The wonderful days of resting in bed and having one or both Ladies around started again for Ghethe. That time it was even more pleasing than before, since the Ladies were smiling intimately at him, and they appeared to be a lot more caring. He thought that it was, probably, his imagination of seeing things nicer than they really were, because he had been terribly scared when he realized he lost them—he had been madly scared to death!

     “I cannot understand how you managed to do this, Ghethe: you spent most of this voyage sick in bed! You do that on purpose? You like to see us doing nothing else but caring for you permanently?” asked Ahlane smiling sweetly, in a pretended revolted attitude. She kept busy tidying things in his suite, while watching him.
     “I have no idea, My Dear. Now that I think about it, it seems, indeed, very strange. Maybe I am ridden by bad luck . . . No, I was very lucky each time, because it could have been a lot worse . . . Yes . . . I believe, Ahlane, I am ridden by good luck,” replied Ghethe, and he ended happily his short analysis.
     “With some more ‘good luck’ like that you are going to end up being a permanent invalid, and we shall have to take care of you for the rest of your natural days,” replied Ahlane ironically.
     “Aah, you made it sound so tempting, Ahlane—” started Ghethe with a delighted smile on his face.
     She interrupted him with a beginning of true irritation, “Oh, don’t even think of it, Ghethe Dakka! You have promised to me once that you will be very careful!”
     He explained defensively, “Please, believe me, Ahlane: I tried really hard, but all those troubles came to me totally uninvited.”
     She started in a restrained calm voice, “Could you, please, do a favor for me, Ghethe?”
     He answered quickly, with great anticipation, “Of course, My Dear; anything you want!”
     “Could you, please, take MORE CARE OF YOURSELF?” continued Ahlane, except her voice sounded rather angry during the last words.
     “Aah . . . Yes, I will, Ahlane,” promised Ghethe with veiled disappointment.
     “You told me your armor has a plasma shield; how did you manage to get injured by plasma?” inquired Ahlane, still angry and looking straight into his eyes.
     “Oh . . . In the heat of the moment . . . I forgot to turn it to full power,” explained Ghethe troubled.
     “You forgot! Well, I can only hope you will remember it next time.”
     She was so beautiful when she was angry that Ghethe couldn’t take his eyes away from her face. He managed to articulate in an anemic voice, “Yes, Ahlane.”
     After a while, she asked, “What I do not understand is, how did you continue using your arm after being so badly injured?”
     “Ha, ha! Yeaah! You see, My Dear, when the body sensors, the pain nerves, connect to the brain, they pass through a nervous net of a special type. That net is capable of suppressing any pain, when it receives a higher priority command.
     Everybody has it, and you would feel absolutely nothing, My Dear, even if your arm is ripped away,” started Ghethe enthusiastically. He thought for a moment of the words he had said, and he did not like them at all; he shivered, then continued in a serious voice, “In addition, I can control all nervous paths in my body. To me, it was nothing to suppress the pain.”
     “It was very brave what you did there, Ghethe,” said Ahlane in a sweet voice and watching him with tender looks.
     “To be honest with you, My Dear, the only thing that relaxes me when I think of that nightmarish episode is the fact that you were not hurt,” confessed Ghethe with a shy smile.
     “You are a true Gentleman, Ghethe—” started Ahlane.
     He interrupted her, “No, Ahlane, it had nothing to do with being a Gentleman. I felt in those moments that you are my family, and I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you, or to see one of you hurt.”
     Ghethe said the words a bit annoyed, and Ahlane saw from his face mimic that he was sincere. She smiled caringly at him, then said, “We owe you our lives, Ghethe.”
     “Let’s not talk about it, Ahlane. It was only a bad dream,” replied Ghethe troubled.


M9-1     Naiollah announced them when she reached the point marked in orange on her celestial map, then she started increasing the speed to maximum. Almost as soon as she finished accelerating, she let them know that the ships following them were out of her scanning range.
     “Naiollah, how long will it take to reach Dubar?” asked Mlane.
     “We shall reach Dubar in three i-std. days, Mlane.”
     “Oh, so fast?” asked Mlane pleasingly surprised while twisting to look at Ghethe.
     “Yes, My Dear. Naiollah is traveling now at its maximum speed, which is five times faster than previously,” explained Ghethe. He was out of the bed and roaming around with not much to do, because Ahlane had relaxed, a little, her strict program concerning his person. He was hovering around one or the other Lady, bugging them, while Mlane was studying for her next year Social Mathematics and Ahlane kept busy cleaning and tidying throughout the ship.
     “Hey, Ghethe! Don’t you have anything to do?” asked Ahlane as she passed by and saw him talking to Mlane.”
     “Do you need help, Ahlane?” asked Ghethe in response, with lots of hopes in his looks and eager to jump.
     “No, thank you. I am confident you have repaired those spacesuits—”
     “I was just about to,” interrupted Ghethe promptly, with the inspiration of the moment.
     “Good. Take your time, please, and make sure you do a good job,” recommended Ahlane.

     Ghethe went to the Laboratory, then he started working patiently on the spacesuits. They were extremely important, therefore the repair job needed to be accomplished with the utmost care.
     Each of the Ladies’ spacesuits had only five tiny punctures, and that was easy to fix. Besides, he had three more brand-new spacesuits for them. He checked each suit a few times after repairs, to make certain that all the systems worked perfectly well under the maximum strain, exactly as they were supposed to do it. Next, he went working patiently on his own gear.
     The problems were far more complex with his armor; consequently, it required two long and difficult i-std. days of troubleshooting work. Luckily, the spacesuit had molecular zips which allowed for large sections to be replaced, but he had to repair some of the armor’s delicate optic nets, electric circuitry, high pressure hydraulic channels, valves, a few actuators, various sensors, a few intelligent nodes, and three generator modules.
     Ghethe tested the suit and the armor several times, after repairs, and he ended up well satisfied with the results. He remembered Ahlane’s words, therefore he changed the automatic alarm program to include instant maximum setting of the laser and plasma shield, although that meant increased power consumption.
     Once he finished the work, Ahlane told him to start studying the astral maps, then to come back to her with at least three interesting options regarding the intended holiday Planet.


M9-2     Space Commander class seventeen Verda Senar was frozen with his mouth open, with a hot piece of mushrooms and cheese pie in one hand, and with a thermal quarter-flagon of strong Surtbat kort-drink into the other. He was looking at the array of consoles, towards the long-range scan projections, and he couldn’t believe his eyes: the lousy wreck they had been following for so long was accelerating towards an impossible speed! All the preset alarms were ringing, and he was close to losing it!
     Verda abandoned the estranged piece of pie, then he raised the acceleration at maximum, although he had no hopes to catch up with the wreck. On his instruments, the speed of the wreck was over fifteen points, with a strong acceleration vector, while he could squeeze out of his ship—a last imperial model of an Interceptor-Proctor class—only twelve and twenty-three points!
     His mind was working frantically trying to guess the vector of the target. There were three populated Systems ahead, each at about seven and a half light years away, but the problem was, which one of them? He watched with a stopped heart how the white dot of the target exited the green field of the long-range scan at seventeen and zero nine points speed, still accelerating!
     Verda thought he had to come up with something intelligent. He stashed away the kort-drink flagon, and the rest of his ruined snack, then he called the companion ship. “Red Dot fifteen to Blue Dot thirty-seven: do you read me?”
     “Blue Dot thirty-seven reporting: I read you, Commander,” answered Space Commander Baltok Havadel class thirteen who appeared to be also deeply surprised by the incident, as he had very red cheeks and unfocused looks.
     “Do you have the target, Blue Dot?” inquired Verda.
     “Negative, Sir. The target is gone,” answered Commander Havadel troubled, while making hard efforts to stop a terrible blow of nasty kort-drink gases coming back from his belly.
     Verda continued questioning, “Do you have the vector of the target, Blue Dot?”
     “Negative,” reported Commander Havadel with tears in his eyes, feeling he was under high pressure.
     “Blue Dot, return to Base Color and report. I continue the pursuit,” ordered Verda while thinking that it was a good strategy to demonstrate perseverance. Maybe, he was going to be lucky; otherwise . . . it was impossible he wouldn’t come up with something smart.
     “Ye—” managed Commander Havadel, then he quickly severed the comnode connection in order to let that awesome pressure out.


M9-3     Space Commander class twenty-five Bolan Motela could not believe the report he had just received: the target was gone!
     “Repeat Blue Dot thirty-seven: what was the speed of the target?”
     “Sir, the speed of the target has been measured at seventeen and zero nine points, with an acceleration vector of zero and sixty-eight,” reported Commander Havadel.
     “Blue Dot, do you realize that is impossible? No ship makes seventeen points. Besides, the target is a terrible wreck!” tried Bolan to reason with Commander Havadel.
     “With all due respect, Sir, I heard rumors that a few experimental ships have reached sixteen points,” replied Commander Havadel.
     “I heard them myself, Commander, but I have never seen more than fifteen points in my entire life—and I’ve seen more ships than you shall ever dream about it!”
     “We are waiting for your orders, Sir,” announced Commander Havadel stiffly, in a perfect attention position.
     “Search for the damn wreck, Commander, and do not come back to me without a target and a vector!” ordered Bolan angrily, then he closed the comnode connection.

     That incident had to be reported to the Suta Priest, and Bolan felt that an evil claw with sharp talons was resting on his back. He hated the Suta Priest because he was of the Qual race, in the first place; secondly, the Priest was very rude and terribly arrogant. If it weren’t for the strict orders he had received from the High Command, Bolan would have gladly arranged for a swift space disposal.
     He knew the Priest was “space-sick”, and was drinking heavily strong liquors in order to drive his fears away. That practice was totally inappropriate, even dangerous for people in high command positions, and it gave the Priest an ill-mannered and unstable temper. Rumors went that the Suta Priests had mental powers, and they could take control of people’s will, although Bolan had never seen any proof of that. However, the possibility was greatly unsettling.

     Bolan punched the comnode code, then he waited for the answer. The Suta Priest was wearing his usual brown robe, therefore his face was well hidden under the big hood. Only his voice—scratchy and having a repulsive accent—could be used as an indication about the owner’s actual mental state.
     “Excuse me, Your Excellency, an embarrassing incident happened,” announced Bolan over the comnode.
     “What?” asked the Suta Priest in a bad disposition.
     “The target is gone,” declared Bolan.
     “What!” asked the Suta Priest highly surprised.
     “The target is gone,” repeated Bolan.
     “I heard you the first time, idiot! What do you mean by ‘gone’? Did it explode?” asked the Suta Priest nervously.
     It was difficult to swallow that insult to Bolan; luckily, he was alone in his office. He replied in a dry voice, “I am sorry, Your Excellency. The target has accelerated to an incredible speed, and it is out of our scanning range.”
     “What IS an incredible speed?” asked the Suta Priest appearing to be either terribly bored, or lethally ill.
     “Seventeen points,” answered Bolan, and he also started feeling sick continuing that conversation.
     Highly surprised, the Priest argued, “Seventeen points! No ship makes seventeen points! Were your people drinking, Commander?”
     Bolan felt very good he had managed to shake the Priest. He answered in a stiff attitude, “No, Your Excellency. My people do not drink, and the reported speed has been recorded by instruments.”
     “Seventeen points! We need to capture that ship, Commander . . .” said the Suta Priest in a thoughtful voice.
     “Yes, but . . . how, Your Excellency?” asked Bolan hesitantly.
     “Never mind that. What are you going to do now, Commander?” inquired the Suta Priest.
     “I am waiting for your orders,” replied Bolan.
     “My orders! You have no idea of your own?” asked the Suta Priest with both disbelief and dislike.
     “Your Excellency, I have been instructed to comply with your orders,” answered Bolan professionally.
     “Oh, very well. Aah . . . we need more clues . . . Where did they stop last time?”
     “They stopped for about five i-std. hours in Kalanda City, Horje System, Your Excellency.”
     “Then, take us there, Commander, AND BRING ME CLUES!” ordered the Suta Priest in an angry voice.
     “Yes, Your Excellency.”


M9-4     Commander Bolan Motela had the feeling he had entered the realm of sheer fantasy. What he heard from Mr. Fujia Hata, the Representative of Kalanda City, and the images he had seen, were even more impossible than the story with the wreck-ship flying at seventeen points! Noo, he had no intention of taking any responsibility for all those fancy juggleries.
     “Excuse me, Your Excellency—” started Bolan when the Suta Priest answered the comnode.
     “What now, Commander? Do you have any clues?” wondered the Suta Priest.
     “Yes, Your Excellency, though we need your help,” replied Bolan, and he knew he was going to hear something rude.
     “My help! Are you IN-SANE, Commander?” asked the Suta Priest appearing to be extremely offended.
     Bolan explained, “We cannot interpret the clues, Your Excellency. They are beyond our power to understand them.”
     “Oh, I see . . . This one is the only intelligent statement I heard from you since the beginning of this miserable operation, Commander! I shall be there shortly.”

     The Suta Priest was walking up and down in Bolan’s private office; the Commander was waiting in attention; and the only person sitting was Mr. Fujia Hata who was monitoring the Suta Priest with large, all-black eyes, filled with fears. The Priest had listened to the story told by the Representative, then he watched all visual recordings. At the end, he looked for some time at Mr. Hata with burning green eyes from within his big hood, and then he went on pacing up and down.
     “Where is the damaged ship?” asked the Suta Priest in a scratchy voice.
     “It is under repairs—” started Mr. Hata.
     “Tell your people to cease all works on that ship IMMEDIATELY! Commander!” ordered the Suta Priest hysterically.
     Bolan hurried to establish a comnode link to Kalanda, then he brought it to Mr. Hata who, in turn, rushed with orders to stop all works on the damaged ship.
     “Commander; gather all the physical evidences you can find, and bring me all witnesses: the living and the dead ones, including Hira Otora . . . No, the most important one is Hira Otora. Then, cut a big piece from an intact window of that wrecked ship, and bring it to me, in my quarters . . . with that door.
     Tell your people to wear soft gloves! I want no more scratches on the evidences! I am waiting, Commander!”


M9-5     Six strong Fleet Officers brought inside the Suta Priest suite the bent metal door, and six more carried a large sample of the ceramic window, then they left. The Suta Priest looked at the massive door in an incredulous dumb attitude for a long time, then he bent down and touched the four deep groves left by Ghethe’s fingers. It was obvious from that imprint that the metal of the door was just wet clay for those terrible fingers!
     The Priest felt a strong shiver of fear on his back. He looked next at the sample of black mirror, ceramic window. It was one i-std. palm thick, and stronger than most metallic alloys, manufactured to resist not only to the extreme impacts, but also to enormous temperatures . . . and it was of the reinforced, molecularly grown composition . . . the toughest one! Nevertheless, he had seen it getting whiter of . . . of . . . What could it be? Heat? Pressure? Vibrations? Molecular Bonds Disruption? Atomic Resonance . . . Done by the hands of one man! He was very scared!
     The Priest called Commander Motela on comnode, then said, “Commander, start building an encrypted comnode interstellar link to The Great Hurda on Qualosa, and make sure it is TOTALLY SECURE!”


M9-4     Great Hurda had listened to the presentation made by the Suta Priest, then he watched all visual recordings. He asked to see the finger markings on the door, and the cut piece of ceramic window, and then he started thinking hard.
     After a while, Great Hurda said in a perfectly controlled, melodious voice, “This changes everything. It is clear we have been deceived from the very beginning. Take the fastest ship you find in that region, and bring here as soon as possible all the evidences you have. Tell the military people to continue the search, only to be cautious . . . yes, very cautious. I will send additional nine Super Destroyers and twenty-seven Destroyers in that space sector.”
     “It shall be done, Great Hurda,” replied the Suta Priest with veneration.
     “Do not forget to instruct the military people to keep the distance from the target, and to be very discreet. We have no idea with whom we are dealing . . . That was, most likely, just a minor burst of fury; therefore, he could be far more dangerous . . . Yes, he is for certain far more dangerous,” advised Great Hurda.
     “They shall be very discreet, Great Hurda,” assured the Priest.
     The comnode connection closed, and the Priest started analyzing the newly got assignment. That was the chance he had been waiting for all his life: to report directly to Great Hurda! He was confident he was going to be rewarded with two, or maybe three gradations!
     He thought that he had to do something about his voice, and he promised to himself a long and painful meditation session. The possibility of getting a clerical position inside the Suta Palace snapped into his mind—away from all the dangers of wandering into the open space—therefore he poured down his throat a generous volume of dark-green Dillin liqueur.
     Later, he started dreaming about his future safe life as a clerk inside the Suta Palace . . . There, he was going to practice what he did best: intrigue!



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