Chapter 17: Oghrs and SlavesEdit
The door was opened by greenish skinned being that looked brutish and like an Oghr, but was even shorter than the Ithe waiter that had guided us so far. In my short time traveling the galaxy, I had already seen some strange beings. Beauty and ugliness lay in the eye of the beholder and I was certain someone in the universe would find this gnarled looking being pretty, but deep down I could not find any other description than ugly. Har-Hi whispered. "She's a Laurin Oghr, they are even shunned by other Oghr species, and their five star-system kingdom isn't too far from here if I remember correctly."
Behind the door was a narrow corridor. The walls were as shabby looking as the doors, adorned with graffiti; cracked plaster and exposed brick work. The place reeked just like the liquid Nefkin had splashed on Har-Hi. Light came from weak globe like things hanging on short strings from the ceiling, only two of the eight that used to be there still worked, the rest was missing or smashed. I heard the wailing of an Ithe child somewhere and the sound of alien tele-entertainment coming from behind a door that had lost much of its original paint.
The narrow corridor was even further restricted by a flight of constricted stairs leading upward.
Har-Hi whispered, "Beings actually live like that? The dungeons on our Dai Mother are a more cheerful place than this."
The Ithe waiter who had heard him and said, "This is how the majority of Ithe workers live. The rent here is barley affordable and takes about 50 percent of their meager pay."
I looked around and said. "I've seen worse, even at home."
Har-Hi said." No way, you tell me they have worse places on Nilfeheim than that?"
I turned my head while we ascended the creaking wooden stairs and said to him. "Yes, our own burg used to have tanneries that were much worse than this. I am sure, there are still many Burgs and Clan chiefs that treat their Low men just as bad as slaves are treated. I have also seen the tenant blocks of the Bottom Low on Sin 4."
The next floor looked just like the one below, our guide went on to tackle the next flight of stairs and I said." How many stairs do we need to climb?"
The gnarled Laurin Oghr who had yet to say a word held, up both her claw like hands, and showed me five of her fingers, she had three fingers and a thumb on each."
Har-Hi said. "This dump has five stories, doesn't it have an elevator?"
Something strange happened, the Oghr woman was looking at Har-Hi and he said. "You got to be kidding, fourteen levels and a permanently broken elevator, I pity those who live all the way up and have to climb these stairs every day."
While we kept climbing I said. "Was she whispering or something? I haven't heard a word out of her so far."
Har-Hi who was the last coming up the stairs said. "She hasn't shut up since she opened the door."
I was still wondering about that as we reached the fifth floor. Oghr were not known to be psionic gifted and even if she was, Har-Hi was a Union officer and thus should have been shielded. But only Psionics could explain that he could hear her and I could not.
The fifth floor did not look any different than the ones below, maybe there was a little less graffiti.
The old woman opened a door at the end of the corridor. It looked just like any of the other doors, peeling paint, exposed press-wood, that started to disintegrate at the corners. The Ithe waiter said. "This is as far as I go; I need to go back to work and from the mess you both made it will be a long night cleaning up." Without waiting for a response and without turning he went back to the stairs and rushed back down.
We entered what looked like a poor old woman's apartment. Pieces of wet laundry, hung on strings. The walls were covered with a once decorative layer of papery material, which peeled in large sections of the wall. There was a tiny living room that was decorated with cheap plastic and ceramic knick knacks of alien design, and smudgy looking seat cushions instead of sofa and chairs. An old looking electronic device with a flat 2D screen flickered grainy pictures of a military parade.
A door led out to a tiny balcony, with barley enough room for a person to stand with a flimsy rusty looking railing that missed several pieces. The vista from her balcony was as depressing as the rest. It was the brick wall of another building just like this one and less than five meters distance. I was sure it created one of those narrow alleys we had rushed through before. I had my hand on the blaster I was carrying and checked the small flat. The tiny hygiene chamber and a similar small bed room with a pile of blankets on the floor, appearing to be the bed of the old woman.
This was supposed to be a NAVINT contact and so far everything appeared alright, but I no longer trusted appearances and wanted to make sure we were alone in the apartment.
As I returned to the living room, Har-Hi seemed in a conversation with the old Oghr woman. Yet I could only hear his responses. She held up a framed picture of a much younger and somewhat less ugly looking Laurin Oghr, wearing a dark gray uniform and standing next to a black flyer."
Har-Hi said. "Ah I see your son is the pilot chauffeur to the Magistrate."
I spread my arms and said. "Can someone tell me why I can't hear a thing what is supposed to come next?"
I was certain Har-H I was actually grinning behind his Ithe disguise as he said. "Patience my Captain, patience is an important trait in this clandestine spy business. Someone told me once."
I wished I could actually stick my tongue out at him and said. "Right back at me, I know."
He chuckled and said. "You can't hear the woman because she is a Bunthik."
"Didn't you say she is a Laurin Oghr?"
The old Oghr spoke for the first time in heavy accented Union Lingo. "They tell me you are a formidable Captain and all that, but it is apparent you haven't spent much time outside the protected Union space of ours."
I glared at her, forgetting that glaring was not really possible with stalk eyes and said. "You are quite correct; it's more or less my first time."
Then I looked around and said. "We are able to speak freely. I made sure of that."
She said. "So did you? This apartment is bugged and under surveillance like every other apartment, but here are a few more bugs than elsewhere and when my son comes there are actual agents listening, not just recorders and machines." She pointed to her ceiling lamp. "Kartanian Intelligence visualizer" Then she gestured towards the window, "laser ear picking up the sound vibrations of every spoken word."
I completed her litany and said. "Draak audio amplifiers embedded in the wall. Your neighbor to the right only lives there to keep an eye on you. I might be a bit green around the gills when it comes to this sector of space, old woman but don't mistake my apparent youth for foolishness."
She cackled a dry laugh and said. "It appears that she who calls you Soja has trained you well indeed. How do you know all this?"
"I won't let you see all my rune stones before I know more."
She laughed again. "Whatever you do to make this flat surveillance proof, please stop it. There are very advanced NAVINT devices that feed the listeners all sorts of information, just not the real kind."
I exposed my Wrist Comm. and said. "Shea, you heard the woman I am sure, give the word to Circuit and the others."
"Yes Captain, Circuit is recalling hisNanites and Lt. Bergdorf and team is on their way back to base. However Narth and Ensign Three-Four have already neutralized the laser ear agents and made the neighbor woman take a long nap, do you want them to do something about that?"
"No, let it be and tell everyone to stand by for the next part of our plan."
The woman said. "Relax Captain, care for a cup of Young-grass tea. My son won't be here for at last another hour."
"No I am fine."
The little kitchen area was separated only by a different floor cover from the living room and she begun to boil water anyway and while she prepared tea she said." Yes I am of the Laurin Oghr Kingdom." She opened one of the shabby cupboards filled with miss matching cups and dishes, some made of faded plastic and some of chipped ceramics. She said. "Something else perhaps, beer, ale or something to eat?"
I raised my hand. "No not at the moment." I did not want to explain to her that the disguises we wore didn't let us eat or drink as Ithe and human facial features did not line up. Besides I wasn't a big fan of tea or the local cuisine.
She snickered and said. "Suit yourself then."
The shelves inside the cup-board suddenly moved up, cups, plates and all and with an almost inaudible humming sound a modern, expensive SII-MOLRECON serv-matic pushed into view. The machine produced her cup of tea in no time and she said. "Since we have a little time, I believe it won't hurt if you learn a little about the Oghr kingdoms. They are strewn all over this region of space and some of them are quite big and a force to be recognized."
I sighed silently and sat down in one of the cushions. She pointed at her own face and said. "This is not a disguise and I am of the Oghr race and I know how we appear to others. Even the other Oghr species usually shun us and don't give us the time of day."
She sipped on her tea and gestured towards Har-Hi. "Your friend is Dai. He knows much more about the Oghrs then the usual Union members. He even knew the ancient and quite secretive sign language and knows about the Bunthik."
She raised her hands holding the cup and her fingers moved in what I thought was just a nervous habit and now I saw Har-Hi who still had his arms crossed move the fingers of his right hands in a similar fashion.
He said. "Because the Laurin Oghr are smaller and weaker than any of the other Oghr species they do not hire out as mercenaries, heavy laborers or guards as many of the Oghrs you know do. They are known to be domestic laborers. You know doing laundry, tailoring, gardening and being chauffeurs and such. They are ugly and they know it and because of it they learned to stay out of sight as much as possible, they do their work almost as if being invisible. This talent gained them a very good reputation and Laurin domestics often get better pay than domestics of other species."
I listened as my friend told me about multi-cultural interactions of beings and species I barely knew existed.
The Oghr woman said. "Our kid is promoting and cultivating this reputation for a very long time, but as much as you can be a good domestic you can be bad. These are called the Bunthik, when caught they are executed by their own kind for doing damage to this reputation. Being a good domestic is like a religion with our kind, after all."
She put the cup down. "The Bunthik are like the worm in the Union, a secretive underground organization. They are among the best thieves in the Universe and they know how to obtain information form their masters and use it for black mail. To stay alive and to give their skills and knowledge to new generations, they have developed many secretive ways. Including forms of communication no uninitiated observer would ever even notice."
Shea who was on the bridge of the Tigershark and holding the Conn at the moment could see what we saw through the micro optics installed in the stalk eyes and she said into my ear piece. "She needs to be more careful. I have decrypted her finger language. She was asking Har-Hi how he knows that sign language so well and he told her that his nanny was a Bunthik who taught him many of their secrets."
I turned and asked him. "So how come you had an Oghr nanny?"
The Old woman said. "She learns fast, your Captain."
He sighed. "Yes she does especially since she has a Level 12 Intellect girlfriend peeking." To me he said. "My tribe once raided an Oghr convoy transport and the Oghr who became my nanny later was one of the survivors. My tribe never participated in slave trade and we never used any sentient beings as forced laborers. She wanted to stay with us and at first she acted as a spy, but she really liked me and came clean to my father. She stayed with us and became the Nanny of all my father's children."
From the subtle tones of his voice I noticed how much he cared about that Nanny and I wondered why he had never told me about her before.
Our host put the serv-matic away and she said. "My son has entered the building. He has two guards with him; they will come in for a short moment, check out the apartment and then leave us alone. So I must ask you to hide until they are gone."
She made us go into the tiny hygiene room. It had only room for a body waste disposal unit that appeared to be made of concrete and was filled with water, and a shower stall. She said. "You can see and hear what is going on and as soon as they are gone you can come out."
Har-Hi said. "What kind of security goons would not look here first? It's not exactly a very good hiding place. Not that your apartment has many other choices."
She wiggled her fingers, saying. "Silly Dai!" and closed the door before her. We could hear her walking to the front door.
I whispered to Har Hi. "I have to agree this was a silly hiding place. They will check this place first."
Har-Hi tapped me on the shoulder and I turned. The plastic wall surface of the shower cabin was suddenly transparent and we could see a mirror image of the small bathroom. We watched as two Ithe in gray coats opened the door looked into the empty bathroom, left the door open and we could even see them step out the front door. The old woman closed her flat door and now we could see that the entire bathroom rotated 180 degrees.
Har-Hi said. "I think this shabby apartment has more than one hidden surprise." I agreed. "This is pretty useful if you urgently need a second toilet too."
A somewhat taller and younger version of the old woman stood in her small living room. That he was male I only assumed because she called him his son and that she was female was only because she was wearing things that somehow looked old woman. Other than those hints there were no real differences between the two Laurin Oghr. Both their skin was greenish and they had big heads that sat on their shoulders without a visible neck. Like their big Oghr relatives they had big maws and yellowish tusks piercing their lower lips. Their tusks were of course much smaller than those of full size Oghrs.
What made them so ugly were the deformed faces that looked as if the skin was more or less loosely draped over their skulls and was full of wrinkles. In appearance they reminded me of theYotenen Mother Superior had disguised herself as she helped me to escape the slave pen on Alvor's cove.
I wondered how this would be possible, but I pressed the biological sensor section that was part of my officer's implant I had received at the academy. It transmitted a weak TransDim-scatter pattern message pulse from my CITI with a complicated code sequence that could only be received by military grade Computronics that were linked to MATA HARI the NAVINT AI.
The old Visualizer screen switched from the grainy flickering images to a crystal clear 3D field screen and the typical female Computronic voice all Fleet systems had in common said. "Blue-Blue-Red protocol initiated. Correct sequence one received."
The Oghr chauffeur must have done the same thing as the voice verified receiving sequence two. I swiped my code key against his PDD and he did the same to mine. Only after we also exchanged the basic day code was the procedure complete and he satisfied. He said. "Captain Olafson it is a pleasure to meet you. I am Lt. Commander Cracktik, NAVINT Section 612. Welcome to NAVINT Field Office Itheamh." He gestured to the old woman. "This is Lt. Commander Crackta and she really is my mother."
He gestured us to find seats and took a cup of tea from his mother then he said. "I am a Lauran Oghr and the First Magistrate trusts me as much as a Draak can. I have no vices, no friends and no contact to the Ithe. The only thing I do is visit my old mother. I do all this for a long time and not much changed on Ithe, the recent days however were like a storm and the Magistrate and the Draak in power can see the writing on the wall and fear that this might be the end of their reign. They fear the rebels but even more they fear the Kartanian what the Kartanian will do to express their disappointment. The Kartanian already signaled they would send Oghr troops to pacify the entire planet and restore order. This time enslaving all Ithe and all Draak and put an Oghr military tribunal in charge as they have done on Moghdoor a world quite similar to Ithe and also one of their outlet and contact worlds."
I said. "How long do we have until the Oghr troops arrive?"
He said. "We don't have very reliable intelligence assets inside Kartania but my Oghr sources say the Kartanians have secured the services of King Fithark of the Orkh-Oghr. King Fithark rules over the largest and most advanced Oghr Kingdom outside of those that are Union now. They are most closely related to your Oromals, the big ones."
Har-Hi said to me. " Seven to eight feet tall, almost as strong as our Pertharians, tough enough to go toe to toe with a Nul if necessary, very well trained mercenaries who take their reputation and soldering very serious. Mercy and restrain are unknown to them and they approach Tech level 7 in many areas, especially weapons."
The old woman said. "Rumors have it, the Kartanians paid for 5 regiments, that's a 1000 each; in full battle gear and that the five regiment ships left Ooh Planet yesterday. So we estimate them to arrive in six or eight days. Depending how active the Togar are and they have to take a longer route."
I wanted to scratch an itch on my nose so bad and silently cursed the mass of Bioflex syntho flesh before my face and said. "Hmmm five troop ships you say. Filled with vicious warriors, maybe we could intercept them and blow them out of the sky before they become a problem here. Besides in 5 days I hope we are done here."
The Chauffeur said. "This is not all the news I have or you, Captain as this is what the Kartanian plan to do, the Draak also have plans of their own, they do not want to go without a fight. They see their star fainting fast. So to regain ground the Magistrate spoke of an ancient terror they found deep in this planet and he believes, whatever it is will secure their victory, but at the cost of thousand souls including his." The Oghr Lt. Commander spread his hands. "Captain I am a trained Union Intelligence officer and I do not believe in the supernatural, but the way he speaks about it, makes it sound like a demon or something like that."
Har-Hi glanced at me from the side. "We Dai are more superstitious, I guess and I have seen strange and weird things, but it all can be rationally explained and always has a scientific base."
I leaned forward. "We still need to know what it is. I remember the bugs and those face hugging bat worms and I fought something called a Shogotrz. I don't think whatever it is he is talking about will stop the changes that will happen."
Har-Hi said. "Do you know what weapons were used to make the first planet inhospitable? The Draak destroyed their world could he not talk about a cache of whatever it was they used then?"
The old female Oghr rubbed her lantern jar. "No one really knows. Some say it was dirty atomic weapons. You know the old kind that leaves a lot of radiation for a very long time. Other sources say it was a biological weapon, a virus or a bacteria and some claim it was a combination of both. We do know it was the Kartanians who gave them whatever it was, out of two reasons, to force the Draak of their home world so they could mine it and to create the horrible conditions on Ithe so their help would be accepted."
I said. "Whatever it is we better find out, neither biological weapons nor radiation could hurt us, but to an unshielded population…"
The Chauffeur said. "I am taking the magistrate there tomorrow. Wherever that is, as I never get the travel plans prior to departure."
This time I cursed loudly and said. "I want to be on my way to the Smelter Moons by tomorrow."
Har-Hi said. "Well that means you can't be everywhere and have to trust your crew. Why don't you and Narth tackle the Moons and have me, Shea and the others take on whatever the Magistrate is hiding. Whatever it is Narth will know before hand and deal with it."
An electronic sound came from the Chauffeurs body and he pulled a boxy looking device and said into it. "Cracktik here."
A voice said. "His excellency will not need you today anymore and said you may stay with your mother if you wish. We will pick you up in the morning."
He acknowledged and pocketed the device again. Then he said. "It seems I have a little more time. So I can show you our actual Intel HQ."
I said. "But we don't have all that much time. I still need to reconnoiter the space port and find out where the prisoners are kept that are to be shipped to the Smelter moons. I have a lot of things to organize and finally, I want to get out of this get up. I don't mind costumes, but I really need to blow my nose!"
They both laughed and he said. "Just follow me and you can do just that. We can check out the space port much easier from here."
He then gestured us to follow him. He walked outside on the small balcony and the rusty railing tilted away. He stepped onto thin air and vanished as he walked right into the brick wall on the other side.
Even though I was certain there was an invisible force field bridge and the brick wall had to be a hologram of sorts. I had to convince my feet it was so. I had flown and climbed, walked on greasy rafters under the high ceiling of the Halls of Hasvik, but walking over apparently nothing and a deep chasm took all my courage.
The brick wall did not feel insubstantial like a hologram. It was more like diving into a vertical surface of honey or water. The sensation was over before I really registered it and we found ourselves in a small but modern looking Command and Control room. With large field screens and several control stations. A human male and a purple throat Shiss manned two of the stations. They wore Union fleet uniforms with NAVINT patches on their sleeves.
For a moment I lost my communications link with Shea and the ship. My PDD whispered through my ear piece. "Current location TransDim shielded, direct ComLink to ship lost. Rerouting through local authorized NAVINT system."
The Oghr NAVINT commander pointed at the wall we just walked through and said. "Molecular Phasing as the Eggheads at Terra call it. It is one of the latest developments Mother Machine and Narth came up with."
He sounded very proud and enthusiastic as he added. "Ever since the Narth are more active it feels as if Union technology is developing even faster than usual."
I agreed with him by nodding.
The old woman stepped through an auto dresser nearby and emerged still looking ugly, but her smudgy clothing was gone. She wore a crisp Fleet uniform with the stylized Eye symbol of the Intel Branch on her left sleeve and she straightened he stance and looked several inches taller. She said. "I have so little chance of wearing the Uniform, but it is the first time we going to meet the Immortals."
She tugged at her Uniform blouse and said. "You might think of me as silly, but to me it is a very pleasurable experience, as it reminds me for what I am doing all this and what we stand for."
The old Oghr woman brushed her hand with a caressing gesture over the United Stars of the Galaxies flag patch on her right sleeve.
I said to her. "I know exactly how you feel Commander. We are undercover and for the most part wear costumes and disguises"
She gestured to the Auto Dresser and said. "Feel free to use it. It is of the same Saresii technology as the one aboard your vessel."
Har-Hi and I did.
I was sure I felt just like the Oghr woman as I stepped back out seeing myself in Union Black, with the diagonal buttoned uniform blouse, actually called a bib shirt in the regulations hand book. It was worn correctly with the lower half buttoned down showing the white inner lining like a large triangle across my chest.
I could not deny myself feeling pride, because my sleeve cuffs displayed captain's gold.
I was a little surprised to see Har-Hi not in Dai red but also in Union uniform and I had to admit, he looked very handsome indeed.
He said looking down on himself. "Who would have thought we end up in Uniform today?" He jerked at his sleeves and added. "It does feel good remembering that we are indeed Union officers, the Oghr woman is right, it makes you aware that you are part of something bigger."
We followed them into a separate small conference room with a kidney shaped table and a dozen chairs.
After the door closed three Avatar projections established and to us it appeared as if Stahl, McElligott and Cherubim were right here with us. The male Oghr called us to attention and we saluted them.
His expression was stern and his face as if chiseled in granite as always, but he was one of those people who could smile with his eyes only.
McElligott, as immortal and as old as Stahl, and usually an authority and dominating presence but it always got lost when he was with Stahl.
The woman known as Cherubim was still an enigma to me, as I knew very little about her.
McElligott nodded pleased. "How nice you all look, I appreciate the uniforms.
The two Oghr still stood in attention even as Stahl gave us the sign to relax.
Cherubim said to them. "You may relax and sit down as well."
The male Oghr said. "I never thought I would ever meet any of you and now three of the Immortal Guides at once."
Stahl motioned to me and Har-Hi. "Lt. Commanders we just a little older than others and I think we better get started."
He motioned to me to give an update and I did.
After I was finished the Oghrs handed in short reports and uploaded their logs and data.
While Cherubim actually started to scan through the reports on her PDD and Stahl disappeared for a moment as he said, McElligott said. "Even though Kartania is a small fish compared to the Nul, the Galactic Council or the Shiss and there are no common borders we share with them, they are an older culture with decent technology. There is some trade and the Kartanian Conglomerate is one of the bigger players in the region you are in."
Cherubim put the PDD away and said. "We do have very few intelligence-assets inside the Kartanian Conglomerate so we maintain this and similar Intel outposts on what the Kartanians call Outlet-and Service Worlds. As you know they do not allow any foreign ship inside their space and are xenophobic. Itheamh is only one of nineteen such worlds we know of, the Kartanians use as outlets and gateways for their wares and to buy scrap, ore and other raw materials and of course buying sentient beings. "
Stahl's Avatar established itself again and he interrupted right away and said. "That does not mean we want you run off and try to liberate all nineteen worlds, even though conditions there are quite similar to those on Itheamh."
I said. "Sir and I did not come here to Itheamh to do that either but it sort of happened."
McElligott looked to the ceiling and then said with a hint of a smile. "That is what should be written on your ships dedication plate: 'USS Tigershark – We changed Galactic history, but it sort of happened'."
I frowned at the Old Admiral, as his joke made the other two giggle.
I tried to ignore it and said. "I am going to the Smelter Moons myself tomorrow and hope to put an end to slavery."
Stahl said. "Yes you told us you would. Anyone else saying that, I'd call insane, but since it came from the Olafson Crew we take it very seriously and we are scrambling to get the assets in place, just in case things turn sour. Plans are a nice thing but there is much that can go wrong. The Kartanians are not Sin 4. This is a Star empire stretching over ninety star systems and they are a star traveling civilization for a very long time, it will take more than a few revolting slaves to change conditions there. And they have never been our friends, even while the so called First Engineer was in charge, don't forget that." I have no plans to go to Kartania itself. I know too little about that world and have no idea who or what that First Engineer is." The last traces of amusement had left Stahl's face. "They have not been our enemy so far, but if they find out you are a Union Officer this could change in a heartbeat."
Cherubim again stepped in and said. "The Galacto political situation in that area is not very stable. The Kartanians think about expansion after all, and so do the Togar. They hate each other about as much as the Nul hate the Shiss. The slightest spark could mean war."
I nodded. "Someone told me that while I was on Kaliment."
She glanced from under her white blonde bangs at me and her face, which I sure was a bio flex mask, did not show any emotion and she slowly nodded. "Ah yes of course, but the situation also involves the Nine Oghr Kingdoms, the Jooltar and the remaining Dai Than."
McElligott added." There are also smaller and very small civilizations strewn out there and they would suffer greatly from an Interstellar war in that region."
The Old Admiral said what Mother Superior had to me a while ago. "Wars have a tendency to spread, the Shiss or the Kermac and the Galactic Council might decide to take sides and that would more or less mean we would have to do that as well."
I had to admit I had not thought of that.
Again McElligott spoke. "We put your dilemma before the Armed Forces Committee of the Assembly and we think we can help you to gain a little time. You do remember Klotzky & Harris Freight and Exports?"
My face sounded deeper than usual as I said." How can I forget that ship of horrors?"
McElligott said. "Federal Police investigated and found terrible conditions and evidence that this went on for years. The press somehow got wind of it and it was blown all over prime time news. To make a long story short, the General Assembly stopped short of declaring war against Togr, but the majority of the Assembly demanded that the Fleet would something about it."
Stahl's eyes smiled again as he said. "It was decided to make a little trip through the Coreward sector, perhaps engage in a few war games and "survey" missions and we going to do that right there between the Kartanian and the Togar Empires. That space is unclaimed and we are not bound by any treaties. The Assembly thinks it would be a good idea the locals in that neighborhood are reminded just whose tail their puling when they engage in Slave trade, eat Union citizens and all that."
As part of those war games, a few ships will visit the Ithe system. Itheamh does trade with the Union after all and there are several Trade Company offices at the local space port."
Har-Hi handed me a kerchief, just in time because I had to sneeze. Whatever caused the itch in my nose for so long had finally reached the point where I could no longer suppress it. I sneezed and thankfully made use of his kerchief he said to the Immortals. "As I understand from the local rebels, there was once a Union ship here before but they left due since the rebels did not speak for the entire planet."
Stahl's smile now reached his lips. "I am not talking one or two ships, Mr. Hi. We are talking about the entire COWACOM or in other words Ninety Union Fleets and a sizeable Nul Armada. I am sure the Togar will mobilize their fleets, since they don't know what we are up to. The Kartanian will do the same and none of the Oghr Kingdoms will be eager to send mercenaries anywhere if they think we are up to no good. And with a little over 100,000 Union and Nul ships in the region, I think your pirate friends will stay put on the second planet and pray to whatever gods they worship that we don't take a closer look at that world."
I too grinned now and said. "And the Kartanians will be careful from openly committing any atrocities on Itheamh."
McElligott said. "But to take such a big show on the road takes time, it will take us seven to eight days before we are anywhere near Itheamh, as we have to go around Free space. So until then you are on your own."
I still smiled. "What's new, Sir?"
Circuit, was like me dressed completely black, hiding his shiny chrome body as we hushed along in the stark shadow of a stack of shipping containers. While it was night, glaring flood lights kept the cargo area of the brightly lit. The lights however also created hard shadows that allowed us to get close to the parked transport ship. Shea was right behind me and I liked seeing her shapely body in skintight black material. She appeared like a razor sharp cut out against the metallic wall of a container before she melted back into the shadows.
I glanced around the container's edge and Narth peeled out of the darkness right before me and almost gave me a heart attack. "One does wonder why we are hiding in the shadows when we have perfectly good cloaking technology."
I whispered. "Because I need to figure out how to move the slaves, we don't have 10,000 cloaking suits and I don't want them to know we are Union, at least not yet."
He kept floating next to me as I rushed to the next stack. "And why are you whispering? There is no being near that could hear us? The wind and the ambient city and port noise would make no difference if you yelled."
"Because it is tradition, when you dressed like that and sneak around one whispers."
Narth slid back in the shadows and he completely melted into the darkness and I heard him whisper. "Then one shall sneak and whisper right behind you."
Circuit who was right behind me said addressing Narth. "It's more fun like that anyway. Can I ask why you say one again; haven't you started to use I?"
Narth whispered. "I am experimenting with habits and saying one instead of I, is a typical Narth habit. I think habits are an important part of what defines humans." I had reached the last container and pointed to the large Kartanian freighter that was turned into a dedicated slave transporter. "There it is. Let's take it over without anyone noticing, they going to load the slaves in almost exactly one hour."
Narth said. "How can something be almost exactly? Either it is exact or it is not."
Circuit explained." One second less than an hour is in human terms almost exactly an hour, for example."
I turned. "You don't take all this very serious do you?"
Circuit shrugged. "Our mission and us trying to end misery and slavery, yes I take this very serious, us sneaking between containers like port rats, not so much."
"What a fine crew I have." I once more pointed at the ship. "Do you think you can open this flying silver flicker can, without them noticing doing it?"
"You told me you could."
"It's already open. They didn't lock it. There is no force field and only two, no actually one. I mean no guards awake. Krabbel is already there and sent them sleeping."
While we rushed over the concrete surface to the actual ship, I said to him. "It must be nice to have android eyes and see everything."
There in the dark shadow of the ship I noticed Krabbel and two tightly packed Draak shaped cocoons.
To Krabbel I said with a smile. "When I said recon the area I didn't mean you should go ahead and turn the guards into Christmas presents for Archa kids."
I was poking one with the tip of my boot and asked my eight legged friend. "Are they actually alive in there?"
Krabbel raised his front legs and said. "I didn't use a lot of poison so they are only stunned, not dead, at least for now."
Shea peeked around the landing gear and pointed her gun inside the open ramp door. Circuit was right, the ship was wide open.
She made the okay sign and said. "Clear."
Narth floated right next to her inside and she complained: "Narth, I am having fun here! When do I get to do this secret spy stuff?"
Narth stopped and turned in his smooth turn table manner. "Oh right!" His shroud moved like a living thing and constricted around his body, until he too looked like wearing a cat suit. He said to me. "Can I have a gun? I didn't bring one. One needs a gun to be authentic."
I handed him my TKU and said to my friends. "This isn't a Virtu-novel you know."
Shea said. "We know, Captain, but it is you who had all the action lately. We sat in the ship more or less and doing things as the Olafson gang again, is simply making us giddy I think."
I didn't really know what to say to that. She was right; having my friends with was very reassuring as I knew I could trust them blindly.
The Kartanian Transport was basically an unarmed version of the Silver Streak, the Janus mask my ship displayed when in Pirate mode. Unlike my ship, this one was of course Kartanian on the inside as well. It reminded me of the Velorian slave transporter. It was cleaner, bigger and better maintained. The rows of steel link cages with lock doors and the perforated reddish painted floors, shimmering wet from the last hose down. The chains and the neatly stored rows of prods and whips made this vessels purpose all too clear.
A half-naked leather clad, oafish looking Oghr stepped out of an overseer guard room right before me and stared in my masked face with wide open yellow eyes as my old fighting knife buried deep into his guts. He gargled and drooled blood over my arm as I twisted the blade and pushed him aside and went on to the ships main elevator shaft.
The elevator access was coded and secured, but it took Shea less than a minute to hack into the Ships system. Narth stood behind me while she did her thing and said. "There are nineteen individuals aboard. Three of them are on the bridge."
"Alright, Circuit and Krabbel neutralize them. Narth, Shea and I take care of the bridge crew."
Circuit pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. "You want us to take care of them like that?"
I did not feel any guilt and said. "He startled me and besides he was a Slave master, he probably whipped and maltreated thousands in his career. Neutralize them as you see fit, as long as they can't interfere with our plans."
This was not a Union ship, there was no way intrudes would have found it so easy, not even intruders as talented as my friends. We made it unchallenged to the bridge. A big Oghr, a Draak and to my surprise a human being were present. The Oghr reclined in the command seat, while the human had his feet on the console before him and was dozing. The Draak at what I assumed was the helm position, saw us come on the bridge and jumped out of his seat. I drew the Colt as Narth was carrying my blaster and fired. The projectile hit the Draak in the left shoulder. A spray of dark blood gushed over his console while he spun around and went to the floor. The Oghr and the human bolted out of their seats, looking into the three inch bore holes of my friends TKU's. Now I noticed the light blue skin and the coppery hair of the human, my trigger finger started itching, she was Thauran.
Shea said. "I suggest you do not make any sudden moves, our Captain is in a bitchy mood today."
I said slightly irritated. "I am not in a bitchy mood or anything."
She didn't take her eyes from the completely perplexed looking beings and said. "Tell that to the Draak or the Oghr below."
The Oghr growled angry. "What is the meaning of this?"
I focused on him and said. "Your vessel is now mine. Your cooperation would be welcome, but isn't really needed."
He said. "I am Heaz Xford, the Asgruhr of this ship. You must be out of your mind. You instigators may have had a few good days in the plains playing with the weak Draak, but your silly revolution is coming to an end very soon. Put down your weapons and surrender and I make sure you…"
He didn't get further; I fired and nicked his ear. He was a tough Oghr but having an ear pierced that way was driving the point home. He yelped and reached for his injured ear. Shea raised the gun and the muzzle glimmered in pre discharge mode.
He froze in his move.
I nodded. "That's better."
Narth stepped forward and disappeared along with the Oghr.
This frightened the Thauran woman even more and she made a step away from us and said. "Who are you?"
I said. "I am your worst nightmare, Thauran Slaver scum. Now lay down on the floor, arms spread, face down. Hesitate and I make you and you never get up again."
She dropped to her knees, the muzzle of my gun drained on her head. All I had to do is pull the trigger and the Universe would have a Thauran less. How I disliked these blue skinned traitors, where ever I went I met these bastards and almost always doing something despicable.
Shea voice was raised as she said to me. "Captain, don't. We are not executioners."
I thumbed the safety and slowly de cocked the hammer of the antique weapon and said. "You are right of course. We are not executioners."
The Thauran somehow knew how close she was from death and she started sobbing and went to lie down as I asked her to do.
Then there was a voice inside my head. At first I thought it was Narth, but the voice was different. It did have the same warm and brotherly, affectionate quality. It was a cold, inhuman voice. I heard it for the first time and yet it was not the voice of a stranger or some outside influence, it was the voice of my own thoughts utterly familiar and inside my mind it said. "Yes I am the Executioner. I am the devourer and I am the wrath of death, Darkness Eternal."
With anger I yelled back. "This is not me! I do not murder. I am a Union Fleet officer. Look for someone else to possess. I didn't ask you to mess up my life!"
There was no response. It was no foreign influence, no external voice, but I swore to myself I would not become slave of some kind of entity that decided to make me its tool. Whatever I would become it was my decision.
Shea looked at me as if I was a stranger and she said. "Are you okay?"
I straightened my shoulders and said. "Yes I am."
I took a can of stick and fix and glued the blue skinned Thauran to the floor plates. "I am curious Thauran, what are you doing here?"
He could not move very much as his hands and feet were bonded to the floor, but he tried to move his head and he said. "What do you think I am doing? CID and Federal Police are all over the Thauran kingdom, ever since it became known that our King had dealings with the Worm. I have no desire to end up on a federal Penal colony or worse. Good Navigators are in demand. I don't care what the freight is, as long as I have a job."
I knelt down and put a good helping of Stick and glue across his mouth. "You have no idea how much I dislike Thaurans, everywhere I go there is one and always on the other side of the law."
Whatever he responded turned into a mumbling sound consisting almost entirely of the letter m, intoned in various ways.
I padded his head and got up. "Maybe I let you up after a while, but right now I like you the way you are."
Krabbel and Circuit came on the bridge and Circuit reported. "We got everyone, the ship is ours."
Just as he said that Narth also returned along with the Oghr captain of the ship. The Captain said to me. "How do you like this get up? I really look like an Oghr. That Auto Dresser of yours is quite the machine."
The disguised Mao touched his big teeth and said. "I am in direct contact with SHIP and should be able to answer all questions and know every code and procedure."
Narth pointed to the injured Draak and the incapacitated Thauran woman. "Do you want them to remain here or can I take them to Cateria?"
I nodded. "Take them of course; we don't want to mess up our schedule."
The solvent can floated all by itself around the Thauran woman and freed her and Narth added. "Who are you going to be, the Thauran or the Draak?"
Mao sat in the Command Chair and I was sitting wearing blue skin and coppery hair, in the seat of the Navigator. As much as I disliked the Thauran, she was human in shape and form and the disguise was more comfortable. Narth impersonated the Draak and Shea remained out of the Visual sensors.
A high ranking Draak officer was hailing us and he said. "Our mighty friends requested that we transfer the criminals we have right away. Prepare for lift off, while we herd the scum into your freight bay."
Mao responded with the correct codes and acted his part. Every one of this slave transports crew was now one of ours and the local authorities kept their word and herded almost ten thousand slaves into the freight bays. Stacked in inhuman little cages, filling the Cargo bays, there was the occasional sigh and I could hear pleas of mercy. The smell of ten thousand naked unwashed beings, along with the sharp stench of excrement wafted through the open doors.
To see the sad eyes from behind the cage bars and the hopelessness was getting to me. It reinforced my commitment to end this practice where ever I could.
Everything went just as I had planned and with the first light of day, we lifted off.
Shea was certain that the orbital sensor grid was still offline and the Draak had no means of tracking the Slave transport once it was in orbit. Har-Hi who was flying escort one of our Wolfcraft in full cloak, verified that there were no sensor activities detectable.
I still took the ship down as fast as I dared and landed it among the other wrecks and close to the Tigershark.
Rebels under the lead of Ninety came aboard and started opening cages and removing the control collars. At first the slaves and prisoners did not believe and trust their own luck, but they recognized Ninety and the lethargic acceptance of their fate, most of the prisoners displayed changed instantly into a joyous frenzy. It took us some time to get the former slaves clothed and fed. Cateria and her team worked hard to check them over. I noticed that my med team was no longer alone. I saw Ithe wearing Med-uniforms who helped triage and treat the mostly minor injuries.
One of the Ithe in med uniforms waved at me and said. "I know you have a hard time recognizing individuals, I am Naroma. I am just a seamstress but I know a little about first aid. As soon as we are Union, I am going to join the medical services."
The half-naked former slave she was treating looked at the Derma-patcher on his arm and he said. "I was a Draak doctor and sent to the Smelter moons because I treated Ithe with the same care and with medicine reserved for the Draak. I too want to help as soon as I can."
He took my hand. "Thank you for my freedom, Captain Velvet. Is it true we are going to be Union members?"
I sighed and said. "That is a question you need to answer once this planet is united. It is not something I can decide for you."
Naroma pulled the Derma-Patcher and the Draak doctor stared with amazement at the barely visible patch of lighter skin. Then his fingers grazed over it and he said. "How could we possibly decide otherwise? What good could I do with technology like that, this is a surgeons dream."
I let them be and looked for Ninety, finding him standing with a large group of Ithe.
To him I said. "We don't have too much time, do you have enough volunteers?"
He wrinkled his snout and showed me his formidable teeth. By now I knew it was a Togar smile and he said. "We have enough to fill ten ships."
A Kartanian pushed himself to the front of the group and he said. "Remember me Captain Velvet?"
I said. "I am sorry but I am not able to differentiate between Kartanian Individuals."
He said. "I am Grtonner Icylemh; I knew you would not turn your back on Ithe. I am here to help and I am here to go with you to the Smelter Moons and then to Kartania to wake the First Engineer."
I said to him. "Mr. Icylemh we need to do things one at a time. I hope we can free the slaves on the Smelter Moons and get the ball rolling, but I don't think we have the resources or the time to go to Kartania itself. Besides the First Engineer wasn't too friendly towards the Union while he was in charge. What makes you think he changes his mind even if we manage to wake him?"
The Kartanian said. "That is not true and there is much misunderstanding. It is not the Union the First Engineer objected to, quite the opposite is true. It is the Mega Corporations, especially Schwartz Intergalactic that he objected. We are engineers and builders and the Union is a huge market where we could sell our products, but as long as SII and the others manage to paint us as an outsider and an enemy we can't."
Har-Hi who had joined us said. "We don't even know who or what this first engineer is."
Icylemh turned his bony head to Har-Hi. "The first Engineer is the minds of two-thousand Guild masters, linked to a Computronic and melted into a new being over the thousand years it exists. It is your famous Mother Machine who helped creating it, long before the X101 became Union Members."
I said. "Somehow I expected something like that, especially since we met those towering war machines with brains of Kartanian soldiers."
The Kartanian space dock owner said. "Space ships need very advanced Computronics and we are not as successful creating completely artificial AI components as your Union tech can. We always used biotronic components based on living minds."
Har-Hi gave me a long look and then said. "Well as it may be, I am ready to take on the local weapon mystery. Shea, Narth and I need to go and meet the Chauffeur."
I wished him luck and I wanted to join them, but I had an appointment with the Overseers on the Smelter Moons.
Here ends Book X : Captain Olafson
If you liked what you have read, join me in Book XI: Erica Olafson – Adventures Of the Tigershark