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Eric Olafson, Fleet Cadet
Ch22-into
Chapter number 22
Previous CHAPTER 21 : Demons
Current Into the Nebula
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Chapter 22: Into the NebulaEdit

That response caught me completely off guard. Was this some sort of holographic projection? Was this a life from that perhaps mimicked or copied the personality or voice of the victims it killed or perhaps ate? Why could things not stay easy and normal around me? It seemed there was always another door opening revealing something completely new, always when I thought I had something figured out. I opened the response channel," Alright let us assume for the moment that I believe you and you are Gwenn. Did you eat her and now use her memories to trick me into something? On the other hand if I judge the situation correctly it was you who tore those ships apart and you somehow being Gwen is the reason I am not shredded to bits."

I was sure there were other options and my captured junk pile was well armed, including a few of those Ult Gravo Mines. I was contemplating releasing two of them and thus trap or even destroy that creature. However beginning hostilities with a new life form was clearly not what a Union Officer was supposed to do.

"I am Gwen. I am Commander Brown, Eric. I have more than one shape and this is my true form! "

"I am opening the cargo bay door. Not that I am very comfortable doing so, but I doubt we have all too much time. If the previous owner of this ship explained his buddies what happened we might have a few pirates on our tail soon."

In vain did I try to find a remote control to open the Cargo door and the ships Computronic was no help, claiming to have no circuits to do so for me.

What weapon should I take to meet the demon like creature? Thor fought Sutr with his hammer and Odin had his mighty sword. Somehow I wished I had Mjördaren with me, as the TKU blaster felt inadequate.

The Pirate's ship small arms collection was impressive but nothing really better than a TKU, at least from the stuff I could identify. So I went down the small, damp smelling corridor and into the small cargo hold.

After I had cycled the air out and pressed the door opening controls, I pressed my teeth together and hoped I did make the right decision.

The thing looked even more frightening. It was not so much how it looked, I had seen renderings of Demons at Hasvik, but the fact that it actually existed. That it emitted flames in an environment where there should be no flames and that it had parts of its body that looked like sections of fresh slaughtered beings. It had horn like extensions much like the Nogoll but much bigger and twisted. Bright white energy like fog wafted out of a horrifying maw like breath from a raging Fangsnapper in a cold Longnight winter. It had four arms with razor sharp claws, but quite distinctively formed like a human hand complete with four fingers and a thumb.

Communication was impossible as the emergency space suit function of my uniform did not include a tachyon radio.

As it came closer it did shrink steadily and I noticed the large wings and was certain this creature could survive in space but was not at home there. Appendixes of any kind were pretty useless and I was certain that even in the densest part of the matter cloud there was not enough for wings to be of any use.

It now was only about twice the size of a man as it passed the door halves. I closed the doors and that started the air cycle as well. The creature kept shrinking and changing as well! It shifted and shimmered into a naked woman that looked exactly like Gwen!

I folded my helmet back into the collar and we stared at each other then she said. "Permission to come aboard?"

"Permission granted."

She wrapped her hands around her firm looking small breasts and looked cold and miserable." I will explain it all to you, but can I find myself something to wear? It is very cold!"

"And that's from a being that just came from deep space and looked as hot as an active volcano."

She sighed." It is more than a shape shift, Eric. I am now one hundred percent human female and we do tend to get cold easily."

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It actually took us almost an hour to find something for her to wear, that was reasonably clean and somewhat suitable, but a trunk stored in the stuffed mess hall was filled with pre packed mechanic coveralls and one fit her reasonably well.

As she was done putting it on she wanted to say something when the ship jerked violently. I ran back to the bridge, almost certain knowing the reason.

I didn't bother to check; I manually raised the shields to max and accelerated in the first best direction. I needed a few moments to orient myself and hoped to gain enough time that way.

Now I took the time to sit down in the Helm position and checked the scanners. As I expected the two other pirate ships had found us. My randomly chosen course was taking us straight for the matter expanse and whatever botch job the engineer of this ship did to the engines was quite impressive, that Kartanian rust bucket accelerated almost as good as the brand new Sturgeon I had lost and took us out of their weapon range for the moment.

Of course I could not maintain this kind of acceleration even with the reinforced shields of this ship, the matter was getting denser and the shields were getting strained.

I leaned over to the Tactical controls and with the tips of my fingers I released the two Gravo mines, with a 2 second delay. I hoped they would pull a big ball of matter behind us, completely masking us from their sensors.

Gwen appeared and said." Let me take Helm, I know this place and the secret path."

There would be time later, at least I hoped to ask what she meant, but now I simply let her do what she wanted to, got up and placed myself behind the other console.

My plan had worked, the Gravo mines created a dense matter ball, but as amateurish the pirates were in trying to capture me, as good they seemed in piloting ships in this soup. One of them was just coming around the outer fringes of the dense cloud I had created behind us. Whoever piloted that ship was very good, skimming the fringes of the Gravo mine effect envelope with virtually nothing to spare, but that put him in a very bad spot, because I executed part two of my escape plan and fired the FTL into the dense matter ball. Volatile gases and matter pulled by dense gravity didn't need much to ignite! My shot had created an intense fire ball behind me and a new temporary micro star. The other pirate was too close, his shields already strained. The pursuing ship disappeared in the blinding light. What ever happened to the other I could not say but if they were around their sensors would be completely blind towards us.

I turned my attention to what Gwen was doing and noticed she flew the ship in a complicated course through a nearly invisible path of less dense matter deeper into the nebula.

INTERLUDE: NelsonEdit

Nelson was more than a giant Computronic. It had been built by SII Intelli-Systems and an army of the finest X101 Cybertronic engineers. It was designed by Mother Machine herself and it was without question the most advanced artificial intelligence system in the known Universe second only to Mother Machine herself. It was built inside Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. It was one of seven such systems, networked to each other, but Nelson was the core system.

It lacked true self-awareness, something the system engineers carefully avoided and prevented. The Nelson Operation and Management (NOAM) team consisted of the finest cybernetic talent.

Neuro Electronic Lead System Operations Navy processed and managed the incredible flood of data created every Second by the United Stars Fleet. Every report, every material request, every personnel decision was analyzed, stored and filed. Despite its size and efficiency it turned out to be too small and overwhelmed by the flood of data. Reports slipped through, requests delayed. True Quantum computing had been pursued since the early 21st century but a real quantum level computing system that did not turn sentient and therefore dangerous had not been developed. SII experimented with Bionetic alternatives and used such systems for years were deemed unreliable.

Admiral Dr. Holman knew all this as he was one of the four System Administrators of Nelson. He had just finished his daily conference with Mother Machine; a System he would have married if that would have been possible. Mother Machine was the only thing he loved more than Nelson. It was his opinion to simply relocate Nelson to Factory and make it an extension of Mother Machine. She would know how to introduce sentient qualities to Nelson and control the system at the same time.

Mother Machine kept refusing and the Union council for Fleet Control was also opposed to this idea.

Holman was certain the answer did not lie in a bigger system, but in making Nelson sentient and allow the system to live up to its potential. The true problem was not the system but the inadequate beings operating it and interpreting the data.

While he made a few notes and send work orders to the appropriate engineering teams, he never questioned the suggestions Mother Machine made, even though he hotly debated them when she was online with him, and had them implemented.

Mother Machine always complained about his lack of objectivity and called him a love-struck sack of carbon based cells, so he argued her suggestions, just to keep her happy and did what she wanted anyway. He was not System Administrator of Nelson because he was a fool; he was a true genius with a level 12 intellect. He graduated with highest honors of the University of Cybernetic Engineering on Factory, the only Terran Human ever to achieve this feat.

While he was working he padded the dome shaped dome shaped NELSON interface on his desk. The chrome metallic shape was only one of many such interfaces but despite all his intellect he was still human and illogical emotions ruled his behavior as much as his brilliant mind did. Like soccer ball sunken halfway into his desk, this shiny chrome object was Nelson and he padded it like a proud father padded his first born son.

"I hate to interrupt you, Admiral Holman," said the well-modulated artificial male voice of Nelson." But I have a logical problem here that seems impossible and frankly I need the help of a biological brain to sort it out!"

"You never interrupt me and you know you can call me Barry when we are alone."

"Logic dictates that when a being is doing something and is addressed by a third party with a matter unrelated to the activity, it constitutes as an interruption. So I do interrupt you quite frequently and we both agreed that we should maintain a level of professional distance to limit the danger of emotional based errors and judgments."

Barry Holman sighed." You sound more like a Narth every day."

"Perhaps this is due to the fact that we now have a team of Narth Experts working on improving my capabilities until we can migrate to Nelson II."

"Logic also dictates that I am now completely disrupted and if you present me with your problem maybe we can discuss it, so I can go back to implement work orders. Despite all the marvelous improvements the Narth suggest, Mother Machine's suggestions hold much merit."

"Then it comes to no surprise to you that Mother Machine finds the Narth level of engineering so far advanced that she herself will implement some of their Ideas."

He leaned back." Please tell me about your problem."

"There is a request order for a Translocator Cannon Manual coming from Bone Yard 79. It has been signed by only one authorized Officer. The signature is authentic except it missed the mental wave component, signed by an Officer known to be 1200 Light years away from the place the signature was filed."

"This is serious and indicates fraud and perhaps a case of espionage. As serious as it is it should not represent a logical problem to you. I am sure such attempts happen often and you should report this to NAVINT with a red flag since it involves Translocators."

"I have already done so. The problem I have is that the Issuing Technician on Bone Yard 79 reports that Admiral Swybar made a whole list of material requisitions including Cerberus Robots, Loki Torpedoes, Attikan Engines and so forth, yet the signatures point to a former Assistant of said Admiral. I checked the visuals and even though the person has an altered appearance, I am certain to 99 % that it was Admiral Swybar who made the requests. Motion patterns, retina pattern, behavior and voice patterns all match. Yet said Admiral was executed."

Holman activated his GalCom terminal before even answering Nelson. He used a special one digit emergency connection and said to the appearing Navint Officer." We have a Level One Tech breach at Bone Yard 79. Someone unauthorized, masking as a former Admiral has acquired Level One Mil-Tech and is in the process to acquire more. Bone Yard 79 is also the depot for the RAMA project! This is a Level One alert!"

To Nelson he said." Scan all reports about Admiral Swybar. I want to know who executed him, what happened to his body and who requested his remains. I want to see every requisition form he or anyone of his staff has signed in the last five years!"

"Yes at once!"

Holman then turned back to his GalCom Unit and said." Direct Connection to Admiral McElligott!"

Chapter 22 Continued:Edit

She programmed the Nav Computer with perhaps the most complex course I had ever seen, and she did so out of memory without the aid of a Nav Calculator app. She engaged it and only then turned around." I am sorry Eric for putting you through all this, but I will answer all your questions."

"Ma'am, I have so many questions and even more suspicions that I have a hard time to decide where to begin." My voice sounded angrier than I wanted it to be." I have the sneaking suspicion I did not fall asleep all by myself. I don't think that Nav Computer of the Sturgeon failed all on its own."

I pointed a finger on her." Now I don't know who or what you are, but overwriting a Nav Computer on a Navy Computronic like that is not easy and I expect your sister on Pauli Station to be in on this."

She simply looked at me so I continued." Again I have no idea what you are but in doubt I will go by the book and you seem to be a serious threat to the Union and the Fleet and I should arrest you and have Union Command figure it out."

She sighed." I know how it looks to you and you are not so far off with your suspicions, but before you arrest me please open your PDD and activate your Order chip!"

Again she surprised me, this time with a response I did not expect. However I did activate the PDD. The Order chip automatically engaged." Cadet Olafson, time and spatial coordinates verify that you have reached the Igras Nebulae and that you have penetrated it further than any Union officer before. If all went according to plan you are now on the way to a secret planet called Coven, it is the home of a civilization with the same name. Not much is known about this civilization, other than they are to be considered as powerful and advanced as the Narth. Given this potential they present an opportunity and a danger to this Union like few others. You are in the company of an avatar or representative of said culture. Your orders are to obtain as much information as you can about the Coven and represent the Union on our behalf. Why such a mission has been given to a Cadet will be discussed when you come back, until then we expect you to act according to the training you already received and to the values we all live up to. Signed Admiral Richard Stahl."

Gwen nodded." Our existence is not known to many, but Admiral Stahl and a few others do know about us. I am a loyal Union Officer and hope my kind will soon join the Union."

I raised my hands." I still have no idea what this is all about, but even if all this is true and Fleet command knows about it, why me? Why not send an experienced Xeno contact team, I am but a Cadet. I am sure Admiral Stahl has enough cloud to send anyone!"

"We are not like other civilizations. We are not millions, but less than one hundred. There is no need for a public vote we simply decide if it is right for us to join. I was asked to find someone I think would represent the Union well and I met you and found you be perfect."

"Just like that? I am not a perfect specimen to represent the Union or the Fleet. I am flawed!" I blushed." You know about it! You have seen my personal file."

"That is part of the reason you were chosen! We of the Coven might even have an answer to your burning question and your gender."

"What has this to do with anything? I still don't see why me? There are the Saresii; they are experts in this kind of thing."

"The Saresii know about us! They have legends and pre conceived ideas about us, we wanted someone who is free of all this. Someone who has no preconceptions about us, most sentient beings are utmost terrified seeing our true form and cannot see beyond genetic and cultural implanted stereotypes. You have seen my true form and you have not acted in panic or fear but given me a chance."

"With all due respect, I might be from a backwater world but I have seen some strange life forms already. One of my friends is a Non Corp. His true form puts your fiery self to shame. He might not have this demon shape quality but I am sure he could take on such a form as easy as he takes on human shape. I had a Shaill Xeno Bio Instructor at the academy. A two meter, slime oozing slug with eyes on stalks, able to mix the most deadliest psycho drugs with a mere thought and command to his own body glands and I have seen something that is far more frightening, mind boggling and wonderful at the same time than you. So comparing you to all that, your true form isn't all that frightening."

Gwen looked at me with big eyes." I don't exactly how I appeared to you. Our true form cannot be seen by beings of this plane. Your eyes and senses give us a proximity shape and each being sees us different, genetic inherited fears about demons, devils and Hell are put into form and shape and cause terrible fear and horror in those who see us. You are only the second being of this universe that looks beyond this fear. Maybe it is as you say, the children of man have grown long beyond their primeval fears and fantasies being exposed to the incredible diversity life has taken in the Universe."

I actually smiled." Ma'am, I would lie if I say I understood what you are trying to say, but if you say I saw you like I expected Sutr the fire Demon to look like then you are spot on. I was raised in a society who believes in such things, but it is also the hallmark of a real Norse to stand tall against such denizens of the deep. As much as it might disappoint you, but appearing in your true self on Nilfeheim would not cause all that much panic, but start a fight among the men who would be chosen to fight you!"

She sighed." Terrans, you are so different from all the other beings in the Universe! Every other society fears and flees if they come face to face with what they believe are demons, Terrans want to fight it!"

"I don't know much about Terrans, Ma'am. I can only tell about the backwater Norse Neo Vikings of Nilfeheim!"

"Your kind has left Terra before any Aliens mingled, your Norse have stayed isolated ever since and as much as you are children of Nilfeheim, you are guests on that world and your blood and DNA is a true and undiluted Terran as can be. Sorry Eric, but as much as you think you are of Nilfeheim as much are you a true child of Terra."

"Well since it seems you know more about us than I do, why not telling me exactly what you are? If I get you right you say you are indeed Demons, the kind that bathes in brimstone and tortures souls in the name of Hel?"

"We are demons indeed that are perhaps the closest description or term. Imagine the Universe like an Onion if you will. Each layer of skin is composed of an incredible number of parallel universes. Each universe holds a finite number of elements, atoms, energies, particles and time. Each universe represents a possible combination of all those elements. In another Universe Eric Olafson might be an Attikan, or a Shaill. You might be a girl or a rock in yet another; there is a Universe where you do not exist at all because the elements are combined in such a way that prohibits all life.

And all these Universes are separated by layers and conditions of space, incomprehensible by your senses of sight and mind. This is why you need special equipment to navigate in Quasi space and sensors and scanners that look down into your own universe. No being of this universe can look out the window in Quasi Space and see anything. It is eternal darkness, yet ask a Narth they will tell you that Quasi Space is anything but dark, anything but empty and yet Quasi space is in spatial terms only a film thin layer between the other dimensions of space and time."

She paused for a moment to give me time to keep up and I felt I was once more in a class of Trans-spatial physics where a Level 10 intellect teacher tried to make us understand the basic mechanics of our trans-dimensional technology we used every day." I think I follow so far, as long as you not try to ask me for a test later and put into an equation what you tried to tell me."

"No worry, I am at a loss to understand what these Meta Math and Trans Dim Physic experts talk about. I am just a being from such different Universe that does not mean I understand it all. Just let me explain it to you as much as I understand it myself."

I motioned her to do just that, and so she continued." Now my kind was actually just a group of female beings from another Universe. We do not know if we have been human or humanoid, most of our memories from our Home universe are lost. Our universe was ruled by what you would call magic, not technology. Of course these are merely terms to describe the same thing. We had and have the ability to channel the energies of a dimension we call the Nether region. The opposite what you would call Hyperspace, a layer below the one you occupy. Not that the terms up and down really mean much in terms of spatial temporal layers of existence. But it helps to understand if I say that all these Universe bubbles swim above this nether region and if you know how to penetrate the veil that separates it all, you can travel, using that nether region, to all the other universes."

She stopped again and sighed." I am losing my threat, but it is so hard to explain something like that, because I barley understand it myself. What I wanted to say is that we were a group of females, fighting with means of what you would call Magic against others. We, as well as our enemies channeled energies and the powers of beings living in the netherworld to do our bidding. The fight we fought reached a point where it was clear our very universe was doomed and bound to be destroyed. We searched for way to escape the imminent doom and found it by transferring ourselves as a group into the Nether regions. Thus we removed ourselves from our universe and escaped its destruction. What we did however violated the RULE. Because in the greater order of things, the Universes must stay separate. Nothing that belongs into one Universe is to be allowed into another. Each universe is balanced and introducing something from another Universe is like introducing a virus, something foreign and something that disturbs the balance."

"What is the Rule?" I wanted to know.

"It's basically a set of natural laws that govern how all works together. At least that is how I understand it." She checked the course and seemed satisfied with the result." Now we of the Coven escaped the destruction of our universe but were more or less unwanted guests in the Nether regions and we were eventually expelled into this, your universe. We lost much of our knowledge and memories of the old universe and we are still connected to the Netherworlds with our physical appearance as there is not a single atom left over in this universe for us to use, every molecule has its place and use and technically we have no business being here, so we use a compromise and occupy the bodies of beings of this universe and share it with its true owner. It is a symbiosis as we are able to exist in this universe and the other part gains virtual immortality. So I am really Gwen and I really am something like a demon. A being from another realm, not able to exist in this without her, we are very old but not indestructible."

I swallowed." So you say there really is a Hell, a place with demons and such?"

"No I am saying there are the netherworlds and there have been interactions between our realms ever since time began and these interactions are the source of all those faery tales and mythological stories you humans and all the other beings of this realm have. Your ancestors could not explain thunder so they imagined Gods throwing big hammers. The same way they could not explain the occasional interaction between these planes of existence and called the apparitions demons and devils. The veil that separates these planes of existence is not impenetrable and once in a while there is an exchange and such an exchange is usually the source of a legend or a tale of gods and demons."

I scratched the stubble on my chin." While it all somehow makes sense and technically not so hard to understand, it still is heavy material and hard to comprehend, it explains why you floated in space and looked like a demon. It explains somewhat why you are also look like a human woman. It even gives substance and background to stories and faery tales and the old saying that there is a speck of truth even in the most outlandish story and tale, but it opens a can of worms of even more questions. Does that mean magic is real? Does that mean someone can actually mix Fangsnapper blood and teeth of a one eyed cliff eel with the hair of a virgin to make a potion that makes someone invisible and all that? Does that mean that souls exist and go into a nether region? Is there a land of the death? And if there is a Nether region, is there an opposite, an upper region where the gods live?"

"If there are souls or an existence after death, we don't know and I think that is a question everyone needs to answer for itself until perhaps someday there is a scientific discovery that says it is so or it is not. I don't know how the original Coven managed to pass to the netherworlds, that knowledge is lost to us. I can tell you that the Coven of this Universe started out mixing potions and seeking answers the alchemist way, looking for ways of making transmutation real. Of course no combination of matter regardless of origin will open gates or channel energies, all these rites are just an expression, a tool to quantify and explain what really happens.

The Gwen you see before you, the body of the woman was born on Earth before the Industrial revolution and she was what you would call a witch. She did all these things a witch would do; none of it has any effect or power. Your society accepts Psionics as a part of the natural universe, because your science advanced far enough to understand that if you look really close at matter, nothing is solid and atoms are by far not the smallest thing, that the world of sub-atomics is as complex as the macro cosmos. There are particles that exist simultaneously in more than one dimension and some that swing back and forth. The marvelous instantaneous communication you all take for granted is based on such super exotic particles, it allows data bits to travel outside the realm of this space and distances measured in light years are not Trans versed but circumvented. All sentient beings regardless of origin have some form of psionic ability. Have you ever wondered how you are able to draw a gun, aim and fire and at the same time duck for cover, and still have time to think about your next steps and actions? In all this your eyes manage to see, your nose smells, and your heart beats and your glands produce adrenaline. It would take a Nelson Supercomputronic, for every human to really run a human body after a program. The only way all this can happen if your brain is able to perform some of its functions faster than the speed of light. Before man reached the stars, Eric, you thought the speed of light is the limit of everything, yet the speed of thought is much faster! Now beings with Psionics as you know have the conscious ability to access the same realms as the super exotic particles. We of the Coven are no different we simply access a different realm. All the chants and potions, all the practices of the Dark Lore are simply a way to focus those talents. Once you realize the truth, the chants and potions are no longer needed. It is very much explainable, very much quantifiable and with the right physics and math it could be made available to everyone in the form of technology based on that knowledge."

She leaned back looking exhausted and I felt the same way. My mind was swimming full of images and ideas and I knew I was scratching areas of knowledge not meant for me to understand, at least not yet.

Something in that sofa was poking my back quite painfully and brought me back to reality. I jumped up turned around, just to see something scaled, small and with lots of teeth disappear between the cushions!

I pulled my TKU at the same time as I tried to check my behind. Gwen laughed." This ship is infested with Narlings, that's why they keep the Hantkit Squirmer as a pet!" She pointed at the red scaled lizard in the cage.

"I think I burn this sofa!"

"No worries Eric, we have reached Coven and while we are down you can let the Hantkit loose. "

I stepped away from the infested sofa and glanced outside. Here in the middle of the matter nebula was a Solar system with a yellow sun that had burned with a strange halo, most certainly caused by sucking in the matter around it and there was one planet in the green zone and we were approaching it.



INTERLUDE : BONE YARDEdit

Swybar stood in the cargo bay of the Red Dragon and watched as a gang of S10 robots stowed away containers with real Loki torpedoes. His Kermac associate stood next to him with an almost feverish stare in his eyes. It would not take much and he would actually drool. The Agent of the worm was nowhere to be seen, but he expected him to be around. The Kermac pointed at a large cylindrical object that an Octobot had just lifted into the bay." Is that really what I think it is?"

"Yes this is a genuine Terran P Bomb. One such device is enough to ruin the day of any planetary based opponent."

"How does it work and why is it called a P Bomb?"

"Officially it is designated a Ship to surface planetary incendiary device. It ignites a nuclear fire that consumes any matter. Once ignited on a planet the fire spreads and turns the entire surface of a planet into molten matter, there are no conventional means of stopping the fire as it consumes whatever you put on including water, depending on the elements present the process can turn violent and the planet turns into a temporary sun. It takes millennia to burn out and what's left is a smooth ball of nuclear cinder, turning the world into a parking lot, hence we call it Parking Lot Bomb, or P Bomb."

"It amazes us how many nasty weapons the Union has and still claims to have the moral high ground."

"Using will benders and enslaving entire Civilization to do your dirty work isn't exactly very moral either!"

"It is the natural way of things, we Kermac are superior and it is only fair that we open the eyes of others to that fact!"

Swybar was a ruthless man and his own morals had eroded long ago, but he did not become an Admiral of the Union fleet because he was stupid. He had been trained by the best and went through the most comprehensive training to become a Union Officer and he was trained to expect the unexpected and react to it. Something was wrong, at first he could not say what it was, but then he noticed that the Octobot had disappeared despite the fact that there was still a pile of supplies to be lifted into his ship.

The Kermac did not notice anything and said." There is a manual I added to your supply request, make sure I get it right away when it comes aboard."

"You added something to my request form?" Swybar asked carefully controlling his breath." The secret to stay under the sensors is to play by the rules of the system. This fleet is not run by officers and Admirals but by bureaucracy and you must stick to the rules! There was no room for anything to add! What did you order?"

The Kermac shrugged." I am aware of your primitive bureaucracy and since I am unable to obtain a Transform Canon, I ordered a Maintenance Manual. It should give our Engineering thralls enough clues to figure out how they work."

Swybar hit the Kermac so fast and so hard that he was thrown to the floor." You idiot! You ruined everything! You could have had a ship load of secrets, more than every Kermac spy ever dreamed of taking home, but you were not satisfied! We are lucky to make it off this planet alive!"

He turned and said." Computronic, Emergency Procedure Theta Sigma! Emergency Lift off!"

The Kermac touched his torn bio flex mask and the bloody lip below. The entire ship shook, hit by something powerful. As the bay doors closed he saw the shape of a Marine Drop ship in the distance.

Swybar touched a panel on his left glove." Rama Command: Defend this ship and destroy all Intruders."

He knew, even the mighty Rama bots would not be enough to stop a drop ship load of Ultra Marines, but until they came up with the correct command codes it would buy him time enough to escape. He went as fast as he could to the ships bridge. Chances are the Marines did not come alone and there was a Union Battle ship or two in the system as well.

Not even with the powerful weapons he had installed would he dare to go against a full armed Battle ship, but with the new Attikan Engines and the Saresii Camouflage he certainly could out run them before they decided to launch Wolfcrafts.

It was worse than he thought; there were five Battle ships in Orbit, and a sixth one just dropping into Real space. He recognized the new comer as the USS Shetland. It was the Union Flagship, and he knew her Commanding Officer Captain McKenzie. She was as experienced as they came, but as bad as it looked he had a few aces under his sleeve. The Red Dragon was the last product of the Yakazuma Ship Development Corporation. It was not moth balled because it was obsolete, but because Yakazuma lost the corporate battle against almighty SII. The Red Dragon was to be the answer of Yakazuma to the Fast Raider design competition. A Competition he himself initiated. Yakazuma once had been SII's number One competitor in the field of space ship design and they had gone all out on this last effort to secure a company saving fleet contract. SII won the battle as it usually did with a hostile take-over and with every dirty trick in the book, but not by coming up with a better design. The Red Dragon was fast and now with oversized Attikan Engines, almost as fast as a Wolfcraft. It was meant to operate deep behind enemy lines, to raid colonies, destroy space factories and interrupt supply lines. It was designed to carry and drop Special Forces commandos on enemy planets, unseen and for this the finest Saresii camouflage technology available was incorporated. He deployed all eight decoy drones. Little marvels of Terran Saresii Technology, emitting the engine and mass signatures of battle ship sized enemies while his own engines emitted no more energy than a D20 long range shuttle. While the Union Battle ships chased after eight blazing signals, he slipped away like a shadow.

He cursed the captain of the Shetland; she had barley dropped out of Quasi and already deployed Wolfcraft and Augurs. The Augurs was an unarmed version of the Wolfcraft, stuffed to the brim with the finest scanning technology. They would soon determine the true nature of the Decoys!

He had to reach the local sun fast!

Both his companions came on the bridge, just as his ship was rocked by another explosion! Frantically he checked the ships sensors, but no Wolfcraft or anything else was in range. Of course if one of the Battle ships noticed his location it would be too late, one single shot of a long sniper TLC would end his plans and he would not even notice the explosion that ended his live. So what happened?

The Red Dragon kept accelerating and with a brief sense of satisfaction he saw the Wolfcraft chase his Decoys and seconds later six bright suns stood in space behind him. Sniper rounds had ended the existence of his decoys.

He wished for an experienced bridge crew, this ship was too big and too complicated to be flown into combat by him alone, but then he saw the reason. The damage board blinked red and indicated the complete loss of his most treasured secret. He howled as if in physical pain! His well-guarded secret, his own Translocator cannon had just exploded, but how? He had the engineers remove all safe guards or so he thought.

It could not be helped, he still had plenty of other fire power, and he had to escape. He had no illusions of escaping the hang man again if they ever caught him.

There one of the Argurus turned. It had found him. No need to panic! He had three Silkworm Anti Fighter missiles. A shame to use them now, but it could not be helped. He fired all three, revealing his position for sure to the Argurus, but that Sensor ship was doomed, not even a Wolfcraft could evade three of them at once, it gave him the necessary time to slip into Quasi space. He immediately chanced course and followed exactly the particle trail of one of the incoming Battle ships. He was certain it would take them days to figure out which trail he used to mask his escape, but even an hour delay meant he made his escape. He had done it! He had outsmarted and out maneuvered the first Battle group, not bad for an old logistics Admiral.

The Kermac held a Line blaster leveled at him." Chance of plans, Human, we will not go to Koken; we will now take direct course to Kermac Prime to analyze what we got! Then I will teach you the consequences for hitting a Kermac Wizard!"

"If it wasn't for your stupidity we would have everything including a Translocator Canon. I had enough of you!"

The Agent of the worm stepped aside." We must go to Koken that is the purpose of our agreement. If that is no longer possible then my association to this endeavor has ended."

The Kermac waved his gun." This is but a symbol of my power. You have a Kermac device in your cranium, human. Do as I say and change course! Have a taste of pain!"

With a mental command the Kermac agent activated the device and nothing happened. Swybar grinned at him." This ship is equipped with a state of the art Auto Doc Sick bay; the first thing I did was a detailed med scan. Your device is long gone, Kermac. You are nothing but predictable and I expected such a device ever since I woke in the Coffin."

The Agent of the Worm suddenly emitted two bright beams from his eyes and the Kermac Wizard collapsed, much of his head burned to ashes." The Equation has changed and so has the parameters of my assignment. I hope we can come to an agreement."

"I see you have hidden talents and it might be good to have an agent of the Worm along, now that we are freelancers."

"What are your plans now? Are you still planning your revenge on McElligott?"

"Yes, but I am not in a hurry. He is well protected and need a lot of planning. I also have not forgotten that snot nosed cadet. He might not be big in the scheme of things, but he is the reason I ended up on the gallows and want him dead!"

"This Cadet is of interest to my employer as well."

"Why is that so? What could a Cadet have that is important for the worm?"

"To show you some good will and my willingness to cooperate with you, I tell you. This Cadet Olafson has somehow managed to rise to importance with the Narth. My employers would like to know details."

Swybar leaned back in his command seat." I can see where increased Narth activity within the Union could spell problems for the Worm, indeed."

"For now that is a good reason as any. I do have a contact that could help us there, someone who knows more about this Cadet than anyone."

"One of his friends at the academy?"

"Much better than that, his wife! There is a certain girl named Sif. She is on the run from the law after dealing with Califerm. My contacts signaled that if we provide her with transport of Pluribus and with a new identity she would be willing to tell us everything she knows about Eric Olafson. Even give us bait to a trap he will take for sure."

"Then let us go to Pluribus, no better place to hide then right before their noses anyway!"

Chapter 22 Continued:Edit

We did not land on the Planet. Gwen simply took me by the hand and we stepped through a suddenly appearing field of a white glowing energy cloud.

For the briefest moment did I see images of fire and glowing rivers, but before I could really focus or think we stood on the surface of a small cobblestone plaza, a big gnarly looking tree in the center surrounded by a few dozen one story houses, not too different from the dwellings Low men and not clan associated freemen used to live on the outskirts of Freikstat. One of the houses was bigger and clearly some sort of official building. I was reminded of Uncle Hogun's inn as I noticed a sign hanging from chains just above the door, made out of a plank of wood there was the cut-out of a cooking kettle or cauldron.

Gwen said." It is a bit rustic and perhaps too much cliché, but most of us came to this Universe when much of Earths Europe looked this way and it is sort of homage to the roots of our human hosts. We have ceased to be really different entities, but you know how it is with old traditions. They die hard especially if there is no apparent need to change things."

I sighed at the mention of traditions and nodded." Indeed I do. When I grew up I cursed them and wanted to change them. I have somewhat changed my mind, some tradition is good and change is not always a good thing."

She raised one of her shapely eyebrows as the wind tugged at her hair." You do have wisdom that seems beyond your age."

"I don't think common sense comes from age alone but also from exposure and by having my eyes opened by older and wiser mentors and teachers."

"Well there is no sense of standing here outside and discuss those things, when the others already await you. But there is one more thing I would like you to ask, before I introduce you to the Circle."

"I came this far and as it looks like I have strict orders to treat this like a First Contact mission. So what is it I have to do?"

"Let your female side come to the surface and join us in your female form. Males are not really welcome here."

"I have brought nothing along, and whatever I had left was blown up with the Sturgeon. My body has changed and it is much more difficult to pass. I don't like to appear like a Norse in drag, which is worse!"

"You talk to someone who knows the secret of shape shifting. We can do that to others too!"

Again she took me by the hand and dragged me with a soft persistence to one of the one story buildings.

Inside it had only one room and a flight of stairs leading upward. There was a fireplace that came to live with a crackling fire as we entered and the light came from warm yellowish glowing lanterns. She smiled apologetically." I know it is too much of the rustic décor, but I haven't been here in over two hundred years and frankly I don't think I will be back much. I much more prefer my apartment on Lorman's Starbase which I consider my real home."

She pointed at a full length mirror mounted inside a wooden frame, I was not certain if it was there before and she said. "It's our version of an auto dresser and it does work just like that as well. The reflection you see is how you would look like and the mirror does the rest."

"Is it magic?"

She sighed." I think I wasted a lot of explanation. No it is not magic, there is no such thing as magic. Like the super exotic particle I told you about we exist on both sides simultaneously and with our side that rests in the nether world we are able to do some things that others cannot. Did you ever question the things your Friend Narth did? Believe me compared to the Narth we are childlike and impotent, with all our knowledge we don't understand what Narth really is. When we came to this Universe the Narth did not like us being here, and considered us nothing more than perhaps annoying gnats, not that we believe we would still be here if we really annoyed them. A few millennia ago a Narth explained to our mother what we had to do to find peace and a place in the Universe, through their council and perhaps help we were able to form these bonds to human hosts that allows us to mirror as an advanced Saresii Auto Dresser. We do not oppose technology and it only looks that way to match the rest of the interior. Saresii Auto Dressers are just like magic to us as they manipulate matter, even skin and tissue on a molecular level."

I had held my breath I think the entire time while she spoke and now took a deep breath." I never liked Psionics, but since everyone knows about them and we get tested in school for the HPI I never really questioned them. In Science class they even explained to us how they work and all that."

"If things go as I hope then perhaps pupils get tested for their Channel ability in a few decades from now."

The mirror image of me began to change and first I saw Freya as she looked, as I looked when going out with the other girls at the Space port mall. Then there was Elena and an Image of my mother and they somehow swirled and melted together to a new image of a complete stranger, a woman I had never seen before and yet I knew exactly who she was. This was me! This was me how I might have looked like if I was born female from the start. She had my eyes and that is where I recognized her. The truly golden shimmering hair of my mother, somehow looking shinier and softer than the hair I was used to. My arms did not appear as thick or pronounced but round and smooth. In this reflection I wore the old maroon dress, the one with the golden seams. Without thinking my hands touched my chin and then slid down to the plunging neckline of the dress. This cleavage was not something artificial, it felt warm and I could feel my own touch. The reflection the image in the mirror had become me! I turned to Gwen. She had changed the drab boiler suit for a soft looking white blouse and a black skirt. "Sul be damned, you are stunningly beautiful and what a choice of dress."

"It is your magic mirror that did all this! It's not real." I said trying to convince myself, in a losing argument. I felt elated and free and deep down wished that this was the end of my confusion and this was the way I was meant to be.

"There is no force we know of, this side or nether side that could read your mind if you don't want to. What I see before me is what you want us to see. This, is you, Freya!"



THE END

If you like to know what happens next, join me in Book VIII Eric Olafson: Midshipman

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