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Chapter 9: Netlor

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Galactic Chronicles IX: Eric Olafson, Space Pirate
Netlor1
Chapter number 9
Previous Chapter 8: Kaliment
Current Netlor
Next Chapter 10: Checkpoint 96


Chapter 9: NetlorEdit

We managed to reach Netlor without incident or pirate attack, which would not have been unlikely in this region of space.

As we debarked the Velorian ship seven days later, we were greeted by a warm yellow sun and the surrounding area beyond the landing field was green. Netlor so I learned had its own life and had oceans. The temperatures hovered around 28 degrees and that felt nice compared to the baking oven conditions of Alvor's Cove or the freezing winds of Kaliment.

Netlor was, just like Alvor's cove in Freespace, but it was so Mother Superior told me well organized. While there was no real government, it was run by a consortium of several syndicates and a council of temple and faith leaders.

Here on Netlor was the head quarter of a religious sect called the Church of the Golden Whispering Spirit of the Universe. It had according to the Mother Superior several million members not only on Union Side but also among several Kermac Thrall species and Freespace Civilizations

The members of that church had to travel at least once in their life to this place and bathe in the light of the Whispering Statue.

On special dates chosen by that church, the light of the statue was in alignment with the Heart of the Galaxy hundred thousands of believers would arrive on Netlor and participate in these religious events.

Of course these pilgrimages were big business and the syndicates that ran the Hotels, shops and restaurants in the planets only town, as well as the Church made sure Pilgrims could be travel relative safely to and from Netlor and enjoy their practices and worship activities in safety on the planet itself as well.

All this I had learned from the Mother Superior on our passage.

The landing field belonged to a small space port, the field was clean Duro-Crete and there was a fleet of open top flyer taxis waiting for passengers.

We took such a taxi right away and flew a short distance into town. Only a few buildings looked permanent, most of the town consisted of stacked prefab containers and tents.

Mother Superior in her Oghar disguise acted a little as a tour guide and explained. "The actual light bathing ceremony only occurs once a planetary year, when the sun is perfectly aligned with a hole in this world's tallest mountain and the sun itself is aligned with the Center of the Galaxy.

The light then hits the head of a gigantic statue and the color prism installed in its head and takes on different shades. The believers of this fate then stand in that light and believe to be blessed by the Spirit of the Universe, they believe the light has curative effects and they can hear the Universe whisper to them."

I shrugged. "To each its own I guess."

The Taxi dropped us off before one of the permanent buildings. I estimated it to be about 70 meters high and was made of glass and Duro-Crete. It had a small version of the Statue in its front yard, neatly groomed grass and a water fountain. A multi language sign identified it as a Hotel and welcomed guests and pilgrims.

Check in was simple and we received a clean double bed room with a view over the make shift looking town.

She put the one bag of luggage down she was carrying and said. "Go ahead and enjoy the bath and order room service.

She produced a black Credit Strip Box and said. "I think that belongs to you and they do take Union Credits here."

It was the same Credit box I had found in the damaged flyer on Sin 4 and I thanked her for keeping it for me. She touched her tusks in a typical Oghar habitual gesture and said. "I am going to do the same and then we are going to visit the local Sojonit Temple to make a few calls and change our identities one more time. We should be on our way to Checkpoint 96 and Union space in about two days."

"Those are the best news I heard in a while."

Refreshed and feeling much better we left the hotel and took another Taxi flyer. Leaning closer she explained. "The last pilgrims for this season will leave soon and we will be among them, then this town shrinks to one third of its size. Most shop keepers strike their tents after this season and return with the begin of the next religious season. Besides being the center of a religion, this place is also a playground for probably every intelligence service in this Galaxy."

I asked. "Why what is so special about Netlor?"

"It's a neutral ground for one. Services can meet, exchange caught spies, watch each other and use this place as a gate into the territories of each other."

She pointed at a tent with a sales stand attached to it. Sacks and boxes spilled out all around the front of the tent and a bluish cloud of smoke hung over it all. "That incense and spice dealer is also the field office of NW3 or more precisely of the Shiss Intelligence service Naxxxtuu-www. The dealer is human and he does make a nice business on his incense but he and his crew also send regular briefs to the palace of the first nestling, among other things."

She laughed as she made me look to an impressive modern tent with force field reinforced Intelli-fab canvas walls, neatly stacked wares and project-a-sign advertisement showcasing fruits, bread and meat products."Can you guess who is hiding behind that grocery merchant's front?"

I rolled my eyes and said. "Naval Intelligence, would that not be a little too obvious?"

She nodded. "You got it right, it is the front for the NAVINT service, but then seven minutes ago all these tents were just tents to you. I am sure NAVINT has other operatives around but sometimes it is just as good to loudly proclaim your presence and thus attract lots of eyes and ears while you have friends of yours do something very quietly."

What she said made sense and I pointed out a stack of three Universal Containers towering over most of the other tents and temporary buildings around. "This is probably the Kermac outpost, right?"

She padded my shoulder. "Very good indeed, my young student, tell me how you figured that out."

For one it is taller than the others, it is a building rather than a tent. It is close to the Union Outpost and tall enough to overlook and watch the NAVINT tent. The keeper sweeping the front is a Turotonk; they are if I recall a Freespace species leaning towards the Basil who are in turn a Kermac Thrall species."

I could not tell if she smiled or wanted to eat me with her big Oghar maw. "Lots of conjecture but all correct. The Kermac, the Shiss and many others cannot afford not to watch the fancy and flashy tent of NAVINT."

I sighed. "All I wanted to be is a Star ship captain, not a spy or Counter Intelligence and I find myself sliding down that path, being involved in more clandestine stuff than Nubor Santini."

She asked. "Who is Nubor Santini?"

I watched her as she gave the Taxi pilot a few coins and said," He is the hero of a GalNet show that comes on every Thursday on the Action-Teen Channel and he catches Kermac spies and such with hisUltra Power Team from Planet T."

She seemed amused and motioned me to get out as the flyer had landed in the middle of an alley way between those rows of tents and huts and after we stepped off she said. "You might not be Nubor Santini, but I consider all what you experience now as a school of life and maybe one or the other thing you learn now about the Universe will help you later when you are a Starship Captain."

I really missed pocket where I could shove my hands. This Togar costume of course had none, at least none for the hands, so I crossed my arms instead and said a little gloomy. "Right now I simply hope I graduate or if I am lucky they let me repeat the month I missed chasing through Freespace."

She took my hand and padded it. "No worries my Soja, Richard is keeping taps of everything you do and I don't think he misses much even if he pretends otherwise. Or if you and I think he does not know about it. He let you command that big tub, and I am sure there is a Ship Command for you somewhere down the line. You are still young, very young and it might take years sometimes decades before they offer you a command chair and you got to fill the time till then doing something."

"You know the Admiral well?"

Her voice had a solemn quality to it as she said. "No one knows the eternal Soldier well I would think. He is as much an enigma as he is the rock and the unshakeable foundation; there is no one in this universe I respect more."

I liked her even more after she had said that. We walked not very fast and without apparent hurry along the gravel paved alleys between tents and huts were merchants praised their wares with coarse voices and pilgrims in golden cloaks and frocks rushed in every direction. She explained to me that a running person or someone in an apparent rush would draw more attention than a relaxed strolling person.

I looked at her and said. "What made you decide to become a spy? I mean besides being the Sojonit leader."

She spread her arms and added. "Only a very few perhaps chose to be in this business, usually it chooses you. Spies are made by others, it's not a choice and it is an old game that is played behind the shiny facades of civilization since time begun. I sort of slipped into this business and I believe if our Union wants to survive and stay on top of things, we have to play it too. Now I want us to play it better, dirtier and more efficient than all the others, do you know why?"

She didn't really give me time to answer as she said. "I love our Union as much as you do. It has its faults and isn't perfect, but I am around for much longer than even the Eternal Soldier and I have not seen anything like it, since I left Sares Prime a million of your years ago."

I gasped. "You were talking about yourself when you told me the story of the Sojonites. You found the Rainbow Place, right?"

She started walking and I followed over the unpaved gravel and dirt. "Yes I was one of the Saresii that left Sares Prime with our last space ship."

The realization that she was that old made me wonder who she really was. I didn't doubt her word one second. In my own short life I had met several immortals, but even the age of everyone I had ever met combined did not come close to her life span.

She gestured to a big pink tent with a large Sojonit Goddess statue about two hundred meters ahead and said. "That is where we are going."

After walking another hundred meters or so she said. "You are very quiet suddenly. Have I frightened you, it is not often I reveal this aspect of me."

I answered. "Frightened? No I am not frightened, but deeply in awe and really unable to understand it, to put my mind to it even though I believe you."

Only now I noticed she had her hand on my back and said with a warm tone in her voice. "You met immortals before, have you not? Egill, Ekhard the ancient keeper, McElligott, Richard Stahl who takes particular interest in you. There are your Coven friends and of course the Narth. It is conceivable that you too will go this lonely route eventually. If you do indeed join the Narth then your age is no longer measured in years or even centuries. I think the Narth don't even count and perceive time as the rest of us does."

I never thought about that and said as we closed on the Sojonit tent. "Narth is my friend on a level I can't explain but I am not sure if these Meta physical things he says always mean something to a human. I am a simple Neo Viking of Nilfeheim, how could I possibly become a Narth. I know so little of them and they are so completely alien. And besides Egill does not count, he is only something like 400 years old,and how can Ekhard be immortal? He is dead."

"After what point do you think immortality does count? Your distant grandfather, especially after he received help from the Saresii can get as old as he wishes to be. Ekhard simply didn't want to live anymore. That's how immortals mostly die by the way, they simply don't want to live anymore after loosing everyone they knew, after they fullfilled whatever task they had or by no longer really fitting in."

I listened to her and then said. "You know much more about me then you let on."

She didn't respond to that directly but said instead. "You still think in human terms Eric, you barely begun your second decade. Even in human standards you're barely an adult. Understanding will come when it is time to understand those things." Then she laughed. "Yes you are a Child of your world but you have long ceased to be simple my young friend."

I frowned and said. "Not that I mind the company of immortals and all that, but I wish all of you would stop talking in this cryptic fashion. I always feel like I am getting an answer but too stupid to get it."

She laughed. "No my Soja, not to stupid. To impatient and too young. No worries once you get to be my age you will find out there are still as many questions and things you don't understand as when you started and there are still times, maybe not as much as there used to be where I feel the same way. Especially after talking to a Narth."

With that we entered the Sojonit temple tent.

Inside it smelled just like in the temple on Sin 4. It was a fresh, feminine perfume not as sweet and thick as the smell of the incense candles I still remembered. It was cool and a typical Sojonit in the standard pink uniform sat behind a frilly desk and greeted us with a voice as frilly as the desk." Welcome travelers; let the sorrows and tribulations of the outside world behind. May the Goddess Sojo bless you with a joyous journey into the blissful heights of sexual ecstasy and carnal satisfaction we servants of the Goddess will provide to you?"

Mother Superior said in a strange language I never heard yet perfectly understood. "I am the Mother Superior."

The Sojo got up only to bow deeply. "Your neural patterns are indeed those of our most exalted leader and your aura matched the one on file. Welcome to the Netlor Temple of the Goddess, Mother Superior."

She touched a flower like inlay on the artfully decorated desk surface and a pink sheer looking curtain flickered with purple energies and vanished. The seemingly wispy curtain was actually a Holo-disguised TransDim force field. This so innocent looking large tent, could probably withstand the onslaught of a large caliber FE-cannon.

The tent was about the size of a Nilfeheim three family home and behind the force field entrance were several separate service chambers arranged around an indoor pool filled with perfumed water and fed by an illuminated color changing water fountain. Two Sojonites bathed with a human customer. He paid little attention to us.

We entered one of the separates, she closed the curtain behind us and I could hear the fine humming sound until another force field was established. The room was filled with satin pillows, rich carpets, the light came through the crème colored canvas walls, giving the illusion they were indeed just thin fabric tent walls. There was kitschy looking, elaborate styled divan with satin sheets and more pillows. The entire divan, big enough to accommodate three Perthanians slowly lifted and revealed a steep spiral stair case.

After descending the stair case for more than ten minutes, I almost got dizzy doing it, and walking through a narrow corridor we passed a solid looking Ultronit door and into a comfortable, cool and modern furnished lounge. Before the Ultronit door hummed shut, I turned and saw the entire corridor shrink and turn to solid rock!

The Oghar female shimmered into the form of a Saresii and the now far too big leather and steel outfit simply fell all around her to the floor. She motioned towards the now closed door and said. "The power we use to shift forms is not limited to our own bodies. If we are together and link our abilities we can affect other matter too. To affect such vast quantities of matter we use Saresii Psi enhancers and pre determined patterns. That of course is the short version of an explanation how this works."

Women so I found or perhaps the ones I knew so far had much less inhibitions to undress even before others. She appeared perfectly content being completely in the buff, but then she had a wonderful shaped body. In this regard the Saresii were as human as could be and very attractive to boot.

She waved her hand. "You can take that Togar costume off now. We will take the rest of our journey together pretending to be Union Citizens and Pilgrims on the way back from a trip to the Statue."

It took a sharp knife and some careful cutting to get this tight suit open. Bioflex was living tissue after all and it did not require buttons, zippers or other closure systems, but like Intelli-Fab the seams grew together and had to be cut open to separate again.

A Sojonit came in gathered the items and said with a nice inviting voice."If you would like to tend to your hygienic needs, Sister Nightshade, there is a bath if you step through that door."

I was glad I could leave the room. Despite my recent experiences, I still liked to wear clothing especially in the presence of women.

The Sojonit opened the door for me and said. "If you like company or like to be washed, let me know."

I blushed and thanked her for the offer but declined.

After the bath I was asked to use an Auto dresser once more and it gave me a golden colored flowing gown and once again female features. Mother Superior wore the same golden garment. She asked me to sit and listen to the report one of the sisters gave. "The Worm and the Kermac have stopped searching for the human on Sin 4, a Taxi driver was found who claimed he had seen the human fall to his death and the reward retracted. Luckily no one made the connection with the events on Alvor's cove. There they believe the ruckus was caused by the crew members of an enslaved Mercenary leader who managed to escape with several members of his crew, stealing the personal ship of the Local Lord and leaving his highness behind tied up and lying on the landing field for hours. The Local Lord is furious but no one is looking for a Terran or Union Officer."

Mother Superior nodded satisfied. "It seems your friends from the slave pen made it too and provided us with a good cover. I was really afraid someone would associate the events on Sin 4 with the ones on Alvor's Cove."

The Sojonit that briefed us glanced on her PDD and said. "I doubt the Local Lord will make too much fuss as he found out it was Tirkov Steen. He would not want the Steen's Devils to pay him a visit. Unlike the fleet, private Mercenary units can go anywhere and that one is one of the famous ones."

I decided to read up on this Mercenary business once I had a chance. Not that I had any plans to ever join such an outfit, but maybe I could send Tirkov a message one of these days and see how he faired.

Mother Superior was pleased as well saying. "Nothing better could have happened, given the situation. The incident is just one of many like this in Free-space and no one will talk about it tomorrow." She gestured towards the PDD. "We have been out of the loop for a while, my Soja and I; any news from home?"

She nodded. "GalNet One transmitted a mass execution of sixty one individuals from a planet called Newport all accused and found guilty of treason. The Assembly officially welcomed the Botnaars into the Union of Civilizations. Those war loving brutes from the Spin-ward section used to be independent Free-spacers after they left the Galactic Council 700 years ago. Also the arrival of the first 500 Narth at the PSI Corps Academy on Phantas caused big news and was hailed as a momentous historic event. The Narth Supreme addressed the Assembly for the first time just three days ago and finally Alycia Lichfangh and Admiral Stahl announced their engagement and their intent to marry. That is still all over the Talk channels."

Mother Superior turned to me. "Alycia Lichfangh is the Commandant of the PSI Corps. She and McElligott founded it as a special task force and research group to develop means of Psionic protection and combat Psionic crimes and espionage. Only beings with a HD-PSI index over 500 and intensive testing and training are admitted. Lichfangh has many Psionic talents and no one can lie or not answer her when she is present."

I didn't know much about the PSI corps, but I had met the General in Admiral Webb's office when I was admitted to the Academy, but there was always plenty of talk and scuttlebutt about them and everybody knew something about them. From Academy classes I knew the PSI Corps was one of the most potent Special Forces units primarily engaged in internal security and counter intelligence. It was, so I had learned mostly due to the PSI Corps that, despite all efforts of the enemy no outside force had yet discovered the secrets to several key technologies that made the Union and Terran forces as strong as it was. Chief among those technological secrets was the Translocator cannon. But the entire PSI Corps had only three or four thousand members and their resources were always stretched to the limits.

The Sojonit with the PDD said. "All that makes the Nul and especially the Kermac very nervous and you can feel the tensions especially here on Netlor. Five hundred Narth to become trained PSI Corps agents are bad news for anyone spying on the Union, especially of course the Kermac and the Worm. No one knows the true potential of the Narth, but no one doubts they are beyond anything we know so far."

Mother Superior again turned to look at me from the side. "As you know now, that was the reason they tried to get to you, but now your Narth is just one of many and they won't focus just on you anymore."

I leaned back and sighed. "This is indeed good news then. I would rather be one of many and not the focus of an entire enemy civilization and a Criminal Organization to boot."

She gave me a long look and now for the first time, perhaps because she didn't wear her mask I felt that same eerie feeling that made my skin crawl, when an immortal looked at me. I got it when McElligott did and from Admiral Stahl as well. For some strange reason I also was certain there was something like affection in her eyes and also a hint of fear or sadness. She said with a slight emotional vibration in her voice. "Yes those are good news, but I fear that you my little Soya will never be just one of many any more." She padded my hand."If you reach your life's goal a Star ship captain is never one of the crew."

I never really thought about it that way, yet both Admiral Stahl and Captain Harris told me the same thing, but then that was years in the future and with all the detours life threw at me, it might even take longer. I asked her."What is a Soya?"

She looked surprised and then said. "I did call you that didn't I? Well it's nothing really just an old word. I think we should go and see the Statue and take a little sight-seeing tour and after a good night's rest we take the next transport to Checkpoint 96."

She got up and added. "But first I too have urgent business to attend. Something even immortals still have to do."

She went to the bath room door and closed it behind her. The Sojonit leaned forward and whispered. "Soya is an old Saresii word can be translated as: 'beloved student '. You should be very proud of that, there are maybe four or five she has ever considered her Soya as far as I know and as I think she revealed to you her true age and you are certainly the first male ever so honored"

I was still thinking about that and why she had chosen to call me that when we left the Sojonit tent. The lanes of gravel between the tents and makeshift buildings were now filled with men, women and members of several non humanoid species and they all wore these golden dresses like robes, girded with a tasseled rope around the hip. On the feet they all wore simple slippers, just like we now did. Many wore additional capes with attached hoods. Not everyone wore them up, but we did and our faces were partially hidden underneath a veil that was supposed to keep the dust and local insects away. We instantly blended in and there was a busy din of voices as the pilgrims frequented the stores, shops and souvenir stands.

We too stopped at a few and looked over the offerings. There were miniature statues in virtually any material and sizes. The statues all depicted a somewhat human shaped being that stood inside a hexagonal frame with outstretched arms and legs. The figure had no feet or hands or any other details and was smooth and featureless. The head of the figure was a metal loop with five different colored glass segments: Green, Red, Blue, Yellow and White.

The most popular item appeared to be jewelry. Earrings, necklaces and armbands adorned with the same symbolic figure.

Mother Superior who asked me to call her Gamia now and I had to answer to the name Renia, purchased a necklace and handed it to me. "Here wear that, it will look nice on you and it will be a souvenir reminding you of this time."

I thanked her and put the thing around my neck. She bought herself a set of earrings and I took what looked like an incense burner. "What is the meaning of this figure anyway?"

She put the Earrings on and answered. "You will see the real thing in a little while. About 12,000 years ago we Saresii shortly after my species resumed space exploration, they found this world. At first it was an unremarkable planet, but it had a suitable NiOx atmosphere and liquid water. A few indigenous life forms, mostly plants and crab like animals were observed as well. But then they noticed that the world was on a perfect circular orbit around a yellow star that had no flaws, no sun spots and its spectrum showed it was much older than a yellow star should be. The system has only this one planet and the world has no axial tilt. All these are strong indications that this system was not natural but had been altered by a very advanced civilization."

We had left the jewelry dealer and slowly walked within the stream of others as she continued her explanation. "The Saresii expedition discovered a five hundred meter tall statue standing on a platform." She reached for my necklace and held its pendant up. "It looks like this. The metal or better the material it was made of turned out to be some Neutronium alloy and virtually indestructible."

The buildings became more solid now and were mostly made of local stone and appeared quite old. She changed our direction by walking towards a Taxi stand where we had to stand in line as there were not enough Taxis, but the line moved fairly quickly, as there were only maybe sixty or seventy individuals before us and the arriving flyers took eight to ten passengers along.

She lowered her voice and switched to that old language. They must have uploaded me with the linguistics while I was at the temple, since I understood it just fine. "The Saresii had no interest back then in expanding again and this world was too far away from Sares Prime anyway so they took notice recorded everything and more or less forgot about it. It was re-discovered after the Third Intergalactic war and by treaty included in Freespace.

Archeology teams of the Big Four started digs and excavations and it was generally accepted that the statue is of UNI origin. They have found ruins of a much younger and primitive civilization, but determined that the ruins had nothing to do with the statue itself. Some of the ruins excavated you can see here in the core of the Netlor settlement. These are all permanently occupied and serve the Pilgrims and tourists that come here outside the main religious events."

It was our turn to board the next flyer and we shared it with eight loudly and agitated chatting golden robed members of that church. They paid little interest in us, all eight were human and spoke Union standard. Unable to ignore most of their conversation, I learned they all came from a Union Planet called Guzzler, 763 light years away and that it was not only their first pilgrimage but also their first time off planet. One of the female pilgrims unfastened her veil and took a long sip from a water bottle, fanned her hand before her face and complained about the dust and the heat. She then went into a long discussion how to make Mud pie for the Church coffee and tea gathering.

While I was not in the least interested, just how much coco powder was needed to make mud pie; she obviously felt the need to include everyone in her conversation and then pointed her finger at me. "Don't you agree young lady?"

I was completely caught off guard by that and simply nodded. Since it was impossible for the Mother Superior to tell me more about the place I had been thinking about finally returning. It hadn't been all that long, but it had felt like a lifetime.

She begun to annoy me, especially since I had made the mistake agreeing with her; she included me in her conversation and asked me again. "You agree, don't you?"

This time I didn't even know what she had talked about and said. "I think you should stuff some of that Mud pie in your pie hole. Maybe that will shut you up!"

For the first time there was silence. She acted like a fish on dry land, opening her garishly pink painted lips and gasping for air. I nodded agreeing. "That's the ticket. Keep breathing for a while and we all can enjoy some peace and quiet."

Now she turned colors underneath her hood and a chinless man with thin black hair, not wearing his hood up, padded her hand and hissed at me. "Galria is the soul of our church group! How dare you tell her to shut up? You are one rude and primitive person. You should be expelled from our community."

After all I went through the past weeks; this trivial, unimportant scene somehow annoyed me. From Psych Class I realized my nerves and my own balance had suffered more than I realized and I was about to stuff my fist in his face and show him just how rude and primitive I really could be, when someone said. "There it is, the Statue!"

Everyone including me looked and at the Horizon before a rugged looking mountain range stood a huge version of the symbolized being. It was not bad or ugly or anything, but to me it was just some sort of huge piece of alien art. While 500 meters was quite tall, I had seen the Devastator land. I saw the Sphere of Assembly and the immense towers on Pluribus. That statue was about as unexciting to me as seeing an Ult painting. No one not even the Ult could tell you what the smear was supposed to represent and yet everyone went Uhh and Ahhh when Master Nubb released another master piece. The Mother Superior pulled me back down into the seat and whispered. "Let us keep this station in our journey a simple and short one. I don't think we need the trouble and trying to hide from the local Syndicate guards because you pounded a Pilgrim group to pulp."

That made me sit down and be quiet very fast. No way did I want to be in any more trouble, not so close before getting back. "Yes Ma'am."

She leaned close. "You do have a short temper. I think you need to work on that a little."

What seemed a life time ago; I accused my father of having a short temper and reflecting on my actions since I left Nilfeheim, and not for the first time either, I realized how much trouble I could have avoided if I had kept a cooler head.

We were dropped off at the base of the statue and I watched thousands gather on the platform before the statue and throw of their robes, standing completely bare, mimicking the pose of the statue. I never was much of a religious person but standing there in the buff seemed particular silly to me.

She leaned close and said. "I assume you do not want to join them and bathe in the light, right?"

"No not really. I told you before I respect your religion. I even try to respect this one, even though seeing this makes it quite hard, but I limit my religious activities to occasionally call on Thor or Odin and curse Loki. "

Even though I could not see her face as it was underneath the hood, I was certain she was amused, her voice certainly sounded that way. "Yes you told me and I respect your decision on that. I too find this a little silly. I think there is a Kermac or Saresii Telepath hiding somewhere, paid by the local Syndicates to give some of them a religious experience to keep the mystery and thus the donations and the business alive."

She then said."But I thought since we are here anyway we might as well see it, for one thing traveling educates as they say and it never hurts to see something new. That is a particular problem when you get into my age."

She took my hand and pulled me out of the way of other arriving pilgrims that immediately climbed up the stairs.

I thought about that for a moment and whispered back. "Do you really remember everything you have seen and done in all that time? Would you not simply die of boredom having seen everything in one form or another?"

Now she really laughed."Thankfully not, no I don't remember everything, but occasionally I remember things I thought I had forgotten."

Some sudden revelation came to my mind and I whispered. "Can I ask you something, Mother Superior?"

"Of course."

"Are you the goddess? I mean are you Sojo?"

There was a moment of silence and she squeezed my hand she was still holding a little tighter. "No not exactly, but perhaps I am something in that direction and one day when you come into your own, I will try to explain it to you, but for now it does not matter. I am what I am and you have a long way ahead of you. At least I hope you do and don't stir up trouble you can't get out of."

I didn't feel like poking more as I knew she would not answer.

She pointed to the sun that was now disappearing behind the mountain range. "Those mountains are about 8 kilometers from here and when the sun reaches a particular spot it will line up with a hole in the tallest mountain and send a beam of light right at the head of that statue and it in turn will bathe the platform with colored light. It will last only for a few moments, but that's what they are waiting for."

As the first rays of light made the hole in the mountain visible, a collective sigh was going through the crowd and slowly the bright sun was filling it out and it was quite impressive to see the light hit the colored glass like material. The pilgrims started singing and waving and it all was not really my cup of tea. However as the sun filled the hole completely and perfectly, I suddenly remembered my ring.

It became warm and I knew there was something that belonged to me right underneath that statue!

As if veils were lifted of my mind, it became clearer and I longed for my axe to cut down this primitive left over of a race that conspired with my eternal enemy Lord Lumis to keep me away from what was rightfully mine! Here right below that statue were my gauntlets and not even the Neutronium covered statue and the million tons of metal they had poured over them, could keep me separated! I raised my arms and thundered. "Feel my wraith!"

The sun passed the hole and the light subsided and I knew something had happened. Something that had to do with me, but why was I standing there just like the statue, my arms raised?

I also noticed that the sky had filled with dark clouds and it was started to rain. Lighting crackled and hit the statue, followed by thunder.

The crowds were scrambling for their cast of clothing, pulling up hoods and coming down the stairs. Someone complained about the lack of weather control on this world and another tried to explain that it rained here only very rarely and usually at night.

My mind reeled trying to remember something, perhaps I was more stressed than I realized and needed a good night's sleep.

Mother Superior was still standing there and had not said a word since the light started to shine through the mountain. I said to her through the torrents of rain. "I hope I did not offend you asking you that question."

The thin golden hood she wore was already soaked and clung to her head, and I could see her face much better and she looked me in the eyes and then her lips formed a fine smile under the equally wet veil." No not at all. I am just as surprised and startled about the sudden rain storm, but then they don't have weather control or even weather forecasting here."

I pointed to the mountains." I guess the clouds were to heavy to climb over them and that's why they dump their load on us." I stretched out my arms again. "Sorry Ma'am but I simply love rain and water."

We had to wait almost two hours before we found room in one of the taxi flyers to take us back. At least the rain didn't last that long and stopped pouring about twenty minutes after it had appeared.

We went to another hotel, this one also made up of large tents, but the tent bungalows were quite comfortable, had good hygiene facilities and appeared to be low tech but clean.

I found out that Pilgrims Gamia and Renia Herton, sisters and natives of Leno's Colony had already booked this tent bungalow and our luggage was already there.

Mother Superior had not said much to me the entire time and I felt I might have done something to disappoint her or offend her after all, so I asked after we had changed into dry clothing that was basically the same, except no cloaks. "Ma'am are you sure I didn't do something? I apologize if I did. I assure you I am very grateful for all you did and I am very proud that you called me your Soja."

She was sitting down combing her long hair and said. "No Eric you have done nothing to offend me. Did you hear anything or experience anything strange while the sun lit up the statues head?"

I touched my head and said. "Narth did something to me so telepaths can't read me anymore. So if there was someone doing any Psionic tricks, I sure have not noticed. Not that I am all that comfortable with Psionics in the first place. Did you feel something? I found the entire spectacle quite boring to be honest and that sun didn't even completely line up with the hole. There wasn't all that much colored light."

She put the brush down and thought for a moment then shrugged. "No I didn't feel anything either and I guess the rain ruined most of it. I think we should go eat something and then call it a day. We are booked for the first transport and it leaves at 0900."

We had a light dinner at the Hotel's restaurant. The menu even offered grilled fish from New Sweden, but the cook or the auto kitchen had no idea how to prepare fish right and it was dry and completely overdone, but it still tasted like heaven to me.

After we returned to our tent bungalow, she drew a curtain cutting the room in half and wished me a good night. For the first time in a while, not counting the uncomfortable naps on the flight here, trying to find a non cramping sleep position in the upright seats of the poodle I had a bed and realized how tired I was.

Just as I was drifting into sleep I thought I heard her voice and she was talking to someone. "I think he caused the Tornado unconsciously with his rage seeing the slaves and something happened today, for a brief moment the Dark One stirred and was awake."

I tried to wonder and think about what she was saying but maybe it was just a dream. No one could create a tornado after all and I drifted completely into deep sleep.

The next day I felt like a new person. She too appeared to be in good spirits and we had a good but astronomically priced breakfast. I insisted on paying for the rooms and the meals and even though they charged us a little over 3000 credits, it didn't really make a dent into the amount available on the Credit Box. We went one more time to the Bungalow to get our luggage that someone had prepared for us as part of our disguise.

We were on time at the small space port with at least a thousand others again looking pretty much like we did. There were no customs officers but the local authorities charged a 200 Credit Space port usage fee per person. Merchants pushed carts around trying to make a last sale. One of them was selling little bottles of dirty water, praising them as Blessed Water from the Statue and the unusual rain event. To my surprise he did a brisk business.

On the landing field I counted twelve old Leyland space busses, a Kermac T Cruiser and two Kartanian armed merchants. Even the old buses were fitted with weapon turrets and Mother Superior explained to me. "They fly in convoys and the T cruiser is there to fly protection. The Syndicates and the Temples here pay protection fees to some of the bigger pirate outfits and these armed convoys proved to be quite effective to keep the smaller and lone wolf pirates away. In rare cases pirate attacks do occur but usually not during the main season."

I hoped she was right; I did not want to be captured and sold for Alvor's Cove again.

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