|Eric Olafson, Fleet Cadet|
|Previous||Chapter 5: Alcohol|
|Next||CHAPTER 7: DANIEL STATION|
Chapter 6: MaritimeEdit
Narth was very quiet since he had recovered from his drinking binge.
We both sat in one of the cargo holds of a civilian Meteor Type IV freighter and were on our way to Maritime. De La Lupe had left the bay to organize something to eat and talk to the Captain of this ship. Commander Letsgo had organized the trip on this freighter, since we could not use official navy transport resources.
The ship was on its way from Olivio to Maritime and had only to go 10 light years out of its way to accommodate us. According to Letsgo the Captain was a former Cadet and a friend glad to help. There were a few Vari Matic Bunk beds, a bolted down hygiene cube, a simple table and a few chairs. It seemed the freighter captain did occasionally take a few passengers along. The rest of the cargo bay was stacked to the ceiling with standard containers. Most of them were bright green and according to the freight management robot filled with Olives, Nuts and other tree fruits, destined to a food product factory on Barabbas. Twenty containers with booze and beach chairs were destined for Maritime, just like we were.
Since Narth was not speaking I wondered if I did something that angered him."Did I do anything to offend you?" "No Eric. I was just very much occupied relaying my experience to Narth. It was an extreme unpleasant experience and quite fascinating. All of Narth is sharing it now!"
"You are telling me that all Narth feel what you felt?"
"Indeed I am relaying all my experiences. This is part of my mission if you will. Narth wants to learn more about humans and other civilizations. It was decided that observation from a distance was inadequate. So I was chosen to become an explorer of sorts. My original mission has not changed even though I do now want to become an officer."
"I should have warned you about the ill effects of Alcohol. I know it is illegal for telepaths to pry into other minds, but what if I expressly allow you to go as deep in my mind as you need at any time? I am human all my life and maybe through my memories, my experience and emotions it will help you to understand better without putting you at risk about things I should have known to tell you about."
Narth looked at me directly, his glowing eyes no longer bothered me and it seemed the glow had lost much of its intensity since I met him the first time. He stared at me and again didn't say a word. I couldn't even feel him for a moment. Then he finally said." You are giving me the greatest gift possible. To Narth nothing is more sacred than what we call the Innermost Shell. While we Narth share all the outer shells with the condition that is Narth, this innermost shell is what makes us individuals and it is not shared with all Narth ,only with those close to us and of course with the Narth Supreme. It is an area of a thinking beings personality is located. It is where the most private memories and most intimate part of ones being is located. No Narth ever touched the Inner Shell of any being outside of Narth, are you certain you want this? Is this what you have offered?"
"Narth you know the answer."
"It has never been done. Therefore I do not know if there are any risks for you."
I shrugged." Diving after a Tyranno Fin is risky. Getting out of bed might get you killed. If it helps you I am all for it. Besides what risk could there be, you knowing my deepest secrets? I would tell them to you anyway if you asked."
Narth eyes glowed even brighter and suddenly so bright I didn't really see anything else but the bright yellow light. It was brighter than sunlight and yet it did not hurt my eyes. For a brief moment it was as if I was brushed by something immense. It was as if I would float in the ocean in complete darkness and touch a Tyranno Fin just with just a fingertip. You would never know how big the thing is, by this touch alone but somehow you knew it was big. Then it was over, the light subsided and I was still sitting on the floor leaning against a Shipping container and Narth floating across me his legs folded underneath his robe, hands on his lap.
"That was it?"
Narth nodded his head very slowly."Your perception of time might have been suspended while your Innermost shell was in awareness of the Narth Supreme, an hour has passed since we began to associate your Innermost shell to me and in doing so also associated with the Narth Supreme. It is magnificent! Primitive and incredibly complex at the same time, and I barely touched the surface. Your mind is so completely different and alien from Narth. Chaos and confusion without end, time not seen or felt. No concept of spatial levels and yet there is a clear direction and purpose to it all. I cannot express adequately you how thankful I and the Narth Supreme are."
"No need. At least now I know how I look from the inside. The Chaos and confusion part needs a little work I guess. I didn't expect visitors and forgot to tidy the place a little!"
"I believe you will in time do just that."
He handed me a piece of dark red cloth.
"What is this?"
"A hood like mine, your eyes and face radiate Narth. It is only for a little while of course."
"Are you saying my eyes glow like yours?"
"Not just your eyes, Eric. What makes Narth so dangerous to look at is radiating from you as well."
"I doubt the glow will last very long."
"I look no different to anyone wearing a shroud like that. How could you tell?"
"We are sharing the innermost shell. You no longer need a name either and will be recognized by Narth."
"I don't think I really understand what you are saying."
"I know, but I am confident you will in time and then you will be capable of seeing my innermost shell, as I have opened it to you."
Lupe had returned with food and left again. He told us that he was teaching the captain of the freighter some fencing moves, which was part of the deal for the free transport.
Then the freighter captain's voice came over the PA." Just so you know we are about to land on Maritime."
I wondered what kind of place Maritime was and Narth responded almost immediately:" It's the third planet of the Palapos System. It is mostly a vacation planet; it is not as popular or famous as Para-Para but comparable. It has several Vacation Colonies, meaning the houses and apartments are owned by beings not permanently living here. The planet has a small fishing industry and produces a high grade mineral sea salt. Its Capitol Pearl Rose is a domed city under water and in the middle of the largest ocean. The Class C space port is suspended on a scaffold above the water surface and directly above the city. Other communities are usually small village type places to be found on one of the eight small continents and thousands of islands."
I thanked him as it was actually not only nice to have a friend but quite practical if he was a Narth and a walking encyclopedia.
The freighter landed and we debarked. Two suns in a cloudless blue sky, there was a mild breeze of warm air and I could instantly smell the ocean all around the landing platform. White birds croaked in the sky and the gray bulky freighter we came with shared the platform with a beautiful green and yellow Cruise Ship resting on a central single landing strut, elegantly shaped almost like flower with five pedals and it had lots of large viewports. A slide belt carried us towards the Spaceport buildings, a collection of fragile looking transparent spheres hung suspended from a framework of filigree looking metal girders. It reminded me of a mobile hanging decoration. The different sized spheres were connected with tube tunnels.
La Lupe said as we approached the construct." It looks pretty but I just don't care much for Saresii architecture."
"It certainly looks different from the rock and duro crete buildings on Nilfeheim." I said. The Instructor looked to Narth and said." Do the Narth have a certain architectural style?"
"No, there are no constructs of any particular style on Narth Prime. But if we need any sort of solid construct it is usually a sphere as it is a logical form."
There where robots and crowds of beings in colorful clothing moving back and forth from the Cruise ship and it was as if I could feel their carefree vacation mood.
At the Customs point where two humanoid beings checked the CIT implants of the arriving tourists our arrival causes a stir. I was not able to determine what exactly caused the commotion but the crowds parted and let us approach the Control point ahead of them. The Officers checked De La Lupe but not us and simply waved us through.
"What was that all about?" I wondered aloud and De la Lupe said. "I think they thought you both are Narth and since even Eric's eyes glow as much as Narth's since this morning I am almost convinced as well."
"We conducted a Narth ritual and Eric's eyes will return to human standard in a short while." Narth explained.
As we walked past huge mirrored window panels I checked myself and while I did look quite uncanny and I was glad the robe and hood did look differently from the Executioners robes, I was a little disappointed that I did not see them glow.
Narth whispered with an amused tone in his voice." You can't see your own psi shine and in time you will cease to see mine as well and when this happens, I no longer need to wear the hood when you are present."
I smiled as I saw the waving pig of an Arthur's Swine and Dine and I hoped we had time to eat there before we left.
The Lieutenant walked determined across the space port sphere, it looked like he knew where to go. We left the main sphere opposite the landing field and we followed him to Taxi stand.
Moments later we flew in an open floater only a few meters across the sparkling surface of a deep blue ocean and I had to restrain myself from not simply jumping over the side and plunge deep into the water, just to dive and swim once more.
Narth leaned closer." I now understand your desire to dive and swim. Your emotions make sense! To see the world through the eyes of a human is more fascinating than expected."
"Whenever I dive and I am under water I feel like I belong there."
"I do understand and it am sure your love for water has to do not only with your genetic alterations but with the fact that you humans have evolved from water borne creatures on Terra and for all its land masses, Terra is almost a water world."
"Do you have oceans on Narth?"
"There is a body of a substance that can be liquid and it is as vast as an ocean but it is not water. It is an essence."
"Narth sounds like a very unusual place."
"There is no similar place in the entire Universe."
"And I am really allowed to see it?"
"Narth will be your home, Eric. All Narth welcomes you."
"I might even fit right in. Hooded robe, mask and glowing eyes!"
"We do not wear these robes on Narth. There is no need for them. Besides you are not radiating anymore."
"I am sure we can find a way to make them glow again! I too think it might provide a comical situation!" He cocked his head to the side and then said. "I believe Lt. Aurelius is right. I am developing a sense of humor. The concept of a comical situation is no longer completely alien to me! This is a day of achievement!"
"Birthday suit..." He paused."Oh a way to describe nakedness. Yes in a way Narth are naked when not with other beings. I also realize how much you need to learn about Narth before you understand what Narth is, but it will be a pleasant task to educate my friend about Narth. I also see you begin to understand."
"I will do my best to understand." I handed him the hood." It is odd how fast I got used to it. It makes me feel somehow exposed suddenly."
"The process of touching the inner shell is not a one way affair. The more you open to us the more you share my Inner Shell as well. This feeling is of such nature. Maybe you should wear it a little longer then."
Lupe turned to us."Why are you both so quiet. You didn't say a single word since we left the Space port!"
"We did talk Sir, just quietly I guess."
"Oh okay I thought you have second thoughts about the duel."
"No not at all."
Lupe had to talk to the human pilot and returned to his forward facing position.
The taxi carried us towards a green island with white beaches and between the foliage almost hidden a few buildings, designed in an ingenious way to blend in the surroundings without being camouflaged. They simply looked as if they belonged there.
The Taxi dropped us off on a sandy beach. About fifty beings awaited us next to a smoothened, round arena marked with rocks.
De la Lupe turned to us before we got out the taxi. "Remember to let me do most of the talking. You are welcome to answer questions but you do not have to reveal anything you so not want.
This is a private affair and the ranks of any present Navy member mean nothing to this duel. Most of them are here to observe the bout and to witness it. I suspect there is a reporter here for Squadron News and over there I am sure you will recognize that Ult to be Admiral Webb Stokes of the Arsenal Academy but he is here just like we all as private person. He was accepted by both sides as the Impartial."
He shook both of our hands." Thank you for coming with me and good luck to both of you."
We followed Lupe through the fine sand and approached a group of beings, standing separated from the rest. One of the beings was an Ult and I was sure him to be Admiral Stokes. Instead of a uniform he had on a colorful shirt, like the tourist at the space port, and nothing else. His scaled skin and huge hind legs exposed.
Next to the Ult stood a tall sandy haired man with a three point beard wearing a dark gray advanced Flex armor suit, we had learned about those form fitting flex metal suits developed and marketed by the X101 in Xeno Tech class. He was flanked by a four legged being of at least two meters to one side and a Spindlar to the other.
Spindlar where somewhat humanoid but had very long arms and thin legs they could extend in a telescopic fashion. I had seen Virtu-Documentations in school about the amazing race competitions they held each year on their home planet.
It could tell Lupe was very concerned as he saw our opponents. "A Spindlar and a Quadiped, I should have known you could not play fair."
The man in the armor suit I was certain was Milieu, sneered." You are piling insult upon insult. I might not be satisfied with first blood if you insist on questioning my honor!"
"You are going to fight in that armor suit?" "Of course, no stipulations have been made regarding armor or dress. I fully expected you to show up in a Quasimodo!"
"The Spindlar and the Quadiped are your best students?"
"What better swordfighters can you think of? Quadipeds train the art of edge weapon fight from the moment they can walk, and being four legged they can walk very early on. They are strong and can lift swords of tremendous weight. Spindlars are the fastest beings alive with a reach both of us can only dream of! Yes they are my best fighters. I wager they might be the best bravado fighters in the galaxy already. This is in no small part due to my instructions of course. That they will also use their naturally given abilities in the coming Duel is something you can hardly hold against them."
It was Webb who spoke." I recorded your conditions. The natural abilities of the combatants are allowed in the duel."
"Yes, yes. Now introduce us to your hooded men you brought along. A nice show effect I must say."
Lupe smiled."You heard the opponent, Narth you are welcome to use your abilities."
Milieu lost his smile and gasped." Real Narth?"
"Psionics are not allowed!"
Narth spoke with his deepest voice." You declared that natural abilities are permitted. Do you say my abilities are not equally natural as those of your contestants? Shall I demonstrate to you the full extent of my natural abilities right now? Shall I disembowel you, from the inside out? Do you wish to examine a star from the inside? Perhaps I simply simulate pain to your nerve endings. I cannot guarantee how long you will last, but you might appreciate the natural abilities of a Narth. I shall not stand here and have you insult my honor and those of all Narth!"
Milieu looked suddenly very frightened and tried to back up. The Ult agreed." You did question the Narths abilities. So it would only be fair if he did demonstrate them to you! You did question his honor and heritage."
Narth stepped forward and Milieu and both of his students where pushed by an invisible force through the sand.
The Spindlar cried in fear."Master, what can we do against that?"
Then Narth put his hand on Lupe shoulder." To show you how well our Master trained us. I shall refrain from using my natural abilities and fight your student with the skills learned from Master De la Lupe alone."
I took my hood of f. "I am not Narth. I am just dressed that way since I was short on civilian clothing at Camp Idyllic. I have no Psionics whatsoever. I am just a Neo Viking from Nilfeheim and there is too much talk! Let's get this thing over with."
The Admiral recognized me." I must say I am not surprised to see you here, Mr. Olafson."
The Ult then said even louder. "I agree with you, let's get started." He held up a PDD and read aloud the article in question and then Lupe's response. After that he repeated the cartel and introduced each of us. By drawing lots it was decided that I had to go against the Quadiped and Narth would have to face the Spindlar.
My mind suddenly filled with detailed information about the Quadiped. I knew it was Narth feeding me that information and I was glad he did.
The monstrous alien Cadet stalked towards me and said." You are but a weak human, so I will make it quick. Now choose your weapon"
"I can choose any weapon?"
"Yes Humans!" "I see Boarding Axes over there on the Weapon rack. So Axes I choose."
"Do not blame me if first blood means I kill you. I am simply strong!"
Lupe held up his hand in protest and said to Stokes." First blood was agreed upon. Why is that Quadiped talking about killing?" The Ult's face was unreadable as he responded." Cadet Amboo-du are you intended on killing?" The Quadiped laughed."It is hard for me to control and measure my great power and a little tab of mine kills those weak and fragile humans like Tilsis. Besides it does not say how much first blood is to be spilled. I just spill all of that weakling's blood and if he dies it's his fault. That human should simply give up and I will accept this as satisfaction." My old rage started to boil up and was overwriting any common sense once again. I jumped into the fight ring." Just quit talking and get it started. I never give up without trying my best, so bring it on Four legs!"
Stokes made a sound that sounded very much like a human sigh and he said."Let the first duel begin. The Contestants have accepted the conditions. You must cease all fight activity if I call to do so or after the first blood is drawn from either opponent."
The Quadiped stepped into the other side of the fight ring. Stokes dropped his arm. " Let the fight begin!"
I yelled."Hey Amboo-Du is that a Quadithaal behind you?" The giant turned right away as I hoped he would and I threw my ax as hard and as fast as I could. The Blade hissed true and sliced a nice chunk of flesh out of his upper left leg, blood sprayed.
From the information I got from Narth I had learned that a Quadithaal was a sexual aroused female Quadiped on a rampage, I was certain he would turn! If I mentioned that.
Stokes yelled."Cease all fighting. First blood has been drawn. Duel was decided for Olafson."
The Quadiped yelled in pain and roared."I am going to kill you, Human! You tricked me!"
He was about to stomp forward but a bolt of plasma peppered the sand before him. It was Stokes holding the blaster." The Duel is over. Continue and you are in violation of the Duel condition."
"I don't care about Duel conditions! I will kill this human. Interfere again and I kill you to, Ult!"
Milieu yelled too."Get back, here at once you dumb brute. If you attack now you hand them the Victory!"
Only now the Quadiped stepped back and towards his master.
Lupe padded my shoulder."Quick thinking there, Eric!"
Narth was next and he chose Saber.
This time no words were exchanged between the combatants. Stokes dropped his arm and the Spindlar extended his legs and arms rose to almost 3 meters and approached Narth with great speed. The Spindlar attack was lightning fast and his saber made a hissing sound as it whisked through the air, aimed at Narths neck. It was clear the Spindlar too was not out for first blood but to kill! Narth bend backwards equally fast and only so much as to avoid the blade by the fraction of a centimeter, as soon as the blade passed him he stepped forward took the wrist of the Spindlar and added his own weight to the tall aliens move. The Alien could not fight the momentum and was sent flying. Narth didn't let go of the wrist and leaned back. The Spindlar screamed in pain and his saber fell into the sand. Narth stepped close and slashed his own saber across the arm of the alien and cut it right behind the alien's glove. Dark blue was the blood of this alien and this contest ended just as fast as mine. The entire attack and Narths incredible fast counter lasted no more than maybe half a minute.
The only sound was the churning of the waves. Stokes dropped his arm again and announced Narth the winner.
Now Milieu and Lupe stepped into the ring, both with rapiers and it soon became apparent both men where supreme experts in that style of fighting. Lupe was better and he had slashed the other man several times but always hitting the armor and no blood was drawn.
The clanging and screeching of steel filled the air of the now darkening beach. Torches were lit and their light cast long shadows of the fighters as they danced feigned and attacked, parried and counterattacked. The fight must have been on for almost 30 minutes now. Both fighters sweating and starting to slow down, especially Milieu looked fatigued as his armor suit, as flexible it was, was not good at exchanging heat or moisture. Something the X101 engineers had no experience with and the reason flex armor suits were not adopted by the Navy as official personal armor. Lupe however seemed to enjoy the entire thing. A collective scream of disappointment and anger went through the watching crowd as Milieu kicked sand in Lupe's face and used the distraction to cut Lupe! The sharp blade sliced through the shirt Lupe wore. And Milieu stepped back, lowered his blade, bowed and said."First blood!"
Lupe ripped the shirt off to show his body." You didn't even scratch me, only sliced the shirt!" With these words he stepped forward, before Milieu could react and with a flick of his wrist cut an L shaped wound into Milieu's cheek, this time there was blood!
Lupe stepped back and curtsied to the on lookers. Stokes declared Lupe the winner.
Milieu howled with rage and was no gentleman at all. "You cretin and your abominable escort only won through cheating!"
I had enough of that guy and my temper got a hold of me once again." You better quit calling me or my friend's names! You're the one cheating from the start. Simply go away!"
"You whelp dare to insult me?" He raised his sword and pointed it at me!" I should skew you like a rotten fruit!"
I grabbed a rapier from the table and stepped back into the ring."Bring it on Loudmouth! You and me right here!"
I wasn't certain I did the smartest thing, he was an expert with that blade and while I considered myself a decent fighter and I trained endless hours I was not sure if I was in his league, but I couldn't help it as much as I tried to deny my heritage, deep down I was a true child of my planet and a hotheaded Neo Viking just like all the others.
We fought and I stopped trying to fight as elegant as Lupe taught, but reverted to my own Nilfeheim style. Hard powerful and with the intent to kill.
Lupe at first trying to prevent me from fighting became as quiet as the others. With a precise flick of my wrist and a lightning fast attack I sliced through the fastening control of the flex armor and the whole thing reverted to liquid metal and almost like quicksilver fell of Milieu into a metallic puddle to his feet. He was so shocked of his sudden loss of the armor and his complete exposure to the night wind that he forgot to fight. I poked the blade of my rapier under his chin. For a brief moment I wanted to kill him and the very thought of running the razor sharp blade through his throat seemed a very good one. I think he saw what I was contemplating in my face as he paled and cried." Have mercy!"
I growled at him."You will now loud and clearly apologize to Mr. Lupe and Narth for your insults or I start cutting and poking."
He gasped and gawked, his rapier dell out of his hand.
I heard Narth behind me" Quadiped if you make one more step I will consider this an attack on my friend."
"You can't stop me. Narth are not as strong as we are!"
The Quadiped attacked or wanted to attack and flew in a wide arch over our heads. I could hear him splash into the ocean behind me and put a little more pressure on the rapier drawing blood."I can't hear you!"
"I, I apologize. I recognize Mr. De La Lupe as the better fighter and accept his critique in the Magazine to be justified and correct. I apologize for insulting you and the Narth."
He swallowed hard and then with a begging and miserable face he said."May I please get out of the light and put pants on?"
I stepped back curtsied to him. "Apology accepted. I suggest any bystanders turn now and let him regain his dignity. I will challenge anyone laughing at his predicament and consider it a personal offense."
Stokes was the first to turn and he started clapping. Milieu actually returned the curtsey and Lupe stepped into the light offering Milieu a beach towel then turned around.
I did so too and went to Narth. I whispered." You guided my hand across that armor control. I had no idea I could cut into it."
"I accessed an article and technical specs and instead of telling you I thought this would be faster. I had to do something you would have killed him otherwise."
"True enough. I must work on controlling my temper a little better." "That is a worthy goal my friend!"
Lupe and the Ult came over to us. The Admiral shook my hand."Fine display of fencing skills and chivalry, Mr. Olafson."
Then he complimented Narth as well and said to both of us." When we meet the next time Cadets, I will be Admiral W. Stokes again. This was a private affair and has never happened officially." "Yes Sir."
"However before that happens, I am just Webb, the Ult and there is a little beach party going on and you are of course the guests of honor."
Lupe simply motioned us to follow the Ult and while we did he said." You are a true Master fighter, Olafson. You don't need any more training, at least not from me!" "Oh yes I do, Sir. I need to learn much in terms of style and every moment of practice will not be wasted"
Narth said."You never were in much danger being 5.6 times better than him."
"Five point Six times better?"
"Yes, taking into account his experience, skill level and practice and comparing it to your skills. I also factored in…"
"Five point Six, eh?"
Narth nodded. "You would have sliced him into that Tyranno Bait of yours you were thinking of and I did not think it would be a good idea if you killed him."
Lupe blinked his eyes. "I think that is the difference. You fight to kill! I hate to admit it but there is no such thing as style in a real fight, the only score at the end is who is alive and who is not. In any case I owe you more than words can express and I am deep in your debt."
"So are we." I said taking the glass of beer the Ult offered me. "I mean we are here at least for a night while the other Cadets do something much less pleasurable." Lupe nodded."You're right of course!"
"How long are we going to be here?"
"The freighter will leave in four hours."
Webb the Ult still standing near said. "There is a fast Cruiser leaving tomorrow afternoon. It has to make a stop at Camp Idyllic so you can party tonight. The Cruiser Captain knows you are going with them and he is waiting on the landing pad.
"Thank you Adm…I mean Webb." Lupe said and to us he said." We will be here all night then."
"That was all I needed to hear." The Narth robe was off in a heartbeat.
Lupe raised his arms."What are you doing?"
"Taking a swim!" I yelled back already running as fast as I could in my Fleet Issue boxers across the beach and then dove head first into the rolling waves. The water was much warmer than that on Nilfeheim, even during Shortsummer but it was a real Ocean. The salty water running through my almost dried out gills, feeling the fresh water energizing me was pure heaven. A shape was sliding next to me through the water. At first I thought it might be Narth, but it was Webb the Ult pushing past me with powerful strokes of his enormous legs. I pushed as hard as I could but without fins I could not keep up. Down here the Ult looked completely different than on land. Powerful, fast and I knew instantly they had developed from a carnivorous background. It was clear that water was their true environment.
Narth's thoughts reached me." They have food out here and wonder where you are, you and the admiral are gone for two hours."
"I am on my way."
I had to swim quite a distance to get back. The crowd seemed bigger than before and there was the savory smell of grilled fish and meat in the air.
Narth stood with the Saresii and was in a deep conversation. Webb came out of the water a moment after me. "You are the most excellent swimmer I have ever seen that is not Ult. You simply must visit Ulta one day. You might like it!"
"And I saw the true element of you Ults. You present quite a different picture when you are swimming."
His fish eyes looked at me and while his emotions and his face were as unreadable to me as before, he seemed pleased by my observation." Yes indeed. It appears you are among the few who really understand the Ult."
I put on the robe again just as I was done a plate of roasted meat and a mug of beer was floating before me.
Narth waved from where he was standing and said."This primitive roasting of raw meats over open fire is quite delicious."
Taking the plate and the beer I thanked him and started eating like a starved Tyranno.
Interlude: Stahl's MethodEdit
Webb walked away past the fire, and wanted to get himself a real Utlanese. He was Ult and didn't really have a sense of taste or smell, but he heard the Island Bars here served good Utlanese shakes with the right texture, to cater to the frequent Ult tourists when a man stepped out the shadows." It is quite a sight to see a Narth here among other beings. Eating solid food and using his telekinetic abilities to serve a human."
The man speaking to Webb was of above average height and human but he did not recognize him. Webb lived most of his life among humans and could differentiate their faces and he was certain he knew this man from somewhere." Yes it is. "Webb wanted to keep going but the man held a drink bowl of greenish Utlanese before his face."I think you wanted to go to get some of this, right?"
"Yes but I rather get my own, if you don't mind."
The stranger laughed." It's Huglan with squiggle worms in it. Your favorite brand I believe. I also think you have no idea who I am. I had no idea shorts and a colorful shirt to be such an effective disguise!"
Webb's big fish eyes got even bigger."Admiral Stahl?"
"No one around here wears uniform and neither are you. You know my first name!"
Webb took the bowl." It certainly is a surprise to see you here, but you're right this is my favorite. I truly wonder where you found real squiggle worms."
Webb wiped his snout after he had drained the bowl." That was real pleasure. I think I shouldn't be such a credit pincher and pay the outrageous prices they charge for shipping them to Arsenal." The Ult pointed across the fire where the Narth and the Neo Viking stood."I think you are here because of them."
"You know I am. After Letsgo told me a Narth was among his Cadets I really wanted to see if it is true. Not to mention my surprise to hear he actually went to fight a duel."
"Did you see the fight?" "Yes I did. It takes a lot to impress me nowadays, but that duel did."
"Haven't you been the only man ever to set foot on Narth Prime?"
Stahl nodded." This is why I am so interested and quite stunned by the recent development. I was on Narth. It was the most alien place I ever visited in all my life and during those few hours I felt like an insignificant insect that was allowed to see glimpse of something so far beyond my ability to comprehend. I simply can't adequately describe it. "
"They treated you that arrogantly?"
Webb said."More like a first year Cadet meeting Admiral Stahl aboard the Devastator eh?"
Stahl sighed and smiled."Actually that's a pretty good analogy. I was not very long on Narth mind you, a few hours at most, but the Narth is not the only reason I am here."
Stahl sat down and waved a Serv bot." It's a long story actually."
"I am the Commandant of the Academy after all. To get new insights from an immortal who has a track record of finding the special ones would be beneficial."
"I wasn't sarcastic, I really meant that. I mean you appear every so often, no particular pattern and pick seemingly random cadets others might even consider misfits and put them through your brand of more than unusual tests, that sometimes seem out of proportion and inhumane." Webb actually shrugged in a very human way." I don't know what happened to most of them, after you find them, but you found Harris that way who now steers that big boat of yours. Also I remember you picked that Shiss Zezzazzzzz. Nobody believed he would amount to much and look at him now. Then there was Lingodan the Shaill, Ilatora from Pertha and that woman Isadora. These are the ones I can remember right away. Each of them made history and will be remembered for a long time."
Stahl padded Webb's side."I also found you that way and I think you turned out quite alright."
"Of course I almost forgot. Yes you did put me through your strange process. I think I turned yellow for three month after you wanted me to steer the Devastator. I actually can understand why you are interested in the Narth, but what made you pick me for example? I certainly was not the first Ult in the Fleet."
"It is not all that easy to explain and not all the ones I pick turn out to be what I expected. For every Lingodan there are dozens I get disappointed. I remember seeing you struggle in a Desert survival test. Most Ults I knew asked to be excused from it, you did not. You nearly died and when you were told you failed you insisted in doing the test again and you only failed because you did not want to leave a human cadet who fell behind. After that I staged a few of those unfair and cruel scenarios and tests and you managed to succeed in every one."
Stahl threw his bottle with accuracy into a waste recycler, five meters away." The Academy does a great job of supplying our fleet with worthy officers who make this tremendous machine work every day. To do this you use a very efficient method of tests and training to shift through millions of applicants and Cadets and I think the Academy gets a little better at it every season, but to cope with the sheer size of all it is an almost automated process and this process turns out more or less the same flawless well functioning product. Officers that do their jobs and do it well until they retire or die. However I believe there are a few that stand out, which have a special talent. A quality that cannot be taught or measured and has to be there from the beginning. It can't be explained with genetics, race or gender or be found with Psionics. I tried using Computronic programs to shift through the applicants. You didn't test any different from any other Ult in any of the Academy tests, yet I knew you were different. I tried you and was proven right. In the same year I picked a Vantax who did something very similar and I thought I found another one and he turned virtually insane as I gave him command over the Devastator and had to be removed by force. Zezz, the Shiss. Didn't do much out of the ordinary, he simply was one of the first Shiss ever to apply to the Academy and he had a hard stand as he was considered the enemy and no one trusted him, despite all the tests confirming his integrity. When I picked him and put him through my own tests he exceeded every expectation and is now without question one of the finest Captains we have."
Webb nodded."Not to mention one of the best Small Craft Experts and Pilots."
The Ult looked across the fire."If I understand your method correctly, I would wager that Neo Viking over there would be such a candidate."
"I think you are getting the idea old Fish. I checked his background and file. He does have some issues I am not so sure about, but he fits the bill. I will keep an eye on him."
Webb tossed his bowl in the recycler and hit it as well." Since you are here and you tell me I should forget that you are actually one of the Immortals. Do you think I can ask you a question?"
"I am all ears, go right ahead and ask."
"I always wondered what really happened back then when you did get chosen by this Guardian. I mean all we really know are bits and pieces and mostly just rumors, legends and stories. Unless it is some sort of state secret, I always wanted to know and I probably never get the nerve to ask you again."
Stahl's eyes stared into the fire and Webb knew he actually saw something that happened over 3000 years ago." It's not really a state secret and you should never be afraid to ask me anything. I am not a dictator or anything like that."
"No you are not and I know you are honorable and trustworthy beyond any doubt, but you Immortals do have tremendous influence and power. It is hard for us mortals to really believe or understand what it truly means to be immortal. I was afraid of you not in a negative sense but more like a person is afraid and in awe when meeting something like a god."
"I am no god and you know that."
"I do, but you know you are not really human anymore."
"I feel very much human but I understand. You know before this all started I was just a Marine and I probably would have been afraid seeing an Ult…
Interlude: Stahl remembers...Edit
The Chinese tanks crawled over the ridge. Stahl spit into the sand and cursed."Never fight a land war against China and what are we doing here? "Jones his SAW man grinned weakly."Fighting a land war with China and it isn't looking all too good, Sir."
"Where are those choppers?"
Smither's pointed at his radio link and shrugged." No response just chatter Sir."
The Chinese tanks opened fire, tank guns are not the best artillery and not really meant to pound fortified positions, but those were still big guns and lots of them. Fire, debris and destruction rained on the small Marine Corps Recon Unit. Smither's yells something about the Choppers and while Stahl could not hear him, the Land warrior system and the electronics of his equipment had been turned off for weeks now. Some Chinese kids actually managed to hack into the Satellite based, super advanced high tech land warrior battle system of the United States and provide Chinese artillery, missiles and every weapon in between with the exact GPS location of every American soldier.
As a Recon Unit they weren't really equipped to deal with a full scale Armor attack. The four Dragon IV rockets they had, already used yesterday.
This was it, Stahl thought. The choppers would not come, either being busy elsewhere or being attacked by Chinese fighter jets. He was certain America would somehow survive this war, after all since Iran nuked Jerusalem and Jaffa and the Israelis retaliated by leveling Teheran, Baghdad, Riad and Cairo the rest of the world showed some restrain using nuclear weapons. Taiwan was lost, Japan would be next and he doubted the Russians could hold of the Chinese Juggernaut from rolling all the way to the Atlantic Coast. But then the Russians still had lots of Nukes…
Stahl cursed in his native German, he would not give up without a fight. He pressed his eye against the rifle's optics and switched to armor piercing rounds. While hell broke loose all around him, he calmly targeted the driver's mirrors and periscopes of the Chinese tanks. Suddenly blind and unable to see where they were driving the tank drivers opened their hatches, perfect targets for one of the finest rifle men the Marine Corps had.
He had defeated 4 tanks that way and won a small victory. He gathered what was left of his men and looked over the wounded, tired and dirty men and then everything changed forever!
Out of thin air, right there before him a black robed being appeared. It had no face, just darkness underneath a monk like hood.
Stahl did the first thing that his live long fighting instincts had imprinted on his body, lowered the gun and wanted to fire. It was then the being spoke:" Be not afraid, my beloved Humans. I am the Guardian. I am a Machine and I was placed on this world at a time when dinosaurs roamed this planet. I have been here ever since and I have watched every step you took from discovering fire to harness the powers of the atom. You are often angry and violent children, but at the same time you created some of the finest music and art in all the Universe, developed philosophies and religions that touch indeed the true meaning of existence and you are technicians and biologists of great talent most of all you have incredible potential to become the most powerful and dominant force in the Universe.
" I lay hidden and ordered never to interfere in your affairs until the day you ascent to the stars. You have not reached that point on your own; someone else has given you today the keys to the stars, but you have reached it! "
Stahl suddenly saw images of Sphinx shaped UFO's landing in New York! He saw Human beings, actually beautiful women coming out of these ships and talking to the President! He didn't hear sound but the president was smiling and shaking hands.
The shrouded being spoke again." The Sarans, a Galactic civilization and distant kin to you have come to Earth and revealed themselves to warn you about a great danger that is on its way to devour this world. They also have given you the technology to reach the stars.
"But the Sarans are much like children themselves. They fight a long and unnecessary civil war among themselves. There are forces who do not wish the Terrans to ascent to the Galactic Stage. There are terrible enemies and dangers out there that you cannot face divided as you are now.
This is my task and purpose, to unite you. The time of national states and borders has come to an end. You are just one primitive species among many, on a small planet and now the Universe has become aware of you. Only together you might survive."
The shrouded being moved closer, Stahl still had the gun aimed." I don't know who you are, but stay right there and don't move till we figure that out."
"Richard Stahl, your weapon can not harm me. I came to you because you are needed. You are chosen by me to aide me in my task. Come with me!"
"I am going nowhere. I have orders and men I need to take care off. There is a war going on and we are right in the middle of it!"
"Look around you, Richard. The war has ended."
His men did not move, there was no sound. It was as if time itself stood still! "What are you, God or Demon or something like that?"
"No Richard I am not a God. I am indeed a machine, an artificial construct with one purpose and you are among those I have chosen to be my tools to achieve that goal."
The landscape disappeared before Richards eyes and before he could really think he found himself in a large cave. He could not pinpoint where the light came from that made the entire place glow in an eerie red shine. The shrouded man was standing before him on a raised platform of stone.
Richard was a Marine to his very core and nothing really scared him, but the recent events made him weary. He rubbed his eyes and said more to himself than to anyone in particular."Great, I got myself killed and went to hell." He was not too surprised that he ended up in hell instead of heaven.
The hooded man chuckled."No Richard, you are not dead and you are not in hell."
"Then where am I?" Richard looked around and sat down on a big boulder, put his gun but first between his legs."Why don't you explain it all to me in terms I can understand and keep in mind I am no rocket scientist, just a Jarhead."
"This is why you are here, so I can do just that."
"Yes Richard you may smoke your cigarettes."
His trusty Zippo made the characteristic metallic sound and he inhaled deeply." Well Spooky I am all ears."
"The Universe is a very old place and there have been civilizations roaming the stars long before there was life on this planet. Some developed into great civilizations that spawned Galaxies and they attained technology that will appear like magic to lesser civilizations. I am the product of such a civilization. I am indeed a machine, something like a very advanced computer you might say. Of course I have as much in common with the computers you know as the Sun has in common with your Zippo lighter, but for now it will be a sufficient analogy. The civilization that has placed me here, have a special connection and love for this world and especially you the Humans. I am not allowed to reveal their identity or true purpose until you as a race are ready. When this time comes you will know who they where and why they placed me here. For now they shall be known to you as Friends."
Richard tipped his cigarette and a length of ash dropped to the otherwise immaculate clean stone floor." So there are indeed Aliens out there, who would have known! I must say I am a little suspicious about the whole friend thing. I mean if the folks that made you placed you here and want to be called friends, they certainly want something from us in return. The Devil is known to offer great deals and calls himself friend and all you do is selling your soul into damnation."
"I am not a demon and I am not the devil, I assure you. I will ask a great deal from the Human race and I will ask even more from you, Richard. The Human race has no choice in that matter. I will complete my mission and fulfill my purpose. You on the other hand, you will have a choice after I explained it all to you."
"Sounds pretty final to me, well keep going. I got a few smokes left and I am going to miss Chow time anyway. It wasn't looking to promising for that today anyway."
"I can provide you with any material things you require. Including smokes and food, your physical well being is of paramount importance to me. "
"If that is the case you should not encourage me smoking. It supposed to be bad."
"Cigarettes or diseases will have no ill effect on you from this day on, Richard. For the task you are chosen you must live a long time. Aging has no longer meaning to you. Among the gifts I will give you is the gift of Immortality."
Richard wanted to make a sarcastic remark and write it all off as a bad dream he most likely had, lying mortally wounded in a ditch somewhere in the Mongolian Desert, but he couldn't. Somehow he knew this was all real. "Immortal you say? As in unable to die?"
"No Richard, you still can die. Immortal as in impervious to age and disease."
Without waiting for another question or response of the Marine the Alien being continued." I was placed here on Earth to watch over mankind. I was not allowed to interfere in any internal struggles, wars or problems and by the Spirits of the Universe you humans sure had a lot of those. More than once you came quite close to make my purpose meaningless by destroying yourself. I was to activate and reveal myself to you on the day you open the door to the stars. On the day you develop faster than light technology I was to appear to all humans and guide them on their way. You have not reached that stage on your own. While you fought the Chinese something else happened. Members of an advanced civilization openly landed in New York and met with your president. The Sarans are distant relatives to your kind. They are human as you are. I do not have the information why this is so and it is up to you to find out in the future. The Sarans have come to Earth once before and first met humans during the time of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. I did observe but not intervene as the Sarans did not share their technology with you back then and they left after a few months. Their visit became legend, lore and religion and was soon nothing more than tales of old gods."
"So the Pyramids were built by the Aliens after all!" Richard said more to himself as to interrupt the Alien.
"No Richard, the Pyramids were erected by you humans and without any help from the Aliens. The ancient Egyptians however tried to entice and appease the sky gods to come back with those monuments. "
"All right, Aliens landed in New York. That should have shaken the world pretty badly!"
"It has, Richard. It was the cause of the increased attack activity of the Chinese you experienced for example. As they feared that the Aliens shared their technology with the Americans alone.
And share their technology they did. The Sarans left your President with detailed instructions as how to build faster than Light ships. You see there are many other Exo terrestrial civilizations out there. One of these are the Xunx. An insectoids species that does not communicate or interact with others, they do only one thing swarm out from their home world every 1000 years and attack other worlds. To them it does not matter if that world is occupied by another civilization or not. Anything organic is considered food and will be consumed, anything that does not have six legs is not considered worth living. Much like the locust of Earth , like a biblical plaque they come and when they leave rich and vibrant garden worlds are nothing more than lifeless rocks.
In 50 years from now the Xunx will once again awake. There are not many Garden worlds left within their reach, and one of them is Earth."
Richard grabbed his rifle as he suddenly saw life size images of huge insect monsters that looked like a cross between Hornet, Praying Mantis and Cockroaches, only twice the size of a man. Before he actually pulled the trigger, he realized that he only saw realistic three dimensional images. The insect monsters were armed with gun like weapons and wore armor.
The shrouded man explained." Your gun could kill a Xunx, but not if a Xunx wears battle armor and has its force fields activated. Besides you could kill a million and there would be two million to take their place. Individual death means absolutely nothing to them. Their technology is crude to Galactic standards but far beyond anything earth has now and there are many Hundred Billion Xunx and sixteen Hive planets with caverns full of warrior eggs ready to hatch at any moment to replace the losses in mere days. There are several human species in this Galaxy and while no one knows why, it is generally believed you all have a common ancestry. This is why the Sarans revealed themselves to you at this point. They know about the Xunx! They themselves have nothing to fear from the Xunx. The Saran Empire is technologically more advanced and very powerful, but they are involved in a Civil War and are unable to provide Earth with protection against a Xunx invasion. So they decided to give Earth the rudimentary knowledge of faster than light travel so you can build Arches and evacuate as many Humans as possible. The Sarans did that not without self interest. They hope you would join them and swell their ranks. The Sarans know of the Terran aggressive talents and thus gain willing warriors in their own struggle."
Richard was a soldier all his life and war was his business. Despite all the fantastic information he received from the Guardian, he started to think and then said." If I would be in charge I would not evacuate Earth but somehow prevent the Xunx to leave those hive worlds in the first place. Strike them hard while they are still in that sleep or hibernation state."
Stahl crushed his last cigarette and got up." I am not sure I am capable of fighting space wars and all that. I am just a Marine, aren't there any brighter and more intelligent choices than me?"
"I assure you Richard, my selection process is not based on random chance but there are many factors that made me chose you."
"How do we get started then? Fifty years to build up some sort of space fleet isn't all that much time!"
The Guardian laughed warmly." I have no doubts I have chosen correctly and you are quite right. Fifty years is a very short time. You will not be alone and I will be there to guide you until you all can stand on your own. I have appeared to each and every Human. I have abolished all existing governments and warned anyone from forming new ones. Anyone claiming to be a leader regardless of religious, political or territorial reasons will be immediately and permanently removed by me. A new capitol city is to be build on the South Pole. Until the new world government is established and stabilized I will rule and watch. You and 199 others will be my executives and each will have a specific task. Only if all this is in place then there will be open elections and I will deactivate and cease to exist as my part and task will be done."
"I think you will have a hard stand. Americans especially don't like the idea of a world government and one person being their dictator."
"I know humankind, Richard. In times of peril democracy will not work. There are those who will claim I am the Anti Christ, others will call me an American Imperialist and yet others will see me as Savior and solution but I can see everyone, know what they are doing at all times and I will prevent any rebellion at the very beginning. This is harsh and I know but this is my task and purpose. Only as a united planet, as one people will you be able to withstand the perils that await you. A new era has dawned, Richard, you have access now to technology that allows you to reach other planets. The entire solar system can be settled and planets far beyond. To show the people of Earth the extend of my power, I have cured and healed every single person. There will be diseases and accidents in the future, but for now everyone is healthy with a clear mind. "
"You're in trouble now, Guardian. If everyone is healthy then there is no one the lawyers can sue. They just might sue you!"
"What you meant as a joke actually already happened, but common sense and not lawyers will prevail for the next decades."
Next Chapter: Daniel Station