours!”

He gasped and turned.

The Ithe woman said. “I am sorry Captain Velvet, he is the only human here and has never seen a human or a human female in his life. We did not know there are taboos in that regard.”

I grabbed one of the short towels and tried to use it to cover as much of me as I could. “You know me?”

“Yes of course, you saved me and my children, I am Naroma.”

She carried a bundle and came down the ramp. “Ninety told me that you were here and he thought that Mel, the boy here would be best to assist you as he is human like you are and that it would be good for him to see another human.”

I was still holding the towel and said. “What happened and how did you get here?”

“We were attacked by the men of the village, who thought we were Draak spies. They were out there looking for the Shogotrz when they saw us.

They ran before I could reach them. I saw you fight the monster. I was hiding behind a boulder watching you and I was certain you were done for.

I also noticed two Draak Mecha-Walkers coming up the path.

When I saw them I took my children and ran. Ninety found me and his men guided me to the plateau with the ride birds. It is then when we heard a terrible thunder like boom. Ninety was sure the Draak called to one of the Sky punishers.”

The human boy was still turned. He was lean but muscular and I estimated him to be about 190 centimeters tall. He wore baggy brown pants with several pockets sewn to it and a blue shirt of coarse cotton or something similar. His hair was unevenly cropped and some strands reached his shoulders. He carried a compound bow and a quiver of arrows.

Naroma held out the bundle. “I’ve seen your style and tried to match it as good as I could with the things that are here. We do not have these magical dressing machines and no one here wears those long shoes with the heel extensions.”

I took the clothing and said. ”I am sure it will be alright. I am not planning to go to a fashion show or to stay very long.”

She turned as well and I opened the bundle and found a pair of brown leggings that were made of leather-like material that had a soft shimmer to it. The top was dark grey and of the same material, but was definitely not made for a human female. It took some wiggling and effort to get my boobs situated. At least it was so tight that I didn’t need a halter. While I dressed, I remembered the winter evening in the yard of our burg when I was sparring with Elena. My mind evoked her lovely rosy face and could hear her voice in my mind as she talked about her chest and said, “I am talking about these. They bounce around a lot and it is not very comfortable I tell you. It actually hurts sometimes!” Being female now for quite a while, I whispered “I understand you now, Elena.”

Naroma turned and said. “You said something?”

The bundle also contained a belt, a pair of flat heeled calf high boots and a long leather coat of the same kind I saw the Ithe magistrate wear. I was adjusting the shoulder holster and said to her. “I was just talking to myself. I am ready now and we can go.”

The boy spoke for the first time and said. “I am sorry too.”

I slipped into the coat and said. “I was just startled that’s all. Maybe later you can tell me how you ended up here on Itheamh, but right now I am eager to get started. I don’t want my friends to suffer much longer in whatever prison they are.” -- The Togar, the Dai, a dozen Ithe men and women and a Kartanian stood in a loose circle inside what I suspected was once main engineering of this wrecked freighter. They all stopped talking and looked at me as I entered.

The Togar said. “I am called Ninety and I was chosen to lead this cell. It may be the worst decision we made so far, but we all voted to help you get your friends out.”

“All I need is a communication device.”

The Togar pointed to Naroma. “She told me that you are not just an officer but a Union Fleet Starship captain and you have a ship somewhere in orbit. I am sure you have the means up there to do whatever needs to be done. The individuals before you and I are willing to risk our lives to free your friends. However I am not risking the lives of the families, children and women hiding here to make a transmission. The Draak monitor the airwaves very closely and answer with a barrage of sky bolts to any unauthorized transmission. We do not have those marvelous instantaneous and undetectable GalNet Comm. devices your society has.”

I sighed and said, “Alright then, fill me in so we can get started. I fear my friends are not being treated very gently at the hands of these soldiers.”

While I was talking I stepped closer to the assembled circle of beings. The human boy did not take his eyes of me; I tried to ignore his staring gaze. Maybe I would have acted the same way if I saw another human being for the first time.

An Ithe woman said. “Your friends are safe and currently held in Cryo stasis. The local commandant identified the armor worn by one of them as a genuine Dai suit of the highest order and he is afraid of your friend so he keeps him in stasis until the authorities from the city arrive tomorrow. They also can’t explain the scans of the other individual and decided to keep him in stasis as well.”

I could not help but smile. “He is a smart man, that Commandant, but can I ask how you know all this?”

She pulled on a gray leather coat, just like the one I wore and said. “I am the Draak Section Commandant.”

Ninety put his big paw like hand on my shoulder. “She is a trusted member of the Underground and she risks even more than we all do. Not even all the Draak agree with the conditions.”

I said.” I have no doubt that this is so. I am afraid I know little about the local conditions in the first place.”

One of the Ithe mountain men said. “Maybe we find the time to rectify that. Your Union is far away and so lofty and mighty, if they knew what was going on here maybe they would change their mind and help.”

I did not want to dispel his hopes and tell him that there was nothing the Union could do legally as long as Ithe was not asking for membership with a united voice, so I said nothing. The Dai and the Draak Commander pointed at a metal shipping crate in the middle of their circle. On top was a selection of small boxes and objects arranged in a pattern. The Dai said. “This is a model of the Section command compound.” He used a long thin knife to point at drink bottles places at each corner. “These bottles represent four watch towers. They are manned with two guards at all time. There are motion sensors and infrared optics. Each tower has a mounted bolter gun, a powerful search light and is connected to the guard house with hard line communications.”

He pointed at a larger box inside the square. “This is the guard house, there are 200 Draak troops. They swarm and patrol the region during the day, but most of them are in the guard house during the night.”

The Dai pointed his knife towards an upturned soup bowl. “That central building is where the prisoners are held. Your friends and the eighty Ithe they have rounded up today. The Ithe are held in cells on the ground level. Your friends are held in the high security interrogation lab tract two levels below”

The female Commandant said. “Make no mistake, Human Captain. If High Command suspects any problems they would not hesitate to level the place with Line bolts from the sky and declare all dead Soldiers heroes of Ithe.”

I looked at the model and said. “I see no fences, how does the surrounding landscape look?”

The surrounding area is flat and any grass or place to find cover is bulldozed for 2000 meters around the compound. There are no fences but automated Laser sentry guns fire at anything that crosses the boundaries between the towers.”

Again the Commandant said. “There is a well-armed convoy of forty Draak soldiers and trucks expected to arrive just before dawn. We need to be gone by then.”

I said. “Do you know where that convoy is at the moment?”

The Commander said. “Yes they are at the Ootoe Springs with four water trucks to do the daily water run, as I said they are well armed.”

The Togar looked at me. “What do you have in mind?”

I said. “Water trucks could be used as Trojan Horses.”

I had to explain to them what a Trojan horse is and I told them about the legend of the battle for Troy.

The Togar warrior said. “Let us hope we never have to fight the Union. You Terrans are sneakier than the Shiss when it comes to war.”

The Draak Commander said. “It is a good idea. The water detail doesn’t expect an attack. They never have been attacked before. I think we could overwhelm them at the springs and drive right into the compound. I must return soon, as I am officially in town and I am expected to be back.”

I said to her. ”Can you manage to deactivate the stasis field on the hooded human?

She looked at me. “Yes I can do that.”

I smiled at her. “If my friend is awake, everything will turn out fine.”

She buttoned her coat closed and put a helmet on her head. “I hope you will remember me and us, Union Captain. Itheamh needs friends out there, real friends that know what is going on.”

“I will do what I can, Commander. I have a feeling things will change on Itheamh.”

She walked past me and left.

One of the Ithe produced a map. It was not a projection but an actual roll of paper he spread out on the floor and said. “The Ootoe Springs are here at the bottom of the Oote Mountain about 300 Urbs to the north. The spring is inside a cave and feeds a small but deep pool. The Draak have a permanent small camp there, guarding it and a pump station to fill the trucks.

The convoy also brings the relief soldiers for the outpost camp.”

The Togar said. “We ride in one hour, so we will arrive there before the convoy and then we’ll figure out how we take the trucks from the soldiers.”

One of the Ithe men said. “I’ll send a messenger to the Oote tribe. They will help and they have catapults we can use.”

Ninety said. “Then let us eat. I prefer dying on a full stomach.”

I said. “Let’s not plan on dying, Togar.”

He looked at me and said. “I have no desire to do so, Union Captain, but 40 Draak soldiers are no easy prey. They have energy weapons and wear armor that can be shielded. We only have a few energy weapons and if we use them we become targets for the Sky punishers. Even if we are successful, some of us will not return.” --

I followed them up a make shift ramp into another section of the wreck. There were benches and tables and the other side of this former engineering section was made into a community kitchen, with cooking fires burning in steel tubs with steel plates and grills suspended on chains. The smoke was funneled into large pipes above. It smelled of seared meat and smoke.

A gaggle of children of various ages were playing, while women and men prepared food. Others were already sitting at the tables.

Naroma said, standing next to me. “Only yesterday I had a home and a husband and now I am here and like everyone we live in fear that this place will be discovered by the Draak. It is primitive but it is better than being shot or sold to the Smelter moons of the cursed Overlords.”

The Togar said. “Come sit with us and have a share of food. We do have a little time before we ride and I am eager to hear about the Union and if all the legends and stories we hear are true.”

I sat down at the place he pointed out and said. “And I need to learn more about this place and why a Togar and a Dai are among these Ithe.”

He placed his large frame across the table from me and said. “There are many non Ithe here. We managed to escape the smelter moons and found refuge here. On the smelter moons, race and origin mean nothing. You become a number, nothing more than a living robot that when damaged is tossed in the fires or made into food slurry.” He looked over the tables and then back at me. “There are no open hostilities between the Togar Empire and the Kartanian conglomerate, but war looms close under the surface for many decades now. There are no treaties, no prisoner exchange programs. There is no trade and very little contact. The situation on Kaliment does not help things either, but even if there would be a golden gate that would take me back to Togr and back to my family and my command. I would still chose to remain here and fight with my friends until I die or until this place is free and no slave dies at the smelter moons.”

Naroma placed a plate with meat pieces and something that looked like green mashed potatoes before me and said. “This is Nuktur stew and Gathr Seedling porridge. I hope it will be to your liking.” She then placed a second plate before the Togar and sat down next to me.

I was hungry and used a spoon like utensil to scoop a piece of meat and some porridge into my mouth. It was horrible and it took all my will power not to show it. The meat had a very pungent, gamey, fatty taste that coated my teeth, tongue and throat with a greasy texture. The Porridge was somewhat eatable.

Ninety laughed deeply. “Yes Captain that is Nuktur meat. Only Ithe and Oghrs can really eat it, even after nine years I can barely stomach it. Now I am not a very good judge of human facial expressions but it appears Terrans are not among those who would call it a delicacy.”

I took a long sip of the sharp and slightly bitter tea someone had placed in a mug next to my plate and I said. “Perhaps not, but I am sure it nourishes and is prepared with care and served with the best intentions.”

One of the Ithe men said. “Naroma told us, you are a Union Captain. Is it true that your fleet could really chase the Kartanians off Ithe, despite all their technology?”

Before I could answer the Togar said. ”I once was the Commander of a Queen Flight. That is a group of fifteen Togar battle ships and support units.” He pulled back his black chaps and revealed rows of formidable predator teeth and made a gnarling sound. “I always believed there was nothing more formidable and fearsome in the entire galaxy. Fifteen battle ships, ten frigates and 20 destroyers, a force strong enough to even take on a Dai Clan in an even fight, but then I have witnessed a Union battle group break to sub light speeds. “His yellow cat eyes focused on something he saw in his mind and his finger claws came out as he clenched his right hand into a fist.

A small crowd had gathered around the table and they all looked at him.

His voice vibrated as he said. “Our sensor department was overwhelmed, I could not believe what we saw. “

He looked at me. “Tell them what a Union Battle group contains Captain, please.”

I sat down the tea mug and said. “A standard Union Battle group consists of five Arsenal ships, five carriers, five Dreadnoughts, 20 Ultra Battle Ships , 100 Battle ships, 200 Super cruisers, 80 heavy destroyers, Marine troop ships and around 200 other support craft."

The Togar glared at the Ithe who had asked the question. “Tartur my friend, Union battle ships are as big as mountains. The biggest Togar battle ship would fit in one of their hangars. They have weapons that no shield can stop. Not even if the Togar, the Kartanian and all Oghr combine their forces could they hope to stop such terrible might. They do not fear the Kermac and they have beaten the Y’All. As mighty as Kartania appears to you and me, it is nothing but a spark compared to a sun.”

I felt a little embarrassed at their stares and the Ithe warrior said. “Can you not tell your government to come and free us?”

Another Ithe said. “At what price, all it would do is replacing one master with the other. If the Union is as strong as you say, what chance would we have fighting them if they take over?”

I said. “This is not what we do. We are a society of many civilizations. The reason we cannot help is that Itheamh does not speak with one voice. Only if all Itheamh would want to become Union members and send a delegation to Pluribus would the Assembly consider membership. All the Union asks of its members is that they follow our basic laws that guarantee the freedoms and rights of individuals. The Union would give you as much or as little help as you want and not interfere with local matters. However if Itheamh would be a Union member, all that is Union would fight to the last ship and man to defend you.”

The Togar got up. “It is time, we need to fly! We can dream and talk about these things later.” --

Naroma caught up with me in the former Cargo hold where the flying animals were kept and gave me a fur lined cape and handed me a helmet like thing that looked like the head of a Gryther, complete with sharp beak and long feathers on the neck. She said. “I think you like to hide your face and I know you are on a secret mission. This is a very old war lord flight mask; Legend has it that it bestows extra warrior powers to whoever wears it. “

I took both items and thanked her.

Ten minutes later the black Gryther spread his wings and galloped behind the lead animal, gathered speed and took off. --

After over an hour of flight, I saw Ninety stand up in his saddle and wave, then he pointed down and pulled a long lance with a wicked blade from a holder. His animal pulled its wings close to the body and dropped like a stone, the others around me did the same!

I looked down and saw several large vehicles on a dirt road. The lead vehicle was burning, and I could hear the crackle of energy weapons. The convoy was attacked by a small army of wild looking mountain men. They had crude looking war machines with them.

From what I could gather the Mountain tribe had not waited for us, and attacked the convoy before it reached the mountains. Their initial success was evident but the surprise element was gone and the soldiers fought back using their energy blasters. I cursed to myself and said. “So much for a planned and careful executed ambush.”

I pulled at the reigns and my Gryther followed suit, following the others in a steep dive

The first energy blasts streaked into the sky, one missed me only by a few meters.

I heard the painful screech of another Gryther behind me and saw it tumble with burning wings past me.

I freed myself from the stirrups; my Gryther spread his wings, and flew at high speed over the ground, towards the armored vehicles and the soldiers manning it.

I leaned as far out of the saddle as I dared and swung my axe against a battle suited soldier, who was aiming at the attacking mountain men, burning several of them.

The marvelous blade of my axe split him armor suit and all down to the chest.

Just as my Gryther was trying to gain altitude again, an energy blast went to its left wing. It screamed and struggled and landed managing to slow down enough, but cartwheeled as it had only one wing. I was lifted out of the saddle and thrown on the hard ground. It did not come unexpected and I had prepared myself to jump already, so I managed to lessen the impact by rolling over my shoulder, thanking my long martial arts training session for being able to do that. I was rattled, and had a few scrapes but was otherwise unhurt. Without a second thought I bolted right towards the armored vehicle that was closest to me. Like a silver flicker fish, I zigzagged left and right and evaded a fiery blast from a Draak soldier operating a mounted gun at the armored vehicle. This time I did not hold back my rage and fighting instincts. I let it all loose.

With a leap I was on it and swung at the weapon and blast shield that the Draak soldier was hiding behind. The axe cut through armor, steel and weapon as if it was butter. I actually felt cold satisfaction as I saw the utter terror in the Aliens face before I beheaded him.

In all this I suddenly heard a familiar voice. “Captain, duck!”

I did and turned to see. There was Mao, holding a TKU and fired. A Draak soldier that had appeared from a hatch in the vehicle already aimed at me, withered to atomic ashes as the TKU blasted him and half the turret.

A massive figure stalked through the smoke, it was Hans wearing a destroyer suit. He lifted one of the armored vehicles complete off the ground and threw with an ear shattering crash onto another.

The Other, holding three TKU’s and a Y’All boarding sword walked through the Draak forces like a whirlwind of doom. It was over in moments. The Draak had no chance!”

I yelled. “There is a Sky based weapon it will open fire on this place at any moment!”

Krabbel de-cloaked wearing his version of an Atlas suit directly before me. “No Captain it won’t. Shea uploaded a nasty little virus into their orbital defense system. They are lucky if their life support systems come on in time.”

The only way I could relieve my tension was laughing. I hugged Krabbel and said. “It is good to see you. How in the world did you find me?”

Shea de-cloaked and hugged me. “That wasn’t easy Captain.”

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