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Chapter 1: Brhama Port

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Galactic Chronicles Book X
Chapter number 1
Previous GC 10: Eric Olafson, Stars ship Captain
Current Brhama Port
Next Chapter 2: Back on Sin 4

The Tavern was called the Mother Lode and had been chiseled and burned directly into the rock of the Asteroid. The floor was metal grating placed in metal frames over more rough rock, Something small skittered between the small pieces of waste and garbage that had fallen through the slots in the floor. The bar occupied much of one side of the tavern while a viewport featuring a good view of one of the Asteroid bases mooring arms covered the other side. The shabby looking Tullerman brand 25 meter Dinghy that had been part of the Mighty Nine's equipment, now moored among a dozen much bigger ship , three of them known pirate ships. One of them was the Swift Profit.

The tavern was filled about to half its capacity with the roughest looking bunch of humans and non humans I had ever seen. The air was putrid not just because of the strong and alien drinks but also by body odors of unwashed and unkempt individuals of a dozen species or more. I had decided to scout the base and scope the situation before officially arriving with the disguised Tigershark. I wanted to see and feel how other Pirate captains talked and acted. For this Har Hi and I had disguised ourselves as Freespace Scavengers, a disguise suggested by Sobody. Scavengers were mostly ignored and at the bottom of the feeding order of the galactic space faring community and so we were pretty much ignored here on Brhama Port.

We had settled down on a quiet table in a corner and nursed our drinks while keeping our eyes and ears open.

Har-Hi was for the first time in a true disguise, Shea and Elfi had done a great job as he looked now like a dark red furred Jooltar, a canine species distantly related to the Attikans. Unlike the Attikans they did not live in the Large Magellan Cloud, but were a small independent species that lived beyond the Kartanian Conglomerate and known to have stolen most of their technology instead of inventing it. His outfit was pieced together from several sources and didn't look too new. That the costume he chose had to be red was something he insisted upon.

I was made up to look like a black Nogoll. Since Nogoll space was not too far from here, and the black Nogoll didn't fare to well in the still recent Union Nogoll conflict,this was a good choice for a costume as encountering a black Nogoll in Freespace wasn't unusual. Har-Hi had dropped a few small Polo coins into a slot next to the table and selected a simple battle strategy game that was now displayed on the table surface. We played it and apparently paid no attention to the surroundings, but we both carried Nano fiber periscope optics and directional microphones. My Nogoll horns carried the optics and the large Nogoll ears the directional audio sensors. Har-Hi was similar equipped and that allowed us to focus in on any conversation and watch without appearing to watch at all.

The barkeeper was a three armed Pertharian. Either his business was not very good or he had other problems saving money for a cybernetic replacement or a re-grow therapy. He tried his best to keep at least the glasses and the bar counter reasonably clean, as he kept polishing glasses whenever he did not serve drinks.

Two more Pertharians came in and sat down at the other end of the tavern. I was around those giants long enough to notice the Barkeep was not too pleased to see them and he didn't speak to them.

It wasn't long after they had arrived that a man with distinctive Dai features appeared. He even wore Dai armor; his was not red, but black, and adorned with purple panels. His harness did not carry a clan Glyph.

He looked around and went straight to the table of the Pertharians. I zoomed in on that table using a subdermal sensor track on the side of my index finger and rubbing my thumb over it. The other Horn of my bioflex mask contained the latest in NAVINT communication technology, a picto-burst GalCom and with it I was connected with the Tigershark. So they could see and hear what we did. The images were directly sent to my visual nerve.

Har Hi whispered in my ear piece and said without moving the jaws of his fierce canine predator mask: "That is a ancient Assassin armor suit, that the Mar-Do tribe was famous for. He wears it in a way that makes me certain he knows how to use it, but he is no pure blood Dai from the looks of it."

Through the crisp optics I saw him placing a complicated folded small piece of paper on the table and one of the Pertharians produced one that matched it.

The half Dai spoke and I could hear every word. He said to the two giants: "It is quite foolish to dress up like Petharians. There is hardly a more loyal species to the Union and only a handful ever went astray and there is already one tending the bar and carries the price of his betrayal openly. His family most likeley ripped out that arm and he has enough honor left not to replace it, seeing you with all four is not sitting well with him I can tell."

So we weren't the only ones pretending to be someone else. I mused and wondered if there were even more like us and them. Who would dress up as Petharians?

One of the giants spoke to the man: "We are aware of this but our size restricts us to just a few species we can portray. It is, however, pleasant to meet you once again, Damon Honsu. We would not agree to meet anyone else."

So the Half Dai had a name. Shea flashed a message over my display and it read: "Intel report on Damon Honsu is very sparse, but biometric analysis confirms he is half Dai and half Asian Human. Ship is certain to 99.99 percent that the voice is created and not natural. Chances are he is not what he appears either. Analysis on the false Petharians is more revealing and we are certain these are Nul Agents."

I acknowledged her report with a blink and focused on the dialog on that table that turned out to be much more than a chance meeting of Pirates or Freelancers. The man called Honsu said: "This is Brhama Port, Guys. You could be all yourself and we could meet up at the nice places and talk all day long and as loud as we want. There are no Terran Spies aboard this base. The Bassetts Family doesn't like the Union at all. I am here to see what the chances are for you to meet with my Kermac contacts."

The same disguised Nul answered: "We are not really interested in meeting the Kermac. For it disgusts us to deal with these squealing, self important, meddling dwarfs. We don't like the Union either but we much prefer them over the Kermac and if the Union ever decides to move against them, we won't stop them."

Now the second disguised Nul spoke saying: "However. two developments concern us greatly, we believe you can help us with the first and we might consider information exchange with the Kermac regarding the other event."

I had to remind myself to move my piece and keep pretending to play as the conversation went on.

Honsu said: "Can you be more specific?" The second Nul answered: "The First Gray born in centuries has disappeared. Grays are of tremendous importance to us, but this one was born to our longest reigning ruler. It was seen as a sacred omen, that a Gray was born to the Wise Leader and he was chosen to be our next leader. He has been trained and exceeded the greatest expectations in all aspects of fighting and learning."

"Part of this process is the Purification Bath in the Holy Ashes of Narl Gatu, our first Civilization. To do so, the Gray entered the purification sleep and was sent aboard the Narl Tompe Barge on his way. The prince never arrived at Narl Gatu."

"The Nul Realm left no trace unchecked and we came to the conclusion he had been abducted, captured by Pirates or Freelancers daring to infiltrate Nul space. We believe he is still alive and somewhere in Freespace and we will pay you to find the Prince. You have six months to find him. After that we will search for him and no planet and no asteroid will be spared in our search. Of course that would mean the end of the Freespace Treaty, and war."

I held my breath under the warm fur mask and for a moment forgot to play the game. There was the potential of Intergalactic war discussed on a shabby table inside a low class tavern only 30 meters away from us.

The man in the dark Dai armor said: "I will do my best if he is alive and in Freespace. I somehow doubt it though. Could he not been taken by the Shiss or the Union?"

"The possibility that it was the Shiss is still considered and, if we find evidence it is so, then we will resume our efforts to annihilate all that is Shiss. While it is not completely impossible that it has been done by the Union, it is very unlikely as they would much rather test our resolve with entire fleets and test our strength by provoking large scale skirmishes."

"I will keep my eyes and ears open. If there is a Nul warrior kept prisoner or sold in Freespace I should be able to hear about it. Can I ask how you even know he is still alive and in Freespace?"

"It must be so. The Seer of Narl Gatu said we have six month before our Prince, who according to the Seer is in a strange land, will transform forever. The seer was brought to the last position we knew the prince was and he pointed towards Freespace."

Now the first Nul spoke again and added to the conversation by saying: "Our leader believes it means that the Prince is transformed from being alive to being dead."

The Half-Dai snorted and made an amused facial expression as he said: "I thought your investigation was done with sensors and tracing perhaps engine trails. You place too much trust in a Seer. I know a thing or two about Psionics and no Psionic gift can predict the future. Maybe he simply went off course and burnt up exiting Quasi Space too close to a sun?"

The first Nul in his disguise said raising his voice: "He is no Psionic user. We Nul have no talent or use for it. But the Seer has always been correct, always!"

Honsu waved to the Barkeeper and ordered Thil (I knew Thil was a watery, weak beer drink simulr to a traditional Dai drink.) and then leaned close over the table and said to the disguised Nul agents: "Let us talk about the second event then. The one you mentioned could make you consider a meeting with the Kermac."

It was the second one who answered: "We like to make it clear that we might only agree to some information exchange, no more."

Honsu shrugged and said: "I am only the enabler, I make the connection. What you then discuss or agree upon concerns me not."

The first Nul said: "The Golden Ones are no longer Neutral. As small as this Civilization might be, they have considerable technology, immense knowledge and contacts to species none of us have heard about. Their resources easily equal those of any of the Big Four."

Honsu put down the mug he had just received and waved his hand. "Are you sure this is correct information? The Golden are synonymous with neutrality and have been so for eons. Have they decided to join and side with the Kermac?"

"We are surprised you have not heard of it, Damon Honsu. The Golden Ones have applied for Union membership and it was granted just a few days ago. They are now full members of the Union. We just received message from our Diplomat at Pluribus. The Message traveled per GalNet to Bokta World, a Union Outpost where we maintain a trading post and was then transmitted via Myon Corresponder to Natu Toth, our Throne world. Since we do not have the benefit of instantaneous messaging as the cursed Union does, all this happened about 3 weeks ago."

The voice of the Half-Dai was no longer sounding as certain as he had before as he said: "Could it be a trick, propaganda or false information? Sobody the First Merchant would never agree to something like that."

"Would we be here and considering a meeting with the Kermac if it was a trick? Sobody the First Merchant has retired. A delegation of Golden Elders is still on Pluribus. We are still trying to gather more details, but the entire Golden Fleet has been turned over to Union Fleet control and we know from reliable sources that the first Golden Spheres have been seen on their way to Arsenal, to be fitted with Translocator Cannon, no doubt."

Honsu cursed. "Violent gravitons, Gantoor's ghost be damned, Golden Spheres are almost equal to their Battle ships already and their sensors are second to none."

The second Nul spread his upper arm pair: "Not to mention that we have information that the Narth begin to share some of their technology. With all this, and once the Golden fleet is integrated, they might listen to their Warrior Admiral and attack and be done with all Kermac and perhaps all Nul-Nul once and for all."

The first Nul sounded just as concerned as his partner as he added: "With the Union that strong, and getting stronger by the day, all it takes is a spark or an incident and their Assembly will call for war. I have been a diplomatic guest during the last Union Week and I have seen their parade. So we agree to meet the Kermac and discuss what options we might have to address these developments."

The Half Dai got up and said: "I will make the arrangement and contact you with the details of where and when this meeting can be held, but first I will search for your prince."

With these words he left.

I wished I could follow him and find out more about all this, but something else happened and prevented me even contemplating how to accomplish that. The Barkeep stomped from behind his bar to the table of the two disguised Nul and pointed all three of his arms at them and said with a loud voice: "I don't like anyone mocking me or my species. You are not Petharian; you are something else in disguise. Now why would anyone come to this station pretending to be Petharians? Maybe you are Union spies!"

Now everyone in the Tavern was paying attention and almost everyone was pulling weapons.

Both disguised Nul got up, toppling the table doing it and the first raised his hands. "We are not Union!"

The Barkeeper growled with anger saying: "You are also not Petharian!"

"We are Nul. We had no intention to insult you, but we will not be threatened."

Before the situation escalated, three men in Kermac Battle suits stomped in, they looked exactly how I imagined Half Kermac half humans would look and their leader said: " We are Bassetts and we welcome everyone on our Rock, except spies of any kind, be it Nul, Union, Kermac or from wherever else. We also don't allow fights with power weapons, so we want you to leave now and don't you ever come back."

I had the strong feeling that this was a staged show, pre-arranged in case the Nul would be discovered. The Barkeep however was satisfied and so were the patrons.

This comotion however also served the Half Dai to slip away.

I gave Narth the signal to move the Tigershark and announce ourselves.

It didn't take long and one of the station's owners a man with distinctive Kermac features in his human face walked over to a big table where Captain Swift and another Captain drank with members of their crews and my audio pick up overheard the Half Kermac say: " It might be of interest to you but we just retrieved the docking request of the Silver Streak, commanded by Black Velvet and she is towing in the Mighty Nine as a prize to sell."

Captain Swift I identified from the security images from the Danny Houston. He was human no doubt, but I believed he also had some non-human genetics in his DNA as he appeared unusually tall and his skin had a yellow hue. He looked up and said with surprise in his voice: "Are you sure it is the ship of that cut throat Volting?"

An Oghar with elaborate decorated lower jar husks and rough scaled skin touched one of his gold and jewel encrusted teeth and said: "I have heard much about this Velvet, but nothing really substantial. No one has really seen her, no one knows if she is the same one that was supposed to be active 500 years ago, or someone using the same name."

Swift shrugged: "I haven't seen her either, but I know she is on the top ten wanted list of the Union and that takes some serious crime and they don't put ghosts on that list."

Shea informed me silently:"The Oghar is called Crimson Curse and his ship is the Bloody Mary. He is one of the most successful and experienced pirates of Freespace as he has been in business for over 40 years."

Now my disguised ship became visible in the bright flood lights of the mooring arm. It was the first time I saw the ship disguised like that from the outside, and despite the crudely added ISAH pods and the welded armor plates, it looked quite dangerous. Hans and a team of my crew had taken command of the Mighty Nine and docked it right beside it.

Everyone in the Tavern was looking and the Oghar said: "It is the Mighty Nine alright, looks like she's missing one drive pod and someone clipped her claws real good, two turrets gone and the third damaged. Looks like the Silver Streak has an excellent gunner."

The Captain of the Swift pointed at my ship and said: "That old Kartanian has some serious fire power. Nul Froth Casters aren't easy to come by and even harder to install. Those ISAH pods look old but I bet my eyeteeth they are Type XI, and with four of those, I bet she makes 350 to 400 klicks to the square second."

Har-Hi and I used the distraction to silently leave our table and enter the ghastly washrooms of the Tavern.

Narth was right on cue as he appeared and teleported us back to the ship.

Shea who was dressed as Black Velvet to pose as me for the initial contact with Brhama Port greeted us on the bridge and said: "There were no problems at all, they granted us a mooring permit, but requested that we pay a mooring fee of 500 Polo Coins for each ship."

I said: "After Har-Hi and I change, we will pay them a visit and stay untill the Swift Profit leaves. That ship will be our next target.


The Half Kermac sitting behind his desk eyed us suspiciously as I placed a plastic bag with the 1000 Polo Coins before him. He had the same paper white skin and the characteristic small nose and mouth of a Kermac, but unlike them, he did have black hair and eyebrows. His eyes, I noticed, were neither Kermac nor Human and looked more like the reptilian eyes of a Shiss. He took the coins without counting and placed them in a drawer behind him, and then he said: "You have never been here, Captain Velvet, but you have a reputation that precedes you. The rules here are simple. We like the business your kind brings, but not the trouble. Fighting is allowed but not with any energy weapons or similar destructive devices. I don't think you are interested in mining, but I tell this to all newcomers to Brhama Port. Don't raid mining camps or ships around here and don't start rogue mining on your own. If you need fuel we sell that for 140 Polo Full weights per standard 1023 Nogto Bulb. That is about 500 Nul Roos or 992 Union Kilos." He spread his arms."That is about all there is, welcome to the Shattered Star System of the Bennett family."

Har Hi, Shea and Narth were with me, and all three stood behind me with crossed arms. Narth actually wore a black leather and steel armor over his shroud and even carried a Nul Gravitor rifle over his back. His face and head hidden, behind a black helmet with mirrored face plate, he had borrowed from Three Four. Har-Hi wore his red Dai Leather with all the knives, weapons and swords in place. He had covered the Glyph of his Clan.

Shea wore a shoulder free bodice of white leather, matching over knee boots and a fur cape that looked much like my old Fangsnapper coat. She had her hair tied in a pony tail and wore a white half mask up to her nose. Beside the long Attikan Sniper Blaster she carried her mysterious sword. In my opinion she looked dangerous and very sexy at the same time.

That there was plenty of human DNA left in the Half Kermac was evident as he had a hard time making eye contact with me and shifted his eyes to my chest. I said to him: "Indeed I am not interested in mining but I have a spare ship I would like to sell and was told it could be done here."

He nodded. "To be truthful, you will not get the same price you would get at Kaliment or Sin 4, but I am sending my brother Kooornt, and he will check the ship. I will contact you later today with the price we are willing to pay."

I agreed that this would be acceptable and left the Asteroid Managers office.

This time we openly went once more to the Tavern. The barkeeper eyed us with interest for about five seconds, took our orders and lost interest after we paid him. We found ourselves a table and sat down.

I had no clear plan what we should do next and at this point I decided to just stir the pot a little and wait to sede what would happen. One point on my agenda was to put the Bennett Family out of business permanently. If I could manage to somehow destroy this Asteroid Base it would take away a Pirate Base and Hideaway. The fewer bases and posts they had to hide at the better, and these so called 'miners' aided and enabled these crooks by providing these services.

However I could not do it openly as Black Velvet, but perhaps a few well placed timed charges going off a day or two after we left would do the trick.

The Oghar Pirate and the Captain of the Swift Profit were still here and it looked like as if they contemplated talking with us.

Captain Swift got up and walked over, made a theatrical bow and gesture, tipping his forehead: "I am Curtis Swift, Captain of the Swift Profit and I assume you are the famous Black Velvet. Since I assume we might be in a similar line of business, I thought I'd introduce myself."

I eyed him up and down and said: "And what line of business would that be?"

"Doing what I please and taking advantage of opportunities that might present themselves. A little of this anda little of that and not particularly caring about anyone else or their rules."

He pointed at the big table: "This is called the Captain's Table and I am sure Crimson Curse would like to get to know you. He is the ugly Oghar over there."

Before I could respond, everyone turned to the sudden noise at the tavern's entrance. A rowdy looking crew entered, led by a flashy dressed humanoid with blue skin. It was without a doubt a Thauran. How far must I go to not meet any of those blue skinned bastards was the question I was asking myself? He was accompanied by two Oghar males and three most likely real, mangy looking Jooltar warriors. That there were also four more blue skinned Thauran three males and a female in that group explained the noise and the air of self importance they displayed.

I wondered why the Thauran did not join the Kermac, they could hold competitions of self importance and arrogance and my money wasn't on the Kermac as to who would win.

Narth said in my mind: "That is exactly the reason I doubt the Kermac would want a thrall species that was equally as good as they in the only field the Kermac really excel."

I formed an answer and expressed my surprise:"Never did I think you would say something like this. Not that I mind, but sarcasm wasn't something I associate with a Narth."

His thoughts felt slightly amused as he said: "One might point out that we shared the Hugavh and that means I slowly adapt some of your characteristics too and secondly it is we Narth who observed many of the civilizations for a very long time, and the Kermac have inherited this haughtiness and superciliousness from the UNI."

"This arrogant, self-importance is of course not completely alien to humans, especially those who consider themselves of Noble origin. Now this is a concept I have spent much time analyzing and have yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion."

I watched the new group and so did everyone else, including Captain Swift. I said to Narth silently and on our shared mental level: "I don't completely understand it, yet it is in a way also part of my heritage, being of an Old Clan on Nilfeheim is something similar. I also don't think all nobility is bad. Look at our Princess, she can switch it on and off just like that, and then there is Shaka. He never makes a big deal out of it but I met his father, the Zulu King at the Diamond Ball and he radiates authority in a way I can only describe as noble."

Narth didn't respond but I knew he was contemplating what I just had said and put it through his incomprehensible way of analyzing things.

Now he responded saying: "My way of analyzing things is not completely incomprehensible, Shea understands it well."

I wanted to tell him, that not everyone had an IQ of 400.

When Captain Swift rolled his eyes and said to me: "That is Captain Dentar Bloom of the Roughnir. Even among our colorful and free society of space-faring professionals he is not the most pleasant individual."

Dentar Bloom yelled to the barkeeper: "Solik, Tambark and Brohmir Sweat to my table and bring plenty, you three armed cretin!"

They sat down at a table not far from us and the red and yellow dressed captain looked around with a disapproving expression in his face and then waved at Crimson: "Of all the ugly sights in the Galaxy, you my dear Crimson are the ugliest. Be so kind and switch chairs so I don't have to look at you!"

The Barkeep came to our table to serve us the drinks we had ordered and the loudmouth complained: "I ordered and expect to be served first. Don't waste time with the riff raff!"

The Barkeeper turned and said: "First pay the tab you left from the last time, eighty Full weights!"

Bloom put his hand on his boarding saber, but not pulling it, said: "The Solar winds and the Blessed Blue Virgin were not with us the past few months, but I have a hold full of nice things this time. We will make good profit on the market on Sin 4, but I needed to stop here for fuel."

"I pay you when we come back. So I think you will extend our credit now!"

The Barkeep pointed with one of his arms to the ceiling and to a set of remote controlled Neuro Rippers and said: "You don't scare me Captain Bloom, pay up or leave. This establishment is for paying customers."

This obviously didn't sit too well with the flashy dressed Thauran. He talked to one of his officers and the Oghar left.

He then said: "I guess I have to do a little auction. It looks like well heeled Captain Swift is here and so is the famous Crimson Curse. One likes to eat and the other likes to rape. So I am thinking I hold a little auction right here and now."

The Oghar came back and dragged a beautiful white Togar female behind him. She wore a metal collar and both her hands were attached to it with short chains, making her choke at every move. The cruel metal band had rubbed her raw and there was crusted blood all around the collar. Her legs were kept apart by a steel rod that had cuffs on each end, allowing her to move only with small steps.

I didn't like Togar and only a short time ago I wanted to kill them all, but seeing this poor female treated like that made me wish I could twist the head of that blue skinned bastard.

Her eyes were big and green, and she had a pink nose, that reminded me of the little Holdian Commander. This female could not talk as she was muzzled with several layers of tape around her short snout.

The three armed Petharian protested saying: "Are you insane, Bloom? The Togar aren't too far from here and they can send war ships just fine if they think we allow Togar females to be sold."

With a dismissive gesture, Bloom said: "She is an outcast, she said so herself. She is a wanted criminal and I could get good money for her from any Togar male. She might be good in the Arenas but you all know how nice a Togar female can be to human males, if she is properly restrained of course. Now I know you, Captain Swift, and that's why I brought her in. The opening bid is 100 Polos."

As disgusting as the sale was the lusting gaze in Swifts face and the dirty jokes and unveiled fantasies of the miners present was even worse. It was one of them who said. "I give you the 100 Polos."

Swift immediately countered with a bid of 150. I had forgotten my own drink and my hand was reaching for the butt of my gun, when Har-Hi put his hand on my arm and shook his head almost unnoticeable. He was right of course and I would not jeopardize our mission by starting a fight underneath looming Neuro Rippers. Not for a Togar, I didn't like in the first place.

The price was at 600 Polos now and it looked like the burly looking miner had the deeper pockets, as Swift was not raising his hand again.

I said: "1000 Polos" and almost surprised myself, but I couldn't let her be sold into a fate so cruel. Maybe I could keep her in stasis and later let her go somewhere safe.

My bid put all eyes on me and the Thauran Captain noticed me, saying: "Who are you? I sell to anyone but you have to have the cash."

"I got the Polo's anything else is unimportant."

Swift said. "She's the famous and mysterious Black Velvet."

The Thauran made a mocking bow and said: "A Thousand Polos, Full-weight, have been bid for this wild, soft furred promise of pleasure. Do I hear any other bids?"

Narth whispered: "Hans and the Golden are on their way with the money. What do you want done with the Togar female?"

"Have Cateria check her out and then I guess put her in Stasis till we can let her go somewhere safe. Maybe we can find out where she belongs and see if we can get her as close as possible."

"This might prove difficult, as she isn't what the Thauran claimed she is."

"She isn't Togar?"

"She is, but I think we might have purchased what you would call big trouble."

I didn't like what I was hearing and silently responded: "Can you be more specific than that?"

"I shall accompany her to the ship and probe deeper and then let you know."

Hans stomped in, and his massive appearance silenced the crowd for a moment. He looked frightening indeed in his version of a pirate costume. He wore a crisscrossing harness similar to the one Har-Hi had, across his enormous chest, but his was made out of flat links of Ultronit steel riveted on thick leather, with a full sized Nul Gravitor Cannon across his back. His knee high boots, also reinforced with armor plates, had the appearance that he could kick a battle robot to scrap. The knuckles of his gauntlet style gloves sported metal spikes and he wore a skull tight leather mask that left the chin and mouth open, with a crest of needle sharp looking metal spikes. He looked like a nightmare version of a dungeon Torturer right out of the horror Visuals that Mao loved to watch.

Sobody was almost unnoticed. He looked the same as always, but his bald head sported a ghastly cross shaped scar. From my adventure on Alvor's cove I knew it meant he was an outcast of the Golden society.

The metal grating of the floor was vibrating and made the glasses on the tables dance as Hans came to my table and placed a small heavy chest before me.

Sobody unlocked it with an electronic key he wore around his neck and bowed before me. "Captain, your purse, as requested,

I said: "Pay that Thauran 1000 Polos."

Captain Swift whistled through his teeth as Sobody opened the chest that was filled to the brim with Polo coins packed in clear plastic bags and handed the speechless Thauran two of them saying: "Two bags of 500 each."

Narth got up and whispered to Hans, who took the struggling and terrified looking Togar cat like a toy doll, and left the place.

Until now it had been quiet but now Bloom, looking at the two bags of money he held, said: "By the blessed Blue Virgin, that I call no-nonsense business. You seem to run a tight ship and have gathered a capable crew, respect, respect!"

The three armed Petharian held out two of his hands. "Now that you have money, I think you need to pay your tab."

Since the Barkeeper held the remote control of the Neuro Ripper in his third hand and the projector heads moved with an audible hum, targeting the Thauran, the blue skinned Captain obliged, but he didn't like it one bit as was evident by his facial expression.

Then he came closer to our table with his crew right behind him. He eyed the heavy chest and said to me: "You would not be in the market for 800 tons of fine Togar merchandise?"

I sipped at my Dai Beer and said: "No, I am not."

"You see, I have a hold full of that stuff, and it will sell on Sin 4 or at Kaliment for good money. The trouble is, I am a tad short on fuel and these tight Bassett Bastards don't give credit."

I raised my head and looked at him: "And why are you boring me with that. I am sure the miners here always have a need for cheap laborers and after a year or two you'll have enough money to buy fuel, I suppose."

He sucked in air and said pointing his finger at me: "I don't think you understand, female. I eat the likes of you for breakfast. I am going to take that chest now, and if you try to stop us, my men will do the same to you what we did to the Togar female."

Har Hi said."Touch that chest and you touch nothing again with your own hands."

His men drew weapons and he said. "Do the math, Dai, ten against three." The Barkeep yelled: "I don't care what business you have among each other, but no Energy weapons. If you want to brawl with swords and knifes be my guest, but you pay for any damages."

Now Crimson Curse got up, smashing his fist onto the metal table so hard it left a sizeable dent. "Enough of this! Freespace is shrinking by the day and the places our kind can rest and trade are not as common as they used to be. It is you trouble makers that spoil it for the rest of us. If you have quarrels duke it out Captain versus Captain as it is our custom."

Almost everyone in the Tavern got up, except for a few miners. It appeared Crimson was here with most of his crew. Bloom raised his arms. "Well, so be it then. I fight the female and get the Polos, what a splendid suggestion Ugly Crimson!"

Har-Hi shook his head. "That is a bad idea. Reconsider. Fight me instead!"

Bloom laughed. "If she wants to play pirate and fly with the big boys then she needs to fight herself. I have no problem spanking her into submission."

I got up so fast my chair flew and crashed somewhere in the back, flipped myself over the table and raked both of my boot heels across his face. My training, both at the academy with Master Alamea and the instructions and mental uploads I received from the Sojonit Sisters, merged into an instinctive style all my own, and I could almost act faster than I could think.

Still in motion I hit the floor and spin kicked the Oghar right next to Bloom for good measure.

Bloom had both his hands before his torn bleeding face, as I grabbed him with my right hand. I was now wearing the Saran Gloves. Elfi had taught me their secrets. It was an ancient and horrible weapon developed by the Sarans many thousand of years ago, based on an alien technology the Sarans had found and kept secret. Touching the side of the glove with the thumb activated it and as soon as it made contact with a living being it released a biochemical gas that interrupted all nerve impulses. Bloom withered away like a cut flower in fast forward.

Har Hi was right behind me, both swords drawn cutting three of Bloom's men down and a fourth stared at his arm stumps, his hands lying on the floor still clutching a blaster.

Our constant cross training showed that Shea was no longer just a science geek but a force to be reckoned with as she had her strange sword at the throat of the second Oghar, cutting pieces out of his armor with little flicks of her wrist.

Even our Golden turned out to be much more than just an old man of a dwarflike species. He moved his hand and arm in a strange motion almost as if he threw something, and then pulled at an imaginary string; the effect was deadly and gruesome. One of the Thauran crew members fell to the floor cut in half!

Sobody glared at the remaining men and said to his dead victim: "No one pulls a dagger on my Captain!"

I looked around and said: "Anyone else thinking I can't play with the big boys? Step on up!"

All this had happened so fast that Crimson was still standing. Swift whistled again. "Holy shit!"

Har-Hi carefully cleaned his blades with a piece of silk he always carried and said as he put them away. "I did warn him, I might have just clipped an ear off him."

Crimson sat back down and said: "Good riddance to Bloom, maybe we can drink in peace now. You Captain Velvet, of course, are welcome to join us here at the Captain's table."

One of the surviving crewmembers of Bloom's group said: "What of us now, are we to report to your ship?"

I nodded. " That's right. Go get everyone and report to the Silver Streak."

Har-Hi said: "I'll make sure they are properly accommodated."

I was sitting at the Captain's table as a representative of the Bassett family approached and said: "I am Kooornt Bassett and I can make you an offer for both ships."

I pointed to the Golden and said: "My Quartermaster will take care of that."

Sobody grinned from ear to ear and went to a different table.

Swift said: "You certainly live up to your legend and then some."

Crimson quaffed another tankard of Oghar brew and ordered a plate of Lum-Lum Chews and then he said with his deep growling voice: "It is a good thing you dealt with that Thauran. Otherwise I would have. He was just like that cursed Red Dragon and his Sinister Alliance, stirring things up too much." He looked around and leaned forward. "He keeps poking the Union like he did, and they might simply roll in. and then all our days are counted."

Swift shrugged. "I was considering flying to Itheamh, finding out where their secret meeting place is and then joining the Sinister Alliance. There are rumors they plan for something big."

Crimson took one of the Lum-Lum but did not eat, instead he said: "What need do we have for alliances? Is it not the very reason that we do what we do to be free of other men's rules? What good did his last big raid do him?"

I shrugged and played the uninformed. "I took a long tour and haven't been in touch with the news lately. Did they attack a Union outpost or something like that?"

Crimson chewed with his massive jaws and gave Swift a side look from his small yellow eyes and said after he swallowed:L "Aye he did, Outpost 96. Huge Pirate fleet, and a decoy fleet full of ground troops to boot, filled with every gun wielding scum he could hire on Sin 4 and Itheamh. Barely defended he claimed it would be, and yet he got his arse kicked, by a bunch of Wolfcraft Fighters. He was the only one escaping with nothing in his holds but air. If he has some personal vendetta against the Union, let him do it on his own. I'd rather be dead than fly with his Sinister Alliance." He grabbed another Lum-Lum and bit into it with resolve.

Swift drank a greenish thick liquid that smelled strongly of fermented fruits and said: "Maybe you are right, you're in this business longer than most and you're right from what I heard, and all he got was serious damage to his wonder ship and nothing in terms of profit. Well, he did thin the competition."

The Bassett Brother came to me and sighed, pointing at Sobody who looked as pleased as a Nubhir wolf that got the big bone, ad said: "Smart move, Captain Velvet to have a Golden do business for you. If we had continued haggling I would have been lucky walking out of here with my pants still mine."

Sobody got up and came over as well. "I am going with my friend Kooornt and make sure we get paid."

I smiled at him and said: "You did well, I assume?"

"Considering the location and the small market, yes Captain."

After they left Crimson finished a sixth Lum-Lum and said: "Well I am off to go back to business and I suggest you both do the same." He leaned forward once again and lowered his voice as much as he could: "This region isn't going to be safe much longer."

Swift made a surprised face. "Why are you saying this? This is still Freespace!"

Crimson touched his jeweled encrusted gold encased tusk. "I have it on good authority that the Dai Lord Cam Elf-Na united over 2000 clans under his leadership into one massive mega clan. It is said he is out for revenge. Anyone guilty of dealing with Dai artifacts will feel their wrath. The Bassetts made a killing on Dai scrap, as you know, and he will need lots of raw materials for the Dai Factory Ships when he attacks the Union, which I am certain is his next move."

Swift waved his hand."I actually heard the same rumor on Itheamh, the Bassetts have a defense alliance with the Togar and they aren't far from here and the Togar do keep their contracts, their Queen is known for it."

Crimson placed a few coins on the table and said: "I care not what you believe, but it would need more than two thirds of the Togar fleet to defeat 2000 Dai Clans and I doubt the Queen will make such an effort to defend such an unimportant partner as the Bassetts. I think Cam Elf-Na has the power to take on almost anyone in Freespace now. No one is really safe. Not Sin 4, not Itheamh, not the Kartanians. It would take the reunification of all Oghar Kingdoms to stop him and that won't happen even if the Galaxy turns its spin; and if he moves across into Union Space he will cut a swath of destruction before the Union can stop him. In any case this area of space is soon to be too hot for any individual space ship."

With those words the Oghar Captain left.

Swift said: "I am heading for Sin 4 and two ships are safer than one, if you're heading that direction, Velvet, we could fly together."

I nodded. "As a matter of fact, I am going that way too. So yes, it might be a good idea. I am leaving within the hour as well."

That suited me just fine and if everything went according to plan, he would arrive on Sin 4 inside my Cargo bay and inside a Zero Stasis Box.

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