|Galactic Chronicles IX: Eric Olafson, Space Pirate|
|Previous||Chapter 5: Sojonit Secrets|
|Next||Chapter 7: Slaves|
The rest of the flight to Alvor's Cove was uneventful and we descended onto a brownish planet that somehow did not just look dry but dusty even from space. The Saresii woman who was also the leader of the secretive Sojonit Order dressed herself in a sand colored voluminous cloak and handed me a similar colored garment. Then she said." If you touch the side of your mask, about here next to the eyebrows and tap the spot twice, a shield of thin transparent Duranium seals your masks openings. The dust outside can be real bad and getting it inside your mask is bad.
I did what she recommended and an almost inaudible whirring sound hummed for a few seconds. She nodded satisfied and moments later went down the ramp and onto the surface of this world. The ramp behind us closed and the luxury yacht, which belonged to a Crime lord on Sin 4, flooded its Arti Grav cushions with positive gravitons and climbed back into the hazy blue sky without a single cloud but with smears of light brown colors.
A stiff wind caught the cloaks we wore as I looked around. We stood on a large plateau of bulldozed and leveled rock and compacted dirt. I estimated it to be about five klicks in diameter and we were more or less in its center. The Sojonit mask zoomed in on things as soon as I squeezed my eyes and it mirrored environmental data directly onto my retina. This is why I knew it was exactly 48.9 degrees on the C scale and that the wind came from the West.
Beyond the landing field in the South and East was a cliff like rock wall that steadily rose and blended in high mountain peaks in the distance. That cliff wall tapered off to the North and when I looked into the direction from where the wind blew I looked over flat featureless land as far as I could see. It almost reminded me of the oceans of Nilfeheim during Longnight, vast, flat and featureless. However here a bright white sun glared down and baked everything with merciless heat and shade less light.
Like her I carried a bag with a change of clothing and a few personal hygiene items. She put her bag on the ground and explained with a sweeping motion. This once was a river delta, water would gush from that narrow canyon you can see to the East spread out over this area and then join the waters of the ocean that once existed where you now see nothing but a featureless sand and dust desert. Of course that was many million years ago. Whatever water is left on Alvor's Cove is now deep underground." She pointed to the sun and continued. "The local star flared for unknown reasons about a million years ago and became brighter and hotter, slowly cooking and vaporizing the oceans off this world."
I wondered what she was waiting for, but I didn't ask. I assumed she didn't come all this way to just stand around a dusty landing field.
As if she was guessing my thoughts she said. "Flyers are very rare on Alvor's cove and our transportation is on its way but it will be a while till it is finally here."
She sat down on her bag and put her hand shading over her brow. Not that she really needed to, as I was certain her mask had the same UV filtering built in that transparent material that now covered the eye slits, but it was a basic human unconscious gesture and I thought that Saresii not only appeared but also acted as humans did. She used her other arm to point east and said. "There it comes."
Out of glimmering, mirror like mirage the heat conjured up over the flat surface almost like a slow surfacing submarine, a large lizard became visible. It had six legs and had to be as big as four Fangsnappers. The Lizard's color was almost the same as the dusty brown surroundings and it was fitted with some kind of harness on which a covered wagon on four big wheels was attached.
At the speed the lizard and the attached contraption approached I estimated it to take at least another 30 to 40 minutes before it was actually here.
I gestured towards the approaching ground transport and said. "Maybe we should meet it half way. It's less than thousand meters away. I can take your bag."
She laughed, but did not make any moves to get up. "Only you would suggest walking a distance like that in five inch heels. Be patient my dear, be patient. Not everything needs to be rushed or done right away."
"Sorry if I appear impatient, but we are even deeper in Freespace now and I am sort of anxious to return to Union space and meet my friends again. Not that I would mind to finally graduate and get started on my Fleet career."
"I can understand that, but would that not mean you would have to be Eric again? I had the impression you enjoy this."
"I do, but realize that I am also Eric and I have friends who do not know anything about this and I am not sure if I want them to know about this."
"If they are your friends would it matter to them?"
"I don't know and they are too important to me to find out it would."
Together we watched the lizard drawn cart come closer.
From above a sudden high pitched whistle of misaligned Arti Gravs made me look up and watch a Velorian Armed Merchant descent. The 180 meter freighter seemed loaded to the brim with whatever merchandise it was bringing and its Arti-Grav projectors struggled to keep it at decent descending speed.
Velorian ship architecture wasn't the most practical in the first place and from the sound of it one or two Arti Grav projectors had to compensate for another that was either completely out or as it could happen misaligned and thus worked against the others. Arti Grav projector alignment was an important job during any maintenance, something that had been overlooked quite obviously on the descending ship. Its shape strongly reminded me of those spiral shaped sea snail houses one could find on the pebble beaches of my home world. The thought alone of the cool fresh air of Nilfeheim made me feel the heat of this world even more.
The woman next to me said. "Whatever you see now, I urge you to keep your cool and ignore it."
I wondered what she meant by saying that in such an urgent tone. "I will."
The organic shaped ship had settled down on nine landing pads extending from its keel, about six hundred meters from where we were. Thanks to the zoom enhanced vision provided by the Sojonit mask I could see that three of the hydraulic landing gear was leaking fluids, and a fourth was bend so it could not retracted or extended at all. The characteristic swirly red and black color scheme of silicone-carbon lattice ceramic hull was a result of the Velorian production process. The Velorians, like several other Galactic Council species used ceramics rather than metals for their space ship hulls. Ceramics had several benefits over metals, but also quite a few draw backs. Why the Union in general preferred metal hulls was that they could be repaired relatively uncomplicated in the field, while Ceramic Hulls once they were cracked or damaged could only be repaired in specially equipped ship yards. I was recalling these lessons from basic engineering classes as I saw the large crack in the side of the hull. It had been repaired by bolting metal braces over it and the gaps filled with some kind of resin or perhaps evenDuro-Crete. It looked crude and I wondered who would be brave enough to actually go into space with something like that.
She also looked into the direction of that battered, badly maintained ship and said with a dry voice. "That is one of seven ships belonging to the Mulwhur Trading Company, they have their head quarter right here on Alvor's Cove."
"It doesn't appear to be a pirate ship. I don't see much in terms of armament and I doubt it would be fast enough to be an effective raider."
"No, it is not a pirate. It is something much, much worse."
Through the excellent optics I could see them yell and holler and moments later naked human men, women and children appeared, attached to each other by ropes attached to metal collars. They looked dirty and some where caked with mud.
One of the men had a tattoo on his arm and I could read it, it was a merchant marine. Those were Union citizens."
I got up turned to her. "What are they doing to them?"
"They are herded to the slave pens in the Canyon of Tears and there they wait till for the bi-monthly slave market. Togar and other Slave dealers will then come and purchase them for the meat and slaughter kitchens of Togr, to the Death Fight arenas of Sin 4, to mines and fields of the Brnah, to the furnaces of the Kartanian smelter moons and a thousand other hellish places of no return."
She nodded. "I do see her and she will most likely end up sold to the Kermac, who will dissect her to find out why Saresii are better Psionics than them. The Kermac hate us Saresii far more than they dislike Terrans and her fate will be gruesome torture and then a painful death."
"We got to do something! We must!"
"What would you suggest we do?"
"Alvor's cove is beyond the reaches of the GalNet network. We use extended reach terminals on Sin 4, but even if we could reach fleet command what can they do? This is Freespace and they won't risk intergalactic war to free those slaves. Alvor's Cove once has been Togar space; they only abandoned it because it was useless to them. The fleet coming here would mean the Union would have to fight the Nul, the Galactic Council, the Shiss and all of Freespace including the Togar at the same time. It would mean decades of war and countless lives!"
I stared towards the slave trader ship. "I am a Union Officer and I have sworn to protect the Union against all enemies foreign and domestic. Those slaves are Union citizens and the Assembly should discuss nothing else day and night to make sure they are rescued and safe! If it means war then so be it! Every last space man and marine should fight and die to the last breath to ensure their freedom."
She clapped her hands together. "You speak like a Terran and sound like Stahl. As it may be my Terran friend, we can do nothing at the moment and must maintain our cover." She got up as well and took her bag. "Our ride is here."
A being covered in a similar cloak climbed from behind a crude fitted wind shield. The billowing cloak made it impossible to determine the exact species; it had the correct number of limbs to be human but was only about 150 centimeters tall. It wore the hood of the cloak buttoned up on the front, with just enough opening for a pair of dust goggles. "I came as fast as Xtry can walk after I heard your summon. Do you need help with your luggage? It will be 2 One-weights to Bennard's Cut or three if you want the Air Condition."
My companion pressed three coins into the gloved three fingered hand of the being and we climbed over a creaking ladder into the back and through a curtain into a single room interior with four wooden benches and what he had praised as air condition were three battery operated fans. A fourth one was there as well, at least parts of it and quite obviously inoperable.
The fans did little to really ease the heat, but the shade provided by the wagons canopy felt really good. The entire contraption croaked and creaked as it started lumbering the other way.
Through the veiled curtains on the windows I watched the sad, gut wrenching train of Union citizens, prodded and whipped. Most however seemed to have lost all hope and complied with the brutal and inhumane treatment. If there ever was an unfair situation then this one took the cake. It took all my self control not to jump out of the wagon and stuff those whips and prods up those slavers arses.
But all the fancy Sojo weaponry would do me little good against these heavily armed bastards. Well I could take out the left with the needler and then use him as a shield to take out the…
She hissed." Sit down!"
Only now I realized I was halfway at the door. I wanted to say something but sat back down.
The rattling of the wagon became more intense and looking past the driver I saw the Lizard now really moving. The Driver turned his head and yelled against the croaking noises, the wind and the thumping of the lizard's feet. "Just got the word over the squawk-box, we got a T 8 coming from the Glagadrinn. I sure hope we make it!"
I turned to ask her."What does he mean?"
She pointed outside the back of the wagon and said as loud as she could and with concern in her voice. "Out there that is the Glagadrinn, it's the great desert. That gray funnel cloud coming our way is a Tornado. If it reaches us before we reach the canyons we are in serious trouble!"
As I followed her pointing finger I saw it too, a monstrous swirling funnel of dust brown swirls and dust was coming towards us over the coverless flat landing field.
The lizard was now running, whipped to speed by its owner, I could see sturdy stone buildings at the sides of a narrow gap between the enormous cliff walls. We were still at least two thousand meters away and the tornado behind us was gaining fast! It reached the chain of slaves who tried to outrun this terrible force of nature, without any chance. Even though the same fate would most likely reach us too, I could not help but feel grim satisfaction to see one of the slavers ripped of his feet like a weightless toy sucked up and disappear in the swirling dust.
We had tornadoes on Nilfeheim as well and they were powerful and dangerous to any surface ship, especially in the first year of Shortsummer, but our burgs were sturdy and could withstand them. Being out on a flat surface in a wooden and metal contraption oh wheels was something completely different, the howling of the wind made any conversation no matter how loud I tried to yell impossible. A thousand meters or less, the narrow gap and the sturdy stone buildings much closer now, but the Lizard was at the end of its powers. I could tell as we slowed down!
Everything rattled, vibrated; the gray and dust brown whirling wind behind us now so close I saw it as one solid wall.
The tornado reached us. Up and down had no longer any meaning! I saw the canopy dissolving in a flash, pieces of wood. I tried to yell and hold her but she was lifted and disappeared. Sand grains whipped to speed sanded and pelted me. The cloak gone, feeling the sand hammering my face with a painful stinging sensation, made me realize the Sojonit mask was gone as well. Something hard hit me over the head, dazed but not completely out, I finally fell and slammed like a wet fur hard on the rocky surface, something hit me again and that was all I remembered.
How nice it was to float in the ice cold oceans of Nilfeheim. I was gliding deeper into the dark green abyss, not far I could see the blurred dark outlines of Olafson rock as it looked from under water. I was not alone! Narth was swimming nearby and so was Har-Hi and Wetmouth, even Circuit and Krabbel. I also could feel a huge unexplainable presence that reminded me of something I should know. Then my mind somehow reeled at the sight of seeing Circuit and Krabbel swimming. Circuit could not swim! Har-Hi hated water and Krabbel was equally unsuited for this environment. As I put my mind around this strange sight, I began to realize this was a dream and I was slowly rising to the surface. No matter how much I wanted to stay I drifted upward towards bright light and the closer I went the more I felt pain and the last dream images faded away, replaced by the sensation of lying on hard surface. The first thing I really noticed was the grinding dry grid in my mouth and nostrils. I blinked and remembered where I was. I spat and coughed and opened my sand and dust caked eyes.
I was lying on the landing field, and to my surprise it seemed that other than a few scratches and bumps I had survived the tornado's fury otherwise unharmed. Yet I could not get up!
I cursed as I saw it was the Lizard's tail that was pinning me down. It was thick as two men and still attached to the big animal, that was lying on its side, bleeding of numerous wounds and if I had to make a guess I didn't think it would survive much longer.
I prodded myself up and tried to pull myself out from under that heavy fleshy weight and my efforts were successful, I was getting out.
Looking around I could not see the mother superior, just debris of the wagon, and several bodies of slaves and an Ogrh slaver. Just as I was about to pull completely free, something hit me just above the shoulder blades and then while I could hear the hissing hum of high voltage and see blue sparks dance between my fingers, I convulsed in painful muscle cramps caused by some sort of shocker weapon.
"On your feet, you piece of shit, the wind didn't kill you but if you don't move and get back in line I will!"
I turned and saw a Togar Warrior Cat standing there like a black scissor cut against the blinding sun, bulging with muscles under its short fur , and holding a shocker prod with one hand and a whip in the other. "If you try to pretend to be hurt, I kill you right here and now. We lost much merchandise; one more won't make a difference."
"I am not a slave or your property. I came…"
He flicked the whip across my chest, "I can tell you have not arrived on the Sorrow with us, but you are property of the Mulwhur Trading Company now. Get up!"
I noticed I was almost completely naked, only a few shreds of the Sojonit outfit had survived the sand blasting fury of the tornado. The wig, the mask and most of the body altering costume accessories were gone; just a few shreds of bio-skin were hanging from my chest. To the Togar I guess I looked just like any other human.
He used his whip again, but this time I caught the whips end. I had been whipped by my father and I had been tied to the post at the exercise yard at Camp Idyllic, I hated anyone using this cowardly weapon and I pulled as hard as I could. He was a Togar, three or four heads taller, much stronger and like all members of his race known to be vicious fighters.
But I was getting angrier by the moment. Angry at the situation, realizing I was stranded on a planet even further away. Angry at these bastards enslaving humans, angry at Togars seeing humans as prey and food and angry at the world; and I was no longer just a brawler of a backwater planet. I was a Union Fleet officer and he would have to pay!
I put all my weight into that pull. From the uploads I had received from the Sojonites, I knew where Togars were most vulnerable and hammered my palm upwards aiming and hitting that gland and nerve cluster sitting right behind the cat like creatures lower jaw.
With deep satisfaction did I hear something break, and followed up with a left blow to his kidneys, while he raked his clawed hand over my back. I felt the trickle of blood, while the Togar staggered back. I noticed the handle of a heavy bladed knife on his leather harness, grabbed it with one hand as he tried to get a hold of my throat and plunged it deep and repeatedly into his abdomen while his left claw hand already closed around my throat.
He gargled, spat blood into my face and he sank to his knees. Holding the knife now with both hands I brought it down right between his eyes above the elongated snout filled with inch long fangs. I split his skull almost in half and kicked him in the chest. He was dead long before his body slumped into the dust.
A blaster shot peppered the ground before my naked toes, an Oghar out of my imminent reach, held an old Ult blaster aimed at me. He had rounded up three human slaves that now stood behind him. "You will bring much money! Now drop the knife!"
One of the filth and sand caked slaves, his hands already or still bound to his back lowered his head and with a short spurt of speed rammed his shoulder into the back of the Oghar.
This did not bring the Oghar down, but distracted him long enough so I could throw the knife. It was not well balanced and not a throwing knife at all. Instead of hitting the greenish skinned brute tip first in the chest as I intended, it sliced a big chunk of flesh right of his left cheek. The Oghar howled in pain, spraying blood and firing two randomly aimed blasts in my general direction. Grabbing the dropped shocker prod my first opponent had dropped I crossed the seven meters that separated us, simply ignoring the blaster shots and rammed the prod with force deep into his open maw, while pressing the activator at maximum intensity.
The Oghar gargled and collapsed and I shoved the long prod with a sharp push deeper and held it there until the Oghar stopped twitching.
The dirty man rolled over his shoulder grabbed the Blaster with his hands still tied to his back, fired and vaporized the head of a third Slaver Togar running towards us.
I looked around, the Slaver ship was still there in the distance, too big to be really damaged by the Tornado, towards the other direction were the solid rock buildings and the knife like cut into the thousand meter tall cliffs marking the entrance to the canyon system, the Sojonit Mother had told me about.
There was debris and bodies all around me and I counted about fifteen slaves on their feet or slowly rising, but I did not see the Sojonit, but if she had lost her costume and clothing like I did she could have been among those standing and I would not know if she was one of them.
I also noticed I could not see any slavers.
The dirty man caked with sand, sweat and stinking filth that smelled awful like human feces smiled at me and from beneath the dirt, bright blue eyes and a set of white teeth smiled at me. "You fight like a banshee unleashed from Hell, my friend." Unlike the Squawk the guards had used to talk to me, he spoke Union Standard. "I cut his bonds and said."And you shoot like the devil."
He got up and we went to the other two slaves. One of them was human and now I noticed the short stance and the paper white skin of the completely hairless other being. Also basically human in proportions and shape, but with unusual high cheekbones, burning black eyes and a bloody crusted wound at the chin, this was a Kermac!
The Union man however cut the Kermac's bonds as well and the rest of the surviving slaves slowly gathered around us. I called and yelled for the Mother Superior but I did not get an answer, none of the bodies I could see within reach looked as if it should belong to the woman. I knew next to nothing about the planet but I was sure we could not stay her for too long. There were more slavers in that ship I was certain and perhaps those buildings near the canyon entrance contained even more. Yet we had little options, we could try to reach the town, which meant certain capture. The desert meant certain death; there was no shade and no water. The only other alternative was to storm the slave trader ship; it would also give us a chance to reach Union space.
I told them exactly that and they all agreed this was our only chance.
Our ragtag group consisted of 15 humans, two Klack, a Saresii, an Oghar and a Kermac. With me we counted twenty one. I almost shot the Oghar, but he wore a slave collar and his hands tied as well. The dirty man with the blue eyes told me that the Oghar was from the Union Oghar and captured and enslaved just like the rest.
The humans were the first who gathered anything useable as a weapon and the rest followed finally even the Kermac, with obvious disgust in his face took a long piece of wood, he carried like a club.
I fell into a fast trot, to cover the distance to the ship as fast as I could, hoping to manage to board it before they closed the boarding ramp. If there was anyone in there watching our slim chance of boarding the ship would be gone if they closed that ramp!
We had to make, somehow we simply had to! That ugly piece of Velorian Fangsnapper dung, infested with armed Slavers was my only chance to see Union Space again and by Odin I would. I would see it again! I was a Neo Viking, I soon hoped to be a Union Officer and then I would do my share to keep them safe. The heat was almost unbearable. No longer did I wear boots, I had left them underneath the tail of the lizard, and every step on this hot stone burned like hell, I could feel the sun burn my skin and I would look like a peeling tomato if I ever survived this, but somehow I managed to run faster.
My eyes were no longer protected by that technical marvel of a Sojonit mask, the sun was glaring and the dust and grit chaffed what hadn't been raw already, what an Irony. I who was home in water, like a fish would now die on this bone dry world, running my feet to bloody pulp.
But somehow I reached that ship and now I saw why they had not closed the hatch. They had been waiting for us, two Oghar and a human.
The human stood behind a portable Neuro ripper, a big thing on a mechanical arm lowered from an opening in the ship's hull. The two Oghar held Slave prods and were armed with holstered blasters.
The man behind the controls of the Neuro ripper commanded me to stop at about ten meters distance, I did but I could barely stand. He clapped his hands and said with a mocking laughing voice. "Most impressive, most impressive indeed, you look like a raw steak my Union friend. I am assuming you are Union right?"
All that kept me on my feet was the rage I felt and wishing I could twist of his head, slowly from his body.
I could not answer the man behind his cannon suddenly screamed, the muzzle of the ripper swung around and I heard the high pitched hum, the inhuman agony the two Oghar guards felt as they collapsed while every nerve ending in their body overloaded their brains with pain impulses. I heard similar screams of agony from inside the open hatch as the ripper send its waves inside the ship.
I did not wait to find out why this miracle happened and bolted the rest of the way pulled the stunned and perplexed human of his seat and said. "I am going to expose piece by piece of your body to that Neuro Ripper beam until you tell me the access codes for this ship!"
He gargled and struggled."There are no access codes! That thing has been stolen eighty years ago in the first place! Access codes! You must be a Union man, Psionic talents to boot. I should have fried you while I had the chance."
He blinked, "You letting me go?"
The Kermac and the Saresii woman helping each other limping closer and the woman said. "That was the first known Kermac Saresii Psionic cooperation in history: my Psionic energies, his telekinesis."
"I think we can celebrate this later. Let's get everyone in and see if there is anyone left alive and then I suggest we try to leave this place!"
The ship was in no better condition inside as it was outside, but at least the rest of the crew was either dead or on the verge of dying and we helped them along. Somehow I could not find an iota of mercy within myself when dealing with these slavers. I could somehow understand how a man or a woman could find piracy appealing. But to take a beings liberty, to treat a thinking person like that and take away all their dignity, their freedom was worse than killing someone I my opinion.
The ship stank and its cargo holds had been transformed into cages with filthy rotten straw and sawdust on the floors for comfort and to absorb whatever bodily waste.
The engine room was a mess, and it reminded me of my Rosinante, the ship I had taken from pirates near the Igras expanse. It had the appearance that the art of engineering and keeping a clean and well organized engineering department was something only looked after in the fleet.
At least it was all from the same technology. Not that I was an engineer or had any experience with the alien technology, but all the base components were there.
I was really hurting now, the sun burn was bad and I felt woozy and suspected I had a light heat stroke.
The ship to our combined relief did have a sick bay, and it was surprisingly well equipped. Dirty, disarrayed but well equipped. The dirty man explained that they, the Slave traders used it to treat slaves they thought could bring more money if healthy.
It took much longer than I liked to fix and doctor us up, identifying the various machines and drugs and patch up everyone. The dirty man and I appeared to be the only ones with any medical skills until one of the Klack revealed he was a MD.
At first I was angry at the antlike being for not coming forward but again the dirty man told me that it took Klack much longer to adapt to new social situations and once they did they functioned like robots.
Bandaged and derma patched as much as the equipment allowed I went to the bridge and after checking the basic systems. I concluded the ship was marginally space worthy. The dirty man who managed to clean himself up a little and yet to reveal his name delivered the bad news looking at a read out on the panel he was checking." We won't get far, Soldier, the fuel tanks are nearly empty!"
I rushed over and checked, even though the gauges were quite different from Union tech. The red fields versus the blue fields of the fuel level indicators showed 90 percent red.