Ahlane woke up when she a felt a few drops of water on her face. She opened her eyes and saw Mlane, then Heile with a cup in her hand, both looking worriedly at her. She asked, “What happened?” then she remembered and her face turned pale. She asked again, “Where is Ghethe?” Nobody answered, and Ahlane understood: the fight had begun, and they were the first victims!
     She thought that it was up to her to take care of Mlane, and of Heile. She rose from the lounge she was laying on, then she said in a firm voice, “Ladies, we have to be brave. Tell me what happened, Heile.”
     “I do not remember much. We were in that perfume shop, then the clerk came with a small crystal container and three sample sticks. He invited us to sample the perfume, except that thing didn’t smell like a good quality perfume. Then I noticed three men of the Qual race coming from nowhere, and my intention was to call Ghethe.
     The next thing I remember is, I woke up in here, and you two were lying unconscious. I think we have been kidnapped, Ladies, and we are on a spaceship,” said Heile with frightened looks.
     “Yes—” started Ahlane, but she stopped for a while because she didn’t know what to say. She began speaking again trying to encourage the other two Ladies, although she was very scared herself, “Ghethe is going to come, and he shall rescue us, Ladies. Do not worry, he is incredibly powerful!”
     Moments later the entrance gate opened, then a medium height man dressed in a brown hooded robe came in. He addressed to Ahlane in a melodious voice, “Exactly, how powerful is Ghethe Dakka, Miss Zelhane?”
     “He told me to tell you that, if you touch us, he will kill you all in a terrible manner, regardless of how many and how strong you are,” said Ahlane, and she was surprised to discover that her voice was very firm and full of courage.
     “I have no doubts that he is capable of doing what you say, Miss. However, he may refrain from doing anything if it is that you shall get hurt. You see, Miss Zelhane, you are our shield; therefore, we are going to take very good care of you. Even more, maybe you will cooperate, and help us tame Mr. Dakka’s anger.
     Now, please be quiet for a few moments,” said the man. He came closer to Ahlane and remained there motionless. After a while he said, “Ah . . . ah . . . I shall come back later, Ladies,” then he went out in a rush.
     Ahlane went looking around. She noticed they were in a luxurious suite having three rooms, and one bedroom. The irony of their situation was, all the decorations on the walls surrounding them contained the symbols of the Imperial House Zelhane!

     Fleet Officers wearing imperial uniforms came later with lunch. Ahlane was well aware the Officers had military biochips implants, therefore they had no willpower of their own when they were on duty. The food was good, some even very good, but the Ladies were way too scared to appreciate it. They knew the kidnapping was connected to politics that time, and all the parties involved were fighting desperately for life, or death.
     The Ladies were completely isolated behind locked gates; they were guarded by armed sentinels outside the main entrance gate, and they had all communication facilities inside their suite disabled. The man in the hooded robe didn’t visit them again, and the Ladies had no knowledge of the passing time, except for the fact they had three meals per day. They started counting the breakfasts, in order to keep track of each passing day. At nighttime, all Ladies had nightmares. They slept all three in the same bed, close together, trying to protect and to inspire courage to one another.
     After a while, Ahlane asked herself why the hooded man did not return to them, because he appeared to be in a great conversational mood. She knew he had read her mind. Possibly, he had found out in there something that scared him away . . .
     “What could it be?” she thought.


M17-1     Great Hurda was undeniably very scared, because he had found out about Ghethe Dakka: the man was the very Chief Investigator of the Science Division! The strongest Investigator of the past Empire!
     He decided not to tell the others, for the time being, and he was analyzing his own chances of asking Ghethe for clemency. The bad part was, by being involved into the Nova action there was no way an Imperial Investigator would have forgiven him, even if he released the Zelhane sisters. On the other hand, if he continued with Guild’s plan there was a good chance they could eliminate Ghethe Dakka, and then they were free to do whatever they wanted throughout the ex-Imperial Worlds. That seemed to be the only way to save his life, and to win anything from that unfortunate political adventure, but the problem was how to kill Ghethe Dakka. He thought that the man could not be killed, and they were just prolonging their agony!
     The most important thing for him was the Zelhane sisters. He decided they should not be harmed regardless of the circumstances, because he had noticed the message Ghethe asked Ahlane to remember. That message was addressed to him and the others, and it came with the image of Ghethe’s face when he said those words.
     “What a horrible individual!” thought Great Hurda. It seemed to him that Ghethe’s face was the dreadful personification of the merciless and relentless IMPERIAL JUSTICE! Great Hurda contemplated the possibility to befriend the Ladies, but he dismissed that idea as being impossible, also due to the Nova job.
     That stupid Dr. Velkon told them about the powers of the Investigators only after the Nova. How idiotic of them to run after the Imperial Family who were just puppets in the hands of the Scientists, and to miss the most powerful Scientist of them all!
     He thought with bitterness, “Such a waste of a perfectly good Nova.
     Great Hurda concluded that he needed badly a prolonged relaxation stasis. Consequently, he started on a five i-std. days meditation program, following a special diet, to increase the power of his logic analysis.


M17-2     Ghethe was waiting, days and nights, mostly on Arpel access ramp and moving very little. He was dressed in his spacesuit armor, and he did not talk or eat for three local days. Petha was too scared to ask if he wanted anything; he was only monitoring Ghethe’s condition from distance. The fourth morning, Petha was relieved to discover Ghethe in the Main Salon eating, and watching the first Giola lights.
     “Are you all right, Ghethe?” asked Petha in a timid voice.
     “Yes, Petha. I am all right,” answered Ghethe. His voice was emotionless and calm, though it sounded to Petha as if it was masking a threatening, restrained power.
     “I am very glad you have something to eat . . . May I bring you the meals, from time to time?”
     “Yes, Petha. I have a lot of work to do . . . and watch for any messenger if I am not around.”
     “Ghethe . . . please tell me something,” said Petha, although he was very scared.
     “. . .”
     “What do those people want in exchange for the Ladies? Money?”
     “They want me, Petha.”
     “Oh . . . What are you going to do?” dared Petha to ask.
     “I wait for them to send the message, then I shall go there and I am going to bring the Ladies back. Then—” said Ghethe, but he did not finish his sentence. What was not said, however, seemed so menacing that Petha felt shudders of fear throughout his body. Ghethe continued, “You do not have to come with me, Petha. I shall take care of your sister, and I am certain that Ahlane also is taking good care of her—” Again, Ghethe did not finish his sentence; he turned and left for the Laboratory.

     Petha went to the nearest shopping center. He bought the best foods he found for a forty local days period hoping to determine Ghethe to become somewhat responsive to the daily activities. He started preparing the food for both of them, and he took great care that Ghethe had regular meals during that tense waiting episode.
     Most of the time Ghethe was waiting on Arpel’s access ramp, regardless if it was day or night, clear sky or rain. From time to time he went to the Laboratory and worked in there for hours. When he felt tired, Ghethe slept wherever he was: on the ramp, on the Laboratory bench, on the floor, on a seat, though never in his bed.
     Ghethe was waiting, frozen into the state of mind he had entered when the Ladies disappeared. The days and the nights had no meanings to him; they were only part of the waiting period, until the time would come to get his Ladies back. With each passing day, however, his face was changing, until it became so frightening that Petha could barely dare to look at him.


     Eleven i-std. days after abduction, “Majestic Lepeena” reached the Qual System, and then the satellite spaceport of the Qualosa Planet. The Ladies were invited to embark on a small transport ship. Together with Great Hurda, they landed on the Planet near one huge gate of the Suta Palace. Ahlane felt a shiver of fear when she saw the endless and enormous amalgam of buildings made of black polished rock. Later, the Ladies were escorted by Imperial Guards, by Suta Priests, and by Great Hurda himself down to a suite, deep inside the Suta Palace.
     The Ladies watched with frightened eyes at the gigantic architecture inside the Palace, and at the multitude of Imperial Guards, Qual soldiers, official civilians and Suta Priests mixing in a busy traffic inside. In the end, the Ladies were asked to enter a suite secured by a monstrous metallic gate; by complex automatic weapon systems; by sophisticated laboratory detection instrumentation; by many Imperial Guards in mobile nests provided with heavy artillery; and by heavily armed Suta Priests arranged in nine, close, circular rows around the gate . . .


M17-3     Great Hurda entered the Restricted Council Hall, then he took the long walk up to the Guild’s table where all the other members were waiting patiently for his arrival. When he reached the presiding place, Great Hurda said, “Gentlemen, I fulfilled my mission. The Zelhane sisters and a Company girl of theirs are here. However, I found out something greatly unpleasing to me, and I have no doubts that you will feel the same.” He paused for a few moments to acquire a better control of his voice.
     “What is it, Great Hurda? You want to boil us a little?” asked Mortek sarcastically.
     “Gentlemen, I know who is Ghethe Dakka,” continued Great Hurda, then he paused to observe the reaction of his partners.
     “Well, go ahead—” started Mortek, but he stopped short and discovered perplexed that he was incapable of producing any more sounds: he didn’t know how!
     “Who is Ghethe Dakka, Great Hurda?” asked Gray Master in a low, calm voice.
     “He is the Imperial Chief Investigator of the Science Division,” answered Great Hurda in a flat voice.
     “We are doomed!” exclaimed Dr. Velkon while turning very pale. He rose from his seat with erratic crisp movements, and scrambled away. The man was almost paralyzed with terror; he was thinking he should run somewhere very, very far away, where nobody would ever find him.
     “Doctor, come back and sit down, please. We need to analyze this situation with calm,” advised Great Hurda. Dr. Velkon continued departing in spasmodic teetering movements, as if he didn’t hear, therefore Great Hurda added, “Doctor, Ghethe Dakka is not here yet.”
     “I want nothing to do with this from now on. It is over for me,” said Dr. Velkon while struggling with uncertain steps. Next, he heard Gray Master’s soothing voice.
     “You will come back and sit down, Doctor, and you will forget about your plans. We are all going to listen to Great Hurda, and then we shall decide,” suggested Gray Master, then he watched Dr. Velkon executing his commands. He added in a relaxed voice, “Please continue, Great Hurda.”
     “Our situation is very dangerous, Gentlemen, and I strongly consider that we have only one viable solution: to kill Ghethe Dakka. However, our problem is if we have what it takes to kill that man. What do you know about the Chief Investigator, Dr. Velkon? Can we kill him?”
     Dembrah Velkon’s body was shaking uncontrollably of fear. He was terribly scared inside his soul, while he tried desperately to recover. He knew that fear and panic were no good for anything, therefore he brought back in his mind the old idea that maybe Gray Master, Shadow, and Great Hurda were strong enough to kill Ghethe Dakka. It was a possibility, maybe the best of all, therefore he decided to cooperate.
     His thoughts were erratic, and his voice was faint; he explained, “The Imperial Chief Investigator of the Science Division is a man unlike any other. To understand this, you should know that Ghethe Dakka got his position after a period of more than ninety i-std. years, during which the Imperial Council of the Scientists couldn’t find a person, strong enough and reliable enough . . . Given the gravity of our crime, I have no doubts that he will not end his punishment with our persons: that man is going to destroy your entire Civilization, and all your Alien Worlds . . .
     In order to become Chief Investigator, Ghethe Dakka has been subjected to a lifetime of scientific tests, training, and examinations, physical, mental, and logic. He was the highest level of power and justice in the past Empire; he was stronger than all other Investigators taken together; and he was more powerful than the Council itself . . .
     I remember well when I heard the news that the Council has nominated a Chief Investigator. Everybody said he was the best who ever existed. They gave him the code name ‘Mercy’ with the meaning, he is the merciless Instrument of Imperial Justice, and nobody has any chance against him—” Dr. Velkon stopped short in order to analyze the meaning of his own words. He couldn’t focus his mind on anything, then he remembered Hurda’s question. He continued, “As for your question, Great Hurda, if he can be killed, the answer is of course, yes, but the problem is, how?
     You see, Gentlemen, during imperial days the Chief Investigator was an unknown presence in order to protect his person. He can be killed, if he is not aware of the dangers or, possibly, by forces superior to his. However, if he is ready and well aware of the dangers, I do not believe there is anything that could kill him . . . unless we have indeed some strong forces, superior to his.” Dr. Velkon finished his words and he was still very scared, though he discovered a faint, unexplainable trace of hope inside his soul.
     Mortek was moving in his chair incapable of talking due to a mental block in his brain set there by Gray Master. They all ignored Mortek’s signals.
     Gray Master said, “Thank you, Dr. Velkon. Your presentation is impressive, but I would like you to be well aware that we do have those superior forces you have mentioned. Now, I am certain, Great Hurda, that you have analyzed this situation very well. Could you, please, share your insights with us?”
     Great Hurda started in a controlled, although very tired voice, “My conclusion is that we do not know if we can kill Ghethe Dakka, but we have no choice because the situation now is kill, or be killed. However, we do have a strong advantage on our side: the Zelhane sisters.
     My people on Thalo Three tell me that Ghethe Dakka does exactly what I told him to do, which is to wait at his ship for our message . . . Oh, I missed an important detail, Gentlemen: Ghethe Dakka has a new ship.”
     Gray Master rushed to ask, “Is the new ship better than the previous one?”
     “The ship Ghethe Dakka has now could arrive here from Thalo Three . . . in two or three i-std. hours,” answered Great Hurda, then he watched attentively the reaction of his partners.
     “Ah!” gasped Dr. Velkon.
     Even Gray Master slipped an alien exclamation of surprise, then he asked hastily, without his usual voice control, “Where is that ship coming from, Great Hurda?”
     “That, Gentlemen, is a very important detail. I studied the Zelhane sisters’ memories when they were asleep for many hours, until I pictured an interesting story. It appears the Enlightened Emperor has foreseen the actual crisis, two hundred i-std. years ago, therefore he left a treasure to Zelhane sisters, with the intention to help them rebuild the Empire—”
     “I shall kill them!” cried a distorted female voice in fierce anger, and they all could see a blurry shadow near one corner of the table.
     “Calm down, Shadow!” snapped Gray Master annoyed by her interruption.
     “You will do nothing of that sort or I shall LEAVE this association!” shouted Great Hurda furiously, then he struck the table hard with both his fists. Everybody present was stunned by his reaction.
     “Nobody is going to kill the Zelhane sisters, Great Hurda. Please, excuse this incident,” assured Gray Master perplexed.
     “Zelhane sisters are more important than OUR LIVES now! They are the only thing that stays between that terrible man and us. We need them to design a trap, to lure, AND TO DESTROY GHETHE DAKKA!” explained Great Hurda still very angry, and far away from any psychical control.
     “Of course, Great Hurda, we understand that perfectly well. I give you my word that nobody is going to touch the Zelhane sisters. You mentioned something about a treasure?” asked Gray Master trying to rebuild the group-analyzing atmosphere around the table.
     Great Hurda performed a quick, though powerful, “Yghe-Pashla” exercise for a few moments, to regain his lost psychical balance, and everybody watched his efforts in a perfect silence. Finally, he said, “Yes, the treasure . . . It contains data crystals with secret technologies, a few strange technical devices, and eight more ships like Arpel—the ship Ghethe Dakka has now.”

     Great Hurda had a permanent maddening fear inside his soul, since he had seen Ghethe Dakka’s face inside Ahlane’s memories, and he couldn’t make it go away in spite of all his efforts! That face had imprinted by itself into Hurda’s memories, and it came to him all the time: while he was thinking, mediating, and even when he was asleep—that face was watching, and WAITING!

     “EIGHT MORE!” exclaimed Gray Master, and he appeared to be deeply impressed by the news.
     “Eight, but each of them is a Self-Unit Intelligence, and they can be taken into ownership only by one of the Zelhane sisters, with their genetic code. Even worse, those ships are capable of detecting increased levels of mental activity,” explained Great Hurda in a displeased voice.
     “Then it is clear that we need at least one Zelhane sister when everything is over. Which of them has performed the first ownership procedure, Great Hurda?” asked Gray Master with great concentration, appearing he had completely lost the interest for his usual calm and detachment.
     “Ahlane. She is in love with Ghethe Dakka, and it seems that Ghethe Dakka loves her madly,” answered Great Hurda in a somber voice.
     “That one needs to be protected at any costs . . . and the others of course . . . for now,” said Gray Master thoughtfully.
     Great Hurda started talking nervously to Gray Master and, implicitly, to his sister, “The rules of the Guild are that all decisions are taken after discussions, and with a majority of votes. If you two want to break this Association—“
     Gray Master interrupted him, and from his voice it was obvious that he was very pleased and trustful, “I know the rules, Great Hurda: ‘our power comes from unity, and those who want to leave the Guild without permission shall have to die.
     However, we should be very happy, Great Hurda. You have brought us a wonderful gift, and we all have to thank you so much for that. Let’s go further, because I am certain you have a very good plan.”
     “Of course I have a plan, except I do not like it because it is based on brute force. However, given the existing situation, I doubt there is anything we could do better.
     My plan is this: we need to prepare a trap-room with everything that could kill—lasers, plasma, radiations, poison, energy inductors, explosives, and anything else we can think of. We call Ghethe Dakka here, then we put the Zelhane sisters inside that room. When Ghethe Dakka enters, we close the gates and we kill him. My analysis warns that we have to be extremely careful not to provoke Ghethe Dakka BEFORE he enters the trap-room, because he could turn towards us first—this alternative needs be avoided no matter what,” explained Great Hurda, and his voice sounded very tired.
     “I shall kill him!” cried Shadow furiously, and her shape was perfectly definite, although details were still fuzzy.
     “Then stay invisible in the trap room and do it!” advised Great Hurda with so much haste that it sounded more like a hidden wish.
     Gray Master objected, “Your plan has merits, Great Hurda, but I do not agree to using explosives. I need at least one of the Zelhane sisters: Ahlane.”
     “We need the Zelhane sisters perfectly untouched and unharmed in order to determine Ghethe Dakka to enter the trap. Then, the only thing I care is to have him killed. I do not need any ships or anything else,” explained Great Hurda nervously at first, then he ended his words in a total lack of interest.
     “I am sorry, Great Hurda, but I need those ships badly. Take it this way: after we finish with Ghethe Dakka, my sister and I shall leave peacefully the Guild, if I get the woman Ahlane,” proposed Gray Master.
     “Why are those ships that important to you?” asked Great Hurda suspiciously.
     Gray Master replied in a dreaming voice, “Aah . . . I intend to go someplace far, far away, and build myself a magnificent Empire . . .”
     Great Hurda explained with restrained fury, “Do you understand how risky this is? We deal here with the strongest power of the past Empire! If we miss this opportunity, nothing may save us from a complete disaster!”
     “We are going to take care of all details, Great Hurda, and even my sister shall be in the trap-room. She will try to end all our problems, although it is possible she could die.
     Now, considering the worst case scenario, if Ghethe Dakka proves that we cannot kill him with technological means . . . and if my sister dies . . . then, the women may be connected to explosives and detonated,” agreed Gray Master.
     “Good; then we have an agreement. We need to start working as fast as possible to prepare our plan, because I cannot predict for how long Ghethe Dakka would continue waiting for our message. Eighteen Qualosa days from now, Gentlemen, we could be the only powers left to rule these Worlds,” said Great Hurda in a voice intended to be full of trust. Deep inside his soul, however, there was still a lot of doubt and way too many fears.
     “What do you say, Dr. Velkon?” asked Gray Master in a respectful voice.
     “I think we cannot kill Ghethe Dakka with technologies because he has the best of them, and he will be expecting to whatever you can think of,” answered Dr. Velkon apathetically.
     “Well then, if we cannot kill Ghethe Dakka with technologies, I shall face him alone, with my mental powers, and I shall defeat him because I am thousand times stronger than he is,” said Gray Master in a calm low voice, and everybody present felt great relief to hear his assurance.
     “Under these circumstances, I agree with the plan, Gentlemen,” replied Dr. Velkon.
     “I shall kill him!” cried the invisible woman ferociously.
     “Commander, you may speak your opinion,” said Gray Master.
     “I agree to the plan,” replied Mortek cautiously. All he needed was to lie low and wait for the proper moment, because it was clear to him that the end of Qualosa Guild was near.
     “This time we have a total agreement, Gentlemen, and I say, this is a very good omen. We shall kill Ghethe Dakka as proposed by Great Hurda,” concluded Gray Master in such a calm perfect voice, that Great Hurda couldn’t help but to admire.



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