Slightly exasperated, the Princes asked, “Don’t you think this is a little too much, Mr. Dar’Raen? I mean, why do we need so many theories if we shall never implement them into practical applications?”
     “There you have touched the most important problem of all, Miss Naydhu,” said Dar’Raen, and he ended his words in a broad smile.
     “I do not understand,” replied the Princess puzzled, “which is the most important problem?”
     He said, “Why.”
     She asked confused, “Excuse me?”
     Dar’Raen answered, “The most important problem is, why.”
     “Could you, please, explain that?” asked the Princess with vague irritation.
     “Yes, Miss Naydhu. You asked those innocent questions: why do we need that many theories; why do we struggle so much; and, implicitly, what is the final purpose. The answer to all questions, Miss Naydhu, resides into another question: who is, actually, in control?
     Of course, we do not know the answer to the last question, but the question itself answers the previous ones. Regardless of who is in control now, we need to be in control into the future. Therefore, in order to achieve the control we want, Miss Naydhu, we need knowledge: very, very much knowledge.”
     Shalle blushed, then she said timidly, “I have to admit, Mr. Dar’Raen, that your knowledge and intellectual level are a lot higher than mine—”
     He interrupted her with consideration, “Oh no, no, Miss Naydhu, please do not say that. As long as you can follow my logic, and you do understand what I say, we are precisely on the same intellectual level.”
     “Yes, but I have no idea of what you know . . . and that sets me at disadvantage,” replied the Princess troubled.
     He replied gently, “That is an evil which has a cure, Miss Naydhu: we study all our lives.”
     “You know, Mr. Dar’Raen, I think I have to apologize for my behavior,” said the Princess while gaining even more red colors on her cheeks.
     “Why, Miss Naydhu?” inquired Dar’Raen intrigued.
     “At first, when I saw you . . . and even later . . . I thought you were rude, and your intellectual level was very low . . . Now, I realize it is me who has just a thin layer of culture . . . barely on the surface. Please, excuse me for my mistake, Mr. Dar’Raen.”
     He explained in a gentle tone of voice, “Miss Naydhu, people are different, intellectually. Atypical instances within the orderly structures are the very definition of life and evolution. If all of us were the same, acted the same, thought the same, and had the same level of intelligence, in that moment our life would cease to be life: it will be a program. We would realize we are, in fact, machines. The real wonder, and the true beauty in our lives, is the diversity with its strange spontaneity.
     In your particular case, Miss Naydhu, you are a very nice, sincere, and compassionate Lady, and these are exceptional qualities which only a few people have. Please, Miss Naydhu, never feel for a moment that you are at disadvantage to anyone. Knowledge is not everything; kindness, on the other hand, is the very definition of intelligence.”
     She felt touched by his words, and said, “Thank you so much for your wonderful words, Mr. Dar’Raen. However, I still feel guilty because I . . . I misjudged you.”
     He said gently, “It happens to anybody, Miss Naydhu. Until we spend little time discussing with someone, we have no way of knowing that person. In fact, you should be very proud of yourself, Miss Naydhu, for being so honest and sympathetic.”
     “Thank you again, Mr. Dar’Raen. It is so nice of you—” started the Princess.
     Dar’Raen raised suddenly his right arm with the palm facing her in order to interrupt her, then he remained with his eyes focused attentively at nothing ahead of him. He recovered and said, “I am sorry to interrupt you, Miss Naydhu, but something is happening, and it is not good.”
     The Princess managed to say only, “To what are you—” when she was interrupted by the frightfully sound of a nearby explosion.
     Alarms started ringing throughout the ship, then two more explosions could be heard. Tezlun went out of Space-Disruptor Drive and started decelerating abruptly. Although the artificially enhanced gravity vector was still working, the Princess flew towards the forward wall due to the enormous inertial moment.
     Dar’Raen jumped almost instantly. He managed to catch her in his arms, then they both landed brutally on the forward wall.
     “Are you all right, Miss Naydhu?” asked Dar’Raen with great concern while holding the Princess well secure in his arms. He was feeling perfectly well her thin, delicate, warm and live body, and he wished with all his soul that she would remain safely in his arms, forever!
     “Only thanks to you, Mr. Dar’Raen. Are you all right? It must have been particularly painful to you,” said the Princess with very red cheeks, while drawing away and straightening her posture. The ship appeared to have stopped completely.
     Dar’Raen became suddenly alert. He replied after a brief pause, “Do not worry about me, Miss Naydhu; there is fighting aboard this ship—”
     An officer of her Guards rushed inside the room and said in a voice close to panic, “Your Highness we are under attack! Let’s depart to the Shuttles Hangar immediately!”
     Shouts could be heard from the outside corridor, then they saw blue flashes of plasma charges.
     “Wait!” said Dar’Raen in a firm voice, then he produced his flying travel bag. He extracted a thin chain made of tiny, semi-flexible metallic rectangles, then said, “Please, Princess, trust me.”
     Shalle was surprised, because it was the first time when Dar’Raen had addressed to her as a Princess. She nodded her approval.
     Dar’Raen clipped the strange chain around her thin waist, then he worked on its controls for a little while. When he was finished, he took her hand without permission, then he asked in a tense voice, “Do you know the fastest route to the Shuttles Hangar, Princess?”
     Shalle was not afraid. She knew that everybody would protect her—including Mr. Dar’Raen—therefore she was more curious than tense. However, that was a dangerous situation and she was required to cooperate. She answered calmly, “Yes.”
     “Then lead me there, but DO NOT let go of my hand. Do you understand this, Princess?”
     While leading him, she noticed that, wherever they met people fighting, they froze after Dar’Raen looked at them. There had been a few plasma charges fired directly at them, while they run through corridors, but some sort of an invisible shield was protecting them! Shalle also noticed that the Assault Group soldiers of the Third-Order Commander Harbat were fighting against her Guards!

     They reached the gate to the Shuttles Hangar, but they had to hide behind a corner because there were too many fighters engaged in an intense battle there. The Assault Group soldiers were preventing the Guards to come close to the gates. Dar’Raen produced his travel bag again, then he extracted a small metallic rod having a crystal tip, and two flexible dark glass bands. Shalle took one without words and covered her eyes. Dar’Raen touched a sensor on the rod, then a bunch of colored, permanently changing sparkles of light appeared in the crystal tip.
     He took her hand again, and they went on the corridor towards the Hangar. All soldiers were stunned and frozen in their fighting positions. When she passed near some attackers, the Princess picked a few identification insignia from their uniforms. Her intention was, whoever was behind that attack against her personal Guards was going to pay dearly.
     “We do not have the time for that, Princess,” advised Dar’Raen.

     They entered the Shuttles Hangar. Dar’Raen paused for a brief moment looking disoriented at the two rows of Shuttles, then he started towards one of them.
     “No, no, that one is the best,” said the Princess, and she pushed him towards the right direction.

     They entered the Shuttle and took off their eye covers, then they rushed to the navigation post.
     “Don’t tell me, Ambassador, that you know how to fly this thing,” said the Princess smiling ironically while starting the engines.
     “Actually, it shouldn’t be more difficult than driving my old plow,” replied Dar’Raen.
     “Ha, ha! Amazingly, you still have your spirit intact, Mr. Dar’Raen,” remarked the Princess amused.
     He changed to a serious attitude, and began instructing her, “Now, Princess, we need to plan carefully our next actions. Can you talk to your people from here?”
     “Please, ask for a few groups of soldiers to come here and take five or six Shuttles. All the fighters outside the gates shall remain stunned for fifteen more Obar minutes or so.”
     The Obar Princess did exactly as he had said. When the Guards were inside the Shuttles and their engines started, they opened the out-space gates. Dar’Raen instructed her to order the Shuttles to go out and spread in random directions, at maximum speed. They watched them leave, and Dar’Raen told the Princess not to follow them out. Soon, they saw scores of Military Hunter ships rushing after each Shuttle.
     “Now, Princess, listen to this. The people who are attacking us are soldiers. They are, probably, after both of us: they need you, for your official position, and they want me, for my knowledge. They will try not to kill us, but they will incapacitate our Shuttle if they notice it. I can stop them, though one at a time and, preferably, if I have a good visual contact.
     Soon, they will land here to take over your ship, but do not rush, Princess. Drive as slow as possible, because they think we are frightened and they expect us to run away. Now, let’s sneak out slowly, and keep the Shuttle very close to the hull of your ship to mask its signal. First of all, I need to examine our situation.”

     The situation was very bad. There were three huge, heavily armed, Thunderbolt class Battleships near Tezlun, and there was no natural hideout nearby. The Princess handled the Shuttle gently, very close to Tezlun’s hull, exactly as he had suggested. There were no Hunter ships within their sight, meaning, they had not been detected yet.
     “Could you make us invisible?” whispered the Princess. She started being very scared since she saw the three gigantic Thunderbolt Battleships. Tezlun appeared to be just a small Hunter ship among them!
     “Please, stop right here, Princess. Shut the engines down, and try making absolutely no moves for a few minutes. I need to concentrate,” explained Dar’Raen in a tense voice.

     The Princess executed his instructions, then she remained motionless, watching him. Dar’Raen was looking unfocused, though highly strained, towards one Battleship. After a while, she saw two rows of high-power Molecular-Dispersion batteries firing trains of pulses from the Battleships Dar’Raen was looking at, against the other two. It lasted for only fifteen Obar seconds, though it was sufficient: the two Battleships under fire were both incapacitated, and there were chains of explosions on each of them.
     Dar’Raen continued being motionless and tense. After a while, a huge explosion broke in two the remaining Thunderbolt Battleship.
     He said, “Let’s go back inside your ship, Princess.”
     Dar’Raen appeared to be tired, and there was a lot of sadness in his voice.

     They closed the out-space gates of the Shuttles Hangar, then the Princess commanded the air pressuring sequence. She contacted the Central Command Deck and announced she was secure onboard, then she ordered them to try moving Tezlun away.
     They waited inside the Shuttle for twenty long and uncertain Obar minutes, before they noticed the acceleration of the ship and, later, the transition to Space-Disruptor Drive.
     The Princess sent orders to her Guards to start searching Tezlun for any surviving soldiers of the Assault Group, while they continued waiting inside the Shuttle for the search to end.
     “Well, Mr. Dar’Raen, now I owe you my life!” remarked the Princess with surprise in her voice.
     He smiled caringly at her, then explained, “I do not think your life was in any real danger, Princess. You could have been injured, but your life is way too precious for everybody—”
     She interrupted him nervously, “I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Mr. Dar’Raen. Anyway, I prefer to die than being touched by those slime . . . traitors and cowards!”
     He explained, “It was a big mistake to put me, a natural target, on the same ship with you, another great prize. In fact, Princess, this is an important subject I intend to discuss with your father: the Military Force is slipping out of his hands, and the Insurgency is the actual example. We want to offer our help to end this rebellion.”
     She replied, “Look, Mr. Dar’Raen, I want to help you with your mission. Do you consider I should assist you while discussing with my father?”
     “Actually, Princess, you have read my mind, because I was going to ask for your assistance. This is the reason I explained the situation on Aggrea to you . . . By the way, Princess, you do have some natural mental powers: you have the power to discern the good from bad, and the right from wrong, and that is very important.
     To come back to my mission, I would like to thank you very much for your offer, Princess. I am greatly honored to benefit of your gracious and inspiring assistance. You are a kind, sincere, and compassionate Lady, therefore I—”
     “Are you flattering me, Mr. Dar’Raen?” asked Shalle with a false surprise, then she continued ironically, “If you start now with paying compliments, you will dare later to . . . to even propose to me!” Although she was very scared of the words she had said, Shalle felt a lot of satisfaction in seeing Mr. Dar’Raen reddening profoundly up to the tips of his ears.
     He replied timidly, “Hm, hmm, Miss Naydhu, please believe me: I respect you very, very much, and I wouldn't dare to—”
     “Oh, it is too late—you already dared, Mr. Dar’Raen. You are the first man who ever touched me, excepting my father. That is a capital offence, Sir!” For the first time in her life, the Princess discovered pleasure in flirting with a man. She thought about it a little, then she said to herself that Mr. Dar’Raen was so knowledgeable, so gifted, and so much . . . a man, that ANY Lady would feel LUCKY to have the chance of flirting with him.
     He replied, “Pardon me, please, Miss Naydhu, but I would like to remind you that we were in a critical situation, and there was no room left for the etiquette—”
     “According to my knowledge you are inventing excuses, Sir—” interrupted the Princess, but she was also interrupted by a patrol of her Guards entering the Hangar. Shortly later, the Princess was informed that the ship was secure.
     They went back to Princess’s quarters on the restricted access Deck. It was late into the night, though it appeared that both of them were anxious to continue discussing. They entered the Gray Reception Salon, then each took the previous place at the table.
     Dar’Raen had recovered from his embarrassment. He started formally, “I would like, Princess, to ask you for a favor—”
     She interrupted him with simulated indignation, “ANOTHER ONE, Mr. Dar’Raen?”
     He rushed, “Which was the first?”
     She snapped back promptly, “When you asked me to trust you.”
     “Ah,” managed Dar’Raen, then he remained focused on the past incident, and on the memory of her superb waistline . . .
     Shalle said with and ironic accentuation of the words, “WHAT ELSE would you want ME to do for YOU, Mr. Dar’Raen?”
     He smiled at her, then replied, “To be honest, Princess, I am very glad to see that you are so highly spirited after such dangerous events—”
     She wondered ironically, “How could a Lady be in any danger near a Gentleman like you, Mr. Dar’Raen?”
     “I know you are joking with me, Princess—” started Dar’Raen.
     “Oh! And why should I do such a preposterous thing, Mr. Dar’Raen?” wondered Shalle with pretended surprise and indignation.
     He answered, “I do not know. Why do you do it, Princess?”
     “I just said I didn’t do anything to you!” replied Shalle back with irritation.
     She was very sweet, much like a playful kitten, therefore Dar’Raen smiled kindly at her.
     She noticed his smile, and she complained nervously, “Ah! You are playing with your words, and with me!”
     Dar’Raen started defensively, “All right, Princess, I admit whatever you want me to, but let me finish what I started to say. Things are very serious—”
     “You do not have to tell ME how serious things ARE,” interrupted Shalle still annoyed.
     He continued, “What I would like to ask you, Princess, is to assist me during my discussions with the Emperor, and to ensure that everything we talk remains a secret. Of course, the Obar Emperor needs to be warned about the absolute topmost discretion.”
     She asked intrigued, “Why is confidentiality that important, Mr. Dar’Raen?”
     He explained, “I am going to present a secret plan to the Obar Emperor, Princess. It is a long-term plan; therefore, the fewer people know about it, the greater are its chances of success. On Aggrea, there are only two dozen people, including me, who have various degrees of knowledge about it.”
     “What if my father does not agree to your plan?” asked Shalle concerned.
     “Princess, we could follow on Aggrea a scaled down version of the plan, without any help from the Obar Empire, if we have to. However, our cooperation could be greatly beneficial for both our people. After meeting and talking with you, Princess, and considering what I heard about the Great Obar Emperor, I hope he is a wise and sensible man.”
     She replied in a firm voice, “He is a very wise and a very sensible man, Mr. Dar’Raen!”
     “And I am truly glad to hear that, Princess. Now, because it is very late, and I abused of your time in a manner uncharacteristic to a decent Ambassador, may I have your assurance that you will help me with my mission?”
     Shalle answered in a bit intimate tone, “Mr. Dar’Raen, I owe you much too much not only for what you did tonight, but also for what you said to me. I shall help you but, please, let me know in advance everything you intend to do. In this way, our joined efforts are going to be far more efficient.”
     Dar’Raen changed to an official attitude; he said, “Thank you very much, Princess. It has been a wonderful privilege to spend the time in your charming company. You are a very special person, My Lady.”
     She replied in a similar official manner, “Good night, Mr. Dar’Raen. I enjoyed your presence and our discussions very much; therefore, I hope you shall join me again for breakfast, tomorrow morning.”
     “Your invitation is a great honor to me, Princes.”
     The Princess remained alone, and she closed her eyes. That was UN-BE-LIEVABLE! She actually liked that man with clothes that smelled of cattle! Even more, she felt an urging need to have him permanently around . . . to talk to him, to hear his opinions, to look into his eyes and to listen to his voice . . .
     “Oh, his voice is so pleasing . . . and his arms are so strong . . . and his hands are so hot!” She thought that he must have charmed her with his mental powers . . . somehow! Then she remembered the way he reddened following her allusion. She thought, “No, he is harmless . . . He is considerate, honest, incredibly intelligent . . . a man unlike anybody I ever met!



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