Anto Klarisen pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration as he sat in his room preparing for a crew meeting, something that his father had often done when he was upset. The pinching, not the preparing. He jerked his hand away from his face in startlement; he had hated when his father had done that. Anto stared at his hand curiously, then his thoughts returned to more serious things.
The interrogation with Tellorn had gone horribly. The Myren was untouchable; he refused to crack no matter what method Anto tried against him. Anto had even broken the Explorien code and tried torture. He was sure none of his comrades would report that violation of law, yet torture had gained him almost nothing. He had learned that the sho'gan vin was run by a council of thirteen, with a high leader guiding everything. Tellorn would feign ignorance whenever Anto went after more details, and when the blasted Myren got like that it was impossible to learn anything. When Anto had asked him about the engine modifications he and Yenne had made Tellorn would smile a smile that never touched his dead eyes and say ‘I would not blow up a ship with me aboard it, would I?'. Anto wished he was not going to be aboard the ship when it reached Velex. Too many awkward questions would be raised, and not just by the Exploriens they returned to. Which was why he intended to support David's idea in the crew meeting.
Three hours ago Anto had emerged from his room and seen David leaning against the wall in the hallway. After giving Tellorn into the Chrarkae's care, he sat besides his Terran friend and waited for David to speak. What he spoke of was an idea of what to do with their unwanted Myren visitor. Until now the only ideas had been Bantu insisting that they kill him and Shaylor saying the best thing to do was to bring him to trial. David's idea was ingenious, and it actually made sense, something David's ideas rarely made, if they ever had. The only difficulty was having it passed by majority vote, which Anto was unsure would happen. Bantu might vote against it out of spite, as unlikely as that seemed. Shaylor would probably think it inhumane, as if Tellorn deserved humanity. Yenne could go any way, which left he and David. Anto assumed that David would vote for his own idea, but he could be quite confusing at times. Anto added the final touches to his cadet uniform, and then marched down the metal hallway to the empty quarters. A Saucer Ship usually had a crew of six, but there was no medical officer among them. Anto just realized that it was awfully odd that the talents of the lost cadets were so perfectly spaced and even.
He was the last one to arrive in the cabin. David was standing against the far wall, Bantu sat on a stool acquired on Nu, and Shaylor and Yenne were sitting on the cover less bed. Yenne and Shaylor moved over so Anto could also sit on the bed, and is if on signal the meeting started with a long, awkward pause. A normal crew was supposed to work as a team, yet this was hardly what could be called a ‘normal' crew. The problem was that everyone in this room was unsure who to look to for leadership. In the escape from Nu, David had lead them will sureness and authority. During the problems with the Chrarkae, Anto had himself taken charge, then Yenne had. Everyone here was used to being led, and confused when a calm, friendly situation required leadership. Yenne coughed, and it was as if all the weight had shifted onto her shoulders. She looked around uncomfortably, then began to speak in a halting voice. "The engines, I can assure they are in the excellent conditions. Tellorn, he has left no unpleasant surprises." She finished as unsurely as she begun. Suddenly her bronze eyes lit up, and she found the perfect way to shift those watching eyes off of her, and onto Anto. "I believe Anto has further interrogated our prisoner, yes? Anto, what have you to report?"
Anto formulated what he was to say in a way to make it sound more. Finally he said, "Tellorn has told me something of the sho'gan vin. Apparently it is run by a council comprising of thirteen members, and is lead by a supreme leader. Tellorn also assures me that the engines are sound. He expects us to bring him with us." There. That sounded like more news then it was, and it neatly shifted the pressure off of him and onto David. His Terran friend looked at Anto, and his gaze practically shouted, "No, not yet!", but Anto nodded and smiled. David sighed, then stood free from the wall he had been leaning against, turned away from the group before he began, gazing out of the small window of the Medic's quarters into the black expanse of deep space, eternal black punctured by tiny pinpoints of starlight. He spoke as he looked out that window, giving a sense that he was the leader and that his suggestions had to be obeyed. If David had anything going for him, it was his stage presence and his flair for the dramatic. Anto found that fascinating; Velexians had no art, including theatre art.
"I have been thinking about what we can do with Tellorn. He deserves death, certainly, yet we cannot go back to the Exploriens with any blood on our hands, no matter who it belongs to. To bring him back for trial would be awkward at best; you all know what kind of questions would be asked, and that facts would be made public that cannot be made public, yet. So I have a simple solution. Who has Tellorn oppressed, practically ruined? The Chrarkae. We will give him to the Chrarkae, and they will do with him as they will." It was almost certain they would kill him, yet even if they did Tellorn's punishment would be sufficient. David paused as if for breath, yet Anto was sure that David was signaling his cue. Hoping he did not sound too false or squeaky clean, Anto spoke what he had been told to.
"I think it's a great idea!" Anto thought he was a little too enthusiastic in his delivery, but it could be excused. The others mulled thoughtfully.
Yenne was the first to speak. "I think it is a good idea, too. The more I think on it, the more I am liking it. Tellorn deserves it, it is saving us the problem of him, and it seems that even if the Exploriens, if they put him on trial, he will most likely be lot off scot free."
Shaylor disagreed. "I still think it is wrong to kill him. They only crime he has committed was control the Chrarkae, which we have also done, and attempted murder. There is no crime that results in a death penalty in the Explorien planets. A trial will put him away easily." Shaylor was well versed in law, since he had been planning to be a Communications officer.
Bantu was almost openly scornful, yet David was present, so he kept it in check. It was well to remember that he did not trust David fully. "Shaylor, you should know how awkward a trial would be, as well as how awkward transporting him to that trial will prove. What will we do on Ingor? Leave him in the hold while the dockworkers clean and repair StarRunner? I agree with David." He let none of the reluctance show in his voice, yet Anto was sure it was there inside of the tall, pale blue Krigoni.
The vote was almost unanimous, with Yenne, Anto, David, and Bantu voting ‘aye' with a grumpy Shaylor voting the single sulky ‘nay'. It was decided. When StarRunner and the Chrarkae fleet parted ways, the Chrarkae would be taking one Tellorn, Myren merchant, with them.
Bantu sat stiffly in his station on StarRunner's Control Center, alertly monitoring the condition of the ships computers while observing the others prepare to leave in their own ways. David was lounging in his station, legs put up over the edge of his computer, arms crossed behind head. His course was already plotted in; his work was done until they reached Ingor. Anto was half-heartedly watching his computer screen; he was monitoring the Chrarkae ships as they transported- apparently they had some sort of transporter technology - from the Engineer's Room to their ships. Yenne was supervising that activity, as well as watching Tellorn as he left StarRunner, for good Bantu hoped. The Aravillian woman walked into the Control Center even as he thought those thoughts, she held the now out-of- range del'aon in her hand, and took position at the Engineer's Outpost. Bantu did not like what the Myren sho'gan vin had called that device; he had told no one of its meaning, but it was a ku-pon phrase just like the word sho'gan vin. Shaylor sat working industriously at his COM computer, breaking off the streams of data linking StarRunner and the Chrarkae's flagship. They had decided against sending messages home, mainly because of the danger- surely the sho'gan vin would kill any family member or friend they told too much -and because of the awkwardness involved. Bantu was pleased with the young cadet; he had come to Bantu late yesterday and informed him that he would like to be further instructed in the culture of the Krigoni. Bantu's mind was a little more peaceful now that Shaylor was fulfilling his duties.
Bantu was jerked from his thoughts as Yenne spoke loudly to David. "David, make a portal to trans-space powerful enough for a StarCruiser, yet small enough just for us to slip through." She paused as David swung his feet down and punched a few keys on his NAV computer. "Good. Now, inch us towards the slipstream. Ok, freeze us at position 10900, 11890, 07436. Good, good. Now you are to be initializing the Freum drives, but increase the mix by .0064 %, Ok? This is the work of excellence, David. Now move us forward using the Freun drivers only. You are having this? Only use the Freun drivers." She paused as StarRunner moved into the roiling black of the slit in reality. Normally when a ship went into trans-space the viewscreen went blank; there was simply nothing to see in trans-space; light was one property that was also different there. Yenne looked increasingly uncomfortable. "Tellorn, he did not say to me anything else. Truly." All of a sudden, time seemed to stretch out, starting at one end of the Control Center and moving through the ship as if in a wave, engulfing a certain area of the Command Centre before moving on. When the wave of slowdown hit Bantu, it felt like a wall of boiling water had passed over him, but there was no sensation of pain or scalding. Just intense heat. He shivered as it passed him and went slowly through the wall. Normally you were only supposed to feel a slight tugging when you entered trans-space.
"Wait, wait Yenne. I think its working. We're in... a place like trans-space, but more so." He looked around at blank faces; only Yenne seemed to understand in the least. "You all have no understanding of physics at all, do you?" He muttered to the other three crew members. "I'll try to dumb it down." He laid his palm flat out, and gestured to it with his other hand. "Our reality." he moved his hand up about a foot and then down about two feet. "Other planes of existence." He moved his hand back up a foot to its original position. "We have no way of breaking completely free of our reality, but we can exit it partly, so we exist in both two and no realities at the same time." He sighed as he saw no light of knowledge flare in Shaylor's, Bantu's, and Anto's eyes. "Anyways, I think we are just taking that concept and inverting it, or perhaps just taking to its next level. If you can't follow my previous explanation, I won't bother with how this is possible. Just count yourself lucky that this works at all." David finished grumpily
Bantu was astounded that David was so knowledgeable; he had accounted the Terran just as someone with quick reflexes who could fly a ship really well. Of course he let none of it show. David just put his feet up again, and appeared to fall asleep right then and there.
Shaylor asked Yenne, "How long until we reach Ingor?"
Yenne looked at her computer quizzically, then said. "Five hours, I think. This, it is amazing. I do not know how anyone could imagine it, let alone design ways to achieve it."
Bantu set to work on something he thought they would need on Ingor, as everyone else seemed to relax and not think of the future. It was up to him to save the others from future trouble. Such is the duty of the Krigoni species.
David Morrison smiled exuberantly as he studied the meh'jihhn cards he held in his hands, and it was not just for the excellent play he was about to make. They were happily speeding towards real civilization, speeding towards friends, towards a place that would ensure an end to their dangers. Ingor was a highly civilized planet, the richest planet in the known Universe. For the past two hundred years Ingor had deftly treaded political currents and had traded with every faction in every war by remaining completely neutral. For two hundred years they had enjoyed the most fortuitous position in known space available, at the centre of a five rayed star of trade routes.
David looked around at the two other people playing with the cards he had bought on Nu. Shaylor and Anto sat cross-legged on the metal floor of the Control Center, studying their hands of cards. David was almost completely sure that the small pile of credits before the players would soon become his; so far he had won five credits from Anto and seven from Shaylor. Just as it was time to reveal his winning hand, Yenne spoke up. "We are approaching Ingor." She announced in her high pitched, clear voice. David frowned at the interruption, then set his face to ‘gloat'. He would win once again, he was sure. He prepared to slap down his cards, when Anto stood up and threw his down.
"I think its time we got to our station." The Velexian cadet suggested. Shaylor nodded almost eagerly, and he stood and threw his cards down. David frowned thoroughly at the cards his fellow cadets had revealed; he would have beaten each one of them easily; his hand was almost comically better. He gathered up the cards, stiffed them into their box, then stood and took his position as pilot.
Stars leapt into view on the view screen as StarRunnerstepped daintily out of... well, it was not trans-space, where ever it was. David brought the ship around deftly, and Ingor slowly became visible, a huge green, blue, yellow, white, and brown sphere with its two small moons blocking the view slightly. He maneuvered around the huge fleets of trade ships in orbit; Ingor had more then three hundred and eighty docking complexes, and each could take more then eighty ships, if they were small. Well, small as trading ships went; almost all of the ships around Ingor dwarfed StarRunner in the extreme.
As StarRunner entered the atmosphere and flew over the landscape of Ingor, David smiled as he eased up on the throttle and applied retro rockets. Despite the fact that he had slowed greatly, flying over a planet gave a feeling of speed that deep space piloting never could. He loved how everything blurred by, how difficult it seemed yet how easy low level flying was in comparison with space flying. It was especially nice how far they had to go; StarRunner had entered in the southern hemisphere, and they had to fly a great distance north and east to reach Lecel, the coolest city on Ingor. They were docking there as a kindness to Yenne. Ingor was one of the hottest inhabitated planets in the known Universe. Still, ocean and land blurred by all to quickly, and they were soon gliding slowly nearer to Lecel.
David gasped and almost lost control of the ship as he crested a mountain and saw the famed ‘Mirror Lake' of Lecel. A huge lake of a type of water was there, almost completely smooth, and shining in the light of Ingor's large, white sun. As the ship flew over it, David noticed the mirror image of StarRunner zoom across the lake. About a quarter the size of Terra's Mediterranean Sea, the lake was huge. David was especially careful to slow to a crawl as StarRunner approached the city, flying using only the hoverjets. There was a huge amount of air traffic over Lecel, Ingor's third largest city, and also the religious capital of the ancient religion of the Ingori. Shaylor put out a simple docking request, and they were replied with eleven answers, ranging from Audua's Docking/Trading Complex to Ikegeki's First Class SuperComplex. They decided on Audua's place, mainly because it was cheapest. They were planning to stay on Ingor for five days, and even with her rates it would cost them almost all they had, including the gifts from the Nu government. Of course, they had spent most of that on supplies and personal items already. David set the ship down on the north-western outskirts of the city, and immediately swarms of Ingori ran out towards StarRunner. David had a moment of worry as this happened. They had heard no news for three years, perhaps there was trouble on Ingor. But just as he thought this he also remembered how well Ingori cared for their guests; the Ingori were coming to clean and repair StarRunner. One of them even began to polish the view screen. David watched the creatures curiously. Last night he had read up on their culture, but they were not exactly as he had expected.
The Ingori were short, slight, orange skinned creatures with gleaming eyes that were vaguely cat-like. Their orange skin appeared very healthy, not like a tan or makeup. All of them had ridges running along their eyebrows, some were small and only set off their eyes, others had huge protrusions that were almost grotesque. David almost gasped once more at their hands. Ingori were the best craftspeople in the known Universe, and along with the Terrans they were the best musicians, or the only ones, really. What made their hands special was that they had four opposable digits, instead of the two that most aliens had. In the place of what David called his pinkie finger, they had another thumb. Trying to imagine how this would look last night, David had almost shuddered. He had expected something like a deformity, yet the Ingori's hands were elegant, and dextrous. The door of the ship beeped, and Bantu, the closest one to it, opened it cautiously. As the hiss of pressures equalizing abated, David saw who their visitor was. Draped in the white robes that about half the Ingori wore, she was beautiful, though too small and slight for David's tastes. Her eyes regarded them closely, and for a second they looked exactly like a cat's eyes. Then the illusion was gone, and they were only vaguely cat-like once more. "I am Audua of Lecel." She announced simply. She spoke in perfect Terran. "You are welcome to Lecel. You are welcome to Ingor."
The first thing Shaylor McConnor noticed when the door opened was a blast of oven-hot air. David had warned them that Ingor was a very hot planet. Then Shaylor saw who had walked in with the blast of superheated air. The white-robed woman who was now looking at them expectantly must be Audua herself. She was stunningly beautiful and, in Shaylor's eyes, exotic. But Shaylor knew nothing would come of any relationship with her; they would probably only meet once more, when it was time to leave, and even if they did not Shaylor was always shy around girls he liked. Still, she was the most beautiful person Shaylor had ever seen.
Yenne popped out of her seat, and launched into her pre-determined spiel. She had insisted on the right to be Captain. When Shaylor had asked her why, she had told him that everyone else knew so little of trading they would probably ruin it all. "I am the Captain of this trading ship, and I thank you for the welcome." That last little bit was not pre-determined. "We require shelter and repairs for our ship for the next five days. I believe this will be sufficient." The pile of credits Yenne handed the small Ingori woman clinked, and Shaylor almost winced. The prices Audua charged were considered cheap, but this just about broke them. Even the gift from the Nu government was almost all gone. Well, they had spent most of that on supplies and personal belongings. He hoped they would have enough money left over for a hotel. Yenne started for the door, but Audua, who was reading a computer pad, and inputting a record of this transaction, no doubt, put out an arm to bar her way. Yenne frowned at it, and tried to brush it aside. It did not budge. Yenne tried harder, then tried to appear as if she had not tried at all. Yenne was far from frail, and she should have been able to brush aside that arm easily.
Audua looked up at them, her eyes seeming exactly like a cats. Then illusion was gone once more and her eyes were only vaguely cat-like, glimmering like dark green polished stone. "I am sorry, but you have to fill out this customs form. None of you carry diseases? Kora fever? No one here has the Denep virus?" Yenne was busy staring at the form with a look of slowly spreading horror, so Shaylor answered for her.
"None of us are ill." He said. "Why do you ask?"
"New regulations came in last week, and medical matter are now part of customs." She grimaced, and looked pretty doing it. "I think the Lengrumi Collective Government is trying to choke off our trade with their bureaucracy, but I do agree with this latest measure."
Shaylor was glad that she seemed to like him. "You speak Terran very well."
He was surprised when Audua laughed, a... symmetrical sound. ‘You are returning from Nu, right? Then you don't know about these, I'd bet." She fingered something that Shaylor had taken for a pendant. "Instantaneous translations, ones that let you keep your own tone of voice. Great invention."
Shaylor smiled, and was prepared to deliver another comment when Yenne spoke up. "Um, this form, yes? We are not having the passport things, you are understanding this? The passports, they are the lost passports, yes? You are understanding? We have none of the things. That is..." Yenne trailed off, and said something in Aravillian that made Shaylor's eyebrows jump up. Yenne rarely cursed. Shaylor knew that she was in a lot of distress, else her accent would have been less. Yenne's accent was like a gauge of her mood; if she was preoccupied or agitated, it increased. Bantu stood up and walked to Yenne smoothly, yet quickly.
"We believed them lost on Nu, but yesterday I found them in storage. Here are our passports, Captain." He made a Trader's salute, then glided back to his post. Yenne handed them out with a grin. Passports were small cards with a black strip. Recorded there was everything that was publically known about you. Shaylor grinned at the small card Yenne gave to him. It said ‘Sendu Robertson' a ‘19-year old apprentice merchant'. Most everyone was grinning, and probably thanking Bantu to the heavens. Leave it to him to save them all from something they had failed to notice. Only David was frowning, and it was in a petty way. He probably disagreed with whatever was on his passport. All five of the cadets eagerly swept their cards, and recorded their point of origin, destination, and how long they intended to stay. Audua handed them a computer pad before they left.
"A map of the city." With one of her thumbs she pressed a button, while the other one held the pad steady. Her other hand was holding her transactions pad. "This is the nearest hotel, but for your price range..." she pressed another button. "I suggest here. The Lorol Mav, or "Dwelling of Moderate Happiness". If you need anything, contact me here. The Government has us doubling as tour guides. I do have one more question." Yenne looked impatient. "This ship is an Explorien ship. Very few traders get hold of them, and this one does not look too old. I want no trouble with the Explorien Planets. 70% of my profits come from there."
Yenne was slow in reply. "We bought it at an auction of surplus Explorien goods. A bargain. I am sure you know no respectable trader will pass up a bargain."
Audua nodded. "Please do not take my interest as nosiness. I know who pays my bills, and it's not the gossipers in the streetmarkets, right?" And with that, Audua left the ship, bright white robes swishing as she walked down the ramp. Before she reached the ground she began to shout out orders to the Ingori who had gathered before her. No doubt she was speaking in Ingori, yet Shaylor heard the words clearly in Terran. He was still amazed at this instantaneous translations.
As they climbed down themselves, the five cadets looked around. Audua's docking complex was on the outskirts of the city. Shaylor wanted to find out the news. After David had announced they would meet at Lorol Mav in three and a half hours, Shaylor departed for a street market. Before he leaved he looked at Yenne. Perhaps the heat- blistering for him - would overcome her. But Yenne was proudly marching, face forward, down the street. Towards a Ghenda, he hoped. It was well to remember that Yenne of Clan Valavan needed no one to hold her hand while crossing the street.
It was only about a ten minute walk to the nearest streetmarket. It was cramped with people shouting out their wares, in accents so varied that it made Shaylor's head spin. The translators must be new and expensive, he decided. After wincing at the price a young Ingori male gave for a newspad, he set off to hear the gossip. Maybe the House of Moderate Happiness would have televiewers. The first person he asked for the news was a plump Aravillian woman who told him that the old Explorien High Commander had died and a woman, Lako Oraine, had been raised in his place. A short Terrran woman with flame red hair told him with certainty that there was war on Velex, of all places. Shaylor heard from a Jaggonner, the rare traders, that there was trouble on Jagon. He clamped his mouth shut after saying that one fact, and looked sick to his stomach at revealing that much. Probably an uprising against the Metaijjer occupiers of Jagon. The Metaijjers had restricted the Jagonner's trade to Metaijjeria and Ingor. An Ingori whose cat-like eyes appeared shifty told him that there was trouble on Nu. Shaylor hoped that that was not them. A snake-like female Myren who was yelling out the virtues of her bakery told him that an epidemic of Kora fever had seized some colonies near the border with the Explorien Planets. A pasty white, frail Lengrumi said in the flat tones characteristic of their race that the Chrarkae had invaded Aravil. Shaylor did not even know how he knew of the Chrarkae. The rumors went on and on, and most of it was sensational trash. The Vorgon Empress had gone into hiding. The Myrens had launched an attack on Terra. The Rektullians wanted to separate from the Explorien Planets. The Metaijjers were planning ten different sinister plots. The Chrarkae were here; no they were on Nu; no it was Aravil they had attacked. There were too many rumors concerning Aravil for Shaylor's tastes. Finally he gave up and headed back towards the hotel after finding himself actually listening to a Krigoni telling him with dead certainty that there were strange shapes flying in the night above Lecel. He was in much poorer spirits then when he had arrived. He had learned nothing and gained a great deal more uncertainty, when he had already had enough for the rest of his life.