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Galactic Chronicles Book X
Ch-17-rw
Chapter number 17
Previous Chapter 16: Bar Fight (GC X)
Current Oghrs and Slaves
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The door was opened by a greenish skinned being that looked brutish and like an Oghr, but was even shorter than the Ithe waiter who had guided us so far. In my short time traveling the galaxy, I had already seen strange beings and the saying goes that beauty lay in the eye of the beholder. I was certain someone in the universe would find this gnarled looking being pretty, but 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 and adorned with graffiti, cracked plaster and exposed brick work. The place reeked just like the liquid Nefkin had splashed on Har-Hi and Ninety. 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 were 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 Motherare a more cheerful place than this." The Ithe waiter who had heard him said, "This is how the majority of Ithe workers live. The rent here is barely 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 Nilfeheimthan 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 here. I have also seen the tenant blocks of the Bottom Low on Sin 4." Har-Hi silently stomped up a few stairs behind me and then said. “Maybe when all this is done, we need to visit Nilfeheim and make sure our own conditions are in order.” I agreed with him and said, “My Grandfather and my former wife are working on this right now. Things change slowly on Nilfeheim but they are changing.” 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 hand. Har-Hi cursed and said. "This dump has five stories, doesn't it have an elevator?" Something strange happened, the Oghr woman was only looking at Har-Hi without saying a word yet and he seemed to answer to a statement she made. He said to her: "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 asked my Dai friend. "Was she whispering or something? I haven't heard a word out of her so far." Har-Hi who was behind me on the stairs said with a strange smug tone in his voice. "She hasn't shut up since she opened the door." I was still wondering about that as we reached the fifth floor. Oghrwere 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. We finally reached the top of the fifth flight of stairs and it did not look any different up here than it did below, except perhaps 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 exactly like a poor old woman's apartment is supposed to look. Pieces of wet laundry hung on strings. The walls were covered with a once decorative layer of papery material, which peeled in large sections off the wall. A moldy, organic odor with a slight sour and rancid smell hung in the air. There was a tiny living room that was decorated with cheap plastic and ceramic knick knacks of alien design and smudgy seat cushions instead of a sofa or chairs. An old looking electronic boxy looking device with a flat 2D screen flickered grainy pictures of a military parade. A door led out from the living room onto a tiny balcony, with barely enough room for a person to stand. A flimsy looking rusty railing missing several pieces appeared to be an awfully inadequate safety measure. The vista from her balcony was as depressing as the rest of the apartment. All one could really see was the brick wall of another building just like this one less than five meters distance. I was sure this Ithe made canyon of brick and concrete created one of those narrow alleys we had rushed through coming here. I had my hand on the butt of my blaster I was carrying underneath the boiler suit and checked the rest of the small flat. There was a tiny hygiene chamber and a small bedroom with a pile of blankets on the floor that appeared to be the bed of the old woman. This was supposed to be a NAVINTcontact and so far everything appeared all right, but I no longer trusted appearances and wanted to make sure we were alone in the apartment. This was only one safety measure of mine; I hated to be surprised in situations like this. 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?” 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 that once and not too long ago." 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 Bunthikand has many methods of having a conversation." "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 even 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 earpicking up the sound vibrations of every spoken word."

I completed her litany and said. "Draakaudio 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 said to her. "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."

Shea’s spoke directly through the tiny ear piece I carried and she said. "Yes Captain, Circuit is recalling his Nanites and Lt. Bergdorf and team is recalled and on their way back to base. However Narth and Ensign Three-Four have already neutralized the laser ear agents. They are happily lasering the neighbor’s window now and he also made the neighbor watch a Tele-entertainment show instead of listening in, do you want them to do reverse that?"

I responded. "No, let it be and tell everyone to stand by for the next part of our plan." "Aye Captain."

The woman said. "Relax Captain we have been doing this for years now. Would you care for a cup of Young-grass tea? My son won't be here for at last another hour."

I declined, saying: "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 paused and made sure I saw her opening one of the shabby cupboards filled with miss matching cups and dishes, some made of faded plastic and some of chipped ceramics. With a gesture to the cupboard she asked again. "Something else perhaps, I have 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, while with an almost inaudible humming sound a modern, expensive SII-MOLRECON Serv-Maticpushed into view. The machine produced her cup of tea in no time and it did not smell like the bitter grass tea that everyone on this world appeared to be drinking. She said: "Since we have a little time, I believe it won't hurt if you learn a little about the Oghr kingdoms as 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, I am really that ugly and I am really of the Oghr race and I am well aware how other beings look at us. It is a curse we bear for a very long time. 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. Yes you may know a little about your own Oghrs, the ones that were smart and joined our illustrious Union, but what about the Nine Kingdoms out there? Your Dai friend he surprised me, he even knows one of the ancient and quite secretive sign languages 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. The Laurin are however known to be domestic laborers. You know the ones 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 and have made an art out of that. 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 kind is promoting and cultivating this reputation for a very long time. However as much as you can be a good domestic you can be a bad one. The talents my species cultivated over the millennia can also be used for other purposes. Those who leave our poor kingdom to seek employment as domestics elsewhere are known at home as the Ranthik. However those who use their skills for other purposes are called the Bunthik. When a Laurin is exposed as being part of the Bunthik he or she is executed in public and by the judgment of our Queen herself for the damage it could cause to the Laurin Oghr reputation.”

She sighed and sipped from her cup, before she continued saying. “Our kind has caught the short end of the stick in many ways after the big Oghr war that broke up the old Empire. We have been breed and used for domestics in the old days and the former Oghr Colonies that became the Laurin Kingdom are poor on natural resources. Being a good domestic is like a religion to us. It is a way of life for almost 5000 years."

She put the cup down and looked at us for a moment as to see if we still paid attention. Satisfied with whatever she saw she continued to explain. "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 from their masters without them knowing and use it for black mail for example or to sell information to the highest bidder. We Bunthik began our existence out of resentment to be nothing but domestics, barely above slaves. Shunned and dismissed as ugly, forced to dwell in the shadows or wear funny face masks and robes, so we don’t offend has been accepted as our lot in life by the Ranthik, but not by us. One of these days, Captain Velvety you need to learn why there are so many different Oghr species and why it is not nature that made us so ugly and weak.” She sighed sounding quite human. The Bunthik are a small group, hunted almost to extinction and to stay alive and to give our skills and knowledge to new generations, we 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 and giving her advice." To me he said. "My tribe once raided an Oghr convoy and the Laurin Oghr who became my nanny later was one of the survivors. As you know my tribe never participated in slave trade and we never used any sentient beings as forced laborers. We set the survivors free, but she who later became my nanny wanted to stay with us. At first she acted as a spy for an Oghr king, 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 got up and put the Serv-Maticaway, then she said pointing at the Tele-entertainment viewer and the images flickered more than before. "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."

Shea said into my ear. “The apparent flickers of the visuals are a code as well.”

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, a small sink with mirror and a shower stall. She said. "You can see and hear what is going from here 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 mirror above the small wash sink no longer reflected our images. Instead we could see a mirror image of the small bathroom but without us. 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 I noticed 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 looked like things an old woman would wear. 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, and humps that had the appearance of wart like growths. It looked as if the skin was more or less loosely draped over their skulls and was full of wrinkles and flaps. In appearance they reminded me of the Yotenen, the disguise Mother Superior had chosen as she helped me to escape the slave pen on Alvor's Cove. I wondered how the old woman knew that Mother Superior called me Soja and the only explanation was they knew each other.

The Oghr in the black uniform held out his hand and said. "I am Cracktik. May I ask you to identify yourself and I insist on Blue-Blue-Red protocol."

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 Trans Dim-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 Cracktaand she really is my mother. I know this is a bit unconventional but things are never as easy and straightforward in the Intelligence business as they are in the Fleet.”

I acknowledged his statement with a nod.

He gestured us to find seats and took a cup of tea from his mother then he said. "I am a Lauran Oghr, my parents were domestics of a Draak officer many years ago and while they accompanied him and his household on a trip off planet, the ship was raided by Togar corsairs, my father did not survive the attack and we became Togar prisoners. The Togar consider us Laurin to ugly even for soup and sold us to a Slaver. We were purchased by a Kartanian slaver alongside with several Union citizens. We were set free on Outpost 175. My mother had no place to go; she was an ugly Laurin Oghr with a small child.” The old woman seamlessly took over the story and her eyes glittered moist. “The Union Immigration officers treated us kindly and showed compassion. For the first time in my life I was treated like a real being. I was asked for my needs, my child received medical care and no one looked down on us for what we were or how we looked. I was asked for my opinion, my wishes and when I asked if I could stay I was not turned away. I received my Union school right there on Outpost 175. There were Togar in my class and Bruth Oghrs, a Kartanian and other former slaves and all were treated equally by a Klackteacher. I learned that I did not have to be a domestic and could become whatever I want to be.”

She looked intensely at me. “I took the 10,000 credits start capital and went straight to Arsenal. I had only one wish and that was to serve the Union and repay them for that kindness. My son and I took this assignment gladly, as Laurin could easily mix and mingle with Draak.”

Her son added. “Now you know how two ugly Laurin Oghr became NAVINT officers and Union citizens. Mother and I have been here for over 15 years now and I steadily worked my way up and became the chauffeur pilot of the ruling elite. Two years ago I was picked to be the Chauffeur of the first Magistrate and he 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.

Not much has happened in those years. I collect information and mother prepares the weekly reports. A lot has changed in the past days however. The successful uprising of the Instigators and them defeating even the Kartanian War machines made the Draak very nervous. They fear that this might be the end of their reign. They fear the rebels to an extent, but they really fear the Kartanian what the Bonefaces will do to express their disappointment and to insure their influence.” He waved at the Tele-entertainment device and we could see the First Magistrate sitting in the back of a luxury flyer. The angle of the visual was strangely off and appeared as if the visual sensor was mounted to the flyers ceiling. We could see the Laurin Chauffeur and a second gray coated Draak sitting next to the Magistrate. The Draak had no rank insignia at all. I recognized the first magistrate by the big single medal he wore. Cracktik said. “This is the most feared of all Draak; he stays in the shadows and leads the Secret Police.” The secret police chief said to the first magistrate. “Your Excellency, I am sure the Instigators around that cursed Togar have outside help. There is no other explanation as to how they managed to disable Kartanian Sky Eyes and defeat the Ognyx at the battle in Craha. We have very conflicting reports and none are too credible. Some reports claim the Ognyx started fighting each other. Others swear they saw one lifted into the sky only to drop onto another. All utter nonsense of course, but the fact remains they have been destroyed.”

The Magistrate pulled on his gloves and asked. “Who do you think is helping the rebel scum? There aren’t that many civilizations out there that could defeat Ognyx walkers. The Shiss and the Nul of course, then there are the always meddling Kermac. Of course the Union could defeat a planet full of Ognyx and there are the Togar.” The Secret Police man opened a brief case and pulled a plastic sheet. “We are too far from Shiss territory and if we can believe this Intel report I received from Kartania then they have other problems than a little planet like us. According to this rumor the Nul have come to an agreement with the Union and some say they even might become allies and even join the Union.”

The Magistrate took the film sheet and glanced at it. “What utter nonsense. I am truly not an expert in those things but everyone knows the Nul and the Union will eventually go to war against each other. The Nul trust no one, ever since the Shiss have betrayed them and the war mongering Union is only waiting for an excuse to go to war. “ “Your Excellency, I know it sounds very unlikely but I would not dismiss these reports. I have independent reports overhearing Union freighter captains in the Foreigner district bars at the space port who collaborate this report. Even if the Nul and the Union simply sign some non-aggression pact then this is very bad news for the Shiss. I must remind you, we also believed the report that the Golden are Union now was pure nonsense and yet the Golden Outpost here is now officially a Union trading center complete with one of their fabulous GalNet terminals.”

The secret police man was unfazed and pulled another sheet. “As much as our Masters in the Sky are big and mighty to us, the Kartanian are but a speck to both the Galactic Council and the Union. There are no indications of Kermac or Galactic Union activity in this region of space for the last 200 years with their recent loss of the Nogoll their sphere of influence is even further away from this sector of space. They too are way too busy dealing with a Union that is growing in leaps and bounds. I am sure they would be interested if our Bone Faced friends finally get to blows with the Togar. But it is more likely that they interfere on behalf of the Kartanian as the Togar hate the Kermac as much as the Union does. What we do with the Ithe is what the Kermac do for millennia with their thrall species; I doubt they would interfere on a world as unimportant as Itheamh.”

Again the Magistrate took the page, this time he did not crush it and glance on it. He then said. “That leaves us with what?”

The Secret Police Chief said. “It leaves us with the Union and the Togar. Neither the Oghr nor the Dai who are also powerful forces in this region have ever interfered in such a way. The Dai so rumors exist are firmly allied with our Masters and the Oghr don’t do anything unless they get paid for it and then they do it directly and with open force.” The Magistrate kept looking at the plastic sheet. “The Union was here on official business four years ago. They could have interfered back then, but they left. Their own laws prevented them from taking the plea of the Rebels back then. The Union considers us the Draak the legitimate official voice of Itheamh and unless we go to them, this world is as unimportant to them as a speck of dust. Their Corporations do good business with our Kartanian Overlords and losing Itheamh as trade port would cut in their profits.”

The Police chief agreed. “Of all the Union is the least likely source for the help. They consider themselves the good ones and are strict sticklers to their own laws. I too think it is the Togar, and this Ninety is not a slave but a Togar Agent. Those Cats itch for a fight against Kartania and the sooner the better as the Togar fear that the Kartanian will eventually outrun them in terms of Technology.” The Magistrate rubbed his stalk eyes and said. “That leaves us in between; our Overlords will not permit this world to fall under Togar control.”

With measured moves, the Police chief pulled a third plastic sheet from his brief case. “This is my greatest concern, Your Excellency. I have direct word from the Guild assembly at Kartania.

The Guild Masters already signaled they want to 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 our planet and also one of their outlet and contact worlds."

Har-Hi and I watched silently as the leader of this world asked his police chief. "How long do we have until the Oghr troops arrive?"

The police chief said. “I am not sure, but when they arrive. You and I are no longer needed. The Ithe and the Draak that survive will all become little more than slaves.”

The Magistrate put on his hat and said. “The last word has not been spoken. The puppet is about to cut the strings and we will show the Instigators and the Kartanians that we Draak are the masters of this world after all.” The recording stopped.

The Oghr woman added saying. "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 soldiering very seriously. Their training is second only to Union Marines. Mercy and restrain are unknown to them and they approach Tech level 7 in many areas, especially weapons."

The old woman continued saying. "Rumors have it, the Kartanians paid for 5 regiments, that's a 1000 Orkh each; in full battle gear. We are almost certain five regiment ships left Ooh Planet yesterday. So we estimate them to arrive in six or eight days. Depending how active the Togar are, forcing them to take a longer route."

While I was listening and processing the information with all the attention I could muster, I wanted to scratch an itch on my nose so bad and silently cursed the mass of Bioflex syntho fleshbefore my face and said barely able to keep myself from sneezing. "Hmmm five troop ships you say. Filled with vicious warriors, maybe we can intercept them and blow them out of the sky before they become a problem here. Besides I hope we are done here in five days.”

The Chauffeur said. "This is not all the news I have for 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 fading fast.” He gestured towards the Tele-Entertainment device and a new recording was shown. We could see the two Draak from before enter the flyer limousine. The Magistrate leaned forward. “Cracktik take us to the Peoples Palace and take the scenic route.” We could hear Cracktik respond and the flyer taking off. The Police man gestured towards the driver. “Over two years I am trying to find anything on this ugly Oghr and yet all my efforts show him to utmost loyal and most of all silent. He does not talk to anyone, doesn’t go to bars and does not socialize much with others. I wish I had a man so trustworthy in my employment, but I still think we should close the screen.” A transparent divider slid into place, but the audio visual bug was still in the same compartment with the two Draak. The Secret Police chief shifted his position and looked at the Magistrate. “I know we are in a serious situation, but do you really think we should consider?”

The Magistrate also shifted his position and said. “What else is there? The Ancient Terror will cost our lives and our souls, it might cost the lives of millions but it will confirm Draak rule that is the agreement.”

“You know me as the most ardent defender of our ways and yet even I shiver and fear the consequences. We do not know what it will really do, what it really is. We could simply leave, you know. I have a ship load of Polo coins and several thousand tons of Crystal. A fortune in any place, and I know you have a treasure more than equal.”

“And where would you go? Kartania does not allow Strangers, not even us their puppets. The Togar will have a feast on our flesh and take our Polos.”

“The Union, we could go there.”

“Crystal has not much value there and I know there are Ithe who live free in the Union. They hunt us for what we have done. No old friend. I am the Magistrate and this is my world. I am the law and I tell who dies and who lives here! We have a Terror, a weapon at our disposal that will consume all that stands against us and I will use it!” Again the recording stopped and the NAVINT spy said.

“The Magistrate has spoken about an ancient terror before, something he believes, will secure their victory, but at the cost of thousand souls including his." The Oghr 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 demonor something like that."

Har-Hi glanced at me from the side. "We Dai are more superstitious and I am not so easily dismissing the supernatural. I have seen strange and weird things, but I too am a Union officer and I am certain it can all 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 Moonsby 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 I doubt there is anything your crew can’t handle."

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 Trans Dim 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 Branchon her left sleeve and she straightened her stance and looked several inches taller. She said. "I have so little chance of wearing the Uniform, but it is the first time we are 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 why 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 Saresiitechnology 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’d 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.

The eternal soldier looked as always, tall, imposing and even the avatar projection radiated his invisible aura of confident authority. He looked at me and said. “What’s with the Uniforms and the parade ground antics?” The Oghr woman said with sheer awe vibrating her voice. “We are in the presence of the highest ranking officers. The Admiral of the Fleet, General Cherubim and you Sir! We wanted to honor you by wearing Uniform and adhering to protocol, Sir.” Cherubim elbowed the Eternal Warrior. “That your protégé isn’t much impressed by us is one thing, but you do have that special presence Old Man. Even I still feel it after all that time.”

McElligott waved his hand. “He is way too overrated, besides they are right. A little proper spit and polish and protocol is just fine with me.”

Stahl’s 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, unlike my friend here I appreciate the uniforms.”

The two Oghr still stood in attention even as Stahl gave us the sign to relax.

Stahl only raised an eyebrow towards the Admiral of the Fleet, while Cherubim said to all of us. "You may relax and sit down."

The male Oghr said. "I never thought I would ever meet any of you and now I have the honor and the privilege to be in the presence of three of the Immortals at once." Stahl said. "Lt. Commanders, we are just a little older than others and I am a stern objector to this personal cult thing. Even though I understand it, so please let us 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.

Stahl’s avatar looked at something that was not in this room and the Old Warrior said. “Keep going, I am listening but I've got something to do" and with that Stahl’s avatar disappeared.

Cherubim but her hand next to her mouth as if to whisper and said. “We all just came from a state banquet at Urgotoor, a new member species famous for their fermented foods and our Eternal Warrior overdid it, as tough as he is, he still does not have an iron stomach.”

McElligott giggled almost like a teenager and said. “You see we so called Immortals are still quite human.” Har-Hi put his hand before his mouth to hide his grin. In all this seriousness I too had to agree this humanized these Immortals in my eyes as well and maybe if really had to be one of them, I too could remain human. This little episode was quite assuring to me.

The Admiral of the Fleet became serious again and said. “Now to the business at hand: Even though Kartania is a small fish compared to the Nul, the Galactic Council or the Shiss they are an older culture with decent technology. While there are no common borders between Union and the Kartanians, 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 reliable intelligence-assets inside the Kartanian Conglomerate and so we are forced to 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, that 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."

She got up and a projection of the world Itheamh appeared over the table surface. “We are well aware of the situation, but frankly we have no mandate to interfere, especially not openly.”

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 didn’t go out to change Galactic history, it just sort of happened'."

I frowned at the Old Admiral, as his joke made the other two giggle. So 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 you and 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.

There isn’t a thing more uncertain and complicated then trying to engage in nation building and believing that our values and ethical ideas are automatically theirs as well. So you decided to help and you already put a lot of rocks in motion. It is too late to stop for many reasons, but be aware that 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 and an angry Neo Viking in tight leather britches to change conditions there. You are too young to know this, but we have been in contact with the Kartanians while they still were under the control of that First Engineer. They were as Xenophobic back then as they are now and they have never been our real friends, even while the so called First Engineer was in charge, don't forget that."

I responded saying. “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. "Once you get things like that started it is very hard to find a good place to stop and once events are in motion, be prepared to see them through to the end. You decided to help and that is commendable, but that means you are in charge and responsible for the entire show. They have not been our enemy so far, but if they find out you are Union Officers this could change in a heartbeat."

I had hoped for support and not this stern lecture, but I knew he was speaking the facts and I knew he expected me to be able to handle it.

Cherubim expanded the projection over the table with a gesture until it showed a strategic map of the Coreward sector of the Galaxy and said. "The Galacto-political situation in this region is not very stable. We know 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 at me from under her white blonde bangs and her face, a bio flex mask and not her real face I was certain, did not show any emotion and she slowly nodded. "Ah yes of course, Kaliment could be the world where it starts, but the situation also involves the Nine Oghr Kingdoms, the Jooltar and the remaining Dai Than." McElligott waved his hand and several colorful spherical regions were added to the projection. "There are also smaller and very small civilizations strewn out there and they would suffer greatly from an Interstellar war in that region. Not to mention that beyond Togar space begins space we know very little about. Who knows what civilizations and empires are yet to be discovered, Coreward and Downward is very little surveyed by us and enemies like the Piostlahave appeared from there. They sure gave us all a hell of a fight.” The Old Admiral added saying what Mother Superior had said 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 get involved as well." I had to admit to myself I had not thought of that. McElligott was not done and said now with a slight smile on his lips. "We did put your dilemma before the Armed Forces Committee of the Assembly. First of all you are not alone, we do have your back and we hope we will be able to give you more concrete assistance. Also we think we can buy you a little more time in regards to the Red Dragon. You do remember Klotzky & Harris Freight and Exports?"

My voice sounded deeper than usual as I recalled the ship full of human body parts and I said." How can I forget that ship of horrors?" McElligott nodded and the projection changed. Showing uniformed police raiding a corporate office and arresting people. "Federal Police had, thanks to you, enough evidence to get a search warrant and they found underground slave prisons and terrible conditions. There is also 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 took this news and they discussed it on Pluribus for almost three days. Finally they stopped short of declaring war against Togr. A resolution was made and the Assembly decided that the Fleet should do something about this. Stahl's eyes smiled again as he said. "So we decided to make a little trip through the Coreward sector. The Assembly tasked the fleet to send an Armada and perhaps engage in a few war games and "survey" missions. We are 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 wants us to show a little strength and remind all the locals in that neighborhood, just whose tail they are pulling by eating Union Citizens and forcing sentient beings to work as slaves on Smelter Moons.” He drew a glowing path with his finger over the reappearing sector map, to show us the path this armada would take and he made a small circle around Itheamh System. “As part of those war games, a few ships will visit you there. Itheamh is after all officially an independent world and 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 and I was certain he had read my mind because he did so just in time. 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. While I was fighting my nose, Har-Hi said to the Immortals. "As I understand from the local rebels, there was once a Union ship here before but they left since the rebels did not speak for the entire planet. What difference would a new visit make?" 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 the Ninety Union Fleets that are assigned to that region command. In addition to that they will be accompanied by the First Fleet and of course the Devi. Finally to round things up, the Gray Nul and current ruler of the Nul found this a splendid opportunity to show the Galaxy that Nul and Union are the closest allies now and he is sending the 4th and the 5th Nul Armada.”

He could not suppress the glee he felt. It was one of those things that made the heart of the Eternal Soldier swell. “I am certain the Togar will think it is their time to pay for all their culinary choices, and mobilize everything they have. The Kartanian are forced to do the same as they have no clue what is going on and none of the Oghr Kingdoms will send mercenaries anywhere and keep their forces close if they think we are up to no good. Of course the Kermac will think we going to try to go at them from the rear. So in short this nice quiet area of space will be quite busy. And with a little over 100,000 Union and Nul ships in the region, I think your pirate friends will stay put on that second planet of theirs and pray to whatever gods they worship that we don't take a closer look at that world."

I could not fight the contagious grin and smiled as well. "And the Kartanians will be careful from openly committing any atrocities on Itheamh."

McElligott said. "However, to take such a big show on the road takes time. The logistics alone are quite demanding so it will take us seven to eight days before we are anywhere near Itheamh. Don’t forget we also have to go around Freespace. 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 we are supposed to be Pirates engaging in some revolt and not Union Officers.”

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." I said to him. "Because it is tradition, when you are 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. The Captain has certain idiosyncrasies and so do most of our crew mates. So I am testing which one is most Narth like and yet defines me as an individual. " I glanced back. “I don’t have idio...things!”

Narth said. “You do have quite a few, Captain.”

Circuit giggled. “Getting us in situations like this, Captain is one of them!”

With an almost angry tone I responded. “And you should get into the habit of respecting your Captain more. I bet no one ever says anything like that to Captain Harris.”

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’re 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. Yet humans are very flexible with that and even 45 minutes could still be almost exactly an hour.”

I turned again. "You two don't take all this very seriously do you?"

Circuit shrugged. "Our mission and us trying to end misery and slavery, yes I take this very seriously; 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?" "No Captain."

"You told me you could."

"It's already open. They didn't lock it. There is no force field and only two…” he paused a second then said. “Correction only one…” again he paused for a heartbeat and then spread his arms. “I mean no guards awake. Krabbel is already there and he 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."

He said. “All you have to do is pull the multi spectral goggles over your eyes Captain.” All I could think of was saying. “Smartass.”

Narth looked at Circuit’s behind and said. “I was under the impression X01’s having their positronic component in their heads. Do certain X101’s have their brain there?”

I grinned. “You are a smart ass too!”

I rushed over to the ship and there in the dark shadow of the ship I noticed Krabbel and two tightly packed Draak shaped cocoons. To Krabbel I said, still smiling. "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 I promise. I am sure they are only stunned, not dead, at least for now. If you want them alive we better cut them out in an hour or so before they suffocate." 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? You must duck and walk sneaky and then say clear.”

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 an authentic sneaker spy agent."

I handed him my TKU and said to my friends while rolling my eyes. "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 the entire time. Besides doing things as the Olafson gang again, is simply making us giddy a little I think." I didn't really know what to say to that. She was right; having my friends around me 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."

I said. "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."

I heard Krabbel say to Circuit. “Remind me never to startle the Captain; she’s awful quick for a human.” Circuit responded with something and then they were out of range.

That this was not a Union ship became very apparent. There was no way intruders would have found it so easy to reach the bridge, 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 and made snoring sounds, while the human who I saw only from behind had her feet on the console before her and was dozing. The Draak manned what I assumed was the helm position, saw us come on the bridge and jumped out of his seat. I drew the Coltas. Narth was still carrying my blaster and fired without a seconds hesitation. 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 friend’s TKU blasters. Only now as she stepped more into the light I noticed the light blue skin and the coppery hair of the human, my trigger finger started itching, she was a 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 will make sure you…"

He didn't get further; I fired and perforated 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 even for a heartbeat and I’ll drill holes in you in places you would find very unpleasant."

She dropped to her knees, the muzzle of my gun trained on her forehead. All I had to do is pull the trigger and the Universe would have a Thauran less.

Her eyes looked up and found mine. Whatever she saw made her lips tremble and her small chin quiver. She was young, perhaps my age.

How I disliked these blue skinned traitors! Where ever I went I met one of these bastards and almost always doing something despicable.

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 woman knew how close she had come to dying and she started sobbing and went to lie down as I asked her to do.

Just then there was a soft soundless voice inside my head. At first I thought it was Narth, but the voice was different. It did not have the same warm and brotherly, affectionate quality. It was a cold, inhuman voice. I heard it for the first time at least consciously and 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, life is chaos. Death is order, I am Darkness Eternal."

With all my 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 the 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?" She could not move very much as her hands and feet were bonded to the floor, but she tried to move her head to the side and she 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 generous helping of Stick and glueacross her 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 she responded turned into a mumbling sound consisting almost entirely of the letter m, intoned in various ways. I patted her head and got up. "Maybe I'll even 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. My Archa friend produced a few more of those packages. "

Just as he said that Narth also returned along with the Oghr captain of the ship. The Oghr 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." I grinned and said. "You look just like him, Mao, how about the Mind Dump?"

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. Just tell me what these tusks are for?"

I laughed and padded his green shoulders. “Maybe it is better we don’t know.”

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 and made me gag. 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 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 will change 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 to. 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 has existed. 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 are. 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

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