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Chapter 18: Sobody, First Merchant

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Galactic Chronicles IX: Eric Olafson, Space Pirate
Thegolde
Chapter number 18
Previous Chapter 17: Mini's
Current Sobody, First Merchant
Next CHAPTER 19: Rock Breaker

We approached the Asteroid base of the Golden. Wrecks and heavily damaged ships of various sizes and types floated all around us.

According to Elfi the chatter on the various channels was overwhelming and only with Ship's help was she able to filter through them. Narth and Shea were busy taking scans and making image recordings, as there were ships no one of us had seen before. Well almost, Har Hi proved that the Dai indeed had a deep knowledge of areas and species unknown to the Union.

As big as the Asteroid was, actual landing was not possible for ships of the size of the Tigershark and every possible landing spot was taken anyhow, but the bazaar featured several long mooring arms against we could dock. I didn't want anyone to have the chance to get a real close look. Not that I didn't trust the Narth technology, but I didn't want to take unnecessary risks, either.

Shaka had no problem to guide our disguised ship towards the outmost tip of one of these mooring arms. Magnetic clamps engaged and Cirruit powered the engines down and put them on standby.

I got up from the Command seat and took a deep breath. "Well let's hope we don't start a war. Hans, Har-Hi, Shea, Elfi, Narth and Krabbel you are with me.

To the Y'All I said." Put up a guard inside and outside of the Mooring arm. I don't want anyone to get to close to the ship or attach anything to our hull."

He acknowledged and stomped off the bridge.

To Mao I said. "You have the Conn. If anything happens and we are not coming back, you are under no circumstance to come after us. You are to take the ship back to Richter and report to Cherubim or the Admiral."

Mao took the command seat and said. "Do you expect something like this to happen?"

I shrugged and said. "At this point I am expecting anything and nothing, I just want our bases covered as much as possible."

We left the bridge and Narth said following me. "Don't you think the Fleet does a good job, covering our bases? How could we possibly cover all bases the fleet has?"

Shea said to him, as I was trying to formulate thoughts to explain my expression. "It is a reference to an old Terran sports activity, where points in the playing field are covered by players to perform ritualistic and strictly regulated activities with a little ball and bats."

I wondered if there was anything she didn't know. Even I had no idea where that expression originated.

Wearing our dress Uniforms we went through the Mooring Arm tunnel and into the main body of the Asteroid that had a radius of roughly 78 kilometers.

I wasn't prepared for what we were seeing now. The Asteroid was hollowed out and from what it looked like most of it, forming one gigantic cavern. Terrace style levels circled the walls as far up as I could see. Each terrace had stalls, shops and merchant booths. There had to be thousands!

Narth shook his hooded head and responded to my thoughts out loud as he said. "No there are two million three hundred and forty thousand shops, stalls and booths."

I looked at him. "Lucky for you someone was just thinking about how many there were and you overheard it; otherwise you wouldn't know how many shops there are."

Narth held up a little colorful flyer. "No I have not done so, but one can read this fact in this information pamphlet I pulled from a slot at the entrance."

I had no other reaction but to gently elbow him in the side and saying. "Smart-ass!"

Narth objected that his smarts were not located in his behind and I wondered if it would be possible for me to talk to Narth without using any acronyms, synonyms or words that could have different meanings and I decided that this would be impossible and not much fun either.

The Ground Level was one huge open space, and here too merchants had set up shop. A ship dealer occupied a sizeable area to our right displaying a row of used and new civilian space ships mostly of Kartanian origin, but also a few civilian Union models.

Towards the left, another merchant selling Skimmers and landing tanks. Further to the back, cages and tanks holding live animals including the most bizarre life forms I had ever seen.

The bazaar was not very busy as I assumed most customers had fled. I could see repair crews flying with their material loaded skimmers in every direction.

A group of four beings dressed in shinny golden metal floor length robes approached. Two of them at first appeared to be children, but seeing their wrinkled faces and bald heads, dispelled this notion very quickly. Behind them the other two were very tall, carrying spear like weapons and wore shiny helmets with mirrored visors hiding anything but their chins and mouth. The small ones reminded me of the Kermac I had met on Alvor's Cove, however these beings did not have the characteristic white skin but had a deep gold bronze skin and were only about 80 centimeters tall and did not have the glued on ceremonial beards, all Kermacs had. But like their brethren they appeared to be completely hairless, had big round eyes and small noses and little mouths. The left one managed to look down on us in a very arrogant manner, even though he had to look up to us. He greeted us saying. "He, the all powerful and richest in all the Galaxies, he who carries the exalted name of Sobody, and the most sacred title of Merchant Eldest of the Golden, the Keeper of the consecrated laws of profit and guarantor of wealth has in his great wisdom requested that you in all haste be brought before him. You must know of the rarest privilege to be in his presence, but few lower life forms were ever allowed to gaze upon the being most perfect. You will kneel at all times and crawl to the throne circle and only if you are commanded to do so you may come closer. It is at no point permitted to lift your eyes at him without permission , your presence soils the palace as it is, do not add to the contamination by speaking or gazing. If you do all this I think we manage to get this audience over with to every ones satisfaction."

I wanted to say something but he put his finger on his lips: "Hush, hush be quiet and follow me. Lower life forms must not speak when in the presence of the True Golden. Leave the blabbering to the sales floors!"

I took a deep breath, remembering the words of McElligott and with much effort I swallowed my pride and anger. They took Kermac arrogance to new heights!

I even managed to give my friends a nod to play along.

A shimmering slide walk made of pink, purple and golden translucent moving segments silently lowered behind those four Golden beings to the ground and carried us moments later up in a spiraling way upwards to a sphere like construct hanging without any visible supports in the upper middle of the hollowed asteroid. The sphere was made of diamond shaped plates of gold and glass of various sizes. The Slide way terminated at a guarded double door that led inside this diamond shaped floating building.

The arrogant Golden that had spoken to us said. "Once through that door you are in the sanctum Regalis and in the very presence of he who is Sobody Merchant Eldest of the Golden. You are then to lower yourself to the floor and do not look up." He looked at Krabbel and Hans." Those brutish things shall remain outside!"

The door opened but I did not go. I said "If my crew and friends are not welcome then I am not welcome. Tell that Majesty of your, that it was him who invited us and it was us who saved this place." Diplomacy went only so far. I turned and said. "Let's go guys."

A voice from inside the door called." Most gallant Captain Doe. Please all of you come in; my Chamberlain was more than un-polite of. Please forgive us and come on in!"

The Chamberlain bowed deeply: "Wisdom incarnate! Those life forms are neither cleansed nor properly searched and undressed!"

The same voice snarled. "Be silent, you are dismissed. The times of Isolation have ended for more than just the Narth!"

Sobody looked very much like his Chamberlain only much older and while his face clearly reflected the knowledge of power he did not have the same arrogant quality. I even noticed he had craw feet around his eyes, giving testimony that he liked to laugh and smile.

We entered the floating diamond shaped building. The floor was a white polished stone, curved Columns of the same white material in equal distances all around the curved walls. Mountains of silken cushions and pillows between them, Low tables held fruits and food delicacies from all over the Galaxy and perhaps beyond. Sobody the Golden Merchant made a dismissive gesture

And with it he dismissed the guards and he waited till the doors were closed. Then he said. "Welcome indeed and thank you for your help. There is no question; you have saved this Bazaar and the many lives in it, including mine."

He stopped as his eyes fell on Elfi and he bowed deeply."Had I know such a royal visitor of utmost importance walked among you I would have prepared for a more formal reception. Your Majesty it is an honor to greet thee in my humble surroundings."

I learned then that Elfi could stare and make a face just as arrogant as they and then some. She said with a razor sharp edge in her voice "She who is the Princess travels incognito and wishes not to make an issue of her stand and position. However your Chamberlain's manners were insulting in the highest!"

He bowed again and said. "I planned to punish him for his ill manners before but I assure you will have his head on a plate before you leave!" He bowed again this time before Narth. "It is 12,000 years since I had the privilege to greet a Narth in person."

Narth did not bow and said."You shield your thoughts well but your reputation that you are immune to Psionics and the Golden cannot be sensed is not accurate."

The Golden answered. "We are an old species but what are we compared to the Narth? Since you can sense me you know I mean you no harm. No shield can keep out the probing mind of Narth this is a fact, I will however lower all barriers to freely allow you access, so you know I am truthful and I will come to the real reason I have asked you here." He gestured. "Please make yourself comfortable I have a selection of delicacies and refreshments that might delight you."

We sat down on the pillows across him but no one took anything. I didn't trust the Golden and I didn't really like him at all, but Narth send me a thought that he was honest, at least so far.

The Golden looked straight at me. "I can sense you do not like me, perhaps it is because of our relationship with the Kermac, perhaps it was my doomed Chamberlain and his bad manners and I can't blame you for it, but I hope I can change your mind before this day is over."

I said. "High merchant I am here because I was ordered to be here. I am here because I represent the United Stars of the Galaxies and you are an important representative of another culture and civilization. However I feel there are other reasons why you wanted us here in person, other reasons than to thank us, that is."

He declined his head, smiled and his smile did reach his eyes, then he said. "Indeed this is quite so my young and beautiful Captain Doe." He gestured around him and said. "I am the absolute ruler of those known to you as the Golden. You know we are relatives of the Kermac and given the history between the Union, especially the Terrans and our distant relatives it has always strained any relationship between us the Golden and the Union for quite some time."

He pointed to Narth and said. "The Narth know our true history and I am sure your hooded friend can, if he consults the Narth Supreme, confirm that we suffered much from our so called relatives. We were treated much like the Blue by the Ker and the Mac and had to fight in order to survive the genocide efforts of the Ker."

Narth nodded slightly and in my mind I heard him say."He does speak the truth."

The Old Merchant took a fruit from a side table but did not eat it and continued. "The Union did not like the Blue at first, but you embraced them after they decided to join the Union and I am sure you know there isn't a Union Member who dislikes the Kermac more than the Blue."

Even I had to agree with that, I didn't know any Blue personally but I had talked to members of that species and learned about them in Union class.

He was still talking and said. "As I heard the Narth had abandoned their age old policy of isolation and become more active members of the Union, it gave me to think as well."

He now popped the little blue fruit in his mouth chewed and again focused his eyes on me as he said. "You see, we Golden built our business on the reputation of our Neutrality and by keeping the secrets and details of ourselves closely guarded. We are not immortals but enjoy a very long live span. My own aging process was completely halted now for over 12,000 years now and I have seen empires and species come and go. We travel to galaxies and places no one in the Union has ever even heard off and we do business with civilizations who never heard of the Union. But then something happened that caught my interest, a species of Humans were uplifted by the Sarans and they arrived on the galactic stage not meekly like other new civilizations do, but with a Thunderclap eradicating the relentless Xunx completely. Form that one I could not keep my eyes off them and to put it in Terran words. I became the Terrans biggest fan."

He again motioned to Narth. "As promised I opened my shields and you are welcome to monitor my thoughts to see that I am indeed truthful."

Narth simple and dryly delivered statement was perhaps the ultimate arrogance, but I had to concentrate not to grin as my friend said. "Your shield was not very effective, but I appreciate the gesture and I concur your intentions are of great benefit to us. I shall however leave you the decision to reveal it all."

The old Merchant bowed in his seat. "Thank you. I am glad you let me tell it."

Narth Voice in my head said." He can be trusted, but what he has in mind might cause some turmoil. I let him reveal it unless you insist."

I simply shook my head and thought back:" As long as this is no trap and he gets to the point I agree."

Sobody moved his head and said. "Amazing it seems you communicate telepathically with your captain and I can't detect a thing! Seeing a Narth act almost like a human is perhaps the greatest wonder I have yet witnessed."

Narth surprised me as he said: "Narth Supreme considers the discoveries I made through my friendship and service the highest achievement we Narth attained in millennia. It fills me with personal pride if I am considered to have human qualities."

Sobody sipped from a glass and I nodded to Krabbel. "Go ahead, Narth thinks he is trustworthy!"

Krabbel shrieked and took an already melting ice cream cone from a platter close to him.

The golden Merchant laughed. "Yes I heard of the addictions Archas have for ice cream. When I saw one to be part of your crew I knew I had to have some here." I thanked him and said." Please continue and come to the point why we are here. We learned much but still nothing of the real reason and I am in a bit of a hurry."

He slowly shook his head and he had a wide smile on his lips. "Forceful, a little impatient, Easy to anger, full of pride and never to be underestimated, Captain Doe you are a refreshing example of the exact qualities I admire so much in these evolved Primates of Terra. Please believe me when I say I love your species. There is none quite like it in the Universe I have seen so far."

He took another fruit and looked at it then he said. "I want you to tell your Superiors , we the Golden will join the Union and give you unlimited access to all our files, technology and allow you to set up research posts on all our bases and reveal to you the secret of the ancient gates and how they can be used to travel to other Galaxies. All this we offer under one condition!"

I was quite shocked by his revelation but said. "High Merchant I am only a Starship Captain. I cannot make decisions for my Government and grant or negotiate any deals or conditions, but I gladly convey them!" He seemed pleased as he said. "I am certain you can call your ship and have a connection made. Call that Old Man of yours, McElligott and tell him I want to talk to him."

Elfi made the connection linking Tigershark's Comm. System with my Wrist-PDD.

The Admiral's Holo-image appeared immediately as if he had waited right by his Terminal for this call. Before I could even brief him he snapped. "How did it go? What happened? What did he want?"

Sobody got up walked over and placed himself inside the visual pick up sensor of my PDD and said "I am right here Admiral. We are still in my Sanctum and I asked your young Captain to make this connection."

I extended the wide angle receiver so McElligott could see all we did and projected a field screen so Sobody could see the Admiral better. McElligott slightly bowed to the Old Merchant. "Your Eminence, It is an Honor to talk to you in person. I hope my young Captain has represented the Union well."

The Merchant said. "She has indeed Sir. Let me come to the reason for this call and I will offer you a proposal." The Golden repeated the offer.

McElligott wiped his mouth in an involuntary gesture. "What would that condition be?"

"I want to join this young crew and go on whatever mission they are on. I won't ask for any privileges and be treated like any other crewmember, but I want to be there. I lived a very long time and I feel old despite my bodies eternal youth. I want to soak and sponge up some of that vitality and energy, to be on a Union ship and on real missions. My Council of Elders is fully instructed and ready to travel to Pluribus and do all what is necessary to integrate the Golden into the Union. We will accept Union Law, participate with funds and recruits to your fleet. Give you unlimited access to all our files on alien species and technology. Our Intelligence Service has much to share as well. It will be good business in the long run too, as I am certain."

The Admiral said. "A Battle group is already on its way and will arrive soon. I will order the USS Baghdad to take you aboard as a passenger for a grand tour of Union Space. It is one of our newest dreadnoughts."

Sobody's voice became stronger. "No Admiral. I was not talking about being a safe guarded VIP guest and being flown along safe space lines for a few weeks. I am offering you a great opportunity and I think you understood what I have asked. I want to go with the Crew of the USS Enigma and on whatever mission they have. Don't take me for a fool or lightly. Don't change their mission to suit me. My side of the deal is of tremendous benefit to the Union. My request should be little compared to that."

McElligott wrung his hands as he said. "Sir, this Crew is on a long and dangerous mission. I could not possibly guarantee your safety."

Sobody sounded pleased. "Now we understand each other and that is exactly what I want. I don't want my safety guaranteed. The deal will be complete and unchangeable regardless if I get injured or die in the course of that mission. Ask your Narth. I have no hidden agenda, no alternate motives. It is simply the dream of an old and very rich man, to once more do something meaningful something daring and perhaps dangerous. I want to share a cabin with another Crewmate, scramble at alarm or die in the heat of battle or perhaps simply out of excitement.

Again I am not asking for any special treatment, in fact I do not want any. I might not be a trained Officer from your Academies but I am traveling this Universe longer than you and that Iron hero Stahl together and that should count for something. Besides I am giving you a choice. You do not have to agree. But then as long as I live the Golden shall remain as they were."

"Why now? It seems almost as if you have planned this."

Sobody shook his head vehemently. "No Admiral I have not planned for those little Humans to attack us. Even we had no idea of their existence until they attacked. Our own battle fleet was too far out to arrive in time, but as I told your Captain I am a fan of the Union so to speak and I am playing with this idea ever since I watched you grow as a Civilization. I made definite preparations ever since the Narth have eased their Isolation and came to the conclusion my people need to do the same. It was chance that brought this Captain and her Crew here but I would have asked for this eventually."

McElligott said. "I too must follow orders and I will call you back within the hour. I must discuss this with others. Mr. Narth are you convinced he speaks the truth?" Narth answered. "Yes Sir, his mind is open and it is indeed his wish."

It didn't take him an hour to call back. The President of the Union himself, as well as the Vice President were also present and it was something else to see these VIPs, beamed as Holos from my Wrist Com. The President welcomed the old Merchant and the golden Ones into the Union and invited the delegation to come to Pluribus to make it official. Sobody called in a group of Old looking Goldens who confirmed it all and also signed a Contract to the effect that whatever would happen to the Old Merchant while aboard my ship would not affect the new relations in any shape or form.

It was agreed to send for a mobile extended reach GalNet terminal and I had it brought up from my ship to ease further communication.

The Delegation of Elders would leave right away as soon as the Baghdad arrived.

After the President and VP were disconnected McElligott spoke directly to me. "We had no other choice really and I did give him my word not to alter your mission and so you are stuck with that Merchant. I wish I would see another solution. However he is to be aboard your ship as a Specialist without special duty. You are the Captain and the ship comes first, but if you can try to bring him back alive. Wait for the Battle group to arrive. I am sending additional units to secure that Rock and help with the damaged civilians."

I said with a sigh. "Just lovely, Sir. Bring him back alive, yes Sir."

McElligott shrugged with his shoulders, rolled his eyes and disconnected. I looked at the Golden and said. "You are serious, right?"

He nodded. "I just ordered my entire civilization to basically abandon our way of life and you ask me if I am serious?"

"Yes Sir, because I find your offer is so far out of proportion to your single request. I am sure the Assembly would have granted you your own ship, even built you one and given you a crew of Terrans."

He still smiled and said."You are very sharp and very intuitive indeed. To be honest, not that I wasn't before, but my Circle of Elders and I prepared this step for quite a while. We would have asked for membership anyway, within the next month. Your Union is growing and it is not doing so by conquering others. I seen other Empires and I studied them all, not even the most totalitarian society manages to keep such a high satisfaction and level of content among its citizens. I am not talking about the Klack or the X101 or any single species society, but about empires and cultures that incorporate many different ones." He made a gesture around him. "You noticed my Chamberlain encrusted in age old forms and outdated views of the universe. I am not exalted just because I am rich and in charge of my people. I am not wiser than others just because I was born under the shining diamond or because my father ruled before me. But changing these things is not easy and takes time. Being members of the Union will give the 75 Billion Goldens not only a stable market to deal and prosper, but it gives each Golden the very chance I am taking now and maybe become something else than a merchant. Maybe a doctor, an engineer or maybe one of my subjects wants to reject it all and join the GalDrifts. He or she now has this choice." He spread his short arms."Well soon they will, as I said changes take time, but a society not willing to chance and advance is a society that is doomed. But I wouldn't be the ruler of a society of merchants and dealers if I couldn't use this to fulfill a dream of mine, now what is so bad about this?"

Somehow I couldn't really be mad at the Golden anymore. Narth told me that he was genuine or at least told the truth and I sensed Narth still trusting his words. What he said made sense and while it was a little beyond my expertise, I could not find anything to object to his reasoning. If he wanted his own people to be free and if he wanted to be judged on his own merits rather than on titles and positions, then he hit the right buttons with me. I said to him. "Because you are a VIP, the leader of a society and I am new to this captain business and I am on a very unusual mission with very unusual parameters and having someone along who hasn't finished the Academy, who should not be put in harm's way is not exactly something I am looking forward to. Maybe your wish is genuine but as a Leader you claim to be you see my dilemma, I am certain."

"Captain Doe. I do understand that I basically blackmailed myself into your crew and under your command, but I assure you I am under your command and while I have not completed that marvelous and quite legendary Union Academy training, I am traveling this Universe for a very long time and have some experience in all matters of space travel. I don't claim to know it all and I don't know much about the details being a Crew member on a Union ship. I do claim to be a willing learner and to proof to you that I am really serious about all this. I hereby ask you, without any conditions to accept me into your crew. If you say no, I travel with the old ones to Pluribus and do what I promised to do and step down as the First Merchant afterwards. If you say yes I give you my word I will do whatever you ask me to do, I follow your orders and I do not want any special treatment."

I looked to Har Hi and he nodded. Elfi and Shea also declined their heads and Narth said in my mind. "He has the capacity of deceit and is, because of his race and occupation a master in manipulation. However at the moment he is truthful as a being can be and he really means what he says."

I got up and said. "By the powers invested in me I hereby conscript you, Sobody of the Golden to the services of the United Stars Navy and as a crew member of my ship."

For an old man as he claimed to be, he jumped on his feet and saluted actually quite properly. "Yes Ma'am. Thank you Captain. I accept your conscription."

I sighed and put my hand on the little man's shoulder. "Let us go to the ship so we can fill you in what we are doing and maybe you regret your decision after all."

We went back to the ship and Sobody was following us. As he saw the Y'All behind the Airlock holding four TKU's he shrunk back for a moment in something like fear and then whistled. "A Narth and a real alive Y'All together aboard a Union ship. If those are the wonders I am allowed to see just at the entrance to this ship. I can't wait to see what wonders are hidden deeper in this ship.

I frowned and looked at him. "A genuine Golden Merchant for one. The Big Boss of the whole outfit no less!"

He stepped into my way. "Captain I know you don't like this situation and maybe you don't like me but I assure you I will follow your Orders and I promise no chore is beneath me. If you want Environmental Tanks scrubbed, I will do so with a cheer on my lips!"

Har-Hi thumbed at me. "The Captain and I have our experience with that particular chore and if you do that with a happy cheer on your lips, you are weirder than I thought!"

The little golden man shrugged."Our sense of smell is not very well developed, we usually only smell good business, but my secret dream is coming true and I will do it if you want me to!"

I said to him. "No need Golden Merchant, this is a brand new ship. But maybe you should write a list of skills you got maybe we find something for you to do."

Inside the ship he whistled again."This sure does not look like an old Phobos Class Destroyer on the inside."

Cirruit who came around the Corner said." You sure know your ship interiors." I knew Cirruit just came to quell his curiosity.

The Merchant nodded:" I do, I studied anything I could get my hands on regarding the Union and its equipment."

Cirruit looked at me and said."How long are we going to be here?"

I answered him. "We have to remain until the battle group arrives. That should be about two three days."

Narth corrected me. "The Battle group and the USS Baghdad will be here in 74 hours."

I turned my hands out in a gesture of resignation. "I stand corrected then; our spooky OPS officer gave you the correct answer."

Narth said. "That is what spooky and non spooky OPS officers do, my Upper chest enhanced Captain."

I almost chocked on my own breath."Maybe it is my own fault, giving you Nicknames. I guess I better stick to proper names and titles."

While Har Hi barley managed to contain his laughter and earned a stern look from me. Cirruit said. "Can you grant me Shore leave? I be careful I promise, but I always wanted to go shopping at a Golden Bazaar!"

I said with a smile on my face." You got 12 hours shore leave, denying you the chance to shop here would be cruel and unusual punishment."

Only now I noticed Cirruit had not come alone, a Holdian with pointed nose, round ears and long whiskers in his face stood next to the X101. He was wearing a blue coverall; his coverall and the exposed silky soft fur were soiled with heavy stains. The little Holdian turned a ghastly looking rag in his little paws and then tipped his right to his head and said. "Captain, Ma'am I am Specialist Estree Warner, were you serious that anyone could come to you with ideas and such?"

I nodded. "Yes I was."

He exposed his yellow rodent teeth even further and said."Captain there is this idea I really wanted to tell you about."

"Sure I got a moment to listen to your idea, but first tell me what are you actually doing? I thought we are well past the oil and steam propulsion age and this is a new ship."

He looked down on himself, dropped his ears and whiskers at the same time, his eyes got a shimmering moist quality and looked as if I had scolded him. I wanted to kick myself for making such a cute little Holdian so sad and wondered if they looked like this at a Union judge if they could get away with murder. I was certain they could. The Holdian said "Captain I apologize! I completely forgot that I was still dirty. You see I was greasing the injector spear blades and the push shafts of the upper Chandelier diverter when Cirruit told me we got a Golden aboard so I went along to look to look. I forgot I was still full of NeutroD4 grease"

Shea still with us helped him out. "Crewmember Warner is a Holdian and due to his agility and size he can perform Maintenance work in confined spaces without dismantling the unit. Cirruit has written a report about it."

I nodded. "I am aware of Holdians and had the honor of meeting a very special one only recently. I am not faulting him for working, getting dirty doing it or for being nosy. I simply wanted to know what kind of work required grease on a Starship that supposedly reaches Tech Level 9!"

Har Hi glanced at me from the side. "Have you forgotten our own experience with Silicone grease on the Devi gun deck?"

Before I could agree, Cirruit explained. "In order to control the indirect bleeding and thus influx of Tran dimensional energies that would destroy the controlled flow, a so called Chandelier diverter is pushed through a tube which at its end sticks into another dimension so to speak. A special grease paste is applied to the injector push-rod below the blades as it turns out it is the only way to keep those spear blades moving while they are in the other dimension. Captain, we are the only ship in the fleet with this new type of Drive and it is still very much in its development phase. We are basically writing the maintenance procedures as there is very little documentation we can rely on. My little Holdian specialist knows this drive inside and out. He was there when they built ours and he can get inside without us pulling a service one on them."

I had all but forgotten the Old Merchant until the Old man gasped. "Silver be tarnished! You Terrans actually cracked the TD Energy transfer secret! There are only a handful species in 25 Galaxies who ever did as far as I know. Come to think of it, the Ilwathi of the Leo II Galaxy use special grease for a very similar purpose. I think we even have a dozen barrels of it here and if I remember correctly a case of Ilwathi Spare parts too."

Shea became very interested."I would not mind purchasing it from you, so we can analyze it."

The Golden said. "I am a member of this crew now; the stores of the Golden are open to you. I will forward your request and have it delivered imminently."

I said."While I think we should have meetings in the meeting room and not right here in Airlock Room 4," I turned to the Holdian and said," Please tell me your idea. I have not forgotten you asked."

He started to wipe his hands again and he said. "Ma'am that is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. I was thinking since we are supposed to be Pirates and we might need to entertain guests and all that, our meeting room would be inadequate for this, so we could turn our empty B Hangar into a Pirate Den, you know like they have in those old Three-Dee's. Real cool with treasures in the corners and a skeleton in a cage and all that, besides we do need a place for our treasures and the special valuable loot and then we put in a big table with impressive Chairs and decorate the whole hangar so and we can let guests in through the side ramp and never show them the rest of the ship." I went to my knees and put my hand on his tiny shoulders. "That is actually a very good idea Mr. Holdian. I put you in charge of this project."

The Old Merchant clapped his hands. "It is getting better by the minute! You are going to be pirates?" I simply told him the entire story, just leaving out a few technical details and he listened and became quite serious. "I don't like pirates on bit." He side glanced to Har Hi and added."I don't mean the Dai; they honor their opponents and don't slaughter the innocent. I did hear about this Red Dragon of course who attacked Outpost 96 so recently and I seen reports of my own Intelligence service, just how vicious and un-proportionally violent he is towards his victims. I don't know if you know but we Golden deal in anything, except Sentient Life forms. Slave business is prohibited and we deal with our own who violate that quite severely."

I knew he spoke the truth. I remembered the Golden Slave dealer on Alvor's Cove. He rubbed his chin."That Barracuda was here indeed just a few days ago and I am certain they went to Brhama Port that is an Asteroid Base much like this one and it is run by an independent Bassett family of Roid-Miners. It is also a known Pirate base as there is a backdoor into the Union nearby.

I also know of a Dealer on Sin4 who has Loki torpedoes. Next to the Translocator Cannons, Loki Torpedoes are the most desired Mil Tec there is. No other species has anything comparable.

The Pirate known as Red Dragon was here, trying to buy spare parts and new ISAH pods. His shinny and unique ship didn't look so shinny and new when he was here. His ships aft section was severely damaged."

Listening to Sobody I realized to have him aboard might proof to be more valuable than anticipated. He seemed to know much about Freespace and what was going on here. To hear about a backdoor into Union Space was quite disturbing. It also became clear I would have to return to Sin 4.

I was so distracted by my own thoughts that Narth had to call me mentally and telling me that the Golden was still taking to me. He said."Now that I know your secret, I am sure you might object, but if you think you can trust me please let me out once more. I want to go with the little Holdian and help him get a few things and treasures worthy of a Pirate of your reputation. In order to blend in, we must visit the various Pirate hideouts and the Trade markets on Sin 4, Alvor's Cove and many other such places. Pirates and the other scum goes there to brag, buy parts, sell or purchase ships and of course turn their loot into profit and Polos. It is at those places they band together for raiding parties and pack attacks."

I said. "Mr. Sobody we can't really keep you prisoner and so far Narth trusts you and that has more weight with me than anything else. So yes I trust you too."

To the Holdian Specialist he said. "Would you accept my company, since you are in charge of decorations and that is what we going to get!"



Har Hi came into my office and said: "The Battle group and the Baghdad have just arrived."

It was Three-Four the Non Corp who called me just as Har Hi had told me the news and said. "Sir, we are being hailed by the USS Baghdad. Captain Changpu Rong is on Fleet Chanel for you."

Since Three-Four was on the bridge, it was already Second Dog watch, meaning it had to be past 0600 hrs. I took the call right from my desk. "A human female Captain became visible on the screen. She wore her black hair in a similar style as Elfi, but had more slanted eyes. She actually smiled as she saw me and said. "Good evening Captain Doe and nice to meet the Captain of the USS Enigma, I am Captain Rong and I have direct orders from Fleet Command to take charge of the situation here and you are free now to continue with your mission."

I thanked her and briefed her on the non classified parts of the situation.

After I had talked to the Battle ship captain, I had Ship switch to external visuals and I could see two majestic white Union Hospital Ships drift into view, deploying D20 shuttles in Paramedic configuration. A huge Fleet Mobile Repair Dock dropped moments later out of Quasi Space; an enormous disc with large tractor-projectors and manipulation arms able to plug entire ships out of space and place it onto the repair platform and repair even the most damaged ships.

Har Hi who stood next to me and put in words what I was thinking as he said. "It is amazing; sometimes I think it is this incredible efficiency of our Union that makes all the difference and not the Battle ships. That 14,000 meter MRP to me just as amazing as the Devi, and it is not an alien product. When I was a boy my father often told me about Hospital ships and the Fleet tender Units the Union had and like so many other Dai I laughed and found it a waste of resources to have ships dedicated to the care of sick, but I learned that the Union is far more envied over these by others than Battle ships and Translocator cannons."

I agreed with him and called the bridge. Fective answered from the Conn."Yes Ma'am?"

"Call all personnel back to the ship that is still on shore and prepare to undock within the hour."

"Aye Captain."

Har Hi said. "You have been to Hangar B lately, right?"

I shook my head."No I have not. I was busy coordinating the rescue efforts. You know yourself I spend more time out there in a suit than I care for. I for one am glad the Baghdad and the other ships are here." I paused and looked directly into his snug face. Why, what have they done?"

He shrugged and said."I don't think I have the correct vocabulary to describe it, but I think you might want to check it out."

I followed my Dai friend to the IST. "What did they do?"

"It's really better you see it for yourself."

We left the Inter Ship transport a few seconds and stepped into the central corridor of the ships Hangar and flight deck, also called the Equatorial deck as it was in the middle and by volume the largest deck section of the Tigershark. A big Marine so loaded with boxes he could barely see almost bumped us. He obviously did not see who he almost ran into because he said. "Sorry mate, just coming on through!"

He went past us and disappeared behind the massive double doors to hangar bay B.

The Tigershark had four Main hangars bays. Bay A was meant for the four Wolfcrafts we had yet to receive. Bay B was supposedly there for a compliment of six Thor Gunboats, also still on the list of things we still missed. Bay C was home to the Gazelle Recon Craft and our four Goliath Landing tanks and Bay D held a D20 Shuttle as a Multipurpose Science and Survey platform. Each Hangar Bay was 70 meters long, 50 deep and the ceiling was 20 meters from the bay floor

From the other side of the corridor where the big freight elevator was, came Hans and the massive Y'All and they both struggled with a huge crate that would have been a challenge even for a big Load handler.

Har-Hi pointed with his chin towards the Two and said to me."It is going on like that for two days now. Every time I come down here I feel I am in some sort of freight forwarding center. I doubt there isn't much left in that Bazaar."

Unable to predict what would await me, I took a deep breath and stepped through the big door, that was parting before me, but had to brush a heavy velvet curtain aside before I could actually see. I stopped dead in my tracks as I looked around. It used to be stark empty with hexagonal shaped armor plating and x shaped support frames. Now the walls were draped with heavy crimson and black velvet curtains. The ceiling sported a wall to wall picture of a space battle scene between the Silver Streak and a Shiss Armed Trader vessel. It looked more like a scene from a cheesy Space Holo than reality. I also noticed Narth floating way up there putting finishing touches to it.

In the center of the former Hangar bay was a massive looking round table of at least ten meters in diameter and had the appearance to be made out of a dark silver metal. The table surface was richly inlayed with artwork that could have been straight from the Nilfeheim Book of Traditions, if the muscled heroes struggling with monsters would have been human. The entire surface was stylized like a wagon wheel of old, segmenting the artwork into 24 areas. Twenty four golden spokes started at the inner ring and ended at a central nave.

Around the table I counted 25 oversized high backed matching arm chairs, richly upholstered with black leather. A twenty sixth chair was even taller than the others and featured the skull of something large and wicked centered on top of the backrest.

Six meter tall braziers stood in equal intervals all around the hall. They were made of twisted dark metal, must have been dreamed up by a gothic artist who spend most of his time thinking about torture and claws; as they looked as if a dozen serpents or so completely intertwined fought each other with hooks, claws and spiny thorns. Dark red flames flickered smokeless out of bowls mounted on top.

Above the table hung a chandelier that matched the tables design and each of the chandelier arms held a glittering diamond shaped dragon head, projecting light on each of the tables segments.

To the left side stacked against the wall, at least fifty large transport chests, several of them open overflowing with Polonium Coins. Metal barrels stacked filled with gemstones, gold coins and jewelry. To the right side several stacks of Saresii silk bales, each worth many thousand credits along with a pile of furs and other luxury fabrics.

In between those treasures, stood solid looking racks of steel and wood holding an arsenal of swords, lances, rifles and energy weapons, a collection it seemed representing every known and quite a few unknown civilizations.

Huge Saran floor vases, made of black alabaster and gold, a statue of the Saran death god Seth holding a sharp looking wickedly curved sword were only a few of the art and antique objects that decorated the room, I could identify.

I saw Cirruit standing at the opposite of the bay directing the little Holdian who operated a hand held Tractor Crane projector manipulating a large an exceptional ugly stone statue depicting what I thought was a headless, very fat Shiss female, in a prominent place.

Cirruit noticed me as I came closer still staring at all the things and even though his face was expressionless as always, I knew he was deeply satisfied. He stemmed his fists into his hips and said." What do you think Captain? This is the famous Venus of Milo, a priceless pre Astro Terran art object."

I looked at it closer and shrugged. "I don't know it sure looks like a headless pregnant Shiss to me."

He sounded almost offended. "Captain, this is priceless art from a Terran Artist named Donald Duck, he lived on the Planet Coney Island and was famous for his work, all over the Moon! I remember each detail the Gellurian Art dealer told me."

I said. "How can it be Terran art if he lived on a different planet?"

Har Hi held his chin while he looked at the statue with crossed arms. "You know I have this perfectly good genuine rock made of real rock, barely used and I was told it came from a river on Terra. I let you have it for a spot."

Cirruit protested. "And you never told me you have such a thing? How much do you want for it?" I slowly turned taking it all in. "This is really some work you all put in here!"

The golden Merchant, wearing only a pair of pants and a shirt, with dark grime all over his face crawled from underneath the table holding a polishing rag and a tub of metal polish and he smiled all over his face in deep satisfaction. He wiped his brow leaving another streak of sod and he said. "I am glad you like it Ma'am. This table is over half a million years old and was made for the council room of a once mighty but now forgotten kingdom. It's made of nineteen tons of pure platinum and eight tons of Gold, not to mention almost a ton in Rhodium inlays. The Spokes and Chairs are enriched with Rhodium inlays. So is the Chandelier. I doubt even your famous Schwartz Industries has a more expensive and impressive conference table!"

He held up his polishing rag."It doesn't look much now, but once I get it all shiny you will see how pretty it will look!"

Cirruit shrugged: "I told him we could Nanites do the cleaning but he insists that an antique like that needs to be hand polished!"

The old Merchant said. "So what do you think Captain?"

Everyone stopped working and looked at me. I noticed that the tail of the little Holdian twitched while he looked at me with anticipation from his big black button eyes.

I looked around once again and then said. "I think it is marvelous, beyond anything I imagined. Do we owe someone a huge bill for all this?"

Sobody looked insulted. "Captain, with all due respect you could not even begin to imagine wealth I have amassed in 18,000 of your years of being the leader of a merchant and trader society. I think I might even be a close second to this Rex Schwartz. He isn't the only Centillionair as the Union press always claims he is, you know!" He pointed at the treasures and said. "This is but a small token to express my gratitude that you are so readily accepted me." He then pointed his rag at Cirruit, "If it is permitted, I must however teach your Chief engineer a thing or two about the honesty of Bazaar merchants, especially Gellurians!"

I laughed. "You may try that indeed. But you all did a tremendous job. I think we should have all our conferences and meetings here. And this should be our mess hall. Yes we will have our daily dinner here; someone needs to work out a rotation schedule so all crew members can eat here."

The Holdian said perplexed."Captain did you mean all crew members? Officers sharing a table with enlisted?"

I nodded "That's right. We eat here, all of us. There are 360 of us, counting Officers, Crew and Marines. We got eight Watches and they rotate so everyone has same chance to eat the Dinner meal here, there.

Narth said. "That would be 14.4 dinners or every crewman would eat here every 14.4 days."

The Holdian clapped his little hands. "That means I eat here all the time, after all I am the point four crewman right?"

Everyone laughed, even Har Hi

I said."There is room for more chairs anyhow, it's a big table and not all of us need that much space."

Elfi's voice interrupted us. "Captain, a pirate has just attacked 25 minutes ago. 211 light years from here and in Union Space"

I headed for the door and said. "Har-Hi see that everyone is aboard. Cirruit get your engines hot and get Shaka on the bridge. There is nothing we can do about the attack, but we start hunting now!"

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