Title: NILFEHEIM Category: Fiction » Sci-Fi Author: V

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Language: English, Rating: Rated: T Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure Published: 12-31-12, Updated: 01-01-13 Chapters: 8, Words: 24,435


A word to my readers


NILFEHEIM

This is the beginning of a compete rewrite of Eric Olafsons Saga.

It is intended to be the final content adding/ changing re-write and fix a series of Plot Holes, such as the Timelines of wars, Immortals, events that happened before. Explaining why Eric actually wants to be a Star Ship Captain , fixing the Longnight / Short Summer intervals . Changing some dates such as when Eric goes to the Academy and when he starts his Tigershark adventures...and finally when he becomes the Dark One. I am going to clean up the "Interludes" tighten this and that, fixing names ..make them consistent and while I am at it , there will be several re-posting after my friends who offered to proof read after this but as I mentioned this is the last rewrite in terms of content.

The basic story is the same but I added stuff and the Eric Saga will expand a little in terms of volume,

So I keep the Old Versions up but after I completed the Rewrite they will be removed and posted under the "Old Story Versions "category of the GalNet Wiki.

So I hope you enjoy this new version.

I will furthermore change the Numbering scheme of the GC Universe Books. (Do away with I actually) But for those of my readers who are used to it it would be GC IV.

It is entitled : NILFEHEIM


Foreword


NILFEHEIM

(A Galactic Chronicles Tale – Book 1 in the Eric Olafson Cycle)

Foreword

Dear Readers and dear friends of the Galactic Chronicles Saga.

The first version of this Saga I penned over 15 years ago and I have rewritten it a few times since, but as writer I have grown and so has my story and this Saga. The characters have evolved and taken on a life of their own. Thanks to many comments and well deserved critique I felt that another and hopefully final major rewrite was in order.

So here it is I have begun to tackle the task of a rewrite and hopefully this will be the last (not including edits of course).

It will be the same and to many of you who know the story this will add only a few bits and pieces, tie up a few plot holes and stream line the whole saga.

I also decided to change the Galactic Chronicles Numbering System. As I begun to flesh out the stories I realized that the old 21 Book concept no longer really fits.

So this is Book ONE of the Eric Olafson Saga and Book One in the Galactic Chronicles Series. Books .

This Book is dedicated to : A99515, Silvak, NeWbe,Don and John.

Vanessa Ravencroft

(c)2012


Prelude


I was asked by one of my oldest friends to tell my story, the story of my human life. To put it down in words so others can read about it. At first I objected to the idea, but then it grew on me, because it is not just a story about me but about the many beings and individuals I had met during my journey. Some became friends and some became much more, where the word friend simply isn't adequate to describe the bond that had been shared. Others became enemies and most simply played their part. It is to their memory I decided to dedicate my memoirs. Now you may say I am not human, not even a being of flesh and blood but every tale needs a beginning and this one begins quite a while ago on a planet called Nilfeheim, where I was born as Eric Olafson, son of Isegrim Olafson and Ilva Ragnarsson at Union Standard date 0107-9999.91. However this way of timekeeping using Galactic years and fractions thereof has never really caught on and many worlds of the United Stars of the Galaxies and especially on worlds settled and colonized by Terran Humans, still keep time the old Terran way. My day of birth was October 7th, 4999. Now as I look back over my life, sitting here in my old Tower bedroom overlooking the oceans of Nilfeheim, the Union writes the year 5500. The Decision I had to make is done and the RULE has been restored. The United Stars of the Galaxies, simply called the Union, has changed and grown since then; much has occurred in these last 500 years and soon I will leave this plane of existence. My journey in this, your universe has reached its end. As my last vestiges of human existence fade away and I once more become what I have always been. As I look back and recall what occurred; I realize how blessed I was to have met them all; the ones that called me friend. The ones that had it within them to love me and teach me the true meaning of that most powerful emotion and condition of all. It will be testament to their ability to overcome the greatest challenges and show and teach even a being such as me that there is light in the darkest night. I am getting ahead of myself and speak of things that will only make sense if you indeed follow my tale to the end. As I have mentioned before ,it all began about 500 years ago on a very cold water world called Nilfeheim. I decided to tell you my story as I have experienced it, but at times I will borrow the voices of others; to introduce their parts and illustrate their role in this saga.

I am known as the Dark One by some. Others curse me and fear me as the incarnation of Death and Anti Life itself... Some try to categorize me as God or Demon. Some do not believe I exist and what I am is nothing but the hand of nature. I have no need for categories born in the feeble minds of mortal beings. I have no desires and demand neither faith nor worship. I need not to proof or demonstrate anything to to anyone. What I am cannot be understood by minds trapped in space and time and but one plane of existence, no words that could be understood by by all who are mortal the true essence and reasons that make what I am. For the purpose of this tale it matters only that to those I am privileged to call my friends I have always been and always will be their friend and companion known as

E. Olafson, Admiral. Ret. (United Stars Navy) – Union Citizen.


Gal Net Entry


GalNet Entry:

Nilfeheim is the 2nd planet in the Solken System, a Type 4D Garden world. The planet is on an elliptic orbit around its sun causing long cold winters that last seven standard years. This period is called Longnight. The four years of moderate temperatures are called Shortsummer. Temperatures often drop below minus sixty degrees on the C- scale during the long winter period and only climb to about to 15 degrees during the summer period. The world has no continents and is covered by water, except for a few rocky islands and two polar caps where the ice never melts. The oceans teem with aquatic life that is consumable by Humans. Most noteworthy is the Tyranno Fin, an extremely aggressive and very large predator currently holding the claim to be the largest carnivorous fish in the known Universe. Most life forms are cataloged and many are hunted, fished or harvested by the local population and sold on the Galactic market. Nilfeheim was settled by Terrans in 2160. A group consisting mainly of Scandinavians, Norwegians and Germans belonging to the Viking Movement and the Church of Odin left Earth so they could adhere to their chosen lifestyle, which rejected modern technology and advancements. The Nilfeheim settlers received genetic tailoring so they were better adapted to their new home world. Conditions on Nilfeheim where harsher than anticipated and the colony struggled to stay alive. Around 220, the settlers calling themselves Neo Vikings resorted to piracy and raided civilian shipping lines and other colonies. After the formation of the United Stars a Union Battleship ended the Neo Vikings short but violent history of piracy. Its captain giving the Neo Vikings on Nilfeheim a choice: remain isolated from any contact with other worlds or join the United Stars. He also made it quite clear what would happen if they would ever resort to piracy again. The Neo Vikings decided for the second option and Nilfeheim became a Member world in 2390. Since then Nilfeheim has developed a distinct local culture that borrows heavily from historical and romantic elements of an Earth Culture known as the Vikings. Their present culture focuses on the preservation and strict adherence to their ancient traditions. A Book of Sacred Traditions is the only law and is interpreted by a Circle of Elders.

Chapter 1 : Mother

Outside the bitter cold winds of Longnight howled around the thick Duro-Crete walls of the Burg, but here in my mother's drawing room it was warm and cozy. The soak-stones glowed warm with Tyranno Oil fire in the oven. I always thought her room was just a bit warmer than all the other rooms and halls. Here in her chambers the gray and drab Duro-Crete walls were mostly covered with Velvet curtains and antique tapestries depicting the first settlers, the gods, scenes of great Clan wars and legendary hunts. I was lying on my favorite spot, nestled among the incredible soft copper colored Nubhir furs spread out on mother's divan. Her fur blankets were lined with smooth, luxurious shimmering ivory satin, ever since I could remember I loved the feel of them. My fur blankets were made of the coarse back pelt of Fangsnappers, they were not lined at all and always had a strong musky odor. Here everything smelled wonderful. She was sitting across from me in her favorite chair, with the thick Book of Legends on her lap and reading me another fantastic adventure of Thor, the thunder god. Her long blonde hair glistened like spun gold in the warm yellow light of the brass reading lamp beside her. The old book resting on the maroon colored skirt of her velvet dress, the one with the golden seams I liked so much. She was a great reader and could bring the characters of the story to life, just like now when she gestured with her slender hand and began to read: "One morning Thor, the mighty God of Thunder, awoke from a deep slumber; he reached for his hammer as he was wont to do first thing every morning. Alas, on this day, his fist formed around thin air - the hammer had disappeared." Her hand was searching the thin air next to her chair and I was no longer lying down. I hadn't heard this story before and had to sit up straight. Thor's hammer was gone! How could he defend Asgard and make thunder without it? She glanced at me, gave me a deep smile and continued on reading. Her voice increased in intensity and she managed to speak with a deeper voice. "Thor was beside himself. His rage was immense and would probably have been quite destructive, but without his hammer, all he could do was rant and rave. What good was the God of Thunder without his mighty weapon?" I could only imagine, Thor without his hammer, unthinkable! Mother's voice became quieter and her face had a quizzical look "Of course he had his suspicion as to the identity of the thief ... it could only have been those pesky Giants! But no matter, he needed his hammer back, and quickly! First thing though, he had to find out where the Giants might have hidden it. Who better than Loki, the shrewd one to make inquiries? Not to lose any time, Loki went to Freya and asked her for the loan of her feather-dress, the famed falcon-cloak, so he might quickly fly to the land where the Giants dwell. When Freya heard what the cloak was needed for, she was more than willing to help. So Loki went on his way and it wasn't long before he happened upon Thrym, one of the princes of the Giant clan. Thrym feigned surprise and inquired what could possibly be so wrong in Asgard, or perhaps Elfland, that Loki dared enter the realm of the Giants on his own. Loki told him of his mission, to find the hammer of Thor. Whereupon the Giant threw back his huge, ugly head, shook with thunderous laughter, and then told Loki that the hammer was well out of the reach of the Aseir, safely buried, some eight fathoms beneath the Earth's surface. And it would never again be swung by Thor ... lest Freya herself be brought to him as his bride. Freya, of course, was Odin's bride and the most beautiful of the Aseir" I knew Freya would have looked exactly like my mother, for who could be more beautiful than her? "You should have a cloak of feathers too!" I said, "So you could look lovely and I could borrow it to fly around!" She laughed, "Oh that would be grand indeed. However I doubt Freya would want to share her cloak with mere mortals, but I too wondered what that cloak would look like, especially when my father told me this story when I was a little girl." "What did Freya say when she heard about that?" "Let me read you more of the story and let us find out." She turned the page. "Loki hurried back to Asgard, to inform Freya that she needed to ready herself to become the bride of the Giant Thrym, a terrible fate but for the good of Asgard, of course! Freya's outrage became the stuff of legend in the halls of Asgard - the idea, she, the beautiful, wild, free-spirited Freya, the bride of that mangy dog! Something had to be done and finally, Heimdahl, the wise one, advised Thor that there was no other solution than that he, Thor, dress up in women's bridal frocks and pretend to be Freya. To say that Thor was less than taken with this idea would be an understatement. No way was he going to risk the ridicule of all Asgard. There had to be a better way! However nobody could come up with a better plan. Everyone knew that the Giants had had their eyes on Asgard for a long time, and with the help of the hammer, they might even accomplish this goal. And that would simply not do! Especially since Odin was asleep and could not be woken for 100 years. Loki even offered to accompany Thor, decked out as his handmaiden and soon, the great rams were ready to draw Thor's wagon across the heavens. Mountains split open, forests burst into flames and the rumble from the mighty wagon could be heard from a long way off. Thrym believed it to herald the arrival of his bride. He bade his hall to be decked and the tables readied for a great feast. "As night fell, the great meal had begun. Thor alone ate a whole roasted Ochsen, eight salmons, and every bit of the sweetmeats that had been served for the women; this meal he washed down with three barrels of mead. Thrym thought this just a bit odd, but Loki whispered to him that Freya had not eaten for eight days, as he was too overcome with longing for the Giant Prince. Now that was more to the brute's liking, and he felt a desire to kiss his betrothed. But as he lifted "her" veil, he pulled back in shock ... the eyes he encountered glittered as with madness. Again, Loki explained that Freya had not slept for many nights, from longing for her groom. Then the giant's oldest sister came forth and bade "Freya" to take her golden bracelets from her arms and give it to her; with these she would insure the old giantess' favor and good will. Meanwhile Thrym, impatient with the ways of women, called for the hammer to be brought and laid in his bride's lap. Thus would their union be sealed before the Gods. Those words were music to Thor's ears. No sooner did he hold his hammer in his hand than that he sprang from his chair and the first blow killed Thrym outright. None of the clan of the giants survived that night, not even the old woman who had asked for his bracelets in return for her favor. He paid her in blood instead of trinkets." She closed the book with a loud thud that brought me back to reality. "And it was thus that the God of Thunder reclaimed his hammer." "What is an Ochsen?" I asked. "It is a huge animal with horns, twice the size of the biggest Fangsnapper you are ever going to see. It is an animal that lives on Earth, I have never seen one of course" "Not even Uncle Hogun could eat an entire Fangsnapper!" She laughed. "No, I am sure not even your huge Uncle Hogun could do that." She put the book aside, got up and brushed over her skirt. "And now it is time for my little warrior to go to sleep." "He could not have done it without the help of Loki and the wise Heimdahl." I concluded. She nodded. "This is very true, Eric and that is the message in this story. It means not all problems can be solved with raw strength and weapons but sometimes other methods are more effective. Of course, Thor being Thor ended the story his way and made sure no one would ever again get the idea to steal his hammer." My Father had entered the room, his eyes glassy and his nose red from too much ale and mead, made a growling sound that rolled from the bottom of his massive chest and then said. "Loki is a trickster and he deceived Thor many times after. No Neo Viking should ever listen to this particular story." Mother pursed her lips and said. "But he is one of the gods and half-brother to Thor and he did help the Thunderer to get his hammer back!" Father tried to think of a reply but could not really argue with that so he glared at me. "This is no place for a warrior born. Look at you, lying on furs in the boudoir of a woman. You are too old now to be in your mother's dressing room. All this warmth will make you soft like a woman. You are to go outside right now and keep watch on the tower. The cold wind will clear your mind of all that soft rubbish and steel you to be a man!" Mother protested. "Isegrim he is five years old! What is wrong with me reading him the legends of the Gods? He is not going out on that freezing tower in the middle of Longnight. There hasn't been a guard up there for 500 years! He is no warrior yet, he is a little boy!" Father uncoiled his ever-present whip that he carried on a sling attached to his wrist. The whip was made of a length of steel cable. He bellowed loudly and angrily: "Know thy place woman! It is not proper for a wench or anyone to question my decisions!" I could smell the mead on him as he rushed by me towards mother. She stood there not moving an inch and held her chin high. "You do not scare me with your whip! You are drunk. Now leave my chamber! My Father will hear of this if you do not leave now!" Father screamed: "No one gives me commands in my Burg, you are but a woman and your only duty is to please me! He slashed the cable across my mother's face. I heard the crack of the steel cable, my mother's cry of agony and there was blood everywhere.


Chapter 2: Ragnarsson Rock




I woke up, bolting upright in my bed. Another nightmare .

That night had burned itself into my mind and once again it had revisited me in form of a horrid dream. The blood, the screams of pain from my mother as she tried to shield me and the growls of rage from my father.

My mother had died that night a little more than six years ago.

As always when I had this dream I could no longer sleep. So I went to my small desk by the drafty window and sat down to put my thoughts into a little PDD my Grandfather had given me.

It was the only Off World high-tech thing I owned and If father knew I had it, he would have taken it away from me, I was certain.

It was my first grade teacher Mr. Atkins who suggested I keep a diary of my thoughts and of daily events. He said thinking things over and writing them down would help to get a different perspective about things.

My father had killed my mother with his steel cable whip that fateful night. He had beaten me as well right after my mother no longer moved. The steel whip had almost cut me in half and I all but died that night. I could not remember many details, someone interfered and stopped him, but I was certain there was the red dress of Gretel, seeing it through my bloody haze. More dead than alive I was taken to the Union Clinic and the doctors there had saved my life. Even tough I wished I had died that night as well, I missed her so much!

I was still a kid and not supposed to understand it all, yet I knew the reason why father killed mother and why he hate me so much. Midril, the cook had explained it to me, and she knew every rumor, gossip and local story there was to know.

Father, so she explained to me one morning, was the oldest heir to the Olafson Clan. It was an old Clan and its linage reached back to the time when the first settlers arrived on Nilfeheim.

Lineage and being of the Old Clans had great value in our society, but the Olafson Clan was poor and had very little resources. So poor in fact, they had to hire out their men to other clans because they could not afford their own Hunt Subs or fishing boats. Being of an old Clan and hiring out for wages was greatly frowned upon.

My mother on the other hand was of the Ragnarsson Clan, also an Old Clans and perhaps the richest off them all.

Her father and my Grandfather was credited with increasing the wealth and influence of the Ragnarsson Clan even beyond the shores and heavens of Nilfeheim.

Grandfather's only son, my mother's older brother had died training for the Ancient Rite of Passage, he and was crushed by an angry Tyranno Fin or so the story went. There were no other sons to become heir or carry on the lineage of the Ragnarsson family. There was only a daughter, my mother.

While it was perfectly normal for a woman to inherit on almost any other world in the Union, here on Nilfeheim, it was the First Born son alone. Only males could inherit and the first Born alone decided what share his mother, brothers and sisters would get from an inheritance.

Marriages between Clans were arranged by Clan Chiefs. Daughters received a dowry by their fathers and were given away to seal alliances and pacts between Clans.

The young people had no choice and no say who they could date or love.

Dating someone against the wishes of the Clan Chiefs usually ended in the death of the girl, and usually by the hand of her own father. The boy was also punished but rarely killed.

In my case , or in the case of my family, the old clan chief of the Olafson's, my late grandfather Volund had made such an arrangement with another old Clan Chief, Erik Gustav Ragnarsson.

The Arrangement they decided upon saw the oldest Son of the Olafson Clan, Isegrim Olafson marry Ilva Ragnarsson.

Since there were no male heir in the line of the Ragnarsson Clan all its riches and all its possessions would become Olafson. The name and seal of Ragnarsson cease to exist.

This was a tremendous deal of fortune for the poor Olafson Clan of course. With the wealth of the Ragnarssons, the name Olafson once again rise from the bottom of the heap to be a force and voice of weight in the Conference of the Clans. Aye, of such wealth was the possessions of the Ragnarssons

Isegrim Olafson, my father forced into this deal by the will of Volund Olafson, was in love with another woman and secretly courted and even bedded her. That other woman was the daughter of a Nubhir herder. The daughter of a lowly Freeman named Hemstead who was as poor as one could be, with a trade normally delegated to Low Men.

Her name was Gretel and she had worked as a Nubhir skin scrubber in our burgs Tanneries.

A union between a Nubhir herder' daughter and future clan chief was out of the question. Even if there was no arrangement, old Volund would have killed the woman and because Isegrim brought shame to the clan might have made Hogun, my fathers younger brother heir to what was Olafson.

However Isegrim never cared about anyone or anything but himself and it was her, my father wanted.

Father and Gretel kept seeing each other in secret. Not that such secrets could really be kept in a Clan burg where eyes and ears were everywhere. Their inappropriate liaison was the source of much whispered gossip.

Before Volund heard about it and could do something he fell down the long stairs to the sub den and broke his neck. Some said he was drunk, others believed it was not an accident but murder. My father was on a boat fishing that day and could not have been the murderer. He became Clan chief the same day.

Father kept the his liaison with Gretel a secret and married my mother. While he hated my mother and loved Gretel, he loved the riches and the dowry that came with his Ragnarsson bride even more. He even moved his household from the small, cold and miniscule Olafson Burg to the massive and huge Ragnarsson Rock. Anticipating being its new owner soon.

Then I was born and my Grandfather Erik Gustav Ragnarsson came to witness my name giving day and then stood by my crib, making a sacred Viking oath while holding me into the air. He proclaimed me and not his daughter or her husband, heir to all that was Ragnarsson., as I was the first born in the line of the merging Clans and the first male carrying Ragnarsson and Olafson blood. To him it was an omen and Neo Vikings loved Omen and saw the hand of the Gods in everything.

On the day he died, I Eric Olafson inherited his wealth

Father hated me and would have loved to kill me but the fact that the very Burg we lived in would not be his if I died, before Grandfather passed away kept me relative safe.

If I died before my Grandfather, the old Ragnarsson was free of any obligations to the Olafson clan. Father would have to move back to the small and half crumbled burg that was the Olafson Burg, about 160 kilometers to the east.

I put the PDD down. I was tired and I glanced over to the bed,contemplating another attempt, but there was no rest for me in a night like this. I could not go back to sleep without seeing the lifeless bloody heap that had been my mother before my inner eyes.

It was almost time for the kitchen servants to get up and prepare breakfast.

Our Burg was home to about eighty clan families, Dozens of Free men and almost a hundred servants as well as perhaps 200 low men.

Most of them got up very early to tend to their daily chores.

A Nilfeheim clan was very much like a big company. We had tanneries , Nubhir herds in the south, Nubhir Wolf Dens, Fishing boats and two Hunting Subs. There was always something to do and someone doing it.

Breakfast was served in the High Hall for members of the first families and in the common hall for everyone else.

The High Hall was a cavernous place in the main building, with real wood furniture, weapons, grandiose chandeliers and an enormous table . It was where my father and the exalted members of the clan took their meals.

By decree of Gretel I was not allowed to set foot into the main building and had to take my meals with the low men and the servants, but to make sure I knew my place. I was not allowed to eat sitting on a table. I had to eat from a plate on the floor.

Father would punish anyone severely if this was not observed.

I dressed and headed down to the kitchens. That early there was little chance I would run into Isegrim or my brothers and I could sit by the hearth and Midril would give me some hot rolls in exchange for hauling supplies from the under croft and the store rooms. Sitting by the hearth and eating was much preferable than taking my meal from a plate on the floor, much to he amusement of the Low Men.

As I reached the backyard where the entrance to the kitchen was I could already smell the fresh bread Midril was baking.

Isegrim was the head of the Clan, but Midril was in charge of the kitchen and the household. Her position was called First Maid and on Nilfeheim it was pretty much the most important position a woman could have.

She ruled over it with her ever present wooden cooking spoon. She wielded it like a club or sword and she had knocked me over the head with it on more than one occasion. Admittedly and in her defense I usually earned it for stealing a hot cake or a piece of roast.

Most of the commoners and most of the servants , especially those that came from the Ragnarsson clan treated me well and I knew some felt sorry for my fate and they all knew what ad happened to my mother, although no one ever really talked about it, everyone was afraid of Isegrim. The low men and servants coming from the Olafson Clan however had no such reservations or feelings and loved to punish me for the things father did to them.

The kitchen yard was on the eastern side of the burg, a small cobblestone yard bordered by the high sea wall onto the west side and the entrance to my tower to the south. There was a small gate on the opposite site from where you could reach the old tunnels that used to be an escape passage from the days of the Clan wars.

Parts of this was now converted as storage space, were we kept barrels of Tyranno oil and bales of sea weed.

A long forgotten secret corridor was there as well complete with a concealed door that led right between the walls of the Great Hall where you could sneak in and listen to everything that went on, and through a concealed crack you could even see some of it.

Just as I had reached the yard, Midril opened the door and sloshed a bucket of hot liquid onto the cobblestones.

She saw me and stemmed her fists in her wide hips." Why am I carrying the mop water outside if you are already up and linger around like a starving Snapperfish? Get your behind in the kitchen and finish mopping the Common Hall and when you're done the bread and the breakfast ham will be ready."

The kitchen was big and warm and always spotless clean. She would not have it any other way. The kitchen was pretty much the same since they rebuild the burg over 1000 years ago. The only modern equipment was the large convection oven, the big bread dough mixer and water heater. Everything else was traditional and old-fashioned, Thickgrass-seaweed compressed in into dense bricks served as fuel for the main stove, not that there was need to use fossil fuels as the Burg had a power generator running on hydrogen, but that was not traditional. Food had to be cooked over fire.

I grabbed the mob and headed for the still empty Common Hall, the stone floor was gleaming clean but that did not matter to Midril who wanted it mopped never the less.

The common hall had rows of stone slab benches and tables. Wood was incredibly expensive on a world without forests and had to be imported.

Suddenly there was loud screaming and horrible noise of crashing and breaking from the kitchen. Something not human shrieking with an ear piercing sound.

I ran towards the noise, slipped and fell on the slick floor as I reached the kitchen.

The tidy kitchen was now a tumbled mess. The liquid I slipped in and that covered the floor right by the door was thick dark and red,. It was blood! In the center of the gory puddle a badly mangled body

I only recognized Gudrun, one of the cooks by the frilled apron the mangled corpse wore.

A large Fangsnapper tore through the kitchen, smashing furniture and throwing utensils everywhere. It was about to attack Midril again. She already had lost an arm, bleeding heavily, still on her feet, brandished her wooden spoon against the dagger sharp rows of teeth of the furious beast.

The back door was smashed to pieces and marked the way were the animal gained entrance to the kitchen. Despite all the confusion and horror I wondered how the beast got here. I could not understand how the Fangsnapper managed to get through the steel gates or get over the high outer walls. Our burg was in the middle of the ocean and far away from the hunting grounds of these beasts usually only found in the southern pole region.

I struggled to my feet, slipping twice again. There not far from the dead cooks hand lay a big cooking knife. I did not think much and what I did then was more instinct than any planned course of action.

I grabbed that knife and with a jump was on one of the big stainless steel kitchen tables and catapulted myself brandishing the knife with both hands onto the back of the beast and plunged the razor sharp steel into its back right behind the skull.

The Snapper screamed even louder tried to shake me off. I didn't have a very good hold. With my left hand cramped around the left head fin, my legs clamping as hard as I could to the still moist body of the beast and plunged the knife as often as I could deep into the same wound.

Hot blood sprayed from the wound gushing all over me. It stank sickly sweet and the odor mingled with the moldy fish scent Fangsnappers were famous for. As much as I was in danger of getting seriously hurt and maimed, as much as I was afraid there was a part of me deep down that enjoyed every moment of it.

The Fangsnapper collapsed literally inches from Midril. Only now I saw she was protecting little Elena the daughter of Gudrun. I remembered that she was six or seven years old and always in the kitchen either playing or helping with small chores but never saying a single word.

The beast, in its death throes twitched to the side and I flew of its back and hit the stove. Before I felt the actual pain of being burned I could hear the hissing sound my skin as it made connecting to the hot steel.

Now men came rushing in, servants and workers that were about to get breakfast and alarmed by the noise.

Greifen, who was the Burg Master took charge of the situation. He bandaged Midril wound and she was rushed away, most likely to be flown to town where she would get help at the Union Clinic.

I heard my father coming. His bellowing voice heralded him long before he appeared. He then appeared in the door glancing over the mess.

Greifen said." Your son Eric has bravely attacked the Fangsnapper with a kitchen knife and killed it. He saved the lives of Midril and the young girl. He is badly burned and he too should go to the Union Clinic."

My father growled. "It must have been the doings of the cursed Elhir Clan. They dropped that Fangsnapper into our yard, no doubt! They can't stand the fact that we are now merging with the Ragnarssons."

Greifen nodded. "Yes, Sire, I was thinking the same. There is no other way that Fangsnapper could have made it up here into the Kitchen yard.

Sigmund, one of our harpooners and Clan warrior appeared next to father and said. "I was sure the Elhir were planning something ever since we got into a fight with them at the wharf last week I and broke Hilfheim Elhir's leg, as you know Sire."

"We will discuss how we retaliate on the table tonight! Now I expect this kitchen to be cleaned by this failure of a son! If he had kept watch in the tower as I expected him to do, he would have seen who did this. If he would be a real son of mine I would look upon the bodies of the intruders and not some worthless beast."

He turned to leave." Let him tend to his own wounds. If I hear that anyone wasted time helping that whelp I will break every bone in their bodies!"


Ghosts and Death



When father was told it was Gudrun the Cook who got killed he shrugged his broad shoulders and said." The tables smashed were expensive, that wench is easily replaced."

It turned out Greifen was right. The Elhir who were the mortal enemies of the Olafson clan dropped the Fangsnapper from the deck of a Cargo Floater into our back yard.

How they found out for sure I did not know but there was gossip that someone did see an Elhir flyer just moments before the Fangsnapper attack. Father went before the Elders and made the accusation, since open Clan wars were outlawed. The Elhir Chief claimed it could not be proven that it was them, but if a single Fangsnapper made such trouble to the Olafson Clan they would gladly train them in real combat.. Everyone expected father to challenge the Elhir Chief but he did not.

My back was burned, but not as badly as the last time when father poured boiling water down my shirt to punish me for using warm water for a bath, and Midril tended to it with ointment after she came back from the Union Hospital with a brand new arm they had grown her, disregarding father's command.

She never spoke about the incident, but she took care of the little girl now and she made sure I got a share of the good things that went to the Family Hall."

Six weeks later a hushed rumor was spreading that the oldest Son of the Eghil clan and two of his companions were found lying before the Gate of the Elhir burg. The companions dead and Elhir's oldest beaten to within an inch of his life. It was said he had the marks of a whip all over his body.

-""-

Isegrim, my father had married again and now I had two brothers: Lothar and Tyr. My stepmother was of course Gretel Hemstaad, my father's true love and she already saw herself in the highest social circles of our planet, being very wealthy and important. She would not let an opportunity go to waste telling anyone how important and rich she soon would be. Before she worked as Nubhir Hide scrubber, now she had servants and staff who hated her especially for her arrogance and antics.

Father's choice of wife was a source of ridicule and laughter among other Clan Chiefs, but few of them would say it when he was present. Not that he was invited much by other clan chiefs in the first place.

She also always praised the manhood and strength of my father in the presence of guests and servants alike. Praising the man's skills in bed was a truly ancient tradition and her following it pleased my evil father very much.

Lothar, the older of my two half-brothers was two years younger than me, born in secret as he was still married to my mother at that time, but now he was in the open and father treated him like his true heir. Lothar not only got my old room and most of my things, but he learned from very early on that he had power over me when my father was present and he love to find new ways of making my life even more miserable. Tyr was four years younger and since he was the second born father simply ignored him much as he did me, but he would not treat him like he did me.

-|""-

Today was the twelfth of October 5011 and it was my 12th birthday. It was the last year of Longnight and the ice was already gone around our burg.

Instead of celebrations I was beaten by father right after breakfast, because I was summoned to the High Halls where Lothar demanded to see me eat out of a Nubhir Wolf bowl under the table.

I refused.

Gretel demanded that father would do something about it.

And he did by pelting his steel cable across my chest and back. Father was a strong man and he wielded that steel cable whip with great expertise and slashed the flexible metal whip across my face and chest. It felt as if I had been cut in half, terrible pain burned in my mind as I stumbled back. Yet I did not give him the satisfaction of crying or begging. I could feel my blood running almost like water, from the wound he had laid open across my chest.

I struggled to my feet and smiled then raised my hands. "Thank you father for killing me. Now Odin will receive me and I be with mother soon!"

The Clan Elders of Ragnarsson and Olafson they all rose from their chairs, they all stood and raised their fists and as I slumped to my knees and I started to recited the Warriors prayer, hoping the gods would give me enough time to finish it."Gods of war I call upon you.."

Kveldulf, an old but well known warrior and of the Ragnarsson clan said. "There is a Viking son without fail. He dies aye but you Isegrim will loose all rights to this Burg and I will be the first to challenge thee when that comes to pass! Lets see if a sword held by a warriors hand can match that whip of yours!”

Eyjolf, a strong Harpooner and well known for his fighting skills, wearing Olafson red slammed his fist on the table. “Aye Kveldulf, aye indeed. Hail Eric Olafson!”

Through my haze of blood and pain I saw father realizing what he had done and that not everyone was impressed by his whip. He yelled. "Greifen, get this whelp to the still room and dial for the Union Doctor!"

It was the last thing I heard and I hoped and prayed silently now as my eye sight faded and my lips no longer wanted to move, that Greifen and the Union Doctor would be too late.

-""-

I cursed the doctor as I saw his gentle face hovering over mine when I regained consciousness. "Níð Ergi! Cursed are thy skills and cursed is this Off World Tech. Is it my fate to remain in this world where I am not wanted?"

He shook his head but his smile remained and he said to someone in the room. "He is well enough to insult me." To me he said. "Eric, you almost got your wish but my oath prevents me from letting it happen when I can do something about it, but you got to lay still until the blood replicator has completed the transfusion."

The other person in the room was old Kveldulf as I recognized his voice. "You will survive Eric. You are strong! The Huldufolk have their eyes upon you that is certain." "The Hidden people, the Aseir are not with me or they would spare me such a father."

"Warriors are not born in comfort, revenge flows out of the woeful tears of the maimed and tortured, you are the Grandson of my liege and I am bound as he is by oaths and the unbreakable bonds of a warriors word. You Eric, you are not!"

The doctor paid little attention to what was said and checked his machine, then he said. "I send the flyer in the morning to collect the equipment. I personally hope the day of Union Law coming to this cold barbaric world is soon. Then no child will have to suffer such cruelty."

With these words he deactivated the GalNet Avatar projection and blinked out into nothingness.

Kveldulf, a grizzly old warrior with more gray than black in his long hair, was a distant Uncle of mine. He arranged his fang snapper fur lined cloak, with a sweeping gesture of his sinew bulging underarm and sat down on a stool next to the gurney I was on. His face was tanned and wrinkled by glare of Solken, the frosty winds and spending a life time outside on the oceans and on the ice.

He checked the machine and tabbed it with his finger. "Marvelous little thing. Replaces your blood. You know you left almost all you head on the stone floors of the Great Hall."

"I had not intended to be there nor did I have much to say about the bleeding part." "Aye a heavy load you carry, Child, but there was not a dry eye and not a throat stricken with pride and guilt in that hall as you, twelve years old smiled instead of scream, raised your arms to Odin. Oh lad it will be told in these walls in many Longnights to come."

"I doubt Gretel or Lothar; I doubt father felt any such things and he will whip anyone who dares to speak of me."

"Horrible is his temper and evil are his deeds, but Isegrim is a Neo Viking and your Stepmother saw her future of wealth and easy living run away with your blood. Your father and your stepmother knew they would face many challenges and would have to leave behind this mighty rock. But this is not the way this burg shall be cleansed. It must be by the hand of vengeance. Evil can never stand against valor."

"I could not stop him from killing my mother and I can do nothing against him, I am weak!"

He put his strong hand on my arm. "Today on far distant Earth, the planet of our origin, they would celebrate your birthday, but we are Norse. We are Vikings we do not celebrate the day we are born. Nay we celebrate the day we receive our name. I was there when you received yours."

I looked away. "I wish I was never born, then mother would not have died protecting me."

"Your mother wanted you. She wanted nothing more on this world than you, her fate was sealed when the pact of the Clan chiefs was made. One chief kept quiet about the failings and dishonorable behavior of his son and the other Chief appeared to be blind to the signs and warnings given. But your name day, it was a grand day. The entire burg was decked out in Olafson red and Ragnarsson black. A son, a first son was born into the world. Heir to not one but two Old Clans, of the first landing.” His eyes glared intensely. “The Conjurers and Seers that travel from burg to burg to cast the runes and see the signs, they all came. Clan lords from as far as the Eastern Seas came. The Lord Keeper of Hasvik itself made the trip from the Halls of the Faceless Seven. All the Elders even the Eldest of them all, the Wizard of Nilfeheim Rock, Egill the Hermit was there; they came! Egill raised your form above all the heads and then thunder was heard. The thunderer himself was hailing your naming day.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Thor himself blessed thy name. Thor does not bless those who are weak.”

“I do not think Thor has a hand in my fate, Old Warrior. If any of the Gods has a hand in it, then it must be Loki. I am praying to his daughter almost daily to grant me death.”

“A norse must not call upon Hel, her realm is for those without honor and those who are not to sit at the festive tables of Valhalla. Nay my nephew. Look upon Váli instead He was birthed for the sole purpose of killing Höðr as revenge for Höðr's murder of his twin brother, Baldr. There might be similar meaning in your peril.”

“Do the Aseir really exist? Do they really influence our fates?”

“The Viking in me will tell you they do. The Warrior I am will confirm the existence of Thor as his spirit will fill your sinew and muscle with strength. However I too know of the sciences and the wisdoms that prevail in the worlds beyond our skies, and if the gods can not bring you the compfort and reassurance you need then look upon your grandfather. Erik Gustav Ragnarsson is a mighty man and the Ragnarsson falcon is a standard feared and awed by men of this word and beyond. You Eric are combining the blood of Ancient Clans. One which must fade into oblivion as no male heir is left, but it will not die as you hold the power to resurrect the Ragnarssons once you have Sons and decide to break the Seal and raise the Falcon standard once more.”

I glanced at the blood machine, it was almost done, if I was judging the blue bar that was slowly creeping from the left to the right of the display.

The old warrior said. “There was blood at your Naming day as well. The Eldest himself took the the Cup we call Blótbolli. This cup made of the skull of a long vanquished foe, filled with fresh blood of a Tyranno slain by your Grandfather and doused you with it, then your name was spoken by your father for the first time. Then all the Elders,the Keepers of Hasvik, a good dozen Clan Chiefs and all who were present and they raised thy name with mighty bellows to the sky.” As he said that the old man raised his right hand against the vaulted ceiling ."They chanted as I do now: Eric Thor Olafson. Oh the First Keeper of Hasvik himself insisted that the name of the mightiest of all Aseir should be added to thy given name. It was Eric Gungir Olafson who was the first of thy clan to set foot on this world. It was Erik Thorsten who did so for the Ragnarssons. Erik Gustav is thy Grandfather's name and now it is your name.."

He clenched his fist with a fierce proud glare in his bearded face, "The Eternal Seer, the Hermit of the Pillar came to your crib. They say he is a Necromancer, a Wizard who knows secrets not of this world. Secrets not understood by all the science of the Union are known to him, so they say. He threw the rune stones for you and explained to all that the name Eric is of Scandinavian origin, an old name from Earth and the meaning of Eric is "ruler of all". It is also of Old English origin, where its meaning is 'eternal ruler.' The Old Seer said that the runes told him that you would make the name of your name come true!"

I listened to the tale of the old man and I did enjoy these old stories, but I was certain it was just that, stories and nothing more.

The Blood machine was still not done and neither was he. "In the Great Hall it was when your father held you high above his head and yelled . "Behold my Son!"

There were many axes and swords lifted in thy honor. Then like the Queen of Nilfeheim itself your mother came down the stairs. Her hair as golden as the sun, in a dress fir for the Elfenkind themselves and your grandfather , drew Mjördaren cut his own arm and added his blood to the blood of the Old cup and proclaimed a sacred vow, that all that is Ragnarsson on this world and all worlds beyond the skies shall be yours on the day you are a man."

I turned so he would not see my tears. I missed her so much. I whispered "Why has it turned out like this?"

Because evil stalks this rock. Evil disguised in red satin and velvet. Witchcraft, Eric. For nothing else can turn a man such as your father into the lackey of a woman.."

He patted my shoulder. "Now it is time you find some rest."

-""-

It was only three days after that, when I came home from school and there was a big crowd in the yard of our burg, men stood around a bier propped up and on it lay the body of Old Kveldulf.

Greifen pulled me back into the shadow overhang of the kitchen wall and whispered. "Don't be seen now!"

"What happened?" I gasped.

"They say he fell on the steep stairs to the Sub Den and broke his neck. Just as the Old Olafson did, and by doing so making your father the Clan Chief. Something should be done about those stairs."

I heard father's strong voice. "Throw him to the fishes. He dared to speak against me on my table and now he robbed me of the chance to teach him a lesson." He made a vulgar gesture. "Let Hel take care of him now. There is much work to do so get to it!"

Even from where I was standing I could see his smug grin and the triumphant glare of his eyes. I was only 12 but I was convinced Kveldulf did not die of an accident.

However I heeded Greifen's advice and slipped into the under crofts and hid in the deep old basements for the rest of the day.

-""-

Death was not done, and Hel still had her hand over the burg because the very next day, Geirhild one of the Free woman working in the Tanneries threw herself of the Northern ramparts,where the Duro-Crete and rock walls of our burg clinched to the very edge of the sheer cliffs. Nobody told me why she did it, Midril said this was something a young boy should not know about, yet I heard one of the kitchen helpers whisper that Harkun was seen with her on that wall, just before she jumped. Harkun that gray sinned , hook nosed man servant of my father.

When they carried her broken body through the gate. I saw her bloody hand dangle from the covered stretcher. It reminded me of my mother's hand and I decided to to the same. I would throw myself over the wall. It was a quick and certain way to die. No Union Doctor could do anything. Even though our teacher said they could bring even the dead back to live, strict laws enacted after the old Clone Revolts prohibited that.

I had enough of the beatings and the humiliation. It was fast and I would be in the land of Hel where mother was and perhaps she was even waited for me.

So long after midnight when everyone but the gate man was asleep. I rushed across the yard and climbed the solid Duro-Crete steps that led up to the high walls and then pulled myself up between the battlements.

Nilfeheim had no moons like I learned other worlds had , but we had a beautiful star filled sky. The stars above me twinkled and Earthers had called them the Pleiades, of which Solken our own star was one. This region of space was more commonly known as the Xunx Reach. There weren't any Xunx left for almost 3000 years, but we had learned about those Insectoids in school. The next day would come with one Neo Viking less.

Almost 220 meters below, dark waves smashed into the rugged teeth like rocks and turned into white foaming surf. "Thor and Odin you have forsaken me, punished my mother and cursed me with a father who hates me. I know you hate cowards but I am not strong enough. He had killed the Nubhir puppies Greifen had given to me this morning. He had stomped the little animals to a gory pulp and made me clean it up. He promised he would do the same to me as soon as I turn sixteen. What can I do against that?"

There was of course no answer, the Gods were to busy drinking and celebrating to notice the perils of a Viking boy. I jumped, but I did not fall!

A leather clad hand held me by the collar and pulled me back. . "A shadowy figure in a hooded cloak whispered. "Who will avenge your mother if you kill yourself? Yo must endure and grow and learn to fight and then kill Isegrim and cleanse this burg from all its filth."

"Who are you?"

"It matters not, Eric. I cannot reveal myself to you for now, but you will come to me now every night. Find me in the lowest basement, where the old hidden passage way is and I will teach you the way of the sword and how to fight."

The shadowy figure let me go stepped back without making a sound melting into the truly black shadows of the battlements. I stepped forward, still at the edge of my nerves, my mind still reeling from the death decision I had made only moments ago, yet there was no one. Did I just dream?

The very next night I sneaked down the past the Under croft and storage basements. Deep into the rough hewn narrow and completely dark passage way that was chiseled out of the rock during the first Clan wars almost a thousand years in the past. It was never completed and ended in a little cavern like room, no one but me would come down here during the day, and certainly no one would be here at this hour. I was certain now I had imagined the cloaked figure and I was just a coward, afraid to end it all.

Yet as I reached the cavern , a voice said. "I will not talk about anything except what I must say to teach you how to fight. You will never ask me any questions. If you do I won't come back., do you want me to teach you?"

"Yes!"

A grinding sandy sound as if stone was moved over stone occurred and I could feel a soft breeze of wind. Something pulled on my mangy Fangsnapper fur cape and then lights came on. Artificial Lumi-Plates bolted or glued to a rough ceiling. The cavern room was spacious and there were swords, and blaster weapons in racks on the walls. From the looks of it, not moved or touched in a thousand years., there was a bench, a table made of Dura-Plast of all things and a stack of similar old looking crates at one end.

The man in the black hooded cape seemed to have some sort of mask underneath it, as I could see nothing but black underneath. The man was at least as tall as my father, but not as massive. Yet he had the muscles of a peak athlete underneath black leather and fabric.

His voice sounded as if coming through an artificial filter of sort and did not sound like anyone I knew.

He made a gesture across the room. "Yes Eric, the Ragnarssons were among the most vicious pirates, back in the days and this is what is left from their spoils. This room and that past ,forgotten but by a few. Now strip your upper body free of garments and take that Bokken over there,"

"I take what?"

"This is how a wooden Training sword is called at some other corners of the Universe. No questions, just take it!"

I simply called him teacher and from that night on, he trained with me every night for at least 4 hours. When I was done I was so tired, I had no energy left to dream.. Some of the things he made me were strange and odd. Something he called push ups and gymnastics. I didn't really think it had anything to do with fighting but I did it anyway.

Of course I wondered who he was , and I figured he was someone like the old Kveldulf. A clan warrior of the Ragnarsson side, but he had an odd way of speaking. He did speak the standard union like we all did, but on Nilfeheim we still used many of the old worlds and when speaking on any official business we made sure we talked the "old" way . We pronounced the 'r' much stronger and had more 'n' sounds. I knew all this from our Union School teacher who always tried to make us speak the proper Union way. My mysterious teacher however spoke just like our Union teacher,the proper Union Lingu and while he knew a lot about viking ways and words. He never really used any of the old words.

Almost a year had passed since the Fangsnapper had torn through our kitchen when he made me fight him with a real broad sword for almost an hour. He then stepped back and said . "You have learned much and you are turning 13 soon. I wish I could teach you more but I must leave and I am not sure when I will be back. However I want you to continue to practice."

"I was told never to ask questions and even though they burn on my lips I have not, but I am far from the warrior I need to be to face my father."

"I promised someone who loves you very much to teach you the craft of war and skills of fighting but I am not of this world and I must return to mine. I made a promise to someone else as well and this someone needs my help. No worries Eric, you have opened your eyes to the way of the sword and I am certain you will find others to teach you. We will meet again, Eric and then I tell you who I am."

I took my hand squeezed it and then without another word left .

I rushed after him through the secret rock wall door but the narrow stairwell was empty.

While I knew he would not be there , I returned the next night. He did not come.

-""-

Six weeks had passed since my mysterious teacher had left. Greifen sat in the Kitchen nursing a tankard of warmed ale with a generous helping of Midril's secret herbs and spices she gave to those who got the cold and judging by the bright red nose and the numb voice of Greifen he was very sick or perhaps had a tankard too much.

I was there as well sitting in a corner scrubbing the big kettle, because it was Wednesday and Midril would make Fin Stew.

Greifen snorted like a pregnant Fangsnapper into a huge kerchief and with a suffering expression and Nubhir puppy eyes stared at Midril. "Only I catch a cold in Shortsummer. Those Northern winds are really stubborn this season, seems the Frost-giants are not giving up as easily this Shortsummer."

She stemmed her left arm into her wide hips and shook her ever present wooden spoon at Greifen. "It's not the weather that made you sick. You were drinking with the Peerson fishers till the wee hours and one of them had the cold and infected you."

"Oh I am sure it was the wind. Now I am sure I'd feel better soon with another helping of your good herbs with a bit of that fine Ale you keep in the very last barrel."

Midril snickered . "Alright I fix you up."

He got another tankard and took a deep drought. His face turned as if he had bitten into a rotten fish, but his red nose turned color almost instantly back to normal. "What in Loki's name was that? This was no ale..no herbs." "It was hot water with two Anti cold pills disolved in it and I also added some Tox Neutralizer. Traditional herbs won't cure a cold. The Meds from the Union Clinic however will."

He looked sober, bright alert, completely flabbergasted and a tad angry. "That was a rotten thing to do Midril. I was just about in the prefect zone and now I got to start again."

"Go peel the seaweed stems and I get you another tankard." She plopped a big tray with thick ten inch long seaweed stems before him and handed him a peeler. Once the tough outer skin was removed the soft mushy inside could be cooked and squished. He immediately started and then pointed the peeler at me. "It's a shame how our Old Sire treats his first born!" Greifen gave her a thankful nod as she put a tankard of ale next to the tray."He ought to get the hide of the Fangsnapper he killed and be celebrated for his first kill. I don't know many full grown men who would willingly go against one with just a kitchen knife."

She stopped cutting Tyranno meat into cubes, wiped her bloody hands on her apron,. Her left hand was pasty white compared to her other; the pigmentation of her new arm would eventually adjust to the rest of her body; and she said." There are many things going on in this Burg that never happened while our Old Sire was still here, but unless you want to challenge him for Clan chief and fight him you better keep quiet and drink your ale."

"I would fight him, but he wields that wicket steel cable and you don't even get a chance! And those who speak out have accidents. You know the final kind.

"That and the fact that he is stronger than you and humongous as all the Olafsons."

I pushed the clean kettle to its spot and left the kitchen. It was better I didn't hear those things. I knew they would soon start talking about the Fair Lady as they called my mother and I would cry and that could not be, a boy my age was not allowed to cry.

To make sure no one would catch me idle and give me another, usually bad chore. I went outside beyond the walls

Except for the small leveled gravel area right outside the gate where floaters could lands; the rest of the island consisted of sheer cliffs and titanic ragged boulders, but when you took the time to climb down the south side right, past Olle's Tooth (a particular tall and rugged rock said to resemble the rotten tooth of one of my forefathers.) There was a small, perhaps seventy meter deep and 200 meters wide pebble beach known by the Clan as Sigrids Secret. It was hidden from sight on each side by tall cliffs and an overhang from above.

It was one of my favorite spots. Legend had it that the first Ragnarrson family landed here claiming this rock as theirs only a week after the Settlers Ark had landed.

Sten Ragnarrson was said to have killed himself here about 500 years ago and that one still could hear his screaming as he lamented his dishonorable death.

Ingibjorg Ragnarsson his daughter supposedly buried a tremendous treasure here, of course no one believed that, where on Nilfeheim would a woman gain a treasure? All her possessions were her dowry given to her husband. She too was said to haunt these cliffs as her spirit was searching for whatever baubles she had lost.

As isolated as Nilfeheim tried to remain from the rest of the Union, we were part of a technological advanced culture, yet many Neo Vikings believed in the supernatural and the stories of the gods and tales of hauntings and ghosts where never far from their mind and lips.

Midril was one of those and she claimed to have seen ghosts before. When I was younger I believed her when she told about the one legged Ragnarrson who supposedly haunted the storage cellar, but now I believed it was a mere tale to keep me and the other kids from the pickled fish barrel.

This was my second Shortsummer , the period our planet was on the short end of its elliptical orbit around our sun and it would last three standard years. The other period we called Longnight and it lasted for seven standard years.

During Longnight the sun would barley appear across the horizon and temperatures plunged to minus sixty degrees. Now during Shortsummer temperatures could climb all the way to 15 degrees and most of the planet wide ocean was ice free.

I sat down and watched Toe Pincher crabs as they scurried over the dark pebbles , enjoyed the wind and the weather .

I would have loved to go for a dive but I did not bring my wet suit or fins. I didn't want to go back and all across the yard to get it. However there was a good chance I would run into Bjorgolf the Yard Master who tended the subs and hunting gear of the clan. That fat bastard was a favorite of my father and enjoyed giving me lots to do so he did not have to do it. Father had given him explicit permission to beat me anytime my work was not as expected. He always found something wrong and a reason to use his heavy leather belt to trash me.

Even though my father had moved the Olafson Clan, this rock was still known as Ragnarsson Isle and had been the traditional home of the Ragnarsson Clan ever since Nilfeheim was settled by Terran Colonists.

Now during Shortsummer and on a clear day I could see the Oseberg Island from my tower window. It was where the Oseberg's had their burg, but down here all I saw as the churning ocean waves.

The Oseberg's were the mortal enemies of the Ragnarsson Clan and until about 500 years ago there was open war between these clans.

It was still forbidden to even speak the name Oseberg within these walls. Many of the older Clans, including my father lamented the fact that piracy, clan wars and the raid of other burgs was no longer permitted. He often claimed that he would rather take the wealth of another clan by ax and sword than by fishing, working and marriage, as he put it."

That this was only empty bravado was apparent even to me, as he did not openly challenge the Elhir Chief. Using a whip in a Challenge was only permitted if the opponent would also choose it, going against a man as wild and strong as him and a master of sword and ax was something completely different than beating unarmed servants.

I was watching two crabs fighting over a dead fish. A Silver Flicker Fish, it probably went to close to the surge as the waves broke against the cliffs and got smacked to hard against the rock . Almost to late did I hear footsteps in the gravel. More out of instinct I ducked, still something hit me pretty hard on the head. I jumped back and turned to see Lothar my half-brother brandishing a wooden practice sword. He was only ten but had inherited all the Olafson Bulk and was almost my equal in terms of strength and body size. His eyes sparkled with delight as he laughed and screamed. "I made you bleed I will tell father!" He played with his sword making its tip circle before my face." I could also kill you right now and there is nothing you can do. Raise your hand against me and I tell father and he will break you."

"I had it with you and your arrogance! I am sick and tired of your petty games . this is Ragnarsson Rock and you and that father of ours is here by the grace of my grandfather and my mother!" I stepped inside his reach, twisted his wrist with my left and smacked my fist as hard as I could right into his blabbering smiling mouth." I could feel something break as my fist connected , he was flung back; stumbled and fell.

For some reason time seemed to slow down as I watched him fall. The back of his head hitting one of the bigger rocks . He didn't move or make any sound as he laid there and I was certain I had killed him! I spat out and said. "Go tell that to father!"

The realization of what I had done hit me the very same moment. Fear and guilt made it impossible to even think one coherent thought. He stirred and opened his eyes, he was not dead! A voice in me urged me to finish him off, the crabs would make short work of his remains and the surge take whatever was left. He would simply be missing and one problem of my life would be solved! He deserved to die! He was the son of a woman who replaced my mother! The woman was the reason my father had killed her in the first place! I was the rightful heir not he!

Out of the corner of my eyes I noticed movement and as I turned to see who else was here at this usually deserted beach. I saw a woman standing there, her feet still in the water.

At the very first moment I believed it to be Hel the goddess of the nether worlds who came to take Lothar. But as I looked closer I was certain no goddess would wear a modern wet suit or carry a spear gun, not a Tyranno Slayer, but from the looks of it a very modern Off-World type. Even though her suit and the gun seemed Off Word she was clearly Neo Viking. She had no breathing gear and the neck of the Wetsuit was modified to keep her gills open. She was maybe ten meters away and the water lapped against her knees. She had the gun aimed at me and she yelled. "I can't let you live Eric as you you saw me. I am sorry I did not know you would be here. I came for him and I see you started already what I came here to do!"

Her voice was clear and female and somehow familiar, yet because of her goggles and the tight neoprene hood covering her face up to the nose. I could not fathom how this woman I had never seen knew me and why she wanted to kill my brother. How could a ten year old have such an enemy? What clan would use female swimmers anyway? "Who are you?"

"I am Vengeance! Revenge is not the domain of men alone! "

From above I heard Harkun my father's man servant yelling and raising alarm! The female fired her gun! I threw myself to the ground at the same time, the spear hit me not into the chest but the shoulder as I was certain she had aimed for my heart. As I fell I found it strange how little the harpoon hurt. Then I heard the explosive puff as the harpoons explosive head went off. I saw her fire the second barrel up the cliffs perhaps at Harkun and then disappear beneath the waves and just before darkness engulfed me I felt relieved. I would die now I was certain and I would see mother again!

-""-

- I was not dead. I was quite disappointed as I saw the face of the Union doctor again, instead of that of my mother.. I groaned. "You again!" The man wore a light green uniform with the Union Medical Logo on his chest. He had no hair on his head, except for a set of bushy eyebrows. A light floated above his eyes and shined directly into mine . His nose was rather large for his elongated face I found , especially as I saw it so close up.

"Yes, yes . Eric you are among the living and you are soon able to leave. It seems you and me are going to be good friends. I know you inside in a matter of speech of course"

"What happened?" Was all that came to my mind.

"You were shot by a harpoon with explosive tip. Luckily for you that thing was meant to be fired under water and so it went straight through you and that explosive tip, went off outside. Did still considerable damage. Had it exploded inside there would have been nothing for me to do." I tried to sit up, but he pushed me back. "I said soon, Eric. Not now!"

Then I saw father standing not far and he pointed his massive finger at me. "You are only alive because I need you to be alive until your Grandfather dies. The fact that you protected your brother means nothing!"

This part of his speech as expected but why he didn't ask me anything was something that made me wonder.

The doctor turned to him. "I will report all this and the day will come, you will answer for your crimes Mr. Olafson."

"Be silent, Off World Slave, this is Nilfeheim. Your presence is no longer required!"

Father slammed his fist onto the GalNet terminal and mashed it. The Avatar presence of the Doctor blinked out of existence."

Father grabbed me by the throat and lifted me of the gurney and hit me with his other fist into the stomach. "Again you failed me, instead of looking at the bodies of the Elhir assassins, I am looking at that scum stain that dribbled down my leg still alive and breathing."

I could not say anything, I was chocking and the blow to my stomach was hurting so bad I saw black swirls before my eyes.

He was not done and hit me again yelling. "Be that a reminder to you what will happen the day you turn sixteen. It is the day I will kill you."

Again through my haze I saw a red dressed woman and heard Gretel's voice. "Don't kill him now, his Grandfather is still alive."

He dropped me and said. "There is tackle to be scrubbed. See to it and you will not eat if one piece is overlooked."

-""-

No one spoke of a female assailant. According to Harkun, it was at least seven to eight, swimmers and he was certain they wore Elhir Green. As ridiculous as his story was, as wet suits came in black only, at least on Nilfeheim, it was taken for the truth and no one even asked me anything, What Lothar saw or remembered I did not know but for the last few weeks he made an effort not to come to close to me, and that was a good thing.

I still wondered who the woman was.

Today was Monday and it was a school day, but again a nightmare had plagued me and I was up way to early. A glance on the PDD told me it was just 12 minutes after two in the morning. I had worked fixing and cleaning tackle and didn't feel like going into the old pirate den and practice. After an unsuccessful attempt to find sleep, after tossing and turning and seeing my mother's bloodied boy again. I got up and sneaked down into the equipment chambers of our submarine den. Not even the fishers of our clan were up this early and the Yard master was still snoring in his quarters. A good long swim would clear my mind and so I put on a wet suit and fins and as always grabbed a Tyranno Slayer harpoon gun. Perhaps a Rock shark or Three-finner would come my way. Bringing home a Three-Finner even appeased my father for a while and that is why he had not taken away my wet suit or dive gear.

Like all Neo Vikings I had a set of gills, and my eyes had a second set of transparent eyelids that allowed me to see under water. The Bureau of Colonist Affairs had done some genetic tailoring on the Colonists bound for Nilfeheim. While Genetic Tailoring was prohibited now,it was a common practice back in the days of the Second Exodus.

It was said that we Neo Vikings would eventually loose these traits as diving and hunt swimming was slowly going out of fashion. Very few of my class mates still went hunting or even just swimming anymore; to me there was no greater joy than to go out in the cold clear waters and forget the cares of the surface life.

The Ragnarrson Burg had an extensive cave like Submarine Den underneath the western part of our Rock. Was at level with the sea and an enormous portcullis gate made of real off-world Ultronit could be lowered or raised at its entrance. The gate was so heavy that it had to be operated with hydraulics.

The Olafson Clan had not a single boat, but the Ragnarsson Clan owned four New Sweden made Hunt and Fish subs and nine surface fishing vessels. Currently all neatly tied up. That had not stopped my father to repaint them all in Olafson red and place the Wolf seal upon their bows. However no one dared to say anything and my Grandfather the true master of the Rock was far away acting as the planets representative on Pluribus, the Union government planet.

The gate was open, technically there was a standing order to close it every night,but a few years ago the hydraulic that opened the gate quit working and it would have taken Off-world Engineers to fix it. Father was never much for maintenance and said that it was a Ragnarsson gate and needed to be fixed by the Ragnarsson Clan. He had no problem declaring whatever he wanted as his, but when it needed fixing or maintenance,it was a Ragnarsson problem.

I slipped into the water and forced myself to stop breathing and let the gills take over. When the cold water rushed past my gills and I was underwater I felt as right as rain.

With powerful stroked of my fins I accelerated myself past the gate and into open water. During Short Summer the Sun was coming up very early and the first rays of light penetrated the upper layers of water . I must have been a good mile away from the Rock when I watched a school of Silver Flickers dash by at first thinking nothing of it, but then a swarm of larger Split Fins followed the Silver Flickers and moments later I saw the sharp triangular nose of a large Rock Shark coming up from the deep.

I readied the harpoon. It had three long barrels, each loaded with an explosive tipped rocket propelled steel spears , I was not afraid but Rock Sharks rarely hunted alone.

Only, this Rock Shark did not hunt. It was fleeing. There was only one thing in our oceans that made a Rock Shark act this way...

The dark, fast growing shadowy mass behind the Rock Shark was without question a Tyranno Fin.

To see one this far north at this time of year was quite unusual.

The Tyranno Fin shot past me and about 200 meters. It was a Tri Halfer, a fairly sized male. All my thoughts of caution were swept away by the excitement of the hunt. Down here I did not have to pretend , be ashamed for what I was or take whatever punishment my father deemed necessary, down here, I was Eric Olafson., Neo Viking and Hunter.

Tyranno Fins could get as large as the biggest Terran Whales , our teacher told us but they were not Mammals but true fish and a terribly aggressive animal at that.

Right behind their eyes they had a yellowish patch of skin , it was there where their skulls were attached to the rest of the body and a well placed harpoon could penetrate all the way to their brains.

The Mark was within range, I calmed my nerves and aimed carefully. The harpoon rushed with a streak of bubbles through the water almost to fast to see and struck true! The mighty beast arched in a violent way and trashed its enormous tail fin back and forth, then in a cloud of dark red blood and bubbles it slowly rose to the not so distant surface.

Before I could think about my next steps a second shadow approached, but not 200 meters away, instead it was right below me. It was fast and big, much bigger than the other. No matter how fast I could swim . It was made for this environment and was much faster. I was afraid of death but not of dying and if that is how the gods would reunite me with my mother then this was a good way to go.

Instead of fleeing swam towards it. A gigantic maw easy able to swallow me and the entire Olafson Clan, full of tremendous teeth. I would not give up without a fight, but I did not have enough time to rotate the second barrel into firing position.

I don't know how I survived or where that strange surge came that pulled me away from the maw and let me slide past its side. In all this I noticed an eerie white light deep below, but right now I had no time to turn and look , I rotated the second barrel in place and twisted my own body , just as the Tyranno Fin noticed it had not caught me , and fired , aiming out of reflex and without a heart beat to waste, the Yellow mark was less than 20 meters away. The harpoon missed the yellow mark by at least two meters, while the harpoon still penetrated and exploded. It only wounded the fish. The Tyranno , much bigger than the Tri Halfer,mad with pain circled around, its surge tossing me around unable to orient myself . All I could do is hold on to the harpoon and hope I had another chance, my last one. Again I was certain I saw an eery light in the far distant, something just a little brighter than the otherwise dark abyss. Somehow I managed to get out of the surge and rotate the third and last barrel in place.

I swam as fast as I could to the side , again forcing the Tyranno to turn and there again the Yellow mark, this time the one on the other side. "Odin, let my aim be true!" I prayed and fired.

The Ultronit shaft plunges deep into the mark, the fish had made its turn , lined up and opened its maw. The harpoon exploded , the fish was still in motion but hitting me with its snout, instead of swallowing me in its death throe, it felt worst than my fathers kicks and I almost opened my mouth. I would drown as surely as an Off-Worlder if I did and stopped myself the last moment.

The eerie light I had seen was gone but then the bright lights of a Hunting sub came from the East just as I surfaced next to the floating Tyrannos.

The Sub surfaced as well, on its bow the light blue insignia of a Seagull bird. It was the time honored old Clan symbol of the Holmquist clan. Not particular friendly to the Olafsons but not an enemy and friendly towards the Ragnarssons.

Two sturdy looking Vikings climbed to the bow and one of them wore the white robes and furs of an elder. Against the wind and the splashing waves he yelled. "vestu heil ok sæl- Hail the mighty warrior, come aboard and be celebrated!"

More men came on deck and a second boat surfaced. It carrying the three red crosses of the Adolpson Clan. It too a mighty and very old member of the Ancient Clans.

I was helped aboard and I immediately knelt before the Elder and lowered my head as it was custom when facing an Elder. He put his hand on my shoulder. "Rise Mighty One, one as you need not kneel. Are my old eyes deceiving me or are you still a boy?"

The other man wearing a Clan chief chain around his neck bellowed. "It is Eric the first born of vile Isegrim, He is Olafson." Someone held a Drykkjarhorn under my nose."Drink, as it thy right!"

Completely confused by the sudden company of men here out in the ocean I took a drought., It was warm fish blood and tasted vile but given by me in an old Horn was a great honor and to drink a sip from a first kill was as an ancient tradition. Something not shunned in the presence of an Elder.

The Holmquist Clan Chief grabbed me by the underarm and nodded with a fierce grin under his massive red beard." Aye Erik of the Olafsons, I bid thee my arm in the greeting of warriors and equals. We hunted that Two Eighty for three days, it is a mighty and cunning bull and we witnessed and saw your hunt. Ages have past since a true warrior has hunted the dangerous prey the ancient way."

The Elder said. "We were certain we saw the Holy fish as well, the White Tyranno in a great distance however. The gods themselves have watched your fight and triumph themselves."

The Holmquists towed my Tyrannos to the Burg, I was certain almost everyone was up now as I saw the crowd waiting, in the center of course the frightening shape of my big father. The Holmquists had used Nilfeheim Radio to call ahead. Instead of elated I feared what my father would do.

He did not even look at me as he clasped hands with the other Chiefs and greeted the Elder. "Honored Goði, my Isle is blessed with thy presence. Has this failure I must call my son, caused any problems? I shall of course punish him and lay open his hide."

"Your hatred of your own son has even reached the Elders, your Son has bestowed great honor upon the name Olafson today by slaying two Tyranno Fins I the ancient way. It was witnessed by us and we came to celebrate his deeds. He has earned the right to wear the helmet of the hunt. You do not object to this ancient tradition, Isegrim of the Olafsons?"

"How I raise my sons is not the concern of anyone, not even that of the Elders. Lothar is my true heir and this cretin has outlived his usefulness when he turns 16 and inherits. He sneaked out of the burg without my permission and will receive his punishment."

The elder stepped back. "The Elders concern themselves with all matters of tradition as they are our laws. Have you indeed declared Lothar your heir in front of me and Clan chiefs? We could declare him adult today, after slaying the Tyrannos."

It was clear that Father realized what he was about to do and said. "I will forgo any punishment and allow him to wear the Helmet of the Hunt. He is my first born until Lothar will challenge and kill him."

The Elder gave father a long look. "You realize that all this will reach the ear of Erik Gustav Ragnarsson."

Father gasped and his hand dropped to his whip. "What business is it for elders to gossip to those who hide themselves on other worlds? There is no need to involve his Grandfather. He did well and as expected." The Adophson Clan leader said. "Eric may come to our shores at any time. He will be welcome with highest honors."

The Elder added. "What about the fish? By all Customs they are his."

I knew I would be beaten to an inch of my life so I said. "I am still Olafson and thus it is my father alone who decides what to do with the fish."

Father seemed appeased and said. "I have business to attend to and tow the Tyrannos to the Xchange. The school floater will be here soon to take him to school."


Chapter 7: Union School


MR. FLENSBURGER

True to my father's command. I remained outside the gate. I watched the Clan boats of the Holmquist's and the Adolphson's cast off. The Elder in his white robes standing atop the conning tower and he raised his hand in the Viking hail to me as the boats gained speed and departed. Father and men of our clan had brought a surface boat around. I saw Greifen and Sigurd pump more pressured air into the Tyrannos so they would stay afloat for the long tow to the Xchange. They attached robes and father was all busy telling everyone what to do.

Tyranno meat tasted great and Peter a class mate of mine once said the Fish and Seafood buyers of other worlds called it the "Kobe Beef of the Seas". It was a high prized commodity not just on Nilfeheim. The men on the Holmquist boat were certain the two fish would bring at least fortify to sixty thousand Union Credits and that was not a small sum by any standard.

Most of my class mates received an allowance. Money they could spend at the Vent Matics at school or in Halstaad Fjord our biggest town. I had never owned a Credit Strip or a single credit. Lothar of course did get one and he could ask Harkun to fly him to town and buy things.

The school floater would arrive any moment now.

The best day in my life was when I turned seven and I could go to Union School being away from the Burg and away from my father was like breathing lighter air. At least until I learned that I shared.

Everyone had to go to Union School. Clan offspring, the Children of Freemen and the Bondi. I never saw any boys from Low-man families and Ygnve my best friend at school said that Low Men kid did not have to go to School.

Why they were exempt from Union Law, I did not know back then, because surely Union School was such a long part of our society that it too became an Old Tradition, even Isegrim and his father went to Union school.

At school I learned that Nilfeheim was a called a Water-World. That this was even an aspect worth mentioning as anyone looking out a window could tell you that. Of course Off-Worlders classified everything and we were told not everyone was living on Water Worlds.

Solken System was only one of many Solar Systems that belonged to the United Stars of the Galaxies as our federal government was called,but no one ever said that. It was referred to as 'The Union' and Humans and Non-human species belonged to it and space ships travelled between a huge number of worlds and places.

Ygnve told me, that sometimes Non Humanoid visitors would stay in town and when the Space Bus stopped over, Off Worlders and Non Humanoids would visit the Town restaurants and the stores in the quest for souvenirs.

Orlyg Sturlubók a class mate of mine and the son of a Freeman living in town told me that he even saw a Quadi-Ped once buying all the drink cups his family made out of Tyranno Fin teeth.

It was just my luck that in my class was not only Sigvard of the Elhir Clan and he his brought family induced hatred towards me from the first day we met, but also the brothers Osvald and Rognvald of the Oseberg Clan, who hated me for my Ragnarsson blood,

There were twenty-seven Boys in our class. Girls received their schooling in a separate school. Every morning at six thirteen, the school skimmer arrived and picked me up and after gathering everyone else, dropped us of at Nilfeheim Federal School 34, which sat on top of a tumble of huge boulders barley above the waves.

The high whistle of the School Bus turbines announced the arrival of the Federal School Bus, a bright yellow Bluebird Model F 400.

-""-

Mr. Flensburger was a little late as usual. He came into the classroom dressed like a Harpooner in the middle of Long night. He wore a heavy hooded Fangsnapper fur coat, over a padded Iso-Tex Jacket and beneath the hood a heated wind mask. Underneath all that a Union Fleet Issue extreme climate suit with active heating. He was dressed like that despite the fact it was already Short Summer now and he had to walk less than 1500 meters in the open. It was only three below zero and light wind. Bare chest weather my Uncle Hogun would say.

It would take him long moments to get undressed and I was certain the pile of clothing next to his desk grew just a little bigger every day. "It is exceptionally cold this morning, class," he greeted us and twenty seven Neo-Vikings rose form their seats and responded. "Good morning Mr. Flensburger."

I couldn't help myself and said, "We have been told that you have been on Nilfeheim for over thirty years, Mr. Flensburger. Haven't you gotten used to our weather by now?"

He took off his cold mask, revealing his slate ice gray eyes and his long pointed nose and looked at me, then shook his head. "Mr. Olafson, it took me all this time to get used to the barbaric customs of you Neo Vikings. I had no time to get used to the weather yet."

That caused the class to laugh. He walked to the large windows clasped his hands behind his back and looked over the churning waves of the ocean. "It is a beautiful planet. It has lots of cold water, teaming with an abundance of life, blue oceans and very, very long winters. I come from a planet called New Algiers. There is no open water and dusty red deserts as far as you can see. The only thing worth mentioning living in our deserts is a centipede like scorpion and so far we were unsuccessful to find anyone who would try to eat one."

He turned back to face us and the front wall and the windows disappeared and the high detailed holo of a red featureless desert with rolling dunes appeared, even the sky appeared to have a reddish haze. The Class room computronic has taken his queue and projected a visual of New Algiers.

He gestured towards the image. "You have winds bringing ice crystals, snow and rain. Our storms bring dust, lots of it and can pile dust and sand two meters high over night. However the temperature never drops below forty degrees on the C scale." He brushed his hand through the air and the image disappeared.

I tried to imagine how it would be, to live in bread oven conditions like that. I glanced at my PDD and checked GalNet about New Algiers.

Our teacher turned to face the class. "In a few years from now you graduate and perhaps some of you might actually leave this world, not that I have big hopes for that. However this is my last school year. Thirty years teaching you Neo Vikings about the rest of the Universe was a challenge to say the least." His eyes became dreamy and he smiled." First I am going to Para-Para and simply sit on the beach for maybe a year or so. I believe it will take at least that long for my bones to thaw."

Leif Swenkjard sitting across the aisle from me waved his hand."I've been to Para-Para actually. When my Father had to go there for an ocean produce trade show he took me along."

Leif's father was a Freeman living in town and if I understood it correctly he was working for an Off World Seafood Company. Leif was one of the few in class who didn't care if I was an Olafson. The sons of Clans never talked to him. Him being off planet was news to me and I listened intensely.

Mr. Flensburger encouraged him to tell us about his trip and Leif said."They don't even have a little snow anywhere and their largest fish is about the size of a Surface Finner. On Para-Para there are no weapons allowed; no one carries even a knife. If you use your fist to make an argument stick you get in trouble and arrested. No one wears much clothing all day, even outside and in the city." He snorted in discontent. "And all everyone does is smile all the time."

Peter Langstom next to him drew the outlines of a woman into the air."How about the girls, do they wear little?"

"You could bunch up what they wear in your fist and nothing showing."

Peter now grinned from one ear to the other."I think I go there for a visit too!"

"You wouldn't like it. Because the guys don't wear much either and you barely see any blonde tall girls with braids anywhere. Those girls can't cook a decent meal, won't clean up after you and want to be equal to men and sit at the same table!"

His comment caused quite a few gasps of disbelieve.

Flensburger shook his head putting his right hand before his eyes."You are hopeless."

Then he sat down on the edge of his desk and he stared at me."You look different today, Eric. What are you wearing on your head?"

"It is the Helmet of the Hunt; I received it this morning from the Elders."

"I am somewhat familiar with it. I was under the impression only someone completing the Hunt the ancient way was allowed to wear one."

Gunnar Peerson turned and gave me a hateful envious look." Eric killed two Tyranno Fins this morning . I can't understand why someone like him, shunned by his own Sire is such a good hunter."

Flensburger got up and came closer."Just consider me an ignorant Off-Worlder for now, but would you explain that to me again? I thought The hunt part of the Ancient Challenge was considered too dangerous even by your standards and no longer required."

Gunnar answered."In order for a Viking to be accepted as a man he must complete three tasks. Only by completing these three tasks, one may sit on the table with the warriors, drink mead, wear leather pants."

His brother Annar used three of his fingers counting. "The three challenges are: to walk the Tunnel of Skill where your fighting skills are tested, recite the entire Poem of Odin without faltering, and to slay a wild beast. Either a Fangsnapper, a Rock Shark or a Tyranno Fin."

His twin brother nodded to that and continued. "To slay a Tyranno Fin even in a modern Sub is no easy task, but to do it the old way by diving and using a Hand harpoon is almost suicide and because so many sons died that way this part of the Ancient Challenge is no longer required. However anyone can still do it the old way and that is the highest honor and test of skill."

The teacher looked at me and said. "And you killed two of them this morning?" He asked visibly astounded.

"Yes Sir. I had not planned on it. I was aiming for a Rock Shark or a Three Finner, but a Three Halfer was going for the same Rock Shark. So I speared it into the Mark. That it wasn't hunting alone became apparent when its brother or father showed up and it was a Six Double I think, I had to kill it or it would have done so with me."

My best friend Ygral sitting next to me said. "I heard the Eldest say it was an Eight Tri," He sounded quite proud as he said. "And no Eight Tri has been slain by hand in over 200 years. It is all over the Nilfeheim Radio."

Flensburger shook his head once again."You are one crazy species of humans. Going against the biggest and fastest Predator fish in the Galaxy armed with a toothpick and hope to kill it by hitting a fist size target behind their eyes."

I made a circle with my hands. "The Mark was about that big, not fist size." He rolled his eyes and sighed. "Right, that makes it so much easier. Now I wonder does it not make you a man even in the eyes of your family and most certainly among your class mates? Would this not fix things between you and your father?" I lowered my head. "Clan feuds are not forgotten over a hunt and my father... I'd rather not talk about it!"

"Very well then."He turned to the class and said, "Have you ever wondered why we have school? Why we have classes? Why we don't simply use neural uploading for everything, like we do for language and general knowledge?"

There was silence. He pointed at Sven. "You questioned the need for schooling many times before. Would you not rather have all what you need uploaded in your brain and be done with it?" Sven shook his long red hair. "No I don't see the need for all this off world garbage in my head in the first place. I am going to be a harpooner like my Father and my brothers and my son will be a harpooner too. I will be a very good harpooner and one day, if Odin wills it, my father will give me my own boat and I become Clan Chief when he dies. What do I need to know about the rest of the Galaxy?" Flensburger smiled a sad looking smile and said "I know you think that way. Many Neo Viking's coming to school think that way. But you are members of the Union and you do business with the Union. What good is a harpooner without a Harpoon? Or what good is a Hunt boat that can't sell its catch?"

Sven was still not convinced and crossed his big forearms across his barrel chest."We make our own Harpoons and we can eat our own catch."

Mr. Flensburger sighed. "Your skull is as dense as the ice out there. What is your harpoon made off? What do you use to propel your boats and hunting subs?"

Sven was not so sure about himself anymore and his voice changed as he answered: "Harpoons are made of Ultronit, and we use Zero point cubes to power the boats."

I could see Sven was suddenly thinking. We all knew Sven wasn't the sharpest harpoon on the boat, even though he was as strong as a Fangsnapper.

Flensburger asked.. "And where does the Ultronit and the power cubes come from?"

He responded to the question, saying, "My father orders metals, knives and boat parts at the XChange."

"How does he pay for it?"

"With Union Creds of course."

"How does he get Union Creds?"

"We're selling Tyranno meat, Flasher fish and lots of Fanger Fur to the XChange in town."

Even Sven realized what he was saying and nodded. "Alright we do need the Off-Worlders. You made your point, Mr. Flensburger, but why do we have to learn it this way?"

The skinny teacher sat down again on the edge of his desk. His favorite position when he was about to explain something to us. "Our Union is a little over 3000 years old and we have over 4,500 member civilizations. There are millions of settled planets and locations. There are non humanoids, methane breathers, insectoids, and even a non corporal species. There are a very few things that are common to all. One of those things most societies have in common is the need to educate the young, to prepare them for the world.

There are only a few species we know of who do not need to educate their offspring. The Klack for example, those Insectoid friends of ours have a collective mind they share all experiences, a Klack hatches with all knowledge he needs. But even the Klack send their young to Union schools mostly to prepare them to interact with us. "Mr. Flensburger folded his hands. "For most civilizations however schooling is necessary and after many millennia of experience and experimenting with all those various other education techniques it turned out that the old way of class interaction resulted in the best education."

Again he looked across the class and pointed at Peter. "Why do you think these old methods might be superior?"

Peter, the son of a Fish merchant and one of the few who had plans to leave Nilfeheim after graduation for college answered after a short moment of thought. "I believe even the smartest computronic can't answer a real question by analyzing the reason for the question in relationship to the environment and background of the student. Only a real teacher can do that."

"Not bad at all, Peter. I would give you a straight A for that answer. Except that this is the textbook answer you just read. But finding the right answer so fast and skillfully hiding your PDD under your sleeve I still give you a B."

He nodded more to himself than to anyone in particular. "It is the environment in which we learn that makes the difference. Uploaded knowledge and implanted memories can supply you with all the data you need. While you won't find a Data head here on Nilfeheim, having your mind direct linked to GalNet is not uncommon elsewhere. So knowledge isn't the reason for schools and teachers but the environment in which you take it in to give you the tools to use the information your mind processes." He stabbed his finger at me."Mr. Olafson, what happens when you graduate?"

"We become citizens, Sir!"

"Very good, now regardless of your grades that determine your further career and education options, everyone becomes a Citizen after graduating Basic school and completing the Citizen Test. This is why you are here; this is why your parents want you here to become full citizens. Only as a citizen can you freely travel, open a bank account, transfer UnionCreds, use GalNet, vote, get free health care and most of all, get the full protection of the law! "

Sven still wasn't convinced, "I still don't see why an Off-Worlder like you has to come and teach us all that. My father told me that before we were forced to join the Union we would learn all that we needed from our Clan Elder."

"So you think you were forced to join?"

"What else do you call a fleet of Battleships with Planet-Buster bombs ready to vaporize our planet in orbit?"

"Before we go into that and since it seems you are quite the history expert, do you know the reason why the United Stars send Battleships in the first place?"

"Yes of course! Our glorious forefathers caused mayhem and terror by raiding other colonies and spaceships for everything we needed. "He laughed loudly." Neo Vikings were feared in this sector!"

"Indeed. Your glorious forefathers realized they would not survive another decade without things the outside world could supply. So they hijacked a freighter and a few Gunboats and resorted to piracy."

Sven shrugged. "We just were stronger and better warriors and so we had the right to take it."

"Well since the Union Fleet was stronger than your pirate boats and arguing entirely by your logic, they had the right to bomb you. But your forefathers where given a choice, no one forced them to join. The choice was cease all pirate activity and remain isolated on this planet of yours with no contact with others at all, or to join the United Stars and accept Federal Law. Your forefathers didn't even debate one hour and filed for membership."

As he turned to the window Sven leaned over to Peter. "One of these days I'll stuff his face with my fist. That arrogant Off-Worlder, such a wimp has no right to teach us anything!"

Mr. Flensburger turned. "So you want to stuff my face and you think I am a wimp. I accept your challenge, this is what you Vikings do right? "

Sven looked around as if he wanted to make sure everyone heard the same. "You can't be serious. A tap of me would kill you, besides fighting is prohibited in school."

"Fighting among students is,indeed. Now lets call this a demonstration and again, I accept your challenge, Mr. Espeland ."

I said, "I would not do it, Sven. He's from New Algiers."

Sven snorted in my direction. "When I am done with him,you're going to be next. Your father will give me a great reward if I twist your head off"

Gunnar yelled, "He might be an enemy of our clan, but by our laws and traditions Eric was pronounced a warrior born and a man by the Elder today! I will not sit idle while you insult a Viking Warrior. Even if I don't like him, I will kill you!"

Sigvard Elhir, glared at his direction. "You lift an arm for the Olafson and I will break your neck."

Sven got up, showing everybody his muscles and then stepped forward towards the teacher. "I am going to rip your head off, Mr Flensburger. Then I will take care of a few others around here!"

Mr. Flensburger was totally calm and relaxed and smiled. "Then do it Sven and don't talk too much! You challenged me and all you do is boast and talk."

Sven literally flew forward and swung his huge fist. Mr. Flensburger caught Sven's wrist and stopped the punch right before his nose, then twisted it fast and in such a fashion that Sven had to go to his knees. The smaller teacher held the massive arm of Sven with no effort and said to the class, "You see Sven, on New Algiers we have a gravitation of 3.6 that means my muscles are 3.6 times denser than yours and before I became a teacher, I served the Navy and received intensive combat training. It does not have to be an Off-Worlder that teaches you, but every teacher in Basic School has to be a Citizen with a service record."

He still held Sven by the wrist and kept his arm painfully twisted and explained to us in his usual soft voice. "Because of a special deal your Planet Representative has managed to get for Nilfeheim, you are Citizens after you graduate but do not have to serve the 24 month in a Federal Service as it is required for almost all other Union Citizens. No Neo Viking ever served in the fleet or in any of the other services as far as I know and thus cannot become Union Teachers." He put a little more pressure on the twisted arm. "Now I could break every bone in your body without losing a drop of sweat."

Sven groaned in pain. "I am going to kill you!"

"It is unwise to make threats to someone holding your arm in such a fashion." Mr. Flensburger twisted a little more and this time Sven yelped in pain. The teacher let him go.

Sven immediately lunged forward but the teacher stepped aside in a swift, elegant move and grabbed Sven by the shoulders, added to the momentum and made him crash into the wall. Sven shook his head dazed, got up on shaky legs and turned raging with anger, pulling his Harpooner Knife. I jumped up and so did almost everybody. Peter yelled. "This is not honorable. He beat you fair and square, put your knife away!" Sven's face was deep red and he pointed the wicked knife at Peter. "I will slice you like Tyranno-bait, after I am done with that Off-Worlder!" I jumped forward holding my chair like a shield. "Mr. Flensburger get back!" Sven laughed. "Splendid! Your Father will reward me if I kill you. He'll give me a boat for sure!"

Flensburger was completely calm. "I appreciate your assistance Eric, but let me finish this. I ask you all to sit back down. I also give you Sven a chance to sit down and we will continue with our discussion. Do that or I am forced to take that knife from you and expel you from school."

"No one takes my knife and I could care less if I fail your stupid class."

"I didn't say fail class. I said you will be expelled."

Sven attacked and again Flensburger moved fast. He got hold of Sven's wrist again, just like before and with his other hand he grabbed Sven by the throat. Sven gargled, the knife fell and Mr. Flensburger lifted Sven off his feet holding the heavy teenager by the throat without any effort. "You had your choice and you made it. Now I have no other choice. You are expelled! Do you know that this means you will not become a Citizen? Now I give you a second choice: Yield and surrender or die!"

Sven now turned purple struggled and gargled. "I give in. I surrender!"

The teacher let him go and said. "You are to leave school immediately. You got your wish; there won't be any school for you anymore." Sven grabbed his knife and stumbled to the exit. "Who needs to be a stupid citizen anyway? I am a Neo Viking!"

With those words he left. Mr. Flensburger sat back down on his desk as if nothing happened and said, "Dial your PDDs to Blank page and write me a one page report about what Citizenship means to you."

-""-

It was during the third hour and Mr. Flensburger was telling us about the Klack Society when the class room door opened and Sven's father Elik Espeland stepped in Elik was known for his foul temper and it was said he had smashed more than a few skulls, but he appeared with his harpooner's helmet in hands. "Mr. Flensburger, I apologize for the interruption, but it is true that you expelled my son?"

"Indeed. He had made his choice. I gladly show you the visuals of the incident. So you can see how it came to this." To us he said, "While I discuss these matters with Mr. Espeland you can take a break."

Sven was standing outside the door, he looked like a herd of Fangsnappers had trampled over him, his face was swollen and he had bruises and marks all over. He looked to the ground and said nothing as we filed past him.

The school was built on a rock that stuck out the ocean about 25 clicks from the Main Island. The courtyard was half exposed to the open and ended at one side into a piled up tumble of huge rocks and below those rocks was the ocean.

It was not lunch break yet and no one really ventured far from the class room as we expected to be called back.

Sure enough about ten minutes later, Mr. Flensburger and Mr. Espeland come out of the classroom, both smiling and shaking hands and I could see Sven apologizing to the teacher.

Yngve my only friend, physically the weakest in class but very bright, came up to me and said.."They still don't like you but no one is going to bully you anymore with that helmet and all. I wish I could do something like that."

"But you have an awesome family and a good father and a mother who loves you and you can buy things."

He grinned and handed me a Data Chip. "I got you the latest adventures of Captain Ironhand."

I thanked him with a wide grin and said. "I love the smell of Blaster Fire in the Morning."

"I am certain blaster fire has no distinctive smell. Olfactory molecules would be destroyed as any other matter,"

"It's what Captain Ironhand always says."

"You do know he is a fictional character that has absolutely nothing to do with reality, right?"

"I know but watching these gives me a little vacation from my own life and I tell you it sucks to be me."

Sigvard, son of the Elhir clan heard my last comment and pushed Yngve with a shoulder push to the side and snatched the Data Chip out of my hand. "I agree it sucks to be you. I believe you made this all up, you didn't kill any Tyrannos. There is no way you did that!"

"I care less what you believe,, you can always challenge the Elder who saw me doing it. Now give me back that chip!"

"My father said, your father is a coward. Not Viking enough to an open Challenge."

"I challenge you, right here and now."

"And get me expelled fighting a looser like you?"

"Anywhere anytime, it seems you are the coward!"

Gunnar and Annar the Peerson twins also came closer and others followed. Sigvard could no longer back out with so many witnesses and him being the strongest right after Sven poked his finger into my chest. "Alright, Olafson. Right now in the Gym, we wrestle!"

Technically Gilma wrestling was permitted and not considered fighting when it is was done in the Gym as exercise. Gilma was a from of wrestling with complicated rules of fairness we called drengskapur and had a strict code of honor.

Without further words we went down in the Schools basement area where the gyms and sports facilities were. In the afternoon there was fight class where Viking Instructors taught us how to sword fight. It was not a Union School program of course but a local thing.

As I took a Gilma belt harness from a wall hook , he grabbed his belt and snapped the heavy leather belt like a whip across my back and laughed.

Gunnar yelled . "This isn't Gilma and it isn't honorable!"

He hit me again. "I never said Gilma, I am not going to soil my hands on an Olafson. I do what his father does all the time. He should be us.."

He could no longer talk. I had flung myself back and smacked the back of my head right where I thought his nose should be and followed up with an elbow to his stomach. I had to be quick and don't let him get the upper hand. He was much stronger than me, but him using the leather harness like a whip opened a feeling of rage and anger in me he could not even begin to fathom. He stumbled back, giving me time to turn, blood was gushing from his nose. He was still dazzled so it appeared and swung his ham sized against me but the way he announced it gave me time to duck and hammer my fist in a short uppercut against his chin. I did not stop there and buried by other fist right at the center of his rib cage. Sven fell! I kicked him again the temple and then wrapped the leather belt around his neck and started twisting. He blinked at me and gargled something and I said. "If you ever insult me again, if you ever take something from me , I will kill you!"

A strong hand pulled me up and Mr. Flensburger said with an angry stern tone. "You are about to kill him now!"

Sigvard coughed and gargled and Flensburger said to Gunnar. "Take him to the School nurse."

To me he said. "If this was Gilma, my name isn't Flensburger, but lets pretend I am still an ignorant Off-Worlder, otherwise School would end for you two today,"


Chapter 8: Lunch


LUNCHBREAK

Mr. Flensburger did not report the incident and no one spoke about the fight. Sigvard came back from the nurse handed me my chip and sat into his bench. The stare he gave me however was pure murder.

It was lunchtime. The schools cafeteria was reached via three broad flights of stairs zigzagging down or a lift platform. Usually the lift platform was used to carry supplies down to the Cafeteria, but when it was free and not used I always liked to ride it; as the only lift we had on the Burg was from the High Halls to the Sub Den, and even if I would have been allowed to use it, it did not work for centuries, ever since Starolf Ragnarsson about 100 years ago tried to use it to transport a very big barrel of ale and himself back to the Halls, and the lift car fell with him and the barrel all the way down, killing him.

No one was particular sad or lamented Starolf's fate. But whenever the story was told there was a great sigh about the spilled Ale.

Yngve lifted his nose into the air and said."That stench is unmistakeable. They serve Lutefisk today."

Peter who was right behind us as we stepped on the railing encased elevator platform and licked his lips. "Aye, it is on the menu, I checked. They never serve any Ræstanfisk or good Surströmming but Lutefisk is almost as good."

Yngve shuddered. "Do you remember when Eric brought in a jar of home made surströmming last year?"

Peter giggled ."Aye, I do. Poor Mr. Flensburger was sick for three days and you could smell it even after five days." Peter looked at me. "It was very good though, I give you five credits for another jar."

"I bring you one tomorrow. Midril will give me one. You don't have to pay me anything." The Elevator had carried us down and Yngve pointed to the Serv-Matics. "I get myself a Burger and fries. I can't stand Lutefisk." Peter said."No wonder you are so small and weak , always eating this Off-World Stuff. A Viking eats fish and Tyranno Blubber and Fangsnapper and lots of it!"

Vott Hauksbók came down the stairs and added himself to the line, right behind Peter. He was the son of a Bondi, an old family with their own name serving the Adolpson Clan. He too watched Yngve go to the Serv Matics and said,"If you would not hang out with this looser, you would have more friends. Some Clans are not against the Olafsons or the Ragnarssons."

"Yngve is my friend. Neither his name nor his stature or physical strength play a role in matters of friendship. Abandoning a friend to gain acceptance or favors from others however is."

Vott had no reply to that so he changed the subject after he shrugged his shoulders. "Well at least he has the money to buy himself a burger. I spend all my allowance this month not knowing they serve Lutefisk today."

The Cafeteria Cook served me a generous plate with Lutefisk ,potatoes, mashed seaweed buds and bacon. Peter turned to Vott. "And what is wrong with Lutefisk?"

"Where to start?" Vott sighed and stared longingly at Yngve who carried a Serv Matics Meal of fries and a Burger to our usual table.

I didn't hear Peters response , as one of the teachers turned on the main field screen and dialed up the volume. The Logo of Galnet One – the most watched news channel in the Union was replaced by Peper Amix and Suhia Noolan, star news anchors for GalNet-Prime News. Peper was a Pertharian and Suhia an exotic beauty of Saran-Saresii origins.

I carried my tray to the table, but more or less kept my eyes on the screen. A news flash band was scrolling below the two beings announcing breaking news. Behind the news anchors was the flag of the United Stars and the logo of the United Stars Fleet. Mr. Grantan, teacher of the 2nd tier Junior Class stood close to our table and said over the swelling music coming from the screen." Union Flag and the Fleet Anthem that means only one thing."

The other teacher he was talking to, I forgot his name agreed with a nod sipping on his coffee mug. "Yes it does, it means we are at war."

Mr. Grantan gestured to the screen, "We find out soon enough, but why is the image frozen?"

The other teacher touched his head. "Silly me, I activated the news feed with the Student lock out in place. Computronic, teacher overwrite. Display news feed."

Peper Amix, incredibly famous and beloved News Anchor, known even on Nilfeheim said, "The Assembly has moved the incident up to Docket One and Union response to the unprovoked Roxomani Attack on two New Siam worlds in the Spinward Sector."

Suhia Noolan's Virtu poster hung on the walls of many of my class mates. Not that such Off-World filth had any place in the Burgs of Old Clans, ours of course included. She was incredibly beautiful and looked so completely different to Nilfeheim women. She was neither veiled nor otherwise disguised and showed not only her face but much of her skin unabashed and with complete ease as if it would be the most natural thing in the world. Nilfeheim radio transmitted Union News as well but , it had a modesty filter and Suhia was only heard and never seen on the Nilfeheim Channels. This was the reason the teacher had to switch to direct feed with teacher privileges. The news were now directly received and not over Nilfeheim Radio. She had long black hair that framed an almost inhuman delicate face with huge eyes and a small nose over red lips and a pointed chin. She didn't smile as she responded to Peper's statement."At 0400 Standard Union time , two hundred Roxomani Attack spheres crossed the Galactic Council Union border in the Spinward sector of the Milky Way Galaxy, destroyed a Space Bus and attacked two colonies of Union Member civilization 3001, more commonly known as the New Siam Kingdom. Reports of heavy casualties have reached us, but exact numbers are not known to us at this time."

Mr. Grantan clenched his fist and said. "The Roxomani are puppets of the cursed Kermac, we should have listened to the Eternal Warrior back when they attacked Green Hell and wiped them all out."

The displayed view changed and we saw a planet from space. Garden Worlds always looked so pretty from space. They reminded me of blue and green gems with swirls of white, The planet shown was not as beautiful anymore. Even from space we could see hundreds of glowing fires far below and clouds of black smeared into the otherwise blue atmosphere.

Then we all could see spherical space ships by the dozens , ugly elongated bubbles with long spines at one end and bean shaped propulsion pods at the other.

Peper, now unseen commented. "These are images transmitted by the URMV Palestine at 0500, before contact to this Union registry merchant vessel was lost. The planet below is called House of Chakri. It was home to over 3 Million Union Citizens and was named 45th most beautiful world in the Times Harold Magazine 32 years in a row."

The view switched back and focused on Suhia. "We just got word from the Assembly of Representatives , the voice of caution and calls for investigation first coming from the Admiral of the Fleet was overwhelmingly dismissed and the Assembly invoked Union Resolution 4928-1."

That last comment caused the teachers and even the Cook to shake their fists like Neo Vikings and a collective hail of cheers, seeing Off-Worlders react to something emotional in a way I thought only Vikings did surprised me in no small measure. Mr. Grantan grunted a resolute sounding . "Yes!"

The other teacher spilling his coffee, not even caring and smiled broadly. "Those Rubber Bones will learn what it means to mess with the Union, The Warrior is in charge now!"

Peper, the truly alien non human Pertharian reacted just the same way and he was usually known for his dead pan emotion free delivery rising all four of his arms. "Union Citizens of New Siam, you have suffered great losses, but help and revenge is on its way. "

The beautiful woman's eyes sparkled with anger, "I know there are Kermac spies listening to our broadcasts, so I give you a personal piece of advice, pack whatever you hold dear , climb in whatever ships you can find and leave. He is not going to stop until you're a side note of galactic history."

Peper said. "While we wait for live updates on the developments we are going to switch to local news."

The Image was replaced with the Nilfeheim Radio symbol and then switched to the usual Fisherman's Radio report and Lars our local news man was reading the latest ice and weather reports. The teacher was dialing the sound down.

I had completely forgotten my food and it appeared everyone else, except Peter who had cleaned his plate . I leaned over to Ygnve and asked. "Do you know what they cheered about?"

He just started on his burger and said. "Resolution 4928-1 of course."

"And that means, what?"

He rolled his eyes put down his burger and said." The Kermac did a rotten thing in 4928 and attacked a Union Planet, I think Green Hel or something like that. The Assembly decided then to make the Eternal Warrior our Commander in Chief. He's going to wipe them out. There won't be any Roxomani left when he is done."

Peter eyed my Plate and I shoved it under his nose. "Eternal Warrior?"

Vott pushed the fish away from his potatoes and speared one of the spuds with his fork. " Stahl, of course! You need to stop being such a Off World hating traditionalist and open your eyes to the rest of the Universe. Out there being a first born means shit, sorry to say that."

"I don't dislike the Off World stuff and I would give my right arm not to be a First Born, but I got plenty of problems at home and if I ever make it to be alive when I turn sixteen, I will kill my father or be killed. Unlike you I have no plans to leave Nilfeheim or any future plans for that matter."

Vott chewed on his second potato and made a suffering face. "Even the potatoes taste like like rotten fish!" He dropped his fork and Peter leaned across the table to reach for Vott's plate. "If you don't eat it, would be a shame to sent it down the recycler."

Yngve held out his credit strip and said to Vott. "I know you don't like me but perhaps you can forget your hatred for this lunch break and accept my offer buying you lunch." Vott, at first wanted to snuff the offer but then he said. "Well you are the friend of Eric and he is a real warrior and what he said earlier is pretty darn honorable. So maybe I should forget disliking you and not just for lunch."

Yngve smiled as Vott took the strip."If that is the outcome of this then I buy lunch for Peter too."

Peter working on his third plate. "I don't dislike you but you are a first born too and I am just a Freeman's son. Your kind never gives us the time of day."

Yngve sighed. "We are Lofdahl, and a new Clan . It means little and my father does what yours is doing. He is a merchant selling Seaweed, not a real Warrior and I am shunned by everyone, except Eric."

Peter cleaned the last morsels of his plate. "No worries about lunch. The Vent Matics hasn't any Lutefisk and the Cooks gives seconds."

I stared at the stack of plates before him. "Where in Odin's name would you put it? If you ever die they need four Valkyries , not just two to drag you to the banquet table of the Aseir."

Ottar Knutson another of my class mates , who had not spoken to me in ages; sitting on a table across from us said. "No Eric of the Olafsons, they could not catch up with him . He'd run the entire way faster than the heavenly steeds they ride to make it to the banquet table in Valhalla. Peter can almost eat as much as your famous Uncle Hogun."

Mr. Valthim, our principal appeared on the big viewing screen and said. "In the light of the news just seen, we will forgo the afternoon Upload sessions and classes and you are to remain in the Cafeteria. We feel it is a good opportunity for you all to learn what it means to be part of the Union. The Cafeteria has been instructed to serve sweet meats and Hot Chocolate in an hour from now. Your class teachers will give you further instructions."

Peter licked his lips. "They should have more wars and all if it means they serve sweetmeats and hot chocolate."

Mr. Flensburger approached our table and gave Peter a stern look. "Wars mean the death and much suffering to civilians and beings from all over the Union making the ultimate sacrifice so you can eat sweetmeats. Almost all other Union Citizens must earn their citizen ship by serving at least 24 month with a Federal Service. As you may know you have been exempt from that because your Representative convinced the Assembly that you are just primitive brawlers of a backwater planet and not really warrior or soldier material."

I had never heard our usually so kind and gentle teacher speak that way. Even though I had seen a different side of him just this morning. While I was not as strongly opinionated as Sven, I too did not care much about the Union or Off World things. Off World kept my grandfather away. I was certain things would be different if he was here instead of being away. The doctor who resurrected and saved me every time and the empty promise of Union Law and justice. Was my mother not also a Union Citizen and my father not a foul murderer? School was good as it allowed me to be away from home, but every day I had to return home. No I had no use for most of the Union things,

What did a war matter that happened so far away? Whoever this warrior Stahl was he cared about the New Siam people but he cared nothing about the injustice on Nilfeheim. I raised my head and said to Mr. Flensburger. "If you feel so negative about us, it is a good thing you retire, Sir. Your mighty Union cares not for us , so why should we care for it? You tell us about laws and rights and about what it means to be a Union Citizen, and yet it means nothing on Nilfeheim. Why is it my father can kill and brag about it?"

His eyes glittered and his face looked sad. "It was the words of your representative not mine, Eric. It was an ancestor of yours, who In order to protect these planets traditions was able to get Nilfeheim a special status. While this is a Union World, no Union Law can be enforced on its surface, except at the Exchange, the School and the Space Port as these are considered Union ground. The reclusive Narth joined the Union, to be left alone and remain completely isolated. The Bellebees joined in the hope we would find ways so they could participate, despite the fact that they have no eyes, no ears, no hands and nothing else that is needed to participate. The Camogi, are 5000 meter balls of controlled radiation and nuclear chemistry. They are the opposite of the Narth and want to participate but can't. Every Union species can or must ask for special conditions adjusting their membership conditions. Your society made the choice to raise that Book of Traditions above most of the laws of the Union when it comes to local affairs. I know of your harsh lot and the inhumane conditions you experience every day."

He sighed "I would love to call the Rangers or Union Police, but then almost everyone of your world would be arrested. I am a Union Teacher and must remain neutral and cannot tell you or teach you what is right or wrong with your society. However we can teach you about the Union and it is up to you Neo Vikings to change things or leave them as they are. "

He gestured to the screen. "The Union cares as much or as little about you and your society as you let it ."

The Screen switched back to GalNet Prime and Peper the Pertharian greeted the viewers. "it is 1400 hrs Standard Union, welcome to GalNet Prime News Cast for this One-Day the 7h of M One,Red Week 2546" (Underneath the Pertharian the Date was displayed in Old Terran Time as :January 7th 5012.)

Suhia Noolan seamlessly took over and said. "The top news of today is the unprovoked attack of the Roxomani in the Spinward sector targeting two New Siam Planetary systems this morning and the subsequent Assembly decision to invoke Resolution 4928-1."

Again the images we had seen before were shown and Suhia's voice continued. "Admiral Richard Stahl and the USS Devastator along with the First Fleet are on their way. It is expected that the Eternal Warrior will arrive in the crisis area in about seven days.,but he is in constant communication with Admiral Elainee Nalee of SPICOM strategic command. Admiral Nalee has personally advised that the fifth and sixth fleet will arrive in the region within the hour."

The Pertharian interrupted." I was just informed we are able to transmit the Live battle view of the USS Pentragon as it is shown to the Assembly as we speak."

The News Channel blinked out and the Logo of the Union Fleet appeared. A different male voice commented. "By the Orders of the Assembly and the Commander in Chief , Fleet Command accepts and complies with the request to show life and raw footage from the crisis area. The USS Pentragon , flag ship of the 40th Fleet will drop out of Quasi Space in less than twelve minutes and arrive in Union Stars system , Catalog designation Chakri-Star. I am Lt Commander Okir Knills Signal and Communications, Fleet Operations and I will attempt to explain as non military as possible what will occur."

The Logo was replaced by the image of a space ship and for some reason my mouth became dry and I could not take my eyes away.

The Fleet commentator said. "This is the USS Pentragon, a Vision Class Dreadnought also called an

Arsenal Ship as it carries virtually every weapon system available to the Union. It has a length of 5202 meters and at its widest girth it measures 3120 meters."

The ship was cone shaped with a wide chandelier like ring two thirds down its expanding girth, Huge Isah Pods were attached to three chandelier arm like extensions. It had a dull gray metallic smooth surface, there was the union flag and the ships name on the upper part of the cone. It looked like nothing I had ever seen, it was sleek and yet it looked incredibly powerful and yes despite the fact that it was smooth and had none of the cannon towers I expected it to have, like the ship of Captain Ironhand; it looked dangerous.

The Union Officer kept talking. "It was christened by Mothermachine on October 12th, 4999 . Its Commanding Officer is: Captain Steen Horlund. Currently 405 Officers and a crew of 8,800 serve together with 5,000 Marines and 1,500 Wolfcraft Fighter Pilots.

Most of er Armament is classified but she carries 60 Giga Load Translocator Cannons and can launch 500 Loki VI torpedoes at once."

I could not explain why his dry voice listing features that meant nothing to me sounded like sweet music in my ear.

The image faded and now we could see a group of beings sitting in massive looking chairs before a view screen. One person was sitting on a raised seat in the middle. I had never in my life paid so much attention to anything.

The Navy commentator's voice seemed to speak to me. "This is the bridge view of the USS Pentragon. We have permission for acoustic monitoring. Switching to Bridge sounds."

There was a whisper of computronics sounds and the chirping signals coming from devices and controls. The man on the Central seat managed to sit both relaxed and yet with the utmost alertness I have ever observed. He was human and had a lean looking body underneath an all black uniform, except for a white diagonal bib like lapel and 4 golden rings on the lower end of his sleeves. His right hand rested with an extended index finger on his chin and his blue eyes rested on the main viewer and then he spoke. "Mr. Zhuomao, better straighten your seat, the Assembly and half of the Union is watching us now. That means your mother can see you too!"

A man with truly black hair sitting before a console underneath the View Screen straightened himself out. " Three Minutes, Sir. We are ahead of the Battle group by 8 minutes"

"Alright, lads and lassies. Let us do this by the book. Sound Battle Stations! Bridge full Battle Mode, arm all Translocators, Gigas authorized." I snapped for air, I had forgotten to breath. The bridge darkened and red lights replaced the bright warm illumination. Red lights blinked, a sharp alarm tone interrupted by a stoic voice repeating the phrase. "General Quarters, General Quarters. Man your battle stations., prepare for ship wide lock down. General Quarters..."

"Tactical, Sir. There are ninety five non Union sensor contacts in the system." "Helm, Sir. Real space in 4 seconds."

A horse shoe like device sank before the Captain.

The invisible commentator explained . "This is called the Battle Scope, it allows the Captain an unobstructed view of everything going on around his ship.

The Captain spoke."Comm. Open all Comm equipment, tie in Roxomani translators."

"All Comm open Sir." "This Captain Horlund of the USS Pentragon. All Non Union crafts are to immediately power down all weapons and shields. I expect your signal of unconditional surrender in exactly 180 standard seconds. There will be no second request. Comply or die."

The Captain raised the Battle Scope a bit and said. "All squadrons go to hot standby. I don't want anything leave this system. Prepare to deploy Thor Gun Boats , all groups. "

"Communications, Sir. We receiving transmission, Roxomani origin."

"Put them on." A yellowish skinned somewhat humanoid alien with large black eyes wearing a maroon colored uniform and a same colored tight fitting skull cap. The being had nose, just two black holes and it said. "I am the Daib of Ku. You defiled the Orbs of rest and we punished those who did. We will leave now. You are allowed to evacuate what we have not killed, we return and you are here, we won't like it."

"Your time is up Daib of Ku. Your shields are still up and I don't hear you surrender."

"Our Shields are new , our shield will laugh at you as our Tech is firm, firmer than you. We laugh!"

The Captain snorted. "Alright Mr. Daib let me tell you a joke then." the Captain dropped his hand. "Tactical engage, salvo tact. Wolfcrafts, engage!" The Navy Commentator said."Switching to tactical view."

The bridge view changed to an outside view. The Pentragon's smooth surface was now riddled with dome shaped dots. Cylindrical barrels extended from opening compartments and started to spin, and spat out tiny elongated discs with monstrous looking drive pods. I heard Yngve say. "Revolver starters, those are sixty meter long Wolfcraft fighters. Look how tiny they look compared to the ship. I could not speak, I knew no words that could describe what I felt as I watched purple white flashes emitting from the dome shaped pimples and seeing the elongated Roxomani ships disappear inside intense globes of sun like fire.

Peter said. "I don't think that Daib guy is laughing now."

I did not know who said. "Terran jokes, told by Translocator Cannons are no laughing matter but the punchline is a killer." because I could not take my eyes of that screen. But I recalled Mr. Flensburger's words about primitive brawlers. This was war and violence on a level beyond anything I could have ever imagined before.

Yet all I had seen did not impress or affect me as the image of that man sitting on that central chair, giving orders and being in charge of it all. No Clan Chief, not all Clan Chief in the history of all Nilfeheim had such power to command.

Ottar Knutson somewhere behind me said. "Mr. Flensburger, can I become a Tactical Officer like you have been?"

"Yes Ottar, every Union Citizen can apply at the Academy and if you fit the criteria and I think you do, then they give you the chance to serve as an Officer."

The Roxomani ships did return fire, but their energy beams fizzled into almost invisible purplish spheres engulfing the Pentragon, without any apparent effect.

Bright flashes in space behind and around the Pentragon and from each flash a Union Battle ship appeared, the rest of the fleet had arrived. Greenish fingers of energy grabbed Roxomani spheres and held them in place while swarm of insect like things came in troves and crawled all over the ships. The Navy Commentator said. "By Order of the CIC, Marines are deployed to make prisoners that can be interrogated." The image faded and the News Anchors reappeared."We are leaving the battle action as we are just receiving notes that the Kermac Ambassador is about to be questioned by the Assembly." I felt drained and cheated . I was a Neo Viking and all this should not matter to me, yet I suddenly knew what to say. "Mr. Flensburger, what does it take to become a Star ship Captain?"

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