Eric Olafson, Captain Black Velvet (Vol 6. GC 32)
Chapter 24

Copyright© 2018 by Vanessa Ravencroft

Yeoman O’Connell came down the ramp from the back of the bridge carrying my monster cup said. “Itheamh is no longer in Freespace, Captain. No more loopholes or justifications necessary. No treaties with the Union exist or limit what we can or cannot do.” I smiled at her and asked,

“What do we know about Itheamh, anyway?”`

Sobody sitting in the Observer seat that was rarely used on Union ships but had become his station. He even had a console raised from its usual stowed away position. Technically he had no real bridge function but he was invaluable to me.

He said, “l believe the Golden databanks are now accessible to Union Fleet information requests and there has been a Golden trading post for, a very long time.”

He shifted in his seat so he could address me more directly. “Itheamh is an independent planet, but very close to Karthanian space. It is, if you will, a gigantic junkyard, spaceship market and repair place. It is also an outlet for Karthanian products, spare parts and so on. Remember the scrap we bought on Sin 4?”

“Yes I do, don’t we still have some of it?”

He nodded. “I traded for even more valuable scrap, and Itheamh is the place to sell it. It is the largest market for scrap outside of the Union. Every scavenger comes here and of course anyone who needs spare parts, repairs or a complete new ship.”

I frowned and said. “So another Sin 4, basically?”

He shook his head. “No Captain, the planet is at a busy intersection of trans galactic commerce. It is not far from Karthanian space, the Togar Empire is not far and the seven Oghar Kingdoms are also more or less nearby. It may surprise you Captain, but there are many civilizations here that never had any direct contact with the Union and are more or less unknown to you.”

Shea said, “Would that not exclude the Narth? You’ve been around longer than anyone.”

Narth looked up from his display and said: “We Narth have not really explored space ever since we merged with the NNNTH, and that was over five galactic revolutions ago. Then we decided to isolate ourselves and our knowledge even of what is Union space is quite limited. Narth tend to watch Stars, Quasars, Black Holes and Galaxies and have, until recently, not concerned ourselves with civilizations and societies.There are societies we did have limited interaction with, but those contacts are very sparse and never lasted.”

Sobody seemed pleased that there was something he knew more about than Narth. He continued. “The Itheamh are officially a small independent society, but are closely associated with the Karthanians. While the Karthanians want to do business with everyone, they are extremely xenophobic, when it comes to giving outsiders access to their planets. The Itheamh and a few other small societies act as their markets. It is there where they sell their ships and tech and buy scrap and raw materials. Itheamh is perhaps the biggest spaceship junkyard with countless state run break down operations, dismantling yards and scrap processing places. There is always brisk freighter traffic coming and going. Many Kermac Thrall species do business with the Karthanians. So do the Shiss, Union corporations and many independent civilizations.

“Politically it is sort of a fascist-communist society. The Drake rule the Itheamh with an iron fist, there are much more Itheamh than Drakes. Both the Itheamh and the Drake belong to the same race and share common ancestry. Both originated on the third planet of the system. The Itheamh settled, the harsh fourth planet a few thousand years ago. The Drake fought a nuclear war on their home planet about 300 years ago, and the survivors of that war invaded the fourth planet, as their old, world had become an inhospitable planet.”

Sobody frowned and continued. “The Drake oppressing the Itheamh ever since and the Karthanians support the Drake and thus guarantee cheap labor and an outlet for their wares and cement the Drakes position as the rulers of Itheamh.”

I mused about the information Sobody had given and said,” So that world isn’t lawless?”

Sobody answered: “No it’s quite an orderly society with enclaves of the Karthanian and a dozen other civilizations. As I said we Golden maintain a small trade outpost there as well, and there are business offices of many companies and corporations in a confined district, near their main spaceport. However it is not Union space and not as well regulated. There is no unified law enforcement past the system. That means pirates have free range as soon as they are beyond the reach of the local government. You must know that most civilizations do not have the excellent long range scanner technology and none of them, as far as I know have anything in terms of instantaneous communication. Even the existing communication networks rarely extend beyond the local systems and everyone uses a slightly different technology.”

Hans, who was sitting at his station grunted. “Making it easy for pirates, I sure prefer the orderly well organized Union, if you ask me.”

Har-Hi said. “While the Union in general barely knows about these civilizations, they usually do know about us. You won’t see any Union fleet ships in these parts, you can run into Corporate ships of Union businesses such as SII, Enroe, Trigon Corp and Ntugul-Ult, to name a few. Those who know about the Union usually envy us but many see us as a big bully and so there isn’t much love lost.”

The Golden agreed and added. “We are near Karthanian space and Arkalon, their main world, about 122 light years from here, in the general directions what you call Galactic North.”

I said. “The Karthanians, are they friendly towards the Union?”

Shea answered, “Of all their planets, only Arkalon is still in Freespace and that is why they are signatory to the Freespace treaty and officially considered a neutral civilization.”

Hans punched up a political map and said after Shea was done: “According to our Intel reports, they are indeed neutral in terms of Shiss or Galactic Council. They do not like the Kermac and have little love for the Shiss as they don’t buy enough Karthanian ships, but there is also no love lost towards the Union either. They are renowned space ship engineers and their entire society is based on that industry. There are fourteen Guilds that form a Council Chamber that is their government. Currently the Guild of Hull builders holds the Chairman seat which is something like a President. The position rotates every 11. 5 years to another guild. They sell their products to anyone who can pay. Itheamh is one of four worlds where outsiders can go and buy Karthanian tech. The actual Karthanian worlds are taboo for any non-Karthanians and no outsider has ever set foot on one of their core worlds as far as our Intel knows.

The Golden said. “As I mentioned they are very good customers for scrap, spaceships and tech components from all species and are very good at copying technology from others. They not anywhere near Union tech standards but catching up to Kermac tech very fast.

Shea interrupted. “The science council considers them a TL 7 society.”

Sobody nodded in agreement and said. “The Karthanian guilds and two private Karthanian companies maintain space docks and shipyards on and around Itheamh.”

I said. “This is supposed to be a Karthanian Ship and it doesn’t look too fresh on the outside. Would they not become suspicious if we don’t get any repairs done or buy supplies?”

Sobody grinned. “One of the largest ship dealers and shipyard owner is a friend of mine and we can dock at his yard. Emerge later with a nice painted hull and no one is the wiser.”

I looked at him and said, “You know we are undercover, right?”

“Do you trust me Captain?”

“Yes I learned to trust you like I trust every one of my crew.I would not want to miss your advice, knowledge and service and you know I have revised my initial objection to you pretty much the day we met, I am just a bit nervous when it comes to adding strangers to the list who know about us.”

The Golden said, “He will never know who we are. I will talk to him while he thinks I am at the Bazaar. He has a GalNet terminal and Elfi can make him think I am calling from there.”

I nodded and changed the subject. “How are Union relations to the Karthanian?”

Shea again answered. “They are neutral as you know. Karthanian space is not very big and they don’t really expand. They do not accept other species inside their social structure or to settle or live within their society. They do business with all, Piracy and any drug deals are prohibited inside their sphere of control. They do use and buy lots of slaves, usually destined to work on one of their so called Smelter Moons, but most of their slaves come from within their own society. They do not like the Union much as they are jealous of our far superior technology. In their opinion the Union is the largest and wealthiest of the great powers and should do more business with them. Karthanian ships, flyers, tanks and other tech items are available on Union markets and they buy raw materials and ore and of course non classified technology from Union sources. Union Credits are readily accepted by the way. All in all they are a stable and solid society and there is little chance we can convince them to join the Union.”

I coughed and said. “I am not planning to invite everyone we meet to join Union.”

Sobody chuckled. “Well so far, everyone you met either died or joined.”

Har-Hi laughed. “He’s got a point there.”

Elfi said. “All the regular Comm channels are abuzz with the news that the Nul and Terra are no longer enemies.”

The Gray Prince, still sitting by Elfi taking notes and followed her instructions said. “Since my father now has access to a GalNet terminal, I was able to talk to him a few times. He is deeply impressed by the Terrans and the efficiency of the Union. Not really surprising is that many Nul are excited about a trustworthy ally and partner and that I was saved by humans made big waves. Officially I am preparing to become the first Nul fleet officer. My father thinks the possibility of the Nul joining the Union is quite real and he feels it will happen long before I become King. Trade agreements and Joint Defense pacts are already being worked on, but I personally think we will begin the PUMA process long before these pacts are worked out, making them moot.”

I sighed and glanced at my fingernails. “Well then, ruining perfectly nice slingbacks stopping that Stomper was not a total waste.”

That caused them all to laugh and I said, “I would have never thought Nul-Nul could laugh or have a sense of humor.”

He also turned his forward facing seat to better talk with me and said: “Unlike humans we actually did bomb ourselves eight times back to the Stone age before the first Gray of all was able to unite all Nul under one rule. That is why we are around as long as the Saresii but haven’t been able to develop a real advanced civilization.

We had to rebuilt and re-invent many times so it took us much longer than other species to finally become a united people and remain a spacefaring civilization. That first gray ruler achieved this by killing all his rivals and prohibiting the slaughter of scientists and artists whenever a warrior felt like doing so.

He also allowed Nul to laugh openly and in public.”

Shea said, “He allowed you to laugh?”

He closed his big eye twice which was the Nul way of agreeing and he said: “It was considered a crime punishable by death to show any form of emotion in public. Live givers killed their young for crying or laughing before the reign of the First Gray. It still does not come as easily to Nul as it comes to humans, but we are improving.”

I said. “I think there is much we have to learn from each other.”

He held up his big hand like appendixes. “Can you imagine how long it took us to build a Computer that wasn’t the size of a house with hands like that? Our tech is still crude compared to Union tech, but what we make we managed to make very durable!”

I looked at his enormous fingers and said, “Now that you mention it I can only imagine.”

He said. “There is this old Nul story about an angry Purple Nul going to a Computronics merchant complaining that his new machine did not work no matter how hard he was hitting it.” The image of that was actually quite funny and we laughed again.

Hans said. “We Saturnians have the same problem. We can’t manipulate small items.”

Circuit came to the bridge accompanied by an S 61 Multifunction Robot, wearing a black Union uniform.

I said turning my chair. “Don’t tell me he wants to be a crew member too!”

“No Captain, that is just an S 61 Multibot, I have completely removed its brain. This is Starman Tyron Suit. He is simulating a Uniform and actually steering the robot. So it can perform any tasks it needs to do. He’s got hands, feet and a head.”

The Robot saluted. “Starman Tyron Suit reporting officially for duty Captain. I completed the required classes given by our executive officer. I am not only a cadet, but a real Union citizen, Ma’am.”

I agreed with a nod. “Well that isn’t a bad solution actually.”

“Your Engineer is not only a machine like me, but quite brilliant. I am no longer just a garment but can be an interactive and productive member of society instead of being a thing. Did I mention I am a citizen?”

“Yes you did Starman Suit. I snickered while I said, “Then all we have to do is find you a department that suits you. No pun intended.”

Har-Hi put his hand before his mouth and mumbled, “Now I wonder what suits the suit.”

The Suit said, “I was conceived as a battle suit and I feel I could be a good security officer.”

I said. “I am sure Hans can use you and start training you, as the security tasks of a Union officer might not be the same as Seenian requirements.”

Tyron saluted again. “Captain, I was a tool, a thing before. Now I am a being and everyone here crew treats me as such. Captain you might not understand, but I made friends. That you made this possible is the reason I will attempt to make you proud, Ma’am.”

I said. “I am glad you think that way.”


My bridge watch ended without any incidents.It was still a day before we would reach space where GalNet communication was possible. The forenoon watch had taken over and I was not tired or particularly hungry.

Since it was a Tuesday, the pool water temperature would be kept to the liking of most of the crew, sadly not mine. So I decided to relax after I had done my log book entry and perhaps read a book. Something I hadn’t done since I had left the academy.

Just as I put the pen down and closed the log book, the door chime announced a visitor and it was Shea. She came in and said.

“Are you busy?”

“No, not at all, I am done with the log book entry and wasn’t even sure what to do with the rest of the day.”

She sat down on the sofa and leaned back. I had kept the lights low in my quarters, except over the desk. The dim light made her beautiful hair shine in a special way that surrounded her lovely face and spilled on her shoulders. She was wearing a Saresii style velvet suit that molded her curves like a second skin and I simply could not put my eyes of her.

She said “We haven’t had much time together since the last time I was sitting here. I know you are the Captain now and I am your Science Officer while we are on duty...”

I went over, sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulder. She immediately snuggled close to me.

Then she said, while she had her head on my chest, “We are still lovers, right?”

Her hair smelled intoxicating and it was softer than silk to the touch. I said, “Nothing has changed about my feelings for you. I am just so insecure about how to express my feelings. I realize I don’t want to go back to being Eric. I feel free and content the way I am right now, but will it be fair to you?”

She simply kissed me and all questions melted away. There was just us and nothing else mattered. Our bodies now all tangled up and there was no place for words, I simply listened to her breath and her heartbeat, felt her warm body and discovered that love had no rules and no boundaries.

This was the answer, there was a third way. I could remain Erica, embrace all that came with it and at the same time accept all that was still Eric. Right here with Shea it mattered not if I was Erica or Eric, or maybe both at the same time and then for a little while I had completely ceased to exist and there was only us. She traced my lips with her finger and whispered., “I think that answers all our questions.”


Itheamh

Still almost a day out, Elfi reported that we could now send and receive Galnet.

She established a secure GalCom connection to Fleet command and to the Admiral of the Fleet directly.

He took the call right away. This time he appeared to be on the bridge of a battleship. I could partially see a large view screen and the duty stations on a asemi dark bridge.

He actually gave me smile.”Glad you are able to call, girl.I am on the bridge of the newest Union Super Dreadnought, the USS Xiahou Dun, we just completed a life fire exercise, but enough of me. Go ahead and report from your end.”

I did and after I was finished he nodded.”Yes we got the message regarding the crew of the Whispering Vengeance. We told them to approach the Sin system and from there we can take them to core space. I send Captain Sposhtrah to purchase that ship of theirs, it is always good to analyze other societies tech solutions. I make sure Cherubim and NAVINT will broadcast the capture of Curtis Swift and make the fact of the White Furred Togar a news issue. From what I understand you have a life hand grenade in terms of Togar politics aboard. I will try to get a Chimera unit to Itheamh. We have overdue mail for you, supplies and in return we take what you want to send Union side. Technically we could sent regular fleet units, but there is nothing close and you and fleet should not be seen together anyway.”

He started to stuff a pipe. I will see if we can not use some diplomatic muscle to get that murderous pirate Sodex out of the mines and into our custody, but like you I don’t mind him scraping some ore out of frozen dirt for a while.”

After he lit is pipe he said.”Actually that was a very normal report for once. You and your crew makes us very proud. Oh and there should be GalNet from Itheamh. We are about to attack the USS Devastator in an exercise of course. We got eight of these new ships and Richard only that old tub of his. I am going to rip him a new one and have years of bragging rights. Carry on and keep playing it by ear, Captain Olafson.”

“Aye Sir, I think we can do that. Good luck with your wargames.”

“I don’t need luck.I have been an Admiral longer than him, you’ll see.”

Before the Admiral disconnected. I could hear alarms going off and orders being yelled. Someone yelled, “Admiral, the Devastator just...”

The connection was interrupted.

Har-Hi had of course heard the conversation as he was sitting in his XO chair to my left. “If you would ask me, Captain. Admiral McElligott will need all the luck in the Universe.”

SHIP chimed in.”We are in GalCom range. We have the clearances to monitor the exercise and it seems McElligott flew into a trap. Apparently Admiral Stahl split the Devastator in its four attack segments and hid the now smaller ships on three different planets. He had a few platoons of marines already in space, low emission then taking McElligott’s fleet under TL sniper fire, with exo loads. According to a very recent report, five of McElligott’s Super Dreadnoughts are listed as complete casualties, two have been boarded and the Flagship has just been breached by Marines, led by Stahl.”

Krabbel said.”I don’t think the Admiral of the Fleet will do much bragging the next time we call.”


It was just a few hours after the call. We were close to Itheamh when Mao reported the familiar signatures of the Red Dragon and the Intruder on our scanners. They were not in Quasi but drifted in space Elfi held up her hand. “Captain, the Red Dragon is hailing.”

Har-Hi handed me my mask.

“Ah the venerable Black Velvet.”

“Ah the Red Dragon and his friend with the flying piece of garbage. What is it this time, the Sankar something drive didn’t last or has he run out of stick and glue to keep the thing airtight?”

“It appears the device was not installed properly and he once more can not establish FTL conditions. we wait for an associate. See you in five days at the mentioned tavern.”

He disconnected and I said.”I guess we can stick around for a while, maybe something develops and we can take Meateater out of the equation.”

I got up with the intend to return some of the coffee I had earlier to the recycling system or in other words I intended to use the bathroom. I noticed Tyron Suit standing with his robot body next to Hans by the security console that was like engineering, computronic control, a so called secondary bridge stations and located in the back area of the bridge. This back area had various names. On the Devi it was called Administration. On the USS Hyperion they called it Tank room. It seemed we weren’t long enough in space to have our on name for it. Officially it was called Secondary command and control.

This area behind the command isle also featured the Nav-tank. On the Devi and other large ships, it was where the Flight boss and Auxiliary craft command had their stations as well. Even if the Tigershark would have had all her auxiliary craft, she did not have a separate flight boss or aux craft control stations. These tasks were split between XO and OPS on ships of our class and size.

The bridge of the Tigershark was hexagonal in shape and slightly wider than deep. The very center of it featured the command isle, a raised platform with my command chair at its center, flanked to the left by the seat of the XO and to the right by the OPS station. Sobody always used the usually never used observer seat, meant for a visiting admiral or someone similar was sitting next to the XO.

Up front, the entire wall was occupied by our main viewer, it could be raised and reveal a real view port. In space there was little reason to do so, but it was a nice feature planetside.

Right before the screen was the Helm station, and usually like now occupied by Shaka.

A little further back and to his left was Tactical with Mao and on the same line to his right Navigation, which was configured right now to Krabbel’s needs.

A few meters back but still before the command isle were Science on the left and Communications on the right. Between the Navigations and the Communications position the access door to a multi species bathroom facility. The one I contemplated using soon. There was hardly a place I loved more than my bridge, this was my real home.

After I had taken care of my imminent need and stepped back out, I watched Three-Four talking to Shea, Prince Xon the immense Nul watching Elfi. Mehedi sitting on an extra chair next to Shaka, being very serious about his wish to learn Helm operations.

The main viewer focused on the two pirate ships, waiting for a tow from Itheamh. The Red Dragon of course remaining to protect his associate. While it was a quiet moment my ship and its crew still working together like a well maintained machine. Whenever I reflected on this I felt very proud of them.

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