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Galactic Chronicles Book X
Barfigt
Chapter number 16
Previous Chapter 15: Prelude to Battle (GC X)
Current Bar Fight
Next Chapter 17: Oghrs and Slaves -New version

The Togar glanced over my shoulder at the field screen image my PDD projected. It came from Mao, who had taken a surveillance post just 5000 meters from the regional district head-quarters which was over 500 klicks from our current position. The images relayed came from the high power optics of Mao's battle suit and showed a force of about a thousand infantry soldiers riding on one hundred armored personnel carriers accompanied by fifty battle tanks and 50 Mecha walkers with missile launchers. The tech used was clearly of Kartanian origin. Above the troops hovered maybe fifty armored flyers.

The Draak army had just reached the demolished installation and we could see the soldiers dismounting their vehicles and swarming all over the place.

The Togar groaned and then said. "They know we hide in the Old Vaselkis-scrap field forests as we call this valley. It is big but they will find us, we will fight but and then this will be the end."

I said. "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win, as a wise Terran once said."

Har-Hi looked at the images as well. "Don't worry Togar, we already have enough fire power down here to defeat an army ten times that size and, judging by their primitive equipment, it won't even be much of a fight."

I nodded and flicked the image to map mode, expanded the scale to see a bigger picture of the situation and overlaid it with a tactical map I had the Computronic generate. While I did that I said to him. "Defeating them is not the problem, Ninety. Doing it without them suspecting Union Involvement and going into General mobilization, that's the goal we want to achieve; even better if we can defeat them and use the victory as a tool for our goals."

While I was studying the map and formulating a plan in my mind I could hear the Kartanian whisper to the Togar. "Are they serious? What army did they bring to defeat that?"

I turned and grinned. "I brought my friends: my crew and I have fifty Marines."

Looking back on the map, I said. "You could defeat them even without us. This Scrap field of yours is huge! Almost three hundred square miles of grass forest and ship wrecks of all sizes strewn in between; they would need serious sensor technology or a whole lot more men to find anyone in here. It is also a perfect environment for guerilla warfare. Aurelius lost legions of Roman soldiers against German barbarians because he had to fight them on their turf and that is what we’ll make them do as well."

Ninety spread his big, golden fur covered arms. "I am trained at the War Academy for Space Combat on Togr and I don't understand what you intend to do to defeat that force."

I said. "If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."

Har-Hi added, "She is quoting Shin-Tzu again, that is an ancient Terran who wrote a book called the Art of War."

The Kartanian flickered his black round tongue and said. "Did you say the Art of War? Music is art, paintings are art, and dancing is art but war?"

My Dai friend said, looking at them both. "I graduated from the United Stars Fleet academy not so long ago. Before I believed we Dai were the most warrior like species, then I learned about the Terrans. They have war gods, war music, war dances and yes, even though don't admit it, they raised war to their highest form of art

I interrupted them with a slightly annoyed tone in my voice and said. "We can compare civilizations at another time. I have a plan and we better get started."

They all paid attention and I said. "We give them the bait and lure them between the wrecks. Without their Sky stations we don't have to hold back using real weaponry. Their tanks are next to useless in this environment and we’re going to clean their bombers and flyers out of the sky."

I pointed at several space ship hulls. "Ninety you take the bulk of your men out there and make sure they see you, and then you retreat to here." I pointed at a spot of the map. "We will take care of their heavy equipment and then we attack here, but before we do all this. I want you to make a broadcast. I want you three to tell them to surrender."

Ninety opened his maw and said. "We will do what?"

"I want everyone on Itheamh hear you. I mean you, the Kartanian and the former Ithe commander. I will arrange that images of the fight are broadcast and show that you win too

The Togar said. "I’ll do whatever you say we should do, but would that not make the Draak even angrier and ask for even more Kartanian help. Thousands will go to the smelter Moons!"

I grinned. "I am counting on that

The Kartanian said. "I do not understand. We are already wanted criminals and they know us; but they are the ones who control the airwaves."

"Not much longer. I have very talented people in that regard. We must win this war fast and decisive and in order to unite this planet we need to galvanize the masses. I told you I have a plan and it becomes clearer by the minute."

-""-

I was wearing an Atlas type battle suit in full Infantry configuration; this unit was hand checked by Circuit and I was certain it would not malfunction. The weapons at my disposal were frightening and I was quite certain I could have stopped the enemy army all on my own. Not to mention that all my marines were deployed as well, each of them fully equipped and eager for a fight. Of course that was not part of my plan, but we were there to make sure Ninety and the Rebels would wind gloriously, with as few casualties as possible and everything in full color, high definition on every visual broadcast receiver on the planet.

My suit was fully cloaked as I hovered 300 meters over the ground of the former regional Head Quarters 3000 meters to the south.

Elfi's symbol blinked and I activated the comm-link by looking at it. She said." Captain, I’ve got Lt. Bergdorf. He and his team have infiltrated the enemy Command post and are reporting in.

"Patch them through."

The Mini Terran officer said: "Captain, the enemy force is commanded by General Bruk Kning. He was holding maneuvers with his unit nearby when they more or less stumbled on the destroyed camp. He was ordered to kill every civilian in the entire district. He is very confident, and he does not yet know that he just uploaded a Trojan horse into the entire military communication network when he called his superiors.

Elfi still listening in said: "Shea and ship are ready to activate the broadcast at your command."

I switched to the scrambled radio band I used to communicate with the Rebels and said, "Ninety, are you guys ready?"

"Yes Captain!"

The suit system linked with the Tigershark and in doing so I could see what every Ithe was watching.

Ninety, the Kartanian and the former Ithe Commander along with the Mountain man tribe leader appeared standing before a colorful flag and Ninety said. "Itheamh hear and see! Some of you have heard of me, I am Ninety and these are Nefkin Boneface, Draak Commander Jutika and the village elder of the Oote Mountains. We are the Instigators and we are the Voice of Freedom. We speak for all Ithe, for all Draak and everyone else living on this planet. To those in power, oppressing us with an iron fist with the backing of your puppet masters the Kartanians, Itheamh is yours no longer! We will stand and fight and sweep you away! The time of slavery has come to an end. The Smelter Moons will no longer run on Ithe and slave blood. We hereby declare the Oote Mountains and the entire East plain district as ours. The troops currently here have one hour to leave or we will destroy them.

I snickered inside my helmet. The Draak would scramble and try to locate the source of the broadcast but all they would find would be the Command Post of the Admiral and the equipment there. The magistrate would think that his own General was in cahoots with the rebels, and the General would be afraid to go back as he could not explain what happened and would fear for his own life, oh what a wonderful dilemma.

To Ninety I radioed. "Now take the Bait group out so they can see you!"

From the tall grass trees and onto the dusty plain came a force of about five hundred rebels. They were riding an assortment of captured vehicles and animals. A force of fifty Gryther riders appeared as well.

The enemy General and his forces almost immediately spotted them. Yet there was confusion as the General barked orders in his Communication Device, but the soldiers heard something completely different. Elfi had much fun redirecting and mixing his orders. The enemy General ordered his flyers to open fire but what they heard was, "Hold your fire and stay back." His ground troops got the order to advance and arrest the rebels on the official channels and from the General's voice.

I almost felt sorry for the General and wondered what he was thinking as he saw his forces move.

I gave my own invisible marines the order to take out the tanks as soon as they reached the forest.

Har-Hi, Mao, Krabbel and I engaged the flyers and shot them down. It was not a fight, it was slaughter. The Draak flyers had no chance. Their shields, formidable enough to deflect rocks, simple projectiles and weak laser blasts, collapsed with the first TKU blasts. My wrist cannon, in Computronic assisted targeting mode, roared and bolts of superheated plasma accelerated to near light speed ripped the enemy air force to shreds. It took no more than maybe 30 seconds and there was no flyer left.

I turned and accelerated like a projectile towards the forest. It was a rush that few experienced to fly that fast and that close to the ground. I misjudged my speed and crashed like a cannon ball through several tree trunks, creating a deep furrow into the ground. Yet I felt nothing. The Suit protected me completely and was not damaged in the slightest.

My Marines were much better trained with the suits and tore through the enemy battle tanks using their chain swords and the augmented strength of their suits to tear the tanks to scrap.

The main fight however was done by the Rebels themselves, and they fought with utter determination. Now they fought on even ground. They had energy weapons and did not have to fear sudden death from the sky. They fought like demons let lose. My plan was to take prisoners and let as many of the soldiers live as possible, but there was no stopping the rebels. They had lost family members and their homes by the hands of these soldiers and they let them have it. To my surprise it was Ninety who curbed them and ordered them to show mercy.

It was over faster than expected. Of the thousand soldiers, three hundred had survived and surrendered. Among them was the enemy General.

-""-

Ninety had a hard time making them calm down. A large group of rebels had gathered inside the freighter wreck’s engineering section. The mood was changed completely. There was laughter; there were lively discussions, men telling other men about the battle and the fights.

I was back in my leather suit. Har-Hi, Shea and Narth stood next to me in the back.

The Togar finally managed to get them quiet enough to speak and he said. "This my friends was only one fight and I am sure many will follow before we can lay down our weapons and built a free society where no one has to live in fear or hide." He paused then threw his arms in the air and yelled. "But we won. Hope is no longer a fools dream!"

They yelled and chanted but fell suddenly quiet as two Ithe warriors dragged the Draak General in. "One of them yelled. This is the butcher of Uthoo, he murdered and executed thousands and send many more to the Smelter Moons to a slow death."

The Admiral's leather coat was ripped to shreds as was the rest of his uniform, and he showed signs of rough treatment.

Har-Hi leaned over and said to me. "It happened faster than I thought it would. While I can understand them, this world will not see peace for a long time

I wondered if he was right but I somehow had a feeling the Togar, even though he was no Ithe, would remain a leading force. As much as I hated to admit it, this Togar was as honorable as could be and had a sound set of morals guiding his actions. It was the Togar who stepped forward. "Yes he is a butcher and deserves death, but we must not become the new Draak. We must resist going down the same road. We can only do what we need to do if Itheamh speaks with one voice and that includes the Draak

To the Draak he said. "General Kning, you know who I am. You have tortured and killed many innocents trying to locate me and this hide out. I was Ninety of the Instigators. We are the Instigators no longer, we are Ithe. I am Togar by race; I am Ithe by creed and soul. That Kartanian is Ithe by creed and soul and so is everyone here. We are the first voices and we won't rest until this world speaks with one voice to outsiders, where every single person speaks with his or her own voice without fear."

He gestured to the Ithe who held the General and it was evident that even they accepted Ninety as leader and instantly and without arguing let the Draak General go. The Ithe was a solider and officer I could tell, as he straightened his stance and tried to gather his shredded mantle into a more dignified appearance. "Yes I know you, and I don't know how you did what you did, but I assume you found some kind of alien device in one of the wrecks to create havoc with our communications and disable the Sky punishers. I applaud your persistence and ingenuity. I am prepared to die; my life is worth nothing anymore. If I would return I would face a firing squad for failure, so if you kill me or not, makes little difference. The magistrate has twelve Kartanian Ognix Mechas and I am sure they are already on the way. They can't be stopped by your communication tricks or your captured weapons. You don't fight the Draak who for the most part are as tired of the fighting and not being masters of our own world as you are, you fight the Kartanians who use this world and won't let go. They will come and retaliate even if you manage to flee from the Ognix and hide. Many more will die."

Ninety looked into my direction and I simply nodded. Not that I had any idea what an Ognix was.

Narth's voice explained in my mind. "Eighty meter tall robotic machines, steered by the disembodied brains of Kartanian soldiers. These machines are heavily shielded with good Kartanian force fields and are armed with four large caliber Force projectors. The machines are incapable of flight and are currently marching in this general direction."

I turned. "Not that I think we can't handle them but when you said steered by brains, do you mean the actual biological brains of a living being?"

"Precisely that, captain."

"And here I am with a Narth with tremendous psionic powers. Wouldn't it be a shame to waste such talents in a situation like that?"

I could feel Narth's amusement as he responded. "You have a particularly wicked mind

The Togar in the meantime said to the General. "We do not fear your Magistrates terrors. We lived under them for so long, one more terror makes no difference, but we will no longer be the victims. We will fight, it is better to die fighting for our freedom than to shiver in fear and hide like a coward and live."

The General said. "Then let me fight with you. My life is over, what does it matter if I die by the hands of a lynch mob or if I die fighting?"

"There won't be any lynch mobs. We are not the Draak. The only ones who must die are the ones in the Magistrate tower. They are beyond mercy."

Ninety then came over to me and said. "I do not fear whatever it is they are sending as I have seen with what ease your invisible forces have rendered battle tanks and flyers to scrap; what do we do against those things?"

I put my hand on his shoulder and had to reach up to do so. I said." Ninety, I don't want to sound arrogant or ring our bell. I don't want make light of the situation as it is as serious as can be and we are at the beginning of what we want to do, but let me assure you there is nothing in the arsenal of the Kartanians we can't handle. Now you may not believe me, but there is nothing in the Kartanian Arsenals that can really stop a determined man with a plan and cool head. Everything can be overcome if the cause is right."

He straightened. "You are right Captain. I’ve been a rebel so long I forgot that I was a Togar Commander and fought in many battles. I am a warrior born and your words ring with truth, strength and confidence."

He looked over at my friends and then added. "I also know now why they follow you, Dai Than, Null and even a Y'All, Captain Velvet, because I too will follow you."

Har-Hi who had his arms crossed smirked while he gave me a side glance. "Yes our captain has that effect on the strangest people; we keep collecting all sorts of strays and odd balls and haven't even really started on our actual mission."

Ninety spread his arms. "Come Captain and bring your friends and officers. Let us share a meal and then face what is coming."

I said. "The approaching machines are no problem. We will deal with them and make sure they won't be used by anyone again. So let's eat and then get started on phase two.

-""-

When we gathered at the tables in the community room, I told my friends to be careful with the served meat. I politely declined the meat and asked for porridge only.

Across from me sat the human boy and while I had little time in the last hours, I did notice his continuous stare. By now he should have been getting used to another human being and I said, pointing the spoon at him, "Listen, buster, I know you have not seen another human and I tried to ignore your staring until now, but it is getting ridiculous. You even forget to chew. Either say something and get it out of your system or get over whatever is bugging you

He blushed deeply to both his ears as he lowered his head and stared at his plate.

Shea giggled and I watched Narth as he actually held a spoon with a piece of the horrible meat. He probably didn't want to scare the locals with an open display of Psionics.

I almost gagged as I saw Mao helping himself to a big chunk of the meat while he chewed with full cheeks. "Captain that stuff is delicious! It tastes like the most intense goat I ever tried."

Mao instantly became the center of attention of several Ithe.

Shea leaned over and whispered. "That poor kid, you scared him half to death. He isn't much older than you were when you left Nilfeheim."

I pushed the plate away and sipped at the tea mug and said to her. "Yeah, maybe I was a little rough, but he keeps staring at me with an intensity that creeps me out."

Shea padded my hand and said. "Pirates, monsters, generals and aliens don't creep you out, but a teenage human boy does? I am sure he could care less if you were your old Eric self, you are not only the first human he has ever seen, but the first girl and just a few years older than him. You know yourself you look drop dead gorgeous and your choice of dress leaves little to the imagination."

I got angry and felt the blood rising to my cheeks. "I didn't pick this outfit. It was you and Cherubim, and besides I am not…"

I stopped as she looked at me with a deep smile. "Yes you are. You no longer refer to yourself as he and you haven't used your old name. I think your transformation is almost complete and what you have called your old problem has vanished."

"There is too much on my plate right now to think about all that. I have a mission and we are straying further and further away from it. Next stop is Tana Shoo and it is not where the Red Dragon wants to go."

She wrinkled her nose and pushed the plate away. "That is worse than anything I remember eating even as a girl on Sin 4.”

To the boy I said. "I think your name is Mel right?"

He nodded without looking up or saying anything and I felt rotten for what I had said. I asked him. "So how did you end up here?"

He spoke with a meek tone as he answered my question. “I was able to hide on an ingot transport from Olx and it stopped here."

"Olx is a smelter moon, right?"

"Yes."

"So escape is not impossible?"

He shook his head and said. "No it is not impossible, there are scrap and ore transporters coming and going and there are now too many slaves and not enough overseers."

I now felt even more guilt for snapping at him and tried to sound friendlier. "I guess I don't mind if you stare at me."

He did not move his head.

I sighed and said. "Now that explains how you came here to Itheamh but how did you come to Olx. From what planet did you come originally?" He did raise his head now and looked at me with sad eyes and he said. "I was born on Olx, I think. I was raised by several slave women and I think one of them was my mother. When I was old enough to work the overseers pulled me out of the breeding cages and stuck me to a work gang unloading scrap metal and sorting the bad pieces that not supposed to go into the smelters."

I could not completely hide my feelings and felt a tear roll down my cheek. Compared to this boy, my childhood was paradise and I remembered Egill saying to me that there was always someone who had it worse, when I complained about my lot in life. Back then it was just another saying of a grumpy, wise old man. Now it became reality.

Being female had not only positive sides, it seemed to affect my emotional balance somehow and I hoped no one saw the tear.

When I was a kid I knew Viking boys didn't cry. Now it was imperative that as a Captain I would not show such displays of strong emotion, at least not in public.

To Mel I said. "We will find out where you belong. I am sure there is family for you somewhere and we will find it."

He cramped his fist around the wooden spoon utensil and actually broke it doing it. "My home is Olx and I will return there as soon as I can."

That statement surprised me even more. "Why in Odin's name would you want to return?”

He said while he touched his neck. "I am still getting used to walking without restrictor cables attached to my feet. I still can feel the steel collar scraping my neck sore, even though it is gone. I am still amazed about open sky and I can't believe how big and clear it is.”

He pointed at the food bowl, "Or eating food that is not mud like soup with ground up bits of brothers and friends floating in it."

Mel's eyes glowed with a fierce fire and he said. "I am going back there and kill the Overseers, free all my friends on my work gang that are still alive and then we are going to kill more Overseers."

I said to him. "This is something we will rectify before we leave."

Just then my wrist Com chirped. It was Elfi and she said. "Captain I’ve got Admiral Stahl standing by. I told him you are on an Away mission. Do you want to take the call?"

The blood that had just rushed into my cheeks now sank to the bottom of my stomach and I said to her. "Yes, Elfi, I am going to take the call."

-""-""—

I went to one of our landing tanks and took the call in the small cockpit. When the secure transmission was established I noticed it was not just Stahl, but McElligott and the mysterious Cherubim were there as well. It looked like the three immortals sat in Stahl's office aboard the Devi.

The eternal solider looked at me with his ice gray eyes and said: "We had a quiet meeting and my old friend thought it might be nice to call you and catch up with our special crew and Captain."

He gave McElligott a side glance and then added. "Somehow I have a feeling you have quite a report for us."

I straightened myself in the comfortable seat of the tank and said, "Yes, Sir, I think I do.” I told them everything that happened so far and I left nothing out. While I spoke I uploaded my log book entries and also the reports of my departments. They did not interrupt and I finished saying." Sirs, I am in a dilemma and I know it, but I made the decision to help as much as I can. I also must somehow go to Tana Shoo. Har-Hi is more than a friend to me and I could not look into his face if I did not do something to help the Dai Than. I know how important the Seenian depot is and the Red Dragon issue and I assure you I will find a solution to it, but it eludes me at the moment."

Even though I had finished talking there was silence. The three immortals looked at each other and I was sure there was some sort of communication going on. It was McElligott, the Admiral of the Fleet who folded his hands before him and leaned forward saying. "We send out a young crew, with untested officers on a mostly untested ship and all under the command of the youngest Captain in fleet history. We did that, mostly because my old friend here saw something in you."

My stomach knotted as he paused for a moment and then he continued saying. "We thought it would be a nice easy assignment for a young crew: Act like pirates and suppress pirate activity. Little did we know you went out to change Galactic history."

He sighed and then smiled. "Your mission is not set in stone, Captain. You are out there all on your own. You are in command because we trust you to make those decisions and you did. We won't hang you for that, or strip you of your command. The Fleet you serve has many reasons to exist and many tasks. Protecting the Union from outside threats is one, exploration is another but our single most important task is to help others. It is not written, not mentioned anywhere in basic training or the manuals you have read so far, because it is expected. You are no longer in Free-space where Fleet operations are prohibited. That you are technically undercover is a fact and a problem, but you are doing the right thing by helping."

Stahl said. "These things are discussed in Command school but you did not have the benefit to go there yet. You did not spend years as the XO of another Captain and yet you do what we expect you to do. So I am very proud of you, girl."

Now it was Cherubim's turn to speak and she said. "Your XO is right, however, when he says nation building is very difficult, rarely successful and opens a can of worms of problems. Not many would try it, and even less on a schedule of a little over two weeks." She held up her hand signaling to me that she wasn't finished as I tried to say something and she continued, saying, "You are a very unusual individual Captain Olafson with a command and lead style all your own and you have the great fortune of having a crew who not only is second to none but virtually worships the ground you walk on. Your science officer and your ship AI have prepared the most comprehensive political situation report I have seen in ages. Your intelligence officer and your special envoy from the Golden prepared a detailed intelligence dossier. All this is very helpful for us to develop a course of action."

Stahl also leaned forward in his seat. "What my shadowy intelligence friend tried to say is that you are not alone in this. I know it must feel like this for you to operate under cover and without the benefits of regular fleet contact. We will discuss this and see what we can do from our end. In the meantime go and contact our Intelligence contact in the Itheamh government. We will send him a message and transmit the details to you as well. When you have made contact we will contact you again and tell you what we can do to help you."

The kilt wearing Admiral of the fleet said. "Carry on then Captain Olafson. We put a big load on your small shoulders and you somehow have the talent to stir up things wherever you go and increase that load beyond anything we had foreseen. Now take care of your business and be assured you are indeed not alone in this and that we are very proud of you."

They saluted me and the screen went dark.

I rarely felt more release of tension and stress than I was feeling right now. Having the blessing of the eternal guides and more so, having their backing, made me feel a million pounds lighter. The Old Admiral of the Fleet was right, it really felt like a big load I had carried. Shea stuck her head in and said. "Captain, you may want to tune in to the local propaganda channel."

I did and saw towering machines that remotely looked like mechanical versions of a Kartanian being, stomping through a small town, releasing rays of energy, crushing and burning houses and the clear images showed scores of panicked people dying. Others were rounded up by soldiers. A voice only commentator spoke of the glorious victory of the government law and order against a hotbed of rebellious activity.

Shea said. "That town and many other communities had open protests on the streets. This is the answer of the magistrate."

I said. "I am done playing it subtle." I activated my wrist com and said. "Marines, men, saddle up. Full Destroyer Suits authorized. One platoon stays here, the rest follow me."

-""-

Without restriction I let my marines loose, but we used the cloaking technology of our Atlas suits and protected the outer image of Ithe warriors in simple battle suit frames. Of course no initiated observer would believe that the carnage and destruction we dealt out to the Draak shock troops could have possibly done by Ithe manufactured Exo frames.

Despite the fact that I had an incredible arsenal of weapons at my disposal; I mainly used my strange axe. I knew it was not just my Neo Viking roots that made me favor a seemingly simple bladed weapon. There was a connection between me and that axe that went beyond preference. This thing was part of me and when I swung it, I felt more complete than ever before. This time there was no black out. I recalled every moment of my fight attacking and slaughtering Draak soldiers and I knew the vicious, intense and brutal way I was ripping through men and hardware was nothing the old Eric would have done, whatever was sleeping inside me was slowly but surely fusing with all other aspects of my complicated self. I could not stop it, suppress it, forget it or ignore it.

I could feel the entity that was inside me and it was colder than the coldest ice winds of Nilfeheim, it had no shape form or name. It was more like an intense emotion, comparable to a feeling of fear or anger that began collecting somewhere below the stomach. It was as if staring into a mirror in a very dark room and only seeing bits and outlines; the reflection looking strange and alien and yet I knew the reflection was me. I always liked the crisp clean feeling of cold water, of cold wind and there was a new desire of mine to embrace that coldness and make it rise and come to the foreground.

While I was contemplating my own condition; the augmented muscles of my Atlas suit made me jump on the top of a ten story building. Concrete and brick shattered upon my impact and I jumped again, dispensing a dozen Dragonfly Seek and Destroy Intelli-projectiles from the launcher mounted into the knuckle area of my left gauntlet. The projectiles programmed to seek out and kill anyone fitting the brainwave patterns of a Draak. The SII-Geyser Gatling on my left shoulder obliterated several Draak flyers with light speed accelerated plutonium pellets over seven klicks away. At the apex of my leap, my boot thrusters came on and with my axe raised, I collided with one of the towering robotic war machines. Its force field collapsed in a crackling display of lightning bolts

The Draak soldiers sitting behind the cannon controls of the Ognix, screamed with primeval fear as I ripped the protective armor of their gun mounts to shreds and grabbed one of them by the short throat popping his head right of his shoulders while my axe, spilt the other. From there I fired my Main weapon and the TKU blast of my chest cannon cut to the center of the Ognix with the core heat of a white star vaporizing the command brain and much of the upper structure of the machine.

My battle optics identified Narth floating not far from me. He too wore an Atlas suit. Two of the giant machines abandoned their attack on the civilians and turned to fight each other, while a third one, thousands of tons begun to rise into the air, its armor crumble as if an invisible fist was squeezing it. Then it crashed with force head first into the ground. It was not just I who was growing and changing. Narth's powers clearly grew as well

A beam of energy, so bright my optics almost overloaded, zigzagged in an impossible pattern through the chests of three Ognix machines. No weapon beam I knew off could change its direction like that. Narth’s mental voice gave me the answer. "That's Ensign Three-Four, our Non-Corp. He decided he could do more damage not wearing his suit and it is evident he is quite right."

It was over soon. Looking at the carnage I realized just how formidable the crew was I commanded.

But it was not just my crew and my marines who fought. I saw Ithe picking up weapons and storm a city square where soldiers had rounded up civilians to be shot and turned the table on the soldiers.

-""- 

I used the confusion of the local forces to have the Tigershark land among the wrecks. Shea and Ship had programmed a new Janus mask and the ship looked like a burned out, rusty hulk and looked as if it was lying there for hundred years at least and even I could not tell her apart from the other wrecks and scrap ships.

Ninety walked over and gestured to my ship with disbelieve saying. "You flew with this thing?"

I said. "Remember my story about the Trojan horse? It's something like that."

He was still looking at the ship as he said. "After the broadcast you had me do last night, there is open revolt in several cities now and the Draak are holding back. They are afraid that if they act, they will get the same treatment as the troops and Ognix got last night in Craha city."

I said to him. "That is good news indeed."

He now focused on me. "It is still a different story in the Capital of course. I have heard the Kartanian are sending a small fleet with Oghr troops and the Draak prepare a large shipment of prisoners to the smelter moons. My sources say they have over 10,000 prisoners and want to use them to show the Kartanian that they still loyal and useful.”

"Wonderful, that is what I hoped for and it will help me with the next phase of my plan."

He spread his arms in a confused gesture. "I used to be a Togar Commander and yet I cannot see what you are planning. All I know is that what you did so far worked and I am fully behind you.”

"Do you think it would possible to go to the capital city undercover? I need to see the space port and gather some intelligence."

He said. "It will be difficult and dangerous but not impossible, I am sure. The authorities try everything to play down the events, especially in the Capital and surrounding districts."

The Togar said. "It will be best you go just before dusk so you arrive when it is dark. I’ll organize a guide and disguises for you."

-""-

I felt like coming home stepping into my quarters and I realized how tired I was. I hadn't slept in quite a while, eaten very little and had only the most rudimentary hygienic care. After checking with Circuit who currently held the Conn and a very short Department meeting, I had a long and relaxing bath and almost fell asleep doing it. I could not believe how dried out my gills felt as I rinsed them with fresh cold water and hoped I would find time for an extended swim in our pool as soon as this was over.

I did not dress again. I sat down wearing a dressing gown and made a log book entry when the door chime announced a visitor. I expected Shea, but to my surprise it was Mr. Eeeryt carrying a tray and he said. "SHIP told me that you haven't eaten in days, so I made you this Tyranno Fin steak. I have a few portions in my stasis freezer saved for you."

I said. "Mr. Eeeryt, how thoughtful of you." The savory smell of fried fish and mashed seaweed buds wafted into my nose like the finest scent in the Universe as he uncovered the dish and put the tray down. "You must take more care of yourself, Captain. SHIP and I are concerned." He rushed to the door saying, "enjoy", just before he left.

I doubted Odin and the Aseir ate better food at the eternal banquet of Valhalla than the fish that was just melting on my tongue. There were few pleasures more satisfying than the simple act of eating one’s favorite food after not having it for a long time. The taste conjured images and memories of Uncle Hogun, Elena,father, old Egill, the Elkhart the first keeper and of course of Midril and the kitchen of our burg.

SHIP, we are still in regular GalNet range right?"

"Yes Captain, especially since Alvor's Cove just came online with a transponder station a few days ago."

Only my AI would add such small talk information and I was very glad it was so. I said. "See if you can tune in on Nilfeheim Radio. It is almost yuletide and they play nice old music around this time. I think Egill told me in his last message that Nilfeheim Radio now has a [[GalNet channel

"Yes Captain he did and I saved the info."

The sweet music of an old Yuletide song filled my quarters and I allowed myself a bottle of beer and felt quite content for the moment. I knew it would not last of course but that didn't bother me right now.

After finishing the plate and leaning back with a cigar and a glass of Aquavit. I reflected on the recent events and developments. Yes there was something happening to me, but as I listened to the music and remembered Nilfeheim, sitting here as Erica and even though I would not return to being Eric as he was; I knew Eric and Nilfeheim would always be a part of me, the part that defined my core. It was a good realization and as I lay down to sleep a few hours, I did so with a contented mind.

-""-""—

"Welcome," said a deep voice that came from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. The last thing I remembered was going to bed and falling asleep. Maybe I was dreaming standing on a mirror like dark surface that stretched to all sides as far as I could see. As I looked up the view I saw took my breath away. It was a crystal clear projection or representation of a galactic super cluster and I was almost certain I could identify our own local group. One of these lights was the Milky Way galaxy and the other slightly larger one right next to it was Andromeda. I knew many of the others from astronomy class. Yet I was certain this was no artists impression, this was as it looked like for real, yet not one of the known species had ever sent out a space ship so far as to make a picture like that, not even the Seenians as far as I knew.

I saw my own reflection in the floor that had a glass like hardness. I was wearing a black shroud like garment, similar to those the Narth wore but different. This shroud had the hood attached, more like a hooded cape that left the face open and not like the mask like hood with eyeholes the Narth wore. It was cut like a floor long dress, girded with a dark metal belt that had neither buckle nor any other distinctive features.

I could see my own face underneath the shadow casting hood. This had to be a dream, I would never look that arrogant, that lofty and somehow I could not think of it as anything else but utterly beautiful, cold and evil. It was not the face of a warm and loving woman, but more like the unmoving sculpture of a stone statue. Yet I recognized my features and my eyes.

Another hooded figure was suddenly there and despite its mask and hood, I knew it was the Narth Supreme. He said. "Don't be alarmed Erica, time and space as you understand it has no meaning here." He actually laughed with a warm tone in his voice. "I should say as you currently understand it, there will be a point where you understand it better than all Narth ever hope to comprehend."

"I am dreaming all this?"

"Let us pretend you are for now and then who can say what the dreams of a God may be?"

"Please don't call me a God, I am not and I don't want to be a god."

"Very well then, should I call you Erica or should I call you Imperia Regina Cerperum Orcus, Death and Darkness incarnate the devourer of life and light, the incarnation of eternal darkness and death? It is difficult to put it in human words what you are. The day will come when you have powers so far beyond mortal comprehension that there will be those who will call you a God or a Goddess perhaps."

If I have to be something like that, why Dark One? Can I not rather be the Light One or the Nice one?"

He actually sighed. "This is a very serious problem. Because you do have the choice and if Darkness itself choses to be light, the balance that keeps the Universe as it is will forever be destroyed. What is a Universe without darkness? Light would have no meaning. Without death, there would be no life. Yet all Narth does not know if it might be possible and if a Universe could exist without balance."

“Why is it I feel like a fish out of water? All this is so beyond my level of comprehension. If entities like I exist, does it not make the struggle of the Ithe, the plans of the Union and all this useless. If Gods can snap their fingers and snuff suns, move Galaxies or simply change reality to their liking?”

"These are all questions that are beyond Narth. We are very old and comprehend on levels humans cannot, compared to you, however, Narth are like newborn children, but we are certain that the actions of everyone counts. That even the life of bacteria has meaning and contributes to the sum of it all."

He came closer and took my hand. "I tried to ease your mind by taking your memories of all this, but how can I influence what is coming alive in you? I called you here to ease your mind, to tell you that you have time; the Dark One will not come into its own until twelve pieces are united. Your axe, this shroud, the sword your friend Tyr is guarding and your very body are parts of this. I am also certain that once you have found all the other pieces and you are the Dark One, you will not be the same Dark One that destroyed many Universes before. I am confident you will make the right decision.”

"How can a normal human being function in everyday life if she knows she will ultimately become something evil, look at my reflection, she looks like me and I know it is me, but she looks worse than a Kermac and Thauran combined."

"You were born on Nilfeheim as Eric, a human boy. Now you are an adult and appear female. That is what all beings do, they grow and become adult. Their outlook and comprehension develops and changes. The same holds true for your true self, you are still at the beginning of a very long journey and even an entity must grow and learn and develop. This is the very reason you reincarnated, I am certain of it. My advice to you is, do not dwell on it. Don't try to run when you can barely walk. Don't think of the future as set in stone as many events can and will happen that could change everything. For now you are not the Dark One, you are still Erica Olafson, Captain of a Union Starship and that is your current destiny and that is where you are needed."

Simply talking and listening to the wisdom of the Narth Supreme made me feel much better. He declined his head. "I can no longer make you forget things, but you can if you want. You are in control and it is you who decides what you will become in the end; that is what the decision is all about."

"Yes please help me to put all this in the background, it fills me with doubt and fear and I should not be distracted from my duty."

Then this is what you do. Concentrate and relax at the same time. Get into a state of meditation like you do when you practice your martial arts, now you can adjust the balance…"

-""-

I had slept three good hours and got up despite the mild mothering complaints of SHIP that this wasn't enough sleep and that it was still five hours before dusk. Local days were six hours longer than the Union standard day after all. I also remembered that I had talked to the Narth Supreme in my sleep. I knew that the strange axe was part of me and that it would come to me whenever I called it, no matter where it was. I remembered some of the advice and also knew there was more we had spoken about that I could not recall

However all this brooding of my possible future was fruitless and I decided to let it all develop as it may. All I could do was try my best and be a good Fleet Officer.

I felt refreshed and I knew I would not be able to find real rest until I was sure my job here was done.

Har-Hi and I had disguised ourselves as Ithe, very tall Ithe, but Ninety assured us that tall Ithe were rare but not completely uncommon. Ninety insisted on going along, despite that he was now a crucial figure in the movement. How could I argue his decision, when my real place should be aboard the ship at the bridge and sending someone else?

I decided to let him in so he could use one of our Saresii Auto-dressers making him look like an Oghr. He was simply too tall to even remotely be a convincing Ithe.

We had used Grythers to fly the 1500 kilometers distance to the Capital city of the planet and landed not far from the Tavern where we had met with the pirates. The sun was already behind the horizon and it would soon be completely dark. With us were Ninety, the Kartanian Nefkin and Jutika the former Ithe Commander. Ninety in his Oghr disguise chased our ride animals back into the sky and assured us the animals were used to this and would find their way back to their stables.

He then pointed to the city in the distance and said. "We will walk until we reach the Croi district, there we will get additional disguises to blend into the general population so we can use the Underground train."

We started walking.

Har-Hi catching up to me said. "That was exciting, riding those flying beasts. If this place ever becomes Union, I bet they could make a fortune selling them as pets. I certainly would buy one."

Jutika must have overheard him and said. "I spend a lifetime here and I too rode a Gryther for the first time. They are native to this world and only some mountain tribes have learned to tame and ride them."

Ninety turned as he was walking point. "Your captain already earned hers and she is welcome to take her Gryther along, I am sure we can get you one too, Mighty Dai prince."

Har-Hi chuckled, amused and said. "Just what we need, flying dragon falcons in our hangars, I think it would be cruel to perch up those animals in a space ship, they need room to fly. I will however return to Ithe once it is free when we have completed our mission and take you up on a ride for sure."

The disguised Togar said. "This is what I admire most about you, this unshakeable confidence, Mighty Dai Prince."

We reached a wider road that was paved and had sporadic street lights. The buildings on each side looked industrial and desolated. Har-Hi said. "I think I would prefer you simply call me Har-Hi, the whole Dai Prince thing is a tad too overbearing."

While the two continued to talk about Grythers, the Ithe commander said. "These are the outskirts of the Croi district. It is where, until about ten years ago, a thriving private industry flourished. Then the new Magistrate came into office and forbade most private enterprise because all profit should go to the state and private enterprise would make demands and be a possible hotbed of dissent. Only small cottage industry, bars and small shops are still allowed to be in private hands."

I said, as we walked past a boarded up warehouse like structure. "This Magistrate sure sounds like a piece of work."

"I was raised to believe the Draak can only survive with the magistrate suppressing any notion of Ithe independence”

"I still don't understand the difference. You look like an Ithe to me and the Ithe look like Draak."

She said. "I am sure the differences are too subtle for an outsider to see." She moved her right eye stalk to look at me directly and she continued. "The Draak are somewhat taller and we Draak have uniformly colored stalks while Ithe have spots and ring shaped areas on their bodies that are darker."

I almost laughed as I said. "That's all the difference?"

She squeezed the skin over her eyeball closed; I had learned that this was the same as a human nod. "To a being like you coming from this mystical Union it must sound ridiculous, I heard that race and appearance makes no difference there, is that true?"

We were still walking but now we could see an occasional ground vehicle or a flyer. I said to her. "There are over 5000 member civilizations in the Union. We have Insectoid, silicone based life forms, amphibians and humans. In my crew I have an Arachnoid, living machines, Takkians, rodent like Holdians, humans and even a Non-Corp, living energy without a body whatsoever. If we would start making differences because of something so unimportant as appearance we would never get anywhere. Besides, it is thanks to our great diversity that we are as advanced as we appear since we benefit from the advances and the knowledge of others and every new member brings something new to the mix."

She made a sound that was very much like a human sigh and she said. "What a wonderful place this Union must be. It was the Union delegation’s visit a few years ago that opened my eyes and I started to question our politics."

She gestured towards an illuminated bill board with the picture of the magistrate in his entire gray uniform splendor. "We all once were Draak. We came from the second planet in this system. At the height of our own civilization we established a colony right here on Itheamh and the colonists were called the Ithe. Then war broke out on Draake our home world and it was fought with terrible and dirty weapons, making our own world inhospitable. The few Draak that survived fled to Itheamh. Itheamh barely survived without supplies and help from Draake even before the war and was virtually doomed as it could not provide survivable conditions to the now increased population. We all learned in history classes that it was the benevolent Kartanians, our big friends who then came to help us with food, technology and support. All they wanted in return was use our world as an outlet for their wares and taking our criminals in return as workers. I believed all this for a long time. The truth was that the Kartanians instigated the war on Draake and gave the fighting sites the weapons that turned our home world to toxic wasteland. The truth is that the Kartanian were not satisfied with a few criminals but had need for many slaves. The truth is that all Itheamh business is really in Kartanian hands and that we are nothing more than a scrap yard and service station for broken space ships from other species and civilizations."

Nefkin the Kartanian had listened to our conversation as it turned out and he said. "We haven't always been this way. It was the greed of the Guild Masters. They realized that there is a galaxy full of potential customers for our technology and ships, but how to tap that market? We have been very xenophobic ever since the First Engineer predicted our doom from the hands of a soft shell alien. The Guild Masters took charge ever since the First Engineer fell asleep and use planets like Itheamh for their shady business."

We had walked a good distance now and the industrial area gave way to a depressing housing district, with dark gray concrete boxes, many stories high, dotted with small rectangular windows.

The disguised Togar stopped his conversation he had with Har-Hi and pointed at a simple looking one story building with a few large windows and a cheaply made sign, reading 'Scraper Gear'.

He said. "There we will buy worker’s coveralls, the Underground trains are filled with thousands of beings wearing work coveralls working on one of the many scrap yards and dismantling companies. As soon as we all wear blue coveralls and work boots, we simply disappear and become as good as invisible."

The store smelled of grease, dust and wet clothing. A smell I had not detected since I had left Nilfeheim.

We purchased simple one piece boiler suits of a dark blue, somewhat stiff fabric. The Kartanian handed us thick leather hoods out of tan colored leather and said. "These are Torcher hoods, many wear them when they use torches to cut the scrap, and it will obscure our identities even further

The hoods left the faces open and to complete our look we bought torcher goggles, gloves and a large Tool bag for Har-Hi's swords and weapons. The shop owner accepted Union Credits strip without hesitation or even looking up. Outside in a dark alley we put the suits on. The Kartanian tossed dust and dirt all over us and splashed the content of a bottle over Har-Hi and Ninety and himself. It reeked of something organic and not very pleasant.

Har-Hi and the Togar had even more sensible noses than I and it was Ninety who complained. "What in the spirits name are you putting on us

His Kartanian friend said. "It's a liquid so the dirt and dust sticks better to the new suits. We don't want to look fresh and clean."

Har-Hi nodded. "Yes, yes I understand that but I haven't seen you buy any bottles. It sure does not smell like water."

The Kartanian spread his arms. "I have no nose, sorry, I don't smell anything. I found a that bottle sitting over there behind that trash barrel."

I gagged and said to Har-Hi. "Well the bright side is that anyone with a nose will think we are sewage workers and make a big circle around us."

Ninety clenched his fists and said to his friend. "Nefkin I know it was with good intention, but never, ever pick up any open bottles near trash barrels and give me a shower with it."

Jutika adjusted her torcher's hood and said. "It smells just like Oghr…"

I stopped her. "Just pretend you don't know what it is and don't tell us."

We left the alley and followed the street to an intersection. From there we didn't have to go far and followed our guides and dozens of other beings all dressed in dark blue boiler suits, some with torcher's hoods, some with jackets and helmets; down a flight of stairs.

The stairs led into an underground tunnel that was dimly lit, by a few light elements. The grimy walls were decorated with posters and slogans of the magistrate. The slogans told people to work as hard as they could for the common benefit of all.

Here in this tunnel, hundreds of beings stood in long rows waiting for something. There was a ledge that divided the tunnel: the other side was recessed and deeper.

Everyone was dressed like us. Many carried tool or lunch boxes. There hung an invisible cloud of sweat, oil and rusty metal smell over it all. It was also quiet, not many talked and those who did kept their voices down.

Someone did complain about Har-Hi's smell and moved away.

Ninety said with a subdued voice. "Most of them are very tired from a long day of physical labor. They are not slaves and get paid, but very little."

Har-Hi said. "I don't understand all this need for slaves and laborers, could not that scrap be processed by robots and Nanite factories? I’ll wager a gang of S-55's and a few Nanite disassemblers could do the same or more then all the beings here, and they’d do it around the clock too."

Nefkin made a nodding motion and said. "It is the same question almost every Union slave I ever met asked the first time they arrive at the Smelters. There are not many robots on this world and very few are even used by my people building space ships. No one could ever really explain to me what a Nanite Factory is, but from what I understand, what they do it is far beyond Kartanian capabilities and sounds almost like magic to me

Ninety said. "I once had a human prisoner while I was still a Togar Commander. He told me that the Union uses tiny little robots, so small they can manipulate matter on a molecular level and they use billions of them to break something down into its raw materials. I did not believe him back then."

I could not help myself and said. "You didn't believe him, so you ate him. Right?”

He lowered his head. "Yes I did. It appears you know about this condemnable practice of the Togar."

I could not keep the steely edge out of my voice as I said. "I intercepted a transport ship with thousands of slaves and with human body parts butchered and ready for the Togar meat markets."

He said. "Captain, forgive me. Back then I was a different being, I have changed a lot since then and I know there are voices among my species who want all Togar to stop eating sentient beings. As a former Commander of Togar space ships. I know how incredibly powerful the Union Fleet is and I know they will one day make us pay for every life we took of theirs. Maybe my eternal exile and slavery is fates way to make me pay for that."

Har-Hi put his hand on my shoulder. "Captain I am sure he as not eaten a human since

A long segmented vehicle squealed with shrill metallic sounds over a set of metal strips and came to a stop. Sliding doors opened all along its side. Everyone pushed inside and so did our guides we had little choice as we were basically pushed inside as well.

We found a place to sit on, rusty rigid benches bolted in rows to the floor.

The train passed into a dark long tunnel and made lots of noise while doing it. It was somewhat akin to a Trans-planet mover, but it was neither very fast nor very smooth.

-""-

We had traveled a good hour on that train. The local transport thing stopped frequently and the train cars emptied a few beings at the time.

How the Kartanian knew where we were was a mystery to me, perhaps he had counted the stops or had some other indicator. He said, "We better get up, the next stop is ours."

We resurfaced a few minutes later.

It was what the Kartanian called the Pulse district, a workers amusement section of the town. Jutika told us that this was for Ithe, and Draak would hardly ever find their way into this section of town. There was heavy police presence at every corner.

Our plan was to go to a local bar at an address Cherubim had transmitted. There we would be contacted by someone who in turn would guide us to the actual NAVINT intelligence contact. Of course I had not told Ninety or the others of that part. I could not trust our allies that much and expose an NAVINT agent. Whoever it was might even continue to be an intelligence contact if Itheamh changed governments.

Officially I wanted to do some general intelligence and check out the space port. At least that part was true as it was an integral part of my plan.

Ninety had come along to secretly meet with an underground cell. He said to me as we stood at the top of the escalator stairs. "Well this is the Pulse district. Seven blocks from here begins the space port district and there you find the offices of several Union based shipping companies."

They turned to go back down as their destination was in another part of town and he said. "I know you are very formidable and capable individuals, but the Central city Draak soldiers are elite and very brutal in their methods, so be careful."

I said to them. "You be careful too. You do know how to activate the implant if you run into trouble right?"

They nodded and moments later Har-Hi and I were alone standing next to a concrete city center park with statues of previous magistrates and Draak Heroes immortalized in bombastic status made of even more concrete.

Har-Hi looked up at one particular big statue and said. "They sure like concrete around here. They use it everywhere!"

I also looked up and said." I guess it is a cheap building material. Don't tell that to Jutika but I personally find the Ithe look quite comical, and to see them blown up to such size in something that is supposed to be a heroic pose makes them even funnier looking."

A steely voice accompanied by the clicking heels of boots interrupted us and said. "Magnificent is he not? Magistrate Rotraga."

I turned and two Draak officers in dark grey coats walked up to us.

For the duration of maybe a heartbeat or two I forgot how to articulate and steer the stilt eyes of my mask, but then I managed to activate the correct logarithm with a blink of my real eyes. To a human mind it was very confusing to have two independent moveable eyes that sat at the same spot where a human had ears, so we decided during our mask making session with Shea and Cateria to make the stalk eyes mock eyes only and have our real eyes behind a patch of one way transparent bio-skin. The stalk eyes moved more or less on a random move program until we needed to interact with other Ithe and we switched the eyes to interaction mode. This was the best Shea and SHIP could come up with in such a short notice and it was as convincing and awesome as everything they made, but we had to switch manually between programs.

I answered. "Oh yes, this magistrate was always my favorite hero too, especially how he holds that saber."

One of the officers came closer. "Is there something wrong with your eyes, Ithe cretin

The other said. "You both are very tall; you are not trying to sneak into the inner district posing as Draak, right?"

Har-Hi said. "Of course not, Officer."

The one talking to me said. "What do you think was Rot raga's greatest achievement?"


I asked. "Can two citizens not take an evening stroll and admire the statues of our heroes without being questioned about the deeds of Magistrate Rotraga who was among the greatest. He made sure there is law and order and we workers have work."

The officer who had talked to Har-Hi said. "Your ID cards!"

The other snickered. "Pray that we find nothing wrong with your ID Cards, there are still seats available on the next flights to the Smelter Moons."

Shea had hacked into the local computer system and our Nanite factory aboard the Tigershark had no problem to copy the old ID card of Commander Jutika and manufacture new ones that would match the data Shea had fed into the local security data net. So we handed them our ID cards. One of them pulled a blocky device from a belt holder and scanned our ID cards.

They both saluted and handed the cards back. "Sorry we didn't know you were of the secret police."

I barked at them. "What good would it be to have a secret police if everyone knew who's in it?"

We simply turned and left them where they were.

Har-Hi said to me as we passed under the legs of a statue. "I wish we could stick those two jack-boots on one of those flights."

I said to him. "We are planning to free the slaves, not add more."

He grunted something I didn't understand, but I was sure it was a colorful insult directed at the two Draak officers, and then he looked up and down the street and said. "Now where is this bar we are supposed to go too? I see dozens of bars and they all look equally uninviting to me."

I glanced at my PDD by pushing the sleeve of my boiler suit back and said. "Do you see a Thirsty Torch? If our map data and GPS data is correct we should be about 20 meters from it."

Finally we noticed a busted light sign where only the letters 'Thi' and 'rch' still worked.

We went in. The bar was packed but we managed to find a table. Har-Hi and I ordered something that looked like beer and when the unsavory looking waiter left, Har-Hi leaned forward. "Now what, how are we supposed to make contact and how would they know who we are?"

I said "Patience my friend, patience is an important trait in this clandestine spy business, besides we have already been contacted."

He hissed. "It was you who ran around doing all these spy things while we thought you got killed or worse. I am just a simple Dai Pirate who happens to be a Union Officer."

I said. "Nobody asked me if I even wanted to be abducted and run around and learn the spy business."

He pretended to sip at the beer and said. "I didn't mean it that way and you know it. It is this place that gives me the creeps. So how did we get contacted, I saw nothing”.

"Look at your beer coaster."

He looked at the glass and said. "I still see nothing, just some doodles and beer brand advertisement."

"You don't think that doodle there looks very much like a Union fleet chevron."

"Yes now that you mention it, but it seems to be on every beer coaster, I think it is just a doodle and not a very good one. Besides how would the contact know we are the ones? We look like everyone else here."

He is giving out the coasters to everyone, but only a Union contact would know that this is an unfinished Union Chevron doodle. I just completed it, dumped my drink under the table and ordered another beer."

The waiter, a smudgy looking Ithe placed a new beer before me and took the glass along with the coaster.

He came back a few moments later and put a smaller glass with a clear liquid that smelled real strong before me and said. "Sorry for spilling your beer, here is a Rothir throat burner on the house."

I said. "You better get me another Rothir throat burner; you know how ugly my domestic home partner is."

He said. "Is she as ugly as her sister Tenea?"

"No Tenea looks like a Visualizer star compared to her."

"Meet me in twenty minutes outside and keep a low profile."

He left.

Har-Hi said. "You do have a knack for this. I read the same instructions Cherubim send to us and there was no mention of Rothir throat burner or a Sister Tenea, or was there?"

"It was a variation of contact scenario seventeen. The booze name changes according to local conditions and the sister's name is changed daily with the Day code transmission, but the rest is a predetermined NAVINT contact procedure."

He sniffed at the Throat burner and said. "As I said you received specialized Intel training we did not."

He was right of course, while the others enjoyed their first break, I was conditioned at Pauli Station and received Blue-Blue-Red clearance before my second year really started, not to mention my time with Mother Superior. Just then a fight started at a neighboring table. An Oghr and a very strong looking Ithe male started exchanging blows and kicks. The situation escalated to other tables fast.

It was all fine for us until an Oghr insulted Har-Hi and sloshed the content of a beer mug all over my friends face, calling him a coward and other names.

My friend tried to stay calm and out of the brawl, but after he had to block a fist aimed at his temple. He got up and of course I had to get up as well to keep his back.

About five or ten minutes later Har-Hi held the dazed Oghr by the throat and forced him to his knees and poured a glass of beer slowly over the greenish skull of his opponent.

I looked around but no one was left standing. Except for the painful groaning of an Ithe worker who hung over a support beam above the tables, it was very quiet.

The frightened bar keeper slowly appeared behind the bar counter and made big eyes. Har Hi pushed the Oghr away, who instantly crawled under the last standing table for cover and he buried his brutish face between his knees as Har-Hi turned once more to look at him.

I approached the shaking bar keeper. He had somewhat humanoid features and I wondered if he was an Oghr-human hybrid of sorts as he had features of both species. He was at least two heads taller than me and yet he was clearly frightened and as I approached he started shaking. I said to him. "Sorry about the damage. I think this got a little out of hand. How much would I owe you for the cleanup?"

He blinked with his reddish eyes and then said in a meek voice that didn't really fit the tall muscular body. "You didn't start the fight, I saw it. I don't want to…"

"I am not going to hurt you; I really want to pay for the damage."

He straightened out a little and then looked around and said. "I guess 25,000 Huthkarta or 2,000 Union Credits would do the trick."

I pulled my credit box and said. "All I got is Unions."

He became all business and friendly and deducted the sum into an ancient looking Union Bank Transferomat. The thing pinged and he now appeared really happy and said in a more jovial tone. "They tear up the place almost every week; it's the first time someone pays. I get the place cleaned and throw the dead into the Composter and no worries; the Law never comes here."

I also looked around and said. "I don't think we killed anyone."

Har-Hi grunted and motioned me to follow him outside and he pointed at an Oghr worker sticking head first in a hole in the wall and said. "He doesn't look to fresh and the one you threw over the rafters isn't moving either. Maybe this isn't what he meant by keeping a low profile."

I looked at him and said with a guilty tone in my voice. "Maybe I overreacted a tad, but you should learn to hold back just as well. What you did wasn't exactly pulling punches either."

He opened the door for me and said. "We better get out of here before they change their mind and call the local law enforcement after all.

We left through the front door, where we were intercepted by the smudgy looking waiter. "Quick, come and follow me."

He scurried before us and made such a quick turn in a narrow, dark alley we almost walked past.

He didn't speak but kept on leading us through a virtual labyrinth of alleys and back yards, until he finally slowed down at the back door of a desolate looking building. He said to me. "Day code?"

I answered. "Classic Red"

He knocked at the door in a particular rhythm. It opened and he urged us to rush in.

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