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Chapter 7: Slaves

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Galactic Chronicles IX: Eric Olafson, Space Pirate
Chapter number 7
Previous Chapter 6: Alvor's Cove
Current Slaves
Next Chapter 8: Kaliment

I cursed the former owners of the ship; nothing was labeled or arranged in any way that made sense to me. Where were the controls for the viewers? Where did they put the weapon console? This would not been easy if I had time to figure things out.

The Comm. system came on and a rough voice said." I repeat, land your craft or we will destroy you!"

I didn't know who turned on the Communications or if the channels were open, but I had no time to spend time or concentration on talking. My mind reeled as I tried to recall what I had learned about Velorian technology in Xeno-tech class. I wished Wetty would be here, she would have no problems figuring it all out, just glancing at it.

The speakers blared with the unfriendly voice. "There will be a reward. If you give up now, I personally set you free and see that you are returned home! I take you to Netlor and from there you can reach Checkpoint 96! Just land the bloody thing and let us talk about things!"

"Liar!" I grunted and paid no further attention. I muttered to the rest. "That was the biggest load of Fangsnapper Dung I heard in a long time. Either he wanted to save the ship, no matter how old and badly maintained it was, a ship this size was still valuable. Or he was afraid I found the weapon and shield controls." I had seen the weapon turrets when it landed, nothing to really scare anything bigger than a D 40 but more than enough to take care of a Landing tank and ground troops and liquefy some of the local landscape.

Maybe they had planetary defense batteries but they were useless against a ship already on the ground. I doubted they had the kind of hostile ship containment hardware needed to deal with a rogue ship on the ground.

I finally found the helm controls and flooded the Arti Grav while I tried to take reactor from standby to full.

I cursed even worse as one of the freed slaves pulled a lever that looked as if it was connected to the main engine control. Not that I had seen any levers on a starship before, but it, was next to a panel that indicated the ships power generating status.

A clunking sound could be heard and the lights flickered. All my engine indicators went dead and the AM that had just lifted us a few meters of the ground cut out and we slammed hard back on the telescopic landing gear, most likely bending or breaking what was left. Someone pointed out the main viewport." Whatever you did human, they're running like hell! Landing tank and troops they just turned around!"

The dirty man delivered the bad news." I think we just ejected the reactor core."

No wonder they were running, there was still enough AM in that core to blow a sizeable crater in that landing field. However even if it didn't blow, our chances leaving in this dung heap were gone!

The human who just pulled that lever turned holding a blaster drained at me. "I think I take that reward. He fired sweeping the bridge with paralyzing energies and my impulse to jump at his throat and strangle the traitor was stopped by the same rays that toppled the dirty man and the Saresii woman fractions of a second before me.

This place, this planet was getting to me; it felt like the amusement park ride I had taken on Twilight. Up and down and without any control where the ride would go. I found myself in a cavern like room with sturdy looking metal bars across the open end. The cavern's floor was covered with reeking straw and about thirty others, naked as me were there. We all wore metal collars. While the others could walk around, mine was attached to a chain which in turn was locked to a steel loop bolted to the rock wall. It gave me very little room of movement. My hands however were free.

To the right of me was the dirty naked man and to my left the Kermac. The Kermac had in addition to his steel collar a blinking device attached to his forehead. Probably some device blocking his Psionic abilities, there were no women with us and no non humans, but on the other side of the cave leaning against the wall, the cursed coward who had paralyzed us.

Seeing his guilty face as he glanced over made my blood boil and I jumped up forgetting and then disregarding the chocking collar I tried to reach him, of course completely impossible, the chain was way too short to reach across the nine meters that separated him from my longing fingers. However the coward shrieked and scurried like the vermin he was further away into the opposite end of the grotto. I also noticed more than I heard a grinding noise from the loop. It wasn't as solid attached to the wall as it looked. Two of the lower anchor bolts were somewhat loose and gave the whole plate a little room to move.

I settled back down but said in his direction. "You better hide, if I ever get lose and before I try to escape or anything, I am going to kill you."

The thin man shivered and said. "They did not keep their promise! He said he would let us go!"

"You are as stupid as a bag of rotten Snapper fur, you backstabbing, cowardly slime fish excrement. Of course they didn't keep their promise, they are slave traders and you are nothing but merchandise to them."

The dirty man next to me said. "He is a Gal Drift; they are as whacko as they come." He turned his head to look at me and exposed his bright teeth. "You did well out there, real well. We could have made it. Somehow I think you're Fleet, right?"

I took the chain between my fists and began to rhythmically yank at it. With satisfaction I felt the play in it and the fine dust grit dropping on my naked and sweaty back and said. "Yes I am."

The dirty man's disposition that appeared so unshakable did change as he glared over to the coward. "We really could have made it, if it wasn't for him!"

The Kermac spoke for the first time and his voice sounded weak. "What is a Gal Drift?"

Another slave not tied to the wall and one I didn't recognize." Galactic Drifters are a bunch of ideology whackos in need of Psycho Surgery. They don't believe in Union laws and that includes Schools, Citizenship and so forth. Children of the Universe they call themselves and believe all war is wrong, weapons are for evil purposes only and think if you Kermac want to rule over us then accept it instead of fighting."

The dirty man added. "He was probably a stowaway when whatever ship he was hitching a ride was caught and raided by pirates."

The traitor hissed. "No, that agent of your establishment, the freighter captain sold the entire container we were hiding in to slave traders!"

I glared at him. "Lucky for you, if I had been that freighter captain, I'd spaced you!" Still I didn't like what I heard, it reminded me of little Exa and her story how she ended up on Twilight.

Someone wanted to know. "What is going to happen next?"

Again the dirty man, at least that's how I called him in my mind, responded with an answer. "It's still early in the week. So we wait till market day in two or three days and then we are auctioned off and sold. The Union soldier here will go for much money to one of the fight arenas or if they realize he is Union fleet, some of the Kermac agents might purchase him. Where everyone will end up is hard to say, depends who shows up and what demands there is."

I turned to the Kermac. "I guess that's your ticket out of here, right? Your agents will recognize you and you're back home in no time."

He shook his head. "I am a Ranig, I am not important enough to be rescued. Our agents here try to stay low profile and would not risk exposing themselves by buying me. They are only here to pick the occasional Union Fleet member, Saresii or Union Techs and scientists. Picking me would serve no purpose."

The dirty man said to me." The name is Tirkov. You don't have to call me dirty man anymore, not that I mind but we are all quite filthy again and it might be a tad confusing who you give orders too."

I blinked. "Sorry, I didn't even notice I said it out loud. I am Eric by the way."

"You did as we raided the ship and on the bridge you barked orders. Again I didn't mind they all made sense and I know I used to have my own ship."

The Kermac looked at me and said. "It figures, you had to be Union Fleet. Terran even, I think."

I didn't want to give the enemy too much information. I didn't like Kermac and he was one of them, but why I suddenly remembered Egill's words while I had to clean his tower burg, I could not tell, but I could almost hear his dry voice: Don't be so quick with your judgments until you see the whole picture.

So I answered." No I am not Terran, I am from Nilfeheim."

Tirkov laughed and slapped his hand on his naked thighs. "A genuine Neo Viking, now that explains the temper."

His response surprised me. "You know Nilfeheim?"

He side glanced at the steel loop I was working on and gave me an almost unnoticeable nod and then said. "Years ago I had two Nilfeheim low men in my crew. Hard men they were, reliable. Didn't mind working, could drink Botnaars under the table and if they started singing their Valhalla Songs and praising the houses they had braved much hardship to escape the ship plates vibrated. Never been to Nilfeheim but I know a thing or two about it."

I actually stopped yanking the chain and stared at him saying. "I was told I was the first one of Nilfeheim that ever joined the Fleet."

He motioned me to continue working the chain and I did, feeling much more play now than before. The lower bolts now showed almost an inch of shaft. Steen said, answering me. "Maybe you are the first to join the Fleet and I didn't say my ship was Union either. From those two I told you about I heard that it was rare but not uncommon for third and fourth born sons, for Low men to book a passage on a Space Bus or hide on a freighter and leave that world to find their destiny elsewhere."

He didn't have to tell me about the fate of those sons not first born and I had my eyes opened to the almost slave like conditions some Clans kept their low men in. It was actually only natural that some would leave. I knew Uncle Hogun had spend some time off planet in his younger days, not that he had ever talked about it not even to me. Now I could tell that Richard the outcast who was one of my sword and fighting teachers also had spend time away from Nilfeheim. Only back then I was to blind and to inexperienced to see those tell tale signs.

I asked him. "Merchant or freighter or something like that?"

He grinned. "No, not merchant but a mercenary, I ran a mercenary outfit until recently. Problem was that our Intel for the last job wasn't exactly accurate and instead of a small band of local cut throats we faced two companies of Harlequin's Jokers complete with Zealot Battle walkers and they had no problem to sell the surviving rest of my crew including me to the Mulwhur Trading Company."

I had no real reply to what he just said. I knew what the definition of a Mercenary was but I never thought something like that existed in the Union.

It appeared he read my facial expression as he snorted and lost much of his toothy grin. "I know you Union fleet types look down on us and consider us criminals, but there are many shades between the white and black." He spat into the straw before him. "Now if I could just once, borrow a real Marine Heavy Destroyer Suit and maybe a few Cerberus robots. I would love to drop in on Harlequin and make his clowns weep."

I followed his example and spat into the straw. "I am here more or less because I used a sabotaged Quasimodo."

The Kermac tried it but didn't really manage to spit on the ground. "You humans are disgusting!"

I grinned. "No one asked you to try that."

He tried again with not much more success and then said. "I think I seen a Tri-visual on these Cerberus robots once, the high Wizard of Public education of course prohibits such Tri-Visuals."

I had to slow down my efforts; I didn't want the traitor to see that it would take little effort now to yank the chain of the wall. "So how come a Kermac can be found here among slaves? I thought you guys love enslaving others and promote the whole business."

He actually sighed and said. "We don't call it enslaving but giving lesser species the opportunity to reach their potential by having the great fortune to be guided by Kermac wisdom and tutelage." He looked straight at me. "The Grand Wizard still believes that and you have to be very careful, the thought police takes subversive thinking very serious and in general Kermac's love to denounce others to look good themselves." He touched the blinking device. "We are a race of Telepaths and Psi talents without the ingenious Psi laws the Union has. That's why we wear false beards with all kinds of Anti Psi technology just to provide ourselves with a little privacy." He then touched the scared wound on his chin we had crudely derma patched on the ship. "The average Kermac envies your union for one thing more than anything else, your PSI laws. Simple laws that protect ones thoughts and guarantees Privacy to us that would be paradise."

He paused looked at the straw then turned to look at us. "I was not completely truthful before, because am the Grand Wizard of Information, or to be more correct, I was. I challenged the Grand Wizard and instead of murdering me which would have created strong and hard to hide emotions and thoughts. I have been abducted in my sleep. My Psi shield and other implants forcefully removed and dumped. How I exactly ended up with the Slave traders, I can't tell because I found myself aboard that cursed ship."

He actually tried to move away from me. "You have places to go, somehow I know you won't be a slave forever, I have not. If I reveal myself to the Kermac agents, they won't go against the Grand Wizard and have to make sure I never return to Kermac Prime. To this add the general dislike common Kermac feel towards us Wizards and I will be lucky if I end up in a mine or smelter farm and not on a Togar BBQ spit."

I couldn't believe my own feelings as I actually felt sorry for a Kermac, a Wizard no less, but I said. "You could try to reach Union Space you know."

He laughed dryly."Getting interrogated and then dissected in a secret Union Lab, what would be the difference to being eaten by a Togar family?"

Instead of simply shutting up aiding and abetting a declared enemy, I said."I think you believe your own propaganda then. We do not do things like that. You ask for political asylum at any custom office and you will get it. Once that is done, you become a citizen. Doesn't matter in the Union if you're one individual or a whole civilization, we even took in the Dai. I know from the news there are a few Nul living as Union Citizens and no one dissected them."

He said. "You make it sound so easy."

As I sat there I realized I also believed my own propaganda as well. The Union did have secret lab facilities and I had transferred two Y'All warriors to one of them. The entire facility was nothing but a research center conducting experiments on sentient species. True the samples I had seen were of the worst enemies but still…maybe the Mercenary was right. Not everything was black or white and I caught myself to still think in absolutes. Of course as a soldier I understood that it was absolutely necessary to find out everything there was to know about an enemy and conducting research on Y'All warriors could lead to new tactics and new weapons. Yet by the strict sense of our laws and by the application of the fundamental core values the representatives at the Assembly recited loudly every year at Union week, we were as guilty as the Kermac. It did not matter if you did it only a little bit in secrecy or on large scale and in the open.

Something happened at the steel bars and that pulled me out of my brooding thoughts, two Oghar and a brown cloaked humanoid figure had approached. Under the hood I saw an ugly somewhat humanoid but certainly not human face and he said to the Oghar. "Take them out to clean the Moog's Cut, but leave the ones chained to the walls; they are too dangerous to give tools."

The guards opened the portcullis by operating a lever and herded the other slaves' outsides. The coward came to close and I used a leg sweep to make him fall, followed up with a bare food heel kick to his nose then rolled to the side to evade a shocker prod. My hand was free so I grabbed it behind the exposed electrodes and gave it a hefty tug. The big Oghar grunted and yelled stumbled forward and I placed a kick against his jaw. Nothing that would seriously harm the Oghar, my seemingly madness had a reason. In the tussle and due to the restricting chain I came to close to the other Oghar and he took me in a bear hug of which I did not even attempt to escape. I had accomplished what I wanted. The guard that caught me laughed rough at his comrade. "I pay money to see this one fight in the arena. The other rubbed his lantern jaw with the upward pointing brass topped tusks and grunted. "He's a wild one indeed." He hit me a few times with the whip and shackled my hands as well then they left closed the steel bars and tended to the other slaves using their shocker prods liberally and then they got shovels and buckets and were marched off to so some kind of labor.

As soon as they were gone, I strained my muscles and with a grinding sound the last bolts gave and I stumbled forward almost colliding with the other wall, but I was free.

Tirkov shook his head."You are crazy. They could have whipped and beaten you to death, why risk all those bleeding whip cuts?"

My answer were falling wrist cuffs and I held up a metal key. "Because I seen this on his belt." In my mind I thanked the Sojonites for the specialized training I had received so recently and it had included a few lessons on how to pick pockets.

It took me no time to free the other two and even take our chaffing collars off.

The Kermac shook his head and said. "I am grateful that I did not have to meet you in battle you are one resourceful young human."

Tirkov said. "I think am certain he is an officer, that's the result of their fine academy training."

I used the chain with the attached collar, looked through the bars as good as I could and saw other grottos like cut into the sides of sheer rock walls on the other side of this narrow canyon. As I stood there the magnitude of this became apparent. There were these alcoves fitted with steel bars in several tiers connected with steel walk ways. As far as I could see and there was reason to believe our side was looking the same. There had to be hundreds of these slave pens and from the looks of it most of them were occupied. There were dozens of guards lazily walking these cat walks swinging their prods in bored fashion. Even though I saw guards of different species, it looked as if the Oghar had the largest numbers. The escape would not be as easy as I thought it would be. I had planned to use the collar and chain to fish for the lever and open the bars, but it was still too bright out there and the guards on the other side would see us, raise alarm and could shoot us.

"It's still too bright; I said we better wait till it gets darker." I turned to the two and asked."It does get dark here right?"

Tirkov nodded. "Yes and very dark, there isn't a moon around this world. I think they will have a few flood lights, but other than that we will be able to leave."

The Kermac also looked outside."And then what will we do then?"

The Merc said." I am trying to scare up some clothing and a few coins. As soon as you are not recognized as a slave we are as free as anywhere. We could try to find work, hire on as hands on a ship that goes out, but I am going to call a few friends and get me a ride of this dust ball. You two are welcome to come along."

He gave me a glance from the side. "Someone like you could run his own outfit in no time and there is good money in it too." Then he turned to the Kermac. "You could learn to pilot a walker too, you know."

I said to him. "We need to get out of here first before we make plans for the future, but how would you make a call? I was told there isn't anything here to make calls."

The mercenary returned in making his toothy grin. "Maybe the rest of the Universe doesn't have GalNet, but that doesn't mean there is no way t communicate, I am sure there is a Myon Corresponder here, it's not instantaneous like fancy GalNet, and only slightly faster than the average space ship, but it gets your message from one planet to another and there might just be a Kermac Long Distant Telepath, now that is instantaneous too."

With a side glance at the Kermac I said. "I know about Myon Corresponder and Tachyon Radio. That's how we hail mother ships when I order all channels open, but I am not so sure I would entrust a telepath with my secret messages. Every other long distant telepath can listen in, right?"

The Kermac said." Wrong! First of all Long Range Telepaths are very rare naturally so we enhance their ability technically. Second they are social recluses and more tool than being and third you can always use code." He said with a miffed tone in his voice. "Not everything the Saresii do is better or superior to our way of doing things, you know."

"How can anyone take Kermac serious when all they do is being arrogant, trying to enslave others with their Psionics and send spies?"

I realized I was ruder than I wanted to be, but as I spoke I remembered the dead Garbini, I saw hanging in the wreck of the Seneca after the Kermac had attacked it and I remembered two Kermac agents unleashing Y'All warriors, most of all I was in this situation kidnapped because Kermac were the driving motor just to get to Narth through me.

He didn't sound offended but tired when he said. "That is why I am here and not in the Great tower. I questioned some of our politics, but you should not poke the stick into the plastic roof after it rained. I mean ever since the Union became so big it is often perceived as being arrogant. Go ask a Togar or a Kartanian or any number of Galactic Council member species what they think about the Union or the Terrans. "He raised his hands and said. "I am not defending what Kermac Politics and attitude did over thousands of years and it is hard for me to accept that. I still love Ker and my culture; I don't want it to become Union. I want it to reform, remember that we are an old race and could be respected for achievements. I disagreed with the increasing delusion and the blindness of the rest of the Wizards to the obvious facts and one of those facts is that there won't be a Kermac Culture if we continue in the same direction. They play with forces we don't really understand and that even among the Wizards any form of discussion is no longer acceptable. Everyone has no to agree with the Grand wizard."

He was talking himself into a rage and while he did so he more and more realized that he lost his home forever. Maybe it was the shock and the stress of the last days for him, that kept him level but now he was close to a breakdown and then he started crying. I didn't even know Kermac could cry. I still hated them, those white skinned, meddling bastards. It was them who got me here! Yet I had to tell myself that several times to make sure I still believed it. Maybe not all Kermac were the same and maybe shared misery like a Slave prison made me realize there weren't as many differences between him and me.

Tirkov said with an urgent tone as he glanced outside." Someone is coming. Armed Guard, a dealer and the robed ugly one again!"

We went back to the wall and pretended to be tied. I hoped they didn't notice that our chains were no longer attached to the wall.

The robed man with the ugly face was accompanied by a well fed Golden. I knew little about the Golden who were distant cousins to the Kermac and the Blue, other than that they were merchants and maintained big bazaars in all corners of the Galaxy. This one had an ugly cross like symbol burned or etched in his otherwise bald head. The Kermac whispered."That cross shaped scar means he is a disgraced Golden and is not allowed to sell or buy anything or conduct business. If the Golden find out he deals in sentient beings they might send assassins."

I simply made sure that he knew I heard his explanation. At this point I didn't care what kind of species the Slave Business Owner was, I also would save the Golden the expenses. I had no plans of keeping him alive.

The man with the brown cloak and the ugly alien face pointed at me and said."How much for the fighting boy?"

The Golden had a laboring way of talking and somehow he didn't even get all the words in Squawk right. "He caused much damage and we think he is troublemaker. But he brings good Polo for Company when sold to arena!"

The Ugly one had big ears and a hairy nose that seemed like the rest of his skin too big for the skull underneath and hung in loose skin folds down to his chest.

The Kermac again supplied me with some information. "That is a Yotenen, they are native to what you call Downward and I have never seen one in this part of the Galaxy. Broody, mistrusting race, not pleasant to deal with."

What the Kermac called a Yotenen held up a heavy little bag."Who knows what tomorrow brings, who knows if the Arena purchasers come and buy or believe your stories about him. I saw him fight and I offer 100 Big Polos Full weight."

"I could part with him for 200."

"I take him and the Saresii girl and I give you 250"

It was demeaning to be there and hearing two beings to haggle over you. They were still outside and the Guard was armed, they had to come in before we could rush them.

The money bag changed owners, the Steel barrier lifted but only the guard came in. For our impromptu plan to work they had to come. There was no other way I had to jump the guard.

As the Oghar came closer Tirkov made a groaning sound to distract him and as he turned I rushed up, slung my chain around the Oghars fat neck twisted my body to close the loop of the chain and pulled the chain with all I had across my own shoulders. The guard gargled and chocked, the Kermac jumped up took the knife from the guard's belt and stuck him.

Knowing we had seconds, I turned to rush after the other two when I saw the cloaked Yotenen push the Owner forward and inside our prison. The disgraced Golden staggered a few more steps and fell over, several fine steel needles had penetrated deep into the back of his head. The Yotenen man snarled with an urgent tone." Quick Eric I brought a second cloak and let us get out of here."

Of course! Wasn't it the secret ability of the Sojonites to change shape? This was the Mother Superior!

Tirkov was already stripping the Guard and putting the things on, when he stopped and laughed. "It looks I am not the only one who has friends around here. The Kermac was over the dead Owner pulling on the smudgy golden robe and also stopped. "You are full of surprises human."

I took the offered cloak and slipped it on. The Merc grabbed my underarm and looked at me with flashing blue eyes. "I still try to figure your rank and specialization, age wise you might already be full Lieutenant, but I could be wrong. You haven't told us how you ended up here, other than some cryptic remarks. I doubt you be the kind of officer herding a bunch of scientists at a distant outpost that got raided by pirates. I think you are a spacer. Come on tell us the name of the last ship you served."

"I don't think I am breaking any regulations saying that. It was the USS Devastator."

I took hold of his underarm the same way. "Good luck Tirkov!"

"Take care Eric, this is a big universe but I think we might run into each other one of these days."

Actually I was more surprised about my own emotions and reaction, I took the offered hand of the Kermac, and grabbed his underarm in that greeting Nilfeheim warriors reserved for each other and said. "Good luck Wizard. I doubt we will run into each other, but you opened my eyes to a few things."

He bowed slightly. "I never thought I would say that, but I respect you, Union man. You too gave me much to think about."

The hooded Alien slid close to me and whispered. "I am sorry it took so long to find you but there are a lot of slave cages to go through."

I slipped in the cloak and moments later we left. It took us a while to get to the ground level but none of the guards paid any particular interest in us, there was a steady traffic of coming and going. Slaves being transferred sold or used in work gangs for some local purpose or another; as we reached the ground, she pointed at a waiting two legged lizard with a saddle on it.

My new friends waved once more and disappeared moments behind the bend the Canyon wall made.

She asked me to climb on the back and after I did, she did the same and sat behind me. The lizard made a screeching sound as she forced with a tug on the reins to get walking.

The lizard moved fast and we had soon left the Canyon of Tears as this side arm of the local canyon was called and reached a more active area. Everything was built in or at the Canyon walls. Either in recesses or like balconies dotting the canyon walls all the way up. Bars, restaurants, bordellos and other small businesses advertised with illuminated signs. Here on the Canyon floor was a steady traffic of carts, people on foot and Lizards either pulling wagons or being ridden.

Only now did she speak again. "You caused quite a stir, stealing a Slaver ship, dropping the Core directly before the feet of the Local Lord and his cronies."

"I didn't know if you were still alive. I had planned to find the local temple as soon as I was able. I had to do something. I didn't want to end up on a Togar table."

"I was worried sick about you! I promised Richard to keep you safe. That Tornado was the strangest thing. Normally they don't occur around here at this time of year and rarely if ever exceed a T4; it was our bad luck to be caught in it."

I frowned and said. "Bad luck isn't even coming close; I think Loki personally is out to get me."

She asked. "Who?"

"The god of mischief and trickery in the mythology of my people," then I asked her, "did you get hurt? I tried to hold on to you but it was too late."

She steered the lizard down a side corridor and said. "I took the form of a Heentok. That is a storm rider from a planet where hurricanes and violent storms are the norm, but I lost sight of you."

She made the Lizard stop and jumped off. We had reached some sort of corral, a man height fence separated about a dozen of these animals and another one of those short three fingered beings took our mount and she received her deposit back.

The lizards smelled putrid but here it was even worse and I was glad to follow her away from it. I almost lost her as she suddenly turned left into a narrow cleft in the rock. Here too were little businesses and the dwellings of individuals.

She turned to see if we were followed and then pushed me through a curtain that hung from a cave entrance and into a sparsely lit tavern. Neither the being behind the counter nor the few patrons took any notice of our presence. They weren't consuming drinks but ate little flower buts form small bowls. We didn't really stop but passed through a second set of curtains, down a windy corridor that was almost completely dark.

We resurfaced in another canyon corridor and did this sort of thing four or five times more. I doubted I could trace our way back. Finally we went through the back door of a dirty, low tech hotel of some kind and ended up in a room with a mattress and a few pillows on the floor. The small round window was without glass, but had a set of curtains through which she looked outside. "I am pretty certain we haven't been followed."

She dropped the cloak and right before my eyes the shape of the ugly skin folds covered alien begun to melt and shift, become almost like a liquid and moment later she was the same older Saresii woman I had seen aboard the luxury yacht. She opened a trunk I only now noticed and said."You need to get changed too. Once they discover you're gone this place will become a witch's cauldron. You and your friends had caused a nice little steer and the Local Lord most certainly does not want to hear you escaped before you could be sold and punished in the arena. That is why we need to change now and leave this planet preferably before they notice. She changed again and into an Oghar Female just as brutish looking as the males, with pronounced jaws and tusk like teeth poking past the upper lips. From the trunk she put on the typical leather and metal garment outfit that appeared to be common for both genders of that race."

Her green skinned hand with yellowish long claws and fine scaled skin pointed at the trunk. "The other costume is for you! Get cleaned in the hygiene cell, get dressed. We are in a hurry."

I found the little shower and a sign in bold letters and in several languages warned of water wasting and listed the horrendous fees for using it.

I must have wasted almost 100 Polo coins worth of water and had spent a little longer under the shower than I should have. I doubted there was anyone as anxious as me to leave this planet, but the shower was pure bliss and rinsing my dried out gills made me realize I still had them.

She was standing by the window as I came out and said. "I estimate we have about 3-4 hours before they realize that I send the other slaves to do work they weren't supposed to do. That happens here all the time, but when they get back they will find the Owner and the dead guard and I am certain the Local Lord will prevent any ship from leaving until you and the others have been found."

I found that the seemingly primitive trunk had a set of controls that activated a portable Auto Dresser unit.

The Auto Dresser disguised me into a humanoid feline being with fine dotted soft fur, large ears and Whiskers and a twitching tail! Over it I wore a tight brown leather bodice with a red sash.

"You are a Togar Warrior now. Virtually unknown in Union space but a fierce race, quite aggressive and the red sash signals that you are in heat and just killed a suitor."

I could not believe my ears and spouted. "I am what?" She crossed her muscular arms. "It keeps all nosy folks away. Togar Females are even more irrational than human women during that period and kill and maim for the silliest reasons. Best thing is, every Togar we meet will instantly fight anyone to the death giving you the slightest disrespect, and there are a lot of Togar on this world."

I checked my new looks in the mirror field. "I sure hope no one wants to mate with me! I don't really want to find out what love means to a crazed two legged Togar tomcat."

She actually laughed. "Not to worry, they are a strict matriarch society. The retractable claws on your costume are monofilament Ultronit. You could claw a robot to shreds. Trust me I used that disguise many times!"

"Only you are a Sojonit Shape shifter trained in all those secrets. I only wear a clever bio flex costume! Can I not rather be some sort of human something?"

She shrugged. "This is what we had at the local temple. Trust me the other alternatives would have pleased you even less. Besides I booked us a flight on the next transport out of here and it is for a Togar Female with her Oghar bodyguard."

At least I could wear weapons openly; a Togar blaster and two swords like knives were part of the disguise. I did like the claw part. I could not help being fascinated by my tail. It twitched and moved, probably part of some random neuro impulse program incorporated into the costume. I had no control over it and that was a good thing."

"Stop looking at your tail. It won't fall off."

"I never had a tail before!"

"Well technically speaking ...sort of!"

She pressed another contact on the portable auto dresser and it crumbled and dissolved before our eyes into a pile of metallic dust. All that remained was a small Zero Point energy cube she put in one of her pockets. "Let's go, Maguria my Togan beauty. The transport is leaving soon!"

On our way back to the spaceport I could not ignore to see the gangs of humans and other beings everywhere with brooms and shovels fighting what seemed a hopeless battle against the dust and sand, accumulating in doorways and on sidewalks.

Everyone on foot wore cloaks in probably every shade of brown, and it was getting dark now. I also noticed the strange hopping movements almost everyone around us and before us was making. She warned me and pulled me at the sleeve. I almost stepped in a big pile of reeking greenish dung.

She whispered. "The lizards drop them everywhere. Walking here is called the Alvor Two-step."

Other slaves had as I saw now the disgusting duty to scoop those droppings into buckets.

She nodded towards the Slaves. "I detest it as much as you do, but open war is not the answer. Something has to be done, but subtle and not with the Terran sledge hammer."

I gave her a side look and noticed my long whiskers twitching in my field of view. "I hear that all the time, but I think sometimes the sledgehammer method shows others who's boss."

She sighed. "As I said you're a real Terran, no matter from what colony planet you come from."

We reached the mouth of the Canyon and before us stretched the landing field. I could see the brown slave trader awkwardly leaning on its side. A make shift scaffold was growing around it, probably to hoist the core back in. Two other ships were there as well. There was a smaller courier ship and a genuine SII Poodle IV, known to be the first privately available long distance ship and a true antique.

She guided me to one of the stone buildings and into a sparsely furnished passenger lobby. There were only about a dozen beings in that bare waiting lobby. It had a glass front and a few crude looking benches, nothing else.

She asked after we sat down. "War will come again. It is certain all we can do, is delay it as long as possible."

I remembered the Kermac Wizard who was a slave just like me, but he confirmed what I believed about them. "It's the Kermac who agitate and pull the Tyranno's fin. They do that even before Terrans were around! They tried to attack us with Psi spores. It was them who send spies and have abducted me!"

She padded my furry legs. "Of course you are correct but I am also a spy for a long time, and to be a successful one you need to learn to see things with the eyes of your enemy."

I glared at her and said without thinking. It can be very dangerous to do that. One might lose focus and not only see things like the enemy but think like it as well!"

"I am very aware of that, and our common friend Richard Stahl said that to me more than I can count. You are in many ways very much like him!"

"I doubt Admiral Stahl would dress up as a Sojonit and enjoy every second of it!"

She laughed." That is true. He actually would rather die!"

A fat human in blue robes and dust mask came in and he was followed by six naked slaves. Each of them carrying great loads. The fat man barked at his slaves and they set up a table and cylinders and boxes on top of it. The blue dressed man placed himself behind the table and yelled in several languages including Union idiom. "Water, refreshments, perfumes, carbo snacks and meat sticks. Get them before you leave on your long trip. There won't be any refreshments on the transport."

Twenty minutes later we boarded the old Poodle converted to something like a passenger transport, settled down. Two Togar males rudely pushed a Kartanian out of the way and then I realized they did that for me.

We found out seats and settled down and moments later the Poodle lifted off into space.

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