The Giga Load Translocator bomb detonated right in the command center of the Togarship engulfing it in a sun like sphere of bright expanding energies. I was well aware that this explosion would show on every advanced sensor in the region and that we had not much time.
“Elfi did he send his message?”
“No, he just started sending his ID sequence as their communication systems are much slower than ours. It will take over twenty two hours before this code sequence is received. He was unable to add more.”
“However someone noticed the explosion.” Shea said. ”Two long range scanner contacts a Dai and two Togar have changed course and they will be here in less than five minutes.”
“We need get out of here. If we keep using Translocators they get wise to the fact that we are not Pirates.”
Har-Hi warned me. “Captain if we accelerate too fast, all patina of our disguise is gone. They are close enough for their sensors to detect us. An antimatter explosion could have other reasons than a Translocator bomb, a ship accelerating with TL 8 speeds however screams Union.”
I yielded to my XOs experience and opinion. “Shaka, get us going Silver Streak maximum.”
It was not fast enough for us to reach threshold speed before they arrived.
A Dai ship dropped out of Quasi Space, followed moments later by two Togar units.
The Togar almost immediately fired upon the Dai Joth-Yi destroyer, only to receive a salvo of the Dai destroyer raking their shields with nuclear plasma.
I felt as if there were needles in the upholstering of my command seat and I sat on its utmost edge, “Guys it is about time we take our leave.”
“Two minutes and six second to Threshold.” Shaka said.
The other Togar fired at us, and while the shields held, the kinetic energy of the missiles hitting us, knocked us out of the acceleration path and Shaka had to recommit.”
We had to show the world that we had only Karthanian shields, but they were fed and simulated by the Narth designed Janus projectors of our disguise and it would take a lot more than that to make our simulated shields buckle, but a straight and uninterrupted acceleration was still crucial.
I decided to let them worry why their blasts did not drain our shields as they should have.
Shaka was taking us to the maximum acceleration our disguise permitted.
The second Togar fired at us again and that gave the battered Dai an opening it did not waste and it hit the first Togar with a concentrated volley of all its main weapons, breaking the already strained shields of that Togar Destroyer.
A secondary onslaught of Dai weapon fire sliced through the tough Togar mineral foamed composite armor and sun bright beams of destruction perforated the Togar’s Engineering section.
That ship was done for. Greenish plasma fire leaked a heartbeat later out of the still bright glowing holes the Dai weapons had left behind.
Har-Hi had his fist clenched and slammed it on his knee. “She’ll go any second now.”
We watched as s handful of escape pods detached from the doomed Togar ship, the rest of its crew didn’t make it, the ship exploded violently.
The remaining Togar changed course and fired three Vagroorr Missile. Now, these weren’t Loki Torpedoes but the Togar were almost at par with the Kermac and our Tactical systems instructor aboard the Devi once said that 20 of these hitting simultaneously could ruin the day of a Union Battleship.
One was intercepted by the Dai gunners; one exploded with force in the Joth-Yi destroyer shields and tore them down. The third was on our tail , we were committed to Threshold speed , and could not evade. Mao fired the Nul Froth caster and destroyed it before it could reach our aft but to escape the graviton shock wave from our own weapon no less, Shaka had to maneuver and change course and that meant he had to interrupt threshold acceleration once again and commit the ship to a new run. In all this I realized what a gigantic difference just a Tech level made. The Tigershark easily maneuvered at twenty times the speed and it would have taken us seconds and not minutes to threshold speed.
“Shaka stop acceleration and go to zero thrust, take us around as soon as they are past us. Mao target the Togar and fire when in range.”
Mao fired our simulated Nul Froth Casters and chaotic oscillating graviton waves pulled and pushed the matter of the war cat’s ship in every conceivable direction, developing gravitational whirlpools and pulverizing much of the warships engineering.
The Dai was damaged and without shields but it still fired at the Togar. With its shields gone and a shredded aft , the Togar finished of the Dai destroyer, with another missile,
Shea looking over her sensor readings. “The Togar won’t go far either. The Froth effect did a number on these old fashioned reactors and without the necessary systems they are overheating and whoever isn’t killed by the radiation will suffocate as life support is no longer active.”
I rubbed my hands. “Good news then, Krabbel plot a course to Kaliment.”
Elfi reported. “Captain, the Togar hailing us.”
I signaled her to put them on.
A singed Togar commander appeared, his bridge was damaged and I could see the distinctive flicker of open fire in the smoke filled background.
The Togar coughed. “Pirate, I am Roghor, commanding the Vighrr, I should command you know to stop your engines and tell you we will board you, but we lost life support and my engineers are dead so I don’t know if we are to loose containment. I appeal to you from ship commander to ship commander to give me the honor of death and to take my surviving crew to Kaliment, don’t sell them as slaves; my lead cats will make sure you receive a reward on Kaliment.”
Shea said. “Circuit thinks they have about 12 minutes before containment goes.”
They were Togar, I didn’t like Togar. The less of these human eating cats the better, but he was a Captain knowing his doom was imminent and he asked me to help his crew.
“Commander Roghor, you have about ten minutes before your containment fails. Tell your crew to suit up and evacuate. I give you my word I will not sell you as slaves, but we will treat your wounded and take you to Kaliment. You have my word on that. You too must leave, Commander.”
“I will give the order, pirate.”
“Any tricks or subterfuge and you will wish we were slavers.”
“No tricks pirate.”
Narth said. “There are survivors aboard the Dai wreck as well, four of them have survived but are injured.”
I threw my hands in the air. “Maybe we make it to Kaliment by the time the Red Dragon retires of old age.” I turned to Har-Hi. ”Take a few marines and see if you can get them alive. Hans take a team and collect the cats and make sure they are unarmed and kept in one of the empty hangars.”
Har-Hi gave me a thankful look before he left.
We spend much longer drifting in space than I hoped. We ended up collecting the few escape pods of the other Togar as well. The hangar across our Pirate Den was the last room we had left and it was now filled with almost 200 Togar cats.
Not all of them, so Narth told me were happy about the Commander’s decision to accept help, but Hans and his marines had stripped them one by one and even the formidable warrior cats were quite terrified and docile as they saw Hans, our Nul prince and TheOther telling them what would happen if the did not fully cooperate.
Har-Hi had no problems evacuating the Dai, they were more dead than alive and in no shape to fight or resist.
Cateria and her team was busy saving their lives.
I went down to see if the Togar Commander made it and stepped through the force field curtain that was transparent for crew of my ship only and also projected the image of an old Karthanian ship corridor as I stepped onto the Togar filled Starboard Hangar B.
Most of them sat on the floor and one of my Petharian marines in pirate costume of course, was serving soup or something similar in plastic cups while our Takkian pushed a hover-cart with the bowl and more cups behind him.
The Petharian despite his Pirate costume could not switch of being a Marine and as he saw me went into attention. “Captain Black Velvet on deck.”
I cringed and wondered just how thin our disguise was at that point and I was certain it would take little to convince even the densest Togar that we weren’t really pirates.
TheOther immediately moved from his spot next to the door like tremendous shadow behind me.
It was a reassuring feeling to have a real Y’All warrior watching my back. Not that I felt threatened but I disliked Togar and now I was in a closed room with a lot of them.
While they weren’t armed, they still had claws and jaws filled with dagger like teeth just like a Fangsnapper.
One of them got up and even though he had nothing on but his own fur, he wore his rank like an invisible aura and I knew he was Roghor the Commander, that he had singed fur was not a distinguishing feature as it appeared many of them had burn and obvious radiation injuries. He was at least two heads taller than me and covered with short deep golden fur, except around his muscular neck and all the way to his round ears where it was dark brown and longer. It framed his head like a massive halo of longer coarse hair, almost like a hood around his wild looking face. He had a broad triangular nose and the sides of his muzzle were grey, making him look older than most of the other cats present. His eyes were bright yellow and his tail was thick and whisked the air in a somewhat nervous and independent fashion. It reminded me of my costume I wore as was with Deepa.
He crossed his broad paw like hands before his muzzle and bowed slightly then he took his long tail with one hand and held it like that.
“It is not common for my kind to ask for help and especially not from other species. Now that I survived the demise of my ship, I will face death by the hands of my superiors once we reach Kaliment, but it is a price we pay when we take command, is that something a pirate can understand?”
I had to admit he kept surprising me. Why would such a commander only be in charge of a destroyer and not a battleship?
Instead of answering his question I said, “I have seen a ship full of human body parts not so long ago, Togar. I haven’t forgotten this and I most likely won’t ever forget it. I know some of your warriors right now don’t feel very thankful or cooperative, so there won’t be zero tolerance on my side. If one of your cats even so much as twitched a muscle in a way I find aggressive or makes any kind of trouble, I space the lot of you.”
I was unable to read his face or sense his emotions out of his voice as it sounded like an angry growl no matter what he said.
“You will be rewarded for your decision on Kaliment, you will receive much Polonium which will make this a profitable venue.”
“I came to find out why you were chasing a Dai ship.” I looked him straight in his eyes even if I had to look up to do so. “This region is awash with rumors about a huge Dai fleet. You would not have information on that?”
He said very loud. “No pirate I am not in the habit of sharing any Togar reasons with you.”
He really tried to whisper as he growled silently. ”My life is over no matter what happens, but I am not a traitor or share Togar intelligence. However I am willing to share with you whatever I know that is not classified, but I cannot do so right here, there are those who have ears and eyes for others than the fleet.”
I said as loud as him, well almost as loud. “Then I have no use for you.”
I turned and said to TheOther. “Paralyze the whole bunch, stack them in Stasis boxes if we have enough left, but keep them asleep until we know what to do with them. Then bring that Commander into the Den, but have Cateria and Shea check him out for any real or artificial bugs or any other surprises.” TheOther declined his entire upper body as he had no neck to mimic the human nod. “Aye Captain!”
While the ship was finally in Quasi space and traveling towards Kaliment. I left Krabbel in charge of the Conn and took a detour to sick bay before I made my way to our Den.
The rescued Dai warriors so I learned had been critically wounded and two of them were still in the ReGen tank where nanites and tissue weavers replaced and restored the Dai warriors.
Har -Hi stood next to our recent crew addition, the white Togar female and our med tech turned Garbini. My red skinned friend stared inside the greenish goo filled tank where two still partially maimed and crippled Dai warriors hung suspended by hoses looking alien, pitiful and fragile at the same time.
“All four are of the Vun trine.” He said in a toneless voice.
“I only see two.”
“Cateria managed to saved both of the ones you see, literally in the last moment. The other two perished before we could them in stasis. We Dai never developed the same marvellous space suits where the well being of the wearer was the paramount core of the design. No auto docs and no space suits equipped with stasis capability.”
“Do you know them?”
“I know the Vun tribe. The Dai floating in the left tank, is Rur-Vun, he is the oldest son of the tribal leader Tar Laf-Vun. I fought him the last time I was on Thana Shoo, fighting him for the title of Champion of Thana Shoo. He was very good.”
He turned to look at me. “The Vun tribe was second in size only to ours. I am certain Tar Laf-Vun decided not to follow my father back then, because I had beaten his son. I am a Union Citizen now, I am an officer but have the feeling I am witnessing the demise of the Dai culture. Why did the Togar chase their destroyer, where is the rest of the Vun tribe?”
“I am on my way to the Den to ask that very question to the Togar commander. I am sure these two will recuperate and maybe give you the answers you seek.”
Jolai had her hands folded before her short white skirt. She too seemed troubled. “I am the reason the Togar have attacked you and I put everyone in danger.”
“It was my decision to purchase you so openly at the Asteroid base, not you. What I said to you when we met holds true now and in the future. You are part of this crew now and not the entire Togar empire could make me sell you out.”
The Garbini wiggled her and said. “That holds true for everyone aboard and in extend for the entire Union. Now let us check on the bioprinter, I am sure the liver for our Dai patient is ready.”
While our Togar girl left with the Garbini, I was moved by my own feelings about the Togar and remembered my recent apology
The Togar Commander sat across me on our big table in our Den. He looked clean and his singed fur was gone, replaced by patches of almost white fur. Cateria looked at her PDD and said. “Our feline guest has been treated and is as healthy as I can make him. I fixed his burns and treated him for a nasty worm infestation of his stomach and intestines. I guess to much raw meat from an unclean source. He had nothing in terms of bugs or spyware, neither biological, psionic or technological.”
He looked smaller now, sitting down and across the massive table.He blinked by closing his black lined eyelids and I assume that was how Togar acknowledged something. He kept looking around at all our treasure Sobody, Mr. Warner and my crew had piled up and the colorful decoration with bits and pieces from perhaps every corner of the galaxy. Of course he also noticed Hans and TheOther flanking him, while Xon stood behind me, giving no reason to doubt what he would do if our new guest decided to become aggressive.
Cateria moved, leaned closer to me and whispered in Seenian. “He is also under a lot of stress and while we don’t have much data on Togar psych conditions, I think he is close to a nervous breakdown.”
The Togar Commander wrought his hands nervously and then said. “You have an amazing ship and a truly formidable crew.”
“Yes Commander, I think I do. I gave you my word and you are not a prisoner. I will take you and your crew to Kaliment, but I don’t have the resources to deal with a potential Togar riot so I think they are better off sleeping.”
“I understand captain Black Velvet. The ship must always come first. It makes no difference to my fate if I arrive at Kaliment or not, but I thank you for my crew.”
“Tell me Commander, this is an unusual move calling us for help, could you not have waited for Togar aid. We are not that far from Togar space and I noticed you chasing a Dai warship, perhaps all that was left after your fleet dealt with the tribe it belonged to? There isn’t perhaps someone important in your crew that needed saving?”
“Yes your conclusions are quite correct Captain, normally we were just an Attack destroyer with no concerns about our own safety, but both of my children, my son and my daughter are among the crew. As a Togar I am proud they have chosen to become space warriors and follow my lead. As a Commander I was worried to have my own off spring among my crew, affecting my command decisions and as a father I had no second thoughts to do anything for their survival. I broke all traditions and rules. I lost my honor, forfeit my life to save their lives.”
“Alright Commander let us believe that for the moment and pretend I buy your story, tell me more about your mission and the violent end of a chase we witnessed. I have other things to do than to sit here and talk to a human trading, man eating Togar commander.”
While I spoke to him I had to admit he was a magnificent looking member of his kind, but I also vividly remembered the ship full of stacked human body parts and whimpering slaves and wondered just how many humans had to witness other humans being butchered and eaten, knowing they were next. I wondered how many times he had sunk his formidable teeth into a human thigh or laughed as they tortured a human prisoner just for entertainment. Ever since we had found that ship of horrors, I had collected other reports of GalNet and knew they loved to play with their victims before they did the actual kill. There were many stories about the hunt parties on Togar worlds. Naked slaves released into fenced parks only to be chased and killed by Togar hunters. I also remembered the slave pens of Alvor’s Cove and the Togar buyers picking human slaves like groceries for their meat pots.
“Captain Velvet, I am guilty of being Togar, I have been demoted from section Commander to be the shipmaster of a simple destroyer, because I am male and dared to question the queen and I have been guilty of thinking and voicing my critical opposition too much. I am thankful for what you did and I know I have no honor left but I won’t sell you the last shards of whatever dignity I have left.”
I said, while getting up, “I tried to be civil. You haven’t told me what I wanted to know...”
Cateria still standing close said. “Maybe we should simply drag him over glowing steel rakes and then have TheOther beat a confession out of him before we do a brain dump and just to make sure he knows you hate Togar, we then have him skinned alive and add his pelt to our trophies.”
I snapped at her. “Have you seen…?“, but I stopped myself in mid sentence. She was right and truth to be told I didn’t want anyone to judge Neo Vikings on the actions of my father or the things we did during the so called pirate years.
The Y’All did much worse things and on an entire different scale than the Togar and I never blamed TheOther because I was not alive when they had invaded. I didn’t trust that Togar Commander but I was not even giving him a chance and again judged an individual by his association to a species. I realized that there was a dark unforgiving hateful spark deep inside myself. Part of my motivation coming down here and see him was indeed just to find an excuse to torture and mind dump him just as Cateria said. I wanted to kill him, best with my own hands and that was a dangerous slippery road my own emotions were leading me.
I took a breath and promised myself once again, to be as Egil wanted me to be, judge every situation and every being from all sides. Especially since I still hated unfair situations and he certainly was in an unfair situation right now.
He was a big cat and a strong individual, yet cared more for his crew and his offspring than I thought a Togar supposed to. He had lost his ship and was on his way to be prosecuted and executed by his own kind for accepting help.
I gave Cateria a long look, our CMO was not afraid to speak her mind and for that she rose quite a few notches in my personal opinion about her. After all I had treated her quite similar when I encountered her the first time. I gave her a thankful nod and then said. “Thank you for reminding me, who I am and who we are.”
The Seenian woman who had become my CMO had also disguised herself in civilian clothing and what she thought a Pirate would look like. Her always stern and cold face did no chance expression but her voice lost the usual edge. “You are welcome Captain..”
I returned my attention to the Togar. “Maybe we need to start over and before I ask you what I want to know, I would like to know what I can do for you. Maybe you can remain aboard and not leave on Kaliment. We will reach Itheamh later on and maybe you can find a new live and a new career away from the Togar Empire.”
He looked down on his big paws and they were shaking, so I got up walked around the table and took a seat next to him and without really thinking and following an impulse I put my hand on his arm. “Commander Roghor, some humans drink a hot cup of tea to calm their nerves, others like a shot of alcohol. I personally prefer coffee and a cigarette. Is there anything you Togar consume while collecting thoughts? I doubt one of my human crew-members will volunteer so you can have a snack, but is there anything else?”
He made a deep rasping sound that appeared to be the Togar equivalent of a sigh and he said looking at me and again I was taken aback by the intelligence and the humanity in those yellow non human eyes. “We don’t just eat humans, and most male Togar don’t ever have the chance to even try. There are over 900 Billion Togar and I doubt there are more than 5000 to 6000 humans reaching our markets during a standard year.” He spread his fur covered arms. “I am not defending our ways, I just wanted to illustrate how rare and how expensive human flesh on Togr markets is. Since it is so rare, it is reserved for the very rich and very important females.”
I actually believed him. “So what is it you want?”
He returned to stare at his paw like hands. “I don’t know, Pirate. When my ship was about to explode it seemed to be a good idea to ask and accept help. Now I am not sure if I doomed my son to live with his father’s shame.”
“How about your daughter?”
“She is female and already on her way to the upper echelon of command; her father’s deeds or name mean nothing in our society.”
“So if it isn’t humans what do you eat?”
“We eat any kind of meat and we usually drink only water. Alcohol is dangerous to us; even a little makes us very drunk and can be lethal.” He added .”We Togar don’t share much of our culture with others and what others know about us is only a shadow of the truth. There is a human, his name is Alex Enroe and he managed to become friends with the queen herself. He sells bacon and pork meat, but it too is very expensive and rare. Besides he is from the Union and not Freespace.”
Cateria said. “I check the galley and see what we got in terms of bacon.”
The Commander rattled his Togar sigh again. “You are an enigma, Captain Velvet, you hide your face behind a mask and even we Togar have heard rumors of you.
Your ship is an old Karthanian, yet it sports the finest Nul weapons and genuine Union Isah Pods, your crew includes a Y’All. They say you are a ruthless pirate, dealing with slaves yourself and we know you captured another known pirate vessel, yet your Crew acts like professionals not like the throat cutting dreg usually to be found on pirate ships.”
I shrugged. “We all have our own styles I guess. I prefer professionals running my ship over the dreg kind you mentioned.”
He returned to answer my original question saying. “Maybe I can make my way into the Union region somehow. There is a rumor Alex Enroe helps Togar. But Union space is far and I am without any means." He licked his chaps in a nervous, unconscious way. “The empire is still looking for you and a pirate by the name of Curtis Profit. It is about the white furred Togrie you purchased at the Bennett’s rock.
“Why would a single female Togar justify all this effort?”
“I am male and do not know all the details, but White fur is sacred to us, and this particular one was white as snow. Not only was she the most beautiful of all, she was temple born under the magnificent spirit Malmoru. This birth was foretold in our most holy scrolls.
She was to reunite all Togar. Our distant brothers far on the other side of the galactic buldge, restore a balance for male and female and prevent the Darkest from devouring our society."
He wiped his eyes and kept speaking. "In a very public trial she was accused of bleaching her fur and obscuring the real story of her birth. She was charged with high treason, crimes against the spirit and plotting to kill the queen by acting as an agent to the Dark Spirit.
Narth who had silently joined us moments ago said.“I am often amazed by the amount of superstition and illogical religious reasoning that motivates societies that advanced technologically so much they opened the door to the stars.”
I said to the Togar .“But that still does not explain why the Togar Queen puts so much effort finding her. She was sold as a slave and from my experience, slaves sadly don’t survive for long in captivity.”
“Because all Togr is at the brink of revolt. That she escaped hiding on a slave transport is not believed by the public. Many believe she has been rescued by the spirits. Some say it was Marmou himself who took his daughter only to return her one day with great powers and to take her rightful place as the true queen. The queen knows that if the White fur returns, the revolt will tear the empire asunder and certainly doom her and the reigning families. She and the priestesses know they become obsolete. The news that a white Togar was sold on Brhama port caused deep concern in the ruling families and of course for the queen.”
Suddenly changing the subject the Togar commander said. “The reason why our Queen protects the Bennetts and the Dai want control over the system you might know as Bennett's filed is the secret Backdoor.”
He blinked his eyes again by squeezing them. “There is a stable wormhole nearby. We Togar believe it has been created artificially by a long gone civilization, perhaps the Celtest. It can be turned on and off, but we are certain it was the reason for the system's destruction, planets move, the wormhole doesn't."
I listened closely and now believed what the key was for, Mikesh had found.
He still spoke and said. "It is called the Backdoor, because it leads deep into Union Space and is used by the Bennetts to smuggle Union Mil Tech, slaves and other restricted Union wares out, and drugs and other illegal things in. The old Bennett owns an ancient alien device that controls that worm hole. They kept it secret for many decades, but our Queen knows about it and in return for restricted Union tech, she made a pact with the Bennetts to protect them. Our high command believes the Vun Dai tribe has known this secret for a long time as well and also possesses such a control device and this is why we have standing orders to engage the Vun tribe. We can't allow the Dai to gain a foothold in that system.”
I could not contain myself, cursed and said. “So Union fleet built up at the border won’t do any good. How big is that worm hole?”
He made a wide gesture and said. “Big enough for the largest Dai Mother, and perhaps even for that tremendous Demon ship the Union has. It is strong enough to rip planets appart."
“Do you know where it terminates?”
“I never went through and its existence is supposed to be a tight guarded secret. ”
“And now the Dai fight the Togar over it?”
“We are not sure if all the Dai know about it, but once they do, we are certain open hostilities will follow. The Queen is certain that all the Dai will eventually learn about it and discover the exact location, we are to hunt any Dai around the Shattered System. All Togar ships have alo standing orders to find the white fur demon. The Queen herself has decreed that we search any pirate ships, slave traders and slave markets for the white furred Togar female. She is to be destroyed on sight.”
His triangular nose started twitching quite violently and his tongue became visible as it licked his chaps.
Cateria had returned with a big plate full of crisp bacon strips and placed it before the Togar. “The galley didn’t know what kind of bacon you prefer so they gave you a sample of all the kinds we had.”
He really tried to be dignified and polite restraining himself but his nose and tongue had a mind of their own. It seemed to have the same effect it had on Jolai and I said to him. “Go right ahead Commander, I leave you to it and I will have some suitable quarters arranged. Under guard and confined of course until we reach Kaliment, or we find a better solution.”
He sighed.“Thank you.”
I got up as he put the first piece of bacon in his mouth and his non-human beast like face clearly showed bliss as he chewed. “This is the real treasure of your ship.”
Before I had turned completely he said. “I have nothing left. No home and I am doomed to die at the hands of my own kind, yet I found mercy aboard a ship of outlaws and pirates. I am now an outcast myself. Will you allow me a knife or perhaps a moment in one of your airlocks”
He paused as I turned back to face him, having a good idea what he was contemplating. I also saw the conflict in the magnificent looking cat being. He had been a loyal officer all his life and I had to admit that this being would have been chosen to become a Captain if he had been born on a Union world and made the decision to join the Fleet.
He stood before the ruins of his life and had few options.
“I will of course honor your wish if that is the only option you see, but as I said to another Togar not so long ago, death comes to us all, and there is no need to seek it out. Death is not a solution, just an end. Maybe you should wait with that terminal decision. There is always hope and the day may come when you can return to your home. If there is a revolution looming, it might happen in your life time and in turn change the conditions that prevent your return home now.”
He got up, despite him not being human I was certain what went through his mind. He looked around and then back at me. “There are beings of all kind in your crew, even a Y’All and a Nul...”
I sighed and sat back down. “Yes, Commander and there are many more and there might be room for a Togar too. There are voices in me warning me, but I have more often than not disregarded them and acted on my instincts.”It was my turn to sigh. “This is a very special ship indeed and we are on a strange journey to say it mildly, but there might be a place for you in my crew.
He made a growling sound. “Yes, this we share. I have not many alternatives, being a hunted fugitive without means, perhaps ending up on a Karthanian smelter moon. Short of suicide asking you to accept me in your crew was indeed a glimmer of hope that grew in me. I do know little about what it means to be an outlaw, but an outcast I am. I have nowhere else to go.”
His paw like hands were trembling. “Captain Velvet, do you have room for a Togar among your crew?”
“I can’t guarantee you like it. Should you decide to accept my offer, you will not be able to return to Togr and your life will change forever.”
“It already has, to the realm I am already dead. I will follow you and accept you as my Captain, but despite what you think about Togar, I am not a coldblooded killer and might not be able to commit all the crimes you are accused of committing. However I will do any chores, nothing will be beneath me.”
I undid the laces of my mask and removed it. “What you just said Commander Roghor, is the reason I accept you as part of this crew. It also affirms that I can trust my instincts, at least most of the time.”
His non human face clearly expressed surprise.
Cateria’s stern face was again graced by a smile. ”Mr. Roghor welcome aboard the USS Tigershark and meet Captain Erica Olafson.”
He inhaled sharply. “Union, you are Union! But the crimes, the slaves you buy. The many reports...”
It was my turn to spread my arms and grin. “Well not all reports are exactly true and carefully fabricated and planted.”
I got up again. “I think I can trust you, Commander. However you understand that I must say this. We are Union and on a very secret mission. The mission and the ship comes first and before I can fully integrate you, there will be training and vetting to make sure that you are indeed aware of all the details this decision entails.”
“I understand, Captain Olafson. Perhaps the first step is to abandon calling me by my Togar rank. I am a Commander no more.”
“I have the distinct notion, Mr. Roghor you might regain that rank eventually, just perhaps not on Togar side.”
Har-Hi stepped through the curtains, wearing his Union uniform. “I am the XO of this ship, Mr. Roghor and it became one of my duties to integrate new members. I assure you this happens more than one would think, especially aboard a ship that operates deep undercover.”
“At least I was not involved this time.” SHIP chirped in.
Former Commander Roghor had been shown to very nice quarters. Everything inside that Karthaninan armed merchant was gleaming, bright and appeared to be brand new. That everything was of the finest Union tech, there was no doubt. The Dai XO showed him the hygiene facilities and the controls of the Vari matic bed. "Tomorrow I expect you to be at class. SHIP will inform you and show you where to go. The first step is Union class, Mr.Roghor. Since we picked up quite a few strays since we started this journey, you are not the only student."
Roghor thanked the Dai and said."Thank you, Dai."
"I am Lt. Hi while in uniform and on duty and Har-Hi when I am not. I suggest you take it slow, this ship can be overwhelming."
"I begin to see that. Who knew I end the day instead of being doomed to die, or a renegade outlaw on a Union ship."
Har-Hi turned to the door."What about your son?"
"He will suffer much humiliation and may be incarcerated but I hope he won't be executed."
"Your daughter will be fine, you are certain?"
"She is female, if she denounces me she should be fine."
Har-Hi said."Come with me Commander. I think you need to pick out your offspring from the rest of the sleeping cats. We might have to keep them in stasis till we can sent them Union side, but you are quite correct. There is a small Togar community living safe and free."
"I am a Commander no more, Lt.Hi,but I am deeply grateful for your offer."
"Like our Captain said, I think you might eventually regain that rank. Beings of all kind are accepted in our Academies."
"Your academies? Your last syllable reveals your tribe and by carrying it with your name, you must be related to the tribe leader himself. There is no mightier tribe than the Hi Dai." He paused only a moment."That terrible battle between Union and Dai is not to long ago, were you not treated like an enemy?"
"Yes there were moments, as I was the first Dai to join the Academy, but only by very few cadets.The Union does not look at your origin or your past.It doesn't matter if you were an enemy of the Union before or not." Har-Hi showed the cat how to use the Auto dresser and then gestured to the door."Let us sort out your offspring before we reach Kaliment."
The Togar looked down himself."Auto Dressers are just one of the many things I heard, Union citizens take for granted and now I am wearing a Union fleet uniform."
"Most of the time I am taking Union tech for granted, but when I am confronted with Dai tech,I too realize how advanced we are in so many things."
They walked past the Nul prince, who was in conversation with a beautiful female thin being. Roghor said."The rumors are true then, the Nul are Union."
"Not yet, Roghor, but all indications point to that very likely possibility." Har-Hi added."If Nul and Dai are welcome, I assure you, Togar will be too."
Roghar wanted to say something else, but his voice failed him as he saw the female Togar that was just stepping out of an elevator. She wore a white dress and had all white fur. In an absolute immaculate way, she was more beautiful than anything he had ever seen. He dropped to his knees, even before he realized doing it."The Holy White Fur!" There was no doubt in his mind, no question at all. "This was no trick, no dyed or bleached fur. This was indeed the daughter of the Light spirit.
He bowed deeply.
"Raise please, Togar warrior. I am not to be worshipped, besides I am Togar no more. Outcast and hunted for the white fur I was born in.I am Cadet Grotha, Union citizen and I am in training to become a Med tech, nothing more and nothing less."
He did slowly raise to his muscular hind legs."I am Roghor, and nothing else anymore, but my eyes and days are blessed for seeing you."
"Incorrect, you are Roghor and nothing less. You will find a place in this crew and more."
I stood next to my command seat and asked Elfi.“How soon will GalNet be possible?”
“We will be able to pick up GalNet, near Itheamh again. However neither Kaliment nor N'Ger are anywhere near enough to pick up GalCom or GalNet."
I feared as much.
“Anything in sensor range, Mr. Narth?”
“No artificial contacts within sensor range.” “Mr. Ndebele, disregard our disguise imposed limitations. You got your wish, go as fast as we can. We have very important news we need to convey. Krabble get us anywhere within GalNet reach.”
Shaka responded with an enthusiastic .“Aye, captain,I can get us within range in less than ten minutes. That is still safe cruising speed captain. ”
I acknowledged."Let her loose,Shaka."
Just as Shaka predicted, it took just about nine minutes, when Elfi reported that we could now send and receive Galnet.
She established a secure GalCom connection to Fleet command and to the Admiral of the Fleet directly.
This time he was not only presentable but apparently at the Assembly. He wore his uniform and in the background I could see the many of the alcoves that lined the inner wall of the Assembly dome.
He gave me a quizzing look. His first words were “Do I need to sit down?”
“Sir, I am not able to judge your reactions on the report I am about to give, the reason for my call is very urgent.”
“Let me establish secure conditions. I am in the spatial navy alcove at the Assembly and it will just take a second.”
The view behind him changed to a solid wall and he nodded. “Let me have it.”
After I was done and had transmitted the detailed report he said with open concern in his voice. “I am informing Richard right away. Does your new Togar crew member know where it is exactly?”
“No, he only knows it is somewhere close to Brhama port, but it has to be within the system and maybe that key the Golden have might be able to activate it. I also still have the device that might be one of the keys to activate it. The miner I met there also hinted that there is more advanced alien tech inside that asteroid.”
“There are more fires burning in Freespace than even I considered. Knowing all this, I should have built two Tigersharks.” He then shook his head.“Finding another crew like yours, impossible.”
“Sir do you want me to return and try to find that backdoor?”
“I need to discuss this with Richard and the security council. Stay in GalNet range and I call you back as soon as I can give you an answer.
It did not take long, the Admiral called back within the hour.
“Captain Olafson, continue with your quest for now. We have the KELPI data and we are sending another Chimera unit to investigate. We have issued a general alert and increased patrol and scanning activity in all Union space.
As for the load of Togar you have aboard,if you can't get rid of them at Kaliment we think of something.
For now keep on doing what you are doing. The prime objective is still the same, find that Seenian depot if it indeed exists, reduce the bad people population of Freespace. Finally Keep your eyes and ears open for...” He sighed and made wide gesture, “for everything I guess. You and your crew, that keeps expanding in the most unusual ways I might add, keeps running into situations we never knew existed.”
“Aye Sir. Keeping our eyes open and run into situations. I think we can do that.”
It was just a few hours after the call. We were close to Kaliment when Mao reported the familiar signatures of the Red Dragon and the Intruder on our scanners. Just twenty one light years from our destination Circuit’s prediction came true. The Intruder drifted dead in space.
Circuit came on the bridge. “I knew she would run out of fuel, but I did not expect the engineers of the Intruder to be that bad. Looks like the leaking plasma was not completely vented and caused a plasma fire. I bet their engineering compartment is a mess right now.”
Mao responded without turning. “I take that bet, because I think it might always been a mess.”
Elfi held up her hand. “Captain, the Red Dragon is hailing.”
Har-Hi handed me my mask.
Moments later the Red Dragon appeared on our main screen. “Looks like you managed to shake the Togar. My friend Captain Meateater did not think we see you again.”
“Life is full of surprises. That we would find him halfway between Alvor’s Cove and Kaliment however is not. Looks like your companion ran out of fuel just outside of any fuel source, but then I am sure it was a planned safety precaution, to prevent that plasma fire from spreading.”
"Your sarcasm hurts, Black Velvet but I have to say I am getting a little annoyed myself."
"Are we going to belong on Kaliment?"
"No, just a day or two. Meateater needs fuel and some emergency patch work so he can limp to Itheamh. There are shipyards and professional engineers. We decided to skip N'Ger."
"Are we still have this meeting you invited me or is it off the table and I go back to business as usual?”
“Of course it is still going to happen, meet us in three weeks at the Rifatah tavern just outside of Mirhth, the capital city on Itheamh. ”
“I assume it is easy to find?”
“Yes, it is. It is famous. If you stick around till we can make it to Itheamh, I show you where it is myself. You would not have spare parts for a Shankar drive and a good engineer by any Chance? ”
“No, I have Isah Pods as you know, not that I even know what a Shankar drive is.”
The masked pirate sighed." Me neither. It is apparently the critical part of Meateaters engines. I guess we do have to wait till an associate of mine arrives from Kaliment. My tractors have been over strained and unfortunately my engineers are unable to recalibrate it.”
“It seems you need engineers that can service that fancy ship of yours.”
His voice had an edge of anger. “You stating the obvious is not helpful, but I intend to remedy that soon.”
"See you at Kaliment then?"
"Yes, unless you are willing to tow Meateater."
The unsavory Oghr captain chimed in."I open fire if that offense attaches her tractors on my ship."
"I just about had it with you. One more insult and I attach something on that heap of garbage that makes any further tractor attempts quite mood."
Red Dragon sighed."Be civil Meateater, you are not irreplaceable, but he is my closest associate so I tend to be a little protective of him." To me he said."See you at Kaliment."
I leaned forward and all friendliness had left my voice. "Make no mistake, Red Dragon. I am interested in that endeavour, but one more insult of you or that unwashed goon with his flying waste dump and you standing up for him, and the deal is off. I am not a little girl waiting with held breath for the big boys. Try me Red Dragon, if you think I am not serious.
I didn't wait for a response and had Elfi cut transmission.
I didn't see much of Kaliment the first time I had come here. I was wearing a Togar costume, sitting in a windowless passenger compartment of a Poodle with two horny Togar males lusting after me, not a pleasant trip. Mother Superior and I didn't even spend more than three hours on the planet before we left for Netlor.
Shaka asked."Where do you want to touch down, Karthanian or Togar side? Both sides have a space ports."
"Call the Karthanian side for landing instructions, Elfi. Shaka we take the Karthanian side, we got a load of Togar and it seems a Togar bounty on our head."
Hans said."Our newest crew member is requesting to address you, Captain. It appears he too is listening to bridge conversations."
The former Togar commander came out of the left IST, in company of Cateria. It was obvious he was impressed and took in the details. He was a command officer and had spend a considerable time on Togar bridges, so his curiosity was more than understandable.
Cateria said."Roghar could not believe that you are open to every crew members suggestions."
I got up from my seat and said."It is a policy, I am especially glad about, Mr.Roghar. We do have a few moments for certain,why don't you tell me what is on your mind."
"May I voice a suggestion, Captain?"
"Of course, this is not a Togar ship. Gender has no meaning in terms of social ranking."
"I was fortunate to see the Goddess with the white fur and learned that she is a content Union officer, but I wanted to address that Togar bounty on Jolai and that standing order to search your vessel."
"Since this is an Union ship, could your superiors not simply broadcast, that they captured the Swift Profit, while he was raiding some Union colony or ship, and your news broadcast the news of a freed Togar female qith white fur, now becoming an Union citizen? No Togar ship will dare to go there. Our queen might try some diplomatic trickery, but that is all she can do."
I smiled and said to no one in particular."This policy of everyone voicing their ideas works out even better than I dreamed. As soon as we are in GalCom or GalNet range, I will ask Command to make this announcement, thank you Mr. Roghar. This is quite a simple yet brilliant solution to a mounting problem."
Cateria said."See? Our captain is many things but she always means what she says."
"Gee thanks, Cateria. Almost sounds like sarcasm."
"Just a tiny bit, captain. I meant no disrespect, just hinting at the many sides of you, I am discovering."
I grinned."Well, you were never shy speaking your mind."
To the Togar I said."So what do you think about my bridge?"
"It is in many ways exactly as I imagined a Union ship bridge would look like and yet I am not really prepared for seeing one. It is much less cluttered than a Togar command center." He looked around."What I do not understand is why it is on top of the ship and not deep inside."
Har-Hi answered for me. "I wondered that myself at the first time, but Union designers build ships with Translocators in mind. Translocator bombs detonate deep inside a ship. Union ship bridges can separate and either act as a life boat and or a Captain's Yacht as in the case of this ship."
I waited a moment for him to process that."Translocators, there is not a more frightening word to all non Union shipmasters, I can attest to this."
"I can imagine, but since we are almost at Kaliment, how will I go by letting your crew go?"
"Simply land and let them out. They will immediately report to the local command and you will be contacted and receive your reward."
"And I better land on Karthanian side, right?"
Shaka "Two minutes to outmost orbit.
I returned to my command seat and said."You are welcome to remain Mr.Roghar."
Then I concentrated on the task at hand, we entered a non union system with potential hostile elements. So as usual we dropped out of Quasi at the outermost orbit of Kalha system and checked out the situation before getting closer. There was steady traffic, for one the planet was indeed rich in Kalimun and it was contested by two spacefaring societies that did not like each other much. There were eight planets, a nice GIII type star, planetoids, moons and asteroids. According to our scanner results four planets were occupied, including Kaliment.
Sodoby explained the unusual situation on that planet to everyone, most was the same I received from Mother Superior, but Sodoby added some interesting details.
Kaliment was also a traffic hub of sorts. From it you could travel to Katharian controlled worlds that allowed visitors. Visit Togar worlds and reach many of the Oghr kingdoms. Clipper ship services offered passages to Netlor, Alvor's Cove, N'Ger and to places Downward virtually unknown to the Union. One could buy Kalimun and sell it for profit somewhere else. Both societies maintained large mine camps on their side of the planet and both sides used slaves.
The Togar mines were called the Never Warm mines, the original destination of our White Togar and the ones on Karthanian side were known as the Monglor mines.
Elfi made contact with the Karthanian port control and received landing instructions.
Everyone on the bridge was busy. Mao fed sensor data to Hans and Shea. My big Saturnian compared the signatures and visuals with his data banks while Shea analyzed them for energy and material composition. Narth and Ensign Fifcher were using the Leedei Psi equipment. Elfi and SHIP shifted through millions of communications for key phrases and conversations.
Krabbel was putting escape trajectories on a close selection pool, in case we had to leave very fast.
Roghar whispered. "My children, all of Togar need to see this. This glimpse into Union ship operations show your true strength."
I could not help myself but curse the fact that we once more sat on a starport instead of cruising space, but we did let the Togar go as planned. Healed, treated and sans any clothing or equipment.
Har-Hi stood next to me as we watched the column of Togar cats march across the cold space port surface and towards the fliers to hitch a ride back to their side of the planet.
The lead cat assured me, they will contact me with my reward very shortly. She also carried the message of the death of Roghor to her government.
As I mentioned his demise, she spat a mess of salvia and hair on the ground and told me, that I saved Togr the expenses of an execution. That his actions saved her life apparently meant nothing.
Har-Hi said."So what are we doing here, while we wait for the Red Dragon and his associates? Freeing the miners, blow up the mines or sabotage something?"
I gave my XO a long look."You are being sarcastic, right?"
"Not all that much, Captain. I've seen your face when Sobody mentioned slaves and mines." He gestured across the gray horizon and the depressing landscape of Kaliment."Everywhere we went we did something to the local condition."
"Well that is what we are supposed to do. Besides what happened to Sin 4 was not exactly predictable. And we did nothing to the Bennet rock."
"And we should be glad we didn't. With the existence of a secret passageway into the backyard of Union space, the Bennett's are sort of a garantor that no large scale Dai fleet decides to use it."
The planet governor for the Togar, was a cousin of the queen. This world was important, not because of the Kalimun, but of its symbolic and political situation. The planet and much of the system was split in half between the Togar and the Karthanians and the tensions between the two societies were palpable and stretched to the limits. But Kaliment was also the only connection point between these societies. Only here did the Karthanians speak to the Togar and vice versa. Only here messages, prisoners, information and caught spies cought be exchanges between the two.
Until recently the Togar empire was flexing its muscle,conquered, smashed and expanded. It reached Tech Level Seven in all aspects and was within reach being on Karthanian levels. Togar shipyards were churning out new battleships and battlecruisers. The war schools trained new ship and ground troops. Everyone in the region knew it was only a matter of time and the Togar would take on the Karthanians.
But several major developments made that quite impossible.
She lounged on her prefered perch and groomed her tail as she was contemplating these things. Just below her and well within her reach her work unit, currently projecting an interactive display of the region and playing soft gurr sounds, the preferred audio of many Togars,simulating the warm sounds of a Togar female's belly when she was nursing her litter.
But all the gurr sounds and the snack treats within reach could not completely relax her.
The completely unexpected decision of the Xandrao to suddenly become Union was more than disturbing, especially since Togar had already planned an invasion. Those brutish but oh so delicious tasting Xandrao now members of that arrogant Union was a serious development.
It was only about two weeks ago when a Togar hunting expedition wanted to raid a Xandrao colony for meat and hunting prey, broke into real space inside a star system known to contain a Xandrao colony, when they were hailed after being scanned and detected way beyond Xandrao range. The Xandrao informed the Togar that they were trespassing in Union space and if they wanted to establish trade relations,they should first approach the Golden Bazaar in the same region, which was now a designated Union Outpost. At first the Hunting expedition considered it a very clever rouse, but when four Golden Spheres dropped into real space and invited the Togar to initiate any sort of hostile activity, the lead cats of that expedition weren't to certain anymore.
The Togar retreated just in time as two genuine Union battleships also reached the system.
The word spread quickly, the Xandrao were indeed Union members.
Then there was the emergence of a huge united Dai force. While the Dai were something the Togar could deal with, it would take serious efforts and the Dai would unquestionably take a huge toll. There was the sudden cooperation between Nul and Union. No one would have ever predicted this,and yet there were almost daily reports of new Union - Nul cooperation. The latest news from spies and other sources reported the Nul leader traveling aboard a Space Train all the way to Andromeda and that he received an official invitation to the Crystal Ball, a clear indication the Nul were on their way to request membership.
She turned of the Gurr sounds, she simply could not find the peace of mind required to enjoy these sounds. The most problematic development of recent was of course the successful escape of the White Fur. Seriga, the Queen's cousin knew much of the real details and she could not help herself wondering if Jolaj was not perhaps the real deal. Seriga was Togar through and through and while she was loyal to the queen and knew what a White Fur coming of age would have meant for the queen and the priesthood. Both instantly obsolete. Religious prophecies and text were nice to read but weren't supposed to come true. Yet Jolaj was born in the temple and there was of course no mangy intruder. The charges were completely fabricated and the trial a farce. Many Togar secretly believed the white cat as she was crying while accused and standing before the high court in shackles. That she was perhaps the most beautiful Togar anyone had ever seen and then miraculously disappeared fueled the rumors that she was indeed the prophesied daughter of Light ray spirit Malmoru, destined to unite and protect all Togr near and far.
Seriga knew of the pirate attack and the loss of the slave transport. Since the transport was destined for the Never Warm mines, it was her who investigated first.
She heard about the sale on Brhama port and the possibility that she was sold to pirate Bloom. His disgusting habits were well known in this region of space; but no none had seen or heard of him since he left Brhama Port. The other pirate Black Velvet on the other hand had become much more than a whispered rumor, but a substantial new player. Some hinted to the possibility that she was connected to the other worldly powers of the Igras expanse.
Sergia was more of the opinion that whoever this pirate was, found one of those rare trans spatial gates, maybe inside that matter soup of the Igras nebula. Reports confirmed that she had a real genuine Y'All in her crew, making it likely that she found the source of the Y'All. Maybe in another galaxy even.
She was just about to climb down from her perch,when her work console buzzed with the urgent signal.
She immediately opened the two way communications to her aide."What is it?" She snarled.
"There are survivors of two Togar destroyers, coming from the Karthanian side. They claim to have just started to investigate a pirate ship for the possible presence of the fake white fur, when they were attacked by Dai."
"How did they survive the attack and how did they get here?"
"Commander Roghur asked the pirate for help and the pirate complied and rescued the survivors."
She wiped her whiskers.She knew of Roghur, he was one of the best. His only fault, he was male. Seriga secretly applauded the Commander's decision, aloud she said."Receive the war cats, have Roghur arrested so we can execute him."
"According to the Second in Command, Roghur was either killed by the pirate or did not survive his battle wounds. Roghur promised the pirate a reward if she rescued his crew."
Sergia kept playing with her whiskers, as she always did when she was contemplating things."That pirate has a name?"
"Yes, praised leader. The ship is the Silver Streak and the pirate goes by Black Velvet."
"Why hasn't she been intercepted before she landed?"
"Praised leader, there are many contacts in this system at all times and we only became aware of her as she contacted the Karthanians who granted her landing permit."
"In other words you have promoted someone to the scanner and sensor department on personal favors rather than on skill and merritt. Send message to the pirate woman that she is welcome to collect her reward right here. We will then of course interrogate her regarding the traitorous Bleach fur."
Sergia disconnected and wondered if the spirits would remember her role in all of this. Right now it seemed wiser to follow the queen and her quite real power, than to wonder about spirits that might or might not exist. She tried to convince herself, prophecies aren't supposed to come true.
Har-Hi stood before a small class and was teaching Union school. Before him sat Alice, the orphan girl from Sin 4, Tyron Suit, Xon the Nul prince, Sodoby the Golden, Jolai and the latest additions to the crew, three Togar cats, Roghur and both his children.
He was just speaking about the rights of every living sentient being and the rights of a Union citizen when he noticed me standing by the door and interrupted his monologue."Attention class, the Captain is here."
I smiled and raised my hands."As you were, I was just curious after SHIP told me what you were doing here."
He rolled his eyes."This is a part of the conscription part, as per regulation. It is an almost forgotten and very old requirement, as no one really has been conscripted in hundreds of years. Of course we broke pretty much every record in this regard."
He then gestured towards the small class. "Truth to be told, it is a task I look forward to, every day. These are very eager students."
I wanted to say something when TheOther's voice rumbled over Intership. "Ensign TheOther here, Captain we're being hailed by the Togar side of planet management."
"I am on my way." To the class I nodded."I am very pleased with what I saw."
Shea got up from the Conn and handed me my mask. Moments later I looked into the face of a orange white spotted fur Togar. "Pirate Black Velvet, the Togr Empire is grateful for your noble act of rescuing Togar warriors after a space battle. The section leader of this region and member of the family royal herself has decreed that you may collect your rewards and our thanks at the Kaliment palace."
"The leader of this ship herself has decreed not to walk into traps. I see Togar word is about as reliable as Togar maintenance at the most distant Togr outpost."
I signaled TheOther who sat at the Communications console, while Elfi supervised him, to cut the connection. "How stupid do they think I am? No psionics needed to guess the reason for that invitation."
To Shea I said."Stay where you are, Ms.Schwartz no need to throw Har-Hi's careful created bridge rotation in chaos again. If someone needs me, I am in the Den having a snack."
Just outside the bridge, Narth appeared right next to me."How will you accomplish that?"
"Do what? Eating a snack?"
"No,making the Togar pay what they promissed.You are about to contemplate ways to accomplish that."
"I am about to contemplate? Are you predicting what I am going to think, even before I know it?"
"We are Huhgavh sharers. I am experimenting with a little equation that gives probabilities for certain reactions of yours to conditions and events."
"In other words you found a way to predict me?"
"It is very crude and there are many variables that make it very difficult to achieve a probability of over 39 percent."
"Now if you weren't my Huhgavh sharer and friend, I would say that is about the spookiest thing you ever did so far."
"I was unaware, this is could be classified as a sup..."
Sobody interrupted our conversation by coming out of the IST we were about to use."Oh hi Captain and hi to you Lt.Narth."
"Class dismissed, Mr. Sobody?"
"Yes, Captain. I was just wondering what you going to do about those lying cats?"
I stopped in my tracks."Did you share that equation of yours, Narth?"
"No, I just completed the preliminary calculation."
Sobody blinked with a surprised face."Ah so you too asked the captain. Well half the ship is expecting you to do something."
I haven't even wasted a single thought on that myself and it appears half my crew is already predicting my moves."
"Not just half the crew, Captain." SHIP chimed in. "Eighty two percent to be precise, but no one is predicting your moves but a large majority expects one."
While taking it all in I did reach the Den and said to SHIP."Tell our Chef, I am feeling peckish for some pickled fish and fresh bread if he has some."
To the Golden merchant I said."Yes I like to do something about it, but without declaring war on the Togar."
Mr. Eeeryt our chef appeared and proudly demonstrated a new installation. "It's called a Dumbwaiter, on old Earth, Captain. Ours goes from the galley to the den and we have a serve matic down here as well."
He retrieved a tray."Pickled herring, fresh onions and buttered bread."
While I noticed several disgusted faces, I truly enjoyed this treat, it was just as good as pickled Silver flicker fish.
I also approved of the modifications done by my engineering crew. It certainly would make Mr. Eeeryt's life much easier.
I reached for a cold Holsteiner and said."It is a low priority for sure. We need much more information about the local conditions and the Togar leadership in particular."
"Maybe talking to one of the local Kalimun dealer will yield some answers, Captain." Sobody suggested.
I agreed. "This planet isn't Sin 4 or Alvor's Cove. It would also be uncharacteristic to remain aboard. So I will grant our first shore leave on a foreign port. But whoever leaves must remain in pirate mode and no smaller groups than six. Everyone must remain in contact with the ship and no more ten groups at the time.
Togar side is off limits and please do not buy any live souvenirs. Of course gather information but in a passive way." I wasn't sure I did the right thing, but I had to trust my crew and Kaliment was supposed to be reasonably safe.
Har-Hi,Narth, Shea and TheOther were with me as we stepped off the taxi flier that deposited us at the main strip downtown on Karthanian side.
This was supposedly an important planet for the Karthanians but so far I had seen only two. The majority of beings were Oghr, Jooltar, Yotenen and beings I could not identify. There were a few humans or humanoids here and there as well.
Har-Hi explained it,saying. "Karthanians are xenophobic to the extreme. Non Karthaninans are not allowed on their main worlds. They mostly do business via trusted surrogates of any species."
The city was a strange mix of non Union architecture, gritty mining community and cross roads place. There were no slideways, but there were plenty of Taxi fliers and they weren't expensive.
The air was cold and dry, there was litter everywhere and everything was covered with coarse dust. I could smell the ore smelters and the distant din of heavy machinery.
Most of the buildings did not reach very far into the sky, none of them true skyscrapers.
There were businesses. Chief of them of course Kalimun and ore dealers, there were Polo exchanges where Kerms, Kathris and Xis could be exchanged.
The street was busy, but everyone stared at our Y'All.
I was quite surprised when a tall human in a silvery white suit and a sword over his back stepped into my way. He was accompanied by twenty similar but less impressive dressed men.
My hand dropped to my Nul graviton blaster.
He pointed at me and said."I am prince Chula Chakrabongse and you are now with me, Black Velvet. I decided to make you my bride."
"Uh, what?" I was certain I didn't hear the man right."
"I am Prince Chula Chakrabongse, of the Siam Kingdom. I am very rich, very handsome and the best fighter in the galaxy. I saw you and decided you will be a nice fit. I am sure we can work something out regarding the piracy charges."
Har-Hi stepped next to me."Don't kill him, Captain. He is far from home and needs a spanking."
Chula waved at his entourage."Go dispatch that Dai, so I can take her to our ship."
I rolled my eyes."He is actually serious! I had no idea so many delusional idiots are allowed to travel without proper supervision. Make it quick Har-Hi, I am getting annoyed."
Chula survived, his men did too, because most of them ran as fast as they could. However the prince regained consciousness, with a broken jaw a broken sword and swollen eye. His armor flex suit in tatters.
A bird like being kept laughing."Never seen such a lucky fool, threatening a Juth-Ni and surviving it."
Someone else in the onlooking little crowd said."You and your goons better get up and get back to your ship or hotel. When the Karthanian street patrol shows up, you will dig for Kalimun tomorrow."
Chula did get up on unsteady feet, unable to really speak as his jaw was really broken and he was in a world of pain.
His friends helped him into a Taxi flier. He could only mumble and no one really understood what he was saying."We buy a warship and hunt that pirate. No one rejects my love and the Dai must die!"
We had explored the Karthanian city or at least its downtown district and found ourselves in a reasonably clean tavern or restaurant of sorts. The owner or manager was a Gothar. By now I was able to identify the species and I felt quite proud of myself, maybe I was slowly becoming a spacer after all.
The food advertised was according to the proprietor quite safe for humans and very good. I declined and opted for Thil. If it was served ice cold it was drinkable, but had the taste of the cheapest watered down beer I could imagine. Of course I would never say that out loud because of Har-Hi.
Narth and Shea however were brave enough to order some of the food. TheOther declined as well and simply ordered a bucket of ice water.
I asked him."What do Y'All eat?"
"We can consume any biological substance, but are supposed to rip apart enemies and gorge on the raw gore. Mostly for psychological effects I am sure. I personally developed a palate for good Italian food and I rather eat back on the ship."
I could not help myself and laugh."TheOther, you are certainly full of surprises and never cease to amaze me with your answers. I really believe you are not the average Y'All but I have to agree I am also spoiled by our ship's fare."
Har-Hi and I received the Thil and he looked at the metal cup and sighed."And I used to love Thill, now I think it is a watery excuse for beer. I much rather had one the captain's Holsteiners."
Just as I wanted to say something, a group of beings entered the eatery. I was certain they were spacers and in the same business we are supposed to be in. Unlike the colorful and loud crew of Dentar Bloom we had met at Brhama Port, these appeared to me as professionals. The eight being group was centered on upright walking Nubhir wolf with very dark eyes.
Har-Hi said quietly.". I have never seen one myself, but I think he is a Porsthir. They are about as distant from Upward and Union space as you can be in the M-0 galaxy."
All eight wore dark gray suits, were armed with an assortment of guns and bladed weapons. Among the beings were a very muscular and well endowed female Togar with light gray, black striped fur. Her main weapon was a big battle ax, she carried with one hand over her shoulder. Two of the beings were truly non humanoid , walking on four legs, neither of my friends could identify the species.
The group settled at a large table not to far from us. They sized us up the same way we did, the curious professional way, to see if the other group might present possible problems.
They ordered drinks and food and paid no more interest to us.
The second group entering the eatery however was well known to us. It was the Red Dragon, Meateater, Shupuz,Sodex, Ivok and the Wartook known as the Cruel One
It was apparent they finally made it to Kaliment as well.
Red Dragon with his fists propped against his hips said loudly."I knew I recognized that venerable rust bucket out there on the landing field, if it isn't feisty Captain Velvet."
I sighed and said."The one with the real rust bucket should be out there fixing his collection of scrap metal instead wasting his last polos on drinks."
Meateater of course knew I was talking about him and he was visibly boiling with anger, but kept quiet.
Red Dragon bowed slightly. "What a sharp tongue and I would agree with you, but he has to wait for the delivery of parts to his Shankar drive. It is not something anyone seems to have in stock."
"Maybe he is looking at the wrong places. Museums, scrap dealers or curiosity collectors might have them. If that galaxy conquering plan of yours hinges on the equipment your associate,I am not so sure you are serious about it. Maybe I need to go back to regular business."
Meateater exploded with anger. "You arrogant Igrass witch, I am going to roast your liver after I ripped it out through your throat. I am going to sell your crew to slavers..."
Red Dragon physically restrained him."She sits with the Y'All and the Dai you fool."
To me he said."Velvet my offer remains, we will meet at Itheamh and discuss the endeavour and also who will come along and who doesn't. Meateater will spend much time and resources at Itheamh docks where his Intruder will receive Karthanian engines and other upgrades."
In all this, I overlooked the other table of spacers. The gray pelted Porsthir rose from his seat and pointed at the Wartook. "I traveled far in the search of you, Cruel One and now you walk into my presence. I ask you and anyone associated with you to step outside so we may finish our business. I am sure you remember."
The place went quiet and the bird like proprietor came running."Please do not fight in here. In serve everyone..."
The crew around the Porsthir had all stood up and one of the unidentified beings, until now hunched on four legs, rose to his hind legs to at least four meters, its head now only a handswith from the ceiling with a grayish blue smooth skin and two eyes on each side of its head, pointed its front legs towards the Wartook."I am sure he has no problem remembering me." To the Gothar it said."Should damage occur caused by us, we will compensate you."
The Cruel One, despite his non human appearance was clearly distressed."You have no business being here! I am in the company of no less than six ship masters,each in command of mighty vessels and formidable crews. I do not quarrel with riff raff like common thugs on the streets. You might just as well turn around, your long journey proved to be a fool's errand."
The Red Dragon apparently was as uninformed about this as we were."I do not know what this is all about, but I tend to stick up for my associates. why don't you tell us your apparent problem and we might b able to sort it out."
"There is nothing to sort out. Either you step aside or I consider you an accomplice to that cowardly butcher."
Six Orkh-Oghr in Karthaninan uniforms and Kermac Line Blasters now made the Tavern fell crowed. Obviously summoned by the business owner.
The lead Orkh growled."There will be no violence by visitors to this planet or whoever survives will find themselves scraping Kalimun from the frozen rock tomorrow."
The Cruel One now feeling safe laughed. "You stupid mutt, take your rag tag crew and go back past the Galactic Bulge and scare a few Yotenen traders. This side of the galaxy is too hot for amateurs like you."