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Eric Olafson, Fleet Cadet
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Chapter number 16
Previous Chapter 15: Italian Food
Current Wichita
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Chapter 16: WichitaEdit

WICHITA 4th Planet, Kansas System 264 LY to Terra

Almost a week had passed since I left Lorman's Starbase. We were approaching Wichita, the last stop before the bus would reach Blue Moon. The attendant robot made the usual speech: "Dear passengers we are approaching Wichita Planet in the Kansas System . We will land at Topeka Port in 15 minutes. All passengers with destinations beyond Kansas System are asked to debark as well. This bus will terminate at Topeka Port for repairs.”

"Passengers are asked to gather their personal belongings and prepare for debarking. Gray Lines Incorporated cannot be held responsible for items left behind. Passengers with tickets beyond Wichita will receive vouchers to the Holiday Inn Portel for free lodging until a new connection can be made."

The bus was nearly empty, but one of the passengers barked angry at the machine: "Robot I have an appointment to keep! How long will we be stuck here?"

"This unit has not received a time estimate on the delay, Sir. Gray Lines maintains a staffed counter at the terminal. Please inquire there."

While I wasn't in a terrible hurry, I didn't want to be late for my first navy Assignment. I really looked forward to start. It was only a Sturgeon, but it was a real space ship, armed and shielded. Classified as a currier ship, that was exactly what it was mostly used for, to transport sensitive or important messages, passengers and small freight deliveries to places where it was too dangerous or too far for a D type long range shuttle. I had spent most of my flight time reading and downloading everything I could find about that ship type. I wanted to know everything about my very first real Command! While there was no crew, and technically you needed a crew to Command, it was still considered a Command in Navy Terms.

The Port Terminal was only slightly bigger than the one on Nilfeheim. The passengers of my flight numbered twenty four including me and when I reached the counter the human female behind it smiled with a bored expression in her eyes. "Gray Lines apologizes for any inconvenience this delay may cause you Sir. Here is your voucher for the Holiday Inn Portel . We expect a 26 hour delay."

I smiled back." No problem. I am not in a very big hurry." I also thanked her for the voucher and went to the Shopping concourse where I went to Arthur's for a burger . To my surprise the burger was quite delicious and tasted fresh. Since I was the only customer and there was a real person serving instead of a robot, I commented on the fresh taste. The young human grinned widely over his freckled face. "That's because we don't reconstitute here, we grill fresh on an old fashioned flame grill and no robots doing the cooking either. We're quite proud of that!"

He pointed to one of the large windows. Outside beyond the space port where huge pens filled with brown animals as far as one could see. "What you see out there is only a month production out there. We ship ten thousand cows a day to anywhere in the Galaxy! That's why our meats are fresh. Real beef not vat grown like they do elsewhere."

He brought me a second burger on the house and after this short lecture on Wichita's economy I went to the Portel directly attached to the port terminal and left my bag in my room. I decided to tour the town, maybe they had something worthwhile seeing.

So I stepped through the automatic doors and a strong air curtain outside. After I passed through the down blowing air curtain the smell hit me like a hammer! The stench in the air took my breath away and I gagged.

Someone close by laughed: "It takes a while but you will get used to it!"

A man wearing a dark elegant business suit, holding a brief case had walked through the doors just like me. He looked extremely well groomed, wore dark eye glasses and had a little moustache above his lips. He looked a little out of place

"What is that awful smell?"

The other man pointed towards the animal pens: "Feedlots, hundred thousand cows, pigs and sheep. They all poop and pass gas. Most of the gas is used to generate electricity and most of the poop is shipped off planet, but the rest escapes and that is still a lot."

"Why would they ship shi…I mean animal poop?"

"Natural based fertilizer is highly valued by those farmers growing the high end food items"

I took that info and waved the hand before my nose. "How can people stand this?"

"They don't even smell it anymore after and for some it is the smell of home. For me it is the smell of money!"

"Pekunia Non Olet, eh?"

The man in the suit laughed: "It appears the academy still teaches classic Latin quotes: ‘Money doesn't stink’. How appropriate!" So what is the Fleet doing here on Wichita? Opening a recruiting office or something like that?"

"No I am just a Midshipman with time to burn. The Space bus is delayed till tomorrow."

"Well that explains it. I am Brian Solis, Argo-product purchaser for SII. I come here a lot. If you want, I’ll show you the few things worth seeing here and if you can't find a ride tomorrow, I came in a corporate ship and can give you a ride to Blue Moon."

"I am Eric Olafson from Nilfeheim. You don't mind?"

He waved: "Heck no. I am always glad to break the routine a little. I even know Nilfeheim. I have been there a few times to purchase sea weed and fish."

He gestured for me to follow and as we walked past the taxi stand and underneath the Hertz Rental Project-a-Sign he pointed to a new Chrysler Land Speeder. "That is the one. Go get in, have you eaten?"

"Yes I had two burgers at Arthur's."

He swiped his ID implant under the reader and the Chrysler doors swung open and a voice thanked him for choosing Hertz. The Interior still smelled new and was upholstered with fine leather. He sat behind the controls and frowned. "Well Mc Swine's isn't bad here, but you should have waited. Cattle Baron Grill in downtown Topeka has the best steaks in the entire sector if not the galaxy and I should know, I go to a lot of Agro producing planets."

"Sorry." Was all I could think to say.

He laughed again. "I didn't mean it like that Eric. You are going to be hungry later for sure. First I need to do some business. If you don't mind tagging along you are welcome and I’ll have someone to talk to"

"No I don't mind. I've got nothing better to do."

"Great. We're going to Jesus Hernandez, the biggest Cattle Rancher on the planet. The Hernandez Hacienda raises free range cattle the old style. No growing vats, no cloning. His beef is in high demand."

Brian steered the speeder to a higher altitude, skimming over muddy terrain and seemingly endless herds of brown animals. Robots and men fed them, guided them and wheeled carts of animal dung away.

"So what is it you do exactly? Buying those animals?"

"I am sure you heard about Schwartz Intergalactic Industries."

"There's probably no one in the galaxy that hasn't. The biggest Mega Corp there is."

He nodded proudly. "Indeed and I am the Chief Purchaser for the Agricultural product branch for this sector. I like to do my work in the field and not from a desk. It's also a good way of quality control and developing a personal relationship with our suppliers."

"I thought SII owns a lot of planets and makes its own products. I remember meeting an applicant from Harvest 12."

"Oh SII owns quite a few planets and we also have bio engineering factories making food the modern way. We are the leading manufacturer of Nanite Food processors and also produce Vat-Meats in immense quantities, but the Galaxy is a large and hungry place. The demand for food is staggering, and the demand for natural foods is growing every year."

We approached a collection of one story buildings where we landed. Out here the air was fresh and clean.

We met with the Rancher. He was a joyful character and it was clear he loved his life and was proud of his achievements. He talked nothing but beef, the problems and challenges associated with that business. He led us to a table where dozens of plates with fresh grilled and prepared beef were displayed and another table containing plates with raw slabs of red beef. Brian tasted small pieces of the grilled beef and he encouraged me to do so as well. I was a fish eater all my life but I had to agree this stuff was truly delicious.

Brian also inspected the raw meat: he did not use any tools or scanners. He only smelled, touched and tasted.

The meeting ended with Brian ordering 2 million heads of beef and paying for it right there and then. I never saw so much money changing hands.

After that we went back to the speeder and Brian said. "Now it's time for the sightseeing tour."

The first stop was a valley between two mountain ranges. Huge strange objects were strewn all around looking almost like abstract works of art. I immediately recognized them as bones of very large animals.

He explained:" This is Bone Yard Valley. There are millions of these enormous skeletons, found nowhere else on this world. They are not very old, but no one has ever seen one of these animals alive. It's the Wichita Bone mystery."

We landed and walked between the towering bones." How big where these animals?" I asked." I've seen Tyranno Fin skeletons, these aren't much smaller!"

"We are going to meet a friend of mine who can answer those questions much better. She belongs to your organization."

A large rock formation not too far away turned out to have a door and a window! As we approached a very beautiful woman with long red hair wearing a tight fitting green jump suit stepped out with a big smile on her dark red lips. "Brian, are you bringing me the assistant I am waiting for?"

He smiled back. "Probably not."

"Well step right on in. I just made some real coffee."

The rock formation had been hollowed out, probably by Army Engineers using a cutting laser. It was one large room separated into a living area and a lab set up with work tables, multi task consoles and shelves with instruments. The woman raised her hands. "Welcome to Exobiology Auxiliary lab Wichita, Science Corps installation three thousand three hundred and four. I am Lt Commander Dr. Brenda Brown, but you can call me BB, all my friends do and out here we don't stick to Navy Regulations much anyway."

From a shelf she took three ceramic mugs with the Science Corps logo and poured coffee. Then she smiled at me:" I didn't even ask if you actually drink coffee."

"I do, black with sugar, if you have any."

She placed a Plasti-tainer on the table. "All the sugar you want!"

Brian said: "Brenda makes the best coffee this side of the Sagittarius Arm."

She grinned. "I should, I'm from Seattle as you know." She said that as if this was significant, but then I’d never heard of a planet called Seattle.

I sipped and had to agree. The coffee was strong and had an invigorating flavor.

Brenda looked at me: "I see you're a Midshipman and from the looks of it a first year academy freshman. I assume you are not the assistant they promised me."

"Sorry Ma'am. I didn't even know there was a lab here. I am stranded on Wichita till tomorrow and Brian sort of picked me up to show me the place."

"It's just as well. I don't really need an assistant anyway, who knows if I would get along with him or her. I choose this assignment because I like to be by myself."

"You are here all by yourself?" I asked.

"Most of the time, I do have two Multi task bots keeping me company and I go to Topeka a lot."

"You are researching those bones?"

"Yes I am here to gather data and maybe, just maybe solve the Wichita mystery of the Land walkers that way."

"What exactly is the mystery?"

She put the cup down and said: "Wichita is a fertile garden world with all the right conditions to support Terran life forms. It was discovered 200 years ago, surveyed and cleared for colonization. It has native life and some of the bones out there are less than 50 years old, yet no one has ever seen one of these animals alive. There are no other bone yards like this anywhere on the planet as far as we know. The largest animal remains we found are 70 meters long and we estimate the beast to weigh over 200 tons when it was alive, such a life form would be hard to miss especially since this world has no extensive forests and the oceans are quite shallow. There is simply no explanation why those bones are here."

The whole subject was quite interesting and I wondered. "Was any DNA found to reconstruct one?"

"Yes, the main lab on Venus grew one out of the DNA but it didn't survive long. It simply died."

I took another sip of the coffee and said. "What was the cause of death?"

"The being simply wanted to die I guess and did."

"What are your findings or theories? Maybe they are not native to this world."

Her smile vanished and she became serious. "That is exactly what we think. The animals DNA do not match the DNA pattern of life forms native to this planet."

I tried to picture the galactic map in my mind and said: "We're almost at the core of Union space. There are no unknown intelligent space faring cultures anywhere near, or are there?”

"Not to our knowledge, but there are large areas of Union space we haven't really surveyed yet. Science Corps established this post to count and research these bones and basically wait for any new arrivals."

She sighed and added. "Nothing has happened so far."

"Must be a pretty boring assignment then."

"No not really. I am also cataloging local life forms and do research on them. Besides I like it. It is stress free and I can spend time on my hobbies." She drained her cup. "Actually I could use an assistant for a few days. Do you have any pressing assignments?"

"I am supposed to be at Ross in three weeks."

She took a sip of her coffee and Brian refilled his cup. Brenda leaned back. "Well maybe the business at Ross can be delayed a little. I sure could use you. But anyway how is the Navy life treating you? Have you decided yet what route you going to pursue?"

"Basic training and the first year were not as I expected it to be to be honest, but perhaps the second year is going to be better. I am not sure what specialization to pick yet."

Brian interrupted. "What does that specialization thing mean?"

Brenda explained to him: "During the first year they teach you all the basics a new soldier and cadet needs to know and then in year you decide what job you will do in the navy. You know: logistics, personnel, weapons, security and a thousand other specialty fields. Year three is either at a dedicated school for that field or sometimes aboard an Academy ship. I did the basic training at Fort Fun club and decided for life sciences right at the start of year two. So I did the rest of my Academy time, all remaining three years, at the Venus Life Sciences and Xeno Biology Departments. Such a career move gets you in the Science Corps."

Brian spooned sugar into his cup and stirred it with measured moves. "Now I am a bit curious, the Science Corps, isn't that separate from the Navy?"

"Yes it is technically. The Science Corps was started to have a distinctive and separate organization from the fleet that focused on military missions. It operates under the authority of the Science Council and not the Defense Department. It has its own ships and Science Explorers do not carry heavy weapons. The crews and officers aboard science vessels are Navy personnel but the Science officer aboard every Navy Vessel is in the Science Corps. "

He nodded and thanked her and then said to me. "Well if you decide the Navy isn't for you there is always room for a bright person at SII. There are thousands of careers to choose from just as rewarding and we pay a whole lot better. SII has a fleet of space ships second only to the navy."

"I was considering that." I didn't want to tell him I had a similar offer from Enroe. So I said: "I just don't want to fly a freighter on established routes."

"Oh you are mistaken, SII doesn't have just freighters. We have corporate security Units that could almost go toe to toe with your battle ships and we have research vessels surveying areas of space that no Navy ship has seen."

Brenda looked at her wrist unit. "It is almost time for lunch and I was planning to go into Topeka for a nice steak and do some shopping. Why don't you two come along?"

Brian finished his second cup and said: "Sounds like an idea. I bragged to Eric about the steaks they serve at the Cattle Baron Grill."

------Edit

Topeka was an underground city as I found out. It was below all those Cattle pens and beef processing plants. Down here the air was clean and did not stink and the Cattle Baron Grill was part of a large shopping mall. The steaks they served there were the second best food I ever ate coming right after fresh Tyranno Fin filet. It was juicy and the flavor was truly amazing. They served the huge 72 ounce steaks on a big wooden cutting board with potatoes, green beans and gravy. I was hard pressed to finish half and could not even try the Cherry cobbler that Brian recommended.

Brenda had gone for a few minutes, I assumed to the bath room and Brian said. "This pretty much concludes the sightseeing tour of Wichita, unless you like to see more cattle."

"No I think I've seen all the cattle I care for to see, unless they are in form of a steak like these in front of me on a plate!"

He laughed. "Right you are!"

Brenda came back and sat down and looked at me. "So what brings you to Wichita in the first place? Normally Midshipmen go home after their first year."

I pretty much told them the story without going into too much detail and said: “I am not sure what I will do after I have delivered the ship, maybe I check out Earth."

"Both Brian and I are from Earth and it is a place every human should visit once. Lot's to see there for sure."

Brian had ordered himself a glass of whiskey and swirled the glass, clinking the ice cubes. "Nilfeheim is a cold world alright. Lots of ancient traditions, it actually surprises me to see a Neo Viking away from that place and being in the navy. I always had the impression Neo Vikings rarely left their world."

I frowned." I am the only one I know of ever to sign up for the Navy and still only few go off world."

Brenda pushed her wooden plate away: "Can I ask you why you decided to leave?"

"My father and I don't get along and there was no future for me in any of the traditional occupations."

She nodded. "I can relate to that. When I decided to become a woman, my parents didn't like that much either and I haven't been back or talked to them since."

I coughed and tried to hide my surprise. "You have been a man once?"

"In a biological physical sense, yes, but I always wanted to be female. My parents didn't gene check me before I was born and then were too busy with their careers to notice my desire so they never opted for psycho surgery while they had the power to decide for me."

Brian looked at me sideways. "Does this shock you? You know I am homosexual. I know this is very rare these days but I am and I don't want it any other way!"

I blushed and shook my head. "No it does not bother me or shock me."

He laughed: "No worries. I haven't picked you up for any adventures. I am happily married to a very handsome man for the last 20 years."

I blushed some more. "I wasn't even thinking that. It's just that I am a lot like Brenda and that is perhaps the main reason I always wanted to leave."

Brenda leaned forward and placed her hand on mine. "I had no idea. Have you decided what are you going to do?"

"No, I am very confused about the entire thing. About my feelings and what I should do. Part of me thinks it is so wrong and I am sick and should seek a way to cure myself from this desire but whenever I think about psycho surgery I hear these horror stories about it."

"It's a rare desire nowadays and usually treated either before birth or at an early stage. But it is not all that uncommon and I too felt confused. The best advice I can give is to be you. Experiment and see what you prefer. Besides I got to warn you about Psycho Surgery this late in life. To alter that desire in you they need to change the basic DNA, replace hormone glands and implant a new personality base to eliminate your desire. Since you have been living with it for so long they might need to delete key memory sequences. As you can see it is not exactly as easy and simple as it is often portrayed. Your decision for psycho surgery would also affect your Career as an Officer, because you were accepted and tested based on your original personality. Basically you would need to start over again and I never heard anyone ever to be accepted as a Cadet after Psycho Surgery. However our society does not discriminate against folks like us and your career in the navy will be unaffected by it. Have you ever tried to live as a woman for a while? That usually helps to make a decision much easier. Then you will know what side you like better."

"No I haven't thought of that. Deep down I always thought my society is right and that I am indeed a sick abomination."

Brian said:" Well fate brought you to the right place then. Topeka is the capital of Cross gender issues so to speak, believe it or not! They have the annual Cross Dress Convention here and thousands like you or Brenda come here. There is the Drag Queen Pageant and the Dorothy Festival those events are very famous and transmitted live on GalNet every year! There is a museum and a Research Institute as well"

Brenda held up her finger. "Not like me, I am not a Cross dresser. I am a woman now and it appears that what Eric is he doesn't even know yet himself!"

He made an apologizing gesture.

I asked, "Why here?"

Brian shrugged. "I don't know for sure, but I think one of the early Cattle Barons was like you and used lots of his money to start these traditions. Now they make almost as much money on those events as they make on cattle."

Brenda got up. "Since you’re going to be here for three weeks anyway I am going to show you the Costume Emporium!"

I must have looked at her like one of those cows up there. "I am going to be here?"

"Yes, I just talked to Fleet Command and they assigned you to me as an assistant for about 20 days. It will be credited as extra time and you can get this time off as R and R during the next year."

"But the ship? I am supposed to pick it up!"

"I think you will get new orders for that any moment."

She was right my PDD played the Thor song of Nilfeheim and in doing so I knew I had been called. I was not sure I could hide the disappointment I felt when I took the call. A Commander of Fleet HQ was identified and came on the screen. "Midshipman Olafson, we received the request of Lt Commander Brown of the Science Corps to have you assigned to her for a special project she needs a second person for. You are hereby assigned to her Command for the duration of 21 days. After that you will proceed to Ross and do the transfer of the Sturgeon, your orders have been modified to accommodate the Science Corps request."

I was greatly relieved and now I didn't mind having to stay. Three weeks would be over soon. "Yes Sir."

I recognized the Commander to be the one in Elligott's office who had talked to me before. He smiled and said. "You sure have a strange way to spend your holidays, Cadet. The Old Man himself has authorized to extend your Leave so you can catch up on some R&R after you have done all those chores and errands."

"Yes Sir, thank you Sir!"

"I have a personal message and direct order of Admiral Mc Elligott for you as well, you are not to take any assignments or fleet business after you finish your chores on Wichita and have delivered that ship. If he hears that you spent even a day in Uniform during your vacation, he will personally send Ultra Marines to give you a vacation you will never forget!" The Commander spread his arms. "This was verbatim, Midshipman!"

"I give my word. I will go on R&R right after."

He nodded with a light grin and cut the call.

Both Brian and Brenda had of course heard the call and Brenda said. "I’ve never heard of any Midshipman who gets calls directly from the top floor of Annapolis tower or personal messages from the Old man himself!"

"Well he was the Admiral who had asked me to be at Lorman's Starbase."

Brian got up. "I think I leave you two now. I have two more business meetings." He took my hand: "It was nice meeting you Eric. If you ever make it to Earth and I am there look me up!"

"Thank you for the tour, Brian."

He swiped his business card into my PDD and said: "Thank you for your company. Here is my card; my contact info is on it. I was quite serious, call me one of these days and tell me how you're doing, or if you decide to try SII for a career."

I thanked him again and promised I would do that.

Brian kissed Brenda on the cheek, waved at me and left the restaurant.

Brenda motioned me to stay for a moment and explained. "I’ve asked for an assistant for quite a while, but never really pressed the issue because I do like my solitude, but you showing up presented me with an opportunity to tackle a project I wanted to do for almost two years."

I nodded and sipped on the after dinner coffee. "I am here Ma'am."

"It's still BB if you want. "She brushed over a crease of the table cloth. "There is a cave entrance I discovered on the North end of the Bone Valley and I noticed tracks of the animals coming out of that cave but so far have not found any going in. I would like to explore those caves and map them. Also to see if there may be bones inside or if those animals perhaps live underground. I didn't want to go Cave exploring on my own. Caves can be treacherous all by themselves and it is always better to do something like this with at least one other person."

"I understand."

"Since there are bones there is even a slim chance we might run into living Land walkers and while I am not planning to kill one if we do, two blasters are better than one if we must."

"I am looking forward to explore those caves. Sounds like fun to me!" I really meant that. This is what Starfleet was all about; explore the unknown and crawling around unexplored caves sounded like a nice little adventure.

She smiled disarmingly. "I am glad you think that way and I think while you are here let's see if your female side is as brave as your male part."

"You mean I…"

"Why not?"

The waiter told us the Cattle-Men Association had already paid for everything.

I followed her into the shopping mall to a large window front and the Project-a-Sign read " Costume Emporium- Everyone you dream of being we can do!"

A Robot Mannequin was wearing an old fashioned looking dress in checkered blue and white, red glittering shoes.

"That is Dorothy Gale from the pre Astro 2D classic Wizard of Oz." Brenda explained.

"And who is Dorothy?"

"Oh you don't know? You simply must watch that show sometime. It is what they called a movie."

"Oh I know movies. I know many who love to watch those ancient story tapes. You just sit there and watch them."

"Well this particular one was made in 1939. There are a dozen remakes and most recently a Virtu-Immerse production, but none of those can compare with that original. The character of Dorothy with the pinafore, those sparkly red shoes and pig tails has been an icon for cross dressers for a very long time. They hold a Dorothy Contest here in Topeka and I kid you not, there were six million people coming to that contest last year all dressed like that!"

"I thought folks like us are rare."

"Uncommon perhaps, but what are six million to a Union population of Centillions?"

"It does look nice."

"Why don't you go in and get one for yourself? We need to get you some normal things to wear as well."

A strange feeling of excitement and expectation came over me as I agreed and entered the store.

A woman wearing a red tube dress barely covering her voluptuous curves came from behind a curtain and smiled: "What can I do for you?"

Brenda answered for me." Can you get him a Dorothy costume, the super deluxe version with all the extras?"

"But of course, do you want it complete with bio flex mask, body shaper and Robo-Toto?"

I nodded. "What is a Robo Toto?"

"A robotic dog, the animal you see in that basket over there. It is an essential part of the Dorothy Experience." "Well I do take it all but I don't think I need a robotic dog."

"Step right in here. The Auto Dresser will take measurements to fabricate the desired costume and squeeze you into it. You are familiar with Auto Dressers?"

"Yes I am."

The Auto Dresser looked different from the ones I had seen before. This one was blinking and had colorful panels, but it was doing the same thing. Robotic arms and nanites combined stock items and raw materials right onto my body. I felt constricted and something really tight took shape around me. Then it was done and I stepped out to see the result in a mirror and what I saw took my breath. It was as if something in my soul had broken and now came like a flood to the surface. I saw a young, beautiful woman in the mirror. Any man would have looked ridiculous in a get up like this but on a female it looked simply charming and quite sexy in an innocent sort of way. Perhaps this was the allure that made this particular character so popular even after over 3600 years.

"How do you feel?" Brenda said quietly.

"It should be wrong but it feels so right! Somehow this is me and what I am underneath seems more like the costume."

She smiled warmly. "I am glad you feel that way. Now let's show the world. We need to shop for a few other things as well."

The costume wasn't cheap and cost over 12,000 credits, but I could have bought the store and not be significantly poorer. Still for this kind of money you could buy a decent used flyer on Nilfeheim. I never was good with money, at first I never had any and now I had more than I could spend and didn't really need it.

Outside the store I felt as if everyone was staring at me, but at the same time I got the feeling that there was something heavy taken from my soul and I couldn't get enough seeing my reflection.

Two hours later I was another 5000 credits poorer and loaded with bags and realized I had no place to put all these things. I was on a planet I had to leave soon and there was no telling where I would end up.

Brenda noticed my sudden change right away. "What is the matter? You seemed to have fun and now you look as sad as a weeping willow."

I told her what I just realized, she listened and sighed. "No wonder you are depressed. Well leave all these things with me and I can send them to you once you know, but for now we get you to a hotel and tomorrow I pick you up."

Interlude: Fornax ClusterEdit

The Herald was back in a holding cell aboard the same space station he had been freed from not so long ago. This time he was not in a stasis field but from his head down was in a clear plastic material suit with a metallic collar. No matter what he had tried, the material not only slowed down his every move, it resisted his diamond hard needle sharp claws. Right now the suit had bonded with the wall and he could not move even a few centimeters. He decided to research this more once he was free again. It was a very effective way of controlling prisoners he has to admit.

He had seen traces of the boarding fight everywhere as they put him back, but he also saw armies of beings, both humanoid and non-humanoid, fixing and repairing things.

A shrouded being appeared before the dividing force field and looked at him, he was certain it was a Narth!

He snorted. "The mighty and meddling Narth reduced to servants and to weak and worthless beings. Who would have ever thought the Narth would ever take sides! Do you even know what you are doing by preventing our sacred task?"

"One will respond to all your accusations and questions. Narth do not serve these beings, Narth serves along these beings to accomplish a common goal. No being is worthless, not even you. Narth always knows what one is doing; you are the servant of a servant. It is you who cannot begin to comprehend what Narth is doing. The ones you called masters so long ago, the UNI, were the ones that meddled and thought of themselves as perfect and complete and yet were far from it. You judge the Union as weak? Let Narth show you what you and your kind are facing!"

The Heralds mind was forcefully and painfully opened and the Psionic shield shattered with ease and then images filled his mind. He saw endless numbers of Wedge shaped battle ships and with the Images came the knowledge of what he saw. Union Ultra Battle ships, Battle Robots, Marines and then his mind was filled with the combined history of every being and species that ever faced Terrans in battle and every War!

When it was over the Herald was shaking and he who could not cry cried in fear and horror. He, who was bread for war and destruction, was in utter despair realizing how feeble and weak he was against that.

The Narth spoke. "These so feeble, mortal and weak humans of that planet Earth are weak indeed, but when it comes to war they change, they transform, and it is not the Nul, not the Klack, not the Petharians or the Y'All or any other species known to Narth who are the most aggressive and utmost brutal warrior race."

The Herald whined, "It is them! They are them!'

"Yes they are and the Crucible has failed. The Master is on his way already!"

"How can the Narth stand on the side of Evil and darkness?"

"It is this fanatical belief in only one side that doomed the UNI and has doomed the the Dark Ones. There is the third state! Narth Supreme has not taken sides; Narth always was and is the third Way!"

"Not even the Narth can stop the Master when he returns!"

"One will leave you now as it is incomprehensible to you and your kind. Like the UNI, you think in absolutes. They tried to stop the Transport and the Guardian so long ago and failed because they were too self-important to see the third way. The master cannot be stopped and those who want the master stopped will never cease trying. Yet this Universe might hold the answer and end the eternal cycle and the Rule will not be broken again."

"You are not Narth!"

"One is all, one is Narth Supreme!"

"What will happen?”

"The future is yet to be determined. Your future however is quite clear. The one you call weak will examine you to the last molecule and fold of your being. Iit might take them some time but through you they will find ways to defeat your kind."

"The Crucible is not alone! The Call has been made and those after us will come!"

Interlude: GwennEdit

Gwenn was sitting in the middle of the perfect circle made of molecular silver that was inlayed in the floor of black marble underneath the carpet of her living room and before her shimmered something insubstantial like a cloud of smoke. A face was inside that wafting field of glowing wisps of light and Gwenn spoke to it. "The Black Robes have made their decision. No longer are they removed and separate. They have decided to take part in the Union and one has even become a Cadet."

"The Circle knows of this. She who is with the Warrior has supplied us with such knowledge. She who is with the Warrior thinks it is time the Coven makes the decision as well. The signs have been seen and the signs point to the possibility that the 'Prophecy of Before and Yet to come' will be fulfilled soon."

Gwenn had her hands folded in a complicated way in her lap and had closed her eyes. "The Black Robes believe the third way is the answer."

"The black robes are so much older than even the Coven. Their wisdom must not be disregarded even if it is not the Coven way."

"The human carries duality."

"Did you read the Human? Could he be the one? Or could he be the one who will find the one?"

"Even finest Coven art can no longer read the human. He has shared the Huhgavh!"

"He has shared the Huhgavh and survived! He could be the one!"

"But the Legend of the Prophecy speaks of the White Being of immense mind and body, equal to Narth. The White Being is the Guardian of the Vault and has the key to the Mind of the One and there is no such being in the life of the Human. I have investigated his file."

"We are not sure if he is the one and the White Being might still appear. The legend is not specific at what time or point the White Being is to appear."

"What will the Coven do?"

"You know what the Coven wants and waits for, but the Circle is not blind to the wisdom of the Black Robes. The Coven wants the human to see that there are other ways. If he is the one it will be of our benefit. If he is not it will be of his benefit, have you sent him to us?"

"Yes he is picking up a space ship and he will deliver it not to the destination but to the Coven."

"The Coven considers becoming a Union member; the Coven believes that the Union is the third way."

"I am a Union Officer and only send the Human because she hopes this will come to pass. For as much as I am of the Coven, I am becoming a being of the Union."

"The one that is with the warrior, she who is the oldest speaks just as you do, who is the youngest. The Circle will decide when the human is with us."


Chapter 16 : ContinuedEdit

Now that Freya was awake and on the surface I enjoyed bathing and paying attention to little body comforts even more enjoyable than usual. Ever since I had left Nilfeheim I was traveling a lot and one benefit of having a virtually bottomless Credit strip was the fact I could afford the finest luxury accommodations. It sounded weird even when I was thinking it, but as Eric I would have been happy with just about any room, as Freya I enjoyed the luxuries much more. The Cattle King Hotel had several Ultra Lux suites and the King Ranch Suite I chose had everything you could think off, including a state of the art Auto Dresser.

While the entrance and the lobby of the Hotel was at least 200 meters underground, the suite was above ground and from the large panoramic windows you could see the mud and the cattle and the feed lots. I was sure that most guests of this hotel appreciated exactly that.

I expected to crawl around a cave and it would be my first normal day as Freya. Not going out or to a party or anything but just being me, working as a Midshipman on a real assignment. I wondered how it would be

Brenda told me she would pick me up at seven and the door announced her only a minute after. She came in and whistled while looking around. "Nice choice, but I doubt the Science Corps will agree to cover the expenses on this suite. I was expecting to find you in one of the economy rooms."

"No worries. I can afford it and I’d rather have a nice bath and an auto dresser, especially now."

She looked at me and nodded. "Yes I can understand. Good morning by the way!"

"Good Morning, Ma'am."

"We don't do the Ma'am and Sir thing in the Science Department . We usually call ourselves by first names or nicknames. Do you have a female name?"

"Yes I always go by Freya."

"Freya it is, then."

She wore her green uniform and had her hair put up in a knot, but a few strands had escaped and framed her face. It looked accidental, but I somehow knew it was done on purpose. I wore a similar green suit of Intelli-Fab, All Terrain boots, belt and jacket with my hair gathered in a ponytail.

"Did you have breakfast already?"

"I am not a big breakfast person and I had coffee already."

"Great! Then let's go!"

-----------------------------------------Edit

She landed her Utility flyer about three miles north of the rock formation that contained her lab. I could see it in the distance. The green valley with all the bones stretched before us until it reached the mountains. I estimated them to be about twenty or thirty kilometers away. The valleys elevation slowly increased to where we had landed.

The air was moist and cool. The grass was about ankle deep and my boots were glistening wet after only a few steps.

She pointed at the grass. That is the real wealth of Wichita, it is called Wichi-green by the locals and while it is a native plant it is not unlike Phleum pretense or Timothy grass and is well liked and easily digested by Terran Cattle. Sixty percent of the planet’s land is covered with large steppes providing an abundance of food."

I found this information about the local grass mildly interesting and enjoyed being outdoors in the fresh air and even though I was neither dressed glamorous or special and no one but Brenda saw me. The simple fact that I appeared female to the world and to me gave me a great inner peace.

Brenda and I carried a small backpack, a heavy TKU Blaster rifle, rope and Sunbeam Torches mounted at the front of our caving helmets. After a short hike we reached the step rising rock wall of the northern Mountains of the Bone Valley where there was a natural looking cave entrance. She took the Blaster from her shoulder, set it to the lowest setting and widest dispersion and burned an area of grass away. The Grass turned to black ashes and in doing so she exposed the dirt beneath. Now I could clearly see hundreds of tracks coming out of the cave. I knelt down and examined them. Those were old tracks, no doubt and made by something big and heavy during a wet period. There wasn't much detail left, but I was sure those tracks could not be older than maybe two three years.

"Brenda what is the amount of precipitation of this area in an average year?"

"I kept detailed weather data, one second." She looked at her PDD and then showed me the curve. "There are basically three wet months with rain up to 2 centimeters. Then there is one month with snow."

"Have these track been inspected by an expert? I somehow doubt they are 50 years old. This ground is not that hard packed, it allows grass to grow. There is rainfall and there is snow. I don't think you would find any tracks even as deep and wide as these after three four years maybe. Of course I could be wrong."

She had listened to me and said." You are the first who has really examined these tracks and it appears you know a bit about it. All I did was record and measure these tracks. I have sent my findings along with my monthly report to Venus. I have not gotten any response so far, but then the Wichita Bone mystery is not considered a priority project."

Somehow the science bug had bitten me and I measured a few of the tracks, made pictures and said. "We should excavate a few big tracks, expose them to water and see how long it takes to wash out a similar track."

"Yes we can do that. I’ll have the robots set that up."

We then approached the cave and I said. "Don't get me wrong Brenda, but caves don't just form. Usually it is done by lava or water or something. Do you know how this cave was formed? Are these mountains volcanic?"

She laughed silently. "You have the hallmarks of a good field researcher. You pointing out things I should have done long ago, maybe I am too much of a biologist. I should have seen things in a geological context as well." She then said. "As far as I know these are not volcanic mountains. I am going to ask for a geological assessment of my data."

I examined the rock closer. “This looks like granite, not that I am a geologist either, but Limbur a friend of mine loved the subject when we covered this in Class."

She looked at me from the side: " I think it is wonderful to have a second set of eyes with me. Robots can't do what you do, so please continue. Maybe by the end of the day you will ask enough questions for us to get closer to solving the mystery.

The cave entrance was big enough to accommodate the big animals. Gravel like rocks covered most of the cave floor. We did have one class of about two days in Speleology and caving at Camp Idyllic, where a professional Cave specialist introduced us to the basics of this science. Several member species of the Union and many other life forms both sentient and non-sentient were found in caves and in similar sub surface areas on planets throughout the known Galaxy, so it was considered quite possible that we could end up in such an environment during our career. Aurellius told us that even wars were fought in caves and that the six year battle of Winston Planet was almost entirely fought underground.

The moment we entered the cave I activated an Application I had added to my PDD as I remembered the recommendation of the Instructor. It was the Spelunker Assistant Program Suite and one app was called Ariadne Module. This feature would not only make a three dimensional scan of the cave as we advanced but would later help us to find the exit again if we got lost.

The air had a musky odor to it and was cool. The gravel on the ground was loose and shifted at every step and left little in terms of tracks, but I still looked carefully to see if I could find any tell tales if something had moved across it before us and after about 200 meters away from the cave entrance, I found what I somehow expected or hoped to find. A dried out pile of dung.

She was all excited and took a sample of the matter. "I think you are right, it does not look like it has been here for fifty years."

We must have covered the better part of 2 kilometers now and while the cave had narrowed a bit, it was still a big corridor that was steadily declining and according to the PDD, we were already 80 meters below the level of the entrance.

Our lights made the cave bright as day. The air became moist and the walls shimmered wet. On a rock ledge she discovered a bunch of mushroom like plants and was happily examining them closer.

I found a boulder that was sitting more or less in the middle of the path and sat down on it while she did her thing.

Just as I started to wonder why there was a single boulder and looked up to see where it could have come from. I saw something and it moved!


Next chapter: The Huffh

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