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Chapter 2: Brhama Port

The Half Kermac sitting behind his desk eyed us suspiciously as I placed a plastic bag with the 1000 Polo Coins before him. He had the same paper white skin and the characteristic small nose and mouth of a Kermac , but unlike them, he did have black hair and eyebrows. His eyes, I noticed, were neither Kermac nor Human and looked more like the reptilian eyes of a Shiss .

He took the coins without counting and placed them in a drawer behind him, and then he said:

"You have never been here, Captain Velvet , but you have a reputation that precedes you. The rules here are simple. We like the business your kind brings, but not the trouble. Fighting is allowed but not with any energy weapons or similar destructive devices.

I don't think you are interested in mining, but I tell this to all newcomers to Brhama Port. Don't raid mining camps or ships around here and don't start rouge mining on your own. If you do want to mine, buy a license from us.

If you need fuel we sell that for 140 Polo Full weights per standard 1023 Nogto Bulb. That is about 500 Nul Roos or 992 Union Kilos." He spread his arms. “That is about all there is, welcome to the Shattered Star System of the Bassett family."

Har Hi, Shea and Narth were with me, and all three stood behind me with crossed arms. Narth actually wore a black leather and steel armor over his shroud and even carried a Nul Gravitor rifle over his back. His face and head hidden, behind a black helmet with mirrored face plate, he had borrowed from Three Four.

Har-Hi wore his red Dai Leather with all the knives, weapons and swords in place. He had covered the Glyph of his Clan with a skull and crossed bones. A symbol, Shea assured us was something Pre Astro pirates were famous for.

Shea wore a shoulder free bodice of white leather, matching over knee boots and a fur cape that looked much like my old Fangsnapper coat. She had her hair tied in a ponytail and wore a white half mask up to her nose. Beside the long Attikan Sniper Blaster she carried her mysterious sword. In my opinion she looked dangerous and very sexy at the same time

That there was plenty of human DNA left in the Half Kermac was evident as he had a hard time making eye contact with me and shifted his eyes to my chest.



I said to him:



"Indeed I am not interested in mining but I have a spare ship I would like to sell and was told it could be done here."





He nodded.



"To tell the truth Captain Velvet, you will not get the same price you would get at Kaliment or Sin 4, but I am sending my brother Koornt, and he will check the ship. I will contact you later today with the price we are willing to pay."





I agreed that this would be acceptable and left the Asteroid Managers office.





–""-





This time we were all ourselves as we entered the same tavern. The barkeeper eyed us with interest for about five seconds, took our orders and lost interest after we paid him.



We found ourselves a table and sat down.



I had no clear plan what we should do next and at this point I decided to just stir the pot a little and then wait and see what would happen. One point on my agenda was to put the Bassett Family out of business permanently.



If I could manage to somehow destroy this Asteroid Base it would take away a Pirate Base and Hideaway. The fewer bases and posts they had to hide at the better and these so called 'miners' aided and enabled these crooks by providing these services.



However I could not do it openly as Black Velvet. As well armed my Karthanian ship appeared to be; destroying a 300 kilometer asteroid was far beyond its capabilities. The real Tigershark on the other hand carried several P bombs, they most certainly would do the trick, but using one would expose our true identity. P Bombs were a distinctive Union weapon, but perhaps a few well-placed timed charges in their environmental machinery going off a day or two after we left would smoke out this nest of crooks.



The Oghar Pirate and the Captain of the Swift Profit were still here and it looked like as if they contemplated talking to us.



Sure enough, Captain Swift got up and came over, made a theatrical bow, tipping his forehead: "I am Curtis Swift, Captain of the Swift Profit and I gather you are the famous Black Velvet. Since I assume we might be in a similar line of business, I thought I'd introduce myself."



I eyed him up and down and said: "And what line of business would that be?"



"Doing what we please and taking advantage of opportunities that might present themselves. A little of this and a little of that and not particularly caring about anyone else or their rules."



He pointed at the big table:



"This is called the Captain's Table and I am sure Crimson would like to get to know you, just as I. He is the ugly Oghar over there."





Before I could respond, everyone turned to a sudden commotion at the tavern's entrance. A rowdy looking crew entered, led by a flashy dressed humanoid with blue skin. He was without a doubt a Thauran. I sighed deeply and muttered every curse I knew. How far did I have to go to not meet any of those blue skinned bastards?



He was accompanied by two Oghar males and three most likely real, mangy looking Jooltar warriors. That there were also four more blue skinned Thauran three males and a female in that group explained the noise and the air of self-importance they displayed.



I wondered why the Thauran did not join the Kermac, they could hold competitions of self-importance and arrogance and my money wasn't on the Kermac as to who would win.



Narth responded to my question with his psionic voice in my mind:



"I doubt the Kermac would want a thrall species that is equally as good as they in the only field the Kermac really excel."



I expressed my surprise:



“Never did I think you would say something like this. Not that I mind, but sarcasm wasn't something I associate with a Narth."



His thoughts felt clearly amused as he said:



"One might point out that we shared the Hugavh and that is a two way process as I said before I slowly adapt some of your characteristics as you adapt to mine. Secondly it is we Narth who observed many of the civilizations for a very long time, and the Kermac have inherited this haughtiness and superciliousness from the UNI.



This arrogant, self-importance is of course not completely alien to you humans, especially those who consider themselves of Noble origin. Now this is a concept I have spent much time analyzing and have yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion."





While I conversed with Narth on our silent mental level, I watched the new group and so did everyone else, including Captain Swift.



I said to Narth:



"I don't completely understand it, yet it is in a way also part of my heritage, being of an Old Clan on Nilfeheim is something similar. I also don't think all nobility is bad. Look at our Princess, she can switch it on and off just like that, and then there is Shaka. He never makes a big deal out of it but I met his father, the Zulu King at the Diamond Ball and he radiates authority in a way I can only describe as noble."



Narth didn't respond because I knew he was contemplating what I just had said and put it through his incomprehensible way of analyzing things.



Now he responded saying:



"My way of analyzing things is not completely incomprehensible, Shea understands it well."



I wanted to tell him, that not everyone had an IQ of 400, when Captain Swift rolled his eyes and said to me:



"That is Captain Dentar Bloom of the Roughnir. Even among our colorful and free society of space-faring professionals he is not what you would call good company."



Dentar Bloom yelled to the barkeeper:



"Solik, Tambark and Brohmir Sweat to my table and bring plenty, you three armed cretin!"



Bloom and his posse sat down at a table not far from us. Bloom was wearing a gaudy costume in bright red and blue colors, with golden buttons and a wide shimmering dark yellow sash draped from his right shoulder to his left hip. His wide belt held an assortment of blasters. He looked



around with a disapproving expression in his face and then waved at Crimson:



"Of all the ugly sights in the Galaxy, you my dear Crimson are the ugliest. Be so kind and switch chairs so I don't have to look at you!"



The Oghr Captain spat an incomprehensible curse like response into Blooms direction. Even though I did not understand it, I was sure it wasn't a compliment.



The Barkeep came to our table to serve the drinks we had ordered. The loudmouth Thauran complained:



"I ordered and expect to be served first. Don't waste time with the riff raff!"



The Barkeeper turned and said:



"First pay the tab you left from the last time, eighty Full weights!"



Bloom put his hand on a nasty looking boarding saber.



"The Solar winds and the Blessed Blue Virgin were not with us the past few months as usual. None of the loot we gathered is cash, but I have a hold full of valuable merchandise. We will make good profit at the market on Sin 4, but I needed to stop here for fuel. So bring the drinks, I pay you when we come back. So I think you will extend our credit now!"



The Barkeep pointed with one of his arms to the ceiling and to a set of remote controlled Neuro Rippers.



"You don't scare me Captain Bloom, I may only have three arms but I assure you it isn't wise to agitate a Pertharian. Now pay up or leave. This establishment is for paying customers."



This obviously didn't sit too well with the flashy dressed Thauran. He talked to one of his officers and the Oghar left. He then said:



"I guess I need to liquidate some of my assets now. I will hold a little auction.It looks like well-heeled Captain Swift is here and so is the famous Crimson Curse. One likes to eat and the other likes to rape. What I have to offer will satisfy both your appetites. “



It did not take long and the Oghar came back dragging a beautiful white Togar female behind him. She wore a metal collar and both her hands were attached to it with short chains, making her choke at every move. The cruel metal band had rubbed her raw and there was crusted blood all around the collar. Her legs were kept apart by a steel rod that had cuffs on each end, allowing her to move only with small circular steps.



I didn't like Togar and only a short time ago I wanted to kill them all, but seeing this poor female treated like that made me wish I could twist the head of that blue skinned bastard with my bare hands.



Her eyes were big and green, and she had a pink nose, that reminded me of the little Holdian Commander. This female could not talk as she was muzzled with several layers of tape around her short snout.



The three armed Pertharian protested saying:



"Are you insane, Bloom? The Togar aren't too far from here and they can send war ships just fine if they think we allow Togar females to be sold."





With a dismissive gesture, Bloom said:



"She is an outcast. She is a wanted criminal and I could get good money for her from any Togar male. She might be good in the Arenas but you all know how nice a Togar female can be to human males, if she is properly restrained of course. Now I know you, Captain Swift, and that's why I brought her in. The opening bid is 100 Polos."



As disgusting as the sale was, the lusting gaze in Swifts face and the dirty jokes and unveiled shouted fantasies of the miners was even worse. It was one of the miners who said.



"I give you the 100 Polos."



Swift immediately countered with a bid of 150. I had forgotten my own drink and my hand was reaching for the butt of my gun, when Har-Hi put his hand on my arm and shook his head almost unnoticeable. He was right of course and I would not jeopardize our mission by starting a fight underneath looming Neuro Rippers. Not for a Togar, I didn't like in the first place.



The bidding was at 600 Polos now and it looked like a burly looking human miner had the deeper pockets, as Swift was not raising his hand again.



I said:



"1000 Polos"



and almost surprised myself, but I couldn't let her be sold into a fate so cruel. Maybe I could keep her in stasis and later let her go somewhere safe.



My bid put all eyes on me and the Thauran Captain noticed me, saying:



"Who are you? I sell to anyone but you have to have the cash."





"I got the Polo's anything else is unimportant."



Swift introduced me with a gesture.



"She's the famous and mysterious Black Velvet."



The Thauran made a mocking bow and said:



"A Thousand Polos, Full-weight, have been bid for this wild, soft furred promise of pleasure. Do I hear any other bids?"



Narth whispered:



"Hans and the Golden are on their way with the money. What do you want done with the Togar female?"





"Have Cateria check her out and then I guess put her in Stasis till we can let her go somewhere safe. Maybe we can find out where she belongs and see if we can get her as close as possible."





"This might prove difficult, as she isn't what the Thauran claimed she is."





"She isn't Togar?"





"She is, but I think we might have purchased what you would call big trouble."





I didn't like what I was hearing and silently responded:



"Can you be more specific than that?"





"I shall accompany her to the ship and probe deeper and then let you know."





Hans stomped in, and his massive appearance silenced the crowd.



The huge Saturnian looked absolutely frightening in his version of a pirate costume. He wore a crisscrossing harness similar to the one Har-Hi had, across his enormous chest, but his was made out of flat links of Ultronit plates riveted onto thick leather. A full sized Nul Gravitor Cannon across his back. His knee high boots, also reinforced with armor plates and thick soles, had the appearance that he could kick a battle robot to scrap. The knuckles of his gauntlet style gloves sported metal spikes; on his head he wore a skull tight leather mask that left the chin and mouth open, with a crest of needle sharp looking metal spikes. He looked like a demonic nightmare version of a dungeon torturer right out of the horror Visuals that Mao loved to watch.





Sobody who accompanied my security chief was almost unnoticed. He looked the same as always, but his bald head sported a ghastly cross shaped scar. From my adventure on Alvor's Cove I knew it signified him to be an outcast of the Golden society.



The metal grating of the floor was vibrating and made the glasses on the tables dance as Hans stomped across the room and to my table and placed a heavy steel reinforced chest before me.



Sobody unlocked it with an electronic key he wore around his neck and bowed before me.





"Captain, your purse, as requested,





"Pay that Thauran a1000 Polos."





Captain Swift whistled through his teeth as Sobody opened the chest filled to the brim with Polo coins packed in clear plastic bags and handed the speechless Thauran two of them.



"Two bags of 500 each."



Narth got up and whispered to Hans, who took the struggling and terrified looking Togar cat like a toy doll across his shoulder, and left the place.



Until now it had been quiet. Bloom, looking at the two bags of money he held, said:



"By the blessed Blue Virgin, that I call no-nonsense business. You seem to run a tight ship and have gathered a capable crew, respect, respect!"



The three armed Pertharian held out two of his hands.



"Now that you have money, I think you need to pay your tab."



Since the Barkeeper held the remote control of the Neuro Ripper in his third hand and the projector heads moved with an audible hum, targeting the Thauran, the blue skinned Captain obliged, but he didn't like it one bit as was evident by his facial expression.



After he had paid the Pertharian he came to our table with his crew right behind him. He eyed the heavy chest still sitting there before me and said.



"You would not be in the market for 800 tons of fine Togar merchandise?"



I sipped at my Dai Beer and said:



"No, I am not."





"You see, I have a hold full of that stuff, and it will sell on Sin 4 or Kaliment for good money. The trouble is, I am a tad short on fuel and these tight Bassett Bastards don't give credit."





I raised my head and looked at him:



"And why are you boring me with your problems? I am sure the miners here always have need for cheap laborers and after a year or two you'll have enough money to buy fuel, I suppose."



He sucked in air and said pointing his finger at me:



"I don't think you understand, female. I eat the likes of you for breakfast. I am going to take that chest now, and if you try to stop us, my men will do the same to you what we did to the Togar female."





Har Hi said.



“Touch that chest and you touch nothing ever again with your own hands."





His men drew weapons and he said.



"Do the math, Dai, ten against three."





The Barkeep yelled:



"I don't care what business you have among each other, but no Energy weapons. If you want to brawl with swords and knifes be my guest, but you pay for any damages."





Now Crimson Curse got up, smashing his fist onto the metal table so hard it left a sizeable dent.



 "Enough of this! Freespace is shrinking by the day and the places our kind can rest and trade are not as common as they used to be. It is you trouble makers that spoil it for the rest of us. If you have quarrels duke it out Captain versus Captain as it is our custom."



About twenty beings got up at once . It appeared Crimson was here with a sizeable part of his crew.



Bloom raised his arms.



"Well, so be it then. I fight the female and get the Polos, what a splendid suggestion Ugly Crimson!"





Har-Hi shook his head.



"That is a bad idea, reconsider. Fight me instead, I let you live/"





Bloom laughed.



"If she wants to play pirate and fly with the big boys then she needs to fight herself. I have no problem spanking her into submission."





I got up so fast my chair flew and crashed into something behind me. I flanked over the table and raked both of my boot heels across his face and throat.



My reaction was fueled by the old familiar Olafson rage and my growing dislike of Thaurans. Still in motion I hit the floor and spin kicked the Oghar right next to Bloom for good measure. The Ultronit heels of my boots were terrible weapons at close quarter.



Bloom staggered backward his hands trying to stop the flowing blood s from his throat wound. I pulled my Colt 45 and the ancient handgun roared twice and the heavy lead slugs tore into the head of the recovering Oghr I had kicked.



Bloom had dropped to his knees, and there was an expression of pain and the certain knowledge of impending death on his face as he reached out with his other hand towards me. There was no mercy in my heart and no feeling of remorse as pointed the hot muzzle of the antique colt at his forehead and ended his misery with a gory explosion of blood and brain.  Deep down in a far corner of my consciousness, I did remember the Steiner boy and wondered what I have become.



Har Hi had been right behind me with both swords drawn. He had torn through several of Blooms crew with lightning speed and beautiful almost dance like moves. His face was relaxed as ever as Bloom's men literally fell to pieces into a gruesome heap of severed body parts right behind him. The female pirate stared at her arm stumps, her hands lying on the floor still clutching the  blaster she had drawn only a second ago.



Our constant cross training showed that Shea was no longer just a science geek but a force to be reckoned with as she had her strange sword at the throat of the second Oghar, cutting pieces out of his armor with little flicks of her wrist.



Even our Golden turned out to be much more than just an old man of a dwarflike species. He moved his hand and arm in a strange motion almost as if he threw something, and then pulled at an imaginary string; the effect was deadly and gruesome. One of the Thauran crew members fell to the floor cut in half!



Sobody glared at the remaining men and said to his dead victim: "No one pulls a dagger on my Captain!"



I looked around and said:



"Anyone else thinking I can't play with the big boys? Step on up!"





All this had happened so fast that Crimson was still standing.





Swift whistled again.



"Holy shit!"



Har-Hi carefully cleaned his blades with a piece of silk he always carried and said as he put them away.



"I did warn him, I might have just clipped an ear of his head.”



Crimson spat towards the dead pirates, sat back down and said:



"Good riddance to Bloom, maybe we can drink in peace now. You Captain Velvet, of course, are welcome to join us here at the Captain's table."



One of the surviving crewmembers of Bloom's group said:



"What of me and the rest of the crew? Are we to report to your ship?"



I nodded.



“That’s right. Go get everyone and report to the Silver Streak."





Har-Hi said:



"I'll make sure they are properly accommodated."





I took a seat at the Captain's table as a representative of the Bassett family approached.



"I am Koomt Bassett and I can make you an offer for both ships."





I pointed to the Golden and said:



"My Quartermaster will take care of that."





Sobody grinned from ear to ear and went to a different table immediately starting to haggle with the Bassett man.



Swift looked at me with an expression of respect and a hint of fear:



"You certainly live up to your legend and then some."





Crimson quaffed another tankard of Oghar brew and ordered a plate of Lum-Lum Chews and then he said with his deep growling voice:



"It is a good thing you dealt with that Thauran. Otherwise I would have. He was just like that cursed Red Dragon and his Sinister Alliance, stirring things up too much."



He looked around and leaned forward.



"He keeps poking the Union like he did and they might simply roll in. and then all our days are counted."





Swift shrugged.



"I was considering flying to Itheamh, finding out where their secret meeting place is and then joining the Sinister Alliance. There are rumors they plan for something big."





Crimson took one of the Lum-Lums but did not eat, instead he said:



"What need do we have for alliances? Is it not the very reason that we do what we do to be free of other men's rules? What good did his last big raid do him? He limped away with a singed aft and no one that went with him retuned."





I shrugged and played the uninformed.



"I took a long tour and haven't been in touch with the news lately. Did they attack a Union outpost or something like that?"





Crimson chewed with his massive jaws and gave Swift a side look from his small yellow eyes and said after he swallowed:



"Aye he did, Outpost 96. Huge Pirate fleet, and a decoy fleet full of ground troops to boot, filled with every gun wielding scum he could hire on Sin 4 and Itheamh. Barely defended he claimed it would be, and yet he got his arse kicked, by a bunch of Wolfcraft Fighters. He was the only one escaping with nothing in his holds but air. If he has some personal vendetta against the Union, let him do it on his own. I'd rather be dead than fly with his Sinister Alliance."



He grabbed another Lum-Lum and bit into it with resolve.





Swift drank a greenish thick liquid that smelled strongly of fermented fruits.



"Maybe you are right, you're in this business longer than most."





The Bassett Brother came to me sighed while pointing at Sobody who looked as pleased as a Nubhir wolf that got the big bone.



"Smart move, Captain Velvet to have a Golden do business for you. If we had continued haggling I would have been lucky walking out of here with my pants still mine."





Sobody got up and came over as well.



"I am going with my new friend Kroon and make sure we get paid."





I smiled at him and said:



"You did well, I assume?"





"Considering the location and the small market, yes Captain."





After they left Crimson finished a sixth Lum-Lum and said:



"Well I am off to go back to business and I suggest you both do the same."



He leaned forward once again and lowered his voice as much as he could.



"This region isn't going to be safe much longer."





Swift made a surprised face.



"Why are you saying this? This is still Freespace!"





Crimson touched his jeweled encrusted gold encased tusk.



"I have it on good authority that the Dai Lord Cam Elf-Na united over 2000 clans under his leadership into one massive mega clan. It is said he is out for revenge. Anyone guilty of dealing with Dai artifacts will feel their wrath. The Bassetts made a killing on Dai scrap, as you know, and he will need lots of raw materials for the Dai Factory Ships if he attacks the Union, which I am certain, is his next move."





Swift waved his hand.



" I actually heard the same rumor on Itheamh, the Bassetts have a defense alliance with the Togar and those cats aren't far from here. Togar do keep their contracts, their Queen is known for it."





Crimson placed a few Iridium coins on the table and said:



"I care not what you believe, but it would need more than two thirds of the Togar fleet to defeat 2000 Dai Clans and I doubt the Queen will make such an effort to defend such an unimportant partner as the Bassetts. I think Cam Elf-Na has the power to take on almost anyone in Freespace. No one is really safe. Not Sin 4, not Itheamh, not the Karthanians. It would take the reunification of all Oghar Kingdoms to stop him and that won't happen even if the Galaxy turns its spin; and if he moves across into Union Space he will cut a swath of destruction before the Union can stop him. In any case this area of space is soon to be too hot for any individual space ship."





With those words the Oghar Captain got up and left.





Swift said:



"I am heading for Sin 4. I got a hold full of loot and the pirate market there, is the best place to sell it. If you're heading that direction, Velvet, we could fly together. Two ships are safer than one."





I nodded in agreement.



"As a matter of fact, I am going that way too. So yes, it might be a good idea. I am leaving within the hour as well."





That suited me just fine and if everything went according to plan, he would arrive on Sin 4 inside my Cargo bay and inside a Zero Stasis Box if he was lucky.



The Pertharian cleaned the table of empty mugs and plates and pointed at the dead pirates.



"Do you want them or can I clean up?"





"No I have no need for bodies, what do I owe you for the clean-up."





"I sell their gear and whatever change and money they have on them will do for payment."





Swift stretched his arms.



"Well I am hungry too, but the stench of death soured my appetite, this asteroid has a few decent restaurants in the upper tier. This is where I am headed."





He gestured towards the Pertharian who loaded the dead onto a sturdy hover cart.



"Besides the next batch of Lum-Lums might be ala Thauran. Care to join me for dinner?"





"Maybe some other time. I have a ship to attend to, and I prefer the fair served in my galley over anyway,"





He laughed.



"You are lucky then. We take turns preparing meals on the Swift Profit and none of us is a gifted chef. This is the main reason I come here, to eat something that isn't raw or burned. What would I give for a decent food printer, an automated galley or a robo chef." He got up. "Well if you change your mind, I will be in the Harpir's Lion top tier. If not we will talk tomorrow when we leave for Sin 4."





--“”—





About twenty minutes after I too had left the tavern , I sat in my ready room and had a secure connection to Admiral McElligott and I finished my report saying.



"I have the crews of the Swift Profit and the rest of Bloom's crew all in security stasis. I had no problem taking the Swift Profit, and we destroyed the ship after stripping most of its valuables."



McElligott leaned back in his chair and in doing so allowed the visual sensors of his GalNet terminal to pick up more of his office. It was just another office, nothing elaborate or something you would expect the office of the Admiral of the Fleet to be. There were a few shelves with books. There was a strange triangular brass object on his desk and a few PDD's strewn around. He noticed me looking and said.



"This is a Sextant; it is a nautical instrument I had to learn to use when I was a Midshipman in his majesties Navy. King George that is, May he rest in Peace.”



 He then tabbed one of his PDD's.



”The information on Cam Elf-Na confirms a few other reports I have and we are moving assets in the area to respond quickly if he decides to do that.



If he attacks from that direction there we should be able to see that on our long range sensors and have an idea from where he might attack. The good thing is such a massive Dai fleet is hard to hide. The bad part is; it is a huge fleet by any standard.



I will be talking to Har-Hi's father right after we are done to see what he thinks we can do to prepare."





"I am sure Har-Hi will be glad to hear his father is consulted by you."



McElligott smiled.



"Kar-Hi is more than the leader of a new Union member. He is a direct advisor to me and Fleet Command. I consider him a friend and his advice is sound and tempered with wisdom and experience.”



He sighed.



“The advice of our other friend I am sure you can guess."





"I would not be able to guess the tactical and strategic decisions, Admiral Stahl might make, Sir."





"Tell me what you would do if you were me and faced with a possible Dai Incursion?"



I shrugged.



"I am barely getting used to be in command of a ship, Sir."



"Just humor me."



"Well I would issue a sector alert, move ten or fifteen Battle groups in the area and hide them in nearby star systems. Then I triple Gazelle and Specter patrols all along the border. Maybe have the Corps of Engineers beef up our outposts and every floating rock with Exo-Load Cannons and as much Loki Batteries as possible. I make sure the Devi and First Fleet is in the region as well. Certainly a group of Attikan Fast Battle ships to run first response would be a good idea too. Then spread a rumor of a juicy colony with lots of loot. After all this I'd let them come, close the back door and make sure there won't be any left to have similar ideas in the future."



The old man actually giggled and wiped a tear out of his eyes and said.



"Well other than the fact that he is a few thousand years older than you and that you now look quite delectable there isn't all that much difference in you two when it comes to such things. What you just said is more or less exactly  what he wants to do."



I was certain I had grown a few centimeters in my seat with the deep pride that filled my chest.



"Sir this is a great compliment indeed. I would not dream or dare to compare myself with Admiral Stahl, but if you see similarities then I am on the right track."



The eternal Soldier walked into the visual pick up.



"You certainly are, Son. Stay with Swift, clip his wings if you can. Also we would like to get more intel on Bhrama Port. We suspect them to be way more than a mining community . There is significant Union Mil Tech Smuggling traced to that region. Remember your bearded friend from  Richter 4?”





“Yes Sir, his pet almost killed me.”



“ We found evidence in his ship that what he dealt with the Bassetts. Whatever he managed to take from Richter 4 before you stopped him appears to have been delivered to that asteroid base.”











Now transmit your position and stop all engines and wait. The USS Shadowrunner will rendezvous with you and take those prisoners from you and bring you some supplies and an addition to your crew."I said." Done, we are stopping right now and coordinates are transmitted."McElligott blinked and said."Say, Captain Olafson would you not have to notify your helmsman and your Navigator?"I said."Sir, Narth has the Conn and I relayed my orders directly to him."





Stahl pointed at a readout in front of him."Coordinates received."





McElligott poured himself a glass of whiskey and snorted. "I should have known."





Stahl helped himself to a glass as well and said. "The Intel you gathered on the Nul situation is more serious and we are still analyzing it. Cooperation between Nul and Kermac would not be a good thing, but knowing about it is half the battle. We keep you posted if we get any additional information on that and of course do the same if you run across anything as usual."





"Yes, Sir of course."





Stahl put the whiskey down. "If you can, find out what it is that the Red Dragon and the Sinister Alliance are planning and if you can, find out the location of their secret meeting place. After that I think we can give you guys a break and you can come home to Richter Base and take that vacation we promised."





The USS Shadowrunner was just like the Chimera, a disguised ship. On the outside, an old Mega-Poodle operated by a privateer and on the inside, a state of the art Union ship. Just like a regular poodle, only three times as big and better armed, this Poodle had also bigger cargo holds. We transferred the pirate crews and much of the loot of the Swift Profit, as we hoped it could be returned to the families of the victims. In return we received our first Wolfcraft fighter. It was equipped with a smaller version of the Janus Device. Along with the Wolfcraft came a few crates of fresh food supplies. Not that we were anywhere near running out and we did have Molecular reconstitution systems that recycled 99.99% of our waste, but it was nice to have fresh things and a larger variety. I stood in the Cargo hold and talked to the Captain of the Shadowrunner who was from Holstein Planet. Holstein was close to Nilfeheim and it was nice to exchange some non-important local gossip. He had send over a crate of Holstein Pilsner, my favorite beer, and to the delight of our chef, a supply of Holstein butter. While I was standing there a large Battle Robot, bigger than a Fenris and more massive than a Cerberus, came over the freight tunnel that connected our ships and stomped towards me. The entire machine saluted and then remained in that position. Then a hatch on the at least three and a half meter tall machine opened and three hand sized men appeared, and they saluted again. I noticed they wore Union Black but I recognized them as Mini Terrans.





A magnifying field screen established between us and the man said. "Lieutenant Charles Bergdorf and two specialist of the New World Commonwealth reporting for Duty, Ma'am." Admiral Rutherford personally sends this Terror Mech. He thinks you might be able to use it and us."





"Welcome aboard then. I am delighted to have you aboard. Your machine looks impressive."





"Yes Ma'am it is the pinnacle of NWC technology and rivals one of our Battle ships fire power. It was conceived to answer possible invasions by large enemies and the Terror-Machine-Suit series is the latest. We have been briefed about the Tigershark's true mission and volunteered."





Har-Hi walked around the towering machine and said."If this thing equals the fire power of one of these spheres, then it exceeds a Fenris for sure."





Lt. Bergdorf said."It is also a full functioning space ship, capable of reaching destinations of over 500 light years. It maneuvers almost as good as a Wolfcraft and can operate in full robotic mode, but when I am connected to it, it can move like a human, picking up feathers, or crush steel."





I said. "I think this is a nice addition to our Marine detachment and Lt. Pure will get you situated."





Pure came and I filled him in and the three Mini Terrans returned inside their machine and followed the Attikan Marine.





I watched Sobody talking to Har-Hi and he repeated that strange move with his hand and' from Har-Hi's face, I could tell my Dai friend was deeply impressed.





I asked."How did you actually cut that Thauran?"





Sobody pushed the sleeve of his robe back and revealed a metal wrist band with a little hump and said. "This is a Monofilament whip. It shoots a strand of molecular thick Nonochronium metal wire. The thing is highly flexible and there is a little weight ball at the end. It is so thin it cuts through nearly everything and it can be electrified or heated to 4000 degrees if the cutting alone doesn't do the trick. It isn't useful against a fully armored person in a Union Battle suit, or against shields, but in close quarter or hand to hand situations it is deadly. It takes quite a bit of practice as it can be very dangerous to the user. It's a very old Golden weapon but I have thad his one now for a very long time and it turned out I am still good with it, I haven't used it in anger in almost 500 years, you know."





Har-Hi said."I need one of those. I think I could fit one above my dart launcher and below the bomb pellet dispenser."





Sobody smiled proudly. "This is a great compliment coming from a Dai. I have a spare one for sure and I'll show you how to use it, too." I said: "Above the dart launcher and below the bomb pellet dispenser. Are we talking about the arsenal you carry on one arm?"





Har-Hi shook his head. "No, only what I carry between wrist and elbow, I've got a bigger list if we talk about the whole arm."





I rolled my eyes and said: "Thor's Hammer, I had to ask!"





The Captain of the Shadowrunner handed me a PDD in clip board mode. "I think that is all. I got the sleeping beauties and the loot and you got the walking doll house complete with real life action figures."





I checked the list just flying over it with my eyes just because it was nice to do something that was fleet routine. Something normal captains would do every day. I loved our current mission, but once in a while I wished we could be a Union ship openly. I stopped and read over the list more carefully and then said to Har-Hi who was still next to me and said: "Say the Togar female isn't on this list. Aren't we transferring her too?"





Har-Hi said: "She is still at sick bay. Cateria hasn't released her."





I thanked the captain and wished him a good trip home. After our ships had separated and we were back on course to Sin 4, I went to our sickbay. I found it strange that the Togar female was still here; she didn't look that badly wounded and as far as I knew, Togar were biologically similar to many mammalian species. I also remembered Narth's ominous thoughts and wondered why he hadn't come back to me about it.





I never seen our sickbay other than during my first ship tour and looked forward to see Cateria in her element.





Out of thin air, Narth appeared next to me as I turned into the corridor of sickbay and he said: "Apologies, Captain. I have not updated you as I am still missing certain information I am not sure how to obtain."





I stopped and said:"What do you mean by that?"





"I mean I am morally hampered, it has partially to do with your sense of fairness and as I said the Hugavh share goes both ways."





"Narth, I am not complaining or expecting you to have all the answers for me all the time. I just think we are not the right environment for these human flesh eaters, and sending her along with the Shadowrunner would have been a good idea. However I am curious what my sense of fairness has to do with all of this." "You bought her, acting out of that very sense, and I must tell you that the Togar female was tortured and raped in the most horrible ways aboard that Pirate ship Her psychological condition is fragile and very difficult and Cateria is trying her best with old fashioned counseling and medication to help her. She didn't think having her treated like an enemy by uncaring Union authorities would be good."





What he said touched me somewhere deep. I remembered as Egill had transferred me somehow into the body of a female to teach me what hell could mean, and I had almost been raped by Harkun. I had not thought about this for a long time but now it returned as a vivid memory.





Narth nodded. "You see, all your past experiences have formed your personality and we shared this with the Hugavh. Now the Togar female has a mental shield, preventing me from probing deeper and finding out more details. I could easily break it of course, but I would basically commit the same crime on her again as these men did,"





He lowered his head. "With my increased understanding of human emotions, my own approach to things changes. I would have broken her shield without hesitation only a year ago."





"Narth, this is not a bad thing, it is what we call a conscience, and it tells us what is right and what is wrong above any laws or any rules. We humans can differentiate between good and evil, and this opens a whole can of worms on such subjects as ethics and religion."





"I am still at the beginning trying to understand all this, but I fail to see why opening a can of worms is of any significance to this discussion? I am certain we have no can of worms in our freight manifest."





"Go ask Shea about that one later. Let us check on the Togar and see if we can get her home somehow." "That is the problem I mentioned earlier." I went through the double doors of our sickbay. It had the symbol of Aesculapius over a six pointed star etched into semi transparent material. The lobby behind was white and blue and everything looked brand new and sparkling clean. Cateria wore a light blue and white coat and white pants. Her usually short cropped hair was now a little longer and gave her a somewhat gentler appearance. Her slight smile also helped."Hello Captain, what can I do for you? Is it an inspection, or are my services required? Back issues perhaps, walking day in and out in these murderous heels carrying that rack you decided to have must do a number on your back."





"No Cateria, my back is fine and I am not here for an inspection either. I am here to inquire about the Togar female."





Cateria lost her smile and said. "Her name is Jolaj Grotha and physically she is as good as new. She comes from a matriarchal society and has been raped not once but many times and not by members of her own kind but by aliens to her, whict makes it even worse. She is young, barely adult in her society, and she is also perhaps the most wanted person in the Togar Empire."





Narth said."That is what I meant, if the Togar Empire becomes aware that she is alive and aboard our ship, they will try to capture us and kill her."





I said gloomily: "I didn't make a big secret out of buying her either. In a Tavern of all places. Chances are the Togar already know we have her. What has she done?"





Narth said."That is the information I was unable to obtain."





Cateria said."All I know about the Togar society is what I could find on GalNet. I am trying to win her trust so she opens up on her own. Captain I simply could not release her. What would they have done to her on Union side? She doesn't belong there, they know as much about the Togar as I do, and she belongs to a society that eats humans. I asked Narth and the others not to mention her and I hoped you would forget her for a while." She looked at me intensely. "I know why you bought her. To impregnate her with a virus or something and make her the instrument of her own kind's demise, and half the ship agrees with your idea."





"I said what I said as I stood in a cargo hold with thousands of dead humans, slaughtered and butchered like Fangsnappers. I saw humans herded and separated in slave pens destined for the spits of Togar grills. So my general opinion of Togar society isn't very favorable, but I don't buy sentient beings for any purpose whatsoever. I bought her to get her out of the situation she was in. I wonder what what kind of monster you think I am?"





Cateria said. "I don't know you as well as the others do. I know you are fair and straight forward. I know I can trust you with my life and I am here because you showed me mercy, but I also remember how it is to be your enemy."





I didn't have any real response to that and said: "Well I am not going to kill her or kick her out, but I'd still like to know what we are going to do with her. She isn't a prisoner. Can I talk to her?"





Cateria shrugged. "I am not the best psychiatric expert and know next to nothing about Togar, so I guess you can."





I followed her into a well lit room with a bed with curtains on a window that simulated the view onto a green sun drenched meadow. There was a desk and a chair as well. The white Togar female was on the bed and she was restrained. Cateria answered my unspoken question. "Partially to prevent her from harming herself and partially because she is a Togar with very sharp claws and teeth. Neither I nor my staff have the desire to become patients."





The Togar was really pretty, looking almost like a human woman with a skintight white fur suit, if it wasn't for the four toed, claw like feet, the catlike face and the long tail. I wondered if the Pree or the UNI who supposedly seeded human life also seeded the Togar. She looked straight at the ceiling and did not move or react as we came in,





I said to Cateria."Deactivate her restraints."





"You think that is wise Captain?"





"Deactivate her restraints and leave me alone then. I don't think I am in danger."





She did and the restrains holding the Togar disappeared into the bed frame.





"Hi Jolaj, I am Freya and I am the Captain of this ship."





She did not move as she said."You bought me!"





"Only to get you away, we are on our way to Sin 4. I can even make a little side trip to Kaliment and you are free to go. You are not my property and you are not a prisoner."





"You can kill me if you want and you can use me."





"I killed the man named Bloom and his men are all going to be hanged for acts of Piracy." She moved her head for the first time and looked at me." You do not show your face, yet you are not pirates. The ship is old on the outside but inside like we think a Union ship might be. Why should I believe you?"





"You do not have to believe me. I am sorry for what happened to you, but I have a mission and a ship that comes first. I will instruct my Ships surgeon to do Psycho Surgery on you. Afterwards you will remember nothing. My ship's secret is safe, you will not remember any of the bad things and we let you go on Kaliment where you can reach the Togar side easily."





"Then you are a coward and let others do your killing for you. Why not kill me right away? Any Togar that helps me is automatically sentenced to death. Any Togar that kills me will gain great fortune with the Queen."





"What could you have done that is so terrible?" She turned her head away and said. "I was born."





"I can understand that you don't trust me or anyone for that matter and frankly, I don't trust you. I don't particularly like Togars, and I am not too fond of any species that buys and hunts my kind for food. But I hate unfair situations and yours is very unfair. So I am asking you, what is it you want?"





"Kill me, please, simply kill me and all the problems are gone. The pain I feel, the trouble I cause everything will be gone and you are rid of me as well."





Why I sat down and touched her hand. I was not sure, but her pain and sorrow I could almost physically feel. "Death comes to us all sooner or later; there is no need to seek it out."





She turned her head and I could see the pain and the shame she felt in her big green cat eyes.





Her fine whiskers quivered and I saw the fine fur underneath her big eyes was wet. "Just kill me, please!"





I touched her cheeks and said."No worries Jolaj, I give you my word I will find a solution and, while this is a war ship and we will be in dangerous situations , I promise you no one will ever hurt you again while you aboard this ship and under my care." I took her paw like hand in mine and squeezed it saying: "Do you believe that?"





Tears rolled down her cheeks and she nodded. "Yes, I believe you."





Again I was surprised by my own actions as I pulled the dangerous alien cat being close and hugged her and she started sobbing in a strange mix of animalistic and human noises. "I am sorry for everything. I didn't ask to be born you know. I didn't ask for white fur, I am sorry for being Togar and that I have eaten human. I am sorry for being female and making them…"





Her fur was at least as soft as that of the little Holdian commander. I did not understand everything she said as she switched between native Togar and Freeszone Squawk. Many of her words were swallowed between deep sobs, but I could feel her pain and hopelessness while I was holding her. I was suddenly reminded of Egill and could almost see him nodding with approval. I was certain I heard another voice say: "As long as he can feel compassion so strongly through the female persona I have given him, all hope is not lost."





For a brief moment I wondered about my own imagination but then was distracted by the white furred Togar I was still holding. She was crying softer now and I patted her back. I don't know how long I sat there holding the alien female, but then I noticed she had fallen asleep and I let her down, covered her and quietly left.





Cateria and Narth were there outside the door, but it was the Seenian CMO that spoke first: "She hasn't been able to sleep without sedation...I'm sorry for having misjudged you, Captain." (1)





I didn't get into that and said: "Don't restrain her any more and if she wants to get up and wander around, let her. Ship will keep an eye on her so she isn't wandering in restricted areas."





Cateria looked back through the door window and said:"I'll see to it, Captain."





Narth said: "I will attempt to learn more about the Togar and maybe I can find out why white fur would be of significance."





We had reached the Sin system and as always, I had us drop out of Quasi-space in the outmost regions of the star system. I said: "Maintain course to Sin 4, and steady as she goes. Mr. Shaka."





"Aye Captain, keeping it all well within the limits for a Kartanian."





"Elfi keep your ears open and record all comm traffic. Ship, help her please."





"Already on it, Captain, search patterns for Pirate name activity, Mil tech offers in effect." "Narth and Shea, make sure you don't use any active scanner beams we are not supposed to have."





"We adjusted our active Sensors to match our Disguise." Har-Hi handed me a PDD in clipboard mode and said: "Arrival at Sin 4 or not, it is 0900 Union time and that means you got to sign the daily order sheet, Moi Captain. Only with your signature can I process them."





"Where is Ms. O'Connells? Is that not her duty?"





"Her duty yes, but since you decided to pull two shifts and throw my carefully arranged shift schedule in chaos, she is off duty." I blinked guilty and said: "I just wanted to be on the bridge myself when we arrived. I somehow hoped never to set foot on Sin 4 again and yet here we are."





Shea sighed at that and said: "I can't help but think the same way, and this dirt ball is supposed to be my home."





I said. "Your home is where you make it and not where fate put you when you were born. At least we arrive in a nice ship this time, and at least I am not bound and can go to the bathroom anytime I want."





Everyone looked at me and I said: "Well the first time I arrived here I was bound and I needed to go to the bathroom real bad. It's not a story I should tell you all, but not being able to go can be real painful."





Har-Hi said: "No one is laughing, Captain. This makes your accomplishment to escape barefoot and without any resources even more amazing. You didn't go into great details when you told us how you escaped your tormentor, but I can imagine it was much more difficult than you let on."





"Maybe I'll tell you one day. Right now we've got a job to do and, as we are the first federation ship in this system, while we are here we might as well collect some data and upgrade our catalogs and information on this system."





The Golden One came onto the bridge and Ship said to me: "I asked Sobody to the bridge to help Elfi with the Comm traffic analysis."





"It's all good Ship. I think we can throw regulation 563.43 B out the window with many of the other regulations regarding proper bridge conduct. Besides you are not just the AI. You do carry rank and you are an Officer."





Sobody looked over to the busy science console and said: "Captain, we are supposed to be pirates! Pirates don't survey, measure and explore."





I smiled, answering: "Not to worry, Ancient Merchant. We won't launch any probes or send survey teams to the other planets."





Har Hi, who stood with crossed arms next to my seat watching the science crew do their job, turned to the Golden and said: "Even you might be surprised at the data we can collect just with our sensors. I doubt there is another species that elevated scientific sensor analysis to such a science as the Union."





Sobody agreed saying: "This is one of the reasons I am such a fan of the Terrans and the Union, Mr. Hi."





Shea looked at her readouts and reported: "None of the other planets are used or occupied as far as I can tell; there are no energy signatures or material concentrations that would suggest artificial manipulation or presence. Yet it appears that there are several candidates with promising mineral and metal riches."





Har-Hi said. "Crooks don't mine and those who do don't want to mine and have the fruits of their labor stolen or taken away. So I guess that is the reason no one is mining out here,"





She nodded and returned to looking at her read outs. I knew her well enough that I could tell by her body language she found something, so I asked: "Lt. Schwartz is there anything I should know about?"





"No Capitan it is not anything that would affect us or the mission in any way. The Sun is a Spectral Type O2 and..." She stopped in mid sentence and kept looking at her read outs. She turned: " It is my home system Captain but I never had the chance to scan our sun before. This star is unstable and I am running a simulation through Ship right now, and a Nova eruption is likely to occur within the next two or three hundred years."





I responded saying. "It won't affect our mission then because I hope we all will be somewhere else by then. Maybe the situation will have changed by then and the Wurgus Solar Engineers could stabilize that sun."





Narth was also busy on his console and said: "Captain, there is a lot of traffic in this system, and I am detecting weapon fire at nine different locations within the system. Mao analyzed the conflicts and concluded that none of the fights are connected."





Mao did not take his eyes off his read outs and confirmed what Narth had said: "Narth send me the scanner data but I can't see any correlation between any of these shoot outs. It appears no big ships are involved. Weapon energies exchanged are consistent with armed system shuttles and the like." Shea said: "That is normal. There is only one law here, the law of the stronger. There are always quarrels and fights anywhere on or around Sin 4"





I leaned back." Har Hi sound Battle stations anyway. I like to be ready."





"Aye Captain! General Quarters!"





We reached the Planet without any incidents and Shaka took us into a standard orbit around the Garden world that was known as SIN 4.





It had only two continents and several large islands. The rest was Ocean. Even from space the upper continent didn't look very inviting. It was gray and looked dirty. There was visible pollution oozing from one of the large islands in a gray smear across the greenish oceans.





"So how do we land?" I asked. "Did anyone hail us?" This question I directed to Elfi. The beautiful Saran woman answered: "There is lots of activity on all channels, but no one is taking any interest in us, Sir."





Narth checked his scanners and said: "No one has even noticed us."





Shea said: "We simply land. There are a few space ports but there is no active landing control. I suggest we land at the Gorotolah and expand if it is still there. It is the largest space port on the southern most edge of the Continent."





She waved her hands over the main viewer and magnified a section of the planet below and pointed at an area. I was certain it was the same spaceport I had been before, as it had the Ocean close by.





Shaka was under his Virtu Helmet but unlike most other Virtu Helmsmen he always paid attention to what happened on the bridge and participated in our conversations. He said: "I am on Ship vision and can see it and there are other ships as well."





I smiled at Shea and then said: "Shaka, take us down there and put us as far away from the other ships as possible. Mao, keep our shields active and Narth, double check the Janus system."





We landed on the same cracked and crumbling, Duro-Crete field I had been on before. I recognized the tall Duro-crete wall in the distance, but most of the Skeleton hand spider infested terminal was gone, and there was still a crater where the SII ship had blasted one of the Spaceports turrets away. To my utter surprise I recognized the now completely salvaged and butchered hulk of the Kartanian courier ship that I had arrived on Sin 4 not so long ago. It was nothing more than a twisted wreck, but I recognized its hull shape,





Nothing much had changed; there were the same garbage fires, piles of waste and filth.





Shaka took off his helmet and shook his head looking at the main viewer saying: "Good lord, what a dump. If this is such a lawless place, who actually build this spaceport? It looks it had been a well planned facility once."





I looked into the direction of our geek squad and said:"Good question."





It was Sobody who had the answer, as neither Shea nor Narth seemed to know. He said: "It is a little known side note of Galactic History. After the first signing, the Nioban did not want to have any more meetings on their world and the Big Four looked for another place where they could meet, sort of a neutral ground place. This planet was chosen, and the Kartanian, smelling the opportunity to do business with the Big Four, build this space port, the terminal and the original city. It never happened. The Nioban changed their mind and now everyone meets at Crossroads, a Nioban world, and not here. The Kartanian abandoned the world and, since it was in Freespace and had a city and space port for the taking, it didn't take long for pirates and similar vermin to find this place. Syndicate Families developed and it all turned into the Sin 4 we all know today."





Shea said: "Not that anyone had the right to take this world, as it has a sentient native population."





Elfi said: "Someone did notice us and we are being hailed."





I settled back down in my seat and put on my mask then said: "I am ready, put it on."





The being looked like an Oghar mixed with a Shiss and looked quite frightening. "We are calling the Silver Streak."





I said: "Looks like you got our attention. Speak up, what is it you want?"





"We know who you are, Captain Velvet, your reputation travels faster than your ship."





"Put it on."





"This is indeed Captain Black Velvet of the Silver Streak. Whom do I have the dubious honor to talk with?"





The answer came right away. The voice sounded rough and somewhat high pitched and I could hear other voices in the background. "Captain Velvet, you are talking to the Gorotolah Spaceport Protection Agency. We heard of you and your ship and we know you are a successful pirate. We are very happy you choose to land on our port. However this is a dangerous place and we can only guarantee your safety for 20,000 Polo coins, or goods of similar value. If you decide not to pay or to leave we are forced to use our DE guns on you. We have two large DE turrets aimed directly at you. You have exactly 20 minutes to comply. A group of our associates will approach in a floater and expect payment to be transferred."





Mao manipulated the main viewer and magnified a set of buildings across the landing field. Indeed there was a bunker like building with a force field surrounding it and a set of DE turrets on top aiming at us. Mao said. "Captain, those pea shooters won't even dent our armor without shields. They don't have anything big enough to put us in any real danger."





Har Hi agreed: "They are bluffing and hope we don't know, but there aren't any weapons big enough on a planet that could seriously harm a ship of our size, even if we really were a Kartanian Freighter with original shields. Any weapon big enough to could crack our shields would seriously damage a huge area around us. This isn't a Poodle." (2)





I nodded and said: "Elfi can you pinpoint the location of the transmission?"





She moved her hands over her console and responded: "Yes Captain I have localized it to that transmitter array over there."





I pointed at the turrets and said: "Mao, fire our simulated Froth Caster and place a 5 gram TL bomb right where that transmission originates. That should do as payment."





From the outside it looked as if our Nul turret fired, the Translocator load was invisible and undetectable.





The result was more than I expected. The 5 gram antimatter exploded and obliterated not only the bunker and the building with the transmitter but the entire building complex with a tremendous fire cloud.





Har-Hi coughed into his fist and rubbed his fingernails on his jacket. "I don't think this is what they had in mind when they asked for goods of similar value, Captain."





Shea shrugged. "I doubt anyone really will notice and expect others will take their place and try a similar scam."





I got up from the seat, and said: "Let's have a conference in the Den to figure out what we need to do and how we are going to do it."





Har-Hi was standing and said: "There are three reasons why we came here. Number one is to find the Terran weapons dealer and shut him down. Number two is to find out where the Sinister Alliance is meeting and what they are planning and number three on our list of things to do is to identify all pirates and freelancers that are on the wanted list of Union Police, with special focus on the Red Dragon."





Hans spread out a series of high resolution pictures of three space ships. "These are the ships that share the landing area with us right now. All three are operated by notorious outlaws and pirates. I prepared dossiers on each of them from the data we have available. As for the Mil-Tech dealer I would like to go into the city and gather some intel on that."





Hans managed to look embarrassed and said: "I am not on Sin 4 for the first time either and I have some contacts and a reputation here, even though I am supposed to be dead."





I said: "Not that I want to sound nosy or anything like that, but could you be a tad more specific?"





He looked down on the table surface and said. "Before I joined the Fleet I was fighting for money in one of the big Arenas here. Nothing to be proud of, but back then I was a young punk with no brain and an expensive taste."





"You?" Was all I could say. Hans was always so correct and straight.





He grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, me, I was known as the Terror Hammer and fought in the top league. I still have some connections here. Golden said he would come along as well."





"I can't simply allow you go outside Mr. Merchant. It is very dangerous out there and how would they react to the Merchant of Merchants being here?" He smiled and said: "You worry too much, Captain, Cateria will do some plastic surgery again and add the ugly branding of the Expelled on my head and besides even us Golden have a hard time to tell us apart. To any stranger we look very much alike." He then looked up to Hans and said: "I think I could help out there more than I can here. Sin 4 is a rotten place but it runs on money and business and that's what I know best."





I sighed: "You know how to make a point but be careful and stay with Hans."





Shea said: "I would like to go to the temple and get a few things."





"How will you get there safely?"





"I'll call the temple and have them pick me up."





Elfi was next and said: "Ship and I decoded a message send from one of the pirate ships out there. The ship identified as the Merchants Sorrow, commanded by Sodex the Wild, was contacted by the Red Dragon. The message tells Sodex that the Red Dragon will be here in seven days to participate in the semi-annual Pirates market."





I acknowledged her report and said to Hans and Sobody: "Well we are here for at least that long, so you may go and do your intel-gathering, but keep in touch and report as often as you can."





Sobody and Hans agreed to do that.





Now it was Narth who got up and I said to him: "Don't tell me you, too, have been on Sin 4 before as well."





He shook his shrouded head. "Not in a corporal sense, no, but I did share some of your experiences while you were here. I got up as it seems that's what everyone does when reporting. "I am addressing you in my capacity as OPS officer and it is part of my duty and my department to allocate resources and delegate projects. The OPS department is often called the XO's …"





I interrupted him: "Not that I mind a refresher course about what OPS is but I am sure you had another reason for getting up, right?" He said: "Oh yes, of course. I have a request from Ensign Dien Tallow."





I actually remembered the name from some list I signed or someone I greeted, so I said: "I think I heard the name and I believe it is someone in our science department. Is he from Sin 4?"





"No Captain, but as you correctly remembered, he is a member of our science department. He is quite a brilliant and talented Scientist with Sociology, Xeno Archeology, Biology, Microbiology and Xenoentomology as his main fields of expertise. He had an interesting proposal and suggestion."





Narth waved the man over. He was human and one of those who would not stand out in a crowd of one. He looked older than most Ensigns but then he had gone the Science Corps route and they often tended to be older. He saluted me and he managed to make a military greeting look shy and weak. I told him that no one had to salute here in the Pirate's Den and encouraged him to simply tell us his suggestion."





He said: "Captain, we are the first Union ship on Sin 4 and I heard we might have a few days time, so I would like to propose we survey the planet. I am aware of our mission but I think we can do it while hidden and not be obvious. The southern continent and some of the islands, and especially Trash Island, are of particular interest to me."





Yeoman O'Connell had appeared behind me in her usual quiet way and held a mug of coffee. I was so getting used to her punctuality that I grabbed the mug before I even acknowledged and thanked her. To the scientist I said: "I am not opposed to your idea, but we do have a cover to maintain."





He pointed to Cirruit and said: "Ma'am, the Chief Engineer and his team has modified one of our Armadillos to make it look old and non-Union. I studied as much about Sin 4 as I could find since it was a possibility that we would come here. Visiting Trash Island would be a highlight in my scientific career, Ma'am."





I sipped at m coffee and asked.:"Why is this island of such interest to you?"





"Unrestricted transfer of goods and life forms for almost 500 years from all regions of our galaxy must have created a very unique environment, especially in terms of vermin."





Shea agreed: "It sure would be an interesting expedition and no one but Skaakh and Stiks live on Trash Island."





I finished my coffee and said: "Alright, I approve it, but I better go along to make sure our science crew isn't overdoing things."





(1) Note: This is a Suggestion by Slivak. It was adopted into the story by the Author.

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