Next morning, after a short-lived breakfast, Ghethe remembered the night spent in Zelhane Ladies’ company and he felt very happy. It had been as in the good past days, when he was among his lost friends!
     He took the Laxa Cube and studied it carefully. It was an old model built by the Laxa manufacturers who had been famous, at some point into the past, for implementing a few commercial neurocontrol applications. The Cube appeared to be a one-piece metallic construction, a little smaller than half the size of Ghethe’s fist, having lots of enigmatic symbols engraved on the surface, but no visible components demarcation lines. He decided to take it for further analysis to Naiollah—the Self-Unit artificial intelligence spaceship assigned to assist him, as Imperial Chief Investigator of the Science Division.

     Naiollah was parked in a rented hangar outside the City, therefore it took Ghethe almost one local hour of driving his new transport vehicle to reach it. The ship was an exceptional design built to deceive any curious look. The hull was bent and oxidized all over, and it had the unimpressive shape of a three hundred i-std. years old, bulky, small interstellar cargo transporter. Its interior, however, was a completely different story, since it had so many advanced, highly specialized features, that Ghethe knew as a true fact that no other spaceship in Imperial Worlds was a match for her.

     When he entered the ship Ghethe asked Naiollah for report, and he was pleased to hear that nobody had been interested in the apparent pile of rusting metal. He went to the Laboratory. Ghethe decided to explore all possibilities, therefore to start with the simplest means of investigation, and then to use the more sophisticated, intrusive ones.
     First on his list was visual scanning under high magnification, then at maximum magnification—very close to the molecular level—but he couldn’t find what he was looking for: a “molecular zip”. He tried different frequencies for surface illumination, until he decided to measure the surface absorption of a particular infrared frequency, which he knew it would give some results. Next, he discovered the zip.
     Up to that point there was nothing unusual, because the zip was in the middle of the Cube where it should have been. Ghethe thought for some time, then he continued scanning. Soon, he discovered a second zip, close to one edge, and he was confident it was an addition to the original design. The first zip was a normal layer of roughly forty-five thousand molecules thick, while the second one was a very strange construction of only eighteen hundred!
     Ghethe used a “Molecular Bonds Disruptor” probe to open the zip. He had to increase the frequency, and then the intensity—almost close to liquefying the entire metallic alloy encasing the Cube—until he managed to separate the two sections. Next, he discovered in a tight-fitting slot a small, flat, blue synthetic crystal that had been used two hundred i-std. years before for storing data. He adjusted a data reader unit to match physical dimensions of the crystal, then he asked Naiollah to analyze it.

     It took Naiollah more than fifteen i-std. minutes of processing time—and Ghethe was thinking of what could be wrong with that crystal—before she reported, “Ghethe, the data crystal works with an old data format, and it is encrypted by a key using a specific genetic code sequence. I cannot read it now, Ghethe.”
     “Can you identify the genetic sequence used, Naiollah?”
     “No, Ghethe. It has vague traces of the basic genetic code usually found in the Lioth System, though most of it is particular to a family of individuals. I do not have a match for it in my database, Ghethe.
     I tried to extrapolate, but the bulk of the message is doubly encoded with a randomizing algorithm which has a ‘seed’ and a ‘pattern’ based on the same genetic sequence. It should take me over nine i-std. days to test all possible cases and to break the encryption, although it is possible I may discover additional encoding.
     I estimate about eighteen i-std. days of work at eighty-five parts per unit of my processing capacity to read the data. Do you want me to start, Ghethe?”
     “No, Naiollah. I think I know where we can find that particular genetic code sequence you mentioned.”
     He went to a comnode console and entered Ahlane’s code. After a short while she appeared on the three-dimensional projection. “Good morning, Ahlane. Did you sleep well?” asked Ghethe. Ahlane was very beautiful, and he felt sheer fulfilling pleasure in admiring her delicate face.
     “Good morning, Ghethe. Thank you. We both slept as never before,” answered Ahlane, then she gratified him with one of her brain-twisting smiles.
     “Ah, hmm . . . what would you Ladies say about a . . . a short flight travel?” asked Ghethe hesitantly, while making hard efforts to re-focus on the existing reality.
     “You have a spaceship, Ghethe?” asked Mlane excitedly from an additional comnode interface, and that forced Ahlane’s initial projection to reduce the image by half.
     He answered smiling kindly at her, “Good morning, Mlane. Yes, I have an old and rusty ship.”
     “How long do you estimate the travel will take?” inquired Ahlane with serious looks.
     “A few i-std. hours, and I intend to get something good for lunch. We should be back for dinner, at most.”
     “Oh, yes, it would be wonderful!” assured Mlane eagerly, and then Ahlane agreed smiling caringly, because seeing Mlane happy and enthusiastic was everything she ever wanted.
     He explained, “Your transporter, Ladies, has the location-code ‘Naiollah’: when you are ready, just select it. The drive should take about one local hour up to here.”
     “Well, it is going to take some time, Ghethe—” started Ahlane cautiously.
     He interrupted her with consideration, “There is absolutely no rush, Ahlane. Please, take all the time you need, Ladies.”

     He drove to a nearby shopping center and bought fruits, refreshing drinks and a few fast dishes, then he returned to Naiollah and asked her to exit the hangar. Ghethe used the remaining time to go over the supplies inventory with Naiollah’s assistance. It came out he had neglected her for some time, therefore he needed at least three local days of hard labor to restore her tanks and stores back to full capacity.
     The Ladies arrived when it was almost lunchtime. Mlane had her eyes filled with sparkles of anticipated thrills. “Wow, it is so beautiful!” she said admiring the ship, driven by a childish fantasy imagination. In reality, poor Naiollah appeared to be just ready to disintegrate while standing.
     “It looks rather old, Ghethe,” remarked Ahlane concerned. “Are you confident it is safe?”
     He replied, “It is very safe, Ahlane. Please come aboard, Ladies. I want to present Naiollah to you.”
     “Ooh, is Naiollah the name of your ship?” inquired Mlane highly surprised, with a gasp.
     “Yes, My Dear, and I am certain that you two are going to be very good friends,” replied Ghethe in a jokingly mysterious tone of voice.

     They entered the ship. The Ladies were impressed and also puzzled by the advanced technologies they discovered inside. In addition, everything was shining spotlessly clean!
     “Ghethe, your ship is more complex and more stylish than the Imperial House Spaceships,” concluded Ahlane pleasantly surprised.
     “I am certain she is not as luxurious, but she has many features that make her unique in the entire Empire,” said Ghethe proudly, then he added, “Naiollah, this is Ahlane Loh Zelhane, and you may call her Ahlane. Say hello to Naiollah, Ahlane, to help her identify you.”
     “Hello, Naiollah,” said Ahlane.
     “Hello, Ahlane. I am very glad to meet you.”
     Naiollah had the voice of a woman, low and soft, with very pleasing tone inflections. It was impossible not to listen to it very careful since it inspired relaxation, and a total trust. Ahlane thought with a bit of envy, “That is a ‘one-in-a-billion’ womanly voice!”
     “Naiollah, I present you Mlane Loh Zelhane, and you may call her Mlane. Say hello to Naiollah, Mlane,” invited Ghethe.
     “Hello, Naiollah.”
     “Hello, Mlane. I am very glad to meet you.”
     “With these simple introductions, Naiollah knows now that you are my friends, Ladies, therefore you shall be granted a restricted access to her features according to your friend status. Naiollah, Mlane and Ahlane will have your priority protection codes in order: zero and one. Change mine to two, please.”
     “Priority protection codes are changed, Ghethe.”
     “What was that, Ghethe?” whispered Mlane.
     He explained, “Ha, ha! You do not need to whisper, My Dear. Naiollah is very intelligent; actually, she is the most intelligent Self-Unit ever built on a spaceship, though she is also particularly discreet. You have total privacy in her care, Ladies.
     I told her to promote you to a protection priority code of zero, Mlane; Ahlane has one, and I have two now. In case there will be any danger, Naiollah can easily protect us according to our degrees of protection: zero is the highest.”
     “You made me the most protected person?” asked Mlane confused.
     “I think these are natural degrees of importance among us, My Dear. For Naiollah, however, it is a matter of predetermined logic priority. For us, her response is so fast that there should be only a few billion parts of one i-std. second between her actions, in a protective scenario,” continued Ghethe his explanations.
     “What kind of a protective scenario, Ghethe?” continued, in turn, Mlane with her endless curiosity.
     Ahlane interfered in a caring voice, “Oh, Mlane Dear, you will never end with your questions. You shall have plenty of time to study Naiollah in the future, but let Ghethe do what he intends to do now.”
     He said, “First of all, Ladies, I need genetic code samples from each of you, and I shall explain why later, while Naiollah does her job.”

     They went to the Laboratory, and he showed them what to do in order to let Naiollah read their genetic codes. When they were finished, he asked Naiollah to start the decryption of the data crystal, then he invited the Ladies to take seats in the Main Salon, in the “Command Post Area”.
     Ghethe said, “Naiollah, take us to the Recreational Park ‘Lightning Bowl’, and land us where I was last time.”
     “Oh, Ghethe, may I see the landscape, please?” asked Mlane with anticipation.
     “Of course, My Dear. Naiollah, show us the landscape.”
     Main Salon was a spacious compartment divided in three distinct areas. First was “Social Area” having comfortable lounges and seats around a long, low table. The “Dining Area” was the second, with high seats around a circular bar table, plus lots of kitchen facilities nearby. Next was the “Command Post Area” populated by six comfortable seats, specially designed for a complete body protection in case of emergency. The arrangement of the seats in Command Post Area was a slight semicircle facing the front of the ship, and the front wall, which could be made a wide holographic projection.
     In addition, on the surrounding walls there were numerous projections presenting the flight status, Naiollah’s relative position in space, the status of her tanks plus of many storage bunkers, the Planetary grounds and the surrounding celestial maps, E-Fields graphs and data, in addition to many other diverse technical information. Some controls were making strange and unexpected harmonious sounds which were rather disturbing to the Ladies, at first. Ghethe advised them to ignore those sounds because Naiollah took care of everything to function to perfection.

     They were watching the landscape running beneath so fast, on the huge three-dimensional projection, that Ahlane started feeling dizzy. She said, while covering the eyes with her hand, “Oh, turn it off, Ghethe. It is horrible!”
     “Naiollah, turn off landscape view. I am sorry, Ahlane. It is indeed not pleasing; it takes some time to get accustomed to it. The good part, Mlane, is that we shall get there in a few moments, and then you can see the real thing.”
     “Could you, please, make the projection smaller? I think it is easier to view it that way,” persisted Mlane.
     He explained amused by her thirst for observation, “Ha, ha! You can do it yourself, My Dear, because you have a visitor status to Naiollah. When you will learn more, I intend to give you both, Ladies, permissions to command the ship.”
     “Ah! Are we going to travel more, Ghethe?” asked Mlane with great anticipation.
     “I have no idea, My Dear. However, if we have to, we do have the means,” replied Ghethe, then he explained, “I invited you here, Ladies, because I worked on the Laxa Cube, and I discovered, hidden inside, a data crystal with the information encrypted by an algorithm based on a particular genetic code sequence.
     Naiollah, are the new genetic code samples a match for the encryption algorithm?”
     “Yes, Ghethe. Each of them is a perfect match. I shall finish the decryption of the data crystal shortly.”
     “Naiollah is incredibly intelligent. She is well aware when some data needs to be presented with a certain degree of abstraction, such as ‘shortly’, instead of a precise time interval.
     Now, the data crystal I discovered was locked within the metallic encasing of the Laxa Cube via a special molecular zip: a remarkable technical wonder even for our days! It was fairly difficult to detect and open it, and those facts made me believe the data crystal is indeed very important.”
     “I finished the decryption of the data crystal, Ghethe. Do you want to see the records, Ghethe?” asked Naiollah.
     “Not now, Naiollah. How long till we land?”
     “We shall land in three i-std. minutes, Ghethe.”
     “I suggest that we land and we have lunch, Ladies, and then we study the data. What do you say?”
     “I am very curious about that data, Ghethe. Don’t you want to see it before lunch?” asked Mlane in a persuasive attitude.
     “I think it is better if we do as Ghethe says, My Dear. Please be more patient,” tried Ahlane to calm Mlane’s eagerness.
     Ghethe explained in a caring tone of voice, “You see, Mlane, on that crystal may be very important data, or it may be nothing for us. In either case, it is reasonable to study that information in an orderly fashion. In other words, in good time.
     You and your sister have been stressed a little too much, during the past days, therefore you do need to take everything in small steps at a time. It was very important to find and to decrypt the crystal; however, for actually assimilating that data, we do have plenty of time.”
     “I cannot understand how you two manage to be that indifferent, because I am simply dying of curiosity!” confessed Mlane perplexed.
     He replied amused, “Ha, ha! Our moment of relaxation, Mlane, such as a pleasing lunch, is very important, My Dear, in order to prepare us for who knows what terrible things could be on that data crystal.”
     Shortly later Naiollah announced, “We are landed, Ghethe.”
     They went out of the ship, and Mlane discovered that the landscape was breathtaking! They were landed high up on a terrace and, far down ahead of them, they could see the green colors of the Kulwea Gulf. To the right and back were towered by the snowy crests of the Dolof chain of mountains, while on the left side there was an abrupt slope going far down to an endless plain, and to the Gulf. The specific beauty of that place was its height combined with the open space ahead, which incited a strange though a pleasing feeling, similar to flying through the white-brownish clouds.
     The terrace was covered in orange and red vegetation, small in height though thick and soft. From place to place there were scattered a few varieties of blue, green, and white flowers. The air was delightfully filled with the delicate scent of vaguely euphoric, wild flowers perfume, and there were many beautiful birds around making lots of appeasing chirrups. Overall, the place was comfortably warm, despite its high altitude.

     “Ah, it is so relaxing to rest your eyes on those distant places—Hey! I can see a small town down there,” announced Mlane happily while picking blue and white flowers in a small bunch.
     “We should better hurry, Ladies, because the weather changes here very fast, according to the tide created by the Ralaz satellite. I estimate we have about two local hours of good time before the storm should start,” advised Ghethe.
     The Ladies laid the table, then unpacked the dishes. They started having lunch.
     Ghethe explained, “It is interesting to watch from here the formation of the clouds, and the beginning of the storms in the Gulf. This place is known as the ‘Lightning Bowl’. I come here to relax, from time to time, though I do it not very often because Naiollah doesn’t like flying through lightning.”
     “Why? She could drop down?” asked Mlane alarmed.
     “Ha, ha! Oh, no, My Dear. The flashes of the lightning are particularly unpleasant to Naiollah. When she is landed, everything is fine because the electricity goes directly to the ground; when flying, however, her hull charges suddenly with a high electrostatic voltage, and that perturbs the fine, precise adjustments of some of her circuits.”
     “You should take better care of her, Ghethe. She is so oxidized, and it is bent all over,” noticed Ahlane in a reproachful tone of voice.
     They started with appetizers: two varieties of caviar mixed with spicy steamed vegetables, on top of deliciously marinated fish filets spread on newly baked cereal pastries.
     He explained, “She was built that way on purpose from the very beginning, Ahlane. Naiollah is almost brand new, only four i-std. years old. There is no oxidation on her hull: she only looks full of rust and abused in order to deceive. Naiollah was build to be the best ship, the pride of the Empire, because I was the Chief Investigator of the Science Division, and the Scientists used to build themselves some of the best ships—far better than the regular shipyard models.”
     “Look at those fantastic clouds!” cried Mlane enthusiastically while pointing her finger towards an interesting formation of brownish vapors trying to take a threatening shape far and above the Gulf.
     “I suspect we have about one and a half local hour until the storm should reach this place. However, it will pass fast,” assured Ghethe.
     “Was there much criminal activity among the Scientists?” asked Ahlane.
     He replied, “Yeah, there were rather many secrets leaks because the total number of the Scientists on the two Planets was great. However, the vast majority of them were just insignificant incidents.”
     They were having hot pie-bits filled with various assortments of mildly spiced meats or melted cheese. Ghethe opened a thermal flagon of a noble, green, Bontsuga wine.
     “How long did you live on Naxel?” asked Mlane.
     “I have been recruited when I was seven, then I was specially and continuously trained up to thirty-four. In the same time, I managed to study for three degrees in Physics, Biology, and Law.”
     “Trained in what, Ghethe?” inquired Ahlane.
     “Trained in mental abilities, Ahlane.”
     “Are you good?” asked Mlane doubtfully, while feeding a horde of very daring and very noisy, gray, small birds which were flocking to steal a peck from her hand.
     “I am the best one, My Dear, and this is the reason I was appointed Chief Investigator.”
     After a while, Mlane asked in a timid voice, “Did people hate you, Ghethe?”
     “Oh, Mlane, I worked undercover! Only the Council and a handful of people knew I was the Chief Investigator. The vast majority of the Scientists were very nice people; only a few of them went astray. I was asked to repair the damage and to wipe out those bad memories, so that the Scientists could go on with their lives, and with their work.”
     “We should better finish here,” advised Ahlane.
     Indeed, the bunch of threatening clouds was closing fast on their position. The rapid movement of the enormous volumes of clouds formed an amazing hypnotic spectacle, and Mlane came to understand the particular attraction of that special place.
     Each of them was enjoying a big slice of a volod-fruit—one of Mlane’s favorites because it was sour-sweet, very juicy, and wonderfully flavored!—while watching the approaching of the threatening, though still distant storm.
     They finished lunch and cleaned the place, then they went inside the ship. When they were all comfortably seated inside the Social Area, Ghethe asked Naiollah to present the decrypted data.
     It started with a recording of the Enlightened Emperor. He was a middle age man belonging to the Valdhul race from Planet Dene, with brown hair, tanned skin, and blue eyes. His face displayed a nice, intimate smile. The Emperor was dressed in casual clothes, and he was sitting at a spectacular desk, somewhere inside the Imperial Palace. His voice was of a medium tonality, slightly drawling—very much like Ahlane’s and Mlane’s!—and very pleasing. The recording was so good that all of them had the feeling the Great Emperor was right there, among them.

     “My dear children, if you are watching this, then our Empire is in a great danger. I am doing this recording because I worked with a strange alien man who was able to predict the future. Therefore, what I tell you now is based on what he told me that I need to do.
     That visionary person said that about two hundred i-std. years from this time a terrible disaster will strike the Empire. However you, my children, will be able to build a New Empire, different and stronger, with a little help from me.
     Another disaster, a lot more dangerous than the first one, is going to strike the New Empire after one hundred eighty i-std. years of its existence. At that time, the New Empire shall have to get help from alien people. Depending on how successfully the second disaster is going to be solved, there may be a long and prosperous period of peace in our Galaxy, or it could be . . . way too bad.
     Now, to help you pass the first crisis, I am going to leave you a nice little treasure which could ease, a little, the burden of building the New Empire. You will have to find it, therefore I shall attach detailed maps following this recording.
     You need to remember this, my dear children: as a critical requirement to successfully step over the second horrific disaster, you have to rebuild the Empire and make it different, so that it shall become stronger than ever.
     I am certain that you can discover the power to fight and to create within your minds, and in your souls, and I wish you very, very much good luck, my dear beloved children.

     The recording stopped with the Enlightened Emperor smiling kindly, then a set of images followed in a quick succession. Naiollah announced, “This is all the information on the data crystal, Ghethe. I shall divide it further into distinct, pertinent files.”
     They all remained silent for various reasons.
     After a while Mlane broke the silence in a sad voice, “It is so touching to hear him speak after so much time . . .”
     “Yes . . .” started Ahlane, though she could not finish her words because her eyes got filled with tears.
     Ghethe was thinking intensively over the information he had heard. He said, “This recording is particularly impressive, Ladies, due to the accuracy of the predictions. Since the first predicted crisis proved to be true, the prediction of the second crisis is also a great possibility.
     Moreover, in addition to being impressive, this message from the past is also imperative. It is not only a matter of restoring the Empire now; we have to pass this information further, so that our children should be well aware of the next disaster to come.”
     “Yes, Ghethe, you are right, and the time for indecision and doubt is over,” agreed Ahlane while wiping a rebel tear.
     “So! How do we start?” asked Mlane eagerly.
     Ghethe replied, “We should start with analyzing the data on the maps. Naiollah, show us the first map, please.”
     The first map was a large-scale view of the Empire in a holographic projection, with Stars colored in yellow and violet, as it was known during the glorious days of the Enlightened Emperor. According to Imperial Standard, the Systems identified to have good natural life-sustaining environments were marked in yellow, while the rest were violet in color. On average, inside the official Imperial Borders there was a proportion of twenty-seven to one in favor of the Systems that couldn't sustain life naturally.
     Ghethe thought that during the previous two hundred i-std. years there had been too feeble efforts to expand the Empire; therefore, the maps should still be accurate enough. He noticed a small light-blue arrow pointing somewhere towards periphery; he asked, “Naiollah, do you understand this map?”
     “Yes, Ghethe. It is old but accurate.”
     “Naiollah, enlarge the section with the arrow, please,” said Ghethe.
     The space sector containing the arrow filled their projection, and they could see nine yellow Stars and many violet ones. One Star was positioned astray from the main cluster: it was yellow, and it had the arrow pointed at its code name.
     Ghethe asked, “Do you recognize the Star the arrow is pointing at, Naiollah?”
     “Yes, Ghethe. It has a set of galactic coordinates, a code name, and a name: Dubar.”
     “Tell us something about Dubar, Naiollah.”
     “The Dubar Planetary System has twelve Planets. Only one Planet has good, natural living conditions: Dubar Four. A colony was founded on Dubar Four two hundred thirty-two i-std. years ago. However, following Emperor’s order, the Planet was abandoned only eleven i-std. years later.
     I have data about physics, chemistry, geography, flora, and fauna of the Planet, Ghethe. Please select.”
     “How far is Dubar traveling from Batlan, Naiollah?”
     “Please specify the cruising speed, Ghethe.”
     “Consider the legal cruising speed, Naiollah.”
     “Using the legal cruising speed of four points it shall take me a little over thirty-two i-std. days to reach Dubar, Ghethe.”
     He said, “Naiollah, show us the next map, please.”
     The new map was a slow rotating three-dimensional projection of Dubar Four. The Planet had a lot of orange and brown land, nice polar ice-caps, and a few patches of green water. The bluish arrow was pointing at a large continental mass, close to an interior sea, and it was accompanied by a set of Planetary coordinates.
     Ghethe said, “Next map, Naiollah.”
     The following map was an aerial three-dimensional view of eighteen, standard colonial dwelling buildings, plus many additional buildings having difficult to discern designations. The dwelling buildings had two levels, and they were arranged in three rows of six. The arrow was pointing at one building on the middle row, and to one side of that building.
     “Next map, Naiollah,” said Ghethe again.
     In the new projection they could see the view of an empty room having a rectangular metallic container positioned somewhere in the middle: the arrow was pointing at it.
     Ghethe noticed a few structural particularities of that room, and he concluded that there were sufficient clues to identify it later. He asked, “Is this one the last map, Naiollah?”
     “Yes, Ghethe.”
     “Well! Our treasure appears to be fairly small, Ladies,” observed Ghethe smiling very pleased, as he was anticipating an enchanting voyage in Ladies’ company.
     “What do you think the treasure consists of?” asked Mlane excitedly, also anticipating great adventures.
     “Based on its size, I think we deal with data, Mlane. The metallic container is used to protect some precious recordings,” explained Ghethe.
     “Is that a real treasure?” asked Mlane disbelievingly.
     “Oh, yes, My Dear, there is nothing more precious than data. A few bits of research data may have the value of an entire Planetary System, or even more.”
     That information was a little too extraordinary for Mlane. She asked in a lost voice, “How is that possible, Ghethe?”
     Ahlane interfered looking troubled, “Oh, Mlane, you have such a special gift of never ending with your questions and to divert the main topic. I have no doubts that we are going to see what the treasure consists of, when we get there. However, our current problem is if we have to go there and get that treasure, or not, and we should decide this right now.”
     “I say, we do need to collect that treasure, Ladies,” advised Ghethe.
     “Yes, we need to get it,” added Mlane in a voice adjusted to the responsibility of her vote.
     Ahlane concluded, “Then it is agreed: we shall attempt to find the treasure. How long is the voyage going to last, Ghethe? Sixty i-std. days?”
     “Oh no, My Dear; we have to be prepared for at least double that much.”
     “Why that long? Do you intend to stop on route?” asked Ahlane surprised.
     Ghethe explained with a permanent smile of satisfaction, “Yes, Ahlane. Interstellar travels are planned in advance, and we have to be very careful with our energy reserves. The strategy is, when we reach Dubar Four, our destination, we need to have sufficient energy to last for a direct return, in case of emergency. Consequently, we have to stop on our route to restore the energy batteries and other supplies, from time to time.
     In addition, we should consider the fact that we do not have the drive and the stamina of the first space explorers. Therefore, any travel longer than nine i-std. days is going to be rather difficult to experience for us.
     My intention, Ladies, is to make this trip as pleasing as possible. Also, if we have the chance, we could get some data about the initial requirements of building the New Empire. I am going to study the maps, during the next days, and then I shall pre-select a few Systems for refueling and rest.”
     “We do have a small problem, Ghethe,” started Ahlane troubled, then she continued after a brief pause, “because Mlane has to go for a reexamination.”
     “Ahlane!” whispered Mlane suddenly all blue, with innocent scared looks.
     Ghethe asked for details; he got them after long protests and confusing explanations coming from Mlane. He assured them, “I will take care of this minor problem, Ladies—please do not worry about it,” and then he explained, “During the next days we should prepare for our journey. I will see that Naiollah is fully supplied, technically, and ready for a long interstellar travel, and you, Ladies, should plan our food supplies and other necessities.”
     Ahlane wanted to inspect the ship, in order to get an idea of how difficult their life was going to be for the next one hundred twenty i-std. days. Ghethe asked Naiollah to perform quick, though thorough medical scans on the Ladies—which were mandatory for registering them as crew, therefore for being allowed to visit the ship in his absence. Once Naiollah finished with the registration procedures, he showed them how to find their way around.

     Apparently, Naiollah was built as a small interstellar cargo ship, and she even had a pseudo-cargo area, much reduced in size because a sophisticated Laboratory used most of the space. The general ship layout was composed of five suites, each having a small Social Room, one nice bedroom, and an ultramodern toilet enclosure. Next came the Main Salon. There was an additional, tiny Command Center for manual navigation—which had never been used—then came what was left of the cargo area fitted as physical training room, the Laboratory, and the engine compartments.
     In addition, there were many storage facilities for general utility stocks, for energy batteries and spare parts, for instrumentation and auxiliary equipment, for various foods and drinks, plus a few sealed strategic bunkers. Holographic three-dimensional images could be projected almost everywhere, and there were many comnode and controls interfaces to various local technological modules—when asked, however, Naiollah was able to take control over any auxiliary equipment.
     For entertainment, Naiollah had an enormous library of electronic books, documentaries, artistic productions, plus many others. Overall, Naiollah was a nice place to live in, since her interior architecture had been specifically designed for a maximum possible living space and comfort.
     Although the ship was almost brand new, and it had a sophisticated self cleaning-disinfection system, Ahlane decided that she and Mlane would start a thorough campaign of manual cleaning, in addition to bed linen replacement and to providing the food supplies.
     Ghethe asked Naiollah if the storm had passed. After hearing an affirmative answer, he told her to take them back.
     “What is your opinion, Ladies? Do you think that one hundred twenty i-std. days of living onboard Naiollah could be made agreeable? She is not a big ship but . . .” started Ghethe, then he paused looking timidly troubled.
     Ahlane replied, “Do not worry, Ghethe. I am confident we are going to live well onboard Naiollah. In addition, I intend to take a closer look into preparing Mlane for her next school year.”
     “Oh, Ahlane, you want to ruin all the beauty of this voyage!” protested Mlane while making a sweet displeased face.
     “You shall have plenty of time for everything, My Dear. If we study a little, this could make the long hours of the travel easier to pass,” explained Ahlane in a caring voice, which was her usual when she tried reasoning with Mlane.

     After landing, Ghethe proposed to stop at a small restaurant to have dinner. Later, they separated. Ghethe went on studying the navigation maps, and the Ladies to make their own plans for the days to come.

     When he reached home, Ghethe checked his comnode and discovered three messages left by the brave Sector Commissar Jolte Kolas. In the first one he said that his supervisor, the City Commissar Koptke Lavan, had ordered a total “day and night” surveillance status for Zelhane Ladies and for Ghethe. Next, Ghethe found out that his life was attentively investigated.
     In the last message, the Commissar warned that a terrible military officer was coming from outside the Batlan Federation to personally take control of the surveillance and investigation actions.



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